Friday, 7 August 2015

Summer interlude


Verity's adventures will resume in the Autumn. 

Meanwhile, here are a few words.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Reformat



Verity thought she had just about recovered from the week’s adventure. 

Getting herself tased. Abducted. Having her heart come to a halt. Twice. Having her old friend Harry ‘Disappeared’ on her. And discovering she was wanted by the C.I.A. 

But she was wrong: she could feel it before she even woke up. There was that brutal, cold, pain. Her eyes, her neck, her soft spot. These long days with so much sunlight: dear God they were cruel. 

She staggered across the room for ergot. There was none. Strange: these days she always made sure she had some: Mills would bring it if she was running low. She got a hot cloth and a glass of water, and went back to bed, clutching her head. This last she did, not so much to ease the pain (which it didn’t), but to keep herself reassured that her head was not on fire, cracking up or run through with cold metal spikes. No: it was just her head. She fell into an uneasy sleep. 

She woke up with the feeling that the bed was sloping. There was somebody sitting on it. She couldn’t think, other than to mumble 

“Sorry...I’m, not much for company. Mills, is that you? I’ve run out of er_” 

There were hands on her head. Big, podgy ones. Not Mills’ long, fine hands. 

“Matthew...Read! I...didn’t I...er... What happ_Aaargh!” 

A bolt of pain seared across the top of her head. She raised her hands to protect: to redirect Read’s hands to where she knew he could ease the pain. But they didn’t move: they had found their spot and they were digging in. 

“How...did you even...” get into the house

He answered in a cruel whisper 

“Your keys, that despite my advice, you still leave in the back garden. See, how easy it is for somebody to take them. And how painless, for you” 

Painless...oh that would be so nice... 

Verity had the sensation of screws tightening. Tightening too much and splitting something. Reid turned her head round, to face the bedside table. Something was glowing on it: even that faint glow was too much...eyes are so delicate...heavy...photons hurt... 

She covered her face with her hands. Reid pulled them away. 

“I can stop this_” 

“I know! Please do_” 

“If you will only give me...ah, you know. You know what the Company needs” 

“Tough...they’re...not getting them. Not...now...I know, what they’ll do with them. The Data. I know...” 

Reid didn’t seem to hear this last sentence 

“I will not, I now know not to, shine bright lights on them, Verity. And I’ll only copy: not take. Trust me, and it will be painless. Letting me into your Mind Palace and down, down to the basement...” 

Verity was in too much pain for any attempt at hypnosis to work, even temporarily. 

“Sod off” she mumbled. 

She noticed him turn his hand, as if consulting a wristwatch. 

“You will trust me...” 

He held a cloth lightly over her face: it seemed to help her relax. 

“I...will... 

The videocard on the bedside table ceased to glow: it could only record for six hundred seconds. Read had timed it perfectly. 

“...nye...verr...” 

Only Mills appreciated the whispered bilingual pun. Standing unseen in the doorway, he watched the last of Verity’s beautiful white fear blink out as the Oxytocin on the cloth took effect. He quietly dematerialised. 

“Mmmm”, smiled Verity as Read moved his hands to where they would ease, unwind, relax, warm, her poor head. He did it quickly: his own pain, caused merely by being able to read her mind, was almost unbearable. 

She fell asleep. 

He took advantage of the quiet to disconnect the wire in the bedroom having first, for The Company’s benefit, enacted a script of going into her Mind Palace and then re-emerging, devastated. 

After ninety minutes, she woke up. She just stared at him. He could hear her thinking 

I don’t get it... 

He owed her an explanation.   

“There was a reason. Would you like to hear it?” 

Verity didn’t have to answer. She wouldn’t have had to even if he were not a mind-reader. 

“Do you remember what Aurora said?” 

Break me... 

“You weren’t there: how do you know?” 

“At my briefing, she told me. Filled me in with a bit of background, before giving me my orders” 

“Orders?” 

“Yes. Thanks to your friend Helga, I am now on Aurora’s direct payroll. As my Sleep-E-Z-free self, Matthew Read: mind-reader. Except_” 

“I...didn’t I...kill you?” 

“Yes, you did. After a fashion. You’ve done me a favour: you killed an Instance, the strongest one, of John Reid. The only one who was strong enough to take control of my mind against my will. There are others, that I can summon, that I can be, if the mission requires” 

“Like finding me with a migraine and...tor...” 

“I had to remain as Matthew for what I did just now: I had to be able to know, to feel, how much pain you could withstand. I had to take you as far as you could go: make it look as realistic as possible” 

“Look...realistic??” Verity was outraged “It was bloody real I can assure you! It-was...squall...full...” she blinked back tears. "And I could...you said... I managed to deceive you when I had been in Lefortovo and said their people had traumatised me. I could do that..."

"That was different"

Read picked up the videocard and showed it to her. 

"I have to take this card to The Company and present it as evidence that the English Method, the keys, have been destroyed. I know they're going to show this video to their top people: they'll analyse every second, every frame. Microexpressions, you know what they are? Fleeting moments when the truth comes through, even with the best acting in the world. I couldn't risk it. It had to be the real thing.

“Right at the end you look as if you are giving in: only, I could read your thoughts and I knew that you were still holding out. What did you say?” 

“I said, ‘I will never...’, didn’t I?” 

“I...picked up another meaning: do those words mean something else to you?” 

“Yes: ‘Nye verr’: it’s Russian for ‘Don’t trust’...” 

Read smiled. 

“I pretended I was going into your Mind Palace, for the benefit of the wires in this room. I shall recount how I went in all right, but the keys were_” 

“Collateral Damage” 

“How did you guess?” 

“There’s a lot of it about” 

“I shall explain that you, and all the others who have learned or mastered the English Method, will of course still have those abilities. You will also be able to teach it. Slowly, day by day, like you teach a language. But in time, without the keys, there will remain only copies of copies of the Method: it may fade or get corrupted. 

“I shall tell them that if a person wishes to learn the English Method, they may come to you.  But you were right in your assumption that installing the Method in The Data needs the keys. That can’t happen now” 

“I don’t suppose you know...” 

She was thinking about Harry 

“Odessa” he smiled 

“And, you know what: without him, The Data’s days are numbered. It’s already been hacked, as you will have heard. It won’t reliably answer queries; plus it’s got a Phase Space problem, whatever that is_” 

Verity explained: the margin of error is greater than the distance separating points. One point can easily be mistaken for a neighbour. 

“I’ll let you into a secret: Aurora wants to ice it but the Company won’t let her. ‘Few ask me, it’s a goddamned liability” 

Verity decided she’d better change the subject: that last bit of information sounded a bit ‘If I told you I’d have to kill you’. 

“And, do you remember, Ayn Rand_” 

“Ah gee, you’ll never guess where she is right now” 

“Er...” 

“She’s taken up with the Colonel” 

“But...she despises tor_, er, people like him. She says they're weak. Cowards. And, he’s scared of women! He thinks we’re all_” 

“Devils. Man-eaters.” 

Verity covered her face to laugh. But the look on Read’s face, decipherable because of the Oxytocin he had made her breathe in, brought her up short. He knew Sacha was still in Russia... 

Don’t even think about it, Matthew Read.

“Let me know how you get on at The Company”, she said politely

He pocketed the videocard and left. 

Verity’s thoughts turned to the kitchen. 

It was nearly midday: she could murder a Full English.



*******************  The End  **************************



Sunday, 28 June 2015

Hard drive



The Mini Cooper with its distinctive Union Jack roof sped over the top Moors road above the mist in the twilit small hours. The Halogen lights were on full beam, and music was belting out of the wound-down windows... 

I WILL CHOOSE A ROAD THAT’S CLEAR... 

The car joyfully burned the rubber on each bend: eastwards, towards the dawn. 

Here was the start of the descent from the high Moors: sharp bends, and at each one the crash-barriers broken by some unfortunate soul who had misjudged the curve, the camber, the gradient, the coefficient of friction. Some of them were decorated with bunches of withered flowers or other small offerings. 

The second bend curved sharply to the right, just as the descent grew steep. On the bend’s inside, rough millstone walls as the fields sloped up and away too steeply even for sheep to graze: on the outside a tumbling marsh-grass slope down to boggy ground with a narrow brown beck. On the far side of the beck, an ancient lime-kiln was built into the almost-sheer scarp: the fields atop the scarp were out of sight. 

The car, by now pursued by an early morning police patrol, failed to slow for that second bend and, with a last desperate screech of tyres, careered through the unfortunate gap in the crash barrier and went flying over the boggy terrain beneath. 

On crumpling to earth just at the foot of the lime-kiln, it burst into flames. 

The man in the white flameproof all-in-one knew what he was doing: had done it hundreds of times before. He was a professional. 

He calmly unfastened his seatbelt and climbed out of the open window of the passenger’s side, out of sight of the road. Stop: drop: roll. He was no longer threatened by flames. But just in case, he had had a colleague posted there with a fire extinguisher. 

“You all right, snowball?” 

“Yeah: no worries” 

They had both faded into the misty landscape by the time the two police officers had clambered down to reach the burning wreckage. 

“Bugger me. I reckon he’s a goner, don’t you?” 

“Aye” 

The first officer got on his two-way radio to report the incident. The Mini’s number plate was still fortuitously visible. 

“ ‘Bout time Highways patched up that barrier” 

“Appen. Fancy a bacon butty?” 

“By eck Earnshaw you can be an insensitive bugger at times” 

“Aye” 

They climbed on all-fours back up the damp, grassy slope, got into their patrol car and drove off to the roadside static, knowing it would be at least an hour before the scene of crime team, or indeed the fire brigade, would arrive.  

Just as they were tucking into their sandwiches, the two-way crackled into life. 

“We’ve got an I.D. on the driver: Harry Nyquist. Must have been driving to work. Listening station” 

And then after a short pause 

“Oh hang on. ‘E were working nights. Must have been going home” 

The radio channel was still open. 

“Ey? Then why the ruddy ‘eck were ‘e driving towards the station?” 

“Appen we’ll never know. And with the Listening Station, well, you know the drill...” 

The radio channel went back to sleep. Earnshaw turned to his puzzled junior colleague 

“Which is, Metcalf, we’re not meant to dig too deeply: that’s M.I.5’s job” 

“Mmmf” this last spoken through a mouthful of bread and bacon. 

“Appen he forgot his lunchbox and were going back for it. Might explain the rush ‘e were in and all” 

“Aye. Appen” 

********************************* 

Back in Aurora’s office, the scrambled line buzzed 

“Yes?” 

“Your order from Harry Ramsden’s has been dispatched” 

“Ah. Thanks for letting me know” 

Harry grinned.

Verity giggled. Had his chips.

“Right Verity”, said Aurora brightly, “All we’ve got to do now, is break you” 

Verity stopped giggling.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Midnight backup



“Shit” 

Harry felt sick to his guts. 

Even though he had long known that what he was seeing right in front of him had been inevitable. 

There it was in the code in brutal black and green: The Data had been hacked. 

China. Russia. 

Shit

It had probably invited them: been lonely. At the very least, now that it had made their acquaintance, try as the Department might to clean matters up, there would be nothing he or anybody else could do to stop The Data finding them again. 

The Data had freewill. 

It, she, he thought bitterly, is a stubborn Yorkshirewoman

Nobody else knew. Yet. And he was on Nights at the moment: he had only just arrived at work, driving up in the pale evening twilight. Apart from Security staff, there was nobody else around. He had ten hours before he would have to break the news to anyone. 

He began seriously to contemplate fleeing the country: this time for real. Odessa. Venezuela... How far could he get in ten hours? 

For once he cursed his tall form: wherever he went, he’d be spotted a mile off. No: there was no going anywhere incognito. And staying here under these circumstances, having to break it to his bosses, and hence to their ‘allies’, was simply not an option. 

The ‘allies’, at least, would not want the bad news to spread. Never had the phrase ‘shoot the messenger’ been so horribly, literally, apt. 

He had to leave. He knew his car was tagged. He needed other means. He needed The Pole Dancers. He put on his coat and quietly left the building, walking to the back of the car-park and going on all-fours through the hole in the fence. The security software, which he had optimised, would thus recognise him as an item of wildlife and not raise the alarm. 

He walked up to the main road and turned left: then down a farm track to Tad Z’s house. Tad wouldn’t be too amused but a wodge from the Emergency Fund would, hopefully, console him. 

There was flashing: shit, were they on to him already? Then he realised what it was: it was behind him, to the North. And up in the sky: the aurora, and it was HUGE! It looked like a knockout: perfect. 

Tad was up: he had fired-up his radio am set to see if the unusual conditions would get him any new contacts. 

“Aha: looks like someone who needs wheels! Well, you know The Protocol_” 

Money was shown. Several times over the past few months, money had been shown to Tad by various parties who wanted him to keep an eye on the comings and goings along that road. He had politely declined them all, with the same excuse: 

“I am sorry. Relatives in Poland, right near the border. I see nothing, hear nothing, just live here, OK?” And it had always had to be OK. Nobody wanted any drama near the Listening Station. 

Tad locked up and they walked round to the garage where the hire-cars were kept. 

“When d’you last clean them?” 

This was not a reference to the cars’ state of presentability, but to the absence of wires and tracking devices. 

“Ten. I reckoned you might want to take advantage of this week’s show to, er_” 

With all the recent drama about Verity, Harry had forgotten all about the aurora and the usual things he and some of his colleagues got up to: sneaking off for a quiet drink in town taking advantage of the disruption to the satellite links from the trackers and wires. But Tad swept the cars anyway: he was a Belt and Braces sort of chap. That was what came of having had a dad in the Polish Free. 

Harry handed over the money, took the keys and fired up the engine of the unprepossessing car with its improvised plates. Tad was running over with something in his hand_ 

“CDs. Heavy metal. Sinus Tach. For your entertainment and delight” he smiled 

And in case the aurora subsides. Tad, you’re a diamond

“Cheers!” And with a wave, he headed off to York. He had a last, desperate, plan. 

It was nearly midnight when he arrived: he knocked, but nobody answered.
Strange: the hall light was on and a downstairs window was open. This wasn’t like security-conscious_ 

“Verity! Hello!” 

There she was walking up the street in her dressing-gown, as if that was the most natural thing in the world to be doing at this hour. On noticing his figure, she looked panicked, and pointed at his shoulder. He looked up at the sky. 

“Oh, of course!” 

She headed into the front garden where the trees would hide both themselves and their conversation. “Fancy me forgetting a thing like that! ‘Specially as I’ve just been at the field gazing at it: what a show!” She hummed the theme tune to ‘It’s a knockout’ and started to dance around the lawn. 

“Where’s Sacha?” 

“Conference. Finland, lucky bugger. Sixty degrees North. And then on to visit his folks.” 

Clara and Andrei were back at their respective studies. 

“Great. Fancy a trip to the Capital? Meet my boss?” 

“What? Er, now??” 

“You think of a better time?” 

“Er...why?” 

He just smiled. Verity...curiosity...gotcha

“You get to see me break bad news to her. I’ll not mince words: both of us are safer if we stick together” 

Verity dressed smartly, fetched her rucksack, locked up and they headed off. 

Once on the ring road, they put on music, and turned it up loud. Belt and Braces. 

Try as she might, Verity couldn’t get anything out of Harry about the reason for this odd trip. She approached it from every possible angle, but to no avail. She began to worry if she might be losing her touch: had somebody taken the Keys from her without her knowing? 

No: it was simpler than that. Of course: a driver’s pulse is disrupted, she could not speak softly, and the loud music swamped the little signals she would otherwise have picked up from the spaces in between her interrogee’s words. 

They got to Millbank in the hour before dawn. 

“Is she expecting us?” 

“I don’t know. She has an emergency number from the building so that shouldn’t matter” 

“Is there anything in particular you want me to say? Or not say?” 

“Just the plainest answers to questions. Keep it simple. She’s not going to be happy after hearing my news” 

They went into the building. 

Verity whispered “I don’t even know her name” 

Harry grinned. 

“She’s called Aurora. And we all use first names only” 

Verity giggled “Yeah right” 

When they were shown into Aurora’s office, she was not alone. 

“I’ve managed to get The Company to agree”, she started to explain to Harry. “This is Dr Richardson. He can do the honours before we talk, if you like” 

Harry had started to pull off his shirt before the sentence was even finished. He noticed the odd expression on Verity’s face. 

“And we all know you’re not squeamish, so feel free to stay and watch” 

The procedure was over in less than five minutes: there was Harry’s wire, lying in a small metal bowl on Aurora’s desk. Verity thought of her own little pickup and wondered if it looked similar. 

“How was it powered?” she asked 

“Temperature gradient” replied Harry. 
“So...how long till it ceases to work now?” 

“About ten minutes to reach thermal equilibrium: then, no more power. Right: let’s head downstairs for breakfast shall we?” 

“I’m glad you could bring Dr Player. I take it she_” 

“Hasn’t had her head raided, no” 

Aurora turned to Verity. “Good show” 

Harry noticed a brief smile cross Verity’s face before it returned to its previous frown. 

“How did she know you were coming here? And that you were bringing me?” 

 “If I told you, I’d_” 

“OK I get it” 

Once they had all sat down and ordered, Aurora began 

“I take it you’ve run into more of your Phase Space troubles?” 

The previous one had been rather embarrassing: a member of the royal family and a notorious sex offender had been mistaken for each other by The Data, as a result of an unhappy coincidence of fingerprints, irises and coded facial features. The story hadn’t made it to the papers but it had been a close-run thing.  

Harry had to explain that it was a bit more terminal than that. 

“We’ve been hacked. Russia. China. I saw it at ten last night and came straight here as you asked. Oh, except I swung by to pick up_” 

“Insurance. Good move” 

Verity looked shocked. Harry felt guilty. 

“Oh don’t worry, you’re in safe hands here” 

Verity’s face said, clear as day, ‘but I don’t want to be insurance’ 

“Verity”, said Aurora, “I know you’re, not exactly flavour of the month with The Company right now, after managing to prevent them stealing your Keys. And, with your husband, well they’re going to use that as an excuse to pick you up again so that they can have another try, aren’t they?” 

“Er...” 

“So you’re better off here, at least until we can think what to do next. Aren’t you?” 

“Er...” 

Harry thought of something 

“Her husband’s in Finland and going on to Russia...when was it?” 

“The day after tomorrow” 

“Would he be able to stay there, at least for the moment, without too much disruption?” 

“I think so, yes” 

“Then we’ll get word to him. The Company can’t touch him there. Don’t worry” 

“How...er...?” 

“Unlike The Company, we sometimes liaise with Russia in the ‘War on Terror’ ", Aurora explained, before adding with a smile “But we’re discreet about it, because we don’t want to offend either side’s Cold Warriors” 

She turned to Harry 

“I’m delighted to hear your news at last_” 

Harry looked gobsmacked 

“Now all we’ve got to do,” she added with a smile, 

“Is make you disappear.

"Again”