Mythaxis

New Frankfurt


Gil Williamson


When a financial market becomes a city state, the consequences may be shocking.

David was surprised that, at dusk and from a distance, New Frankfurt looked more like a medieval city than the twenty-first century construction that it actually was. From a road high on the rim of the Rhine gorge, he looked down on pale onion domes, burnished copper cupolas, precipitous marble towers, slate-coated steeples, crenellated parapets, rough-hewn bastions and slender minarets which greatly outnumbered the few modern glass and steel office blocks. The buildings constituting the mass of the city were piled on to a bleak, rocky island in the river Rhine, apparently at random, leaving none of the original island visible. The city was bluntly reflected in the steel grey water, the river's swells, eddies and assorted flotsam distorting the architecture into an inverted caricature of itself. Yet the ecclesiastical architecture was strictly decorative, as the only god regularly worshipped in New Frankfurt was Mammon. Nearly every building on the island was a merchant bank or other financial dealing house.

Flights of birds circled above the city, birds so distant and so numerous that they resembled wisps of smoke.

"I know you have never seen the place before, David," said Franz in his careful and perfect English, "But we should not be seen to take so much interest in New Frankfurt at this stage."

"Right."

They returned to the silver-grey Audi electric, parked lopsidedly on the verge, and Franz drove away from the river.

David said: "I hate these people."

"Yes, I can understand that. Elaine's hand. How is it now?"

"They've patched it up, but it'll never be perfectly OK again. She has restricted movement. She's doing nearly everything left-handed still. But we think it's improving."

"She is lucky. Of the twenty-four, the doctors cannot help sixteen. You must not think of revenge when you are on this mission, David. You have an important task. It must not be emotional."

"I only volunteered because of Elaine."

"And we value you, David. Very few of our people could have obtained a job and a visa to work there." Somehow, that sentence from Franz rang a little false, but when David glanced at him, Franz's pale face looked completely sincere, as always.

We cannot rescue you if you get into trouble.
In truth, the banking sector was hard for a Brit to get into, now that it was dominated by Russian, Chinese and Middle Eastern money - not all of it precisely legitimate. Ever since the credit crisis of 2008, Western banks had been in decline, partly due to over-enthusiastic regulation, and the huge illicit economy was in need of laundry services. Getting a job in New Frankfurt (or The Island, as it was called in the financial community) was rarer still. New Frankfurt was the new Forbidden City. But David's area of expertise was a novel margin trading futures system of baroque complexity which he had helped develop at Banque Vietnam in London. The bank wanted him at the heart of their New Frankfurt operation. Money talked, David walked. And he walked with a hidden purpose, working for the downfall of the city state.

Franz was talking again. "I shall take you to Wiesbaden. You will ride a train to Geisenheim and check into your hotel. From then, you are likely to be under surveillance. Arriving workers in New Frankfurt are checked many times in the early weeks. You are not the first spy sent there, and they have a harsh way with spies."

David didn't ask what they did with spies. Last year, two Zodiac RIBs carrying twenty-four anti-capitalism protesters had landed on New Frankfurt's rocky shore, pasted notices on nearby buildings and chained themselves to railings. They had been unchained, arrested, anaesthetised, operated upon in the tiny private hospital, then released the same day. The ligaments of the right hand of each protester had been severed. Elaine had been one of them.

"You have our emergency telephone number in your memory?"

"Yes."

"This number is a single-use mobile phone. Never use it unless you are desperate. There are no private cellular telephone connections in Europe today."

"Understood."

"And you realise, of course, that your own mobile telephone will not work on The Island?"

"Yes, it's quite common for mobiles to be blocked in dealing rooms, even in London and New York."

"Really? I didn't know that. And all is clear on the dead drop?"

"Yes, indeed."

"And you have your Zippo?"

"Of course." The Zippo, so called because of its resemblance to an antique cigarette lighter, was an inertial locator with a magic58 interface. In those fitness-conscious days, many people carried one. They calculated how many calories you consumed in your daily walking from place to place, climbing stairs and so on. They did it by measuring your body movements. David's Zippo, unusually, was also able to make a three dimensional map of where he had been, at what time, without the need for GPS.

"And do nothing at all for several weeks."

"I know."

"We cannot rescue you if you get into trouble. New Frankfurt is a foreign country, with its own laws and justice. It is a sovereign state and even America is afraid to punish them. These fools in our German Government allowed them to secede, hoping for advantage which never arrived. Now, the financial power of New Frankfurt means that it can bankrupt any power on Earth. You remember what happened to Nigeria when they defied New Frankfurt?"

"I do. And Nigeria has oil."

"But no country dares to buy it."

"Right."

Later, they parted in Wiesbaden without shaking hands, Franz slightly built and somehow bloodless, David a little fleshy and florid. The car door slammed, and Franz drove away without a backward glance, as though distancing himself.

The view David had of New Frankfurt from the South bank of the Rhine turned out to be his last view of The Island as a whole for some time. Only a few senior people were permitted to live on New Frankfurt. Real estate was concentrated in making money in dealing rooms and in head offices of major organisations basing themselves in New Frankfurt for tax purposes. Day to day commuting from his hotel in Germany into Banque Vietnam in New Frankfurt took place entirely via a shuttle service of underground trains and subterranean pedestrian tunnels. He had no opportunity to climb to the surface of The Island, because access to everywhere was carefully monitored by his access ring. Every regular worker on The Island had one. The ring was issued to him on his first day, a translucent gem set in a yellow metal band, its depths sparkling with myriad microtechnology, and resembling a fire opal. He later discovered that the yellow metal was gold. Why not? It was rust-proof, hypo-allergenic, malleable and much cheaper than the electronic contents of the "opal".

Possession of a New Frankfurt access ring had become a status symbol among the world's financial community, keyed, as it was, to the individual wearer. Attempts had been made to reverse engineer the ring of a deceased wearer who had collapsed with a fatal heart attack while being "entertained" during a visit to Paris, but it had turned out to be far too complex to analyse, every one of the gleaming particles in the stone being a microchip, many of which were destroyed when the transparent capsule was broken. The source of the rich colours in the ring was the interference patterns set up by the wavelength-thin slices of silicon layered within.

His daily commute reminded David of the "Drain" - the ancient Waterloo and City underground line that served the City of London where he had worked before. The decorations were, however, of a much superior quality; clean design by Ferrari, brightly lit, and liberally served by moving walkways. Travel was, of course, free for ring wearers and all but prohibited for anyone else.

David obediently went about his employment in a regular fashion for nearly a month. Having established a pattern of boring conformity, he began his espionage. Every night, back at the hotel, David carefully dumped the Zippo maps of those corridors he managed to explore onto the nBook he kept in his hotel room. He annotated the maps with location descriptions, corridor numbers, business addresses, doors, cameras. These, in turn, were woven by the nBook into images downloaded from the net. He specialised in soft porn images to give any watcher a reason for his downloading them. Then he printed them on the shiny scraps of paper from the nBook's internal printer. These he crumpled up and discarded in the waste bin, from which they were to be rescued by one of Franz's agents, and scanned to extract the hidden map data.

David had expressed some doubt as to the usefulness of this mapping when it was first suggested to him, but Franz had explained it quite simply. Although the aerial view of New Frankfurt was by now well known, the geography below ground and the services that enabled The Island to maintain its autonomy were ill-understood. In particular, it was vital to know where the compact nuclear power plant was located, and, more prosaically, where the water purification and sewage disposal facilities fitted in. David could see that any serious attempt by outside forces to seize New Frankfurt would require this and other details.

David's manager at Banque Vietnam was Mrs Chu, a Chinese woman, or, rather, you would have to say, "a Chinese lady". She was slight in physique, and dressed in a suede suit and wore white calf-length boots like the love interest from a cowboy movie. She was meticulously made up in a pale, expressionless, manner. Mrs Chu was hard-faced and abrupt, and had halitosis that would strip paint at four metres. David had a great deal of difficulty with her English pronunciation and she always managed to give the impression that it was David's hearing or his comprehension of English that was at fault when he had to ask her to repeat some mangled expression. She never smiled. Occasionally, he would hear her give an unexpected strained giggle on the telephone when she spoke, he presumed to a relative, in Chinese. With David and his Albanian colleague, Zaf, she was all business to an almost offensive extent. And the bad breath seemed to make it worse. The more excited she became, the more obvious the halitosis. And you couldn't show it. And no-one would have dared to tell Mrs Chu.

Zaf was a preternaturally relaxed character, always draped over his chair; at one moment using a languid finger to buy an option on a few million Euros, at another, eating a sticky sweet cake and reading a music magazine. He contrived always to look as if he had shaved, carefully, exactly forty-eight hours ago. He appeared to dress in whatever he had found on the floor in his room that morning, usually grubby jeans, one of a selection of worn sweaters and a pair of threadbare Korean trainers, yet managed to look amazingly attractive at all times. Mrs Chu clearly couldn't reconcile Zaf's personal sloppiness with his clever ability to make a fortune for the bank by buying and selling currency, and she wasn't on his case as often as she was on David's.

On her desk, Mrs Chu kept an inlaid wooden box, which she seemed to regard with some reverence. Zaf said it was an antique Koyosegi Japanese puzzle box. She could sometimes be seen to open and close it without apparent effort, using slick automatic movements of her tiny fingers. David couldn't see how it was done even when he took the opportunity of Mrs Chu's absence to guiltily hold the box in his own hands. He became fascinated by it. In Mrs Chu's grip, it appeared to open by way of sliding panels, but they were all but invisible. It usually contained something small and hard, as he could detect by shaking it, but occasionally it seemed empty.

Work was routine. David's system was operated by a computer process that monitored trading patterns and recommended purchases and sales. In order to cloak the process from other financial instruments on the market, some recommended trades had to be ignored, while other counter-intuitive sales and purchases had to be made by the dealer himself. Mrs Chu found this deliberate flouting of the system's commands very hard to comprehend, but any system whose moves could accurately be predicted soon fell foul of someone else's counter-system. In the early days of software dealing, markets had been endangered by runaway programs all making the same decisions on the same market data.

The atmosphere on The Island was more sombre than in London, but there was still scope for levity among the dealers, of whom there were over two hundred on David's floor alone, at closely packed ranks of screen-strewn desks in a vast circular open plan office. Battles with paper darts and balloons were not unusual, especially among the Europeans.

But in the "public" areas, and even in the dealing rooms from time to time, the Security Guards were ever present. They tended to be large, fit men crammed into uniform blazers and flannels with white shirts and dark blue ties. They spoke poor English and German, and conversed together, which they did rarely, in some slavic language. Their purpose was evidently to intimidate by presence, and in this they were effective.

Three weeks of casual exploration and deliberate "getting lost" in the corridors under The Island served to map the areas accessible to David's access ring. The vast majority of entrances led to banking houses, eating houses and drinking houses. He managed to enter a few buildings by hitch-hiking on someone else's ring, but it was risky. He had to pick busy times when he could pass in and out in a crowd, otherwise he might get marooned in there. There remained a few, including the main security building and another entrance that only Security Guards seemed to use. There was no clue as to the location of the nuclear generator.

It was Spring, and, one lunchtime, Zaf remarked on the good weather and suggested to David that they see the sunshine for a change. He led David to a dark stationery store room and punched a four digit number into a keypad on the wall. The unmistakeable sound of an electric servo motor came from above David's head, and a metal ladder appeared from a trap-door in the ceiling and slid into position.

"Plant Room," said Zaf, trotting up the ladder. "The code is 2029, the year of opening this office." David followed, and found himself in a huge thrumming space which evidently ran above the whole main dealing floor of the bank. Zaf pressed a button and the ladder retracted. David hardly had time to notice the huge air-con units, the ducting, the power supply boards, elevator motors and fire sprinkler systems looming in the shadows before Zaf was standing on a chair, opening an aluminium and glass skylight. "Come!" he called, and heaved himself through the aperture. David followed.

He was standing on a steep walkway. For the first time, David discovered that the Banque Vietnam was roofed by an immense shallow dome like an inverted saucer. All around lay, or soared, as the case may be, the roofs of many other buildings.

Zaf led him to the flattened summit of the dome and identified several of the surrounding banks and institutions by the names of their owners - Morgan and Morgan, Rothschild, International Financial Services Council, and so on, nearly doubling David's perception of local geography in five minutes.

"And this is Signe," he finished. They were not alone. A girl was sitting on a small rug. She was a Danish girl that David recognised from a desk near his own. She had raw features and dressed plainly, and obviously had some kind of crush on Zaf. There was a clear air of resentment at David's presence.

They relaxed in the sun, David feigning sleep whilst desperately trying to memorise all the new material, Zaf and Signe talking quietly; he, serious, she flirtatious. There were people resting and walking on other roofs.

The great river swept by on either side, forming a bow-wave from the upstream end of the island, and a long wake behind, as though New Frankfurt were actually afloat and heading for Switzerland.

David was surprised that walking around on the roof was permitted. It was exactly the sort of thing the authorities would normally forbid. Zaf later explained that it was officially forbidden, but that many Muslim employees had declared that they preferred to pray in the open air, and that the practice was therefore tolerated. After all, they couldn't do much harm other than fall from the edge onto someone important below.

There were catwalks joining most of the buildings together, and David started to walk on the roof every lunchtime, consolidating his knowledge of Island geography, but also because he enjoyed the fresh air. Signe was usually there, waiting for Zaf. They talked, and she clearly began to turn her attention to David, restricting the scope of his exploration.

As a result, David took most of his walks in the late afternoon instead, when he was usually quite alone apart from the gathering flocks of little birds, starlings. In this way, he was able to document the entire island over a few weeks, taking care, however, never to write anything down until he was in his hotel.

He discovered the nuclear plant nestling under a false canopy like a chalet roof. The water and sewage works were accommodated under a light plastic dome. He reported both in his daily wastebasket. He identified the building that was entered from below only by security staff, a tall, dark grey, windowless column with many aerials and dishes on its summit.

Next to the security building, he also observed a little square park about 50 metres a side, a lawn surrounded by monastic arched cloisters. He could see people moving around, but they stayed within the cloistered area. He noted its position, wondering how he could reach it from below.

He asked Zaf about the park. He claimed to know nothing, but recommended asking Signe. Next time David encountered Signe on the dome, he mentioned the little park. To his surprise, Signe flushed pink and asked, "What have you heard?"

"Nothing. Zaf thought you might know."

She paused, turning away to face a procession of barges pushing upstream. She eventually replied, "It isn't a garden."

"Oh."

"There's no secret. It's a sort of prison. I'll take you, if you like."

"A prison?"

"Yes, if you do something serious enough, that's where they put you. You want to see?"

David's "Sure!" was tinged with dread.

"In that case, ask Mrs Chu for the key to the Garden of Correction this afternoon."

"Mrs Chu?"

"Yes. A friend of hers is there for a while. She holds the key for our section of the dealing room."

Mrs Chu stared at him impassively for a moment before picking up her Japanese puzzle box and opening it with nineteen practiced flicks. She handed him an access ring, speaking a phrase that seemed to contain the words "tomorrow morning".

Signe was carrying a shopping bag from Tesco gmbh when David met her in the hallway. The new ring permitted access to the mysterious door that only security men seemed to use. Beyond the metal door there was a small hallway, punctuated by a counter. The walls, floor and counter were in plastic faux marble, scratched and cracked. There was a smell of disinfectant. A big guard checked them for concealed weapons by patting them all over. Signe shuddered. A short, supervised walk brought them to another metal door, which opened into the cloisters David had seen from above.

He was greeted by a chorus of moans. Several emaciated men, wrapped in grey blankets, were clustered around the door. David followed Signe as she pushed through them. All the prisoners seemed to be crippled in some way. Signe ignored them all until she reached a figure hunched in a corner of the wall. The man was Chinese, thin and bony, and very obviously blind. Signe picked out a packet of dates from her shopping bag and gave it to him. She then turned and handed the bag to the tallest of the prisoners who had followed them.

"He can be relied upon to divide the food fairly."

David was still reeling with shock at the state of the prisoners, their haggard faces, the fact that they were all naked under their blankets, their emaciation, their disabilities - the missing hands and feet. He said: "What's going on here?"

"These people have all done something against the law in New Frankfurt, and the punishment varies with the crime. Tell David what you did, Lee."

Between nibbles of the sticky packet of compressed dates, Lee spoke quietly in English: "There were three of us. We were making a short sell cross-over ladder, you understand?"

David nodded, then, realising Lee's problem with non-verbal communication, "Yes." It was a complex way of making money by generating artificial falls in share price over a group of inter-dependent or competing companies. You could make a lot of money, but it was a technique from the fast lane, and crashes were frequent.

"They caught us, I have no idea how, it is a scam difficult to detect. It is almost legal."

"Yes, I know."

"Our man on the outside, the Davos contact, he disappeared. Maybe he betrayed us. My colleague on The Island, they beheaded him. I was lucky. They made me blind."

"Lucky?"

"Sure. They just seal the eyelids. Surgical procedure. It is reversible. There will be some small loss of vision, but I will see again. In a year and two months."

Signe added: "They just leave the prisoners out here. A blanket each. A little food every day, unlimited water. A latrine. They are allowed visitors. Of course, there are fights over food and blankets. The blind ones often miss out on food. The security guys do nothing at all about it. People die. And when the sentence is over, if the prisoner survives, they just expel them from New Frankfurt whatever condition they are in."

"I'd heard rumours," said David, "I always thought they were exaggerated."

"Well, not many dare to defy the administration here, and they always make sure the victim is discredited before release. The only reason I know about it is because Lee was a friend, and I've been bringing him food. They blind people, remove hands, feet, whatever. All surgically with anaesthetic, of course."

David recalled Elaine's carefully disabled hand and wondered what fate would await him, were he to be discovered.

"Which one is Mrs Chu's friend?"

"That one." Signe indicated a young man with no feet who was creeping around the quadrangle on hands and knees, weeping. He was glad when Signe decided to leave. She had spent most of the time in conversation with Lee, leaving David to contemplate the sorry creatures incarcerated here. A small struggle between two inmates was quickly broken up by the big man Signe had entrusted with her bag of provisions. Someone came up to them and spoke urgently but incomprehensibly. He evidently had no tongue. David spotted a number of figures with missing ears or noses. Several others lay unmoving as though already dead.

His wastebasket report that day contained a short description of the prison and conditions. Since starting this mission, he had, until now, given little thought to how it would end. He certainly didn't want to finish up in the cloisters. At the end of his report, he added that he had covered the whole of the ground he could reach, and asked, for the first time, whether it would be convenient for him to leave New Frankfurt now. Two days later, someone brushed past him in the hotel lobby, and he found himself holding a tiny screw of paper. He didn't open it until he was in the toilet. It said "dome 1640 today". At twenty to five, he was on the dome in a light drizzle, pretending to relish the fresh air. No-one else was in sight. A few birds were flitting around.

One of the birds landed rather untidily near him. He didn't look at it at first. Then it made a buzzing noise, and he turned. It might have passed as a bird at a distance, but it was rather bigger than one of the starlings, and didn't look at all natural close up. With due precaution, David edged towards the mechanism, which he now recognised as one of those military spy robots that were becoming very popular. He picked it up. It was very light in weight, the wings made of a brown translucent fabric, stiffened by plastic "bones". Its head was a sphere with two lenses in it, its legs and feet were flexible plastic. He could hear a voice, and he turned round guiltily, but no-one was there. He realised that the voice was coming from the bird. He held it close to his ear. "Can you hear me?" it said.

"Uh, yes," he replied, nearly dropping it in surprise.

"Are you OK?" It was Franz's voice.

David hesitated, "I suppose so, but I have just about finished the survey, and I can't see any way forward. I wondered if it would be all right for me to finish now."

"Finished? I don't think so. We only had communications from you three times. We were worried, but you kept returning to the hotel, seemingly without problem. The conclusion: you had had a fright, you wanted to avoid suspicion, and would resume when you considered it safe."

"What? I've reported every day."

"In that case, you are discovered. You must leave immediately."

"Will someone meet me? I still have a lot of this in my head, and I could still be useful." But the bird was silent. David dropped it, and it fluttered into the air. He didn't bother to watch it.

David's flesh was creeping with apprehension as he climbed back through the skylight and descended to the dealing floor. He grabbed a few of his things, and fled to the Underground shuttle. Two security guards were waiting for him. Apprehension turned to terror and his legs would hardly support him. The security men virtually carried him down to an office in the basement and left him there. They didn't even lock the door, but David was paralysed with dread. He was trembling by the time someone came. The someone was a short, neatly dressed man of about forty; bald, clean-shaven, quick in his movements. "My name is Arthur. Come with me," he said.

His manner was so friendly and matter-of-fact that David began to feel better, worry less. Arthur walked briskly, David hurried to keep up. He said, "What is all this about?"

Arthur stopped and turned. The corridor was green, made greener by the low wattage panels. One of the panels was flickering. It gave a sinister cast to Arthur's face. "You know very well what this is about, David."

"Is it about me walking on the roof? Lots of people do it. I thought it was OK."

Arthur glared at him for a moment, then wheeled around and strode on. They came to a large metal door which Arthur had to open with his opal. The room was filled with light. The light came from hundreds of video screens lining the walls and partitions. For each group of a dozen screens there was an operator. David was staring at the moving images on nearby screens. A group of people walking down a passageway, the camera swinging from time to time and tracking them. A view of an escalator in a building David had never visited, the camera again tracking along. A desktop, nothing happening. The inside of a toilet with a distressing amount of detail. "Here," said Arthur, "Come here."

The scenes on this group of screens were all quite familiar. David's desk; the route David followed from Underground to office; views from the roof; Signe giving a bag to the prisoner in the cloisters; David's hotel; David's room; David's computer; David's little maps; David's wastebin. He could feel himself blushing, but he managed to ask, "Have you got the entire world bugged?"

"Not exactly. We have surveillance on all our citizens and workers."

Of course. The opal rings. Looking at the videos, he could now see that they were all wide-angle shots with frequent close-ups of the ring wearer. The videos were converted, re-perspectived, balanced and smoothed to sanitise what would have seemed like the worst excesses of child moviemakers. "I see. The opals. Do I get representation at my trial?"

"There is no trial. You are guilty. The record you see here proves it beyond doubt. We have many examples of you mapping New Frankfurt. This is forbidden. It is disloyal." Somehow, now that discovery was complete, David felt much calmer, resigned. He was trying not to think about the cloisters and the state of the incarcerated victims but ever since visiting them, he had been adjusting to the danger of spending jail time there. He was pretty sure he could tough out a year or two if they didn't cripple him too much.

"But you cannot possibly see everyone all the time. What made you suspect me?"

"We know all about Franz." David rocked with that revelation. Arthur continued, "He frequently identifies discontents with a resentment towards the city. You were always under suspicion, but then everyone is."

"But he just warned me..."

"No. We just warned you to make you run in a predictable fashion. It saves so much time. You don't think a spy drone could make it through our air defence, even disguised as a bird, unless we permitted it? And here is the... physical proof, no?" Arthur produced a stack of paper. The pornographic images were crushed and smudged, stained with coffee, the contents of David's wastebasket for months.

"Whatever you suspect about me, it's a misunderstanding."

"I think not. Franz made it clear to you that you were working against New Frankfurt, and we have enough evidence if we needed it, which we don't, by the way. We do not have hours of video, we have weeks, months. Your guilt is certain. We have decrypted dozens of your little litterbin messages. But we do not need proof. It is sufficient that we, I, believe in your guilt. As you may know, we do not spend weeks in court for an open and shut case like yours."

There was something quite paralysing about the cold manner in which his fate was being sealed. Arrest, no trial, sentence to be carried out immediately, it appeared. He heard the sentence - beheading - but was somehow insulated from the horror by disbelief.

Some small part of him was relieved that the sentence was irreversible death, rather than years in the cloisters with some horrible disability. He stopped listening to Arthur's quiet voice, remembering, instead, the persistent story that victims of decapitation remained conscious for a while after their heads were severed. A French researcher, who had obtained permission to crouch by the guillotine to interrogate executed heads post mortem, had even reported several cases in which the deceased's eyes blinked and mouth moved in response to the investigator calling the head's previous owner by name. More recent scientific speculation argued that consciousness might remain for nearly half a minute.

But, even if these macabre stories were true, at least the suffering would be measured in seconds rather than months. Arthur interrupted David's morbid thoughts with: "The sentence will, of course, be carried out under anaesthetic, as is customary. We are not barbarians."

"Yes, you are," snapped David.

"Our laws and punishments are widely known. To avoid the punishments, you must simply obey the laws. Have you anything to say in your defence? Circumstances may be taken into account."

"You injured my girlfriend's hand. She was one of the protesters last year."

"Motive: revenge, then? But I'm afraid that doesn't count. She was also breaking the law. This city-state must have strict laws. The money we are trusted to manage for the rest of the world demands strict rules. The punishments are severe, but traditional, and carried out without unusual cruelty, the mutilations, in particular, under scrupulous medical procedure and supervision." Arthur paused and raised an eyebrow. "Now, if there's nothing else you wanted to tell me, we might as well get on with it. It is thoughtless to make the convicted person brood unnecessarily over their sentence."

David succumbed to the march to the hospital, accompanied by Arthur. If he had ever had any urge to resistance, all fight and flight were squeezed out of him now by Arthur's matter-of-fact delivery of judgement.. too late... too late. He was carefully dressed in a hospital gown and loaded on a trolley. A rather jolly man in a white coat, who introduced himself as David's anaesthetist, assured him that they would take good care of him and asked whether he was allergic to anything. As if it really mattered.

Just before they passed through the doors of pre-med, Arthur nodded politely to him, saying, "See you later." David was confused. Arthur was not the type to confuse "Goodbye for ever" with "See you later". So he said "Goodbye" to himself as the doors closed behind him, but when the jolly anaesthetist delivered a transdermal shot of something very strong, while inviting him to count down from 99, David began to wonder if this was just an elaborate mock execution to frighten him.

It was, and it wasn't. And then again it was. David's first conscious sensation after the transdermal was a tingling pain all over his body, resembling the torture of returning circulation after an extremity has been chilled to a sub-zero temperature. He opened his eyes. Either he was in total darkness, or he was blind. He tried to move, to turn his head, which he apparently still possessed. Nothing. Then the light went on, and Arthur appeared. "You're awake, I see. No. Don't try to talk. You won't be able to." David was, so far, impressed at being able to see and hear. But the pain was still there.

Arthur moved to the side, out of David's view. He said, "That's what you look like now." On the opposite wall, David saw a projectograph. At first he couldn't figure it out. Then he realised he was looking at his own head in profile, clamped in a metal framework, but where his neck should have been, there was just a small forest of tubes and wires. Below that, nothing. Arthur was speaking again. "I forgot to mention that your sentence is six months. The longest anyone has survived, however, even with this life support, is 49 days. But we keep refining our technique. Perhaps you will serve your full sentence, and the surgeons can have an attempt at re-attaching you to your body, which, I am afraid, will not be much use to you by then, though there will be a certain interest in doing the whole re-grafting process. You will find that you begin to lose functions as time passes. First vision, then hearing. Mercifully, I think, most prisoners achieve a sort of Alzheimer's state within a few weeks."

David only had one visitor, as far as he could tell. By then, he could neither see or hear, but he could tell by the smell of her breath that it was Mrs Chu, and he was pleased.

© Gil Williamson 2008 All Rights Reserved


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