Clockwork Bird Episode One: Albatross

Shelly: Recording number thirty six, of case two-hundred and twenty-nine, investigation into U-Co over [shuffles paper] medical malpractice? What? No. They can’t be serious. [more paper shuffling] Dave. Oi, Dave! Have I got that right?

Dave: [distant] what?

Shelly: Case Twenty-Nine. We’re only doing them for medical malpractice?

Dave: Is that what it says on the sheet?

Shelly: Well, yeah, but-

Dave: So that’s what we’re doing them for, isn’t it?

Shelly: Don’t you think thats a little… light?

Dave: [sighs] Look, Shelly, you’re here to organise the case notes, not provide a running commentary, alright? If I had my way, you wouldn’t be involved at all, with your connections to the case. But as it stands, you’re here on a favour to the chief, on my good graces, on the caveat that you are going to organise this shit-show of a case file into something I can understand, alright?

Shelly: Are there other cases, individual ones?

Dave: I don’t know, do I? I just take what lands on my desk. I don’t get to pick and choose.

Shelly: But if it’s relevant, shouldn’t we know about it?

Dave: What do individual cases are you supposing there should be?

Shelly: I don’t know. Something about Robin Jaeger? Isn’t he, you know. Missing?

Dave: Nobody has seen him since the fire at Huddau Bay.

Shelly: So… there are people looking into it?

Dave: I don’t know. Not my department.

Shelly: I know but, don’t you think it’s relevant to this stuff?

Dave: For medical malpractice?

Shelly: I mean, yeah. He’s one of their patients, right?

Dave: Are you going to actually help me sort or just sit around asking questions?

Shelly: Yeah. I’m sorry. [clears throat] Recording number thirty six, of case two-hundred and twenty-nine, investigation into U-Co over [shuffles paper] medical malpractice. Taken from the personal computer of Dr Sophie Bennet. File name Alice Jones First Encounter with Subject 42. Start recording.

E-liza: Playing file now.

[ distorted audio ]

Sophie: So. Tell me about the beach.

Alice: Well. There’s a few beaches near where I live. Used to live. Some of them are really popular. I lived in Huddau Bay, a tiny town not far out of Cardiff, and we get a lot of film crews locally. Usually it’s BBC crews, on location but still close to the city. We’ve been in Dr Who, all sorts. A couple of the beaches are really famous for that, and we get quite a few tourists coming to take pictures on them, you know. But there is one beach that hardly anybody knows about.

It’s down these really steep stone steps, so it’s quite difficult to get to, and walking along the path you might miss the steps altogether if you don’t know where to look, so it’s really out of the way and that’s why not many people go there. Sometimes when I’d go, I’d have the whole beach to myself. I’d let my mum’s dog off the lead for a run and sit and watch the waves coming up the sand for a bit. Maybe a couple of people would come past, other dog walkers, a couple of hikers, a lost tourist or two, but for the most part it would just be me and the dog.

There is one week in the summer where the beach is a hot-spot for nudists. It’s quite funny really; when I was a kid, not long after we’d moved there, my mum was taking me and my sister down there to make sand castles and all of a sudden stopped and said ‘Alice, grab your sister, we’re going home’. [she laughs]. It wasn’t until I was much older that she told be she’d reached the last bend in the steps and seen a couple of old men walking past, completely starkers.

Anyway, knowing it’s a spot nudists go to sometimes, I wasn’t all that surprised when I came down the steps and saw someone standing in the water. I was too far away to see him clearly, but I could see his bare arse just above the waterline. It was the wrong time of year for the nudists, early April, and much too cold still for me to risk going for a paddle myself. Still, I didn’t think too much on it as I turned around to go back up the steps.

Sophie: He was completely naked?

Alice: I thought so, except he had on what I thought were pair of long black gloves.

Sophie: There we go.

Alice: I thought that was kind of weird, but no more weird than being a regular nudist, I suppose. It’s not like now. I’d never seen arms like his before, that metal and plastic.

Sophie: It’s not plastic, exactly, it’s silicone.

Alice: Does it matter?

Sophie: Yes, without –

Alice: I mean is it important for me, seeing him the first time? I didn’t know what they were. U-Co were a tiny company back then, and the idea of synth body parts was just… It doesn’t matter what they’re made of, okay?

Sophie: You make a fair point.

Alice: Anyway, the next day I started to make my way down the steps again. I was home from uni for easter and I had an essay due, and like I said, sitting on the beach helps me think, so I went back.

Sophie: You saw him again?

Alice: Yes. Only this time he wasn’t naked. Not completely. He had on a pair of what I thought were pyjama pants, and a big overcoat.

Sophie: Sam’s windbreaker.

Alice: [PAUSE] Sorry.

Sophie: [Clears throat] No, I- Please, just go on.

Alice: [Sighs] He was just… sitting there, on the sand, you know. It wasn’t until I got closer that I noticed-

Sophie: You noticed what he was?

Alice: No, not then, I didn’t. I saw the water was coming up right to his waist and he’d just sit there and let it. Closer I got, I saw there were channels, in the sand, like the ones around rocks. Like he had been sitting there for a long time. Hours, maybe. Since the tide had started to go out.

Sophie: So you left?

Alice: [deep breath] I went to the outcropping of rocks I usually sat on, and I texted my mum.

Sophie: You just sat there.

Alice: I didn’t know who he was, and he was just sitting there. I figured maybe he was homeless or something, possibly mentally ill, it was such an odd thing to be doing. But he didn’t seem dangerous. He didn’t even seem to notice I was there. Course, my mum told me to leave as soon as she got the text.

Sophie: I’m not surprised.

Alice: I’m not stupid. It’s just, there was something about him that seemed so… I don’t know. Vulnerable.

Sophie: [scoffs] There is nothing vulnerable about Robin Jaeger.

Alice: Was.

Sophie: Sorry?

Alice: Past tense. And there was something about vulnerable him. Obviously. Or he wouldn’t be lying practically dead.

Sophie: I’m afraid with Mr Jaeger, ‘practically dead’ is a bit of a hazy definition.

Alice: [bitterly] Exactly.

Sophie: So you saw Robin Jaeger on the beach and you thought he looked like a hopeless wastrel and so you sat there like a lemon until your mother called you away, correct?

Alice: That is the essence of it, if you want to be a complete twat.

Sophie: And did you see him again after that?

Alice: You know I did, Sophie. I don’t understand what the point of all this is.

Sophie: If we don’t make a record of everything, how will anybody understand what happened?

Alice: You made him into a monster, and he behaved monstrously. What more is there to it than that?

Sophie: Was that how he seemed to you; a monster? Even then?

Alice: [pause] No. Something about him was so sad. Looking at him made me feel guilty, almost, rather than afraid. I couldn’t be scared of him because he was so…

Sophie: You went back the next day, to see if he was still there.

Alice: He was still sitting there, so impossibly still that I wondered for a moment if he had been there all night. He didn’t seem dangerous and, well. I was worried. Is that so wrong, to see someone clearly in a bad way, and want to reach out and help them?

Sophie: No.

Alice: Don’t. That’s not you. That’s not what you were doing.

Sophie: It was what we tried to do.

Alice: Are you going to go off on another ‘means justify the ends’ monologue? I can’t deal with that right now.

Sophie: I cared about him too, you know.

Alice: Funny way of showing it.

Sophie: I made some mistakes. I won’t deny that. But I-

Alice: You what? You loved him? You poked and prodded him. You tortured him! And you couldn’t even give him the dignity of dying. You still can’t, not entirely. You can’t just let him go.

Sophie: Could you, if you were in my position?

Alice: I wouldn’t ever let myself be in your position.

Sophie: I’m sure I would say that too, if I were in yours.

Alice: [pause] He looked like he needed help, so I walked over to him. And I asked if he was alright. He didn’t turn, not right away, like he hadn’t heard me at all. I took another step closer and that close I could see how pale he was, like all the blood had washed out of him with the tide. For a horrible moment I thought he was dead and was only sitting up by some horrible fluke but then, slowly, he opened his mouth.

He didn’t speak. He moved his lips and no sound came out at all. He turned to me, looking horrified, and I thought, my god, what has happened to this man? Except no, he didn’t look like a man, not right then. He didn’t look like a monster, either. He had a look in his eyes I’d seen before, in the eyes of a child. A kind of instinctive, primal horror that gets harder to feel when you grow up and begin to learn the world. But it was there, on his face, as he looked up at me.

That was the first moment I felt afraid. Not of him, not exactly, not then, not yet. I was afraid of the fear in his eyes, and of whatever it was that had inspired that fear, and I felt it so deeply and completely that for a horrible moment I forgot where I was and who I was and that he was a man on the beach who I had seen nakedly walking into the sea two days before and I just said ‘it’s going to be alright’.

Alice: It haunts me, that I said that.

Sophie: You were trying to help.

Alice: It was a lie. I didn’t know to what extent it was a lie that day, how could I? But I couldn’t have ever kept him safe. That horror on his face was so complete that I knew immediately and instinctively that there was nothing that I could do. But he looked so much like a frightened child. All I could think to say was that everything would be alright but I had no place making that promise. No place to put that in his head.

Sophie: This would have happened, even if you hadn’t found him.

Alice: You don’t know that.

Sophie: I know what he was, and I know what the world is like. Creatures like that, so rare and wonderful, they can’t last for long. What happened to him was inevitable.

Alice: Bullshit.

Sophie: It’s not your fault, Alice.

Alice: [bitter laugh] No, it’s not. It’s yours.

E-liza: End of recording. Do you want any more help?

Shelly: [thickly, as though she has been crying] No. No. [sound of rustling clothes] Unless. [whispering] E-liza, are there any other open cases involving U-Co?

E-liza: I found forty two open cases with the term ‘U-Co’ in the title. Would you like to view them?

Shelly: yes. Yes.

E-liza: opening the first file.