The Councillor followed his source through the overgrown tangled shrubs of the once exclusive cemetery. This part of town was shrouded in pitch darkness, no moon, no street light, no helicopters chasing criminals around the dark streets. The cemetery was an unseen mass, a pungent aroma of rotting vegetation and the whiff of recent rain, faintly blacker shadows revealing trees or gravestones or paths or people.
The Councillor shivered. He was out of his comfort zone here in so many different ways.
Rounding a corner of the gravel path the men were suddenly confronted with a huge edifice. The light sources scattered up its walls only accentuating the darkness of the remaining bricks. A tall tower, sharpened at the top, revealed a steeple fit for a church and the Councillor found himself shocked for an instant before he remembered. He remembered that the cities were littered with abandoned buildings. There was no reason why churches would have escaped the decimation of the population and the exodus from certain parts of town. Nothing had escaped.
The source beckoned the Councillor to follow him into the now open door of the church, its gaping light blinding him for an instant so that he didn’t see the other men until they stepped in front of his path to halt his faltering progress.
‘No weapons.’ One of the men said bluntly. He was large, well built, no apparent sign of intelligence in his face or manners.
The Councillor stuttered ‘I have no weapons.’ But the men weren’t looking at him, they were looking at his companion who shrugged and then opened his cloak and removed various guns, knives, throwing and poking implements. Some of these instruments were unrecognisable, others made the Councillor, not a squeamish man by rights, flinch.
‘And the rest.’
Again the shrug, again a rifling through clothing until a small white sphere was placed in the security man’s outstretched hand. It beeped shortly and a blue light flashed forlornly as the men were allowed to move further into the main body of the church.
Noise grew around them, the cacophony of many voices, mostly male, shouting and swearing, entreating and begging and threatening. And then people bustled around them, pushing them along an ill-defined route towards the centre of the chaos.
The Councillor tried to avoid physical contact but found himself jostled in ways unfamiliar since his school days. He struggled to keep an eye on the man in front of him; the man was, after all, his only link to the outside.
An overdressed waiter appeared from somewhere within the crowd and half-led, half-pushed, the two men away from the main crush of bodies and to a small booth, two chairs set inside around a small circular table. As they sat down the booth began to rise, floating above the floor and above the heads of the screaming masses. The Councillor could see other booths now, all hovering, bouncing slightly with the combined heat and moisture, surrounding them in all directions. He had never been anywhere like this before. He looked down, over the edge, in the direction in which all of the booths and, now he could see, all the attention of the gathered crowd was facing.
The centre of attraction was a simple square stage, surrounded by ropes, a boxing or wrestling ring. Inside the ring was a low bath of mud, nearly reaching to the edges, and in this bath two creatures tussled and fought, encouraged and coaxed and roused by the shouts of the crowd.
The Councillor could only call them creatures as they were made in such a way he had never seen before. The basic physiognomy was recognisable: one head, two arms, two legs, a torso. And the creatures appeared to be female judging by the overdeveloped breasts that dangled low to the ground. But only a single eye emerged from the centre of each breastbone and the naked skin of the creatures glowed creepily in the gloom.
‘Why am I here?’ The Councillor asked. ‘You said you would show me an Alternative but I see no Alternative here. All I see are infringements of our laws and a whole heap of trouble for me if I am discovered.’
‘Look down there.’ His source said briefly.
‘I see all I need to see.’
‘Are you not curious? Do you not long to know what they are and how they come to fight for our pleasure?’
The Councillor shook his head.
His companion frowned. ‘You must wait until the main event. Relax. Be patient. Have a hit.’ This last while indicating the collection of bottles and pipes that littered the faux-wood surface of their table.
Disdain filled the Councillor. ‘Do you follow no law? No law at all?’
‘I follow the natural law. You will see. Once you meet her then you will...’
The Councillor meanwhile was on his feet, his face turning puce with rage finally unleashed. ‘Her?’ Horror trembles through this single word and the man comes close to losing his balance. Realising the danger of tumbling out of their booth and onto the sweating heads of the men below the Councillor sits down again. Cautiously.
The other man laughed without humour. ‘Oh dear. You really are stuck in the old ways. Perhaps we made a mistake after all.’ He leant forward, the shadows and the proximity making his regular features sinister. ‘If so then it is a mistake that will be short lived.’
A moment of petrified clarity occurred to the Councillor. He mind-flashed his wife that he loved her but was cut off before he could indicate more. A sadness filled his heart as he stared open-mouthed at his aggressor.
‘Now now. None of that here if you don’t mind. You are among friends here, but friends can be just as... shall we say unpredictable as your very worst enemy.’