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There was a man standing at the foot of the stairs talking to the proprietor. He was short, dressed in a black suit, a black trilby on his head. While they watched he took off the hat and ran a hand over his short hair before accepting a glass of water. They watched him drain it and hand it back, with his hat, to the proprietor.
“What’s going on?” Guy whispered. She half flicked her eyes at him, lips setting slightly, before fixing them on the newcomer again.
The man turned to face his audience. His face shone with sweat. He looked harried, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping the back of his neck.
“Brothers and sisters,” he said in a voice that was a surprise from his tiny frame. He didn’t speak loudly, and his head was bowed, but it carried. He took off his glasses, ran the handkerchief over his face and finished by rubbing the tip of his nose.
“Brothers and sisters,” he said again, straightening up now and looking out into the smoke. “So nice to see you all here again, some new faces as well.” He attempted a welcoming smile.
Guy looked over at Flick. She looked as if she were afraid to breathe, in case the man blew away with the smoke.
“Brothers and sisters,” he repeated again, shaking his head, “Brothers and sisters… Well, things are beginning, let me just say that. We are at the beginning. Or should I say the end? Perhaps it is both… Either way, beginning or end, these things, they begin and end with us. Soon we will find out what lies beyond the Dynamo.” At these words, Guy stopped breathing as well. “Of course, they tell us there is nothing after the Dynamo, that there is nothing but the Dynamo. They tell us that we won’t, that we can’t survive without it. But they tell us a lot of things, don’t they?”
He paused and peered through the gloom, “Don’t they?” A few voices murmured that they did. The man nodded.
“Yes, they do.” Then he sighed and stood looking at the floor for a moment, caressing his bottom lip before adding, “They never tell us why, though, do they? They never tell us what it is, exactly, we’re supposed to be afraid of. They just say, ‘It is death! What more do you need to be afraid of?’”
He smiled slightly, then shrugged, “I believe there are worse things than death. Maybe you don’t agree, maybe you do. But let me ask you one thing, whether or not you believe that to be so – whose death is it exactly that they are talking about? Hmm? Ours? Yours, mine, your children’s, your parents’? Let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, let me make it clear.”
He raised a finger and scanned the room, “It is theirs. Not ours – theirs. It is their world that will die with the Dynamo. It is their children, their parents, their wives and husbands. Not ours, theirs.” There were more murmurs now, louder, angrier.
The man nodded, and pushed his glasses up his nose, recalling his next step, “So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: is their world our world too? Is their world one where we can live our lives as we would like to, full of possibility and opportunity and the chance for love? I don’t know. Tell me. Is their world ours?”
There was silence in answer to this question but the man nodded again, to show he understood what they meant by this silence, “Sure, we are alive and, indeed, when the Dynamo stops we may lose that life but, let me ask you this – Is this life of ours really worth preserving?”
He was breathing a little heavier. He took out the handkerchief again and wiped his forehead, “If you believe we will die without the Dynamo, and let me tell you I do not believe that to be true because I do not believe those who say it is so. What have they ever done for us to foster such a belief? I don’t know what you believe but-”
“We believe in you!” shouted a man to Guy’s left, before falling silent and looking a little bit ashamed by his outburst.
The man smiled, “I don’t want you to believe in me, my brother, I want you to believe in that other world, a better one to follow after this. Do you believe?”
“Do you believe?” the short man called to the room at large now and more people shouted, then more, until the whole room was shouting and stamping. Guy looked over at her and she was shouting and stamping too. She looked like a spectator at the fights, the lust for blood and glory taking over.
The speaker held up a hand and silence drifted down like a falling leaf. He waited till it was complete before carrying on, “I know what I don’t believe. I don’t believe them. I know it is a lie when they say we will die without the Dynamo, I know it’s a lie because it is based on fear. It is a lie because it serves their interest only. It is a lie because it is their world that will die. It is their world, this world, that cannot survive without the Dynamo. Not because the Dynamo brings life, no, no, no, my brothers and sisters, that is not why their world cannot survive. Their world cannot survive for this one simple reason – The Dynamo brings control. Without that control, without that power it invests in them, THEY cannot survive. But we can. We will. We will more than survive when their world dies with the Dynamo. And do you know why it will die?” He looked from one to another to another as if waiting for them to explain. They all waited, hearts stopped for fear of missing the answer over the racket of their beating.
“It will die because our world will kill it. It will die because we will replace it with our own. It will die because the two worlds cannot survive side by side, because the beginning of our world is the end of theirs and the end of the theirs is the beginning of ours. One must consume the other. Our world must consume theirs. And, my brothers and sisters, this you can believe – our world is about to begin,” he finished almost whispering. Still, a power filled his quiet words, and the force of them spread through his audience, gently at first, then growing, slowly pushing until the weight became irresistible and the power of them burst out in shouting and stamping and anger and the speaker was engulfed in bodies of congratulation. It was little wonder they held the meeting so far out; the din that followed, had it been anywhere even semi-inhabited, would have brought overseers running. As it was they stomped and shouted and screamed and cheered until Guy thought they would never stop.
“The Dynamo is control. Death is liberation, either the liberation of this world or the liberation from it.” The basement had cleared but for the smoke, Guy, Flick and the speaker who clutched a glass of water as he spoke, “It is not, really, a question of belief, though belief helps. What this is, is a matter of having no choice.”
Up close the man who Flick had introduced as Rashford looked tired and unhealthy, the sweating more like a symptom of fever than from any exertion or heat.
“I have no choice,” Rashford continued, “You have no choice. None of us have any choice. For the people we love we have to risk it all,” he paused to sigh, “We even have to risk them. We have to risk everything so we can start again.”
“And who, exactly, is it you’re going to risk?” said Guy.
Rashford gave him a stern, almost angry look for a second, but then his face relaxed and he nodded and smiled his unconvincing smile, “I have a daughter and a son.” It wasn’t that his smile was fake, Guy decided, it was just that Rashford himself never really looked like he believed it. It was like he saw that something was supposed to be funny but wasn’t really amused. “We all love someone, even if it’s just ourselves,” he leaned forward across the table suddenly and spoke with an urgency, “Listen, Guy - can I call you Guy? We need you.”
Guy glared at Flick as the man spoke but she was carefully busy draining the dregs from her glass. He tutted, shook his head and turned back to Rashford. “With you we have an opportunity we’ve never had before, a chance we’ll probably never have again,” Rashford paused, waiting for a reaction. When he didn’t get one he said, “Think of your parents. Think on what they stood up for, what they did. They’re heroes to us, you know? So few tier-twos have ever fought for the rest of us. Even fewer have sacrificed themselves as yours did.”
Guy jumped a little when Flick took his hand in hers and he knew she was looking at him too, like Rashford was, waiting for an answer to a question he hadn’t been asked yet. He took his hand away without looking at her and saw a flicker in Rashford’s eyes, worried, perhaps even a little afraid. They had taken a big risk bringing him here. They were waiting to see if their gamble had paid off. Rashford shifted back in his chair and looked at Flick, as if casually, but Guy saw the seriousness in his expression.
“Nah,” Guy pushed his chair back and stood, “I… this is… Bye…” he threw a few coins on the table and headed for the stairs. Behind him he heard them exchanging hurried, quiet words, then her chair pushed back as she got up to follow him.
They walked back to his flat in silence.
“Please, Guy,” she said.
He gritted his teeth, taking off his jacket and hanging it on the back of the door.
“Don’t be like this, Guy.”
“Is that why you’re with me, then?” He had tried not to ask it, but he had to.
“No, it’s not like that,” she reached out but he stepped away, heading through to the kitchen.
He stopped and turned back, “And you thought I’d help you… do what, exactly?” He wanted to shout but he knew it was unwise to raise his voice. They built the walls thin on purpose. “Because he ‘needs’ me? For what? Eh? What does that… Why does he need me? What are you? A spy? Honey trap? Some kind of whore? Did he pay you to…”
She covered her ears with her hands, shaking her head, tears standing in her eyes. “What did you do? Heard about my parents, about me, look me up in the phone book and… Thought I sounded like a sucker so you could-”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Oh yeah? What was it like then?”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you.”
He didn’t want to believe her, but he did.
“You should stay away from those people,” he pointed at the door, through it, across Sun-Side, past the Plant, through Shade-Side to the smoke-filled basement room. “They’re insane.”
“They aren’t insane. You know they aren’t insane. And I can’t stay away from them.”
She shrugged, sniffing and wiping the corner of her eye, “Because he’s right. We have no choice,” she put her hand on his arm and looked up at him, “He’s wrong about you though – you do have a choice. You’re one of the few who do.”
She drew him to her, “You’re free to do what you want.”
“Get off me,” he pushed her away, unable to keep the disgust from his face, and headed back to the front door.
“Where are you going?”
“Fresh air,” he grunted, not trusting himself to get involved in a sentence, grabbed his bike and wrestled it through the door.
He cycled along the main thoroughfare towards the Plant, the street lights flickering above. He passed groups of tired pedallists coming home from work, he passed groups of tired pedallists going to work. He turned right at the crossroads and headed up towards the promenade. Pedallists weren’t welcome on the promenade. Here in the orange light, black boughs and leaves trembling above the lamps, he passed couples ambling arm in arm, people walking dogs or pushing prams along the path. He bore left, following a trail into the park, and headed towards the duck lake. The walkers became fewer, the wind rushed through him as he pedalled faster, the cold air stimulating his blood, his heart pumping faster, his mind starting to clear. He continued around the flickering lake and on into the darker depths of the park where the lamps in the distance seemed to float, and further still until they were barely specks. The light cracked in the tears forming in his eyes but he pedalled faster until his thighs burned and his nose ran and finally the weight of moving forward overcame his muscles and he slumped over the handlebars, the chain whirring when he stopped pedalling. His breath burned his throat all the way down into his lungs, as if the muscles of his larynx had been working as hard as those of his legs.
He slowed and slowed towards the next lamp, coming to a stop by the bench beneath it, almost tumbling off the bike. Taking a moment to get firm on his feet, he straightened up, puffed out a deep breath and, leaning the bike against the bin fixed to the bottom of the lamppost, sat down. He put his elbows on his knees, his head between his hands and stayed hunched like that for a long time, staring at the shadowed grass between his feet. He slowed his breathing until eventually he forgot about it. Fingers through his curled hair, he massaged his scalp for a time, then sat up, reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small notebook. From a breast pocket he took a pen, opened the book and sat staring into the park, pen poised, for another while. Finally, he wrote, squinting in the low light:
Abandoned quarter 5. Street 12. 2nd house from corner, opposite silo. Basement bar. Terrorist meeting place. Made contact with X5 — black man, 5’9, glasses, short hair. Was wearing suit. Attack im-
He stopped and looked down at the page. The words faded to a blur as his eyes slipped out of focus. He tore the page out, took some matches from his pocket and burned it. Turning to the back of the notebook he wrote the same again but stopped at was wearing suit and sat, pen millimetres from the paper, eyes slipping out of focus again. It was nearly half an hour before he put the pen away, adding nothing, and tore the new page out. This time he folded it up carefully until it was an inch long and a centimetre across, stood up and turned to the bin. He felt for the tiny gap under the metal ashtray set in the top of the plastic and slotted the note in, careful not to leave an edge in sight.
Getting back on the bike, he idled back the way he had come, not even aware of his route. At the flat he opened the door quietly, went in, undressed in the dark and got into bed slowly. She turned to him, still awake, and curled up against him. He held her to him and kissed her crown.
“I love you,” she said.
“You should stay away from those people,” he answered, and breathed in the smell of her hair.