The God Machine
Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004
Word Count: 3152
Summary: The first Chapter of my novel. This is cross genre as it presents factual information in the context of the story. (not this chapter)
To the reader: The narrative that follows starts with the words, “It should have been like any other Tuesday Morning”, and indeed it certainly would have been if it that day hadn’t turned out to be the 8th April 2008. It seems, to those of us who were most closely involved in the events of that time, that an account should be written of what happened given the momentous significance of this date to human history. That task has fallen to me.
It is, perhaps, human nature to ascribe special importance to people and their views based on the happenchance of time and place; and indeed the ideas that we were compelled to consider in the weeks and months following that date have made me re-define my view of what it is to be a human being. But it would be misguided to impute transcendent meaning to the following in the way that people invoke sublime importance to religious texts. We are just ordinary people trying our best to make sense of what has happened. Some of the ideas hereafter presented might – in the nature of things – be overturned, and that is how it should be if human enquiry is ever to aspire to the truth.
John Hamilton – 21st January 2010
It should have been just like any other Tuesday morning. It was only when my sleep-fuddled consciousness extracted itself from a particularly blissful dream that I knew that something felt wrong. In my dream, Julia and I had been playing in the surf on a beach. The dream had been vivid – too vivid – it had been as if I could really hear the waves and feel the air on my cheeks.
Soon, like any other morning, the dream would end. The muggy sleepiness would disappear, together with the sound of the sea, and my alarm clock would signal the start of just another day. Then I would get up, shower, dress and make my way to work, down the hill to the little bookshop I ran in Kendal.
But the sound did not disappear. There was no alarm clock, and when I opened my eyes, there weren’t even bedroom walls. Instead of a mattress there was soft sand, instead of sheets a warm breeze enveloped me. I had fallen asleep in my bed on a chill, damp April evening in Cumbria, and woken up on a balmy, sunny beach. Where the hell was I?
The beach on which I awoke was a bit like the one in my dream. The waves clawed against smooth, white sand that curved away symmetrically in both directions.
Then I noticed them: here and there, scattered like recumbent seals, naked people were dozing, warmed by the morning sunshine.
Now, fully awake, I became aware of my own nakedness. I looked for something to cover myself, but there was nothing. I sat up, scarcely believing what had happened. How had I had come to be there?
Some of the people were starting to stir. Further down the beach, a woman noticed me. Her dropped jaw and startled expression told me that she was as surprised at her predicament as I had been at mine; she rose and I briefly glimpsed her long, slender body as she made her way towards the surf, in which she seemed to want to hide. I looked away hoping to spare her feelings.
Nearer to me I saw a pretty, blonde-haired girl, of about sixteen quite clearly still asleep. She lay on her back with her knees bent; her legs unknowingly flopped open. I looked away from her too. This was sickening – it was disgraceful – people should not have been left like this.
In different circumstances I would have had an inclination to take a furtive look at the people but I didn’t want to be there. It may have been stupid, in the circumstances, but I thought about the bookshop. Someone would need to open it. If I weren’t there who would do it? The whole situation was so utterly unreal. I was anxious to escape this strange and disturbing place.
I got up and walked shakily up the beach, avoiding the prone bodies and trying not to look as if I was showing too much interest in them. It was then that I felt something clenched in my fist. Due to the stress of the moment, I had not noticed it before. I looked down at a small glistening object in my palm. It was a gold wedding ring – Julia’s ring – the very ring I had placed on her finger eleven years before. How had it come to be in my hand? For now the answer would have to wait. I just gripped it tighter; it comforted me as I took in the strange surroundings.
The slope of the sandy beach ended abruptly. A low bank seeded with spiky, new-grown grass, separated it from a green meadow, in which lazy-looking cows grazed in, what looked like, contented ignorance of the surreal events unfolding on the beach nearby.
In the distance there was a tower – its smooth sides curved upwards to where it was topped by a spherical structure, which was whiter than the rest of it. The whole thing seemed to glow in the morning sunshine as if it were made of gleaming crystal. It must have been about two hundred feet high and it dominated the skyline; just below the tower I could make out a cluster of small, rounded, white buildings. Further away, to the left, there was another tower, which looked identical to the first.
I took in the scene not knowing what to do next. I felt very alone; I sat down on the grass at the top of the beach while I pondered on the situation.
Everything seemed wrong. The dream I had had just before I awoke had been deep and remarkable, for a few precious moments Julia had been back in my life. I wished I was still dreaming, but I wasn’t – I was alone, and afraid.
'Excuse me!' The voice startled me. 'Do you know where we are?'
I turned and stood up, to find myself facing a tall, well-built man of about forty. He had a wild stallion-mane of black hair, which had not begun to thin. His posture was slightly stooped, which made it look as if he thought that his body was too big for him, but his words, which were pronounced with a faint lilt of a soft Scottish accent, had a careful intonation, which seemed to belie his oversized, ungainly outward appearance. In spite of his nakedness there was something imposing about him; his deep voice was melodic and authoritative and his chiselled facial features had an unusual dignity.
The irony of the situation hit me and I almost felt as if I wanted to smile. The question he had asked was exactly the question I would have asked him.
'Not a clue! I should normally be opening my shop about now,' I said, feeling lost for a more helpful answer and illogically – given that I could hardly be blamed for my lack of clothing – sheepishly embarrassed at my nakedness. ‘I've just come up from the beach – I didn’t know where to look down there.’ I tried to keep a bashful smile off my face.
The man’s dignified expression softened and he smiled slightly; he held out his hand as he spoke: ‘Pierce Canavan, I know what you mean I’m supposed to be fronting a lecture theatre full of students this morning.’
I returned the smile, more than glad of the company, and shook the proffered hand. Only after I had withdrawn it did I realise that this was the first time I had ever touched another naked man. The feeling was strange, and I felt as uncomfortable as a young boy might feel kissing an old and unattractive aunt. 'John Hamilton, what weird circumstances to meet in!' I said.
The man nodded as he spoke. ‘I suppose we’d better take stock and see if we can work out what’s going on’. There was a presence about this huge black-haired giant of a man and he seemed ready to take control. At that moment I didn’t feel up to taking control of anything.
It was then I noticed a small figure walking towards us along a path, which led directly towards the nearest tower. ‘Who’s he?’ I pointed towards the newcomer. Canavan turned towards him. The stranger was wearing a kind of red overall, and he was carrying a large bundle of material of the same red colour.
Canavan’s jaw dropped – he didn’t know who the man was either. It felt as if this stranger had the advantage over us – just because he was clothed. Perhaps the feelings were illogical, but they would not go away.
We turned towards the man. As he came within hailing distance he shouted a greeting: ‘hello there! At last, someone else is awake! I’ve found some clothes,’ he waffled, as he approached. He dropped the bundle unceremoniously on the ground.
‘There are more overalls over by the little town. I brought as many as I could carry,’ he gestured back the way he had come. ‘Take a pair each. They seem to fit any size.’
Our apprehension was assuaged by the newcomer’s friendly approach, we returned his greeting, and pulled on the overalls with unseemly eagerness – grateful, at last, to find ourselves covered and “decent”.
The simple act of pulling on the clothing had an unbelievably strong effect – I felt so much more human. I quietly slipped Julia’s ring into the pocket of the overalls ‘Thanks, I feel much better now,’ I said, ‘How long have you been here?’
‘I’ve been awake about an hour,’ answered the stranger. ‘I didn’t fancy wandering round naked among all these people – so I set off toward the tower to see if I could find something to wear. It’s the strangest place I’ve ever seen. There are weird metal buildings all set out as if they have been made ready to live in but there isn’t a soul to be seen there –’ he held out his hand, ‘– I’m Clive Farrer.’
He was a quick, nervous, bird-like man with sharp features to match. I noticed that he kept smoothing his clothes. I imagined him to be the kind of person to normally wear an immaculate suit, and I had the feeling that he thought that the overall did not suit him but he wasn’t the kind to say so. He lived in Bristol and had the suggestion of a West Country accent.
Then, without warning, there was a sudden flash of white light, and at the same time a quiet groan, which came from the beach. ‘ Did you see that?’ I said.
‘The light seemed to come from that tower,’ Canavan said.
I shivered as I felt a frisson of foreboding. The three of us walked back down to the beach from where the groan had come. The young blonde girl I had seen before, lying on her back, had rolled on her side, her legs now closed. It was then I saw the man lying next to her. His skin was strangely grey and pale. A puff of smoke was curling upwards from the top of his head. I looked at Canavan – he had seen it too. A glance at the expression on his face made my foreboding grow stronger.
As we got nearer we could see that there was a small neat hole in the top of the man’s head, which obviously went deep into his brain.
‘Oh my god!’ I looked round at my two companions. They looked as shocked as I was.
‘Ought we not to try and resuscitate him?’ suggested Farrer.
‘There’s no point, he’s got no brain left!’ Canavan replied darkly.
‘What sort of wicked place is this?’ Farrer said.
I turned towards my companions, ‘I noticed this girl before. This man was nowhere near her then.’ We had all noticed the dead man’s erection – I had seen plenty of naked men that morning but no one else was aroused.
Farrer’s expression changed ‘You think he tried to rape her?’ he said.
‘I don’t know,’ I replied, ‘But… there is a smoking gun, so to speak’ - I indicated towards the dead man’s groin.
‘What do we do now?’ the newcomer said.
Canavan’s composure returned, ‘we will have to report this to the authorities – that is if we can find a way to contact them. For now we shouldn’t move him, but I think we should move her –’ He indicated towards the young blonde girl ‘– imagine how she will feel if she wakes up to find him beside her like that.’
‘We can’t do that!’ I said, ‘supposing we get seen pulling a naked girl around on the beach – we’d, more than likely, get arrested. And suppose she woke up to find herself naked and being pulled around by three strange men?’
Canavan thought for a moment – ‘Yes you're right! But we need to do something.’
‘Who are you? Where did you put our clothes?’ The voice came from behind us. We turned. A short, balding middle-aged man was striding towards us. Behind him there followed a woman of about the same age.
‘We didn’t take anyone’s clothes. We found these over there, near the town,’ Farrer said, pointing towards the nearest tower.
The man slowed his pace – he eyed us suspiciously.
Farrer continued talking without a break, ‘come with me, I’ll get you a pair’. He clearly enjoyed being helpful, and took great delight in busying himself with the task of helping the couple. ‘Did you see what happened to him?’ He gestured towards the dead man. The balding man stopped dead in his tracks.
The woman spoke, ‘ my dear God! He’s dead!’
Canavan turned to the man and woman, ‘you had better go with Mr. Farrer. He’ll get you something to wear. Then, I think, we need to help this girl. We think she might have been attacked.’
The woman seemed calmer than the man, who – frozen to the spot – was staring open-mouthed at the body of the alleged rapist. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Come on Howard, we’ll go and get some clothes. Then we can help’
I was surprised, and impressed, by her calm demeanour. Not many people would have remained so composed in such circumstances. She seemed completely unabashed by her nakedness in the presence of three strange men.
A few moments later, Farrer led the two of them back down the beach, their modesty now concealed behind the red overalls. As they walked, Farrer chattered incessantly to them about what he had seen, and the events of the morning.
Canavan’s voice had a considered quality. It kept making me feel that he had thought carefully about what he was going to say before he spoke. He turned to the woman, ‘would you mind helping us with this girl. I think it would be better if you were to dress her in one of the overalls before we move her. But we can’t leave her here.’
The woman nodded her agreement, ‘No, of course not,’ she said as she went off to get an overall for the girl.
‘There aren’t many overalls left now,’ Farrer said, ‘someone will have to go back to the town to get some more.’
‘I’ll go,’ I said – I was secretly groping for any excuse to get away from that beach.
‘Right! It would be better if someone were to go with you though, and then you’ll be able to carry more. We’ll sort that out as soon as we’ve moved the girl,’ Canavan said.
The men had turned away while the woman dressed the girl then we all helped carry her still form, up the beach, away from the body of the man. A kind of realisation had dawned; the girl and, presumably, the other people on the beach were in an unusually deep sleep – too deep. Although the young girl stirred and moved when we touched her she was on the brink of coma.
As we picked her up and carried her, my eyes met Canavan’s. His face was drawn. This girl was not just asleep. Was she drugged? It was clearly on Canavan’s mind too, but no one said anything. It was as if there had developed an unspoken collective denial because of the sensory overload that morning.
Canavan thanked the woman for her help with the girl. ‘You were very calm! It was good of you to be so helpful.’
‘That’s all right,’ she replied. She held out her hand, ‘I’m Helena Atkinson and this is my husband Howard.’
People were being so polite – as if they had just met at a garden party; the situation was becoming more and more surreal.
We sat down on the grassy bank while we discussed what we should do next. The woman, Helena, had a relaxed, capable disposition. I felt that she was the type who might be of great help in the situation we had found ourselves in. I could not expunge from my mind the image of her walking around – seemingly – completely at ease with her nakedness. She was attractive for her age. Her round face topped with a thicket of curly, but tidy, hair had seemed to suit her rounded, middle-aged, but still very attractive body. Her confidence in that situation had made her seem focussed and capable. In a city street she would have looked unremarkable, but in the situation in which I had first seen her, she had stood out simply because of her quiet control in that strange situation. By contrast, her husband wore a worried expression. I took him to be a rather mild character – his drained expression, flabby skin and shocked, baggy eyes made him look gentle and sensitive.
Around us we became aware that more and more people were starting to come to their senses. I felt uncomfortable again – it was as if we had an unwarranted advantage over the other people, just because we were dressed. I was sure that our presence would make those people without clothes feel more uncomfortable. ‘Perhaps we’d better go and get those clothes now,’ I said. ‘Before more people wake up.’
‘Yes – you men go and get the clothes, while I stay here and keep people away from the body. I’ll keep my eye on the blonde girl too,’ suggested Helena confidently.
‘Come on then, Farrer, you can show us where you found those clothes,’ Canavan said, as we set off towards the tower and the small buildings at its base.