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Monday 17 January 2022

Chapter 16

 A Wet Wednesday!

    “Rain, rain go away come again another day.”
    “What’s that you say Number 14?” No.2 asked.
    No.14 had been staring at the wall screen, the month’s spell of fine weather had finally broken and it was raining, it had been raining all night and now it was pouring down. Outside in the village the streets and paths had been turned into rivers as rainwater poured down them.
    “I was reciting the words of a poem, rain, rain go away come again another day. It’s said to date back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I at the time of the Spanish Armada. The invasion failed not only because of the swift nature of the smaller English ships, but also there was a storm which scattered the remains of the Spanish fleet, hence the origin of the rain, rain go away" Nursery rhyme!”

    “You never fail to astound me Number 14.”
    “Thank you sir.”
    No.2 looked at the man watching the wall screen “Haven’t you got anything better to be doing?”
    “No sir, its all very quiet, there’s no-one out and about, except for the milkman, and an elderly couple numbers 60 and 61, they are a hardy pair of senior citizens who are not prepared to let a drop of water stop them taking their daily constitutional.”
   “Well don’t let it stop you from catching up on any paperwork you’ve allowed to build up in administration” was No.2’s suggestion.
    “Paperwork sir, oh yes, I take your point. I’ll be seeing you.”
    At that point the pair of steel doors opened and the butler entered pushing a breakfast trolley containing tea and biscuits for No.2’s elevenses.
    “Ah tea” said No.14 smiling.
    “Paperwork!” said No.2 in return.
    No.14 took his leave as the butler set out the teapot, milk, sugar bowl, cup and saucer, with two digestive biscuits on a tea plate on the grey curved desk.
    No.2 looked leaned forward in his chair looking at the two digestive biscuits “Are there still no proper biscuits, you know the ones with the cream inside?”
    The diminutive butler simply shook his head before pushing the trolley across the floor, up the ramp and out through the opening steel doors.

    In the Control Room the bald-headed Supervisor-No.46, a tall man with a thin moustache dressed in a dark green polo necked jersey, double-breasted plain black 


 blazer and grey slacks, stood watching the wall screen. It was pouring down with rain, so much so that it obscured the view via the surveillance cameras.
    “What the cameras need are windscreen wipers” remarked one Observer.

    “What was that, what did you say?” asked the Supervisor.
    The Observer looked away from his monitor and looked at the Supervisor “I merely suggested that the surveillance cameras need windscreen wipers, you know like on motor cars, to help keep the camera lens clear of water.”
    The Supervisor made a mental note of that, windscreen wipers for cameras, thinking he would mention it to No.2. It was a filthy day outside, and this probably meant a quiet shift for the Supervisor and his Observers. Only a fool would attempt an escape in such weather.

    Outside the milkman was getting drenched on his round, the candy-striped canopy of his red David Brown garden tractor afforded no protection whatsoever against the torrential rain! He had seen only two people out and about, numbers’ 60 and 61 who both gave him a cheery greeting from beneath their umbrellas.
   The rain had helped fill the Free Sea to overflowing, flooding the Piazza, not that it mattered there was no-one promenading this morning. The four taxis sat on the rank unlikely to be called upon while the rain persisted. Gardeners were idle this morning, unable to tend the flower borders, cut grass, trim hedges, or work in the woods. The annual refit of the Stone boat had had to be put on hold until the weather eased. However in the workshop a certain amount of work was being carried out. A tree had been carefully selected a few days before in the woods, felled, and the branches lopped off. Now in the workshop the trimming off the bark was carried out, and a new mast was being fashioned for the Stone Boat. New ropes were fashioned into new rigging.

    No.4 had been forced to make his own breakfast, as it was far too wet for the housemaids to go out. They would have been drenched pulled along in an open trailer by a slow garden tractor. The food would have been sodden as well as stone cold! Eating a piece of buttered toast in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other he stood looking out of the window wondering what to do in the village on a wet Wednesday, under normal circumstances that might have meant a trip to the cinema. He glanced at the television in the corner of the room, maybe not. The new Recreation Hall sprang to mind, a bit too far in this rain! The café for lunch perhaps, a quick sprint through the rain, no, not when he could make himself another a cup of coffee and a sandwich here in his own cottage. He decided to sit the weather out, and selected a copy of Village Weekly from the magazine rack, then settled himself down in the comfort of an armchair.


As it happens, had No.4 made that dash to the café at lunchtime he wouldn’t have been the only customer. A few citizens through a sense of boredom had ventured out in the rain, and made it as far as the café. Their umbrellas leaning up just inside the door dripping water on the floor as they sat enjoying morning tea and cake. The main topic of the day being the weather!
   The portly shopkeeper in blue and white striped apron and straw boater stood at his open shop door. Business was slow; he had not had a customer all morning, hardly surprising considering the weather. In fact it was hardly worth opening up. And yet it had given him the time to begin a stock take, and if the rain persisted it would afford him time to make up his account books instead of having to do it in the evening. Closing the door the shopkeeper returned to the business of stocktaking.

    The Brass Band concert had been cancelled, there being no point playing the Biezt’s L’Arlesienne when there would be no-one to listen. Instead citizens were entertained with music played through black speakers in their cottages. And yet two people could be seen in the Bandstand cuddling up together and holding hands as there was a slight chill in the air.

    What to do in the village on a wet Wednesday afternoon? Certainly the persistent rain had put a completely different complexion on the village no promenading in the Piazza, no croquet played on the village green. The tide was in so no sunbathing, or playing beach ball, or swimming in the Lido. The sea was heavy, waves washed over the quayside, and crashed against a cottage and the Camera Obscura at the far end of the quayside. The rain kept almost everyone in their cottages, only the hardiest of souls braved the weather. In fact the torrential rain had put a complete dampener on everything, except in the Old People’s Home where the senior citizens were kept entertained with a game of bingo. Only the hardiest of souls braved the weather. In fact the only thing the rain was good for was that it helping to maintain security. Or so it was thought.

    No.72 had kept to his cottage all morning. After breakfast he sat reading the magazine ‘Village Mercury.’ It looked as though he was relaxing, enjoying his own company, glad that the housemaid had not called round to disturb him by flicking a yellow duster about the place, when actually he was biding his time. He made himself lunch which consisted of a tin of village baked beans on toast and a cup of tea. He stood looking out of the window, it was still raining. He put on his dark green anorak and dark blue yachting cap, and ventured outside.
   He walked this way and that ignoring the pouring rain and splashed through a stream which had once been a cobbled path. He sheltered for a few moments in the Portico next to the flooded village green observing the seemingly deserted village. Whether he was being


observed by anyone from a window he cared not, because to them he was just a fool to be out in such weather. As for the Observers he was trusting that their view via the surveillance cameras was obscured by the rain. He moved on passed the statue of Hercules with the world on his shoulders on this right, the pink pavilion on his left. He turned left along another short cobbled path and along the road down toward the Old People’s Home. He stopped, opened a gate on this left and went down the steps, these led towards the triangular lawn by the sea wall, as well as the slipway.
   By this time No.72 was thoroughly soaked through, but he cared not as he walked towards the slipway. There were two jet boats moored along side. Instinctively he crouched down, wiped the rain from his eyes, and looked about him through the pouring rain. There was no-one he could see, and hoped they could not see him, those Observers. He unbuttoned and rolled back the dark blue cover of the first jet boat before casting off, then jumped aboard. He started the boat’s engine and steered a course towards the middle of the estuary, hoping to be effectively screened by the torrential rain. The sea was heavy, large waves crashed over the bows and into the boat.

   In the Control Room it was impossible to keep a sharp watch, the surveillance cameras virtually useless with all the rain. And yet there was one device No.72 had not accounted for, could not have accounted for.
    “Supervisor, sonar contact bearing red 140” the operator announced.
    The Supervisor joined the operator at the sonar screen.
    “There” said the operator pointing to a small dot on the screen “speed estimated at about 8 knots and moving away from the village towards the mouth of the estuary.”
   “Heading towards the village?” the Supervisor asked.
   “No sir, away from the village, towards the mouth of the estuary.”
   “Moving away from the village you say, must be one of our own jet boats” the Supervisor said picking up the yellow receiver of the intercom “orange alert.”
   While the Supervisor was making his report to No.2, at the bottom of the seabed a segment of the Guardian was released from the containment area. The white sphere rose up through the calm of the water only to burst onto the surface of a rough and heavy sea. And yet as the rain beat down upon the amorphous creature, it was not impeded as it skimmed across the large waves towards the mouth of the estuary, and the small boat approaching.
   Under dark grey clouds the jet boat was battered by the waves making it heavy going. At the helm No.72 did his best to keep the rain out of his eyes by keeping his head down behind the windscreen. In the distance was something white, something sphere like. He wiped his eyes again and peered through the windshield. The white sphere became larger and larger and on a collision course with the boat.



No.72 finally recognized it for what it was, and pulled hard the helm to starboard then to port, back to starboard, to port, and starboard the boat zigzagging through the waves. This action averted the collision and the jet boat left the Guardian behind in its wake. But the sphere swiftly turned and gave chase. Both rain and sea water had accumulated in the bottom of the open boat which had washed under the engine cowling soaking the engine until it finally cut out and leaving the boat dead in the water. With waves washing over him he tried frantically to start the engine. In desperation he removed the cowling to find the engine awash. Then he heard it, the unmistakable blood curdling roar of the Guardian. It circled the drifting boat, then left the water and was in the boat. He saw a boat hook lying in the bottom of the boat, he reached for it and with it managed to fend the Guardian off. But then he slipped and fell backwards, the Guardian was on him in an instant, its membrane covering his face as he clawed at it, his mouth opened he screamed and fought for breath. Then his body fell limp as he fell into unconsciousness.
    In the Control Room the sonar operator reported the jet boat had come to a stop and was drifting on the sea. The Supervisor picked up the yellow receiver of the intercom and made his report to No.2.
    “Have M. S. Polotska put to sea and recover No.72 and take the jet boat in tow.”
    “Yes Number 2.”
    In the boathouse, Gunter was working on the engine of the motor ship, while Ernst was in the galley brewing tea, when the call came through.
    “What is it?” came the voice from the engine room.
    “We’ve been ordered to put to sea.”
    “What in this weather?”
    “We have been ordered to put to sea, there’s a life in danger, and a boat to be salvaged.”
    “Who say’s so?”
    “By order from control.”
    “If they think we’re putting to sea in this weather they’ve got another think coming!” Gunter shouted back from the engine room and swore when he dropped a spanner. Then reluctantly he emerged  from the engine room, and went and opened the boathouse doors while in the wheelhouse Ernst took the helm and started the engine. Gunter jumped aboard and M. S. Polotska was eased out of the boathouse and out into the estuary.
    “Whereabouts’ is this distressed mariner?” Gunter asked looking at the binnacle.
    “He was reported heading towards the mouth of the estuary, the boat is no longer under command and drifting.”
   Thanks to the clear-view wiper {a high speed rotating blade set in the glass} which


gave Ernst a clear view even in such heavy weather.

    It was sheer madness to carry out a search in such heavy weather, but M. S. Polotsak was forced to operate as a lifeboat, and a couple of times she had been in danger of capsizing. To spot a small boat in such a heavy sea…and then suddenly there it was, the jet boat, half filled with water and moments away from sinking. Drawing alongside as best they could in such heavy conditions Gunter went out on deck and made his way to the stern. It was dangerous work as the motor ship dipped and rolled, but he managed to tie one end of a rope to the handrail, the other he rolled up and slung over his shoulder. Climbing over the railing he waited, and looked up towards the wheelhouse through the rain, then over the side into the water as a wave rose up, washing over him on the deck. Then another wave, but this time the jet boat was pushed up against the Polotska and Gunter jumped for all he was worth.
   The jet boat was sinking and beyond salvaging. Quickly he brought the man round; gave him a nip of rum from his hip flask, and quickly  tied the end of the stout rope around the distressed sea fairer’s waist to act as a lifeline. The Polotska and the boat had drifted apart slightly, but No.72 was still attached via the life line. Gunter explained what he must do.
    “Are you ready?” Gunter shouted.
    “I…I think so” No.72 shouted getting unsteadily to his feet.
    “When I tell you, jump and get a hold of the railing and heave yourself aboard, I’ll be behind you.”
   A wave washed the jet boat back towards the Polotska, in the wheelhouse Ernst put the engine in reverse stalling the movement of the little ship for a moment. The jet boat hit the Polotska’s hull and No.72 jumped for it. His wet hands grasped the wet railing, his grip was unsure as he slipped towards a watery grave, but was saved by the lifeline. Gunter held his arms up and waited, then he made his own leap and grasping the railing heaved himself aboard the Polotska. On the deck he slipped and fell, waves continually breaking and washing over the side. No.72 was left dangling at the end of his lifeline and dragged along as the Polotska got underway once more. Gunter struggled to his feet, took a hold on the rope and heaved on it with all his strength. No.72, now half drowned and exhausted, felt himself being pulled upwards, then out of the water as he banged against the hull, the handrail just above his head. He stretched his arms upwards and grasped the rail and was eventually pulled aboard.

    The next thing No.72 knew he was in a cabin, soaked to the skin, battered and bruised but alive. He lay in a bunk wrapped in a blanket. After a moment or two he climbed out somewhat unsteadily to his feet and then fell against a cupboard as the deck swayed beneath him. Making it out of the cabin and into the narrow gangway he made his way to a short ladder leading up into the wheelhouse. He took hold of the railings and climbed the ladder. Gunter manned the radio sending


a message to control, while Ernst was at the helm steering a course for home.
    The small ship was pitching and tossing which made 72 grasp for a hand rail “Where am I?”
    “On board the Polotska” Gunter told him.
    “Who are you?”
    “Well I’m Gunter, the man at the wheel is Ernst.”
    “How did you find me?”
    “We received a radio message about a mariner in distress.”
    “Where…..where are we going?”
    “Home Ernst” told him “we won’t be long. What the devil were you doing out in a small boat in weather like this?”

    “Home, where’s home?”
    “The village!”

    The pair of steel doors opened and three men stood in the open doorway.
    “Don’t bring that wet in here!” No.2 shouted.
    The two guardians removed their oilskins and boots, as No.72 stood between them wrapped in a blanket dripping water on the floor. They took hold of No.72 and were about to march him down the ramp.
    No.2 held up a hand “Stop!” and walked out from behind his desk “What you did was foolhardy, putting yours and these two men’s lives at risk. What have you to say for yourself?”
    No.72 looked a pathetic sight, weather beaten, sodden to the skin, and perhaps more importantly defeated.
    “Have you nothing to say for yourself, come speak up” urged No.2 “Oh take him away!”

   Outside it was late afternoon and the rain finally began to ease, and by late evening the rain had ceased completely. But everywhere was water logged, and in the woods it was as though it was still raining as raindrops continued to drop from the trees. Citizens began emerge from their cottages to take the early evening air before curfew time. The café was still open, as was the General Store despite there having hardly been a customer all day, the shopkeeper thought he might catch some late afternoon early evening trade. No.4 stood on the small balcony of his cottage drinking a cup of coffee there was an air of freshness about the village, and a scent which he could not put his mind to hung in the air.
   As the evening drew on lights in cottages were switched on, as exterior lights on timers also clicked on. A few citizens still lingered in the Piazza enjoying the peaceful evening atmosphere of the village. Housemaids scurried this way and that, calling at cottages in order to make citizens nightcaps of hot chocolate. In ‘4 Private’ the announcement came that it was ten minutes to curfew, “the minutes are ten" said 


the quiet, soothing female voice. He was in the bathroom preparing himself for bed when the cottage door opened and a middle aged housemaid in white sailors hat, black dress, and white lacy apron appeared. She made herself busy in the kitchen making a nightcap for No.4, who emerged from the bathroom in pyjamas and dressing gown.   
   Quiet, soothing music, a lullaby was being played through the black speaker over which a voice announced “Curfew time, 5 minutes to curfew sleep well.”
    The housemaid took his nightcap through into the bedroom and placed it on the bedside table.
    “You had better hurry, it’s almost curfew” he told her.
    “Oh plenty of time sir, you’re my last gentleman this evening. Goodnight sir.”
    “Goodnight” he replied and sitting on the edge of the bed drank his nightcap, tonight he wanted to sleep.
    The housemaid let herself out, closing the door behind her the electric mechanism locking the door for the night.


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