The Further Adventures of Jerry Cornelius

The Vestal Factor

Colin Greenland

The mounted figure poised motionless for a moment by the ruined castle, cadaverous fingers entwined in his strange mount's thick mane. The wind grew stronger, blew more strongly through the broken trees, agitated the dry grasses on the clifftop. There would be no more rain for a while. The chieftain sighed, inspecting the innocent horizon with a frown. It was ironic that he and the beast should look so black, silhouetted against the palest of skies, for they were both albino: the creature perfectly so and his master almost, beneath a mask of lurid makeup. His hair, however, was orange, bound in a glittering silver snood, which gave him an indefinite air of distinction, almost of authority. He regarded now the clean sea, its long waves smashed into white froth on a sharp triangular rock below him. Soon it would be time. Someone... He would arrive, swiftly, out of the west, empty-handed or bringing gifts. It would be a very ticklish encounter. His coming, after all, constituted a challenge - a threat of sorts, to the security of his reign, the fidelity of his disciples. Of course, his leadership had always implied a latent strength, which one and all had trusted; but that strength was still untested because unquestioned. How could they be sure? On the other hand, he was a perverse, decadent creature. His every sentence was pregnant with a wry acknowledgement of decay, of transience and mortality. Would the stranger hold him to these promises, demand his death as a philosophical obligation? Others had had the same problem: Socrates... Christ... Keats... John Cave...

His mount snorted and twisted in his grip, gazing out to sea with pink eyes, as if he were also apprehensive. Sea-birds sawed through the air below them. His gaunt rider nudged him into motion and walked him carefully through the old arch. Then, picking up speed, he rode against the wind, down the steep and empty fields. Gorse, coltsfoot, meadowsweet: this spring the flowers had been given a chance and they were proliferating. But if he came with battle on his lips, who could promise a tomorrow? They might be forced to revert to politics, and even war.

Setting his face with a grimness which the boyish wind did not demand, Lord Ziggia sped down the old road to rejoin his beloved, though they would have no time for further deliberation. The brazen clangour of an approaching ornithopter announced their visitor's advent. And evidently the man had a sense of humour, for as soon as he spotted the rider he brought the craft down to keep pace with him. Nettled, Lord Ziggia did not look up. The bulbous shadow kept between the lovebeast and the sun for the rest of the way, like the memory of some gross and incomprehensible joke.

I: Focus on Fact - The Pop Cult (18)

Jerry Cornelius dropped in on Commander Fry at his new headquarters in what had been South Kensington Public Library. He looked up as Jerry came in the doors, surprised and almost pleased when he recognised the incongruously dapper figure in his pressed white flares, lace-fronted shirt and bottle-green corduroy jacket.

"Cornelius!"

Extending an automatic hand he realised it was clutching his swagger-stick, and withdrew it again to tuck the stick under his other arm.

Uncharacteristically, Jerry suppressed a grin. The Commander, evidently intending to supervise the clearing and refurnishing, had taken up a position in the centre of the long room, where he could command the activity buzzing about him. However, the little man seemed as harassed as ever, and had succeeded only in heightening his image of helplessness as he hovered uncertainly, in everybody's way, yet completely ignored, as usual, by his staff. Mini-skirted secretaries stalked backwards and forwards with files and folders; white-coated technicians ran up ladders with neon tubes; eager young men in sports jackets humped away crates of Georgette Heyer’s and Christopher Short’s. It was obvious that Jerry's unexpected arrival was giving him an opportunity to reassert his own importance, at least to himself. Nevertheless, as they shook hands, Jerry could see a certain embarrassment in the Commander's smile. Jerry had once been a rank-and-file subordinate on his staff, and, while he hadn't exactly been promoted over his head, he now drifted around the more rarefied echelons, where personnel stratifications were nothing like as rigid. The Commander, too insecure to feel resentment, was uncertain and nervous in his company these days; for his part, Jerry treated the plump neurotic without condescension. He felt sorry for him, in a way.

"Morning, Commander. They've given you enough room this time, then?"

He nodded towards the furthest wall of the library, where a team of carpenters were cutting into the bookshelves to make housings for the convoys of computer equipment being wheeled in.

"Enough for what?" asked the Commander indistinctly. He was always very careful when talking with Cornelius; something in the fellow's manner made it seem that there were subtle innuendoes in what he said, but Fry never managed to pick them out. It worried him.

Jerry didn't vouchsafe a reply. He smiled approvingly at a passing secretary.

"You've certainly got them all at it, eh Commander? It's going like clockwork."

The Commander smiled in gratitude. It was good to be praised. After all, it wasn't everyone who could control a workforce the size of his. Especially in these troubled times.

An alarming thought struck him. Supposing Cornelius had been sent to check on his progress? Not being quite sure at the best of times what his own job was, he could never tell how well he was doing it. A bad report could make things very sticky for him. He pulled himself unconsciously to attention; it would be safest, he decided, to impress the man as much as possible.

"Yes," he said vigorously, "we're all buckling down now. It won't be long before we're switched on and operational again."

Jerry wasn't listening. There was a fat old woman handing out tea from a squeaky trolley by the denuded non-fiction shelves; he thought he recognised her. He turned and gestured at the hardware again. "What's it do, all that stuff?" he asked. "Any idea?"

Fry cast about helplessly. The man was testing him, asking casual questions to see if he still kept up a working knowledge of his equipment.

"Terminals," he said wildly."Communications paraphernalia - though to tell you the truth -" his voice dropped to a conspiratorial undertone: the Commander had spotted a safe way out and was about to use it, "- we won't ever know if it's all functioning. Whitehall's out now, y'know, so we're very much in the dark until the Yanks come through with that new satellite of theirs. The wires are down all over the continent, they tell me, and there hasn't been a `Telegraph' for a month. I'd go back to using messengers, but the boys in blue have got most of the south sealed off still, and the mines are pretty hairy."

Jerry listened with new attention.

"Tell me," he said, "what exactly have we got in the way of reception?"

Fry led him over to a cardboard packing-case and prodded it unenthusiastically with his cane.

"Most of what's coming through seems to be on these," he said with distaste as Jerry crouched to flick through the brightly-coloured record sleeves. "Can't say I can see it myself," he went on, "but as long as the backroom boys give it the OK, it's good enough for me."

There were about forty LP's in the box. Jerry stood up.

"It's been worse," he said. "Once it was only singles and 78's."

Fry pursed his lips and tut-tutted obediently.

"What about videotape?" Jerry asked him. "Anything there?"

"Only pops and musical spectaculars, I'm afraid. Nothing else makes much sense anymore, so they say."

Jerry considered. Fry saw a chance to parade a little authority.

"If I were you," he said, "I'd go over to the BBC."

"Didn't they take that out last month?"

"Well, yes, but they've got the basements cleared and they're reassembling the old archives. A chap called Richardson's in charge there: mention my name. He should be able to fix you up with what you need."

He sounded almost fatherly. Jerry flashed him a smile.

"Could you manage a chopper?" he asked.

"Well..."

"Thanks, sweetie." Jerry patted his arm and left.

"Cuppa tea, luv?"

The huge old woman in the dirty overall had steered over to the Commander's table and was holding a paper cup under his nose. He recoiled and reached for a bottle of tablets. She clucked sympathetically: the Commander's old tummy trouble was playing him up again.

II: After the Beatles: imitators and rivals

Jerry brought the Kamov Ka-15 down a few feet, and hovered nostalgically over the Grove. In the dusty sky the helicopter looked like a metallic insect by Roger Dean. The clatter of the blades echoed along the empty streets. Yawning slightly, Alvarez slotted another cassette into position, wound it on quickly and punched the play button. He tapped Jerry on the shoulder:

"Look at that."

There was disapproval in his voice. Jerry glanced at the screen. Transport hadn't been able to arrange colour at such short notice, but it was still recognisably `Top of the Pops'. Bowie and Mick Ronson were into their fellatio routine. Jerry grinned.

"Tasty," he said.

Alvarez gave him a suspicious look.

"Disgusting, I call it, Mr C."

"The cream of our nation's youth, Mr A."

He took them up fast, and headed out to the Ssouth Eeast, humming along to `Suffragette City'. Alvarez settled down and tried not to look at the screen. Jerry Cornelius was back in control.

III: Led by Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones
Conscious rebels against society

Once again, Jerry managed to drop the helicopter into the grotty little car park outside the Time Centre. They got out and ran indoors out of the whistling wind. Jerry dragged the heavy glass door closed behind them and stared out for a moment at the debris blowing around the silent machine.

"Dead leaves?" he said quietly.

Alvarez looked at him.

"Things haven't been too good, Mr Cornelius."

"Christ, you're not wrong."

They went quickly upstairs. Jerry stood around unhappily, gazing out of the window, but Alvarez had soon changed into a clean lab coat, and switched on the cold machinery. The strip lights flickered on and a familiar deadened hum began. He rubbed his hands like a Dickensian in front of a log fire.

"Looking like home again already, eh Mr C.?"

Jerry was grateful then for the man's dedication. He'd decided in the chopper not to take him on the quest; he was too uptight, and Jerry anticipated needing all the flexibility he could muster. But now, back on ground, his confidence had come back to him, and he looked ready to do what he could from there.

"I'll be off then," said Jerry lamely. Departures like this one distressed him. He was terrified of being mistaken for some kind of lone champion.

But he stayed while Alvarez (all the other staff seemed to have deserted them) made coffee.

IV: Arrogant, uncompromising and rude

The grotesque front door dangled an old-fashioned brass bell-pull. He jerked it and heard a tired jangling in the depths of the building.

Looking around he was glad he'd opted for the Triumph and left the helicopter to be taken back (with a Noel Tatt Thank-You card pinned on the pilot's seat) to South Ken. Flying, he'd have had to land it on the hockey pitches, and the thought of a reception committee of twenty-two panting schoolgirls with an elderly mistress, all with knees and red noses, repelled him a little. The Spitfire was a bit flashy, perhaps, but he wouldn't be needing any more than one passenger seat, if all went well.

Footsteps clomped to the door. It was opened by a terrified little blonde, who stared at him for a full minute before gasping:

"Can I help you?"

"Yes," said Jerry, wickedly. He pulled a notebook from an inside pocket and pretended to consult it, leafing impatiently.

"Your headmistress..."

"Miss Brunner?"

"Yes, that was the name."

"I'll go and see if she's free. Won't you come in?"

Jerry would, stepping into a fearfully polished hallway hung with trophies and long dismal photographs. Half a dozen assorted girls stopped chattering and inspected him silently. He wiped his feet.

The blonde squeezed round the door marked "Amelia Brunner, M.A. (Cantab.)" in 36-point Grotesque. He'd come to the right place. Miss Brunner, middle-aged but only slightly faded, came out to him, a small black-and-white cat sprawled uncomfortably in the crook of her arm.

"Mr er...?"

"Cornelius."

"Mr Cornelius. How do you do; Winifred, you really must ask a visitor his name before you let him in. The most - undesirable people could walk in here without so much as a by-your-leave."

"Yes, Miss Brunner," whispered the blonde, scurrying away. Jerry looked after her, and then back at Miss Brunner. No wonder she was terrified.

Miss Brunner, however, was looking at Jerry as if she found him very far from undesirable. They had tea in a strained little parlour, beneath a venerable founder in oils and a lopsided black-and-white cat in water-colours. Miss Brunner was preoccupied with an inoffensive Tompion carriage-clock which she brought from the mantelpiece to the tea-table. Poking it about with her table-knife, she said "Do you know anything about clocks, Mr Cornelius?" Jerry looked up from his seed-cake.

"They're all unreliable these days," he assured her.

"I never have time enough to get this one going," she said. Jerry was delighted. She seemed to understand him perfectly. It looked as if he'd have no trouble here.

"That's more or less what I came to see you about," he said.

V: Pop became a medium for teenage revolt and Total Freedom

Progressive monopolies had not been slow to take advantage of disrupted media and public confusion. Advertisements no longer stayed safely two-dimensional in magazines or on T.V. Now they confronted the consumer in the streets, in public buildings, in his own home. Suburban housewives were assailed by marauding bands of soccer fans and anglers demanding hot beefy drinks or bowls of golden breakfast cereal, or holding out armfuls of muddy garments to be washed cleaner than they'd ever thought possible. Skiers roamed the streets in search of snow, baring dazzling teeth at passers-by and threatening them with disturbingly phallic tubes of toothpaste. Sinister Italians in aluminium sunglasses screamed through the cities in spotless cars, stopping only to abandon each vehicle as new models left the factory. On Salisbury Plain -

VI: Living as you liked

Miss Brunner put down her cup with a clatter.

"What you are suggesting, Mr Cornelius," she declared, "is out of the question. Such activities have never been, and God willing never shall be, part of our curriculum. Not even in the Sixth Form," she added. She looked at him again. The cold light of the afternoon fell upon his fine, ascetic features as he sat opposite her, sipping Twinings' Nectar. The voices of her girls sounded a million miles away.

"However," she resumed, "if I myself may be of any assistance..."

Jerry giggled and fell upon her. Miss Brunner closed her eyes with a happy little smile and helped him to unbutton her cardigan.

VII

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's -

VIII: The Revolt of the Rising Generation
against the Established, of Children
against Parents

Jerry was quite pleased, in a selfish sort of way. She had been faded, too faded to take back, but not as tough going as he'd estimated. He stood up and ran his fingers through his hair, approving his reflection in a presentation silver tray. The cat stared too. There was a gentle knock on the door, and Winifred came in.

"Oh -" she said, "I thought Miss Brunner was in here."

"Winifred, darling," said Jerry, gaily, before she could escape, "take me to your leader."

Winifred did not understand.

"School captain? Head of House? Head Girl? Senior Prefect?"

"Oh."

They went together through frigid corridors to a dark brown door. The slip of postcard in the little metal clip said "U. Persson." Winifred was about to knock, but Jerry raised a finger.

"One more thing?"

She nodded helplessly.

"Go back to Miss Brunner's sitting-room and fold her clothes up neatly."

She goggled at him. He turned her about and smacked her round little bottom affectionately. She scuttled off. Jerry opened the door.

Inside on the bed two slim young bodies lay naked and entwined. One of them looked up at him, clutching a particularly arresting photo of David Bowie in her brown hand.

"Yes?" she said.

"Oh dear," said Jerry, "Winifred forgot to introduce me again."

"What do you want?"

"Never mind, sweetie," he said, closing the door, "never mind."

A voice made him stop and look back inside.

"Jerry?"

The other girl was sitting up, brushing long golden hair back from her face.

"Hello, Cathy."

IX

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's brought their white mopeds together -

X: Pop rejects History

"Any luck yet, Mr Cornelius?"

"It depends on what you mean." Jerry smiled at himself in the tiny flyblown mirror.

"Any joy your end?"

"It's spreading everywhere, as far as I can tell. Course, communications are all to hell -"

Jerry nodded. He'd heard it all before.

"Anything you can do?" he asked, trying not to sound too brusque.

"Keep on keeping on, I suppose."

"Do what you can, hey?"

"Trust me, Mr Cornelius." His voice took on the old tone of wartime optimism. "I'll have 'em back in bud before the week's out."

"Good for you," said Jerry, "bye now."

From the phone box he drove to Centre Point, the passenger seat still untaken. Damn. He left the car by the fountains. The guards shouldered arms and saluted as he went in. He didn't bother to acknowledge. The lift took him up to his flat and as the doors hissed apart he remembered that when he'd left the party had still been rocking. Damn again. He paused in the hallway and listened, ready to split if he heard anything. Silence.

The door slid away as he touched the identification plate. Jesus, what a mess. He kicked bottles aside, went in, treading on a spent hypodermic. The only guests still there were a couple of policemen in a corner by the Bechstein getting another one together.

"Hi, Jerry."

He held the joint out; Jerry waved it away.

"Don't mind me."

Hissing speakers attracted his attention. He crossed over to the newish Garrard SP 95 and took off the MFP Pathetique, shaking his head over it. He sleeved it and dropped it back in the rack, rifling through the rest perfunctorily. The Inspector finished rolling up and came over to look for a roach card.

"What's new?"

Jerry put on `Pin-Ups'.

"This is," he said. They stood and listened.

Yesterday was such an easy game for you to play,
But - let's face it - things are so much easier today.
Guess you need some bringing down:
Get your feet back on the ground.
Won't you tell me,
Where have all the good times gone?
Where have all the good times gone?
Where have all the good times gone?

The Inspector listened to the end of the track, then sniffed.

"Heard it," he said. Jerry sighed. It wasn't going to be easy.

The doorbell rang. It was Miss Persson, in faded denims.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Una. Are you Jerry Cornelius?"

He nodded.

"Oh. She told me to try at the convent, but they sent me here. Can I come in?"

She did. She seemed preoccupied and chewed a fingertip.

"Is she your sister?"

"Uh-huh." Jerry flipped the record. Una smiled when the first notes came through, swaying her head in time.

"Bowie. Yeah."

The Inspector smiled at her and gave her the joint. She took a drag. Blue smoke snaked away. She exhaled, said "We've got your books in our library."

"Jesus, no..." groaned Jerry.

"Oh, don't sweat it, I haven't read them."

They sat around for a couple of tracks. Then she indicated the two men.

"Are those two cool?"

He nodded again.

"Then what is it you're looking for?"

He told her.

XI

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's brought their white mopeds together in formation like a battle squadron -

XII: Is tied to the Present and the Young

Nights later, up at the Manor, Jerry pulled off the Akai ASE-20's and shook his hair free.

"It'll do," he said. "Press it; get it released as soon as you can." He took a half-empty Long Life can from a technician and swung round on his stool sucking it. The technician went and lifted the tapes from the console and took them out of the room: there was little time left.

"How's the publicity?"

"Coming on a treat," said Shaky Mo. "It's a rush job, but these days the kids'll grab anything that looks promising - no offence, Miss."

Una gave him a thin smile.

"Nobody can sort out the images and identities now, anyway," said someone needlessly. "Listening to that, you can't tell it's anyone different from the established lot."

Jerry nodded absently and gave Una the beer to finish.

"Okay," he said softly, unslinging the Fender and laying it aside. He spoke to Una. "We've got the Albert Hall for a fortnight tomorrow... should give it time for distribution - let the word get around."

"Anyone there'll do you," she said carelessly. "They're all the same."

Nobody spoke. An airship passed over, heading north.

Jerry was tired. It was taking too long. The phone worked only intermittently, and the last time he'd got through Alvarez had sounded tired too. He felt out of touch, especially with Alvarez and the Centre, but getting back down to the business again had sapped everything else from his mind. He hoped he knew what he was doing. The kids were dangerous. They'd used up a lot of heroes already. He really should have consulted someone who knew the type he was after; John Peel, say. Or David Bedford. Even Adrian Henri. Experts in the field. Talent-spotters. Still, he was grateful for Una. She seemed to have a knack for all the intrigue. After all, it was her bloody idea in the first place.

XIII

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's brought their white mopeds together in formation like a battle squadron and waited. The wind caught their hair.

XIV: The Key to Instant Success

Jerry Cornelius, in sequinned singlet, crimson flares, and six inch stacks, ran a sweaty hand through sweatier hair. Una had been for cutting and dyeing it, but, at the last moment, grease had come back in, so he'd piled on the Brylcreem and swept it all back behind his ears. The lights were hot and bewildering. The kids screamed. He grinned at them, hating it suddenly. He couldn't make out a single face in the Hall anyway, so there was no way of knowing whether he'd caught one. Yet. A voice called something up from a backstage exit. Jerry went prancing forward to the noses of the front row and the band hit the first few bars of "It's All Over Now", which was as predictable a way as any to end a gig. Jerry hoped that he couldn't really see people leaving already. He thrashed through the chord sequences, took a couple of bows, blew a kiss for good measure and went to his dressing room. Una was there, looking bored. She threw him a towel.

He peeled off the vest and rubbed his body, noticing how thin he was getting. He'd hoped for a feed tonight, but hadn't had the time. He put on a limp jacket. Una looked at him. Expressionless, she said,

"Get outside. There'll be some of them waiting for you. One of them's bound to come up to you. They always do. Then you'll be okay."

Jerry knew she was fed up with it all. She'd never understood why he was doing it, never seen the sizes of the forces he was trying to placate - had no idea that reality itself was in chaos. She'd always lived in a disordered world, and thought that the two were the same thing. In fact - Jerry looked around the desolate backstage - everyone was fed up with it all. Shaky Mo had counted the takings and gone home. The band were drinking Watney's Party Seven and trying to avoid Jerry's eye. Nobody cared. He went out. Nobody tried to stop him. It was snowing.

They mobbed Jerry Cornelius outside the Albert Hall and left him on the wet pavement. They were only teenage girls and there weren't very many of them, but they were cold and they were keen. At first sight, in the lemon chiaroscuro of the exit lights, Jerry had been hopeful, seeing how virginal they looked, with their rouged cheeks and bobbed curls. But they wouldn't lay down. Somehow they managed to get all over him, and he felt his identity slipping away like shining water down a dark drain, and with unexpected anguish he knew suddenly what it felt like to be a star.

XV

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's brought their white mopeds together in formation like a battle squadron and waited. The wind caught their hair. None of them spoke a word.

XVI: It has accomplished one Revolution

Jerry woke, alone, wet, and cold. He didn't want to go back inside. Wrapping the rag of his jacket about his ribs, he ran to the Phantom VI, got it turning first go. The sheepskin seat-cover made a serviceable cloak. Unable to face London and the possibility of Una, he drove cursing to a country hotel where they might stare but would certainly be too English to ask any questions.

In the morning he called Alvarez, intending to rest up for a few days, maybe even spend some time at Sunnydales, but the voice on the other end of the line helped remind him that the hunt was still on, and time running out in all directions.

XVII: Where can it go from here?

On Salisbury Plain ten thousand teenagers in white tunics and Levi's brought their white mopeds together in formation like a battle squadron and waited. The wind caught their hair. None of them spoke a word. The director, Mr Auchinek, had been drinking heavily for weeks. One of the continuity men, an ex-Eton trendy in a washed-out combat jacket, had become very edgy and started asking what the product was. Then they'd found him under a tree, strangled with his own scarf. You couldn't be too careful. The director had been drinking for weeks.

But the sun came up in a wet sky and it looked as if today would be the day. Jerry got the tip-off and decided to give it one last try. Alvarez was unpleasant over breakfast but insisted on flying the new chopper himself. Above the noise of the engine Jerry yelled,

"Shit! Look at them all!"

With a mind-blowing roar the squad began to move.

"What's the product? What's the product?" asked Jerry, excitedly. Alvarez shrugged, kept his eyes on the dials.

"Pepsi-Cola? Ultra-Brite? Golden Wonder?"

The bikes bounced over the turf, gathering a little speed, superbly handled.

"Martini? John Player? Speed and Power Magazine?"

The little copter dipped. Convinced of his quarry Jerry opened the hatch and paid out rope ladder.

"Cadbury's Flake? Honda? Shell? Head and Shoulders? Vimto?"

Grimly, Alvarez matched their pace, laying back the throttle in case the downdraught scattered them. Jerry hurtled down the ladder.

"Ronco? Wrigley's? Jackie? Fylon? Canadian Club?"

Hypodermic clasped between his teeth, Jerry hung by his knees like Batman. He reached down for the shoulders of the lead rider, grabbed, missed. He waved his arms.

"Lower?"

"Lower!"

Brutally, Alvarez obeyed. The motor gagged. Jerry swung over giddily, grabbed again, made an impossible jerk and dangled an unresisting body by the armpits. It was horribly weightless. Then, for the first time, all the riders looked up at him with jeering eyes and laughed.

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

Jerry winced. Still laughing they made a sharp right and accelerated away from the hovering chopper. The prisoner's bike lay smashed and smoking far behind. The white-suited figure managed to hook the ladder with its feet and, since there was nothing else to be done, followed Jerry up into the cabin. Alvarez wouldn't even look at them.

"Got one?"

"Yes."

"Sex?"

"Does that matter at times like these?" Jerry was out of breath and annoyed. He reeled in the ladder aggressively and kicked the trap shut.

"Here. Give me the controls. You deal with the kid."

"Haven't you injected her yet?"

"I dropped the fucking works, didn't I?"

Alvarez flew on. Jerry sighed and rummaged among the rubbish on the floor for another hypo. The figure removed its helmet and stood up, arms akimbo, beautiful, smiling and quite sexless. It started to laugh, mockingly.

"Shut up!"

Jerry slapped the polished cheek. The head fell off and rolled under the winch; there was nothing inside. Jerry burst into tears. Even Alvarez was dismayed. Weeping together they flew back to the city.

XVIII: Next Week: "Holy Night"

In the end the web was bulging so grotesquely that they had to use Catherine. Jerry was sick with despair when the possibility began to look inevitable and spent the whole of Tuesday telephoning frantically and bickering with Alvarez. His identity was way down and he couldn't stop crying. He felt terrible.

"She's been there before," Alvarez pointed out for the hundredth time, "and you've always got her back again." "Every time she goes, she goes further!" Jerry screamed. "How many times do you think she can stand being yanked back here? And how long can we hold her for anyway?"

But he knew an emergency when he saw one, and she had to go. Everything else had been no use. He fetched her from school in the Spitfire, waiting at the end of the drive to avoid Una. He stopped in Holland Park and they made love on the lawn by the orangery. He was miserable, she resigned.

"Jerry, you're so cold," she said anxiously, but he only stared at the last of the pigeons.

Goat's liver and Pentaphonic Sound: "Close to the Edge", then "Sympathy for the Devil". As it turned out, she slipped through so easily it was fucking ironic. Jerry turned a glare of accusation on Alvarez at the controls, knowing it wasn't his fault, but past caring.

Things got a bit better after that, but Jerry wasn't in the mood to take advantage of it. He hung around San Simeon, the cellar of the Ashmolean, and even the old mock-Corbusier chateau for weeks, fiddling with all the refrigeration units and eating a lot of plain chocolate coated McVities' Homewheat. But it was all just a matter of time.

The clatter of the flying machine abused a cool and peaceful daybreak. It woke Lord Ziggia from a dream, and he smiled when he recognised the noise, turning to speak to his companion and rouse him. But the pale crimson sheets were untucked and the silk cushions vacant; B'Olahn was abroad already. At dawn, when clouds of giant scarlet flamingos rose from their nests of reeds and wheeled through the sky in bizarre ritual dances, he would go down to the edge of the marsh and stare over the water at the strange configurations of dark lagoons and tawny islands that seemed to him like hieroglyphs in some primeval language.

"B'Olahn!"

"He turned and saw a phantom horseman on a skeletal steed: Lord Ziggia Studdest, riding in search of him.

"My Lord."

"Good news."

Skilfully guiding his pale lovebeast with a tug at his mane, Lord Ziggia came down the grassy ride to join his friend.

"Our - guest has taken his leave."

"I heard him go, sir. He startled the flamingos."

"And not only them, hm?"

B'Olahn smiled frankly.

"But he has gone."

There was silence across the wildness of the marshlands, and then the oddly graceful birds began their croaking chorus. Together they rode back towards the city, conversing on the way, glad that a few dark and difficult days had passed without serious incident.

"It was inevitable that he should fall," said Lord Ziggia.

"How so?"

"This is not his home. He was out of place here. Out of tune with our world. Out of time."

"And yet so like ourselves."

Lord Ziggia showed surprise, and considered his beloved's remark.

"You are right," he admitted at last. "And we do hold our own, so to speak, precariously - as if with one hand only. We - do not belong, here or anywhere."

"No more does he," B'Olahn put in. "Child of everywhere, native of none. With his hair to his shoulders and his needle-gun at his side, he sprang full-grown from the womb of an idea. Oh, they need their myths - but they are not responsible for their survival."

The breeze was chilly again, but Lord Ziggia smiled.

"Perhaps we have more in common with him than I'd understood," he said. "We are the seekers of space, Mr Starman."

"Kings of Oblivion, Mr Bewlay."

Bopping through the morning clouds, they kissed and gave the lovebeasts their heads.

And the city heard them singing.