“Are you sure this is a good idea?” said Mandy. Her tone and attitude made it clear what she thought the correct answer should be. “I feel like this won’t end well.”
“Good and bad are relative concepts,” I said. For some reason, Mandy brought out my inner pompous twat. “I just want to see what they’re up to. Frankly, if they were capable of getting over there and taking over, they already would have. If they need me, it must mean they’re desperate.”
“They only need you to help open the door,” said Mandy.
“If that’s what they say, then I’m pretty sure that’s not the real reason.”
Mandy sat up a little straighter. She was seated across the kitchen table from me as Cheng walked back and forth behind her with the kid in his arms. Charlie Cheng looked annoyed and fidgety, as he had been for the last half hour. Somebody was about to get a mouthful of acid bile, if not from the kid then from the mother.
“You don’t know that,” said Mandy. She didn’t like it when I was dismissive of her thoughts, which was pretty much all the time. She also had the habit of breaking things down like a lawyer so I couldn’t refute her inescapable logic. “What else would they need you for? Like you said, if they were capable of going, they’d go. The only reason I can think they’d want your help is if they’re stuck on the door part.”
She’d apparently put some thought into this. I could sympathise, it must be hard for anyone to think of a reason to keep me around unless it was an unavoidable twist of fate.
“You’re trying to think of a reason for things you don’t have the full facts about,” I said.
“Neither do you,” she responded.
“I know, that’s why I don’t bother thinking about it from that angle. I operate on a higher level that involves seeing the branching paths of destiny and identifying the one true outcome.” She looked at me like I was making fun of her. “It’s the same way we know when a guy is being friendly to our girlfriend he isn’t her friend, he’s just lining her up for a shag if she happens to get drunk enough to let him.”
Mandy’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t need any special powers to know that, that’s just every guy acting friendly to a girl.”
“My point exactly. You don’t use evidence and facts to work that out because the sneaky fucker makes sure he acts the part. But that’s what makes it obvious. No one’s that innocent without putting on an act. Orion is too undemanding of me. Remember, I’m the guy who went to Monsterland and faced up to your husband when everyone else shat their pants just thinking about it, and defeated him utterly.”
“You didn’t,” screeched Mandy, startling the kid so much Cheng nearly dropped him. “You didn’t even fight him.”
“That’s right,” I said. “I lumbered him with you, instead. He still hasn’t recovered.”
“True,” said Cheng, doing his best to placate the shocked child in his arms. Yes, kiddo, fifty percent of your DNA came from Shrieky Mc Shrill.
Mandy stood up. “You shouldn’t encourage him,” she said to Cheng, taking the child away from him. “If Colin screws this up, we’ll be the ones who have to deal with the mess he leaves behind. It’ll be fine for him, he’ll be dead. I don’t want my happily ever after being ruined by him.”
You don’t often hear someone claim they’ve managed to achieve a ‘happily ever after’ ending. Most people wouldn’t even know how to describe what it looks like. Mandy, however, had got hers and wasn’t about to let go of it.
Even if she was wrong — and she was — thinking you’ve got what you wanted is as good as actually having it. They’re the same thing. Happiness works just as well in virtual reality as it does in the real world. Better, probably.
But a story that ends with, and they all lived happily ever after… doesn’t mean anything. Satisfaction is a temporary affair that quickly wears off. That’s why the end of a movie never feels quite right. The big fight, the death of the villain, that part feels like the end, because something actually ends. The rest where the guy and girl admit they do actually like each other while walking the dog on the beach just feels like a slow fizzle.
Most movies would do a better job of providing closure if they ended with the love interests finally getting to a bedroom and having sex. Full penetration, graphic close-ups of genitalia smashing into each other as the credits roll.
Usually, the ‘love’ scene is in the middle of the story, which is just distracting and uncomfortable as your dad folds his arms and your mum grits her teeth.
If they put it at the end, you’d know the hero finished with a solid win, and it wouldn’t really matter what happened next. It’s sex, you just go to sleep and don’t think about anything, that’s your reward — nothingness.
Plus, for those people not interested in seeing an actress exploited so she can feel wanted (until she’s forty and tossed aside), you can just leave the cinema early knowing you won’t miss anything.
Of course, now they put an extra scene after the credits, so there’d be times you’d have to sit through the actors fucking for ten minutes just to find out what Samuel L Jackson was going reveal about the next phase of the MCU.
“Are you listening to me?” said Mandy, snapping me out of the quiet place I retreated to when she got on a roll.
“Yes,” I said, with no idea what she had just said. “What do you want?”
“What do I want? You’re the one who invited these crazy bastards to my house. Couldn’t you have met them down the pub like a normal bloke.”
“No. I don’t like pubs, they’re full of normal blokes.” I had agreed to meet Orion and his team of experts who he planned to send to Flatland, and the safest place to do that seemed to me to be right here. With Cheng around, it would be far less likely they would pull any devious shit.
“If you were real man, you wouldn’t need to hide behind Cheng,” said Mandy.
“I know,” I said. “What’s your point?”
Mandy had nothing to say to my clever comeback of admitting she was right. She turned to Cheng, who was doing the same for her as he was for me, only I didn’t have to sleep with him, so which one of us was the smart one, eh? I decided not to think about it too much in case it raised uncomfortable questions.
“Just keep an eye on him,” she said, handing back the kid. I got the feeling it wasn’t Charlie she was talking about.
They arrived after lunch. Three identical black cars at the gate, tinted windows and flashy rims. I watched them on the security camera as they rolled in.
“Looks like a lot of people,” I said. It wasn’t that I was worried they would outnumber us and overpower us physically, it was more that I wasn’t good at talking in large groups. You end up feeling you have to say something to not be left out and then when you do speak up, no one hears you and you feel like an idiot.
“Seven men,” said Cheng. Did he have x-ray vision? Quite possibly.
I had spent the last couple of days practising my own supernatural abilities without success. I had tried to get myself back into the right headspace to trigger my powers, but I found it hard to not let my mind wander. Perhaps having these guys come over and intimidate me would help get me focused.
Mandy let them in. Mr Orion — he already sounded like a villain out of a comic book — was silver-haired and bore an uncanny resemblance to Peter. Even if he hadn’t told me they were related, it would have been pretty obvious.
Behind him, there were five large white men. Grizzled, tough, a couple with beards — proper manly beards, not the patchy male-feminist disappointment I always ended up with — all of them with tattoos.
They were big guys, in height and width, wearing trousers with lots of pockets and more belts that were necessary. Bandanas, chains, bangles and bits of strings around their wrists. It seemed very high-maintenance to me.
I would have bet money these were the sort of men that would turn Mandy’s head, but not this new and online-courses-improved Mandy. She seemed more preoccupied with them not leaving marks on her carpet and insisted they remove their boots in the hall.
It turns out nothing saps the swagger of a cocky bloke than having to reveal the terrible state of his socks. There was some grumbling but they complied. Only then did she let them into the living room.
“Isn’t there one missing?” I asked once the introduction were through (don’t ask me their names, I wasn’t paying attention).
“No,” said Orion in his soft raspy posh-American. “There’s only my driver. I left him outside with the cars.” He did seem a bit surprised at my correctly knowing how many there were in his entourage.
“Is this him,” said one of the Chippendales, giving me the once over. He also had an American accent, more pronounced and southern sounding. He wasn’t very impressed by what he saw but then he was wearing wraparound shades indoors, so his judgment was hardly going to be reliable.
“Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” I said. “And take off those glasses when you're indoors.”
There was a noticeable change to the atmosphere. I had possibly clapped-back a little too vehemently considering they’d just walked through the door, but sometimes it’s best to move the discussion to the end phase before anyone can start with the wheedling and the finagling.
The guy towered over me, tattoos of eagles on his neck and the Declaration of Independence on his back, probably. He could have squashed me with one hand, but I was inured against intimidation by size. I’d been pissed on by a literal giant, so six-two and mildly irritated meant nothing to me — plus, it helped that I had a demon to back me up.
I realise that’s kind of lame, hiding behind Cheng while acting all tough, but in my defence, it’s not like an American soldier wasn’t familiar with the concept of fighting with an overwhelming superiority. They did nothing else.
I turned around and noticed that Cheng wasn’t in the room. Perhaps I’d pushed too early.
“I’ve just had eye surgery,” said Shades. He took off his glasses to reveal one eye was swollen and red, seeping white fluid.
The reasonable thing to do would have been to apologise and start over. What I did was wince and say, “Put them back on for fuck’s sake. Are you really sending someone in that condition over there?”
“He’s the best explosives man in the business,” said another of the men. This one had the largest beard, which possibly indicated some kind of status among his kind. “He’d be worth taking even if he was blind.”
High praise indeed. “You’re going to blow shit up?”
“Only if necessary,” said Orion. “We want to be prepared for any eventuality. That’s why we want your help.”
“To do what? What is it you want from over there, Orion? Yeah, yeah, you want to bring Peter back, but what else? Dig for oil?”
“You don’t dig for oil, you drill for oil.”
Had one of the Yanks said that, it would have been a nice way to have another go at them. But the sniper was Mandy, of course.
“Thank you, drillhead.”
She gave me a confused look.
“All we ask,” said Orion, jumping in, “is that you accompany our small but highly-trained team and give them a heads-up in case of any problems. That’s it. You absolutely do not have to involve yourself any further than that. A simple matter of an experienced traveller offering guidance.”
“Right, because I’ve lived with the savages and know their ways.”
“More or less, yes,” said Orion.
I couldn’t fault him for speaking plainly. He was very calm and unruffled by my attempts to ruffle him. The others were a bit wary and found me suspect, I could tell, but he was fully accepting of me and willing to answer my questions. Fucker was easily the scariest person in the room, and I was including Mandy in that list.
“I don’t think they’ve got what it takes,” I said. “It’s not like some third world country where the locals only know how to grow rice and the women are too scared to report being raped by the spreaders of democracy. There are monsters there. Big ones. No CGI.”
“The US Marine Corps knows how to fight monsters,” said one of the men.
“Navy SEALs don’t mess with women and farmers,” said another.
“Army Rangers are the monsters,” said a third.
“Did I ask for a retard roll call?” I said. “You have no idea, so put your cocks away, there are no vulnerable teenage girls here.”
“I get the feeling you don’t think very highly of the American military,” said Beardo.
“Really? I don’t know what gave you that idea. You lead the world in high-def photographs of naked prisoners, top quality torture techniques and evading sexual assaults charges on your own people.”
“You better ease back there and watch your mouth, son,” said Beardo. The others were also tensed for action, I could tell because of the wealth of experience I had when it came to people wanting to hit me.
“You can’t even stand up to to the stooge in your own White House. How the fuck can you be that stupid not to see he’s in bed with your greatest enemy? A bed that’s soaked in Russian hooker urine. The Islamic nutters convinced you to spy on each other — so much for hating you for your freedom — and Putin’s hackers tricked you making a giant retard your President.”
“I’m warning you for the last time,” said Beardo, a steely edge in his voice. “We have no political allegiances here, but we respect the office of the president.”
The way he spoke, the way he handled himself, I could easily believe he was a badass on the battlefield. Nowhere as a big an ass as me, though.
“Yes, well, the office of the president has a giant retard in it. You can’t miss him, he’s the satsuma behind the big desk.”
All five of the team were on their feet. They were more pissed off about my disrespect toward their bearded leader than their orange one. He’d asked me nicely to shut up and I’d ignored him. Now they all wanted to teach me some manners.
“Please,” said Orion. “This isn’t why we came here.”
“Better we see how we get on now,” I said. “Over there will be too late.”
I glanced over at Mandy who was watching with eyebrows bunched and lips pinched together. She was forcing herself to keep quiet. Still no sign of Cheng.
I had probably pushed them as far as I could without starting a fight I couldn’t possibly win on my own, so I decided to push some more.
“You Confederate flag flying racists shouldn’t get so worked up about people kneeling during the National Anthem, you should prostrate yourselves next to them and beg the founding fathers for fucking forgiveness.”
Shades was the first to break rank. He came at me with his jaw set so hard his teeth were probably crumbling like the Antarctic ice shelf. He grabbed me by the shirt and lifted me up. It was now or never.
I let myself go. No fear, no concern for the danger I was in. No shits given. I felt the heat surge through me. I reached out and took off his glasses to get a better look at him. And he at me.
Shades let me go and backed away, his face twisted with what was probably fear, it was hard to tell with his face all fucked up from the surgery. I’m not sure what he was seeing that made him freak out, but I was feeling pretty good.
“Come here a minute,” I said. “I want to show you something.”
“No, get away from me.”
The others began to move towards me.
“Stop,” said Cheng from behind me. “Leave them.” His voice had gone a lot deeper than usual, like, crucifix-in-vagina deep.
“You heard him,” I said. “Man up and stop pissing yourself. You want to know what it’s like over there, I’m going to give you a taste.”
To his credit, Shades stopped backing away, baring his teeth at me but standing his ground. I raised my hands and put one on either side of his head. The heat increased and passed out through my palms.
Shades screamed and then fell back. He touched his face, poking and slapping.
“You… you healed me.”
His face was back to normal, an ugly mug if ever I saw one.
“You’re welcome. That’s all, you can go now.” I plopped down on the sofa and fell asleep. I really should have eaten something before burning all that energy on healing magic. I could feel my mouth smiling as I drifted off. I could do magic, let’s see the full metal jerk-offs do that.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino