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Authors: Edmund Cooper

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Three

A
FTER
dinner, Dion found himself cornered by the prime minister, the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, a submarine farmer who had recently been honoured for her intensive breeding of whales, and the British winner of the decathlon in the last Olympic Games.

The four doms had him more or less to themselves while Victoria circulated round her salon in the course of queenly duty. There were not many males present, he noted. In fact, a rapid count told him that they were outnumbered by nearly four to one. So the four doms who held him in conversations were merely hanging on to their ration.

“Your motivation,” said the prime minister, “intrigues not a little. I took the trouble, Sir Dion, to find out that you have already acquired three threes. This means—or ought to mean—that you are inherently anti-social. A natural candidate for a two, in fact. And yet, there you go, performing quixotry in the stilly night. The inconsistency disturbs me.”

Dom Ulaline Shores, prime minister of the United Kingdom, was a still handsome woman of one hundred and three. She had been born in the year 1968, in a world still dominated by men. Despite her reputed shrewdness as a politician, there was still some clinging remnant of the grace of a man’s woman about her, thought Dion as he sipped his brandy. And there seemed to be a great sadness deep in her eyes. Maliciously, he hoped she had seen too
much. Clearly, time shots would give her another half century—if the spirit was willing. But since the flesh was too damn strong quite probably the spirit would be stupidly weak.

“Inconsistency,’’ said Dion, picking up the conversational thread, “is all that sorry little bedwarmers like me have left with which to confound our masterly mistresses. You will forgive us if we exploit it.”

Two hundred pounds of muscle and bone vibrated as the decathlon winner laughed. “Bravely spoken, manikin. But there are those who would be inspired by such sentiments to snap you in two.”

“Meaning, of course, yourself,” retorted Dion waspishly. “The point about the dinosaur is that it had obsolescence built in along with size.”

“You are trying to tell us something ?” enquired the leader of the opposition. She was about sixty, slender, monotonously beautiful and flint-hard.

Dion had already drunk quite a lot of brandy—the doms freshening his crystal whenever its contents were reduced to a finger—and he was also tired. Mechanical hearts with built-in detonators
might
be excellent for the circulatory system, but they did little to reduce mental fatigue. He wondered where Leander was at that point in time. It would be somewhat amusing to go boom at the palace, perhaps taking the P.M. and suchlike with him.

“Yes, I am trying to tell you something,” he said thickly. “I am trying to tell you that you have played a bad biological joke, that you have sold the human birthright for a mess of contraception, that you have frustrated your own big breasts, that you have scrambled the eggs of creation. In short, that you have pulled the plug out of history.” He hiccupped.

The doms all laughed.

“Wonderful stuff,” said the prime minister, “You ought to be in the House.”

“How many men—if any—are in the House?” demanded Dion.

“Eleven—I think… They still have a certain odd sense of humour in the north and the north west.”

“Then it’s a House of Ill Repute,” said Dion vaguely. “It has eliminated imagination, creativity and foresight from government. It’s a House of demented dolls.”

“Sweeping charges,” said Dom Ulaline in a deceptively silky voice. “What evidence have you?”

“The sky.”

“Elucidate, child.”

“All the world’s a cage,” explained Dion, “and all the men and women merely bit players… What happened to the settlement on the moon, the laboratory on Mars? Where are the manned space stations and the star ships and the jolly jokers who only wanted to freeze for a few decades while they drifted out towards the constellations? You killed them—you and all the other beautifully hygienic social machines. You took the mainspring out of man.”

“Pardon the absence of a standing ovation,” snapped the prime minister, “and keep your synapses operating, little one. There are things you should know. I was born into a world where space flight was the greatest thing since salted peanuts. When I was a child, the Americans had an orbital station and an expedition mounted for Mars. The Russians had a lunar laboratory. And two thousand million people here on earth were starving. There were enough hydrogen bombs to kill the human race seventeen times and enough left over to blast the Andes into the Pacific and turn Antarctica into a luminous desert. But infant mortality in
India was thirty per cent, and China was carrying out five million abortions a year. And since the beginning of the twentieth century, people had been blowing each other to an increasingly mechanized glory… It was a man’s world, little one. A man’s world in which everybody was rapidly running out of time.”

“What is it now?” said Dion savagely. “A worn-out, micro-miniaturized limbo where nobody starves too much, where nobody gets hydro-bombed and where the psychiatric squads pick up the debris of original thought. A world where three quarters of the women are as sterile as robots and the rest are automated baby factories. A world where—if you are not an infra, not a sport or a squire—you can live till one fifty and buy yourself an orgasm a day to keep the domdoc away… Of such, dear doms, is the kingdom of decadence.”

“Ah, a genuine messiah!” cried the leader of the opposition with evident delight. “He should be preserved in the Natural History Museum.”

“I am preserved,” retorted Dion, “in the Unnatural History Museum. It’s all actually happening.” The decathlon winner replenished his crystal once more, and he took a deep swig. “Let us have an auction, sweet doms. I am a marketable commodity. Who, wishing to test the metal of a messiah, will start the bidding at one hundred lions?”

“Two hundred,” said the submarine farmer, a dark-skinned brunette, speaking for the first time. “Whales I am familiar with, but an eloquent porpoise might be fun.”

“The joke is sour,” said Dom Ulaline severely.

The leader of the opposition smiled. “Three hundred says it is still amusing.”

“Three fifty,” said the winner of the decathlon. “The material seems slight, but the spirit is interesting.”

“How quaint,” said Victoria, who had advanced upon the group unseen. “How fearfully quaint. I am afraid, dearest ones, that my bid consists only of the royal prerogative.”

Four

S
T
. J
AMES

S
Park was filled with all the lonely, foggy magic of a November morning. Dion stood patiently by the edge of the water with a couple of croissants he had stolen from New Buck House. He was hoping to feed the ducks. There weren’t any. Maybe they had all emigrated to some far patch of Elysian mud where worms wriggled sempiternally in an orgy of self-sacrifice. Or maybe the poor disconcerted ducks had all been volunteered into the Lost Legion and were even now being fitted with explosive gullets, so that when the doms fed them there would be some corner of St. James’s that would be forever Aylesbury.

Dion was sad and confused. He was angry and undecided And was trying to convince himself that he hated everything in the world except the wispy fog that London wore like an ancient negligee.

He was a walking bomb. A dead man who wouldn’t lie down. A marionette at the end of an electronic string. A man who wanted to destroy the world of super-women without getting his hands dirty… He was also Sir Dion Quern, a squire of some notoriety and independence—by grace of Her Gracious Majesty. And if all that wasn’t enough, he had an aberrational compulsion to cherish an obscure Peace Officer whose two-dimensional mind represented the shortest distance in a point-to-point.

Above all he was angry because he didn’t know what he wanted. Also he was somewhat annoyed by the bitter
knowledge that he was devoutly afraid of dying. Having tried it twice, he told himself drily, it was high time he got out of the habit.

Which turned his mind to Leander Smith.

Who came in right on cue.

“How now, brown study,” said Leander cheerily. “To brood in such a Nordic mist, a man must either be witless or an exceptionally bad poet.”

Dion spun round and nearly fell into the water. “God rot you, bastard. Can’t you leave me a solitary ration of
Angst?
And how in Stopes did you know where to find me?”

Leander smiled. “I forgot to tell you, lad. Our electronics twitchers had themselves a twenty-four carat reciprocal-radar ball. Your tin heart is a telltale heart. We can follow your movements, find out wherever you are at any given nano-second. Very useful, in case you decide to hop to Ulan Bator. Then we simply press the button and mutter a few well chosen
sotto voce
words… How did you enjoy your brief sojourn at Buck House?”

“Well enough, coprolite. Is your finger still button-oriented?”

“Not for the nonce, comrade. Others besides I carry the weighty burden of rebellion. Also—and this may afford some small solace—I am myself the bearer of a bomb in mine own aorta. The Lost Legion, brother zombie, plays for keeps.”

Suddenly, Dion leaped at him. Leander, taken by surprise, fell to the wet grass. Dion’s fingers closed round his throat. He squeezed. He felt the divine power of destruction. He squeezed until the veins stood out on Leander’s forehead, until his heels drummed noiselessly upon the grass. He squeezed—despite the clawings at his face, the knee in his groin—until Leander’s face went blue and his
tongue popped out in grotesque and obscene mimicry of a sexual endearment.

And then, half lying across his victim, avoiding the staring eyes, keeping his face averted as the life force ebbed, Dion noticed a single dewdrop on a leaf of clover. It was pure and round and beautiful. It was a glass cathedral. It was too beautiful to be so close to the sordid act of death by violence.

He relaxed his grip.

Leander sobbed, and whistled painfully, and sobbed again. Presently he sat up.

“Thank you,” he croaked, “for services not completely rendered. Why, for two farthings, don’t you save the rough stuff for the doms?”

“Because the doms didn’t sentence me,” said Dion, still looking at the dewdrop. “Because I had a war of my own to fight and you took it from me. Because I’m tired of people saying like it, or don’t like it, or do something about it. And because, finally, I’m a stupid, contrasuggestible, hyper-thyroid oaf.”

Leander massaged his throat. “Message received. Now listen on all channels, stupid. The reason for this painful rendezvous, I will transmit before you con yourself into further mayhem. At eleven forty-five precisely, seven days from now, you will toss an atomic grenade into the House of Commons.”

“Alternatively?”

“Some joker presses both our buttons. The Lost Legion does not entirely dote on those who bet on the wrong horse.”

“So pray for us both. Eternity, they say, is a great adventure.”

“You’re not going to do it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’re going to do it?”

“I didn’t say that, either.”

Leander stood up. “Dion, what the Stopes are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“For crysake, you have to know something.”

“I know that I’m a man,” said Dion. “I know that unless some psychotic clowns do something about it, I’m part of a dying breed. I know that the sun still rises and that the Dark Ages are upon us… I know that some bastard rigged it so that Dion Quern can take on Scylla or Charybdis… I know that I am cold.”

“Let’s go get some coffee,” suggested Leander.

“On your way alone, carrion. I do not drink with procurers.”

Dion watched as Leander disappeared into the thickening fog. Then he resumed his patient wait for the non-existent ducks.

Five

A
FTER
a time, he began walking. He didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do. Images rattled around in his head like a collection of ancient daguerreotypes. The box at London Seven… A big dom wearing hardly anything but a laser pistol… No Name… A sari and a fragment of verse…

He walked through the fog, not knowing where he was walking. Round in circles, perhaps. It didn’t matter. Was there anywhere to go?

There was.

Suddenly, Dion found himself at an almost deserted sky station near Parliament Square. Nobody but a fool or a moron would jet in such a fog. Which twice included Dion Quern.

The sky station attendant, a small wizened sport who would clearly never make enough lions to collect his badly needed time shots, manipulated his mouth with some expressiveness. Dion did not hear the words. Waving aside the bee feature gesticulations, he thumb-signed for sky suit, audio-radar helmet, jet pack and insurance. Then he inserted his credit key in the debit slot, collected his equipment and put it on while the faded minion fluttered like a dying moth.

The audio-radar purred soothingly in his ears as he lifted. It screeched a brief warning note as he swung perilously near to Big Ben—the clock face breaking crazily out of the
fog like the face of a frozen clown—then resumed its contented purring as he rose high over the river.

At seven hundred feet he broke clear of the fog and was enchanted by the brilliant sunlight. Below him was a carpet of gold-tinted cotton wool, stretching to the edge of the world. He looked down at it with immense affection—an aseptic veil drawn over the earthbound putrescence of mankind. Or womankind. Or both. It didn’t matter, for the rot was dry and all-embracing… Abandon hope all ye who enter these vaginas…

Enough of turning back the carpet, looking beneath the veil! Here was a lovely universe of nothing. Sun and blue sky and frozen dimensions of stillness.

He jetted east. East by the sun. East because it was as good a direction as any. He jetted east, hopping playfully from fog peak to fog peak, across miniature valleys and hypnotic contours, as if he were crossing some immeasurable sea on stepping stones that had been casually dropped by a non-existent deity.

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