[Adrian J. Watts, Greg Rosa, *]and[ Jacob Milnestein*]
The moral rights of Adrian J. Watts, Greg Rosa, and Jacob Milnestein to be identified as the Authors of this Work have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 2016 by
Editor-in-Chief Jason S. Kenney
Cover photograph from William Blake’s Europe a Prophecy
Le retour d’[_Arthur? _]© Adrian J. Watts 2016
[_The Reluctant Messiah _]© Greg Rosa 2015
[_A Republic of Tigers _]© Jacob Milnestein 2016
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
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&Le retour d&&’&&Arthur?& by Adrian J. Watts
&The Reluctant Messiah& by Greg Rosa
&A Republic of Tigers& by Jacob Milnestein
by[* Adrian J. Watts*]
The headlines said it all (they actually said very little – but that was all there was to say). It was June 24th. The day before had been of interest for many reasons, but there were two that were more interesting than any others: the British referendum on the question of whether or not to remain in the European Union…
… and the opening of what was believed to once have been the tomb of Jesus Christ.
To some, the British referendum was the be-all and end-all of the universe. For a nation whose Parliament is required to appoint a number of bishops with legislative voting rights, many might think that the undertaking in the Old City of Jerusalem would have more significance than it did.
But that’s the Britons. Keep Calm (i.e., ignore anything complicated) and Carry On (about your selfish endeavours).
There were few eyes and ears fixed on the subterranean portions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that day. Even the Christian groups who occupied the lands on which the Church stood were largely disinterested. The goal wasn’t to peek inside Christ’s final resting place, after all – it was to repair serious structural damage to the site. After decades of debating who would take responsibility for the costs and any damage that might occur, they just wanted it over and done with.
(A bit like the Britons, really.)
So only a handful of archaeologists noticed as the Holy Rock was penetrated and a small slab inside fell apart with a soft thud. Perhaps the cheering of the slightly-more-than-50% of Britons who got their way in the final count - “The Cheers Heard Around the World”, as some ‘papers called them – drowned out the soft chanting from even deeper within the Rock.
But they [_all _]noticed when He rose.
Tools clattered to the ground, and jaws almost joined them, as a pale, gaunt, frail figure rose from a sarcophagus deep within the Holy Rock. No-one had been inside for two centuries; no-one knew exactly where the Lord was supposed to have rested. There were educated guesses – perhaps only a few centimetres out, here and there – but no-one knew exactly… until that moment.
“Hwonne sy þissum?” the figure asked.
Its voice was guttural, dry… even gritty. It hadn’t been used in a while. The words could just as easily have been gravel in a blender.
“HWONNE SY þISSUM?” the figure shouted.
The words were clearer now.
“What is he saying?” one of the archaeologists whispered. He was asking no-one in particular – even without apparent meaning, the words of the Lord left him in awe.
“Min þegnweorud. Æfward…”
“It’s English,” another archaeologist said. He was clad in a keffiyeh – an Arab headdress. “Sir… I am Izzaddeen Mussa. Your followers… you do not know?”
The figure approached Izzaddeen, at first cautiously, then boldly. It could have been that He was not yet ready to walk, that after millennia of rest His legs were weak beneath him. Izzaddeen wondered if, perhaps, He knew he was a Moslem and was somehow trepidatious. The final bold steps bolstered his confidence – he felt that He considered him more than He might.
“Englisc…” He spoke softly. “You speak… English.” The figure straightened his back and cast his gaze, confidently, around the room. “I am your King.”
All of the archaeologists stumbled backward, shocked both by what they heard, and what they saw. Only Izzaddeen remained. He was not surprised. He was also the only follower of Islam.
“You are not [_my _]king, sir,” he said. He was nervous despite himself. He had always believed that Jesus Christ was a wise man, a man worthy of respect, but nothing more. Still, to have survived two millennia in a dank, dark crypt – that required some sort of holiness, surely.
The figure turned quickly, taking a quick glance at each of the assembled archaeologists. They were fixed in strange positions – kneeling, bent at the waist, but also looking up with concern.
“Why do they recoil so?” the figure asked. “Why do they look on me with horror?”
“Sir…” Izzaddeen began, “it is because you are black.”
His face flared with anger.
“You fear from me – you turn from me – !”
He raised a hand, and with a simple gesture, the room was filled with a raging fire. Izzaddeen jumped back, but noticed quickly that the fire was not harming him. It passed in seconds, leaving only the ashes of the archaeologists, the Lord, and the Moslem.
A day had passed. Izzaddeen had kept Him hidden, at His request. Neither was sure what the world would make of His return, and the Lord was unwilling to discuss it in any depth. In fact, aside from asking Izzaddeen to keep His presence a secret, the Lord had said very little… until the next sunset.
“Izzaddeen,” He said. “We must travel to the West.”
“Sir,” he said, “I do not need to do anything. I am a man of science, and of religion. I am not your follower. I have considered your words, and though I find them very insightful, the true path is set by another.”
The other smiled back.
“You are not like many others,” He said. “Many doubted me. Many doubted my lineage. And those who recognised it could not see that my father and I were truly the same. They doubt our righteous, holy power – or even questioned the otherworldly nature of my mother. My… wife? These things change over time, you see.”
Izzaddeen raised an eyebrow.
“I am a Moslem, sir,” he said. “I, too, find the changing nature of women confusing and confronting.”
The Lord laughed.
“Izzaddeen…!” He began. “I had not finished. Although you doubt what you have heard about me, you trust me – the me you see before you. Only one other has ever done so, and opened the path to true knowledge.” He scowled. “You say another sets the true path for you, but I sense in you something other than blind faith. Will you allow me to try to set a path for you?”
“Sir,” he began, “my faith is never blind. My faith is one of reason, nature and truth. You may show me whatever you wish, but I need not follow if I do not wish.”
The Lord turned to face Izzaddeen, and stared deep into his eyes.
“I once considered twelve as equals,” He said. “Among the twelve was the resolve to never break faith and to practice religion, but equal to those was the need to seek wonder. This world would be quite different without it. You, Izzaddeen – and perhaps your people – you can do all. The twelve exist in you.”
He took a step toward Izzaddeen.
“Take my hands,” He said.
Izzaddeen grasped the Lord’s hands… and everything changed. The world flew by Izzaddeen in a blur. He saw Tokyo. Beijing. Sydney. Rio de Janeiro. Cape Town. In each, he saw people praying, others rejecting faith. But in all, he saw wonder, until the journey abruptly ended. He stood beside the Lord, on a beach he knew, from seeing the Eiffel Tower moments earlier, was in France.
Still he grasped His hands.
“Isra and Mi’raj!” Izzaddeen exclaimed, although it sounded more like a whisper.
“We must continue to Westminster Abbey,” the Lord said.
Izzaddeen released His hands.
“Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing,” Izzaddeen recited from the Qu’ran.
The Lord’s face flushed red. For a moment, Izzaddeen thought he had offended Him, as in the Holy Rock. He shuddered, then gathered his resolve.
“Sir,” Izzaddeen said quickly, “I remain your companion. I have long said you are exalted – but you are not my messiah.”
The Lord’s face went pale again. He would have looked deathly, Izzaddeen thought, if not for a gentle smile that crossed His face. He took Izzaddeen’s arm by the wrist and rushed at the water where, to Izzaddeen’s surprise, they did not sink. What looked like lightning erupted around, and beneath them.
In seconds, they had crossed the English Channel and passed, almost unnoticed – a few vagrants had stared right at them, Izzaddeen thought, until a glow possessed them and they smiled, the true smile of the happy faithful – through London.
They slowed, and Izzaddeen found that he again had to walk, as they approached the Abbey at Westminster – al-Masjid al-Aqsa, the farthest mosque. The lightning which surrounded them dissipated, but not before briefly illuminating all the streets of London, charter’d as they are, in rapid succession.
It was still dark as they approached the door. The Lord reached toward the heavy, thick door, but seemed reluctant to touch it.
“I…” He began.
To Izzaddeen, it appeared the Lord had not noticed London until that very moment. The vagrants they passed, although few noticed them, were not the minority. The streets were filled with dark-skinned people, equal among the white-skinned – equally oppressed, equally disenfranchised.
Posters and banners littered the streets, symbols of icons half the population deemed unworthy of faith. The ancient walls were plastered with signs saying “#brexit”, “Remain” and “Leave”.
Mosques stood beside Churches which stood beside Synagogues – and between them were other places of worship. Less ancient, yes, but all equal in the formality of their rituals and beliefs.
To Izzaddeen, it was a world of harmony, where disparate views could stand united. To him, London was the centre of the world’s greatest democracy. The people got many things wrong, but they considered things with reason. They looked to the natural order – not just what was expedient, but what would be most beneficial, and what people would actually accept.
He had read about it the day before. At a time where one of the greatest people could have been irreparably divided, they came together to consider disparate, but equally held beliefs. All voices were welcome. Some proved to be right, others proved to be wrong, but it was the diversity that showed them the true path.
Seeing all of this strengthened Izzaddeen’s own faith, but as he looked upon Him, he saw something very different. The Lord seemed repulsed by the different beliefs but, in particular, with how openly they were expressed.
“I came from the otherworld as a King,” He said. “I united the people. All were equal, because all were equal. I journeyed from the holy land to Jerusalem to unite all people behind the truth. I resolved to one day return from the East to the West, after a long sleep… this is not what I, or my father, would have had me return to.”
He seemed to steel Himself. With one mighty shove he thrust opened the doors to the Abbey. Inside, people sat on pews, in silent prayer. None looked up to see Him.
“WHERE IS YOUR WONDER?!” He shouted.
As Izzaddeen looked on, His face again turned red.
… and so did the Abbey.
As in the other holy place, the Abbey was soon consumed with fire. People burned, wretched and twisted in their torment. From the rear of the Abbey came the Abbot, and as Izzaddeen watched, it seemed he burned most painfully, most torturously of all.
And it was not over.
It was no longer only His face that was red. As Izzaddeen watched, dark red wings emerged from His back. As his thin, ancient clothes tore away, Izzaddeen could also see red scales. He took to the sky, raging, flaming breath emerging from his mouth and burning all before him.
All except Izzaddeen.
It took only moments for the great city to be nothing but smoking rubble. The holy places were last to succumb – first the synagogues, then the mosques, and finally the churches, abbeys, chapels and other signs of Christendom.
The creature landed before Izzaddeen, but Izzaddeen refused to cower.
“Why do you not tremble, you wretched thing?” The creature’s entire body was ablaze now.
“Because I follow the true path,” Izzaddeen replied calmly. “My faith is not a blind one. My Lord is my Lord, my prophet my prophet. But I see the world for what it really is. My faith does not obscure it – I do not see only one way. I can see many ways forward. We are all bound by the laws of nature, not the laws of a man, or even a deity. And you – ”
Before Izzaddeen could finish, the creature belched a blast of flame which engulfed his body.
But Izzaddeen did not burn.
“All you can see,” Izzaddeen said, “is what is not your way. These people have endured a great trial, but even for those who did not get their way, faith remains. Even now, they are likely coming to rebuild. This is not the first time this land has burned.”
The dragon’s wings began to retreat into its back.
“I tried to destroy you in the tomb, with the others,” it said, “but you would not die. Few others have opposed me so openly and survived. I came from the otherworld as a King, a Lord and a Beast – a Dragon of red. I have changed the world.”
“Maybe you perfected it,” Izzaddeen said. “What need have we for a King or a Lord or a Beastly Dragon now? That was the question these people asked themselves. Is Europe, to them, one or even all of those things? Their faith helped them find the answer, and their faith will guide them through the consequences, whatever they may be – even this.”
He gestured at the ruined city.
“You are still their king, one way or another,” Izzaddeen said, “but they do not need
you to return, because to most of them, you never left.”
The creature smiled. It was now back in its frail, pale, human form.
“They worship me, do they?” it asked.
“Every day, in every way.”
“Then that is enough.”
Before Izzaddeen knew what had happened, the city was restored and the creature had vanished. It disappeared instantly, which for some reason seemed odd to the Moslem.
by[* Greg Rosa*]
The dead were walking again, but to one who had been dead and back more times than he could count, it was just another day at the office. The Reluctant Messiah wasn’t discomforted, he just hated their sense of style. As one creature, missing half its lower body dragged itself across the road, part of its dangling entrails left a slimy path across his handmade Italian loafer.
“Really, darling, not the shoes.” JC took out his heat-gun and blasted it almost casually.
Generally the dead didn’t notice him. He belonged to them as much as he did their still-living counterparts. They didn’t have religion as such, nor much sensibility, and their souls were shrivelled blackened things which remained as distant to them as thoughts or feelings. As such, they were not much different than his other followers.
He passed a music shop that had been been badly shuttered and broken into. Most of the musical instruments remained untouched. There was a vintage Les Paul, pristine, ripe for the taking.
“No musical taste,” he uttered.
In this too were the dead and the living similar.
He caught a glimpse of his lavender shirt in a jagged triangle of broken glass. Behind the shard, was a spray painted slogan amidst all the dirt and grey and filth, and JC grimaced.
There had been a lot of anti-immigrant rubbish spouted before the hellfire gates had opened and led the moaning hordes out of the graves to feast on the living, especially after the dirty bomb had gone off in south central London. So many voices stilled as a result of the violence. Make England White Again. So many colours gone.
He hurried his pace. Just recently returned, the sojourn had gotten his spirits down. All the fluid babble of voices gone.
“What the world needs is another tower reaching for the skies,” he pronounced. “But first, everything has to be torn down. We don’t need another tasteless skyscraper. We need towers of the imagination.” He looked up at the smouldering skyline. “At least that fucking wheel is gone.”
He cast his glance skyward. “Forgive me, father.” He smiled ironically, turned a corner and continued to make his way to the UKXD HQ.
by[* Jacob Milnestein*]
You couldn’t call it a rebellion, couldn’t call it a resistance, even if it was sold as such. You couldn’t celebrate an act of resistance when the argument was between two fractured aspects of the same aristocratic movement.
It was the uncertainty of the times that had given rise to the popularity of child actress, Cristóbal Valentino in later years, her image on billboards and adverts across the city, fluid movements, wild eyes, like a girl who had been raised in the wilds and brought back from the brink.
It became easier to concentrate on the vividity of her movements than it did on the increasing decline in the quality of living.
They had been told that the dissolution of their membership within a centralised European community would mean more money for healthcare, less money for those undeserving, those who were considered as other, as being set apart by their point of origin. The nature of the country’s origin, the colour of London was forgotten in the fervor to canonise an idea of what was meant by their own culture; old terms out of favour since the 19th century were rolled out, founding myths were re-told, anything different was demonised.
And so they started with those who were not born within the shrinking boundaries of the nation. The campaign was sold on issues of immigration, and yet in the years following there was no slowing the number of foreign nationals imported into the United Kingdom, there was simply different criteria.
The working class who had been goaded into voicing a rejection of European law were pushed further down as cheaper labour was sourced from neighbouring nations and there was no necessary requirement to treat these new recruits with any of the dignity often assumed to be afforded those considered in legal terms to be of a valid background.
University became a thing for the elite or those with a significant amount of money borrowed from banks now free of certain restrictions placed on them by a governing body outside of the country’s heart.
They told themselves that it meant something to have a degree once more; that the merits of university education were again of value now that the criteria for application had been narrowed to such a unit of measurement.
Next came those expressing different cultural values. Tenets of other faiths, other traditions were frowned upon at first, then later outlawed, a further narrowing, a greater standardisation of what was perceived of as culturally valuable.
Then came the animals.
No longer was the government obliged to regulate animal rights, because if there was no necessity to protect human rights, what was the point in protecting those who could never argue their case?
Control over rural industry was given over to multinational corporations. There was no Europe enshrined in British law, and yet all of the companies holding sway over the lives of animals were German or French or Spanish in origin.
The vague notion of organic farming, itself a middle class absurdity to begin with, became a thing of the past. In cramped cages, foule were fattened and slaughtered, in cramped vans and trains, cattle were deported for slaughter across the world.
And then came those who were considered British by birth but somehow deviated from cultural norms. Standardisation of clothing became defined, eccentric fashion a thing depicted on television and in papers as a colourful cultural oddity but never replicated in the streets: again, the focus of culture was narrowed, the age old notion of a binary gender reinforced, reintroduced, defined, and policed.
Notions such as art as protest became absurd, swallowed finally by the canon concept of art as product.
The image of the child actress danced above tiu, fractured movements in an eternal youth, an artificial construct now over twenty years old.
tiu had not been educated in Britain, instead possessing a degree in Milnestein Studies at the École Parsons à Paris, a degree that meant absolutely nothing in the grander scheme of things.
In the heart of an island nation surrounded by cold ocean on every side, [_tiu _]was one of many who had studied abroad and came home to find the space between hearth and home had contracted further, the space in which people existed outside of their occupations becoming smaller and smaller.
And after the education tiu had received abroad, what job was suitable for someone who had been spent three years pouring over useless and oblique stories of adolescence and disappointment?
In the distance, the police sirens stirred only now and again. [_tiu _]had been told that in the early days they were far more frequent. As the nation contracted, like the distance between the hearth and the bed in modern accommodation, as all of those who had retired overseas were forced back in an unwelcome end to the affluent diaspora, the sirens had risen like the gradual creep of the tide that had slowly begun to reshape the image of the land.
All of those people piled together, so alike and so willing to attest that each was somehow different from the other.
Those who made the choice, who signalled the first retreat back into the warm embrace of an Imperialist nostalgia, had died within a few decades.
Now all that was left were children like tiu, educated abroad, too young or disinterested to truly have a say in the decision that had seen their culture shrink further and further inwards, a painful adolescence giving way to a career of social necessity, contracts continually renegotiated, quality of life forever diminished, foreign capital shaking hands with Oxford educated career officials in offshore investment handshakes.
Above, the child actress danced in reconstructed images, spinning on her heels; above, the skies began to darken with rain clouds.
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT EMILY, BY EMILY
The first time I saw her, like not in one of those god-awful videos they show endlessly on VH-1, was at my dad’[s house during some big Thanksgiving celebration. My dad sort of came out of nowhere and told us we were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year and I was all like, _]what the hell have I got to be thankful for?[ But, as is kind of the case in our family, my questions were conveniently brushed aside._]
Taking its cue from William Blake's Europe a Prophecy, this new micro-collection from Mysteria Press showcases three stories following the results of the United Kingdom's Referendum on Membership of the European Union. Within these pages are the central tenets of speculative fiction. Stand by for zombies, for reluctant messiahs, returned figureheads, artificial pop stars... and use of Esperanto. Featuring the work of by Greg Rosa (Dreamer's Syndrome: New World Navigation) and Adrian J. Watts (Guardian Force Roboman), this collection is the latest in a series of speculative works from Mysteria Press recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison.