As he tried to walk towards that light, a roaring noise filled N'buli’s mind, and a simple thought kept repeating over and over.
He could just run away. There was still a chance. He could just run away, flee forever into the world. He could just run away.
He took another step.
'Now what?' said Agent Smith, as she sat up and started looking for her clothes. 'I know I’m still supposed to kill you, but I can’t really see the point now.'
N'buli was actually surprised. 'You mean I screwed the bad out of you?'
She smiled at that. 'No, you idiot. All of that stuff just seems so… stupid now.'
'I know what you need to do,' said a deadly serious N'buli.
N'buli finally returned her smile. 'Yes. You need to eat. Your stomach has been rumbling for the last two hours.' He pointed back over the rocks. 'I still have some sausages that I liberated from a butchery two nights ago on my bike.'
'I’m a vegetarian.'
'A vegetarian assassin?'
'You have a problem with that?'
'Not really. Well, don’t worry. Sausages aren’t real meat.'
She soon found out he wasn’t lying, because as well as some seriously gourmet pork sausages, he also had a six pack of tofu sausages that he had picked off from the same progressive butcher. He pulled some wood off the solitary tree in the area, some ancient, gnarled thing that was incredibly dry and made a good fire. He used it to cook them a late breakfast and they ate the sausages with their fingers.
He kept her talking, even with a mouth full of tofu. She told him how she had been inducted into HATE by a boy named Trevor, who helped her join LOVE as a double agent. She only met one other Agent of HATE – the founder in the Mongolian tent, the man he was going to see.
'What is he like?'
Smith frowned as she finished off the last sausage. 'I really can’t remember. I know Trevor took me to see him, but I can’t remember what happened. All I know is that I was on a righteous mission and that I couldn’t fail.'
Then she started talking about the HATE ideals, of weeding out those who drag humanity down into the mire, leaving the rest of us to ascend. It might have blown Agent Smith’s young mind, but N'buli had heard it all before and it sounded like just another excuse for satisfying an animalistic bloodlust.
Realising he wasn’t interested, she stopped talking and started kissing. They made love again and N'buli completely forgot to ask her what Trevor’s last name was.
The sun was starting to set again as they lay still after their latest vigorous efforts and they let their tiredness wash over them. N'buli was starting to seriously doze when Smith started talking again, speaking in a low, soft monotone.
'I was working as a receptionist at a law firm in Northampton, my home town, right in the middle of England.'
'I thought you were Irish.'
'Shut up. This is my story. I was only 19 and it was my first job, straight out of school. It was fun, I made tea and baked cakes for the senior partners and thought that was me set for life and then Mr Ripley came in for his appointment.
'When it was all done and I’d washed the blood off my face, they told me what it was all about. Mr Ripley had lost everything in a nasty divorce and blamed his lawyers, who happened to be my firm. So after he went around to his ex-wife’s new place and shot her and her new husband with a shotgun, he came to my firm and started shooting everybody in sight.
'I was getting the afternoon tea ready, otherwise I would have been on reception, and he would have got me first. Kath was covering for me. I liked Kath, she always had sweets in her drawer and always shared. If she hadn’t covered for me, I would have been the first one killed, not her.
'I heard the first shots, but couldn’t figure out what I was hearing. It was so loud and booming, I thought the walls were going to crack. And then I saw Mr Anderson, one of the old men who did all the wills, running for the bathroom. He was nearly there when there was another of the big booms and the back of Mr Anderson’s head opened up like a flower.
'I saw the man with the guns walk forward and I actually gasped, just like they do in the movies, which I’d always thought was a bit stupid. Mr Ripley saw me and fired a shot, but I ducked back into the kitchen and cowered in the corner with a couple of the junior solicitors.
'Even though my ears were ringing from the shots, I could hear him walking towards us. I knew that in an instant, he was going to come around the corner, point his shotgun at my head and end me. I was only 19, I hadn’t done anything, and it was all over.
'And that just seemed so unfair and I was so angry about that, that when Mr Ripley came around the corner, I leapt at his face and clawed his eyes out. I mean, literally clawed his eyes out, and then I went for the throat. He came around the corner and I killed him in less than three seconds.
'The police were confused by that and didn’t know if I was a hero or a criminal, but I didn’t care. I learned everything I needed to know about myself when Mr Ripley tried to kill me – that I would kill to save my own life, and that there were people who deserved to die, before they hurt other people.'
She lapsed back into silence and N'buli didn’t have the energy to argue with her, even though he knew she was wrong. Mainly, he just couldn’t believe she was from Northamption. She hid the accent well.
Agent Smith drifted off to sleep after that, mumbling something about ice cream before she started lightly snoring. N'buli let her sleep in his arms, and tried to enjoy the moment as much as possible. Before he had to ruin it all.
As soon as Smith woke up, she knew what he had done. The expert knots in the bonds about her wrists and feet left plenty of room for her limbs to breathe, but were unbreakable.
'You bastard,' she said. 'I though we had got past this.'
N'buli was packing the last of his gear into the motorbike. 'Oh come on, a girl of your ability should be able to get out of those in two hours.'
'I’m going to get you for this. Not because it’s my orders, but because you really are pissing me off.'
'I really am sorry,' said N'buli, meaning every word. 'But I’ll be well gone by the time you’re free and you won’t be able to follow. I found your motorcycle and disabled it. Drained the fuel for my own bike. I left plenty of food and good clothing, so you should be able to hike your way back to some kind of civilisation in a couple of days.'
Smith just gritted her teeth and stared him down, until he gunned the bike and she started cursing him loudly, but the noise of the engine drowned out her yelling. She was soon long behind him, cursing into the wind.
A few more steps and he was there, but then he almost fell back, and felt his entire life open up behind him, ready to swallow him whole again. He’d have to go through it all again, over and over again, and he would never get there.
He got his balance back, took two more steps, and reached inside his jacket.
His destination was only a couple of hundred kilometres away, which was lucky, because the bike ran out of fuel at 150. He had to hike the rest of the way, loading himself up with the last of his food and water.
N'buli always considered himself an ordinary man – he had got over his own arrogance sixty years ago – but he did have one singular talent: Once he had travelled somewhere in the world, he could always find his way back.
So even though he had only visited the Mongolian prison compound once with his Dad, decades ago, he knew exactly where it was in the desolation of this corner of the world. He knew exactly where it was and the best way to go there. It was a real talent.
But even though he knew where he was going, N'buli still wasn’t sure what he would find there. ‘The founder of HATE?’ he kept thinking. ‘What does that even mean?’
But he kept on walking. He didn’t know what he would find out when he got there, or who was waiting for him, but it would be something.
He kept going. The terrain was getting hilly and he saw no other people on his trek. It took him another day to walk that last distance and he finally approached the camp in the mid-afternoon. It was surrounded by steep, jagged hills on three sides, along with a large and still lake.
Ditching his pack, N'buli quickly scaled one of the small peaks and took in the view. There was one large tent, surrounded by three smaller ones, which all appeared to be occupied by a local family.
There were two people sitting outside the largest tent. He was about three hundred metres away, but he could see they were playing chess, and he recognised both of them.
N'buli slid back out of sight, considered his options, realised he didn’t have any, stood back up, and started walking down towards the tent.
Neither of the men looked up from their game as N'buli approached, not until he was standing right over them. Only then did they look up from their game.
'Hello, Mr Moon,' he said, nodding to one, and then the other. 'Trevor.'
'This is bigger than everything,' said the voice in the light, rumbling right through N'buli’s soul.
N'buli smiled as he found what he needed in his jacket pocket. 'Yeah, but a bullet in the right place…'
N'buli had been right and they were playing chess. But he couldn’t understand the board – it just looked like all the pieces were scattered randomly.
'Who’s black?' he asked. 'Who is white?'
Mister Moon shrugged and put on that award-winning smile. 'The game is always more complicated than it looks.'
N'buli’s eyes narrowed, just a tiny bit. 'Val always said you were Mongolian, Mr Moon.'
Mr Moon laughed. 'Oh no, my friend! I’m not Mongolian, I just come here for my holidays. I’m really an Englishman named Phillip Unswick. I was brought into LOVE at the funeral of Robin Hood. True story.'
'I don’t know what to believe any more,' said N'buli with a sigh.
'It’s worse than you think,' said Trevor, speaking for the first time. 'Did you even know your Dad’s real name is Adam Kadmon?'
Mister Moon scowled, which was something N'buli hadn’t seen before. 'Trevor! We don’t have time to go into that right now.'
'No, we don’t,' said N'buli. 'I’m here to see the founders of HATE. They’re in there, right?'
'Yes,' said Mr Moon and Trevor simultaneously.
'And it’s Mr and Mrs Goodson, isn’t it?'
'Yes,' they both said again.
'And they’re your mum and dad, aren’t they, Trev?'
Trevor just looked sheepish. 'Yeah. How could you tell?'
'Your mother is an excellent cook and your dad offers brilliant advice. Who else could you be?'
N'buli moved past them and walked up to the wooden door of the tent. He put his hand on it and felt it hum with power.
'Be careful,' said Mr Moon. 'It’s much bigger on the inside than the outside.'
'Something else we’ve been keeping from the world?' asked N'buli.
'We have to get people used to the idea of tesseract technology,' said Trevor. 'There has been somebody at the BBC working on this since 1963.'
Mr Moon scowled again. 'Trevor! This is not the time.'
Trevor started bickering with Mr Moon, but N'buli ignored them. He opened the door and stepped inside.
Mr and Mrs Goodson were waiting for him.
It all slammed together, past and present, with the future still a blazing glory.
He had stepped inside the tent, but hadn’t taken a step into the darkness before the world had been ripped out from underneath him. N'buli couldn’t tell up from down, past from future or here from there. They had got inside his head and turned it all upside down.
He couldn’t remember if he was trapped by the Goodsons in their impossible tent, or on the way to their House on the motorcycle. It was all now.
All time was now.
He relived his life over and over again, an infinite number of times, before he pulled himself together.
N'buli pulled out the Blissgun out of his jacket - the one with the special shot that he had stashed away for the climax of the story, but his fingers wouldn’t answer.
The Goodsons were not in the light, Nbuli realised. They were the light, all around him, part of him, part of everything.
The weapon fell to the floor of the Goodsons’ tent.
The hospital was dark and quiet in the middle of the night, until somebody started yelling in Room Nine.
'Don’t go!' said a deeply asleep Dave.
And then it all snapped together again. N'buli was down to one knee, and one chance. He still had the knife Val had come at him with in Amsterdam. He got it out of his boot and made an effort to grip it firmly.
And then, with everything he had, he pushed forward, the blade heading straight for the centre of the light. He almost made it.
The Goodsons waved at him and N'buli MacGregor dissolved in a cloud of gold dust.