If you find you’ve liked this, then do puh-leese like and share and tell your friends, and even your enemies.
And then the visits from Kenny stopped. There were no more sneak peaks into mine or humanity’s future. I lost track of him for a long time.
At first I was concerned, but it was a well established fact of life in Loonford that stories didn’t reach proper endings, they just winked out of existence one day, and for every day after that, it was as if they had never existed. Soon, the trannies and drunks started reappearing in the shop. My life, my half life, my whatever it was, went on.
It was frustrating, but it was something I had spent long years learning to deal with. Besides, it transpired that over the months and years that followed, I had very little time to think about Kenny.
My family went through one of its occasional sustained paroxysms of violence and insanity a few years later. Like sunspots, they reached their cycles of most intensified activity every eleven years or so (perhaps, indeed, they were connected with the sun in a way scientists have yet to fathom).
When the spots began subsiding to more muted levels of murderousness, three members were enjoying extended stays in hospital. Two sisters had flown the nest utterly, never to speak to another family member for decades. The shop had almost been sold.
For months afterwards, I brooded behind the counter on this singular fact. I had almost attained freedom, almost managed to slip out unnoticed at the height of the trouble. But now I seemed more firmly entrenched than ever.
Every other relative was either too young, too ill or too imprisoned to take up my burden. I thought of sneaking back in and shaking petrol around some night, but was pretty sure the place was uninsured. Anyway, deliberate burning was the first thing that would be suspected, and imagine trying to fight off the other harpies for my share of the ill gotten gain.
Then, as I contemplated a future without end or hope, disturbing news reached me about Kenny.
As always in Loonford, real, as opposed to fantastic details were hard to come by, but it seemed that he was in Hospital recovering from a serious stab wound which had led to blood poisoning.
It took weeks to track down the Hospital ward where he was lying. He was over the worst by then, but taking a long time to mend.
“It’s all those drugs in his system,” the hassled looking staff nurse explained to me, “they’re having a devil of a job clearing them out.”
It was clear from her manner that she thought she meant illegal drugs of the backstreet variety, rather than the economically virtuous, legally sanctified drugs of the UROK kind.
No one claiming to be a relative or friend of Kenny’s had visited the Hospital before me, but I did discover that a couple of representatives of UROK were looking in now and again. It seemed Kenny was to be released to their clinic once his time in Hospital was up.
I wondered how they’d managed that, before realizing that there would have been no one else to claim him, just as there would have been no one for me to object to on his behalf.
He made a wretched sight in the bed. All the solidity I remembered from school had been leached out of him. His skin was stretched and almost translucent. His hair had turned a lifeless grey. His voice, when he spoke, was limp and brittle. The staff nurse told me that Kenny had been exceedingly lucky.
“These people and the fights they get into. We don’t even know what he was stabbed with, only that it was huge and very, very rusty. He’s obviously one of those creeps with nine lives. And we have to go on saving those lives. How’s that for a use of resources?”
As I looked down at him from my bedside chair, the ludicrous flowers I had bought dying rapidly in the high hospital heat on the table between us, I thought of how obscene, how insanely unfair it was of anyone to describe Kenny as “lucky.”
Over the course of that afternoon, as he warped in and out of sleep, I sketched out his story.
UROK had altered his dosage again. The RAPs had started working backwards as well as forward, and all previous limits had been abolished. Like a hapless and unwilling Doctor Who, Kenny had been propelled millions of years in both directions.
He described a long afternoon wandering aimlessly through what sounded like the Permian or Devonian epoch of ancient Earth, feeling hot and sleepy and occasionally having the shit frightened out of him by mosquitos the size of cars.
He’d floated above the distant Earth amid variegated blobs of light, and after a time, he’d formed the idea that the blobs were talking to each other. He’d wandered over a scorched and wasted Earth, blank and grey apart from the occasional tiny husk of a building.
Then he’d spent a pleasant day inside the medieval walled town of Loonford, which he described, coughing and weak, as ‘fuckin’ deadly.’ It was the day of a Fair. The mud streets were festooned with people and stalls and animals and animal droppings.
Kenny had sat outside a tavern under the shadow of Loonford Castle (which still existed, in pretty much the same place, in our time), getting skulled on a mixture of locally brewed beer and heavily sweetened Norman wine, before getting into a fight with a Gaelic speaking wild man out of the west, who’d stabbed him in the side. The blade had been rusty, hence the poisoned blood.
The company had become alarmed, and taken him off the drugs. Kenny wasn’t sure how much they knew about the time travel. He’d been delirious for weeks, he reckoned, and could easily have spilled something without remembering. The worst part of all, the bit which terrified him, was the fact that he was probably off the programme.
“Maybe it’s for the best,” I suggested weakly.
“Fuck you.” For those who have never heard it, the sound of a ravaged, utterly exhausted voice saying ‘fuck you’ is one of the most strangely affecting in the Universe.
“When um I ever gonna see dat kind o’ dosh again? I’m fucked. I’ll never have two cents ta bang togedder.”
“But the drugs were killing you.”
“Fuck dah. Wha’s so great ’bout life anywah? Answer me dah?”
Trees? The living colour of flowers? Wind over freshly mown grass? The sway of a woman’s hips? The laughter of a child? These things were about as relevant to Kenny as amoebae dwelling in the heart of Saturn. It would have been unseemly to introduce them to his sick room, so I let it rest and tried to share his utterly hopeless silence.
We went on like that for quite a while. I couldn’t be sure if he was awake or sleeping, but I became slowly aware that we were not alone. I looked up.
Two blonde presences loomed in the doorway, smiling down at Kenny and me with ominous benevolence. They were a male and female, clad in seemingly identical blue business suits. They gave the bizarre impression of being twins. The male advanced on me, racking up his smile a notch and extending a hand.
“Hi. I’m Carl.”
I rose in spite of myself, but enjoyed for years afterward a ridiculous pride over not having taken his hand.
“Yes. Somehow I figured you would be.”
The brightness of the smile was unaffected by the muted flash of puzzlement which passed over his blue eyes. He ran his gaze, still smiling, with a palpable air of possession over the room, the bed, its occupant.
“So..,” returning the smile to me, “are you a relative?”
There was a quick glance back at his twin, who now advanced slowly into the room, coming to rest at his shoulder. They looked like something Kenny might have encountered on his travels in the future. Had they come to demand payment for some exotic bar bill? Were they taking him to some future zoo?
“I’m slightly confused,” the menace in Carl’s voice was slightly less muted.
“We were at school together.”
“Ah…oh.” Carl seemed to breathe a little easier. He left his twin to keep her smile levelled at me.
“I’d say that wasn’t yesterday, eh?”
He looked back at me. “School. It was some time ago, yes?”
Carl looked back at Kenny, apparently satisfied that I could be discounted for now.
“He’s been through the wars, has our man here. But he’s going to be just fine. We’re going to take extra special care of him from now on.”
I looked at the twin. She, like Carl, bared a big row of clinically carnivorous teeth when she smiled.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Only what is right.” Her faintly American twang varied from Carl’s only in pitch.
“He does have rights you know.”
“Of course he does.” Carl stopped hovering over Kenny and came towards me, teeth bared in corporate friendliness. “And those rights are now the exclusive responsibility of the UROK Corporation. He couldn’t wish for a better friend, believe me.”
It was my turn to be puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“The Corporation went to court,” Twin Two explained in clipped, chirpy tones, “in the absence of any friends or family to look out for him, the court agreed that he should be returned to the care of UROK. We’re going to take very good care of him,” she echoed.
“As good as the care you’ve taken already?” I worked hard to keep a tremor out of my voice. Neither smile varied even a notch as Carl and Twin Two recited a joint mantra, bits of which I recognised from the UROK tapes.
“Without risk, there is no discovery,” said Carl.
“UROK’s mission is happiness,” said Twin Two.
“Those who work for UROK are trailblazers in the field of human evolution.”
“We cherish our trailblazers.”
“We take care of all our people.”
“Everyone at UROK is part of a global mission of joy through achievement.”
“Everyone is valuable.”
“UROK is about recognising the value of everyone.”
I would have liked to stop them with some magically shocking obscenity, but I suspect they’d just have smiled with a little more luminosity, and kept going. By the time they reached the end I felt suddenly drained, expunged of anything except the desire to leave.
“And now,” said Carl, bringing his hands together, “I think our man needs to sleep, don’t you?”
“Kenny. His name’s Kenny,” I replied sulkily.
“Of course it is,” Carl was an embarrassment free zone. I turned to go, but he stopped me with a noise. His hand was extended again, but this time it held a plastic card.
“You might – uh – give me a call the next time you plan on visiting our friend here. We don’t want him getting too much excitement after all.” I took the card, stared at Carl’s smiling plastic face, stared at the card.
I suddenly brushed past him towards the bed, half-expecting to be thrown against the wall by some superhuman force, but instead, Carl and Twin Two simply parted and hovered, as if wondering what to do. I took a long, last look at Kenny’s ashen, wasted form. He seemed to be asleep.
“So long Kenny.” My voice was breaking. I suddenly felt horribly moved.
“I’ll see you around ok.” And without another word, I tore past the four blank eyes of Carl and Twin Two and hurried down the corridor and out of the Hospital. The staff nurse had been hovering a few feet from Kenny’s door. I suppose she must have called them. Needless to say, I never saw of heard of Kenny again.
There is, of course, no chance that any of this will ever be made public in my lifetime. Once they’d cured Kenny, or maybe just put him on a different RAP, the company tracked down every single acquaintance and made them sign a document swearing never to divulge anything, no matter how barmy, Kenny might have said to them at any time.
Even by writing all this down I am, I think, committing an illegal act. But it’s ok. I’ve got a plan, or at least a coward’s way to a less putrid conscience.
There’s a small shop up the road, a place nobody ever goes. In a corner of the shop is an ancient locker with a secret compartment containing a message from William Shakespeare to the King of Portugal. Don’t ask me how I know about it. It’s secret knowledge, special, the right to own it earned through my sweat and despair, through my twenty seven years.
It won’t be discovered for another three hundred years. I’m going to hide my message in there as well. I think the two discoveries will provide some fun for those who come after. In fact, I know they will.
Before his misadventure in Loonford of the 1300s, the slack security regime at the testing centre meant that Kenny was able to walk out with some of the RAPs in his back pocket. I have always been terrified of drugs. But one day the terror of my hopelessness became too strong. I got a glass of water, closed my eyes and went in. My travels told me some interesting things, before I ran out.
I’m leaving town tomorrow; I’ll never be back. I may not even hang a closed sign on the shop. I wonder how long it’ll take them to discover that I’ve skipped.
You see, I remembered that poor Kenny had been a disaster in school, not just because he was maladjusted, but because his poor, prematurely haggard brain couldn’t remember a single fucking thing, especially numbers. I’ve had loads of time to remember numbers. My head is full of numbers I wish I could forget.
I need to be in a South American country by a particular date, to pick the winning numbers in the biggest lottery ever staged on the planet. It is the last lottery that will ever be held in that sultry nation, because paying me is almost going to wreck the entire economy.
After that, I’ve got plans. You better believe I have plans. But I can’t tell you about them yet, not here.