© Copyright 2015 Bryan Murphy
Dark Future Books
Cover by Mao Qing
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, places or events is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination.
To discover more work by Bryan Murphy, visit:
Hong Kong, China, March 2021
Sean Linehan stares up at the Buddha, but the Buddha does not deign to let Linehan catch his eye. Instead, its bronze face gazes serenely over Lantau Island to the sparkling waters that pull Hong Kong’s concentrated pollution into the broad, cleansing sweep of the South China Sea.
As Linehan continues to stare, the Buddha starts to shimmer in his vision, as though it were a holographic projection gone slightly out of focus. One of Linehan’s hands wipes perspiration from his eyelids; the other rests over the micro-drive stitched into the waistband of his trousers. He blinks hard. The giant statue is again immobile. Linehan breathes his relief out into the humid air and breathes in the aroma of Cantonese cooking. He pushes his way through the crowds of pilgrims and tourists in search of its source.
The source turns out to be a series of fast-food stands set up amid tacky souvenir stalls. The former all look new, and they all bear a plethora of sponsor logos. Today, Linehan has time to contemplate the world, so he chooses the stand with the longest queue in front of it, reasoning that the locals will know the best one and give it their custom. Most of the tour guides have herded their charges off to the vast restaurant at the adjacent monastery. Linehan is thinking of the gentle nature of Buddhism, and what that might offer him in his quest to change his nature and become good, when he reaches the head of the queue. He glances at the menu pasted on the wall behind the owner and orders a spicy soup and a hot dog, a blend of East and West.
“Vegetarian dog,” the owner tells him as he hands Linehan a sausage in a steamed bread bun.
Linehan looks round to see the strange creature, but then realizes the man is talking about the food. He pays more than he had anticipated for the meal and takes it to a designated eating area, where he finds a concrete table and plastic seats with a view of island greenery and grey-blue sea. He asks if he may join the people already ensconced there. They break off their argument to gesture him to sit down, then resume it with equal volume. The hot dog tastes of spicy pork. Linehan washes it down with the soup, which burns the back of his throat and brings tears to his eyes, but leaves a pleasant after-taste.
Linehan’s neck prickles with more than perspiration from the late morning heat. He feels he is being watched, but not by anyone at his table. He looks around, but everyone he sees is minding their own business or anybody else’s but his. He turns back to his food, finishes it and wants to be away from the crowds on the peak. He decides the monks can maintain the statue without the contribution of his entrance fee to view its insides, and sets off to take the cable car down to sea level. Only when he is in the relative solitude of the cabin, drinking in the stunning bird’s-eye views it offers, does he feel free of watching eyes.
The cable car deposits its passengers at sea level, where Linehan picks up the Mass Transit Railway. He finds a seat and observes his fellow passengers for a while. They are calm and self-absorbed. The younger ones smile at their thumbs as they fly backwards and forwards over plastic rectangles like machines in perpetual motion.
Linehan pulls out the fake ThaiPad he bought in a back street the day before and finds the EBC News site. The top story is from Burma: Buddhist fundamentalist monks have instigated a pogrom against Christian and Muslim minorities in the commercial capital, Yangon, allegedly with the connivance of the military, which recently ceded power to the democratic opposition. Linehan shakes his head in disbelief and flicks over to the sports news. There is a short item about the inauguration of the SplattaDome in Hong Kong. Linehan smiles: his mission here is to prepare the stadium’s opening ceremony, using the hologram of his late, lamented chief that he carries on the micro- drive stitched into his trousers for safe keeping. No-one must know that the head of the World Football Authority, though still kicking with full force, is no longer alive.
Half an hour later, Linehan has alighted on Hong Kong Island and is strolling from the business district called Central towards the entertainment district of Wanchai. He is passing through an area studded with government buildings, officially named Umbrella Square, when a light, cool rain starts to fall. The rain refreshes him, but he has not brought an umbrella with him, so he picks up his pace. He passes Hong Kong’s Parliament, but does not recognise it as the graceful former Legislative Council building he has seen pictures of, for enormous swathes of canvas disguise its features. He wonders whether this is due to a renovation of the façade to reflect its upgraded status, or whether the Bulgarian artist Hristo is in town. Only the phalanx of heavily armed police who guard it against urban guerrillas or demonstrators hints at its importance. Linehan imagines a hologram of Franz Splatta floating above it, embodying the traditional virtues of harmony, enterprise and fair competition, but knows that such an apparition will have to wait for better technology, as well as clearer recognition by the populace of who is really in charge.
Soon, Wanchai has crowded around him. Its buildings, considered low-rise here, tower over him; its neon reflects in the faces of the crowds that threaten to force pedestrians off the narrow pavement into the tumultuous traffic. Even in Geneva, his workplace, Linehan is deemed a big man, and he uses his physical presence to keep on a straight trajectory. He is not particularly wet when four flags of St. George outside an open-fronted pub tell him he has reached his destination, a bar called Me Old China. Linehan ducks into it, out of the rain. He strides to the counter, orders a pint of bitter and takes it to an unoccupied table from which he can watch both the old English FA Cup match being re-run on a giant screen on one of the walls and the people passing in front of the pub. This way, when Wayne arrives, Linehan will see him in good time to get to the bar before him and order him his Guinness. Wayne is not due for an hour yet, so Linehan watches the screen. He already knows the result – Spurs will lose – so he turns his attention to his fellow drinkers. Although it is mid-afternoon, the place is rather full. Most of the clients are men. Those that are standing look shorter than Linehan, though he guesses that they weigh more. The majority of the male-only groups are concentrating on the serious business of swilling beer, though some are glancing at the females standing or sitting near the bar counter, and commenting to each other on the women and their imagined proclivities. Linehan notices that the women tend to be both darker and pudgier than the local ones. Occasionally there is a braying from groups of better-dressed young business people, but Linehan is used to that and it barely registers on his consciousness.
What does register is a sudden increase in the volume of rain falling outside, and a further dulling of the light that accompanies it. Then he is transfixed by the gaze of someone who has just come in off the street. She stands there, just inside the doorway, her high cheekbones illuminated by the lighting inside the pub. The rain has pasted her short, thick, jet-black hair to her forehead and her neck, and welded the front of the white blouse below her soaked green jacket to the shapely breasts it covers. Linehan understands why he is staring at her, but not why she is staring at him. She glides over to his table. Linehan’s heart misses two beats.
“You get me drink, please, before wind is changing direction.”
Linehan stands up fast, steadies his chair, steadies himself.
“What… would you like?”
“Gin tonic good enough. Same colour as rain.”
When Linehan returns with the gin and tonic, he has calmed his breathing. He feels due for a change of luck with women, someone and something to console him for Veronica’s dumping him by intercontinental text-only message.
The woman has seated herself at Linehan’s table. She takes the glass with her fine hands, her fingers brushing his as she does so. Her touch electrifies him: if her fingers are so silky …
“How did you know?”
“Know what? My English teacher Irish. May you having nicer legs than yours under the table before the new spuds are up.”
Linehan laughs. He sits down opposite the woman, raises an eyebrow and takes a good look under the table. Her bare legs, pressed firmly together, are lovely. A rivulet of rain still makes its way down one calf from her skirt.
“I do having. I mean, I have, and it’s not yet Spring.”
The woman produces a mellifluous laugh and leans back in her chair.
“Thank you, Mr. …”
“Sean. Sean Linehan.”
He extends a hand. The woman takes it; her touch makes Linehan glad he is not on his feet. He forces himself to let go of the hand.
“OK. Mr. Sean Linehan, you tell me yourself.”
Linehan leans in towards her and, in a low voice modulated by countless conferences and committee meeting, gives her an abridged version of his life story so far: his birth in north London, the third child of Irish immigrant parents, his childhood fixation with soccer, the long legal studies, his fortuitous job with the International Olympic Committee, the move to Switzerland, his head-hunting by the World Football Association after its takeover of the game’s former governing body, and his rapid rise up its ranks. He avoids mentioning the perks of that job: the stuffed envelopes, the high-class tarts, all things he has now resolved to do without. Nor does he mention the failure of his first attempt since then to find a real steady girlfriend of his own. That hurts too much, but maybe his luck is turning. The woman’s gaze focuses on Linehan’s mouth, as though reading the lips better to understand his words. Suddenly, she is looking behind him, startled. A calloused hand falls on Linehan’s shoulder.
“Sean, you dirty so-and-so! Can’t leave you for half a minute and you’re seducing some beauty. Some very special beauty. Well, go on mate, introduce me.”
Linehan has recognized Wayne’s voice. He keeps his eyes on the woman in front of him, but realizes he has not asked her name.
“You call me Beauty, I’m happy. Kind man, must be police. But my name is Hypatia.”
Linehan’s mouth goes dry as his new acquaintance shakes the hand of his old friend. He takes a gulp of his beer, which has warmed to room temperature. He turns to Wayne and gives him a warning look. Wayne laughs, showing bad teeth, and Linehan decides to take advantage of having failed to get his friend’s drink in. He stands up.
“You having the usual, Wayne? Same again Hypatia?” Funny bloody name.
But Hypatia’s gin and tonic is untouched.
Linehan puts an arm around Wayne’s shoulder and guides him to the bar counter, out of earshot of Hypatia, who watches them coolly. When they return to the table, Linehan is carrying a large bottle of mineral water and Wayne a pint mug of Guinness that already holds less than half a pint.
“What makes you think I’m a policeman, Hypatia? We ain’t famous for our kind words.”
“Hong Kong police is learning to keep iron fist inside velvet glove. And I see you walk: like police.”
“What else do you know about me?”
“You and Sean Linehan old friends.”
“OK. Yeah, body language would tell you that.”
“You his landlord. I saw you giving him key.”
“Well, I’m putting him up while he’s here. Clever girl, you are.”
“You got funny religion.”
“Strange pendant under shirt. Not Christian on Cross. Say quick prayer before drink, not just Sláinte or Cheers.”
“No, that was like Here’s to you, mate, best of luck. But I did have a soft spot for old Sai Baba, before he ruined his act by dying. The pendant is just a mojo. I’m sure you know what that’s for.”
Wayne empties his glass.
“Anyway, I gotta go. Here’s to you, mate, best of luck. Don’t wait up for me.”
Wayne gives Linehan a stage wink, takes his leave of Hypatia by grinning at her, collects his umbrella from the doorway and ambles out into the rain like a constable on his beat.
Hypatia stares at Linehan until she is sure his attention is fully back on her.
“Good. Now I have you all to myself, Mr. Sean.”
“Hypatia … beautiful name.”
He knows they have the place to themselves. Wayne has promised to sleep at a girlfriend’s. Linehan does not bring Hypatia immediately into the guest room of the spacious flat which the Hong Kong Police grants an upper-echelon officer. He sits her in the lounge, presses a glass of gin and tonic into her hand, and talks to her. And listens to her. By the time he leads her into the bedroom, he is under the impression they know each other well.
Linehan is already impressed by her life history of overcoming poverty, prejudice and ill-health to become the attractive, successful business woman that she is now, but as he gets to know every centimetre of her silky skin, his appreciation of Hypatia reaches new heights.
Hypatia shakes Linehan awake early the next morning.
“Sean, I have to get up.”
“What? No. Stay a while. Make love with me again.”
“Cannot. I have a big deal to put to bed.”
Cheap puns spring to Linehan’s made, but he does not voice them. Instead, he gets up and makes tea and toast for Hypatia while she has a quick shower and puts on yesterday’s clothes, which Linehan has dried for her overnight. The sky outside is grey, but no rain is falling. Thick double glazing muffles the rising sound of harbour and road traffic. Hypatia ignores the toast, but drinks the tea, without milk, while it is piping hot. She fetches her handbag, opens it, pulls out a business card and, with both hands, gives it to Linehan. The card affirms that she works for “Hypatia Agency Import Export”. Linehan turns it over and sees that she has hand-written an extra mobile phone number on the back.
“For personal personal calls.”
She gives Linehan a chaste kiss on the cheek and moves to the door.
“Now you see me, now you don’t. Tomorrow you see me.”
Linehan’s palms tingle as he watches the back of her leave the flat. He feels bereft. He moves to the window and looks down to the street. It is a couple of minutes before Hypatia appears at the entrance far below and saunters off into the morning human traffic of Causeway Bay.
Linehan is light-headed. He has not felt this way since he was a teenager. He finds his mobile phone and keys in Hypatia’s “personal personal” number. She answers straight away.
“Sean Linehan. You a good man. We see wechother soon.”
The line goes dead.
Linehan basks a while in the sweet sadness of solitude, then remembers that he has his own business to see to today. He phones Lim Sa-Choi, the events manager at the Hong Kong Football Association, and arranges to inspect the SplattaDome right after lunch.
Good, eh? Hypatia called me good! I must be getting somewhere.
It is cloudy but hot when Linehan emerges from the MTR’s brand new SplattaDome station in the New Territories. The site is still sealed off behind its imposing, electrified perimeter fence, but everything is ready for the grand opening ceremony, to which Linehan is bringing the immortal Franz Splatta not in the flesh but in hologram form. The armed men on the gates recognise Linehan and usher him in. One of them accompanies him in silence to the executive suite inside the stadium, where Lim is waiting for him.
“Mr. Linehan! Welcome to our little marvel! You are very prompt. I take it you were not inconvenienced by the demonstrations.”
“Good to see you again, Mr. Lim. No, I came through Umbrella Square yesterday, but nobody was demonstrating for democracy, as far as I could tell.”
“Well no, they would not need to, since the government in Beijing met most of their demands. It is the Maoists who take to our streets these days. They demand less democracy.”
Linehan does not care about degrees of democracy. He just wants demonstrators, or the people sent in to deal with them, not to incinerate foreigners and interfere with soccer.
“Whatever. Are you ready to show me the SplattaDome?”
“With the greatest of pleasure. You will love it.”
Linehan does. It is a magnificent stadium, though its capacity is limited to 40,000 for safety reasons. It has a retractable roof, an all-year hybrid grass-and-plastic pitch of deepest green, a comfortable seat for every spectator, an array of eateries for every taste and pocket, executive suites for those who can pay and for dignitaries, and its own conference hall. Brimming with infectious enthusiasm, Lim brings Linehan to the conference hall last.
“Down here is where Herr Splatta will address the world. The world wants to hear him, but unfortunately the people of Hong Kong do not. They just want to get on with the show, so while the show goes on outside, our leader will address the world game’s élite in glorious Mondovision.”
Linehan nods vigorously.
“And since we haven’t yet mastered 360-degree holographic projection, that is very handy for us, too. We just line them up in front in front of the pyramid so that none of the great man’s charm gets blurred or distorted. You’re a genius, Lim!”
“No, no, Linehan, just a humble servant of our master and his enduring legacy.”
“OK. Well, let’s make sure it works.”
This is what Linehan has come to Hong Kong for. He had unstitched the micro- drive from its hiding place before leaving Causeway Bay. Now he brings it out of his shirt pocket and shows it to Lim, who grins.
Lim leads him up a ramp to the concealed projection area at the back of the hall. The projection room is full of state-of-the art equipment. Lim indicates a sturdy Lenosoft computer placed in the middle of an uncluttered table.
“ Go ahead. It is on. All is ready.”
Linehan inserts the micro-drive. His procedural memory guides his fingers over the keyboard. He is in his element.
In the auditorium, the chubby figure of Franz Splatta appears to rise from below the stage into the glass pyramid. It acknowledges non-existent applause, then launches into a speech enhanced by his endearing mannerisms, a speech that warms the hearts of all those who love the Beautiful Game and its ability to bring the peoples of the world together in peace and harmony and joyous competition. Splatta goes back the way he came, and Linehan ejects the micro- drive.
“Perfect! No living double could match that, could they, Mr. Linehan?” The two men beam at each other.
“Well, it’s a waveguide-based platform, Mr. Lim, so you wouldn’t expect anything else.”
“ A major advance on every other type of spatial light modulator. And the designers have learned from the Billy Graham revival fiasco.”
“I should bloody well hope so!” The two men crack up laughing at the memory until Linehan forces himself to look serious.
“Tomorrow we’ll do it with an audience. You’ve had them all sign a confidentiality agreement, right? Each and every one?”
Lim nods, still beaming.
“For safety’s sake, we’ll run a fire drill before Franz appears. We just need to make sure there are no infiltrators on the big night.”
“That is not a problem in Hong Kong, China.”
Linehan hands the micro- drive to Lim.
“Guard that with your life.”
“I will. Thank you for trusting me.”
The two men return to the executive suite and toast to the success of Lim’s arrangements and Linehan’s mission.
Linehan still feels the after-taste of the Chinese white spirit, made from millet, burning the back of his throat as he rides the MTR back to Causeway Bay. He realizes he has left his jacket and his briefcase at the SplattaDome, but it does not matter: he can collect them tomorrow. Lim has the only really important thing he has brought to Hong Kong, in s