The entire island of Britain is mysteriously transported a thousand years into the past.
|At 23:47 GMT on 30 October 2017, the Internet went down across the whole of Britain.|
Gordy Stout, a twenty three year old linguistics major, was uploading holiday photos to Facebook when Safari presented him with a grey screen and announced that he was no longer connected to the World Wide Web.
He muttered a curse under his breath and restarted his Wi-Fi. He had just returned home to Newcastle from a three-month hike of the northern section of the Appalachian Trail, from New York to Maine, and was looking forward to showing his accomplishment off to his friends.
Gordy watched the semi-circles of the Wi-Fi icon fill with black, and then go grey and empty. Network not found.
Frustrated, he tiptoed past his parents’ bedroom and into his father’s office. It was dark save for a pulsating red light emanating from the LEDs of the house’s Netgear router. He disconnected the power cord, then plugged it back in. After a moment, the red lights returned.
Gordy groaned and went back to his room, flopping down on the bed and absently reaching for his iPhone.
No data service.
That’s when Gordy Stout felt his first twinge of concern.
Halloween morning, the people of Britain began to realize that the outage was not limited to their own households and workplaces. The few working payphones left in London had lines going around the block by dawn.
All digital cable and satellite television was inoperative. The Government included a public service announcement on the front page of every major newspaper claiming that the outage was due to the collision of two satellites in orbit.
To make matters even stranger, 31 October 2017 was an unseasonably hot and humid day. Meteorologists nationwide were surprised to report a five-degree increase in temperature overnight, a sharp contradiction to the crisp week expected in the forecast.
Assurances by data providers that the Internet would be back that afternoon went unquestioned, and life continued more or less as normal. At a McDonald’s in Wiltshire, two crew members commiserated about their interrupted multiplayer match in Star Wars: Battlefront the night before. In Lincoln, a real estate agent rushed into work early to print paper copies of a lease on his office computer. In Stirling, a Danish tourist struggled to contact her husband in Copenhagen. Millions of people using public toilets across Britain read and reread graffiti on the stalls.
The halls of power, meanwhile, were thrown into chaos.
The Prime Minister and her family were woken just minutes after the outage and ushered to Site 4, a heavily fortified bunker in the East Anglian countryside with the highest possible security clearance. MI6, unable to contact a single operative on foreign deployment, began to suspect a cyberattack on a massive scale.
That night, stealth jets took off from bases all around the country. It didn’t take long for the reports to come back – Ireland, France and the Netherlands were utterly dark. The pilots saw no city lights anywhere. The whole continent appeared to be completely without power.
When the aerial photographs started to come in, the PM prayed sincerely for the first time in decades.
Ray Obaje fingered the hem of his jacket, watching the water break against the hull of the P&O Irish Sea Liverpool-Dublin ferry, wishing he could light up a cigarette. He could hear music, very faintly, that must have been coming from nearby headphones turned up to full volume.
“Still no service,” Maureen Regan, his girlfriend, said, pocketing her phone, “but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Mum and Dad said they would be at the docks by 4.” She poked him. “Are you nervous?”
“No,” Ray said. “Not about meeting them, anyway.” A black man always took a gamble when meeting his white significant other’s family, but Ray didn’t expect he would need to reenact Get Out to survive the weekend.
Ray looked around. The atmosphere on the ferry was uneasy. Most of the passengers sat in silence, twiddling their thumbs or bouncing restless legs.
“It is spooky,” Maureen said, picking up on it. “This outage. Goes to show how dependent we are on the Internet these days. Jeremy – you know, in 2A – he says that this was long overdue. There are so many satellites up there in space, it’s a miracle they don’t hit each other every day.”
“You really believe that?” Ray asked.
“That bullshit story in The Times.”
She rolled her eyes. “Ray, not everything’s a fucking conspiracy.”
The coast of Ireland came into view, a strip of brown and green shrouded in mist on the horizon. Ray looked down at his hands – they were shaking. A black dread was rising in him, drying his mouth. He glanced at Maureen. Normally ever the optimist, her brow was creased and her eyes distant.
His own thoughts were racing. Something is wrong, very wrong. Something happened last night. Everyone knows it but won’t dare say it aloud.
When Dublin emerged from the mist about an hour later, apprehension gave way to confusion. Ray could see columns of smoke rising from the city. Not a city, a town.
“Fuck, was there a fire?” Maureen asked, and Ray only shrugged.
The passengers around them were murmuring amongst themselves, some faces furrowed in bewilderment, others in annoyance.
“I don’t think that’s Dublin, babe.” Ray said.
“What the hell is going on?” Maureen crossed her arms and slumped in her seat.
Ray saw a boat out of the corner of his eye. It was long and thin, with a broad square sail, appeared to be made out of wood, and was heading right for the ferry.
He pointed it out to Maureen, and they watched as the little ship’s bow got caught in their wake, bobbed up and down, and surged bravely forward. They could just barely make out the figures of the crew on deck, men in drab uniforms shouting to each other. The sailboat turned toward the east and disappeared behind the ferry’s stern.
Ray looked forward. The coast approached inexorably, and he found himself wishing that the ferry would turn around.
“Fucking hell!” an Irish voice cried, startling them both. “Look!”
The passengers hurried to the sides of the ship. Dublin was now clearly visible.
At first, Ray did not fully process what he was seeing. A settlement, walled with palisades and full to bursting with one-story thatch huts. He saw a wooden castle dominating the landscape, and dozens of longships milling by the quays – longships gathering in the harbor, full of helmeted men, preparing to attack.
The ferry shuddered to a sudden halt, throwing the passengers forward. A woman screamed in horror as her toddler son was jerked from her arms and flew overboard into the frigid sea. Inertia bowled Ray into Maureen and they tumbled to the deck. Maureen gasped, the wind knocked out of her.
Confusion gave way to panic.
A stampede formed over them. Ray grabbed his head with both hands and used his body to shield Maureen. Someone stepped on his lower back, hard, blinding him with pain. A woman slipped and fell on top of his legs.
“Where are you going, you idiots?” Ray tried to scream over the din. “It’s a fucking boat!”
The mob paid him no mind. Fear was their master now.
The first grappling hook snagged on the railing of the lower deck just feet from where Ray and Maureen lay pinned. The rope shook to and fro, and then Ray heard their voices – deep, guttural, and speaking an alien language. A pair of hairy hands came into view behind the railing, then an even hairier face. In that moment Ray pissed himself, the hot jet of urine oddly comforting on the cold, windy deck.
The Viking wore a dented goggled helmet, with a leather gambeson over a rusted coat of mail. His beard was long and plaited, as was his hair, and his eyes were blue, piercing, and wild.
Soundlessly, he drew his sword, and stepped in front of a fleeing teenager in a tracksuit. The teenager threw his hands in the air and started to say something – it may have been “wait” – before the Viking casually ran him through.
The mob was dispersing in a mad dash to get clear of the railings, and Ray struggled to his feet, heaving Maureen up bodily as he did so.
More Vikings clambered onto the ferry, from both sides now, and their work was bloody and quick. First they focused on killing the men, then turned on the women and children with equal ferocity.
One burly passenger with a crew cut lunged at a redheaded younger Viking, seizing him by his wrists and wrestling him to the deck. No sooner had the crew cut bloke gotten the upper hand that he jolted upright, gasping. Tears were in his eyes, his face was a mask of shock, and his mouth was a wordless O. He fell forward, a two-handed axe buried between his shoulder blades. His killer wrenched the great axe free to a hideous spray of blood.
The deck was slick with viscera as Ray pulled Maureen by the hand away from the massacre. But where to go? There was nowhere safe. The other passengers were scrambling below deck, but Ray suspected they went down to their doom – there would be no escape from the hold of the ship.
Ray heard a series of sickening thwaps, and a split second later, agony exploded in his right leg. He looked down. An arrow had impaled his thigh. Its fletching was an ugly brown, the color of shit, and bits of his flesh were caught on the arrowhead.
He screamed. His voice sounded high-pitched and not his own. He dropped Maureen’s hand to clutch the wound, and the mob swept her away. One moment she was there, the next she was gone. He never saw her again.
A Viking grabbed Ray by the collar and drew him close. His breath was unconscionably rank – it smelled like flat beer and raw meat. He said something in his language and his companions laughed. Then he dragged Ray to the railing and threw him off the ferry.
He fell. The Irish Sea rushed up to meet him.
Two weeks after 10/30 (or the “Halloween Event” as it became popularly known), the Royal Astronomical Society publicly announced that somehow, the island of Britain had been transported nearly a thousand years into the past. The current date was not 13 November 2017, but 24 September 1066.
The Government had known this since Halloween. The massacre on the Liverpool-Dublin ferry was easy enough to cover up. Drone reconnaissance revealed that all aboard the vessel were either killed or captured, and the ferry itself commandeered. The Government made no effort to rescue the survivors. It was better that no one on the ferry should return to Britain, the PM’s advisors reasoned, to avoid a public panic.
The jig was up, however, when Harald Hardrada and ten thousand Norwegians sailed up the Humber and burned Hull to the ground. The army swept in immediately and slaughtered the invaders outside the village of Broomfleet. Hardrada himself was arrested and incarcerated on charges of mass murder.
“Those familiar with history,” John Zarnecki, the president of the Astronomical Society, added to the assembled press, “will note the portentous nature of the date we’ve found ourselves in. The public need not worry about the expected Norman invasion next week. The army is fortifying the southern coast as we speak.”
A state of emergency was immediately declared, and ground troops were seen patrolling the streets of Britain for the first time since the war. A photograph of tanks crossing Westminster Bridge made the cover of The Guardian.
For the most part, the citizenry respected martial law, stayed indoors, kept calm, and carried on. Political and business leaders were relieved to find that fears of a nationwide panic were unfounded, but there was localized unrest. A riot broke out in Glasgow and protesters stormed a police station before the army could intervene and disperse them. The suicide rate spiked 350%, mostly among foreign expats and those whose families were on holiday abroad when the Halloween Event occurred.
Post traffic increased by over 1000%, and the Royal Mail struggled to cope with the huge increase in epistulatory correspondence.
The cause of the Halloween Event remained unknown, and the Government took no official stance. Scientists’ opinions ranged from an inter-dimensional rift to a highly advanced, perhaps extraterrestrial weapon. Others turned to religion. Thousands of conservative Muslims attempted to gather on the coast of Cornwall, intending to leave the country en masse, but most were caught in police roadblocks and escorted back to their homes.
Anthony Page, a sixteen year old student smoking marijuana in a shed in Pembrokeshire, told two friends he believed that 10/30 was God taking the piss.
That night, sad news rocked the nation: Queen Elizabeth was among the suicides.
Six hours after King Charles’ coronation, a Trafalgar class attack submarine made its way across the Channel to France, where an army was gathering.
A young Norman sentry at the port of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme was the first to spot the steel kraken emerge from the deep. Too terrified to so much as cross himself, the sentry threw down his spear and shield and broke into a headlong run for Duke William’s camp. The alarm was raised, the knights mustered, and within minutes thousands of heavy cavalry thundered to the beach.
All eyes were fixed on the strange craft. Not one of the warriors spoke. The only sounds were the snorts of their horses and the soft roar of the sea wind on the flames of their torches – the light of which danced eerily over their helmets and mail.
At length, the top hatch of the submarine creaked open. Thirteen men disembarked and rowed ashore in a long rubber boat. Three of them wore expensive suits – the other ten were military, including some high-ranking naval officers.
A lone Norman spurred his horse forward to meet them. His knights tried to restrain him, but he waved them off, and continued at a walk to the shoreline.
“William the Bastard, I presume?” one of the suited strangers said, in Latin.
“You presume too much,” the Norman, Duke William, replied. “The last man who addressed me so impudently lost his tongue.”
“I’ll be as impudent as I like, bastard,” the stranger said, and smiled. He was a slight, handsome man who appeared to be in his mid-forties and spoke with a German accent. “I need only stamp my feet and this beach will become your grave. Yours, and that of your proud army.”
Duke William narrowed his eyes. “Who are you to wield such power? The angel of death?”
“The angel of death, yes. I like that. I have many names, but you may call me V.M. I have come to warn you. The English know you are coming.”
“So it seems,” William said. “Dozens of merchant ships have failed to return from across the water. Godwinson, the usurper, must be detaining them.”
“There is more. Did you know that Harald of Norway’s army was slaughtered in the north, almost to a man?”
“It matters not. My own men have heard queer peels of thunder, and seen flashing lights in the sky by night. These are favorable omens. God supports my cause. The Holy Father has acknowledged it.”
V.M. chuckled. “Those are not omens, you fool! They are signs of English sorcery, and it has made your enemies extremely powerful.”
“Sorcery such as you possess?” asked William, gesturing to the submarine. “That mote is in your eye as well, friend.”
“No,” V.M. said, his eyes flashing with glee. “My magic is so powerful, the English would not dare to employ it. I offer it to you, such as it is.”
William hesitated. “Are you the devil?” he asked.
V.M. began to laugh, a slow giggle rising to a vibrant cackle that echoed over the beach. “No, no. We are the only men of our kind doing God’s true work. It is not your destiny to die on the battlefield. It is imperative that you live to rule, and found a dynasty that lasts a thousand years. Join us, and never again shall men call you the Bastard. You will be known forever more as the Conqueror.”
On the morning of 14 October 1066, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Hastings.
William was late. Historically, the Normans landed at Pevensey on 28 September, so the army had been sitting on its hands for more than two weeks. The coast between Bexhill and Eastbourne was cordoned off for military personnel only. Six divisions of infantry and fifty-nine Challenger 2 tanks formed the front line, with four light gun regiments in reserve. The RAF also made a showing with six squadrons of Apache attack helicopters. General Sir Nikolas Lloyd, Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces, would conduct operations, but nominal command lay with King Charles himself, who had insisted he be present to witness the historic victory.
The press was in force as well, and news lorries choked the roads for kilometers around. Film crews were everywhere. Morale was desperately low in Britain – the Queen’s death hit everyone hard. A nice, patriotic film featuring stalwart British soldiers stuffing the French was just what the country needed.
The element of surprise was essential, so the beach around Pevensey Bay itself was left undefended. Only after William’s landing would the army spring out of hiding and attack. No reconnaissance aircraft was employed, since the Normans were expected to run home with their tails between their legs at the first sign of advanced technology.
“The Norman ships have been sighted, your majesty,” Sir Nikolas informed King Charles, who sat upon an elevated throne beneath a canopy at the rear of the army.
“Excellent,” the King said. “You may fire when ready.”
He’s having altogether too much fun, Sir Nikolas thought. “We shall fire as soon as the enemy disembarks, your majesty.”
“Ah, yes,” said the King. “The wisest strategy, no doubt. You know best, Sir Nikolas. Lure the prey close before the trap is sprung, eh?”
“You’re absolutely ri–“
A nearby radio burst with a cacophony of voices, totally unintelligible to the King. The chief communications officer hit the PTT button. “One at a time, please! One at a time!”
A single horrified voice: “INCOMING!“
“What’s happened, Sir Nikolas?” asked the King.
Sir Nikolas ignored him. He could see it now, looming over the Channel like the angel of death.
“Full retreat, for God’s sake,” he said. The order went out, but it was useless. The tanks blocked the infantry’s escape, the helicopters couldn’t take off in time, and the civilians were hemmed in place by countless news lorries.
“Rescue me!” The King was shouting at his generals. “Get me to safety, I command it!”
None of them moved. They knew it was the end.
Their fate was accelerating quickly. It would not be long now, a matter of moments. Many prayed. Others clutched one another for comfort. Some even held on to the faint hope that they could find cover, or escape.
The King’s last thought was a single word: Typical.
Light. A nanosecond later, death – white and searing.
Winter came early and stayed late.
“Fimbulvetr,” a Danish merchant told Gordy Stout. He was picking out a new fur cloak at a makeshift market square in bombed-out downtown York.
“I don’t understand,” Gordy said in Old English.
“It’s Norse,” said the Dane. “It means ‘great winter.’ The winter before the end of the world.”
It had been four months since William of Normandy plucked the flower of English chivalry at the Second Battle of Hastings. The weather had slowed the Harrying of the North somewhat, but as the lion banners hanging from Clifford’s Tower attested, the Normans were firmly in control. In January they had raided Newcastle. Gordy’s parents were dead, gunned down absurdly by knights carrying kite shields in one hand and assault rifles in the other. The world felt like Game of Thrones meets Planet of the Apes.
Gordy bought the new cloak and discarded his old one, which was no more than rags and tatters. Night was falling, and it started to snow. He found a serviceable campsite in the ruins of a Nando’s, then threw down his pack and pitched his tent.
As he tried to get a fire going, he heard a soft voice: “Hey.”
Gordy whirled around, loosening his sword from its scabbard. He saw the silhouette of a man wearing a Stetson watching him from the drive thru window.
“Show yourself,” Gordy said, trying to sound like Aragorn, but the crack in his voice was much more like Frodo.
“It’s all right,” the figure said. He sounded American. He raised his hands – or rather, hand, since his left arm ended just above the elbow. “Can I come in?”
Gordy nodded and the American rounded the corner and came in through the front entrance. He was older, maybe in his mid-fifties, and wore a salt and pepper beard. A longsword was at his hip. “I saw you at the market,” he said. “You a thru-hiker?” He gestured to the patch on Gordy’s pack, an A over a T in block letters, the universal symbol of the Appalachian Trail.
“I did a LASH last year,” Gordy said, letting his guard down a little. LASH stood for Long-Ass Section Hike. “New York to Katahdin.”
The American pointed to himself. “Class of ’93. What’s your trail name?”
“Godkiller,” Gordy replied. It was the nickname he had gotten in America.
“Ooh, good one. How’d you get it?”
“One of my first friends on the trail was a pastor's son from Kentucky,” Gordy explained. “Super religious, of course. I'm not. We took a zero day together in Dalton, Massachusetts, and naturally we got pissed in the middle of the afternoon."
“Naturally," the American said.
“Before you know it, we're in a whole theological debate. Not proud of it, but I got a little hot under the collar and told him in no uncertain terms that God was dead. So he stood up and proclaimed to the entire bar, 'Call the police! God's dead and this guy killed him!' After that, I was Godkiller."
“Ha! Love it. I'm Freefall. Fell out of my hammock my first night on Springer.” He smiled. “That an Osprey Exos? Solid pack. Damn, I wish I still had mine. Left it in Nashville.”
“Were you on holiday when it happened?” Gordy asked.
Freefall shook his head. “Business trip.”
“Can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Freefall said. “Want a drink?”
Gordy nodded and Freefall took a seat. Soon they had the fire going, and were passing a bottle of Johnnie Walker between them.
“I noticed you talking to the natives,” Freefall said. “Thought you were one of them at first. You a historian or something?”
“I’m good with languages,” Gordy said.
“That’s cool, that’s real cool. You traveling alone?”
The question made Gordy nervous. “I have mates camped outside the walls,” he lied. “They’re expecting me tomorrow.”
Freefall shot him a knowing look. “I’m alone too, in a strange country, in a strange time. And I wake up terrified every fuckin day.” He leaned closer. “I’ve heard rumors. The Scottish are rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall. They’re going full Trump, now. Reinforced concrete forty feet high, missile defense systems, the works. I’m headed up there to swear my sword to Lady Nicola. You should come with me. You could probably get a sweet job as an interpreter. We can fight the English for freedom, like Braveheart.”
Gordy laughed. “Braveheart didn’t turn out so well for the Scots in the end. Besides, that’s a terrible film. About as historically accurate as –“ as knights with machine guns. “It’s just a bad film.”
Freefall frowned. “Don’t talk shit about Braveheart.”
“They can build that wall as high as they like. William the Conqueror will just nuke it into powder,” Gordy said.
“I don’t think so. Lady Nicola has way more nukes than he does. First sign of trouble and she’ll drop one right on his crowned head.”
“They’re stronger than we are. They like killing, they enjoy inflicting pain. This is their world.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Freefall said. “It’s our world. When you take what you want through brute force, you’re no better than a wild animal. A bear can rip a man’s face off if he catches him unawares. But if the man plans ahead and uses his wits, that bear’s a dead feller before the hunt even starts. I bet if we all put our heads together, that William will be a rug on the floor by Christmas.”
Domnall mac Murchada, crown prince of the kingdom of Leinster and keeper of the drinking horns of Cualann, rode with two dozen guards, slaves, and retainers deep into the Great Wood to the west of Dublin. It was a year, almost to the day, since the Halloween Event.
At length they came upon the dwelling of the Blue Man – a simple thatched cottage built between two massive pine trees. The horses grew skittish at the sight of it, and Domnall’s warriors exchanged anxious glances.
The prince dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to one of his slaves. He approached the entry flap of the cottage, his heart pounding harder in his chest with every step. Chicken skulls on strings hung suspended above the threshold, and a queer stink wafted from inside. Crossing himself, Domnall entered the hut.
Inside, the dwelling was dim and musky. The Blue Man sat wrapped in furs, staring deeply into the fire. A moth-eaten shawl was draped over his hairless head.
Trembling, the prince produced a carton of cigarettes from his travelling bag and laid it on the Blue Man’s table. The Blue Man turned, revealing his aspect, and Domnall gasped. So the stories are all true.
There was a hole in his face where his nose should have been, and pitch-black scars covered his cheeks, creeping up to his scalp. It was said he had fallen off a ship and drifted, wounded, in the currents of the sea for days. The frost took hold, and on the brink of death he washed ashore near Skerries. The villagers took him in, and when he recovered he knew things, things no man (not even the Aduain, as the Irish called the people from the future) could possibly know. He had seen the mushroom cloud over Hastings before it happened. He also prophesized that Domnall of Leinster would conquer all the other nations of Ireland, to rule as High King.
The Blue Man greedily tore open the carton, ripped the cellophane off a pack of Marlboro Reds and lit up using a stick from the fire. He inhaled deeply, sighing as he exhaled. The stench of burning tobacco stung Domnall’s nostrils.
“Well met, ruiri,” the Blue Man said. “Take a seat.” His Gaelic was impeccable.
The prince sat on a stump, across the table from the Blue Man. “Can you see into my mind?” Domnall asked.
“You have doubts.” Not a question.
“You do not want to be High King.”
“No. The kings of Dublin and the Isles are my own uncles – my stalwart allies, and brothers by oath. I would never fight against them.”
The Blue Man took another long pull from the cigarette. Smoke drifted out of the hole in his face. “Have you ever heard the tragedy of Anakinn the Sky-Walker?” he asked. “It’s an Aduain legend. Anakinn was a great knight and sorcerer of the Order of the Jedis, one of the most powerful ever to live.
“One night, he dreamt that his pregnant wife would die in childbirth, and his dreams were known to come to pass. To save her, he beseeched the dark lord Falfadinn for aid. Falfadinn promised to teach Anakinn the spells that would change his wife’s destiny – but instead he tricked him into betraying the Jedis, who were the enemies of Falfadinn.
“Anakinn was mutilated in a duel with his former master, and wore a mask for the rest of his life; Falfadinn seized power in their kingdom, and reigned as a tyrant for years.”
“What happened to Anakinn’s wife?” asked Domnall.
“What do you think?” the Blue Man said. “She died in childbirth. If Anakinn had been there, perhaps she would not have lost her will to live.”
“That is a childish story,” Domnall said, “a cheap exercise in irony. What could Anakinn have done differently, if his fate was already set?”
“He could not. That is the point. You will lose favor with your uncles, they will war against you, and you will destroy them. It is as immutable as stone. Lesser beings cannot change their destiny.”
“So everything is predestined by God. Can men do nothing?”
The Blue Man raised a finger in correction. “Gods, ruiri, gods.”
Domnall leaned back – the air between them went cold. “That is blasphemy,” he said.
“What did you come here for, if not the truth? Folk say that the talismans of the Aduain are magical, but they are no more magical than the bridle of your horse. When I drifted alone in the sea I was so close to death I could have reached out and touched it. I experienced the true mystery. For the first time, I heard them speak – the gods – and I hear them still. Would you like to know what they sound like?”
Domnall said nothing.
“Music,” the Blue Man said. Tears were in his eyes, and Domnall felt the skin on his arms go up in gooseflesh. “Music in the sky. If you listened closely, you would hear it too. Thrumming, endless music. It is like to drive me mad.
“They are here, now, with us. It has been eons since they left this plane, but now they have returned. To them, the creation and desolation of worlds is as natural and thoughtless as breathing. They are like a man trampling an anthill. The ants are thrown into ruin; hundreds die, and the survivors must rebuild their whole society. The man, on the other hand, has forgotten about his genocide by suppertime.
“I do not think the coming of the Aduain was planned. Perhaps the gods tripped over the threshold of our reality, and tore a hole in the membrane of time. I tell you this so that someone will know the truth – even though you will never accept it – because I have foreseen what you are about to do.” The Blue Man stubbed out his cigarette.
Domnall stood. “Are you ready?”
“My readiness is immaterial,” the Blue Man said. “It is my destiny.”
Prince Domnall drew his sword and lobbed off Ray Obaje’s head with a single clean stroke.
The press conference outside Westminster Abbey was broadcast live on all networks. Due to numerous violent incidents the week before, the U.N. task force had closed all civilian travel to the island indefinitely. The press was under extreme scrutiny. Armed escorts accompanied them at all times, and cell phones, computers, and flash photography were strictly forbidden. Even military traffic was limited to the “Green Zone,” a strip of land corresponding roughly to the old Roman road running from Dover to London.
A podium was set up on the steps leading to the door of the Abbey, and the event opened with remarks by American Vice President Mike Pence. Pence began by offering his heartfelt sympathies to all those who had lost family members on 10/30, with special emphasis on the families of the 1,834 people who had drowned tragically in the Channel Tunnel on the morning of the 31st. He then commented at length about the unknowable nature of God’s plan, and reiterated the administration’s promise to aid their European allies through the crisis.
“Now,” Pence said, “it is my very great honor to introduce my friend, the King of England, his majesty Harold II Godwinson.”
The press leaned forward – all of them – in one fluid motion, adjusting their earpiece translators, and the cameramen racked focus to the doors of the Abbey as they shuddered open.
Harold stepped outside with his chin up and his crown shimmering in the sun. He was dressed resplendently in a tunic emblazoned with the golden wyvern of Wessex and a cape adorned by the crosses and lion-heads of the House of Godwin. His most loyal housecarls marched in step close behind him.
Pence shook his hand warmly and walked with him to the podium, positioning himself just over the King’s shoulder, a faint smile on his lips. Harold looked out over the reporters and the cameras, to the thatch huts of London and the gently rolling azure waters of the Thames behind them.
“Hwæt, níwe woruld,” he began.
Hello, new world.
The story continues in "The Battle of Hadrian's Wall" .