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Monday 29 November 2021

Chapter 8


The Test

    “Hello Number 4, what are you doing here?” No.2 asked from across the lawn.
    “I often wonder myself!”
    “No, I mean here at the Old People’s Home?”

    “I’ve been playing chess with the Admiral.”
    A silver grey Alouette helicopter circled above the village.
    “A new arrival?” No.4 asked.
    No.2 looked up at the helicopter circling, which turned and descended, landing on the triangular lawn by the sea wall. As the rotor blades slowed the cabin door opened and a tall man in black overcoat and top hat and a black document case under his arm, stepped out of the helicopter and down to the ground. He stood there looking about him, then began to walk.
    “Who’s he?”
    “He’s no-one.”
    “What do you think would happen if I took command of that helicopter?”
    “I didn’t think you could pilot a helicopter?”
    “I can’t, but I could force the pilot to fly me out of this place” No.4 said producing a gas gun from his pocket.
    “Now where did you get that?” asked a rather surprised No.2.
    “I found it! Another idea has just struck me.”
    “Do tell.”
    “I could take you with me.”
    “Its crude, and how far do you think you’ll get?”
    “By the looks of it none of the people here will stop me.”
    No.2 looked about him. No-one on the lawn of the Old People’s Home was taking the least bit of notice of the little scene playing out in their midst.
    “Walk this way, and don’t try anything.”
    “Now what would I be trying?”
    “Don’t get clever with me!”
    No.2 walked a step or two in front of his abductor.
    The helicopter pilot closed the cabin door and stepped down to the ground. And then he looked on as the two men approached.
    “I would be obliged if you would climb back into the helicopter” No.4 ordered.
    No.2 nodded.
    “Now don’t you do anything” No.4 said poking the gas gun into his prisoner’s back.
    The pilot climbed back into the cabin followed by No.2 and No.4.


    “This is now an interesting situation” said No.2
    “In what way?” asked No.4.
    “If I made a move to stop you now, and you pressed that gas gun in the close confinement of this cabin, you would either paralyze or kill all of us!”
   “Start the engine” 4 ordered.
   The pilot did as he was instructed. The rotor blades began to turn slowly, then faster and faster, the helicopter lifting off the ground and taking to the air and flying away from the village out across the estuary.
    “Do you really think you are going to get away with this? Attempting to escape is one thing; abduction of its chief administrator is another!”
    In the Control Room the officer of the watch-No.28 stood watching the scene play out on the wall screen. He saw his superior and No.4 approach the helicopter, the gas gun in No.4’s hand as they boarded the helicopter.
    “Track the helicopter” the officer of the watch ordered.
    “Would you mind telling me where we are going?”
    “As far as this helicopter can take us” was the reply.
    The pilot glanced down at the fuel gauge, as did No.4, it read half full.
   In the Control Room the officer of the watch had given them long enough, and indicated to an operator on the steel see-saw to take command of the helicopter.
    Aboard the helicopter the pilot felt a change in the cyclic and collective pitch controls, as well as the throttle, he took his feet off the antitorque pedals and hands off the controls as the helicopter was taken over by remote control.

   “What are you doing?” No.4 demanded to know.
   The pilot glanced over his left shoulder “I’m doing nothing, we’re hands free!” he said raising his hands.
   The helicopter climbed, then turned back towards the village.

    No.2 laughed “Relax Number 4, and enjoy the ride. And don’t worry, this little adventure will not be held against you, I’m not a vindictive man” he held his hand out to take the gas gun.
    No.4 knew when he was beaten, and handed the weapon over.
    “There is however one thing I should dearly like to know, who gave you this?”
    The helicopter approached the village, the nose rose up, tail down, the speed slowed as it made its approach, hovered for a few moments  before landing on the lawn by the sea wall. A Mini-Moke was parked by the lawn, and No.12 stood waiting as the helicopter landed. The rotor blades slowed as the cabin door opened and the figures of No.2 and No.4 stepped down onto the lawn, as No.12 walked forward to greet his superior.
    “Take this” No.2 said handing 12 the gas gun “I’ll leave you to


question him.”
    “Where did he get this?”
    “That is what you are going to find out, get in” said No.2 climbing into a back seat of the Moke.
    No.4 climbed into the vacant rear seat, as No.12 climbed into the front passenger seat, the taxi driver driving the mini-Moke up the hill into the village, but stopping on the way to drop No.12 off, then carried on its the way to the Green Dome. The two passengers alighted, climbed the steps and entered the domed building.

    “Right sit down Number 4” No.2 ordered pressing a button on the control panel of his desk.
   A black leather chair rose up through a hole in the floor. No.4 stepped forward and sat down, instantly steel bands appeared out of the arms of the chair securing his wrists, as steel bands secured his ankles. The chair descended through the floor into the darkness below. The chair came to a stop and then turned 30 degrees to the right and moved forward. No.4 travelled in the chair for a few minutes before it stopped, turned 90 degrees and rose upwards through a hole in the floor into a green walled chamber. There was a second low grey inner wall, made up with a number of arches.

    “Where am I?”
    A grey haired man in shirt, tie and grey tails sat behind a grey curved desk. On the desk was a grey telephone and a thick leather bound ledger.

    “I asked you a question, where am I?”
    “In the Labour Exchange if you must know” No.20 said in a friendly tone of voice.
    “What’s he doing here?”
    “He’s drinking his tea.”
    No.12 stood with cup and saucer in hand.
    No.20 put on his black rimmed spectacles and rose up out of his chair and walked from behind his desk “We want to know something, and you are going to tell us.”
    “I can’t say I’m a fan of your interview techniques!”
    “Would you like a cup of tea?”

    “Do I get a biscuit?”
    “Sadly we only have biscuits with our elevenses, not in the afternoon.”
    “Yes I would like a cup of tea please”
    The manager of the Labour Exchange turned back to his desk and poured out a cup of tea “Indian or China?”
    “I generally drink Typhoo tea, “You only get an oo with Typhoo!”
    The manager picked up the teapot and poured out the tea, and looked over his shoulder and smiled “Most amusing, sugar?”
    “No thank you, I gave it up.”

    The manager turned in order to consult the ledger on his desk,


opened it and ran his finger down the page “It doesn’t say that here.”
    “I can’t be held responsible for that!”

    The manager picked up the cup and saucer and handed it to the Prisoner.

    “Don’t get clever with me Number 4.”
    Because of the wrists restraints he couldn’t drink his tea.
    “Would you mind.”
    “Would I mind what?”
    “I cannot drink my tea!”
    “You want me to release the restraints?”
    “It would help.”
    “Oh I couldn’t possibly do that, could I Number 12?”
    “No, he couldn’t possibly do that” No.12 agreed.
    The Prisoner let the cup and saucer drop from his grip, the tea spilling out, and the crockery breaking on the floor.
    “Tut, tut now someone has to clean that up!”
    “Don’t look at me!” said No.4.
    The manager returned to his seat behind his desk. He pressed a button on the control panel.
   “Did you know that Number 2 has an identical desk to yours?”
    The wall screen, having been switched on, was blue and depicted a black silhouette of a man sitting in a chair, No.4 looked at the screen.
    “Is that supposed to be me?”
    “It is you” said the manager from behind his desk.
    Pressing a button on the control panel of his desk the lights dimmed, pressing another button the view on the wall screen changed.
    “This is merely the truth test. Now, tell me how you managed to acquire a gas gun?”

    “I found it in my Christmas stocking!”
    “Flippancy will get you nowhere.”
    “How did you acquire a gas gun?”
    The Prisoner said nothing, he didn’t need to. On the wall screen was the silhouette of the Prisoner’s head. There were two lines set at an angle to each other but meeting at a point at the silhouette’s forehead. A black circle set on the top line moved forward.
    “That is a lie” said the manager “but it won’t be held against you. Everything you think here is in the strictest confidence.”
    A square silhouette then moved forward.
    “That’s better. Now how did you acquire a gas gun?”
    The Prisoner sat in the chair seemed to be struggling with himself. There appeared to be conflict as both the round and square silhouettes moved forward at the same time.
    Come, come, you’re not being honest. It didn’t arrive in the post!”
    The square silhouette moved forward.
    “It did arrive in the post! So who sent it?”
    Again conflict was demonstrated on the wall screen as the two


silhouettes receded. Then they moved forward in unison as the Prisoner struggled not to think.
    “Why was it sent to you?”
    The black silhouette moved forward.
    “And was there a missive with it?

    Again the black silhouette moved forward.
    “No missive! Was it your own decision to abduct Number 2?”
    The Prisoner struggled to keep his thoughts to himself.
    “You tried to escape holding Number 2 as a hostage. Where were you trying to escape to?”
    The square both silhouettes moved forward.
    “You wanted to escape to anywhere that wasn’t here!”
    No.12 stood quietly observing the interrogation, and as such observers should never get involved.
    “You can’t blame a man for trying.”
    “Don’t you like it here Number 4?”
    “It’s alright for a holiday, but I couldn’t stick it for more than a couple weeks!”
    “Let’s face the truth of it Number 4. You’re nothing more than a burned out agent, who is now of little use to anyone” 20 said accusingly.

    “Then why was I brought here?”
    “No-one has told you.”
    “Oh dear, how very remiss of them.”
    “People keep asking me questions.”
    “Oh they will.”
    “People like you and him over there.”
    “What about him over there?”
    No.20 shot 12 a knowing glance, it had not gone unnoticed.
    No.4 knew then that he had an ally “Is that all?”
    “What about him over there?”

    “I want to leave.”
    “I’m sure you do. What about him over there?”
    “He’s Number 2’s assistant.”
    “Yes, and he’s also a cog in the wheel of administration.”
    “Really, I had no idea.”
    “Only someone deep seated in administration would be able to get his hands on such a weapon” No.20 stated “that man over there would be in such a position. Wouldn’t you say so Number 12?”

    “Don’t drag me into this!” his demeanour calm, cool, and collected.
    “Excuse me” said No.4.
    “Yes what is it?” No.20 snapped.
    “Are you interviewing me, perhaps putting me to the test for a job in administration?”
    “You heard. As manager of the Labour Exchange do you carry out


many of these interrogations? I only ask because I thought it might be job orientated to see if I would break under stress. If I pass the test I could look after the secret files, or perhaps I could work second to No.2 when him over there gets the sack!”
    No.20 stood in the middle of the floor, first looking at No.12, then fixing his stare on No.4 who was still secured in the chair. Returning to his desk he pressed a button on the control panel. Instantly the steel restraints released their grip on the Prisoner.
    “You can go.”
    “Go where?” No.4 asked.
    “You can both go.”
    “The interview is over?”
    “Yes” the manager said pressing a button on the control panel.
    The wall screen went dark.
    “Have you failed?”
    “It was never a question of success or failure.”
    “So I haven’t got the job in administration?”
    The manager of the Labour Exchange sat down behind his desk.
    “Well thank you for this opportunity, I’m sorry I didn’t do better in the job interview” 4 said rising out of his chair.
    No.12 headed for the pair of steel doors which opened at his approach, and No.4 quickly followed him.

   In the outer office of the Labour Exchange two workmen were busy hanging signs on the walls, “Of the people, by the people, for the people” one read, another “A still tongue makes a happy life,” and a third “Humour is the essence of a democratic society.”
    No.180c was up a wooden step ladder holding a framed sign against the wall. 
    “Up on the left a fraction” said No.180b
    “How’s that?”
    “Just a fraction more.”
   180c moved the sign a little more “How’s that?”
    “That’s about it”
    The door to the manger’s office opened and No.12 rushed out brushing passed the step ladder.
    “Oi watch it mate!”
    No.4 followed suit and nudged the step ladder.
    “Ere what’s your game?” No.180c protested dropping the sign.
    “Watch it, you nearly dropped that on me!” said 180b.

    “Wasn’t my fault, blame him!”
    But No.4 had long gone, and now stood outside the Labour

Exchange looking to see which direction No.12 had taken. Then he glimpsed him, taking a track into the woods. He followed on behind.
    No.12 followed the track deep into the woods, glancing now and


again over his shoulder to make sure he was being followed. But then he stopped and turned round, there was no-one there!
    “Looking for someone?” No.4 asked poking his head through a bush.

    “We can talk here” No.12 told him.
    “Can we?” said No.4 emerging from behind the bush.
    “And why should I take your word for that?”
    “You don’t trust me?”
    “I don’t trust myself!” No.4 told him.
    “And I thought you were the man I was looking for!”
    “You’re Number 2’s assistant, why should Number 2’s assistant seek me out?”
    “You sent me that gas gun.”
    “You knew what I would do.”
    “I thought you might try something, given the opportunity.”
    “You knew such an off the cuff plan wouldn’t work?”
    “I needed you to try.”

    “You used me.”
    “Yes, now I know you want out just as much as I do.”
    “Why should you want to escape, after all you’re a cog in the machine.”
    “One missing cog and the machine stops functioning!”
    “So why should I help you?”
    “We’ll be helping each other. Wait, get down!”
    No.4 didn’t know why, but he obeyed the instruction. And as both me hid behind the bushes, the white membranic mass of the Guardian rolled passed along the track towards the village.
    “What is that thing?” 4 asked.
    “Rover, a watch dog!” 12 told him.
    “They know we’re here!”
    “No, it’s just a routine patrol. Listen I’m a plant, a British agent sent here by M division in order to infiltrate the village.”
    “We all have our problems!”
    “I was supposed to have been extracted by now.”
    “By submarine.”
    “You mean your M division knows the location of the village?”
    “Yes. But it seems I’ve been left high and dry, and left to my resources!”
    “The submarine didn’t show up, so you blended in.”
    “You could put it like that; I kept my head down and lost myself in administration. But then Number 2 needed an assistant, my number came up and that was that!”
    “So why do you need to escape now?”


    “I’ve become suspect.”
    “Suspected of what?”
    “It doesn’t matter what of, everyone becomes suspect sooner or later.”
    “And you think I can help you escape?”
    “We can escape together.”
    “You have a plan?”

    A twig snapped!
   Two men in striped jerseys emerged from the trees and stood in the clearing.
    “They look suspect to me” said one.
    “Conspiring I’d say” suggested the other.
    “Number 2 wouldn’t like that would he?”
    “No Number 2 wouldn’t like that, oh look…’s Number 12.”
    “So it is, wait till we tell Number 2!”

    “I’m busted” Number 12 told him.
    “What will they do to you?” 4 asked.
    “What won’t they do to me?”
    “You need not bother yourself Number 4, your turn will come in time” Number 214 told him.
    Two burly set watchmen suddenly appeared on the scene.
    “You had better go”12 said.
    “What and leave you to them, I don’t think so.”
    “It’s not your fight.”
    But the die was cast, two onto two, brute force on the one side, and fleet of foot on the other as No.’s 4 and 12 turned and ran into the woods. But not very far with No.214 and 213 close on their heels. And then the blood curdling roar of the Guardian echoed through the woods, and the membranic sphere suddenly appeared. 4 and 12 stopped dead in their tracks.

    “It can only go for one of us” 12 said.
    “So I’ll divert it, while you escape.” 4 said.

    “Escape to where? The game’s up I’m afraid.”
    Before he knew it No.12 ran deliberately towards the Guardian as the two pursuers caught up. The Guardian roared as 12 laid into it with his fists, but the Guardian with its balloon-like quality offered no resistance. And as 12 tired and fell to his knees the white membrane covered his face, cutting off the oxygen, smothering him, suffocating its victim to death!
    “Why did he do that? We had orders to bring him in” said 214.
    “Death is a form of escape, that way he beat you all” said No.4.

    It’s just not good enough!” said No.2 in a rage.
    Number 14, a tall man with light brown hair, in olive green jersey, and a light blue piped blazer stood at attention in No.2’s office.
    “It was unavoidable I’m afraid sir” 14 replied.
    “If those two goons had done their job!”


“Well quite sir, but good men are hard to find” 14 suggested.

    “Oh don’t give me that old chestnut!”

    “You’ll be requiring a new assistant” 14 said.
    “The man’s not cold yet, and you’re ready to step into his shoes, is that it 14?”
    “I don’t let the grass grow under my feet sir.”
    “Bit quick off the mark though!”
    “Yes sir.”
   “So it turns out 12 was a plant.”
   “Yes sir.”
    “Sent here by whom?”
    “We don’t know sir.”
    “But you’ll find out.”
    “That might prove difficult, after all the man’s dead.”
    “Yes 14, and as my new assistant it’s your first task to organize the man’s funeral.”
    “Yes sir” 14 said with his chin up and his chest out.
    “Just as long as I can trust you 14.”
    “Oh you can sir, I’m loyal. What about Number 4?”
    “What about him?”
    “He was there, he might have some incite into 12’s motivations.”
    “You think so? Very well then, make out your report and let me have it as soon as.”

    “Yes Number 2.”

    “Be seeing you” No.2 said raising the circled thumb and forefinger of his right hand to his eye.
    “What was that sir?”
    “It’s a salute.”
    “A salute sir, we’ve never had a salute before” 14 told him.
    “Well we’ve got one now” No.2 told him.
    “Show me again sir.”
    No.2 repeated the motion and No.14 imitated the motion.
    “Curious, this might catch on you know.”
    “That’s the intention” No.2 told him.
    “Who came up with this, the general purposes committee?”
    “That’s not important” No.2 told him.
    “Right sir, be seeing you” he saluted.
    “And you” No.2 replied.
   14 turned on his heel and marched smartly across the floor, up the ramp and through the already opening steel doors.

    There was a small turnout for No.12’s funeral. The cortege was lead by the brass band playing the Radetzky March. Then came the hearse, a white Mini-Moke with a black and white striped canopy, towing a trailer with a black velvet canopy containing 12’s coffin and flowers. Following behind was a Top Hat official from administration, and a number of citizens carrying open black umbrellas. The solemn


procession wound its way through the village passed the Town Hall, down the hill and across the lawn of the old people’s home. A citizen opened the gate at the far end of the lawn and the cortege passed through and along the path leading from the village towards the Camera Obscura. Then through a tunnel and along a path towards the cliffs, then came to a stop at the end of the path. The hearse could not travel any further, so abandoning the hearse, the cortege carried on along the narrow path along the cliffs, with the coffin now being carried by 4 pallbearers and the brass band played on. When they eventually reached the lighthouse, the cortege descended the sloping rocks down onto the beach, then proceeded to the cemetery on the beach at the foot of the cliffs. Two men in dove grey overalls who had been digging a grave stepped back as the cortege arrived. The Top Hat official resided over the funeral, no words were spoken as the coffin was lowered into the grave to the music of the Radetzky March. And as the citizens stood in quiet reverence the two gravediggers set about backfilling the grave.
    “You could have attended the funeral had you chosen to do so” a voice said suddenly.
    No.4, who had been quietly watching the funeral from the cliff top spun round to see the figure of No.2 behind him, leaning on his umbrella shooting stick. 
    “I didn’t like to intrude.”
    “It’s hardly a family affair, Number 12 had no family, well not here in the village. Come to think of it he didn’t have that many friends either.”
    “So who are the mourners at the graveside?”
    “We could hardly let Number 12 go to his grave alone and un-mourned.”
    “So you put on a bit of a show for the good people here.”
    “We would do it for anyone; we’d even do the same for you Number 4!”
    “It’s a funny place to have cemetery don’t you think?”
    “What makes you so interested?”
    “I’m not, it was merely an observation, that when the tide comes in it will cover those graves.”
    “I meant in Number 12’s funeral, I didn’t think you knew the man.”
    “I didn’t.”
    “But you were in the woods together, oh the funerals over. Shall we walk back to the village together, I would be pleased of the company.”
    The two men took the path back along the cliff top.
    “What were you and Number 12 doing together in the woods?”
    “Planning an escape.”
    “No not really, were hadn’t got that far, we were interrupted.”
    “Quite. It no longer matters really, seeing as the man is dead.”
    They emerged at the end of the sandy path where a taxi stood


waiting on the slate covered path leading back to the village. On the beach people were enjoying themselves sat in deckchairs, sunbathing, or playing beach ball, paddling in the water, dressed in swimming trunks, bikinis, or swimming costumes. Whilst other ladies and gentleman promenaded in piped blazers and straw boaters, brightly coloured sweaters and slacks, protected from the sun by open umbrellas. There was a kiosk selling everything for the beach, it was the image of an idyllic holiday report.
    “I was simply wondering if you gained any incite into Number 12’s recent motivations.”
    “I didn’t know the man. I would have thought you would have been better placed.”
    Me? Good Lord, he was my assistant yes, but I hardly knew the man. Can I give you a ride back?” No.2 offered climbing into the back of the Mini-Moke.
    “No, I think I’ll walk.”
    The taxi drove off, in reverse towards the village, there being no room for the vehicle to turn round, leaving No.4 standing by the rocks. Not looking on the idyllic scene before him, but beyond that, and out towards the sea.


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