Note: This is my first novella. RedBubble only allows a certain word count, the rest can be found at http://anadder.com/clock (with other works)
The Internal Clock
“I would grind all the Gothic arches
in the world to powder to save the
sanity of a single human soul”
- Father Brown in The Doom of the Darnaways,
Darkness projected an icy cold towards S’s fingers. Not an overbearing cold – just a tingling. A tingling that was annoyingly exacerbated by a lack of visual stimuli. She’d been there long enough for the coloured spots in front of her eyes to go away. Just blackness. But that in itself was a comfort as it meant nothing had to be done yet. So S sat. And sat.
There are many ways to alleviate boredom and frustration. S tapped her fingers against her knees. Soon, she could feel a slight pulse in the fingertips – they were after all the only part of her body that moved. I wonder how nervous I am. S decided to measure her pulse. The time between the first and the second beat was about 50/57th of a second. Good. Pretty normal. The next one was 52/57th, then 53, then somewhere in between 51 and 52 – she couldn’t decide which. Nothing drastic – guess I’m fine. Unless I’ve merely convinced myself of the fact.
S wondered if her sense improved by being still and in the dark. She was about to try and measure her heartbeat with a more adventurous unit (say, a 114th) when her train-going-to-nowhere of thoughts was upturned by the sound of at least one being entering the room. S silently dashed to the hole, almost grinding her ear into it with eagerness.
Two sets of footsteps were heard approaching, along with an infinitely-dim light coming from a slightly-open door. S thought she could just make out the planks of the inside of her box along with the straw. Alternatively, it could be her over-inflated imagination. A polished, confident male voice broke her sense of being in a capsule…
“…and then we have the folks who try to bring in questionable things: Baronial turkeys or ducks, shells, wool, you know the rest. So I’ve had to open up every box looking for things. Every shipment means a loss of sl—- uh, bloody work hauling ass around these boxes.”
He was answered by a coarser voice, belonging to a man who (S was sure of it!) was past middle-age, middle-weight and middle-coordination. “Sure, contraband’s always a problem. People do what’s profitable as they have been since…immemorial…memory, and no number of Baronial generations will change that, bless him.”
“You said it! Still, it’s annoying.”
“That’s why you’re the trade oversee.. Hey listen – have you ever had people try to smuggle things slightly more…illegal?” This was asked with the honest simplicity of the simpleton trying to be subtle.
“Umm…like…” (S mentally giggled at the idea of the man sweating in angst) “…clocks?”
“Mr. Director of Supplies!” bellowed the smooth voice with just the right level of indignation. “I get paid good money to uphold Baronial rule, and I don’t appreciate blasphemous insinuations.”
“Of course, of course. Still, all kinds of people in this world.”
“Just get the labourers, I wanna move something today. Say, those four boxes.”
“Of course. Certainly. No, really, you’re doing a great job,” said the coarse voice whilst diminishing. It was a given the weasel was backing away respectfully while bobbing his head up and down in a placating manner. Still trying to smooth over his blunder.
She was left alone with the smooth-voiced man.
“How’s it holding up, kid? I didn’t make you wait too long?”
“Screw you! I’m not a kid. And you better show some respect — or I might accidentally cough when they’re moving my box and then it’s you in the Room.”
“Oh, I apologise, your Dozing Highness. Allow me to rephrase myself. Did I cause thee distress by my tactless and inexcusable delay?”
“Slightly better. I’m fine. You were only gone six hours.” She could feel his eyes light up.
“I bet you can probably tell me the minutes, seconds, crowns and hilts as well. I’m really starting to believe in my plan.”
“I bet I could, but I’m no performing primate. Besides since when is it your plan?..Clever thing you did with the supply guy though, mentioning the idea of smuggling and then turning the suspicion of blasphemy on him.”
“Thank you! he’s from the fifth floor though, they all have the yearning for the Art. Supply people and the rest of the business occupations – they’ve never quite accepted the Chestnut. Non-allegiance is in their bone marrow even if none of them have been aware of it for centuries. In fact-”
“In fact you should shut up and concentrate on surviving the evening. Or do you have some ulterior profit motive for smuggling me in?” The last sentence was a crescendoing accusation.
“I admit, profit has something to do with it-. Feisty are we? The Council will love you – the last of the Masters left, and she’s a woman with the tongue the likes of which none of them have encountered in their usual lives!”
“Well I’m sorry, somehow I missed the Tower School for Ladies in my formative years— quiet, they’re coming”
“Certainly, my gracious eminence.”
S smiled as she pictured T doing the mock salute she’s seen so much of ever since the great Plan to save the tower was formed.
Exactly half an hour later, her box was carried by four men through the streets of the eighth floor. S hated being every second in every public thoroughfare or open space. It was being trapped in an all-pervasive ball of opression made worse by the fact that she was one of the few that actually felt it. That and the unnatural smell of the social atmosphere that mosf nostrils missed. Even with her vision obscured by the fact of her being in a wooden box meant for chickens (complete with straw), it was still bad enough. She looked through the hole.
Pockets of people lined the streets, walking, speaking, doing their crafts outside their habitations; eating, giving, receiving, roasting and consuming Chestnuts; raising children, getting married, divorced, hired, dismissed; handling small animals, building, disassembling. Hah! What people? This wasn’t even organized or purposeful enough to be called a rabble. A bee hive, ant colony or termite hill had more humanity through the trait of organization. These people had no organization at all, and little humanity expressed through individuality. S guessed that most of the figures she saw through the peephole haven’t had a clear head for over ten generations. A mass without a purpose. There was no life-span. They may say hell lasts an eternity but this existence turned out to be as close to the scenario as possible. All were like fabled moths that live for but a day. Except unlike moths that day was excruciatingly long and more pointless. They were born at the proverbial 9 am (as most lived till 60 so there is a fairly neat scaling factor), taught till 2 pm (meaning it took eight years until something basic like a craft sunk in), married at 3 pm (meaning their initials were selected by the matchmaker randomly — what point was there in matching people by character if there was little opportunity to develop some kind of human character?!), kids at 3:30 (a pregnancy being the greatest moment of clarity in a woman’s life in the Tower – how unlucky the men were!), retirement at 7 and at last, midnight signaling both the end of the Day Most Pointless and a fading into the second oblivion. S saw everyone on this level of the Tower, at all stages in their day – all the times and rhythms of the world mixed into a stew of nothingness.
She saw a smithie bent over his anvil right on the street, churning out some clamp-like things. There were over a hundred scattered around him. About half were good, the rest were unfinished who-knows-whats; knotted bits of wire and intermeshed slabs of sheet metal. ‘Twas almost as if he didn’t know what he was making while in the midst of making it.
She saw a woman hesitating in front of a food shop, as if unsure if she were hungry or not. The woman was clearly lost and somewhat disoriented, but the scariest thing was that she seemed blank. She wasn’t even distressed at or aware of being disoriented. S shivered.
She saw an elderly pair of twins sitting on crates. They were both in their thin and frail years, with most of the lines in the image S saw being vertical, originating from the long creases in the clothes around their limbs. However they were different to the other elderly folk in the street, for they held themselves up quite well both in terms of physical posture and the demeanour in their eyes. While they seemed as if they could be snapped at any point in time, their eyes revealed that there was still something behind the facade, unlike the usual emptiness under the walking corpse. Both men had small and well-trimmed pointy beards, another almost-unique aspect of appearance in the Tower. These twins S knew from before – they were very well known to all Masters as the only ones of the ordinary people who have had a reasonable life. Their two favourite pastimes were playing Gonta and philosophizing. All the Masters admired them – most collapse completely from the world of self-awareness upon retirement, but these would meet and play a set number of games (nine). This would last about three hours and then the brothers would part. This little eccentricity of theirs was salvation itself. S looked again and sighed. They weren’t playing now; rather, the were involved in a debate. This meant they could be there for anything between one and a hundred hours. Still, their minds were sharp and S, catching a fragment, thought this was more coherent than anything she’d ever heard from the masses by some orders of magnitude. They were debating cosmology – namely what, if anything, was beyond the limits of the Tower, and whether even the idea of an Outside was impossible. S smiled.
She saw a table with a woman and a man (married?) painting something and her countenance fell, as if nothing good and true ever existed in the world. The couple were painting wooden egg-shaped objects. Heads. Of Puppets. Immediately S was a bloodhound, baring her fangs. Enough of this. She went back to the wall of the box. Bastards. Bastards and their tools.
Bastardly looking up from the feast table, W put down the goose neck to express yet another laudable witticism.
“Maybe for tomorrow the goose isn’t enough – we should get something with a longer neck” said W alluding to the Baron R’s recent argument with his nephew E (the etymology of E’s initial of course having the same root as the word giraffe).
“Chuckle chuckle, how you do crack me up! Stick to puppeteering thanks,” R answered, “speaking of which, what’s today’s performance about?”
“But sire, I really am interested about the issue with your neph-”
“Oh, that thing! He’s getting far too head-strong for me – for us all – to handle. Now he wanted to try some Chestnuts! Of course I told him that the whole Tower takes them so that none of us have to. But
- but at this stage, he questions everything. So I was I simply strictly forbade him.”
“Surely you can explain everything to him though, or take him to the Room, or-”
“Nonsense! He’ll probably conjure up some moral objections to it – you know how idealistic the young are. Probably will insist that everyone has some indivisible soul, self or…hmm…personal identity. And that it’s
- inviolable!” That last word was spoken by R as if he’d just surprised himself and stumbled on a dodo while rummaging through his mental vocabulary. “I think it’s all your performances, instilling them with – - -.” He faded off, not wishing to venture on another expedition into his mind.
A course of rabbit in plum and orange sauce was served. “To return to the performance: what’s on for after dinner?”
W smiled, letting just a photon of pride shine through.
“I haven’t supervised it myself so can’t remember for sure. But it’s the end of the trilogy the first two parts of which you’ve seen last week. This part’s about some steward and a king and some battle in the dark.”
“Oh, interesting. I wanted to see the end of that one. But the one I was more eager for, for some reason, was the continuation of the story of that nation who were about to reconquer their ancestral home last month when the lovely 5th division performed with their unique crowd-puppets. Now that was a magnificent extended battle scene!”
“That one will be done shortly – they’re still making the extra puppets and the boulders. But today’s one should be great – I’ve heard they’ve made excellent use of side strings – and the puppets bleed and their limbs chop off properly – AND -”
They were interrupted by a messenger about a concluded trial. Every day at dinner, if there was a trial, R listened to the outcome and heard – and denied – the petition of the condemned. This was to be no exception. They brought in the woman, held by the arms on both sides, still in shock. She was frightened enough by the ordeal to actually look tired – yes, tired; something W pointed out to R later. Rather than simply pleading, dropping to her knees, issuing various bellowing cries and recounting her loving family and how they’d be lost without her, she stared calmly. Nor did she deny the charge, as did all. It was almost as if she wanted to challenge him and went out of her way to do it. R lifted an eyebrow in wonder. What will her petition be? He took the paper, read it, looked at her, looked at the paper again and so forth, for a few minutes of awed silence. Not bad – attractive and seems independent, spirited. In fact, someone I’d rather have in my court as opposed to the Endless Toil of the room. But what to do, what to do? I can’t just let her go thereby setting a precedent. R was always, always mindful of appearances. Maybe I’ll just harass her quite strongly and if she backs down she’s not worth it – and if she doesn’t-!
“K, citizeness of the fifth level of this Great Tower, you have been condemned of blasphemy and high treason after a fair trial conducted by this great court. A court I have tremendous faith in. Furthermore, upon perusal of the summary of the proceedings, I see no legal issues within your trial that are to your benefit. The words of N, respected teacher of reading , about how you described a certain vase as ‘the gift of your dreams’ are irrefutable. Even if we forego treason, they certainly establish blasphemy. And a Baron certainly lacks the…the— (he almost said it but `twould have certainly made a mockery of her being condemned!) -resources to listen to every base and chimerical petition. Verily, do not test my patience as your place in the Room is certain. What have you to counteract your monstrous charges?” By now, R was shouting, enough to make most people in the room tremble.
But K stood silent – almost catatonic. It was like she’d frozen as a being – but that was impossible – she hadn’t been in the Room yet! The silence—
—was broken as she spoke up. She was clear and had but a slight respect in her tone. No, she denies nothing. Yes it was all true. But it was something she did because it was her natural inclination to do so. After the word natural was pronounced, her voice soared – a mighty hawk escaping the pettiness of the wretched beasts at ground level. Jump as the beasts may, once the hawk has taken off she is out of their reach. No, she regrets nothing. She thinks if something that all want is called treason, then the problem is certainly not with her. Only the majority are too ‘milksop-ish’ (yes, she said it, even looking at some officials!) to admit it.
R’s jaw dropped and he smiled. Such…delightful insolence! He had an opening. Standing up, he declared in front of all the witnesses that there was no denying the woman was mad. Clinically insane were his precise words. As the law is just, ’twould be a travesty to execute her. Rather, R personally, was to see that K be placed in the best facility of mental care. All applauded.
R looked at W – a look which meant “what I actually want is for her to be one of my Puppeteers – take her and train her”. W nodded, the baronly court left, the dinner continued, the puppet show commenced.
Myriads of puppets abounded – in all colours – wearing everything from triangular jesters’ hats to hunting cloaks. R marveled at the intricacy of their costumes: individualized buttons, every finger moving separately, some even juggled for real. What a fine group of Puppetmasters W had trained recently! It was some sort of army preparing for something. Under the slight din of battle machinery, R heard a hissing sound. He wondered what it was, and walked several enormous steps (of several miles in length) to see what it was.
The sound was that of a gorgeous mountain stream rushing by, or at least it was moving so fast it seemed like a sentient being that rushed by due to being detached from the ground. The stream had a jigsaw puzzle of rocks in it. There were pebbles, stones and boulders of all different sizes, from the minutest grain of sand to whole worlds. A balagan of colours hit R – ones that no artist would choose, as every dot and tittle of the spectrum was represented. The stones were scattered, sticking out of the river, but in a chaotic manner. It was completely unplanned, and caused the flow of the river to be broken up into a trillion streamlets, which would proceed to intertwine and mingle organically; water mixing into water and splashes creating sound waves and interference patterns. There was also a divine regularity to the whole scene despite the seeming chaos. The whole entity pulsated at ordered invervals that weren’t too pedantic. The sounds were also spaced in natural proportions that weren’t “nice” from exactness but they were real. Life, that’s what the scene spelled out in essence. The whole river was me-an-de-ring through the boulders.
What travesty be this? A truly-gorgeous stream like such should be forceful and fast-flowing. The rocks merely impede the path of least resistance. Indeed, they mar the simplicity of the stream. Away, away then, with th’accursed superfluous objects! Army…
The puppets came in their ranks to R’s call, turning into strong workers as they started clearing out the rocks. The countless boulders were gone in an instant – the workers performed some magic. R stared at the creation with no small satisfaction. Gone were the old twists and turns and uneven distributions of currents – instead, a crisp, straight-flowing river with enough force to knock down an amphitheatre. Which was of course the whole goal.
However, R became aware of a new feature – the boulders hid the fact that the stream was full of snakes. Now that the waters were clean, he could see that they swirled around, slightly altering the simple flow of the river. Of course, their bodies were insignificant compared to the overall streamflow that was present before R ordered the army to take to it. But – and this was the horrid part – the new perturbations of the water were as complex as those of the original boulders, though less in amplitude. In fact, their small scale made it more of a marvel – it was like a new multi-dimensional mesh woven by the snakes every second. R screamed. He ordered some heavyset spiked shoes to be fetched and started running around stomping – all the while screaming. He dug his heels into the heads and bodies of snakes whilst experiencing a child-like feeling of delight at the skulls of his belly-crawling foes under the weight of his heel. After what seemed like hours, he bent over a bit and put his hands on his knees to regain his breath, having probably become woozy from the intoxicating smell of the waves of snakes’ blood coming from under his feet. The snakes’ swirls weren’t visible now (most have been killed) and a satisfyingly-blue-black colour was lifted up into the river from the bodies. R nodded – at last the flow of the river will be at its maximum.
As he was waking up from the dream, his mind was given one last image from within the blood in the water, the corpses and the scurrying of survivors – one of the very large snakes still alive, coiled up and staring at him from afar – being very very calm and deliberate, yet without arrogance, just swaying to and fro.
Two beings awoke almost simultaneously in the Tower. To both of them, it was probably the most enjoyable part of the day. The relaxed reclination within a comfy bed, the drifting in and out of sleep, the momentary lapse of the temporal, the welcome of the torches set to a glowing softness, the completely cocooning warmth that yelled out “the big bad world shan’t reach you here”, the barely perceptible din of the rest of the household; the recollection of the past evening’s dreams: the reliving of the joys, shuddering at the sorrows and the occasional wiping away of tears from the pillow after a particularly poignantly-stabbing-the-heart one; all was treasured because it was enjoyable and human and childlike, and because it was something that did not diminish with age nor emotional or intellectual development – and finally, the knowledge that this was a luxury bestowed on the few – made the moment all the more precious to both people.
The first of the two beings was in a fairly cluttered room which was used for the storage of the various items belonging to her husband D. In the household, they needed as much storage space as they could get and then some. As a result, the room had space for just one bed used by F, her husband D and their two children in shifts. F’s gaze covered the walls and floor. But it was a look of innocence; for she didn’t know what most of the objects were. The brick walls had little gaps which she perceived because she knew that more complex and clandestine stuff was in there – to an outsider’s eye, they were simply walls. In the middle of the room stood a shelf, at the top of which was the engraving of a coiled-up snake. The finely-etched scales made an optical illusion – as if the snake was shifting to and fro at an amazing regularity like a metronome. The top half of the shelf was stacked with metal things – mostly coils – tied, twisted, arranged and rearranged. They were of different colours, some looking like perfect spirals, others like a chaotic, monstrous knot. The bottom half of the shelf had stones – finely polished into mathematical-looking shapes. There seemed to be hundreds of them with no two being the same size. The rest of the room had scattered around it various wooden spheres, metal bars, triangular bits of wax and things F would never bother to describe. Rather than being simply on the floor, they covered the room at times reaching knee depth. Tired of looking around, F drifted back to sleep momentarily.
She was awakened by her daughter who told her to get ready and awake and arise as D was to start work shortly. She tiptoed out and closed the door. F knew this meant she had 5 minutes before her husband would, as he’d refer to it, “indignantly eject” her from the room, which in turn meant gently picking her up and carrying her out while plastering a layer of conciliatory kisses onto her face. She folded up her clothes and put the shiny conical thing inside a crack in the wall, placed the appropriately-shaped brick over it and slowly twisted it in until the wall was flat, while at the same time noticing that this was an action she’s done for hundreds, nay, thousands of times and she had no idea what it was for – nor did she notice it. There were dozens of miniscule, inexplicable tasks that D taught her to do since their marriage, and it was no use protesting. She knew it was Important – and that was that. She also knew that this was how her father got her to conclude her sleep and before that her grandfather, both being members of the Art. However she only reached the stage-of-questioning this morning.
D walked in at that minute and cast his gaze over his wife. He gently inquired as to how she slept, which was a code for “I’m about to start now so clear off”. The family were not to watch D while he was doing his work, while he had his meetings, while he arranged, created, improved, imagined and destroyed things that F had no concept of. Every once in a while, she’d collect her forces of bluntness to ask about the Art (something, anything), but it always ended in D making a nervous wisecrack and alluding to the possibility of an Eventual Revelation. Today, like every day, D closed the door with an almost-infuriating tactfulness and she saw her husband bound up in various and copious volumes, steeped in them, entrenched amongst them. And it wasn’t the idea of jealousy, or the cliched notion of him being “married to the Art” that saddened F. Rather, it was the mere fact that here was someone she adored, engaging in something she knew was essential to their lives and the future of the people of the Tower – he was the head of the Council for the stars’ sake! – and yet that enormous well of skill, knowledge and motion was something they couldn’t share – all because of the fact that it was so Traditional and Proper, and only possessors of a penis were supposed to engage in it.
However, F was in a better mood today, as the possibility of the revelation had suddenly soared. The meeting D was to attend today held much promise. After all, it was the only event related to the Work that D talked about since the purge. And since the purge was spoken of in a hushed sadness and she knew how horrible it really was, the fact that the upcoming meeting was mentioned with a twist of hope made her think of it as a possible redemption. So, finally things are moving towards the good of everyone including me – F thought as D completed the closing of the door and she went back to her painting, back to putting more strokes on the magnificent feathers of the hawk.
The other soul that woke up simultaneously with F was E, the nephew of the Baron R. Although they were an obviously rich family, E slept in a refreshingly frugal room. While R liked extravagance at public displays, he showed more restraint towards those closest to him. Like F, E enjoyed the minutes of hovering in and out of sleep whilst scanning the room.
He had his own bedroom, although it lacked a bed. He slept on a soft cushion-like structure just larger than his body. When his friends came to play, they sat on the other cuddly paraphernalia and marvelled at its non-lavish nature. There were some wooden objects with drawers and on them and inside them were stored the beginnings of a young Puppetry apprentice. The side of the room had a swarm of raw materials – wood, cloth, unground paint, strings – that he practiced his skills on. Then, moving on to the middle of the room were the various heads, arms, torsos, props, costumes and other limbs that would eventually have the life of the Art breathed into them, and then – E thought while looking – they would become so much more than toys or entertainment. He turned to watch the results: the completed puppets that he’d made himself. They were sitting on the cupboard closest to his bed. The ones he was most proud of anyway. It was great having little extensions of himself that he had breathed and bled over watching over him while he slept and protecting him from the curses of pain, boredom and banality that occasionally cluttered his waking hours. A scholar of symbolism would look at the puppets and see archetypes: the king representing the Ruler, the two-headed Knight as Brothers-In-Arms and the lady as Womanly Virtue Personified. A scholar of the psyche would doubtless comment on the educational value of a child making their own toys. But E saw them as just being there – and commented only on how successful (or not) he was in conveying character to the figurines of merchants, dragons, beggars, monks, monkeys, donkeys, nymphs and ethereal beings. He had just reached out for one when R came in.
“My dear nephew, how are you?”
“Fine.” A cactus made of ice with a robot inside it would have answered in a more welcoming or human tone.
“Oh, come on – still puffed up about yesterday? I’ve come to make up. You wanted to try a Chestnut?” R opened his large palm to reveal a brown shapely bulb. E’s eyes lit up as he reached out and took it, still not believing. R smiled and nodded in a way that would remain in E’s mind forever no matter what – E was still young and impressionable enough to be moved by the kindly image of his uncle making peace. He put it in his mouth and broke it in half with a deliberate crunch of the jaw. Immediately, his tear ducts burst out in supplication but whether it was the flavour of the Chestnut (they truly were an acquired taste) or of the moment itself, is unknown. As the chewing continued E began to savor the deliciously-bitter nut. What one could definitely say was it woke you up. The puppets all jumped out at him as he could ascertain each individual twist of the ropes. He reached out, genuinely surprised at the fact that his hand didn’t stretch all the way to the basket with the puppet baby. E felt powerful and alive – the room wasn’t exactly swimming before him but still he stared hypnotically for who knows how long.
“What does it taste like?”
E laughed at the question. “Awful! But I sense things differently. It’s like -”
“I know. Well you got your wish – you know what it’s like to be on the other side. And you won’t sleep for a cycle or two. But I suggest you don’t repeat the experiment.”
“Oh no, I won’t. I just wanted to know – besides if virtually everyone else has to-”
my dear nephew, I’m sorry if this is hurtful to hear, but your ideas of egalitarianism and equality are misplaced. You’ll understand better sometime but what what I want to say to you now is that we are not equal. Just look at members of our own family that are your age. Are they all like you? Are they all concerned for others, or anything outside their immediate sphere?”
“Well, no but-”
“-you’re a smart, virtuous boy” R said slowly and E’s blush of satisfaction bore excellent testimony to how rare such a comment was. “You already understand that not everyone is born good. Actually, very few. Amongst our subjects, the number is also small, as can be expected, and if left to their own devices they’d—- not only would they destroy us and tear us to bits, they’d become geniuses at hurting each other. Today, thanks to the Chestnut, they’re merely fools at it. Fortunately. One day, I’ll tell you about the kingdom before the Chestnut, but as a spoiler, it was horrible.”
“So how does the Chestnut help?”
“Well, by turning people’s potential destructiveness into profit for the kingdom. With no sleep and no way to keep track of time, they are kept out of mischief, at least for most of the time.”
“But that’s not fair!”
“Unfortunately, it’s the best option. Do you really think the world’s like- like this?”
R cast his hand around the room and E’s head retreated into his shoulders in a rapid turtle-ish motion. At once, he understood and for a split second, his puppets seemed childish. He saw their smiles, their happiness, their total susceptibility to his control. His world was a benevolent dictatorship, where he ensured that Knight would rescue Lady and slay Ghoul, and even when tragedy struck, it was for the sake of a lesson, some higher purpose that he wanted to communicate to his audience. Like we said, E was very bright for a boy of his age, and especially when compared to most boys his age in the Barony of the Tower.
“I know you understand now. In this world, there’s currently not enough to go round – and if we gave our beloved citizens their complete unadulterated liberty, all would be lost. If people didn’t have the ability to work for 100 hours straight without knowing it, there’d be an average of a single crust of bread per household. Husband would rise against wife, beloved would kill beloved like a beast, for the purpose of food. Your look betrays you – you think I exaggerate?”
“I do. I mean, sure, there might be more problems, but total chaos?”
“Not chaos, hell. There is a difference. I’ll prove it to you some time.”
There was a moment of sad, reflective silence.
“But that’s enough of you hearing the rantings of an old fart – show me your puppets. And be assured that it is important work – luckily some have managed to survive and be human! What are you working on?”
“This scene where two serpents are fighting and they keep eating each other and crawling out of each other’s mouth.”
That right? Let’s see."
E took the figurines out, gladly putting away his serious side for a while – after all, it was a fun scene. And R watched, listened, nodded, advised, listened, helped, narrated, joked and generally pampered his nephew. This was one of the positive things about a system from which time has been removed – R could spend hours with E and the whole court would necessarily wait without even being aware of it.
Two beings awoke almost simultaneously in the Tower. It was fitting for their situations in life that F painted a hawk alone and E manipulated serpents with his uncle.
Silence reigned over the room full of Elders. D sat on a rough straw chair and supported his head, no doubt thinking he should have been better to his wife in terms of making her a part of things in the last months. But after the Purge, things were especially cumbersome.
There was a multitude of others in the room, gathered for the council. Everyone knew the event for which they had descended from their respective work schedules had to be crucial but no-one knew how or whence: T simply came to D two days ago and asked to schedule the meeting. The Elders were beyond murmuring though. Everyone mistrusted the smuggler to an extent, however all knew that he was devoted to their cause and could get things done. And indeed there he was, standing in the very ego-centre of their attention, with a large wooden crate beside and a perpetual smugness on his face. D scanned the smuggler’s body up and down and detected T’s usual confidence. Please. He can’t help engage in primate-like theatrics even if he had a Solution inside that box. He’ll talk it up and get everyone’s hearts and minds behind it but it may just be one of his usual substance-less schemes. Well, I shan’t fall for it.
“Well, it would seem everyone is here so let’s begin. What have you, honourable member of the Fraternity, that would interest us all so?”
T smiled and bowed with an extravagance “My friend, you do me the honour.”
T naturally missed a beat for drama’s sake before continuing. “Even though I’m ignorant of the practical matters of the Art, I know what a terrible setback the Purge was. Could you tell me exactly what was lost?”
“I beg your pardon? You know well.”
“Please recount the personnel. It’s for the benefit of the meeting that we need a reckoning proper.”
D started, attempting not to sound too grave thereby giving away extra emotional ammunition.
“In the Tragedy, they killed
3 senior Timekeepers,
4 parts Procurers,
1 Assembly man,
6 book-keeper Librarians,
2 Chart Composers and
4 interpreter Coordinators,
20 in total</pre>
of the highest and most irreplaceable rank.”
“I agree with the first clause but not the second, for I can, have and shall replace them, if not in memory then at least in skill, if not in token at least in type,” said T in his casual thrusting tone and opened the side of the box to reveal S sitting down tiredly.
D smiled. “It seems my friend that the boxes got entangled or otherwise mixed up, for this contains a girl and not your mythological replacement.”
“I assure you she is the replacement. And she can take the place of all who were lost and more. She will bring it all to Fruition!”
By this time about 5 elders could not contain themselves and stood up.
“Do you realise the gravity of your sayings?” said one. “What you suggest is a logical impossibility: how can a woman Know about..?” D added.
“Hmm – she was taught. Taught like the rest of you.” Murmurs. “Only better – infinitely better in fact”. The murmurs turned to shouts.
“That’s enough! Who’d dare break with the tradition? Why even the thought seems – I know what we have isn’t a cult but- well, blasphemous!” Nods of approval.
“Maybe you’ll all rethink your prejudices when you find out the rule was broken by one as respected as her father the Keeper of the Library who taught her from birth until his demise 2 years ago.”
This was it, not the last straw but the last cannonball that dropped amidst the meeting’s restraint and attempt at decorum. The din of contradiction exploded and T felt like a con artist who is at the point where he can clearly see that he is about to be mobbed and he has a small and ever-closing window of opportunity to slip away. Only there was a slight problem with that scenario: there wasn’t an actual con.
“Elders! Please! Why is this so hard to believe and accept?”
“Because it goes against such fundamental principles. If the Keeper could have gone astray so much, how could we possibly trust what he taught her?”
“Obviously he did the right thing as here we are, with the art on the precipice of extinction and we can recover and overtake.”
“Overtake?” fumed D, “what can a child possibly know? Suppose she was quite clever and picked up 5 or 6 skills or facts. What then? Did you really think this would be a substitute for learning in a group, under the guidance of the Elders? She is certain to even be unable to cut the correct length of string for the fire-clock. Little life experience and the ups and downs of her recent adolescence and her father’s death – which by the way I’m very sorry about, girl – shall she really remember a summary of the Codex? If, that is, she even knows what it is. And you expect to receive some sort of commission for handing us over into the rule of someone not qualified so we can be ruined. A woman having the concentration and organization to train and guide us? Right! She’s probably too timid to even-”
D jumped back, startled as he turned his countenance a mere minute of arc to discover S perched magnificently over him and the whole conversation like a cobra but without the deadness. This was indeed her first word and the room quieted with inexplicable awe.
“Look, I know this is hard for all. But let me outline the facts. One: although yes, it is technically illegal to teach women by your tradition, that’s what my father did. He (and I) believed it was a silly ego-driven regulation that has nothing to do with the Craft and more with the petty human factor. Of course, you’re still hurt and surprised at him, which is understandable. But it had a purpose, which brings me to point two: I’m currently the best fit for leadership. While I’m probably not better than everyone at each aspect of the art, overall I am far superior. How I came to be so is something I’ve no time or wish to currently communicate. And thirdly: I have a plan which I finished formulating a week ago, hence the timing of my arrival. It’s more ambitious than you think. To be blunt, I hope for us all to end the Baron’s regime and free the inhabitants within a year. Again, I only expect you to trust me once I’ve given reason to, but I shall. ‘Twill all involve a year of the most intense training, study and preparation you’ve seen. Under me – and I will be a bitch.”
Laughter resounded around the room at this ending to the soliloquy-turned-monologue. “Well surely your admission that you’re not going to be pleasant is not something in your favour” said D but from his voice, it was clear that she did make the appropriate impact. “I have your attention now. Time is of the essence, no pun intended: test me.”
Three hours later, a triumphant S sat in a chair opposite a table with three clocks on it. The theory went superbly – she answered more than those questioning knew, more than they thought was possible to know or even be aware of. Her practical time-measurement and construction were impeccable as she demolished their whole belief in the exclusive quality of their education in ten minutes (or at least she thought so). Not came the most challenging test.
The three clocks were taken from various repositories and were the most complex ones in the possession of the Elders. She had to stop them all without making contact. How? When a person jumps up and down, the floor reverberates. When a few do, the movement increases dramatically but when it’s also in time with the floor’s own natural vibrations the further increase in the vibration’s amplitude can cause the floor to break. So too here, S had to, without opening up the clocks, from looking, figure out the ratios and intricacies of the inner mechanisms and with a stick tap a rhythm that would create the necessary vibrations to specifically unbalance the clocks. One’s timing in beating the rhythm had to be within a hundredth of a second in terms of accuracy. The volume had to be exact. Such was the final test to become an Elder. Usually, one simple clock was used and it took an average of two hours examination and one hour of attempts at making the rhythm to break it. S had three complex clocks and after staring for five minutes, she took the stick and hit the table 5 times in a confident, almost mocking tone and all three stopped.
Infinitely deafening was the lack of noise and the presence of shock that came – no-one expected her to find one pattern to break all three simultaneously. ’Twas such a simple one too! The people felt like children in front of a divine being, T beamed and D knelt before S, whispering just loud enough for his words to resound in the room.
“We are yours.”
Together sat the men who formerly considered themselves elders. S liked to arrange them in various formations, not just boring rows, and after the few months of her not-so-subtle guidance, they were all used to it. Each had a different mechanism in his hand and was tying a length of rope into various contortions onto the mechanism.
“About to come round so finish up” S pronounced looking around. She noticed D fiddling impatiently and called out “Bored are we? So sorry to keep you from your high level pursuits with my simplistics.” D actually blushed for a seventh of a second, smiled and lifted up his finished mechanism.
“Good. Listen everyone. I know this isn’t what you’re all used to. But it’s my method that everyone, even the researchers, internalise the beats and times inside themselves perfectly before we do anything else. With an internal clock, we can do anything and everything from scratch and even maintain some level of humanity; but without it, no external mechanism can possibly help. And we’ll become like the other waking dead. Speaking of external mechanisms, I can see they’re not that good. Yet. Gather”
The men came right up to her and sat, childlike, on the floor. They were used to it by now: her perfectionism, willingness to adapt super-spontaneously and her total disregard for the formal differences in their former ranks. As one of D’s friends mentioned to him, she had a truly egalitarian disregard for all.
“How long did it take you to master the internal clock?” asked one from the less shy end of the spectrum.
“Well, less than you lot! But at the start that’s all I did. Also, I have the advantage (and it’s about time you all realised it, along with my father’s plan) of being a woman. The most obvious thing is menstruation which the Nut still tolerates, much as it does in your beloved ones’ bodies. Unfortunately, it’s too late to teach them from scratch. However with your backgrounds you can learn. But you MUST listen to your bodies. We’ll do as per yesterday: try get all processes synchronised. That means heartbeats and breathing. Go!”
As they’d done numerous times before, 80 pairs of eyes relaxed and stopped looking at anything in particular. 80 pairs of hands dropped with relaxed shoulders turned out and 80 backs leaned against their respective cushions. They listened away for S’s decisive drumming on the table signalling stage one: one beat per breath to synchronise breathing. Subconsciously, they were counting too. They had to – the internal clock’s not just a beat but a reckoning and woe to the poor bastard who didn’t know the magic number at the end.
After 2700 counts precisely, S switched to section two: each beat signifying a heartbeat of the collective beast. This was obviously more difficult but not impossible once their breaths were in tune. Most of them found the whole thing quite enjoyable actually. Upon entering stage two, their awareness already expanded to include the whole room and every slightly shallow or deep breath, every twitch of muscle from any of them was known and broadcast to all by means of the marvel of the focused mind. Then they felt that magic moment of togetherness whereby the myriad streams of breaths, vein movements, postures, sinew allignments and thoughts flowed into one river directed by S and her drum for 5000 more beats. And then (unlike previous times) she stopped in a manner that redefined abruptness.
“The beat should keep on going inside you for a while. Keep counting. What I want is for you to gently re-affirm it each time it strikes in your mind. Keep it up as long as you can, till tomorrow. Go on with your life and keep it in the background. Tomorrow, only a few will be able to tell me exactly how many beats have come to pass. But that’s why we have the next time. And the next.”
They slowly started moving, stupefied at the mental beat. It was like there was a subtext under the quiet of the room and everyone understood what it was.
“That’s right, it has begun. The seeds of your own internal clock. And I also hope the seeds of realization that what we do is not about timekeeping but the use of it to remain human after so much has been taken away. Now you can really listen to and regulate yourselves… OK, let’s put it in the background, time for a change! Questions. About anything, something else.”
A small silence of 7 beats occurred but how exciting for everyone to know it was 7! All tried their darned hardest not to start giggling as a delighted toddler would when it was able to take even a few steps without a tumble.
“I have one. Much of our calculations and research is based on sun and moon cycles. But what would they actually look like?” S nodded at the question, seemingly appreciating it as a thoughtful one. She remembered…
She sat in her youthful entrancement in their hovel, staring at the fire. Her father only introduced it to her a few weeks ago, what with its forbidden nature and all. Every spare moment she had that wasn’t spent on chores, eating and sleeping, she watched the orangey-white flicker of the flame of their torch. Never before had S seen such unpredictable movement; everything else in life was motionless, timeless. Of course, her father had already begun to explain to her the cause of that timelessness. But there was still something inexplicable in its dance – regular and yet chaotic, where each whole second, tenth of a second and hundredth of a second, the flame died and was reborn in a shape somehow not completely causally related to its previous shape. If she stared closely, it was a creepily detailed fractal that she couldn’t pin down no matter with how much magnification she’d be able to view it. But if she stepped back and let her perspective blur a bit, relaxing her fine-detail perception, there was a certain beat to it whereby the flame would reach maximum exactness with astonishing regularity.
It was in this trance that her father found her, oblivious to most things that weren’t the flame. He rested his hand on the top of her hair for a brief moment and produced a folded piece of paper, keeping it tilted like a skilled magician who doesn’t show the essence of a trick to the audience.
“Well – what is it?”
“You’ll find out in a second. Now tell me about the sun and moon.”
She paused and smiled remembering the joy of their sessions and the feeling of her father’s expansiveness in teaching her at her age (and gender). “The sun is a source of tremendous light and heat that moves in the Sky and the moon of a lesser degree of light and heat.”
“Good. What shape and size?”
“We don’t know; but for time calculations, we assume both to be spheres a quarter of the earth’s diameter, though that’s probably bullshit.” She loved it when he didn’t mind her swearing.
S’s father paused a bit and unfolded the paper to reveal a series of concentric circles with one in the middle. S gasped in instant realization. This was a very detailed map of the hypothetical so-called Sky the most detailed she’d ever seen in fact, including stars and moon phases, all with basic degrees and calculations, the various meridians and sub-divisions of the sky, the great River along which all the major celestial objects were said to move, the Point which never moved, the second River where objects moved the most and so forth. She ran up to the paper and asked and asked and asked about it while he answered for what was a lifetime. Then, she stopped. “But this is still nothing compared to what we’d be able to see were we outside.”
He paused for a minute. “You’re right. We’ve been sealed off quite ingeniously. But I’ve been somewhat slow and tardy (with good reason I believe) in relating you what we know of our history. Would you like that now?” S flashed him a look that told of how trivial the answer to that phatic pre-narrative question was.
“Good…Our Tower is (we think) located at 37 degrees left axis, 219 degrees up axis in the wider world. We are about 3 kilometres from a river. The Tower has 7 levels, each 20 metres high. It is a 1300 by 1300 metre square, meaning its shape isn’t really like a regular tower at all. It has been in existence for 12 generations which is about 311 years – that’s the age of the Barony as we estimate.”
“So how did it all start?”
He looked at her for a beat while nodding with appreciation as to how his daughter has grown up and was so mature in accepting ideas most in the Tower had no concept of.
“About 350 years ago, there were economic problems within the Baronies around the current site of the tower. There was a terrible corn famine and many deaths abounded, followed by a plague (as is often the case in this world of ours). Tens of thousands carked it, but unlike most such calamities, it did not only strike the peasantry and serfs but also thinkers, craftsmen, artisans. The nearby states all ground to a halt, with few professionals and few laborers. The Barons dealt with this largely by allocating the menial work to everyone, including the so called thinkers in order for the cogs of society to soldier on. So, my dear daughter, what do you think happened?”
“The artisans got bored chopping wood and herding sheep.”
“Right. But not just bored. Immensely, suicidally, homicidally bored. Especially in areas with large concentrations of thinkers. They just couldn’t take it. They went literally mad with frustration. Crime rose a hundredfold in some tucked away city quarters where only a few years ago most there would be engaged in study and creative work. And guess which area had one of the highest number of intellectuals?”
“What those personifications of ignorance around us?-”
“-descended from some of the most cosmopolitan people in the world. Anyway, the Barons were quite keen about quelling the congestion. They tried
the standard gallows
(as well as various other less pleasant forms of torture
which despite relieving boredom did nothing about unrest),
entertainment performed during the work drives
(this worked a tad while Baron-supported plays and concerts
had any semblance of originality, meaning it
just being asses.</pre>
However, none of those had a significant impact on
“What to do?”
“What indeed. For the next few months, all was awful. One day, however, a shepherdess came out of a meadow with a basket full of chestnuts of a strange colour-” S jumped with a start of realisation “-and after having a few, seemed alert and agitated and unable to sleep. When asked about the course of her indisposal, all she could come up with as an explanation were those nuts.”
“Fame of the chestnut spread and soon, many of the night-watchmen were unblissfully sipping the bitter concoction to stay awake. It would however seem that it had no impact on the bulk of the populace until the Baron found out. Immediately the entire grove and forest where the shepherdess found the Chestnuts were mysteriously cut down overnight. On a completely unrelated matter, the next day, all the Barony’s granaries were emptied of grain and filled with something else.”
“Then, things started improving at least from the Barony’s point of view. Riots dropped sharply as did unrest vanish almost immediately. Production doubled, as people worked for longer hours. No-one knew why.”
“They introduced the Chestnut Mandate?”
“No. Not at this stage. At this stage, the people of our country still had minds and spirits. They would never have agreed to a walking, waking death. Instead, the Baron decided to lead them to the slaughter, seeing they weren’t yet in a state to lead themselves.”
“He made them take it by stealth!”
“That’s my girl! By adding it to all foods, which he had access to and control of. So, the results?”
“Sleep ceased, as did restlessness as well as did their humanity.”
“Oh that’s where you’re wrong!”
He could talk like this for ages without seeming patronising to her.
“What? What happened then?”
“Everything. Not only did production increase and economic recovery occur completely (making the Baron the richest in the whole area) but intellectual and creative work went up too from its several-years-of-a-forced-vacation.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, the people involved in such projects were eccentric usually and would have worked at odd hours anyway. Now they could physically labour all day and do other stuff all night, so they did. With the extra time spent labouring they all had more money on their hands so they were more secure and confident in their good (and bad) works.”
“Neat. The Baron must have preferred that to famine, plague and riots…”
“Actually he did! So the next stage was the Mandate. He knew from the initial analysis by his specialists that the Chestnut was addictive. So, he simply waited until almost all were hooked and then announced what they’ve been eating and made all take mandatory daily doses.”
“He further introduced quotas of work at a high benchmark, with slackness punishable by an unpleasant death. Instantly, the populace was up in arms again. But this time, they didn’t go crazy thanks to the Nut’s ability to control such outbursts. And they realised they had to do the work and live. Their only available protest was to make a mockery of the Baron by doing all the work just to the amount required and no more, but then using all their spare time to make and do other things that would completely dwarf their slave labour tasks.”
“The Baron felt, with good reason, immediately insulted. After all, his subjects were in open defiance despite technically doing all they were meant to. Furthermore, he had gotten comfortable with the idea of a productivity rate that surpassed the pre-plague one by several orders of magnitude. And he knew that as long as day followed night and autumn alternated with spring, they would listen to themselves, their bodies, the stars, seasons and natural fluctuations – and manage their efforts into a coordinated rhythm, a rhythm which was not wholly devoted to working for the Baron’s benefit.”
“I don’t know exactly how the fiendish combination of the two factors occurred to him. Must have been a joyous realisation, a triumph of the intellect, for him to realise that without an external point of reference, the people’s sense of time would literally disappear. Good-bye protest through creativity, welcome maximal productivity.”
“So, in less than a year since the Mandate’s start, our ancestors were building what eventually became the tower, our Tower. They were oblivious, as the baron made this one of 3 or 4 major building projects so as few people as possible would realise anything by solely examining his motives regarding the Tower. What he probably didn’t realise or possibly did but pushed it into the recesses of his psyche was that a more tangible protest was taking shape. The roots of the Art were establishing and my dear daughter, it is with great pride that I inform you that our family played a major role.”
“From the time people stopped sleeping, those who did not develop the symptoms as early (and thus were freer in their analysis of the situation) realised that a major calamity was brewing. Unfortunately, due to the Baron’s bastardliness, the case was concealed until most were hooked. Besides, the few who had suspicions that it was the food were hardly in a position to stop eating, and the Baron DID control all the produce. So, the most strong-willed decided, upon the Mandate’s establishment, to overcome their addiction-”
At this point, a freak movement of the air blew out the torch beside them and their conversation (or her father’s monologue) receded into darkness. He faltered for but a brief moment and went on and S smiled at the change in atmosphere and standing in the room full of Elders recollecting the day smiled again. She plunged back for another dip into the time they were in the dark and thus no longer positioned in physical space but simply sharing a moment.
After the flicker and subsequent darkness, he resumed. “As I was saying, they decided to cure themselves. There were only 100 in the beginning: both men and women. Many a month passed in self-torture, vomiting, disorientation, but they were taking a slowly receding dose until all 100 were secretly throwing away their entire daily Chestnut ration.”
“Realising the importance of the body and environmental clock in maintaining life and humanity after being temporarily diminished in both, our ancestors went on to formulate an expansive Art in the relationship between the two clocks and the development of both in one’s life. That was the most fortuitous decision in the history of the Barony, as the Tower plan came to reveal.”
“As I said, the plan of the Baron was to remove the environmental clock so that the internal one would be infinitely more manipulable. I don’t know to what extent the then-established elders suspected this. In all probability, most had a bad inkling but none knew it would really come so soon. But such is the way of history: a month after the Tower’s completion came the day. The entire Barony was asked to come and join in the celebration of the Tower’s inauguration. It was when the elders saw the immense crowd being shoved into a building which could contain them all that they rtrivial only in comparison to the real depths, obviouslyealised.”
“Obviously, it was too late to stop anything but amidst the crowd, they used the last few minutes under the sky as the crowd slowly went in, to take notice of as much about the world clock as humanly possible so as to be able to keep track of it Inside, and live and remain human. Then the doors were shut. The Baron welcomed all to their new abode.”
“From then on came the split of the first generation. The Elders wrote down all they knew using the plentitude of time they had between the labour. Still, it took decades. They built the clocks and used them so that their families could live their lives. But it was also here that the gender roles split, as the women were giving birth to as many unaddicted children as they could while the men refined the work and planned the day of reckoning. Of course, things were very different with the sleepless populace.”
“At first, things were much like life under the clouds. The Chestnut still existed and that meant lots of work, productivity and action – none of which ever ceased. Even then, there were problems as people from the same household would lose track of each other with no external point of reference. Then, people could still relate to themselves and each other as they could remember the concepts of rhythm, change and cessation. Nevertheless, almost 90% of families broke down after 10 years (whilst at the same time, productivity increased every year).”
“This truly puzzled and disturbed the Baron. He did not expect this, but was even more shaken by the next generation. It came only after 15 years of the Exile, because the rulers realised that they now needed to control relationships, families and reproduction as people’s competence at complex tasks that we consider unique to people was being brought to naught.”
“The second generation was affected in a way that made the first seem normal. Dozens of thousands of Tower citizens have never seen any manifestations of the organic cycles. Gone was any form of long term meaning or planning. People recognised each other and things they learnt and possibly quite a few incidents from the past. There was just no context, no sense of scale, order or point. While we all construct the events of our lives as stories with narrative elements to make sense of things they could not – and today the situation remains. An eternal spiritual amnesia. And here we are, trying desperately to preserve and maintain, with still a glimmer of the word overthrow in our imaginations.”
He finished and S felt the horror of the darkness and silence. ‘Twas basically everything she’d subconsciously known and feared all her life suddenly wrenched out into an indescribable open. She knew that this would be the start of her unique life, that she was on a completely different path after this talk. She looked back at her father’s sky chart and felt the cringe of unreality and inexperience (after all, she realised just how far they were removed from the world) that has remained with her.
S looked up, ceasing her momentary contemplations. The Elders were staring at her as she realised that she’d been actionless for a quarter of a minute. “Well, the sun is a source of tremendous heat and light and the moon less so. We assume they’re a quarter of the earth’s diameter and are spherical but beyond that, we’ve no idea, being where we are…”
“—End of lesson,” she added hastily.
Attempting to connect with S was a fairly chaotic procedure for D. He wanted to see in her and her thoughts the great and terrible abyss that represented the essence of the Art – if indeed there was one. But her reaction fluctuated between seeming enthusiasm, indifference and the occasional categorical opposition. Every few days after her lesson, he’d approach her for a dose of conversation, which ranged from a few remarks to almost an hour. It was during one of the more lengthy exchanges that he asked her to dinner with his family. Acceptance and mirth followed as she became a semi-regular guest of D & F, establishing an understanding with them. At least they didn’t hang onto their traditional questioning of both her role and her methods (like some elders have – S could see it in everything from their bodily gestures to the way they learnt, despite the fact that no-one voiced anything). D on the other hand was extremely comfortable with the idea and practice of her leadership. But not so much so as to become something of a suspicion to S – he had a healthy amount of skepticism. Still, a far cry from the man who slightly ago considered her unfit for being a woman. F on the other hand instantly built up a camaraderie of expression with S. It was explicable by the fact that she had nothing to do with the Art – so instead of S having to carry herself with the expectation of her each word carrying the profundity of the whole Teaching, with F, she just laughed, observed, joked about the silly males and their idiosyncrasies. Such was the state of affairs three months into the plan.
Three months and one day into the plan, S knocked on the door of the D/F residence as had been planned for several days. This time whilst she walked, greeted and took her seat, something popped up at her. It was the suspicion of pretense. Of course, she couldn’t tell how F & D related to each other outside her presence. Still, something was the matter and it turned out that once she thought it, she realised it was something she always subconsciously noticed around them as a couple.
“We’ve both known you for a while now,” D said learning forward as the conversation completed its initial non-consequential phase, “but now I must ask you something I’ve been meaning to, also for a while.”
A subterranean dystopia about a world where one of our most basic human functions is forbidden.