1979. On the Planet Previously known as Glam.
It really was called that, once upon a time. Mr Glister could hardly credit it. What a shame they had changed it. The new designation – now that the planet was about to join the Loose Alliance - was the far more prosaic M-21b. Vince had been right, thought the sad dwarf. Everything in the modern day universe was tending towards the dour and glum. The Seventies were ending and everyone was feeling a little sadder and wiser.
Vince himself had wandered out into the wilderness, here on this alien world. His diminutive chum hadn’t seen him for several days. It had been Monday when Vince suddenly appeared in a thin, white cotton shift, looking all monkish and solemn. He declared that he was walking out into the crimson desert to make his tribute to the great gods of Glam. He didn’t want any provisions or any company on his pilgrimage. His face was devoid of make-up and glitter. His hair was back in its natural shade of dirty brown.
He really has changed, thought Glister. He really means it this time. He is retiring for good. He is striding out into the inhospitable wastes of Glam and renouncing his calling forever.
That morning Mr Glister had shed a tear or two for the passing of the rock star known as Vince Cosmos.
‘It’s all right, Mr Glister, old pal,’ Vince had said, grimly. ‘I’ll still be the same person. I just won’t be quite the same on the outside. We can have some peace at last, eh?’
But, thought Mr Glister, as he watched his friend shimmer on the horizon and eventually disappear like a wavering mirage… But I liked all the fuss and the kerfuffle of the rock star world. I loved the screaming crowds and the autographs, the tour buses and the concert appearances. I liked humping the equipment about and acting as his security guard. Even the boring stuff, like hanging around the studios as he worked so painstakingly on his lyrics – even all that was thrilling. And also… I liked our secret mission too. The stuff that our public never knew we were up to. Our endless, dangerous task of saving the world from the Visitors…
He went to sit in the courtyard of the old stone house. He sipped mint tea and smoked something that had been left lying around on the tiled table, which made him see double for a while. He wasn’t even sure who this house belonged to. Typical of Vince – to dump him here and go off seeking his own spiritual salvation or whatever he was up to. Glister was feeling a bit annoyed, actually. Parsecs from home and unable to even speak the language.
Here came that older woman again, in the midnight blue robes. She was so graceful and kind-looking. She had kissed and hugged Vince. Glister had wondered whether they were related. Maybe this was Vince’s mother or aunty. She smiled and nodded at the dwarf and brought him sticky sweetmeats on golden dishes. Oh, what am I anyway? thought Glister miserably. Just a helper. Nothing more than a Roadie, really. Why should I have anything explained to me, anyway?
He fell into a vexed daydream of those early days with Vince. Back before the boy was mega-famous. When they lived on the houseboat in Camden and Vince was a rising star, appearing on BBC TV’s Smashing Tunes and at the Royal Variety Performance. When Poppy Munday first joined their gang as Vince’s P.A and they had had to explain to her about the Martians infiltrating Earth show-business and how they were the spearhead of another Martian invasion force. That plucky Geordie girl had taken the whole thing in her stride… What a team they had made!
Seven years later, though, their little gang was broken. After all those years of hits and shows and fights with Martians. Now they were split up. The band had gone its separate ways. Poppy was in New York. Vince and Glister were here… somewhere down in space. The scarlet and lilac, mountainous world that Vince claimed to come from. True, he had grown up in East Dulwich, but this was his true home, he had earnestly explained. This was where his roots were. The planet once known as Glam.
Days and days had gone by and there was no sign of Vince. Glister was left to his own devices. He wasted time checking over and polishing the instruments and dials of their small spacecraft. He sighed as he gazed at all that polished brass and wood, knowing that he only really understood half of the principles that guided their spaceship’s flight from Earth. If the worst was to happen and Vince never returned from his arid vigil, then Glister wouldn’t stand a chance of returning home. At this, he shuddered with repressed panic.
The woman Glister suspected of being related to Vince came by to see him that evening as the servants brought him more of their rich, somewhat sticky dishes. She made consoling crooning noises and he nodded crossly at her. If she really was Vince’s mother, did she understand much about her son, and the life he had lived on Earth in the Seventies? Did she even understand what a Glam Rock star was? Had she ever heard the marvellous tracks that Vince had cut?
Up here, in these calm, lofty realms, all that hullabaloo seemed almost irrelevant. Something bridled inside Mr Glister at that thought. He felt as if Vince was casting off everything that had ever connected them. Everything they had striven to achieve. Like the planet itself, Vince Cosmos had renounced his glitter.
When darkness fell that night Mr Glister made a snap decision and stole a small landcraft that was docked outside the main gates of the complex. It seemed easy enough to drive. After a few false starts he got it hovering across the desert sands. No one shouted out and came running to stop him. His heart leapt up at the sudden jolt of speed as he flew full throttle into the cooling sands.
How would he even know where Vince had gone? This whole world was covered in red sand. He could lose himself in it and never get back to civilization. Just at that moment, though, Glister didn’t care. He flew blindly into the moonlit night and trusted that he would find his friend and employer by sheer instinct.
He knew Vince was going to the mountains. He had heard him mention that he intended to perform the self-purifying ritual of Pann’baaa at the Mountain of Quo. As he rode along, Glister activated the car’s small computer screen and plugged in a query. The route to the Mountain of Quo twinkled into being. The car adjusted its direction and he sighed contentedly. He would be there in just under three hours.
Glister sat back, watching the swooping dark clouds perform a dance just for him under the golden moonlight. He found he was whispering a song or two by Vince as he anticipated a reunion with his chum.
But when he came to the mountain he was surprised to be flagged down by a very small person, standing alone in the road. A person even smaller than Mr Glister.
Glister slowed down. There was a Panda waving at him. He blinked. A toy Panda: not even a real one. And now the Panda was dashing up to the side of the space age car Glister had purloined. Oh, this was too much.
‘Hallo, Mr Glister,’ the small bear said.
The dwarf stared at him. ‘You know me?’
‘You need to come with me,’ said Panda, straightening out his cravat, which had become ruffled in the breeze. ‘There’s someone who wants to talk to you.’
‘Got no time,’ said Glister grimly. ‘I’m looking for my friend.’
‘Yes, we know that,’ sighed Panda. ‘We’ve been keeping tabs on you both.’
‘You know where Vince is?’
But the Panda was evasive, suddenly. He hopped into the driver’s cab next to the dwarf and patted the dashboard commandingly. Then he started giving directions, which took them and their stolen hovercar into the dusky foothills of the Mountains of Quo. And there, standing proudly on a gentle mound, was a double decker bus.
‘The Number 22 to Putney Common,’ gasped Mr Glister. ‘I used to catch that when I was working on the building sites…’
‘Not this one,’ Panda laughed.
Next thing, they were letting themselves aboard the bus, and Glister had time enough to notice that all the windows were obscured by chintz curtains. The hydraulic doors whooshed open and suddenly he and the small bear were standing inside what seemed to be a really messy boudoir. There was a chaise longue and an Art Deco cocktail cabinet and various other pieces of antique furniture. Items of fancy clothing and star charts were slung any old how about the place.
‘You hoo?’ Panda called.
Mr Glister fought to keep control of himself. Here he was, on a bus on this alien world. In the company of a toy someone might have won at the fair. And yet he had faced much stranger things in the past.
Panda dashed up the stairwell to the top deck. Glister heard him talking to someone. A female voice. Slightly slurred. Less than a minute later there was a slimmish blonde with purple highlights crashing down those metal stairs. She wore a tiger print frock coat and yellow plastic stack heel boots and she’d stuck golden stars on her face – just for him.
‘Mr Glister,’ she cried, sticking a tremulous hand in his face for him to kiss. ‘How lovely. I do like a nice little man.’
He scowled at her. ‘Who the hell are you?’
Her face fell. ‘Don’t you know me? Oh dear. Iris Wildthyme, Mr Glister. Transtemporal adventuress.’
Glister accepted a Martini and sat on the cluttered chaise longue, balancing the silvery glass in both hands. The Wildthyme woman was regaling him with all sorts of tales about how she and her Panda friend came to be on the planet formerly known as Glam. For a few minutes Glister was happy to sip his murderously strong drink – after having lived off mint tea since he had touched down on Glam with Vince a week ago.
He stared fretfully at the chattering baglady as she said, ‘What I’m interested in is why Vince is retiring now. Why’s he giving up the ghost?’
‘He feels like he’s old hat,’ said Glister. ‘There’s no secret about that. His records don’t sell in anything like their old numbers. Even he could see that Glam is dead. He kept on going though – through the soul revival, and Disco… and then punk and now New Wave on its way. He kept on churning out his records. He even tried his hand at a disco number.’
‘Heard it,’ Panda growled. ‘It was diabolical.’
‘Oh, I rather liked it,’ grinned Iris. ‘But it’s rather more, isn’t it, Mr Glister, than simply retiring from the music biz? Vince is giving up his other role, too, isn’t he? His more secretive and hush-hush role as defender of the Earth?’
Glister boggled at her. ‘How do you know about that?’
She batted her fake eyelashes at him and he saw that they were clogged with black and silver glitter. ‘One has one’s methods, dear,’ she said.
Glister stared at her levelly. ‘You know… I’ve had a feeling… ever since I stepped aboard this bus of yours… We’ve met before, haven’t we?’
‘I couldn’t possibly say,’ she smiled. ‘Now look, Mr Glister. If your boss has renounced his Glam ways and his Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle, that’s all very well. But he can’t just leave the Earth undefended against the alien Visitors.’
‘Indeed not,’ said Panda hotly.
‘We need his map,’ Iris said, leaning forward, and breathing ginny fumes into Glister’s face. ‘The special map, remember?’
The special map… he wondered. And he wondered hard, and he wondered some more. Glister knew that he’d shot his memory to merry hell throughout the Seventies with substance abuse and standing near the speakers at too many gigs. He had shaken the sense out of himself, was what Poppy Munday always used to say…
That was a point… where had Poppy Munday gone? When had she gone? New York, wasn’t it? She was working in the New York office near Times Square… it was okay, he could remember. And the last time they saw her was when Vince took that suite and there was the aftershow party and Jimmy Bellotron had turned up with Fiji and all their gang…
Glister sat watching the Maelstrom stream by outside the bus, and consoled himself with the thought that – yes – if he tried hard enough, he could, in fact, remember things. He dreaded the coming 1980s, though – imagining further decline in all his faculties.
Iris was in the cab of the bus, and she had taken them off into this swimmy, orange and greenish hyperspatial dimension where ‘space and time are completely buggered up’, as Panda had put it. Now they were at least a trillion light years from Vince and his Zennish sojourn in the Mountains of Quo and this made Glister feel very uneasy. But there was nothing he could do, could he? This was tantamount to kidnap by this old ratbag and her bear. He lay back on the chaise longue, pulling his afghan coat around him against the chill from the time winds. He sipped another Martini, watching the lightshow outside, smoking a gold and yellow Sobranie that Iris had given him.
Yes… he remembered the map. It was one of Vince’s most treasured possessions. Wherever he went the map went with him. It was too precious to be left in the safe on the houseboat. Glister remembered how the lines and colours on that strangely thick vellum had shimmered and morphed, as if the map was a living thing. Green lights sparked up here and there among the pulsing contours of that chart…
‘The souls of all the Martians on Earth,’ Glister said. ‘That’s what the map showed. Where all the Martians were hiding.’
‘Quite,’ said Panda, sitting right beside him. ‘And if your Mr Cosmos is retiring, then we need the map off him.’
‘But… Vince left everything behind,’ said the dwarf. ‘All of his outfits and jewellery… everything is still on Earth.’
‘We need to know where he might have hidden stuff,’ said Panda urgently. ‘His bank accounts, his safety deposit boxes.’
Glister shook his head. ‘He gave everything away. Every last penny. That’s what I found so alarming, before we set off into space. He left himself penniless, as if he knew he was never coming back.’
Panda frowned. Then he hopped off up the gangway to tell Iris. She craned her ear to listen above the screeching of the bus engines and the ear-splitting music from the speakers. Then she nodded firmly and brought the bus in to land.
Next thing, they were emerging from the swirling Maelstrom into a London street. A back street with boarded windows and a great deal of litter swirling about in the stiff breeze. ‘You’ve brought me home!’ cried Glister, pleased despite himself. He had really started to think he’d be stuck on that arid desert world for the rest of his life.
Iris came hurrying down the aisle, suddenly wearing bondage trousers and a tattered tartan frock coat held together with safety pins. ‘Yes, but not quite in your time, Mr Glister. We’ve taken you back a handful of years… To 1976.’
She opened the bus’ doors and the background London street noise came washing in, making Glister feel instantly at home. ‘What happened in 1976?’ he frowned.
Panda nudged him, and urged him outside. ‘It’s all right. Iris has got a smashing plan for retrieving the map…’
1976 was the year of Wembley, Glister realized, suddenly, as he saw exactly where they were. The vast stadium was filled to capacity on the day the bus had deposited them, and Glister remembered how that eighty thousand-strong crowd had queued up especially to see Vince. It was the largest single audience Vince ever played to and the day had been a fraught one all round.
‘Hey! I’m here already!’ Glister cried, as he joined the queue with Iris and Panda. The Vince fans spared him only the most cursory of glances. He was glad none of them recognized him. Many were plastered in Vince make-up and sporting home-made Vince costumes. Others were made up in the punkish fashion of the time. Vince was one of the few older stars of Glam who had still been respected by the nascent punks, Glister remembered. Though it was during this 1976 tour, with all its theatrical pomp and excess, that that particular tide had started to turn…
Oh, god. It was the Galactic Pharaoh Tour, wasn’t it? Glister shuddered at the very thought. The tour with the fifteen contortionist dancers dressed as lizard people. And the hundred-foot tall golden sphinx with angel wings that extended during the final number. Resulting in the electrocution of several fans in the front rows during a rainy night in Glasgow. That disastrous piece of hydraulics in that monstrously self-indulgent tour that even Vince had wound up regretting bitterly by the end.
So that’s what we’re here to see, thought Glister miserably. I’ve been whizzed back through time three years in order to witness Vince’s most witless spectacle. And, here at Wembley, the final concert appearance he made in the UK to date.
‘Oh, I hear it’s just awful,’ Panda was grinning. ‘Just shockingly bad. All the band abseil down from the top of the stadium, all of them clutching their instruments… and then, as they play the introduction, a giant golden egg is rolled out onto the stage by the dancing lizards. And then, as the first song starts, the egg cracks open and Vince himself climbs out, dressed in gold, with his hair apparently in flames, singing a B side from 1968.’
‘It sounds ghastly,’ said Iris, with relish.
Glister groaned. He remembered the whole thing only too well. He and Poppy Munday had begged and pleaded with Vince during the months of planning that had gone into this tour. Please don’t sing only your most obscure tracks! Please don’t have a gigantic sphinx and everybody on Kirby wires! Please don’t give into your wildest, most self-indulgent ideas about how to stage a stadium concert!
But there had been no reasoning with him.
They took their seats in the stadium, and all three were impressed by the size of the crowd. ‘Eighty thousand!’ Panda exclaimed. ‘Just think how popular he must be!’
‘And think how unpopular he is just about to be,’ moaned Glister. ‘He’s about to disappoint and turn off all of this lot. Just wait for the long monologues about aliens and the thirty minute drum solo while Vince changes into his kabuki costume. I don’t know why he bothered. No one more than twenty feet away could see him anyway!’
The crowd were chanting enthusiastically, carried away by the atmosphere as the sun set over Wembley and the stage lit up green and gold. Heavy drapes concealed the elaborate set design.
‘Let’s sit through the first half,’ Iris said. ‘Until the interval. Then we’ll sneak backstage and get what we came for…’ She eyed Glister meaningfully. ‘And that’s where you come in. You can show us where the map is concealed.’
‘But…’ Glister spluttered. ‘You think it’s here? You think he took it with him wherever he went?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, I do. I don’t think he let it go very far at all. It was too important. And I think you’re the one with whom he entrusted it, Mr Glister.’
Glister muttered to himself as the audience started whooping more energetically and the lightshow over Wembley intensified. Something was happening at the front of the stage…
The show started up.
The first half lasted just over an hour.
It was as horrible as Glister remembered.
The audience stood dumbstruck at the awfulness of it all.
‘Holy fuck,’ said Panda.
‘Sssh,’ said Iris. ‘I’m sure it’ll get better in the second half.’
‘It won’t,’ Glister growled.
Suddenly Iris was out of her seat, clutching Panda to her bosom, and pushing the dwarf along ahead of her. ‘It’s true,’ sighed Iris, jogging along, feeling slightly crushed and claustrophobic as they fought with the crowd. ‘I think Vince has lost it by now, hasn’t he? He seemed so uninterested in his own songs. He was caught up in the spectacle of it all… like the performers up there and all the special effects were playing out some kind of intense psychodrama of his own…’
‘It looked like crap,’ said Panda.
They struggled through the concrete tunnels, where disappointed punters were queuing for hotdogs and beer. They heard some moaning about the lack of hit tunes and others complaining about too many. It seemed that Vince could please no one with this show.
It took them a little longer than planned to get round the back and into the security area. Mr Glister realized that this was one of his functions. He was the Trojan horse for this strange duo. Only he could smuggle them behind the scenes. As they approached the security guards he was seized with doubt. Who were these time travellers after all? Why was he trusting them like this? Was it just that he was grateful for being rescued from the former planet Glam?
‘Why should I help you?’ he said, out of the corner of his mouth.
Iris raised a surprised eyebrow. ‘Because the fight must go on, Mr Glister. If Vince gives up in 1979, then someone has to carry on, don’t they?’
‘I suppose so,’ he mumbled. He knew the old bat was right. The Martians were still out there, weren’t they? Undeterred and still keen to rule the Earth. And if Vince had given up, who was going to take his place? ‘Okay, I’ll get you the map,’ he said.
But they hadn’t counted on Poppy Munday.
‘What are you doing back here?’ she cried. ‘And who are these two?’ She stared incredulously at Iris and Panda.
The three of them had been caught red-handed by Vince’s P.A as they rummaged about in the dressing room. Vince was elsewhere. Curled into a foetal shape, meditating in the toilet. The noise of his chanting could be heard in the dressing room as the interlopers hunted through scattered belongings. They were so caught up in their frantic task that they hadn’t even noticed Poppy come in.
‘I thought you were helping with the set change,’ she frowned at Glister. ‘Didn’t I just see you out there, struggling with the space dragon’s tail?’
‘Er, yes,’ said Glister, blushing. ‘But I’m – erm – here as well.’ He stared at Poppy’s innocent, doll-like face and sighed. He’d always adored this girl. Though he could never have told her anything of the sort, of course. Here she was just three years ago, and it seemed like a lifetime. Back when they were all together. He remembered that blue and orange striped stretchy turtleneck she had worn back then. He sighed and glanced sideways at Iris and Panda, seeing again how bizarre they must look to Penny. The only thing was to come clean, wasn’t it?
Before he could speak, Iris said, ‘I’m a groupie, chuck. I’m here because I’m in love with Vince. You’ve caught me! Oh no!’ She threw up her beringed hands in mock horror.
‘And I’m a groupie, too,’ said Panda, eyeing Poppy beadily.
Poppy looked worried. ‘You really shouldn’t be back here. Our security’s meant to be better than that. After all the death threats and so on that Vince has had…’
‘I imagine that the Galactic Pharaoh tour has upped the number of death threats considerably,’ mused Panda.
Poppy nodded unhappily. ‘That’s because Vince is a visionary. He’s way ahead of his time. But how do you know about the increased number of death threats?’
‘Because I’ve just seen the show,’ said Panda. ‘And it was shit.’
‘Come on,’ said Glister. ‘We better get what we came for and get out of here.’
‘Wait!’ said Poppy. ‘What are you doing?’
‘We need the map,’ Iris snapped. She wasn’t in the mood now, to quibble with this girl. ‘You know where it is, don’t you? The map that shows where the Martians are hiding?’
Poppy gasped. ‘How do you know about that? Mr Glister… how could you tell anyone about..?’
Glister tried to explain. ‘I’m from the future, Poppy. I’m from 1979.’
Poppy gasped again. ‘The world’s still here in 1979?’ she asked. ‘Well, that’s something.’
‘It’s a grimmer place,’ said Glister. ‘And Vince has retired from showbiz. He has returned to the stars…’
Poppy’s eyes were out on stalks. ‘No! He can’t! He can’t do that…!’
Glister nodded sadly. ‘I’m afraid it’s true. I went with him myself, to his home world. And I watched him walk alone into the howling desert. In 1979 Vince has renounced Glam Rock and the Music Biz and his calling on planet Earth. We can’t rely on him forever, Poppy.’
The girl looked horrified. She struggled with her feelings and didn’t seem to know what to say. Then she blurted out, ‘You’re telling me this today! In the middle of the most important concert of the tour…!’
‘It’s his last concert,’ Panda told her. ‘The last one he’ll ever do. It’s so horribly bad that he daren’t go out on tour again. Or even go out in public much more. They bottle him off the stage in the second half. Just wait and see.’
‘Oh my god,’ said Poppy.
‘He goes off to Holland for the rest of the Seventies,’ Panda went on. ‘And there he records a trilogy of ground-breaking experimental folk rock albums using only instruments made out of gourds. And then, in 1979, he pops off into space and is never seen or heard from again.’
‘I’m afraid it’s true,’ sighed Iris. ‘We have seen the future of pop.’
‘They know what they’re talking about,’ Glister told Poppy gently. ‘Especially about those experimental gourds.’
‘Fuck’s sake,’ said Poppy, looking stricken. ‘And he leaves the Earth at the mercy of the Martians?’
‘We’re afraid so,’ said Panda.
Poppy thought for a moment or two, and seemed to come to a decision. She marched over to all the stage costumes and the folding cases that held unaccountable amounts of make-up and glitter. She reached inside a secret, pull-out compartment and produced a small scroll of paper. ‘Take this,’ she said.
They were interrupted by a knock at the door. ‘Five minutes,’ came the prompt.
Mr Glister said, ‘That’s me out there!’
There was a pause and then the knock came again. ‘Vince?’ asked Mr Glister’s voice.
Everyone looked at the three-years-older Mr Glister. ‘Tell him to go away,’ he told Poppy.
‘I-it’s okay, Mr Glister,’ Poppy called out. ‘Vince is just about ready…’
‘Is he all right?’ asked the gruff voice beyond the door.
‘H-he’s fine. Raring to go.’
There was another pause, as if the Glister on the other side of the door was thinking. Then the doorknob twisted and in he stepped. The earlier Mr Glister was wearing a Galactic Pharaoh Tour t-shirt and a troubled expression. ‘It’s a disaster, isn’t it?’ he said, sotto voce. Then he realized that he and Poppy weren’t alone in the room.
He saw Iris and Panda first. And then he saw himself, three years older and slightly balder. ‘Fuck me!’ he shouted.
The senior Glister looked shocked. ‘I don’t remember this happening!’
‘That’s because you’ve buggered up the time continuum!’ snarled Panda.
‘What about the Bellinivitch Time Limitation Effect?’ Iris asked crossly.
‘Don’t let them touch each other!’ Panda shouted. ‘There’ll be a huge fucking explosion!’
Iris shot him a glance. ‘You’re swearing a lot in this story, Panda.’
Both Mr Glisters were staring at each other, and rounding on each other like two diminutive boxers.
Poppy shouted, ‘Panda says don’t touch each other!’
‘I don’t intend to!’ yelled the younger Glister. ‘But what the hell’s going on?’
Just at this moment Vince came out of the toilet, wearing his Pharaoh costume from the start of the second act. ‘Two Glisters!’ he exclaimed.
‘I can explain,’ Iris said, waving the rolled-up map about.
The younger Glister gasped at this. ‘She’s got the map, Vince! The special map!’
‘I think we’d better make a run for it,’ Panda chivvied Iris.
‘You gave this to her,’ Glister accused his older self.
‘You’re right!’ Glister said. ‘I’ve been helping them!’
Vince looked shocked. ‘How could you? Who are these people?’
But Iris and Panda were already making good their escape, with the special map planted firmly down Iris’s cleavage.
‘Call security!’ shouted the junior Glister.
‘This is no good,’ drawled Vince in a troubled voice. Poppy wondered what he had taken to keep him so calm.
The senior Glister shouted him, ‘It’s all your fault, Vince! You threw away your whole career and so someone else has to take over looking after planet Earth!’
Vince looked surprised. ‘That old woman? That small bear?’
‘MIAOW,’ said Poppy, looking terribly worried all of a sudden. ‘They’ve been sent by MIAOW, haven’t they? That’s who they’re working for!’
The younger Glister turned angrily on his older self. ‘Is that true?’ he yelled. ‘Have you sold us out to MIAOW?’
The older Glister didn’t have time even to think about this, before he was assailed by his own furious self. And just as Glister punched Glister in the nose there was a pretty fucking big explosion in the dressing room deep under Wembley.
As they ran away through the concrete tunnels, both Iris and Panda heard its scintillating echoes. ‘It’s the Bellinivitch Time Limitation Effect!’ Iris shouted.
‘Fuck!’ said Panda. ‘Are they all dead?’
As they ran Iris was imagining bits of truculent dwarf flying far and wide. She imagined time punching a crack in the sky. ‘I don’t think so,’ she said.
They heard footsteps running behind them then, and turned to see the senior Glister hurrying up to them.
‘Are you okay?’ Panda asked. ‘We heard a very loud bang.’
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘The explosion thingy was enough to distract them, and for me to get away. Fuck me, though. This time travel thing is a bit of a chew on, though, isn’t it?’
‘Certainly is,’ said Panda.
‘Hurray anyway,’ said Iris. ‘We got the map! Mission accomplished!’
They turned the corner and found they were amongst the milling crowds again, as fans started returning to their seats outside. Everyone was buying up extra bottles of pop and beer, ready to lob them at the stage. A tannoy voice was announcing the second half of the show.
‘Sounds like Vince is okay to perform,’ said Glister.
‘Time will return to the way it was before,’ said Iris. ‘Everything is back on course.’
‘Do we have to sit through the rest of it?’ Panda pulled a face.
‘Of course!’ smiled Iris. ‘It’s an historic moment in pop history! And besides, I’m dying to see the bit when Vince flies up to the top of the sphinx and the sphinx’s wings spread out and they soar over everyone’s heads…’
‘Yeah, that bit’s great,’ Glister admitted. ‘I wouldn’t mind seeing that again.’
Iris told them, ‘You two get back to our seats. I’ll fetch us some drinks, eh?’
They complied, but Panda cast a glance back at Iris, whom he knew was up to something. She had that note in her voice that meant she was about to do something mysterious, nefarious and the kind of thing she didn’t want the others to know about.
Blithely Iris shouldered up to the bar and asked for three gin and tonics in plastic glasses.
The woman in the Vince Cosmos T shirt behind the makeshift bar had a livid scar down one cheek and her hair was cut in a very severe bob.
Iris recognized her at once.
‘MidaSlike,’ she nodded, as the woman poured out the gin. ‘The head of MIAOW herself. I am honoured.’
MidaSlike pursed her lips as she twisted the cap off the tonic bottle. ‘This is an important transaction, Operative Wildthyme. I had to do it myself.’
Iris nodded, and glanced around at the thinning crowds. Then she leaned forward and produced the rolled up map from inside her cardigan. Mida’s eyes lit up greedily at the sight of it.
‘Give me the thing, first,’ Iris snapped, as Mida reached out.
The head of MIAOW sighed. Then she reached under the bar and produced a small, clouded memory crystal.
Iris nodded. ‘Everything’s on here? All the evidence? Everything to do with my work for MIAOW? There’s nothing else to show that I ever worked for you?’
‘That’s it,’ muttered Mida. ‘From this moment, we set you free, Iris. You are no longer an operative of ours.’
‘Good,’ said Iris, with feeling. Then she handed the map of Martian souls over to MidaSlike and the organization known as MIAOW.
‘Thank you, Iris. We shall make good use of this.’
Iris turned to go. ‘I’m sure you will.’
Then a series of cascading, doom-laden chords from Jack Bronson’s guitar heralded the start of the first number of Vince’s second act.
There was a huge roar from the crowd as they hefted their bottles ready for throwing, and Vince took to the stage in Egyptian Pharaoh drag, and Iris Wildthyme quickened her pace in her bondage trousers, keen not to miss a single moment of the show.
Hang Onto Yourself © 2012 Paul Magrs/Obverse Books
Hang Onto Yourself is taken from the new Obverse Quarterly volume Lady Stardust, available May 2012.