Long listed for the James White Award 2015.
‘Madame Speaker. The Pacific Alliance, South America Federation and the African Union have removed all vestiges of ancient superstitions and barbaric rites. It seems that the Old World, notably the United States of Europe – in particular, England – is the only place on the planet where sun-worshippers still practice.’ SAF United Nations Senator Tacxic was enjoying himself. ‘When is President Barr going to identify and treat the last of his misguided and primitive citizenry?’
‘Point of order, Madame Speaker.’ Perry Barr rose to his feet, using his senior member’s override to take control of the microphone system. ‘The honourable member for the South American Federation has information that is, unfortunately, as out of date as his rhetoric. We have already identified the last cell of religious miscreants: capture and treatment is scheduled within the next few weeks.’ He sat down, relinquishing the override as he smiled at Tacxic.
If Tacxic was annoyed at the interruption he did not show it. ‘Thank you for such clarification. Of course, for maximum demonstrative effect I had assumed the treatment would take place before the winter solstice – supposedly one of the highlights of their calendar. It would be pointless doing so afterwards, I believe, without waiting another year. That leaves only a few days, Madame Speaker.’
Tacxic glanced down at the platen before him, apparently reading off the data it presented to him. ‘The Order of the Solstice Dawn, I believe, are convinced they must repeat the winter-turning ritual on the 21st in order for the sun to rise. How does Europe still countenance such ridiculous notions? How have these deluded miscreants evaded justice for so long? It has been centuries since South America countenanced such psychological aberrancies. Are the English up to the challenge, I wonder? Or are they as primitive as those they police?’ Tacxic sat and allowed a look of smug satisfaction to cross his face.
The Speaker of the UN Council frowned. ‘Senator Tacxic. Again, I must ask that you not use questions for gratuitous insults.’ She tapped her platen. ‘I will not hesitate to remove speaking time if it happens again.’
‘I apologise. Sincerely.’ Tacxic’s face betrayed no sincerity. ‘My question for President Barr may have been badly phrased but it is, I believe, still pertinent.’ He inclined his head towards the Speaker. ‘Madame Deloise?’
Speaker Deloise sighed. ‘President Barr, do you have any further response?’
Barr’s smile was fixed. ‘If it is so important for the Senator that we apprehend the last members of the order before this magical deadline of his, then I am sure we can do so to please him. However, I can assure this council that, unlike the honourable member across from me, we do not invest mystical power into such dates such as the winter solstice, purely astronomical.’ He turned away and whispered to an aide.
Deloise shook her head. ‘Enough, please. Next item.’
* * *
Superintendent Moore scowled at the reprioritised work order on his platen. ‘Dev? What is this?’
Dev Pew glanced over his shoulder. ‘Rowan Silvermoon. It’s that psych prisoner Lahoud brought in a few weeks back. She handed him over to Johnson to be readjusted. Goodness only knows how he escaped.’
‘But why me? Why Major Crimes? Psych’s not my remit.’
Dev rested a hand on his shoulder and pointed at the newsfeed on the wall. The UN Council was in session, all the major world leaders in attendance. ‘The realignment summit. For primitive religious associative disorders.’ A commentary scrolled along the bottom of the screen: President Barr challenged by South American Federation to capture the last psych case of primitive sun-worshippers.
Bryce Moore frowned. ‘Don’t tell me he was one of those.’ Dev raised her eyebrows and smiled. Bryce sighed. ‘And the President’s been embarrassed.’ Oh great.’
‘Hence you. It’s a Major Crime, now.’
Moore winced. ‘Johnson’s not going to like it.’
Dev nodded. ‘I would imagine a seniority reassessment is in the pipeline.’
Moore swiped up an image of DS Cott on his platen. ‘Sergeant, I’m transferring a priority search-and-arrest. To you, personally.’ The image blurred to a live feed from Cott’s patrol car.
‘Sir?’ Cott frowned. ‘Above the Weybridge murders?’
A look of distaste crossed Moore’s face. ‘Unfortunately, yes. I’ll be overseeing: the President’s interested in this one.’
Cott shook his head and could not hide an expression of disgust. ‘Of course, sir.’ He paused. ‘Profiling?’
Bryce glanced at Dev. ‘I’ll have Ms Pew from StatProf run up some likely scenarios. That will give you a focus.’ Dev nodded, moved away and began swiping figures around on her own platen.
‘Thank you, sir. I’ll pull off the team and bring in some dogs.’ Cott severed the connection, the act of rudeness his way of betraying his contempt for yet more political interference in the affairs of the Major Crime Unit.
* * *
Dogs barked in the distance, invisible through the forest. Rowan sank down. Only two more days to stay on the run. Then he could perform the Ritual of the Rising Sun before the solstice dawn. Hopefully, his apprentice would be there to learn the intricate gestures.
Right now, though, he was tired, having eaten nothing but tough, winter roots and scarce berries for days. He closed his eyes a moment, gathering strength. ‘The Sun must rise.’ He glanced skywards to glimpse the setting sun through the bare, forest branches. There were few such wildernesses left in England, but how the psych reprogrammers had found him so quickly he did not know.
All he had to do was keep out of their way for two days.
Dogs barked, again. Scent: water. He slipped from beneath the rotting log where he had been hiding and headed away from the search parties. Though noise was not an issue, he kept as quiet as he could, thankful he had spent so much time in the outdoors. Brambles pulled at his grimed prison-clothes: threads were probably pulled out but he did not mind, yet.
A low rise, beyond it a gentle slope. A valley, perhaps? He headed downwards and was rewarded by the sight of a stream. It was crossing his path almost at right angles, but was what he needed. He hurdled it and stepped up his pace. A low branch caught at his hair, wrenching out a tuft: he smiled. More tracking evidence.
When he could no longer hear the dogs he doubled back, taking more care, this time, to avoid becoming snagged on the undergrowth. With as much care as he could muster, Rowan tried to place his feet back into the tracks in the leaf-mould he had originally made. Only back at the stream did he jump into the water, splash himself all over with the freezing water, then wend his way downstream. He took care to not touch the banks, even with wet hands.
The dogs should be thrown, as should some of the IR sensors the searchers were undoubtedly carrying. He kept looking for a place to hide, then found it: a tree had collapsed over the stream, its bare roots creating a leaf-strewn shelter. He crouched beneath it in the stream, shivering.
The sound of the dogs came closer, seemed to pause a moment up-stream, then faded away accompanied by shouts and the crackle of radios. His simple ruse had worked. He rubbed his arms but decided to wait a little longer. A silence settled over the forest broken only by the cracking of falling branches and the gentle rustling of what breeze reached its way down to the floor. Darkness slowly crept beneath the trees, the dying orb of the sun glimpsed through the twigs.
If only it were summer there might be better cover. If it were, though, he would not be in this predicament. He shivered again and could not stop, sneezed. Time to get out, he thought.
He listened for a moment, unable to see anything above the banks of the stream. The forest was quiet. He slid cautiously from beneath the tree and pulled himself out of the water.
* * *
A soaked, dirty and leaf-strewn figure crawled up from the river and collapsed onto the bank. DS Cott stood from where he had been sitting and raised his stunner.
‘Rowan Silvermoon, you are under arrest. Do not move or I will shoot.’
The dishevelled figure groaned and rolled over. ‘How?’
Cott shook his head. ‘You wilderness types are all the same. Think you can outrun us by doing the same thing every time you hear a dog.’ He shrugged. ‘We aren’t stupid, you know.’ He raised the communicator to his mouth. ‘Suspect apprehended. Bring in the lifter. My location.’
The figure sneezed. ‘The sun must rise. I must say the rites of the midwinter sun.’
‘Sure, sure.’ Cott pulled out a pair of cuffs.
Silvermoon lunged to his feet and charged. Cott sighed, deftly stepped sideways and fired. Silvermoon shuddered, moaned and collapsed to the floor as the stun bolt caught him in the chest.
Cott snapped the cuffs on his captive’s wrists. ‘Every time the same. So predictable.’
Silvermoon closed his eyes and lapsed into unconsciousness.
* * *
Bryce Moore regarded the sleeping prisoner from behind the one-way glass. Silvermoon was in a straightjacket and strapped to a wall restraint, his legs linked together by a flexibile, titanium leash. There was no way he could run. The restraints were not strictly regulation for a psych prisoner but as this was a Major Crime matter, Moore had decided to treat the prisoner like one of his murderers.
He turned to the DS standing beside him. ‘I take it there were no difficulties, Cott?’
The grizzled sergeant avoided looking at his prisoner. ‘Yes, sir. Can we get back to something more important like the Weybridge murders?’
‘Keep a hunter team here in case he tries anything. But don’t worry about clear-up rates or bonuses: this was President led.’
‘DS Johnson’s already offered me a job.’
‘And you’re taking it?’
Cott snorted. ‘What? Hunting down psych patients instead of murderers? You know where I’d prefer to be, sir.’
‘Me, too, Cott.’ The door to the obs. room opened and Lahoud stepped in. ‘Superintendent? Can I have a word?’
Moore nodded to the DS. ‘Carry on, Cott. And well done.’ Cott closed the door behind him.
Sami Lahoud frowned as she looked at the prisoner. ‘You caught him quickly.’
‘Team effort. Pew and Cott were key, of course. It’s a waste of our time, though, for someone as pathetic as him.’ Moore nodded towards the prisoner.
Lahoud thinned her lips. ‘Johnson told me that this “pathetic” knocked out two of his guards and put another in hospital when he escaped.’
Moore raised his eyebrows. ‘A real religious extremist.’
‘One of the few left. And the only one of his sect to survive.’
There was movement in the cell: the prisoner was waking. A groan came over the speakers. In seconds, Silvermoon began struggling, shouting. ‘The sun must rise. I must say the rites!’ He turned to look at the one-way glass. ‘You are fools. Let me go!’ He could not move.
Moore shivered. ‘This I don’t understand. Murderers, sure – hate, emotional overload… But this? Why? The state can give them anything.’
‘That’s why they readjust him. It’s a psych issue.’ She paused and watched Silvermoon writhing and fighting on the bed. ‘When’s he due?’
‘Because of the mess at the UN Council, they’re accelerating his treatment. He’ll be adjusted tomorrow. I’m taking him myself.’
‘With guards, of course. He’s dangerous.’
Bryce Moore nodded. ‘Insanely so.’ He looked thoughtfully at the cocooned prisoner before them. ‘I want to talk to him.’
‘Perhaps. Most murder I can understand. It’s hatred, perhaps from fear, a flash of temper or a chaotic hormone imbalance. Or even brain injury… But this? It is such a completely irrational waste of time and energy.’ He gestured towards the cell. ‘It’s not even enjoyable for him any more.’
‘And still he sticks to it.’
Bryce nodded. ‘And still. Why? Is there a link with the other maladjusted?’
Sami Lahoud shrugged. ‘Okay. An interview – a debrief. As the Psych Officer I have to sit in, of course.’
* * *
Rowan sat at the desk. He had been hooded, escorted from his cell and told to sit in a nearby interview room. His legs were shackled to a bolt in the floor and his arms were still bound in the straightjacket. He had complied with all the orders. Hope remained as long as he could still remember what he believed.
He heard more footsteps enter, a short command, the guards leave. His hood was lifted and placed on the table before him. A tall police officer and a well-dressed woman sat opposite. He recognised the woman, a Psych Officer he had seen earlier, Sami Lahoud, the PO attached to his ‘case’. The officer was new: his name tag said ‘Supt Moore, B’.
He smiled. A senior officer. ‘Hoods don’t work. Left 15 paces, right 20, a door – combination lock and key, probably held by a guard on duty. Then the cell block. I’m 16 paces down on the right. I can guess the number.’
The officer regarded him levelly. ‘You’re not helping yourself. Why haven’t you escaped?’
‘Because the thugs you have outside are a whole different world to those of Readjustment.’
‘You speak well.’
‘I’m not an idiot, if that’s what you mean.’ Rowan could see where this was going. Perhaps there was a chance, after all. ‘You speak to the point, Superintendent. I’ll be straight: I know what I have to do.’
‘Thank you,’ said Moore. ‘So if you’re that sensible, why believe all this rubbish, this Order of the Solstice Dawn?’ The Psych Officer took a sharp breath at the religious insult but remained silent.
Rowan was used to the jibes and his smile broadened. ‘Because it isn’t, it isn’t rubbish, I mean. I don’t even think you know what I believe.’
Moore remained silent, his arms resting on the table. Silvermoon shrugged. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘You’re waiting for me to tell you. So I will. All I ask is you keep an open mind.’
Moore glanced at the woman beside him. She nodded. ‘Go ahead, then,’ he said. ‘But don’t expect me to believe.’
Rowan chuckled. ‘It doesn’t matter if you believe now – you will eventually.’ He stared at the both as if trying to persuade them with his eyes. ‘What I believe goes deep into my bones – it’s the essence of what makes me. My belief will continue even after whatever I know is forgotten.’ His gaze settled on Sami Lahoud. ‘You should know that.’
‘You’ll continue believing after Readjustment?’ asked Lahoud. She glanced at Moore and shook her head slightly before turning back to Silvermoon. She looked sympathetic. ‘No one believes afterwards, Rowan. It’s a healing process, it wipes out all the horrible things you’ve been taught.’
Rowan shook his head and shrugged emphatically. ‘That’s because they are not me. You may make me forget, but I’ll believe.’
The Superintendent sighed and made as if to leave. ‘I was serious,’ he said. ‘I wanted to know. Stop playing with us.’
Silvermoon’s control lapsed for a moment and his face darkened. ‘I’m not the one who’s playing!’ he snapped. ‘You are the one’s playing with disaster. The sun must rise! Let me free!’
Moore shrugged and opened the door to let the Psych Officer out. ‘Ms Lahoud. I’ve finished…’
‘Wait! I’ll tell you…. I’ll tell you.’ Silvermoon calmed down as abruptly as his temper had flared. ‘Just listen. Sit down and listen.’
The Superintendent and Lahoud did as he asked.
‘I’ll tell you about the world,’ said Rowan. ‘No interrupting.’
* * *
‘In the beginning were people,’ said Rowan, ‘and they were bored. Accidentally coalescing from interstellar gas and debris, their lives were subject to being ripped apart by gravity, galaxies and expansion. Inevitably, one was formed who had more capabilities – powers, if you like – than all the others and decided to create a place to live, a world on which it and the other ephemeral beings could take a more substantial form.’ He shrugged, all the expression he could achieve. ‘Live for longer.’ He looked at them both. ‘Can’t be fun getting your mind wiped out by any piece of dust, after all, eh?’ They stared at him impassively. He sighed.
‘So the world came into existence, pulled together from the raw material of the universe. But, having created the world, they needed more – air, water, light, warmth, bodies. So they did. As the universe was the world, and the world was their universe, whatever they thought came to be. They wanted to make it interesting for their dependents, so created history in the rocks.’
Moore sighed. ‘Another Creationist myth.’
‘Except this time it’s real.’ Silvermoon glared at the Superintendent. ‘This isn’t the same as other stories: it’s real. Listen to me.’ He gathered himself before continuing. ‘Whatever they thought, they brought into existence. The more they believed, the more of them that imagined a thing, the easier it was to set the thing in stone, so to speak. They imagined the laws that govern our universe.’ He looked meaningfully at Moore and Lahoud. ‘Think about that. They imagined them. And if they could imagine those laws and things, so they could un-imagine them, if enough stopped believing in it. Or if they forgot.’
Lahoud glanced at Moore. He seemed to be listening intently.
SIlvermoon warmed to his tale and leaned forward. ‘As you can imagine, things were pretty chaotic back then, so they agreed on a number of rules to keep things going right. The concord, they called it. They invented rituals, prayers and dances and movements that all of them agreed would keep the universe going if any one of them performed them.’ He paused. ‘If the rituals aren’t performed, though…’ He trailed off and looked from Moore to Lahoud and back again. ‘The sun must rise to wipe out winter. I must perform the rituals.’
The Superintendent held up a hand. ‘You can stop there. Are you trying to tell me that if you don’t say the magic words the sun won’t rise?’ He snorted. ‘Sami, let’s go. I was wrong. This man really is sick.’ He got up to leave.
Silvermoon surged to his feet, panic on his features again. ‘No! You must let me go! Think about it: every religion had a pact at its core, a rainbow, a commitment between the gods and man. This is the proto-myth, the reality behind the stories. It will be a disaster if you don’t let me go.’ He tried to step around the table towards the pair about to leave but the tether brought him up short. ‘The sun must be made to rise! We are them, the creators: we make what we believe and what we don’t believe is gone. You must believe me. Believe in me!’
Moore shook his head. ‘I’ve heard enough. You are totally deluded.’ He let Lahoud out of the interview room door and nodded the guards back in. ‘Take the prisoner back to his holding cell. We’ll take him down to Readjustment later. Ms Lahoud and I need a coffee.’
As they left Silvermoon began shouting again. ‘I’m not deluded. I must complete the rites: winter must be banished!’ Then a guard stunned him again and he fell quiet.
* * *
Sami Lahoud sipped her coffee at Moore’s desk. ‘What do you think?’
‘I didn’t realise just how bad it was. He’s insane.’
‘But he may have a point.’
Moore stared at her. ‘You are joking, aren’t you? There’s a huge hole in his thinking: there are billions of people on Earth who agree with science. Even if he is right, then our belief in the scientific inevitability of the Earth’s orbit would override his own.’
Lahoud nodded. ‘Maybe you’re right. I was just looking at it from his viewpoint. How many of us really believe, rather than just accept how things have always been. This Concord of his…’
‘Is an amalgam. A constructed religion, just as we were warned.’ Moore looked at her in disbelief. ‘I really can’t believe you’re suggesting it’s real.’
She paused for a moment, looking at him seriously, then smiled. ‘Just playing devil’s advocate.’ She frowned. ‘Not that I believe in devils, of course.’
Moore snorted and drank his coffee.
Sami was quiet for a moment, then: ‘What did you hope to get from it, Bryce?’
He shivered. ‘Have you seen the Readjusted?’
She nodded. ‘Of course. It’s my job…’
‘I can’t cope with them,’ he interrupted. ‘The emptiness, the… the absence of anything that makes them… human.’ He paused. ‘You know I was offered Johnson’s job – a fast track?’
‘No. You turned it down?’
‘Of course. It set me back a few years but it was worth it.’ He looked blankly out the window at the roves of London beneath them. ‘The Readjusted.’ He shivered.
* * *
Four guards escorted Superintendent Moore and Rowan Silvermoon along the corridor to the Readjustment Unit. All four were Major Crime Tacteam officers, not Johnson’s patrolmen. All wore heavy, padded armour, black helmets and V-glasses, stun-guns in their hands and semi-automatics over their shoulders. Radios constantly crackled as they reported progress and cleared the halls ahead of the Superintendent.
Bryce Moore was taking no chances. The sun-worshipper was chained to him, still wrapped in restraints, still hooded and now with a gag: Bryce had become impatient with his constant shouts about the rising sun. Silvermoon shuffled quickly to keep up with the guards, continually kept almost – but not quite – off-balance.
They paused outside the unit’s security door. Lahoud was waiting on the other side, let the posse in. She led the way down the corridor, past side wards, each crowded with half a dozen beds or more. All the beds were occupied, most of the occupants strapped to the beds. The few that were not strapped in sat vacantly on the end of the beds or in side chairs, barely looking up at the posse as it passed along the corridor. Their listless movements and slack-jawed gazes resembled those of B-movie zombies.
‘Here.’ Lahoud beckoned to an open door. Beyond was a bare, grey room, a giant block of a machine in the centre. Before the machine extended a padded restraint couch, a head rest and cage at one end. Limb and body straps hung loosely to the floor. The machine had a white, smooth finish, the only relief a hole into which it seemed the table slid and a few green lights blinking just beneath its plain surface.
Moore stood Silvermoon in front of the machine and pulled off his hood. Silvermoon shivered and panicked, tried to kick his guards and turn round. But they and Bryce were ready, anticipating his move. One guard stunned him, two others grabbed his arms whilst the fourth and Bryce grabbed his feet. Their prisoner was on the table and strapped in before he could recover.
A tech stepped out from behind a screen. He had a syringe in his hand. ‘Sedative?’
Bryce nodded and stepped away. ‘Here, quick.’
Silvermoon must have felt the needle enter his skin. He opened his eyes. For once his voice was quiet. ‘You don’t understand. The rites must be performed.’ His gaze caught that of Bryce. ‘Let me show you, tell you. Please…’ His eyes closed and he slumped back, unconscious again.
Bryce glanced at the tech. ‘Can you still carry out the realignment?’
‘With him unconscious, you mean? Sure.’ The tech strapped Silvermoon’s head tightly against the restraints. ‘We just stimulate the memory areas, bring up personality and emotional response centres and trace back to the erroneous beliefs. The machine does the rest, zapping the connections.’
Bryce shivered. ‘What about those I saw outside?’
‘The Readjusted?’ The tech shrugged, pressed one of the lights and Silvermoon slid into the machine. ‘Most of them are a little disoriented, so we have to keep them restrained.’
‘Some of them seemed zoned out.’
‘Depends on how deep the misguided belief goes. If it’s been there since childhood or it has become the central plank of their identity, then a fair amount of memory gets wiped. I guess with this guy it goes deep.’ His gaze flickered from the Superintendent to the doorway. ‘Do you mind – I’m on a schedule.’
Lahoud stepped forward and pulled Moore away. ‘It’s okay, Bryce. It will only take a few hours, then he comes out. He will have forgotten a lot but the staff here will teach him how to speak or work again – how to integrate with a rational world.’
Moore nodded to the guards. ‘Stay around for when he wakes up.’ To the tech. ‘Call me.’ The Readjustment Unit, the whole process disturbed him. He allowed himself to be led outside by Sami.
‘Are we destroying him?’
Sami Lahoud shook her head. ‘No. He is still intact. It’s just his false memories and learning that’s erased, the patterns that cause his insanity, the extremism. The religious belief.’
‘But he’s pretty far gone. Totally committed. How much will be left?’
She was silent. ‘Not too much, I’m afraid.’
‘Can’t we help?’
She shrugged. ‘Probably not. Some recover quicker when faced with the ludicrous nature of their beliefs.’
‘Like the sun coming up tomorrow?’
Lahoud glanced back through the door and frowned. ‘I guess so,’ she said, cautiously. She looked up at Bryce. ‘You’re not thinking of showing him?’ She searched his eyes. ‘You are.’ She smiled. ‘You’re a nice guy after all, Superintendent. I’ll let them release him to you before dawn tomorrow.’
* * *
The park was one of the few places in London that had resisted encroachment or redevelopment. There was even a hill on top of which one could look out over the city. Bryce Moore pulled up in the car park just below the summit. He mopped some drool from Rowan’s chin and led the slack-jawed husk of a person out of the car. ‘It’s still dark,’ he muttered, ‘but there is a seat up here.’ He walked into the light from the headlamps. ‘Follow me.’
Rowan shuffled after, his face blank. He seemed not to notice the frost, the sharp, cold air making his breath steam.
They crunched across the frost-tinted grass to the bench set on the summit. ‘Sit,’ said Bryce. Rowan responded obediently. ‘We’ll wait here until the dawn breaks. Apparently it will be good for your rebuilt personality to have such a grounding on fact. Dawn will break: East is that way.’
Rowan made no response but stared at the skyline where Bryce pointed, lights shining from the windows of bare tower blocks. His lips moved hesitantly, soundlessly, then stopped, as if an habitual response had been forgotten.
‘You don’t have to say anything,’ said Bryce. He glanced at his wrist’s organic ink display. ’Sun up in 5 minutes.’ Rowan made no response and merely continued his expressionless stare into the dark. The superintendent shrugged: the stillness of the soul-wiped man disturbed him.
The sky was still dark. Bryce wondered if there should be a pre-dawn. Not that he had looked out on a dawn as his recent work had always been inside or amongst the corridors or interconnecting tunnels of Greater London. Bryce tried to enjoy the experience, the drive out here a change from his normal routine.
A buzzer sounded in his inner ear. ‘Dawn coming now, Rowan. Just watch, keep quiet.’
The sky remained dark. A cold wind began to rise, snowflakes whisked along, caught in the faint glow from the distant headlights. Bryce sighed, checked the time again. 08:07: a minute past dawn. He briefly wondered if his time-keeping had gone out of sync this far from the city and waited another minute or so.
The wind began to whip snow from the ground but the sky remained dark. Bryce was sure it was getting colder. He buzzed the control room. It took a while to connect. He frowned. ‘Control, Michael-Charlie-Zero. Your response time is awful.’ There was a muttered apology in reply. Bryce cut them off. ‘This is important: what time is it?’
‘Apologies, MC-Zero. We’ve got problems all over. We think it’s 08:11, but atmospheric interference is going crazy. People are panicking thinking the time sync’s gone haywire.’
‘Don’t know, sir. We’re struggling to find out. Every clock we have says the same time.’
‘Then what’s gone wrong?’ Bryce grimaced to himself: he should not be snapping at his subordinates.
There was a pause. ‘Aah – the sun just hasn’t come up on schedule, sir.’ The control room operator cleared his throat, perhaps wishing some restraint on his sarcasm. ‘Sir, the weather is deteriorating fast, the temperature’s plummeting. Health and Safety have advised all officers should be recalled from the field and given arctic clothing. The Chief demands you come back in. He’s expecting a crime surge.’
Bryce cut the link, stared at his prisoner. Silvermoon’s lips shaped words but no sound came; his fingers twitched but formed no shapes; and his feet swung to and fro beneath the bench but could not dance in step. His vacant eyes stayed on the horizon. The freezing wind whistled around them both, blasting huge snowflakes into their eyes. A single tear trickled down Silvermoon’s cheek and froze.
‘The sun will rise, kid. Just wait.’ Bryce heard an edge of doubt in his own voice.
Silvermoon shook his head, slowly. He looked puzzled and frowned. ‘I don’t know the words,’ he whispered. ‘I can’t remember what to do.’ He looked pleadingly up at Bryce. ‘Tell me what to say.’ More tears froze on his cheeks and he shivered. ‘The sun must rise.’ There was a query in his voice.
Bryce Moore checked the time: 08:32, way past dawn. He looked at the dark horizon, back to his prisoner, then to the sky once more. If anything, it was even darker at the second glance. ‘Sure, kid,’ he said, quietly. He drew his service pistol, switched it from stun to full power, held it to Silvermoon’s head. ‘There’s only one person who doesn’t believe the sun will rise.’ Wind and snow whipped around him, threatening to throw them both off balance.
Silvermoon stared up at him, his lips still. Moore looked away. His whisper was torn away by the rising wind. ‘The sun must rise.’
The first arc of the morning sun crept over the horizon.
[Photo: Justin Kern, https://www.flickr.com/photos/justinwkern/3603171983/, Creative Commons]