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Monday, 26 September 2022

The Prisoner - A New No.2 - Chapter 7

 

Chapter 7

The New No.6 

    There came a new arrival to the Village, he arrived by helicopter that afternoon, but he didn’t know anything about it, being unconscious at the time. He woke up in what he thought was the lounge of his home. Standing up he felt a little light-headed as he drew back the curtains to reveal a view of the Italianate Village!
   “I expect it reminds you of your first day, long ago, in the Village Number Two” 21 said smiling at the man sat in the black global chair.
    No.2 said nothing.
    On the wall screen the man dashed across the room, opened the door to the cottage and went outside.
    “What’s his number to be?” 21 asked.
    “Why do you ask?”
    “Just curious.”
    Outside the man looked about him, this way and that, across to wards the Piazza, through an archway to the cobbled square, and up at the bell tower.
    No.2 opened the file on his desk “Six, his number is Six.”
    “Is that why he has been put in the Roundhouse?”
    “He had to be put somewhere” No.2 said watching the wall screen.
    “It just seemed strange that’s all.”
    “What’s strange about it….just have a signpost placed outside his cottage door before he returns to it” No.2 ordered.
    “Yes Number Two, right away.”
    No.21 left the domed chamber leaving No.2 watching the screen, studying this new arrival.
    The prisoner crossed the lawn, climbed the step onto the Piazza. He was a man about 5 feet 10 inches tall, slight of build, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He had one distinguishing mark, a small scar on his left cheek left from when someone took a knife to him during a fight.

    At the café it was…… “Do you want breakfast?” the waitress asked busy opening the canopies of the tables on the patio.
    “Where is this?” the prisoner asked.
    “The Village.”
    “Yes, where is this?”
    “I’ll see if the tea is on the brew, do want tea?”
    “Can I use your phone?” he asked.

    “We don’t have one, but there’s a phone box round the corner” the waitress told him.
    Round the corner from the café he found the telephone booth.

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There was a sign, for information lift and press. It was a curious ‘L’ shaped telephone, he picked it up and pressed a small square chrome button.
    “Number please” the operator asked.
    “I want to make a telephone call.”
    “What is your number sir?”
    The prisoner glanced at the phone “Number, there is no number” he told the operator.
    “No number then, no call!” the operator told the caller before hanging up.
    The phone went dead and he replaced it on the shelf of the booth. Walking away he crossed over to an electronic information board which he studied for a few moments until he heard the engine of a vehicle. A white Mini-Moke came driving passed, he stepped out and flagged the vehicle down which came to a stop with a squeal tyres.
    “You’ll get run over doing that” the driver told him.
    He looked at the young blonde woman in striped jersey and white sailors cap “Who are you? he asked.
    “I’m a taxi driver” the girl told him.
    Climbing into the front seat he told the driver to take him to the next town.
    “Oh we’re only the local service” she told him.
    “Well there must be a railway station somewhere nearby, take me there.”
    The Mini-Moke moved forward.
    “There’s no railway station sir.”
    The taxi driver took her passenger on a tour of the Village, along the road, this way and that, through arches, along cobbled lanes. Passed the café, the Town Hall, and down the hill towards the Old People’s Home, back up the hill, taking the left fork before the fire station, round passed the Pink Pavilion and the statue of Hercules, along a cobbled path, through an arch on the right and into the cobbled square where the taxi came to a stop.
    No.2 leaned out of his chair and switched off the wall screen, he had seen enough. The pair of steel doors slid open and the butler entered the office bringing his master his afternoon coffee.
    No.2 watched as the butler placed coffee pot, cup and saucer along with sugar bowl and milk jug on the desk.
    “We have seen it all in our time here haven’t we my diminutive friend, you more than me when it comes to it. We survived when others perished.”
    The butler looked at No.2 but said nothing, yet he remembered someone who had once upon a time been the best of them.

Returning to his cottage the prisoner noticed that a signpost

had been placed by the cottage door, it read ‘6 Private.’ Inside the cottage he stood in a replica of the lounge in his former home. There was the wring bureau, coffee table, two brown leather armchairs, the painting of the battle of Trafalgar hanging over the fireplace.

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Ornaments, two table lamps, his small collection of porcelain figurines, books, the African wood carvings hanging on the walls, but the magazines in the Canterbury were not there. But where were the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen? It was then that the back wall began to rise up into the roof space revealing a space beyond. He walked forward, to his left the kitchen, straight ahead, through an arch, the bedroom, and to the left the bathroom. There was an orange coloured Lava Lamp in a small alcove, in the wardrobe his suitcase, and a blue piped blazer hung on a coat hanger. In the kitchen the cupboard was filled with tinned Village food, baked beans, spaghetti, spam, corned beef, peas, oxtail soup, and in the refrigerator a bottle of milk, cheese, butter, and a role of luncheon meat. He turned his attention back to the lounge, he opened a drawer of the bureau and found a leatherbound map of what it called the Village. He unfolded the map, it was in colour. There was a black speaker set on a shelf, suddenly music issued forth, music designed to put the man at his ease, it didn’t, in fact as the music played on he found it annoying. He looked for an on-off switch, there wasn’t one.

    In his office No.2 wound the old college scarf about his neck and shoulders, picked up the umbrella shooting stick, the two symbols of his office and left the Green Dome, and on his way out told the butler he would be back soon.

   Down the steps, across the street, across the square and No.2 stood outside a once one time very familiar door to him, it opened automatically. Inside the cottage No.6 was about to hurl the speaker against a wall.
    “I can have that turned off for you if you like” No.2 said standing framed in the open doorway.
    No.6 put the speaker back on the shelf, the music stopped.
    “I told you so” No.2 said stepping over the threshold.
    And you are…….?” The prisoner asked aggressively.
    “I was interested to see what they had done to the place that’s all. This used to be my cottage once upon a time” No.2 told the prisoner.
    “In better days?”
    “In worse times, I was a prisoner like you” No.2 told him.
    “And now I take it you’re the jailer, and this is my cell!”
    “As cells go you must admit we’ve made you as comfortable as we can” No.2 said remembering “a home from home in fact.”
    “Answer me a question” the prisoner demanded.
    “If I can, but I can make no promises.”
    “Who are you?”
    “Number Two, and you are our Number Six” 2 said with a smile.

    “Number, I’m no number, my name is…..”
    No.2 held up a hand “I know your name, but names are not used here.”
    Why was I brought here?” No.6 demanded to know.
    “We shall come to that all in good time.”
    “You can’t hold me here!”

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    “Oh I think I can” No.2 told him.
    “I want to leave!” No.6 told him.
    “The doors open, feel free” No.2 said gesturing towards the door.
    “And what do I walk into if I do?”
    “The Village, can I give you the grand tour?”

    “Don’t bother yourself, I’m not staying” the prisoner told him.
    “You may have to find out the hard way that there is no escape” No.2 told him “I shall leave you for now, to settle into your new surroundings.”
   A young woman in a black dress, white frilly apron, and sporting a white sailor’s cap appeared behind No.2.
   “Ah, here is your personal maid. Make our new friend here a cup of tea, I think he needs it.”
    The housemaid curtseyed. No.2 stepped aside to allow her entrance into the cottage.
    “I’ll let you settle in properly, we can talk tomorrow, when you’re feeling more adjusted to your new surroundings, and enjoy your tea” No.2 told him, leaving the cottage he made his way back to the Green Dome.
    “So you’re my personal maid."
    “Yes sir” the housemaid curtseyed.
    “Well you need not bother tomorrow, I can make my own tea” he told her. 
    “If you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t look the domestic type.”

    “How long have you been here?”
    “A couple of minutes.”
    “No, I didn’t mean that, I meant in this place.”
    “The Village?”
    “Yes” he said picking up the cup of tea given to him by the maid, and taking a sip or two.
    “For as long as I can remember.”
    “And your parents?”
    “They live in the Old People’s Home” she told him.
    He drank his tea, but before he could replace the cup in its saucer he keeled over, and fell unconscious on the floor.

    No.6 felt a little light-headed this morning. He didn’t remember going to bed last night, so it seemed reasonable enough to assume someone put him in it. He got up, showered, shaved, then went into the bedroom to dress. The only clothes he could find were the black piped blazer and beige trousers hanging up in the wardrobe, and the dark blue turtleneck jersey in a drawer. Of his own clothes there wasno sign. He heard the door of his cottage open. In the kitchen he found the housemaid putting a breakfast tray down on a worktop.

    “What you here again?” he said.
    “Of course, to bring you your breakfast” she said removing the tea towel “eggs, bacon, tea, toast, butter and marmalade.”

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    “Where are my old clothes?” he wanted to know.
    “They won’t let you wear those, they’ll have taken them away” she told him.
    “Why?”
    “How should I know? No-one is permitted to wear their own clothes.”
    “What happened yesterday?” he wanted to know.
    “You passed out, probably the journey was too much for you.”
    “What did you put in the tea?”
    “Milk, sugar, two lumps” she said.
    What else?” he demanded.
    “Nothing!” the maid said with conviction.
    “And now you expect me to eat that?” he said.
    “It’s up to you” she replied setting the breakfast things out on the worktop.
    You eat it!”
    “I had my breakfast some time ago” she said picking up the tray.
    He grabbed the maid from behind, an arm round her waist, a hand to her throat.
    “They’re listening aren’t they?”
    Frightened the maid nodded her head.
    “Probably watching as well.”
    Again the maid nodded.
    “Well watch this” he said tightening his grip on the maid’s neck.
    Suddenly the door to his cottage burst open and three guardians entered the lounge, then into the kitchen.
    “Let the girl go” ordered 256.
    The prisoner shook his head.
    “This won’t get you anywhere you know, you don’t want to start with a black mark against you” 217 said.
    “Kill the girl” said 263 brandishing a white truncheon “and we’ll make sure it goes very hard on you.”
    “Where did you get that?” 256 asked.
    “I have a friend in security” 263 told him.
    “Why haven’t we got one?” 256 said.
    “Perhaps you don’t have a friend in security.”
    The housemaid glanced down at the worktop, she saw the knife and slowly reached a hand out……she felt the handle of the knife; she grasped it and stabbed the prisoner with it. The prisoner instantly released his grip on the girl who stumbled forward as the guardians moved in on No.6 and he felt the truncheon come down hard on his 
head.

    No.6 woke up to find himself in a bed in hospital. His head was bandaged, as was his right arm where he had been stabbed. He sat up to see he was the only patient on the ward. Pulling the sheets to one side he swung his legs out of bed.

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    “What do you think you’re doing?” a man in a white coat asked.
    “I’m getting up” No.6 told the doctor.
    “I’ll tell you when you can get up” the doctor told him.
    Two male orderlies appeared on the ward, they approached the bed, held the patient down while a nurse produced a syringe from a kidney dish, and injected the patient with a sedative.
   The next thing the patient knew he was in a small room, and strapped in a chair. On the wall in front of him was a small screen, suddenly there was the image of a baby on the screen, a photograph. Further images followed, a boy at school, in uniform as a naval cadet, images of his career in the Navy as No.1, a first officer rising to Lieutenant Commander, and more.

    “We have your entire life, documented and pictured in depth” a voice said.
    The prisoner struggled against the restraints.
    “There’s no point in struggling” the voice said “or we shall be here all the longer!”
    “You can’t do this to me, and even if you do I’ll tell you nothing, do you hear…..nothing.”
    “Why did you resign?” the voice asked.
    “What?”
    “Why did you resign?”
    “Where’s the harm in chucking up a job?”
    “No harm at all, not for the ordinary man in the street, but you’re not ordinary, extraordinary would be a far better description.”
    “Where’s Number Two get Number Two, I want to talk to him!”
    “What about?”
    “To ask him why he gets other people to do his dirty work, can’t he stomach it himself?!”
    Images of his life flipped from one to the other on the screen.
    “Tell me why you resigned and this will stop….why did you resign?”
    “No!”
    “Why did you resign?” the voice was louder this time
    “No.”
    “Why did you resign?” louder.
    “No.”

    “Why did you resign?” louder still.
    “No.”
    “Why did you resign?” softer this time.
    “No.”
    “Why did you resign?” softer still.

    “No.”
    “Why not tell me?” the voice asked.
    “Because if I tell you that one thing, you’ll want to know all the rest!”
    “How old are you?”
    “You know.”

56


    “What is the time of your birth?”
    “You know that as well.”
    “Then where is the peril if you tell me?”
    “Am I in peril?”
    “There is always peril in the Village, but I could be a friend.”
    “How can a disembodied voice be a friend?”
    “Tell me what….is…the….time….of….your…birth?”
    “April seventh nineteen forty” the prisoner said.
    “There that wasn’t so bad was it?”
    “I expect you knew that anyway, so didn’t see the harm.”
    “How very perceptive of you, and you are right, we knew that anyway. So now why did you resign?”

    “He’s proving rather stubborn” the doctor reported “I could go much further of course.
    No.2 thought and considered for a moment “No, I don’t want his mind completely scrambled, otherwise we’ll never know…..shall we?”
    “No” the doctor had to admit.
    “Let him rest after his ordeal……”
    “And then repeat it” the doctor said enthusiastically.
    “……..No, have him taken back to his cottage. We’ll give him a little more time to readjust” was No.2’s decision putting down the telephone down.
    “We have to find out why he resigned prematurely” No.21 said.
    “Prematurely, meaning he was supposed to resign at some point?”

    No.6 was feeling restless, he found it difficult to settle, to clear his mind. Putting on his piped blazer he went out into the Village, he needed time to think. On the Village green people were playing croquet, others were out for a stroll. Suddenly the sound of a two-tone horn warned him to get out of the middle of the road, he stepped smartly to one side as a white Mini-Moke passed by. A man came down the road riding a tricycle, and holding up an open colourful striped umbrella.

    “Beautiful day” No.6 found himself saying.
    “Might get some rain later” the man replied as he cycled passed.
    The prisoner walked through an arch, down steps leading down towards the Piazza where citizens promenaded daily. There was a chap wheeling a Penny Farthing bicycle around, he paused to see if the man actually rode the bicycle, he didn’t. A signpost pointing to a pool of water puzzled him, “Free Sea” it read, there was an elderly 
gentleman sailing plastic boats in the Free Sea. While an old woman was being wheeled about in her wheel chair by a middle aged woman, a housemaid. The old woman sat wearing a tinted Perspex face visor! He continued on his walk and at the far end of the Piazza he looked up at the bell tower. The high ground he thought to himself, if you want to see all around go to the high ground. And so he walked down

57

 the steps, and across the green. Then up two or three steps and through another arch which led to a cobbled path, turning right there was a path to his left which wound round towards his cottage. There was a small turquoise gate, he opened it and took the path toward the bell tower, finding the door unlocked he climbed to the top. He looked out across the estuary, down upon his own cottage. A large building with a lawn in front gave the impression of being a hotel. In a triangular shaped swimming pool, he could see three girls in bikinis or swimsuits, two playing with a beach ball, the other sat in a small dingy on the water, but no-one actually swimming. Along the quayside was a…….a sailing vessel, a yacht or Ketch. Scrambling down the ladder as quickly as he could he left the bell tower behind, and made his way to a large pair of turquoise wrought iron gates, opposite the large imposing building, a signpost denoted the words Council Building. He turned left and walked down the road towards the building that looked like a hotel, although a signpost read “Old People’s Home.” Crossing the lawn he stood at a white balustrade and looked down at the smart looking Ketch moored to the quay, bunting and a black sail fluttering in the breeze.
    “She’s a trim craft, she’s good in any weather” a voice said.
    No.6 spun round to see an old man dressed in a red and black striped jersey and white naval cap setting up chessmen on a chequered board.
    “Are you the Captain?” he asked.
    “Admiral” the old man said.
    No.6 couldn’t see his cap badge for the numbered badge.
    “And you sail her?”
    “Sailed her many a time” the Admiral told him.
    No.6 stood at the balustrade studying the Ketch more closely, it was then that his hopes were dashed, for the sailing vessel was not merely moored to the quay, it was actually part of it! He turned his attention back to the Admiral.
    “Fancy a game?” the Admiral offered.
    No.6 sat down at the table opposite the Admiral.
    “Your move” the Admiral told him.

    No.2 sat in his office watching the wall screen, watching No.6 and the Admiral playing chess and remembering, he allowed himself a smile.
   “He looked disappointed” No.21 observed.
   “He thought he had found a way out, it’s no wonder he looked

disappointed” No.2 replied.
    “The Admiral is an old buffunga!”
    “He’s an eccentric, not an old fool. Psychologically sailing the Stone Boat is his way of escape, if only for a short time.”

   After one game of chess with the Admiral No.6 left the Old People’s

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Home and walked up the hill back into the Village. A little way passed the Town Hall there was a Mini-Moke parked in the street. There were several passers-by so he approached the vehicle nonchalantly. 
    In the control room the supervisor stood watching the scene on the wall screen “I take it the driver left the key is in the ignition?”
    “Yes supervisor” his assistant reported with confidence.
    “The driver has left the canopy up” the supervisor commented.
    “Yes, but it shouldn’t make any difference I’d have thought” his assistant said.
    “No, perhaps not.”
    No.6 stood by the Mini-Moke, he saw the key in the ignition, he smiled at a passer-by who looked at him with suspicion. Then when it was clear he jumped into the vehicle, turned the ignition key and fired up the engine. Engaging first gear, and releasing the handbrake he drove the Mini-Moke down the hill while in the control room the supervisor continued to watch the wall screen and picked up the yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone.

    “He’s making a break for it Number Two.”

    At the bottom he turned left round the hairpin bend then brought the Moke to stop. The Allouete helicopter was hovering over the lawn by the sea wall, with No.2 at the controls. No.6 saw only one way to go, down the slipway and onto the beach. He gunned the engine and the Moke sped down the slipway and along the beach away from the Village while the helicopter gave chase. In the control room the supervisor, with the telephone still in his hand gave the order Orange Alert. Somewhere in the depths of the sea something stirred and a round sphere was released from the containment area and the amorphous shape of the Guardian rose up through the water until it broke through the surface, and skimmed over the waves towards the beach.
   In the helicopter No.2 picked up a microphone “You don’t want to do this, it has been tried before” the voice of No.2 said through the helicopters tannoy “turn back before it’s too late.”
    There was an expression of determination as No.6 pressed down hard on the accelerator and the Mini-Moke sped on towards……. Towards…… ahead of him was the white amorphous shape of the Guardian he drove straight towards it. At the last moment No.6 pulled hard on the steering wheel and the Moke swerved at the last moment to avoid impact. The Guardian roared in annoyance as the vehicle left the thing behind, but it did begin to give chase as the helicopter kept pace with the Mini-Moke.
    “You’ve upset it now” No.2 said though the tannoy.

    No.6 glanced up at the helicopter from under the canopy.
    “Alright you’ve given us a good run for your money” No.2 said “now stop and turn back to the Village.”
    The prisoner ignored the voice and drove on

    “Alright, have it your own way.”

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    The helicopter veered away as No.2 gave up the chase, picking up the telephone again he gave the order “Activate the beam.”

    The top of the flagpole flipped open and a steel rod appeared, when fully extended it dropped at an angle and began to rotate.
    “Beam on sir” an operator reported.
    The supervisor gave the order to fire.
    Having reached the Outer Zone the engine of the Mini-Moke suddenly died and began to coast along the beach until finally coming to a stop. No.6 turned the ignition key but nothing happened. Then came the sound of a siren, he looked out of the rear window to see a second Mini-Moke speeding towards him. He stepped out of the vehicle and was about to take to his heels when he was confronted by the large white membrane mass of the Guardian. It roared and in one bound was on the prisoner who tried to land a couple of punches, but the Guardian knocked its prey to the ground, No.6 tried to get up but was overpowered as membrane covered his face suffocating him, and he fell to the ground unconscious. The Mini-Moke arrived on the scene, the Guardian stood by as two men in white coats got out and helped the patient into the Red Cross trailer of the ambulance.

    No.6 lay in bed and instantly recognised his surroundings; he was back on a ward in the hospital! Pulling back the sheets he swung his legs out of bed and tried to stand, his head spun, and he sat down on the bed again. A man in a white coat appeared at the far end of the ward.
    “What are you doing?” the doctor asked.
    “I’m attempting to get up, but I feel rather dizzy.”
    “Yes, I’m afraid the after effects can be rather unpleasant” the doctor explained.
    “I want to leave” No.6 told him.
    “Of course, but after a rest, and a medical.”
    “Medical?”
    “Yes, you wouldn’t expect me to allow you to leave without making sure you’re fit to be discharged” the doctor told him.
    “If I refuse?”
    “My dear chap, it’s for your own good, back into bed now.”
    A nurse appeared and helped the patient back into his bed.
    “What’s the matter with him?” No.6 asked looking towards the only other patient on the ward.
    The doctor glanced over to the patient a couple of beds along the ward, a patient whose head was completely wrapped in bandages “I think those bandages can come off later today.”

    The nurse stepped away from No.6’s bedside “Very good doctor” and went through the double doors at the end of the ward.

    Later that day the doctor returned to the ward, it was time for No.6’s medical examination, he was provided with a dressing gown and a pair of slippers. Then he was taken to the examination room where the doctor took a stethoscope and listened to his heartbeat.

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    In his office No.2 watched the examination being carried out via the wall screen, he held a telephone in his hand and was making a report.
   “Yes, he’s having his medical now….well it pays to make sure you know.”
    With the medical complete the doctor pronounced his patient as being fit for any contingency.

    “Anything specific in mind doc?”
    “Go back to the ward, your clothes have been made ready” the doctor said “get dressed and you’ll be given a free ride home.”
   Back on the ward No.6 found his clothes laid out on the bed and he began to dress. A nurse appeared carrying a kidney dish and approached the bed of the patient on the opposite side of the ward, and began to slowly remove the bandages from round his head. Putting on his piped blazer No.6 checked the drawer of the bedside table, he removed his personal possessions, credit card, identity card, and health and welfare card placing all three in a blazer pocket, and put on wristwatch on. He was about to leave when he glanced over to see the face of his fellow patient……. The doctor appeared and examined the patients face.
    “Not a bad job, not a bad job at all” the doctor said “don’t look too closely and you’d hardly notice the scarring!”
    “Who is he?” No.6 asked.
    “See for yourself” the doctor told him.

    The taxi took No.6 home, but he didn’t go home, instead he paid a call at the Green Dome where the butler showed him into the office. No.2 sat behind his desk as the man entered, the pair of steel doors closing behind him.
    “And what can I do for you?” No.2 asked.
    “The man in the hospital……”
    “Which man in the hospital?”
    “The man with his head bandaged up, well he was until this morning.”
    “I wouldn’t worry about him if I were you; you’ve quite enough to worry about as it is. Now tell me why you resigned, and all this can end as of this moment.”

    No.6 thought and considered.
   The pair of steel doors opened and the figure of No.21 entered the chamber and walked smartly down the ramp.
    “Ah there you are Twenty-one, Number Six here was just about to tell me why he resigned.
    “Really sir, I’m all ears” 21 said taking up a position by the desk.
    “As are we all” No.2 said.
    “Its really quite simple, I resigned because………..” No.6 began “……….I’m exactly where they want me to be!” he said with a smile.
    The red ‘L’ shaped telephone began to bleep, No.2 picked it up.
    “Number Two here………”
                                                             61

Thursday, 22 September 2022

A New No.2 - Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

The Regatta 

    Some days it was……….
    “What’s the matter with him?” No.2 asked, looking at the patient lying on the bed “he appears to be in some discomfort.”
    “He’s in a state of fugue, he’s had a change of consciousness” the doctor began to explain “he is suffering from amnesia, induced of course using drugs and hypnotism.”
    “Why would you do that?
    “It’s an on-going operation” the doctor explained “we have removed all unpleasant memories of the Village, and soon we’ll be able to be put him back into circulation.”
    He will be able to leave the Village?” No.2 asked.
    “Of course, in order for him to accumulate information and bring it back to the Village for extraction” the doctor said.

    Other days it was………….    “Good morning, good morning and what a lovely day it is. The spell of fine weather is due to last at least another month” the cheery female voice announced “Before the programme of early morning music I have an announcement to make. Your local council, and remember it is your local council is to organize a Village regatta, if you wish to take part you must register your boat within the next two weeks. The regatta is to take place just five weeks from now.”

    In the office of the Green Dome both No.2 and No.21 listened to the announcement made over Village radio.
    “It might be a good idea for you to show your face at the Village regatta.” 21 suggested.

    No.2 looked at his assistant “Why should I want to do a thing like that?”
    “Well you are hardly a man of the people” No.21 began “what I mean is you haven’t shown yourself in public since your appointment.”
    “Why was I not informed about this regatta, am I not the Chief administrator?”
    “It was a committee decision I believe.”

    “Why was I not invited to sit on such a committee?” No.2 said sternly.
    “You are a busy man Number Two, you cannot be expected to oversee everything, that’s why I’m here to assist you sir” No.21 said smiling.
    “And you think I should attend this Village regatta?”
    “I think it would be good to show the citizens that you are a man of 
the people, if you wish to make the Village a better place.”

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    “I expect security measures will be stepped up, during the regatta?”
    “Not really sir” No.21 replied “I don’t think such steps will be necessary.”
    No.2 was surprised about that “You don’t?”
    “No sir.”

    A smile crossed No.2’s lips as an idea came to him “It can’t do any harm my showing my face, I might even enter the regatta myself.”
    “I didn’t know you had a boat sir?”
    “I don’t, but I expect a resourceful chap like you could get me one!” 2 suggested
    “Nothing easier sir” No.2 replied “if you’re sure.”
    “Do I detect a tone of surprise in your voice Twenty-one?”
    “Oh no sir, it’s just that I had no idea you were interested in sailing pond yachts!”
    “Pond yachts!” No.2 said, unable to disguise the sound of disappointment in his voice.
    “Yes sir, they’ll be sailed on the free sea in the Piazza” who couldn’t help but detect that disappointment in his superior’s voice.

    When No.36 heard this morning’s announcement about the forthcoming regatta he was sat at a table on the patio of the café enjoying morning coffee. The announcement puzzled him, and turned to two chaps sat at another table, who had ‘Village Yachting Club’ on their light blue jerseys.

    “You look like two likely chaps to tell me about this regatta” No.36 said.

    No.213 and No.267 looked at each other “What do you want to know?”

    “You’re allowed boats?”

    “Why yes” 213 said.

    “Otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a regatta would it!” 267 said.

    “And you’re members of the Village yachting club?”

    “He’s sharp” 213 said.

    “You're thinking of joining the club?” 267 asked.

    “I might, if there’s a yacht I can borrow” No.36 said eagerly.

    “Haven’t you a yacht of your own?”

    “No, I didn’t know we were allowed them. That’s why I want to borrow one.”

    “Well I don’t know” 213 said rubbing his chin “the committee likes members to own their own yachts.”

    “That’s right” 267 said “particular about that the committee is, beside members don’t like to lend their yachts to people, not even to a fellow member of the club.”

    No.36 stood up and joined the two men at their table and drew near to them, so as not to be overheard.

    “Tell me, if you all have yachts, why don’t any of you try and escape? If I had a boat I wouldn’t hang about for longer than it took me to set sail!”

43


    Number’s 267 and 213 looked puzzled at each other.

    “If I had a yacht” No.36 told them “I could take part in the regatta, and when it was in full swing I could slip quietly away and make for the open sea.”

    No.267 and 213 shook their heads.

    “Well at least take me to your boathouse” No.36 pleaded.

    The penny dropped and No.267 and 213 realized 36’s mistake!

    “Well I suppose we could take you to the yachting club” 213 finally said.

    “Yachting club, well that’s more like it” said No.36 eagerly “say when shall it be?”

    It was then that they were joined by two more men sporting Village Yachting Club jerseys, they each carried something which made No.36’s heart sink.

    “Wh…..what are those?” No.36 asked in sudden realization of his mistake.

    “Pond yachts” No.59 said enthusiastically

    “Mine is called Northern Star” No.104 said.

    “And mine’s Southern Star” 59 said “Mine has the blue and white paint, and Northern Star has the green and white paint.”

    “You mean……you mean your yachting club sails pond yachts?”

    “That’s right” 267 said “we’ll be sailing our pond yachts in the Free Sea in the Piazza for the village regatta. It should prove very spectacular.”

    No.36 made his excuses and left the group with No.267 shouting after him about going to the yachting club.

    In the control room the supervisor-No.56, a bald-headed man wearing a dark green polo neck jersey and single breasted dark blue blazer stood with his assistant No.42 looking at No.36 pictured on the wall screen.

    “He looks disappointed” said the supervisor.

    “He has every right to be” 42 agreed.

    “As if we would permit the ownership of any kind of boat to ordinary citizens” said the supervisor.

    “Indeed to any citizen” No.42 said still watching the wall screen as No.9 made his way towards the Piazza.

    It was the blue and white striped awning of a kiosk that caught his attention, where a variety of pond yachts were for sale. No.9 paused and looked at the tidy vessels. Then No.66 the ex-Admiral caught his eye, he was sat on a bench with a fellow boating enthusiast, both wore white Naval caps.

    “Hello Admiral” No.36 said approaching the bench “not sailing today?”

    The ex-Admiral looked up, he held a small control box in his hands, a small aerial protruded from the box.

44


   “Well yes and no” he said “allow me to introduce you to my first officer Number One.”

   The first officer also held a control box and was concentrating very hard as he pressed a number of buttons. No.36 stood looking at the two men, then turned and looked towards the Free Sea, there was a yacht towards the farther end of the pool. Suddenly there was a minor explosion, a spout of water, the yacht keeled over and began to sink. He saw a man step into the water in order to retrieve the stricken yacht and began to study it. The ex-Admiral and his No.1 looked at each other, a final press on the two control boxes and two miniature submarines broke through the surface of the water and made their way to the side of the pool.

    “You, you pair did this” the owner of the stricken yacht shouted “you sank my yacht!”

    No.36 stood watching as the ex-Admiral and his first officer retrieved the two submarines from the Free Sea and made off with them in somewhat of a hurry, with the owner of the yacht shouting and shaking his fist.


    “So that’s where they sail their pond yachts” No.2 said looking at the wall screen.

    “That’ right sir, curious though that they should sink Eighty-one’s yacht like that” the supervisor said.

    “Curious indeed” said No.21 “that they should actually have working models of two submarines in the first place. I wonder how they came by them?”

    No.2 picked up the yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone “Control room.”
    The yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone in the control room began to bleep.
    “Supervisor……”
    “I want you to put a watch on the ex-Admiral and his first officer.”
    “Yes Number 2.”
    “I want to know where they go, and who they meet.”
    “Yes Number 2.”
    No.2 replaced the telephone on his desk, No.21 smiled quietly to himself.
    “What’s the matter with you?”
    “You’re smiling, that generally means something.”
    “I was just admiring how easily you have come to fit into your new role that’s all sir.”
   “Really?”
   “Yes sir, you’ve reached the point where you make instant decisions like that last one, and without even thinking about it!”

    Every day the wind was blowing, or there was a slight breeze, there would be members of the Village Yachting Club sailing their pond yachts in the Free Sea. No.9 had to admit it looked quite impressive. No.81 had purchased a new pond yacht called Northern Star, a white hulled yacht with green trim, from the kiosk. This was to replace the one that was sunk by the rogue submarine. He immediately carried the yacht over to the Free Sea, set her sails and jib and put her in the water. There was a gentle breeze which made it perfect for sailing. There were yachts of all kinds and sizes, and everyone was honing their sailing skills, getting the most out of their vessels. The promenaders were most interested in the activity, and many stopped to watch and admire the yachts. Then the ex-Admiral and his Flag officer appeared carrying a large ship, it was a model of a pocket battleship about three feet in length. The members of the yachting club all turned and stared.

45

    “That’s enough Admiral” No.199, secretary of the yachting club, said “this is a yachting club, that hardly constitutes a yacht.”

    “Tell me why a pocket battleship cannot take part in the regatta?”

    “It’s motorised and operated by remote control, just like that blasted submarine of yours which sank my yacht. How did you do that by the way?” 81 said lifting the Northern Star out of the water.

    There was a bit of an argument before the ex-Admiral and his first officer withdrew, carrying the battleship.

    “Where do you think the ex-Admiral is getting these superb models, they are complete in every detail” No. 2 asked watching the wall screen.

    No.21 stood in No.2’s office also watching the screen “I could find out for you sir, I’ll make the Admiral talk!”

    “No! We don’t want any strong arm stuff. The supervisor is watching the old sea dog, he’ll give himself away sooner or later.”

    “Are you going to attend the regatta sir?”

    “Of course, in order to show my face at the very least.”

   The day of the regatta arrived, and there was an air of excitement as spectators started to gather in the Piazza.  The brass band played “Sailing By” as the entrants in the regatta began to assemble by the Free Sea with their various pond yachts. No.220 was favoured by many to win this year’s regatta with his yacht the Amis Reunis. No.2, accompanied by his assistant No.21 left the Green Dome and made their way towards the Piazza.

    “This should make for a pleasant change Twenty-one” No.2 said as they walked across the lawn “a quiet afternoon off duty away from the office.”
    “We are never off duty sir” No.21 reminded his superior.
    “We can pretend to be off duty, and who knows I may even buy you an ice cream!”

     “Of course you realize you will have trophies to present to the winner of each class” 21 said as they mounted the steps leading up onto the Piazza.
     No.2 didn’t, but he wasn’t going to let that spoil his afternoon!

     It was a very pleasant day, blue sky, sunshine; a grand day for the regatta, there was a gentle breeze creating perfect sailing conditions.

46


No.2 was determined to enjoy himself being out of the out of the office for a couple of hours or so, even to the point of admiring the pond yachts, and as he and No.21 mingled amongst the gathered spectators. To his surprise No.2 was greeted warmly by most citizens, but some were a little wary of the Chairman of the Village, perhaps they recalled who No.2 once was, a prisoner much like themselves. But now being elevated to such a lofty position they were unsure of the inmate who had been placed in charge of the asylum!

    No.2 treated himself and No.21 to an ice cream, raspberry being the flavour of the day.

    “Do you think you should say a few words sir? 21 suggested enjoying his ice cream cone.
    “Whatever for?”
    “I thought to open the proceedings, to make it official so to speak.
    “The regatta seems to have been well organized…do you know I never realized there was a yachting club in the Village” 2 said looking at a number of light blue jerseys worn by the yachtsmen.
    “I believe permission for the club to be formed was given some months ago” 21 said.

    “The event seems to be well organized, people are enjoying themselves, why spoil a good thing?” No.2 said looking about him.
    “As you say sir.”

    No.36 was also at the regatta; he had bought himself an ice cream and was sat on a bench watching the proceedings. The competitors were making their preparations to their pond yachts, setting sails, adjusting the jib and rigging. The course was an easy one, yachts were set on a course from the far end of the Free Sea towards the fountain, round the fountain, and back again, each race was run in pairs. The first race would be between Northern Star with white hull with green trim and Southern Star with white hull and blue trim. The second race was to be between Endeavour I and Pride of The Pond, and the third race between Endeavour II and The Surprise. Each competitor is armed with a pole and is able to walk long either side of the Free Sea in order to nudge their yacht into an opposite tack before collision with the edge. The Pond yachts having been put into different classes according to size. There has been one disqualification, the ex-Admirals battleship, however it was agreed that at some point between races a demonstration of the battleship could take place in order to entertain the spectators. To this the ex-Admiral reluctantly agreed.

   The first race was about to get underway, much to the delight of the spectators. No.80 set the rigging of Northern Star and No.59 did likewise with Southern Star, and with both yachts in the water the race was under way. Both yachts looked good as they were carried along by a gentle breeze. Northern Star headed towards the edge of the Free Sea but No.80 eased her away with the tip of his pole, while Southern Star took an early lead along the pool towards the fountain, but instead of heading towards the side the yacht headed straight for it, making No.59 hold out his pole and ease Southern Star onto a tack which was to take the yacht round the fountain, but found difficulty in this. This gave Northern Star time to catch her sister yacht and swept passed as No.59 tried to regain the yacht’s course. With a prod from No.80’s pole Southern Star made it cleanly round the fountain and on a return course to finish the race. But No.59 had managed to get Northern Star back on an even course, rounded the fountain and began to catch Southern Star, however with a gentle prod from the pole managed to stop her from crashing into the wall Southern Star crossed the line to win.

47

    In the next race Endeavour II beat the Amis Reunis. The races continued and the spectators watched with enjoyment the Pride of the Pond beat Endeavour I and Endeavour II in both her races. Southern Star went on to race Endeavour II however both yachts failed to finish. There was a collision; Endeavour II’s bow sprite became entangled in Southern Star’s rigging. Try as much as they may the two pole men could not separate the two yachts, and in the end had to wade into the Free Sea to retrieve them. The regatta continued through the afternoon and once the final race had been run it was announced that the most outstanding yacht in any class was the Pride of the Pond. And it was No.2’s duty and pleasure to award the Regatta silver cup to No.36 much to the applause of the crowd, along with prizes for different yacht classes.

    “Good afternoon citizens” the cheery female voice said over the public address system “what an exciting regatta we have all enjoyed. However the thrills are not over yet. To close the regatta there is to be a sea battle re-enactment between a pocket battleship and two D class destroyers.”

    The spectators watched eagerly as the ex-Admiral put the pocket battleship into the water at one end of the Free Sea. His first officer at other end put the two D class destroyers into the water. All three ships were motorized models and complete in every detail, there was even smoke coming out of the smoke stacks, and controlled from two control boxes. The pocket battleship set off, as did the two destroyers from around the fountain. Suddenly the destroyers parted and sailed towards the battleship from two angles, this action would effectively split the fire power of the battleship. The two forward turrets of the battleship turned, fixing her guns on one of the destroyers and opened fire, one shell went over the destroyer while another fell short, but a third found the range and a hit was scored on the destroyer who opened fire in return but falling short of its mark. Both the ex-Admiral and his first officer worked feverishly at their control panels, especially the first officer, as he had two ships to control. The second destroyer moved in on the battleship opening fire with her forward guns, then turning fired a broadside, as did the battleship scoring several hits on the destroyer. While the first destroyer fired two torpedoes at the pocket battleship, which took evasive action turning hard to starboard. Two of the torpedoes passed the ship, but the destroyer fired another two torpedoes at the battleship and the second destroyer continued her engagement. The battleship turned, but it was too late, the first torpedo struck amidships, the second hit the rudder and steering gear disabling the ship which began to list heavily to port. The two badly damaged destroyers moved in for the kill, but the ex-Admiral put up his hands indicating defeat and the battle was won.

 48


    Returning to his office No.2 telephoned the department of visual records requesting to review the film of the regatta. He ran the film on to the start of the sea battle and watched the battle play out on the wall screen. Picking up the telephone he called the supervisor in the control room.

    “What did you make of the regatta?” No.2 asked.

    “I think it went rather well” the supervisor said “everyone appeared to enjoy themselves.”

    “And what did you make of the spectacular finale?”

    “You mean the sea battle.”

    “Yes.”

    “It was rather spectacular” the supervisor agreed.

    “Did you have the ex-Admiral and his first officer followed?”

    “They went into the woods” the supervisor confirmed.
    “Why should they do that?”
    “They must have gone to see the Professor in the laboratory.”
    “The laboratory in the woods?”
    “Yes.”
    “And the professor?”

    “He’s been living in the laboratory for some time now, he’s generally left him to his own resources.”
    The pair of steel doors opened and No.21 entered the office.”
    “The Professor” No.2 said.
    “What about him?” 21 asked, approaching the desk.
    “You know about him?”
    “Yes. He’s generally left to his own devices because he has been of use to us from time to time.”

    “What business might the ex-Admiral and his first officer have with the Professor?”
    “I really don’t know sir, none I should have thought.

    “Very well supervisor, keep a sharp look out” 2 said and replaced the telephone back on his desk, he turned his attention back to his assistant.

    “What about those ships, I mean they look miniatures of the real thing. The destroyers were even armed with torpedoes. Would the ex…I mean Number Sixty-six and Number Fifty-nine have the capability to construct such craft?”
    “I shouldn’t have thought so” 21 began “sailing plastic boats is 
about their mark, constructing the pocket battleship and two destroyers are well beyond their capabilities I would have thought. And besides where would they get the materials to construct such crafts?”

    “Yes, that’s what worries me.”

    No.2 leaned forward and pressing a number of buttons on the control panel of his desk changed the picture on the wall screen, then panning surveillance cameras he was able to pick up the intended targets. The ex-Admiral and the first officer were carrying the three model ships between them along a path in the woods. This had been picked up on the wall screen in the control room.

 49

    At a fork in the path the Ex-Admiral and his first officer went to the right. A little further on there was a rock formation, the path lead up an incline to a steel door set in recess in the rock face. The steel door slid open and the two men went inside, the door closed behind them.

    No.2 produced a file from a shelf of his desk and began to thumb through it “The Professor has been ordering a good deal of materials over the past few months, metals, wiring, electric motors.”

    “Apparently he’s very mechanically minded. He helped with the reduction in size of the Village’s electronic system, apparently we have him to thank for the Beam” No.2 observed from the file.

    “May I suggest the ex-Admiral and his first officer have gone there in order to have the three crafts repaired by the Professor?”

    “You may 21, you may indeed. Helping someone out with their hobby is one thing, but I want to know what the Professor has been working on all this time in that laboratory of his.”

50

Monday, 19 September 2022

The Prisoner- A New No.2 Chapter 5

                                                                 Chapter 5 

The Kaleidoscope Man 

    No.2 was in his quarters in the Town Hall, a single room which was an exact replica of his own study in what had been in his once cottage of ‘6 Private.’ He had showered and shaved in a room along the corridor, then dressed in grey flannel trousers, grey roll neck jersey and single breasted blazer and left his room. He walked along to the end of the corridor. Behind a large bust set upon a plinth he disappeared through a secret door, and down an old wooden ladder which took him into the tunnels beneath the Village. Eventually he arrived at a black global chair set on a plinth at the end of a corridor. Stepping up onto the plinth he settled himself in the chair which then rose up through a hole in the floor into his office, and behind his desk. He picked up the red ‘L’ shaped telephone.
    “Since when did it become the rule that I am to be the permanent Number Two, what happened to the policy of using interim Number Two’s……what do you mean they are no longer required?.........do I get to go on leave?........what do you mean you don’t trust me to come back……….”

    Now under no illusion that as No.2 Chairman of the Village, as well as the Chief Administrator he is now a permanent No.2. He placed the telephone back onto the desk. The pair of steel doors opened and No.21 entered the domed office and approached the desk.
    “Good morning sir” 21 said in cheery voice.
    “What have you to be so cheerful about?”
    The steel doors slid open and the butler pushed the breakfast trolley down the ramp, approaching the desk he reached out to press a button on the control panel.
    “Beat you!” No.2 said having pressed the required button himself.

    The butler looked up at his master who stood looking down at him, then proceeded to set out the breakfast on the small table which had risen up through a hole in the floor.
    “You see!”
    “See what sir?”
    “I cannot even have my breakfast in peace and quiet!”
    “I fail to see sir.”
    “Well you’re here with that clipboard under your arm; it means I am forced to suffer a working breakfast!”
    Having laid out the breakfast the butler bowed and pushed the trolley out of the chamber.
    “Now I either stand at that table to eat my breakfast, or I sit with it 
on my lap!”

32


    “You seem to be rather disgruntled this morning.”

    “In my position you would feel the same!”
    “How do you mean sir?”
    “Before I was raised up to my current lofty opposition, when I was a prisoner, I enjoyed the privilege of my own cottage. Study, kitchen, bedroom, and shower room. Now I have but own room, my study in which I am forced to sleep on a recliner at night! The bathroom and toilet are in a room along a corridor. What’s more I’m forced to climb down an old rickety ladder at the end of a dusty, cobwebbed passageway. Then I have to walk to work in a series of tunnels. I don’t even get the privilege of walking through the Village to work, or even to be driven to the Green Dome in a taxi which befits a man in my position!”
    “In other words, sir, you are dissatisfied!”
    “Too right, I would have been better off as I once was!”
    “I see sir, I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do about that.”

    “I could resign!”
    No.21 nodded towards the red ‘L’ shaped telephone “Have you had a word with…..”
    “We had a word this morning.”
    “Look sir, I’ll leave you to have your breakfast before it gets cold. We can go through these reports later” 21 said waving his clipboard.
    “Thank you Twenty-one.”
    “I’ll be seeing you later on sir.”
    The pair of steel doors closed leaving No.2 to enjoy his breakfast as best he could.

    No.102 was considered to be something of an eccentric by his fellow citizens. A silver haired gentleman now in his early sixties, he had once been a chemist of some renown. In having developed a compound capable of altering the psyche, personality, or “self” of a person, it was no wonder then that he should one day wake up in the Village. In his time he had been allowed certain privileges which allowed him to conduct his experiments in quiet solitude. In more recent years he had been retired into the peaceful atmosphere of the Old People’s Home, a place he detested. What had he to do with dribbling old codgers in their dotage who do nothing but sit about and do nothing all day, who are reliant upon others to do it for them, or are almost lost in mind to themselves and to others. Not No.102, he was still alert in mind, and reasonably fit in body. He had taken to hogging one of the bathrooms, sometimes for hours on end, much to the annoyance of both staff and inmates of the Old People’s Home. It would perhaps have been better had he the solitude of his own cottage, but that privilege had been taken away from him on the day of his assigned retirement since his usefulness had given out.
    Gaining the required chemicals had proved to be most difficult, laboratories either occupied during the day, or locked when they were not.

33


However having gained the required compounds, which separately are innocent enough, but when mixed together produce a certain effect, he locked himself in the bathroom and mixed the three compounds together in the bath having filled it with water.

    No.97, a little old lady stood knocking on the bathroom door asking No.102 to come out, as she wished to use the bathroom herself. But no reply came from within. The matron of the Old People’s Home who also demanded No.102 open the door as other people wished to use it. Response came there none. She attempted to use her pass key, but there was already a key in the other side of the keyhole!
    “I’ll send for a guardian” she said through the door.


    Two burly set men, one in a black and red striped jersey, the other sporting a full beard arrived at the Old People’s Home in a white Mini-Moke.

    “Right what’s the trouble matron?” Number 256 asked.
    “One of our residents has locked himself in the bathroom” she complained.
    “What about it?” No.167 said.
    “Well he simply refuses to come out.”
    “We’ll get him out!” 256 assured her.

    Matron led the two guardians
    No.256 grabbed the knob of the door and agitated it “Come on out of there” he shouted through the door, to little response.
    “Better put your shoulder to the door and force it open” 167 suggested.
    “Stand back matron” 256 said and put his shoulder to the door.
    The door didn’t give way at first, but then at a second attempt No.256 fell into the bathroom to find no-one in it!

    The pair of steel doors opened and No.21 entered the chamber accompanied by the guardians No.256 and 167. No.2 was flicking switches on the control panel and watching scenes of the village on the large wall screen.
    “What’s this, a deputation?” No.2 asked.
    “We have a problem” No.21 told him.

    “Well what is it?”
    “The Observers are already making sweeps of the Village, but so far there’s no sign of him” 21 reported.
    “No sign of whom?” 2 asked.
    “Number One-hundred and two.”
    “And he is……”
    “A resident at the Old People’s Home, apparently he locked himself in the bathroom.”
    “What’s this to do with us, it’s a domestic matter, the guardians should be capable of sorting that out” 2 suggested.
    “They were sir.”
    “The matron of the Old People’s Home called us sir, I and Number

34


One six seven here attended. Unable to gain a response from the elderly gentleman in the bathroom, who had possibly had an accident I broke the door down” 256 said.
    No.2 looked at each man in turn “And?”
    “He wasn’t there!”
    “What do you mean he wasn’t there?”
    “The bathroom door had been locked from the inside.”
    “How do you know that?” 2 asked.
    “The key was still in the lock sir” 167 added.
    “Then the answer is an obvious one, one zero two was baiting you, he climbed out of the bathroom window” 2 suggested.
    “The window was snubbed sir; he didn’t get out that way” 21 said.

    It followed that in a body they went to visit the scene. A janitor was fixing the door when they arrived on the scene, and an inspection was made of the bathroom. They key was still in the lock on the inside of the door, the window still snubbed. No.2 ran a hand along the inside of the bath.
    “The bath is wet” No.2 observed.
    “Baths generally are” 21 replied.
    “This One hundred and two took a bath” No.2 said.
    “Nothing unusual in that” the matron said.
    “Yes, but why take a bath just before you disappear?”
    “And how did he do it?” 21 asked “there’s only two ways in and out, both secured on the inside.”
    No.2 vaguely heard what No.21 had said; he was holding up his left hand and studying it intently. The back of the hand was normal enough, but the palm appeared to show an illusory effect, in that it seemed to….but surely it was a trick of the light.
    “I think” No.2 said “I think our friend Number one zero two was in this bathroom up to the moment Number two five six broke the door down.”

    “I’m sorry sir?” 21 said not quite understanding.
    “You don’t see?” No.2 said holding up the palm of his hand “its simple, we’re looking for a chameleon!”
    No.2 placed the back of his hand against the bathroom wall, taking on both the colour and texture of the tiled wall; the assembled throng were astonished to see the hand melt into the background in such a way.
    There were three pharmaceutical jars standing on the floor.
    “Have those taken to the laboratory for analysis” No.2 said, “they may furnish us with a clue.”

    Instead of returning to his office No.2 and No.21 made their way to the control room. The pair of steel doors opened and the supervisor, a bald-headed bespectacled No.28 looked up to see No.2 and his assistant standing on the gantry looking down at him. They descended down the steel steps.
    “Supervisor” No.2 began “I have a special assignment for both you
and your Observers. We have a resident of the Old People’s Home on the loose.”

 35

    “I don’t quite understand sir” the supervisor said.
    “Number One-zero-two, he has the ability to blend into the background and disappear, rather he can take on the background which surrounds him thus rendering him invisible.”
   At hearing this, the Observers sitting at their monitors, turned to each other in bemusement. No.2 laid the back of his hand upon the steel frame of the see-saw device, to all intents and purposes the hand disappeared, yet it was still there!
    The supervisor had a question, it was an obvious one “If he can do that, how will we be able to find him?”
   “Its merely camouflage, try infra-red, search for an unexpected or unusual heat source, only find him” was No.2’s order.

    Eventually returning to his office No.2 used the wall screen to make a search of the Village himself. No.21 stood reading through No.102’s file.
    “What do you think is behind his motivation, to escape perhaps?”
    “And then what? The bath was wet, which reminds me…….” he picked up the yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone “Laboratory.”
    “Laboratory” No.253 said.
    “I want to see you in my office right away.”
    “Yes sir.”
    “You were saying Twenty-one.”
    No.21 closed the file “I was just wondering about One-hundred and two’s motivation behind such an action.”
    “The bath was wet, there were no clothes in the bathroom, what does that lead you to suppose?”
    21 thought for a moment “That whatever solution he mixed in the bath, not only did he soak the exposed parts of his body, head, and hands, he also soaked his clothes in the solution he wouldn’t want to go about naked.”
    “Well done Twenty-one, you would make an excellent police inspector.”
    The pair of steel doors opened and a man in a white coat entered the chamber, he paused at the top of the ramp, the steel doors closing behind him.
    “You wanted to see me sir” No.253 said somewhat timidly.
    “Come here man” No.2 said “I won’t bite.”
    “One cannot be sure of that” the laboratory technician muttered as he walked down the ramp and approached the desk, recalling the last time he had been summoned to see No.2.
    “Have you had time to analyse what was in those three jars we sent to you?”
    “They are completely clean, inside and out” 253 said.
    “There was not enough residue of either powder of liquid in any of the three jars?"

36

    “No sir.”
    “He washed them clean” 21 said.
    “A remarkable observation” No.2 said “what about the bath?”
    “I checked the bath sir as requested by Number 21, but it was damp.”
    “Even around the plughole?
   “Yes sir.”
    “What about the outlet pipe?”
    “I didn’t think about that” 253 said “is there anything else sir?”
    “Yes, what can you do about this?” 2 asked showing 253 the palm of his left hand “watch, just watch.”
    The laboratory technician watched as No.2 laid the back of his hand down upon the desk, it turned grey taking on the colour and texture of the top of the desk. He studied the palm closely, he had seen nothing like it before, and it was with a look of astonishment that he looked up at No.2’s face.
    “Perhaps you can tell me what my future holds!”

    In the control room the supervisor was overseeing the Observers who were carrying out an intricate search of the Village, yard by yard, cottage by cottage, along paths, lanes and streets. In and out of the Pink Pavilion, the bandstand, up and down the bell tower, even in the grotto. Looking for anything out of the ordinary, an unusual heat source where there should be none, a slight shift in background or anomaly.
    The supervisor turned from the wall screen to face the backs of the Observers “Has anyone seen anything, speak up, lets here about it.”
    An Observer turned round in his chair and looked at the others “No-one has seen anything sir, it’s a wonder!”
    The two men on either end of the steel see-saw device glanced up from their monitors shaking their heads.
    “It’s a wonder you have not seen anything two nine zero, as being one of our best Observers. 
    The Village was normal, quiet and undisturbed, the citizens going about their daily lives, shopping at the General Store, having afternoon tea or coffee at the café. Promenading in the Piazza, or enjoying an afternoon at the beach, or playing croquet on the Village green.
   So the search continued and was widened to encompass both the beach and the woods.

   Meanwhile No.2 had been taken to the laboratory for examination and it was agreed that the answer might be found in “light refraction.” A search of the chemical store found a deficiency in three chemical compounds which when mixed in certain amounts and a vessel immersed in the solution had an effect of changing the way light was refracted and took on the appearance of its background.

37


   No.2 had been sat at a work bench for several minutes; his left hand 
immersed in a solution “How much longer is this likely to take?”

    “It might not take” No.253 said “we may have to try a number of varying solutions before we can reverse the effect.”
   In the background a number of laboratory technicians were either blending and mixing solutions, or consulting technical, and chemical science books in search of a solution!
    “I think I may have found it!” 243 suddenly announced.

    Outside in the Village one citizen, a grizzled old man, No.90 dressed in a grubby piped blazer sat on a bench by some bushes. He sat there minding his own business, watching Village life go by you could say. He was happy in himself, and no-one bothered him these days, and yet what was that……? He caught movement in the bushes out of the corner of his eye. He thought it must have been the breeze, but there was no breeze the air was quite undisturbed, but not so the bushes it seems!

    “What is it, what’s there?” the old man said moving away to the other end of the bench.
    There seemed to him a strange effect before his eyes something like a kaleidoscope of moving colour.
    “What is it, what are you?” the old man asked.
    “Don’t get excited” a voice said.
    “You’d get excited if you were looking at what I’m looking at!” 90 said.
     He suddenly felt a hand upon his shoulder and he was forced to sit down again.
   “What is it, what do you want with me, why can’t I see you properly?”
    “Because I’m camouflaged, I blend in with the background” the voice told him.
    “Why, why should you want to do that?”
    “I thought I could escape this hellish place” the voice said.
    “And can’t you?”
    “Do you think I’d be wasting my time sitting on a bench talking to an old man if I could?” the voice snapped at him.
    “Alright, it’s not my fault! Anyway what do you want with me?”
    “You live in the Old People’s Home, I’ve seen you there.”
    “You live in the Old People’s….. I know your voice, you’re the chap who locks himself in the bathroom for hours on end!”
    “They’ll be looking for me by now.”
    “Who will?”
    “The Observers you fool!” he snapped back.
    “But you’re camouflaged, they can’t see you.”
    “I am able to blend in with the background, but they could see the

effect you’re seeing when I move.”
    “What do you want with me then?”

38


    “I want you to go to the Old People’s Home, go into my room and get two books off the table there. I had to leave quickly and without them” No.102 explained.
    “What’s in those books then?” 90 asked.
    “They hold the secret!”

    “What have you there?” No.253 asked crossing the laboratory.
    “Two guardians searched the Old people’s Home, and found these two books in room one zero two” 243 explained “he’s missing from the senior citizens roll call. I think they may contain the answer, there’s a formula written here.”

    “Where are you? Move and I’ll be able to see you” 90 said.
    “I’m here” 102 said “where are the books?”
    “They’re gone.”
    “Gone, what do you mean gone?”
    “Gone as in not there, it seems two guardians searched your room in the Old People’s Home earlier and took two books away with them” 90 explained.
    “Damn and blast!”
    “What are you going to do now?”
    “Try and get them back of course!”
    “I thought you said you were going to escape.”
    “I was a fool, I can hide, but can’t get so far even like this.”
    “You could creep up on the mechanics working on a boat, they wouldn’t see you coming, and even if they did it would be too late, you could overpower them, and set sail for the wide horizon.”
    “The tide’s out you fool!” he snapped angrily.
    “Then take a taxi” was another suggestion.
    “And go where?”
    “What does it matter as long as its not here?” 90 said excitedly “you could take me with you.”
   “Why should I tie myself to a stupid old man like you?”
    “Don’t be like that.”
    “I must get those books!”
    “You can get into the laboratory easy enough using your camouflage technique, and I’ll be waiting with a taxi.”
    “No offence but can you actually drive?”

   The formula was written out on a blackboard, it looked complicated, but basically it amounted to the use of three compounds, each mixed in solution to exact proportions.

    “The question is” 253 asked staring at the blackboard “is it possible to reverse the process?”
   Outside two snowdrops, guards dressed in grey overalls, white helmet, gloves, boots, and carrying a white truncheon, patrolled the corridor as well as standing guard at the door to the laboratory.

Having gained entry to the building No.102 slowly made his away along a number of corridors before he stood with his back to a wall watching the two security guards standing outside the door to the laboratory.

39


   One of the guards stood thinking about nothing really, it was a boring assignment and he stood looking at the wall on the opposite side of the corridor. Then something caught his eye.

    “What’s that?” No.187 asked.
    “What’s what?” asked his colleague.
    “Look at the wall, it doesn’t look quite right.”
    “Seems alright to me” 196 said.
    A man wearing a white coat came walking along the corridor carrying two large glass jars.

    The two guards challenged the man.
    “These three compounds have been requested” he said.
    “Alright, all clear” said one of the guards who opened the door to the laboratory.
    It was curious just for a moment one of the guards thought he saw something, but surely not.
    In the laboratory No.253 and 243 were busy mixing different solutions in order to reverse the effect that had altered the appearance of the palm of No.2’s left hand.
    “I trust you know what you’re doing” No.2 said.
    “What one man can discover another can uncover” 243 said.
    “Just don’t take all day about it!” No.2 ordered.
    On other side of the laboratory No.102 stood watching, he saw his formula written on the blackboard, then he saw the two books.
    “What was that?” one of the technicians asked.
    “What was what?” another asked.
    “I thought I saw…..”
    At that moment the two books lifted up off the table, there was a strange optical effect, it was movement like that of a kaleidoscope a mixture of movement and colour.
   “There, what’s that?” a technician shouted.
    Everyone in the laboratory turned to look at what No.89 was pointing at.
    “Call security” No.2 ordered.
    The laboratory door was flung open; the two security guards standing outside were taken by surprise as something brushed passed them.
    No.2 took his hand out of the solution; the kaleidoscope effect seemed to be diminishing as the colour of the palm of his hand begun to return to normal.
    “It’s working!” No.253 said in surprise “I…..I mean it’s working.”
    No.2 gave orders for both ends of the corridor to be sealed “That’s Number One-zero-two who has taken the books, I want him caught!”
    Two more security guards appeared at both ends of the corridor.

No.102 stopped clutching the two books, he looked both ways along the corridor, there was no going back as technicians joined in the search. He saw the mesh cover of the air vent. He pulled it open and began to crawl inside, when he felt hands grip his legs pulling him back!

40


    Two security guards held down the figure.
    “Now what have we here?” No.2 asked.
    No.102 struggled and as he struggled the effect was strange to look upon. There was a suggestion of a face which appeared to come out of the floor; he dropped his books which instantly returned back to their original brown covers. No.253 stooped down and picked them up.
    “What shall we do with him sir?”
    The security guards picked the figure of 102 off the floor. No.2 laid hands on the figure, he felt the texture of cloth, and ripped open a jersey to reveal not bare flesh, but the same kaleidoscope effect.
   “Give him a bath!” No.2 said “then have him made ready and presented for questioning.”

    The old man, No.90, had been standing watching the taxi rank for a good twenty minutes before he plucked up the courage to go over to one of the taxis. He climbed in behind the wheel.
    “How difficult can it be?” he asked himself.
   He turned the ignition key, the engine started, pressed down on the clutch peddle, engaged, what he thought was first gear. Releasing the handbrake he pressed down on the accelerator and depressed the clutch. The white Mini-Moke shot backwards crashing into the front of the Mini-Moke behind!

   “Oh dear, I knew it was going to be difficult” he muttered to himself.
    Two taxi drivers appeared on the scene soon after the accident, examining the damage and asking what the old man thought he was up to. Then two guardians arrived demanding to know what the old man’s game was.
    “I was going to drive the kaleidoscope man to the nearest town” the old man said.
    “The kaleidoscope man….what’s he talking about?”
    A small crowd had gathered to see what all the commotion was about.

    “The old man’s drunk!”
    “Arrest him for drunk driving!” another voice shouted.

    “How did he get drunk in the first place?” a man asked.
    “Not how” said another “where?!”

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