Monday, 27 April 2015

A walk on the edge

Dawn, on Verity’s third day at Sanmonto. 

Not looking good... 

Verity clutched her head and sighed. Waves of electric pain shot through it, from her neck via her temples to her face. That head-crusher in the Dungeons. But not a mark on her... 

She staggered to her feet and swam across the room to where there was water, her Ergot, a cloth she could soak and put across her forehead... 

And then she remembered about the extension number. The phone was right next to the bed: that was thoughtful of someone. 

She dialled the number. Heard the ringing tone. 

The tone stopped. Silence. 


Perhaps she’d dialled wrong. 

“Anybody there?” 

The line cut out. 

She tried again. 

Still no joy. 

She lay down. She could hear her heart: as often happened on these days, every fourth beat was missing. 

Oh well. With Ergot, and a few more hours of sleep, she might make it back to work after lunch. It was just beginning to get interesting, too. Touring the laboratories getting everybody to tell her about their work. Tell her everything. English Method: just ask nicely. 

She thought she heard someone open the door. But there were no footsteps. Whoever it was had just quietly closed it again and gone on their way: perhaps got the wrong room. 


Reid’s phone was ringing. 

He had been detailed to pick it up but not answer. He heard Verity’s voice, weakened with pain.  He had told the Cousins of a technique he knew, which would help make sure they would not lose Verity for those thirteen days. It was time to put it into practice. He made his way to her room and quietly opened the door. 

And a tsunami of pain smacked right into his face. Empathy: mind-reading! He quickly shut the door again, wondered what to do. He recalled that he would lose Empathy if he started thinking about his former work: needed to take something into that room which would remind him of it. In case he were to start feeling that pain again. 

He went into his Mind Palace and found what he needed: he took it into Verity’s room with him, placed it on the floor where he could see it. 

Verity was almost asleep. She probably wasn’t even aware of his presence, let alone of what he had been detailed to do. So first he could... 

No, he mustn’t. Verity would never trust him again. 

Just one question...he’d always wanted to_ 


He even had what he needed, for asking questions. And he was curious... 

Just like you are, Verity

Temptation beyond endurance... 

He picked up the iron question mark, held the sharp edge to her neck, and asked, very softly and clearly: 

“Who, is, Mills?” 

Three heartbeats and the fourth one gone missing... 

“Reid!...I thought...
thought you might
ask me that...

But you know
He’s just my

“No, he’s more”


“More than that.
What is he?” 

“He’s...nye verr*...” 

“What was that?” 

Nye boysya**” 

Reid pressed, with his other hand, on the most sensitive pressure-point on Verity’s head. He felt her wince: he hadn't lost his touch.

Verity tried to defend herself; tried to push Reid’s hand off her head. 

She wished she were somewhere else. 

“I’m walking
on the cliffs:
Yorkshire’s coast. 

Walking North,
near the edge. 

Sun is setting
to my left
over the fields. 

Night is rising
to my right
over the sea. 

Black velvet
night, with stars.
Cool dark waves
hundred feet
below me. 

No more pain...
I’ll walk Right
over the edge...” 

She’s raving... 

“Who, is, Mills?” 

“You...did, this
at the Camp.
Didn’t you?” 

“Yes, you guessed” 

“They told me.
So much pain,
not a mark...” 

tell the truth
like your name:

What, is, Mills?” 


Nye prossi!*** 


Reid applied more pressure 

Fear I might
lose my mind! 

Go Right now
over the edge.

I want...the
Grim Reaper” 

Verity was trying to reach his hand on her head again, but her movements were random and unco-ordinated. He recognised, from his former work, the symptoms of a pain so intense as to render speech incomprehensible.

I’ve lost her... 

He recalled Verity’s traces on the Compliance machine. He gave up: put down the question mark. 

He didn’t see who picked it up. 

Mills, summoned by Verity’s fear, was wearing his dark robes: he was wondering why anyone would threaten her with a sickle, of all things. Interesting object though: sharp on both sides of the blade. He held it up near the window for a closer look. There was a slight sound as he tested the sharpness again. 

Reid turned round. 

Saw the dark figure,
And passed out. 

Verity opened her eyes briefly. There was a flash in her head. The pain subsided enough for a thought to cross her mind. 

Not my field’... 
It was Mills... 
...turned my mind

But I must
hide from him
that I’m cured.

Reads my mind
when I'm scared
so he does.

I...must not fear
the reaper.

*Don’t trust
**Don’t fear
*** Don’t beg

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Climbing the pole

Verity was overcome with nerves. 

It had been over a decade since she had last been interviewed for a job. Her hair had still been brown and vaguely presentable in those days. And she had been so, so blissfully ignorant of the many things that were wrong with, the damage being done by, most of what was known as ‘work’... 

But it was precisely this knowledge that Reid had found on her many References, and which had got her this far. And didn’t she, when prompted, simply love the chance to share it with people? 

There were the Cousins, looking slightly older in real life than the portraits on the only Reference she could find about them: an article in a progressive Evening Lands newsmagazine detailing the many toxic effects of their business empire. Verity wondered if they had a Succession Plan, and what would happen if, in oh-so-Evening Lands style, she were to pull out a firearm and gun them down. 

She walked up to them to shake hands: noticed they seemed slightly surprised by this. Their eyes were pale and watery-coloured. The chair she was shown to was right in the middle of the room. The furnishings were sparse, although obviously expensive. Never before had she been cursed, during a perfectly sensible job induction, with thoughts of Interrogation. She hoped it didn’t show. 

“You will be tired after your travel” 

“Thanks, no: I feel great. I went for a bit of a stroll where you had those trees planted in your grounds. Thank you for the thought, by the way” 

“You will tell us, first, why you were in such doubt about becoming our Scientific Liaison Consultant” 

“Ah, yes. Well that’s fairly straightforward. My background is in Earth Sciences, Telecommunications and Energy: not Biogenetics or Agriculture. I simply don’t think that I could have done the post justice. I could certainly make it my business to understand the technology, but in a way that’s not the issue, is it? Without the track record, I just, wouldn’t be credible. Would I?” 

“So you will explain what it is, that you feel you could offer us instead?” 

“Sure! It’s something I’ve been doing now for over ten years, but I’m afraid you’ll not see any, ah, hard evidence of my track record. It’s all Commercial in Confidence: perhaps Dr Reid explained to you why that is?” 


“OK it’s down to me, then. Well, I suppose you could call me a Resilience Consultant. I make it my business to keep au fait with the widest trends; some of them Earth Sciences, some Economics, International Relations, Politics, even culture and public opinion. And people take me on when, after they’ve done their own Business Continuity Analysis, you know that everybody does, they want to know, is there anything else out there, any wider issues, that they may not have considered, that would affect them? Sometimes, these things are more obvious to an outsider coming in” 

“You will give us an example?” 

“Very well. This office, this building. I notice it’s, what, over a hundred degrees outside. How long could you keep working if, for some reason, your air-conditioning malfunctioned?” 

“And, why would it do that, exactly?” 

“I have come across firms who, for example, have no working back-up power supply: they believe they have, but it’s not regularly tested. Others have air intakes where they could easily be sabotaged. The water supply could be hit: there can be Legionella. But that’s just the details: there’s more” 

Verity paused for breath 

“There’s, the big picture, the other extreme: long term trends. For example, when I was eighteen the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. I could see two things, and, well, perhaps a fair few others could see the same, but nobody would admit it, perhaps even to themselves. 

“One: nobody ever holds on to Afghanistan. I’ve since heard a wonderful expression, it’s ‘where empires go to die’. Sure enough, that’s what happened in short order. I admit that was kind-of obvious to any Brit who knows their history” 

Verity smiled sheepishly 

“But two: I could see then that the Middle East would end up giving you, giving us

Remember they always want to hear that we are Allies... 

“more trouble than the Russians ever would. And, you will agree, isn’t that exactly what happened? 

“Now, that’s all pretty basic stuff compared with what I’ve seen since. There’s a small community of people, we’re looking at, predicting, long-term availability of resources. And I could ask you, say, if the price of vehicle fuel doubled: I saw that coming in 2007 by the way, how would that affect what you do? I called the subsequent recession and the share price crash. My boss said it ruined his whole afternoon. Or, turning to Agriculture, where will you source Phosphorus in the future? How long will your topsoil last? It may be worth investing a little in these things now simply because nobody else has thought to do so

“You will tell us why, then, if you have been able to see these things, you have failed to capitalise on them” 

Verity grinned as she thought about all the people and things in her life that she loved, and her success at protecting them 

“That depends on your definition of failure.  And, indeed, of capital” 

The cousins looked at each other. Even Verity could see that she had probably said the wrong thing. These people measured the Wealth dimension and no other: Verity was not rich. 

But she had become distracted by a small framed sampler on the wall behind their desk. From where she was sitting, she couldn’t quite make out the words. She had her suspicions, though... 

“Sorry can I just ask: the sampler behind you_” 

They followed her gaze 

“You will be able to see if you come nearer...” 

Heck, I thought you’d never ask 

Verity got up and approached the desk, bringing her chair with her 
“...made by our Grandmother, for the two of us when we inherited the business” 

Verity read out loud 

“ ‘With Acknowledgement to the Genius of Ayn Rand’...and you said...your grandmother? Does it have a date? Er, may I?” 

Verity carefully lifted the sampler from the wall and turned it over. She nearly dropped it 

21 12 1953 

“You will have noticed something?” 

“Shortest day...European date format...and...” 

Sinus Tachycardia...

There was a resonance. Verity couldn’t quite believe her luck. They talked some more. She became quite animated: water supplies; the Soviet Union; unattended nuclear power stations; Oswald Spengler... 

Her job title was to be ‘Distant Early Warning’. 

“You will have some questions to ask about us, I’m sure” 

Verity had only two. 

“I, have to tell every client these. First, I can’t drive_” 

Neither of them seemed too bothered, so she carried on 

“Second, I...lose, about thirteen days a year. Migraine. I’ve found there’s no_” 

“You will not be required to drive and you will not suffer migraine: Reid has told us of both of these” 

“Sorry? How_” 

They were saying something about Reid. One of them handed her a card with an extension number on it: she was to call it if she felt ill. 

An Enhanced migraine wicked is that? Or will they just sack me the first day I fail to show up

“Leanne will show you to your office. I think we’ve taken care of everything...”
They shook hands again 

“You will enjoy working with us” 


Friday, 24 April 2015

Last frost

Reid broke the silence. 

Damn but you’re good!” 


The metal question mark had disappeared and Reid stretched out his hand  to help Verity up from where she was sitting

“You can come take a look at those trees of trust now” 


He helped her to her feet 

“You know, the hardest part about what I had to do just now? To test you and make sure you could_” 

Verity suddenly realised what had happened. 

“R.T.I. practice", she grinned, "yes. I seem to have had rather a lot of it recently” 

“First, blocking my mind from you in here, so as not to give the game away, and second, not flinching when you threw that knife at me” 

“Oh, sorry. But I needed to know_” 

“Of course. The Cousins aren't mind-readers, by the way, so that makes things a little easier for us. And yes, the explanation that you gave, it fits well with our cover story about why you’re there” 

They came to the trees 

“Here they are: yourself, as before. Sacha. Helga, who helped me find this job. Professor Austin. And Charity, who told me all about your time at the Milgram experiments, and who has also been good enough to share with me, a little secret of the Cousins” 

Verity looked about for more trees 

“You will notice”, he said with an ironic grin, “There are no trees for the Cousins” 

“And, er, what’s their little secret?” 

“They hired Charity because she knows her way round the supply chains for natural food” 

“What? Natural, as in, not Enhanced?” 

“You got it. The Cousins won’t touch the stuff” 

“You’re joking, right?” 

“No: and I have the files to prove it. When our other work is done, revealing those files will be our parting shot” 

“But they’d be...dynamite! Just by themselves...” 

“No, not quite. Remember all those security leaks from a few years back? Has anything changed there yet, hmm? No. People need, not just the news, but also to be shown a way forward, a way outta the mess. That’s what we’re gonna be doing from the inside: that’s what I need your help for” 

Verity recalled articles in the Reference about the ranch, entirely powered by renewable energy, belonging to a former President who had done whatever he could to help the Oil and Coal industries.  And it was true: that news, that particular revelation, hadn’t changed anything. 

“D’you want to come see the rest of my Mind Palace now?” 

Verity nodded 

“I bet you’re curious about what all this has done to me. Frankly, so am I” 

There was a Walled Garden of Self-Reliance: Verity could see broad, runner and French bean plants just starting to grow; rhubarb and artichokes in leaf, sorrel, kale and several berry-bushes, and an apple tree in blossom. 

“Does that tree mean you can trust yourself?” Verity asked

Reid just smiled

They went to the Skills Room. It had all the same implements as before, but the way they were displayed was completely different: the room resembled a museum rather than a workplace. The Polygraph and the question marks had been moved to a new Skills Room, along with the Compliance machine and the Fifth Amendment cushions. Verity noticed that there were nine of the cushions: they were displayed on stepped shelves that ran up the far wall. It was almost tasteful. 

The Skills Room led into a library: the nearest shelves held books on Psychology and Criminology, but further on lay a broader range of reading material. 

Verity noticed to her delight that Nineteen Eighty-Four was there. 

She hoped, to quote a joke among her Party friends, that Reid would not start using it as an instruction manual. 

She quietly whispered “Enough”. 

They came to in the sixteenth-century pub. It was late evening and the tourists were long gone. 

“Those files. About Charity’s work, sourcing the food. Do you have them here, to show me?” 

Reid pulled a sheaf of paper from his bag and handed it to Verity. 

“I figured you wouldn’t go anywhere without seeing them first” 

She spread them out on the bar. The top one was an invoice, from a C.S.A.* farm just outside Las Vegas. Charity’s signature, which Verity recognised from documents she had seen during her time volunteering for the Milgram experiments, showed at the foot. There was a corresponding receipt for the same sum, paid from Sanmonto’s account a few days later, also displaying Charity’s signature. 

She looked through the rest of the papers: they were very much the same type of thing. There was a contract for a regular supply of free-range eggs. Verity noticed that each document bore the Evening Lands’ symbol for Organic produce. 

“I have flight tickets for you, for the day after tomorrow. I even managed to persuade the Cousins, given your scientific background, to have trees planted to compensate for the damage done by flying” 

“That was very thoughtful of you: thanks” 

“And, you know what?” 

“No. What?” 

“Now that you’ve demanded to see those papers, you have countered all of the first seven steps of the Technique after which I named myself**: all the steps in which you, the ‘suspect’, have to take an active part. That last one was Step One: all you have to do when being accused is demand to see the evidence. And if they can’t show it, simply invoke The Fifth, or your country’s Right to Silence. With no evidence, and no confession, they can’t touch you” 

*C.S.A.: Community Supported Agriculture 

** Reid Technique, step 1: Direct confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand (NB this isn’t necessarily true!) that the evidence has led to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.