“So… you’re psychic?” I said to Lillian.
She peered up at me through the window of her tiny clown car. Probably also stolen, although why the fuck you would steal a dinky piece of shit like this, I had no idea. Maybe Lillian was playing 4D chess, stealing a car no one would ever think was stolen
“Ye-hah.” she said like it was a dumb question. “I think I already confirmed that. Are you getting in? The police are looking for you.”
I didn’t get in. The car also struck me as a bit of a metaphor. It sort of looked like a lady’s purse, and I was being invited to put my balls into it for safe-keeping. That’s how they get you. Offer you a handy place to put them and then they never let you have them back again.
“I’m fine, thanks. The walk will do me good. I’m used to long walks, you know, with monsters chasing me. Kind of my daily constitutional.”
“You don’t want to see Jenny?” asked Lillian. She made it sound like a threat, like she would be happy to pass the message along.
It was a nice try at psychological domination. Not a superpower, of course. Just regular girl shit. Good thing I’d been inoculated against this kind of thing at an early age. Always get your shots, kids.
“Does that mean you don’t think you can talk to dead people?”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Lillian. “But I can foresee things and sense people’s thoughts.”
“Oh, can you sense my thoughts right now?” I said.
“Yes, and without using my ability. What is your problem, Colin? I’m trying to help.”
“That’s my problem, Lillian. You thinking you’re qualified to help me. Very presumptuous of you. Why don’t you take that giant roller-skate you’ve converted into a two-door piece of shit and fuck off.”
I was in a bit of a mood, in case you hadn’t noticed. Ever since I’d returned to my lovely home planet, I’d accepted my retirement from the crazy life that had been thrust upon me. It was a weird world I’d been dropped back into, but it hadn’t been that great before, so I was fine with it.
As horrible as things were, my policy was to shut up and keep my head down. As long as people didn’t bother me, I was willing to let it go. There was probably a AAA video game I’d missed while I was gone that I could pass the time playing. Not by EA or Blizzard or Bethesda — I wasn’t willing to sell my soul for a terrible experience and poor optimisation, I wasn’t that far gone — but there was bound to be something to keep me busy.
But no, here they were again, the needy and the greedy, crawling out of the woodwork to make me their assistant in whatever evil experiment they’d cooked up. The eternal Igor, that was me.
“I don’t get you at all,” said Lillian. “Why are you being like this?”
There’s something about attractive, confident women that really pisses me off. It’s not their attractiveness or their confidence — a strong, powerful woman is absolutely no threat to my manhood, you can’t threaten something that doesn’t exist — what pisses me off is their absolute certainty you will give them what they want.
I don’t want to come off petty — I know I am petty, but I prefer to keep it hidden — but I really don’t want to be part of the entourage of someone who I consider utterly worthless. It’s not just women who do the whole ‘I’m going to do you a favour by letting you suck my dick’ routine (yes, I know how that sounds, it’s still accurate). There are also guys who play the God’s gift angle, and do very well out of it. YouTube is full of the twats.
Hey, guys. Today I’ll be showing you how to tell the difference between your arse and your elbow. Stick around.
My aim in life isn’t to stop them or even point them out, it’s to leave them alone and hope for the same kindness in return.
Chance would be a fine thing.
“I consider you to be untrustworthy,” I said. “Jenny may have given you her seal of approval, but so what? She has terrible taste and judgement — she’s in love with me.” I felt there could be no more damning indictment.
“She did mention you had issues with trusting people. Especially women.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, goth. It’s got nothing to do with gender. It just looks like that to self-centred people. If I’m having a go at you, it must be to do with your sex since you’re a girl, but your sample size is unscientific, Madame Curie. If you spent enough time around me you’d see the people I look down on come in all penises and vaginas.”
“I’m not a goth,” said Lillian. This was the part she had taken exception to.
“Yeah, you are. You want to put on heavy eyeliner and make your hair stand up so Daddy notices you.”
Lillian rolled her eyes. Would have made more of an impression if she’d worn more mascara.
“Okay, fine,” she said. “You’re very good at being mean to girls. Well done. That’ll teach us. Now, do you want to go and see your unfortunate girlfriend? I can take you to her, and then I can leave you both together, alone.”
She made it sound like the ‘alone’ part was what she was most looking forward to.
Having said my piece, she did have a vehicle while I didn’t. She also seemed to know where to go next, which gave her a two-point advantage.
“How can you put us together if she isn’t even on this planet?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Lillian. “I’m just following Jenny’s instructions, and regretting every minute.” She gave me a forced smile.
It was good that we both understood where we stood. I didn’t actually have anything against the girl, but I strongly suspected she had her own agenda. Not that I had any evidence, I was just on a roll with people turning out to be shitty backstabbers (not a euphemism) so why break my streak now?
“Hey, you! Stop!”
I turned to see who was shouting and saw AJ running. He was being chased by the two policemen I’d spoken to earlier. Two overweight London coppers chasing an athletic black man — it seemed things hadn’t change that much while I’d been gone after all.
I got into the car with Lillian. I am not a tall man but even I felt cramped in the dinky vehicle.
“Couldn’t you have stolen a bigger car?”
“What do you mean? This is my car.” She hit the accelerator and we noiselessly pulled away from the kerb.
“Where are we going, then?” I asked.
“You met Peter Orion earlier, yes?”
“We’re going to his head of operations. It’s in Canary Wharf.”
“Okay.” Sounded plausible so far. “And your psychic powers, are they telling you anything about how this is going to go?”
There was a long pause.
“If I tell you, you might change it,” she said. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
She joined a busier road and began driving too fast. I started doing the phantom leg thing where you involuntarily press the imaginary brake pedal on the passenger side.
“How often are you wrong?” I asked.
“Oh, all the time. It isn’t an exact science. I mostly wing it. If I’d had a mentor growing up, you know, to teach me the ropes, I think I would have figured it out a lot quicker. Won a few bets, made some money, that sort of thing. Wouldn’t have to be running around saving the world.”
She was tossing off her resume very casually, like she was good at something that wasn’t really very useful, like juggling.
“And you don’t get a sense of satisfaction from helping people?”
“Fuck no. I usually get a headache if I don’t act on my visions. It’s a pain, really.”
Now that we’d got past the initial distrust we were getting on a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, after the initial distrust came the secondary distrust. But her ability was like a real superpower, in a world where that sort of thing was very special. I would have given anything to have an ability like hers when I was a kid.
“This psychic ability, were you born with it?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “It only started to manifest when I was seven. My uncle raped me and I think the trauma forced it out of me.”
On the other hand, perhaps I wouldn’t give anything to have the same power as her.
She seemed okay with it, though. Not that she was grateful, I mean she seemed to have survived the experience intact. I decided I should back off with the daddy-issue jibes.
“I have no idea what to say to that,” I said.
“That’s alright, I wasn’t expecting you to say anything. Maybe you could get me a card. Something tasteful.”
I got the impression she enjoyed using her horrific past to torture people with. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
The silence became awkward, so I broke it with: “Just the once was it?”
Not my finest moment, but I was a little thrown by her candidness.
“Yeah. I killed him after that, so it was hard for him to come round anymore. Mum was mad.”
I was deeply regretting getting into this line of conversation but I was sort of stuck going downhill with no brakes.
“No, my dad’s brother. Her lover. She was a horrible bitch, my mum. Joan Crawford but without the shapely legs.”
If I could have worked out how to open the door, I would have jumped out, no need for her to slow down, even.
“You killed him when you were seven — did you use your psychic ability to do it?”
“Sure, made his brain explode. Boom, splat.” She laughed. “Don’t be stupid. I can’t do anything like that — I wish! I got a kitchen knife and cut his throat when he was sleeping. Made a terrible mess. I got into a lot of trouble — it was in the papers and everything. They called me Child J, sealed everything. He was a policeman, so they hushed up most of it. I got away with a slap on the wrist. Well, from the law. I got the shit beaten out of me by Mum.”
I think it was the jolly tone she used when telling me all this that was really disturbing. She was clearly insane.
“I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not insane. I just choose not to let my past overwhelm me. I don’t trust people but I still decide to help them when they need it, especially when they’re up against people far stronger than them.”
Her rationale did make sense, but maybe it made too much sense, too neat and tidy of an explanation. Perhaps the whole thing was a lie designed to win my sympathy. Perhaps Jenny had coached her to appeal to my innate sense of justice and righteousness. You can be as cynical as you like but read enough comics growing up and you can’t help but have a deep-seated need to see the good guy win.
We were already halfway across the city. Canary Wharf was a weird little island of office buildings in the middle of nowhere, far out in the East End. It was just office workers during the week and deserted at the weekends. I couldn’t even remember what day it was.
“It’s Saturday today,” said Lillian. She was starting to freak me out. “There won’t be many people there today, so we can sneak in unnoticed.”
“Don’t they have security.”
“Loads,” said Lillian. “And their own psychics, so they’ll see us coming.”
“Then how are we going to sneak in?”
“I have a pass.”
“You do? How come?”
“I work there.”
“You work for Orion?”
“Yes, but not as a psychic, as a researcher. I work in the bioengineering department.”
“They don’t know who you are?”
“Not even the psychics?”
“Nope. I can block them. They’ll probably be able to read you though. We’ll have to do something about that.”
“If only it were that easy. You’re going to have to make your mind blank. I can teach you, just takes a little practice.”
“Don’t worry about it, I think I’ve got this.” I was confident I could deal with the local talent. This wasn’t my first rodeo.
“You think so? Do you think you can stop me probing you?”
Used to be getting probed had its upside. You got to meet ET or given an Oscar-winning part in a Weinstein movie. These days, all you get is the support of a lot of people on Twitter, which is worth absolutely fucking nothing.
“I don’t mind people getting in my head,” I said, “it’s their own fault.”
She gave me a curious glance but didn’t press me on what I meant.
The car’s GPS went from showing us on a multicoloured map of London streets to a triangle (us) on a blank canvas. This wasn’t due to some metaphysical jamming by the psychics we were heading towards, it was because there was a new road layout ahead and they hadn’t got around to updating the maps. London was full of these geographical black holes.
The tall glass buildings of Canary Wharf were just ahead of us. Some evil buildings let you know there’s some kind of debauchery going on inside them. They had spires and gargoyles or weird red lights and menacing outlines with Monsanto written on the side, but most are just anonymous and bland.
Lillian pulled into the carpark entrance of one with a sign that read: Orion Pharmaceuticals, A Family Business.
A common attempt at using the wholesomeness of the word ‘family’ to soften an otherwise brutal corporation. What they don’t tell you is the family in question is the Manson’s.
As we came up to the dark mouth that led into the underground carpark, Lillian flashed a card at the sensor and the barrier went up.
A sharp pain hit me in the temples.
“That’s them,” said Lillian. “Try to—”
I put up a hand to stop her, and also because I knew it would annoy her. Just because you had a traumatic childhood didn’t mean you got a free pass. We all have our demons.
I relaxed and closed my eyes and let them in. I let them all in. And then I shut the door.
“Why do I hear screaming?” said Lillian. “What are you doing to them?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m just showing them some home movies.”
We all have our demons, but I’d spent a lot of time with mine and picked up a few pointers. Lillian parked the car while I kept my guests entertained.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino