Chapter Twenty Nine
"Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in
authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to
The church was close to empty. It was a large, spacious building
- its lofty roof supported by tall columns joined by intricately-
carved arches, the stained glass of its windows colouring the
The electric lights were dimmed, and so the pools of red, blue,
white and green light, undiminished by artificial cousins,
drifted slowly over the congregation in a slow-motion rock
concert as the vicar walked up to the pulpit.
The Reverend David Sessions was one of the new breed of young,
dynamic clergymen who had crossed into the Anglican Church from
the evangelical movement just before Wye had seized power. All
those of his generation, those who had chosen to remain in that
church after the Phaelon incident, were cast from a similar
The vicar reached the pulpit and lightly shook the tight, blonde
curls from his eyes as he looked down to address the seventeen
people who had gathered in worship.
"Brothers and sisters," he began, "The tyrant still exists. That
self-proclaimed Dictator rules our country, and what do we see?"
he asked, rhetorically, "What results can we see from the rule of
that Christ-hating tinpot Dictator?
"I'll tell you what results we see," he went on, "We see people
turning away from God. Turning away from Christ, and turning
towards damnation and the fires of Hell. Yes: Hell, brothers and
sisters." Sessions slammed the pulpit with the flat of his hand -
the crack echoed throughout the church, causing some of his
audience to jump in shock.
"I know it hasn't been fashionable to talk about Hellfire - and
maybe that's part of the problem." There were murmurs of approval
from the congregation. "We have to let people know, brothers and
sisters. We have to spread The Word." You could hear the
capitalisation, as his voice was raised in fervour "The Holy Word
of the Lord!"
"Amen!" "Hallelujah!" came some voices from the pews. Not many
voices responded, however - and not simply because of the paucity
of worshippers. While some half a dozen of the vicar's flock were
twenty- and thirty-something cross-overs from the evangelicals,
most were over sixty, and more accustomed to receiving comfort
and consolation than Hellfire and damnation from their priest.
"It is our Holy Duty to spread The Word, brothers and sisters!
Though we may be despised and reviled for it, it is the Lord's
work! And we will receive our just reward in the loving arms of
Our dear Lord in Heaven - of that you can be sure!
"The Good Book says," Sessions opened the Bible before him to
Matthew, chapter twenty four, and began to read - starting from
verse nine: "'Ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's
sake.' Is that happening now, brothers and sisters?" There was a
feeble response, so he repeated, "I said: Is that happening now?"
This time, the response was greater - even the more reserved of
the congregation joined in.
"'And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many,'"
he quoted, "Is that happening now?" he yelled. This time, the
loud chorus came from everybody in the building. "But that's not
all, brothers and sisters. The Lord makes us a promise as well."
("What does he say?" a voice cried) "He says 'But he that shall
endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.' Not 'close to the
end' or 'until things start getting tough.'" ("No!" came a small
chorus) "No is right, brothers and sisters.
"Only those who keep the Faith and spread the Word right up
until the end. Only those shall be Saved. Only the faithful shall
join Our Lord in Heaven!"
The crowd began to roar, the fervour of the younger evangelicals
spreading now to the older generation as the priest continued his
sermon in the same wise, culminating with a call to the
congregation to recite the Lord's Prayer.
At this, the small group of worshippers, led by their priest,
joined in the recitation, "Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in
Earth, As it is in Heaven," they declaimed, their voices rising
in volume, "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our
trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead
us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil." By this point,
they were shouting the words, calling out each word as though it
were their last: "For thine is the kingdom, The power and the
glory, For ever and ever. Amen."
A sigh of release followed, echoing from every throat and
filling the church until it seemed that the vaulting heights
vibrated in sympathy with the final 'Amen.'
At the same time as the Christian service, an electronic meeting
was being conducted of the Church of Wye. As was usual, that
meeting began with a recitation of that church's 'prayer' -
originally written by Lao Tzi, but modified over time by other
members of the church, in conscious imitation of the Christian
"Hail me, right here and now," the chorus began. The words
appeared on terminal screens, and throat microphones transmitted
the softly-spoken words of each church member to the loudspeakers
on every terminal. The next words followed swiftly:
"Hallowed be my name. My kingdom come, my will be done - on
Earth as much as anywhere else. For mine is the kingdom, the
power and the glory. Moment by moment. Amen."
The mockery of the Christian prayer was deliberate, though the
sentiment which accompanied the words in the Church of Wye
services was - obviously - quite different.
This standard start to the service was followed, immediately, by
an equally standard statement of belief. A creed, of sorts, which
was similarly recited, in the same spirit as the opening
"I believe," the church members began, "That life is
"I believe that animal life is, in general, more valuable than
"And I believe human life to be vastly more important and
intrinsically valuable than any other form of life.
"I believe rationality, tempered with compassion, to be the best
way yet known to preserve that life.
"And I believe that intellectual honesty is the most important
element of that rationality."
The 'Hail Me,' as that Church of Wye opening prayer, combined
with the statement of belief, came to be known, changed slightly
as time went by - though the rate of change was slowing down by
this time. When the CofW was first formed by Lao Tzi, back at the
start of the year 2000, the words of the Hail Me had changed from
month to month - sometimes from week to week.
The most recent change, however, had been made more than six
months previously, and had simply consisted of the addition of
the words "yet known" to the statement of belief segment of the
Hail Me. As membership of the CofW grew, it became necessary to
convince more and more people of the desirability of a change
before the votes needed to make the modification could be
acquired. As a result, changes were taking place less and less
Having said that, however, the first item for the CofW
membership at each electronic meeting was almost always made up
of proposed alterations to the Hail Me. The first of the two
which had been put forward today proposed adding a line to the
statement of belief segment which read: "I believe that 'Me' is
not limited to my own individuality, but refers to every
individual human being."
Similar propositions, differently phrased, had been on the
agenda at virtually every meeting since the formation of the
CofW. So far, however, none had achieved the necessary number of
votes - the majority, according to the voting, approved of the
concept but disliked the awkward wording of the statement.
This time, however, an alternative proposal along similar lines
did receive the necessary seventy five percent of the
membership's votes. That proposal was to amend the words of the
opening prayer itself to read: "Hail Humanity, right here and
now. Hallowed be Humanity's existence. Humanity's kingdom come,
Humanity's will be done - on Earth as well as everywhere else.
For Humanity's is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Moment by
Despite the successfully changed words, the prayer was never
renamed the 'Hail Humanity,' but retained its appellation of the
'Hail Me.' Such is the power of habit.
After the saying of the Hail Me, and the voting on any proposed
changes to its wording, each meeting of the Church of Wye became
a discussion, interspersed with the occasional singing of hymns.
Most of these hymns were initially based on Christian hymns, with
the most popular refrain beginning He who would valiant be. One
particularly popular hymn, however, was the song later to be
chosen as the new national anthem: I Am What I Am.
On this particular day, then, the discussion opener was an
extremely short 'sermon' by Lao Tzi. As usual, the speaker's
words were broadcast in both sound and, simultaneously, as a
transcript which appeared on terminal screens.
"People," Lao Tzi began, "In the Hail Me, we proclaim our belief
that life is valuable. From this, it follows that life - in
whatever form - is worth saving. But does this mean that life is
worth conserving? Should life, of whatever form, be preserved? Or
should the mutability of life - the evolution of life - be
allowed free reign?
"Or should our position fall somewhere between these two
As was customary for opening speeches, Lao Tzi's address was
brief, to the point, and offered questions rather than answers.
As was usual, no status was accorded to any speaker over any
other in the discussion which followed - replies and arguments
were simply heard in the order in which they were offered. Even
the contribution made by Wye himself was simply heard in order,
as were those of other Church members, and the same time limit of
two minutes per statement applied to Wye as equally as to all
As was also usual, the CofW's discussion reached no firm,
dogmatic conclusions - though, in this case, it was generally
agreed that neither extreme was useful, the point at which the
line should be drawn varied dramatically from individual member
to individual member.
An hour later, the customary time limit set on CofW meetings,
the members simply decided to give the matter more thought
before the next meeting - another custom which had rapidly
developed in the church. In actual fact, the subject - again, by
quickly evolved tradition - would not be raised again for at
least four weeks.
The meetings were usually 'attended' by the vast majority of
church members - a fact facilitated by there being no necessity
for physical presence. The only absolute requirement for church
members was that one hour of every day be spent in serious
thought on a subject which had no relevance whatsoever to that
person's usual work or interests.
Physicists, then, tended to spend their hour thinking about
genetics, painting, literature - anything except physics.
Philosophers spent their hour's meditation considering problems
in mathematics, physics or poetry - anything except their
As time went by, church members necessarily found themselves
becoming more and more intrigued by subjects which they had
encountered for the first time in their Thought Hour time. As a
consequence, it became more and more difficult for CofW members
to find subjects which they had no interest in.
Several began interpreting the word 'thinking' less and less
literally, turning to activities such as drawing, painting,
music, cinema and sculpture during their Thought Hour (the period
kept its name, even after that name became obsolete, from sheer
In this way, the resurgence of the Arts in Wye's Britain began
in earnest - a renaissance which effectively began in 2002 and
which was, by 2005 AD, well-established. Unlike most previous
expansions of the Arts, however, the artists in this case were -
almost without exception - also scientists.
The tinge which this gave to the works produced was remarkable.
Kelly's Quasar-rise at Midnight was an extraordinarily beautiful
painting, while the thought-provoking overture to Simoney's
Genetic Symphony Number Five - and Petri's iconoclastic
sculpture, Deoxyribonucleic Acid By Starlight, on which it was
based - quickly became familiar across the world.
Even some of the less globally-accessible works - such as
Simoney's early series of computer animations, Three dimensional
Fractal Cloud with Otters or Petri's interactive novel, The
Paperback Einstein - achieved sufficient popularity within the
confines of the Network to make their creators into household
And later scholars recognised Graeme Skildon's collaborative
novel with Dmitri Bargachev, a political satire entitled Two Men
In A Cyclotron, and Brinden's Joycean epic, The Quark's Progress,
as classic works.
"What the Hell is the Church of Wye?"
"And why have you been keeping it a secret from us?" demanded
The Dictator rose and walked, slowly, across to the bomb-proof
windows of the cabinet room, hands clasped behind his back. The
walk was a dignified stride - so dignified was it, in fact, that
the Greenes were silent as Absolaam moved, each lost in thought
as they imagined they could almost see a military swagger stick
tucked under his arm.
Eventually, still staring out of the window, Wye said, softly,
in an apparent non sequitur, "Do you remember Lao Tzi's words as
he left that meeting back in '99?" Without pausing for an answer,
he said, "Lao Tzi mentioned two things which confused you at the
time: he said that my policy concerning the organised religions
was 'The Way of the Tar Baby,' and he referred to a 'ringer' as
the obvious next step."
Wye turned and faced back into the room. He caught the eyes of
his two companions, each in turn, then asked, "Do you understand
what he meant yet?"
Deborah shook her head, but her husband replied, "I read Uncle
Remus, and I found the story of the Tar Baby. But I've got to
confess that I couldn't see the relevance to religion, General,"
he added, apologetically.
Wye nodded, almost to himself, before expanding further on the
theme. "That," he said, "Is why I haven't disclosed my policy
before - it's simple enough, but it depended on absolute secrecy
in order to be effective. It was bad enough that Lao Tzi saw
through it so quickly, without having to justify the policy to
you two as well," he added.
Wye shrugged their partial protestations away, continuing, "The
point of the Tar Baby story, Graham, is that the Tar Baby is an
insidious enemy - it is almost impossible to defeat directly. The
more you fight it, the more a part of you it becomes.
"When, back in the nineteen eighties, Reagan and Bush started
their War On Drugs policy, they were fighting a Tar Baby - though
they either didn't realise it, or didn't care. The more you fight
against a problem like drug abuse, the more the problem grows.
"America saw the problem for the first time in the nineteen
twenties and thirties, with Prohibition. It is impossible for any
government to completely cut off the supply of something for
which there is a demand - the best you can do is reduce the
supply, but that simply puts the black market price up.
"When that happens with something which is addictive, or simply
extremely desirable, society as a whole pays five times, rather
than just once, for the problem. They pay first for the cost of
reducing the supply, and keeping it at a reduced level. Secondly,
society pays because the high black market prices enriches
criminals and encourages organised crime - which is a recipe for
"Thirdly," Wye checked the third point off on the fingers of his
left hand, "Society pays because the money to pay for the
whatever-it-is on the black market has to come from somewhere -
and that somewhere is usually based in petty crime. Burglary,
muggings, shoplifting, and the like.
"To take an example - at the time that we took over, there were
over twenty thousand heroin addicts alone in the British Isles,
and each one had to raise almost forty thousand pounds each and
every year simply to feed their addiction - a crack user could
easily require two or three times that amount.
"Figuring in for the miniscule percentage of the retail price
that a fence pays for stolen goods, that amounts to the theft of
three or four billion pounds worth of property every year, just
to support heroin addiction.
"And so the proceeds from petty crime are used to finance larger
and larger crimes, until the money involved becomes so great that
the legal system itself is riddled with corruption. That's the
fourth way that society pays for the prohibition.
"Finally, society pays in a fifth way in the coin of reduced
respect for the legal system as a whole. If otherwise law-abiding
citizens are stigmatised as criminals for what is effectively a
value-judgement 'crime,' what the Americans call a 'blue law,'
then those citizens are not going to hold the law as a whole in
"Even as far back as nineteen ninety two, it was a rare twenty
five year old who had never tried substances which were then
illegal - fully a third of them had tried LSD and ninety seven
percent of twenty five year olds had tried marijuana, for fuck's
sake. For that, they were branded as 'criminals'? Is it any
wonder that the law was treated as a joke?"
"What's your point, Absolaam?" Deborah asked, "What has all this
got to do with organised religions - and particularly this
'Church of Wye'?"
"I'm coming to that, Deborah - I just got sidetracked for a
moment," Wye said, apologetically, "My point is that there is a
market for religion, just as there is a market for other kinds of
Graham muttered something. At Wye's questioning glance, he
repeated himself, more audibly, "'Religion is the opium of the
people,' is all I said, General. Karl Marx, I believe," he added.
"Yes, I believe it was Marx," nodded the General, "But I don't
entirely agree with his assessment there. In my opinion," he
said, turning back once more to look out of the window, "In my
opinion, organised religion is just another Tar Baby. The more
you fight it, the stronger it becomes.
"So I encouraged it. I funded organised religion massively,
until we reach the stage we are at today - where the major
funding (over ninety percent) for each of the organised religions
comes from the government.
"They were willing to accept the money when it was offered - and
now it gets cut off. No more money for religions. To remove their
grounds for legitimate protest, the money will be sunk into the
National Health Service instead. The important point is that
those religions have become inextricably tied to this government.
"You know," Wye grinned, "Somebody once said that to have
absolute power over something you needed to have the ability to
destroy that thing. I do not have absolute power over organised
religion, but the power I have right here and now is
considerable. And I'm wielding it now.
"Hagbard, wake up!" the Dictator called to the VAS in the
"Yes, Sol?" came the reply from the corner loudspeakers.
"Hagbard, execute my program coded Sang Real. Thanks, Hagbard."
"What's San Graal, Absolaam?" asked Deborah, puzzled.
"A small program I set up a year ago to put into effect what I
have just outlined - the removal of organised religion. It takes
about four months to run its full course, and contains everything
from instructions to the Bank of Britain computers through to an
announcement to be generally broadcast.
"As to what the name of the program means, you'll have to ask a
linguist," the Dictator turned to face the Greenes once more -
they could see that he was, once more, grinning widely, "The
phrase is Old French," he added, "Or should that be 'the phrases
are Old French'?" His grin broadened still further.
"Okay, okay, General," said Graham, "But what about the 'Ringer'
bit? I can see that Tar Baby idea, but I still can't see what
that has to do with the Tar Baby or with organised religion."
In a subconscious reversal of Carroll's Cheshire Cat, Wye's grin
vanished. "No," he said, soberly, "That idea wasn't mine - it
came from Lao Tzi.
"The Church of Wye is Lao Tzi's Ringer - a Trojan Horse, if you
like. He had the idea of attacking on two fronts simultaneously.
What I've done is to effectively tie the existing organised
religions to our government, a tie which I can now break and
consequently - at least temporarily - fragment them.
"Lao Tzi, however, saw what I did not - namely that any such
fragmentation would only be temporary - the religions would
quickly coalesce once more, and probably be all the stronger for
the experience. What was needed, then, was something else -
something different - which their members would be attracted to
in the short term, and hopefully stick with in the long term.
"That 'something' is the Church of Wye. To all appearances, it's
a valid religion, with all the trappings and ceremonies you would
expect of any organised religion. The difference lies in the
approach of the Church of Wye to the whole question of dogma.
"That church's 'dogma' - its creed, if you like - is mutable, it
evolves over time as its members, or their circumstances, change.
That's one of the most fundamental aspects of the way the church
"Combine that built-in adaptability with the few and simple
requirements the Church of Wye makes on its membership, and you
have what Lao Tzi and I regard as a very attractive organised
religion. It has dogma and ceremony, for those who wish those
things, but it also makes few demands on its members - which
should make it attractive to those who prefer to be lazy about
"Does the Church of Wye assume a belief in a deity?" Deborah
Wye's grin returned as he answered, "That depends entirely on
how you look at it - there's a God, of sorts, but the
characteristics you see in it depend on how you look at it."
No further probing by the Greenes was able to force further
explanations from the Dictator.
"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."
--Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Test your skill! Try your
aim! You, sir! All you have to do is knock the cans over! That's
all there is to it, sir! Only fifty pence a go! Prizes for
everybody! Everybody a winner in the..."
As they walked past, the stallholder's spiel faded away, only to
be replaced by the rhetoric of another, and another. And another.
Finally, hiding among the bright colours, glaring lights and
blaring music of the travelling carnival, Bob found the
attraction he had been looking for.
Bob was twenty-five years old, and had been a great traveller
before settling down. And everywhere he'd been - America,
Australia, Europe - he'd gone on every fairground ride and every
roller coaster he could find - he was honestly addicted to the
thrills: the pumping of adrenalin.
Even after settling down with his lover, a little more than a
year ago now, Bob made sure that he visited every new ride it was
possible to visit - still seeking the thrill of being terrorised.
Except that, now, he rarely rode alone.
"This is the one," he said to Dave, "Karen said it was the most
terrifying experience of her life!" he said, eagerly.
"I don't know," Dave hesitated, looking the stall over. Even the
steps leading up to the entrance looked rickety, and the sign
overhead was obviously hastily scrawled. Risk your life, it said,
Every survivor gets half their money back. Full refund if you go
"Anything wrong?" Bob asked, his hand stealing around Dave's
slim shoulders, "Don't worry - it's just a gimmick." he patted
his lover's leather jacket reassuringly, gently rubbing away any
fear the younger man might have.
"Are you sure?" Dave asked, his resistance crumbling under the
older man's hands, "I mean, really sure?" he added, doubtfully.
Bob was always doing things like this - it was part of what made
him so attractive, really. But it was always left to the eighteen
year old to pull back - and pull his lover back as well - when
the risks were just not worth it.
Bob broke into Dave's thoughts, "Of course I'm sure - look," he
said, pointing at the exit, "The last couple of people are coming
out now, and they're having half their entrance money refunded as
they come out."
It was true, Dave could see, that the barker outside the
attraction was placing his MoneyCard over the Card of each person
that walked out of the building - obviously paying them some
money. Presumably, he was making the promised refund of half
their admission price.
And Dave couldn't see any bodies being obviously carted away. If
it was a gimmick, then, like Bob said, then it was a good one.
The younger man shivered, and Bob squeezed his shoulder softly.
"Well...okay," Dave said, warily, "I suppose it can't be too
"That's the spirit!" Bob clapped his lover on the back,
heartily, "I'll make a hero of you yet!" he smiled.
Dave returned the smile - it was one of their little jokes that
Bob was a hero and Dave was a coward. Dave as usual, simply
answered, "Don't you forget, though: a coward is just a hero with
"Better a hero than a coward!" cried Bob, again as usual.
Dave's response, also by rote, was "Better a live coward than a
dead hero." Considering the sign in front of them, though, the
words seemed in slightly bad taste, so he only got as far as
"Better a live coward than..." and choked back the rest of the
Bob noticed, but did not draw attention to, this. Instead, he
just tightened his grip slightly and walked up the steps to the
window labelled Pay Here - half-pulling Dave along with him.
A small, chubby, grey-haired woman thumb-rubbed them both, then
Bob waited for Dave to place his own MoneyCard over the ride
owner's Card - and pay his six pounds admission - first before
doing the same himself. Then they went through the door together,
Dave reaching over and grasping Bob's reassuring hand first.
The room on the other side of the door was well-lit. Dave
glanced around, blinking spots from in front of his eyes when he
caught the full glare of a spotlight in one of the top corners.
It was a small room, with only two doors. Aside from the door
they had entered by, there was another facing them.
Each door had a thumbplate beside it, with a notice over each
thumbplate. The door they came in by was emblazoned with the
notice: To leave by this door, press your thumb to the thumbplate
and five pounds of your entrance fee will be refunded
The other door's notice began in the same way: To leave by this
door, press your thumb to the thumbplate. Thereafter, however,
its words were rather different - and far more ominous. "I
agree," Dave read aloud, "To waive the agreement not to
physically harm me."
Dave's heart started to beat faster and faster in his chest. His
grip on Bob's hand tightened painfully for a moment. "Ow!" cried
his lover, "Careful there, youngster!" he said.
"Sorry," Dave replied, not sure whether he was apologising for
what he just did, or for what he was about to say, "I can't agree
to that," he said, his free hand gesturing towards the notice on
the inner door.
"Why not?" Bob said, "It's only part of the gimmick - they
wouldn't really kill anybody."
"How do you know that?" Dave asked, seriously, "I mean - that's
what that sign says: that we're giving them permission to kill us
if they want to."
Bob hesitated. "Well...yes..." he said, reluctantly, after a
"There's no 'but' about it, Bob," the younger man said, tossing
his head to remove the fringe of hair from his eyes, "That says
that they're allowed to kill us if we go through that door. It's
as simple as that."
"Well, I'm going through," said Bob, "Whether you do or not -
I'm not paying a pound just to come in this room and go out
again." With these words, Bob placed his thumb to the thumbplate
of the inner door. Dave, however, still hesitated.
Then a voice sounded from a loudspeaker in one corner of the
room. Dave glanced around, to see where it was coming from,
quickly deciding that it was probably concealed behind the
spotlight. The voice simply said that the inner door would only
open when everyone in the room had pressed their thumb to the
thumbplate - and anybody who had decided to leave by the outer
door had departed.
Reluctantly, Dave pressed his own thumb to the plate on the
inner door. He felt his lover's hand give his own a quick squeeze
of understanding, but the only thought going round his head was:
I hope I haven't made a big mistake. I hope I haven't made a big
mistake. I hope I haven't...Then the inner door opened, and the
two - after a momentary hesitation - stepped through into the
"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" Bob exclaimed, staring
ahead of them. In front of them was a sign which read: If you do
not follow all directions on all signs, exactly and to the
letter, then you will die.
"Never mind that," Dave said, full of awe, "What the fuck is
that?" he was pointing in a different direction from Bob, towards
a bizarre machine which lay to their right.
The machine looked like a device from an Edgar Allan Poe story.
A doorway, which must be ten feet tall at least, was surmounted
by a huge, metallic box. From the box was suspended a heavy-
looking pendulum, which was swinging slowly back and forth. There
was little or no clearance between the base of the pendulum and
the floor of the chamber - only an inch or two at most.
The horrifying thing, however, was the pendulum itself - a
double-edged sword, swinging back and forth in front of a door,
which was the only exit from the room. Dave turned to look back,
but the door they came in by was now closed and, as David
painfully discovered, electrified. A notice was attached to it:
The only way out is forward, the sign read, Time your movements
"Over here!" Bob called, "I've found something!"
Dave walked over to the older man, who was standing in front of
a solid-looking metal box, about a foot square, on which was yet
another sign: Take a wooden rod, and carefully hold it in the
path of the blade, it read.
Bob pulled a foot-long length of wooden dowelling from the box,
and - gingerly holding it before him - stepped slightly closer to
the deadly pendulum. When he thrust the rod into the path of the
blade, there was a clatter as the end of the dowelling fell to
the floor. The pendulum appeared not to slow down at all.
"Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick," murmured Bob, looking at the
shorn end of the stick, "Look at this, David - it's a perfectly
clean cut. That fucker is sharp," he added, unnecessarily. Dave
touched the end of the rod. The cut felt strangely warm to his
Bob stared at the pendulum blade as it swept back and forth,
perfectly regularly. The blade swept past the doorway. He counted
the seconds out, softly, "One one thousand." The pendulum reached
the far right extreme of its arc; started back again, "Two one
thousand." The sword blade reached the edge of the doorway again.
Bob turned to Dave: "It's not as bad as it looks, son," he said,
"We've got a full two seconds to get through the doorframe -
plenty of time," he added, smiling a false smile.
"Sure it is," Dave said. "Sure. Sure," he repeated, over and
over, trying to convince himself.
"Well, here I go," Bob said, stepping forward. He kissed Bob
passionately, but briefly, "Wish me luck." Dave tried to say
something, but his throat was dry - constricted. The pendulum
swung to the edge of the frame. Bob stepped through, quickly.
From the other side, he called, "Now you come through, Dave."
"Easy for you to say," Dave muttered under his breath. He
stepped forward, then timed the pendulum. It swept past the door
frame on the right. "One one th..." It started back again,
"...ousand." The pendulum reached the frame again.
Shit, it's going faster. It's speeding up. It's speeding up.
Dave stepped forward. It's moving faster. The pendulum moved back
across the doorframe. Oh shit. Oh shit. It reached the right edge
of the doorway. "Oh shit!" Dave jumped through the doorway, into
the arms of Bob. As he went through, something knocked Dave off
balance slightly. Bob caught him, prevented him from falling, and
they stumbled slightly.
"Fuck!" Bob ejaculated. Dave looked down, following the older
man's gaze, to look at his shoes. The back of his left shoe
looked shiny. Dave lifted his foot for a closer look. About an
eighth of an inch of heel had been sheared off. He looked up,
into his lover's eyes. No words were needed - they just hugged
each other tight for a moment.
"We'd better keep moving, Davey," Bob said, releasing Dave, who
shakily nodded his agreement, before looking around the room they
had moved into.
The floor of the new chamber was a wire mesh, while on the far
side of the room was a five foot length of wire, twisted into
strange, convoluted shapes. At one end of the wire, a key was
attached to a loop which hung on an insulated segment of the
wire. There was a second insulated section of wire at the other
end, and beside the far end was a keyhole to unlock the exit from
Next to this apparatus was a new sign: "Move the loop from one
end of the wire to the other without pausing or touching the wire
with the loop," it read. Underneath this was a warning, which
explained further: "When the loop is touching the wire, the loop
or wire is broken, or the loop stops moving, the floor is
electrified. Each time the floor is re-electrified, the current
Dave and Bob read the sign, then exchanged concerned glances.
"Do you want to do this one, or shall I?" Bob asked.
"You've got the steadiest hands," Dave replied, nervously, "You
do it. Just, for Christ's sake, be careful, okay?"
"Sure. You can trust me," Bob smiled, weakly. "I'm sorry I got
you into this," he said, reaching for the loop with the key on
"Just get us out of it," Dave said, licking his lips nervously.
Bob reached out a trembling hand, then paused. He moved closer
to the wire, took a few deep breaths to calm himself down,
reached for the wire with a steadier hand. Darting a glance at
Dave, he carefully lifted the loop from the wire.
Bob slowly moved the loop out of the insulated portion of wire,
into the danger area. He licked his lips, but did not hesitate.
The loop moved along towards the first turn in the wire. Bob
paused momentarily at the hairpin bend.
As Bob hesitated, both he and Dave felt the sharp jolt of an
electric shock - not strong, barely a tingle, but it almost
caused Bob to drop the loop. He quickly started to move the loop
around the kink in the wire, then further on along a straighter
Slowly, the loop moved along and around the wire until it
reached a point where the turns overlapped. Dave saw that section
coming up long before Bob did - Bob was too busy concentrating on
the immediate to give any thought to the future convolutions.
"Prepare yourself for another shock, Bob," he said, softly,
"There's no way to avoid the next one."
"Okay, okay," muttered Bob, "Now, just come along around this
turn, baby," he murmured to the loop of wire, "Just a little
further now - that's it." Then he reached the overlapping turns.
The second shock was stronger than the first, but still caused
little more than an unpleasant tingle. Bob felt his heart racing
in panic as the gravity of their situation hit him for the first
time. "We could die here," Bob thought, "And, thanks to the
contract we signed earlier, the stallholder wouldn't be held
responsible. It's all my fault - I pushed Dave into this. It's
all my fault. It's my fault. My fault. Mine. Mine...Ow!"
The third shock, as the loop passed around the overlap, caused a
small muscle spasm. The loop slipped from Bob's fingers, landing
squarely on the wire.
At this fourth electric shock, Dave's hands shot, involuntarily,
to his chest. He made no sound beyond a quiet gasp, however, and
Bob - scrambling for the loop - neither saw nor heard the younger
Through the increasing pain, Bob could smell burning, then his
fingers grasped the loop. Lifted it from the wire. He moved it
back and forth along a straight segment of wire as he said,
"Christ, that was painful, Dave." There was no answer. "Dave?" he
Still moving the wire slowly back and forth over that section of
wire, Bob looked around and saw Dave lying, unconscious, on the
mesh floor. Bob's first instinct was to go to David - he started
to move. Then, just in time, he remembered the loop in his hand -
one more shock could kill Dave.
As quickly as he could, Bob moved the loop all the way along to
the end of the wire - thankfully managing to do so without
touching the wire a fifth time. With a sigh of relief, he placed
the loop down on the insulated section and turned to Dave.
"Dave?" he said, softly. Then, louder, "Dave?" Bob placed his
head to his lover's chest. He couldn't hear a heartbeat. "Shit!"
As he'd seen it done in films, Bob thumped the other man's chest.
Once, twice. He listened again.
Now there was a heartbeat. Faint, slightly irregular, but
definitely there. Bob put his lips to his lover's, breathing out
deeply to force breath into David's lungs.
Listened at the chest again. Breathing into Dave's lungs again.
The younger man suddenly coughed, so Bob slapped him across the
face a couple of times, until he heard a soft groan. "Why are you
hitting me?" Dave said, groggily. Bob laughed in hysterical
"I thought you were done for for a moment there," he breathed.
"Well," Dave said, pulling himself up to rest on his elbows,
"I'm not. Have you finished that damned puzzle then?" he asked,
almost as an afterthought.
"Yes, yes - it's done. We can get out now," Bob said, with no
little happiness. He helped Dave to his feet, then used the key
to open the exit door.
They were both perfectly happy to see that this door opened onto
a final chamber which contained a new contract beside its
thumbplate-activated door. The new contract read, simply: I
revoke my earlier waiving of the agreement not to physically harm
me. The most beautiful words either of them had ever seen. Bob
first pressed Dave's thumb against the plate, then his own. The
door which led to the outside opened.
Dave leaning heavily on his lover's arm, the two gratefully
stumbled out into the daylight, where they were each given their
three pounds refund by the barker - who was drumming up more
business even as they thumb-rubbed him.
"Want to go through again, gents?" he asked. At the hasty shakes
of their heads, he laughed, "Sure? If you get through twice, the
cost of both goes is refunded in full."
"There's no fucking way on Earth that I'm going back into that
fucking torture chamber," Dave said, concisely.
Bob nodded his agreement.
Later that afternoon, David Attwood experienced a second heart
attack. This time, he did not recover.
On the fourth of August, 2002, John Basil was the driver of a
dustcart. On the fifth of that month, his local council voted to
replace their existing fleet with Kelly-Skildon vehicles. Though
the levitation idea had yet to be developed to the point where it
could be used commercially, Sharon Kelly and Graeme Skildon's
researches had produced a fairly high-speed (seventy eight miles
per hour was the top speed so far recorded in practice)
electrically-driven form of transportation which was entirely
navigated and controlled by Network-linked computers.
The new vehicles were more expensive to buy, but they were far
cheaper to run - maintenance cost far less than even the salary
of a driver - and the investment could easily be effectively
recouped within the first year. In addition, they were safer and
more efficient to use than human drivers - their reliance on a
combination of radar and Network-derived signals removed, for all
practical purposes, the possibility of any accidents.
So John Basil found himself suddenly unemployed, and the
mortgage payments were tough - impossible to make on the dole.
With fifteen thousand pounds still to pay off on the family home,
his only option appeared to be to take advantage of Wye's buy-
back scheme. Under that scheme, the government would buy the
remaining mortgage debt outright, and allow payments to be
deferred for a (very) limited period of time while the owner
retrained, usually as either a teacher or a scientist.
John Basil was not particularly keen on this course, though. He
didn't want to have to retrain for a new job. "I've been a driver
for nearly twenty years, I'm too old to start doing something
else now," he'd told the spotty kid at the dole office, "You
can't teach an old dog new tricks, you know," he'd gone on, in
the face of all the evidence to the contrary.
It was in this frame of mind, then, that John saw the
advertisement in the classifieds section of his favourite
WANTED Fifteen volunteers for medical trials. £10,000 paid
to each person accepted. Contact Professor Carla Dowes, Box
It looked perfect - with ten grand, he could convince the Bank
of Britain to defer payments on the mortgage for maybe a couple
of years, or just while he was looking for a new driving job.
That, considering the ever-increasing use of the Kelly-Skildon
vehicles, that might take a lot longer than a couple of years
didn't figure into his calculations - John was an optimist at
John Basil was not, of course, the only person to reply to the
advertisement. Many people were put off by the paper they were
required to sign as a condition of taking part in the trials: "I
agree," the contract read, "To waive, for the period of these
medical trials, my agreement with Professor Carla Dowes, and
those assistants she nominates, not to physically harm me."
Even so - when it came to the final selection procedures,
Professor Dowes had one hundred and twenty-seven people from
which to choose the fifteen she needed for her experiments.
By the end of November, John was three months in arrears on his
mortgage payments. In the single-mindedness of his (unsuccessful)
hunt for a job, the revelation that the "massacre" of 1999 had
been a hoax had largely passed him by.
He had cursed the technological trade embargo - not for any
philosophical reasons, but simply because it had made emigration
a far more difficult choice to make. After all, what was the
point of emigrating to a country in which he was unlikely to be
able to find enough food to live? To say nothing of having to
effectively give up the advantages of Britain's highly
Then, when the twenty seventh of September arrived, John had -
without hesitation - voted to force Wye out of office. And had
been one of those cursing loudest - and crying "Fix!" - when the
result of the voting finally came through on October the twelfth.
It is perfectly understandable, then, that when the letter
arrived in the post at the end of November, John was absolutely
delighted to learn that he had been one of the fifteen selected.
John Basil was smartly dressed when he walked into Professor
Dowes's offices on the first of December. He didn't own a suit -
except for the old, moth-eaten blue one he'd worn at his wedding
two decades before - but his dark trousers and white shirt were
freshly-laundered and had been re-ironed only an hour before he'd
put them on that morning. Even his plain, pale grey tie had been
lightly ironed in anticipation.
John's shock of greying, though still mostly black, hair had
been neatly combed before he set out, but high winds had put paid
to that. And so, his first action on entering the building had
been to nip into the toilets with a comb to tidy himself up a
little - neatly combing his bushy, totally grey moustache and
quickly swiping his eyebrows with a moistened thumb at the same
The first thing to happen when he walked into the offices
themselves was that he was thumb-rubbed by Professor Dowes, and
the second was that he was asked to use his thumbprint to confirm
his agreement "to waive my agreement with Professor Carla Dowes,
and those assistants she nominates, not to physically harm me in
the medical trials I am to take part in today." He needed no
encouragement to append his thumbprint to the agreement.
The formalities over, as the professor had put it, John was led
into the laboratory. It was then that he realised how pointless
his sartorial efforts had been, since he was immediately told to
strip off - though he was handed a hospital-style backless gown
that he could put on if he wished.
There were screens set up for privacy while changing, and John
immediately ducked behind one and stripped off - placing his
belongings in the basket provided, which he closed and sealed
with his thumbprint.
After some hesitation, and only after he'd put the gown on, he
removed his starched, white Y-fronts and placed those into the
basket with the rest of his clothes before he tried - mainly
futilely - to tie the cords which were supposed - in theory - to
close the back of his gown.
As prepared as he was able, John walked out from behind the
screen. He was not the only one wearing a gown, but there were
two people - one of each sex - who hadn't bothered to put one on.
To his surprise, John didn't find the spectacle even vaguely
erotic. His penis, however, seemed to disagree with his mind on
the point, for a while at least, since it remained half-hard for
a good quarter of an hour before settling down, back into
Once all fifteen volunteers were ready, a young, male graduate
student led them from the changing room into the laboratory
proper (John noticed that this young man, at least, seemed to
find the naked flesh exciting for a rather shorter length of time
than John himself did).
It was a large room, its walls whitewashed until they glared,
with huge, plate-glass windows overlooking a grassy courtyard,
now covered with a thin blanket of snow. The sight of the snow
momentarily caused goose-bumps to rise on his flesh, but the
warmth of the room quickly put a stop to that.
The room was dominated by a great many scattered couches and
chairs, with a table beside each one, which the volunteers were
directed to. The contents of each table looked identical - John
looked with interest at the one beside his chair. It was
scattered with test tubes, bottles of variously-coloured
chemicals and strange-looking devices the identity or purpose of
which John couldn't even guess at.
The next few hours passed painfully, yet tediously, as each
volunteer was given a complete physical. Very complete. A blood
sample would be taken, then John was told to exercise for as long
as he could, then another blood sample. So it went - over and
over, again and again.
At the end of the gruelling session, John was exhausted and only
too happy to be led back into the changing room. Before he
returned, however, he was given an injection of a clear, red
substance which appeared not to have any effect whatsoever.
Once he had changed back into his clothes, John's MoneyCard was
credited with five thousand pounds. He was then told to report
back in two weeks time for another physical, after which he would
be given the remaining five thousand owed to him.
That evening, an elated John Basil used his home Terminal to
transfer money to his mortgage account, thus bringing his
payments back up to date.
By noon on the thirteenth of December, 2002, John Basil,
unemployed driver, was dead.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.