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 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

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

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 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

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

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 1, 2008

In the Hands of Others (4 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘That’ll be five forty,’ said the paddy behind the counter, proffering a genial smile. The chalked menu behind him listed authentic Irish fare such as southern fried chicken in four sizes, Yorkshire pudding and rib steak kebab (with CURRY SAUCE in loud capitals). Contrasting aromas emanating from the kitchen copulated in the air, producing a hybrid child that only bore resemblance to one of its progenitors, the overpowering scent of curry.

‘I’m sorry, don’t understand,’ said Mr. Alpha, cupping a hand over one ear. ‘Your accent, see, can’t make it out.’

‘Five forty. Five euros, forty cents.’ The paddy repeated, his smile withdrawn, glancing at the queue behind Mr. Alpha.

‘No, sorry, not getting it. Are you speaking in Garlic? Three forty? Is that it?’

‘No, no, no! I’m not speaking Gaelic.’ The paddy swallowed and spoke clinically: ‘Fi. Vuh. For. Tee.’

‘Jesus and his wife Nora, you don’t have to sound like that, do you think I’m a fucking imbecile? Here’s your bloody three forty.’

He planted a pick-n-mix collection of coins onto the counter and left the café with two steak and stout pies, not quite as steaming hot as they had appeared through the window. He handed one to Mr. Omega.

Mr. Omega said, ‘You really are an asshole just waiting to happen.’

‘It’s the small things in life, mate,’ Mr. Alpha replied, taking a bite out of the pie. It tasted fresher than he thought; perhaps they had used an oven and not a microwave after all. ‘Anyway, we’re told to keep expenses down. Doing my bit for asceticism.’

They wandered through the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, amongst the mid-morning crowds that convulsed from shop to shop on the trendy side of town, wading through a sea of cigarette butts. Why the fuck they hadn’t yet banned smoking here was beyond him.

They walked past the garish yellow façade of the Oliver St. John Gogarty bar, its ground level painted a glossy olive green in a concerted attempt to clash. Various European flags dressed the second floor windows, enhancing the sensory overload. Mr. Alpha waved his tie at the building and said ‘Dear Mr. Christ, that place is the same colour as these shitty things.’

He was depressed again. Any sort of shopping haven depressed him; it was like being drowned in consumerism, materialism. The Cloth was his home and it gave him the very minimum of what he needed, which was more than enough. A mobile hotline to Supply would have been welcome though.

‘Where are we due?’ Mr. Alpha said and took more bites from the pie.

Mr. Omega’s shades were misted up from his own pie and detached them, revealing a pair of square lenses that were also misted. ‘Just down this road here,’ he said. ‘We’re looking for a small company called Scala Caeli. They’re the local blue centre.’

‘Actually are they a real company or just a shop front?’ A gang of teenage girls passed them: denim skirts, loose tops, swinging handbags. One of them had swinging breasts. Mr. Alpha tensed up, beaming silent hatred towards them.

‘Groundstops nearly always provide a real service.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Think. The more we hide, the more effort we piss away on hiding instead of getting out there and working towards The-God-To-Be. So these places ain’t just shell companies, and won’t register on anyone’s radar looking for something shit out of the ordinary. Last thing we want is real police attention or, fucking forbid, a tax inspection. They provide a service and generate legal revenue meaning we don’t have to shift cash around too far. They also make grounders self-sufficient, a cheaper option all round than yanking euros out of the nearest school budget.’

They turned down a grimy alleyway that smelt of drunken urination and, oddly, oranges.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘I never wanted to be a grounder. Sounded fucking dull, stuck in a shop all day, doing the same thing day in and day out. At least we get to go places and play police.’ He carried on eating.

‘Grounders are important. They’re the local eyes and ears, they’re usually the ones that find us snags. Not everything is about running around town and shooting your gun off. It was obvious that you didn’t have the stomach to sit still and keep your mouth shut for more than ten bloody seconds.’ Mr. Omega chuckled to himself, lines creasing. ‘That’s why I picked you up. You showed the minutest promise for legwork. Shit, I should eat this.’ Mr. Omega attacked the pie with a voracity that suggested indigestion was waiting for him on the horizon.

Mr. Alpha finished his pie and threw aside the paper bag it came in. He scratched his nose, wondering if it was good time to ask about the ex-Mr. Alpha. And why he was ex.

‘Question?’ Mr. Omega shouted through pastry.

Mr. Alpha didn’t have the courage to mine that particular topic, not just yet. He shook his head.

They emerged from the alleyway into another wide road, gummed up with slow traffic, lined with warehouses. Mr. Alpha spotted the place quickly: about twenty metres to their left was a crimson warehouse, looking recently repainted and rust-free. Metallic letters with neon surround spelt out “Scala Caeli”.

‘Jesus H,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘It stands out a bit. This is what we call a secret operation?’

Mr. Omega sighed. He finished his pie, scrunched up the bag and threw it towards a nearby cat which moved away at its own pace. ‘Remember, they have to run a proper business. If you wanted to have yourself put into cryogenic suspension, would you purchase the service with a company that stored you in a rusty old shed with spiders or one that had bright, shiny, modern-looking digs?’

‘It’s a good point,’ Mr. Alpha answered.

As they crossed the road, snaking through slow-moving cars, Mr. Omega said, ‘Of course it’s a damn good point. Kids today… where is the fucking respect for one’s elders?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1618

May 26, 2008

In the Hands of Others (3 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Startled at the clatter of the mobile’s destruction, Ariadne leaned forward and said, ‘Fay, I’m sorry, no really I’m sorry, I just wanted to be able to get hold of Bobby if I went into labour-’

Fay stepped toward the bed with an inferno dancing in her eyes, jabbing at Ariadne with a sharp finger. ‘Listen, girlie, I haven’t got time for your boo-hoo stories. Dontcha geddit yet? These people want yew dead and if yew don’t follow my advice then you’re going to be dead. You, Bobby, Tamsin, the whole crew. They’ll order a black fire on the lot of yew and Heaven fakking help you then!’

Ariadne drew her knees up against her stomach – a strange feeling as she’d been unable to do it for months – and hugged them. She looked down, sorry for disappointing their benefactor. She pulled the sheets up over her shoulders, but they didn’t make her feel any better. The Cloth swirled around them like a pack of wolves on an eternal hunt, looking for prey. Fay was right. Complacency was lethal.

‘I’m sorry, Fay. I was… not thinking. Bobby did tell me… maybe it’s just all the hormones… so tired…’ Ariadne leant back against the headboard, unwilling to continue the conversation. The exhaustion was back. She closed her eyes.

‘You’re still thinking like some petty agony aunt. I’m not hear for sorry or excuses. They will come here with purpose,’ Fay continued, relaxing a little, her accent losing some of its hard edge. ‘They’ll shoot Bobby in the face; his beautiful looks will be splattered across this dirty carpet here. They will shoot you in the back first and while you lie there entertained with the numbness of paralysed legs they will advance and finish it, wiping the brains from your skull with two bullets.’

Bad images in Ariadne’s head forced her eyes open again. She turned away from Fay’s childish outburst. ‘Stop it, I understand alright?’

Fay grabbed Ariadne’s neck and yanked her off the bed like a naughty child. Fay slapped her once across the face with her free hand. Ariadne’s cheek burned. She struggled, confused at what was happening, Fay’s iron grip forcing her into a hunched position. She’d just given birth, for Christ’s sake. She’d just given birth!

‘Get off me, Fay! What the-’

‘Do you really understand? Do you? What this is about?’ shouted Fay.

Fay slapped her again, this time even harder. ‘Do you understand me? They will kill you.’

‘Fay!’ Ariadne screamed and her arms and legs convulsed trying to fend off Fay’s blows, but Fay timed each one with precision. Slap. Smack. Slap.

She started screaming, tears pouring down her face: ‘Bobby! Bobby! Come quick!’ Ariadne tried to pound on the floor with her hands.

Fay released her, and Ariadne scrambled over the bed to the other side of the room. She watched with salty eyes over the unkempt dune of bedsheets, waiting for Fay to make a move. She thought about making a break for the door. Her heart pounded. This day was supposed to be joyous, happy, pleasant… memorable.

‘Weak,’ Fay said, the word bulging with scorn and disgust. ‘Riddled with woodworm, rotten and dead. You hoard your guns and you make your plans but a l’il bit of foreplay and a scratch or two and it’s poor me. Belief is rock.’

Fay took a step back from the bed, as if trying to calm herself and buried her mouth into an open palm as if something tasted bad. She turned away briefly but suddenly dived across the bed like a black panther. Ariadne tried to duck but was too slow: Fay’s punch caught her jaw, driving her to the floor.

Ariadne retreated into the far corner of the room, crying, sobbing: ‘Please, oh God, please stop, Fay…’ She started banging on the floor again. Come on Bobby, where are you? Why don’t we have a gun up here?

Stretched across the bed, Fay leering at her like an angry lover, swiping at the air just out of reach, growling. Fay spat a glob of phlegm onto the floor, turning away from Ariadne as if her very presence nauseated her.

Ariadne cowered, burying herself deep in the corner. ‘Please.. stop it…’

‘Stop it? STOP IT?’ Fay screamed, getting to her feet on the bed, dirty trainers muddying the sheets. ‘There isn’t a single Clothman who isn’t looking for me. You, however, are off-watch and no one round here knows who you are. You’ll stay safe – s’long as you don’t make a stupid mistake like use a bloody phone! You’re no good to me dead!’

Fay paused, looking down at Ariadne as if she owned her. The expression of disappointment set in her dark eyes morphed into something harder, controlled and cold. ‘Maybe I chose wrongly. Maybe you’re a waste of my time and effort. Maybe you’re no good to me alive. I’m supposed to love you. That’s your job. You’re not supposed to anger me.’

She leapt off the bed at Ariadne, claws outstretched.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1350

May 18, 2008

In the Hands of Others (2 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘Another sighting,’ Mr. Omega said, eyes hidden behind his clip-on shades. The bus rumbled and coughed.


‘Uh-huh. Another sighting… another break-in.’

Mr. Alpha studied a garden that had paused beside them. More stone than green, a cross-shaped pond over a wavy turquoise mosaic pulled his eyes toward the back of the garden. A statue stood there, at the top of some steps, depicting several figures collapsing to the ground as swans emerged from their backs, ascending towards the sky. ‘What’s that?’

Mr. Omega tilted his head. ‘You have the guide.’

Mr. Alpha flicked through the guide quickly to a description of the “Garden of Remembrance” in Parnell Square. The statue was of a local legend known as The Children of Lir.

‘So the legend tells of the King Lir having several children with his first wife Aoibh, but then she died…’

‘I don’t need to hear this.’

Mr. Alpha read the rest in silence. Lir then married his dead wife’s sister Aoife, who became very jealous of her stepchildren/nieces. Most women in these kind of legends are horrible, spiteful creatures and, keeping with tradition, Aoife wanted to do away with her competitors for the King’s attention. In the end, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it, so opted for the next best thing. She used magic to turn them into swans. Mr. Alpha wondered if the same thing could be done in the present day. He glanced at Mr. Omega, lurking behind his shades.

‘What? What now?’ the old man responded.

The brats of the legend were to remain swans until they heard a Christian bell, heralding the arrival of a new God to the Isle. It was all rather sad and irksome. Just the kind of thing the Cloth might have used a few hundred years ago. Or whenever this legend came from.

‘It’s a nice statue,’ Mr. Alpha noted, turning back to Mr. Omega.

The old man hacked up some phlegm and spat it onto the bus floor. ‘Right. Triffic.’

‘Fuck, mate. Do you have to do that here?’ He turned back to The Children of Lir, observing the rash of tourists, chattering away, snapping pictures. ‘She gets about. She really does get about. Is it another-’

‘Yes. The third now.’

‘Could you let me finish a god-fucking-damn single question?’

Mr. Alpha leaned backwards against the coach seat, squinting through hot sun reflected from the road. The journey from the airport to the city centre had been just too long. The heat and light were giving him a headache, but Mr. Omega was just sitting pretty as usual. Nothing seemed to bother the fucker. The bus trundled forward as the traffic began to flow again; they turned into O’Connell Street and everything looked more like city.

Either side of the street was lined with hotels and stores, but the feature that stood out was the Spire, an enormous silver splinter of metal that just looked like a giant had misplaced his javelin. That, apparently, was the city going modern. Jesus Christ, Canary Wharf look out.

‘So tell me, mate, if we hadn’t got mixed up with this Morgana wild goose chase, would I know what a blue centre is? What a blue centre is for?’

‘Look, Mr. Alpha,’ the old man whispered. ‘I didn’t know these places existed either, not until we got told that Morgana had broken into one.’ He cleared his throat and added, ‘There’s something you need to understand about a Clothman’s role in the Weave…’

Oh, another lecture. Mr. Alpha rolled his eyes.

‘The Saints know everything. The Saints plan everything. But never ever do they get their hands dirty. They just dole out orders that eventually filter down to the foot-soldiers, AKA you and me. Information and action are kept separated. It keeps the Saints at a safe distance and confers, how shall I say, longevity to the Cloth. Even when you get promoted to full robe, you won’t learn much more other than special orders like quarantine. It’s not our place to know these things.’

Mr. Alpha then asked, ‘But what about that stuff that Morgana wrote about Christianity and Islam?’

‘It might be true,’ the old man answered, ‘but it might just as easily not be. That’s the table I sup at, a veritable fucking crash diet of fact. You’ll learn to live with it. There is no such thing as knowledge for us. Even though it’s not becoming for a Clothman to chatter away like an old hen, pretty much every one does. The Christianity and Islam thing is a popular rumour and I suppose it passes the time, but don’t put too much stock in any old fanny you hear.’

‘Well, Hell’s fucking bells,’ said Mr. Alpha, wiping sweat from his face with the back of a hand. ‘If there’s barely any difference between full robes and probation, why can’t I make a call to Supply on the mobile?’

Mr. Omega lost his easy-going demeanour and turned towards Mr. Alpha. ‘Don’t fucking start that shit with me again, junior.’

Mr. Alpha slouched in his seat, still feeling an oppressed minority, the permanent probationer. He’d been through more scrapes that any normal junior would’ve experienced in the same period. ‘We getting off here?’

‘No, over the bridge first. We get off around Grafton.’

The bus was just reaching the bridge that Mr. Omega had mentioned; Mr. Alpha gazed into the choppy waters of the River Liffey, the heart of Dublin.

‘Great,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘Paddyville.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1814
« Previous PageNext Page »