From the novel Flight of the Butterfly, rumoured to be nearing completion. The action here takes place in a former CCTV surveillance centre in the Pilton area of Edinburgh, Scotland. This is not the first time the two characters have appeared in the story.
In the light of the monitor-phalanx, Sharon Renton performed her art. Keyboard and joystick extended the reach of nerves and synapses as she processed passing data into a three-dimensional picture of Pilton and its environs. Her skill was a synthesis of speed, capacity and imagination. Sometimes, she could tell what was going to happen next.
“No kidding,” Hughie would say. “Our Sharon can see into the future.”
Into the future, indeed. But it was the past that gripped Hughie. Ever since the huge Glaswegian had rumbled into their tiny space, he hadn’t been himself. As if memories had derailed his personal train. For a moment, Sharon’s seldom-seen face paused in its bubblegum-fuelled metamorphosis.
“Are you going to be a miserable git forever, Morrison, or is there some relief in sight?”
She could sense his shuffling, elephantine presence behind her.
“He was always that size, you know,” he said. “Like a rock. A big rock. He could have crushed all the other weans in the class without breaking sweat. But they didn’t take him on, of course. Too risky.”
“Aye, well,” said Sharon. “Sounds to me like he was a great pal to have, especially with you being such an unmitigated one-boy freak show.”
Hughie felt a change of subject coming on. Something more in his comfort zone. But it failed to materialise. Like a grandfather clock given a dunt by a passing stranger, everything jangled. Intimations of a past life, best forgotten, set off alarm bells in the present.
“I’ve missed something, Sharon. Something really important.”
Narrow-eyed, he peered at the screens as if inspiration might spring from there. A subtle change in the sound signature of the room caught his attention; Sharon had stopped chewing. She swivelled round to face him: “a rosebud blooming in the midst of a pile of shite,” as her mother had once said.
“What’s up, Dough-head,” she snapped. “Losing your marbles? ”
“No, not at all, Sharon dear. I think I may just have found them. And tomorrow, I’m going to do something I haven’t done since I can’t remember when.”
Her face rushed through a series of genetically-encoded expression changes, before settling on utter disgust.
“Christ Almighty, Hughie! I hope your not talking about what I think your talking about. I mean, a girl could have nightmares about such a prospect. In fact, I’m having a nightmare right now.”
He waved a hand.
“No, no. For goodness sake, woman. Nothing like that. No, I’m going to go on a journey.”
Sharon shook her head and turned back to the screens.
“Well, see and take some string with you, Marco Polo. If you get lost, I’m not coming after you.”