Search This Blog

Monday, 24 January 2022

Chapter 17


The Ghost In The Machine

    The steel doors opened and No.2 walked through into the Control Room, and stood looking down from the mezzanine level.
    “How’s Number 4?”
    The Supervisor-No.22 looked up at No.2 “He’s asleep” she said.
    “Really!” No.2 said descending the steel staircase.
    “Although his sleep is light.”
    “Well we’ll have to deepen it for him that’s all, pulastor.”
    In 4 Private the ceiling light above the bed began to pulsate as it descended in order to cover the face of the slumbering No.4.
    “Now, send a medic and two orderlies and have Number 4 taken to the hospital.”
    “Yes Number 2.”
    A Mini-Moke towing a Red Cross trailer pulled up at the back of 4 Private. The lock was released and the door opened. The medic went in first, followed by orderlies, one carrying a stretcher, the other a blanket. The medic checked the cup on the bedside table, then the man slumbering in the bed. When all was to his satisfaction he indicated to the two orderlies to put the patient on the stretcher and carry him out to the ambulance.

   In the laboratory No.2 and a doctor, No.23, a woman in her late fifties, along with her medical team were waiting an arrival.
   “How long professor?”
   The professor checked the clock on the wall “Not much longer, they’ll be here in a few minutes.”
    “No, I meant how long will the operation take?”
    “Oh I see what you mean. Oh I should think one, perhaps two hours; it’s a complicated operation as you know.”
    No.2 looked at his wrist watch “It’s a little after midnight; you have precisely twenty-four hours in order to complete this experiment.”
    The Professor protested “That’s not long enough!”
    “Protest as much as you wish, it’s all the time afforded to me. Just get this right Professor.”
    The pair of white doors opened and No.4 was wheeled into the theatre on an operating table, and the doctor and his surgical team began to get to work on the subject.

    No.13 was in the bathroom shaving when a voice from the kitchen asked “What do you want for breakfast darling?”
    He held the razor from his face for a moment “Two poached eggs on toast” and carried on with his shave.


   No.13 a tall man in his early forties, blond with blue eyes looked at himself in the mirror his hands poised as the moment had come, the moment of applying aftershave and for that stinging sensation. He replaced the top on the bottle of aftershave and looked at himself in the mirror. Not bad he thought for a man of forty-three, and yet there was something….something at the back of his mind that puzzled him. Shrugging his shoulders he picked up his dressing gown and put it on.
   In the kitchen his wife No.13b, Vanessa, had put out the breakfast things, two slices of toast in the toaster, water in a pan was simmering, cracking two eggs into a saucer she tipped each one in turn into the pan they were allowed to cook for a couple of minutes then left the eggs in the pan, finally left to drain on a piece of kitchen towel. And for herself a bowl of cornflakes and orange juice.

    “Good morning darling” he said planting a kiss on her cheek.
    “Good morning darling” she said returning his kiss “how did you sleep, eggs won’t be a moment.”
    “I closed my eyes and simply dropped off, but that’s as good as it got. I dreamed someone had got under my skin, that when I peeled off

my face I was someone else.”
    A look of worry crossed Vanessa’s face, but just for a moment as she poured out two cups of tea “It’s their fault; its horrid we should never have been brought to this place!”
    He added milk and sugar and sat stirring his tea allowing his mind to drift “If it had been any other day I might have been away from my desk.”
    Vanessa served up the poached eggs on toast “It wasn’t your fault, the file landed on your desk by mistake that’s all.”

    “A file on the village, and I only glanced at it.”
    “But it was enough” she said.
    “Yes. But that’s no reason to have dragged you along as well.”
    “I’m pleased they did. It would be worse to be back there without you, than here with you. Do you think they will leave us alone now?”
    “They have tried most things, even to the point of using you against

me. That doctor is a complete………”
    There was a sudden pain in his head, he saw himself lying on an operating table, a woman in a surgical robe wearing a mask stood over him, there was a scalpel in her hand……. That was when he attacked his wife who had stood over him with a butter knife in her hand.

    “What caused that do you think?” asked the Supervisor.
    No.2 stood looking up at the screen and shook his head as No.13 took his hands from around his wife’s throat, the butter knife having slipped from her hand. Vanessa staggered back rubbing her throat and glaring at her husband as he dropped back in the chair.
    “I’m sorry, I don’t know…….” Claude pulled himself together.     
    “You’ve never hurt me before.”


    “No, I haven’t, I was in an operating theatre, there was a doctor or someone standing over me, it was you!”

    “Me! I can assure you I’ve never been………it must have been that doctor Number 23. Some doctor she’d drive anyone to the grave. It’s this place, can’t we get away?”
    “Some chance, we’ve told them everything we know.”
    “So what now?”
    “I suppose we live out the rest of our lives in the peaceful atmosphere of… of the village!”
    No.2 crossed the floor to the steel staircase “Keep a close watch on our friend, and let me know if there is another sudden attack as that.”
    “Yes Number 2.”
    Standing on the mezzanine level, the pair of steel doors slid open, No.2 took one final look at the wall screen to see domestic bliss had apparently returned to ‘13 Private.’

    Later that day with the sun shining and the cottage becoming somewhat claustrophobic, Claude and Vanessa decided to get out for a stroll and some fresh air. She had decided to wear a scarf about her neck so as to obscure the bruising, and so doing avoided any embarrassing questions, although she was aware that the little scene in the kitchen that morning would have been witnessed, by the Observers, they do see and hear everything apparently.

   The walk had taken them through the village, along the quayside and out along the cliffs. It was really the most perfect day, people enjoying themselves on the beach, the dark terrors of the village like spilled ice cream melting away in the sunshine. Further on, a couple of people were messing about in the rock pools as a section of cliff descended to the beach. Beyond the lighthouse was the cove, a few people were enjoying what little privacy the cove afforded them, as they relaxed sunbathing. Then No.13 looked a little further out and saw the water. He didn’t know what it was, but suddenly he staggered back from the edge of the cliff holding his head.

    “What is it darling?” his wife said going to his aid.
    “I….I don’t know. I was looking at the water and there was a man a man dragging a hollowed out tree trunk across the beach. He paddled out to sea, then the Guardian came and………”
    “I didn’t see such a man!”
    “You must have done.”
    “No darling there was no-one. Look there’s no sign of anyone in the water let alone the Guardian.”
    “He stepped towards the edge of the cliff. There was no-one in the water, and no tell-tale tracks in the sand other than those of the few people sunbathing” he didn’t understand. Was he starting to see things, or were they some kind of flashback.
    “I think we had better go back now, this place is having a bad effect on you, perhaps you should see a doctor” his wife told him.


    He glared at the woman on his arm “No” he said sternly “no more doctors.”
    “Very well darling, as you wish.”

    In his office No.2 sat in his chair reading No.13b’s report, lifting his eyes from the single page he looked at the woman sat on the other side of the desk.
    “Where does he think you are now?”
    “I said I had to go to the General Store for a loaf of bread.”

    “He attacked you.”
    “Yes sir, but I’m sure it was brought on by some memory recall. One moment he was fine, the next he was at my throat.”
    “I see. And then there was the incident on the cliffs.”
    “I cannot explain that. He seemed to be seeing something I could not.”
    “That was Number 62 who hollowed out a tree trunk and used it in an escape attempt a month or so back.”

    “So what he saw was a memory.”
    “Yes” No.2 said picking up the receiver of the grey telephone “hospital, Professor how sure are you of the conditioning of our friend?”
    “Why do you ask?”
    “Because he has been experiencing memories!”
    “That’s impossible!”
    “Clearly not Professor.”
    “Well the adjustment went according to plan; we wiped his memory, and gave him a new one according to his new situation. Of course there is no accounting for the ghost in the machine syndrome.”

    “Ghost in the machine, please explain.”
    “Even though we wiped his memory of all previous experiences here in the village, there was bound to be something that remained, a memory hidden away in the dark recesses of the mind.”
    “You knew this could be the case when we started?”
    “I thought it possible, but unlikely. Do you want No.13 brought back in?” the Professor asked.
    No.2 thought for a moment “No, I have someone close to 13, should any further anomalies occur she will report directly to me. We’ll reappraise the situation should it be necessary.”
    No.2 replaced the receiver on the phone “You can go, don’t forget your loaf of bread.”

    “Haven’t you changed those spark plugs yet?” asked the foreman.
    No.13, who had his head under the bonnet of a Mini-Moke, was replacing the carburettor.
    “I said haven’t you…….”
    “Of course I have” 13 said emerging from beneath the bonnet and wiping his hands on an oily rag “now I’ve just replaced the 
carburettor, and checked the oil as


well as the brake fluid.”
    “All right clever dick, now you can change the off-side rear tyre of that one” said the foreman “when you’ve done that get yourself off to the slipway, one of the Jet boats has developed engine problems.”
    13 dropped the oil rag and closed the bonnet of the Mini-Moke “I always think it’s good to be kept busy, it helps pass the time!”
   He changed the tyre on the other Mini-Moke and both vehicles were soon back in service. Then it was the long slow drive to the slipway on a John Deer garden tractor, not only that but someone had had a sudden brainstorm and added a candy striped canopy to the tractor, which was set up on a tall framework which made the canopy effectively useless as a device to protect against the elements! The tractor towed a small trailer a sign displayed the word ‘MECHANICS.’ As for the ride, it would have been quicker had he walked!
    By the time he arrived at the slipway another mechanic was already there. Climbing off the tractor he opened up the trailer and taking out his tool box walked along the slipway to where the mechanic was already working on the engine.
    “You took your time!” No.245 said wiping his hands on an oil rag.
    “I didn’t think it was an emergency, so I took the scenic route” No.13 told him.
    “Yes very funny! I don’t know why you bothered driving that thing here.”
    “It’s better than walking!”

    “Only just!”
    “What’s wrong with this thing then?” 13 asked climbing into the boat.
    “It just won’t start for some reason.”

    “Plenty of fuel in the tank I suppose.”
    “You know, I would never have thought of that!”

    In the Control Room the Supervisor and No.2 stood watching the wall screen as the two mechanics worked on the jet boat’s engine.
    “Well that all looks to be going pretty well” No.2 said with confidence.
    “So far so good” said the Supervisor “We’ll see how he gets on once the engine is repaired.”
   “You mean when he puts out into the estuary in the boat.”
   “Yes, if No.13 is playing a game with us because of a piece of the ghost is still in the machine, he might not come back!”
   They continued to watch the screen as the two mechanics stood looking at the engine.
   “Right, better fire her up” said 245.
   No.13 leaned over and turned the ignition, the engine coughed, spluttered and died. He tried again with the same result, but a third time after a cough and two splutters the engine fired into life. With a thumbs up from 245 they replaced and bolted the engine cowling back into position.


    “Right, you had better take her out.”

    “Me?” said 13.
    “Yes you, I’m on my way back to the workshop. Enjoy yourself” 245 said stepping onto the slipway and casting the boat off.
    No.13 got into the seat and took the wheel in his hands, he throttled the engine and the jet boat moved away from the slipway and out into the estuary.
    “Now we shall see” said No.2 watching the action on the wall screen.
    The jet boat was skimming across the waves in mid estuary, 10, 12, 14 knots. No.13 could see the mouth of the estuary in the distance, he was about to slow the boat and turn back when something came at him. It took only a couple of minutes for the Guardian to draw alongside the speedboat. No.13 pulled hard to port on the wheel crashing the boat onto the white fibreglass dome of the Guardian.

    “What’s he doing?” No.2 asked looking at the wall screen “why is the boat veering away like that?”
    “He appears to be taking evasive action if you ask me!” said the Supervisor.
    “Why, there’s nothing there!”

     This sent the droid off course momentarily, but regained its position alongside, its blue light flashing more intently and brighter. No.13 turned the wheel hard to starboard leaving the Guardian in its wake.
    “Now what’s he doing?” said a puzzled No.2.
    “I really couldn’t say sir.”

   13 turned the boat again to meet the thing head on……crash! The bow of the speedboat had punctured a hole in the fibreglass dome, rupturing one of the floatation tanks in the process, both of which were taking on water fast. No.13 leapt overboard and began to swim away; foundering in the water he turned to see boat and Guardian sink below the waves.
   “He’s stopped the boat, and now he’s jumped into the water. What did he do that for?”

    “Get the helicopter pilot to retrieve No.13 from the water!”
    “Yes Number 2.”

    The helicopter landed on the water, and two guardians helped the floundering No.13 out of the water and into the helicopter. Taking off the pilot flew the helicopter over the village and landed in a pasture next to the hospital. Two male orderlies were waiting to help No.13 to the hospital, and was put into an interrogation room which was void of table or chair forcing the subject to remain standing. 13 sat on the floor.
    “Now 13, what the devil do you think you were playing at?” asked a disembodied voice.
    No.13 looked about the room for a black speaker, there wasn’t one.


    “You saw what happened, or at least your Observers would have seen.”
    “We saw you driving the jet boat erratically, had you simply lost control?”
    “What were you doing then?”
    “It was the droid’s fault!”
    “Droid?” the voice asked “what droid?”
    “That mechanical Rover thing, I was trying to escape and you sent it after me. I rammed it and the thing sank. Ask your Observers they will have seen, I saw it coming at me, I rammed it and the thing sank. They must have seen it, they must have.”
    “Is he having a nervous breakdown? No.14 asked.

    No.2 and 14 looked at each other, then at the Professor who was making notes.
    “Well Professor, is he?”
    “Is he what?”
    “Having a nervous breakdown?” 2 asked.
    “That is impossible.”
    “Then how do you explain it?”
    The Professor put his pencil in the breast pocket of his white coat “I shall have to conduct a series of tests.”
    “Tests!” barked No.2 “tests, any layman can tell what’s gone wrong it’s the re-programming its left memories.”
    “That’s not possible” said the Professor defiantly.
    “He remembers, he’s just been living a memory of his former life that happened months ago!”
    “I shall have to conduct a series of tests” the Professor repeated.
    “Then do so, but find a way to retrieve the situation, otherwise you will have failed this project!”
   “I could reverse the process!”
   “What and have Number 13 suddenly strip the engine down of one of the taxi’s when it’s standing on the rank when he suddenly gets the urge, Number 14.”
    “Yes sir.”
    “Give Number 13 a free ride home.”
    “You are sending him home?”
    “Yes, my decision, it’s not his fault” No.2 said.
    “But he needs to be here, he needs to be under my supervision” argued the Professor.
    “Perhaps he just needs to go home and be with his wife.”
    “A wife he attacked!”
    “Yes, because he is remembering!”
    “Yes you in a white coat, the operation, the conditioning, it’s all coming back to him!”
    “Impossible, we wiped his memory and gave him a new life.”


    “Go back to your notes professor, go over the process again, and find a way to eradicate that ghost in the machine!”  

    Outside the hospital No.14 put No.13 in a taxi and he was driven home. His wife was in the kitchen preparing his favourite dish when she heard the door to the cottage open. 13 went through into the lounge and sat down, his wife 13b, joined him and sat next to him on the sofa.
    “Where have you been darling?”
    “You weren’t at the hospital!”
    “Hospital, what were you doing at the hospital?”
    “They didn’t tell you?”
    “Have you had an accident, are you hurt?”
    “Accident yes, hurt no” he said, but he was confused.
    “Tell me darling.”
    “I was testing one of the jet boats, 245 and I had been working on its engine. I took the boat out into the estuary; there was this thing, Rover, a droid. It must have thought I was trying to escape. I took evasive action, but it kept coming at me, eventually I steered the boat straight for it, and sank it.
    His wife sat there looking at him, the realization washing over her that something was seriously wrong with him. A nervous breakdown it seemed caused by some stress or strain. Perhaps the hospital was the best place for him, if he was to go berserk again she might not survive it. She decided to call No.2, but from a telephone kiosk! 

    “Yes my dear, I understand your natural anxiety, but he needs to remain calm, at a time like this he needs to be reminded of ordinary everyday things. He needs those who love him to be close” No.2 said trying his best to sound reassuring.
    “But I don’t love him!”
    “You have been assigned to him because you are one of our best agents. Surely you can feign your love, at least show some affection towards him.”
    “It’s not you who’s cooped up in a cottage with it!”
    “It will not be for much longer my dear. I fear this experiment was doomed from the start.”

    No.2 had put the phone down, leaving No.13b left out in the cold. It was a slow walk back from the kiosk to ‘13 Private,’ and when she did finally returned home.

    No.13 was in the bedroom, he had been lying down, thinking, trying to give reason for the things he was remembering. He got up and caught sight of himself in the dressing table mirror, he sat down on the stool and gazed deeply into the mirror. He saw the day of his arrival in the village the taxi ride, and meeting Number 2 for the first time;

    “I can see you are about to ask me a question” the man behind the desk said.


   “I have several questions, beginning with why am I here?”
    “I would have thought introductions should come first. I am Number 2” he tapped the badge on the lapel of his jacket with a finger.
    “Well that doesn’t tell me much!”
    “And you are our new Number 4.”
    “Number what?”
    “I’m no number, my name is…….”

    Then his first escape attempt. No.4 was way ahead, and close to taking the speedboat out into the open sea, it has been all too easy. And yet when he glanced over his shoulder, much to his surprise he saw he was now being pursued. Not by another speedboat, but something round something which appeared to skim over the water. He kept the speedboat on a true course straight for the open sea, casting another glance over his shoulder he saw a flashing blue light, and that it was gaining on him. Then came the interrogation.   

    The doctor turned to the trolley and selected another syringe filled with a dark red liquid “Now….what were you doing in East Germany?”
    “I was never in East Germany” he said using the pain from his wrists to block out the memory.
    “That is a lie, but I won’t hold it against you because I like a challenge, there’s no fun in it if my subjects talk too soon. But you will tell me laddie, in the end you’ll want to tell me”

    A third injection as the needle entered the Prisoner’s upper arm, the plunger depressed.
    “It doesn’t hurt any more the Prisoner said.”
    “Doesn’t it laddie?”
    “No” he said and his lips formed a smile, and a happy look came over his face “I’m high.”
    “Are you laddie?”
    “I’m higher than you.”
    “You don’t say.”
    “I do say.”
    “Then tell me about Klaussmann?”
    “You heard the question. Did Klaussman give you anything?”
    “I don’t know any Klaussman.”
    East Germany, you were on assignment there.”
    “I’ve never been there.”
    “Where, where haven’t you been?”
    “You’re a funny man, I like you.”
    “Did Klaussmann give you the formula?”
    “Funfair, you went to the funfair, Spreepark is that where you went?”
    “Ferris wheels, roundabouts… you like candy floss, I like candy floss.”


    “You went the Spreepark funfair, Klaussmann passed something to you.”
    The Prisoner struggled to suppress old memories; he worked his wrists against the blood soaked leather restraints.
    “Did Klaussmann give you a book?”
    “Why are you doing this?”
    “I’m not, you are. Do yourself a favour, tell me what I want to know and this will stop.”
    “You’re funny, I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about” the Prisoner laughed.
    “Then I’m sorry for you laddie” the doctor said the pain of a small scratch as the needle of the syringe was pushed into his arm and the plunger pushed.
    “About three minutes is usual” the doctor said.
    “Three minutes?” the Prisoner asked.
    “Until the drug takes effect, what shall we do in that time?”
    “We could have a cup of tea.” The Prisoner said sarcastically.

“Good people of our community.”
    “Hoorah” the people shouted.
    “It has to be said that there has been a lack of opposition in the matter of free elections. This is not good for you the people, and our community as a whole. It suggests a lack of will in the people, an acceptance of things as they are, and a reluctance to progress.”
    “We have here a candidate whose outlook on this community is one of militancy, and individualism.”
    “Hoorah, hoorah.”
    “Let us hope he will realize his duty to this community, by taking up the challenge. It is my pleasure to present to you a recent recruit, Number 4.”
    No.2 handed No.4 the megaphone, and he stood there looking down on the gathered crowd, who looked up to him expectantly.
    “What do I say?”
    “Say what you like” No.2 told him pinning a black rosette to the lapel of his blazer, on the white centre disc the black number 4.
    No.4 raised the megaphone to his mouth and the people stood waiting with baited breath to hear the candidate’s opening speech.
    “I don’t know what you and Number 2 and his administration expect of me, but I’m not being railroaded into standing against him in this local election” he announced lowering the megaphone.
    The crowd stood silent, and accusing.
    No.2 leaned over towards his opponent “That’s not the sort of thing these good people want to hear. Give then something they can cheer, tell them what you stand for.”

    It was a square room, carpet on the floor, a grey filing cabinet in a corner, a couple of paintings decorated the walls. On the far wall were


two word maps, the one to the right had small illuminating parts of the world. And there was a desk, a large oak desk, with a bad-headed man sat in a chair behind it. The man had failed to notice No.4 enter the room, or if he had he made no reaction. He simply sat there filling in The Daily Telegraph crossword. It must have been just after 3 in the afternoon, because there was no tea plate accompanying the cup and saucer. No.4 slowly approached the desk.
    “Anyone at home?” he asked.
    The bald-headed man looked up through his spectacles but said nothing.
    “Who are you then?”
    The man behind the desk remained silent.
    “Are you the chief inquisitor?”
    The man simply sat there toying with his ballpoint pen.
    “I expect you want me to talk, what do you want me to say?”
    The man remained silent.
    No.4 leaned over the desk “What…do…you…want…me…to…say?”
    The man said nothing, showed no reaction, wouldn’t be drawn into speaking.
    “What’s this, the silent treatment” No.4 looked about the room “don’t I even get a chair to sit on? You know I’m not at all sure what you are, perhaps you’re no more than a pen pushing bureaucrat.”
   “He is” said a woman’s voice “but I’m not.”
   A tall woman wearing a white coat had entered the room, in her right hand a syringe.
   “Now just relax, this won’t hurt, well not immediately anyway” the doctor said slowly approaching his patient.
    “What have you there?”
    “The first dose of Scopolamine” the doctor said.

    About a mile and a half back along the track there appeared a small gap in the hedgerow. Stopping the Jeep No.4 clambered out and stepped off the trail and through the gap in the hedge. Ahead of him was an open field but with hedges and ditches on all sides, except in the far corner there was a closed wooden gate. He climbed back into the jeep and started out across the field. The ground was good to soft and easy going for the jeep. But even at this distance No.4 was still on his guard, he was not far enough away from the village to drop his guard just yet. There had been no sign of anyone, no sign of occupation, farm, or cottage. Then there it was! The long arm of the village reached even this far, as the white amorphous sphere crossed the field towards the jeep. No.4 kept the jeep heading straight towards  the gate which he fully intended crashing through and carrying on his way. He calculated that as long as he remained inside the jeep he was safe from that membranic thing! He was surprised that it could maintain the same speed as the jeep, but was unable to get aboard the moving vehicle.

    “Now Number 4, are you coming quietly, or do we have to use force?" said one of


the security guards.
    No.4 was quick to weigh up the situation, and remembered everything……

    The cottage door opened and No.13b returned home.
    “Where have you been?” he asked
    “I……I went for a walk, I needed some air” she told him.
    “Really, aren’t you supposed to be here looking after me?”
    “Why are you looking so afraid?”
    “I’m not afraid, shall I make some coffee?”

    “No. My memory has returned, I remember everything….I was never married so who the hell are you!”
    No.58 made for the door, at first he made a move to stop her, but instead he let her go.

    In the Control Room the Supervisor picked up the receiver of the yellow telephone and called No.2.

    “It’s reported that Number 13b has run out of the cottage.”
    “Number 4 has also just left the cottage, he’s crossing the square, an ambulance has just pulled up in the road” reported the Supervisor still watching the wall screen.

    “Ah Number 4, just in time for your check up” said the medical orderly.
    “A check up, I’ve never had a check up before.”
    “Well it’s high time you did” said the orderly.
    “Another time perhaps” said No.4 about to go on his way.
    Then three security guards in grey overall, dark glasses, white helmets stepped out of the white Mini-Moke, each had a white truncheon. They attacked No.4 who fought the three men off until one clubbed him over the head, there was a sudden clanking sound, and he fell to the ground. No.4’s unconscious body was placed in the Red Cross trailer and driven off to the hospital.


No comments:

Post a Comment