It started with the walk:
People, fun to be with,
Sights more spectacular than words can express,
The joy of leaving all behind.

So no, it started before the walk,
The problems, the questions,
Unavoidable consequences and unwanted certainties,
And the joy of putting them all behind me for one blissful weekend.

It was egged on by Brigitte,
author, teacher, facilitator.
Her way with words, her way with us,
But most of all her enthusiasm.

It was done in a jiffy.
Done but not finished,
Like a craftsman fine-tuning to perfection.

It was read.
Bright eyes flashed;
Appreciation so welcome,
And later reciprocated
As poem after poem was added
to our kaleidoscope of creation.

Then, back to earth,
with a piece of paradise in mind and heart.
I read it to an earthling;
What was the point!

Lying awake on his bed Scott wondered if he would ever be able to sleep again. Just a few words, words he had never heard before; words that had cut into the quick of his heart like no surgeon could ever do.

Just an hour earlier Dr. Valderian had informed him of his decision to retire from a lifetime of service to research and scientific progress. This man who had found lasting cures to such curses as AIDS and Swine Flue felt he no longer had the stamina needed to face the modern-day medical challenges their world was facing. So popping a Champagne cork, he informed Scott that the board had more or less accepted his recommendation to make Scott his successor.

"Or course, the decision still has to be finalised by the authorities, and they may want to carry out one or two more tests. But those are mere formalities."

Scott thanked him and expressed a wish that Dr. Valderian would still continue to help him in the fight against the great killer disease, cancer. It was cancer that had brought them together over 30 years ago. He was fresh out of university and Dr. Valderian, still a little known researcher in a backwater university nobody knew about. Although he didn't know it yet, he was just weeks away from making the breakthrough that would propel his country to the forefront of the world stage. After centuries of oppression from the richer Northern nations, Prestaria could at last wreak its revenge. Scott had never questioned but often wondered about the veracity of the official version of events surrounding the AIDS epidemic of 2020. But undoubtedly, Dr. Valderian's work had been the stroke of luck that had not only saved millions of his fellow countrymen's lives, but also established Prestaria as the major world power.

Dr. Valderian opened a drawer to his desk and taking out a strange looking object, Scott had never seen before, handed it to him.

"I want you to familiarise yourself with the procedures of the investiture. This is a recording I made of my predecessor's ceremony. It's a bit old but you can use one of the machines in the museum to view it. I'll get you clearance."

Lying in his bed, staring up at the ceiling Scott found it hard to imagine the difference that object had brought into his life. He had watched the ceremony and found its antiquated episodes quite amusing. He was about to extract what the assistant had termed a cassette tape from the machine, when further images appeared on the screen. A young man stood on the stage and holding up his arm made a solemn pronouncement concerning his profession. It was only from the voice that he recognised Dr. Valderian. But what fascinated him even more were the words he was saying.

"I will keep them from harm and injustice." The words looped around endlessly in his mind, sometimes pronounced by Dr. Valderian, sometimes by a colleague, but often by one or other of the prisoners at the centre. The centre... The newspaper headline flashed once again into his mind:

Government research facility on decommissioned prison site

What the article failed to mention was that whereas the site may have been decommissioned, the prisoners still remained. They were far better fodder than any animals. Firstly, more reliable tests could be run, but more importanly, who was going to complain about a bunch of Northern POWs whose relatives had long since perished.

"I will keep them from harm and injustice." That was what he had tried to do for his fellow countrymen. But as prisoner after prisoner came before him to mock him, he realised that was not enough. Thanks to the pills he could still shut out the murderous screams echoing from the cells as the experimental cures were tried, tested, failed, modified, retried, and modified before finally achieving the looked for success.

His first thought had been merely to escape abroad and build himself a new life. But he soon discovered that wouldn't make the voices disappear. Blind, he might have been, but now that his eyes were opened he knew he couldn't act merely in his own interests. He had to get the prisoners out, and he had to act quickly before the lack of sleep drove him mad.

Three days it had taken and he knew he looked a wreck. Fortunately, he'd been able to keep out of Dr. Valderian's way, the latter evidently wanting to accord him the time needed to visualise the tape he had given him. Scott got up and dressed before descending the staircase and entering his office. He had thirty minutes to go before the guards were changed. He waited another 10 minutes before going down to the cellar, explaining to the duty officer he had come to check the supply of medicines they had received earlier that week. Taking the handle to the fire-escape in his hand Scott paused, closed his eyes and offered up what in other times and other circumstances what might have been considered a prayer. Opening the door he slipped out. The moment he saw the gun barrels levelled at him, he thought of the memory chip implanted in him years before. And Dr. Valderian's voice rang out:

"You are a great disappointment to me, my friend. Even I expected better things of you."


James tried not to let his exasperation show as he put the phone down. These people from 'The Barn' really didn't let go easily. His only mistake had been to discuss with one of them at the local fair for half an hour. Fresh out of university the calm of Braymore was a welcome attraction compared to the all-pervading noise of London traffic. But after only a few days James could not look at a cow in pasture without envying it its steady activity. So having an equal to talk to was an unexpected treat. He'd even agreed to the proposed personality test just to prolong the acquaintance. He'd nothing better to do, anyway. But ever since, the people from 'The Barn' hadn't left him with one day's peace. First, they'd smothered him with literature, written by their renowned guru. Then the results of his personality tests came through.

'I've got some bad news,' the voice began. 'You're personality is showing mulitple fractures affecting various parts of your life...' Inevitably, they'd gone on to offer him the only thing that could cure his inner life and make him whole (their words) once again. It had taken them months for him to persuade them that neither his bank manager, nor that of any other bank would welcome further debts of the kind they were contemplating. After that things calmed down for a while. The people from 'The Barn' were still there, but they no longer bothered him. Then he met Jan.

Jan was from down South. That's all she ever said. She'd left home after a rift with her parents and was hiking through Yorkshire; ... had been hiking through Yorkshire. From the moment they set eyes on each other, James knew she'd never leave Braymore again. Three weeks their affair lasted and it was torrid as it was brief. Then, one night Jan had suggested they visit 'The Barn'. True, his reaction had been hefty, but she'd not seemed peturbed. Which made it all the more puzzling why she should just vanish like that.

The same day the phone calls began again. And James soon discovered that Jan had just been one more tactic in the sect's ever-expanding quiver. That was when he'd determined, come what may he'd get Jan out of there. And he was obviously getting them rattled. That was why they let her phone, to persuade him that she was happy, to persuade him to stop his quest. But he knew the truth. And he knew in a few days his quest would be over. He just had to continue to be patient.

That was his undoing. The children of 'The Barn' were quicker. And not even the local newspaper suspected there lay more behind the headline:

Cottage Fire Kills Braymore Prodigal

Luap just couldn't understand the craze. True, the pitch the magazine gave it was perfect. Glamour models galore; champagne glasses you could hear pinging away - it all served to accentuate the message that there was just one way to live - the Daydream way.

"But why shouldn't we try it out. Everyone else is?"



"Precisely what?"

"Precisely what you said. Everyone else is trying it out, so why should we?"

"Because I want more from my holding than old slides of us sitting in the back of the Rolls watching exclusive landscapes flying by. I want something different."

"Do something different! Just not with these geezers. They're the most obvious rip-off in the book. Just look at that bye-line. Daydream Holidays - hobbing eye to eye with the knobs. I tell you, it's disgusting. Next time, they'll want us to invite people from off the street. No, if you want to invite a bunch of plebs to holiday in our castle for a week, you're welcome. But I'm out. See you when I get back."

From the way Simon put the book down his disappointment was obvious. From the moment the Mayor hid the pistol in his drawer he was hooked. He raced through its pages, not stopping even for lunch. Arriving at the beginning of the final chapter, he felt like the pilgrim looking over the valley into Mecca. Just a few more minutes and all would be revealed.

In the end nothing was revealed. All those devices scattered about the novel to heighten the tension merely led up proverbial garden paths. Second guessing the author had been pointless.

Eve looked up at him with a frown. The answer came before she had even formulated the question.

"That's the last time I'll read anything by that guy. Why, even I could have done better."

"Why don't you then?" her smile taunting him.

"Why... What... You mean me, write a book. Why you've got to be kidding."

"Not at all." She hesitated before continuing, aware that she was leading him into a minefield. "You know how Dad has always been taunting you about not achieving anything. Why not join him at his own game and prove him wrong. If you really think, you can do better..."

"Why, I'll begin by writing down all the mistakes the author has made. That'll give me something to start on. I'll carry on from there."

Eve gave a little wry smile. She knew how easy it was to get Simon going on something. The real problem was to keep him going. She had no doubt in his ability. If he did get to write his novel, it would outsell those of her father. Now that would be something to look forward to!

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