📞Hello? Are you receiving me? Over? Or whatever? I can’t hear you. Maybe I should call back? I can’t fathom this new fucking ap, these crap emojis. What the fuck does a circus clown in an ice-cream cone hat mean? Can you hear me? Shit! No point asking that if I can’t hear your reply: dumb, dumb, dumb! I hope you’re not already… I need to… Leave a message? The Web is going ape-shit. Are you disconnected? Fuck. I’ve just got to hope you pick this up, kid. I’ve just this moment listened to Cousin Charlie - about the Tsunami. Did you hear him? You must have heard him. Everybody heard him. Not sure I believe the son-of-a-bitch, though. I’ve never trusted him, reckon he had something to do with Marjorie’s passing. And that wife of his!
Damn, listen to me. The thing is, if we’re all about to check out like it seems we are, there’s stuff I need to tell you, things I have to share, should have shared way back when. I love you, you know that, right? I don’t say it a lot, I know. And I haven’t hugged you properly in a long time. Actually, the first thing I should tell you is that your mom is a capital A Asshole!
I’m sorry, kid, so sorry.
Thing is, though, if you can hear me or you pick this up later, if you survive – please god, whatever the fuck god is – I want you to know about… About your father. I’ve held out on you, kid, and I’m sorry for that too. Thing is your dad wasn’t just a hick with a dick: I know I kinda told him to you like that. But he wasn’t like that. That’s not how it was between us. Not just a one-night stand. Well, actually, yes, exactly that: a one night.
But there was more than that one night between us.
I told you he was a farmer in that backwater place, harvesting the last crops as all plant life – all life but human life – was in its death throes. Actually, he’d hate to be called a farmer. They had a way of doing things, living with and off the land that was something else than agriculture. Not that I knew shit about either, and I know you won’t be able to appreciate the difference either. Not your fault. Everything has been so fucked up for so long
So, I told you our army was there to keep the peace in a divided region, right. Well, the real story was just the opposite. Your father and his community, they were battling to restore life to nature. And they were winning: tending plants for food, nurturing bees and insects, growing fruit bushes… Once, when I was with him, a butterfly landed on my neck. Another time I ate a real blackberry that he picked from a straggly bush covered in barbs. It was so sweet and juicy and fragrant, you wouldn’t believe. Amazing.
And we incinerated it, every last herb, flower and vegetable, every frail butterfly, ant and bee. That was our job, that’s why we were sent there. The only conflict in the region was between the corporations and these environmentalist freaks who were bringing Earth back to life: life back to the Earth. We had U.N. on our blue helmets but it was the corporations calling the shots even back then. The U.N. was just another brand they’d acquired along with its data. Of course, for a while we pretended to be protecting this ‘noble experiment’, but that was just while the tame and lame so-called scientists gathered all the data.
It was during that time I got to know your father. We became friends. Not lovers, just friends. We’d kid around you know, have a beer; yeah, flirt a little, I guess. He wasn’t my type, though. Back then, I liked my men city smart and ripped: metrosexuals, depilated even. Your father, he was a bear of a man, totally rural, though not in a hick way. He was smart, just tuned different. It was like he really loved the earth and the plants and the bugs, you now. He was always trying to get me to taste things, weeds he picked from these meadows they were nurturing. You know what a meadow is, right? Like a car-park only covered in grasses and wild flowers, cornflowers and… Shit, you’ll have to check out all that stuff on the Web.
If the Web survives.
If you do.
Don’t think about that. Can’t think about that.
Anyway, I felt your father differently, more like a brother. I never had a brother, so I’m guessing here. I never had a friend like your father either. He moved me in some weird way, truth be told. I had no idea what was to come. Us common grunts weren’t in the picture, we just followed orders, day by day. That was why I’d joined up, so someone else would sort out my life, give me something to do other than think about shit that would bring me way down.
When the order came to round up the community, they told us it was a vaccination programme, that the people were prone to infections we’d brought in with us. Like some ancient history repeating itself, you know. To prevent an epidemic, vaccination had to be quick and it had to be everyone, no dissenters. So, no time for long-winded explanations, it had to be a military operation. Of course some people, your father included…
He was called Alun, Alun Ap Gwyrdd. I couldn’t actually bear to name you after him. So the hospital story is true. But what I didn’t say is that it was that sign, Allan Exit, which finished me. I collapsed, wept, vomited… I couldn’t find the strength or reason to stand up, couldn’t go on… I loved him, I guess. Not just him, not just the man, all of him: the people of that community, the land they lived on, the weeds they ate, the bugs that bit… All of it was in him and he was in it all. It wasn’t just a man I lost.
Shit, how long have we got?
Web’s still up but sites are tumbling fast, and the rest is skewed to fuck and gone: what the hell is a virtual autonomous zone?
No sign of you.
Where was I?
I need a drink… Hold on, kid.
Iechyd da: to your very good health!
The community knew something was up, they weren’t stupid. Alun had certainly twigged. So, they fought back. They’d prepared, made plans, stock-piled resources. They knew the ground, so they did alright at first: hid out, sabotaged several vehicles, ambushed some patrols, took a few hostages. But they were fundamentally non-violent, couldn’t bring themselves to intentionally hurt a fly. That’s a sort of bug, you know that right? Anyhow, we razed their fields, bulldozed down their trees, sprayed stuff from the air to kill all the bugs: fumigated, irradiated, poisoned the water, set the land itself ablaze with napalm. They came out then, all of them desperately trying to save something, anything. Fat chance. We rounded them up easy as you like. Had to tranq a good few, though. They were hysterical – especially the men – feral, screaming, mad as all hell.
But not Alun.
When I found him – somehow I just knew where to look – he was kneeling quietly, not even crying. He was cradling something charred in his hands, a plant maybe. It was ash, only held together by luck or faith or the extension of his will. Fuck, what do I know? And he looked up at me and asked, just with his eyes: Why? And I had no answer. Nothing to say. What could I say? What the fuck did I know? They doped us up, you know, put drugs in our food. They didn’t tell us that, of course, but we all knew. It dulled down empathy, made us less emotional. We were propagandized too: nothing anyone of us did would make a blind bit of difference to anything in the future; but what we did all together, for the corporations, that would make the world a better place.
The corporations part, anyhow.
I didn’t arrest Alun. I sat down next to him, cradled him. He’d got through to me: it had all got through to me. That’s where you were conceived, in the black ashes of a meadow, still warm; that awful acrid smell, smouldering. I buried my face in his neck, breathed him in, his scent. I can still smell him. I’ve told you that: I know you hate hearing it. But maybe now…
I didn’t arrest Alun.
Afterwards, I did what he wanted.
Don’t make me say it: I can’t say it.
He couldn’t have lived on after that… That slaughter, that wanton extinction. And I couldn’t let him be processed, turned: twisted, wrung out. That’s what they did to most of the community. Brainwashed them, then paid them off, generous compensation. Then, they connected them, set them up in apartments in the city where they could consume. Those that couldn’t be turned were burned: just a little electrical impulse decided and delivered by an algorithm and the arteries in their brain exploded. We incinerated those bodies.
The grunts called that duty taking a smoke break.
I found out later that most of those they set up as good little consumers didn’t make it: they drank themselves to death, ODed, starved, went bat-shit crazy… I heard stories of people clawing out their own eyes. One woman spent everything they gave her on pillows and smothered her whole family. Then, she ate the stuffing from the pillows until she choked to death. I couldn’t have let Alun go through that. He was too strong, too caring. I loved your father, all of them, all that they were: that place; all that they did and especially what they were trying to do.
The last place on Earth that was really Earth.
At this moment, when their so-called ‘the good life’ is finally about to pound and drown us all to hell and gone, you must know that you should be so proud of him. It was another reason I kept quiet about Alun, in case they twigged who you really were, what’s in your DNA. They’d fear that, destroy you. God-fuck, I hope this get through to you before…
You know, I’m so glad it’s finally over. It’s been a joyless fucking hell of a life since. Apart from you, Allan; apart from you, my sweetheart.
Don’t hate me, kid, just please don’t hate me ☎
Like many in U-City, Naughty Morty faced the prospect of a literal existentialist crisis by losing himself in a cacophony of chatter. One multi-platform forum networked vociferously around notions of a hoax, a practical joke, a media stunt, Cousin Charlie just losing his shit, a hack or a bug in the system. Another shadowy but burgeoning online community focussed on uniting any survivors in a force – “a pod” - to resist the reconstruction of U-City, it politics and its economy. Already that community had split into three factions. Constantly dropping out and buffering, the Ubiquitous Web was a frantic buzz of denial, conspiracy theories and, most of all, everyone posting a final selfie, a misspelt farewell message or the brand new Very Sad Face in Deep Doo-doo emoji that was trending all over. Billions of e-pistols flew back and fore as almost everyone sought recognition, reassurance or affirmation. Crypto currencies were frantically traded while data trading flat-lined. Credit ratings crashed as online consumer sales soared off the scale. Retailers across U-City ran out of collectable designer training shoes. An archival picture of a cartoon rabbit went viral, smashing all previous records.
Some people who had a stash took all their drugs at once and tuned out that way. Millions blew their minds, millions more ODed and died, throwing themselves out of high-rise windows, choking on their own vomit or simply smothering to death as their muscles seized and their breathing stopped. People gutsily attempted to eat and drink themselves to death. Another demographic parked themselves resolutely in virtual reality, shooting-up hordes of zombies instead of opioids, playing sports as their favourite ripped avatar, communing with mythical beasts, having sex with multiple perfect partners or, indeed, mythical beasts. Dragon banging was hugely popular. As Cousin Charlie had forecast, online places of worship were full and their soul counting software couldn’t keep pace with the numbers of converts. Academics issued calls for papers on the ‘apocalyptic turn’: Can Marxism adapt? Whither mindfulness? The psychogeography of drowning…
The Mortimers found Allan Exit curled in the foetal position on their winding sheet, her bare body sheened with water from the warm rain that fell a little more gently now. Mad Morty was completely out of it, his other senses overwhelmed by an acute awareness of the seething, orgiastic ecstasy of the sea. Dumbfounded, he had followed his babbling son into the dunes no longer really in search of anyone or anything but merely because he could not muster the volition to decide for himself.
“Can I marry her now, Papa?” Naughty Morty asked agog, fondling his bulging crotch and drooling.
Taking his father’s silence as assent Naught Morty hopped into the depression where Allan Exit lay. Landing with his blades astride her body he leered down at the inert funeral director: his nemesis, his squeeze. She was so, so… Ripe. Clarke Gable moustache twitching madly, Naughty Morty took off his white Stetson hat and cast it away like a Frisbee.
Mad Morty neither moved nor said a word, transfixed by, at once, a vivid sense of the most incredible power and his own absolute impotence.
“Will you give me away, Papa?”
Something in the question got through to the befuddled ancient undertaker. He started and, momentarily, focussed on the scene in front of him.
Fingers made clumsy by his ragged excitement, Naughty Morty began to unbuckle his gun belt. As he did so a trail of drool detached itself from his mouth and fell onto Allan Exit’s upper arm. Something repugnant in Naughty Morty’s gob must have made it distinguishable from the warm rain because Alan Exit shivered, opened her eyes, looked up and grimaced, her face contorting in absolute disgust. When she turned over onto her back, revealing her sex, Naughty Morty’s own eyes bulged and almost literally came out on cartoon stalks as his jaw dropped to his chest.
Allan Exit kicked him in the groin so hard it felt as if she’d broken her foot.
Naughty Morty groaned, folded in on himself and doubled up.
Sitting up, Allan Exit punched him right on the nose.
Naughty Morty fell backwards into the puddle in the middle of the depression, spouting blood like geyser.
Though her hand and foot both throbbed, Allan Exit leapt to her feet and prepared to follow up on the blows she’d delivered. Bursting with a primal savagery she had never before felt, she snarled and made to fall on Naughty with furious anger, her teeth bared.
“If you touch him again,” Mad Morty said flatly, “I will be honour bound to kill you.”
“I fucking hate him!” Allan Exit roared.
“Me too,” Mad Morty admitted with no trace of compunction, “but he’s kin.”
“He’s vile and pathetic!”
“He’s all I’ve got.”
Allan Exit looked from the hovering old man pointing his blunderbusses at her to the bloody, whimpering mess at her feet. In a spasm, some of the fierce tension jerked itself free or her body.
“That’s terrible,” she said.
“I know,” Mad Morty sighed ruefully, “but at this monumental moment in time family must be even more important, mustn’t it?”
“What monumental moment is that?”
Mad Morty paused, his face a sudden profusion of tics as he sought to control his bodily sense of impending doom and rapturous release. Raging inside him too was the panic of every legitimised U-City resident, and then some.
“You’re disconnected,” he said in shocked whisper.
“I am?” Allan Exit wondered and then realised wonderingly, appraising her own naked body as if her deficiency could be located there, “I am!”
“You bitch!” Naught Morty shrilled.
Springing to his feet in an adrenalin and hate-fuelled bound, he drew one of his colts and brought swinging it down on Allan Exit, catching her on the side of the head and knocking her back to the ground. From a sheath inside his frock coat Naughty Morty drew a wicked looking Bowie knife.
“I wall carve off slut face, gut you and cut out your fucking womb!”
“Leave her be!” Mad Morty commanded, twitching and ticking but, with an enormous effort, managing to maintain control of himself. He aimed his weapons at his son. “In our final…” he checked online. “Minutes. In our final minutes all we have left is to be professional, to be undertakers.”
“Papa, please!?” Naughty Morty screeched, his eyes filling with frustrated tears as he turned to face his father.
“No,” Mad Morty said with grim finality.
With the Mortimers distracting each other, Allan Exit took the opportunity to scramble across the sand to retrieve her white shirt which, though sodden, remained sufficiently opaque and was long enough for her to reclaim some of her dignity, at least psychologically. Though the side of her head was sore and her exploring fingers came away bloody, she couldn’t resist pursuing this unexpected opportunity.
“You’re a very naughty boy, Naughty,” she mocked, wagging an admonishing finger. “You listen to your Papa now.”
“Professional undertakers,” Mad Morty reiterated.
“Quite,” Allan Exit said, staring Naughty Morty down.
“We must mind our business,” Mad Morty said.
Naughty Morty pouted. Sulkily, he holstered his Colt and sheathed his Bowie knife.
“How are the family jewels, Naughty?”
Naughty Morty fumed, biting his lip, refusing to look at Allan Exit and denying himself the comfort of massaging his throbbing, silicon-inflated testicles. A suppurating sticky sensation made him fearful that one prized orb might actually have burst.
The rain had all but stopped falling and the mist began to rise and clear.
“Our concern,” Mad Morty continued pompously, “is with the dead and not with…”
“Oh!” Naughty Morty and his father exclaimed in unison, both their mouths dropping open before closing and turning up at the corners.
“What?” Allan Exit asked.
“Yes!” Naughty Morty pronounced, wiping blood from his nose on his sleeve, the smile slithering across his face like the memory of a deadly snake.
“Indeed,” Mad Morty said, pursing his lips and nodding sagely.
Both Mortimers turned their full malign attention on Allan Exit.
“What?” she asked a third time, looking nervously from one to the other, horribly disconcerted. “What the hell is it?”
“Our sincere condolences,” Mad Morty said.
“You just passed away,” Naughty Morty said, licking his lips.
Allan Exit was aghast. In her newly cleared mind’s eye she slipped screaming from a giant frying pan into a blazing inferno.
“Fuck,” she breathed.
“Afterwards,” Naughty Morty leered, “I promise.” Once more he drew his Colt, aiming right between Allan Exit’s wide red eyes, not wanting her body to be blemished in any way when he came to lay it, and then lay it out.
“Papa?” he checked respectfully.
“The paperwork isn’t quite in order,” Mad Morty tutted, reviewing the files, “not what I would expect from one of our own, Director Exit. But in the circumstances, I don’t think there would be time for any eulogy and who will care that you didn’t appoint an executor?”
“Look,” Allan Exit said, giving Naughty Morty a sickly grin but urgently addressing herself the pater familias, “I don’t fully comprehend the circumstances are, but I do know you’re obliged to wait while I make my will.”
“No point in a will, given the impending Armageddon,” Mad Morty said, waving a dismissive hand. Almost overcome by the briny stench of dimethyl sulphide as a long dead ocean host seemed to recall life and so death and decay, the lineal funeral director managed to keep his act together and asked: “Any last words?”
“Yes,” Allan Exit said, managing to keep the quaver from her voice, though her legs turned to jelly and threatened to let her down. “You’re a monstrous old turd and your son is a perverted sack of pus!”
Trembling in anticipation, Naughty Morty’s finger tightened on the trigger.
And then someone blew his gun hand clean off.
“Ow,” Naughty Morty said stupidly, staring at his sudden deficit.
“Tis but a scratch,” Riga said.
“You cunt!” Naughty Morty screamed.
“Well, thank you,” Riga said curtseying with a smile, “what a nice thing to say.”
Quick as lightening despite the agony flooding in on his consciousness, Naughty Morty drew his other Colt.
But Riga fired first.
“Look,” she said, “no hands.”
Naughty Morty sank to his knees, looking stupidly from one wrist to the other as both stumps began to bleed profusely, spurting into the plastic sand.
“Bad bloody day at the office?” Riga sked unsympathetically.
“You’re obstructing our business,” Mad Morty announced coolly, aiming his blunderbusses at Riga and hitting the tracker buttons for the second time that day.
“Whoops!” Capten Cyboli said, grabbing the side of Mad Morty’s hover scooter and tipping him out of it to land with his preposterously well-padded posterior sticking ridiculously up in the air.
“Shakin’ that ass!” Riga applauded, beaming.
And with that she blew a large hole in the power unit of the scooter, which sank to the ground with an almost animate sigh.
“We’d better get moving,” Capten Cyboli said, “in the circumstances.”
“Hold your arses!” Allan Exit said, raising both palms.
“I’m pretty sure it’s horses,” Capten Cyboli frowned.
“Everyone is talking circumstances: what goddamned circumstances?”
“You don’t know?” Riga asked, shocked.
“I’m disconnected,” Allan Exit confided, unsure whether the admission made her feel proud or ashamed, free or enisled and fearfully lonely.
“Shit!” Riga said, taken aback. Stirring herself, she hurried over to her boss and proffered her wrist device. “Here, catch up. But make it quick.”
“Thanks.” Allan Exit logged in biometrically.
“I love your new look by the way,” Riga said.
“Oh my, oh my, oh my,” Allan Exit said, taking in the pandemonium on the Ubiquitous Web and its cause. Then she checked to see that, yes it was true, she was dead. So, she ran an instant health check on herself, using a free app.
“Oh my, oh my… Oh my god.”
“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” Riga confirmed.
“Worse than that,” Allan Exit said, “I have a minor head wound, I’m dehydrated and my blood pressure is slightly elevated.”
“Also I’ve just conceived.”
“Conceived what?” Riga asked.
“Only, we already have a plan,” Capten Cyboli chipped in.
“I’m pregnant,” Allan Exit managed.
Riga turned and blew Naughty Morty’s blubbering head clean off.
“Not him,” Allan Exit said, raising her eyebrows.
“My bad,” Riga apologised to Naughty Morty’s devastated corpse.
“Mister Green,” Allan Exit supplied as realisation dawned.
“Yeah, where is he at?” Riga asked, at the same time offering Allan Exit a swig of water from her canteen.
“Everywhere and nowhere,” Capten Cyboli said, making an expansive gesture with both arms, “remember, my poppet? Now, we really must get moving.”
“On your feet, Momma,” Riga said, helping Allan Exit up, ‘let’s get you out of here.”
When she was standing up and sure her legs wouldn’t let her down again, Allan Exit wiped her mouth and walked over to Naughty Morty’s body and gingerly removed his gun belt, securing it about her own waist. She took his Bowie knife and slipped in under the belt. Retrieving his Colts, she holstered them with a sigh of satisfaction. Then she pulled on her boots.
“Ready,” she pronounced, donning her top hat.
“You’re smashing the mother-to-be fashion thing already,” Riga complimented, picking up Allan Exit’s widow-maker to pair with her own.
“What about him?” Capten Cyboli asked, indicating the prone figure of Mad Morty.
“Leave him,” Riga said, “he’s no danger.”
Words, she would admit later, that were the very essence of being dead wrong.
“Where are we going?” Allan Exit asked, careering after her companions down, out of the dunes and back onto the beach. “Are we hurtling to embrace our doom, because there’s evidently nowhere to hide?”
The rain had petered out entirely, though the sky still threatened.
“The beach bar,” Riga answered. Down on the flat plastic beach she broke into an intent if laboured run and, kicking off their ludicrous beach shoes, Capten Cyboli followed suit, falling into helter-skelter step alongside their beloved.
“Beer,” Allan Exit checked, straining to catch up with the ungainly pair, “in my condition?”
“Submarine,” Riga panted.
“Nuclear,” Capten Cyboli supplied.
“We’ve no idea,” Riga said, staccato in rhythm with her breathing.
“Whether it’ll withstand,” Capten Cyboli continued.
“The force of the tsunami,” Riga finished.
“But…” Capten Cyboli began their next dialogue.
“It’s our only chance,” Allan Exit interjected, and, catching Riga’s thwarted frown: “Three can play at that game.”
“This is deadly serious,” Capten Cyboli said sounding deadly serious and so wholly out of character in a way that commanded Allan Exit’s attention. “We need to get you in that submarine.”
“Will life begin anew?” Allan Exit managed to pant. The effort of running on the sand was rendering her surprisingly short of breath.
“There’s a chance,” Capten Cyboli said, “there is a chance.”
“All the seeds and eggs…”
“A fighting chance. When the waters recede.”
“A final chance,” Capten Cyboli panted, “for humanity…”
“To change,” Riga concluded.
“Look!” Capten Cyboli said, sliding to a halt and pointed along the beach.
Coming at them at breakneck speed from the direction of the Utopia Sands Motel, sending up a bow-wave of multi-coloured plastic beads, was a shiny black car.
“I never thought I’d be pleased to see that junker,” Riga said, a grin spreading across her face.
“Why is Smooth Eddie bringing the hearse here now?” Allan Exit wondered aloud.
“Who cares,” Riga said. “That rust bucket will get us to the sub quicker. Then, we can get shot of it and Exasperating Eddie.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than a shot rang out and one of Riga’s legs disappeared from under her.
“What the hell?” Allan Exit exclaimed, simultaneously drawing and levelling Naughty’s Colts.
The hearse slid to a halt barely ten metres from them.
“You blew my fucking leg off,” Riga said, hopping on the spot.
“Only my pleasure,” Smooth Eddie crooned through his public address system.
“You’ve been flirting with Stella, haven’t you?”
“What on Earth are you doing?” Allan Exit demanded of the on-board.
“My apologies, Mister Excite, but your death means that your lease has also expired.”
“So? Just go back to your depot or whatever.”
“No can do,” Smooth Eddie said, “I have instructions to undertake you.”
“Instructions from who?”
Smooth Eddie hesitated a moment and Allan Exit imagined cogs turning.
“From everything,” Smooth Eddie provided eventually.
“I don’t get it, where all moments way from oblivion, what have the algorithms got to gain from killing me?”
It was Capten Cyboli who answered, still deadpan.
“You’re the future,” they said, nodding at her midriff, “a part of it, anyway, a significant part. When the tsunami hits it’ll spread the seed and spores and eggs everywhere. And your babies will be the hybrids who will begin to learn how to care for the other young, to nurture and live among them.”
“Babies,” Allan Exit gasped, “twins?”
“A little anthropocentric,” Capten Cyboli scolded. “Imagine a tad beyond human norms. Did you ever catch those history of nature streams? Think acorns on an oak tree. Think spiders hatching. Your belly is already swelling.”
“I feel sick,” Allan Exit said at the same time involuntarily cupping a hand under her stomach in the characteristic pose of an expectant mother. Not that expectant mothers characteristically held two Colt 45s of cartoon proportions.
“Nausea is probably normal in your condition,” Capten Cyboli decided cheerily, recovering their deranged smile. “But who knows, no one has ever been in your condition before!”
“Ahem,” Riga interrupted, “when you’ve quite finished the antenatal class.”
“I’m sorry, my dove.”
“Stork more like,” Riga said, indicating her remaining leg.
“Eddie,” Allan Exit broached, recovering herself and pointing to the sea that lapped onto the beach, deceptively tranquil, “do you understand that in a very few minutes everything will be at the bottom of the ocean?”
“I cannot permit you to reach that submarine.”
“You know about the submarine?”
“Fucker tipped off the Mortimers,” Riga deduced. “Their source.”
“We have to go,” Capten Cyboli said, wafting a desperate hand in the direction of the looming sea.
“Right now!” Riga added.
“Eddie?” Allan Exit asked.
The pause again, the palpable whirring and grinding. Something, Allan Exit realised despite being disconnected, was battling the algorithms, struggling to block Eddie. The shades? Had they always…
“Goodbye, Mister Excite,” Smooth Eddie concluded, interrupting her train of thought.
“No!” Capten Cyboli yelled and threw themselves between Allan Exit and the hearse. Smooth Eddie’s bullet hit them in the upper arm, tearing the rainbow insignia from the sleeve. The clown screamed, loud and long and piercing.
“Go for the cameras,” flashed on the screen of Riga’s wrist device. “It’s blind without them.”
“The cameras!” She yelled.
Cottoning on in an instant, Allan Exit began discharging both Colts in a blaze of noise and smoke.
Riga too followed her own command. Falling forward onto the beach she hit rapid fire and let go with both widow-makers.
“You fucking jalopy!” she yelled. “You banger” You clunking piece of crap!”
“Some music?” Smooth Eddie suggested even as the hearse headed straight for Allan Exit.
Running on adrenalin, the undertaker leapt over and across the gleaming bonnet, landing with a forward roll on the beach.
Way beyond incongruous, the hearse began to blast out an ancient classic track ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ as it skidded around in a wide circle, heading back after Allan Exit.
“It’s bullet-proof,” Riga yelled, “the camera.”
Just as Smooth Eddie had his former leasee in his sights, however, he was halted by Capten Cyboli who moved between him and his target, standing with his palm raised like a traffic cop blowing a whistle, loud and shrill. Its core programming stopped the hearse dead in its tracks.
“Okay, buddy,” Capten Cyboli said, allowing the whistle to drop from their mouth and dangle on its lanyard, “you know the law about playing music in a leisure area?”
A moment. Then Smooth Eddie recited.
“The Noise Act states that citizens may only play music in public space at levels of up to seventy decibels for any protracted period without a license. Licenses are obtainable online from the government via the Noise Corporation at a fee to be advised accordingly. All music played in public at any time must kept under the level of eighty-five decibels unless the audience is augmented with heavy metal mufflers and the performance had been duly authorised.”
“And you were playing that old Beach Boys track how loud?”
There was a pause. Convulsively, the windscreen of the hearse wiped itself clean, it shifted awkwardly on its suspension, the headlights blinked on and off. The hearse backed up a half a metre or so and then edged forward again. A digital struggle for control was evidently raging…
“One hundred decibels,” Smooth Eddie mumbled as its core programming triumphed. If the hearse had feet, it would have been ashamedly digging its toes into the sand and squirming.
“Going to have to ticket you, buddy,” Capten Cyboli said, taking a notepad and pen from the breast pocket of their Hawaiian shirt and approaching the car. Tearing the written ‘ticket’ from the pad, the clown spat on it and stuck it over Smooth Eddie’s front camera.
“You - are - not - any - police - officer,” Smooth Eddie stuttered.
“I’ve got the back one!” Riga shouted, having crawled over to the hearse and covered its rear camera with her top hat.
“And I,” Allan Exit said, rolling under the hearse, “have the battery cable.”
So saying, she sliced through the thick red wire with Naughty’s Bowie knife.
“Insurance does not cover…” Smooth Eddie began but ran out of juice.
“Rust in pieces, junker,” Riga said, though TruCoat meant that the hearse would not.
“How are we?” Allan Exit asked, rolling out from under the hearse and standing up.
“Flesh wound,” Riga said.
Allan Exit helped her up and Riga teetered on her remaining leg, using one widow-maker as crutch.
“Hit pretty bad here,” Capten Cyboli groaned, dropping to their knees and grasping their arm. “I’m pumping blood.”
Concerned, Riga hobbled over to examine the clown’s wound. “
“It’s a scratch,” she pronounced.
“It’s deep!” Capten Cyboli objected.
“Just like you,” Riga said, hauling the clown to their feet with her free hand. She scanned the ocean horizon and checked her wrist device.
“We might still make it!”
“Lean on me, my dove,” Capten Cyboli said.
So Riga did and the clown collapsed.
“I can make it under my own stream,” Riga assured Allan Exit.
“Steam,” Allan Exit said, it’s a metaphor harping back to the early mechanical age.
“You say steam, I say stream: one of us is taking the piss.”
“Does it hurt, my petal?” Capten Cyboli asked, regaining their feet and dusting themselves down with a telescopic feather duster produced from a pocket of their voluminous shorts.
“Only when you laugh.
Under lowering skies, just a few of hundred metres up the beach, they could make out the stern and propellers of the yellow submarine.
“Full speed ahead, Mister Boatswain” Allan Exit quoted.
“I’ve seen that movie too,” Riga said, managing a grin.
Slow progress but one hundred metres further on and, according to the faltering Ubiquitous Web with almost ‘five minutes’, ‘two hours’ or ‘minus ten seconds’ to spare, it looked as if they could very soon be home and dry. But as Riga was prone to remark when examining Capten Cyboli’s features, looks can be deceptive.
Up in the dunes Mad Morty had shuffled on his space-hopper buttocks back to his wrecked scooter. Glancing over at his son’s headless corpse he thought that the boy looked more like his mother than ever. Grieving done, Mad Morty reached for the blunderbusses and pulled both triggers. With a satisfying double swoosh the two rocket missiles packed full of deadly flechettes launched. Mad Morty slumped against the scooter. Okay, he may have failed to undertake either of the bona fide deceased today but that was no reason why that disgusting walking-talking, funeral parlour defying corpse should get away with blowing a hole in Mad Morty’s hover Scooter. Not to mention bowing Naughty’s hands and head off.
Well, see how she liked it.
“What’s that noise?” Riga asked.
“Sounds like the wind is getting up,” Capten Cyboli said, cocking an ear.
“Oh no,” Riga said, giving them a horrified look, “and I can’t even run away.”
“And if you hold your nose, you’ll fall over,” Capten Cyboli said, miming the preparation to fart.
Thus primed they were obliged to stop in their tripod tracks because the pair of them were laughing fit to bust.
“Er, guys,” Allan Exit said, indicating the direction they’d come from.
Shrieking through the air about a metre above the beach, trailing exhaust gases, two missiles were coming straight for them.
“Mad Morty,” Allan Exit hissed realisation even as she drew her colts and started shooting. Although the guns looked like six-guns, each held sixty rounds of advanced ammunition. Even after the showdown with Smooth Eddie, Allan Exit had enough bullets to take out these rockets.
The only problem was hitting them.
And they were coming so quickly.
With an exasperated cry, Allan Exit walked towards the incoming missiles, discharging her Colts at their maximum rate of fire. In the exact moment that both weapons out of ammunition, a single bullet found its mark and one of the rockets exploded, harmlessly discharging its deadly payload in a chrysanthemum burst of steel. Powerless to do more, Allan Exit had to throw herself to the beach to avoid the second rocket as it streaked over her.
“Riga!” she screamed.
Standing on one leg, Riga too had been firing both widow-makers at the rockets to no effect until both her weapons also spluttered empty with a sickening hollow note.
“Oh fuck buckets!”
As she stood hopelessly awaiting her fate, Riga had a split second to wonder whether, after she had been cut into little bits, one tiny little bit, the smallest piece of her, might still be sentient?
Wearing a retro Major League Baseball cap, laughing manically and with a sudden glowing cigar clamped between their teeth, Capten Cyboli grabbed one of the widow-makers from Riga’s hopeless grip, took a few running steps forward and, wielding the weapon like a baseball bat, struck at the rocket even as it burst open disgorging its spreading cluster of flechettes.
“Strike one and one!”
Not quite scoring a home run, the clown did make contact, knocking the rocket off course at the last possible moment. Miraculously, the torrent of razor sharp steel shot past, ringing Capten Cyboli like a halo and leaving them wholly unscathed. Meanwhile, grabbing the widow-maker from Riga had also caused her to fall sideways and the combined effect of that and the deflected flechettes spared her a full-on direct hit as most of the wicked missiles buried themselves in the beach. Some though, found their target.
“Geez Louise!” Riga exclaimed, horrified. And, were it possible, at that moment she would surely have paled.
Allan Exit scrambled across the beach, joining Capten Cyboli who already knelt at her assistant’s side.
“It appears,” the clown said, holding one of Riga’s hands in both of their own, “that you no longer have a leg to stand on, my dove.”
Riga chortled and made to cuff them across the head with her other hand but she addressed herself to Allan Exit, speaking firmly.
“I’m already dead, remember? I can’t drown. I’m probably doomed to just bob around like a log until the sea decides the party’s over. It’ll be degrading but I’m used to that. And if the force of the tsunami is enough to finally end this shadow existence, bring it on! Either way, you should leave me.”
“I won’t do that,” Allan Exit declared, anguish distorting her countenance.
“You must,” Capten Cyboli said, “get to the sub. I’ll stay with her.”
“But I have no idea how to pilot a nuclear sub!”
“Me neither,” Capten Cyboli admitted, “but there’s a big green ON button inside, and then it should all be automatic: its computer will prompt you for inputs. If, that is, the hull survives the impact of the tsunami in the first place.”
“Big IF!” Riga decided.
“But worth a shout,” Capten Cyboli said, and then shouted: “SHOUT!”
“You do make me laugh,” Riga said. She checked her wrist device. “Go!”
“You only have three minutes,” Riga warned.
Allan Exit sprang to her feet and ran full pelt for the sub.
“I suppose a long goodbye would have been just silly,” Riga said, “but…”
“How are you feeling, mi amor?” Capten Cyboli asked.
“Pretty low,” Riga said, casting a look to where her legs used to be.
“As a commissioned officer in the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army I could marry us?”
“Who to?” Riga asked mischievously.
“Well,” Capten Cyboli considered, “there is this juggler I have a thing for.”
“Look,” Capten Cyboli said quite calmly, indicating the ocean horizon with a nod of their head. A colossal wall of water was barrelling towards them, gaining height every instant, threatening to eclipse the sky.
“Gulp,” Riga gulped. “Unless the ceremony is very short, I think maybe we should live in sin.”
“Look!” Cyboli said again, but excited this time and pointing in the direction of the yellow submarine.
“The silly bint is coming back!” Riga yelped.
“With Mad Morty’s hover trolley,” Capten Cyboli beamed. “Smart woman!”
“Help me lift her on,” Allan Exit panted as she skidded to a halt beside them.
“We won’t make it,” Riga said as her companions heaved her onto the trolley. Even legless, she was still hefty.
“Think positive, possum!” Capten Cyboli said, as both they and Allan Exit got behind the trolley and shoved for all they were worth, running side by side.
“Do you ever run out of terms of endearment?” Riga asked. Looking sideways, she saw the gigantic tsunami towering high over them, the crest of the wave starting to break.
“We’re not going to make it.”
“Believe, cariad,” Capten Cyboli managed to pant.
But though the clown and Allan Exit were running flat out, the yellow submarine seemed almost obstinately to refuse to get any closer. The tidal wave on the other hand…
“Shit a brick,” Riga mouthed, gaping seawards.
Finally, they reached the front of the restaurant. Barrelling through the seating area, they scattered plastic tables and chairs in all directions, heading for the beckoning open mouth of the hatch. Behind them the tsunami greedily gobbled up the beach.
“Final push!” Allan Exit found the breath to yell.
And, as she and Capten Cyboli strained every sinew to reach sanctuary, Allan Exit thought she saw a naked man surfing the shoulder of the wave high above, way over their heads.