The Factory Trilogy 01 - Gleam

BOOK: The Factory Trilogy 01 - Gleam
8.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


First published in Great Britain in 2014 by

Jo Fletcher Books
An imprint of Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block

Copyright © 2014 Tom Fletcher

The moral right of Tom Fletcher 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 or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 84866 252 0 (HB)
ISBN 978 1 84866 254 4 (EBOOK)

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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To and for Beth and Jake


Nobody in living memory ever saw it from outside – that was part of its strangeness – but if you were to see it from outside, you’d see what looked like a great curved circular wall, like a great skull emerging from the verdant, swampy landscape: a skull with its crown knocked in. On closer inspection the wall would reveal itself not to be a wall but instead a mass of architecture, a confusion of stone buildings all pressed up against each other, so squashed and interconnected as to be all one structure. Close up they are a riot of different colours, but there are so many of them that from a distance their colours run to a muddy grey. They all prop each other up like drunks. They have arms around each other: gantries and bridges. Closer still, and you can see that some appear to have given birth to others: what at first looked like a chimney is in fact a fat tower; what looked like an ornate balcony is some kind of mansion house that’s erupted like a boil. The structures branch and intertwine. Now you can see
that they are thick with old rusted pipes and scattered irregularly with odd-shaped windows, some with glass and some without. As intimated, there is something organic about the architecture, but at this near distance now you can see that there is plenty of real, actual flora involved too, spreading across the various surfaces. Moss and lichens on a gigantic scale. Forests of trees growing on the vertical plane, all bending upwards. Flocks of white birds twist and wheel in the air around it. The skull, that is: the edifice. They nest in its sheer sides. They call to each other with cold voices.

Inside that exterior ring, the buildings are not so tall, which is why the place looks like a bashed-in skull, or like it’s got a wall. But they are just as densely packed, and just as disparate and strange. The scale is beginning to disorientate you. You feel as if you have a handle on it, but then details betray just how wrong you are. That’s not a shrub: it’s a vast and ancient oak tree. That’s not an old bowl left out after some rooftop picnic, but some kind of swimming pool or water tank. And swimming in it … that’s not a beetle. What is it? You’re not sure. What looks like a row of terraces is actually a towering red-brick mill of some sort, and even that is nothing to the building on top of which it has been constructed. It is a bright, clear day, and the sunlight is bringing out the blue of the slates, and setting the red bricks on fire. There is an abundance of both.

Shacks and shanties of wood and metal encrust
stretches of the roofscape like colonies of small molluscs. Herds of sheep and goats graze on the side of a tower that’s leaning crazily. These living things seem impossibly small. Despite the bright colours and the signs of life, there is something nightmarish about this, about the size of it. A fast-flowing river springs from the gigantic, jagged mouth of a marble pipe, and then, later, somewhere else, plunges as a waterfall over the edge of the roof of a huge and ruined castle. A human and a donkey both stand on that rooftop, further back, and drink from the river. There are lakes with a rainbow sheen that no living creatures touch. There are complex metal things that look like they used to move once upon a time, but are now rusted fast. Machines. Old, broken machines, some as big as the buildings. Like the buildings, their functions are unclear.

Your eye is drawn now, as all eyes here are, to the centre. From the centre rises the one structure that is not tarnished with extraneous growth, or overwhelmed with moss, or just rounded and worn by erosion. It’s a vast, black, six-sided pyramid, separated from the rest of the chaos by a ring of ashen wasteland. The wasteland is the top of a hill, which slopes down into a darkness from which all the rest of the chaos emerges. This is the only visible ground in the whole place, and it’s grey and dusty and somehow creepy. The pyramid itself, though, looks clean and new, and its edges are all sharp. Its stone has depth and shine. Every block of it has been carved into a
relief of intricate symbols. The slopes of the pyramid are full of openings – windows, balconies, galleries – that are all difficult to see, because the interiors of these surface details are also black. Around the top of the pyramid – a thin and vicious point – hangs an elaborate metal framework, which supports a whole battery of objects made out of glass and bronze. Telescopes and mirrors, magnifying lenses and orreries, measuring devices. Like an explosion of glass and bronze just frozen in that instant, and all glinting in the bright sunlight. The sun is going down now and the glints are reddish. It is from this range of artefacts, possibly, that the name of this whole hulking edifice derives its name: Gleam. That’s what most of its inhabitants think, and as we don’t know any better we will proceed under the same assumption. The truth is that nobody living knows for sure. Nobody living knows much of anything about Gleam; they’re all kept busy just trying to get by.

For now.

Getting It Wrong

The Pyramid was full of light. The huge and complex array of crystals, mirrors and lenses at the structure’s tip harvested the shine from the sun, moons, stars and planets, and focused it inwards, where it was reflected and bounced from one storey to another, refracted though great glass panes and stored up in frosted globes that would release it slowly throughout the night.

Alan lay on his back in the pool, gazing up at the enormous white globe that hung above him. The water was treated with minerals that made it dense, enabling Pyramid workers to float in it without having to swim or kick. As a consequence – Alan had always assumed unintended, but perhaps not – the water was milky-blue and opaque.

The globe was beginning to glow a soft yellow colour, which meant that outside the sun was setting, which meant that it was nearly time.

Alan rolled over in the water, swam towards the side of
the pool, and, once he was in shallower waters, stood up. The pool-room occupied one entire high-level Pyramid storey. Like the Pyramid, it was hexagonal, as was the pool itself. Alan was one of perhaps two hundred bathers, yet the pool was not crowded. Nobody spoke. Speaking in here was forbidden. The only sound was that of the milky-blue water cascading into the pool from channels carved into the marble floor at each of the six corners. Each of the six walls had a long window that ran the length of it. The sunset was livid over Gleam: a liquid sky full of thin pink and orange streaks, the ancient ruins that surrounded the Pyramid stark and black against it. A Third-Tier Assistant Alchemical Co-ordinator stood by one of the windows, waiting for him. He didn’t know her, but she was recognisable by the combination of a perfectly shaved head, red drawstrings on the hood of her thick brown cloak and the eyebrow notches.

Bloodletting appointments were assigned to Pyramid workers according to the day, hour and minute of their birth, but as Alan hadn’t been born in the Pyramid, he had been allocated the nightfall slot, along with all those other bastards and freaks who’d come in from outside – from those black, stark ruins known collectively as the Discard.

Alan walked naked from the pool. The Co-ordinator handed him a towel. He felt eyes on him as he dressed; his heritage as a Discard baby was obvious in the red-brown tone of his skin, and Pyramid natives were not ashamed
to stare. They were all painfully pale; so pale as to be luminescent. Almost translucent. Because he was from the Discard, they called him Wild. Wild Alan.

Stupid fucking Pyramidders
. Except he was one himself now. There could be no us-and-them, not any more. That was what Marion kept telling him. ‘For Billy’s sake,’ she’d said, now that they had a son, ‘drop the aggro. Let the chip heal from your shoulder.’

He’d agreed.

The Co-ordinator turned back to the window as Alan stepped into his trousers, shrugged on his shift, and fastened his own cloak around his waist. The cloaks were far too thick, given the perpetual heat, but like everything else their purpose was symbolic, their cuts and colours and details laden with so many various meanings that Alan hadn’t bothered to try to decode his own, let alone anybody else’s. Once he was dressed, she led him to the Bleeding Atriums.

The stairwells and corridors of the Pyramid were wide and clean and airy. They passed terraces with intricate topiary and off-shift Pyramidders sipping cool drinks from long glasses, courtyards full of glass statues and tinkling fountains, vast spaces occupied by polished brass machine sculptures that spun noiselessly in mid-air. All of the walls were white marble, veined pale blue, whereas the exterior of the Pyramid was black. Alan remembered it from his childhood: a shining black monolith, looming over all.

The Bleeding Atriums were small hexagonal chambers with six black leather chairs, equally spaced, each facing one of the six walls. Orange light came in through small, high windows. The chairs were elaborate constructions – large brass cogs and wheels allowed them to recline, and from their metal armrests extended tubes and wires that intertwined and spun off into spidery machines that sat over each chair like the spun-sugar domes that desserts came served with in the Refectory.

The Co-ordinator gestured to one of the chairs. Alan sat down, despite the bile rising in him. He rolled up his sleeves. The Co-ordinator moved to stand behind the chair and turned the machine on. It came to life with a hum and a buzz. Alan could feel it vibrating around him. The chair slowly tipped him back. Alan watched the Co-ordinator as she screwed two new needles into the apparatus. Once she was done, she looked at him. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

He felt the needles slide beneath the skin on the undersides of his forearms. A moment later came the pain. He gritted his teeth. He felt as if two small ugly creatures were crouched at either side, sucking him dry via proboscises. He could almost hear them slurping and gulping. The pain increased as the letting went on; the needles were thick, their appetites large.

But this was just the price to pay, not merely for their safety and security, but for Billy’s. For their homes within
the Pyramid. Two pints a week: not a lot to give. Not really.

Enough to leave you weak, though. Enough to leave you tired. Enough to leave even Alan pale and eye-bagged and capable of nothing but sleep.

He could do it. He could give it, for Marion and for Billy. To keep the peace. Everybody else did it; why shouldn’t he?

He gritted his teeth and screwed up his eyes. He wanted to squirm in the seat, but couldn’t risk dislodging the needles and the inevitable re-insertion.

As the volume taken increased, the buzzing of the machine grew louder, and the chair began to vibrate. Alan’s skull felt as if it were coming apart. This was when the headache began. This was when the headache always began, and it would last until almost the following week’s letting.

Then, abruptly, the vibrating stopped and the sound ceased completely. Alan gingerly opened his eyes, wincing as they let the little light in. The Co-ordinator was smiling as she withdrew the needles, unscrewed them, and posted them into a small hole in the marble wall. ‘There we go,’ she said. ‘That wasn’t too bad, was it?’

Alan stared at her, squeezing his head between his palms. ‘You get let too, right?’ he asked.

‘Of course.’

‘Then you know exactly how bad it is.’

The Co-ordinator’s smile vanished. ‘Blaspheme again and—’

‘All right, all right.’ Alan stood up, still massaging his temples. ‘So I suppose you’re as unlikely as the rest to tell me what the blood’s used for?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘By Green’s teeth.’ Alan laughed to himself. ‘Hey. It’s like trying to get blood from – from a—’

‘Stop it.’ The Assistant Alchemical Co-ordinator’s tone was sharp. ‘It’s a ritual.’

‘Aye, right.’ Everything in Alan’s field of vision was white-edged and pulsing. He closed his eyes again and sat back down.

‘I’m going to need you to leave right now,’ the Co-ordinator said, ‘or I’ll summon the Arbitrators.’

‘Okay,’ Alan said, rising slowly to his feet once more. ‘Okay. I’m going, see? I’m going.’

He walked unsteadily from the room.

The bloodletting was the hardest aspect of Pyramid life to swallow. And how long had he been a Pyramidder now? Since he was eight. Twelve years … Though
, no. He’d never been a Pyramidder and he never would be. He still dreamed about Modest Mills; being able to run around outside. And not in some courtyard or
, but the
outside – the Discard. The ruins and the rivers and the great, knotted trees. He missed the birds. Sometimes you could see birds from Pyramid windows, but there were special squadrons of Arbitrators assigned the
sole task of shooting them down. And he remembered people making things and selling things and saying what they wanted and sleeping where they wanted and being in control of their own lives and not having to endure that awful, Green-damned
. He remembered bright colours and market stalls. He remembered animals. Not the horrible things they had in glass boxes in the Pyramid classrooms, but sheep, cats, rats.

He remembered the fire and the screaming and the blood on his parents’ faces as …

Of course, Marion’s life had been different. She didn’t know what it was really like outside. She’d been raised on fear and lies. And she hadn’t witnessed what he’d witnessed: the Arbitrators marching in, their knives flashing in the firelight, the …

It wasn’t that he simply didn’t want to endure the bloodletting, or the Daily Stationing. It wasn’t that he was so selfish he couldn’t tolerate it for her sake, for Billy’s sake. It wasn’t selfishness. It wasn’t pig-headedness. It was just that he wanted to know what it was all
. And, given his experience, he couldn’t imagine that it was all for anything good. Marion put that down to paranoia.

Their quarters were on the South-East Straits. He realised that he was on their corridor, not having taken in any of his surroundings, when he heard Billy screaming. This wasn’t the usual hungry-or-tired tantrum-style crying, though; it was louder, more desperate. It plucked at
something inside Alan’s throat and made him cold. He started to run.

The entrances to Fifth-Tier Workers’ apartments were smooth archways with polished bronze doors that were weighted to slide inside the walls once unlocked. The door to their apartment was locked, but scratched and dented. Alan quickly unlocked it; it rolled sideways.

Marion stood in the middle of the room, holding Billy to her. He was rigid and screaming, his little head bright red beneath his blond curls. Marion was red-eyed and wet-faced, tears still coming. Her blonde hair was plastered across her face. Blood ran from her nose and a burst lip, shockingly bright against her alabaster skin. All of their furniture had been overturned, their clothes ripped, Billy’s toys smashed. Food was splattered across the marble walls and smeared over the Tracker Tablet, on which Alan and Marion had to keep track of all of their Utmost Vitals – hours Stationed, productivity, hours slept, food consumed, days chaste, dates of attempts at conception, and more, and yet more – the list was endless. Even Billy had Utmost Vitals, though Pyramidders under sixteen had a slightly shorter list than the adults. Alan rushed in and went to put his arms around Marion and Billy.

Marion pushed him away. ‘What did you
?’ she yelled. ‘What the fuck did you
? What the
is wrong with you?’

Alan shook his head. ‘What? Marion, what’s happened
here? I didn’t do anything. What … Tell me what happened.’ He stepped forward again.

Marion backhanded him across the face, hard. ‘Of
you did something! You’re always doing something!’ Her voice was raw. ‘The fucking Arbitrators, Alan! They did this! They came here, they did this, they’ – she pointed to her face – ‘they did this. They made Billy watch. And they did it because of you. Because of something you’d done.’ She sat down on the floor and laid Billy down across her lap. Alan wanted to lift him up, enfold him. He kicked and shrieked. The noise was deafening. Marion pointed at him, at Alan. ‘You told me – you
me – that you’d stopped.’

Alan’s face burned. He didn’t say anything.

me.’ She crumpled as fresh sobs rose up.

‘Marion, I’m sorry. I have stopped. I’ve stopped now. But—’

She glanced up.

Seeing the look in her eyes, Alan’s words momentarily failed him. ‘Marion, it’s important,’ he said. He’d believed the words true until he spoke them.

‘What’s important?’ Her words were lizard bones.

‘That people know.’ Why did he continue trying to justify himself? His reasoning was hollow in the face of the hurt wrought on Marion.

‘So you have done something.’

‘Should I just have let this go?’ Alan pointed to his
nose, all bent out of shape. ‘The imprisonment?’ He didn’t want to argue with her, but she had to know that he’d had reasons for doing what he’d done, and that he hadn’t anticipated this.

‘You provoke them! Alan, you fucking idiot, you’ve got a son now! Stop kicking the dog!’

‘My mum and dad?’ Alan realised that he too was shouting, and his own cheeks were wet. ‘My mum and dad? All those people? I provoked that, did I?’

‘Of course you didn’t. But you told me you’d stopped. You

Alan stepped over shards of glass and bent down to pick Billy up. ‘Hey, son,’ he said quietly. ‘Hey.’ But Billy kept on crying, and tried to wriggle free. ‘Talk to me,’ Alan said. ‘You’re a big boy now. You can use words.’ But Billy didn’t.

‘He’s upset,’ Marion said, taking the boy back.

‘I can see that.’

‘Alan, I’m sorry. You have to leave. You’ve put Billy and me at risk, and you living here is a danger to us both.’

Alan stared. But as sick as the notion made him, he knew she was right. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I mean, I understand. I don’t want to, though. I love you. I love him. I love you both. I’ve stopped, I’ve stopped. I won’t do it any more.’

‘You’ve promised that before,’ Marion said. ‘Can’t you see? Billy comes first, Alan! Not you! Not your principles, not what you saw, not your grievances! Billy! Our son!’

‘It’s for him I do it all.’

‘So you
. You’re still at it.’

‘All I’ve done is meet with Eyes a couple of times on the terraces and—’

.’ Marion rose up. ‘Alan, you lied to me. I know you have your reasons. I understand your reasons, too. But look at me. Look at us. Look what they’ve done to us, because of you.’

Alan took in the bruises on Marion’s face, Billy’s hysteria, the destruction that had been visited upon their home: the enormity of his mistakes made explicit for him. True guilt blossomed within him and it was a physical sickness. His head was pounding. He felt as if his flesh were fizzing. ‘Yes,’ he said, quietly. ‘To go is the last thing I want, but I know I must.’

‘It will be past curfew now, so you’ll have to head straight for the Discard. You can pack a bag.’

BOOK: The Factory Trilogy 01 - Gleam
8.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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