Today has been crazy. We made bread at work; the kids thought it was great. Hell, I thought it was great! Only... cooking is incredibly tiring work when you're doing it all day in a school.
Got my words done though. Half of this was written in a Brick Lane cafe called Kahaila. I can only kind of half recommend it; they chucked us out after twenty minutes because it was closing time, virtually no warning. No posted opening times either. When I mentioned it might be nice to put them up, the lady looked at me as if she'd never thought of it before.
The rest was written at home over a pie and chips.
Now off to kill people in artful ways in Hitman Absolution, which arrived in my mailbox this morning. How I've managed to avoid putting it in the PS3 up until now, I don't know...
The tunnel came out by an inn in the Ducal quarter; the street was almost empty at this time in the morning, one lonely drunk wandering his way home with a jug in his hand. The houses were nice here, Trip noticed, all two storey with at least two doors. Some even had small walled areas at the front, gates which were barred and locked.
He turned and looked back along the line to the palace. Light was spreading through the west wing as people were roused and news of their escape spread. He shivered as the cold wind whipped straight through him and he huddled down into his habit.
“Come on,” Victor said, sheathing his sword. “I know a place, ’s not far.”
Trip and Lauren nodded; they set off through the darkened streets, their footsteps echoing off the cobbles and seeming terribly loud in the silence.
Suddenly, Victor turned round and put his arms out, sweeping both Lauren and Trip towards a house’s small front garden, through the mercifully open gate; they ducked down into the shadow. Trip felt his heart pounding as they sat there.
“Guard,” whispered Victor, and then Trip heard it over the sound of his own breathing; a pair of footsteps, walking regularly, a tapping sound accompanying them.
The two guards on patrol drifted closer, one of them evidently tapping a spear or something.
“…’S not right, what’s happened,” one of them said.
“Ah, the Duke was old. It was gonna happen.” The second one had a lisp.
“Eh,” the first one said, then: “Oh look, lightnin’.”
He farted and the second one said “What, where?”
“No, y’see, it’s…” and then mercifully they were past. Victor carefully put his head over the slate wall and then stood up.
“Le’s go,” he said, and carried on the way they had been going.
A few streets later he stopped them outside a house that was a little larger than the ones around it. The moonlight illuminated the brass plaque affixed to the gatepost.
“Lord Rennin’s house?” Trip said, then stared at the man. “Victor, are you serious? This man is-”
“Is one o’ the most trusted men in this country, and you’d do well t’remember that,” Victor said firmly. “While you was hob-nobbin’ with the Lady Emmeline, I was gettin’ the inside story of what’s bin goin’ on ‘round here.” Victor went up to the sign and ran his fingers over it. “Rennin tole me I could come ‘ere if I was ever in great need. Reckon this about tears it.”
His wrinkled fingers came to a stop over the word ‘Rennin’ and pressed the middle of the R. It clicked and the gate’s catch made a little noise as it unlocked.
“Impressive,” Lauren said, speaking for the first time since they had left the palace. She ran her fingers over the sign, her fingertips lightly brushing Victor’s, then she stepped past him and moved to inspect the gate.
“This is quite imaginative,” she said quietly. Victor growled and pushed her past the gate.
“T’ain’t the time, girl,” he said, and she nodded. They passed into the small courtyard beyond, Victor letting them pass so that he could secure the gate.
The house was slightly foreboding, darkened as it was; Trip couldn’t help but imagine it as a person with its large staring windows, a dead body with gaping wounds and empty eyes. It seemed poorly-kept.
“Rennin hasn’t got a staff. Sez ‘e doesn’t believe in ‘em.” Victor moved to the front door and brushed a cobweb aside from the keyhole. “Looks like ‘e could use a helpin’ hand though.”
The big man reached under the doormat, a woven thing that said ‘Welcome’, and fished out a key. In a moment the door was open and they hustled inside, shutting the street out along with the moonlight.
A match flared in the darkness, robbing Trip of his night-sight. Victor lit a lantern that was hung next to the door.
“Can’t risk more’n this ’til we get the shutters closed. Boy, hold this. I’ll be back.”
Handing the lantern to Trip, Victor stomped off into the house. Trip stood with Lauren for a moment, slowly allowing the adrenaline to relax out of his system after their mad flight.
“It’s good to see you, Trip,” Lauren said, and she hugged him tightly.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” he replied into her chest. She simply held him tighter still.
“Done,” Victor said, taking the lantern from Trip’s unresisting hand. Lauren quickly disengaged herself from Trip and walked over to the candelabra that stood on one table. The candles were drippy, melted messes but she was able to coax some life from them once the lantern had been brought over.
Soon there was light in every downstairs room. It was as if, after time spent in jails or caves, each of them felt the need to be surrounded by light without fear of discovery or reprimand.
“So,” Victor said. They were sat around the kitchen table, tucking in to some bread and vegetables Trip had found in a storage cupboard. Victor had managed to track down some unspoiled meat and he had divided it evenly between himself and Lauren.
The word lay between them for a moment like something the cat had dragged in. Lauren looked determinedly down at her food. Trip sighed.
“I don’t know if they were good Gargorians or bad ones,” he said gingerly. “They saved me from Anila-“
“And then held you captive, aye. Boy, they’re bad news.”
“Dad always said about the aftereffects of the war,” Lauren said, then took a bite of her sandwich. “He traded with at least one refugee band though.”
“It’s bin well over two hundred years since the war. Ain’t refugees now; jus’ travellers livin’ off others,” Victor said, then took a massive bite of his own food.
Trip shrugged. “I don’t know. They seemed… nice. Matron Yohloh told me more about what’s going on than anyone so far.”
“Tell me more about the clone,” Lauren said, narrowing her eyes at Trip.
“The thing that looked like Father Hork. I’ve heard about similar ideas; the SIC, during a very dark period of its history, dabbled with the idea of creating flesh made just for serving. It was thought they could be trained to do one thing, not capable of proper thinking or feeling. They called them clones.” She sat back in her chair. “It was a tremendous failure. There was some sort of accident; most of the clones escaped out into the mountains.”
“Big things, no eyes? Made of meat all the way through?”
“Yes, Victor; have you seen one before?”
He sniffed. “Killed one few years back, it was terrorising Marriot Farm. Mayor there paid me quite a bit to see it gone.”
Lauren shook her head. “Whatever the case, the SIC’s ruling council decreed that no further experiments in cloning should ever be undertaken. As far as I know, they never have.”
“Until now,” Victor said.
It was Trip’s turn to shake his head. “No. This is different. It wasn’t flesh; they said Quinary-“
“Quinary?” Lauren sharply interjected, leaning forward. “That was what they called it?”
“No, it introduced itself like that. Why?”
She licked her lips and sat back again. “Something. Nothing; carry on with your story.”
Trip looked at Victor, who shrugged.
“Ok then. Well, Quinary didn’t seem to need food or water, or anything; he had been there for ages and he looked just like he’d woken up that moment, no beard or sign of tiredness. They said he was plant-based life. And he spoke. Talked with me.” He sighed. “I didn’t learn anything though. It was all riddles, nothing useful. They said they’d been interrogating him off and on for years.”
“They was prob’ly lyin’, boy. Gargorians, ‘member.”
Trip frowned but decided to let this one slide.
“Well, we’re not going to solve much sat around here,” Lauren said. “Trip, let’s get you bedded down somewhere.” She stood up and dusted her lap off, then took a candelabra and headed for the stairs.
Trip looked at Victor. “Is everything going to be ok?” he asked.
Victor looked at him for a long moment. “Everythin’s ok,” he said at last. Trip held his gaze, then turned to follow Lauren.
She was already upstairs and turning a bed down for him. The place was made up as if to be lived in, but from their cursory search it looked like Rennin had been absent for more than a week.
“There,” Lauren said, patting the pillow. She stood to one side and smiled at Trip. He smiled back, thinking how tired and somewhat older she looked, and then he hugged her again.
“Were you… was it terrible, in jail?”
Lauren was silent for a moment, then said “At first. They put me in a cell with another woman. There was some… unpleasantness. On both sides. In the end they put me in with Victor.” She paused, then said “Things got a little better after that.”
They hugged for a moment more and Trip felt himself relaxing in her warm, comforting presence. She gently disengaged his arms and manoeuvred him onto the bed. He kicked his sandals off and swung his legs up, still dressed in his habit. It was suddenly more effort than seemed necessary to even move, let alone take his habit off. And besides, he reasoned, Lauren was a lady and it wasn’t right.
He yawned and closed his eyes, expecting sleep to come down like a tonne of bricks. He heard Lauren make a small noise, then creep away over the boards.
For a long time he heard the buzz of her voice and Victor’s talking downstairs; with his eyes closed, warm and safe in the bed, he could almost imagine that he was back in the monastery surrounded by his family. With a smile on his face he drifted off into a dark and dreamless sleep.