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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? 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!”


    “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.


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


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.”


    “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?"


    “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.


   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?”


    “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.


   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!


    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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