Cap Cocktails and Avatars

Two lovely posts from Mr. Sword, the first being some Marvel UK cocktails...


And the second being a brilliant collection of avatars for blogs, featuring the characters from Captain Britain and MI-13...


I'll be putting back at least a couple of Captain Britains tonight, I suspect.  Cheerio!

And -

I've been picked as one of Newsarama's creators to watch in 2009:

http://www.newsarama.com/comics/120830-9-Creators.html 

It's all me me me on the blog at the moment, sorry!  I'm looking forward to seeing in New Year's Eve at the Crown tonight, with the 19 piece rhythm and blues orchestra my wife sings with (they're called Boogie Me) playing two sets.  There will be much dancing.  Cheerio!

Oh, Right, Thanks!

The guys at Comics Daily gave me their Best Moment Award!  And I thought I was doing fine already!


Thanks, chaps.  That's much appreciated.  That scene gives me a little glow of pleasure still.  

Meanwhile, Bookgasm has declared the Fast Forward 2 anthology, including my story 'Catherine Drewe', to be the best SF book of 2008, beating four big novels to the punch!


Ah, the delights of the end of the year!  Cheerio!

Two Thanks

Just popping in to say thank you, firstly to the good folk at Comics Daily, who name me as one of five runners up (to Warren Ellis, so how flattering is that?) in the Best Writer category of their Comics Daily Awards for 2008:


And to the readers of SFX Magazine, who voted Captain Britain and MI-13 their sixth favourite comic (the winner being Grant Morrison's Batman) in the magazine's annual awards.  I'm mightily cheered.  See you all on January 2nd for the results of the Quiz.  Cheerio!

12 Blogs 12: The Round Up

Phew, we got here.  It's been comparatively easy this year, probably, as I said, because I'm still doing full work days.  So today I'll finish this, send in a Cap plot (exciting stuff at the moment, Dracula vs. Pete in a spy game) and then pop in to a Pulse meeting near Oxford Circus, on the day before Christmas Eve.  I hope to get a break between Christmas and the New Year.  I also hope that at least midnight mass approaches the numinous (you may have noticed that I like that word), or I'll have to join a tribe and go on a vision quest or something.  The quality of the light and the shortness of the days are doing to me what they usually do, and my dreams, particularly after dark beer and rich food, are once again spectacular, but this year I have to be too much in the world. Falling asleep sitting up during Allegri's 'Miserere' was about as close as I've got to the ineffable (and there's that other word) this time round.  

Anyhow, here's that compilation of all those lovely folk who sent in stuff for the first three blogs, but got there too late.  Starting with Rob 'Indy' Williams, who was actually first off the blocks, but got forgotten in the rush, with a vegetarian Christmas recipe.  Take it away, Rob...

Sweetcorn Polenta

(Supposed to serve four, actually serves two unless you're a supermodel.)

560g frozen sweetcorn.
500 ml water.
40g butter.
200g feta cheese, crumbled.
1/2 tsp salt.
Freshly ground pepper.

For the aubergine sauce:
150 ml vegetable oil.
1 medium aubergine in 2cm dice.
2 tsp tomato paste.
60 ml white wine.
200g chopped tomatoes.
100 ml water.
1/2 tsp salt.
1/2 tsp sugar.
1 tbsp chopped oragano, plus whole leaves to garnish.

Make the sauce. Heat oil in large pan. Fry aubergine on medium heat for 15 mins til brown. Drain and discard the oil. Stir in tomato paste, cook for 2 mins. Add wine, cook for a minute. Add the toms, water, salt, sugar and oregano and cook for five mins to make a sauce. Set aside.

For the polenta, place the sweetcorn in a medium-sized saucepan and pour in the water to cover. Add half the butter and cook on low simmer for 12 mins. Lift out the sweetcorn with a slotted spoon and put in food procssor. Whizz them up for a few minutes, add a bit of water if too dry. Return the corn paste to the water pan and, over low heat and stirring all the time, cook for 15 mins so the mix goes like mashed potatoes. Now add remaining butter, feta, salt and pepper and cook for 2 mins longer.

Divide the polenta into bowls and spoon the sauce into the centre. Garnish with oregano leaves and then go nom, nom, nom.  Drink the remaining white wine and Happy Christmas!

And there were a few more Doctor Who writers talking about their favourite Christmas music...

‘”Wonderful Christmas Time” by Tom McRae (no, the other one). It's on a CD of modern covers called Maybe This Christmas Tree. Stick this track on when you're grinding teeth smiling at relatives. Starts with a cigarette being lit and ice cubes chinking in a glass.  McRae turns McCartney's cheerathon into a minimalist, piano and cello confession aching with loneliness. He manages to flip "Simply having a wonderful Christmastime" into the biggest lie in pop lyrics. But when he ends on "We're here tonight, and that's enough", and leaves it hanging.... you know he's right,’ – Chris Chibnall (writer ‘42’, producer Torchwood).

‘My all time Christmas Favourite would be The Pogues' “Fairytale of New York”. Hope, despair, drunkeness, romanticism, regret, joy, cynicism, sentimentality - everything I associate with the season (plus the sublime Kirsty McColl) in four and half minutes of genius.
All together now ... " I could have been someone ...",’ – Stephen Greenhorn (writer, ‘The Lazarus Experiment,’ ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’.)

‘I've always loved “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, because it's the creepiest, most horrifying Christmas song of all.  "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake." Brrrr. "He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake." Since when did Father Christmas set himself up as moral arbiter? And what will he do if I fall short of his strange Icelandic ideals of right and wrong? Chills the soul.  But my favourite song is the German version of “Silent Night”. Whenever I hear it, it takes me back to when I was fourteen, and in a school production of Oh What a Lovely War, playing an English tommy hearing the sound of “Stille Nacht” coming from the enemy trenches. It was being in that musical - badly acted and cheap as it no doubt was - which taught me about the sacrifices made during the First World War, and whenever I hear that carol I'm reminded of the bravery of others, and of absent friends,’ – Rob Shearman (writer, ‘Dalek’.)

 

‘Putting doctor who into christmas songs makes them much better!’

 

Does it, script editor Brian Minchin?

 

‘”Twas christmas eve, down in the drunk tank,
A timelord turned to me, said let's see another one!
And then he sang a song, of Ood and Cybermen,
We dreamed of a better time, when all our dreams come true.

WOULD be the best xmas song of all time.  So there.  Try it, it works!

 

So can I blog that?

 

‘If you try and write one too!’

 

... okay.  Here we go. 

 

‘Hark the Weeping Angels sing,

They’re some sort of quantum thing.

Make sure that you look straight ahead,

Or you’ll be seven centuries dead.’

 

Will that do?  Well, it’ll just have to.  It’s nearly Christmas Eve and I’ve got stuff on...

 

‘I’ll start you off!  How about...

 

‘”God Rest ye Merry Silurians” -

“Away in a Tardis” -

“O little town of New New Earth “-‘

Brian...

 

‘“Good King Sycorax, looked out...”’

 

Brian?

 

‘“Cloister bell rings, are you listening? 
On Clom, snow is glistening...’

 

Clom?  And we have a handful of SF writers who responded to the request for favourite Christmas movies...

 

A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Reason one, Michael Caine's Scrooge. Reason two, usually I'm much more outre and sophisticated in my choice of easy sentiment, but 'tis the season to be obvious, and anyway it's the only one that's lasted, for me and mine.  Favourite Christmas song has to be “A Fairytale of New York” the Pogues one, as reason two, above,’ – Gwyneth Jones (Bold As Love, White Queen).

 

‘Every year, for more years than I could possibly count, I've watched Jimmy Stewart rescue the angel Clarence from a poor decision by a bridge in the snow in Bedford Falls, look back on a life of seemingly poor decisions, and then find the wonder and joy in them. I know It’s a Wonderful Life is schmaltzy and predictable, neither of which are typically my thing, but Capra's Christmas tale is a lifelong favorite. There are other less sentimental films - and I'm generally a terrible sucker for Christmas movies (even the awful ones) - but I don't think I'll ever leave this one behind.  Oh, and as a corrective: the best Christmas song ever has to be The Pogues’ "A Fairytale of New York",’ –Jonathan Strahan (editor, The New Space Opera, the Eclipse anthologies).

 

‘I suspect this is going to be a popular choice, but my all-time favourite Christmas movie is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.  James Stewart is perfect as George Bailey, and the end, where the whole community rallies around him, still brings a tear to my eye. For a story that's more than sixty years old, it seems particularly pertinent to Christmas 2008, after all, the villain is a greedy banker.  Okay, maybe it's overly sentimental, but that's Christmas,’ – Alan Campbell (Scar Night, Iron Angel).

Did you lot compare notes before coming over here? 

A Christmas Carol.  Dickens' much-loved tale has been adapted a million times - let's not forget the Muppets - but Patrick Stewart's 1999 version has become a festive staple in our household, and not just because we're Star Trek enthusiasts. Stewart was fascinated by the tale and was the driving force behind this adaptation, in which he plays the lead role. He received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his portrayal. The ghostly atmosphere is perfect for the long winter evenings and while Stewart brings an austere, Victorian gravitas to it there's also a twinkle in his eye of which Dickens, a witty storyteller, would no doubt have approved. His elation at the end, the sense of last minute reprieve, is wonderfully uplifting yet completely believable thanks to Stewart's earnest performance. We were lucky enough to also catch his one-man production of A Christmas Carol on stage in 2005 and that remains one of my favourite yuletide memories,’ – David Bradley (editor, SFX Magazine).

Thanks, David.  You can tell when someone’s used to writing capsule reviews, eh?  And finally, I’m delighted to say that Laurie Pink heard about me and Mike Collins working together on Captain Britain, and so...





And the following, she tells me, is the movie version, where the costumes are a bit more swish...

And with that, I shall leave you be.  See you in the New Year for the Quiz results.  I hope you find what you're looking for at Christmas.  Season's greetings to you all.  Cheerio!

12 Blogs 11: Cops and Monsters

Quick note to those of you hoping to participate in the quiz: the whole idea is that you can cannibalise each other’s answers, so don’t be so polite.  If you agree with what someone else has come up with, mention that answer in your own post. 

 

And for those of you who are, like me, searching for tracks to re-create 1978’s BBC Space Themes album, there have been two developments: Frank Chacksfield’s original version of the theme to The Sky at Night appeared on his The Decca Years compilation, and the complete Peter Howell ‘Space for Man and the Case of the Ancient Astronauts’ (entitled just ‘The Astronauts’) appeared on BBC Radiophonic Music: A Retrospective.  I mention this because my original post about that album continues to be my most popular article, still generating a couple of comments a year.  The search for official versions of A for Andromeda and Journey Into Space continues. 

 

I’m still in search of a Christmas vibe this year.  The continuing hard work has something to do with it.  Normally, the 12 Blogs are written in desperation against a background of relaxation, now they’re part of a healthy diet of daily writing.  Or in other words: ‘if you want a job done, give it to someone busy’.  I’m going into London for a meeting tomorrow, at which I’ll be given script notes, and I hope against hope that I won’t have to action those notes over Christmas.  But I suspect I may. 

 

Tomorrow will be the round up of authors contributing late to the whole recipes/Christmas music/Christmas movies thing.  Today, I thought I’d focus (without the help of Scale Guy) on what I hope will become the centre of my work next year.  Here’s the complete prologue of the novel I’m working on at the moment, Cops and Monsters.  It's a work in progress, and the final version will doubtless by quite different, but it gives you a flavour of what I'm up to.  I hope you like it.  See you tomorrow!  Ho ho ho!  Cheerio!

 

 

Prologue: The Classical View/A House Divided

 

Last October.

 

The man who’d been elected as Mayor of London because he was an amiable buffoon, because he seemed unable to do anything and the people wanted someone who would stop doing things, because it was funny to see him there, shook hands with the other candidates on the platform and, to huge applause, took the microphone.

            ‘This isn’t rock and roll,’ cried the Mayor, his Old Etonian vowels giving every syllable shades of meaning that were written into the bedrock of Britain.  ‘This is... genocide!’

            The crowd didn’t get it.  But they assumed it was another off the cuff unreconstructed gaffe and went wild anyway. 

            ‘Has it never occured to you,’ continued the new Mayor, ‘how odd a thing the placebo effect is?’ 

            The crowd laughed all the more.

            ‘No, seriously!  A doctor gives you a pill, and with all his authority tells you it’s going to cure you.  And just because you think that, it does.  Even if it’s just chalk.’

            The crowd were a little more quiet.  Perhaps he was trying to reach for a serious point and they didn’t like that so much. 

            ‘That suggests a relationship between the jolly old mind and the physical world that should stagger us with its implications, but it doesn’t, because we’re... gosh... used to it, like we’re used to the buildings of London all around us.  Imagine that effect applied to physics rather than biology.  So the airliner you’re in is falling out of the sky, but the Captain calls from the flight deck and tells you it’s not... and so suddenly it’s not!’

            The crowd waited for the Mayor to draw some sort of conclusion.  But he just started to laugh.  And laugh.  And laugh.  Louder and louder. 

            ‘Oh yes!  You’ve got an appointment with me!’ he roared.  ‘You’ve all got an appointment with me!’

 

And then he woke up.

            Sir Richard Chartres, RIBA, KCBE, slowly opened his eyes and sat up.  The dream had been deliberate.  But it had told him only what he already knew.  Some of it had been obvious, some of it was still obscure, far inside him.  

Chartres was pleasantly balding, in trim, built to last.  He always had half a worried smile at the corner of his mouth.  Lately it was becoming more of a grimace.  He often wore his Brasenose scarf, and at official functions his tie from All Souls, where he had been a Prize Fellow.  He habitually carried an old satchel.  When the satchel wore out, he would always purchase a new one of exactly the same design.  But they’d stopped making those, so currently his satchel had holes in it, and his books kept falling out. 

He had a double first.  He had written his doctorate thesis on the movement of air through St. Pancras station. 

And here he was, scared. 

It was October 31st.  Halloween. 

He pushed at the youth sleeping beside him until he woke up, and told him to get out.  He had things to do today. 

 

Chartres called himself a ‘bachelor’.  He found the notion of ‘gay culture’ ridiculous, because every time he saw that ‘culture’ en masse, it seemed to be made up entirely of people who were not at all like him.  Not that he had ever expressed a view on the subject.  The youth last night had wanted to talk about things in which he had no interest, so Chartres had told him not to talk. 

Chartres went to the window of his grace and favour apartment in the square court building in its own woodland in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

            It was not his.  He was allowed to live here rent free for life, because, as with so many things, that was just how the world ticked along.  It was a privilege of what he did. 

            He opened the curtains and looked out at sheets of rain and early morning darkness.

            He knew.  Horribly.  Without knowing how. 

            He had an appointment this evening.

 

The meeting chamber stood at the end of the garden annex, a hundred paces to the east of the twirled De Souza and Raymonde skyscraper in Rotherhithe.  Everyone commented on how different in style the chamber was to its parent building, but nobody, Chartres was sure, not even all the prize winning architects who passed it, across the courtyard between the tall shadows, could identify exactly what that style was. 

            It could have been a relic from when Rotherhithe was still proper docklands, when there were warehouses and pulleys and wet brick.  But it would have stood out then too.  It was low and square, with a dome, and so white that it looked like it had never been rained on.  It looked misplaced, like a new medieval church built in a city suburb, that odd shape not made invisible by tradition.  There was something religious about it.  But it was impossible to identify what.

To get to the door of the meeting chamber Chartres had to pass through the rest of the ‘Dessandarr’ building, through the muffled sunglassed offices, and the new privacy not so open plan work spaces, and then go out under the canopy with its visible cable supports, into the ‘space for free thought’, with its water feature and sundial.   The chamber stood, awkwardly, at the end of all that, not belonging to it, connected by a gravel path.  Chartres, as a young man, had once felt part of the firm, seconded to this strange assignment.  Now, even as a full partner, he felt like the firm was something modern and ridiculous through which he was obliged to walk and from which he hardly noticed taking his considerable salary.

Many visitors to the garden annex sat on the flattened and smoothed stones and looked at the parched walls of the chamber, plain with pillars, and wondered at the company’s taste.  Chartres was sure the power of the firm often meant that mental journey ended with the visitor questioning their own. 

They were reacting to the collision between a temporal architecture, fit for purpose but always changing with customer expectations, and something that lay under, and thus didn’t have to please.  Rather like Chartres himself now.  They were reacting to one thing in another, two things pulling in different directions that might turn out to be opposites.  Also like... well, he wasn’t sure he could complete that thought in any sensible way. 

To get into the meeting chamber, one had to be one of the De Souza and Raymonde Continuing Projects Team, and to therefore be the keeper of one of the Five Keys.  The Five Keys were lumps of metal made smooth by centuries of handling.  The one Chartres kept looked like something from a longbarrow. 

His hands were shaking as he turned it in the lock. 

 

Inside the chamber, the illumination came from a square lantern in the centre of the ceiling dome, natural light in the day, daylight flourescents at night, graduated so the level of light was always exactly the same.  If you had Seasonal Affective Disorder, as one of Chartres’ team claimed to, alongside all their other complaints and vanities, it might make you calm.  Or it might drive you mad.  When it rained, the light cascaded down the four walls like those present were inside a beautiful lamp in a beautiful tent, in some imaginary beautiful Middle East. 

The chamber smelt of old books.  They were stored here, in the library archive shelves that reached down into the floor.  The shelves were made of wood polished only by age, kept pristine by the precise climate inside the chamber.  They were gotten to by tugging on a loop of rope to slam open a slab of the stone flooring, then cranking a metal lever on a post.  The wooden shelves would rise up out of depths, notch by notch.  The crank needed special oil that was kept in a special oil pot, along with a couple of other artefacts and important papers, in the safe back at Chartres’ apartment. 

Files of maps and index cards were kept under other floor slabs, on great spindles that were eased out from under through a spinning action.  The initial heave took some doing, but there was a knack to it, rather like that of pulling on a bell rope.  Chartres could send the stacks flying towards the ceiling with a ratcheting sound and stop them at a touch of his elbow. 

Each member of the Team had a place at the stone table in the centre of the meeting chamber.  The tabletop was etched so that each position had two fine diagonal lines leading to it.  The table had been made smooth by use, and it still felt good to Chartres’ touch, the joy of the ancient staining of stone by people and paper and spillage. 

The floor was made of the same granite, and remained rougher than the table surface.  The same pattern was under the table as was on it. 

Every chair was different, made of old oak, fashioned in Rennes, to suit the body shape of each team member.  The journey to Brittany on the Eurostar, to be measured, and complemented on one’s posture and fed fine wine and cheese by those who knew of the debt the world owed to these fine upholders of tradition was one of the perks of an otherwise demanding job. 

For most of its existence, which stretched back, under various names, over at least a thousand years, the Continuing Projects Team had assembled in this meeting chamber on one evening a week.  In the last six months, they had taken to meeting every night. 

            The Team were not chosen by a human being, but by a protocol.  There lay the seed of Chartres’ doubt.  When a member of the Team died, usually of old age, the protocol was read out, which produced a name, in letters taken from a bag, and a location, and the Chair of the Team, since 1968 Chartres himself, then set off to find that person, who always turned out to be from the same field of expertise as the former member, and, following a difficult conversation, always turned out to be interested in taking up the post.  The generous contractor’s salary provided by the firm helped with that. 

            Like so many things the Team used, someone might once have known how that protocol worked, but it wasn’t recorded.  Chartres often felt they were living in the ruins of some former empire… well, some former empire other than the British one… which had never quite come to be.  They only knew the what now, not the how or the why. 

The five members of the Team represented the five foundations of civilisation: academia; law; government; the media and the church. 

The longest serving member was always the Chair, now Chartres himself, who, as a partner in the firm, had to at least pass as a professional architect.

The names of Chartres’ current Team were Sheila Kennet, Meadow Arungye MP, Adam Fletcher and Prof. Matthew Walstein.

It had become gradually obvious to Chartres, over the last six months, that their current troubles stemmed from the protocol’s selection of these ridiculous people. 

None of them were truly his sort, the sort who’d entirely composed the Team when he first joined it.  The sort that the records showed had composed the team ever since that sort had been defined, probably around the time when Edward the Confessor was assigning earldoms. 

All of the current Team had extraordinary flaws, which weren’t kept private as such things should be, but worn like peacock feathers.  None of them showed the deference which might mean they could learn from anyone else’s experience.  It was like they were born new into the world, without tradition.  They seemed to feel less responsibility than he did.  As if someone else was continually about to come along and clear up after them. 

It had taken decades, as older members of the Team had died and been replaced, and then a year of the current crisis for him to start seeing them like this.  But there was something worse. 

For the protocol to have selected such people meant the unthinkable. 

Something had gone wrong with the protocol. 

It was a vicious circle, a wheel.  The protocol somehow chose fools, as if it had an ideology or a  decadent electorate to please.  Those fools did not do their jobs as well as those of his generation had, and so the situation in London got worse.  And so the protocols got even more bent out of shape. 

These thoughts, which Chartres had trouble holding in his head, the feeling of that wheel turning, had led him on his long journey to this evening, to the mad certainty the dream had placed in him, the appointment now due. 

 

Chartres sat down at the table in the meeting chamber and laid out his pens and notepad as he always did.  He managed to keep his hands from shaking.  It had rained all day.  It seemed absurdly dark outside, as if late October wasn’t meant to be this dark. 

            The others stood around the room.  No formality for them.  They looked exhausted, confused, angry. 

He wondered if he should tell them? 

But what did he have to say, really?  Just that he had a terrifying intuition, based on his experience, on the tradition he continued, and that seemingly ended with him. 

They wouldn’t listen to that. 

Following his dream, he had taken readings all day, using the Lud vanes.  The Diana prime was pumped impossibly high, when only yesterday it had been normal.  It was hitting the Apollo prime head on at the Thorn.  There were numerous other torrents and whirlpools, the latest in the escalating series of unpredictable incidents that had started to blight London in the last year.  There would be poltergeists tonight.  There would be telephone calls from the dead.  There would be fatal collisions between long lost twins driving the same model of car. 

Some reports of that sort were already filtering through into the media. 

It was already a Halloween like the date meant something.  That was something that the Team had never allowed to happen before. 

And yet that was going to be allowed.  Because of Hammersmith.  All those incidents had to be put aside because of last week’s incident, and its continuing consequences, the nature of which had become obvious only yesterday. 

Never before had they had to deal with so much at once. 

As the dream had underlined for Chartres, this was no coincidence. 

            He looked at the others.  These were the ‘experts’, the only people, traditionally, who knew what was really going on in London.  He himself cared deeply for the people who populated the metropolis, be they ever so humble.  He was obliged to care.  He had nudged and levered that population through visions and waking nightmares and dreams come true for several decades now.  Besides that, he had protected them utterly for what everyone suspected lay in the darkness, only glimpses of which were ever allowed into the realm of the ‘real’.  From the things that the Team only half saw, and were grateful to be prevented from fully glimpsing.

            He cared for the people, though he didn’t see himself as one of them.  Though he didn’t like them.  Individually, or as a mob. 

            But this lot?  What did noblesse oblige mean to them?  They probably couldn’t even spell it.  They liked the mob, they were the mob.  But they didn’t care like he did. 

Who were these four people who, for all their aquaintance, he knew so little about? 

 

Sheila Kennet, LL.B., was a criminal defence lawyer from a firm in Chancery Lane.  She had long brunette hair, now greying, but still kept in a torrent of tails down her back.  This gave her the look of some New Age wisewoman.  But Chartres was sure she knew exactly how she looked, and used that to her advantage.  Kennet was always talking about how unsafe she felt in the streets, but spent all her life, as far as Chartres could see, stopping people who were guilty from being locked up.  She talked about her profession as if it was a game, as if the opposing counsel really should just try harder if they wanted justice to be done.  None of this, her high, questioning tone of voice seemed to say, was her fault. 

 

Meadow Arungye MP was a Junior Planning Minister.  Her constituency was Camberwell and Peckham.  Her accent was South London foundation, Westminster walls, Washington windows.  She was more precise and tight-lipped in her speech than anyone Chartres had ever met.  He suspected that she was continually aware that the big anger she would sometimes display, which seemed more about frustration than anything else, could be mocked, that when she yelled she sounded like someone pulling hair on a daytime talk show.  She had that passion, but it was not for her party in government, which she frequently railed about, but for a platonic version of said party, always just a push and a rush away. 

 

Adam Fletcher was Senior Producer: Current Affairs at the BBC.  Apparently, he’d had a flirtation with tabloid journalism in the 1990s, and was seen within the Corporation and the Fourth Estate therefore as a good all round man who’d nevertheless seen the error of his ways, because television journalists were brothers with their colleagues in grubby print, and yet not. Fletcher’s favourite thing, over a few drinks, was to tell stories about how far it had gone, and to seem, with a jaunty cynicism, not to care, to be swimming in it.  Sometimes he’d got one over on those who imposed regulations on life, or pointed out how they were missing common sense.  To Chartres, if those occasions were serious enough for comment, they were serious enough to do something about, to send either potential for action or new imagination or a devastating poltergeist in their direction.  But to Fletcher the world seemed to be weather rather than raw material.  He did not do, he was done to. 

 

But of all these cynics and riven doubters, Walstein was the worst. 

Prof. Michael Walstein was a former Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Studies at Yale Divinity, and a former Rabbi, not in that order.  Thin and slightly bearded, he wore a long grey coat and a red scarf and pinstripes and waistcoat like this was the Seventies. 

He didn’t have the bearing that other Jewish divines Chartres had met had.  He still seemed surprised to be an adult. 

He’d told Chartres some revealing stories about himself, before he realised that the Englishman was embarrassed by them.  Chartres could recall the images now.  Walstein had once walked out of the sukkah at the Joseph Slifka Center, the leaves falling all around him, and had fallen with them, his head so full of doubt that he couldn’t walk and think at the same time, he said.  He had sat there in the leaves like a fool until some passer-by had insisted he get up. 

He’d said that the first time, following his loss of faith, that he’d shaved his beard, he’d stared at his bloody face in the bathroom mirror and hated himself so hard he felt that he was looking at Satan and had had to go and walk around and around in the rain until all feeling had left him. 

Walstein was the worst because Chartres would have so liked to be able to share his fears with him. 

But Walstein was the most knotted man.  An ‘atheist theologian’.  An expert in something he regarded as nothing.  A man staring at the hole in his own life.

Just as Chartres was. 

Which meant there could be no comfort there. 

 

Yes, these five had sorted out much, over the years.  But they were used to sorting out small things.  Nudging the flow here and there.  At this time last year the biggest problem had concerned the Wetherspoon’s chain buying up another old pub, one of the many Marquess of Granbys in London, renaming and redeveloping it, and even that had been a simple matter of balancing things based on the standard layout of the new building. 

            There had been nothing much for Halloween, a couple of new ghosts allowed.  Everything in the dark was kept in the dark, and hadn’t even bumped against the locks.  The horrifying unconsciousness of London hadn’t had the chance to express itself.

            But now, a year later, it did. 

As he looked at the faces of his Team, the image in Chartres’ mind was suddenly that of a surgeon, with hands wobbling, of something going wrong in the middle of the operation, with blood spilling all over the stone of the table.  His hands, his tottering pile of plates, his shakiness, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  He saw the table split in two. 

He called order, got them all to come and sit down. 

As they did so, there was a sudden sound from outside.  A muffled crash and then childish laughter.  Sniggering arrogance.  For the third night in a row, youths were hanging about in the courtyard between the skyscrapers.  That was meant to be impossible.  Like so many things that were starting to happen now, faster and faster. 

            Chartres called security, and got them to go out and look for the hoodies in question.  On the previous two nights, they hadn’t been able to apprehend anyone. 

            ‘And the police can’t be bothered,’ said Kennet, sitting down.

            ‘Not until someone gets stabbed,’ said Fletcher beside him.

             ‘If we don’t do something,’ said Chartres, ‘those hooligans will be wandering the Henly Regatta and sulking in the queues at the Ideal Home Exhibition.’

‘We’re not engaged in social control -‘ began Arungye. 

            ‘That’s a matter of opinion,’ said Chartres.  ‘It used not to be, but somehow it is now.’  He felt like saying to the others that they could go now, that they had never understood, and tonight there would be a reckoning which would be beyond them.  But no.  He had to play this to its end.  And they deserved to be with him.  ‘So.  The Hammersmith incident.  We discovered the full nature of what happened only late last night.  This evening we must find out as much as possible –‘

            ‘Work out why it happened,’ said Fletcher.  ‘Maybe set up some kind of group to see what can be done to stop it happening again.’

            ‘Liase with the relevant authorities,’ said Arungye, ‘see what social factors are in play.’

Some kind of group thought Chartres.  Relevant authorities! 

But aloud he said only: ‘Let’s look at the model, shall we?’ 

He went over to the wall panel and pressed a button.  The light changed as the lantern moved into the correct position.  Chartres moved his hands into a pleading shape to match with the new angle of the roof, as he had so many times before, and vast shadows flapped across the walls, as the presence of something huge and real, that felt like Chartres’ first time at the cinema as a child, settled across the room. 

            An instant later, there it was, laid out on the stone table, the greatest privilege his Team had, their subject and object: the entirity of the two cities of London and Westminster, and all the surrounding boroughs of Greater London, wrapped around the river, and standing solid on the stone.  It was produced by a ‘rare visual protocol’.  The records gave no indication of how rare, of what rare even meant in this case.  The vision portrayed the real thing, the actual place, at this very moment.  Chartres, or any of them, could reach down with a finger, and make the buildings grow huge around them and pass through them. 

            At this moment the city was illuminated only by the lights of the buildings, rather than by the small actual sun which would have been visible on the wall of the chamber for a daytime scene.  The brake lights of tiny vehicles glowed on the streets.  Tiny aircraft stacked in a spiral above Heathrow and Gatwick and London City Airport blinked red and green, orbiting sublimely through the heads of the Team.  The vision was full of movement.  It didn’t display artefacts of artificial vision, flares and wobbles, like a camera view would.  It felt real and alive. 

            Chartres had told them all the rules when he had first shown each of them this protocol: do not use it for the purposes of lechery or romance; do not attempt to make money from it, for both these would rebound horribly and hundredfold on the culprit, action and reaction, as had happened on a few occasions in the centuries past, and do not look too closely for crime, because that got messy and their police contacts were at a high level and didn’t appreciate being woken up.  None of them had attempted to do any of those things: such rich and meaningful villainy was not for such as they. 

Chartres flicked the air with his finger, and now they could all see the flow.  It was represented as a red stream, that did not visibly flow as such, but rather held its shape and fluttered, like the aurora, a field made visible.  It entered London along the river, and vaguely at the compass points, sixteenths and eighths as well as quarters, and it darted in and tucked itself inside at various other places too.  The closer you looked, the more it worked its way into the fine detail. 

Chartres was sure it looked different now.  That feeling came from decades of seeing this image.  But he wasn’t certain how.  Was the colour of the flow slightly different?  Did it writhe in a different way, one that was somehow wrong?  Had it been a rainbow then, and was it a twisted skein now? 

Was the city itself becoming newly, increasingly wrong, and was the flow just reflecting that?  Chartres heard the news stories like everyone else, of modern degredation and predation.  London seemed to be going the same way as the country and the whole world beyond.  He heard Fletcher and Kennet sighingly accepting modern evil, Arungye angrily daring the universe by insisting that everyone was good and if they weren’t it was the fault of social forces. 

Both responses made him wince.

And Walstein, of course, had no answer at all.

He looked at the cities, his cities, now, and knew in his elderly body that they were going to Hell.

And that something had to be done.

And that he and the people with him were probably not going to be equal to that task. 

Because of his appointment tonight. 

He nodded to Kennet, to do this all in the right order.  ‘Overlay the general crime rate, please.’

            Kennet made a hand gesture, and the various boroughs glowed with different shades, from the leafy green of High Holborn at night, when there was hardly anyone present, to the blazing autumnal violence of Tower Hamlets and Edmonton. 

‘The actual crime rate is much the same,’ said Kennet.  ‘It holds steady, averaged out.  But look here, one or two incidents in places they just shouldn’t happen, like our kids in the courtyard.  And the events keep happening, and keep happening, as we run through the last month.’  The shades flickered and flared to these experienced eyes.  ‘When we first started noticing this, a year ago, we put it down to a normal fluctuation, maybe some minor new non flow element in play.  Events that we wouldn’t normally expect to see coming.  But now we know that can’t be the case, this is too persistent.  Too many surprises coming our way.’

            ‘It’s like there’s a new building,’ said Fletcher.  ‘A whole new borough!  And we’re not seeing it!’

‘And it seems the public know.’  Kennet made a new gesture.  Suddenly the whole panorama was raging red at them.  There were clickings of tongues and intakes of breath.  ‘The perception of crime is through the roof.’

            ‘Calls for tougher sentences while the prisons are full,’ muttered Fletcher.

‘The general public still hardly ever see crime, but they feel they might, any moment.’

‘It was always thus,’ said Walstein, quietly.

            Everyone looked at him, surprised to hear him speak.  He had been largely silent for several weeks now.

            ‘You think?!’ said Kennet. 

            ‘Oh come on!’ said Fletcher.

            ‘Perception of crime is deliberately manipulated by the government –‘ said Arungye.

            ‘Still can’t bring herself to say by us,’ murmured Chartres. 

            ‘The public know something’s going on, that something can hurt them,’ Kennet concluded. ‘But they don’t know what.’

            ‘The wisdom of crowds,’ said Chartres.  ‘One wishes they could display it individually.  So.  Let us view the Hammersmith event as part of that pattern.  As the biggest example yet of one of those nasty surprises.’  He made a tapping gesture in the air, mentally finding the right date and place, and suddenly London reared up around them again, and they were standing in a street in Hammersmith, in the early evening dark.  Huge public movement.  Many people, going between the two tube stations, many cars, snack bars, rows of cheap hotels, the gleaming monoliths of big hotels.  A borough caught between going upmarket or staying down. 

‘I’ll bet it’s the CCTV cameras,’ muttered Fletcher, nodding up at one on the side of a building.  ‘Thousands of those, new shapes, with meaning, maybe they’ve done something to the flow?  That’s karma for you: surveillance state global warming!  Our government makes us the most observed society in the world, and as a result -‘

‘I wish there was something we could do,’ Arungye was nodding quickly at the hypothesis. 

Chartres once more could only stare at her. 

But the others were nodding along. 

Except Walstein who wasn’t expected to agree with anything these days. 

Chartres found he had to say something.  ‘If you feel so strongly, Adam, what’s the BBC doing on that?  Where’s your leadership?’

            ‘We can’t lead,’ began Fletcher, ‘only reflect –‘

            Chartres put a hand to his own forehead.  If only that were true.  But he was sure Fletcher believed it.  ‘We are,’ he said, perhaps a trifle bitterly, ‘a secret cabal, the hidden rulers of London, armed with ancient and powerful knowledge.  Perhaps every now and then we might feel able to do something?’

            The others looked at him scornfully, and were about to begin all their different versions of why not.

            ‘The Hammersmith incident,’ he said.  ‘Now.’

 

It was a pub at the corner of two enormous traffic thoroughfares.  The pub itself was one of those like the keel of a great schooner, an Edwardian cliff face, something half way between a music hall bill poster and a decorative cash register.  Its highest windows, where there should have been neat lace curtains, now showed only the dead eyes of cardboard boxes and bare lightbulbs.  The pub was cut off from any neighbours, the buildings behind it having been demolished, a wire fence around the brownfield, and a sign announcing construction, but of what wasn’t immediately obvious.  It looked like the site had been empty for quite a while, graffitti across the signs warning of guard dogs.  The gap had been caught between prices, between the two different directions the area was trying to go.  So the pub was left stranded, a relic, like it had been at ground zero for a very slow bomb. 

It was a week ago, the clock with Roman numerals in the top right hand of the protocol view said.  Rain was falling through the Team as they became the right size to see, swept up to the pub, then whizzed in through the front wall. 

 

They were in what could still be called a parlour.  Photographs and items on the wall that genuinely belonged to the history of the building, rather than having been chosen by some central authority for their carefully meaningless eccentricity.  Deep russet wallpaper, a William Morris knockoff, the gold highlights faded to black with old smoke.  Somebody’s trumpet, with dents in it.  The floor was clean swept, but the boards were old, and in places nails had come away, and there would be a creak near the burnished golden green rail at the bottom of the bar.  There was a sign on the wall inviting ‘regulars’ to sign up for pub cricket, with a list of names in wandery biro below.  But as Chartres noted, chalk slates about bands and pub quizzes had misplaced and added apostrophes all over the place. 

            He hated noticing such things.  He hated the fools who couldn’t be bothered to ask someone who knew, and didn’t live in a world where anyone was ever going to correct them or chide them, and, worse than missed out apostrophes, added them.  He said that sort of thing out loud.  But inside him he also hated the pedants who enjoyed pointing these things out. 

            He loved the city but hated the people.  Almost every sort of the people now. 

            The people in the bar were still only silhouettes, the protocol waiting to be realigned into a shape that dealt with living objects as well as buildings and that acknowledged the movement of time once more.  There were many of those silhouettes, filling every corner of the public bar, and more could be seen through the door to the lounge. 

‘Surely there must have been violence here at some point before?’ said Kennet.

            ‘Yes,’ said Walstein.  He was really speaking up today.  ‘There must have been.  But only as... well, you always say it’s like water, so the foam on top of the waves, I guess.’  He was staring into the dark shapes, not looking at the rest of them.  His own metaphors for the flow, Chartres remembered, were always about blood.  He’d once told them that it was because that was how the everyday inhabitants of the city would have regarded it: the lifeblood of the place.  Chartres had said the trouble with that metaphor was that it was usually used to refer to the people themselves, who in the business of the Team were just the unaware beneficiaries of, or more recently victims of, the flow. 

What was it about Walstein these days?  He’d been withdrawn for months.  Chartres had never found it appropriate to ask, and the hideous approaches of the others had resulted in just shrugs and claims that he was fine. 

‘In two minutes from this point,’ said Chartres, ‘such considerations are rendered meaningless by an enormous surge of the flow, right into this building.  A random wave.  Or so it seemed at the time.’  He flicked his hand towards the clock and time and people and noise burst in. 

The pub was mostly filled with office workers, young men and women in suits, who had seized every table having got out of work early for the weekend.  They were still coming in, those who hadn’t got out early, shrugging water off shoulders, folding in umbrellas, pushing for the bar.  There were Eastern European construction workers, an Indian man and his wife eating a very late lunch or an early dinner. 

Through the door from the lounge bar came a single black youth in a huge puffed up silver coat.  He was enormous, intimidating with his weight rather than his muscles.  His face was fat and smooth.  He carried a loudspeaker on his shoulder, connected to something behind him.  It looked like it had been taken from a much bigger system.  Nobody paid him much attention.  He looked like he was carrying something somewhere.  He nodded behind him, and someone in the other bar hit a switch. 

Enormously loud music started to pump into the room.  Chartres assumed this was what they called Hip Hop.  It was ghastly.  Mostly shouted boasts and expletives. 

Groans and calls to turn it off came from the crowd.  The reaction to the music was actually slightly louder than the music itself.  The conversation of the room shifted up in volume to accomodate it, like an accelerated version of pub music on any night.  They were competing on even terms. 

So whoever was in the next room turned it up even louder.  The boy stayed put, striking an unconcerned expression.  Chartres looked at him.  He spent a lot of his time in this protocol being luxuriously able to stare at people of other races and classes.  But he still found little in the way of fellow feeling.  Surely this boy’s choices were designed to alienate, to make people scared of him?  That affectation of a warlike sang froid, his face set against the world.  Well, against the mob, which actually could be charming.  He did not look unkempt.  The swirls and patterns in his hair were clearly aesthetic choices.  If only he displayed some fellow feeling. 

Were these themselves racist thoughts?  Perhaps.  Chartes felt that almost anything he thought or said could be.  Nobody seemed to be able to define it, or know whether they were allowed to define it.  All the isms to him seemed like forces in themselves, like the flow, to be used as weapons by experts or as comforts for fools. 

He glanced over.  Walstein had walked off into a corner and was looking at something on the wall. 

Chartres looked back to the shape of the crowd, wondering how it might have contributed, through the angle of arms and bodies, to what happened next, how it had affected the flow when it hit.  But all he ended up seeing were expressions, reactions.  There was a bit of forced humour: white kids and young office workers taking the piss.  There were some slow careful calls.  ‘What... did... you... say?  Can’t hear you, mate!’  There were rolled eyes from middle aged folk.  An old man was waving a beer mat like it gave him moral authority, shouting to turn that rubbish off.  Some girls were mock dancing, laughing their heads off, ooh, was it a party already?!  In a moment they would be dancing amongst the flow that was about to do something terrible here.  Chartres caught a couple of looks of pity, people who thought the boy was ill somehow, mentally retarded, maybe on drugs.  He looked back to the boy and saw all of those things in his face too, potentially.  His expression was giving away nothing, and thus allowing every reading.  But looking back to the crowd, the biggest thing he saw, growing a little now, was fear.  A few people at the door started to turn and go out again, realising that the sheer volume meant that something odd was going on.

‘The flow comes in... now,’ he said. 

The Team tried to feel it and couldn’t.  It was one of the accepted limitations of the job. Like software programmers they couldn’t naturally sense the things they dealt with.  They had to encounter them second hand through the functions of protocols.  Chartres flexed his fingers to do just that, and the bar filled with red, red everywhere, suddenly rolling in through the doors and windows, and down what must have been an open chimney flue, and bursting around the room, walloping silently round tables, whirling around the standing people and smashing in a tidal wave against the bar.  Nobody reacted, nobody was aware.  It rushed past the youth with the speaker on his shoulder, engulfing him over his head for a moment.  He bore that stoically, as he did everything else. 

Chartres realised that he had been worried that the boy would be aware of it, somehow be prepared to make use of it.  But no, rare were those that did that.  Rare and kept in their place by the Team, out of sight.  Or so they had long assumed.  The boy knew nothing.

A member of the bar staff detached himself from serving people and made his way over to the teenager.  He started to yell at him to turn that thing off!

A whole group of black kids walked in from the other bar.  They had been waiting for that to happen.  They started to loudly abuse the barman, so taking it in turns that it was obviously rehearsed, one pointing at him high, one walking into him low, pushing him back shoulder shoulder shoulder.  The barman was solid, a Kiwi, but he was taken aback, his anger made him weak in the face of organisation. 

Chartres could feel it.  The moment when the entire feeling of the crowd turned to fear. 

One of the kids shouted loudly and sudden, cowing the crowd with his power.  He laughed and started marching for the door, past his crew, through Chartres and Arungye, as if this was all a huge diversion so that he might strut away, unidentified under his hood, like he’d been buying drugs in the toilets or snorting or smoking, or just that he wanted to flaunt his exit looking like he’d done that. 

‘Everyone –‘ said Walstein from where he was looking. 

The kid in the hood reached the door and instead of calling out some final proclamation and letting the door slam behind him, suddenly dipped and expertly, choreographically, slid the three bolts closed, bang bang bang. 

In one move the other kids all pulled out guns. 

Chartres didn’t know what kind they were.  They looked stocky and efficient. 

The crowd went crazy.  People burst back from each other, fell into each other, slamming a circle out around the kids, all imagining that they themselves would be the target, all suddenly having the fictional image of what could one day happen to them made real.  The ones at the front slammed into the ones behind them and tried to claw to get through, arms fighting against arms, all stumbling.  The bar staff threw themselves flat or reached gently and slowly for door handles, hating that they’d been put in the position of being the guy that does that in the movie, more uselessly nightmare paralysed that they ever thought they could be.  People pissed themselves as the little os of the gun barrels swept past them.  The sudden smell of shit and piss hit your nostrils and pumped up the fear even more. 

Walstein still stood looking at the wall, the packed screaming yelling mob running right through him.  

The kids with the guns gave out one more shared high laugh, a bray of defiant power, they all flung their weapons upwards and cocked them at once –

And then they spun in a coordinated circle, making pow pow pow chattering noises in their throats, mowing down the crowd only in their imagination. 

Chartres could visualise the imaginary rounds, flying through the crowd, hitting random targets, ricocheting, chopping through himself and Kennet and Arungye and Fletcher, but not Walstein, protected as he was by all those bodies. 

They’re just children, he thought.  How old can they be?  And they don’t know anything, they just planned a joke.  Those only look like real guns.  And how much do they, really?  You can see they’re plastic, now you know. 

The kids stopped firing and laughed again.  Their friend in the hood at the door flung the bolts back and he was out and the group legged it –

They didn’t make it. 

There had been just a slight hesitation, a fear at stopping them, an embarrassment even – how bad had what just happened been?  All right?  No, very bad.  Very bad! 

Justification.

Horrifying, sweet justification.

The crowd leapt at them.  Engulfed them.  The first bodies in their way and feet stuck out at them became men in suits flying at them and a fist landing solidly in the middle of a face because they knew now, those guns were toys, and some of these lads were pissed up and now the rest didn’t care –

The black children went under. 

The music was crushed into them, then the speaker flew out to one side, smashed.

The men on top, the girls following, the old man walking around the outside.  Kicks being flung at full power into the mass.  The construction workers were running up and kicking in, shouting things at enormous vicious red faced volume that Chartres couldn’t understand. 

The children must have thought they were invulnerable.  That they’d dash out laughing.  Having done a terrible thing.  And now a terrible thing was being done to them and so their terrible thing suddenly didn’t feel like much more than a prank.

Not to the watching architects.  With all their distance.  To varying degrees.

‘You can’t really say they deserved it,’ said Fletcher. 

Arungye nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder.  She was making herself watch all of it. 

Walstein was still staring at whatever he’d found.

‘One of them died, crush injuries, the others survived,’ said Kennet.  ‘Seven of those participating in the attack have been arrested, and all of the kids.  I’m hoping to be in the gallery for when the latter gets to court.  If it were my case, I’d very much want to make the opening statement and get them on the stand early, establish our narrative first.  A jury tends to listen to the first story they’re given these days and want to listen less to the second.’ 

‘Everyone,’ said Walstein.  ‘You have to see this.’

They made their way through the watching, cheering, attacking, sobbing, comforting, cleaning themselves, mob, to where Walstein was looking at a picture on the wall.  Chartres took away the protocol sound so that they could hear him.

The photograph was of a football team, in long shorts of the old sort.  Sometime in the 1930s by the look of it.  This pub’s team.  They were lined up in three rows, the front man with his arms crossed, one foot on the ball.  Walstein put his finger on the picture.  ‘Walstein,’ he said, touching the chest of a man with a beard.  The name was indeed written in longhand in faded ink under the picture with all the others.  He slid his finger down diagonally to the right.  ‘Fletcher.’  Across the middle row to the left.  ‘Chartres.’  Up diagonally to the right.  ‘Kennet.’  He turned to look at them, met their astonished gazes. 

‘Carpenter,’ said Arungye.  ‘My grandfather.’

Walstein slid his finger down to the bottom row, in the middle, to the man with the football. 

Under the picture was written one word, in the same longhand.

Amateurs.

Chartres felt the knot tie in his stomach. 

‘What does it mean?’ said Fletcher.  Nobody answered him.  Then: ‘is this real?  I mean... does anyone know if this team really –?‘

‘What are the chances?!’ said Kennet.

‘And on top of that it just happens to be here?!’ said Fletcher. 

‘Someone is laughing at us,’ whispered Arungye. 

Chartres finally felt able to let out what he’d known in his heart of hearts for so long.  ‘This isn’t what we’ve dealt with before,’ he said.  ‘This is enemy action.’

 

They stood there looking for several minutes.  But nothing more revealed itself. 

They had to see what happened next.  What they had become aware of, through readings and news reports, last night.  But now a terrible new context had been placed on that. 

            Chartres made the gesture, and it was with a feeling of relief that they grew out through the ceiling of the pub, and stood high above the buildings again.  He put the flow back into the model, and the streets of London were full of pulsing red again.  A red that splashed out in concentric ripples from around the pub as tiny police officers dragged tiny people out one by one, and tiny paramedics rushed in behind them.  The red ripples hit other waves of redness and rebounded, intersected, set up interference patterns through the nearby buildings.  Lightning strikes out of clear skies and lottery wins.  Wrong numbers that turned out to be from long lost relatives.  Mummified cats whispering up chimneys and bedroom visitors. 

            But now.  All motivated by an enemy. 

            Now they knew.  Someone was playing against them. 

            Dear God.

Chartres slowed down the spread of the ripples.  ‘We shall follow the interactions in the week after the pub incident,’ he said, hoping the others couldn’t see his hands shaking once more.  He let the flow move again, and the interactions of red on red flashed here and here and here and here... chain- reactioning in a straight line across town. 

            He pulled them out of the model again, and they could see the lines of coincidence flashing in a great star out from Hammersmith, building with every interaction –!

            ‘That’s not possible,’ said Kennet.  ‘Energy declines, it doesn’t increase!  Those kids –‘

            ‘Had no idea,’ said Chartres.  ‘If they had, they would have saved themselves.  Our enemy is pushing the wheel.’  He slapped the air.  They zoomed in on one of the blazes of red right at the edge of the model.  Where the train of chain reactions had slammed to a halt.  They were standing in Cricklewood, in a street that was a daytime orgy of pound shops with baskets outside and spilling grocers and specialist bagel shops and dusty laundries.  Money and poverty fighting again, every other front garden blooming, every other one empty or rotting, students or shift workers.  Wholesome terraced streets, divided into flats. 

Chartres found one of those flats blazing with red at that moment, that moment being a Friday lunchtime.  Chartres knew that flash of red gave the potential for almost anything to be inside the room they were about to enter.  And there were many of them like this, at this exact moment, in a circle around London. 

It was like a tune suddenly appearing out of white noise.  Or a voice.

The five of them braced themselves and looked at each other.  Then they went inside. 

 

It was a neatly-kept shared house bedroom.  Nobody here.  Posters, piles of CDs, suits hung from the wardrobe.  A young woman in her first job in town, maybe.  Chartres, wary, hadn’t allowed time into the model.

            They moved out into the hallway.  A young man going into another bedroom, frozen in mid-step.  The bathroom door was closed.  A smell hung in the air, in the curious way that smells did in the model when time wasn’t factored in, somehow a dead smell, the imprint of a smell that slapped across your face like a wet curtain. 

            Arungye went through the bathroom door on her own, serious, committed, before the others could say anything.  They heard her make a sound.  Then she said for the others to come in.

            The young woman was in the bath.  Chartres averted his eyes.  He had seen, in that instant, that she had an old-fashioned cut-throat razor, poised at her wrist.  Bought from some antique shop down the road.  Maybe belonging to a housemate.  To do this in a shared house, so that everyone would debate whose fault it was, say they saw no sign, she had been so happy –

            That distant love for them could still hurt him sometimes.

            Chartres found himself looking at the girl in the bathroom mirror, and so turned to look at her fully.  She was staring straight ahead, her eyes fixed on something that only she was seeing.  Plain white bathroom tile.  A row of different shampoo bottles.  Whatever the prospect was for her, it seemed too much, an enormity that had reared up at her inside. 

            ‘She was at the pub!’ said Fletcher.  ‘I was looking at the crowd.  One of the kids jerked his gun and she reacted like she’d been shot.’

            ‘And here she is a week later,’ said Arungye.  ‘Post traumatic stress disorder?’

            ‘I’m sure we could call it that,’ said Chartres.  ‘I feel we should watch, don’t you?’

            At least they could all agree on that. 

            They stood there, remembering all the time that this was history, this was television, there was nothing they could do.  It was a lot worse than Chartres thought it was going to be.  She couldn’t get it right the first time, and kept trying, not desperately, but diligently.  They stayed until the bath was as red as the flow that played around it.  And then the pounding on the door started, angry at first and then concerned.  They left it there. 

            They found a note in her room.  She felt that God had left the world, it said, that she was already living in Hell. 

 

They visited the rest of the points where the flow had taken a week to accelerate to some distant suburb, gaining power all the time.  There were four more such destinations, in Walthamstow, Woolwich, Sydenham and Roehampton.

            At each site, the Team found someone from the pub, someone who had been at the front of the rehearsed ‘shooting’.  They followed the trail of flow around them back to the incident to confirm their presence, and saw that each had been ‘shot’, had in a moment thought their life was at an end. 

            They were all terrible deaths.  But they weren’t all suicides.  Logic and psychology were broken on the rock of that.  A song was roaring towards a singalong chorus.  A voice was delivering a message.

            In Walthamstow, a thin young man chained himself to a tree in the forest, and, against all probability, died from exposure in the rain, missing the eyeline of dog walkers and children and couples and dirt bike riders by metres in this ridiculously small wilderness.  He must have called out and missed their ears too, because the handcuffs he used had ripped red against his wrists and the bark had fallen from the tree in a circle around him.  He had changed his mind.  He was a student who had a vast and impenetrable theory that united mind and space.  His tutour had told him he had to relate it to established work to be given a mark. 

            In Woolwich, in a flat off Hare Street, scaffolding outside, a middle-aged lady peered anxiously out of the window.  She pulled her head back in as shouts came from below.  In the corners of her sitting room were stacked sacks of bird seed, and the smell of guano infested the building.  There was a pile of it by one window.  Local newspapers lay beside the sofa, ‘Bird Woman Won’t Budge.  Loony Laura Has Mental Home History’.  There came a knocking on the door, louder and louder.  An official voice saying she had to come out.  Health and safety.  She shook.  She took one of the newspapers, tore it into strips, and lit it as a taper from one of the rings in the kitchen.  Then she dropped it onto the pile of guano and yelled as the flame rushed up the curtains. 

            In Sydenham, a man in pyjamas and a Crystal Palace scarf sat on his toilet in his eerily clean bathroom.  He’d been there for four days, sleeping fitfully each night.  His skin had started to seal to the seat, he’d developed bedsores.  He took cold calls seeking money on his mobile phone from Amnesty International, and Oxfam and the Samaritans, the only ones who called him, and asked careful questions and stayed on the phone for as long as they did, and finally gave them his debit card number and pledged large sums of money.  His mobile phone number list was all organisations and fast food outlets.  Every now and then he called his local housing department, leaving desperate messages, saying he wanted to move, could someone please get back to him?  Then he left another message, on what Arungye recognised was her office’s answerphone.  He was hoping to move into Camberwell, he said, where he would know more people.  On the last night, he reached across to his medicine cabinet and found antidepressants and painkillers and many other things in long out of date bottles and took everything he could get his hands on, washing them down with water from the bath tap.  Then he lolled his head to one side and died, his flesh tearing from the toilet seat. 

            Arungye started to cry. 

            In Roehampton, a car took a corner on a windy suburban estate too fast, driven by a boy in a white cap, with three of his mates in the back, and it slewed sideways into a row of nannies and pushchairs.  A Polish girl who had been at the pub had one second in which she had literally thrown the child in her care away, saving its life.  She had been the only one to die.  She was pinned up against the low wall by the car, and was talking, swiftly and with conviction, as the paramedics tried to free her.  She talked about legal fees and compensation, animated and freely moving between her two languages, until they had no choice but to attempt to move the weight of the engine that was keeping her internal organs in order, and before steps could be taken to correct that, she died on the pavement, gouting blood from her mouth.  The driver was arrested three days later, having fled the scene of the crime.  He talked about obviously feeling bad, like, but he’d been so scared, but he couldn’t summon up tears in court.  He just stared at the jury, and when asked why he’d accelerated going into the corner, he just said ‘dunno’.  When the victim’s mother made an impact of crime statement, tears running down her face, he couldn’t keep his act up any longer.  He started to laugh at her accent, and couldn’t stop.  He named the three other kids in the vehicle.  They couldn’t agree on a story or a lawyer and all ended up blaming each other to the point where none of the passengers were charged. 

            Chartres finally told the Team that they had to stop this.  They had been in the model for hours. 

 

They dropped their hands.  They stood there around the table. 

            All five concussions of accelerating flow had gone off, equally spaced around the boundaries of London, to terrible effect.  All at the same time. 

            ‘And they were all about us,’ whispered Arungye. 

            Chartres didn’t understand.

            ‘Our five different specialities!  One was let down by an academic, one by a... a politician... It’s like whoever put the energy into arranging all that... ‘

            ‘It’s like they were judging us,’ said Kennet.  ‘But it’s not fair!  It’s not as if we’re responsible for those particular things!  It was!  It’s altered the flow on a huge scale, it must have been making things worse and worse for such a long time.  We’re... we’re not responsible for letting it.  Are we?’

            ‘At first I thought we might be playing against the intelligence services or the government,’ said Fletcher, ‘but... it’s like we’re facing some sort of...’

            ‘Ultimate authority,’ said Walstein. 

            ‘When we thought it was just us,’ finished Chartres.  He was looking at the clock.  It was nearly midnight.

Not long left now.  Until his appointment. 

Or perhaps now they had seen that, now they were aware that there was an enemy... Maybe that was the whole message of his dream?  Maybe he should work with the Team after all, start to dig deeper, bring them all together.  They could start by going to that pub, seeing if that photo was really on the wall.  He cleared his throat. 

There came a noise from outside.  That same high laughter. 

            ‘It’s been hours,’ said Kennet.  ‘How can they still be there?!’

            Chartres went to the intercom and called security.  There was no answer.

            He’d almost expected that. 

            No, he had definitely expected that. 

            For the first time in months he wanted to reach out.  ‘I had a dream -’ he began, aware of how weak and afraid his voice sounded, but for the first time not caring.

            Something slammed against the door. 

            Everyone stopped and looked in that direction. 

            The impact came again, the door bulging inwards. 

‘My God,’ said Fletcher.  ‘They’re here.’

‘Judge, jury and executioner!’ cried Kennet. 

            They backed into the chamber, looking around for something to help them.

            Chartres stared at the door.  Could it hold?  Could something as old as this building hold out against -?

            The door burst off its hinges and fell into the room. 

            Night came with it.    

            Into the room strode a huge figure.  It seemed to grow as it walked through the doorway, its feet treading on holy ground. 

            It was half-formed.  It reminded Chartres slightly of the boy with the speaker on his shoulder.  That huge passive solidity.  Chartres felt it wanted him to look at it, as he had looked at the boy.  There were parts of it he couldn’t see.  It demanded something of him, wanting to be filled in.  It wore a hood, covering its features completely. 

            It walked towards them. 

            Arungye tried a defensive protocol, not used in centuries.  Chartres was surprised at how potentially useful she was.  But the gesture failed, or she got it wrong. 

            Chartres wasn’t surpised.  They had messed this up.  Under his watch, over decades, more and more.  It was his fault and all their faults.  He was now facing the ultimate authority.  And he couldn’t think of a single word to say.  And he had been told all of this, and still come here, as if he was pleading guilty. 

            The shape raised its hands into the position that caused the model to spring into life.         

            They were suddenly amongst London again.

            And zooming in.  Zooming in.  To Rotherhithe.  To the twirled De Souza and Raymonde skyscraper. 

            ‘No,’ said Chartres.  ‘This is one of those things tradition tells us we must never do.’

But the shape kept going.  Towards the meeting chamber looking awkward and meaningless in the real rain.  Straight down at it.  Faster and faster. 

‘That sensation you’re feeling,’ said a voice, and it sounded like the voice of the Mayor in Chartres’ dream, ‘that sense of unfairness at someone else judging you?  That’s what people in previous generations used to call a conscience.’ 

And then it started to laugh again.  That cultured laugh of deep tradition was the same high laugh as the youths heard distantly. 

            The vision had sped through the wall. 

And there they all were.

They were standing amongst themselves. 

They couldn’t help it.  They looked. 

Chartres looked at himself, who was looking at himself, who was looking at himself, and the selves vanished to a terrifying collapsed point in the distance, a hole which he realised could look right back into him and –

It swallowed him. 

 

Michael Walstein did not look.

            He stood there, his shoulders hunched, his eyes firmly closed.  He knew he was the last of the five now. 

            ‘Why don’t you look?’ said the voice of the thing in the hood.

            ‘I will not look at myself,’ said Michael.

            ‘Because it’s forbidden?’

            ‘No.  Because I know what I would see.’

            ‘You’re as divided as any of them.’

            ‘But I know it.  And I know you used it.’  Michael reached out a hand.  He touched the nightmare stuff of the shape’s hood.  It felt like no real fabric he’d ever touched. 

            He pulled suddenly and opened his eyes and saw what he did want to see.

Right into the thing’s face. 

And midnight came and judgement passed over the building. 

 

The next morning, people arrived for work in the courtyard between the high buildings when the shadows were still short, the cleaners first, then the new shift of security people, who heard nothing to report from the old shift, and then the workers, many of them, and the visitors, some of whom looked across to the garden annex and saw –

            Nothing.  Bare pavement.  Where that actually stood a ruin of something old.

            People indeed were already walking amongst it, like there was nothing there and never had been. 

            In the ruin or open space stood a man in a long coat and a waistcoat who looked like a battered tramp.  He had a wild expression on his face.  His eyes couldn’t focus. 

            Security found him after he’d been standing there for an hour.  They asked him to move on.  They knew of no building where he stood.

            ‘There’s no authority now,’ he told them.  ‘No priviliged point of view.  It can all get out.  It can do what it likes.  Nobody is safe.’

            Security nodded along, and marched him out of the courtyard, and pushed him off into greater London beyond. 

            When he told them he couldn’t remember his name, they entirely believed him. 

‘Who is going to save us?’ he asked, standing on the corner, staring in two directions at once. 

And that was where they left him.