“Let’s go,” said Jenny.
“Alright, calm down. I said I’ll go, you don’t have to be so pushy.”
“No,” said Jenny. “I meant we should find somewhere to have sex. Don’t you want to have sex with me? We haven’t seen each other in weeks, I thought that would be the first thing you’d want to do. Have I been misled about what men are like?”
She looked over at the assembled examples of manliness lying on the grass in a fearful huddle. They were in a pitiful state, yet somehow they still managed to look at me like I was the loser here.
“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’m not just going to jump on you though, am I? Things have changed a lot since you were last here, Jenny. Your outdated views of male sexuality will only enable toxicity in the current meta. Right, guys?”
I looked over at the guys and received no support whatsoever. Shows how low we’ve sunk in the gender wars that even a bunch of hardened macho men don’t dare speak against the feminazi movement for fear of never getting a blow job again.
“Anyway,” I said, “I thought you were in a hurry to get back.”
Jenny raised one eyebrow. “How long do you think it’ll take?”
Ah, it was nice to have the old vixen back in my life.
“What about the portal? Isn’t it going to close soon?” The black hole she had emerged from was still part of the garden wall (what was left of it after Cheng’s remodelling) but it was growing and shrinking and generally acting in an unstable manner.
“We can’t go back through there,” said Jenny.
“It doesn’t lead back to Flatland,” said Jenny.
“How do you know that?”
“Biadet told me.”
“When did you speak to her?”
“This is how she got here. She brought me here and told me to wait until she opened the way for me. This was her idea.”
So, it was like that. Biadet hadn’t opened the wrong door at all. She had always intended to reunite me with Jenny, whether I liked it or not.
“Then how are we supposed to get back?” I asked Jenny.
“I thought you were working on a way. With Lillian. Weren’t you on the verge of a breakthrough?”
“Ah, yes.” I did vaguely recall possibly telling Jenny I was going to drop everything and make her my top priority. “Lillian turned out not to be very reliable. Tried to kill me, in fact, you know, to save the world from me.”
“She probably had her reasons,” said Jenny.
I looked over but none of the guys would look me in the eye. The Chinese were whispering to each other in Chinese, which I couldn’t understand, but I had a pretty good idea they weren’t admiring the firm control I had over my woman.
The demons, at least, weren’t judging me. They only looked hungry, which was a perfectly acceptable response.
Of course, I shouldn’t have cared what other people thought of me or my relationship with Jenny. Any couple that operates where one person calls all the shots and the other follows orders dutifully is a fucked-up couple. I mean, it can work and be mutually satisfying, and the amount of pleasure a correctly coordinated sadist-masochist relationship can generate is obviously through the roof, but apart from that, very fucked up.
“Lillian is a psycho,” I explained to Jenny.
“I know,” said Jenny.
“Then why did you tell her about me?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Since when did you have any problem dealing with psycho women?”
She had me there. She had me in murder-suicide death pact, turning the sword around, stabbing herself in the stomach, and then getting me as the blade exited her back.
Jenny sent Lillian in my direction because she expected me to see through her bullshit, use her to get access to a way back to Flatland, and not get killed doing it. Her assessment of my abilities was right at the peak, and also right at the bottom. It was some sort of optical illusion painted by a madman.
“Hey. Hey.” Lillian appeared, clambering over the rubble that had been a wall. She paused at the top of the heap and took in the view with an alarmed expression. She was dressed in tight black clothing, carrying a wooden sword. If she raised it above her head, she would have made a fine book cover for a very mediocre fantasy story set in Hampstead. “What happened?” For a psychic, she wasn’t very up to date on events. “This wasn’t sanctioned. What did you do?”
Surprisingly, her ire wasn’t aimed at me. She came stumbling over the bricks and headed straight towards the men lying on the ground, specifically the British contingent.
“Who gave the order to engage?” She didn’t sound at all happy.
The man she was shouting at looked up defiantly. “They summoned demons!”
“Of course they did,” said Lillian. “You’ve read the brief, you knew this was a possibility. What the hell was all the training for if you’re going to go running in and get your arses kicked at the first manifestation of demons? Are you really this stupid, Stiles? How many medals for valour will it take for you to follow fucking orders?”
Maybe he was SAS, maybe he was SBS, whatever his military background, he was not prepared for this sort of tongue-lashing. I, on the other hand, was quite enjoying it.
One of the Chinese men said something and another snorted a half-laugh. Lillian answered them in a tirade of Chinese. It was loud and shrill, and I didn’t need to be fluent to know it wasn’t very pleasant. The Chinese men got all tight-lipped and red in the face.
Not so much fun when it was their turn to deal with a woman with the temerity not to be scared of them.
Then she turned to the Russians and the Americans. “You violated the agreement. This will be reported to your superiors and you will be held accountable. You’re lucky you aren’t dead, but you’ll wish you were.”
They kept their heads bowed, staring at the grass like it was being narrated by David Attenborough.
She came stomping towards me. My turn next?
“Here,” said Lillian, thrusting a wooden sword at me. “This was the only one they would let me take out of the vault.”
I took the familiar-looking sword from her. It was my sword, although it felt like nothing more than an actual wooden sword here.
“Where did you get it?” I asked her.
“I can’t tell you that.” She was looking at the men on the ground when she said this, so I assumed she didn’t want to speak in front of them.
She looked at the demons. “They won’t attack the locals, will they? The police have been told to keep the media away, but it’ll be much harder if people start disappearing. We can stop footage getting on the internet, but word will still get out.”
“Nothing to do with me,” I said. “They’re with her.” I pointed at Jenny.
“You’re here,” said Lillian, sounding a lot more pleased than when she saw me. “What happened to your face?”
In the Void, Jenny’s scarred skin looked normal. I wasn’t sure why that was the case. But here it was back to its craggy best.
“It’s an old love bite Colin gave me,” said Jenny. “It flares up every now and again. The demons aren’t going to attack anyone.”
“What about him?” said Lillian, pointing at a demon flying past while carrying a baby.
“He’s fine,” said Mandy. “He likes it. Look, he’s laughing.” Charlie was indeed laughing as he was flown around the garden. “He doesn’t get to play with other kids very often. The parents tend to complain.”
Mandy and Cheng watched their only child hoisted about with a proud look on their faces. Becoming a parent really does change people.
“He’s a beautiful boy,” said Jenny, eyes following the giggling demonic cherub.
“Yes,” said Mandy. “He’s perfect. They both are.” She looked from her child to her husband. “The only thing I worry about is that someone will take them away from me.” And then she looked at me.
“Yes, yes,” I said. “All blame leads to Colin. I’m sure it’ll be my fault, whatever terrible decisions you make.” I grabbed a demon by the leg as it flapped past. It squealed and tried to fly free, lifting me slightly off the ground.
I pulled it down hard so its wings inverted like an umbrella blown inside out by a strong wind, and we came back down. Then I hit it with the wooden sword. Which bounced off its domed head with a thunk! doing no damage.
“You’ve ruined it,” I said. “This thing used to be like a lightsaber. Now it’s just a piece of wood.” I thwacked the demon again, just to be sure. The demons squealed louder.
“Stop it,” said Jenny. “It’s just a baby. You’ll traumatise it.”
“Oh, no, what if it writes a book and blames me for its drug addiction? Fifty-human-souls-a-day habit and all because daddy was mean to me.”
“Daddy?” said Jenny.
I threw the demon at her. It flew into her arms and huddled their, whimpering. Kids today, can’t even take a mild beating without making a fuss about it.
“Where did you get this?” I asked Lillian, waving the sword at her. I wasn’t going to hit her with it, but the implication was there. Of course, the implication was usually enough to get you locked up these days, but fortunately I had a chick on my team. I’d just get her to do it. You can’t be sexist if you get your bird to do your fighting for you. Checkmate, feministas.
“I stole it,” said Lillian. “I took it from the Orion building when I worked there. They’ve been finding them for weeks now, but they don’t realise what they are, so they put them in a storeroom.”
“That’s where you found the crystal ball?”
“Is Orion the only one who has access to the adjacent world?” It was starting to look like none of the big players had a way to get to Flatland, just Orion.
“Yes. He’s going to give access to the highest bidder.”
“Okay,” I said. “So then that makes things simple enough. You wanted to help me, clear out the Orion building.”
“I can’t do that,” said Lillian.
“But this is England, and they’re bloody Yanks. Kick them out and tell them to sue. They love lawyers.”
“We can’t,” said Lillian. “It’s private property.”
“Oh, the end of days is on the horizon, but sadly Mammon has property laws on his side so I guess we’re all screwed. Stop being such a wuss in the face of rich powerful men and do your job.” I didn’t really know what her job was, but she probably wasn’t doing it very well. Nobody does, these days.
“It’s not that easy,” said Lillian.
“Yes, it is. Just get me inside and I’ll show you. As soon as I take care of something.” I took Jenny by the hand and ripped the demon from her bosom, tossing it at the guys, who dived out of the way. I led her towards the house. “And hurry up. This won’t take very long.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jenny, speaking to Lillian over her shoulder. “I’ll buy you some extra time. I’ve got some pretty good delaying tactics he won’t be expecting.”
As usual, Jenny was overestimating her influence over me. We were back in five minutes. You may think I was under her thumb, but no woman controls me.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino