Un Lun Dun, page 1
Note to Reader
PART I: Zanna and Deeba
Chapter 1: The Respectful Fox
Chapter 2: Signs
Chapter 3: The Visiting Smoke
Chapter 4: The Watcher in the Night
Chapter 5: Down to the Cellar
PART II: Not in Kilburn
Chapter 6: The Trashpack
Chapter 7: Market Day
Chapter 8: Pins and Needles
Chapter 9: Location Location
Chapter 10: Perspective
Chapter 11: Public Transport
Chapter 12: Safe Conduct
Chapter 13: Encounters on a Bus
Chapter 14: Attack of the Manky Insect
Chapter 15: A Sort of Delivery
Chapter 16: Stuck
Chapter 17: The Upside
Chapter 18: Highs and Lows
Chapter 19: The Evasive Bridge
Chapter 20: The Welcome
Chapter 21: An Unlikely Place of Work
Chapter 22: History Lessons
Chapter 23: The Meaning of the Trail
Chapter 24: An Interruption in the Process
Chapter 25: The Addicted Enemy
Chapter 26: Folders and Unfolders
Chapter 27: A Wall of Cloth and Steel
Chapter 28: The Laboratory
Chapter 29: Hope Hiding with a Cauldron
Chapter 30: Taking Leave
PART III: London, or UnUnLondon
Chapter 31: Clearing the Air
Chapter 32: Memento
Chapter 33: The Powerful Resurgence of the Everyday
Chapter 34: Curiosity and Its Fruits
Chapter 35: Conversation and Revelation
Chapter 36: Concern in Code
Chapter 37: An Intrepid Start
INTERLUDE: The Booksteps
PART IV: Life during Wartime
Chapter 38: Class-Marks All the Way Down
Chapter 39: Due Diligence
Chapter 40: Ghostwards
Chapter 41: Monsters of the Urban Savannah
Chapter 42: Haunts and Houses
Chapter 43: Flickering Streets
Chapter 44: Postmortem Bureaucracy
Chapter 45: Nasty Rain
Chapter 46: Old Friends
Chapter 47: The Other Abnaut
Chapter 48: Spilling Certain Beans
PART V: The Interrogation
Chapter 49: Trussed
Chapter 50: Malevolent Breather
Chapter 51: Out of the Fire
Chapter 52: Skeptical Authorities
Chapter 53: A Hasty Leave-Taking
PART VI: Renegade Quester
Chapter 54: Crossroads
Chapter 55: Insulting Classification
Chapter 56: Incommunicado
Chapter 57: The Quiet Talklands
Chapter 58: Touching Base
Chapter 59: Despotic Logorrhea
Chapter 60: Insurgent Verbiage
Chapter 61: Hired Help
Chapter 62: Into the Trees
Chapter 63: The Source of the River
Chapter 64: Alpha Male
Chapter 65: The Smoky Dead
Chapter 66: Skipping Historical Stages
Chapter 67: Weapon of Choice
Chapter 68: The Functionary’s Tireless Hunt
PART VII: Arms and the Girl
Chapter 69: The Balance of Forces
Chapter 70: The Gossamer Edifice
Chapter 71: Men of the Cloth
Chapter 72: The Truth about Windows
Chapter 73: An Unusual Social Ecology
Chapter 74: Spider-Fishing
Chapter 75: The Room Nowhere
Chapter 76: Dwellers in the Smoke
Chapter 77: Fruit
Chapter 78: Night Eyes
Chapter 79: Constructive Munitions
Chapter 80: Rendezvous
PART VIII: Fight Night
Chapter 81: A Special Boat Service
Chapter 82: The Tangle
Chapter 83: Wracked
Chapter 84: Across the Yard
Chapter 85: Six of One
Chapter 86: The Unintended Attacker
Chapter 87: Words of Persuasion
Chapter 88: The Baleful View
Chapter 89: The Vengeful Man
Chapter 90: Stitch
Chapter 91: Reactions
Chapter 92: Auto-da-Fé Dreams
Chapter 93: Shed Skin
Chapter 94: The Dreadful Sky
Chapter 95: Nothing
Chapter 96: Six-Shooter
Chapter 97: Regroupment
PART IX: The Home Front
Chapter 98: Fit for Heroes
Chapter 99: Memory
About the Author
Also by China Miéville
With huge thanks to Talya Baker, Mark Bould, Lauren Buckland, Mic Cheetham, Deanna Hoak, Simon Kavanagh, Peter Lavery, Claudia Lightfoot, Tim Mak, Farah Mendlesohn, Jemima Miéville, David Moench, Jonathan Riddell of London’s Transport Museum, Max Schaefer, Chris Schluep, Jesse Soodalter, Harriet Wilson, Paul Witcover, and everyone at Del Rey and Macmillan.
As always, I’m indebted to too many writers to list, but particularly important to this book are Joan Aiken, Clive Barker, Lewis Carroll, Michael de Larrabeiti, Tanith Lee, Walter Moers, and Beatrix Potter. Particular thanks are due Neil Gaiman, for generous encouragement and for his indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria, especially Neverwhere.
Note to Reader
People speaking British English and people speaking American English mostly understand each other fine. But there are a few words we use in Britain that you might not recognize, or that we use differently from you. Should you encounter a strange or difficult word in the story, please flip to the short glossary, which is located in the back of this book.
In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very non-nondescript theories.
The man was surrounded by bright chemicals in bottles and flasks, charts and gauges, and piles of books like battlements around him. He propped them open on each other. He cross-referred them, seeming to read several at the same time; he pondered, made notes, crossed the notes out, went hunting for facts of history, chemistry, and geography.
He was quiet but for the scuttling of his pen and his occasional murmurs of revelation. He was obviously working on something very difficult. From his mutters and the exclamation marks he scrawled, though, he was slowly making progress.
The man had traveled a very long way to do the work he was doing. He was so engrossed it took him a long time to notice that the light around him was fading, unnaturally fast.
Some sort of darkness was closing in on the windows. Some sort of silence—more than the absence of noise, the presence of a predatory quiet—was settling around him.
The man looked up at last. Slowly, he put down his pen and turned around in his chair.
“Hello?” he said. “Professor? Is that you? Is the minister here…?”
There was no answer. The light from the corridor still faded. Through the smoked glass of the door, the man could see darkness taking shape. He stood, slowly. He sniffed, and his eyes widened.
Fingers of smoke were wafting under the door, entering the room. They uncoiled from the crack like feelers.
“So…” the man whispered. “So, it’s you.”
There was no answer, but beyond the door came a very faint rumble that might just have been laughter.
The man swallowed, and stepped back. But he set his face. He watched as t
The smoke kept coming. Before he had a chance to climb, there was another rumble-laugh-noise. The man faced the door.
The Respectful Fox
There was no doubt about it: there was a fox behind the climbing frame. And it was watching.
“It is, isn’t it?”
The playground was full of children, their gray uniforms flapping as they ran and kicked balls into makeshift goals. Amid the shouting and the games, a few girls were watching the fox.
“It definitely is. It’s just watching us,” a tall blond girl said. She could see the animal clearly behind a fringe of grass and thistle. “Why isn’t it moving?” She walked slowly towards it.
At first the friends had thought the animal was a dog, and had started ambling towards it while they chatted. But halfway across the tarmac they had realized it was a fox.
It was a cold cloudless autumn morning and the sun was bright. None of them could quite believe what they were seeing. The fox kept standing still as they approached.
“I saw one once before,” whispered Kath, shifting her bag from shoulder to shoulder. “I was with my dad by the canal. He told me there’s loads in London now, but you don’t normally see them.”
“It should be running,” said Keisha, anxiously. “I’m staying here. That’s got teeth.”
“All the better to eat you with,” said Deeba.
“That was a wolf,” said Kath.
Kath and Keisha held back: Zanna, the blond girl, slowly approached the fox, with Deeba, as usual, by her side. They got closer, expecting it to arch into one of those beautiful curves of animal panic, and duck under the fence. It kept not doing so.
The girls had never seen any animal so still. It wasn’t that it wasn’t moving: it was furiously not-moving. By the time they got close to the climbing frame they were creeping exaggeratedly, like cartoon hunters.
The fox eyed Zanna’s outstretched hand politely. Deeba frowned.
“Yeah, it is watching,” Deeba said. “But not us. It’s watching you.”
Zanna—she hated her name Susanna, and she hated “Sue” even more—had moved to the estate about a year ago, and quickly made friends with Kath and Keisha and Becks and others. Especially Deeba. On her way to Kilburn Comprehensive, on her first day, Deeba had made Zanna laugh, which not many people could do. Since then, where Zanna was, Deeba tended to be, too. There was something about Zanna that drew attention. She was decent-to-good at things like sports, schoolwork, dancing, whatever, but that wasn’t it: she did well enough to do well, but never enough to stand out. She was tall and striking, but she never played that up either: if anything, she seemed to try to stay in the background. But she never quite could. If she hadn’t been easy to get on with, that could have caused her trouble.
Sometimes even her mates were a little bit wary of Zanna, as if they weren’t quite sure how to deal with her. Even Deeba herself had to admit that Zanna could be a bit dreamy. Sometimes she would sort of zone out, staring skywards or losing the thread of what she was saying.
Just at that moment, however, she was concentrating hard on what Deeba had just said.
Zanna put her hands on her hips, and even her sudden movement didn’t make the fox jump.
“It’s true,” said Deeba. “It hasn’t taken its eyes off you.”
Zanna met the fox’s gentle vulpine gaze. All the girls watching, and the animal, seemed to get lost in something.
…Until their attention was interrupted by the bell for the end of break. The girls looked at each other, blinking.
The fox finally moved. Still looking at Zanna, it bowed its head. It did it once, then leapt up and was gone.
Deeba watched Zanna, and muttered, “This is just getting weird.”
For the rest of that day Zanna tried to avoid her friends. They eventually caught up with her in the lunch queue, but when she told them to leave her alone it was in such a nasty voice that they obeyed.
“Forget it,” said Kath. “She’s just rude.”
“She’s mad,” said Becks, and they walked away ostentatiously. Only Deeba stayed.
She didn’t try to talk to Zanna. Instead she watched her thoughtfully.
That afternoon, she waited for Zanna after school. Zanna tried to get by in the rush, but Deeba wouldn’t let her. She crept up on her, then suddenly linked an arm into one of hers. Zanna tried to look angry, but it didn’t last very long.
“Oh, Deebs…what’s going on?” she said.
They made their way to the estate where they both lived, and headed for Deeba’s house. Her boisterous, talkative family, while sometimes exasperating with all their noise and kerfuffle, were generally a comfortable backdrop for any discussion. As usual, people looked at the girls as they passed. They made a funny pair. Deeba was shorter and rounder and messier than her skinny friend. Her long black hair was making its usual break for freedom from her ponytail, in contrast to Zanna’s tightly slicked-back blondness. Zanna was silent while Deeba kept asking her if she was okay.
“Hello Miss Resham, hello Miss Moon,” sang Deeba’s father as they entered. “What have you been doing? Cup of tea for you ladies?”
“Hi sweetheart,” said Deeba’s mum. “How was your day? Hello Zanna, how you doing?”
“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Resham,” said Zanna, smiling with her usual nervous pleasure as Deeba’s parents beamed at her. “Fine, thank you.”
“Leave her alone, Dad,” said Deeba, dragging Zanna through to her room. “Except for the tea, please.”
“So, nothing happened to you today,” said her mother. “You have nothing to report. You had a totally empty day! You amaze me.”
“It was fine,” she said. “It was same as always, innit?”
Without getting up, Deeba’s parents started loudly consoling her about the tragedy of how nothing ever changed for her, and that every day was the same. Deeba rolled her eyes at them and closed her door.
They sat without speaking for a while. Deeba put on lip gloss. Zanna just sat.
“What we going to do, Zanna?” said Deeba at last. “Something’s going on.”
“I know,” said Zanna. “It’s getting worse.”
It was hard to say exactly when it had all started. Things had been getting strange for at least a month.
“Remember when I saw that cloud?” said Deeba. “That looked like you?”
“That was weeks ago, and it didn’t look anything like anything,” Zanna said. “Let’s stick to real stuff. The fox today. And that woman. What was on the wall. And the letter. That sort of thing.”
It had been early autumn when the odd events had started to occur. They had been in the Rose Café.
None of them had paid any attention when the door opened, until they’d realized that the woman who’d come in was standing quietly by their table. One by one they looked at her.
She’d been wearing a bus driver’s uniform, the cap at a perky angle. She was grinning.
“Sorry to butt in,” the woman said. “I hope you don’t…Just very exciting to meet you.” She smiled at all of them but addressed Zanna. “Just wanted to say that.”
The girls stared in dumb astonishment for several seconds. Zanna had tried to stutter some reply, Kath had burst out with “What…?” and Deeba had started laughing. None of this fazed the woman. She said a nonsense word.
“Shwazzy!” she said. “I heard you’d be here, but I wouldn’t have believed it.” With one more smile, she left, leaving the girls laughing nervously and loudly, until the waitress had asked them to calm down.
If that had been all, it would have just been one of those s
Some days later Deeba had been with Zanna, walking under the old bridge over Iverson Road. She’d looked up, reading some of the cruder graffiti. There behind the pigeon net, far higher than anyone could have reached, was painted in vivid yellow: ZANNA FOR EVER!
“Cor. Someone else called Zanna,” Deeba said. “Or you’ve got long arms. Or someone massive loves you, Zan.”
“Shut up,” Zanna said.
“It’s true, though,” Deeba said. “No one else’s called Zanna, you’re always saying. Now you’ve made your mark.”
A little while after that, the day after Guy Fawkes Night, when London was full of bonfires and fireworks, Zanna had come to school upset.
At last, when she was alone with Deeba, Zanna had pulled a piece of paper and a card out of her bag.
A postman had been waiting outside her front door. He had given her a letter with no name on the envelope, just handed it straight to her as soon as she had emerged, and disappeared. She hesitated before showing it to Deeba.
“Don’t tell any of the others,” she had said. “Swear?”
We look forward to meeting you, Deeba read, when the wheel turns.
“Who’s it from?” Deeba said.
“If I knew that I wouldn’t be freaked out. And there’s no stamp.”
“Is there a mark?” Deeba said. “To say where it came from? Is that a U? An L? And that says…on, I think.” They couldn’t read any more.
“He said something to me,” Zanna said. “The same thing that woman did. ‘Shwazzy,’ he said. I was like, ‘What?’ I tried to follow him, but he was gone.”
“What does it mean?” Deeba said.
“That’s not all,” said Zanna. “This was in there too.”
It was a little square of card, some strange design, a beautiful, intricate thing of multicolored swirling lines. It was, Deeba had realized, some mad version of a London travelcard. It said it was good for zones one to six, buses and trains, all across the city.
On the dotted line across its center was carefully printed: ZANNA MOON SHWAZZY.
That was when Deeba had told Zanna that she had to tell her parents. She herself had kept her promise, and never told anyone.
CHINA MIéVILLE SERIES:
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