The screen was on. Finnegan sat in front of it taking in all the information radiating from the display.
The living room had become his second bedroom. He sat there motionless.
Amber and Rike came down the stairs. Finnegans back was to them.
“Ok Finnegan we’ll be back soon,” said Amber. There was no response from Finnegan. Amber looked at Rike and shrugged.
“Did you hear us, Finnegan?” Rike said, approaching him. Rike navigated a minefield of sweatshirts, crumpled food wrappers and wires.
“Sure,” said Finnegan, not turning around. Rike saw a pair of shoes, the soles peeling off them, covered in mud.
“Finnegan, those shoes are ruined. You’re going to need a new pair” Rike said.
“Huh?” Finnegan said.
“I said” Rike began, Amber cut him off.
“Rike, it doesn’t matter. Our ride is here. Bye Finnegan. We are going to lock this door” Amber said.
“Sure,” said Finnegan.
Rike and Amber got into a car. The car drove off.
The car arrived at the I-Genus facility. Amber and Rike got out of the car and went straight inside to the reception desk. The desk told them where to go, and they went.
Amber and Rike sat on chairs in a hallway.
“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” Rike asked.
“You have had so long to think about that, and now you decide to bring it up. We can leave if you want.”
“I’m not, it’s just that, you know.”
“Look we’re here, you’re nervous, that’s fine,” said Amber.
“It’s Finnegan,” said Rike looking down. There was a child at one end of the hallway. The child may have looked like Finnegan, but it was not him.
“You’re nervous, you have to relax,” Amber said. A door slid open, and a man in a white coat with dark hair stepped out. Amber rose from her seat and walked over to greet him. “Doctor Teng,” she said taking his hand.
“Doctor Mathers,” the doctor said.
“Sorry,” said Amber. Rike shook hands with the doctor.
“Come right on in,” Doctor Mathers said.
Amber and Rike followed him into the room. There was a table with a split in the middle. The three people sat down around the desk.
“So Amelia and Rance, how can I help?” asked the doctor.
“It’s Amber and Rike,” said Amber. The doctor leaned forward and checked a display.
“Oh, so it is,” Doctor Mathers said. “Hold on”. Doctor Mathers scrolled through the notes in front of him. “You’ll have to excuse me for a minute” The doctor pressed a button. A barrier emerged from the floor sliding up through the split in the table. The doctor now sat on the other side of a sheet of glass.
Amber and Rike sat looking at him. Doctor Mathers pressed a button, and the barrier dropped.
“I’ll have to try again later. What can I do for you?” Doctor Mathers said. Elbows on the table, hands steepled covering his mouth and his head tilted forward into a glare.
“It’s Finnegan,” Rike said. “I mean obviously we love him. He’s the perfect child. In many ways, that’s the problem”.
“Ok,” said Doctor Mathers.
“He doesn’t need us. It’s almost like we’re there to make sure that he isn’t disturbed. Not even by us. He’s very intelligent, but we’re just live in maids”, said Rike.
“That’s what parents are,” said Doctor Mathers.
“And the shoes, he keeps destroying his shoes. I don’t know what happens to them. I never see him out of the house. How is he ruining them? That’s at least four pairs he’s been through.” said Rike.
“Kids being kids,” said Doctor Mathers.
“What we’re saying”, Amber cut in, “Is that while we love him and the service that I-Genus provided, it’s not what we wanted. We wanted a kid who would not need too much maintenance, but this isn’t right. If I wanted a family member who we didn’t talk to living with us, I would have asked Rike’s mother to move in.”
“Right, I see,” said the doctor.
“What we have come here today for is to factor in a post-natal, Finnegan is under six. We were also looking to consider something that was more, dependent.” Amber said.
“You’ll have to excuse me again,” Doctor Mathers said. The doctor pushed a button bringing the shield up again. The doctor looked down. Amber and Rike could see the doctor’s mouth moving, but they couldn’t hear a word he said.
“You know, we’re the ones who are here,” Rike said.
“You know what doctors are like, always trying to make as much money for themselves as possible” Amber said.
The doctor looked up from the other side of the barrier and made eye contact with Amber. Amber smiled, and the doctor returned the gesture.
The barrier dropped.
“Ok, I can show you some of our offers on the catalogues. Before that, for the legal records, I have to have you say that you want a post-natal. Everything has to be above board.”
“Ok we can do that, I Rike Theremin want a postnatal performed on Finnegan Theremin.”
“I wasn’t recording, but I only need one of you to say it for clearance, Amber could you say it for the records?”
“Sure, I Amber Theremin want a post-natal performed on Finnegan Theremin,” she said.
The doctor sat for a moment and made a few notes.
“Ok, that’s all I need in that regard. You have requested a post-natal. Now let’s show you what we have. Before I hand it over to you, just thought that I’d point you to some of our latest packages. We can offer packages that are highly dependent on the guardian. You can have severely disabled. Now, this might be out of your price range, but we have a new addition which we call the sleeper cell package.”
“We haven’t heard of that” Amber said.
“It’s great, you get your package delivered, but it’s randomised, determined by an algorithm. You could have the package for the rest of your life, and it’s fine. Or boom, twelve years in and leukaemia” said Doctor Mathers. “It’s the luck of the draw, how does that sound? It’s proving popular with some higher-income households”.
Amber and Rike sat in their chairs, thinking it over.
The doctor’s phone rang.
“I have to take this,” the doctor said. He pressed the button, and the barrier came up. The doctor leaned back in his chair and spoke.
“This will get sorted,” Rike said.
“It will” Amber added.
The barrier came down, and the doctor sat before them. He licked his lips.
“Let me give you a tour of the facilities. I’ll show you the post-natal area, you won’t feel a thing” the doctor said.
“We?” said Amber.
“Sorry, I misspoke,” said the doctor. He stood up and led them through the door.
Back in the house, Finnegan was sat in front of the screen. The post came through the door. Finnegan turned his head at the noise.
As he turned his head back to the screen, he caught sight of his shoes. They had served their purpose but they beyond use. He would need a new pair.
“Sure?”, Nick asked.
“Yes, I am sure,” Derrick said, his impatience growing. The images sped up once more until Derrick recognises his bedroom again,
“Here we go.”
Derrick was kissing his wife through Nick; he could taste her. Derrick enjoyed the kiss, and it manifested itself as a slight groan in the cafe. Nick heard it only slightly.
“Are you sure about this?” Catlin asked.
“Jesus Christ I am sure,” Derrick said.
In the memory, Nick answers on Derrick’s behalf in the affirmative.
Catlin turns and goes into the bathroom. The lights in the room dim. Her figure emerges, silhouetted by the bathroom light. The light turns off.
She disappears into the bed under the covers. Nick undresses as he dives into a sea of blanket and comfort. Derrick feels the tingling begin in his crotch. Pleasure cascading down his spine like warm water.
Derrick sees the main reason he hires Nick. Derrick may not be able to give his wife the pleasure she deserves, but he can afford a person who could.
Derrick feels the passion of their kissing, her body relaxing into his. He slides into her with ease. Both inhale sharply.
If Derrick were ever to try to do something similar, it would take far longer than this. Fatigue would set in before anything substantial had occurred. Even if he could rise to the occasion, the centre would not hold.
This was the best alternative for everyone. The surrogate carrying out the physical tasks of being a husband. Derrick would provide the much-needed finance. The kissing stops. She rolls on her stomach. Fingers wetted, and nipples rubbed. His right-hand pushes her upper half down and shapes her back to bring her ass up further.
Derrick’s brain can’t tell the real from memory. Electrons fire sending messages throughout Derrick’s body.
Derrick tenses up, and his breathing restricts. It takes a moment for Derrick to reassure his body that this isn’t real and to enjoy it.
Back in the cafe, Derrick’s moans increased in volume and length. Nick was aware and becoming more uncomfortable. He had heard the groans of his employer before, but repeated exposure did not make them any more bearable.
Nick cast a stealthy glance across the cafe to make sure that they were not arousing any suspicion. No one seemed to notice. Everyone was wrapped up in themselves. Everyone except the waitress who was staring right at Nick. She knew exactly what was going on.
Derrick went quiet, tilting his head. Nick watched him.
“Go back,” Derrick said.
“No, review it in your own time.”
“Something’s not right.”
“I have places to be.”
“Go back and pause.”
“Alright, say when” Nick rewound date night. Derrick signalled him to stop. The evening froze before him, his wife on her back with her face obscured by a pillow. “You can review this as much as you want in your own time”.
Derrick sat motionless. Within the viewer, his eyes scanned the room.
He had seen something that struck him as not right, but he ignored that notion. Finally, Derrick realised that what was wrong was not what was there but what wasn’t there.
“Where’s her scar?” Derrick asked. The question set off an avalanche of other questions that were in his mind. Derrick noticed something in the image. Off on the sidelines, a slight light reflected in what limited glow there was in the room. There was a person in the bathroom watching the pair make love.
The light was reflecting of glitter, glitter used to pretty up a scar, his wife’s scar. It was Catlin standing in the bathroom, watching him. Who was having their face mashed into the headboard?
Nick would know. Derrick removed the headgear to find an envelope sitting in front of him. Derrick opened the envelope and withdrew its contents. “Divorce,” Derrick said,
“Where did this come from?”
“That’s not what I meant”
“It’s been there a while.”
“What are you talking about, she hasn’t said anything.”
“She has you just skipped those parts,” Nick said, Derrick looked at him blankly.
“Put it on.”, Derrick said.
Derrick put the headset back on. Nick manipulated the evening taking him back to the start of the evening where she first wanted to talk.
“Derrick, this is it,” Catlin says within the memory, “Derrick if you go through with this it’s over. I can’t wait forever, please this isn’t a memory you want to own, is there anything you have to say?” Derrick had not been keeping up with his memories, so Nick sat silently in the room, “OK”, she said.
Derrick took off the headset and looked up at Nick, “I’m going to have to ask for that money back.”
“You already bought it, and the money is gone, you consented to this memory.”
“You tricked me, you never gave me any warning.”
“It’s not up to me to warn you, I get the memories, it’s up to you to remember,” Nick said.
“This isn’t fair.”
“You know what isn’t fair, having to sit and watch a wonderful person ripped apart. Having to hear her plead with you but I can’t respond because you can’t even bother to listen. The worst thing is that she was always going to give you chance after chance. You were going to keep ignoring her so yes, I wasn’t entirely honest. If you had been doing your bit, listening, you wouldn’t have fallen for it. ”
“You’re not supposed to get involved.”
“You’re not supposed to be skimming my pay. Like I said surries find a way of getting even.”
“Fire me.” Nick packed his gear away and rose from the table. Derrick sat unblinking, unsure of what happened. Nick left the cafe. Derick remained there for quite some time.
Nick walked down the street, a smile crept onto his face. He smiled because he got one over on his former employer and because now they were free to be together. He saw Catlin parked up ahead. Nick tried to keep cool, but his step quickened. Catlin didn’t see Nick. He approached her passenger side. He knocked the window she looked up at him and lowered.
“Nick”, she said.
“Where are we off to?”
“We?”, she looked around, “Oh.” Bill Carthage exited the restaurant and got into the car beside Catlin. Bill ignored Nick.
“What’s this?” Nick asked.
“You didn’t, I am so sorry, I thought you knew,” she said, “I mean you’re a surry for god’s sake.”
“Surries shouldn’t think”.
“Shall we?” Bill said interjecting.
Catlin nodded, she gave a look to Nick. The car disappeared around a corner.
A woman approached Nick, she was pretty and had a big smile on her face.
“Nick,” she said, “It’s me, Catlin, we have a date.”
“You’re going to have to update that soon,” Derrick said looking down at the device. The device had a few more blemishes on it’s surface than it did the last time. “Some of those early memories are starting to get a little fuzzy,” Derrick said.
“Degredation’s part of it.”
“Forgetation is happening too quickly for my liking.”
“If you want a clearer longer lasting memory I’ll ll have to upgrade the hardware. I need money for that, and since you’re the only one I surry for, it’s up to you.”Nick said.
Nick took out a small display and attached it to the Emphatic. Images flashed before his eyes. Derrick tried to get a look. “Do you want to see it or do you want to remember it?”.
Derrick said nothing, he sat back in his chair, folded his arms and looked out to the street. The steady traffic of people was becoming more infrequent. The business district was shutting down for the evening.
Derrick looked back over to Nick.
“What’s taking so long?” Derrick asked.
“I wouldn’t want any of my memories getting in there. It’d bore you, gym, football, meaningless one night stands and way too much masturbation. Nothing you’d want to see.” Nick said.
“Name a price,”
“They’re not for sale,” Nick said. Derrick’s eyes narrowed, “And on that note here we are, date night. Before we go on, I’m going to need payment up front this time.” Derrick was silent, “I have a few outstanding payments with other people, I need it now.” said Nick.
“You can’t wait a few minutes?”
“Oh I can, it’s just that the people I owe to, can’t.”
“You taking again?” asked Derrick.
“Couple of previous clients are in there pretty deep. Every time I think I’m rid of them, those memories come bubbling back up. Wouldn’t want that interfering with yours”, Nick said.
“Get them vaped, I’ll pay for that”
“I’ve heard vaping causes long-term memory damage, I’ve been getting some Ignoral from a friend.”
“This friend, the impatient one?”
“Send me your dignautre”. Derrick took out his phone, made a few gestures and then looked at Nick. Nick took out his phone and received a notification.
Derrick watched as Nick sent the money on, “That should brighten up some people’s evening”. Nick put his phone away and smiled at Derrick, “It’s ready.” Nick said.
Derrick put on the head gear. It looked odd but was minimal enough to not attract too much attention, not that anybody would care.
An image faded in, Derrick sees through Nick’s eyes. The image flickers. “Could you mute the blinking?” Derrick asked Nick did so.
The image remains constant. Derrick is in a room, a familiar one, his bedroom. Derrick in Nick’s body sits on a futon. He picks up the drink beside him and downs it in one. A tap runs in an en-suite. Steam floats through the door into the bedroom and dissipates. The flow of the tap stops and a woman exits the en-suite.
Stands and walks towards her. Their hands meet, fingers rub and stroke against each other. Derrick notices the woman wearing a nice yellow dress accentuating her tan. Something else catches his eye.
“She prettied it up,” Derrick said to himself in the cafe unheard by Nick.
A pale pink line starts between her breasts goes down her chest. The accident happened early on in their marriage. One day she was a keen cyclist the next she was not.
Derrick wondered if Nick ever noticed the scar if it gives him shivers the same way it did him. There were certain things that Nick could give to Derrick’s wife. There were somethings that were only ever going to be between Derrick and Catlin.
Catlin asks if they can talk. Derrick let out a sigh, “Forward” he said to Nick. Nick obliged him.
The images speed up. Through the talking, which goes on for quite a while and through a cab journey. Time slows and resumes normal speed in a cinema. His hand reaches down and picks up a hand full of popcorn and shovels it into his mouth.
“Salted?” Derrick tastes it, “Why am I eating salted?”
“Ladies choice,” Nick said, although he is only inches away his voice is that of a disembodied ghost in his head. Did Nick eat salted deliberately Derrick wondered.
“What the hell am I watching”, Derrick demanded.
The film has subtitles, there is no way Derrick would ever watch this kind of thing by choice. Catlin loved this kind of film. Due to strict anti-piracy laws concerning surries Derrick could never see top-tier blockbusters. Derrick could never see what he wanted.
Derrick becomes impatient, “Give me a breakdown.”
“Croatian, first time director. Has a rawness that comes through in the camera work. The minimal story doesn’t quite adhere to logic. There are several strong vignettes that deal with life after a war”. Nick said.
“Any tits?” Derrick asked.
The images speed up again.
Derrick is sitting with Catlin in a restaurant, food in front of him. A fork in his hand delivers the meat to his mouth.
Sensors in the Emphatic fire up taste synapses. It’s a sweet chicken dish causing Derrick’s mouth back in the cafe to salivate. An inferno ignites in Derrick’s mouth. “What the hell is this?”
“My brain is going to make my IBS flare up, you know that right, my brain is stupid like that”, Derrick said.
First salted popcorn, now spicy food. Nick was doing this deliberately. Nick was messing with him.
“Derrick, Derrick?” comes a voice from somewhere out of eye line. A man stands at the table, hand thrust out, Bill Carthage. “Great to see you here Derrick, Catlin. Derrick have you got a chance to review those forms?”
“Did I get them?” Derrick asked Nick back in the cafe.
“You never gave me anything to say.”
In the restaurant, there is silence.
“Take your time sure and get back to me on that,” Bill says, he walks away, returning to a table to sit on his own.
Derrick smiles, for all his looks, his style and vast wealth Bill seems to have a pretty empty existence. Bill is proof that nice guys finish alone.
Catlin spoke, “Derrick can we talk?”.
“Does she ever want to do anything else? If I wanted to talk to her, I would make time for her. Let’s skip to the good stuff” Derrick said.
As she turned to walk away, he finally saw the name Ciara emblazoned on the badge.
She must be new as he had never encountered her before. Ciara, the waitress, walked back over to her till at the other side of the cafe.
The shop floor was expansive, littered with round tables and hard chairs. If there was ever a need, it could seat one hundred, but there never was.
Derrick still liked the place and was one of the few remaining regulars. Derrick came to this cafe for two reasons; the first was for meeting his surry. The second was they did the best hot chocolates in town.
Derrick plucked a marshmallow from the cup. He held it to his mouth and sucked it from his hand swallowing it in one gulp. He looked at the cream that was making the descent from his fingers to his wrist.
Derrick licked each finger. He had now created a clean patch on his skin. Derrick knew he would have to shower but leaving it another day or two wouldn’t make much difference.
Derrick grew impatient, pressed the spoon too hard and managed to tip the cup over. Derrick did all he could to save the contents of the cup.
After a considerable struggle, he relented. Derrick and bent down to perform a more thorough search. At his size, even this small task put a strain on his heart causing his breath to shorten.
Looking down he could not see the spoon but knew that it was there somewhere. Derrick managed to get the spoon back to hand by pure chance.
Derrick sat upright and noticed that another man had joined him at the table.
Nick always complimented Derrick’s appearance at the beginning of their interactions. This was partly to encourage him but more because he had nothing to say.
Derrick had transformed over the period that the two had known each other.
Derrick’s face was more akin to that a miserable cliff than that of a human. “How’s work?” Nick said to curtail an ever-expanding silence.
Nick leaned over and opened up the black satchel beside his feet. He took out a device with several ports and placed it in the centre of the table, the Emphatic 2.2. Not the latest model but it did the job.
“That’s not acceptable behaviour,” Elaine said. She could feel her body tensing up again and her breath shortened. Elaine lowered her shoulders and controlled her breath.
After taking a few deep breaths, she was calm again. Elaine looked at the woman in front of her who had spoken. An up and comer who had done some TV projects and now the studio had signed her up for another superhero film.
Seven picture deal, the girl would be set up for life if she played her cards right. So far she was showing her hand.
“Where are you having a stroke there?”
“I was centring my concentration there. I didn’t mean to snap at you there. We’re trying; the studio is trying to do the best it can for you. Your safety is of paramount importance. When you say “It’s only a dick” I get worried because this is how old patterns of behaviour repeat themselves.”
“Yeah, well, you and I, we come from different worlds, we don’t expect you to understand Elaine,” said the girl.
“Well Phoebe, I do understand,” Elaine said feeling herself tighten up again. Elaine didn’t want to get bogged down with Phoebe about ethics. “Someone like you has a long career ahead of you. More importantly, older Phoebe needs to be able to look back to younger Phoebe and not regret. You need to be able to look yourself in the mirror in twenty years time.”
“If I still have my original face by then, I’ll kill myself,” Phoebe said. Some of the other women in the room nodded in agreement.
“That’s not what” Elaine started, “Take Carla Odets for example”. The faces before her became expressionless. “Carla Odets, she won the Oscar for Take Me Now” some of the women arched their eyebrows, others shrugged. “You may not remember her, but she was set to star in Fate’s Requiem.”
“Sandra Channing was in that,” one of the women in the crowd exclaimed.
“That’s right, Carla Odets was originally set to star in it, but a producer tried to get her to do activities. She refused and didn’t it,” said Elaine, steepling her hands and scanning the room.
The women sat there for a moment, motionless, aside from blinking. Phoebe raised her hand.
“This isn’t a classroom Phoebe,” Elaine said.
“What was the point of that story?”
“That you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to,” Elaine said.
“We know that but who the fuck is Carla Odets?” Phoebe said.
“You don’t have to swear,” Elaine said.
“You said it wasn’t a classroom.”
“That doesn’t mean, go on.”
“Like with all due respect, what was the point in that story? You say no to the role, and then everyone forgets about you or? I mean, are you saying that Sandra Shanning is a dirty little slut? If you are that doesn’t come as a surprise but, I’m trying to work it out, you’re not making a whole lot of sense” Phoebe said.
“The point of the story is that you have to be able to hold your head up high and conduct yourself with dignity. You have to be able to live with yourself” Elaine said.
“You don’t need to live with yourself when you got other people to live with you,” Phoebe said.
“That will come to an end there will be a next, next big thing.”
“I’ll let future Phoebe worry about that” Phoebe said.
“You have it all sorted out then,” Elaine said. She didn’t mean for the edge to slip into her voice, it just kind of happened that way.
“I know that I gotta make hay while the sun shines. Maybe you don’t like, know how they make hay. Don’t matter; you won’t be bailing forever.”
“Great attitude,” Elaine said, a smile on her face.
“Look if it makes you feel any better, if I do happen to fall on hard times then I can always come back with a tell-all story. Get a book deal out of it, sell the film rights and then I can be the one asking for the services.”
“No, no, no. Phoebe that is why the studios asked me to take these seminars. We want to avoid that sort of thing happening in the first place.”
“Look, Elaine, it’s the nature of the business,” Phoebe said, a smirk on her face.
“The nature of the business is changing,” Elaine said, the women watched her closely. “That waiver that you signed at the start of the day.”
“That was a register,” Phoebe said, no longer smirking.
“It was also a declaration that you take on your responsibilities to remove yourself. We’d prefer it if you didn’t get into that situation in the first place.
“This shouldn’t be down to us, tell the men.”
“The men are going to seminars like this one. The studio knows that we all need to do our part and accept our share of the responsibility.”
“We shouldn’t have our power to accuse taken away from us. Sometimes it takes a victim years to realise that they were victims.”
“Well, that’s something for future Phoebe to worry about,” Elaine said.
Banyon entered the keep. There was the aristocracy, their fine dress half eaten by insects. They may have nibbled on it themselves in their struggle with hunger.
Banyon smiled and walked towards the stairwell. Before he got there a guard with sunken eyes stopped him.
“Sir, the Queen, requests your company in the throne room,” the sunken-eyed guard said.
“The throne room is back in the palace, no one goes to the palace,” said Banyon.
“That was the old one; there is a new one now in the ale store,” sunken eyes said. Banyon nodded and went on his way.
The door to the ale store had become lopsided and dragged along the ground. It was heavy as Banyon lifted it to open more. Upon entering Banyon saw the barrels and at the far end, there was the queen. A throne of barrels improvised for her to sit. As Banyon approached, he saw Miregard at her left-hand side. Someone was standing before them, slouched forward, head bowed. It was not until Banyon passed the person that he could see that it was Flotsom. Flotsom the court jester, a grey blanket, holes left by moths covering a long stained shirt. Barefoot, bare legged, cuts on every part of exposed flesh and knees shaking.
Banyon approached the throne, bowed then instructed to rise with a gesture from the queen.
“Gald that you could join us Sir Banyon,” Miregard said.
“To be of service is to live in pleasure,” Banyon said.
“A great injustice has occurred.” said Miregard
“Yes, the men are exhausted. We’re not getting the required reinforcements.”
“Silence,” the queen said.
“We talk not of military matters, something far closer to home,” Miregard said.
“I see,” said Banyon.
“That is why you are to bear witness to this trial”
“Formal trials can wait for there is a far more pressing one that we must deal with.”
“How do you expect an army to stand united if there is discord in the ranks?”
“You speak of mutiny?” said Banyon
“Worse, insubordination, Flotsom has been found to be a dealer of offensive material.”
“Present it then.” said Banyon.
“It is not physical; it is spoken, the words wildfire burning through the keep.”
“He is a jester; it is his job to lighten the mood of the court.”
“Not when the queen herself put restrictions on merriment, Flotsom is in breach.”
“And I am to be his defence,” said Banyon
“No, we have you here as a formality, to bear witness, so that there are no accusations of a secret trial. When they ask you was justice done, you are to say yes.”
“As a knight, it is one of my sacred duties to tell the truth. If you want me to respond in the affirmative, then I must see justice done.”
“You always find a way to slow progress,” Miregard said.
“You’re trying to say that killing someone over the killing of a joke is the most important matter for us right now. I disagree with that; there are far more pressing concerns upon us that need to be addressed.”
“And you will want to attend those concerns promptly, all you need to do is agree to the set conditions.”
“I would ask to postpone the trial until a later date. Provided there is one.”
“It would take more effort to abandon the trial now. Seeing as it is so close to the end of proceedings, all you need to do is say yes.”
“I must know what I agree to.”
“You know Banyon, your insistence on slowing us down is what is causing the real problems.”
“Fine, get on with it.”
“Well, we were wrapping up, closing statements.”
“I need to see the evidence.”
“Repeat yourself Banyon; I did not hear you.”
“I am to send a man to his death over a joke then at least let me hear it so that I may judge.”
“That would not be appropriate.”
“Unless he has denied that he has told the joke.”
“That is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter if he told the joke or not.”
“You don’t even know if he told the joke, that isn’t fair,” said Banyon.
“He is the court jester; he has a responsibility for humour.”
“Flotsom, the devils come for you.”
“Do not speak of devils in these times.”
“The joke, let me hear it.”
Miregard looked at Flotsom and nodded.
“It’s more visual humour than anything,” Flotsom said lying down on the stone floor. Flotsom lay on his back. Folding himself in two, bringing his legs over his head he began to moan and convulse as if possessed by a demon.
“I don’t get it; this is neither funny or offensive,” Banyon said.
“Hold on,” Miregard said, “Flotsom, tell me the name of this piece.”
“I call it, “The Queen next week,” Flotsom said.
“Right that is enough,” said Miregard. Flotsom got back to his feet. There was a smirk noticeable on his face.
“That isn’t a joke Miregard,” said Banyon.
“I agree it was the worse judged attempt at humour I have ever seen.”
“That’s not what I am saying. A joke is a small truth exaggerated. What Flotsom did was a big truth diminished. Nothing in that act was untrue. Flotsom is being tried for telling the truth.”
“Remember yourself Sir Banyon,” the Queen said.
“With how things are going, Flotsom’s piece will be regarded as an act of prophecy. The orc will get through that gate, and they will take you as plumbers do an old pipe. They will plug every leak.”
“There is no need to be so coarse.”
“There may be no need, but there are those out there who will not care for need and only concern themselves with want. As for me and my needs. I need to get back to the gate.”
“If you need to get back to the gate then there is nothing stopping you except for one thing.”
Banyon looked at Flotsom. Flotsom raised his head and met Sir Banyon’s gaze.
“The kingdom is at stake.” Banyon said.
“I understand Sir,” Flotsom said. “I would sooner be dead than the horror that will be coming through that gate. You lot will look at me with envy. Her highness will wish that those who have their way were as gentle as my joke. Although roughness
may give her the pleasure that she so badly needs.”
“Get on with it,” the Queen said.
“Very well,” said Miregard. Miregard turned went out through a door and when he returned there was an axe wielder with him.
Banyon took off a glove. A crate was dropped in front of Flotsom. The axe-wielder forced Flotsom to his knees and his head on the crate. Banyon approached and held Flotsom’s hand.
“Get away from him,” Miregard said.
“I only mean to help ease his passing.”
“His passing should not be easy; he was instigating insubordination.”
“Fine, then I am no longer needed here. Dismiss me so that I may be able to return to the gate.”
“Very well,” The Queen said.
Banyon bowed and left for the gate.
As Banyon approached the gate, he saw the lever. Banyon continued to walk towards the lever. Banyon heard shouts and cries. Banyon felt the strike of the arrows. Banyon slowed but continued forward. More arrows, his hand reached the lever.
Sir Banyon looked out over the battlements above the gate. He could see the small fires burning in the distance. There was movement in front of and behind the flames.
Banyon strained, but he could not hear the crackling of wood, in fact, he could not hear much of anything. A profound silence had come with the darkness.
It was so quiet that Banyon could hear the dull thud of his heart. Banyon looked out to the ocean of darkness before the gate. The glisten of large blinking eyes gave away the horde that waited beyond the gate. Banyon reached out and steadied himself on the stone wall. He slumped forward taking the weight off his feet.
“Sir Banyon, the Queen, requests your company,” said a voice from below. Banyon straightened himself up and descended the ladder.
At ground level, Banyon observed the scene. Foot soldiers were busying themselves, sharpening swords and reinforcing barricades. Banyon saw one foot soldier with wood standing staring at the gate lever. The foot soldier was in a trance. Banyon approached him.
“Let me lighten your load,” Banyon said taking several blocks from the soldier. The soldier did not respond. “Hey,” Banyon said, the soldier turned to face him, “Let’s get these logs to the shed”.
Banyon and the foot soldier deposited the wood in a shed. “Here, you have my permission to take some extra soup,” Banyon said handing the soldier a coin. The foot soldier nodded and ran in the direction of the mess hall.
Banyon saw Vrigamere talking with some other men. They huddled around a map illuminated by an overhead lamp. Vrigamere saw Banyon approaching and dismissed his council.
“The queen has requested your presence,” Vrigamere said.
“I am aware if she dies of waiting that is a better end than the rest of us are likely to meet,” Banyon said.
“You are more likely to die from making her wait.”
“See how highly strung the men are. The gate lever speaks to them; I caught a man listening”
“The orcs don’t have access to such wizardry.”
“I don’t think they do either. Whatever the cause of bewitchment all it takes is one pull, and our planning has been for nought.”
“We could sabotage the contraption,” said Vrigamere.
“No I don’t want to go down in history as the one who broke the Grand Gate of Tulluthcarr,” Banyon said.
“You don’t need to worry about going down in history sir, I’ve heard the songs that orcs sing to each other”
“I want an archer in the west tower. If someone comes within a pikes distance, then you are to shoot them until dead.”
“Yes sir, permission to speak freely.”
“You look terrible sir, get some sleep.”
“I reckon that I only have a few more hours of consciousness left in this life, I want to see as much as I can,” Banyon said. A soldier approached Vrigamere, “Right to see what her highness wants”. The two men saluted each other. Banyon walked in the direction of the keep.
Tulluthcarr was a shadow of its former self. Once a jewel of the west now a groove where a jewel once laid. The cobbled stones that were the streets were always wet despite it having not rained in over a week.
Banyon was glad that it was dark. The city in the sunlight made him sad. Emaciated women carrying skeletal children. Sometimes the babes in arms were already dead. People wanting to separate mother and the dead newborns not to ease her suffering but that they might get nourishment.
The orc invasion took Talluthcarr by surprise. Banyon remembered submitting reports of orc advancement. Banyon also recalled superiors casting aside those reports.
“Orcs are creatures of habit. They never venture a days journey from their cave,” Sir Igniol said at one of the conflict councils.
Banyon remembered arguing for reinforcements in the outer townships. Banyon was right; they were wrong. He was alive; they were dead. Banyon envied his fallen colleagues. Eternal rest, no decisions to make.
As Banyon made his way towards the keep, he heard a groaning. He looked towards the source of the sound. Banyon could make out the silhouette of a group of children picking at something. Banyon put a hand on his sword and approached.
“Get get” shouted Banyon pulling his sword halfway out of it’s sheath. The children hissed and scattered. Banyon stood over what they had been picking at, an old man. The children had gnawed the fingers from his left hand.
“Thank you, sir,” the old man said, frail, hard to hear.
“They will return once I have left,” Banyon said.
“I know sir, could you afford me a small mercy?” The old man said. Banyon nodded.
Banyon knelt down close in front of the old man and removed a small knife.
“My biggest fear was the birds would eat my corpse, not the young to eat my living body. I was a traveller from” the old man started, but Banyon cut him off.
“Old man I will do my utmost to ease your suffering, quicken your passing. Please, the last thing the air need carry is another tale of woe. Now, give me your hand.” Banyon said taking off a glove. “Your good hand, that’s it”
“I don’t need my palm read, I know my fate,” said the old man, smile on his face.
“You have a good humour old man considering your circumstance, but I don’t wish to tell you your future,” Banyon said.
“Then what need have you for my hand, I hope you are not peckish yourself.”
“When I part from this plane I would like someone to hold my hand. I would rather feel the warmth of another rather than the cold of steel. Look at the stars; the clerics say that is where we come from and that is where we return”.
Banyon slid the blade underneath the old man’s ribcage as he spoke. The old man gasped, shuddered and was dead.
Banyon watched the old man for a moment longer to make sure that he was gone. Banyon continued along the road to the keep.
Banyon entered the keep.
Continued on Wednesday