"ALL CHANGE ", A short-story by Steve Dix

"Rise and shine, everyone! Another beautiful day!" No.6 opened one eye and glowered at the radio that the over-cheerful voice oozed from. "Time to be up and about!" No.6 turned his back on it.

"Come on No.6!" said the radio chattily. "Rise and shine!" No.6 got up, his every move telegraphing defiance to the cameras hidden in the lamp, the mirror, behind the pictures on the wall, and - for all he knew - in the lavatory. The radio was now playing its usual nauseous selection of music. The phone rang. No.6 picked it up.
"No.6's residence, he said" "I'm afraid I've escaped again. Please leave your number and I'll call you if I'm caught." "Ah! Ever the humorist, No.6." 'Who's speaking, as if I didn't know?" "I'm the new No.2. I thought I'd introduce myself over breakfast, since we'll be working against each other for our respective stays." "One of your predecessors tried that," said No.6. "It didn't work. Goodbye." 'Wait! I have a proposition!" "I've heard it all before."

No.6 put the phone down, turned to the bathroom and began to run the water. He watched bubbles as they burst around the edge of the torrent. But one of the bubbles didn't burst - it grew and grew ... No.6 backed away as the Rover stopped growing and approached menacingly. "The offer of breakfast is open," came the voice from radio. The new No.2 was a well-dressed little man. His black blazer and trousers were well pressed and of a smart cut. He smiled as No.6 entered. Almost at the same time, the doors behind him opened and the Butler approached with a tray. No.6 watched the Butler put the tray down and step back. His hand lashed out, sending the tray and its contents flying. "Get on with it," he hissed to No.2. "A bargain." "They tried that one quite a while ago." "This is different," said No.2. "That's what they all say." No.2's grin widened. "You're quite a hard nut to crack, No.6. I doubt if you know what a strain that puts upon me." "Get to the point."
'We swap places. You become No.2, I become No.6. You attempt to find my secret - without resorting to unsavoury techniques - and I live the carefree life of the unmutual." "What do I get out of it?" "Freedom. Break me. If you don't, however..." "I confess." "Correct." "All right, I'll play along. "Jolly good! You'll know where to find me. Be seeing you!"

No.2 walked out, leaving No.6 sitting alone in the control room under the Green Dome. Slumped in his chair, No.6 gazed up at the viewscreen as No.2 pottered about. He had had a week to think of a plot to break No.2. But nothing worked. The Butler entered. "More tea," demanded No.6. The Butler looked at the tea set resting on the console, then back to No.6. "You heard me! More tea?" Picking up the tray, the Butler carried it out. On the screen, No.2 stopped the newsvendor and bought a copy of the Tally Ho. Suddenly, No.6 smiled.

The next day's Tally Ho was unusual, to say the least. No.2 picked it up and stared at the three-inch high letters emblazoned across the single page. "No.2 HANDS JOB TO No.6!" screamed the headline, and, in slightly smaller type: "Villagers have the right to know, says No.6". The next day was worse. "UNMUTUAL LIFE OF No.2!" "Swaps place in bizarre game" read the front page of the paper. And then the following day: "No.2's TERRIBLE SECRET!" 'Why change with No.6?"

It was seven o'clock when No.2 stepped out of his cottage for his customary morning constitutional. As he found his favourite deckchair by the bandstand, the band stopped playing and glared at him. He walked across the Village square, quickening his pace as he noticed people staring. Whispers surrounded him. 'What's his secret?" hissed, one person. "Slimy little toad." No.2 looked around. Seven men were walking purposefully towards him. One was holding a noose. No.2 ran, but turning a corner, he found more Villagers blocking his way. He was trapped. They dragged him towards a nearby tree. "Please! Anything but that!" he squealed, but the Villagers ignored him and threw the noose over a branch and then placed it over his head. "I'll tell!" he shrieked, as blood lust gripped the crowd. He closed his eyes and whimpered. Suddenly a demonic howl
announced rover's arrival, and the crowd parted. Pulling off the rope, No.2 ran towards the Green Dome. He hammered on the door in blind panic, and as it hummed open, he fell into the hallway and lay sobbing uncontrollably. When he looked up, the Butler was standing over him. "Help me up," he ordered. But the Butler ignored him as the steel doors parted. No.2 stood up, adjusting his ragged blazer, and saw No.6 grinning at him from the spherical chair.

"Well, No.2! What brings you here? Tea?" The Butler obediently disappeared. "You know what!" said No.2. "That ... that screaming mob." "Really? I thought it was a quaint Village custom," said No.6. "Cheat! Violence isn't permissible." No.6 smiled. "I had nothing to do with the lynching you so narrowly escaped. I merely wrote an article in the Tally Ho. I didn't know the Villagers were so gullible. If I hadn't ordered a Rover, you'd be swinging from that tree by now." "You haven't won," said No.2. "I'm not going to tell you my secret."
'Would you rather I threw you to the mob?" "You won't - because I'm the key to your freedom."
"Very astute," said No.6. "However, you still haven't cracked me. I'm sure No.1 would be interested to hear..." No.2 dived for the phone, but No.6 grabbed it first. "Hallo? Hallo?" he spoke into it. No.2 panicked.
"All right, I'll tell!" 'What's the secret?" "There isn't one." No.2 smiled. "If there was one, you would have worked it out." No.6 looked at him long and hard. "So I've won! Now give me my freedom." No.2 slumped down into his chair and took a deep breath as he tried to regain his composure. "But you already have your freedom, No.6 - the freedom of the Village." As he spoke, two guards stepped through the sliding doors. "Escort No.6 back to his cottage, gentlemen." As No.6 turned, he received a heavy blow on the back of his head. His unconscious body was dragged out by the two men. No.2 smiled to himself. Then he suddenly jumped up nervously as the hotline on his desk began to ring...