Monday, 21 December 2015

Solstice Question

Verity stepped out into a garden bathed in ridiculously warm air. She could sense the trees and plants still growing: the air didn’t smell of Winter. 2017 had been even hotter than the previous two years, both of which had broken records.

The pale sun, just visible over the hedge, stood still behind its thin patterned veil of clouds. 

She had never before sat out on the lawn in December; it struck her as such an outlandish prospect that she felt compelled to do so. Eighteen degrees. The canopy had blown off the swinging seat in last week’s gales and she still felt too weak to shift it, so she got out a light, folding deckchair. 

She sat and contemplated Solstice. The year turning: what had she done since this time last year..? 

“Thinking about me, lass?”

She felt Mills’ hands on her shoulders. 

“Mills... she turned with difficulty to see him.

go carefully: it’s still a bit delicate there. You know they had to saw through bones.”

“Aye, lass, I can tell.”

He spread out his hands on her shoulders.

“Phases, recall? But it’s healing: your mortal bones, they rebuild themselves, all the time, hmm?” She felt him finding the knots in her shoulders, her neck, complicated by their recent ordeal. He went carefully.

“Now then lass: I came here to ask you a question.”

No Blue Bomber this year. Had she mortally offended him by turning down the offer of his long lifespan?

“No lass, don’t fret.”

“How could you tell_”

“It put you in fear, just for a moment there, that you might have hurt my feelings. But you haven’t. Not now. I understand the reason for your choice last year: perfectly sensible. I regret I didn’t think it through properly at the time. And now, with your heart repaired, you have a long life before you. Long lives, even, what with the extra one my misdemeanour has afforded you.”

Verity mentally rehearsed the words she could use, if in mortal danger, to summon her extra life:

About, that, life, I’m, owed.

“Might you... er... is it even possible..?”

“Aye lass. When the time is right, there will be another offer.”

Silence fell. Silence, except for birdsong. The sort, Verity noticed, that you usually don’t hear until the Spring. 

“I came here this year to ask you a different question altogether.”

“Oh. Fire away.”

“A simple yes or no.”

He paused,

“Would you allow me to take you to, any place of my choosing?”

She didn’t like the tone of those last five words. 

“What... place?”

“Oh I reckon you know, lass.”

“No! You said you’d never make me go there again_”

“Make you go there, no. But the question was, would you let me, allow me, of your own free will, to take you there?”

He lowered his voice and bent towards her.

“Would you trust me there?”

“No. Still no. You yourself said I should never trust you.”

“Aye, that I did. And when I said that, you took that piece of advice, didn’t you?”

He spelled it out slowly:

“You trusted my advice. So you trusted me. Didn’t you?”

“That’s not fair! That’s...sophistry! I...the advice itself was good. Given what you’d just done to me - left me on Blencathra in the sleet, in just a thin robe, barefoot - I’d have taken the same piece of advice from anybody. Heck, I’d have taken it from that bastard former Prime Minister!” she paused before adding finally:

“So there!!”

Mills rubbed his chin. “Hm.”

“Very well. Would you, take it as a challenge? To let me_”

“In my current state? With bones yet to heal and... Mills I’d never recover! Never be... structurally sound again! It’s ridiculous! I wouldn’t be able to lift things...” 

Mills’ silence made her ill-at-ease.

“Aye. You’re in no fit state for the rack, are you lass. But that wasn’t what I had in mind.”

“Mills, stop it!” She got up and turned to face him.

“If you’re going to carry on like that, you can clear off!”

Over three months now without a migraine, since her heart had been repaired. She was not going to let him break that run: the longest in her adult life.

“Aye, lass. You’re thinking what I’m thinking aren’t you?”

She felt his hands in her hair. On her soft spot, her temples...

“Enhanced. With electrodes for the eye sockets. And best of all: virtual. Not a mark.”

Shut up!! I’ve got bloody Sinus Tachycardia! You think this is going to do it any good?” 

Only when she’d finished her outburst did she notice he’d taken his hands from her head. Notice what he held, by their stalks, out towards her. 

“Oh my GOD Mills that really isn’t fair!”

“You’d do it - you’d take a challenge like this - for your family’s County, wouldn’t you?”

He held the white rose out for her.

She stared into the depths of its petals, lost in them. Their roots, she noticed, had a yellow tinge. 

That’s not fair... She glanced across at the red rose Mills held in his other hand: no yellow tinge there.

She was not a coward. She had no yellow fears. She would not be outdone.  

She could feel her heart overdoing it: could practically hear it. Overclocking, as she'd joked to Andrei on his computer.  

Sinus Tachycardia...

Sing, dance; send Fear away.

Would it be possible to sing, or think of dancing, in the virtual head-crusher? If she were there, could she?

Four years ago in May, Andrei’s birthday. Sinus Tachycardia, playing at Manchester Arena. Probably their last tour ever. She'd bought tickets for the two of them: mother and son. She had migraine. Excruciating, even after taking enough painkillers to make her start seeing things. Extra things, in addition to the usual black flashes with their sickening edges. Did she bail? No! She got up, got dressed and went. Beyond pain: sing, dance... 

Yes it was possible. 

She took the white rose.

“Good lass.”

The roses vanished.

She stared at Mills’ face. “What was all that about?”

“I needed to know that you’re up to it, lass.”

“Up to... what?”

“To what happens next.”