Un lun dun, p.1

Un Lun Dun, page 1


Un Lun Dun

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Un Lun Dun


  Title Page



  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


  To Oscar


  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
he smoke came more thickly around the edges of the door, eddying towards him. He reached for his notes. He moved quickly, dragging a chair as quietly as he could into place below a high ventilation duct. He looked afraid but determined—or determined but afraid.

  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.



  “Bloody nutter!”

  If that had been all, it would have just been one of those s
tories about someone a bit loopy on London streets. But that had not been all.

  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.

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