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Tuesday, 24 May 2022

The Prisoner - An Exercise In Logistics Chapter 16

 

Spread your Tiny Wings and Fly Away

    Number 2 had begun work early this morning, having left her room in the Town Hall she made her way to the office in the Green Dome. She propped the umbrella shooting stick up against the desk, and unwinding the old college scarf from her neck and shoulders she lay it on the desk. She knew what she wanted and knew how to set about getting it. Still wearing her dove grey Lenin hat she sat in her black global chair behind her desk going through a set of reports. And if there was one thing she detested it was paperwork! The pair of steel doors opened and Number 14, a man of medium height, slight of build, with ginger hair wearing a light blue piped blazer, olive green polo neck sweater and grey trousers marched down the ramp and approached the desk.

    “Good morning Number Two” he smiled.
    Number 2 was reading from a single sheet of paper “This has arrived. It seems a Government Minister has asked a question in the House..... about Silas Blake. Tell me Fourteen, why should a Government Minister have asked a question in the House about our Number Six?”
    “I really can’t say Ma’am.

    “Keep an eye on Number Six” she ordered handing back the photograph “if I know anything about him he will be screaming about his human rights!”

    “Yes Number Two. The Professor is continuing his experiments over on the island.”

    “What progress has he made?”

    “There is little or no progress to report. Of the last five subjects, two did not return, one suffocated to death, another died from fear or shock, the fifth subject did however return, but his mind had gone, he is still hospitalised” reported Number 14 with a quiet voice and saddened expression.

    “I shall speak with the Professor, these failures cannot be allowed to continue. I shall go over to the island myself, you will accompany me.”

    “Yes Number Two.”

    “Was there anything else?”

    “Number Fifty the eccentric who we allow to live the life of a hermit in his shed in the woods. You will recall how he modified that Penny Farthing for the Penny Farthing race” retorted Number 14.

    “Yes I know, have you discovered the location of his shed?”

    “That’s just it, we’ve never been able to pinpoint it exactly.”

    “What do you mean, surely it cannot be that difficult to find a shed!"      

           176

    “Well every time the Observers look for it, it seems to change its location.”
    “You mean it moves?”

    “Well the Observers are able to triangulate the shed’s location, yet by the time a security team arrives, the shed has gone!”

    “You mean the old man has physically moved it, this shed of his. How is he able to do that?”

    “All I know is that it keeps moving from one location to another, by what means we have no idea” Number 14 replied “it’s inexplicable!”

    “Why have you become so obsessed by this shed?” asked Number 2 sitting back in her chair, the wheels in her head were spinning round and there was a far away look in her eye.

    “Number Fifty has helped us in the past has he not, solving problems and such like, until he was retired.”

    “And now lives the life of a hermit in the woods.”

    “A brilliant mathematician, engineer, with knowledge of electronics, physics, a scientist and inventor.”

    “Well I suggest you give the finding of this shed your top priority” suggested Number 2.

    “What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”

    “Well carry on Fourteen.”

    “Yes Number Two, straight away” said the ever obedient and faithful Number 14, as he turned and briskly marched up the ramp and out through the already opening steel doors.
    “Oh Fourteen, watch Number 6 he may lead you to the shed!”
    “Yes Number 2.”

   Number 6 was engaged in a game of chess with the Admiral, who was in his usual position of being two pawns down. Attacking being the better form of defence, Number 6 pressed home his advantage by making a daring strike using his Queen’s Bishop, check. The Admiral studied the board and with his last remaining Rook, blocked the move, which was now pinned by the Bishop. Number 6 exchanged his Knight for the Rook, the Admiral had no option but take the Knight with his own Bishop, where upon Number 6 took the Bishop with his white Queen…..checkmate!

    “You are on form today lad, another game?” asked the Admiral already resetting the pieces on the board.

    “Not just now, but we’ll have some more tea…waiter. Tell me Admiral, have you seen Number Fifty this morning?”

    The Admiral thought for a moment “Number Fifty, no lad keeps himself to himself, mostly in that shed of his somewhere in the woods, have you seen his shed?”

    “Yes, but it isn’t there now” returned Number 6.

    “Isn’t it, well it’s bound to be somewhere. Likes travel does Number Fifty, he should try the boat” the Admiral suggested

    “Ah yes the boat” Number 6 said with a smile.

    The stone boat at the quayside, its one black sail set and colourful bunting flapping in the gentle breeze, old people clambering about her deck and rigging. The waiter arrived carrying a tray with two cups of tea, a milk jug and sugar bowl upon it which he set down upon the table.

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    “That will be seven credit units if you please sir” asked the gaunt waiter.

    Number 6 handed the waiter his Admix card which the waiter swiped and handed back to his customer.

    “I was just asking the Admiral here about Number Fifty, he doesn’t seem to be about.”

    The waiter shot the Admiral a derisive look “We don’t see much of him at all here. No wait, I do believe I saw a white haired gentleman cross along the lawn, he went through the gate at the bottom of the path there, and carried on along the path of the quayside down towards Admiral Nelson’s statue.”

    “Thank you” he said, placing his card in the breast pocket of his blazer.

    Number 6 added milk and sugar to his tea and stirred it “He’s an interesting fellow Number Fifty, he’s an inventor I believe. He has a shed full of the most interesting and obscure objects, electrical equipment, wires, switches, dials all over the place, he even has electricity laid on. Don’t know how he managed that, there’s no generator.”

    “Once upon a time he was something of an important man in The Village” the Admiral said “helped them with all kinds of problems. They retired him in the end though, he lived here in the Old People’s Home for a while, but then he moved himself out and into that shed of his in the woods, living the life of a hermit, and they let him do it!”

    Number 6 excused himself and set off along the lawn, through the gate and along the path towards Lord Admiral Nelson’s statue in the footsteps of Number 50’s footsteps, and eventually leaving the path and into the woods. He was careful to keep to the paths knowing the Observers would be watching. When he arrived at the place where he had known the shed to be, it wasn’t there! Studying the ground there was a large flattened oblong indicating where the shed had once stood. It was as though the shed had disappeared into thin air, “so it moves” was Number 6’s thought. He walked the paths of the woods for an hour or so, through the Mangrove walk, and amongst the Rhododendrons and Eucalyptus, until finally there on the other side of the bamboo was the shed. Crouching down he spent some little time observing, the woods were quiet, no movement outside the shed or along any of the paths as he could see. Finally he emerged from the undergrowth and slowly approached the shed, he tried the door, it was unlocked, he stepped inside. Everything was as he had once seen it. The work bench and tools, the modified Penny Farthing bicycle propped up in the corner, boxes of electrical equipment, a bank of controls and instruments, along with wiring all around the walls. And lying on the floor was the still body of Number 50. Number 6 crouched by the side of body and felt for a pulse, a heart beat. A mirror he found and put it to the old man’s mouth, but there was no breath, the body stone cold. He would have to report the death of Number 50 to Number 2, which in turn meant the shed, would disappear into a laboratory for examination! Or he could keep silent about Number 50, give him a quiet burial, and learn of the shed’s secrets for himself. It moved, and so could provide a way out! But even here in The Village a hermit would be missed sooner rather than later. There was as far as he could see only one alternative open to him, move the body! He carried the body of Number 50 a few yards away and slumped it over the trunk of a fallen tree. Suddenly there sound of someone stepping on a twig. He spun round to be confronted by Number 14.

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    “What have you there Number Six?”

    “What were you doing with Number Fifty?” 2 asked.

    “I was walking the woods and found him slumped over the trunk of a fallen tree.”
    “You were searching the woods” Number 14 corrected him “and slumped the dead body of Number Fifty over that tree trunk yourself.”
    “Why did you do that?” Number 2 asked.

    “What made you interested in the old man in the first place?” 14 wanted to know.

    “It was curiosity.”

    “Curiosity Number Six, now that is definitely in your character, as is poking your nose in things which are none of your concern” bellowed Number 14 “was it not in fact the shed which attracted your curiosity?”

    “He was an eccentric, I like eccentrics….”

    “He was also a hermit, why should a hermit welcome you into his life?” was Number 2’s next question.

    “He didn’t, but he intrigued me” quipped Number 6 with a wry smile.
    “Are you sure it wasn’t his work which intrigued you? Number 14 asked.
    “You were in the woods” Number 2 said.

    “Obviously!”
    “You were searching for something.”
    “If you say so.”
    “I do say so, and you found it” Number 2 said “thank you for leading the way so Number Fourteen could follow. He’s been looking for the shed for simply ages.”
    “Obviously he wasn’t looking in the right place!” quipped Number 6.

    “You might be interested to learn that Number Fifty died from heart failure” Number 2 said reading the pathologists report.

    “He died on his own” Number 6 said with reluctance.
    “What else was he supposed to do; he lived as a hermit outside The Village and its protective canopy”

    “You allowed that, why?”
    “You did not care about Number Fifty, Number Six, let us not be fooled into thinking it is otherwise!”
    “Where’s his shed?” 14 asked bluntly.

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    “That’s twice you have mentioned this shed. What do you find so fascinating about it?” asked Number 6, trying to turn the tables upon his inquisitors.

    “You were curious!”
    “Yes about his motorised Penny Farthing yes” 6 replied.
    “And then about the man, and then his shed” Number 14 said.

    “He does like to keep going on about this shed doesn’t he” quipped Number 6.
    “He has a fixation about it. I’m surprised your Observers haven’t found it by now.”
    “Perhaps you could lead us to it, after all its not your property, it’s nothing to do with you” 14 insisted.
    “You must be in a bad way if you need my help!” 6 told him.
    Number 2 leaned forward in her chair “Tell us where the shed is, and we can all go home!”
    “Can I have that in writing?” grinned Number 6, knowing that in this game, he held the ace in the hole.

    “Very well Number Six, you can go” Number 2 told him.
    “But we’ll be watching you!” 14 told him.

    “Then I hope you learn something!” he said rising out of his chair.

    “Don’t play me for a fool Number Six” 14 told him.

    Number 6 walked towards the ramp paused and turned “You know

the curious thing about this shed, it keeps moving around. It’s never in the same place twice, always in the woods, I wonder how the old man did it?”

    Steel doors closed behind the departing Number 6.

    The day of Number 50’s funeral came and went. The coffin itself was carried in a black canopied trailer towed behind a white Mini Moke with a black and white striped canopy, which wound its way along the street and out of The Village towards the cemetery. The brass band was in attendance, marching behind playing Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March, followed by what appeared to Number 6, to be a token number of mourners each carrying open black umbrella, who probably were never aware of the old hermit’s existence. Also two Undertakers or Top-Hat officials, dressed in black top hat and overcoat, each sporting a pair of dark glasses and carrying a black leather documents case under their left arm were officiating. The cortege wound its way through The Village, eventually down the slipway and onto the sand, then along the beach making its way towards the cemetery below the cliffs and lighthouse. Number 6 made his way along the cliff tops and observed the funeral from there. Number 14 was also there, not to observe the funeral, but Number 6. The grave had already been dug in the sand amongst the headstones, the mourners gathered around the grave and four pall bearers lowered the coffin of Number 50 into the grave.

    “Why are you skulking about here Number Six?”

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    Number 6 turned to see the figure of Number 14 walking along the sandy path towards him. Ignoring him he turned his attention back to the funeral.

    “Shouldn’t you be down there as the chief mourner?”

    “I never have liked funerals.”

    “What about paying your respects?” mocked Number 14.

    “Can I be sure the old man is in that coffin?”

    “You may depend upon it Number Six, and depend on this, one day there’ll be a coffin just like that for you” grinned Number 14 with more than just a hint of menace in his voice.

    “Why don’t you run along and wipe Number Two’s nose or something” Number 6 suggested.

    “Think you’re pretty tough don’t you” 14 said squaring up to his opponent.

    “At least I’m not one of Number 2’s lap dogs!”

    “Do you know what I’d like to do?”

    “Crawl on all fours and lick Number Two’s boots!”

    Number 14 sneered but fought to keep his self control “To give you a thorough sound thrashing!”

    “Perhaps one day I’ll give you satisfaction, but now is hardly the time or place” retorted Number 6, not taking his eyes off the funeral.

    Number 14 grabbed Number 6 by the lapels of his blazer, Number 6 broke free, twisted Number 14’s arm behind his back and hurled him into the nearby bushes. Number 14 pulled himself out and threw himself at Number 6 who was standing waiting for him, delivering first one punch to 14’s stomach and an upper cut to his face, sending him sprawling backwards to the ground. As Number 14 slowly picked himself up, there was anger and hatred in his face. Dusting his blazer down he made his way back along the path he had come.

   Over the next couple of days Number 6 became only too aware of Number 14 constantly dogging his footsteps. At the café 14 sat at another table watching him. He stopped at a kiosk to buy a copy of The Tally Ho and there he was standing on the street corner, and he probably enjoyed the brass band concert just as much as Number 6. At a work out in the gymnasium there was14 wearing boxing gloves and punching the living daylights out of a punch bag. Number 6 imaged he was the punch bag! A stroll around the village was always in the company of Number 14 who kept his distance, but always with Number 6 in sight. It became an obsession with 14, to the extent that he neglected his other administrative duties.

    “What if you are wrong Fourteen?” asked Number 2.

    “I assure you that Number 6 is merely playing a cat and mouse game Number 2. He will make his move any day now” returned Number 14 watching the wall screen.

    “That is as maybe, but I cannot help but wonder, who is the cat and who the mouse!”
    “I’m sure Number Six will lead me into the woods, and the shed!”
14 said trying to reassure his superior.

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    That is enough Fourteen” Number 2 said with force “you have spent enough time on Number Six. You have one more day and no more, do you understand?”
    “Yes Number Two.”
    “After that, if there is no result, you must return to your usual administrative details, and my assistance.”
    “Yes Number Two.”

    As it happened it was early the next morning when Number 6 ventured into the woods, there was no sign of his shadow. Reaching a clearing there it was, the shed. He opened the door and went inside. There was a constant electronic hum which he had not noticed before. He searched for the source of electricity that powered the shed, in a corner there was a heavily shielded cube with wires leading from it to a control consul. There were two handles on one side of the cube which gave the impression of control rods. He resisted the temptation to adjust the rods, or indeed to mess with the control consol, the operation of the shed was beyond him. Instead he turned his attention to a large tarpaulin sheet at the back. He pulled it away, and uncovered steel poles which made up the frame work. There was a bucket seat undercarriage, an engine, a large battery which was plugged into a socket, propeller and controls. The flying machine was in every detail complete, save for the wings which were detached. It was a Microlight aircraft! Number 6’s pulse raced, his heart beat like a drum hardly daring to believe his discovery. All he had to do now was put the machine together in the cove where the wings could be attached and the beach would give him an open runway.

    “Congratulations Fourteen.”
    “Thank you Number 2.”
    “And now you know the location of the shed.”
    “Yes Number 2, I managed to camouflage myself and follow Number 6 through the woods.

    Number 2 put down her cup and raised a hand “Somehow I would not have expected anything less of you, so where is this shed, I presume it is still there?”

    “I expect so Number Two. It is camouflaged, it takes on the colour

and texture of its background, like a chameleon.”

    “What if the shed should move from its current location?”

    “I don’t know if it can. The old man who built the shed is dead. I would say that he took his secret with him to the grave.”

    “And if he passed that secret onto Number Six?” asked Number 2, now pacing the floor.

    “It is unlikely. But he has been working against you and The Village. I can have the shed and its contents retrieved and Number Six brought before you straight away, just give me the word.”

    Number 2 thought for a moment “Number 6 is fine where he is for the time being, but yes take your men and have the shed and all its contents transported, very carefully over to the island. A technical team of scientists and technicians will make a complete study of it there. I want to know the technology behind it, and how it works.”

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    “Yes Number Two, and Number Six, do you want me to follow him?”

   “There’s no pint, we shall soon have what we want. You have your orders. Number Six will get a shock when he finds the shed is not there, he’ll think it’s moved again!”

    Number 6 moved stealthily through the woods, eventually emerging close to the Lighthouse. He scampered over the rocks and on top the beach, then made his way into the cove just around the corner. His next move was to go into the cave and carry out several steel tubes and lay them on the sand, to be followed by the bucket seat and fuselage, engine and propeller and undercarriage. With the tools he had taken from the shed he set about bolting the frame of the Mircolight together, and over the triangular frame a tarpaulin sheet was secured. He put on the pair of goggles, and it was now or never. The sand under foot was firm, and he climbed aboard the aircraft and buckled up the harness, he switched on the electric engine the propeller at his back spinning at a rate of revolutions, the battery indicator read three quarters charge. He tested the controls and then the micro light moved slowly forward pointing its way out of the cove. Then it came towards him, rolling and bounding across the sand…..the white membranic mass of the Guardian emitting that blood curdling roar. Number 6 turned the throttle and pushed the joystick forward, the Microlight rolled forward across the sand and into the wind picking up speed as it went, it would now be a case of achieving lift off before the Guardian got to him first. As the Microlight’s speed and the wheels began to lift off the ground, a pull on the joystick and it rose up into the air, much to the agitated annoyance of the Guardian below which now began to float up, higher, higher almost reaching him. But the speed of the Mircolight was Blake’s saviour!

    Number 2 stormed into the Control Room “What’s going on here?”

    The Supervisor didn’t know how to say it, but finally found the

words “We can’t find Number Six!”

    “Put up the tactical screen” Number 2 ordered.

    “Supervisor, something has just appeared on my radar screen, flying away from The Village on course blue three hundred, speed thirty-five” reported the radar operator.

    “Put up camera thirty-seven and scan” Number 2 ordered, not taking her eyes off the wall screen for one second.

    The screen changed from tactical to a camera displaying one of clear blue sky.

    “It will not be long before it’s out of range” said the Supervisor “direct TV transmission is two miles.”

    “What could it be?” asked Number 2, still watching the screen closely.

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    “Its small whatever it is” replied the Supervisor.

    “A light aircraft perhaps?” suggested Number 2.

    “Smaller than that” replied the radar operator “I should say it’s a Microlight aircraft of some kind. The course is steady blue, three hundred, speed forty, range now four miles.”

     “Is there any sign of Number Six?” Number 2 demanded.

    There was a negative response from all the Observers.

    The Supervisor turned away from the radar screen and looked at Number 2, it was enough.

    “No don’t tell me, I don’t want to hear it.”

    “In all probability, it looks as though Number Six is the pilot of that small aircraft.”

    Number 2 could hardly bring herself to believe it “How the devil did

that happen, the helicopter….” Number 2 ordered.

    The Supervisor picked up a yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone “Left for the landing stage one hour since, with your permission Number Two?”

    Number 2 nodded.

    The Supervisor picked up the yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone “Attention post nine, attention post nine……”

    At that point the pair of steel doors opened and the figure of Number 14 appeared on the gantry and looked down at the figure of Number 2.

    “I want to see you in my office later, for now be about your business” Number 2 ordered.

    Number 14 had found out how quickly it is one can fall out of favour “I’ll make my rounds of The Village.”

    “Yes you do that” returned Number 2.

    “He’s young and ambitious” urged the Supervisor as the steel doors slammed shut.

    “Faced with the continuing prospect of Number Fourteen, I almost wish I was up there with Number Six!” returned Number 2.

    “He wants your job” said the Supervisor “That’s what I’ve heard.”

    “If we don’t get this right, he’ll be welcome to it!” grimaced Number 2.

   Up in the sky Blake felt that he was free at last, the wind in his hair, his chilled face and hands, the hum of the electric motor, the clear open sky. He pulled more on the joystick and the micro light climbed higher, having now left the village far behind and with no helicopter to pursue him he was clean away.

    “Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!” ” he cried against the wind, which blew the words back in his face, as if mocking him for ever daring to escape.

    Blake studied the contours of the land below looking for any signs of habitation, a village or hamlet or at the very least a farmhouse. But there was nothing, only rolling hills and green pastures with the mountains in the distance.. Suddenly the motor died there being no charge left in the battery. Now the Microlight was nothing more than a heavy hang glider. He fought to keep its nose up, but it was no good, the aircraft was going down and began to lose height rapidly. Ahead was a hill, and there was no going over or around it. Through his goggles he peered down at the ground looking for a landing site. He saw a line of trees, then a hedge row, and beyond that another pasture, it was his only chance and he went for it. Pulling on the stick Blake brought the aircraft’s nose up, its undercarriage clipped the top of a tree as the ground loomed up at him ever faster as the microlight glided over the top of the hedge row. Then the rear wheels of the undercarriage hit the soft ground, slowing the machine immediately. The nose of the aircraft came down, it’s wheel instantly ploughed into the soft boggy ground, bringing it to a jarring halt. He hit his head and everything went black.

 184

    It was night time when Blake finally opened his eyes, his head thumped and his neck ached, but otherwise to all intents and purposes he was alive. Throwing his goggles to the ground and unbuckling his seat harness he climbed out of the aircraft and inspected the damage. The undercarriage which took the full brunt of the crash landing would need work, and that blockage in the fuel line would need clearing, but all things considered not too bad. Yet as he stood by his crippled flying machine he was now all alone and in the middle of nowhere. His first need was to find shelter, the second, fire, and possible something to eat and drink, and if possible, close by. He set off on foot in no particular direction, one way seemed as good as any other. He walked for about half an hour when he came to a track way which he followed and came to a gate. He climbed over it, and trudged on his way. After a mile or so he came to a second gate and a sign post ‘Hollows Farm.’ This did indeed brighten Blake’s spirits and passing through the open gate towards the farm house, towards the lights in the windows. Crossing the farm yard the farmhouse door opened, casting a shaft of light across the yard, he ducked into the darkness, watching, framed in the doorway, a rather stout and portly woman, no doubt the farmer’s wife. For a few moments the woman stood peering out into the gloom, as the farm animals began to settle themselves. Then as the woman turned back into the house closing the door behind her, Blake slowly emerged out of the darkness and walked to the door of the farmhouse and lifting the brass knocker rapped three times upon the door. From within the depths of the farmhouse slippered footsteps approached the door, the door opened, light glared in Blake’s face and a large man stood framed in the doorway brandishing a shotgun.

    “Who are you and what the hell do you want at this time of night?” bellowed the farmer.

    “I’m sorry to disturb you at such a late hour, but I seem to be lost and wondered if you could put me up for the night?” Blake asked nervously.

    The farmer looked this strangely dressed man up and down “You can sleep in the barn if you wants.”

    Looking at the farmer and thinking of his wife, the barn did look the best bet “Thank you.”

    “Who is it Zak?” asked the large stout farmer’s wife, peering over his shoulder.

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    “I dunno, some bloke wearing a school blazer, says he’s lost I’ve told him he can bed down in the barn” said the farmer, half closing the door.

    “Zakariah, the man will be cold and hungry. Can’t you show the man better hospitality than that” said the woman pushing passed her husband and calling out to the man now crossing the farmyard “young man come in and have some supper with us.”

    Blake did as he was bid, the door stoutly locked and bolted behind him.

    “I cannot possibly impose myself upon you in this way, if you could just tell me where there is a road and I’ll be on my way” Blake offered.

    But the farmer’s wife would hear none of it. She removed his piped blazer for him and sat him down in front of the Aga, the bright red glow of the fire was both comforting and warming.

    “Now we’ll soon be settling down to a nice rabbit stew. Zak always says that my cooking is the best he has ever tasted, isn’t that right Zak?” asked his wife, checking the rabbit stew, her stout frame blocking his view of the fire.

    “My wife’s the best cook that I know of” said Zak reaching for his pipe “so where have you come from?”

    Blake watched the farmer’s wife dishing out the rabbit stew “I was flying and I was forced to crash land in a field close by and found my way here.”

    “Here you are” the farmer’s wife said placing a plate of rabbit stew before him “you haven’t told us your name.”

    “Blake, Silas Blake” he said tucking into the food and helping himself to a slice of bread.
    A mug of tea was placed in front of him, the rabbit stew tasted good, as did the tea. The farmer didn’t take his eyes off the man for one single minute “Some kind of student are you?”

    Blake looked at the farmer “Student?”

    “Well I mean for someone to go about wearing a school blazer like that, bit strange.”

    “Common enough where I come from” Blake told him.

    “Where’s that then?” Zak asked with a mouthful of bread and stew.

    “A village not too far from here” Blake replied sipping his tea.

    “What’s the name of this village, Zak and I might know it” said the farmer’s wife smiling.

    “I doubt that very much. Do you have a telephone here?” asked Blake looking about the kitchen.

    “In the parlour’ returned the farmer “want to call someone, at this time of night?”

    He took the hint “Well I suppose it could wait until the morning.”

    ‘That’s right my dear, now you just have some more tea, then I’ll show you where you can sleep” offered the farmer’s wife.

    “You didn’t tell us the name of this Village of yours” Zak said.

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   “It’s called The Village.”

    “Strange name for a village, The Village!” Zak replied “can’t recall any such place called The Village around here.”

   “It’s about 6 or seven miles away.”

    “Ah, not around here then.”

    “Perhaps you could help me fix my aircraft tomorrow, or perhaps I could just borrow some tools?” Blake asked.
    “A small aircraft is it? Zak asked.

    “A Microlight.”

    “You didn’t frighten my sheep did you?” asked the farmer brusquely.

    “I didn’t see any sheep!”

    Supper being over the farmer’s wife poured out another cup of tea for their guest “Now you just drink that and I’ll go and get your bed ready, now don’t you go bothering the lad Zak. I think he’s in some sort of trouble.”

    “Nothing I cannot handle. A good night’s sleep and I’ll be on my way in the morning. I’m grateful to you and your wife” said Blake.

    “Your bed is ready” the farmer’s wife said leading him up the stairs “this is your bedroom, the bathroom, and along there is the other place. I’ve laid out a pair of my husbands pyjamas, they’re a bit large, but they’ll do you.”

    Blake felt a little unsteady on his feet, and lying on the bed he was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

    Blake woke up, he felt rather groggy, his eyes took time to focus on the ceiling over his head. As he sat up he soon realized he was sitting on the couch back home in his cottage, and was greeted by the smiling face of Number 2. She offered a cup of tea and two Paracetamol tablets, he accepted both.

    “You will begin to feel better soon Number Six.”

    “I hope so!”

    “That was pretty dangerous you know, you could have been killed in that crash landing, I was really quite worried about you” Number 2’s expression showing her relief.
    “I didn’t know you cared!”

    “I’m just glad to see you back safe and in one piece.”

   “I’m touched by your concern, or are you just glad to see me back in any condition?!”

   “Perhaps now you will believe us when we tell you that escape is not possible. However should you continue with such endeavours….”

    At which point Number 2’s mobile phone began to play its ringtone, the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth.

    “An unusual ringtone for a warder” said Number 6.  

    “That is the irony of it” said Number 2 glancing at the illuminated screen.

    “Number Two here….. very well, have Number fourteen collect me in a taxi, I’m at Number Six’s.”

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    “Don’t tell me you have to rush away!”

    “The Village does not revolve just around you” she told him sternly.

    Outside in the cobbled square a taxi was waiting with Number 14 at the wheel. Number 2 climbed aboard ordering Number 14 to drive to the slipway.

    “How is our friend Number Six?” Number 14 asked nonchalantly.

    “He’ll be no problem. It’s your future I’m concerned about, aren’t you?” asked Number 2 enigmatically.

    “I hadn’t given it much thought” returned Number 14.

    “Then perhaps you should, before it’s too late.”

    The taxi drove passed the Town Hall and down the hill, finally arriving at the slipway where two men in dove grey overalls were waiting with the power boat, it’s engines already running, the crew waiting to cast off. Both Numbers 2 and 14 alighted the taxi and walked together towards the waiting boat, which Number 14 did with a certain amount of anxiety and trepidation.

    “What’s the matter Fourteen, you look anxious” asked Number 2, about to step aboard the boat.

    “Are you going across to the island?” Number 14 asked.

    “Indeed I am, but you will not be pleased to learn that you are to accompany me Fourteen.
    “Me, why do you need me?”
    “I don’t, the Professor does. The latest run of the Time Reflux Unit saw the subject successfully retrieved but he returned a gibbering idiot” offered Number 2 with a thoughtful expression on her face.

    “I don’t understand.”
    “The Professor asked for you, after a word from me of course” Number 2 said with a self satisfied grin.

    “Me, how can I be of help?”

    “Further failures cannot be tolerated” Number 2 said “we thought you might be able to have some input into the problem.”
    “I don’t see how!”

    At the landing Jetty, three armed security guards in blue overalls, white helmets, boots gloves and sporting dark glasses, they along with two men in white coats stood waiting for the now fast approaching power boat. One of the crew threw the bow line to a security guard who caught it and tied it off around a bollard.

    “It seems you have a reception waiting to greet you Number Two” Number 14 said observing the people standing on the Jetty.

    “I assure you Number Fourteen, the reception is entirely for you. It seems that The Professor is in need of another subject, you are it!”

    At a nod from Number 2, three security guards boarded the power boat and dragged Number 14 kicking and screaming onto the Jetty, where Number 2 and the two technicians were waiting.

    You can’t do this to me, I’m loyal” 14 screamed his protest for the whole world to hear.

    “Then think of this as a reward for that loyalty” whispered Number 2 in his ear “oh you know that shed of yours.”
    “My shed, its not my shed” 14 told her.

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    “Whosever. The Professor took delivery of the shed, his technicians reassembled it, it had to be taken apart for transportation you see. And it was the strangest thing…that’s all it was, an ordinary common or garden shed!”
    “It can’t be” 14 protested “it’s got to be more than that, it must be part of its camouflage!”” 

    A technician-Number 254 approached Number 2 “The Professor is waiting for you Number 2, he is in the General’s office.”

    “Thank you. Tell him I’ll be right there.”

    As the still screaming Number 14 was dragged away through the pair of open steel doors into the Island’s installation, Number 2 realised that she could ill afford another failure. Otherwise it might be she herself who would have to face the fate, which was about to befall her one time assistant. She reflected on the fact that the future of them all, may very well lie in Number 14’s success or failure.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2022

An Exercise In Logistics Chapter 15 or perhaps that should be "Episode"!

 

To Ride a Penny Farthing

    “Black coffee please” Number 6 asked the waitress, sitting at one of the tables outside the Café.

    A waitress in a black dress and white frilly apron disappeared into the Café, returning a few moments later carrying a brown cup and saucer, this with a sugar bowl upon a tray.

    “That will be two credit units if you please sir” said the waitress setting the things out on the table.

    “And if I don’t please?” teased Number 6.

    “It will still be two credit units sir” retorted the waitress.

    He smiled and taking his Admix card from the breast pocket of his blazer, handed it to the waitress for her to swipe.

    “You will be attending, or perhaps entering the race sir?” asked the waitress casually.

    “Race?” queried Number 6.

    “The Penny Farthing race, surely you’ve heard about it” smiled the waitress.

    “Me, ride a Penny Farthing, I don’t think so!”

    “Well then there’s always the Ball, I’ll be sure to save you a dance” the waitress told him, then turned to serve another customer.

    He sipped his coffee and picked up his copy of the latest issue of The Tally Ho reading the lead headline.

“Edwardiana” A Penny Farthing Race & Grande Ball

by our own reporter

    “An extraordinaire and spectacular event, A Penny Farthing race and Grand Ball in the evening for everyone to attend. The Penny Farthing race will commence and finish in The Village Square it will consist of one complete route of the village, taking in all roads and paths. There will be five competitors and the winner will receive a prize of 2, 000 free work units. In the evening curfew will be lifted, as there will be the Grand Ball to be held in the Town Hall, where there will be music and dancing throughout the evening. Help us turn back the clock by dressing in Edwardian costume. There will be fun and gaiety…by order.”

    “I bet” muttered Number 6 finishing his coffee. Standing up he left the café, and The Tally Ho on the table. Instead of a usual walk through the village he decided to take a casual stroll through the woods.

    It was no surprise for the Observer to see Number 6 walking the paths in the woods, he saluted one of the stone busts set on a column as he passed by. The paths were still wet under foot from the night’s rain and a rivulet of water ran into a large Water Lily filled lake. Drops of rain water dripped from leaves, the sun glistened through the canopy of trees and a mixture of damp undergrowth and aromatic plants filled the air. As he walked along the paths of the woods, it was quiet and peaceful. Only the song of birds or the occasional rustle in the undergrowth was to be heard, he thought himself to be anywhere, and indeed anywhere he could have been. But was anywhere more perfect than this at this moment?

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    A young woman stood on the edge of the cliffs with her arms stretched out wide, tears running down her cheeks and was about to throw herself off to her death. Emerging from the woods he saw her and approached with caution, suddenly the woman spun round as Number 6 caught her by the arms and pulled her to the ground

    “What do you think you’re doing” the young woman screamed.

    Number 6 straddled the young woman’s stomach and pinned down her arms.

    “Are you going to get off me?” the young woman demanded.

    “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty comfortable where I am for the moment, Number Eight” he said looking down at the Penny Farthing badge pinned to her blue and white striped top.

    The young woman kept up her struggle.

    “Now stop it, I’m stronger than you. But if you promise not to do anything stupid, in return I’ll let you up.”

    “Who are you? One of these so called do gooders who go around poking their nose into other people’s business no doubt!” sneered Number 8.

    “Just someone who stopped you from doing something you wouldn’t live to regret!” he told her releasing his hold and standing to his feet.

    Number 8 lay there for a moment, before finally offering him her hand, which she took and helped her to her feet.

    “Well I didn’t ask you to, did I?” she snapped and brushed down her orange slacks.

    “There’s gratitude for you. Well if that’s the way you feel, go ahead I promise not to stop you” he said taking a backward step.

    “Who are you?”

    “A prisoner, just like any other here.”

    “You’re not wearing a badge!”

    He looked at the ground around them “Perhaps it came off in the struggle, why do you want my number?”

    “I intend to report you to the authorities here for indecent assault at the earliest possible moment!” she told him.

    “They being?” questioned Number 6.

   “Don’t you know?” she asked straightening her long auburn hair.

   “I haven’t seen you before, you’re new here.”

    Number 8 stood facing him “I arrived here a we….I think it was, well it only seems to be…..”

    “You don’t seem at all sure.”

    “Well it’s difficult to say, but let us say a week.”

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    “So relatively recent.”               

    “Yes.”

    “So how do you find The Village Number Eight?”

    “How do you think I find it?” she snapped back at him.

    “Perhaps this suicide attempt of yours was nothing more than a ruse by which you could befriend me, and gain my trust, perhaps even worm your way into my affections.”

    “My name is not Number Eight, it is Natalia Nowkowski” she snapped angrily “And I think you are over thinking the situation!”

    “So you were simply about to chuck yourself off the cliff!”

    “Why don’t you go away and bother someone else?”

    “You can’t help some people!” he said offering her his handkerchief.

    “Thank you” she said wiping her eyes.

    “You speak excellent English.”

    “It was part of my job, I am… was an interpreter” Natalia told him.

    “Why were you going to jump? Death is not the best way to take out of this place, it leads to mere oblivion.”

    “As far as I can see, it is the only way!”

    “Number Two will not be best pleased when she receives the report of your attempted suicide.”

    “It was hardly that!”

    “But the notion was there. There will be more questions and further interrogations, don’t rub her too much up the wrong way” he suggested.

    “And they will probably give you a medal!” Natalia snapped in return.

    He looked hurt and turned to go on his way.

    Natalia knew immediately her mistake and smiled kindly at him “I’m sorry, I should not have said that. You are really a kind man; I can see that much in your eyes, will you be my guardian angel?”

    Number 6 suddenly found himself warming to Natalia. Her smile lit up her whole face “I cannot promise to be that, all I can do is look out for you.”

    “Could you put a word in with Number Two for me?”

    “I’d like someone to put a good word in with Number Two for me, we hardly see eye to eye these days.”

    They walked along the cliffs back to the village.

    “Why are you here?” she asked.

    “That’s no longer important, I’m here that’s all.”

    “Tell me.”

    “For protection, I know too much you see.”

    “Why did you stop me?”

    “I don’t like to see a life just thrown away for no good cause” he said.

    They walked up the hill back into The Village.

    “Will you walk me home?” she asked.

    Together they walked through The Village, Bizet’s Farandole from the L’Arlesianne suite drifted on the air. Along the street fellow pedestrians greeted them as they passed by, they stepping to one side as two taxis passed them, and a cyclist riding a canopied bicycle passed by ringing his bell. Natalia led the way to her flat, ‘8 Private’ situated in front of or behind, depending on how you look at it, the fish pond. Hers being one of two flats in the yellow and white cottage. Mounting the wooden steps leading to the door of her flat Natalia turned.

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   “Will I see you again?”

   “You probably won’t be able to avoid me, seeing as I’m here all the time!” quipped Number 6 with a smile.

    “Be seeing you” said Natalia with the respective salute “you see I am learning.”

    Number 6 smiled “Be seeing you.”

    On his way back to his cottage he happened to cross The Village green.

    “Enjoying yourself?” a voice asked suddenly.

    Number 6 looked about him.

    “Up here” the voice said.

    He looked up, on the edge of the stone parapet of the bandstand a woman sat looking down at him.

    “Come up, and we’ll talk.”

   He accepted the invitation.

    “Have you….. become involved Number Six?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about. When have I become involved with anything here?”

    “Touched a soft spot did she, in that cold stone heart of yours?” Number 2 asked.

    Number 6 turned at last to face Number 2 “I don’t know what you

mean.”

    “I might be well passed the first flush of youth Number 6, but I can still recognise the signs when I see them” Number 2 smiled.

   Number 2, a tall, slender, middle aged woman with blonde hair. She wore a navy blue turtle-neck jersey, grey slacks and a dark blazer with off-white piping. About her neck wound the old school scarf and the regular furled umbrella shooting stick. She had the look and attitude of a school ma’am about her.

    “You know something Number Six, you just might be the one person who could help me.”

    “What makes you think that?”

    “Number Eight.”

    “Ah.”

    “It was reported to me by an observer that Number Eight was on top of the cliffs when you grabbed her from behind and physically attacked her. What have you to say for yourself?”

    “I didn’t attack her.”

    “Why do you think a young woman like that would try to commit

suicide?”

    “Was it?” smirked Number 6.

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    “Was it what?” returned Number 2.

    “An attempt to commit suicide?”

    “It was reported as such, YOU saved her!”

    “Looks can be very deceptive, perhaps she was simply attention seeking?”

    “Whose attention?”

    “Mine for example, or those who were watching.”

    “She didn’t give you any indication as to why she would want to commit suicide?”

    “Perhaps she was driven to it!” said Number 6 accusingly.

    “By me you mean.”     

    “Well you do have your reputation to maintain, she is a relative new arrival here, why was she brought here?”

    Number 2 looked at the man standing before her “You care Number Six, you care about the girl and after so short a time.”

    Number 6 went on the defensive “She’s frightened that’s all and shouldn’t even be here.”

    “Perhaps you are right, and yet here she is, and here she will remain.”

    “I’m sure you’ve shown her nothing but kindness since her arrival here!” he said sarcastically.

    “Would you do me the very great favour of keeping an eye on her for me?” asked Number 2, feigning sincerity.

    “I don’t do favours, but if I did what is there in it for me?”

    “She is young and very pretty, it would not be an unattractive assignment the perks of which speak for themselves I would have thought. And even if you feel nothing towards her, then perhaps out of a sense of responsibility” Number 2 suggested with a wry smile.

    “Responsibility? Why should I be responsible for her?”

    “In some countries, if you save a person’s life, that life then belongs to you. And you wouldn’t want anything to happen to Number Eight would you?”

    “I’ll think about, I’ll make you no promises but I will think about it” he told her.

    “Excellent, I know you won’t let me down or Number Eight for that matter” smiled Number 2.

    “Then you know me better than I!” quipped Number 6 making to take his leave.

    “You should take her to the Grande Ball, she would make an excellent partner for you and you would make a lovely couple” smiled Number 2 feeling pleased with herself.

    “Don’t tell me you’ve started a dating agency!”

    “You have received your invitation?”

    “The post hadn’t arrived by the time I went out this morning” grinned Number 6.

    “By the afternoon delivery then. Oh by the way had you intended to enter the Penny Farthing race, you should you know and there’s still time” Number 2 offered.

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“Me, ride a Penny Farthing bicycle, I don’t think so. What do you want me to do, kill myself?”                 

    “It’s not that difficult, not when you’ve got the knack. It’s just like

falling off a log really!”

    “Yes that’s what I’m afraid of. Think I’ll pass.”

    “You could be making a mistake Number Six.”

   “I think I may have already made one. Be seeing you.”

    In ‘6 Private’ a maid was busy dusting and tidying up to the music of Monteverdi. The door opened and Number 6 entered whistling a tune.

    “What’s this? Music while you work?”

    “It helps a dull job along. Don’t like washing up much do you?” smiled the maid.

    “You didn’t have to do it.”

    “If I didn’t who would?” she teased.

    “Me, at the end of the month, and I’ve never been much good with a duster!” he told her “what’s with the dress?”

    “It’s my costume for Edwardiana.”

    “Is she coming as well?”

    The maid did a twirl in her high neck, full length electric blue cotton and muslin dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves.     

     “How do you like my electric blue dress?”

     “I like it, it suits you.”

     “Aren’t you going to wear your costume?”

    “Funny, I thought I was, already dressed for the boating regatta!”

    “No silly, the costume which arrived this morning” replied the maid, curious to see what was in the three cardboard boxes.

    He turned his attention to the first box, removing its lid and lifting out the suit of clothes. A black frock coat and light grey trousers, a white winged collar shirt, a burgundy waistcoat, two bow ties, one black, the other white, along with a burgundy cravat, and a pair of black gloves, all this together with a gold pocket watch and fob. The hat box contained a grey top hat, which when perched on the top of his head, fitted perfectly. The third box contained a pair of black boots and silver topped walking stick.

    “My, my” said the maid with a warm smile “you’ll be the handsomest man at the ball.”

    “What am I supposed to do with all this?”

    “Why wear it to the Grande Ball silly” said the maid examining the fine suit of clothes “you will look quite the dandy!”

    “I haven’t had an invitation.”

    At that moment, just as though fate were taking a hand, the door to ‘6 Private’ opened and a rather stout Postman dressed in a grey polo necked sweater, black trousers and a Royal Mail peaked cap

stood there, framed in the doorway along with his Penny Farthing bicycle.

    “Sign your number here” asked the Postman, holding out his receipt book and cream envelope.

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    Number 6 stepped forward and accepted the cream envelope “Ride that thing do you?”

    “No I just push it about for the fun of it!” returned the Postman “Look, are you going to sign your Number Six?”

    Number 6 closed the door in the postman’s face. However a few moments later he opened the door to see the postman with post bag and all, quite happily riding his Penny Farthing along the path.

    “Remarkable”’ he muttered closing the door, then opened the

cream envelope to find his invitation, which he placed upon the mantle piece.

This is to Cordially Invite

No 6

To Attend

The Grande Ball

    The maid was still going through the boxes of clothes “Shall I hang these up for you, or are you going to change into them now?

    “Why should I want to change into them now, the Ball isn’t while tomorrow evening” Number 6 reminded her.

    “Other citizens like me will all be wearing their costumes. You wouldn’t want to look out of place now would you?” smiled the maid, feeling the cloth of the coat.

    “Well I’m not you, and I wouldn’t want to look silly and out of place now would I?”

    The maid laid the frock coat over the back of a chair and walked towards the already opening door “You will if you are the only one out of costume!”

    “Then I will be the only individual there!” he shouted after the maid as she left.

    He carried his suit of clothes through into the bedroom where looking at them they began to grow upon him. He had to admit the clothes were both crisp and extremely smart, and so changing his clothes he went from Village prisoner to Edwardian dandy within a few minutes, checking the time by his gold pocket watch, five minutes past two then placed it in his waistcoat. He put on his grey top hat, picked up his silver topped cane and stepped out through the opening door of his cottage into the bright afternoon sunshine of the Edwardian period of The Village. Even the gardeners and painters dressed as Edwardian workingmen, in black or navy blue overalls and black hobnail boots. Citizens promenaded around, ladies in full length dresses, or blouses and ankle length tight skirts and wide brimmed hats decorated with either flowers or feathers, carrying pink or white parasols. While the gentlemen seen wearing three piece suits, frock coats, top hats. Or flannel trousers and piped, or striped blazers, and straw boaters. Of course there was always a representative of The

Village, straw boaters and yellow and black, blue and white striped blazers. Two gentlemen wore tweed jackets, with matching shooting caps and Plus fours, woollen socks and brown shoes as together they cycled passed Number 6, most expertly he thought, upon their Penny Farthings.

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    “They are preparing for the race” said Number 48, dressed in a black and yellow striped blazer and straw boater.

   “Is that so” greeted Number 6, raising his grey top hat at the gentleman, then turned to continue his promenade of The Village, when just ahead of him a woman was waving at him in an attempt to attract his attention. It was Number 8, who closing her blue and white parasol, made her way down the street towards him.

    “My you do look quite the dandy” she told him.

    “And you quite the lady, radiant and charming” returned Number 6, tipping his top hat at her in greeting.

    Number 8 dressed in a full length tailored gown trimmed with silver braid and velvet collar and lapel, a high necked frilled blouse with blue choker, topped with a fetching hat, and carrying an ornate blue and white parasol.

    “Would you like to take a stroll?” asked Number 6, smiling at passers by as they bowed their heads in greeting.

    She moved to take his arm, which was not offered to her. So to hide her disappointment, she opened her parasol and walked along with Number 6 across the lawn and into the central piazza.

    “I have to admit that however charming this might all be, I do feel a little foolish” Number 8 remarked from beneath her parasol.

    “Oh I don’t know, makes a change from the usual Village attire and not at all out of place don’t you think?” returned Number 6.

    “If you say so. But what is it all in aid of, this Penny Farthing race and Grande Ball, that’s what I should like to know. And you, you seem to accept it all without a qualm!”

    “There is one thing which I have learnt since my arrival here it’s that you have to bend a little, or they will break you. I resist them at every given opportunity, but you will learn that twenty-four-seven resistance can equally wear you down.”

    “Next you’ll be telling me how easy it is to become used to something, to one’s new surroundings and daily routine, and before you know where you are, you eventually accept.”

    “Yes” he said lifting his hat in greeting to two fellow citizens.

    They walked through a narrow arch and into the street beyond and passed the café.

    “You like the clothes you’re wearing don’t you? No more than that, you actually fancy yourself dressed like that” she said teasing him.

    “The clothes maketh the man, and I thought I looked rather dashing” retorted a smiling Number 6, now offering his arm.

    Number 8 accepted his arm “It is the man who maketh the clothes, and you do look dashing and most handsome.”

    “Why thank you, you certainly look the part and quite attractive” he said finding himself looking into her eyes, but then over her shoulder. 

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He suddenly grabbed her by her arms and pulled Number 8 to the side of the road, his arms round her waist he held her against him while other pedestrians jumped out of the way of the speeding Penny Farthing bicycle.

    “Thank you, you saved my life again” she said straightening her hat.

    “Hardly that” he said, his eyes following the man riding the Penny Farthing down the street.

    “Isn’t it amazing how people can ride those contraptions, and so fast.”

    “Yes and when the rider isn’t even peddling! Come on quick after him.”

    Number 8 couldn’t run so fast in her skirt and high heels, but followed as best she could while Number 6 sprinted down the road after the Penny Farthing and its rider. He had seen the Penny Farthing disappear along the trackway behind the Town Hall which leads up into the woods. He stopped and looked behind him to see Number 8 struggling to follow and waiting for her to catch up.

    “Hurry up or we will lose him.”

    “I’m not exactly dressed for the one hundred metre dash you know! Why so much fuss, it’s only a bicycle after all, they’re ten a penny in this Village” she said catching her breath.

    Together they followed the trackway up into the woods, passed two large lily filled ponds and a stone gazebo, the tyre tracks showing up well in the still wet sand and soil. Further on, the path branched off to the right or carried on straight ahead. As the tyre tracks veered to the right, so did they, taking the right fork which led into a denser part of the woods, and it is here that they came upon a strange phenomenon. Amongst the foliage and undergrowth there was shimmering, at first they could not make it out, but the tyre marks of the Penny Farthing lead straight towards it. As they drew closer they could make out the shape of a very cleverly camouflaged shed. So cleverly camouflaged in fact that it seemed not to be there at all, blending in so well with the surrounding foliage. Approaching with care Number 6 found the door and gently lifted the latch and pushed the door open.

    “Keep back” cried a white haired old man.

    Number 50 was something of an eccentric, who had been left alone to virtually do as he pleased. Getting on in age he still retained a sharp mind and a keen eye, he gave the air of being a professor or scientist or something of the kind. The inside of the shed at first glance, looked perfectly normal, just like any shed interior, but there was a strange constant electronic hum and a fair amount of wiring.

    “Take it easy old timer, we’re not here to hurt you” Number 6 assured him.

    “What are you doing here, what do you want?” the old man demanded, desperately trying to conceal his latest project by standing in front of it.

    Number 6 removed his top hat and looked around at what he could only describe as some kind of Aladdin’s cave, filled with all kinds of tools, materials, gadgets and devices, electrical wiring and flashing lights. And all within the confines of the ten feet by eight feet shed.

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    “We don’t want anything. What are you up to old timer, what have you there and what’s that humming sound?”

    “Its nothing, nothing at all” answered Number 50, feebly trying to hide his machine.

    “Doesn’t look nothing to me” said Number 6, looking over the bicycle.

    The Penny Farthing was leant up against a work bench, but this one was no ordinary Bicycle, it had slight modifications.

    “This looks very clever and quite ingenious” said Number 6.

    “I don’t remember asking for your opinion, now go away and leave me alone” cried the old man, taking a spanner to make a few minor adjustments.

    “What are you going to do with it?” Number 8 asked.

    “Do with it, do with it? I would have thought that perfectly obvious to anyone with the merest intelligence. I am going to ride this in the race.”

    “Why the stabilisers?” Number 6 asked, watching the old man at his work.

    There were a pair of stabilising wheels, one either side of the farthing wheel.

    “They aid for better cornering” answered Number 50.

    “In The Village you raced by free wheeling!”

    Number 50 looked up from his work “Young man I was not freewheeling, I had engaged the electric motor situated under the seat here. This in turn runs a drive belt from its spindle to the pedal shaft of the penny wheel.”

    “How do you control the speed?”

    “Via the throttle in the twist grip of the handle bars” answered the old man

    “And the power source?” Number 6 asked, getting closer to the machine.

    “Four power cells in the hollow frame, which recharge once you begin to peddle again. All the wiring runs down inside the frame work as well.”

    “Its very impressive work, wouldn’t you agree Number Eight?”

    “Yes.”

    “And you say you are going to ride this in the race” said Number 6.

    “And win it” returned number 50 with confidence.

    “Tell me, doesn’t this contraption of yours go outside the rules of the race, I mean with the modifications you have made?” asked number 8.

    “I knew it, you’re going to report me. After months of work, you are

going to report me. Look a Penny Farthing is still a Penny Farthing even with slight modifications” Number 50 argued, brandishing his spanner.

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   “And Number Two allows you all this?”

    “I live like a hermit, I don’t bother them and they don’t come here bothering me, alright with you is it?” snapped Number 50.

    “Settle down old timer, no ones going to report you or disturb your way of life. What I want to know, is how fast can you go on this Penny Farthing of yours?” enquired a curious Number 6, who felt a cunning plan hatching.

    Having left Number 50 to make his minor adjustments and with the promise that the Penny Farthing would be ready in time for tomorrow’s race, Numbers 6 and 8 went back to the confines of The Village, calling at the ‘Tooty-Fruity’ ice cream kiosk.

    “The flavour of the day is raspberry” said 99 with a cheery smile.

     Number 6 bought two vanilla cones, each with a flake, much against 99’s sales drive on raspberry!

    “That will be four units if you please” the vendor said.

    Number 6 handed over his Admix card which 99 swiped and handed back, then he and Number 8 strolled quietly through the village, talking together as they went. Suddenly there came the sound something like Gregorian chant mixed with the sound of a bicycle pump, crossed with someone breathing through an aqua lung. Then it passed by, the amorphous white mass of the Guardian. Number 8 clung to Number 6’s arm, the citizens remaining perfectly still as it passed them by…. this time!

    “That thing it’s awful, what is it?” she asked.

    “Rover and believe me it’s a suffocating experience should you ever encounter it on a bad day” he told her.

    “What kind of bad day?” she asked

    “On the day you try to escape!”

    Number 2 was not yet in costume, yet Number 6 might argue the

point, seeing that she was in her regular Village costume.

    “Ah there you both are, where have you been keeping yourselves?”

    “Just giving Number Eight the guided tour” Number 6 told her.

    “My, my Number Six you do look a dandy, those clothes suit you. And you my dear, settling in at last I trust?’ asked Number 2 with a smile “you seem to be coming friends.”

    “You see too much for your own good!” snapped Number 6.

    “We can all be friends together, all it takes is a little cooperation on all sides” returned Number 2 as she leant on her umbrella shooting stick.

    “What you mean is that we do the cooperating and you do the taking, is that about the size of it?” asked Number 6 cynically.

    “What do you make of our friend Number Six?”

    “He has been very kind to me.”   

    “Perhaps, but be careful my dear, he is a dangerous man to know and quite untrustworthy” said Number 2 advisedly.

    At that moment a taxi pulled up and Number 2 climbed aboard “Sorry must go, I’ll be seeing you both tomorrow.”

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    That evening just before curfew the maid as usual made him his nightly night cup of hot chocolate, but tonight after the maid had departed ‘6 Private’ he opened the cottage door and inserted his admix card between the lock and catch. This so that at curfew when the door is electronically locked, it will in fact be unlocked, now all he had to do was relax and wait.

    “Curfew time, five minutes to curfew, goodnight everyone, sleep well” said the cheery female voice. The lights went out, he switched on a small torch climbed off the couch and went to the cottage door and turned the handle and slowly opened it, the Admix card falling to the carpet. He allowed himself a smile “Clever aren’t you? Yes damned clever!” and picked up the card. Outside he placed the Admix card back between the lock and catch, this way he could regain entry, he had no intention of spending the night sleeping on the beach! As he made his way into the night he afforded himself a smile about this small victory over his captors, but was still wary of the fact that they would be watching. Under the cover of darkness he made his way through the Village, keeping to the shadows wherever there was light. At one point ducking into bushes as the Guardian rolled passed on its nightly patrol. The plan was to meet with Number 8 on the edge of the woods, if she was able to pull off the same trick as he that is.

    It was Number 174 who alerted the Supervisor of Number 6’s night manoeuvres.

    “Supervisor, Number Six breaking curfew, he’s now passing Hercules statue.”

    The Supervisor-Number 22, a tall, slight built woman in her mid thirties with dark hair turned her attention to the large wall screen “Put up camera twenty-three in night vision” she ordered.

    The large wall screen came to life displaying the night time scene of The Village in a green light upon the screen. The figure of Number 6 standing out as he slowly and tentatively made his way along in the darkness towards the pond, then cutting through a gap between two cottages and along the street beyond.

    “Put up camera ten” the Supervisor ordered.

    Camera ten displayed Number 6 approaching the edge of the

woods, where he crouched down to wait.

    “What’s he doing?” asked the Supervisor.

    “He’s crouching by those bushes” answered the Observer.

    “I can see that for myself, what’s he doing out there, if he plans to try and escape why doesn’t he just get on with it?”

    “I’ve no idea” the Observer replied.

    “Supervisor, Number Eight is not in her cottage” reports another Observer.

    “Blimey, it never rains but it pours. Keep looking for Number Eight and don’t lose Number Six” the Supervisor ordered.

    “Number Six is remaining where he is” reported the Observer.

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    “Number Eight definitely not in her cottage” reported another.

    “Supervisor, Number Six moving off.”

    Watching the large screen the Supervisor observed Number 6 as he moved away from the edge of the woods towards the taxi rank and crouched down again.

    “Is he after one of the taxis do you think?” asked an Observer.

    “No I don’t” returned the Supervisor “I think he’s waiting for someone, Number Eight perhaps. Engage main screen to multi screen configuration both night vision and thermal imaging.”

    The wall screen instantly split into its multi screen configuration displaying a variety of areas of The Village and in various ranges of the spectrum. Number 8, dressed in a black tracksuit, finally arrived on the scene at the edge of the woods, but of Number 6 there was not a sign. Then a dark figure moving stealthily towards her, she shrank back into the darkness hoping that she was not seen, but then the figure disappeared. Moving forward she peered into the darkness to see where the figure had gone, when suddenly a hand was placed round her mouth and she was pulled backwards into the

bushes.

    “Don’t struggle, they’re watching” Number 6 whispered in her ear.

     Number 8 nodded and Number 6 removed his hand.

    “Don’t do that!”

    “Do what?” asked Number 6.

    “Creep up on a person.”

    “Well just watch yourself, they’re watching” Number 6 informed her.

    ‘You mean they know we are out here. Then hadn’t we better get back?’ suggested Number 8 nervously.

    “Who dares wins!” retorted Number 6.

    “Supervisor. Two heat sources moving off along a path into the woods” reported an Observer, from his seat on the steel see saw.

    “Activate woodland cameras and don’t lose them, otherwise it will be the worse for all of you” were the encouraging words of the Supervisor.

    They moved stealthily through the undergrowth passed two large ponds and the stone Gazebo and to the point where the path forks to the right. Number 6 stopped and crouched down and peered into the darkness.

    “What’s the matter?” asked Number 8.

    “If they are using thermal imaging they will know precisely where we are, so from here on in we keep off the path” he whispered.

    “Where do you think they are making for?” asked an Observer sat upon the see saw as he swivelling past.
    “Seems a strange way to go if they are trying to escape” said the

Observer on the other end of the see saw, as he swivelled passed.

    “Yes it does, doesn’t it” replied the Supervisor watching the multi screens “I don’t think they are trying to escape at all.”
    A pair of thermal images appeared on one of the screens.

    “Gotcha! That’s them” exclaimed an excited Observer.

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  “Well done” said the Supervisor

     Just ahead of them stood a stone bust set upon a stone column, the bust swivelling in their direction. They crouched down low, wondering what their next move would be… when suddenly in the Control Room.

    “What’s that?” asked the Supervisor.

    A sudden blinding flash of white light filled the screens of the Observers and that of the wall screen, for a few seconds only, but it was enough. Number 6 knew that the Control Room would be dazzled by the light from his torch, but only for a few seconds and there would be other cameras, so quickly grabbing Number 8’s hand he dragged her off through the undergrowth, therein to lose themselves to the prying eyes of the surveillance cameras.

    Recovering from the sudden dazzle of light the Observer reported “Number’s Six and Eight have gone!”

    “Scan” ordered the Supervisor.

    “Scanning” responded the Observer.

    “Put up cameras twenty-five, seven, twenty two, twenty-four, thirty, thirty-four, forty-one, and forty-six” ordered the Supervisor, wondering if at the same time she should alert Number 2.

    Number 6 and Number 8 moved with some difficulty through the undergrowth.

    “We’re nearly there” said Number 6, his eyes well accustomed to the dark.

    “Nearly where?” Number 8 asked almost stumbling over.

    And then there it was, the camouflaged shed belonging to Number 50. The tracks of the Penny Farthing could still be clearly seen leading up to the door.

    “What on earth are we doing here?”

    “Don’t keep asking damn fool questions, come on” said Number 6 leading the way.

    At the door of the shed he switched on the torch he had brought with him and handed it to Number 8.Then with a set of spark plug feeler gauges stolen from a tool box in one of the taxis, selecting the right one, he set to work picking the padlock securing the door.

    “Hold the torch steady.”

    Click, and the padlock opened, he took the torch and lifting the latch pushed the door open and stepped inside the shed, shining the torch as he went with Number 8 close at his heels.

    “What are you looking for? What are we doing here at this time of night?”

    Number 6 was rummaging in amongst the tools on the work bench and found a spanner and screw driver “Here shine the torch on the

Penny Farthing and don’t ask such fool questions” said Number 6 crouching beside the Penny Farthing bicycle.

    “What are you going to do?”

    “What did I just say about asking too many questions. Now shine that torch over here while I make one or two slight adjustments.”

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    “Look at me” said Number 8 shining the torch over herself “I look as though I’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards!”

    “Well you have, haven’t you, now quit whining and shine that torch.”

    It was a warm sunny Village day, not even a slight breeze which made it a perfect day for the Penny Farthing race. Citizens paraded around in their various Edwardian costumes and the brass band played, everyone was out to enjoy the day, later to change into their evening dress in plenty of time for the Grande Ball.

    “Good afternoon, good afternoon everyone, you will be pleased to know that the spell of fine weather we have been enjoying will continue for the next few days. Would the contestants for the Penny Farthing race please assemble in the square in half an hour and report to the race marshals. I repeat contestants for the Penny Farthing race please assemble and report to the race marshals in the square in thirty minutes. May I remind you that curfew tonight is to be lifted for the Grande Ball to be held in the Town Hall. Thank you for your attention.”

    It was a confident Number 6 and a slightly anxious Number 8 who mingled amongst the citizens.

    “Relax” he told her.
    “What did you do to that Penny Farthing?”
    “Number Fifty wants to win the race, I just made a slight adjustment that’s all.”

    “If, as you say, they knew that we were abroad last night, why have they not come for us?”

    “I don’t know, but last night I think I found a way out.”
    “What...what did you find?”
    “Something in the shed hidden under the tarpaulin.”

    “What was it?”
    “Later.”

    Across the lawn, up the steps, and through the pink porch and turned left up the cobbled path, through and archway into the cobbled square, Number 6 and Number 8 joined other citizens gathered in the cobbled square. From down the stones steps of the Green Dome the elegantly dressed Number 2, together with the butler accompanied by two Top Hat administrative officials appeared. The butler wore no costume, but his regular black tails and bowler hat, and carried an open black and white striped umbrella. Citizens mingled and chatted together in the square. As for Number 2, she was now dressed in a white wide brimmed hat decorated with silk flowers, awhite full length dress with leg of mutton sleeves, brown laced boots and carrying a furled white parasol. Number 6 offered his companion his arm and they casually met with Number 2 in the cobbled square.

    “Why Number Two, you look quite the lady” he said.

    “That is twice that you have accused me of that, but I take your compliment in good faith” smiled Number 2.

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    “I see the butler’s back, where’s he been?
    “On holiday.”
    “Did he send the office a postcard?”
    “Yes a picturesque view of The Village from the beach. You didn’t think you would get away with it did you?
    “Get away with what?”

    “Your nocturnal manoeuvres last night were reported you know. Breaking curfew is against the rules, what were you up to?”
    “I wanted to see what a night here was like” he told her.
    “And you Number Eight, why have you involved yourself with this man?”
    Number 8 lowered her eyes then raised them again and stared wide-eyed at her superior.
    “You both went into the woods, looking for something....did you find it?
    “If I told you” he said.
    “Yes.”
    “You would know as much as me!”
    “Tell me my dear, did you find what you were looking for?
    Number 8 shook her head.
    “That’s right, tell her nothing!” he said.
    Number 2 did well to hide her disappointment.
    “I tell you what” Number 6 said.
    “Tell me what?”
    “Are you a gambolling woman?”
    “Only when the odds are stacked in my favour, what do you have in mind?”
    “I will select a rider in the race and the odds are four to one in your favour.
    Number 8 lowered her eyes again, then looked back at Number 2 eyes wide open. Number 2 smiled.
    Number 2 thought for a moment, she liked odds of four to one Alright Number Six I accept your wager. Nominate your rider.”
    Number 6 thought for a moment “I don’t know let me see....Number Thirty-seven the postman no he’s too stout. Number One-six-six…no perhaps not, then there’s numbers two-five-two, fifty and ninety-six. I don’t know” he feigned rubbing his chin “Number 96 perhaps… no Number Fifty, I’ll take him.”

   “Number Fifty, are you sure?
    “Yes.”
    “If you lose you will tell me what I want to know.”
    “Yes, but should I win.......”
    “What?”
    “You’ll leave me alone, and let Number Eight go!”

    A race marshal came over brandishing his computer slate and handed it to Number 2 who in turn handed it to Number 6 who then perused the list of five contestants, his eyes instantly drawn to that of Number 50. From down the street Number 6 could see the contestants riding their Penny Farthings towards the square.

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    Number 8 shot Number 2 a knowing glance.

    “Are you sure? Number Ninety-six is much the younger man, stronger with stamina to spare I shouldn’t wonder” suggested Number 2 taking back the slate.

    “Yes but there is always the question of experience, I shall place my trust in Number fifty.”
    “Very well.”

    Number 2 walked off attracted by the attention of someone in the crowd.

    “Number Two seems very confident and with good reason. You have handed yourself together with me to her on a plate!”

    “Don’t worry it won’t come to that, and should you need protection, then I am sure someone will be on hand to do the honours!” returned Number 6 sarcastically.

    “Not you?” asked Number 8, shocked by his response.

    Number 6 shrugged his shoulders.

    Spectators mingled around the cyclists with their machines, the event being covered by a reporter and photographer for The Tally Ho interviewing the riders and photographs taken.

   “Good afternoon everyone good afternoon, the race is due to begin in five minutes, the contestants and their bicycles are ready, so would all spectators please take to their positions along the course. The race will be started by Number Two herself.”

    The five contestants all prepared themselves, dressed especially for the occasion in tweed shooting hat and tweed jacket and plus fours and deerstalkers, or straw boaters and striped blazers. As Verdi’s ‘March from Aida’ was played by the brass band the cyclists numbers paraded around the square pushing their Penny Farthings applauded by the spectators. Number 2 was pulled to one side by a race marshal who whispered something in her ear. Number 2 then beckoned Number 6 over to her.
    “I have some bad news for you.”
    “Yes what?”
    “Number Fifty is to be disqualified.”

    “For what reason?”

    “Because of the modifications my dear fellow, they are beyond the pale of specifications for regular Penny Farthings.”

    “But a Penny Farthing is a Penny Farthing” 6 protested.

    “Not when it’s fitted with an electric motor, drive belt and

accelerator, observe the stabilising wheels, they will help with

cornering, I’m afraid it means you have lost your bet, even before the race has started!”               
    “Hardly sporting is it!”
    “You tried to trick me Number Six. However, I’ll give you a sporting chance and allow Number Fifty to take part in the race as I want to
 see your face when the race is lost!”  

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    Number 6 turned back to Number 8 but she had gone having disappeared into the crowd. The cyclists all lined up at the starting line and the butler held the red flag which he passed to Number 2. Holding the flag up in the air she brought it smartly down and the race was under way. Each cyclist pushing their Penny Farthings along, then with a foot on the mounting just above the farthing wheel, mounted their bicycles and peddled away as fast as they could go, down the road towards the sharp left hand corner at the bottom of the street. Number 50 had taken the lead and was the first into and round the corner, the Penny Farthing’s stabilisers making for better cornering. With the pack of four cyclists close behind, Number 50 passed the café and stopped peddling and engaged the electric motor and drive belt which locked the pedals automatically, and with a twist of handle bar grip the bicycle picked up speed, rather more than Number 50 had anticipated and was at the next bend before he knew it. The Penny Farthing cornered well as it whizzed passed the ice cream parlour, much to the cheers of the spectators. Number 50 released the throttle but it made no difference to the Penny Farthing’s speed, and the slope of the road passed the Town Hall would only help increase it, which was good, because it would help guarantee his winning the race, as after turning at the Old People’s Home the way back was up hill. Number 50 was not unduly worried, at the moment, he was in control of his speeding bicycle, and there was the brake. Besides he could always part company with his machine if needs be. He warmed to the cheers and applause of the spectators who lined the street and who were amazed by this old gentleman whizzing along on his Penny Farthing. Never in all his life had Number 50 been the centre of attention before, and so any thought of leaping off his ever quickening Penny Farthing was soon forgotten. Indeed he was ever confident of wining the race! Once passed the Town Hall there was a slight kink in the road and beyond that the road slopes down towards the Old People’s Home, and where the racers turned to continue the course back up into The Village itself. Passed the Town Hall and down the slope Number 50 rode his ever speeding Penny Farthing, much to the thrill of the spectators, applying gentle pressure to the brake brought little or no resistance and the whirring electric motor, from which smoke now issued, failed to disengage! As Number 50 reached the bottom of the slope he applied the hand brake, it failed! He tried desperately to topple the Penny Farthing over, much to the resistance of the stabilising wheels. Spectators dived out of the way as the Penny Farthing ploughed through them heading for the building of the old people’s home which Number 50 was successful in veering away from as spectators looked on. Across the lawn the Penny Farthing sped, narrowly missing tables and chairs not to mention two waiters who dropped their trays diving out of the way! It was an old man who saw the imminent danger, he turned the throttle of his mobility chair and steered it in the path of the now out of control Penny Farthing, this in order to make a block, but too late. Number 50 let out a cry as thePenny Farthing crashed into the low balustrade causing the bicycle and rider to part company. Number 50 flew over the balustrade, arms outstretched before falling to the quayside below. The spectators were both shocked and horrified by the accident, an ambulance and medics were called and a voice boomed out loudly over The Village public address system.

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    “Emergency, emergency, emergency, emergency.”

    Within minutes a siren was heard, and taxi acting as an ambulance, towing behind it a Red Cross trailer was on the scene and two white coated medics attended the unconscious Number 50 lying on the stone slabs, it was too late. Number 50’s injuries had proved fatal. The race marshals stopped the race and herded away the spectators, who seemed to simply drift away from the scene of their own accord. Number 2 arrived on the scene as the Penny Farthing was taken being away by two mechanics.
    “What do you think happened?” she asked one mechanic.
    “Brake failure it seems, and the throttle has been rewired” the mechanic replied.
    “Let me have your full report as soon as possible.”
    “Yes Number Two.”
    Due to the death of Number 50 the Grande Ball was cancelled for that evening, and Number 6 was held in security until the following day when he was escorted to the Green Dome by four Guardians.

    “I am innocent, why should I wish to harm an old man like Number Fifty, ask Number 8, she knows’ barked Number 6, his voice echoing around the purpled walled Chamber.
    “Number Eight is no longer with us” Number 2 told him.
    “She’s gone?”
    “Gone, gone over the hills and far away.........tell me where the shed is.”
    “I don’t have a shed, ask a gardener.”
    “Don’t get smart with me. Number Fifty was a scientist, who in the past had carried out invaluable work for the Village. However he was something of an eccentric and when he retired refused to live in the Old People’s Home preferring to live in the woods as a hermit. Where is the shed?”

    “It might not be there now.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “It’s difficult to find at the best of times!”
    “YOU caused the death of Number Fifty by having made

adjustments to his Penny Farthing.”

    “I admit it, I did make one or two minor adjustments to the contraption, but not to cause harm, just to make sure Number Fifty won the race.”
    “The charge will be one of manslaughter!”
    “And the sentence?”

    Number 6 spent the next two days confined to his cottage, on the third day they came for him, three Guardians accompanied by Number 2.

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    “What’s this, the escort for the condemned man?” quipped Number 6.

    “I do hope you are not going to make this difficult?” Number 2 said stepping over the threshold.

    “You expect me to go quietly, why should I make anything easy for you” he said clenching his fists ready for the fight to come.

    “Then I could dispense with the guards, you would save yourself from getting bruised and battered and this room would remain in one piece” Number 2 said leaning on her umbrella shooting stick.

    He thought for a moment and decided that discretion was the better part of valour and unclenching his fists nodded in agreement.

    Number 2 ordered the guards to wait outside “Now are you ready to talk?”

    “I can see that the odds were always stacked against me, never trust a woman” sneered Number 6.

    “You trusted Number Eight.”

    “And look where that got me.”

    “Number Eight has been re-assigned; I did tell you that she would not be with us long.”

    “What is going to happen to me now?”

    “The charge against you has been dropped, otherwise it would have meant your being rowed out across the estuary to the island, which for you would have been a one way trip, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

    “Why?”

    “It has been decided that you are to be given a second chance, and I advise you not to waste it.”

    “So it seems that someone here is protecting me. Am I supposed to be grateful, is that it, promising in return to be a good boy, pledging my allegiance to The Village, assimilate is that it?’

    Number 2 shrugged her shoulders “It is entirely up to you but it sounds like good to me. We don’t want to spoil you.”

    The door of the cottage opened and Number 2 dismissed the three security guards “Why not stroll with me a while Number Six, I’m sure you could do with a breath of fresh air after being cooped up for so long in solitary confinement.”

    Number 6 put on his piped blazer and walked to the door “No longer the condemned prisoner, I am a free man!”

    “And as such I thought you would appreciate the first day of the rest of your life in The Village” Number 2 grinned leading the way along the path.

    “Has it not occurred to you that you are just as much a prisoner as I am?”

    They stood on the balcony of the Green Dome.

    ‘Of course I’m not, I can come and go as I please because I’ve accepted The Village, as YOU will given time.”

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    “And Number Eight?”
    “Oh there will be a new Number Eight to come along, just like you are the new Number Six.”
    “You think you will win?”
    “Let me say that the odds are heavily stacked in our favour!”

    At that precise moment a Penny Farthing emerged through the arch spanning the road. Number 6 stared down at the cyclist dressed in tweed jacket and plus fours, Number 50 raised his deer stalker hat to people in the square as he cycled passed.

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