Mysterious Earth forces eject an alien power from the planet leaving humanity exposed.
Since distant prehistoric times humanity has been controlled and developed by an alien race known as the Sponsors, but over the course of one brutally destructive afternoon our alien benefactors are annihilated and their remnants expelled from Earth, never to return.
For the first time in its existence humanity stands as a fully independent species. But far from this being liberation, the "human system" is now left in a precarious state and complete collapse seems imminent.
The perpetrators of the Sponsors' destruction, the so-called Gang of Four, are giving humanity just a few days to decide its own fate. There are two options available, but both seem too dreadful to contemplate.
The sole surviving human/sponsor hybrid, the British Prime Minister and an aerobics instructor from Bermondsey attempt to make sense of the forthcoming catastrophe.
“The Gang Of Four is an entertaining, inventive science fiction book that in places had me actually laughing out loud.” Jane Stockwell, Unigon Plane.
‘Come on, Margaret! Remember, no pain, no gain!’
The septuagenarian grimaced at Russell and began pumping her arms back and forth like the pistons of a steam locomotive.
Russell Tebb, of Russell Tebb Aerobics, nodded his approval and moved on to appraise the other members of his class. ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ he enthused, pumping his fist in time to the music. ‘Nice thrusting, Joyce! Let’s see if we can’t shake those new hips loose!’
‘You’re killing us, Russell!’
Russell turned, ready to bawl-out his complainant but a movement in the corner of his eye distracted him; his secretary, Meg, stood at the office door, mouthing the word “urgent” as she brandished a phone receiver in the air. This was followed by a shrug. Obviously the caller thought it was important, but Meg wasn’t so sure. He batted her away and returned his attention to the class.
‘That’s good, Stephen, one hundred and ten percent! We tolerate nothing less here!’
Eventually the song ended, much to the relief of everyone except Russell, who frowned menacingly at his class. He set up the next track but then glanced back at his office. Maybe he should take that call; give this lot a break before one of them keels over. ‘Five minutes, everyone… but I’ll be back,’ he said, with a wink at Margaret.
‘What’s this urgent call, Meg?’
‘Dunno, someone called Michael. Claims you need to call him back asap,’ replied Meg, with little interest.
Did he know any Michaels? Probably, but no close friends or business associates sprang to mind. He sighed loudly. ‘Well did you ask what it was about!?’
‘He wouldn’t say, just that–’
‘–it was urgent. It’s probably just spam.’ Russell regarded his class through the office window. They were exhausted for this session, anyway. ‘What the hell, give me the phone!’
‘Hello, this is Russell Tebb, am I speaking to “Michael”?’ A few electronic clicks and splutters followed suggesting he was about to be put through to a call centre. Russell dabbed sweat away from his eyes and waited, temper rising...
‘Hello, Russell, thanks for returning my call,’ came the polite English voice. ‘We met during your recent visit to Ayahuasca.’
‘We met during your recent visit to Ayahuasca.’
What the hell was this guy talking about? He’d not stepped outside of London for over a year! But then the penny dropped, and he thought he knew who this person must be. This “visit to Ayahuasca” was the caller’s glib way of saying “ayahuasca trip”:
About six months earlier Russell had come to hear of a visiting Brazilian shaman who was running an ayahuasca-based workshop in Hammersmith. The controversy surrounding this had received some publicity and Russell began to take an interest in the story when it was reported that drug addicts had been able to kick their habits after only one session with the shaman and his powerful hallucinogen. Some friends of his then suggested he try it himself – for his own cocaine dependency. Russell was somewhat affronted by this, and sceptical, but he was willing to give it a try, since nothing else had worked, and he did want to be clean. He booked himself a rather expensive session with the shaman.
‘This your first time?’ the long-haired eco-warrior type had enquired, as he joined Russell in a waiting area.
‘Yeah, first and only probably… got a bit of a coke issue.’
The man nodded. ‘If you’re looking to break a drug addiction, this will certainly help, it’s very good at that – as long as you have a shaman along to prepare everything and guide you through the ritual.’
‘Yeah, but don’t worry, man, this guy’s good. One of the most celebrated shamans in the world!’
‘Well, that would account for the cost,’ replied Russell, with a nervous laugh. The crusty scrutinized him closely, but did not reply.
‘Have you done this before?’ Russell asked.
‘Yep, this’ll be my fourth trip on A,’ replied the man, with some pride.
‘What, so it didn’t work first time for you?’
Russell’s new scruffy friend grunted a laugh and replied rather grandly: ‘I’m not here to deal with any drug or mental health issues, I’m here to “commune”.’ Russell stared blankly at the man, who then pointed up: ‘With ET.’
No mental health issues, right? But Russell’s companion picked up on his scepticism.
‘Oh, they’re real, man. They’re called the Sponsors, and they’ve been involved in human affairs for a very long time.’
Russell had wanted to end this conversation and was even thinking of leaving, but the man persisted: ‘Every aspect of human affairs is run, err, guided, by the Sponsors. Only with ayahuasca do you get to deal with them on equal terms.’
‘Are they friendly, these aliens?’
For the first time the man looked pensive, ‘Not really–’
It was at this point that Russell, his new chum and about eight others had been ushered through to the main hall and instructed to drink from a communal bowl of milky sludge. Not long after, the whole ghastly business began...
‘Hello? Russell? Are you still there?’
Russell glared at the phone receiver. If this “Michael” thought he’d be interested in another dalliance with ayahuasca he could shove it!
‘Michael!! That “visit to ayahuasca” was utterly horrifying,’ Russell bellowed down the phone, to the shock of Meg who jumped back, ‘I was completely off my head!!’
‘Yes, haha, you were talking nonsense most of the time. It was very funny!’
‘Yes, anyway, I want to talk to you about the Sponsors. We’ve looked into the matter and there is, as you pointed out, a serious issue here.’
Oh, God... ‘Listen, Michael… wait a minute, you told me about the bloody Sponsors.’
The caller persisted, ‘We need to meet right now.’
‘I know shit about any of this, Michael, so why don’t you go and take a running jump, …into the Thames, preferably!?’
‘What would be the point of that?’
Russell was lost for words. He really didn’t need this; the ayahuasca was something he thought he’d put behind him, but it sounded as though Michael had persisted with the drug, finally becoming addled enough to believe that all this alien conspiracy crap had originated from him!
‘You need help, Michael.’
‘Yes, help from you, Russell. I’m outside your studio now.’
This was starting to take a somewhat sinister turn. Russell did not recall telling this person anything about himself nor where he worked, and yet… here he was. He peered out of his office window down to the busy street below but was unable to see anyone obviously loitering. No sign of the crusty. He briefly considered calling the police but then decided he really needed to deal with this himself.
‘You’re outside now?’