As promised here is the 1st part of the 1st chapter of Ellen's Tale:being the first part of the Sefuty Chronicles. To explain why the chapters are so long. The novel is written in the form of transcripts of interviews. Each chapter is an entire interview. Too long for one post so will load a new bit each day. Hope you enjoy the read.
Sound recording 2110 NEC
Transcribed 2123 NEC
His face was as scarred and battered as any Feral cat; from where to be sure some of his genetic makeup had come. I looked on his lean dark countenance and my whole life changed right there in Deliveries. He rode the Sefuty Line so you know him and his kind. Deviants that you admire but only as an abstraction. He appeared grim of face, dark of head and with eyes so green you could be tempted to stare. He was short and lean and, as he stalked through the loading bays, the dust from Outside flew from him. He wore a scowl comfortably but, I know now, it was his defence against the whispers and covert glances. They were dangerous, the Riders, we all know that. We had all been warned. They were not as others, not quite human.
He was someone special, he had to be. I heard the whispers, I heard the name. Bix. Of course I had heard of him, everyone in our part of the City had. A legend. I thought of Gran. I forgot my training and looked full at Bix and a half-formed idiocy saturated my brain cells. Without allowing logic to clear my mind I took courage in both pockets and ran in front of him before he could leave. I only reached his shoulder and had to tilt my head to confront him. Bold, too bold for manners. Our gazes met and there was a charge. Anger from him, fear from me or just a recognition? I started talking; sure I only had moments to hold him to my words. His raised hand paused when I mentioned Gran, of the Respected Elderly. Regarding me, he listened.
This was so important to me, to Gran, and with an effort I kept my eyes on his and asked for his help. There was a pause as he stared down at me. I felt the embarrassment, felt the colour rising in my face, but I overrode the reflexes and kept his gaze; small gold flecks nestled in the green of his eyes.
His hand held me under my elbow; his touch was firm and allowed no escape, I had no such desire. He led me to the drinks room, sitting me down and demanding explanation. I wasn’t coherent, as I tried to explain what Gran wanted. Told him the RE Guardians’ hands were knotted, they could do nothing; told him I was all the family Gran had.
He knew it was my task. Listening quietly to what I was saying he waited for my trailing silence then said, ‘You know that’s almost impossible, don’t you?’
He had said, ‘Almost’. I clung to that, a talisman, though I agreed despondently.
‘Can I meet with your Gran?’ he asked. His voice was deep and like gravel; I found it soft and pleasant to my ear. Those green eyes were kind and seemed to smile at me. I told him I would try. I kept my voice calm. I had already been more rude than I would have thought possible; it would not do to show any of the turmoil within me.
I asked the First Ordering Guardian, she was my favourite, all my life she had cared for Gran. Explaining the request she agreed: Bix was well known. I guess he would have to be. She agreed that if anyone could help it would be someone such as Bix.
So I took him to the Hallowed Halls and if he felt as alien as he looked he gave no sign. His easy loping step seemed so out of place here where steps were uncertain and slow. Outside air seemed to waft from him and, as he passed, nodding heads raised and dimmed eyes peered after in more curious interest than many had shown for decades. I introduced him in the proper manner to Gran. I’m good at the Protocol stuff. I keep it like a coloured sequence in my head, some very complicated Higher Protocol moves. There’s a certain feel in the movements which gives pleasure. Gran laughed up at me as she always did when I performed a Protocol. They are just such a dysfunctional misalignment sometimes these REs, but I loved her so much I forgave her everything. It was so nice to see her laugh, just lately it had seemed like . . . well.
Anyway, Bix had no manners at all; he bent right over her and kissed the back of her hand. Well I question you, what about permission, germ checks and DNA samples? Did he care? No he just went ahead and kissed her hand. I flinched, I could not help myself, but Gran just chuckled and put her hand up to his cheek. I looked around wildly for a Guardian, was no one else getting those gross vibes from all that unauthorised skin touching? Bix pulled a stool up and sat right next to her, knee to knee. His dust-stained trousers right there mixing with Gran’s crumpled skirt. Immediately they were talking away as if they were friends from way back when.
The Guardian smiled at me, silently telling me to leave them to do
things their way. Was that tolerance of Deviant Behaviour part of their
Alteration? I supposed it must be, to deal with the more difficult Respected Elderly.
Bix was now telling Gran that what she wanted was nigh on impossible. Well! Gran had told him, I never thought she would do that. I don’t know why, thinking about it, when did Gran ever abide by taboo rules? She chuckled at his remark and then started singing. Singing! Gran never did fail to amaze me, and then Mabel sitting next to her joined in and the next thing there’s a whole room full of them singing. Something about an ant and some plant, I don’t know. I expected some Medication Squaddy to rush in but, no, they were allowed to sing. Bix was laughing as he bent over and kissed Gran on the cheek, telling her to keep the hopes high, apple pie in the sky, or some such nonsense. I kissed Gran quickly and ran after him.
He guided me to an empty bench. We were still within the Halls so it was padded and soft. I often sat on those for the sheer pleasure of the softness; I’m sure the Guardians knew so I never lingered in case of reprimand.
‘What’s your name?’ His voice held, above its notes, the traces of the past laughter. He smiled straight at me and I felt something dissolve within me, confusing and strange.
‘Ellen is what Gran calls me,’ I answered with, I hoped, nothing betraying my thoughts. Please let me not disgrace myself, my only thought. As a mountain spring, I thought, let me keep my spring.
‘Ellen,’ he smiled again. ‘As I said before it’s not an easy task. One thing is certain: your Gran can’t go Outside, she’s too frail.’ I must have betrayed myself because he added, ‘You know it really, don’t lie to yourself. Her time is numbered in days, possibly weeks but no more.’
With a brimful of eye water I nodded. I had to brush it away; it would not go on its own. How embarrassing, just like a child. I knew Gran would have to Die someday. Die. She taught me to say that word. Obviously I don’t say it in company but Gran always wanted me to call ‘a spade a spade’, whatever that was.
He didn’t seem to be embarrassed or offended so I gathered Control again. ‘That’s why I have to do something. I’m all she has left now; I want her to be happy when she … she Leaves us.’
With an air of amused curiosity he asked, ‘How much would you do for her?’
‘Anything.’ And then more cautiously, as I didn’t wish to lie to him ‘I think,’ I responded.
‘Kiss me, and then I’ll be gone.’
I stared at him in consternation as I repeated his words.
‘I’m going away to put my life on the line for you,’ he reasoned. ‘Surely you can manage to put your reputation on the line and kiss me. And’ now his eyes were twinkling like the stars I saw once from a high walkway. Kiss him. Something within me leapt to respond and before I knew I had raised my lips to his and then a light gentle touch as his lips met mine. Nothing terrible happened, no shouts or public humiliation. It was nice actually.
He left then with a laugh and a floating sentence from over his shoulder. ‘Give me a couple of days, little Ellen, I’ll see what I can do,’ and he was gone. It seemed after he left that the City had grown smaller.
He was back in three days and five hours, I did not count the minutes. Why would I? I was still in Deliveries and heard the bustle before ever I saw him. He signed off, said something to his riding partner and then, looking over, saw me and smiled. Mountain springs. Everyone noticed; tried not to be seen looking at me. He jerked his head toward the door and, as I was about to argue my responsibilities, the Supervisor came over, took my clipboard and suggested it was time for a refreshment break. Bix had friends in high places; the Supervisor had never even looked at me before.
Bix sat me down and a worker brought us hot liquids without us even having to queue or, it seemed, any credits being needed. I was in exalted circles with Bix. He drank thirstily before he said a word.
‘Okay, how brave is my little Ellen?’ he grinned.
I had had three days and five hours to practise my mountain spring so managed a smooth ‘Another kiss?’ I shrugged, ‘Why not?’
He lent across as if he would kiss me there and then and all my pretended casualness left me abruptly. I reared back in panic. ‘Not here. Are you mad?’
‘Of course, that’s part of our Alteration. How else would they have Riders for the Line?’ He laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll save that one for later. No, it was something else. I might be able to help you, but,’ he paused, ‘you’ll have to come Outside with me. ’
Speech fled. Did I open my mouth? He didn’t say anything while I wrestled with terror and confusions. ‘Outside?’ I whispered, hoping I had heard wrong.
There was sympathy in his expression as he nodded, waited.
‘Is there no other …,’ my voice trailed away as he shook his head. He leaned forward and with lowered voice explained. ‘I’ve managed to get in touch with a Village Outside, Blaisemill, who might be willing to help, but they say they need to talk to you. They can supply the goods, the expertise,
only if you come.’ He waited but I had no words. I was suffocating with fear. ‘I’ll be with you, Ellen, and I’m the best; you know that. But I can’t honestly tell you nothing will happen, no one can ever say that. Even if all is well with Security, we’ll need to be out there for at least six days, maybe eight. My riding partner is willing to let us off the Train and pick us up again but his route is weekly.’
I was dying. Every word he uttered, the hard hands of fear tightened around my lungs. No breath. No life. Oh, Gran, not that, I couldn’t do that; anything but that. Silence seemed to envelop us, but I know there was noise all around as people rushed, chattering, clattering. I felt sick and a tremor started in my toes and grimly crept over my body. I must not let anyone see my emotion. Control. Control was all. Think of others always. Do not distress them. Do not embarrass the others. Control. I repeated the Mantra of my youth. The tremor subsided, grumbling. I looked up at Bix and his sympathetic eyes watched anxiously. I swallowed hard and, with what I thought was iron springiness, but which he laughingly assured me later was none at all, I said, ‘I have no Alteration for Outside.’
‘You don’t need any. All you need is courage.’
It was fine for him to say these things, he with Feral and Mad Alterations, he was bred in courage. I, what had I? They had Altered his perception too, I thought, as he read my thoughts and leaned across the table, whispering softly, ‘Love. Ellen, you have love for Gran to give you courage.’
He was right, of course; the only purpose for any of this was to let Gran Leave with love. The fear did not go. ‘Would we be able to get permission?’
‘Getting that is your job, Ellen. You must take someone with you and I’m willing. Permission for two.’
I nodded as I pushed my chair back. ‘Will you be here?’
He smiled up at me as I rose to shaky feet. ‘I’m not due out for twenty four hours. I can change my rota anytime before then.’
I left him then before my mountain spring left me.
I got the permits needed to go Outside. I got a session with the Psychiatrist to check my Emotional Soundness. I got an interview with the Administrator to speed me on my way.
I met Bix early the next morning before the day shift came on. He silently helped me into the protective covering of the Riders. He tightened my bootlaces for me as I stood, childlike limp. He introduced me to his riding partner, Jack. He input my details on the exit board. He held my hand firmly as he led me through the doors and lifted me gently up the steps, high up above the ground into the cab of the Train. Oh, Gran!
I did not care that he might be shocked or embarrassed; I could not, just could not, face the Outside without courage from him. I sat close, taboo or not. He did not seem to mind, he lifted his arm so that I could nestle closer, like Gran used to do when I was small, before I had Control. He put his arm around my shoulders like she had and held me tight to him. It felt good. I heard Jack ask if I was alright and Bix replying, ‘She’s okay; bravest in the four Cities.’ I could hear a smile in his voice but he was not laughing at me, I could tell that.
‘I am not brave.’ Muffled in his jacket but still he heard. ‘I am just plain terrified,’ I admitted. I was not ready to lie to him.
‘I know. But that’s what courage is Ellen. Doing what you are terrified of.’
I opened my eyes a little and felt my heart palpitate as I saw the day-breaking endless expanse of grey nothingness. ‘Where is everything?’ I gasped, clutching at his arm in fresh fear.
‘Just there, where you’re looking. Watch, the colours will come soon. It’s very beautiful as day lights it up.’
It was, in a curious way; the colours were soft-edged and I saw there was life out in the expanse. Birds and animals that I did not recognise; flying and scuttling. ‘No people though?’ I asked.
‘Not so near the Line,’ Bix told me. ‘It’s too dangerous. Those fields are not safe to walk over. Leftover mines, fresh mines, bombs. The people of the Outside stay well away.’
I thought about this as I watched the world pass at a dizzying speed. I knew of course, who did not, of the Wars and the destructions but had thought it was in the past. Oh, I knew the Sefuty Line was still prone to attack but I had not realised mines and bombs were left over.
‘How will we get to the people then?’ I tried not to let my voice lose Control; I do not know how well I succeeded.
‘Don’t worry, there are a few places we’ve cleared and I’ll go first. All you must do is follow.’
I looked up at him, amazed to find him smiling. Jack too. Did they find everything amusing or was it just me they found funny? We travelled many hours and then the colours were harsher, clear-edged; still the Line ran straight and no people to see. It wasn’t so scary now, although I could not think very hard about the emptiness without a feeling of nausea creeping in.
It flooded in when, later, we stood alongside the Line; when all that emptiness wrapped itself around, suffocating me, pulling me down in a dizzy
spiral of sickness and despair. Without Bix’s arm around me, his chest against my face, I would have gone insane I am sure. I could hear his heart beating as I stood there. It was so measured and calm. His breathing was even and sure. There was no fear in him, no fear at all. I looked up and tried a smile. It seemed to work and he grinned back.
‘You’re the most amazing girl, my love,’ he said and I accepted the praise with pride. I could make amends if I ever got back, I would attend some sessions in Humility and lessons on my place in the Greater Good of Society. It was only much later, and far too late, that I pondered his possession words.
I followed exactly where he told me. I would have followed him into the pits of radioactive waste if he had said. I still would.
We were out there for seven days and ten hours.