by London Lampy
No one attempts to talk to me as we hike across the empty landscape, and that's fine. I feel stupid, tricked, and annoyed at myself for getting into this situation, but most of all I'm still trying to take in the discovery that Knox/Stag is Vin's half brother. It's obvious now I know it, but equally as much I'm not surprised I didn't make the connection. I wonder how many people know? It can't be many I think, I've never even heard a whisper of a rumour of it before. Vio has often questioned why Vin seems so hell bent on destroying Clearwater and Knox, why he seems to take the fight so personally, and now I know, it's because it is personal. The more I think about it the more connections I make, Vin hated what his father did to his mother, publicly humiliating her with his affairs and his gambling, and leaving her near to broke when he died. I know that Vin married Toni in an attempt to make his mother happy and bring some respectability back to the family, Toni being from old money. Vin joined Municipal Works when he left the army after the war, he clearly took the one job that would give him a chance to get revenge on his half-brother and his late father's mistress. It's all about his father, but the really stupid thing is that Vin's behaviour hardly differs from his father's, the man he hates for cheating on his mother. If Vio is to be believed Vin has never been faithful to Toni since the day he wed her, the only difference is that they have no children, and he doesn't gamble, as far as I know.
I glance at Vixen, quickly looking away before she can catch me staring. Outdoor life has taken its toll on her skin, but she's still an attractive woman. She must have been beautiful when she fell pregnant with Knox. Did Knox and Vin's father love her or was she just another one of his many? He left her everything, so he must have felt something for her, but maybe he simply wanted to provide a future for his youngest son, albeit at the expense of his older one. He couldn't have possibly know that his money would end up funding a group dedicated to destruction of power stations and factories, or that his son would become the figure head while Knox's mother pulled the strings. I don't trust either of them, but I don't trust her the most, she's very clearly the one in charge.
We walk for several hours and don't stop until the sun has reached its highest point in the sky, when we break for lunch. A small fire is lit and the woman named Wren who brought the tea earlier, along with another called Willow unpack cooking supplies and make soup flavoured with some kind of green herbs that they pick from the grass around us. I sit at the very edge of the group watching them work in silence until Vixen comes to join me.
"Are you hungry?" she asks.
I shrug. I am, but I don't feel like talking.
"We only eat meat that we've caught ourselves, which means that we rarely eat it. I know that you no longer eat animal flesh, so you should find most of our food to your taste."
"How the hell do you know that?" I say, tired of all her secrets.
"A little bird told me."
"Is there anything about me you don't know?"
"Why you choose to work for a company that causes destruction and misery wherever they go, for a man who sees you as nothing more than property to be used as he wishes."
"Sampson sees everyone that way, not just me."
"I'm not talking about Sampson. I mean your more immediate boss, my son's half brother, the man who wants to own you."
"He doesn't own me though."
"But he wants to, and you find him persuasive, don't you?" she rests her hand lightly on my shoulder, it feels like it's burning into my skin. "If you remain there for much longer you know it's only a matter of time before you give him what he wants."
"No!" I stand up, shaking her hand off me. "It is not."
"Exit," she calls after me as I walk away. "I just want you to know that you have choices."
"All dead," Knox says sadly, poking at a fish with the toe of his boot. The smell is overpoweringly disgusting. Floating in the large pool are several hundred dead fish, most of them badly decomposed. The pool would be a nice place without the dead fish, their stink, and the yellowish foamy scum that's filling the gaps between the fish and sticking to the plants and stones around the edge. The pool is hidden in the middle of a wood and is fed by a small waterfall that trickles over moss covered rocks, or would if it wasn't clogged by scummy leaves and even more dead fish.
"Do you know what caused this?" Vixen asks me.
"No." I shake my head, feeling queasy. This is one of the things they wanted to show me, I wish they had simply showed me a picture instead. The stench is something I won't forget in a hurry.
"The run off from the power station," she says.
"It can't be, it's miles away from here," I protest.
"It is," Knox adds. "They flush their waste into the small river that feeds this pool, so all the poison ends up here, building up day after day. It's completely dead now, nothing will live here ever again. It's not just the fish either, there are birds who feed on the fish that have been killed too, and then larger animals eat those birds in turn, and so it goes on."
"And Municipal Works is entirely responsible." Vixen drives her fist into her palm to make her point.
"They can't know this is happening, it's so far from the power station."I look up at the trees to avoid the hundreds of staring dead fish eyes.
"They do," Vixen's voice is soft. "We told them, Cricket even took photographs for them to see." She gestures at a young man who's squatting down by the edge of the pool, almost looking like he's praying. "He's a professional photographer when he's not working with us. We sent them samples of the poisoned water, and it's not just here. Somewhere in the vicinity of almost every large factory or power station you'll find something similar."
"Why don't they do something about it?"
"Because that would cost money, and they're not going to pay out to solve a problem they think no one cares about. To them it's just a few dead fish, nothing important. This is why we do what we do."
They blow things up, sometimes with people inside, they maim and kill those going about their everyday jobs. I don't see how they can think that's any better than a pool full of dead fish, but I decide not to say so. They won't agree with me.
After we leave the pool they show me more things that are the result the power station. Lines of pylons marching away in all directions across the hills, Vixen describes them as "raping the landscape". We then walk past a village where most of the buildings seem to be abandoned and derelict.
"There are only a tiny handful of people left living here now, and all of them ageing. The place is too small for anyone to bother running electricity or mains water to and all of the youngsters have been seduced into thinking that they can't live without light at the press of a button or hot water on tap and have moved away."
I can't blame them, this is a bleak place even on a bright sunny summer's day, the gods only know what it would be like in the dead of winter. To Clearwater people leaving the village is a bad thing, but living here must be hard, why wouldn't people prefer the easy comforts of a town? I know what I'd choose.
It's still daylight when they stop to pitch camp for the night but dusk falls rapidly and soon I find myself sitting around a small fire with them, eating vegetable stew with stale bread. The conversation is serious, no fireside songs or stories for them, but instead an intense discussion on how much mechanisation in farming is too much. Vixen keeps trying to draw me into the conversation, asking what my opinion is, but I prefer to keep quiet and not play along. I see her and Stag exchange glances again, this time with little frowns and shakes of their heads instead of smug smiles. I suppose they think that having shown me those dead fish earlier in the day that I'd suddenly start to see things their way, but I don't. I have no sympathy for them, or Municipal Works either for that matter, I do feel sorry for the poor fish however. I will try to talk to Sampson about it, but I doubt he'll listen. I'm pretty sure the only fish he's interested in are the ones on the end of his rod and line.
Vixen offers me a sleeping spot in a tent with some of the men but I refuse. It's a clear night and I'd rather sleep outside than with them, so she gives me a blanket and bids me goodnight.
I find a place in the lea of a large boulder and pretend to go to sleep, but I keep my eyes half open. Soon I see Vixen leave her tent carrying a lit lantern, meet up with her son and the two of them walk together a short way from the camp. I carefully follow, my bare feet make little noise on the scrubby grass and I need no to light to move through the dark landscape, but my heart is still beating hard in my chest as I creep as close as I dare to the pile of stones where they've chosen to sit, tucking myself out of sight behind a small bush.
"He's not nearly so malleable as Crow led us to believe," I hear Vixen say. They can only be talking about me.
Knox replies, but his voice is quieter, and I only catch the words "tomorrow" and "careful".
"If it comes to that we'll..." she turns her head to look up at the sky and some of her sentence is taken away by the breeze, "...but the result will still be same," she finishes.
Knox agrees with her, I can tell from the tone rather than any words.
"...send them to Crow." Once again I only get half of what Vixen says, this is damn annoying.
"...eventually he will, one way or another." I catch this from Knox as he glances behind him. A combination of his words and him looking in my direction spook me enough to make me sneak carefully back to my sleeping place before I'm caught, and a few minutes later I see the pair of them coming back into the camp.
I try to make sense of what I've just heard, it seems that they have been fed information about me by someone called "Crow". I have no idea who that could be but it must be a person who either knows me well, or knows someone who knows me well. They're a little annoyed at Crow because he or she made them think that I'd be easily led, so I assume that's what all the show and tell today has been about, thinking that a few dead fish and a lot of talk would bring me around to their cause. They are also clearly planning something big for tomorrow. I'd guess that something has to do with the power station, and that they wanted me to be won over by them before we get there, but even if I'm not it will still happen.
I consider my options, I could attempt to escape now. Actually it wouldn't be an attempt, no one is watching me, I could simply get up and go. However Knox was right, I don't know where I am and I haven't got anything more with me than a few shillings, a change of clothes and a toothbrush. The chances are I'd get lost out here and they'd just find me tomorrow wandering around the landscape, hungry and thirsty. I'm not in any imminent danger here, they've gone out of their way to stress that and be as nice as pie to me, and I think that my best chance of getting home safely is to play along with them. They want me to be won over, so I'll pretend to be won over. I'll act like sometime in the night I've come around to their way of thinking, and that I want to go back to Sampson and Vin full of their beliefs. If they're stupid, or arrogant enough to think that in the space of a couple of days I'm suddenly going to start to think like them they might believe me. It seems like a pretty good plan to me and I close my and pull the blanket up around me.
I sleep very fitfully, the ground is hard and stony and all around me are noises made by the night animals. At one point I'm woken by something with small, skittery claws running across my face, and after that I don't sleep at all for fear of whatever it was doing it again. I sit up, lean against the boulder and wait, watching the for the first tiny signs of sunrise. When the sky has turned to the greenish pink of early dawn the camp starts to wake, and soon after Vixen brings me another cup of camomile tea.
"Did you sleep well?" she asks me with a smile.
"No really." I shake my head, taking the tea off her as she sits down beside me.
"Because...I couldn't stop thinking about all the things we spoke about yesterday...and all the things you showed me, and I kept seeing those fish..." I spin her line, telling her about how in the small hours I'd realised that she was right, the power stations and factories are evil, and we would all be much better off without them. She hugs me when I've finished, and bids me a welcome to the "family", saying that she knew someone as clever and as sensitive as me would come to understand their fight, and I can't believe that it's really that easy.
"When you return you must take our message back to your bosses," she insists.
"When will that be?" I ask, hoping that this whole stupid thing will be over soon.
"Not long now, by the end of the day we'll have reached the power station and then you will see the worst of the damage it causes close up. From there we will take you into the town, there's a train station where you can catch a train back to the city."
"Thank you." That's useful to know. I'm not sure I entirely trust her to keep her word, she's been less than honest up to now, but I don't think she's lying about there being a train station. All I need to do is get there one way or another and I can go home; we can't be more than a few hours from Parnell by train.
Once again we hike throughout the day, but there's a difference today. Vixen must have told everyone about my overnight "conversion" and rather than be ignored everyone to wants to talk to me now. None of them seem to be bad people, but they all hold a strong belief that progress must be stopped and we'd all be better off living in a more "natural" state, and that this must be achieved by any means necessary. I spend quite a long time talking to the young man named Cricket, he's very passionate about the "cause". He seems to be sweet and well meaning and I can't help liking him, and I also can't rid myself of the feeling that his eagerness is being taken advantage of by Vixen.
After lunch Knox comes and walks beside me, he smiles his Vin smile and tells me he's glad I've come to understand the truth. "When we reach the power station you'll see just how bad things can be," he says.
"Hmm," I nod. Whoever Crow is they've failed to tell them that I used to work in a power station and therefore I know all about the soot and how it covers everything around it. I used to go home at night with my skin stained by it and my hair full of it.
"You need to get Sampson and Govinder to listen to you. You're close to my half brother aren't you?" he asks, emphasising "close" just a shade too much.
"Not really," I shrug, not wanting to get into that.
"Oh," he frowns. "I'd heard something different."
"Things change," I reply, making it clear that the subject isn't open for discussion.
As we get nearer it's clear to see that the power station is set on the top of a steep hill that overlooks the town in the valley below. Walking toward it it begins to dominate everything else. It rises high above the trees, its chimneys twice as tall as the rest of the building, with grey smoke rising steadily out of them, making a dark blot on the sky.
The mood amongst the group turns sombre and none of them seem to be able to tear their eyes away from the building, for them this must be like staring into hell. Soon our path takes us under the pylons and the overhead lines fill the air with a low humming sound that seems to make my skin prickle unpleasantly. I don't know if it's simply the unsettling noise or something else but I start to feel a sickly sense of anticipation, as if something bad is just around the corner. I keep expecting Knox or Vixen to start lecturing me about the soot stained plants and trees that we're starting to see around us that seem to darken with every step I take, but they don't, they just keep walking, staring at the looming building ahead.
The power station appears to cover a large area; at least half a square mile including several smaller outbuildings all housed within a perimeter fence that's set well back. As we close in on it dusk is falling again and soon it will be dark. The fence that rings the station is made from steel mesh and is topped with wicked looking razor wire. There are large red and white warning signs posted every few yards reading "DANGER, NO ENTRY" or "ALL TRESPASSERS WILL BE ARRESTED". We stop in a stand of trees about thirty yards from the fence and I realise that now must be the scheduled time for my lecture on the evils of the place. Vixen begins to speak on the subject to all of us, but I notice that while she's doing this Knox and one of the other men slip away from the group, walk over to the fence and follow it until they disappear from sight down a small incline.
"Exit, pay attention," Vixen scolds me when she's notices that I'm looking away from her. "This is for your benefit."
There's nothing new in what she's saying, it's no more than a variation on what I've been hearing from them for the last few days and I start to get the feeling that she's playing for time. After several minutes of being talked at a sound stops Vixen in mid sentence, it's a long, low whistle like a bird's cry. I know enough to recognise it as a signal, but a signal for what?
"Cricket, are you ready?" she asks. The young man agrees that indeed he is, and I see that while Vixen was talking Cricket has removed a camera from his pack and now has is slung around his neck on a thick strap. "Good. Exit, you need to come with us now too," Vixen says with to me with a smile.
"Is this it, are you taking to the town so I can go home now?" I ask as casually as I can, this must be the start of whatever they have planned.
"Soon," Vixen replies smoothly. "There's just one more thing to do first."
She leads us through the trees and we follow the same route along the fence that Knox and the other man took a few minutes ago. She has no lantern but I guess that there's still just enough daylight for her to be able to see by. When we get to the top of the incline I look down to see what the two men left us to do, Knox is holding a large pair of bolt cutters that they have just used to cut a hole in the fence large enough for a person to wriggle through.
"What's going on?" I ask breathlessly as we approach the hole.
"We're going in, and you're coming with us," Knox says roughly.
"No, I'm not," I shake my head, starting to back away. I walk straight into Vixen, who grabs my shoulder, holding a hitherto hidden gun up to show me what she's got.
"Yes Exit, you are. More specifically, you are going to help us plant a bomb that will destroy the main generator, and Cricket has his camera to help record the moment. Then we will be sending the pictures of you helping us back to Municipal Works for Sampson, and Vin, to see, and a extra few copies to the newspapers too for good luck." She tightens her grip on my shoulder. "My only regret is that I won't get to see the expression on Sampson's face when he sees the pictures and learns that one of his own investigators has betrayed him."
"Oh yes," Knox adds, nodding. "Or the expression on my half-brother's face when he realises that we've taken his favourite play thing from him."
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