Well I’ve shown you snippets from three of my four ‘serious’ books: here’s one from the fourth. This one, to be precise…
Darkness had long since fallen, and Katherine had disappeared on an errand of great importance. Both Wozniak and Len had filled their stomachs, and had been found accommodation in a corrugated iron hut. Roughly built bunks lined both walls of the long, thin edifice. A single lavatory cubicle, and two wash basins were all there was to service the potential inhabitants that, if all the beds were put to use, would number forty. Wozniak sighed. Of an ice pack there was not one sign.
“What do you reckon, Len: army billet, or hospital?” Wozniak asked the only other inhabitant as they lounged upon two of the forty bunks that were covered with coarse horse blankets, with a single cotton pillow at each bed head.
He’d been thinking about what he might be doing if he hadn’t become the innocent victim of trans-dimensional backwash. He felt certain that whatever path he’d chosen – it was highly unlikely that he’d end up with Len Peters at his side. He cursed himself for his decision to return to The Peaks. Then he thought of Janice. ‘Where would she be right now?’
He had no way of knowing. He thought of his twin’s corpse in the cellar of their rented house.
‘Where was the key to the cellar door kept?’
He didn’t know. He prayed that Janice didn’t either.
“Could be either.” Len answered his earlier question. “Wonder what folk are up to? I don’t like being cut off like this. Events are moving quicker than I expected. I figured on downing a half pint of ale down at the Trotters Arms about this time of day.”
Len had tried to leave earlier – but he’d been denied his freedom. It was assumed that the Droxfield Militia now roamed freely in the countryside separating Wycksford from Brambledown – and Len certainly couldn’t walk back – and Wycksford certainly couldn’t afford to release any vehicle to him, for the simple reason that they had none to spare. He was urged to remain in a place of safety – and just to make sure that he did as requested, they locked the door behind him.
Wozniak checked his watch. Mentally adjusting for the time differential – he judged that they had something like thirteen hours before Droxfield’s deadline, at which time the scientific community must pass all their technical data to them. Intrigued by the history that had led them into their current situation he asked Len how it had arisen.
“I mean – aren’t there rules that prohibit one group from firing upon members of another without provocation?” He said. “Are there no controls over the behaviour of such tiny communities? Where is the government? Who are the practitioners of law? Where the hell’s the army when you most need it?”
Len seemed to ponder this, so Wozniak filled the silence.
“Earlier you mentioned the danger of countries being formed again? What did you mean by that? Are there no countries in your reality? Are there just villages? Thousands and thousands of villages – right across the globe?”
Had he asked anyone but Len, perhaps he wouldn’t have received such a fulsome answer. As it was, Len understood how the worlds worked in both realities. He could appreciate, better than anyone, Wozniak’s line of questioning.
By means of explanation, Len gave Wozniak a potted history of his world. He informed him that his world had, for reasons unknown, been more technologically advanced than that of Wozniak’s. Perhaps by as much a two centuries. But, conversely, their social structure had been less so. The result was a series of World Wars, much like those of Wozniak’s history – but far more numerous – which ultimately brought advancement to a halt many times over, and often forced the world to fall back upon earlier technologies to maintain some decent level of existence. The last war had resulted in the use of nuclear weapons. Fortunately for Len and his ancestors, England had long since ceased to be a world power, and had not fallen directly foul of the calamity. They, and the countries that survived, came to an agreement: the means to make war on such a scale must be removed. Borders must be abolished. Countries must be abolished. Only closely knit partnerships, or confederations, could be allowed. Only communities smaller than the towns of earlier times, would be allowed. Often they would specialize – therefore advancing the idea of free trade between them – making them inter-dependent – but still largely independent, and free from influence by outside forces. Until the moment that Wozniak had appeared, this situation had existed for almost a century and a half. For certain it had stifled advancement – but it had also stopped humanity from wiping itself out. Now only Central Liaisons – appointed by a confederation or co-operative – maintained a Balance of Fairness, which in an earlier time could have been thought of as a government: but in real terms it was powerless. It had no policing policy, and lacked any military capability. It negotiated deals and agreements. It was a go-between. It was a system, which until very recently – at least locally – had worked extremely well.
“If you ask me,” Len murmured, as his tale reached its end, “your world could do with learnin’ from our mistakes.”
© Paul Trevor Nolan 2014