If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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I backed away, staring in disbelief at the doc, sitting here – here! – in the choir room.
Heck, we’d been sleeping. Sleeping! I didn’t know how long she’d been here, but somehow the Bishop’s sudden insistence late last night that Daniel and I both get rest began to make sense. Both the Bishop and the doc looked like they’d been there for hours.
The idea began to crystallise in my head that last night the Bishop had been expecting a visitor. The doc. Encouraging us to go to sleep, which had seemed no more than a gesture of kindness in our exhausted state last night, was actually a push to get us out of the way before his guest showed up.
I moved backwards towards the door, dumb, unable to say a word, and backed right into Daniel, standing in the doorway, who had woken up and come looking for me.
“What’s going on?” he asked good-naturedly, and then he stopped cold when he saw the doctor. “Crap!”
“Good morning,” said the doc, in her high, chilling, precise voice.
“You bastard, Bishop!” said Daniel, not skipping a beat. “Come on, Mike, let’s get going. Now.”
He turned and was about to leave, but the Bishop’s voice called out to us.
“This isn’t what you think, young man,” he said. “You’re mistaken. You’re misunderstanding what’s going on.”
“Like hell I am!” said Daniel. “Come on!” he said to me insistently, grabbing at my sleeve. “We’ve got to go. Before that bitch starts counting numbers and her evil twin turns up again.”
“Wait. Please,” pleaded the Bishop. “Just take a few minutes to listen. Please. Please. It’s much too important for you not to. You don’t understand what you’ve found yourself in the middle of. You don’t understand what you’re dealing with. Just give me a chance to explain. Give us a chance to explain.”
I faltered, and looked at Daniel. I was confused. “And if we do?,” I asked the Bishop. “Then what? You’ll turn us over to the authorities. I’m sure you’re just waiting for them to show, right?”
The doc spoke again, in that light, firm, precise voice, like a razor’s edge. A laserbeam voice. “We’re not with the authorities. We’re not with the government. You’ve got everything wrong, right from the start. You need to listen, and you need to listen now!”
“And if we listen, we can go afterwards?” I said.
“Like hell they could stop us if they wanted to,” muttered Daniel.
“We could stop you.” said the doc quietly, moving her wrist the tiniest amount, so we were again aware of her phone; she was reminding us, advertently or not I couldn’t be certain, of our previous encounter, and how she’d turned us on our heads so quickly and with no effort. “Believe me, we could stop you. We could stop you easily. But you can leave, whenever you like.”
“What did you do to our friends?” I asked, my words blurting out fast.
“We did nothing to your friends. Which friends?” asked the Bishop.
“To….to two girls,” I said, almost getting tripped up and using Tina and Kayly’s names. Don’t get fooled into giving anything away, I thought to myself angrily.
“We’ve had nothing to do with anyone outside the Order since seeing you yesterday.” said the doc. “We haven’t done anything to anyone. Now, are you going to come sit down and talk, or not?”
“Why should we?” I said.
“Because we’ll tell you want you need to know.” she said simply.
There was silence for a few moments. Daniel said nothing in response, then he walked across the floor of the choir room slowly, cautiously, almost like a blind man walking, as if expecting a trap to spring any second.
I knew why he walked. Despite our sleep, we were mentally exhausted. We’d been played, and the doc – this woman sitting calmly in front of us – held all the cards. We had no choice but to play by her rules.
But then, I realised with a shock, it had always been her rules. From the moment she’d walked into my emergency cubicle and handed me those drugs, we’d been playing her game, her rules. We just hadn’t acknowledged it until now.
Nothing happened, as I watched Daniel walking the short distance across the choir room floor, although watching him, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a man walking to his execution. The Bishop and the doc sat waiting, watching, until Daniel reached them, standing next to the pews, looking down at them.
“Will you take a seat?” asked the Bishop.
Daniel sat down on the pew next to the Bishop, gazing across suspiciously at the doc. Then he glanced quickly across at me. I walked across and joined him, sitting next to him, facing the doc as well.
I couldn’t bear the tension any longer.
“So, do you want to tell us what the hell is going on here?” I burst out. “And who the hell you are! And who the FUCK do you think you are, messing around with my brain?”
I was angry, stressed, tired – a host of emotions all disconnected from one another swirled through me. I looked down at the mass of paper work on the free form wooden table in front of me.
I could see maps of Dunedin with red “X’s” marked on them, and buildings circled on them, and blue lines ruled across the maps with no apparent reason or purpose, and tiny, perfect handwritten notes in various places, everything all seemingly centered on the Octagon.
I didn’t understand any of it, and it didn’t help my mood any. “And what is all this shit?” I added, angrily.
The Bishop took his round-rimmed glasses off, and rubbed them on his woollen coat. It seemed to be a nervous habit of his. “Before we start, I think you need to know who this is. She already knows who you are, of course, and so do I. You didn’t have to introduce yourselves last night – I already knew who you were.”
He looked at me piercingly, and picked up a small red book lying on the table in front of him. He opened it, flicked open to a dog-eared page, and spoke, reading notes from its pages.
“You’d be Mr. Mike Raymond Hocking. Born October 31st, 2030 Mosgiel hospital. No siblings. Parents dead in the epidemic of ’35. Raised in the orphanage, recent engineering degree from Otago. Precocious and difficult at school. Links with the black market, in particular selling marijuana and chocolate.”
I said nothing. There wasn’t much to say. It was all correct, and hearing it read out loud like that sent chills down my spine.
“And Mr Daniel Matthew Philip Palmer. Born January 15th, 2031 in Invercargill. Four older brothers, all died of plague between ’33 and ’38, except one – a half-brother on your mother’s side, Andrew, born in 2029 – whose whereabouts is currently uncertain.
“Dropped out of school aged 13, became heavily involved in black market sales of alcohol, establishing his own still and black market vodka label. Earning a solid income selling coffee, various drugs, and everything from cosmetics to bulk meat on the black market. Poses as a supermarket shelf stocker. Believed to have connections to just about every criminal and low-life personality Dunedin has to offer.”
“I pride myself,” said Daniel. He grinned at me, bravado attempting to hide the shock I could see in his face. “There seems little point in denying it,” he said. “But I’d like to know who it is that has constructed this lovely dossier about my friend and me. Surely not a humble Bishop in a broken-down Cathedral, really. We showed you ours, now you show us yours.”
The Bishop laughed quietly. “You’re quite wrong,” he said. “I am a Bishop – probably the last Bishop to actually care about this place. Of course, with things as they are, most of the city have long since forgotten that they ever even had a Bishop, but here I am.
“I’m the genuine article. I was ordained as the thirteenth Bishop of the Diocese of Dunedin just on fifteen years ago, and although the city might have forgotten it, I haven’t. I am what I say I am. And I’m not out to get you, no matter what you might think.”
“Let me guess, then” said Daniel sarcastically. I could tell he didn’t believe the Bishop one bit. “The “doc” over here – who has been real quiet up until now, I might add,” he regarded the doc meaningfully, and she sat just a little straighter on her old wooden pew. “Is a genuine doctor too, with nothing more than the intention of helping us. Right?”
She regarded us both from across the other side of the wooden table, first Daniel, then me. “I am a genuine doctor,” she said clearly. “That is absolute fact. But not a medical doctor. I am Athena Papadopoulos, and I’m a doctor of neurobiology.”
“Which entitles you to screw around with people’s brains, without their consent?” I said angrily.
“Absolutely I’m entitled, when what I’m doing is for the good not just of the whole country, but possible the entire planet,” she said icily.
“That’s bullshit,” I said flatly. “You gave me drugs that I thought was panadeine, and it was these fricking little robot things! Jesus bloody Christ! -”
“- I beg your pardon,” interjected the Bishop sternly.
“Hell!” I said. I was really, really angry, my fear and exhaustion all exploding in an outburst of fury. “Hell! You just think you can play games with my brain, and pass it off with some ‘for the good of the human race’ shit? Sorry, lady, but that doesn’t pass. Not in my world it doesn’t!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Athena Papdopoulos, a superior tone in her voice. “And it’s quite clear, from your language, that if anything had gone wrong, your brain would not have been a huge loss to the human race.”
“People, please!” said the Bishop. “Can we please be polite to one another, or there will be absolutely no point to this discussion.”
“I didn’t realise it was a discussion,” said Daniel, snarkily. “I thought it was an abuse session on both sides.”
The Bishop sighed. “As I was saying,” he said, and breathed deeply. “We know a lot about you. What’s important isn’t that we know it, but why and how. We’re not the government. We’re not the authorities. What’s important is who we are and how and why we know everything about you.”
I realised he was right.
“Tell us.” I said, trying to gain control over my anger.
The Bishop looked at Athena Papadopoulos, and she nodded curtly once, then again. He relaxed a little. It was clear that she was the superior in the relationship, giving consent; giving approval for what we were about to hear.
“We’re members of an Order,” he said. “Of a group of scientists and philosophers working together on the dual problems of time travel along ley-vortices. Over the last few years we’ve begun to have considerable…success in our research, and we’re now in trials. You, Mr. Hocking, due to the rather interesting nature of your placement on the continuum, are a rather useful subject for study in our project.”
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