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Thursday 27 October 2022

A New No.2 - Chapter 16


Chapter 16


    No.2 had risen early and had gone out into the Village. His mood was as dull and overcast as the weather. He went walking; walking along the cliffs, there was a fresh breeze and it began to rain. Standing at the very edge of the cliffs and facing into the wind the rain pelting his face in the hope it would wash away the man he had become

   It was mid morning when No.21 of administration stood on the quayside looking at the stone boat. He was soon joined by one of the Village’s senior citizens No.66.

    “A fine old vessel, sailed her many a time.”

    No.21 looked at the man wearing a naval cap and red and black striped jersey standing next to him “Really!”

    “She’s good in any weather” the ex-Admiral said “but she could do with a lick of paint.”

    “You don’t say” No.21 replied turning his attention back to the stone boat.

    Of course it was impossible to physically sail the stone boat anywhere, being part of the quay as she was, despite the black sail, and yet psychologically you could sail anywhere in her. And now the more No.21 looked the more he could see what was wrong with the stone boat, she was certainly beginning to show her age, and looked tired and weather beaten! Then he saw two workmen in dove grey overalls and peaked caps, they were sitting on the starboard side of the stone boat having their sandwiches.

    “Oi, you two come here a minute.”

    No.251 glanced over his shoulder “What’s he want?”

    “That’s Number twenty-one of administration, he’s always wanting something, and if it’s a minute he wants, it means a hard job of work for us!” No.251b replied.

    “What do we do?”

    “Better go and see what he wants I suppose.”

    “Right you two, what’s the game?” No.21 asked.

    “Game, me and my mate here we’re having our lunch” 251 said.

    “And our coffee’s getting cold” 251b added.

    “Have you seen the state of the stone boat?”

    The two workmen turned round and gave the boat the once over.

    “Admittedly she could do with a coat of paint” 251 said.

    “And the bunting’s looking a bit on the shabby side” 251b added.
    “The works committee has charged me with overseeing the refurbishment and complete refit of the stone boat” 21 said.

    251 and 251b looked at each other.



    “And I want you two to be getting on with it” 21 said “how long do you think it will take?”

    “We can’t do that.”

    “We can’t do that...sir” 251b agreed.

    “Why, what’s stopping you, you know who I am?” 21 asked.
    “Yes we know who you are, Number Twenty-one of administration” 251 said and asked for a work sheet.

    “Work sheet, I haven’t got a worksheet!” 21 admitted.
    No.251 shook his head “You have to get a work order first.”
    “It’s the Works committee who set me on this job” 21 said.
   “That’s as maybe” 251 said and went on to explain “”but you need to get a work order from the Works department which is passed on to our foreman, who in turn gives the order to us, and tells us to get on with the job.”

    “And by the time that’s all done it will be next week!” 21 said.

    “That’s right” 251 agreed.

    “Well it’s not right, all this red tape! The dinghy” No.21 said pointing at the small white boat hanging from the starboard davits.

    “What about it?” 251 asked.

    “She looks a wreck” 21 said.

    “Admittedly she’s a bit weather beaten, and could do with a couple of new straights put in her, but it’s not so bad” 251b explained.

    “Good” No.21 said turning on his heels and striding away.

    “Someone should have a word about that one” 251b said.

    “Yeah someone should, but not right now, it's still lunchtime!”

    The next day a survey was carried out on the stone boat and the department of Works passed down a refit order to the foreman, who studied the work sheet. A number of workmen were assigned to the refit, materials gathered and the work got underway. The bow sprit was sound, as was the main mast and jib. The bunting and black sail were removed and had to be replaced, the rigging was also removed. Parts of the wooden forecastle were found to be rotten, carpenters cut those sections out and replaced them, and the whole structure repainted. The dingy was removed from the davits and taken away to the workshop to have two new straights put into her. The main cabin, being made of reconstituted stone, only required a couple of coats of paint. Although some of the uprights of the wooden window frame which ran around the top of the main cabin were rotten, cut out and replaced. The stern cabin had to be completely replaced as did the ship’s wheel; the metal frame work was rusted but basically sound. The hull, being like the main cabin made from reconstituted stone, once white had taken on a grey and discoloured hue. Two men were lowered down over the starboard side on boson’s chairs, their task to clean the hull in readiness for two coats of weather proof paint.
    No.21 visited the worksite on a daily basis to see how the work was 
coming along.



    “Instead of standing there all haughty like” said the foreman “you could put on a pair of overalls and give us a hand!”
    “Do I look like a labourer?” 21 asked.
    “Labourer?” said one of the ship’s carpenters “we’re all crafts men in our own fields I’ll have you know.”
    “No offence was intended” 21 said.
    “Well offence was most definitely taken” No.179 said waving a paintbrush at 21 “and more than that we’re artisans!”
    No.21, who had been firmly put in his place, turned on his heels and marched away along the quayside.
    The No.66 the ex-Admiral and his first officer would visit the worksite each day to observe the refit of the stone boat, standing at a discreet distance as they watched the work being carried out.
    “Soon have her ship shape” the ex-Admiral said “then they have to re-launch her, and we can do boat trips up and down the estuary again.”
    “Silly old fool” one painter was heard to say.
    The portside of the stone boat was nothing more than a low wall the vessel being built into the side of the quay was painted white, and the vessel’s trim repainted black with a red line. The dinghy, complete with a set of oars, was once more hanging from the davits. The rigging replaced, a new black sail, along with fresh bunting fluttered in the breeze, and the final touch was the fitting of a new ship’s wheel.
    It wasn’t only No.21 and the ex-Admiral who took a keen interest in the stone boat’s refit. No.2 sat in his office watching the wall screen, at the work being carried out on the folly. He sat watching as the dinghy was strung from the davits, and an idea occurred to him. But then the pair of steel doors slid open breaking his concentration of thought.
    “They’ve made a good job of it, wouldn’t you say sir” No.21 said as he approached the desk.
    No.2 turned his attention from the wall screen to his assistant “Ah Twenty-one, I haven’t seen very much of you these past few days.”
    “Well you have things well in hand sir, and the Works committee instructed me to oversee a survey of the stone boat, as well as the refit.”
    “Of course you know what a stone boat is Twenty-one.”
    “Yes, the ex-Admiral explained the whole thing to me. He’s looking forward to the boat’s re-launching!”
    “And why not?” No.2 suggested.
    “You mean make an occasion of it? Good idea sir.”

    The day came when the stone boat would be re-launched, and a celebration ceremony was organized much to the pleasure of the ex-Admiral and his first officer No.1. The crowd gathered on the quay, and above along the balustrade and on the lawn of the Old People’s Home. The band played, people waved flags, and there was a genuine

air of joy and happiness. No.2 was in attendance and gave a short speech before smashing a bottle of wine over the bow of the vessel. Later he mingled amongst the gathered crowd of on-lookers’ he was looking for No.8, and then he saw her standing at the far end of the quay. It had taken time for her to come to terms with what had happened to her, and she had seen nothing of No.2, not until now.


    He approached her “how are you?”
    “As well as can be expected” she told him.
    “Settling down alright?”
    “Not really” she told him “this isn’t the type of place in which I want to spend the rest of my life.”
    “You won’t have to” he told her.
    “What do you mean by that? Do you know what they put me through?”
    “I can imagine.”
    No, you know what they did to me…I gave myself up for you, everything I knew!”
    “It’s a lot to ask I know, but trust me now and I can get the both of us out of here.”
    “You expect me to trust you…even now?”
    As they talked the figure of No.21 stood high up on the lawn of the Old People’s Home, standing at the balustrade looking down at the couple until they parted, each going their separate ways.

    During the next couple of days, No.2 being a resilient man returned to his administrative details attending meetings, dealing with miscreants, authorising the construction of a new cottage. And then there was No.8……
    The pair of steel doors opened and the figure of No.8 entered the chamber.
    “Ah there you are Number Eight” No.2 said rising out of his chair.
    “You wanted to see me” she said with just a tone of defiance.
    “We haven’t seen very much of each other recently” he told her “old friends shouldn’t lose contact.”
    “I haven’t seen very much of you, as for old friends that’s in the past.”
    “Oh no not at all. Can I offer you some tea?”
    “Just get on with it, what do you want?”
    “To talk, to ask how you are getting on.”
    “How do you think I’m getting on?” unable to hide the bitterness in her voice.
    “I can help you” he told her.

    “You, help me?”
    “It’s been quite warm recently” he said.
    “Yes, yes I suppose it has” she replied.
    “Quite hot enough for June wouldn’t you say?”
    “Yes, but you should have been….” she looked him and suddenly 
recognizing the man she once knew.



    He stepped out from behind his desk and approached her “I’m glad you understand the situation Number Eight, we all have to work together in order to achieve our aims.”
    For a moment, and it was a moment he slipped his hand in hers, she felt the small piece of paper and clenched it when he withdrew his hand.
    “It’s good to see you’re beginning to see your way here in the Village” No.2 began “I’m sorry we got off to a bad start, but I trust we can improve that situation over time. You can go Number Eight, but we will talk again” he told her.
    No.2 failed to answer the question, he watched as No.8 left his office.
   Outside she unfolded the piece of paper it read 12.30 at the brass band concert.

    With the loud music and speaking quietly they were able to speak without being overheard.
    “Are you sure we should meet in the open like this?”

    “It would have been worse had we attempted to meet in secret, that would have attracted the attention of the Observers” he told her.
    In the control room No.21 and the supervisor stood watching the large wall screen.
    “Can you get the audio?” 21 asked.
    “It would do no good, the music is hiding their voices” the supervisor explained.
    “I want a lip reader to go through this surveillance footage; I must know what they’re talking about!” 21 ordered.
    “You think Number Two is up to something with Number Eight?”
    “Number Two has suddenly become suspect?” the supervisor asked “they are old friends.”
    “I know that, and that’s what makes Number Two’s actions questionable” 21 said.
    “And you are going to catch him out?”
    “It’s for his own good.”
    “And put a feather in your own cap in the process” the supervisor suggested.

   No.2 and No.8 stood up, they said their goodbyes and walked their separate ways.
    “What are they doing?” 21 asked.
    “They are going their separate ways” the supervisor said “it looks like Number Two is on his way back to the town hall, and she is going to the café.”
   But neither did, instead they managed to meet up in a passage way between two cottages.
    “We haven’t got long” he told her.



    “You have a plan?” she asked.
    “Yes, but it must be tonight, my assistant suspects me” he told her.
    “What of?”
    “Conspiring with you!”
    “I thought you had betrayed me.”
    “If I have betrayed anyone it is myself.”
    “What are we going to do?”
    “I want you to do some shopping this afternoon, and buy a basket to put the food in.”
    “Then what?”
    “Return to your cottage and wait there. Here you are.”
    “What’s this?”
    “Tinfoil. Tonight as the maid leaves your cottage you must manage to slip this into the lock as the door closes, it will create a circuit break and prevent the electronic lock securing the door” he explained “you understand?”

    She nodded.
    “Wait until ten minutes after curfew, and don’t drink the nightcap, then slip out into the night, I shall do the same and we’ll meet up in the pink pavilion!”

    “And we escape how?”
    “By boat” he said “I know where we are Lena, we’ll be heading north, hugging the coast under the cover of darkness. Then we’ll row ashore and head in land until we find a road.”
    She looked at him “You make it all sound so easy.”
    “I assure you it will not be easy. We need to get to the stone boat first.”
    She looked at him gone out “The stone boat, why, is the Admiral simply going to sail us away?”
    “Of course not, the stone boat has a dinghy, we use that” he told her.
    Her heart lightened, and she smiled.
    “We must be careful of the Observers, and then there’s the searchlight in the tower. So are you game, because I cannot do this without you. Now go and do your shopping, and act nonchalant.”

    “I don’t feel nonchalant” she told him.
    He kissed her on the forehead and told her all would be well in the end, and then they went their separate ways.

    In the Green Dome No.21 was awaiting the dialogue spoken between No.’s 2 and 8 while at the brass band concert. The pair of steel doors opened and a woman in a white coat rushed in holding a sheet of paper.
    “Good, now let’s see” 21 said taking the sheet of paper.
    “Is this all you could get?”
    “Yes sir.”
    “They must have said more than this?”
    “No sir they didn’t.”



    “How are you keeping? I trust there have been no ill effects? You’re the last person I thought to meet here. This isn’t what I wanted to read, where’s the conspiracy in this?”
    The woman in the white coat just stood there.
    “Alright, you can go” he told her picking up the yellow ‘L’ shaped telephone “put me through to the control room.”
    “Supervisor here.”
    “I need to know, after Number Eight and Number Two split up where did they go?”
    “You saw, Number Eight went in the direction of the café, and Number Two towards the Town Hall.”
    “Yes, but did they actually go there?”
    “Eventually, what do you mean eventually?”
    “There was a minor time discrepancy” the supervisor reported.
    “How long a time discrepancy?”
    “Oh two or three minutes, no longer.”
    “And Number Eight did go to the café?”
    “Yes sir.”
    “And Number Two is in the Town Hall?”
    “Yes sir, put up camera thirty-six vision only.”
    On the wall screen was pictured a meeting in the committee chamber, and there was No.2 chairing that meeting.
    “Yes, he’s in a committee meeting at this very moment” the supervisor observed.
    No.21 put the phone down.

    That night the maids came to turn down the beds, and make nightcaps for the citizens, as they did every night. Except tonight No. 8 would not drink her nightcap, sleep was the last thing on her mind. The maid bid No.8 a goodnight and crossed the lounge to the cottage door, as the door closed behind her No.8 with tinfoil in hand managed to slip it between the mortise and tenon of the lock creating a false connection of the electric lock. Once in the bedroom she laid down upon the bed, the lights dimmed, and she waited.

    In his room in the Town Hall No.2 also waited. His plan was to get out by the bathroom window, which would take him out to the back of the building. From there he would make his way along to a set of steps at the back of a cottage, which lead down to the road, and then it was but a short distance to the wrought iron gates and the pink pavilion beyond. He checked his watch, it was a little after curfew. Leaving his room, still fully dressed, he walked along the corridor to the bathroom, he slid the brass bolt securing the door, then forced the little window open, climbed out into the night.



   No.8 climbed off the bed and in the dim light collected the basket of food from the kitchen, then crossing the lounge pulled open the door, the tinfoil falling to the floor she slipped out into the night closing the

door behind her. Under the cloak of darkness she kept low so to dodge the surveillance cameras, she made her way along the path, at the

end building she descended a few steps by a statue, then along to the pink pavilion where she found No.2 waiting.
    “How long have you been here?” she whispered.
    “A minute or so” he told her, which was perfectly true.

    It was a dark, moonless night, the conditions perfect, as they left the cover of the pink pavilion, and made their way down steps which led to the stop of the waterfall. The biggest obstacle now was the searchlight based in the top of the tower.

    “If I’m right the searchlight crew will be watching the estuary” he said.

    “And if not?”
    “If not we’ll be like two bunnies caught in the headlights of a car!”
    Keeping to the sea wall was one thing, but between them and the sea wall was clear open ground, and there was always the constant danger of the Observers. No.2 relieved No.8 of her basket to allow her to make a dash for the swimming pool and the sea wall. She saw the light sweep out across the estuary, then back lighting up the quayside, and then the danger struck her. Having made it to the swimming pool No.8 crouched down with her back to the sea wall. No.2 was not far behind her, and together they made their way along to the quay and finally to the stone boat and into the main cabin they both went as the searchlight swept back and fourth across the estuary. Emerging from the main cabin they went round to the starboard side, No.2 placed the basket of provisions into the dinghy, then working together they released the ropes and began to lower the dinghy from the davits into the water. Suddenly the stone boat was lit up by the searchlight and three figures stood on the quayside.

    “Why am I not surprised Number Two, or do I mean Six?” 21 said.
    “Oh yes, I was forgetting for the moment. Secure that dinghy.”
    Two guardians boarded the stone boat, No.2 showed a margin of resistance towards the guardians, but were allowed to secure the dinghy.

    “If you go with these gentlemen my dear” No.21 said in a courteous fashion.
    “Where are they taking me?” she demanded.
    “No need to worry my dear, they’ll take you home that’s all” No.21 said reassuringly.

    Two security guards in grey overalls, white helmets, gloves and boots brandishing white truncheons took No.2 into security.

   “It’s such a pity. Yes I had my doubts about you at the beginning, and yet you grew on me. We had high hopes for you.”
    The game was well and truly up.
    “What will you do to Lena?”
    “You mean Number Eight, but I shouldn’t waste energy worrying

about her, you have enough to worry about yourself. In your time you have given the administration here a great deal of trouble. Now you are going to put us to even more trouble in having to find someone else.”
    “Someone else?”
    “You being no longer fit for office. Oh but I can sympathize with you, there comes a point when we all want nothing more than to escape.  

    “What is to be my fate?” No.2 dared to ask.
    “I think we can find a way in which you can still be of service to this community, and retain your number at the same time 2h.”



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