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.
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
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
not much for company. Mills, is that you? I’ve run out of er_”
hands on her head. Big, podgy ones. Not Mills’ long, fine hands.
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.
you even...” get into the house?
in a cruel whisper
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...
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
her face with her hands. Reid pulled them away.
“I can stop
“If you will
only give me...ah, you know. You know what the Company needs”
getting them. Not...now...I know, what they’ll do with them. The Data. I know...”
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...”
in too much pain for any attempt at hypnosis to work, even temporarily.
him turn his hand, as if consulting a wristwatch.
He held a
cloth lightly over her face: it seemed to help her relax.
videocard on the bedside table ceased to glow: it could only record for six
hundred seconds. Read had timed it perfectly.
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
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.
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.
minutes, she woke up. She just stared at him. He could hear her thinking
I don’t get it...
He owed her
“There was a
reason. Would you like to hear it?”
didn’t have to answer. She wouldn’t have had to even if he were not a
briefing, she told me. Filled me in with a bit of background, before giving me
to your friend Helga, I am now on Aurora’s direct payroll. As my Sleep-E-Z-free
self, Matthew Read: mind-reader. Except_”
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”
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
“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"
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?”
up another meaning: do those words mean something else to you?”
verr’: it’s Russian for ‘Don’t trust’...”
“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_”
“How did you
lot of it about”
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
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”
suppose you know...”
thinking about Harry
“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_”
explained: the margin of error is greater than the distance separating points. One
point can easily be mistaken for a neighbour.
you into a secret: Aurora wants to ice it but the Company won’t let her. ‘Few
ask me, it’s a goddamned liability”
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_”
you’ll never guess where she is right now”
up with the Colonel”
despises tor_, er, people like him. She says they're weak. Cowards.
And, he’s scared of women! He thinks
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
“Let me know
how you get on at The Company”, she said politely
the videocard and left.
thoughts turned to the kitchen.
nearly midday: she could murder a Full English.
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
I WILL CHOOSE A ROAD THAT’S CLEAR...
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.
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
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.
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
“You all right,
both faded into the misty landscape by the time the two police officers had
clambered down to reach the burning wreckage.
I reckon he’s a goner, don’t you?”
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”
Fancy a bacon butty?”
Earnshaw you can be an insensitive bugger at times”
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.
an I.D. on the driver: Harry Nyquist. Must have been driving to work. Listening
after a short pause
“Oh hang on.
‘E were working nights. Must have been going home”
channel was still open.
why the ruddy ‘eck were ‘e driving towards
never know. And with the Listening Station, well, you know the drill...”
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”
last spoken through a mouthful of bread and bacon.
forgot his lunchbox and were going back for it. Might explain the rush ‘e were
in and all”
Aurora’s office, the scrambled line buzzed
he had long known that what he was seeing right in front of him had been
There it was
in the code in brutal black and green: The Data had been hacked.
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
It, she, he thought bitterly, is a stubborn Yorkshirewoman.
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
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
‘allies’, at least, would not want the bad news to spread. Never had the phrase
‘shoot the messenger’ been so horribly, literally,
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,
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.
like someone who needs wheels! Well, you know The Protocol_”
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.
up and they walked round to the garage where the hire-cars were kept.
last clean them?”
This was not
a reference to the cars’ state of presentability, but to the absence of wires
and tracking devices.
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.
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
metal. Sinus Tach. For your entertainment and delight” he smiled
And in case the aurora subsides. Tad,
you’re a diamond!
And with a wave, he headed off to York. He had a last, desperate, plan.
nearly midnight when he arrived: he knocked, but nobody answered.
hall light was on and a downstairs window was open. This wasn’t like
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.
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.
Finland, lucky bugger. Sixty degrees North.
And then on to visit his folks.”
Andrei were back at their respective studies.
Fancy a trip to the Capital? Meet my boss?”
of a better time?”
“You get to
see me break bad news to her. I’ll not mince words: both of us are safer if we
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.
know. She has an emergency number from the building so that shouldn’t matter”
anything in particular you want me to say? Or not say?”
plainest answers to questions. Keep it simple. She’s not going to be happy after
hearing my news”
into the building.
whispered “I don’t even know her name”
called Aurora. And we all use first names only”
giggled “Yeah right”
were shown into Aurora’s office, she was not alone.
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”
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”
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
gradient” replied Harry.
long till it ceases to work now?”
minutes to reach thermal equilibrium: then, no more power. Right: let’s head downstairs for breakfast shall we?”
you could bring Dr Player. I take it she_”
her head raided, no”
turned to Verity. “Good show”
noticed a brief smile cross Verity’s face before it returned to its previous
“How did she
know you were coming here? And that you were bringing me?”
“If I told you, I’d_”
“OK I get
had all sat down and ordered, Aurora began
“I take it
you’ve run into more of your Phase Space troubles?”
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.
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_”
looked shocked. Harry felt guilty.
worry, you’re in safe hands here”
face said, clear as day, ‘but I don’t
want to be insurance’
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?”
better off here, at least until we can think what to do next. Aren’t you?”
thought of something
husband’s in Finland and going on to Russia...when was it?”
“Would he be
able to stay there, at least for the moment, without too much disruption?”
“I think so,
get word to him. The Company can’t touch him there. Don’t worry”
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”
delighted to hear your news at last_”
we’ve got to do,” she added with a smile,