Monday, 30 March 2015

Roots take hold

“I could do with getting some work done on the Allotment today”, announced Verity after Sacha had set off to work. “D’you want to come along too?” 

Verity was seriously hoping for a yes: leaving Gitmo’s former top interrogator alone in the house for any length of time was not a prospect she relished. Reid had guessed this, and said yes. And of course he wanted to see what Brits grew if they wanted to be self-reliant. 

Verity collected the things, including a second set of gloves, locked up carefully, and they set off. It was windless and sunny: almost warm enough to sit and talk, as long as they had done a bit of work first. She found herself wishing their street, with its lack of trees, was a bit more acoustically dead: she knew from her own experience that everybody would be able to hear every word, including Reid’s outrageously transatlantic accent. So she gushed about Kale for the whole length of Viking Street. Until they got to the crossroads. 

CCTV. Oh crap. 

The main road was comfortingly noisy, and lined with old trees. 

“You know, it’s times like this that bring home to me how difficult it must be to, if you have one, to keep a secret. There’s no crime in our street: everybody overlooks everything without any effort. When people walk down, if you’re indoors, even with our windows, they’re double-glazed, even when they’re shut, I can hear every word they’re saying. Accents, everything. Unless it’s windy or raining_” 

Windy City...I wonder if that’s why Chicago has so much crime: you can’t hear people if they’re up to no good... 

“That’s why I was wittering about plants the whole time and not letting you get a transatlantic word in edgeways: sorry” 

“Perfectly sensible: I approve. Gotta keep on the ball. You do appreciate, dontcha, that the C.I.A. don’t know that I’ve kicked the Sleep-E-Z. And I’d like to keep it that way” 

“I can understand. So it’s been what, nearly three weeks. Do you have dreams now?” 

“Yes. Just dim impressions though, nothing fancy” 

“I had an odd one last night: I dreamed the allotment was completely overrun with bindweed. Ah here we are, this is it” 

Verity opened the little wooden gate and they ducked in under the elder bush
“That bush, that’s where the elderberries for our red wine come from. And I make vitamin syrup out of them too; boil the juice up with sugar and spices, to drink in the winter. Very good as a pick-me-up if you get the flu. There’s the Kale, that’s an Apple tree we got free from the Council, and those are Currant bushes: they were just twigs when I put them in two years back. And we’ve got Rhubarb, just coming up there, and Artichokes. These are Strawberries I put in last autumn, and there are Broad Beans, they’re frost-proof now, they were planted in the autumn too. I save seeds: that way they get hardier every year. I wish I could be the same!” 

“What’s bindweed?” 

“Ooh you lucky bastard! No wonder they call your country the Land of the Free. It’s convolvulus: ten-foot-deep roots. Can last underground without leaves for forty years. Can you remember what you were doing, forty years ago? It wraps round the stems of things and_” 

chokes them! Kills them! 

“I’m going to do a bit of weeding. When I come across some, I’ll show it you” 

Verity got out the kneeling-mat. It didn’t take long before she saw the first spade-shaped leaf poking up. She used the hand-fork and dug down carefully, giving a running commentary as she went 

“You have to go, really gently, dig carefully, don’t wrench, don’t pull the roots, they’re  white tubes like that, look, or they’ll snap and you have to find the rest of it” 

Verity had a thought 

“Dig around it and lift it tenderly...make it almost want to come out. Like the English Method...” 

She continued, doing precisely that 

“If I catch it in the spring it’s manageable for the rest of the year.  If I don’t, it_” 

will overrun the place, and... 

Reid had discovered that one of the benefits of Empathy was an improved ability to read people’s faces. And Verity’s was good for practice: she was familiar to him, he had seen her in every emotion that was decent, and by its nature her face was practically an A.B.C. for learning the art. 

And it had a look on it that he hadn’t seen before: Verity was a killer. She had a ruthless streak: like a lot of his compatriots he had seen the notorious FPS Russia episode, but she had been wearing eye protection at that time. Without that...he wondered what she would have been like if she had lived during the War; he could imagine her ordering people “Cheer up or Die!”  As she worked on, he almost found himself feeling sorry for the bindweed. He also guessed that, were he to say as much openly, Verity would do her level best to skewer him in the neck with that dirty gardening fork. And then calmly bury him behind the bamboo. And she’d get away with it: they didn’t have polygraphs in England. 

He nevertheless decided to try something 

“Have you read ‘Day of the Triffids’?” he asked semi-jokingly 

Oh-oh. Big mistake 

“That stuff...it’s just like triffids. It will kill us if we don’t keep on top of it...” 

She had found a few particularly long stems. She held three of them together 

“Do you know, just three of these, the breaking tension’s so high that you could strangle a grown man with it?” 

And she was coming towards him...twisting the stems into one thick strand... 

“And that’s what it does to my little plants, our food. It...strangles them... 

“Steals...their...minerals... 

“Takes...their...light... 

“You have no idea how lucky you are in the Evening Lands. Now, just imagine...” 

She pulled up a tiny leaf with about an inch of white root attached to it 

“...one root, like this, taken across, over the Atlantic to your country, left in the right place, think...within ten years, no more Amber Waves of Grain...just green lumps of bindweed! I bet your TSA lads don’t look for it, do they, hey? And you can’t eat it, can’t feed it to animals, it has no medicinal properties, it is no use at all! And you know, someone must have done that, to these islands! Brought it here. We fought off Hitler, we fought off Rabies, but we lost this one. If I could get to, whoever did that...” 

She was holding the strands again, one end wound round each gloved fist 

“I’d...make...it...slow...” 

Someone was walking past along the path 

“Oh hello, Tom!” said Verity brightly, “Lovely morning isn’t it? Just doing a spot of weeding. This is John, he’s across from Canada for the week...” 

The two men shook hands 

Reid found himself dying to ask Tom, who was obviously an old friend and fellow allotmenteer, if Verity had always been a bit obsessive about bindweed. But he had lived here long enough to know that Brits simply don’t ask that kind of stuff, and reluctantly stuck to less incendiary topics, such as the weather, and what could be grown in Canada. 

By the time their chat had finished, Verity was loading an old dustbin with dried stems of something from last year. She set a match to them and, once the fire had taken, started adding the bindweed pieces. Once they were all in and nearly burned-out she declared cheerfully 

“Well that was all good clean fun! Let’s go home and have lunch!”

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Riverside cocktails




“I will, tell you, everything...”

Verity put her arms around Sacha and rested her head on his shoulder. 

It had been a tough day. 

She had already recounted, over supper, the morning’s Cardio appointment. The letter had arrived out of the blue several weeks previously: her usual people had apparently asked for a second opinion, from the Centre of Excellence in Leeds. She had assumed it was for the benefit of a research project, having already said, several times, that she would be happy to ‘lend herself out’ for this kind of thing.  

But it wasn’t. It was a thorough check-up. Over 90 minutes: E.C.G., Ultrasound, the works.  At the end of which the Cardiologist explained that her heart was working far from perfectly and nobody could tell as yet whether this was a permanent, low-level problem or something that was getting worse. Verity’s heart then misbehaved for the whole of the rest of the day. 

But that was not the half of it. She had put-off telling the rest till they went to bed. 

“I took my camera. Hey I even snuck a shot of the E.C.G. trace: I’ll be able to look at it and see what they see” 

But the real reason for taking her camera lay beneath the railway station: she wanted to get some atmospheric shots of the Dark Arches: an ancestor of hers, engineer Bennett, had designed them, to carry the River Aire under the tracks. 

She pushed her way through the gap in the security fence, and past the fire-damaged former shops: the Dark Arches had been derelict since a fire swept through them in 2016.  Verity had a tiny LED light, a freebie from the Solar Power company who had put up their roof, to look at details, but she mainly walked using sound. There were the arches, on her right, with just a very little daylight coming through from the ends of the tunnels. 

“So I’m looking down, down from the bridge, into the arch, the river’s running through and there’s a ledge, alongside it, where you can walk”, she told Sacha. 
 
“There was barbed-wire but it’s mostly gone, fallen into the water. There are steep steps down, they’re fenced-off, natch. But there’s more: there were people down there!  I could hear them. They looked, well kind-of like workmen and I thought great, they might know something interesting, perhaps a spot of history. I waved at them, hey, are you guys Engineers? And they signed for me to climb over the fence and come and chat to them, down the steep steps. Steep, just shy of having to turn and go down backwards like on a ship. At the last step, one of them held his hands out, chivalrously, just like you do. I reached out and, he grabbed me by the wrists! Both wrists, his fingers wrapped right round, got my pulse, can you believe it? And I could have sworn he nodded knowingly at one of his mates. 

“And, they’re Evening Landers! He goes, ‘First-up, you’re with friends_’ and I can’t believe it, Evening Landers, down the Dark Arches, and they’re wearing sunglasses

“ ‘It’s, dark, and you’re wearing sunglasses!’, and one of them chuckled and said, ‘Blues Brothers fan hey?’ I grinned and said yes. You know, you want to be nice to blokes who grab you by the wrists in the dark: keep them talking until they decide you’re a real person and not just some object that they want to...well you get the idea. And the first bloke says, ‘I’m gonna let go your hands now; please, just sit down next to us and no-one’s gonna get hurt. We need to talk, and we need your help’, and I’m sitting there thinking, funny way of asking for it. 

“His other mate nudged my hand, he’s offering me a pair of these shades to put on, so I humour the guy, as you do. And blow me they’re the best, the lightest, slimmest bloody NVGs you’ve ever seen! All the faces, the surroundings, show up clear as day, and I can’t help it, I say Wow! How do these work so well? And you know what they explained: they work, using an obscure bit of solid-state optics: the Feldman Effect. Named after Alexander_” 

Sacha grinned, “...Evgenovich Feldman of the Physico-Technical Institute, St Petersburg. I believe you may know him”. He stole his arm under her waist and they both laughed. “We sold the patent to an American firm”, he said regretfully. “We tried British ones first but nobody wanted to part with the money” 

“I despair of my country sometimes”, sighed Verity. 

“Anyway, then they explain, why the Dark Arches: the first bloke says ‘Well, first, perfect white noise from your river there: cover any conversation. This place just can’t be wired for sound. Second, we made a guess you’d be here: your engineer Bennett_’ 

“They obviously saw the look on my face, and he went on, ‘Those things at Menwith Hill aren’t just there to improve the scenery y’know. And third, your new Cardio guy, he’s one of us. That’s why you got the appointment with him. He overheard you tell the nurse that’s where you were headed after the appointment. We’d been going to walk you here from the square. This is much neater: thanks’ 

“And I asked, more than once, but they wouldn’t tell me who they were, so I supposed they must be C.I.A., to know that much. And that anyway, if they really needed our help, they’d fess up sooner or later. 

“Then another one started with, ‘Well, there’s an expression you guys use round here, isn’t there, for a confidence shared: Between you, me, and_’, and I thought, ‘...The gatepost. That’s a weird coincidence what with that daft story I spun at Reid...’ 

“I could have sworn I saw him nod and smile when I found myself touching the place, you know, where that scar still is...mmmm goodnight, then” she finished softly. 

Sacha had fallen asleep. 

Sleep then, you need it, forever waking up at daft o’clock and not being able to get back to sleep again. It can wait till morning, thought Verity. Sacha Evgenovich Feldman, you’d make the world’s worst interrogator..

And she mentally ran through the rest of the strange encounter in a renewed attempt, in the soft darkness, to make sense of it all... 

She recalled telling the gatepost story, including the bit about the torch, but finishing with a straightforward repair job: no secret societies, no pick-up. 

But they had expected, known about, the strangest bit of the tale! The tale that wasn’t even true: she had made it up. And then felt terribly guilty about it.

“Don’t worry.  It’ll be in there,” her questioner had reassured her, indicating her head, “stashed right next to that old American accent of yours” 

This had been the low-point of the entire encounter: Verity had never felt quite so naked. She recalled the incident with the sickle in Reid’s Mind Palace. No #5 cushions here, though. 

“Ah, Reid, yes. He told us. Full confessional.  When he stopped taking Sleep-E-Z. That make you feel any better about us?” 

I...didn’t say anything! Really, I didn’t

The one who had asked for the gatepost story was a mind-reader! He’d turned to the third man, who had got something out of his top pocket, and asked, “Is that really necessary?” 

Verity’s heart had lost it again on being handed the object. It was a phased array from the Inverse Polygraph. She had dropped it like a hot brick. 

“Oh gee, I’m saree! I hope I haven’t broken it. Cain you pick it up? It’s...kinda scary” 

And he had asked her to recount what she was able to remember, taking it from the question about the torch 

“Sure. D’you know, Guy Fawkes went to school just acrass town from where we live now? Innyway, the medics listened to me lots, like they were real innerested. They, kinda looked at each other, the two of them. And they asked me, d’ya mind if we talk with you, without your ma and pa, for five? Aind we all agree it’s OK. Aind then when there’s just me in the room with them, they, they’re speaking real quiet, they tell me that there’s people all over the States who think like me, believe in Science and Progg-ress and Fairness, aind that there’s a society, they’d like me to join, it’s a transatlantic society, to help us, America, not go backwards again, sorta to superstition, and unfairness, and even, they said, perhaps torcher and slavery! They get out and show me, it’s, a tiny radio pickup. Aind, they explain what it is and what it does, it tells me where they are so I can get in touch when I want to help, and that they can give it to me, put it behind the stitches in my head, aind, would I like that? I said yes, please, so they put it right in there, aind stitched over it. 

“I said thank-you and they said, ‘You’re very welcome’...aind...am I talking a bunch of baloney?” 

Verity had stopped abruptly. Her English accent having returned, she could explain about having simply fabricated the story, to stop Reid’s constant questioning. 

But no, they had insisted, it was genuine recall. 

Verity had just sat in silence, taking all this in. Here was this strange story, and this strange object in her head, that she had forgotten all about, decades ago.
She had found herself thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cracking film, Total Recall... 

Someone was holding her wrists again. More questions: yes she knew who Dianne Feinstein was, yes she recalled the 20-point summary of that 6,000-page report, yes she could enumerate 3 side-effects of Sleep-E-Z... 

And then, finally, they had told her who they were. Progressives, including within the C.I.A. 

Wide awake in bed, Verity found herself much more able to recall the rest of their conversation. She wished she could write it down while she still remembered it in full, but that would be asking for trouble... 

“The C.I.A. is split right down the centre, and, as you might know, is in the middle of a massive re-organisation. We want to take that chance to turn things around_” 

“But I’m_” 

“Obviously not in a position to help us with that biggie, no. But your Professor Austin, you can help us about him. He’s going to be in a whole lotta trouble real soon, isn’t he, and you know why” 

Verity tried to look blank 

“C’mon...breakfast. Full, English, breakfast. Soon as they cotton-on to that, he’s dead meat. Unless we can get him outta the country and into another job. Save his bacon. Fast. Even then, we’re gonna have to, keep an eye on him: keep him outta harm’s way” 

Verity wondered why they didn’t just leave him to his fate. 

“Because he, and you, are our best shot at getting hold of the real English Method, and consigning all that mediaeval shit from Gitmo to the history books where it belongs, that’s why. Don't want them starting over with exactly the same mistakes the next time there's a terrorist threat or a big arrest” 

“I know someone, who he could work with. In our University. I meant to introduce them to each other last month but, I was kind-of overtaken by events. She’s a linguistics professor. She speaks Arabic, would you believe...and you know, he’s got...data...that they can work with, so they can write a proposal together and get funds, to keep him here. I bet the MoD have money for that kind of thing. And if he’s here, in England, he’s got me! I can go there, if that helps. But, you’re a mind-reader, aren’t you?” 

“Yes?” 

“And so, why do they need the English Method at all, if it’s possible to read minds?” 

“Damn fine question, for a newbie! Right, first, the simple answer: there just aren’t enough of us to go ‘round and we’re born, not made. Like, oh I dunno, being gay or being left-handed. Only, we’re one in a million, not one in ten. You can’t train up to be a mind reader. But we believe you can train to get passably good at the English Method. 

"But I bet you’ll want a proper answer, won’t you?” 

“You’ve, er, just won your bet” 

“Well, I’m a mind-reader, right, but you don’t know what that feels like, do you? Same as I don’t know what knowing the English Method feels like. So I’ll give you an image to work with: imagine a mind as a vast expanse of murky water. You can only see so deep, right, till the murk takes over. And you can’t go down into it. So, there’s a kinda black art in, bringing the thoughts, the information, that you want, near enough to the surface so’s you can see it. And secondly, that surface is vast, like the ocean. You gotta be searching the right sector, for the information, else you’ll miss it. The questions, they elicit the associations, in someone’s mind, right? You ask someone a question, better yet, just a gentle prompt; that invokes in their mind an image of something they associate with the answer. If they’ve had RTI they won’t tell you that answer out loud, but likely as not it’s still there. If there’s oriental-type mind training, then it’s trickier: they can keep the answer buried, with effort. You just gotta keep at it till that effort tires them out_” 

“What, sleep deprivation?” 

“Nothing as serious as that. You know the feeling you get, if, say, you’ve been reading or trying to learn, and after some time, perhaps a couple hours, you begin to notice that information isn’t goin’ in and stayin’ there, and it’s best to stop and do something else? Well, that’s what it feels like. Hardly painful. But with the English Method, all that effort isn’t necessary: they give you the answers because they want to, because it gives them pleasure, to give you the answers. Plus, you can’t record minds on an AudioCard.  

“Now, why are you thinking about some fancy palace?"

She cursed herself for thinking about her Mind Palace.

“Sorry, my mind, er, drifted. Peterhof Palace: it’s beautiful...” 

“Well I sure envy you if you’ve got a Mind Palace looking like that_” 

That had come as a bit of a shock 

“But you do know, don’t you, it’s impossible for anyone else to see inside, see details like what you’ve learned or whose names are on the trees, unless you specifically invite them. And to do that, you have to make the deliberate effort, and above all you have to trust them. Quite deeply. Not like the kind-of temporary trust you get if you’re interviewing someone and, well, they decide they like you a bit and, uh, loosen-up” 

Verity made a herculean effort to think of monkeys, and changed the subject. She hoped she had managed to avoid recalling the fact that Mills had once gatecrashed her Mind Palace, which would have given away something of his true nature.

“I need some way, don’t I, of getting in touch with you if, er, the other lot start giving me aggro. Which, I think they might. Given, er, what we’ve just been talking about. Can you_” 

“OK, let’s take a worst-case scenario. You wake up and find you’re experiencing the business end of what they’ve taken to calling the Southern Cross. What d’you do?” 

“Panic?” 

“Correct. And in your panic, you emit Theta waves” 

“But, they’re, only just measureable! On the surface of my head_Aaaggh!!” 

They had picked her up and were going to throw her in the Aire. After all this. Head-first, and it was only shallow, in a concrete conduit. It took her nearly two whole seconds to recall... 

About, that, life_ 

They put her down 

“You get the reading?” 

“Yup. Got it” He brought the tiny display over to Verity, who was still shaking 

“Look. There’s your Panic Wave. Sorry but we needed to do that to get one that's genuine. It’s a biggie. We’ll be able to pick that up no mistake, wherever you are. In an emergency, you understand.” 

“Wha...er...eh?” 

“Because, we want you alive: hence the Cardio appointment” 

Verity shuddered “Erm...er...right” 

“Sorry, why’s that scare you? That we want you alive?” 

“Because, it...makes it sound...as if...” 

“Ah c’mon! You know that’s not how we meant it” 

 “And, the wave thing? Howzit work?..” 

“Resonance. Wavelet transforms. Pattern recognition. Sort the signal from the noise. Ever hear of the Cocktail Party Effect?” 

“Where you can hear if someone says your own name, almost no matter what else is going on in the room?” 

“That’s the one. Welcome to the cocktail party!”


Friday, 27 March 2015

Spring Haiku


Reid had insisted Verity have another go on the Polygraph.

And then he kept saying that she was not telling the truth.

Verity gazed out of the kitchen window at the almond tree blossom. 

Her thoughts drifted off to Japan. 

She decided she had had enough. 

She destroyed the Polygraph with a single well-aimed Haiku:


Those wave traces are
at this moment telling you
that I am lying







Thursday, 26 March 2015

A spot of weeding



The things...sometimes...curiosity can get you into all sorts of trouble... 

Verity reluctantly got out the little table and two cushions.  Late morning sun was pouring into the kitchen, but the living room faced North and got none. Verity had had a large coffee with plenty of milk and sugar, for energy. Unfortunately it, together with her feelings about what she was about to do, sent her pulse right over the edge. It kept stopping. It was most awkward. She found that thinking about trees evened it out a bit. 

“Are you...sure you want to go through with this?” she asked, rather pointlessly given that it was obviously what Reid had wanted all along. “You can always, erm, change your mind. You know. We can...go down to the allotment instead, or something...” 

Reid knelt at the table and she went to do the same. 

“Now I put my hands on the sides of my head...like this...and you put yours over” 

Reid had large podgy hands. 

“And I have to be, beside myself...” 

...which I am...with fear...that’s the easy part...he's the interrogator who tried to kill me...

“And I have to say, ‘I trust...’ I can’t!” 

“Why are you shaking? Is it the coffee?” 

# 5, John Reid... 

“Can’t you tell, by looking at my face, that I haven’t taken any Sleep-E-Z for over two weeks now_” 

Verity was looking at his face. Of course she couldn’t tell anything from it. And equally obviously, she didn’t want to admit the fact. A fact which would become evident as soon as they made their way to the relevant rooms in her Mind Palace: the sparse Portrait Gallery and the damaged Image Processor for reading faces. Neither did she want to betray the opposite: her strengths. The spare accent that had saved her sanity. Saved it from Reid’s efforts to destroy it. 

Verity rubbed the back of her head: if she couldn’t read faces, at least she could read fears: Mills had taught her. 

Reid lit up in blinding orange. 

An interrogator with a fear of...people! How much sense does that make

But she could tell something from Reid’s face: fear helped her do this sometimes.  He was blushing. He was, he might be, embarrassed. And then he asked her, of all things, if she had ever been to Dresden. 

“Er, no” 

“Ever been to Germany at all, then?” 

“Oh loads of times. To visit friends, and Sacha’s got relatives living there. Before that, plenty of conferences. Radiocommunications, we had a research programme, people from all over Europe. We’d meet in Darmstadt: their flight research is based there. The first time we all turned up, the chair’s address, he said, well I hope you’re all enjoying your stay here...sorry there are not a lot of historic buildings to see here in Darmstadt but I’m sure the British delegates’d have something to say about that_” 

“How did you feel?” 

“Well I smiled but I was, a bit embarrassed really.  I was the only Briton among the British delegates” 

“And you were born in the year...” 

Weird question 

“1962. But you know that” 

“After it was all over, in other words. But supposing, that year had been 1922. And you’d been one of the pilots, the bombers_” 

“I’d have been bloody mortified. I wouldn’t have wanted to show my face there at all, as a matter of fact. I’d have sent someone else: a research student or something” 

After a very long pause she asked, “Er, is that how you, er...” 

Verity could practically read the silence: 

# 5, Verity Player... 

“But I’m not Darmstadt’s old buildings: I’m still here! No harm done”
Verity brightened. “I even learned something from, from what happened” 

Ooh perhaps I can be a proper Yorkshirewoman and get a Bargain... 

“I’ve got an idea: we agree in advance that we only go, to the places that actually need repairing, or work, or whatever. Everything else, everywhere else, is infradig: no-go. We probably only need to go to the Dreams Room. Like I said, it’s only the nightmares, really, that are a problem: the rest, I think, is kind-of fading” 

“Great idea” 

Verity touched the back of her head again: save energy. The orange light disappeared. 

They tried again, and it worked: they found themselves on the steps, facing the grounds. 

“So, those are the trees of trust_” 

Please don’t ask if you are among them 

“OK, let’s go in then” 

They got a shock on turning round to head for the door. The lowest five feet or so of the walls were behind stacks of sandbags: there were scorch streaks and a few pock-marks further up.  The windows were white-taped with diagonal crosses.  

“Let’s just, erm, not mention the War” said Verity, smiling sheepishly. 

They made their way through to the Dreams Room at the back. It took them past the door of the Joke Store, which Verity noticed was being guarded by a Grizzly with an AK-47. She smiled at him. 

“You first”, said Reid as they got to the room. Verity pushed open the door. 

And screamed as if her life depended on it. 

When Reid looked over her shoulder he could see why: there, large as life, was the object of her nightmares. Seeing it in his Mind Palace hadn’t bothered her so much, but here its sheer incongruity made it all the more terrifying.  

“We’ve...got to shift it, haven’t we?” 

“Sure. We’ll take it out into the grounds, chop it up and have a good old bonfire. Just like on your Guy Fawkes Night_” 

Guy Fawkes was tor_...oh god Evening Landers can be thoughtless at times...well perhaps he’d just forgotten... 

“It must weigh a ton, though” 

“Don’t forget this is mind, not matter. You’ll be able to lift it” 

Blimey, so I can 

They carried it through, and down the steps into the grounds. Verity called for two axes, and only then remembered that she couldn’t wield one to save her life: she had never learned how to do it safely. 

I wish Andrei were here. He’d make short work_ 

“’Ey Mum, what’s that?” 

“I’ve been having nightmares about it: it needs destroyed” 

“What, nightmares about a table with uneven legs?” 

“Yeah. It’s been, upsetting me” 

She handed him the axe, pointed to the Southern Cross and grinned: 

“Kill!” 

Andrei gleefully obliged. Verity put in a stroke or two on Reid’s say-so: this wasn’t work that should be completely delegated. 

“Right: how’re we going to light it?” asked Reid 

“You’re having a bonfire?” 

“Andrei, that’s enough daydreaming during lectures_” 

“Oh Mu-um_” he started to protest 

“Get on! Or your Dad’ll start whingeing at you again” She jokingly pretended to slap him across the face, so he dematerialised. 

Verity had matches, but there was no kindling. She looked around. 

There were two dead-looking trees next to each other: on taking a closer look, she saw they were labelled ‘Byrnes’ and ‘Reid’. ‘Reid’ looked as if it might still have a bit of life left in it: Byrnes was a lost cause. Verity pulled it from the ground, broke it up, put the pieces under the splintered Southern Cross and set a match to it. She hoped Reid hadn’t seen the name on the dead tree. She found herself staring into the flames, as she always did with a fire. 

And then looked round to find that Reid, who had been standing at her right, had quietly disappeared

No, not out here in the grounds...oh god, what has he seen?.. 

She sprinted up the steps, stood in the hall and listened. She went to what he mustn’t see first: he wasn’t in the portrait gallery or near the image processor, phew. 

He wasn’t in the Dreams Room either, though there was something there: a white quilt. It had been trampled underfoot, so she picked it up, shook it out and wished it clean. It was just as she had hoped: it felt soft, and alive, and there were the three words picked out in threads of gold. She took it with her and went to look in the music room. 

Sure enough, there was Reid. He had found the Carmina Burana: a piece that she had always found disturbing. All the pieces in her music library came with Associations: could he have read them somehow? It was playing at full volume. Verity quietly cursed at herself for being able to remember every note, every harmony, of it. 

“Turn that off, please. It reminds me of_” 

and she forgot that in one’s own Mind Palace one’s thoughts are plain to hear 

_torture. 

Damn! 

Reid just smiled. 

Until the music stopped. 

“See this! It may be a bit bashed-about after a few hundred years, but it’s the world’s oldest, and still the best! I have my...” 

Reid looked. “All right I give up: we’re leaving now” 

Verity was holding up her quilt with its three golden words: 

Right To Silence