Sorry about the delay but I needed more of a break than expected to make sure I do the ending justice. It's mentally exhausting to write so many stories at once and I've probably taken on too much, but I'll see it through to the end.Preface from Mooderino
The room was shaking, bottles and tubes fell off shelves and smashed on the floor, which was trembling under my feet (or possibly I was trembling on top of my feet).
Cheng looked annoyed but didn’t try to save any of his equipment. He looked up at the ceiling of the basement, more concerned that the whole house was about to collapse. He didn’t rush off to save his wife and child, though, so I assumed we weren’t going to get flattened.
The crystal ball in my hand was throbbing, which isn’t what you expect of solid glass, or what you want when you’re holding a ball. Well, it’s not what I look for in my ball–holding. Your mileage may vary.
“I thought you said this thing didn’t work,” I shouted over the shifting of tectonic plates.
“It doesn’t,” Cheng said. “That was you.” He had one hand against the wall, possibly stopping it from collapsing.
The lights faded in and out. Dust continuously fell from the ceiling. Mandy screamed, “What are you two doing down there? The baby’s trying to sleep.” Of the three, the last was the most unnerving.
“Sorry,” Cheng shouted back. “We’ll try to keep it down.”
I would have made the whipped sound with my mouth but my teeth were shaking too much and I had my jaw clenched.
The wall opposite me had changed. It was the same but different. Darker. It was like the portals into the void I had encountered. A way back to Flatland?
Before I could decide what to do about the new doorway, Biadet stepped out of it, and then it disappeared. The room stopped shaking.
“So, this is where you’ve been hiding,” said Biadet. She sounded unimpressed; even more than usual.
“Biadet, how did you get here? And what the hell happened to your hair?”
Last time I saw her, she had glossy black hair cut into a severe bob that neatly bordered her face in a way that turned every sour expression into a framed picture that would haunt your memories. But now she had a thin fuzz that didn’t even cover her entire scalp.
She raised her hand and ran it over her head. Bits of fluff came off. She looked at her palm and blew on it. Hairs flew into the air.
“I’m dying,” she said. “I thought I’d get out and travel a bit, see what I’ll be missing.” She took a deep breath, in through her tiny nose. “Something stinks in this world.” She turned her head to look at Cheng. “What is that thing doing here?” She said it very flatly with no emotion, which somehow made it more insulting.
“Friend of yours?” said Cheng, equally emotionless.
“I… I’m not sure.” I turned back to Biadet. “Why are you here, Biadet? Did Peter send you? Are you going to make things more difficult for me? Because, to be frank, things are difficult enough.”
“I just told you I’m dying, a girl not even into her womanhood, and you immediately start talking about your own problems. You do not change, Colin. No improvements at all.”
“We’re all dying, Biadet,” I said. “You won’t be missing much by leaving early.”
Biadet smiled, just a little. “It is you. I’m glad. You are the only person I’ve ever met without the slightest trace of a soul.”
She looked at me, right at me in the way only she could. I don’t think anyone made feel as exposed as she did, made me want to rush out and buy a burka from the nearest Asian shop so I could hide my shame (I’m not entirely sure what burkas are for, but that has to be one of the uses, right?). There was one near where I lived where you could buy all sorts of exotic garments, as well as large sacks of potatoes, freshly killed chicken and plastic garden furniture for a pound.
Biadet nodded like she’d seen something. “So, it’s like that. I always thought it would be.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what she was referring to, but I never was with her.
The important thing, though, was that she was here. She had managed to traverse the infinite divide between universes more or less intact, which meant she could take me back.
“I can’t take you back, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked, a little disconcerted by how easily she could read me.
“I told you, I’m dying. I couldn’t have come here, otherwise. The journey would kill me, but since that point is moot, I decided to make this my last trip. I hope to see some interesting things and do some good, for a change. I think that would be a fitting last act.”
“Great,” I said, walking past her. “Here, hold this for a moment.” I shoved the crystal ball into her hands and inspected the wall she had just emerged out of. No that I was implying she was a big fat liar. She was too short and skinny for that.
“Are we trapped here?” said Biadet. “Is this cave the home of this creature?”
“It’s not a cave,” said Cheng. “It’s my… den.”
“Den, cave, same thing,” said Biadet.
I felt around on the wall but there was no sign of an interdimensional rift through time and space. Just a little damp that probably needed treating. “Are you sure you can’t open the doorway again?”
“Not without an operational spire,” said Biadet.
There was a wailing sound and the sound of high heels on the cellar steps. “Look what you’ve done,” said Mandy, the baby in her arms with a red face and tears in his eyes, making a noise in his throat like a car alarm in the distance. I think he’d just realised his mother was a massive whore and he’d never be able to have a stable relationship with a woman because of it. I could see why he’d be upset. “Who’s this?”
She looked at Biadet the way women look at other women near their men. Vaginal envy is a thing.
“You’re holding a monster,” said Biadet.
The baby stopped crying and stared at Biadet, who scowled. The baby lunged for her but Mandy held onto him and pulled him into her bosom, little arms still flailing to get a punch in.
I wasn’t sure what the instinct driving the kid was, but he seemed determined to slay his natural predator.
“You two haven’t met?” I said. There was always the chance their paths had crossed back in Flatland.
Mandy shook her head. “I’m sure I’d remember.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t,” said Biadet.
I could sense a catfight incoming. Who would I put money on? Obviously, Biadet had special skills that would give her an edge, even if she was in a weakened state. Mandy, on the other hand, had probably slapped the shit out of her best friend after a hen night while wearing an inflatable penis on her head. So I’d put it at about even.
“This is Biadet. She’s from back over there.” I gave Mandy a look to indicate I meant she wasn’t one of us. “Don’t start anything, she has special powers.”
“I don’t have special powers,” said Biadet.
“You don’t?” I said, a little surprised, a little disappointed. I had been counting on her abilities to god–mode my way to victory. “Did you lose them when you got ill?”
“I never had special powers,” said Biadet. “I’m just a good mover. You should see me dance.”
“You definitely had powers,” I said. “Peter gave them to you. He saved your life and made you into something not quite human, and made you his little puppet. You can’t lie to me, Biadet. Wassername in Dargot might have taken you off him, but she was still treating you like her property. You’ve always done things your own way, but only in the service of someone else. You have powers, you’re cursed with them.”
She stared at me for a long, uncomfortable minute. “And what service do you require of me?”
I sighed and shook my head. “I was hoping you’d let me go back, but of course you can’t. There’s a lot of crazy shit going on here I don’t really want to get involved with. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it.”
“What kind of crazy?” said Biadet. “I have a lot of experience with that sort of thing.”
I didn’t doubt it.
“Well, it’s like, there’s a mad king who thinks he can make people do whatever he tells them because, you know, he’s the king and they’re not. So he’s making life horrible for the peasants, and encouraging anyone who’s dumb enough to follow him to a better world he’s going to create, only he isn’t because he’s just a fat orange twat.”
Biadet nodded sagely. “A mad king. I understand. The solution is simple. Kill him. The empire will crumble without him.”
“Yes, thanks for that amazing insight. I don’t think so.”
“Why not. I’ve seen you kill people before. You don’t have any moral objection, clearly. It’s the easiest solution.”
“We don’t do things that way here,” said Mandy.
“Actually, we do,” I said. “All the time. Heads of state killing other heads of state who aren’t being cooperative is kind of human history 101. But it would only rile up his supporters. I don’t think all–out war would be much fun.”
“They are powerful wizards?” said Biadet.
“Well, no. They don’t have magic here.”
“I see. So they have many elite warriors in their ranks.”
“Um, not really. Mostly, they’re unfit slobs with pigshit for brains.”
“But they operate in the shadows?”
“No, they tend to be as loud as possible and wear red hats for easy identification.”
“Then I don’t see the problem,” said Biadet. “Kill all of them. Hunt them down and display their heads on spikes as a warning to others.”
I took the crystal ball back from her before she tried to use it to brain someone. “They don’t deserve to die just because they’re stupid.”
Biadet tilted her head to one side and looked at me like I’d just given the perfect reason to kill someone.
In her defence, she was from a different world. One where you could do all sorts of crazy shit and then fly off on a dragon. It wasn’t surprising her moral compass wasn’t pointing true north here.
“I think,” she said, “that the problem isn’t this world.”
“No?” I said. “Then what is it?”
“You,” said Biadet. “You are lazy. You refuse to put in the necessary effort.”
“We can agree on that,” said Mandy. “Doesn’t like responsibility, either.”
“Yes,” said Biadet. “Avoids commitment of any kind.”
“Hey, that’s not true.” I could see this getting out of hand if I let it go on. “I just choose my battles carefully.”
Biadet tilted her head the other way. “Have you committed your future to Jenny.”
“I don’t see what business that is of yours,” I said. “But obviously she’s the girl for me.”
“But have you told her that?” said Biadet.
“Of course he hasn’t,” said Mandy. Suddenly, they were playing bad cop, worse cop. Any minute now they’d take me home, sit me on my own sofa and then shoot me in the head, in the traditional manner.
“Alright, calm down Me–Too Generation, we’re trying to fix this fucked up world, not my ability to be emotionally honest with the people around me.”
“What’s the difference?” said Biadet.
“Ha! Good one,” said Mandy. The kid gurgled in agreement.
“No, not a good one. That doesn’t even make any sense.” I turned towards Cheng for support. He was pretending to be busy tidying up his table. “Forget it. Look, Biadet, you’re here now, so why don’t I show you around and you can see for yourself what kind of place this is. I’d actually be interested to get your take on it. You’re the first person not from this world to come here — actually, you most likely aren’t, but the others probably got sliced up in Area 51 the moment they said ‘We come in peace’ so I can’t ask them.”
Biadet had reverted to her classic ‘This boy’s an idiot’ stare, which was less threatening than what she’d been putting out until now. But pity is a fine line to manage — you don’t want to overdo it and send people into ‘Better put the poor thing out of its misery’ mode.
“Yes,” she said. “I think I would like that.”
“And you can fill me in on what’s been going on over there.”
She gave me a noncommittal eyebrow–raise. That was alright. As long as she was here, she gave me hope for the future. Not this world’s future — that was pretty borked — but a future where I wasn’t just a delusional muppet who thought he was slowly going mad. If Biadet existed, then everything was true.
I was also quite keen to see her interact with some of the people I’d met recently. Even a substantial reduction in power levels still left her as one of the most unpredictable entities I’d come across (and that’s coming from someone with a girlfriend). There was no way she didn’t come with a few surprises still intact. No fucking way.
“Oh,” said Biadet, looking up. “Someone’s here.”
Just as she finished speaking, an alarm went off. Nothing very startling, just an insistent beep and a red light flashing in the corner.
Cheng turned around and turned on a screen. A picture appeared showing the front gate now open and men in black clothes streaming in.
“I thought you said there was no magic here,” said Biadet, staring with wonder at the monitor.
“There isn’t. This is just…” But was it any different to magic? “Who are they?”
Cheng sighed. “They are representatives of your British government.”
“You’ve dealt with them before?” Cheng nodded. “Then why would they risk breaking in like this?”
Cheng looked past me at where Biadet had been a moment ago.
“She went upstairs,” said Mandy.
“Oh, no. Hey,” I shouted as I ran after her. “Don’t open the door.”
When I got to the hallway, the front door was open and large men were squeezed into the doorway, blocked from entering by a small girl. They made her look even smaller than usual.
“You’ll have to come with us, miss,” said the guy at the front. They seemed overjoyed things were turning out so easy. Here was the very thing they’d been sent to get, waiting to be collected by the door for convenience.
“Be careful,” I shouted.
“We aren’t going to hurt her,” said the man in a controlled, calm, well–trained voice.
“I wasn’t talking to her, I was talking to you.”
“What’s this?” asked Biadet, holding up a Taser.
“Wait… Wh…” The man patted his side where there was an empty holster.
“Is it a wand?” She stuck it in his belly and pulled the trigger. He jumped back but was prevented from falling by his comrades. He shook violently. Biadet kept firing off charges, which I wasn’t even sure was possible. But then, this was Biadet.
“No magic.” She looked over her shoulder at me and shook her head like I’d almost fooled her.
“Grab her,” shouted someone in the huddle. They came charging in, over the top of their not–quite–fallen colleague.
I put my hand over my eyes and peeked through my fingers. This was going to be awful, and I didn’t want to miss any of it.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.
If you have a moment, please vote for this story on TopWebFiction. VOTE. Thanks. (votes refresh weekly).Afterword from Mooderino