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 Three -
A question of Time.
After lunch I was feeling much stronger. I’d had a smoke – Sister Judy bringing a pouch of vanilla-smelling tobacco with my meal. It smoked a treat in the pipe that she brought with it; she didn’t seem to have any idea what rolling papers were so I said I’d make do with the pipe. It had a long, thin and slightly curved stem, with a good round bowl at the end to pack the tobacco into. At the front of the bowl was a small button that, when clicked, sparked or heated a filament or something inside the bowl which ignited the tobacco. The pipe was made from some sort of Bakelite or ceramic, I’m not sure which; it felt light, but pretty solid, and it cooled the smoke like a dream as I drew it through. I was smoking just beyond the door to my cell and trying to take in the scene that confronted me there.
I was beginning to suspect that something a lot more serious had happened to me than I had previously realised. I was actually beginning to wonder if I had somehow been transported forward in time. Now, I know that time travel is a pretty heavy concept to just throw in there at the end of an otherwise perfectly harmless sentence, and I’m sure that you, the reader, are probably rolling your eyes at such an unlikely possibility. I know I would. I’ve always been of the opinion that time travel, although a preposition that does have appeal, is essentially an impossibility. It can’t, and frankly never will, happen. It’s a pure fantasy that belongs only in so called speculative fiction, a grandiose MacGuffin designed to allow the exploration of certain paradoxes that can never really happen – the ultimate wouldn’t it be weird if scenario. You know the kind of thing... a guy goes back in time, accidentally kills his own grandfather, inadvertently marries his grandmother… and then fathers his own mother – or some other such nonsense.
The past is the past, it’s history and a matter of record – done and dusted so to speak. You can’t change what has already happened. Having said that, the future, I must concede, is unexplored territory and is by no means set. We are all time travellers to some extent, hurtling through time toward the future for the span of our lives. But the only direction possible is most definitely forward. The question is, can we accelerate or jump from one time to another, can we get beyond our natural time span… say by some form of stasis or hibernation? I have to admit that I was seriously considering whether I had been in a coma like sleep for decades if not centuries. Has time marched ever onward while my comatose body-clock slowed to a slumbering snails pace?
Of course, common sense soon came knocking at the door of my wildly speculating imagination. There is no way I could have survived for decades, let alone centuries, up on the moors, laid out and naked like I was, exposed to the elements – I would have surely died. No, I was probably up there a matter of hours if not, the more likely, minutes before Arranwen found me like that. It occurred to me that the simple fact of my memory loss could account for an apparent jump forward in time. Maybe I had simply forgotten the last few decades or so, causing the illusion that things had moved on without me and that I had travelled in time.
I supposed it was more likely than the other option that had occurred to me, that some mad scientist type had cryogenically frozen me for a number of decades, had thawed me out, then dumped me on the moors as part of some dastardly plot to take over the world. What can I say… I’ve got a vivid imagination – either that or the baccy I was smoking was mixed with something a little stronger. Thinking about it, I did have a bit of a buzz going on… and I did feel a little light-headed.
But enough of the wild speculation, back to the matter at hand. Immediately through the cell door, there opened up a long cloister that stretched to the left and right. It looked out over a large, about a hundred meter square or so, open-air quadrangle that housed an ornamental tree garden with a substantial and quite spectacularly statuesque – from what I could see through the trees – fountain at its centre. This quadrangle was enclosed on all four sides by three levels of convincingly Gothic, late medieval cloistered walkways, at the ground level beneath me, at the first-floor level on which I stood and at the second floor level above. I estimated that each level could probably accommodated a hundred or so cells like the one in which I had awoke. Above the highest cloistered walkway a steep angled roof darkly glistened and shone in the late autumn sunshine. From what I could see it appeared to be entirely covered in solar panels. At the roof’s apex, at each of the two visible corners at least, there soared high, thinly tapering towers, apparently made of stone up to about a third of the way, the rest constructed of, or at least coated in, some smooth and blindingly white material. About fifty meters above the roof each tower was topped with an impressively huge wind-turbine, mounted on a rotating pedestal the aspect of which could turn to meet any prevailing wind. Very carbon-neutral, I thought. The full span of the turbine blades must have been at least seventy-five or eighty meters all told.
Now, as impressive as all that was, the thing that had me speculating madly about fanciful time travel scenarios, was by comparison a much smaller and relatively minor thing indeed. Below me was what appeared to be a robot tending the garden. It was humanoid in form if not necessarily in motion – unless your talking a slightly effete, double-jointed, gymnast who can rotate their head through three hundred and sixty degrees. Encased in a rigid white skin, it appeared to have fully rotating and pivoting joints at its elbows, wrists, knees and ankles, as well as at its hips and neck. It was quite eerie to watch and I found the whole spectacle surprisingly unnerving, I kept expecting to see the thing topple over but somehow it managed to keep its centre of gravity balanced and remain the right way up with fluid, almost balletic, grace. The only facial feature that I could see were a pair of over-sized black or mirrored, lens-like eyes; as far as I could tell its face was otherwise smooth and blank though there appeared to be two antenna like ears, one on each side of its head. Across its chest was a red graphic forming some kind of rectangular logo with writing beneath, I couldn’t quite make out what it said though.
The robot was raking leaves and collecting them into a large bin, it was more or less winning a battle with the chill blustery wind that kept gusting and whipping at the raked piles that the machine had so carefully formed before attempting to scoop them into the bin. Not only did the robot have the wind to contend with, but Missus Moo seemed to be doing all she could to thwart its efforts. Though the cat would freeze in its stalking tracks if the machine were to look in her direction, as soon as it turned away she would pounce, sometimes onto a freshly piled mound of leaves and sometimes at the rake if it came too close. Occasionally she would even leap and swipe at the robot’s ankles with her pin sharp claws. The robot seemed largely oblivious to the cat, but a couple of times I would swear that it, almost playfully, nudged her away. This would just seem to make the cat even more determined to wreak havoc with the robot’s efforts at leaf collecting.
I watched the machine’s hampered progress for about fifteen minutes before Arranwen approached along the cloister.
“What year is it?” I asked, as casually as I could, while tapping out the spent ashes of tobacco from the pipe.
“What year?” she smiled. “It's ten fifty-five… why? What year did you think it was?”
I had to think about that. It was an extremely good question and one that I didn’t have an immediate answer to. I desperately tried to remember any time related events that I could pin down to a particular year… I remembered that there was a scare over the year two thousand – the millennium bug and all that. And I remembered the attack on the Twin Towers in New York… and then the London bombings a little later… but I had to admit that the years were a little hazy. Let me think, the Twin Towers… that was nine eleven – the ninth of November – no, the eleventh of September that was it – bloody Yanks, always having their dates the wrong way round… don’t they know the only logical order is day, month, year. But anyway, what year was the Twin Towers attack? Two thousand and two…or was it two thousand and three? And the London bombings… when was that? A couple of years later maybe… no, it was no good – I gave up. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I have to admit… I have no idea what year I think it is. I'm pretty sure we're in the two-thousands – I think. But more than that… I couldn’t tell ya.” I shrugged.
“Two-thousands?” she said. “Well, I can assure you that the year is most definitely ten fifty-five… and the day is the tenth of Fogmonth.” Before I could question what month Fogmonth might be, she added “It’ll be Hallowtide soon.”
“Hallowtide?” I asked. I was clearly going to have to start writing down a list of words I needed explaining.
“Yes.” She said. “The festival of remembrance. Do you not remember… Hallows Eve, Hallows Day and the Day of the Dead?” she questioned, clearly trying to aid my memory by stating what, at least to her, was obvious. She continued “It marks the end of autumn and the beginning of the winter quarter.”
Hallows Eve, I thought. Meaning Halloween presumably… so that’s it – they’re neopagans – I knew there’d be a religious angle somewhere along the line. But then, I reasoned, by the same token you could say that I was Christian because I celebrate Christmas… which of course I do… sort of – I eat lots, drink too much and enjoy receiving presents… like every other member of western civilisation. It doesn’t mean I believe that Jesus was the son of God… or even that he ever existed – which I certainly doubt very much. And any-way, what am I saying? Halloween is simply a contraction of All Hallows Eve – the day before All Saints Day – it is Christian too. Samhain is the pagan festival. Now, how or why I knew that, I have no idea.
“What calendar are you using for it to be the year ten fifty-five?” I asked with a laugh that I tried not to make too derisory. The only other calendar that I could think of was the Muslim calendar, which I was fairly sure would make it fourteen hundred and something. The years of the Christian world were counted from the supposed time of Christ’s birth… Anno Domini and all that – and that of the Muslim world was counted, I believe, from Mohammed’s. So I added “What birth or event marks the beginning of this era?” Then clarified “What happened one-thousand and fifty-five years ago?”
Arranwen looked at me with a genuinely shocked expression. “We are living in the Common Era.” She said. “The era of enlightenment… beginning when Edgar the Good, the last king of Umbria, abdicated his throne and abolished the monarchy. He founded the first of the Free Commonwealth territories right here in Umbria. He founded the Priory… he is the Father of the Free, the Enlightened One. How can you not know this…” seeing the bewilderment that must have been evident in my face she then softened her countenance and smiled as if to a child, saying matter-of-factly, “– in many ways it seems as if you were born yesterday.”
I wasn’t sure if that last comment was meant to be a joke… I failed to see the funny side if it was… I was way too confused and not for the first time I found myself dumbfounded, not sure at all what to make of my situation.
“So,” Arranwen said after an uncomfortable pause, “do you feel up to taking a look at where I found you?”
“I think so.” I said, I was feeling tired again and was beginning to descend in to one hell of a downer, but I was keen to see if the trip would jog my memory at all. “How far is it?” I asked.
“Its about an hours walk, but we should probably ride – I’m not sure if a two hour walk there and back would be too punishing for you a the moment… and if there are bandits about we don’t want to be caught on foot.”
I couldn’t help thinking that bandits were pretty unlikely in this day and age, but then I remembered that I didn’t know much at all about this day – let alone the age.
“Ride?” I quizzed. “On horses you mean?” Having never ridden a horse before, or at least if I had – I didn’t recall, the prospect was both exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
Arranwen laughed. “I wish.” She said. “I would love to be able to ride a real horse, but no… we will have to make do with equinoids.”
“What’s an equinoid?”
“What’s an equinoid?!” she repeated, “why its an equine model droid of course.”
“Oh… of course.” I said, rather sharply. “– silly me.” I wasn’t entirely convinced that she wasn’t fooling with me, and was beginning to get a little hacked off at her increasingly patronising tone.
“I’m sorry,” she placated. “I keep forgetting – I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose your memory, but I’m trying to understand.” The sincerity of her smile was quite beguiling, so much so that I couldn’t remain hostile to her, but the smile was quickly replaced by a much more serious countenance. “We’ll need some protection though,” She said, “just in case.”
“Em… okay.” Was all I could manage in reply to that, for I was unsure as to what she was referring to and I didn’t particularly want to put my foot in it by asking more stupid questions. The first thing that came into my mind when she said protection was a condom and I’m assuming that’s not what she was referring to. I must be coming across as a right idiot, I thought.
“I am afraid you will have to wear one of the black robes though… especially outside of the Seminary. It marks you as a lay attendant to the Priory – as stipulated in your dispensation.”
The dispensation was currently folded into quarters and residing in my back pocket. Arranwen had told me to carry it at all times in case I was ever asked to verify my identity. Which apparently seemed a distinct, and probably regular, possibility. I thought about whipping it out and checking the small print for any other little surprises I might have signed up for, but then I thought – What’s the point, I can’t even read the stupid thing anyway.
Arranwen followed me back into my cell where I put on one of the robes from the wardrobe. “What’s the significance of the different coloured robes?” I asked, trying to mask my discomfort at having to wear the habit like garment, it was way too much like fancy-dress for my liking.
“The blue robes are for ordained Secularics and the green ones are for ordained Sophiarics. Novices of the Priory all wear brown robes, while the Elders get to wear a particularly fetching blood red.” She flashed one of her cheeky half smiles at me. “The black robes are specifically for non-ordained assistants, advisors and attendants employed – like yourself, by the Priory. It’s a great honour that gives you the fullest protection and support that the Priory can offer.”
My eyes literally lit up… well, I’m pretty sure that they widened anyway – and, if it was possible, my ears would’ve pricked up too… all at the mention of the word employed. “So, technically, I’m employed by the Priory you say?” I asked. “Is there any kind of remuneration with that?”
“Well… of course every citizen receives a minimum living allowance, twenty-three credits a day is the current rate. Being an attendant to the Priory does get you certain perks however… your food and board for starters.”
“All citizens receive an allowance?”
“The welfare of its citizens means the welfare of the state…” she stated earnestly, as if quoting a memorised sound-bite from some socialist political manifesto. “And of course half of everything earned, gained or otherwise accrued over that minimum goes back to the Commonwealth.”
“Oh of course.” I said, thinking that a tax of fifty percent seemed a little steep for my liking. I decided to put on the overcoat also, it was a chilly autumn day so would be freezing up on the windswept moors. And anyway, the duster style overcoat was slightly cooler looking than the robe it would hide. I had no desire to look like a second rate Jedi wannabe at some lame Star-Wars convention.
Twenty-three credits? I thought. It didn’t sound like much, but then I had no idea how much a credit was worth. “Twenty-three credits… is that like twenty-three pounds?” I asked.
“Twenty-three pounds of what?” She replied.
“Oh… em – never mind.” I said. “How is it paid… cash, or cheque? Or is it paid direct into my bank account – ‘cause if it is, I can’t even remember what bank I’m with let alone my account number.” I realised that I was probably coming across as entirely mercenary but frankly it was true. I must never have been one to romanticise poverty – for even with no memory I knew enough to reason that being poor sucks – big time!
“I don’t know what cash or cheque is…” she said, “but a credit account was set up when we registered your ID. Your credits should be deposited there each day, at least they will be ‘til we find out your real identity. You can withdraw your credits from any bank, as Sovereign coins or credit-slips, if you really want to – but unless you’re planning to travel into the Wilds there is little need to do so, your Clearance Code is all that is needed by most vendors… certainly within the territories of the Free Commonwealth.”
My, at the moment still imaginary, list of things to ask, was only getting longer by the minute – I really must try to write them down before I forget any of them. Arranwen led me out of the cell, turning right we went along the cloister to the nearest corner of the large quadrangle where stairs led us down to the ground floor.
“Along there,” said Arranwen in passing, pointing along the ground floor equivalent of the cloister that housed my cell, “are the shower rooms, kitchens and communal areas for your block.”
We then set off across the garden toward the fountain at its centre. As we got closer to the robot, still raking leaves, I saw that the red writing across its chest said DA 12-15 in big fat letters; underneath, in a much smaller typeface, it said Domestik Androyd Twelv Fiftiyn. “Domestic Android Twelve Fifteen.” I read aloud. Maybe I’ll get the hang of this Common Tongue spelling crap after all, I thought. Or, am I just beginning to remember it?
Now that I had a chance to take a closer look at the robot, I could see that the skin was anything but rigid, it must be some kind of latex I surmised for it stretched as the machine moved. At least it did at the chest which was expanding and contracting at a good pace, almost like it was breathing very fast. I could now see that it’s face had a number of horizontal vents forming a triangular pattern in place of a nose and mouth, and wondered if this breathing process was to draw cool air in to keep its presumably powerful power unit and processor from overheating. It sounded like a very quiet and not so sinister Darth Vader... on speed.
Checking out the machine, up-close and personal so to speak, I saw that its right hand was missing, the left was of the five fingered human design, but the right seemed to simply be the rake – like it was an attachment of some kind. I wondered what other attachments it had… and whether it had a right hand at all, or just a series of attachments. For some reason I found the whole idea of attachments highly amusing… I imagined a room or shed somewhere with all these different tool and implement attachments; of the garden, kitchen and household variety – all lined up, perhaps with a couple of spare heads and other appendages… I chuckled to my self at the thought.
“Did you say something?” Arranwen asked.
“No, no…” I replied. “But, can I ask you something?”
“Of course.” She said.
“How long have you had a robot here? It must have been expensive?” I had a vague memory of the first robot that could fully walk properly on two legs. It was Japanese I think… what was it called? Asimo, was it? Something like that I’m sure. Compared to this thing though it had been quite dumpy looking and its movement totally ponderous.
She stopped and looked at the robot. “The droid you mean?”
“Yes… the droid. Was it expensive?”
“No, not really… it’s a pretty standard model, you know – a basic domestic. Nothing special.”
“Wow… really?” I was impressed.
“Sure, a year as an attendant and you’d probably be able to buy one yourself, if you really wanted to… and you were especially frugal with your credits.”
“Cool!” Was about all I could manage at that. My own personal robot, how fantastic would that be? Fantastic doesn’t even cover it. I think I’d call it Bob. “Since when have these been standard?” I asked as I followed her across the quadrangle, waving my hand in the general direction of the droid as it carried on with its mundane and menial task. Missus Moo was nowhere to be seen so had obviously given up her campaign of harassment.
“Well,” she said “this particular model, say about four or five years – its hardly the latest thing. The D-A twelve’s as a whole… they’ve been around about twenty years maybe – since I was a child anyway.”
“No way!” I said. “That can’t be right.” I was sure that I’d remember if robots like this were that common back then.
“Well it is.” She said. A church bell tolled in the distance. Arranwen paused, absently listening. I counted fifteen tolls before it ceased and then she spoke again. “I’m sorry, but we should be getting on… it’ll start getting dark in a few hours – we’ll want to get back before dusk.” She set off around the fountain and I followed her.
“You weren’t joking about the horse droids then.”
“The equinoids? Of course not – did you think I was?” She seemed slightly offended.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure of anything these days.” It wasn’t until this point that I had started to seriously consider the possibility that I may have somehow woken up in a parallel world of some sort. Too much seems to have changed. Too much was different. I know my memory loss totally complicates things, but I was becoming more and more certain that this world was not the same as the one I had been brought up in. I decided to not think about it too much, or at least to try and not do so, not until I was outside of this seminary and I had experienced a little more of the world outside. I was still not entirely convinced that this wasn’t some strange cult or other, and that I probably shouldn’t accept or believe anything I’m told here.
“We’ll get some weapons and then set off.” She said as I trailed her in silence.
My mind was in a turmoil – I couldn’t even begin to explain how confused I was feeling. Did she say weapons? I suddenly thought, slightly alarmed. Bloody Hell! I exclaimed silently to my self. If the robots are this advanced, what are the weapons going to be like? I had visions of ray-guns, light-sabers, plasma-rifles, photon blasters and the like… I didn’t know whether to be scared or excited so the two sort of melded into a nervous anxiety that set me totally on edge.
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