A face, no head and no body, not dismembered, just never ‘membered’. Furrowed and streaked with what looked like placenta gunk, this birth fluid was paint running down a canvas. Features emerged as a quirk of the anarchic painting process, an aberration, brazenly marooned in what was planned to be a non-figurative abstract painting. The face stood its ground, refused to be dismissed. ‘Stay there then, take your chances and good luck to you!’ Cassandra knew the painting’s evolutionary process would sort it out. She always observed paint’s behaviour, it was part of a lifetime’s research project. Still talking to the canvas, ‘You just never quite know what will happen. OK, you ‘Entity’, a question, will your features survive? Or will paint suck you back into the gloopy world you escaped from? A toss-up, remain or not remain? Who knows? For sure, I won’t, until it’s finished.
‘Painting! She muttered as she monitored her own thoughts. ‘I wonder if ‘membered’ is actually a word? I don’t think it is, so how can you ‘dis’ it?
Odd things happen when you make a painting!’ Cass looked back over years of trial and error, the precise whip of arm and flick of wrist she’d perfected to make sure paint left the brush in just the right way. ‘It might look chaotic but it’s a sort of a predetermined chaos’, she told no one. ‘That trajectory to the canvas is like an Olympic Sport! It’s controlled, yet results in an inert presence that takes weeks, if not months, to grabble into something I feel has a life of its own. It is a conversation with paint that often gets me hot under the….
A woman’s loud voice ruptured the quiet. ‘From Amazon Shopping, a shipment including panty-liners is due to arrive today.’
Cass almost jumped out of her skin, ‘Oh shut up Alexa’ she yelled across the studio. ‘I must mute those notifications’, she muttered to herself. ‘I talk to myself in peace knowing I‘m alone then that hussy pipes up!
Oh well, probably time for a cup of tea and some painkillers anyway. Huh, I remember when the only thing to go with my cuppa was a biscuit’.
Cass often tried to figure out what was good about getting old. She chuckled through classic sitcoms of The Golden Girls, the newer Grace and Frankie and managed to identify just a bit too closely with some of the comic situations.
Cass’s sense of the ridiculous had sometimes irritated her mother. Cass caught echoes of her late mother’s voice, ‘Cassandra, you have a tendency towards flippancy. You need to take some things a lot more seriously!’
Cass thought back to her early years and the struggle to gather together selfhood. The awful sense of dissonance as her body morphed into a conjugation with her mind. Cass wondered if the two had ever really made it. Either her body had gone off at a tangent or her consciousness had. Cass still wasn’t sure either had ever really belonged to her. She sensed a component was missing, perhaps still flying about somewhere in the Universe calling for what it had not found.
Too young to verbalise those feelings, Cass chose to examine her name instead. She speculated about naming people before or shortly after they were born. ‘Do people grow into their names or do their names grow into them?’ Cass read that many Native American Tribes had traditions of new names through life, especially at adolescence. Descriptive names that reflected experiences or dominant characteristics. Mentally Cass renamed two adolescents she knew: ‘Joy in the morning’, and ‘Will always be a dickhead.’ ‘I guess he’d be called ‘Will’ which is probably unfair to the Williams out there.’
Her schoolteacher asked Cass to name a favourite poem after Cass read TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ out loud to the class. Disappointment had flitted across the tutor’s face when Cass had chosen Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats’.
Cass thought her teacher had hoped for a more sophisticated choice, had known instantly her choice meant a B grade not the A she had been on track for. Cass felt her teacher did not understand the depth of perception shown in ‘The Naming of Cats’. Besides anything else, Cass didn’t give a toss about her grades. Her mother did.
Cass wondered if her mother had given the name Cassandra much thought, or just liked the opportunity to have three ways to beckon her daughter. ‘Cass’ was the everyday call, followed by ‘Cassie’ in a louder tone if the response wasn’t quick enough. A sharp ‘Cassandra’ would tell Cass she had fallen foul of her Mother, or she had to meet someone she would rather not. If the latter, most times Cass preferred to be in trouble for one of her many misdemeanours. Her mother had always deflected the name question, even when Cass was grown, until it was too late for an answer.
Once she could read, Cass looked the name up. She loved the Public Library, spent hours there. She’d often slip into the grown-ups only section and stay hidden among the hallowed tomes. Cass wasn’t sure it wasn’t more harrowed than hallowed when she learned about human nature through stories like Hemmingway’s, The Old Man and the Fish’.
In those days ‘Silence’ was the rule, any chat would be severely frowned on. Cass loved that rule. Her mother was content for Cass to be at the Library, it freed her to give her client’s ‘readings’ or ‘sightings’ of their future.
Cass learned her namesake was a priestess of Apollo from Greek mythology. Struck by her beauty Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. Even as a child Cass had wondered why anyone would think of prophecy as a gift. The second part of the myth made more sense to Cass when she was a grown-up. Greek Cassandra, having refused Apollo’s ‘romantic’ advances had been cursed to never having her warnings believed. ‘Typical, some low-life masquerades as a god to sexually harass and manipulate a woman. ‘Do this in exchange for a ‘favour’ if not I’ll put a curse on you.’ Between him and another god who shape-shifted into a swan to seduce Leda, they’re all a lot of tricky sods!’
Cass never knew if her name was a carefully considered choice, or not. She suspected the former given her mother’s claims of being ‘psychic’. Cass’s recollection of curious examples of her Mother’s ‘Second Sight’ were coloured by the fact her mother owned a Ouija Board and ‘Read’ tea leaves.
Her Mother’s hints about Cass’s inherited ‘gift’ got short shrift. Cass thought it was a load of old guff. Although to be fair there were curious occasions in her own life that could not be explained.
Cass’s thoughts returned to tea, ‘Might as well be in the house, painkillers are there anyway, plus, I’m not happy with the electric sockets in the studio. One of these days the electrics will get the final fix and won’t be hanging off the wall, safer to plug a kettle in!’
Transition from studio to house was a peculiar one, only across the garden, the direction she was faced demanded a mental reboot. Cass thought of the metaphysical nature of a path, a two way passage. With her back to the house, the studio beckoned with all it meant to her. With her back to the studio toward the house… Cass couldn’t complete the thought.
25 years before Cass was filmed for an Art News programme. A whole day’s footage concertinaed into less than a two minute broadcast. She remembered the interviewer and crew, a fun experience until they asked her to paint while they filmed. For Cass, painting was a solitary affair. The crew had been kind so she overcame her panic and started painting then soon became so engrossed in the process the film crew seemed to fade away. After getting the footage the interviewer said it had been uncanny as Cass had seemed to change personality in front of their eyes. The cameraman had totally concurred with that.
Cass occasionally thought about the film crew’s comments when she dropped out of paint-mode. ‘Definitely altered states, I guess the ‘hike’ from my studio to the house is a metaphor for that. I prefer the feel of the studio to the house, I prefer the feel of painting to not painting.’
While the studio was new and a contemporary design worked out with her Architect, the existing house was a bog standard early 70’s design. Developers had totally ignored the benefits of one of the finest village locations and built a standard nationwide layout plan. It never failed to irritate Cass the house windows ignored the best views across the old Glebe field to the 800 year old Church.
The move to the house had been three years before from her much loved home on the edge of the village. At least the downsize freed her of accumulated baggage. Soon after, the rent on her studio in the next village was trebled by new owners, a Property Development Company. The rent was too high for Cass.
The new home was close to the centre of the village. The road was a long cul-de-sac, with a footpath off to fields and Millennium Green. Cass got directions to it off pat, after she realised it had somehow fallen off Google Maps mapping process. It showed on the satellite images but did not marry up with an address or post code. ‘Off the High Street down a no-through road, last house bottom right.’
The south-west garden was a flipped L shape on two sides of the house, the garden on the stem of the L bordered the village brook. At night, headlights picked out garden, brook bank, and Millennium Green beyond. The Developers had not been able to fit another house on the plot because the water culvert crossed the plot at an angle. It emptied into the brook. Culvert pipes required a statutory distance be maintained from any building, so the extra space became garden. When Cass talked about her studio in the garden she knew that those who didn’t know its orientation tended to have a mental image of it being in the backyard of a typical house of its type, whereas it was actually at the front positioned in the curve of the Cul-de-sac.
Cass had felt a tear escape, ‘Damn Property Developer Company, greedy sods. I’ve got all this studio stuff to pack, move and store. I hate having to get out, this has been my all-time favourite studio. I need somewhere to work! With the situation and calls on my time it has to be at home, but not under the same roof’
It was past and Cass would not let her mind dwell on those sad times. There had been pain before, pain during, and pain after, it was a chapter in her life she preferred to let sleep.
Cass planned to alter the interior layout and add an extension to her new home and hopefully to make the most of its location. Battling through the planning process had proved stressful and far too expensive. Permissions were all in place but it was unlikely the house part would go ahead. A pity, she thought, the house would have been the light and airy equivalent of the new studio.
Tragedy had halted the project when only the studio was part complete. It had been a struggle to get even that to a stage to use. Still not finished, it was a matter of needs must when the storage facility with her studio contents was sold and vacant possession required. Cass found it stressful to have every single aspect of her life turned upside down.
If the project had been completed, studio and house would have formed a coherent whole, now the studio was a stranded oddity, but still a wonderful space to be in.
‘At least I have the studio, useful now ‘lock-down’ is a normal state. Typical, just as I start to emerge from my own crisis, a world-wide one sneaks up and takes over! My mantra, ‘This too will pass’, probably needs to change, it has an implied ‘pass to something better’ but that not always the case! The Grim Reaper is sure on a roll, busy scything away at humanity, snuck himself in under guise of Covid19! Response by authorities has been so darned varied! Some have handled the crisis far better than others, sadly we are not in the better category! Still one good thing, the world has become quiet now the main instruction globally is to stay home. I’ve stayed home and gone to work in the studio.’
With the bi-fold doors left open the studio seemed to follow Cass outside as she started towards her tea and painkillers. She stopped to watch ducks paddling upstream of the brook. The brook separated her garden from the old Glebe Field, now parkland for public use.
Cass enjoyed the ducks, their ungainliness amused her as did their eye-to-the-main-chance. ‘Sorry guys, no titbits for you’, she informed them. Cass’s eyes fixed on the water which sparkled with filtered sunlight, a definite babble seemed to get louder while other sounds faded. Cass wasn’t aware her pain and the brightness had fallen away. It seemed dark, not late night dark, gloaming dark. It didn’t register with Cass the ducks had gone, all she could see in the darkness was the strange sight of what looked decidedly like a pair of flashing dildos floating in the current. Cass wasn’t even astonished, then sound flooded her consciousness, suddenly she was back with the ducks and pain. ‘Cass you need that cuppa, and the meds,’ she told herself as she stumbled back in bright sunlight to the kitchen door. ‘How totally bizarre was that!’ she thought as she knocked back tablets with a mouthful of tea.
The doorbell rang, it was the panty-liner delivery. Social distance rules observed, the cheery delivery man left the package on the outside bench. ‘I’ll fetch it in later, unwrap it, dispose of the wrapping and be sure to wash my hands while singing a full version of Happy Birthday. Well maybe not, I prefer James Bay’s ‘Hold back the River’ chorus for my hand-washing timer!
At least the facemasks made by her old friend had their liners. Cass grinned, ‘if Kate heard me say ‘old’ friend I’d sure get it in the neck!’ Kate had passed on the idea about panty-liners for inside facemasks, they mopped up breath vapour and added a second barrier against Covid19. Her glasses always steamed up if she wore a facemask, the panty-liner idea might sort that. Cass knew that with Asthma it wasn’t good to wear a mask for too long. ‘Basically you just can’t win’, she told herself.
Shortage of facemasks and other Personal Protection Equipment (PPI) for front-line health workers had left them at terrible risk. PPI had become a scandal that that provided plenty of fodder for the Media.
Impossible to get facemasks, Kate had offered to make some from exotic fabrics she had inherited. With so many trying to make up the shortfall in masks, elastic, or lack thereof, had held things up.
With a second tea poured from her mother’s brown teapot, Cass let her mind dwell on the current situation.
‘If it’s true that everything happens faster in a crisis, I think 300,000 dead around the globe can be classified as a crisis. For sure it’s an imperative to find a way to stop the virus. Too many dead, above all we need a vaccine, the Holy Grail of our times.’
The news talked about laboratories being in research overdrive. It was claimed there was cooperation between Companies and Countries around the world. Cass was a natural cynic and didn’t think much of that claim. It appeared unlikely a vaccine would be developed quickly enough to allow the world to go back to some semblance of normal any time soon, so ‘Track and Trace’ phone Apps became the main focus of attention.
Tracing Apps helped locate anyone an infected person might have been in contact with and warn them and others they may have infected. Off the English South Coast on the Isle of White, a British ‘Test, Track and Trace App’ was trialled. The App was mired in a political quagmire because of data and privacy issues. While Tracing Apps might find anyone who had been in contact with the disease, it would require an army of tracers to follow up. So far it hadn’t gone well.
Cass wondered how Josh was doing. She thought back to their chance meeting at the complex where he worked. They had pretty much lost touch so were pleasantly surprised to bump into each other. Josh wondered what on earth Cass was doing in that particular place especially as he knew some of its history.
Now a Technology Park, it had for years been a secret research facility, had served Britain well during WW11 when bombing made it prudent to move certain research out of London to the countryside. Josh didn’t know exactly when the facility was no longer secret but the complex had opened up as a Business Park around 2009 then subsequently been renamed as a Technological Park.
Cass had been invited by the Park’s Manager to look around the grounds at her leisure and maybe get something in the café, with the proviso to call in at the Managers Office when she was ready to leave. During her tour of the complex, Cass had been shown an ex-electronics workshop that might do as her new studio.
Cass and Josh only met because he had gone outside to eat a packed lunch in the sunshine. Cass, offered a cheese sandwich, was happy to join him and catch up on each other and mutual friends.
Cass knew Josh was in IT so it was less a surprise to her than him when they bumped into each other. Both were pleased to resurrect the old platonic friendship. Cass told Josh about the studio, adding that while she had told the manager she would think about it, it wasn’t suitable. ‘I become claustrophobic if a space has no windows or views, the only natural light is from roof-lights. I’d get depressed by being so closed in, a pity as this setting is beautiful.’
Josh said ‘No windows probably because it was a secret facility at one time.’
Conversation reached a natural break, Cass turned her attention back to the maze of buildings. ‘What’s the large ‘sealed room’ in the middle? I saw people in there wearing hazmat suits and wondered what they were working on? I asked the site Manager, but only had a vague answer before she told me access to the studio was via a different, but direct door.’
Josh replied, ‘It is funny because there’s nothing ‘secret’ in there, it is supposed to be uber clean because of some electronic elements they work with. I know nothing more than that. I agree, it’s strange to see something like that in what is now just a glorified business park. It’s like an inner sanctum within the complex but what is more interesting is that there seems to be an inner, ‘inner-sanctum’ that has an airlock type door for people enter. No one talks about it but I did some heavy-duty overtime one night and noticed something when I left. The inner, less visible lab was undergoing a deep clean, I get the feeling it’s something they do fairly regularly.
They’ve let it be understood that what they do isn’t secret as such, but there is a matter of ‘Industrial Espionage’ for them to consider. They ask that people keep their distance. Not that you’d get in there easily even if you wanted to. Strange though, I overheard a conversation between the two staff, said something about making sure the ‘Chinese can’t reverse engineer ‘it’.’ I have no idea what ‘it’ was.
It’s a bit cloak and dagger, kind of funny really, if you consider I can hear conversations taking place in the passageway between the laboratory and me. There is a redundant old pipe, it works like a sound conduit, I can hear everything said as if they are next to me! Inner and outer Labs exit onto the passageway. The inner Lab guys take their cigarette breaks there. My main door is on the opposite side of the building to theirs, so I don’t think they even realise I’m there most of the time.
Lunchtime over, Cass and Josh parted with promises to keep in touch. Friendship renewed, they exchanged regular texts and often had longer chats. With lockdown there were more texts, just to check on each other. Josh had been able to continue to work at his workplace, as it was pretty much ‘social distanced’ anyway.
Sometime into Lockdown and concerned Josh might be too socially isolated, Cass called him.
Hi Josh, how’s ‘distancing’ going?’
‘I’m fine thanks, Cass, ‘I picnic lunch outside most days with Rob at a social distance and all that. He’s one of the people who works in the outer lab, the one you commented on when you viewed a studio. Rob loves maths and history as much as I do, we spend most lunchtimes discussing one, other, or both subjects.’
Cass, ‘I’m pleased to hear that Josh, keep in touch take care and stay safe.’
Life went on in the new ‘normal’ way.
The phone rang, it was Cass’s friend Sara
How she and Sara met Sara flashed through her mind. They both lived in the same village and had met in bizarre circumstances.
Sara was a Website Programmer, also a suburb Computer Hacker. Few people knew she was part of a hacker group of people who were mostly unknown to each other. The group fought a Guerrilla War against the dregs of society. Those who preyed on others and used the Dark Web as their place of business. Sara had explained some of the reasons it was known as the dark web. It was part of the internet not visible to search engines. It was used mostly for nefarious activities and some really horrible ones. Sara explained that Dark Web Guerrillas fought against those types, also against corrupt governments and regimes, ‘OUT’ed Global Corporations who flouted International Law, money laundered or generally damaged the environment. The hackers were taking the fight to heart of the Dark Web arena.
Cass grabbed her mug of tea and sat down to answer, ‘Hi Sara, good to hear from you, how are things?
‘Hi Cass, Hope you have time for a chat, just checking in with you, hope you aren’t up to anything I wouldn’t do!
‘Well that gives me plenty of latitude! Cass snorted. They both chuckled.
Cass said, ‘I was thinking about how we met. Sure was a strange malarkey, some story! I’m relieved to know someone like you is fighting on the side of right.’
‘Bless you, Cass. So, what are you doing?
‘Usual stuff, painting and what not. Buying a few bits on line.’
Sara, ‘Me too, buying that is, not painting. It’s pathetic really, for my relaxation away from the computer I’ve taken to perusing those ‘Everyday Solution’ type magazines that have everything for the house, garden, disabled and more. I seem to get a new magazine in the post every week, and I’ve bought a few quite pathetic things.
Cass chortled, ‘Ok, I’ll tell you my last pathetic purchase, and then you tell me yours! I spent £1.85 for four stickers with house number and street name on for my wheelie bins! My bins might go out more than I do, but they will be identified and sent home for breaking lockdown rules if they go too far!
After she finished laughing, Sara said, ‘Well, as it’s ‘fess’ up time I have to tell you that the magazines I mentioned have quite a range of things in them, hosepipes to tyre pumps, gadgets to peel eggs and other weird and wonderful stuff. However there has been an addition to their range in the last couple of weeks and I nearly spilled my coffee over the magazine when I saw it on the inside back page. It’s a remote control magenta coloured dildo….
Cass sputtered her tea as she burst out loud laughing, ‘OK, you won that one!
Sara was also laughing, ‘I haven’t finished yet,
Cass interrupted her, ‘No, too much information,’ and went back into peels of laugher.
Sara, ‘Stop it! I said I haven’t finished, it’s what is known as a ‘rabbit’, not only is it bright pink but it has a remote control, it changes colour, flashes, and vibrates of course!
Cass was in hysterics and had given up trying to drink her tea. ‘I’m NOT going to ask why you bought it…..’ Cass suddenly stopped laughing and noticed goose-bumps on her arms.
‘Cass? What’s the matter?
Cass’s phone buzzed showing call incoming, she saw it was Josh on WhatsApp, unusual time for Josh to call, ‘Sara I have a call I should answer, can I get back to you later?
Sara, ‘Of course Hon, take care.’
Josh rushed straight in, ‘Cass, I have to talk to you’.
‘I’m listening’, Cass replied.
‘No, I mean face to face. Please don’t ask questions, but I have to see you, I’m asking a lot but could you come somewhere near the complex? Not to it, I don’t want to be seen with anyone, but near enough so I’m not noticed. I take walks often so if I saunter off site it will only look like I’m just going for a stroll.
Cass, ‘It is risky because of lockdown, I shouldn’t really drive anywhere but if it’s as urgent as you are making it sound, then yes. How about near the farm lake, back of the woods. I can park off-road and make my way through the woods and you only have to cross the road from the complex to access a track to the lake. Will that work for you? We keep apart though, as I’m not willing to take that risk, especially after all these weeks in Lockdown’.
‘Yes and yes’ Josh agreed, ‘I know exactly where you mean, I have walked there before. It is a good, private place’, Josh sounded strained. They arranged a time for the next day and Josh rang off. Cass felt anxious about him.
Cass often talked out loud to herself, ‘I don’t care if talking to yourself seems eccentric, so what! I might not dye my hair purple, but I quite like not being bothered what other people think of my eccentricities. Now that’s a benefit to getting old!
‘I’m worried about Josh, Cass spoke quietly to herself. I’ll have to park as unobtrusively as possible. I’ll take the sketchbook with the drawings I did two years ago in those woods. That enormous tree fungus was amazing. It’s a good job I didn’t date the sketches.
Enough of the out-loud talking to yourself woman, your ‘lock-down’ will be in a padded cell at this rate!’
Cass thought about the slightly eased lockdown rules. They allowed people to go for short drives to exercise in their own areas, as long as the exercise was for a longer time than the car journey. ‘Pfft, good luck with that’, Cass said out loud.
As cover for her return home, she would carry a large pharmacy bag from the car, Assumptions would be made that she had been to the doctor or the Pharmacy.
Going to the doctor’s surgery was a no-no as far as Cass was concerned, ‘Not likely if I can help it, not with that vicious virus about’, she thought. ‘These plans to meet with Josh are probably overkill but so what! Unlikely but if some officious busybody challenges me for being there instead of at home during lockdown, it’s a feasible excuse if this rendezvous turns out to be more than I bargain for!’
The next day was sunny.
I’m being followed, Josh said. I wasn’t sure until yesterday.’
‘Here we go again’, Cass whispered under her breath, thinking about events that brought her into contact with Sara and a group of others. Cass had been an unintended, if minor, participant in an operation related to covid19. It had put a spanner in the works of a malevolent programme cooked-up by a faction within Government.
Cass took in Josh’s expression, ‘What on earth is going on? You look terrible, I saw you coming but didn’t see anyone following you’.
’Not followed right now but when I go home from work and again in the morning, I’m followed to work and if I go to the supermarket.’
Cass drew breath, ‘But why, what’s going on?’
Josh, ‘You remember I mentioned Rob to you? He works in the lab you saw. He’s mentioned to me a couple of times he thought something odd was happening in the inner lab. Rob started to get even more suspicious about it after we heard a conversation from my workshop.
Rob was officially out to lunch but it rained that day. He doesn’t like the on-site café so he came to my workshop with his packed lunch. We heard a conversation. Someone said something was ready except for one small test to complete. They wanted ‘it’ moved from Oxford to somewhere safe with a minimum containment level 3. We heard one of the regular Lab guys say no one in the complex knew the inner lab was level 3 specification. The other guy added, ‘That’s why the lab was hidden within another lab, like hiding a tree in a wood. Except that now we know. You too.
Remember I told you how easy it is to hear what is said in the passage because of the old pipe?’ Cass nodded. Rob continued, ‘We both instinctively remained quiet, if we heard them they might hear us. We heard another conversation between one of the guys who’d just been talking and someone we didn’t know. This conversation was even more interesting, and scary. Obviously unaware they were overheard, because they went on to say that even though the Government financed the vaccine against the virus, it had to be kept secret.’
Cass interrupted, ‘Well that’s understandable, it has to be tested and all the other palaver.’
Josh stopped her, ‘Wait, I haven’t finished yet, there is more. These guys went on to discuss things we just didn’t understand, something about new vaccines being DNA or RNA based instead of how they used to be. To be honest I looked it up but most of it went over my head.
I think they were saying there is one more minor step to complete. Something easy because they already have what they need from a Government Research Facility. Easy to guess the name of that one. However they intended to pull the rug from under the University Research Facility that did the development work…
It’s sort of odd though, because it sounded like they’ve done some testing on monkeys already. Seems the researchers were getting excited by the fact they were near the finish and would ‘win’ the race to get a vaccine. A story was concocted to discredit the main R&D guy, he’s now relocated, with the offer of keeping his reputation and pay-rate as long as he signed the Official Secrets Act. I have doubts about whether that was a genuine Official Secrets Document, but there’s nothing I can do about that. The lab itself has been offered what seems to be a more lucrative Government R&D contract. Now, the vaccine is going to be brought to the complex to be finished and they expected it to be ready for the off in a week’s time.
They mentioned a precursor to this latest version of the vaccine had been tested on unsuspecting people. It had enough success so they intend to skip the rigorous testing a vaccine would normally be subject to. Even so, it was what they said next that stunned Rob and really scared both of us.
Turns out the other guy in the conversation was a Government Advisor. More to the point it seems there is a situation within the Government, similar to the lab within a lab at the complex, only it’s a Government within Government that is acting independently and puling too many strings.
Cass felt nauseous, she already knew because of her previous experience with Sara and friends, there was a rotten faction hiding within Government.
Josh got to the part he knew would upset Cass most. ‘To cut a long story short the gist is that tax-papers money was used to develop the vaccine but the ‘Government’ or whoever they are, is going to make it available only to certain social groups. Not groups you might want to see it go to. They are happy to let Herd Immunity take out more of the population, including their opponents and such like, well, especially their opponents! After that they want to sell it to regimes that you, me and Rob would consider extreme.
This is the most dangerous thing since the last world war and more. This virus isn’t going away, it knows no borders so they will be able to control the politics of the whole world. The real killer is that the vaccine may have to be renewed periodically to ensure people stay safe.
They know the vaccine might be copied eventually even if protected by a patent, but by then their dirty work will have changed the world to the way they want it. For sure there are plenty of rogue elements in the UK and USA not to mention Russia and China who are more interested in the control it gives them than in just selling it…’
Cass said, ‘Stop, at least for a minute and let me think about this’
‘I know it’s tough, Cass, but just let me finish telling you about the rest of that lunchtime. Both Rob and I knew instinctively we had to be careful, they must not know we had heard anything. We’d both looked at each other early on and put a finger to our lips to indicate quiet. When the guys in the passageway moved on a bit, Rob and I agreed Rob should go back to work and look as if he was just coming back from the café. I just kept my head down.
As luck had it, coming from the direction of the cafe Rob heard an official looking driver replying to a call for the car. Rob said the driver answered in a completely obsequious way so Rob knew it was someone ‘of importance’. The driver said ‘Yes sir’, then mentioned the Official’s name when he asked if he should go to the front or rear entrance. It confirmed for Rob it was the head honcho Government Advisor. Rob knew instantly who we had heard talking in the passageway’.
‘Now you’ve scared me Josh. How is it that these people are operating inside the Government with such impunity? I’m not only frightened, I’m also bloody furious! Why are being followed, Josh?’
‘I think it’s a general precaution for anyone near the inner complex. Rob thinks the same. We’ve been very careful. I hope cautious enough! Although oddly, Rob is asked to run errands for work at just the times we would normally have lunch together. That might just be coincidence or to get him out of the way generally, rather than to stop him lunching with me. However he did manage to slip in to see me one afternoon when no one was watching. We stuffed the pipe with rags before we spoke quietly.
Rob has turned out to be pretty good at looking like he minds his own business at the same time minding other’s business. The people in the inner-inner-sanctum/facility pretty much don’t see him, and certainly not as a threat. Apart from the fact he’s furious at how often they get lax with the containment aspect of the facility but says nothing, it means he has been able to keep an eye on what is going on.
Cass interjected, ‘I guess the people who work in what amounts to a clandestine operation aren’t necessarily the most conscientious type of people.’
‘Cass what I’m telling you sounds fantastic even to my ears, yet you are taking me seriously. Thank you for that, but also what do you think about it?
‘No details my friend,’ Cass thought he might not believe the story if she told it. ‘The fact is I trust you. I also have good reason to believe what you say. Rogue factions within the Government are not only straight-up corrupt but also criminally insane. Don’t ask, I can’t tell you!’
Josh said, ‘OK I won’t ask, but it is good to have someone to share this with. However, I’m not sure what to do. If I try to get some publicity for it I suspect something might happen to me and possibly to Rob’.
Cass agreed. ‘I don’t think you would get through to the right people easily. Some sections of the news are controlled by the very people that are involved.’
Josh looked crestfallen.
Cass said ‘Courage my friend.’ Look, there is already controversy about big business controlling vaccines that can stop a pandemic. In particular businesses that get taxpayers money to help develop vital medications. They still claim costs are so high they have to sell at extortionate rates so most people cannot benefit from it. Arguments are rife about this in the UK, even more in the USA. It makes me think about Klaus Fuchs.’
Josh’s eyebrows raised in a question.
Cass replied, ‘Fuchs passed secrets from the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union. Some claim his actions were just cunning self-interest, I do not believe that. I’m sure he believed if the balance of ‘mutual destruction’ was equal, it would likely prevent any destruction. Fuchs was prosecuted and convicted for being a spy, yet in reality he was deeply opposed to war and acted on his conscience. You’ve probably seen the film Dr Strangelove which pretty much comes out of that idea.
Anyway, I believe a vaccine as vital for a disease so dangerous to humanity needs to be universally available. In which case we are looking to stop this particular faction from winning. We need to get samples and/or the accompanying data out to other places so it can somehow be passed around the world. Not a tall order!
Josh looked at Cass with a mix of consternation and awe, ‘You sound like you’ve already decided to do something?
‘Of course I have sweetie, we can’t just sit back and leave things to the Egomaniac Elitists can we! I know someone who can, and I’m sure will, help.
I think the most difficult thing though, is getting our mitts on the vaccine and formula. Whatever happens I don’t want to see you or Rob in danger, but I don’t see any other way than Rob being the one to get what we need. You said that the guys working in the lab are lax at times, that’s going to be key. It can only work if we get a sample and ideally, the data.
Cass said, ‘It will only be necessary for the Government Cabal to hush things up if we succeed. Look at how they close ranks to protect their own, even when evidence of wrong-doing is blatant. They will not want any of this to come out. That will, hopefully, protect us to a degree, but only so long as we don’t get caught in the process.
Look time is getting on, you should go back to work. If you get a chance, talk to Rob and ask him if he feels it’s feasible to get the sample and copy of the data. I can’t tell him how to do that, but would suggest that if he does manage to take a phial, he replaces it with a lookalike just so it isn’t noticed too quickly. If the guys in the inner lab are as lax as Rob thinks, there is a chance they won’t even know anything has gone.
If and when anyone starts to investigate, it might be assumed one of the guys in the lab did something. Quite honestly I don’t care what happens to them, considering they are willing to aid this appalling fraud, scam, coup, call it what you like! Who knows, if it starts to unravel for them, they might want to dismantle the inner lab anyway. It will be a case of deniability.
’It is not going to be easy Cass. I need to talk to Rob, how do you and I communicate, especially if Rob does get the sample and data?
Cass had an answer. ‘A friend told me that WhatsApp messages are encrypted to a high degree, so we could use it, but only when we absolutely have to. Even so we need a code of some sort. If Rob gets the sample the message will need to be very specific.’
Cass thought about it for a few seconds, ‘I know, just say, ‘Face in the painting’, that can be the code, then if I need to pass on info without it being obvious I can include it on my Blog site. I have a face in one of my ‘non-figurative’ abstract paintings, so I can write about it. The Blog site can be googled for anyone that needs to find it, so we might as well use it.
You do understand Josh, this is all going to have to happen very quickly, if it is going to happen at all, are you OK with that?
Josh nodded, ‘Yes and I know I speak for Rob too. To take the sample from the lab is one thing, but how do I get it to you? Rob will need to pass it to me ASAP as he’s bound to be a suspect if they realise the sample has gone. Plus, the sample should be kept cool, an insulated sandwich box would likely be the first thing searched if the alarm is raised’.
An image flashed into Cass’s mind, she shook her head to clear it. ‘We will sort that. Both of you be careful. You’d better go back now, then let’s see if we can stop the bastards.’
Cass was sure Sara would wade in. Sara hated corruption, especially hidden inside what should be democratic Government, and this diabolical plan had to be stopped.
Cass wasn’t disappointed, with Sara on the opposite bank of the brook, they quietly worked through all sort of scenarios, and finally had a plan.
‘You are amazing, Sara, and what’s more you are funny too! This situation is serious but you still manage to make me laugh! What is it with you and clandestine stuff? When all this is over, however it turns out, remind me to tell you about something to do with my mother and Second Sight.’ Sara’s eyebrows lifted but she knew Cass wouldn’t tell her until the time was right.
‘I’m just glad I have access to great people on the Dark Web, it’s bad enough so many scumbags use it for bad reasons. I love turning tables on them in the same space they operate in!
Sara became very serious, ‘I’ll have feed-back very quickly so we will know how best to send the formula out around the world, also the best place to get the sample to. The sample is likely to be the most difficult part of the venture’.
‘I know but we can succeed now we have a plan.’
Sara grinned, ‘Well part of it is definitely amusing, who would have thought!
Cass knew what Sara was referring to.
‘You know just how risky this is, Cass? We laugh at some things, it’s all a bit of an adventure but while these people are ruthless cowards, they are dangerous ruthless cowards and would probably do anything to stop us.’
‘I do know and my main worry is you Sara, and the others, but then you know one of my favourite quotes?’
‘Yes I know.’ They spoke together: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Cass added, ‘and women! I’ve been thinking about the whole shebang. We are such an unlikely bunch, they tend to be so arrogant. Narcissistic megalomaniacs don’t see ordinary people as capable of thinking or acting against them. I think their attention will be on other groups rather than the likes of you and me. That helps us. Little do they know! However, we will not underestimate them.
Sara, ‘Part of our plan is so whacky, it wouldn’t be believed anyway, so here goes nothing! It’s going to be more than one bottle of Prosecco if we pull this off my girl!’
Cass laughed, ‘My ‘girl’ indeed!
Cass put a cryptic message on her blog site. It was for Josh to rendezvous with her the next day, same place, same time as before. Josh had checked the site daily. Cass just hoped Josh could make it.
‘Cass, good to see you!’
‘You too Josh. How are things? How’s Rob?’
‘Rob’s doing better than I am, he has a really cool head on his shoulders. I’m anxious and not able to concentrate on my work enough, but all in all I manage. I was about to contact you when I saw your message. Rob let me know he thinks he’s worked out how to get the phial and data. He thinks he can do it at about 11.30 tomorrow morning, there’s some sort of meeting in another part of the complex. It has happened before and they’ve been startlingly cavalier about security. It’s a perfect time as far as we are concerned, I take my lunchtime walk quite early.
It is also good for Rob, he has been asked to deliver something to a Medical Centre at lunchtime. That’s great, it will be natural for him to be gone when they get back from the meeting. Hopefully they just won’t think about it. Mind you, he is concerned that the sample be kept cool once he gets it to me. He won’t have it for more than a few minutes so it should be fine until then.’
Cass raised her eyebrows and grinned, ‘I suspect I’m going to make you blush now. My friend came up with this one, although perhaps I shouldn’t put it in those terms!’
‘What are you on about? Josh had no idea what was about to see the light of day. ’What the F..’
‘Don’t say it!, Cass said, chocking back laughter as she further unwrapped the brand new magenta pink dildos Sara had given her. ‘OK, serious stuff now. Several reasons for this, no matter how outlandish it might seem.’
Josh sputtered, ‘This I can’t wait to hear!’
‘Be serious, Cass said. ‘These um, items have excellent insulation properties. They have space where a battery normally goes. The space is big enough for a phial to be hidden. I’m not going to tell you more about the plan than that.
I know there are two ‘items’, I can’t tell you the reason for that either, you have to take on trust that it’s necessary. When Rob gives you the phial you need to bubble wrap it, put it straight in the empty battery compartment. The two then go together in that pretty silk bag, just like a present! There were two remote controls, but you are only to have one which will need to go in the silk bag with the rest. Again, don’t ask! Wrap the whole thing in plastic to protect the bag.
You go for a walk at your usual time, but turn off before the lake, walk along the back of the wood until you get to the far end. Someone with a hoodie and a facemask will be waiting to take the package. You put the bag on the ground, then just go back and carry on as usual.’
Josh said, ‘But’, Cass jumped in, ‘No ‘buts’, Josh, there can be no buts about this, it is set up and will work if we do not deviate from the plan. Let’s face it, anyone asking to look at those too closely are going to seem a bit pervy. A perfect cover would be to say it’s a present for a ‘locked-down’ girlfriend! Not that it’s really anyone else’s business. It would sure cover any nervousness you might display if someone did demand to see what you’ve got! Most of us wouldn’t want to discuss that sort of gift with a stranger, not as giver or receiver!
We are setting this up as best we can. It is better things are on a need to know basis, for your sake as well as others. We also want as little risk from physical closeness with each other as possible. All we need now to set things in motion is for Rob to succeed. When he does, you send me a short WhatsApp message saying, ‘Painted face’.
There was silence for a minute while both Cass and Josh tried to get their heads around the enormity of what they were about to do.
‘OK?’ Cass got a responding nod from Josh. ‘I’d love to give you a friendly hug but we can’t, so a virtual one for now. ‘Let’s hope the gods are on our side.’
‘You too Cass.’
‘One last thing, Josh’
‘Don’t be tempted to play with the flasher/vibrator control, we don’t want a dead battery!’ Cass laughed as she walked away.
Sara’s arrangement for Jan to collect the package from Josh worked perfectly.
The last step in the operation was going to be the riskiest one. Sara said the sample would need to be left with Cass. Sara, needed to be at her computer while the formula data was released to Countries around the world via the Dark Web. It would also go to the more ethical news organizations, they would undoubtedly break the story about the new vaccine.
Someone would collect the sample, until then Cass would have to keep it in her fridge preferably still inside its ‘shield’, the less it was handled the safer it would be.
‘You are kidding me, said Cass, ‘Imagine seeing that every time the fridge door is opened!
‘No one can come into your house with the lockdown rules so what’s the problem?’ Sara tried not to laugh as she said it. ‘While we’re at it I should remind you to have that wide fishing net of yours to hand.’
My fishing net! I thought you were kidding about that.
‘Not kidding.’ For Jan’s safety we cannot let her pass the package to you, even though we think no one is watching, physically or via electronic surveillance, we just cannot take the risk. Your house isn’t one that people pass on their way somewhere so here’s what is going to happen….
Jan taught at a primary school in a village not far from the complex. A few children were still at school, those classed as ‘at risk’ and those of ‘front-line staff’. Jan had the perfect cover to be in the right area.
The package was collected. Jan fixed the two items together with plastic ties soon after pick-up.
At the brook each end of the parapet had street signs each with a different name. What looked like the same street, changed name at the brook. Long Lane became Toll End, although strictly speaking it was all Long Lane, Cass wasn’t going to get her head in that particular maze. The package needed to go in the brook on the Toll End side to avoid a mini weir where it might get stuck. It was going to be a risky enough voyage without starting off in tricky waters. Cass had passed on instructions for the drop into the brook, including time of launch.
Cass whispered to herself, ‘Please go smoothly, I can’t contemplate a rescue mission for a couple of dildos!’
Jan was relieved the village remained as lock-down quiet as it had through the last weeks. She took the contents out of the bag and heard the splash as they hit the water. She used the remote control twice on light function to check it was floating freely and was relieved not to need the vibrate function to jog it free from weeds.
As darkness deepened, Cass wielded the net ready for her night fishing. She grinned when she thought of what Sara had said about the ‘rabbit carrier’ they would use for the vaccine phial.
‘Well, the advert did say its “waterproof design inspires exciting adventures outside of the bedroom.”
Cass, ‘Yes, however, I don’t think what we are doing with it is quite what they meant!
In the echo chamber of her mind, Cass once more heard her mother’s comment, ‘‘Oh Cassandra, you always have a tendency towards flippancy. You need to take some things a lot more seriously!’ ‘I told you second sight is inherited’.
Thinking of the now-not-so-bizarre vision of the dildos floating down the brook, Cass whispered back to her long gone Mother, ‘Yes mum, you did, but no matter how serious the reason for it, even you would have to see the slightly farcical side of this caper!’ Cass thought she heard her mother chuckle.
Cass thought it about time to start checking with the remote, Sara had only tested it in the bath. ‘This could be fun, I hope I can net it! Cass muttered to herself, ‘I can’t believe this hair-brained scheme seems to be working! She pressed the remote flash function, colourful flashes showed her the ‘package’ was very close but caught on a silted-up bank. Hitting the vibration button a few times freed it to head downstream. Cass left flasher and vibrate function on as she positioned herself to fish the package out of the water, not an easy task given the terraced bank her side of the brook. She knew she had netted it when the long handle of the net started to vibrate. Cass asked herself, ‘Did the earth move for you? ‘Stum, she scolded herself, this is serious!’
With the dildos safely tucked behind her Friday night supermarket curry in the fridge, Cass logged onto her blog site and posted her pre-prepared article and a picture of the abstract painting with its face. As she pressed ‘publish’ she felt slightly nauseous. It was vital this worked.
Sara had waited for the coded message inside the article. Now all Cass could do was, wait, which seemed endless.
WhatsApp message from Sara. “Hi Cass, someone wants to buy your painting, suggest you arrange to wrap it tonight. Pickup tomorrow morning. Transfer payment to your bank, I gave details.”
Cass thought, ‘Nothing is secure, of course Sara had her bank details.’ “Hope you don’t mind, very safe! Your groceries will be delivered at nine in the morning, painting collected at same time. Quick exchange, other groceries to be delivered elsewhere. Please ensure ‘’everything’ is ready for collection, x”
The van driver was wearing a facemask, baseball type cap and pretty much standard delivery clothes. ‘Keep calm’, Cass said to herself, after she recognized the person behind the mask. ‘Sara sure does know people.
‘Wow, the groceries might be a cover, but what a cover! Happy as I am with the cheaper supermarkets, these didn’t come from one! I enjoy a good champagne, and someone sure did their homework on the whisky. Single malt. Oh my Gawd! Not only my favourite whisky from Skye but a 25 Year Old one! I’m happy when I can afford the ten year old, but this is just amazing!’
A short time after the drop and pickup, Sara sent her another text. “Hadn’t been part of plan for painting sale but ‘someone’ really wanted it. Same person wanted the groceries to be special. Enjoy and keep an eye on the news tomorrow, ‘Foreign’ Press first as the UK ‘lags’ with some news.”
Much later Cass spoke to her glass, ‘You are a lesser single malt but perfectly palatable,’ as she drank. ‘I’ll wait ‘til everything is in place and everyone safe before I open that special bottle’. Cass thought about the risks everyone had taken, her fingers were crossed.
Next day another WhatsApp from Sara, “Bingo”. Cass watched a report on an Arab English- Language news channel. It stated that there had been a breakthrough in a Covid19 vaccine. Soon similar stories were popping up on all the channels. Most were cautious, but then it seemed the whole world’s news feeds were alight. Testing would begin immediately.
Cass answered her phone, ‘I know WhatsApp is supposed to be safe Josh but.’
Josh cut in, ‘Cass, it’s OK, things have happened here. Rob is fine, I’m fine. I don’t know how your friend did it but Rob had help to send the data out from one of the Lab guy’s computer. When the ‘wots-it’ hit the fan it looked like the Lab guy had sent it.
I know that part from Rob, but here’s the best bit! Seems one of the Lab guys knew most of what was planned for the vaccine and had decided on a bit of side business of his own. He had arranged to sell the vaccine and data to a mafia-like consortium. He took a phial and may have passed it on, but left an empty space where the phial should have been. Turns out the phial was the one Rob had replaced, which did not contain the vaccine!
He managed to pass on the phial but was rumbled too late by the security people Rob and I have been dodging. Of course then news started to trickle out about a new vaccine.
I heard via the pipe from the passage. It was assumed the vaccine got out through the Lab guy, his computer was checked and surprise, surprise!
With the cat out of the bag the ‘security’ guys vanished into thin air. The Lab guy hadn’t heard the news and was on the phone in the passage. He seemed surprised he wasn’t going to get paid. Two reasons, one was the vaccine data was everywhere for anyone to use and the second was that the sample he’d passed on was something like sugar water! The would-be buyers were not happy the Lab guy tried to rip them off, not only did he not get paid, he must have decided to get the hell out of Dodge! He’s gone!
Cass sent a group message. I salute you brave people. When safe, we will open a special whisky and raise a toast to those who fight for Right, and I’ll tell you a story. Love you guys.
Messages back. You too!
A few days later, a well-known philanthropist was being ‘remotely’ interviewed about the extraordinary news of the Covid19 vaccine being available for everyone around the world. In the background, Cass caught a glimpse of a face, no head and no body.
Others also saw the painting. Cass was surprised by many enquiries. Some so keen to buy they viewed on-line, paid her immediately and would wait to arrange collection after lockdown lifted. It meant maybe the studio and house project could be completed. Cass thought, ‘it’s an ill wind.’
Cass thought about her name. Cassandra had fore-sight, or second-sight, Cass thought that maybe it as not only about future, it was about something you ‘saw’ before it existed in the real world and was called Imagination.