Sunday, 21 June 2015

Long hours



I must wake her now, or we shall be late. But I fear she will suffer the effects of the lack of sleep... 

He shook her gently awake. 

He could tell she was assuming he was Sacha. But Sacha had gone to sleep in the spare room because he had come down with a summer ‘flu and didn’t want her catching it. 

“Verity lass: time to get up.” 

“Er...gnk...what?” She looked across for the time: twenty to four. 

“Get up lass: I’ve got what you need downstairs in the kitchen.” 

“Mills, it’s_” 

“Aye lass: we’ve got about forty minutes. Midsummer, recall?” 

“Oh Mills! Midsummer sunrise! I haven’t seen one for years!” She hastily washed and dressed. 

He had lain everything out in the kitchen. She declared it a work of art: she set to and made her full English. 

“It’ll be a long day for you, lass. Sunrise till sunset_” 

She was halfway through demolishing her breakfast when she suddenly recalled_ 

“Mills: last solstice you_” 

“No Blue Bombers this time lass: I can only offer those of a winter. Summer’s different. But related. We’re going on a day trip: pack some things. And you’ll probably need a towel.” 

He looked at her expression: intrigued. When she had finished her food, packed, and left a note on the kitchen table for Sacha, he pushed up his sleeve and offered his pulse. 

He still had to guide her hand that last inch or so: no Oxytocin today. 

*****

“Oh Mills, Whitby! Trust you!!” 

He had brought them to the lawn near the Abbey: high up, where it overlooked the sea. To their left sat the dark squat tower of St Mary's: to their right lay the Eastern horizon. She crossed the lawn and climbed over the old wooden fence for a better view; he followed, surreptitiously consulting the Gorgeous Timepiece. Four twenty: six minutes to go.  

“You trust me, eh? Sure I’m not a_” 

He made for her deepest pulse and she giggled: laughing, but in fear “I’ll find out if you disappear in a minute!” 

“Five minutes. And it’ll be right...” 

He leaned near her so that he could point her to the spot on the horizon accurately 

“...there. Keep your eyes on it.” 

She noticed a buoy far out to sea, that she could use to help keep her position.

The wind dropped. The sea mirror calm, the sky crystal clear. Perfect conditions. 
 
“There it is! The Green Flash!” 

It barely lasted two seconds, but Verity had seen it! Caught it, for the first time in her life. She turned to Mills and beamed. 

“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to...er...thank you!” 

“Pleasure lass. And now it’s time for us to get to work. You've just over seventeen and a quarter hours in which to ask me anything you want about my time. Only my time, mind you: questions on other topics are disallowed.” 

He saw her stunned expression and felt her fear: she was used to only being able to ask him questions as compensation for his having misbehaved somehow. What had he done? Were her family all right..?

“I heard that.” he accused. “No I have not been up to any mischief, lass. Let’s just say that certain decisions have been made, by certain individuals, that it is appropriate that you should know these things.” 

“Oh. Er, why?” 

“I’m afraid that’s one question I’m not at liberty to answer.” 

“And, er, who?” 

He shook his head. 

Verity looked again at the sunrise spot: the full disk had risen over the sea and there appeared to be a golden path leading to it. Gulls wheeled and cried. Her face took on a distant look. Distant in time. 

“Did you ever have anything like a childhood, Mills? Do you have first memories or anything?” 

“Aha: interesting question. Well as a matter of fact my memories are very much like those of a Mortal: indistinct right at the beginning because the wherewithal for keeping them wasn’t fully formed. So it gets sort of nebulous if I try and think right back to the start: the gradual beginnings of Agriculture. I have a very vague memory of lying in a field of some kind of long grass, looking up into the sky. A further one of running through grass: grass that was taller than I was, than I am. I do not, never did, grow like a Mortal. I have always been this size.” 

“How can you know?” 

“Well lass, you and most Mortals have nostalgia visits, no? Go back to a place you remember from your childhood, years after your growing phase is over. And what do you always find?” 

“That they’ve built all over it, usually.”she scowled.

He smiled: typical, Green Verity.

“I mean if, by some miracle, they haven’t. Like this place.” 

“Well, everything usually looks smaller than_” 

“Aye. And why? Because you are taller: you have grown. I do not have that sensation: therefore I conclude that I have always been this size.” 

“Are there other, er, individuals like you? I mean, I know of the Postie, the Referee and her Assistant, I don’t really know, how all this stuff works. You said the Referee had once been a Mortal. I know she only, well she was murdered, just a few years ago. Who was the Referee before that? And, how did she, for want of a better expression, get the job?” 

“They are elected.” 

“Blimey! Who by?” 

“By yourselves: by Mortals.” 

“I don’t get it. You mean, we have some kind of...of power, over_” 

“Aye lass. Weighted Mourning. Eudy was sorely missed, sorely mourned. You, for example, had no way of knowing her personally, yet I know it upset you when you heard_” 

“Yes, it did.” 

“Well, it upset a lot of people, all over the world. The total weight of mourning for her, it was massive. She walked it. Same with her Assistant. They named a stadium after him, hmm?” 

Tawfik Bachramov: the 'Russian Linesman' of 1966...

“What about the Postie?” 

“Oh, Messenger Mercury? He’s the same. Weighted Mourning.” 

“Was he a Postie in his ordinary lifetime?” 

“Not as such, no. He brought messages to people, in a different way. Including to you. His words would cheer you up when_” 

He could feel it dawn on Verity who Mercury had been in real life: felt her thinking, I could kick myself for not recognising him.  

That tache. 

God of Comms. 

Well I never

“But then, someone must have been the Postie, and the Referee and their Assistant, before the ones I know about. They must have, er, did they retire, or what?” 

“Aye lass, they retire. A century or so of dealing with the affairs of Mortals and they’ve had enough. Well, it’s many centuries for them, of course, because the workload’s so great they have to do the time in parallel. It’s enjoyable, aye, but you can only do so much. Nobody’s put in post unwillingly.” 

“But you_” 

“I’m different. I’m abstract. I don’t get to retire.” 

“Oh.” 

Verity gazed out to sea again.

“Are there any other, er, abstract, individuals?” 

“No.” 

He didn’t want to go there, yet she had put a perfectly legitimate question. 

“What, not at all?” 

She had picked up his tone. All that practice at the Camp. All his doing: poetic justice, in a way. 

“None, lass. Only me. I am made out of the irrational Fear that Mortals have. I don’t get any say in the matter. Sometimes I...” 

The words wouldn't come.

“You..?” 

“I can really begrudge them that.” 

“You must, I don’t know, do you feel lonely? Do you even_” 

“I do know what it means, and aye, I feel it. There have been Mortals who have been my companions for a short while, usually sole survivors from battles. In that state, one is glad for any company, and one is, or was, often shunned by one’s own.” 

“What, even in China?” 

The survivor of a great catastrophe, will be lucky for the rest of their life

不死,必有后福


“Even in China, aye. But then the person, whoever it was, would find Mortal company somewhere and I'd be alone again.” 

“Did you ever offer anyone a Blue Bomber?” 

“No, lass. No-one came close. It’d have scared the living daylights. Think about how religious, or superstitious, whichever you want to call it, people were in the past.” 

“So, if I’d picked it up and drunk it...six months ago...I’d have been...the first ever person to have lived as...both...er_” 

“A Mortal and someone like me. Aye. The first.” 

He could feel Verity’s nervousness about a loneliness-related question that she didn’t think was decent... 

“No. I don’t feel physical solitude as a Mortal man does. Only solitude as in, having no-one to talk to.” 

“Sorry.” she blushed.

And then she seemed to run out of questions. He wondered if he should prompt her a bit. But then someone else did the job for him: laughter came from a house far below. 

“Do you think anybody who, er, would have accepted your offer, of a Blue Bomber, er, would they end up with the same three, phobias, as you?” 

That’s more like it. Pity I didn’t think of that one six months ago... 

“Oh no lass. I’m glad you asked that, no they wouldn’t, far from it! They’d end up with the same three phobias they had in their Mortal time.” 

“What...if I...er, what would they be, with me?” 

“Deception, first, obviously. Second, people treating each other like objects and not people: I have noticed the chilling effect that has on you, on your mind: it enrages you and makes it difficult for you to think. Third is a simple physical phobia: a yellow phobia.” 

He noticed her blushing.

“Ah, I know it’s there, and I know why you have it. Since the age of three. I’m afraid you’re stuck with it, lass. As someone like me, you would retain it.” 

“But I also fear...losing my mind: people have used that against me. Threatened me_” 

She stopped suddenly: he could tell why. He had been one of those people and the thought had put her in fear.

“You would not have that phobia, because such a feat would be impossible. Your mind would stay intact, no matter what.” 

He wanted to make the idea of being like him sound as appealing as possible.  But her logic derailed him.

“Even if no Mortal could, you could, surely?” 

“Why would I want to? And deliberately make myself lonely again?” 


Burned her hands...tried to dismantle her heart...injured her shoulder on the rack... 

“And I know what it feels like: temper. You just...lose it. Don’t think.  Same as me. It’s too easy_” 

Step Four and I fell right in! Reid Technique on top of English Method. It’s going to be a long day.

“Shall we go and find a coffee somewhere? Look: it’s nearly eight.” 
 
After coffee they made their way to the beach: Verity wanted to see if anything interesting had been washed in on the tide. She took off her shoes and socks. He could feel the North Sea making her feet tingle: the bitter cold this early in the morning, early in the season, had invoked her buried memories of hypothermia. 

They spent the rest of the morning talking about history. Had the Fertile Crescent really been lush and green? What was Ancient China really like? Was Novgorod as nice a place to live in the Middle Ages as Sacha was always claiming? 

The sky drew overcast. 

She wanted practical information: would she be able to read people’s thoughts like he could? Dematerialise like he did?  He had to be careful about the mind-reading question or he might give the game away... 

After lunch (“Fish and chips of course!”) Verity’s questions became darker. Would it look like an ordinary death, would there be a body? A body, aye. Then_ 

“I’ve got it all worked out_” 

Oh-oh, she doesn’t like that

“You’d have to disappear somewhere: off the radar, as you put it. Where you don’t know anyone: perhaps China, for a generation or so. Come back and see your family once there’s no-one who recognises you. That way nobody gets embarrassed, like you were nervous about just now_” 

“But they’d have old pictures: they’d recognise me!” 

He quietly cursed himself: forgot about Mortals’ ingenuity.

“You’d have to be a long-lost cousin or something.  Look similar, as Mortals do in families.” 

“And, what would I look like?” 

“You get to choose what age you’ll stay as. Forties seemed to suit you.” 

“Would I eat?” 

“I chose to be able to drink, but not eat: you can choose.” 

That must mean so much to her: look at that delight...

Over supper, they talked about Mind Palaces. Verity looked pleased she would get to keep hers, but it would need some extension work over time... 

Evening found them back near the Abbey. The low sun shone through the arches near them but the beach lay in shadow. It began to get cold, and a wind got up: an East wind, from the sea. He could feel her beginning to fade, two huge meals notwithstanding. They found a seat and she leaned against him and fell asleep. He smiled quietly at the irony: the interrogator tiring out first. But he wasn’t going to waste that last hour. 

There is Verity’s dream. She is somewhere beautiful, abstract; she cannot tell where. Perhaps China, or a finally-peaceful Middle East. She has been handed a responsibility which she accepts with good grace: “Well, if you're sure you can't find someone else to do it, I’ll give it a go...” 

And then I think I shall teach her how to play Chess.

Sunday, 7 June 2015