“Well, as far as I can tell, Mr Jones, there’s nothing much wrong with you. At worst I’d give you another four decades.”
“That bad, doc?” Soma Jones nodded to the doctor and staggered from the surgery. Another four decades! He’d be scraping the four score years and ten – it seemed unjust. As he Crossed the road in a daze the traffic squealed to a halt. An articulated lorry jack-knifed and a BMW mounted the pavement and hit a tree. He checked his watch – the sands of his life were running away grain by grain.
He climbed the steps between the black railings and entered the Sacred Precinct. The age-old cold stone all around him projected an atmosphere of permanence and antiquity. A pair of masked hierarchs robed in deep amber spoke in hushed tones in one of the side chapels. This part of the Sacred Precinct was a fifteenth century reproduction of the Basilica of Santa Reale. The plaster-casts of the original had been carried along the Wasgotterspeck Viaduct by pilgrim penitents. Many had died under the weight of their great burdens, tottering and falling from the narrow overhead walkways. And so the casts would have to be remade and carried and finally reassembled near Asciibridge on the Vulga.
Upon reaching the end of the great nave Soma Jones’ eyes were carried upwards into the lofty gloom of the major dome. A lofty stone canopy above the heavy marble altar was dwarfed by the high ceiling: Dimly from the paperwhite light that caught in the arched windows the golden tesserae of the mosaic stars caught and winked down on Soma Jones.
A birdmasked ecclesiastic whispered over his shoulder, “Ave Stella Maris, intercede for us Lady of the Noctural Sea.” Soma Jones turned to catch the cowled figure retreating, making admonitory gestures with his red gloved hands. Behind him, where there had originally stood a chapel to the Archangel Michael, the yellowish lights of a gift shop and the flat modern lines of the conveniences and baby changing room imposed themselves like incongrous elements of an ill concieved collage.
Beyond the ladies and gents the corridor turned left and widened in an ill-lit tiled trolley park. A long sign on the wall read “A million thanks for shopping with us!” and the Kwiksave logo. A bow-backed boy pushed a train of trolleys into the supermarket. Soma Jones staggered, listless and vacant through the aisles of tinned processed peas and oversized boxes of washing powder and nappies. Some of the larger branches of Kwiksave were selling white goods these days but this seemed to be some insignificant corner of the Empire decaying under the mismanagement of a tired disappointed graduate.
Out through the front entrance of the supermarket the shopping centre remained dim and shabby. Where the ceiling opened on the grey clouded sky the tiled floor was speckled with pigeon guano and litter. What sort of future this arcade had, if it had any future, was uncertain. Real estate in Asciibridge was too expensive for new projects and the Sacred Precinct caused certain difficulties with planning permission. Unless the government was willing to subsidise new initiatives the place would fall prey to the processes of nature.
The bird-masked ecclesiastic whispered in his ear, “Some four decades hence the keepers of the Shrine and the inheritors of the Pilgrims of Santa Reale shall stalk the broken piss-stained car parks by night. There upon the roof, where the rotors of the dead air-vents turn in the stale wind, we shall crouch and listen to the Song of the Stars: The Shivering Ancient Galaxies and the weeping lament of the Lady of the Star of the Sea.”