Dollar Dreadful Vol 1:
A Tangle of Shadows
by M. L. Hart
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- Gaea Parallaxis -
- the chronicles and testaments of Citizen No Name Kane -
- Chapter Two -
What’s in a Name.
As I woke, I became conscious of a warm mass weighing heavily on my chest. Groggily I opened my eyes and saw that it was a relatively small black cat, but one with a rather disproportionately large stomach. It was staring at me with what appeared to be nothing less than utter contempt.
"Hello kitty.” I said; wondering where it had come from for the door was still closed. “What’s your name?”
It lay sphinx-like with all four paws gathered under itself and it’s long tail wrapped close on its left side. The end of that tail began to flick as if to show the beast’s annoyance at the fact that its warm comfortable cushion was now awake and that it would probably have to move soon.
“She’s called Missus Moo.” A woman’s voice answered from my left. “Be careful moving her though, she has a nasty habit of lashing out when not happy... and she holds a grudge.”
I looked over to the armchair past the left-hand bedside cabinet. A young woman sat there with her legs stretched out and with what appeared to be quite a chunky and rounded pod-like laptop held open in her lap, the soft light from its screen bathed her face in a faint blue luminescence. I estimated she was in her twenties, her dark, rich auburn hair only partially obscured a fresh youthful face contradicted by big but darkly serious green grey eyes. Her features weren’t what you would call classically beautiful, if you buy into that sort of thing, but her aesthetic had a certain brooding charm that definitely appealed to me. She was wearing a similar robe to the others but in a dark green.
“Who are you?” I blurted rather bluntly, causing an internal cringe of embarrassment... at least I hoped it was internal. The idea of civility tends to only manifest itself in my head after the first cup of tea, some marmalade on toast and a good smoke… preferably followed quite rapidly by a cup of black coffee and another smoke. Only then am I ready to face the world and exchange sociable niceties.
“I’m Sister Arranwen Foxfire.” she replied. “Who are you?” Her retort was lightened by the suggestion of a half smile and a quizzically raised eyebrow that courted familiarity. I stared at her dumbfounded for a second or two before remembering that I did not, in fact, remember my name.
Sitting upright and closing the robust little computer, she broke the awkward silence by explaining that it was she who had found me on the moors three days ago.
Three days ago! I marvelled that I had been unconscious that long. It was she who had gone for help and it was she that was responsible for my present state of health. As opposed to the more likely state of death that I would have been in - if she hadn’t happened by… the disquieting thought lingered disturbingly.
“I cannot thank you enough,” I said trying not to dwell on the possibilities, “but do you know anything of how I ended up being there in such a condition?”
“I assumed thieves or robbers had left you for dead.” She replied. “Do you remember nothing? Not even why you were out on the moors in the first place… or where you were going?”
I shook my head glumly. She appeared genuinely concerned… or at least curious. I suppose its not often that you find an adult who doesn’t know their own name. I could certainly recall reading or hearing about such cases of memory loss but its not the sort of thing you imagine happening to yourself. I was always under the impression that in actuality such cases involved only partial memory loss – usually due to a trauma of some sort, psychological or physical. My loss of memory has certainly wiped out all recollection of the near past; but also, it seems, of all personal details – family, friends and acquaintances, my home, my job – if I had one… all of it gone. And yet, I seemed to have a foggy perception of numerous cultural references, Judi Dench the actress for example, I remember her... or at least I thought I did. Sister Judi obviously didn’t seem to have the same reference as I; she was plainly unaware of the actress who almost shared her name... so maybe it was me that was in the wrong, mistaken... or just confused?
Unable to face my own problems just yet I focused on Arranwen. Missus Moo seemed to have settled down again on my chest, confident that her throne was safe for the time being. “So, em... what’s with the ‘Sister’?” I enquired. “Is this some sort of religious order?”
“Religious?” She seemed offended and added with barely suppressed indignation, “Certainly not! This is a Priory training college for Secularics and Sophiarics... we are more concerned with rational – provable – truth and knowledge; not so much with random beliefs in unconfirmable philosophised abstracts and metaphors.”
I stared at her blankly; I was getting the notion that I would be doing quite a lot of that in the near future. It seemed that every other conversation I was going to have would leave me with more questions than answers. I asked cautiously, “Forgive me, but... em, what are secularics and – what did you say – sophiarics?”
“Wow...” she said, “are you serious? You really have lost your memory haven’t you? They are the cornerstone of our culture… of civilisation. Secularics are the guardians of knowledge and the Sophiarics are the seekers truth.”
Her facial expression implied that this should be self-evident. To tell the truth I was just relieved that they appeared to be non-religious – though I still needed convincing of that, they appeared to have the trappings of at least a quasi-religious sect or something. Of course I don't have a problem with people believing what they believe, that's human nature – we all have deeply held beliefs about the world we live in. It's the people who want to tell others what they should and shouldn't believe in that I have a problem with. I just don’t understand how supposedly intelligent people can be so ignorant as to believe that religion is anything other than a fascist’s way of controlling the population and keeping them as little more than slaves. It brainwashes the masses into an unquestioning life of toil and drudgery with only the promise of a better life after death to look forward to. Meanwhile the very human and most definitely none divine religious hierarchies reap the benefits of power and wealth. It makes me sick to the stomach. They are all crazy cults as far as I'm concerned.
Before I could sit myself up I scooped the cat with both hands as best I could and lifted her from my chest. She still somehow managed to get a number of needle sharp claws hooked into the blanket that luckily covered my chest. I struggled a bit as I sat up but eventually her claws withdrew as she realised the fight was lost and that her bed meant business. Swinging my legs round to sit on the edge of the bed I plonked Missus Moo down onto the floor. The surprisingly heavy animal stood there a good few seconds absolutely stock still, before embarking on a furious bout of licking her back left paw, which she had suddenly thrust, with spread-eagled pads, straight up into the air.
With my head in my hands I watched the small feline through my fingers before looking up and asking Arranwen what time it was… “In fact, what day is it?” I added. “I’ve totally lost track.”
She flipped her small laptop open and peered briefly at the glowing screen. “It’s nine thirty-two, Solsday... the tenth.”
“Okay...” I said, trying not to sound too surprised or ignorant. “The tenth?” My mind was in turmoil – she certainly didn’t seem to be taking the piss and she was now looking at me with a puzzlement that matched my own.
“What do you mean by... oh-kay?” She said.
“It just means...” It was my turn to pause, thinking about the complexities of the term and its many uses dependant on context. “It means, I see – I understand... or, all right... you know – like, cool n’ stuff. It’s an Americanism.” She was now looking even more puzzled so I told her that it really didn’t matter. I was beginning to think it wasn’t just my memory that I’d lost but my entire mind also. I decided to change the subject.
“What have the police said about it... about what happened to me. I’m assuming they’ve been informed... and why aren’t I in hospital?” Grammar was not at the top of my list of priorities at that moment and although I disliked hospitals with a passion, I find the places so depressing, I knew at least that I should probably be in one.
Arranwen sported a strangely compelling expression of bemusement. “Well...” she said slowly, “police I think I understand, and yes the constabulary of the Watch have been informed.” But then she said an even more astonishing thing, deadly serious and genuinely curious. “What is hospital?” For a brief second she looked at me with an expression similar to how I would look at a Martian trying to sell me insurance.
I was tempted to just say forget it, but I found myself trying to explain. “Hospital... you know, a hospital – where you go when injured or sick... nurses and doctors an’ shit. They look after you, heal you... or you get surgery done...” I was babbling of course, but I think I was entitled.
“I see.” She said. “Like an infirmary... we have one here. It’s where we tended your wound.” She pointed to my forehead.
“Yes!” I stated, relieved to get past that little hurdle, then confirmed, “An infirmary.”
The door then opened, it was Sister Judi carrying a tray. The rich, delicious scent of coffee wafted in around her.
Missus Moo shot out of the room like the devil himself was at her tail.
Arranwen stood, her now closed pod-like computer swung to her side, it was on a shoulder strap crossed over her body. “I’ll see the seminary's Magister of the Watch,” she said, “and ask him about getting you some identification papers… though without a name that may be a problem.”
“Okay.” I said, then immediately remembered the phrase meant nothing to her and added, “I mean – all right, thanks.” Though little of what she had said meant much to me either.
As Sister Judi put the breakfast tray on the desk, and as I eyed the mushroom omelette, toast, orange juice and the coffee that it held, Arranwen made to leave but first suggested that, if I felt up to getting dressed, I look in the chest of drawers and the wardrobe for some clothes. I thanked her again as she walked out the door.
“How are you doing this morning?” asked Sister Judi.
I smiled, “I still don’t remember anything, but otherwise I’m o–” I stopped myself mid okay and instead said “– I’m feeling a little better now.”
“Very well.” She said. “I’ll leave you to your breakfast, is there anything else you need?”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, proffering her my best cheeky smile before adding “I probably shouldn’t, but I could really do with a smoke – especially after this fine breakfast you've brought me. Any chance of getting some baccy?”
“Is it tobacco you want?”
I nodded affirmation and said “Please.” I was sure my head would feel so much better with a bit of nicotine on top of the caffeine I was about to consume.
“I’ll see what I can get.” She said, smiling conspiratorially. She picked up the tray left over from supper, and said, "I'll bring some when I come back for the breakfast things."
Wow, I thought, that was painless – I was sure that I’d get a lecture... probably will if she brings me some though... no smoking in public spaces, etcetera, etcetera.
I thanked her and she too left. I demolished the breakfast in no time at all and, still a little shaky on my feet, I checked out the wardrobe. The double doors opened to reveal that it was packed with what looked like new clothing. Every item of which was black. Interesting, I thought, a little puzzled. Black trousers, black tops, black robes and even a long black heavy overcoat to go over the robes. All very well made, I had to say. Boots also... and in my size too. I then quickly checked the chest of drawers; it was packed with black socks, white underwear and white tee shirts... oh, and some towels and a bath-robe – all in white. Talk about a strict dress code, this place was unbelievable. I idly wondered if every one wore the same underwear beneath their variously coloured robes.
I quickly washed my face and attempted to tame my hair with water at the washbasin. A little cupboard beneath the basin housed spare toilet roll, soap, flannels, a cut-throat razor, a pair of scissors and... yes! – an electric hair trimmer, with a variety of different sized comb attachments. After realising that there was no cable, and in fact nowhere to plug it into anyway, I flipped the switch and it buzzed away merrily under its own power. I buzzed my head hair – very gingerly near the wound to my cranium – to about five millimetres and my beard to about three. I then, again very gingerly, did a bit of shaping with the cut-throat. I almost looked human again. I changed my underwear and, after overcoming the alarm at some of the nasty bruises my body displayed, I dressed myself in black, though I refrained from wearing a robe.
Now, I thought, lets see what goodies are in the desk. Paper, pens, pencils, paper-clips... the usual detritus – but wait... in the largest lower drawer another result. A computer like the one Arranwen was using.
Placing it on the desktop I managed to flip the machine open after a little fumbling. It switched itself on as the screen was revealed and immediately displayed a cryptic message at me.
Welkom tü yaur Didji-Pod!
Yaur Pursonal Didjital Informeashun and Komyunikeashun Portal.
Pliyz enteu yaur Niamz and Kliyarens Koad.
Beneath this was then a series of boxes awaiting typed input, presumably by me... or whoever else opened the machine.
I was staring at the screen somewhat nonplussed when Arranwen returned.
“Ah, you’ve found a didji-pod...” she said. “Excellent, I’ve got you a special dispensation – It will act as your identity papers till we find out what your real name is.” She waved a piece of paper at me.
“A special dispensation?” I asked. “What does that mean... a dispensation for what?”
“Well,” she said, “first of all it means you can access that, and any other, didji-pod." She pointed at the machine on the desk. "Second, it means you can now leave the grounds of this Seminary with official identification and you won't run the risk of arrest.”
“Arrest?” I exclaimed. “Arrest for what – not remembering my name?”
“Well... yes. If you don’t have a name, you don’t have a verifiable identity and are therefore not a confirmed citizen. Surely you remember that?”
I hoped my blank face answered her question sufficiently.
“Well – no matter. You have a name now... of sorts.” She didn’t seem entirely sure.
So I asked what the catch was, for there obviously was one.
“Well...” she began with the air of someone about to tell a person that their favourite pet was going to be put down, “you must appreciate that we've never encountered this problem before, you know – someone who doesn't know their name, the Magister reckoned it was totally unprecedented – but technically you now have a name, unfortunately it has to be No Name.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, quite reasonably I thought.
“Every citizen has four verifiable names.” She began what was obviously going to be a long explanation. “They have a birth name, given to them at birth, usually by their parents... obviously, we don’t know yours – so, because a birth name cannot be changed, that has had to go down as Unknown – for now, and for the purposes of your dispensation. Luckily we don’t use birth names very much – usually just for identity verification. Second we have your citizen name, which is usually chosen by an individual at the age of sixteen when they become a full citizen – but can be changed at the age of twenty-one if the individual so chooses. Unfortunately you are neither sixteen nor, I'm assuming, twenty-one – so you can’t pick or make one up now. I’m afraid you’re stuck with what the dispensation allows till we find out your real citizen name, according to the Magister it has had to go down as the default No Name. Now, until we find out your true identity, this is the first name you will have to use if anyone asks... its the law I’m afraid.”
“You’re shittin' me... right?” I said, convinced this was going to be an elaborate joke. “You are shitting me – aren’t you?” I couldn't believe it... I felt like asking why No Name and not Unknown like the previous one... but then I thought, what would be the point... what actual difference would it make anyway?
She entirely ignored my little outburst and continued. “The third name is again not one used very often, just for verification purposes, but again it can never be changed, so has to go down as Unknown for now. It's your maternal name, which is the maternal name of your mother and of her mother before her and so on. The fourth name is what's known as your dynastic name. As a child this is the same as your father’s dynastic name, but once you reach the age of sixteen you can change it to what-ever you wish, whenever and however many times you wish just so long as it is legally recorded that you did so. Which means you have the option to pick one now if you wish, to be used as your general surname... any ideas?”
I stared at her. “So I have to actually use the name No Name... is that what you’re telling me?”
“With the addition of a dynastic name of your choice... yes.”
To be quite honest I was dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to think let alone say. You can always rely on a bureaucracy to deal with unforeseen or unanticipated circumstances by throwing a totally random and ultimately inadequate solution at the problem.
“You’ll be known as Citizen No Name... something?” She added, by way of encouragement.
I mulled it over briefly, then figured – what did it matter? If it means I can get out of here and to a hospital or the police, then I can get back to normal everyday life where my memory has a better chance of being jogged, so to speak. Now, the matter at hand. A name I can put down on that stupid piece of paper. Citizen No Name... what?
The only surname that came readily to mind was Kane... as in – Citizen Kane, the Orson Welles movie. That’s it then, I thought, it’ll have to do. No Name Kane. It illiterates quite nicely too, so I told her “I’ll go with Citizen No Name Kane.”
“Kane?” she said. I nodded. “Great,” she continued, “now you just have to write it on the dispensation and then input it into the didji-pod."
She handed me the paper and a pen. The paper felt a little strange between my fingers, sort of waxy, like opaque acetate and much smoother and stronger than ordinary paper. I glanced at the writing upon it but saw that it was written in the same gobbledygook as that displayed by the didji-pod. “I’m sorry,” I said. “This means nothing to me – I can’t read it. Why is everything spelt so weirdly?”
“Weirdly?” she seemed surprised by my assertion. “It’s all in the standard form of the Common Tongue.” She took it back from my hand and looked it through as if nothing were out of place.
“To tell the truth I think the blow to my head has affected more than just my memory.” I said, sitting down on the bed. I could feel an anxious fear building within me again. “I think its given me some sort of dyslexia or something – all the words look strange… look, wrong.” I slowly shook my head and raised both hands, palms up, to emphasize how wrong they were.
“That’s all right.” She said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry – I’m probably rushing you. I’ll fill in the dispensation for you and then all your records are done… till we find out who you really are. Also – “ she waved the piece of paper at me, “you will be able to log in on the didji-pod with the names and clearance code given on here.”
I watched her fill in the dynastic name, as she called it, and couldn’t help but notice that the pen did not seem to leave a mark on the paper but that when each letter was finished a perfect representation of that letter appeared in a clear and crisp typeface.
I also noticed that the way she spelt Kane was Kian, but I didn’t have the strength to correct her – and anyway, it was probably me that was in the wrong, seeing as I couldn't seem to recognise any words or their spelling at the moment. I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes; my head was really starting to hurt again and the engulfing stars of shinning black were advancing in on me.
“Maybe you need a little more to eat?”
I could hear the concern in Arranwen's voice. “I'll be okay.” I said – forgetting it was a term she did not know. “I'm sorry, I think I just need to lay for a bit. I'm feeling a little... fragile – that's all.”
“I'll leave you alone for a bit.” She said.
I desperately wanted to ask her to stay... to hold my hand – but avoiding the dizzying oblivion, into which it felt like I was falling and tumbling backwards, was sapping my flagging concentration. My limbs and neck started to fit and spasm – causing my head to bob uncontrollably – the clenched teeth stilling of the distressing and involuntary jerking became the focus of all my straining effort.
The dreadful falling and fitting sensations eased and finally passed. Exhausted and confused, I opened my eyes and she was gone. I was alone. I had no idea how long I had lain there having a spaz-attack on the bed – I just knew it had been way too long for my liking.
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