Occasionally, it’s glorious to be me. It’s rare and only happens under very specific circumstances, but this was one of those times.
The elements required are me and a bunch of people with inferiority complexes who’ve convinced themselves that they aren’t at the very bottom of the pile.
They’re not worth shit, they know that, they look at themselves in the mirror every morning and evening and feel deep shame and embarrassment, but there are still people beneath them, which allows them to keep going.
At least I’m not them. It’s all some people have.
And then here I come, the embodiment of everything they can happily look down on, only, for some unfathomable reason, I seem to be rolling them over.
The foyer was full of men in riot gear and precautionary padding. The whole point of that kind of get–up is to prevent yourself getting hurt while you try to control someone doing their best to hurt you.
It’s a bit like when you have a playfight with your girlfriend and she tries a little too hard to prove the self–defence classes she took that one summer during college put her out of the reach of violent men forever, and you have to try your best to avoid getting elbowed in the eye while making sure you don’t accidentally throw her off the sofa and break her neck.
That’s how those shields and water cannons and non–lethal bullets are supposed to be used.
But with the police and the army and all the other forms of security forces being full of sad men who can’t find another way of getting the respect they know they deserve (because no one but them knows the horrific shit they get up to on the internet late at night, so why would they not get respect like other well–adjusted, totally normal guys?) what you get is equipment that helps them feel like they are powerful and in control. Cheating and getting away with it, every casuals dream.
“You heard me, you bunch of dickheads,” I said with a smile, “get the fuck out.”
The men didn’t move other than to slightly exaggerate their surly expressions into surlier ones.
Even though they had been outclassed by a young girl, they could mentally deal with that. She was an unknown quantity, an alien or a robot or some clone of a mighty warrior. Put her in the UFC and the internet would idolise her (until she got a boyfriend or put on weight).
I, on the other hand, was not the peak of caucasian masculinity. I looked like a weedy bloke who didn’t have the balls to say anything when someone cut in line ahead of me. Which I was.
Why should I get to tell them what to do? They had extendable batons that could be used to beat unarmed students waving poorly designed banners. What did I have? A big mouth and trousers that didn’t fit very well even though I’d taken my measurements before ordering them online because asking to use the changing rooms in a store makes me nervous.
I could see why they’d be a little put out. Which made the whole thing much, much funnier. These were the times when I liked to take charge of a situation and throw my weight around, just to upset people’s sense of fairness.
“Oi, dipshit squad, you just lost to a little girl, don’t give me the eye like you think five minutes alone with me and you’d prove what real men you are. You’d come out with a colostomy bag on the end of your penis. Because you’d be shitting out of your dicks for the rest of your lives. Out. Now.”
Fixed stares were all I got in return. They weren’t listening to me but I was hurting them on the inside. Give me a couple more hours and I’d have them sobbing.
“Look what you’ve done to my foyer,” said Mandy, kid on her hip and bottom lip pushed out. “You better pay to get his cleaned up. I want it back the way it was. Cheng!”
Cheng sighed, which sounded like a backed–drain about to spew out some nasty shit
Now they boys moved, and sharpish. I’ll admit I didn’t have quite the same effect as a foul demon from another world, or even Cheng, but that was okay.
I saw them to the door and watched them pick up Gaston, dazed and cut up, and walk down the drive with heads bowed and shoulders sagging. I made a point of standing there for a while and then I slowly pulled up my zipper and tightened my belt. If the other parties were watching, their intelligence services around the globe would think twice before barging in on me again. Either that or they’d only send their best–dressed agents.
“I’m starving,” I said. “What about you Biadet? Fancy some British cuisine? By which I mean ordering a curry, obviously.”
“I said I’m cooking dinner,” said Mandy.
Biadet gave me an impassive look, and then she fainted.
“Now see what you did,” I said to Mandy.
We got Biadet onto the sofa or, rather, Cheng did. She weighed hardly anything so I could have done it myself, but I have a bad back and a deviated septum.
I gave her a burst of healing, one hand on her forehead and the other holding her wrist. I wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong with her or where the source of the problem was, so I assumed it was a general end of warranty type thing and flooded her with the power of my vitality. Took a while.
It didn’t seem to make much difference. She looked pale and fragile and there was a good chance I wasn’t going to be able to stop her deteriorating. Seemed a little harsh to make me her Make–A–Wish Foundation coordinator. Maybe I could get her a meet and greet with John Cena.
Eventually, Biadet opened her eyes. She looked at me with no sense of gratitude or appreciation, which was how I preferred it.
“You owe me your life,” I said. “Again.”
“You only extended the time I have left by a little,” said Biadet, her voice a little weak. “I owe you rent, at the most.”
“I haven’t finished yet,” I said. “You’ll be back to full health in no time. I might even make you a bit taller so you can sit at the dinner table without a booster seat.”
“I don’t use a booster seat,” said Biadet, her voice returning to its full strength and a little extra venom.
“There you go, back to normal.” I stood up and turned to find Lillian staring at me. “What?”
“I don’t think you appreciate quite how amazing what you just did was.”
I shrugged and blew out some air. “It doesn’t make much difference when the rest of the world is full of fools and scumbags. Takes the shine off for me.”
“You lack perspective,” she said.
“I don’t think you appreciate how little I care what value other people put on things. You work for evil people, Lillian. Try putting that in perspective.”
“I work for the British government,” said Lillian.
“Have you seen who’s in charge?” I asked.
“There are worse people in the world,” said Lillian. The state of the world summed up perfectly.
“Good, she’s not dead,” said Mandy, appearing in an apron with a picture of a buxom woman’s body in a bikini printed on it. I suspected it was a selfie. “Dinner’s ready.” She looked very proud of herself.
Dinner was a roast chicken with all the trimmings and very good. And definitely not homemade, even though there were used pots and pans everywhere and evidence of much cooking having been done. Carefully planted evidence.
Still, the alternative was for Mandy to have actually made it herself and us having to stomach it. Everyone decided to just pretend we believed in her culinary abilities.
Enjoying a meal after defeating an enemy brought back memories for me. Of course, back in Flatland we had to catch, kill, gut our own food, which wasn’t very pleasant. Here, you could just order a pizza from Domino’s; which some would say is also not very pleasant.
Biadet examined each forkful of food before eating it and then chewed very slowly. Her first impressions of what this world had to offer were slow and contemplative, rushing to no judgements and taking it all in. Very different to my first experiences of her world, but then she didn’t have a giant naked ogre chasing her while she tried Yorkshire pudding for the first time. Although, maybe it would be different if she was trying them in Yorkshire.
“This tastes like chicken,” she said as she ate the chicken.
“It is chicken,” said Mandy.
Biadet shook her head, looking at the carcass in the middle of the dinner table. “It only has two legs.”
We ate mostly in silence, the sound of chewing and bones cracking coming from Biadet’s mouth. Cheng, on the other hand, was very minimalist, which I thought was probably the result of training (or nagging, as it’s technically known).
“Well, this is nice,” said Mandy, playing the role of host.
“Yes,” I said. “My compliments to the chef.”
“Thank you,” said Mandy, very firmly taking the credit.
“Hey, Lillian,” I said. “These governments spying on us, have they got the house bugged.”
She nodded while eating. It looked like our government didn’t pay her enough for big dinners and she was loading up for winter. This is why the Chinese get all the best people. That and the kidnapping and forced labour camps.
“Hello, international agents of villainy,” I said to the ceiling, although there was no reason to think that’s where they were listening from. Might be a spy satellite, might be a baby monitor from Argos stuffed under the fridge. “You are the bad guys and no one likes you.”
“Good job,” said Mandy. “That’ll show them.”
“They keep records of these things,” I pointed out. “Twenty years from now, the public will hear that.”
“Twenty years from now,” said Lillian, “there may not be anyone left.”
“You know something we don’t?” I asked.
“Lots,” said Lillian.
“Can I ask you something dumb?” said Mandy.
“Sure,” said Lillian. “There are no stupid questions.”
“Wanna bet?” I said. I was ignored.
“Why help them?” said Mandy. “You know they only care about themselves. You seem like a nice person. No matter how much they say they have everyone’s best interests at heart, they won’t keep their word. They never do.”
It was a heartfelt and touching query from a young mother worried about the future, only slightly undercut by the piece of carrot that had lodged itself into her cleavage. I knew I shouldn’t stare but I couldn’t look away.
“It’s not that I trust them,” said Lillian. “I don’t. But things have gone too far to do nothing, and we only have a limited choice. The Americans are far too mercenary, the Russians are brutal and the Chinese… they can’t be allowed to control this new world. We’re the only reasonable choice left, even if we do have our faults.” She looked at me. “You can’t just do nothing and hope things turn out okay.”
“I don’t give a shit how things turn out,” I said. “I only hope people leave me alone.”
“We can provide you with whatever you need, including personal space,” said Lillian. “We can be the friends you can count on.”
“Friends?” I said. “Motherfucker I don’t even like you.” She flinched and looked a bit hurt. An awkward silence descended. “What? It’s a song lyric.”
They didn’t look like they believed me, the uncultured swines.
“Look,” I said, “it doesn’t matter what your intentions are or what the other countries intentions are, as soon as they get over there and realise they have an advantage, it’ll be round up the natives and teach them about Jesus or Mohammed or whoever.”
At this point I could almost hear Jenny say, “It’s pronounced Jehovah,” and then look very pleased with herself. Some guys miss sex or affection, for me it was the bad puns. The thought of her only made me feel angry that I was stuck here with these people who had no idea how to be people.
“And then the priests will start doing all their horrible shit. You’ll like how we do religion here,” I said to Biadet. “We have this place called Heaven where the good people go when they die, but you have to pass an entrance exam and everyone thinks they’ll pass even though none of them have studied or remembered to bring a pen.”
“Heaven,” said Biadet. “How do you get there?”
“No one knows. You die, you wake up and you’re already there. Ask Lillian, she can talk to the dead. Actually, don’t. She’ll probably contact my mother.” I shuddered at the thought.
“Your mother died and went to heaven?” asked Biadet.
“No, she died and went in an oven.” I probably wasn’t explaining our death rituals very well. “I’m not going to help any of you,” I said to Lillian. “No one’s managed to work out how to make this place run properly, what the hell are you going to do over there?”
“This world is dying, Colin.” Lillian looked very serious. “Most people don’t realise, they keep the truth hidden, but it won’t last much longer. The ice will melt, the poles will flip, food will run out and the air will become unbreathable.”
“How long?” I asked. “Centuries? Decades?”
“Two years,” said Lillian.
I laughed and then choked on my chicken. “Sure.”
“It’s true. We need the other world to save us. It’s only a question of who ends up in charge. I understand your scepticism, and you may be right, but then we fight to make things better.”
“Let me ask you something, you know the bin in your kitchen, the big one. When it gets full up and bits are falling out but you can’t be bothered to change it so you push it down a bit and put off emptying, you know the feeling, right?” She nodded, looking a little baffled. “What if I gave you a second bin next to the first one. What do you think would end up happening? Clean and tidy kitchen?”
“I don’t care if this world has two years left, or two weeks. If it ends, it ends. The twats in charge don’t deserve a second chance at ruining everything, and the twats who let them be in charge don’t either. I don’t care.” And I didn’t, I realised. My love for my fellow man (or woman or any of the other gender) was nonexistent. Not out of spite or bitterness. I wasn’t upset because daddy never loved me. It was a merit–based thing. Earth had not made a very good first impression on me.
“I am finished,” said Biadet. Her plate was very clean, spotless, in fact. “Now, let us start.”
“Start what?” I asked.
“The first step in overcoming an enemy is to locate their base of operations and destroy it. Without proper control and guidance, nothing can be achieved. Individuals are too small and weak to act effectively on their own.”
“But we’re individuals,” I said. “We don’t have an army, unless you brought one with you.”
“No,” said biadet. “But he did.” She was looking at Cheng, who was dabbing his lips with a napkin. “I can feel them under the house.”
All eyes turned to Cheng. He stopped and looked up. “What? Have I got something on my chin?”