Sherdan sat in his chair at the command centre. He thought everything was going well, if a little slower than he’d like. He watched the screens at the end of the room as he usually did. It didn’t give anyway near as much information as he wanted but for now it was the best they had.
As the guards were busy, Sherdan didn’t want to interrupt and slow them down. He tapped his fingers impatiently and let his thoughts drift to Anya. She’d repeatedly requested his company then hardly said more than a sentence to him at a time.
He drifted in and out of his thoughts while watching over the developments of the day. Several times Graham interrupted his daydreams just as they were drifting to his imaginings of getting Anya into his bed. She was an attractive young woman and occasionally he really could not help thinking of her like that.
His command room wasn’t the best place to be thinking those thoughts, however, so he made more of an effort to steer his mind back to his work when he had been interrupted for the third time. He thought of all the weird things that had happened since she arrived instead, and what it might mean.
The first time anything weird had happened in his life was back when he’d known Sandy and Professor Carmichael. Then he had put it down to science that was yet unexplained but now he found himself wondering if he had been too closed to possibilities. So many more weird things had happened since Anya had arrived that he wondered if he had to rethink his earlier interpretation of those two as well.
Graham soon interrupted his brain’s meanderings on that score too. There was work to monitor and, even though Sherdan was doing very little, his opinion was needed on most of the decisions.
The day was long but Sherdan went home satisfied. Everyone who needed to had left. The three students who hadn’t been in their house when the evacuation had started had turned up at about three in the afternoon.
Sherdan had managed to have them moved into the area as another family were leaving. Interestingly all three of them had requested to join the program rather than be kicked out. They were studying graphic design at Bristol’s second university: the University of the West of England.
It made Sherdan stop and think for a bit before he gave an answer. They reminded him of Anya, especially when they said they were studying something artistic. As the after-effect every thought of Anya had, he found himself feeling more compassionate and he eventually said yes to their request.
When he got home it was almost four in the morning. He was glad that none of the new residents were arriving until the following afternoon. He checked in on Anya on his way to his room. She didn’t look peaceful at all.
Her face poured with sweat and she was curled up on her side with her knees drawn up against her chest. She gritted her teeth, evidently in pain. Sherdan rushed over to her to wake her up.
“Anya, you’re having a nightmare.”
She sat up with a jump, disorientated. He perched on the edge of the bed as she started crying into her hands. She didn’t look at him or even acknowledge he was there. After a moment’s hesitation he sat beside her, put his arms around her and pulled her into a hug.
“It was just a bad dream, you’re safe now,” he whispered. She sobbed against his chest as he stroked her hair. He waited for her to stop and calm down while he enjoyed having her so close to him, although the reason behind it pained him greatly. He’d never felt anything so bitter-sweet.
As her crying ceased she pulled away. She seemed ashamed to be seen and neatened her hair with her hands.
“Is it more nightmares about what happened?” he asked. She nodded. “It won’t ever happen again, I promise. You really are safe now.”
Sherdan tried to look her in the eyes to reassure her but she wouldn’t meet his gaze. He knew she didn’t really believe him.
“I wouldn’t have allowed it had I known you like I do now. Had I known how important you are.”
“I’m only important to you because of Hitchin and I don’t believe he’s right. I definitely don’t like the way he talks about me.” Sherdan looked away. He didn’t want yet another argument. “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe you, but thank you for waking me and checking I was okay.”
“You’re welcome. I don’t like to see you upset. I mean that.”
“I don’t hate you for what happened but I’m not sure I belong here.”
“I’ve told you that you’re free to go.”
“Would I be free to go if I wasn’t able to walk out without you stopping me?” she asked. He paused and looked away, seriously considering his answer.
“If I knew you weren’t happy here then, yes, I think you would, even if it made me sad doing so.” He looked deep into her eyes as he replied, hoping she would believe him. She smiled but looked away.
“There’s no way to know for sure now.”
“I’ll let you rest,” he replied and got up. The divide between them was so large sometimes he doubted even Hitchin could be right. He made a mental note to run the vision by Hitchin again and check that he had interpreted it right.
When Sherdan’s alarm went off at seven, he immediately turned it off and rolled over, falling fast asleep again. Less than three hours sleep was just not enough. Anya woke him at nine, her concerned face was the first thing to come into focus properly.
“You overslept,” she said as if it explained why she was in his bedroom with nothing but some flimsy pyjamas on. He smiled at her.
“I’m not sure I mind if you’re what I wake up to.” She blushed and went to leave. “How did you sleep after I left you?”
“Well… Thank you.” Anya left but before he could follow Graham called for his attention on the radio. He didn’t sound happy. Sherdan assumed he had called several times and it had woken Anya too.
“I’ll be right there. Give me a few more minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” came the relieved reply. Sherdan sighed. He had so much work and all he really wanted to do was spend time with Anya before it was too late and she left.
He said goodbye to his distant companion and walked out of his house. Breakfast would have to wait.
A few last minutes preparations were needed before he could go meet the new arrivals. The new recruits were joining today, despite government warnings to stay away, and threats of arrest for anyone seen with Sherdan. Therefore, he felt it necessary to go meet them all and escort them personally into their new country.
His commander fidgeted while Sherdan ran through some of the day’s plans. Sherdan was intending to leave him in charge of the country while he was gone and he had already expressed concern over it.
“Are you sure this is wise?” Graham asked half an hour later.
“Of course. It shall be fine.”
“Last time was a close thing sir. I’d hate for you to get caught.”
“I won’t. I’ll have a team with me.” Sherdan left the command room before Graham could say anything else.
He went straight back to his house and into his car. His chauffeur drove him through his usual tunnel and out into what was now a separate country. The driver travelled all the way to Bath and dropped Sherdan off at the Bath Pavilion.
On entering the building he was snuck behind the scenes before any of the people milling about noticed him. There weren’t many there yet but there would be. They’d all been invited elsewhere and were being brought here by his own people to make sure the British Government didn’t know anything about it.
Sherdan stood on the other side of the curtain, watching the people gather. It took almost half an hour and everyone was served drinks while they waited. There weren’t quite as many as had been invited but that was to be expected. The way things had gone the last few weeks he understood that the Prime Ministers ramblings would have put some of them off.
He had to wait for almost an hour until one of his team came up and said everyone who intended to come had arrived. Sherdan allowed everyone a few minutes longer to come through to find seats and drinks.
When he stepped through the curtain silence immediately fell and every eye fixed on him. He smiled and walked right to the centre. Every little fidget and awkward cough could be heard by Sherdan as well as every one of his deliberate footfalls.
“Good afternoon everyone. I sincerely thank you all for travelling here, many of you a very long way. It means a lot to me and my residents that you all wish to join us, despite the slander and lies being spread.” Sherdan smiled and paused as he looked around at all the eager faces. They trusted him to give them a better life than one the current government had given them. They wanted change; something different. His heart swelled. He could give it to them.
“As you are aware, it is currently not very easy to access your new home, Utopia. We’ll all be leaving here very shortly to head there. You will all need to move quickly and efficiently and go where you’re asked. Of course, for anyone still unsure about joining, now is the time to say so. It is quite possibly a one way trip.”
Sherdan smiled again and jumped down from the front of the stage as the first wave of applause broke out. People soon began to come up to talk to him but he simply encouraged them to follow.
He walked to the front door with a wave of people like he was a prophet leading his followers, and got into the stretch limo which pulled up outside. The few people right behind hesitated before the chauffeur waved them into the car. The first seven followed Sherdan and sat down around him.
The second the car started he struck up a conversation with his fellow passengers. First impressions were so important. He was treated as a celebrity at first. All of his companions were shy and nervous but he soon put them at ease.
They were understandingly apprehensive about the journey and what would happen to them, but Sherdan did everything he could to reassure them that they would be okay. There was safety in numbers and they were adding significant numbers that day. Over one thousand.
Sherdan put all their fears to rest in the hour journey that ensued. They had all been driven north to a small, private, disused railway station. Today, however, the station was very much active and used. A magnificent steam train stood puffing a great plume of smoke into the otherwise quiet air.
There were murmurings amongst the arrivals as they saw the train. Many long, luxurious carriages had been attached to the steamer. Each carriage had wine and nibbles aboard as well as very comfortable seats.
The passengers soon came flowing aboard and Sherdan alighted in no particular hurry. It would take a few moments for all the cars to arrive and everyone to be seated.
A hostess service was already on board, passing people drinks and encouraging them to be seated until the train started moving.
As each carriage filled up, Sherdan moved through, greeting people, shaking hands and making small talk. Many of them had relaxed, finally feeling safe and taken care of. Sherdan was thanked repeatedly for being there despite the risk of capture.
He smiled as the train started moving and their journey to Utopia began. There was a railway station in Bristol which had a back entrance leading into Utopia. The army checked each train carriage as well as the people exiting the front of the station but they couldn’t get past the platform to the rear entrance thanks to Sherdan’s emitters.
With the train being a privately owned vehicle, and only registered to pause there for a moment to let another train go past, no one would even expect people to be arriving on the train.
Sherdan had only moved a third of the way through the people when the train began to move. From that point people got out of their seats and started milling around. He soon found himself surrounded.
“What’s it like, running a country?” a bright-eyed young woman asked him.
“Difficult. There are lots of rules, and people to keep happy, but it’s rewarding. Every day I get to see my decisions making a positive difference to my citizens.” Sherdan smiled. It was just the kind of question he’d been hoping someone would ask.
“You actually think it makes a difference?” a man in his fifties piped up.
“Of course. I can see the difference in my residents already. They’re happier now they have a greater sense of purpose, coupled with the security I can provide.
“This security, you’ve obviously got some fancy new technology. What is it?”
“It’s true we do possess some equipment the rest of the world doesn’t own yet. I probably shouldn’t go into too many details right now as it will be covered in your information seminars tomorrow.”
Several looks of awe spread over the faces of the people listening at this latest answer. He thought he’d get a reaction from this but it was even better than he had hoped.
“Without giving too much away, it was developed right here in the heart of my little country by a man not too dissimilar from yourself, Mr Jameson. A man who thought the best of life had passed him by.”
Mr Jameson smiled and shook Sherdan’s hand. Everyone murmured amongst themselves as Sherdan moved on down the carriage to some fresh faces and new questions.
He could hardly wait until he was back in his country with all the new residents. They would have quite an impact on the United Nations in persuading them to recognise Utopia as a new country.
On top of all the immediate benefits, there were also all the new abilities the people would gain. The smiling, excited people around him would soon become eager workers and helpers, making his country stronger and taking them closer to the end target.
The train journey flew by as Sherdan talked with all the people around him. Many were similar ages to him. People who’d had jobs their whole lives and got no where in life. He’d given them so much hope and they were grateful for it.