"Una must be wondering where we are," remarked Beta as she lay on the bed, my arm around her shoulders and traces of sweat still pasted to her brow. "We must see how she is."
"Must we?" I asked reluctantly. I'd become very comfortable on the bed, lying so close to Beta's warm naked body in the bedroom's luxurious surroundings.
"Yes, we must!" said Beta firmly, snatching herself from my arm and standing up by the side of the four-poster bed. "Get your clothes on, and we'll go and see her. She's just down the corridor!"
I did as I was told and followed Beta as she padded along the thick carpeted corridor past the large portraits and paintings to Una's room. It was opposite a splendid portrait of the King holding a pair of scales and sword, presumably showing him as the source of Justice in his Kingdom. We gingerly eased open the door to see Una very much awake, and chatting idly to the Hen who was still sitting there. She smiled as she saw us enter. Beta rushed to her side, and I sat on a chair just by the bed next to the cot where her baby was sleeping.
"How are you feeling?" Beta asked with some concern. "Better I hope?"
Una nodded. "I feel so battered and torn. As if my entire insides were pulled out of me. Which I suppose they have been. He's still sleeping isn't he? The baby, I mean."
"He looks like nothing could ever wake him up," I commented, glancing at the small blue huddle, his fists close to his face, breathing softly and slowly.
"It's so difficult to believe I'm a mother now. What will people in Unity think of me now I wonder? Or Rupert as it's now been renamed. Perhaps they'll treat me better. I can just hope."
"What's your home town like?" wondered Beta, sitting on the edge of the bed and grasping Una's hand in her own. "It's in the Country isn't it?"
"Yes. Leagues away. It was a long and arduous journey from there to the City. It's quite an ordinary town, I suppose. Nothing very unusual about it to look at. There's a town hall, plenty of churches, a cinema, a few supermarkets and a lot of countryside surrounding it. If you visited it, you'd probably not come away with any great impressions, although of course there are some old buildings and a nice cobbled square to remind you of its long glorious history. I believe there'd been some sort of battle fought there, years ago. The Battle of Unity. It was rather important I think in deciding the political structure of the country. But it's very different from the City, and not just because it's such a smaller place. It's a lot less liberal. There's no homosexuality, no pornography, no alcohol and no football. All those things have been banned in the town as a result of legislation passed absolutely hundreds of years ago, by different complexions of local government. And even though nobody really knows why they were made illegal, nobody's ever thought of changing it. Or those who have probably just left the town to live somewhere else. So, it's a quite dull place to live in, but quite peaceful as well. There's none of the crime and violence you find in the City."
"Did you enjoy living there?" asked Beta to encourage Una to keep her thoughts off her present predicament.
"No. Not really. I always wanted to leave. Like most people, I suppose. But there are jobs there in local businesses and factories, so I suppose many just stay there for the work. I thought it was really boring. And quite oppressive really. Like most parents in Unity, mine were very strict, and there wasn't a great deal I was allowed to do. Seeing boys for instance was very much discouraged. My father works in the courts. He's some kind of solicitor, and well respected in the community. My mother works part-time in a factory where she weighs chickens before sealing them in plastic and then attaching labels. They wanted me to grow up a respectable girl: not the slut they think I've become. They had no sympathy at all when I ever suggested I might like to leave Unity and live anywhere else. Like most people in the town they believe that the world beyond is a kind of bedlam of alcoholics, drug takers, prostitutes and criminals. And after having lived in the City for so long, without a home and in the gutter, I can't say that their fears were wholly unfounded.
"Most people, whether girls or boys, have to serve in the local militia for a year when they leave school. I've no idea why. Unity isn't at risk from invasion from any other town, and most districts of this country don't find the need for such an obligation. I've been fortunate not to have had to do that. All that parading and marching and physical exercise. Standing out in the town square for hours, whatever the weather, and costing the town I don't know how much to have a disciplined force of adolescents who do nothing more constructive than build irrigation trenches, gather in harvests and guard the town hall from imaginary enemies. As a girl, I wouldn't even have had the relative fun of learning how to use guns or to fight. I would have been expected to prepare meals, make beds and wash clothes. It was not something I was at all looking forward to: and I'd long ago resolved to leave Unity before I was called up. As I have. But not at all in the way I'd have chosen.
"However, it makes some strange sense in Unity. Everything is so well regulated. Even without the national service, it's almost a military regime. School was just the same. These horrid tight uniforms I had to wear from the moment I started at primary school. You didn't wear a school uniform, did you?"
Beta shook her head. "No. I didn't have to wear anything at school. And neither did the teachers."
"Your village must be a lot more liberal than Unity, I can see that. My uniform was an ankle length skirt and a blouse with a high collar which almost strangled me. And it had to be very hot for us to be allowed to take off our jackets. We had to wear these ugly hats, the same colour as our uniforms, which covered everything but our plaits. The boys had to wear uniforms as well, but theirs weren't nearly so tight or restrictive as the girls'. We had an hour of assembly every morning, where we had to endure a moral sermon. When I was first at school, this would have been a Church of Unity sermon, but now it would be something to do with Illicitism. No other religions were permitted in the town besides the Church of Unity which had been founded by some really puritanical people hundreds of years ago. Often, the school sermons were nothing more than an excuse to damn all the other religions and faiths. Part of the doctrine was that only people in the true church had any chance of salvation in the day of Judgement, and that God had already decided whether we were to be saved at the moment of our Conception. This meant that the whole process of family planning was horribly complicated and involved the active blessing of a minister from the Church. It was a wonder anyone ever had any children at all.
"There were several hours of physical education every day, much of which took place after hours. I hated that. My Sports Master, a large cockerel with a wooden leg, was quite savage with those he thought were shirking. And that more often than not was me. I'd be slapped with a clout from his heavy wing if he saw me showing less enthusiasm than I ought as I fell over in the mud while playing hockey or girls rugby. He wasn't the worst by any means. The Moral Standards teacher was particularly fierce and rather sadistic. And the Physics teacher was always scathingly sarcastic if I made a mistake, which I often did. I was really no scientist, and I showed no inclination to ever be one."
"You seemed to have had a fairly dismal education," I remarked.
"Wasn't there anything at school you actually enjoyed?" wondered Beta.
"I enjoyed Art. I was quite a good artist, I think. It was the subject in which I most excelled. And our Art teacher was very sympathetic. She was quite unconventional by Unity standards, though she'd probably seem extremely conservative in the City. She wore pretty silk scarves and let her hair hang loose. Most of the teachers actively disapproved of her, and I imagine the parents did as well. She gave me a lot of encouragement. Even giving up some of her free time to help me in any painting or sculpture I was working at. It was when I was being creative I felt most fulfilled. It allowed a release which was mostly suppressed in every other activity.
"The school had very strict rules on the kind of Art we could be exposed to or work on. It had to be one of sculpture, painting or drawing, and it had to be representational. Only people, plants, objects and sceneries were permitted. Abstract expressionism, collage, surrealism, impressionism and the use of other materials were expressly banned. It was also expected to be celebratory of life as it was in Unity, and never even implicitly critical of it. My fairly negative views confronted my teacher with a dilemma. She was obliged to ensure that my portraits displayed expressions of proprietary and dignity appropriate to the status of whoever I was portraying and to suppress any experimentation in content or materials. But when we were alone together she showed me pictures of the more modern art you can find in the City and in the Art Gallery just outside the Suburbs. It was a revelation to me to see sculptures that hinted at physical reality, rather than explicitly expressing it. Paintings that made no attempt to represent photographic reality. Art that used found materials, technology and industrial detritus. And Art that dealt with political and social issues, that showed naked bodies, that depicted aspects of the world in its less salubrious aspects. At first, I was baffled. How could this be Art? I asked myself. But I had somehow opened a door of opportunity and æsthetic expression I'd just never suspected was possible, which seemed somehow much more profound than what I had previously known, and there was no way to close that door. I worked privately on my own pieces, using modern techniques to express myself, but I had to hide them from everyone, including my teacher and most especially my parents.
"They were not keen on my enthusiasm for Art. They considered it a waste of time and effort. Anything of no apparent utility was anathema to them. In fact, they were quite angry when they learnt of my ambition to leave Unity and attend Art School in Lambdeth. This embodied two sins for them, both contemptible: the pursuit of vain worthless endeavour and exposure to the sinful world beyond Unity's borough boundaries. They didn't actually forbid me from studying Art at school: its only virtue in their eyes was that it was the sole subject in which I excelled and could help me graduate from school with sufficiently high grades to be a satisfactory marriageable proposition. However, they did coax me to take a more active interest in science and mathematics. These were worthwhile pursuits as they were so evidently to do with the real world."
"Didn't you enjoy science?" Beta asked.
"Not at all. Even though I studied them diligently. The way they were taught was so joyless. It was all equations, laws and facts. It was a process of learning how something was meant to be according to a stated axiom, how it was expressed according to a particular equation and then solved by a neat juggling of figures. Specific gravities. Integrals of parabolic curves. Enzymes and subcutaneous fat. It all seemed so dull and boring. It also seemed so remote from the real world, even though that was exactly what it was supposed to be about. All those strange elements with horrible smells in laboratories. All those measurements of what was supposed to happen which were always wrong, however accurate the measurements, if they contradicted the calculated result. I just couldn't relate to it at all.
"I much preferred going to the cinema or theatre than studying science. There was only one cinema in Unity, and plays were only staged occasionally at the theatre which was mostly used for functions. I know now how very limited was the selection of plays and films permitted in Unity, but they seemed relatively adventurous at the time. They presented a doorway to the world beyond Unity. A doorway most definitely not present on local television and radio. The world beyond seemed so exciting: full of opportunity and promise. And throughout my adolescence that was where I wanted to be. Anywhere in fact than Unity."
"Did you have any friends at school who shared your views?" Beta wondered.
"I had very few friends. We were supposed to report any antisocial behaviour or persuasions, and so it was very difficult to make friends in the way which is so natural and ordinary here in the City. This was further complicated by all the political changes that were taking place in Unity."
"Political changes?" I asked.
"Yes. The way the Illicit Party took power in Unity. In fact it's not even called Unity any more, though I find it really difficult to think of it by its new name of Rupert."
"Rupert? But I was in a place called Rupert just a few days ago where I saw the President Chairman address a rally. Was that the same place?"
"I suppose it could have been. But then there are so many towns, villages and boroughs called Rupert now, it's very likely it was somewhere quite different. Was it a very hilly district, surrounded by forestry and an enormous lake?"
"I didn't see any hills," I admitted. "It was very flat open countryside."
"Then it must have been a different Rupert. It seems every place that has adopted an Illicit local government has honoured the President Chairman by naming itself after him. It seems odd to me that anywhere would choose to name itself after a foreign marsupial dictator, but then I never really warmed to Illiberal Socialism. In fact, I just don't understand it at all. The Illicit Party didn't take power suddenly. It was originally banned, along with the Red and Green Parties, but a few Blue Party councillors converted to Illicitism, claiming that the policies of their original allegiance didn't really represent their ideals or those pursued in Unity. Being in the majority group of the council with the White Party, they unbanned the Illicit Party, and exerted pressure to ban the Black Party which represented the local opposition. Then some of the Black Party candidates converted to the Illicit Party, and the White Party councillors found that they were no longer members of the leading group. They became the official opposition, which they remained until they too were banned and physically expelled from the town.
"At first the change of local government made little difference. After all, everyone in Unity was a member of the Church of Unity, and the council's policies were fairly consistent with that. There were some changes. A Rupert Youth group was formed and a lot of my fellow pupils joined it. They began wearing dark green overalls, Illicit Party armbands and Rupert badges on their breast. Although, it contravened the strict school uniform rules, the authorities found that enforcement of the policy for these individuals was quite impossible, as so many teachers and parents themselves started wearing Rupert suits. And, of course, the fact that the Rupert Youth could wear different clothes encouraged others to join. Pictures of Chairman President Rupert began appearing everywhere, and, bit by bit, more and more streets, buildings and institutions renamed themselves after Rupert and the causes of the Illicit Party.
"The local government instituted all sorts of apparently popular new decrees. The Illicit Party struck a very sympathetic chord in the people of Unity, even though no one ever seemed sure what it really represented. At first, we were told that Illiberal Socialism was merely the political expression of the Church of Unity, but if this was so why did the council close the churches, ban religious assembly and order the burning of all bibles, hymnals and prayer books? The object of morning assembly seamlessly mutated from the affirmation of faith to the promulgation of political propaganda. A Party official, a tall Rooster whom nobody had ever seen before, would strut and rant on the school stage, inciting us to shout our praises of Rupert and his causes. Political education classes became compulsory, where we had to read the Illiberal Socialist Worker Daily and digest long dull and impenetrable articles, which seemed to be full of the most ridiculous contradictions and assertions. Cinema and television now only showed films imported from the Illiberal Socialist Republics which were either very violent and vindictive or horribly dull.
"The other pupils seemed to love all this stuff, and I felt increasingly isolated. I was picked on for my lack of devotion to the Illiberal Socialist cause, and soon, like everyone else, I had to adopt a Rupert suit myself. At first, it was quite liberating to wear these baggy loose-fitting overalls, but it was just one uniform replacing another, with the difference being that it was unwise to wear anything else even when not at school. The curriculum was modified to reflect the change of government and Art classes were now made even more restrictive. The only acceptable subject was the portrayal of President Chairman Rupert and the only criterion of excellence was how noble, gracious, wise and virtuous the depiction. If you've ever tried painting or drawing a koala you'll know that this isn't the easiest task in the world. The most popular pose, and the one we were most encouraged to depict, was of Rupert gesturing into the mid-distance, his chin slightly raised, surrounded by admiring followers in standard issue Rupert suits."
"Didn't anyone dissent against all this?" Beta asked.
"Yes. Some. Not many. They were either expelled or incarcerated. At the very least they could expect to lose their jobs. Worryingly, the definition of dissent kept changing. At first it meant demonstrations, protests or circulating seditious material. Later it came to include not wearing a Rupert badge; not hanging a portrait of the President Chairman in the house; reading or owning proscribed literature and not remembering the lyrics of In Praise of Rupert and the Truth. Most people were either active in the Illicit Party or were applying for membership: an honour which became more elusive as demand for it grew. Those who were Illicit Party members had all sorts of privileges and responsibilities denied to everyone else, and so everyone wanted to join.
"I didn't like Illicit Party members at all. They were never anyone I liked. In fact, the party consisted mostly of bullies or conformists or just the horribly petty. These are probably the very attributes the party most likes and I was sure that my application for membership was doomed from the very start. In any case, I only applied on my parents' insistence as they were worried that otherwise I might be denied the benefits of a good education. My father told me bluntly he didn't want any daughter of his to be thought unworthy of the privilege. So every day after school, I obediently attended these tedious meetings where we were favoured with extra indoctrination, and allocated all the boring messy jobs that those who were already Party members didn't have to do any more. Putting up posters. Selling copies of The Illiberal Socialist Workers Daily and The Truth. Collecting funds door to door.
"Paul, my mentor, as he was called, was a tall, not unhandsome, boy from the year above me, whose wealthy parents had made their fortunes from the egg retail industry. He seemed rather more pleasant than the other Illicit Party mentors, and I considered myself very lucky in having him rather than the others. He smiled readily and sometimes made jokes about the Illicit Party which were very nearly disloyal. He subscribed enthusiastically to the Illicit Party's views on Cats, Communists, sexual deviants and modern artists, believing that they should all be strung up and tortured. Indeed, one of his less engaging features was his tendency to detail exactly what horrible torments he would be quite happy to administer himself, if need be, on such reprobates. He relished the power his Illicit Party membership had given him, and was quite immodest regarding his conquests of women.
"I soon very much regretted having him as my mentor as his sexual ambitions became more obvious and he expressed them more forcefully. He told me of the various girls he'd made love to, what they had done and how good it had been. I wasn't at all interested. I had very definite principles regarding relationships and I didn't want to be considered just a casual lay. I had been inculcated that any sexual liaison outside of legal matrimony was prima facie wrong and fully justified the rather severe sentences that Unity (and now Rupert) attached to the crime. I also knew that it was always the woman rather than the man who would be regarded as the erring partner. He was very insistent however. He made plain that my likelihood of becoming a Party member was very much contingent on satisfying his desires. He variously accused me of being frigid, sexless and a bitch. He told me that women were devised to serve men's desires and that my reluctance showed that I had none of the qualities demanded of members of the Illicit Party. I had never read or heard anything relating to Illiberal Socialism that said that women were obliged to have sex with men whenever it was demanded, but he dismissed this. It was obvious, he said, that I hadn't gained a proper understanding of the spirit of the ideology or mastered its more intricate interpretations.
"After a while, he seemed to lose interest in me, having started a relationship with another Party member also blessed with relatively wealthy parents, and who was also one of the most strict and doctrinaire of the female party members. I sometimes speculated whether she permitted Paul the carnal satisfaction he believed was his right, but if ever anyone gave the impression of being frigid it was she.
"One night, after school, he told me to come with him in his car to an outlying district of the borough where there was a perceived need for more posters. He packed the car with piles of posters with Rupert's face and single word captions like Justice, Plenty and, strangely, Unity. I had no reason to suspect his motives. I had often been in his car before, as had his other party applicants. He always enjoyed showing off his affluence and hated walking. We were soon out of the town, and up in the hills. I had no idea where this village was, but in a vague way I had been looking forward to the journey, as I had so rarely been out there by car. I was a little worried when, high up the hill and far away from the town or, indeed, any village, he slowed the car and pulled it into a layby. And then, it was there, in the evening air, with the sound of frogs chirruping in a nearby brook, and with no one to hear my screams that he..."
Una abruptly stopped. A tear was dripping down her cheek, and her eyes stared out in horror.
Beta squeezed Una's hand and smiled kindly. "You don't have to go on, you know. Not if you don't want to."
Una shook her head, squeezed her eyes tight, but more tears squeezed free. "Paul is my baby's father. He forced himself on me. He slapped me when I resisted. He pushed himself on top and tore off my clothes. He ripped them into rags. He pushed his way into me. Brutally. Savagely. It was loathsome. It was painful. I hated him. I hated it. I shouted. I struggled. And then it was to no avail. Nothing more could be done. It was over. He got dressed and while I was crying and sobbing, he got back into his car and drove away. Not that I would have contemplated ... ever ... whatever the distance home ... ever getting in that car with him again!"
Una paused as more tears streamed down her cheeks while Beta silently comforted her by squeezing her hands in her own. Beta was clearly appalled by Una's account, but was unable to say anything which could properly express her feelings.
"It must have been the worst day of your life."
"And so it was. Up until then! I just lay in the grass out of sight of the road for I don't know how long, numbed and soiled. Eventually, probably because it was getting quite cool, I picked myself up and spent a futile twenty minutes looking for my knickers which Paul had ripped off, but they were nowhere to be found. I had the distressing fantasy that Paul had kept them as a souvenir of his conquest. My clothes were in a terrible state. He'd torn the fabric quite badly, and however hard I tried I couldn't recover my modesty at all. The front kept falling down. But in a sense I didn't care. I was so defiled that modesty seemed an unnecessary luxury.
"I walked along the road not knowing where I was going, and with no thought of a destination. It was dark, lit only by the stars and the crescent moon, and only the occasional headlamps of cars illuminated the road. I walked and walked, muttering to myself constantly, cursing Paul, cursing the Illicit Party and cursing myself. I don't know how long I'd been walking. Hours maybe. Paul had taken me to a very remote part of the countryside. There were fields, hen coops and stretches of road spookily overshadowed by trees.
"I passed several houses, farms and cottages, wondering whether to knock on the door and plea for assistance. I recognised that at some stage I'd have to do this if I were ever going to find my way home. But they were all so forbidding and I was so frightened of what they would think of me in my state of distress and immodesty. Eventually I decided to take the chance and approached a small house, isolated in the hills, and one of the few not named after Rupert or one of the Illicit Party icons. I think it might have been called Rose Cottage or something else relatively harmless. There were lights on, shining through the curtains and illuminating the flowerbeds outside. I hesitated on the doorstep for many minutes, and then with a burst of reckless courage I pressed the doorbell and waited for a reply.
"One came fairly soon, from a man in his thirties who I was pleased to see was not wearing a Rupert suit (quite an unusual sight by then). He looked at me with a puzzled expression while I stared at him totally unprepared for what to say. I had somehow imagined that I would know instinctively. It was obvious to him that something was wrong, but he was also not sure how to respond. At last, he asked: 'How can we help you?' on which cue I burst into tears and blubbered incoherently.
"'You better come inside, ' he remarked kindly, opening the door wider and letting me enter. A woman in a loose flowery dress (another rare sight) appeared in the hallway and, after scanning me, asked the man: 'What is it? What's wrong?' The two of them started discussing me, as I tried as best I could to cover my breasts with rags of Rupert suit that stubbornly refused to stay in place. At last she announced: 'Well, she can't just stay here!' and I was escorted into their living room and sat down on an old armchair just by the unlit fireplace. I looked blankly around me, just happy to be out of the evening chill and to be with sympathetic people, however unconventionally dressed.
"I gradually became aware of my surroundings. The pictures of landscapes, the photographs of exotic places and a refreshing lack of portraits of Rupert. The couple who owned the cottage sat down on their sofa, and I observed for the first time a third person standing by a book case and looking at the pages of a book which did not have the ubiquitous dark green binding of Illicit Party literature. I'd never seen a woman like her before, though of course she wouldn't look at all out of place in the City, nor indeed in most of the country. She was a black girl, in itself unusual, with an enormous mass of black curly hair, wearing very tight shorts and a brief singlet which revealed the whole of her navel and the curves of her waist. She was a friend of the couple who owned the cottage, she came from Lambdeth and her name was Anna..."
"Anna!" I exclaimed. "Is it the same Anna? The one I was with two nights ago, Beta?"
My companion frowned. "If it is, she's certainly changed her appearance."
"That would be entirely consistent."