WARNING Strong language
Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorisms)
Romford Station. London. The air hangs heavy, a warm day without wind to move it. What was once a human body lies scattered across the tracks, dragged along with the halting train, carried with transferred momentum.
Nate is dead. Suicide. The screaming will start soon.
The steps that brought everyone here is evident in that frozen moment. The followers of the Order of the Harmonious Path are fleeing before Ryan Winters’ anger. Her position as London Transport police is her shield against their human threats, but has not helped her against the collapse of the world around her, nor prevented the loss of her closest friend Nate.
That is the second loss, the first, the vanishing of their colleague Dave, and subsequent arrival of a pretender wearing his face is what dragged them into the gaze of what they have come to know as the god machine, what has brought them here to this moment.
The moment is starting again, Sanjiv still muttering useless words of comfort to Ryan who stands gazing at the train, expression cold and distant. The brakes screeching, sparks flying. Everyone is looking now, the commuters white faced in shock, not yet taking in what they have seen, the impact of train on fragile human flesh and organs.
The screaming has still not started
Gwil, servant of the Order of the Harmonious Path, and strange ally to Ryan and Sanjiv, lies concussed and bleeding out on the ground, beaten to within an inch of his life by Nate, that realisation of what he had done seemingly what triggered Nate’s suicide. Gwil’s life’s wish has been to be accepted by the cult, to not be invisible, and as he mutters pained whimpering to himself he realises what a monkeys paw that wish has turned out to be.
Screams fill the air. Oscillating sounds of the turning of wheels emit, rising from the gaping mouths of a half dozen commuters, rising amidst white noise.
Ryan spins around, her frozen features now turning to hate as she steps towards Gwil, ready to vent her anger, ignoring Sanjiv’s urging of calm.
Above them a seagull stutters in the air, its actions repeated in stop motion, suspended for a moment before wheeling away. Gwil reaches his hand out, seemingly pleading at Ryan, but instead reaching at a figure only he can see. A guardian angel of sorts, the inhuman Child of all Sins. It stands, as such, a tree, impaled up through a human child. Insects rummaging around hollowed out genitalia, braches reached out from its flesh as if fingers. It is inhuman, nothing close to human compassion, nor intelligible reason, but for some reason it has made a pact to keep Gwil alive. Yet here and now it cannot reach them, held back by some other force.
The sound of oscillating screams merges with the sound of brakes, deafening tinnitus echoing out. The pitch rising, and Ryan, Sanjiv, and Gwil realise that they are the only ones moving, or at least moving normally.
The world is in slow motion, they can see clearly the train passing by as it comes to a half, coffee cups tumbling end over end within its carriages, the globules of liquid hanging in mid air. Faces looking out of windows, both nigh unmoving.
Skidding down to Gwil’s side Sanjiv tries to apply pressure, to keep the lifeblood from spilling from his cracked skull. Turning to Ryan he says “Do you hear that?”
Ryan pauses and nods slowly, there is a mocking call of a seagull in the middle of the deafening roar, though no seagull is now visible. The incongruity, the unusual situation makes her turn away from Gwil, to look for some sign of what is happening.
The world shifts and everything goes white. Sounds settling, becoming natural, white noise tumbling into the crashing of waves upon the beach. Seagulls returning, their cries normal, and now a tiled red floor lies beneath them. A grey sky shifts above, pushing cold sea air across them, snapping them wide awake with its almost freezing touch. A seagull flies off across the grey, and in its wake snow falls from the clouds.
They are sprawled across the terrace of a small British pub, the terrace overlooking a shale pebble beach from on high. Waves break across the shale less than a hundred yards away, a circular pub bench between them. To their eyes it seems nothing more than a quaint sea side town.
Sanjiv looks up at the standing Gwil, confusion in his eyes. Bare moments from death before, Gwil is now unmarked, hale and hearty. Able to breath without pain for the first time in days It takes Sanjiv a few more moments before he realises both his and Ryan’s injuries are equally departed. Ryan closes her eyes, trying to focus, taking in deep cold breaths of February frozen air.
A bell rings behind them, the sound of a door creaking open on its hinge.
“It’s a lovely view isn’t it”
Opening her eyes Ryan turns to see a elderly man, of early sixties years or so it seems, dressed all in white, pressed linen suit, white panama hat that caps off his five foot nine of height, the monotone colour scheme cut off only by a blood red handkerchief and tie. There is a gleam to his crystal blue eyes, matched by an aura of age and confidence. He places a tray on the table beside them, and indicates to four porcelain cups of tea upon them.
“There is something alluring about seaside towns at this time of year. They are redolent with memories, so different to the bustle of summer. That and the accommodation is cheap. I have been waiting a long time for you three. Let us have a chat about where you go from here, what your options are”
Ryan’s eyes narrow “Who are you?”
“That is not a question I have been asked in a considerable time. I am Control.
“Oh come on Ryan, you have been on the peripheral of the project for so long, bucked the trends. You have been part of this long enough to know.” Control indicates to the tea “Milk? Sugar? You will find them exactly to your liking”
Gwil glances at the cup and grimaces, tossing his cup from the table, to shatter upon the ground
A disappointed look passes Control’s face “I do hope you were not expecting it would return back to the table”
Sanjic and Ryan lift their cups of tea, nestling them in their hands. feeling the warmth seep into them, filling them. Sanjiv tentatively takes a sip, and feels it shield him against the cold, as if by the best thermal gear in existence.
“You! Gwil says, stabbing the air with his pointing finger “You are that thing. You, you have been ruining our lives”
“You have been doing a good job of that by yourself”
“Get out” Gwil says in a low growl “Get out, get out, get away from us right now”
Ignoring him Control continues “I am here to give you the options. You have come very far. very far indeed, but there is a choice to make. I am interested to see which way you will go. We can put you back, to resume your mission in Romford. You can continue to try and shut down our operations. Or…and I am quite proud of this interjection into the purpose…Well, let me explain. I believe you are motivated by the loss of your friend Mr Chigwell, and the tragic status of Nathan’s death ”
Unseen, Ryan’s hands clasp around the cup, knuckles whitening as they grasp so hard the cup nearly breaks.
“You see” Control continues “There is a way we can take you back to before all this began. We can give you an option where Nate is hale and happy with his family. Where Dave is home, before he finds that e-mail. We can make it that none of this happens. Or you can stumble through life. Mad. Alone. Hunted, just to continue on. The choice is yours”
The response is less verbal, and more violent as Gwil launches himself across the table, hands grasping for Control’s throat. Ryan’s attempts to hold him back are too slow, but still Gwil’s hands find nothing. Crashing bodily across the table, his arms flay over open air. Control stands, leaning against the entrance of the pub, as if he has always been there.
“Gwil, that is not frightfully becoming of you.”
“Fuck you. FUCK YOU. Fucking you, you fucking fuck”
“That is not a sensation I am accustomed to. Now, I am making a generous offer. I can put things back so it never happened, or you can continue on and sabotage the plant. If you do that though, your friends are dead, and you are wanted on charges of terrorism.”
Ryan pauses “Did Detective Grey get this offer as well?”
“Ah, Detective Grey. I would be very welcome for information that could help us track down Mr Grey. Very welcome indeed.”
“You can’t track him yourself can you?” Ryan smiles, thin lipped.
“Mr Grey is irrelevant, you should be more bothered by your own fate
“No, no, no, Control, it is very important. You see, you give us this offer, and give us the impression you are controlling everything but you don’t…”
“Control everything? No, I do not, nor do I profess to do so. I control what I have to. Mr Grey is outside that. This place here, this is just a loading stage, a sub system of reality. I am interesting in seeing what choice you make”
Ryan looks to Sanjiv, then to Gwil “I’m not going to try and make you decision for you. I’ve made my mind up though”
“Why do you care what we do?” Gwil says, frowning and angry.
“You interest me, because your future is not of your own choosing. Gwil, tell me, do you believe in free will”
Gwil snorts. “Of course not”
“I am interested as I want to test empirically if free will exists. You are anomalies, things have touched your life. There are millions and millions of threads of reality where there are other versions of you. Their lives are not like yours. You are the variables I cannot lock down, and I am interested on if this is a genuine change in the system we are studying. We need to know if free will genuinely exists and if you possess it. I don’t know which way you are going to turn. I haven’t been surprised in a very long time.” Control looks to Ryan, quizzically “After all, you did make us lose track of our most talented operative. What did he see in you.”
Producing a pipe, Control tamps it down and gesture “I have all the time in the world, don’t feel you have to rush”
Slipping a cigarette from its packed Ryan lights up and slips the cigarette into her mouth. Staring forwards stoically.
“So” Gwil starts “What if we choose different things, what do you do then, what if we don’t all agree for you?”
“You have to reach an accord”
Gwil laughs a bitter snide laugh.
“Or you could just kill the dissenter” Control says, causing an abrupt cessation of Gwil’s laughter.
Looking up at Ryan, Gwil growls “Right. Well go on then, You want your friend back. Why are you staying quiet, why don’t you just say it”
Sanjiv looks irate at this outburst, but Ryan just shakes her head “I can’t do it. I can’t just take that magic wand, wave it and make everything better”
“Of course you can. You can just take it and do my head in, and you have everything you..”
Ryan slams Gwil down, cutting him off. Shoving him hard against the bench “You don’t know a thing about me”
“Well” Sanjiv says “What would you do?”
“I want to take his choice and shove it up his arse” Gwil says
Control pouts in mock offence at Gwils outburst. “Think about it. About what I am offering. I’m offering you your life back and the slate clean”
“You offer the choice between a horror and a lie” Sanjiv says, his voice quiet
“My boy, your whole life has been a choice between a horror and a lie. You don’t even know which is which.”
“Yeah, well, all you are offering me is the choice between a life where I am overlooked or a life where it has gone to hell” Gwil spits “You offer me the choice between a horror and a horror. If you thought there was free will I could make a third choice”
Ryan takes out the cigarette, breathing out a cloud of smoke “You want to see if we will end our being an anomaly, if we go back to just being predictable actors”
“There exists infinite worlds where you have chosen to be reset back to the past, and infinite again where you have chosen to walk on, but none of them give any indication of what you will do here. You are anomalies, but ones that are necessary. We can learn a lot from your actions”
Ryan looks to Sanjiv “so, what are you thinking?”
“I have too many to process.” Sanjiv says with an honest shrug
Putting out her cigarette in the tea cup Ryan mutters “Fuck it. – I’m going on”
Control nods, “So, what guided you in that choice?”
“I didn’t want to litter”
A sigh emanates from Control “No, not that decision, why did you not choose to have Nate back?”
“Do I have to answer that question? ”
“No, but it would help if you would explain your thinking”
“Why would I be helpful?”
“You are full of surprises, always full of surprises”
Sanjiv looks around the area, touching the tables, feeling it beneath his fingers “Even if we were to return, we could trust nothing.”
“What makes you think you can trust things now? Maybe this is a honest offer?”
Sanjiv shakes his head “In the greater scheme of things what difference does it make what we choose?”
“It makes a difference to you and your friends”
Gwil looks up from where he has dragged himself, finally breaking from deep in thought “What happens…what happens if we go back there, Nate is standing, and I’m in front of the train”
“That isn’t the offer”
“THE OFFER IS A CHOICE” Gil shouts, yanking himself up against the bench “We are talking, that means this is a negotiation. THAT MEANS THERE IS ROOM FOR CHOICE AND I’M FUCKING CHOOSING”
“The offer is between two options, your suicide is not an option so far as you are here. If you want to go back and drink bleach then that is fine. Or did you hope I would make it easy for you?”
Gwil sags, as if his strings have been cut “Why would that ever happen in my life”
“Just think” Control says “You could have it back, your friends, as if you never came down this path”
“Creation” Sanjiv says, trying to remember back “Creation and destruction, in the end they are the same. The one is the everything, the Brahman. For everything that is created something is destroyed.”
Gwil waves his hand to the air. “Right. Ok, ok, I’ve decided”
Control smiles “I’m all ears”
“Your tea cup. pass it, Pass it to me”
“A demonstration” Control says, amused , as he passes over the thin china tea cup.
“You know what I am. An eater of other’s sin. that is what I do. If I go on, your sin is mine because I cannot stop you here and now” With that Gwil throws the brown liquid down his neck and swallows. “I have taken your sin, because I cannot stop you. Now send us fucking back to where we were”
“If you do the work of god then how can there be sin?”
“If there is no sin I have no purpose, now send us back”
“There is no purpose to you”
“What will be, will be” Sanjiv says, stepping between them “Send us back”
“Such a fatalist” Control says “and here I was trying to prove free will”
The beech fades away, as does control. The air warm and still around them, just outside Romford station. A police line cordoning off the area, as a swarm of blue uniforms try to enforce the cordon.
Amidst the sea of blue, a man in white suit and panama hat stands, “Well, I couldn’t keep you from your destiny” Lifting his hat, he throws a wink, gears and cogs turning on his head below the shadow of the brim of his hat. “I shouldn’t keep them waiting run along”
Ryan glances to the others “Come on. Move” and they start moving as quickly as they can to the Canal path, on the journey towards whatever lies at the end of this, wherever Dave Chigwell has been held.
They are just about down by the canal side when a shout echoes “Look. It’s him.” and the swarm of blue descends, Ryan and Sanjiv manages to slip away in the confusion, as the police force pile upon Gwil , dragging him to the ground “You’re nicked son”