Common Era, 2025, Newton Abbot, Devon.
Community peace facilitator, PC Reignbow is at his desk, downloading the latest crime and intelligence reports on to his Huawei 11G device.
“Got a priority one here,” he said, kicking and spinning his chair from the screen to face his comrade, special citizen Whyte.
The carpet tiles were worn and dirty where he had performed the same manoeuvre a thousand times. He’d seen it on his favourite BBC approved programming, and had always admired the maverick detective, Mo, who had made it his trademark.
“There’s been reports of a lock-in down at the old church. Our snitch heard illegal singing going on and it’s disturbing the rough sleepers.
There’s also a report that that you can hear the hourly bell all the way over to Lenin Avenue. They were supposed to have been muffled it months ago.”
Covid had put an end to the bell ringing, but the automated hourly strikes had continued as there was no one left to stop them.
“Is that the one that used to be called Drake Avenue? said Whyte.
“Yes, that’s it; the one off Che Guevara Way.”
“Didn’t that used to be called Hawkins
Way? said Whyte again, pleased to demonstrate his growing local knowledge.
“Leave it a couple of weeks and it’ll sort itself out,” he smirked, “Covid variant 19.9 is due out tomorrow. None of them have had the vaccine for that. It’s just key workers and under fifties now. Gotta make room, see.”
“You’re jokin’, aren’t you? Who’s gunna pay the TV licence fee now? You and me- that’s who- just you wait and see.”
“Out with the old and .. er, something new. Isn’t that what they used to say?”
Added Whyte. His degree was in ‘the oppressive nature of early 21st century statues,’ and as such, his knowledge of the old language or any other kind of history beyond CE 2020 was lacking.
Reignbow, twiddled his e-pen through his fingers, just like detective mo, then lurched forward as it spun out of control and knocked a half full coffee cup onto the computer.
“Bugger that!“ he said, wiping the wet pen on his combat trousers and rising from his seat.
It was a fine day. The odd electric bicycle swished along what was once the main road to Kingsteignton.
The old Racecourse had been turned into a wide concrete plaza, with an enormous statue of Chairman Blair and his wife Cherie at its centre.
Blair’s smile was realistic, thought Whyte, if a little grotesque. It had a sinister quality to it that you knew not to cross. Come to think of it, they both did.
He shivered and dismissed the thought as soon as it came into his mind. Besides, he needed the money and had real criminals to catch.
They arrived at the old church to find an old man laying flowers at a gravestone. It bore the name of his wife, who had died last year with the covid. Everyone died with the covid, whatever other illnesses they might have died from.
“Oi! said Reignbow,” as if telling off a child.
“You can’t do that here. Didn’t you see it on the daily BBC broadcasts? No church, whatsoever!”
“Nope,” said the old man without turning to see who was addressing him. “I can’t get the bleddy thing to work since Shannon plugged in her hair tongs. Nothing seems to work these days- all made in China, see.”
“Well move along before we report you. You’re lucky we’ve bigger fish to microwave.”
Whyte nudged Reignbow, “He might have information on the singers- ask him”
“Of course, I knew that,” said Reignbow testily.
“We’ve had reports of singing in Church. Do you know who is doing it?”
“Singers, I imagine,” replied the old man, now turning to greet the two officials with a toothy smile. His eyes were a piercing blue and creased with an unfamiliar kindness.
“Don’t get clever with me,” said Reignbow. “If there’s one thing I dislike more than a state criminal it’s a disrespectful old man. Where did you get those flowers?”
“I grew ‘em on me allotment.”
“Ahhh! First it’s illegal activity in a church then it’s an illegal allotment. Perhaps it’s you that’s been singing too?” said Reignbow, nodding to his comrade.
“What’s wrong with an allotment, I gotta eat?”
“It’s on your TV – the 2 minute public service information films between detective Mo and The One Show! You must’ve seen it.”
“I told you, it’s broke. It’s that Chinese rubbish.” said the old man.
Citizen Whyte interrupted; “He’s got a point. These new 11G radios are temperamental and they’ve got sticky buttons.”
“Sticky buttons!” spat Reignbow, his face and neck now a horrid blotchy purple colour.
“Where’s your inoculation tattoo?” He said grabbing the old man’s wrist and turning it over.
“I ‘aven’t got one,” said the old man.
“Well how do you buy food to eat?”
“I gets it from my allotment,” he replied gently, “and I brings what’s left over for these fellas,” he said, nodding towards a pile of cardboard and tatty sleeping bags against the grey stone block walls of the church.
Whyte nudged a piece of cardboard with his foot and a young man, no more than twenty years old sat bolt upright, startled and blinking in the light. His long hair was greasy and matted and he didn’t wear the official workers Nike tunic, but a set of old clothes that were too big for him.
“Hello, Hello,” said Reignbow, “the thick plottens! Don’t tell me, this is the offspring of your offspring”..
“Grandson they called that back in twenty-twenty,” interrupted Whyte.
Reignbow, ignored the remark and carried on,
“…and he also doesn’t know anything about anything because HIS screen is also broken because he plugged in his Chinese-made electric shaver and it fused the whole house.”
“He’s no relative of mine,” said the old man, “and he’s got no razor, no plug and no ‘ouse as you can see, else he wouldn’t be sleeping here.”
Reignbow had never been near the old Church before as it unnerved him somehow. He had seen its rising tower and occasionally heard the distant toll of its bell, but he had kept his distance. He had been taught that all kinds of church were wrong and forbidden. He looked up at the stained glass windows for the first time and saw the light pouring through.
The glass was pretty and bright, like the old man’s flowers, but there was something else In it that drew him and repelled him at the same time.
Who were these people that lived in the past? He thought. Who didn’t choose to live under the protection of the glorious Chairman Blair and his ‘great project for humanity’.
Who looked after strangers and sang to someone they called, God?
Reignbow suddenly felt very small against the Church tower. He felt himself sinking into the ground under the weight of its great stones. His head swam with visions of the plaza and the grotesque statues of the Blairs. As he stared, unblinking into the stained glass, he stumbled and the old man caught his arm.
“You alright boy?” He said in the same gentle voice. “Steady there, boy.”
“C’mon,” said Whyte stepping in to help. “We’d better get you back to the office.”
To be continued…. maybe.