The Mark 1
The door of his cottage opened and a young woman dressed in a black dress, frilly white apron, and white sailor’s hat entered the cottage carrying a breakfast tray.
“I’ll put this in the kitchen for you” she said in cheery way.
The five feet eleven inch silhouette of a man in his dressing gown stood standing looking out through the net curtain of the window, he turned round when he heard someone come into the room.
“You look better this morning” she told him.
“Better, better than what?”
“Better than you did yesterday.”
True the swellings had gone down, and the bruises were not so prominent, and the stiffness and soreness were wearing off.
“Just remind me, who are you again?”
“I’m your personal maid. I’ve just brought your breakfast.”
“Did you bring me my breakfast yesterday?”
“Yes, don’t you remember?”
“Then do us both a favour, and don’t waste either of our time tomorrow.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Whose clothes are hanging up in the wardrobe?”
“Why they’re yours.”
“What have you done with my suit?”
“It was taken away and burned.”
“I couldn’t get the blood stains out. You had better eat your breakfast before it gets cold!”
“What’s the difference, it was cold yesterday when you brought it!”
The maid shot him a look of indifference and annoyance “I was going to dust your room, but I’ll come back tomorrow when you’re in a better mood.”
“What makes you think I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow?”
The grey trousers and burgundy coloured sweater were okay, but the grey piped blazer he took from the wardrobe didn’t seem to suit him at all. Opening the French window he stood on the small balcony wondering what the day would bring, wondering what he was to do, what was expected of him to do.
In the kitchen his breakfast was cold; he threw it in the waste bin. Then in the bathroom he showered and shaved, then dressed in the bedroom before making himself a cup of coffee and two slices of toast in the kitchen.
Outside the sun was shining, making the village glow. He decided to
go out, to make a reconnaissance of his new surroundings. So donning his grey piped blazer he went to open the door of his cottage but was startled when it opened all by itself and closed behind him as he stepped outside.
He worked his way along the back of the terraced cottages, at the end there was an archway between the terrace and a large semi-detached cottage. Through the arch was a passage which led to a set of steps and out onto a small lawn in front of the terraced cottages. There was a round look-out set on top of a rocky outcrop. From there he looked down on the road below, and out across the centre of the village.
There was a lawn on which four people were playing croquet. In the Piazza citizens promenaded themselves around the long pool, at one end of which was a fountain. The people dressed in brightly coloured clothes, some carrying open colourfully striped umbrellas using them as parasols against the brightness of the sun. Others wore coloured striped capes, straw boaters, and piped blazers, looking as though to attend a boating regatta. And believe it or not there was a chap dressed in blazer and straw boater messing about in a dingy on the water being pulled along by another chap dressed much the same, at the end of a length of rope. Down in the road pedestrians walked in either direction and greeted each other as they passed by. Cyclists rang their bells, and a light blue open topped taxi sounded its horn to warn pedestrians of its approach.
“The jeeps also act as an ambulance” a voice behind him said “when they do they tow trailers with a red cross on the side. That’s the Town Hall over there by the way.”
No.4 turned round to see a man dressed in a striped jersey standing just behind him
“And over there is the café, the General Store is just along street, on the other side of the Green Dome is the Citizens Advice Bureau. And that long stone balustrade is the top of the bandstand” the man said.
“And what are you supposed to be, a tour guide?”
“I thought you looked a little lost, you’re a new face here” the man said.
“Where is here?”
“The village! And where is the village?”
“Its here, all around you” the man said gesturing with his arms “be seeing you” he saluted before turning and going on his way.
No.4 retraced his steps to the back of the cottages opposite was the woods, he turned left and carried on his way, then left again and on his right a grand pink and white cottage which looked like a small version of a much grander house and Georgian in style. He followed the stone steps, through a pair of turquoise gates and onto the road.
He heard a brass band suddenly strike up, they were playing Strauss’s Radetski March. Crossing the road and stepping out of the
way of a cyclist, he walked through an arch and stood at the top of a set of steps for a moment as he glanced about him. Descending the steps leading onto the Piazza he joined the promenaders some of whom greeted him with a warm smile, commenting on the weather as they passed by. There was a chap wearing a crash helmet struggling to wheel a Penny Farthing bicycle. The Penny Farthing supported a now bent and twisted steel frame which formed a high canopy over the rider.
“Have an accident?” No.4 asked.
“And why don’t you mind your own business!” the man in the crash helmet snapped back, who was clearly in a bad mood.
“That thing looks top heavy to me” 4 remarked.
“Know so much don’t you! Here they said, go about the village riding this thing. It looks dangerous I said, that high canopy makes it top heavy I said, dangerous they said, no they insisted, but they gave me a crash helmet to wear anyway. And that canopy…wouldn’t protect anyone from the weather” the man said in a moaning tone of voice “and what happened…….I fell off. I went the one way and this contraption went the other. Now it’s torn, bent and twisted and they’ll blame me for it you see if they don’t!”
“I’m sorry I asked” No.4 said but helped the man to his feet anyway.
At the further end of the Piazza was a set of steps leading down onto the lawn where the croquet match was still being played. They did once have to pause their game as the brass band, led by a man wearing a colourful striped cap and straw boater, marched across the lawn on the way to the bandstand. Steps led from the lawn onto a slightly higher grassed terrace where chairs had been put out, and which people were now taking those seats ready for the afternoon’s regular brass band concert.
Number 4 decided to give the concert a miss seeing as he could hear the music being played as he walked. Slowly he wound his way through the village, studying the buildings, the roads, getting a complete ground layout. He had with him a map, which he found in a drawer in his study. However the Map of Your Village didn’t indicate much at all, simply the woods, the sea, the mountains, beach, the tower, the boat, Old People’s Home. He paused outside an imposing looking building. There was a chap on a ladder cleaning a window.
“Excuse me, but can you tell me what this building is?”
The window cleaner looked at No.4 and said sarcastically “You’re the one with the map!”
“The building’s on the map, but there’s no indication of what it is.”
“This, this is the Town Hall.”
“The Town Hall!”
“Yes, but it won’t let you in.”
“What do you mean it won’t let me in, what’s to stop me?”
No.4 step forward and up the steps of the Town Hall, and at the entrance was stopped dead in his tracks! He dropped his map as he
was momentarily stunned by an electric shock.
“Told you so!” said the window cleaner returning to his work.
“Officer of the Watch, Number 4 attempted to enter the Town Hall” a member of the Watch suddenly reported.
The Control Room is a large domed chamber located beneath the Town Hall. Its wall depicted both astral and terrestrial maps, while a map of the village set at an angle ran round the base. There is a large wall screen, while five members of the watch sat at their monitors, two further watchers sat at their monitors on either end of a steel see-saw device which revolved up and down, round and round. And the entrance to the chamber was via a double blast proof steel door at the top of the mezzanine level.
No.28, a baldhead man wearing spectacles dressed in grey flannel trousers, dark green polo neck jersey, and dark blue plain blazer, was the Officer of the Watch consisting of seven men and women who spend their time watching and listening to the citizens of the village through surveillance of the community.
“Let’s have him on the screen” No.28 ordered.
No.4 picked up his map and went on his way, down the hill towards the Old People’s Home.
An assortment of People were sat at tables set out on the lawn, not only senior citizens, one of whom was an old woman being pushed in a wheelchair, but middle aged people, and two sinister looking men wearing long black coats and black top hats. A waiter was busy serving at tables; he carried a silver salver with tea for two with neatly cut cucumber sandwiches. No.4 stood watching the scene, he saw a vacant table by a white balustrade, and made a bee-line for it, sat down and looked over the expanse of sand that made up the beach.
“Can I get you anything sir” asked the man in the short white coat and black trousers.
The waiter withdrew.
No.4 maintained his vigilance of the beach where a few people walked, or paddled in the shallow gullies of water. Two chaps in white naval caps were busy building a sand castle as others played with a beach ball. He saw the island and looked out towards the far side of the estuary; he took it all in and wondered.
“Your coffee sir” the waiter set out the cup of coffee, sugar and milk “that will be 2 units if you please.”
“And if I don’t please?”
“Its still 2 units sir” the waiter told him.
He began to ferret in the pockets of his jacket “I’m sorry but I don’t appear to have…..” from a pocket he produced not only his card of identity, his health and welfare card, but a credit card.
“That will do nicely sir” the waiter said taking the credit card and clipping it.
No.4 ignored the milk and sugar and slowly sipped his coffee, his eyes staring out across the estuary.
“Fancy a game” a stout man with a bushy moustache suddenly asked sitting himself down in the opposite chair and placing the wooden chequered board and box on the table.
“You do play chess?”
“Yes I play chess, but not just at the moment.”
The man sitting opposite opened the box and busied himself setting out the chessmen on the board. He was wearing a British military cap, a General’s cap, this aroused No.4 curiosity.
“Why are you wearing that cap?”
“I’m entitled to it.”
“Whatever are you doing in a place like this?”
“About to play chess I hope, your move Number 4” the General announced.
“That appears to be all perfectly normal” No.57 remarked to the officer of the watch.
No.57, assistant to the officer of the watch stood watching the game play out on the large wall screen.
“Yes, but appearances can be deceptive. What’s he thinking?”
“Who, Number 4?”
“He’s probably thinking whether to block the attack by the Rook with his Bishop, or to take the King’s Bishop’s pawn” 57 suggested.
“That’s not what he’s thinking” the officer of the watch replied and picking up the receiver of the cream telephone, he put a call through to No.2 in the Green Dome.
“I can see the battle is lost” the General said in a deep gravely voice “I can see I should have resigned long ago, obviously now I’ve no alternative. Look at my King it can’t move, my Rook’s smothered by your Bishop, my Queen is trapped, there’s nothing I can do, its obvious checkmate in eight moves” so he tipped the King over in an act of resignation.
“Thank you for the game General, but I really must be going.”
“Be careful Number 4, that’s my advice.”
“What’s to be careful about, what’s stopping me from simply walking across the sand to the other side?”
“On the face of it nothing, but if you’re thinking of setting out on an exploratory expedition beware of the soft.”
“The soft, what’s that?”
“Quicksand, however there is another obstacle you must overcome, looks like you’ll need a boat!”
Ironically people were scurrying about aboard the boat next to the
quayside, as though they were making the Stone Boat ready for sea. An elderly man wearing a white cap stood at her stern, his hands on the ship’s wheel. And where there had been an open expanse of sand between No.4 and his objective the sea now covered! No.4 stared out across the water hardly believing what his eyes were telling him.
“Where did that come from?”
“The tide comes in quick here. If you had been out there you would have been cut off, dead and drowned.”
No.4 made his excuses and left the General setting out the chessmen on the board once more.
“He isn’t there” No.28 said replacing the receiver.
“Who isn’t?” asked 57.
“Shall I put out a general call for him?”
“You can if you want to receive the sharp end of his tongue!” the officer of the watch warned.
No.2 was pre-occupied in the laboratory. Two technicians in grey polo neck jerseys and white coats, 243 and 253 were about to introduce him to something that would become invaluable regarding the security of the village.
“And this is it, is it?” No.2 asked looking at the dustsheet covered shape.
“Yes Number 2” No.243 replied with a smile.
“Can I see it?”
“Of course” No.253 said whipping the dustsheet away to reveal….
“ROVER” 243 announced with pride.
Number 2 looked the machine over.
It was large, round, with a frilly skirt at its base. The frame was made from toughened steel covered in a fibreglass dome. The base of the dome being white, the top of the dome segmented black and white, something like a schoolboys cap. And in the centre atop of the dome, a blue light.
“Rover, and that stands for…what Rover Orbital Vehicle something or other?”
The two technicians looked at each other. It was No.243 who found his voice.
“It doesn’t stand for anything sir, except it behaves like a guard dog, and will round up and capture anyone attempting to escape.”
“I see, tell me about it.”
“You see Number 2 this is a complex machine, operated remotely by
an operator in the Control Room.” Number 243 began.
Number 253 continued “It operates as in a hovercraft, able to travel over any terrain, including on the water, as well as act like a submarine able to dive into the water.”
“It can go up steps?”
“Yes Number 2.”
“Can it fly?”
“No, it can’t go into the air.”
“What about walls?” Number 2 asked.
The two lab technicians looked at each other quizzically.
“We’re sorry sir?”
“Can this Rover scale walls?”
Again Number 253 and 243 looked at each other.
“We didn’t know it was supposed to” 243 said seemingly puzzled by the question.
“In other words it can’t.”
“No Number 2.”
“We can’t think of any contingency in which it would need to scale walls.”
“Why to spy on people in buildings” No.2 replied.
243 and 253 looked at each other, and wondered.
“So in all other respects this….Rover is operational.”
Again the two technicians looked at each other.
It was 243 who spoke “Not exactly sir, it is yet to be given a test.”
“We decided that we should introduce you to Rover first, although we have taken the liberty of setting up a control system in the Control Room.”
“Good. I shall arrange a test for it soon.”
Numbers 243 and 253 were feeling very pleased with themselves as Number 2 left the laboratory, and set about making final adjustments, and fine tuning Rover.
The steel doors opened and Number 2, with an old college scarf wound about his neck and shoulders and carrying an umbrella shooting stick, stood looking down onto the floor of the Control Room from the mezzanine level, and instantly drew the officer of the watch’s attention. The steel doors closed with a solid thud and Number 2 walked down the steel steps.
“Number 2, I’ve been trying to contact you.”
“Why what’s the problem?” he asked stepping down onto the floor.
“Number 4 has been playing chess with the General.”
“How terrible for him!”
“You don’t understand sir, I think Number 4 is going to try and get across to the other side of the estuary.”
“Is he? Good!”
“Good, what’s good about it?”
Number 2 picked up the receiver of the grey telephone, avoiding the seesaw device as it revolved.
“Laboratory………laboratory, how soon can Rover be ready for its initial test........really, good” Number 2 replaced the receiver and turned to the officer of the watch.
“Which of your operatives is to take remote control of Rover?”
“Number 86, he’s seated on the see-saw.”
Number 2 put out a hand stopping the revolving of the steel device.
“I take it you have been briefed on how to control this Rover device?”
“Yes Number 2. I control it from here, using a camera system it will be as though I’m in the machine.”
“You mean we are to run a test now?” No.28 asked.
“Yes, no time like the present, and we shall be assisted by Number 4.”
“Number 4, do you think that’s wise sir?”
“I can think of no-one better. I think the beach will make the best test area, arrange for a taxi left unattended with the key left in the ignition.”
“The tide’s in” the officer of the watch informed him.
“Ah, in that case have the speedboat moored up by the slipway. If Number 4 wants to try to escape I don’t think we should hamper him too much, do you?”
“No Number 2” No.28 said with reluctance.
Walking away from the Old People’s Home No. 4 was considering his options, instead of taking the road up the hill back into the village he kept to the lawn and found himself standing on a wide cobbled path looking at two motor mechanics working on the engine of a speedboat. While they were distracted No.4, taking a nonchalant attitude so as not to attract attention, walked quietly down the slipway passed the one boat, and stood looking at the one in front. Glancing over his shoulder he stooped down and untied the mooring rope and leapt into the speedboat, turned the ignition and steered the boat out into the estuary. At hearing the sound of the engine the two mechanics leapt out of the boat, ran along the slipway shouting and waving their arms at the man to bring the boat back.
In the Control Room No.2 and the officer of the watch stood watching the action play out on the wall screen.
“I think it’s time” No.2 announced.
No.28 gave the order orange alert, one operative on the see-saw acknowledged the order and activated Rover.
From somewhere the domed droid of Rover MK I, it’s blue light flashing, its siren sounding, came whirring along a road startling pedestrians and cyclists alike who smartly moved to the side of the road, out of its path to allow this curious machine to pass by, leaving citizens shocked and bewildered by the thing.
The Rover droid rushed passed the Town Hall and down the hill towards the Old People’s Home. In the Control Room the operator pulled hard on a leaver and Rover responded sweeping left onto the lawn, down the slipway and onto the water and into the estuary.
No.4 was way ahead, and close to taking the speedboat out into the open sea, it has been all too easy. And yet when he glanced over his shoulder, much to his surprise he saw he was now being pursued. Not
by another speedboat, but something round something which
appeared to skim over the water. He kept the speedboat on a true course straight for the open sea. Casting another glance over his shoulder he saw a flashing blue light, and that it was gaining on him.
Watching the action on the wall screen No.2 allowed himself a wry smile “Its all going very well don’t you think.”
“What will it do when it catches up with Number 4?” No.28 asked.
“Well… we’ll see in a few minutes” No.2 replied, not having the faintest idea.
It took only a couple of minutes for Rover to draw alongside
the speedboat. No.4 pulled hard to port on the wheel crashing the boat onto the white fibreglass dome of Rover. This sent it off course momentarily, but the operator in the Control Room soon regained the droid’s position alongside, its blue light flashing more intently and brighter. No.4 turned the wheel hard to starboard leaving the Guardian in its wake, then turned again to meet the thing head on…crash! The bow of the speedboat had punctured a hole in the fibreglass dome, rupturing one of the floatation tanks in the process, both of which were taking on water fast. No.4 leapt overboard and began to swim away; foundering in the water he turned to see boat and Rover sink below the waves.
In the control Room No.2 was incandescent with fury! He picked up the receiver of the grey telephone “Laboratory.”
The view on the wall screen changed to that of the laboratory. On the screen the telephone was bleeping, No.243, who had been watching the first Rover test on a small monitor picked up the receiver of the yellow telephone.
“I can’t explain it sir.”
“What went wrong with this Rover thing you created?”
“We don’t know at this point. We need to retrieve the machine.”
“I can tell you what went wrong...it sank!”
“Yes Number 2. In all probability one of the floatation tanks was ruptured in the collision with the boat.”
“Once the tide has gone out retrieve this Rover device. Then I want a full report ASAP do you understand?”
“Yes Number 2.”
No.2 replaced the receiver, the wall screen went blank, and he took a deep breath in order to help compose himself “You had better deploy the helicopter to pick up Number 4 out of the water.”
“I have already given the order” the Supervisor replied.
“Good. If you want me you’ll know where I’ll be.”
“Yes Number 2.”
The silver grey Alouette II helicopter fitted with two grey floats attached to the skids, and crewed by the pilot and two lookouts took off from the triangular lawn by the sea wall, and flew low out across the estuary, heading towards the open sea in search for No.4. Then
one of the lookouts spotted a figure in the water swimming in the direction of the shore. The helicopter slowed then hovered for a moment before the pilot landed the copter on the water. The two watchmen opened a cabin door and stepping out onto one of the floats, hauled No.4 out of the water and into the cabin. The cabin door closed and the pilot flew the helicopter back to the village, where two medics in a light blue jeep towing a small trailer, marked with a red cross, were waiting by the lawn to collect No.4 and take him to the hospital.