Yuqi squirmed and twisted but to no avail. “Cheng!” she called out. “Consume me. It’s the only way to complete the welding.”
“Right,” I said. “Whatever happens Cheng, do not eat her.”
“What do we do with her now?” asked Jenny. “Kill her?”
There was a general murmur of agreement. Mainly from the girls. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
“No,” I said. “Not while we don’t know what that’d do. She might just go back and repeat everything, only better.”
“That’s right, “ squeaked Yuqi. “You have no idea what the Jester will do without me to hold her in check.”
“What is the Jester?” I asked since she seemed to be in a talkative mood. “It isn’t you, obviously.”
“Ha! You understand nothing. Of course it’s me. The darkest, angriest, most repulsive part of me, distilled over countless repeated lifetimes. She will remain to guard the doorway to the past, even if I am no longer here. She won’t let you pass. You don’t have the sword. There’s nothing you can do.”
She could have been bluffing—wouldn’t killing her also kill the Jester? It was hard to know, but I still needed to find a way to go back and she was right, I didn’t have the sword. I’d given it to Biscuit to put in the treasury. Which we’d then taken out and taken back in time to give to Biscuit, and so on. By sticking it in a time loop, she’d put it out of reach.
“We can just use the second one,” said Maurice.
“There is no second one,” said Yuqi. “Paradox!”
“I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” said Maurice.
Yuqi’s eyes narrowed. “Are you calling me stupid?” she said in an uncomfortably calm voice.
There are many ways to answer a woman when she asks you that question, and a very definite way not to.
“Yes,” said Maurice. “I think you probably are.”
That’s the one.
“Sexist,” hissed Yuqi. “Your type always are.”
I couldn’t tell if she was referring to him being black or being a nerd. Both had been tarnished with that particular brush. But Maurice wasn’t your typical black guy, nor was he a regular nerd. He didn’t have a thing for women with big butts, and he wasn’t turned on by Carrie Fisher in a bikini (what the fuck is that about. It’s Carrie fisher, nerds. Carrie Fisher!)
“No,” said Maurice. “I don’t think women are stupid. Just you. A paradox only occurs because you have limited information.” He spoke with the total confidence of someone who knows Inception was a shit movie that didn’t make sense no matter how many five star reviews it received. No, Christopher Nolan, it is YOU who do not understand. Geek courage, the strongest yet most pointless of all the braveries.
Yuqi, almost ignoring Claire who had her firmly in her clutches, screwed up her tiny face. “I think I would know better than—”
“I think not,” said Maurice. “Look, you know that plastic crucifix? That was from Earth, so I assume it belonged to one of your group, right?”
David, still swaying from Cheng’s fist, looked over at Phil, who looked back and nodded.
“Yes,” said David. “It belonged to Miriam.”
To which my first thought was, who?
Maurice lifted his head towards Cheng. “Your mother?” Cheng nodded. “I thought so.”
“How did you know that?” I said.
“Pretty obvious. Made in China, for a start. And Hong Kong used to be British, so bound to be lots of Christians.”
I had assumed finding an object from Earth meant the masters had visited our planet, but what Maurice had assumed made more sense. I nodded sagely, like I too had come to the same conclusion.
“So, she gives the cross to your dad. He puts in in the treasury, we take it out.” He turned to me. “You go back and give it to him to put in the treasury, creating a loop. But then he goes and actually meets Miriam and she gives him the cross. So when he returns here, there are now two crosses. One in the loop, one in his pocket, or wherever he keeps it. Same for everything else.”
He said it quickly and easily, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. We all gave each other sideways glances, not wanting to admit we had no idea what he was going on about.
“If that’s true,” I said, “where’s the other cross, and all the other stuff.”
Maurice shrugged. “Beats me.”
That was Maurice—almost useful.
“I don’t suppose you know where your dad kept his stuff,” I said to Cheng.
He shook his head.
“Okay,” I said. “Then we’ll have to do it live. Give me the girl.” I put out my hand.
Claire looked at Jenny. Fucking annoying.
“Don’t look at her,” I said a little testily.
Jenny nodded and Claire took out a handkerchief, wrapped it around little Yuqi like a saree, and handed her to me. I could still feel all her curves under the material, so I’m not sure what that achieved.
I turned to Jenny. “Do you have the crystal ball?”
Jenny took it out and handed it to me. “I’m going to see what happens when I take her into the void with me.”
“I’m coming with you,” said Jenny and placed her hand on top of the ball in my hand.
“Me too,” said Claire, and placed her hand on Jenny’s.
One by one they all followed suit until we looked like we were doing that gay thing basketball players do (no, not in the showers, I mean the synchronised jazz hands thing they do on court).
“Try not to destroy the universe,” said Cheng. He had hold of both David and Phil, preventing them from coming with us.
I poured magic into the ball.
Yuqi stood in front of me, full-sized and naked. She looked about sixteen. A very perky sixteen.
“Why doesn’t she have any clothes on?” said Flossie in a very accusing tone.
“I don’t know,” I said trying not to sound defensive. “I didn’t dress her.”
“But we’re in your mind, aren’t we? Isn’t this how you see her?” she persisted. Hadn’t said anything the last three time jumps and this was what she chose to make her big talking point.
“It doesn’t work like that,” I said, still trying not to sound defensive, still not quite making it. “Let’s try to stay focussed.”
I wouldn’t normally get embarrassed around a naked girl, especially when I knew she was trying to make me feel awkward by pointing her nipples at me (they were like football studs) but it’s hard to act nonchalant when a bunch of girls are watching you like a hawk, waiting for the slightest hint of tent-pitching.
Jenny stood beside me, saying nothing and yet still speaking volumes. Claire and Flossie stood next to their respective partners, looking steely-eyed.
“Do you really think you can beat me? In here?” Yuqi asked, deliberately taking in a deep breath so everything rose in an engrossing fashion.
“Why not?” I said in a cool and calm manner, with only a very slight crack to my voice. “We’re in my head, right? I should be able to do whatever I want in here.”
Yuqi laughed. It wasn’t the deep baritone of the Jester’s laugh, but it was just as unhinged. A whooping giggle that rose and fell. And then it was echoed by a deeper, more manic variant as though backing singers had come in on the chorus.
From behind her, a blue light crackled.
“Yes,” said Yuqi. “You can do what you want. You can fly around and dance the fandango, if you want. But that won’t help you where it counts.”
The Jester emerged from the gloom behind her. One horn glittering with electricity, the body a mass of tentacles.
“Colin, are you having a party,” she rumbled. “So many friends, so much fun we’re going to have.”
Everyone beside me was suddenly behind me. I stood my ground. We didn’t have the sword to fight off the slithering beast standing behind Yuqi like a Cthulu bead curtain, but we wouldn’t need it.
“That thing,” I said to Yuqi, “it’s part of you. Your deepest, darkest part. Which means I should have one, too. How do I call it up?”
“Ho ho, you think you can challenge me with the monster that lives inside of you, do you?”said Yuqi. “Why would I tell you anything?” She laughed at how silly an idea it was. The Jester chortled along behind her. “You think I’m stupid, too, do you?”
“Do it,” said the Jester, its voice distorted and full of static. “There’s no secret to it. To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t turned up already. I’ve been expecting him. Looking forward to meeting him.”
Yuqi seemed mildly annoyed at being contradicted. “There’s no need,” she snapped.
“Need? Who cares about need. Let’s do it for fun. Eh, Colin? Eh? Eh?”
If the Jester was the manifestation of Yuqi psyche, what would mine be like?
She might have had several more lifetimes of doing heinous shit to produce her pet, but I had killed an entire planet.
The darkness in me was so unbearable, Jenny had almost collapsed from the sheer weight of it. I don’t think much of my skills and talents, but I’d happily put up the living embodiment of my bitterness and resentment against all comers. If Yuqi’s was a writhing mass of tentacles, mine had to be a fucking walking apocalypse.
“It might be interesting at that,” said Yuqi. “Why don’t you call him up?”
“Just call him?” It seemed a bit too simple. I cupped my hands around my mouth. “Hello? Are you there?”
We all looked around but the surrounding darkness revealed no monsters rolling from the deep. Yuqi began laughing and I had the horrible feeling I was being toyed with.
“Perhaps he’s shy?” She began giggling and the Jester joined in. They made quite the double act.
Jenny grabbed my arm. I turned to see what she wanted and she moved her head to indicate I should look behind me.
From the shadows a small figure emerged. Very small. It was a young boy, maybe five or six. It wasn’t a demon or an ogre or some fantastical creature, it was me as a kid.
He had floppy hair that almost covered his eyes and his mouth was set in a severe frown. He was wearing a yellow polo shirt and shiny blue slacks. I recognised the outfit. It was what I used to wear to nursery.