May 12, 2008

In the Hands of Others (1 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fatigue smothered and blinded her, trapped her beneath iron eyelids. A footstep; someone was in the room.

Blood rushed through adrenaline-scorched veins but failed to break the torpor. Maybe the Cloth had come to claim her at last; maybe she wanted it to end, too much running, the numbness begging her to be made permanent.

Then she thought of her baby. Suddenly she was smashing out of her tomb of exhaustion, eyes wide open, hands ready to attack, to kill. She launched into bolt upright position in a single movement and found herself staring into a woman’s eyes.

At first, the woman’s features were blurred, distorted, as if the air in the bedroom was desert hot. Ariadne blinked a few times; the visitor’s face came into focus.

Short dark hair, shorter than she remembered, hovered over curious eyes and a beguiling smile. The visitor wore tight-fitting black clothes, possibly a lycra tracksuit. A necklace hung around her neck and from it a Hamsa pendant dangled.

‘Oh God,’ Ariadne said. ‘I didn’t realise it was you. I thought it might be the Cloth.’

Fay continued to smile.

‘Did you see Theo with Bobby downstairs?’

Fay snapped into a disarming frown. She yanked something small – metallic shiny – out of a pocket and pointed it at Ariadne.

Ariadne jerked herself backwards against the headboard.

‘Didn’t I tell yew?’ Fay shouted, the harsh Aussie accent uncomfortable on Ariadne’s tired ears. ‘Didn’t I bloody tell yew? No phones, at all. Fakking period! No bloody mobile phones!’

Fay threw the mobile at the floor. It exploded into fragments across the carpet, a horde of shiny spiders scuttling away in fear for their lives.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1633

June 24, 2007

The Crane (19 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The rod between his legs, hard and firm, poked the sheets. He opened his eyes, and saw the electric lines of the clock display. They told him it was 3AM.

‘Bollocks.’ Mr. Alpha couldn’t believe he’d made it to sleep only to have a nightmare break his slumber. Three hours left before the old man would be up and about, doing his morning meditation.

Mr. Alpha rubbed his eyes, disbelieving how much of an idiot he had been in the dream. The execution of Morgana’s parents had taken their toll, but he was no fucking crybaby. He had earned some more respect from Mr. Omega, having carried out his duty, no matter how dark it might be. Clothmen ruled their emotions, trusting belief as their rock. The orders of the Saints were clean and pure. The execution was without sin and he remained unsoiled, in the employ of The-God-To-Be.

No matter where this road took him, he was not going to abandon its course. A throat slit in the countryside. Distraught parents deceived into suicide. Morgana was not going down without a fight. Even if it took them ten years to hunt the tart down, he’d be there, every step of the way. Two bullets in the head, darling. Two bullets blessed with Cloth love for you.

He could make out a couple of hand prints on the window and, between them, another greasy smudge. The kind of smudge that a head might make. Had he actually got out of bed? He could see the crane from the bed; it still stood there, proud and unwavering, loaded with threat and menace. No fog.

Then he noticed the tip of the crane’s jib was broken. The last section of the crawlway dangled, swaying in the breeze, like something had spilled from its structure.

He reached for his jacket beside the bed and pulled out a small, shiny emerald green diary. He flicked through the pages quickly, wanting to check if he had imagined the last entry as well. It hadn’t been there when he’d recovered the diary from the Bolts’ house. Perhaps he had just imagined it. It would be better if he had. It would all be better.

As he reached the page he was looking for, he considered the crane’s purpose. It was unclear what it was trying to build. So far, there were only foundations, the dim, fragmented outlines of something sinister and alien that didn’t fit with the surrounding urbanwork. This was progress. This is what we make.

Mr. Omega emitted nasal snorts like a jammed machine gun. How comfortable he sounded in his sleep, his dream universe consistent yet incomplete. It lacked knowledge. The last entry of the diary, dated after the death of the Bolts, was just legible enough in the grim light from the alarm clock.

Tricked the Cloth into killing Mum and Dad. The handle turns.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1318

June 16, 2007

The Crane (18 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘What in fuck’s name do you think you’re doing?’ shouted Mr. Omega behind him, a gale overpowering his voice.

Mr. Alpha lay prostrate on the mesh, peering over the edge into the emptiness below. The fog had consumed everything. He glanced behind. Mr. Omega, his tie flapping like a yellow streamer, clambered through the jib towards him, red with rage. No surprise.

Turning back to the sea of fog, he felt its emptiness touch him. He sought a glimmer of understanding or perhaps hope that past events had some design, some just purpose. Doubt had poisoned him. Sin had stained him. The Saints knew what they were doing, didn’t they?

‘Do the Saints know what they’re doing?’ he said. He flipped over to see Mr. Omega grimacing down upon him, perched on the upper ridges of the jib.

‘Do the Saints know what they’re doing? Did you say that? Did you actually fucking say that?’ The old man shook his head in disbelief. ‘I ought to trade you in, right now, right bloody now. You could’ve got me killed pulling this stupid stunt, coming out here alone. Fuck you, Mr. Alpha. Fuck you.’

Tears emerged from Mr. Alpha’s eyes, slipping down his temples. He blinked at Mr. Omega but then let his head loll to one side. ‘We executed the parents of the chosen…’

‘Oh, fuck, boy.’ He blew out hard as a harsh, biting wind whipped them both, whistling and taunting. ‘Morgana is a fucked-up loser, she’s no Clothman. Her parents just can’t be afforded the same status.’

‘That means nothing.’ Mr. Alpha tried to focus on where the hotel should be, but saw only fog. ‘Whose fault is it that Morgana has fallen? Her parents who gave her life? Or the Cloth that taught and raised her?’

‘Are you thinking about your own parents?’

Mr. Alpha wasn’t stupid. ‘Of course not, Mr. Omega. I’m a Clothman, through and through. But we respect the parents of the adopted. They’re about the only characters that we do give a damn about. It feels like sin. We should never have to take them out. Only… only if there’s no other way.’

‘That’s the key, you bloody cockhead. It’s Morgana’s own fault. She made her parents a target. I didn’t want to harm them any more than you did.’ Mr. Omega sounded uncomfortable with his own honesty and hesitated before carrying on. ‘But we had no choice.’

Mr. Alpha turned to face his partner again. ‘Exactly, mate. Exactly right. She gave us no choice.’ Either the cold or his nerves made his teeth chatter . ‘Y-you haven’t seen her diary. You don’t know what she wrote. A little green book. A fucking little green book.’ The wind burrowing into his eyes had inflamed them, he kept having to blink.

‘What do you mean?’ Mr. Omega said, perturbed. ‘What diary?’

The mesh suddenly gave way with a clink and Mr. Alpha found himself flying through the air. Mr. Omega’s hands reached out but disappeared into the heavens, obscured by the fog.

For several seconds, the free fall felt peaceful. He couldn’t see anything save the ambient glow of the fog around him. Alone and without anything to feed his senses. A natural isolation tank.

His back smashed against the ground as a rusty post drove through his groin.

Shock blinded him to the pain at first. He stared in horror at the post that had impaled him. It thrust upwards between his legs, smeared in blood and loose flesh. Out of desperation, he grabbed it, thinking he could pull himself up. His hands slipped and rubbed across its wet and sticky exterior, unable to gain purchase.

His mouth quivered, trying to birth a scream.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1422

June 10, 2007

The Crane (17 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Bolt took the tablet from Mr. Omega’s gloved hand and placed it on his tongue like the body of Christ. A defeated expression crossed his face as he swallowed and his weary eyes fell away from the Clothmen.

Mr. Bolt shifted backwards and lay down beside his wife. He clasped her hand and whispered something; she whispered something back. Her eyes were closed but a contented smile remained on her face. Mr. Bolt shut his eyes too, wetness glinting beneath the eyelashes.

Mr. Omega dragged up a chair and sat beside Morgana’s parents, watching them.

Through the window, Mr. Alpha saw nothing but a few Clothmen wandering down the windy roadside, eating grease-drenched chips out of a basket of paper, laughing and jostling, playing their roles. Beneath the glossy veneer lay the knowledge of what was really happening. Part of him almost hoped for Morgana to make an entrance and rescue her parents. They didn’t deserve this.

With Morgana pressing in on his thoughts again, he pulled out his handgun for comfort. If she turned up, he’d shoot her down. No games with ropes this time. Shoot her down, good and dead.

‘Put that away,’ Mr. Omega whispered. ‘Show some bloody respect.’

The old man was right. Mr. Alpha slid the gun back into its holster.

He watched Mr. Omega, safe that he could stare at him from the window without raising the old bastard’s hackles. Mr. Omega’s sat motionless, dedicated and dutiful, observing the Bolts. Mr. Alpha wanted to know what was going on inside that brain of his; he let nothing slip. He knew that Mr. Omega had doubts as well, but demonstrated remarkable control over them.

Mr. Alpha approached the bed to peer at the two still forms lying there.

There were a few black marks etched into the wooden footboard that he didn’t remember seeing earlier. The marks moved; it was a shadow, crawling up onto the bottom of the bed. The shadow then drifted across its expanse until it blotted out Morgana’s parents. It was the shadow of a hand.

He turned to see if, somehow, his hand or another’s was obscuring the light from the bulb in the ceiling. Nothing. He looked back at the bed and the shadow was gone. A trick of the light, perhaps. Perhaps.

Mr. Omega reached over to check their pulses and nodded solemnly to himself. ‘They’re gone,’ he said.


‘Yes. Certain.’

Mr. Alpha took up position beside the body of Mr. Bolt while Mr. Omega leant over Mrs. Bolt.

Mr. Omega blessed Morgana’s parents. ‘Belief is rock.’

‘Truth is ghost,’ Mr. Alpha concluded.

Mr. Omega took out a manilla envelope from the depths of his grey jacket. The envelope contained the suicide note and he laid it on the dressing table against the wall.

‘I can’t believe we did this,’ said Mr. Alpha, unable to leave the bedside. He felt worse than he did during the build-up to the quarantine. His stomach was doing somersaults and his thoughts were disjointed, derailed. ‘I can’t believe this.’

Mr. Omega came over to him, without even the slightest hint of reproach and put an arm on his shoulder.

‘Mr. Alpha,’ he said. ‘One for the road, I think.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1913

May 20, 2007

The Crane (16 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

While Mr. Omega rapped on the door, Mr. Alpha stroked the handgun sitting in its holster. He knew it was there, but he just needed to feel its comforting, Foundry-cast edges. His stomach was in knots; Morgana might still make an appearance.

The door opened and Mr. Bolt invited them into the hotel room. They entered and, before closing the door behind them, Mr. Alpha made a quick sweep of the adjoining corridor, only partly to keep up appearances. He noticed some kid had scrawled something in crayon on the kitsch, flowery wallpaper opposite: “the handle turns”. He closed the door.

‘Good,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘It was better that we arrived here separately.’

Mrs. Bolt was sitting on the edge of the bed, having removed her bland coat and scarf to reveal an equally bland underbelly. Mr. Bolt was standing near the window, looking out and looking nervous. He was still dressed for a harsher environment.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘Please, sir, best you come away from the window.’

Morgana’s father resisted but soon caved, moving to sit beside his wife. Mr. Alpha watched his fingers creep across and hold his Mrs. Bolt’s hand. She turned her head in surprise and smiled weakly. Her hand accepted his advance.

‘What about our little girl? What do we do now?’ asked Mr. Bolt.

Mr. Alpha reached under his jacket to fondle his handgun again. The trigger licked his fingers.

‘Like I was explaining earlier,’ Mr. Omega said, ‘you are both in great danger. I’m afraid to say your lives, as you have known them, are over. If we don’t get you to a safe house, it’s possible you’ll be dead before the day is out.’

Mrs. Bolt blinked. ‘I don’t care about us. What about Fay? Is she okay?’

Mr. Omega’s mobile rang on cue. He pulled it out and answered, ‘Hi, this is Morrison.’ Supply said their scripted piece. ‘Really? Are you sure it’s her?’

Morgana’s parents responded immediately with worried stares.

‘Thank God for that. How the hell did she – whatever, questions for later. Get us some ambulance transport ASAP, we need to get her parents to the compound without delay.’ There were more scripted words on the other end of the line and then Mr. Omega closed the mobile.

‘What? What happened?’ Mr. Bolt asked, eyes wide.

‘Sorry to have to tell you this… it seems that your daughter was cornered by, we suspect, Cloth agents. They shot her several times-‘

‘Oh no, no!’ Mrs. Bolt wailed, hand fleeing her husband’s grip to hold her mouth.

‘-but she got away. Looks like she’s going to live, and she’s on the way to our safe house to be cared for.’

‘She’s alive? Really? She’s okay?’ Mr. Bolt asked.

Mr. Alpha felt disengaged from this obscene ballet taking place before him. He watched but could not participate. Her parents had been through enough yet the Cloth continued to torture them. He felt responsible. If he hadn’t let Morgana escape… if he had… if he had done what?

Mr. Omega was still explaining. ‘…can’t afford for either of you to work out where the safe house is, just in case… you are captured down the line. As I said, you’re probably going to have to stay with us for some time. So once you’re unconscious, we’ll get an ambulance to stretcher you out and it’ll take you to the compound.’

‘Unconscious?’ said Mr. Bolt, alarmed.

Mrs. Bolt cut her husband off. ‘Manny, I want to see her.’ She looked up at Mr. Omega with a begging expression. ‘I’ll do it even if he doesn’t want to. I don’t care. What do I take? Tell me, what do I take?’

Mr. Omega held out his hand, which unfurled to reveal two small red tablets. ‘One of these, and you’ll be out for around 24 hours. You won’t be able to guess how far you’ve travelled this way.’

Mrs. Bolt snatched at one and swallowed without hesitation.

Mr. Bolt shouted, ‘Fi-ona, for God’s sake, what are you doing?’

She moved backwards and laid down on the bed. ‘I want to see her, Manny. I want to see her.’ She closed her eyes and whispered, ‘Come with me, Manny. Let’s do this together. Come on. Fay’s waiting.’ She put her arm out and patted the space beside her, summoning her husband to follow.

This is what we do, Mr. Alpha thought. Perception and belief are our tools. This is what we make.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1834

May 9, 2007

The Crane (15 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The large letters spelling out Brighton Pier were meant to invoke feelings of excitement, albeit a cheap fried doughnuts, greasy chips and coconut shy kind of excitement. Mr. Alpha felt nothing of the sort; there was only a sense of foreboding. The unadventurous palette of the overcast sky did nothing to lighten the mood. Mr. Omega was slightly ahead of him and, this time, he was content to follow.

Mr. and Mrs. Bolt sat on one of the benches along the Pier, facing the coastline, the last sign of man before the lonely, blue expanse.

They were neither touching nor talking. Mr. Alpha saw two people who no longer considered themselves in a marriage, rather a covenant to wait together for their daughter or death – whichever was first. They looked older than their years, staring ahead with sunken eyes into tumbling, colourless waves. They’d both wrapped up warm, protected from the cold, salty wind by sensible coats, scarves and gloves that dared not enliven the environment with rich colours. This pier was the final stop on their arduous, unrewarding journey.

Mr. Alpha tensed, still half-expecting Morgana to make an appearance. He knew she was quite prepared to wade into a situation as desperate as this. Snipers were ready for her, but the resulting carnage would probably take years to manage in the media. The Saints would not be pleased, but at least it would be over. He imagined a twinge in his shoulder; he could almost feel Ms. Cancer’s rifle trained on him. He really, really hoped they didn’t have to go to Plan B.

Mr. Omega walked right up to the bench and Mr. Alpha joined. They stared briefly at Morgana’s parents, then scanned their surroundings for something intangible, finally returning to look at the parents. Mrs. Bolt seemed listless and unresponsive, but Mr. Bolt glanced up.

Mr. Omega opened with a quiet whisper, his eyes darting around surreptitiously. ‘Excuse me, sir.’

Mr. Bolt blinked. ‘What is it?’ His eyes were watering from the wind.

‘I’m afraid the two of you are going to have to sit somewhere else.’ Mr. Omega withdrew a police ID from his jacket and showed it to Mr. Bolt. ‘Police business, sir. We’re supposed to meet an important informant at this very spot and we would be grateful if you could vacate this bench, here.’

Mrs. Bolt stirred out of her trance and spoke loudly. ‘What did they say, Manny?’

Mr. Bolt replied to his wife in the same volume, ‘They said… they said they want us to sit somewhere else. They want us to go.’

‘We can’t move, Manny. We have to stay here.’ She didn’t look up at the Clothmen, preferring to use her husband as an intermediary. ‘Tell them Manny, tell them we-‘

‘Shhh, Fi. Shh shh shh. We don’t need to go chin-wagging about that right now. These are police, Fi, police.’

Mr. Alpha noted that they had both lost their Australian accents in favour of something from the south east of England; it made him wonder how Morgana had retained hers. Had she been assigned to any Australian Cloth work?

‘Alright,’ Fiona said to her husband, still ignoring Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega. ‘Well we don’t want any trouble. Let’s move for now.’

Manny seemed uncertain, a little jittery, but stood up despite some reluctance. He helped Fiona up and the pair of them stumbled away.

Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega sat down on the bench and waited for Morgana’s parents to come back. If need be, they’d move Morgana’s parents everyday until they twigged; hopefully, they were smarter than that. Mr. Alpha coughed as the sea air fouled up the ordinary workings of his lungs. He never liked the seaside and looked down through the pier boards at the choppy sea with some distaste.

‘Excuse me, sir, it was Detective Morrison, wasn’t it?’ Manny’s voice said behind them.

‘Yes it was,’ said Mr. Omega, turning around to face Manny. Fiona was a few steps away, continuing to use her husband as spokesperson. ‘Please, you’ll have to move along, sir. Please. It’s vital.’

‘But, yes, yes, I understand, detective. But, uh, but…who is the, umm, person you’re going to meet? Is it… is it a lady?’

‘Look, as I’m sure you understand, I can’t really talk about the details.’ Mr. Omega shooed them away, but they did not move.

Manny was crestfallen. Mr. Alpha could see the struggle going on behind his face. They had been warned not to reveal anything about their daughter to anyone yet here was the police, potentially on their side. Dare they trust these strangers? To say something was dangerous. To not say something could be missing an opportunity.

He turned away, a decision made.

‘Fay Bolt,’ shouted Fiona, finally acknowledging the Clothmen.

Mr. Omega stood up, shocked. ‘What’s going on here? Who are you?’

‘Fay Bolt, are you waiting for Fay Bolt?’

Mr. Omega thrust his hand out, palm down, and approached Mrs. Bolt. ‘Hush, please. What do you know about Miss Bolt? You’re too young to be her, so don’t even try it.’

Mrs. Bolt said nothing at first, but then her lips quivered and tears poured from her eyes. She forced out, ‘Daughter.’ Mr. Alpha was moved, but didn’t show it.

Mr. Omega continued the hard line. ‘I’m sorry, madam, but for all we know you’re pretending to be her parents.’

‘She wrote to us,’ Mrs.Bolt said. ‘She sent us a mail about the Cloth.’

Now Mr. Alpha stood up in alarm, ‘God, she wrote to you about the Cloth?’

Mr. Omega cut him off, ‘Hasty, John, too hasty. We still can’t be sure they are who they say they are. Do you have this letter on you? We need proof.’

Mr. Alpha watched Manny, who seemed beside himself because he was unable to stop his wife from revealing everything. The desire to see their daughter again had got the better of her.

Mrs. Bolt pulled out pages of a letter from her purse and handed it to Mr. Omega, looking hopeful. Mr. Omega went through the pages and shook his head. ‘Dear god, dear god…’ he muttered to himself. ‘If she sent this to you, you are both in terrible danger.’

Mr. Bolt replied, ‘What? What do you mean?’

‘The Cloth will want this suppressed.’ Mr. Omega shook the letter in the air, excited. ‘We’ve been looking for a break like this for years. Your daughter told us we should meet her here… I guess it was you we were supposed to meet.’

‘You know about the Cloth?’

‘We’ve never managed to get one of their number to turn, but we know they are behind a vast number of crimes – kidnappings, murder, torture. You are both in danger, very serious danger.’

Mr. Alpha stood stock still, unwilling to risk the chance that Ms. Cancer might miss the shoulder and spray his brain across the board walk. Ms. Cancer would shoot him in the shoulder if the Bolts needed extra convincing that the good guys had arrived. He now wished he hadn’t had lost his temper at Ms. Cancer and Ms. Capricorn. He was glad they had everything under control. He was glad they hadn’t forgotten anything.

Morgana’s parents weren’t sure what to do. They debated in complete silence, exchanging worried looks with each other, at the Clothmen, and also at the sea. The sea roared and provided no consolation. Mr. Alpha closed his eyes and prayed to The-God-To-Be that a bullet would not visit him this day.

Mr. Bolt then said, ‘So… what should we do?’

Mr. Alpha sighed with relief. He pictured Ms. Cancer wondering aloud, ‘Shouldn’t we shoot him anyway?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2151

April 16, 2007

The Crane (14 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Ms. Cancer handed the binoculars to Mr. Omega and he took a look for himself. ‘I see them,’ he said. ‘So definitely the same time every day?’

‘Not exactly the same time. They usually get to the bench around 3 o’clock, sometimes earlier. We doubt they’d be late, we think they’re supposed to meet Morgana at 3.15, possibly half past.’

Slumped forward over an ornate desk, Mr. Alpha rapped his fingers on its wooden surface, making a noise like chattering teeth. The room grated on him, being more ostentatious that the usual Clothman suite, but it was a stakeout. Needs must. Peculiar candelabras hung from the walls, scattering light in uncertain paths, casting mysterious shadows in a room that was cleverly sheltered from daylight. Lawn stripes fleshed out the walls.

Staring at random scratches on the desk, Mr. Alpha asked, ‘How long have they been coming here for?’

Ms. Capricorn leaned forward from the divan she sat on, her ghostly face emerging from shadow. Large eyes peered at him across the gloom. ‘We have seen them here every day since we tracked down their hotel. We know that they have stayed at the Seaward for a month.’

‘And they haven’t met Morgana in all that time?’

‘We believe not,’ said Ms. Cancer, a silhouette against the window, turning to face Mr. Alpha. ‘What are your plans?’

There was silence.

Phrases from the letter fragment they’d come across flashed through his mind. The Cloth believes God doesn’t exist and that Man has to fill this vacancy. That’s what they do, they manipulate belief, religion, to push the world towards their goal. But there were things in the letter that only a mature Clothman like Morgana would have been privy to, which were news to him. Right now they’re trying to unify religion by pitting Christianity against Islam. They don’t care who wins, as long as one of them eats and absorbs the other.

They’d only recovered one page; what the fuck did the rest of the letter contain? Had Morgana sent her parents every single Cloth secret she knew? The Eastbourne school hadn’t been happy with the sudden reassignments of practically every Clothman at their disposal, but quarantine was quarantine. It doesn’t get much worse than that. And so fifty Clothmen roamed the streets of Brighton, primed for action, all because of Morgana’s letter. Because of her arrogance.

‘Mr. Omega,’ Mr. Alpha said, tracing out one deep scratch with a finger. ‘We move now, right?’

Mr. Omega was still looking through the binoculars. ‘Yes. Morgana’s not going to show. I think she had problems getting here in time. Now it’s too late. She knows that we’d have the place under heavy surveillance by now. That just leaves us with one thing left to do.’

Mr. Alpha looked at Ms. Capricorn and asked, ‘You’ve got all the CCTV cameras covered? Don’t want to be recorded when we apprehend Mr. and Mrs. Bolt.’

‘We have taken care of the cameras, Mr. Alpha.’

‘You’ll have the area secure, in case Morgana does make an appearence?’ Although it would be a suicidal gamble on her part, she might try to make a scene. Any public participation would make the situation far more complicated to resolve.

‘We have the area secure.’

‘And you’ll be watching for police activity?’

‘We have taken care of police monitoring, Mr. Alpha.’

Ms. Capricorn’s apparent over-confidence irritated him. ‘Is there anything you’ve fucking forgotten?’

Mr. Omega twisted around and said, ‘Calm down.’ He returned to watching the Bolts.

Ms. Capricorn didn’t flinch at the barbed sarcasm. ‘We have forgotten nothing.’

‘Well, then,’ Mr. Alpha responded with a mocking smile, ‘I guess it’s all systems a go-go. No reason to stall any longer, eh, Mr. Omega? Hmm?’

Mr. Omega lowered the binoculars, but said nothing, continuing to stare out of the window towards the featureless grey sky.

‘There are no indications of any substantial leak yet. And Ms. Capricorn and Ms. Cancer, bless their fucking cotton socks, have got things locked up tighter than a nun’s arse. Why the hesitation, mate?’ Mr. Alpha was furious and wanted the old man to feel the same pangs of doubt. Come on, feel it.

More silence.

Mr. Alpha slammed his fist onto the desk. ‘Answer me, you fucker!’

But Mr. Omega did not answer, neither did he turn around.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2212

April 9, 2007

The Crane (13 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

By this point, most parents would have converted their children’s bedroom into a spare room for visitors, a study or perhaps even a games room where the father, worn down after years of toil at a job and a marriage he hated equally, could retreat to and pretend he still had an identity. Mr. Alpha observed that this was not the case in Morgana’s bedroom. Torchlight prodded the room into reality, piece by piece.

Mr. and Mrs. Bolt had preserved the bedroom the way their daughter had left it. A couple of pin-ups from long-fame-dead eighties celebrities adorned the walls, separated by images of simple, tranquil landscapes. A cheap stack of bookshelves near the window carried a profundity of titles; Mr. Alpha quickly glanced through them, several entries from The Hardy Boys Mysteries series, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Unreal!, an Edgar Allen Poe collection. A cupboard containing toys that Morgana had probably been growing out of, but couldn’t yet find the strength to consign to the tip. Mr. Alpha touched the bed and its brightly coloured blankets. All fresh.

If Morgana returned, Mr. And Mrs. Bolt would not recognise her as the girl who had made this room her home. Mr. Alpha felt another twinge of guilt at their presence here. They were intruding on deep loss, pain and suffering that had continued to fester over the years. He muttered to himself, ‘Just fucking wrong.’

As was his job, Mr. Alpha searched the entire room in case there was any evidence that Morgana been back. He opened the cupboard and removed each toy with care and respect. He unmade the bed, folding the sheets and blankets and piling them, smelling them individually. He removed the books from the shelves, flicking through the pages for notes or fresh handwriting. He even dug out the one-eyed beige teddy bear with a playful grin from beneath the bed. From the wardrobe, he removed every dress and blouse and pair of knickers and jacket and laid them on the bed.

There was no clue here to who Morgana was, only who Fay was. There were no hints as to why Morgana the Clothman would have turned bad, revelling in sin.

There was a small pocket notebook, a personal diary, hidden beneath the mattress. It was no larger than his hand and its shiny, emerald green cover was featureless although a bit scuffed. The police must have reviewed it, but handed it back to Mr. and Mrs. Bolt after finding nothing to explain their daughter’s disappearance, who then put it back under the mattress.

As he started reading the first entry, dated December 25, 1987, he felt a muscle spasm in his left arm. He rubbed it with his right hand, still gripping the diary. The foetus was kicking again, refusing to respond to his administrations. His entire arm became alive, shaking out of control.

‘Stop,’ he hissed. ‘Fucking stop.’ He had brought this upon himself. It was his fault. Was now sweating, anxious. Too many more shakes like this and Mr. Omega would notice. Mr. Omega would then make his own call to Supply about suspect Clothman behaviour and Mr. Alpha’s career would come to an untimely end.

He rammed his body against a wall, crushing the arm, but still the spasms rippled through it. Mr. Alpha whispered, ‘Please… please…’

He knew what it wanted. It wanted to be fed. He dropped the diary and started searching his jacket. He could hear footsteps coming up the stairs and became frantic. Not enough time. Not enough time!

Mr. Omega strode through the doorway, his face ashen. The foetus became still.

Mr. Alpha wiped sweat from his forehead and leant down to pick up the diary, affecting normality. Just another ordinary night sorting through someone’s personal possessions, someone’s life.

‘Mr. Alpha,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘Put it all back as it was. We’ve got to go.’ His tone was depressed, monotone.

‘What’s wrong?’ Mr. Alpha replied, scooping up the green diary.

‘I found this,’ said Mr. Omega, handing an opened envelope to him. Mr. Alpha took it and looked inside despite his left arm still throbbing with warmth. The envelope had contained a long letter, but Mr. and Mrs. Bolt had taken all of it with them except for one page. The small extract was enough.

‘Holy fucking shit,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘I don’t believe this. She knows what has to happen now, right? She knows.’

Mr. Omega flipped open his mobile and dialled. ‘Supply, this is Mr. Omega, Wivenhoe Surround.’ Mr. Alpha watched his partner with restrained horror. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion unfolding before him, teeth smashing into a steering wheel, brains smearing across the windscreen.

Mr. Omega sighed and lowered the handset, unable to say the words. He leaned against the wall for support and shook his head in what Mr. Alpha assumed was disbelief. He raised the mobile to his lips and said, ‘We need a quarantine pack.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2059

March 28, 2007

The Crane (12 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fay Patricia Bolt. Born 23 September 1975, Sydney, Australia.

In the air-conditioned interior of a fourth-hand Ford Fiesta, Mr. Alpha flicked through the fifteen pages of documentation one more time. Addresses and dates, business dealings, tax filings, a century of genealogy and so on. There were some points of interest amongst the detritus of Morgana’s recorded history, but largely it was dull and uninteresting. Reading about Morgana’s history weakened her somehow, transforming her into one of the ordinary lives at their disposal, slaves to the invisible power play of belief and perception. Of more importance was the fact he now knew her birth-name and that crippled her.

Mr. Omega had dismissed the most juicy item in her history as inconsequential. On a school camp in the outback, three of Morgana’s friends had died from a fall after managing to sneak away from their teacher’s supervision. Local police exonerated her from having anything to do with it, but a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion forced her parents to relocate to England in 1987.

And there was also the final, deceptive sentence in the report.

After a year without incident at The Priory comprehensive school, Fay disappeared in 1988.

In other words, the Cloth had adopted Morgana. Mr. Alpha had to give Supply credit for preparing the documentation so that, in the event that it fell into the wrong hands, there was nothing to reveal the Cloth’s existence.

‘We should go in,’ said Mr. Omega, in the driving seat. ‘Her parents haven’t been around for a couple of days. It’s time to have a look around, see if Morgana has been in touch or even been sneaking around here herself.’

Mr. Alpha agreed. The pair of them had been staking the place out for a couple of weeks now and there was no sign of Morgana’s parents nor Morgana herself. It felt like an exercise in due diligence, ticking off the ‘Check whether renegade has visited estranged parent(s)’ box. A waste of time. That Aussie whore was not stupid. She would not hand them a lead on a silver platter.

They exited the car to face the chilling night. Mr. Alpha shivered; the air was still and the ground sparkled with early formations of ice. Above, a star-encrusted sky watched over them.

As they strode towards the Bolts’ house further down the street, Mr. Alpha wondered if her parents had given up hope. As far as he knew, the Cloth didn’t provide a cover story for adoptions. The adopted weren’t raped and killed by sinners. They didn’t run away from home. The Cloth just took a piece away from the family jigsaw leaving something damaged and incomplete behind. As Morgana’s parents hadn’t returned to Australia, it was likely that they still hoped to find her again; it saddened him. Such loss, such bravery. Such sacrifice. The parents had given up their children, albeit without consent or knowledge, for the noblest of causes.

He had his own hopes. After the second disaster of losing that turncoat snag Grimmer to Morgana’s machinations, perhaps they’d be able to pick up Morgana’s trail here.

They reached the semi-detached house, doused in orange light from a sodium street lamp. ‘Gloves,’ Mr. Omega whispered as they passed through the open front gate and crossed a well-maintained garden. A high fence obstructed the nearby light imprinting a cat’s cradle of shadow upon the orange-tinted lawn.

Mr. Alpha held up glossy hands. ‘Way ahead of you,’ he whispered back.

They headed around the back, crushing some immaculate roses into immaculate dead roses. Mr. Omega tried turning the handle on back door, just in case they were the luckiest people on the planet. It didn’t budge, but the back door did appear to have an insecure lock. Mr. Omega pulled out a lock pick case from his jacket and got to work.

Mr. Alpha wanted to speak his mind, even though it would likely incur the wrath of his senior partner. ‘This seems wrong, you know,’ he whispered. ‘They didn’t do anything, well, wrong. They’re probably sin negative and we’re charging up their back door.’

The old man stopped fiddling with the lock and looked up with an inscrutable expression. Mr. Alpha wasn’t sure if he was about to bark at him or go for a shit.

Mr. Omega sighed and returned to picking the lock. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Ain’t that the fucking truth.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2059

March 21, 2007

The Crane (11 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha pretended to be daydreaming into his latte whilst listening to Mr. Omega’s conversation with Supply.

‘Sorry, Supply, could you repeat? My signal keeps cutting out,’ Mr. Omega said into his mobile, a large, black mussel shell against his ear. Perhaps he could hear the sea.

Realising he’d been staring at his latte for far too long, Mr. Alpha jerked himself upright as if snapping out of a daydream and then surveyed the other customers.

Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf on a weekday. Most of the people here were just escaping their skyscraper jobs for a few minutes to talk to friends. They would trade grubby thoughts of career, self and sex to make themselves feel better, feel that someone else understood them, that they were not alone. A weekly shot of normality in the arm and then carry on with their sinner lifestyles without the inconvenience of regret. He wanted to tell them all that no one forgave them, but they wouldn’t understand. Living with invented gods or, even worse, delusions of a cold, atheistic universe caused spiritual atrophy.

Eastern European accents barked across the counter, trying to top the volume of the background jazz, making up orders that resembled the fragmented request they had heard. Suits lined up waiting for their conveyor belt coffee, assured of familiar tastes. Sometimes a backpacked student or a mother going out for a giggle with the gals broke up the monotone queue with a thin dose of colour. Tables filled the rest of the space, each one with customers in orbit, flirting satellites that never overstayed their welcome.

What did these people talk about? Did any of them realise that a couple of Clothmen sat in their midst? Mr. Alpha then realised he had no idea whether any of the other attending customers were also Clothmen. Maybe the frumpy woman with a woolly, jade cardigan in the far corner sitting with a man, her head thrown back trying to charm the last dregs of foam out of her cup, a caffeine tit. No, definitely not. She was demonstrating a dependence on the material.

Mr. Alpha approved of the sanitised structures of Canary Wharf around him. It was only the people that seem to dirty its purity. There was far too much chaos and scum in the human psyche. Too many paradoxes that were only maintained through force of will. There were the City mothers who were well-dressed in sharp suits and revealing necklines, pretending to be anything other than a mother. There were those who hated their job and talked about nothing but finding another job, as if it would be an improvement, failing to realise that they were actually carriers of a contagion of self-oppression.

He saw this and acknowledged that they had a long way to go before The-God-To-Be could be made manifest. Another voice, buried deep in his head challenged him with the words: this is what we made, know that we are terminal.

‘Truth is ghost,’ Mr. Omega said and closed his mobile.

Mr. Alpha cursed himself, having pretended to ignore Mr. Omega’s conversation so well to have actually ignored it.

‘So what’s the story?’

‘Weren’t you listening to anything I said? Observation is root, Mr. Alpha.’ His monotonous, nasal-inflected speech felt even more irritating than usual.

He glared back without emotion for a moment. The anger passed, an asteroid just glancing the atmosphere. ‘I was observing our surroundings, Mr. Omega. What’s the word?’

‘It’s highly possible that Morgana’s going to look for her parents. There’s only been a handful of renegades, but nearly all of them went looking for their past. We’re going to find her parents and wait.’

‘That’s it?’

‘It’s a fucking good plan, Mr. Alpha.’

‘Well, how are we supposed to find her parents? If a Clothman talks about the time before we entered the Cloth, we get sliced.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Just like that.’ He added a cutting motion across his throat.

Mr. Omega sighed. ‘The Cloth remembers for us. They’ve sent us some details by e-mail.’

‘Really?’ He leaned forward over his half-empty latte, keen and interested. ‘We’ve got details of another Clothman’s history?’

‘Yes, don’t get too excited about it, you fuck-knock. I have to report to Supply if you get suspiciously interested in illegal information.’

‘Jesus, what can you tell me?’

‘We’re off to Colchester.’

‘Never been there, sounds like a fucking horrible place. Coal-chester.’

The frumpy woman pulled the coffee cup away from her face to reveal foam smothering her nose and mouth. She licked her lips and stretched her tongue up to the tip of her nose, wiping away the creamy bubbles as best she could. She experienced pleasure, grinning through the stain on her face. Her tongue seemed unnaturally long, managing to reach across her cheeks like some hideous tentacle. Her coffee partner, a male in a taupe suit, reached over and wiped the remaining foam with his fingers. He wasn’t wiping it off, though, he was just smearing it around, making the mess worse.

Mr. Alpha noticed the man’s index finger pop into the woman’s mouth for a second. Sickening. Just sickening.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2319
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