Magic. It existed here. If Cheng could produce it, maybe I could, too. Or maybe I could if I was around him. He was obviously a source as the purple glow around him showed.
All I needed to do was get hold of Mandy, use her to free Cheng, and then the world would be mine to do with as I pleased. Well, it would be Cheng’s to do with as he pleased, but I was sure I could get him to do what I asked. I got him to marry Mandy, didn’t I?
The important thing was to make sure I followed the plan step by step. It was like a game quest with the clues laid out in front of me. Find the key, open the door, check for traps, unlock the chest. Loot everything that wasn’t nailed down. Avoid any lore or excessive explanations about game mechanics. Take shortcuts to miss as much content as possible.
Cheng was the quest giver, Mandy was the keyhole I needed to insert the right object into — not a euphemism, I strongly hoped — and Raffo… Raffo was the annoying NPC you had to bring along to show you where to go.
“Why do we need his woman?” asked Raffo. “She will be relieved to see him dead, will she not? If we kill him now, that will probably wake her from her eternal slumber.”
I was beginning to think Raffo had a bit of an overactive imagination. Watched the extended version of the Lord of the Rings one too many times, and thought the best solution to a problem was to chuck it into the nearest volcano.
“The only way to kill an Archdemon like Cheng is to coat the tips of these arrows in the blood of someone the demon is bonded to. You know, because of magic.”
Raffo was staring at me with big round eyes, soaking in my grandmaster-level bullshit.
“Yes, yes, I understand. I thought it would be enough that you were the right person, but it makes sense you would also need the right weapon.” It didn’t make any sense, but whatever. “It’s good that you are here. So this is why she means so much to him. She’s his kryptonite, his Horcrux.”
It was a shame Maurice wasn’t here, these two could have inspected each other’s Magic the Gathering trading cards, the nerd equivalent of sending nudes to someone you’d like to fuck. Fucking for nerds was when you showed the other person your special set of glow in the dark D&D dice which you never used to play D&D. If things got really serious, you might let him roll your D20.
“Exactly,” I said. “It’s not as simple as stabbing him with a sharp object. It’s not like he’s going to bleed to death. No blood, for a start. That’s why we need the blood of the anti-virgin.”
“Anti-virgin? What’s that?”
“It’s like the polar opposite of a virgin,” I explained. “If you knew Mandy, you’d understand.”
Raffo was absorbing all this information like a sponge, getting wetter every minute.
“Okay, good,” said Raffo, straightening his helmet and securing the strap under his generous number of chins. “This will take longer than I projected but we still have time. This way.”
He slowly turned in the vent, like a cargo ship doing a three-point turn in the Strait of Gibraltar.
I followed him back the way we’d come.
“What do you know about how Cheng ended up here?” I asked by way of making conversation. When you're crouched in a ventilation shaft with only two large buttocks to look at, small talk is a welcome distraction.
“I don’t know much,” said Raffo, his voice bouncing off the metal walls. “They found him in China last summer.”
“He arrived in China?”
“Hong Kong,” said Raffo. “Same thing, or soon will be.”
“How did they get him all the way back here? I wouldn’t have thought the Chinese would just hand him over.”
“They wouldn’t but they had their hands full dealing with the riots. Mr Pelago has business interests over there and managed to smuggle the demon out disguised as farming equipment.”
We turned into a shaft that had a strong breeze blowing down it. Raffo seemed to know where he was going, his potato lighting the way.
What state would Mandy be in? If she was in a coma as Raffo had said, it would be a bit tricky to break her out. If I could find a way to activate my healing magic I’d be able to revive her instantly. I tried to create a flame on the end of my finger like I had the first time in Flatland but nothing happened. If I needed to be close to Cheng to siphon off some of his juice — definitely not a euphemism — then I might have to drag Mandy to his room first. Security so far had seemed pretty lax — they probably didn’t expect an attack from inside — but there were bound to be some people about.
“We may have to move her closer to the demon,” I said to Raffo’s backside which was wobbling threateningly ahead of me. “Because her blood needs to be as fresh as possible, like hot out of the tap. If we’re lucky she might be on her period.”
Raffo stopped. Perhaps I had gone too far with my ‘we need her alive’ sales pitch.
“That would be better than having to kill her,” said Raffo. At least he wasn’t a psycho who was happy to kill women for their blood when there was a perfectly abundant source waiting to be tapped if you had a little patience. He sighed. “The Lord never makes it easy to keep the faith.”
It was odd to hear a scientist speak about God. Nowadays, the two tend to be mutually exclusive.
“You believe in God?” I asked him.
“If demons are real, then so must angels. I had lost my faith until recently, but now I see that our world started in a garden with a talking snake and then magic was lost. Now it has returned, which must mean our days will soon end. It will be best to be on the right side of God when the time comes to be judged.”
Ooh boy, that was a lot of variables to take into account. If Raffo believed he was on a mission from God, he was going to be hard to control. Then again, it might make him easier to convince. He already believed in the existence of magic.
And who knows, maybe he was right. God could exist and the fucked up nature of the world was just his way of amusing Himself. The important thing was to use Raffo’s faith to get rid of any doubts he might have about what I was going to ask him to do. A strong belief in a higher power enabled people to justify all sorts of idiotic actions. It was my job to make sure those idiotic actions were the ones I came up with.
“I think this is it,” said Raffo, pausing at a T-junction.
“What’s that noise?” I could hear a metallic buzz in the distance.
“Robots,” said Raffo. “Neil uses them almost exclusively. He doesn’t like human assistants, too fallible.”
I was intrigued. What kind of robots did they have? Skynet or ED-209? And did they have removable batteries or rechargeable ones you couldn’t take out? In movies, you had to run around to avoid machinegun fire and then get hold of a bazooka to deal with our robot overlords, but in reality you just needed to find their power source and turn it off.
Raffo turned left and scuttled forward and stopped in front of another vent cover.
“Oh my, I didn’t expect this.”
I crawled in next to him and looked through the slats. What I saw looked like a hospital room with a big metal bed and lots of machines flashing lights. And on the bed was a girl. A very large girl. It was definitely Mandy, but she was heavily pregnant.
“Was she like this when she got here?” I asked.
“No,” said Raffo. “I haven’t been part of the project, so I haven’t seen her for some months. She looks due. What kind of monstrosity will she give birth to?”
Robots moved in. They looked like the kind you find in a car factory, one long arm hinged in the middle on a rolling base. They seemed to know what they were doing, moving efficiently around the room.
Mandy didn’t look like she was conscious. Her eyes were closed and her hair was damp and matted to her head, something she would never allow if she’d been awake.
The problem was going to be how to get in there with so much going on.
“Who’s controlling the robots?” I asked Raffo.
“Everything is fully automated,” said Raffo.
“But someone must be watching.” I peered through the slats. I could only make out half of the room but I couldn’t see anyone else.
“They may be observing on camera,” said Raffo, “although it’s unlikely at this time of night. Are you sure you can’t hit her from here?”
“We aren’t trying to kill her,” I reminded him.
“Yes, of course. But if she is about to give birth to a demon spawn, might it not be prudent to prevent Armageddon?”
The problem with people who rediscover their faith is that they try too hard to make up for lost time. As though believing everything without question put you in good with the boss. They miss the main point of religion, which is that it doesn’t matter what you believe, it only matters what you do. There really should be a disclaimer at the front of all these holy books.
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” I said. “Isn’t that the Golden Rule? You’ll find it all over the Bible. Maximus 7:12, Decimus 6:31, Meridius 19:18.”
“Maximus Decimus Meridius was Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator,” said Raffo, bloody nerd.
“Whatever, it still counts. You wouldn’t want an arrow shot up your fanny if you were pregnant, would you?”
“It doesn’t count if it isn’t human.”
The problem with the Golden Rule, a commandment of many religions, is that it has massive loopholes. It usually comes couched in terms like ’your brother’ or ‘your neighbour’ to make it feel more cosy and chummy, but all that does is give people the excuse to exclude people they don’t like. Different religion, different gender, different hobbies — anything you can come up with, really.
Personally, I don’t like the Golden Rule because of the other flaw it has. What if people want horrible things done to them? Is it alright for them to do them to me, then?
Silly rule all around, if you ask me. My Golden Rule would be ‘Put it away, no one wants to see that.’ Think of all the problems that could be solved before they even started.
“The baby will be three-quarters human and the mother is a hundred percent human. Yes, she’s been desecrated by an unholy penis, but if you start judging humanity by that standard you’d have to exterminate most of the Royal family, and quite a few of the female members, too.”
“Then what do you suggest we do?” said Raffo.
A good question. Even if we could get in there, a bow and arrow wouldn’t be much help against robots. What I really needed was better knowledge of the layout. Perhaps I could get Neil to give me a more thorough tour of the facility under some pretext or other.
Raffo looked keen on barging in but he would probably agree to a short delay if I sold it to him as a holy quest with free tickets through the Pearly Gates as a prize.
“Okay, Raffo, here’s what we're going to do. Bear in mind there’s no rush. It’s not like these demons are free to do as they please. First—”
There was an ear-shattering scream. We both pressed our faces against the vent cover to see what had happened.
Mandy’s legs were up and spread wide apart. Her whole body was shaking violently while blood shot out and sprayed the robots a deep crimson. A head emerged.
Now, I’m no stranger to gory scenes. I’ve seen Alien, I know the birthing of a new life isn’t always pretty, but that alien didn’t come out from between John Hurt’s splayed legs. That would have lent an altogether different tone to the movie.
“What should we do?” said Raffo, clinging to my arm far too tightly, holding up his potato like it was a holy artefact. He was regretting giving me the plastic poncho, I could tell.
My immediate thought was that now would be a good time to throw up. Yes, the miracle of birth, a marvellous moment for every mother. Not this time. Frankly, this kid was coming out like Jack Nicholson looking for Shelley Duvall.
Mandy’s lower half jerked from side to side. More body fluids flew out, far more than was acceptable for a regular delivery. The robots were trying to hold her down but she was sliding them and the bed across the floor.
There was a horrible squelching sound and the baby, held up by metallic pincers, began crying. It looked like a normal human baby, apart from the purple glow.
“Shoot it, shoot it,” Raffo screamed into my ear. He tried to get the bow off me so he could have a go.”
I slapped him away. “This is good,” I lied. “Once the baby’s born, Cheng’s power will transfer to it. It’ll be much easier killing the baby than a grown demon that’s had all its shots.”
Raffo stopped fighting me. Obviously, I had no intention of killing any babies. I’ve always been pro-life, by which I mean mine.
The room below, which had been pristine and sterile a moment ago, was now covered in layers of blood, guts and viscera. The baby had wrecked everything, ripped the doors off the hinges, shattered the walls — and that was just what it had done to Mandy’s vagina. Good thing she’d slept through the whole thing.
The robots took the baby away and silence descended. A new, smaller robot appeared and began mopping the floor. Other than the blood dripping off the walls and ceiling you’d never know something untoward had happened here.
“Okay,” I said. “Now’s our chance.” I lay on my back and kicked the cover off the vent.