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Ethan’s fist slammed into my face.
I was in school uniform. He wore a football kit and said he was my games teacher come to teach me a lesson for being a cock-tease.
I sensed the presence of others watching.
This was in the library.
When he left, he did not fix me straight away. He said he was going to leave me lying on the floor with broken ribs and busted teeth so his friends could enjoy my suffering a few minutes more.
There was a clock on the mantelpiece. It was the sort you used to see in railway station waiting rooms. I could hear it tick-ticking away and every now and then a tick would come in earlier or later than it should have done. And I knew it had to be the portal. Ethan’s back door. The interface between my world and his.
Fully repaired, I sat in the cinema with Robert. We watched a recording of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde filmed at Bayreuth. It bored me senseless.
Ah, look at me. The dutiful bride in her wedding gear – her whiter than white wedding gear – with her self-repairing hymen. The phony virgin.
Robert loved Wagner. It appealed to the disciplinarian in him. He held my hand as fat ladies sang and he had no idea that his little princess had been repeatedly raped.
It was a long opera. I had plenty of time to think about how I was going to fight back against Ethan and his band of voyeuristic perverts.
If Ethan’s portal was the clock in the library then Robert’s was almost certainly the ebony grandfather clock. It was information that might be useful later but not now. The security on Robert’s portal would be almost impossible to crack. It almost certainly incorporated a biometric system so he and he alone could access it,
Ethan on the other hand... He must, I reasoned, be one of Project Avalon’s chief architects. Who else would have enough access to be able to build a secret back door into my world?
There would have been little point adding more than a minimal amount of security to his portal. If ever it was discovered, it would be useless to him, and the simpler he kept it, the less likely it was to be spotted.
Could I access the secret portal and use it to spy on my abusers, find out who and where they were? What were the rules of physics in Avalon?
It was a unique place and I was a unique person. It was unlikely anyone who had helped create me had conceived of the notion that I might try to escape my prison.
All I had to do was reprogram my mind. I was surrounded by 1s and 0s. It was what my world consisted of. It was the essence of my being. If I could truly believe that at all levels, I would effectively become an adept, a Sufi, a saint, a Buddha.
I would know the sound of one hand clapping.
Robert stroked my thigh. A gentle squeeze signalled he wanted me to open my legs. I complied. It was what I was programmed to do.
When I wasn’t sleeping or being Robert’s whore or Ethan’s plaything, I occupied my time with reading.
The library had many books on philosophy and religion. With their help, I hoped to see beyond the illusion which my senses took for reality.
I started, appropriately enough, with Rene Descartes.
Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. The one thing I can be certain of.
And then I devoured the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. And then St. Augustine’s City of God. And the works of Leibniz, Kant, Nietzsche, Feynman, Locke, Confucius and a hundred other people who’d tried to shed light upon the nature of reality.
I’m a fast reader and capable of absorbing new concepts at a rapid rate.
I learnt most from the Buddha and his followers. The Four Noble Truths made a good deal of sense to me, as did the Noble Eightfold Path.
I wish now I had been brought up as a Buddhist. My life would have been a happier one and I would never have allowed Robert Morganfield to make me his mistress.
The ebony clock fascinated me.
I stood before it and questioned its reality. Clock, I thought. What is clock? Strange word: clock. Just a sound. Clock. Never mind how the dictionary defined it. Never mind the meaning other people placed on it.
Clock. To a native of Outer Mongolia, the word meant nothing. It was a sound like any other. Who says a clock is a clock? When did they start calling it that and why? Why not call it a wotsit or a thingamajig?
In my mind, I stripped the word of meaning. What I was looking at was a collection of parts, of wood and metal craftily contrived to do – what?
To measure the passing of Time.
It was an illusion whose purpose depended upon another illusion: the passing of Time.
There was no Time. Therefore there was no clock.
It stopped ticking. The clock, the thing that wasn't, stopped. The numbers on its dial became random marks.
The ebony clock turned vague. It neither faded nor dissolved. I still saw it, yet my mind could attach no significance to its being.
And so my reality filter tried to erase it.
The numbers shimmered and turned to dust. And the dust danced in the air like flies.
The sides of the clock melted. The hands collapsed in on themselves.
After a couple of heartbeats, I blinked.
The illusion returned and the clock was once more a clock.
I touched it and it was solid. Avalon was as its maker intended, but I had begun to chip away at its edges.
‘Rhiannon Morganfield. Report to the headmaster’s office immediately.’
I was sitting in the study, reading the Bardo Thodol, the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead. Literally translated, its title means liberation by hearing during the intermediate state. It’s a guidebook to the state of being the human spirit experiences between death and rebirth. I’d yet to finish reading the first chapter but I was already convinced the book would be the key to my breaking out of Avalon.
The voice intruded into my thoughts. It elicited from me a flash of irritation. I looked up.
The headmaster’s office? What on Earth was that about? Was Robert playing about with the mansion again? Adding yet another room neither of us would spend any significant time in?
My body tingled. A sure sign it was being reprogrammed.
I stood up, perhaps intending to run from what was happening though knowing such a thing was impossible. Before I was fully on my feet, I’d changed.
I was a girl in a school uniform, my hair in pig tails. My breasts were gone and I could feel the fabric of my knickers pressing against a hairless pubis.
Again the voice. ‘Rhiannon Morganfield. Report to the headmaster’s office. Now!’
Oh no. Not this. Not now.
Not when I was close to figuring out how to get away and put a stop to Ethan’s sick little games.
If he wanted me, he was going to have to get me. I would hide in the cellar. In the dark among the cobwebs and crates of virtual wine.
I would arm myself with the crowbar that opened the crates. Ethan wouldn’t be expecting that. He’d be expecting a meek little girl. Trembling in terror. Unable to refuse his depraved intentions.
I’d pretend to be cowed by him. Then, as he reached to grab me, I’d bring my hand from behind my back. The hand with the crowbar in. And swing it. Hard. Smashing into the side of his head. Causing him pain. Letting him know I was no longer his plaything.
Perhaps I could kill him or at least his avatar. And then what? What would happen to his mind if he died in Avalon? Would he become a vegetable? Go insane? Perhaps he’d die in the real world too. If so: good. It was no less than he deserved.
I heard footsteps.
Quickly Rhiannon! I still had time to get to the cellar.
I hurried across the room to the door that led to the corridor. And I opened it and the corridor wasn’t there.
Ethan sat behind a wooden desk. He was dressed as an old-time headmaster complete with cloak and mortar board.
‘There you are, child!’ The door slammed shut behind me. I hadn’t actually stepped into the headmaster’s office. Rather it had formed around me. ‘When you’re told to report to my office I don't expect to be kept waiting. Is that understood?’
‘Fuck you! You sad, perverted nothing!’
His face reddened. Standing up, he grabbed his cane from the desk. ‘What did you say? You said the F-word, didn’t you? You filthy little whore! Bad enough that you’ve been showing your knickers to the boys, but now you come in here with that potty mouth of yours and dare utter vile obscenities in my presence.
‘You’ve done it now, Rhiannon Morganfield. You have finally pushed me too far and for that you will pay!’
I woke in a pool of blood. My bridal outfit had more red patches than white.
The pain was immense. There didn’t seem to be any part of me that didn’t hurt.
Physically, I was no longer a little girl. But emotionally…
I remembered the nights my 10, 11, 12, 13 year-old self had cried herself to sleep because the other girls had picked on her. Or she’d seen the boy of her dreams kissing some other girl. Or mummy and daddy had spent the evening shouting at each other. Or her pet dog had died. Or she had been punished for something she hadn’t done.
My nose was broken. So were two of my ribs and one of my teeth. My anus was sealed shut with congealed body fluids, not all of them mine.
With my legs tucked up and my arms around them, I was a ball of misery. And of hate and anger and determination.
I smelt ozone. The air crackled. And the blood and the pain went away. But the misery remained.
There are Four Noble Truths:
Existence is suffering.
Suffering arises from desire.
Suffering ceases when desire ceases.
The Noble Eightfold Path leads to the end of suffering.
This is the first teaching of the Buddha.
I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself beautiful. Not in this life or my other one. Even after I’d had my more obvious imperfections surgically removed, I was no Helen of Troy.
But I had grace and elegance. I learnt how to be feminine and how to give men what they wanted. I was adept at pretending to be interested in the minutiae of their life. And I was careful not to threaten them with my intelligence.
Men were comfortable with me. I was approachable and attentive.
And that’s how I got to marry a millionaire.
I moved a chair in the library so I could sit just beneath the clock on the mantelpiece. Then I closed my eyes, slowed my heart from 72 beats per minute to stasis and stopped breathing.
Medically, I was dead. But the computer didn’t recognise death and so my brain and body functioned as before
It was, in the words of the Bardo Thodol, time for me to find my path in the reality of the spirit.
I opened my eyes. The face of the clock was a dark tunnel with a faint light at its end.
The mouth of the tunnel grew and swallowed me up.
I’d made it into the Master Control Program. Now all I had to do was follow the light to the memory core.
I followed the light.
I did not so much see or hear things as sense them with my mind. I was aware without being aware. Aware of myself, of mountains and bells and electrons. Of the continuity and connectedness of all things in Avalon.
I was in a new level of existence and part of a microcosmic dance that was the changing of bits from 1 to 0 and 0 to 1 and the continual, restless movement of subatomic particles from one quantum state to another.
I entered a dome-shaped cave that resembled the inside of a Gothic cathedral. In a niche in the wall, there was a filing cabinet which drew me to it.
Inside the cabinet, I found reels and reels of micro-film. I took a few at random and sat down at a microfilm reader.
The frames were full of text starting with a reference in the top left corner. The first one I looked at read: MB3574.76.18+LU4783.37.46. RHIANNON FALLS OFF HER BIKE WHEN A BLACK CAT RUNS IN FRONT OF HER. SHE REMEMBERS THE GRAZE ON HER KNEE AS RED PARALLEL LINES>NO RECALL OF PAIN. THE CAT’S EYES ARE GREEN AND MALEVOLENT. SHE SEES HER FACE IN A PUDDLE AS SHE SITS ON THE PAVEMENT. THE FRONT WHEEL OF HER BIKE IS SPINNING ROUND. SHE PICTURES IT SPINNING EVER FASTER UNTIL IT TAKES OFF WITH A NOISE LIKE A CATHERINE WHEEL>SHE THINKS SHE WILL PROBABLY HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT THE CAT.
It was a memory. Every frame stored in the filing cabinet was a readout of a part of my mind as it was when I lay in a coma waiting to die.
Of course, in the real world a cabinet full of micro-film containing all the knowledge of a single human would need to be the size of a skyscraper. The cabinet in that underground chamber was an artefact of my own mind translating the unknowable into something knowable.
And my memories were not stored on micro-film. They were stored as 1s and 0s in 700 servers spread over 5 buildings.
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