LEADERS - not followers

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fourth Millennium (4)

Robin's Style - for Sunday Scribblings

THE FOURTH MILLENNIUM

3 Tour Of Duty

Robin, the bus driver, ‘sounded’ his horn, to alert Starling to his presence. Starling was mildly surprised. He had been completely unaware of the existence of the Vibro-klaxon, a gadget that sent a series of tremors in any given direction. It had been designed originally, with the sole intention of penetrating the soundproof building and motor vehicle manufacturing materials, to act as a warning, advising of traffic presence. More commonly, it was used for, or at least intended for the purpose of, alerting sleeping citizens to the outbreak of fire, or any other disastrous scenario that may occur.
What surprised Starling more than the actual sensation that he had felt from the device, was the fact that the bus had arrived so early. It was particularly uncommon for anyone to be up and about, prior to the seven o’ clock wake-up call of ‘Brave Nation, Brave World’.
The icy conditions had not relented, and a fresh flurry of snow was beginning to descend. Steam shot from the mouth of the middle-aged driver, as he leaned his head out of the window, to call his greeting; unheard by Starling, who was peering, bemused, through his bedroom window.
Still drowsy, from his sudden return to the land of the living, Starling raised his right hand, showing all four fingers; a signal to the driver indicating that he was at least conscious, but needed a short period of time; four minutes, in fact, in which to get his possessions together.
The patient, cheerful featured driver, sat back in his seat, sanctioning the mimed request which, he assumed, entailed a body sweep, and a couple of precious minutes, for Starling to gather up his thoughts, as well as his belongings. The latter had been left in wait close to his bedroom door, in anticipation of his departure.
Starling wondered why the bus was belching thick, black, albeit odourless fumes, as he tramped the fifteen paces from the front door to where the stationary bus was docked.
“Don’t worry about that,” the driver reassured, noticing that Starling had raised a hand to his face, to cover his mouth and nose. “It’s just for effect. She’s powered by an Ultraslim energy panel. It’s not real smoke; and she runs so silently, you can’t even tell when she’s turned on, without the obvious signal. It’s a reminder to us to switch off, and to let ‘all the other vehicles’ on the road, know she’s actually breathing.” The laughing pilot explained.
A number of things amused Starling, about the driver. He sported a surreal looking handlebar moustache, he was forever rubbing, and shaping with his forefinger. Its expanse had the affect of making his face appear too small for his body. Starling was intrigued also, by Robin’s rather obscure, use of both language and animation. To begin with, Robin had referred to the bus as ‘she’. He’d never before heard anyone refer to an inanimate object, in the third person personal. Robin had also said ‘when she’s turned on’. Starling was unable to determine whether or not, there was any hidden sexual connotation in this particular phrase. Another thing was Robin’s manner of expressing the phrase, ‘all the other vehicles’. He’d animated this phrase, by forming two ‘V’ shapes with his two, middle and index fingers, positioning them close to his ears as he spoke.
Starling was quietly impressed by these novel characteristics, but wondered, initially, why Robin had even bothered to mention ‘other vehicles’, which the roads were so clearly lacking.
He’s a subtle one, Starling thought, blissfully ignorant of the fact that he’d just received his first lesson in the use of irony, for the purpose of humour.
It wasn’t until Starling boarded the single-decker bus, through an uncovered doorway, to the right of the driver, which mysteriously emitted a short hissing sound as he passed, that he became aware of the nameplate, on the drivers jacket pocket. Starling needed no clarification on the species of bird it portrayed. It was, quite clearly, a Robin, complete with scarlet breast feathers.
“You’re Robin, I take it. My name’s Starling; pleased to meet you.”
“I am indeed. Top of the morning to yerself, sir;” another use of unfamiliar terminology.
Starling was already beginning to like the man, who gestured, by jerking his head in a backwards motion, when the travel permission disc was produced. Such barefaced informality was unheard of in Starling’s social circles, but he correctly assumed that it indicated, ‘No problem, carry on; in that direction’.
A housing of clear Aspex descended to envelop Robin in splendid isolation, inside what he always referred to, again mysteriously, as his ‘cockpit’.
Smiling at the segregated ‘pilot’; another of Robin’s puzzling designations, Starling felt inwardly relieved; secure, with the agreeable driver. Not least for the fact that he could safely conduct any conversations with his ‘partner in crime’, Nightingale, shielded from earshot as they would be, by this heaven-sent, soundproof canopy. At the same time, he felt somewhat deflated, already missing Robin’s amusing banter
Robin still managed to have the final word, however; and it was the last time he spoke, for the entire journey.
Raising the enclosure, he tilted his neck backwards, and chimed;
“All aboard? Steady as she goes!”
Something about Robin’s name, struck Starling as somehow exclusive; distinctive. It sounded comforting somehow; more individual; personal than his own. Starling was unable to think why this should be, especially as he realised that it was, in all probability, a name shared by perhaps scores of other people.
Robin had not forgotten his instruction to pick up Nightingale. He knew this was the only stop he would have to make, before arriving at the destination. He also knew that Nightingale would be the only other passenger, and knew exactly where to find him.
Nightingale was as unprepared for the early start as Starling had been. Like Starling, he believed that the expression ‘first thing in the morning’, meant after seven o’ clock, and the National Anthem. Arriving before seven, was, he felt, taking the word ‘first’ just a little too literally. Nevertheless, this rude awakening did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm, nor prevent him from leaping out of bed, grabbing his solitary piece of luggage, and rushing like a madman to join Starling, on the bus. A matter of only seconds; perhaps not even a minute had elapsed, since Robin had eased the vehicle to a halt.
Nightingale had taken a body sweep, and dressed in his travelling clothes, before retiring, the previous evening. He didn’t wish to be accused of slowing things down, or be the cause of any unnecessary delays. He was every bit as eager as Starling, to commence the quest they had been planning together, since childhood.
He stowed his bag hurriedly, and sat down, beside his friend.
They were on their way at last.
Their quest had finally begun.

To be continued

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski


Click Fourth Millennium (3) to go back to conclusion of Chapter 2

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Click Fourth Millennium (5) to read on