Chapter Five – Edgar explains the Fifth Column Attacks that led to the distuction of Islam in the Western World.
‘But you did shag her sister,’ Will reminded him the following morning after George had re-told his tale. Partly in an attempt to make some sense of it for himself. As he gazed out to sea Will studied his face.
‘Look at the state of you; I can’t believe you got beaten up by a girl.’
‘You should see the shape of my ribs,’ George finally responded as he pulled up his shirt.
‘What the hell did she hit you with, a hammer?’ yelled Marnie when she saw the damage to George’s torso.
‘I would have hit her back,’ said Will.
‘No you wouldn’t have, but had I done that then right now I would be in the Correction Centre and with no chance of ever being granted another Marriage Licence. Besides, you don’t hit women.’
‘Very noble Georgie boy,’ said Marnie, ‘but I am afraid sometimes it is deserved. If she is going to fight like a man then she should expect you to defend yourself. I hope that’s it now, I hope you are not going to have any contact with her again?’
‘I don’t have a choice. I am sure I will hear more from her, I always do. She is probably climbing into the boot of my car right now. But Mira needs help and if she asks for it, then I will do what I can.’
‘You are a damn fool George.’ Will told him. ‘You do not need this kind of chaos in your life, why get involved?’
‘Because dear boy, you have to take care of the people who care about you. You do not abandon your friends when they need you, regardless of how they have behaved. She is not right. There is something wrong with Mira and I hope it can be fixed. But even so, if I don’t hear from her then that’s it. I will not be calling her again. That’s the last time, I promise.’
Constance had been sweeping up the broken glass on the terrace but had stopped to listen to George’s story. She said nothing but when Will caught her eye she shook her head sadly and carried on with her work. She had seen, or at least heard, something similar before. At that moment George’s hy-dev pinged him a message which he read out loud.
‘Mira: I’m sorry.’
‘That’s it, two words?’ asked Will.
‘It’s not enough,’ added Marnie.
‘No, it’s not enough,’ George agreed softly.
‘Bloody Mary?’ announced Will.
‘Bloody right,’ replied George, ‘industrial strength for me.’
‘You won’t find the answers in alcohol George,’ offered Marie.
‘Sometimes I don’t find them by asking questions either,’ he replied. ‘Will, make mine a treble and then I am off to the Hydroport. There is nothing for me in town this weekend. Run me up there will you and then you two can stay here and use the Jag for the weekend. Take her out for a long drive into the wine-lands; she could use a proper run out.’
‘Don’t mind if we do, we can celebrate our renewed licence at a restaurant in the countryside Marnie.’
‘Renewed Marriage Licence,’ thought George, ‘what a waste of time.’ He gathered his two closest friends together, gave Marnie a kiss and hugged them both. ‘Congratulations you two, you deserve each other.’ George winced in pain as Marnie held him a little too tightly around his damaged rib cage.
Back at the Central Complex Edgar was surprised when his hy-dev alerted him to George’s arrival and he tapped the icon that granted him access. He knew as soon as he saw the boy that something was wrong.
‘What’s that on your fucking face?’ he demanded.
George poured himself a whiskey, sat down and spent the next hour re-telling the entire story of the previous day’s events. Edgar looked sad.
‘I’m sorry son but there is nothing you can do. She needs professional help. For any alcoholic, recovery is a lifelong battle and it never goes away. But she has to realise that for herself.’
‘Come on granddad, who is to say she is an alcoholic? I’ve seen everyone I know drunk at least once or twice, including you. Although, to be fair, never anyone quite as reckless as Mira.’
‘How many times have you seen her like that then?’
’In four years?’ asked Edgar.
George thought about the question, ‘yes, I think so.’
‘Then she has been hiding it from you and you need to understand she has a problem. So does Mira. And until she does she will continue to hide, just as she has for the last four years.’
George sat silently. He thought of all those unanswered calls and the instant message replies and realised that Edgar was right. If she had spoken to him then he would have heard it in her voice. She had not wanted him to know.
Edgar appeared to understand. ‘It’s one of the most difficult things in the world to confront George. When somebody you thought you knew turns out to have been somebody else all along. Somebody entirely different. It’s the same as lying to you, it is fraud.’
George thought about something Tibha had mentioned during the previous week when she said that liars needed to have great memories. He realised that Mira’s memory wasn’t so great. It was why her excuses were always slightly different between one telling and the next.
Edgar studied the boy and could see the sadness in the slump of his shoulders.
‘There is nothing you can do to help her you know,’ he repeated, ‘unless she asks for it. There is nothing anybody can do unless a person admits to having a problem and then looks for help. If she doesn’t then she will still be acting in the same way in forty years time, if she survives that long. She will be incredible for a few months and then gone again. I have seen it all before.’
George knew Edgar was right. Mira had crashed her car once whilst she was drunk and nearly killed herself. And if she attacked anybody else as she had him then there was no doubt she was going to be in great danger at some point, if she hadn’t been already. Perhaps even more than once. George knew that he didn’t want such a drama in his life. He already suffered from enough anxiety without having to worry about another car crash every time Mira went on the missing list.
‘Alcoholism is incurable George.’ Edgar continued. ‘It is controllable but that is a lifelong fight which you have to know you could lose on any day. Tomorrow, or on some day long into the future. You never know when it will happen although you do know that day is coming; that phone call will probably come. I knew a girl once whose mother was just the same. She must have been in her seventies when I first met her.
She was a beautiful soul, kind, thoughtful and considerate. But, every now and then, when the craving took her she was gone. I lost count of the number of times we found her, after a few days, in a hotel room, or barn, surrounded by empty bottles of wine. She had been going off on those benders since she was thirty. How old is Mira?’
‘Twenty-seven.’ George replied.
‘Marriage Licence son…? Family and happily ever after? Do you really want to spend the next forty years waiting for that phone call? Is that how you want to live your life George?’
‘But we all drink Granddad. You do every day.’
‘Yes, but I am not an alcoholic George. You either are or you aren’t and I know I am not.’
‘Because a few years ago my doctor, after the annual check up, told me that all of my major organs were still functioning perfectly normally. She couldn’t believe it. To be honest, nor could I and, as usual, she told me to cut down on drinking and smoking. I reminded her that she said that every year and that I didn’t want to. And that was when she said to me, ‘you don’t want to or you can’t?’ It made me stop to think about it and so from that moment onwards I didn’t take a single drink. None at all.’
‘And what happened?’ Asked George.
‘Absolutely nothing. I looked in the medical archive for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal for alcoholics, or at least for regular drinkers, and I was expecting to experience sleepless nights, sweats, fatigue, anxiety, depression, cravings, headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, trembling and clammy skin. Go and look it up for yourself, the list goes on and on.’
George was listening carefully. ‘And,’ he asked, ‘so what did you experience?’
‘Nothing at all. None of them. For six months I didn’t feel any different to when I was drinking a couple of glasses of whiskey every day. Sometimes half a bottle and sometimes the whole lot. I was so disappointed. I had spent so long trying to be an alcoholic and it turned I just wasn’t. You either are or you aren’t. I‘m not and nor are you. But I think Mira is. And that will never change, she sounds far too self absorbed and with very little self-respect.’
George thought for a while. ‘I don’t know what to do,’ he groaned, ‘help her or don’t get involved. Am I in time or is it too late? Is the glass still half-full or is it half-empty?’
‘Don’t start with that philosophy bollocks son. Philosophy only asks questions, it never answers them,’ Edgar paused for thought. ‘But I do have the answer to that particular problem that has troubled your finest minds for centuries,’ he added cheerfully.
Half-full or half-empty?’ George looked up and asked him.
‘Yes,’ said Edgar, ’either way it needs topping up, pass me that bottle.’
George tapped onto his hy-dev notepad to bring up the list of questions he had for Edgar, but tossed it to the side when he saw that, once again, the page was blank.
‘You mentioned something about love the other day, what was it?’
Edgar studied George and finally said, ‘there is no such thing, no such word. There used to be. It used to describe a sort of feeling that would cause people to do all sorts of stupid and irrational things. It caused more harm than it created any good. It was too easy to say and too easy to believe. Eventually it became meaningless. Respect and trust and patience were what really mattered in any relationship. Love was just a word we used to get ourselves out of trouble. Or laid.’
George thought about the words ‘respect’ and ‘trust’ and ‘patience’ and he was running out of all three with Mira. It was a pity, he thought. But that was all. It wasn’t a disaster, just a damn shame.
‘All good things pass George and some of them should do,’ Edgar added, ‘and then never come back again.’
‘But I thought love was doing something good for a person that they would never, perhaps, know you had done for them.’ He pressed on. ‘You know, acts of kindness when nobody was watching. To know there is nothing in it for you, but to do a good thing anyway, wasn’t that love granddad?’
’No, that was called kindness.’ Edgar assured him.
George tried to remember everything else Tibha had told him. ‘Wasn’t love a beautiful feeling, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes that mostly gathered around the heart. Wasn’t it a gift of the rarest kind that could emerge over a period of time or could appear in an instant? And something to do with butterflies?’
‘What bollocks is this?’ Edgar asked him. ‘Have you been on those funny herbal smokes again? I warned you about those. Look, love was a temporary insanity. It was excitement, enthusiasm, passion, promises, beliefs and the desire to have sex at every chance you get. And then, when that and all the other things have burned away, and the promises have not been kept, you had what was left. If you were one of the lucky ones.’
Respect, compassion, honesty, trust, loyalty and all with somebody you actually quite like, hopefully.’
‘And have you ever had that?’ George asked the old man.
‘Many times, it’s wonderful. But people come and people go George. People enter your life and then they leave again, for one reason or another. You just have to accept it will keep happening.’
George thought again of Mira. He didn’t really want her out of his life. But he didn’t particularly want her in it either. It was a problem. Mira was his problem. ‘I’m just tired granddad, I am going to bed. I’m going to stay in my old room here if that’s alright with you?’
Edgar looked at the wall clock. ‘It’s only H22.30,’ he told him.
‘It’s been twenty-four long hours. Good night.’ George then turned back and scooped up his whiskey glass, ‘but I’ll just take this along for some company.’ He was asleep before his head hit the bedside cabinet.
The following morning George was woken by a message to his hy-dev which read, Tibha; ‘Morning Mr Dickens, how is the weekend on the wild African frontier?’ George laid back and smiled to himself. He thought of Tibha and wondered whether he should reply straight away, or if that would appear too keen. But if he didn’t then would it seem a little indifferent? He decided to wait for an hour which he hoped would fall somewhere between the two problems. He then noticed a second message that had arrived at the hour 3.45.
Mira; ‘I said I was sorry.’
George deleted it. He started going over in his mind everything that had happened, trying to make sense of it. His heart started beating; a hot sweat spread across his forehead, cheeks and then ran through his chest. And then his insides began rattling. George quickly reached over and rummaged his case for the diazepam, took two of them and then laid back to watch the sunrise over the Central Complex as he waited for them to calm him down.
He then opened his notepad and began to look again for the notes he had made for Edgar at least twice over the previous few days but there was still no trace to be found. Instead he patiently opened another page and wrote the words;
3: My mother and father.
4: The last government.
5: His role in the Corporation.
6: His experiments.
George considered all seven questions before deleting ‘love,’ as he had already heard quite enough of that. He also deleted the question about Edgar’s role in the Corporation as that could wait. Right then he didn’t need to know, it was only a curiosity. He then deleted mother and father and was left with;
2: The last Government
3: His experiments
This time he took great care to save the note in four separate locations, restarted his hy-dev and immediately looked in all four places. In each file and on each server the note had finally remained exactly as he had written it. George wondered if the word ‘Corporation’ had anything to do with it.
At the big pine table Edgar was his usual, cheerful morning self, just as George had remembered.
‘You still here?’ he grunted.
George ignored him and went out onto the balcony. The fresh, crisp November air stung his lungs as he took in great mouthfuls. The diazepam was working and George could feeling himself calming down into an unusually good mood. He called inside and reminded Edgar that he had a packet on the table and should take some himself.
He then tapped a reply into his hy-dev for Tibha; ‘a disaster, came back to CC last night, see you Monday.’ His finger hovered over the send option and then he deleted it instead. ‘Why would she want to know that?’ he asked himself. ‘Why would he want her to know that?’
George joined Edgar at the old farmhouse table in the corner of the room and poured himself some coffee. Edgar was scrolling through the news feeds on his hy-dev before he announced, ‘Damn Arabs, they are still at war with each other. I thought there would be none of them left by now. Still, they will all be old men soon enough, or dead.’
‘What are you talking about?’ George asked him.
‘Did you know there used to be nearly two billion of them?’
‘There was once nearly two billion people living in the Middle East or practicing their religion. Islam it was called. Those that remain still call it that’
‘That’s impossible,’ replied George. ‘There are only about two hundred million people in the entire Western Corporation. I read somewhere that it was the same in the tribal Middle East. I know for sure there are only one billion people living in the whole world. I read a population census the other day.’
‘That’s about right now,’ Edgar told him. ‘But when I was your age there were about two billion of us and about two billion of them.’
‘Four billion people? How much of that diazepam have you taken?’ George asked him.
Edgar ignored the remark and, without looking up, he added, ‘that’s was just your Christians and your Muslims. When you include all the others there were over seven billion people living on this one tiny planet.’
‘Ridiculous,’ George told him, and then tapped a new message to Tibha; ‘back on CC, had to return early as I think my grandfather has gone mad.’ This time he sent it.
‘Why do you think that is ridiculous?’ Edgar asked him carefully, still not looking up from his news feed.
‘Seven billion people?’ George questioned him, ‘I just told you, I have seen the census from last year and it was estimated that there are around a billion people living on planet earth just now. Where do you suppose six billion people disappeared to? Explain that.’
Finally Edgar looked up and George was studying his hy-dev, waiting for a reply from Tibha. It pinged him a message.
Mira; ‘why aren’t you at home. Constance says you are out, where are you?’ George deleted it. He felt like man with a terminal illness. Edgar decided to remain silent. George was asking all the right questions but appeared to be otherwise distracted. Small personal issues occupied what little attention he had today. He had no room for the big story. Not for today, at least. George slumped back into his chair.
‘I think I need a head transplant,’ he announced, ‘is that possible yet? So what happened to six billion people over the last forty five years? Was there a war, a famine, a plague and, if so, why don’t I know about it?’
Edgar again stayed silent for a few moments. He wasn’t going to lie to George but he also wasn’t quite ready for him to know the complete truth, at least not yet. He would have to find that out for himself.
‘I have spent three quarters of my life being so careful,’ he began. But George was studying his hy-dev. It was Mira again; ‘where ARE you?’
George was about to close his device down when another message flashed up.
Tibha; ‘at a loose end today on the CC, you around for lunch?’
George reassembled his thoughts and said, ‘granddad, I want to know about Christmas before I go back to the workstation on Tuesday. It might help me in correcting Dickens. After all, you actually remember it.’
Edgar straightened up to form a reply and then saw George tapping into his hy-dev, ‘that would be nice, where and when?’ And so he kept his counsel, for the moment. George deleted his message and looked up again, ‘so, six billion people, what happened then, was there a nuclear war? I have read about that. I read about the atomic bomb and the nuclear cold war. They warned us in the Academy about a repeat of that. Is that what happened granddad?’
‘Then what the hell happened to all of those people?’ George asked.
‘Nothing really happened to them,’ Edgar began. ‘Nobody was killed, well, not that many. And there were no food shortages or famine, nobody starved. Well, not in the West they didn’t. Infertility was the problem. It all started with the final war that began in 2001 of the old calendar, of the old democracy.’
George’s hy-dev lit up once more and he was immediately drawn to it.
Mira: ‘Do you hate me now?’
’Are you listening to me son?’ Edgar demanded.
‘No. Yes. Wait a minute, what did you just say. Six billion people died because of what?’
‘Well, five or six billion, give or take. And I told you no-one was killed. Well, not all at once. The reason was two-fold. First of all was the great final war that began in 2001 between the West and the religion of Islam. Many in the West claimed it was over the oil, the old fossil fuel source that was found mainly in the countries of the Middle East that were dominated by the people of the Islamic faith. But, of course, it was far more sinister than that. The war was never about oil. If it was then the leaders of the old democracies would have just sat down and thrashed out deals with despots and barbarians, as they had done for centuries before. No, it was about one religious faith imposing their medieval beliefs upon another. The leaders of Islam insisted the whole world must follow their faith and obey their laws. And they were pretty damn committed to achieving it as well. Over two thirds of the world’s Muslims believed their own religious law was more important than the laws of the Division they were living in.’
Finally George was paying attention.
‘This frightened people.’ Edgar went on. ‘Fewer and fewer of us wanted to bring children into what was becoming a very dangerous world. For a while there it looked as though it would never end and they were never going away. And this was a big problem for the Western Empire. If people stopped having children then who would fight their wars for them come the next generation, or the one that followed them? The West was already in decline and then the same thing started happening all over the world. People just stopped wanting to have children. Many more simply could not afford to. So more people were dying in the wars and of natural causes and fewer people were being born.’
‘Exactly what happened to the Roman Empire,’ George said to himself. ‘And that cost six billion lives?’
’No,’ the virus did most of that work. ‘Edgar insisted. ‘A growing number of women started to find out they were unable to conceive. Either they were infertile or the men were. Some blamed evolution, others blamed modern science and the way they modified food and water to preserve it. Remember George, seven billion people is a lot of mouths to feed. Human beings were ruining planet earth. Governments of their day and the decisions they made led to climate change.
More hurricanes, tsunami waves and typhoons killed hundreds of millions of people. The war went on for nearly twenty years and that killed hundreds of millions more. Then, of course, billions of people grew old and died of natural causes whilst the younger generations were finding it increasingly hard to conceive. It was a hell of a mess. It was a frightening time George, the Human Race was dying out. That’s why nobody talks about it these days. The Corporation finally stepped in and after that well, everything began improving. Almost immediately.’
‘Well, for a start, they recognised the war had nothing to do with oil or any other natural resources. They knew it was a religious war.’ Edgar began.
‘You are going to have to explain religion to me,’ said George.
Edgar ignored him and continued, ‘A religious war that was fought between the extreme elements of the Christian religion of the West and the Islamic extremists of the Middle East. For those of us caught up in the middle, who believed in neither, it was a terrifying time. I’m not surprised nobody wanted to bring children into the world. I certainly didn’t but your grandfather had already been born by 2001, when it all started. I wouldn’t have any more. Nobody I knew did. And so, the population in the West simply began to decline. At one stage it was falling at a rate of around fifty million people a year. It was the same all over the world. There was a solution, but infertility treatment was expensive and only the rich or privileged could afford it. But at least that meant some children were being born, like your mother and father for example. At least the human species would not die out altogether, thanks to the senior scientists of the Corporation.’
George’s hy-dev lit up once more and he was immediately drawn to it. Tibha; ‘is that a yes or no Mr Dickens?’
This time George immediately replied, ‘it’s a yes please Ms Shelley, where and when?’
‘Were you involved in the war granddad?’ he asked.
‘Only as one of the junior scientists. I didn’t shoot anybody.’ Edgar replied proudly.
‘What was it like?’
‘It was a fight to the death. To begin with it was dismissed as terrorism, Islamic terrorism and nobody seemed to understand it properly. They were far more committed to it than we were in the early years. There were a few bombs here and there that very few people, apart from those involved or affected, really took any notice of. It was only when a handful of committed Islamic fighters hijacked a couple of airplanes full of passengers, who could have been any one of us, and crashed them into buildings in the Western Divisions that we really started paying attention. Our governments sent armies out to the countries that had trained those people, the countries with the oil and the Islam. They tried to find the people who were responsible. It was a bloodbath and it soon became obvious, when western governments also started sending out Christian Missionaries, Army Chaplains they called them, to hand out copies of their own holy book, and to try and convert the conquered, the ones they claimed they were saving, that history was repeating itself again. It was a holy war. Christian against Muslim and there were billions of people on each side.’
George shook his head slowly.
‘It was hardly surprising that when the Corporation promised to end the war and bring the western armies home, to act as a defensive shield only, that the public were so easily persuaded to replace their governments. By then it had come to the stage where Islamic extremists, who had been living in our own communities for generations, started attacking innocent people in shopping centres, on trains, buses, at stations, in schools and anywhere else they were gathered in large numbers, and were defenceless, that we knew we needed protecting here at home, not in the Middle East. Those idiot democracies did not see it coming.
Luckily the Corporation did. Democratic governments, as much as they would like to have, could not control information back then as the Corporation can today.’
‘Attacked in shopping centres?’ George was appalled. ‘People just going about, living their normal lives with nothing to do with the army or religion, were attacked?’
‘It was co-ordinated George. Thousands of Islamic soldiers, who were living in the west; their families having been invited by governments in the years beforehand, armed themselves and went out into the streets. It happened in towns and cities all over the Western Empire. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered; whilst their governments were looking to the East they had left the back door open. They called it a Fifth Column Attack and there was carnage.
‘A Fifth Column,’ George questioned, ‘What’s that?’
‘It was a term the Corporation used to describe a group of people, or army, living in a country that gathered together in secret. They would be as disruptive as they could be on a small scale and, once given the signal from their leaders, they would all rise at once and cause wide-scale chaos. It was an old military tactic that many armies used throughout history.’ Edgar explained.
‘I know,’ George replied. ‘I remember now. The Barbarians lived in the Roman Empire for centuries before coordinating their attacks on Rome. They were a Fifth Column and Rome was not expecting any threat from their own people, or so they thought.’
Edgar looked impressed. ‘I did not know that. But that is exactly what a Fifth Column is. People who you think are your own. People you think you know who turn out to be somebody else entirely. Does that sound familiar George? All the time there had been an Islamic Army waiting in the West for the signal to attack. They were all connected together by the internet, before it was regulated, and could communicate their intentions easily.
So, after the Fifth Column Attack we knew we were involved in a war for civilisation itself and that was worth fighting for. They wanted us all to change our way of lives. They wanted to impose their beliefs and laws upon us, here in the West. Their own medieval beliefs and barbaric laws. And the Christians, well they were just as bad. They made it clear that Islam would have to change their own ways if they wanted to live among the western communities. There was no compromise and no apparent end in sight.’
‘So what happened afterwards,’ George was mesmerized.
‘The government was forced to suspend its democratic principles. It was forced to act undemocratically in a way that everybody could see clearly, for the first time. They revealed their motives by rounding up all non Christians and taking them to secure compounds across the Western Empire where their families were forced to live. They announced that it was for their own protection but we all knew it was for ours really.’
‘That seems a little unfair to me,’ said George.
‘Nothing in life is fair son. They did what they had to do. Obviously many innocent people were shut away but there was no way of knowing who was innocent and who was a threat, either at that time or who would be in the future. Government experts had been studying Islam and their holy book, the Koran. It was clear that when Muslims talked about Islam being a religion of peace, the peace they were implying was the one that would prevail after they had forced the entire world to adopt its beliefs and obey its laws. That was the peace they were preaching and the Christian governments were never going to accept that. Islam wasn’t a religion of peace at all, but then neither was Christianity and this was the heart of the whole problem.’
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