Is death really necessary?

Nope – still not a philisophical treatise on immortality – or is it?? But the first chapter of The Opus which prompted me to begin this blog oh, so long ago. If all this is new to you (by which I mean me and the book, not life in general) you might, perchance, enjoy this snippet and be roused (!) to read more, either on paper or Kindle. Or just be kind to the impoverished writer freezing her bits off up here in this loft. Here’s the link to Amazon for you: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Really-Necessary-Judi-Moore/dp/1849234329/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328547820&sr=1-1

1.1

On the 31st of January 2039 Teddy Goldstein left Dunster castle on the Caithness coast for the first time in two years. She was on her way to Edinburgh to bury her father. His death had ended a father-daughter war which had degenerated into endless campaigns of petty spites and frustrations.

Teddy was wondering what she had left to live for.

The jetpod ahead of them, carrying her father’s coffin, banked sharply as it entered city airspace. Moments later their own jetpod followed suit. Teddy glanced at the other two passengers – her son and his partner, Rory. She saw Ek give Rory’s hand a squeeze as the jetpod lurched extravagantly onto its new heading. Rory was a nervous flyer, and the two loved to touch – any excuse would do. The little incident made Teddy smile wanly as she turned back to the window. The huddled roofs of Edinburgh slid beneath her, greasy-grey with rain. Edinburgh was pretty in the snow, but it never got cold enough to snow any more. Rain made the grey slate, granite and encrustations of city pollution that made up the façade of the city look dejected.

Very suitable, then.

The jetpod continued to turn. The city continued to rush by beneath her. It made her feel queasy – but almost everything did these days.

The pilot straightened up, finally, and began to follow the railway lines into the city. The restored and Listed tenement blocks loomed up like cliffs in front of them. Teddy cursed the pilot under her breath. These flyboys were always ex-military, burned out by tours in Afghanistan or the Middle East and craved the old combat rush of adrenalin every time they flew. This one had saved his kamikaze tricks until now, so that the citizens of Edinburgh could hear him power up the boost and watch him make this dangerously steep and completely unnecessary climb. They swept over the old tenements with feet to spare, the blare of their own passage thrown back at them from the stonework. She tutted to herself: it had been a cheap trick and as a result of it she felt really queasy.

Now they swooped down over the elegant roofs of  New Town, slick in the rain. January was always grey, and January in Edinburgh was one of the gloomiest places Teddy had ever known. She’d spent plenty of nights in underpasses, weeks in cardboard cities: she knew gloomy when she saw it.

It had taken nearly an hour to fly in from Dunster – which Teddy had discovered to be more than enough time for the sort of introspection inevitable when burying your father. Although Rory was the poor flyer, it was her Ek that looked the more miserable of the two. Teddy and her father had started badly and worked at making matters worse for as long as Teddy could remember. But Ek had loved his grandfather. Theo Goldstein was, after all, the only parent Ek had had when he was growing up. Today would be hard on him.

Teddy sighed. She owed Ek. There was a lot that he should know about his mother. But they had to get the old man in the ground before she could think about anything else. Besides, a noisy jetpod piloted by a burnout with a death wish was not the place for the sort of conversation that begins, ‘there are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you’. And, fond as she was of Rory, the conversation she must have with her son was one that should only take place between blood kin.

*

The noise from the jetpod’s engines rose to a scream and everything began to shake. The pilot had reversed thrust for landing. Teddy realised that even the fillings in her teeth were vibrating. Perhaps the train would have been a better bet, after all.

The noise and vibration got still worse and she lost her train of thought. Then she realised that, not only did she feel very sick indeed, she was now starting a brain-stabbing headache. How appropriate, her father would have said.

Theo had always been so vital. He had already been over a hundred years old when she returned to Dunster castle two years ago – and far fitter than she. He’d still been putting in sixteen hours a day at The Works then. Most of his veins and arteries were plastic by that time, his heart was plastic, as were his lungs, kidneys and liver – all developed by his beloved company and a boon to private medicine. But this year the little explosions in the blood vessels of his brain had begun and even Gold’s Prosthetics had been unable to devise a way of reconnecting the delicate little blood vessels running through that particular organ. The life had gone out of him, week by week: the trips into the Works had become a struggle, then a chore, then impossible.

When the infarctions in his head had rendered him speechless she’d begun to go and see him every evening. He looked so tiny in the hospital bed, flattened by the bedding. Last night the only life in his room had been the tell-tales of the machinery monitoring his vital signs, beeping and winking with counterfeit cheerfulness. The old man in the bed had been waxy white. And now he was gone.

About an hour after she’d gone back to her own rooms the LEDs on the monitors had ceased to flash and the beeps changed to a constant wail. One of the identikit starched white nurses had come and told her, solemnly, that her father was dead.

Teddy hadn’t known whether to laugh or cry.

*

A squall hit her window, peppering the plexi-glass like buckshot. It made her jump, which started her coughing. She was still fighting the cough when they landed. One of the city’s podpads was on The Meadows, just across the road from her father’s town house in Millerfield Place. They’d brought a wheelchair for her. They were having difficulty getting it through the wet ground to the pad, its motor whined peevishly and its wheels churned mud. They would manhandle her out of the jetpod, then coddle her into the wheelchair and haul her to the house. Then, just as she’d caught her breath, it would all start again: she’d be babied into the limousine and they’d all mope across the city to the synagogue, everybody treating her as if she were a cracked egg. She didn’t enjoy being coddled or babied – she’d had enough of that in her childhood. If she had the breath she’d tell them to piss off and stop fussing.

The coughing fit passed at last but she could taste the blood, as if she had licked an iron bar. She kept a wad of wet-wipes pressed to her mouth, just in case. Over the top of it she caught Ek’s eye. A smile was out of the question. She winked at him instead, and got the ghost of a smile in return.

It was going to be a bloody day all round.

1.2

She was, indeed, manhandled from wheelchair to limo and back again until she was almost weeping with exhaustion. They got Theo underground in a thick Edinburgh mizzle which enabled the many feet of the mourners to turn the small Jewish section of the cemetery to mud. By the time they finally got back to the house Teddy wanted nothing more than to crawl into some small, dark place where she could close her eyes for a few minutes and didn’t have to think about what expression was on her face. But the minute she got inside the house people started coming towards her with their ‘sincere condolences’ faces in place.

The whole of the ground floor was crammed with people. There were various local dignitaries, and most of the city’s powerful Greys. They’d be looking for somebody to reminisce with: some of them had memories of what the world was like before World War II. But most of those present were employees of Gold’s Prosthetics. Theo’s employees always meant more to him than his own flesh and blood, she thought sourly. He’d seen more of them, for a start. This house, for instance: it had been Theo’s pied-à-terre during the week. Often he’d work through the weekend and not get back to Dunster at all. He’d bought the castle for show, but Edinburgh was where he’d made his dough. The house still reeked of Theo’s preferred way of living: polish and cabbage. The smell would never go. Teddy wondered what the Will said, whether she’d be able to sell the horrid place. This was, after all, the place she’d been brought to when …

She was glad of the distraction when George Barrie, the family solicitor, pussyfooted up to her. Didn’t people ever retire any more? Barrie couldn’t be more than ten or twelve years younger than her father. That made him something like ninety. He looked disgustingly spry. But then, everyone looked disgustingly spry these days. Except herself.

‘Miss Goldstein. How are you, hnh? So good to see you again. My condolences, of course, most sincere, hnh. Bearing in mind, hnh, your own state of … hnh. Would it be possible to, hnh, deal with the business of the Will today? All interested parties are here, d’you see? And I thought you might prefer not to … hnh … return to Edinburgh proximately, being as you are, yourself … hnh?’

She doubted that Theo had left her anything more than a curse and a pittance. She had to admit that his sense of family duty was exemplary; he’d kept her all these years. Even when she was living rough in London he’d never cancelled the credit card that she’d stolen when she absconded. Teddy began to realise that very little spite could be directed at someone who was dead.

Yes, spite was wasted on the dead. You couldn’t make the dead miserable, nor score points off them, nor ignore them pointedly. There was going to be a big gap in her dreary day by day schedule now that Theo was gone. She was, she was astonished to discover, going to miss him. She was going to have to find something else to do with her time now that he wasn’t available for her to vent her spleen on any more.

She sighed audibly, causing poor Barrie to look even more crestfallen than he had, hitherto, looked embarrassed. There isn’t a polite way of saying to the daughter of the old bastard you’ve just buried ‘you look like shit. We’ll be planting you next. Let’s get this Will read before we have the Final Testaments of the Goldstein family backing up’.

But the contents weren’t going to improve with time and there was much truth in Barrie’s stumbling assessment of her condition.

‘Why not,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where we’ll find a quiet spot to do it, though.’ She looked around for Ek and Rory: they always knew what to do. Rory was hovering around Ek, his hand fluttering around Ek’s shoulder and arm, not quite touching him, but wanting to so much. The sight made her smile: they were good together. Not only did they care deeply for each other, they looked out for each other. Rory hated to fly. Ek was burying his Opa. But they’d be all right – they had each other. She felt a tear begin to well up and shook her head angrily. Bathos and self-pity. And envy. Be glad for them. And she was. And jealous as hell.

She waved at Rory, who caught her eye at once, made his excuses (with a hand on Ek’s arm) and came over. Rory would find them a quiet place.

1.3

Fifteen minutes later George Barrie shepherded the last of the, as he put it, ‘interested parties’ into the kitchen and shut the door behind him. As if burying the old bastard hadn’t been bad enough, there was this to be got through as well. At least now she didn’t have to be pleasant to all those black-clad people swarming through the house. She barely remembered most of the mourners.

She wondered whose house it would be, after the Will had been read. Someone from The Works probably. Maybe it was to be sold and the proceeds put into one of the benefit funds he ran for his workforce.

Rory had organised an ill-assorted sufficiency of chairs. A lot of people seemed to have expectations, all of them from The Works, except herself and Ek. There were a dozen people squashed around the old kitchen table, looking at each other over discarded bits of salad, dirty bowls and dishes, screwed up cling film – the remains of Ailsa’s preparations for the funeral buffet.

Barrie sat himself at the head of the table and moved out of his way a greasy bowl that seemed to have contained something fishy. He pulled out his compad, put in his earpiece and looked at them expectantly. Those assembled got theirs out too and there was the usual flurry of hands to ears. Barrie made a couple of keystrokes with his stylus and Theo’s face popped up on their little screens: his voice resonated in their ears. This was a shock. Teddy had been expecting words to scroll up the screen. To see Theo again so soon after his death was a bit spooky … he looked so well on the little screen. This Will must have been made before he was taken ill. Before all those little explosions in his brain, he had never been sick a day in his life, had only taken time off work for what he liked to call his ‘re-plumbing’ operations. He’d been commuting weekly to Edinburgh, putting in sixteen hour days, just as he always had; the fittest nonagenarian you’d find for looking. Six months later he was vegetative, bed-ridden, the light gone out of him. To linger like that for another eight months – that had been cruel. What had been more cruel, to Teddy, was the way in which his, obviously terminal, illness had scuppered her own plans. She had wanted Theo to watch her die, not the other way around. She had come home to the castle for that. For Theo, or his illness, to twist it round like that had seemed most unfair. To see him on the screen, sprightly and so much healthier than she was herself, underlined the mess she had got herself into. She fought back tears, felt a hotness in her throat that could herald another bout of coughing, and wished heartily for a very large scotch. She took a couple of seconds to regain some sort of composure, then looked up defiantly. She looked like hell, but she was alive and Theo wasn’t. If she hung on to that fact she’d get through his last insults equably enough.

 As her father’s voice continued to whisper in her ear she looked around the table. Barrie was looking down at his old-man’s hands, clasped in front of him on the messy table. A model of discretion was George Barrie. He was also a very able lawyer. There were few people in the world that Teddy trusted. Her father had never been one of them. Barrie was. Angus Frasier, Gold’s Managing Director, was another. He was a bluff, avuncular man – a ‘safe pair of hands’ her father had always called him. Morag Cuthbertson was there too. She was head of Research and Development at The Works.

Theo had used this last opportunity to enumerate his achievements at Gold’s and Morag was looking very pleased and proud, as well she might. Teddy hadn’t realised just how small its beginnings had been. She knew that Uncle Saul had begun crafting wooden legs and glass eyes at The Works, trading as Goldstein’s Prosthetic Eye & Limb Co., during the First World War. Business was, not unnaturally, brisk then and he’d done well. Theodore Goldstein and his family had left Germany just before the Second World War, when Theo was a toddler. Theodore père (the  family name was not, in Teddy’s opinion, an attractive one – especially as she had been saddled with it too) had been a doctor in Berlin. When the internment problem had been sorted out Saul gave Theodore employment at The Works. Saul’s artisan skills benefited greatly from Theodore’s medical knowledge: Saul retired in 1947, having made another fortune. He’d gifted the business to Theodore, upon whom he’d come to rely completely.

When Theo inherited the business from his father in the Nineteen Sixties he renamed, and refocused, it as Gold’s Prosthetics. In the Eighties he’d begun to concentrate on development of robotic limbs, improving and honing until, in the early part of the new century, he began to develop bio-mechanical organs and eyes. Now, to lose a limb or an eye was no longer a disability – if you could afford a Gold replacement.

As the technology improved the limbs and eyes they produced set the standard in the field. When cellular cloning had been banned in the Twenty Twenties Gold’s received a new lease of life: the way forward had to be bio-mechanical in the absence of cloning options.

Now Theo was detailing the progress of his last project: Nanonics. In the early Thirties a few estates of houses had been built using nanites (grown, was the phrase the builders used) but stood empty. The press took credit for that. If there was a scary story (and there were many) connected with nanites, then the press ran it. If a scratching in the walls should turn out not to be rats or mice, but leftover nanites still doing whatever it was nanites did … nobody trusted the tiny machines. Nobody wanted a world built with nanites. Theo, however, believed that Nanonics had enormous medical potential and well-funded research at The Works went ahead with considerable publicity. Theo maintained that he had been very close to a major breakthrough when one too many firebombs in the post had made him, reluctantly, put the project into mothballs. He was speaking of it here as the next, major medical breakthrough.

She didn’t know much about Nanonics – had never taken any interest in anything connected with The Works. But something was nagging at her. What was it about Nanonics that could be important? Surely the whole project was so monumentally unpopular that no-one in their right mind would ever start it up again?

There were sharp intakes of breath around the table and she realised she had missed something. She paused the D-vid and ran it back until the words sounded familiar again. Glancing up she noticed that everyone was looking at her. The only one who looked less than outraged was Ek: he just looked worried.

Her father’s voice said:

I know this will deeply disappoint my loyal employees, but I have decided, with regret and after a great deal of deliberation, not to leave The Works in your care. My daughter Theodora is the proper heir and it is to her that I leave my shares in the business. She shall have The Works to do with as she sees fit. You might, quite reasonably, hope that she will sell it back to you. Mr Barrie has all the necessary documentation ready for her signature, if she chooses to wash her hands of the business as she has washed her hands of her family. You will, of course, have to come to your own arrangements about what might be a fair price for it.

It pains me to break my promise to you in this way. But I find that, even now, I cannot ignore my duty to my family.

So, that was what had made them suck their teeth.

What the hell had made him do such a thing?

To Ekhah, the son I should have had, I leave Dunster castle, Dunster Home Farm and all the buildings, livestock, leases, tenancies, rights and duties pertaining thereto. He loves the property and has become an excellent farmer. I shall have no fear for the land or the people who live on it while he is Laird.

Well, that was true enough.

The D-vid wittered on, her father’s face tiny in front of her, but she couldn’t take it in.

She tried to pull the important information together: The Works to her, everything else to Ek, crumbs to the rest of the people around the table who had had such expectations. Dear old Barrie had ushered them all in here just to hear that. Teddy snuck another look up under her lashes. Eleven pairs of eyes were fixed on her: nine pairs looked distinctly unfriendly.

No wonder.

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