“Do you think he’s just here to have an orgasm with us?” asked another voice from around the table, this one female.
“No,” said the first woman. “No, he wouldn’t be able to org….” Her voice trailed away as she realised that was revealing too much. All the faces around the table had turned to her, and though a couple looked shocked, several looked interested and one looked revolted. “Arthur?” she said, abruptly. “Is that you Arthur?”
The table rocked enthusiastically from side to side, which Madame Sosotris knew for certain she couldn’t make it do with her pedals. She treadled them a little anyway, and found them squishy, the hydraulics clearly failing to engage anything. She treadled a little harder, just in case, but the table just ignored her.
“Itchy legs?” whispered a voice, a woman next to her leaning in to her. Madame Sosotris’s skin crawled at the proximity of the woman, and she pushed back in her chair. The legs groaned as they stuttered against the uneven floorboards. She nodded, and to her relief the woman leaned away again. The table started to rotate, rocking on the floor about half-way round the circle, and definitely gaining a little height.
“Arthur?” A man’s voice now, one Madame Sosotris recognised. More voices around the table joined in, all asking if the spirit rocking the table was Arthur. She cleared her voice, about to tell the room that the spirit’s never spoke directly, only through the medium, when the table suddenly stopped dead and dropped onto the floor. Someone screamed, a tiny little scream that was heartfelt, and the people on either side of her tightened their grip on her hands. All of the lights went out, and the curtains fell across the windows with a sound like a sail flapping in the wind.
“Arthur?” asked Madame Sosotris, her voice quavering. She was instantly annoyed with herself, but as she was clearing her throat, which sounded a little like a tubercular cow, light returned and she fell as silent as the rest of the room. On the table in front of them tiny motes of purple light were swirling around, drifting, a hologrammic Brownian motion. For a moment there were just enough to capture attention, and then suddenly they were a column of light, thick and coruscant, that reached to the ceiling of the room. Madame Sosotris squinted, trying to see if there was something in the light, and then chips of light seemed to slough away, falling to the table where they splashed and vanished. This unnatural sculpting persisted for five minutes, after which the light presented the image of the statue atop Nelson’s Column.
“That’s Arthur? Wasn’t he… well, fatter?”
“He was fat! Very fat! That’s not Arthur.”
“Oh come on, he wasn’t that fat.”
“He had to have help standing up. How fat do you have to be before you’ll call someone fat?”
“Hey, he’s pretty fat too. Maybe Arthur really didn’t look so fat by his standards.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Nelson, his voice rolling around the room as though Madame Sosotris had a sound-system. Heads turned, looking into the darkness that surrounded them, but they were all drawn back when Nelson spoke again. “Why have you summoned me?”
“We have questions, Arthur,” said the female voice who’d identified his orgasm noise. “You fell rather suddenly.”
“I was pushed,” said Nelson, the table shaking as he spoke. Madame Sosotris flexed her fingers, trying to see if she could break the circle, but the people holding her hands tightened their grip. “I was pushed, by my lieutenant. It could happen to you all.”
“Not me,” said a male voice. “No lieutenants.”
“Hah,” boomed Nelson. “He was inspired by La Reveille, who I see has not accompanied you today. Beware La Reveille.”
“We know,” said the woman who’d identified the orgasm noise. “We know how you fell, Arthur. You were lazy, you were incompetent. It is no surprise that the Throne passed to another. But we don’t have enough data on your Throne, and your little… ah, surprises, are causing us issues.”
“You knew? You knew that I was targeted?” The indignation in Nelson’s voice made it louder, and a couple of people around the table cringed. Madame Sosotris pulled at the hands holding hers, now trying her best to break the circle, but still her neighbours gripped her tightly, squeezing. “What honour is there amongst Thrones?” screamed Nelson, his face distorting with rage. “And now you come here to ask me for my help?”
Madame Sosotris let herself fall off her chair and landed heavily on the floor, banging her tailbone. Her arms ended up above her, her hands still held firmly in place. She cursed softly under her breath.
“Arthur, you’re dead,” said the female voice. “The concerns of this world aren’t yours any more. Why don’t you be a little reasonable?”
“Hah!” Nelson’s face twisted into something that might have been a sneer. “Hah, I might be dead but I’m certainly not impotent. Each possessor of a Throne becomes part of the Throne when they die! You haven’t seen the last of me!”
The hologram of the statue disappeared with a sharp crack and a sudden sea-fresh smell of ozone, and everyone’s hands were suddenly thrown apart, breaking the circle. Madame Sosotris, her hands above her head, ended up clapping them together involuntarily, which drew everyone’s eyes to her as light leaked back into the room around the edges of the curtains, and she clumsily pulled herself up from the floor and back on to her chair.
“Payment,” she said, “needs to be made before you leave.”