Publisher: Lightning Books (January 2019)
A thrillingly dark social dystopia about a world where ageing is a thing of the past
‘Frighteningly plausible’ – Jane Rogers
London, 2050. The socio-economic crisis of recent decades is over and consumerism is thriving. Ownership of land outside the city is the preserve of a tiny elite.
The rest of the population is divided into three groups, High-, Mid- and Low-Spenders, who must work, earn and spend enough to retain their Right to Reside. When citizens stop spending, they are classed as ‘non-profit’ and must retire to a Dignitorium, a lavish state institution where residents are given nine wonderful months before being peacefully euthanised. Ageing is a thing of the past.
Alice is a young woman dealing with the disappearance of her husband Philip, along with all the money from his bank account. Desperate and on the verge of losing her own Right to Reside, she begins to question the society in which she was raised.
The only people she can turn to are her father-in-law, an outlaw living in a devastated area inhabited by those who refuse to comply with the new system; the elderly Nurse Vogel, who works in a Dignitorium; and her older sister, Sofia, who abandoned the family many years ago. Sofia never disguised her contempt for her younger sister. But she may be the last chance Alice has…
OUT 31 JANUARY 2019. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW
It must have begun when my apple tree flourished and Sofia’s withered and died. Perhaps that was when Sofia first had an inkling that she didn’t belong. Dad used to say war begins at home, in the family. It was not his own idea; he must have read it somewhere and felt obliged to pass the wisdom on to his daughters. It took me twenty years to grasp its meaning, the realisation coming only yesterday after I put the phone down, an entirely changed person from the one who picked it up a minute earlier. I wonder what Dad would say now, if he saw me – saw us – like this, preparing for the final battle, a battle too painful and far too unequal to be fought in the sanctuary of the family.
16th June 2050
I’ve never been alone at a monorail station before. It’s a peculiar feeling I can’t put my finger on. The sense of luxury, the absence of sound. Like I have my own piece of Earth.
In the passenger lounge the pebble-shaped sofas are empty and waiting, the dimly lit wood-panelled bar silent. A fragrance of orchid is released and, for a moment, I’m fooled into thinking it’s real.
Ten minutes ago, when we arrived from London, my fellow passengers left the monorail in haste. They hurried out to the square without stopping in the nineteenth-century station building. They wore well-cut clothes in the finest fabric, leather shoes soft as butter, but none of these could conceal their vacant stares, the servitude dried on their faces. A line of minibuses with tinted windows swallowed them up like a hungry mouth. The Owners must pay them well to make the long commute worthwhile. Apart from the financial remuneration, of course, there is the privilege of working directly in the service of the Owners. A privilege you can’t put a price on.
The square is just as abandoned as the station. There is a high street running through the small town, and little side streets off it, all lined with original Victorian terraced houses, now functioning as traditional pastry shops and tearooms. It is not my first time away from a megacity, but the serenity still comes as a surprise. There’s not a soul apart from me. The tourists don’t tend to arrive before 10am.
It’s a perfect English summer day, which usually lifts my spirits, though today it fails to do so. To kill time and avoid thinking about the ordeal I’m about to face, I watch the advert screens. There’s one on my left, another attached to the station building, and a third one across the road. The same video is playing on each screen. It shows an elderly lady, wearing a pale pink blouse, sitting comfortably in a Chesterfield-style armchair. Behind her, a flowery curtain is drawn open to reveal a breathtaking view. Roses are climbing up the windowsill, while in the distance rolling hills create the impression of heaven on earth. The lady, wearing gold-framed spectacles, leans closer to the camera. She says she could not be happier, and all the things Dignitorium residents usually say. I don’t want to watch it, and yet I can’t keep my eyes off the screen. Now there’s a new resident, from another Dignitorium, then another. The names and faces keep changing, only their message remains the same.
Checking the time, I’m starting to worry I’ve been forgotten when a long black car pulls up in front of me. There’s an RR emblem on its front and a tiny statue of a winged woman. In the old system, these so-called limousines were used mostly by presidents and film stars. I’m flattered, even a bit excited, but I’m not sure about getting into the vehicle. The archive footage of fatal car accidents shown on the Globe always horrifies me.
The last time I was in a car, I was seven. It was still in the old system, when everyone had cars. Now only the Owners do. They say they need them against the wolves. For everyone else there’s the monorail.
The chauffeur gets out and looks around, squinting in the sunlight. He’s in his fifties, with deep wrinkles across his forehead; he seems a trustworthy type. In his immaculate black suit, with matching hat and white gloves, he oozes professionalism. Like the butlers I have seen in period dramas, he seems to have trouble turning his head, as if he had swallowed a stick. He greets me with a courteous bow, avoiding eye contact. If only he knew that I’m more afraid of his Owner employer than he is; that I am not a fellow Owner but a helpless person desperately trying not to blow her very last chance of survival.
‘Mrs Alice Brunelli?’ he asks, and when I nod he checks my identity on his ID Phone. The official photo of me was taken three years ago, and I wonder if – after the past few months – I still resemble that young woman with honey-blonde hair, porcelain skin and a lively, elfish smile. Or has my face – carrying pain like an antiquity carries the mark of centuries – become unrecognisable?
He nods and opens the car door for me. He must enjoy watching me struggle to get in. The door seems to be in the way. I do my best to mimic what I’ve seen in old films, to climb in sideways, without hitting my head or tripping over. I refuse his offer of help. ‘Are you comfortable, madam?’ he asks. There’s a slight hint of friendliness in his tone, now that he’s realised I’m one of his kind, a mere mortal.
Inside the vehicle a gentle blue light illuminates the jet-black interior. The cool leather seat stings my arms, the cold seeping through my linen trousers and my blouse. The scent opens up a new dimension, a realm of privilege and opulence. In any other circumstances, I would be excited, but instead I’m ill at ease. This is an alien world, alien and hostile.
As the limousine reaches a high-security red fence, the gate slides open, then closes immediately behind us. We’re entering the infamous wolf country. I peer through the tinted window, trying to spot some wolves, but then remember that they don’t like coming close to vehicles. The landscape changes as the town disappears behind us. The road begins to climb and soon we reach the top of a hill; looking down, I realise how near we are to the coast, only a few miles from the silvery blue that seems to flow beyond the horizon. It shouldn’t surprise me; even as a child, Sofia was attracted to the sea. There’s something surreal about the car’s motion – like being able to fly – seeing the road ahead, running, bending, then we’re snaking our way through a forest. I don’t like the speed, though, and I’m on the verge of begging the chauffeur to slow down. Again I remember the bodies shown on the Globe, broken and blood-soaked, and a recent documentary illustrating how much living space roads used to take up and how cars had a disastrous impact on the environment. There is a sharp curve; I have to hold on to the seat. I press a button to my left and speak into the intercom.
‘Could you slow down a bit, please?’
His expression in the mirror suggests he doesn’t understand.
‘I’m not used to this speed.’
For a second it seems he wants to say something but then his face returns to a rigid mask and he slows the car down. It is still a little fast but I don’t want to ask him again.
‘When will we get there?’
‘We’ll be there in approximately twenty minutes, madam.’
I check the map on my ID Phone but all areas that belong to the Owners – everything behind the red fence – is blanked out. The closer we get to our destination, the faster my heart beats, and my palms are so sweaty they leave wet patches on the soft leather.
How did I ever dare to dream that my sister would help me? I think back to that evening, more than two decades ago. That was the day when Sofia and I, the enemies, became something much worse than that, something I don’t have the words for. That was the last time we saw each other. In the past, whenever I thought of Sofia, I was always overcome with anger, but now the questions overwhelm me. Does she regret what happened? Has she been thinking of that day? And when I manage to forget about the pain, just for a few seconds – usually early in the morning, when I’m between sleep and waking, and my mind is still enveloped in a white, thick fog – I catch myself asking: how has her life been for the past twenty years? Has she – like all of us – been moulded and mellowed by inevitable hardships, or have wealth and status shielded her? I know that for most of us, time smoothes over the rough patches and casts a rose tint over everything. However, I am not one of those lucky ones.
Eventually the floating sensation of the car calms my nerves, and another story, an earlier one, emerges from the cloud of memories. I was only nine; Sofia was twelve.
It was about a year after the new system was introduced, although the transition was far from complete. Dramatic changes of that scale take years to implement, held up by those who oppose them. The opponents were a minority of the retired population, those who were wealthy enough to escape the notorious retirement homes. They were clinging to an old, inadequate system like children to their abusive parents or Stockholm syndrome sufferers to their kidnappers. They rejected the new society and many went into hiding.
Our grandmother, in her mid-sixties and bursting with joie de vivre, was horrified by the new system. She said she would rather face prosecution from the authorities than have a tracker installed. I, for one, was excited about the trackers, and Sofia, fascinated by the science behind them, was even more so, but Grandma’s reaction was understandable; she and her peers had grown up in a very different world. No matter how much Mum tried to explain, Grandma couldn’t understand that it was for the good of everyone, that if ever something happened to her, we would be able to locate her immediately. Apart from Grandma, we had all had the trackers shot under the skin behind the left ear when the new system started, gladly and voluntarily. It took only a second, and I immediately felt safe, protected, and even proud.
It was reported in the media that with the help of the trackers, criminals were arrested within hours of committing a crime. As expected, this brought about a rapid fall in crime and won us over to the new system. But not Grandma. She – having been a homeowner, a rarity in her generation – even joined a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, but it was stopped, and some participants were arrested; Grandma had a narrow escape. It was reported on the Globe that the authorities were looking for the ‘troublemakers’.
Mum gently tried to convince Grandma that she would have a wonderful retirement in the Dignitorium, reaping the fruits of her life’s work until she felt she was ready. Mum even brought her a shiny prospectus printed with golden letters, but she tore it up. Later that day, Sofia and I spent hours piecing together the fragments, imagining ourselves living like royalty between the walls of the grand Victorian mansion.
‘I'm loving this new system,’ she said. I nearly said I agreed when Grandma’s tearful face came to mind.
‘Yeah. But poor Grandma…’
‘Don’t tell me you wouldn’t like to retire in a place like that?’
‘I don’t know.’ I shrugged.
‘How do you want to die then?’
‘I’ve never thought about it. I don’t want to die.’
‘It’s not a choice, princess,’ she said and I felt – as usual when getting into a conversation with her – like a complete idiot. She excelled in sciences at school and had won a national competition. She even had a tiny room in our attic, which was her ‘laboratory’. Her ambition was to become a scientist. I, until my early adulthood, had no idea what I wanted to do.
Grandma fled her old house the night before the authorities began the evictions. Her house – like most built in the old system – was not nice or practical enough to be kept; they rebuilt that district into a beautiful area for High Spenders.
Grandma stayed with us. She came with just one suitcase of clothes and her wedding album. Everything else was left behind. We still lived in our old house, awaiting the completion of our new Mid-Spender area. I kept picturing our future place; Mum said the new homes would be more attractive and convenient than any accommodation in the history of mankind. We were overjoyed about the brand-new semi we would be given once it was built. Dad tried to explain to me and Sofia on our own level why the old world had collapsed. Even as a nine-year-old I understood that the increasing demands put upon the welfare system by the old and sick had led to the impoverishment of the hard-working majority. I can still feel the excitement in the air of getting free housing; I remember the constant media coverage, strangers hugging each other in the street, grown men crying with joy that the economic and housing crisis had been tackled for good. All we had to do in return was consume.
In the old system our family was lucky because Dad had inherited a house, but when I visited some of my friends I saw the poverty they lived in, two to three families sharing a house, mothers and babies crammed into tiny bedsits. Apart from well-to-do non-profit people like grandma, everyone hailed the new system. The majority of the working population, who were previously rent slaves, praised the gift of secure employment and accommodation in the regenerated megacities. The pensioners were set free from the subhuman conditions of the retirement homes and given an unprecedented quality of life in the newly completed Dignitoriums.
Grandma refused to be called a non-profit person, though we kept telling her we loved her nonetheless. She had been with us for two days, occupying Sofia’s laboratory, when the authorities visited us, enquiring about Grandma, who was in fact out that evening at a meeting with other non-profit people. They asked us to contact them once she returned, thanked us politely and left.
Of course, Mum and Dad knew that Grandma’s fear was totally unfounded – we all knew it – but strangely we couldn’t bring ourselves to turn her in. When we looked into her eyes, the terror we saw was very real indeed. I suppose it’s like taking a little bird in your hands. Though you know you won’t harm it, the bird does not. Aged nine, I learned to appreciate the power of fear.
We were prepared to defend Grandma if we had to, but they didn’t return. We hoped they had forgotten about her. In the evenings, after school, we would play cards or have dinner together. We did our best to make her happy, but she always said she felt like a prisoner. One day in the kitchen, when Grandma couldn’t hear, Mum said to Dad that Grandma was not a real prisoner, only a prisoner of her fear. That evening I asked Sofia what being the prisoner of fear meant.
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she replied. ‘But I can tell you it’s far worse than being locked up in a real prison.’
Grandma must have been with us for two months when, one afternoon, the authorities returned. The three young female officers – kind and softly spoken – came in, and after a warm greeting they went straight upstairs to her room. Paralysed, I hid on the landing while they stood in the doorway, smiling at Grandma. Her face turned white, but her fear was unnecessary, for they were very understanding. Their leader, a petite woman with a heart-shaped face, sat down next to Grandma on the bed, and patiently explained to her why they had come.
‘It’s in your interest, Mrs King, that you make a choice now. Start to earn your Right To Reside, like everyone else, or retire to the Dignitorium. It’s totally up to you. I’m happy to announce that we have just completed a cosy little Low-Spender area, where the Right To Reside in a lovely studio is very affordable. I’m sure that with your family’s support you could spend some wonderful years there before you retire. You could even do a little part-time work.’ Grandma nearly exploded.
‘How dare you! I have been working all my life! I paid into a decent pension for forty years. We had our own house. I want my home and my pension back!’
‘I’m sorry to see how it upsets you, Mrs King,’ the chief officer said with genuine concern in her voice. ‘You, like many people of your age group, fail to understand – and I don’t blame you for it – that those times are gone. Now we have a new, more sustainable system. Ask me any questions you like. We are here to help you make the right decision.’
‘I don’t want to live in a flat, and is the Government going to compensate me for taking my home?’
‘My dear Mrs King,’ said the officer patiently, ‘if we compensated everyone, we wouldn’t have any resources for our new, improved society. We would be right back where we were before. Surely you don’t want that.’
‘Of course that’s what I want. I want it just how it was.’
The woman sighed and exchanged glances with the rest of us.
‘How can you say you want things how they were? Mrs King, I agree that you were very fortunate in the old system, but surely you must be aware of how the majority suffered? How people were denied a decent life, the country bankrupted trying to care for the elderly, unemployed and the sick? Think of the future of your family, think of your granddaughters’, she said, nodding at me and Sofia.
Grandma looked confused and was still unable to make a decision.
The officer took a device that resembled a chunky plastic pistol out of a bag. Grandma screamed that they wouldn’t put that thing near her. I wanted to go to her, cuddle her and tell her that the tracker wouldn’t hurt, but Dad gently held me back. Mum asked to have a few words with her in private, so we all left the attic.
While we were waiting down in the living room, the officers showed us a short film that had been made with families in mind. The documentary started by explaining the psychology of fear of the unknown and that this kind of fear – like all manner of degradation – increases with old age. It told us about what happens to the human body and brain as we age. Halfway through, an officer asked me and Sofia to turn our heads away, as we might find the images disturbing. I did so but Sofia didn’t; she gazed with interest at the many centenarians lying helpless and half-naked in their own waste. I know this because I turned my head back for a second when Dad didn’t see. ‘We don’t let animals suffer, why would we do it to our own parents?’ This slogan was repeated many times, and it made my heart contract in pain for what would soon happen to Grandma’s aged body.
‘At what age does it strike?’ Sofia asked.
‘We never know for sure but it gets considerably worse after the age of sixty.’
Grandma’s age, I thought.
‘And is the deterioration gradual or sudden?’ Sofia asked.
The woman was evidently surprised by a twelve-year-old using such language. She glanced at Dad.
‘Sofia is our little scientist, with big plans, aren’t you?’ He patted her shoulder, and Sofia shone like a crown jewel, then started boasting about her hope to find a cure against aging. I felt acid filling my stomach.
Finally, Grandma made a decision. After a lengthy discussion she reluctantly agreed to move into the Dignitorium. She had to leave immediately, so they offered to take us in their helicopter to a nearby one, in MN09. The roads had just been converted into pedestrian zones and cycle routes but the monorail hadn’t been completed yet.
As we flew over the city, it was fascinating to look down on London beneath us. Our city, just like the whole country and indeed the whole world, was undergoing a total transformation. It was still our city, the city we loved. Big Ben stood proudly next to the Houses of Parliament, boats on the Thames headed up towards Tower Bridge, and in the distance the dome of St Paul’s rose up majestically. But a new earth was about to be born from the ashes of the old one. From the air we could see the rows of back-to-back terraced houses, the narrow streets; a total disorder. A few miles away, the vision of the new system had already materialised, in the form of wide tree-lined promenades alongside which ran the bicycle routes and the monorail track. We marvelled at the very first monorail we saw, a glittering red metallic snake, an improved replica of those originally used in Disneyland.
‘Not bad, but I have better ideas,’ Sofia commented.
Though she wouldn’t admit it, I could see she was spellbound, her eyes widening as she drank up the view.
‘Those are Low-Spender buildings. Ours will be much better,’ Sofia said, pointing at the six- and eight-storey blocks, painted magnolia and terracotta, complete with balconies.
‘Mid Spenders get a proper house with a garden,’ she continued.
‘And what if I want a flat?’
‘They’re not called flats any more, silly. They’re apartments!’
‘Okay, so what if a Mid Spender wants an apartment?’
‘They can get one. Those will be in four-storey condos. They will each have roof gardens and an inner courtyard with a playground and swimming pool.’
I didn’t know where Sofia had got all this information from, but later it proved she was right. Dad had requested a semi with a pleasant garden at the front and back, near our new school, and we were given just that.
Sofia pressed her nose to the window, her breath creating steam on the glass surface. I watched her for a long time. I was admiring her profile, the straight nose I so envied, her almond-shaped eyes and long dark hair that framed her face. Her immaculate white skin had never been blemished by the sun. She was studying something in the far distance, mesmerised. I followed her gaze through the window to a slim, snow-white, windowless skyscraper. It was only half finished but it already dominated the city’s skyline, like a watchtower.
‘What’s that?’ I asked her with awe.
‘The Primavera Club. The Owners’ playground. Cool, isn’t it?’
‘What’s in there?’
‘No idea.’ She shrugged.
If I look back to our childhood, this was one of the few things she ever admitted to not knowing.
‘The Owners go there to relax,’ she added, confidence returning to her voice. ‘After the responsible work they do.’
‘Everything. Creating new cities, looking after the countryside, and most importantly, protecting us from the wolves.’ At the mention of wolves, I shivered.
Despite the ride being a cool adventure, I couldn’t wait to arrive. I could tell Grandma had already regretted her decision. She was trying to avoid looking down on the new London, but when we pointed something out in admiration, she looked at it with fearful disgust. I hoped once we arrived and she saw the gorgeous building and gardens of the Dignitorium, she would calm down. She kept staring ahead solemnly then suddenly looked at me and Sofia: ‘Do you girls agree with that woman?’
‘Agree about what, Grandma?’ I asked.
‘That I’m selfish. For wanting the old system back.’
‘Oh, mum.’ Mum patted her hand. ‘Forget about that woman. We are your family. We love you. We all understand how difficult it is to accept change.’ Sofia and I nodded at the same time and sent her a sweet smile.
‘I …, I love you girls,’ Grandma said with a serious face. ‘And the last thing I want is for you to think otherwise.’
Mum laughed out and cuddled Grandma. ‘You have made the right decision, that’s the only thing that counts.
‘You two really want this new system, right?’ she asked, brooding, with a strange resignation in her voice.
We arrived above the Dignitorium. The grand Victorian brick mansion was stunningly beautiful in the middle of the magical gardens and lush old trees. Even Grandma looked down with curiosity and when we arrived and said goodbye, she was calmer. What we saw – the gardens, the reception hall, the Salon where we said goodbye to Grandma before she was led away – fascinated all of us. I couldn’t wait to return to visit her and hear all her adventures.
On our journey home, we all were silent. Mum was trying hard to conceal that she was wiping her eyes. The last image of Grandma, looking back from the door of the Salon with an encouraging but somewhat forced smile, made us realise she wouldn’t be a part of our every day life any more. There was this sense of loss until Mum broke it and got Sofia and me to plan a lovely gift for Grandma we would take her upon our next visit. Sofia wasn’t paying much attention, she was admiring the view of the new London below but I loved the idea. I said we could have our bespoke doll versions made for her so she would feel we’re with her all the time. Mum loved the idea and ordered the dolls once we got home.
However, Dad couldn’t stop wondering why the authorities had gone straight upstairs to Sofia’s laboratory, how they knew she was there.
‘It doesn’t matter now,’ Mum said while dishing out plates of pasta.
‘It does matter,’ Dad replied. He didn’t touch his fork. ‘If they are monitoring us in our own home, I’ll report them.’
I looked at Sofia, who was browsing on her ID Phone, entirely uninterested in the conversation. Mum slammed the cheese grater down on the table. ‘Ben, I think you’re overreacting. Mum is now in a safe place, let’s just drop it and enjoy our meal,’ she said.
Dad didn’t reply. He stared ahead into the empty air for what felt like ages. When he spoke his voice was unusually quiet.
‘It’s not just about finding the bugs, Evelyn,’ he said. ‘If they’re really spying on us, this is more serious than I thought. And this new system is more dangerous than they tell us.’ I felt goose bumps rising all over my skin.
‘There are no bugs,’ Sofia said, not even looking up from her ID phone. ‘It was me who reported Grandma.’ Her words hung in the air. We all looked at her.
‘What are you saying?’ my father asked.
‘I reported her to the authorities. In fact, I don’t know what took them so long. I did it two months ago.’ She glanced up. ‘Why are you staring at me like that? She was cheating the system. I would report anyone for it.’ I saw something unnatural in Mum’s gaze, like she’d been hit with a hammer but was trying to conceal the pain. Dad looked at Sofia with disbelief, then at Mum, then back at Sofia. I think that evening something broke in him for good.
Sadly, Grandma didn’t enjoy the Dignitorium; she wanted to go out and do the things she was used to doing, like wandering around the local flea market or hiking in the hills with her walking group. The fact that her body would soon start to deteriorate didn’t seem to bother her. Grandma insisted she could easily live a full life for another twenty years. There were moments when I nearly believed her and was confused, but once Citizenship classes were introduced at school, they explained how it was in human nature to resist the process of ageing. We were given numerous examples of retired people in the old system not accepting their deterioration and even becoming a danger to society. One was driving a car almost blind, and killed a group of school children. Once I heard that, I understood that it was better for all of us – especially Grandma – if she accepted the new system and even tried to enjoy the luxurious retirement she was being offered.
But when Mum, Dad and I visited Grandma in the Dignitorium, she looked old and thin. I noticed how she tried to conceal her shaking hands. She told us she was organizing a little group of fellow residents to write to the Prime Minister and some important Globe broadcasters in protest against their situation. She didn’t have time to follow through with her plan. Just two weeks after she moved in, we were given an emergency call to go to the Dignitorium. They told us Grandma had been diagnosed with a very advanced cancer. She had requested instant euthanasia and her body had already been cremated. We were in shock. We knew Grandma wouldn’t have done anything like this, not without wanting to see us first. They showed us her diagnosis and explained her illness to us in great detail. Then we saw her Farewell Video in which she sat in a chair, smiling, saying goodbye to us, telling us this was what she wanted. She explained that she wished to avoid the pain of cancer. She hoped to save us the trouble, the heartache. Her name, etched on a silver plaque on the memory wall in the Dignitorium’s garden, was the only trace left of her, apart from her suitcase and the wedding album. All we could do was to return to the wall with flowers and mourn. Sofia never expressed any desire to come with us, and I had a feeling Dad wouldn’t have taken her even if she had. From the day her betrayal came to light, Dad was cautious around Sofia. Sometimes it was more than caution. I could swear it was fear.
The limousine slows down as we descend a steep hill. I can see dozens of narrow chimneys on an ancient rooftop surrounded by lofty trees. So it’s a Victorian mansion, a grand place. Within the vast grounds a snow-white chopper stands on a helipad. Even from this distance, it all radiates Sofia’s arrogance and obsession with luxury. Suddenly I start to shiver. She won’t help me.
Dad is not here to warn her that war begins in the family and that – despite the crippling interval of two decades since we have seen each other – I am still family. The only reason she has agreed to meet me is because she wants to humiliate me. She’ll listen, raising my hopes, just to laugh in my face the next moment. She’ll bring up the past, condemning me for that day when we parted, when I said things I shouldn’t have said. I want to go back to London. I bend forward, trying to form the words to tell the chauffeur to stop and turn around. It’s not too late yet. But then my survival instinct kicks in, followed by an image of Philip – the reason I’m here – and I feel ashamed for my momentary weakness. I’m ready to meet my fate, if there is just the slightest hope. Today, I will rise or fall.