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Authors: James Lovegrove

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Days

BOOK: Days
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Also by James Lovegrove

 

N
OVELS

The Hope

Escardy Gap
(with Peter Crowther)

Days

The Foreigners

Untied Kingdom

Worldstorm

Provender Gleed

Redlaw

 

T
HE
P
ANTHEON
S
ERIES

The Age Of Ra • The Age of Zeus

The Age of Odin • Age of Aztec

 

Novellas

How The Other Half Lives

Gig

Dead Brigade

 

C
OLLECTIONS OF
S
HORT
F
ICTION

Imagined Slights

Diversifications

 

F
OR
Y
OUNGER
R
EADERS

The Web: Computopia

Wings

The House of Lazarus

Ant God

Cold Keep

Kill Swap

Free Runner

The
5 Lords Of Pain
series

 

W
RITING AS
J
AY
A
MORY

The
Clouded World
series

The Fledging Of Az Gabrielson

Pirates Of The Relentless Desert

Darkening For A Fall

Empire Of Chaos

 

DAYS

 

JAMES LOVEGROVE

 

 

SOLARISBOOKS.COM

 

First published 1997

Electronic book edition by Solaris 2012

an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd,

Riverside House, Osney Mead,

Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK

www.solarisbooks.com

 

ISBN: (epub) 978-1-84997-192-8

ISBN: (mobi) 978-1-84997-193-5

 

Copyright © James Lovegrove 1997, 2012

 

Cover Art by Pye Parr

 

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of he copyright owners.

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

 

 

What are days for?

Days are where we live.

 

– Philip Larkin, “Days”

 

Prologue

 

The Seven Cities
: according to Brewer’s
Reader’s Handbook
, seven cities are regarded as the great cities of all time, namely Alexandria, Jerusalem, Babylon, Athens, Rome, Constantinople, and either London (for commerce) or Paris (for beauty).

 

 

5.30 a.m.

 

I
T IS THAT
time of morning, not quite night, not quite day, when the sky is a field of smudged grey, like a page of erased pencil marks, and in the empty city streets a hushing sound can be heard – an ever-present background sigh, audible only when all else is silent. It is that hour of dawn when the streetlamps flicker out one by one like heads being emptied of dreams, and pigeons with fraying, fume-coloured plumage open an eye. It is that moment when the sun, emerging, casts silvery rays and long shadows, and every building grows a black fan-shaped tail which it drapes across its westward neighbours.

One building casts a broader shadow, darkens more with its penumbra, than any other. It rises at the city’s heart, immense and squat and square. Visible for miles around, it would seem to be the sole reason for which the houses and tower blocks and factories and warehouses around it exist. Hard rains and hot summers have turned its brickwork the colour of dried blood, and its roof is capped with a vast hemispherical glass dome that glints and glimmers as it rotates ponderously, with almost imperceptible slowness. Hidden gearings drive the dome through one full revolution every twenty-four hours. Half of it is crystal clear, the other half smoked black.

The building has seven floors, and each floor is fourteen metres high. Its sides are just over two and a half kilometres long, so that it sits on seven million hectares of land. With its bare brick flanks it looks like something that weighs heavy on the planet, like something that has been pounded in with God’s own sledgehammer.

This is Days, the world’s first and (some still say) foremost gigastore.

Inside, Days is brackishly lit with half-powered bulbs. Night watchmen are making their final rounds through the store’s six hundred and sixty-six departments, the beams of their torches poking this way and that through the crepuscular stillness, sweeping focal haloes across the shelves and the displays, the cabinets and the countertops, the unimaginably vast array of merchandise that Days has to offer. The night watchmen’s movements are followed automatically by closed-circuit cameras mounted on whispering armatures. The cameras’ green LEDs are not yet lit.

Across the dollar-green marble floors of the store’s four main entrance halls janitors drive throbbing cleaning-machines the size of tractors, with spinning felt discs for wheels. The vehicles whirr and veer, reviving the marble’s oceanic sheen. At the centre of each entrance hall, embedded in the floor, is a mosaic, a circle seven metres in diameter divided into halves, one white, one black. The tesserae of the white half are bevelled opals, those of the black half slivers of onyx, some as large as saucers, some as small as pennies, all fitted intricately together. The janitors are careful to drive over the mosaics several times, to buff up the precious stones’ lustre.

At the centre of the gigastore, tiered circular openings in each floor form an atrium that rises all the way up to the great glass dome. The tiers are painted in the colours of the spectrum, red rising to violet. Shafts of light steal in through the dome’s clear half, reaching down to a fine monofilament mesh level with the Red Floor. The mesh, half a kilometre in diameter, is stretched tight as a drum-skin above a canopy of palms and ferns, and between it and the canopy lies a gridwork of copper pipes.

With a sudden hiss, a warm steamy mist purls out from holes in the pipes, and the tree canopy ripples appreciatively. The water vapour drifts down, growing thinner, fainter, sieved by layers of leaves and branches, to the ground, a loamy landscape of moss, rock, leaf mould and grass.

Here, at basement level, lies the Menagerie. Its insects are already busy. Its animals are stirring. Snarls and soft howls can be heard, and paws pad and undergrowth rustles as creatures great and small begin their daily prowling.

Outside Days, armed guards yawn and loll blearily at their posts. All around the building people lie huddled against the plate-glass windows that occupy the lower storey, the only windows in the building. Most of them sleep, but some hover fitfully in that lucid state between waking and dreaming where their dreams are as uncomfortable as their reality. The lucky ones have sleeping bags, gloves on their fingers, and shawls and scarves wrapped around their heads. The rest make do with blankets, fingerless gloves, hats, and thicknesses of begged, borrowed or stolen clothing.

And now, at last, as six o’clock approaches, over at the airport to the west of town a jet breaks the city’s silence. Its wingtips flaring like burnished silver in the low sunlight, it leaps along a runway, rears into the air and roars steeply skyward: the dawn shuttle, carrying yet another fuselage-full of émigrés westward, yet another few hundred healthy cells leaving the cancerous host-body of the motherland.

The echo of the plane’s launch rumbles across the rooftops, reaching into every corner of the city, into the deeps of every citizen’s mind, so that collectively, at four minutes to six, as is the case every morning, the entire population is thinking the same thing:
We are a little bit more alone than yesterday.
And those who continue to sleep are troubled in their dreams, and those who come awake and stay awake find themselves gnawed by dissatisfaction and doubt.

And still the day remorselessly brightens like a weed that, no matter what, will grow.

 

1

 

The Seven Sleepers
: seven noble youths of Ephesus who martyred themselves under the emperor Decius in 250 A.D. by fleeing to a cave in Mount Celion, where, having fallen asleep, they were found by Decius, who had them sealed up.

 

 

6.00 a.m.

 

T
HE BRASS HANDS
on the alarm clock on Frank Hubble’s bedside table divide its face in two. The perfect vertical diameter they form separates the pattern on the clockface into its component halves, on the left a black semicircle, on the right a white. A trip-switch clicks in the workings and the clock starts to ring.

Frank’s hand descends onto the clock, silencing the reveille almost before it has begun. He settles back, head sighing into duck-down pillows. The roar of the departing shuttle is now a distant lingering murmur, more remembered than heard. He tries to piece together the fragments of the dream from which he was summoned up by the knowledge that the alarm was about to go off, but the images spin elusively out of his grasp. The harder he reaches for them, the faster they hurtle away. Soon they are lost, leaving him with just the memory of having dreamed, which, he supposes, is better than not dreaming at all.

The street below his bedroom window is startled by the sound of a car’s ignition. The window’s russet curtains are inflated by a breeze then sucked flat again. Frank hears the timer-controlled coffee machine in the kitchen gurgle into life, and moving his tongue thirstily he pictures fat brown droplets of a harsh arabica blend dripping into the pot. He waits for the sharp odour of brewing coffee to creep under the bedroom door and tweak his nose, then, with a grunt, unpeels the bedcovers and swings his legs out.

He sits for a while on the side of the bed gazing down at his knees. He is a medium-sized man, well-proportioned and trim, although the years have worn away at his shoulders and put a curve in his upper vertebrae so that he suffers from a permanent hunch, as though he is saddled with a heavy, invisible yoke. His face is as rumpled as his pyjamas, and his hair is a grey that isn’t simply a dark white or a light black but an utter absence of tone. His eyes, too, are grey, the grey of gravestones.

In a bathroom whose midnight blue walls are flecked with stencilled gold stars, Frank urinates copiously into the lavatory bowl. Having pushed the flush and lowered the lavatory lid, he fills the basin with steaming-hot water, soaks a flannel and presses it hard against his face. Though his skin stings in protest, he holds the flannel in place until it cools. Then he lathers on shaving foam from a canister marked prominently with the same back-to-back semicircles of black and white as on the face of the alarm clock, and with a few deft strokes of a nickel-plated razor he is unbristled. He has his shaving down to such a fine art that he can leave his face smooth and nick-free without once consulting the mirror in front of him.

BOOK: Days
5.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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