|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
London, 25 years later
Deep in the corridors of Parliament, Dusty is ushered into a long, wide conference room overlooking the Thames. The Prime Manager of England, Marcus Apollo, rises from his seat.
'Dusty Noble!' he cries. 'Come in!'
Apollo's smile is warm. He raises his hand, which Dusty takes, their thumbs interlocking. Apollo pulls Dusty's hand towards his breast, then Dusty pulls Apollo's to his.
'Welcome to Parliament!'
Around the long conference table are seated members of the Cabinet. Sunlight filters through the solar molecules of the window wall, burnishing the Managers with a lustre that Dusty finds affecting. He recognises a lot of the faces – the Managers for Football, Rugby, Tennis and Hockey are as recognisable to citizens of England as the Prime Manager himself. So too the Manager for Cricket, Lana Defoe, his old friend. She nods at him. Dusty is surprised to see a smile force its way across her face.
Statesmanship comes naturally to Apollo. He stands imperious in the magenta of the managerial class and addresses the Cabinet in his resonant timbre. 'Comrades, it is rare indeed that we acknowledge the achievements of an individual, for we are all but the products of commune and country – and to celebrate achievement is to look back into the Past, which runs, of course, contrary to the Primacy of the Next Match. Nevertheless, I think we here, in the corridors of power, knew instinctively when Dusty Noble was finally decommissioned two weeks ago that we were witnessing the end of a long and extraordinarily productive career. And it so happens that our instincts are correct.'
Apollo turns to the bank of screens on the interior wall, each showing a live stream of a sporting contest somewhere in the country – at this time of the morning, contests of minor significance, secondary level, possibly tertiary. The screens go blank for a moment, before an image of Dusty as a young man is projected across them, as high as the room, a rendition of the perfect Perpetual Era athlete. He recognises the image as of him, yet somehow not – not quite the face in the mirror, not quite the body. Younger. And an exquisite longing tugs at him, which he fears would overwhelm if lingered over too much. He doesn't understand these irregular feelings. They go against everything he was taught in diminishment training. He is afraid of them.
'If there is one sector of society that is more keenly appraised than we are of the goings-on on the field, of how each match is won or lost,' continues Apollo, 'it is the scientists at the Institute of Improvement. The Eye-Eye have alerted us to the extent of Dusty's contributions for commune and country. Thirty-one years as a batsman at elite level, 95 133 runs, 2015 matches. These figures make him the most productive batsman London has ever known and one of the three most productive England has. The amount of energy raised by his runs alone amounts to 113.08 terajoules. His cover drive has been placed on the national curriculum, and his memory bank of strokes is on order for upload to the archives when he reaches stasis.'
Dusty does not move. Thirty-one years has it been, 95 000 runs, 2000 matches? The last of the statistics melts into his image across the screens. Face-to-face with the young man he used to be, his disquiet does not diminish. 'Dusty Noble, London and England, 2113–44' the display reads across a chest of perfect symmetry, beneath a face of clean lines and confidence for the Next Match, above a waist of economy, and legs that are slim and muscular in the green day suit of the elite class.
The longing gives way, finally, to what seems like pride, just as he used to feel for London when they were at the peak of their powers. Only this time, as in his dreams recently, it is pride not for his commune or his country but for himself, Dusty Noble the individual. As if those statistics were his, as if that aptitude, too; as if he were an independent entity, alone responsible for who he is and what he has achieved. And not an asset, bred, reared and owned by the Commune of London.
'Dusty Noble, you have always been held in the highest regard by Parliament and the scientific community. I know it is not the Perpetual way, but when an asset of sufficient value is decommissioned we in Parliament, who can perhaps see beyond the Next Match, we want to express our thanks. It is an indulgence, but happily those very few assets we feel inclined to honour are by definition the ones invulnerable to corruption. Weaker citizens might suffer in the glare of veneration, but a batsman with 95 000 runs ...?'
Apollo places a powerful arm across his chest and laughs. Dusty looks at him properly for the first time, as laughter rises from those around the table. The face is wide and strong, made bold by generous eyebrows and a head of shining black hair. This is the first time he has met Marcus Apollo, and yet he knows the face well from countless morale-casts and info-docs. Seeing it in the flesh is a curious experience. He finds himself instinctively liking Apollo, despite having never shared a wicket stand with him or a session's training.
When the laughter dies down, Apollo adopts a solemn air. He turns to his assistant briefly, then back to Dusty. 'We would like to present you with the Iron Joule for services to commune and country. It would not surprise me if you chose never to wear it in public, such is your sense of solidarity with your comrades, but whether you choose to wear it or not the point is, you have earned it.'
Apollo presents the metallic J and presses it against Dusty's chest. He stands back to admire the award. Dusty looks down at it, too, a modest grey symbol, yet signifying so much, perched on the micro-magnets of his day suit, adjacent to his millennion medal. He has never seen one before and is troubled by the realisation that part of him does want to wear it, to stride out against convention, to let it be known how productive an athlete he has been. But it will be assumed of him that he does not. For who would want to elevate themselves above the comrades of their rank and class? Who would dare to?
He looks up again to see Apollo smiling warmly at him, as if in expectation of something. Dusty clears his throat.
'Um, when you have lived your life by deeds,' he says, looking down at the floor, then up at Lana, sitting among her new comrades in the Cabinet, and then out at the river and the glinting pyramids of the Institute of Physiotherapy, which rise like teeth from the trees on the other side, 'words don't always come easily.' In the corner of his eye he sees Apollo nodding vigorously. 'I thank you all. You hear rumours of this kind of honour, but you never imagine it will happen to you. I used to wonder if it happened at all. With my commune, London, suffering such a terrible recession, this endless run of defeats across so many sports, it is difficult for me to accept this, particularly since I am now no longer able to help my comrades on the field arrest the decline. But, I vow, when results do start to go our way again, I shall be working the pumps of the stadium generators as vigorously as any citizen – or at least any veteran elite cricketer.' A bubble of laughter rises from the table. 'It is a future I am devoted to. And so, Prime Manager, as grateful as I am, as closely as I will guard it, I will not wear this medal – for it represents achievements that are long in the Past.'
The smile on Apollo's face assures Dusty that his delivery has been convincing, despite the volatility of spirit that has crackled and spat within him since decommission.
'Dusty Noble, truly you are a credit to your breeding programme! I understand you have taken up a new role at ReSure, but should you ever consider a future among the managerial class your application would be entertained favourably, I'm sure.' The Prime Manager holds his hands out wide and addresses his Cabinet. 'Comrades, I urge you to mark this moment with that most esoteric of rituals, that echo from another time, the round of applause. Dusty, this will mean nothing to you, but rest assured we offer the gesture as a mark of our utmost appreciation.'
And with that Apollo brings the palms of his hands together with a crack, and then again, and again, and so on, until the Managers around the table join him in the practice, and the air is filled with a warm, rich waterfall of sound, wave after wave of it, like rainfall. It reminds Dusty of the thunder in the stadium generators, but it is softer, it is giving, it is, yes, appreciative.
The effect is hypnotic. And Dusty feels more ground within him give way. When they shake hands again and Apollo pulls Dusty's in to his chest, he is taken by a sudden, maverick urge to bring his left arm round the back of the Prime Manager's shoulders and hold him. He does not act on it, of course, but the mere existence of the thought terrifies him. Where are these rogue impulses coming from? He feels his mind changing, a new personality creaking and unfolding, suppressed till now by the ironclad discipline of the most productive batsman London has ever known.
As he stands before the Cabinet, with England's highest honour on his chest, Dusty fears he is no longer the man who earned it.
* * *
Alanis steps into her day suit, pulls on it and sighs as the micro-magnets climb up and around her body, clicking like a swarm of insects into their warm, intimate embrace. It is one of the fondest moments of her day. A vigorous bout of coitus with a dear friend, a shower, a powder and the enfolding of her body back into its own warmth. Not a joule of energy wasted.
'That was quite a bout, Dusty,' she says, breezily. 'We haven't generated as much as that for a long time. We should check our kJ record.'
'Kilojoules?' replies Dusty, with that twinkle she finds so endearing. 'That was a megajoule!'
Alanis laughs. 'True, true!'
Poor old Dusty. He is no longer the athlete some of her other cot partners are, but her fondness for him remains undimmed. It has always been a privilege to couple with so revered a member of the elite, and it is no less of one now, regardless of his recent decommission. She will flare defiantly at anyone who so much as smirks at it.
'Shall we go for an isotonic?' she says, watching as he rises to receive the attentions of his own suit. There is still something majestic about him, as if the suit itself spreads across his body with a kind of gratitude, a deference. He is Dusty Noble, after all.
'I can't, I'm afraid, A. I need to be back at ReSure for a couple of hours this afternoon. Then I'm comping at the Twenty20 this evening.'
'Who have we got?'
'And how are you finding it?'
'What, the comping?'
'Yes.' Alanis hesitates. 'And, you know ... life after engagement.'
Dusty smiles at her and shrugs. 'New role, same goal. Decommission may seem abhorrent to you now, but it's just a change of emphasis. You'll learn that in your diminishment training. You learn a lot in diminishment training.'
'Oh, I hope you're right. I'm terrified of it. Imagine not having a Next Match to look towards ...'
As soon as she says it, Alanis blushes at her insensitivity, but Dusty doesn't seem to mind.
'The worst part is having to live off rations,' he says.
'But that'll end soon. This recession can't go on for ever.'
'Of course. But to go from elite to managing a calorific deficit in just a few days ... that's the tough part.'
They head for the cot door. Dusty rests the palm of his hand on the scanner, initiating that final pleasure of the cot – the low, seething throb of the consolidator, as the fruit of their exertions is banked in the Grid. Energy. Alanis closes her eyes. She can almost breathe it in. Her breast rises slowly and fully, as if she does. The throbbing intensifies, until the door of the cot slides open to turn them out.
Dusty doesn't quite look at her as they walk through the corridors to the foyer. 'I'm happy, A. Really, I am.'
She should have known better than to doubt it. An exemplary Perpetual citizen like Dusty! Bodies may diminish, but the spirit remains in perpetuity! Even in the hard times. Let their results slide further and the energy crisis deepen; Selflessness and the Sanctity of Physical Fitness shall see London through! Sometimes all it takes is one galvanising result. The margin is fine between winning streaks and losing, between prosperity and austerity. The commune may be suffering now, but they must remain positive. Dusty is an example to all!
'I was thinking,' he says, as they reach the foyer, whence she will head to the lounge for some recuperation and he to his new place of work, the Repository of Suspended Resources. 'I've got some travel rights to use after my decommission award. It hasn't felt right to use any, what with the recession, but the director at ReSure says I should.'
'Oh, you must! Trust you not to! Of course, you must! Austerity's not your fault!'
He laughs that soothing, gentle laugh. 'If you say so!'
His manner changes then, almost imperceptibly. They say Dusty's cover drive has been placed on the curriculum at the Academy for its economy of effort. Elegance and economy of effort – if you could capture him in a pair of concepts ... As with his cover drive, so with the shifts in his mood. There is the hint of a stiffening in his countenance, but it's so subtle Alanis cannot be sure it has happened.
'I took the liberty of checking the volleyball schedule,' he says. 'I see your Spring Recess begins tomorrow, and I wondered if you would like to come with me this weekend. I'm thinking of going to Wales, to see the Past. I know it's not for everyone, but I've always wanted to go.'
Alanis is shocked and tries hard to maintain an evenness of expression, but she is unlikely to be placed on the curriculum for anything but the boldest exercises. She hopes Dusty cannot see into her soul, as she often imagines he can.
Wales? WALES?! What did that stand for, again? The Western Assemblage, wasn't it, of Lapsed Era Savages? She didn't even know you could go. What is the Fence for, if not to keep separate those who reject the Perpetual Era, those who live in the Past? Really, a Perpetual citizen is not meant to venture into Wales any more than a savage is meant to visit England.
She reaches for the centurion medal on her day suit and toys with it. 'I ... Dusty, gosh. Thank you. What a ... Can I get back to you? I just need to check my training programmes. I'll pulse you.'
'Of course you can, A. Do come. It'll be good for you. You never know, it may even be fun.'
They laugh before shaking hands. She stands in the foyer for a moment and watches him through the glass doors as they slide shut behind him. She will say yes, of course she will. Who wouldn't say yes to Dusty Noble? Besides, there's bound to be a programme to protect them from the Welsh natives, or Dusty would never have suggested it. Would he.
But they have had a lot of bouts together recently, and now this, an away break beyond the Fence. As she walks to the recovery lounge, she resolves to go on a holiday of her own sometime and considers which of her other cot partners to invite, for the sake of balance.
* * *
That morning Dusty had the dream again. When he was younger it was a featureless dream of speed and rushing air, of being above and yet to the side of things. Recently, it has become more vivid, so that this time he could make out some sort of flying machine, open to the elements, not entirely under his control.
But it's not just the dream any more. His dysfunction may have started there, in his sleep, but now it has found the confidence to walk boldly throughout his head during the waking hours. He can no longer dismiss it, any more than he can these peculiar feelings he's developed for Alanis. He thinks of her now, how she dithered and flushed just then when he invited her to Wales. That touch of rouge on her cheek sat well on a face so big-featured and soft, warm and inspiring, trusting yet bold. He thinks of her in the cot, the sweat gathering on her chest, those strong legs, the lusty cries, the swaying couch and the energy, the prime energy, that will protest against decline. It is true that he has always valued coitus with her above anyone else, which should have served as a warning, but now he finds himself wanting it only with her! Of all the cot partners in a citizen's life, to single out one above the others ... His is an acute case of Misalignment! How can it be otherwise? If only anyone knew, it wouldn't be the Iron Joule at Parliament he'd be up for but a procedure of Assimilation at the Institute of Correction. It may yet be, if he's not careful.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ivon"
Copyright © 2018 Michael Aylwin.
Excerpted by permission of Red Door Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.