Authors: A M Russell
Tags: #adventure, #fantasy, #science fiction, #Contemporary, #a, #book three, #cloud field series
Is there one
day you remember above all others? I'm standing in the rain,
waiting. So let me wait to answer that question. I waited for the
lights to change, and then crossed. I am finding my way on
unfamiliar paths; into the university grounds. The surge of
humanity picks me up and guides me to the door.
'You will need
to sign in.' a woman is holding a pen out to me. She's looking at
me. I think she can see what I'm doing. I see her reaching down. Is
it to call security? No. Another pen. This one isn't working.
I sign then
with the new roller ball. She folds up the tear of strip into a
small shape and then passes it to me encased in the small badge
holder, plus annoying clip. Better for fastening to girl's
'Mr Arden?' she
looks at me without curiosity, 'if you take the lift to the third
floor. Then check in with the desk there.'
'The stairs?' I
point towards a door with a fair chance of guessing in one the way
to the stairwell. She was then staring at me as if I was weird.
‘I get sick in
lifts.’ I said to explain myself.
claustrophobia….’ She says bored with me already, ‘the stairs are
there.’ She pointed at another door on the opposite side of the
‘No, it’s just
motion sickness. You know…. when things accelerate without
warning.’ But she has moved on to the next human blob, and I am as
irrelevant as the sunshine, that is inexplicably filtering through
and marking the dusty air in motes of gold.
I bounce up the
stairs. It’s always is like this; over-cheery to balance the fear.
I wish that there was another way to do this. But we have to find
out what he knows. Why me? That’s easy. I’m the only one who knew
enough about him to catch him out last time. I have to do something
that I don’t want to do. But I have motive… dear Lord; I have
I have a secret
that I never tell. Because to tell it would render me crazy in the
eyes of the people who are here. I was running from this thing when
the project got hold of me. I was looking for somewhere that is
safe from the prying eyes of anyone who ever knew me. I was trying
to get out…. I found myself almost heir to a whole castle full of
secrets. When I was asked (blackmailed more like!) into resigning
from the blood brothers. Becoming the nonentity that I wanted to
be…. I accepted. But freedom has a price. Now; when I close my
eyes, and hear those whispered voices, I muse that soon I will be
free. There was only one place where they did not follow me. I will
tell of that later, but now: Hanson, and a matter of unfinished
business. I am like Merlin, David tells me. I asked him if he meant
the cat. I didn’t think he would find it so funny.
I am waiting
for Hanson to get back. He has, he thinks, an advantage over me.
Jean has paged him. He knows I'm waiting. But it isn't like before,
the naïve country boy with the worldly wise fellow student.
Hanson.... He gathered others around him like a King summons his
court. He enthrals them with his voice, his persuasion. And he is
clever. I never doubted that; he seeks to be the magician (in a
manner of speaking) he meditates, and ponders matters of
philosophical weight. Yet I, I have a world of secret knowledge
that is there; has always been there.... I never told Hanson, but
it is as if he senses, as if he sniffs the air and scents the blood
of the crime scene. I am innocent. So why was I drawn to a man who
makes me feel so guilty? He drew us all: Me, Jules Rosen, Juliet
Penn, Sam Wright.... And many others. It is like breaking a bad
habit... leaving Hanson behind. But I just got trapped in a
nightmare of my own making it seemed. He was the other one I knew,
who had been part of that same circle, who met again for the
Sandglass project. And everything that he had taken he took again.
But with one difference....no one remembered this time, except a
few such as myself. Sandglass was; and still is, a scientific
experiment into other possible versions of reality. Of course I was
tempted! Of course I wanted to see for myself. My sister was on the
team of scientists who developed the thing from its first
inception, and carried it forward to an actual parallel world. Just
a little bit of coastline in England, and we found a new world; a
new reality. And I regret so much; yet I found so much. And I hurt
deeper inside than even I can see. Because I'm so scared of the
power that I might have, and I want to forget. But first I must
know what Hanson remembers.
Hanson says firmly yet softly. He beckons me into his office.
settles himself down and produces a cigarillo and that zippo. He
offers me one. I hesitate, and then take it. This is another thing
that he adopted from me. But when he takes it into himself, it
changes. It becomes more his that it ever was yours. And later what
you do reminds you of his dominance. I find a lighter in my
'So you haven't
given up then?' Hanson blows a stream of fragrant smoke towards the
window behind him. It is as if he is trying to wreath us in flocks
of clouds and obscure what is happening.
question is curiously ambivalent. I look at him carefully and
clearly for the first time. He is relaxed, unafraid. Why?
'I am here to
see if you recall an experiment called "Sandglass". Because I think
that you might still be important to the whole thing.'
He is smiling
now. I was deliberate in my flattery, and he probably knows this,
but he had a weakness that can now still be exploited. The time
spent on our curious, and bizarre mission of discovery had not
ended Hanson's ability to be as egocentric as possible. And that
was even after he had been kidnapped, imprisoned, pumped for
information and later drugged and shackled to a chair. He was
always able to obscure his real reasons for doing anything....
He is still
smiling and waiting for the right moment to suddenly speak. It is
always better to avoid interrupting him. So I remain silent. I am a
patient man; when I have to be. I learned to be more than that when
I was on the expedition. I think of Davey; he makes me smile. He
always does that.... Hanson sees that shift in my expression and
clears his throat before speaking. My attention is back on him.
important?' he paused, 'That is quite a thought coming from you
Jay?' he tilts his chin and stabs a finger that isn't curled round
the cigarillo in my direction, 'Are you actually going to smoke
I have been
holding it. I have my lighter in the other hand. I put them both
down on the edge of Hanson's desk.
'I want to know
what you remember.' I am trying to keep the tone of rabid curiosity
out of my voice.
remember....' he seems troubled then, '...a lot of things. I know
you want to ask me something that pertains more to your own
situation. So I will answer you.' he stares upwards. Unusually he
seems worried; a strange kind of expression. It is like Hanson I
knew when I first met him. I ignore the discomforting feeling that
it's giving me and take the opportunity presented.
'When did you
first know Janey Amber?' I asked and waited.
you did Jay. And before the last time,' he stared at me. A new
expression, he continued with surprisingly sensitive tone, 'You are
the darkest person I know Jay. I can't fathom you at all. And as
for Marcia, she came to me; in the cafeteria right here in the
University. But the minute she saw you.... She was disappearing
from me faster than one of her chocolate fudge cakes. She's
actually crazier than you are! Well, I suppose she is. She wants to
trawl through that dark forest that is your subconscious and find
the buried treasure.'
I was biting my
lip then. He has pressed my buttons. And I knew that what he said
was true.... I looked up. He's looking at me in a worried way. Was
it a new ploy to undermine me? I'd known him a long time. But this
wasn't a tack he'd tried before with me. I reasoned it was probably
one that worked better with the women he seduced. Perhaps he
thought he'd try it on me. And it was bloody well working!
'Did Marcia say
it was over?' I asked him.
shifted in his seat, 'surprisingly she was reasonable and rational
about it. She explained that she couldn't be true to herself while
she stayed with me. She said.... She appreciated my; well...' he
fell silent and there it was again that worried look.
'Tell me' I
Some aspects of my err... Well; she said I had some good
majoring on finding people's good points.' I said.
'That's why it
must be something exceptional with you.' Hanson assumed his normal
confident manner here, 'I think she wants to save you.'
certainly quite decided about wanting me around.' I'm testing him
now. I want him to deny it. I want him to feel it. And then a
second later I'm feeling guilty for wanting to punish him for
stealing opportunities from me in the past.
he stubs out the remains of the smoke, '.... the only One Hundred
per cent truly good person that has ever been my misfortune to
cross paths with. I hope she doesn't make you crazier than you
clearly already are.'
think I’m mad?’ Hanson is beginning to irritate me. And it’s
getting me away from the point of what I need to find out.
‘It’s not what
I think that really matters….’ He sounds oddly apologetic, but with
an undercut of sarcasm that makes the whole thing much more
‘What do you
mean?’ I said getting drawn in, despite my earlier resolve not to
answer, but instead gets something out of a drawer. He slides it
across the desk to me. It is a memory stick inside a small plastic
pouch. He’s seeing my reaction. Seeing if I get it straight away. I
feel slow. I’m trying to force my mind back to the point. I pick up
the memory stick in its little wrapper.
‘It is for
you.’ he said eventually, ‘I have to say that this was one of the
aspects of the job that proved to the most useful for my own
‘It's about all
the team?' I asked, feeling the available oxygen in the room being
'No,' he grins,
'just you. You certainly have some interesting hang-ups. I really
'But how?' my
own voice sounds dangerously low and gravelly, 'Those files were
supposed to be confidential.'
are. I know that a lot of information has been.... Well, forgotten.
But I tried to retrieve what I could while I still had access.'
else....' I feel the words jam down inside my chest somewhere.
are you concerned? The conspiracy theorists haven't got to them.
You ought to be grateful that someone thought to clear the hard
drives before we left.'
before we went on the last expedition?!' I thought of Marcia's
printouts; I didn't need to look further to see where the rationale
for what he had done; it would be coming back to snap me in the
shins. I slumped a little in the chair.
‘I do have some
others,’ he said, ‘but, as I am not disposed to trust someone such
as you to get them to their respective owners, I will have to
contact each person individually.’
them?’ I asked him. I felt exposed. Especially since I wasn’t sure
what I had told the person who did the assessment before we left on
that last day at Base. It wasn’t Dr Rhodes…. So I supposed that the
records must have been kept on the main drive and not the other. I
remembered that Violette was quite careful what she uploaded…. So
what the hell had Hanson actually got on me? Whatever it was he’d
achieved quite neatly what I supposed he wanted. To disarm me. I
waited to see what he would do now. Then there was only one thing I
could do. I would choose my moment carefully.