In the morning, there were no dead Chinese people outside the window. I couldn’t say if they had got up and walked away or if someone had come along and swept them into a wheelbarrow and carted them off.
The grass looked a bit flat, so I assumed I didn’t dream it, but I liked the fact people were willing to hide the evidence of my crimes. Saved me having to do it.
Biadet wasn’t in bed but I could hear noise coming from downstairs so I assumed she was already up. If there had been a problem, the noise would have been either louder or completely silent.
I took a shower and considered how to convince Cheng to go along with my plan. He didn’t want to take over the world and rule it with demonic force, so I needed to think of a way to make him. I couldn’t really threaten him in any meaningful way. I’d probably have to get Mandy to do it for me.
As the water thundered on the top of my head, I felt like I could hear something in the distance. Beyond the murmur of voices, under the house, there was a weird sound. Growling.
When I turned off the shower and opened my eyes, it was gone. If I focused really hard, I could just about hear it. But it was so faint, I could just as easily have been imagining it.
Downstairs, Biadet was having breakfast with Mandy and her Satanic child. The kid had food all over his face, which is the way bad parents convince themselves they’re cool for letting their progeny express themselves freely, when in fact they’re just lazy. They’re the same people who think they’re encouraging creativity by only giving their kids wooden toys, when they’re just cheap and refuse to buy them a Nintendo Switch like a decent human being.
Biadet was eating toast, although it was mostly strawberry jam. She had managed to get a whole jar onto half a slice. She had dark rings under her eyes and her hair was looking like week six of chemo. Which was bad enough, but Mandy had loaned her a shiny white Adidas tracksuit with pink stripes, making her look like a Slavic meth addict.
“Don’t let Mandy dress you,” I said. “She has the tastes of a very common peasant. We call them WAGs.”
I put my hand on her shoulder and gave her a shot of energy. I didn’t exactly have much to spare, but it wasn’t like I was going to need it for anything.
Biadet sat up and looked up at me, not the least bit grateful. “If you keep doing that, you’ll end up looking worse than me.”
“Too late for that,” said Mandy. “Biadet was telling us you had guests last night.”
I put the kettle on and stuck some bread in the toaster.
“The Chinese made me an offer. They want Cheng to come home to the motherland, well, his mother’s land.”
Mandy frowned. “They never said anything to us about it.”
“I expect they don’t want to be rejected, so they asked me first. If I don’t do what they want, then it’s not a final no. If they went straight to Cheng and he gave them short shrift, show’s over. That’s how the faint-of-heart operate. The most important thing is to not fail. Just means you haven’t succeeded yet.”
“You’re saying these people are cowards,” said Biadet.
“Yes. Anyone who accepts totalitarian rule is a coward. All one point five billion Chinese are certainly cowards. Otherwise they’d be dead.”
“That’s kind of racist,” said Mandy, part of the Chinese diaspora now that she’d married a half-caste member.
“Only if I thought China was the only totalitarian government,” I said. “Cowardice is fucking rampant at the moment. You can’t blame people in those places, though. China included. What are they going to do? Protest injustice and be cut down like those guys in Tiananmen Square? They’d need huge balls to try something like that again.”
Cheng came into the kitchen. He had no top on but he was wearing jogging bottoms, thankfully. They had no designer label on them, which was shocking. What was Mandy even doing all day if not buying overpriced shit for her family? If you aren’t advertising billion-dollar corporations on your clothing and paying through the nose for the privilege, are you even living in a society?
Naturally, I was mistaken. As Cheng turned around I realised his clothing wasn’t brandless, it was actually covered in tiny ‘LV’ logos so you couldn’t tell without staring. The art of subtle excess.
The toast popped up and Cheng put the two pieces together to make the world’s driest sandwich and ate it.
“Hey,” I said, “that was mine.” Fucking demons, think they can take anyone’s toast.
Cheng took a slice of bread off the top of the loaf and threw it at me. It ignited into flames and then went out so that when I caught it, it was covered in black soot. Not exactly the way I like it, but hard to argue with someone who can set things on fire without a match.
I scraped off the black stuff with a knife and buttered it, and then followed Biadet’s example with extra jam.
“By the way,” I said through a mouthful of charcoal and sugar, “anyone else hear a strange distant growling?” No one said anything. “Like the dead trying to climb out of their graves? I would think it was my conscience but I’m pretty sure I don’t have one.”
“It’s his army,” said Biadet. “They’re restless.”
“You hardly notice it after a while,” said Mandy. “Charlie finds it quite soothing, don’t you, babe?”
Charlie winced and then farted. Then he put his head on Mandy’s chest and fell asleep.
“Aw, bless,” said Mandy. Some women have low standards.
“An army like that would come in useful for taking over the world,” I said. “If you’re not going to use them, at least lend them to me.”
I didn’t really want my own army of hellspawn — having to keep the central heating on all the time would be prohibitively expensive — but I was going to slowly goad Cheng into taking an active role in this world.
“They aren’t here, I told you,” said Cheng. “They only seem close by. It would be very hard to get them over the threshold, even if I wanted to.”
“If he was the demon overlord of this world,” I said to Mandy, “he could set things up for Charlie to take over when he’s old enough. You’d be the mother of the leader of the free world. Well, not exactly free, but then when has it ever been?”
A light went on in Mandy’s eyes. She was seeing herself as the most important woman in the world, with access to all the best frocks and jewellery. Obviously, I’m guessing that’s what she was thinking. You might think I have a stereotypical and deeply misogynistic view of women, but I only thought that about Mandy because it was accurate.
“I had wanted him to be a doctor,” said Mandy, “but ruler of the world would be nice. He could do a lot of good.”
The faint smell of shit wafted up from Charlie’s lower parts. He had all the makings of a fine leader.
“You’ll have to get Cheng on board first,” I said.
“I see what you are trying to do,” said Cheng.
“And still you won’t be able to do anything about it,” I replied.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure about this approach myself. Making Mandy the planet’s mother-in-law seemed less than ideal. Twenty years from now, she would be an over-the-hill tart with all the usual issues for a woman of her age. If you don’t know what those issues are, I won’t spoil the surprise. But invest in earplugs.
“I’d like you to show me your world,” said Biadet.
“All of it?” I said. “That could take a while. Depends on how fast the internet is here. It’s what we use to see things in faraway places, like magic, but slower and more unreliable. I don’t know who invented wifi, but the guy was a jackass; can’t even send a signal through a wall. Good thing houses don’t have many of them, right? Him and the guy who made those tetrapacks that are supposed to open into a spout to pour milk, fucking scam artists.”
“I think she means go outside and visit places,” said Mandy.
“What?” I said, taking in this strange idea. “Oh. I suppose we could do it that way.”
“It’ll be fun,” said Mandy. “We can all go. Family outing.”
“I have things to do,” said Cheng.
“I wouldn’t want a monster to join us,” said Biadet. “They aren’t good in crowds. It gets messy.”
“He isn’t like that,” said Mandy, a pained expression on her face. “Not anymore.”
Biadet gave it two raised eyebrows and left it like that.
“Fine, we’ll do the tourist thing,” I said. “We’ll need a ride.”
Mandy sighed. “We haven’t got a replacement driver yet, I guess I could drive.”
“No need,” I said. “We have plenty of drivers waiting to take us wherever we want.”
“We do?” said Mandy.
After breakfast we headed out and left Cheng to his tinkering. I didn’t know what he was up to in the basement, but I guessed it was something that could destroy the planet if his hand slipped. Probably best to give him some space.
We walked down to the bottom of the drive.
“Are you sure we won’t need the car?” said Mandy, pushing Charlie in a stroller that probably cost the same as a Tesla, but less likely to burst into flames. Although, with Charlie being who he was, who could say for sure? “We’re not taking the bus, are we?”
“No,” I said. We stopped as the gates opened.
Parked in the road were a large number of black vehicles with tinted windows.
“Hey!” I shouted to the street in general. “We need a ride. Which one of you covert teams no one suspects as agents of a foreign power want to be designated driver? Be a lot easier than having to follow us around all day.”
There was a pause, and then doors opened on all of the cars. Tough-looking men with shaved heads appeared from each vehicle. They wore dark clothes and had sunglasses on.
“Really, guys? Did you all watch the same movie or something? The shades there to make you seem more mysterious, are they? This is England, you know? Last time anyone needed protection from the sun was around 1976.”
They stood beside their cars, eyeing us up.
“You know,” I said, “I could beat any of you up.” I couldn’t, but I liked yanking their chain. “And she could take all of you out at once.”
Biadet, who had a floppy bucket hat on, looked from one end of the street to the other. “That one.” She pointed at a Range Rover.
“You win,” I said to the tall man in mirrored shades standing next to it. “Rest of you will have to get a lift with one of the others.”
There were three others, dressed in the same black jeans, black bomber jackets (with bulges), and shades, of course. They didn’t seem too pleased about being kicked out but moved away.
“Very happy to give you ride,” said the driver. “Grigory.”
“Russian?” I guessed. “Those guys you sent over to poison people, they friends of yours?”
“Amateurs,” said Grigory. “And I don’t know what you are talking about.” He smiled.
We put the stroller in the boot. Wasn’t much room with all the metal cases, but we squeezed it in. Then we got in the back. Very roomy.
“Where would you like to go?” asked Grigory.
“Buckingham Palace,” I said. “We’re going to see the queen.”
Grigory nodded and set off. Behind us, a convoy of vehicles followed.
“Your government is run by evil shitheads,” I said, by way of making conversation.
“Haha, yes,” said Grigory.
It didn’t take too long to get into the city. It was early but past rush hour, and we made good time because Grigory ignored traffic lights and most other cars. We were beeped at a lot.
Grigory’s only attempt at making a deal like the Chinese had was saying, “In Russia, you will not be killed, even if you disappoint us. I promise.”
As tempting offers went, it was the bare minimum you would expect.
Biadet’s response was typical of her. “You would be, if you disappointed me.” Then she leaned back and fell asleep.
Once we arrived at Pall Mall, the road that leads up to the palace, Biadet perked up. Grigory lowered the back windows — they were on child lock because apparently his men couldn’t be trusted — and Biadet stuck her head out, taking in the sights.
“This is where your Queen resides?” said Biadet. “It looks poorly defended. We could easily get inside and kill the monarch. Once you have the crown, you would be king.”
“Yeah, doesn’t work like that here. It should, but it doesn’t. She isn’t actually in charge of anything. It’s more of a marketing role.”
“She has no power?”
“Well, she can protect her sons if they commit murder or paedophilia, but that’s about it. We keep her mainly for nostalgia. She’s not even really British, more German. We like to take things from other cultures. Germans gave us industrialisation. Romans gave us our roads. We even had the French for a bit, well, the Normans.”
“What did the French give us?” said Mandy.
“The phrase deja vu.”
We drove around, showing her the major tourist sites. Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the London Eye. Every tacky postcard shot IRL. Wouldn’t have been that different if we’d just googled it. Still, Biadet seemed to find it interesting.
We didn’t go inside any of those places. They would have been packed full of tourists and they aren’t particularly interesting, to be honest. We did stop at the British Museum, though. An easy way to see the world’s history, gathered through theft in one convenient place.
Our retinue of burly men followed us around as we checked out the stolen merchandise from ancient cultures. Biadet found the weapons and armour especially interesting.
“Your ancestors were poor craftsmen,” she said, looking at a beautifully made suit of armour from the Middle Ages. “Too heavy to be practical in a fight.”
“It does look quite cumbersome,” said Mandy, suddenly the expert. She would have loved it if it had a D&G logo on it.
Charlie was keen to get his hands on anything he could reach, so he was strapped into the stroller. The retinue were also taking in the sights. I felt if I could educate the men who were here to abduct and coerce us into horrific crimes, then I would have achieved something. Plus, we’d have something to talk about when they waterboarded me.
After the museum, we got into a different car. This one had a Chinese driver called Han.
“How’s the girl I threw out of my window?” I asked him.
He smiled at me. “She went back to China. You won’t see her again.”
The price of failure.
“Your government is run by evil shitheads,” I told him.
“Haha, yes,” said Han.
After a bit more sightseeing, we got a bite to eat from McDonald’s. Not exactly British cuisine, but a fine example of where we are as a culture.
“I think I like it but also hate it,” said Biadet, halfway through a Big Mac.
“That’s normal,” I said.
Charlie refused to eat anything except for the toy in the Happy Meal. He showed promise as a future leader.
We drove back to the house in the largest of the cars, which belonged to the American surveillance team. CIA, FBI, LGBTQ, who knows?
“Your government is run by evil shitheads,” I told Joe, our driver.
“I don’t think so,” said Joe.
Everyone was happy to chauffeur us around. They didn’t try too hard to sell us on any of their Black Friday offers — either because they’d made an arrangement between themselves or had been told not to from higher up — and were very nice and polite. I felt like they were waiting for something.
“Your world,” said Biadet, “is similar to mine. It is just as foolish and full of horrors.”
Good thing I didn’t take her to Madame Tussaud’s or she’d have really been disappointed.
Biadet looked quite tired by the time we got back. I tried to give her a boost when we were back in the house, but she stopped me.
“You’ve watched someone die before, haven’t you?” She took off her hat and scratched her fuzzy head.
“Of course he has,” said Mandy, giving the sleeping kid to Cheng, who looked rested and happy. Being left the fuck alone will do wonders for your state of wellbeing.
“No, not watched someone be killed,” said Biadet, “watched someone die that you can’t save.”
“Yes,” I said. “Only, I had no interest in saving anyone. I just wanted it over as quickly as possible, but of course it dragged on forever.”
Biadet looked at me like she didn’t believe me, but she was wrong. When someone has cancer, dementia and is bipolar, you aren’t saving them by keeping them alive. Although, if they use that extra time to get AIDS, then at least you get to fill out your bingo card.
“I wanted to see what kind of world you came from,” said Biadet.
“Impressed?” I asked her.
“Only that you managed to survive here. I see now why you left.”
“I didn’t leave, I was taken.”
“Only because you wanted to be. I opened the way here by giving back part of what Peter used to save me. I can open it again for you.”
“And what happens to you?” I asked her.
“I will be used up.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” said Mandy.
“Is that what you want?” I asked Biadet. I’ve never been one to force anyone to do anything or stop them if they were sure they wanted something, no matter how retarded.
“Yes.” Biadet looked past me.
I turned and there was a black portal in the wall.
“You should go,” said Biadet. She looked grey. Her skin looked like it was flaking off. She was disintegrating before my eyes.
There was a strange growling sound from the portal.
Her final words to me were, “Oops, I think I opened the wrong door.” And then she was gone.