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Monday 17 October 2022

The Prisoner - A New No.2 - Chater 13


Chapter 13


    No.2 donned his dressing gown, left the comfort of his room and walked along the corridor to the bathroom carrying a towel and his wash bag. He was quiet, almost subdued as he closed the bathroom door behind him. Disrobing he ran himself a shower. Plugging in his electric razor he found himself looking at the self he had become in the mirror.
    “Where is that…. “I’m not a number” person?” he heard a voice ask.
    Its true he is not the man he once was, rebellious, a reactionary, and disharmonious. If today was Appreciation Day the word on that monument would be assimilate! It’s true, he had assimilated into the village, and has that to thank for the man he has become. Why had he so easily and so readily accepted being promoted to the position of Number 2? The plan, what was it, to lean more about the Village, its inner most workings and eventually to bring the system down from within? You did have a plan didn’t you? Perhaps it was to make changes then, to make a better, a descent Village for people to live in. You did have a plan didn’t you? If you did it was thrown out of the window, for you relish your new position, and that makes you no better than any of your predecessors. What is it about? They did it to you now it’s their turn to suffer? But its not they who are suffering, you’re not punishing them for what they did to you. You are No.2, you are Village, and there’s no getting away from it because it’s in you. You breathe it in each and every day. Where is this, “I am not a number I am a free man,” I do not see him, for that man no longer exists! 

    The black global chair rose up through the floor behind the grey curved desk; sitting in the chair No.2 had a thoughtful expression on his face. The pair of steel doors opened and his assistant No.21, dressed immaculately as always, walked smartly down the ramp, the steel doors closing behind him. He approached the desk and looked at his superior.

    “If you knew me Twenty-one would you like me?”
    21 gave his superior a quizzical look “That’s a bit deep for a Thursday.”
    “Would you?”
    “You’re not here to be liked sir.”
    “Then why am I here?”
    “You are Number Two.”
    “I must be more than…than a mere number.”
    “The people like you……”


    “Do they, do they?”
    “….they appreciate you for who you are sir.”
    “My name, what’s my name?”
    No.21 looked blankly at his superior.
    “Does this place, this Village absorb us so much that it takes our being so much that we are no longer the people we used to be, taking away our humanity?”
    This was not like No.2 at all to be talking this way.
    “You seem troubled this morning Number Two.”
    “I have doubts Twenty-one.”
    “Doubts sir?”
    “What’s more I am not the man I was.”
    “We all change, the job changes us.”
    “But that’s not all; I have lost something in the process of becoming Two.”
    “And what is it that you have lost sir?”
    “I have lost….my self!”

    The pair of steel doors opened and the diminutive figure of the butler pushed the breakfast trolley down the ramp and across the floor. He busied himself setting out the breakfast things on the desk. There was a plate covered by a silver plated dish cover which he picked up uncovering a plate of flapjacks.
    “Do I like flapjacks?” No.2 asked leaning forward in his chair.
    The butler looked blankly at his master.
    “Take it away and bring me bacon and eggs” No.2 ordered “but leave the tea.”
    The butler replaced the dish cover, bowed and took it away.
    No.2, rising out of his chair, picked up the silver plate teapot and poured out two cups of tea, adding milk and sugar to one, and looked for the lemon for his own tea
    “Anything wrong sir?”
    “There’s no lemon.”
    “I’m sorry sir?”
    “I like my tea with lemon!”
    A few minutes later the pair of steel doors opened and the butler returned with No.2’s bacon and eggs.
    “You forgot……..”
    The butler set the plate of eggs and bacon on the desk, and dropped a slice of lemon into the cup of tea. He bowed, turned, and left the office pushing the breakfast trolley as he went.
    “A funny little chap” No.21 said “he never forgets anything he remembers!”
    No.2 sat eating his breakfast while No.21 drank his tea.

    Later that morning the grey ‘L’ shaped telephone on the desk began to bleep, No.249 a bald-headed man, wearing tortoise shell spectacles, grey roll neck jersey and white coat picked it up.


    “Head of psychiatrics…….. you want to know about Number Two well technically he’s no longer Number Two of course, and hasn’t been for some time now, but he’s still with us, on the psychiatric ward……..oh I see…… the current Number Two, how do you mean he’s not quite himself?.......well none of us are who we once were………doubting himself, I would say that’s normal, after all who amongst us has never done that. I prescribe work, there’s nothing like it, it can be a cure for most ills. Who is this speaking?”
    The telephone went dead.
    No.21 put down the telephone and stepped away from the kiosk.
    “Good afternoon everyone, good afternoon, and congratulations on yet another day” began the cheery female announcer, her voice coming out through the Village public address speakers “the weather forecast is that the recent fine spell of weather is set to continue, The Tally Ho is now on sale, as is ice cream, the flavour of the day is chocolate. Here is an announcement. Your citizens  council officially proclaims Tuesday of next week, as our annual Appreciation Day, the day when we pay due honour to the brave and noble man who governs us so wisely. The proceedings will be opened by an address from Number Two himself, and concluded by a new unveiling of the Appreciation monument. Enjoy the day….be seeing you.”
    “What does she mean by congratulating us on yet another day do you suppose?” No.91 asked.
    “It means you have survived the night, they generally come for you in the night. You haven’t been here long, you’ll learn” No.61 told him..
    “Who’s that?” 91 asked watching a man hurrying across the Piazza.
    “That’s Number Twenty-one, he’s Number Two’s assistant, and they do say he’s an ambitious man.”
    “Do you always sit here?”
    “I mostly sit here, there comes a time when there’s little else to do.”
    “One could try to escape!”
    The old man looked at the young man and put a finger to his lips “You ought not to say such things.”
    “Why not?”
    61 glanced about him “You never know who might be listening, besides there’s no way out of this place, do you think no-one has never tried?”
    “Then there’s nothing left to hope for” 91 said.
    “Abandon all hope ye who enter here!”
    “That’s a sad outlook.”
    “This place has many ways of breaking a man, both in body and in spirit. Unless you were once a prisoner and now find yourself in charge of the asylum!”
    “You mean to say Number Two was once a prisoner here, then why hasn’t he opened the door and let the inmates out?” 91 asked in astonishment.


    “He tried that once before” the old man said.
    “This is actually his second term in office, his first didn’t last all that long. His idea was to be elected as a new Number Two, he thought he could then organise a mass breakout” the old man explained.
    “So what happened?”
    “No-one took any notice of him!”
    “What’s this Appreciation Day about?”
    “It takes place once a year, mind you whatever has Number two done for us?”

    The pair of steel doors slid opened and No.21 paused at the open door. Behind the desk the black global chair was turned away, he hurried down the ramp, across the floor and turned the chair around to find it empty! Reaching for the yellow telephone he put a call through to the control room.
    “Supervisor I want you to put out a general call for Number Two.”
    “Who is this?”
    “Number Twenty-one, I’m in the Green Dome and there’s no sign of Two, and I’m worried about him!”
    The supervisor hung up then pressing the chrome button on the yellow telephone “Calling Number Two, calling Number Two, Number Two please report to the Green Dome. I repeat, Number Two please report to the Green Dome as soon as possible.”
    Meanwhile No.21 stood at the desk pressing buttons on the control panel bringing up various locations around the Village on the wall screen. The café, Piazza the Village green, bandstand, the Old People’s Home, swimming pool, and the outlook on top of the cliff.
    Number 2 stood on the outlook looking out across the estuary. He had heard the announcement, hearing the words of the supervisor, but he didn’t feel like reporting to the Green Dome. After all there was no-one to report to, because he was here remembering. And there he was looking below, down on the beach.
    “You’re waiting for someone Mister Tuxedo?” a voice behind him asks “or expecting someone?”
    He turns to see No.2 wearing a skimpy pantomime costume “Peter Pan?”
    “So it seems.”
    “With his shadow” he says mockingly.
    “You’re being hostile again” says the imp-like figure “What are you looking for?”
    “A light.”
    “A star.”
    “A boat.”
    “An insect.”
    “A plane.”


    “A flying fish.”
    “Somebody who belongs to my world” he tells her.”
    “This is your world, I am your world.” Peter Pan tells him “If you insist on living a dream, you may be taken for mad.”
    “I like my dream” he replied.
    He took a step up and stood on the very edge of the outlook.
    “Number Two?” a voice asked.
    “Twenty-one is that you?”
    “Yes sir, you’re not, not thinking of jumping?”
    “If I did, do you think I would wake up?”
    “I don’t understand sir.”
    “This, the Village, this is my dream, but now I wish to wake up from it.”

    “Step down sir, and we can talk about it” he said in calm and soothing way.
    “Is death the ultimate escape do you think?”
    “I believe it to be oblivion. Step down sir, why should you desire to throw yourself into a black pit of darkness?”
    No.2 turned round “I do not desire it, I just want out!”
    “Once the way in has been found there is no way out sir.”
    “Death is an escape, Cobb, Number Seventy-three they both found the way out through a hospital window.”
    “Quite a depressing thought don’t you think?”
    “I’ve been thinking, remembering” No.2 said “my head is full of remembrances, experiences since my abduction here.”
    “There’s no profit in looking back sir. You have progressed” 21 told him.
    “Have I Twenty-one, have I, progressed to what exactly?”
    “The Village needs you Two, the Village is in you, you are village” 21 said with confidence “and where would any of us be without you?”
    No.2 stepped down and away from the edge of the lookout.
    “I suppose there’s work to do!”
    “Yes sir, I am reliably informed that work is the cure for most ills” 21 informed his superior.
    “Can I tell you something in confidence Twenty-one?”
    “Yes sir, anything you tell me remains with me.”
    “But perhaps someone else is watching, listening?”
    “I don’t think so sir” 21 said.
    A white gloved hand reached out for a button and the monitor screen turned black.
    “You know what?”
    “No what?”
    “They used to use what they were pleased to call interim Numbers. Do you know why they used so called interim Number Twos?”
    “I have heard it said, that by using a different number of Number Two’s it prevents any relation build up between prisoner and warder.”



    No.2 shook his head “That’s a fallacy, the truth of the matter is no-one could stand the job for more than five minutes!”

    “You could always resign!” 21 suggested.
    No.2 looked at his assistant, the merest of smiles crossed his lips, in his mind it was as though he had been thrown a hand grenade. He laughed, and together they walked back to the Green Dome.
    “Good afternoon everyone, good afternoon” the cheery female announcer began “I am pleased to announce that Number 2, who has not been feeling quite himself today, is now back amongst us.”
    As numbers 2 and 21 walked through an archway, the road was lined by pedestrians who stood applauding No.2 as he passed by. He smiled, and gestured towards the appreciative citizens. As the two men climbed the steps up to the Green Dome, No.2 paused, turned and looked down on the road as the citizens went on their way, as though nothing had just taken place!
    “You know Twenty-one that’s what I like about this place, the administrative ability to manipulate the community and its citizens.”
    “Really sir?”
    “That and the fact that you can always find someone here that’s worse off than yourself!”

    At the hospital in the Aversion Therapy room No.51 having been secured in a chair, with electrodes secured to his head was forced to watch a series of images on a screen. He became very agitated when faced with various images of the white membranic mass of the Village Guardian, and the longer he was faced with such images the more agitated he became. In another room, a number of patients sat on the floor in their pyjamas undergoing group therapy counteracting neurosis. Each patient wore an eye shield, and head phones which cut off all external influences, but not so Jack and Jill who went up the hill. The first few bars of the nursery rhyme tune played over and over as though on a tape loop filling the patient’s ears, keeping them calm and relaxing their anxiety. The Village is a place where people turn up, either of their own volition, or having been abducted and made prisoner, while others are born of the Village, knowing nothing else in their lives but the Italianate Village-next-the-sea. And yet it is better to be born of natural birth than a medically created clone! It was a tall, almost infantile man, who was being helped along a corridor to an examination room by two medical orderlies. He had white tape attached to his bald head, and he wore a totally blank expression on his face, almost as though there was no-one at home! The infantile man was sat in a chair in front of a basin filled with water. There was a clear Perspex screen splashed by a jet of water that had a white ball balanced upon it. Upon the face of the clone was a broad smile, he seemed to be enjoying himself uttering complete infantile gibberish as the ball rose and fell upon the jet of water. The clone undergoing speech therapy, in other words learning to make the first noises before one learns to talk, and with the appropriate programming he’ll be fine

to take up his place in society. The only question is, who is the a clone of, and why?



    As for No.2, work did appear to be the remedy as he threw himself into his administrative details in order to keep the memories he suffered at bay. Committee meetings, maintaining both the security of the citizens as well as the fabric of the Village so that he could not afford himself any spare time. When once upon a time he advocated spare time, less work and more play, “Leisure is our right!”

   The pair of steel doors closed behind No.21 as he entered the chamber. No.2 looked up from the file he had been reading and sat back in his chair.
    “I presume you have your Appreciation Day speech ready.” 21 said helping himself to coffee from the silver plate coffee pot.
    “I suppose I have to attend this event.”
    “Well Appreciation Day cannot go ahead without you, after all it is held in your honour, and of course you will have to wear the Great Seal of Office.”
    Another memory suddenly impinged upon his mind one of treachery, and attempted assassination.
    “Are you alright Number Two?”
    “Yes, I thought for a moment. I remember a previous Appreciation Day ceremony, one in which I had to intervene, otherwise the people would have suffered.”
    “So the rumours were right, you did care, back then!”
    “I’m against any injustice!” No.2 told him.
    “Strange talk for a Chairman of the Village, and yet they prevail even under your watch! I shall leave you to get on with writing your speech.”
    “No need, I’ll wing it” No.2 told him.
    “You mean you’ll make it up as you go along.”
    “I’ve done it before.”
    No.21 turned and walked towards the ramp “I’ll be seeing you later on.”
    “Where are you going?”
    “I have things to do, making sure the Great Seal of Office has been polished for one thing.”
    “You’re not planning anything are you Twenty-one?”
    “Planning anything sir?” 21 said with a puzzled look on his face “what would I be planning?”
    “An elaborate plot for my demise for example!”
    “No sir, when the day comes and they want rid of you; I imagine there’ll be no elaborate plot, no messing about of any kind, they’ll simply put you up against a wall and shoot you!” No.21 explained.
    No.2 found 21’s words almost reassuring “You know that for a fact?”



    “For a fact?” 21 allowed himself a gentle smile “no, I don’t know it for a fact.”

    “Then Appreciation Day isn’t the last day of my time in office?”
    “It has been decided, at an administrative level, that the day of the interim Number Two is at an end. Lets be honest not all of them were ever quite up to the mark when it came to you. That’s why you are in the position you are now, one of permanence!”
    No.21 turned, walked up the ramp the pair of steel doors closing behind him.
    Tart it up as much as you like, call him what you like, Chairman of the Village, Chief Administrator. A prisoner is still a prisoner no matter his position within the community of the Village.

    In the workshop the works foreman had just taken delivery of a large block of stone. A stone mason was then put to work.
    “Don’t you think this is a waste of my time?” the stone mason said.
    The foreman stood with a clipboard under his arm, watching as the stone mason chipped away at the stone with a chisel “after all it’s not as though we don’t already have a number of these redundant stone monoliths in store. Each year I’m forced to create an Appreciation Day monument. And what happens after the great day? I’ll tell you what happens, its taken away and put in store!”
   “You want me to go into the store and wheel out a monument that’s been used before?” the foreman suggested.
    “It would save time, I mean I do have other things to do you know, I’m not exactly idle, and what difference would it make? It wouldn’t make any difference if we wheeled out the same one each year, just change the word that’s all.”
    “The word, do you know what the word is for this year’s Appreciation Day ceremony?”
    “Yes, the same as I do every year, and every year you ask me.”
    “And every year you don’t tell me!”
    “That’s because I was told not to tell anyone” the stone mason said chipping away at the stone to reveal a corner.
    “Well I’ll leave you to it” the foreman said.
    “I’ll tell you one thing” the stone mason said pausing in his work.
    “What’s that?” the foreman asked.
    “The ceremony won’t be the same this year.”
    “There being only one Number Two!” the stone mason said returning to his work.


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