Every school should have a copy of A Nuclear Refrain, according to a wonderful review of the book by Caroline Lucas, the UK's most radical and best loved MP, Caroline Lucas. A Nuclear Refrain was launched at City Books in Brighton and at Housemans in London on 5th and 6th March respectively.
The experience that spurred us to write A Nuclear Refrain was participation in a Trident Ploughshares campaign against nuclear weapons. In 2016, Kye Askins and I organised an academic seminar to be held at AWE Burghfield – the place where the UK’s nuclear warheads are built and maintained. On the theme “no war, no warming, our call for contributions spurred participants to explore the connections between “conflict, particularly nuclear conflict and its requisite institutions, development and infrastructures, and a range of impacts on environments, nature and society”. There is clearly a relation that cuts both ways: environmental impacts, pertinently the effects of climate change, can foment armed conflict; while armed conflict inevitably has negative environmental impacts – in the most extreme case a nuclear winter.
Our seminar was to be held as a direct action, a blockade of one of the gates of AWE. Such blockades in the past have featured lawyers putting nuclear weapons on trial, symphony orchestras playing music invested with non-violent values… Bricklayers might build a wall across the gate to a military base. You get the concept: people enact their working lives as democratic protest. In the event, we only had five participants: the police chased off one academic, sending her home because her vehicle tax had run out; a scant few other academics sent their apologies. On the day, Kye, Phil and I roped in Lotte who was there mainly to participate in a singing blockade, and an artist who was painting at the ad hoc peace camp near AWE. We even tried to include the community policeman who had been assigned to keep watch on us! Nevertheless, we weren’t much of a blockade.
But we did have an extremely moving, thought-provoking and action inspiring seminar.
I won’t try to summarise all that we said, heard and experienced, but a couple of episodes will, I think, give a flavour of why A Nuclear Refrain is what is, as one reviewer apologetically stated it: “an uncomfortable hybrid between academia and fiction”. He need not have apologised because an uncomfortable – unsettling – hybrid was exactly what we were after! More on that in due course. First, the seminar was a very emotional experience. Even being there and, for instance, hearing birdsong so near to a place that contained the potential to end all birdsong forever made the ambience – the vibe - very intense. Kye had brought along “a people paper chain”, four-inch high red cut-out figures, to make present at the seminar all those who weren’t there for whatever reason: from the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the academics who were too busy elsewhere to participate, to our real and imagined grandchildren, humans whom a nuclear conflict might prevent being born, might kill, or might compel to exist in the hell on Earth of nuclear winter… However, when we wove these little paper figures into the wire fence of AWE, the heavily armed MoD police inside threatened to arrest us. By turns and according to our individual personalities we were flabbergasted, outraged, dismayed and amused. For the authorities to allow our paper figures to remain for just a few minutes, we were obliged to enter into serious negotiations. The experience was at once deadly earnest, ludicrous, terrifying and – finally, after we’d negotiated our concession with the police – exhilarating. Throughout that intense day we ran the gamut of emotions, and I think we learned a lot.
So to the book.
A Nuclear Refrain couldn’t be a dry academic analysis. If we were going to write anything at all, our experience demanded we paid attention to:
We were also committed to continuing our direct action in anything that we wrote. And that had to include making that action widely accessible, welcoming and emotionally vital, as our seminar had been. But how? It was at that point that Dickens – channelled by the ever-creative Kye Askins - came to our aid: Let’s emulate Dickens, she said, combine social commentary with fiction. Making such a connection, creating political literature or art, is sometimes dubbed “cultural activism”. With it theme of ghosts past, present and future, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seemed the perfect template for us (though, I’ll admit, I was dubious until persuaded by an irrepressible Kye, who you’ll realise by now, is the innovative, exuberant and inspiring elephant in this room, though I doubt she’d excuse that metaphor).
An excerpt, then: Our Scrooge, the Right Honourable Roger C. Bezeeneos, a pro Trident MP, finds himself transported by our version of the Ghost of Christmas Present, the hesitantly heroic Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. Roger finds himself in a TV studio where he is the focus of an edition of a live current affairs programme Just Answer Me That! It is hosted by the adroit Jeremy Dimble.
A studio technician wearing a headset and porting a microphone on a boom hurriedly moved to a woman sitting in the midst of the audience. Roger recognised her immediately as that irritating MP from that little party that refused to completely disappear. Her constituency was that ridiculous South-coast bubble. This was the woman whom, very recently, the PM had shot down for a lack of patriotism. Though he remembered it all too well, Roger never deigned to acknowledge the MP by name.
“How is it essential for the UK’s survival,” she demanded now, “when there are over one hundred and eighty countries without nuclear weapons? Does that mean those countries are not safe? By the logic of nuclear weapons ensuring security, should every country obtain nuclear weapons in order to be safe?”
“Oh come on, no.” Roger smiled, feeling superior but very conscious of not wanting to come across as patronising. These days that simply wouldn’t do. “I mean, we’re not starting from a blank slate here, we are where we are. Britain is in a position of global power, and it is up to the global powers to work together to fulfil pledges to the non-proliferation treaty, while being realistic about the serious national security threats that we face. The fine people of the British military are quite certain about that.”
“Well,” Jeremy Dimble said with a smile on his face, “it’s interesting you should mention that, Roger, because we are joined in the front row by Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led British forces in the first Gulf War, and Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former head of the armed forces.”
As the technician moved to bring the microphone to them, Roger gave the uniformed, stately looking men the once over. They were very plainly of good stock, he decided, made of the right stuff. He smiled at them, waiting to lap up the authoritative support for Trident and its replacement that they would surely lend.
“So, Trident is necessary for keeping us safe, Field Marshall?” Dimble asked.
“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face, or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism.”
Roger gasped. The Field Marshall looked extremely serious and sober, yet he must surely have had one too many single malts in the Victoria Services Club?
“And Major General,” Dimble prompted, “your thoughts?”
“Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. It would seem the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power alongside the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council.”
Roger was stunned, this wasn’t how this debate was supposed to go. These two looked like thoroughly decent, reliable chaps, former top brass, pillars indeed of the establishment. How was it that he hadn’t heard their views before?
Fast forward to the end of a very testing evening for Roger:
“So,” Dimble said, turning to Roger, “would you push the button?”
Roger froze, like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights. Scrolling in his mind’s eye was a covert nuclear history: Clement Attlee, the Mutual Defence Agreement, the secret memorandum of 1979, the cover-ups, the crashes, the radioactive leaks, the near misses, the half-truths, and the down-right lies. He recognised no democracy in this litany. Did it really boil down to Britain’s place in the world being defined by the potential for instantaneous mass murder? Now this had crystallised for him as the key question, he sat transfixed as he heard Dimble’s repeat the question, his voice seeming to come from a long way off.
“Would you push the button?”
Roger’s vision blurred, the studio lights of Just Answer Me That dimmed, and the audience melted away. Through a thickening fog, he heard the question once again:
“Would you push the button, Roger?”
“Let me be clear….” Roger mumbled into the darkness. Feeling sweat roll down his temple, he reached for the monogrammed handkerchief in his breast pocket but all he plucked was duvet! He was back in bed, in his pyjamas with Marjorie sleeping soundly next to him!
 This is a direct quote from a letter to the Times written by Field Marshall Lord Bramall, See Helen Pidd, “Trident Nuclear Missiles Are £20bn Waste of Money, Say Generals,” The Guardian, January 16, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jan/16/trident-is-20bn-waste-say-generals.
 Major General Patrick Cordingley, quoted in Kate Hudson, “Trident’s an Outdated Waste. Even the Military Say So,” New Statesman, June 24, 2015, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/06/tridents-outdated-waste-even-military-say-so.
Caroline Lucas gives A Nuclear Refrain a rave review in Brighton
A Nuclear Refrain: emotion. empire and the democratic potential of protest will be launched at City Books in Brighton and Hove on Thursday 5th March 2020. Do come along for a night of fiction, theory and song! It's great the launch will be first in Brighton where we held the MAD Cabaret in 2018 to raise money for the project. The MAD Cabaret was supported by Caroline Lucas and starred Attila the Stockbroker, Michael James Parker, my co-author Phil Johnstone, Lotte Reimer and comrades from Red Leicester street choir. The London launch of A Nuclear Refrain is the following evening at Housemans: spread the word to friends, comrades and colleagues. And do come along, it'll be emotional
Thrilled and honoured to have collaborated with Egil Heine Strand and Lotte Reimes on our song "Also In Dark Times". Lotte put a tune to my lyrics and Egil arranged it for a three part harmony. This is an international effort and a pleasure to be a part of - Egil is musical director of Norwegian socialist choir SJOKK. Now my own choir, Cor Gobaith, are starting to learn the song, which is grest. The lyrics were inspired by a famous quote from Bertolt Brecht, which I ran across in Lynne Seagal's inspiring book Radical Happiness. The arrangement, however, is more Bacharach than Brecht - more make it easy on yourself than show me the way to the next whiskey bar. And I'll gladly forward it to anyone who would like to sing it. Watch this space for links to YouTube videos of the song and its parts being sung.
ALSO IN DARK TIMESA
Dedicated to Cynthia Cockburn.
Yes, in dark times there will be singing
Yes, in dark times we’ll write new songs
For in dark times we will bringing
Words and music, right the wrongs
Yes, in dark times there will be dancing
Yes, in dark times we will all dance
And in dark times we’ll be advancing
Step by step to take our chance
Yes, in dark times there will be joking
Yes, in dark times we will poke fun
For in dark times joy must be woken
Laugh at tyrants, everyone
Also, in dark times there will be loving
Yes, in dark times we will make love
For in dark times there is nothing
No power on Earth nor up above…
Can stop us acting up together
Keep us from taking to the street
Stamping boots of vegan leather
We’ll dance the darkness off its feet!
Love, laugh, dance and sing together
Close, but no... Oh yes, there is a cigar!
"So why isn’t the threat of nuclear war today as present or terrifying to us as it was in (Olof) Palme’s day? Is it simply that the nuclear threat is so ubiquitous, so diffuse and irrational? North Korea? Isis? Iran? Russia? China? Or today’s White House with its born-again evangelists dreaming of the Rapture? Better to invest our existential fears in things we understand: bushfires, melting icebergs, and the uncomfortable truths of Greta Thunberg."
John Le Carre, The Guardian, 01 February 2020
A Nuclear Refrain is out now: read it and weep (and think, and laugh, and then - hopefully - act)
OUT NOW from PUNCTUM BOOKS!
A Nuclear Refrain: emotion, empire and the democratic potential of protest
This book should interest anyone engaged with issues of nuclear weapons, emotions and affect, the coercive state, and participatory democratic alternatives. Methodologically, “A Nuclear Refrain” pursues a ‘game changing’* framing of scholar activism as cultural activism.
*in “The Radicalization of Pedagogy”
Kye Askins weaving 'ghosts' into the fence at AWE Burghfield
The notable novels I read included Doggerland and The Wall, but most impressive by far was Richard Powers' The Overstory. I'm looking forward to Margaret Atwood's The Testaments and Rosewater by Tade Thompson, which I got as a xmas present. I also got the compelling Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. The non fiction books that I enjoyed most and am influenced by include: Tim Morton's Being Ecological, Yuval Noah Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and Ken Krimstein's graphic novel The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt. Red Rosa by the ever brilliant Kate Evans was a late find (published 2015) but none the less brilliant: why isn't Kate Evans acclaimed as the greatest living graphic novelist? Or perhaps she is? Apart from the Marvel franchise, particularly Avengers: Endgame, I found it to be a poor year for movies. Joker was dark and okay. And I have to admit to not having the emotional strength to watch Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You yet. I was looking forward to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but couldn't get to see it yet either. Gig-wise, Seckou Kieta's AKA Trio stole it from The Selecter's 40th anniversary tour. My favourite album by far is The National's I Am Easy To Find, a different kind of National album and very rewarding for its innovation. A shout out also for Trash KIt and their album Horizon, an intriguing mix of township jazz and - well - your guess is as good as mine! Top comedy gig was the delightful Bridget Christie at the Mach Comeday Festival and the revelation that is Johnny and The Baptists at the Abeystwyth Comedy Fest weekend: check them out if you have even half a chance!
And Quercus Burlesque's gig in Mach wasn't to shabby!
A new right wing, US subservient government in the UK makes it imperative to consider again the issue of Trident Replacement and the tactic of Mutually Assured Destruction with goes hand in hand with a policy of Deterrence. A Nuclear Refrain takes a fresh look at the issues through the less familiar lenses of emotion, empire and democracy. And it does so in an innovative and, dare I say, entertaining way. If we need to be the change we want to see in the world, we also need to ground and envisage that change in art that is creative, inclusive and inviting. To read more about A Nuclear Refrain, check out our courageous and innovative publisher Punctum Books. To buy the book as seasonal treat for yourself or as a gift, here's one option (not my favourite but...)
Chapter 5: Sea of Green
📞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.
Chapter 4: It’s doom alone that counts
Walking on the plastic sand in the spiralling heat of the day was an ever increasingly slog. Allan Exit and Riga passed a massive fully automated desalination, detoxification and de-acidification plant that went silently about it business, producing the millions of gallons of drinking water that supplied much of U-City. Apart from the oppressive heat, Allan Exit was also plagued by an incessant stream of lonely hearts pop-up adds, the hearts on offer as a sure-fire cure for loneliness being those of other human beings, sometimes multiple human beings, virtual beings that she could date off the shelf or design to taste, and robot lovers who could be similarly but materially modified.
“Doesn’t make any sense to just keep producing more and more data,” Riga puzzled after a long while of silence between them, “as an end in itself?”
“Nothing has ever made much sense,” Allan Exit said, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. “As the gospel according to my mother ‘in her cups’ runs, in the dim distant past the corporations turned a mutually supportive global ecosystem into a wads of cash for a handful of individuals and then had to invent ways to keep those bastards alive and things for them to spend it on in a wasteland.”
“Absurd,” Riga decided, shaking her huge head, “fucking demented.”
“The corporations or my mother?”
“Why is she in her cups, is that like crockery or underwear?”
After a couple of hours of trudging and constant delete-delete-delete in her head Allan Exit, Riga reported that they were getting close to the spot from where Mister Green had made his last blog post. Up ahead of them was a beach restaurant with its tables and chairs distributed outside on the sand. It looked a likely spot. The restaurant’s seating area was demarcated by a loosely strung blue rope hung from poles driven into the beach, each at an angle not quite vertical and not quite the same as any other. That being as it may, it was the restaurant itself that was most off kilter. It was, or had been built to resemble, a huge submarine. Surely one hundred metres long, the sub lolled on the beach slightly off level, the conning tower angled inland, the hull aligned almost but not quite parallel with the tide line. Painted yellow from stem to stern, multi-coloured graffiti along the vessel’s hull proclaimed in bell-bottomed hippy font freely adorned with flowers and peace signs: Polaris Bistro.
Faux or no, the effect was spectacular.
“Maybe we can get you a beer?” Riga proposed prosaically as they angled inland, away from the sea and approached the yellow submarine.
Before Allan Exit could moisten her dry mouth sufficiently to respond, a figure burst through a large access hatch in the hull of the Polaris Bistro. Bounding across the plastic sand on carbon fibre blades, the sudden being leapt high over the string fence to one side of the entrance opening and skidded to halt, blocking their path.
“Naught Morty,” Allan Exit scolded, “you’re as high as five kites!”
Hands hovering over weapons styled as outsize Colt 45 single action army revolvers holstered on his hips stood Mortimer Mortimer II, a mad glint in his exophthalmic Clark Gable eyes, a white Stetson hat atop his head. Allan Exit was quite certain that his weapons were much more sophisticated and deadly than those they mimicked.
“Drug problem,” Naughty Morty admitted, his words tripping over themselves, “I can’t get them no more – nor no less neither!”
More sedately than his offspring, affecting a pompous dignity by taking his own not so sweet time, old man Mortimer emerged from the submarine on his hovering mobility scooter and made his way towards them. Mad Morty had one enormous cyclops eye in the middle of his face that took everything in. His other distinguishing feature - if that was the right term - was a truly enormous posterior, ‘a massively pumped rump’, as Riga phrased it. Not resounding his son’s evident fixation with the Old West, Mad Morty wore his customary funeral director’s outfit complete with imitation silk top-hat. He brought his scooter to a halt besides his leering son, pointing the tracker blunderbusses that were swivel-mounted along it armrests at Allan Exit and Riga. These weapons, Allan Exit had heard tell, fired flechettes, small steel arrows with razor sharp points and trailing filaments that flayed flesh to the bone. Hovering behind Mad Morty’s scooter was a magnetically attached embalming trolley upon which was strapped a body covered with a sheet.
“You came too late, Mam’selle,” Mad Morty gloated, seemingly winking his eye, “we got him roped and tied.”
“Mister Green,” Riga said.
“Bright girl, you’ll go far, Mad Morty sneered. “Preferably, as far from us normal, living-breathing folks as inhumanly possible.”
“Normal, you and Wired Twerp there?!”
“Is he..?” Allan Exit asked, indicating the prone figure on the trolley.
“Still breathing or whatever such a freak does,” Naughty Morty supplied, twitching his head in the direction of Mister Green. “Alive if not kicking.”
“Neuromuscular blocker?” Allan Exit checked.
“Perfectly paralysed for pre-processing, Baby Cakes,” Naughty Morty confirmed with a stomach-turning leer.
“How did you find him?”
“We have our sources.”
“That body is mine,” Allan Exit pronounced, feeling the full intensity of the sun scalding the side of her face.
“Think you can take it?” Naughty Morty said, slavering in anticipation. Drool trailed from the corner of his mouth almost to the plastic sand.
“Mister Green is my man,” Allan Exit said firmly.
“You’ll have to come through me and Papa.”
“It is like Gunfight at the OK Corral,” Riga murmured appreciatively.
“More like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” Allan Exit said, scuffing the plastic sand with the toe of her boot.
“We’re The Good, right?”
“Walk away,” Mad Morty advised.
“Unless,” Naughty Morty slavered, “you want to reconsider the offer of a merger: we could come together?”
“He’s definitely The Ugly,” Riga decided.
“To quote a phrase that my mother is rather too fond of,” Allan Exit said, ignoring her associate and addressing Naughty Morty, “I would rather stick pins in my eyes.”
“I, on the other hand,” Riga said, focussing all her not inconsiderable pugnaciousness on Mad Morty, “would rather stick pins in your eye, Pops.”
Moving deliberately slowly, Mad Morty drew a starched white handkerchief from his jacket pocket, lifted his hat and proceeded to mop his brow and his jowls. The heat now was sweltering and, though the thunder storm had moved off, the clouds had gown darker, casting a midnight blue shadow over the sea. The air crackled with the tension of the stand-off.
“I have x-ray vision,” Mad Morty said with a lewd grin as he concluded his mopping and returned the handkerchief to his pocket, “I can literally see you wetting yourselves.”
“I wish,” Riga said ruefully.
“Do you even feel pain?” Mad Morty asked disgustedly, aiming his scooter’s twin blunderbusses more directly at Riga and hitting the buttons to lock the tracking. “Because I’m going to cut you in half.”
“I’ll still blow your head off,” Riga warned.
“My son,” Mad Morty said, turning his attention to Allan Exit, “has an augmentation that gives him the fastest hands in all of U-City.”
“So I’ve heard,” Allan Exit allowed, nodding her head and pursing her lips, “but I also heard he’s mighty slow at asking permission about where he puts those sweaty mitts.”
“I’ll put them right around your dyke neck!” Naughty Morty blurted, his eyes bloodshot and bugging out of his head, his hands quivering with pent up energy.
“Go ahead,” Allan Exit said, winking sideways to Riga, “make my day.”
For a long moment, she and Naughty Morty locked eyes while Riga and Mad Morty also fixed on each other with singular attention: hands hovered, others gripped weapons, fingers tightened on triggers... Mad Morty hands looked like a pair vultures hovering, Allan Exit thought, fighting against the almost irresistible urge to blink or swallow.
“We’re finished, bitch,” Naughty Morty spat, hands diving towards his hips in a blur of motion, “you’re about to be my Ex!”
“Ice cream break!”
Naughty Morty froze mid draw, finger tips brushing the handles of his oversize Colts.
Without relaxing the coiled spring tension in their bodies, all four protagonists turned their attention to the speaker.
With a vintage ice-cream tray slung around his neck, the unlikely cinema usher approached them from south, the sun at his back, a shimmering pink mirage.
“What the flaming damnation?” Mad Morty stammered.
“Intermission,” Capten Cyboli explained matter-of-factly, moving closer with each clearly enunciated word. They wore baggy check shorts and ludicrous beach shoes with an even louder Hawaiian shirt than on the previous evening. The outfit was literally topped off with an inverted waffle cone hat.
“All the best movie gunfights in classic Westerns develop an almost unbearable tension ever so, ever so slowly,” the clown explained.
“He’s so right,” Riga confirmed proudly, “High Noon, Once Upon A Time In The West… And particularly The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.”
“Really you need a soundtrack,” Capten Cyboli continued, “strings can be extremely effective.”
“Or a harmonica,” Riga added.
“What the shit dribbling bloody fuck are you two reeking pots of horse piss talking about?” Naughty Morty spat, eyes bugging from one to the other.
“Language, boy!” Mad Morty admonished.
“Given the extreme heat,” Capten Cyboli continued, unruffled, “I thought that an ice cream break might serve as a physically cooling interlude while at one and the same time acting as a theatrical device for ramping up the psychological tension. Now, what is your heart’s desire, what would titillate and tantalise your taste buds? I have simulacra of the classics from across the ages: Choc ices, Cornettos – well, just one - Fabs, Feasts, Mivis…”
The clown ice-cream vendor was very close to the action now, their made-up white face framed by a blinding halo of sunlight.
“And Magnums,” they concluded at the same moment as the tray fell away and their hands came into view levelling a weapon styled as a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver at each of the stunned Mortimers.
“You’re foolin’ with me?” Naughty Morty gurgled.
“One false move and you’re both dead,” Capten Cyboli pronounced. “If you make a real move, however, I’ll only blow your grotesquely augmented genitals right off and shoot your Pappy right in his bubblelicious buttock implants. No fooling.” “Have you got a Rocket?” Riga asked. “Just glad to see you,” Capten Cyboli said, favouring her with an ear to ear grin and twitching their red nose. “I’m not actually selling ice-creams, Enchantress.” “Oh…” Riga said, pouting disappointment. “At least I didn’t dessert you” Geddit?” Riga frowned, “No,” she admitted. “It wasn’t one of my best,” Capten Cyboli apologised kindly. “Now, if you two marvellous young women would like to take our friend Green and head for the hills, I will take care of these varmints.” “Could we talk this over like civilised business people?” Mad Morty asked. “Well, let me see,” Capten Cyboli feigned consideration, “Umm civilised… Er business… Hell no! Now, would you and your sickeningly salivating son, one at a time and very, very slowly, please lay your weapons on the beach.” Determining no other option, Mad Morty proceeded to unclip each blunderbuss in turn from his scooter. With a pained expression, he let them drop to the plastic sand. “Pretty please with sugar on top,” Capten Cyboli encouraged Naughty Morty who made no move to concur. “My hero,” Riga fluttered, deeply appreciating the old movie quote. Naughty Morty looked to his father. Mad Morty nodded curtly, then looked away. Watched very intently by Capten Cyboli, Allan Exit and Riga, Naughty Morty drew his Colts in stop motion, using just a thumb and forefinger on each grip, and laid them lovingly down, seething with suppressed rage that contorted his face. “If we take Mister Green, you know what will happen?” Allan Exit asked Capten Cyboli now that the immediate threat of the Mortimers had been dealt with. “Do any of us really know for sure what is going to happen in any situation, Ms Exit?” “I’m an undertaker.” “And I’m a heavily armed clown who I doubt very much you were expecting to come to your rescue? Now please, without further ado, go: quick as you like. Because it looks like rain and when it rains I do my cover of It’s Raining Men, and you do not want to be around for that, believe me: even I have to wear earplugs. Hallelujah!” “I don’t know that song,” Riga said. “Humidity is rising, barometer’s getting low…” Capten Cyboli began in a falsetto that was as flat and off-key as could be imagined. Not needing to be told a third time and certainly not needing to hear another note, Riga took the lead and hurried to unstrap the body from Mad Morty’s hovering trolley. She slung Mister Green, still wound in and concealed by the white sheet, over one of her broad shoulders, grunting at the unexpected weight of her burden. “Adieu, Temptress,” Capten Cyboli said, pursing their lips in a blown kiss. “Add you too,” Riga responded with an awkward grin. “You two!” Allan Exit said, and to Riga: “Let’s go!” Riga trudged away in the direction of the dunes. Allen Exit sidled after her for a while, watching their backs with her weapon readied. Then, she turned and scurried to catch up. “Just us boys left,” Capten Cyboli said brightly. “Shall we talk sports?” “Let’s talk about how numbered your days are,” Mad Morty said, glaring. “All our days are numbered,” Capten Cyboli said, “our mistake has always been counting them instead of making them count.” “Codswallop!” Mad Morty pronounced. “Bullshit!” Naughty Morty put in, attracting a scolding look from his father. “Let me tell you a story,” Capten Cyboli said, “to pass the time while we wait.” “Wait for what?” Naughty Morty demanded, spraying saliva. “Now that,” Capten Cyboli said, “would be giving away the end of the story, wouldn’t it? If you could just try to concentrate and not watch porn, play games or retreat into virtual reality while I narrate, that would be much appreciated. But I’m certain you have already reported in to the Ministry, so I’d better get on with it. If you don’t mind, please turn around and let’s take a little stroll up the beach, away from those terribly tempting weapons that Naughty Morty the spunky junkie can’t tear his goggling eyes away from.” Mad Morty switched a switch on his scooter and magnetically unhitched the embalming trolley, leaving it to hover in space, like a ghost of a machine. “I will destroy you very slowly with sex toys and surgical instruments,” Naughty Morty promised before turning away to walk alongside his father’s scooter, heading north. Capten Cyboli followed ten paces behind, safely out of reach, his Magnums unwaveringly aimed at the undertakers’ backs. “When I enlisted in the Clown Army,” the clown began, “we shared a story that had been handed down for at least fifty generations. It goes like this: Time upon a once in city that ever always was and not so far away, a king ruled over a people. This king was no better or worse than any other. In other words, he was as idiotic and wise, cruel and capricious or kind and generous as it suited him at any particular moment. Whatever he decided and whatever he did was accepted because people feared him and those who served him. And they in turn also feared him and each other too. Long ago, the people had ceased to question whether there was any justice in the King’s rule. They had, indeed, all but forgotten the word and certainly had no inkling of what it might really mean. Once a year the gates of the city were flung wide open to admit the population of the land, the farmhands, slaves and peasants, miners and makers who toiled all the rest of the year to supply the city and further enrich the already filthy rich king. They came for a weeklong festival of feasting and fun, their reward because the king knew subjection worked best when applied as not only a big stick but also a juicy - if awfully small - carrot. And along with the workers came the clowns who welcomed into their ranks the insane, the crippled, the grotesque, the will-gills, the gaga, the dwarves, the lewd and the slovenly: the excluded, shunned and shamed of the world. For that one week only, it was anything goes in the city and the clowns paraded, pranked and parodied to their hearts’ content with no fear of retribution from the brutal forces of the king. This particular year, indeed, they entertained anyone and everyone with a scathing satire of the king’s popinjay behaviour, his indulgences, his viciousness, his greed… They were hysterically funny and, like everyone else, the king himself found it all terribly amusing. He laughed until the tears rolled down his cheeks and a servant had to dry his eyes for him. “Fast forward!” Naughty Morty snarled from under his Stetson. “You’re bringing me down.” “When the festival week was over the king, in his usual pompous manner, fluttered a hand and ordered the workers summarily expelled from the city. But the citizens looked at each other and just laughed at him. The more enraged and red in the face he became, the more they laughed. The mimicked his fluttering hand and increasing high-pitched blustering. And when, consumed by his fit of rage, the king commanded his guards to kill the citizens, the guards laughed and mimicked him too! Then the workers joined in, doubling up with mirth. Everyone rolled on the ground, belly-laughing, hugging their sides and pointing their fingers at the ludicrous figure who continued to squeal his orders at them. And that was the end of the king’s rule, though he remained in the city and lived by performing his pantomime in for amused passers-by who would throw him food scraps.” “Bo-r- ing! I’m watching a snuff movie,” Naughty Morty declared. “A fairy story,” Mad Morty said over his shoulder, “is that all you’ve got?” “That fairy story inspired me to serve in the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army for many a decade,” Capten Cyboli said, “but do you know what’s missing from it?” “What comes next?” Mad Morty suggested. “That with no ruler things fall apart; there comes to pass anarchy, famine, crime and destruction?” “Perhaps mutual aid and sufficiency,” Capten Cyboli countered, “caring and sharing.” “Even fairy stories should maintain a credible suspension of disbelief,” Mad Morty said scornfully. “But it’s not the end of the story that lets it down,” Capten Cyboli explained. “What is missing in it is every other thing but human beings in existence, all the animals and plants and the very soil. Whatever the liberated people decided to do next, whether to embrace the rule of the demos or return to the dictator, they would decide without regard for the other beings and objects in their world. Even the clowns missed that as we constantly re-enacted our story to battle corporations and political elites, capitalism, cronyism and corruption, fanatics and fascists. And who knew, the real battle would be against algorithms, that data would define not only freedom or the lack of it, but also, as you – er - gentlemen know all too well, even life and death itself?” “And the point of the story is?” Mad Morty demanded impatiently. “That there is no story,” Capten Cyboli said, “because we forgot most of the actors. All our stories are of extinction and apathy, but the scenery wasn’t just scenery; the landscape was alive, and we didn’t really give a fig, totally focussed on the anti-hero, ourselves.” “You’re a fool,” Mad Morty decided blankly, halting and turning his scooter to face the clown. “Get you, Mister Perceptive!” Capten Cyboli mugged an extra big clown face. And with that a huge raindrop landed under the clown’s left eye and rolled over its tattooed replica down their cheek. “So, what is the end of the story?” Naughty Morty demanded, swivelling on his blades to stand next to and tower over his father. “For you two, Capten Cyboli said, gripping his revolvers more deliberately, “the story ends right here, right now.” “You’re not the type,” Mad Morty sneered as rain spattered with increasing insistence on the padded shoulders of his frock coat. “Know a good undertaker?” Capten Cyboli asked. “Don’t shoot me,” Naughty Morty wailed, trying to cower behind his father, “I’m too young to die!” “Too hung to die?” Capten Cyboli questioned. “Get on with it,” Mad Morty growled, looking away from the sobbing, slobbering spectacle of his son. “What is it you guys say?” Capten Cyboli asked, taking a final aim “my commiserations?” So saying, they pulled both triggers and the Mortimers closed all three of their eyes. The twinned reports from the Magnums weren’t quite right, however, more party-popper than hand-canon. When Mad Morty cracked open his fearful eye there stood Capten Cyboli grinning madly. From the barrel of his man-stopping revolvers flew little flags with writing on: BANG! BANG! With a gleeful screech the clown threw the joke-shop weapons up into the air and theatrically high-tailed it back down the beach towards the Polaris Bistro. The waffle cone hat fell off their head and landed on the beach, pointing up at the sky. “Get him!” Mad Morty barked to his son and heir. “I’ve pooed in my pants.” “Get after him, you little shit!” “Not so little…” “He’s getting away!” “Could I borrow your handkerchief, Papa?” “ALLEZ!” Terrified into action, Naughty Morty straightened up and set off on his blades, gathering an impressive speed in just a few strides. Until, that is, the blades slipped on the film of newly fallen rain on the plastic beach, dumping the deranged, debauched and now distinctly malodourous young undertaker flat on his face. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Mad Morty growled, powering his scooter after Capten Cyboli and deliberately bumping it off the side of his son’s head as he glided past, “never put a boy to do a man’s job!” And the rain began to bucket down.
Some distance away, already high up in the dunes, the rain hit Allan Exit, Riga and her burden hard. They were soaked to the skin before they could even think to delve in their packs for their waterproof ponchos. The downpour was warm and it steamed as it hit the plastic sand, enveloping them and everything else in a cloud of steam. Visibility plummeted to just a couple of metres in an instant. “This brother’s heavy,” Riga confessed setting her burden down, “I need a breather.” “But you don’t breathe,” Allan Exit observed. “Whatever,” Riga said, “I’m now double done in now: dead and knackered.” Atop a dune, they were in a perfectly circular depression about half a metre deep at its centre. “Stay quiet and close then,” Allan Exit said, “I can’t see a thing through this weather. We’ll need to keep our ears open.” She kneeled down beside Mister Green and freed him from the winding sheet. Instinctively, she leaned over to shelter his face from the rain with her body. “He looks distinctly green around the gills,” Riga observed. “Could be a side effect of the neuromuscular blocker?” Allan Exit wondered doubtfully. “Hey, he’s coming round!” Mr Green’s eyes opened and looked up at Allan Exit from under puffy eyelids. His hand came up gently touched her cheek. “It must be you?” He said. “I have to…” Allan Exit began sternly but her words caught in her throat. “Don’t cry,” Mister Green said, brushing the water from her cheek. “It’s rain,” Allan Exit said, though she wasn’t certain. “Perfect,” Mr Green smiled beatifically, revealing perfect pearly-white teeth, “let’s dance!” A noise like ceramic shattering pierced the curtain of rain and steam, a single crack that resounded flatly around the dunes before being wholly absorbed by the plastic. “A shot?” Riga asked. “Maybe thunder?” Allan Exit offered, unconvinced. “A shot,” Riga decided, her voice brittle. “I have to go and save Capten Cyboli.” “No!” Allan Exit. “I can’t leave them to the Mortimers,” Riga said, “that pair are inhuman. And Cyboli’s a clown. You wait here.” “Don’t…” Allan Exit yelled, but her associate had already disappeared into the mist. “I like your breasts,” Mister Green said, rising to his knees to face her. “You have to ask before you kiss,” Allan Exit told him, angry still. “May I?” “We may.” They did. And the online tumult inside Allan Exit’s brain was stilled as if she’d managed to access the very top of the range blocking app. Available only to the elite at a fantastic data cost, the app ran only for moments, usually enough for the user to experience the ultimate terrifying high of disconnection. Their embrace deepened. This couldn’t be happening. She mustn’t let it. As her disconnection stretched towards a full minute, Allan Exit’s terror turned to exhaustion followed by an overwhelming sense of peace. Then, her own thoughts flooded into the vacuum of her mind, the miscellany of ordinary madness: a rough hand she’d once held, her own smile, the imagined scent of real violets, her first client’s eulogy, a pang of insatiable hunger, the image of an earring lost under her sofa, her mother smiling down from on high, lines of a song that Smooth Eddie had once played, repeated, repeated… That’s me in the spotlight. Losing my religion. Ending the kiss and standing up, Mister Green stepped out of the sheet. Nude, he began a spastic but somehow graceful dance, spinning himself around and circling, limbs jerking, his face up-cast, eyes closed, enveloped in steam, rivulets of warm rain coursing down his lush body. Shyly, Allen Exit joined him, shedding her frock coat, her white shirt with the missing top button and then her sports bra. She took off her boots, her socks her black trousers and finally her briefs. She stood naked in the rain, her face cast down. “Can’t you hear it,” Mister Green asked, his eyes still closed, “the music?” “I don’t even know you,” Allan Exit whispered daring to glance up, but as he circled close all of her nerve endings tingled and the hair on her arms and legs stood on end, a cool shock on her skin. “Yes,” Mister Green said his eyes opening wide, the sclera of each shockingly white, the irises flashing dark lighting across their fluorescent green, “yes you do.” Unblinking, unabashed he took her all in. She pressed her body to him, against him and with him. They circled around each other, keeping their flesh in galvanising contact, moving to the music of the rain and the beat of waves on the beach, the song of the breeze. They danced, sometimes with each other, tantalisingly together, holding tight, holding on; sometimes for each other, enticing, exciting… And sometimes alone, gyrating, lost in themselves, loving themselves. Loving the alien. The music she had always never heard: the unimaginable she had always never imagined, beneath the subconscious, somewhere apart and fused, at the very centre of being. Deep. Down. Unattainable. When she led him to the winding sheet and they lay down to kiss and explore each other’s bodies with their fingers and their tongues, tasting each other, snuffling each other with their noses, listening to the different pulse and breath of each other, Allan Exit felt a familiar warmth as if they’d always been together and a terrible sense of loss as if he was always already gone. He was anguished and fruitful, now a lion, now a serpent, grotesque and alluring. Her first orgasm came when he separated from her, propped himself up on his arms and just looked at her, met her gaze, dissolved. He was enormous and elfin, a mountain and a mite. After that, she came again and again, shuddering in his mouth, astride his trunk and his limbs, and when he blew on her nipples, a zephyr that caused a storm inside her, a storm she could feel rising over all the world. Then he entered and grew inside her, swelled and swelled, filling her until the pleasure was pain and the pain pleasure. A forest. Time was not. He was not. She wasn’t. They were nowhere right here. They were one. Immaterial. Solidly together and forever alone. Allan Exit wept as he finally burst inside her and she came all around him. She tried to cling to him as he erupted into the rain: an explosion, fragmenting into a blooming cloud of myriad seeds, spores, eggs, larva, nymphs, chrysalises, spawn … They filled the sky.
By blind luck Riga found Capten Cyboli lying in the dunes shielded from the beach by a ridge of plastic sand. Lying on their back, the clown writhed in silent agony, teeth bared and gritted, clutching their stomach with both hands. “Are you hit?” Riga hissed low but urgent, going down on one knee next to the stricken buffoon, one concerned hand on their chest, the other gripping her gun. Her eyes and ears strained in the direction of the beach, trying to penetrate the mist and the silence. The rain continued unabated but aware. “Heartburn,” Capten Cyboli gasped. “What?” “I ate a half dozen Cornettos while I was waiting for you, and then, what with the running and all…” “Just heartburn?” “Trapped gas, too,” Cyboli gritted. “Gas!” Riga exclaimed contemptuously. “It is really painful,” Capten Cyboli stressed, peeved. “Idiot!” “Do you perchance have any mints?” “I heard a shot?” “I think one of those Mortimers may have shot the other, my sweet.” “Don’t you ‘my sweet’ me,” Riga snarled, “I was worried sick.” “About me?” “Of course, about you, dummy.” “That is so moving,” Capten Cyboli said, their lip quivering, “that I may have to break wind.” “Don’t you dare!” Riga hissed. “They’ll hear you.” “That might be the least of your worries,” Capten Cyboli cautioned, holding their nose and freezing their facial features in a horrified death mask. “Don’t make me laugh,” Riga gritted, fighting to control herself. “Er, hello!” Capten Cyboli said, pointing to himself. “Clown? It’s my job to make you laugh!” “Why are the Mortimers shooting each other?” Riga demanded, serious once more. “Why didn’t you shoot them?” “Even after the six Cornettos, light of my life, I was not sufficiently cold blooded.” “They’re rotten to the core,” Riga spat, “the pair of them, you’d have been doing even this blighted world a goodly favour.” “This world can change,” Capten Cyboli said, sitting up. “Oh sure,” Riga intoned sceptically. “For us, for certain sure,” Capten Cyboli said, enfolding her hand in both of their own. The world moved. “That’s never happened before,” Riga puzzled, “at least not this early in proceedings.” “How was it for me?” Capten Cyboli asked.
“You fucking shot me!” Naughty Morty wailed as he crouched on the beach. “I shot at you,” Mad Morty corrected, ignoring the sheeting rain. “With my own gun!” “Thank your lucky stars I didn’t use one of my blunderbusses!” “What kind of father shoots at his son?” “The kind that want to make a man out of a snivelling boy” “I am not snivelling,” Naught Morty snivelled. “Are.” “Not!” “Are!” “I’m washing my trousers in the sea,” Naughty Morty pointed out primly. “That water’s acid,” Mad Morty cautioned, “you’ll get a rash.” “What would you care,” Naughty Morty said sulkily, standing up and wringing out his trousers. “Put those on now,” Mad Morty said, turning his scooter away to conceal his embarrassment. “Good lord, boy, how do you carry that length of blood sausage around? It’s no wonder you can’t run properly: I’m surprised you can even walk.” “It was a special extension deal,” Naughty Morty said querulously, “with a free knee strap.” “And those footballs?” “Silicon filler, two for one offer. Who would say no to that?” “A grown-up?” “At least I haven’t got a big fat twerking bum!” “If you had to sit in this damnable thing all day,” Mad Morty said, tapping the hover scooter with his knuckles, “you’d appreciate the value of extra booty.” “A cushion would have been cheaper,” Naughty Morty sniped spitefully, trying to pull on his soaking wet trousers with dignity. “In your case, I could say the same for a hosepipe.” “Ladies do not marry hosepipes.” “I haven’t noticed any ladies marrying you,” Mad Morty said unkindly, “in spite of your pythonesque prosthetic.” “It’s not prosthetic,” Naught Morty objected, “it’s all me!” “Does it – er – work?” Mad Morty asked over his shoulder. “I have tablets and a splint,” Naught Morty confided, “also part of the deal.” “Good gods!” “I just want to make you a grandfather,” Naughty Morty pouted, “before you pass away, leaving the business to me.” “I have no intention of passing away,” Mad Morty said, “and I hate children. You were my biggest mistake. I’m leaving the business to my lodge. The Masons will know how to run it correctly.” “Oh Papa!” Naughty Morty wailed. “Don’t you have underpants?” “I threw them in the sea.” “It didn’t even register that extra little bit of filth,” Mad Morty noted, engaging his extra sense. “I hate the sea,” Naughty Morty said “I’ve no idea why it fascinates you so. It’s dead.” “Precisely,” Mad Morty said, edging his scooter nearer his son. “Now look, take your stupid ‘six guns’ and let’s go and get our body back.” “I want to kill that freaking clown,” Naughty Morty said. “Never mind the damned clown,” Mad Morty said, “shoot it if you see it but our business is with Mister Green?” “What about Allan and her gross deadhead assistant?” “Shoot them too if they get in our way,” Mad Morty said, turning his scooter around, “but they’re of no value.” “Please don’t shoot Allan,” Naughty Morty implored, catching up with his father. “I love her and I want to marry her!” “Isn’t the funeral parlour enough for you?” Mad Morty asked, irritated. “I want a wife that wriggles and jiggles,” Naughty Morty said, salivating crazily just at the thought of it. “Take it from me, boy,” Mad Morty said, heading towards the dunes, though he couldn’t make out the beach more than a few metres in front of them, “the living are nothing but trouble. Your own mother, gods rest her soul, brought me only grief.” “But she had me,” Naughty Morty wailed. “As I said...”
The earth tremor stopped the Mortimers in their tracks. For a long moment both were literally shaken. “What was that?” Naughty Morty asked fearfully, gripping his father’s scooter. “I don’t know,” Mad Morty said, his face registering extreme discomfort, “but the sea is in…. It’s in… In agony.” “The sea is in agony?” Naught Morty queried. “That’s impossible.” “Not impossible,” Mad Morty disagreed, very visibly shaken, “look what’s happening online.” “Oh cockwomble!” Naughty Morty exclaimed, instantly bringing up vulcanological data and news reports. What remained of his own legs turned to jelly and he had to lean heavily on his father’s scooter to remain standing. “Not agony,” Mad Morty whispered, more deathly pale than usual, “ecstasy. The sea is ecstatic.”
“Aw hell,” the government told the population of U-City, “things have gone real pear-shaped! And, no, I don’t know what shape a goddamned pear is neither, but it ain’t good. It’s bad apples, Jack, if you follow me. Seems there was no data to predict this, but suddenly we got a big-time volcano going off right under the ocean out west. Y’all might have felt this already – it was a real big one – and you might already have seen the reports online. Thing is, on the heels of this volcano erupting we got ourselves a mega-tsunami heading for the west coast at eight-hundred klicks per hour. When this sucker hits the algorithms predict it could be as high as two hundred metres. Yeah, folks, you heard me right, two hundred metres. Which, to use the technical term, means that we are all so deeply screwed that we’re countersunk. Whatever the hell I mean by that!” The government took a breath and a slug of moonshine from a hip flask before continuing, racing through the announcement, slurring and tumbling over the words. The translation software proceeded to produce some very offbeat statements in several languages. The Mandarin, Arabic and Finnish programmes gave up the ghost entirely at various different points and had to reboot, causing significant angst. Oblivious, the government pressed on. “Already, as y’all know, we’ve been helping folk to get away from the plastic coast, but that ain’t gonna do no good with a wave the size of this un, with this much water coming in. There ain’t no sense in heading for the high ground if’n the high ground is gonna be at the bottom of the ocean purdy goddamned soon! Less’n you got a gill augmentation, which some of you will have, of course. Anyways, the force of the wave’ll probably kill you fish folk. If there’s any good news, folks, it’s that this water is gonna go back where it came from quick as you can say drowned rat. Problem is, it’s gonna take things with it, houses, cars, the whole kit and caboodle. I ain’t gonna shit you, a whole bunch of folks are gonna die here. The algorithms have run the numbers and we don’t have the ships, the food stocks nor the food production technology to make it worthwhile trying to put a post tsunami strategy together for any survivors. So, you’d better hope you invested in that photosynthesis mod! “But there really ain’t any sense in a’ panicking, folks. Praying might bring some of you a little comfort. Y’all have a couple of hours to make your peace with your gods, goddesses, gurus and post-Google Geek Girls. One thing I can tell you is that me and the first lady, we’re going to be right down there with y’all, shoulder to shoulder, backs to the wall, all hands to the pumps: we’re gonna face this together folks and, if any of us we get through it, we’re gonna rebuild U-City and all she stands for. Now, to quote one of my all-time favourite characters: Er - that’s all, folks.” Signing off with his habitual military salute accompanied by a decidedly sickly smile, Cousin Charlie hurried to the government plane where Sujin was waiting. With just the two of them aboard, the autopilot could keep the solar assisted craft in the air for forty-eight hours. On the steps of the plane Sujin turned around and shot dead Cousin Charlie’s private secretary, a black woman whom she’d never liked and whom she suspected was of far greater service to the government than her gig spec required. “Damnation,” Cousin Charlie said. According to the algorithms forty-eight hours might – just might – be long enough for the sea to have receded and revealed somewhere the government plane could land. All over U-City, the data rich were taking similarly desperate measures, boarding planes and airships, ocean liners and super yachts. Without exception none of their craft would last five minutes once the servers flooded and the Ubiquitous Web went down. If there was a bright side to look on, it was that the elite were equally as doomed as everybody else.
Truth be told, they always had been
I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together
I said, hey what's going on?
A story, essay, lyric or rhyme with no reason almost every day... or at least sometimes, randomly