THE FOURTH MILLENNIUM
9 To Market And Beyond (Cont)
Starling raised a hand to the Introcom, and lowered his head to speak.
“Is this the Halibut residence?” he enquired.
“Who goes there?” Halibut’s unmistakable tones came back, preceded by a sniff, and punctuated with a series of short coughs.”
“Robin; calling on urgent business,” Starling announced, realising that certain references, pertaining to the quest, had not been divulged earlier, and believing, correctly, that the identity confirmation process was not yet completed.
An exchange of questions and answers followed.
“An item was passed to you recently, from the hands of a certain individual; name this person.” Halibut continued.
“How many items do you possess?”
“Their previous guardians?”
“The other two came from Robin.”
“The final item you received contains a serial number; what is it?”
Starling was unfamiliar with the term ‘serial number’, but was able to recall the sequence that appeared above the bottom right hand corner of the banknote, Birch had given him.
“37 6028 141 73,” he recited, from memory.
The door opened, and Halibut ushered Starling, Nightingale and Rose, inside.
“You’re staying here tonight. Tomorrow we’re going on a ‘fishing’ trip.” Halibut seemed to have lost his nervous affliction, and spoke in short, authoritative sentences; almost commands.
Starling did not miss the quotation mark gesture, he’d also used to emphasise, or illustrate, the word ‘fishing’. He spent a few moments analysing both the animation, and the word. Had he really meant fishing, or was it some kind of coded expression for something entirely different that may be vaguely associated with fishing? Perhaps the animation could be a decoy tactic or technique, used to deflect interpretation into an inappropriate context, thus enabling its practitioners to perform furtive activities, in a completely innocuous, inconspicuous manner. And what about this character, Halibut himself? Was he the actual originator of the signal?
Starling’s thought process was interrupted, as Halibut’s next command was directed towards him.
“Show me the coins and the dollar bill.” It was not barked, military style; rather, suggested, or advised, and issued in a calm, business-like manner.
Nightingale, noticing that his friend had evidently become distracted slightly, gave Starling a quick nudge that allowed him to focus.
“Right here.” Starling reached into his pockets, automatically, realising in the process, that Halibut had used two further, obscure references, to indicate the two silver discs, and the sheet of mysterious fabric.
“A routine check,” Halibut informed them, as he mirrored Starlings action, and produced his own, identical units of currency. Laying them flat, on the surface of a Carbolite table, beside those that Starling had handed to him; he beckoned everyone closer, in order to explain the contrasts and comparisons.
“You see how the serial numbers are consecutive, on the dollar bills? The number’s fine, but it doesn’t confirm it’s not a copy. The proof is on the reverse. Did you notice the holographic dragon image? He paused, briefly to check the affirmative response from his ‘student’s’ who were in fact, becoming increasingly confused by all the technical terminology. “Well, if you take a close look at the dragon’s scales…using this magnifying device…” A circular, transparent lens was produced from the breast pocket of his tunic, and placed over his left eye. “You’ll see that the serial number is repeated, but in a different sequence…there they are…three three, one one, seven seven, zero, two, four, six, and eight…all present and correct…good. It’s the genuine article. Now, the coins; similar but different. Yours are dated, 2736 and 2765, but have been in general circulation, whereas mine are in mint condition. See how yours are dull and worn, whereas mine are shiny and perfect? That’s down to human contact…in the case of yours. And did you ever notice the smell they leave on your fingers after prolonged contact? That smell may seem somewhat familiar; clearly metallic, but it is in fact, unique to this particular alloy.”
He held each of Starling’s coins in either hand for a minute or two, before taking a deep lungful from each, and nodding in satisfaction.
Starling smiled at this act, thinking it was the first time he’d sniffed or nodded since they’d entered the house. Perhaps, he thought, he was saving it for this demonstration.
Rose enquired, “How do you know all this?”
“I’m told it’s all common knowledge in the place we call ‘There’, but like it is for you, it was all new and fascinating to me, at one time. It’s all information I’ve ‘acquired’, over a period of quite a few years.” Halibut explained.
“So you think ‘There’ is for real?” Rose persisted.
“As you and I; I’m convinced. What’s more, I have the proof…but not in my possession. Tomorrow, you will all be exposed to some startling revelations; but tomorrow is another day. First, we have to apply the final test.”
Halibut led them to the kitchen area, and placed Starling’s banknote into the microwave device, adjusting the settings to maximum heat for an indefinite period.
“If it lasts even a few seconds, it’s genuine; no question. The Nation doesn’t possess the skill to produce such resilient fabrics. It’s all in the coating…micro particles that can adapt to the most extreme changes, in pressure as well as temperature. I’m going to give it about fifteen minutes, so there can be no doubt.
Nightingale indicated he was ready to make use of one of the sleeping rolls, once the excited chatter and speculation over what the following morning might hold in store for them, had died down to an occasional reference to ‘fishing’, and what it may or may not actually mean. He suggested that Starling might consider doing likewise, while Rose demonstrated her agreement, by getting to her feet, yawning and stretching, in a genuine display of fatigue.
Halibut had retired at nine o’clock, almost an hour earlier, after informing Rose that she would be sleeping in the back bedroom, leaving Starling and Nightingale, to fight over the sleeping rolls.
As Rose walked slowly, the half-dozen paces to her bedroom, Starling got up and followed, in order to ensure that she was comfortable and content, and to wish her a good night.
Rose was already, just inside the room, about to close the door, by the time Starling caught up.
“I just wanted to see if you…” he began.
“I’m fine, honestly, but I was wondering…” She hesitated a moment, before taking a breath, and releasing the question she’d been burning to ask, ever since their first meeting, which seemed so long ago. “Do you find me attractive, Starling?”
Starling was caught off-guard, by the unexpected directness of the hastily delivered question.
“Is that a rhetorical question?” was the only reply he could come up with, uncertain of whether or not to confess his true feelings, before hearing Rose’s version of developments in their relationship.
“Well, you may think yours was, because a rhetorical question is one that doesn’t require an answer, isn’t it?” Rose replied somewhat evasively; perhaps tauntingly.
“You mean you don’t know?” Starling continued his question for question tactic, in a further attempt to hear it first from Rose.
“That’s not the point…I want to…hear it from you.” Rose had beaten Starling at his own game…or had she?
“Alright, but first, tell me what you call a question, to which the answer is known, but only by those to whom the question actually applies.” Had Starling initiated some obscure form of mating ritual?
“That’s a secret.” Was this the answer to Starling’s question, or was it another part of the same obscure ritual?
“So you don’t really know? Oh well, I guess secret’s are ultimately made for sharing, and you know what they say? A secret shared is…Yes, Rose, of course I find you attractive. I have since the first moment our eyes met.”
The first kiss; always so much better, so much more memorable, exciting, and passionate, than the last, or any in between. The first of many more to come; but for the time being, that was all it was. Sleep; if that was now possible, was the main priority.
Nightingale had been wondering, for days, when the first move was going to be made, and by whom. He was happy for them.
Starling had thought he may have been a little jealous, but the truth was, jealousy was not Nightingale’s style. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have…had the opportunity arisen…but it hadn’t…ever. This raised the question, in his semi-aware, half-asleep mind, of whether or not he could actually confirm, for sure, that he actually would, if it did…ever.
Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski