Bithot saves a fisherman.
A young Scottish fisherman had fallen from a trawler in the North Sea. His companions were unaware and his cries for help were unheard. He was far away from the boat and by the time his presence was missed he was about to perish in the cold rough sea. Bithot scanned him and found that his brain pulses were compatible with Jane's, so he brought him aboard the craft. Bithot was happy with his work, but Ekurb was not so happy.
"If they find out we will both be finished. We will end up at the Sulether mines. Madness, absolute madness."
"Do not keep on about it, Ekurb, or I may see to your transfer there myself."
"This is nothing humorous; suicide is against all the laws."
"She is alive so she has not committed suicide. It was not her will because I prompted her. She would never have done it otherwise, would she?"
"That is manipulation, you cannot do that."
"Where does it say that? You have a lot to learn, Ekurb, and if you do not learn by watching then you will never become a selector."
"What about the sudden disappearance of a healthy human? How will that be received by their authorities?"
"That is not our problem. That is something that her Earth husband will have to worry about. Now let us put on our breathing masks and get some rest."
I woke with a jump and pulled myself into a ball under the bed sheets as if to protect myself. I felt warm in the comfort of the bed and felt relieved when I thought that I had only been dreaming. I was naked and wondered why I hadn't put any nightclothes on. I never slept naked and was surprised at how I enjoyed the feel of it, but I realised that it was not my bed and I threw the covers back. The sight that greeted me gave me a shock as I looked up through the clear ceiling to the sky above. My mind was in turmoil, had it all been a dream, was this bit a dream, was I dead? I thought of the letters, the struggle with Bob, the fight with Colin, the voices in my mind, and the plunge from the balcony. Now I woke in a strange bedroom wondering what I was doing there. I pinched the back of my hand and then my lip. I felt for my pulse, this bit was no dream and I was not dead.
The bedroom was old fashioned but clean and nicely decorated. The furniture though pre-war was of high quality and looked impressive. I got out of bed confused and walked over to the dressing table. Looking into the mirror, I was surprised to see that my face was unmarked. My clothes were on a stool, clean and neatly pressed. I suddenly realised that someone could walk into the room and see me naked. I dressed quickly and in a panic and then left the room. Someone was cooking fried breakfast and the aroma drifted along the passage making me feel hungry. I made my way slowly along the passage, stopped, and looked into the living room.
"Hello, lass, your breakfast is nearly ready."
I looked at the elderly man. "Who are you? What the hell's going on?"
"It will all be explained later. Sit down and I will pour you a cup of tea, and then after breakfast you can have a fitting for your wedding dress."
"Wedding dress!" I gave a sarcastic laugh. "What are you talking about, I'm already married."
"Do not worry about that marriage, it is over now. It is not valid here and you are free to remarry."
"This is crazy, I'm marrying no one." I sat opposite the man as he poured my tea into a large bone china cup. I sat dumbfounded as he explained where I was and how I had got there.
A middle-aged woman walked in from the kitchen with two large cooked breakfasts on a tray and a young man strolled in behind her. The woman put the tray down on the table. "Hello, I'm Eve," she said. "I live next door. This is your partner Jimmy."
The young man looked at me and smiled, but I looked back at the old man and shook my head. "Oh no, I'm not having this. I want to go home. I've got to find Terry." I stood up. "I'm not playing your stupid game. You said you could take me back, well do it then. I want to go home." I ran from the room and back to the bedroom.
After Jane had left the room Eve looked at the young man. "You'd best go back next door while we sort this out. I'm so sorry about all this."
Jimmy gave an unconcerned grin. "Och don't worry. Happens to me all the time back in Aberdeen." He gave a laugh and took his breakfast from the tray before setting off back to Eve's house.
"I do not understand," the old man said. "I have seen people take the news in all kinds of ways, but I have never known anybody who wanted to go back and face their own certain death. I didn't expect it from her."
"Well you can't bleedin' send her back, that would be barbaric."
"I do not know about barbaric, but it would be embarrassing. It has never happened before, we always say that people would be returned to the same time and place where we rescued them, but that is not true. We cannot put her back into exactly the same time and place, because that is in the past, and despite what you see in some of your films, time travel can only be achieved in a forward direction. Although we are capable of sending people forward in time, travel to the past or return from the future is impossible, what has gone has gone. We can get another partner for Jimmy easily enough, but what do we do with Jane? There would be no place for her without a partner, and our security people would never take the risk and allow her to return to your planet without using option twelve."
"So all those years ago when you said I would be blown up by a German bomb, you were telling me lies."
"Believe me, Eve, if you had insisted on going back; well, let us just say that some people believe option twelve to be a far worse fate."
"So what is this option twelve? They won't kill her will they?"
The man gave a look of disapproval. "Eve, we are not human, we would never dream of such a thing." He gave a long sigh. "It is my fault. I should not have brought her here and option twelve would be unfair because I put my feeling before logic. However, she is here, I am fond of her, and I do not want to lose her. There must be a way to resolve this. Go and talk to her, see if you can find out what has gone wrong." Eve was not aware of the implication of option twelve and the man didn't mention it further.
* * * * *
Jarlut walked into the office of his superior and they both looked at Jane on the screen that was part of the desktop. "What are we to do about this girl, Jane?" Jarlut said. "She might deteriorate without a partner, and even if she does not, she will cause an imbalance, jealousy may breed amongst the others, there could be all sorts of problems. Bithot said that he could check on her friend Terry, but I am not sure if it is the answer. Jane has caused a bit of an upset by rejecting her chosen partner."
Jarlut was pleased that option twelve had not been mentioned, but he knew that it might be considered if there was not a satisfactory conclusion to the problem. He was also aware that Bithot was concerned because he had put himself at risk of disciplinary action. No one had been rescued in such circumstances before and there was already talk that she was not a suitable person for the island.
Jarlut's boss was looking at him with one of his eyes, the other eye still watching Jane on the screen. His eyes worked independently, his brain having no trouble processing information from two sources. "I have just spoken to the selector, Bithot. He has a plan. First, he will find the one she pines for and send news of him, as you have said, but then he will observe the man for a while disguised as a tramp. If his plan works, then Jane will have her partner and you can relax again."
"And if his plan does not work?"
"Then it will be out of our hands. The Screeners will decide the human female's fate and the fate of Bithot and his crewman, but I think that you worry too much Jarlut. I am sure the girl will fit in."
Jarlut smiled as he bade his superior goodbye, thinking how Bithot's plans had always seemed to work, before this mix-up.
I was lying on my bed with my hands behind my head looking up to the sky up when Eve walked in. "Well, when am I going back?" I said.
"Jane, you're being silly, why don't you just give it a try? You've nothing to lose."
"It'll just go wrong, it always goes wrong. I should carry a banner. Hi, I'm Jane, come over and hurt me some time. I've done nothing wrong, why does everyone hate me? Terry was the only person that ever really loved me and I broke his heart. I hurt him, I know I did, and I was so stupid, so bloody, bloody, stupid. Please make them take me to him. I know they can do it. Just a few minutes, just let me see him for a few minutes then I'll do anything you ask. I'll be a slave, a whore, anything, but please let me see Terry." I was becoming upset and Eve was aware that she had to make me feel better if we were to make any progress. She managed to calm me down and we sat talking about her husband Roger and their two grown-up offspring. When I became more at ease, Eve changed the subject back to Terry.
"He must be some guy this Terry."
"I wish I had the letters, you could have read them. That bastard stole them. He robbed me, Eve, and he kept the letters, can you believe that? He kept them so that one day he could give them to me knowing that I would be devastated."
Eve listened as I told her what had happened at the flats and of my suicide attempt. She gave a deep sigh. "I don't know what the answer is, Jane. You would have died if they hadn't rescued you. I can't see them sending you back to your death and they would only rescue Terry if his life were at risk. I don't think they can just go and abduct him. The best that you can hope for is for them to agree to find him and bring back some news for you, about how he is getting on and that."
I knew that I had to accept that it was the best offer I was going to get. We made our way back to the living room and sat with the old man. He agreed to arrange to check up on Terry but said I must also agree to co-operate with them. I accepted my fate to a point, but I refused to get married or even to have a relationship with anyone until I had received news of Terry.
"We will see how it goes," he said. "But I think you need a bit of time to adapt and relax." He turned to Eve. "You can show her around the island, if you do not mind."
Eve smiled at me. "You'll love it here."
"Eve, I think it will be best if you take Jane in as a lodger for now. We will have to let Jimmy move in here on his own until we can effect another female rescue."
"That's not a problem, but I suppose it means we won't be having a dance again for a while." Eve gave a chuckle.
"It is not funny, Eve, I could be in serious trouble over this."
Trouble, I thought. Why should he be in serious trouble? I felt sorry for the old man as he bid us goodbye and left to make the arrangements, but I didn't think it was really my fault.
Eve took me to her house next door to meet her husband Roger. I was embarrassed when I met Jimmy again, but he soon put my mind at ease, saying he understood and was not the least bit offended by my decision.
The evening drew in and Eve was running a bath for me. I had been listening with genuine interest to Roger's tales of aerial combat but hurried to the bathroom when Eve called out to me that my bath was ready.
I looked in at the foaming bathwater. "Bloody hell, Eve, I've got nothing, not even a change of knickers."
"You can borrow one of my dressing gowns, and there's some new pants in the dressing table drawer. We'll order some underwear and clothes tomorrow from the catalogue. You'll get them the next day, but feel free to raid my wardrobe. I really don't mind."
I freshened myself up and washed my hair in the sink, but I kept looking up at the clear ceiling, wondering if I were being watched. I pulled the plug in the bath, feeling reluctant about taking all my clothes off and getting in the water. I felt slightly annoyed as I remembered walking about in the bedroom earlier with no clothes on, not knowing at the time that someone might be watching me.
That evening Eve and Roger took me along to The Red Lion. I was made welcome by the other residents and I felt no friction when Jimmy joined us. I was feeling more at ease. The bar reminded me of the old East London pubs that I had visited, with the same jolly atmosphere, and even the carved and turned timber and the huge mirrors behind the optics. The only difference was that this was only a single storey building, and like all the others, it had a clear ceiling and no roof. I thought how strange it was to be sitting in an Old English style bar and looking up to the stars and the red moon.
"Would you like to put some records on the jukebox?" Roger asked. I smiled and stood up. "Do you know how to work it?" he said.
"Do I know how to work it, of course I do," I replied. I walked across and looked at the keyboard, but there were no record titles, just a blank screen. I turned to look at Roger and laughed at him grinning at me. "Help!" I said.
Roger came over to me. "It's got every record since nineteen forty. Just type in the title. If there is more than one version they will all come up on the screen, and then you just press the corresponding number."
"What, any record?"
"Yes, Frankie Laine, Elvis, T-Rex, A side, B side, whatever you want."
"Fantastic." I selected a Buddy Holly record and it began playing as I walked back towards my seat. "Do you dance, Eve?"
"Course I bleedin' do, practically invented it. Dum de dum dum, Oh Boy," she sang as she stood up. "Get ready to sweat, girl."
The evening came to an end and I felt a little tipsy as we walked back to the house. I went to my bedroom and Eve brought me one of her nightdresses.
"This is creepy, how do I know they are not watching me?" I giggled and then hiccupped.
"You don't, but you'll get used to it after a while."
I looked up through the ceiling. "Eve, what about when you, when you want to have sex?"
Eve laughed. "For the first couple of months we would only do it in the dark and under the covers, but after a while, we thought what the heck. Funny enough Roger found it quite exciting the first few times, not knowing if we were being watched or not. I was not so happy, but I got used to it. Oh, and the lavy, if you want a bit of privacy in the lavy you'd better use the one in the yard. It's the only place with a tiled roof."
It was ten o'clock the next morning when Eve took me to the garage. Eve selected a two-seater, open, sports car and gave the attendant her finance card. I looked on in amazement as the garage attendant returned with her card and happily just gave her the keys. "I don't own a car," she said. "I prefer to just hire one when I need it. Come on, let's get going, it's a bit of a drive to my daughter's bungalow."
It was a large island, the vegetation was a mixture of lush green trees and grasses, the same as back home in England, but mixed with palm trees and tropical plants. We drove onto the coast road and the view out to sea was like a tropical postcard. Even while in Cyprus, I had never seen such clear sparkling water, the water washing over the white sand, almost glowing white like the shirts in the old black and white Persil advertisements.
"This is a lot bigger than I imagined."
"Yes it's quite a size. It's nearly as big as the Isle of Man, and there's about twenty thousand people here."
"I've never been to the Isle of Man," I said.
"No, neither have I, but Roger has."
"Anyway, this is only one of six of our islands. You can take a two-week holiday on the others if you want, so in five years you can visit the lot. I like the Afro-Caribbean best. They're such a bleedin' happy bunch. It's like one big party over there."
I smiled. "It seems to get more inviting all the time," I said.
"Good, and remember there's a lack of illness here. Most people live to be over a hundred and even if you got heart disease or something, they can clear it up in minutes. There is no crime and no loneliness and you don't see old folk wasting away on their own. When you're married here, your hearts are linked somehow. So that when your partner dies, you die with them. You might find that a bit scary, but after a long life together, you won't want to outlive your husband for many more years, old and alone."
"I don't think it's scary, I think it's nice. I could get used to it here, Eve, if I were with the right man."
"Jane, you can't expect them to bleedin' abduct him, it just wouldn't be right. You should accept your fate, after all, really you should be dead."
I looked at her briefly before looking back out to sea. The hazy twinkling water was reflecting the blueness of the sky. I looked up from the sea and began scanning the sky as if I were looking for something. "I just need a little time." I looked back at Eve. "Are there no seagulls here?"
"I haven't seen any, but I dare say there are. Why do you ask that?"
"Oh it doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter."
Eve flashed her headlights at an approaching lorry. The woman driving the lorry waved as she passed. "That's one of my pals; she works for one of the food firms. They make the bacon and sausages and that sort of thing."
"Oh, she works at a slaughterhouse."
"No, nothing's slaughtered here. They don't believe in it. It's all synthetic, made by machine."
"But I've had the bacon and it was so realistic, like real bacon."
"Yeah, clever sods ain't they? That's why they've never made contact on Earth; they think we're all barbarians."
"I can drive lorries," I said, with a sudden excitement in my voice. "Do you think your friend could get me a job?"
"Don't see why not. We'll call in to her depot later on and get your name down on the list." Eve pulled into the drive of a large bungalow.
"It's like millionaires row. They must have good jobs."
"These are the three-bedroom homes; all the houses are as good as this. You'll get one something the same if you decide to have children. The only thing is you have to give them up when the kids leave home. Some people though decide to have just one child so that they can remain in the smaller houses, like mine. Myself I didn't mind the moving, I think it makes a nice change."
I was worried about my childless years with Bob and decided to change the subject. "You know, the Scottish boy, Jimmy, he's not a bad lad really."
"Hold on, Jane, it's a bit late now. There's a ship going to get him a wife."
"It's all right Eve, I said he's a not bad lad, but I still don't want to marry him."
"Just as well. They'll probably get you a new husband while they're gone."
"I don't know if I'm happy about that or not."
"You made a deal."
"Yeah, and I can't wait to get news of how Terry is getting on."
"Yes, get the news and then you have to bury that old skeleton. It'll be time to move on."
"Yeah, maybe you're right." Or maybe not, I thought.
"Come on, come and meet my daughter and my grandchildren. Then you can drive the car round to my son's house."
I had cheered my self up a little, finding the environment quite to my liking. Knowing that I could have a drive of the sports car perked me up a bit more and I looked back at the car as we walked towards the house, eager to have a drive.