“There’s been a change of plans,” Haworth said as he straightened his loose notes. “We’re meeting Miss Byng today, not the General.”
Verloc frowned. “Is he sending her instead as a message?” he asked.
“I don’t believe so. I think he’s just giving her more responsibility over the Executive Committee’s liaison with the labs so he can pull back on his,” Haworth surmised. “All us old guard are making our plans, aren’t we?” he said, regarding Verloc fondly. “Miss Byng is obviously his. She lives in the Village so she’s better positioned to keep more regular tabs on us than he is.”
“We might have already solved the supply problem if we didn’t have to take time out to give them progress reports so often,” Verloc complained.
“They’re under just as much pressure to deliver as we are,” Haworth said as he took a small flask from his jacket pocket. “We’re all on the same deadline.” Verloc eyed the flask reproachfully, but Haworth didn’t notice as he was too busy unscrewing the cap. He took a quick swig and screwed the cap back on, wincing at the bitterness before a look of inordinate delight sprung up on his face.
Just then, the intercom on his desk beeped and a woman’s voice said through the crackling static, “Miss Byng is here for your two o’clock appointment.”
Haworth stuffed the flask back into his pocket, pressed the button on the intercom, and said, “Right on time! Send her in, Dottie.”
“Make sure to smile,” he whispered hurriedly before the door opened. Verloc forced his own face into a too wide grin for the occasion.
September 4th, 1964
“How are you feeling, Harry?” Verloc broached from his established spot by the door.
“Like a caterpillar smoking hashish,” Haworth declared in a lazy drawl. He sat on the edge of his bed, at the foot so as to be far enough away that Verloc couldn’t inspect him too closely from his corner.
The morning after a Crash Day was a mixed bag. He ate well at breakfast so he wasn’t hungry or irritable as he had been the previous two days, but he always ended up doing something on Crash to earn a higher dosage of Coconut the next day. On an otherwise clear head, the increased dosage left him feeling loopy and not in as much control of himself. It was as though he were operating on a stream-of-consciousness auto-pilot, speaking without thinking through his words and relying on the feelings behind them to dictate how forthcoming he should be. While he couldn’t claim to be happy the way his own Joy formula had made him in the past, he was at least content on Coconut. If he’d incurred an injury as he had this time, though, Verloc would want to look it over.
“What?” Verloc said, troubled by the oddness of Haworth’s answer and chancing a step closer. Though Haworth had spoken so cryptically with the intent of worrying Verloc, the note of it in his voice put a point on the fact that there wasn’t anything actually keeping Verloc in the corner. Saying things that made him sound like he might be concussed would make Verloc want to come closer.
September 4th, 1964
“Did you poison me?” Gemma asked. She hadn’t bothered getting out of bed for Verloc this time, feeling entirely too miserable to even bother, and instead just lolled her head to the right to stare in his direction.
“No,” Verloc said. He leaned against the wall next to the door, looking bored like he was merely biding his time in here. He hadn’t asked her any questions about how she was feeling, which Gemma found strange given the purpose of his visit, but not out of his character. “Blackberry withdrawal is difficult and unpleasant. Didn’t Sally tell you that?” He didn’t ask in a spiteful tone; he sounded as if he thought that wasn’t like her not to have been thorough in her warnings.
“She did, but she didn’t say death would be preferable.” The headache that started yesterday had only grown sharper and more insistent, and today it had been joined by the vague, itchy heat of an impending fever on her back. That morning’s dose of Coconut had added a generalized feeling of anxiety that she couldn’t put a cause to and was now working to ignore. “You have to have Crash here, don’t you? Wouldn’t it make more sense to test your Joy formula without the Blackberry interfering with it?”
“You’re Mary Ann, right?” Gemma said as she ordered a cup of chicory from the “coffee” machine. The newest addition to the “O” Courant bullpen, Mary Ann Evans, was already in the breakroom, sitting at the table and planning out her schedule that day on a small notepad. “You came from So Mod, didn’t you?”
“Yes! And you’re Gemma Olsen. Looove your work, darling. It’s like what I do, but for the stuffier people in town.”
Gemma wasn’t sure if that was an insult or a compliment. She rather thought exposing corruption and authoritative lying was not especially similar to reporting on what minor changes Davy Hackney decided everyone should apply to their wardrobe or who Nick Lightbearer was marrying or divorcing this week, but she bit her tongue before she said something overtly snotty in reply.
“I hope you won’t take this wrong way,” Gemma said, electing for a more subtle jab instead as she waited for her chicory to finish pouring, “but isn’t the Ladies’ Page a step down from So Mod?”
“Hargreaves! Did you finish replacing the signage?” Richard Arkwright called down the spiral staircase leading to Arkwright Labs’ House of Tomorrow exhibit.
“Just this last one to go, sir!” Timmy Hargreaves answered from the bottom of the stairs where he was pulling last year’s poster off its display stand. Visit 1983 in the Wellington Wells House of the Future!, it read. He had another identical poster from further down the lane rolled up on the ground at his feet. The one he was peeling off the display now ripped at the corner, but they were just going to throw them away.
Every year on the second of January, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research renovated the House of the Future exhibit. That is, they updated the signage and Uncle Jack’s guided tour video to be one year further into the future. Arkwright had just finished replacing the sign underneath the television screen in the foyer and now he was ready to test the updated tour video the Broadcasting Corporation had sent over before the Christmas holidays. A fresh tour video was filmed every year to detail all the “new” technologies the DSIR were planning to bring to Wellington Wells.
Hobbling into the alleyway on his crutches, William Godwin turned the corner, eased himself down to sit on an empty beer crate at the top of the staircase tucked in the alcove, and waited.
When he had finally felt up to journeying to his out-of-use call box to collect his order of Blackberry Joy today, there had been a folded note sitting on top of the package. It had asked him to meet in this alley and to sit at the top of the stairs. The writing didn’t match Sally Boyle’s round, bubbly script so William worried that he might be being set up. There were plenty of people who would love to silence him once and for all. The alley was small enough and close enough to the street that he didn’t feel too vulnerable to take the chance on the meeting though. If anyone asked, he would say he was just having rest. Moving around on crutches was hard on the armpits.
Eventually, he heard footsteps approach. Whoever had wanted to meet with him stopped at the corner and didn’t come around.
“You there?” whoever it was – a man – asked.
“Yes?” William answered. “Who are you?”
“If I wanted you to know who I was, I’da come ’round the corner, wouldn’ I?” the mystery man said.
“All right, fair enough,” William said. “What do you want then?”
“Nick Lightbearer is dead.”
September 3rd, 1964
“Oh look. It’s an eagle, here to eat my liver.” Haworth watched Verloc enter his cell from the far corner where he leaned against the wall. He had been spying on Plantagenet while he waited. “Just smashing.”
One side of Verloc’s mouth hitched up at Haworth’s lazy quip. “You’ve told that one before, Prometheus.”
“Yes, well, if you’re going to gas me with your half-baked Joy formula every day, you’ll have to forgive the occasional repeat,” Haworth said, pushing himself off the wall and closing the distance to keep Verloc from venturing too far in. He liked to keep Verloc in the space by the door so as to make him feel both claustrophobic and unwelcome.
“I brought the pills on the off chance that you wanted to make this easier,” Verloc said. He tried to sound nonchalant about it, but Haworth knew he was hoping to be taken up on the offer. That he pulled a jar of medicated healing balm out of his pocket instead gave away that he knew he wouldn’t be.
September 3rd, 1964
Gemma was still sobbing into her pillow when breakfast was served. The nurse slipped in, set the tray on the dresser since the tea table was tipped on its side in front of the observation window, and slipped back out without a word. Gemma guessed she must be trained not to interact with the test subjects when they were especially emotional. Reading Harry Haworth’s patient notes last night, Gemma concluded that if she were a nurse here, she certainly wouldn’t want to get within arm’s reach of him on one of his curiously regular bad days. She sniffled and rolled back out of bed.
Now that the Coconut had settled into a purple tinged sinus headache and she’d collected herself, Gemma was apprehensive of what would happen next. And hungry, actually. She hadn’t eaten last night and she’d worked up an appetite throwing her furniture around. More than anything, though, she was embarrassed.
It was a rookie mistake. Not even twenty-four hours into this subterfuge and she’d already blown her cover.
“I heard you were looking for me, Chief,” Gemma said, leaning in Margaret Oliphant’s office doorway.
“Yes, come in and shut the door,” Margaret said. She was taking one of her cat portraits down from the wall behind its corresponding statuette. Gemma shut the door behind her and perched herself on the edge of Margaret’s desk, crossing one leg over the other. Margaret glanced disapprovingly at Gemma’s cheeky choice of seat, but said nothing about it. Instead, she got to the point.
“We have to retract your article about the Parade being under quarantine,” Margaret said. She lifted her grey cat painting up off the wall and walked it behind her desk to lean it up against a column, far from its usual place.
“Another retraction?” Gemma complained. She crossed her arms and grumped. “It’s a wonder I get anything to print at all.”
“I try, but we’ve got the Executive Committee and the Department of Archives going through everything we print with a fine-tooth comb. It’s… unwise to contest whatever “additional context” they wish to provide.”
Gemma sighed. “I’m not blaming you, but if everything I write gets retracted… It’s a good thing no one remembers what they read anymore or I’d have no credibility left at all.”
“Speaking of credibility,” Margaret broached as she pulled out her chair and sat down, “I’ve been meaning to ask how you even got into the Parade without a Letter of Transit.”
September 3rd, 1964
Harry Haworth found first exposure to Coconut Joy fascinating. It did feel cruel to watch new test subjects be given their first dose since no one ever had a good reaction to Coconut, but there was so little else to do in here and he was a scientist after all. Or had been. On good days, he had hopes – which he recognized as delusions on bad days – that he might one day be a practicing scientist again. He wasn’t watching his new cellmates’ reaction to Coconut to be entertained, he could reason with himself, but in the pursuit of knowledge.
He didn’t have access to the data to compare, but Haworth had a theory that the flavor of Joy one was taking before being admitted interacted with Coconut to create different responses. He liked to think, based on absolutely nothing, that his original Vanilla and Chocolate formulas produced mild reactions like giddiness, uncontrollable laughter, and dizziness while Verloc’s Strawberry caused nastier side effects like vomiting and paranoia.
Haworth was miffed at how close he had come to getting to watch this on a clear head. He was due for a dose of Crash after breakfast this morning and if Gemma had arrived today instead of yesterday, he’d have woken up tomorrow clear of all drugs and ready to make some observations. He hadn’t been dosed with Coconut yet today, but a residual sluggishness from yesterday’s dose persisted. On top of that, he was hungry. Out of experience and anxiety, he only ever picked at his food the night before and the morning of a Crash dose. As it was, he’d have to consciously ignore these distractions. Pulling his chair over a few inches from its usual spot, Haworth sat just far enough over so that he could see into Gemma’s window without looking like he was gawking.