N'buli had a cigarette lighter in his hand, and was lighting a cigarette for a man in a trenchcoat that smelled faintly of chicken korma.
'Danke,' said the strangely familiar German. He turned and walked away down the crowded railway platform. N'buli stood there for a moment with the lighter outstretched, before he put it away in his suit pocket.
He wasn’t sure where he was now. He wasn’t sure where he even got his suit from, let alone whether this was the real world or not.
And then he saw a familiar face in the crowd and knew he was in the real world.
She turned at the sound of his voice. He had know Valentina Nabakov for more than 60 years, and only seen her genuinely surprised three times. Now it was four.
She came down the platform towards him and he could not stop grinning. She managed to get all the shock out of her system and even managed a look of amused suspicion. 'What are you doing here? We were coming to get you. How did you even know our train was stopping here?'
He just hugged her and they didn’t say anything for a little while, until she pushed him away. ‘No, seriously. What are you doing here?'
'Here? I don’t even know where he is.'
'You’re in Budapest. Don’t you know how you got here?'
'Baby,' said N'buli. 'You would not believe how much I don’t know.'
He saw Sonya joining them on the platform. She didn’t look surprised at all, probably because she was dragging Max along by the arm behind her.
'You found Val okay then, Sonya?' asked N'buli.
'That isn’t all I found.' She turned to Val. 'Look who was lurking in the girls’ toilets.'
Max just looked sheepish. 'I don’t know how I got there, man. It was those fuckin’ fairies, they just dumped me there.'
'Never mind that now,' said N'buli. 'I’m glad you’re okay.' His pocket started buzzing, and N'buli reached in and found his phone, which had somehow appeared in his unexplained suit. He had a text message.
Val smirked at the look on his face. 'What does it say?'
'It’s from the Goodsons. They say that they’ve deposited 27 trillion in my bank account, that LOVE will do whatever I say and that I have to keep my promise.'
'You can’t trust the Goodsons,' said Val.
'I can’t trust my own left foot sometimes, it doesn’t mean I have to hate it.'
Val was not impressed. 'You’re talking complete rubbish.'
N'buli was about to answer when his phone beeped again. And once more, and then another dozen times.
'Who is it?' asked Max.
'It’s Dave,' said N'buli. 'He wants to know what’s going on.'
'So?' said Sonya. 'What are you going to tell him? What is going on?'
N'buli’s eyes lit up. 'I’ll tell you, Sonya. I’ll tell everybody. I need to make one phone call and apologise to Jane, then I need to hook up with the LOVE tech boys and get a worldwide signal set up, and greenlight a massive info dump on the internet and TV and radio and goddamn vinyl. I got a lot of things to say, and there’s no time like the present.'
'Okay,' said Val. 'Who’s Jane?'
N'buli had to hold himself back from hugging her again. 'You remember what we ask every new recruit? Different initiations, different approaches, but the same old question?'
'Sure. Do you want to save the world?'
'Well, the world doesn’t need saving. It can save itself if it wants to. So we’re going to give it the chance.'
Every computer and every television and every screen in the world turns on, without anybody touching them. The one cloest to you right now is one of them.
This is what you see: A man who has the darkest skin you’ve ever seen and a big-toothed grin. He’s wearing a really good suit and siting in a tastefully lit library. He’s talking to you.
'Hello, my name is Nbuli MacGregor, and I have something to tell you. Our existence is part of a glorious overwhelming form of energy that manifests itself in this four-dimensional plane as the life that exists within us.
'We all share the same soul, and when you die, you get to live your life all over again, or the existence of any human being who ever existed. We’re all the same person, with a near-infinite number of names. Time does not exist in this frame of reference.
'Unfortunately, these lives are often unnecessarily cut short, causing pain and misery, so we are proud to offer you immortality, if you want it. This is the next step in human evolution, where we all get along forever and do crazy things. This is what we can give you. This is what you can do.'
He smiles again and the screen turns off without you touching it.
What do you do?