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Chapter 6

January 23, 2012

The inside of the cottage had a damp, musty smell, as if it had been shut up for a long time.  The front doorway opened into the main room of the cottage, a large fireplace at the far end of the room.  A light haze of smoke hovered around the low ceiling, the grey curls swirling and eddying as Ben strode across the room and rammed the shotgun into a gun rack.  A small window at the back of the room gave a view out across a small muddy yard.  Beyond the yard the flat fields, overgrown with weeds, rolled away from the cottage.

The walls of the cottage were undressed bricks, their original colour indeterminable under the decades of grime and soot.  Large black wooden beams vaulted across the low ceiling, causing us all to duck as we entered the room.  On the wall next to the fireplace there hung a small painting of a sailing ship, its sails tattered and torn, a violent storm raging around it.  The sea heaped up around the vessel and the borders of the painting were filled with driving spray and foam.  Other than this single picture the walls were bare.

The only furnishings in the room were a moth eaten looking sofa and two high backed wooden chairs.  In the corner stood a wooden kitchen chair with a broken leg, next to it was what looked like a broken up crate.  The overall impression was of decay and neglect.

After putting up the gun Ben huffed his way over to a dirty looking sink that stood under the window in the far wall.  The single tap over the sink screeched in annoyance as he wrenched it round, the tap spluttering water into a large black kettle with a looped handle.  Ben hooked the black kettle over the fire and turned to face us both, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes brooding.  His large bushy eyebrows curled down over his black beetly eyes, as if trying to join up with the beard on his cheeks, meaning he was peering out at us from the hairy gloom of his face.

“So, what’s this all about?” he rumbled.

I opened my mouth to speak but Jack touched me lightly on the wrist to cut me off.  He had told me he would so the talking.

“As you might have guessed Ben, my mate and I are in a spot of bother.  We need a place to stay for a while, can you put us up?”

Ben grunted, and then muttered to himself.

“Here I am talking to him, when he should be dead on my porch.  And now he wants to stay.  To stay!  The man is a lunatic.”

I half turned towards Jack in concern, but he tapped my wrist again.

“Now why would I do that?” said Ben, this time addressing Jack and I.

“You know full well why, you do owe me Ben, not matter what you have convinced yourself over the intervening years.”

Ben muttered again, the only words I could make out were a long string of curses.  As he trailed off he shuffled back over to the sunk and pulled three tin mugs from hooks set in the wall.  Jack turned towards me.

“Let me handle this.  I think you need to get some rest.  Is there somewhere Collins can grab some sleep?”  This last question was directed at Ben as he shuffled around the kitchen area of the cottage.  He grunted and pointed through the door behind his.

“Go on, get some rest.”  The look of Ben wasn’t the most restful sight, that was sure.  While he wasn’t waving a shotgun at us anymore his manner was far from friendly, and I wasn’t at all sure about taking a nap under the circumstances.  I was tired though.  Bone tired.

I nodded and made my way through the door.  Just before it closed it behind me I heard Jack’s voice say briskly “right Ben, let’s have this out once and for all.”

Through the door was a dark narrow corridor, the only light coming from a half open doorway at the far end.  There were two closed doors on the right hand side.  The first one opened into a small store cupboard.  A broom, its handle snapped off about half way up, and a rusted metal bucket were its only contents.  As I opened the door I heard a sharp rustle from the gloom at the back of the cupboard but couldn’t make anything out in the inky shadows.  Probably a rat, given the air of neglect that pervaded the entire building.

The second door was to a bathroom.  A small window set high on the back wall let in a muddy light, filtered through the collected grime on the glass.  The presence of an internal bathroom showed that the cottage had been modernised at some point, but it was a long time ago.  The sink, toilet and low bath were yellowed with age, and a steady trickle of water ran down from under the sink and pooled on the floor against the wall.

The door at the end of the corridor opened on to Ben’s bedroom.  A large four poster bed took up most of the space in the room, together with a heavy oak chest of drawers and a large high backed chair.  The covers on the bed were tangled around in a mess and looked none too clean.  For a moment I felt a pang for my clean bed back at the facility.  But only for a moment.

I couldn’t consider using Ben’s bed, so I pulled a blanket from the pile of bedclothes and settled myself into the high backed chair.  The stuffing was old and saggy, and smelt moth eaten and mouldy, but my body collapsed gratefully into the soft fabric.

It wasn’t only my nervousness about Ben that made me reluctant to sleep.  The memory dreams were getting more frequent, and while I wanted to understand more, to remember as much as possible, going to sleep didn’t feel like it was entirely safe.  Shrugging off my worry I pulled the blanket higher around my shoulders and fell almost immediately into a deep sleep.

My sleep was dreamless and uninterrupted, and when I woke the sun slanting in the window told me it was well into the afternoon.  I walked back along the corridor and put my ear to the door to the main room.  I could hear voices, but they were low and indistinct.  I half turned to go back to the bedroom – I had no interest in interrupting Jack and the crazy bear-man Ben – when my stomach gave a loud growl.  The strangeness of our host had distracted me for a time, but my hunger now surged up again.  I pushed open the door to the main room.

Jack and Ben were sat in chairs near the fire.  Their heads were close together and they were indeed talking quietly, almost whispering to one another.  Ben was nodding along calmly to something that Jack was saying, his eyes unclouded but clearly deep in though.  The fire had burned down low and there was a definite chill on the air, but neither seemed to notice.  As the door creaked open they both turned to look at me.  The mad light in Ben’s eyes seemed to have dimmed.  The conversation with Jack must have gone well then.

“Good morning,” said Jack cheerily, rubbing his own eyes tiredly.

“Hungry?” grunted Ben, waving his hand at the sideboard.  Laid out was a loaf of bread, some cheese and a pot of dark red Jam.

“Very.  May I?”

Ben nodded.  The bread was a little hard and stale, but to me it tasted just great.  The jam was rich and fruity, the cheese with just the right level of tang.  Hunger is a fine sauce, and it can make almost anything taste good.

“Jack here tells me you can’t remember anything before a few days ago,” said Ben, shifting round in his chair.

“Not much,” I agreed, licking crumbs from my fingers and leaning back on the sideboard.  “Every now and then I get flashes, or dreams, but to be honest they are more confusing than anything else.”

Ben nodded, as if this were the most normal thing in the world.

“How much do you really know about this guy?”  The question was addressed to Jack, not me.  Just like that, it was as if I wasn’t in the room.  Jack laughed.

“Not a lot.  Pretty much nothing Ben.  But I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for him.  He busted me out of a jam.  I owe him my freedom, if not my life.”

Ben grunted again.

It hadn’t occurred to me that way until now, but I guessed it was true.  If I had not decided to unlock Jack’s door he would still be there, possibly forever.  But I owed him just as much.  He knew his way around the facility and had all the ideas for getting away.  Including hiding out here – a part of the plan that didn’t entirely appeal.

“It’s not really like that.  I wouldn’t be here either if it wasn’t for Jack.”

“Well then I don’t like either of you,” said Ben.  “I was quite happy here without you.  This one always brings trouble.”  He waved his arm at Jack.  “And you don’t smell entirely right.  You don’t remember it all, but what do you remember?  Who are you?”

Ben’s question was the same as my own.  Who was I?  I gave as best an account as I could.  I told him I was a scientist, that I worked in research to do with the brain, and that I thought the people at Mnemosyne had kidnapped me.  Whether I had lost my memory before or after this kidnapping I wasn’t sure, but there was some sort of accident.

“What makes you think they kidnapped you?” asked Jack.  I hesitated.  How much could I trust Jack?  The words from the note, the note I had written myself, stirred in my mind again.  Trust yourself, no one else.  It was almost as if I could hear myself saying it, so clear was the feeling.  But Jack had helped me escape.  I had needed his help, and I could need his help again.

I’d left my pathetic bundle of possessions just inside the doorway.  I walked over to them and untied the sheet.

“This,” I said, walking back to Jack and handing him the page from the Marshall folder that detailed the project to ‘recruit’ me.  Jack’s eyes went wide with shock as he read the page.

“Blimey Collins.  This talks about recruitment, not abduction.”

I nodded.

“Yes, but that’s a hefty sum.  These people don’t mess around, you know that as well as I do.  I can’t remember, but I get the feeling that saying no to the Mnemosyne Corporation isn’t an option.  And it fits with being in a state where my memories are blacked out or scrambled up.  Anyway, it’s just about all I’ve got to go on.”

Jack let out a low whistle.

“You’re not wrong about them wanting you.  Five million dollars!  Wowee – you’re a valuable man Collins.”

I winced a little at that.  I’d managed to forget that amount on the paper.  I’d already figured that Jack was some sort of criminal.  He valued his freedom, sure, but did he think he could cut a deal with Mnemosyne for me?  I knew it sounded paranoid, but paranoid was all I had.

As if he had read my thoughts Jack burst out laughing.

“Don’t worry Collins, I’m not about to turn you over to those bastards.  I know they wouldn’t give me a cent, and would likely catch me up for more guinea pig action at the same time.”

I heaved a small sigh of relief.

“I’m not sure what you’d get for me in any event,” I joked.  “I couldn’t remember what they needed me to.”

Jack nodded, re-reading the project report again carefully before handing it back to me.

“Any idea what that is, what they wanted you for?”

I took the paper and tucked it back into the Marshall folder.  Jack’s eyes followed it, going round again as he saw the folder.  Again I wondered at the five million playing on his mind.  Trust yourself, no one else.  But I couldn’t do this without help.

“Some idea, but not much.  I think it has something to do with this.”  I pulled the equation that Dante had given me from the folder.  As Jack took the page from me I studied his face for any reaction.  His face was impassive.

“Looks complicated Collins, what is it?”

“It’s an equation of some sort.  It doesn’t mean anything to me.  But I know that they need it, and it’s broken, somehow, and they think they need me to fix it.”

Jack whistled between his teeth.

“Well, it’s all hieroglyphs to me buddy.  What’s wrong with it?”

He handed me back the paper casually and I folded it back into the folder.

“I don’t know,” I replied.  I was about to mention my vision in the lab, the solution that leapt in front of me as if I had put on magic glasses, and then vanished just as quickly, when my vision went blurry and I stumbled, my left leg going weak.  Jack was on his feet quickly and he caught my arm, lowering me down to his chair.

“You OK Collins?”

I nodded woozily, my vision clearing quickly.

“Sorry, headrush,” I explained.  It felt all too much like a blackout, and I had the scars to prove how dangerous they could be.  It wasn’t something I wanted to get in to.

“Well, take it easy buddy.”

Slowly my head cleared again.  Ben got up from his chair and shuffled off through the door.  Where he was going I had no idea.  Jack busied himself with the plates and food on the sideboard in the kitchen.

Other than the fainting fit I felt better after the sleep.  I needed to get on with working out who I was.

“What’s your plan then?” asked Jack, his back to me.

I hadn’t realised it until that moment, but I did have a plan.  The beginning of one anyway.

“Well, I’m supposed to be a famous scientist.  If I really am famous, there must be some record of me somewhere.  I reckon the first place to start is the internet, see if I can learn a little more about Dr Collins.”

Jack, his back still to me, nodded his head.

“Sounds like a good plan Collins.”

I hoped it was.  I had a handful of leads other than that.

“Does Ben have a computer?”  Jack chuckled.  As I looked around the decrepit building I realised how stupid a question it was.

“That’s a no,” said Jack, “but I need to head into town now anyway.  This was just about the last of the food Ben has in this place.  Says he wasn’t expecting company, and I think we can all agree that seems true.  He’s OK with us staying here for a few days.  Only just OK, but we’re good for now.  Let’s hope that’s enough time to get you back on your feet and help you work out where to go next.”

I nodded in agreement, I hoped so too.

The ride into town had been surprisingly short, given how isolated Ben’s cottage had felt.  Jack didn’t want to take the stolen Range Rover, which under the circumstances seemed like a very wise move.  Ben had a rusted out blue Renault 5 that Jack had borrowed for the trip.  I couldn’t imagine the bearded man-mountain Ben sitting in the car, even if he could fit.  He didn’t look like the kind of man to drive.

We joined the ring road on the edge of town and turned off for the first car park we came across.  It was a multi storey grey slab of a building, gaping holes with low concrete barriers on every level.  It looked like a stack of grey pancakes propped up with cocktail sticks, the cars visible on every level threatening to leak out like multi-coloured syrup.

Jack had borrowed a moth eaten backpack from Ben and I had brought the Marshall folder with me, together with everything else I had escaped from the facility with.  I knew that we were intending to go back to Ben’s cottage, but it felt right to keep everything with me.  It wasn’t because I didn’t trust Ben – and I didn’t trust Ben – but it felt right to be able to move on at a moment’s notice, to not have to go back anywhere that the Mnemosyne Corporation might be able to trace me to.

The lower level of the car park joined onto a supermarket.  Jack needed to do some chores as well as pick up some food.  We were to meet back at the rusted Renault 5 in two hours.

I handed Jack a fifty pound note from the bundle of cash I had stolen from the guard.

“Here, let me know if my share is more.”

Jack nodded and pocketed the cash, no questions about where it had come from, and walked through the automatic sliding doors and into the harsh yellow light of the supermarket.

Out on the street I looked around for a place with internet access.  It was three thirty on a Wednesday afternoon.  The street was pedestrianised and mostly quiet, the lunch rush over and the end of the day exodus yet to begin.  Black metal lampposts marched down either side of the wide boulevard and flower festooned hanging baskets hung from metal brackets just under the lights.  Adding to the colour were a number of flower beds with low black metal railings surrounding them, a wooden bench stationed next to each one.  While the overall sense was one of civic pride, there were a number of indicators of neglect, of an absence of social consciousness.  In every flower bed there was a small cluster of litter, either a plastic bottle or collection of crisp packets, and one of the hanging baskets hung limply from its bracket, one of its four chains snapped in two.  The shop opposite, its yellow and black sign advertising bargains, was adorned with graffiti.  Not interesting graffiti, the sort that spoke of at least some semblance of artistic talent, but rather that scrawled with a large black marker pen.  No more interesting than a signature, plastered again and again across the shop front.

An empty chip wrapper nuzzled my leg before a breeze picked it up and sent it skittering across the bricks of the street to tangle into the rusted metal legs of a rubbish bin.  I turned right and walked up the street, my eyes scanning the shop fronts for an internet cafe.

I’d walked for five minutes without luck when I came to a cross roads.  Directly opposite was the central library.  It was a large squat building, the red doors of the front entrance flanked by posters advertising a local music event.

Inside the library had the unmistakable smell of old books.  It was different from the smell of a book shop, which resonated with the clean woody smell of fresh paper.  In a library you could smell the paper but also the dust, the creeping age of the accumulated knowledge slowly decaying away.  The smell tickled my memory but also filled me with conflicting emotions.  Simultaneously I knew that I both loved and hated libraries.  It was a complex and conflicting cocktail of emotions, so much so that the lady at the front desk had to address me three times before I heard her.

“Sorry, what was that?”

The lady looked about retirement age, her brown and grey hair pulled severely from her head and tied up in a bun at the back of her head.  She wore glasses with thick lenses and dark frames, and a moss coloured cardigan over a white blouse.  It was as if the stereotype of a librarian had stepped, fully formed, from the pages of a novel.

“I said, can I help you.  Sir.”

The ‘Sir’ was an amusing afterthought.  It would seem my lack of communication had put her in doubt about the sir part.  It couldn’t be easy being a modern day library worker, your job being pitched somewhere between custodian of knowledge and social worker.

“Yes, do you have internet access?”

The librarian nodded with a small sigh and shuffled out from behind the counter.  The computer terminals were at the back of the library, wedged between the window and a section of medieval European literature.

The first thing I tried was my name, Dr Adrian Collins.  With a surge of excitement I saw the results included a Dr Adrian Collins from the UK.  Eagerly I clicked on the link, but it turned out the Dr Adrian Collins was a Thoracic Surgeon in Aberdeen.  Any doubts that this wasn’t me were eradicated by the picture that accompanied the hospital profile, which showed a bald man who must have weighted over a hundred and fifty kilos.

The next few entries in the search results were just as disappointing.  Another medical doctor that wasn’t me, followed by an academic in the field of American Literature from De Motford University and a man from Cornwall who offered nutrition and dieting advice.  I wasn’t even convinced this last guy was a real doctor.  Just like that the list of local Dr Adrian Collins’s ran out.  Then I remembered the location of my lab, in Austria.  A search for this location gave me as many entries as before but these also turned out to be dead ends.  There had to be something here, there had to be.

I tried widening the net, searching for just Dr Collins.  The list returned was enormous, and with a sigh I started at the beginning and worked my way through.  A paediatrician, another surgeon, four more academics, another dubious ‘Dr’.  Doggedly I carried on, drifting through every Dr Collins in the Western world.

“We close in half an hour.”  The librarian’s voice – it was the same lady that had greeted me – was rich with boredom and touched with disdain.  Look at all these wonderful books around you, her tone seemed to say, yet you just sit and stare at a screen.  I nodded in acknowledgment and carried on reading.

I’d just finished reading about Dr Fred Collins, professor of applied mathematics at Brunel, when my frustration surged.  This was hopeless.  I couldn’t search through every Dr Collins on the planet, there were just too many!  Gritting my teeth I told myself I would try one more, just one, then I would move on.  I clicked on the link and my heart soared.

The link was to an article in The Times science supplement.  It was the wrong name, Dr Martin Collins, but the description sounded perfect.  I read the article eagerly.

‘In a world where the extraordinary has become commonplace, it seems that the pace with which science leaps forward is forever stuck in overdrive.  New developments and discoveries assail us from every side on a daily basis, and it seems we hurtle towards an uncertain future at a hundred miles an hour.  The question of ethics is always a thorny issue for science.  The responsible scientist holds such questions at the centre of everything they do, but in a world driven by commercial pressures, how long can such principles prevail?

Last night the Cambridge University Society held a debate on this very subject.  The famous chamber, which has seen many a lively discussion, was graced with the presence of two of Europe’s top scientists.  Leading the debate for ethics, for controlled science for the benefit of all mankind, was reknowned neuro-scientist Dr Martin Collins.  On the other side of the floor was Professor Malkind Duplussy, famous for his work in sequencing the human genome’

The article went into some detail on the debate, which it would seem Dr Martin Collins had won convincingly.  My excitement built as I read the article, but when I got to the bottom my hopes were sent crashing back to the floor.  At the foot of the text were photographs of both Dr Martin Collins and Malkind Duplussy.  Both men looked to be in their sixties or seventies.  Dr Martin Collins had a weathered and lined face, intelligent eyes gazing back from beneath heavy white bushy eyebrows.  His hair was full and lustrous but also stark white, his broad smile showing yellowy teeth.  The picture was of a man old enough to be my father, possibly my grandfather.  With a grunt of frustration I clicked the browser window closed.

I held my head in my hands, my heart hammering with thwarted ambition. I had thought that was it, that I would be one step closer to knowing who I was.  It had sounded reasonable, like it was the right track, and to have it wrenched away at the end like that felt cruel.  I knew it wasn’t intentional of course, but I cursed whoever had written the article with a quiet fury.

After a few moments I had recovered myself.  The search for my name was going nowhere, I needed a new approach.  Searching for inspiration I pulled out the Marshall folder from my bag.  I had read and re-read the page relating to me a hundred times, there was nothing new there that would help me.  I typed in the name of the person from the folder – A Marshall – and unsurprisingly got thousands of hits.  Two links in, the facebook page for an Annabelle Marshall as it happens, I abandoned this angle.

“Ten minutes,” said the librarian, sneaking up behind me and making me jump.  Great, now she thinks I am a pervert, looking at the facebook page of a fourteen year old girl.  Angrily I turned the page in the folder, to the second project evaluation for Marshall.

This was for the recruitment of Gerhold Neuberg.  I typed this name into the search engine and hit search.  The screen filled up with results, but it was the first one, a news item from the BBC, that held my attention.  ‘Gerhold Neuberg found dead in Hungary’ read the link.  I clicked.

‘At three am on Sunday morning police discovered the body of an elderly man at a small flat in central Budapest.  They had been alerted by fire-fighters who had been called to a blaze at the property.  After dousing the fire the fire-fighters had conducted a sweep of the building, at which point they discovered the body of Dr Neuberg huddled in a cupboard.  Initial reports were that Dr Neuberg had been overcome by the smoke, but a post-mortem has revealed the cause of death was from massive internally injuries.  The Budapest police are treating the death as suspicious.’

This was all the article said, but there were links on the article to other pages.  I clicked on the first one.  The associated page was black and white, the title reading ‘Who, or what, killed Dr Neuberg?’

This page gave some more background information.  Dr Neuberg was a computer scientist from the University of Berlin.  He was a quiet man, shy and with few friends, but highly respected in his field of research.  That author stated that he was murdered, of that there was no doubt, and that the Budapest police were unwilling, or unable, to get to the bottom of the crime, which boasted some remarkable features.

First was the location.  There was no reason for Dr Neuberg to be in Budapest.  He was last seen at his laboratory in Berlin on the Friday before.  He had not been missed, as he had few friends, but no one could confirm he had travel plans to Hungary.  Why he would turn up in a block of flats there was a mystery.

Next was the nature of his injuries.  They spoke of him having received a terrible beating over a sustained period of time.  That he had died of these injuries, and not in fact from the smoke inhalation, was a matter of medical debate.  There was also the use of accelerant in the fire, several litres of petrol, which showed police that the blaze was not accidental.

Dr Neuberg had been due in Prague latter that week to give a talk at a scientific symposium along with other esteemed scientists, such as Professor Dave McKinrick and Dr Martin Collins.

My breath caught.  Dr Martin Collins again.  In a rush I opened up a new browser and typed in his name.  The first result was his Wikipedia page.

‘Dr Martin Collins, born 13 June 1943 In Liecester, England.  Highly accomplished neuroscientist and champion of scientific ethics.  His research methodology was hailed as being truly multi-disciplinary, cutting across department boundaries.  His work was some of the most groundbreaking research into human cognitive function before his sudden and unexpected death earlier this year’.

I stopped reading and rubbed my eyes.  My name was in the Marshall folder, along with Gerhold Neuberg.  Neuberg was dead – murdered – and was linked with another Dr Collins, who was not me, but who was also dead.  The lines tangled up in my head.  There must be something more on Dr Martin Collins, something that would hint at the link.  I looked up at the computer screen but it went black, the steady purr of the hard disk clicking off with a dissatisfied wurr.  I jabbed the power button in frustration.

“I told you, we’re closed now,” said the librarian, a satisfied smile on her lips, her hand over a switch on the wall.  Rage boiled up inside me and I stood up quickly, the chair scraping across the concrete floor.  With scared eyes the librarian took a step back.  I took two slow breaths and calmed myself.  It wasn’t her fault.  Well, it was her fault the computer was off, but that wasn’t why I was angry, not really.

“When are you open again?” I asked, my voice taught with controlled anger.

“Not ‘till Friday, we’re closed on Thursdays.  Cut backs,” she said, and stalked away back to the desk.

Great.  Over twenty four hours.  That meant waiting, or finding some other internet connection in the city.  Looking up at the library clock I realised it was almost time to meet Jack.  Grabbing my bag and the folder I hurried from the library, throwing an insincere thank you over my shoulder as I left.

I had just under half an hour until I was due to meet Jack at the car park, so I took a wander around the town centre.  It was a little busier now, people starting to make their way from offices and other places of work back home.  Still, despite the number of people on the street the town felt cold, empty.  Or maybe that was just me.

I called in a bookshop and wandered up and down the aisles aimlessly.  I ached to get moving, to make progress in some way, but somehow I knew that this time was important.  It was as if my mind was chewing through the problem, the question of what to do next, and for now the best I could do was leave it alone.  A table in the centre of the shop was piled with a variety of items that the store was trying to sell off.  This was mostly books, unsurprisingly, but there was also a pile of small lined notebooks and a box containing some small wooden zebra toys, the animal’s mane made of dark black felt, a length of string forming a long tasselled tail.  I smiled at the jumbled mess of zebras.  Just the sort of thing that Clio would like, I thought as I picked one up and brushed back the black felt.  Maybe I should by her one?

I picked up one of the small notebooks as well.  It was only fifty pence, and it was about time I started adding some structure to my search for answers.  Note down what I knew, enumerate my options to progress my search, and take it from there.  It all made sense.

As I wandered around the shop I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being watched.  My skin crawled with the uncomfortable itch that always accompanies this feeling.  It was like eyes were boring into the back of my head.  I wandered casually, but took every opportunity to turn to see who was observing me.  There was no one there, and after two or three circuits of the store I realised it was just my own paranoia.

Clutching the small zebra and the notebook I made my way to the till and pulled out a five pound note from the bundle in my pocket.  The cashier was a pretty young woman with red hair.  She smiled sweetly but the hair reminded me of Christa, which sent a small shiver down my spine.  Confused by my scowl she quickly slipped my purchases in a bag and silently handed me my change.

“Sorry, my mind was elsewhere,” I said, sending her a small smile in apology.

She smiled back and nodded.

“No problem.  Any chance I could join you there?”

I chuckled at the casual flirtation and said goodbye.  The clock on the building opposite the bookshop told me I would have to hurry to meet Jack in time.

Jack was there when I arrived at the car, the back seat piled with food shopping.

“You wouldn’t believe the smell in the boot,” he remarked as I approached.  “I think Ben might actually carry dead animals around in there.  I thought the inside of the car was bad, but phew!  Anything in that thing would be inedible!”

We were halfway back to the cottage when Jack asked me how things had gone.  I could tell he had wanted to know for some time, but had respected my introspective silence.

“Strangely.  I couldn’t find any record of myself, but there is some other Dr Collins, who sounds like me but isn’t.  But then he’s dead, as is Neuberg.”

“Who’s Neuberg?”

“I have no idea!  You see, not much progress, unless you include pissing off a librarian.”

Jack gave me a sympathetic look.

“Not to worry, tomorrow is another day and all that.”

I grunted in agreement.  He was right, tomorrow was a new day, and I needed to take a new direction.  I just needed to work out what that was.

“You get some shopping too?”  Jack nodded his head at the plastic bag in my lap.

“Not really shopping,” I replied, pulling out the notebook and the small wooden zebra.

“Nice,” said Jack.  “Who’s that for?”

For a second I thought he meant the notebook, but then I realised he meant the wooden toy.  I was about to reply that it was for Clio when my mind skipped like a scratched record.  Clio who?  I couldn’t remember a Clio.  I knew, I was absolutely certain, that the wooden toy was a good gift for Clio, it really was the sort of thing that she would like.  But I had no idea who Clio was, how I knew her, what she meant to me.  It was the most disorientating realisation.  It was like remembering, in infinite detail, a scene from a book or a film, without any recollection of what the book or film was, or indeed any other part of the story.  It was inexplicable, and yet all too real.  The zebra was for Clio, but that was all I knew.

I’d been silent for too long, I could sense it.

“Oh, just something I liked the look of,” I lied.  It wasn’t that I thought the lie was important, that I didn’t want Jack to know about Clio, but I realised who crazy it would sound.  I needed Jack’s help, and therefore I needed to share with him, but that didn’t mean I wanted to look completely crazy.

He laughed a slightly nervous laugh.

“An odd toy for a grown man, but whatever floats your boat Collins.”  It was obvious he didn’t believe me, and why should he?  But I was grateful that he didn’t push the matter, didn’t ask any questions.

We drove the rest of the way in silence.  When we arrived back at the cottage Ben was nowhere to be seen.

“He often heads off, sometimes for days at a time,” Jack explained.  “Bit of a wild one is Ben, if it had escaped your notice.  Here, give me a hand with these vegetables.”

Dinner was a tin of corned beef with boiled potatoes and carrots.  The water took an age to boil over the fire, but once we eventually had the meal it had tasted great.  Warm food that wasn’t delivered on a plastic tray.  For all I knew this was the first time I had eaten food I had a hand in preparing myself.

After dinner Jack went out for a walk and I curled up next to the fire with my new notebook.  I noted down everything I knew about myself on one page.  On the next page I wrote the name Dr Martin Collins and Gerhold Neuberg, linking the two with an arrow, and adding the word ‘dead’.  I then wrote the name Marshall.  This was the guy that had been sent to kidnap me.  Was he the guy that killed Neuberg and tried to burn the body?  It seemed like a sloppy crime, setting fire to a building and leaving the body in a cupboard where it stood a chance of surviving the blaze.  Like so much else it didn’t make complete sense, as if there was at least one piece missing, possibly more.

To the page I added the names of Damian Richter, Gabriel Dante and Christa Mayhew.  As an afterthought I added Jack, Ben and Clio.  These were all the people I knew, or thought I knew, or who claimed that I knew them.

On a new page I noted down the places I had an association with.  Ben’s cottage, The Facility in Southhampton.  My forearm itched and I rolled up my sleeve to scratch, revealing the livid scar of ‘M3’ on my forearm.  With a sigh I added this to the list of places.  The M3.  Then there was Prague, where Neuberg was found dead.  Digging the folder from my back I noted down the places from the records.  The first place was Marshall’s address, in Wootton, Bedfordshire.  Then there was my lab, In Perchtoldsdorf in Vienna.  Either place might hold answers.

Turning to a new page I wrote the header Mnemosyne.  Jotting my thoughts on the page I noted down ‘almost out of business’, ‘brain research’ (cognitive really was too long a word), and ‘busted equation (need my help)’.  I then added ‘torturing assholes’.  I then remembered something Christa had said, and noted down ‘project Clio’.  Was it a coincidence?  Was it the same Clio?

With a sigh I closed the notebook and put my head back on the high back of the chair.  Such a tangle.

The door clicked open and Jack walked into the room, a stiff breeze following him and causing the fire to roar in the hearth.  It also flicked open my notebook, the pages rifling in the wind before coming to rest on my short list of places.

“Did you have a good walk?” I asked Jack.

“Good enough, good enough.  Blew out some of the cobwebs.  How you holding up?”  I wasn’t sure if the question was particularly pointed, but it seemed that way.  It didn’t matter; I had a plan at last.

“Jack, I’m going to Austria, but I am going to need your help.”


From → Story

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