The Life of Henry Fuckit
44 Bergson prepares Henry for his expedition to South West Africa
By the end of 1974 Harry Bergson and his enthusiastic Dockyard assistants had reached an advanced stage in the initial preparatory work. One mild December morning he summoned Henry to his office and bade him take the by now familiar seat opposite his chief. The big sliding window was open to its full extent and the harbour smells and sounds were rising lazily on the summer air. After an exchange of pleasantries Bergson stood up and moved to the big map.
"As you can see, we have now almost completed our survey of the planet. There are vents distributed across all continents, and many islands too. In fact, our most powerful readings are coming from a point out in the remote South Atlantic where the charts show there to be nothing but a great expanse of empty ocean."
"That's strange." Henry liked looking at this map. There was no obvious pattern to all the interlacing lines but he had the feeling, as did Bergson, that one day one of them would shout "Eureka!" as something fell into place and unlocked the intention behind the design. "Well, I suppose you'll get to the bottom of it eventually. By the time you're a hundred and twenty."
"Oh no, much sooner than that, I hope," and he laughed. "You know, I'm convinced, more than ever, that these tunnels are communication conduits which have fallen into disuse. I believe we possess a faculty that we have neglected for so long that we are now unable to make use of it. A long time ago, when we were closer to the rawness of life and believed in magic we were aware of all sorts of things that only weirdoes and outcasts have any inkling of nowadays. We need to get these tunnels buzzing again. The Oxyaston has to be re-energized. You know, I've had a vision. Let's rather call it a dream in order not to sound too deranged, a dream in which I imagined more and more of the ducts flowing with energy until it was bursting forth in streams from an underground labyrinth to streak through the ether, invisible yet palpable, before plunging underground again. And in the dream it gradually became possible to think oneself into this seamless, unending flow of energy and begin to experience a different dimension of time and space as we know it now. Perception and awareness became infinitely sharper and deeper, and consciousness lifted up to soar above the stolid pilgrims plodding the long and featureless road to nowhere."
"Ah, I like that. That's a nice metaphor. The awakened consciousness is to the unawakened one as a soaring bird is to a stolid pilgrim plodding to nowhere. And the master metaphor behind it is, existing is to living as plodding is to soaring. With this skilful figure of speech you have communicated some of your aspirations, preferences and crackpot ideas on this and that. Very good."
"Thank you, Henry." Bergson smoothed his French moustache with both hands and gave the ends a brief twirl. Taking up his lecturer's wooden pointer he gestured towards an area on the southwest coast of the continent of Africa. "There's something very interesting going on here and I'm going to be asking you to get involved and undertake a journey of exploration. You see these markers?" He was pointing to a concentration of minor vents stretching in a narrow band along the coast of Namibia. "We've come across nothing like this anywhere in the world. They appear to be minor vents and yet the signals are strong. As I see it, there are two possible explanations. Either they all connect into one of the major conduits or, and I favour this second hypothesis, their energy levels are high because they remained in use for longer than most other ducts. Remember, the Bushmen were active in this desert area right up until recent times."
"And the Bushmen used to sniff Oxyaston?" Henry was wondering just what harebrained scheme was hatching in the rank fecundity of this man's mind. "Well, I'm no Bushman, and I don't relish the prospect of wandering about the Namib Desert in the searing heat snuffling under rocks for the scent of a disused duct. Besides, on what pretext would I be there?"
"Don't concern yourself with such trifling details. There'll be no searing heat as your expedition is planned for winter. And you wouldn't be on official Naval business. I will book you off for a few weeks - sick leave to recuperate from some disease. Or a psychiatric disorder. Yes, that'd be more plausible. Over the next six months we should be able to pinpoint some of those ducts to within a hundred metres or so on a survey map." Bergson's eyes shone with enthusiasm, his voice rose an octave, and his hand movements became eloquent. "Just think of it, Henry! You're probably the only man on earth to have experienced Oxyaston from two different sources. Your credentials, your qualifications, are impeccable. The miniaturised equipment you'll be taking with you should enable us to make the first really meaningful contact. Who knows, we might even be fortunate enough to excite the flow of Oxyaston to such an extent that telepathic communication is possible. That's my dream Henry, and you are a key figure in the drama that will turn dream into reality. I am convinced that with your help we are on the point of a major breakthrough."
Henry felt a little flattered. He approved of Bergson: they shared an insurance background and a common revulsion for what had gone to make up their separate experiences. They were both undaunted by, if not totally oblivious to, the demands of convention. They were able to explore their own and each other's imaginations with an easy self confidence. And they trusted their instincts implicitly, all the while aware of fallibility and the ironies of fate. No wonder Henry was pleased with what Bergson was saying. From his scout belt he unclipped the aluminium water bottle and slaked his thirst prior to lighting his pipe. (He had come upon the belt and bottle on one of his rambles up Kalk Bay Mountain and, perceiving their usefulness, adopted them as part of his everyday apparel. At the time he had assumed they had been discarded by a Baden-Powell acolyte whilst in the throes of being instructed in good citizenship, chivalrous behaviour and skill in various activity including outdoor sodomy.)
"Well, I suppose I might be prepared to consider it." He flicked a spent match at the window and sniffed the fumes rising from his smouldering Turkish Delight. "Mmm. A little journey, a little sojourn in the wilderness, might do me a power of good. A change of scene, new faces, different climate - could be quite therapeutic."
"That's the attitude. I admire your positive approach to life." There was only the faintest suggestion of mockery in Bergson's tone. "Now we must start planning in earnest. This is a design sketch of the equipment package you'll be taking with you. See what you think of it." Henry took the drawing and examined what looked like a suitcase on wheels, and Bergson began to explain.
"It will be constructed from titanium alloy which is lightweight but very strong and corrosion resistant. A third of the space is taken up by miniaturised electronic equipment with two thirds left for your own personal luggage. You'll have to travel light, I'm afraid. The power source and solar panel are built into the lid, and this is the telescopic antenna. The retractable wheels should make life easier for you."
"Looks neat and compact. But what the hell's this? Says 'vagina'!?"
"Ah yes, that. That's the brainchild of the mateys in the Pattern shop and Toolroom. They're the ones responsible for the design and manufacture of the case. They thought you might appreciate this accessory. It's a specially lined sleeve running diagonally through this top corner, and at the adjacent corner, here, are two handles that pull out so you may steady yourself. They were thinking of your convenience whilst journeying in remote, sparsely populated areas."
"Humph! You can tell them to go and fuck themselves. Damned invasion of my privacy!" Henry was indignant, but not for long. "What I would appreciate though, is for them to make this contraption a few centimetres longer and build in a five litre reservoir with filler cap and concealed tap. I can't be expected to go blundering off into darkest Africa without a supply of Vrotters to sustain me, can I?"
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