Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 2

“My whole family ghosted you know”.
Nicholson looked at his lap and pursed his lips. “I’m sorry.”
“Everyone; my wife, my kids, my parents, my brother. Why not me? I’ve listened to these various New Agey types giving lectures on “dimensional splits” and how some of us ascended and others couldn’t because their “vibration was out of synch”. What a load of bollocks! My wife was the sweetest, kindest person in the world! Why was she left behind? What’s more I know some right creeps who did “ascend”. He spat at the word. Where’s the logic in that!? Where’s the bloody justice!?”
Nicholson shrugged. “Well at least they didn’t Rep.”
It was just past lunch and Southsea was doing his routine tour of the hospital, stopping off in the main hospital lodges, the Women’s Centre, the West Wing, Theatres, to sort out any problems and give advice and encouragement; or just to have a quick cup of tea. The crews were a bit reserved after the recent vote, but the Portering camaraderie remained as unbreakable as ever, a salving foundation that underlay the most bitter of disputes. One of the late shift Porters phoned in sick so Southsea joined the Level 2 crew for an hour moving patients between the wards and the Orgone Clinic. He helped the nurses move the frail and elderly patients from their wheelchairs into the quiet and dark accumulator chambers.
“You said that your family were quite mainstream and average; you weren‘t brought up to think in unconventional ways. So when did you first know?” asked Nicholson.
“Know what?”
“That the world was not what you thought it was.”
“Ah! Subconsciously I always knew it, but the first time I consciously understood was when I met a man called Charlie.”
(Possible chapter/section break here. Ed)
The last day of Bob’s life began normally. He washed, shaved and put on his uniform, the one in which Julie had been unable to resist him when they’d first met all those years ago. He ran his fingers through his greying hair wondering if he should swallow his pride and dye it. He kissed Julie on the cheek and she lay in their bed. She rolled over and murmured to herself, but didn’t wake up. Before leaving the house he paused to admire the hall photos of Gavin and Douglas, his grandsons. The picture showed the two boys dressed up for a school play, smiling for the camera. It was a cold morning; spring had come late that year and there was a frost in the air. The sky was fresh lilac, broken by the sharpest, tiniest pinpricks of stars. The eastern horizon was splashed with the maroon hint of sunrise. Bob looked up longingly, eager to immerse himself in it. He eased the car out of his driveway and onto the main road for London.
There was another terrorism scare in progress, an “Orange Level Alert” the third that year and it was only March. Soldiers guarded the gates of Heathrow Airport, strutting up and down in hero poses that could have been choreographed. Bob shook his head wryly as he turned off the Terminal 5 expressway and saw a tank parked outside the Departures door. What use was a tank against terrorists? He mused on the subject; a tank is a battlefield weapon. Do they think we’re stupid?
He forgot this and other conundra as he left his car in the staff carpark and headed for the briefing office. He felt the usual shiver of excitement as he flicked through his flight plan. Even after more than five thousand hours in the cockpit the thrill never lessened; in fact his retirement the following year was a bit of a gloomy prospect. After a mornings’ paperwork he ate lunch and then went to brief the crew. The security checks he had to endure before being allowed to board his aircraft got more and more tedious every year. He was fingerprinted, had his voice analysed by the ID computer and had his National Identity Card scanned. It took him fifteen minutes to prove who he was, even though he and the security guard conducting the test knew each other on a first-name basis. Finally he was permitted to meet his aircraft for today’s flight, a 747-400i. He ran through the checklist with Nigel, his twenty-five year old first officer. There were just two of them in the cockpit now. When Bob first flew 40 years ago the aircraft also carried an in-flight engineer, but that was in the good old days; Bob’s favourite vice, Nostalgia, flushed his system.
Bob instructed the cabin manager to begin embarking the passengers and cargo while he and Nigel started the engines and made their presence known to Air Traffic Control. Today’s mission would be a twelve-hour flight to Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Bob relished the prospect of an evening in the Big Apple and a night in one of the city’s sumptuous hotels before a flight home tomorrow. A tug pushed the aircraft away from the gate and the two pilots began their final checklist before takeoff. The control tower directed them along Heathrow’s twisting taxiways to the queue of planes waiting to hit the sky. Air Traffic Control cleared them for takeoff. This was the point where regret and longing for the past really ate into Bob’s soul. In his youth, takeoff had been a moment of pure exhilaration; pushing the throttle keys forward and feeling the engines roar beneath his touch. Then as the plane gathered speed, pulling back on the yoke to rotate the gigantic airliner into its initial climb. It was a magical Godlike experience… but it was gone. Today, Bob acknowledged his clearance and merely pressed a button on the autopilot panel. He and Nigel then just sat back, as passive and the passengers in the cabin behind them, as electronics drove the plane down the runway and into the air. Bob looked across at Nigel and pitied his young first officer. Nigel would have to fly his entire career in the modern pilots’ role: merely a supervisor to a tin box of wires; the only flying he’d ever do would be in the unlikely event that the hardwired redundancy-protected autopilot failed. Bob decided that when they arrived at New York he’d switch off the autopilot and perform a manual landing. He’d get a terrible reprimand for it, but he didn’t care. He smiled at Nigel. Enjoy it while you can, Son.
The airliner climbed quickly to its cruising altitude. “I tried to get out of this flight.” said Nigel. “I’m missing the cup tie. I was planning on driving up to Old Trafford and seeing if I could pick up a last-minute ticket.”
“Who’ve you got?” asked Bob.
“Leeds. They beat us in the third round last year.”
“Do you live, eat and breathe Man U?”
Nigel laughed. “Pretty much!” At least during the FA Cup.”
The aircraft reached its second waypoint over the English Midlands. As it rolled onto its new course Bob called Air Traffic Control. “Hello this is British Airways 4167 Heavy; request course change confirmation. Over.”
There was no reply.
Bob repeated the message and heard nothing back except background chatter from other transmissions. “ATC’s not responding.” Bob tried again. Nothing.
The two men exchanged worried frowns. In Bob’s early career it would have been easy to simply retune his aircraft’s UHF radio, but such equipment had been phased out over a decade ago and modern air communications was all digital and controlled from a single computerized switchboard. A minute later the radar beacon failed. Bob tapped his touch-screen display trying to switch on the back-up, but the system wouldn’t respond. There was no immediate danger; the plane was flying on its designated transit lane, but without radio and the radar beacon ATC couldn’t guide them through the complex convolutions of flight. Nigel flushed and put a finger inside his collar to loosen his tie. “Don’t panic, Nigel.” said Bob. “ATC will call a Code Tango and get the RAF onto us. They’ll find us with their search radar and scramble a jet to escort us down. A few minutes later the aircraft throttled down and began a descent. “Thank God for that!” sighed Nigel. “We’ve been put onto GO.” GO or “Ground Override” was a system where somebody at ATC could reprogram a flying aircraft’s autopilot from the tower control room and fly it from there as if it were a huge model glider. ATC was clearly aware of Bob and Nigel’s predicament and had taken over the controls. Bob made an announcement to the passengers over the PA circuit explaining the situation. “…We’re probably being diverted to an emergency landing at Birmingham or Manchester. From there you will all bee offered alternative flights to Kennedy International. On behalf of British Airways, let me offer you my deepest apologies for the inconvenience.”
But they weren’t heading for Birmingham or Manchester. The aircraft turned west towards North Wales. “Maybe they’re too busy.” said Nigel. “We must be putting down at Dublin or Shannon.”
Bob didn’t reply. He felt an instinctive chill of fear and doubt.
When the plane crossed the Gwynedd coast Bob expected it to level out at a few thousand feet and begin its stack into Dublin. It didn’t; it continued to descend. “What the hell’s going on!?” Now Nigel was scared too. Bob gripped the edge of his seat, his heart pounding. The plane carried on down and down. It passed six thousand feet, then five thousand. “That’s it!” said Bob. “I’m taking over! Sod ATC!” He pressed the switch-off button on the autopilot and seized the controls. Nothing happened. The autopilot display remained active. He pulled the yoke, but it refused to budge. He paused, the toggled the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! This is British Airways 1167 Heavy!” He could hear the terrified quaver in his own voice. “We are out of control and descending fast; position coordinates…” Nigel called the cabin crew and told them get the passengers back to their seats and break out the life-jackets.
The 747 finally levelled off at just 1000 feet above sea level and throttled up to full. Soon they were doing over four hundred knots and the overspeed alarm began ticking. Bob felt he was slipping on a tightrope. He could easily see the waves of the Irish Sea rush past under the fuselage. They flew past a fishing boat less than a mile away and the orange-clad sailors on the deck were plainly visible. “Where the hell are they taking us!?” hissed Nigel.
The plane banked sharply to the right, its wingtips coming alarmingly close to the sea, and steadied onto a northerly heading. A chorus of shrill voices of fright reached them from the passengers aft. After another few minutes the aircraft rolled around to the east and began flying back inland along the coast of North Wales. Bob felt the tension ease a touch. “They’re directing us to Liverpool or Manchester.” He tittered a Nigel. “You might catch that game after all.”
Nigel looked at the clock. “Too late. It kicked off ten minutes ago. Right now I couldn’t give a shit! I just want to feel solid ground under my feet. When we get down I’ll kiss it like the Pope… and then I’m going to kick the arse of the stool pigeon they’ve got at the GO controls!”
The distinctive skyline of Liverpool soon appeared ahead and Bob involuntarily winced and drew up his knees and they flew over the twin towers of the Royal Liver Building with just a few hundred feet to spare. The plane then followed the M62 motorway inland, the moving vehicles on it looking like tiny toys beneath them. The tight-packed rooftops of Manchester loomed in the cockpit windows. Dead ahead was a huge football stadium. “Hey, Nigel, isn’t that Old Trafford? Look down now and you might catch a glimpse of Man United scoring a goal.”
If Bob had known that those were to be his last words he’d have probably thought of something better to say.”

Next: )

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 1

There’s a saying among writers: Never show anybody else a work in progress. I always went along with this; all my writing was something secret that no other soul saw until publication day. But now I’ve decided to break that golden rule. I’m going to write the first draft of my new novel publicly, posting everything I write on Ben’s Bookcase, as I write it! Yes, you’ll be able to have a good laugh at all the mistakes that previously just made me cringe in private. This really is a unique opportunity, exclusive to HPANWO-readers. Few ever get the chance to witness a novel being written, in fact has any writer ever done it before? I’ve written Part 1 already. The reason I’ve decided to do this is mostly because of the urgency of the situation in the world today. The novel has a paranormal and conspiracy theory-based theme and any information or inspiration contained therein needs to be read by people here and now, not in 5 years after the rigmarole of bringing the story out as a book. However when the novel is finished I will probably try to get it published as a book. Another saying is that writing is the loneliest profession and by sharing my writing experience with you all I‘ll be happily breaking that rule too.

The working-title I’ve given this new novel is The Obscurati Chronicles and it’s based on notes, fragments and sketches I’ve been writing over the past few years. The segments of the draft put into Ben’s Bookcase posts don’t necessarily relate in any way to chapter or section breaks within the text. Hope you enjoy it:

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 1
Glyn Southsea shaved carefully and then studied his face in the mirror. His eyes were bright and clear; his cheeks full and smooth. He frowned and watched his freckled skin warp around his eyes and on the bridge of his nose. “How old am I, Stace?”
Stacey sat up in the bath and looked at him. “Dunno.” She shrugged and bubble bath squeezed at her neckline. “I’ve asked myself that same question. It shouldn’t be hard to work out.”
“Then why is it so hard; and why then do we keep forgetting after we‘ve done it?” Southsea dried his face with a towel and sighed. “Here we go again. I was born in 1969-Gregorian and it’s now the year 20 of the New Provisional Calendar. So 20 plus… when did the NPC begin?”
Stacey paused in thought. “5 years after… After what?”
Southsea sat on the end of the bath. “After… you know what.” He grinned.
Stacey grinned back and shifted in the bath with a splash. “What have you got on at work today?”
“Not a lot while Clive’s on the layroll. It’s this bloody post-Cap-Div Day belt-tightener. I’ve got a rather tedious online meeting with the Guild HQ and… that’s it I think.”
“Good… Oh yeah that reporter called again.”
Southsea rolled his eyes. “What Nicholson? I said I’d write to him.”
“He says he’s going to be up at the hospital today to visit a relative and asked if he could drop in at your office.”
Southsea tittered. “Not giving me the chance to say no! Oh, I might as well get it over with. The kid’s so keen. Reminds me of the media when I was young.”
Stacey kissed his hand. “You’re still young… Have a nice day.”
“You too, Stace.”
The weather was cool and crisp, reminiscing of a chill night and anticipating a warm afternoon. Snowy blossom covered the trees and the undertone of buzzing bees filled Southsea’s head as he stepped out of the front door. The sound was sweet beyond words; it was the symbol of what they now had, and all that they had nearly lost. He paused in the driveway beside his car, a new one that he’d bought with his recent Capital Dividend. It was a Cowley Sprinter GL and it had set him back 280 OxHrs but he loved it. It had a 6-mill Digby Carousel engine that gave 110 bhp that made his trips to see his son and daughter much easier and quicker. If he hadn’t lived in Oxford he probably would have gone for a slightly cheaper model, but the Local Production Discount on cars was generous. It had been made just down the road at the world famous Morris WCC (Workers Cooperative Cartel), the company that had made the first ever cars to be powered by the fuelless Digby engine. Southsea reached into his pocket for his car keys, but then stopped. It was a lovely spring morning, far too lovely to waste behind the wheel of a car; he’d walk to work. Clive was there so it wouldn’t matter too much if he was slightly late.
Southsea strolled along the streets smiling happily at passers-by. It was 8.45 AM now and the roads were full of people on their way to work; cars, buses and students on bicycles. The sky was a pure, deep blue that he never knew in his childhood. It was broken by a few puffy clouds and the chalky lines of a few Lifetrails. Southsea felt an instinctive chill when he looked at them; they were so similar to the Chemtrails of old. He reminded himself that the Lifetrails served a very different purpose and what’s more the World Earth-Healing Council had announced that the project could end soon.
The John Radcliffe Hospital’s tiled walls shone ivory white in the sun, glints off the windows shooting into Southsea’s eyes. The pace of life at the hospital had steadily slowed over the last few years as the array of anti-sickness reforms took effect. The busiest department was now Casualty and three of the old medical and surgical wards had been converted into trauma wards, far more spacious ones than those with the four-bedded bays Southsea remembered from his early Portering days. Southsea walked into the hospital and had a cheerful chat with the shift on duty in the main lodge then bought a Crier from the League of Friends stall and returned to his office which lay next door to the lodge. Clive and Pete, the two Deputy-Head Porters, were busy at their computers, calculating the “lays”, the amount paid to each of the Portering staff. The Porters at the JR were a workers’ cooperative, like most companies were those days, but the JRHPC was unique because of its age; it had been started by Southsea before… and had been used as a model for many other organizations across the world during the turbulent Transitional Period, which was arguably not yet over. The Portering staff did not receive any wages, as Southsea had done in his youth; they were all equal shareholders, termed “staffholders”, in the company and received a weekly rationed sum of their share called a lay. Senior Porters and management were paid extra from the lay bonus fund, as were those working overtime hours. Every 31st of March, at the end of each financial year, any money left over in the bank was paid out to the Porters in a single lump sum. This payout varied according to how much had been saved or spent and was called a capital dividend. With the huge increase in Workers’ Cooperatives in recent years the 31st of March was quickly becoming an unofficial public holiday, Capital Dividend Day. Only this one had been a bit of a disaster because he, Clive and Pete had made a frightful error in the accounts and paid out too much. This meant that the company had run into debt. Much of the last few weeks’ work had been taken up with rectifying that error; Southsea had had to do it very much on his own because the staffholders were enjoying their extra cash and not therefore being very helpful. Southsea had been Head Porter, on and off, for 10 years now, almost since he had returned to the profession after everything else that he’d been busy at. For Southsea it had originally felt like a retirement after what he‘d been through before, but despite the job being easier than it had been Head Porter still provided obstacles and challenges, and maybe that was just as well.
The JRHPC was run by a six-man board elected by the staffholders and the board selected management from the staffholders. The staffholders could overrule the board’s selection with a vote of no-confidence and unfortunately this was happening right now, from a very predictable source. A vote had been cast and Southsea had been deselected ; he had until the end of the month to make way for his successor who would be voted for on the following day. The ringleader of the cabal against Southsea was a Theatre Porter called Derek who had always been an antagonist. Southsea had met Derek in the old days when they’d both been in the operating theatres and from Day One their personalities had clashed. During Southsea’s first term as Head Porter Derek had unseated him after a scandal which had almost destroyed the JRHPC. Southsea always managed to get reselected within a year or so, but the attacks from Derek continued. Everyone else had forgiven Southsea for the debacle, but it seemed Derek could not. The only consolation was the Derek had not managed to be selected himself, or even shortlisted, and he probably never would as he had too many enemies in the company. However Southsea was not surprised to see a very long tirade by Derek during the last staffholders’ meeting accusing Southsea of incompetence and idealism.
The rest of the correspondence on Southsea’s desk was annoying, but far less hostile. The British Hospital Porters’ Guild had asked him to speak at a meeting at their headquarters in London that afternoon. He would have to do it online because of work. He regretted not being able to attend in person, partly because he wanted an excuse to drive his new Sprinter and also because fancied sampling the wares of the Guildhall’s legendary bar. Southsea leaned back in his chair with a sigh and glanced at The Crier he had bought earlier. The headline caught his eye: The End of the Beginning? He picked it up and began reading. The headline was the title of a dossier, and first story in it was a statement from the World Earth-Healing Council declaring that the HAARP grid might be safely switched off much sooner than was previously thought, within a century even. Then there was an article about the ceasefire in the South African war. The Real ANC and the Boer Alliance were finally sitting down at the negotiating table after 12 years of bloodshed. The commentator remarked that if the two sides agreed to put down their weapons then there would be nobody at war at all anywhere in the world, not since the pirate states in Indonesia had been successfully kept away from shipping by Seaguard and the Japanese whaling standoff had petered out. It looked as if, for the first time ever in human history… there was going to be world peace, said the article with cautious indifference. The last story in the dossier was a local one. The Morris WCC in Cowley had just produced the very last production run of IC (internal combustion engine) cars in the world. IC vehicles now made up less than 10% of those on British roads and the few second-hand models around were rusting fast. Since the advent of fuelless motors few people were willing to pay for the price of IC fuels these days, nor endure the black looks from their neighbours because of the pollution they emitted. The entire run of 50 cars had been sold to Japan where most had already been purchased by collectors…
There was a knock on the door and Kev, the duty-shift’s Senior Porter, stuck his head into the office. “Glyn, there’s a Mr Nicholson here to see you.”
Damn! "Er… right, Kev. He can come in.”
Nicholson grinned like a groupie as he swiftly walked into the office and shook Southsea’s hand. “It’s an honour, Mr Southsea! I can’t tell you how much! Thanks for agreeing to see me.”
Agreeing? “No problem, Mr Nicholson. Take a seat.”
Nicholson sat there like a schoolboy and ran a nervous hand through his thick, youthful hair.
“Is your relative alright?” asked Southsea after a long pause.
“I heard you were coming up to the hospital anyway to visit a relative.”
“Oh… yeah, yeah… she’s… he’s fine. Thank you.”
Southsea got up and switched on the kettle on the sideboard. “Tea, coffee?”
“Ooh, coffee please… That’s an interesting phrase.” He was pointing to the dossier headline in The Crier.
“It’s from Winston Churchill you know.”
“Is it?”
“’This is not the end, it’s not even the beginning of the end. But maybe, just maybe, this is the end of the beginning‘.” He deliberately avoided characterizing Churchill’s voice. “So what can I do for you, Mr Nicholson?”
“OK. I’m Glyn. Tell me.”
“I’m a student at the John Pilger School of Journalism and I’d like to do a story on you.”
Southsea placed the two cups on the desk. “You know I haven‘t spoken to a reporter for over five years.”
“I know.”
“So why should I speak to you?”
“To… get me a good grade?”
Southsea laughed. “What could I tell you that you couldn’t get from a history book or by Wiki-ing my name?”
Nicholson leaned forward and stared at him intently. “You. Not just a name attached to events and ideas, but you, the person. I‘m interested in your thoughts and feelings over the years; what motivated you, what drove you.”
“I have an authorized biography.”
“Yeah, but it’s crap!”
Southsea laughed again. “It is a bit.”
“Look, all these things took place before I was born. My mum and dad just tell me horror-stories. What I want to know is, what was it like to… live it. No book can make me know, only you can."
He stared back at Nicholson and suddenly realized how young the reporter was, and how old he was. The age-difference suddenly gaped between them. Southsea looked into his eyes and realized that he pitied Nicholson. Nicholson would never adore and appreciate the life they now lived in the same way Southsea’s generation did, in the same way that a man dying of thirst adored and appreciated a drink of water in a way nobody else could.
“How old are you, Glyn?”
“I’m sixty-nine.” Now suddenly I can remember?
“You know so much that I don’t; that I can’t! You remember; you were there! You helped make this world what it is!”
Southsea had a irritating feeling that Nicholson was going to ask him why he’d gone back to being a "lowly" Hospital Porter after everything that had happened. Others had asked that; it reminded him of the patronizing individuals he’d had to deal with in his youth who kept asking him: “Why are you still a Porter? Aren’t you going to train to do something better?” “Look, Dave… I’ve got a different life now; and I‘ll probably be retiring soon anyway. Times have changed and all I want is peace and quiet.”
“I think that’s what I’m looking for too.”
Southsea felt an abrupt warmth coming from you young man sitting on the other side of his desk. There was a light in his eyes that Southsea had never seen before. It was a gleam that had been absent from all the people he’d known in the past. “I’m pretty busy today so this will have to be quick, but… OK. What do you want to know?”
Nicholson took a dictaphone out of his pocket and placed it on the desk. “I want to know all about the Illuminati, and what happened to them, and us.”