Chapter 37 – Field Trip
The sun was setting. What had been drizzle earlier on that day, was now transforming itself into little snowflakes. Evey Hammond shivered ever-so-slightly in the cold evening air and drew her cloak closer around herself. The tiny fluffy clouds of ice adorned her hair and her clothes only for a short while, before her body heat made them melt, turning them into icy moisture that crept into every garment, making her feel as if she was being chilled to the bone. She wasn't quite sure, but she thought she saw the masked man beside her shiver, too.
They had gone as far as the subway network would take them, but most tunnels outside of London's centre were still out of commission. While the provisional government tried to repair them to let the working population benefit from a public transport network again, years of dereliction had taken its toll. Some of the tunnels had become structurally unsound, and repairs were expensive.
This meant that they would be continuing the second half of their journey by car.
In the dusk, on an abandoned street, a banged-up Mini stood waiting for them. Behind the wheel, Gordon Dietrich was sitting patiently.
V and Evey made themselves comfortable on the back seat. Thinking about it, it struck Evey as slightly ridiculous to put a man of V's reputation in such a small car. Glancing beside her, she looked at the picnic basket that V held on his lap. It only added to her feeling of it all being surreal, as it often happened when she was around V.
This masked avenger, executioner of many, had spent the morning in one of his floral aprons, preparing lunch - or rather dinner - for the three of them. He had made egg sandwiches, added a thermos with tea, and even packed some biscuits to go with it.
Still, after so much time, Evey sometimes couldn't grasp the blatant paradoxes in the man's behaviour – nor could she grasp why exactly she found them appealing.
The smell of the food in the confined space, along with the humming of the engine and the rocking motion of the car brought her back to her childhood. Only in the memory it was morning, not evening and summer, not winter.
V must have noticed her eyes glazing over and her mind going absent.
"A penny for your thoughts," his voice sounded pleasantly.
"I was thinking, this is like a reverse picnic," Evey replied, pointing at the basket. "When I was little, we used to leave at the crack of dawn for these trips, so we could make most of the day."
"I fear that daylight has not been my friend for a long time, dear Evey," V said softly, "but I'll try to make the most of the night."
Evey smiled. The car's heating system had kicked in and she felt much more comfortable now. Her gloved fingers reached out for V's and she was thankful he didn't pull away. She squeezed his hand and let her cheek rest on his shoulder.
Gordon caught a few glimpses of them in the rear view mirror. He spoke, possibly just to deal with his own discomfort at witnessing an intimate moment.
He scraped his throat: "So, are you kids sure that it's wise to leave the good Inspector behind?"
Evey could feel V's muscles flexing as he heard Gordon call them "kids". It almost made her grin.
"No," she heard V reply to the question, "but I wish to see the place alone first."
Evey understood. Even the best of people were creatures of habit. V had spent so many years independent of others. She could see how incredibly hard it must have been for him to let his guard down in the first place; to let others meddle with things that he still considered to be inherently private. She understood how, in a way, she and Gordon were terribly lucky to get even a little personal information about him. Lucky, that is, if they did not mind being in harm's way – for it seemed danger was only ever two steps behind the masked man.
Evey was grateful for even the smallest breaches in that almost impenetrable defense system of his, and she knew full well why Inspector Finch was not quite that high on V's list of favourite people.
It was not that V did not trust the man, or even question his character, but not long ago he had believed him to be a rival to Evey's love, and she suspected that might still affect V's dealings with the him.
More so – regardless of V's feeling about the Inspector – Evey knew that if this little field trip did turn up information about V's past, sharing it with the entire police force was probably the last thing V would want to do.
She remained silent for the longest time, happy to simply hold V's hand while looking out of the window. The further away they got from London centre, the thicker the snow became, until they reached a spot where it was already covering the ground like a white fluffy carpet. Gordon was having trouble seeing much ahead; there was only darkness, intermittent with faint streetlights, and the incessant attack of small white assailants on the windshield.
Despite the limited vision, Evey could see a gigantic structure loom up in the night. It took a moment for her to realise what it was, but when she did, she wondered how she ever could have missed it. It was Heathrow Airport, dutifully waiting for the time that London might once again be more international again. It had stood abandoned for years – part of the plot to cut England off from the rest of the world – but now air traffic was slowly being resumed. Many airplanes were beyond repair though, and the Norsefire regime had not exactly done wonders for England's reputation. America still had many problems of its own. As a result, the only people who really ventured into the skies were those who were eager to do business or the rare journalist who was writing about how England had fared in its isolation.
Nobody was willing to fly in this weather though, so tonight the airport was just as empty as Evey remembered it to be from her youth.
Soon, they traversed the M25, making clear that they were indeed making their way out of London. Gordon's car stopped not very long after, in what Evey would have described as 'the middle of nowhere'.
Gordon pulled up the hand break and switched off the engine, signaling that they had indeed arrived at their destination.
Evey got out of the car, greeted by a cold that was much sharper than the one she remembered from earlier that day. She peered into the darkness, trying to see what was so special about the place.
"There's nothing here," she said to Gordon, a slight frown appearing on her forehead.
She tried to adjust her eyes to the night – something she had gotten quite good at in the past few months. But all she could see was a sea of white; snow covering what appeared to be a frozen lake, with dark patches where the water had not turned into ice yet.
"From here we walk," Gordon said, guiding her away from the lake, and into what she would think to be a plain of nothingness.
Her feet pressed against the fresh snow and it made a sound that she associated with childhood and happiness. V hovered behind her as a silent protector, but still a strange, unconformable feeling crept up on her. It was like this was some sort of initiation rite; like she was a novice being led to an inner sanctum that she could not grasp the magnitude of.
The place where they were going to – if there would indeed be such a place at the end of their walk – was a part of Gordon's and V's shared past, not hers. Granted, apparently her parents were involved in some way, but she was just a little girl back then, and the inner workings of what they called The Vanguard House had never been revealed to her.
The structure that eventually appeared before them was not what she had expected. It was not residential in nature, rather industrial. A hangar stood, surrounded by several habitable containers, next to what would appear to be a gravel pit or a quarry of some sort. Some large excavation machines stood motionlessly in the snow, showing patches of rust and signs of neglect. A bit further, five Lorries were parked nearly next to each other, as they had been for many years, waiting for a cargo that had never arrived.
The landscape seemed infested by ghosts to her – perhaps not ghosts of people, but ghosts of dreams never come into fruition, of imagination nipped in the bud, of a thousand different futures that could have been, but never were.
"You wait here," Gordon said to both her and V. "It's been a long time. Let me see if I can still get in safely."
He disappeared in the darkness, leaving the two black-clad figures standing in the snow. Evey moved closer to V, and he –as in reading her mind as to what she wanted – put his arms around her, sheltering her from the elements.
"Thank you for letting me come along," she whispered.
"You would not have let me go easily," he replied.
Evey didn't know if that was a compliment in disguise, or a resignation on V's part to accept that his believed death had changed her.
"Perhaps I would not have," she said, "but it means a lot that you asked me willingly."
V bowed his head down, the chin if his mask resting on her forehead. She swore she could actually feel the warmth of his breath on her hair.
"Promise me one thing, though," he managed.
"Whatever we find in there, whoever I used to be – Evey, do not mistake him for the man I am now. I do not remember him. I do not even remember this place."
She nodded. "I won't. I promise."
Some racket sounded behind the hangar, sounding as if something had fallen down. Evey startled, hand already on her dagger, and peered into the direction of the noise.
Fortunately, the next thing that she heard was Gordon's voice.
"It appears I have acquired a key!" he shouted.
Evey breathed a sigh of relief. No fight would ensue. Yet in the back of her mind a little voice was still saying: It' can't possibly be this easy.