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Kings Of This World
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-372-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 272 Pages
Published: June 2017

From inside the flap

Matthew is just trying to hold the wreckage of his life together after his girlfriend left him for another woman. A chance to review a West End play seems like a lucky break, until it turns into an X-rated nightmare. The next day London tears itself apart, people make love in the streets and kill each other over a dirty sandwich. Overnight everything changes, the city is very quiet, people smile and nod, but what they smile and nod at is only visible to them. The only other normal person is Jeremy, sarcastic, intelligent and frequently wrong. Together they form an uneasy alliance that lasts until cone shaped aliens land and begin harvesting people like wheat. The last two survivors in London begin a desperate search for a way to stop the aliens before it's their turn, unaware that millions of people have already killed themselves to give them the perfect weapon. Will Matthew and Jeremy realize the weapon they have been given before its too late?

Kings Of This World (Excerpt)


Chapter One

Theatre

By nine thirty, Matthew knew that the evening couldn't get any worse. The play that had started well had turned out to be dull, amateurish and, worst of all, predicable. He'd mentally written the review after just the first half hour and nothing that had happened since then had changed one word.

The Eternal Banker is the latest big budget play to hit the West End and comes complete with all the things necessary to make it a hit. Big names direct from Oscar-winning films? Check. Flashy special effects? Check. But somehow all of this adds up to a third-class production of a second-rate play with only one flaw. Unfortunately, this is the cast. {name} might have performed the role of Billy ably, but without panache, but {name} as Nadia appeared to be labouring under the misapprehension that a flash of cleavage is any substitute for acting. The production was nearly as wooden as the scenery and the whole thing would have been much improved by at least one person knowing all their lines.

All he had to do was fill in the names, add some anecdote about the rumoured-to-be-coke-addicted soap star who appeared naked for exactly five seconds in the second half and tomorrow's copy would be ready. This might be his only chance to have a review appear in a national paper before Stephen recovered from food poisoning and he wanted it to make an impact.

At nine thirty-five, he decided it wasn't really going to get any better, looked around for an exit and saw the faces staring at him in amazement. There was a moment of panic and half-forgotten dreams of being naked in public. Then he realised that he was not the object of their attention and looked at the woman on his right. She was very slim, dark-haired and slumped low down in her seat with her dress pulled up high. Her head was twisted back, looking at the ceiling with wide, staring eyes. But what Matthew mainly saw were her hands rhythmically moving between her thighs. He told himself that she was just vigorously scratching an itch or harmonising badly to the music, but he could see a dark tuft of pubic hair, her glistening fingers, the folds of her sex parting under probing fingers. She was very enthusiastically masturbating to an audience of hundreds of people.

Matthew's belief that he was broad-minded vanished in that moment. He felt more shocked than if he'd stuck his fingers in an electric socket. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move. The sight of a complete stranger doing something so private in such a public place shocked him more than he could believe.

It was the sound of camera shutters that snapped him out of his fugue. All around him a tidal wave of men, and women, were aiming phones towards her, standing on seats for a better view, whooping and whistling, "More!" "You go, babe!" None of this seemed to bother Matthew's neighbour. Her head rolled from side to side, watching her audience and licking her lips. Then she slid further down in her seat, opened her legs as wide as possible, wider than possible, hands moving faster over her sex. Matthew looked longingly at the aisle beyond her. But to get there he'd have to step over, between, her wide-spread legs. Then she stopped suddenly, screamed so loud it hurt his ears and curled into a foetal ball. Her knees snapped up tight to her chest and there were sudden tears in her eyes. Matthew was still wondering if he should cover her with his jacket or something equally chivalrous when she solved that problem for him by rolling to one side and punching him in the face.


***

The manager's office was a long, thin room at the top of a meandering set of stairs. The faded opulence of the theatre stopped abruptly at its door and the carpet inside was threadbare and had been patched with tape. The walls were a jigsaw of crumbling plaster decorated with fading posters for plays that Matthew had never heard of. A battered desk faced a row of small windows that looked out over the frozen waves of red velvet cheap seats. Matthew wondered if someone had been watching just half an hour ago when the evening had come completely off the tracks. Perhaps the same someone had also called the police, after they'd taken several photos for later detailed examination.

PC Ward showed Matthew to the only visitor's chair. When the police realised where Matthew had been sitting he had been gently, but very firmly, taken to one side by a reassuringly solid policeman whose gaze believed nothing. On the way to the manager's office he had grudgingly revealed that his name was PC Ward. If he had a first name other than PC he hadn't offered it.

"And you never saw this woman before she sat next to you?" PC Ward asked.

"Never. She sat down a few minutes after me. We chatted for a few minutes. Well, she did most of the talking. She complained about the seats; it was too hot then, a moment later, it was too cold. Kept taking photos, gibbered on about uploading them to Facebook. She went quiet when the curtain came up but she was still jabbing at her phone and bopping around in her seat."

"And you were on your own tonight, sir?"

"Yes." Matthew saw the doubt on the policeman's face and quickly added, "I'm with The Bulletin reviewing the opening night."

PC Ward lowered his notepad and pointedly looked Matthew up and down. He was a fresh-faced young man that might have been handsome - if ever he smiled. The bags under his eyes from lack of sleep and the disappointed set of his mouth implied that smiling was something he didn't do much of. His hair was too long and he pulled it away from his eyes in a nervous tick that he was completely unaware of. His grey business suit had once been a smart grey business suit, before months of overcrowded tube trains and lunch a la desk had left their mark on it. If the call had come any earlier he could have rented a smart suit, maybe a bowtie to complete the ensemble. But if the news of Stephen's sudden need to be no more than three feet from a toilet at any time had come any earlier then the job would have gone to someone else. He was only here because there was no one else. As the office junior he was the lowest of the low and Philip had made his role tonight very clear. Don't fuck up. Matthew wasn't sure he had achieved that. Matthew realised that PC Ward was still staring at him intently and hastily produced a business card and passed it across.

PC Ward took the card and squinted at it. "Sorry, sir, the printing's not very clear. If you could just give me your name and address?"

"Matthew Rowe, 256A Ailward road, Brent Park," he said, dejectedly. When he'd got the job with the paper he'd paid £20 for the cards. And now he had a chance to actually use one of the dammed things it was useless.

PC Ward carefully noted down his details, tongue sticking out from the corner of his mouth.

"Did she stay in her seat at the interval?"

"No, she said something about popping out for a moment. I thought she went to the bar." But now Matthew thought about it, she had been gone for the whole twenty-minute interval and when she got back she had looked very flushed.

PC Ward made some more ant tracks of Pitman shorthand in his notebook. His hand shook while he was doing that. It had taken three police and one security guard to carry her kicking and screaming out of the theatre.

"I believe she punched you, sir?"

"Yes, just here." Matthew touched his cheek and found that it was still wet and sticky. The first thing he'd do when he got out of here was wash his face. The second thing would be to find a large drink. "But I don't think she really meant to. It was as if she had just woken up and realised what was happening."

"That's very generous of you, sir, but I don't think that's any defence in law. We'll contact you later to make a separate complaint of assault that we can add to the charge sheet. But failing that, I think that's everything for now, sir."

"What's going to happen to her? Will you charge her with some sort of public order offence?"

"Officially, sir, she's been held for questioning." His voice dropped to a whisper and he looked around furtively. "Unofficially, she's probably going to be sectioned, admitted to a psych ward for her own good."

"No indications of drink or drugs?"

"I couldn't say, sir. But thank you for your statement. It's been very useful."

PC Ward came to his feet and stepped around the desk, arm outstretched to shake Matthew's hand. And the moment he came to his feet PC Ward shook his hand briskly, gripped his forearm and steered him to the door. As they walked downstairs PC Ward talked as if he couldn't stop.

"We'll be in contact in a few days' time for the assault statement. But in the meantime I really wouldn't worry about tonight's events. London is still one of the safest cities in the world with a year on year decreasing crime rate with ... " He took a deep breath. "... neighbourhood teams utilising our corporate objectives and close working relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service to maximise security of people and property."

At the bottom of the stairs he shook Matthews's hand even more briskly and reached past him to undo something. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, sir," he said and stepped forward, moving Matthew back through the door behind him and outside. The door closed with a solid thud and an icy rivulet of rain crawled down Matthew's neck. He retreated under cover of the theatre's canopy as he pulled his jacket around him. At some point during the evening it had started to rain and forgotten how to stop. Silvery curtains of rain chased rubbish down the street and reflected neon-scrawled, unreadable messages across slick pavements. The crowd that had flooded out of the theatre when the police arrived had already disappeared into the nearest pub or were on their way home, all of them probably making phone calls containing some variant on, 'Well, you'll never guess what happened tonight.'

Once, Matthew would have been saying something very similar; instead, he mopped his face with a tissue and headed towards the nearest pub at a fast walk. And because the theatre was on the edge of Soho, AKA London's party ground, the nearest pub was a hundred metres left, about the same right or straight across the road. A taxi blared its horn at him as he crossed the road. Drinking alone had never been his idea of a good time, but after what had happened in the theatre he needed a drink, or two.

The pub was an anonymous, corporate clone that had started out life as an eighteenth-century tavern, before being renovated, restored and reinterpreted into a plastic replica of the place it once was. It probably made sense to someone. Outside it was high-impact, plastic oak beams on pre-stressed, pre-rendered walls under a thatched-glass, fibre roof. Inside it was a wall of heat and noise. Matthew pushed himself into a densely packed throng of people who all seemed to be having 50% more of a good time than usual. Shouted conversations competed against over-amplified guitars. In the corner, a middle-aged woman was dancing on a table, badly as it turned out, when she disappeared with a crash. Matthew guessed one of the banks had celebrated some dodgy deal by handing out bonuses that the staff were trying to spend before the Government found out.

A wall of people hid the bar and it was only the brief opening as someone pushed their way out, clutching three pints in two hands, that let Matthew reach it at all.

"Pint of lager."

"What?"

He repeated his order, shouting it this time directly into an unwashed ear. The glass he got in return came with a thick head of foam, but it tasted delicious and he let the motion of the crowd shove him into a corner.

He wondered what the woman would think in the morning. How could she ever look people in the eye knowing that she was probably starring on several amateur porn sites? Did she have a husband, a boyfriend that she would try to explain the unexplainable to? Because nothing that had happened made any sense. One moment she had been aware of her audience but they didn't matter. The next they were the only thing that mattered. When the police dragged her out she had been a spitting, clawing hell-cat, using words that would have made a twenty-year sailor blush. He had asked about drink or drugs out of routine, but as far as he knew none of those things could explain her sudden changes of behaviour.

He lifted his glass and was surprised to find it already empty. He pushed his way back to the bar, opened his mouth to order and the barman saved him the trouble by slopping a full pint glass at him, plucking the note from his fingers and turning away to serve another customer. Matthew stared at the greasy ponytail at the back of the barman's head for a long minute before deciding that he really wasn't going to turn back and said, "Excuse me." And then shouted the same before the barman looked around at him. "My change?"

"Sorry, sir." The barman shoved a £20 note in his hand and turned away again. Matthew had only given him a £5 note. A flying wedge of thirsty customers forced him away from the bar while he was still considering the ethical problem the note presented. Then he shrugged his shoulders, took a drink and instantly decided that whatever the pint had cost he had still been overcharged. The contents of the glass tasted like some horrible melody of real beer and washing-up liquid. He spat the liquid back into his glass just as there was a crash from the direction of the bar that sounded like a whole tray of glasses hitting the floor. The crowd surged towards the bar like iron filings to a magnet, leaving an empty path between Matthew and door. A hand wearing a red washing-up glove waved jauntily above the sea of heads and Matthew decided that this was the perfect time to leave. A bray of cheers was cut off abruptly as the pub doors swung shut behind him. At the corner he stopped and looked back at the glowing windows of the pub. He had told himself that the waving hand had been wearing a red glove. But it had looked a lot like blood.