Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Prisoner of Triskelion. Chapter 3: The Doctors' Plot

A Prisoner of Triskelion

Chapter 3
The Doctors’ Plot

“So you have no university degree?”  asked Doctor Vetula.
“Ma’am…um, doctor, really, I barely graduated from high school.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“That’s what I’m wondering.  Why are any of us here?”
“I refer to this assembly.  We are six academics forming an ad hoc fellowship to formulate a feasible plan of escape and then executing it.  The problem is a most subtle one.”
“The Cloud isn’t subtle.”
“Who told you of the Cloud?”

“A little rainstorm did.”
“Most amusing.  An now I’m sure you’ll want to excuse yourself and go dig a tunnel or something.”
“Doctors all, have you considered a certain reality of this prison?”

“Yes!  It’s brutal!  And the food – I’m sure some of it’s genetically modified.”

“And tinned.  Now just off campus there was a holistic foods store where only fresh, all-natural grains grown by quaint ethnic women in Guatemala…”

“And the collection in this library – so plebeian.  Romance novels, for God’s sake.”

“No, no, no – I’m talking about how un-prison-y this place is.  Look, I’ve never been in prison; only in jail after the Dragon Boat Festival when…but that’s not important.  What’s important is that this is not like a prison at all.  We dress how we want, we haven’t been beaten up, the other prisoners don’t look as if they know a shiv from Shiva from Shinola, and we’ve got more freedom to move around than in a high school.”

“I’m sure your concepts of freedom and mine would seldom intersect.”
“Stop intruding personalities.  The question is this: why are we here?  If we answer that, we might have a clue or a cue about how not to be here.”

“Mr. O’Cannan, I hope you will not take this amiss when I suggest to you that this is not an Agatha Christie novel.  If it would amuse you, you might want to go dig a tunnel or search for clues.”
“Most amusing – and I will.”
And he did.

“I trust your interview with the doctors’ escape committee went satisfactorily, sir?”
“Father Travers, I detect a certain sense of humor in you.  You knew I was about to entangle with some princesses of both sexes.  You’re enjoying this, aren’t you.”
“Immensely, Mr. O’Cannan.”

“Please call me Brendan; Mr. O’Cannan was my father.”

“And you may call me Travers or Father Travers, but I prefer that you address me as Your Worship.”

“Your Worship it is.  And now I’m off for a walk outside.  I want to smell fresh air and to feel the sun.”

“Fresh air obtains in abundance; the sun, I regret to say, often absents himself from these Viking skies.  Perhaps he’s holidaying in Italy.”

“I’m reminded to ask – just where are we, Your Worship?”

“The answer lies not in scripture, my son, nor in your heart nor in the words of the wise among us; it lies outside.  Actually it flies outside,” replied Father Travers with a smile.”

O’Cannan, by well-marked passages and doors, old and new, found his way outside.  A few feet of grey-green gravel just outside a huge, mediaeval – or at least mediaeval-ish – door yielded to a margin of cold-green grass and then to a glacis – for some of it appeared to have been worked - or scree to the dark blue water.

The very air was Viking, cold and clean and salt-wet, almost soul-healing.  Sea-fowl flew and cried, like “The Seafarer’s” icy-feathered terns.  Although to the eponymous Anglo-Saxon sailor the cries of the feathered travelers of the ocean’s roof were like harbingers of death, to O’Cannan, on this day, they sang of freedom and life.

Among the larger rocks other prisoners were nurturing plots of garden by hoarding and composting seaweed, dead fish, and whatever other biologicals they could access.

O’Cannan hoped that no part of the accessed biologicals included the body parts of dead humans.  He was reminded of an often-repeated wheeze from an old teacher: “I like young people; they go so well with a nice salad, potatoes, and a nice Quidi Vidi ale.”

Other prisoners – or, rather, guests; Triskelion employed many evasive euphemisms – were fishing, reading, smoking, idling, or forlornly scanning the mist-hidden horizon for a now lost world.

In their bright sweaters and coats and knit wool caps and innocent recreations they made the island of Triskelion appear to be a Baltic holiday camp.

The snapping of fabric in a wind gust caused O’Cannan to look up.  And in that cold, cloud-blown grey sky he observed the flag of a small nation with a glorious history, a nation now known mostly for the export of Christmas cookies and the domestic consumption of hashish.


So what was the connection among Cuba, Triskelion, and Christmas Cookie Country?  Was the Guestmaster truthful in this matter?

But that was all probably irrelevant.  Employing Hercule Poirot’s concept of order and method, O’Cannan set out for himself the conditions of his present life, and proposals for amending it:

1.   He, Brendan O’Cannan, was in a place where he wished not to be.
2.   Thus, he should remove himself to a different place, preferably God’s holy island of Newfoundland.
3.    Item #2 is compromised by:
A.   A firm promise of death if he were attempt to leave Triskelion.
B.   The Cloud of Electronic Unknowing was death to any form of communication, even the footer scores.  Of course the good thing about the Cloud’s obdurate behavior was that he was spared the agony of having to listen to the cricket results.
4.   At least one of the Dotty Doctors had once built a wireless receiver.  If all the scientists were to work together instead of comparing the magnificent magnitudes of their academic dimensions, not unlike naughty adolescents behind the vocational laboratory at school, could construct a powerful wireless transmitter for calling for help.
5.   IF The Cloud could be disabled.
6.   Thus (a second thus), he must urge the Monstrous Regiment of Perfidious Princess (of both sexes, or two, or three) Professors to assemble, from whatever bits and pieces he and they could find, not one but several transmitters of different types to conceal in different locations.

7.   Further, he and they must find the source of The Cloud of Electronic Unknowing and determine a way of unplugging the thing.

8.   However, being shot and then ground into fish flakes would be an unfortunate game-ender.

O’Cannan lay on a warm rock, looked out to sea, and thought and thought until a bell rang for lunch.

He found the galley by following other prisoners, with whom he exchanged relaxed greetings.  They sat at long tables in a barn-like hall which perhaps really had been a barn at one time in the island’s history.  At the end of the hall a large, gilded Triskelion was painted on the wall.  Lunch was beef over pasta of some sort, with two very English vegetables and a pudding, served, perhaps to keep portions controlled, by other prisoners taking their monthly turn as would O’Cannan.  That he had not yet been assigned to work details was simply an oversight or perhaps a delay in process, but the assigned labors seemed to take only a part of each prisoner’s day and appeared mostly to be of the light housekeeping and maintenance sort.  Father Travers, for instance, kept the intake dormitory tidy, and another prisoner was the librarian.

O’Cannan thought he would try to wangle a job in maintenance so that he could score some tools and perhaps enjoy freer access to parts unknown.

After lunch O’Cannan returned to the library to place his proposals before the Insipid Sedentary Soviet of Six.  They were in stately conclave met, appearing not to have moved since that morning although he had seen them hull-defilade in a defensive position at an apartheid table at lunch.

O’Cannan was tempted to genuflect or curtsey, but wisely chose to suppress his I’s d’ b’ys pub humor; he really did respect the very real scientific and mathematical knowledge of the Perfectly Pouty Pedants and knew that their effective work was essential to escape.  He was worried that their very real abilities would be dissipated in common-room contention.

“Excuse me, everyone.”

Most of the klaven looked at him as if he were wearing bells and crying out “Unclean!  Unclean!”

“May we help you?” asked Doctor Vetula in that superior senior clerk’s voice that suggested that the pitiful object of the question really might feel more comfortable somewhere else among his own kind.
“I’ve been thinking…” began O’Cannan.
“Well, goodie for you,” interrupted Doctor Mulier.
“Now, please, hear me out.  You all are brilliant, freaking brilliant.  You have explored the heights and depths of arcane maths and sciences in ways most people could never begin to understand.  I certainly don’t.”

Oh, yeah, the flatteries of the serpent were working their old charms yet again.

“We all want to escape,” O’Cannan continued.  “And without your superior intellects that’s impossible.  Escape is impossible unless The Cloud can be disabled, and disabling The Cloud is impossible to anyone (brief but suspense-sodden pause) except you.

“Look, I deliver stuff.  I possess few higher order thinking skills, and the nuances even of the concept of the Hegelian dialectic elude me.  But I can do things, find out things.  Triskelion isn’t going to pay much attention to me because I’m a nobody.  I can wander around in ways you can’t because Triskelion will want to know what you’re doing, not me.

Self-satisfied nods scudded around the table like a PBS announcer’s yacht in calm seas off Cape Cod.

“So – I ask you please to consider these possibilities: if you can somehow unplug The Cloud, and if you can build not one but several radio transmitters that you can power up and call for help, then you will liberate the people.”

“I think the idea of…harrumph…unplugging The Cloud is somewhat simplistic,” said Doctor Vertex.  “Now what you don’t know…”

“He doesn’t need to know,” said Doctor Mulier.  “The fewer people who know, the safer we are.  Remember that the penalty for attempting to escape is death.”

“I don’t know,” mused Doctor Vercelli, exhibited his bandaged hands.  “I constructed a primitive but workable AM receiver from my electric shaver, and if Triskelion noticed they didn’t intervene.”

“They blew the thing up in your hands when you switched it on.  They were laughing at you.”

“I don’t think so,” replied Doctor Vercelli.  “The Cloud responded to the first interaction of the long waves.  Only The Cloud was watching.  I don’t say that Triskelion is making a hollow threat, only that they perhaps depend too much on The Cloud.”

“Mr. O’Cannan is quite right,” ruled Doctor Vertex.  “While we, indeed, might be more circumspect in our deliberations and demeanor, Triskelion surely considers us academics to be the threat, not a – excuse me if I seem to be somewhat patronizing, Mr. O’Cannan; I’m not; I’ve always felt at one with the working people – not a deliveryman.  But please continue.”

“Right, then, eh.  But that’s about it.  I find you stuff, you build radios, and we somehow find a way to cut off The Cloud at the knees.  Not that it has knees.  But perhaps it does.”

“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.  “Even a gulag personed by kulaks would not allow prisoners to access a power plant or other high-security installation.  Triskelion is sure to be watching the source of The Cloud especially carefully.”
“But think of this, Doctor,” replied O’Cannan, “we’re already inside.  We are inside a high-security installation now.”

“You are speculating quite above your pay scale,” said Doctor Vertex.  Lowering his voice he continued: “And, anyway, we are already working on a jamming device which will employ multiple layers of multiple waves along the communications spectrum.”

“And the radio transmitters?”

“Well, we have one almost finished.  Your suggestion that we construct several is excellent.  We will provide you with a list of necessities, but perhaps you’d better locate and identify them for now, since we have no place to store anything.  We need a secure work space.”
“I assembled a radio in the bathroom,” said Doctor Vercelli.
“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.
“And I think we can adjourn for today to pursue innocent recreations to entertain and deceive Triskelion’s watchers.  In the meantime, observe and think.  Shall we meet again after breakfast in the morning.

“In thunder, lightning, or in rain,” said O’Cannan.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Doctor Mulier.

“Just something from Macbeth.”

“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.  And with that the meeting broke up.
O’Cannan made a quick tour of the library, checked out an Agatha Christie omnibus, and with it under his arm took another walk, a more purposeful one, both inside and out.  The island, the castle, and the accumulation of outbuildings were such a miscellaney of structures and ruins of different centuries and different purposes that any mental map was impossible, and a collection of paper maps would be as confusing at one of those multiple-level chessboards, only with many more levels, all oddly shaped and sized, and with chessmen of many styles.

He studiously passed by doors and gates marked NO ADMITTANCE, but began the tedious process of firming their locations in his mind and trying to sort out from context clues what might lie behind each one.  He looked at doors and wires and pipes and walkways and where the drainage went.  And he thought.

The dark came on and O’Cannan returned to the dormitory for a wash before supper.

“Still sweeping, Father Travers?”

“Oh, yes, Brendan.  ‘Tis my limited service, but ‘tis one.’  And I’m quite fond of this broom; it’s the one Doctor Mulier flew in on.”

“I keep wondering what Triskelion is all about, why you’re here and why I’m here.”

“And the mathematicians?”

“Oh, not so much, mathematicians belong in prison.”

“I heard that,” growled a voice from a bunk in the back.

“Ah, well, there’s the bell; let’s all to supper,” said Father Travers.

O’Cannan observed that, like lunch, supper was pleasant enough – salad, soup, rolls – but with minimal portions and no seconds.  Either Triskelion was very, very slowly starving its guests by a few calories a day, or perhaps the small portions were a matter of something far less sinister: perhaps Triskelion’s functionaries were as subject to corruption as those in any any other institution.  An audit of the accounts of even the Vatican kitchens might reveal a few discrepancies.

After supper O’Cannan sat at a table in the library, reading a little and making notes on Triskelion’s flimsy paper with a Triskelion gel pen.  A puddle of comforting light fell upon his books and papers, and the night-sea lulled him.

A chime sang, and a voice from above said: “Attention, everyone.  Lights out in thirty minutes.  All day stations and day watches close for the night; all night stations and night watches stand to.  Again, thirty minutes, everyone.”

“Closing time,” yawned the librarian, taking off his glasses and putting down his own read.  “Anything to check out before I secure the area?”
Papers folded and in his pocket; O’Cannan returned to the transient dormitory.  The passages were busy with other prisoners quietly, almost submissively, making their ways to their own sleeping spaces.

The transient dorm was thinly populated – the Six Silly Sorcerers occupied a corner they set aside as their Olympus of metal bunks, Father Travers lived beside the door, and two or three patients O’Cannan hadn’t met were occupied, as were they all, with wash-ups and changing into night clothes. Storage was a matter of a few pegs and showing one’s gear underneath the bunks.  O’Cannan thanked Father Travers for having made up his rack.
“And now, if anyone wishes to join me for a brief Compline…”

An audible academic snort issued from Olympus.

O’Cannan and a man in dungarees somewhat self-consciously joined Father Travers.  O’Cannan wasn’t much of a pew-jumper, but his death sentence seemed to focus him.  Father Travers read Compline from a quite worn old Missal, the minuscule congregation crossed themselves, and they found their racks.

“Mass in the morning,” said Father Travers.  “Reveille is at 0600, so why don’t we meet at the door when they unlock us for the day, and we’ll find a quiet place for Mass before we’re off to breakfast.”

“I’m up for it,” said O’Cannan, “but someone better wake me up.”

O’Cannan tried to read a little before lights out, but the overheads were glaring and he put the book away.  He was glad that the room was well-vented by blowers far away somewhere; he wasn’t sure that mathematicians weren’t somewhat malodorous.

And then he saw Doctor Mulier leaving the head in a gauzy nightie.  A mathematician in a nightie is a horror to make even the most devout man despair of salvation.  “Dear God,” prayed O’Cannan, “please get me out of this.”
A chime sang, and except for a dim bulb in the head the lights winked out.

O’Cannan lay under some nation’s military surplus blanket – a blanket which perhaps had seen service in the Crimea – and stared wide-eyed into the darkness above him.  He was in prison under a temporarily suspended sentence of death, and did not know if tomorrow or perhaps tonight might see his last breath.  He was hungry.  He was frightened.  And worse than all that, he had seen Doctor Mulier in a nightie.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Raise High the Red Flag, Comrades Biffy and Muffin!

Mack Hall, HSG

Raise High the Red Flag, Comrades Biffy and Muffin!

In a time of high unemployment and economic challenges for many of us, the idle rich are amusing themselves by taking their high-dollar camping gear and electronics and blocking the streets so that working people cannot get to their jobs.

Quite wisely, local authorities are doing their best to ignore Beret Barbie and Counter-Cultural Ken, knowing that they will go away when people stop paying attention to their look-at-me-ness.  And, too, there is the problem of our Vichy-ite regime who apparently side with the spoiled uberklasse in demanding that you and I pay for their indolence and for their Harvard and Yale degrees.

Too thrilling.

Too bad we can’t release a pack of attack-dachshunds on them.

But one can hope and dream of better times.

Consider the street protestors early in Doctor Zhivago.  When cute ‘n’ cuddly Victor Kamarovsky suggests that perhaps the protestors will “sing in tune after the revolution,” the first-time viewer thinks that nothing in the film could be funnier.  But then, the merry mounted Cossacks charge into the crowd with sabers and make Moscow’s streets run red with cliches’.  He would be a dour, cold, heartless man indeed who could not cry tears of joyful laughter when a musician, entangled in his tuba, is trampled by Czarist cavalry and by his fleeing comrades.

I suppose now he would be entangled in his earphones.

The current Occupy annoyance, a spontaneous (hmmm?) metafecal impaction that manifested itself in many American cities all at once, is clearly well-funded and well-organized by some wealthy conspiracy sending Stalinist useful idiots to play in the streets with the luxury goods and toys that Mummy and Daddy bought for them.  The ‘way cool happening fashion for these vapid Eloi (cf. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine) is to Occupy – occupy something, occupy anything, even though the little darlings seem unable to express a purpose.

A transient vocabulary of occupy-ness has entered vulgar usage, and anyone fond of playing with words can only be eager to join the fun of neologisms.  Consider these modest contributions to the next edition of the Oxford Dictionary of American Usage:

Occupie – taking over a pastry shop

Occuprattle – a political speech

OccuPop – George Soros?

Occupom – Che Guevera’s hat

Occupuss – Che Guevera’s cat

Occupap – Che Guevera’s ideology

Occup*** - Che Guevera’s father

Occupuddle – controlling the low ground on rainy days

Occupad – incontinence control for aging hippies

Occupompous – celebrities who fly in for a photo

Occupork – a fat protestor

Occupot – a revolutionary toilet

Occupoop – the anti-Semitic thugs who appear to dominate the Occupy scene

Occupup – Seizing the dog pound in the name of The People

iOccupy – a sit-in at Apple, Inc., whose products are made by slave labor in China and which are so beloved of the protestors

Occupoodle – a true believer

Occupaddle – mutiny on the Central Park Lake rowboats

OccuPaddy – the Occupy movement in Dublin

OccuPierre – the Occupy movement in Paris

Occupest – a rich revolutionary idling in the street

Occupeeyew – old hippie crones dancing topless (“Grandma, noooo…!”)

Occupine – a protestor who gets all prickly when asked his purpose

Occupavlovian –  Leftists with limited cognitive skills who have been trained into happy obedience

Occupayoff – who stands to benefit from all this?

Occupedant – a professor or teacher who urges stupid young people into the gutters instead of making any effort to help them learn to think for themselves

Occupique – annoyance felt by Lefties when they realize they’ve burned the only coffee shop on the street and now can’t have a double-decaf-latte’-ventral-snorkle on Mummy’s credit card

Occuparroting – Mindlessly repeating empty slogans as ordered

Other new words include occuprecious, occuprince, and occuprincess.

Taboo words which may not be spoken lest global warming fall upon us in baleful wrath include occuwork, occuthink, occustudy, and occubathe.

Yes, this is the season for cultural remakes, and 1968 wasn’t very good the first time.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Prisoner of Triskelion. Chapter 2: What Did The Prisoner Not Know, And When Did He Not Know It?

                                           A Prisoner of Triskelion

Chapter 2.
What Did The Prisoner Not Know, And When Did He Not Know It?

Carry On, Jeeves.  Well, the meaning was clear – to Triskelion, O’Cannan was a drone who should accept the situation.  Or sitch, as Bertie would say.

When The Empress of Blandings flies, O’Cannan thought to himself.

The odd thing was, he realized, that the situation really was a mistake.  O’Cannan was not a spy of any kind, national, international, industrial, super, or even I-spy-with-my-little-eye.  He worked as a courier for a couple of old Navy buddies who had formed a shipping company after they were all de-mobbed.  For two years Hannan had wasted the time of several perfectly good if somewhat tiresome instructors at Memorial University before dropping out.  Actually, he had dropped out only minutes before a weary dean of something or other would have accomplished the dropping himself. 

One day shortly after recycling a biology book in a green fashion by tossing it into a dumpster he was moistening his ennui at the Golden Flagon in George Street and met Tim and Honkers – Honkers’ real name was Lorenz; no one seemed to recall the doubtless alcoholic origins of the nickname – lifting a Quidi Vidi or three or four themselves, celebrating their new partnership.  The next day O’Cannan was driving around St. John’s and Pearl in his babe-repellent old Honda, delivering large envelopes and small packages.

Several weeks later, after a few night courses and exams, he bore a commercial driving license and was bonded, whatever that meant in addition to stuffing more official bits of paper into his wallet.  Although he still made deliveries on The Rock, he sometimes carried other large envelopes and other small packages on flights to St. Pierre, to various cities in Darkest Canada, and along the Arctic Rim to Europe – Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Scotland, Poland, the Baltics, Scotland, and perfectly-clear London town.

There could be nothing untoward in his deliveries, for more often than not everything was opened and searched, especially his one time in Finland, where an ice-mannered customs officer with ice-blue eyes and ice-blonde hair questioned him for a full hour as if his proposed entry into Helsinki was an attempt to steal the Sampo and then solicit little Suomi children to be cooked and eaten by Laplanders.

One exception to his northern flights was a recent trip to Cuba.
Oh, oh, oh.
Before O’Cannan’s St. John’s / Toronto / Barbados / Havana seat-ache-a-thon departed, Honkers had given him a nifty little Canon camera with a somewhat pink-ish case, a spare battery, and a spare memory card.
“Take me some pictures in Havana, eh.  Take lots of pictures – here in St. John’s, getting on the planes, on the planes, from the planes, getting off the planes, here, there, while in Havana.  Here’s some extra cash; do some tourist stuff and take lots of pictures, old cars, Spanish forts, hot chicks on the beach.  But in the middle of this, take some pictures from the plane – just some snapshots, y’know – when the plane makes its turn off the runway and onto the taxi way.  No big deal, just more poops-and-giggles snaps.  When you leave Jose Marti, same thing, take some snaps of your umbrella-drink and then out the window when the plane turns off the taxiway and onto the runway.  And, hey, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do eh?”

Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
O’Cannan’s three days in Cuba had been pleasant.  He bought some Cuban cigars, went to a jiggle show, took a ride in a 1958 DeSoto cab, drank the local rum, and marveled how grim and crumbled and subtly desperate and hungry Havana was.  No problems coming into the country, no problems delivering the company mail, and no problems leaving. 

And it was all camouflage for some snapshots.  Someone wanted him to take pictures of something in the area of the airport, and someone else was unhappy that he had done so.

For three purgatorial days O’Cannan was cocooned in the white light of his white space.  He read.  He thought.  He slept badly.  He examined again everything he could reach (the ceiling was too high) in his white-coffined white world: water taps, sink, under the sink, all the hems of the white cotton sheets and the white cotton blankets and the white cotton pillow and the white cotton towel.  Nothing.
“Finding anything?” asked an amused mechanical voice from on high.
“I’m looking for my lost virginity; have you seen it?”
“Oh, well, good luck with that, O’Cannan; Triskelion’s got your soul but not your honor.  Just to tell you: you don’t have a light switch but I do; when you want to beddy-bye just sing out for some dimness.”
“Okay, thanks; I’m feeling pretty dim already, though.”
O’Cannan kept on, inspecting everything centimeter in the whiteness of the only world he was permitted for three days.

And on the third day the whale coughed him up.
After breakfast the mechanical voice beeped.  “Okay, O’Cannan, you’re normal enough for us; we’re moving you onto the beach in a half-hour.  Take only your personal stuff; leave the bedding.”
A committee of black-uniformed Triskelions, one carrying a clipboard while O’Cannan carried the useless cloth slippers, escorted O’Cannan through corridors and up a lift and through another corridor to yet another painted door, this one clearly marked: “Lucky Bag.”

“Got a customer for you, 11.”

Number 11 lazed behind a long, steel-topped counter just like those used for issuing military uniforms at the beginning of recruit training.  He displayed the insouciance and indolence of a four-year corporal, with just a soupcon of the resentment of the girl at the courtesy booth at a piles-of-Chinese-junk-store who must interrupt her ‘phone calls to speak with a customer.

11 flipped a cigarette away.  “Oo’s this, then?”

“Don’t you know?  This is the notorious Brendan O’Cannan.  Everyone’s heard of him.  Kit him out, would you?”
“Right.  Okay…hmmm…here’s yer own stuff, yeah.”  11 pushed O’Cannan’s own traveling clothes, freshly cleaned, and his old canvas hiking bag across the counter to him.  “Now, then, you’ll need some more clothes.  You like blazers; goin’ for the Patrick McGoohan look?  Take a look at these…oh…this one’s got holes in it.  I missed that one.  Now take a look at these…
O’Cannan and his escort left the new wing of the installation and crossed a glassed-in flyover to a much older stone structure.  O’Cannan barefooted along carrying his bag, the clothes he had been wearing on his last delivery, Carry On, Jeeves, and of course the useless cotton slippers.

“Old castle and fort,” said his escort, indicating the old, joined together just anyhow parts of the building they were walking through.

The corridor floors here were uneven and all was darker.  For the first time O’Cannan saw other prisoners, all wearing apparently the clothes of their choice, no uniforms, going about their routines. 

“You’re an accomplished man, O’Cannan, you won’t be mopping floors, I’m thinking.”
“Well, I was in the Navy, eh; it wouldn’t be a new experience.”

“You were in the Navy?” asked the caregiver with the clipboard, flipping papers.  “Navy?  Is this the wrong file…no…oh, well, it’ll be sorted out later.  And here is your home for the next week or so.  We’ll get you your own cubby and more freedom later if you show us that you can play nice with our other children.”
O’Cannan entered a long, low room with rows of cubicles with four bunks each.  There were no hatch covers, only curtained openings, and the walls of the cubes reached neither to the overhead nor to the deck.

The only other person in the area was an elderly man in dungarees and smoking a cigarette.  He pushed a broom with the speed of a union hand, and eyed the arrivals with some curiosity but said nothing as he worked.

“Find an empty bunk anywhere, and welcome aboard,” said the minder with the clipboard, and she and the other warders left.

“Where is everyone?” O’Cannan asked the old man.

“They are doubtless in the library conspiring to escape; conspiracy has become their morning custom in the few days they have been here, and almost surely a futile endeavor.  If you will proceed along the passageway to your left, turn left at the next crossing, and carry on until the end, you will surely find the library.”
You can’t miss it.  Translation: you’ll be hard put not to find yourself in the dark on an unmarked road in the next county with the headlights showing only glowing eyes in the underbrush. 

“Fine.  Bunk anywhere?”

“You may indeed.  May I be of any assistance?  I’m Neville Travers, by the way.”

“My name’s O’Cannan, Brendan O’Cannan.”

“Pleased to meet you.  I’m a priest.”
“Oh, one of those black-hearted Anglican heretics, eh?”

“Lord, no, I’m a Catholic. A bad one. Born in Manchester, council school for a bit and then later Downside Abbey on a burse.  Diocesan studies, then a year in Rome, a year in Louvain…”

“But why…?”

“Oh, here I sweep the floors and make the beds in the Lord’s service.  Rather keeps me humble, you know.  Neither Triskelion nor most of the customers here are much concerned with the state of their souls or why Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine couldn’t get along or whether the Luminous Mysteries are not really heretical.  They’re not, of course.  Not that anyone prays the Rosary.  Not even in Rome.  And most assuredly not in Louvain.”

“So they made you a cleaner-upper.”

“‘Tis my limited service, but ‘tis one.’”

Macbeth, Act II, I think, when Macduff exits to awaken the King.”

“So you know your Shakespeare!  Delightful, young man!”

“Nah, my teacher showed us the movie.  Over and over. And over.”

“Oh, well, quite good enough, rather.”

“But why are you here, Father?  Did you annoy a bishop?”

“Possibly, and I surely did annoy the diocesan contract accounting firm by writing the bishop letters asking unseemly questions about the figures regarding donations from the Walk for Colon Cancer and the Save the Rain Forest-Athon, among other numerous, numerical, and fiscal activities.  The diocesan accountant was the bishop’s brother-in-law, it seems, and was also somehow connected with a member of the cabinet.  I’m only speculating, of course, but thousands and thousands of pounds were disappearing, one charity at a time.  One day I was practicing my googly in the alley after morning Mass and the next day I was here.  So now I sweep floors and make beds and clean toilets.  It’s a much cleaner vocation than finance, really, more honorable and decent.  And Triskelion do let me offer Mass for the faithful daily; I hope you’ll come and increase my customary parish attendance by precisely 33.3333 percent.
“I will.  Oh, Father Travers, we Catholics are a sorry lot.”
“Indeed; we’re not to be trusted at all.”
“We should all be taken out and shot.”
“I used to read than in the London newspapers.”
“So you’re not with the others, planning to escape or overthrow Doctor No, or whatever it is?”
“No.  Tidying up keeps me out of trouble and keeps me humble.  I needed some humility.  And besides, I wasn’t asked to join.  Rather an exclusive club, you know.”  Father Travers winked.  “But go along and find them.  Perhaps you will be the one to get us all out of this.  Not to sound as if I were a stereotype, but I do miss cricket.  Cricket on a village green, cricket at Lords.  Holy cricket.”  He sighed.
“Cricket.  And the real crickets chirp when that yawn-inducer is played.  But I’m pleased to meet you, Father.  I’m going to change and find the others.  And shoes – I’m looking forward to wearing shoes again.”

Father Travers smiled.  “Just deposit your jammies in the laundry hamper.”

“Thanks.  And, Father, you needn’t make my bed.”
“My son, I wouldn’t dream of not doing so.  Would you deprive a poor man of his place in God’s ekonomia?”

A few minutes later O’Cannan, feeling much more the man in his own old slacks, old shirt, old blazer, and old shoes, real shoes, was alone in the centuries-old corridor, walking to the library, walking without an escort.

Left turn…or was that a right turn…nope, this was it.

The library doors were open to the corridor, and the collection, at a distance, at least, seemed pretty good, not unlike a nice little red-brick university in the era before glowing screens.  Individuals were reading here and there, or searching the stacks, but the assembly of six men and women somewhat proprietarily occupying the table with the best view over the scree and the ocean appeared to be the group of which Father Travers had spoken.

He approached, but no one welcomed him.

“And you are…?”  The clipped, neutering, interrogatory sentence was left unfinished by a young woman who, O’Cannan speculated, wore a red blazer in her previous life and who made existence pure Newark for anyone subordinate to her.

“Brendan O’Cannan.”
“Doctor O’Cannan, we are so pleased to meet you!” exclaimed the bald gentleman in the sweater-vest and half-rimmed spectacles, half rising from his seat.
“Oh, no, I’m high school graduate O’Cannan, eh.”

“You’re not Doctor O’Cannan, the ethno-eco-bio-engineer and visiting fellow of ethno-eco-bio-engineering at the Ali Bin D’Ouevre Institute in Beauville?”  asked the grey-haired lady in the Che Guevera pullover.

“No, I’m ‘umble Mr. O’Cannan, the delivery man.”

“Oh, ho, ho, you will have your little joke with us, Doctor O’Cannan.  Come and join us; I’ll make introductions all ‘round.  We’re all new here, it seems.”

O’Cannan sat at the table; red-blazer woman pointedly moved her chair away by a millimeter or two.

“I’ll begin with myself – I’m Doctor Calvus Vertex, astronomy, University of Trout Creek, occupying the Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Augustus Gloriosus Chair of Astral Studies.”

O’Cannan nodded slightly.

“This is Doctor Sordida Mulier, professor of chemistry and advisor to the educational commission of the government of the Channel Islands.”

O’Cannan nodded slightly and murmured “Ma’am.”

“Quite,” replied Doctor Mulier, as if she were saying “quiet.”

“To my right is Doctor Anicula Vetula, former chair of mathematics…”

“That is ‘Chair of Higher Mathematics,’ thank you, doctor.”  One could hear the capital letters.

“My apologies, esteemed colleague.  Chair of Higher Mathematics” – Dr. Vertex accented the ‘higher’ ever so slightly, microscopically south of anything that could be adjudged irony – “at Inflatio Composite University.”

O’Cannan nodded slightly and murmured “Ma’am.”
“Kindly do not call me ‘ma’am.’  I am Doctor Vetula.  You just don’t understand.  I worked so hard for my doctorate, and I would appreciate it ever so much if you would call me Doctor Vetula.”
“Doctor Vetula,” replied O’Cannan slowly, slowly, selecting his words cautiously, “I apologize for greeting you respectfully as a gentleman to a lady.  I will always regard you as a doctor of higher mathematics.”

“You Americans simply don’t understand how to comport yourselves in an academic setting.  At a recent conference in San Francisco…”

“Doctor Vetula, I further apologize if I have unintentionally led you to infer that I am an American.  I am in fact from Newfoundland.”
“Newfoundland – well, that’s a part of America.”
“Doctor Vetula, Newfoundland is, sure, a part of the North American continent, but although we like to think that I’s d’ bys, we are unfortunately associated politically with the Canadian regime, who too often do indeed act like the more unfortunate aspects of lower Canada, meaning our separated colonial brethren and sistren of the United States.”

“I’m sure I don’t understand your sub-cultural folkways and dialect.  And, anyway, I have had little time for indulging in – harrumph -- geography while developing my quondam theory of higher geometrical progression of albino waves with regard to bio-tabular mega-micro-mechanics as interpreted through a holistic feminist filter of self-actuated thoroughness.”

“Damme if I wasn’t reading that in The Sun just last week, Doc; it was right next to the picture of Miss Saskatchewan Tractor Pull.  Man, you shoulda seen the power takeoff on that little hottie..."
“I THINK WE MIGHT NOW CONTINUE WITH THE INTRODUCTIONS,” said Doctor Vertex in a suddenly powerful let’s-get-on-with-this voice.  “Doctor O’Cannan, we also share incarceration with Doctor Inanus Vercelli, mathematician and consultant to numerous Silicon Valley firms.”

Doctor Vertex was speaking rapidly now.
“Here we are pleased to have Doctor Contus Saltator, who has reached the height of the study of physics, and next to her is Doctor Tarde Progreti, famous for his publications in impedance studies. 

“Well, then, that’s our merry little band of intellectuals, as unfashionable as that term and that concept may be to certain disaffected right-wing no-nothings who would take us back to the Dark Ages of the 12th Century. 

“And now to our new member, Doctor Brendan O’Cannan, the famous ethno-eco-bio-engineer whose radical and ground-breaking theories in ethno-eco-bio-engineering have pushed the envelope of the boundaries outside the box in that earth-shattering new mathematical discipline.  His ideas will be of immense and immeasurable and uncountable help as we struggle to free humankind of the shackles of Triskelion.”
“Um…thank you, Doctor Vertex, but two problems appear to obtain.  And before I begin, is everyone taking notes?  Okay, here goes: (1) Don’t you think Triskelion is monitoring everything we say? And (2) I’m really, truly, and honestly not a doctor of anything; I barely graduated from high school.  Honorable doctors, I am as I say, a deliveryman.”

“I understand,” whisper Doctor Vertex.  “You want to fly under the radar.  If Triskelion only knew…”

“I am quite sure Mister O’Cannan is no academic,” said Doctor Vetula.  “He shouldn’t even be here.  He can help that old fool who does such a poor job of cleaning up our dungeon.”
“I agree,” said Doctor Mulier.  “He shouldn’t be here.  He isn’t known.”
“Aw, I’m havin’ so much fun,” drawled O’Cannan.  “Think I’ll sit a spell and rest my feet.  Not used to shoes yet, eh.”  Turning to Doctor Vertex he asked “So what’s the plan for getting’ off this rock, eh?”
“It could be worse," said Doctor Progreti.  “He could be an English major.  Goodness knows we don’t want anyone of that sort around here.  Beowulf.  Romantics.  Blank verse.  How perfectly reactionary and, well, déclassé.”

Doctor Vertex, barely suppressing a grin, held his lapels in his practiced Churchillian fashion and intoned:  “Our plan is to shut down the Cloud of Electronic Unknowing, send radio and visual signals offshore free of interference, and thereby effect our escape from this fascist concentration camp.”

O’Cannan considered the six decidedly ineffective oddities at the table and said to himself: Escape? Bet me.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kitsch, Kitsch, Kitsch

Perhaps the least artistic and most sentimental kitsch is an obsession with seeing kitsch in others. 

Reference: the current number of Catholic Phoenix

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Prisoner of Triskelion. Chapter 1: Intake

Spy yarns and escape stories fascinate me: The Great Escape, The Prisoner, Doctor No, and others.  I considered how an ordinary man, most unlike John Drake / Number 6 or James Bond, might keep his sense of self if he were imprisoned, and how he would attempt escape. 

Mack Hall, HSG

A Prisoner of Triskelion

Chapter 1.  Intake

A man sat on a bench in a fluorescent-lit corridor of green-painted cinder blocks in the institutional night.  He did not know that he was in the night; existence only felt of night, and there were no windows to hint the drifting hours through shifting natural light, only painted steel doors here and there, the hum of the fluorescents, and the slight movement of mechanical air.

The man could not remember a time before sitting on the bench.  But yes, he could.  Images of airport waiting-areas flickered across his synapses.  Corridors.  A book stall where he rejected first vampires then spies then bosomy maidens on the covers of fat paperbacks.  A foam cup of coffee and a newspaper.  An airplane below and beyond, through a window.  Baggage handlers driving little trolleys.  He remembered.  A foam cup of coffee.  Was there something else? Name.  His name would come. 

These were not his clothes.  Some sort of scrub suit thing, and cloth sandals.

A man in a black uniform came along and wordlessly helped him to his feet.  Black uniform – with dandruff.  Black is not a good color because it shows dirt and stains and dandruff.  A room, a table, a chair, a plastic tray of plastic food. 

“Try to eat something; you need it.”  A voice neither cruel nor comforting, rather, a mechanical one.

The prisoner’s hands – for by now he realized he was a prisoner – moved clumsily.  Toast – he knew what toast was.  It tasted of nothing.  A foam cup of something.  Not hungry.

Walking slowly along a corridor.  Someone held his arm so he wouldn’t fall or get lost.  The cloth sandals slipped off.  The man in the black uniform picked up the sandals and smiled.  “The floor’s clean anyway.  I don’t know why they have these things.”  Corridors.  Fluorescents.  A lift. 

“Brush your teeth.”  He had been on a toilet.  Why were they watching him?

A door.  A key turning a lock.  A box of white fluorescent light. A bed.  In bed.  A white cotton blanket pulled over him.  Silence.  White fluorescent light.  Sleep.

At some point without time he awoke with a slight headache, but he knew who he was.  He remembered his childhood in Newfoundland, how much he didn’t like his French teacher in school, his time in the Navy, his job.  He remembered everything up until the hour he was sitting in an airport lounge in Copenhagen drinking a foam cup of coffee and reading an English-language newspaper.

The room was a box indeed, a high-security cell – he had seen pictures of them – associated with something called a supermax prison.  But what had that to do with him? 

The cell was slightly wedge-shaped, maybe ten feet long and as high, with a toilet half concealed, and thus not concealed at all, at the back.  He was sitting on a mattress on a bed of smooth concrete, and facing a ledge of smooth concrete with a sink of smooth concrete and a water tap of smooth steel operated by a button of smooth steel.  The bulkheads were smooth concrete and the deck was smooth concrete.

Why did he think in terms of bulkheads and decks and hatches?  His youthful service in the Navy years ago hadn’t influenced him all that much.  Maybe it was the fluorescent lights and painted walls and the smell of chemical disinfectant.  The milieu was like some office block in the bureaucratic wilderness of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, often known to recruits as Saint-Jean-sur-Bitch-ilieu.

A vague click.  The small square of glass set in the hatch was opaque, so he couldn’t see if someone were watching him.  A double knock, and the door opened.  A man in a black uniform brought in a plastic tray of plastic and foam dishes. Behind in the corridor was a cart with other trays, and another woman, a watchful woman, in a black uniform.

“Brekker, old man.  Enjoy it.  You’ll be wanted for an interview in an hour or so.  Oh – and there’s some aspirins next to yer coffee.  That stuff they use on ya gives you a header.  You’ll be wanted in an hour or so.”  The accent was vaguely Yorkshire with a hint of a failed Oxbridge fresher term in it.

The warder set the tray and a fresh set of scrubs next to the prisoner’s own shaving kit and left. 

His own shaving kit.  The prisoner searched it carefully.  His shaver, toothbrush, comb, a few coins, and other untidy odds-and-ends were still there, as well as the large-denomination notes secreted in the probably not-so-secret pockets.

Breakfast was bacon and eggs and potatoes, the bacon somewhat limp in the tradition of roadside cafes where the cookery is indifferent.  The toast was buttered with real butter, not yellow-stained grease, and the coffee was quite good.  Eating with a very soft plastic spoon was something of a challenge, but then, he wasn’t dining in the ambassadors’ room at the United Nations.

After a wash and a cat-bath from the sink he changed into the fresh scrubs, feeling quite vulnerable without any underwear, and was ready for the new day, whatever that might mean. 

The prisoner straightened his bedding, not out of any sort of neatness compulsion but because, after examining everything in the white-lit space, there was nothing else to do.  He wished he’d tucked a paperback into his shaving kit.

After a time which the prisoner had no way of measuring, another double-knock signaled a change and some time out of the white concrete box.

“You’re up for your intake interview,” said the black-clad warder.  A curious little three-armed device in brass adorned his collar.

After a few metres the cloth slippers had made their own break for freedom.  The prisoner paused to pick them up and carry them.  The floor was very clean.  “I dunno what they even bother with them things,” observed the warder.

The prisoner tried to estimate distances and count doors and, on the lift, count floors, but he was unaccountably weak and mentally vague.  He was brought to a white-painted metal door free of names or numbers.  The warder knocked and entered.

The office was clearly an outer one, an interview room with little more than a desk with two chairs facing each other.  The walls were paneled wood, though, and an incandescent lamp on an etagere somewhat humanized the room.

Behind the desk sat a man with the sturdy, no-foolishness-now look of a chief petty officer or sergeant-major.  On the table before him was a file folder with a few typed papers.

“Have a seat, me lad,” said the man, who nodded a dismissal to the warder.

 Was the accent Irish, perhaps, modified by military service in England or America?

“Let me begin this unpleasant interview by giving you the worst possible news in the worst possible way: you have been sentenced to death…easy, now.”

Existence seemed to fade out of the prisoner in a nothingness of white light.  Voices.  Hands holding him up, firmly but without cruelty.  Had he fainted?

“Don’t be embarrassed; if I was to get that news I’d probably turn a little green meself.  Here drink this…”

Brandy?  The prisoner drank whatever it was.  From a foam cup.  He was alive.  The drink had stung his throat and made him gasp for two breaths.

The interviewer’s eyes were very, very blue, the blue of a Norse captain considering whether to let his prisoner live was in his best interest.

“Now, then, back to business.  No one you’ve ever known will ever learn what happened to you.  Your death will be very quick and probably painless – clearly I haven’t taken that trip meself – and your body will be ground almost into powder and disposed of quietly in the ocean.  Your future, lad, is fish sticks.

“Now, then, it gets better.  Your death sentence’s not to be carried out unless you make it happen.  It’s your choice.”

“But…but there must be some mistake…”

“Oh, Brendan, me lad…” 

Brendan.  His name was Brendan.  Brendan O’Cannan. Right.

“Oh, Brendan, me lad, and you a readin’ man – Agatha Christie, Wodehouse, the Romantic poets, all them flamin’ English writers – I was expectin’ you of all people to come up with something more original.”  The interviewer almost smiled.

“I’m not trying to be original; I’m trying to stay alive and figure all this out, eh.”

“Now, then, you’ll stay alive, probably for a good long time, but you’ll never know why you’re here.  Neither will I.  It’s not important.”

“Well it’s important to me.”

“Yes, but you’re not important at all.”

“I’m important to me, eh.”

“Then you’ll want to stay alive.  Now back to business.  You now belong to Triskelion.  I’m Triskelion.  This little rock of an island is Triskelion.  Your world is Triskelion. 

“You’re important only as a source of income for Triskelion.  We deal in humans.  We keep humans.  We’re paid to do that.  Some government, some institution, maybe your employer, maybe some very rich individual has found your continued existence inconvenient.  They’re paying us to keep you, well, convenient.  The world’s a little kinder this century; a few decades ago and you’d have been shot or hanged or starved for being unfashionable.  Tyrants are a little softer these days; they let people like you live.  At least for a while.”

“But I haven’t done anything.”

“I don’t know why you’re here, only that you’re here.  I signed a receipt for you, and that’s it.  I accept that you don’t know why you’re here; I certainly don’t know, don’t need to know, and will never know.”

“There’s nothing I can tell you.”

"Oh, I’m not asking.  All I need to know about you is here in your file.  This little morning exercise is to tell you about this island and the rules of our little family.  Quite a few of you inconvenients here.  You’ll find no Russians or Chinese, though.  Their governments play by the rules of the 20th century.”

“Where am I, then?”

“You’re in an island.  I won’t tell you where, but you can probably work it out by checking out a book on basic astronomy and looking at the sky.  But it’ll do you no good; you’re not leaving. 

“Bet me.”

“Don’t think about it, me lad.  Triskelion is pretty patient with his children in most ways, but like Kronos he’ll eat you if you try to escape.

“Here’s the plan to begin with: you’ll spend three days in that little closet, and we’ll be lookin’ at you.  Like this morning when you were checking the sheets for labels, and the plumbing, looking to see if there were manufacturers’ names, and in what languages.  Maybe that would give you a clue as to where you are.  But we’re careful about that sort of thing.  And we’ll be looking at you, seeing how crazy you might or might not be.

“If you’re stable, we’ll move you to a ward, a dormitory, like, to see how you get on with folks.  That’s maybe a week.  Then we’ll find you a nice room of your own, unless you want a roommate, and your file indicates you prefer solitude.  When you’re all settled in, you’ll pretty much have the run of the island – but you won’t escape.  If you try, we’ll probably have to go ahead and give you the death.

“And if I’m not stable – by Triskelion’s norms?”

“Then you’ll stay in that little room and you can babble to the ceiling for the rest of your life; I don’t care.

“But I reckon you ought to settle in and enjoy life.  It’s not so bad here – library, movies once in a while.  You’ll find no books and see no movies more recent than fifty years ago.  Newspapers, the wireless, the telly, the ‘net – no longer a part of your life.  You don’t need to know what’s happening out there now and Triskelion doesn’t want you knowing.  And it’ll do you no good to know.” 

“But I don’t know anything.  I have no secrets.  I can’t tell you anything.”

“We don’t need anything from you.  I’m here to tell you things, things that will keep you alive, if you want to be alive, and maybe you don’t, and that’s okay too.  But I’d rather you be alive, because we’re reimbursed for each team member on a monthly basis.  You know, lad, if we have to fulfill your death sentence, we’d wait until the second or third day of the next month.  It’s a month’s more income, you see.  So, hey, choose life.

“Notice the file folders, the typewriter, the old rotary telephone.  Minimal technology, barely out of the 19th century inside the island.  But outside, this community is enveloped in an electronic cloud of unknowing – you’re a Catholic; thought you’d like the allusion.  I can’t hear it myself, but some people say there’s a perpetual hum from the Cloud.  Radios, the telly, computers – nothing like that’ll work here.  No information comes in except on paper, and no information goes out except on paper, and that’s kept to a coded minimum written in rapidly-deteriorating gel ink on flimsy paper that crumples into powder if someone even gives it a dirty look.

“We once had a fellow who built a radio receiver mostly from an electric shaver.  Remarkable what’s goes into an electric shaver.  Anyway, when he gave it a go the thing blew up in his hands.  He still has his hands, by the effin’ way, but they’re not pretty.  The Cloud picked up the first little signal and immediately fed it back, amplified, into the batteries, and, well, POOF!”

“Sounds like incarceration got him into a lather.”

 “Oh, well put, lad!  You’re fitting in already.  But go ahead and use your electric shaver; you’ll come to no harm unless you try to rebuild it as a boat or an aeroplane.

“Now back to business.  Triskelion have plenty of inexpensive amusements for you – a nice library, movies one night a week, fishing tackle, a little gardening on the few bits of arable ground, musical instruments, records and record players – the Cloud won’t let anything magnetic or digital work.  We even have our own little newspaper.”

“Printed in disappearing ink on disappearing paper?”

“Certainly.  But don’t disapprove; after all, isn’t the ephemeral the very core of everything Steve Jobs ever did?

“We unlock the door to your room at 0600, and breakfast is in the mess hall at 0700.  You are free to roam around the buildings and anywhere on the island except for restricted areas, and those are posted and locked.  We won’t watch you much once you’re out of isolation because, after all, except as a warm-body source of income, you’re just not important.  And, really, you’re not all that capable.  If you were a super spy or something like that, dangerous and skilled, you wouldn’t be here.  We tuck you in all nighty-night and cosy at 2100 hours.

“No signaling with flashlights or mirrors or handkerchiefs, please; we’ll break your hands for that sort of thing and then lock you down in a hole…I mean, therapy…so dark and so deep you’ll think you’re in Hell.  We’ll keep you there until what’s left of you promises to play nice.  And don’t look for rescue; this island is not some sort of Doctor No experience; it is a homeland territory of – well, you’ll figure it out.  Our host nation lists this island as a military no-go zone, so while the Russians and the Yanks occasionally snoop from trawlers and submarines because Russians and Yanks are preternaturally nosy, all they can do is look at you from a distance.  The Cloud and our own careful avoidance of technology mean they can’t pick up any signals because there are no signals.  The antennae on the roof are dummies there to give the snoops the fits about some sort of superior technology.   But mostly the nations think this island is a military prison and don’t bother with it.

“We have men and women, both as clients and as minders, and we’re very progressive about romance.  We also have some troublesome priests on the rock so you can go to Mass like a good, obedient Catholic and pray for the effin’ soul of Triskelion.”

“Triskelion needs praying for.”

“No doubt, me lad, no doubt.

“You patients have names; we, oh, client specialists have numbers.  You may address a caregiver by his or her number if you know it; otherwise 'sir' and 'ma’am' are fine.  No doubt your mother – let’s see – died four years ago – thought you special.  That doesn’t mean anything, so did mine.  You get to keep your specialness; Triskelion keeps itself to itself behind another Cloud, the Cloud of numbers.  Useful things, numbers. 

“And now you’re going back to your cozy little room for the next few days.  Any questions?”

“Lots, but I don’t suppose you’d tell, eh.”

“Oh, yes, I would.  We’ve got all the time in the world.  Eh.”

O’Cannan smiled and rose.  “Maybe another time.”

 A warder escorted him back along the corridor.  They paused briefly so that O’Cannan could take off the cloth slippers and carry them as he barefooted along.  The slippers really were useless.

 Back in his white-lit, white-painted hole, O’Cannan saw that Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves was on the shelf-table.  He picked it up – it was his own worn and much-marked copy from his own flat.

“Lunch in an hour or so,” said the warder as she locked the door.