He was aware of Rover. It lurked under the waves, behind him, at a distance. He swam slowly, as though relaxed. He was anything but. He was looking. Looking for a hint, a clue, an idea … A way out. From time to time he would dive. Closer to the shore there had been no marine life. He’d put it down to currents, perhaps pollution. But here, further out, there was still nothing. The water seemed dead. No plankton, no fish, nothing.
He began working his way back to the beach, diving from time to time. He tried to go as deep as he could. Without scuba gear he was limited. The clearness of the water, as strange as it was given its lifeless quality, helped him see even if he couldn’t reach the bottom. There was nothing. Finally, getting closer to shore, he put everything he had into one last attempt. This time, with only seconds left before he would have to surface, he touched the bottom with both hands. It was smooth, no sand or silt, but smooth and hard like finished concrete with a gentle tilt downward and out to sea.
“I will admit that you’re taking longer to convince than most. But you’ll learn, you’ll learn.” Number Two was looking intently at the chessboard as he spoke.
“I am an old dog, I shun new tricks.” Number Six watched as Number Two moved his queen’s pawn.
“Yes, well. Hmm,” Number Two raised an eyebrow as Number Six made his move. “I don’t believe I would have done that. Bad move on your part, Number Six.” And he moved his rook forward, capturing one of Number Six’s bishops. “Check. And your reason for playing chess with me today. You’re trying to gather information. That’s OUR job, Number Six.” Looking up from the board he smiled broadly. “You swam out further,” and he glanced towards the wooded area on their right, “than most yesterday.” Number Six didn’t bother looking towards the trees. He knew Rover was lurking there.
“And did you enjoy my swim?” Number Six asked as he made his move.
“Oh, I know you were aware of Rover and that you knew you were being watched.” Number Two, still smiling, looked up from the board.
“Is there ever a time that I’m not watched?”
“I believe you already know the answer to that. It’s for your own safety of course.” Number Two was looking towards the sea. “And I’m aware also of what you found. You’re very good at diving. I’d not be able to hold my breath for nearly so long. Of course, at this point, both of us understanding that your find and your curiosity are out in the open, you could simply ask …”
“”Questions are a burden to others,” Number Six replied.
“And answers a prison for one’s self, yes. You see, you are learning. Perhaps you’re not as old a dog as you think.” Number Two chuckled.
“Perhaps,” Number Six moved. “Checkmate.”
“Wha … ?!”
“Oh, let him swim to his heart’s content. Perhaps this will keep him out of serious mischief. If he’d swam another half mile or so the other day he would have encountered the Barrier.” Number Two was talking with the Supervisor. “And no one passes that point unless they,” and his voice lowered noticeably,”allow it.”
“No sir, I’m not aware of any such gear available in The Village. Perhaps if you inquired at the Citizen’s Council?” The shopkeeper said, a rather odd look on his face. Obviously no one had ever asked for scuba equipment before.
“Thank you, perhaps I will. Be seeing you.”
As Number Six was leaving the shop the public address system came to life. “Number Six, report to the Green Dome immediately. Number Six to the Green Dome immediately.”
“I’ll make you a deal, Number Six,” Number Two leaned forward in his round chair, the ever-present smile on his lips. This Number Two had lasted longer than most, several months now. He seemed almost a fixture in the control room, a part of the equipment, another button on the console.
“I’ll make NO deals!”
“Yes, well, at least do me the courtesy of hearing me out. You can always say no … again … after I’ve finished.” Number Two, getting up, walked around the desk and pointing to a screen said, “Tell me, Number Six, what do you see?”
The screen was currently showing the hospital and its grounds. Number Six remained silent.
“Supervisor. Hospital, first ward.” Number Two spoke to the air.
“Hospital, first ward, on screen now.” The air answered back.
“The gentleman in the bed nearest the door. Our new Number Forty One. Just arrived. Seems the mental shock was a tad much for him. He required sedation. Currently he’s being brought back to reality …”
“You mean YOUR reality,” interrupted Number Six.
“He’s being brought back to reality,” and Number Two sighed, “in stages. By morning he’ll be ready to become familiarized with The Village.”
“All of which in no way pertains to me.”
“Well, it might. You see I have a very simple request to make of you. In the morning I’ll give you access to a taxi. I’d like you to take Number Forty One on a tour of The Village. Answer any questions he might have, be as helpful as you can be given your, uh, individualism.”
“Why me? I’m sure you have more than enough suitable lackeys to accommodate your Number Forty One.”
“You are correct, but I have a rather simple,” the smile left now, ” and straightforward reason that I have no qualms about sharing. This man is of value to us. You will inform him, I’m sure, about escape attempts, Village security, drugging, surveillance, Rover and a host of other things. Of course I realize you may think him a plant and an attempt on my part to gather information from you, hoping you’ll let something slip, but now that I’ve admitted that we’ve gotten it out of the way and we both know you’ll be on guard against such an occurrence. As you always are,” and the smile returned. “You will have informed Number Forty One of whatever you would have shared with him had he but asked, he’ll be well versed in Village protocol with no doubts as to the situation, I’ll be saved the trouble of bothering with him, you’ll have compromised nothing, and I’ll do you a favor.”
“A favor? Really? A one way ticket to London?”
“I know you inquired about scuba gear at the General Store. You can have it, with three hours worth of oxygen, along with a small boat with oars. Dive, explore our coast as much as you care to. And you’ll have Rover as your guardian. Just to make sure there’s not an accident at sea. We wouldn’t want a man lost overboard.”
“And you think this a good idea?” The Supervisor asked Number Two.
“Not particularly, but then it isn’t a bad idea either. He’ll be occupied, searching out a dead-end and I’ll be better able to concentrate on Forty One without being bothered by him.” Number Two looked at the screen. “There’s nothing for him to find, and if there were there would be nothing he could do, given the Barrier, anyway.”
“And you’ve checked?”
“Yes, Number One,” and he took in a deep breath, “has been fully apprised of the situation and given Forty One’s importance he’s given me the go ahead.”
“Any questions?” Number Two asked as he brought the taxi to an abrupt halt.
“No,” replied a rather pale Forty One. He hadn’t been pale at the beginning of his Village tour.
“Very well then,” Number Six pointed to a door not far from them. A small sign hung near it. The sign read ‘Number Forty One’. “That’s your flat. Welcome to your home from home.”
Number Six, in spite of himself, felt rather sorry for the man. If he was a plant he made a very good show of fear.
End of Part One.