All true fairytales are spun from the
golden thread of a young girl's beauty, at that precious moment when
she has just become a woman . . . It was a pity, thought General Wang,
that the heroine of the tale he had entered was now far past that perfect
moment. He would have liked to meet Frances Slater, known as Fiorinda,
when she was the fiery teenager of legend, in all her angry pride. He
had no complaints, however, about the grown-up woman with him tonight:
white skinned, divinely tall, with the most amazing emerald eyes. Her
blatant use of cosmetic 'enhancements', one of the pernicious habits
he was here to root out, didn't worry him. She was splendid.
The General was well aware that Dian's part in the lives of the radical rockstars had been smaller than she told it; but fact was immaterial this evening. He could get the facts anywhere: he was collecting impressions.
'What you need to understand-' said Dian, earnestly, alight with wine. 'Is I was a total insider, most favoured media-person, I saw it from the beginning. What you need to get is that it wasn't hype. They really were our good luck mascots, ever since Massacre Night. You know? When the hippies took over, our violent green coup?'
'Whatever happened, however bad it got, people felt that if the Few were okay, we'd all be okay. It was totally genuine. They were totally genuine. When I had my own tv show, which I did, very young, and it was essential viewing, I wouldn't talk to anyone, no matter how big they were, if I knew they were bores. You'd dread spending five minutes with some of the megastars, trust me. They were incredible. All of them, the Triumvirate, and Allie, Dilip, Rob and the Babes. Chip Desmond, Verlaine. And George Merrick, Bill Trevor, Cack Stannen - that's Sage's band.'
Wang's tame goddess counted on her fingers, listing her totems.
'Ax's band, the Preston family band, he left behind a long time ago. You don't have to worry about them. Fiorinda never had a band of her own, of course. Those names, those names I just told you, they were the core. If they talked to you, everything sparkled. The world had fallen apart, but the Few were still hot. You wanted to look like them, be near them, be in the gang-'
The General had a malicious impulse to inquire if Fiorinda Slater was included among the wonderful, light-the-room people . . . Dian was careful. The Chinese had made it clear that Ax and his partners were not war criminals and were not to be vilified. But he'd noted a certain reserve towards the young woman whose harsh fairytale had been so strangely woven into Ax Preston's utopian dream.
The psychology of the Dians of this world, women of pleasure, is the same in any culture.
'Tell me about the Triumvirate.'
'You were not entirely smitten with
the rock and roll princess?'
Wang felt kinship with the child of rotten privilege (untold generations of it, on the mother's side). It's a difficult burden. But his heart was touched by this other Englishwoman: thoroughly immoral; so gallantly determined to make the best of things.
The press release folder that he'd provided
for this 'interview' lay in her lap, like a last scrap of decency. He
saw her glance at the cover page, and shiver away.
By "Sage", you mean Aoxomoxoa?'
She giggled and covered her mouth as if trying to push the forbidden name back into her throat.
'I meant Aoxomoxoa. Sorry . . . Dilip's
responsibilities? That's not how it worked. The Few were called
"Ax's rock and roll Cabinet", it's misleading. They had no
c-conventional posts, except hahaha, Aoxomoxoa was called the Minister
for Gigs, but that was more or less a joke-'
'We came for your gold,' he said. 'We have an insatiable lust for gold, in China.'
Dian licked fiery, sticky sauce from her chopsticks. 'But British gold's in Ireland and Wales, and there's not much of it.'
The Celtic nations had not yet been touched.
'Ah, but we are connoisseurs. Small amounts of a distinctive, native gold can be very precious.'
'Now you're teasing me.'
A cheeky, coquettish grin, a weapon
from the armoury of a tv journalist, turning the interview into a flirtation.
Her face changed. The English roses fled from her cheeks, leaving her
chalk-pale, in panic.
In the space-capsule bathroom Dian threw
up briskly, rinsed her mouth: applied breath spray and sat on the toilet
seat looking at her watch. Two minutes for recovery time, it's always
worth the investment. She had eaten as much of the show-off food as
her stomach would bear. Unbelievable, the seafood especially. White
flesh of squid and abalone, swimmy pools of oysters in the shell on
crushed ice, all sprinkled with yellow glitter, Hong Kong millionaire
chic. She'd been hoping for fragrant rice, or bread. Everybody longed
for bread. Instead she'd been eating metal. And now she'd lost the lot,
fuck, fuck. She could not afford to be thin in post-invasion London.
It would brand her, it would make her look a failure.
I was right to stay put. Nowhere is
They measure famine differently in China. There was something people had started to say, at the height of the invasion. And then something else: one of those mystery expressions that comes from nowhere, then suddenly it's everywhere, and everyone knows what it means. Is China going to take a card? The Chinese had leapt around the world, with the tech they'd been nurturing in secret through the years of chaos. Within a week they'd had Europe in a box, England and Roumania overrun.
Almost at once the English had known that their only hope was if the rampage went on. If China attacked again, at once - say France or Ireland - the world would've had to muster some kind of protest, some kind of resistance. That hope was gone. China had taken a card. Fred Eiffrich, the same US President who'd compelled the English government to accept Ax as Head of State two years ago, had given the rape of England his blessing. And for their next move the Chinese would take over the world.
The whole, entire fucking planet. It was horrific, a nightmare, your brain couldn't take it in, yet it was going to happen. There was nobody left to stop them.
But I am here, thought Dian, watching
the seconds. With the Commander in Chief . . . Wang had been the public
face of the invasion; the sexy one you saw all the time. He was tall
and handsome (a man's height was important to Dian). He looked just
as good out of uniform; and the Four Commanding Generals were supposed
to be equals, but it was obvious that Wang was top dog. The so-called
General of the Capital, Hu Qinfu, was nowhere when Wang came to town.
'Oh my God,' she whispered. 'Oh my God, where am I?'
The space capsule walls pulsed, black
waves rippled across her vision. She found herself sitting on the side
of the bathtub: clutching the silver charm of the Three locked in congress
that she kept on her keychain. She stuffed it into her bag, horrified.
I must chuck that. My God, why haven't I thrown that away?