Last Man in London – Chapter Five

Chapter Five

‘But you did shag her sister,’ Will reminded him the following morning after George had re-told his tale. Partly in an attempt to make some sense of it for himself. As he gazed out to sea Will studied his face. ‘Look at the state of you; I can’t believe you got beaten up by a girl.’

‘You should see the shape of my ribs,’ George finally responded as he pulled up his shirt.

‘What the hell did she hit you with, a hammer?’ yelled Marnie when she saw the damage to George’s torso.

‘I would have hit her back,’ said Will.

‘No you wouldn’t have, but had I done that then right now I would be in the Correction Centre and with no chance of ever being granted another Marriage License. Besides, you don’t hit women.’

‘Very noble Georgie boy,’ said Marnie, ‘but I am afraid sometimes it is deserved. If she is going to fight like a man then she should expect you to defend yourself. I hope that’s it now, I hope you are not going to have any contact with her again?’

‘I don’t have a choice. I am sure I will hear more from her, I always do. She is probably climbing into the boot of my car right now. But Mira needs help and if she asks for it, then I will do what I can.’

‘You are a damn fool George.’ Will told him. ‘You do not need this kind of chaos in your life, why get involved?’

‘Because dear boy, you have to take care of the people who care about you. You do not abandon your friends when they need you, regardless of how they have behaved. She is not right. There is something wrong with Mira and I hope it can be fixed. But even so, if I don’t hear from her then that’s it. I will not be calling her again. That’s the last time, I promise.’

Constance had been sweeping up the broken glass on the terrace but had stopped to listen to George’s story. She said nothing but when Will caught her eye she shook her head sadly and carried on with her work. She had seen, or at least heard, something similar before. At that moment George’s hy-dev pinged him a message which he read out loud. ‘Mira: I’m sorry.’

‘That’s it, two words?’ asked Will.

‘It’s not enough,’ added Marnie.

‘No, it’s not enough,’ George agreed softly.

‘Bloody Mary?’ announced Will.

‘Bloody right,’ replied George, ‘industrial strength for me.’

‘You won’t find the answers in alcohol George,’ offered Marie.

‘Sometimes I don’t find them by asking questions either,’ he replied. ‘Will, make mine a treble and then I am off to the Hydroport. There is nothing for me in town this weekend. Run me up there will you and then you two can stay here and use the Jag for the weekend. Take her out for a long drive into the wine-lands; she could use a proper run out.’

‘Don’t mind if we do, we can celebrate our renewed license at a restaurant in the countryside Marnie.’

‘Renewed Marriage License,’ thought George, ‘what a waste of time.’ He gathered his two closet friends together, gave Marnie a kiss and hugged them both. ‘Congratulations you two, you deserve each other.’ George winced in pain as Marnie held him a little too tightly around his damaged ribcage.

Back at the Central Complex Edgar was surprised when his hy-dev alerted him to George’s arrival and he tapped the icon that granted him access. He knew as soon as he saw the boy that something was wrong. ‘What’s that on your fucking face?’ he demanded. George poured himself a whiskey, sat down and spent the next hour re-telling the entire story of the previous day’s events. Edgar looked sad. ‘I’m sorry son but there is nothing you can do. She needs professional help. For any alcoholic, recovery is a life long battle and it never goes away. But she has to realise that for herself.’

‘Come on granddad, who is to say she is an alcoholic? I’ve seen everyone I know drunk at least once or twice, including you. Although, to be fair, never anyone quite as reckless as Mira.’

‘How many times have you seen her like that then?’


’In four years?’ asked Edgar.

George thought about the question, ‘yes, I think so.’

‘Then she has been hiding it from you and you need to understand she has a problem. So does Mira. And until she does she will continue to hide, just as she has for the last four years.’

George sat silently. He thought of all those unanswered calls and the instant message replies and realised that Edgar was right. If she had spoken to him then he would have heard it in her voice. She had not wanted him to know.

Edgar appeared to understand. ‘It’s one of the most difficult things in the world to confront George. When somebody you thought you knew turns out to have been somebody else all along. Somebody entirely different. It’s the same as lying to you, it is fraud.’

George thought about something Tibha had mentioned during the previous week when she said that liars needed to have great memories. He realised that Mira’s memory wasn’t so great. It was why her excuses were always slightly different between one telling and the next.

Edgar studied the boy and could see the sadness in the slump of his shoulders. ‘There is nothing you can do to help her you know,’ he repeated, ‘unless she asks for it. There is nothing anybody can do unless a person admits to having a problem and then looks for help. If she doesn’t then she will still be acting in the same way in forty years time, if she survives that long. She will be incredible for a few months and then gone again. I have seen it all before.’

George knew Edgar was right. Mira had crashed her car once whilst she was drunk and nearly killed herself. And if she attacked anybody else as she had him then there was no doubt she was going to be in great danger at some point, if she hadn’t been already. Perhaps even more than once. George knew that he didn’t want such a drama in his life. He already suffered from enough anxiety without having to worry about another car crash every time Mira went on the missing list.

‘Alcoholism is incurable George.’ Edgar continued. ‘It is controllable but that is a life long fight which you have to know you could lose on any day. Tomorrow, or on some day long into the future. You never know when it will happen although you do know that day is coming; that phone call will probably come. I knew a girl once whose mother was just the same. She must have been in her seventies when I first met her. She was a beautiful soul, kind, thoughtful and considerate. But, every now and then, when the craving took her she was gone. I lost count of the number of times we found her, after a few days, in a hotel room, or barn, surrounded by empty bottles of wine. She had been going off on those benders since she was thirty. How old is Mira?’

‘Twenty-seven.’ George replied.

‘Marriage License son…? Family and happily ever after? Do you really want to spend the next forty years waiting for that phone call? Is that how you want to live your life George?’

‘But we all drink Granddad. You do every day.’

‘Yes, but I am not an alcoholic George. You either are or you aren’t and I know I am not.’


‘Because a few years ago my doctor, after the annual check up, told me that all of my major organs were still functioning perfectly normally. She couldn’t believe it. To be honest, nor could I and, as usual, she told me to cut down on drinking and smoking. I reminded her that she said that every year and that I didn’t want to. And that was when she said to me, ‘you don’t want to or you can’t?’ It made me stop to think about it and so from that moment onwards I didn’t take a single drink. None at all.’

‘And what happened?’ Asked George.

‘Absolutely nothing. I looked in the medical archive for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal for alcoholics, or at least for regular drinkers, and I was expecting to experience sleepless nights, sweats, fatigue, anxiety, depression, cravings, headaches, nausea, heart palpations, trembling and clammy skin. Go and look it up for yourself, the list goes on and on.’

George was listening carefully. ‘And,’ he asked, ‘so what did you experience?’

‘Nothing at all. None of them. For six months I didn’t feel any different to when I was drinking a couple of glasses of whiskey everyday. Sometimes half a bottle and sometimes the whole lot. I was so disappointed. I had spent so long trying to be an alcoholic and it turned I just wasn’t. You either are or you aren’t. I‘m not and nor are you. But I think Mira is. And that will never change, she sounds far too self absorbed and with very little self-respect.’

George thought for a while. ‘I don’t know what to do,’ he groaned, ‘help her or don’t get involved. Am I in time or is it too late? Is the glass still half-full or is it half-empty?’

‘Don’t start with that philosophy bollocks son. Philosophy only asks questions, it never answers them,’ Edgar paused for thought. ‘But I do have the answer to that particular problem that has troubled your finest minds for centuries.’ He added cheerfully.

Half-full or half-empty?’ George looked up and asked him. ‘Yes,’ said Edgar, ’either way it needs topping up, pass me that bottle.’

George tapped onto his hy-dev notepad to bring up the list of questions he had for Edgar, but tossed it to the side when he saw that, once again, the page was blank. ‘You mentioned something about love the other day, what was it?’

Edgar studied George and finally said, ‘there is no such thing, no such word. There used to be. It used to describe a sort of feeling that would cause people to do all sorts of stupid and irrational things. It caused more harm than it created any good. It was too easy to say and too easy to believe. Eventually it became meaningless. Respect and trust and patience were what really mattered in any relationship. Love was just a word we used to get ourselves out of trouble. Or laid.’

George thought about the words ‘respect’ and ‘trust’ and ‘patience’ and he was running out of all three with Mira. It was a pity, he thought. But that was all. It wasn’t a disaster, just a damn shame.

‘All good things pass George and some of them should do,’ Edgar added, ‘and then never come back again.’

‘But I thought love was doing something good for a person that they would never, perhaps, know you had done for them.’ He pressed on. ‘You know, acts of kindness when nobody was watching. To know there is nothing in it for you, but to do a good thing anyway, wasn’t that love granddad?’

’No, that was called kindness.’ Edgar assured him.

George tried to remember everything else Tibha had told him. ‘Wasn’t love a beautiful feeling, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes that mostly gathered around the heart. Wasn’t it a gift of the rarest kind that could emerge over a period of time or could appear in an instant? And something about butterflies?’

‘What bollocks is this?’ Edgar asked him. ‘Have you been on those funny herbal smokes again?  I warned you about those. Look, love was a temporary insanity. It was excitement, enthusiasm, passion, promises, beliefs and the desire to have sex at every chance you get. And then, when that and all the other things have burned away, and the promises have not been kept, you had what was left. If you were one of the lucky ones.’

‘Which is?’

Respect, compassion, honesty, trust, loyalty and all with somebody you actually quite like, hopefully.’

‘And have you ever had that?’ George asked the old man.

‘Many times, it’s wonderful. But people come and people go George. People enter your life and then they leave again, for one reason or another. You just have to accept it will keep happening.’

George thought again of Mira. He didn’t really want her out of his life. But he didn’t particularly want her in it either. It was a problem. Mira was his problem. ‘I’m just tired granddad, I am going to bed. I’m going to stay in my old room here if that’s alright with you?’

Edgar looked at the wall clock. ‘It’s only H22.30,’ he told him.

‘It’s been twenty-four long hours. Good night.’ George then turned back and scooped up his whiskey glass, ‘but I’ll just take this along for some company.’ He was asleep before his head hit the bedside cabinet.

The following morning George was woken by a message to his hy-dev which read, Tibha; ‘Morning Mr Dickens, how is the weekend on the wild African frontier?’ George laid back and smiled to himself. He thought of Tibha and wondered whether he should reply straight away, or if that would appear too keen. But if he didn’t then would it seem a little indifferent? He decided to wait for an hour which he hoped would fall somewhere between the two problems. He then noticed a second message that had arrived at the hour 3.45. Mira; ‘I said I was sorry.’ George deleted it. He started going over in his mind everything that had happened, trying to make sense of it. His heart started beating; a hot sweat spread across his forehead, cheeks and then ran through his chest. And then his insides began rattling. George quickly reached over and rummaged his case for the diazepam, took two of them and then laid back to watch the sunrise over the Central Complex as he waited for them to calm him down.

He then opened his notepad and began to look again for the notes he had made for Edgar at least twice over the previous few days but there was still no trace to be found. Instead he patiently opened another page and wrote the words;

1; Christmas.
2; Love.
3; My mother and father.
4; The last government.
5; His role in the Corporation.
6; His experiments.
7; Religion

George considered all seven questions before deleting ‘love,’ as he had already heard enough of that. He also deleted the question about Edgar’s role in the Corporation as that could wait. Right then he didn’t need to know, it was only a curiosity. He then deleted mother and father and was left with

1; Christmas
2; The last Government
3; His experiments
4; Religion

This time he took great care to save the note in four separate locations, restarted his hy-dev and immediately looked in all four places. In each file and on each server the note had finally remained exactly as he had written it. George wondered if the word Corporation had anything to do with it.

At the big pine table Edgar was his usual, cheerful morning self, just as George had remembered. ‘You still here?’ he grunted. George ignored him and went out onto the balcony. The fresh, crisp November air stung his lungs as he took in great mouthfuls. The diazepam was working and George could feeling himself calming down into an unusually good mood. He called inside and reminded Edgar that he had a packet on the table and should take some himself. He then tapped a reply into his hy-dev for Tibha; ‘a disaster, came back to CC last night, see you Monday.’ His finger hovered over the send option and then he deleted it instead. ‘Why would she want to know that?’ he asked himself. ‘Why would he want her to know that?’

George joined Edgar at the old farmhouse table in the corner of the room and poured himself some coffee. Edgar was scrolling through the news feeds on his hy-dev before he announced, ‘Fucking Arabs, they are still at war with each other. I thought there would be none of them left by now. Still, they will all be old men soon enough, or dead.’

‘What are you talking about?’ George asked him.

‘Did you know there used to be nearly two billion of them?’


‘There was once nearly two billion people living in the Middle East or practicing their religion. Islam it was called. Those that remain still call it that’

‘That’s impossible,’ replied George. ‘There are only about two hundred million people in the entire Western Corporation. I read somewhere that it was the same in the tribal Middle East. I know for sure there are only one billion people living in the whole world. I read a population census the other day.’

‘That’s about right now,’ Edgar told him. ‘But when I was your age there were about two billion of us and about two billion of them.’

‘Four billion people? How much of that diazepam have you taken?’ George asked him.

Edgar ignored the remark and, without looking up, he added, ‘that’s was just your Christians and your Muslims. When you include all the others there were over seven billion people living on this one tiny planet.’

‘Ridiculous,’ George told him, and then tapped a new message to Tibha; ‘back on CC, had to return early as I think my grandfather has gone mad.’ This time he sent it.

‘Why do you think that is ridiculous?’ Edgar asked him carefully, still not looking up from his news feed.

‘Seven billion people?’ George questioned him, ‘I just told you, I have seen the census from last year and it was estimated that there are around a billion people living on planet earth just now. Where do you suppose six billion people disappeared to? Explain that.’

Finally Edgar looked up and George was studying his hy-dev, waiting for a reply from Tibha. It pinged him a message. Mira; ‘why aren’t you at home. Constance says you are out, where are you?’ George deleted it. He felt like man with a terminal illness. Edgar decided to remain silent. George was asking all the right questions but appeared to be otherwise distracted. Small personal issues occupied what little attention he had today. He had no room for the big story. Not for today, at least. George slumped back into his chair.

‘I think I need a head transplant,’ he announced, ‘is that possible yet? So what happened to six billion people over the last forty five years? Was there a war, a famine, a plague and, if so, why don’t I know about it?’ Edgar again stayed silent for a few moments. He wasn’t going to lie to George but he also wasn’t quite ready for him to know the complete truth, at least not yet. He would have to find that out for himself.

‘I have spent three quarters of my life being so careful,’ he began. But George was studying his hy-dev. It was Mira again; ‘where ARE you?’

George was about to close his device down when another message flashed up. Tibha; ‘at a loose end today on the CC, you around for lunch?’  George reassembled his thoughts and said, ‘granddad, I want to know about Christmas before I go back to the work station on Tuesday. It might help me in correcting Dickens. After all, you actually remember it.’

Edgar straightened up to form a reply and then saw George tapping into his hy-dev, ‘that would be nice, where and when?’ And so he kept his counsel, for now. George, deleted his message and looked up again, ‘so, six billion people, what happened then, was there a nuclear war? I have read about that. I read about the atomic bomb and the nuclear cold war. They warned us in the Academy about a repeat of that. Is that what happened granddad?’


‘Then what the hell happened to all of those people?’

‘Nothing really happened to them,’ Edgar began. ‘Nobody was killed, well, not that many. And there were no food shortages or famine, nobody starved. Well, not in the West they didn’t. Infertility was the problem. It all started with the final war that began in 2001 of the old calendar, of the old democracy.’

George’s hy-dev lit up once more and he was immediately drawn to it. Mira: ‘Do you hate me now?’

’Are you listening to me son?’

‘No. Yes. Wait a minute, what did you just say. Six billion people died because of what?’

‘Well, five or six billion, give or take. And I told you no-one was killed. Well, not all at once. The reason was two-fold. First of all was the great final war that began in 2001 between the West and the religion of Islam. Many in the West claimed it was over the oil, the old fossil fuel source that was found mainly in the countries of the Middle East that were dominated by the people of the Islamic faith. But, of course, it was far more sinister than that. The war was never about oil. If it was then the leaders of the old democracies would have just sat down and thrashed out deals with despots and barbarians, as they had done for centuries before. No, it was about one religious faith imposing their medieval beliefs upon another. The leaders of Islam insisted the whole world must follow their faith and obey their laws. And they were pretty damn committed to achieving it as well. Over two thirds of the world’s Muslims believed their own religious law was more important than the laws of the Division they were living in.’

Finally George was paying attention.

‘This frightened people.’ Edgar went on. ‘Fewer and fewer of us wanted to bring children into what was becoming a very dangerous world. For a while there it looked as though it would never end and they were never going away. And this was a big problem for the Western Empire. If people stopped having children then who would fight their wars for them come the next generation, or the one that followed them? The West was already in decline and then the same thing started happening all over the world. People just stopped wanting to have children. Many more simply could not afford to. So more people were dying in the wars and of natural causes and fewer people were being born.’

‘Exactly what happened to the Roman Empire,’ George said to himself. ‘And that cost six billion lives?’

’No,’ the virus did most of that work. ‘Edgar insisted. ‘A growing number of women started to find out they were unable to conceive. Either they were infertile or the men were. Some blamed evolution, others blamed modern science and the way they modified food and water to preserve it. Remember George, seven billion people is a lot of mouths to feed. Human beings were ruining planet earth. Governments of their day and the decisions they made led to climate change. More hurricanes, tsunami waves and typhoons killed hundreds of millions of people. The war went on for nearly twenty years and that killed hundreds of millions more. Then, of course, billions of people grew old and died of natural causes whilst the younger generations were finding it increasingly hard to conceive. It was a hell of a mess. It was a frightening time George, the Human Race was dying out. That’s why nobody talks about it these days. The Corporation finally stepped in and after that well, everything began improving. Almost immediately.’


‘Well, for a start, they recognised the war had nothing to do with oil or any other natural resources. They knew it was a religious war.’ Edgar began.

‘You are going to have to explain religion to me,’ said George.

Edgar ignored him and continued, ‘A religious war that was fought between the extreme elements of the Christian religion of the West and the Islamic extremists of the Middle East. For those of us caught up in the middle, who believed in neither, it was a terrifying time. I’m not surprised nobody wanted to bring children into the world. I certainly didn’t but your grandfather had already been born by 2001, when it all started. I wouldn’t have any more. Nobody I knew did. And so, the population in the West simply began to decline. At one stage it was falling at a rate of around fifty million people a year. It was the same all over the world. There was a solution, but infertility treatment was expensive and only the rich or privileged could afford it. But at least that meant some children were being born, like your mother and father for example. At least the human species would not die out altogether, thanks to the senior scientists of the Corporation.’

George’s hy-dev lit up once more and he was immediately drawn to it. Tibha; ‘is that a yes or no Mr Dickens?’ This time George immediately replied, ‘it’s a yes please Ms Shelly, where and when?’

‘Were you involved in the war granddad?’ he asked.

‘Only as one of the junior scientists. I didn’t shoot anybody.’ Edgar said proudly.

‘What was it like?’ asked George.

‘It was a fight to the death. To begin with it was dismissed as terrorism, Islamic terrorism and nobody seemed to understand it properly. They were far more committed to it than we were in the early years. There were a few bombs here and there that very few people, apart from those involved or affected, really took any notice of. It was only when a handful of committed Islamic fighters hijacked a couple of airplanes full of passengers, who could have been any one of us, and crashed them into buildings in the Western Divisions that we really started paying attention. Our governments sent armies out to the countries that had trained those people, the countries with the oil and the Islam. They tried to find the people who were responsible. It was a bloodbath and it soon became obvious, when western governments also started sending out Christian Missionaries, Army Chaplains they called them, to hand out copes of their own holy book, and to try and convert the conquered, the ones they claimed they were saving, that history was repeating itself again. It was a holy war. Christian against Muslim and there were billions of people on each side.’

George shook his head slowly.

‘It was hardly surprising that when the Corporation promised to end the war and bring the western armies home, to act as a defensive shield only, that the public were so easily persuaded to replace their governments. By then it had come to the stage where Islamic extremists, who had been living in our own communities for generations, started attacking innocent people in shopping centres, on trains, buses, at stations, in schools and anywhere else they were gathered in large numbers, and were defenceless, that we knew we needed protecting here at home, not in the Middle East. Those idiot democracies did not see it coming. Luckily the Corporation did. Democratic governments, as much as they would like to have, could not control information back then as the Corporation can today.’

‘Attacked in shopping centres?’ George was appalled. ‘People just going about, living their normal lives with nothing to do with the army or religion, were attacked?’

‘It was co-ordinated George. Thousands of Islamic soldiers, who were living in the west; their families having been invited by governments in the years beforehand, armed themselves and went out into the streets. It happened in towns and cities all over the Western Empire. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered; whilst their governments were looking to the East they had left the back door open. They called it a Fifth Column Attack and there was carnage.

‘A Fifth Column,’ George questioned, ‘What’s that?’

‘It was a term the Corporation used to describe a group of people, or army, living in a country that gathered together in secret. They would be as disruptive as they could be on a small scale and, once given the signal from their leaders, they would all rise at once and cause wide-scale chaos. It was an old military tactic that many armies used throughout history.’ Edgar explained.

‘I know,’ George replied. ‘I remember now. The Barbarians lived in the Roman Empire for centuries before co-ordinating their attacks on Rome. They were a Fifth Column and Rome was not expecting any threat from their own people, or so they thought.’

Edgar looked impressed. ‘I did not know that. But that is exactly what a Fifth Column is. People who you think are your own. People you think you know who turn out to be somebody else entirely. Does that sound familiar George? All the time there had been an Islamic Army waiting in the West for the signal to attack. They were all connected together by the internet, before it was regulated, and could communicate their intentions easily.

So, after the Fifth Column Attack we knew we were involved in a war for civilisation itself and that was worth fighting for. They wanted us all to change our way of lives. They wanted to impose their beliefs and laws upon us, here in the West. Their own medieval beliefs and barbaric laws. And the Christians, well they were just as bad. They made it clear that Islam would have to change their own ways if they wanted to live among the western communities. There was no compromise and no apparent end in sight.’

‘So what happened afterwards,’ George was mesmerized.

‘The government was forced to suspend its democratic principles. It was forced to act undemocratically in a way that everybody could see clearly, for the first time. They revealed their motives by rounding up all non Christians and taking them to secure compounds across the Western Empire where their families were forced to live. They announced that it was for their own protection but we all knew it was for ours really.’

‘That seems a little unfair to me,’ said George.

‘Nothing in life is fair son. They did what they had to do. Obviously many innocent people were shut away but there was no way of knowing who was innocent and who was a threat, either at that time or who would be in the future. Government experts had been studying Islam and their holy book, the Koran. It was clear that when Muslims talked about Islam being a religion of peace, the peace they were implying was the one that would prevail after they had forced the entire world to adopt its beliefs and obey its laws. That was the peace they were preaching and the Christian governments were never going to accept that. Islam wasn’t a religion of peace at all, but then neither was Christianity and this was the heart of the whole problem.’

Chapter One  Chapter Two   Chapter Three   Chapter Four  Chapter Five  Chapter Six  Available now

Albert Jack books available for download here


Last Man in London – Chapter Four

Chapter Four

A few evenings later George was standing at the window of his own apartment and looked out across the river towards the Complex. From there he could only see the western part and he was thinking about Christmas and the way Dickens had described it. The snow, the open fires, the crowded streets, the decorations, the grubby, happy faces. The story of the Christmas spirit. He thought about the dirt, the grime, the poverty and cramped living conditions inflicted by generations of democracy that the Corporation had sensibly made a thing of the past. ‘What an imagination Dickens must have had,’ thought George, ‘to have made all of that up in his own mind. No wonder he was such a popular writer. That’s what the best writers do,’ he remembered being taught, ‘make up places that can seem so real when, in fact, they had never existed at all.’

He poured himself a whiskey, lit a smoke and began to mull over Edgar’s words of the previous evening. He certainly respected his advice but sometimes could not be sure that Edgar really understood what living in the modern world was like. He hadn’t really done anything, apart from muck about in his laboratory, for as long as George had known him. And, probably, for many years before that too. He thought about Mira. And he thought about Tibha and her expressive description of something he realised he knew nothing about. And so he began to write a list of questions, that he wanted to ask Edgar, onto his hy-dev notepad.

1; Christmas.
2; Love.
3; My mother and father.
4; The last government.
5; His role in the Corporation.
6; His experiments.
7; Religion

Finally he looked up at the time on the wall screen. It was hour 1 and so he placed his device upon the surface in front of him, took a sleeping tab, drained the glass and fell into a deep sleep with his feet up on the table.

The following afternoon George was sat at the seafood bar where he had arranged to meet Will and Marnie in the Central Complex Hydroport. He selected his skyphone app, tapped the icon called Mira and waited. There was no reply. This time he tapped out a message; ‘in Hydroport, should be in Cape TownCity by H18. Want to meet at H19.30?’ He placed it back on the bar and received an instant reply. Mira; ‘Yippee, can’t wait. See you later. Travel safe babes x’

‘She must have seen me calling, it was ten seconds ago,’ thought George. ‘Why not just answer?’

‘Don’t try to understand them son.’ Edgar reminded him, from somewhere deep inside. The trouble was that George wanted to understand. George wanted to understand everything. He tapped onto his hy-dev notebook to add another question for Edgar. The page was blank; the list was no longer there, even though he was certain he had saved the text. He was annoyed with himself. How could he forget to add the list onto his server?

‘Shall we get some food here,’ asked Marnie and she and Will sat down. ‘No let’s eat later,’ Will suggested, ‘drink?’ he offered, and picked up George’s bottle of chilled white wine and poured a couple of glasses. ‘We have thirty minutes,’ warned George. ‘Drink up and let’s get on the plane.’ Within fifteen minutes they had found the boarding gate, scanned their ident-cards, which charged their accounts the twenty-five-dollar ticket fee to Cape Town from the Central Complex. They swiped their fingerprints, grinned at the photo-recognition camera and they were permitted to board the Hydrosonic.

George settled into his seat, pulled out his hy-dev and selected the application that would automatically inform the motor storage unit at the Cape Town Hydroport that he would be collecting his car on arrival, around ninety minutes later. That would give them plenty of time to check her over, charge her up, change the fluids and have her ready at the collection point from the moment he arrived. Ninety-year old vintage cars were not uncommon, especially in Cape Town, and they needed looking after properly if an owner was out of town for long. The motor storage unit were constantly running old engines, checking batteries and servicing the petrol to hydrogen conversion units. Hydro-converters had been fitted to all old cars as soon as hydrogen fuel became free to all members of the Corporation, just after the take over. Free energy had been promised for everyone in the lead up to Incorporation. It was one of the things that made the transition so seamless. Who, in their right minds, would want to continue paying heavy government imposed fuel and energy taxes when the alternatives were offering the newly developed hydrogen energy for free, to everybody? The cost of living had then dropped by seventy five percent in a single year.

George then selected his notepad application, opened a new page and patiently tapped in the words;

1; Christmas.
2; Love.
3; My mother and father.
4; The last government.
5; His role in the Corporation.
6; His experiments.
7; Religion

This time he carefully selected the auto-save option that would send a copy of the note to his personal remote server storage that he would later be able to access from anywhere and from any device, if necessary. He also saved a copy directly onto his hy-dev, settled back into his seat and watched through the window as the aircraft left the earth’s atmosphere and turn on its hydrogen powered Pulse Plasma Thrusters. At six thousand kilometres per hour, and skimming the ozone layer, they should all be safely on the ground in Cape Town within seventy five minutes. At the same time Hugo would be speeding through one of the Sub Atlantic Tunnels, on the Pulse Plasma Hydrotrain, at around five thousand kilometres an hour. One of those would deliver him to New York in around forty five minutes.

At the Cape Town Hydroport all three scanned their ident-cards which automatically allowed them access to the African Division. Their hy-devs also sent a location back to the central servers which their supervisors could monitor, if it was thought necessary. Will and Marnie headed for the City-Link which dropped them within a short walk of George’s house in Seapoint, on the side of the mountain range known as Lion’s Back. George had a housekeeper who had been informed as soon as he scanned his ident-card in the Central Complex Hydroport that he was only a few hours away and she would be ready for them to arrive. He made his way to the motor storage unit and could see the staff polishing the spoked wheels of his beloved Old Calendar 1972 Jaguar XJ6 Coupe. The car had been locked in the garage of the house when it had been inherited and he had spent two years lovingly restoring her.

After collecting the keys and paying the fee with a quick scan of his ident-card, George fired up the straight six cylinder engine which purred into life and pointed it towards the big flat topped mountain known as The Table, which towered above, and protected, the city from its sometimes inclement weather. George felt full of life. His first week at the Corporation had gone well, he had met Tibha, and he was now in his favourite place in the world. That was the driver’s seat of his old Jaguar and heading towards the MotherCity. He snapped on his sunglasses, selected some tunes and poured on the power. In fifteen minutes he was pulling into his car port and would be where, these days, he considered to be home. Will and Marnie would already be there, hopefully opening the wine.

‘You’ve been away a long time this time,’ snapped Constance, his housekeeper. ‘It’s only a few months,’ he replied as he gave her a warm bear hug. Constance had been living at the house for her whole life after her mother had been given a suite of rooms on the ground floor when she began working for the previous owner. Constance didn’t remember the previous owner, or at least said she didn’t. But she adored George and made sure everything was looked after for him whenever he was back at the Albion Central Complex during his final years of training. George had no bag to unpack; he never needed to take anything to Cape Town apart from his hy-dev and ident-card. But his wardrobe was full of freshly ironed clothes suitable for the warm climate he could enjoy now that he had crossed the hemispheres from the cold Albion winter into the warm African sunshine.

On the terrace Will was drawing the cork from a fine bottle of white from the Jordan Wine Estate, one of the many in the wine-lands dotted around the Mother City. He poured Marnie a glass and sat back to admire the magnificent view across the Table Bay, along the West Coast and out over Robben Island, a seven star holiday resort that had been built forty years earlier, just after Incorporation. ‘I remember my grandmother telling me that was once a prison island,’ Constance told him as she walked past with another case of wine for the cooler. Constance knew that when George was home she would need to keep the wine and whiskey cold, the ice drawers full and the smoke box topped up. Other than that George asked for very little, apart from the occasional blind eye.

George joined them, sat down, took a long draw on a tumbler of wine and announced, ‘I am off to a jazz club later, you guys coming or do you have other plans?’ Will looked at Marnie who shrugged her approval and replied, ‘of course we are coming. Jazz on the Long Street of a Friday night, what is there not to look forward too?’

‘Ok,’ said George, ‘we are meeting Mira at hour 19.30, she said she preferred to join us there instead of coming here first.’ Constance stopped and looked at George, before saying nothing. He continued, ‘we are meeting Marvin, Beth, Gus, Gemma and a few others and Ben E’s Jazz Band are playing live. I have asked him to reserve us our favourite table.’ Marnie clapped her excitement. ‘Good work Georgie Boy,’ said Will. ‘A quick shower and we are ready to go.’ Marnie followed him to their bedroom. Will had chosen it from George’s four spare rooms, several years earlier, for the view across the bay. And for the large walk in bathroom.

Marvin was the first to arrive at the Long Street Café, a large two part room with a long bar on one side and a small stage at the far end, partly hidden by a mirrored dividing wall. The owner of the club, Costas, a long time friend of George and Will’s, noticed Marvin and greeted him warmly. ‘The others on their way?’ he asked as he led Marv to the big table. Before he could answer Gemma and Beth danced in through the doors, creating attention for themselves. ‘I can see they have started early,’ said Costas as Marv waved the girls over. Both in their early twenties Beth and Gemma were typical examples of what George called the Cape Town Pirates. Like so many of their age group they were on their final ASPP but really couldn’t be bothered to learn much. They were only interested in the next party and who was going to pay for it.

It was a sense of entitlement girls in this town had if they were pretty and well dressed. They flirted with everybody and anybody who might give them something for nothing. They never gave anything back; despite suggesting, or even offering, so much. They were raiders. They were takers and leavers. They were pirates but, even so, fun to have around. George had slept with Beth once after she had passed out at his house and he had woken up with her climbing into his bed. She was a beautiful girl and it was an opportunity George had taken advantage of. He didn’t regret it but was not so proud of himself either. The following morning he had strolled to the local deli for coffee and pastries after leaving her fast asleep. When he returned she was gone. They never spoke of it again.

Will, George and Marnie were next in and sat down; Costas brought a bottle of fifteen-year-old Jameson to the table and joined them. Marvin produced a small glass bottle filled with cocaine and the girls giggled as they asked, ‘may we?’ Marv nodded his approval and the girls snapped it up and headed for the bathrooms. ‘You know you are not going to get anywhere with those two Marv?’ Costas asked. ‘They are in here every week poncing off someone or other. I have never seen them pay for a drink, or leave with anybody except each other, despite flirting around the bar all night.’

‘Cape Town girls,’ said Marv, ‘take them or leave them.’

‘Leave them,’ said Will. Marnie nodded her approval. ‘Take them,’ cried Costas, ‘I do.’ George looked down at his hy-dev and tapped, ‘we in Long Street Café, where you?’ There was no reply. Girls were different here than they were in the Northern Hemisphere and two perfect examples danced back to the table, giggling with each other. They were dabbing numb, tingling noses with delicate knuckles and grooming their long hair with bony fingers. Gus arrived and said to them, ‘you two have started early haven’t you?’ they ignored him and Costas poured out another glass. Gus looked around, ‘No Mira?’ he asked George. ‘Not yet,’ he shook his head, before checking his hy-dev. There was still no reply. Another girl tottered across on high heels, leant forward and planted a kiss on Gus’ forehead. ‘Maria,’ he said. ‘How are you?’ she squealed. The word ‘you’ was delivered in a tone that changed three times and sent poisoned darts into George’s ear drum. Her perfume, which thickened the air, was cheap enough to taste. ‘Has somebody been polishing the tables?’ Marv asked nobody in particular. With that, she turned quickly to look over Gus’ head at somebody else and then off she went in a new direction.

George looked at Gus. ‘She is..’ he started, ‘I’m not interested,’ interrupted George. ‘Ok, but don’t you just love that old fashioned lycra material they use again these days?’ George had to admit that he did and the pair watched as she sashayed towards another table in her cling-tight top, hipster jeans and dangerous heels. Maria knew George, and knew he didn’t like her. ‘The shine of her star will fade soon enough;’ said George, ‘and then nobody will be looking at her anymore.’

‘I violated her in the back of a taxi about a year ago, for the small price of a single line.’ Marv added. ‘With a couple of shooters and a few lines inside her well, you can get almost anything you want inside her.’ George checked his hy-dev again, to find nothing. He glanced towards the door and out into the street. There was still no sight or sound of Mira.

Beth and Gemma were chatting the chat they began in the bathroom and they all knew that within twenty minutes they would be feeling fantastic about themselves. They would become city princesses and everything would be going their way. It would become their world and the rest would be simply living in it, making it happen for them. Costas ordered them a pair of shots each. He knew they wouldn’t be buying anything tonight and so what the hell. Maybe they would one day, when they grew up. The girls love the magic dust. It feeds extra feeling into their nerve endings like pouring warm oil into the soul, or as writing a beautiful line for them will. Everything tingles. Tummy’s turn, defect’s real or imagined vanish in the haze. For a while.

‘We might as well join them,’ Marvin offered. ‘Rude not to,’ replied Gus. They all then took their turns on the little trip to the tiled shelf in the bathroom. Finally the glass vial was passed to George, who had told himself he was never doing it again, as soon as he had finished his training and started contributing. But it looked as though nobody had heard him and so off he went too. Gus stared across at the giggling girls opposite who were counting down from five before tossing back their free shots. ‘I wonder,’ he thought, ‘what your contribution is going to be? What will become of you when the Corporation realise you have nothing to add to society?’

Ben E, the tall double bass player wandered over to the table with a home grown hash tab dangling from his lips. ’Looking good Bennie,’ called Will. ‘Cheers dudes. If I am going to be steaming tonight then I at least want to be stoned too.’ Without introduction the band sprang into life with a drum fill and Ben E hurried towards the stage. Behind the keyboards sat one hundred and fifty kilos of Rhythm and Blues meat. The legendary Clem Hemming had his head hunched low and his jet black hands jumped and danced along the snow white keyboard, spraying arcs of sweat as he played his intro, which sounded like the first thing that came into his head. He had his own beat. ‘You are all crazy tonight,’ he yelled into the microphone. He was probably right.

‘You don’t have to die to find paradise,’ he yelled. ‘No man, take some of those jumping beans over there and come with me just for one night only.’ He meant, of course, ecstasy. It could be bought in most bars at the weekends since the Corporation legalised all previously banned drugs. It kept the profits up and the potential trouble makers otherwise distracted for a few days. It also meant they could control which areas of the Divisions received exactly how much of what kind of recreational drugs that they alone decided were suitable. Keeping the main part of the population superficially happy and partly docile had been company policy since Incorporation. That was also why anybody could pick up diazepam from almost anywhere for a single dollar a box.

Clem hunched and he rocked and he played. The girls were up and dancing, heads were bobbing, fingers drumming and hearts were bumping. Ben E rolled back and forth to the beat with his eyes closed and his slim fingers laying a rhythm down beneath Clem’s twinkling tunes. ‘Man alive,’ shouted Marvin as the cocaine started to work its way into his single-inch brain. ‘This place is hard core, we are all alive tonight like we have never lived before.’ Gus laughed and looked at George. He laughed too, looked towards the door and finally saw Mira. She was two hours late. Her short, slim frame was dwarfed by the doorway as she brushed her long dark hair away from her face and looked around. George watched as she peered across the crowded room. He wasn’t sure if he was pleased she had finally turned up or not. Time would tell. He turned away to watch the band and moments later Mira slipped quietly into the seat next to him placing the palm of her hand onto his leg and quietly attracting his attention. She smiled warmly as he looked at her and then jumped up and wrapped her arms around him. ‘Welcome home babes, I’ve missed you.’ George’s heart immediately softened. It always did. He couldn’t help himself.

’Sorry I am late,’ she pleaded. ‘I was having sushi with my sister. She has boyfriend problems, do you want to hear about them.’

‘No thanks.’

’I thought not, anyway I am here now, let’s order shooters.’ George nodded, Costas overheard and, with a wave of his hand, made her wishes come true. ‘Why didn’t you answer your skyphone yesterday?’ George asked her. ‘I told you babes, I didn’t hear it. I was on my bike all afternoon. I had a lovely ride all the way along the seafront and right down to CampsBay. And then all the way back again. Aren’t you proud of me?’

‘But you said you were on the beach.’ Mira studied his face before replying ‘yes at CampsBay, I saw some friends and sat with them for a while, that must have been when you tried calling.’ George thought about this and decided it was at least plausible. But something with this girl just didn’t add up. Mira didn’t make sense to George, despite how he felt about her. He decided this was the weekend he was going to tell her. ‘Come on babes drink up,’ Mira was already banging her shot glass back down onto the table before George had even reached for his. He quickly caught up by the time she had downed her third from the tray full in the centre of the table.

George looked across towards the stage. By this time the music was beautiful but the girls raved as if they were in a school disco. One of them danced so wildly that she almost took out the drummer. She was untamed. But the mess was cleared up and put into a taxi. The band played on and the evening was gearing up to be a memorable one. ‘Man dig that geezer over there’, cried Marv as he returned from the bathroom dabbing his nose with a handkerchief.  ‘He’s done so many drugs his soul is skeletal. That’s not dancing, he’s unrolling his bones. Listen Gus, imagine this. Imagine if we never came down from here. What would life be like, don’t you think, do you ever think what would happen.  Is that a love dance he’s doing over there? Who is she?

Mira pressed her head into George’s shoulder and he stroked her long, brown hair. ‘Can we go soon babes?’ she asked him. ‘You’ve only been here half an hour,’ he told her. ‘Yes but can we go somewhere quieter please, please babes.’ This was typical of Mira. She thought that George’s friends didn’t like her and, in truth, they didn’t much. Especially the Cape Town friends. Will, on the other hand could take her or leave her. George signalled to him above the music, stood up, nodded to Costas and Gus and led Mira to the door. ‘You are going to have to tell him,’ Gus told Costas. ‘You tell him.’ Costas replied. They watched as George and Mira walked past the window and out of sight.

’So,’ George asked as they strolled along the street, ‘another bar? Which one?’ Mira thought for a moment, wrapped both her arms around his waist and said ‘the bar at your house. George’s bar is my favourite bar and it is such a beautiful evening. We can sit on the terrace, enjoy the view and listen to music, just the two of us. I have missed you.’

‘Yes I could see that,’ George told her, ‘by the way you were two hours late.’

‘Don’t be like that,’ she scolded him. ‘I told you, I was talking to my dad on the phone.’

‘You mean eating sushi with your sister,’ George reminded her. ‘That’s right, like I said, I was with her when my dad phoned.’ This did nothing to ease George’s troubled mind but at least they were heading for his house. He might even get laid again so he stopped asking questions. There was no point in provoking a fight and Edgar once again reminded him, ‘don’t try too hard to understand them son.’ George liked Edgar. ‘Please babes,’ Mira pleaded, ‘I just want to be alone with you. And anyway, you know I hate those noisy bars in town. I never go there. Take me home, please.’

‘Then why didn’t you just come straight to the house in the first place?’ he asked her. ‘Look how beautiful the moon is tonight,’ she replied. As they turned the corner from the main road everything was quiet and the rest of the city was still. They crossed Strand Street and walked up the hill. To their right hand side the harbour lights shimmered and reflected in the calm sea beyond. An amateur band rehearsed in a nearby garage and the ships in the bay lay at anchor, waiting to be called into the port. The low African sky looked as though a thousand diamonds had been thrown, at random, across a black blanket and George said so. Mira looked up at him and squeezed his arm, ‘you say the most beautiful things,’ and then she buried her head into his shoulder. She clung onto him like a limpet. George wondered if she was trying not to fall over.

‘You choose some music and I will open a bottle of wine,’ he said quietly as he tapped in the alarm code. ‘Shooters first, shooters first,’ she cried as she danced across the room towards the Tequila. ‘Whatever you like,’ George called after her as he reached into the cooler for a bottle of Merlot. ‘Aren’t you supposed to drink red wine at room temperature?’ Mira asked as she lined up eight shot glasses. ‘You certainly are,’ replied George, ‘if that room is in the cellar of an old manor house in the Northern Hemisphere and it is Old Calendar 1744.’ Mira gave him a blank look. ‘Here in the summer of AI43 nobody should be drinking warm wine. Red or white,’ and he reached for a couple of tumblers. ‘Even this isn’t cold enough,’ he remarked as he took a sip. George dropped a cube of ice into his wine and was about to do the same for Mira when she placed four of the shot glasses in front of him. ‘What are you doing?’ she demanded. ‘Don’t water my wine down.’

‘Don’t worry,’ he assured her. ‘The alcohol doesn’t jump out of the glass. Putting ice in there doesn’t make it weaker, just colder.’

‘I prefer mine without ice thank you and here, it’s shooter time.’ With that she downed another two, took her glass to the terrace and waited for George to catch up. He sat down opposite her and, with his arms resting on his knees, he leaned forward and quietly asked, ‘ok, what’s going on Mira? What’s with this unusual behaviour?’ She looked hurt and said nothing. He continued. ‘The missed phone calls and immediate messages, why don’t you speak to me?’

‘I told you I was on my bike,’

‘Or the beach,’ George added. ‘And that’s another thing, all those odd little stories that don’t add up and I don’t just mean this week, I mean for the last six months.’ Again, she said nothing ‘Are you going to talk to me?’ he encouraged her.

‘Ok, ok. It’s just that I am scared of losing you.’

‘You have said this before, and then go ahead and behave in exactly the way that is likely to make that happen. Lying to me, turning up late and sometimes not showing up at all. The last time I was here you sent me a message at H2 saying ‘I want you now.’ I replied telling you I was still awake and to come over. I then didn’t hear from you again for two days. Was that message even meant for me? Because that’s how to lose me Mira, we are either together or we are not. Right now it feels like we are not and yet here you are again, here we are again.’

‘I want to spend the rest of my life with you,’ she announced quietly and without looking up. George was stunned. She then looked straight at him with her green, shining eyes and said, ‘it’s ridiculous. The way I feel about you scares me and that’s why I keep trying to push you away, out of my mind, out of my thoughts, but you never go away. If anything the feeling gets stronger and that frightens me, it scares me to death. It frightens me that one day you will just say ‘that’s all, that’s it, go away silly girl. I couldn’t bear that. Every time I see you or hear your voice my heart starts pounding and it scares me to think that it might be for the last time.’

George reached across and took her hand. ‘How long have you felt like this?’ he asked quietly. ‘Ever since the day we first met.’ George was shocked. ‘That was four years ago. So why did you take that marriage license and then renew it?’ He asked her.

’Because you were with somebody else and I thought you didn’t want me.’ She admitted. ‘I was desperate for you to stop me. Do you remember when I came round here and told you I had set the date? Do you remember what you said?’ George was embarrassed. ‘That I knew a good marriage license lawyer you could use.’

‘Exactly,’ she shouted. ‘Here I was, desperate for some sort of sign from you, just something to say I shouldn’t go through with it and you fucking congratulated me and even offered to arrange it for me. You’re an arsehole.’

‘Yes I do remember,’ George admitted quietly. ‘I remember it clearly.’ He felt ashamed. ‘But why didn’t you say something?’ Mira snatched her hands away and pulled the hair away from the front of her face. George could see she had been crying and she then confronted him angrily. ‘Because all you could talk about was that slut you were going into contract with.’ George laughed, ‘she is not a slut but yes, I remember that too.’ Mira then spent the next thirty minutes reminding George of all the other signs she had given since the day they had met and he reluctantly had to agree with each of them. Mira remembered everything and was right about all of them. Finally George admitted he had felt the same way as she had from the very beginning. ‘You are a fucking idiot,’ she told him. You call yourself a writer? Aren’t you supposed to notice things, see things that others don’t?’ she demanded.

‘You also might have made it easy for me and simply said something,’ he replied. ‘I thought you were happy with your contract and I didn’t want to interfere.’

‘Fuck off,’ she shouted. ‘And bring some more wine when you fuck back.’

‘What are we going to do now we have both admitted all of this,’ George asked her. ‘Spend the rest of our lives together, have a family and be happy, but only after you have fucked off first.’ She replied. ‘And then come back.’

‘Can we start slowly by just dating properly?’ George suggested. ‘Give me some time to think about it,’ Mira said as she finally offered a small smile and then came the uncontrollable laughter that George so adored in her. When he returned he noticed that the four remaining shots of tequila were now on the terrace table and two of them were empty. ‘Come on babes, you have some catching up to do, and we have some celebrating to do.’ George downed his tequila, sipped his wine and stood staring out into the darkness of the bay that was punctuated only by the intermittent flash of the Robben Island Lighthouse. He thought carefully about what had just happened and considered the advice Edgar had given him only days earlier. Mira, meanwhile, was tapping something into her hy-dev.

Finally George sucked air in through his teeth, tugged on his earlobe and turned around. ‘Ok, let’s do it,’ he said, against all of his instincts and Edgar’s advice. ‘Let’s be together. We can ignore the past, the other people we have been involved with. How about we never mention any of it again and start with a new screen, from right now, a brand new start.’

She looked up at him. ‘But you fucked my sister,’ she shouted. ‘I’m not sure I can forget that. Why, why why?’

‘Because, Mira, you were married to somebody else and she and I were both single at the time. And we liked each other. You encouraged us, remember?’

‘I didn’t mean to. It hurts like hell, I can’t get over it.’ Mira stood up and announced, ‘I have to go.’ George was confused. ‘We are in the middle of a conversation, where are you going?’

‘I have some friends in from Johannesburg; they have just told me they are in a bar in Long Street and I am going to join them. I don’t want to look at you right now, I can see you tomorrow.’

‘You said you didn’t like the bars in Long Street?’

‘I never said that.

George was becoming concerned, it was after midnight. ‘I can’t let you go back to Long Street, I will worry too much. You are drunk and it is dangerous down there at this time. You can stay here, with me or in your favourite room, you choose, but you mustn’t go to Long Street now, it’s too late.’

‘Fuck you, you controlling bastard, call me a taxi right now.’

‘Well, ok, but you can call your own taxi. If you want to leave then you can sort yourself out, phone for your own taxi.’

George didn’t see the first punch coming but it caught him squarely on the side of the face, knocking the glass from his hand which then shattered across the terrace. Before he managed to react a second blow landed directly into his ribcage and the third, a kick that was aimed at his testicles, was parried away before it connected. ‘What the hell are you doing Mira,’ he shouted as she ran towards the front door and started butting it with her head in an attempt to open it. George finally restrained her, but not before taking two more blows to the face and a solid kick in the ribs. He managed to sit her back down into a chair and calm her down. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘I want to see my friends. I told you they were in town and you won’t let me leave.’

‘You can leave Mira, in fact I will insist, get out. After all we have just talked about I can’t believe you are behaving like this again. The door is open, now leave and don’t come back.’ Mira ran out into the night, down the road and was gone. George reached for his whiskey and when Will and Marnie finally returned they left him as they found him, fast asleep in his favourite armchair.

Chapter One  Chapter Two   Chapter Three   Chapter Four  Chapter Five  Chapter Six  Available now

Albert Jack books available for download here


Ban Melissa Bachman from Africa

This is without a doubt the most vulgar and disgusting woman I have ever heard of.

Please sign the petition to the South African Government to have her Visa revoked and to never allow her back into the country.

And after you have dealt with that particular beast, how about we try to ban the canned hunting of all beasts. You can sign the petition here;

I have nothing else to say about this person, I can’t even think of anything funny.

Albert Jack

Last Man in London – Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Edgar was very much from the old days and, over the years, many of his habits had been absorbed by the young George. As a student of history he loved the old days and with Edgar it seemed as if he could even feel the theme. Both were happy when the old man’s hy-dev pinged him the message to say that their fish, chips with bread and butter supper had been delivered to his food hatch. Where it came from George had never asked. The pair sat in old fashioned leather armchairs with their plates in their laps. George had only ever eaten meals at a proper dining table anywhere he had been for his entire life, apart from at Edgar’s where he ate from his knees. And in his own home, when he was alone, of course. The pair sprayed salt and vinegar over their chips and made sandwiches out of them, munching away and sipping whiskey. ‘Chip Butty’s,’ announced Edgar between mouthfuls, ‘ain’t never been anything better. How’s your cod?’

’Perfect,’ George replied as he looked around and studied Edgar’s main room. It was a wide, open space with large windows on two walls that framed the view of the Central Complex, shining brightly and humming with activity. ‘That is the original brickwork,’ Edgar gestured towards the large chimney breast and fireplace. ‘Somebody tried to persuade me to knock it down once, but that’s character that is. It must be over two hundred and fifty years old. Do you know that this whole building was built in 1802 of the Old Calendar by prisoners of war? When I first moved in here one of the old boys on the ground floor told me the story.’

Edgar had, at some point, chosen to have the high ceilings painted in a deep, dark maroon colour. The old wooden floorboards remained exposed and tattered rugs were scattered around. George had been there many times, of course. He had even lived there once for a few years whilst he was in the second part of his training and the Complex Academy was just around the corner. ‘How old was I when I stayed here?’ George asked.

‘I dunno, fourteen, fifteen; something like that.’ Said Edgar

‘Were those pictures here then,’ George asked, pointing his butty at the African style art that peppered at least two of the walls.

‘I’ve had them for years,’ replied the old man. And they are yours one day; in fact you get the whole place when I’m gone. I ain’t got nobody else I can call family anymore.’ This remark caused the anxiety to build up in George again. Edgar had been around for all of his life and been part of it. A big part of it and it simply had never occurred to him that one day he wouldn’t be there anymore. Edgar was seventy-eight years old and most people lived well past a hundred years in modern times. George relaxed a little when he realised he would be at least around the withdrawing age himself by the time Edgar shuffled on.

‘Yeah well I don’t want to think about that,’ he said between mouthfuls, ‘if it’s alright with you.’ I’d prefer you to live forever, or at least outlive me.’

‘Everybody’s gotta die son. That’s easy. Any idiot can do that. Living is the trick. That’s the hard part so make sure you do it properly and for as long as you can. And make a contribution too, something that will last forever.’

’I do my best,’ grinned George as he set his plate down on the floor, leaned back into the big old armchair and sipped his whiskey. Edgar tapped on his hy-dev and the giant screen on the wall sprang alive. ‘The footie is just starting,’ he said, ‘are you staying to watch it?’

‘Of course,’ said George. ‘Chelsea are at home, I can see the stadium lights are on.’ George gestured his glass to one of the big windows. ‘We should have gone. You used to take me all the time,’ he reminded him.

‘Bollocks to that,’ replied Edgar, ‘it’s cold out there and they haven’t got no armchairs in that stadium, nor Jamesons for that matter.’ Edgar stood up with his plate and, as George handed him his, he placed them back into the hatch and slammed the door shut. Where they went, George had never asked. ‘Come on you blues,’ shouted Edgar as the game started. George had been armed with so many questions that day, but now was clearly not the time to start asking them.

’You cheating bastard,’ Edgar shouted at the referee. George had long since given up reminding the old man that the referee couldn’t hear him, from where he was sitting.

‘What do you remember about Christmas?’ he ventured.

Edgar turned to look directly at him, paused for a moment and then said, ‘some old religious shit from years ago.’ He turned back to the screen, ‘not backwards, pass it forwards you useless wanker.’ He bellowed.

’And what about religion, what do you remember about that?’ George pressed on.

‘Nothing. Except when I was married once and started believing in the Hell part of it. That was back when your grandfather was born.’

‘How old were you then?’

‘Twenty one, what is this twenty bleeding questions? Try passing it to a bloke with the same colour shirt on you muppet,’ he yelled.

George realised this was not a good time to be engaging Edgar in conversation about anything other than football. And so he gave in to type. ‘That’s more like it,’ he clapped, ‘a corner, now don’t waste it’ he called out, as Edgar stood up to watch. The ball flew over the heads of all the players and out for a throw in, to the wrong team, on the other side of the pitch. Edgar turned to George, arms stretched out wide and with a look of disbelief on his face. He didn’t even have to say ‘useless wanker,’ as he sat back down. George already knew. Looking around the apartment he started noticing things, for the first time, which had always been there. He had so many questions but they would have to wait. He settled back into his chair, sipped his whiskey, put his feet up and watched the game.

‘Come on you Blues,’ Edgar cheered as the final whistle sounded and the home crowd roared. ‘I do love a 3-0 win over the northern monkeys.’

‘Northern what? Asked George. ‘Never mind son, we won. Pass me that bottle.’

George topped his own glass and then did as he was asked. ‘Granddad, I am going down to the MotherCity this weekend, is there anything you need before I go? But, I am back on Sunday so if it can wait….’

‘I’m good son, thanks for asking.’

George took a deep breath. ‘I am thinking of asking Mira if she wants to sign a marriage contract whilst I am there.’

Edgar choked on his whiskey and wiped his chin with his sleeve. ‘You fucking what?’

’She is a good girl, has a good heart. If I can only help her with her drinking I think it will be great, she is fantastic when she is sober. I have never met anyone like her.’

‘And when she is drunk?’ Edgar probed

‘Well,’ George paused and then said, ‘I’ve never met anyone like her either.’

‘Doesn’t that answer your question George?’ assumed Edgar.

‘I didn’t ask one,’ he responded.

‘I think you did,’ Edgar insisted.

George ignored the remark. ‘But if I can only help her with the drinking problem, if I can make it go away.’

‘You a head doctor now son are you, as well as a book geek? You sound like an idiot. Alcoholism is an illness, not a party weekend. You either have it or you haven’t. You are one or you aren’t. There is no in between.’ Edgar was not impressed by what he had heard of Mira, although he had never met her.

‘The thing is,’ George continued, ‘I met a girl today and I just can’t get her out of my mind. I’m thinking I might find out how things are in Cape Town, once and for all, and then decide what to do. Suggest a marriage license or end it for good. Whatever ‘it’ is. But I know that would break her heart, it’s the thing she fears most.’

’Well, there is only one way to find that out son,’ said Edgar, ‘so perhaps it’s a good idea to bring matters to a head, so to speak. It’s only a year’s contract anyway. Just remember one thing. Be careful what you say and be careful what you do. A woman may, one day, forget what you have said to her but she will never forget how you made her feel. And another thing, you don’t really want to be entering a contract like that with a girl who spends most of her time looking for a better party, when she should be looking for a better self, do you?’

‘And when did you become an expert on women?’ asked George.

‘An expert on women? That’s called an oxymoron my boy but, I have learned from my own mistakes.’

‘Go on then,’ George challenged his grandfather, ‘tell me about your girlfriends when you were younger.’ Edgar thought for a moment, took a long draw from his glass, lit a smoke and sat back into his big leather armchair. After a few more moments he said.

‘Like most boys-turned-teenager, my sole ambition was to get myself a girlfriend and by the time I was seventeen I had met the perfect one. She was fragrant, funny and purely virginal. I stole all of that after promising to show her the beauty of making love. But I was just a kid and rushed it and, in the end, showed her nothing at all. She was sweet to taste, but shy and had yet to discover her desire for life, content instead to tow along. I decided I needed a girl with a little more sparkle, some confidence and awareness.

By the time I was nineteen I had met the perfect one. She was tall and rangy and gangly and effortlessly sexy. She could entertain and was easily entertained and she was confident enough to teach me love. That’s an old word we used to use. But it became over-used and, in the end, meaningless and so it dropped out of the language.’

‘What does it mean?’ George asked.

‘It explains a state of mind, that’s all’ Edgar replied. ‘It used to be one of the biggest of all the words and described a feeling you had towards somebody you would do anything for. Some people even died for love. Anyway, we were the perfect couple, on the skin, but in the veins beneath she was too emotional. Passionate, fiery, irrational as hell, she could start a row in an empty room.

She got herself pregnant; it was possible in those days and so I had to marry her. After that almost everything was a drama and everything else an emergency, she threatened to leave each week and once even left a suicide note before going out for the day. I threw up with the worry. She had to be placed at the centre of everything and her form of self-defence was to attack first. She spoke off the top of her head and out of her arse and I was never sure which. I finally grew weary of all this and felt I needed somebody easier to live with.

By the time I reached twenty-two I had met the perfect one. Not a head turner to begin with, but once she had discovered her sexuality she wore it with ease. She was affectionate, popular, reliable, clever and clean, the five great qualities. I was so fond of her I even bought her underwear that she would actually want to put on. She was one of the Goodhearts, and I only wish she hadn’t caught me hunched over chopped out lines of cocaine in Bickford’s Kitchen on that Sunday afternoon. The depth in her was the shallow in me and it soon became far too obvious she could live without me.

But, when I was twenty-four I met the perfect one. Radical and driven to change the world. Believed in belief and that attracted me greatly. She spread, she scattered, she sprinkled and yet ultimately she destroyed everything close to her. She even believed the way to demonstrate against the old capitalism was to smash up a burger bar, depriving dozens of part time students their minimum wage in the process. She was forty-five kilograms of plastic explosive that was ready to go off at any moment and, when it did, she blew emotion in every direction, making the whole city shiver. Her heart had been squeezed and was then twisted into a fist. She ended up disliking me for reasons I never bothered to think about. Insensate, thoughtless and with a heart well worth breaking. But not before I had shagged all the best sex out of her.’

George frowned, took a deep draw on his whiskey and lit a smoke. He was already wishing he hadn’t asked the question. But Edgar pressed on.

‘So by the time I was twenty-five I had met the perfect one. She was calm, cool, reserved and at ease with herself. She didn’t expect too much out of life, which is how even I didn’t disappointed her. A teacher with few friends and no sport, her views on Zen and a smooth pace both fascinated and relaxed me. But she couldn’t explain why those dumbMasters would throw young kids into the mud if they couldn’t answer their dumbZen questions, such as ‘why do you sit there and not here?’ and ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Once I had heard enough of this handclapping claptrap I became restless and eventually bored. My life was passing along unnoticed by anybody, including myself. I needed something else. I needed more.

By the time I was about twenty-eight I had met the perfect one as the most dramatic girl in the world arrived in mine. She was an actress and dug everybody on that scene. Life became one big adventure as she paraded me around. What a looker, what a lover, but what a moon mushroom.  She had none of her own direction and no time for mine. I couldn’t keep step as she flip-flopped from one place to another without settling for a moment to look around her. At every stop she would be trying to find a better one and if she did she was off.  Her insincerity required a heart of stone not to laugh at and, in the end, those rant and ramblings left me numb and gave me pins and needles. Eventually one of those pins went straight into my pin-cushion-head and pricked me aware.  She was talented and strong but tainted and so, so wrong. The hour had come for me to run before she inculcated me for the worse. She was changing me and anyway, I needed to settle down.’

‘She sounds like Mira,’ George interrupted.

‘Does she? Well I can see the attraction then.’ Edgar replied, ‘but that will wear off sooner or later, it always does.’ Edgar wasn’t quite finished. ‘So anyway, by the time I was thirty-one I had met the perfect one. I was uncovered and opened up by a beautiful, creative, stable and proper woman with a career, direction and time for even more. She fell in love with me, and madly too, and then watered my dry life. She bought me time and gave me purpose. She was smart and I thought I was when I nearly married her. But she was bright enough to shine right through me and see everything inside. Before the year was out so was I. She destroyed me. And my record collection, but kept everything else. Apparently she was insentient.

After that I thought about how times had been ten years earlier, when I was always looking for something. I felt older back then but was much wiser by now. It’s true that if we learn from our past without being bitter we can call it experience, and not to take advantage of all of this is the Big Sin. So I trousered all of that experience and I became far more comfortable with myself. My karma was good and I spent the next twenty years in the company of twenty-five-year-old shaved blondes with big tits. I could get a new one every year.’

George stared at the old man for sometime before he drained his glass and said, ‘thanks for the advice; I am sure there is some in there somewhere. I had better be going.’

‘How did your first day go?’ Edgar asked, almost as an after thought.

‘I started correcting one of the classics, A Christmas Carol by,’

‘Yes, I know who by,’ interrupted Edgar. ‘So that’s why you were asking about Christmas earlier. Well, I hope you do a good job on it and come by again next week, when you get back. You can tell me about Cape Town and I will tell you what I remember about Christmas, but only after you have finished the update of that book.’

‘Cheers, thanks granddad, see you next week. Oh, and what were those five great qualities again?’

’Affectionate, popular, reliable, clever and clean.’

’Is three out of five close enough?’

‘Not really son,’ said the old man as he tapped his hy-dev, activating the elevator that would take George back down to the main hallway. He watched as George left the building, buttoned his coat against the cold winter wind and began the short walk to the underground network. Edgar turned off his wall screen, filled his glass and stood at one of the large windows overlooking the Central Complex. From where he was in Butler’s Wharf he could see the spectacular TowerBridge, with the famous old castle on the Tower Hill beyond. Both were illuminated against the black November sky and beyond them the great dome of the WrenMonument dominated the skyline. Edgar remembered Christmas clearly. He remembered St Paul’s Cathedral too, before the Corporation had renamed it along with all the other great cathedrals, mosques and churches of the old city.

Edgar lit an open fire and watched as the growing wind drove the rain against his window. He sipped his whiskey and thought about the old days. The old days of his childhood when there was still such a thing as Christmas, churches and Midnight Mass. It was a long, long time ago and he wasn’t really sure of how much he actually remembered or if he had since been told what he remembered. Were they even his own memories? It was another lifetime and it all seemed so blurred to him now. Edgar pondered the past as he watched the flames dancing in the grate.

He remembered Christmas fondly as a time when families would come together. The poorer families like his would have to huddle together around a single small fireplace in cramped parlour as they exchanged presents, sang carols and celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. George, Edgar realised, knew nothing about Jesus Christ as any record of that particular, primitive myth had long since been deleted from the Corporation archives. Edgar thought about Christianity and its vast enemy Islam. He remembered the great final war that began in 2001, of the Old Calendar, when Islam attacked the very centre of the Christian Empire in New York. He remembered how that had changed everything. And then he fell asleep.

The following morning George, Hugo and Will all met at the coffee dispenser on the concourse of Waterloo Station. As soon as they had settled into their seats George asked Will, ‘what does your archive say about love?’

Will tapped his screen, ‘nothing, again,’ he replied.

‘I know something about love,’ offered Hugo cheerfully. ‘Shakespeare invented that too.’ George tapped at his own archive and read; ‘Love – a state of emotion and/or feeling that a man would have towards a woman or his family, children etc. Invented by William Shakespeare and was dropped from the language of Albion after it became over-used and meaningless. It has been replaced by ‘respect, admiration, honestly commitment and contract.’

‘Almost just as Edgar had explained,’ thought George. Within minutes Will had left in the platform pod and Hugo and George were being eased into the Guildford terminal in their own.

‘Good luck with that little wizard today,’ George teased him as they went their separate ways. When he reached his own floor he was disappointed to find no sign of Tibha anywhere at all. Still, he had other things on his mind as he sat down, pulled A Winters Tale up onto his screen and began to read. No sooner had he started than a message box appeared on his screen. Mira; ‘Sorry to miss your call yesterday babes. I went on a long bike ride in the afternoon and was pooped when I got home. Fell straight to sleep.’

‘Bike ride, or beach?’ George wondered. He changed his settings to ‘working hours’ and then closed the message screen. Turning back to his manuscript he read, ‘Yes!’ said the child, brimful of glee. Home for good and all. Home for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven.’ George deleted the word ‘heaven’ and replaced it with paradise. He then deleted that, added the words ‘a delight’ and continued reading. An hour or two must have passed before he noticed Tibha sitting next to him, on his right hand side.

‘Good morning,’ she offered.

‘Is it still morning then?’ George laughed.

‘I logged in for a twelve until seventeen work period today,’ she admitted. ‘I had things to do this morning.’ George didn’t ask what it was and turned back to continue his corrective work.

He wondered how many people were actually reading their copy of A Winter’s Tale as he worked on it. Did anybody notice names changing, countries disappearing, corrections taking place to millions of bookapps every single day? George gazed through his window at the world beyond. Even if anybody did notice then the next generation wouldn’t, that’s for sure. That was the whole point of his work. How many people, he wondered, were out there and currently reading something that he, himself, was correcting? By the time a reader reached the ending of a book, he may have changed it. The beginning was certainly already different and an updated version had been spidered out to every hy-dev bookshelf within seconds of his corrections. He also wondered how many people were reading Tibha’s modernising of Wordsworth that would already be in their book archives. The original having been lost forever.

’Tibha,’ George turned in his seat. ‘What were you taught about love at your academy?’

‘Ahh, love,’ she replied. ‘It was a central theme for the poets and romantics. They wrote about it as if it was the most important thing a person can experience. An achievement almost, that everybody should aim for if they were to feel complete. To love and to be loved. It was a feeling, an emotion that always led to something good. Some say it still is although it wasn’t true that it always led to something good. Often it led to disaster.’

George looked at her closely, he was listening carefully. ‘Yes, but what did it mean, what actually was it?’

‘Love was doing something good for a person that they would never, perhaps, know you had done for them. Acts of kindness, if you like, when nobody was watching. It’s one thing to do good things for everybody to see George, it’s quite another to do them when you know nobody will find out you have done them. To know there is no reward, but to do a good thing anyway, that’s love George.’

‘Isn’t that just kindness? Isn’t that simply the right moral thing to do?’ He asked.

’It isn’t something that is easy to understand or explain,’ she continued. ‘Love was once the only human emotion that nobody could really understand or explain. It was an unstoppable feeling. An internal volcano. It was never angry, or provoked. Short tempered people found peace in love. Love never kept score. It never counted up who had done more for who and so it was never in debt or in credit. Instead it simply forgave bad behaviour whether it was intentional or otherwise. Love was never jealous. It embraced another person’s achievement and encouraged it, with pride. Love was felt quietly and behind the scenes and never openly or needing to be recognised. It didn’t need attention.

Love never enjoyed the misfortune of others, even in secret. Instead it applauded and admired their success. Love trusted and was always hopeful, it was patient and restrained. It cared deeply about others and, although it was always the same thing, it could come in completely different forms. The love they had for their lovers, for example, was slightly different from the love they had for their families or friends. A person could love books, or music, or their dog. They were all variations of a theme.’

‘What was the difference?’ he asked her.

Tibha thought about this for a while and then replied, ‘physical love probably. That was the only difference. The love for a child would never cease to exist, no matter the circumstances, although the love for that child’s mother, or father, may never have existed in the first place.’

’So you mean sex, procreation?’ He thought he understood.

Tibha considered this for a moment. ‘Well for two grown adult humans who weren’t related then yes, I suppose that could be an expression of love, but not necessarily. Plenty of people had sex without love and many more felt love without having sex. Some said that loveless sex was the best kind and that so was sexless love. But there was much more to it than that. Love was never proud of itself. It didn’t think more highly of itself or feel superior. It never boasted about itself. It worked quietly and behind the scenes and stood aside when it needed to. It was never rude or disrespectful but instead it protected; even those who did not feel they needed protecting. You can protect a person with love George, without them even knowing or understanding. It was brave, fearless even, when it gave so much for such a great personal cost. Often that would never be recognised and that was the bravest thing about love. It never gave up hope. It was a connection, characterised by a flow of positive emotions and warm feelings. Some say it still exists.’

George was as fascinated as he was confused. And her passion was turning him on. He wondered if she believed love still existed, but was afraid to ask. Tibha continued, without interruption.

‘It was only when you saw people doing stupid and ridiculous things that you realised you were in love. Either that or when they have gone, forever and it was too late to do anything about it. That was a tragedy. Love was a beautiful feeling, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes that mostly gathered around the heart. It was a butterfly, dancing around you but, and most importantly of all George, when a beautiful butterfly lands on your hand the temptation is to grab it and hold onto it tightly but that, or course, only crushes it. You have to let butterflies fly George, letting it go is love.

Love was a gift, of the rarest kind. It could emerge over a period of time or it could appear in an instant. But nobody could ever really love another person unless they loved themselves first. Otherwise they just adored or desired that person as a result of their own lack of fullness and insecurity. That love was always in need of attention and reassurance and it rarely lasted for long. Not for one of the people anyway. And that’s when all the problems started George. When one person fell out of love the other could be badly hurt, emotionally. And this often led to bad things. You had to be strong enough for love George and many people simply weren’t strong enough.’

George was exhausted. ‘But surely anybody who was in love would often feel sad or insecure for most of the time, anyway? What would be the point in believing in something you cannot really feel, see and understand.’

‘We are in trouble as a species, George,’ Tibha concluded, ‘if people continue refusing to believe in things they cannot themselves actually do, feel, see or understand.’

Tibha smiled and turned back to her manuscript. George’s head was hurting.

‘What are you working on today he asked her, as he searched his note book application. ‘Beachy Head and other Poems by Charlotte Smith,’ she replied.

‘Never heard of her.’ George responded, without looking up.

‘No, that’s because of all the Romantic Poets the men were considered superior. The Big Six they called them. William Blake, Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Shelley and John Keats. Although most people at the time preferred the women Romantics like Shelley’s wife Mary and Charlotte Turner Smith.’

‘Mary Shelly, didn’t she write Dracula?’ George asked.

‘Frankenstein.’ Tibha corrected him.

‘Either way,’ George said, ‘there’s nothing very romantic about that.’ Tibha grinned at him and he reached for his diazepam, turned to his screen and started reading his own manuscript. But he found it hard to concentrate as Tibha’s words of love vibrated through his brain like a jackhammer in the hands of a beginner. ‘The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song…’ George, once again, deleted the word Christmas and replaced it with the word ‘Festival.’ He was becoming bored and restless and announced to Tibha, ‘I am going for a walk around the building to see what we have here.’ Tibha didn’t reply. She didn’t hear him. Tibha was away somewhere with Charlotte Smith.

‘And you?’ he asked as he stood up, interrupting her. ‘Which of the Romantics do you prefer?’ Tibha looked George directly in the eye. ‘The men,’ she replied. ‘I always prefer the men.’

Chapter One  Chapter Two   Chapter Three   Chapter Four  Chapter Five  Chapter Six  Available now

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