He opened his eyes and saw blood. He knew immediately without asking that it was his own. It soaked into white fabric and at first he couldn’t tell if the patch was getting bigger. It was too bright in the room. Light shining into his eyes. Why are they shining lights into my eyes, he thought slowly, I need help don’t I?
The panic was subdued, sluggish, like he was drugged. His mind was screaming out for help, but it was as if it was in another room. He tried to move but somehow he had no control.
The room lights seemed to be getting dimmer and his focus became deeper. The light wasn’t that bright after all. It was coming from a side lamp beside the bed. Next to it was his watch and some flowers. The window was dark. The starched sheets tight on the bed, a smell of clean bandages and a sharp chemical tang.
There was a steady beep. Getting slower now. He hadn’t noticed it till now but it had been beeping pretty fast, but now it slowed to an even, hypnotic pace.
A hospital bed. But why?
Memories stirred like disturbed insects; he heard it first, the echo of a sound so big it had shattered his soul, a sharp agony shooting out into the distance taking parts of him with it, and a flurry of movement, heavy objects floating through the air like feathers. Then a whirling purple funnel of pain and floating confusion. For hours, maybe days, he had turned over and over in this dark whirlpool, it’s inky fingers drawing him down and down, losing time, feeling his thoughts and emotions being bleached away.
Then suddenly the bright light and returning consciousness. The room, the beeps, now just a faint hum. The steady beep of his heart. He looked down and with gratitude saw all his limbs intact. There was no pain anywhere, but he could detect a few spaces in his body where pain used to be. The skin on his hands and arms felt tight and new. Maybe accelerated regrowth? It was common practice these days, hooking up your DNA to a kind of PDA computer and having the device kick the healing process up a couple of gears.
The closest he came to pain was in-between his eyes. A tiny bright spark of something, not pain exactly, but it was the same shape and size as the worst headache he ever hadΓ it was just an absence of pain. They had drugged him, either a chemical or electronic pain blocker. Check the size of the pain and minus it, cancel it out. Technically you still have the pain, but you don’t feel it, and as the pain grows smaller, the block lessens, till the pain is gone.
Putting his fingers gently to his temples, he could feel tiny coils of wire stuck to the skin, the aerials for a electronic pain blockerΓ it must be under his bed or in the side table drawer. Didn’t matter, as he wasn’t about to mess with it. He liked the pain being blocked.
He remembered his name with more effort than he would like. Dr Sam Clements. He was a scientist. He was rich. He had a nice life. A really nice life. There was something important. Something missing. No, it refused to budge. Frustrating. So what DID he know?
He’d been in some kind of explosion. No memories other than that would come. Give it time, he thought, relaxing away from the struggling with weary resignation. Thinking was making his head hurt.
A pretty red haired nurse with an unusually ample bosom came in and gave him a shot from a hypospray, first fitting the cartridge to the small plastic gun in her pocket, then applying it to his neck and gently pulling the trigger with a tiny explosive hiss. He felt nothing at first, then a spreading icy calm drifting from his neck into his brain and chest.
She was talking to him.
Her words were muffled. Then they got clearer. “… spray will clear them. Can you hear me now?”
“Yes” he said, his voice was dry.
“I’m Alice. The explosion damaged your hearing, and we are treating it, but it’s taking some time. Your eardrums were totally burst, but we rebuilt them and grafted them. Shame we can’t regrow them in situ, but it’s going to take a while for the new drums to take. Until then you need that shot every 6 hours, okay? Don’t worry,” she laughed, “we’ll remember so you don’t have to.”
Days later Alice straightened out the bed and as she was leaving she almost casually said “oh I almost forgot… you have a visitor. Are you up to it?”
He nodded, keen for the company. He regretted that foolish sentiment almost immediately when the tall blonde female walked into the room wearing the instantly recognisable white leather uniform of the Ministry of Justice.
The uniforms used to be black, long ago, with insignia on the arm like a military group. But the new government thought this image too intimidating and the new white uniforms had been around so long now nobody could remember it being otherwise. She drew off her gloves, slapped them softly together and laid them on a side table with unconscious precision. She approached him formally but with carefully trained kindness. She held out a slim hand and gripped his firmly but appropriately and released it professionally.
“I am Unity Bedford, Investigator with the Ministry of Justice. Would you mind if I sat down?”
He gestured to the chair by the bed, and she moved it before sitting so he didn’t have to crane his head sideways to see her. Very considerate.
“I would first like to say, I’m sorry for your loss.”
There it was. Like a car driving through his chest. The thing he was blocking out. The thing he couldn’t see.
Abigail was dead. She was there when the package arrived. She asked what it was and started to open it as he walked into the room, equally eager to see what this surprise was… but then a white flash, Abi flying past him, chairs and tables and a sofa floating through the air.
He sobbed for what seemed like an eternity.
When he finally stopped, exhausted, after what must have been 20 or 30 minutes, he opened his eyes to see Investigator Unity Bedford still waiting patiently to question him. Her blue eyes were clear and alert, her skin impossibly fresh and smooth. There were rumours that the MoJ investigators were robots, but the truth was worse, he thought. They were merely religious fanatics.
The MoJ was formed from the old Ministry of Truth and Justice, the old black uniform days, and was still a branch of the Church. Today you can see it. The tight uniforms with their high white collars looked like priests attire; the tiny almost invisible silver crucifix at the throat, with similar markings on the gloves hats and belts. They weren’t devoid of emotion, on the contrary passion burned from every pore like a tiny little searchlight, but they were under very tight control.
Unity Bedford was a prime example of the kind of girls they loved. Devout, beautiful and in some small indefinable way, twisted. They carried weapons when the situations dictated it, and they used them with a professional unflinching swiftness. They trained and lived like nuns. They were vegetarian, celibate, and teetotal. They always got their man.
Unity cleared her throat. “Are you composed enough to answer some questions? Would you like a glass of water?” Her voice contained all the nuance you’d expect from a concerned tone, but none of the content.
He accepted a glass of water from her and she wiped the glass before she gave it to him.
She began to ask him questions about the explosion, keeping well away from triggers containing thoughts of Abi. She stuck to the facts.
Finally she homed in on her purpose. “Just before I go I’d like to see if there is anyone you can think of who might wish you harm.”
“Harm? You mean anyone who would wish me dead.”
“Yes. Do you have any enemies Dr Clements?”
He thought hard. “I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone. I’m a scientist, not working in any field which would inspire hatred. I have… had… a happy relationship. No affairs, no breakups. I have no enemies.”
“Then it is extraordinary that someone would go to the trouble of sending you a bomb. Unless it is random chance?”
“No, the parcel was mailed to me directly, my name on the address label. I was actually expecting a parcel that day… I just assumed it was the new memory pods I ordered. Abi… Ms Tennent was opening it for me.”
Unity pursed her lips. “Then perhaps it is not who you are but what you are that is the problem? What do you do for a living?” She ticked a mark on a small palm sized computer slate which had appeared in her hand.
“I’m a scientist and a businessman. I am just about to launch my new company which I’ve been working on for the last 15 years. Nanodupe Corporation was going to launch tomorrow, rem no, the day after the bomb I guess, in that sense I was prevented from doing that. Not sure what that has to do with anything.”
“And what does your company do?”
He smiled despite himself because he hadn’t thought about this for a while and the brilliance and perfect joy of his invention filled him up like a bottle.
“We make a copying machine that can copy anything perfectly.”
The Community of Union was founded almost immediately after the Great War of Souls, comprising Europe including the UK and large swathes of the former Soviet states, and stretching down into the top half of Africa and the upper parts of the New Islam. To the west across the sea was the Confederation of the Americas, including the old South and North America, Canada and the easternmost block of the former Soviet states. To the east was Asiania, taking in China, Japan and the former India and Pakistan, Korea and so forth.
The reunion after the war was immediate and total. All the souls lost in the Great War of Souls were cherished and their memory honoured by the much-reduced population in the formation of the new world states. Never before has mankind come together so fully and with such a unified voice as they did in those days.
In the intervening decades a lot of that unity has slipped. Old rivalries have re-emerged, but for the most part all the new nations co-operate to clamp down on any unrest with a firm and terrible hand of iron.
The capital city of the Community of Union, almost always shorted to Union, was in the city of Liberty, built at the centre of the The Crater. The Crater, it’s jagged edges rising into the sky like black fingers, which straddled France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, obliterating most of Germany and all of Switzerland and Belgium. A necessarily rough estimate of about 150 million people vapourised in less than a few 100ths of a second. A cloud of particles in the atmosphere which threatened to kill the planet unless the nations worked together to clear the air… a gargantuan effort and humanity prevailed. And Liberty was the result of that effort. A shining new city. A new start. A new hope.
Liberty was built in concentric circles with a half mile high crystalline spike at the centre, with radiating layers of museums, offices, houses, parks, schools, rural areas and new fast growing forests. It was a utopian dream come true. Most people, while secretly believing it far too good to be true, had to admit after a long time had passed that it was true. Mankind had grown up and was finally mature enough to live in such a place. The crystal centred jewel, visible from space, a reminder to us all never to forget what we can become.
At the centre of the city, in the spire, the successor to what they used to call the Internet, Heaven, glowed like a blue diamond. Heaven was a cloud network, an intelligent collection of information, almost a hive mind. It knew what you wanted almost before you did. Its information storage was vast, almost limitless, including all the old Internet and more, and its censorship was seamless and complete. Censorship?
Yes, the system was full of delight and devoid of evil. The merit of everything in the cloud was judged and filtered, and the Angels, the system operators, all 40 million of them, were very good judges. Propaganda, lies, race crime, sex crime, hate etc. were all filtered out and the perpetrators sanctioned and excluded. Justice was swift but appeals were also acted upon and no objection was ignored. If what you were doing, the information you were injecting into the cloud, had some hidden merit unknown to the Angels? They would put it back. But the explanation needed to be the truth. Never try to bullshit someone who has the entire sum of human information at his fingertips.
The Angels were autonomous from central government. It was a central tenet of Heaven that no one religion or creed should decide what was in good taste of bad, what was allowed and was not. The creed of the Angels dictated that consensus ruled and who better than they, plugged into Heaven’s core, to judge what everyone thought.
Heaven was received in all homes all over the world, in all the new countries and even some of the independent states, via the Tesla Mesh, a low energy broadcast network of nodes transmitting power and information to a bewildering diversity of devices, computer slates, phones, earrings, vehicles.
Heaven could be accessed anywhere on Earth.
Cruising deliberately towards the central hub of the city, Airship 601 of the Fraternity Airways fleet was large enough and sturdy enough to withstand the crosswinds scooping around the city’s enormous bowl. The power generating vortices which circulated the walls of the old crater were carefully controlled so as to not come in this far into the centre. The silver and blue cigar of the ship lowered itself through the thin cloud layer and began its descent. The captain on the bridge stood with his hands behind his back, and the pilot held the old style sailing ships wheel, turning it back and forth and now pushing it forward as the ship gently dove through the clouds.
Like all Fraternity fleet, 601 carried around 1000 people in almost hotel style comfort, having seats of course, but also restaurants, suites and state rooms. An old fashioned style of comfort, something which the population of this new golden age was getting used to.
In his suite on the fifth floor of the long silver gondola, Father Frank Janes of the Ministry of Justice was finishing his lunch and wiping his mouth on the fresh linen napkin when his phone pinged it’s tiny bell delicately on the table. The phone was fashioned like a long golden pocket watch, and sucking his teeth quickly he opened it to answer.
“Sir? Unity Bedford.”
“Ah yes, Investigator, please report.”
“His memory is, uh, unreliable. He didn’t know his wife was dead, and that made interrogation, um, difficult.”
Father Janes grunted. “Someone should have informed him before so that didn’t get in the way.”
“Apparently he’s been conscious before but this is the first time he’s been coherent. An accident of timing. I was just checking in on him when he came round. I thought to take the initiative…”
“And you may have ruined our chance to get to the truth, Investigator.”
There was a brief silence on the line. “Apologies, Father. I ask for forgiveness.”
Janes pondered for a second. “No matter, Investigator… Unity. May I call you by your name?”
“Er, of course, Father” her voice was suddenly eager.
“Unity, I want you to listen very carefully. Do exactly as I say, and all will be forgiven.”
[to be continued]