Bloodline

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Chapter 2

The Master Technophile was waiting somewhat impatiently for the last of his Technicians to arrive. They met in an old underground bomb shelter. Bob wasn’t quite sure why it had ever been constructed, he’d never heard of there being a war in Londinium’s history. But it didn’t matter, with its entrance hidden in a shrub bush in the Lower City municipal park, and it was the perfect place to conduct highly illegal technology meetings. Although there had been little of any actual inventing attempted yet, Bob had found the process of guiding his Technicians towards actual work frustratingly long and in most cases just getting them to all meet at the same time and place week after week had been a challenge. But now finally they might just be ready, Bob was willing to keep his fingers crossed.

Technician Fisher had arrived promptly with Technicians Winter, and Plasterer. Bob had been amazed, his little talk with Fisher seemed to of spread throughout the Technicians and he had noticed a great improvement in the last few weeks and months. Light flooded the candle lit chamber as the door was opened, Technician Hammer thudded down the steps, the door closing behind him.

“Sorry I’m late.” He said to the assembled group he fumbled with his rucksack and pulled out his cloak, putting it on and pulling up the hood he took his place in the circle.

“Has anyone seen Technician Viner?”

“I have some bad news Master Technophile,” Technician Fisher began, “Mrs Viner told me to tell you that she doesn’t want him to see us anymore and that he won’t be coming back.”

“What?”

“Apparently she found out what we was planning and she said that she wouldn’t let him see with us no more.”

“Ahh, do you think that she will tell anyone else? Our lives depend on secrecy.”

“Pete … I mean Technician Viner told me she wouldn’t as long as he doesn’t take part.”

“Well that rather puts a dent in our plans doesn’t it?” The Master Technophile thought for a moment. “We’ll have to find someone else. None of you have been stupid enough to tell anybody about what we do here have you?”

“No, no, no, no.” Came a chorus of voices.

“We does what we’re told Master Technophile.” Technician Fisher said.

“It would be difficult anyway.” Hammer said in a small bitter voice.

“What did that mean?”

“Well we haven’t done anything yet have we?”

“I was just about to move on to that thank you Technician Hammer. We have been given a most important mission by the,” he paused for effect and collectively the Technicians drew closer, “…the Palace.” There was a gasp as the Technicians digested this information. “As you know there has been some trouble of late concerning the whereabouts of an heir to the Presidency,” The Master Technophile explained, “I received a summons late last night and attended a meeting with Diaz himself, he has heard about our little rag-tag band and asked for our help.”

This really excited the assembled Technicians, the palace had heard of them and asked for their help, most of the Technicians had never got past the outer walls of the palace in their entire lifetimes, but now … well suddenly anything was possible.

“Ahem,” The Master Technophile called them to attention, “We’ve been asked to invent a locating device as soon as possible, the whole city is relying on us to find the heir!”

“Wow!”

“Who’d of thought it?”

“Us saving the city?”

“So the conspiracy theorists were right.”

The Technicians murmured amongst themselves for a moment.

“Viner’s going to be pissed when he hears about this!” Technician Winter said with glee.

“Excuse me?” The Master Technophile looked around the circle, “Technician Winter you wouldn’t be planning on disclosing our very first and most important mission to EVERY MAN ON THE STREET would you?”

“No ... no of course not Master Technophile.”

“Good, anybody else going to tell passers by?” There was a shaking of heads. “Excellent, glad we’ve got that cleared up. We will need to find a fifth Technician before we can begin collecting parts but I can give you the binary to learn. There will be no mistakes this time will there?” More shaking of heads followed. “I believe that when I see it.” The Master Technophile said under his breath.

*

Alex looked up in wonder at the vast terminal, he had walked along the white corridor and now he stood in a huge bustling station. He’d never seen so many people in one place at one time. There were dozens of platforms some with long sleek white trains idling at them as passengers boarded. There were huge boards which showed the arrival and departure times of all the lines, Alex stared up in wonder.

On the far wall there were huge rows of machines beeping quietly, dispensing tickets. As Alex negotiated his way through the crowd towards them, his attention was caught by a huge screen, on it were displayed pictures, people moving and talking, he stopped dead in his tracks, never before had he seen such a wonder.

There was a couple walking hand in hand along a beach, sunlight playing in their hair, the waves lapped at their feet. Alex had only heard of such places along the Mediterranean in fairytales and stories. Tropical trees could be seen in the distance. The couple looked blissful, the scene faded and a message could be seen, it read, Life can get better with Patterson’s unique holiday opportunities. Patterson’s providing a means of escape.

Escape? Alex wondered as he joined a queue for one of the ticket machines. Leave the city? All he’d ever thought about was getting here and people wanted to leave? He approached the front of the queue and looked at the machine. He indicated that he wanted the green line, and then it told him to insert his cash card into the designated slot. He looked down to the coins in his hand and then back to the machine, what card? There was a coughing from the person behind him, Alex looked round briefly to ask for help but the man looked angry and impatient. Confused Alex left the machine and headed back out into the hallway and towards the desk where the two guards stood.

“Oh its you again.” Kevin said on seeing Alex standing in front of the desk.

“Is everything alright?” Luke asked.

“I went to buy a ticket and it asked for my cash card.”

“Yeah?”

“Well what’s that?”

“A cash card … it… its your money.”

“But I’ve got coins.”

“Coins? On dear you can’t use coins in the city, it’s all credit nowhere will take them.”

“Oh, I umm I didn’t know.”

“What you’ll need to do is…” Luke thought for a minute.

“There are banks in the Skyscraper district of Upper Town who’ll take ‘em, exchange rate isn’t great but they’ll set you up an account, with a card.” Kevin suggested, staring at the coins in Alex’s open palm, he’d never seen real money before.

“Yeah, Kevin’s right, that’s your best bet.”

“So how do I get to the Skyscraper district? Can I walk?”

“Walk! Umm, I don’t think so, the streets aren’t … safe outside of the Upper Town.”

“But…?” Alex was starting to get desperate just how was he ever going to get in the city if he didn’t have money and he couldn’t walk.

“It’s alright, I’ll tell you what I get off in half an hour, if you hang around I’ll take you over there, it’s on my way home anyway.”

“Really I …”

“Really, Londinium must be pretty odd if your not used to it.”

*

Rodney surveyed the sea of anxious faces in front of him, he cleared his throat and adjusted his position on the chair he was standing on. There was silence.

“From humble beginnings will come the men who will shape the future.” The crowd of people looked at one another trying to figure out if they had just been insulted or complemented. “History will look back on you,” Rod waved his arms outwards and nearly fell off the chair, “as heroes.” There was a chorus of ‘yeah’s’, as the crowd of men thought about being a hero, there was a lot of gold involved and scantly clad women of course.

Rod wobbled on the chair but continued, “We are the city’s only hope of ever finding out the truth, what the hell is going on? No longer will Lower City residents be ignored just because we don’t have money, no longer will the rich decide everything.” The crowd cheered again. “We have a voice that will be heard, we want answers.” There was more cheering, “And we will get them!” Rodney jumped down from the chair and made his way outside the crowd following behind him. “To the palace!”

They swarmed through the cramped Lower City streets, their numbers swelling as curious passers by were swept along by the angry tide. They moved towards the centre of Londinium where the palace stood. Somewhere along the way some of them had found synthetic flaming torches and even a pitchfork or two could be seen waving angrily above peoples heads.

They stopped outside the gates of the outer wall, it stood ten feet tall in places, and over four bricks thick, the gates were new steel which glittered in the flame light. Rodney looked at the mass of people and sought out the face of Sid, his right hand man, once eye contact had been established Rod nodded.

“Quiet.” Sid shouted and somewhat unexpectedly there was complete and utter silence, Sid had that effect on people. “Right I want to see five groups, now.” The crowd split into five groups quickly and quietly, news that Sid had come from the under cover division had spread rapidly, nobody messed with those guys they were ruthless. A few stragglers remained wavering in the middle, a slight cough had them scurrying for the nearest mass of bodies they could find.

Rodney smiled, “Excellent, each group will be given an imperative task, and with all of us working together we will triumph!” The crowd cheered, triumphing sounded good, even if they didn’t quiet know what it involved.

“Firstly this group will find a battering ram and start pounding the doors, we want to make lots of noise, don’t let them sleep. Next you guys will need to find tins of paint, I want these walls covered in letters ten feet high, ‘we want answers, we want answers’.” The chant was picked up by the group of eager faces. “Very good, the next group will find lots of wood and start a huge bonfire, yes real flames. You guys,” He continued pointing to the last but one group, “are in charge of creative sign making, we want everyone to be able to see what our demands are. And lastly you have the most important job, I need you to find marshmallows for roasting over the bonfire and a selection on jolly campfire songs to sing.”

There was a confused silence as the crowd digested the information, creative sign making and slogan painting weren’t quite what they were expecting. “This is the beginning of a new era.” Rod continued unaware that the confusion was mounting.

“Get on with it!” Sid shouted from the sideline and as one the crowd set about their appointed tasks. A small group formed around Rodney, they watched in fascination as the tasks were carried out. The silence continued for awhile as people rushed around them.

“That sign making was a great idea.” Tomas said as they viewed a collection walking past.

“I liked the marshmallows myself,” Said Tiffy, Tomas’s wife, “that’s a great way to keep spirits up.”

“I think they were expecting something more along the lines of scaling the walls and setting fire to the soft furnishings myself.” Sid commented.

“People could get hurt scaling that thing,” Rodney said indicating the wall in front of him, “and if we start setting fire to things then we could all get in big trouble.”

“But we want to make our point felt.” Sid tired again using a carefully constructed neutral tone of voice.

“Everyone who walks past here will see those slogans, and no one in the palace will be able to sleep.”

“I have heard that no one actually lives in the palace as there is no President at the minute only he lives there with his family.”

“Ahh, well we might dent the gates a bit, anyway it’s only the first day give it a week or so and they will do anything to get us to stop you’ll see.”

“Hmm.” Sid remained unconvinced.

“Yeah, Rodder’s is right,” Tomas put in, “Slow and steady wins the race, I thought you would understood that…”

“Here come the camp songs.” Tiffy said interrupting Tomas’s train of thought.

*

Alex was staring up at one of the giant TV screens in the terminal, it was completely fascinating, people walked across the beach, he could hear the waves. This Patterson’s person must be a wonderful Alex had decided, not only did he give you ‘the chance to escape’ he also filtered the air, protected the environment and organised security drills, Alex guessed that he must be a very busy man.

“Ahh the Mediterranean sea.” A voice beside him said, Alex turned and smiled and Luke smiled back.

“Have you ever been?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, once or twice.”

“It looks beautiful.”

“It is, mostly, lots of crime.”

They turned away and headed towards the ticket machines.

“Really?” Alex asked bewildered.

“Oh yeah, I mean it’s not the murder capital of the world or anything, that would be here, and you don’t have to worry about muggings like you do here. Actually come to think of it, it’s a lot better than here.”

“Is that why people want to escape?”

“Escape? You’ve been watching too many bad ad’s.”

Luke bought two tickets and guided Alex towards a platform, here, as everywhere, it was crowded. Luke laughed as he watched Alex, who was staring in wonder at everything.

“You’re a breath of fresh air, you know that?” Luke said and Alex turned to look at him.

“What do you mean?”

“The way you look at everything we all take for granted, like it’s magical.”

“Well compared to the village I came from it is. There was none of … of … well any of this.” He threw his arms out to encompass the station and the city beyond.

“Just makes me think that’s all.” There was a touch of melancholy in his voice.

“Sorry.” Alex said, he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

“No,” Luke smiled again, “Don’t be.” They turned back to the screen as breaking news was announced.

‘We want answers’ is the cry being heard throughout the city tonight as protestors march on the palace. We can cross live to our correspondent outside the walls.

A middle age man came onto the screen he was standing in front of a huge bonfire. ‘Lower City residents have decided that enough is enough and that will not be moved until they hear news of the apparent heir to the Presidency. I am here with Rodney Crumple the leader of today’s demonstration’, A youngish, paint splattered, man appeared next to the reporter, he looked nervous.

‘Tell me what are your demands?’ The reported asked, Rodney paused for a moment. ‘We want answers, we should not be left out of the loop just because we don’t live in posh houses in a nice part of town, we want to know what is going on.’

‘How long do you intend to continue your protest?’

‘As long as it takes!’

‘You will be here all night then?’

‘What? Umm no, I’ve got to get up for work in the morning but we will be back tomorrow between 4 and 1.’

The reporter looked slightly confused, but carried on regardless. ‘What methods do you plan on using to bring the palace to its knees?’

‘Our most successful tactic so far is the creative sign making, and the bonfire with marshmallows is going down a treat too.’

The reporter thanked Rodney for his time and turned back to camera, ‘As you can see this is just the latest strange development in the long running saga over an heir to the Presidency, and as yet there has been no comment from the Palace to whether or not they will give in to these…’ He paused momentarily, ‘interesting methods of persuasion.’

Luke and Alex shared a look, as a long white train pulled into the platform

“Does this happen often here?” Alex asked.

“Not really, you see there’s a bit of a crisis at the moment.”

Luke and Alex boarded there train.

“How so?” Alex asked once they were settled.

“Well the ruler of the city, the President, has died and he has left no heir.”

“So?” Alex asked not really seeing the importance.

“It is the first time in the history of Londinium that there hasn’t been an heir, and … well nobody really knows what to do.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, it’s a bit more complicated than that but basically those guys are protesting because not much has been made public regarding what is going to happen.”

They drifted into silence, the train compartment had no windows so Alex had no idea of how fast they were travelling or even in which direction, he could barely detect any motion at all, as the train ran soundlessly along the track. This President business all seemed a bit silly as far as Alex could see, why couldn’t they just find a new guy? Things like this never happened in the village, the mayor was elected every three to four years, it seemed to work well enough for them, it was fair everyone got a go.

The SVTS train pulled to a gentle stop and Luke nudged Alex, they got up and made their way off the train and onto another crowded platform. Alex was completely disorientated, this platform was smaller than the main terminal at the gate, a low vaulted ceiling echoed with timetable announcements.

Alex had never gone so long without seeing the sky; he was starting to feel like he never would again. He felt the ceiling bearing down on him, like at any moment it would fall and crush him. The crowd round him pushed him one way then pulled him another until he had lost all sight of Luke. Panic swelled in his chest, he was lost, underground, under this labyrinthine city.

Alex was pushed towards a moving staircase he tried to stand still but the pushes became more insistent and people started shouting at him to “move!” He just didn’t understand how people could be so callous and uncaring. He was on the staircase now being carried away to who knew where. Would he ever see Luke again? Alex wished he’d paid more attention to Luke’s instructions, where was the bank?

All around were dark serious faces that avoided his pleading gaze. How was he going to find Bridgee if he couldn’t even find a bank?

He emerged blinking into the late afternoon light, the crowd pushed him forward again but this time he was able to move to the side away from the throng of people. As his eyes adjusted to the sunlight he saw he was standing in a small paved square. He walked to a large tree which stood in the middle grateful to see a familiar object; Alex sat down on the wooden benches circling the tree.

In one corner of the square tables and chairs were arranged outside a ‘@ Greene’s coffee’ shop, large green @ signs covered the umbrellas shading the tables. On the opposite side a singer and guitarist were serenading the passers by in the hope that someone would swipe their Card over a donation scanner and give them a few pounds for their efforts.

Alex took a few deep breaths as his panic subsided and the fresh air improved his mood. He stood up and looked around the square to see if there was any clue to where Luke was, but there was no sign of him among the crowds exiting the station. Alex felt so small, just a scared face in a huge crowd. He wondered if Bridgee had felt like this, had bright bubbly Bridgee felt so overwhelmed by this city that she had lost her way? Then Alex felt a tap on his shoulder and turned round. “Luke.”

“There you are.” Luke was smiling. Alex could have hugged the young man, he’d never been so pleased to see someone. “Come on Alex there’s no time for sightseeing.” Luke took Alex by the elbow and steered him into the crowds heading across the square and onto a wide long road.

If it wasn’t for the hand pulling him Alex would have stopped and stared. Huge glass faced buildings lined the street Alex had heard of the skyscraper district but he wasn’t prepared for the sheer size of the buildings. They stretched upwards for what looked like miles, Alex had thought the spire on the church in the village was tall but these buildings had to be at least ten times higher.

Luke pulled him towards one of the towers. On the front was the banks logo and motto ‘Branson’s Bank – safer than keeping your money under the mattress.’ The huge glass doors opened automatically for them and Luke pulled Alex towards a big stainless steal reception desk.

He wasn’t exactly sure what happened next, after a long wait on an uncomfortably fashionable chair he was taken into a small badly lit office. His coins were taken away with a barely disguised look of distain on the employee’s face, and after going through a similar process that he had experienced at the station he was presented with a Card. It was emblazoned with a golden B, looking at it Alex felt safer with coins.

Whilst he was going through this he tried to ask the bank employee about his sister and if she had a Card, but the man refused to be drawn into any type of conversation that didn’t relate to the questions on his computer screen.

Alex and Luke stepped out of the bank and into the cool night air, it felt odd not to have his pocket weighed down by coins. They were heading back to a different platform where Alex could catch another train to the Lower City.

*

Diaz woke to the shrill ringing of his telephone, groggily he reached over to where it lay on the bedside table and answered.

“Hello?”

“Sorry to wake you but you need to turn on the TV right now!”

“Cyril. What time is it?” Diaz asked half yawning as he fumbled across the room and found the remote.

“It’s about half past eleven.”

“What channel do I want?”

“Any of the news one’s will do, they’re all carrying the story.”

Pressing buttons on the remote he turned on the lights and found a news channel on the TV. He stared at the headline. “Oh god!”

*

Walking across a plaza between skyscrapers, with a big fountain in the middle seemed strange to Alex, it was all so polished, so well finished not like nature which had rough edges and random patterns, here nothing appeared to be left to chance. A young man was running across the plaza waving frantically at them, Luke stopped and smiled warmly.

“Hey Luke I didn’t think I’d find you in time.”

“What’s up Nick?”

“Well …” Nick was about to explain when he saw Alex, his posture changed and he smiled at him, his eyes raking up and down his body. “Who is this?”

“Nick this is Alex, Alex this is Nick.”

“Hi.” Alex said suddenly uncomfortable.

“Where did you find him?”

“He’s new to the city, I was just helping him out.”

“I bet you were, he’s delicious.”

“What did you want?” Luke was getting annoyed, Nick could be so flamboyant sometimes.

“We’ve lost Vinnie for tonight’s performance.” He grinned wickedly, “But it seems you have already found us a replacement.”

“Alex. No! I don’t think he’s like us.”

“Like what?” Alex asked becoming more and more confused by the second.

“Well we…” Luke began but Nick cut him off.

“You are looking at two of The Painted Ladies.”

“Luke?” Alex turned to him, alright they hadn’t known each other very long but Alex was sure Luke wasn’t a woman.

“It’s a …” Luke paused trying to think of the best way to describe what they did. “Cabaret group, we perform in local nightclubs, pubs that kind of place.”

“Okay, but Painted Ladies? I don’t understand.”

“Oh isn’t he a peach!” Nick exclaimed, “We dress up as women for the act, it’s a pun you know a play on words as we’re not Ladies.”

“Ahh.”

“You can find out first hand just what we get up to if you’re interested.”

“Oh umm I …”

“You’ll be paid of course.”

“Nick, if he doesn’t want to then…”

“Oh Luke stop being so stuffy Alex will love it.”

“Err a cabaret … is that like singing and dancing?” Luke nodded and Alex laughed, he had always enjoyed acting at school, “Why not.”

“There you see.” Nick threw his arms around him, and began to lead him away with Luke a step behind.

“If you change your mind…” Luke looked uneasy.

“Alex will be a natural, I can tell.”

Luke and Nick led Alex deeper into the Upper Town. Alex stared in wonder as they passed grand theatres and impossibly expensive restaurants, and despite the fact that it was getting on for midnight, a time when most of the villages’ residents would be in bed, the city was still alive there were queues outside night-clubs and the opera house was crowded. Bright lights dazzled him turning night into day.

They guided Alex away from the main shopping streets and into a maze of alleyways which connected the establishments. They arrived at an ordinary looking doorway; the sign above it read ‘The Scarlet Siren.’ Nick knocked on the door and Luke took Alex aside for a moment.

“Look you don’t have too.”

“It sounds fun!” Alex felt emboldened by this strange place, if he could open a bank account then he could do anything.

“Yeah, I’ll introduce you to the guys and show you some of what we do and then we’ll see how you feel.”

The door opened and Nick put his arm around Alex. “Welcome to the Scarlet Siren.” He said leading Alex inside. They walked through a dark corridor, there were doors leading off in one direction or another. They reached the end; Alex could hear crowd noises coming from the door in front of them. To their left was a door with a gold star on it, written underneath were the words ‘changing rooms’, Nick opened the door and pushed Alex inside.

Luke watched from entrance as Alex disappeared and heard the whoops of delight from his fellow Ladies as they met their newest member. Alex was surrounded by three men in various states of dress, and they were talking loudly.

“But what shall we call him?” A man dressed in a red outfit and auburn wig asked.

“Something, something …” Nick mused

“Ironic.” The third man shouted, he was in a sparkly purple gown, a blonde wig in his hands.

“Exactly!” Nick enthused, he spotted Luke and pulled him closer.

“Have you made introductions?” Luke asked, feeling sorry for Alex who looked like he’d got caught in a whirlwind.

“Agile?” The man in red wondered out loud.

Luke shook his head and pulled Alex aside. “The guy red is Jerry also known as Juicy Jasmine and the one in blue is Simon also known as Scrumptious Susie.”

“Right.” Alex was bemused.

“You can still back out, they’re a bit full on.”

“No,” Nick said pulling Alex back, “You can’t leave now.”

“Quickly a woman’s name anything quickly.” Jerry demanded and Alex thought for a moment.

“Doris.” He said, for a fleeting moment he felt uneasy thinking about her in a place like this.

“Doris, Doris?”

“Si I like it, Doris, sounds kinda county.”

“Excellent, what about dainty?”

“Dainty Doris?” Nick laughed.

“Its perfect!” Jerry decided, “Lets find him an outfit.”

The next half an hour was a blur to Alex he was pulled into dresses, shoved into high heels and a dazzling array of wigs were tried on, until eventually the four of them stood back satisfied. Alex turned to look in a mirror and he found he barely recognised the person staring back at him. He was wearing a slinky purple gown, and a golden wig. The door opened and another man walked in.

“What’s going on?”

“Hey Bret what do you think of Vinnie’s replacement?” Simon said whilst walking round Alex and placing a cream feather boa over his shoulders. Bret walked closer and cast a critical eye over Alex.

“Very nice, what’s his name?”

“We’re calling him Dainty Doris.”

“Brilliant, where’d you find him?”

“Can we at least try to be polite here, his name is Alex, Alex this is Bret.” Luke said.

“Hi.” Alex mumbled. “I met Luke at the train station, why do you work there?”

“Its Luke’s secret identity.” Nick whispered with a smile.

“My family don’t know about this little sideline we’ve got going, they think I work at the station, I don’t get any difficult questions, its better that way.” Luke explained.

“But don’t you guys get recognised?”

“Not really, we all look pretty different once we’re made up.”

“Speaking of which.” Bret interrupted; “We’d better get ready, he turned to Luke “have you shown him the moves?”

“We will.” Simon and Jerry said in unison.

*

Diaz was rushing through the grand hall of the palace with Cyril at his side, they had avoided the throng of people at the front gates by using the service entrance. They slowed as they approached a large stairway. Climbing Diaz turned to Cyril.

“They don’t seem particularly well organised?”

“It’s puzzling me I’ll admit, sign making and camp songs? I’ve had the undercover division trying to find out more about this Rodney Crumple, but last reports were that he’s not especially dangerous, he’s not even planning on staying all night.”

“The press are making him into something of a laughing stock that’s true enough, but that banging is really starting to get on my nerves.”

They had entered a small corridor, but even here the thudding at the gates could be heard although it didn’t quite have the resonance that it had achieved in the great hall. Diaz was about to open the door to the dining room when Cyril stopped him.

“Whilst we’re alone there is something I have to tell you about Ted.”

“Can’t it wait?” Diaz was anxious to be seen to be doing something by the press and every second he wasted was another second they were calling him a fool.

“All right, just be weary of him okay?”

“Fine.” He opened the door and was greeted by a roomful of anxious faces, he approached the table and sat at the head with Sarah Lovely and Ted Bundy on either side of him, the rest of the rooms occupants took their seats, Cyril remained standing just behind Diaz’s chair.

“Thank you for coming so quickly.” Diaz began the briefing. “Now what do we know so far?” The room was quite for a moment.

“The umm, the rioters appear to be all Lower City residents, and whilst their methods appear unusual they are well motivated and organised, although if it keeps going like this I should think that they’ll lose interest soon.” Sarah gave a shrug, the nature of the demonstration had taken them by surprise, they had expected people trying to storm the palace and take control but this mostly peaceful protest was a tricky situation.

“We have to been seen to be doing something.” Diaz voiced his earlier thoughts.

“Maybe now would be the right time to consult the founding families?”

“Now Ted…” Cyril began from behind Diaz.

“No Cyril it is a contingency which we need to consider at the very least, has there been any word from the German government?”

“No I don’t expect we should here anything for several days yet.”

“Right, so we need to stop this riot, this Rodney Crumple presents our enemies with an opening even if he is a laughing stock. Does anybody have any ideas?”

“Short of telling the truth?” Ted shook his head, “no.”

Diaz surveyed the faces in front of him.

“Okay lets take a vote who here agrees with Ted, that we should tell the truth and involve the Founding Families?” About half the rooms occupants raised their hands, “Baring in mind that it will probably be the end of our political careers.” There was a murmuring as people thought about what was at stake, slowly several hands lowered until only a third remained.

“You have no way of knowing…” Ted began to argue as it was obvious that he was in the minority.

“Ted I understand your position I do, I am tempted to move this up to the next level but we have an obligation to pursue every available avenue in the search for an heir, and until I have every member of the Found Families beating down a path to my door that is what I intend to do, we all took the same oath, Londinium comes first.”

“But how is rioting helping the city, how is all this unrest helping anyone?”

“We all know about the problems faced in the past when it seemed that the Smudge linage had come to an end, but time after time patience was needed and a solution was always found, just because it seems as if our search has reached a dead end at the moment doesn’t mean we should condemn one of our proudest lineages to the ashes.” There were murmurs of agreement from the assemble party. “I am not going to give up Londinium’s history with out a fight and if the press don’t like it I couldn’t care less they are not the ones in here day after day serving their city. And when an heir is found and crowned they will be the ones who will be shame faced not us.” Diaz was amazed when he received a round of applause and even Ted looked apologetic. “so what are we going to do about this ridiculous uprising?”

*

‘The Scarlet Siren is proud to present the stunning, the rambunctious, the sensational Painted Ladies!’ In the packed out club the crowed surged forward and cheered wildly, on the stage the curtain was pulled back and as each member was introduced they were lit in a bright spotlight.

‘Firstly the effervescent, energetic, Bouncy Bonnie,’ the crowd cheered as Bret was illuminated, ‘Scandalous and succulent it’s Juicy Jasmine, She’s wicked and wayward she’s Naughty Natalie.’ Nick was warmly greeted by the crowd. ‘Mysterious, and magical it’s Scrumptious Susie. She’s delicious, she’s delectable, she’s my personal favourite, it’s Luscious Lucinda!” The crowd went wild as Luke was revealed. “It’s an honour to present to you for one night only, the all new Dainty Doris!” Alex gulped and tried to remember what the guys had taught him, as he too was illuminated.

*

As one a.m. approached, Rodney gathered his protestors around him, a satisfied smile on his face.

“Well done everybody, that went really well, they will be begging us to stop before the week’s out. Now lets put out that fire and gather up our signs, we meet up here again at 4 tomorrow afternoon!” There were cheers from the crowd, although the evening hadn’t been as destructive as they had hoped, they’d had good fun and sign painting had turned out to be pretty cathartic. Rodney, Sid, Tomas and Tiffy watched as people dispersed, and soon, the painted walls and smouldering remains of the fire were the only evidence of their activities.

“If we’re quick we might be able to catch the end of the Painted Ladies show at the Siren.” Sid said as they began to walk away.

“Great idea…” Tomas began.

“Oh no you don’t Tomas.”

“Oh but Tiffy…”

“Don’t you Tiffy me!” She shouted, throwing out her ample bosom. “The washing up is still sat on the side from last night, and just how do you think it’s going to get clean if you’re sat in the pub?”

“Yes dear.” He turned to the others, “See you in the morning.”

“Talk about henpecked.” Sid commented as they watched them walk away.

“I heard that Sid!” Tiffy shouted back to them, and waved as they headed home.

“What about you Rodney are you up for a bit of fun?”

“You think I’d pass up the opportunity to see the Painted Ladies perform? I’m with you.”

They made their way happily through the upper town until they reached the glamorous front of the Scarlet Siren.

*

The evening passed in somewhat of a blur for Alex, there were bright lights, a cheering crowd, dancing, and rather a lot of fun, on all sides by the state of the pub after everyone had cleared out. They had gone back stage and were changing back into their normal clothes, a small lock-in had been arranged and Alex found himself looking forward to what the rest of his first night in the big city might bring.

After changing they were sat at the bar a round of drinks in front of them. Further along sat two other men, one of whom Alex recognised but his alcohol muddled brain couldn’t quite remember where from.

“You were great!” Nick said clapping him on the back, “What did I tell you Luke,” He shouted across the where Luke sat at the far end, “a natural!”

“A toast I think is in order.” Jerry said raising his glass, everyone else following suit. “Here’s too Alex, a natural.”

“Don’t forget life saver.” Simon chimed in.

“Too Alex.” They toasted happily.

“So what are your plans now?” Nick asked.

“I … I don’t know, with all that’s been going on I kinda forgot.”

“Excuse me?” The man Alex recognised from the other end of the bar came over, the second man not far behind. “Might we take a moment of your time?”

“Your that Crumple bloke aren’t ya?” Nick asked rising from his stool.

“Yep that’s me.”

“I’d love to chat but I’ve …” He thought wildly for a moment, “… is that the time? I’ve got to go sorry.” He walked over to where Simon and Jerry where immersed in conversation, he bent his head and whispered to them, they laughed together and headed back stage.

“I’m Rodney.” The guy said taking a seat next to Alex.

“I saw you on the TV earlier, the rebellion right?” Alex slurred his words slightly he had drunk more that night than he had for the past month, and he was doing pretty well considering.

“Yep, I’m leading it.”

“Oh.” There was silence for a moment.

“I’m Sid.” Sid said taking a seat on the other side of Alex. “You are?”

“Sorry, I’m Alex.”

“So you’re a Painted Lady huh?” Rod asked.

“Yep, just this once though.”

“I take it you were Doris?”

“Yes.”

“How on earth did you get to perform with them? I’ve heard that they have every fashionable man in the city vying for a spot.”

“I … you know it was all kinda sudden, you’d be better off asking Luke.”

“Hey you should join the protest tomorrow night, we could use a famous face.”

“What is this whole rebellion thing about?”

“You don’t know?” Sid asked.

“I’m new just got in today.”

“You’ve had one hell of a day.” Sid commented quietly.

“Well you see the rebellion…” Rodney explained at length just what they were fighting for and why. As Rodney’s words washed over Alex and the alcohol warmed him from within Alex felt his mind wander to what Doris might be doing this evening. He could picture her as she waved him goodbye, a sad smile on her face. She had understood when Alex had explained about Bridgee and how worried his parents were about their eldest daughter. But he could tell that Doris was upset that he was leaving.

Alex was brought back to earth with a bump, “What do you say Alex?” Alex looked up into Rodney’s smiling face.

“Huh?” he asked looking between Rodney and Sid

“You’ll help won’t you?” Rodney asked, “we could really use the support of a celebrity.”

“I … I’m not a celebrity.” Alex stammered.

“Don’t be silly you’re a Painted Lady.”

“It was just a one off” Alex turned to Sid, “I was just helping out.” Sid looked hard at Alex his mind racing. The young man in front of him, his dark blonde hair seemed to glow in the low light, his blue eyes were engaging and judging by the looks he was getting from the barmaids he was an attractive man. In short just the kind of man the rebellion desperately needed. Sid knew a natural leader when he saw one, and for all of his talk Rodney wasn’t one, but Alex was a different story. “Just come tomorrow night if you don’t like it you don’t have to come again.”

Alex’s eyes scanned the bar looking for someone to help him. He needed to find Bridgee, not start protesting something he knew nothing about.

There were theories in the pre-collapse society about the power of thought, and how it was possible to make someone appear in front of you just by thinking about them. Alex had never heard these theories and wouldn’t have believed them if he had, but it didn’t change the fact that as he was thinking about his sister, her face appeared from behind the barmaids’ shoulder. “Bridgee?” Proudly displayed on the wall behind the barmaid was a picture of Bridgee wearing skimpy clothes and smiling broadly.

“I thought you had only been here one day,” Rodney said following Alex’s eye line to the picture. “How do you know the Siren’s sexist barmaid?”

“She’s my sister,” Alex replied still staring in disbelief, at home Bridgee had been modest, whereas here she looked completely different. “Have you seen her recently?”

“Now you mention it…” Sid began, “I haven’t seen her since that picture was taken a few months ago.”

“I’ve come to look for her, she suddenly stopped writing to us, and mum and dad were worried.

“Have you checked her flat?”

“No, I don’t know where she was living. I didn’t know she worked here till I saw the photo.”

“I tell you what; I’ll take you to her flat, if you come to tomorrow nights meeting.”

Alex sighed, if going to this meeting was the only way he was going to find Bridgee then so be it, “Ok”.


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