The Identity of No.1
“Do you always take coffee here at the Old People’s
Home in the afternoon?” a voice asked.
No.4 who had been staring out across the estuary looked up to see the grey-haired figure of No.2 standing at his table.
“May I?” No.2 asked gesturing towards the empty chair.
“If you must.”
“Thank you. May I ask you a question?”
“You ask my permission?”
“Why is it you have ceased attempting to escape?”
“No thank you, will you answer my question?”
“Why should I?”
“No reason, but to satisfy my curiosity.”
No.4 sipped his coffee and turned his attention to the Stone Boat “People here do the wackiest things!”
People were climbing the rigging of the Stone Boat, and messing aboard the boat in general. A woman in a while sailor cap was running along the deck pulling on a rope attached to the main mast, while two young women were on the forecastle and main cabin throwing a large beach ball to each other. Others were playing beach ball on the quayside, or sunbathing, while one chap whizzed another chap about in a wheelchair. And the ex-Admiral was there with a member of his crew, crossing the quay to the Stone Boat where he organized his flag officer who was still pulling on that rope!
“Is that what you call it?”
“Have you two gentleman tried the boat?” a voice suddenly asked.
“I beg your pardon.” No.4 said looking at the old gentleman in a sailor’s cap.
It was the ex-Admiral No.66.
No.4 looked at No.66, then down on the quay, two such ex-Admirals?
“I asked have you two gentlemen tried the boat? She’s great in any weather, the next trip around the bay is in ten minutes” the ex-Admiral said, and he walked off to the next table whistling a sea shanty.
“Does that crazy old fool really think he’s going to set sail on that boat?”
No.2 smiled “We humour him.”
“You mean people are prepared to go aboard that stone boat and pretend they are on a sea voyage?”
“Yes, some even get sea sick!”
There was a wooden board leaned up against the Stone Boa
Pleasure Trips Around The Bay
Sailing Time 3.pm
“You’re pulling my leg”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Because I know there are only so many ways out of here, and talking to people, I’ve found out most all of them have been tried. The village security is tighter than
“You’re a realist.”
“Unlike that poor mug yesterday.”
“You mean Number 87.”
“Is that who he was?”
“He really had no chance at all. Even if he
had reached the far side of the estuary they would have caught up with him
sooner or later.”
“Post Ten. That house you can just make out on the far side of the estuary.”
No.4 looked in the direction in which No.2 was pointing.
“That’s our house, Post Ten. But perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you that.”
“What happened to Number 87, there wasn’t a funeral.”
“Well you need a body in order to hold a funeral, we picked up the rubber lilo right enough.”
“You mean the body was lost in the water and eventually carried out to sea on the tide?”
“Not exactly, believe me, it’s not a pretty
sight being physically absorbed by the Guardian” No.2 explained.
“What is that thing?”
“Believe me, you do not want to know. Nor would you wish to encounter it.”
“Is that a warning?”
“Yes, a well meant one.”
“Alright, you’re Number 2.”
“Yes I am, Chairman of the village, as well as Chief administrator which makes me, the boss.”
“You are second to 1, I would have thought at least you would know who Number 1 is.”
“Your point being?”
“Who is Number 1?”
“That’s original! Do you know, no-one has bothered to ask that question before, which makes you something of a “rare bird.”
“Are you going to answer the question, or spend the rest of the afternoon evading it?”
“Does it really matter who Number 1 is?”
“You’re going to evade the question!”
“I told you, as far as you and all the good people of this community are concerned I’m the boss.”
“Yes, but even you but you must be answerable to someone.”
No.2 rose out of his seat “Do not pursue this line, believe me no good will come of it.”
“Why should I believe anything you say?”
“Its good advice, I advise you to take it.”
As No.2 walked away and across the lawn, No.4 sat and considered, turning something over in his mind arriving at the conclusion that if he could meet No.1, perhaps he could be persuaded to release him from the village. And what was it No.2 had wanted?
No.4 decided to take a casual stroll
through the village. He walked slowly up the hill from the Old People’s Home.
Taking the fork to the right, a cobbled path, he walked passed the pink
pavilion, and the statue of Hercules. Then taking the short path to his left,
73 Private to his left and the fish pond ahead of him, and beyond a square of
lawn upon which two men and two women were playing a game of croquet. The piazza on his right, head of him a set of
steps with turquoise hand rails on either side. He climbed the steps, ahead of
him the Labour Exchange and the yellow and white Triumphal arch, to his right
the café. Standing in the road he considered which way to go, he observed a
workman’s truck. A closer observation showed that it was a John Deere garden
tractor but with the addition of a framework and candy-striped canopy. Attached
to the tow bar was a trailer, a sign on which read “Works Department.”
Two holes had been dug, into which two square posts had been cemented in place. Now two workmen were busy fixing a large sign in place, more than a sign, it was a hand painted map of the village.
“Get your side up a couple of inches” No.81 said with hammer and nails in hand.
“It’s alright for you” 82 grumbled “this thing’s damned heavy.”
“Oh get over yourself, once we’ve screwed this board to the posts it will be our lunch break” 81 told him banging in the second nail.
No.4 drew closer watching the two workmen.
“What’s you’re game?” 82 asked looking at the man who stood watching their work.
“What did you say?” 81 asked busy with a screwdriver.
“I asked him what his game is?”
“Him” 82 said nodding his head in 4’s direction.
“Yes, what do you want?”
“Did you paint that?” No.4 asked.
“What’s it got to do with you?” 81 asked.
“Well don’t stand there asking damn fool questions” 81 told him “can’t you see we’re busy?”
“So you didn’t paint that map?”
“Look mister, me and my mate here don’t paint things, although we have been known occasionally to paint the odd wall, but at the moment we’re busy putting up this map of the village” 81 explained.
“We leave the painting of such things as this to others of an artistic bent” added 82.
“What’s your interest, is there something wrong with it?” 82 asked.
“No, but why would anyone need a map of this place?” No.4 asked.
“Just a minute 82, don’t bandy words with the likes of him” 81 said brandishing his screwdriver, then looking at No.4 asked “who are you anyway, you’re not from the works department.”
“I know” 81 suddenly exclaimed “I bet he’s Number 2’s assistant come poking his nose in!”
“From administration then are you?”
“I’m just an observer” No.4 told him.
“Oh one of them, a watchman! Well you’ve seen enough of what we’re doing, clear off and let us get on with it!”
No.4 looked at the map, and noticed the numbers depicting buildings situated around the village, then suddenly remembering something he quickly walked away and back to his cottage.
“See 82, they’re like a pricked balloon when you stand up to these watchmen” looking at his watch 81 realised that it was time for their lunch time.
Having returned to his cottage in order to collect his own map of the village which he remembered was in the top left-hand drawer of his desk. Leaving his cottage, village map in hand, he headed back to where the workmen were erecting the large map of the village. The two workmen in dove grey overalls were now sat on a low wall drinking tea from a flask and sandwiches out of a cream and green lunchbox.
“The old stagecoach could do with a lick of paint” 81 observed.
No.82 looked at the blue and red stagecoach “It’s got a touch of rot as well, should go in for restoration work. I’ll suggest it to the foreman when we get back.”
No.4 casually walked over to the large map of the village, taking a few moments to study it, before unfolding his own leather bound map.
“He’s come back!” 81 said.”
“So I see, what’s he doing?”
“Looks like he’s comparing maps.”
“How do I know, go and ask him” 82 suggested.
maps were identical in everyway No.4 observed, except his folded map lacked the
numbers indicated on the board. On the right of the map was a numbered index,
he ran a finger down it.
9} Taxi rank
3} Old ship
5} Old people
1} Town Hall
His finger came to a stop at 1 Town Hall
and he thought for a moment. Is 1 the number of the building, or the residence
of No.1, or both? Taking a pencil from the breast pocket of his blazer he wrote
the number 1 on his map, folded it, and set out for the Town hall.
The large terracotta faced building was but a hundred or so yards away. He loitered for a while at the pair of turquoise gates opposite, loitering and watching as people came and went. Two men in black overcoats and Top Hats carrying black leather document cases chatted as they went up the few steps and into the Town hall. No.4 crossed the street, went up the steps and at the archway was instantly stopped dead in his tracks by an electrical force field and fell backwards down the steps. It was not enough to do harm, but enough to keep certain people out! A window cleaner was wringing out his chamois leather at the time, and saw a man standing shocked in the road.
“You alright mate?” the window cleaner
asked “this is the Town Hall you know its choosy about who it lets in.”
No.4 knew about the Town Hall, but not of the electrical force field! He nodded at the window cleaner, and went on his way. A little way on there was a set of steps at the side of a yellow building, he climbed the steps which led round to the back of the building, and onto the edge of the woods. There was a track leading to both right and left, he took the left track. This led him to the back of the Town Hall. He looked for surveillance cameras, he did not see any. There were three ground floor windows and a French door, the door was locked and well secured, as were two of the three windows, one was not quite latched properly. He found a stout twig, and working it into the gap between frame and window he was able to work the latch and free the window. It took but a moment for him to climb in and close said window behind him.
He found himself in a small room. Studying the shelves he found they contained white paper and envelopes, boxes of pens, pencils,
clips, bulldog clips, bottles of ink blue, black, blue-black, and red.
Cardboard folders, clipboards, and metal paper openers, he was in a stationary
cupboard. Making straight to the door he turned the handle and found it locked.
Taking one of the metal letter openers from the shelf he turned his attention
to the lock of the door. It took him a few minutes to pick the lock, but
eventually the handle turned and the door opened.
Pushing the door open slightly, No.4 peered out into a corridor. Seeing no-one the one way, he pushed the door open so he could put his head out and looked the opposite way along the corridor. Luck was on his side, there was no-one about. He stepped out of the stationary cupboard and closed the door behind him.
He stood in a corridor lined with doors on either side, and either side of the corridor busts of two statesmen set on plinths. No.4 listened at the first two doors hearing voices in the rooms beyond the doors. He moved on, and looked into a mirror, and at a clock. The next two doors were locked, as was a pair from French doors, with a green blind pulled down on the inner side of the doors.
In the control room a member of the watch sat at her monitor watching No.4 making his way along the corridor trying each door in turn, and made her report to the officer of the Watch-No.28.
“Right, put up camera 34” ordered the Supervisor picking up the receiver of the grey telephone.
“Number 2 here, what is it?”
“Officer of the Watch here sir, Number 4 has gained access to the Town Hall.”
“Really” said No.2 pressing a button on the control panel.
“I’m watching him on the screen now” No.28 said.
“Yes, so am I” said Number 2 “how did he get in?”
“We’re not sure sir. He’s making a search” observed the officer of the Watch “but for what?”
“Not what….who! Alert security.”
In the corridor there was one door left to try, the handle turned and the door opened and No.4 found himself standing in an electrical switch room. There appeared nowhere else to go, back down the corridor then along other way. But then under his feet he noticed a trapdoor. He leaned over and pulled on the small ring and lifted the trapdoor. It was not pitch black below, he could see dimmed lights, and a set of steps. He descended into the semi-darkness, closing the trapdoor behind him. It was a small vault in which he found himself, one of narrow confines, so he walked on and came to a narrow spiral staircase leading up. At the top a narrow door slid open, he stepped through behind a large black bust of a Georgian gentleman set on a plinth in an alcove. The door closed behind him and he stepped back at the end of the same corridor, where now two men dressed in grey overalls, white helmets, gauntlets, and boots and brandishing white truncheons stood at the far end of the corridor. No.4 backed away
but it was too late. The two security guards turned, and seeing their man
through dark sunglasses, immediately gave chase. There was nowhere for him to
run, or hide, he tried the sliding door in the alcove but it refused to open.
And now turning he was faced by the two security guards holding up their
truncheons. No.4 was trapped, and the only way out was through these too security
guards, and the window at the back of the stationary room!
As the two security guards rushed towards him he did likewise, and managed to catch them off balance and brushing them aside he made a dash for a door and to his surprise the pair of glass panelled French doors with the green blinds opened automatically, allowing him to pass through into a small anti-room. There was a second pair of glass panelled French doors also with green blinds, they opened automatically and he passed through the open doorway and stood in a dimly lit room. There was a whirring sound but could not make out the source of the sound in the dimness of the room. Then the French doors closed and the lights came on. The walls of the room were free of any adornments, along one wall were three grey filing cabinets. It was then he saw the source of the sound, and it looked up and saw him. An automaton was sat at a large oak desk, it was busy at a typewriter, next to it was a pile of typing paper, and a pile of completed typed notes. It was square rather than rounded, its steel frame holding together its clockwork mechanism which was the cause of the whirring sound. The automaton stood up and moved from behind the desk. It was more then 7 feet tall and moved with jerking movements towards him. He stepped back as the automaton drew closer to him, its arms stretched out, and then he felt the paper knife in his pocket. He drew it out and plunged it into the clockwork mechanism, two clogs stopped, the clockwork mechanism stopped, and the automaton just stood there. Suddenly the French doors opened and the two security guards stood there blocking his exit. One brandished his white truncheon and hit him on the head, he collapsed in a heap on the floor. The automaton stood motionless, as No.2 stood behind the security guards. Suddenly the paper knife slipped from between the two cogs causing the automaton to whirr back into life, and it returned to its desk and began typing.
In his office of the Green Dome No.2 paced
“Whatever did you think you were doing?”
No.4 sat in a chair rubbing his sore head.
“What did you think you would achieve by having taken such action?”
“Is this going to be another interrogation session?”
“You have placed me in the most difficult of places!”
“I don’t see why.”
“Don’t you, don’t you, well let me tell you………..” No.2 stopped, and composed himself.
“Don’t tell me that that thing is Number 1!”
“Is that what you imagine the automaton to be? You were perhaps expecting some evil mastermind with a white cat sat on his lap who is responsible for the village and your captivity here. Someone you can serve retribution on, sorry to disappoint you.”
“Number 1 is a machine!”
“We are all machines, more of the organic type I admit, but nevertheless human beings are but machines, didn’t you know?”
“What was it doing?”
“Typing up part 2 orders I shouldn’t wonder.”
“You receive your orders from that?”
“Well someone has to type up the part 2 orders.”
“What happens now?”
“To you, nothing I shouldn’t wonder.”
“But I know the identity of Number 1” No.4 said trying to make it sound like a threat.
No.2 stood and thought for a moment “Yeeessssss, but where does that get you?”
It was No.4’s turn to pause and consider.
“All you can do, the moment you leave this office, is to shoot your mouth off to the general populace about how you have encountered Number 1. Perhaps describing in detail the automaton.”
“You would stop me!”
“Would we? What makes you think the good people of this community care about who or what Number 1 is? Let me tell you they don’t! As long as their needs are cratered for, are kept entertained, and made to feel happy, they don’t care. I said before, as far as they are concerned I’m the boss.”
“For however long that is” No.4 said with a smirk on his face.
“Quite. I’ll just have to wait and see what it says in part 2 orders.”
No.2 sat in the relative comfort of his
globe chair. He was watching the wall screen, watching No.4 strolling through
the village on a bright sunny day. He watched him stop a couple of citizens and
began talking to them, and saw then laughing as they went on their way. A chap
was peddling his way along the road on a tricycle, No.4 flagged him down, No.2
turned up the sound so he could hear what was being said.
“Mind out, I almost ran you down” said the man on the tricycle.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Depends on the question, I say you’re not an undercover are you?”
“You know, one of those watchmen.”
“No” No.4 assured him.
“Go on then, ask your question before it starts raining.”
“Starts raining, there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“Obviously you didn’t hear the weather forecast, intermittent
are predicted later in the day. That’s why I’ve got my umbrella with me.”
“Obviously to stop you getting wet.”
“What, no, it’s not raining, its protection against the sun” the man explained “be seeing you” the man saluted and peddled off on his tricycle.
No.2 turned down the volume.
It was then that No.4 realized he had forgotten to ask his question.
The pair of steel doors slid open and the tall frame of No.14 of administration entered the chamber, he had several sheets of typed papers in his hand. Approaching the desk he glanced up at the wall screen.
“What’s Number 4 up to now, making a nuisance of himself again I expect.”
“Not really, he’s engaging fellow citizens in conversation” No.2 explained.
“They’re laughing” 14 observed.
“No.4 is making people laugh. He doesn’t make me laugh, does he make you laugh?”
“No.4 appears to be a natural entertainer, he’s a scream! What have you there?” No.2 asked noticing the typed papers in 14’s hand.
“Oh yes, part 2 orders have just come through” he said placing the papers on the desk “will there be anything else Number 2?”
“No, no I don’t think so. Oh you might ask my manservant to bring me some tea on your way out.”
“Certainly Number 2” he said turning and taking his leave through the now opening steel doors.
No.2 turned and leaning forward picked up the papers on his desk, he read the heading on the top sheet, it read “Report on No.2” he read on, and began laughing, it would appear that No.4 is not the only one with a sense of humour!