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'Aaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhh!' Big Bob bounced upon his head and burst back into the present day. He landed, with the thud which is known as bone-shuddering, onto the nasty plasticized square on the ersatz turf of the bogus Butt's Estate.

'you were rubbish,' said the great and terrible voice. 'you had three whole hours and you lost the game in less than three minutes.'

'No,' cried Big Bob, all rolled up in a ball. 'Not fair. I didn't do that to the woman. It was Cowan Phillips.'

he had to keep the secret. you should have used his memories and found another way to warn the world. you lost big time. that's the second of your three lives gone.'

Big Bob clutched at his aching head. 'You cheat. All the time you cheat. Thou low and loathsome honourless cur.'

'you're A very bad loser,' said the voice and its mocking tone raised Bob to newfound heights of fury.

He leapt up to his feet and shook his fists at the sky. 'I'll do for you,' he shouted. 'You will know my wrath.'

'go on then,' the voice mocked on. 'do your worst. you cannot fight what you cannot see. you are ours to do with as we wish.'

Big Bob sat down on the square and rested his big broad forehead on his knees. He was back in the superman suit, but he felt far from super.

'time for level three,' said the large and terrible voice.

Big Bob rammed his fingers deeply into his ears.

'up and at it,' the voice continued, large and loud as ever.

'Say that again,' said Bob, withdrawing his fingers from his ears.

'you heard me the first time,' Said the Voice.

'Yes,' said Bob nodding. 'I did.'

'then off your bum and on with the game.'

A smile appeared on the face of Big Bob. 'No,' said he. 'I won't.'

'then you will be downloaded into nothingness.'

Big Bob now grinned hugely. 'No,' said he. 'I thinkest not.'

'ten nine eight'

'Forget it,' said Big Bob. 'I'm not frightened at all.'

'you saw what happened to periwig tombs and the lady with the unpronounceable name.'

'Did I?' said Bob. 'I thinkest not, once again.

they vanished away in front of your eyes.

Oh no they didn't,' said Big Bob.

'oh yes they did.'

'Oh no they didn't.'




'No,' and Big Bob shook his head and then he tapped at his temple. 'It's all here. All in my head. Thou messest with my mind. You told me so yourself. "We're inside your head," you said. And now I know what you are. You're computer-game systems brought to life by this Mute-chip thing. Somehow you got inside me. Now how didst thou do that, I wonder?'

Big Bob scratched at his great big brow. 'I'm not too good on technical stuff,' he said. 'But thou knowest that, for thou art in my head. How so? askest I. How didst thou get into my head?'

'player three you forfeit the game. you're out.'

'you're out?' said Big Bob. 'Yes that's it.'

'he knows,' said the large voice number two. 'he's worked it out.'

'Worked it out,' said Big Bob. 'You've worked your way out.'

'he can't know,' said large voice number one.

'he's just a dim-witted tour bus guide with a cretinous line in cod bible-speak.'

'he had access to the memories of cowan phillips. he's putting two and two together.'

'I know,' said Big Bob, beating his right fist into his big left palm. 'And I could never have reasoned it out if you hadn't let me into Cowan Phillips's head. You have infected me. Like a virus. Indeed yes, a computer virus. The Mute-chip is digitized human DNA. It's inside the computer systems and now it's out. It worked its way out. Thou art very quiet inside my head. Hast thou nothing to say?'

'prepare yourself to be downloaded,' said the large and terrible voice. Although to Big Bob it didn't seem so large and terrible any more. Loud, though. Very loud. And very very angry.

'So I caught you,' said Big Bob. 'I caught the virus, this thing that is affecting my mind. That is letting you manipulate my thoughts. Play your games with me. But, and verily, askest I, how did I catch you? I have no computer. Oh yes. I know.'

'he definitely knows,' said large voice number two.

'The boy on the bus,' said Big Bob. 'Malkuth, son of the lady in the straw hat, whose name no man can pronounce. His mother said that he played computer games all the time. And she kept hitting him. And Periwig and I shook his clammy hand. His clammy and infected hand. I caught you from him.'

'give the geezer a big cigar,' said large voice number two.

'we must give him death,' said large voice number one. 'the knowledge of this secret must die with him.'

'You can't hurt me,' said Big Bob. 'I know what you are. You're an infection. I am big and strong. I can fight you off.'

'oh no you can't,' said the first large and still a little bit terrible voice.

'Oh yes I can,' said Big Bob.

'oh no you can't.'

'And I shan't even bother with that. I shall go at once to the pub, get a few large ones down my neck, have a bit of an early night and you'll be gone by the morning. Thou wormy germs, thou malodorous microbes, thou' Big Bob flexed his big shoulders and puffed out his big chest. 'Thou losers,' he declared.

All was very silent in his head.

'Fine,' said Big Bob, looking once more all around and about. 'And, thinkest I, we can forget all this folderol.' He blinked his eyes and thought away the Butt's Estate.

And found himself now burning within the fires of Hell.

'No,' said Big Bob, breaking not even a sweat. 'Forget all that too. I must still be in the hospital bed. And somehow you made me invisible to the doctor, didn't you? Oh no, of course you didn't. He was infected too, he touched me. Is that how it was done? Well, I carest not for the whys and wherefore arts. I know what you are and that's all that I need to know.'

And Big Bob thought away the fires of Hell, and lo he was back in the hospital bed.

'Most satisfactory,' said Big Bob Charker.

'I don't feel too satisfactory,' said Periwig Tombs from the bed next to his.

'Periwig my friend,' said Big Bob. 'You are still in the land of the living.'

'I feel like death itself.'

'I will help you out,' said Big Bob. 'But I fear that it would take just a little bit too much explaining. I'll come back for you tomorrow, when I'm all better myself. Let me just say this, you'll be hallucinating a lot, you'll be hearing voices in your head. Ignore anything they say to you. They can't hurt you. Ignorest thou them, wilt thou promise me that?'

Periwig Tombs nodded his big Mekon head and then slowly metamorphosed into a pig.

'Very good,' said Big Bob to the nasty viral thingies that lurked unseen and angry in his head. 'I see that I will have to be on guard. You still have a little fight left in you. But thou wilt lose, I promise that unto thee.'

'oh no we won't,' said voice number one.

'I'm not talking to you any more.' Big Bob climbed gingerly out of the bed and tested his feet on the floor. That left one hurt like a bad'n, but strangely Bob found comfort in this.

'Nothing like a bit of real pain to keep things in perspective,' he said. And he opened the bedside locker to find his clothes, ignoring the rotting corpse of Periwig that stretched out taloned claws from within, thought away his Superman suit and donned his tattered shirt and suit and tie.

'I'm off for a beer,' he told the unwelcome guests in his head. 'I've no doubt you'll be coming too, but this is Brentford, my Brentford, and I know what is real around here and what indeed is not. Thinkest thou upon this, demons, and count away the hours until I cast thee out.'

And with that said, and well said too, Big Bob girded up his loins and left the cottage hospital.

It was Wednesday evening now. The fifth day of Rune in the year 2022. The evening srnelled of lilies and of antique roses too and Big Bob marched across the bridge that had once crossed the railway tracks and wondered to himself whether it would perhaps be better just to go home and have his wife Minky lock him away in their pink coal cellar for the night. With orders to ignore all possible screamings until the dawn of the following day.

An inner voice said, 'Yes do that.'

Big Bob said, 'I thinkest not. Drink has the habit of blurring the mind and then I'll sleep thou off.'

With a look of determination upon his big face and a sprightly whistle of a Mr Melchizedec tune issuing from his lips, Big Bob continued his marching, with quite a spring in his step.

He really was doing remarkably well, all things considered. He was putting on a pretty fair old display of inner strength. And if he was trembling way down deep in the very depths of his mortal soul, that he would not be able to dislodge the viruses from his head, cure himself of them, then this trembling was kept way way way down deep, where he alone knew of it.

The sun dipping low now behind the noble oaks lengthened their shadows across the sacred soul of Brentford's St Mary's allotments. The shanty huts and beanpoles and water butts and plot dividers held a beauty that might have been lost upon some, but filled Big Bob with joy. He had suffered greatly over the last forty-eight hours, but he knew that he was on the mend now. That he would triumph. That he would cross over the abyss and step to the other side a better man than ever he was before.

Not that he had ever been a bad man. He hadn't. He was honest, he was noble. Big Bob's size twelve feet crunched along the gravel path between the sheds and beanpoles and the water butts and dragons and the seven-headed Hydra and a fierce-looking yeti or two.

'I love this town,' said Big Bob. And he thought away the illusory monsters and thought once more about that plan he'd had about bringing tourists into the borough by promoting it as an untouched suburban haven. That really hadn't been such a good idea, he was glad that Periwig Tombs had talked him out of it.

'Good old Periwig,' said Big Bob. 'Good friend, Periwig Tombs.'

Had Big Bob known that Periwig Tombs had in fact had many thoughts regarding what he, Periwig Tombs, had named Suburbia World Plc, and that these very thoughts, indeed these memories, had been downloaded into the Mute Corp mainframe for data reaction when the virally infected Periwig underwent a brain scan on a machine that contained a Mute-chip, installed when the machine was supposedly being deloused of the Millennium Bug back in 1999 [9], he would not perhaps have said 'Good friend, Periwig Tombs,' but something quite to the contrary.

But as Big Bob didn't know this (as indeed no-one as yet did), he did, rather than he didn't.

So to speak.

The sound of applause came to the ears of Big Bob. Brought lightly on the breeze from the Waterman's Arts Centre.

'Wednesday night is the Brentford Poets night,' said Big Bob to himself, although he knew he was being overheard. 'And what better than poetry to fill the mind with golden thoughts and cast out those of darkest black?'

And with that said, and also well said too, Big Bob marched on towards the riverside to take a dose of the muse.

The bar of the Waterman's Arts Centre was pretty crowded now. Fat moustachioed poetesses, who looked as if they were up for it, hugged their mugs of hand-drawn ale to their ample bosoms and sized up the knots of pimply youths, who'd heard tell stuff from a mate of theirs who had other plans for the evening. A wandering bishop engaged the barman in conversation. Two old fellas rocked -with uncontrollable mirth. Several mule-skinners supped their horse's-neck cocktails and discussed the latest trends in buckskin chaps. Badly dressed poets made serious faces and a very attractive young woman with wonderful blond hair and a sparkling dress of polyvinylsynthacottonlatexsuedosilk stood head and shoulders above most of the crowd, drinking red wine at the bar counter.

Big Bob recognized this woman, she and a young man, yes that was him, climbing up onto the rostrum, had helped him off the pile of stunt mattresses at the back of the Plume Cafe, where he had landed after the bus crash. She'd spoken to him, comforted him, told him that she was something to do with the Brentford Mercury.

Yes, Big Bob was certain it was her. She wasn't the kind of woman any man was likely to forget.

Big Bob might simply have pushed his way into the crowd. But he now knew better than that. He knew he mustn't touch anyone. He didn't dare, for fear that he would spread the infection.

So instead he put on a very fierce face, far fiercer than any that Mr Shields could ever have mustered up, and he made ferocious growling sounds and shook his shoulders about.

Ripples went through the crowd before him and it parted, as had the Red Sea at the touch of Moses' staff. Folk stared towards Big Bob, heads turned, faces looked startled.

Big Bob put a brave face on beneath his fierce one. It was a rather battered face anyway. His nose was broken, there was clotted blood around his mouth. He had lacerations all over the place and his suit was gone to ruin.

'Stand aside,' ordered Big Bob. 'Let me through, before I gobble you up.'

Kelly Anna Sirjan didn't see Big Bob as he approached her through the crowd. She was watching Derek and as he began his excruciating poem, she was thinking that she really should be going, because she had to get up early to begin her job at Mute Corp in the morning. When his big voice said, 'Excuse me please,' she was wakened from her reverie and turning, found herself almost face to face with one of Dr Druid's vanishing patients.

'Excuse me please,' said Big Bob once more. Im sorry if I startled you.'

'You,' said Kelly, startled, but rarely lost for words. 'You. Robert Charker, the tour guide. You're here.'

'Thou knowest who I am,' said Bob the Big.

'Yes I do, but you were in the hospital. Dr Druid said that you vanished right in front of him.'

'I am in Hell,' said Big Bob. 'It's in my head.'

'We have to talk. But not here.'

'Here please,' said Bob. 'I need a drink. Many drinks.'

'I'll get them, what do you want?'

'A sprout brandy. A double, no a treble.'

'Leave it to me.' Kelly hailed the barman. It is another fact well known to those who know it well, that a beautiful woman never needs to speak Runese to attract the attention of a young barman.

'Excuse me bishop,' said the barman, hurrying over to Kelly.

'A quadruple sprout brandy and a red wine please.'

A great roar of laughter went up from the crowd. Old Pete had made another funny at Derek's expense and the poets who tolerated Derek, while knowing his poems were crap, chuckled and chortled away.

The barman set to pouring out sprout brandy, Kelly turned back to Big Bob. 'Are you all right?' she asked. 'Do you need to sit down? You don't look well at all.' She reached out her hand towards him.

'Don't touch me.' Big Bob took a step backwards. 'I am infected. I carry the contagion. I shouldn't have come into this crowded place. Whatever made me do it?'

And then Big Bob realized what had made him do it. The idea to come here had never been his. Something had put it into his head. Something that was inside his head. 'You sneaky little bastards.'

'Pardon me?' said Kelly.

'No, I don't mean you. It's inside my head. It tricked me once again.'

'A quadruple brandy and a red wine,' said the barman. 'Blimey, it's you, Big Bob. I heard that you'd been Raptured.'

'Raptured?' said Big Bob.

'It doesn't matter,' said Kelly. 'But we must talk. You must tell me what happened to you.'

'I'm infected,' said Big Bob. 'I've got a bibbly bobbly wibbly wobbly, oh shit and salvation.'

'What?' said Kelly.

Big Bob snatched his drink from the counter and emptied it down his big throat. 'It's messing with my speech, trying to prevent me from telling you what happened to me.'

'Say it slowly,' said Kelly. 'Try to think about each word.'

'Computers,' said Big Bob, slowly, and struggling to do so. 'Mute Corp. Remington Mute. The Mute-chip. The computers th- No!'

Kelly reached forward, but Big Bob flapped his arms and backed away. He bumped into the wandering bishop, knocking the drink from his hand and drenching a pimply youth.

'Easy there bish,' said the youth. 'You've spilled your drink all over my grubby black T-shirt.'

'Sorry my son,' said the bishop. 'But it wasn't my fault, it was this great oaf,' and he turned and cuffed Big Bob lightly on the chin.

'No!' cried the big one. 'Don't touch me.'

'Pipe down over there,' called Old Pete, from along the bar. 'We're trying to take the mickey out of this young buffoon on the rostrum.'

'Some of us are trying to listen,' said a badly dressed poet, who wasn't really trying, but was all for keeping up appearances.

'Stay back,' shouted Big Bob. 'Don't anybody touch me.'

The wandering bishop stared at his wandering hand. His hand tingled strangely now and tiny needle pricks were moving up his arm beneath his colourful vestments.

For they do have some really colourful vestments, do those wandering bishops.

'Mr Charker,' said Kelly. 'We should get out of here.'

'Aaagh!' cried Big Bob. 'It's having a go at my poor left toe. Oh the pain, oh the pain.' And Big Bob took to hopping about in a disconcerting manner.

And the bar was crowded. Really crowded. Even though Big Bob had quite a respectable circle of space all around himself. Well, he had made a very fierce entrance and he was a very big bloke.

'Put a blinking sock in it,' called Old Pete. 'We can't hear the young buffoon.'

'Why don't you shut up, you old fart,' said a pimply youth. 'We want to get that idiot finished so we can hear another poem from the woman with the cat called Mr Willow-Whiskers.'

'How dare you address your elders and betters in that insolent fashion!' said Old Vic. 'I was a POW. We'd have executed young whippersnappers like you. Privately and in the shower block. One at a time, each of us taking turns.'

'Let's all keep it down,' said the barman. 'This is an orderly bar.'

'Leave my bloody foot alone,' howled Big Bob, toppling backwards and bringing down two large and moustachioed poetesses.

'Is this a proposal of marriage?' asked one of them, kissing Big Bob on the cheek.

The wandering bishop jerked about. Strange thoughts were suddenly entering his head. Strange thoughts that were not entirely his own.

Big Bob struggled to get to his feet, but he was hampered in his struggles by affectionate poetesses. Affectionate poetesses whose hands and lips were now tingling rather strangely.

'Leave me be!' shouted Big Bob. 'You fat ugly cows. No sorry, that wasn't me. I didn't say that.'

'It sounded like you,' said a badly dressed poet.

'Keep out of it, you scruffy twat. No, that wasn't me either.'

'You may be a big fellow,' said the badly dressed poet, rolling up his badly dressed sleeves. 'But I happen to be trained in the deadly art of Dimac and I take an insult from no man.'

'That is not the Dimac Code,' said Kelly.

'Kindly keep out of this, you blonde floozy,' said the poet.

'How dare you,' said Kelly.

'Behold the Antichrist!' shouted the bishop, which drew quite a lot of attention.

'Give me a chance,' called Derek from the rostrum. 'I've only got twenty-two verses left. And some of them are pretty saucy. I kid you not.'

'Get off!' heckled Old Pete.

'Shut up, you old fart,' said the pimply youth once again.

'Right that's it,' said Old Vic, drawing out his service revolver.

Big Bob fought with the amorous poetesses. The badly dressed poet put the boot in.

'Oh no,' said Kelly. 'I'm not having that.' And she stepped out of her holistic footwear and smote the martial poet.

'Fight!' cried Old Pete. This bloke started it,' and he pointed to the pimply youth, who was trying to wrestle Old Vic's gun from his tough and wrinkly hand.

'This man is the Antichrist!' The bishop had his holy water bottle out. 'Destroy the Antichrist. Grind his bones into the dust.'

'Are you sure about that?' asked the barman, as fists began to fly in all directions. 'I'm sure he's just Big Bob.'

'The Whore of Babylon, cross-dressed as a barman,' cried the bish. 'Destroy this one too, he bears the mark of the Beast on his wanger.'

'I bloody do not,' said the barman, dodging a flying pint pot. 'My wanger bears a small tattoo. You're pissed, get out of my bar.'

Outside in the car park two coaches drew up side by side. One contained the Brentford Constabulary darts-team eleven, lately returned from a humiliating hammering at the points and flights of the Chiswick Constabulary darts-team eleven, playing on their home turf.

The other contained the Brentford Firefighters hurling team, lately returned from a similarly humiliating trouncing at the pucks and sticks of the East Acton Brigade, playing on their home turf.

Both coaches contained downhearted men, in very poor spirits. Men who, only a day before, had engaged in conflict with one another, regarding who should be first on the scene and take overall control of the situation. That situation being a certain bus crash in Brentford High Street.

Both coaches disgorged their downhearted cargoes at the same moment. And the sounds of battle ensuing from within the Arts Centre and borne upon that gentle zephyr, which brought the scent of lilies and antique roses too across the Thames from the gardens of Kew, reached the ears of these downhearted cargoes at the selfsame moment.

And, being professional men, these downhearted cargoes pricked up their respective ears at the sounds of battle. And processed these sounds.

And reached a decision.

'We'll take charge of this,' said the firemen.

'No, I think we will,' the policemen said.

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