If The Apocalypse Does Not Happen, It Will Be Necessary To Create One

London is getting warmer as aeons pass, the cumulative heat of eight-going-on-ten million people just breathing and operating motor vehicles and running their central heating. The Bakerloo Line rose to the level where it was considered illegal to open it up for safe human occupation, and had to be shut down and turned off (no lights, no air conditioners, no trains, no engineering, no people) for a whole year so that trapped thermal energy in the bricks could be allowed to eke its way out towards the surface. The same'll happen to the Central soon.

There're still visible signs from where the Olympics came and went, in the form of a clutch of new tram systems and clever automated bike rentals and a radically shiny blue new skyline out towards the north and east: stadia and transport infrastructure. There are Olympic flags and tourist signs all over, painted lines on the pavement which lead people from place to place. The UK team (inexplicably known as "Team GB", bad luck Northern Ireland, not very United) didn't fare so well, for all they were competing on home ground, and were destroyed in the football, but a few golds were snatched from some lower-profile sports; javelin, weight-lifting, show-jumping. Whether any kind of economic boost came out of the event is a matter of heated opinion.

On the plus side, the snow choking the rest of the country has been all but melted by the city's ambient heat this close to the core. It's Wednesday the third, the first day everybody was free from commitments to visit family, get drunk, ring the New Year in and so on. It's brisk and cold and bright but it feels good to be out. There is a saying: "Drink through it".

Kohai (tall, short blond hair, not his real name) turned up early with the map and has been waiting and exhaling alternately condensation and cigarette smoke for twenty minutes. He wears a long leather coat and carries a Tesco Express carrier bag full of the equipment.

Puggle (not her real name, not her full screen name either, it is "TheThirdPuggle") and boyfriend Simon (no screen name, unofficial member) turn up next. They are bang on time.

"How's your job?" she asks Kohai.

"So, you know this other software firm that was moving to buy the one that I work for? They did it."

"Okay, and I suppose that's not good news?"

"At the moment there is a lot of desk-moving and rebranding going on. But this time next month I might be looking for another job. Or this time next week. " Kohai is smiling all the way through this explanation. Puggle knows that this is not a good sign. Kohai's job has been heavy and stressful for the last few months which is why he has been missing regularly scheduled pub meetings.

"So what did you do for New Year?"

"Went to The Marquis Of Kent with Gaz and that and drank vodka from about ten in the morning until they threw us out. I'm still hung over now. Haven't eaten anything since yesterday morning."

"Ah, the old double hangover," remarks Simon.

As minutes pass more people rise up the spiral steps out of the Tube station and arrive on foot from nearby bus stops. Some head across the road to collect cash and supplies from the convenience store. Others are already carrying everything they need, including blankets and sleeping bags. There is no intent to camp today, but it's close to freezing and slouching around on the Heath on a day like today requires insulation.

After a certain pre-arranged period of hanging around waiting for people to show up, Puggle announces that it is time and they all march away, up the hill, around three corners, across a high street and then up onto the Heath. As they rise in altitude it gets colder and windier.

"So the world didn't end," Simon mentions to whoever is standing nearest to him.

"Well that's the point of the endeavour, isn't it? To finish what was started."

"No, I just got dragged up here by my girlfriend."

"Well, okay, one second." "Jklbnm" rummages through her backpack and fishes out a feathery band with a collection of black beads dangling off it like a bunch of grapes. She puts it over Simon's unresisting wrist, taps the back of his hand twice with two fingers, says a magic word and opens his eyes.

What Simon sees at that point looks like the augmented reality version of London, a second layer of the city picked out in unpleasantly clashing green and red with a negative-image Sun. As he moves his head, the image doesn't follow his eyes as quickly as the reality does, creating a blur effect. With a slight squint, he realises there may be a third, fainter London behind the first two. The experience mucks about with his ear canals and he almost falls over. Jklbnm catches him, "Whoops! Sorry, honey. Watch your step."

"Uh, what?"

"Yes yes." Tap tap. "Okay. Let's sit down here for a moment. I'm sorry. I thought we'd gone through all of this with you but since you never registered maybe you managed to skip the whole orientation and initiation."

"I'm not wearing special glasses. These are prescription. That felt like it was inside my skull. I feel properly weird."

"Yes, that's because you're supposed to do that sitting down for the first time! Okay. There are three Londons. Do you know Deuteron?"

"He's properly weird. I can't get on with him. Every word he says is like some New Age guff. Like, everything he says. It's full of non-words and the stuff that does make sense doesn't make sense. It's so stupid--" he pauses, trying not to catch Deuteron's eye and lowering his voice, "--everything he says, I could write an essay explaining why he's wrong. Fractally wrong."

"Well, Deuteron isn't really a registered member of our site. He's on one of the other sites. Hosted in a different London. He comes here to visit sometimes and yes I find it a bit difficult to follow what he's talking about too but he is a nice enough fellow."

"So what, do you guys just meet up and talk? And do whatever that is?"

"That is just Seeing, that's fairly straightforward stuff. Okay, you know your phone? And it wouldn't work unless there were cellular relay towers and GPS satellites and all kinds of infrastructure and another phone to talk to. A phone in... in the middle of darkest Wales or on the Atlantic or under a mountain or in a parallel London which runs on primordial magic is no use at all. Well, it's like that with a dream catcher or a crystal or a chant or something like this here in regular London. These are just artifacts, souvenirs, or cargo-cult stuff built to try to capture the same effect. You might as well carve a chunk of plastic into a Blackberry."

They get to the top of the blasted Heath and turn around and take a good long look at the City laid out. People are already unrolling picnic blankets and picking spots to sit in the circle. Simon asks, "So you... have meet-ups?"

"Yeah. We have people flying in from the States and from Europe and sometimes groups of us go over there and have some drink and sing some songs and break open the fabric of reality and then people Deuteron and Eggegg come through and visit and say hello. You should register!"

"You just don't listen to anything I say?" says Puggle.

"I thought it was just a hobby."

"It is! Like ham radio is a hobby. Okay, sit with your legs like this and link hands like that. You see the big pile of stuff?"

They appear to be sitting in a circle around a big pile of crumpled-up pieces of coloured paper and a pile of old Christmas lights. Kohai lights up a disposable Bic lighter and perches it carefully in a ceramic cup thing which somebody evidently made specifically for sole purpose of propping up disposable Bic lighters on a blasted Heath. Simon expects the flame to go out instantly, but it doesn't. Two other people set up flames of their own, one a birthday candle and one a leftover sparkler from Guy Fawks' Night. Some more magic words.

The Christmas lights come on, reality wavers and turns red and green where it was green and blue, and suddenly half the people in the circle have been replaced with other people. Not freakish-looking demonic alterna-people (at first sight), just different people with different boots and hairstyles and clothes, like a whole perpendicular twenty-first century of fashion just intersected the reality. The London over the hill has changed. The buildings are all different heights and some of them look like Mayan pyramids and others look like giant trees carved into building shapes. There's a Gherkin, it looks like a solid empty chunk of crystal and spreads rainbow light over the rest of the city. The course of the river is different. There are flying things the size of Tube trains, bouncing from location to location like caterpillars crawling over air. Other London!

Puggle and Jklbnm let go of Simon's hands. Puggle explains, "See, there are seven or eight independent measurements which were supposed to hit zero around the winter solstice 2012."

"You explained all of that to me. That's all crap."

"No, Simon. Please listen. The fact that they were all supposed to coincide was crap. The Mayan Calendar thing was two days off from the solstice. The I Ching calculation finished way back at the end of November, two Apocalypses were actually pinned to early on the morning of the thirty-first of December, the Godwave Timewave Concept was supposed to last all the way up until yesterday."

"What? But this is all just... I can't say it without--!"

"You can't measure it in the wrong reality any more than you can navigate using the Earth's magnetic poles instead of a spirit familiar here in Nodnol."

"That's 'London' backwards? For Christ's sake."

"So, honey, the world didn't end. As you noticed. But it was supposed to."

"Literally or figuratively?"

"Look here, Simon. Look through this at the third London. What do you see? Any cell towers? Any magical creatures or foul horrors?" No, looking again around the corner, Simon sees just a billiard-smooth planet reflecting like a pool of water. Static stars, static Sun. "You see jack. That London's invisible. That's the evil universe filled with nothing but malevolent thought and a rising tide of unvented terrible monster power. Bad things in our universe feed it and it feeds bad things in the magic second vibrational world. This is what's been building up against all the seals for so long. Okay, stop looking now."

Simon notices a carrier bag spilling open with bottled beer. He picks up one bottle (share and share alike, he brought some of his own which others are welcome to) and cracks it open with a tool from his keychain. His robot brain needs beer, figuratively speaking.

"It's dangerous to look at the blank world for too long."

"Stop shifting terminology."

"It's the end of the world, Simon." Puggle takes his hand. "All the locks and borders are broken down and we've been fired out across this dark void where the world is vulnerable. But there's a plan."

A stream of brilliant white/blue/yellow light dives up over the Nodnol horizon, cutting across its green sky and splashing down in the middle of the ring, utterly silent. It comes from the west, from New York. Two more such arcs head off in different directions, one towards Sweden and the other towards South Africa, where other meets are taking place. "Wait! Who did that? What's--"

Puggle squeezes his hand a little tighter. "We've been planning for this. The pressure has built up. The day evil wins."

There's an anti-noise, all the wind and rustling in Nodnol stops and drops. As Simon watches, the anti-city shudders and ripples and parts of it crush flat under the weight of black evil from the third universe. The crushed areas spread, coming close to levelling the hill they're sat on. There's no point trying to record it. Your camera won't work here, you need a memory spell.

"CHANGE," shouts Kohai.

Now they're in regular London watching the buildings switch from brick to wood construction and the river change course and the Tube lines flex and groan under pressure and erupt out above the surface like the roots of an uprooted plant. Their hill is back, and green, but it starts blurring to red while the sky also changes colour and the Sun swivels left across the sky as the season switches--

"CHANGE."

And finally in the dark universe, rapidly draining of darkness as it disappears drained into Nodnol, brick by brick and human by human, the real London constructs itself. Reality is shunted up a layer. A simultaneous three-way invasion. All three realms shunted one step around the cyclic group to occupy the next one's old position. "The world", by its usual definition, does "end", assimilated by granite-faced heat death. But is rebuilt in every detail elsewhere. Technically correct is the most magical correct.

There's a cheer. The fires go out and the Christmas lights pop. Somebody produces a loaf of French bread and starts breaking it into pieces. Puggle offers Simon some and he eats it and lets his brain fizz for a little while, sat cross-legged on the hill on a wintry January midday, chilly but still feeling warm.

Discussion (11)

2010-11-11 15:39:52 by qntm:

2287 words. Running total is 22009. The basic premise of this story is: what if the world didn't end on December 22, 2012, but it was actually very important that the world did end, so a bunch of people off the internet decided to get together and finish the job properly (once they could find the time)?

2010-11-11 17:40:37 by bbot:

As disjointed as the previous "chapter", but worse, since the audience surrogate spends the entire story violently disagreeing with what he's being told. Had to reread some sections several times. The jump between the intro (double hangover) and the main body is particularly abrupt.

2010-11-11 23:58:01 by Reader:

I thought it was very well done. The concept is original and the execution is great for a first draft. Good luck with NaNoWriMo, don't give up!

2010-11-12 01:04:26 by eneekmot:

Gives me a headache, I don't get it.

2010-11-12 05:11:11 by JeremyBowers:

The problem, eneekmot, is that you're approaching the story with pure Earth logic, when you need to be applying a mix of Earth and h'Trea logic, at which point it all makes sense. The logic of either world alone can not explain the shift.

2010-11-12 05:17:17 by Freddled:

Interesting idea. I didn't understand it at all on the first read through, but after the explanation in the comment, I can kind of see it.

2010-11-12 13:08:48 by qntm:

If you've read The Invisibles then this isn't just straightforward by comparison, it's positively derivative.

2010-11-14 13:43:19 by Matt:

Well I liked it. It's an interesting premise and I think you managed, very succinctly to create two detailed and believable versions of London.

2010-11-18 13:47:03 by pozorvlak:

I have read The Invisibles, and I liked this :-) Also, +1 for "h'Trea logic".

2011-07-14 23:16:46 by StClair:

Clean cup, move down!

2017-04-15 07:59:41 by Castle:

Ohh! Now I get it! I love this thing about your short stories - I read through them, understanding some parts and not others, and then WHAM the conclusion hits and it all makes sense. 1. Evil or whatever has been building up in the "third London." It was supposed to have ended the world, but it hasn't yet. 2. If the evil is left to discharge on its own, the world will be wiped out entirely. 3. To prevent this calamity, ironically, it must be forced. So, since the world must be sacrificed, they just duplicate it one layer up. A good analogy would be: "I have a hard drive with all my files on it." "I'm going to eat your hard drive, and you can't stop me." "Oh. Ok. Well, since I can't stop you from eating my hard drive, let me copy everything over to your hard drive first." "Sure, whatever." Hooray! The hard-drive eater(?) is satisfied, and you haven't (technically) lost anything.

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