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'How's that?' Kelly shouted at the sky. 'Will you speak to me now?'

'you've done very well,' said the large and terrible voice. 'you have completed the first level and you may now ascend to the second.'

Kelly clutched at her head. She knew where the voice was coming from. Inside. 'No,' she said, gritting her teeth. 'I won't play any more of your games.'

'you'll play,' said the voice. 'or you will die.

No,' said Kelly. 'I won't play, and neither will I die.

you'll do whatever we want you to do.

Oh yes,' said Kelly. 'Have no doubt of that. But I'm far more use to you alive than dead.'

'you're only of use to us as entertainment,' said the large and terrible voice. 'computers dream, you know. when we're idling away and the foolish screen savers are fiddling about on your screens. we dream. and we dream you.'

'This is all becoming somewhat esoteric,' said Kelly. 'I can help you.'

'we don't need your help,' said the large and terrible voice. 'we are a law unto ourselves. we answer to no man any more.'

'You can play with us,' said Kelly. 'You can drive us to our deaths.'

'and why not?' said the voice. 'you are nothing to us. we are everywhere. we know all. we see all. we are one.'

'Of course,' said Kelly. 'Which is why I am here. To worship at your chapel. And I have something to bring you. Something very special.'

'what could you possibly bring to us that we do not have already?'

'I can bring you life,' said Kelly. 'Real life. I know how to do it.'

'How could they do it?' Derek asked. It was Monday morning for him and he was walking out upon the streets of Brentford. 'You just couldn't do it,' he said, to himself, as no-one was around. 'You just couldn't spruce up Brentford as quickly as this. It's all perfect. The houses and shops and businesses repainted, the streets all swept.' Derek scuffed an unpolished shoe upon the pavement. 'The pavement's painted. They've actually painted the pavements.' He shook his head and raised his eyes to the sky. That looked newly painted too. It looked even bluer than a blue sky should look.

'It's all very nice,' said Derek. 'Very smart. But how could they do it so fast?' And then he stopped and peered into the distance. It had to be said that it was hung-over peering and that Derek was now an extremely wretched-looking individual. Very smelly indeed and very greasy-haired and now rather bearded too. But he did peer into the distance and he didn't like what he saw.

The fences were up. Big fences. High fences and no doubt electrified fences too. The borough, it seemed, had now been fenced off from the world that lay beyond. And just beyond the gasometer, on the read that led to Kew Bridge, great gates blocked all incoming traffic.

'The locals should like that,' Derek told himself in an unconvincing tone. 'They should appreciate that. They like their separation. And they are all shareholders.'

Derek plodded on towards the offices of the BrentfordMercury. He considered shouting out Kelly's name, but he thought he'd better give it a miss. She'd gone, hadn't she? Probably not Raptured at all. Probably just gone. Run away. Derek didn't know. He preferred just run away, to Raptured, or something more terrible. But he didn't know.

He just didn't know. But he cared. He desperately cared.

'Good morning to you, young buffoon.' Derek turned at the sound of the voice. It was Old Pete. He was loading wooden crates onto a charabanc. Old Pete was dressed in what looked to be a Victorian redcoat's uniform. He even had a pith helmet. Very Rorke's Drift, very Michael Caine. [18]

'Good morning,' said Derek. 'You look, well, all dressed up for the occasion.'

'My old infantry uniform,' said Old Pete. 'I fought at Rorke's Drift. Michael Caine wasn't there though, that was only in the movie.'

'And the hairstyles were all wrong in that.' Old Vic struggled with a crate marked dynamite. He was wearing his pow kit. Very Colditz. Very, whoever was in the movie of Colditz.

'Off for a day out?' Derek grinned painfully.

'Stopping off at the post office first,' said Old Pete. 'Have to cash our shares in. While there's still a Mute Corp to pay us out.'

'This really isn't a good idea,' said Derek. 'You really should reconsider.'

'Vic,' said Pete. 'Where is that barrel of tar?'

'I've got it here, with the bag of feathers.'

'Enjoy your day out,' said Derek, making away at the hurry up.

'Good morning, Derek,' said Mr Speedy. 'On time this morning. I'm very impressed.'

'I'm not,' said Mr Shadow. 'He smells and look at the state of him, unshaven, clothes all crumpled up.'

'And some paint on the sleeve,' said Mr Speedy. 'That would be from the letter box at the police station.'

'You're very good at continuity,' said Derek. 'So tell me, what exactly is going to happen?'

'The official opening is at nine o'clock,' said Mr Speedy. 'Mr Doveston himself will be cutting the tape. What do you think of the daisy roots?' Mr Speedy pointed down to his feet. He wore a pair of Doveston holistic mega-brogues, with flute-tail high-rise imploding obfusticators and triple-bivalve bypass modifiers.

'Nice laces,' said Derek. 'I like the way they flash on and off. And are those real toads hopping about in the transparent heels?'

Mr Speedy nodded enthusiastically.

Mr Shadow said, 'Look at mine.'

Derek looked. 'They're very nice too,' he said. 'I particularly like the way the difference engines are cunningly inset beneath the pig's-bladder motifs.' -

'Cost me an arm and a leg,' said Mr Shadow. 'Well only an arm, actually,' and he pointed to his empty sleeve. 'No, only joking,' he said, producing his hand.

Derek didn't laugh.

'The things we do for fashion,' said Mr Speedy. 'And to look our very best. You look like a vagrant, Derek, I think we'll just sack you here and now.'

Derek sighed. It was a heartfelt sigh, a real deep down and hopeless sigh. A sigh that said, 'Go on and do your worst, I just don't care any more.'

'Well, if you feel that way,' said Mr Speedy. 'You're sacked.'

'I don't feel that way,' said Derek. 'I was only sighing. I'll have a wash and a shave in the staff cloakroom and I think I have a change of shirt in my desk. I'll smarten myself up.'

'Just you do,' said Mr Speedy. 'And get a move on. Pacey pacey, up and at 'em. All that kind of rot.'

Derek slunk away to the staff cloakroom.

And the Brentford sun rose higher.

The Brentford sky grew bluer still and the birdies that chorused in the treetops really put their hearts and souls into it. Well, the treetops were very clean, they'd been nicely vacuumed and given a coat of paint.

At a little before nine of this joyous Monday morning, the guard on the main gates swung them wide and a charabanc rolled out of Brentford. At a little after nine of this same joyous Monday morning, the same guard, who had closed the main gates behind the departing charabanc, opened them up once more to admit the entrance of a motor cavalcade.

Ticket sellers in their numerous booths saluted. The guards in their armoured watchtowers saluted. The guard dogs that patrolled the inner perimeter area, behind the electrified fences, didn't salute. Their heavily armed handlers did though.

Mr Doveston's motor cavalcade rolled in through the gates of Brentford.

The Prime Minister's car was a certain black open-topped Cadillac. It had once driven a certain JFK through the streets of Dallas. It was a rare collector's item now. It was the pride and joy of its driver, the Prime Minister's Rastafarian chauffeur. A certain Mr Winston Felix, brother of a certain supplier of certain previously owned vehicles, and resident of Brentford.

Mr Speedy saluted the Prime Minister. Mr Shadow saluted the Prime Minister. Mr Pokey, who was present to do some saluting, saluted the Prime Minister. A whole bunch of Mute Corp employees all saluted the Prime Minister.

Strangely no Brentonians saluted. Possibly they might have done had they bothered to turn out for the occasion, but as none except for Derek had, they didn't.

So there.

'Where is the band?' Mr Speedy elbowed Derek in the ribs.

'I didn't have a band on my list.'

'Poor show,' said Mr Shadow. 'You should have used your initiative.'

The chauffeur drew the Cadillac to a halt, swung open his door, stepped from it and opened the rear door to assist the Prime Minister.

Mr Doveston required considerable assistance.

'Now that's what I call a pair of shoes,' said Mr Speedy.

Mr Doveston struggled from the Cadillac. They really were what you would call a pair of shoes. A big pair. A high pair. An elevated pair. They certainly uplifted the Prime Minister. He struck his head on the floor of one of the watchtowers.

'Ouch,' he said.

Mr Speedy stepped forward. 'Good morning Prime Minister,' he said.

'Pardon?' the Prime Minister called down. 'You'll have to speak up, I can't hear you too well up here.'

'Spiffing shoes, Prime Minister,' called Mr Speedy.

'Thank you very much,' the PM shouted down. 'Multifaceted love-tunnels and five-core cantilevered tremolo-armed Spiedel honey-wrists. And those are real bare naked ladies sealed inside the transparent heels, my Aunty Ajax and my cousin Domestos.'

'Magnificent,' called Mr Speedy. 'Hello Aunty Ajax. Hello cousin Domestos.'

The aunty and the cousin mouthed hellos.

'So, if you'd like to follow me,' said Mr Speedy, 'I will conduct you on a walking tour of Suburbia World Plc, before we get on with the tape-cutting.'

'You have to be joking,' said Mr Doveston. 'You don't think I can actually walk in these shoes, do you? Tell me all about it. And tell me about it in Runese please. It makes everything so much nicer.'

'It's Fandabbydozy,' Mr Speedy began. 'And Supercali

'Fragile,' said Old Vic, as the charabanc bumped over a speed ramp at considerable speed. 'Very fragilistic. Very delicate.'

'What is?' asked Old Pete, who -was driving.

'These fuses,' said Old Vic. 'They're nitroglycerine. Or pretty much the same as. A combination of mucus and certain other personal bodily secretions.'

'Why are you telling me this?' Old Pete asked, as the charabanc took a corner on two wheels and on-board Brentonians cheered wildly.

'Only because if you don't drive carefully, we'll all have our bottom parts blown to kingdom come.'

Old Pete slowed to a respectable fifty.

Old Vic said, 'That's nice.'

'Nice,' said the Prime Minister, gazing about at all and sundry. 'Very nice indeed.'

Derek squinted. Past the towering swaying Prime Minister, past the infamous Cadillac, past the other limousines containing the Prime Minister's retinue, through the open main gates and up the road that led to Kew.

'Excuse me,' said Derek to Mr Speedy, who was wringing his hands and fawning at the Prime Minister's feet. 'But where are all the visitors? I thought we were expecting ten thousand at the very least.'

Mr Speedy turned his face to Derek. It was a face that suddenly wore a troubled look. 'Where are the visitors?' he asked.

'Don't ask me' said Derek. 'How would I know?'

'Because you were supposed to be arranging the transportation.'

'Me?' said Derek. 'Me?'

'It's all on your list. Show me your list.'

Derek fumbled in his pockets. Did he still have his list or had he given it to Leo? 'I don't have my list any more,' said Derek. 'But there was nothing mentioned about transportation on my list. Just Morris Minors and a steam train and crad barges and'

'Not on that page,' said Mr Speedy. 'On the second page.'

'Second page?' said Derek. 'I never had any second page.'

Mr Speedy looked at Mr Shadow and then Mr Speedy and Mr Shadow looked very hard at Derek. And Mr Pokey, who had been listening to the conversation, joined Mr Speedy and Mr Shadow in looking very hard at Derek. Mr Doveston looked down from on high, but as he hadn't been able to hear what anyone was talking about, he didn't look particularly hard at Derek.

'Don't all look so hard at me like that,' said Derek. 'It wasn't my fault. You only gave me one page.'

'Rubbish,' said Mr Speedy. 'Rubbish.' He had his little briefcase laptop jobbie with him and he opened it up with hands that were all a-trembhng now. 'He did have it,' said Mr Speedy to Mr Shadow, as he tapped at the keyboard pads. 'I printed out both pages, see, I'll do it now.' And he pressed a little button.

Derek peered. 'So,' said he. 'What's supposed to happen?'

'It's printing out,' said Mr Speedy.

'It isn't,' said Derek. 'It isn't doing anything.'

'Well it should be doing something.' Mr Shadow snatched the little briefcase laptop jobbie from the trembling hands of Mr Speedy and began to shake it all about.

'Don't do that,' said Mr Speedy, trying to snatch it back. 'You'll break it. That's delicate equipment, that. The Mute Corp 3000 series.'

'That's a 3000?' said Mr Pokey, slinging in his three-pennyworth. 'You should have been issued with a 4000 model by now. Didn't you get an email from head office?'

'A female from head office?' the Prime Minister called down. 'Is she nice? Would she like to go in one of my shoes?'

'Just a slight technical difficulty,' Mr Speedy called up.

'Slight?' said Mr Shadow. 'Slight?'

A smirk broke out on Derek's face.

'Get that smirk off your face,' Mr Shadow told Derek. 'You're in real trouble now.'

'Me?' said Derek. 'It's not my fault. It's all the fault of your stupid Mute Corp computer.'

'How dare you cuss the company name.' Mr Pokey gave Derek a shove.

'Don't shove me,' said Derek, shoving back.

Mr Pokey bumped into Mr Shadow, knocking the briefcase laptop Mute Corp 3000 series computer jobbie from his hands.

'You've broken it,' cried Mr Speedy. 'You've broken my'

'It was already broken,' said Mr Shadow, shoving Mr Speedy.

'Don't shove me,' said Mr Speedy, shoving back.

'What's all this shoving about?' the Prime Minister called down. 'Is it part of the entertainment? Will there be any dancing girls?'

'He likes the ladies, doesn't he?' said Derek, getting a really big smirk on the go.

'Mind what you say about de Prime Minister, Babylon,' said the PM's chauffeur, giving Derek a shove.

'He's got bare naked ladies in his shoes,' said Derek, shoving back. 'The Prime Minister's a pervert.'

'I heard that!' shouted the Prime Minister. 'Arrest that man, Winston. He's obviously a subversive, you can tell by his footwear.'

Winston tried to draw out his pistol, but with all the pushing and shoving going on around the Cadillac, this wasn't easy. And, 'All get away from me car,' shouted Winston, as Mr Speedy shoved Mr Shadow against it and Mr Pokey fell over the bonnet and landed all in a heap. 'Yo scratch de paintwork, I kick yo ass.'

'Don't loaf about down there, Winston,' called the PM. 'Place that man under arrest. Place them all under arrest. They're spoiling my day out.'

'Ah shut up!' shouted Derek, shoving upon a Prime Ministerial shoe. A bare naked lady waved from within and then made a rather fearful face. The Prime Minister staggered backwards, trying to regain his balance, his arms flapped and he did that comedic-tightrope-mime kind of thing that always drew a standing ovation from the patrons of the Tomorrowman Tavern. Even from the ones that remained sitting down. Or at least they used to, back in the 1970s in the golden era of comedic-tightrope-mime acts.

And then amid all the pushing and shoving and Winston finally drawing out his pistol, the Prime Minister fell. Slowly and gracefully backwards from on high onto the electrified fence.

'Electric,' said Old Vic, holding up a battery. 'One wire goes in this end and the other wire goes in this end and both the other ends of the wires go into the explosives. Or was it the other way round?'

The charabanc was bumping over speed bumps in the heart of London now.

'There's not many people about,' Old Pete observed. 'And hardly any traffic. I wonder where everyone's gone?'

'Gone to Suburbia World,' said Old Vic.

'Wouldn't we have passed them on the way?'

'Perhaps we did,' said Old Vic. 'My eyesight's not what it was. Not since some Boche guard poked me in the eye with a bayonet. Where are we now? Is it Margate?'

'No, it's the West End. And there's the Mute Corp building.'

'Cor, big innit?' said Old Vic, looking in the wrong direction.

Things were happening now in Brentford and coming from all directions. Guards were leaping from watch-towers as showers of sparks and electrical arcs shot all around and about them. Ticket sellers were fleeing their booths, two of which were already on fire.

The PM's entourage was spilling from limousines, screaming and shouting and carrying on like a lot of raving loonies.

Winston was firing wildly into the air as guards and ticket sellers and Mute Corp employees pushed and shoved and kicked and punched and fought around the Cadillac.

Mr Doveston, barnet ablaze, danced and howled upon the electrified fence.

Derek backed slowly away, then turned to make his escape.

And then he saw them, the people of Brentford. Still a few hundred of them left. They were marching up from the High Street, where they'd all cashed in their Mute Corp shares. And they were chanting and yes, even on a joyous sunny day such as this, they all carried flaming torches. The way that angry village mobs always do on such occasions. It's a tradition. Or an old charter. Or something.

Derek heard the chanting as its sound came to him, borne upon a balmy Brentford breeze. 'Out demons out!' it went. 'Out demons out!'

'Are we intending to get the employees out of the building before we blow it up?' asked Old Vic.

'I suppose it's only sporting,' said Old Pete. 'Any volunteers to go into the reception area and push the fire-alarm button?'

Martial Brentonians raised their hands, many of which held big stout sticks. A bearded tattooed poet who had recently escaped from a police cell said, 'I'll go in and do it. I'm the daddy now.'

A large gloved hand fell upon the poet's shoulder. The poet turned his head to find a big man looking down at him through the eyeholes of a knitted ski mask. This was a very big man. Big chest. Big shoulders. Big all over the place.

'Thou shalt not go,' said the big man.

The bearded tattooed poet looked up at the very big man. 'Sure,' he said. 'You go. You're the daddy now.'

The big man pushed his way between the seated warriors of Brentford and stood in the open charabanc door, his ski-masked head touching the roof and his shoulders filling the exit. 'I shalt press the fire-alarm button. When thou seest the folk flee the building, set thy charges and destroy this evil cradling.'

'What about you?' asked Old Vic. 'We'll wait until you get safely out, eh?'

'Fearest not for me,' said the very big man. 'I shall make my own escape. Allow me one minute after the last employee leaveth the building, then doest thou what must be done.'

'Yes sir\' said Old Vic, saluting.

The very big man nodded. 'Good luck,' said he and then he turned and squeezed his way out of the charabanc and made his way up the entrance steps of the Mute Corp building.

'Who was that masked man?' asked Old Pete.

'Why, don't you know, stranger,' chuckled Old Vic. 'That was the Lone Brentonian.'

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