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Monday 9 December 2019

A Second Term In office

    The red ‘L’ shaped intercom began to bleep, No.2, who had been contemplating his future walked over to his desk and picked up the bleeping intercom. He paused for a moment before he spoke.
    “Number 2 here…….yes sir I realize that sir, but things got out of hand……….well I realize that sir………my future sir, as a matter of fact I have been giving that some thought…………… want me to remain here sir for a second term in office………..I see sir, there isn’t time to bring a new Number 2 to the village in time……well I will sir, thank you sir.
    “Where am I?”
    “In the village.”
    “What do you want?”
    “Information, information, information.”
    “You won’t get it.”
    “By hook or by crook we will.”
    “Who are you?”
    “I am the new Number 2.”
    “Who is Number 1?”
    “You are Number 6.”
    “I am not a number, I am a free man!”
    “Yes, yes, yes we’ve heard it all so many times before. I expect you’re thinking I want to know why you resigned, I know why you resigned. For peace of mind, because too many people know too much blah, blah, blah! Let me tell you I do not care a fig about why you resigned, so you can tell it to the judge for all I care…..oh but you did, didn’t you. Then you trapped Number 1 in a rocket, launched the damned thing, and managed to escape in the chaos. But where did that get you, right back here that’s where, and there’s no escape this time. Forgetting the events of ‘Fall Out,’ the last time you attempted to escape was by the motor ship Polotska. You even managed to recruit a number of co-conspirators, and you still failed. See, I have read your file. So seeing as we are no longer interested in the reason why you resigned, you can resign yourself to living out the rest of your life in peace and quiet here in the village. Now get out.”
    No.6 remained seated in the black leather chair, he had never been dismissed like that before. He was used to being the centre of attention.
    “What is it you want? He demanded to know.
    “From you….nothing but to leave my office.”
    “Where do I go?”
    “To your cottage, it has been made ready for you.”
    “What am I expected to do?”   
    “Nothing, just settle down and live out the rest of your life.”
    “Has it begun all over again?”
    “Has what begun all over again?”
    “Why you had me brought back here.”
    “You came back here because you couldn’t keep away. Going about shouting your mouth off about the village to anyone who would listen, and demanding compensation, you had to be brought back just to shut you up!”
    “Get Number 1.”
    No.2 looked at the Prisoner from the relative comfort of his chair “Number 1……oh yes, you can’t. He died on impact after the rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”
    “There must be a Number 1 get him!”
    “There is no Number 1, I’m in charge now. So get used to it, and out of my office Number 6, you’re no longer important to us.”
    No.6 cut a lonely figure as he made his way down the steps, across the street, across the square, and back to his cottage. The door opened and he found a housemaid flicking a yellow dusted about the place.
    “Aren’t you wasting your time!”
    The housemaid-No.66 looked at him “What do you mean?”
    “There’s no dust in here. You are no longer required, get out” he told her.
    No.66 left the cottage in a huff, dropping the yellow duster as she went, the door closing automatically behind her, leaving No.6 to settle into his home from home.
    In the Control Room No.2 and the bald-headed Supervisor-No.28 stood watching No.6 on the wall screen.
    “Do you think he’ll be as much trouble a second time round?” asked the Supervisor.
    “He’s not so important this time, and he knows there’s no point in rebelling, or trying to escape, or to cause any kind of trouble, or to go about poking his nose into things which are none of his concern.”
    “Pity” was all the Supervisor said.
    “Pity, why pity?”
    “It’s going to be rather quiet in the village without Number 6 and his antics!”
    No.2 threw the Supervisor a quizzical look “You want him to try and escape. Or you wish I had some cunning and elaborate plan to implement against Number 6.”
    “No not really” the Supervisor said “but you have to admit, as all of your predecessors would agree, he’s been our most interesting prisoner. There’s never been anyone quite like him before or since.”
    “A pretty speech indeed, however one should be most careful about what you wish for……you might receive it!”
    No.2 walked across the Control Room floor to the steel steps leading up to the mezzanine level, “if you want me you know where I am.”
    No.2 climbed the steps using the umbrella shooting stick as a walking stick, the pair of steel doors were already opening, they closed behind him with a resounding clang.
    No.6 prowled his cottage like a caged tiger, every so often he would pause and glance out of the window. He could see citizens promenading around in the Piazza. Two white Mini-Mokes drove slowly round, and an elderly chap pushed a Penny Farthing bicycle making no attempt to ride it. From what he could see nothing had changed since he was last here, the same old faces, the same people doing exactly the same thing. Suddenly quiet, gentle music began to play through the black loudspeaker. It was playing in order to try and calm him. There was no on/off switch, and he remembered that trampling the thing to bits under foot made no difference, but then he recalled putting the speaker in the fridge did do the trick. He did so, and the music stopped. Then the door to his cottage opened and the housemaid in her dark blue dress, white frilly apron, and white sailor’s cap stood framed in the doorway.
    “What have you come back for?” he shouted.
    “I forgot……” she started pointing at the yellow duster lying on the floor.
    “Yes I bet you did, deliberately on purpose no doubt.”
    “Who says?” No.66 asked somewhat sternly.
    “On your way out don’t forget what you came back for!”
    “What did you come back for?” she asked stooping to pick up the duster.
    “Because this room is the only place I can ever go, either here or in London.”
    “London, how is London?”
    “About the same.”
    “Yes, places don’t change….only people.”
    “That’s rather philosophical for a Tuesday” he told her.
    “Be seeing you.”
    The door to the cottage closed.
    “Not if I see you first!” he said under his breath.

    The next day in the village was much like any other day, it could have been yesterday, it might have been tomorrow, but it was today. And as usual the ice cream flavour of the day was strawberry. The Tally Ho broadsheet was on sale, the headline read “New Concert Hall To Be Built.” No.6 wasn’t interested, to be perfectly honest when push comes to shove he wasn’t interested in very much at all. He went on his daily stroll around the village. He climbed the Bell Tower, played chess with some old chap at the Old People’s Home, he had a coffee at the café. Bought a bag of sweets for a little old lady, then sat on a bench in the Piazza contemplating the free sea. There were two men fighting in the pool, another chap wearing a straw boater and piped blazer sat in a dingy pulled along by another chap at the end of a long rope. He wore sunglasses and a colourful striped jersey. Two burly set guardians came along and broke up the fight, the two wet men were manhandled out of the pool and frogmarched away. The young man in sunglasses and striped jersey let go of the rope and started splashing about in the free sea, then stepping out of the pool began to dodge about. The command “Be still” came from the public address system. Then the young man stood still, then backed away as the white amorphous Guardian appeared, it gave a sound like something crossed between a bicycle pump, someone breathing through an aqualung, and Gregorian chant. Then the thing floated down from the top of the Gloriette and was on the young man in an instant. The Guardian covered its prey’s face, hands clawed at the membrane as he fought to breathe, he screamed, his lungs bursting for lack of air. Finally the hands fell away, and the body of the young man fell back limp and lifeless. The Guardian moved off along the Piazza, down the steps and across the lawn. An ambulance turned up, two male orderlies alighted and picking up the body placed it in the Red Cross trailer, who then climbed back into the white Mini-Moke and drove away.
    “What was that?” a man asked.
    “That” said another “was a warning to those with a mind to step out of line.”
    No.6 sat watching the man on a bench on the opposite side of the Piazza. The man opposite saw No.6 looking at him, he shifted his position and went back to reading his copy of The Tally Ho, so he did not see No.6 stand up and walk away.
    “I thought it was you Chambers.”
    “The man put down his newspaper and looked at the man sat next to him.
    “You didn’t keep our appointment.”
    “I wanted to.”   
    “You went over!”
    “What then?”
    “Who do you think you are to be questioning me?” I suppose Number 2 sent you to spy on me.”
    “What are you doing here anyway?”
    “I resigned the job, and before I know it I’m waking up in this place.”
    “You honestly expect me to believe that?”
    “It’s true.”
    “But you were always so loyal, about to marry the boss’s daughter.”
    “Circumstances alter cases. But what about you, you sold out, I was going to try and make you change your mind.”
    “I went home from work, packed two suitcases, the next thing I know I’m waking up in what I thought was my own home. I was here.”
    “Cobb was here as well.”
    “He jumped from a window at the hospital, he’s buried in the graveyard!”
    “So what now?”
    “What do you suggest, we go and put flowers on his grave?”
    “I didn’t think you were quite so sentimental.
    “Cobb was a good man, there are few of us left.”
    “Yes and we all seem to end up here in the……the village. All we want is for Dutton to put in an appearance and have a full house!”
    “Dutton, he’s not here is he?”
    “No, no I don’t think so. They were working on some poor blighter in the hospital, a nasty looking doctor who gave the appearance that he would go to any lengths in order to test a man’s breaking point. So how do we get out of this place?”
    “We don’t, there is no way out. We are here for the duration.”
    “You seem very sure of that.”
    “I am. Unless you have someone on the outside who knows where we are, get used to the village, you’ll be here for a very long time.”
    “Well I suppose if you can’t escape, then no-one can.”
    “Oh I escaped alright, but then I came back.”
    “You mean you were brought back.”
    “Well if you’ll excuse me” Chambers said folding his newspaper “I’ve a suitcase to pack.”
    “Why where are you going?”
    “They’re letting me go, I’m going back to the Foreign Office. I’ve no doubt Cobb went back to work for his new masters. But of course you ZM73, you have no job to go back to, seeing as you resigned!”
    “The next time someone commits suicide by jumping out of a hospital window, I’d have a look if I were you, just to make sure. Be seeing you.”

   Be seeing you

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