Sudden smell of scorched hair & fats. A man in a white shirt stops walking past & looks up into the sunlight. He’s dressed for crown green bowling. He thinks: the wires, always tangled up. Who knows what he saw. At the window you only know what you could smell. The man, dressed in his white shirt & white hat for crown green bowling, will say later that he doesn’t remember anything. He has always felt a deep nostalgia but it is not based on memory. As a result he is forced to look forward like someone with a cricked neck. He is forced to find his memories in front of him–scorched hair, tangled wire, warm sunshine & another man looking down from a window on the shady side of the street. It’s almost seven in the evening, those lazy days of summer.
Drawn by the radio and tv ads of the twentieth century, which had reached them as faltering wisps and cobwebs of communication (yet still full of a mysterious, alien vitality), the New Men had invaded Earth in the middle 2100s. They were bipedal, humanoid–if you stretched a point–and uniformly tall and white-skinned, each with a shock of flaming red hair. They were indistinguishable from some kinds of Irish junkies. It was difficult to tell the sexes apart. They had a kind of pliable, etiolated feel about their limbs. To start with they had great optimism and energy. Everything about Earth amazed them. They took over and, in an amiable, paternalisitic way, misunderstood and mis-managed everything. It appeared to be an attempt to understand the human race in terms of a 1982 Coke ad. They produced food no one could eat, outlawed politics in favour of the kind of burocracy you find in the subsidised arts, and buried enormous machinery in the subcrust which eventually killed millions. After that, they seemed to fade away in embarrassment, taking to drugs, pop music and the twink-tank which was then an exciting if less than reliable new entertainment technology. Thereafter, they spread with mankind, like a kind of wrenched commentary on all that expansion and free trade. You often found them at the lower levels of organised crime. Their project was to fit in, but they were fatally retrospective. They were always saying: “I really like this cornflakes thing you have, man. You know ?” [From Light, 2002.]
Valentine Sprake turned away from the darkening view and walked in a jerky, hurried fashion across the room, as if he had seen, out there in the marshes, something which surprised him. Ignoring Michael Kearney, he leaned over Meadows’ desk, picked up the coffee-pot and drank its contents directly from the spout. “Last week,” he said to Meadows, “I learned that Urizen was back among us, and His name is Old England. We are all adrift on the sea of time and space here. Think about that too.” He stalked out of the office with his hands folded on his chest.
Meadows looked amused.
“Who is that, Kearney ?”
“Don’t ask,” said Kearney absently. On the way out he said: “And keep off my back.”
“I can’t protect you forever,” Meadows called after him. That was when Kearney knew Meadows had already sold him out.
Lightweight separators in pastel colours were used to create privacy inside MVC-Kaplan’s otherwise featureless tent of bolted glass. The first thing Kearney saw outside Meadows’ workspace was the shadow of the Shrander, projected somehow from inside the building on to one of these. It was life size, a little blurred and diffuse at first, then hardening and sharpening and turning slowly on its own axis like a chrysalis hanging in a hedge. As it turned, there was a kind of rustling noise he hadn’t heard for twenty years; a smell he still recognised. He felt his whole body go cold and rigid with fear. He backed away from it a few steps, then ran back into the office, where he hauled Meadows over the glass desk by the front of his suit and hit him hard, three or four times in succession, on the right cheekbone.
“Christ,” said Meadows in a thick voice. “Ah.”
Kearney pulled him all the way over the desk, across the floor and out of the door. At the same time the lift arrived and Sprake got out.
“I saw it, I saw it,” Kearney said.
Sprake showed his teeth. “It’s not here now.”
“Get a fucking move on. It’s closer than ever. It wants me to do something.”
Together they bundled Meadows into the lift and down three floors. He seemed to wake up as they dragged him across the lobby and out to the canal bank. “Kearney ?” he said repeatedly. “Is that you ? Is there something wrong with me ?” Kearney let go of him and began kicking his head. Sprake pushed his way between them and held Kearney off until he had calmed down. They got Meadows to the edge of the water, into which they dropped him, face down, while they held his legs. He tried to keep his head above the surface by arching his back, then gave up with a groan. Bubbles came up. His bowels let go.
“Christ,” said Kearney reeling away. “Is he dead ?”
Sprake grinned. “I’d say he was.”
He tilted his head back until he was looking straight up at the faint stars above Walthamstow, raised his arms level with his shoulders, and danced slowly away north along the towpath towards Edmonton.