January 30, 2007

The Crane (4 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

One of the disadvantages of working in a secret organisation, Mr. Alpha thought, was that everything had to be secret. Let’s not hold the meeting in the local Starbucks, we’ll meet up where there aren’t any people. So no ferry terminals or toilets either. They still could have cut down the travel time if they’d hopped on a ferry to Lakeside but, of course, they weren’t meeting at a ferry-friendly time like 11am. Just in case anyone did take a fancy to the area, Supply had proposed 7am as the meeting time of choice. Mr. Omega had told him once that Clothman fatigue was a common problem. Whoa, big fucking surprise.

It hadn’t been possible to follow the western shore of Windermere all the way down; the occasional detour around thick undergrowth or Wray Castle had been essential. Mr. Omega had kept distance throughout and the journey had been made in silence. They were now at the rendezvous point, marked by a single bench on the opposite shore.

Mr. Alpha looked at his watch and checked the time. He groped around inside his jacket pocket and pulled out his mobile. It bore the same time as the watch. ‘So,’ he asked Mr. Omega, ‘what time do you make it?’

Mr. Omega was watching the trees around them for movement. ‘Seven thirty,’ he said.

He wished he was on the other side, sitting on the bench beneath tree-peppered hills. There was already a man in a black suit wearing a flashy red tie sitting there, his arms laying on the seat like he had not a single care. So much for secrecy. He bet the bastard was probably smiling too. In fact, he hated the Lake District and every rural area like it. Everyone was so friendly and talked to every stranger they met. Cloth jobs up here meant some social integration for the purposes of camouflage. London, where people kept their trap shut and minded their own business, was superior across the board. There wasn’t even a Starbucks in Ambleside, how backward was that? The presence of the Starbucks infection was how a modern country could identify that it was civilised.

‘So this is where we we’re supposed to meet Mr. Mogdred and Ms. Morgana?’ he asked.

‘That’s what I was told by Supply.’ Mr. Omega did not want to be distracted from the vital task of scanning the trees.

‘Why don’t you give them another call, just to check?’

There was a brief pause and Mr. Alpha knew that the old man was wondering whether his request had been genuine or a sarcastic suggestion that Alzheimer’s had set in. It had been genuine, but he also enjoyed the alternate meaning now that it had occurred to him. His enjoyment was marred by the congestive throbbing in his head. The pain, though, meant he needed no more leaves for the time being. He’d left a dirty trail of snotty breadcrumbs behind them.

Mr. Omega got out his mobile and called Supply, something Mr. Alpha lamented he was not able to do yet. Still hadn’t made his twenty assignments.

‘Supply, this is Mr. Omega, Keswick south sector.’ A pause. ‘I’d like to confirm the location and time of the rendezvous with Mr. Mogdred and Ms. Morgana.’ A longer pause; Mr. Omega listened intently while still watching the trees. ‘We appreciate your support. Belief is rock.’ He snapped the mobile shut and put it away.

‘Everything as we thought?’

‘Yes. I’m not senile yet.’

As Mr. Omega had lowered his guard a fraction, Mr. Alpha thought it would be a good time to bring up a well trodden topic. He asked, ‘Why do we have to sleep together?’

‘What, do you have memory loss or something? Till death do us part. Fifty metres apart and the Cloth will kill us, for fuck’s sakes. A double room makes it simple.’

‘A twin would be better.’ Shit, Mr. Alpha chastised himself, he needed to keep his contempt under lock and key a lot better than this. At school, he was sure that his partner would be brilliant, awe-inspiring, wisdom incarnate. Spending time with Mr. Omega was more like a wisdom teeth extraction.

Mr. Omega did not respond, finding the rustling trees a more appealing conversation partner.

A few minutes passed and Mr. Alpha couldn’t bear the silence any more. He envied the man on the bench, despite his tasteless tie. ‘What are we here for?’

‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it.’


‘I’m not at liberty to discuss it is what I said. Ask a question, make a bloody effort to listen to the answer.’

This was the last thing he expected to hear. It meant that the task they had been assigned was related to the second order Cloth codes that a probation charge like himself was not privy to. He guessed the Cloth wouldn’t have assigned something of this nature to a pairship-in-training if there had been any other option, so something serious was going on. At least this was going to be interesting.

‘Can you at least tell me, then, what Mr. Mogdred looks like? Or Ms. Morgana?’

‘Met them both at the Keswick meet last year. He’s a small bloke, short, black hair, gels it flat. He looked a bit wet behind the ears to me, but he’s made his twenty. Ms. Morgana chooses a classic black suit with a really bright white shirt, or is it a blouse?’ Mr. Omega chuckled. ‘It makes him look more pall-bearer than Men in Black.’

Mr. Alpha sneezed and the recoil made his head swim; everything was bright shiny colours for a second. He shook his head to clear the multicoloured mush from his vision but then, one problem in exchange for another, crushing congestion pain overwhelmed him. He had to say something important. He held his head and staggered to the edge of the lake, staring across at the man on the opposite bench, passing the day in comfortable silence. Sweat dribbled from Mr. Alpha’s forehead despite the cold wind that whipped him.

‘Cover your fucking mouth when you sneeze,’ the old man said. ‘Dirty.’

‘Fucking shitbandits,’ Mr. Alpha shouted through his private agony, the first time he had sworn in the presence of his partner. ‘Observation is root is it? Observe that!’ Still securing his fragile head with one hand, he pointed with the other towards the man on the bench and his bold red tie.

‘That’s not a tie,’ he said. ‘That’s not a red tie!’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2334

January 28, 2007

The Crane (3 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Alpha said, ‘We should take a boat. Commandeer something.’ He moved the handkerchief to his face, something was brewing.

‘We don’t need a boat, boy. It’s a lovely day,’ Mr. Omega said.

They stood on the northern shore of the lake and although Waterhead pier was within reach, it was clear they weren’t going anywhere near it. The pier looked lonely at this time of the morning, dark and uninhabited, reaching out on wooden struts into Windermere to support ferry passengers that were yet to make an appearence. The lake’s choppy surface reflected the deep blue of a nude sky and hills splattered with greens of varying shades caressed its lateral shores into the distance. Ducks congregated near the Clothmen at the water’s edge, assuming they might receive nutritious gifts from the humans. The selfish bastards were already quacking disappointment that nothing had been offered yet.

‘Yes, it’s very blue, very cloudless and hence very cold. Have you heard of “wind chill factor”?’ Twitching inside his face; any moment now. His teeth chattered and he wanted to go back to the Ambleside hotel.

‘Whiney fucker. Call yourself a Clothman?’

‘You–‘ Mr. Alpha started and then sneezed.

Rather than offering ‘bless you’ or ‘gesundheit’, the old man took a step back and glowered. Don’t you even think about sneezing in this fucking direction.

Mr. Alpha blew his nose into an already sodden handkerchief. He could not grasp why, at the ripe age of 23, he had still not learnt to take a dozen handkerchiefs out with him instead of one when labouring under a cold. ‘We’re going to be late if we walk it,’ Mr. Alpha said, his voice nasal.

Mr. Omega clapped whilst maintaining his skilled scowl. ‘Bravo, bravo. Smart argument, boy. But considering the reason we’re fucking late already is that you couldn’t get your arse out of bed, I think the onus is on you to keep the pace up. Yeah?’

Mr. Alpha tightened a fist in response to the abuse. ‘Look, I needed a Lemsip before we left. This suit of yours is not the best for this sort of weather. I wouldn’t be in this state if you’d let me wear something decent.’

‘Will you just shut the fuck up about the coat? This was discussed ad infinitum yesterday.’ Mr. Omega scalded him with a fiery glare. Although Mr. Alpha had been popular at the school for his own fearful stare of despair, Mr. Omega’s gaze always raised goosebumps on his arms.

‘Okay,’ Mr. Alpha said, ‘let’s go.’ Another sneeze blasted its way out and the sudden throb of numbness around his beleaguered nose felt like his face had been blown off. He blew his nose again and something thick and massive invaded the hanky; for a second, he thought perhaps his nose really had come away.

As his hanky was already too far gone to be of any use he was stuck. Clutching the hanky to his face like he was some sort of amateur highwayman, a congested Dick Turpin, Mr. Alpha looked to his partner with a hand out expecting help.

Mr. Omega’s expression switched from glare to disgust, but said nothing.

‘Mate,’ Mr. Alpha said through his sodden highwayman disguise, ‘have you got a spare tissue or something?’

Mr. Omega walked away. Once he had put several metres between them, he shouted back, ‘Use some leaves. We’re in the countryside, shithead, improvise.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1930

January 25, 2007

The Crane (2 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

After racing up the first few flights of steps he found himself out of breath. Climbing the metal stairwell within the crane was a lot harder than it appeared. The crane’s operator wouldn’t have treated it as a contest of speed, he knew that, but his impatience had got the better of him.

Mr. Alpha cast his eyes over what little progress he had made then looked up. Countless flights of steps crowded out the view of the cabin at the zenith, hanging over him within the crane’s dark blue stem like layers of overlapping metal cobwebs. Beyond the disciplined, straight edges of the mast, the yellow jib lunged out across the night, like the thrust of a great blade frozen in time. It was where he wanted to be right now.

He stopped and rested against an outer rail and his hands became numb against the cold iron. A fog was coalescing in the distance, smudging distant street lights into radiant orbs; Mr. Alpha hoped it would come to engulf them. The fog provoked a pleasant memory of flicking through photos of London smog in a library book when he was a youngster, prior to his enrolment into the Cloth. The people of London had had to dress up a la Elephant Man to survive it but he didn’t care about that. There was a smoky beauty to it, something romantic in its essence. It blurred the sharp edges of everyday, rendering reality opaque and dream-like. The tension in his shoulders diminished and his mind discharged some of its burden. Mr. Alpha realised, fifty metres rule or no fifty metres rule, he needed to get away from Mr. Omega now and again so he could have a bit of peace.

He wasn’t high enough to get a grand view of the city neighbourhood yet, but he could see the hotel where they were staying. His senior senile partner had not yet discovered his abandonment and the bedroom was still dark. He peered downwards and saw the chaos of a juvenile construction site.

Its destiny was not yet apparent. Diggers had been busy generating fresh craters across the site in a random fashion and bulldozers assisted by pushing the excavated debris into dirty mounds of indiscernible fragments of things. There were probably priceless Roman finds that Tony Robinson would squawk over on Time Team, but no one cared as the drive to build and reform overpowered. Progress always started with destruction but something new would be built from all this crap. Mr. Alpha spotted only a sliver of the future; a lattice of iron rods driven into the ground near the crane’s base, like a bed of crooked, headless flowers yearning for a night-time sun.

He shivered, wishing that he had put on that nauseating yellow tie to insulate his neck from the night chill. He didn’t want to catch another cold; it’d taken a few weeks to throw that one he’d had when they’d met Mr. Mogdred by Windermere.

Windermere. Complex memories reasserted themselves and attacked his mind like a sticky, poisonous smog, burning through his paper-thin composure, blurring the edges of thought. Nothing made sense when he was under their spell. He would go over the facts again and again and not come to a single conclusion.

The foetus in his left arm started to kick again.

He punched the rail with the edge of his left fist and it replied with a dull, hollow ring. The arm continued to shake. He clouted the rail a couple more times but it still didn’t help.

Things had been simple back in the school. Erect everything from the First Principle, the Cloth’s prime tenet: “God is not yet become.” From this, there was only one explanation for what had happened – bad luck. Why had he been paired with Mr. Omega? Bad fucking luck. Why had they ended up responding to the call from Mr. Mogdred? Bad fucking luck. How had Morgana escaped? Bad fucking luck… no. Nothing to do with knots or rope. The knots were a cover story for the inexplicable.

He resumed his ascent, ignoring the jerking in his arm, and thought about when it all started to turn to shit.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0032

January 14, 2007

The Crane (1 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The pattern shifted. He saw Morgana, then a fat tie that twisted and flowed like a Dali clock, Morgana again and then a banana. The top of the banana was peeling, its shy, yellow flesh peering out at him. Mr. Alpha shut his eyes. He couldn’t work out what the ceiling’s tessellated design was in the half-light from the hotel alarm clock. He didn’t want to know anymore.

Eyes closed, he again found his attention concentrating on the foreign warmth reaching across the bed towards him. He hated having to share a bed with Mr. Omega. The Clothman directives stressed that pairship partners should remain within fifty metres of each other at all times or face expunction; it was Mr. Omega who had imposed this stronger principle of sleeping together. Apparently it was something he had picked up from the previous Mr. Alpha, whose formidable boots the new Mr. Alpha was still unfit to fill. Why couldn’t he have been paired with someone else? Pairships were for life and not just for Christmas. He would be stuck with Mr. Omega until fuckfart died of natural causes or, perish the thought, unnatural ones. Mr. Alpha wanted to ask how his predecessor had passed on. Just out of curiosity.

He snapped open his eyes again and glanced at the clock: 1 AM. Mr. Omega had been sleeping for at least a couple of hours already and was likely to jump out of bed with a head full of focus in five. Frustration burned; he wanted to punch something. Mr. Alpha slipped out of bed and sneaked across to the window.

His own reflection was faintly visible in the glass. He had preferred to sleep naked before being paired with Mr. Omega; now thick, creamy pyjamas smothered with pink puppy dog shapes were the order of the day. All of the puppies were blissful, swallowing bones, doing little tricks, licking themselves, having a fucking laugh. His own visage was a gloomy contrast, strong yet troubled. He looked a bit like a peacock, the hair at the back of his head sticking out having been mashed against stiff pillows for a few hours.

Mr.Alpha put his hands against the glass and looked beyond. From the seventh floor, he saw streets and alleyways cutting out shapes in the city jumble, street lights aglow like the candles on an urban cake. More interesting, though, was the crane towering above it all. Tiny pinpricks of light illuminated the giant metal claw to prove that it was neither dead nor abandoned; it slept. Night flights kept their distance, lest they wake the beast that dominated the night sky. The crane’s malevolent power enthralled him.

He knocked his head against the cold surface of the window and let it rest there, cooling. Could he be any more fucked?

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1832

January 1, 2007

Latus Rectum

Thread: Equation

“He did have a tendency to stick his head so far up on his own rectum that he’d get lost.”

Earl stopped picking at the beer bottle’s label. He looked up to meet the eyes of the slouching teenager sitting opposite, who had removed His LA Dodgers cap to rummage around His short afro. Earl wondered what God was looking for, but said, “Plato?”

“Plato had this theory of ideas.” God put the cap back on, dissatisfied with something. “He was bothered by how people could recognise common ideas or forms. For example, no two cookies are identical, but they are all recognised as cookies. They seem to have a cookie thing about them that everyone can see. How come everyone recognises completely different objects as the same thing?”

“Cookies? You remind me of that doctor woman up at the university.”

“She’s a nice girl, Earl, and I won’t hear a bad word said about her. Although, truth be told, she doesn’t yet realise her life is nothing but limitation. Back to the topic, didn’t you ever wonder about that? How come everyone agrees what this is?” God sketched out a square in mid-air with a finger. “A rectangle, right? How do you know this freehand shape is a rectangle? Every ‘rectangle’ is different.”

“I thought it looked kinda like a square.”

“Work with me here, Earl, I’m making a point.”

Here we go again, he thought. God had a habit of leading him into some logical dilemma and then making him feel stupid for not coming up with the right answer. God probably knew what he was thinking anyway and apologised mentally. Sorry. If, on the other hand, He hadn’t bothered listening to Earl’s thoughts, he offered, “Sir, your beer, I think, is gettin’ warm.”

“That’s okay, Earl. I’m not going to chastise you on what you’re thinking. So, Plato’s theory of ideas?” God started to drink his beer.

Earl glanced out the window and observed the sun descending, melting the sky into gold. He wondered how long God was going stick around like this. He still wondered why He was here in the first place. Maybe God would hear that thought and decide to answer. “You’re not going to answer that one, are you, sir?”

God put down his beer after finishing it in one great gulp and said, “Drinking beer takes concentration, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now stop evading my point, I’m not trying to catch you out or anything. Rectangles, Earl, rectangles.” He clapped his hands twice like a teacher requesting attention and focus.

“No, sir, can’t say I ever did think about that,” Earl said. “But if I had given the matter some particular thought…” He paused, trying to come up with an answer that would please God. He decided to be honest. “I wouldn’t really care for it. I’m sure there’s something complex in the head that can explain that sort of thing. The brain probably compares things and says, that’s the same and that’s the same, and picks out what’s the same a lot and, uh, what’s the word…”


“What? That wasn’t the word I was looking for. I don’t even know what that means, sir. Generalizes is what I was reaching for.”

“That’s excellent, Earl. Plato, bless his beard, came up with this kooky scheme. He said all souls had access to common knowledge. All the forms in the physical world were actually sourced from perfect originals. So all cookies are approximations of the perfect cookie, that is in ‘heaven’ with me.”

Earl laughed. “Is the beer doin’ the talkin’ for you today?”

“No lie, my friend. So you can imagine this, can’t you? Plato has lumbered me with not just the Perfect Cookie, but the Perfect Chair, the Perfect Cigar, the Perfect Microwave Oven, the Perfect Martini (Shaken, Not Stirred) and even the Perfect President of the Uganda. I, apparently, have enough space to store all of this. I mean, the cheek of the man, philosophers think they can tell me what to do.”

“Wow, so this Plato was a’couple sandwiches shy of a picnic?”

“No, he had all the bases covered. Plato was kind enough to give me the Perfect Closet to put everything in.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1907