A serialised novel
I thought I’d share some of the music that has, in some form, inspired the story so far, or, at least, has resonances with it. My suggestion is that you listen to the music either while reading or after reading this week’s episode. I hope it will add a little to the experience!
Panic in the World – Be-Bop Deluxe
…. I’m sitting on the big white sofa when the door opens…The young girl can only be about 12 or thirteen years old….It’s weird like, y’know…doesn’t look up, doesn’t look around, just watches her own feet walking across the floor… Again nothing. No reply. I wait and smile at her…Then the door opens again and in walks O’Donnel…What? Just because he didn’t say ‘hi’ to the girl who brought me my lunch I’m sat there thinking he’s some kind of evil genius…. Boy, what a schmuck I am…. But I feel like being difficult right?… “I know you have some questions for me Shem… well, I will introduce myself properly… My name is O’Donnel and I work for the Gene Agency, here in Government… My job is to oversee those projects and ensure that nothing interferes or hinders them in any way.”… “So anyways, Mr. O’Donnel. Can you tell me what this project is that I’m somehow involved in? You know, if it’s something to do with me, I oughta know right?” He smiles back at me, stands and holds out his palm.“I can do better than that Shem. I can show you. Come with me.”…
So that’s how life is right? I mean, there I am asking all these questions and suddenly, this guy is wanting to give me some straight answers. Ha, yeah, but of course, being the shmuck I am it’s all too good to be true. So O’Donnel is stood there by the door and I just sit there.
“What’s going to happen when I go through that door Mr. O’Donnel?” His smile doesn’t shift.
“What do you mean Shem?”
“What do I mean? What could I be worried about Mr. O’Donnel, can you tell me that? Huh? Like maybe I’m thinking that the second I stick my head out that door my brain’s going to fry again, just like it did when I arrived, you know? ‘You’re safe in here Shem, nothing to worry about in here Shem.’ Right? Now you want to take me outside? I don’t think so. Not until you’ve got some more fancy explanations for me.”
Shit, I’m sat there and all this is just pouring out of my mouth, like some dumbass agressive shmuck and I’m not quite believing what I’m hearing. Like it’s someone else who’s speaking you know? Where did all that come from? I can see O’Donnel is thinking pretty much the same thing for a second or two. I’m about to cave in and tell him how sorry I am right? You know, it’s not I don’t appreciate all he’s done for me so far. Ok, ok, so I can’t actually tell you what he’s done but it sure feels like I owe him for getting me away from Harry. Before I can say anything he jumps right in.
“Oh, of course I understand.” He nods to himself and walks back towards me. I’m watching his face now, looking to see if he’s angry with me. I can’t tell. He’s still grinning and I’m wondering if there’s just the slightest bit of steel behind it when he sits down next to me. “I’m sorry Shem.” He pust his arm out and rests it lightly on my knee. “I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you to arrive here. You’ve been experiencing things I cannot even begin to understand.” That bit of steel just melted away and the hand on my knee squeezes a little. “To be honest, I forget. Forgive me.”
There’s a long pause until I realise that he’s waiting for me to give him some kind of a response. “Oh, yeah, sure, well, huh, that’s ok. I mean, I didn’t mean to sound so…mean, right? It’s just I got a bit freaked out back there and I don’t mean to repeat all that shi…experience. I’m just kinda getting used to being here, y’know?”
“I can see that Shem. Yes, of course. Perhaps I can help you not to worry. You see, this room is shielded from the outside world. ” He removes his hand from my leg and waves it kinda indifferently at the ceiling and walls. “It’s very technical stuff but basically we are protecting you from what happened when you were outside. Here, this room, and nearly all of the Government buildings that are here are safe for you to walk around in. You wouldn’t remember that, of course, which is my mistake. You were already unconscious when we brought you here. But you were safe as soon as we got you inside.”
“Ok, so you need to check out the shielding in parking area.” He doesn’t get me first time. Slick, huh? I try and do my laconic smile. “Outside? When I got out of the car?”
“Oh, yes, I see.” Again with the now familiar smile, “You’re teasing me, aren’t you? Quite right, quite right. Yes, well, as I was saying, most of the buildings here are safe for you.” So he stands and offers me his hand, like I’m some kinda old man who needs a hand up from the floor. “Let me show you.”
I’m tempted to take that big hand for a moment. Y’know? How bad can it be? But I get this little picture in my head as I sit there like a schmuck, looking at Mr. O’Donnel’s perfectly kept fingernails pointing in my face. I see Harry’s little head on top of his big square shoulders. I see O’Donnel’s hand – this hand for all I know, this very self same hand – reaching into O’Donnel’s jacket for something. And we all know what happened next don’t we? Huh, right, like you may know but I don’t have a clue, right? Not for sure. But that little chain of events means I don’t let O’Donnel pull me up.
“Listen Mr. O’Donnel. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but, if you don’t mind, I’d rather find out a bit more about you…this place…what I’m doing here in this room, before I walk out there and make with the meet and greet.” There’s a long pause. “If that’s ok with you, of course.”
Now, don’t ask me how I know this, right? But this really pisses O’Donnel off. It’s kinda fun to watch him struggling to keep it all together, because he’s just inches away from my face, right? And he can see my beady eyes – shit, what colour are they, anyways? – staring at him. So he swallows hard. He coughs a little. He pulls the white shirt cuffs a little further down, does that fancy twisting thing with the buttonss and nods. But all the time that hardness is right there under his face. Like a metal skeleton. Most of the time he’s all Mr. Jolly and you don’t notice it. Until you press his buttons and then – there it is, you can see it plain as the idiotic grin on my own shnitzer as his face is pulled taught. So I don’t know what it is. Is it because I won’t go out? Is it because of the whole question shebang? Who knows. Huh, don’t ask me that’s for sure, right?
Slowly he gathers himself and starts to pace the room a little. Each little circle taking him nearer to the door as he speaks.”Ok Shem. That’s fine. I have some time. I think I can answer most of your questions. Let’s do that. Ok. Although, for some of the answers – I’m afraid they’ll get pretty difficult – it really would be best if you’d come outside with me and just let me show some of our work to you. You know how things can seem so…awkward….when they’re presented in the abstract.”
‘Presented in the abstract?’ Shit, my whole time here has been presentedinthefuckingabstract, right? I want to tell him to take that thought and … but somehow I swallow it down. Maybe some other time. For once, don’t ask me how, I have my questions ready.
“So this shielding. How does it work?” Surprised huh? Yup, so was he. Don’t worry. I’m just warming him up.
“Well, um, let me see. Do you want the full technical spec or just a humble layman’s concept of it.” Nice. He’s good. Isn’t it weird how a conversation with someone can shift through so many gears, right? Like now the atmosphere betwen us is like some big face-off. Who can have the smartest line? Two minutes ago this guy had his hand on my knee! Sheech, what a shmuck I must be. But I interuppted. I apologise. “I’m going to go ahead and tell you what I know, so you just chip right in if there’s a bit you don’t understand. The shield, yes. You see Shem, it’s all based on the idea of one force cancelling another equal force out. So I may be walking in one direction and you may be walking in the opposite direction. Now, if we are both walking at the same speed, and are of the same build and height, what would happen if we meet?”
“We shake hands? No, I’m sorry, that was a cheap shot.” (Sheesh.)
“That’s right, we both fall over. Obviously, if one or either of us were to be walking faster…”
“Yes, or slower…thank you Shem…then only one of us would fall over. The weaker one. So, the shield produced by us is generating a force exactly the same as the one that caused your unpleasant reaction earlier.”
“So we both fall over.”
“Uh, yes, I suppose you could say that. Yes. But, as I understand things, this is happening thousands, perhaps even millions of times a minute. So, in effect, we have produced a stalemate. Neither is falling over completely but neither is able to come in. So neither of the forces win. We…stay still.” Ok, see what I did there? Don’t ask me how but O’Donnel’s on a roll. He doesn’t see it coming, right in the schnitzer.
“So who is attacking us Mr O’Donnel?” I let it hang for a second or two before the killer right hook. “And why?”
He doesn’t actually stop for a moment. Shit.
“Now, perhaps my use of the word ‘shield’ was a little over dramatic, I grant you, which of course spurred your very thoughtful and incisive question. It’s not, of course, like two people who are at war. It’s more akin to…how shall I put it?…keeping the sun off someone with sensitive skin. Now, that’s not to say that you aren’t in any danger. I do have to be frank with you about that.”
‘Not in any danger?’ No shit. Don’t ask me how I know, but I’ve known I’ve been in danger since the beginning of this whole thing. “So who, or what, am I in danger from Mr O’Donnel, can you tell me that. Will somebody please tell me that?”
He looks at the door again, like it’ll part just by the piercing stare from his eyes. “A very god question Shem, as always. I think this is where I will have to insist on taking you out and showing you round. It’s very hard to describe. But, because you have so clearly stated your nervousness about that, I will try to explain a little of it before we step outside.”
Huh, he’s a cool customer right? Like now the whole ‘going outside’ thing is just waiting to happen. It’s no longer my choice – it will happen, whether he answers my question or not. I’m really hoping he gives me something good before I have to take any more risks. Believe me, if you’d had your mind and skin boiling over with who knows what, you’d be pretty reluctant to go on a little tour with our Mr O’Donnel. Shield or no shield. Sunburn or attack, no shit.
“It may help to think of this as a matter of preservation, rather than…how shall we put it…a war. The word ‘war’ is so aggressive. It conjurs up so many images. Most of which do not apply here.”
“Ok, let’s call it preservation, if it’ll make you feel better. Preservation from who?”
“Actually it’s a ‘what’, my dear Shem. Preservation from what.”
“No shit. Like as in ‘Preservation from being extremely dead’?”
He laughs! He actually laughs. Like, not some manic angry laugh. No shit, this is a genuine, heart-to-belly laugh that lights up his face and bursts out of him like a sneeze. Sheesh, at least I can put down entertainer on my ever growing list of talents. Right alongside stupid shmuck for listening to all this bullshit.
“Bless me Shem, you really are as unpredictable as we thought you would be! This is so interesting. But forgive me. That was a perfectly reasonable observation. You are quite right to correct me. I must sound horribly ambiguous. ” He pauses, partly to make sure that he’s quite over my wonderful gag. “Let’s put it this way Shem. If the human race is a shipwreck, then you are a lifeboat. In fact, to avoid any further ambiguity, you are the only lifeboat. Without you, it is us who will be extremely dead.”
Dear reader – do you have a suggestion for the next chapter? Perhaps a plot idea? Or maybe you just want to tell me to stop! Whatever, drop me a comment! You may find it used in the next chapter!
‘Til next time,