All around me the pale masts of Trafalgar burned. The morning sky of London had darkened with the acrid black smoke of unrest. I covered my mouth with my sleeve against the dust of charred men and old wood. It made me choke. We’d toppled old Nelson three days ago now. His lions, too. They were corpses like the rest of us, bronze skulls cracked open on the pavement. The fountains had filled with refuse of all kinds. The bells of St. Martins rang cacophonous and without rhythm. Every plinth, every space on every wall was tagged and marred. BRITAIN FOR THE BRITISH.
“No!” he screamed as his knees scraped along the asphalt. I gave the rope a sharp tug and heard him gasp as it tightened around his neck, pulling him down again.
“Get up, Your Highness!” I heard Carter cackle. “Your Majesty!”
All around me the emaciated arms of my comrades raised torches up triumphant to set the night sky ablaze.
A man began to chant. “Long live the King! Long live the King!” Others joined in, their cries melding into some throbbing, vocal mass. “Long live the King!”
I pulled hard on the rope again.
“Any troubles I can tend to?” asked a woman, faced daubed in soot and old makeup. She lifted her skirt. “Handsome boy like you, won’t cost you much.”
“No, thank you,” I muttered, pushing my way through the congregation that loitered around the broken pillar. Even in this day and age, one must hold onto their manners. We Britons are civilised folk, remember?
Johnson and his ilk had shacked themselves up in the National Gallery. The new flag of Albion fluttered from its columns like a mainsail. At least, they tell me it’s new. Last time I checked, it was no different from the old one. There were three bodies strung up there, too. New ones every day, each with a placard hanging loose around their neck. FAG. PAKI. LIBERAL. I dared not stare for long. I shuddered and pushed my way up the stairs.
“Please don’t do this please please oh God oh God oh Christ, have mercy.”
They’d fashioned a stage out of old scaffolding and plywood under the arms of Admiralty Arch, as if I were in an amateur production of Hamlet. I pulled the King up the steps, and he collapsed onto the rough boards.
“Please, I beg of you, spare me.”
I pulled tighter on the rope and he choked and spluttered.
“Show some mercy, you thug!”
Thug? We Britons are civilised folk.
“You there,” shouted the guard. “Hands up!” I stopped in my place, raised my arms and kept my gaze lowered. He began to pat me down haphazardly. The fine men of the New Protection Squadron were a bunch of brutes, if you ask me. Necessary, sure, and good at their job, but nothing more than thugs. No: they were organised thugs. This one was a prime specimen, just short of a head taller than me, with that typical Neanderthal overbite gurn and the beady eyes of a pig. Rifles these days were scarce: he made do with an old crowbar. The red stains on its hooked end told me he’d used it recently.
“Papers,” he grunted.
“Right pocket,” I said. He squinted at the text, before motioning to another man, clearly his superior, judging by the ancient glock holstered in the waistband of his jeans.
“Come with me, Comrade.”
I nodded and followed the man through the old doors of the gallery. Johnson’s lot were fiends, but at least they’d left the art. Old faces stared down from lofty perches on gore red walls and winced at the reverberating clack of my boots on the cold marble.
Old Johnson himself had made his office on the first floor, his desk in the grey light of the balcony doors. He was a stocky man with big bulldog jowls and a full scalp of bristly black hair.
“Ahh! Comrade Orrell,” he said. “Do come in.”
“Comrade Johnson,” I said, gritting my teeth, smiling politely. Taking a seat. “Long live England.”
“Long live England!” he smiled, and waved to an assistant. “Tea?”
Our comrades starve, and you offer me tea. I smiled again. “No, thank you.”
“So it’s done?” he said, clapping his hands with glee, toad cheeks wobbling with the force.
“I trust you saw Admiralty Arch this morning?”
“Get down!” I whispered, pushing my comrades into the bushes as the spotlight passed over our position. I grabbed Jenkins by the collar and shook him. “Do you want to be fucking shot, Jenkins?”
“No, Comrade,” he said.
“Then keep down and keep moving,” I said, pushing him back. “Like I said.”
We ran through the overgrown grass of Green Park, scarfs pulled up around our necks against the faint drizzle. The night’s horizon danced with the smoking orange roofs of Whitehall, and the tinnitus buzz of the London night was ruptured by the pop of mortars and the constant radio hiss of war.
Since the bombing at Westminster, the guard had doubled at the palace. King George wasn’t afraid of Johnson’s thugs. He was safe from pitched battle. Why they hadn’t evacuated him earlier, though, I’ll never know. He could’ve been up in Glamorgan, safe with his family, three weeks ago. But he stayed, locked in and safe in his own splendid dungeon while the capital crumbled. The Life Guards made sure of that. They fought the revolutionaries with an almost chivalric fervour. But, of course, this is 2062. There are no guillotines, no reds and whites, no rosettes pinned to your breast, no miserable revolutionary barricade for his noble soldiers to gun down. This is an age of shadows and pipe bombs.
“Stop,” I whispered.
“Two, on the left,” said Rogers. We all crouched down. The grass echoed with the sharp intake of breath and the dull patter of military boots. Grey coats, bearskin hats. Hardly practical, is it? I nodded to Jenkins and Rogers and stepped out onto the path and watched as they came up behind the guards and cut their throats, a torrent of frothing red pouring out onto the gravel. They dropped to the ground. We relieved them of their weapons.
“Carter shouldn’t be more than fifty feet away,” I said. “But still, keep quiet.”
Like clockwork, we found them by the gate. “Comrade Carter,” I said, embracing their leader, a tall, malnourished girl with a shock of bleached hair and a twice-broken nose. Around her shoulder she carried a coil of rope.
“Comrade Orrell,” she smiled. “You’re late.”
“Whatever,” I said. “We had an altercation. Let’s get this done.”
We moved through the gate and across the road, onto the mall, taking in the wind of the open space and the silence. Atop the Victoria memorial we heard a cry. One of our men, dangling from the wings of victory, the flag of Albion triumphant. We all smiled to supress a cheer.
A man was crouched against the palace gates, fingers whirring like a watchmaker on a makeshift detonator and a small pack of C4. How Johnson had gotten the explosive, let alone a trained demolitions expert in this day and age, I’ll never know.
“Stand back,” he said, a thick Geordie accent rolling off fat lips, “it’s only a small charge, but it packs a right punch.” I nodded, and the group of us moved back.
We had started to expand. Jenkin and Rogers stood right behind me. Two welsh boys burning with nationalist fire, utterly dedicated to the cause. I wouldn’t ask for anything less for what we were to do on that night. Other than them, there were Carter and her lot, an older, lanky man in a big trench coat called Penstone, and his lot, then two other groups that I had never met. Some of them, like us, had rifles, clearly pilfered. Even with this, we were not an army, by any means, but this wasn’t a battle. It was a smash and grab.
“Charges set, lads,” said the Geordie. “Ready on your signal.”
I nodded to my comrades, and they nodded in return. “Let’s go, boys.”
The gates blew open with a resounding thud, and we poured through. The guards were bloody quick off the mark. I’ll give them that much. We had at least twenty metres of open ground to cover, and they very nearly ripped us apart. I winced as a bullet thudded into the man beside me, and felt the mist of blood spray across my face. Carter snarled in pain as one gouged its way through the skin of her arm, leaving a burning, cauterised trail. We fired back clumsily, most of us lacking the training, but it didn’t matter. A bullet is still a bullet. A life is still a life. Our rounds hammered into the guards, cracking sternums and femurs like the roll of an execution snare. Snap. Snap. Snap snap snap.
With the guards dealt with, we moved through one of the palace’s many archways and into the quadrangle. “Keep close to the walls,” I said. “Or we’ll get eaten alive.” I couldn’t have been more wrong; the courtyard was empty. A blessing.
The palace air was a kind of old western hot and empty, like we were the intrepid saviours of the town, walking into a trap set by the malicious, tyrannical bandit. Weapons slung low, we padded silently through the venerable, red-carpeted halls, checking every empty drawing room, every long corridor. In the kitchens, we came across a young handmaid, curled up prostrate, balling her eyes out about rape, murder and the end of the world.
“Quiet girl,” said Penstone softly, brushing her hair with mock tenderness. “We’re not here for you.”
We moved into the throne room. Empty again, save for pristine marble and red velvet. It stank of money. We didn’t find the king there. Remember, this isn’t fiction, it’s all life. The big boss knows when he’s all out of luck. So, we didn’t find him on his throne, and we didn’t even find him in his bed. No, the King, for all his nobility, was curled up and sobbing in his en-suite, cheek pressed against his cold porcelain throne.
Two men grabbed him by the arms as he began to scramble away.
“Let me go!” he shouted between sobs. “ I demand a fair trial. A fair trial!”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll get your trial.” I put out my hand, and Carter handed me the long coil of rope. I looped once around his wrists, binding them together (pulling extra tight, to cut at the thin flesh there), and again, taut around his neck. I pulled sharply at the rope. He fell to the ground for the first time, his face smashing into the perfect white of the bathroom tiles. He struggled to his feet, and I goaded him out the door.
As we walked him out of the palace, the night began to resound with the victorious bellows of my kin. The Mall was alight with flame from the thousand (no, more, even) torches raised high. We laughed as the king stumbled through the gravel, and hit him with the butts of our rifles until his nose bled and his eyes were black. “Long live the King!” is what the people called and we called back, raising our arms and shouting “England! Justice for Albion!”
We dragged him all the way to Admiralty Arch. I climbed up onto the stage and stared out back onto the Mall, and addressed the people.
“Brothers! Sisters!” I bellowed. Cheers. Carter stood on my right, Penstone on my left. “Comrades.” A deep intake of breath. “This man, your King, is a traitor to England and its people.” Cheers erupted from the crowd. “Him and his ilk spent their life feeding on Albion like a leech.” Even more cheers. “Well, I say it’s high time we put this leech out of its misery.”
“Justice!” a man called from the crowd. Others joined him. “Justice! Justice! Justice!” We are a people of chants.
“No!” pleaded the King once more. “Please. I am an innocent man. This is no trial.”
I grabbed his neck. “And I am no judge.” I threw him to the ground. “People of Albion,” I proclaimed. “What is the punishment for treason?”
“Death!” they cried. “Death!”
“Death!” I roared. “Death. So be it. George the Seventh, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, I sentence you, for the crime of high treason, to hang by the neck until dead.”
We hoisted him high on the arch. He screamed and shat like a new-born baby until his face turned purple.
“Yes, yes,” said Johnson. “Excellent work, Orrell. Truly excellent.” I tapped impatiently on the hardwood desk. “What you did last night, what you have done, Orrell, has always been for the good of Albion. You truly are a model Englishman.”
“I suppose I am.”
“I expect to see a lot of you in the future,” he said. “You’ve done well in my service.”
“Yes, Comrade,” I said. “Thank you, Comrade.”
“Albion is ours, Orrell,” he continued. “Its people called for us, and we answered. It is time for a new order. Time to wipe out the old ways, like a bad smell.”
“Indeed it is, Comrade.” I said.
“Under our direction, nay, my direction, we Britons will stand tall once again.”
I lied, earlier. Sometimes, in the real world, there is a big boss in a big chair that plays with lives like a child plays with pebbles. And sometimes they speak in rambling monologue. No white cats, though.
I raised one hand and motioned to the guards. They locked the office’s doors and walked calmly to the desk before seizing the old, fat politician by each arm.
“What are you doing?” Johnson cried, struggling against the restraint. “I order you to stop this at once!”
I stood up and smirked. The two thugs pushed him against the desk. I took a tarnished letter opener from my coat pocket.
“No!” he cried.
It’s funny, how powerful men break under the slightest bit of strain. Bones like chalk. They always sob. Why do they always sob?
The knife is messy work, but the message was clear. I ripped open the fat man’s shirt and carved it straight onto his chest. ‘FASCIST’, it read. He screamed and screamed and screamed. One of the thugs looped a rope around his neck. We dragged him out, bloody and still creaming to the balcony. I pulled him up onto the ledge, still wailing, while the thugs fastened the rope securely.
“Long live England, Comrade,” I said with a smile, and pushed him off the balcony.