“Let me get this straight. You’re a World War II fighter pilot,” I say to Ack-Ack, the one-eyed, cigar-chomping macaque as he leads me through the corridor of the airship.
“But it’s 2059.”
“What’s your question?” He glares, a daiquiri glass clenched in his left paw.
“How do you fit in, exactly?”
He spins to face me. “I’m the main character, aren’t I? Ack-Ack Macaque, that’s the book’s name. See? ‘By Gareth L Powell’ and everything.”
“No offense, but I’m not sure you are the main character. You’re certainly the title character, but you aren’t even the first one we meet.”
A woman with a sultry, French accented voice interrupts us. “Move it along, Monkey-Man. No time for exposition.” She looks at me. “I’m Victoria Valois, the first character you met.”
I nod. “I guessed that, from your lack of hair.”
The spunky journalist/freedom fighter puts a hand on her hip. “Hey, it’s a plot point, not a fashion statement.”
I nod again. “Sure, ‘cause the creepy assassin pulled that thing out of your head, the computer or neural net or — ”
“Soul-catcher. We just call them soul-catchers, sunshine. It’s not rocket science.” She stalks down the corridor ahead of us.
“No, but there’s rocket science in it. And genetics, and robotics…”
A door I hadn’t noticed flies open. “Bwahahaha! I am the creepy assassin, the uber-villain!”
“Take off, poser,” Victoria says, slamming the door in the man’s smiling face. “We have to meet Merovich,” she tells me.
“Merovich, Prince of Wales, right. And he’s going to inherit, um, walk me through this again?”
“England and France are one country. The King of England is in a coma after an assassination attempt. Merovich’s mother is the CEO of a tech company that’s building a ship to go to Mars,” says Ack-Ack.
“Try to keep up.” Victoria lengthens her stride and I do have to hurry to keep up. “Did you read none of the clever Internet-style updates throughout the book?”
“Of course I did. Merovich is part of an Artificial Intelligence liberation movement,” I say, panting as we climb a set of rungs up to the next level.
I poke my head over the edge and see a young man sitting beside a young woman with purple hair. “Everything I ever believed is a lie,” he moans. “I don’t know why I — oh, hullo. Merovich, Prince of Wales, liberator of AIs and action hero, at your service. We must hurry.”
Ack-ack answers. “The plot lines are converging and we have to be there when they do.”
I follow the bald woman, the primate, the prince and the purple-haired woman to another set of rungs in the bulkhead of the massive airship. Suddenly Victoria disappears with a choked-off cry. Ack-Ack throws himself forward and grabs her wrist as she falls down a hole.
“Oh, no!” the purple-haired woman cries. “A Sudden Reversal of Fortune! I’m Julie, love interest of Prince Merovich, by the way. I have a troubled past.”
“I didn’t see that coming,” I say. “The Sudden Reversal, I mean. And sorry about the troubled past.”
She shrugs. “I’m over it.”
Ack-Ack snarls. “You! Break the glass on that case there!”
“What case?” I look around. “Oh, this case?” I break the glass in the box marked Plot Twist and toss the thickly twined rope inside down to Victoria, who pulls herself up.
“Good thing that was there,” I say, following the others up the ladder.
We come out on top of the airship. I pause, taking a moment to admire the view, here in 2059 in an alternate universe. From up here, with only a few vague or foggy places, the landscape looks crisp and clear.
A well-dressed man approaches up with a weapon in his hand. “I must insist that you stop. I am the uber-villain.”
“Are not,” Victoria says.
Rather than rebut, he grabs her by the neck and threatens her with the weapon. “Am too! I will recount our evil plan step-by-step, and deliver nasty sexual innuendos while I’m doing it. Just watch me!”
“I beg your pardon,” Merovich says, drawing himself up to a princely height, “but you really aren’t, you know. You’re merely the uber-villain’s second-in-command.”
“I am too the uber-villain! Bwahahaha! Let’s see your so-called uber-villain top that!”
“Ah, I had not fully appreciated the excellence of your bwahahaha-ing,” Merovich says, bowing slightly. “Perhaps I was mistaken —“
The macaque leaps onto the back on the man and pulls the plug. The man deflates to a puddle, looking despondent. We hurry on.
“I’ve never been to a plot convergence before,” says Julie. “I hope there’s a glitter ball.”
“Is there even an uber-villain?” I ask the macaque.
“Oh, hell, yeah. An uber-villain, an evil scheme, a world in danger, secrets revealed — we’ve got the whole banana here, mate.”
“You don’t think it’s a little strange, though? You don’t think you’re a little strange? I mean —” I gesture to the airship, the bald journalist, and the eye-patched fighter-pilot monkey himself.
“Sure, it’s strange. But it’s fun,” he says. “Now come on. Those plotlines won’t converge by themselves.” He slugs back the last of his daiquiri and lopes away across the listing airship as the sky around us lights up with tracer lines, because we are suddenly surrounded by hostile gunships. I stop. I shrug. And I go with it, because the Monkey-Man is right. It is fun.