The Code Series

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The Code Set In STONE Book One:CENSORED.


Forward


The notion of a suburb under the sea or a live-in pyramid in space might seem somewhat far fetched to the average person of sound mind, but dolphins and whales are indeed being trained to help man in his endeavour to conquer his environment and an elevator is being devised to take man to space stations already habitable for the astronaut. And what of such matters as the signs in the heavens revealed on the NASA Internet site? What do they tell us about events to take place in the near future when lined up with other linked information? Many books have been written about the so-called 'end times' and most have much in common, but again, we can only know some of the things some of the time.

In this novel of possibilities the authors do not separate fact from fiction; fiction there is aplenty, however, fact lies hidden within each chapter. We will never know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, this side of eternity, but pondering on the possibilities has been a pursuit in which many have indulged. By the same token, no-one can pretend to know who the future heroes or villains on the world stage might turn out to be.

The reader is invited to travel with us on a voyage of discovery and it is hoped that at the very least, he or she will find something to challenge, encourage or spur them on in their own search for meaning. We have written this book based on experience, research and all we have learned in the school of life – so far. Like everyone else on the planet, we do not have all the answers to the mysteries of our purpose in being here, and hope to tickle our readers minds into continuing the search for themselves.

The characters are fictitious, but in all the men, women and children of fiction there are elements of truth. Consider for yourself what possibilities ring true as you read this novel, and if you so desire, examine further the theories espoused, by linking up with various Internet sites that can take you further in your journey, remembering at all times that the Internet may be a great source of knowledge but that many weird and not-so-wonderful theories can also be found within its pages! Let us read with discernment and be blessed with enlightenment!


'A custom was of old, and still remains,

Which life or death by suffrages ordains:

White stones and black

within an urn are cast,

The first absolve, but fate is in the last.'

~Ovid (Roman poet) Metamorphoses AD2 (lib. XV., verse 41.)~

A white pebble was placed in a ballot box by a Greek judge pronouncing a sentence of acquittal, or a black pebble indicating condemnation. Stone - psēphon: The Greek word literally means pebble, but has a secondary meaning of ‘vote.’ There are many opinions on what the white stone represents. A strong case can be advanced that the white stone may well represent a vote of innocence. /

This white stone is absolution from guilt, alluding to the ancient custom of giving a white stone to those acquitted on trial and a black stone to those condemned.” -Matthew Henry.


Prelude


'Shadows on castle walls – echoes in the stones.'

-Inscribed on a pavement in Cas-gwent (Chepstow)


BAD MOON RISING ...I see trouble on the rise

-J Fogerty

Morgan

'Love you!' Owen held her close and buried his face in her hair.

Outside it was pouring with rain, but they were snuggled up in bed together, contentedly at peace. Morgan smiled into the darkness, this was their oasis, their sanctuary in a world where nothing was certain; they had each other and that was enough. The only sounds were the drumming of the rain on the roof and the ticking of the bedside clock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Tonight, sleep was an elusive bedfellow for Morgan.

Tick-tock - midnight; tick-tock - one o'clock; tick-tock, tick-tock. No use, she couldn't turn off the rain but the clock was a different matter; best put it elsewhere. She grabbed her dressing gown, slipped her feet into fleecy lined slippers and walked down the passage to the linen cupboard, placing the clock inside where it could tick-tock its way throughout the rest of the night, happily buried under a pile of towels. On her way back to bed she noticed the curtains were half open and went to close them. The rain had almost stopped and scudding clouds parted to reveal an uncanny glow coming from the moon, it hadn't looked like that yesterday; the trees and bushes glistened in the opalescent light, and mist cleaved to the shadowy castle on the other side of the river. She could hear a car in the distance, it seemed to be winding its way down the hill through the town towards the bridge. She wondered what kind of people would be taking a driving around at this time of the morning.

Ah well, it was none of her business. She closed the curtains tightly and climbed back into bed. The car was coming closer, up the hill now, travelling far too fast considering how wet the road must be. Instead of the sound passing by and fading off into the distance, light suddenly flooded the bedroom as the vehicle turned into the driveway and screeched to a halt. Car doors slammed, dogs started barking, someone had a flashlight.

Owen!” Owen sat up and put a finger to his lips.

Shh!” Someone started hammering on the door, ringing the bell incessantly.

Open up! Or we'll break the door down.” Paralysing fear gripped Morgan's heart and Owen took charge.

Get dressed – warmly - quick as you can.” The adrenalin kicked in as she pulled on a track suit and tied a sweater round her waist, grabbing a scarf and anorak for good measure whilst Owen peered through a crack in the curtains.

Three State security police, two Alsatians. Morgan, listen carefully, you've got to be strong, remember what we said. Go to the castle, I'll meet you there later. Sorry but you'll have to leave via the landing window, I'll keep them busy in the front. God help us.” he added softly, handing her a small torch and the keys to the castle.

And you?” asked Morgan anxiously; he took her face between his hands and kissed her gently,

Come darling, no time to waste – I told you, I'll join you later.” He opened the bedroom window and called down, “Okay, I'm coming! Just going to put on a gown!” then hurried his wife to the back of the house and opened the landing window. “Right, all clear.”

Morgan slipped onto the roof of the conservatory just below the window, then on down to the ground, landing awkwardly and spraining her ankle but there was no time to sit and recover. She heard Owen open the door and speak loudly enough for her to hear.

Please – come inside – no point disturbing the neighbours.”

She limped off, gathering her thoughts. 'Be thankful for small mercies, it's stopped raining and the moon's back behind the clouds. Gotta get to the castle, ignore the pain.'

Chepstow Castle was just the other side of the bridge, but the ankle was hurting badly. She moved under the trees and sat down to bind it up as best she could – thank the Lord she'd brought the scarf along. Off she set again, keeping to the wooded area that ran alongside the pavement. The moon came out from behind the clouds illuminating her path. She kept on moving, heart pounding, ankle throbbing. Over the bridge now, reflections of the moon writhed upon the water below; the silhouette of the castle, appearing ominous and eerie in the strange light. She was almost there when a shot rang out - this couldn't be happening, surely she was in the middle of some terrible nightmare; running, running in slow motion, until she couldn't run any more.

She reached the castle entrance, turrets loomed above her. 'Large key for outer door. Into the lock, turn it, that's right, do it by numbers. Push open the door, go inside, lock it. Safer now. Small key for souvenir shop, open, shut, lock. Fumble for switch under desk, release display cabinet behind which lies concealed room and former prison cell, go inside, pull cabinet back and breathe.' Morgan started to talk out loud, listening to the sound of her own voice as it helped her focus on what had to be done.

Got to get the heater on, don't want to die of hypothermia; there's a river on the other side of the wall and it's winter. Better not switch on the light though, don't really need it anyway, only a few cockroaches and spiders around and they're all quite harmless.”

She eased the makeshift bandage, noticing that her ankle had swollen considerably, then huddled on a bean bag next to the ineffective panel heater of the small office hidden behind the recently renovated ticket office and shop, wrapping the anorak round her as best she could and waiting for morning. How odd to think that here in her cold hiding place the ticking clock that had irritated her so earlier on, would now have been a welcome companion. She must have dozed off eventually because the next thing she heard through the merciful haze was a familiar voice calling her name softly.

Morgan! Morgan, are you awake?” The display cabinet slid forward and swung open,

Gwyneth! Am I glad to see you!”

Thought I might find you here,” said her loyal friend, coming into the room and giving the frozen Morgan a warm hug.

Hey! You're ice-cold, not surprising really'” she said smiling, “Here, I've brought you some coffee.” She poured the coffee into the cup from the top of the flask she'd brought along, “Get this down you, we'll talk later. Heater's on in the car, you'll soon be warm as toast.”

Thanks Gwyneth, ouch – I'm so stiff!” Gwyneth started to massage Morgan's legs and shoulders and checked on the ankle.

It's not as bad as it probably feels, it'll be fine. Now, let's get you home!”

Gwyneth helped her friend to the waiting car. Once inside Morgan was able to relax a little as the warmth eased her discomfort.

Did you see the moon last night Gwyneth? It looked really weird.”

Yeah! They spoke about it on the news. There was a penumbral eclipse, started after midnight, lasted a couple of hours.”

Penumbral?”

It's when the Moon passes through the Earth's penumbra, the outer part of the earth's shadow, makes the moon look subtly darker.”

No wonder it looked eerie!”

It was only when she was safely tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle and breakfast that Morgan asked,

Did Owen tell you where I was? He said he'd meet me there. Did they take him for questioning? Is he coming on here later?” It was then she remembered the shot. Perhaps it hadn't really registered at the time, or maybe the shock had made her forget.

Sweetheart,” Gwyneth said, taking her hand, “You've got to be strong, we've got to be strong for each other... You remember what happened to my Owenellyn last year? I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news - but Owen was shot last night.” Morgan somehow knew what her friend was going to tell her but asked,

How is he? Is he in custody? Hospital perhaps? Where have they taken him?” hoping against hope that he was still alive. There was an awkward pause before Gwyneth replied,

Oh Morgan, I'm afraid he's dead, they killed him. Gwilym came with the news at five o'clock this morning – the underground grapevine works fast.”

Morgan was silent for a few moments, the colour draining from her face as the impact of what had happened slowly began to sink in. Eventually she said,

It was something we knew we might have to face one day, in fact we'd kind of prepared ourselves in some way, but the reality of it actually happening is so hard to accept because at the same time, we'd also felt invincible.”


Morgan finished telling her story to the man standing opposite.

I stayed with Gwyneth after that. She and her husband were Welsh speaking and had come down from Dinas Mawddwy to translate the pamphlets and help with their distribution in the South. The Welsh language was our safety code, we encouraged those we encountered to use their dictionaries, although we printed a few in English as well. Owenellyn was arrested and executed a few months ago so Gwyneth was glad of the company which in turn was a great comfort to me. The two of us carried on our work together hoping and praying that we wouldn't be discovered.

Do you know Chepstow Castle at all? It's a ruin of course, but a popular tourist destination in summer. Gwyneth and I worked in the souvenir shop as volunteers – a front for our little printing venture. One day I was followed to the castle by a government agent posing as a tourist. He was carrying one of our pamphlets, 'given to him by a friend,' he said, who'd spoken to him about God; he'd even been able to mention her name - she was one of us. He said that as an Anglicized Southerner he didn't understand Welsh and it had been suggested that he contact me for an English copy. Unfortunately my guard was down that day and I took him at his word.

To cut a long story short, he found the little office in our hiding place behind the display cabinet and naturally BOSS closed us down, destroying our resources and everything we'd built up. I was taken to the Bureau in Cardiff and charged with being an enemy of the State, and here I am.”


Agent Davidson stood there looking at her, not saying a word.



Part One THE ALPHA CODE A for Away

THE ALPHA CODE

1


'I'm live in lonely, I was wandering in the rain, mask of life,

sunny days seem far away. How does it feel when you're all alone

and you're cold inside?'

Stranger -Michael Jackson


SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES ...Johnny's

in the basement

-Bob Dylan

Monday 5.20pm Ostend


Joric


I t's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog. The words of the old Beatles song sung themselves into Joric's tired mind; he had a song for every occasion, and that was the one for now even though it wasn't night.

He yawned, it was the end of another tedious day's work in Atalanta, state business precinct and suburb under the sea. The poet Swinburne had spoken of Atalanta as somewhere with Shadows and windy places with lisp of leaves and ripple of rain, he could have been describing Leopold Park's leafy recreational area where Joric might just end up this evening, but certainly not the Atalanta where he spent most of his days and nights. Shadows there were aplenty, but not a breath of wind or the slightest ripple of rain.

The lights were on in the otherwise empty compartment and he sprawled untidily across a double seat on the sub-train taking him to the mainland at Ostend, wondering what the weather would be like at sea level; he really should've checked before leaving the office. Where should he go this evening? The gazebo at the park would afford shelter in case of a sudden downpour, but if the sun were shining he would opt for the city shoreline and watch the sunset.

Vindictive Laan was the strange name of his welcome escape route to the park, it would take him past the Marina with a right turn into Leopold II Laan. On the other hand the beach was to the right of the station, along Visserskaal and onto the sand just past Montgomery Dock where he could watch the ferry on its way to good old England, beckoning him to come home. Tonight, weather permitting, he might just jog along Albert Promenade which ran parallel with the beach, before continuing along the sand which stretched for miles. He'd pass the row of old flagpoles near the palace, of late proudly displaying five different flags flying and flapping in the inevitable breeze.

First but not foremost flew a flag bearing the crest of the BruSSels Bureaucracy. This was a griffin, the beast known to represent the guardian of the treasures of divine power from Rome The Eternal City, a beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. The capital letters in the middle of BruSSels denoted that State Services were centralised there.

The Total Federation Flag known as The Federal towered above the rest, displaying a yellow sun in the top left hand corner with a green sickle moon and star opposite. Below were ten smaller stars representing ten kingdoms.

Then there was the Hejazi Kingdom flag of the Dominions. Joric had once seen a far larger version almost the size of an American football field, flying from a 136 metre pole in Aqaba. It could be seen from Eilat where he'd been holidaying at the time, making the most of his student vacation. Even then he'd thought it strange that the Hejazi flag dominated, taking precedence over the Transgordonian national flag.

Then came a mercury and gold triangular flag sporting the now familiar image of the phoenix. This mythical bird had appeared previously on coins of the late Roman Empire as a symbol of the Eternal City, also known as the Golden City. The phoenix reappeared in 2005 on the ex-Belgian ten Euro silver coin, representing the new Europa's Unity in Diversity as USE - the United States of Europa, and celebrating sixty years of peace and freedom. Interesting to note was the fact that during 1957 at the signing of The Peace Treaty of Rome, the then Belgian foreign minister Henri Spaak had announced, 'We the leaders are consciously re-creating the Roman Empire.'

A new one dollar coin of the Empire had been minted at the turn of the decade, this time representing the greater monetary system of G.O.D. as in Globally Obligated Dollar. This new coin bore feathers of the phoenix on one side and the words Oneworld - Unity in Diversity, on the other. Somehow the diversity had been smothered by blanket uniformity somewhere along the way!

Although not the tallest, the royal standard ensign of the Imperial City of Rome stood out from all the others, displaying a crown of leaves and acorns encircling the head of King Solomon with raised sword in one hand over baby, and scales of justice in the other. He bore an uncanny resemblance to someone of whom Joric would rather not think at present, one who'd forcefully driven through the merger that had steered the world clear of bankruptcy after the global stock market crash. An historian might be forgiven for asking why the wise King of the land of The Prince's Dominion should be lumped together with an unholy Roman Emperor from a later era and different area.

Joric eagerly looked forward to such evenings when he could bask in the heart-warming glow of the sun as it inexorably fell through deepening shades of blue into depths of glorious gold, until it finally sank ablaze as a fireball igniting the western horizon. As he chose to ignore the ugly city sprawl behind him, with Evening spread out against the sky, his subterranean blues would slowly dissolve and vanish Like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing. Restoration would flow through his being and he would be at one with nature, in touch with himself and perhaps with God. A hotline to heaven? How on earth could God be concerned with just one in seven billion after the billions who'd come and gone before him?

Changes in the seasons were never noticed by those living in Atalanta, thus the polite conversational topic of the weather hardly ever arose. Now and again someone would surface for some air that wasn't conditioned, then inform the others down below of sunshine, snow or the occasional angry winter waves causing consternation at the surface exit.

The sub-train used to run until midnight, but with the yobbo element on the loose in recent times, danger of thuggery on trains had increased, causing the night schedule to be scrapped. Hard to believe, but it had been suggested that the absence of healthy old-fashioned church activities for the youth was partly responsible for the juvenile delinquency and general moral decline seen of late. Such behaviour was punishable under the Law Against Deviant Antisocialism, with LADA sentences being carried out under the auspices of the Bureau of Safety and Security, commonly referred to as BOSS. However, Joric reckoned that public violence was just as likely to be fuelled by soccer fanaticism stoked by the powers that be.

Something more sinister that had to be taken into account was the amnesty granted to certain prisoners at the time of the new world order's takeover. Those convicted of so-called petty crimes had been officially pardoned in an expansive gesture of goodwill by the head of the regime, and released en masse. Obviously this had been due to hopeless overcrowding in gaols, mutinous penal colonies and the cost of running such establishments. Ironically, having flown the coop, these gaol birds now on the streets were given train passes to go job hunting, giving them carte blanche to vent their frustrations on public transport commuters and other innocent bystanders.

Further aggravating this state of affairs was the flood of third world DRC immigrants spilling into the inner city, previously disadvantaged souls seeking escape from squalid outlying squatter camps. Yet there were propaganda posters plastered everywhere as part of a highly publicized five year campaign of Affirmative Action espousing equal opportunity, a euphemism hiding glaring inconsistencies with the uneasy truth of the matter.

The official explanation given for the withdrawal of nightly public transport was that the authorities couldn't provide enough after-hours security. But Joric reckoned that here was a solution to the unemployment problem. Armed and uniformed safe-guards were sparingly supplied by the Safety and Security Department's 'Sheltered In Employment Legionnaire Division,' SHIELD. Largely manned by awkward squads of raw recruits press-ganged from destabilised Central Africa, SHIELD was a paramilitary organization set up to kill two birds with one stone, firstly to beef up the martial State and secondly to provide employment for the literary challenged refugees. Why not just boost the numbers already being churned out by training other misfits from the sprawling townships eager to make a living? Surely public transport safe-guards needed minimal training and even language proficiency was not a requirement.

For now at least, there were no more nights out on the nearby coastal town for the people of Atalanta. Anyway, most Atalantians wouldn't have the necessary G.O.D. dollars for partying on the mainland unless they'd had the foresight to keep a stash hidden under a mattress. Alas, the tills on shore only rang to the sound of good old fashioned hard cash! The closeted sub-marine dwellers were certainly not living in lowly sub-economic circumstances, lulled as they were into living it up in cashless freedom. As we live a life of ease, everyone of us has all we need..in our yellow submarine. 'No worries about overspending,' Australasian regionals would comment. Atalanta being so cosmopolitan was the one thing that made life interesting in the new down-under.

Joric's reverie came to an abrupt halt as down-under suddenly gave way to up above and the train sped into the watery sunlight which milkily shone through the Polymethylmethacrylate tunnel-bridge running all the way to Ostend Metro Station. Joric really should have checked the weather report at lunchtime - it was drizzling. A pale rainbow arched over the sea in the weak sunlight as the Ramsgate to Ostend ferry slid noiselessly by. Suddenly homesick, he dreamed he was on board, aiming for the pot of gold on the green-green grass of home, with seagulls over the white cliffs that stretched along the coast at Dover and beyond. Behind the cliffs lay Kent Global Airport from whence he'd once flown to faraway places, back in the good old days. Instead, here he was disembarking at Ostend Station; what should he do on this damp and dreary day? Joric had read in the Fantastic Atlantic that the traditional student parade of the dinosaur dragons, labelled 'Creatures from hell,' would be doing a restaurant circuit for charity in the early evening, but that would now be cancelled due to the weather. Maybe it would clear up and he'd still be able to jog.

No chance! Outside the concourse hall on the big square it was now raining cats and dogs. Come rain or shine he was happy to be there, just singing in the rain, but it wasn't half cold! Oh well, nothing to do but seek shelter and browse through the shops.

He checked his pockets and hey presto, produced a few dollars saved for a rainy day such as this. Emergency money really, but this evening Joric might just have his arm twisted to spend it, tempted now by all the luscious continental aromas assailing his nostrils. He was feeling daring and decidedly debonair, and wished he could afford the warm feeling of being shown to a table in some comfy up market bistro. He'd probably only be able to order a garlic roll, and then there'd be the tip which would no doubt earn him the the commonly known phrase of Tipping en Anglais, a poor refection on the perceived tight-fisted habits of the Brits. Well, he'd blow the lot anyway. Perhaps some chic and slick city chick strolling thereabouts might want to go Dutch with him on a Mac Happy meal at McDonald's. That would make it a so-called 'co-operative meal!' Atalanta's shabby bureaucratic new-speak with its chauvinistic and desensitizing side effects had clung to him like a damp shadow; he was going to shake it off and enjoy his two hours on the prowl as a sophisti-cat landlubber away from the usual sub-standard of Atalanta's shopping alleys.

Close by was the old-style grandeur of St Petrus-en-Paulus Kerk built in 1907, its ornate cathedral twin peaks stylishly peeping out above the dreary shop fronts. Looking for he knew not what, Joric crossed the road negotiating the rush-hour traffic, weaving this way and that, getting splashed in the process. It was worth the adrenalin rush, but he'd better refocus on the city's careering four-wheeled vehicles, prone to skidding on the wet roads and making for a somewhat alarming experience compared with his usual amble around the lanes in Atalanta with its slow battery operated tri-cars.

Strolling further down the road, he could see fine old shop façades coming into view. He meandered on, taking a step back in time as he moved away from the hustle and bustle of interconnected chain stores, through the arcade and into the side streets. Once upon a time the old city must've looked really first-rate.

Joric took great pleasure in all that was olde worlde, he was after all a crusty old-fashioned historian. Not too stuffy hopefully, and England being a nation of shopkeepers, it was in his blood to enjoy browsing along fascinating back streets.

Suddenly he found himself outside a delightful old three storey building with a charming Juliet balcony. Aha! The sign was in English, 'Second Hand Rose,' fascinating. Below was an interesting-looking curiosity shop that thankfully hadn't been pretentiously portrayed as an 'Antique Shop,' with a 'we-can always-bang-out-another-period-piece-around-the-back-in-our-workshop' mentality.

Wow, beautifully arranged display window framing a wowish saleslady. She was blonde, but for some strange reason he felt she should've been brunette. Whatever made him think such a daft thought? She glanced up from winding up a pirouetting ballerina in brass, and he took the warm smile of acknowledgement as a sort of invitation; O brightening glance. His hands and feet were icy, so he made up his mind to go inside as casually as he could and circle round in feigned concentration, hoping to remain there browsing and availing himself of the central heating for as long as possible. Tubular bells made soft clinking sounds as he entered at the door, accompaning the little whirling brass dancer with her tinkly tune.


'The rainbow comes and goes, and lovely is the rose.'

-Wordsworth


2


'Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune.' -Hamilton/Lewis\ 'Somewhere over the rainbow.' -Arlen/Harburg


SOME ENCHANTED EVENING ...you will see a stranger

-Hammerstein

The bell tinkled as he opened the door. The blonde shop assistant, now on the other side of the old oak counter, turned and greeted him with yet another friendly smile. Evening was drawing in and she started switching on an assortment of amber lights which gave the place a welcoming glow.

Good evening! It's so lovely and warm in here - so cold and wet outside - brr - may I?” asked the shivering Joric with as much charm as he could muster.

May you - what?” she asked quizzically.

Brr - brrrowse for a while and thaw out?”

You may indeed.” She laughed, her brown eyes crinkling at the corners. He hesitated, perhaps expecting her to say more. “Well come on in and close the door before we both catch pneumonia!”

He closed the door behind him and stepped into the shop which offered all the cosiness associated with collectables, items once loved and no longer needed by their former owners. The pleasant mustiness of old leather mingled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee - what he wouldn't give for a cup right now!

You also speak English,” Joric continued, “With an American accent? Glad about that - uh - that you speak English that is, although your accent is quite charming as well. I - I'm from England, my French is not too hot and my Flemish is non-existent!”

Mine too! Oh, excuse me.”

An elderly gentleman appeared from behind a bookcase carrying a teacup and the assistant busied herself with fetching and wrapping the Regency bone china tea set that he'd selected. Joric walked past them to the back of the shop running his eyes along the shelves of bric-à-brac as he went. His attention was drawn to a wooden box intricately carved with undulating patterns of grape and vine; it appeared to be very old. He looked at the price tag - a bargain at nineteen dollars and fifty cents - and counted his money. Darn, only seventeen dollars and a few coins, oh for a few dollars more! He'd have to plead poverty and ask for a discount. Joric couldn't believe his luck when he opened the little clasp on the side of the box and it swung open on brass hinges to reveal a beautifully bound book. He read the gold embossed title on the cover, 'The Mystery of the Fellowship.' A book? All books had been impounded, handed in on an I.O.U. basis from Benevolence Himself, pending transference to disc with educational guidelines vigorously applied. It was not permissible to sell books any more. 'Big Ben' must've suspected that people hid their sentimental little hoards, dreading every knock at the front door. Each household should have handed in all their books to the closest depot by now to be counted and assessed with the owners names and addresses electronically filed for future compensation, possibly by way of goods in kind obtainable from the Information DVD Store or the State shops found on the touristy Oostende voor Anker. He wouldn't darken their doors in his spare time, that was for sure. Those were the kind of places where his work ended up, helping to substitute all the books in the world with Oneworld government propaganda and inaccurate DVD easy viewing material. Some historical items bore his name, but certainly not his stamp of approval.

Joric glanced up as the door opened. A truck had pulled up outside and two men were offloading furniture. The saleslady smiled apologetically in Joric's direction, indicating that she hadn't forgotten him but first had to check-in a consignment from a deceased estate as the truck was holding up traffic.

He turned his back to the shop front still holding the volume, then returned it to the box and fastened the clasp. It wasn't only literature that had been targeted. Freedoms enjoyed in the past were rapidly being curtailed and restrictions placed on all manner of previously enjoyed intellectual pursuits along with the clamp down on all that was considered immoral or antisocial. The Internet, now known as the Information Highway or 'Super-Hi,' was centralised in Brussels and filtered to the Oneworld from the rigid control of its regulatory body. This was now within the bounds and bondage of the New Order governmental net; Out flew the web and floated wide, to quote Tennyson. Access to porn and political websites deemed undesirable had been blocked or curtailed. Blogging had been outlawed, books naturally no longer appeared on-line and Highway spyware had trapped many a cyber-dissident or 'sourcerer' of illegal information. Cardozo had once said Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of every kind of freedom. The Oxford & Cairo defined a 'matrix' as being an environment in which something developed. The counterfeit matrix being worked upon by the New Order was the very antithesis of Cardozo's freedom, deceiving the unsuspecting into believing that they were free indeed.

But was true freedom to be gained by simply having the entire world's uncensored grand poetry and prose readily at hand? This sceptic bookworm seriously doubted it, and he should know after all the reading and pen pushing he'd done. This mystically titled book might just throw some light on the subject, if he could only achieve his immediate aim in possessing it.

Joric would have chosen an historical read, but instinctively he knew this was not to be the case. Nevertheless, an otherworldly sixth sense whispered in his ear that he must have the book. He was almost too nervous to look at it more closely in case it was socio-political or worse, socio-religious. Perchance he was in for a leap of faith? As he was well aware, biblically branded books were being handled at the so-called Divine Division, a totally secure section of the Socio-Religious Department where books were perused and analysed by properly trained staff. Considered dangerous, they were certainly not to be found as divine little surprises hidden in a Pandora's Box. He was going to take a gamble anyway. Mystery? Fellowship? He needed a liberal dose of both in his rather drab, unfulfilled life. Joric closed the box.

The question now arose as to whether he should admit to what it concealed, or trust that the pretty blonde assistant would take his money and wrap the little treasure chest unopened. She glanced in his direction, a comforting spark from the corner of her eye acknowledging his presence. Joric knew he needed the source of that comfort so he allowed his return look to linger a little longer than absolutely necessary. She looked delectably sweet, innocent and probably quite naive - yes, he'd keep the box closed.

The decision immediately made him feel guilty. Here he was, a totalitarian federal employee of all people, about to take forbidden fruit not meant for extramural consumption. Thinking about the fact that he actually existed under the rule of a despotic Mediterranean megalomaniac, he came to the conclusion that he couldn't take such a harebrained chance, one that might end up with him out on the street, behind bars - or worse! He'd almost lost his head there for a moment on a mad hatter's flight of fancy.

The truck had pulled off but the striking saleslady was now waylaid in helping a couple she seemed to know, judging from her soft melodious laugh, and the swing of her platinum tresses which reflected in the grand old chandelier hanging just above her head. He'd better look for some safer article, an under twenty dollar gem or trinket lurking at the back of an old wardrobe, just waiting to be discovered. He glanced towards the counter again as Mademoiselle carefully took a delicate Art Deco vase and a porcelain chamber pot out of the display cabinet for the couple to look at. He watched her lovingly handle each piece, so skilled in her appreciation of erstwhile things that he wasn't too sure if she were just an assistant after all. As they negotiated softly, he overheard them calling her Abigail. The manageress? Oops, let's be socio-politically correct in the prevailing non-sexist society; the manager? Perhaps, but surely not the owner, much too young for that, but one never knew.

Her youthful look kindled a flitting subconscious memory that he couldn't quite grasp. It was as if he'd already met her, had even been keen on her in the murkiness of his distant past. Imagine asking her that tired old question, 'Haven't I met you somewhere before?' even he wouldn't do anything quite so daft. Not being able to pin down the vague intuition he let it go, but feeling somehow drawn to her, he moved closer and noticed she wasn't quite as young as he'd first thought, nevertheless she was perfect for him, and perhaps not a perfect stranger after all?

The box was still in his hand, blow the hidden trinket waiting to be discovered, he'd opt for the box. But what if she were an undercover spy for the authorities, setting traps for unsuspecting bookworms and having them booked by a passing cop after pressing a silent button hidden under the counter and connected to HQ? He might have no trouble in getting his purchase out of the shop, but it would be very grim indeed if he were to be caught red-handed walking down the street like some shoplifter, guiltily concealing his contraband under his raincoat despite having paid for it.

Ah no! He knew she was different, captivatingly so. Her voice had a fascinating lilt at the end of each sentence, occasioned with a delightful peal of laughter. A rose by the name of Abigail? She was like a first class English rose of a rare American variety that he'd not encountered before. He wanted to talk to her about something - anything, so he'd still try his luck with the book-in-the-box. Bet he couldn't get her to laugh about that though!

His reverie was broken by the fact that her previous customer had left and she was looking directly at him with an amused smile playing on her lips. Something in her smile was so exciting, continued the song of the moment.

Uh sorry - lost in thought there for a mo! I'm interested in buying this book... box,” he finished lamely, setting it down on the counter.

It is a beauty isn't it?” she replied, “It belonged to my father.” She opened the box as if to take one last fond look at the family heirloom. The book seemed to glare at them both, daring them to remove it at their peril.

Goodness, look at that! There's a book inside,” said Joric unconvincingly. Abigail looked him in the eye knowingly, and he wilted under her reprimand of silence, castigating himself for causing the barely detectable apprehension in her almost holy gaze. Was he part officialdom? Yes, guilty. But a whistle blower that would notify the long arm of the law, the hand that fed him? No. He may be guilty of intimidating a sweet lass, but he wasn't going to back down now having got this far. It was within his rights after all as the price tag referred to the whole package, but then there was the matter of the outstanding dollar or so, such a small amount but in that moment a small fortune that he unfortunately didn't have. She could say that was the price and he could rush out like a beggar to accost someone on the street and ask for some small change. That would be child's play, but what if she were to withdraw his find from sale once he had stepped outside?

She looked at her watch; it was late, closing time in fact. She walked to the door, turned the 'open' sign to 'closed,' pulled down the blind, turned the key in the lock and removed it. Drat, he was right, there was a button under the counter, what was he to do now? Play it cool? Or make a dash for the door and grab the key out of her hand?


3


'I'm Always Chasing Rainbows.'

-Carroll/McCarthy


STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT ...exchanging glances

-Singleton/Snyder


Would you like a cup of coffee? Her words broke into his thoughts.

Er - pardon? What was that? I really should be going.” She laughed and repeated her question.

I said would you like a cup of coffee?”

Coffee - would I like a cup of coffee?” He'd forgotten about coffee in the heat of the moment. “Is that all? I'd love a cup of coffee.” Joric replied with great relief.

Sit down and I'll make you one, and stop looking as if the whole of Scotland Yard is out to get you!”

He watched her walk over to the kitchenette from whence came the tantalizing aroma, his taste buds tingled in anticipation as he sat on a leather couch, part of an old suite in the centre of the shop.

Do you have a name?” she called over her shoulder.

Yes! Yes of course, it's - er - Joric, funny sort of name really, it's short for John Eric.” Silence. “I heard one of your customers call you Abigail? Right?” Abigail returned with a tray on which were two steaming mugs of the invigorating brew, along with a milk jug and sugar bowl. She placed the tray on a side table before answering his question.

Right.” No longer were they strangers in the night, she sat opposite him on one of the easy chairs. “Milk? Sugar?”

Yes please to both - um - just a dash of milk but no sugar thank you - I'm sweet enough.” His weak enjoinder elicited a weak smile, and they sat in silence for a few moments, appreciating the warmth of the coffee. So far so good, they'd moved on to first name terms, to him almost terms of endearment. Abigail put her mug aside and fetched the box from the counter, both of them looked down as she took out the book and opened it.

The subject matter was indeed religious, the book was a socio-religious study to be exact, by a Doctor of Divinity. The maroon ostrich skin of the cover offset gold embossed lettering and Joric acquisitively reckoned it was well worth the money. Abigail raised her head and looked at him again, her shining flaxen hair appearing to him as an aura haloing the disarming transparency of her countenance, her brown eyes direct and engaging. Their eyes locked again in renewed duelling until he almost lost his composure, unnerved by her candid gaze. Did she see right through him? That wasn't too difficult, considering his empty state of being. Empty barrels make the most noise, they say, but he couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag right now. He inwardly pulled himself together and raised his eyebrows flirtatiously, as he looked her directly in the eye. She blushed sexily, was she just a little flustered by his gaze? How could he harass a young lass like this? His Mother had instructed him to be gentle with the female sex, but Joric was bewitched, bothered and bewildered, a rare occurrence. Had he touched the borders of insanity or gone to heaven? He relaxed and smiled, too broadly perhaps, but as he hadn't smiled in a long while before managing a hoarse,

Please?” which came out all wrong. He then cleared his throat, which sounded like a machine gun going off in a silent library, she being the librarian of his dreams, except that she wasn't going to let him take this book out. She broke the silence softly.

So Mr John Eric - Joric for short - as you well know, I may not sell books. It was an oversight. Father gave me that box for the shop, naturally I didn't realize there was a book inside or it would have been removed.”

Her slightly accented voice emerged as a whispering wind, floating clear and free into rocky mountain heights. The poet in him arose, they were children without a care in the world, hand in hand looking into tranquil pools. Depths of long forgotten peace surfaced, coming from the heart of whom and where he wanted to be, somewhere beyond human perception. Here he was, sitting there with all the time in the world that adults with money just don't have.

She replaced the book in the box, and went back behind the counter. Oh no, he was right, she'd just been softening him up for the kill before ringing that bell. He got up and walked towards the door.

Well, I'd better be going then. Thanks for the coffee, I'm nicely warmed up now so I'll be on my merry way!” said he in a happy-go-lucky fashion, “Don't worry about the – er – box. Do you have the key?” Stupid question, of course she had the key, it was in her pocket. She reached under the counter, this was it, he was a goner! Perhaps there was a way out through the kitchen into some back alley? He was rooted to the spot, fear now had him in its paralysing grasp; he looked down at his shoes, what was she doing now? She must've rung the bell, he felt far too nervous to look up. Abigail tapped him on the arm and he just about leapt out of his skin as she handed him a brown paper package.

Take it Joric, it's yours.”

What is?”

The box, silly.” She'd taken the book out obviously, but to his immense relief it looked as if she was going to let him go.

With the book still inside.” she added.

The box with the b..book?” Surely not a gift? “Look, I don't have the full amount,” he said said awkwardly, “But I do have seventeen dollars and some small change.” She smiled again,

I told you, I am not allowed to sell books.”

But I can at least pay for the box,” he blustered. She shook her head, smoothing the package enigmatically and caressing her gift to him.

Shalom.”

It was like a kiss blown from he knew not where. Perchance from the lips of a kissing cousin long ago, or the peck on a cheek from an affectionate aunt in some far corner of Old England to whom he had waved from his coach, her special sandwiches that he liked so much packed in a lunch box. Why had that foreign word had such an effect on him? Shalom. It sparked a remembrance of things long forgotten that had intrigued him once way back in Sunday school, a little piece of heaven had descended.

Well, I'll be on my way then.” If only he could stay there forever wrapped in the warmth and ambience of that dear little shop, but he had a train to catch and a candidate date waiting for him at the end of the journey. Atalanta called in her sonorously dull and dreary voice.

Take care.” Abigail replied in her mellifluous one.

He left the shop, walking into the cold damp night his treasure tucked under his arm, a new man. A mystic mantle of heavenly peace settled on his shoulders like a warm angora shawl. He glanced back over his shoulder in case she was watching and caught her eye once more. Boldly he blew a kiss, waving as he disappeared from view. Why had he left so soon? If he'd been on the ball, they could've been getting on like a house on fire by this time, but he'd be in trouble with the authorities and a complaint would no doubt be filed if he didn't meet the candidate lady on time.

A sense of déjà-vu still wrestled inside - had he seen Abigail somewhere before? Had she been one of those nubile schoolgirls in Old England, unrecognisable without the school uniform? No, she was American; he mentally scrolled through the memories of all the girls he'd loved before, metaphorically speaking of course, trying to jog his photographic memory, result of search? Not found. He'd ask her next time, should there be a next time. Abigail? Joric couldn't think of a song about an Abigail, he'd just have to write one.

He wandered the streets like a drunkard, he had the box, touch wood, and perhaps he'd get the girl too, so with gay abandon he handed all his remaining coins to an old man with dim watery eyes leaning against a lamp post on the corner, and mystifying tears welled up in Joric's own. When last had he wept with such inexplicable joy? What on God's earth had happened? He was clueless, and why the 'Shalom?' She didn't look Ha-kodeshish, but then again he did with his curly black hair and hopefully beautiful brown eyes and a nose that could've been less prominent, thanks but no thanks. That's why she'd said it. He normally didn't appreciate people's comments on his so-called Ha-kodeshishness, but did now for the first time. You handsome, biblical rogue you, with biblical book in hand!

Oh-oh, he had forgotten to check on Abigail's managerial status so he ambled back, almost reaching the surreal shop before realizing it might startle her if she were to see him checking the details of the vendor permit displayed above the door, as if wanting to report her to the boss or the law. As if. All he wanted was her, and now the book was his, she was an outside possibility. He didn't half want much! One of Mother's quotations echoed darkly, Thou shalt not look lustfully upon a woman. He left for the station once more, passing the nodded greeting of the broad-smiling, toothless old man, now with steaming cup of coffee in hand. Joric felt on top of the world, 'Real good' as Americans would say. He wanted to fly from his grey prison of constricted circumstance and follow some wild intuitive prompting, the book in hand might turn out to be just the ticket! Could there ever be true freedom? He wanted to switch focus and start reading about mystical things, at the same time he needed to get a grip on his fantasy, his runaway infatuation; 'Don't wear your heart on your sleeve,' the lucky-in-love would tell him.

Slowly walking back to re-enter the real underworld, it suddenly dawned on him that if he were to make his candidate date he'd better start running or he'd miss the train. Just when he was starting to feel so tranquil and laid back! He jumped over the turnstile and into the first carriage as the doors began closing. 'A close call if ever there was one' he thought, slumping into his seat.

Joric decided there and then that he was going to change his lifestyle and deactivate the Eligible Elite status programmed into his mobile phone first thing in the morning. In fact, if he could throw the damn thing into the sea he would; but he needed it to eat, buy groceries, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Huffing and puffing from the sprint, at the same time glancing furtively around the compartment to ascertain there were no CCTV cameras or other commuters, he settled back in his seat, opened the box and took out the book.

It was written by Dr R Brelli. He knew the name well and was in fact on personal terms with the gentleman having met him twice, if it were indeed the same Doc Bob; strange but true, would this book turn out to be just what the doctor ordered? Extraordinary things were happening this enchanted evening, and no longer was Abigail a stranger across a crowded city.


'(Can this be) The end of the rainbow.'

-Chaplin/Calm


4


'You only live twice, or so it seems. One life for yourself, and one for your dreams. You drift through the years and life seems tame, till one dream appears and love is its name. And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on, don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone.' -L Bricusse/John Barry


STRANGER IN PARADISE ...if I stand starry-eyed

that's a danger in paradise

-Shiner/Capek


Monday 9.00pm Atalanta


The buzzer buzzed, it had to be the candidate date, what was her name again? It began with C. Cathy, Caroline, Clothilda? No, he should have made a note in his directory but he didn't, clot that he was. Half way to the door now – um - maybe it was Connie, Constance, Colleen? He opened the door.

Hi! I'm Courtney,” said the redhead with emerald eyes, extending a be-ringed hand. He was overwhelmed by her fragrance, What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Courtney, mustn't forget, wasn't there a song about a Courtney? Ah yes, Who's the girl – we all agree? It's Courtney – it's Courtney. But let's not be frivolous, this one's the formal type, thought Joric, taking the proffered hand and analysing the grasp. Firm but not too firm, ladylike but not limp and the accent, Irish? An Irish Colleen called Courtney.

Do come in and sit down for a moment, a memo just came in from HQ which I really should acknowledge before we go.”

That's fine, I'm a bit early anyway. Went to the gym straight from work and there didn't seem much point in going home before coming on here.” Ah, she worked out, good sign.

Would you like a glass of wine? Pimms perhaps?”

I know it's rather unfeminine of me but do you have a beer? I worked up quite a thirst doing the circuit plus an aerobics class!”

A beer it is, I could do with one myself, just got back from the mainland.” Joric flipped the tops off two light lagers, pouring one into a suitably elegant glass. Courtney was tall and statuesque, looking sophisticated in her pale figure-hugging lilac suit, red locks piled on top of her head making her look even taller but not too intimidating. A few loose tendrils framed a pretty face with more than a few freckles. Some men didn't really go for freckles but what did he care, they were only skin-deep and Joric didn't consider himself shallow enough to be fazed by such minor blemishes, in fact he considered them quite cute. Pick out the alternate letters of her name and it spelt just that! CoUrTnEy - cute!

He knew she worked in the legal department but apart from that, not much else. Perhaps she was one of the many who'd accessed his profile and mobile number from the display panel at the front door, attempting a harmonization with her own details, no not this lady, she'd have found him on the Elite status database. She'd then taken advantage of the five minute call permitted during office hours, to arrange a date, all the while being supposedly monitored by the State.

Courtney had only been in Atalanta for a month and hadn't got to know many people as yet. Perhaps she was one of those alpha females, prevalent in the Oneworld where women were rapidly becoming more equal than men. A few had already pounced on him, scaring him into thinking he might settle for being a bachelor boy until his dying day, just like Sir Cliff who'd not only sung about the prospect but taken it on board. Still, as Mum had said Faint heart never won fair maid, so if she was in the mood for pouncing, bring it on; could be he was in for an interesting evening!

Joric emailed a short reply to the memo, and their glasses empty after exchanging a few more pleasantries, he suggested they move on to The Tavern in the Town, a Greek restaurant where those reviewed by HQ as suitable candidates, could enjoy a complimentary meet-and-greet Greek starter of their choice accompanied by a carafe of Retsina. All very tacky really, but a fairly acceptable way of pairing off with members of the opposite sex.

The tavern was exactly one hundred metres from Joric's unit, not far to walk.

Do I detect an Irish accent?” he asked as they started off down the lane.

You do indeed” she replied, “I'm from Dublin's fair city.”

Where the girls are so pretty, judging by tonight's company.”

Well that's how the song goes,” she answered with a little smile playing on her luscious lips and blushing slightly.

In that case, perhaps we should dine on cockles and mussels?”

Perhaps, as long as they're not alive, alive oh!” she said getting into the spirit of the moment.

I'm not much of a muscle man, but hopefully I'll be able to warm the cockles of your heart?” He waited for a response, none came. “Not funny, too punny?” How corny, better change the subject, fast.

So, what in the Oneworld is a nice young Irish Colleen like you doing in Atalanta?” he asked.

First of all it's Courtney not Colleen, and secondly it turned out that I wasn't the love of the love of my life. I wanted to get away, start again somewhere new. I saw this job opportunity in the New World Gazette and it sounded fascinating, I mean, a suburb under the sea? I applied, was accepted, and here I am! What about you?”

They needed a qualified historian who could help them re-write history, although that was not how they worded it of course. I'd never have accepted the job if I'd known their intentions! The pay was good, I was at a loose end and it meant I'd be on the cutting edge of what was happening in the world instead of locked in some classroom or lecture hall with demanding students!”

Flashing neon signs greeted them as they rounded the corner, every word prefaced with a capital,


Don't Be A Geek - Eat Greek!

Try Our Unique Zorba Cocktails! Half Price 'Til Half Eight!

The Meat's Just Great At The Greek!

Meet & Greet Romantic Night For Two Competition!

Linga Longa And Be Serenaded Til Dawn!'


They were ushered by a waiter in national costume to a private alcove where a table was laid for two, complete with real looking fabric flowers in an ornate vase. On the walls were scenes from the pre-days in Athens, depicting couples laughing and enjoying the fare in picturesque Plaka restaurants from whence could be seen the illuminated Acropolis, evoking happy memories of a carefree bygone era. Joric wondered how long it would be before the authorities desecrated the colourful murals, painting pictures of smiling Sol in their place; Bacchus the god of wine, replaced by the god of the New Order, Sol Benevento. No, privileges didn't last long in the New Order, ironically tagged as NO. As it was, the tavern retained a reasonably credible ambience belying the State's involvement; anyway it felt good to be hosted on the house for an hour or so. After eight thirty the menu became pricier, but specials like the one on offer tonight still ran. Tonight? A two-for-the-price-of-one Mediterranean platter of one's choice for first time Meet&Greet Face2Face diners only, sounded good.

Welcome to The Tavern on the Town! My name is Rody and I will be your waiter for the evening. Would you like to sample one of our special Mediterranean platters? I can recommend Surf and Turf or Simply Seafood.” said the waiter.

Do you like seafood Courtney?” Courtney, well-done, he'd remembered her name.

My favourite!”

Perhaps we should go for the works - Simply Seafood platter for two suit you?”

Why not? The system owes it to us, and after tonight, we just wouldn't be eligible!” She said, flirting with him.

Then it'll be oysters and champagne to start” said Joric taking the bait so obviously offered. He could see they were going to get along like a house on fire! Come on baby light my fire! he thought gazing into her eyes.

Certainly Sir, and may I interest you in entering our competition? The winner will receive an hotel break for two in a suite at the Sol Sun Hotel in Ghent, with tickets to the Romantic Moods concert being held there.” He enthusiastically handed Joric an entry form. “All you have to do is add a clever caption to this photograph, fill in your details and hand your entry to me at the end of the evening. Thank you for your order sir, your champagne and oysters are on their way.”

Joric wasn't too keen on entering any competition but Courtney suggested they give it a go. The photograph was of a lady getting into a big black car with a swan, of all things, under her arm. It must have been taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The champagne and oysters arrived and they had fun thinking up corny one liners while they waited for their main course, eventually giving up their fruitless task to talk about each other.

It seemed the lady had received three months special training before moving to Atalanta, something about being groomed for an exciting assignment to be revealed at a later date. He poured a third glass of champagne and ordered a second bottle which arrived along with a trio of musicians.

May we serenade you? A traditional love song perhaps?” suggested the lead violinist.

If music be the food of love, play on!” responded Joric showing off his knowledge of Shakespeare.

It was halfway through dessert, just when Joric thought he had steered the evening faultlessly towards his not so honourable after dinner intentions, that Courtney abruptly changed the subject.

Swanepoel!” she blurted, out of the blue.

I beg your pardon?” responded a rather startled Joric.

That's it! Swanepoel.” Joric thought he knew the female mind quite well, but this was a new one on him.

Swanepoel?”

Yes, it's the surname of a Dutch guy at the office. Jannie Swanepoel. 'Swan' and 'pool,' get it? The lady is taking the swan to a pool, at the home of the Swanepoels.” Just when his mind was turning to thoughts of a more carnal nature, the tempting Courtney was still attempting to capture a caption! No, Joric realized he'd never understand the workings of the female mind.

She's saying to the man in the front seat, who could be a taxi driver, 'The Swanepoels' please driver!' Get it?” The lovely and intelligent Courtney dived into her bag for a pen and triumphantly wrote her caption on the dotted line beneath the photo. “There, that's that done,” she exclaimed, now fill in your details. This is a joint effort you know, and could lead to a fun evening in the flower capital of Belgium!”

Perhaps things were looking up after all, that is, if the competition judge just happened to be Dutch, or had at least heard of the surname Swanepoel. Joric could see she was enjoying the game, her playful eyes watching as he obediently wrote in his details; Something in her eyes was so inviting. He handed the completed entry form to the waiter as he went to pay the now sizeable bill. The word 'Dutch' reminded him that according to candidate rules, payment should be split down the middle but Joric wanting to keep up the good impression he was so obviously making, decided to take it upon himself to settle the full amount. He'd wined and dined the lady - and now - What were the chances?

Once outside he placed his arm lightly round her shoulders. “Your place or mine?” She didn't answer, enigmatically gracing him with her mystic Mona Lisa smile once more. He assertively slipped his arm around her curvaceous waist and they ambled back to his place.


'Finish good lady; the bright day is done and we are for the dark.'

-Shakespeare


5


'Alas, poor Yorick .. a fellow of infinite jest, most excellent fancy.'

-Shakespeare

BLUE MOON ...you saw me standing alone

-L Hart

Tuesday 1.00am


Was that a door closing? Must've been the front door as the bathroom, damp from their midnight shower, still stood open to view. Could that be a romantic full moon illuminating his bachelor pad, flooding through open blinds at the window opposite the somewhat over-the-top queen size bed? No of course not, just one of the after-hours dimmed floodlights seldom seen by Joric, the bluish blur following the artificial daylight from six in the morning to midnight. As the pyramid had no natural sunlight, an exterior lighting system had been especially invented to give one the feeling of being outdoors, a light that was gentler to the eyes than the harshness of fluorescent floodlights. The new system had been patented under the name 'Sol-light' at the behest of Benevento. 'From bright-white-light to sapphire-light, I'm a poet and don't I know it - a poet, a lover and a lunatic,' he mumbled moronically to himself as the words of a Leona Lewis song began to turn over in his mind, It got erased, I guess that's just the danger, cos now we're just like strangers.

Joric turned over again determined to get back to sleep, after all he had a demanding job starting each day at the crack of dawn, barring blissful late lying-in on Saturdays. To sleep? Perchance to dream, - Mr Sandman, send me a dream! Oh to fall asleep and dream about his ideal woman! His blinds were usually down from seven in the evening onwards but last night he'd been - well - distracted. Now at this untimely hour, the way his life still seemed to be going down the tubes caused sober reflection to kick in, especially after the glorious awakening of the previous late afternoon which had completely slipped his mind for a few hours. How could he have been so free with his affections after meeting the lovely Abigail, perhaps his once in a blue moon opportunity? Instead he'd courted Courtney and now she was gone, leaving him without a dream in his heart, without a love of his own.

Must've let herself out then. He quite liked this Irish Colleen; Courtney, the girl from the Emerald Isle with the emerald eyes. I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, your desire. Men were from Mars, he mustn't forget that, and women from Venus as stated by the classic now available on DVD. The odd dimwitted work colleague passing by Joric's desk would rakishly remind him of the cliché with monotonous regularity. Mostly debauched that lot, those not responsibly Cohabiting, cockily trying to remain in the Unattached category like juveniles, daily comparing notes on working the system and self indulgently taking advantage of as many women as they could. Their sole ambition in life seemed to be aimed at triumphing in the quest to score a Perfect Ten with their Face2Face dates. As soon as the siren heralded the end of working hours, these aspiring Romeos would egg each other on, leaving the building with shouts of 'Fare thee well tonight, friend!'

Others spent time at the Yellow Sub Pub, Heineken in hand, the famous old ex-Belgian beer now simply bearing the label, 'Product of Greater Flemish Region,' brought in wholesale from the mainland, compliments of Sol, direct from the now State Brewery reputed to be the oldest in the world.

Those on the Alpha Code PrograMMe, commonly referred to as the A Team or MMs, daydreamed their hours away on open plan floors, coming together at tea breaks and for lunch to discuss their forthcoming bonanza. These were the cashless society's guinea pigs, volunteers testing a Smart-activated double microchip implanted in their wrists, cutting edge technology simply known as DoubleM. When TripleM kicked in, the chip would become mandatory for all, according to a diktat from Sol Benevento Himself. Posters would probably soon be appearing world wide with slogans 'Implant or starve! Don't bite the Helping Hand that feeds you.' As one who'd never had even a minor operation, Joric was a bit squeamish, but the cut seemed unavoidable. Could it turn out to be The most unkindest cut of all? Time would tell.

This final innovation in cashless convenience, would shortly be the only mode of legal tender for buying and selling world-wide. The almighty dollar, described in the Philadelphia Public Ledger of 1836 as 'the only object of worship,' would soon be obsolete. Sol Benevento, or Salvatore Begnino Benevento to be correct, was now self-glorified as the All-Seeing Eye previously seen on the dollar bill within a triangle, and would consequently draw any G.O.D. worship to himself as economic saviour.

In the meantime, faint-hearted folk like Joric still had to shop in Atalanta with voice recognition technology on his mobile, making electronic cashless purchases at 'Cell-Buy 'n Sell Well' check-out points. Naturally all custom was accepted at local bistro bars and Statesman One Stop Corner Shops, State sanctioned and operated by NO uniformed workforce.

The temporary dual-system tills, exclusive to Atalanta, were there to accommodate both Joric's lily-livered bunch of co-residents and the DoubleM volunteers who were privileged to buy at the preferential discounted State rates encoded into such tills.

Anyone who hadn't had the foresight to keep some hard cash from the bad old days, was limited to shopping in the ticky-tacky suburb, but most in the office circles of big fish in the small Atalantian sea weren't particularly bothered, as by October all tills would be switched over to the uni-system of TripleM.

Special pleasure perks and monetary incentives had been offered to all who would join the DoubleM group. Once the system was operating world wide, they would be issued with complimentary tickets to fly to any destination of their choice, providing it was on the permitted Google tourist map. The latest flighty idea was to all join up and travel to Munich for the forthcoming Oktoberfest which would be operating cashless for the first time in history.

Now if Joric Ellis had the same opportunity to go abroad, he would fly further afield to somewhere more exotic like tourist permitted Timbuktu, the mystical old-Malian mud-built city that had recently been renovated by the Bedouin kingpin, Shauidi merchant Prince HRH al Azazel Ali Abdul Aziz bin Talon. There was just one drawback, alcohol was strictly forbidden in this ancient Dominion centre of religion; still, no chance of any such exotic trip becoming a reality for him, plodder that he was.

The lucky lads would also receive a thirteenth cheque in their microchip compatible bank accounts, Blue Chip2 money to blow on their forthcoming holiday. Although they weren't meant to tell any non-MM initiates about the perk, they did tend to broadcast this particular snippet of confidential information loudly and proudly in the inevitable canteen-talk, hyped-up by the fact that they'd be 'tripping' for three weeks at the expense of their handlers. Fantastic!

Yes, once everything was going like a Boeing, the team of unholy 'chip monks' could happily go off and monkey about in Munich wolfing down Brock worst hot dogs and unlimited beer, while Joric worked his overtime fingers to the bone as part of the covering skeleton staff. Moreover there would no doubt be all sorts of teething problems to deal with 24/7 as the DoubleM zone broadened to universal TripleM.

It certainly wasn't a social whirl for everyone who lived in sub-marine Atalanta. Joric's bird-in-a-gilded-cage type mentality made it positively claustrophobic when the time came for the SHIELD night watchman to lock up the exit platform of the underground railway. Was it safe down below? Good question.

Atalanta's advanced metal structure was joined to a giant cage with immense steel bars painted bright luminous yellow, designed to prevent or withstand collisions from the stray ships or submarine – thus giving a whole new meaning to the word suburbia! Attached to the inside of the cage was the tube though which the sub-train wound its way down to the station at ground or seabed level. Atalanta could also be described as a macro bomb shelter, what with its solid steel plate over the top meeting stringent health and safety standards that Sol dictated and forming the platform upon which the huge Pharos power turbine-cum-beacon was mounted. It was safe enough, barring an act of God in the form of a Teutonic plate shift.

How ironic that in this secular society, when the common people commented on an act of God they were generally referring to the world's benevolent dictator Sol Benevento's godlike interventions in a world of which the general perception had been that it was going to pot. And if one happened to fall foul of the myriad laws that could so easily trip one up, only by NO delegation from its most holy-Joe up there - the god-with-a-small-'g' Sol, could one be granted abSOLution, which was rare considering his NO-nonsense approach to all below. One could almost say humanity was not only living under an autocracy but a theocracy.


6


'The scientist, the magician and other so-called gods of our legends,

and as the elders of our time choose to remain blind,

let us rejoice and sing dance and ring in the new..hail Atlantis!'

-Donovan

YOU'RE SO VAIN ...bet you think this song is about you

-Carly Simon

Tuesday 1.30am Rome


Sol


Arch hedonist Sol lay between satin sheets, a double Martini and a few olives on the silver tray beside him. He flicked the remote in his left hand and a red velvet curtain swished to one side revealing his personal cinema screen curving round the arc of the wall opposite. A flick of the remote in his right hand and he settled back to watch once again the recorded events of the Grand Opening, one of the highlights of his political career.

He was exactly where he wanted to be, he was the most powerful man in the Oneworld Government, a veritable sun god, a Sol Invictus.

Mama had christened him Salvatore, but as a child he'd been prone to whirlwind temper tantrums which had caused her to remark one day, 'I am changing your name to Solfatara!' Solfatara was the name of the volcano which had erupted in nearby Naples, but she'd settled for the nickname Sol - and it had stuck. This had prompted the Oneworld ruler to rather see himself as Sol Invictus, the Romanized solar god whose persona many Roman Emperors had adopted.

Money, sex and power were usually uppermost in the minds of most men and Sol dreamt of indulging equally in all three, and it simply came with the territory once he'd make the ultimate global conquest through the use and abuse of political connections from his traditional power base and then still relatively small territorial stepping stone of USE. His unrelenting, driving ambition amongst other drives for Sol had always been to gain abSOLute power in the biggest political dispensation he could dream of, muster up and master with a giant leap from his Italian lair after taking those two initial steps, aided and abetted by means of overlording a press muzzled via his vast acquired financial muscle, mostly embezzled. To give a quasi-philosophical sugar coating over this and other unjustified means of achieving his nefarious ends, he'd taken a leaf from the book of Florentine Statesman Niccolo Machiavelli - 'Del Principe' wherein this opportunist-cum-politician had advised rulers to place advantage above morality. Cunning Machiavellian deceit was an amoral mantle lightly worn by the likes of Sol Benevento.

Italian dictators such as Emperor Nero and the more recent Benito MusSOLini had been two of Sol's childhood heroes. The ex-Italian fascist was 'Benito the Benign' as far as Mrs Benevento and her friends were concerned, hence Sol's middle name. Between the ages of five and seven, he'd listened with Mama to Mussolini's speeches on the radio, and together with the country folk they had idolized their national leader. As he grew into adulthood Sol had remained an aficionado of the Fascist's populist conduct, and in the early years of his career had sought to emulate Il Duce Benito. Sol was similar to Benito in build, and admired the way his hero had stripped to the waist and posed with farm labourers in the act of harvesting the barley, showing himself to be a man of the people. Perhaps that was what accounted for poses like the one Sol had struck in Voce di Rimini when he opportunistically rolled up his sleeves during the Naples rubbish crisis. Thereafter some cynics simply regarded Sol as a rather flamboyant Eurocentric eccentric but no longer – the whole world was under his thumb now, a modern day Caesar ruling from sea to sea.

Ah yes, the people, and here they were shouting his praises in surround sound in the comfort of his bedroom. He watched as the camera picked out excited faces in the waiting crowd gathered in the square outside Ostend Metro Station. A new railway was about to be opened, a line that everyone said could never be, a line about to take the first generation of Atalantians to their new homes beneath the sea.

Here they came now, walking in a procession of two hundred men and women wearing the colours of the New World Order, gold and mercury; the latter being the new silver with roots in Greek and Roman mythology. The leader carried a flag bearing the ensign of Mercury, the god of merchants and thieves, best known as the winged messenger of the gods and the one who conducted the dead to Hades. A brass band accompanied them as they sang the old Donovan classic, Down - below the ocean - where we want to be, and dancing girls leapt, twisted and twirled in front of the open car now appearing round the bend. Trumpets announced the arrival of the latest silvery white and gold Lamborghini, offsetting its very important passenger, resplendent in a black tuxedo, yes, it was he. His permo-tan enhanced by the white shirt, he cut a fine figure, despite his somewhat advanced age of seventy-nine! The car drew up next to the red carpet rolled out in his honour as the camera swept across the clapping, cheering crowds, waving their Federal flags. A stretch limousine pulled up alongside and four burly men jumped out. Enter the political Tetrarchy known in Rome as The Gang of Four, infamous for their bullyboy, Mafia-style tactics and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the chief honcho himself. Wherever Sol, went at least one of them was sure to go, tagging along as part of his ever present entourage. Forming the third tier of government and answerable to Benevento's two executive presidents of the Eastern and Western world, it was they who did the dirty work, administering the tightest of controls and keeping a firm hand on the tiller, their four sets of beady eyes overseeing all that was dictated from the top. Periodically they'd jet off to the four corners of the earth, relentlessly set on advancing NO's kingdom of control and meting out punishment to those in rebellion against the status quo.

A close up now on Sol Benevento, Benevolence Himself, as the Centurion of the bodyguard stepped forward to open the car door. The cheering swelled as Sol alighted and saluted the crowd. His right arm raised aloft, his strong voice rang out.

Hail Patriots!” His loyal citizens responded with an enthusiastic,

Viva Hail! Avanti!” He acknowledged the waving throng's adulation with expansive gestures of greeting, after all, the name Benevento did mean 'welcome.' The two hundred volunteers now formed two lines, making a passageway through which he walked towards the banner above the station entrance with 'Hail to the Chief' emblazoned across it, each person bowing their head deferentially as he passed them by.

Sol sat up in bed, staring intently at the screen, where was she? Ah! Here she came, the long-legged lovely with the flashing green eyes; the sexy legal eagle hand-picked by himself but not due to start for another couple of months. She needed a little extra training for what he had in mind, but here she was at the opening, waiting in the background. She stepped forward from the shadows as he reached the microphone placed in front of the gold ribbon stretched over the entrance to the platform, and presented him with a scroll. Sol kissed her on the cheek and gave her a playful pat on the bottom, much to the amusement of the crowds, then broke the seal to read the proclamation contained within.

Friends! Patriots of the Roman Empire! Countrymen of the Oneworld! This document bears the signatures of two hundred pioneers about to relocate to a life beneath the ocean waves. A new day has dawned for our New World and I am here to lead you into our vision for the rest of the twenty first century, with this - our first settlement at sea! Atalanta, once a mythical dream, has become an amazing reality and is about to be populated!” The crowd erupted with shouts of 'Hail Atalanta! Three cheers for our beloved ruler! Hurrah to the Chief! Hail Sol!'

Sol pressed 'pause' on the remote and went to refill his glass. As he passed the mirror he glanced approvingly at his reflection, “Devilishly handsome! 'Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the greatest one of all?'” He spoke aloud, marvelling at his fairytale rise to the top. He poured another double Martini and climbed back into bed to resume his viewing.

I thank you Patriots - and why the name Atalanta? The Atalanta of myths and legends was a huntress and an athlete just like the Greek goddess Artemis. So adverse to marriage and so fleet of foot was she that all suitors were required to first win a race against her, any man that lost was put to death! One suitor happened to be her cousin Milanion, he knew there had to be some way of overcoming the problem and winning his bride, so he enlisted the help of the goddess Aphrodite. She gave him three golden apples, and during his race, he threw them down in Atalanta's path. She stooped to gather them, and as she did so, Milanion raced past her to the finish line and thus was able to claim his prize. So it was with our Atalanta, our suburb under the sea. They said she could never be built!

In years gone by you watched on your television sets as our marine biologists and radar technicians, persisting like Milanion, made the breakthrough we'd all been waiting for. It was not Aphrodite that helped them, but dolphins. Finally man was able to communicate with these intelligent creatures in a unique and special way. Scientists learned how to tap into and interpret their radar pulses thus enabling our engineers to accurately position structural materials underwater. We didn't need apples of gold to further our task, we needed whales! It was then found that we could also train these giants of the deep to respond to commands, and so transport massive building blocks that were strapped to their bodies, down to the seabed. The mammoth mammals had been successfully converted into beasts of burden to do our bidding, tamed from the wild to toil for man. The whales and dolphins, worked alongside their human handlers, ensuring that the all important foundations were fitted securely into position within the sea bed, ready for underwater construction. They were then further tasked with conveying and positioning huge steel frames for the A framed tetrahedron structure, along with outsize Plexiglas panels with ten centimetre clear acrylic for the see-through surround at sea-bed level. When the pyramid's structure was complete, huge drainage pumps sprung into action at the top, and 'voilà!' Atalanta, the Aqua Live-in Pyramid was complete on the outside.

We sat glued to our screens as the city planners saw their new suburb begin to take shape with lanes, walkways, a playground, a lake and even a nine-hole multilevel golf course! After all, it was to be a business precinct and what do business men like to do for recreation?” The crowd responded with,

Play golf!”

Right! And what do the rest of us like?”

Soccer!”

Yes! And so they also made provision for an Astroturf soccer field! Shops were built; offices, a school and dwelling places sprang up. Then it was the turn of the interior designers, and landscape gardeners. I don't need to tell you more, you saw it all happening on the special broadcasts aired each day. When all had been completed, I went down to inspect my brain child for myself and saw that everything was very, very good, but I wondered, as you are probably wondering right now, how the Atalantians would survive without sunlight or moonshine. Something new had to be created and it was shortly after my visit that exterior Sol-light was invented! The pyramid dwellers will have no need of the sun or moon, for Sol-light will be beamed throughout the suburb, sourced by power cables attached to large solar panels on the surface of the sea. Other power supplies will come via a cable running through the tunnel-bridge with the tongue-twister name to a wave-power generating station onshore. To prevent the solar panels from being a shipping hazard, the mega wind turbine attached to the top of the pyramid doubles as a lighthouse at night.

Today you have come here to join with me in giving a great New World send off to our first Atalantians as they take the fashionably modern commuter train to their new abodes.

They will find everything in Atalanta to be State-of-the-Art, just as you'd expect in the progressive agenda of the New Order! There they will live out the Alpha Code of Conduct with self imposed discipline. The volunteers we refer to as our 'A' team, along with a second group comprising administrators of the precinct and others engaged in government research, are to enjoy experimental, unlimited, cashless freedom which we hope to implement in the New World at large in the not too distant future. Financial meltdowns have become a thing of the past and poverty will soon be eradicated forever.”

The TV Cameras picked up a sea of waving flags as cheers rang out once more. “It simply remains for me to cut the ribbon and proclaim that I, Sol Benevento, open this line in the name of the New Oneworld Government. May she run in complete safety and security between this the mainland and our model offshore suburb, Atalanta, true to the dictates of the New World Order. I, Benevolence Himself, give her my personal blessing, and declare her open.”

A pair of platinum scissors on a red velvet cushion was brought forward by the same smart and sassy lady lawyer. Sol Benevento held them aloft in a grand gesture of triumph, before cutting the ribbon with panache as trumpets blared and drums rolled. The roar from the crowd swelled as deafening applause broke out and the first commuters filed into the station, ready to board the sub-train embarking upon its maiden voyage to Atalanta. Ten minutes later, the guard raised his flag and blew the whistle. The train slowly pulled out of the station and everyone waved goodbye as it gathered speed, entering the tunnel-bridge and taking its precious cargo to the offshore entrance of the suburb below the sea.

It was all over bar the shouting, and as the ceremony drew to a close, Sol jauntily walked towards the cheering crowd who broke into the old Beatles song projected onto the wall of the station, accompanied once more by the brass band:


Here comes the sun king

Here comes the sun king

Everybody's laughing

Everybody's happy

Here comes the sun king

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice carathon

Mundo paparazzi mi amore cicce verdi paraSol

Questo abrigado tantamucho que canite carousel.”


Good song, excellent speech,” said Sol aloud as he flicked the remote controls once more, and the curtains swished closed. “I had them in the palm of my hand.”

The time on his Cartier watch told him it was two o'clock in the morning, oh-oh, he'd missed his beauty sleep again. With a sigh, the self-styled Mediterranean god lay back on his king sized bed and turned out the light.


'Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone.'

-A & M Bergman


7


'Down to a sunless sea..

walls and towers were girdled round a savage place!

As holy and enchanted as e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted ..

and sunk in tumult to a lifeless ocean ..

The shadow of the dome of pleasure floated midway on the waves ..

it was a miracle of rare device ..

weave a circle round him thrice, and close your eyes with holy dread.'

Kubla Khan/A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment -Samuel T Coleridge

THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND ...Like a circle in a spiral,

like a wheel within a wheel, never-ending or beginning,

on an ever spinning wheel, as the images unwind,

like the circles that you find, in the windmills of your mind

-A & M Bergman


Tuesday 3.00am Atalanta


Joric


God? Joric was probably the only person around who sometimes reflected on the possibility of His existence or whether He'd been active since the Book of Acts had been written? If so, where was He now when the world needed Him most? If He were indeed 'The God Who is there,' He must have gone on sabbatical, taking His rest once more after the cessation of miracles. If he were still running the universe, why had He allowed Sol to take over the Earth?

Joric's Grandfather had been a professor of mathematics who'd most certainly believed in God. 'Just take a look at the Great Pyramid, my boy,' he'd say, 'That alone proves there is a God.' Joric hadn't been quite sure what he'd meant by that statement, so Granddad had told him that the Great Pyramid was at the exact geographical centre of the earth's land surface, and also at the centre of the geometrical quadrant formed by the Nile Delta. He'd said moreover, the pyramid was in alignment with the earth's four cardinal points which was apparently very significant mathematically speaking and Sir Isaac Newton had apparently used its measurements to work out the circumference of the earth, a necessary task enabling him to prove his Theory of Gravity.

There was more; Granddad had been an avid follower of the work done by Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, and Lord Herschel who came from a whole family of astronomers. These learned gentlemen had referred to the pyramid as being a message in linear measurements of the sacred cubit, correlating with the historical chronology of years, recording such events as the exodus of Moses from Egypt, the birth and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the founding of the modern state of Misra Sar, The Prince's Dominion, in 1948 along with a mystery date of 1844. Some code set in stone perhaps?

His grandfather had encouraged him to read Smyth's book, too late now, it would have been confiscated along with the rest of his parents' books. Granddad had repeatedly tried to drum his faith and knowledge into Joric, but at that stage in his life the only drumming he was interested in drove his poor old Gramps absolutely batty! And anyway, he couldn't quite fathom what an Egyptian pyramid had to do with the God of The Way. Did it prove the existence of the Almighty? He wasn't at all convinced.

Sometimes, thinking about the State and the Oneworld Government, alias NO, Joric would start asking silent questions of he knew not whom, addressing him nevertheless as God and identifying in some way with Jonah of old, 'Why am I here in the belly of the whale?' What if one day he were to hear an audible voice answering his question with a suggestion,

'Why don't you start going to church again and try getting excited about Me for a change?' He'd know then for sure, and perhaps he and God would be able to have two way chats, chewing over deep truths contained in the lofty Authorized Version of the Bible with which Joric was familiar.

It had been well with his little Sunday school soul when he'd sung along to the old holy tune in Westminster Cathedral, When oceans as sea billows roll. His clear soprano voice had broken during his brief stint as a choir boy, so he'd moved on to join a group and become the boom, bang, crash drummer of a pugnacious definitive punk boy band called Revolt-In House. They'd played gigs around the corner from the church at the local pub, even though Joric was under-age. At university he graduated to The Metal Detectors, but when Atalanta beckoned, he'd had to leave his drums behind.

Joric was now wide awake and on a roll. He certainly didn't have a hot line to heaven any more, that is, if he'd ever had one. Too late now to close down the old brain-powered cinema, it had a mind of its own and the B rated matinée continued rolling with all the members of the Info staff co-starring in bit part roles, the DoubleM team behaving like circus animals released from a cage into Teuton town's beer carnival in Munich.

The Munich trip was especially novel to the DoubleM team from floors nineteen and twenty-two where previously disadvantaged co-workers were located. These equal opportunity hopefuls had been brought in from the Central Africa Region as clerical staff. Their task was to implement policy communiqués in NO's red tape terminology with misnomer titles christened new-speak, probably a derogatory Orwellian big brother type expression coined and embellished by one of the more bigoted members of the Info research staff. Eager to step up from their township living conditions, this French speaking contingent on lucrative overtime was basically responsible for the confusion of directives from HQ. The keen beans kept up with a stream of memo proposals in addition to working their way exhaustively through heaps of dated ex-international governmental data and other paperwork, their French-English dictionaries open at the ready on their desks. From the invalidated pile of ashes rose a unique phoenix in a rather quaint albeit sinister form. Its fanciful flight, with official statements to the world at large peppered with new-speak and imposing decrees, flew in the face of Patriots of Parity, commonly known as PoPs, restricting their choices and cramping their style. Sad comment that there were those who aped around in the canteen risking hate speech legislation by referring to the the so-called pidgin-English literates as 'black pigeons.'

The Central African workforce exited Atalanta long after the local residents had set off on their nightly jaunts, commuting on special jam-packed one stop express trains to Patrice Lumumba Township just outside Ostend in the direction of Bruges, re-entering each morning before the standard train timetable commenced. They were supervised at all times by a SHIELD centurion, a French-speaking Arab from the Northern African Region of ex-Algeria who was accompanied by a spread of one hundred night watchmen to prevent internecine tribal violence. Yes, NO would see to it that nothing smacking of xenophobia would have a snowball's chance in hell of raising its ugly head, and no civil disobedience would be tolerated.

A Super-Vision team had been recruited from Prince Azazel's Mafraik University to keep a watchful eye upon the workforce during office hours. These graduates were given full disciplinary powers with which to execute their duties and were answerable directly to the 'Eagle Eye' Prince himself.

The Prince was a shadowy figure in the hierarchy, but flush and flashy in the world of finance having an iron in every fire, even worming his way into such semi-State ventures as office politics. He was highly influential in his capacity and career as a communications and entertainment entrepreneur, and he'd also invested heavily in NO's ImMediateNet as Sol's sleeping partner. Fortune had always favoured the brave, and this relatively young gun's fortune had been made by buying up failing businesses and turning them around with his magical Midas touch, thereby earning him the reputation of being the 'Prince of Fallen Angels.'

The machinations of Joric's mind now took him back to circling around the open plan goldfish bowl of his own workspace, surfing the web of office politics, virtually reviewing his working day on auto pilot. He was mentally on-the-job long before it was necessary; to be in Info was to be driven, often by bosses exhorting their underlings to take non-classified work home if they couldn't cope.

HQ could quite conceivably be keeping an evil eye on him even now, via the surround TV screen installed in the middle of every room of his pad. The original purpose of the viewer survey had changed somewhat with the ominous added function of surveillance.

These invasions of privacy along with other alarm bells that intermittently rang, made Joric feel both edgy and forlorn, despite the radical status he was privileged to have as a Total security-cleared inmate of Atalanta. He'd been amongst the first batch hatched for this enviable lifestyle with benefits one would queue miles for in the overpopulated cities of the Europa-Unitas Region. The cherry on the top was the carefree use of conditional buying power loaded without credit limit into each multi-functional mobile. In this avant-garde underwater fantasy land one could make good use of the limitless overdraft on offer, forgetting conditions of the small print on the simple basis of having made it to Atalanta. The sky was the limit, but therein lay the rub; it was a case of party now but hangover later when the Helping Hand that overfed would reappear to point like Uncle Sam before reaching out to clutch its hopelessly beholden victim. 'Your country needs you to pay up or work off your debt in a lifetime of forced labour in one field or another.' Still, if the penny dropped in time, that bridge could be crossed by taking the next sub-train out, thereby ducking debt collection to disappear into the overpopulation of the real world - forgetting that every Patriot's name, picture, particulars and eighteen digit ID number were loaded onto an E-currency system. This devil-box of a computer was Nick-named the 'BEAST,' standing for BruSSels Electronic Accounting Surveillance Terminal, but its bark was nothing like the bite of the real live and dangerous beast behind it. Sooner or later the wolf would be at the door, ready to pounce, armed to the teeth in the form of some bonus-seeking bounty-hunter or Federal agent of a regime that hoodwinked, traced and trampled its complacent Oneworld prey.

Still, there was plenty of money, money, money to be enjoyed in Atalantian malls in the meantime, so one could easily be fooled into thinking one had made a cushy landing in a rich man's world. An alternative sway group, calling themselves The Bling Things, had resurrected the old song, lauding the god of Mammon once again; nothing of real significance had changed. The official 'Why Wait?' invitation issued to privileged Atalantians was to shop until they dropped. The State seemed to pick up the tab, and exhorted their guinea pigs to spend their savings every festive season and buy 'Gifts galore at Treasure Island Store' along with 'Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum' products from Watership Down bottle shops.

Along the mall past A Tavern In The Town were various eateries with names like Octopussy For Good Sushi and Brussels Sprout Vegetarian Chat Bar, where New Age Singulars liked to meet. Then there were the pubs; from dives like The Grotto, Davy Jones' Locker, The Cavern and The Depths, to the more upmarket On The Rocks. These weren't the only establishments one could patronize either, there was something to please all of the people all of the time. Indulging in whatever made one's boat float was the NO thing to do.

Joric was still tossing and turning. Ho-hum, what was the time? He checked the clock next to his bed, ouch, nearly time to get up and face the day. He fell back on the pillow and was out like a light.


8


'From beasties and things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us.'

-Unknown

WHO'S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF? ...Came the day

when fate did frown

-F Churchill /A Ronell

Tuesday 4.30am Bruges


Abigail


Abigail sleepily opened one eye as the doorbell rang. She saw the nocturnal world had not even sensed pre-dawn as yet, so rolling over she buried her head beneath the pillow, determined to recapture the dreaminess of a vague romance prematurely interrupted. Let Dad see to the milkman or whoever it was. As Pastor he fielded all kinds of disturbances at any hour of the day or night. What on earth was it this time, and at this ungodly hour?

Downstairs in the hallway alien conversational gibberish seemed to drone on forever, frustrating her attempts to snuggle back and resume the cosiness of elusive promise messed up by this untimely awakening. She eventually dozed off in the eerie lull following the sounds of departing footsteps fading into the gloom. However, the intrusive and unfamiliar male voice had worryingly dragged her from the warmth of her dream into the angst of being dragged off elsewhere against her will. Just as she was drifting off into blessed sleep again, there was a quiet knock at her door, followed by the turn of the doorknob.

What is it?” she mumbled as her mother's face appeared, her oddly blank expression prolonging the surreal disquiet into the cold light of day. Abigail detected a terse edge to the tight lipped voice.

Abigail, be sure to pop into the kitchen before dashing off to the shop. Here, drink your tea!” Didn't Mum know she always raided the fridge for a fat healthy carrot at the very least before haring off to Ostend? Abigail's rise 'n shine routine was by now thrown completely off balance, for there'd been an alarming urgency in her mother's voice. Ignoring the steaming cup of tea she'd normally nurse for as long as possible, she hurriedly pulled on a dressing gown and stumbled down the stairs to face whatever surprise the day had in store. Had she chipped some plate or cup in her slapdash dish washing the previous evening? Perhaps something else had not been done to her mother's high standards in the hit and miss of her sloppy late night clean-up? No, something far more serious was going on down below.

The kitchen door was slightly ajar, enough for Abigail to to see the homely kitchen table around which the family gathered for Sunday dinner. Sitting in Dad's usual place at the head was a rather large lady, a usurper in a grey shirt with a badge pinned just above her left breast. The badge was an amulet of the heart scarab beetle, flanked by falcon's wings, and the words 'Swords into Ploughshares' was written below. The scarab was the talisman of the NO Force and 'Ploughshares Peace' was Carthaginian in nature. Beware the one who contests it, who is doomed to defeat, be it ever so severe. In Newworld York lingo that meant zero tolerance. On the other hand, Dad had told them that the concept of beating swords into ploughshares had been incorporated into the motto of the old United Nations, ironically borrowed from the Bible and used out of context.

A flush of resentment rose to Abigail's cheeks as she pushed the door open further and saw her younger sister Terry sitting in her usual place. Something was terribly wrong. Mum, who'd obviously been briefed already, was over by the widow taking a resigned back seat in the room of raging silence, her pallid complexion and nervous body language speaking volumes, her quiet despair permeating the heavy atmosphere. Abigail was suddenly very wide wake.

Good morning!” came the stiffly polite greeting, chilling the air considerably. Abigail responded with an abrupt nod.

Do sit down dear,” the patronizing voice continued.

No thank you, I'll stand.” Abigail replied, icily civil yet tapping her foot in impatience, digging her heels in and remaining right where she was, framed by the kitchen doorway. No polite pleasantries were to be exchanged, the lines were drawn in this clash of the titans.

Please Abbey.” Abigail detected a desperate warning signal in her sister's eyes as she patted the seat next to her.

The inviolable intimacy of an en famille breakfast, her final refuge before her dash from Bruges to Ostend to open the shop on time, had been contaminated as the sanctity of the breakfast table vanished into thin air. Abigail was sufficiently shaken up to instinctively reject this viral invasion of her space. She was as taut as a stretched bow, ready to repulse any onslaught by any State agent. The very air inside the room cooled still further as the clothed carnivore of contrived words rocked on in Dad's chair and indulged her once more.

I promise I won't take up too much of your time.” Another vacuous promise no doubt, but Abigail dared not show the hand that had partaken in past student struggles against the cancerous, oppressive assertion of one party rule. The urgency of Terry's voice broke into her thoughts once more.

The Monitor Cadre's got something very important to tell us.”

Scout Monitor Cadre Senior, Ms Helga Wolfe,” came the firm correction. “I am here on official business, so the sooner you take your place, the sooner we can begin.”

Of course, her high school sister would've instantly recognized the Monitor Cadre emblem, the proud wearer of it duty bound to implement clean sweep policies from grass roots right through to the nouveau riche socialites of NO's polite society. At family mealtimes her sister would tell of the sly prying in the education system by observer volunteers with an MC status that replaced the prefect system. Addressed as Master or Miss MC, these overbearing juniors with attitude threw their weight around even more blatantly than their senior comrades in the work place, all of them wearing their beastly little beetles. Abigail's younger sister Terry, had told the family all about scarabs, they'd been immortalized as sacred by the Egyptians and represented their sun God, Ra. Her science teacher had spoken of them as good luck charms known to emit positive spiritual energy measured in bovine units by simple scientific devices called antennae, connected to a biometer.

Abbey?” A pleading look in Terry's eyes. Okay, but just for little sis, thought Abigail as she reluctantly moved from her position of resistance to take her place at the table.

That's better, I have already presented my credentials and visa warrant to your mother. Mrs Brelli, now we are all assembled, would you be so kind as to join us?”

It was more of a directive than a request but Kay Brelli dutifully took her position at the foot of the table, opposite the Monitor Cadre.

First things first,” continued Ms Helga, "I need us all to set our mobiles to the two-way transmitting detail on our menus before we can proceed. This, I don't need to remind you, is for your security and ours." This done, the intruder continued with her official brief. Dad had repeatedly warned them to be on their guard against half truths propagated in the subterfuge of NO's officialdom.

She started off in highly affected tones, coated with a sickly sweet veneer.

"I would like to begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family. Not only my condolences, but those of our beloved leader Comrade Sol Benevento, Benevolence Himself." Abigail felt the bile rising in her throat as the bearer of bad news continued in subdued, almost conspiratorial tones.

"It has fallen upon me to tell you that Dr Brelli was accompanied to a place of safety early this morning. He was not alone, others were similarly inconvenienced, but removal from endangered families into protective custody seemed to be the only answer to what transpired last night!" She paused for dramatic effect, giving weight to the words that followed.

"A religious decree was issued against certain Chrétien ministers by a reprehensible figure intent upon stirring up officially discouraged Holy War activities. This personage, self-styled as a Supremo to illegally lead a cultist Dominionist splinter group, is a lone voice in the wilderness, but a voice that we have not yet been able to track down. Consequentially this has put several of your clergymen at risk; some are in more danger than others and have become the prime targets moved to the top of a hari kiri hit list of vengeance. Particularly vulnerable are the reckless authors of recently banned books that have been a direct cause of fomenting religious friction, and it has become necessary for us to intervene to keep the Oneworld peace. If Chrétien right-wingers would refrain from their narrow extremism, the threat from the far left Dominion fringe element might diminish." So, thought Abigail, Dad had been whisked away without warning, abducted in a pre-dawn security forces swoop.

"It might be some small consolation for you to know, that all families in this predicament are being attended to by monitors like myself, called up in the early hours of this morning. This intervention action was mercifully taken upon orders issued by Benevolence Himself, all praise be to him, to protect every last one of his Patriots of Parity including the Prophet's flock, all of whom he sincerely hopes will become strictly Orthodox-Conformist on a voluntary basis. When one realizes to what lengths our blessed Benevolence is prepared to go, for even the presently dissenting faction of Chrétiens, one must surely relent and bow the knee. Extremism in every aspect of life must be avoided at all costs. This is why the leaders of every nonconformist evangelical ministry have been comprehensively relocated to safe houses at an undisclosed destination, for their own protection mark you, where it is hoped they will take the opportunity of formulating a position to move closer to the State-approved denomination of Chrétiens."

Abigail remembered Dad's warning that when NO said there was an imminent terrorist threat, it would more than likely be a State-manufactured ruse to achieve some underhand purpose of their own. The proletariat tended to receive and digest whatever NO fed to them, but these powers and principalities were not to be trusted and the faithful were to look only to their Redeemer for guidance. Still in pseudo-sympathetic mode the monitor madam continued.

This unwelcome enforced absence from home will, however, be put to good use. Just see your loved ones as being at a retreat for retraining in a needed paradigm shift, undergoing a welcome refresher course in current religious trends.” Dad's worst fears were slowly being realized; nothing was as it seemed. An undercurrent of dread pervaded the room as she continued.

"Now for the good news. Each family unit affected by these proceedings will get all the State support they deserve in their crisis of being so suddenly and unexpectedly separated from their head of house, and you can rest assured that the severance will probably not be for more than a short while. A serious security breach and its consequent threat is the secondary cause of our distress, but is being dealt with as swiftly as possible. Emergency measures have been put in place, starting with this pre-emptive operation."

The officious preach came to an end and the Monitor Cadre's voice rose with the triumphal chant of The Comrade's Anthem:


Live and let live upon the earth

Peace and Parity to all men.

Viva equality! Viva fraternity!

Viva liberty, So Be! Amen!

To Rome, Eternal City, Hail,

To our beloved saviour, Hail,

Our Pater who freed us,

Although he didn't need us,

Long may he lead us, viva, hail!"


Abigail identified shades of the Third Reich and the madness of the French Revolution's Robespierre along with the shock treatment suffered by their victims. After the scary Richter scale tremor of madam's shrill shout had subsided, there was an awkward and somewhat stunned silence before Terry, in school assembly mode, responded with the required 'Avanti!' The now militantly strident grey woman in the grey shirt continued with enthusiasm, but certainly not of the God kind which was the hallmark of Kay and Bob Brelli.

"Your father will no doubt be returned to you as one of the latest heroic leaders of the ongoing peace revolution, shoulder to shoulder with mighty men of valour in the ecumenical camp, as they collectively put their best foot forward in the triumphal march of its unstoppable progress." She lowered her voice, continuing ad nauseum to inform them of urgent safety measures in the citizens' care programme that had been put in place, along with other bureaucratic procedural details too numerous to mention before summing up with her closing statement.

You will have heard on the news that Sunday, being the first day of the week, will soon become a working day Oneworldwide. Consequently the religious gatherings on that day which have exacerbated our problems will become a thing of the past. The official weekend will begin Friday noon to facilitate the Dominion practice, this is currently the case within our forces. Could we please bow our heads in respect to the one who cares as I leave you with this thought.” Ms Wolfe bowed her head and closed her eyes bringing the official visit to a close with a recitative dirge.

This day we have been faithful to the concept of Ma'at, that which is right, how things should be; a concept that embodies the virtues of the sun-god Amen-Ra. We cherish his truth, balance, order, law, morality and justice in our Code of Virtue as protected by COVenant in our sublime constitution. The Morality Board, responsible for the keeping of the COVenant as outlined in the Roman Golden Rule is overseen by Sol Invictus who is the very personification of these Ma'at virtues. So Be it, Amen-Ra.”

Finally the unwelcome guest departed, leaving the shattered family, fully informed or misinformed as the case may be. Distressed by the turn of events and concerned for their father's welfare, they also realized that other families with members in the ministry would be feeling the same way. Soon dismayed congregations would become increasingly fearful, as sheep without shepherds, and all the ominous implications would be scrutinized, discussed and mulled over via the grapevine of The Way. Overwhelmed by the sinister events, Terry and Kay retired to their rooms.

'Peace; when there is no peace.' The Scripture floated into Abigail's head as the headline of the morning's Proud Citizen newspaper, lying unfolded and unread on top of the sideboard, caught her eye. 'Celebrate G.O.D. Global Oneworld Day,' and underneath, 'Out with Independence! In with Interdependence!' She remembered from last night's Evening Herald of Glory that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded to the World President later that morning. As a public holiday had been declared to celebrate the third anniversary of the World Peace Accord there was no need for her to go all the way into Ostend, nobody would be at work except of course, the Monitor Cadres. On the other hand, she wanted to get away; there'd be no hustle and bustle in town and there were things to be done at the shop. Still, perhaps it would be best to remain at home and put everything else, on hold.

The Brelli family had moved to Belgium, now part of the Orange Region, from Miami. Abigail had attended college in Brussels and duly became politicized as more and more of her time was taken up with protests against freedom curbed on campus. She stopped being too overt about her convictions after receiving a well-aimed baton blow delivered by a fellow student who, unbeknown to her, also happened to be a trainee MC. Abigail was duly charged and punished accordingly by the student body. The issue at the time was regarding the recall of books to be revised by State appointed editors and brought out on DVD. This was tantamount to intellectual murder of the independent freethinker. Pacifist Papa had only become involved in protest action once the Bible had been banned and removed from bookshelves everywhere by authorities who'd committed themselves to redistributing the revised and condensed content on DVD as The New Age Version, geared to be in harmony with current humanitarian thought, as defined by NO.

The 'Swords into Ploughshares' slogan had become a trite and not to be trusted truism to Abigail and her circle of ex-college friends. Worrying to them and others had been the sweeping powers and incentives of the contrived peace initiatives being rolled out under its lofty banner. Of particular concern were the Information Control Act with its anonymous informant rewards, and the Patriot Citizen's Arrest Act. Then there were those time-consuming compulsory attendances at NO meetings, all for the cause of 'Regeneration towards a Moral Generation.'

Although Abigail automatically prescribed to her parents' ethics, she felt their outlook to be out of step with what her more modern friends were thinking, and she was attempting to formulate her own way of living. It had been during her college days that her attendance at Dad's Church had dropped off. She knew how they felt about her not having made that life decision so important to them, but they didn't let their obvious disappointment affect the atmosphere of love and acceptance at home.

Mum and Terry were sleeping, so Abigail changed her mind about staying in and made a snap decision right there and then to move out and settle down above her Ostend shop. Yes, she'd move most of her things today, before Domestic Intervention could make its call to file a census report card into the 'bestial' system, detailing the names and number of residents in the Brelli household. Perhaps she'd even wake Terry and ask her to help, it would be good for both of them to focus on something else, taking time out to re-gather their thoughts while their mother rested. They'd leave a note of course, saying they'd be back in time for dinner, so that when Mum woke she wouldn't think they'd been abducted along with Dad. She knocked gently on her sister's door.

Terry, you awake?”

Yeah, can't sleep, come inside.”

Before long the two of them had packed most of Abigail's possessions and loaded them into the car. There was no sound coming from behind their Mother's door so they wrote their note and slipped out quietly.


9


'The native hue of resolution.'

-Shakespeare

TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR ...how I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high

like a diamond in the sky

-A Taylor

Tuesday 10am


Kay


Kay Brelli was still in bed. She'd been up since the early morning raid when they'd taken Bobby, but Cadre Monitor Ms Helga had soon put paid to any further rest she might have had thereafter. The pastor's wife needed her strength, so here she was in her usual disciplined manner, desperately trying to catch up on some sleep in order to be strong for Abigail, Terry, and members of the congregation who'd soon be ringing her doorbell or calling her up on the phone.

Her mind swam as she tried to make sense of what had happened, an undisclosed location, Bob was at some undisclosed location. Where on earth could that be? Some uninhabited island? Some pyramid out in the desert? She needed to get to him, she needed the assurance of his faith filled voice telling her once again to remember that God was way ahead of all this, He was in charge and certain things had to happen in order for the new Kingdom to be ushered in, not the present NO but one that would be ruled with a rod of iron, a Kingdom where The Way, the Truth and the Light reigned supreme. Bobby had warned them over and over, exhorting them not to be like the foolish virgins caught unawares by the bridegroom's arrival. The spotless bride? The church, but was she ready?

Kay heard someone leave, must be Abigail on her way to the shop, but wasn't the shop closed today? It was a public holiday, best she was gone anyway when Domestic Intervention intervened. Wonder what time that would be?

Kay drifted off uneasily into a dream-world of vain imaginings where she fought with her worst fantasies until Bobby called to her from the clouds, waving and singing out the rhyme he used to calm her down whenever her anxieties got the better of her. 'Kay! It's okay! Stay strong every day. Let the Lord have his way!' then 'Now tell the flock, it's okay too! Have faith, look up and remember how the story ends!'

She was roused from her altered state of consciousness by the sound of the door bell ringing. Another wolf at the door? She groaned, and made her way down the stairs to the hallway. A younger and jollier monitor was standing on the doorstep.

You poor dear!” she said, hers arm extended in a gesture that already spoke volumes without the platitude - “I know what you must be going through.” She clasped Kay to her ample bosom, “I'm Mandy, a cadet monitor on Domestic Intervention duty and I've been sent by my superior to help you adjust to the earlier events of this morning. May I please come in?”

Yes, come in, sit down, I'll make us some tea,” said Kay on auto-pilot, leading the way into the kitchen, “Or coffee.” she added, “Strong coffee.”

She knew that Mandy was only doing her job, but Kay wanted to be alone to think everything through; still, here was an opportunity to find out where Bobby was.

I'm not really supposed to tell you his whereabouts,” Mandy replied to Kay's direct enquiry, “However I will, but I must ask you to remember that we don't want it made public yet, so please be very discreet.” She leant forward conspiratorially, “Unfortunately your Robert is not in one of the more accessible security safe camps, he is amongst the small group of red alert detainees, you might say he was on a hit list. Yes, I know, it all sounds very cloak and dagger but he was rather well known. Tell me, what's it like to be married to a famous author?” Kay gave a weak smile as Mandy continued breezily, without waiting for a reply. “Mystery of the Fellowship! I used to love mystery stories when I was a child! I haven't read your husband's book of course, so I can't speak for those in this world of ours who want to do away with – I mean - who strongly disagree with something he said.” she added, correcting herself hastily. “Someone told me he'd written that the people in this mysterious fellowship of his shouldn't be – what was it again? I wrote it down.” She glanced at her notes once more, “Oh yes, unequally yoked with the throne of iniquity and wicked princes. I didn't really understand the bit about the throne, but the last bit did seem to imply that our two Dominion princes might be wicked. You must agree that wasn't a very tactful thing to say in the circumstances. So, for his own safety, he and some others in the same predicament are right at this very moment being dispatched to Isis Sky Pyramid One, the only place where Benevolence Himself feels they will be safe from those that want to harm them! The other detainees have been allocated to safe houses all over the Oneworld.”

Sky Pyramid One, I've heard of it, but didn't know it was fully operational.” said Kay, puzzled.

For many years now there have been wannabes space travellers who paid their fare as long as twenty years ago to make sure they got on one of the first flights going. Well, they have made the trip and returned safely, as indeed your husband will, along with the others who have gone. It will be quite exciting for them! Really!” she said emphatically, continuing with far too much enthusiasm. “There they will attend a special refresher course!” She paused to open her notebook, “I'm a bit new at this so I'll have to read the next bit to make sure I get it right!” She smiled encouragingly at Kay and read, “A programme designed especially for the brotherhood of religious men, where they will all get together in holy fraternity, made possible by our gracious leader, as recommended by his personal prophet, in order to enter into the spirit of a New Ecumenical Order, and be a signatory to its ethos.” Mandy looked up triumphantly, “I made notes at the lecture to make absolutely sure I wouldn't make any mistakes! Can't be too careful when on State business! After that, all loved ones will return home, safe and sound! Quite simple really; a lovely little adventure for them which I am sure they will all learn from and enjoy! As for you and your family, every need will be attended to in your husband's absence, I have ration cards for food and all your domestic bills will be paid, including your telephone account!” Was Mandy on a level? She made it all sound so light and frothy, but there was something naively simple about this lady and something very sinister about the whole modus operandi.

How long do you expect them to be away for?”

A maximum of three months. By that time, the perpetrators of the evil scheme against those such as your husband will have been questioned and redirected, and the problem with those in rebellion...” Mandy checked herself, “Those who at present misunderstand what it means to co-operate, and harmonize with other men and women of faith who share this planet of ours, will be enlightened. It's so sad isn't it that we can't all just get along? Oh I know, East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet, but a little more tolerance of each others differences and none of this would be happening. Why I was only saying to my boyfriend Horst last week, we all need to be more open minded. Out with the old attitudes in with the new! There are many paths that take us on our journey to the mountain top!”

I want to join him.” Kay cut in impulsively.

Oh sorry dear, I am going on aren't I, you being so worried and all. Yes, we did think some of you might feel that way. There are sure to be other detainees' wives who feel as strongly as you do, in fact feedback from another Domestic Intervention Officer and co-worker of mine has already come in with the report of a similar reaction. There might be a way, but you do realize that the exorbitant cost of such a venture could be a prohibitive factor.”

If I can raise the money, when is the earliest I could leave?” Kay was now determined, she needed Bobby back, not only for her own benefit, but for the benefit of their congregants. There was more teaching to be done, from Bob's unfinished book now lying on the bedside table, being written for such a time as this and entitled 'Revelations of Close Associations in Tribulation.'

There is a shuttle leaving next week,” Mandy hesitated, “It is just possible, if you can raise the money that is, that I might be able to get you an interview, only a select few will be able to go, but I have to warn you, it's terribly, terribly expensive.” She shook her head sympathetically as she placed her hand on Kay's shoulder.

Ration cards distributed, names and addresses exchanged, Mandy was on her way to the next distraught pastor's wife, and as soon as she'd disappeared from view, Kay picked up the phone and dialled. A warm well-known voice answered.

Sorry, but I am unable to take your call right now. Please leave a message, your name and number, and I'll call you back within the next hour.”

Poppa? I need to speak to you, it's urgent.”


10


'Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Ozymandias -Shelley


TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN SPORT ...Mind me platypus duck,

Bill, mind me platypus duck,

don't let him go running amok Bill

-Rolf Harris


Tuesday 11.30am Atalanta


Joric


Bzz! Bzz! Bzzzz! Joric turned over sleepily and switched off the alarm, but it wasn't the alarm going off, he'd forgotten to set it anyway. A loud cheery voice from outside yelled,

G'day mate! Are you going to stay hibernating in your burrow all day?” It was Aussie Bill Osborne, whatever was the time? Good grief, it was almost mid-day! He was in for it at work. He tried to open the door, get dressed and brush his teeth all at the same time, not having much success with any of these tasks. He finally wrenched the door open after muttering a loud expletive as he tripped over a shoe lying in his path.

Crikey! Take it down an octave mate, it's a public holiday!” Joric froze, “A day for copping it sweet?” Joric's bemused expression told Billy that the last statement needed translation.

A day off to do all the things you've wanted to do for the past six months, wombat!” Joric groaned and headed back to bed.

Had a good time last night? Some Shelia get to ya?” Ready for try at Cohabiting then? Applied for your duplex yet? Well don't just lie there with a face like a stopped clock, say something!”

Make the coffee you dingo! You know where everything is.”

What's for brekky then?”

Tucker's in the cupboard above the microwave.”

Joric enjoyed the banter with his Crocodile Dundee-styled friend, Billy-O. One might say that he was getting more Australian than the Aussie himself, he'd even compiled his own dinkum Aussie dictionary; well, it was something with which to occupy his mind, other than work and the establishment.

Go on then, spill the beans, what's she like?”

Oh she's okay, Colleen, an Irish Colleen that is, called Corey, make that Courtney. But now I've got another problem, I met someone on the mainland just a few hours before Courtney arrived, someone who could turn out to be really special, her name's Abigail. As for Corey, uh Courtney, she left in the early hours of the morning. It woke me up and my mind's been on work ever since.”

Two Sheilas! You poor old bastard.” Billy said with mock sympathy, putting the kettle on and rummaging unsuccessfully in the cupboard for something edible. He produced half a packet of peanuts and an apple.

Is this all you've got? Monkey nuts and the fruit of temptation? It'll have to do then.” Billy took out two plates, cut the apple in half and distributed the peanuts evenly. Joric was obviously not going to talk about his conquests of the night before so Billy tactfully changed the subject back to work.

Having trouble with Genghis Khan and the Raj?” said Billy, referring disrespectfully as they habitually did, to Mushtaq Khan and Danial Khazraj, their direct departmental bosses.

That mad mogul Danial mercilessly reduces everything I write to substandard - and that's at draft level! Why do I bother to research each historical fact in such detail when all my findings get blatantly altered to align with his jaundiced view of things. I challenged him last week and he defended himself by quoting Marc Bloch, saying that 'History is a field in constant motion that lends itself to different interpretations, observations and emphasis,' patronisingly implying that I am the one that's biased! He's only the sub-editor after all and Mushtaq's just the same.” Joric seethed, referring to the History Department's editor in chief. “He's got this stuck-record, lame idea that as history concerns the past, it is therefore largely inconsequential. Those two revisionists are only happy when they are manufacturing history to suit NO's nefarious ends. You know I don't have issues with the pair of them coming from a different culture and all that, but I ask you with tears in my eyes, why do I bother?”

Why indeed,” Billy sighed as he brought the coffee and meagre breakfast over to the bed, giving his friend space to vent his feelings.

I mean, English is the universal language after all and mine is a lot better than theirs, understandably so seeing as how I happen to be English...”

And went to public school!” finished Billy with a smile. “Perhaps your posh accent gets up their noses. You can be a bit of a ponce when you get on your high horse!” Joric ignored his friend's gentle jibe and continued his tirade.

Sometimes I go into the Adult Education classes, just to see the end product of my work, it's unrecognisable! I know my history. Less and less of what I write is being used! Most of it ends up on the cutting room floor. What eventually makes it on to DVD under my name, which I see listed in the credits mark you, is virtually unrecognisable! They re-write history turning fact into fiction and what suffers the most? Good old British history and if I object, the fake Englishman simply quotes Lucerian the Greco-Egyptian who once said, 'The historian among his books should forget his nationality.' Why on earth do I slave so hard for them? It doesn't exactly make for jump up and down on the job satisfaction now does it?”

Joric took the hot cup of coffee handed to him and gulped it down, losing the skin of the roof of this mouth as he did so. “The other thing that gets me is that my job description stated quite clearly that I'd be commuting between Atalanta and Egypt, Alexandria to be precise. Well I've been once, and a fat lot of good it did me. I found out about how they'd built up the ancient library in Ptolemy 3rd's time by visitors to the city having to surrender all their books – sound familiar? They were copied by official scribes, then the original manuscripts were added to the library and the copies given to the visitors! What a cheek! But then NO in its inimitable fashion decided to use my research and my name to justify their policy of confiscating all literature!”

Joric sat up and pulled open the drawer in his bedside table, he rustled through the jumble of papers inside and triumphantly pulled out a slip which he then handed to the bemused Billy.

Go on – read what's on the back! It's an inaccurate précis of my report, justifying the re-call of literature and it's printed on every I.O.U. voucher that's been issued! Not only that, they had the gall to print my name on the bottom!” Billy slowly read aloud,

'J Ellis Information Department Atalanta. The bearer is entitled to a DVD of the edited work recorded under the number of this voucher, or a work of equivalent value.'” But Joric wasn't finished and his tirade continued.

Promising the improbable I've now become part of the clean sweep policy without my approval! Promises are made to be broken in the New Order and you can bet your G.O.D. bottom dollar that the authorities won't make it conducive for anyone to redeem their vouchers, what with all their bureaucratic red tape! And now I can't even escape to Alexandria and work through books in the History Department as promised. Why? Because Danial's taken it upon himself to be the one and only representative from Atalanta. I heard a rumour that he'd met someone over there – hard to think of any female being interested in the likes of that miserable old so and so, but it would certainly explain why he's got to go every time and not me. I wanted to see the underwater museum of Cleopatra's sunken palace, it's right there by the harbour, but naturally I didn't get to see it on my one and only trip there. You know Billy, they've got transparent tunnels on the sea bed that you walk through and apparently you can see everything just lying there, similar to the way it was way back then; I suppose I'll never see it now. I'm beginning to hate my job.” He heaved a sigh and after a few moments Billy broke the silence gently.

Feeling better now all that's out? Look at it this way mate, any job's better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. We've just come through the mother of all meltdowns and there are others far worse off than we are. I don't exactly come to the end of a day feeling happy as Larry, but it's something to do for a crust. Now, are you going to sit in here all day being a geek and feeling sorry for yourself, perhaps throwing plates at the four walls, or are you coming walkabout with me down to The Sub and make the most of the few hours left in the day, my shout?”

I need a run, come on Bill, don't be a couch potato all your life' come for a jog with me. A lap round the perimeter of the pyramid will do you the world of good, old boy. If the water's clear we might even get to see a mermaid or two!”

I'll give it a miss, but I'll catch you later mate; you gotta eat after all.”

Right, but not at The Sub unless you want an office party. I'll see you in darkest Africa at Jungle Jim's Pith Helmet Bungalow, tucker's good and they've got belly dancers, tropical cocktails, the works. Meet you there in a couple of hours.” Billy hesitated,

No beer?”

Of course beer, my shout.” said Joric.

No worries, see y'later.” said Billy as he backed out of the door. “Does that mean yes or no?” asked Joric.

Yes, if it's your shout. Catch you at six.”

Joric needed air, real air. He put on his running shorts and checked the weather on the net. Cloudy but no rain, yeah he'd go for a run on the mainland then join Aussie Osborne at Jungle Jim's. They'd be the only white faces there amongst the crowd of up and coming refugees, but at least they'd have a break from those tiresome and dumb DoubleMs.


11


'And don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in a spin

and there's no telling who that it's namin.'

The Times They Are A-changin' -Bob Dylan


SPINNING WHEEL ...What goes up must come down

-D Thomas

Tuesday Noon Bruges


Kay


Kay's head was spinning with the impossibility of it all. She needed a Rumpelstiltskin to help her spin straw into gold to be able to afford the trip that she had to make. She sat by the phone waiting for her Poppa to call back.

Tough and tender Poppa. His dear missionary daughter had always been able to wrap him around her little finger, and he was the only one besides the Lord who could help her out in this mission impossible. Perhaps she should make that both her Poppa and her Lord, well, definitely the Lord through His willing servant Poppa.

Kay's beloved father was still an active company executive in Newworld York, now into his third year of grace at the age of seventy three. He was gainfully employed from nine to five, five days a week at the minimum salary prescribed by law. In the State adopted Oriental tradition of mature leadership, there still had to be room for proven leaders of worth; after all, Sol himself was one of them, and as he had saved the world from disaster in the eyes of the populace, exceptions had to be made. Naturally, those still legally and gainfully employed had their relevant authority's express permission. The legislative voluntary euthanasia due to unemployed old timers was just another brilliant idea that could only have come from the mind of Sol Benevento; ironic that outside of leadership he had few contemporaries.

Citizens over the age of seventy were classified as the Elderly Challenged. A census had been taken of all men and women who were seventy-plus and thereafter each was assigned to a local state hospice of departure where they took part in a compulsory course especially designed to take them forward into their next life. Dubbed by Poppa as The Pursuit of Happiness for Dummies, the manual revealed an eclectic mix of doctrines including that of a Japanese Buddhist cult going by the dubious name of the Value Creation Society which equated absolute faith with immediate material benefit. Apparently NO considered this useful in drawing into its ranks those who had previously subscribed to the now frowned-upon Western church cultures espousing a prosperity doctrine tantamount to naming and claiming wealth, health and whatever else one fancied. A sprinkling of Stoicism was added for good measure, teaching that man's happiness lay in accepting the law of the universe, the brotherhood of man and the ultimate absorption of his spirit into the greater World Spirit of the ether, on its Odyssey of evolutionary reincarnation. All dovetailed beautifully with NO's world-view envisioning of an ecumenically united people of every permitted persuasion. Naturally there were those who protested against the euthanasia programme, but the State claimed justification by Biblical godly wisdom, after all, the Scriptural text affirmed man's intended lifespan as three score years and ten.

An added advantage was that the elderly would no longer be a burden to their children, thus relieving their offspring of any guilt they might feel in being unable or unwilling to care for their elderly parents.

The high-rise hospice blocks going up all over the world like salt and pepper pots, went under the franchise name of Happy Valley Holiday Inns. They were said to be well equipped medically, with many plus factors; free introductory Sufi courses were provided with daily readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Arts, crafts and other hobbies could be pursued in the activity halls and at the end of it all, inmates would be escorted to the luxury departure lounge. Outgoing members of society were linked with personal destiny gurus, who gave guidance, encouragement and moral support to the inmates as they progressed on their journey towards the final exit from an overcrowded world.

Interfaith Arian Universal priests from the former Catholic and Anglican or Episcopalian denominations were on hand to perform Arian Universal last rites. Signed permission for the voluntary euthanasia was obtained by these facilitators and attached to the reverse side of death certificates, which were duly completed by State General Practitioners. As might be expected, an Honorary Dearly Departed Ledger was kept in which the names of the deceased were recorded. Inmates had free accommodation with only a third deducted from their state pensions for food, medical supplies and sundries. The seventy-pluses were to be the only people allowed cash in hand during the next five years; they were on their way to a different kind of cashless society and would find it difficult to adapt to the new system. For the rest of the population it would be a case of adapt or die!

Weekend visiting rights were limited to family and friends who could afford the hefty seniors tithe to be paid monthly by debit order, a tithe that would go towards the upkeep of their loved one.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom, seniors could sit and reminisce in the comfort of luxuriously furnished visiting lounges situated on the first floor of each block. Naturally the visitors themselves were strictly confined to the first floor. There were no internal stairs at the hospices because of the difficulty the inmates might have in climbing them; all that was needed was just one lift and one public security exit per block, administered by State uniformed wardens. In accordance with stringent health and safety standards, an external stairway could be accessed from each floor by way of a heavy security door, to which only wardens had keys.

Mr Cubert, that grand old gentleman who was Kay's Poppa, was certainly not one of these puppet Patriots of Parity being herded into hospices, and was still equal to the task of manfully defying the iniquitous system with its Godless regime, snapping at the Achilles heel of the bondage broken by his Saviour and making a stand for what was legitimate in God's Book. He was a sterling example of true freedom to the casualties of global upheaval, and his failed Wall Street business colleagues. Discouraged and despairing, they were offered a lifeline, a rope of hope as he and his equally stalwart wife spoke boldly of the one and only true God, at the same time offering practical help, legal and otherwise. Mr and Mrs Cubert were certainly not folk who were 'so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good!'

Poppa wouldn't for a moment play devil's advocate by advising men to bow to the system, he didn't believe in checkmate, he believed that only God could level the playing field for His children. No, this fine role model would have nothing to do with manifest evil strutting around in uniform, and he would brook no systematized bullying.

But how Poppa loved his grandchildren! Terry and Abigail had spent the best holidays of their lives with Pops and Nana when he flew them across to Newworld York. They had driven all over ex-America, doing everything he could think of that was fun, exciting and illuminating. Pops almost went back to a second childhood, climbing mountains, fishing, swimming, camping and barbecuing with his grandchildren, doing all the things he hadn't done for years, in the fresh air and purity of God's as yet unspoilt world. Kay had been their only child, so Terry and Abigail were the last in the family line they could treat to the treasures of life.

Kay was almost asleep and dreaming again when the phone rang next to her. She lifted the receiver,

The Brelli household, Kay speaking.” Her voice trembled.

Honey, what is it?” Poppa's dear, reliable, strong voice was music to her ears.

Poppa!” Kay burst into the tears she'd been holding back since four-thirty that morning. Her father held on, as all the pain poured from her soul, releasing the tension that had been mounting all day into the present early afternoon.

That's right sweetheart, whatever it is let it all go and then tell Poppa everything. I can wait.” Kay regained her composure and began by asking,

Poppa, have you heard of Isis Sky Pyramid One? That place they were building out in space?”

I read an article about it in Universal Time magazine. Ultra modern, described in glowing terms,” he replied.

It seems it's operational now, and they've taken Bobby there!” Poppa remained calm for his daughter's sake, gently encouraging her to tell the whole saga of the morning's sad and sorry events.

And you want to go there and be with him?”

Yes, but Poppa it costs a fortune!”

Right, and who knows how much longer we'll be around to spend a fortune! I have a few investments, put money into gold as soon as I realized what was happening in the world, I think I can do something honey, just leave it to me.”

But Poppa – how could I take it from you?”

Katie my love, how much longer do you think I have left on this planet? I can't take anything with me when I go now can I? Use it, it might just be the kind of investment that God would approve right now!”

Oh Poppa!” said Kay, bursting into tears once more.

No more tears now, you have arrangements to make, packing to do. Leave the rest to me, you'll get your ticket.”


12


'Most men live lives of silent desperation.'

-Thoreau


FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE ...is falling for make-believe

-L Hart


Tuesday Afternoon Ostend


Joric


As the sub-train surfaced on its way to Ostend, Joric's thoughts turned to Abigail. He wondered what she'd be doing on her day off, perhaps he'd even bump into her on the beach. If so, would his guilty feelings over what had transpired after he'd left her show through his otherwise calm exterior? It had gone better than expected with Courtney, but she'd left without saying goodbye so that was probably that. Pity, but perhaps his destiny lay elsewhere and true love had been awaiting him all along in that quaint little shop on the mainland – he'd be sure to visit again tomorrow!

He exited the station and made straight for the beach, thinking about the ladyloves that had been part of his life since he'd relocated to Atalanta. The obligatory Unattached listing on his mobile phone profile, upgraded at great expense to State-Mate-Candidate status, certainly hadn't got him the compatibility he desired despite his classification as an 'Elite Bachelor of Distinction.' His dating profile had also been Face2Facebook enabled and, like everything else down-under, was connected to Communications HQ. The privileged upgrade hadn't been such a good idea after all as it had taken away his last vestige of privacy in a world where ordinary citizens had no civil rights in the prevailing eyes of uncivil officialdom. Tired lately of the buzzer buzzing between visiting hours of 8-10pm, he'd more often than not chosen to activate the 'Do Not Disturb' sign at his front door.

Moral twinges of conscience pricked his old fashioned sense of gallantry, he'd always aspired to be an English gentleman of integrity. Ye gods! Here he was, being slowly worn down by the frequency of Elite Hits on his profile status by candidate dates whose names, sad to say, were as good as jettisoned the moment they walked out of the door. He'd seldom got beyond round one where potential State-Mates made a formal booking for coffee with a view to comparing notes. Round two began with the tricky cyber-filling in of the follow-up form, recording the mutual interest shown by the would-be mates, this was then forwarded to Face2Face@HQ.com. Not even once had Joric got to round three where suitable candidates could apply for a three-month Coupled-Room-mates Trial. Successful graduation from round three led to the privilege of upgrading to a Cohabiting duplex apartment, commonly referred to as a Habitat.

Outdated and outmoded, weddings had been replaced by a Cohabit Observance Ceremony, legitimately performed at some suitable destination. The elite who still hankered for a romantic ceremony, would sometimes wing it to recommended venues like the Eiffel Tower, after they'd been formally licensed as Cohabitants at the nearest municipal authority to their allocated Google Street Map residence. There were incentives and a certain standing that came with the territory of superior Habitat living, and 'tying the knot' meant a salary increase plus tax cuts for civil servants like Joric. But perhaps Joric no longer needed to go through the official dating channels, a possible option had arisen on the mainland!

He ran along the beach, the wind blowing away the cobwebs and civic headaches of his mind-games. No Abigail in sight so far. His thoughts once again turned to the work situation. Perhaps Billy was right, Joric had no time for interviews on the mainland, and who knew for sure what the actual situation was outside Atalanta. Better the devil you knew.

Joric had landed his job by putting himself under 'A' in the questionnaire, which immediately qualified him for the short list from a flood of applicants. 'A' stood for Atheist or Agnostic, whereas 'B' stood for Believer in some kind of religion which one was thereafter called upon to specify. Worse in the eyes of officialdom was 'C' which stood for Chrétien or Churchgoer, a tick in that category meant the further revelation of denomination. Joric had to admit to himself if no-one else, that he'd once been confirmed in the Anglican Church, not that that really counted for much, it had just been the thing to do at the time. He didn't claim to be an atheist, he was more like a weak-kneed agnostic with no convictions to be courageous about. Joric would describe himself as somewhat cerebral but not too highbrow, in fact, rather well-balanced overall.

History was Joric's first love, and he'd been so chuffed at getting the history position that he hadn't bothered to check the employment terms and conditions of service written in small print on the back of the document he'd been required to sign. One definitely ought to do those little checks and balances or one might end up losing one's head, according to the grim truism doing the rounds. No one seemed to know where this had originated - hopefully not from the Top!

It wasn't so much the long hours that made him disgruntled, but what he considered to be the unfair bias against him. Danial, his Middle-Eastern History Section Head, also hailed from Greater London, but Danial's humbug mindset confirmed that they regrettably had nothing in common. Much of middle management was Arabic speaking, having been head-hunted from either the New World University of Cairo or Prince Al Azazel's University in Mafraik.

Section Heads generally became enlightened Free-Mystery initiates of The Pursuit along with their seniors, all of them lodged together in exclusive secret society chapters with their HQ in Newworld York, made up of politicians, lawyers, and other bigwigs in NO and consequently in the know. It was generally seen to be a business friendly organization and had plenty of clout, as experienced by the few people who had crossed it in one way or another.

The pursuit of happiness had been an ideal adopted by the Americans in their old Declaration of Independence, but the happiness they'd been pursuing was almost glib by comparison with the NO version. In line with its aim of establishing a new Roman Empire, the State had adopted the recommendations of ancient Rome's most distinguished Epicurean teacher, a man by the name of Lucretius. To his version of the pursuit of true pleasure had been added a few ideas in the spirit of Robespierre and the marriage of ideals had formed The Pursuit now being realized by privileged card-carrying members of the ruling civil servant class called The Upper Echelons. In the 'helping hand' of the New Order it had become a dangled carrot of induced encouragement to climb the ladder to new levels within NO's promising infrastructure of the New Age.

Despite his absolute power Sol Benigno Benevento wasn't your typical control freak, even cutting his subjects some slack to enjoy the good things life had to offer now that the global stock market crash was a thing of the past. Heard through the grapevine of all the king's money-men, was that stresses and strains caused by credit crunches were strictly a thing of the past. This probably accounted for Sol being universally fêted as the financial fundi that had miraculously steered the global community through treacherous times to reach this state of Utopia, taking all the credit and most of the loot for himself in the process. Turning things around had necessitated a bloodless coup according to Sol, enforced by a State of emergency that would probably never be fully lifted.

The Oneworld state of affairs was now headed by the experienced Sol Benevento, the hail-fellow-well-met kind of populist the proles wanted. However, Sol might not have been the Fed Reserve And Nonaligned Kabahla System's first choice. It had appeared that FRANKS had been grooming another Mediterranean Sol for the take-over, in the persona of the Iberian Sauvier Solares, a name meaning Eastern Wind, but he'd been nick-named The Javelin. However, Benevento had been the one to become the figurehead front man of the Oneworld in the wake of his rival's unfortunate elimination by a Basque assassin. Bereft of their prime candidate, could it have been that FRANKS' public representative, a modern-day J P Morgan, had instructed that their compromised choice be instated?

Still, the populace were happy and the entire former third world hoped against hope that silver-tongued Sol could and would work miracles for them. The popularity of this 'ever present tense leader' with his 'your wish is my command' appeal, gave rise to the shortened version of his Christian name and surname to 'So Be.' This soon became Sol's Hallmark, the cap fitted so he wore it as he lead the quest for instant gratification by example.

The family tradition of Sol's Levantine prophet, Prince Has'seen bin Ali Abdullah Haddad, was 'Raghad' meaning the comfortable life. This lifestyle well suited that of Benevolence Himself and his household. Sol's liberal encouragement to stimulate the economy was, 'If you like it, have it! So be it!' This went down well with jaded Westerners who traditionally liked to look to the East for spiritual inspiration.

Even the oldest profession helped fill the State coffers, as pimps were outlawed in the regulated practice of the chief of pleasure industries, and the ladies of both night and day paid hefty 'sin' taxes. If they didn't co-operate they were sent off to do an honest day's work in labour colonies on the New Frontiers of the Arctic and desert zones.

Joric's musing came to an end, Abigail was nowhere to be seen, perhaps she'd opted for a day at home with the family. Oh well, nothing else for it but to go home, take a shower and join Billy for some male bonding at Jungle Jim's.


The sound of djembes and congas throbbing their way through the evening got louder and louder as Joric approached Jungle Jim's Pith Helmet Bungalow. The ethnic eating and drinking place had been built to resemble an African rondavel, not made with cow dung over a frame of branches however, but nevertheless built with wooden split poles – quite impressive for artificial Atalanta! Thatch covered the beams forming the roof, and the whole was surrounded by fake tropical greenery and multicoloured flowers.

He reached the entrance and walked into the dimly lit interior. Guys and gals were sitting on benches that encircled bright green, orange, red and yellow plastic palm trees that sprouted coconuts housing light bulbs that gave the place a festive glow. Billy had arrived before him and was seated at the bar with another white guy, his back turned to the entrance.

Blimey, if it isn't the limey again!” yelled Emile from behind the bar.

Hi Emile! Crowded tonight!” Joric shouted back.

Always crowded man! This is where the action is, no fun in a white man's joint! Your usual? Black Mamba?”

Thanks Emile!”

Billy's companion turned round and Joric had to stop himself from leaving right there and then, for seated right next to his naive Aussie friend was Mike the spike, a high ranking Federal agent from the socio political department whose fearsome reputation went ahead of him.

Joric mate! This one's on me, you must be as dry as an old lady's talcum powder! Have you met Mickey Blue Eyes? Saw him standing all dressed up and no-where to go looking as happy as a bastard on father's day. Reckoned he needed a dose of lunatic soup and asked him to join us! After all, he's a Brit like you. Gotta stick together in a place like this.”

Whatever was bungling Billy thinking of now? One didn't mix with the likes of Mike. Joric's thoughts turned to the book still hidden in his briefcase. He hadn't dared take it out in his apartment with surveillance covering his every move.

Good to meet you Joric. Billy's been telling me all about you. Historian I believe?” Mike was politely formal, guarded might be a better word. What on earth was he doing associating with the likes of Billy at Jungle Jim's of all places?

Yes, guilty, historian. Mike, this is a surprise. I wouldn't have thought a joint like this would be your cup of tea.” Was he here on duty – an undercover spy? Not that Joric had anything to hide – except the book.

As Billy said, I was at a loose end, needed company. Anyway, it's good to know what goes on elsewhere in one's neighbourhood. My first time, it's very - um – colourful here and we all need a bit of colour in our lives. Here, take a pew.” Mike brought a third bar stool over and Joric sat down, taking a slug of the Black Mamba that Emile had brought. Mike was very friendly on the surface, but his body language suggested that something was bothering him; he seemed ill at ease, as if hiding some deep dark secret. Oh well, that was his business and he obviously had no intention of sharing it. Joric decided to simply relax and enjoy the evening, indulge in small talk and not think about that book, burning a hole in his briefcase back home.


13

'But what's puzzling you is the nature of my game,

I've been around for a long, long year, stole many a man's soul and faith.'

-Jagger/Richards

THERE'S METHOD TO MY MADNESS ...look inside my hell,

subliminal suggestions,

you learnt to play along

-Bator/James


Wednesday Morning Atalanta


Joric


Joric arrived at his desk early the next morning amidst ribald shouts of “Watcha do yesterday then you dark horse?” and other more seedy insinuations. He ignored them, interested only by the memo lying in his in-box. He was to report to Danial with his document on the activities of William Wilberforce and the slave trade. He knocked on Danial's door.

Enter,” came the curt reply. Danial was not a happy chappy, obviously his day off hadn't done him much good.

Start work on the French Revolution immediately, highlight the brilliant work of Robespierre.” said Danial tersely, at the same time handing him an envelope in exchange for Joric's document, “We need to step up the replacement programme, not enough hours in the day.”

'Good morning to you too,' thought Joric. He went to the canteen to get a cup of coffee and peruse the contents of the mysterious envelope in private, away from prying eyes, inquisitive minds and loud mouths. He hoped it didn't have anything do with Mike's visit to Jungle Jim's. The canteen was deserted so he settled down in the non-smoking alcove in an easy chair and opened the envelope with the official NO seal.


By order of World Potentate

Sol Benevento Invictus:

His Royal Highness Prince el Has'seen

ben Hadad Abdullah Ali bin Talon, The honourable Prophet and Seer,

to be inaugurated as Pope of Rome

And leader of the new Ecumenical State Religion.

Historical Brief: To re-address the horrors

of the Crusader period, bringing to the fore atrocities committed by Chrétiens

towards those of other faiths.


Nice one! Has'seen as head of Oneworld Religion? Well,'The cowl does not make the monk,' especially one that doesn't show his true colours! Joric wondered what the ex-Catholics would have to say when they saw a Dominionist all dressed up in papal robes. A Saracen Transgordonian prince and grandson of a Syrian king. The words of Byron came to mind, The Syrian came down like the wolf on the fold, gleaming in purple and gold. Obviously he was going to have to write an article justifying the appointment; making it clear that this was a necessary redemptive act on behalf of mankind for the torture and suffering afflicted on those such as the Prince in the dark days of old. If he didn't do a good enough job, Danial would no doubt improve matters in his inimitable fashion. Joric wondered if Sol had been influenced by the old punk song he now began to sing out loud, playing a set of imaginary drums with two teaspoons on the coffee table in front of him;

I'm the picture of health, I'm called the evil one. We start a new religion, now the fun's begun.”

Good morning! Nice rhythm you've got going there!” Oh no, it was Mike, grinning from ear to ear; when did he creep in? “Not a bad voice either, something you wrote?”

Thanks, no. Um - there was this punk band in the UK - quite a long time ago – actually. I was just - well – uh – singing a song they wrote.” He finished lamely. Mike changed the subject, sparing him any further embarrassment.

I see you've received the news about the new Pope. Sol decided it would be in the interests of all population groups to make restitution for the persecutions of the past. I believe you're a mine of information when it comes to Crusader history.”

That period has been of particular interest during my life as an historian.” Joric answered cautiously, wondering if Mike had been sent to monitor his reaction to the news. Mike helped himself to a cup of coffee.

Mind if I join you for ten minutes? I could use the break.” Joric could still see that perturbed look of the previous evening in his companion's eyes.

Just nice to be able to chat to a fellow countryman, an ex-pat who thinks the same way - and has the same sense of humour!” he added with a smile. “I really enjoyed my time with you and Billy last night.”

Joric had marvelled at how much booze Mike had been able to put under his belt and remain sober. Still, he'd mopped it up by tucking into a large helping of the rich gourmet stew on offer, a speciality of Jungle Jim's Congolese kitchen. As a Singular, Mike had told them how uneasy he felt about the dating system in Atalanta, and that consequently he was a bit of a loner. He wasn't at all how one would imagine an agent provocateur to be, unless he was a particularly clever type who could divorce himself from his duties to become one of the lads for other more sinister purposes, yet he seemed to be okay. Joric flattered himself that he was a good judge of character, but one could never be too careful.

Yeah, Billy's a good sort really, uncomplicated, easy going; helps one unwind after a long day at work.” There was a pause, neither knowing quite what to say next. Mike smiled again and asked;

So, what other interests do you have?” Whoa, Joric would have to be careful how he answered.

I don't really have much time to indulge in hobbies these days; I used to paint a bit, landscapes you know, but not much inspiration down here.” They both laughed, “I like music, used to play the drums in a rock band, sang too.”

Hence the earlier performance?” Mike cut in, obviously unable to resist the bait. Joric smiled,

No, my dalliance in the field of music has ended; and you?”

Not at all musical I'm afraid, read a bit of poetry which might seem strange to those that don't really know me, but I also used to paint a bit and - I like fishing.” Oops! Was that a double entendre? The conversation having dried up Mike slapped the arms of his chair and stood up, “Well, my desk is calling me, perhaps we can meet again later? Billy and I are going down to The Sub at about nine, will you be joining us?”

Not tonight thanks, I have plans, but some other time perhaps.” Mike walked slowly back to his office and Joric went to his desk to download his re-search on the Crusades. What was it William Blake had once said? I was in a printing house in hell, and saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation. He wondered how much of his work would remain intact after Danial in the lion's den, had got his paws upon it.


'Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.'

-Shakespeare


14


'Who controls the past controls the future,

who controls the present controls the past.'

-George Orwell

AHAB THE ARAB ...Sheik of the burning sands

-Ray Stevens


Danial


Danial Khazraj sat at his desk surrounded by papers. As sub editor for the History Department he had the job of reading and editing the work of those under him, modifying and streamlining the past in order for it to come into alignment with NO's policy of changing the politico-religious landscape.

It was necessary that the greater percentage of the population be retrained in order that they might embrace the new freedom of NO. History had proven that mankind would continue to fail if left to its own devices and the present policies being enforced upon the masses would lead them into this new kind of freedom. Reading the writings of libertarians would cause the populace to yearn for what was beyond their reach, a state of affairs that would ultimately lead them astray.

There were those with limited capabilities necessitating that they work for others, confined to carrying out menial tasks if unfit for heavy labour. These unfortunates were categorised along with the 'Dysfunctional, Undesirable Deviants from Society' in other words, they were classified as DUDS; it was merely a case of sifting the the chaff from the wheat. Danial looked at the document in front of him concerning the history of the slave trade; William Wilberforce, meddling in socio-politics that he'd never truly understood, had managed to have it abolished completely when it could have been steered. The result had been that not only England but rest of the civilized world had suffered economically.

Convicted criminals were the slaves of the New Order. These were men and women who hadn't had the gumption to work as morally fit members of society and had turned to crime as the easy way out. Crime was never the easy way out, but these persons didn't have the ability to come to terms with the fact. Why allow them to read what was not good for them? They'd only get ideas beyond their station. Adult education classes pioneered in Atalanta, to be taken to the world at large in a few months time, taught them a new PoP way of living, with each individual slotting in as true Patriots of Parity.

The Chrétien Bible carried some good messages, but was dangerous in that it brought about dissatisfaction. Admittedly the ethical teacher upon whose words the New Testament was based had delivered some important advice, he was even mentioned as a prophet in sacred verses of the Dominion religion of which Danial was a devotee. But there'd been a greater prophet than he, one who'd come later to speak the final word to mankind. It was the task of world leaders to root out the decadence of the West and give every man his proper place in the social order, yes, the liberal infidel forces of the West had to be routed. Those who chose to rebel against measures for social stability could become the workers condemned to do the necessary jobs that no-one else wanted to do, a punishment that would benefit humanity and steer the fallen back to moral integrity, thus keeping the gaols empty.

Danial respected his immediate senior Mushtaq insofar as he was a member of the Dominion religion and one who held an honorary military rank whilst working as a plain clothes civil servant. Naturally his standing in society and level as a civil servant had led to him becoming a high ranking member of The Pursuit who had an A-plus behind his name by benefiting through advanced studies in Accelerated Attainment. However, Danial did not appreciate the ruthlessness shown by his boss when he gloated over violent acts committed by fanatics in the name of Dominion. He moreover disliked Mushtaq's stock joke on Westerners that their hero and captain of business, Henry Ford, was known to have said that history was more or less bunkum. As a supposed historian, Mushtaq should have quoted him verbatim, History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that's worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today. Generally unbeknown to the West was the fact that both Ford and his son had been Socialist Marxists, striving together with a group of American and English bankers to engineer the establishment of a fascist new world order. Next to The Recitations, Danial's university studies had been sacrosanct, and it riled him to hear history being rubbished by the man who just happened to be Head of the History department.

Unfortunately, due to the counter-revolutionary threat, it had fallen to him to bend history like Beckham; not that he would've dreamt of doing anything of the kind in his salad days when he'd been a zealous student and 'green in judgement!' Someone had once said that happy was the country which had no history, but cutting and snipping away at it certainly wasn't the 'pursuit of happiness' that disillusioned Danial was looking for. During his later Empire studies at the NO Lyceum, he'd felt distinctly uncomfortable during a lecture highlighting worrying aspects of Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius' notion of Hades as being 'a disturbing error and mere superstition, the great obstacle to calm of mind.' The quasi-religious State of NO was in fact a Baha'i sanctioned mishmash of multicultural faiths and only barely acceptable to the purist Daniel in that the Baha'i faith was a Dominionist sect. However, he perceived Lucretius's notion of Hades to be a truth suppressing and deadly dose of Atheism - an anathema to Danial, good Dominionist that he was. Alas, NO's religious professors continually parroted Lucretius's version of Epicurean doctrine to keep its ignorant Patriots of Parity in a becalmed state of blissful oblivion. It would seem that Prophet Prince Has'seen, in the guise of chameleon Doctor Feel-good, recommended a merry lifestyle of eating and drinking for the reason that tomorrow we die. For the poor have-nots struggling to put food on the table, the good Doctor of Divinity prescribed the application of perseverance in pursuing pleasure by taking the Helping Hand and climbing the ladder. Perseverance was, after all, a NO virtue like patience and long-suffering.

Danial had recently read the work of an eminent historian who'd also been obsessed with injecting the spirit of Utopia into humankind, a man by the evocative name of Rosevalium who no doubt chose to see the world through rose coloured spectacles! Interesting that the latter part of his surname was given to a tranquillising drug upon which so many misguided souls had come to rely. Rosevalium had worked towards a time when his concept of collective well-being for all would be the order of the day, but his surveys had indicated that the majority sought nothing more than the individual happiness that could be realised in 'a smile from their children' or 'a kiss from their partners.' Despite this contradiction, NO was only too happy to adopt his philosophy to help window dress the Oneworld. It effectively anaesthetised the reality of tense situations on the ground, but for Danial on the front-line of the struggle, who unhappily accepted that drastic measures had to be taken to keep the peace, mindless excesses that would show up Dominion in a bad light were unacceptable.

Danial thought of himself as a moderate, he was a pure Arab and unlike Mushtaq, did not condone some of the more violent acts committed in the name of Holy War by the Musta'rabs. The pure lineage of Arabs known as the 'Arab arebahs,' stemmed from Joktan, great grandson of Shem who in turn was a son of Noah. The Joktanites left Mesopotamia and settled in the Arabian Peninsula. Some later left for Egypt following a crisis when a local dam burst, and it was in Egypt that the noble Khazraj family had their roots. Danial's given name was Pakistani in origin and although Saracen and not Yehudith, it might have originated from the lost ten tribes of Ibri driven from the land of The Prince's Dominion, many of which ended up in the Pakistani region; in fact with a common Pakistani name like Denial, most of the office staff had assumed he'd gone to England from Pakistan with the exception of John-Eric! Mushtaq was a Musta'rab, a so-called secondary Arab, sometimes disdainfully referred to as a 'pretend Arab.' Danial's lineage had preceded that of the Musta'rabs who were descendants of Abraham through his son Ishmael and grandson Adnan, who'd started the Adnanite clan. The Musta'rabs had settled in what was to become the Dominion city of pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of Abraham, his Egyptian wife, Hagar and their son Ishmael. Interestingly, the prophet of Dominion was descended from an Adnanite Arab. Danial being of the upper-class did not mix socially with the many Musta'rabs in Atalanta and for him the office was a lonely place.

Danial's immediate junior was John-Eric. Irritating man with an attitude of superiority even though he was his junior in both years and station. On their first meeting he had committed the unforgivable faux pas of asking him if he were a Ha-kodeshite! 'The name Danial' he'd replied, spelling his name out loud, 'Is not Ha-kodesh and neither am I!' This - in front of Mushtaq who'd just introduced them and could barely conceal a sneer! Semitic-looking he may be, but surely the man should have had more tact than to assume the details of his Semitic standing. Both he and John-Eric had been British citizens, Danial having finished his university education in England. But Danial's Egyptian father hadn't sent his son to public school – big deal – junior John-Eric's posh accent and University education didn't count for much down in Atalanta.

Danial sighed and poured himself a glass of distilled water. His work was a literal drop in the ocean. He just couldn't imagine how the literary team would be able to accomplish the mammoth task of editing every book that had ever been published, transferring all that was still considered acceptable to DVD. Only the Lord of the Universe knew how many books, magazines and pamphlets were still out there. Raids would begin soon, and anyone with any reading matter still in their possession would be opening themselves up to severe disciplinary measures. Most books had been shredded or incinerated with just one copy of each left to line the shelves of the off-limits New Royal Library of Alexandria, appropriated for the purpose. The eight million books it had previously housed had already been sorted, sifted and stored. Frequent public bonfires where particularly subversive literature was burned served to rouse the support of the rabble to vindicate the State's stance.

Danial the Egyptian had decided that it wasn't necessary for anyone other than himself to fly to the place he still regarded as home. He could handle the research that needed to be done there, and he didn't want anyone knowing of his ulterior motive in going so frequently. For him, the 'Pearl of the Mediterranean,' harboured more than the ambience of the romantic times when Anthony and Cleopatra lived and loved. Danial had been something of a Thespian at university and he'd acted in Shakespeare's play of the same name as a member of the Egyptian Queen's court, that was when he'd met his ladylove, Amasi, Arabic for flower, who'd played the title role.

As for the books being gathered there, one day even they would be no more. Danial understood the reasoning behind liborum prohibitorum, but he was certainly going to miss his books.


15


'Wise men say only fools rush in,

but I can't help falling in love with you.'

-G Weiss/H Peretti/L Creatore


PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER ...People say

that love's a game,

a game you just can't win

-Paul Anka


Wednesday Afternoon Atalanta


Joric


It was late afternoon, not that one could tell down below in Atalanta. Without a watch one might be forgiven for not knowing when the days began and ended. However, there were digital clocks displayed on every corner and right now Joric was off to catch the five-fifteen sub-train to the mainland.

One of the perks of the job was being allowed to skip compulsory after-hours adult education classes, and another perk of this particular day had been that Danial hadn't given him any uphill and had even cracked a wry smile when his junior had handed in his paper on the Crusades, maybe tongue in cheek but a glimmer of a smile nevertheless.

Joric had decided to give all candidate dating proposals a miss for the time being, motivated as he was to revisiting the lovely lass on the mainland, with the hope of scoring for a change.

He walked briskly to the sub station, crossing lanes with impunity as the battery tri-cars had to stick to a twenty kilometres per hour speed limit, not that they could go fast enough to create a pedestrian problem. He noticed that a few palm trees had been positioned around the unnatural green grass of Station Park, looking as real as the other trees that lined the pavements. Here a few school kids were kicking a soccer ball about which seemed to spend most of its time amongst the fabric roses in the flowerbed. Not much damage could be done to the colourful plants, but it did make the notoriously trigger-happy SHIELD security officer look fidgety as he leant against the wall of the railway police station. A keep-off-the-grass sign was prominently displayed, but because there were warning signs everywhere, the kids probably hadn't taken much notice of it. Joric wondered why they hadn't gone to play on the Astroturf field just down the road which had goal posts. With all the adults at class, no games were being played there right now, so they would've had plenty of space in which to run around.

Joric boarded the waiting train, looking forward to surfacing again in the Channel above sea level and hopefully catching a few rays of sun, before hotfooting it to Abigail's shop.

Back again in the hustle and bustle of rush-hour city dynamics, Joric embarked on his usual jog from Ostend station to the right end corner of the beach, the wind from the ocean fresh on his face. Sadly, he was not to run alongside the criss-cross current that this weather would bring, exulting in the hurly-burly waves crashing onto the long shoreline. No, the lure of the beach and the wild weather wasn't quite as strong as it had been a few days ago.

A few hundred metres further and the first few drops of rain splashed and spluttered uncertainly down upon his head. There'd be no sunset to enjoy this evening, time to turn round and head in another direction, he'd had enough exercise to get his circulation up and running again and he certainly wasn't going to idle away his limited time today. In magnetic anticipation, he predictably turned in the direction of Second Hand Rose, the place of faded magnificence, and fresh hopes and dreams.

The object of his desire was serving a few customers with that smile of great beauty he'd mistakenly thought she reserved for knights on white steeds such as himself. He walked past and hovered outside the shop next door. Should he go and buy her some flowers before - the fool that he was - rushed in? That would be impossible, he'd forgotten for a brief moment that he'd given away the last of his cash to a complete stranger in a mad moment of generosity; anyway, waltzing in with flowers would be over the top and far too presumptuously romantic. He glanced up and took in the name written above the door; Abigail Brelli.

Joric's mind spun strands of impossible gold. Could the book's author, Robert Brelli, Doctor of Divinity, possibly be her father or at the very least, her uncle? He'd met Dr Bob Brelli, could R. and B. be one and the same? The chap he'd met had indeed had a daughter, but it certainly hadn't been Abigail. If perchance the good Doctor was indeed closely related to her, it would make for a wonderful topic of conversation and be the excuse he needed to get to know this pearl of a girl more intimately.

Intimacy! Holy cow, his mind spun off in an inappropriate direction for a few moments and, hey diddle diddle, his heart leapt over the moon! Oh-oh, he really should move away from his close encounter fantasies of the physical kind. He'd dipped into the book so that he might be 'on the same page,' not that he was an authority on the subject matter by any stretch of the imagination, yet sensuality dictated that he bowl the maiden over, by fair means or foul!

Perhaps he should give himself a little homily before entering the shop. He needed to pull his thoughts together if he were going to win the lovely hand of one who'd save him from the Sirens that lived at the lower level beneath the sea in Atalanta, ever calling from their rocky platform, for he was no Odysseus to escape them. Thank goodness, Joric had his lifeline to save him from being tongue-tied and he hoped there'd be no more customers that evening so they could chat for longer than the last time they met.

There was now only one customer left in the shop, a rather refined middle-aged man, so Joric decided it was safe to go inside.

Where on earth did you find it?” The gentleman was saying as he enthused over his purchase, Abigail was just as entranced by the piece she was wrapping. With her patron finally about to say goodbye, Joric could at last say hello, but as the gentleman left the shop Joric found himself jumping in at the deep end with that rather trite and tired old line -

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?” Ouch! The lady laughed and replied,

"I don't think so.” If he had, he certainly hadn't made any kind of impression.

Where did you go to school?”

Old England.” He was hot on her trail now.

London?”

Nope, went to boarding school opposite the Westonbirt Arboretum in Old England's Cotswold countryside.”

Oh wow - he'd been to the Arboretum on a school outing once, to see one of the most comprehensive collections of trees. Adolescently longing to flirt with everything in a skirt, he and his motley, spotty gang of oglers had seen some local schoolgirls lingering near the entrance! With all the luscious lovelies that had taken his juvenile heart up and down, Joric couldn't possibly have retained the ethereal image of just one nubile young maiden, or could he? But it was that mystically fresh look, the otherworldly glimpse he'd first caught of her that now tantalised him, he remained unable to place that elusive moment. Never mind, he should move on before Abigail thought he was mentally challenged, and hastily changed the subject.

Er - how's business? Shipshape and Bristol fashion?”

Yes, business is okay, considering all the red tape I have to contend with, like keeping meticulous records for the inspectors.” Oops, Joric hoped she hadn't recorded his purchase of a religious book. But she didn't know his surname, and of course sweet Abigail would never have done anything like that. Now the ice was broken he was Mr Congeniality himself.

"I saw your surname above the door, it's Brelli isn't it?"

Yes.” There was a pause so Joric continued,

And you just happen to be the proprietor of Second Hand Rose, dealer in antiques and collectables?”

Right again.” So, she ran this little operation all on her own, the lady had chutzpah!

"My surname's Ellis, as in John-Eric Ellis.”

Joric for short,” they both chorused.

Well, it's nice to meet you, meet you again that is.” he said. She smiled, inclining her head, there were inscrutable twinkles in the dreamy eyes steadily looking back at him. Silence, better get on to the book.

I've been reading the - er - book.” he said leaning forward and whispering the last word. “I was wondering if you - well - believed in – er – held to the same faith as the author, Robert Brelli?" he finished, casting his line and hoping she'd take the bait by admitting that the Doctor was her father. She bypassed the second part of his question and answered,

"Yes and no, I've certainly been brought up in the astonishing faith espoused by the book, but I haven't committed myself to it in any way if that's what you mean. I guess I haven't had the time to think deeply about anything recently, other than getting things up and running, and trying to avoid the resultant bureaucracy attached to owning a shop.” Joric cast his line deeper,

I guess you must be related to Dr Brelli in some way?"

Yes, I am. Author and Doctor of Divinity Robert Brelli, Bob for short, is my father; yep, my Dad.” As he'd suspected, her Dad - hmm - great mind, courageous heart; hard act to follow!

You have a sister?" asked Joric as the family picture began to come together in his mind.

I have a younger sister called Terry, short for Theresa."

That's it! Mystery solved! I met your little sister once and what's more, I've met your Dad twice. First time was at a Crusaders seminar, we engaged in polite conversation over a glass of wine. I'd always imagined vicars to be teetotallers, but then Jesus wasn't was he, in fact he turned water into wine at a wedding, and on top of that he mixed with winebibbers, tax gatherers and prostitutes – the scum of society in fact!” he finished triumphantly, showing off his knowledge of the Scriptures she must have known so well herself. Abigail was obviously not impressed so Joric hastily got back on track.

But Jesus had a plan in all of that didn't he – it wasn't as if he was a loose canon himself. Far from it, as indeed I am sure your father must be – far from it that is.” This slant to the conversation wasn't getting him anywhere, better get back to the Crusades. “I digress, after we'd finished our vino, I asked your father if we could meet up sometime and have a one to one chat about the Crusades. You see, he knew even more about that dark period in history than I did, and I'm supposed to be the expert in that field.” Abigail raised her eyebrows enquiringly. “Yes, 'fraid so, I am an historian, but not too dull and dreary I hope! Anyway, he invited me over for afternoon tea. And it was there that I met your pretty little sister, who just happens to look quite a lot like you. Now perhaps you'll understand why I thought I'd seen you somewhere before and that I wasn't just feeding you a tired old line."

Abigail smiled; first the tantalizing Terry, and now her dazzlingly beautiful big sister drops out of heaven. Abbey of the angelic sounding laughter, very appropriate. Could there be such a thing as love at first sight? He wondered if the feeling was mutual.

Terry and Abbey?” he enquired.

Terry and Abigail,” she replied firmly, “The nickname is reserved for family only.”

Abigail it is then.” He dutifully traded the nickname, addressing her appropriately with the propriety required to properly converse with the prettiest proprietor you could imagine, sitting right there before his eyes like a vision from somewhere in the Solar system beyond the blue. She was independent like himself, with an inner freedom way beyond old Sol's system. His thoughts were running away with him as usual, time to get back down to earth.

Lovely family, met your Mum too, even remember her name! Kay!” That sounded stupid, back to the book. Wait a minute though, although he had a genuine interest in the book, perhaps he should keep that subject for later in case the conversation ran dry. It would be much more fun to talk about her, she was riveting, and Mum had always said that men talked about themselves far too much. 'If one wants to get close to a girl,' she'd advised, 'One should talk about her! Find out about her interests.' Okay Mum, first question coming up.

Which star were you born under?” What kind of dumb question was that? He wished the floor could have swallowed him and sent him to a watery grave when she replied;

Well, if you'd asked my Dad that question when I was still a child, he would probably have answered that I was born under Jesus' star of Bethlehem. He isn't into astrology but he'll always give a tactful and meaningful reply to a question.” Abigail smiled, she must think he was some new age junkie. Having got over that little hiccup, things went quite well for a while until he came out with the ultimate clanger.

I wonder if I might spend the night upstairs in the flat - sort of stay over? I am so enjoying talking to you and at this rate, I might just miss the last train home. We could carry on getting to know each other better, possibly even find out whether we're compatible, after all, we seem to share the same interests?” 'Perhaps we'd score a Perfect Ten,' he surmised, lowering his standards to the level of the lewd DoubleMs. What had brought on such a crass request? Asked of a lady, who obviously shared her parents' values.

I don't think that would be possible.” She took a breath and a crushing pause during which all Joric could think of was heading for the door. She'd obviously inherited her father's tact and his gift of answering awkward questions gracefully, for she continued unabashed.

Terry helped me move in above the shop yesterday and she's staying over tonight to help me arrange things. She just went out to the shops for a short while and she'll be back soon.” The fact that her sister was staying with her probably saved Abigail the outright embarrassment of having to tell him just where to get off!

Sorry, that was a bit presumptuous of me, bad influences at the workplace, I'm afraid.” What a silly twit he was, a real Roald Dahl Mr Twit. He'd clearly been away from the real world for far too long. Only the book could save him now - if he were not already beyond redemption.

So! Mystery of the Fellowship! Some title isn't it? Some wild ideas too, amazing what vicars can come up with! Most of it lost on the layman though. Must say I found it quite fascinating, you've read it of course?”

I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't. Pastors' daughters aren't always like one might expect them to be! So I'm sorry but I can't really comment.”

His lifeline disappeared down the drain, better go then, even though there was almost another hour before the last train.

Though I'm sure Mum would love to discuss it in depth with you,” she added. Oh no, Abigail had made her decision, she was going to palm him off on her mother. However, he might still be in with a chance, girls were usually very close to their mothers and if he could impress that lady, anything might be possible.

She'd be glad of the company,” Abigail continued, “It might help her to - to take her mind off things for a while, you see, Dad's been apprehended. Wait a minute, change that, she leaves next week for Sky Pyramid One! Pops is organising the fare for the ticket! It'll have to be in three months time when they return, we'll have a welcome dinner with all our friends, you can be my guest and you'll be able to talk to them until the cows come home!” Her bottom lip began to tremble.

Hang on – you say Bob's been arrested and Kay's off to Sky Pyramid One? PoPs? You mean to say a Patriots of Parity organisation is funding the fare? I'm afraid you're losing me!” Abigail's composure crumbled.

Sorry, I've had to be strong for Mum and Terry, and now here I am talking to someone who's almost a total stranger – and - and -”

Make that a semi-stranger.” Joric cut in hastily, “Sometimes, talking to one of those can be easier and perhaps safer than having to talk to someone you're close to - even if that semi-stranger happens to have been rather insensitively pushing his luck!” he said gently.

What I really need is a friend right now, someone I can trust.” she replied.

I'd be honoured to be your friend, and I think I might just qualify by virtue of the fact that I've met your Dad twice and thanks to you I also have an illegal copy of his book.”

Abigail started to weep softly and Joric put his arms around her and held her close - for all the right reasons. How ironic, he'd longed to hold her since the first time he'd laid eyes upon her, and here she was in his arms with him as her comforter.

This time it was he that turned the shop sign to 'closed,' pulling down the blind and turning the key in the lock. It was he that sat her down in a comfortable chair before making the coffee. He was a good listener for a man, and she needed him to listen right now. Mum would have been proud of him. Abigail poured out the sad story of all that had transpired the day before, and Joric became her friend.


'If there's a way, I'll find it some day and then this fool will rush in.'

-Paul Anka


16


'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.' -Wordsworth


YOU'RE SO YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL ...your eyes that shine

shame the stars above

-A Schroeder/A Silver


Abigail


Thankfully Abigail had regained her composure by the time Terry arrived back at the shop, and Joric was able to leave the two sisters knowing that they'd be strong for each other in the days that lay ahead. As for Terry, surely this wasn't the same girl he'd met only last year? Interesting!

Joric looked at his watch, the last train was about to leave. He started to careen wildly through the rain, crossing the road, risking life and limb, slithering, slipping and finally sliding into the gutter, landing awkwardly on his hands and knees. Damn, late for his train, mustn't swear; with rising panic he now faced the prospect of spending the night wandering the dark streets of the concrete jungle where there'd be no Jungle Jim's Bungalow in which to spend a few leisurely, tropical hours.

The guard was blowing his whistle as he made it onto the platform – phew! One last final leap into an empty carriage and Joric slumped into a seat, out of breath and immensely relieved.

So - Doc Bob had two daughters, Abigail and Terry, not an only daughter as he'd wrongly assumed at the Doc's residence the previous year. Bob had suggested a chat over afternoon tea, a cuppa with the vicar at his home in one of the classier suburbs of Bruges, with standard roses in lovely gardens and architecturally quaint houses. An obvious perfectionist, Dr Brelli had spent a good fifteen minutes giving precise directions on how to get there, the easiest way being by train; Joric's State off-peak railway pass had come in useful at last. He'd dressed smartly for the eagerly anticipated appointment, happy for a day's leave from his desk in Atalanta.

Dr Brelli's home could have graced a picture postcard with its whitewashed gables, charming bay windows and a perfectly tailored garden with vibrant flower beds and fruit trees now resplendent in garments of pink and white blossom, the gentle breeze causing their petals to fall like snowflakes onto a neatly clipped lawn. Joric could visualize the learned doctor taking tea under the trees with fellow theologians, and retired sergeant-majors who clipped their moustaches, hedges and bushes alike into severe shapes.

Joric had been researching the British Colonial occupation of the Crusaders' fort in Acre, and with Brelli's help he was hoping to expand his already considerable knowledge concerning the killing of Semitic prisoners there. Blot on the old country's copybook, a stain on the escutcheon hey what? Why a foreign doctor of divinity should know so much about this gory period of history he couldn't quite fathom. Conceivably, these rarefied types in frocks with dwindling flocks, had plenty of time on their hands.

At the end of the interview, Doc Bob had insisted on introducing Joric to his wife, who'd been busy in the kitchen all afternoon. Suffice to say that Mrs Kay Brelli was just as you'd have imagined a virtuous vicar's wife to be.

As Joric had been about to leave via the kitchen door, Terry had arrived home from school on her bicycle, the mode of transport generally used by students in that region. She'd leant it up against the wall and come inside quietly, as reserved as a theologian's daughter should be in front of guests.

She'd been dressed in school uniform, mini skirt revealing legs that went on forever, fittingly concealed in black tights and looking for all the world like those fresh-faced, desirable young public school girls whose heavy satchels Joric had once lugged to and fro from the library he'd frequented. This had been his way of earning brownie points with the fairer sex, thereby hoping to elicit the favour of their company after studies had finished for the day. Now he was a glorified New Age pen pusher, and slightly more successful in the dating stakes, back then he'd been a rather nerdy bookworm and had had to try somewhat harder. But those had been the good old days, when leisurely afternoons were usually spent with someone soft and sweet, upon whom Joric could lavish all his attention; someone rather like the cute and wholesome looking Terry. Unlike her elder sister, Terry was a brunette, but she still had those big, dewy, blue eyes, so appealing in an American chocolate boxy way. Although she'd looked like a porcelain doll, he'd detected in her steady but shy, wide-eyed expression, that perhaps she wasn't quite as innocent as she looked, tut-tut. Ah well, preacher's kids often did turn out to be a tad naughty. Terry by name and and terrific by nature? The faintest flush had appeared on her fresh young cheeks when they were introduced, but she'd been without guile and unguarded in her responses. It'd seemed to Joric at the time, that she'd quite taken a fancy to him, dashing metrosexual dandy that he was, all dressed up with nowhere to go; somewhat vain perhaps but nevertheless perfectly charming and absolutely harmless in her case what with two alert parents in close attendance.

He could remember the sequence of events as if it were yesterday. She'd put the Dagwood sandwich her Mum had made to one side, flashed him a gorgeous smile and delightfully engaged with him as he tried to be as hip as he could, mustering all the latest slang he knew. How had the conversation gone?

That's a ring-a-ding bling bicycle you've got there! Awesome, a really cool-for-school set of wheels. Way to go!” She'd blushed and giggled ever so slightly at his attempts to be oh so youthfully cool. Then he'd thought he'd better cork it as her seriously high IQ had come to the fore in the repartee that followed; yes, Terry was definitely a straight 'A' student in his book. He hadn't kept quiet though, asking;

Much longer to go? At school that is?”

I'm in my final year.” she'd replied.

Aha! Then you must have some idea as to what career you'd like to pursue. Fashion model perhaps?” 'Goodness gracious how flirtatious!' he'd thought, but Terry had laughed and said,

I'm thinking of studying drama, want to become an actress much to Mum and Dad's horror.” to which he'd sung predictably, impersonating the late Noel Coward as best he could,

Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington, don't put your daughter on the stage!” Mrs Brelli hadn't appeared to be particularly amused so he'd changed tack and continued with, “A Thespian! A Shakespearean actress perchance?” and had then started quoting from Act Two Scene Two of Romeo and Juliet. “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun!” Terry had been on the ball, coming straight back with,

My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words of thy tongue's uttering, yet I know the sound. Art thou not Romeo, and Montague?”

Touché!” he'd responded.

It transpired that she'd played Juliet at school the year before and had been bitten by the theatre bug right there and then. Joric had asked her if she preferred the medium of stage, film or television and she'd replied that as a singer and dancer she had a passion for musicals.

Joric had wondered what she'd look like the following year, out of school uniform, wearing a little black number, and a flippant sexist thought flitted across his mind of slipping her a coin when her Dad wasn't looking, and asking her to phone him and invite him to her twenty-first birthday party! He'd hoped that the bright young lass had a photographic memory and would retain a mental picture of him, he'd certainly taken an inner snapshot of her.

The probably-prophetic professor at his elbow might not have been the archetypal, absent-minded professor he'd appeared to be, and had probably been reading Joric's mind quite accurately from the start, as he'd then skilfully proceeded to ease his guest through the kitchen door, the two of them moving in tandem with Brelli probably hoping that his historian acquaintance would never lay another lustful eye on his precious young daughter, ever again! Doc Bob bid him farewell at his ornate wrought iron gate, after ascertaining he wouldn't get lost on his way to the station for the journey back to his grotty cramped crypt in highly overrated hi-tech Atalanta.

Back then Joric had thought that the Brellis made a fine family, and now there was Abigail. Abigail Brelli, make that Abigail Brelli-Ellis. What a nice ring a double-barrel gave to a name. Where Abigail was concerned, he didn't have to worry about the hazards of looking down an overprotective father's double-barrelled shotgun, he just had to lend a shoulder to cry on. How chauvinist could he be? Were there no limits? There was the poor lass weeping over her dad's disappearance, with her mum about to join him, whilst he indulged in indecent daydreaming! What had happened to the sensitive soul of an hour ago?

Joric had read the rave reviews in Universal Time magazine of the de-luxe Isis Sky Pyramid One. He'd also heard a few rough rumours circulating that had made it sound more like something from the history of Oz, not the Oz that was 'somewhere over the rainbow' either. The rumours revolved around a rainbow of a different hue and culture, the emphasis being on 'cult.'

The DoubleMs hadn't been able to resist the temptation of ragging poor Billy-O about 'The Outback Station' they believed existed there. 'Only convicts are sent to Lucy in the sky, Bill,' they'd said, 'Bit like Australia in the pre-days.' Could history be repeating itself? Possibly, nothing much had changed since the harsh days when uncivilized Western civilization had founded Australia. Still, it was all hearsay and not to be communicated to Abigail, the poor girl had enough to worry about.

Joric made up his mind, he was an Info man and by hook or by crook he was going to glean all the information he could about life on Pyramid One and unearth those secrets kept from Universal Time, a magazine limited to publishing only material that had been State sanctioned. Perhaps everything he needed to know was hidden behind the closed doors of the Socio-Political Science Subdivision. 'Green door, what's that secret you're keeping?'

Could Robert Brelli have really been taken to SP1? The more he thought about it, the more Joric was sincerely beginning to doubt it, and apparently Kay's grandfather had already paid the sky-high fare for her to join him there. But where could he be? And more to the point, where the heck was Kay being sent? The State had the power to take her money and bump her off any time they wanted, and might be planning to do just that. After all, it was obvious that she and many other wives of Pastors were just as dedicated to their faith as Bob and his colleagues were, and what would prevent NO from saying that they'd been victims of a terrorist attack on their way to the shuttle base. There were no scruples behind any of the sweet-talk that the Sol Benevento State dished out!

Funny that the most widely distributed book of all time, was an ideological auto biography written by Benevolence Himself entitled The Fall and Rise of the Pharaoh! No wonder he wanted a pyramid high in the sky, to So Be elevated above all that he surveyed – the man was seriously unbalanced. Come to think of it, he was born under the astrological sign of Libra, the scales, that would account for it; his scales swung between level-headedness and superstition.

Sol had started his working life in law as a lawyer. His metaphysical books referenced in setting about to reshape the world had been two of Plato's political and philosophical treatises, The Republic – blueprint for the Oneworld commonwealth he plotted and planned to create in which he then, flush, sitting pretty and plush, could lord it over; and The Laws, painting the panorama of Utopian state he envisaged.

Once in the pound seats Sol would rope in all sorts of compliant advisors, a company of prophets as it were, who'd be made to complete a refresher course at his planned Grand Plato Academy. Thereafter certain ranks and rungs of what he would term The Upper Echelons would be invited to attend his graduated advisors doubling up as PoP-professors' regular after-hours lectures that would end with happy hour intellectual discussions and drinks all courtesy of Himself, a symposium in the classical sense complete with jingoistic PoP-rousing music, all for the cause of mass-happiness. As the ascended king with the potential to stay in power permanently, Sol wouldn't make the crass mistake of other failed autocrats and pathetic potentates who'd alienated the intellectual class to their own detriment and ultimate dismissal. Once he could call the shots as despot his magnificent Oneworld would be basically broad based, munificently inclusive of all bar any despicably disloyal loose cannons. By sovereign ways and means he'd deal with the rebellious and the radical, be it ever so severe!

He'd always considered Himself perfect for being the man who would be king of something, seeing himself on a par with King Solomon of old, endowed with similar legal prowess and wisdom; but the scales of justice didn't exist for him. Never was mention made of him trampling his competitors underfoot in his single-minded bid for ultimate power, clipping the wings of all who might possibly upstage him in reaching his wildest dream in their own rivalling ambitions of fulfilling their potential.

No sirree! The grandiose role of Regal Eagle was reserved for Sol Himself as the world was far too small a place for the likes of more than one power-hungry, ambitious man. However, if one couldn't beat him, one could always join his Home of the Alliance and Interdependent Liberty, now a one party coalition called H.A.I.L. into which all other political groupings had been assimilated. Rigidly organized in pyramid style from the top down, Sol Benevento was at the pinnacle, in control of all below. Members were free to bring their own particular pet theories into the milieu as long as it was remembered who was boss and whatever was suggested fell into step with his plans and purposes.

The train slid into the station and Joric exited the platform with a nod to the sleepy SHIELD security guard. He was almost at home when the ever inquisitive Billy fell into step next to him.

Hey mate – How'ya goin'? More to the point, how's it goin' with Abigail?” Goodness, this guy had a memory like an elephant!

Abigail is not too good. Her father has been abducted and her mother is flying to..” He paused realizing that too much information at this stage could be dangerous in the mind of a genial fellow like Billy.

Yeah? Flying to?”

Some unknown destination,” Joric finished weakly.

Stone the crows mate, Dad abducted, Mum running off? No wonder the poor Sheila's not goin' good.”

Her dad's a pastor, the Oneworld Government doesn't take kindly to pastors. He's been taken to do some retraining course, his wife's going to join him. But Billy, for once in your life, keep your trap shut.”

Sure thing, mate. No worries, my lips are sealed. On my way to The Sub, fancy a dop?”

Not tonight Billy, got a heavy day tomorrow and some loose ends to tie up tonight.”

Courtney? Or should we make that Corey?”

No you dingbat,” said Joric with a smile, I don't expect to hear from her again. See you at work tomorrow, don't stay out too late now!”

See y'later!”

Joric let himself into his apartment and headed for the bathroom, picking up his briefcase on the way. It was the only place where he still had some privacy.


17


'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate.'

-Mrs Alexander


I'M SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD ...just rolling along,

just rolling along

-Sam M Lewis/ J Young


Thursday Morning Rome


Sol


Sol sat on his bed surrounded by the morning papers. Once again he'd made the front page on just about every Worldwide edition, praise being heaped upon him from all quarters, the world was his oyster and he it's pearl. Oneworld News sported the headline, 'So Be strikes again!' He eagerly devoured the article lauding his recent feat as he sipped champagne and orange juice.

Sol's home town newspaper L'Os-servatore Romano ran a front page picture of him standing in front of The Pantheon which had recently become an ecumenical meeting house for all his adoring Patriots of Parity. In his arms was a two year old infant, and next to him stood his friend and advisor, prince and prophet. Under the photo was written,

'Benevolence Himself graced us with his presence today at the official opening of The New Pantheon. Accompanying him was his esteemed prophet, HRH el Has'seen ben Hadad Abdullah Ali bin Talon. The Prince symbolically baptised the infant as The New Pantheon's first junior member.'

The Pantheon, meaning 'Temple of all the gods,' had originally been built in ancient Rome and was rebuilt in 125 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. The widely travelled Emperor might have intended the Pantheon to be a place of ecumenical worship, a syncretistic gesture to the subjects of the Roman Empire. Ironically the building had been used as a Catholic church since the seventh Century, but Sol had soon changed that.

The Proud Citizen, part of Sol's Publitalia stable, ran an article headed, 'The Pharaoh's Personal Pyramid.' Ah yes, not much was known publicly about that little project! Sol chuckled to himself and walked over to where the plans had been laid out for his inspection. Each morning he was informed of the progress made the day before, and areas of the plan were shaded in as they reached completion.

Sol's obsession with pyramids had earned him the byname of Pharaoh. He was particularly entranced by the greatest of them all, the Great Pyramid of El Giza, al-Jizah. the only survivor amongst the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He was in the process of resurrecting the other six, one by one; a hugely extravagant venture; and a new version of the Rhodes Colossus was now well under way.

Settlement pyramids ordered by the modern-day Pharaoh were springing up in harsh and previously uninhabitable climes, worldwide. His ground breaking oceanic colonization of Atalanta under the sea had been a personal triumph, and now after appropriating public funds, he almost had a pyramid of his own floating in space. The space station now orbiting the earth had replaced the last decommissioned International Space Station and Sol was in the process of having the old ISS2 extensively redesigned, refurbished and enlarged into the shape of a pyramid. Renamed ISIS Sky Pyramid One, it would soon become Sol's castle in the sky where he would reign supreme as 'Master of the Universe.'

Ah yes, Isis, the Egyptian fertility goddess, Sol knew all about her. She was the mother of Horus, the god of light. She was endowed with magical powers and the ability to bring people back from the dead; she was also the daughter of Nut, goddess of the Overarching Sky. The links were all there, even the Roman Pantheon roof had originally been designed to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. Sol's thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a knock at the door.

Enter!” His valet came into the room with breakfast on a silver trolley.

Over by the window please, Giorgio.”

Yes your Obeisance,” came the reply as Giorgio wheeled the trolley to the bay window and began to set the Louis XIV table with a guipure lace cloth, gold cutlery and a bowl of frangipani blossoms, the fragrance of which now mingled with the aroma of the delicious breakfast.

Your Obeisance slept well I trust?”

Oh very well indeed, Giorgio, very well indeed.” Sol replied.

The elderly valet carefully took a plate of oysters from the trolley and placed it on the table along with the coffee and scrambled eggs on toast.”

Just the way you like them sir, not too solid and not too runny!”

Thank you Giorgio,” replied Sol, wearily indulging his loyal manservant,

Not too hot and not too cold, in fact .. ”

Just right” they chorused together,” with Giorgio quite oblivious to the fact that Sol was humouring him,

Finally,” he concluded, “Here is your daily update on the Isis project.”

Excellent! That will be all thank you.”

So Be!” said Giorgio, bowing his way backwards out of the room.

First things first, Sol excitedly opened the report of the previous day's work! Ah! The royal suite had been completed! He took a pencil and coloured in the relevant section on his plan. Not long to go before the living quarters were finished, the hard labour contingency was doing a grand job.

Time to inspect the eggs, done to perfection. Sol ate them with relish before they got cold along with a cup of freshly filtered coffee. Then a squeeze of lemon and a touch of black pepper on the oysters; these were to be enjoyed in a more leisurely fashion and accompanied by a single glass of chilled Dom Perignon.

Soon he'd be breakfasting in The Sol-arium, the top section of his multi-storey pyramid penthouse. Crowned with mirror and glass, his skylight ceiling would enable him to gaze at the heavens above, and 'So Be' master of all that was below, looking down on creation, not that he was a creationist mind. No, he was at the end of an evolution that had rolled along, speeding up from Cro-magnon man to ultimately produce the highest, most magnificent Homo sapiens of a prototype master race to date, Himself, a perfect specimen to be on top of things in the topsy-turvy, jumbled up world he'd inherited with all it's headaches, turning things around smartly to Oneworld conformity per his uniformed plain-clothes Safety & Security stabilising forces to curb the lower instincts of the disorderly dumber ones. And soon he'd see to it that he be widely publicised as 'that magnificent man in his 300,000km-p.h. flying-space station!'

At the behest of Benevolence Himself, it had become a budget priority of NO to find ways of speeding up access to the space station. Science had researched the secrets of the spider's web. O sluggard, look to the ant – and the spiders themselves. Findings had lead to the development of Supra steel, a lightweight material of super tensility and strength. The top of Prince Azazel's mile high tower in New Eden was to be the base for a space elevator known as Jacob's Ladder, built for future transportation of supplies to Sky Pyramid One.

Not as risky, was the beanstalk space passenger elevator known affectionately by the technical team testing it as 'Jack.' Ahead of its time, it was soon to be attached from the rim of a crater on the dark side of the moon, to a mini space station Lunar One, about to be put into moon orbit. Titanium and other less expensive materials were being used in its manufacture due to the weaker gravitational pull of its location.

Colonization of the moon was programmed for the latter half of the century as the space budget had to be tempered at this stage, Safety and Security's main priority being the immediate demands of the third world; Sol was well aware that if such needs were ignored even NO might be in for a rough ride. There weren't any more Cold Wars so ISIS sci-fi high flyers, the finest brains on earth, were in a space-race with themselves and the news that their space budget had been tampered with had gone down like a lead balloon. But the universal suzerain, like a royal eagle, was raiding the tax-kitty to finish feathering his own royal nest, the unassailable citadel on Sky One. Hopefully the eventual revolt on earth would never take place and the residence would simply be enjoyed as a summer palace for an exalted celestial overlord, seen by his subjects below as being among the stars.

Once working hours were over, his slave builders retired to the lower level of the pyramid where they ate and slept in abysmal conditions. Still, they were a workforce that would not be seen again once the project had been completed. Sol chuckled to himself at the thought that one might describe them as being a band of men who would never lay eyes on him for whom they toiled!

Benevento finished his breakfast and rang the bell for Giorgio to clear the table. He had an hour before his first appointment of the day, time to relax in the jacuzzi whilst his valet laid out his clothes.


Giorgio


The valet was carefully decorating two dozen Petit Fours with chocolate icing when the bell rang. Having learned cookery skills from Mama, he found that rising early to create cakes or tartlets gave him a peaceful start to the day, and he knew that it always put his master in a good mood to have sweetmeats served with his afternoon tea. Right now his duty was to prepare the jacuzzi, and while his boss relaxed happily before facing the demands of the day, he would set out a suit of clothes and clear away the breakfast things. He placed a cover over the delicacies and made his way to Sol's quarters.

Enjoy your breakfast Obeisance?” he enquired upon entering the bedroom.

Ah yes, Giorgio, life is good, life is great!”

'For you, Sire, yes,' thought the early-rising valet who regularly witnessed what happened if his perfectionist boss didn't get his own way. Sol's displays of ill-temper knew no varying degrees of pique and all hell would break loose if anything was incorrectly reported in the press or the eggs hadn't been quite to his liking, but the long-suffering Giorgio took it all in his stride, from early morning until whatever time Sol was safely tucked up in bed. But this morning So Be had no complaints; obviously there had been a lack of glaring errors in the press and work on Sky Pyramid One was pleasing.

Will it be 'Fresh Spring Breezes' or 'Aroma of Roses' Sire?”

Whatever takes your fancy, Giorgio – no – I think I'll have 'French Fern' this morning, but not too much, I don't want to drown in bubbles like I nearly did yesterday.”

Very good, Obeisance. And would you be wearing the pearl grey Pierre Cardin?”

Yes, and I'll select my own tie after yesterday!”

You didn't like the peonies?”

Not with the Black Gucci, Giorgio, too much of a contrast.”

It was like this every morning – ah well, you could only please some of the people some of the time; roll on bedtime. After Sol was in dreamland Giorgio could take some quality time for himself. Then and only then could he watch the soccer games recorded on his digital TV. Giorgio just loved his soccer, in fact it was the only love that he and his boss had in common. Sol owned his own club, and every game was beamed live to the mansion and recorded for viewing at leisure. The tranquillity of the household staff would be disrupted if the team incurred too many losses and Giorgio had lost count of how many managers had been appointed and dismissed!

Giorgio had landed his prestigious job by virtue of the fact that he came from the same Italian village as Sol Himself. The Oneworld ruler knew his servant's family, and the valet was fully aware that he dared not put a foot wrong if he wanted to ensure the safety and security of his loved ones. He sighed, things could be worse, at least this way he could rest assured that his family would lack for nothing.

There were certain perks to the job however, for everywhere that Sol went Giorgio was sure to go, and in the not too distant future he would be accompanying his master on a trip to Philistine, that was something to look forward to, and as far as his power-driven boss was concerned, the sky was the limit. Giorgio smiled to himself as he laid the Mediterranean blue and turquoise striped tie So Be had chosen, next to his suit; if he continued to play his cards right, there was no doubt that one day he'd be rewarded with the honour of accompanying Obeisance to the ultimate destination of Sky Pyramid One. How many others in his humble class would ever attain such heights? Therein would lie a great story to tell his grandchildren back home in the village! Perhaps, as Sol had remarked earlier - life was good, life was great - after all!


'Keep flying until you are king of the hill,

no force of nature can break your will to self motivate.'

-L Carter/W Jacobs


18


'Stairway to heaven...

'cause you know sometimes words have two meanings,

sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.'

-J Page/R Plant


SUSPICIOUS MINDS ...you don't believe

a single thing I say

-F Zambon


Thursday Afternoon Atalanta


Joric


Joric was in a quandary; he desperately wanted to help Abigail but how? He may as well cry for the moon, it was well nigh impossible. Intervention of any kind was out of the question as far as Kay's flight was concerned and it would be foolhardy to try and interfere with the inner workings of the cast iron system. He needed inside information, needed to know if his suspicions about Isis Sky Pyramid One were correct, then he might just be able to come up with some sort of a plan. Somehow he had to get into the Socio-Political Science Subdivision, but when and how? Joric was not one to take risks and didn't even know the code to get through the security door, and even if he did, where would he look once inside?

Joric couldn't concentrate on the paper he was writing; thoughts of the French Revolution became personalized with Courtney's face appearing on that of Marie Antoinette, Louis XIV became Sol Benevento and he saw all his own anxieties reflected in the faces of the French proletariat, with their demagogue resembling Mike of all people! Time to take a break and go to the rest room.

Joric looked at himself in the mirror, he wasn't sleeping too well and it showed. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face as the door opened and someone walked in; oh no, not Mike again.

Joric, I know this may seem odd to you but I need to speak to you alone, urgently. Would seven o'clock at The Pith Helmet Bungalow suit you?”

The Pith ..? Uh – well I did have plans,” Joric stuttered, no response, “You say it's urgent?”

Please, I wouldn't trouble you but...” A third person entered the restroom, it was getting crowded and Mike was waiting for an answer,

Okay... Right! See you then.”

Joric walked back to his desk feeling most put out. He'd wanted to visit Abigail, to see how she and Terry were doing. Now the mysterious Mike wanted to see him – privately. Oh well, he couldn't really refuse a government official now could he.

He tried to get back into his work but his thoughts were now split three ways. Whatever could Mike want to talk to him about so urgently? He looked at his watch, four thirty, time to go home. He'd just have to make up the extra half hour in the morning, there was no way he could concentrate on work matters with Mike's strange invitation hanging over his head. He packed up his desk and a nearby colleague remarked predictably,

Can't wait hey Joric? What's she like?” Didn't they ever let up? He walked home, no time to go to the mainland, better have a quick jog round Atalanta to clear his head - after he'd called Abigail of course. He dialled her number, she had a customer and would call him back. Entering his apartment he quickly changed into running gear; it was five o'clock, a circuit would take him about an hour, plenty of time for a shower before joining Mike, mustn't forget to take his phone. Halfway down the first block it rang, it was Abigail. He sat down on a park bench to take the call.

Hi! How are you doing? Your Mum okay? How's Terry?”

Yeah, Mum's bearing up, Terry's fine, I'm coping.”

I was hoping to pop in later but something cropped up. I'll try and make it tomorrow, just to see how things are.”

Joric wanted to keep his options open as far as the lady was concerned. He reckoned he'd made a rather good impression, women really appreciated a man that listened, something he'd had to learn quite early on in life. The shoulder to cry on was something extra – should stand him in good stead; not that he wasn't genuinely sympathetic and wouldn't do all he could to help in the situation, but his motives were not entirely honourable.

Thanks, I'd appreciate it.”

Until tomorrow then – goodbye for now – hope you sleep well tonight.” That's it, say all the right things, be concerned for her well-being. Joric hung up and set off again, jogging round the perimeter of glass and steel that were the outer limits of his home pyramid.


Thursday Evening


Bongo bongo down in the Congo! Jungle Jim's was throbbing with sound as four guys pounded out a series of complex rhythms on their djembes. This was what Joric loved about the place, being a percussionist from years gone by. The drums spoke of the dramas of life with all its joys, pain, yearning and sorrows, from the first bellow of a new born babe to the turbulence of youth, and on through the challenges of adulthood to the second childhood of old age; hearts and drums beating in tandem with nature and the universe. Listening to them sometimes sent shivers down his spine, particularly this evening as he wondered what lay in store?

Mike had arrived before him; he wasn't sitting inside at the bar this time but at a table almost hidden from sight behind a clump of plastic bushes in a small clearing outside somewhat pretentiously described as the beer garden. He stood up and waved as Joric approached.

What can I get you? Black Mamba?”

Thanks.” Joric sat down as Mike went inside to fetch the drink from the bar, along with a refill for himself. He seemed nervous, edgy, nearly spilling the tropical cocktail on his way back to the table.

Sorry to be so cagey but I desperately need to talk to someone I feel I can trust, and after what Billy told me yesterday, I figured you might be just the right man.”

My goodness, could this be true – Mike wanting to confide in him? Joric's thoughts competed with each other as they raced through his mind. Best not let his guard down - tricky situation – he was face to face with a political agent who might be working under some sort of cover - what on earth had Billy said to him? He didn't look as if he were acting though. Joric waited for him to continue, sipping his Black Mamba and wondering if the man sitting opposite was a snake in the grass.

It transpired that Mike wanted to speak as privately as possible without the threat of some hidden microphone lurking behind a light or under a table. He needed to share his burden with someone who just might understand his predicament, a person from his own culture, in other words, a Brit. Joric should have felt honoured as Mike was quite a big shot down in Atalanta and had obviously earned his stripes, but how?

A studiously poker face hid the paralysing fear that was nailing Joric to his seat, here he was staring the Big Brother system right in the face, a system that was certainly no wee timirin' beastie. Either Mike was genuinely caught in some sort of trap, or was setting a trap in which to catch him. It all depended on whether the info Joric was about to be fed was true or false, federal bait or otherwise.

Okay my friend, let's get down to brass tacks and come straight to the point. Do you by any chance have contact with a ministry of The Way?”

Joric was rendered speechless by what to him felt like an earthquake measuring seven on the Richter Scale, as Mike waited intently for the reply that was not forthcoming. Turning a whiter-shade-of-pale, he tried to think of a song with which to channel his thoughts; I'm caught in a trap, I can't walk out - that one certainly didn't help much. Mike rested his elbows on the table and continued in a more placatory fashion. “Nothing to worry about old chap, I've become completely disillusioned with the system I work for. My conscience has been troubling me over some of the issues I've had to deal with lately, and my deep-rooted sense of fair play seems to have inconveniently come to the fore. Part of our noble English heritage rearing its head I dare say, and right now my first priority is to try and assist a lady who's in a bit of a pickle, trouble is, she's an enemy of the State.”

'Yeah, a likely story,' thought Joric.

I understand your scepticism,” Mike continued, as if reading his mind, “But as a Brit, don't you feel the same way? That something has been stolen from you; you've been robbed of an essential ingredient of honour that once made Britain Great? The best I ever did in the old homeland was to cross my P's and Q's in polite society, know which knives and forks to use and perhaps open the door for a lady or offer up my seat on the bus. I have no idea why I did such things; were they merely reflex actions? Tradition?”

We Brits felt a need to be Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null,” interjected Joric as a sudden flash of inspiration invaded his mind.

Alfred Lord Tennyson!” replied Mike leaving Joric feeling somewhat non-nonplussed that his companion had topped him in the literary stakes.

Perhaps it was all just part of respectably keeping one's ducks in a row;” Mike continued, “But now I'm beginning to understand that what lay behind those pleasantries went much deeper. So, if you don't know of any individual persons of The Way, do you know of a Church group that might be able look after an underground worker from a resistance group of Welsh people of The Way?”

Joric's eyes were becoming glazed by this time; he blinked, cleared his throat and gestured helplessly.

Perhaps a little more by way of explanation might persuade you of my good intentions. This group of The Way adherents is the Cardiff branch of an organisation that started in Rome funnily enough, with the advent of the Fourth Reich, and goes by the name of RE-Chrime. Their watchword is 'Il Gran Refiuto' meaning 'The Great Refusal,' and they seek to emulate Christians who've had the courage to stand up and be counted during times of persecution when the main body of the church has stood passively by. They identify with those who were martyred during the Third Reich and many others who've suffered persecution, going back to the first three centuries AD, a time known as the age of martyrs, when Christians refused to bow down and worship the Roman Emperors and their deities. The members of this new breed of men and women are probably Catholic, and scattered sparsely throughout Italy, France and Britain making them difficult to root out. This defiance in a religion where passivity is expected rattles NO no end, and The Bureau has made them a high priority target for elimination. The lady in question is an escapee from NO, holed up in Ostend after her SS police escort was killed on the way over from Ramsgate.”

Joric was now listening intently. Mike leant forward, his probing gaze communicating an intensity of purpose, “Joric, I'm asking you please, to give me the contact details of anyone you can think of who might be able to help. Anyone, as long as they are committed people of The Way.”

Joric was seriously rattled, he tried to gather his frantic thoughts. Had Billy foolishly mentioned something about his connection with Abigail thus alerting the man's suspicions as to Joric's religious standing, or was he genuinely concerned for the welfare of some crazy Chrétien escapee? These agent provocateurs had their ways and means of wheedling information out of gullible guys like Billy. Was Joric going to cop it as a Chrétien for a cause that he hadn't even taken up? Blokes like Mike who'd paid their dues to the system very likely swelled their coffers with bonuses received for arresting accomplices of religious criminals. Admission of guilt or abstention from replying probably carried with it the same sentence; then again, perhaps this guy was kosher after all.

Joric felt some kind of weird inner courage rising to the surface, and a peace coming from he knew not where, rather like the experience he'd had after he'd left Abigail's shop with the mysterious book-in-the-box under his arm. He took a deep breath before replying tentatively,

Well, I do sort of know someone from a Chrétien, uh - Christian family, I suppose. She's a young lady, and her father's a minister or pastor as they seem to call them nowadays. But right now her parents are – well - missing. She herself is not committed as such,” he added hastily, “I mean committed to the cause or anything fanatical like that. Neither is her sister, the only other member of the family. No, I can't honestly say that I do er - know – anyone who is a Chrét - Christian.”

A sudden thought stripped Joric of his new found courage, perhaps they had some record filed away at Socio-Political with details of

Abigail's student participation as an activist against NO. That would certainly contradict any statement of her not being a radical type! Beads of sweat began to break out on Joric's brow as he was drawn further into the mire of little white lies.

No, Mike,” he blustered, trying to keep a straight face, “I must say that I haven't really met any churchgoing people of The Way on the mainland as I mostly stay put – right here - under the sea. I did meet the father once, in line with my Crusader research, but not socially if you know what I mean, no - not at all, and I haven't a clue where he is right now; it's none of my business anyway,” he finished with a weak laugh that came out as a snort.

Tell me about this young lady and her sister. Where do they live? They must know at least one person from their parents' flock - or even other clergymen in the vicinity who might be able to help.”

Nothing to tell really,” Joric replied shrugging sheepishly and looking down at the table, “They come from somewhere in Bruges I believe. The younger of the two is still at school.”

That seemed to be that thank goodness, perhaps Mike would now just give him a break and get the heck off his back.


19

'We're looking for leads we're looking for clues;

we're looking for anything that we can use; you're checking on me, I'm checking on you.'

Spy vs Spy -W Birch/G Russell


OCTOPUS'S GARDEN ...under the sea

in an octopus's garden in the shade

-Lennon/McCartney

Thursday Evening


Mike


The uncomfortable issue of the Welsh freedom fighter was obviously hitting a blank with the jumpy Joric, so Mike decided to shelve the matter for the time being. He'd have to ask Billy to help out with regard to the Welsh lass as it was far too risky for him to do anything further for her; it would be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy if any weak link were to be found in him by the invasive culture to which he was answerable.

Mike changed the subject to the workplace, wanting to bend Joric's ear regarding his fears of their pervasive employer with the big stick. Fortunately Joric relaxed enough to become the sounding board which God knew Mike needed at that moment. He took another gulp of the soothing alcoholic tonic and settled back in his chair, ready to proceed with his tale of woe.

There are clues,” he confided, “Tell-tale pointers indicating that perhaps I myself have become a victim of the sinister Dr NO, and that I am hopelessly entangled in the devilish tentacles of this underwater branch for evermore. There are some tenacious and merciless agents in BOSS, menacing men, always eager to please their superiors, super-spies crawling out of the woodwork, eager to curry favour with their superiors who just might have their suspicions about me. I'm beginning to think that somehow they've got wind of my activities as a would-be knight in shining armour trying to help the Welsh girl. The Double-Check network seems to be saying, 'We know what you did!' Now I am wondering if they're planning to turn me over and deliver me on a platter to my superiors like some fallen comrade? On the other hand, perhaps they're just playing a cat and mouse game, lying in wait for me as they check whether I have any subversive connections.

My suspicions were aroused shortly after the incident on the Ramsgate ferry when I discovered that my mobile phone had been tapped. Had I been ratted on? Suddenly I was being rapped over the knuckles for innocuous and inoffensive things I was supposed to have said during telephone conversations. I've also had Tongeren's Royal Roman Military campus and BruSSels' State Covert Agency & Law Enforcement Society harassing me almost daily at the office. Sol's S.C.A.L.E.S. and its local military wing seem to sense that my devotion to duty isn't as absolute as it should be. I'm quickly finding out what it's like to be victimized by the underhand organisation we work for, and I'm getting first hand experience of the insidious web of deceit in which we're caught.”

Mike sighed, harking back to when he'd been a staunch supporter of the deceitfully charismatic man who seemed to have solved the world's problems once and for all. The Roman hero had proven to be a charlatan leaving Mike feeling somewhat deflated, his dreams and aspirations slowly disintegrating into nothingness. From his ringside seat in Intelligence he was becoming more and more nauseated by his anti-hero's cheating ways and blood-letting now that the gloves had come off. The trails of moral deception and disintegration were unravelling and Mike was at his wits end.

Now the blinkers had been removed, he was beginning to see the light for the first time and it wasn't only hurting his eyes, but attacking the moral fibre of his being. Wither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

When I applied for the job,” he continued, “I thought I'd simply be helping towards the preservation of world peace, but soon my spy boss started feeding me unpalatable titbits on behalf of big chief Sol. I then realized that the misinformation campaign was being waged against an innocent public and not, as was claimed by The Body Politic, to counteract breeding grounds spawning potential public enemies. I worked my way through the subterfuge of decoys and red herrings until I found out to my surprise that The Body Politic consisted solely of Sol, Benevolence Himself, make that Malevolence Himself.”

It had become clear that the only way Mike could keep his elite job as Cyber-Supervisor, or any job at all for that matter, was to bow to his immediate senior's demand that he take on observer-status in colleague-reporting. In other words, he was required by his 'handler' to become an informer with regular updates being recorded on his progress. In the Body Politics' Vision of Submission, all minions of the Cause who were detected to be 'weaklings,' were also deemed to be weak links, having lost the steely capability for which they were originally hired.

You might say I feel jinxed by The Sphinx,” he finished with a rueful smile.

The Sphinx?” Joric queried. Mike parried the question; the problem was he was privy to inside information not available to any Tom, Dick or Harry and was reluctant to divulge more. To keep secrets was incumbent upon all fortunate enough to be State-employed to keep the momentum up of the well-oiled wheels within wheels of NO's procedural mystification and its being-creative-with-the-truth methodology. All par for the course, Joric supposed with an air of resignation.

Oh, it's a long a story,” replied Mike eventually with a whistling sigh, “I made the mistake of trying to climb the corporate ladder. I managed a few rungs without compromise, but when the going got tough any thoughts I might have had of backing out of the system had to be shelved – I'd become the recipient of too much privileged info. It would take a long time to fill you in on all the details, suffice to say The Sphinx is a codename.”

A codename?”

Yes, but inexplicably written as Sph-n-x. Perhaps out of respect, probably similar to the way in which the Ha-kodesh - the people of 'the holy tongue' write G-d with the vowel missing.”

I understand the first hyphen standing for 'i,' but what about the second?”

Your guess is as good as mine, perhaps it's part of an ineffable meaning lost in translation. Anyway, only public servants willing to give their pound of flesh whilst considering themselves destined for greater things refer to Himself as The Sphinx. It started as a mere word in a phrase that was part of some banal and long-winded address prefacing all formal interaction. The phrase was to be used as a kind of password of privilege, never spoken, always written. If it appeared in official memos, it would be printed as an obscure cryptogram making use of every jot and tittle available. 'To The indomitable Sphinx: Ever-enigmatic, O inscrutable One! Foretold by mystery Babylon and prophetically confirmed in this your hour, winging your way to the stars.' And that's not all, soon the Alpha Code will translate into what is known as the Beta Code. This refers to the time when the 666-functioning bar code double microchip will be implanted in the wrist or forehead of men and women Oneworldwide. Then the Sphinx-word will be replaced by a symbol at present spoken of as 'zero,' and possibly written as the letter 'O.' Only a select few understand the meaning of that cypher and I'm not one of them, but it's certain to represent the very ethos of The Great Sphinx, who's name Abu al-Hôl translates as 'Father of Terror.'”

An enigma indeed, Joric wanted to know as much about it as possible, but Mike was not prepared to speak further as his reluctant sense of duty had started to kick in further.

Okay, another time, Mike.” said Joric, but Mike continued to pour out his heart,

The chain of command has sensed that somewhere down the line I, their lackey, have lost the killer instinct. In fact, the only person I feel like killing these days is myself. If it hadn't been for me bending your sympathetic ear, I might have gone ahead and done just that, perish the thought!”

It seemed he'd lost all direction in life, his integrity in tatters having been trashed in the course of conscientious devotion to duty. He was the obedient type, one who just got on with the job at hand. After all, somebody had to get down and do the dirty work and protect the public at large, seeing to it that peace, stability and order were maintained.

But his duties had carried him into murky, grey areas as light merged with darkness, and truth was no longer considered an absolute. The propaganda assignment had had a boomerang effect with the One Party line of blurred half truths coming back to haunt him, keeping him in a zombie-like state as serious lack of sleep and the routine daily grind took its toll. He was being driven too hard in the modus operandi that was NO, living in a vicious circle with no inner peace, his mind teetering on the brink of sanity, doomed like the sailors of old who'd thought they might fall off the edge of the world.

You know Joric, I'm not the only one.” Mike continued, “Conrad, a colleague several desks down from me, travelled the same road. He was found out, so he found God. Life for him thereafter was short but not so sweet as it wasn't long before a dutiful stool pigeon put the poor fellow out of his misery. In this place one can easily outlive one's usefulness, and any wounded soldier becomes a target for 'friendly fire,' as some call it, or 'assisted Russian roulette.'

But you know something Joric, I just can't seem to forget the serene smile I saw on Conrad's face the day before he died. He said he was going to be like Stephen. Stephen who? I have to admit that I didn't stick around to find out and the next day he was gone.”

Joric commiserated, and the little interlude about Conrad was soon forgotten, gone and forgotten; it was par for the course for anyone wanting to take God seriously.

The two men finished their drinks, Mike had been on an emotional roller coaster and needed to sleep; perhaps he'd be able to do just that now he'd shared some of his deepest fears with Joric.

It's just been so good to have someone to talk to, thanks for listening to my tale of woe! Can we meet again? Tomorrow perhaps, if I promise not to be such a wet blanket?”

Not tomorrow, I have a date. Let's make it the day after, Saturday. Maybe we should meet for an early dinner, same place around six-thirty? You really must sample one of Emile's Saturday night specials.”

Sure, six-thirty on Saturday it is then.”

Mike walked home feeling somewhat lighter than when he'd set out. He hoped he hadn't said too much, but instinctively knew Joric wouldn't let him down. No longer was he carrying the burden alone, he had an ally, someone with whom to share his burden. Perhaps next time he'd feel free to tell the whole sinister story of what had transpired on that fateful ferry trip from Ramsgate to Ostend.


20


'That lucky old sun got nothin' to do but roam around heaven all day.'

-Smith/Beasley/Gillespie/Haven


NATURE OF THE BEAST ...it is the smile upon his face

-Spandau Ballet

Friday 11.55am Rome


Sol


Sol cast an critical eye over the Rotunda Room as he liked to call it. This was his office, the place from which he orchestrated the affairs of the Oneworld. Reverberating throughout the villa was a recording of Himself singing O Sole Mio, a song from his halcyon days as a crooner aboard a cruise ship.

He tapped his fingers on the ebony bar inlaid with ivory making a statement in the centre of the lavish circular room. On top of the bar was an impressive heart scarab, carved from an exquisite piece of intense blue lapis lazuli, lightly speckled with small flecks of golden pyrite. On its underside a passage from The Tibetan Book of the Dead had been inscribed; a kind of insurance policy perhaps? Interesting that in ancient Egypt a stone scarab similarly inscribed would've been laid upon the breast of a mummy to ensure exemption from the consequences of an evil life when standing judgement before Osiris, god of the underworld!

The circular bar had been constructed to Sol's specifications by Turgot Kemal. The press of a button and the top would slide open revealing a marble insert that would slowly rotate when sushi, tapis or suchlike was served.

'Turgot the Turk' was a master craftsman in the Turko-Persian tradition of the Kothar-wa-Khasis cult, Kothar-wa-Khasis meaning deft with both hands, a spiritual discipline that included the making of beautiful furniture fit for the gods. Ahmad Ali Madjihad, the Executive Vice President of the East, had introduced Kemal to Benevento when he'd heard that Sol was refurbishing Villa Madama.

In keeping with the opulence found elsewhere in the villa, the décor was mainly black and white, broken by extravagant splashes of colour. The Rotunda embraced four large alcoves with bay windows, making it look rather like a four leaved clover. Black and white leather couches in one sported zebra skins and bright orange, red and yellow scatter cushions. Sol's fragrant cedar wood desk nestled in a second and on the opposite side of the room in the third, was a round dining table laid for four. In the fourth alcove, a white chaise longue faced towards the garden and French windows opened to reveal the frangipani trees from which Giorgio gathered the fragrant blossoms when in season. At other times, the white flowers would be imported from warmer climes.

Egyptian masterpieces graced the walls, tasteful if somewhat erotic sculptures looking rather like displaced chess pieces enhanced the black and white chequered marble floor upon which Persian rugs has been tossed - presents from Madjihad. It was a pleasant if somewhat ostentatious room.

Benevento had moved into this his present home during his meteoric climb to the top. The New Order, having swallowed up the spaghetti state, had inherited the villa previously owned by the ex-Italian government and passed it on to Sol.

Villa Madama had been the first of many suburban sixteenth century Renaissance Roman villas to be renovated; they'd proved to be ideal venues for lavishly entertaining guests. Sol's villa had been designed by the artist Raphael for a cardinal who'd later become Pope. After lying in a sad state of neglect for many years, the property had been restored to its former glory and magnificence. The formal terraced garden once again looked perfectly manicured, and the Elephant Fountain and Raphael Loggia were still to be found there, the latter decorated with sphinxes and located at the foot of the wooded Monte Mario.

Being exposed to six of the eight winds of Rome, the villa brought a magic of its own to Super-Sol who was preoccupied with the symbolism of the number six as elucidated by the scholarly Prince Has'seen of the mystic Shining Path. Has'seen was the East but Sol Invictus the sun king was the universal ruler and victor of all he could assimilate and simulate.

Whenever Has'seen was in Rome, the two hedonistic leaders were inseparable, spending their time together upholding the Renaissance tradition of love for nature, art and the pleasures of life. East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet did not apply to the Roman Sol where his seer was concerned. The thin thread of historical commonality they shared was a previous union of Roman and Syrian religion brought about by the Syrian-born Roman Emperor, Philip the Arab.

Yes, Brother Sun and his blood brother by religious ritual would sit together for long hours as the Prince taught Sol all he'd learned and imagined under the sun, not the least of which was the depth of his martial knowledge and research on mass manipulation. Has'seen spoon-fed his know-how to NO's ceremonial head, who was grimly determined to maintain the upper hand and stamp his own brand of dominance in all the earth. Has'seen advised Sol of a possible threat from certain ethnic and cultural groupings, two in particular. One seemed to be inordinately 'blessed' in financial terms and in Sol's world, monetary wealth lead to power seeking. The other threat came from bigoted Chrétiens who presented a danger to Oneworld peace and stability in their narrow stand against interfaith. The Prince had mooted the idea of establishing clandestine Nazi-style people processing plants where those sifted and labelled as undesirable would be set apart for Streaming, an anagram of 'emigrants' to describe those 'on their way out.' For the those in the know, this was NO's code for the killing fields.

The Prince of wisdom tutored Sol in the social strategies of Ancient Assyria, expounding upon methods of assimilating conquered national populations by division and relocation to different countries in order to break down their former national patriotism. This was similar to the strategy followed by the ex-Chinese regime when it brutally bulldozed the marginalized ex-Tibetans into submission. Big brother Sol needed all the help he could get to ensure he remained in the seat of power for the duration of his lifetime and he made certain the prince was in his orbit twenty-four seven, if not in person, through telecommunication or extrasensory perception. As for his lifetime, he was set upon extending it with the help of modern medicine combined with occult miracle!

The antique grandfather clock struck twelve as the guns boomed out their midday salute, a daily ritual honouring the presence of Sol whenever he was in the city. As the sounds faded there was a knock at the door.

Enter!” The door opened and Courtney walked into the room carrying a sheaf of papers.

Ah the charming Courtney! What can I do for you?”

The Prince has just called from the airport Sir, to say that he'll be on time for his lunchtime appointment.”

Excellent; you have the papers?”

Yes Sir, in duplicate ready for signing, along with your personal itinerary for the inauguration together with your advisory panel's latest recommendations for your personal, imperial safety ,” she replied, opening her briefcase and spreading the files on his desk.

Ah yes, all well and good, but let's not worry too much about the update from my spin doctors at present. Today we will be giving our blessing to one of the foundations FAIL-safe recommendations; this has already been processed and simply needs a couple of signatures to be added, and another more pressing matter will complete our agenda for the day. Lunch will be served as soon as the Prince gets here, nothing like a spot of lunch to jolly along business. As you must've gathered by now, I'm a firm believer in mixing business with pleasure and as the pursuit of happiness demands that we set aside a happy hour each day I suggest we slot it in nice and early today and kick off with a highball or some other pre-lunch drink, what can I get you? Martini? Half my kingdom?” he said raising one eyebrow.

A straight tomato juice please,” she replied with a straight face, “With ice.” Courtney had only been in Rome for a few days and she was settling in nicely but salacious Sol did wish the ice maiden would melt just a little - ah well – give it time.

He winked as he handed her the tomato juice, then sat down on the chaise longue, patting the seat next to him. Courtney walked to the bar and perched demurely on a bar stool, crossing her legs neatly. She was both ladylike and aloof, but Sol could wait and smoothly changed the subject.

Exciting isn't it my dear, to think that H.R.H Prince el Has'seen ben Hadad Abdullah Ali bin Talon of ex-Transgordonia is the heir apparent to the papal throne?” If Courtney disagreed she certainly gave no indication, but sat and listened, politely poised as her employer continued her education concerning Has'seen's illustrious background.

You may not be aware of this, but the royal family name of Hadad is derived from a god often simply referred to as Ba'al, a name meaning strong and victorious, and ben Hadad meaning son of Hadad puts an interesting slant on the matter don't you think? The first Syrian king was Hadadezer, meaning Hadad-is-help, he was Aramaic, but the later Atman kings of Damascus also assumed the title of ben Hadad.” He paused, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Sol was well aware of the fact that both he and his secretary came from Catholic backgrounds, but knew instinctively that her attitude towards the faith would not be as devil-may-care as his own. “Perhaps you think Prince Has'seen to be an unusual candidate for the papacy?” he asked provocatively. Courtney cleverly concealed whatever thoughts she might be harbouring behind an enquiring smile, forcing her employer to continue, “But what with the demise of the previous pope coupled with the Vatican's tardiness in holding an election, the political establishment in Rome, backed by the Jesuit lobby, came out in support of Prince Has'seen in the good old tradition of electing an antipope!”

I see.” Courtney responded, Sol was on a roll.

As leader of the Universal Ecumenical Interfaith, Prince Has'seen was the obvious choice! He has text book knowledge of all the major faiths, he's read the Ha-kodesh and Chrétien Bibles from cover to cover and I therefore consider him to be amply qualified to draw all men into the spiritual melting pot as my pied piper of religion. He will therefore replace the deceased Pontiff and lead the Oneworld from the papal throne of the Vatican in Rome.”

The Prophet Prince had indeed set a religious party line of all creeds and cultures, centring the articles of faith at the Baha'i Universal House of Justice based in Haifa, now the Mecca of all religion. The Baha'i movement itself had its roots in Dominionism and had started as an independent organisation in Persia during the nineteenth century; Sol was delighted that its ideals had materialized in the Oneworld under Himself.

I, of course will be free to continue in the religion in which you and I were raised.” Sol concluded. His own brand of lapsed Catholicism meant he didn't deem it necessary to attend either church services or confession, he reckoned he had nothing to confess anyway.

Have you managed to memorize our new code of beliefs and values yet Courtney?” he enquired.

I think so Sir,” she replied.

Won't you please do me the favour of reciting it for me?” Sol asked with a grin. Courtney duly obliged.

'All religious sects and cults are related to one single truth. These are modified from time to time to meet the needs of an evolving population. Divine revelation never ceases, leading to world unification. Oneworld faith! Oneworld language! Oneworld monetary system!'”

And the historical justification for our established version of the truth is?”

As it was in the beginning, so it is now. Just as there was an initial systematisation of the pious practices of different communities that combined to form the city of ancient Rome, so a giant leap has been made across time to a codification of the merged religions of NO's Roman global village. This compilation is every Patriot's Code of Virtue, our glorious COVenant of the Roman Golden Rule.”

Sol applauded delightedly, approving his protégé's progress.

Well done! All roads lead to Rome eh? I guess there will be those who'll have difficulty in getting to grips with Universal English, but given time I'm sure they'll crack it.”

The grandfather clock chimed once indicating the half hour. Almost simultaneously the doorbell rang. Sol rose to his feet, “Ah! That'll be the Prince, Courtney won't you give him a treat and greet him at the door?” Courtney nodded and a few moments later ushered the distinguished visitor into the room.

Has'seen was resplendent in eastern robes of royal blue and purple, not his normal attire for a day at work in the West, but today was different. His hands outstretched in greeting, he swept across the floor towards his comrade and embraced him.

Sol my friend! Salaam, how are you? And how's the work going on Sky?”

My dear fellow, welcome! I couldn't be better and as for Sky, it won't be long now before I'll be taking you there and showing you round myself! The VIP guest wing is coming along nicely, and will soon be ready for your first visit. There you'll be able to rest far from the madding crowd in the opulent manner to which we are accustomed. But tell me, how do you like my window?”

Sol's showy Argyle pink diamond and black pearl ring flashed in the streaming sunlight as he indicated his latest acquisition, above their heads in the skylight. “This is the time of day when it it can be viewed at its best.”

Very impressive,” his guest murmured.

The Prince himself was the owner of several exquisite stained glass windows and had long been trying to educate his friend in their appreciation, frequently pointing out the dancing dappled patterns that lent a rich ambience to a room as light shone through myriad tiny pieces of coloured glass. But Sol's rather singular work of art was something of a novelty, being a multi-coloured portrait of a Pharaoh with a striking resemblance to Benevolence Himself, sporting a beard in the style worn only by those Pharaohs who were venerated as gods. Close behind was the Sphinx with the Pyramids of Giza in the background. Sol laughed delightedly,

I took your advice and had one of these windows you're so fond of, made up to my own specifications. Now you see it, my latest portrait - in stained glass.”

A fine piece of work,” the Prince commented, “And the artist?”

A lad of great promise, I knew you'd want to meet him so I've invited him to join us for a drink. If I know Fabrio he's probably in the kitchen sampling some of Giorgio's chocolate éclairs, the lad has a sweet tooth.”

He opened the door and called, “Fabrio where are you?” and then, “Courtney dear, do please go and seek out the elusive Fabrio, the Prince must meet my new find.”

Fabrio was duly found and fêted as they raised their glasses to him and awarded him a scholarship to the New Academy of Murano. He was then dismissed and the three of them sat down to lunch as Giorgio wheeled in the first course.

After dessert had been served and the threesome had enjoyed a pleasant interlude indulging in light-hearted banter and small talk, the coffee trolley was wheeled in and Sol rose to his feet.

Thank you for your delightful company Courtney. Sadly we will have to excuse you as the time has come for the two of us to deliberate upon matters that would be of little interest to you. Take the afternoon off! Go and indulge in whatever it is that pleases young ladies such as yourself and I will see you again tomorrow at nine. Georgio! Serve the young lady her coffee wherever she pleases. Its a lovely day so may I suggest the gazebo next to the Elephant fountain?”

Thank you Sir, but I'll have it in my office; I still have a few things to attend to before I leave.”

Very well. You see what a gem I found!” Sol exclaimed turning to the Prince as Courtney exited the room.

Indeed.” murmured his guest.

Now to the business in hand,” Benevento continued, leading the way to his desk, “We have two items on the agenda for this afternoon, the first we can dispense with quite quickly.” Sol handed Has'seen a memo from FAIL-safe. “As you are our religious leader, I need you to cosign this document concerning the pastoral class of women passengers destined to join our DUDS labour force – what a surprise they'll be in for!” he commented with a leer. “Still, keep the workers happy I say, give them what they want and their work will be sure to improve. Poor ladies, off they'll go in the belief that they'll be joining loved ones sent ahead of them. It was surprising how many were able to afford the fare and we had to sift the applicants carefully, picking out the few we thought suitable according to age, looks and state of health.” He chuckled, “As the good book says Many are called but few are chosen. The ladies were duly fingerprinted, their photos taken and each will soon be issued with a category D Universal Visa. They'll be leaving next Thursday. Two birds with one stone! Get rid of a few enemies of the State, and appease a lonely workforce, all in one go.” The Prince duly countersigned the grade two emigration agreement already drawn up and signed by Benevolence Himself and the document was then stapled to an indemnity form signed by the ladies in question.

Now to the important item on the agenda, your inauguration my dear Has'seen, a day on our calendar that we have been working towards for the past couple of years.” The Prince delved into his briefcase and produced a sheaf of papers.

I would like to read you the notes I have compiled for my inaugural speech,” he responded, “I trust they will meet with your approval. I think I will probably start with some reference to the age of Aquarius, popularized in the nineteen-sixties as the West started to open herself up to Eastern spirituality.”

Nice one” chuckled Sol as he sang, “Now is the dawning of the age of Aquarius!”

What people don't seem to know,” Has'seen continued, “Is that the age of Aquarius actually dawned with the First Reich in 200BC.”

Ah yes,” replied Sol, “But it was during the Hippie revolution of the sixties that the rich and famous started attaching themselves to gurus, many going to India to grow in their karma as they journeyed towards Nirvana. All very New Age and in agreement with the scripture that tells us god is within. One just has to realise it, that's all!” Yes, Sol could live quite happily with the idea that god was inside of him.

No doubt that era contributed towards our goal,” the Prophet murmured, “Now reaching fulfilment at the close of the age as it gives way to the new age of Pisces.”

How fitting that you yourself are a Piscean,” commented Benevento.

A prerequisite,” Has'seen added. “Together we will lead the Oneworld into the Fourth Reich rule of one thousand years, a rule often attempted but never attained. The nearest it came was during the last century when our own Teutonic type and shadow gave it his best shot. However, Adolph's endeavour was rudely interrupted – he obviously didn't fit the job description.”

It was not to be,” replied Sol seriously, “Our horoscopes have indicated that the privilege has fallen to us. Now is the time for change, everything is in place.” He paused for a moment as an idea he'd had came to mind. “I was wondering, just for the hell of it, what you thought of ceremonially entering the Vatican Square on a donkey? Thereby assuring Patriots of your humble motives in taking up the Papacy?”

The incoming Vicar smiled condescendingly, “I think the splendour of my attire might belie any intention of such a thing. The populace desire pageantry and that is what they will get. It will be important to make a statement, one that will cause neither fear nor complacency.”

Sol beamed, he was the Pharaoh at the pinnacle of his pyramid structure of government and on the ground floor his A Team were putting the final touches to yet another creation of his – the brilliant financial plan devised by Himself, the greatest Helping Hand in the land of NO. Like his predecessor from the old TV series of the same name, he just loved it when a plan came together.

Another fruit juice, my Papa?”


'Smile and smile and be a villain.'

-Shakespeare


21


'I was by the sea gazing with tranquillity.

T'was then when the Hurdy-Gurdy Man came singing songs of love.'

-Donovan

THERE'S A KIND OF HUSH ...The only sound that you will hear

is when I whisper in your ear

-L Reid/D Stephens

Friday Evening Ostend


Joric


Joric had packed a picnic basket. He'd bought all the things he thought Abigail might enjoy. Smoked Salmon, a healthy seed loaf, cheese, some crudities with interesting dips, olives and a few other assorted savouries. He'd also included two champagne glasses, a bottle of bubbly and some Belgian chocolates. To be sure it was Friday the thirteenth, but it was going to be lucky for him, he just knew it.

They'd decided to picnic at the beach as the weather had been glorious all day according to Abigail whom he'd called earlier, unusual for the time of year but something to do with climate change no doubt. A romantic picnic sipping champagne in the late afternoon sun as they watched it set would allow Joric to show his sensitive side and surely be the way to woo a lady such as she. He'd take a groundsheet and a couple of blankets – one to sit on and one to wrap around them if it grew chilly.

The train arrived on time and Abigail met him on the square outside the station. He greeted her with a light peck on the cheek.

How are you? And how's your Mother?” he asked.

She leaves for the sub-continent on Wednesday afternoon to connect with her flight to Sky Pyramid One on Thursday, others will be joining the expedition from different parts of the world. A close friend will be going along with Mum I'm glad to say, one that feels as strongly as she does. They'll be good support for each other. The church is being wonderful and the youth pastor, Heini, has taken over from Dad. A lot of time has been spent in prayer since the pastors were abducted. Terry and I went along last night, solidarity and all that.”

Thoughts of the previous evening's meeting with Mike came to mind and Joric filled Abigail in on the conversation they'd had about the need to find a safe house for a Welsh believer.

I'm not sure of Mike at the moment Abigail, he seems to be genuine but I'm holding back until I know more. This Heini, do you think he'd be able to help at all if Mike turns out to be on the level?”

Heini is very much into the business of saving souls so he'd probably be interested in having the lady join his team, and keen to get Mike on the right side of the track as well – that's if he's as open as you seem to think. I'll give you Heini's number later, and if the subject crops up again, you can take it from there.”

They arrived at the beach, and walked a little way before choosing a suitable spot for their picnic.

I'm impressed!” said Abigail as she watched Joric lay out the blanket, arrange the cloth and set everything upon it. “It's usually the lady that does these things, you've done well!”

Something my Mother taught me.” said Joric grinning. “I inherited this basket when I left home. Like some?” he asked holding up the bottle.

Love some,” she replied as he popped the cork which landed a little way off beside a surprised crab lying under some seaweed in a small pool left by the tide. Joric filled their glasses and they clinked them together, toasting their new found friendship and all that it might hold. They ate very little, more interested in finding out about each other, sharing their hopes and dreams as they sipped champagne.

The sun began to set, its rays reflecting on Abigail's hair, bringing out gold and copper highlights.

You're so beautiful,” said Joric, “Do you always have this effect on men?” She gave him a sideways glance as if asking whether he always came out with that line. Oh no, he thought, here we go again with the corny one-liners.

They'd hardly touched the food he'd selected so painstakingly, but they certainly hadn't held back on the champers which had gone to their heads. Being slightly tipsy in such an romantically idyllic setting made Joric feel a little bolder. It was getting chilly so he drew the blanket around them both, his left hand alighting on her shoulder as he did so, allowing it to remain there holding the blanket in place. She put her head on his shoulder, grateful for the warmth, and his heart leaped. Time to try again?

There's no man in your life right now?”

No, I've been far too busy getting the shop up and running. There have been guys in my life of course, but none I've felt I wanted to settle down with.”

The little crab left its pool and scuttled sideways across the beach in their direction, stopping right in front of them, its beady eyes seeming to check them out as a couple.

Could they be compatible? Was she his Perfect Ten? She certainly felt like it right there and then. He put his cheek on her soft lightly perfumed hair, could this be heaven? The stars were beginning to twinkle above them in the darkening blue of the sky. There they were, just the two of them, under the canopy of dusk with the sea, the sand and the small crab who decided it was time to leave them alone and scuttled off, his six little legs leaving pin prick prints in the firm sand.

Do you think he approves?” said Joric.

How do you know he's not a she?”

Because of the way he was looking at you. He obviously has very good taste.” She smiled and looked up at him.

Are you flirting with me?”

Of course!” Was this an invitation? Joric chose to read it as such and gladly accepted as his lips met hers. He lay her back on the blanket, revelling in their first kiss as he ran his hands through her silken hair. Drawing away from her, he looked into her eyes, stroking her face gently as she looked up at him. He kissed her forehead; her eyelids closed and he brushed them with his lips as they sought their way back to her mouth. They held each other close as the final rays of the sun disappeared over the horizon, briefly contented with the beauty and comfort that the evening offered, forgetting for a few moments the harsh realities of their lives. The magic slowly dissolved as Abigail gently freed herself from his embrace, breaking the silence softly.

I really should be getting back, Mum's coming over with Terry. There's not much time left before she leaves so we're all going to stay in the flat together for a few days; home is too full of bad memories at the moment. We'll be seeing Heini at the meeting on Sunday, and I'll tell him what you've shared with me about the Welsh lady, then call you next week.”

I understand,” he said regretful at having to release her. “Perhaps we can get together again after your Mum's left? I too have a rather heavy schedule this coming week and I also want to try and find out more about what's in store for your Mum and Dad. I'm hoping Mike might hold the key to learning about their present situation.” Abigail opened her bag, and took out her iPad; she looked through the contact list.

Take Heini's number, you can pass it on to Mike.” she said. Joric added it to his own list of contacts and they packed away the uneaten picnic. Joric walked Abigail back to her flat at the shop and handed her the picnic basket.

I won't be needing this, enjoy it with your Mum and Terry tonight. Hors d'oevres or something like that, or as a midnight snack perhaps? I'll collect the basket another time – give you a reason for seeing me again,” he added confidently. They kissed gently once more and Joric ran for the station looking back over his shoulder to wave and nearly knocking a bemused pedestrian off his feet as he went. Joric's own feet hardly seemed to touch the pavement – he was euphorically floating somewhere up amongst the stars, but far, far away from Isis Sky Pyramid One!


22

'He ain't heavy, he's my brother...

it's a long-long road from which there is no return,

while we're on the way to there why not share?'

-B Scott/B Russell


NIGHT FEVER Saturday Night Fever -The Bee-Gees


Saturday 5.00pm Atalanta


Joric


'I t's five o'clock on a Saturday,' sang Joric as he took a leisurely shower before meeting Mike at Jungle Jim's. Tonight's cabaret would no doubt serve to lift the spirits of the two expatriates.

Mike's story had cut deep, and thinking about it all over again caused an unbidden thought to flash into his mind, a thought that went against every warning signal he'd experienced during their previous encounter. He pushed the crazy idea to the back of his mind as he turned off the taps and grabbed a towel. The thought came back again, persisting forcefully. Maybe, just maybe, he should take a leaf from Conrad's book and slip Mike the precious volume he'd purchased at Second Hand Rose, The Mystery of the Fellowship, it might be just what the fellow needed! Then again it might not, but perhaps he'd just take the book along with him and see what transpired.

He once again felt that elusive inner glow he'd been experiencing of late; What's it all about, Alfie? Time, not Alfie, would surely tell; meanwhile he was quite looking forward to seeing Mike again. What was the time? Five thirty. He hadn't finished reading the book as yet, perhaps he should jot down a few notes before giving it away. He already knew that it told of the most meaningful fellowship a man could have in the form of camaraderie with God through His Son Jesus.

After expounding on the relationship that existed between the triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the book taught that the same relationship could be experienced between God and His church.

How the tough agent of the State would respond to it all, heaven alone knew! But Mike was undoubtedly at a crossroads in his life, there were choices to be made and he needed a paradigm shift so the book might just point him in the right direction. Joric hastily wrote down the Scriptures that headed each chapter for his own perusal at some later stage.

He then looked up the definition of fellowship. It had to do with companionship, meeting with others and sharing common interests. Among believers in The Way, the common bond was their faith in Christ, becoming particularly meaningful when they partook of the Lord's Supper. He would study the relevant Scriptures sometime, seeking out Bible scholarship from archives pertaining to the subject of fellowship with God and one's fellow man. He'd been offended once when told that he was a sinner who needed saving and had asked what he needed to be saved from; now he was just beginning to understand. Everyone needed to be saved from something even if it was just from the consequences of all the wrong decisions made in a lifetime.

As for Mike, he needed saving from all kinds of situations right now, would Brelli's book turn out to be a lifesaver for him? If worst came to worst it might be the crutch that would help him walk upright into the sunset, a placebo to alleviate the pain of his last days, a cure-all panacea available through Jesus, applicable universally; we all needed the Physician. Mike, good guy or not, was after all a specially selected employee of the State. His credentials were sure to have undergone thorough scrutiny before he'd been Total security cleared by Central Intelligence HQ and awarded his hatchet job.

Feds in 'the practice' were thoroughly trained and conditioned to put their hearts on hold and minds on autopilot in order to fight tooth and nail in the subtleties of secret-policing the State in the belief that they were redeeming society from the ills of history. They would have to turn a blind eye to all the wretched havoc to which they themselves had contributed. How was Joric to know whether or not Mike was still in their pocket?

Six-fifteen, he'd better get going. Joric put the book in a small rucksack, slinging it casually over his shoulder as he exited the flat.

Hey Joric!” He'd hardly walked ten yards down the road before he heard a shout coming from behind. He turned round anxiously, wondering whether he was about to be apprehended for a random search as carried out from time to time. He needn't have worried, Mike fell in step next to him.

How are you feeling today?” Joric asked.

Much better than yesterday thank you. What've you got in the bag?”

Just a sweater in case it gets cold later.” Joric was learning how to keep his cool. The two of them caught up on the days events as they walked the short distance to Jungle Jim's.

What would you like? Wanna try a Black Mamba?”

No thanks, think I'll stick to beer, what's on the menu for tonight?”

Joric looked at the board on display outside. “Well apart from the ebony dancing girls, there's a platter of Mala, Amanqina, and Mashonzha served with Amadumbe, they're a bit like yams and Morogo, a kind of wild spinach, on a bed of Phutu Pap which is made from maize.”

And the first three?” asked a somewhat bemused Mike.

You don't want to know, but I've tried them all and they all taste good.”

Okay, if you can eat them so can I, you can tell me the ingredients after.” Joric ordered a mixed platter for two personally brought to the table by Emile.

Ah! My two most regular pale-faced customers – enjoy!” Before Joric could stop him, he described each dish as he took it from the trolley and placed it onto the platter before them.

First, the Mala - very well cooked cow's intestines, cleaned, boiled then fried, along with a serving of Amanqina - hooves that have been boiled and spiced, with Mashonzha - our mopane worms, on the side, dried and fried.

Then we have the vegetables you know as spinach and yams, along with the Phutu Pap,” he finished as he dolloped large portions of glutinous looking pap upon the platter with a flourish. “Bon appetit!”

Thanks Emile, looks great. Well tuck in then,” he said to the wilting Mike.

The sound of the drums increased as two supple belly-dancers took to the floor and danced among the tables. Mike relaxed, enjoying the moment, and surprisingly the food, although he would've preferred not to have known what he was eating!

Feeling replete, the dancers having left the floor and the drums quietened somewhat, the two men ordered another round of drinks.

Both of them drank far too much, but it was salutary, even medicinal. They were sick of their pressurized, stress-filled lives as Info employees, most living in cramped Singular-quarters with no fresh air or natural light to break the daily monotony.

O call back yesterday, bid time return! Homesick, they pined for the London they'd known, now swallowed up by post-modern Greater London and run according to the Golden Rule where majority religious community counted, the present community having emigrated en masse from the Domains. 'Greater,' they claimed, because of the Dominion City Council's Safety & Security rule with powers delegated by The Highway to be applied in the given cultural context. The familiar red buses were still running; now heavily overloaded, they swayed dangerously through streets that were barely recognizable, streets that overflowed with Arab traders and looking for all the world like a Middle Eastern souk. Market goods spilled across pavements from Oxford Street to Bond Street, fine in context, but in the capital city of the Anglo-Saxons? The homely London that the two expats remembered so fondly had metamorphosed into the major capital punishment city of the Oneworld, a model police state city similar to those apparently perfected by the Phoenicians of old. A pilot bye-law had been introduced with the daunting title of Propagation of Virtue & Prevention of Vice. Modesty Patrol units composed of cadets drawn from the swelling ranks of Middle Eastern immigrants were to be found on every corner. Being gainfully employed on the streets meant they were off the dole, lessening the strain on the Oneworld budget. Yes, thought Joric, better to be apprehensive in our hideaway beneath the waves than unemployed, pounding Greater London's pavements at the mercy of the many lurking dangers to be found there.

How sad to think that not so long ago Westerners had taken freedom of expression for granted with its glorious nonconformity and lack of restrictions. Although NO had done away with border controls, big deal, they'd introduced no-go zones and many regions on the former Google tourism map were now out of bounds to non-residents. The two Brits fondly reminisced about the good old days when passports and visas enabled the intrepid student backpackers to go just about anywhere in the world. Yes, the lamps of liberty had been extinguished all over the Europe of former citizenship and wanderlust. During World War One they'd said that the first casualty of war was truth. How tragic therefore that Sol's enforced peace was accompanied by the loss of liberty and truth!

One for the road?”

Thanks Mike.” Joric felt he was really beginning to click with his companion, and was even beginning to think that perhaps he might be able to inveigle his assistance with a plan to help the Brelli family. The alcohol made him reckless, he felt good like a real man should, so he decided to take the plunge as Mike came back to the table with two more drinks.

Mike, what do you know of NO's modus operandi concerning Isis Sky Pyramid One? Have you heard anything at all from your Socio-Religious colleagues about what might be going on up there?”

Why do you ask?”

Joric was really out on a limb now, he'd better choose his words carefully.

I also have a lady friend that needs help. It seems that her father has been abducted and sent to Sky Pyramid One.”

Okay it was two all. He could see that Mike was reading between the lines, and from their conversation of two nights ago, knew exactly what he was fishing for.


'I don't know what I've become, but I feel good this time.'

Out on a Limb -L Soul


23


'Moses spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew,

and he looked this way and that way,

and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian.’

-Moses, Exodus 2:11-12


LIFE IS A RIOT WITH SPY VERSUS SPY ...the moment

we walk out the door

we're battered and blue

-Birch/Russell


Mike


So my new buddy is more involved than he cares to admit, thought Mike. It was then that he decided to set his friend's mind at rest by telling him the gory details of what had transpired that fateful day on the ferry crossing from Ramsgate to Ostend.

Seeing as how we both seem to be putting our cards on the table, there's something I'd like to share with you. I haven't yet told anyone the full story of my involvement with the Welsh lady.”

Go ahead, I'm listening,” Joric replied, as they both seemed to sober up somewhat.

It all started when I was returning to Atalanta from a short break in England. We were queuing up to board the ferry when just ahead of me I noticed a Bureau agent wearing the trademark purple blazer of SABRE the Sacred Branch of Religion Enforcement. The Fed was handcuffed to a female prisoner but thankfully it was none of my business; I was incognito in civvies with my red Socio-Political blazer on its hanger far away in Atalanta and I had no intention of letting an unpleasant reminder of work infringe upon my last day of freedom. I had grown to hate putting on that red jacket from eight to five, but I loathed it even more when being in plain-clothes during office hours as an agent for spying purposes.

Anyway, after unwinding from the stresses of work in the company of my parents I felt rejuvenated and relaxed and wanted it to stay that way for as long as possible. As far as I was concerned the treadmill of NO's services and any of its employee purveyor belt people could all go to blazes, I certainly wasn't going to poke my nose in anyone's State business while off duty, but then when I noticed how the guy was treating her my hackles began to rise - my innate British gallantry coming to the fore. Everyone else in the queue just watched or averted their eyes, but the man was supposed to be a guardian of the peace and whatever the lady had done, it didn't warrant the heavy-handed treatment he was dishing out as he yanked her along like some stubborn dog on a chain, riding roughshod over the supposed standards of decency that we're all meant to uphold.

Once we were on board, I decided to follow them. The woman said something to him and he responded by giving her a backhand across the mouth as he pulled her towards the staircase and almost pushed her downstairs in front of him. There were cabins on the lower deck and as I peered round the corner of the passage down which they'd disappeared I saw him open a cabin door and drag her inside behind him. Why hire a cabin? I asked myself, it was only a short journey to the other side, and then the penny dropped. I went up to the cabin door, tried the handle and opened it ever so slightly; he hadn't even bothered to lock it. There was a struggle going on inside, she started to scream.” Mike paused, beginning to re-live the scene.

Go on,” Joric prompted.

I tried to count to ten and decide what strategy to follow, but before I got to five, I burst into the room and rugby-tackled the man, a man who'd shoot first and ask questions later; life was that cheap to the likes of us. He swung around to reach for the Luger lying on the bedside table. I was on top of him before I knew it, trying to wrest the gun from him, my strength pitted against his. He swore in my ear, saying that he knew who I was and calling me a dirty double-crosser. He seemed to be getting the better of me, I just couldn't get the weapon out of his grasp, my hands were sweaty and slippery. He cursed me again and again, trying to aim the barrel into my face, threatening to blow my head off saying 'Die, you bloody bastard, die!' My head spun, was I going to die at the hands of the regime I worked for? The regime I'd dedicated my life to?” Mike picked up the flagon of draught African beer and drank deeply.

Steady on Mike, it's okay now, and that's strong stuff. What happened next?” Mike put the beer down and continued.

That's when the little vixen bit him on his gun-toting hand and drew blood. With a bellow of pain his fingers came away from the weapon sufficiently for me to snatch it from him and fire one shot - at point blank range.” He paused, visualizing the gory spectacle once again.

There was blood spattered everywhere. I leaped up from the bed and locked the door, wondering why he'd made the fatal mistake of leaving it unlocked. The bloke was all brawn, no brains and badly trained to boot, but what if he had locked it? It would have taken a few good kicks before giving way and with no element of surprise I'd have been a gonner.

We sat for a few moments in a state of shock, wondering if anyone had heard, but no-one came knocking on the door; obviously nobody else had booked a cabin. After about five minutes which seemed like an eternity, I peered into the passage - it was deserted. My next thought was to take off my blood stained jersey and wash. Thankfully I was wearing a T shirt underneath, I then decided to go and buy the lady something to eat, I knew she'd be famished. They would've kept her without food and sleep because that's the way they do things. It didn't even cross my mind that she might not relish the idea of being left behind handcuffed to a bloodied corpse while I went strolling around looking for a bite to eat. 'Wait,' she said, speaking far too calmly for one in her position, 'First things first, we don't have much time - and I need to clean up too!' She told me the keys to the handcuffs were in the purple jacket on the chair. I found them easily enough along with the documents pertaining to her arrest and put them in my rucksack. I then freed the lady from her assailant and bundled his body under the bed, automatically clearing away any evidence that might point to my involvement. I left her dabbing her wounds with a wet cloth she'd found in the small en suite bathroom, and while she freshened up I got us some strong coffee and hamburgers.

It was twenty minutes to docking by the time we'd eaten. I stuffed my wet jersey into the empty food packet to take with me and then made sure there would be no tell-tale fingerprints left behind. I asked her how she was feeling, wouldn't have made a good doctor, that's for sure, my bedside manner left much to be desired. She looked at me quizzically and said she was feeling much better, and that it could have been far worse. She then asked how I was feeling. 'Brave lady,' I thought as she attempted a smile with her swollen mouth.

I told her I was okay and sat down on the bed next to her, my head in my hands, feeling decidedly odd. I now had my own tortured space of inner turmoil to deal with. This was the first time I'd ever acted on impulse. What had I been thinking of? The implications of the radical action I'd taken slowly dawned on me, I'd murdered a colleague!”

Not murdered Mike,” Joric interjected, “It was self-defence while protecting an innocent victim, you can't beat yourself up over this.”

Maybe, but it's meant dismounting the beast of my employ and it's cost me dearly.”

It may be costing you your health and sanity, but there's no proof, no witness, you're in the clear as far as the State's concerned.”

Mike didn't seem to be listening, he already saw himself as an enemy of the State, listed amongst the despised backward-looking bad boys. He started reminiscing about his early training.

During our political studies I remember hearing that Chairman Mao had said that all reactionaries are paper tigers. At the Maoist Training Academy in Nepal, we studied the Red Chinese formula for success, word for word, line upon line. Mao had apparently been a commanding figure who'd overcome all in his path with intense single-mindedness, or was it madness?”

Madness - takes its toll,” said Joric, ever mindful of an appropriate lyric; Mike ignored him and continued.

We learned that in theory there had to be unbending order in society or everything would start to fall apart. Admittedly it all seems far too simplistic now but at the time we were on a quest, searching for a conviction to follow but unfortunately we listened to the wrong role-models, sitting at the feet of those who proved to be nothing more than thinly disguised rabble-rousers with the gift of the gab, guys who didn't practise what they preached. In theory everything sounded so right, but in practice, applied rigidity to the rules brought fear which banished all possibility of spontaneous freedom. The bigger picture required that people be herded like sheep, shuttled and sometimes shoved along. One had to take into account the herd mentality, but I was beginning to see ugliness in the single-minded intensity that carried the ambitious as they climbed their way to the top, stepping on those in their path.”

Witness the po-faced fervour and furore of some of our superiors!” added Joric wryly. Yeats once wrote, The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Passion is too good a word for these performance-pushed slave drivers Joric, they're the worst of the worst. Passion is what I have, passion to restart and revive my heart.”

I hear you,” said Joric, “But was it such a false move to protect a lady from harm and defend her honour? It was, as you said, gut instinct that drove you, it was absolutely the right action to take in the circumstances, even if you do eventually come off second best. And it came from your passion Mike, your righteous passion. What happened next? Did you leave this lady and disembark alone? No, from what you've told me before, you honourably made some arrangement for her?” There was a pause before Mike answered.

She was an official prisoner of the State. I didn't at first know what she was supposed to be guilty of, but even after she'd told me, I felt compelled to set her free.”

Mike's mind went back to the ferry. “Ms Jones was holding the cloth to her mouth, it was still bleeding. Her forehead was bruised and she had dark rings around her eyes, one of them was swollen.

The ferry rolled as I took the document out of my rucksack. Good job I didn't suffer from sea sickness. The papers seemed to be in order, they were for the transfer of political prisoner Ms M Jones. The religious category classified her as dangerous. The town where she was registered, wasn't far from the Welsh side of Severn Bridge.

I thought I ought to ask her a few more questions but realised she was sure to have answered enough already, probably trussed to a chair under a naked light bulb in front of a table with a single sheet of blank paper on it, a confessional awaiting her signature. She would've been kept in a small, bare room for hours with the same old questions thrown at her over and over again, I know the procedure so well.

Ms Jones was surprisingly composed considering the ordeal she'd just been through. But dangerous? She didn't look it, despite the swollen eye that made her look as if she'd just gone a few rounds with Mohammed Ali's daughter.”

As they say, dynamite always comes in small packages.” said Joric with a smile.

True! Official prisoner she might be, but I honestly felt I had no option but to release her. Strangely enough, I wanted her to be free, I even wanted to help her further in some way. I knew the State would never take my side in the matter of the body under the bed, even if I were to point out what that thick-skulled moron had been up to. The loss of trained manpower would end up with me paying dearly. In one unthinking act I had instinctively switched sides, taken on a fellow agent of the State who'd abused his delegated duties, and killed him.

Now I know how Moses must have felt when he slew a fellow countryman. And just as Moses had been forced to kill the slave driver who identified him as Prince of the Royal House of Egypt, so I'd been forced to kill my corrupt countryman who had recognised me as a fellow agent.

I asked the lady where she wanted to go. She didn't want to go home of course, first place they'd look. She was concerned about me too – if only she knew! I did remember to ask her not to tell anyone of my part in the whole affair saying it might cost me my job!”

They'd more likely string you up!” Joric interjected,

You're right there! I figured I'd be doing well just to get out of there with my life intact!

She thanked me, said I was her hero, but she was the real hero. Seemed she'd been involved in printing Bible tracts given out on the street in defiance of the clampdown. Crazy maybe, but she had this righteous passion that I long for!

You know, Joric, I was part of the unit set up to work in cooperation with Socio-Religious agents so as to lure out religious types like her, and to crack down on what was seen as anti State literature considered harmful for the masses. NAIL stands for NO Active Intelligence Legionnaires. Yep, we nail them alright! But what now? How on earth will I ever be able to put on the red jacket again, a jacket I once wore with pride in promotion parades as decorations were added to it. Am I destined to bite the hand that feeds me?” Joric was quiet for a moment.

If you're serious, you could be of more use to people like Ms Jones by remaining inside the system!” The suggestion was not lost on Mike, there was definitely more to friend Joric than met the eye.

Where did she go after you docked?”

I was going to offer her my mobile to call her family, but thought better of it. We thought it would be wise to disembark separately. Thereafter she followed me on the opposite side of the road at a discreet distance to a place on the marina where I have a motor yacht. I bought her a few necessities, toiletries, food and settled her in. Not very warm on the water at this time of the year, but it seemed the safest option.”

A regular Good Samaritan. Hey! you got to be two Biblical heroes in one day, one from each Testament!”

Yeah, Biblical characters no-one wants to emulate.”

Hard acts to follow. She was fine about being left alone?”

Yeah. Said she just needed to catch up on her beauty sleep! Bit of an understatement with that whopping black eye of hers! I reckon the Godly faith I once had was tucked away inside that little lady, that Davidic woman defiant in her battle against the most gigantic yet of all Goliaths.” Joric the historian came to the fore.

Seems those crazy brave souls belonging to RE-Chrime were similar to David's band of men on the run, hiding in the Cave of Adullam, exasperated by King Saul's tyranny. About four hundred against the impossible odds of one of the mightiest armies of the time, but led by a Captain Courageous in the mould of Moses, a motley collection but in reality, the cream of the crop, believing that all things were possible for an Almighty God.” Mike took over,

Right now there don't seem to be many people of The Way about; the old NAIL unit has been far too effective in its relentless regional purge.” He paused, remembering something else that had happened before he and Ms Jones had parted company.

Perhaps I should tell you about another surprising incident that took place that night. As I was leaving, I noticed the pendant she was wearing. It looked like the Star of David, but within its points was a fish, I'd never seen one like it before. I asked her if she was Ha-kodesh and she said she wasn't, but that Jones meant Jehovah has favoured.

It figured, if Omnipresent Jehovah, had indeed known of Ms Jones' plight, He'd certainly favoured her, but chosen the most unlikely candidate to be her rescuer. She then asked me if I were Ha-kodesh.”

And are you?” said Joric looking him in the eye.

Would you blackball me, remove the hand of fellowship if I was?” asked Mike smiling.

Not at all, some think with my nose... Well, are you?”

I suppose so, with a name like Davidson, but not practising of course. She called me .. what was it again? Oh yeah, a God-send, her deliverer chosen from God's people in answer to her prayers. Then she whispered, Underneath are the everlasting arms, a scripture I guess, and gave me a leaflet she had tucked away in the heel of her shoe. I somehow knew that from then onwards my life would change dramatically. From the time I was a boy, my heart's desire had been to become a man of integrity but I'd forgotten about it somewhere along the way.”

Mike reached into his pocket, “You might be interested in taking a look at this, it's one of the tracts that she was involved in producing, here read it while no-one's looking.” Joric unfolded the leaflet and read the contents slowly.

In God We Trust.

They twist my words all day long; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, while they wait to take my life. Will they escape in spite of such sin? In your anger cast down the people, O God. You yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle: are they not in your records? Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call. This I know; God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, In the Lord, whose word I praise, In God I trust; I will not be afraid, what can man do to me? I am obligated by vows to You, God; I will make my thank offerings to You. For You delivered me from death, even my feet from stumbling, to walk before God in the light of life.


At the bottom was an invitation:

We invite you to join our fellowship.

For truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

We write these things to you so that your joy may be full,

remembering that God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all.


Joric folded the tract and handed it back without comment.

When I first read it,” Mike continued, “I sort of came to terms with the fact that it'd simply been my lot to tackle this pock-faced perpetrator of the state's abuse. He was an agent of temporal politics employed to simply accompany Ms Jones to her next destination, no more, no less. My eyes had also been opened to the realisation that this Godless system had inveigled me to a lesser degree as well. Perhaps, in doing what I did, I took a step right there and then into post-modern church history.


Joric


As Mike finished his story, Joric knew that the time was right, reading the leaflet had confirmed it. He took a deep breath, opened his backpack and took out the plastic bag in which was hidden – the book!

Mike, You might need this more than I do.”

He nonchalantly handed the package over with that wild, weird and wonderful sense of elation he'd now come to savour, an unburdening of the yoke of his masters. Mike opened the top of the bag and peered in.

It's a book.” He said simply, closing it and looking enquiringly at Joric.

Yes, but a book that might well give you answers to the questions you're asking.” Joric was feeling bold. “Do yourself a favour, take it home and read it.”

We're not supposed to have books,” said Mike, slipping back into his State identity.

We're not supposed to kill people either,” said Joric. “Which do you suppose is the lesser of the two evils?”

I'll read it.”

You'd better! Now go home, study it carefully and tell me what you think. See you tomorrow! By the way, you might want to phone this number.” He handed Mike a slip of paper with Pastor Heini's phone number on it. Where the confidence came from he knew not, but with that, Joric paid the bill and left.

Walking home, he felt a snug and intimate tug at his heartstrings and remembered the somewhat remote stained-glass figure with open arms, high above him in a window at Westminster Cathedral. Perhaps he should go there on a pilgrimage one day and find out if that figure seemed any closer.

Joric knew that HRH Prince el Has'seen of ex-Transgordonia was also a lover of stained glass windows, probably the one and only thing they had in common. Joric had visited the Raghadana and Basmania Palaces in Harmmon, and knew of the Prince's love for the baroque windows there, not to mention those by Marc Chagall at Haddassah Hospital in the Holy Land. Now here he was, out on a limb with one of the intelligence men of the Prince's big partner in crime, world boss Sol Benevento.

Joric began to doubt the wisdom of his decision to part with the book, was he about to be nailed after all by this Bureau agent, who'd perhaps been on his case all along? He hoped that the joke wouldn't be on him, bursting the bubble of this indefinable, indescribable God-hunch. Perhaps he was overdue for a shrink, or perhaps he was simply beginning to trust his heart instead of his head for a change as he was happier than he'd ever been as a soundly rational soul asleep to the empyrean magnitude beyond him. Was this euphoria some sort of leaked revelation from cloud nine in seventh heaven? If he could only draw the essence of it into the core of his deeply marred being he might be able to find the way to the elusive state of tranquillity. All he'd ever been able to do to counter his often moribund soul was to sing at the top of his voice into the ferocity of a full blown gale off the Channel, on the wet, totally deserted Ostend beach as he pirouetted with outstretched arms. Afterwards, he would stand on the station platform, his plastic Mac dripping onto the concrete. Commuters would stare at him from a distance, a few coming close enough to look deep into his eyes, unable to resist a good-natured smile. Sometimes he would get chatting with a passer-by and two souls would engage briefly in close camaraderie as the world of strangers magically opened up in this the Totalitarian morass of humanity. In the interconnectedness was a vital spark that came from the energy of the universe, so different from the pie in the sky stuff seen in second rate documentaries. He'd seen such a film once, the imagery of intricate graphics in sentence-trails of multicoloured light flashed back into his mind. The researcher had explained that words were light that never disappeared into the black hole of the past. Oh to be impacted supernaturally like the blinded Saul, who metamorphosed dramatically into Paul through a God encounter of the third kind. Oh to be magnetically drawn towards that glowing light, sourced by subconscious yearnings of the dark heart. If only one could connect with the God of Light and His array of brilliant tones and hues from magical tints of bright reflective colour with hints of glowing magenta to the subtlest of understated shimmering shades of the rainbow and beyond; sent to change the condition of the human heart with more flamboyance than nature could contain.

Joric had heard about the rare medical occurrence of savants among people with the condition of autism, and the fact that they were progidious in mathematics and music. He had read of one concert pianist who only needed to hear a piece once to play it perfectly, and who'd said when interviewed that she saw colours as she played the musical notes. So much of the inexplicable hovering almost beyond scientific grasp.

By retaining such elevating revelation for longer than a few hours one could turn the world upside down, right side up. In lucid moments like these, Joric felt that he could accomplish anything. Adrift in the lost art of intangible contemplation, lucid light gently filtered abstractly through, into the glow that was his.


'I feel for the common chord again, the C Major in this life.'

-Robert Browning.



Part Two THE BETA CODE Beta-Mania

THE BETA CODE

24


'Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.'

-William Blake, Auguries of Innocence


LIVING ON A PRAYER ... take my hand

and we're halfway there

-Bon Jovi/Sambora/Child


Monday the Following Week Atalanta


Joric


The sealed A4 sized envelope marked confidential was on his desk first thing Monday morning. Joric opened it and took out a single page document; it was from Mike.

'Marvellous Mike!' he almost said aloud.

The previous night Mike had delivered a note upon which he'd written a cipher to be used between the two of them should it become necessary. He'd also suggested they shouldn't communicate with each other in the workplace but meet the following Saturday, same time, same place.

Mike, good sport that he was turning out to be, had come up with the Gateway Total Security Code giving Joric the jump start he needed to access covert socio-political information. It was written in their newly devised personal cipher so that in the unlikely event of the document being found by someone else, no suspicion would be aroused.

Joric could now start his investigations by logging on with the code and looking under Basic Propaganda. As Mike was probably under computer generated scrutiny, it was far too risky for him to deviate from his normal schedule. Anyway, Joric had given Mike reason to believe that he had the relevant know-how in IT to take the research forward himself.

It transpired that Mike hadn't known about the current religious purge and hadn't yet attained the level of seniority required to be in possession of the access code of the Socio-Religious Affairs Subdivision which was, moreover, completely separate from his sector although situated behind the same closed doors. Notwithstanding, Joric found that he was able to make some progress despite the frustratingly regular bamboozling diversions into spam. He could at least bring up classified reports of daily events in politics, but nothing pertaining to the Brelli case had come to light as yet. Finally Mike's paper trail terminated; a password was needed to get to the next stage, but Joric didn't give up as those less determined might've done. He persevered doggedly throughout the week whenever time would permit, working his way through a gamut of newly invented passwords.

It was while he was taking a break at the water cooler on Thursday afternoon that a sentence Mike had used came to mind, I feel jinxed by the Sphinx. He'd gone on to say that the Sphinx was a code name. Joric went back to his desk and typed in the word Sphinx. Access denied. How had Mike said it was written? With the vowel missing, Sph-nx? No, there was something else, something that hadn't rung true at the time, a hyphen for an extra vowel. Sph-n-x. Eureka! Accepted! Why hadn't he thought of it earlier? He then played a word association game, working his way through numbers, words and symbols linked with Sphinx, along with a few wildly creative ideas thrown in for good measure; zero, ethos, paws, enigma, 666, the list was endless. Eventually he tried the obvious and typed in ISP1. Artists impressions of the lavish pyramid revolving in space appeared on the screen, it had taken the best part of a week to get this far as Joric hadn't wanted to arouse suspicion by letting his work slide; at last he appeared to be getting somewhere. He scrolled down the various options until he came to an item simply listed as 'Inhabitants.'

As Joric read through the report in front of him, it became increasingly clear that Bob had most certainly not been relocated to any space station for his own safety. He would more likely have been conscripted for forced labour and sent to Siberia to help build a pyramid penal colony there. The only people permitted to live on Sky Pyramid One were non-civilian staff and chain gangs of convicts. The latter, no longer considered earthlings, had been classified as DUDS, standing for Dysfunctional Undesirable Deviants from Society. Thus they were identified and thus removed from the face of the earth once and for all.

Here was the proof he'd been searching for but reluctant to find, that once the initial construction crews from the previous dispensation had left, only the Oneworld boss and his private army with convict slaves in tow had been to the space station in the sky.

An icon started flashing on the screen indicating new info coming in. Joric held his breath as an update downloaded before his eyes.


Nineteen paying passengers docked safely at ISP1 at 14.00 on Sa'bin-A

Shuttle flight: 001ET/military

Code: MAIDEN VOYAGE

Description: Chrétien shipment

Importation: Female Civilians

Ticket validity: One Way


Joric recalled that Sa'bin-A was the extraterrestrial arm of Sabina Airway based in Brussels, revived by Azazel bin talon as the official state carrier for civilian and military flights. Suddenly the realisation of Kay Brelli's sad fate dawned upon him. It seemed that a cruel trick had been played on the planeload of brave women that had rocketed off the day before from the subcontinent launching pad, believing they were on the second leg of the journey to their nearest and dearest. The devout ladies aboard, dedicated to standing by their men, had thought they were buying return tickets to Sky One, but as Joric was discovering, there would be no return, with or without their other halves.

He downloaded a copy of the tickets issued, return and one-way cost the same price. The small print on the reverse read:


Foundation Advisory Impérial Labarum-Bearers for Safety policy states that those in possession of Category *D Universal Visas for flights to Sky Pyramid One will be classified as permanent residents upon arrival.

*Deemed D for Dangerous, therefore not eligible for return.

By order of FAIL-safe.


So once sent to 'The Outback Station' it would indeed be just like the ex-Australia of old. One would serve and survive one's time in hard labour, marooned forever with the challenge of finding something to do with the rest of one's life in the i'Sol'ated community, with all the time 'not' in the world on one's hands. Kay and friends were in limbo, lost in the cosmos, their destiny sealed.

Joric felt that one day he would like to white-wed a gutsy lady with the spunk and spirit of Kay Brelli; naturally she'd have to be young and sexy as well so Abigail Brelli would do just fine thank you very much. So many of the candidate dates he'd dilly-dallied with had seemed somewhat flighty and even when he'd been excited by a prospective Perfect Ten he'd known he would want more for the long haul. According to Abigail, her mother was the one with the strength they'd all come to rely on. He could still picture her face, she must've made quite an impression on him. Now she'd been duped by a one-way ticket to nowhere in some heartless process of elimination where Sol's thumbs up equated a former Roman Emperor's thumbs down.

Joric returned to the Home Page of ISP1 and scrolled down the options once more, looking for the specified code name from the brief he'd just read, 'Maiden Voyage,' there it was. One paragraph in the opening preamble caught Joric's attention and sent shudders down his spine.

'The remote colony's present convict population will be balanced by a space shipment of female long-term detainees. Thus the workforce will be encouraged to willingly engage in the overtime required.' Was this to be the proverbial Fate worse than death? Was that what was in store for the godly women?

Joric needed to come up with a daring plan enabling him to pull off an impossible superhero-type rescue of the damsel's mother in distress. He was willing to go to the ends of the earth, or even to ISP1 if it would mean winning the hand of the lovely Abigail – the sky was the limit. Perhaps it wasn't such an impossible dream after all, a few were already rocketing up and orbiting the moon to see an earthrise, and jet-setting tourists were taking supersonic sub-orbital thrill flights to the limits of the earth's atmosphere at G.O.D.$200,000 a throw. But only robbing a bank could conceivably get Joric up, up and away!

Still, there was so much masquerading and misinformation with its resultant confusion in the ministry of state affairs that he might just be able to somehow fabricate an order for Kay to be returned for some official reason. The next step would be hacking into a higher level of the Gateway Total Security System. On Saturday he was due for another session with Mike, they'd be able to compare notes and hopefully take the matter a step further. He'd call Abigail afterwards and suggest they all meet up on Sunday. In the meantime, perhaps he should try praying?

Joric grabbed a cup of coffee, and spent the rest of the day completing his paper on The French Revolution. He took it to Danial's office and placed it on the desk just before the five o'clock siren went off.

About time.” came the curt acknowledgement.


The next day Joric opened up Gateway once more, perusing page upon page of information regarding the lavish pyramid in space. It transpired that Sol's cronies would be the exception to the rule as far as visiting the space station was concerned. First to be beamed up with Sol would be the Gang of Four, privileged to enjoy the ultimate experience of witnessing first hand the greatest engineering feat of all time. There they'd experience the ultra luxury and comfort of the impressive VIP guest wing, each staying over in a fabulous room with a view whilst orbiting at over 300,000kph, resulting in round-the-world trips every ninety minutes and taking in fifteen sunsets daily. The only man-made structure visible for them would be the Great Pyramid itself. When every futuristic section of the New Age pyramid had been completed, Universal Time's description of it as being on the cutting edge would fall far short.

It was reported that although ISP1 had been continually manned from the start, no-one had stayed on there for longer than eighteen months so long-term side-effects from radiation were unknown. Researchers were still analysing the monkey sent up in the early days.

Joric could just visualize the chief architect and lord of his own destiny shooting like a star to this the jewel in his universal crown, escorted by a few elite and trusted bodyguards. The big shot would then drop in to the solarium of his multi-storey penthouse, with mirror and glass skylight revealing the heavens above. No doubt he would have quarters for a few concubines and his doctor would be in tow to administer the necessary medication and monitor his heart!

Just above the cavernous warehouse of the middle section was a port where Sol's private spacecraft would dock. Below the belly of the warehouse was the vast area set aside as living quarters for the DUDS, those subjugated frontiers-of-space pioneers living in abject submission to Sol Himself. From the blueprint it could be seen that this lower level was completely sealed off from the upper floors of the pyramid in case of mutiny, but the section in its entirety could be jettisoned from above to forever float in space should a major emergency arise. Not that that was likely; his Patriot ratings had sky-rocketed since taking office and personally manning State propaganda, yes, his popularity was now at an all time high and he intended to keep it that way by continuing to hand out lofty promises to all and sundry.

However even Sol couldn't be too careful these days, and in the unlikely event of an uprising against him on earth, he could keep his legendary cool by leaving and staying away as long as necessary. He was an untouchable despot who would not be taking any outside gamble with some base, dishonourable assassination attempt on his life. Bit like old 'ex-satan' President Bush who'd taken to the air for as long as possible after the twin towers had been destroyed due to the vengeful ire of the foreign religion at the time. Interesting in that it was later rumoured that everything had happened with the covert collusion of the vested interests of a certain fascist force backed by a clique of international bankers within that country herself. Ex-America as the world's policeman had locked up al Qu'ida suspects in a hell-hole called Guatemala as part of their war against terrorism. When they were due for release no-one wanted them, but Dominionist-friendly Sol had offered them asylum in the Italy he'd once governed. His campaign of bloodless take-over had been a one-sided affair, for who could rise against the Oneworld ruler and not come off second-best?

Joric went back to the Basic Propaganda page and looked under 'Labour.' Legislation from the top revealed that religious deviants would be in for hard labour and classified along with other non-Patriots as the Enslaved-In-Sin Servant Class. Would that apply to Bob and others like him? Ironic for a man of the cloth! Fancy titles were mere euphemisms for the revival of the slave trade, officially addressed for the first time since Wilberforce and his Christian lobbyists had managed to have it abolished. The familiar tampered-with-history pages justified the resurgence of slavery in its new form, revealing that the abolition of the slave trade had resulted in the world suffering an economic downturn. Yeah, with 'Britannia no longer ruling the waves' thought Joric wryly. Thereafter vice had been set free to pollute humanity. In conclusion, the document stated, the abolition had begun the slide which ultimately led to the final stock market crash! It all made sense now, he'd been working on the Wilberforce paper only last week. Out of habit Joric checked the credits just to make sure his name didn't pop up in the propaganda acknowledgements.

Wherever Bob happened to be, it was quite clear that he was in a totally different space from his wife, although the atmosphere of the two locations probably wouldn't be much different. As Joric had suspected all along, it was on the cards that Kay and Bob Brelli, parents of Abigail and Theresa Brelli, would never be seen again, and he was the one who'd have to break the news to their daughters.

Joric opened up another covert page and started browsing through the details of the Worldwide application of the Alpha Code, soon to reclassified as Benevento's Beta Code. It became apparent that author and philosopher, Hugh Kenner had been highly influential in shaping Sol's career. Kenner, his name ironically meaning 'knower' in Scots, had spoken of 'The Beta-testers of technology,' saying, That’ll be all of us soon, whether we like it or not.

The information Joric was reading confirmed that during the Alpha Code faze, he and his colleagues under the sea had unwittingly been doing life in a mega-test tube, albeit one that had enabled them to survive the new-fangled style of aquatic existence under NO's ruling of the waves. Each candidate’s story resembled a character in the Truman movie in some form or another, with many living in a dome of doom as regards their mental prowess, and all of them being scrutinized on the sly from the open sky above by comrade co-conspirators of Big Brother Sol Himself.

It had apparently started when Hugh Kenner met poet-muzo Ezra Pound. He'd described the experience by writing, I suddenly knew I was in the presence of the centre of modernism. Joric was interested to read that the troubled troubadour-prophet had defined rhythm as 'a form cut into time,' and 'the hardest quality of a man’s style to counterfeit.' As a rhythm man himself, Joric could identify with Pound's sentiments.

Ezra Pound had told Hugh Kenner that he had an obligation to visit the great men of his time, and on the list was Sol's name, address and number. Pound was quoted as saying, We may be in the midst of a transition that isn’t sufficiently realized to be recognized. We're getting into a new relationship with technology. Truth lies low on the Internet, if someone tells you something about themselves, you can neither see nor hear if it is true. On the net, face and voice are gone. We're entering a new universe. Hugh had made contact with Sol shortly after. Of course, all that had taken place before Sol moved into Villa Madama. Fancy that – old Sol just happening to have been named as one of the few great men of whom Ezra had spoken; little had the poet known just how far this particular great man would go!

Pound himself had gone deeply into mysticism before passing away, and with both he and Kenner gone to greener pastures, their baton had been passed on to Sol for use within NO, and in that lay the universal power and religion that Sol and his prophet had craved. What a turn-up for the books!

The message tone on his mobile bleeped, what now? 'Congrats! You have won a romantic night for two at the Sol Sun Hotel in Ghent along with tickets to An Evening of Romantic Choruses from works by Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Wolf and Gershwin. To claim your prize please phone the following number.' What was all that about? Joric racked his brains and remembered an evening a couple of weeks ago with the Irish Colleen, what was her name again? Connie, Cathy? Whatever. Could it be only two weeks since their date? It seemed like two months, so much had transpired since then. So, the pretty red-head had won him a night out for two! Well, well, well.


'Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle,

and though thou set thy nest among the stars,

thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.'

-Obadiah the prophet


25


'Greater love has no man than this,

than to lay down one's life for his friend.'

-John, the disciple whom Jesus loved

    .

LIKE A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS ...I will lay

me down -Paul Simon


Saturday Evening


Joric


When they met the next evening Mike seemed edgy, as if he had something he wanted to say but wasn't quite sure how to put it. This served to confirm Joric's fears that he had been somewhat rash in giving a forbidden book to a State agent. They exchanged small talk about this and that, tropical-treat in hand, when Mike unexpectedly gave Joric his book back; how embarrassing!

Too religious a read?” ventured Joric aware that Mike seemed agitated.

On the contrary, but I have to admit that when I left you I had no intention of reading it. In fact when I got home I started watching a DVD on Roman poetry. Odd choice of viewing material perhaps, but I'm fascinated by the culture of ancient Rome, a taste acquired whilst studying at NO's Oneworld Military Academy and learning the three R's of New Age Rome - Rethink, Redesign and Rebuild. The curriculum included everything to do with the rise of the Roman Empire, and being something of a poetry boffin the DVD appealed to the state of mind I was in after our evening together. A poem by a man named Martial unexpectedly warmed my heart, he wrote 'Sweet peace has transformed me. I was once the property of the soldier, and am now the property of the husbandman.'

That night I had one of those recurring nightmares that plague my sub-conscious mind from time to time, documenting the wicked work that I do for the ruthless regime. I managed to shake myself awake yet seemed to fall into a visionary state in which there appeared to be a Damocles sword hanging over me inscribed with a Hebrew word. It was poised like the blade of a guillotine and could have been construed as a continuation of the nightmare but the lettering being Hebraic was strangely comforting. The letters eventually faded so I got out of bed and looked up the Hebrew alphabet on my laptop. I recognised that both the first and last letters of the alphabet had appeared on the blade. I then went on to discover that the mystic Hebrew word I'd seen meant ploughshare - the blade of a plough. Immediately my thoughts turned to Martial's husbandman as being one who would have used such a plough. Ovid, another Roman poet, once wrote, 'War has lasted long, and the sword is preferred to the plough.' NO says that peace reigns in the Nirvana of Oneworld, and yet a long cold war of a different kind relentlessly grinds on, a calculated and callous war of the State that mercilessly beats down its own defenceless citizens, a civil war in which rebel guerrillas and hapless civilians are classified as outlaws and spirited away from the spotlight of general enquiry to be eliminated and forgotten. Yet NO hypocritically promotes the antithesis of this State orchestrated violence by using the phrase 'swords into ploughshares' as a propaganda tool and the motto of their cadres. The same phrase which proved so toothless, powerless in the token symbolism of the old United Nation's impotent policing, was Hebrew in origin, a dynamic not lost on me now.

It spoke of a blessed rest from war, particularly when it came to the wars of the soul, so I chose to open the mystery book you so kindly lent me, and I read it from cover to cover. Near the end Doctor Brelli quoted from John's Gospel. 'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.' The good doc also prescribed the beginning of chapter fifteen in which the Peace Giver revealed that 'My Father is the Husbandman.' I don't know quite how to explain what happened afterwards, all I can say is that I found myself on my knees with new life gloriously flooding into me along with a peace that words cannot adequately describe.”

Joric was dumbstruck. Could all this be for real? Was the tough agent of the State really under the control and care of God's economy or 'husbandry' as he'd quaintly described it?

I called Heini during the week,” Mike continued, “And introduced myself, then told him the story of my extraordinary encounter, puzzled by the fact that all this should be happening to me. He spoke about the time when Jesus' disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – when the mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire came and they began to speak spontaneously in other languages. In the Scripture that followed, Peter began to quote what the prophet Joel had said would happen in the last days; that God would pour out His Spirit, that young men would see visions and old men dream dreams. That there'd be wonders seen in heaven above and that the sun would be turned into darkness - the moon into blood, but that whoever called upon the name of the Lord would be saved. Apparently in Paul's letter to the Romans he said the same thing - that 'Whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.' Whoever Joric! God really is only a prayer away and believe you me, His precious fellowship is not meant to remain a mystery forever! I'm going to see Heini at the meeting tomorrow and learn more. Wanna come? Abigail's going to be there! I've got the address and you know the mainland better than I do so perhaps you can take me?”

Steady on Mike, not too fast. You're telling me that your life has changed?”

Well you know perfectly well from our chat last week that I wasn't having too much success in running my life, so I asked Jesus to take over the reins, and for the past few days I've been experiencing what I can only describe as joy.”

Joric was taken aback by this unseen God-rendezvous. He almost felt envious, but at the same time pleased as punch for his new-found companion who'd been at his wit's end only a week before. Looking deeper into the tired eyes opposite him, he was dazzled by the shining joie de vivre that he saw there.

Well - you certainly look different - and sound different. I'm not sure what to say. Would congratulations be in order?” Mike smiled,

Your book told me who Jesus really was. It explained things about the cross that I'd never understood before, and gave reasons why Jesus had to die such a terrible death. I really need to get a Bible from someone, there are still many questions to be answered, but at least I've taken that first step.”

Uncertain of how to begin, there was now no stopping him.

I somehow used to believe the dismissive saying that Heaven was just Pie in the sky when you die. It made some sort of sense if based on the supposition that Heaven was real. It was analogous; pie stood all that was good, the sky represented Heaven and to die simply meant freedom from all that was corrupt. Well, that was alright as far as it went, but questions arose like how did one get the pie? Where did it come from and what did it contain? How did it taste? When I started to read your book the answers came rolling in. Right there in the beginning it said 'Taste and see that the Lord is good,' - a quotation from the Bible.”

Doctor Brelli wrote of the Godhead as one integral whole constituting three inseparable Persons. Okay the analogy of one pie in three slices has severe limitations, but here we have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working as One to create the universe and everything in it. Listen to this.” Mike took a piece of paper out of his pocket and read the scripture verses he'd jotted down.

'In the beginning was the Word,' the Word being another name for Jesus, the Son, 'and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him; and without Him nothing was made.' Co-working, the Godhead created everything. The details of how He did it are beside the point. Perhaps He chose to evolve his materials from the nothing He had to start with, I don't know, I wasn't there. There's plenty of evidence to say He used a technique that included some kind of evolution, but however it happened, He did it according to His Master Plan.

Go back to your beach Joric, and meditate. Contemplate the vastness of the brooding ocean, feel the breeze, smell the air. Have a closer look at everything around you as you jog through the park past the trees and over the grass. Let the greens become greener, let the flowers, birds and creatures great and small speak about God to that indefinable essence of your being called spirit.”

Joric thought of the little crab that had visited him and Abigail, and of the sun setting over the sea, and of the length of her wavy hair and... Mike cut into his thoughts bringing them back to a more holy wavelength.

Then stay until it's dark and look up Joric, just look up at the stars, the universe, His sky. God's handiwork is everywhere. And look at you and me, the Bible says we're 'fearfully and wonderfully made' so that God's precious presence can be with us, for us to reciprocate in kind with requited interaction! He's our Creator and we are made in His image which makes us, among other things, mini creators. When we create something, part of us goes into whatever we've done. For example, a painting says something about the one who painted it, likewise a poem or a symphony. God left us hints about Himself in all we see around us, He's somehow in His creation as well as being apart from it. Therefore in a sense, we can experience Him around us right here and now, not only in the sky when we die.

Which brings us on to the 'When you die' part. You have to die while you're still alive!” The statement was triumphant as if being the final answer to everything. “You have to die to your ignorance, fallibility and overriding pride and give Him the chance to come in and give you a new birth; healing, mending, renewing, restoring and cleaning out the accumulated baggage of your years, months, weeks and days.

This dying is like saying to God, 'Okay, I'm having a tough time trying to crack it on my own, I've done stuff that's wrong, gone my own way, and I'm really sorry about all of that, well it's over to You now, I'm all Yours.' Then He does the rest, and fills you with His Spirit and that's how you become spiritually reborn. Only then are you set free to work in partnership with The One Who gave you life, gifts, talents and a purpose. We all have the freedom to choose, and I choose freedom.”

Freedom?”

It's hard to explain. I feel free to be me, no longer bound to the world system. Oh I'll go on living in it for sure, but I can choose not to serve its gods. Linking up with one's Creator is the only way to real self-fulfilment, He'll never take our free will away from us either but He makes things happen, gives us opportunities. And when you physically die? Your soul lives on in even closer association ..”

With the pie?” Joric interjected.

Let's not overcook the pie analogy,” Mike replied dryly. “I was going to say that we live on in closer association with God!”

Bit hard to follow, but the guy was alive, more alive than he'd ever been before. He'd gone to the brink of life itself, and then been brought to his knees. Joric had heard the saying, Man's extremity is God's opportunity; it seemed the hound of heaven had been hard at it, hunting down and finally capturing His prey in the form of the regimented Agent Davidson, former fisher-out of men for the NO kingdom who'd put his catch into cruel bondage, bound for imprisonment or worse. The gracious and pursuing Lord seemed to have dramatically taken Mike right out of his darkness, and into His glorious light.

What had happened to the Sunday school head start Joric had had on his unlikely friend and colleague? Mike, like the tortoise defeating the hare, had won the spiritual race while Joric still lagged way behind, dragging his feet and lugging his cumbersome sin-bin burden along with him. He was just too rational, too cocksure, a logical lad with bright memories of the ex-London he'd known and loved. Now the city's cathedrals stood virtually empty, and as a communist leader once said, the churchgoer and the Bible had almost ceased to exist. Nevertheless, some very reverent bishops were hanging in there, giving 'blessed assurance' placebos to their outgoing flaky flocks of huddling old irrelevant ex-Londoners. Others like Rev. James Mackintosh, who'd led Joric's first few confirmation classes, had been given the push and become missionaries in far off foreign fields.

And here was Mike wanting to 'fellowship,' to use the old-fashioned sounding word, as the book counselled him to. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, echoed the words penned by another Englishman, a sea captain who'd broken ranks with the status quo during the era of the slave trade. Joric had made mention of him in his paper on Wilberforce; naturally the reference had been cut.

Mike changed the subject and began talking about the Welsh lass, saying there were plans afoot to contact her.

Ms Jones will probably be relocated soon to a safe house within Heini's league, league meaning fellowship you know.”

Yes, I also read that in the book,” said Joric, not wanting to be outdone in everything, as Mike then remembered Joric's own quest.

Sorry old chap, I nearly forgot to ask if you'd made any progress in your investigations?”

Er – what was that?”

Lady friend? Father missing? Sky Pyramid One? ... The code you were fishing for and I supplied? ... Well, how far did you get? Come on, spill the beans, surely you know you can trust me by now?”

Of course, Mike's affairs were now out in the open but Joric had merely hinted cagily at his own. He decided to come clean, and spent the rest of the evening telling Mike about how he'd discovered the book in the shop where he'd met Abigail. He went on to describe his meeting with her parents and shared the details of what had taken place recently. He told of how he was on the trail of Kay in a manner of speaking, but had no clue as to the whereabouts of Bob, who hadn't been sent to Sky Pyramid One after all. Joric found Mike to be a sympathetic listener, already exhibiting a new depth of spirituality and able to relate with his heart to the plight of Kay and Bob Brelli. He said he'd pray earnestly into their situation, confidently believing that God would answer his prayer.

As for Joric, he was completely bamboozled by the impossibilities under discussion. Distance was a major factor - God was in His Heaven and Kay in Sky Pyramid One, but there again, Mike had just said that God was all around, omnipresent. He was struck by the deep concern his new friend was showing for a lady he'd never laid eyes upon. Already he was referring to her as his sister, Joric just wanted her to be his mother-in-law.

There and then they decided to spend the following night in Ostend, going over the rail bridge in the morning to visit Heini at a parishioner's house where the Sunday meeting took place. 'From the mountain to the valley' they'd return, back from Beulah land with renewed resolve, going through the tunnel-bridge on the early sub-train to Atalanta on Monday. It would be like going to the land of the living for Mike, his God-odyssey having begun, but as for Joric, he couldn't quite shake off a lifetime of being a doubting Thomas. He was willing to listen to what Heini had to say, but he was also becoming increasingly involved in his own sacred search, looking up words in his Oxford & Cairo. He'd recently looked up 'enthusiasm,' and it just happened to be derived from the Greek 'theos,' meaning that if you had enthusiasm, you were possessed by, or at least inspired by a god. The present world was possessed by a self-proclaimed god but remained wretchedly uninspired. Mike, on the other hand, had obviously received a mammoth dose of enthusiasm - of the God kind.

It's getting late Joric, best make tracks for home, big day tomorrow!” The two men stood up and Joric made as if to shake hands, it was not to be. Mike ignored the outstretched hand and moved in to embrace his friend. One bear-hug later, Joric disengaged himself with an embarrassed cough.

Eh-hem. Good – right – I'll say goodnight then - love your neighbour hey? Great, see you tomorrow.” With that, the two men bid Emile farewell and went their separate ways.


'I'm on your side when times get rough and friends just can't be found.'

-P Simon


26


'Diamonds are Forever ..I've no fear that they might desert me.

..they'll lustre on

-John Barry, Don Black


HE'S THE ROCK THAT DOESN'T ROLL ...the future

touched my past

-Larry Norman

Early hours of Sunday Morning


Not to be outdone, Joric had an unusual dream of his own later that night in which he saw an outsize diamond being brought up from a mineshaft by two black miners in boiler suits whom he recognised as a couple of Central Africans from the office. The valuable black diamond had been precut with seven facets on the underside. There was much excitement as the precious stone steadily grew in size. More of his African work colleagues came out of the mine, all of them surrounding the diamond as their fretting and fuming white bosses with red faces tried to push their way through the swelling crowd. The more agitated they became, the paler they appeared until they were almost opaque. Just as they were about to fade into oblivion, Joric recognised the face of the chairman of Anglais-Americas, a man reputed to be a member of the exclusive clique directly connected with the Illuminated Ones and by extension with Benevolence Himself. Joric couldn't for the life of him imagine why the tycoon had come down from his plush executive penthouse suite at the top of a towering skyscraper to mingle at ground level with the working class.

A group of black protesters entered the scene, toy-toying and waving placards declaring, Take up your mighty weapons of warfare! Pull down strongholds! Cast down warped philosophies! The previously red-faced big-shot and his buddies became totally invisible, vanishing from the scenes of wild jubilation that followed in their wake. Workers continued to stream forth from the mine shaft and jump for joy, their uplifted faces shining as they began to dance in gay abandon, some enthusiastically banging on African drums of varying shapes and sizes as they accompanied heavenly sounding harps. What a wonderful mix of the primitive and sublime!

The dream changed and suddenly Joric was a schoolboy back in London on an outing to a concert showcasing the work of an eccentric English composer, one who'd journeyed into the upper reaches of Africa to record various tribal sounds as he'd travelled around, sounds which now provided the backing to the full orchestra accompanying a Welsh choir, profoundly impacting the audience with a weird and wacky musical fusion. The fact that the symphony was called Gloria Deo, Latin for Glory to God, meant little to Joric and this echo from the past was but a pale shadow of what was taking place at the mine. Joric flashed back to where the Central African workforce from floors nineteen and twenty-two were now swelling in number to thousands as their colourfully dressed women joined them along with others from across the globe, all singing their hearts out like several hundred Gospel Choirs representing every culture, tongue and tribe from the four corners of the earth. The Welsh choirs now joined them, singing with great gusto and even the old English composer was there, conducting from a mountaintop.

In the meantime the diamond had become the size of Mount Everest, demolishing the monumental Anglais-Americas edifice as it grew and it wasn't very long before the sky was completely blotted out, as if the mountainous diamond had filled the whole earth, encompassing all who had been drawn into the resplendent glory of its brilliance. Heavenly strains of the old hymn, 'The whole earth is filled' floated and faded gradually, as Joric awoke.

His dream had strangely moved him and he tossed and turned as manifold impressions filtered through his mind in the tranquil afterglow of the dream scenes of rejoicing. But then lurking misgivings regarding his Sunday service commitment started gnawing at him, disturbing his peace and nagging him away from the possibility of much needed sleep. Why oh why had he agreed to go along to the Sunday service? What was more, with the persecution of The Way now well under way, he really didn't feel up to joining the brave-hearts willing to risk the witch hunt. He'd better call Abigail early and arrange for Mike to go to her place; then she could take him along to the meeting in his stead.

Although the churches had been closed under the blanket rule of ecumenical decree, cell group fellowships continued to meet as The Association, a businesslike title to throw agents of State off the trail, off the scent of His people's 'fragrance of His knowledge,' or under the rather enigmatic banner of koinōnia. The word had been Greek to Joric, and no doubt to the authorities whom the fellowshippers were trying to elude as well. He'd found out that koinōnia had been compiled and coined symbolically by taking the divine seventh letter in the Greek word for fellowship, and the fifth letter which looked vaguely like a halo, suggesting the aura or presence of the saints at a place where the faithful congregated. The groups met within a new circuit, in unity with their itinerant clerics.

A sentence Mike had quoted earlier that night came into Joric's now very active mind: 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.' He'd heard that somewhere else recently, now where was it? Ah yes, in the canteen at work. Socio-Religious Department's Comrade Boris had been going on about it; what was it he'd said? Something to do with the Watchtower Witnesses' New World Translation of the Bible. Atheism's local rabid evangelist and petty spy, Boris 'Big Ears' Braun, who was avidly tuned in to all that was NO, enjoyed nothing more than delivering a diatribe based on selective information that contradicted the Bible. He'd started by ranting and raving on about Heigel's attacks on both religion and the social order of his day, inspiring Marx who in turn influenced such dictators as Mayo and Stalin, the latter lambasting the Holy Bible as merely the opiate of the masses. His final spotlight had fallen on the God-is-dead Nietzsche, considered a precursor of Nazism, a man who had abandoned theology to reject the 'slave morality' of the Chrétiens. Unbeknown to Boris, Nietzsche had died a lonely man after persistent ill-health had culminated in a breakdown from which he'd never recovered. Plebeian Braun's personal hero Marx had advocated a classless society, which Sol would be perfecting as a cashless society. It was then that Boris had produced a banned Watchtower Bible like a rabbit out of a hat, eager to disprove the divinity of Jesus by pointing out the first verse of St John's Gospel which read 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was a god.'

Doc Brelli had discussed the same Scripture in his fellowship book, pointing out a glaring error in translation and explaining that there was no 'a' in the original Greek Codex and that the Watchtower translators had inserted the extra word themselves, thus subtly changing the meaning of what the Bible was teaching – that Jesus the Word was Divine - that He and the Father were One; a drop of their poison into a lake of revelation. It seemed those Watchtower religionists at the top of that organisation churning out subtle error were following a different code of ethics, leading their own Witnessing followers to be duped into pushing that misleading doctrine of ancient deception sneaked into the Watchtower reading material, dressed up for modern consumption as a good-religious-read, grand sounding New World Translation new book cover, their version of a glorious New World to come, yet another concocted version. In this particular case it was permissible to studiously 'judge a book by its cover.'

According to the renowned and respected Professor Lewis of Oxford University, the fact that Jesus had claimed divinity for Himself would put Him in the category of either madman or demon if he were not indeed God incarnate. Joric tended to agree with the late Professor that Jesus was indeed whom he claimed to be. In that case, if he wanted to live beyond the grave, he'd better embrace the good Lord wholeheartedly before passing on to other pastures. But to say Jesus was the only Way and the only Truth was like waving a red rag to a bull in this epoch of the beast. Society's Zeitgeist promoter and prophet, Prince Has'seen, held to the overwhelming world-view that many roads led to Rome, and beyond that one could safely leave all the multitudinous contradictions of the world's religions to his apologetics expertise. Joric was reminded of the good old English saying that one fool made many.

Evil lurked in the absence of true religion, and bred in its counterfeit forms. One could certainly rest assured that religion and power went hand in hand as many lobbyists could attest. But now, here was a true testimony to the reality of God's Son unfolding before his eyes in the spiritual birth of his friend Mike. Joric had tried his level best to live life to the full, enthusiastically throwing himself body and soul into all it had to offer. But where was the inspiration of spirit that had fired up his colleague, galvanizing him into such a radical response?

He looked at the clock, six-thirty, where had the night gone? He called Abigail and then Mike saying he'd double dated, he also asked Mike not to tell Abigail what he'd discovered about her parents until he had more information. His excuse for not going was flimsy, the trifling arrangement he'd made was for later in the day, well after the time the service would have ended. There'd been a minor candidate date complaint from way back that needed attending to before it blew up into a mountain from the molehill it was. But one really did have to watch one's back in this place and the lady in question might just be a mole. Anyway, he hadn't treated her well having been rather unkind after taking advantage of her charms. His past was coming back to haunt him and he needed to repent, but he didn't feel like going to a church meeting to do so.

A panicky flash of lousy jealousy suddenly struck at the thought of Mike and Abigail meeting. Mike was the brave and manly type that women were supposed to go for. Joric had even overheard two ladies at Jungle Jim's referring to him as a handsome hunk. Did his dream indicate that Mike would one day be putting a diamond on her finger? Diamonds are a girl's best friend mocked the song now running through his mind. He really should be going along to the meeting - too late now. Better make sure he went next time whenever that might be.

Joric had until four o'clock in the afternoon to sort out the date complaint, so he set his alarm for midday and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.


'A stone was cut out without hands which struck the image

and it became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.'

-Daniel the prophet, Nebuchadnezzar's encoded dream

made known and interpreted by him.

27


'Silence is golden ...and the people bowed and prayed.'

-Paul Simon

MORNING HAS BROKEN ...like the first morning; praise ..

singing .. springing fresh from The Word

-Eleanor Farjeon


Sunday Morning 6.45am Atalanta and Ostend


Michael


Billy! Are you awake yet? said Mike reacting to an impulse that came him from he knew not where.

Mike? Well hello to you too stranger, I thought you'd left the planet, and now you call me. D'ya know what time it is? And it's Sunday for God's sake!” came the croaky voice at the other end of the phone.”

For God's sake indeed Billy,” replied Mike affirmatively, “Or perhaps I should rather say, for your sake!”

Come again?”

Look, I know I've been neglecting you and I'm really sorry about that so let me make amends. What are you doing today? Anything planned?”

A few extra hours shut-eye for a start!”

Listen to me for a moment,” Mike persisted, “I thought you might like to come along and get some fresh air on the mainland.

Fresh air – what's that?”

Something you've been away from far too long. It's going to be a great day according to the forecast, come and say hello to the Son!” Not, the sun you're thinking about either, Mike thought to himself and continued; “I'll even introduce you to this Abigail our friend's so enamoured with.”

Abigail? Honing in on the Sheila behind our mate's back are we?”

No you wally.” said Mike, trying again. “Look, Joric's arranged for Abigail to take us to meet a friend of hers.”

Male or female?” asked Billy, waking up slowly.

Well there'll probably be a few of each. Joric's backed out, something about another candidate date, so I need a bit of moral support; new faces, new places and all that. Tell you all about it on the train.”

A party with a few new faces? Not a bad way to start a Sunday, a sort of carry over from last night! Count me in. Music, Sheilas, beer, dancing?”

Sure to be music, yes to ladies as I prefer to call them but a tad early for beer, probably coffee or tea. Come on Billy, you're getting a bit of a paunch - the ladies go for six packs of a different kind!”

Okay Mike, but just cos were mates. Haven't been to the mainland for ages, could be fun.”

Meet you at the station in half an hour!”

Make that three-quarters and I'll be there.”

More than one way to skin a cat, thought Mike as he put the phone down and finished his coffee. He'd simply offered the bait he thought Billy might take, after all, it was his job to be a fisher of men now – for the Kingdom of the real God in His real Heaven instead of the dubious kingdom of the pretender he worked for. Anyway, Billy needed an encounter with Jesus before he could take up the challenge Mike had for him.

They met at the station ten minutes before the train was due to leave, found an empty carriage, and sat down facing one another.”

What's up with you mate? You look like a Koala up a gum tree,” said Billy taking in Mike's glowing countenance.

I beg your pardon? Not familiar with that one?”

Eucalyptus leaves, Koalas' tucker. They're only happy when they've got a fistful and happily munching away - like the cat that ate the cream?”

Got you. It's a long story, but I'll be as brief as possible.”

He told Billy about his meeting with Ms Jones who'd been arrested for righteous resistance to the regime, leaving out the gruesome details of his part in her rescue. He then spoke of the book, of his experience the week before with God and how he wanted to know more. He shared about Abigail's dad being a Pastor who'd also been arrested and of how this group they were going to meet was the remnant of his church, now gone underground, but seeking God as to what to do next. Talk about being thrown in the deep end, Billy was a captive audience for there was no escape route and Mike took him on a wild roller coaster journey going up and down, round and round, all in the space of half an hour or so. Eventually there was silence, except for the seagulls crying up above them as they walked from the station to Abigail's shop.

Bit of a con artist hey Mike?” said Billy at last.

Well - that's what I'm paid for,” admitted the agent of the State.

And you haven't even got the grace to blush.” retorted Billy,

Come on,” Mike persisted, “Stop avoiding the issue. Don't you Aussies have a saying along the lines of 'Give it a go you nut?'”

Well - okay, guess I'm up for it. I'm not anti-religion or anything like that. Mum went to church, she was a Presbyterian, had me confirmed, not that the Presbys call it that, same thing though. Haven't darkened a church door since that day. Can't say that organised religion ever jelled with me, just made me feel guilty.”

They arrived at the shop and Abigail came out to meet them,

Crikey, what a beaut!” Said Billy - a little too loudly.

You must be Billy,” said Abigail.

Well stone the crows, whatever made you think that?” replied Billy humorously.

Joric told me about you.”

All good I trust?”

And I recognised the accent. “You, of course must be Michael,” she said turning to Mike.

Michael it is. Abigail?”

Yes, I am Abigail and this is Terry,” she replied as Terry appeared from behind the door on her way to the shops. “We'd better get going or we'll be late.” The three of them got in the car and they set off for the home of one Ermina Viner. Naturally it was too risky to meet at the church which Abigail pointed out as they drove past. It now stood empty with a Department of Arts and Culture sign on the door:


BINGO AND BEER! EVENINGS AND ALL DAY SUNDAYS!


They soon reached their destination and Heini was at the door to greet them and welcome them into the large cosy basement where a small gathering of people were already singing songs of praise, led by a guy with a guitar. A guitar?

Makes a change from the badly played organs I experienced when Mum dragged me to church as a kid,” murmured Billy. The three of them joined in, whenever a familiar song came up, Amazing Grace how sweet the sound and The Lord's My Shepherd I'll not want; if ever the world was in need of Grace from a Heavenly Shepherd, it was now! Most of the songs were unfamiliar to Mike and Billy, some of them were really up tempo whereas others were ballad-like and led the group from praise into worship. Even the rough and ready Australian was moved by the sincerity of the believers and the sense of peace that pervaded the room. Suddenly the guitarist stopped playing and the people began to sing as one in a language the lads from Atalanta had never heard before, the harmonies blending, rising and falling as if led by an unseen conductor. A few moments of golden silence followed before someone began to sing gently Be still and know that I am God. Mike looked as if he were already in heaven and Billy started to weep softly. The tears streamed down his face, he tried to stop them, after all he was a bloke who'd been taught that real men just don't cry, but stop he couldn't. He was lost in a realm he'd never entered before this strangely wonderful new day. Someone handed him a box of tissues, he took a few, but the flood of tears flowed on and it seemed as if all the pain and grief of the past were leaving his inner being on wave after wave. Mike put a hand on his shoulder;

It's okay, I did the same thing last week when I knelt in my bedroom.” The tears subsided as someone started to pray; prayer came easily to those standing there. When one finished another took over as God's people poured out their love for Him, then asked Him to move amongst them in the power of His Spirit, taking them wherever He wanted them to go, filling them anew so that they might be used for His purpose. Eventually Heini spoke.

Perhaps some of you are not familiar with what's been happening here this morning. The Holy Spirit is amongst us, He has been leading us to sing new songs in a heavenly language that He Himself gave as we worshipped. He has given us His peace, the peace that passes all understanding. As we enjoy His presence this morning, I am going to share what I believe He is saying to us today.” Heini went on to expound from the Scriptures relating to prophecies pointing to the age in which they were now living, showing how the time would shortly come when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh and how they as a privileged few were being prepared to disciple the many who would flock into the Kingdom of God; a task they'd take up in partnership with their Lord and Saviour. Mike and Billy knew there and then that they both wanted to be a part of what was happening, at last they'd found Life with a capital 'L' and they wanted to live it abundantly.

During coffee time, Heini took them both aside and led Billy into the Kingdom as he submitted to the Lordship of the one and only true God, confessing his past misdemeanors and receiving forgiveness as he began to understand the cleansing process that he'd experienced earlier. Both of them felt washed on the inside, brand new and ready for whatever the future held. Then they all celebrated together, and Billy enjoyed his party, a far, far better party than the one he'd been looking forward to when Mike had called early that morning.

The party over and goodbyes said, Mike and Billy went back with Heini to spend the night at his place. There they burnt the midnight oil like three musketeers on the King's business, discussing such things as the importance of Baptism as a follow up to their decision. Mike as a now wonderfully fulfilled and completed Ha-kodesh was enlightened as to the meaning of his visionary experience, with Heini expounding on the subjects of husbandmen and ploughshares peace. The two new converts learnt that the analogy of the vine was often used in Scripture as a type of the Misra Sar nation, planted and tended by the Almighty as its husbandman.

And what of the Hebrew word that appeared?” Mike enquired.

Ah yes, ploughshares, inclusive of the letters aleph and tav,” replied Heini. “Swords into ploughshares and learning war no more are concepts spoken of by Isaiah and confirmed by Micah and also feature in the finale – the closing chapter of the Bible. The prophets confirmed that a ploughshare primarily speaks of peace, a peace accompanied by praise and joy drawn from the deep waters of salvation, perfected in the peace of the soul which equals prosperity. Jesus said that no-one who puts his hands to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God, you'll find that in Doctor Luke's book.”

They'd sung a song that morning I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. It all made sense now. Heini advised they set aside a time each day to be quiet before the Lord so that He could speak to them and help them in the task of keeping their focus on Him in the days that lay ahead.

The subject of Ms Jones also cropped up with Mike telling the other two 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' about the incident on the ferry.

She's still holed up on the yacht.” He concluded. Heini suggested that she be brought along to the next fellowship meeting which was in two days time, on Tuesday evening. There she'd be able to meet the group and hopefully move to somewhere warmer and safer. Moreover Mike didn't want any government official snooping around the motor yacht while she was there, it would land them both in the soup.

How will we get her across?” asked Heini.

Leave it to me,” said Mike, “I have a plan up my sleeve. We'd better hit the sack now or we won't make the early morning train.”

The three of them slept like babies and woke early for their quiet time together before leaving Heini's feeling completely refreshed in body, mind and spirit, ready for the day ahead. Heini gave them a lift to the station where they boarded the sub-train along with the African workforce and received their first blessing of the day, two seats together in the already crowded compartment.

The ex Wild-Bill felt suitably challenged when Mike turned to him and asked if he would be the one to help relocate Ms Jones from the yacht on Tuesday night. Rescuing a member of of the fairer sex who was part of an underground resistance group sounded very cloak and dagger, and appealed to Billy's sense of adventure. His experience of the night before had left him with the feeling that he could conquer the world.

No worries mate. What did Heini say last night? With the Lord one can accomplish all things, so bring it on!” Billy wanted to go for whatever assignment he felt his Lord was giving him, he was ready.

One just can't lose can one – in partnership with the Almighty! What was the Sheila's name again?”

Her name is M Jones.”

Em? You mean Emma?”

No, M something. It's her initial.”

Should we make that Matilda as in the waltzing variety? Mary as in Queen of Scots perhaps?”

I told you she's Welsh. I didn't ask for her full name.”

You didn't ask the maiden her name? Mate, you're weird.”

I hardly spoke to her, she did all the talking. I was too traumatized after the shooting.”

And the reason you want me to go instead of you, is...?”

I need to keep my distance from her in case I'm followed and NO starts putting two and two together about the part I played in the crime of RE-Chrime. My department doesn't like having unsolved mysteries on their books. Come to think of it, if they smelled a rat they might put me on the case just for laughs. Back to business, there'll be time to pick Ms Jones up after work, and take her to the meeting on Tuesday evening. I'll find out exactly where it's going to be held and arrange for you to stay over at Heini's again and be back for work on Wednesday.”

He smiled, “I wonder what friend Joric's going to make of all this? We must get him to Jungle Jim's tonight, and share the Good News!”


'All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.'

From 'Easter' -Yeats


28

'Those who danced were thought to be quite insane

by those who could not hear the music.'

-Angela Monet




SOMEBODY'S KNOCKING AT YOUR DOOR ...why

don't you answer?

Can't you hear Him?

-Trad. Slave Spiritual


Monday Morning Atalanta


Joric


Billy-O looked as if he were about to burst when he arrived at work

the next morning. One might be forgiven for thinking he'd just won the lottery. You could have knocked Joric over with a feather at what happened next.

What's with you?” Joric asked, seeing the same silly smile he'd seen on Mike's face a couple of days earlier. No, couldn't be, not Billy the Kid.

The Aussie slid his chair over to his friend's desk and opened his briefcase, nudging Joric to look inside. A peek was enough to see a little black book that looked remarkably like a Bible. Joric immediately thought about how he'd gone to great pains to conceal his own little book, the thought of bringing it anywhere near the office had never entered his mind.

Where did you get that?” he hissed.

Got it last night, went to the meeting with Mike instead of you.”

Joric couldn't believe his ears. How had Mike done it? He'd never even been able to get Billy out for a jog!

Can we save this for later?” Joric asked hastily as Billy the Bold, as he would henceforth have to be called, started to take the incriminating book out of his briefcase.

Save is the word! Salvation's an even better one. Okay” he relented, Jungle Jim's at seven?”

Right.” affirmed Joric with a sigh of relief as the briefcase snapped closed, “We've got a lot to get through today, back to work now Billy.” A few minutes later Billy's mobile rang,

G'day Billy the Blessed speaking... It's Heini,” he mouthed to Joric, before continuing his conversation which went on rather too long and far too enthusiastically for office hours.

There was also a lot of reckless talk about caring for some terrorist, no doubt the defiant Welsh firebrand that had landed in Mike's lap, transferred now to Billy's it seemed. What was that old proverb pertaining to letting a woman in your life? It was like scooping coals into your lap, yup that was it.

That was Heini,” said Billy chirpily, hanging up.

So you said.”

He was just welcoming me into fellowship once again. We were also chatting about a young Sheila that I'll be giving a helping hand to.” Whatever bombshell was Billy the Bomb going to drop next? Joric was getting more appalled by the minute. Finally Billy calmed down enough to get on with the job in hand, but he just couldn't wipe that inane grin off his face and started whistling while he worked.

Cut it out Billy, I can't concentrate.”

Sorry mate, just can't seem to help myself.” He started humming songs rather tunelessly instead, breaking into I've got the joy, joy, joy here, down in my heart! It seemed there was just no stopping him. For flying fishes sake, how many more people in this crazy place were going to go rushing off to get invisibly born again? By some miracle they survived the rest of the day without anyone being detained.


Both Mike and Billy were there to meet him at Jungle Jim's that evening, the two of them grinning like Cheshire cats. Before anyone could say 'What're you having,' Billy announced that he'd been fully persuaded at last night's meeting as to the Good News of the Gospel and what it was like to have taken the leap of faith.

Along with my mate Mike, or Michael as he now prefers to be called. That suggestion came from your Abigail I might add!”

The lightning flash of jealously he'd felt before struck Joric once again, he'd really have to go with them next time, whatever it cost.

And guess what we're going to do next Joric? Nah, tell him Michael, he'll never guess in a month of Sundays.”

We're going to be baptised at the meeting on Sunday,” said Mike enthusiastically, “And we'd like to invite you to come along and celebrate with us. Full immersion in Ermina's pool.” Ah-ha, so that was what it would cost, the witnessing of his two work colleagues being dunked.

I thought only babies got baptised,” replied Joric weakly, thinking of vicars in frocks attending their flocks after their infants had entered into this God forsaken world.

I used to think that too,” Mike continued, “But the Bible says 'Repent and be baptised and you will be saved.' Not easy to repent when you're two or three months old.” There it was again, the question that demanded an answer. Saved from what? From hell? Heaven forbid! Surely the wisest option would therefore be to cease hedging one's bets and just give in and scrape into Heaven by the seat of one's pants, all ashen and scorched.

Saved from the consequences of your own pride and folly.” said Michael as if reading his thoughts.” Pride and folly no doubt equalled sin, the consequences were probably having to shack up with the bad guy in his flaming domain down below. Michael continued, in full flow.

Heini explained that baptism was 'An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.' He told us that even the 1662 prayer book had said that, I thought you'd have known Joric, being an historian! Adult baptism is one of God's fundamental requirements, a requirement sadly abandoned by many mainline churches.”

And recently banned by NO.” said Joric tersely, adding his pennyworth and beginning to feel claustrophobic with the two of them breathing down his neck on either side. He'd thought himself pretty safe as one who'd been born under the flag of a so-called Christian country. His parents had made sure he was suitably sprinkled in a church ceremony at the age of three months, and now here were the two of them implying that he wasn't safe at all.

You see, Joric,” said Billy interjecting with a few pearls of his own, “A little splash on the forehead just won't crack it. First you've gotta be old enough to know what you're doing. Then you gotta be bold enough to make an informed decision, do some homework and find out what's expected. The good Lord's given each of us free will to do whatever we want to do and He won't ever take that away. And you know what mate? You can go running around all over the show being a do-gooder, but it won't get you into Heaven, cos then you might brag a bit and that wouldn't do you any good either. But that doesn't mean you can laze around all day without doing all the good stuff the Big Guy intended you to do. But you know what? Even if you do turn out to be a bit of a layabout, He'll still squeeze you in – but only on His terms - after you've said sorry for the mess you've made of things and made Him the Captain that steers your life.” Mike took over,

Joric, there is no stairway to heaven, God comes down with His unmerited favour.”

So one couldn't just go Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door when one died and hope for the best. Mike and Billy had got it all from Heini, who'd got it from Dr Brelli, who'd got it from God, and they all believed it implicitly, God included. Oh well, he'd got to give it to the lads, they certainly had the courage of their convictions.

I didn't arrive at my conviction by reasoning Joric.” Mike continued, “I told you about my visionary experience remember? And shared with you about young men seeing visions.”

Yeah and old men dreaming dreams,” Joric cut in, “Well strange as it may seem to you two holy rollers, I may not have had a vision but I certainly had a dream, maybe a religious one at that. By the way, does that make me old before my time?” His two friends chuckled and chorused,

Not at all!”

Wanna tell us about it?” offered Mike.

Some other time perhaps,” Joric replied not wanting to be drawn into a discussion where a dream probably caused by overeating might suddenly take on some deep and meaningful significance.

Sounds as if you really need to come along with us on Sunday!” said Mike, pushing him a little too hard.

Abigail will be there!” added Billy, reminding him of his earlier decision as to why he should accompany them.

I'll come, as long as you don't expect me to take the plunge,” replied Joric wryly. Seeing was believing, and Joric hadn't quite seen the light in the same way that Mike and now Billy obviously had. Talk about being fanatical, they were just soaking it up and already quoting from the Good Book! In Joric's humble opinion this was exceedingly radical for new converts to the Faith. Ah well, each to his own, it was still a free country in some respects.

They'd all have to tread warily from now on. Come to think of it, from Sunday onwards Mike and Billy would be treading water in more ways than one. It remained to be seen whether they could get away with it and go on living, especially in the infernal workplace. If worst came to worst, they might just end up getting the chop.

The trio said goodnight and went their separate ways, Joric back to his bachelor pad wondering how he'd ever get to sleep. Funnily enough he slept like a baby for a change, wonders would never cease.

Back at his work station the next morning, Joric's sense of foreboding returned and he found himself once again feeling decidedly uneasy about a number of issues. The threat of impending disaster for both Mike and Billy and possibly himself, loomed from all sides whilst Billy continued to behave like there was no tomorrow, recklessly throwing all caution to the wind - then there was Abigail.

He really should call her soon and somehow try and tell her what he'd found out about her mother and the other good ladies. After pondering on the matter for half an hour he persuaded himself that he needed to research the situation more thoroughly before blurting it out, and then just maybe he'd be able to visit her armed with a plan of action. Perhaps he was simply trying to avoid the issue, coward that he was, and here lay the real reason for not having gone along with Mike and Billy two days before. He knew something she didn't know, and he would be uncomfortable in her presence until she did. On the other hand, the thought of having to face her on Sunday as a mere appendage to Mike and Billy didn't appeal either. He'd just have to call, or pop in at the shop sometime during the week. Perhaps Wednesday would be good? Then he remembered the tickets - the night for two in Ghent. Of course! He took out his mobile, thank goodness he hadn't deleted the message with its magic number.

Hello? Joric Ellis speaking, I'm calling about the prize I won,” he experienced a twinge of guilt, he hadn't won it the redhead had. Oh well she'd gone for good, there'd been no further contact. “It's for when? Saturday week, lovely... yes... I look forward to receiving them. Thank you very much.” Joric felt a tremendous need to 'normalise,' an evening out followed by a night in a hotel with a beautiful girl might just do the trick.


'They would not find comfort in Your joy.

Their aching heart seeks not consolation in your words

and the song thereof, and their pain, silent and misshapen,

makes them creatures lonely and unvisited,

though hemmed about by kin and kind, they live in fear, uncomraded.'

From - Jesus The Son of Man – Kahlil Gibran


29


'O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

how can we know the dancer from the dance.'

-Yeats

WALTZING MATHILDA ...And he sang as he watched

and waited till his billy boil

You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

-Banjo Paterson


Tuesday afternoon Atalanta and Ostend

Billy


It was five o'clock on Tuesday afternoon and Billy was packing up his desk for the day. Mike sauntered over and stood there, looking at his watch.

Off you go now Billy, it's bad manners to keep a lady waiting.”

Oh yeah? Still issuing the orders are we, mein Kapitan?”

Yes Billybong, we're trying to run a tight ship down here, remember?”

Okay mate, I'm outa here. See y'later,” said Billy uttering his usual farewell.

Aren't you staying over in Ostend after the meeting?” queried Mike, not yet attuned to the foibles of the Aussie lingo.

Yeah, we'll be with Heini this evening. See y'later then.”

Good day to you too, William.”

Billy made it to the station with only two minutes to spare. From the metro in Ostend he crossed the road to the marina to seek out the motor yacht where M what's-her-name was holed up. He followed Mike's directions, making his way along the pontoons and admiring the upmarket vessels on either side.

Hello there! Would you be looking for me?”

It was a pretty lass that spoke, with a bandanna tied around her head. She had light brown shoulder length hair and was dressed in a purple gypsy skirt and a long multicoloured sweater.

G'day, I may be looking for you and then again, I may not. It all depends on whether you answer to the name of M. I'm Billy, and you are?”

Morgan.”

M for Morgan. How y'goin'?”

I'm fine B for Billy, and how are you going?” She said taking his extended hand in a firm grasp.

I'm good thanks.”

Your accent, Australian?”

Yeah, I'm from Down-Under.”

Oh to spend a few days basking in the glorious Australian sunshine! What are you doing in this cold, wet part of the world?”

Working my butt off from eight to five, helping to ensure the Oneworld keeps going round.”

Well your Oneworld's not going too smoothly right now is it?”

Bumpy ride for all of us on this planet I'd say, especially for you free radicals. So - you're a Welsh Sheila then, getting a handle on sorting out the world's woes; good on ya. What else can you tell me? Mike didn't say much.”

He's not the most talkative of men, but he does seem able to get things moving. As for the mess our planet's in, perhaps we should allow God to sort that one out. After all, the earth does belong to Him. As the Good Book says, The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. I'm quite sure that if we were to re-instate Him as Director, and got on with doing whatever he assigned to us, everything would fall into place and run like clockwork.”

You reckon? Well, as it happens, I couldn't agree more. Been learning a thing or two lately I can tell you! Now, follow me, the two of us are going walkabout to catch up with the rest of the gang - some more salt of earth types that this corner of creation has to offer. They can all speak English, so you'll be able to relax and we'll just take it from there.”

Thanks, I appreciate it Billy. It's been a real test in patience, playing the waiting game all on my lonesome.”

No sweat.”

The meeting that evening was at Ermina's again, not far from the marina, so off they set getting to know each other better along the way.

So, Mike tells me you're a Jones. Seems everyone's called Jones in Wales. Watch any rugby match with the Welsh playing, the commentator's only got to mention first names.”

There are a lot of Williams back home as well Billy – that is your name isn't it? William? Jones was my late husband's name, and I only took it on six months ago. My maiden name is Wallis. Mrs Morgan Jones, née Wallis.”

You don't say. Mum was a Wallace too just like you, how's that for a co-incidence! William Osborne née Wallace at your service. My parents emigrated to Australia when I was a waddler - from Glasgow they were. Yup, descended from wild warrior William himself, he was from Stirling of course. Where did your lot hang out?”

I'm from Chepstow, on the opposite side of the River Severn from Bristol, England. But my Wallis is spelled with an 'is' at the end, you'd be 'ace.'”

Bingo! Yeah – I dare say I'm an ace! So what else did you do – apart from freedom fighting and breaking the law?”

I danced.”

Ballet? Belly? Ballroom? .. I know – you were a break dancer?”

None of those,” she laughed, “You'd probably describe it as 'free dancing'”

Free dancing? You mean no-one had to pay to watch you?”

No, silly billy!”

Were you with a company? I know! You were one of Michael Flatley's dancers!”

No, I'm not an Irish dancer,” she laughed, “I'm a small town Welsh girl whose only claim to fame is having choreographed several dance routines for a few ladies in our local church. I still dance for the Lord in private though.”

Good on ya!”

As they arrived at Ermina's blue front door they could hear sounds of laughter and merriment emanating from within.

Heini greeted them warmly and ushered them inside. Morgan was duly introduced to one and all before they sat down to a light supper. The fellowship was super friendly that evening in the informal form of social intercourse, and there were plenty of offers to help the new sister.

Can't have a Welsh woman staying on Agent Mike Davidson's yacht for too long;” said Ermina, “Someone's bound to get suspicious and come snooping around sooner or later.”

Just what I said,” responded Mike; “The authorities will probably have gone through all the hostels, backpackers, B&Bs, and backstreet hotels by now. From their perspective they'd not only be looking for a Welsh fugitive, but a murderess who'd gone so far as to bump off a State official. Eventually they'd be sure to hit on the idea of looking around the marina, even though the likelihood of her having stayed so close to the scene of the crime would've been pretty remote. You might say she's been hanging out right under NO's noses!” Everyone groaned at Mike's feeble attempt to be witty.

The good Lord's been her protector so far but now it's time to move on, she's been there quite long enough.” said Ermina firmly.

Wonder why the story of her escape didn't hit the papers. It would have made dramatic front page news,” volunteered Billy.

Wouldn't have done NO's image any good. Imagine the headline 'Re-Chrime Captive Murders Captor;' and underneath; 'Slip of a girl overpowers one of NO's toughest agents, hoodwinking the unassailable system into the bargain by escaping custody.' They'd be afraid it might encourage others to try their luck, and would highlight the fact that NO was not as efficient as it was cracked up to be.”

Besides which,” said Morgan, enjoying the moment, “Living on a yacht at this time of year doesn't exactly make for cosiness and comfort! Although I'm very grateful to Michael of course, for giving me somewhere safe to hide out.”

Several people thought they might be able to accommodate Morgan as their guest but Ermina felt it best she remain with her for the present. Billy said he'd visit after work whenever he could, to help out with this and that until she had a place of her own, and Heini along with a couple of the ladies volunteered to collect Morgan's few belongings from the yacht the next day.

The meeting continued with a time of worship starting with the chorus, 'Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken,' emphasising their partnering in friendship and fellowship, and then a short Bible study, closing with a benediction and prayer at around ten o'clock. Billy then went off to Heini's once more, regretting that he had to work the following day; but after a restless night filled with strange dreams where he was some kind of superhero, he arose bright and early and breakfasted with his host, calling Ermina to check up on his charge before he set off for the station. Apparently she and Morgan had just gone to bed having stayed up the whole night sharing their experiences and bonding so well together that it was decided Morgan would remain with her indefinitely. As she said, they'd be good company for each other, Ermina's own husband having also passed away fairly recently.

Billy boarded the early train to Atalanta along with the Congolese contingent, all of them shoulder to shoulder, packed in like sardines. He didn't understand French and missed the morning repartee. No worries, his thoughts were elsewhere, and had to do with a certain Welsh lass named Morgan Jones.


30


'In the spring a young man's thoughts lightly turn to love.'

-Tennyson


CABARET ...What good is sitting alone in your room?

Come hear the music play -Fred Ebb


Wednesday Morning Atalanta and Ostend


Joric


The envelope with two tickets for the weekend away arrived on Wednesday morning; excellent, he'd go round to the shop after work and issue the invitation in person. It might help to soften the blow of everything else he had to tell her.

Joric was not about to pressurize Abigail into going with him and she'd have almost two weeks to make up her mind. He'd assure her there'd be no funny business and that his motives were quite pure. Well not completely but pretty much so, she was after all a pastor's daughter, and with all the ear-bending he was getting from the two Bible-bashers on his case he'd have to be an absolute gentleman.

The rest of the day was mostly spent rehearsing what he was going to say and becoming lost in some typical A Team-style daydreaming, before eventually knuckling down to get on with doing some historical hard slog. With his nose to the grindstone now, he eventually stopped his mind roaming and thinking about what will happen in the gloaming later, and finally managed to refrain from his futile, otiose, cuckoo clock watching, rockin' 'round the clock.

Rome, Rome, oh this NO obsession to do just 'as the Romans do' by trying to uphold the Helping Hand at Empire-revival the IV, this time 'round the hell-bent attempt however resulting in madly mass-reproducing the Empire to the nth degree, with an army of civil serving nine-to-fivers to make it happen come hell or high water! Joric duly obliged as he was being cashlessly-paid for his donkey work. He dumbly and obtusely continued his doing Rome's bidding until he came across a fascinating custom from those Roman times which kind of struck a cord with him, reminding him of those good old days of old-fashioned British integrity when one's word was one's bond. Anyway it served to hold his attention while he tried to while away the interminably tedious office hours:

'The Roman tesserae in general were square, whence they had their name, as having four sides, angles, or corners, and these were made of stone, marble, etc. The most remarkable of these instruments were the tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties. A small oblong square piece of stone, ivory, etc., was taken and divided into two equal parts, on which each of the parties wrote his own name, and then interchanged it with the other. This was carefully preserved, and handed down even to posterity in the same family; and by producing this when they travelled, it gave a mutual claim to the bearers of kind reception and hospitable entertainment at each other’s houses. It is to this custom that Plautus refers in his Poenulus, act v., scene 2, verse 80, in the interview between Agorastocles, and his unknown uncle Hanno:

Agorastocles - If thou seek the adopted son of Antidamarchus, I am the person whom thou

seekest.

Hanno - Ha! What do I hear?

Agorastocles - Thou hearest that I am the son of Antidamas.

Hanno - If it be so, compare, if thou pleasest, the hospitable tessera; here it is, I have brought it

with me.

Agorastocles - Come then, reach it hither: it is the exact counterpart; I have the other at home.

Hanno - O my friend, I am very glad to see thee, for thy father was my friend; therefore

Antidamas thy father was my guest. I divided this hospitable tessera with him.

Agorastocles - Therefore, a lodging shall be provided for thee with me.

The tessera taken in this sense, seems to have been a kind of tally; and the two parts were compared together to ascertain the truth. The names of the contracting persons, or some device, were written on the tessera, which commemorated the friendly contract; and as the parts were interchanged, none could know that name or device, or the reason of the contract, but he who received it. This, when produced, gave the bearer a right to the offices of hospitality; he was accommodated with food, lodging, etc., as far as these were necessary.'

An exchange of names as secure as a private pin number, which correlated perfectly when compared on contact made, confirming the confidential contract of unconditional benevolence between two parties. A code of conduct.

It sounded far too noble a custom for the manipulative ways and means of the new-agey kind of society of expediency Joric was a captive audience to; too refined, polished and intended rather for honourable committal, set down in stone for straightforward, unconditional use and not designed for the abuse of ulterior motives that was second nature to NO, not at all conducive to the Oneworld's commonly experienced curse of advantage being taken of at another's expense. Joric thought the tessera concept should be left as undisturbed, dusty history on the shelf, a forgotten relic of an foreign lifestyle incomprehensible and totally incompatible with that of this post-modern era. So the upshot was he wouldn't be passing this subject matter he'd researched today on to his superiors for them to consider incorporating, as part of its drive for a semblance of decency, into a copycat Roman Empire that they were busily striving to revive, only trying to reproduce it bigger and better this time round. Truth was the Frankenstein thus far fashioned in BruSSels' experimental laboratories was far more brazen with its barefaced, expedient lies to its citizenry than anything seen before in the most politic in history, an body politic riddled top-down from the brain of the beast to second tier nepotismo of 'nephews,' then the cancer of cronyism and a host of sycophants-of-State including not a few of Sol's former fellow-eurocrat colleagues that were still of some 'use' to him.

The project Joric was involved in was assisting in drawing up a proposed Patriot's Code of Honour that included an assortment of promissory rituals that, besides keeping the-man-in-the-street occupied, helped give him a dedicated sense of one-on-one bonding which included accountability-reporting, and group allegiance to New Age society while still busy pursuing its illusory happiness, and this ancient Roman tessara code of conduct was likely to interest his bosses as they worked and reworked a draft PoP PASS personal accountability sworn statement for all which would appear signed in one's personally capacity in an identification document kept on one's body at all times.

Ho-hum, the irksome nature of his work for the State down here was really wearisome and wearing him down over time, worse than the salt mines really. And then there'd be all the infernal red tape to get it passed and suitably packaged for it to have any chance of seeing the light of day, simply for propaganda consumption more often than not. Better to slip back into his heavenly daydream for later in the day to escape the terrible tedium. Oh, would his working day never end? The clock struck five, and Joric downed tools forthwith and made for the mainland.

Joric arrived as Abigail was about to pull down the blind on the shop door.

Hello! It's me!” he called waving. “May I come in?” She smiled as she opened the door.

Well hello stranger! Haven't heard from you in a while, thought you might have come along on Sunday.” He kissed her on the cheek,

Sorry about that, cold feet I guess. I mean at coming on Sunday, not at seeing you again. How have you been?”

Not too bad. I met your two friends at the meeting, nice guys.”

Yes, they told me all about – er – everything. Been positively bouncing around the office the last few days, especially Billy. Bouncing Billy! Or Billy the bouncer!” said Joric stupidly, feeling decidedly awkward.

Ah yes, the Australian. He brought Morgan over last night. Brave lady, she'll be a great asset to the group. Coffee?”

Thanks,” he said following her to the kitchenette.

How was the picnic – the left overs I mean – if you can remember that far back?”

We enjoyed them very much, nothing was wasted. Saved cooking that night, more time for chatting.” Joric cleared his throat,

Your Mum get off okay?”

Yes, we heard that they'd landed safely but no mention was made of when they'll be back.”

Joric chickened out right there and then, how could he break such terrible news? He'd have to speak to Mike - once he'd got his baptism over and done with, his feet back on the ground and his head out of the clouds. He'd said he was going to try and help after all, and now the issue of Morgan had been settled he'd be able to turn his attention to Kay. No point in upsetting Abigail further without having some plan of action to offer, that's right, he'd leave it for the time being.

Abigail, I've got a surprise for you.”

Really? A nice one I hope, had a couple of nasty ones recently.”

I hope you'll think it's a nice one – I do. Um - on Saturday week there's going to be a concert in Ghent, and I won two tickets in a competition.” Oh what a liar he was, “Will you come with me?”

Sounds interesting, what sort of concert?”

Well it's kind of a mixed programme, here.” He showed her the leaflet he'd received with the tickets.”

Looks good, yes, I'd love to go.”

There's more. It's a sort of package deal - and includes a night in a hotel suite, with dinner and breakfast thrown in.” Joric fumbled for the right words. “Actually, we'd go to the hotel and check in, have dinner, go off to the concert, then come back and sleep over, have breakfast and be back in time for church, or whatever you call it these days. I'll even come with you – to church that is.” Abigail looked doubtful, “Don't worry,” he added hastily, “I'll sleep on the sofa if I can't get separate rooms. I should think you needed a break.” he finished, looking at her with puppy dog eyes. Women always said yes when he looked at them that way.

When do you need to know by?” she asked.

Saturday week? I wouldn't want to go with anyone else.”

Well, I'll probably agree to go,” she replied, “Unless something happens in the meantime to make me change my mind.


31


'Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.'

-Keats

WE ALL STAND TOGETHER ...win or lose, sink or swim,

one thing is certain we'll never give in,

side by side, hand in hand, we'll all stand together

-P McCartney

Sunday morning Ostend


Joric


One might have been forgiven for thinking that Joric was being frogmarched off to prison as he meekly walked along between his two friends on the way to their baptism; Joric had kept his promise to accompany them but was experiencing a certain fear and trembling at the prospect. His fear was in fact, twofold. He was afraid of being dragged away to a prison cell along with the faithful, but he was more afraid of Almighty God who, he thought, might think up a worse fate for him if he baled out again.

So off he'd set, shoulder to shoulder with the zealous Mike and former couch potato Billy-O, thinking of his knees turning to jelly should there be anything remotely resembling the sound of an official knock on the locked door behind which the motley collection of congregants would be gathered. These days, wild horses would normally not have been able to drag him into a church meeting of any kind, but the thought of Abigail in close proximity to the manly Mike had been the deciding factor.

The intention had been to rendezvous with Abigail before joining Heini and his crew. Joric's biggest disappointment therefore, was that Abigail wasn't able to make it at the last minute and as they were running late he wasn't even allowed to pop in and say hello.

They arrived at Ermina's and were escorted down into the basement where Joric was introduced to the group of believers. It was good to put faces to the names he'd heard, meeting at last the mysterious Morgan, rescued by Michael and now under Billy's caring wing.

Morning worship began with prayers followed by praise and worship accompanied by guitar, keyboard and drums. Wow! Drums in church? Things had certainly moved on since Joric's day as a pew warmer.

His mind started to drift off into the realms of history once again. It must have been like this in the days of the old Roman Empire when there were laws imposed against such meetings. Today similar rules had resolutely been put in place by Sol Benevento to try and stop any underground movement in its infancy. Like the Caesars before him, he was intent on getting the allegiance of the people come hell or high water. Desiring to be reverentially feared, Sol Invictus, the self-styled emperor, was simply doing what any Roman Caesar worth his salt would do by refusing to tolerate focus on anyone other than Himself.

'Now the serpent was more subtil than any.' Joric recalled from his King James Bible, left behind under a pile of magazines somewhere in a Greater London attic.

Prohibited get-togethers held under the noses of the ancient Roman authorities had quickly led to participants playing an active part in the blood sports of the Roman Coliseums or local amphitheatres. These had been the theatre-sports of the bad old days, when crowds had bayed for the blood of doomed victims and the veiled ἰχθύς fish-looking symbol was used by the followers of The Way to avoid detection, ichthus being the Greek word for fish. Its secret had remained hidden from the empire only to be rediscovered and reinvented nearly two thousand years later with a similar fish symbol being prominently displayed on the backs of non-persecuted Christians' cars. This time it appeared as a statement for everyone to see, and all that happened to counteract its message was the appearance of larger shark-like car stickers aimed at gobbling up the inoffensive little fishes.

Soon it was time for coffee and Heini approached Joric cup in hand.

So Joric, I hear you're an historian!” They engaged easily in conversation which soon came round to the topic on Joric's mind.

Another case of history repeating itself.” said Heini, “First the phase of the fishes on cars, then the grim period after the financial collapse when many flew the coop and were branded blackguards.”

Like the French 'blagueurs' meaning pretentious talkers?” asked Joric, not to be outdone.

Right! The unfortunate legalistic tendency of the church has been to shoot the wounded, those weaker brothers had only been thinking about saving their skins but they were given the cold shoulder by the church as a consequence. They hadn't acquired the patience of Job to stick around as the outlawed faithful of long ago had done.

Before the meltdown the Church had started to increase numerically and some congregations moved from school buildings into vastly expensive structures, erected to accommodate the expected influx from triumphal church growth. Congregants were taught, trained, equipped and prepared to take over the governing of this world and to be more than conquerors as indeed they rightfully were. But sadly the whole truth was often missed and even wrongfully taught in massed conferences, some of which I attended myself. When the going got tough and people started feeling the heat, numbers began dwindling dramatically rather than increasing. Others continued in partnership with God, quietly answering those who questioned them concerning their faith as the Scriptures recommended, having well-deliberated answers at the ready.

'Quiet time' became the new time out - with God, a time in which to quieten the mind and heart before the Almighty during the turbulence of life; to worship, listen, reflect and intercede. As the Bible says,

'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.'

This was how things were before the 4th European Reich began in real earnest on a Total worldwide scale, unyieldingly rolling forward to crush all in its path.”

Rather like the unrelenting ex-China Communist dictator did in the last century,” added Joric, “It's hard to imagine even the most inhumane of men callously commanding tank drivers to just roll right on, crushing the student protesters massed in Tienanmen Square. A costly protest with so many losing their lives and all in vain, overlooked by the world in its détente with the perpetrators. All was conveniently swept under the diplomatic Red carpet.”

Yeah,” retorted Heini grimly, “There wasn't even a cold war, China being the big-time trading partner that it was, but even that mega-giant finally collapsed financially.”

And what got it back on its feet? The sleight of Helping Hand.” added Joric.

The collapse had severely impacted on the insignificant Lilliputian peasants. This glossed over feudal society with its vassals stuck in the medieval age was given another fresh helping, more of the same browbeating, better organised bludgeoning, an even more powerful Total control to bale it out with coldly clinical inefficiency and inevitable lack of distribution.

Well Joric,” Heini broke in, “We'll just have to continue our chat another time, here come the baptismal candidates all kitted out for their icy initiation.”

Soon Heini was standing in the water alongside Klaus who'd been introduced to Joric as Billy's new friend.

The rest of them gathered around the swimming pool as Michael and Billy appeared in their swimming togs with 'T' shirts on top. Billy's said 'Aussie Rules OK,' Mike's was plain white – and tight – showing off his biceps and six pack. Joric looked on enviously, intensely relieved that Abigail hadn't been able to come at the last minute. He couldn't help thinking his two friends would've been better off in wet suits at this time of the year.

Mike stepped down into the water and Heini asked him to say a few words to those watching as to why he'd decided to take the step of baptism.

I came to realize through an extraordinary series of events that I just couldn't cope with the way my life was going any longer. Then a friend lent me a book.” Oh-oh here it comes, thought Joric. He needn't have worried, Mike didn't mention where the book had come from and went on to say how the contents had affected him and opened up the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Born a member of the To Cross Over cultural group, I knew about the law, but not too much about grace and nothing of The Way 'til I bumped into one of its believers on a boat, um ferry. In the book Dr Brelli had written about Halakha which I'd heard about vaguely a long ago which is often translated as 'Jewish Law' as he reaffirmed for me, although as he says a more literal translation might be 'the path' or 'the way of walking.' The word is apparently derived from the Ibru root that means to go or to walk. Well, I'm here to tell you that I as a 'completed' Yehudi have had Jesus come down the path to me, now knowing of His grace, wonderful ways, and the Book the Doc's book prepared me for, and my fellows the people of The Way.”

Heini then asked if Michael acknowledged publicly that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God who'd died for his sake, and if he would serve Him as his Lord and Saviour. Michael said he would indeed, with Joric silently hoping he wouldn't acknowledge Him too loudly at work for all their sakes. Then the two men on either side lowered him backwards into the water until he disappeared beneath the surface. He came up again beaming, with his arms raised towards heaven, praising his Lord and Saviour. The whole process was repeated with Billy, then the two men trotted off to dry themselves and dress before everyone joined together in the living room for an extravagant lunch, starting with steaming mugs of soup to warm up the shivering baptismal graduates.

While the others were still enjoying the lavish spread provided by the ladies, Heini once again joined Joric who'd wandered back into the garden. As one who had dipped into Bob Brelli's book, Joric asked the young pastor how he regarded the application of the mysterious 'fellowship' referred to in each chapter heading.

It's at the home meetings that one can truly experience and enjoy the comradeship Brelli described;” Heini explained, “One should never neglect 'the gathering together of the saints.' What many don't realise is that the saints mentioned here are quite simply believers, not men and women who have been canonized! But true fellowship with one another can only be birthed after an experiential encounter with God, which leads on to a personal relationship developing with the King of kings and Lord of lords, and thereafter fellowship with fellow believers under his umbrella - the canopy of His blessing, all together under the roof of His banqueting house, His banner over us being love.”

Heini opened his Bible to the first Psalm. Joric quite liked the Psalms, and thought it an appropriate place for him to start when addressing a good ex-Anglican like himself. Heini read the first two verses and the last aloud, “'Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. Nor stands in the paths of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful... For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish'.

Joric clearly saw the dichotomy. You couldn't have one foot in the world and the other foot in the kingdom. Heini then jumped to the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John. Another good place to start, the Gospel of love and the New Testament, so much easier to understand than the Old: “'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God'.

Joric thoughts flitted back to the Watchtower Witness Bible and old bulldozing Boris. After hearing just the first verse he was reminded of queries he'd like clarified, but not now, Heini was on a roll.

'In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it,' - or overcome it as you will read in other translations. And in the first letter that Saint John wrote he began with, 'The One who existed from the beginning is the One we have heard and seen. We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. This One who is Life from God was shown to us and we have seen Him. And now we testify and announce to you that He is the One who is Eternal Life. He was with the Father and then He was shown to us'.

This was where Joric was to start in order to enter the fullness of God's peace which went beyond rational understanding. According to Heini's concordance, the Hebrew 'Shiloh' meant tranquil, an epithet for Jesus the Messiah who was Tranquillity personified.

Joric contemplated bliss for a moment as the peace in the centre of a tornado, and the One who could calm every storm with the words 'Peace! Be still.' He needed to meditate day and night on these things.

It was time to go back inside for Bible study. This was the first time that Joric had experienced 'church' as an all day venture. Still, he was quite enjoying himself. Nothing boring about Heini's approach, far different from the 'in by nine and out by ten' services he'd sat through once upon a time, services that'd seemed to last forever.

The odd assortment of people gathered in an attentive circle around Heini as he spoke.

The apostle Paul had said to the Romans, 'The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness; since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God had made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles... They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.' In other words, these were the types one shouldn't fellowship with.”

Heini dealt with the subject in depth as he forcefully if not eloquently proceeded to give a solid Bible study, starting to read Psalm ninety-four as a prayer, “'Oh Lord our God, to Whom vengeance belongs, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; render punishment to the proud. Lord, how long will the wicked triumph? They utter speech, and speak insolent things; all the workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces Your people O Lord, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say 'The Lord does not see.' How fitting these words as the prayer of the age!”

Heini went on to confirm that things would get worse instead of better, right up until the time when the Lord returned.

'Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law have fellowship with you? They gather together against the life of the righteous and condemn innocent blood.' Here in this Psalm the Hebrew word for 'fellowship' in this only Old Testament instance used also carries with it the ominous meaning of 'to join specifically by means of spells, to fascinate: - charm'.”

Black magic, h-m-m, he of the tarot card tradition dabbled in it - narcissistic Sol of the 'insolent' pride and many smooth-tongued speeches of expediency. He had it all down pat and fitted the bill, thought Joric, as from the 'throne' of dominance and denouncing others he intentionally devised evil against them with his calculated, cold-hearted head knowledge, twisting and turning the law to take undue advantage of it while leaving no legal loopholes for others, not wanting to lose out anywhere as winner takes all, obsessed as he was with his iniquitous blueprint, agenda and ambitions, in the process putting himself in place of Almighty God, committing fraud upon mankind and blaspheming against heaven.

Heini continued, “'But the Lord has been my defence, and my God the rock of my refuge. He has brought on them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness'.

Good, thought Joric, it looked as if Sol would be getting his just desserts somewhere along the line!

God will do the same with the present regime,” confirmed Heini to Joric's active mind, “But before the time when he sets up His eternal Kingdom, there will be tribulation as never before, especially for the unbeliever. Believers may suffer, but in the knowledge of the Glory to come. The time is not far off when the Lord will gather His people and take them to be with Him in what has been describe as the Rapture, a word not used in Scripture but in this case referring to the act of transporting a person from one sphere of existence to another. Thereafter He'll pour out His wrath, which he reserves for the wicked, upon the earth.”

Heini pointed out where the relevant Scriptures were to be found in Paul's two letters to the church at Thessalonica and suggested the group read them before the next meeting. The afternoon closed in prayer and Joric looked at his watch, there was plenty of time left before the last train back to Atalanta.

Well Joric, we must continue our little historical chat sometime – hope you enjoyed your visit and that we'll be seeing you again soon.” said Heini as he escorted the three friends to the door.

Yes – it was great – interesting. Thanks Heini – I'll - er - think about what you taught us tonight and – yes! I'll most certainly be back – sometime.” said Joric, wanting to be polite yet beginning to feel a little claustrophobic.

Well in that case, take a copy of my notes with you.” Heini continued, “Perhaps you can regard them as describing the flip-side of the desirable fellowship written about by Dr Brelli. And seeing as how Bibles are not readily available any more, I'll jot down something Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. He told the Corinthians that they shouldn't have fellowship with demons and to flee from idolatry, he later wrote that they shouldn't be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”

On the back of the notes Heini wrote, 'For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?' and went on to point out that Paul had written similarly to the church at Ephesus.

Paul explained to the Ephesians that having come out of darkness the believers should not partake or fellowship with the sons of disobedience and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. The great biblical scholar Jack Hayford described this darkness as the evil system of the world which is absolutely opposed to the light.

Idolatry? Unequally yoked? Sons of disobedience? Demons? Joric felt somewhat railroaded by all the do's and don'ts of fellowship, life was becoming a roller coaster ride for him, plodder that he was. Matters that he'd successfully kept at arm's length were now getting far too close for comfort.

That was awesome Heini,” said Billy, “See you again on Tuesday. Morgan! Catch you tomorrow after work!”

Real eager beavers - the pair of you,” said Joric as they walked back to the station, “But for heaven's sake be careful, especially when we're at work - and don't expect me to go to any more of your meetings - any time soon!”

Little did Joric know that he'd be back in Heini's company, far sooner than anticipated.


'The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice,

but you do not know from whence He comes, and where He goes;

so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

-Jesus of Nazareth


32


'The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,

and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.’

- Lord Byron


YOU'RE THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE ...oh yes you are

-B Giant/Baum/F Kaye

Monday Atalanta


Joric


Joric's Sunday night sleep had been interrupted by thoughts of Heini whispering the words 'Commitment Joric, total commitment.'

Enlightened by hearing the anointed Word, he could see that a response was required. But no, Joric wasn't ready for that yet, neither was he about to take up Heini's invitation to attend another of his meetings. He felt overawed by the information overload to which he'd been subjected, and was fully aware of the implicit dangers that went hand in hand with such a commitment.

Then there was Billy, Joric hadn't seen him socially since he'd met the widow, Morgan Jones. Quite understandable in the circumstances, 'Love thy neighbour,' shouted Scripture, and 'Visit widows and orphans.'! Joric remembered from his Sunday school days that the latter requirement constituted the definition of true religion, and that was what Billy was after, and by Joric's reckoning, Billy was after one widow in particular. Oh well, birds of a feather flocked together and Monday was a new day and the start of the working week.

It also happened to be the start of something more sinister being the day chosen for the inauguration in Rome of Pope Has'seen I. Here was religious history was in the making and it played a part in the research Joric had been engaged in of late.

The Crusades had been launched from several places including Rome, and the Semitic tribes had suffered dreadfully throughout. Joric had been tracing the historical links which had lead from those dark days right through to the more recent ex-Middle East crisis, and had applied for 'Raj-approved' leave to watch the pomp and ceremony taking place that afternoon, linking it with his Middle East portfolio.

There was to be a live TV interview conducted at the Vatican as Dominion's pompous present day prophet was ordained as Pope, all dressed up as the universal father in purple robes. Thousands would be gathering in St Peter's Square, as Sol's psychic sidekick achieved his ambition to be papal Papa to the billion-strong flock. No doubt he'd turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Joric left his desk and walked across to Danial's office to ask if the requested leave had been granted.

I'd really appreciate being able to go home and record the Pope-designate's live interview,” he reiterated, “After all, this is the History Department and today we get to see history in the making - and what is more, it all has a bearing on my research of the Catholic Church during the Crusades.” Joric hoped he wasn't pushing the envelope too much as what really interested him was the half-hour documentary on St Francis of Assisi being shown just before the inauguration. As the son of a wealthy merchant the young nature lover had dutifully done what was expected of him by going on a Crusade to the Middle East.

Danial's attention was caught by a moth that had alighted on the manuscript in front of him. He ignored Joric as he carefully lifted the paper and gave the fortunate creature its freedom by way of a small window. Not many insects were seen in Atalanta and those that were there came in with the food supplies or by way of the sub-train, perched on people's clothes. Interesting that Danial hadn't squashed it, he must have a heart after all. Joric tried again,

The viewing I need to do is basically all related to Rome's Imperial adventurism into the Middle East.”

Limit yourself to that then and be back as soon as you can.” Danial replied gruffly.

Joric hotfooted it back to his flat and switched on both TV and DVD recorder, idly wondering whether he was being monitored. He muttered in French that he had nothing to hide, yawning aloud and feeling defiant. He had come to terms with being snooped upon outdoors, but Joric resented being ogled at home.

Outside surveillance was taken care of by Clandestine Operations Personal Surveillance, commonly referred to as COPS, and operated by way of Google's Rover Street View 360° mini-cameras fixed unobtrusively atop street poles.

Ironically Google itself had been taken over by the State when found guilty of transgressing the Public's Right to Privacy Act, being slapped with a massive fine they couldn't pay. Now an Executive Order from the top had made provision for surveillance in every aspect of life.

Joric was enjoying watching the story of the young man from Assisi, until the narrator started propounding on the fact that the materialist-denying Francis was an historical hero whose noble stand was one of the root causes of the anti-capitalist campaign that culminated in the overthrow of the G8. Like another NO phoenix arising from the ashes of the Wall Street implosion, sly old Sol's G10 suzerainties had become the newly dressed up 'old boys' club.'

St Francis' liberating message to the Pope of his day, like that of Eastern sages, contributed to loosing the chains of western capitalism. This message has been embraced by our glorious Pope Designate, known to be well acquainted with Oriental wisdom.”

A subtle shift away from Western Christianity,” muttered Joric.

After watching the first five minutes of the following programme pumping out its propaganda, Joric turned his attention to the more immediate callings of nature, opening a beer as he started to make up for his hurried breakfast by preparing a substantial lunch. The long drawn out ostentatious display continued as the painstaking church takeover ran smoothly, without a murmur of protest from the subdued ex-Catholics. It was all being recorded anyway for office purposes and no doubt, going straight into the archive bin that afternoon.

The TV droned on monotonously in the background as he cracked three eggs into the sizzling pan. He happened to glance up when the noise of some commotion amongst the crowd almost drowned out the sizzling. Looking closer he saw what looked like someone he dreamt he'd never lay eyes upon again.

Good grief! James?” he said aloud as the fat splattered and burnt his hand. He turned off the stove and left the eggs to harden in the overheated pan as he sat down again in front of the screen, not believing what he was seeing.

Extraordinary! It was him too - the ex-Rev James Mackintosh whom Joric had badgered in his very brief choirboy days, the dutiful dullard with a dog collar and humble stoop, hailing from the ex-Anglican cathedral in inner city Westminster. What an uncanny coincidence seeing him live and prominent like this!

But there he was, in the public square of St Peter's Rome, in the glare of Oneworld TV. He'd broken from the crowd and was now running wildly towards the imMediateNet commentator who was interviewing the walk-about Pope and man of the people before he went inside for the ceremony. Like one possessed, James almost knocked Has'seen to the ground in his haste to snatch the microphone from the commentator's hand.

What the devil?!” shouted the shocked man of the cloth as James tussled with the bewildered reporter, wresting the microphone from her and interrupting the solemn proceedings with a garbled outburst which seemed to make no sense at all to the intently watching Joric.

They're killing us, and he's one of them!” he said, pointing to the pontiff. “We saw him at St Mark's! They're guilty...” shouted James as the broad hand of a security guard was slapped over his mumbling mouth. He wrestled him to the ground as two papal-police arrived on the scene kicking and lashing out at the struggling objector. They clamped handcuffs onto the wrists of their now bleeding victim and manhandled him to his feet, dragging him off towards the waiting police van. The TV audience was now witnessing startling events that were woefully disrupting the carefully prepared programme. Had the perpetrators of falsehood not adequately briefed their underlings on how to handle such unexpected wobbles? Why didn't they switch cameras in the outside broadcast van to focus on something inoffensive like the resident pigeons watching from aloft.

Quite a hiccup, I'd say,” mumbled Joric to his two-way TV.

The foolish sensation-seeking man behind his camera continued to follow the crass, controversial action, capturing the live images of the old man being brutally kicked, bundled and dragged like a lame dog over the cobbled paving stones and into the waiting van.

Time for an ad break surely, what were the broadcasters thinking? This was definitely not the right time for a crazy cameraman to follow his heart, nor was it the time for whoever was in charge of TV coverage to allow the filming to continue - or was it?

At last they switched focus and zoomed in on the turbaned seer standing ashen and aghast, not used to this type of Western protest, being the coolly aloof member of the royal ex-Transgordonian Hejazi kingdom that he was; on one hand, a direct descendant of the 6thC Holy Seer and on the other, the universal church's Papa, in this interesting if not bizarre merger. The interviewer lamely asked the next question on her script, but for once, the silver tongued deceiver was lost for words.

A hand-picked member of the paparazzi sprang into action, snatching the microphone from the hapless reporter, apologising profusely for the unscheduled disturbance, as the papal party hurried inside St Peter's Church where the false prophet was to take oaths meant to be holy before being sworn in as supreme head of the Oneworld Ecumenical Interfaith. Once again, cameras switched back to the now departing van, zooming in on the shocked faces of onlookers. A close-up on James' thick-rimmed nerdy spectacles, lying crushed on the cobbles, added to the aura of his vulnerability and made the extremity of the arrest all the more likely to elicit sympathy from TV audiences everywhere.

All around the world the hoodwinked ex-Catholic flock, had witnessed for themselves the heavy-handed action of the bulky papist brutes abusing their frail victim and dragging him away, with the soon-to-be-pronounced infallible New Age seer standing dispassionately by. James had been wearing prison trousers, so he must've done something wrong, but even a gaolbird didn't deserve to be knocked about and beaten to a pulp.

Sol and his prophet would no doubt be outraged by the whole affair. When something was arranged in Rome, one did exactly as one was told by the First Citizen Roman. His hidden persuaders and papal security forces hadn't, and no doubt there'd be hell to pay after today's bad publicity.

Had the doctors of spin been lulled into complacency by thinking that The Way would always consist of a bunch of nerds in the face of Sol's relentless clampdown on all activism that was not NO? Perhaps it had been taken for granted that Has'seen's concept of pluralism that embraced even Catholicism, would uniquely qualify him for this high office, unopposed. It should have been remembered that as a Dominionist he was still an outsider.

And whatever had the broadcasters been up to? Heads would roll, that's for sure. Nothing but distinguished and discreet images of the tricky twosome were ever allowed to be projected by Sol's own imMediateNet. The two leaders needed to strengthen their stagnant support base, not weaken it. It wasn't that anyone voted any more, but alienating people might just lead to someone taking a pot-shot at the unholy couple.

Joric went back to his burnt eggs and cold popped up toast, his thoughts turning to James Mackintosh of old.

Rev Mac, as he was known then, was a fellow ex-Londoner; that's about all Joric could commend him for. Not that he was a fellow in the fellowship sense of the word. In the short but not so sweet time he'd been acquainted with James they hadn't got on at all well, not that it had been the right Reverend's fault. Joric in his immaturity had heckled the poor man mercilessly and the goody-goody girls looking on had not found it as amusing as planned, but at least his fellow nerds had chuckled at his antics.

Dear James hadn't even been popular with the elderly members of the fold despite his most stalwart efforts. They'd barely seemed to notice him, even after he'd shared the startling religious conversion he professed to have experienced. The conservative-minded congregation certainly wasn't going to let him swing from their chandeliers, no sir. So to cut a long story short he'd been quietly fired, if 'fired' was the right word for a man existing on a stingy stipend.

Joric seemed to remember that James Mackintosh's new found zeal had taken him to ex-Burma, a former colony now known as Myanmar, a hot spot in the tropics where only mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the midday sun.

That's right, it was all coming back to him; former World Vision, now known as the State Vision MM, had employed James as one of their many mercy-mission field workers, never to be seen again, or so Joric had thought. Thereafter, the good Rev had been promptly replaced by a retired cleric, and Joric had attended his remaining confirmation classes under the leadership of a kindly old man with a twinkle in his eye. Having completed the course, Joric had been accepted into the church, and was thus confirmed as a respectable member of society. With this qualification had come the availability of certificates for christenings, marriages and deaths in that ex-state institution of the British good old days during the golden era of the Commonwealth.

Joric finished his lunch and cleaned up the kitchen. The ceremony had ended without further incident and he decided to play back the James Mackintosh episode, what was it the man had actually said?

They're killing us, and he's one of them! We saw him at St Marks. They're guilty...” biff, bash, bang.

Or had the last word 'guilty' been leading up to something else? James had been waving his finger under the stuck-up prophet's nose at the time, so he was definitely issuing a personal accusation of severe misdemeanour to the new pontiff. Rather cheeky but certainly brave if somewhat foolhardy. The flustered seer had turned his other cheek in order to look for his men who'd sorted out the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.

And what had James meant by St Mark's? Had he been re-established in a parish in ex-England again? Wait a moment, St Mark's, St Mark's. He needed to speak to Heini. He went to the bathroom and called him on his mobile.

Heini, did you watch the ceremony at lunchtime?”

Joric! Hello there! No I didn't, why?”

There was a guy that got beaten up and arrested, I once knew him, he was a priest turned pastor. He was trying to say something but the papal police shut him up. I just thought you might be able to shed some light upon something that he said. I have a recording.”

Good, let's meet,” Heini replied, “Can you make it over here after work?”

Sure, see you then.” Joric hastily made a copy of the relevant scene on his lap top, packed the original DVD into his briefcase and went back to work. He placed the recording on Danial's desk; his boss didn't bat an eyelid.

Did you see what you needed to see?”

I most certainly did,” replied Joric. Danial looked up at him, but Joric made sure his expression gave nothing away.

A few hours later, as Joric was walking down the road towards Heini's place, he noticed someone else moving in the same direction slightly ahead of him, a man whose hat was pulled down over his face with a scarf tightly wound around his neck. He seemed to be in a hurry but stopped when he got to Heini's front door and knocked four times. By the time the door opened, Joric had caught up with him and Heini greeted them both.

Fritz! Joric! Come inside!” They made their way into the living room and Heini introduced them to each other.

Fritz called just after you, he'll be staying with me for a few days. You might not recognise him but you've seen his work – he's just arrived from Rome. Seems he was in St Peter's Square this morning, got some interesting footage on his camera which was broadcast Oneworldwide! As you can understand, he needs to lie low for a while.”

You mean you're the guy who filmed the clip I have in my briefcase?”

Depends on the clip” said Fritz laughing, immensely relieved that he'd made it safely to Ostend.

Whatever made you take such a risk?”

I don't think I had time to think about the consequences of what I was doing and seized the moment, otherwise I might have stuck to the rules and avoided what was happening right in front of me. We'd been carefully briefed on what to do in the case of an incident, i.e. switch to pre-recorded footage, but my pal in the outside broadcast van had obviously chosen to keep the cameras rolling on the unfolding drama so I took the opportunity to let the world know something of what was going on in the real Oneworld. God's got his people strategically placed to witness to the nations in all kinds of situations.”

How did you get away? What happened to your friend?”

I abandoned my camera and we both slipped into the huge crowd. I guess Mario went home to Mama.”

Joric showed the clip with the three of them of them attempting to make sense of what Rev Mackintosh had been trying to say. They played the sentence over and over until it became quite clear that the word in question was not 'guilty.' Joric looked in his pocket Oxford & Cairo.

How about 'guillie,'” he offered 'An outdoor male attendant of a Scottish chieftain.' Could've be referring to one of Has'seen's bodyguards, James was a Scot after all and Mackintosh just so happens to mean 'son of a chieftain.'” The other two looked at him quizzically.

I believe he was trying to say 'They're guillotining us'.” said Heini. He went on to show Joric the Scriptures in John the Evangelist's Revelation that related to such a practice. John had written,

'I saw the souls of those that had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus, and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast, or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads, or their hands'.

They're being decapitated?” asked a horrified Joric.

It would certainly seem so.” Heini replied, “Some think the guillotine used in the French Revolution would be brought back during these last days, and there will be such a mark Joric, one that all will be required to take in the right hand or on the forehead. The word mark is derived from the Greek 'charax' meaning 'stick into.'”

DoubleM Triple6,” said Joric as everything began to fall into place. So the mark of the beast and So Be's Hallmark would turn out to be one and the same? Interesting.

We are now living in Revelation times, in what is understood as the Tribulation period,” said Heini.

This tribulation will take place over seven years divided into two periods of three and a half years each. Some other time I'll show you the prophecies from the book of Daniel which point to these periods - I know you have to leave for the station soon.

As for St Mark's, he could well have been referring to St Mark's Church in Venice. The island has been closed to the public for some time now. What better place to hold captives in secret?”

Yeah, in line with the Doges Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, passed over by prisoners as they caught their last glimpse of the light of day.” said Joric who then went on to divulge all that he'd found out about Abigail's parents.

It looked as if their mutual friend Bob Brelli might not be in some labour camp after all, but hidden away in a Venetian prison. There was a knock at the door, Heini looked through the curtains, it was Abigail.

I think she needs to know, Joric. You tell her and I'll back you up and give her the support she'll be needing.” There was no avoiding the issue now. Joric opened the front door whilst Heini and Fritz went to make coffee – funny how coffee was always at the ready to ease every situation.

Abigail had seen the broadcast as well and was most interested in meeting the brave cameraman and hearing about Joric's association with James Mackintosh. Heini told her about their interpretation of the message the reverend had desperately been trying to communicate, and played the excerpt again.

You don't think that Dad...?” She trailed off at a thought too ghastly to put into words. “No, silly of me, he went off to Sky Pyramid One.” Heini looked at Joric, the time had come.

As gently as he could, Joric told her about his research, stemming from an initial code supplied by Mike. She sat motionless, and visibly seemed to grow in stature as she listened. Was this what was meant by the Scriptures indicating that God was very close at such times? Was she even now sitting under the shadow of His wings, being strengthened in some way for the time that lay ahead? Heini and Abigail prayed together for the Holy Spirit to guide and help them, and as they did so, even Joric seemed to sense the comforting presence in the room experienced by his three friends.

Let's turn on the news channel and see what's being said about the day's events,” suggested Heini, “Perhaps it'll help us decide what to do next.”

Positive pictures of a beaming Pontiff, obviously recovered from his unpleasant ordeal and the slip of the smiling mask of his public face, gave way to a newsflash that the crazed religious fanatic that had momentarily disrupted the ceremony at the Vatican, was being held in a clinic for the mentally disturbed 'til such time as they'd assessed from which institution in the Europa-Unitas Region he'd escaped.

Apparently the man is apologetic about the insanity of his outrageous act and desires to make amends in a live interview to be broadcast tomorrow.” reported the newsreader.

Seems they got to him, pity. Okay I'll see what I can do,” said Joric, “James just might have been taken to a mental clinic where I've got a work contact, and it might be possible for me to pay him a visit.”

Thanks Joric, I'll take it from here and contact Morgan,” continued Heini, “She can go back with Abigail and help her tell Theresa. You have a train to catch. Contact me tomorrow.” Joric gave Abigail a hug,

I'll see if Michael can throw any more light on the events regarding your parents. See you tomorrow, hang in there and my sympathies to Terry.”


Don't know what the country's coming to,

but in Rome do as the Romans do.'

-U Bertini/H Fredricks/S Taccani, lyrics from their 'In Roma' song


33


'Had a fistful of questions. I have no answers,

I got no patented path to set you free,

there's a thousand roads up this mountain, you can get lost if you try.'

-C David


ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME ...the endless games

in the timeless zone

remind me all roads lead to Rome

..the beasts from the end of the century

adorn themselves with jewellery

-Stranglers

Tuesday Atalanta


When he arrived home from work the next day, Joric turned on the TV to watch the early evening news whilst busying himself in the kitchen and making a snack to eat on the train to the mainland.

The newsreader duly delivered the evening 'COVenant' prologue, quoting the Code of Virtue and reading the indoctrination for the day, as required before every news bulletin. Good Patriots were supposed to be pledging themselves the New Order during the devotions of this ritual, but Joric simply resigned himself to enduring the prescribed formula whilst awaiting any news items in which he might be interested. This evening, he was looking forward to one that starred the very Reverend and much maligned James Mackintosh.

And now we take you to the State Clinic in Rome for the mentally challenged, to hear a special live broadcast by the deranged prisoner who interrupted yesterday's Papal inauguration. It appears that Mr Mackintosh himself requested an interview as he desired to explain, and apologise for his strange behaviour.”

James spoke in an even flatter tone than the one he'd used during confirmation classes.

I would like to express my sincere regret for interrupting yesterday's ceremony. First I would like to apologise to his Holiness for accosting him during his interview. It was simply a case of mistaken identity. In my unbalanced state of mind, I had thought his Holiness to be a man I once knew. I now realize that he bears no resemblance whatsoever the man in question. I admit to being damned by my dehumanising and depersonalising Western bias of thinking that all Dominionists look alike. I am ashamed of myself and those of my ilk back home in former colonial London, all I can say is, the devil made me do it. In the hope of being exonerated by His Grace, I am submitting myself to counselling and re-education by my superiors in our interfaith movement who will guide me in the religious tenets of the New Order.

I will voluntarily place myself in a clinic so as to become fully rehabilitated and I am grateful to the Helping Hand that has enabled me to redeem myself.

Finally I would like to emphasize that am fully supportive of the pacifist Pontiff's religious leadership and I apologize to the State and all its Patriots for my treacherous act in attempting to besmirch the spotless name of His Holiness and bring the good and guiltless one into disrepute.”

Obviously the speech had been prepared by someone other than James Mackintosh, and with a little engineering, the new man installed in the Vatican's Congregation of Rites was still immaculate with his impeccable credentials remaining intact. He was all set to extend his sphere of pious influence without a soul queuing to protest. This one man show of defiance had been dealt with successfully and no harm had been done; it even looked like James Mackintosh might be spared.

Yes, the way ahead had been cleared for the 21st century Transgordonian cum Hejazi Prince to take his place as religious leader of the Oneworld, acceptable through his dual Sunni and Shiite lineage; and the extended fields of his diocese, holding ex-Catholic sheep with their tails between their legs, had gates that would remain firmly locked. The driven one was now firmly in the driving seat, solemnly invested with pontificating power and settled in the ex-Catholic enclave in Rome.

Joric had once read a banned book, called 'The Finger of God,' about a predecessor-pope that had allegedly been bumped off by Jesuits, and he couldn't help being suspicious that the same fate had befallen the pope in whose wake Has'seen had taken over the papacy.

Joric was reminded of a time centuries ago when the Hebrews believed they had the awaited Messenger in their midst. The Turkish Sultan had offered this man of the diaspora, who was then living in Turkey, the golden opportunity to stand before his archers and see if he could ward off their arrows, thus confirming his Messenger status to the sceptical remainder of the Semitic world. After a week in custody, this hope of most of the Ha-kodesh announced that he had converted to the Dominion religion, and died not long after. Perhaps he had endured a period of 'persuasion' similar to that which James Mackintosh had undoubtedly endured, in the form of torture being applied in such a way that the body remained intact and unmarked.

As for counselling and re-education, brainwashing would be a more realistic term to use. Joric needed to speak to James before it was too late.

Had he meant to say 'guillotining?' Did he really witness the seer on St Mark's Square? What was going on in Venice? Had he seen or heard anything about Dr Brelli while he was there?

As soon as the newscast was finished, Joric made his way once again to the mainland.

The Lord's welcome committee consisting of Heini and his loyal ladies, Ermina and Morgan, was awaiting him - with Abigail and Terry in tow.

We want you to go to Rome,” stated Abigail, “Do whatever it takes to find this James Mackintosh. We saw his 'confession' on the news. I'll get the ticket and we suggest you go as soon as possible, before they've had time to dispose of Mr Mackintosh. It seems he might just hold the key to unlock the mystery of Dad's disappearance. When can you leave?”

Not too sure. They'll probably only grant me one day's leave; however I should be able to get the necessary information in that time. There's a Professor Peres at The State Mental Clinic where they're most likely holding James. He's a professor of archaeology who unearthed too many uncomfortable home truths about the Syrians in the Crusader saga, facts that went against the grain as far as the State was concerned. The stubborn old man was put away in a mental clinic to discredit his findings. I got permission to interview him for the first part of my thesis, most of the information he gave me probably ended up on the cutting room floor.

I'll ask for a day's leave on the pretext of needing more information for the paper I'm working on at present. I'll probably be able to go on Friday. There shouldn't be a problem getting in to see the old Prof and I'll take it from there.”

Let us know by tomorrow lunchtime,” said Abigail, “Then I'll book your ticket and take you to the airport.”


'A thousand roads lead man forever towards Rome.'

-Translated from the original Latin proverb


34


'How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?'

-Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans


DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET? ...closer,

let me whisper in your ear

-Lennon/McCartney


Thursday Morning Atalanta


Danial


Danial was concerned about the news filtering down to him from the Socio-Religious Department. He'd agreed with the suppression of Chrétiens who would not bow to the rules of the Ecumenical Interfaith, but deep down he had to admit that he'd been experiencing some misgivings. As a man deeply committed to the faith of his forefathers, he could not see how the compromise reached between leaders of the world religions could ever be acceptable to the Creator, the God of Abraham in whom he believed. He'd been resentful when required to hand in his holy book of Recitations and had a grudging admiration for those believers in The Way who'd refused to bow the knee to anyone other then their God, especially after he'd studied the history of the Armenian nation who'd come through the worst tribulation and genocide imaginable.

Certainly the atrocities of the past committed under the banner of Chrétienity had left a legacy to be dealt with once and for all, but it should be remembered that leaders of other religions had also issued mandates to conquer and subdue, regrettably his own Dominionist fundamentalists fell into that category. John Ruskin described such violence as stemming from Pathetic Fallacy, Misleading Myths spawning hero-martyrs and fatality figures. This was the antithesis of true religion of course and the men and women of The Way being sent for re-programming had been involved in no such ventures. They'd even apologized for the evils wrongfully committed in the name of the prophet Jesus and said that such atrocities went against the very nature of this man whom they'd professed to be God incarnate. Jesus, they'd said, had told men to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors, a far cry from the forced conversions of old achieved through threats and torture, ending in death for those who refused to submit. The ministry of Jesus had even been validated in The Recitations, so what of the other Scriptures that bore a fuller account of his life and work?

Still, there'd been another prophet since Jesus, and Danial had been taught that this 6th Century holy man had brought God's final word to the world; some things just didn't add up. The leaders of his Dominionist faith forbade honest exploration of other belief systems and although religiously intense, the combined ethnic clout of the Dominion Goliath, so formidable to other minority groups, was spiritually nominal on a personal basis despite its traditional outward trappings. The blind loyalty to the culture and faith required by its adherents made it relatively simple for Dominion overseers to blinker non-thinkers en masse. Good Dominionists would never break rank and wise outsiders should ask no questions if they wanted to hear no lies. Danial was becoming increasingly uneasy with his position in the midst of it all as he'd always prided himself on being a man of sound moral fibre, a man who'd adopted as his mandate the philosopher Kant's ethics of a categorical imperative, a law governed by pure reason and universally binding which stated that right action was not dependant upon feelings or inclinations but upon conforming to an absolute unconditional command of moral law.

He'd therefore felt compelled to do his own research - outside office hours naturally - and whilst perusing the work of Greek historian Eusebius, he'd read about a powerful Roman procurator named Pontius Pilate who was said to have committed suicide, although another tradition had said he'd become a Christian. That was by the by, what had really troubled Danial was the fact that this Pilate, a man who'd had authority over life and death, had previously summoned the founder of Christianity and asked, 'What is truth?' Why? Because Jesus had claimed that his kingdom was not of this world and he'd entered the world for the sole purpose of testifying to the truth, and that everyone who loved the truth would listen to his voice.

A king, not of this world? Of the universe perhaps? Should he, Danial, who also loved the truth be listening to the voice of Jesus? And what was truth? A loaded question to be sure, and did any of his superiors in NO care tuppence about finding it, if indeed it was to be found? Whatever truth happened to be, it seemed that falsehoods had been spawned by governments in the past to knit nationhood and prepare the way for the rot of the present in which even the women that had been sent to ISP1 on the pretext of joining their husbands had been fed cruel lies. It was becoming abundantly clear to the disillusioned Danial that the whole rigid infrastructure of NO had been built on the spread of carefully fabricated lies. According to the notable Dominionist leader Mohamad Jawad Chirri, this Jesus, or Isa as he called him, was to be revered as holy, pure and free from sin, a prophet miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin named Maryam, a lady highly respected amongst the women of the nations. Chirri recorded that Jesus had been empowered by God to work miracles, curing the sick, reviving the dead and enabling the blind to see and that Isa al-Masih, the Messiah, would return to defeat the anti-Christ and false messiah, al-Misah ad-Dajjal. It was said Isa had even spoken of his own death from the cradle; Recitations 19:33 recorded the words he'd uttered referring to 'the day I die, and the day I am raised to life in the Hereafter.'

Danial idly wondered if there were other members of his culture who'd been tempted to examine and test the different beliefs of those who held their religion equally dear. And then there was Joric, Danial had no time for the man but his work was good, and he'd been coming up with some uncomfortable facts of late that the senior historian had had to manipulate to the extent that they no longer resembled truth in any shape or form.

As for Billy, Joric's sidekick, now there was a turn up for the books. What had come over the guy? He used to be one of the lads, easy come and easy go, but now? Danial had been watching him closely, could he have gone the same way as Conrad? Hard to believe. That was another thing, Conrad had changed, yes indeed, but he hadn't caused a rebellion or stood on a soap box, not at all. Rather, his work had improved, he'd become more responsible, courteous and had even apologised for his less than respectful attitude of the past; why then had he been done away with? It wasn't as if he'd been dangerous, far from it. Billy had also changed for the better, treating him with a warmth that his boss just wasn't used to. Even when Danial had been in a foul mood, Billy hadn't wavered in the new polite, untroubled manner he'd adopted. No more 'Suit yourself mate' and similar comments when he was taken to task for something, he just remained looking, well, radiant – not a word that Danial had ever used before. He was just coming to the realization that in fact he even quite liked the Australian, when there was a knock at the door.

Enter,” said Danial in his usual formal tone. Talk of the devil it was Billy himself.

Mr Osborne,” he remarked as Billy's beaming face appeared round the door, “Don't know what you're looking so smug about. Not much to make one smile around this place.”

That depends on how you look at things Sir,” Billy replied, grinning all the while. “I'm new at this, but it's like I'm seeing things for the first time. If you'd only take a break and go to the surface you'd see the sea in all its moods, and after dusk the stars appearing one by one in the night sky. As for me Sir, it's even like I'm seeing you for the first time as well. I see that you're a fair dinkum kinda bloke with a good heart, and that heart's beating on inside you making you wonder what this old life's all about.”

Danial was so taken aback that he didn't know quite what to say, no-one had spoken to him like this before.

You believe in God don't you? The Creator of this here universe? God of Abraham and all that? Well that's something we've got in common cos so do I. I wasn't too bothered about Him a couple of weeks back I have to admit, but now I know He's for real.”

Billy was a-glow, even Danial with his tough exterior could see that. What's more he could see that Billy was extending the hand of friendship. Made a change, no-one else showed him any friendship, not that he invited it, far from it if he were to be honest. There was genuine warmth in Billy's eyes, no, it was even more than that.

I never thought I'd say it, Danial Sir, but – well, I don't know how else to put it so I'll just come right out with it, it's like - I love you Sir. You see Boss, it's really God that loves you, but somehow He's doing it through me. I just wanted to tell you that – that God really does love you. If you don't believe me, look in one of those Bibles you've got stashed away somewhere and ask the One who created you to help you read it. You're an historian, and that book's chock-a-block full of history. In fact, Jesus split His-story into BC and AD. If you haven't read the Good Book yet, you really should before it's too late and NO burns the lot of them. Read about your prophet Jesus in there, there's lots about Him, especially in the Newer Testament. The Gospel of St John's a good place to start, it's the Gospel of love.

I just happen to know that your scriptures talk about us New and Old Covenant guys as blokes of the Book, so why don't you read this Book they spoke of while you still have the chance? By the way Sir, here's the work you asked me to do.”

Not waiting for any comment, Billy placed a sheaf of papers on Danial's desk into which he'd slipped a page full of Old and New Testament Scriptures from the books of Isaiah and Romans.

Hope you enjoy reading my research Sir; found some interesting stuff that makes awesome reading! Now, have a good evening and may God bless you!” With that, he turned and bounced out of the office, an even bigger smile on his face.

Danial got up slowly, as if shell shocked and stood in the doorway of his office watching Billy's retreating figure. He then followed from a discreet distance and watched him pass Joric who was busy packing up for the day,

Just told Danial about the good Lord,” he said. Joric pretended he hadn't heard. “Enjoy your day off tomorrow, see y'later mate,” and off he went, whistling his way out of the building.


'How shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed?

And how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?

And how shall they hear without a preacher?'

-Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans


35


'Her whole life was spent riding at breakneck speed

along the wilder shores of love.'

-Lesley Blanche


FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN ...what am I to do? I can't help it

-F. Hollander (R Connolly Eng. version)


Thursday Evening Ostend


Morgan


Morgan was happy to have Billy around during the days that followed her move into Ermina Viner's home. He continued to give her the solid support she needed, lifting her indomitable though seriously challenged spirit with his unique brand of humour. Besides missing Owen, she was becoming increasingly aware of the absence of a man living and working alongside her.

She'd been happily married and quite settled in her corner of the world, doing what she could to spread the Gospel in memory of those brave folks who'd lived and died before her, men and women who'd lost their lives standing up for what they believed. But there were moments now when she felt almost overwhelmed by the implications of being a fugitive on the wrong side of the law. Talking about it with level-headed friends was comforting and she'd quickly become a valuable and cherished member of the group under Heini's leadership.

Ermina had also become a close friend, she too was widowed and had lived alone for a number of years. As a Ha-kodesh lady who'd accepted Jesus as her Messiah, she was on fire for her King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Morgan was touched by the way she'd embraced both herself and Billy, welcoming them into her home and expressing her delight as she watched Billy's faith grow stronger by the day and witnessed the two of them growing closer.

Such a fine young man Morgan, and I can see that you like him too!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

I do Ermina, but I wonder if we aren't getting too close too soon? It was only a couple of months ago that Owen was taken from me. So much has happened since then that it almost seems like a couple of years ago that he died.”

What is time at a time like this? Who knows how much longer we have here? Enjoy his friendship Morgan, and if you fall in love with him that's wonderful too! The good Lord is perhaps giving you this time together as a special gift in these difficult days.”

He's a good man, but he comes out with the oddest expressions – remember those old Crocodile Dundee movies?”

Can't say I do.”

I saw the reruns on TV. That's my Billy, the Outback cowboy.” They both laughed.

Laughter's the best medicine, it has great healing power so laugh as much as you can, while you can.”

But Billy's not just funny, he's strong and brave although he tells me he was quite the opposite until about two weeks ago! He was just happy being a laid-back layabout, but now he says he's just happy that I'm happy,” said Morgan laughing again.

How's he getting on with Klaus?” asked Ermina, he must be there most evenings – he certainly leaves here far too late to catch the last train to Atalanta.”

I don't think poor Klaus gets much sleep either, as Sponge-Bob Billy starts pumping him for more and more information from the moment he arrives.” replied Morgan, “Apparently when Billy knocks on his door he gets up, after having dozed on the couch most of the evening and they stay up studying and praying together! Klaus has been teaching him all about intercession and petition. They're just good old prayer partners, praying the night away, burning the candle at both ends! At the crack of dawn Klaus takes Billy to catch the early morning train back to Atalanta.” Morgan kept looking through the window and Ermina noticed her glancing regularly at her at her watch,

Another ten minutes yet,” she said smiling at her young charge, “I'll make some tea and leave the two of you alone, what have you made for dinner tonight?”

The arrangement worked well, Ermina had given Morgan a home and Morgan did the cooking. She cooked wonderful Welsh meals for the three of them with flavours foreign to Ermina's and Billy's palates, always with some sweet delight to follow. The Welsh had a sweet tooth - and so had Billy.

Morgan and Billy found that the more they spoke the more the bond between them developed, especially when she shared stories of her family's heritage in The Way dating back to the Welsh Revival, and of her deep convictions to stand up and be counted for Jesus who'd said, 'Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.' To Morgan it was all pretty straightforward.

It has been said that if you desire peace, you must prepare for war,” she told Billy later that evening.

You're some spunky Sheila, you'd take on the lot of them wouldn't you. Not satisfied with upsetting the apple cart in Wales, you're raring to have a go at them from this side of the Channel too!”

There have been plenty of 'Sheilas' as you put it, from the British Isles who've gone to other lands as foot-soldiers in God's army. I'm sure you've heard of Florence Nightingale?”

The Lady of the Lamp?”

Full marks, so her fame reached the Outback too did it? Well then, as you know, here was a well-to-do lady filled with compassion for the victims of war who were suffering without help or medication. She gave tirelessly of herself in the Crimean War far from home, on the shores of the Black Sea.”

Was that what inspired the name RE-Chrime?”

Good guess, but no. RE-Chrime stands for 'Remember the Christian Martyrs in Europe,' and alludes to a handful of exceptionally brave and daring activists of The Way in Nazi Europe who stood up against the atrocities committed by the Hitler regime; they even plotted to assassinate the evil dictator. Many of those brave men and women were publicly humiliated and executed right after appearing in a kangaroo court while over ninety per cent of the Protestant Church stood passively by. There are similarities between their organisation and ours; in fact we had our own plan to assassinate Sol Benevento; seems he got wind of it.

Back to the brave British ladies I was telling you about; have you heard of Gladys Aylebury?”

No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me about her.”

Gladys was known as 'the little woman,'” said Morgan. “She went to China, defying the religious institutions of the day who didn't think she was right for the mission field. She simply got on a train in London and travelled to Moscow, then on towards China, but there were hostilities at the Chinese border so she had to leave the train and walk throughout the night, through forests with wolves howling all around her until she finally crossed into China. They called her a Western devil but she was a determined lady and persevered, even taking over an inn, and she once quelled a prison riot single-handedly with many turning to the Lord as a result. Even a group of Buddhist monks became believers in Jesus after listening to her speak of the God who loves, and she led a whole group of children to safety over the mountains – they made a movie about it.”

The Inn of the Seventh Happiness!” said Billy triumphantly, “I saw a rerun once, it starred Ingrid Bergman.

Right again! More recently there was Jackie Pullinger who just got on a ship one day. She didn't know where she was going, but God told her to disembark when they arrived in Hong Kong. There she wandered into the Walled City, somewhere no-one went if they wanted to stay alive, a grim place run by the Triads. The streets were open running sewers and so narrow that the buildings met overhead. Prostitution and drugs were a means of survival, use of heroin and opium were the norm. For five years Jackie could do virtually nothing other than love the people, and tend the wounded after gang fights. Every venture seemed doomed to failure, but the people were watching to see if she would eventually give up and leave as other missionaries had done before her. God brought her to a place where He worked miracle after miracle through her and gang members became leaders of The Way who went on to travel the world by her side, telling others along the path what God had done. These are just three of the women who poured themselves out for the Lord.” Morgan paused for breath,

As you poured yourself out for RE-Chrime.” said Billy, putting his arm around her, proud of his new ladylove's fearlessness. She smiled,

I don't think I have the calibre of those ladies. Off they went, without any support from any organisation or group, just going it alone with God.”

And God alone knows how they managed to do what they did.” said Billy thoughtfully.

The odds seemed insurmountable, but remember Billy, with God all things are possible.”

Which brings me on to some news I have to share with you, young lady! You might say I've been a regular Billy Graham today!”


'Vitality in a woman is a blind fury of creation.'

-George Bernard Shaw


36


'What a tangled web of deceit we weave when we practice to deceive.'

-Sir Walter Scott \ 'Mahomet will go to the mountain.' -Francis Bacon


THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA -Andrew Lloyd Webber

and co-lyricists

Atalanta


Danial


Danial arose from his prayer mat after bowing before the Lord of the Universe and completing the final rituals of the day. He went into kitchen and poured himself a glass of home-made ginger beer with three cubes of ice, then sat down in his favourite chair to unwind from yet another eight hours spent at 'the practice,' tightening the screws of the obligatory Oneworld view.

The day's routine had been interrupted mid-afternoon by a meeting that he and his collegian group of Pursuit VIP inductees had been invited to attend at Ostend's regional centre of ACME Academy for Men of Excellence. A welcome break on the mainland away from the daily Atalantian grind was therapeutic in itself, but in this case it proved to be a disconcerting venture in that yet another dishonest act of the regime for which he worked had come to light. Danial sipped his ginger beer, mulling over all that Mushtaq's in-house teaching at the collegiate had revealed. How had he started?

Gentlemen welcome – help yourselves to some fruit punch and pull up a chair.”

Fruit punch to soften the blow? A contradiction in terms. A mental recording of his senior's address began to replay in Danial's mind.

As you will soon be fully fledged members of The Pursuit, we have decided to inform you about a secret weapon of ours, something that has served to hold the population in check quite successfully for the past year. I refer to Image Vision, the device through which Close Watch has been able to monitor our Patriots. What you are unaware of is the fact that this 'Big Brother' as some have described it, is a phantom from the annals of fiction, perpetrated by the State for the good cause of stability and order. Personal surveillance through television does not exist, however, it is hoped that the system will be a feature of the future.

It therefore follows that the army of inspectors supposedly monitoring the system via two way television, is also non-existent.” Danial recalled Shakespeare's Henry IV Part One in which a friend of his had played Falstaff; the character had described imaginary men as Men in Buckram. The revelation continued,

To reiterate - false is the perception deliberately leaked by the State that Patriots can be monitored in their homes, but true is the fact that when television sets are turned on, monitoring through a channel can determine the number of people in the room in which the television is installed. Other than that, all television sets function with standard viewer reception only. I repeat, the spy-eye monitor thought to be installed behind every television screen, is still on the drawing board. Naturally this information will remain within these four walls, the spectre of our ruse being presently sufficient to keep at bay all unconventional talk and behaviour which might threaten stability in the pursuit of happiness for all our Patriots. This knowledge is entrusted to you as vanguards of avant-garde politics by the bureaucracy to preserve the status quo.”

Danial wondered how many other stables of State snoopers abounded, now that he and his inductees had all become part of a front for the non-existent Close Watch. Were they all being initiated into an instant generation of ambitious civil servants with a learnt behaviour herd instinct of hearing no evil, to join the driven pursuit of a drove of duped donkeys? Perish the thought. But appealing to patriotic duty worked like a charm, be it from the powerful team of Putin working in tandem with an aider and abettor nicknamed 'The Bear,' to the minor strutter Mugabe or for good measure, that accessory to great crime, Goebbels who'd creamed it off the top while announcing 'Why should we want butter when we need guns?'

Danial's own no-nonsense culture had religiously pursued this infallible line of reasoning, ever pressing for submission to grey uniformity amongst the disparate peoples brought into the holy fold, whilst propagating the pleasures to be found in the nirvana state of NO. Could this mass acquiescence to a doctrinaire figure of authority simply be an unthinking knee-jerk reaction?

It was starting to dawn on honest-to-God workhorse Danial that the aspirations of many disadvantaged Patriots would never see the light of day. And he strongly suspected that this premier class of happiness that he was entitled to as part of the in crowd of regime maintainers and sustainers was rather more elusive than one was led to believe after being led by the nose in the crowd mentality of his overcrowded wannabe class. But it just wasn't acceptable to voice one's misgivings out aloud. Disillusioned by this worldly dictatorship, he was privately questioning the State's ability to bring about its promised even-handed distribution. So much for Patriotism then, 'the last refuge of a scoundrel' as an eighteenth century lexicographer had once said.

A sceptical Danial now tended to share that sentiment after having attended a few sessions of The Pursuit for Newcomers orientation which outlined the clandestine methodology of State machinery and mainstay of the New Order. From Danial's perspective in the History Department, this basically boiled down to the discovery that past regimes simply repeated themselves.

Although Oneworld ecumenical religion officially allowed for a measure of private cultural interpretation, the religious laws were not always equitable. This was evidenced by the biased treatment dished out to the Coptic minority among the people of the Nile in Danial's beloved region. The petty rule of religious affiliation being shown on identity cards, often held serious consequences for the holder. Making things worse was the creation of a Religion Police Force, inspired by the success experienced by a similar ex-Iranian force when it came to quelling public unrest.

For the Egyptian Coptic community there was nowhere to hide from the ever-increasing sectarian strife in this Balkanization of their country. A daily nagging sense of disquiet invaded Danial's peace, brought about by alleged reports of an increasing number of girls being abducted from Coptic Chrétien families, with sectarian violence against the marginalised minorities reaching epidemic proportions. Coptics were being forced to convert or face constant intimidation from those who held that they were out to Chrétienise Egypt. The domination was mutating and taking on a dark side, and Danial's unrealistic optimism for the Egyptian ideal was fading fast. Forced conversions were leading to the aggressive eradication of cultural diversity and Danial's Oneworld central government employer in Rome was turning a blind eye to the upheaval and plight of the mute Egyptian downtrodden.

NO's appointment of the unruly element to do its dirty work completed the travesty of justice, masking every evil deed with the outward appearance of unified religious tolerance. The expressions of betrayed women were hidden behind the compulsory secular 'common decency burka,' now worn by all Egyptian women, regardless of religious affiliation. Moreover, these ladies were not allowed to appear in public without a male family chaperone, and had to be dressed in black from head to toe. Values once taken for granted in modernizing the vibrant society in which Danial had grown up had now vaporized, along with economic well-being also taking a knock.

Danial was descended from the Habirus of the Hyksos era, who had founded a town on the Delta coast in the North-eastern Nile district, which they'd named Tzo'an. It was later re-named Tanis and later still, Avaris; this was the town where Danial had grown up. Many of the Habiru Joktanites had converted to the Coptic faith long before the advent of Dominionism which in turn gradually took over as the religion of the region. His mother's family were once Coptics, but Dominionism had been the faith adopted by the family of his father.

The Coptic community had continued its traditions without in any way disrupting the wonderful Egyptian way of life that Danial had so enjoyed. He'd respected the religious divide without giving it too much thought, after all, Egyptians shared the same nationhood and similar customs. Two fine Coptic role models had influenced the young Danial in his student days; the first of these was Labib Habatchi, the Egyptologist who'd identified Avaris as the Hyksos capital, and the second was journalist, philosopher and social critic Salama Moussa of nearby Zagazig, a leading Coptic of immense stature. These two intellectuals were sons of the soil, but now the grand erudite heritage of Egypt was in tatters.

Danial's grandmother had mixed with the intelligentsia of Egyptian mid-twentieth century society, debating topics of their great civilization with academic freedom. She'd spent many happy hours with her grandson and her influence had dominated his formative years. She'd expanded his horizons, educating him in the knowledge of life beyond the limited and immediate ambit of his strict Dominionist schooling. She'd nurtured him in the fascinating history that had been theirs before the arrival of Dominion, and thanks to her, he was less narrow minded than many of his peers. She had come from a fine upstanding Coptic family and had chosen to marry into the Dominion tradition because of her love for Danial's grandfather, but she'd nevertheless cherished the ancient Sabean faith handed down by Sabi, son of Seth, who was buried somewhere in Egypt along with his father and brother Enoch, men reputed to have been pyramid builders. The Arabs were chiefly Sabeans before their conversion, first to Coptic Christianity and then in time to Dominionism.

Grandmother had taught Danial about the Semitic Ugaritic records and the Qumram Deuteronomy fragments which spoke of the seventy sons of God, sent by Him to influence all the nations that He had established. Heber the Habiru was one of them, he also happened to be a great-grandson of Noah's son Shem. Shem himself had refused to help with the building of the Tower of Babel, and the result was that he and his family had retained the original human language, lingua humana in Latin. This was generic Hebrew, a language named after Heber himself. Danial's Hyksos ancestors, were descended from the Habiru.

As for the Hyksos, they had peacefully brought their monotheistic faith in the unknown One God, to Egypt. Over time their influence had grown stronger, 'creeping' into the lower reaches of the Nile and Nile Delta until eventually they ruled Lower Egypt. Their power base was overthrown centuries later by the adjoining country of Upper Egypt. The Hebrews of the time had then departed to Canaan, and the Habiru Arabs were integrated into the increasingly cosmopolitan community.

According to the historian Josephus, the Hyksos Habirus were known as the Shepherd Kings; they were a Semitic people, thought to have had a mysterious relationship with the divinity Elohim. They were believed to have possessed divine origins and divine powers and therefore differed from other people in many ways. From Anatolia to the Mesopotamian Basin to Egypt, they had social and religious standing, and based on historic evidence, the people who lived, worked and travelled with them would have been unable to ignore their association with the divine. In his book Prehistoric Nations, Baldwin had said that the Habiru were the seat of a great and influential civilization. They were the ruling and lordly race of their time, true Hebrews in the older and wider sense. They had a Deity whose Name was unknown; after all, that Name was not revealed to anyone before Moses. All this identified them as 'Children of Ever,' and it was universally recognised and accepted that they were of special genetic stock and a 'chosen people.'

Job, who gave his name to the oldest book of the Yehudith 'To Cross Over' Testament, had once declared, 'I know that my Redeemer lives.' This was probably Jobab the Habiru Arab and not a Ha-kodesh as believed by the rest of Billy's 'blokes of the Book.' Billy had been quite right of course, and Recitations chapter two said that 'those who believe, and the Yehudim, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever believes in God and the last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve,' and again Recitations chapter five declared that 'Those who believe and the Sabeans and the Christians – whoever believes in the last day and does good – they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.' So why did NO deem it necessary to harass the very people mentioned in these scriptures?

Danial had a cousin who kept him up to date with all that was going on behind the scenes in the unfolding Egyptian drama and it seemed that fundamentalist intimidation was the inevitable side effect of Dominionism maintaining a clear-cut traditional identity in the country. Hundreds if not thousands of lashes were being meted out daily, with hapless transgressors being punished in the cities instead of being sent to outlying punitive places away from the public eye. It was even happening in Alexandria, a city more Mediterranean than Eastern, its cultural heritage distancing it from the rest of the Egyptian region despite being a mere 225 kilometres from Cairo. E.M. Forster once said that 'the best way to see Alexandria was to wander aimlessly.' But this vibrantly alive city was no longer a tourist friendly destination and was fast becoming one of corporal punishment and even death. Without a doubt, a pell-mell, downward centrifugal spiral had begun, with violence spinning out of control and religious minders becoming murderers with overt government sanction. The pall cast by the past pan-Dominion Turkish and Indonesian genocides now hung ominously over the land of the Nile. Danial, who had studied those histories of the demise of millions knew what could be in store, and it did not augur well for today's defenceless minorities that refused to dominate with Dominion.

Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity, and the Dominionists of the time were responsible for the annihilation of one and a half million or more Armenians. They were virtually wiped out within ten years with at least two million eliminated. In 1923 the Turkish republic wrapped up the Armenian ethnic cleansing, which included the destruction of three thousand year old Smyrna with the aid of a massive cover-up by tacit agreement with the Western Allies. Destroyed Smyrna had been named after the fragrance of crushed Myrrh, which spoke of true martyrdom. It was thereafter re-built by Dominion and re-named Izmir. Danial grudgingly admired the faith and unquenchable spirit of the Armenians throughout their history. It was a sad reflection that the Jewish Virtual Library showed the Yehudim and Armenian Christians as having historically lived in harmony with each other.

As for Nazi Germany, Danial thought again of Hitler's words to his commanders, 'Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan with a happy heart, had led millions of women and children to premeditated slaughter. History saw him solely as the founder of a state. It's a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the commands and I'll have anyone who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad, our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness for the present only in the East, with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men women and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space we need. Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?'

No-one at the office knew of Danial's secret thoughts, or even that he was an Egyptian. Neither did they know that he had once read about The Prince's Dominion people in a letter from Paul to the Romans which he found in The Way's New Testament. He'd read chapters ten and eleven which had even included a portion of Scripture later supplied by Billy, copied from the book of Isaiah; 'The Egyptians shall cry to Jehovah because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a deliverer, and a great one, and will deliver them. And Jehovah shall be known to Egypt, and Egypt shall know Jehovah in that day, and shall offer sacrifice and offering; and avow to Jehovah, and repay. And they shall return to Jehovah, and He shall hear them and shall heal them. In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria shall come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and Egypt shall serve with Assyria. In that day Israel shall be a third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land; whom Jehovah of Hosts shall bless saying, blessed be my people in Egypt, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.'

Then there was the passage in Revelation to the church at Smyrna which said, 'You will have tribulation ten days, be faithful to death, and God will give the crown of life.' Apparently God had approved of the Armenians, and if indeed one day represented a year, as Danial had been led to believe, could the terrible ten years of devastation in the Smyrna region between 1913 and 1923 be counted as those ten days of tribulation?

As historian Danial knew that there had been ten great persecutions the Christian church of the earlier centuries AD under the ten principal Pagan persecutors, those particular Roman emperors beginning with Nero, Domitian etc., and ending with the monstrous Diocletian - his not only being the last but arguably the most cruel of all. This terrible tribulation suffered under this atrocious Diocletian lasted just ten years long until Constantine's edict of toleration.

Danial also knew that Smyrna was simply the Ionic Greek for myrrh, and as such surely symbolised this Smyrnan church of The Way as representing martyrs. He wondered if he might suffer a similar fate if ever he were to wander beyond the strict bounds of Dominionism. And was it the true Dominion if it excluded The Prince of Peace in any way by only accepting His existence in a limited, nominal way, the One upon whose shoulder would be the government in the Olam Haba - the World to Come? If the tenets of the Armenians' dynamic faith turned out to be true, he and the rest of the Dominionists would be out in the cold, honour bound to their faith and culture.

Only yesterday he'd heard a devil-may-care song in the canteen that sent a chill down his spine, Out in the cold wind waiting a long time and possibly still. What sets you free? Until then what needs must be. What more they ask is there? And I tell myself no need to care. But Danial did care, he didn't want to be out in the cold or party to the saying Needs must when the devil drives.

He went to fetch another drink and sat at the table in front of his laptop, ginger beer in hand; he hadn't checked his emails for a while. There was a message from his cousin back home. The colour slowly drained from Danial's face as he began to read about a very recent incident concerning a fellow Egyptian. The incident would no doubt remain under wraps; as far as the authorities were concerned, he was just one more nameless, faceless young Coptic man who'd been seized by a mob and beaten to a pulp before being set alight and burnt to death. For what? A suspected illicit relationship? Illicit because the girl just happened to be from a Dominion family, but suspected? It wasn't the first time that something like this had happened but now it hit home hard.

He sat as if frozen, hopelessly grief-stricken, unable to summon up the strength to move from his chair or lift his hands to write some empty words of condolence. The last vestige of idealism crumbled, where was resolute faith to alleviate the pain?

This satisfying life of working for the Oneworld vision, pursuing knowledge and living at ease, what did it really count for in the greater scheme of things? The self-gratification afforded by learning and its attendant opportunities, that smug feeling of being set apart within the status quo, along with the life of privilege he had taken for granted, now all weighed heavily in a sudden crisis of conscience.

The words on his laptop screamed its message into his numbed mind. It was time to get off the fence and sit with reality for a change. In the dark night of his soul disenchanted Danial sighed deeply, but what could he do? Once a Dominionist always a Dominionist; he was truly torn, betwixt and between the commitment to the culture of his birth and his troubled conscience. The words of Forster echoed in his mind, 'I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.'

Injustices were piling up to high heaven, crying out to their respective gods, who seemed to blatantly ignore them while hard-line authorities and various police forces exchanged money for forced conversions, rewarding the traitors to the cause of Egypt's heritage of maturity. Cordial relations had once been enjoyed by millions, the green banner bearing the cross and the crescent of the 1919 revolution attesting to the fact of combined Dominion and Coptic support. Now Egypt had become a minefield for many of its inhabitants whose civil liberties would not be defended.

Danial had known the young Coptic man; his name was Bahiti and he'd lived on the religiously-wrong side of town in Alexandria. A relationship with a Dominionist girl? She too had been attacked in the ensuing chaos while the watchful Religion Police looked on in case of a backlash - in case things really got out of hand. When they eventually reached her side, they saw that she too had been murdered, stabbed to death. Because of a mere rumour? Yes, a rumour, no more no less, as Danial well knew. The unfortunate Bahiti, a Zagazig University student who'd once played Falstaff and had gone on to earn rave reviews in the Alexandrian newspapers for his role in 'Lawrence of Arabia,' was a lad with a socially unacceptable sexual orientation - according to the fundamentalist society in which he'd lived. The skeleton in his cupboard had remained a closely guarded secret and only his close friends had come to know of it, an interesting crowd of intellectual types slightly older than Danial, some of them from the nearby Zagazig branch of the Dominionist Al-Azhar University.

The Saracen girl? Her name was Amasi, meaning flower of exotic fragrance, and she now lay crushed like a broken doll, never to blossom in the life she'd so fully embraced. As a librarian, she like Danial had been in Bahiti's close circle of friends. But Danial had been far closer to Amasi than Bahiti had ever been, and Danial had always looked forward to his regular trips to the New Royal Library of Alexandria where she'd worked. They'd met during the first read-through of Anthony and Cleopatra, and they'd been planning to get married some day. Danial groaned for his silenced Amasi like a man dying, his heart broken.


'My love she speaks like silence, without ideals of violence..

People carry roses and make promises by the hour.

My love she laughs like the flowers..valentines can't buy her.'

-Bob Dylan


37


'Stab it with steely knives but they just can't kill the beast...

you can check out any time but you can never leave.'

-Felder/Henley/Lewis Hotel California


LET'S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN ...But listen closely,

not for very much longer,

I've got to keep control

-R .O'Brien

Friday Rome


Joric


It was Friday morning, Danial had let Joric take the day off on condition that he did double the work on Thursday. Abigail had met him at the station and driven him to Brussels airport where she'd handed him his ticket and wished him well. He'd landed in Italy at ten o'clock in the morning and taken a taxi into the city.

Roaming through Rome, Joric finally found his way to the run-down place he was looking for, now more derelict than ever with a pall of depression surrounding it. He went up the few crumbling steps and in through the open door.

Reception could've done with a coat of paint, its peeling greyness blending in with the pallor of the person on duty. He was dismissive, not asking a thousand questions like the last time Joric had been there. In fact he barely glanced at Joric's Atalantian Total Security Card and the papers he'd brought from the previous visit before waving him on. The first hurdle had been cleared, on to the next.

Prof Peres was delighted to receive his unexpected visitor.

Ah Joric welcome! Since you were here last I checked out your family tree with Rabbi Jonah at the Ultra-Orthodox headquarters in Jerusalem. Jonathan Eric Ellis, it seems you could be a Peres from Poland like myself.” Joric looked at him quizzically,

A Peres from Poland?” what on earth had brought this on?

Ah yes, my boy, and the son of a Polish rabbi what's more. You're in good company. A distant cousin of mine bearing that name was a Misra Sar prime minister and a Nobel Laureate to boot. The proud name of Peres can be traced from Pharez who was a son of Judaea himself. His descendants were mostly lawyers, often leaders of the Sanhedrin. Torah says, 'The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from his descendants, until the coming of the One to whom it belongs, the One whom all nations will obey.' That's Shiloh, true peace – Mashiach, my boy, Messiah.”

Shiloh? Pharez? Joric knew the Prof was somewhat eccentric, but perhaps living in loony-land was beginning to affect his mind. 'Madness takes its toll,' he thought to himself grimly. How could an English Ellis like him be some immigrant Peres? He decided he'd better humour the old chap.

Some people have remarked that I look Ha-kodeshish, but I don't think..” The Prof didn't seem to be listening, he was on a mission of his own.

Here, I've written a brief letter of introduction for you,” he continued, fumbling in the drawer as he spoke, “You must take this matter up with Rabbi Gershon Levine. Trying to get into Chasidei Breslav Yeshiva at Mea Shearim in Jerusalem is like trying to get into Fort Knox. Here you are!” He said triumphantly, producing a handwritten letter on a grubby piece of paper with Rabbi Gershon Levine's name and number scrawled on the back.

Joric accepted the note graciously, putting it into his briefcase. Enough of this, back to the mission in hand; he wanted to get out of the godforsaken place before he was apprehended.

Thank you Sir, I appreciate it, but I have to admit that on this occasion I've come here to interview a Reverend James Mackintosh. I'm trying to help some Christians, er, yeah, people of The Way, so I was wondering if you could perhaps tell me where I can find him?”

With a strange glint in his eye, Prof Peres made for the door and without saying another word, waved his hand down the passage indicating an open door to the left. So he'd guessed right, they had indeed brought Jimmy here.

Thanks Prof, I'll be off then – time is fleeting - I'll catch up with you later - after I've spoken to the Rev!” He walked down the passage, and hovered in front of the door further down. “It's just a jump to the left,” he murmured, glancing quickly over his shoulder before entering the room.

A visibly older James was sitting on his bed, staring blankly at the wall in front of him. He looked up disinterestedly as Joric stepped inside.

Hello uh – Reverend James, it's Joric, remember me?” He expected to be greeted with the familiar old look of dislike. James' face remained expressionless, and without even a flicker of recognition he simply shook his head. Good, the disagreeable episodes of the past, along with any other memories of his delinquent behaviour, appeared to have been forgotten. Without uttering any further pleasantries Joric plunged right in.

I saw your recent statement on the news, Sir.”

Don't want to go there, thank you.” replied James dully.

I also saw the broadcast from St Peter's Square. Why were you there?” No answer, Joric tried again, “Where had you come from? What did they do to you and where is St Mark's?”

Still no answers were forthcoming.

Look,” said Joric finally, aware that time was running out, “I'm trying to help some The Way friends find their parents. It seems you were trying to help the public in some way too, it was a brave thing you did, Sir. Please, whatever they've done to you, don't let it all be in vain. You may still be able to help.”

Joric pulled up a chair and sat down. “The last word you said, before they interrupted you, was it 'guilty' or were you trying to say something else?”

I didn't say guilty.”

Good, now the word you were going to say was..?

James made a cut-throat motion with his hand.

Meaning?” The old man repeated the gesture.

Guillotine?” ventured Joric. The Reverend looked down.

St Mark's is in Venice isn't it? You saw Has'seen at St Marks Church in Venice?” Joric persisted. Finally James looked up again, signalling his visitor to come closer. With a weary sigh he began to whisper,

Yes, he's the False Prophet spoken of in Revelation and naturally he's in charge of NO's religious policy. Clandestine arrests are being made worldwide and Venice has become an island concentration camp. I happened to be amongst an early batch of prisoners sent there. Has'seen addressed us on the square, offering a last minute reprieve before sending us off to the prisons to await execution.” James paused before continuing, “He then went inside the church and took up his position in one of the confessional booths, taking confessions from those who wished to renounce their former belief in Christ as being the one and only way to salvation. Men and women filed in to sign some document on the dotted line, thereby committing themselves to the Universal Interfaith. Men and women, who for reasons of their own, were not willing to lay down their lives. Some had family commitments others as the result of experiencing plain unadulterated fear.” He trailed off, then suddenly sat bolt upright, looking directly into Joric's startled eyes. “Not everybody has the courage when push comes to shove. That's all I have to say, please go now.”

Thanks Reverend, you've been a great help and I do sympathize with your predicament.”

Save the platitudes, not what I need right now.”

Yes - I'm sorry. But there is just one last question that I really need to ask,” replied Joric, persevering despite the Rev's obvious reluctance to say anything further. “Do you know a Dr Robert Brelli?”

Brelli? Yes, I knew of him, knew his work that is. Not too bad as theologians go.”

You say you knew of him - past tense.” James shrugged his shoulders.

Can't say for sure what happened to him, but I spotted him alright, couldn't have missed him if I'd tried; he was standing defiantly in the middle of the square shouting the odds for all he was worth, encouraging those with him to be strong and make a stand for Christ; 'Brelli the Brave.'” James closed his eyes and started to rock backwards and forwards. Had this cuckoo's nest driven both him and the Professor to the edge of sanity? There was a wild laugh from somewhere further down the passage, then someone began to moan as if his very soul was being wrenched from his body. Were the two scholarly eccentrics drowning in this oppressive environment as each lived out his individual nightmare? Had they been forced to adopt a shift in mindset, brought about by the behaviour of the inmates surrounding them? It was as if James had read his thoughts.

I'm not crazy, you know, Mr John Eric Ellis. Oh yes, I know who you are, but that's all water under the bridge.”

His eyes clouded over as if in pain as he put his hands to his head, gently massaging his temples. “You know, there comes a time when you'll agree to do anything just to make them stop. Ever been tortured Joric?” He stood up and walked awkwardly around the room, stretching his legs before sitting down again. “Then they wrote the statement and I read it into camera. It was broadcast on the news you say? Okay, I'll tell you what happened if you want to know the gory details. By some miracle I escaped from Venice in a garbage truck, buried under the filthy, bloodied clothes of men and women who no longer needed them. Then I hopped on a goods train which brought me to Rome. There were posters everywhere advertising the up and coming ceremony at the Vatican. It was then that I realized God had spared me for a purpose. After all, there was no-one else to speak for the doomed clergymen in Venice.” he paused..

Go on,” said Joric as gently as he could, feeling a grudging admiration for the elderly cleric's courage as it also served to highlight his own shortcomings in the face of adversity.

I'd been to St Peter's square several times before, so I went along and joined the throng gathered there. When I felt the time was right, I threw caution to the wind and ended up being half kicked to death before I was brought here. One can only take so much; I found myself upholding the evil I had so resolutely wanted to expose, denying the faith like a punch drunk puppet of the State.” He stopped abruptly. “Send my condolences to Brelli's family. Please, leave me now. I must sleep.” He lay down and closed his eyes as if Joric had ceased to exist. At that moment a passing nurse glanced in his direction, stopping in her tracks to glare at Joric.

What are you doing there? Who said you could visit that man? No one's supposed to be talking to him. Who gave you permission to come in here in the first place?”

Before Joric could think of an answer to any of the questions being fired at him, the lady walked briskly to a door marked 'Admin.' - still in Italian, where she swivelled around with a furious, “Wait there!” before disappearing, no doubt to return with backup very soon.

Joric hurried down the passage, trying to catch Professor Peres's eye and give him a goodbye wave of thanks as he passed his open door, but the Prof just looked blankly through him as if he were invisible. He then beat a hasty retreat to the reception area, nodding to the security officer and tapping his watch as if to say he was late for his next appointment. The official who'd been glued to the TV screen, looked up and glared balefully as Joric continued his tapping and speedily left the building.

As he made his way to the station, Joric came to the uncomfortable conclusion that he had somehow rubbed the good Prof up the wrong way. Right now it was as if he didn't exist to the two older men; to them he was probably just another nosy parker from the outside, looking in dispassionately upon their pain, as they sat around in captivity preoccupied with their plight.

Perhaps he'd offended the Professor by mentioning he was trying to help some Christians, not a tactful move after the dear man had just been suggesting that Joric might be a Ha-kodesh like himself. The Ha-kodesh had suffered severely at the hands of Christians with their crusades and many pogroms. Sensitivity to the feelings of others was not one of Joric's strong points.

Yes, he really should have treated the two older men with the respect they deserved. There they were, soldiering on for their causes, trying to remain true to their faiths and there was the State, making their lives intolerable, where would it all end? Joric's head started filling up with images of slit throats, as his heart dropped unsteadily but surely into his boots. As he was about to round the next corner he heard shouting coming from another direction. They were after him!

He took a sharp left turn, then sprinted down one side street after another until he was lost in the faceless crowd. He had plenty of time in hand before his flight back to Belgium, but decided to avoid the claustrophobia of taking public transport and make straight for the airport by taxi. The next three hours were spent in the restroom, just in case the authorities were out looking for him.

When he arrived back in Brussels, Joric was relieved to see Heini standing in the waiting area. Abigail had remained in Ostend which afforded Joric the welcome opportunity of first breaking the bad news to the young pastor. Heini suggested they go straight to the flat where the two sisters would be waiting and that Joric should stay over in Ostend with him for the night. He was fully aware that Joric would probably not make it back to the Metro Station for the last night train to Atalanta. In fact Joric had had the same thought and had packed his backpack that morning and left it in Abigail's care.

When they arrived at the shop Joric was surprised to see not only Abigail and Terry, but Ermina, Morgan, Billy and Michael as well.

We're all in this together mate, so spill the beans.” said Billy noting his friend's surprised expression. Joric related the day's events to the group and Michael volunteered at once to go and investigate what was happening in Venice.

Don't forget only I'm able to get in, being an agent of State after all, with the necessary NO credentials. But I won't be able to leave until Thursday as I'll have to organise a number of things beforehand.”

There would be papers needed, security passes, a State vehicle in which to travel overland, and more importantly, to take him across the bridge separating ex-Venice from the mainland. Abigail insisted that she go along as well and despite everyone's protestations, her resolve would not be broken, driven as she was by the desire to see her father again. She was hoping against hope that they'd find her dad alive and well, and that they'd somehow be able to bring him back home with them; hence the decision to remain low-key by going overland instead of flying.

You'll need a second driver,” she reasoned.

On my terms then, otherwise I'll leave without you!” said Michael firmly. “You can come as far as Lido de Jesolo and no further. I'll need to get papers for you as well, we'll be passing through borders don't forget. Agreed?”

Abigail laughed and nodded her assent.

The penny dropped with a crash like thunder as it suddenly dawned on Joric that this strong and not so silent type would be going off on Thursday with the pursued-and-wooed lady of another! Joric was relieved that he'd have time to date the said lady first, and hoped that she'd remembered their arrangement, and that this latest turn of events hadn't already ruined his plans. He'd have to play his cards very, very carefully.

Off went the motley group to their several homes, Abigail and Terry to the shop, Mike to the yacht, Morgan with Edwina and he with Billy to Heini's place.

That night he dreamed of Abigail and himself running through the narrow streets of Venice and over the many canals. Up the steps of each bridge they'd go, Gondoliers waving to them from below, over the arched top then down the steps on the other side, chased by Benevento and entourage, dressed as harlequins in Venetian masks, brandishing scimitars as they followed in hot pursuit. It was a relief to wake up the next morning and discover that the sun was still shining and the birds still singing.

'Arrivederci Roma, goodbye, goodbye to Rome.'

-Gareni/Giovannini


38


'It takes two to tango.'

-Pearl Bailey


GOOD OLD FASHIONED LOVER BOY ...I can dim the lights

and sing you songs

full of sad things.

We can do the tango just for two,

I can serenade and gently play on your heartstrings,

be your Valentino just for you

-Freddie Mercury

Saturday Morning Ostend and Ghent


Joric


I t's nine o'clock on a Saturday, sang Joric as he wandered across to Abigail's shop before going back to Atalanta to prepare for his big night out. He figured he deserved it after all he'd done in Rome the day before. He stopped next to a lady selling flowers on the corner.

Roses for a lady?” she said in Flemish, at least that was what he assumed she'd said as she held out a bunch of one dozen or so of the bright blooms. Joric thought it might be somewhat over the top to go in armed with red roses at this stage, so he indicated a more modest bunch of mixed flowers containing a few yellow roses - fortunately for him, Heini had insisted that he didn't roam the streets penniless.

Hello there!” he called, as he stepped inside the shop concealing the flowers behind his back. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Abigail appeared from behind the counter dressed in a pretty blue blouse that offset her cornflower blue eyes.

Nervous but excited, hopeful yet fearful – what can I say?”

I hope you are talking about tonight!”

Oh Joric, at a time like this?”

Abigail, think of it as a pleasant interlude to help pass the time before you go off on your adventure. Don't forget, it's dangerous out there, and if you stay at home you'll just be watching the clock and willing the hours to pass.” He could see that the lady still wasn't convinced. “Think of it this way, I am willing to help you pass those hours.” He gave her his most appealing look, happy to be back in the saddle of seducer once more.

And what have you got behind your back?” she asked.

I've got some yellow roses for a blue lady!” he sang. She laughed and she took the proffered flowers,

They're gorgeous, but I'm still not convinced.”

She went out to the kitchenette to put them in water, returning with them in a jam jar. Joric continued in the same vein singing another of the songs he always had in the back of his mind.”

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play!” he sang, doing a sort of tap routine with a few badly executed turns which ended with a flourish, down on one knee right in the middle of the shop. A startled elderly gentleman browsing in the ceramic section glanced up, and smiled as Joric rose unsteadily to his feet.

Can't let two perfectly good tickets go to waste now can we? Fine wining and dining followed by music to soothe the troubled breast?”

Come on lady,” said the bemused customer, “How can you refuse an offer like that?” Abigail looked at both of them earnestly looking back at her, waiting for a reply.

Seems I have no option but to accept graciously,” she said and the two gentlemen broke into smiles and applauded.

That's the ticket!” punned the customer, now would you mind coming over here and letting me pay for this lovely vase?” Abigail took the money and was about to wrap his purchase when her customer said,

It's yours, for the flowers, that jam jar just isn't good enough.”

Oh I couldn't accept it,” said Abigail.

Now, would you be so unkind as to deny me the pleasure? The two of you have brought a smile to an old man's face this morning and there's not much to smile about these days, I've only got two years left before they put me in one of those hospices of departure as they call them. Enjoy it, and think of me sometimes.” Abigail thanked him profusely as she opened a drawer under the counter and fished out a business card. She handed it to her customer saying,

Won't you do me another favour and give my Granddad a ring? Tell him what you've just told me. I think you'll be glad you did!”

I'll most certainly do so young lady!” She planted a kiss on his wrinkled cheek and off he went blushing and smiling.

Granddad will be a blessing to him.” she said with an enigmatic smile.

As for you, Mr John-Eric Ellis, don't forget you promised to accompany me to the meeting tomorrow!”

He had forgotten, but in for a penny in for a pound.

Right! You're on! So, I'll - er - pick you up later - at about four-thirty?”

No, I'll pick you up at the station at exactly four-thirty!” she replied.

It's a date! See you later!” he said quoting Billy as he left the shop and made for the sub-train, kicking up his heels and punching the air with a 'Who-hoo! Yes!' once he was out of Abigail's sight.

Joric packed an overnight bag and dressed carefully. His rather dated but nevertheless enormously appealing Hugh Grant coif in place, he splashed on a conservative amount of 'Knight's in White Satin' cologne and was ready to roll.

Abigail was there at the station looking like a dream come true. The aroma of her light perfume filled the car and by the time they arrived at their hotel in Ghent, Joric was feeling light-headed and amorous. I'm in the mood for love, simply because you're near me, went the song in his head. 'Cool it!' he whispered to himself under his breath, as they checked in, the night was young, it was only six o'clock.

Their suite had two rooms and it was agreed that Abigail sleep in the bedroom whilst Joric availed himself of the large comfy couch in the sitting room. An oil painting of Sol smiling benignly down upon them was turned to face the wall before they went down for dinner where they were welcomed to their table by a very excited waiter.

Good evening! I am Alphonse, and may I be the one of the first to say congratulations to the lucky winners of the clever cartoon caption competition! I do hope you will enjoy your evening, compliments of the blessed Benevento Himself.

To begin with, a complimentary bottle of So Be's favourite champagne? Wonderful, and here is your menu. Try not to linger too long as our courtesy car will be coming here to collect you for the concert which will be starting in precisely one and a half hours.” he effused, checking his Mickey Mouse watch. “Now, may I suggest one dozen fresh juicy mussels in a white wine and cream sauce to start?”

After a lengthy description of every dish available thereafter, they made their choice and Alphonse ran hither and thither dancing his attendance upon them.

The concert hall was the other side of the hotel complex, about fifty metres away, but the chauffeur came to collect them as promised and they were duly escorted to the entrance of the theatre and handed souvenir programmes of the event which turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

It was almost like the good old days sitting there listening to romantic songs of composers long gone. They relaxed and enjoyed the calm before the storm, the oasis in the desert. Forgetting the troubles of the times, they shrugged off their burdens and during those few brief hours, simply enjoyed each other's company and the pleasures that life had to offer. They opted to walk back to the hotel, looking up at the stars, trying to identify the groups, clusters and individual planets, making up their own names for those they couldn't name, which happened to be most of them. Every now and then a star would shoot across the sky, and they'd make a wish, and no mention was made of what might be happening somewhere up there on Sky Pyramid One. The balmy experience of the night continued to fill their senses, sad that it would soon be coming to an end.

Music was playing as they re-entered the suite. On the flat screened TV were visuals accompanying the songs they'd heard at the concert, and on a nearby table was a card attached to the DVD cover with the words 'Please accept this memento of your evening with our compliments.' A second bottle of champagne in an ice bucket surrounded by heart shaped chocolates were also on the table. Aware that pain would return with the morning, Joric picked up the bottle,

Can I tempt you to one last glass?”

Don't you think we've had enough? It's almost tomorrow.”

Let's forget about tomorrow,” sang Joric, as he opened the bottle and poured two glasses. She made no further protest and they drank together, eating the chocolates before filling out the breakfast card and hanging it on the door. Then they lay down in each other's arms enjoying the closeness and the warmth. She was so beautiful, he stroked her hair and remembered their afternoon on the beach. She'd kissed him then, perhaps just one goodnight kiss before they fell asleep?

Maybe they shouldn't have opened that second bottle of champagne, and saved it for a rainy day, or another celebration; who knows exactly how things started to go wrong that night, but all they experienced when they awoke the next day in the bed next to each other, was a sense of regret, of an innocence lost that could never be regained.

Breakfast was brought to the suite, and they ate it quietly before checking out of the hotel. Not much was said on the drive back to Ostend and Joric's thoughts began to drift again, he hadn't handled things wisely at all. He could kick himself, now it would probably be over to Michael. The two beautiful people would soon be going off alone together, bravely working for others and not thinking about themselves.

He'd honestly or dishonestly fooled himself into believing he'd be married to Abigail one day, but the heavens hadn't smiled upon that dream of his as he'd foolishly hoped. The Man upstairs had been aloof to his wishes and all his manipulative prayers, requesting that He act as Divine Cosmic Bellhop to assist just this once by helping him obtain his Perfect Ten. He'd even been tempted to use the 'prophetic insight' line, 'God told me you're going to be my wife,' as men had been known to do with naïve young damsels whom God would also have told had it been the case. As an honourable gentleman he'd at least resisted that temptation, but only because he knew that Abigail was far too bright to fall for such a line! Just when he thought things were going so well, he'd ruined all future prospects.

He ran the scene in his mind once more; there they were, returning to their suite from a delightful evening to that fatal second chilled bottle of champagne. He really had meant to curl up on the couch leaving Abigail to sleep alone in the bed, but it just hadn't worked out that way as the music continued and the bottle was drained.

They didn't talk much on the way home. He tried playing the DVD they'd been given but somehow it didn't seem right so he put on the radio instead. He wondered how she was feeling. She'd be okay, it wasn't as if she were a virgin after all, and she was resilient, had supportive friends and all that.

He dropped her off at her flat and offered her the DVD.

Thanks, but I'd rather you kept it Joric.” Right, she wasn't impressed with him, but their lovemaking had been consensual. Naturally Joric didn't go to the meeting as promised, they both would've been far too uncomfortable. Instead he stayed in his empty apartment thinking sentimentally about the time they'd first met and of the impact she'd made.

The first time, ever I saw your face,” he sang softly. The first time he'd seen her had been through a shop window, she'd been a vision to behold, a vision that he'd carried within his heart ever since, now fading fast as he thought about all he had lost. He managed a wry smile, he may have been the recipient of a prize won, but in sharing it with sweet Abigail, he had become the loser of a prize far more precious. Love may have come in at the window, but had now gone out at the door.


'I guess the sunlight I was seeing, slowly turns to rain ...

so I lose myself in shame. And as she goes,

he's just looking like less than a man.'

-Stephen Kellogg


39


'I met Murder in the way – he had a mask like Castlereagh.'

The Mask of Anarchy -Shelley

IN THE GHETTO ...A-take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see?

Or do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?

-Mac Davis


Thursday Bruges to Venice


Michael


Paradise. Michael had gazed at the sheer dimensions of it in awe. For many years ranked the largest in the world, measuring almost twenty five metres wide, a width over three times its height, it had been difficult to view the painting as a whole. In the centre near the top were Christ and his mother, the mass of figures swirling around them had been placed in groups according to rank. Tintoretto's achievement was impressive, but the message of the painting was the very antithesis of the Gospel message which said that those who exalted themselves would be humbled whilst the humble would be exalted.

Michael had taken a trip to Venice in his early twenties to view the works of the Venetian Grand Masters. He'd started at the Doges' Palace, where 'Paradise' was to be found, ironic that the Bridge of Sighs linking the palace with the dungeons was a bridge over which prisoners had passed, leaving 'Paradise' behind and sighing as they caught their last glimpse of Venice through stone latticed windows.

The leader of the Sixteenth Century School of Venetian Art had undoubtedly been Tiziano Vercelli, better known as Titian, but the only work of his still to be found in the palace was a fresco of St Christopher, tucked away at the top of a small staircase, the artist's other works in the palace had been tragically destroyed by fire.

Whist Michael was there, he'd had done all the usual things that tourists did, climbing the bell tower in St Mark's Square, visiting the magnificent church and exploring the backwaters in a gondola with singing gondolier wearing a stripey T-shirt. In the evenings he'd watched the water traffic pass, from a Grand Canal bar beside the Rialto Bridge. He'd also taken the ferry to the three most popular neighbouring islands, watching skilful glass blowers in Murano, lace makers in Burano and visiting the wonderful old Byzantine Monastery of St Fosca, on Torcello.

Nowadays Venice was not only out of bounds to the public, properties had been expropriated and citizens moved to Rio de Jesolo on the Venetian Riviera, which for many years had been a popular holiday destination for Italians during the Summer months and completely deserted for the rest of the year. Now the holiday flats were lived in all year round by disgruntled Venetians who'd always considered themselves a cut above the Italians on the mainland.

Naturally Sol had been behind this decision. Despite his public image, he was something of a racist, even showing disdain for his fellow countrymen, particularly the Venetists whose ideology included promoting and rediscovering the Republic of Venice. They felt it imperative that Venetian independence lost in 1866, be re-instated, but the not-so-benign-after-all Benevento, having reached his goal as the unchallenged leader of NO, put on his terminator cap and dealt a death blow to the romantic city and popular tourist destination by condemning it under Health and Safety regulations. Despite the fact that huge amounts of money had been spent on underpinning the historic city, Sol declared that the sinking foundations of its buildings had rendered the island hazardous and therefore uninhabitable.

The Venetians evacuated, Murano and Burano became Little Venice and it was as if their bigger sister no longer existed. Her name was erased from maps of the Oneworld and thereafter she was referred to as Military One. Inhabitants of the two smaller islands continued their trade in glass and lace, ferrying their wares to Mestre for distribution worldwide, and safe-guards were posted at either end of the bridge connecting Ex-Venice with the mainland.

Michael fetched Abigail from her parent's home in Bruges at the crack of dawn. The family house stood depressingly empty. Abigail hoped it wouldn't remain closed up for too long; she'd gone there to secure the Brellis' few valuables and set the security light to go on in the evenings behind the half closed curtains. Michael dropped her off in at a restaurant in Brussels while he went to fetch the government vehicle from the army base, disconnecting the speedometer so that the distance travelled wouldn't register.

The long overland journey turned out to be most enjoyable as Michael and Abigail took in the ever changing scenery, sharing their life stories an