"You're Generics, right?"
"Indeed," they said in unison.
"What are you doing here?"
"You remember the craze for minimalism?" asked the one on the right.
"Yes?" I replied, moving closer to stare at their blank faces curiously. There was a lot about the Well that I was going to have to get used to. They were harmless enoughbut decidedly creepy. Pickwick was still hiding behind the sofa.
"It was caused by the 1982 character shortage," said the one on the left. "Vikram Seth is planning a large book in the next few years and I don't think the Well wants to be caught out againwe're being manufactured and then sent to stay in unpublished novels until we are called into service."
"Sort of stockpiled, you mean?"
"I'd prefer the word billeted," replied the one on the left, the slight indignation indicating that it wouldn't be without a personality forever.
"How long have you been here?"
"Two months," replied the one on the right. "We are awaiting placement at St. Tabularasa's Generic College for basic character training. I live in the spare bedroom in the tail."
"So do I," added the one on the left. "Likewise."
I paused for a moment. "O-kay. Since we all have to live together, I had better give you names. You," I said, pointing a finger at the one on the right, "are henceforth called ibb. You"I pointed to the other "are called obb."
I pointed at them again in case they had missed it as neither made any sign of comprehending what I'd saidor even hearing it.
"You are ibb, and you are obb."
I paused. Something didn't sound right about their names but I couldn't place it.
"ibb," I said to myself, then: "obb. ibb. ibb-obb. Does that sound strange to you?"
"No capitals," said obb. "We don't get capitalized until we start schoolwe didn't expect a name so soon, either. Can we keep it?"
"It's a gift from me," I told them.
"I am ibb," said ibb, as if to make the point.
"And I am obb," said obb.
"And I'm Thursday," I told them, offering my hand. They shook it in turn slowly and without emotion. I could see that this pair weren't going to be a huge bundle of fun.
"And that's Pickwick."
They looked at Pickwick, who plocked quietly, came out from behind the sofa, settled herself on her egg and pretended to go to sleep.
"Well," I announced, clapping my hands together, "does anyone know how to cook? I'm not very good at it and if you don't want to eat beans on toast for the next year, you had better start to learn. I'm standing in for Mary, and if you don't get in my way, I won't get in yours. I go to bed late and wake up early. I have a husband who doesn't exist and I'm going to have a baby later this year so I might get a little crankyand overweight. Any questions?"
"Yes," said the one on the left. "Which one of us is obb, did you say?"
I unpacked my few things in the small room behind the flight deck. I had sketched a picture of Landen from memory and I placed it on the bedside table, staring at it for a moment. I missed him dreadfully and wondered, for the umpteenth time, whether perhaps I shouldn't be here hiding, but out there, in my own world, trying to get him back. Trouble was, I'd tried that and made a complete pig's ear of itif it hadn't have been for Miss Havisham's timely rescue, I would still be locked up in a Goliath vault somewhere. With our child growing within me I had decided that flight was not a coward's option but a sensible oneI would stay here until the baby was born. I could then plan my return, and following that, Landen's.
I went downstairs and explained to obb the rudiments of cooking, which were as alien to it as having a name. Fortunately I found an old copy of Mrs. Beeton's Complete Housekeeper, which I told obb to study, half-jokingly, as research. Three hours later it had roasted a perfect leg of lamb with all the trimmings. I had discovered one thing about Generics already: dull and uninteresting they may bebut they learn fast.
Copyright Jasper Fforde 2003. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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