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'La Dolce Vita' a novel by Guy Martyr 6.

La Dolce Vita instalment 6 of 20.


Horatio became that sad creature, the soldier without a posting. His platoon were dismissed; he found himself on leave, but still officially ‘in Service’. He went home.

Three months had passed since leaving for Leek: he had scarcely thought of Victoria. Phoning had been such a hit-and-miss affair - cell-blocks were in force everywhere - he had eventually given up trying. Dave’s landline phone was next to useless - only Dave seemed to have any success with it - and the farm possessed no

e-mail, not even a fax.

Horatio’s outer security system, or ‘front door’ - he was toying with the arcane expression picked up on the farm - loomed. But it didn’t feel like ‘his’ front door; he felt he would be opening it to something new.

The first thing he saw when he opened the door was Victoria’s mother.

“Hallo Elizabeth.”

“Oh, Horatio, you . . . “

“Yes” keeping the steady smile . . .

“Victoria’s not here . . . “

“Where is she?”

“She’s been staying with us. It got so lonely for her here, with you away and everything.”

“Well, she can come back now.”

“Are you back for good?”

“I don’t know. I’m to ‘await Orders’. I hear there’s been another bomb. Perhaps they’ll need people to Fight, rather than dig drains.”

“Who are we supposed to be Fighting? Bombs here, there and everywhere. I can’t tell which side is which. It all seems so mixed up.”

“Yes it does, doesn’t it.”

“Oh here’s Malcolm. Well, I’ll be off. Goodbye Horatio.” And off she went, carrying some of Victoria’s things to Victoria’s father, who was standing at the bottom of the path beside his carriage.

Horatio sat down on the sofa in his empty dwelling.

He fell asleep.

He was woken by knocking on the window: he looked to see who it was; a shape of vague familiarity - David, from the Training camp! “Use the door” signalled Horatio, and pointed. David obeyed.

Why did he have to knock on the window? wondered Horatio as he pressed to let David enter.

David looked dishevelled, as if he had been sleeping rough. “They’re after me. Can I stay here for a bit?”

The mud on David’s boots looked familiar: the light grey clay of Butterleigh.

“Have you been to the agri-land recently, David?”

After a bath, some food, some beer and a few whiskies, David felt a lot better, and looked a little better. He still resembled a weasel, but a slightly spruced up weasel.

“I left something ‘ere, with your missus. She was very nice to me, like you are being now. I knew I could trust you.”

“Do you want it now? What was it?”

“Remember the ‘Hinformation’ I mentioned? That.”

“Do you mind if I ask what it referred to?”

“ ‘oo do you think you are?”

“I’m sorry . . . ”

“No . . . ‘oo do you think you are? “

“Well, I’m . . . “

“That’s it: the Hinformation. It’s a piece of software for “ - at this point David took a note out of his pocket and referred closely to its contents - “ ‘encompassing’, and by extension, commodifying, ‘identity’ . . . “

“You mean like some sort of sophisticated ID?”

“Think bigger . . . everything. Your ‘ole life, your ‘istory, your memory even for all I know . . . your name, ancestry . . . the lot” - the note was of continuing usefulness. “There are moves afoot, among certain big businesses, to carve out a market in this stuff: to effectively sell, or more likely lease, or franchise, identity to people - it will no longer be yours by right - you’ll ‘ave to buy yourself!!”

“Where did you get . . . ‘it’ from?”

“I was working as a cleaner, before I joined the Service; one of my buildings was a Company developing this stuff. You might say it ‘fell into my ‘ands ‘. When I’d got it, and ‘ad to leave in a, er, ‘urry - I knew they’d be after me - I thought the best place to ‘ide would be in the Service. So I volunteered.”

“But no-one volunteers for the Service!” Horatio started, though he couldn’t help admiring David’s audacious reasoning.

“No. I know. But I did. That’s why I could get out of it so easily, oddly enough. It’s not quite that simple, of course: I’m still officially Absent Without Leave - I’ve got to watch it on that account too. I got out of the Training camp by claiming my due leave as a volunteer. But that overran, of course. They should never ‘ave taken me! I’m too disorganised for the Service.”

“Why did you leave the Training camp, anyway? It really was a good place to hide.”

“I can’t really say; but the other lot were probably off my trail - they can’t pick up your location on a computer search if you are in Service Training. And I couldn’t take all that militaristic bullshit.” Horatio chuckled at this woeful description of the shambolic, aimless training camp. “They might have thought I was dead, or gone to another country, or ‘living in the woods’.” (Author’s note: a conservative estimate at this time reckons there to be over a million people living rough across southern England, a state come to be known as ‘living in the woods’, living rough in cities long since having been criminalised. Many of these people were hiding from the authorities, mostly from deportation to the North, after becoming classed as economically inefficient; not all by any means were actually sleeping rough, rather hiding out at friends’ and supporters’ houses.)

“I hear the Service is getting quite desperate for people” added Horatio, perhaps tactlessly.

“Do you know ‘ow many ‘ave been killed? The real figures? Don’t believe all that rubbish on the news - ‘alf a million! I could get a job tomorrow!”

“Things do seem a bit tricky for you.” The enormity of David’s revelation had not sunk home. Horatio was standing at the board, pouring himself a large whisky. He stared into the brown liquid as if for an answer, but only saw a distorted version of himself.

“What about this software, then? You left it here?”

“Yes. Your dear wife was good enough to take it. She put it amongst your discs - no-one would find it there.”

“Elizabeth!” thought Horatio, as his memory presented Victoria’s mother loading discs into box just before she departed. The software would be in Berkshire now, settled cosily amid beams and thick carpet of deepest middle class England, and beginning to

rot . . .

Horatio was thinking quickly now . . . “Look, David, you can stay here for a day or two, get yourself rested, cleaned up” (he must get rid of this bloody software - all prints and dna traces must be removed too . . .). “I’ve got to go away. Don’t go out. Don’t answer the door. Don’t . . . “

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