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It’s raining: a February morning. Rain breaks the cold. It comes and
the leaden remains of January soften: something more humane,
something expectant whispers in the shadows of buildings. Memory
says soon the river will thaw. West of Putney and Richmond, it will flow
again. Gone will be the ice crystals coating branches of trees in front of
the apartment. Gone will be the sharp claw in the air at 3 in the
morning. Winter has its beauty and is confinement: the body tightens
and the mind drifts high. Every winter I long for summer and then long
again for winter. I catch things in balance. The endless pull between
light and dark, between death and rebirth.

I wrap a raincoat tight and put on an old pair of field boots. A felt
hat covers my ears and will keep the rain from my head. Mila has
returned to bed. We have been up since 4 this morning.
What she told me still runs through my mind. Something comes out
of a hidden stream. It has always been there but kept from view. It is
not supernatural. Hidden things are hidden by human action. Human
minds cover truth with subterfuge and distraction. You always knew
things were not as they appeared. Then that intuition comes close. A
face you know. Someone you love. Cold truth cuts you to the bone. You
can no longer avoid the dark knot at the center of your life.

I come off Palace Gardens. I turn left toward the UmR station. On
the corner of Pembridge is a nutri-Bar. The thought of black coffee
makes me quicken my step. Keep on softly raining, I think, as the
drizzle drifts down the Notting Hill t-Bahn. I cross through the subway.

I think of Mila lying at home. I see her pale, almost translucent skin,
her thin arms, one over the quilt, her small, soft breasts; and that face
that can be so yielding and so defiant. What is it I love most in her?

When she is angry she closes like a small fist and I must hold her. She
teases me; laughs at me sometimes. Her love is sudden and intense. I
am so mixed up in her it is as though invisible fibres, fibres of a rare
and other-dimensional quality exist between us. We have become so
intertwined I let her say things I would let no-one else say. I listen to
her. I listen to her as I listen to no-one else.

I sit at the counter. It is a long glassy affair. Inter-active menus let

the customer savour-and-scent and each seating section has its own
I decide what I want and wait on the waitress. A pretty twenty
something with Central-Asian eyes, she smiles lazily.
“I’ll have black coffee with egg-pancake and noodles.”
She taps my order on her stylus pad. She turns to go then stops.
From the front pocket of her franchise-Vest she pulls an info card and
places it gently on the counter.
“If you’re ever lonely and could use company you might be
surprised,” she says carefully. Her eyes linger. I shake my head
politely. Everyone has a sideline these days.

“I can’t stop,” Mila said in the early hours of the morning. Sitting up
abruptly in the dark, she said it with such resignation, such immediate
despair I was frightened. As though she were turning and facing a
world in shadow: a dark road without end.

I c-Menu the holo-V. A girl a couple of places down from me is

watching a Sumo from Nagoya.
I voice through the options. There are a variety of antique MVEs and
clips. There is inter-act casino and faith-Programming. I search for
news. Why? Maybe I still hope that one day I will be surprised. One day
the n-Teller will forsake the script. Will break into song and do a little
dance routine. Let us in on some personal secrets. Maybe even
attempt some journalism.

“What can you not stop?”

“I can no longer forget,” she whispered. “I can no longer forget.”
The room was dark. Moonlight fell through the window.
“What is you can no longer forget?”

She shook a little. In the silvery-light I could see her eyes were
“Would you like some water?”
“No thanks.”
“I need some.”
I got out from under the duvet and walked to the tiny kitchen. I
voiced on the light. The water ran from the communal cooler gently. I
took a drink.
“Are you sure you want nothing?” I called back to the bedroom.
“Is there some juice?”
I opened the fridge and found a container of coconut juice. I poured
some then looked out the window. I returned quietly to the bedroom.
She nodded.
“It’s quiet.”
“On the street. Cold drives everyone inside.”
“What did you see?”
“The moon, frost, a light burning in a window, silhouettes.”
I sat on the edge of the futon and handed her the juice.
“Can you try and explain?” I said.

Global-Net’s subsidiaries are all running reports on a systems failure

in a mining operation on the lunar surface. A q-Net crash in one of the
helium-3 plants; there is, of course, no evidence any intent is involved.
The n-Teller assures us of this, while repeatedly mentioning the words
terror and attack. She states that the consortium running the concern,
(ES-RESo), has issued a statement saying they are satisfied no links
exist between this ‘accident’ and recent cy-terror incidents in London
and Paris involving West-African criminals.
‘No,’ I think. ‘Still you have just made one: even if a negative.
Anytime our resources or industries are mentioned West Africa comes
up: contextualising it with systems failure, terror, attack, danger.
I am about to say to the girl with the Sumo that at least the Eastern
Alliance has not been mentioned, when the n-Teller, with an anxious
frown, (she should get an acting award), informs us the plant was one
of three that had been objected to by the Chinese and Korean
governments as contravening the spirit of the 2045 MOOMiN Treaty,
signed in Dar-es-Salam, of that year.
‘Well,’ I think. ‘At least no one feels left out.’

Mila sat quietly for some time before talking. She took a couple of
sips of her juice and stared at the duvet.
“You won’t think I’m un-adjusted,” she eventually asked.
“Un-adjusted. Why should I think you’re un-adjusted?”
“I haven’t said anything yet.”
She asked me turn on the lamp, ‘not too bright, just modulate it
down to low.” Then she stared straight at me. Her eyes seemed almost
to probe me.
“It’s difficult to put in words.”
She let out a long breath. She put her hand up to the side of her
face and wound some stray strands of hair around her fingers.
“Lately I imagine I see things.”
“Things? What type of things?”
She sat forward, drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around
“Lately I’m walking on the street and have a sudden image. A
frightening image. I imagine I see a body standing in front of me. I
know it is someone who is dead.”
I was not sure what to say.
“Describe it.”
“I can’t describe it well. It is as though something has eaten this
body from within. The flesh is all soft and decayed. The eyes have
disappeared. It only barely looks human. Still it is human.”
“Where do you imagine these bodies?”
“Anywhere. On the street. In the UmR. Here in the apartment.”
“Why do you think this is happening?”
She hesitated. She was still playing with her strands of hair.
“I feel they are trying to tell me something.”
“Such as?”
She took a deep breath: then exhaled making her mouth a small
pink-lipped circle.
“Just now I had a dream. I was somewhere, a sort of expanse, arid
and desolate. I could see these low hills in the distance. The skies were
blue. Too blue. I looked and I saw thousands, maybe hundreds of
thousands of these bodies. They were just standing on this plain. A
huddled group, a mass of these bodies. A great line of them. When I
looked at them I knew they were dead. But I also know they were
trapped in some way.”
“Yes. They were in some sort of state. They were waiting on
something or someone. It was as though they were between two
I frowned though I didn’t want to.
“Are they in pain?”

Mila tightened her arms around her knees. She leaned into herself.
Then she gazed at me.
“They are resigned.”
“Yes. They are resigned and confused. They feel betrayed. They did
nothing to be there. They know they should not be there.”
I stood up. I thought of taking her in my arms. Her body language
said I should not. She remained sitting upright, shivering: in some way
“What can I say?”
“You don’t need to say anything.”
“It’s what they are trying to tell me I can’t quite understand.”
“What would they want to tell you? Do you have any idea?”
“You do?”
“I should tell you about my brother.”
“Your brother?”

My coffee comes. The waitress puts it down carelessly. She has

seemingly lost interest in prospective business. She turns and walks off
with a tart swish. Have I never come here with Mila?
I take a sip, savouring the bitter taste, feeling the hot liquid warm
my body.
Purchase-Messages cascade through the holo-V. Inter-active, order
RIGHT now type messages. Spirulina-rich candy bars, only ten pro-cent
sugar and thirty pro-cent GM flavour n-hanced – full of health giving
goodness: liver extract from Black-tailed Gazelle of the Gobi, a
mysterious Mongolian treatment for aging skin: authenticated by a
genuine shaman from the Altai region – a registered member of the
Andorran Society for Perfumes and Toiletries. Service offers: a
contract-specialty lawyer who claims to be able to break any legal
agreement. Six-month - no result - no liability contract required: cases
taken subject to credit status and bio-Pass clearance. A Psy-coach
promises success can be found by following her four-month, intense
neural-realignment program - the pathway to self-mastery and
wisdom. 40,000 e-creds with an interest free advance for tax-Band 10
and tax-Band-0 earners. ‘Fly like an eagle on the wings of your
dreams,’ she intones while sitting full-lotus somewhere in the Kuiper
Belt. A bearded and soft-spoken man volunteers to be your personal
bodyguard. Adam Strolch is trained in Clandestine Ops, is ex-ES-Intel
and a taekwan-do master to boot. He shows his impressive collection
of laser-weapons and body armour. Genuine Ops footage demonstrates

his accuracy and finish in action - an exploding Azerbaijani head here,
a Liberian body count there. Credit Rates are negotiable and legal
liability lies with the charge.

I drink some more coffee. The girl some places down stands
suddenly, locking her ankles in the foot rail and raising her hands in
the air. Presumably her chosen fatty is winning. (I am allowed say
‘fatty’ since the ES Department for Nutricomics recently declared - Fat
is Futile, Fat is Forbidden – shame them to death).
I wait on my egg-pancake and noodles.

I made some jasmine tea. I brought it in a small pot to the bedroom.

I asked Mila if she wanted anything else. She was feeling hungry.
“Are there any crackers?”
“I’ll look.”
I walked back to the kitchen. Low light filtered through the
apartment. Voices in Arabic came from above. There was some sort of
argument then a door closed. I heard steps on the stairwell: a music
system suddenly blared, then died.
Something lonely and uneasy seeped around me: something flat
and dull. The matzos I had taken from the box were dry and cool
beneath my fingers. I felt I was touching something I had touched a
million times before: some dynamic, some action that existed
somewhere within time. Time was just a trajectory of waves and they
were unexpectedly coming together.
Did I think Mila was un-adjusted? I did not. People lived their lives in
the virtual. They were born, got old but never grew up. If they were
told left was right, they believed it. If they were told right was left they
switched direction. Some thought they were rising, when really they
were falling. Most drifted through life, unaware, blind to the forces that
played with their hopes, their fears. That was un-adjusted. Mila was
none of those.
There was a shuffle behind me. I turned. Mila was standing in the
kitchen door. She was holding the pot of tea.
“You don’t want to stay in the bedroom?”
“Let’s sit here. I want to sit here.”

I catch a familiar face swim over the bar. ‘Today is the First-
Minister’s birthday,’ the N-teller purrs. ‘EBC 23 is taking the
opportunity to show Ms Ohara home-side. She has generously offered
to give us a glimpse of her life outside the world of politics and

My egg-pancake comes. The waitress changes her attitude. “Don’t
you like women?” she asks.
“Can I have my noodles?” I answer.
She sets the plate down.
“Here you go. Enjoy”
She leans forward a little. The tops of her breasts are visible over
her franchise-Vest. She has pale skin, lightly veined, a long neck and
sharp featured face.
“I like women.”
“But you don’t like me?”
“I don’t know you.”
“You could?”
“I could.”
She puts a hand on her hip, then straightens.
“Let me guess, you have someone.”
I nod my head.
“Do your noodles taste good?”
“I’m sure they will.”
I watch her saunter sadly back to her station.


We sat in the kitchen: one each side of the small table. The strip
lamp over the fridge cast shadows on our faces. Mila suggested we
light a candle to soften things. I looked for one, moving packaging,
plastics and polymers that we were obliged to recycle; we had not and
so were technically in breach of city eco-directive 216 – a mandatory
fine. I reminded Mila that last time I had visited the market candles had
been unavailable. She inclined her head.
“The store off the t-Bahn, beyond the UmR, you know, it sells
“We don’t hold that much credit. It is now ‘appointment’ only.”

Waiting for Mila to talk brought me to a realisation. It is something

about her that has always puzzled me. At times she appears
superficial, a little flippant. Her interests appear trivial and escapist.
Yet there are deeper strata to her. She is like a receiver. Things go
through her, right into her and still some part of her always remains
observant. On the surface she is placid. Underneath there is a
turbulent, ever changing world. She is like a dancer, a circus performer
who can suddenly plunge into an unknown abyss and come up with the
deepest strains of a tragedy. The switch is unpredictable. It happens
without any indication.

“Some years ago I was in Prague. I went to see my brother. My
brother, Jiri, is military you know. He was on leave. He had been out in
Central Asia. At the time he was with a specialized unit of the EUR-
She gives a little smile.
“The Yurf,” they call it on the inside.
“As in ‘you’re fucked’.”
“He had just been in Minsk to see our carers. He had asked if I
would see him between there and Madrid. I was living in Madrid at the
time. We agreed on Prague. Prague is where our maternal
grandparents were born. It seemed appropriate. None of us were close
as a family so I was surprised. When he asked if we could meet I
wondered if there was something he wanted to say.
“We met in an old café on the Narodni. It was old on the outside,
brown stone and nineteenth in style. Inside it was completely 21st,
hollowed out: brisk, a little cold with business types sitting at tables
with glassy stares. At the time coffee was unavailable so we drank
beer. Normally I didn’t drink beer. But it was beer or tea, and seeing as
the tea was expensive, I took beer.
“Straight away it was obvious something was up with Jiri. He was
anxious. He had become older. I guess that was to be expected. His
face had become broader, heavier. It seemed fixed in a way I had
never seen before.
“At first we made small talk. He told me it had been snowing in
Minsk. He reminded me of the trees that could be seen from our
fifteenth floor apartment. How they looked when bare and snow heavy.
It made me sad. I remembered us playing below them as children. I
understood this was already lifetimes ago.
“After a while he relaxed a little. Maybe it was the beer. He asked
me how I was with secrets. Secret’s, I wanted to know, why secrets?
Because I want to tell you one, he answered. What kind of secret? He
hesitated. I thought maybe it was something personal. Perhaps he was
in some financial trouble. He had got himself in some sexual tangle.
It’s so secretive I will be in breach of the ES Intelligence and
Information Disclosure Act, Section 47, he answered. I was stunned.
The what? He said it again. How serious is this? It’s serious. Why me?
Why do you need to tell me? He shook his head sadly. I don’t know. I
tried talking to our carers. Then I thought they will not understand.
Understand what? Mila, I need to tell someone.”
“We talked then for a while about routine things. He asked what I
was doing – how it was living in Madrid. I told him it was warm: I liked
the people. All the while I was turning his request over in my mind. I
was unsure yet felt I should at least listen. Eventually I decided I would
hear what he had to say. I knew I was crossing a line. I was perhaps

jumping into something serious. I told Jiri this. He was concerned about
the effect of me carrying around this information. I assured him I would
manage. If you need only to tell someone, then I am ready to hear.
“We drank our beers. He suggested it would be better if we went
somewhere private. It’s a mild spring day,” he said, “there is a tram
halt just a short walk along the Smetanova. We can go to my hotel”.
On the trees overhanging the pavement, there were buds, not yet
opened. A damp silvery mist rose from the Vltava’s surface.


Ms Ohara is sitting on a House bench. She is wearing a wide-

collared sequined-lined jacket and long pleated culottes. Her high,
ruffed blouse is pale blue, the chosen colour of the Purity Party. On it is
pinned a large ruby-inlaid brooch and white rose. One leg is crossed
over the other. She wears tight-laced black leather boots with pointed

It is an unfortunate image. She has chosen a style favoured by the

ironic and thin of the fashion world. Ms Ohara is not thin. She is not fat.
She is strong. In the past she would have been referred to as a woman
of solid stock.
Then there is her hair. Flaming red, rather beautiful in fact, but cut
short and brushed into a coiffure that accents her surgicised face. The
emphasis rests on her dull-brown eyes and her wide but thin-lipped
mouth. Her chin swells over the top of her blouse, giving her a
somewhat porcine air.
She speaks to cam and invites us to see her - private-side.
‘I am inviting you into my home and family. I am not just the carer
of our collective prosperity, but I am also the carer of two adult
children,’ she drawls in a non-rhotic Boston accent.
‘You will meet my children and our dog, a beautiful golden retriever
named Tim. Then we will talk to my husband, Richard, a tower of
strength in my life. He is a man of integrity and character and a great
shoulder for an FM and wife to lean on.
‘As it is my birthday I would like to share my flower garden with you.
It is the one place I go to relax. There I can be myself. I escape from
the pressures of politics and parliament. There I, just like you, am a
simple person, enjoying the abundance and beauty of nature.’
Then she is no more. We are pulled into a vortex of pastoral
England: something that has not existed for over one hundred-fifty
years. We see white cliffs and sandy beaches: rocky coastlines and
breaking waves. We fly over rolling hills and gentle downs. Wooded
groves and meandering rivers slip by. Seamlessly we encounter chic
privately-managed Residences, pass-Protected Complexes and Rest-
Abodes for the senior: freshly renovated resi-Towers rise in the cities

and busi-Towers buzz and hum with activity. We are awed at Corporate
Complexes, become dizzy with the golden light that caps them. We
float into space and looked down on arrays of Finance and Data Sats.
Children take their first steps. Young adults sign their first credit
contract. Mothers gave birth and fathers present sons with their first
football. We see two men holding hands as they choose curtains for
their faux-eighteenth apartment. A trans-Gene preens himself as she
prepares to deliver weather-data for a holo-V link. A doctor and medic-
team, their faces full of concern and gravity, rush an African child to
nano-surgery. In the Arabian Peninsula a young woman in protective
overalls holds a Geiger device and cares for children suffering from
radiation sickness. A sub-Saharan declares he is proud of his colour,
that he chooses his race, that he has won learning-Aid to go up to
Oxbridge to study the works of early twenty-first dance and song
culture. A . .


“Jiri’s hotel was a towering building east of the Hradčany. I suppose

it had been built sometime in the mid twentieth. A confectionary
company had renovated it for the twenty-first. Over the approach a
neon logo, a great gaudy affair, shone eerily.
In the lobby security personnel patrolled - men and women in grey
uniforms with yellow stars on their smart synthetic helmets. They
stood in pairs, checking PiDs and escorting people to lifts. There was
something old about it all: as if it was a film, a projection and if I lifted
it and peeked below I would discover I was looking at something
maybe a hundred years old.
We took a lift to the 18th floor. It shot upwards, its steel plated walls
flickered with constant Purchase-Messages. I noticed we looked like
ghosts under the blue light.
Jiri’s room was small: a box really with a hygiene unit attached.
Brown walled, corporate, it had all the charm of a sheep pen: a private
sheep pen. Kill for the government I thought – come home to a cage.
I sat on a narrow chair and looked out a dusty window. Tiny bodies
moved on the grey concourse below. Jiri pulled a bottle from his travel-
sac. Stolichnaya he smiled. That must have cost you I said. It was a
gift, he added. What do you want to tell me, I asked. I’ll show you what
I want to tell you.


Now Ms Ohara is telling us what it was attracted her to the Purity

‘On this my birthday,’ she says, speaking to cam, ‘I like to reflect on
the choices I have made in my life. Why, in the Purity Party, I saw a

vehicle that reflected my personal beliefs. I have always felt we should
think with our hearts, look into our inner being for the answers to
global problems. We are born to bring light to the world. Here in
Europe we are blessed with wealth and wonder. We want for little. Yet
in my heart, in my private mediation I am moved to share with others. I
am moved to help those who are not as fortunate as we. We should
endeavour to bring some joy to the darkest corners of the world.
Perhaps, you, co-creator in this venture of ours, ask how I, a politician,
a woman often portrayed in the media as tough and uncompromising
can believe such things.’
The cam moves in on her face. A brief flux of pixelation masks the
transition to soft-view.
‘Let me say, this is not a Party-Sharing. I do not wish to dwell on
difficult issues. I speak to you as a woman. As a carer and a wife.
Come, shall we go and meet my family?’
She stands. The cam moves back to show her walking, reaching to
the lens as though offering us her hand. Then Tim comes bouncing up.


“I stared at the pages in my hand. On paper, I whispered, is that not

dangerous? Less dangerous than anything e, Jiri answered quietly.
Think about it. It comes down to one random search: or a specific
search. A specific search means they’re on to you. You’re already zero.
Electronic communication is subject to all types of monitoring.
Surveillance is supposed to be constant. You never can tell.
“He had taken the hand-written pages carefully from between the
layers of opaque plastic in which the Stolichnaya had been packed. It
was ES Armed Forces packing. A pretty five-pointed star, yellow on a
blue background. The vodka was a gift from one of my commanding
officers, he explained. It is tagged as military property and I am tagged
as rightfully in possession of it. Therefore, he paused - you take what
opportunities come your way. Who wrote this, I demanded below my
breath. He sat down quietly on the side of the bed. Suddenly he looked
exhausted. Tension cramped the length of his face. The sockets of his
eyes became dark. He put his head between his hands, ran his fingers
through his hair and breathed deeply. Then he looked up and pointing
to the walls placed a finger over his lips. He gestured with his hands
that he had written it himself. I took a sip from my plastic cup. The
room seemed cold. My eyes fell to the paper.


Ms Ohara has now moved to her garden. It is large: well beyond the
dreams of any city-dweller. She steps from an elevated patio that looks
out over thick woodland. Around her shoulders she has tastefully

placed a Kashmir shawl. The evergreens behind her give a faintly fake
glow. The autumn feel to the colours jars a little with the fact it is early
February. She bends down to tend to some delicate looking flowers.


Mila got up and went to the bedroom. I followed her. She knelt at
the far wall. I saw her peel back a fix-t painting she had bought, a copy
of a Van Gogh and then move a small panel in the plasterboard. Her
hand disappeared into the dark space. After a minute or two it
emerged with a crumpled plastic folder.
“Here,” she said.
I was shocked.
“They are the pages?”
“They’re copies. I copied them in my own handwriting. The originals
I destroyed.”
“An instinct.”

We returned to the kitchen. My heart was beating hard. I pulled out

my chair and sat across from Mila. What had started as a simple
disturbing dream suddenly had become a state offence. It was against
the law to hold any document or form of information pertaining to
security, real or supposed without it being registered at a local
Domestic-Intel point. Mila tensed. Her shoulders narrowed. She was
clutching the plastic folder tightly.
“Are you angry at me?”
“Bewildered. I’m bewildered.”
“I should have told you.”
“How long have you had it hidden in the apartment?”
“Two years. I used to keep it in a safe box in Euston. It made me
“Of surveillance?”
She shook her head.
“I was more afraid it would be stolen.”
“Why be afraid of that?”
Her eyes fell to the table. She made a small gesture with her hand
as though to ask for something. I thought she was going to cry.
“It makes me feel real.”
“You know those days you become unreal. You think you have
become transparent. Everyone can see through you. You have left
yourself someplace and can no longer remember where. Those days I
think of these pages. In a strange way they are a link with the past.
They assure me of the awkward truth”
She pushed the plastic folder across the table.

“My brother saw this with his own eyes. Please read it.”

We were stationed in Baku, Azerbaijan. ES-RRF unit 48 – part of the

EASF, (Eurasian Strike Force), assigned to support and sustain in the
Caspian Freedom Surge of 2035. It was March 18 2039. At 10pm that
evening we were informed we were to make ready to move out the
following morning. It was to be a classified operation. No explanation,
no briefing was given. This was not unusual. There had been a number
of attacks on the Trans-Caspian pipelines in the preceding days. Some
civilians had lost their lives. Ten Azerbaijanis and an oil exec – a
middle-level woman from Exon-EP. So that there would be a response
was expected.
We moved out under cover of dark. There were 30 of us: 4
commanding officers, 2 COM officers and the rest. At 5:15 on the 19th
we left in a heavily armed convoy and drove north along the main
highway to Sumgayit. Sumgayit is just 30 kilometers from Baku, a
short drive. We were all quiet. None of us had any idea what our
mission purpose was. We said little. All I could see was the dark and
shadowed landscape slipping past. Many of us were near the end of
our tour-of-duty. We were not sorry. Months in a war-torn wasteland,
among a hostile population with little understanding from HQ and
under constant pressure to deliver gains and security, saps the will. No
amount of psyche-support, training or pharmaceutical-aid mitigates
the boredom and brutality of live-conflict. Only the mentally mal-
adjusted thrive.
About 10 kilometers from the city, the convoy stopped and we were
ordered to prepare for a code-Red bio-Hazard situation. We kitted up,
activated our vacuum suits, initiated our live-feeds and drove on. We
reached the outskirts of the city just before 6. The sun was creeping
over the horizon and the city quiet. No one thought this surprising.
Only thinly populated, Sumgayit was UN classified as an
environmentally degraded area. Those who lived there were mainly
technical personnel and their families, Turks and Kazaks affiliated to
the gas and oil plants of the Caspian Sea. Just under 200,000 people in
fact. As it was a dense Muslim area and a Friday a UN mandated work-
free day in respect of faith was in operation.
At about 7 we were informed we were to rendezvous with unknown
persons on the northern outskirts of the city. We were still on full bio-
Hazard alert. As we moved across the city we became aware of aircraft
above our heads. Unmarked Stealth B818s, they came in very low and
were clearly laying aerosol trails.
(Aerosol trails I should explain are used in a heightened conflict-
situation. In principle they are regulated stringently and limited in their
scope. For example they may be used for tranquillising traumatised
civilians, or for mass inoculation where other means fail to meet a

required urgency. They are, of course, used all the time and on
domestic populations too).
I looked up and saw the skies above our heads were chalky. I
assumed this was not the first run over the city: as far as I could tell
winds were north to northwest. A colleague next to me made a gesture
of resting his head on his hand and sleeping. I knew what he meant.
At approximately 7.20 we reached our rendezvous point. Five
armed men, in white bio-Hazard suits were standing at the roadside.
They had no military or official markings of any kind to indicate who
they were. They stood by three refuse-trucks.
Our commanding officers dismounted first. There was some talking,
some consulting of time-pieces and they returned to the convoy. We
were to accompany the five men to a warehouse and then to be split
into 3 sub-units. Each sub-unit would take a different part of the city.
Re-grouping was to take place at an old oil depot on the main highway
south at 08.30
We drove to the warehouse, through the same deserted streets. By
now we all understood why there was so little human activity. Still I
was puzzled. Aerosol tranquillisation was no precedent for code-red
bio-Hazard procedures.
At approximately 07.35 we reached the warehouse. It was an old
rusting affair on a disused piece of ground, pot-holed and weed
covered. We dismounted. The five white-suited guys disappeared into
the warehouse and then repapered with more men. These men were
wearing gas masks and orange overalls. I understood them to be
Kazaks, Uzbeks or maybe Iranians. I could see they had been e-tagged.
I thought they were probably terror suspects from one of the detention
camps of Northern Iraq. We were ordered to secure a perimeter about
the warehouse. The men in the orange overalls then returned to the
warehouse and soon there was the sound of lifting equipment in use.
Forklifts appeared loaded up with dead bodies. They began to load the
bodies onto the refuse trucks. In wave after wave the trucks were filled
with these diseased, decaying bodies: bodies that appeared to have
been eaten from within by some vengeful bug.
“We were all nervous. As I had been detailed to hold the line I could
see the look of anxiety in some of my colleagues faces. Conflict-
hardened soldiers did not want to look.
“When we had finished we left and drove through the city on full
alert - in battle-ready position. We were ordered that anyone
challenging us was to be taken out with prejudice. The bodies were
thrown one by one into the empty streets. When all the bodies had
been disposed of we re-grouped at the oil depot. The men in the
orange overalls were then crudely strung together with chicken wire.
One of the five, still fully suited for bio-Hazard produced a hand-
weapon. He walked down the line of tagged men and one by one shot

them in the back of the head at point-blank range. Their bodies, the
refuse truck and the oil-depot were then fired.
We drove at high-speed to the military airport east of Khyrdalan.
Full viral containment procedures and 48-hour isolation were put in
place. Containment included intense ultrasound scans. I assumed we
had been dealing with some sort of sub-micron technology.
When we returned to base in Baku, we were required to personally
sign the Disclosure Act and ordered by very senior personnel not to
make known or discuss anything of what we had seen. Three days later
the entire unit was broken up and all personnel were posted to various
other locations. I was sent to Tehran. Others went to Basra or
On being released from containment I witnessed two of the white
suited men being escorted to a private jet. The jet was parked on a
side runway of Khyrdalan airport. They were dressed as civilians. The
jet was not a military craft but civil. The logo on the tail fin was that of


‘Though these beautiful Narcissi are n-hanced to permit them bloom

in January they are nevertheless defenceless against weed,’ Ms Ohara
smiles. ‘Sometimes I must be vigilant and guard against weeds. I must
be firm and uproot them when they begin to grow. Weeds should not
be let destroy that which is beautiful. These flowers are rare and bring
so much pleasure. I must be firm and remove anything that is not life-
affirming. We must be resolute. We must counteract that which
compromises the development of the good. This sometimes means
making difficult decisions - but necessary ones.


“The Sumgayit Incident,” I said when I had finished. I felt drained.

Mila was looking at me intensely.
“You remember it?
“Of course.”
“My brother saw this with his own eyes.
“Yes I’m sure.”

The Sumgayit Incident was all over Global-Net for weeks: allegedly
an attack by some Caucasus terror group – the CAAG I think. There
were near to 112,000 people dead, the remaining citizens forcibly
evacuated to isolation camps in Georgia. ‘The worst bio-terror attack of
all time,’ n-Tellers almost gleefully informed us. Politicians queued up
to condemn and console. Three days after the story broke four men, all
of central-Asian origin, were arrested boarding a flight bound for Kuala

Lumpur from Ashgabat, Turkmenia. They were found to be carrying
samples of a bio-engineered virus, since named rOn1.”

“Sumgayit is now a clean zone,” Mila said. “A company named

Lytton Bio-Tech of Connecticut patented the inoculations. There was a
media-show of how their technicians risked their lives working 24 to
save the people of the region from a pandemic of plague-like
proportions. Now it is a city inhabited by technicians exclusively from
the NAU and the ES.

Pale light from the strip lamp ghosted our faces. A cold shadow
swept the kitchen.


Rain is still falling. I pull my raincoat tight and the felt-hat down over
my ears. My field-boots are muddy, from the snow, from rain. I feel a
little light-headed. The rain seeps under the rim of my hat and down
my neck. An old shopping complex, deserted, with an overhanging
scaffold gives some shelter. I stand and watch the traffic slip by on the
t-Bahn. Pulling out a pack of cheap cigarettes, I light one. Loose pieces
of tobacco catch on my lips. The blue smoke lingers in the wet air.

What is it I love in Mila? Is it the way she suddenly pulls the veil
back on things? How she dives into the unknown and comes up with

“You know,” Mila said at 8 this morning. We were sitting in our small
living room, the duvet over our knees. The first light of dawn was
coming through the window.
“When I said goodbye to my brother the following afternoon in
Prague it was something final. The pages he gave me are like an
invisible connection between us. It makes me think of the old twentieth
tactic, during the Soviet period, of samizdat. He just turned in front of
the Rudolfinum and waved and walked away. I accept that.”
She put her hands in mine. She wound her fingers tightly about my
fingers. Her head rested against my shoulder.
“Maybe that’s what the images are trying to tell me. The truth is
buried beneath layers and layers of lies. It is so far down that even the
dead are trapped in its absence.”

Copyright © Peter Millington 2009


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