For those not aware, I decided to reboot Book 10 (Ch. 426 onwards) for various reasons. This picks up from when Colin lands back on Earth. Previous books all remain the same, I just wanted to do this one again as it's the end of the series and wasn't going how I wanted it to.
Any questions about the reboot are best asked on my Discord.
Chapters will post weekly (every Thursday). Patreon is one chapter ahead.
I will be removing the older chapters from Book 10 as soon as I'm sure it won't mess things up or delete stuff I don't want deleted. Older chapter will continue to be hosted on Patreon.
Preface from Mooderino
The moon looked like the moon I had grown up living under. Well, probably. I can’t say I ever really took the time to study the lunar surface. Would I be able to tell one moon from another?
Was I really back in good old Blighty? It was quite possible this was a false reality created to make me think I was standing on top of a castle like a king — every Englishman’s secret desire.
Maurice had the ability to warp reality and make you think you were happy living in the Matrix. A little help from Uncle Peter would be enough to convince my brain this was all real and my adventures were over. Home. Alone.
But how would Maurice’s know what the castle from my time-jumping escapades looked like? Unless he knew someone who could read minds. Or if the illusion was generated by me. That was the thing about magic, you didn’t need to create anything, it could all happen inside the person’s head.
Imagine yourself on top of your favourite castle.
That would probably do it. I wasn’t much of a castle aficionado. The only ones I was familiar with were this one and the one at the start of Disney movies, and I probably wouldn’t be able to choose that one for copyright reasons. Disney lawyers don’t give a shit about your imagination, IP is IP.
This could all be a mental projection and the real me was still in Flatland, staring gormlessly into the middle-distance, drooling slightly. They’d probably shuffle me into a corner and use me as an umbrella stand.
I was trying to decide which was more real, a world of dragons and singing trolls, or this one where people killed each other with drones and watched American Idol unironically.
My memories of Flatland already seemed unreal and ridiculous. It made much more sense that the last few months of my life had been a hallucination and I had finally woken up and come to my senses.
Although why the fuck would I wake up on a castle in the middle of who knows where?
Whatever the truth of the matter, my reality was that I was here and I wasn’t going to figure anything out by waiting for someone to come explain it to me. I needed to deal with this world first, and this wasn’t Flatland. Was it the same world I had left behind?
I took in my surroundings, looking for clues. If this was a fake, I could snap myself out of it by spotting inconsistencies. A white rabbit with a pocket watch, a cat appearing in the same place twice, a wicked witch with green paint on her face (although how Claire would have green paint on her face, I have no idea). I had seen enough movies about people stuck in an illusion to be able to find the way out of this place.
I was standing on castle battlements, that was clear. Everything was made of stone and solidly built. There was a door with a sign showing it was an exit. The sign was written in English.
The door itself stood out as not of Medieval origin. I could try kicking it in, but I’d only hurt myself. It was a heavy safety door in unpleasant blue, nicely contrasting against the beautiful archaic architecture surrounding it. Nothing was more English than that.
This was definitely Earth. That didn’t mean it was my Earth. I could be in a parallel universe, or it could be a different dimension or an alternate timeline. I needed to do a little more research before I could be sure.
It was very quiet and there were no signs of life, not even animals or birds. It was the middle of the night, so that wasn’t so surprising, but it was a bit eerie. I was stuck on the roof of a castle with no idea how to get down. Wait to be found? Did people even live in this giant pile of stone? Or did they just open it up to the public every morning and man the gift shop?
I also didn’t know if this was the same year I had left this sceptred isle. February 2016 was my departure date, along with the others. Someone must have noticed a bunch of kids suddenly disappearing. The others had families and friends and all that stuff. Optional extras, as I like to think of them.
Unless this was far in the future, after a monkeypox epidemic wiped out humanity and left the Amazon warehouse robots to rule the world. If I was the last human on Earth, at least I would be able to get my deliveries next-day without having to pay for Amazon Prime.
Whatever the state of the world, I couldn’t hang around on a cold roof freezing my bollocks off. It wasn’t like I didn’t have experience in getting out of difficult situations.
The question was, which of my newly acquired skills had been transferred with me? I had already tried to use magic with no success, but that didn’t mean it was lost to me forever. Even if I was back to being my old useless self, I had learned a number of skills like how to gut and cook wild animals and the best place to shit in the woods. That information was locked in my mind. If I could put them to some use, it would be a strong indicator that I wasn’t a delusional nutcase.
I looked over the side of the castle walls. It was a long way down. If I still had access to my healing ability, I’d have been tempted to jump down and then heal my injuries, which was an insane thing to think in a non-fantasy setting.
If I did manage to get down from here, then what? I had no idea where I was. I didn’t recognise the castle, which was enough to get my English citizenship revoked.
I don’t want you to think I was completely ignorant of my rich English heritage. We are raised to be respectful of our past, to be proud of the many accomplishments of the Commonwealth (which sounds a lot less evil than Empire).
The use of heavy artillery to mow down natives carrying spears wasn’t the focus of the history lessons at school. It was more about our ships and bridges, and our fine stately homes, open to the public daily, for the tax breaks.
In school, we would often be ferried about in coaches that smelled of crisps and vomit, taken to see what our ancestors had been up to. You need a reason to terrorise whole nations of people across the other side of the world, and what better reason than the construction of a giant palace of crystal or a tall pole with a statue on top of it? Tyranny always makes much more sense when you bookend it with grand monuments of engineering. Makes it easier to hide the bloodstains.
I put one leg over the side of the ramparts, testing my ability to climb down, using the cracks in the stonework to hold onto. There was a tingling in my groin as I hung my leg over the side, and not the good kind of tingling. My mind wasn’t willing and my body wasn’t, either. Before I threw caution to the wind and hurled myself over the battlements, I decided to have a proper look around for an alternative.
Good thing I did, turns out Health and Safety have no respect for the beauty of fine architecture. There was an ugly metal fire escape on the far side of the roof.
It looked ridiculously out of place, painted yellow to really stand out, but you can’t leave people with only one way to get out of a confined space. You used to be able to, but there were numerous fires in train stations that killed hundreds of people and they realised it didn’t look good once everyone had colour TVs.
I clattered my way down the metal stairs with a sense of elation, like I’d managed to complete a puzzle that opened up Level Two without having to look up the cheese-solution on a wiki. It was hardly the Great Escape, but reaching the ground in one unbroken piece was the kind of small victory big victories are built on.
It was starting to get light and I could see a gravel path going around the castle. There was a signpost pointing in various directions — toilets, cafe, car park — but no actual name of the area I was in. There was a map of the castle grounds with a ‘you are here’ arrow, which also showed the exit.
Since I didn’t know when people would turn up, or what they would think about me being here, dressed as some kind of hobo cosplayer, I decided to leave.
It was a long walk to the main gate, but not unpleasant. Walking was one of the things I had spent a lot of time doing lately, so a half-hour stroll was no big deal. The gate was an archway, no locked door, no guards. There were some cars parked in a designated zone, though. I’m sure the Normans or whoever built this place had similar white boxes painted on the ground to show where to leave your donkey and cart.
It was weird seeing actual motor vehicles again.
There was a small building that looked a lot newer than the rest of the place, with a light on in the window. I could have knocked and asked for directions, but I felt apprehensive about it. I didn’t really know how to explain myself.
“Hello, could you tell me which timeline this is, please? The darkest one? Second darkest?”
Back to the nervous old me? Was this a sign that my growth as a person had been a figment of my imagination and I had been unceremoniously returned to my factory settings?
I crept closer and checked the cars to see if they’d been left open. There was a small hatchback, which was locked, and a truck that smelled like cow shit, which was open on the passenger side.
Inside, I found various empty containers and food wrappings in the footwell, and a bunch of coins in the slot next to the gear stick. I stuffed them in my pocket and eased back out. I closed the door as quietly as I could, the barest of clicks.
The car alarm went off, beeping and honking, and the side-lights started flashing.
I didn’t panic. I bent over and scurried away, keeping myself on the other side to the portacabin. Car alarms went off for no reason all the time.
There were voices, male and grumbling, mostly about the weather, the word ‘nippy’ was used — I was home for sure — and I calmly moved from one hiding place to another until I reached the exit. When I heard the van start up and head my way, I very calmly dived into a ditch.
Nothing new for me. If anything indicated I was not the same old Colin, it was stealing loose change from a car in not-quite broad daylight and then hiding in a muddy puddle. It was like my special move.
Once the road was clear, I brushed myself off and headed onto the main road. It was only going in one direction, away from the scene of my crime. Exactly the direction I was looking to go in.
My haul was a grand total of £7.52, which was a reasonable amount. Enough to buy a bus ticket. The money looked the same as the coins I was familiar with, with the same queen on them. There hadn’t been a coup while I’d been gone, with Charles finally claiming the throne, blood streaking down Pall Mall and head stuck on the gates of Buckingham Palace.
I put the coins in separate pockets in case I got robbed — that had nothing to do with my experiences in Flatland, it was just that I was aiming for North London, and you’d be a fool not to take precautions. I looked up to see a sign. The name of the road was London Road, which was helpful. It didn’t say how far it was to the other end.
The air continued to smell like cow shit, so I was in the countryside. I’m not a fan, but at least the rabbits here wouldn’t try to bugger me to death.
It wasn’t too bad once the sun was properly up. The air smelled different here. More diesel. I tried to make my magic work as I walked along but no luck. No flame on my finger, no healing light. Could be it didn’t work here, or it could have been me, not trying hard enough.
A few minutes later, I saw another sign with the red symbol for a train station. Arundel Station. Never heard of it. I veered to the left and kept going. The occasional car drove past me. The people in them looked pretty normal, dressed as you’d expect. I was beginning to think I’d been returned around the same time I’d left. I hadn’t seen any futuristic cars or anyone flying by on a hoverboard. Can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed.
It was a small station with no one around. The large clock said it was nearly six o’clock. There was no one in the ticket booth, but there were machines you could buy tickets. There was a direct train to London Victoria for the low, low price of thirty quid. Well, £33.10, to be exact. The Great Train Robbery was celebrated daily all over the British Isles.
The next train was due… now.
I heard it pulling in and ran to the platform. It was acceptable to not buy a ticket in order to not miss your train. You could pay the inspector who came round to check tickets, or you could pay at the other end. If you had the cash. If not, time to do a runner.
Old Colin would have been very nervous about fare dodging. Old Colin would look guilty the whole time and would desperately need the loo but refuse to go because that’s where fare dodgers hide and that would be the first place they’d look. Old Colin was big on overthinking everything.
This Colin didn’t give a shit. There were probably security cameras watching, but no one really gave a shit. Probably weren’t even turned on. I walked towards the ticket machine, realised my train was pulling in with a series of mimes Buster Keaton would have found a little bit too much, and ran.
The train doors slid open to reveal an empty carriage, with free newspapers on each seat. I picked one up and checked the date. February 29th, 2020.
Four years was how often people were supposedly transported to Flatland. We’d arrived four years ago, did that mean the newest batch had been sent over? Was that how I got to be sent in the other direction?
Four years. It made me feel a bit dizzy. I slumped into a seat and went through the paper to find out how the world had changed. It was quite a shock.
In this world, Donald Trump had become the President of the US. An alternate reality? What else could it be?
That wasn’t the only ridiculous change, either. Brexit had been passed and was a huge mess — that part wasn’t too hard to believe — but the new Prime Minister was Boris Johnson. Boris was, of course, very famous, always had been. For being a massive buffoon.
Oh, and there was a world-ending plague on the loose.
Trump over there, Boris over here, the end of times on the horizon. Wildly inappropriate and incompetent leaders on either side of the pond, both open to allowing the worst of humanity to do as it pleased. If ever there was a set-up for a hero to ride in and save the day… The whole thing was very suspicious.
It wasn’t just Trump being president that made me think I’d been dropped into an alternate reality, it was the way it had been done. Reagan was also a famous person who leveraged his fame into political power, but at least he had some experience running a large state first. And he had competent people around him. Evil, but competent. Trump appeared to only appoint people who were dumber than him, which set the bar very low.
I was so lost in thought as I carefully read every page that I hardly noticed how packed the train had become by the time we pulled into Victoria Station. I was nearly home and I hadn’t even considered what I was going to do when I got there. Would there be an alternate Colin sitting in my flat?
Being surrounded by so many people had a disorienting effect. The smell of coffee, people chatting inanely about nothing, perfume and deodorant in the air, suits and coats squashed together like I was in someone’s overstuffed wardrobe. It was all just so normal and mundane.
I stumbled along with the crowd as we exited the station en masse. First I robbed a man who delivered cow shit (educated guess), now I had added fare dodger to my list of crimes for the day. Perhaps I wasn’t the hero this particular side mission deserved.
I paid for my tube ticket — I only just had enough money — and headed towards my home. I hadn’t paid my rent or bills for three years, and I didn’t have a key to get in and frighten the crap out of whoever was living there now, but I didn’t know where else to go.
As I rode in a packed tube train in the middle of the morning rush hour, every advertisement looked like it might hold a clue to the true nature of this reality. Every overheard conversation and every phone screen glimpsed could have held the key to the reason I’d been sent here. If they did, fuck knows what it was.
From Wood Green Station, I followed the route I’d taken every weekday morning and evening to and from work. Nobody gave me a second look. They probably thought I dressed strangely because I thought it was cool to be different, an excellent reason not to give me the attention I was so obviously craving. I suspected Londoners were Londoners no matter which reality you were in.
The small block of flats I lived in looked the same. I pressed the keycode into the pad and the door clicked open. Same number even in a different dimension?
My flat was on the second floor. I walked up the stairs and along the hallway. The familiarity hit me in waves. There were three other doors here. I had no idea who lived in them back then so it wouldn’t tell me much if there was someone different living in them now.
My door was locked and the number on the door was nailed on unevenly, just as I remembered it. Was there someone new living here now?
I knocked on my own door. It seemed the polite thing to do. There was no response.
If there was another me living here, he might have left for work already. I had no key. I did have a spoon hanging around my neck, which had attracted no attention whatsoever on the way here. Welcome to London.
The door was old and rickety. This one I might have been able to kick down, given a couple of hours and a tea break halfway through. You might think all the noise I’d make would get noticed, maybe the police would get called out. Not an issue. Unless I started playing reggae music at six in the morning when people were trying to cling to the last of their sleep, no one gave a shit.
However, I didn’t want do my ankle in with no way to heal it other than to go to the local drop-in centre. Six hours to have some newly minted doctor send you limping off with instructions to take it easy for a week and take two paracetamol four times a day wasn’t how I wanted to spend my first day back in the land of electricity and soft toilet paper. There was a massive dump with my name on it on the other side of this door.
I tried using the spoon to wedge the door open. If I splintered the wood around the lock I didn’t really care. It gave a little but refused to break open like it would have in a movie. Even though my magic wasn’t working, I used the same mental technique to get myself into a calm state of mind. Perhaps I could find the inner strength to break a couple of rusty hinges. The spoon seemed to be doing my hand more damage than the door.
There was a click and the door swung open.
I took a swept back. I hadn’t opened the door and it was swinging inwards with more than a little force. Someone was opening it.
“Are you the resident, sir?” said a deep voice. There was a police officer standing in the doorway and another one behind him. They were dressed in blue, as is traditional, but with a lot of pockets on their vests and trousers. It was like their uniforms had been designed by Rob Liefeld. I tried to see if they were wearing pixie boots, but I didn’t have the angle.
“Yes,” I said. “Why are you in my flat?”
“We’d like you to come with us. We have some questions.”
How to handle the police? Old Colin would be very uncomfortable and just do as he was told. New Colin was still thinking none of this quite made sense, and if I was going to prove exactly what was going on here, I would have to be a little more proactive.
“You can’t just take someone in for questioning because you feel like it. And you shouldn’t enter a private residence without a warrant.” I spoke confidently and without any fear. I had seen plenty of cop shows, I knew my rights (assuming TV writers did at least a little research).
“This is the warrant.” He held up an iPad — actually a tablet by some unknown Chinese company — and shoved it at me. I couldn’t say for sure it was legit, but it was going to be hard to argue when I hadn’t been around for four years. Maybe things had changed.
“But I haven’t done anything to—”
“And this is you trespassing on the grounds of Arundel Castle this morning.” The screen showed my skulking about the car park from a high angle. “Stealing money from a car.” You couldn’t really tell it was money I was taking, but I’ll admit it didn’t look good. “And riding the 6.35 am train into London Victoria without paying the fare.” There I was getting off the train looking mildly shell-shocked.
The footage he was showing me on his knock-off iPad was a bit grainy but clearly me. My rustic sense of fashion helped me stick out of a crowd. It was still impressive how they managed to capture my misdemeanours so quickly and got here ahead of me. Had the police really advanced in competence over the last few years? Surely not.
“And this is so important you had to break into my flat?” I said, doubling down on my belief this was all a ruse. “Just go away and send me a ticket in the post.”
They didn’t budge and they were taking up the whole doorway, so I’d have to crawl between his legs to get in.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions about a missing person who used to live here. Colin Brown. Did you know him?”
“Not very well,” I said. “I’m Colin Brown. I’ve been away. Sorry if there’s been a mix-up.”
“You’re Colin Brown?” said the policeman. He exchanged a surprised look with his colleague. “Colin Brown, I’m placing you under arrest for murder.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Now I knew someone was pulling my leg. Murder? How can you murder people if you never meet anyone? “You’re not even a real policeman. None of this is real. You’re a bloody hallucination. Go on, go bother some immigrants or something.”
Worth a shot, I thought. See how far I could push this world before it shattered and the truth was revealed.
The policeman took it on himself to prove his six months at Hendon Police College weren’t a figment of his imagination and placed handcuffs on me while his partner pointed a bottle of pepper spray at my face. I’m not saying I was expecting a parade when I got home, but this seemed a bit much.