The fast lane of the motorway. Twenty minutes later. No sign of any police. 'Think we got away with it?'
He saw Geek nodding in the rear-view mirror, 'It was close and I was crapping myself. But I think we did.'
'So what's the deal? Did you find anything?'
'I got his wallet.' Geek fished it out of his jeans pocket and handed it over to Davey. Archer concentrated hard on the repetitive white lines of the road and not tipping his speed above seventy-five miles per hour.
Davey opened it up and read out the contents. 'National Insurance card, Visa card. Provisional driving licence. What's this?'
Archer briefly looked over to see Davey holding up a white business card with a black circle on it. Eyes back to the road and then looking again. Davey had flipped it over. He read aloud some writing 'Wanderlust 2060: Circle's End 2003602345. I know what this means.'
Back at Archer's flat, Davey brought a tray of tea over from the worktop to the kitchen table where the others sat. Archer didn't usually have sugar but today he dropped four cubes into his mug and stirred.
Davey started to fill the others in on what he knew. 'Wanderlust is their annual bash. A rave which the Precipice Faction hold for their members in a different secret location each year. All I know is that the Wanderlust plays host to every vice you can think of, and a few you can't. From drink to drugs to virtual reality to orgies to S&M to God-knows-what. There's something for everyone if you're a member of the Faction. And if you're part of the Faction then you'll be into the most extreme physical and mental highs that the human body can endure. All of this to a thumping hardcore trance beat.'
Archer couldn't deny that the concept of the Wanderlust party sounded both grotesque and beguiling at the same time. But mostly he loathed the idea of a band of beautiful people getting together to enjoy themselves to the extreme. Could he really picture what scenes would take place there? He thought he could, but he felt a stirring envy at the scenes he couldn't conjure, because he had never had a chance to behold them.
Geek also seemed to be deep in thought, and had been listening intently to Davey. Now he said, 'So this card is the invitation, and presumably it's clear enough for Factioners to be able to figure out where it's being held, but cryptic enough to throw non-Factioners off the scent.'
Archer pointed at the card in Geek's hand. 'The numbers are simply the date and time. This Saturday, the twentieth of March at quarter to midnight. The real question is what Circle's End means.'
'It's got something to do with the Spiral Line,' said Davey.
'On the underground? The yellow one?'
'Yep. I remember reading that sometime in the early 2000s they used to call it the Circle Line. There was a time when it looped endlessly once every hour around the Zone One ticket boundary. But gangs of people used to have impromptu parties on it. The police would be called in and it would all get a bit heated. So they decided to give the Circle Line a start and a finish, which is why it became known as the Spiral Line, because of its newly adopted shape.'
'So where does it finish now?'
'At Hammersmith. And that's where I think we need to go.'
Goldhawk Road was the penultimate stop on the Spiral Line. Archer looked up and down the carriage at the other passengers as the train clattered out of the station on its way towards Hammersmith. He couldn't really imagine any of the ten or so people who sat dotted around the carriage being a member of an extreme hedonistic society. Many looked like they were just on their way home after a heavy night out. After all, it was getting close to midnight.
A handful of minutes later the train whined and thrummed as it pulled into its terminus. It stopped, and the doors rolled open. Everyone got off. Geek stood to do the same but Archer grabbed his arm and pulled him back into his seat. 'Wait a minute.'
The doors closed and the all the lights went out leaving just a single emergency light on. In the dimness, Archer could see a guard approaching them from further down the train, passing through the doors between the carriages. The Axiom Few watched as he stepped into their carriage and walked up to them.
'Tickets please,' he grinned.
Davey produced the Circle's End invitation and presented it to the guard, who took it, and with his other hand reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulling out a penlight. He flicked it on and examined the ticket's watermark under the light, which cast an eerie almond glow. Nodding, he handed it back to Davey, then he looked at Geek, then at Archer. 'Come on, where are yours?'
Archer could feel his heart thumping in his throat, for he had noticed the tazer gun holstered to the guard's belt. 'We're here to see Gideon.'
The guard cocked his head, still grinning. 'And who the fuck are you?'
'Just tell him some friends are here to see him.'
'Maybe Gideon doesn't have any friends.'
Archer nodded. 'Sure he doesn't. Then tell him Vernal Campion sends his regards.'
At this the guard let his guard down. A slight droop in his grinning veneer. He took one step back and turned to walk down the carriage, where he pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket and dialled a number. Archer and Geek exchanged a stare that they both took to be one of total fear. Archer felt like he was standing on a precipice of his own.
After a brief conversation on the phone the guard walked over to one of the carriage doors, pressed a button to the side and stepped off the train. The doors immediately shut behind him and then the Spiral Line was on the move. As soon as they'd cleared the Hammersmith platform, returning the way they had come, the carriages in front veered off along the track towards Goldhawk Road once more, while the Axiom Few remained in a carriage that had become disconnected from the rest of the train and was now headed towards...
'Hammersmith Depot,' said Davey. 'Where trains sleep for the night.'
'Not this train,' Geek said, nerves evident in his voice.
The inside of Hammersmith Tube Depot had been turned into a party den. Could there really be Faction members in all areas of society, able to bend the rules of higher establishments to enable venues like this to be used for the purposes of a Wanderlust? The thought gave Archer a cold feeling.
He noticed the sound-inhibitor cones dotted around the perimeter of the building as the carriage passed beyond them, and suddenly the booming base rocked the carriage and rattled the windows. The immediate sound was ear-splitting at first, but as he became accustomed to its volume, he realised that the tune that was playing was actually a track he liked, and despite his apprehension, he started to nod his head slightly to the rhythm. Once inside the ring of cones, the Wanderlust rave could be as loud as it liked, and houses just a few metres away would never know a thing.
The tube carriage slowed to a halt at a platform. The doors slid open and they stepped out; the wall of sound hitting harder. Gideon met them on the platform. 'I have to say I did wonder if Vernal might lead you here,' he shouted to Davey. 'Geek you really are as smart as they say you are.'
'They? Who's they?' Geek yelled back over the rhythm. But to this Gideon just tapped his nose and smiled. 'Come into my office.'
The Axiom Few followed Gideon down a ramp, past a number of tube carriages in various states of repair. To their left was a wide space which Archer took to be a loading bay. On the other side, huge graffiti murals of abstract colours were draped from the high roof behind a wall of sound speakers, beside which sat a DJ desk. The DJ could barely be seen spinning music out to the crowd of dancers below. Some two hundred people bouncing to the repetitive four-four bass that shook the ground.
Gideon's temporary office during Wanderlust was another tube carriage. Amelia was here, along with two bouncer types. Archer saw one of them zipping up a rucksack. Gideon pointed at the door. They all took it as a cue to leave, though Amelia remained.
Gideon sat on one of the tube seats and waved his hand for the Axiom Few to do the same.
Archer ignored him. He didn't want to be here any longer than was necessary. Davey and Geek must have been thinking the same. 'Just give us back the Capacillant Frame and we won't bother you again.'
Gideon's mouth formed a half smile. More of a smirk. A smirk that Archer didn't like. 'I'm afraid I can't.'
He shrugged, 'It's broken. I've destroyed it.'
Geek pointed at the carriage door. 'Don't lie. I saw your boyfriend put it into that bag just now.'
Gideon’s smirk faded. 'Okay, well. I'm going to destroy it.'
'After what happened to Vernal Campion?'
'Vernal was a twat. I told him not to use it. We knew how dangerous it was, but he didn't listen. He won't be coming back to the Faction.'
Archer was confused now. 'So if you weren't going to use the Frame, why did you take it?'
At this question Amelia stepped forward. 'We didn't want it for ourselves. We were asked to take it. By Brenda.'
Davey and Archer exchanged a glance. Davey imperceptibly shook his head. Archer took two meanings from this. Either Davey didn't know who Brenda was, or he'd taken Amelia's admission to be a lie.
'Who is Brenda?'
'To be honest I don't exactly know. What I do know is that Brenda is an acronym. She's some sort of computer and...'
'This is a load of crap,' Archer said. 'Just give us back the Frame. That's all we ask.'
Amelia persisted. 'Brenda told me. She has a way of communicating directly with my ear. She said she was quantum-agitating it, or something. She told me about your team. She told me about the Capacillant Frame and she told me that the Precipice Faction would be best positioned to acquire it from you. To steal it from you. That if we stole it you would think we were doing it for ourselves and would never suspect Brenda. But she wanted us to destroy it, and your working files, Geek.'
'That makes you a right bitch.'
'She said it was for the greater good.'
Archer cut in. 'Look, who the hell is Brenda?'
Amelia shrugged. 'She told me that if I did it she would be able to cure my mother. Mum has a brain tumour.'
'And you believed her?'
'Yes of course I did. I do believe her.'
'Have you heard from her since? Since she asked you to take the Frame from us?'
'No, she said she would be back in touch when I'd destroyed it.'
'Whoever this Brenda is...' Archer cut himself short when he saw that Geek had manoeuvred himself behind Gideon and had retrieved the Stanley knife from his pocket. The one they'd almost used in the car. Archer knew his colleague did not have the guts to use it. Therefore it was a foolish move. He carried on talking regardless. 'Whoever this Brenda is, she's lying to you. How can something communicate with the inside of your head anyway? It's rid...'
Geek moved quickly to press the blade of his knife against Gideon's throat. No sooner had he done this did the carriage doors slide open and the two bouncers stepped in. One of them was carrying the rucksack. The largest of them edged towards Geek.
Gideon raised his hand and said to his bouncer. 'It's ok. Give him back the Frame. It's theirs. They made it. We shouldn't have believed this Brenda nonsense anyway.'
The guy with the rucksack opened the bag and reached inside, retrieving the Capacillant Frame and setting it down on the chair next to Gideon.
Geek, stupidly, lowered the knife.
'Geek, no!' Archer noticed only at the last minute that the Frame was switched on. What fools they were. Gideon showed that he was physically so much more capable by twisting Geek’s arm around in a fraction of a breath and grabbing his head. In one swift move Archer's colleague was forced down by Gideon with the aid of Gideon’s bouncer, and his head was shoved between the two metal rods of the frame.
Geek's body went rigid and his eyes went wide and vacant, and in a fraction of a second he slumped to the floor of the carriage, out of the grip of the Capacillant Frame he designed, created and feared.
'What was it like?' said Gideon, his eyes wild with excitement and anticipation. He grabbed Geek's hair and raised his head from the ridged floor of the carriage. 'Tell me!'
But Geek lay motionless. Davey ran towards him and dropped to his knees.
Archer, still reeling from the unfolding moments, saw Gideon swing a hammer down to the Frame, splintering metal and plastic in all directions. Then with dark eyes he turned to Archer, brandishing the hammer. 'Get the fuck out of here!'
Archer's phone began to ring. He fished it out of his pocket.
'It's me,' whispered Goddard.
'This is a really bad time...'
'Listen to me. You need to get to the Iceberg Building as soon as you can. You know that...'
'... that orbiting object the press have been talking about?'
'You mean The Autumn Structure?'
‘There’s been a development. And... well... you guys need to get down here as soon as you can.'
Archer's eyes landed on Geek's limp body lying on the floor of the tube carriage.
'We're on our way. Please tell me you have a medical facility.'