The man staring at Guy across the table had a chest, shoulders and arms built for bending iron bars. He folded them and said, “I don’t trust him.”
The man beside him, a slim, effervescent type with a scar across his left cheek, patted his shoulder with a delicate hand, “Don’t you know who his parents were?”
The big man grunted that he didn’t.
“The Candle and the Flame.” The big man twitched his lips, unimpressed. “Seriously, Balter? The man’s the heir to the last great hope we ever had, the only hope we ever had.”
He turned to Guy, “I heard your mother speak once. I mean, I was only, you know, little, but I still remember it.” His fingers fluttered in the air while he spoke and his chest seemed to beat with excitement at the memory. Then he became sombre, “That was the last time we even came close… The great betrayal of our time. Whoever gave them up,” his effete features hardened, turned sharp and still, as if he were imagining what he would do to the traitor if he caught them.
“I was 13,” said Guy, with a slight shrug, and looked over at Flick. She was staring up at the stairs of the basement room, drumming her fingers on the table. The four of them were the only people present.
The slim man became animated again, leaning forward, putting a hand on Guy’s, “You remember them, then? You remember what they were like?”
“Shut up, Kaspin,” said Balter, “Let’s get on with this.”
“We should wait for Rashford,” said Flick, her eyes still on the stairs.
“Why? He isn’t coming with us. Better he doesn’t know. Less people, the better.”
They watched the words filter through, a muscle in her cheek twitched, and finally she turned to them, pulling her chair closer to the table. “We already know how to destabilise it,” she said, her eyes on Balter, who nodded in agreement, “The difficult part is access.”
She turned to Guy, “We don’t have passkeys, we don’t know the best route to the Axle Room, we don’t know when there are crowds in the corridors or when the overseers make their rounds.”
Guy stared for a moment, then laughed, “It sounds like you don’t have anything.”
“We have you,” said Kaspin, giving his hand a squeeze. Balter rolled his eyes.
Guy looked from one to the other, the grin on his lips slipping, then took a deep breath, “Well… There are always people. They won’t challenge you on the lower floors, though, if you can get some uniforms. And then, on the upper floors there’re less people, but there’s more security. If we pop up close enough, and at the right time,” he shrugged, “We might slip through.”
“Might slip through?” said Balter, “Might?”
He stood up, knocking his chair over, and began to pace, “You mean we’re going to risk the best chance we’ve ever had on might.”
Guy looked up at him, “It doesn’t get better than might.”
Flick stood as well and put a hand on Balter’s forearm, “The world isn’t made of certainties, Balter. Complete success, or abject failure – you know how it…” She stopped, her attention taken by something upstairs. Suddenly she turned and took Guy’s hand, “Come on, we’re leaving now. You two,” she gestured at the others and pointed at the far wall. They both nodded and headed for a bookcase while she led Guy around the bar. She lifted a trapdoor, and pointed him down in silence. He looked back over his shoulder. The other two had already disappeared. He heard a soft footstep on the basement stairs. He went down the ladder into darkness and stepped in water. The light from above vanished as she closed the trapdoor behind her, leaving them in complete darkness. Her hand took his and led him away, steadying himself against the cold, wet walls.
The notices said Rashford had been killed evading arrest and a known meeting point raided.
“They’re going to think it was me,” Guy said as they watched the scenes — a house surrounded by police tape, intercutting with pictures of Rashford, the man the state had been hunting for near on a decade, and then video of the basement bar.
“No,” said Flick, “We already know who it was.”
“Who?” he said, looking over at her in surprise.
“They arrested the bar owner’s son last week. She was supposed to be there tonight. Said she was sick. She lied.”
“What’s going to happen to her?”
Flick stood up and went into the kitchen, coming back with a glass of water. She stood in the doorway, swilling some water in her cheeks, staring at the television.
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“What do you think?”
He puffed his cheeks out, slumping back against the sofa, and lit a cigarette. “I guess that’s it then.”
“Well, they must know the plan… so…”
“Why?” She frowned, “Rashford’s dead. She didn’t know anything, other than we want to destroy the Dynamo. But that’s been the plan for centuries.”
“How do you know he’s dead? You going to believe them?” he said, raising an eyebrow. Flick stopped still, the glass halfway to her lips. “You know how they work, Flick – they’ve probably got him somewhere right now, getting all our names out of him, getting the plan, and then they’ll come for us in the middle of the night.”
“He doesn’t know my name.”
“He knows yours though…”
He muted the television, and stared at the silent images for a while. “What do we do then?”
“We carry on,” she said, coming to sit beside him, “This is still the closest we’ve ever come – this just proves it. They’re nervous.”
Guy stood up and started pacing, his eyes on the floor, like the pattern on the carpet was a puzzle to be deciphered. “What if Rashford was wrong? I mean, why do you believe him?”
“He isn’t wrong. Your parents weren’t wrong either.”
“How do you know? He’s one of the greatest mass murderers in history, a fanatic-”
“This is a war.”
“Is it, though? There wouldn’t be any war if he hadn’t fomented things, if you weren’t fighting it.”
“Excuse me? We are fighting because our lives here are worthless, because we… Why don’t they come and pedal with us, if the Dynamo’s so important?”
“But what if he is wrong? What if the Dynamo is real, even if they have taken advantage of it and used it to oppress us? What if we do all need the Dynamo?”
He knelt in front of her and took her hand, “What if he’s wrong?” He saw uncertainty flicker like a flame in a draft behind her eyes.
It went out, “We have to have faith.”
“Faith,” he dropped her hand in disgust, “Faith. That’s what they say too. Faith. Why’s your faith any better than theirs? Faith seems like a pretty weak notion to go ahead and risk the existence of everything on. What if their faith is the right one, however coincidentally? If they’re right and we… this, all of it, every man, woman and child,” he let out a sharp, short whistle and wiped the air with his hand.
She grabbed his arm, “But don’t you see, Guy? Listen to yourself — that’s exactly how they get us, that’s how they’ve kept us underfoot for so many generations. Fear them, obey us. They threaten us with total destruction under the guise of saving us from it, but it’s all a massive trick. And you know what,” she turned away, suddenly angry, “I don’t even care — this life, for me and my kind – it isn’t even worth it. I don’t care if they’re right — death’s freedom compared to this. You don’t understand. Maybe you don’t have all the shiny things and the luxury they’ve got, but you don’t live like we do either, you don’t have to get up every morning and go and pedal ten hours every day until long after your legs feel like bits of wood digging into your hips and your hands are blistered on the grips and… Do you know how many pedallists die every day out there? The only they give us a day off is so we don’t all die… otherwise… Nah, it’s… If the risk’s so great, why don’t they pedal too, eh?”
“Listen to yourself, Flick, you realise what you’re saying — my life’s awful so I’m going to destroy the world. You sound insane.”
“Only because you don’t believe.”
“And you, you really believe? You just said you don’t care.”
“Believe or hope? It isn’t the same thing.”
“I believe!” she almost shouted, her eyes staring at him with what looked like hate, “I believe the Dynamo is nothing more than a system of control and the people need to be shown. And the only way we show them, the only way we prove it is to stop it. The only people who’re going to die is us.”
He stared at her. Her unwavering gaze frightened him. But he’d seen that gaze on the other side too. He’d seen it in the mirror.
“Have you ever seen proof?” she said.
“I see it every day.”
He threw up his hands, shook his head, paced a couple more lengths of the room, then stopped. “Alright, what if you’re right, then? What happens afterwards?”
“And what’s that exactly? A multitude of cyclists with nothing to do, only resentment? You know how many people are going to die in the chaos that follows?”
She winced a little, turned and sat down again, her elbows on her knees, hands clasped in front of her. “People are dying either way. Maybe now it’ll be the people who deserve it.”
He looked at her, then sighed, “There has to be another way.”
“Your parents tried another way. Look what happened to them,” she looked up at him, her lips tight, eyes hard, “Don’t you want to avenge them, to show the world they were right?”
Guy stared at the wall for a long time. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. Finally, his cigarette started burning his fingers and he came to, finding her watching him. He stubbed it out and came to sit beside her, putting a hand on her knee. “I see it too. You don’t see how they live… you aren’t allowed into the places… The decadence, the indolence, the… waste. While we… It makes me sick.” He wanted to spit on the floor, but it was his floor, so he swallowed instead. He took a deep breath. “So. What happens now, then?”
“We carry on as planned.”
“We hadn’t really, you know… planned anything.”
“There’s another meeting place, a time set to rendezvous when things go wrong.”
He smoked cigarettes until she was asleep, then got out of bed and crept to the landing, taking his bike and cycling into the early dawn. He passed the pedallists were coming and going from the Plant. He cut off into the park. There was no one walking there now. He saw one man jogging. Some of the lamps were still lit, some were flickering out in the half light. He cycled on past the lake, a mist snagging on its surface, coiling through the reeds. By the time he reached the lamp post and the bin, sunlight was seeping into the thin clouds above.
Dismounting, he sat on the bench, took out his notebook, and stared out at the park. He could see the silhouettes of more joggers in the distance, and watched a couple circle the lake, passing close by him a few times. He stayed there, motionless, as daylight slowly filled the scene, like paint turning the outlines of night into solid colour, soothing his eyes so that where they had strained and sought, now they stretched and fed on the changing hues of the grass, the water, the sky.