June 8, 2008

In the Hands of Others (5 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fay grabbed Ariadne’s hair down to the floor and yelled, ‘We are Cloth! Belief is rock! Truth-’

And all was still.

The tugging on Ariadne’s roots relaxed, but too scared to look up, Ariadne continued to cower.

Fay knelt down to Ariadne and smiled. ‘Sorry, love. Old habits… they die very, very hard. I just can’t afford to lose you and this… it’s the only way I know how to teach someone to stay alive. Our training… you’d be sick if I told you.’

Ariadne shuddered and cried, unsure whether her so-called friend was about to lose it again. Fay crept around behind her and sat down with her legs encircling Ariadne, as if she were a child.

Fay said, ‘I don’t know what it is to be, real, y’know, a person. I never knew, right from the beginning. And after all this, can I be? Let’s be honest about this. Do I want to be?’

‘Why… why not?’

‘Look, you don’t know. Better you don’t, really. You can still have children. You have a beautiful little boy, Ariadne. I did see. But I see different to you. What I am trained to see is vulnerability; I got the instinct to meddle, damage, interfere. The Cloth knew that, it’s what they seek out. Rule breakers. It’s better to stay dead, really, to not feel and be okay with the whole expendable thing. When you start feeling, that’s when you go bad, and the fruit rots on the inside, but the skin still looks shiny and tasty…’

‘Okay.’ Ariadne was still shaking. She didn’t understand anything Fay was saying but wasn’t about to prod Fay back into another burst of insane rage.

‘Clothmen are golems fashioned from the darkest of hearts. Most have forgotten their designated purpose, but a few of the Saints still hope to trigger something wondrous. And they have, they have, Ariadne, but it will probably unmake us all. There is a book yet to be written, our final religious work. One of its lines will be: Know that we are terminal.

Fay slid a hand up Ariadne’s torso, and it came to rest on Ariadne’s left breast.

‘See, girl,’ Fay said. ‘I really am trying to re-learn. What… does this’ – the pressure from Fay’s hand on Ariadne’s breast increased slightly – ‘mean?’

Ariadne broke out of Fay’s grasp and moved around to face her, hunched over, tired. Fay was bemused at Ariadne’s reaction. Ariadne noticed something new: Fay was utterly exhausted with heavy bags dragging beneath the eyes.

Ariadne spoke seriously. ‘Fay, what is it you want from us?’

Fay smiled to herself and started looking all over the ceiling, as if following some imaginary fly on its trajectory. ‘I need you to repay me, girl.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1728

June 22, 2008

In the Hands of Others (6 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

He observed the crystal chandelier over the main reception desk, the sweeping primary colours of the tessellated carpet motif, the fashionable Clothman receptionist sitting before a corridor that beckoned further into the warehouse, the pictures of tigers and eagles hanging from the walls, the subtle spotlighting giving the place a futuristic charm, and the wooden antique chairs lining the walls in uncomfortable contrast to the rest of the science fiction design.

Mr. Alpha found it appalling. How did Clothmen endure such opulence?

Mr. Omega approached the receptionist. She was somewhere in her fifties, white hair so short that her scalp seemed to be covered in frost, wearing chunky red designer glasses and a professional-looking olive green dress.

The receptionist Clothman said, smiling, ‘Hello, my name is Muriel, welcome to Scala Caeli. How can I help you, sir?’

‘Morning,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘Detective John Morrison, from the mainland. I’m here to see Dr. Kindle about the recent break-in.’

‘Ah, yes, the Garda said you’d be over,’ she replied, looking down at paperwork on her desk. She didn’t need the paperwork.

‘Please go down the corridor behind me, first door on the right. Dr. Kindle will be pleased to show you around and tell you all he knows.’

They headed down and knocked on the indicated door; a deep, male voice welcomed them in.

Beyond the door was an office more appropriate to Cloth work. A simple metal desk dressed with reports and documents, a single Halogen bulb in the ceiling without adornment, over-filled and rusted filing cabinets. Behind the desk sat Mr. Smoke, a bald dark-skinned man. He wore an expensive designer suit, which Mr. Alpha assumed was to convince their clients that they were speaking to Dr. Kindle, the CEO and head scientist of Scala Caeli, the biggest cryogenic service in Ireland.

He stood up to shake their hands, revealing his tall stature, and bid them take a seat each. They introduced themselves.

‘Mr. Alpha, Mr. Omega, I’m not sure if there’s much more you can do for us,’ he said. Mr. Alpha caught something mocking about his tone, subtle, but definitely present. ‘Morgana didn’t do any damage, thank The-God-To-Be. She broke in, turned up on the CCTV, and left. Nothing missing.’

Same pattern as the other two blue centres. Mr. Alpha wasn’t even sure why they were here. Someone higher up wanted the two Clothmen stupid enough to let Morgana escape do a whole lot of legwork.

The old man spoke up. ‘Don’t worry about it. We just have to see if there’s anything we can learn. No one is quite sure what game she’s into right now. Renegades are supposed to go hide somewhere; Morgana keeps on coming out to play.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1621

July 5, 2008

In the Hands of Others (7 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Ariadne pushed herself against the wall under a window. A breeze filtered through a gap in the frame against the nape of her neck. She wanted to cool down, calm herself, but her heart kept pounding. ‘Repay?’

‘For saving your lives,’ said Fay. ‘Just like you repaid Bobby after he saved yours.’

‘What are you talking about?’

Fay tilted her head and said, ‘You guys became fuck buddies because you love each other I suppose.’

Repelled, Ariadne said, ‘We do love each other.’

‘He’s not your type, you prefer the quiet ones who do the laundry or pop down to the corner shop to get the tea and biscuits without a prompt. Bobby, well, he’s a little impulsive, right? You gave him your bed because you owed him. And he’s had enough of his hand all this time, so he forgave you all that grey hair up there… and down there.’

Ariadne didn’t say a word. She disagreed with everything, completely, one-hundred-and-one-percent, but she wasn’t going to cross Fay.

‘I bet he said something like, I never knew older women were so into sex. And you bit your tongue, wanting to tell him you’re only in your thirties. Then your periods stopped which was a big surprise for both of you.’

Ariadne bit her tongue, trying not to get angry. Her tongue was sore.

‘And Bobby, always good with his words, said he wanted to abort the ‘thing’ because you two are on the run. You told him a baby was a precious treasure, a life more important than your own. What you didn’t tell him was this was probably your last chance to have a sprog. Bobby got mad and whomped you one in the face, then cried because he was sorry about it. Like I said, impulsive. A bit of a numpty too, a condom hadn’t occurred to him.’

‘Shut up, Fay!’ Ariadne shouted, looking up and glaring at the ex-Clothman. ‘We’re not all like you Cloth people! Love isn’t perfect and I never wrote that it was!’

Fay smiled; Ariadne turned towards the floor again, dreading the response. A chill came over her.

‘Nice one,’ said Fay. ‘I really need you to have a bit more fire in your gut if you’re going to do this thing for me, right? Rise and shine, darlin’. It’s time to shake this town.’

Fay swore she wasn’t Cloth anymore, but she still had the blood of one, playing mind games and little party tricks. It didn’t make Ariadne feel any better. Ariadne lifted her gaze. ‘What the hell do you want, Fay?’

‘Ah yeah, that.’ Fay cleared her throat. ‘It’s dangerous but to help you I got what you could call the Lonely Planet guide to taking on the Cloth. Your mission – should you decide to accept it and let’s be you honest you ain’t got much choice – is to raze the English Foundry and kill the switchman there.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1923

July 12, 2008

In the Hands of Others (8 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha tried to read the documents sprayed out on the desk. Most of them were in type too small, but he could make out the gist: scientific ramblings about flash-freezing, frozen cadaver preservation, possible advances for getting the bodies back out of stasis. He was amazed that people would submit themselves to a coffin of ice, at great cost, without any promise of getting out again. He wondered about the business model of these places. Was it until the money ran out? Did they pull them out for defrosting after that point? If you can pay, you can stay!

‘Not much to tell,’ said Mr. Smoke. ‘Here’s the tape.’ He fiddled with a remote control and an old, battered television on one shelf played out a careful selection of black-and-white CCTV scenes.

A blurry Morgana broke open the front door; there was no mistake, it was her again. She strode past reception, uninterrupted and without pause. Next scene: she travelled down the corridor, passing the office they were sitting in.

Mr. Alpha looked up at the patterned window in the office door, expecting to see a shadow pass by. No one came.

Morgana proceeded further down the corridor, reached a big, metal door. She played with a panel beside the door; it opened.

‘So where’s security?’

‘They were there at the time this footage was taken, but no one remembers seeing anything. Not the guys in the control room, not the man at the front door. How does she do it? What are we supposed to do to prevent it happening again? I’ve not heard any suggestions so far.’

Mr. Alpha leaned forward towards the screen. ‘She’s so careful and clever –’

‘Is that hero worship I’m hearing?’ Mr. Smoke barked. ‘She barged into my facility without an invite.’

‘Hold on,’ Mr. Alpha said. ‘Look, she’s so careful and clever but why doesn’t she do a fucking thing about the CCTV?’

‘Time?’ Mr. Smoke was impatient with him. Mr. Alpha twigged; Mr. Smoke had heard all about the ‘failures’ of the plucky probationer with a bad mouth. He could recall the same glint in the eyes of the receptionist Ms. Wood, a look that conveyed unspoken words: ‘Oh, it’s you.

‘I don’t bloody think so,’ Mr. Alpha answered. ‘Look at her wandering around as if she has all the time in the world. She’s not quaking in her boots. She’s telling us she doesn’t give a dog’s nut if we know what she’s up to.’

Mr. Omega said, ‘Assumptions, Mr. Alpha. There are multiple possibilities. Possibility first. She’s pretending she doesn’t care, to make us think there is genius in her action – and lead us to plot falsely what she might do next. Possibility second. This is a smokescreen for her real activity, deliberately drawing our attention to blue centre incursions away from a bigger picture. Possibility third. The CCTV gives us so little information that it’s not worth her time disabling it.’

‘Hmm, fair play. Perhaps it’s all of those possibilities.’

Mr. Smoke laughed at them with derision. ‘I don’t know how she managed to evade a couple of smart-ass whipshits like yourselves.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1553

July 27, 2008

In the Hands of Others (9 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘Blow something up? Kill someone? Assassinate?’ Ariadne was incredulous. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, Fay. We’re just about staying alive by keeping out of harm’s way. You want us to dive right in? I just about know how to handle a semi-automatic at last but… what’s the Foundry?’

Fay moved into a cross-legged seating position before answering. ‘Alright. The Cloth makes all its own weapons so nothing is traceable. They make them in private factories, the Foundries. They are very difficult to keep off the authorities’ radar so there aren’t too many. Europe has two and one of them up north, here in England. You take it out and it’s a serious smack in the teeth for the Cloth.’

‘Fay. You don’t go poking around in a bee’s nest.’

‘We’re stripping the bees’ of their stings. How are they going to keep half of Europe armed after this? They will have two options. Do less until they get a new Foundry established or start pushing more guns from other Foundries through insecure channels. Either way, it makes them more vulnerable.’

‘This is madness. We’re not soldiers, we’re just ordinary people.’

‘Ordinary people who believe the Cloth is more than a myth, more than a story to scare children to bed. That belief makes you more stronger than you know. And you also have firearms, which is also a plus. If you can’t get your hands on some decent explosives, you’ll probably have to resort to something like TATP. It’s your choice.’

‘Fay, will you listen to what you’re saying. You want the six of us to become… terrorists?’

‘Yeah, just for a bit. You got to ask yourself some hard questions, Ariadne.’ Fay stood up and walked to the window on the opposite side of the bedroom. She looked out, checking for something, then said: ‘How long can you keep this up for?’

Ariadne had no inclination to follow Fay to the opposite side of the room. This woman no longer felt like their saviour or benefactor. ‘What do you mean? Keep this up?’

Fay kept her position. ‘You’ve got the nipper to think of now. You can’t keep hiding forever. The Cloth will find you one day. You’ll slip up once, maybe twice, and the they’ll find the string in the maze that leads back to you and make good on their mistakes. So I ask you: how long can you keep this up for? How many days can you stay alive? Will you see Theo’s fifth birthday? Tenth? Twentieth? Grandchildren?’

Ariadne had no answer.

‘So you see, getting rid of the Cloth is our first priority.’

‘Is there a second?’

‘Everything is in the folder beside the bed. Location of the Foundry. Security for the site. Things you need to do and prepare for.’

Ariadne placed her head in her hands; shaking. She had no control over her own destiny. She couldn’t give Mummy a call tell her things were fine. She couldn’t hang out with Maurice at Dotheby’s tonight if she was in the mood. God, was Maurice even the editor of the Watch anymore? Two years in which the world moved on without her. Ariadne’s life was now in the hands of others, a piece to be played on a game she wasn’t permitted to understand. She now had to follow the moves laid out for her, with no input into the outcome. She had to believe that Fay knew what she was doing. God oh God; were they pawns or were they rooks?

She drew her legs up into her chest again and perched her head on her knees.

Talking into her legs, she said: ‘So who is the switchman? Why do we have to…’ She couldn’t finish the question.

‘Oh I almost forgot, kiddo. Switchmen are the go-betweens between the Saints, the ones who weave the Cloth, and Supply, who give out the orders and organise things on the ground. Switchmen are a rare commodity, much like the Saints themselves. Take one out and it’s as painful as the loss of a Foundry.

‘We’re taking out their teeth, one by one, without anaesthetic.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2057

August 9, 2008

In the Hands of Others (10 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Smoke typed the code onto the panel and Mr. Alpha noted it, committing to memory: 23140692. The door slide open with a whoosh noise.

‘Does it have to make that noise?’ asked Mr. Alpha.

Mr. Smoke stepped through into the chamber beyond and replied: ‘No.’

Mr. Alpha was surprised to hear Mr. Omega snigger.

They followed Mr. Smoke into the clients’ room. It was more or less how it looked like on the CCTV video, albeit freezing cold. Row upon row of capsules lay ahead of them, each one a space-age coffin. Blue light bathed the entire chamber. It was noisy; capsules would randomly vent some sort of gas with a hiss.

None of the coffins had windows so they could peer in at the pretend dead. ‘Why don’t these capsules have little windows?’

‘Because they’re empty,’ said Mr. Smoke. He added a quiet something that sounded like an insult.

Mr. Alpha looked up at the lighting. This was different to the two previous blue centres they’d been in; it looked like the set of a science fiction movie.

As they continued to head towards the back of the chamber, Mr. Alpha asked, ‘Is this ultra-violet light or something? To eliminate bugs or shit?’

Mr. Smoke stopped and turned around. ‘Listen up, you fuckwit, it’s all for show. We lost a lot of business to Karma Cryon when they started up three years ago. We were efficient, relatively cheap and didn’t mess around with lots of theatrics. Those Karma fuckers went all Disney on us, with doors like Star Trek airlocks and flashy lighting. They even had big stupid machines with pointless coloured lighting you’d expect to see in a B-movie from the sixties. We had to compete and ‘modernise’ otherwise this outstation was going to go out of business.

‘So this is the play room. Nothing in here is important. Clients are actually batched in the basement below our feet, in a proper cryogenic facility. No one ever gets to see that any more. Got it?’

‘Yeah, sure,’ Mr. Alpha said. ‘We got that didn’t we, Mr. Omega? I’m a fuckwit.’

Mr. Omega laughed. ‘He got that right, boy. You’re a fuckwit.’

Fuming, Mr. Smoke marched over to the smaller metal door at the back of the room, the one that Morgana had gone through on the video. Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega followed. Above the door was a small metal plaque upon which the words “BLUE NINETEEN” inscribed.

Mr. Smoke tapped in exactly the same code as before into a keypad beside the door. The door clicked and he pulled it open.

The blue centre was a much smaller room and looked exactly like the previous centres they had been at. Dim fluorescent lighting illuminated seven metal coffins on the floor, strange apparatus covering each like a metal fungus. An umbilical cord of wires and tubing connected each coffin to the ceiling; maintenance looked like a nightmare.

In the video, Morgana had gone to each coffin, one by one. She had looked into each one for a few minutes, then left the building.

Mr. Alpha copied her actions; the same order, the same pose. Perhaps she had been fiddling with something she shouldn’t or left a little gift behind. Nothing had turned up in the previous centres but Mr. Alpha still had hope. Morgana wasn’t stupid. She was either doing something or misleading them. Or both.

Through the window of each coffin, a frozen, deathly face lay. None of the faces were familiar. None of the faces seem to have any common attribute apart from being old men. Four white men, one with a beard; two black men; the last one had some bloke with slitty eyes so god fucking knew where he was from.

Mr. Alpha reached the last one and he paused for longer, desperate to work out why Morgana would come here. He began rapping his fingers on the coffin, trying to think like she would. See what she |lusting and sexed| was seeing.

‘Oi,’ Mr. Smoke shouted. ‘Be careful with those things, you break that, we lose one body!’

Mr. Alpha stared at the closed eyes of the Asian man. ‘Who are these people? Why are you keeping them?’

‘I’m not permitted to–’

‘Oh come on, Mr. Smoke, do tell. That’s the one piece of this bloody puzzle we don’t know. You want us to stop that whore of whores, but you’re not willing to tell us everything.’ Mr. Alpha turned around. ‘What kind of fucking organisation is this? We want her dead as much as you do. Who are these people?’

No one had answered the question before, but maybe Mr. Smoke might; he was agitated and off-guard.

‘I’m not permitted to reveal that.’ On the other hand, he was still a Clothman with nerves of steel.

The people in these coffins were important. Who would be important enough for the Cloth to secure in freezers for the future? Who…

‘Fuck it,’ said Mr. Alpha. He’d got it. He had fucking got it. ‘I know who they are and why Morgana comes here. This is a message. She’s fucking around with our minds.’

Mr. Omega was standing near the entrance biting his nails; he hadn’t bothered to look at anything since they’d entered. ‘So tell us, Mr. Alpha, what is she doing?’

Mr. Smoke seemed nervous, like he’d made a mistake but didn’t know exactly what.

‘These are Saints; they’re probably cooped up here waiting for The-God-To-Be to bring them back to life. Morgana is sending a message: she’s looking for the Saints.’

‘What a load of poppyshit,’ said Mr. Smoke, throwing his arms into the air in despair.

‘Well done,’ said Mr. Omega, clapping. ‘I did wonder when you’d work it out. Took your merry old time about it, but still it’s a pat-on-the-back and a free burger for you. Third time lucky I guess.’

Mr. Alpha’s euphoria dissipated. ‘You knew? You arsehole! You could’ve told me!’

‘Oh no, I don’t know for sure, but it’s the conclusion I came to at the first break-in. I told you that we don’t get told anything we don’t need to. And sometimes they don’t need to. Cheer up, junior, there’s hope for the two of us yet.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2210

August 18, 2008

In the Hands of Others (11 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘You didn’t listen to me before, so listen again,’ said Fay, resting against the creaky foot board of the bed. ‘Get yourself out of this farmhouse.’

The tiredness, the inevitability of it all was wearing on Ariadne. What difference did it make if she did anything or not? Fay’s voice receded leaving her with warm carpet that oozed between her fingers, inviting more touch. The walls drifted away.

The ‘phone rang and lanky Tin picked it up, Tin of all people who was always bad on the ‘phone, spluttering his way through the call. She was in the kitchen, waiting for their rusty toaster to spit out rusty toast, and Tin was in the room waving his arms: ‘Addie, they want you to be a regular in Khemist!’ Douggie banged on the floor, demanding everyone to leave his firking hangover alone. ‘Tin, flipping heck-’

‘Wake up.’ Fay slapped her face and returned to the edge of the bed. ‘Get yourself out of this farmhouse.’


‘The Cloth looks for anyone who is making attempts to stay out of the system. They’ll pick you up within a year, if they haven’t already got the feelers out to this place. Get back into town, a city would be better. Once there, get yourself a land line, but don’t use it.’

Ariadne let the chill breeze pouring onto her neck revitalise her. ‘What’s the point in that?’

‘The same reason. A household without any kind of phone may be trying to avoid phone calls and that’s just as bad as tryin’ to live in a remote location. If you get the land line, it’s one less red point you’ll flag. Probably best to make a silent call or two just to put something on the bill, but I don’t think the Cloth monitors look that deep yet. Oh and never answer the damn thing, you’ll end up saying “Hello” by mistake and the recorders will snatch that.’

‘Is this for real? They’ve got that level of… monitoring?’

Fay was disappointed. ‘After everything you’ve been through, do ya still not get it? I didn’t come here to fakk spiders.

‘It’s not easy to swallow it all in one go.’

‘One go? This isn’t the first time we’ve been through this.’

Ariadne pushed herself up, against the wall, feeling her fingers move onto the glass. She stumbled forwards and said: ‘Fay, I just gave birth. Stop being such a bitch.’

‘I’d rather be a bitch than dead.’

‘Just… piss off out of here and leave me alone. I’ve got the folder, right? I’ve had enough of you. Go. Get out of here.’

Fay broke into an enormous, beaming smile. ‘There’s just one other thing–’

‘I told you to go!’ Ariadne shoved Fay on the shoulder, much to her own surprise. Fay fell backwards, onto the floor suddenly weak and pathetic.

‘There’s just one other thing, I said,’ Fay continued from the floor, lying flat out and gazing out through the bedroom door. ‘Bobby got to stop selling dope. It’s game over if the police start getting interested in him.’

Feeling just a little empowered, Ariadne said: ‘What are you talking about? Bobby doesn’t sell drugs.’

‘I love the way you say ‘drugs’ as if it disgusts you, doesn’t belong in your world. Just tell him to stop.’

Fay sat up and stretched out a hand. ‘Help me up?’

‘No.’ Ariadne walked back to the window and studied the crumbling barn attached to the house.

Suddenly, her stomach was a storm of butterflies; the hairs on her neck stood on end and sweat prickled down her back. Ariadne could only put one word to this eruption of strange sensations: danger.

She turned quickly to see Fay standing halfway out the door, draped in shadow, facing away. Not a sound, yet she was suddenly there, still as a statue.


There was no response. Fay remained motionless.

Ariadne waited, enduring the fearful silence. She heard a truck trundle over cattle grid on a distant road; some birds flirted in high-pitched song.

And Fay moved. With tiny, almost infantile steps she disappeared into the corridor, still in shadow.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2041

August 23, 2008

In the Hands of Others (12 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega strode down Grafton Street, a fashionable albeit mainstream curve between Trinity College and the crowded haven of St Stephen’s Green. Commerce, the pursuit of the false prophet of coin, inserted itself wherever it could. Vivid styles clamoured for attention, where somehow the multiplicity of brand identities rendered them a single, homogeneous mass. Shoppers leant on windows, occasionally popping into stores to see how much they could spend, if only their credit cards could take the strain. A band of failed singers sang at a crossroads further down, pretty young girls sweating behind snorkel jackets, vocally revealing why they had failed. Flower stalls seemed to be everywhere.

‘You have to stop hating everyone so much,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘You’ve got to be more detached than that, almost clinical, mate. Rail against me if you must, you disrespecting little shit, but come away from the people. You are above them; you don’t need to hate them.’

‘I don’t hate anybody, mate.’

‘I’ve seen the way you look at people. Sin is natural. Our long-term goal is reduce sin, control it, save them from themselves. Hate the sin, love the sinner.’

‘The cliché cowboy strolls into town.’

‘So, look at the girl over there. Have a good look.’

Outside one of the brightly-coloured fashion shops, in front of inviting sexed-up mannequins, a solitary teenage girl stood. The short-haired blonde, clasping a mobile phone as if it held the cure to cancer, was dressed in a short, tight magenta skirt; her arsecrack peeked out and it was not clear whether she was actually wearing underwear or not. A dark tattoo stood guard over this domain, a Chinese character of some kind that probably meant ‘whore’ or ‘fucks here’. A tight, white top was wrapped around her breasts, making no attempt to cover her midriff. Nipples shone through its surface.

‘Now,’ Mr. Omega said, ‘your average man is looking at her, thinking about poking her up that skirt. They probably wouldn’t even take it off. We’re trained not to think like that. What are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking about stabbing the slut up it with a knife.’

Mr. Omega shook his hands around his head, as if pretending he hadn’t heard. ‘Holy fucking Jesus, Mr. Alpha. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Can you tune down the volume a bit? Jesus Christ.’

Mr. Alpha shrugged.

Mr. Omega grabbed one of his shoulders, to shake the shrug out of him. ‘Look, mate, there are many stories of Clothmen gone bad, who took the urge to cull sin too fucking far. We’re not meant for normal life – a world full of Clothmen is a dead world – we’re just the harbingers of the future. We’re bringing the future to the people today, because they’re just too whacked out to do it themselves. Clothmen who can’t see the wood for the fucking trees have to be put down like the ones who run out on us.

‘Ten years ago the big Cloth scandal was that of Mr. Carve and Mr. Chop. They tortured ordinary people who weren’t of interest in the grand project. They would pull people off the street every day, torture them, convert them to a “pure” lifestyle and sometimes kill them afterwards anyway. The kind of insanity they used to get up to is legend, boy. Ever thought of tying a bloke’s wife to the underside of his car but only telling him after he’d driven to work? Ever thought of injecting faeces into a sinner?’

‘Shit,’ Mr. Alpha said. ‘That’s just fucking bonkers. Mental.’

‘Exactly. Eventually, the pair of them were executed. They had screwed up too many Cloth plans, lost them a number of snags.’

‘Well they probably deserved it.’

‘Oh yeah, for sure.’

‘But I call it as I see it, Mr. Omega. Mr. Carve and Mr. Chop were off the fucking scale but, come on, how on Earth are we are going to make The-God-To-Be out of this shitty band of sinners?’

‘Who said The-God-To-Be had to be sin-negative or even sin-nought?

Mr. Alpha stopped dead. ‘What kind of cockjerk thought is that? And how does any of this explain what we did to that old guy in Grimmer’s hidey-hole? Was that clinical and necessary?

‘Nothing in the lessons…’ Mr. Omega started, but said no more; something had caught his attention. ‘No way.’

Mr. Alpha followed the old man’s eyes, but couldn’t spot anything out of the ordinary amongst the fleets of shoppers tacking across the road.

‘I swear that’s Morgana. On the right, just past the alleyway, beside the lamppost.’

Mr. Alpha looked and he saw. ‘No way.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1658

September 7, 2008

In the Hands of Others (13 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

There was something else that had gone unasked; Ariadne had to know. Taking a deep breath, she dashed out of the bedroom to catch up with the ex-Clothman and almost ran into her.

Fay was just around the corner, resting against the wall. Ariadne’s fatigue took its revenge and she found she couldn’t focus on Fay’s face again. Fay’s features were blurred, airbrushed. Ariadne blinked a few times to try to clear her vision, but then noticed the red-rose-and-thorn motif on the wallpaper was crisp and sharp.

‘Speak,’ said Fay, turning to face her.

Addressed so directly, Ariadne just came out with her question. ‘Fay, uh, what if we don’t do this? What if we just walk away if we think it’s too dangerous?’

‘They will be told where you hide.’

The enormity of it, the matter-of-fact way that Fay would dispose of them if they didn’t do her bidding, hit her hard. Her eyes stung as the tears stormed out and she lurched against the wall. What good was being on the run if they still had no control over their own lives?

One question and its bad answer begged another question. Her heart was falling, tumbling over, helpless down a shaft without end. ‘Will… will you take care of Theo if anything happens to us?’

Fay’s face came into sharp focus for an instant, another inscrutable smile on her face. She said, ‘Okay sure, why not?’

Her face blurred again. ‘Got to leave now.’ Morgana walked away, turned the corner towards the stairs and disappeared out of view.

Ariadne lost all her strength and slid down the wall, teeth chattering. Her china emotions shattered and she wept without restraint, scratching at the roses in the wallpaper.

The sounds that escaped her mouth were not words. No one would have understood them.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1904

October 4, 2008

In the Hands of Others (14 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Morgana followed the downward curve of the street, moving around the shoppers as if she were one of them. She politely apologised when bumping into someone’s shopping bag. Amongst the sinners, like one of them.

Mr. Alpha hugged the left side of the street, trying to keep a safe distance. He glanced across at Mr. Omega on the right side; he was a little closer, a bit too close. Morgana might catch him in a reflection or turn a bit too suddenly, catching the old man in her tracks.

They couldn’t lose her again. Not this close. He could go back to finishing his twenty, go full robe, and earn the respect of his fellow Clothmen. Mr. Omega would stop giving him a hard time. He’d have a mobile to Supply. His heart pounded so hard with the thought that all the trouble of the previous months was almost at an end.

But he was too excited and was likely to make a mistake. He tried to calm himself, reciting the meditations of The-God-To-Be in his head, but it had little effect. Mr. Alpha was giddy. He was going to beat the living fucking crap out of the bitch and shoot her in the head many times, slit her throat and cut her goddamn head off, making sure she was dead dead dead. He’d do it right here in the street if Mr. Omega would let him. Fuck her! Fuck all these people!

Christ. Self-control.

Then he realised Morgana had sped up, her walk turning into a fast tango around each tourist and shopper. Damn; she’d made them.

Mr. Omega picked up his pace, trying to close the distance between them, dancing around the shoppers. He made a mistake and plunged into a group of kids of bright colours and elderly disrespect. His punishment for disturbing a hive of bees was obstruction. One of them barked: ‘Git out the way, you old focking tool!’

Morgana was putting more distance between them; Mr. Alpha accelerated from a fast walk into a short jog and crossed the street to take up Mr. Omega’s position. It didn’t matter as she’d seen them now. It might be time to wave his badge around and get the public to help him take down Morgana, but it was very risky. He was not to make decisions like that. The Cloth did not approve of mavericks.

From nowhere, shopaholics and tourists flooded into Grafton Street from side roads, completely blocking Mr. Alpha’s path. He pressed on, diving into a flood of inane multi-lingual chatter and beeping digital cameras.

The outer layer of the crowd was light and fluffy and Mr. Alpha edged his way through the sinners. As he pushed them aside one after another, foreign-accented apologies sliced through the air around him. He could still see Morgana. It was still okay. Still okay.

The crowd intensified, becoming more dense, as if he’d waded into hardening cement. A pulse rippled through Mr. Alpha’s left arm and his breathing became heavy and laboured. The crowd was crushing him, preventing him from moving at all.

Morgana was now just a speck in the distance. ‘Please,’ he shouted. ‘Let me pass. Let me pass!’

His words swallowed in the crowd’s white noise, the tourists constricted him even more, cutting off his ability to speak. They continued to crush the Clothman until he could no longer breathe. His legs collapsed, but the crowd pinned him upright, a puppet amongst the many. Mr. Alpha drifted in their tide for a moment, then he slipped through them to the road surface.

From the tarmac, he watched the tourists swirl around him like the mouth of black tornado descending. They rotated around him, cameras bleeping and clicking, chanting: ‘The handle turns! The handle turns!’

The tornado closed in.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0955
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