’Twas a green afternoon — not a summer yellow-green, but the moldy aquamarine o’ spring; when, rather than being contrasted in the summer & fall respectively, the sun & rain combined to bring a bright brine that caused the blacks & reds to pop out in bushes & the flesh o’ trees to turn green.
Dysmas loved it — loved the splashing o’ muddy water on his loafers & slacks; loved the cold splatter o’ dark dots all o’er his work shirt, hair, & shin; loved the soft, chalky mush under his hands as he grasped a hill on his way up, the dirt still clinging to the millions o’ crevices in his hands. He loved all o’ the messiness, the complexity o’ nature, its trillions o’ atoms combining & separating in millions o’ different ways. Such was science: the always-half-translated puzzle o’ the world, the Sudoku for which you could slowly fill in #s, but ne’er fill them all — & yet a puzzle whose #s jumped out o’ the page & changed reality itself, which only made it that much harder to fill in all o’ the #s when e’en the #s you already know can change. ’Twas like a good lit fic, from which one could always glean new meanings from e’en the 12th reading — e’en meanings from centuries after the fic in question was written.
’Bove all, Dysmas loved spring, the season when the natural world’s beautiful imperfections combined to create new imperfections & mutations.
As any imperfection, Dysmas was ready to add his own contribution.
An adolescent voice says in a panicked voice,
¡Ooo! These crunchy, corny pieces in cold milk… if I can’t have them, ¡I’ll snap!.
From Dawn’s laptop played an advert ’mong many. ’Twas not an interruption from a show or movie: the collection o’ adverts from the 80s & 90s was the show.
She wasn’t focused on it now, anyway. With her mouth slightly muddled by the pen in her lips like a cigarette, Dawn muttered under her breath,
You ADD-ridden fool: ¿where’d you put it?, as she hopped all across her teal lab, lifting boxes & gadgets, looking in drawers or peering round ’hind them.
I brought you a bowl, if you want to — ¿Did you lose something?.
Dawn looked o’er her shoulder to see Edgar standing in the doorway with the familiar speckled salmon-colored bowl in his hands. She could see tan cream — ¿maple? — cover parts o’ the top edges, & probably all round inside. The familiar end o’ a wooden spoon poked out from the top.
O, I lost some chemical I made — a truly rare 1, too, said Dawn, looking down @ her table with a frown & arms in jars.
¿You want me to help?, Edgar asked as he walked into the room.
No. Dawn turned back to Edgar & took the bowl from his outstretched arms.
Probably better that I don’t mess round with that chemical, anyway. Maybe it’s a message.
She sat on her stool chair & scraped cream onto the spoon till ’twas full & then scooped it into her mouth.
It is maple; just as I thought.
Well, if you need my help, just call, Edgar said as he aimed back for the doorway.
¿Has Autumn come home yet?, asked Dawn, looking up from her bowl.
No. Not till 5. ¿Why?.
I dunno. Silliness. After a second’s pause, Dawn added,
I was thinking o’ using her li’l gray cells to help me find it, but it’s probably not worth bothering her ’bout — ’specially if she’s busy, which she’ll probably be.
I can ask her when she gets back, said Edgar’s voice, now from just outside her doorway.
Dawn turned back to her laptop, now showing rapid animations o’ some labelling device in front o’ a 90s-o’erdosed background o’ pink triangles, purple squares, & green circles while voices in unison exclaimed curt phrases just as quickly.
Hey, I remember this, Dawn said aloud to herself.
Autumn was so distracted on her walk home by her just-recent renumeration — the 1st from something other than theft or welfare — that she almost missed the earthquake.
But this 1 was so heavy that she couldn’t ignore it for long: the ground shook so swiftly — as if the world had suddenly become a carnival ride — that it knocked her onto her hands & knees.
Shit. This uniform better not’ve been ripped or otherwise irreversibly damaged, Autumn thought as she stood on her arches & hands with her drawn-out knees leaning on her outstretched arms.
There are worse troubles. Autumn glanced up @ the buildings to her left, which looked like skyscrapers from her level. E’en they & the firs surrounding them swayed.
She knew she couldn’t stay there for long — not only ’cause it wasn’t safe, but also ’cause she doubted her body could withstand it: her arms & ankles already ached from trying to keep her steady & off the ground, not helped by a full week o’ filling & hefting boxes. ’Twas already coming for collapse, judging by the constant rattling o’ her heels on the sidewalk.
Shit. If only I remembered any o’ the safety advice they gave in school ’bout avoiding an avalanche o’ bricks pounding me into fleshy pancakes.
She scanned the streets to see what everyone else did; but she could see no pattern: some laughed ’mong themselves & continued a wobbling walk ’way, most ran straight with arms outstretched in panic. 1 genius ran into the middle o’ the street, ducking with his arms o’er his head till a car stopped in front o’ him & roared.
Then she felt a heavy gust from ’hind, as if the programmers were leaning their giant faces in & blowing directly on Boskeopolis. The thin flap o’ her work shirt flapped wildly as if in a desperate but futile attempt to ’scape her pants; her umbrella bent as hard as it could gainst her grip, its wet plastic handle burning & biting her hand; & her hair behaved as if ’twere trying to leap right off her head…
So distracted was she that she missed the potted plant till it smashed gainst the concrete 20 cm from her, spawning many tiny cuts on her face & clothes @ the speed o’ bullet holes.
She looked up in time to see a few mo’ solid shapes topple o’er the top o’ the nearby building. She didn’t wait to see what they were; she scrambled to her feet & fled.
A meter or so ’way the wind & her untied left boot conspired to knock her forward, slamming her face-&-knee-1st onto the concrete & freeing the offending boot to slip off while her umbrella flew ’way.
She rose back to her knees to see said boot bumping up the sidewalk. Her lungs locked up, her neurotransmitters flittering to tell her its implications just ’fore she was shown them directly: a wad o’ bills fell out the mouth o’ the heel, fluttering through the streets as crazily as helicopter economists.
Autumn rose ’gain & ran for her cash, her mind shrieking as if electrocuted as the wad opened & split, each side flying in different directions. But she barely had time to register this ’fore her senses were assaulted ’gain by a loud honk ’hind her, causing her to jump sideways out o’ sheer panic.
When she regained her senses a millisecond later, she raced on, scraping 1 o’ the bill wads near the sidewalk on the way. Taking 1 mo’ step to sidewalk safety, she jammed the money into her pocket, & then stormed forward in search for the other wad while her attention was flooded by a thousand other bothers: the danger still standing o’ mo’ crap falling after her, the pouring rain — now sharp hail — she could feel constantly drenching her uniform, which only reminded her o’ the still-lost boot, as well as her umbrella.
The boot is probably worth mo’ than the lost money.
That’s if this — she looked @ the other heel: so far she couldn’t see any noticeable blemish — isn’t broken.
While still walking down-street, she looked both ways &, when she saw a gap in traffic, she crossed, lookouts thrown upward & downward for the missing boot & mo’ falling sky. Minutes worth seconds later, she found neither, & was left @ a loss when she reached a street corner.
Shit. It could be anywhere.
¿Which direction was the wind pointing?.
As if I’d remember….
She crossed the street ’head o’ her, eyes still sweeping the ground.
If this suit’ll be ruined by rain or hail, it’s already been. I have plenty o’ time to keep searching.
That was when she felt a vibration on her left hip, which made her fear she may have sprained it ’pon falling, only to recognize the slight pressure o’ boxy pressure & remember her phone.
Shit. Well, a’least it probably hadn’t been broken.
Probably Edgar worrying uselessly ’gain.
Still, he may be the 1 in trouble.
Without moving her eyes from the ground, she put her phone to her face & answered.
Autumn, ¿is that you?.
Yeah. ¿You OK?.
Yeah. ¿Are you?.
Physically, in the present, yes. Just need to… catch a few lost things.
¿You’re not actually trying to steal in this weather…?. Edgar’s voice rose in pitch & volume.
No, but the wind is, & I don’t let nobody rob me, nature or not.
There was a pause — probably Edgar translating her words into the English o’ earthlings.
¿When will you be back?, he asked.
When I get my loot & boot back.
That won’t take long, ¿will it?.
Knowing my luck, yes.
’Nother pause. Autumn could imagine the haggard expression that was probably on his face.
Well, OK… Be safe, he said in a light but tired tone.
Love you, too. Bye.
As she pocketed her phone, something caught her attention ’bove. As she looked up, her jaw dropped centimeters: some thick vinery was stretching out all ’cross the buildings next to her, as if devouring them.
Though warm from the constant proximity to the oven, Edgar still felt a shiver shimmy down his spine from the incomprehensible thumping outside, mixed with the unrelenting rattle o’ rain like the violent laughs o’ shattered glass — as if they were locked-out thugs threatening from outside.
He tried to steady his shaking wrists & release the sharp air in his heart by reminding himself, You can’t do anything, anyway. ’Sides, if she could survive battling a giant man-eating rose monster, a witch who eats human essence to stay ’live, & the dreaded Santa Stalin, she shouldn’t be… done in by a li’l wind & earthquakes.
Still, his mind was ne’er all-the-way there, so that he delayed oft in carrying out his cooking instructions — till he heard the door burst open & saw Autumn standing in the doorway, almost a twisted parody o’ herself, with every part o’ her clothes darker, dripping, & clinging to king mercy. His vision quickly locked onto the crusty red-brown on her forehead & the skin ’hind a hole in the left knee o’ her work slacks & the red lines on her cheek. Despite this, Autumn’s eyelids were as thick as e’er, as if just ’nother day home from work — which, now that Edgar thought ’bout it & her past work, wasn’t too off.
Autumn wiped her feet — 1 covered by just a sock — onto the rug & shoved the door shut gainst the wind.
After a deep breath, she said in a stuffed voice,
Sorry if I got Dawn’s carpet wet…. She stopped, squinting for a second, only to shake her head.
Anyway, we may have worse problems — if you or Dawn haven’t already seen. ¿Is Dawn in her lab?.
Yeah. ¿What did you see?, Edgar said as he walked outside the kitchen toward her.
If someone hadn’t slipped some drugs into the coffee machine, I believe I saw mother nature taking her revenge on our corrupt western metropolis.
O. Edgar chuckled.
Yeah, I could hear that. ¿Did you feel the earthquakes?.
Yeah. ¿Did you see our new garden?.
No. ¿Did a bunch o’ people’s stuff fly onto the deck & yard?.
No, Autumn said in a half laugh,
that’s quaint compared to all the shit covering all these buildings. She pointed @ the window in the kitchen.
Edgar went to the window; his aghast came before he e’en reached it.
O my God, he whispered. He turned back to Autumn.
¿How’d this happen?.
Fuck me, Autumn said in almost a gasp. She looked down @ her uniform still dripping all o’er the mat.
¿You know anything ’bout professional wardrobe?.
¿Why? ¿Do you think that’s ruined?, Edgar asked as he looked @ her.
Autumn stared down @ her knees.
Probably the pants, a’least.
¿Didn’t you bring an umbrella with you?.
The use o’ the past tense there was accurate.
¿Couldn’t find it?.
No, just my boot & the money that fell out. Which reminds me…. Autumn began walking toward Dawn’s lab.
¿You don’t want to change 1st? You must be freezing, said Edgar. Though Autumn had been mostly still, he could see her vibrate a li’l.
Later, was all Autumn said ’fore opening Dawn’s door.
Dawn could hear much o’ what happened outside her door, so she’d already turned toward the door when Autumn entered & immediately said,
You know I don’t charge rent, ¿right? & you should change ’fore you get a cold.
Autumn grinned. Holy shit. 2 whole bottles o’ antidepressant couldn’t match the high she’s gotten from a simple paycheck.
You know I’m going to pay, anyway, said Autumn.
Autumn set a wad o’ bills on the table. Dawn looked down @ it with a frown, as if ’twere Autumn’s sliced-off pinky.
You should save that, said Dawn.
That’s what I’m doing with the remainder. ¿D’you hear ’bout outside?.
Dawn could see Autumn watching her pensive expression with surprise.
¿You think it might be dire? I don’t know how much you know ’bout environmental science, said Autumn. She looked down @ her suit still dripping.
Sorry if I’m ruing your floor. Should probably change.
That’s OK: it’s already covered in Pythagoritas crumbs & buttercup wrappers, anyway. ¿What happened to your face & knee? ¿The earthquake get you?.
Yeah — & the wind.
Hope you haven’t gotten a concussion or anything, said Dawn.
Not much mo’ damage to be done than what already exists, said Autumn.
Glad to see that your high spirits haven’t dulled your instinct for self-deprecation.
For someone as macabre as me, these high spirits make sense, considering the environmental apocalypse that seems to be taking root, said Autumn.
Dawn looked down in thought &, flicking her eyes up, saw Autumn watching this expression.
You know… I might be to blame for this…, said Dawn.
Self-blame is my game; find your own neuroses, said Autumn.
No, I mean…. Dawn turned back to her desk.
I think I lost a potion that may’ve been dangerous ’nough to cause this.
¿‘May’ve’? ¿& how may it have?.
I don’t know. I haven’t tested it fully, since I didn’t want something like this to happen, said Dawn.
So, ¿you think it spilled somehow & affected the whole world like that magic paint?, asked Autumn.
Dawn turned & looked @ Autumn.
You can go change if you want. Don’t let me keep you shivering.
It’s no problem, Autumn said ’fore ’nother sniff.
Dawn rose & gently pushed Autumn.
Go, ’fore you get sick & have to miss work — & thus money. I can’t be sure what happened ’less I find it, anyway — & I doubt that’ll happen.
We should go explore & find out after I change, said Autumn, only moving through the space through which Dawn had budged her.
¿You sure it won’t be dangerous?, asked Dawn.
¿When have I judged that a deterrent?.
Dawn laughed, though a bit uneasily.
I thought you were originally suicidal ’cause you were unhappy; but now I fear you might think you can finally die happy.
You exaggerate my pleasure, said Autumn;
it’ll wear off soon, as it always does.
That’s depressing, Dawn said with an e’en uneasier laugh.
Then they named the mood truly.
I’ll go, but we need to get ready — & you need to change, Dawn said as she pushed Autumn ’gain.
His ordeal in homelessness was a vacation compared to the numb sparkling in his heart — not helped by the slowness o’ his associates.
¡Hurry up!, he said in a whispered shout as he waved his hand rapidly toward the open door o’ his copter.
¡Every second counts!.
Rain splattered all o’er him, buffeted by the wind, but he didn’t pay any attention.
There was a worse threat from meters ’way.
Last load, Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty said loudly as he carried a safe toward the copter.
When they were all packed inside, Lance squeezed into the back & Agent Razzmatazz lifted them off.
¿How long will it take to reach the United States?, Lance asked with a dilated stare out his rain-stained window @ the blue storm outside.
Should be only an hour or so to Washington, Sir.
¿Washington?, Lance asked with his stare turned forward @ the back o’ Purple Mountain Majesty’s chair.
That’s all the way on the east….
Washington State, Sir, not D.C. It’s nearest to us.
If you say so…. Lance slid back uneasily in his chair.
I’m curious what nonsense inspired such confusing naming there — probably some shallow ‘realpolitik’ tripe.
No idea, Sir.
Lance spent the whole trip with his eyes taped to his window, his hands clutching his seat arms & his chest heaving, e’er expecting to feel a sudden explosion & then obliteration, nothing. Ne’er had he felt closer to death.
Dawn stood on their apartment deck — still surprisingly intact — with her mouth full pelican as she gazed @ all the green & brown vines & boughs stretching o’er skyscrapers & sidewalks, spotted with dark roses, leaves, & baby squash.
¿You have any idea how to fix this?, asked Autumn, standing casually to Dawn’s side with her hands stowed into the pockets o’ her jacket.
I don’t e’en know how this could’ve happened, said Dawn.
Autumn turned to her.
¿Your chemicals couldn’t have done this?.
Not by themselves — & I wouldn’t know what you’d have to use them with to do this. Dawn scratched her nose in silence for seconds, & then laughed.
The worst part is that I’m getting curious when I should be horrified.
Told you I ruined you, said Autumn.
¿You still want to examine?.
Sure. Dawn grabbed the bubblingly wet stairrail & borderline bounced down the steps while calling back,
Last 1 there is a broken wrench.
Still hasn’t learned that her assertions must be backed by evidence, Autumn said with a head turn to Edgar as she walked downstairs.
When they reached the bottom, Dawn turned back to them & said,
You didn’t sprain anything, ¿did you?.
No. I just like to reserve my energy for when it’s actually efficient.
¿You think we’ll need it?, said Dawn, her hefty panting playing to prove Autumn’s point.
¿You’re not thinking ’bout using this as an opportunity to rob places — maybe through a window broken by 1 o’ these vines?.
N — Well, now I kinda am. Autumn yawned.
¿Was it the work or the storm that was so tiring?, asked Dawn.
Should’ve brought some coffee ’fore we left, Autumn said as she proceeded down the road.
it’s not as if we’re in a hurry; we can wait if you want, said Dawn, following her.
No need. Hopefully we won’t be out for too long. Autumn said this knowing in her depths that ’twould only ensure that they would be.
Such a mess the city was now that none o’ them could take a step without squishing down onto some leathery leaf or splashing some green juice. The storm was sourer than Autumn had seen before: roads were guarded like sleeping cats by treed buildings, many o’ which were just mounds o’ stone & broken bricks.
God, I hope no one was hurt, murmured Dawn.
If less than a dozen people died, it’d be a miracle, said Autumn.
Mo’ than likely o’er a hundred have died, with hundreds injured.
Always looking @ the rainbow-tinted cloud….
I haven’t e’en speculated on what their lives might’ve been — surely mo’ productive than my own, which ’scaped with barely scrapes. Plenty probably had kids they had to care for or other important responsibilities…. Autumn’s eyelids were as thick as e’er.
Well, we don’t know, so we shouldn’t dwell on it, said Dawn.
Autumn didn’t. What she did dwell on was how empty the city was. She was ’fraid she’d see bloody bodies strewn all round the dead edifices, but saw not a soul. Autumn wasn’t sure which was worse.
¿Did everyone get ’way ’fore the buildings fell? There was plenty o’ warning, & people were already panicking ’fore the worst happened.
Still, ¿what are the odds that no one hid in 1 o’ the fallen buildings?.
Maybe some did & all o’ their bodies were just buried ’neath all o’ the debris.
Autumn shook her head. She could tell Dawn was disturbed by her rare silence.
¿You think we should call emergency?, asked Autumn.
I’d think they might’ve already found out, considering how late we are, said Dawn;
but then, you’d think there’d be some personnel still here — ’less they don’t want to endanger themselves, either.
The worst o’ the wind appears gone. Autumn looked up. Though the wind was still blowing her ponytail & the fringes o’ her shirt & sweats round, ’twas no worse than she’d encountered every fall & winter.
Couldn’t hurt to try, Dawn said as she took out her phone.
Shouldn’t say couldn’t.
Dawn waited with the phone to her face, wrapping herself with her other arm, pressing her legs together, & shivering.
Should’ve warned you it’s 5° colder out here than this morn, said Autumn.
Dawn nodded, & then said,
Hello… ¿4-0-4? ¿Hello?.
Dawn’s brows deepened.
It’s just giving me beeps. No one’s picking up.
Maybe the whole grid’s down, said Autumn.
Strange that phone reception would be so well, though, Dawn said as she pocketed her phone, only to pull it back out a second later when it rang some ol’ video game tune — jarring loud music gainst the otherwise whispering wind.
¿Hello? O, hello. Dawn lowered the phone with her hand o’er it & whispered,
It’s Violet. She put it back up to her face.
Yeah, we heard it all right — & Autumn was out here when it happened… No, she’s all right. Just a few scrapes here & there. Nothing worse than what she’s gone through before. We’re checking it out right now. The worst is o’er, but there’s some toppled buildings. You wouldn’t know if anyone got hurt, ¿would you?… No. ¿Why?… You’re kidding. Dawn said this last sentence in half gasp.
Autumn watched, eyes possessed by curiosity.
OK, I’ll look it out. Call you later if I can. Bye.
After pocketing her phone, Dawn said,
We should go home & turn on the TV — if it still works. You may want to see something. Hopefully it’s still running.
Though he’d had his setbacks, Thursday O’Beefe knew he was o’erall a lucky boy. He knew this ’cause he knew he was a good boy, & good boys always flip back on top in the end.
& today he felt very lucky.
He was already outside in search for the succulent new spoonfuls o’ news with his posse when the weather went wanky. ’Course, he didn’t become the best journalist in Boskeopolis by sitting @ home eating bowls o’ grape nuts, so while the average turkey flapped its wings through the streets, he searched out the answer to this abnormal weather.
He could imagine the headline:
Parliament Lets Weather Go Wanky.
On his travels he saw a stoned tower covered in leaves stabbing high up into the sky.
Don’t remember that li’l landmark.
He skipped up the short steps & knocked on the medieval door with its metal ring. The door creaked open by its own. Soon after, a not-@-all-medieval intercom spewed a creaky ol’ voice saying,
Come on in.
O’Beefe led his men inside, surveying everything for scrumptious morsels o’ info. All he found were mo’ stone walls & spider webs. He shivered as he thought o’ the prospect o’ a spider — ’specially a big hairy brown 1 with poisonous veins — hopping out.
@ the end o’ the opening hall was an elevator, which beefed up O’Beefe, for he’d get too pooped from climbing the whole tower with his weak glutes.
The intercom said,
I’m on the top floor. You can use the elevator.
Just my idea, pops.
He elbowed the open button, stepped inside with his posse ’hind him, & jabbed the top button. As the elevator rose, he tapped his foot & hummed to the nifty tunes.
Finally, the door stopped with a ding & the door opened. On the other side was ’nother short room, but with huge cuts in the wall, opening it to the cloudy air.
But O’Beefe didn’t truck with none o’ that gruff. ’Stead, he steeled his beetles on the ol’ brown guy in a dirty lab coat & crooked glasses with a scar on his cheek & a crab claw for a hand.
You have no idea how excited I am to have a visitor, Sir, said the ol’ coot with a raspy, grandfatherly voice. He reached his noncrustacious hand out.
My name’s Professor Dysmas Equinox — but you can just call me Dysmas.
O’Beefe hesitated a second ’fore meeting Dysmas’s hand.
Thursday O’Beefe, world-famous reporter.
You must be here to report on my new experiment, ¿right?.
Right-O. O’Beefe stepped past Dysmas & up to the controls gainst the back wall, brightly lit by the huge windows ’bove them. O’Beefe could feel by the wind & rain splattering down on him & the controls that the “windows” had no glass, but were just empty holes.
Dysmas leaned o’er ’hind him.
¿You like it? It does all kinds o’ unpredictable things to the weather. It’s so exciting to see all o’ the complex changes.
I bet, O’Beefe said as he clasped his gloved hands together.
Tell me how it works, Dysmas, my man. This sounds like a brilliant story. It’ll make you famous.
O, I’m not concerned with fame & that stuff; but I’ll tell you how it works, polite sir, said Dysmas.
Dysmas pointed @ a grid o’ flat, square buttons that looked like a sci-fi freak’s idea o’ a keyboard rather than 1 any sane person would want to use.
These spray different chemicals into the air, which mix to create complex effects. I myself don’t understand it all — ¡which is what makes this experiment so exciting!.
¿Can it do anything else?, asked O’Beefe, eyeing the rest o’ the console sharply.
Well, this part can be used to shoot lightning wherever you want from a huge electric pole on the roof. It’s not exact, but that’s OK — I prefer to let the computer choose places randomly.
¿But the joystick & the neat Battleship screen allow you to aim @ a specific place?, O’Beefe asked as he shifted his feet closer to the console.
O, there’s too much to talk ’bout. I’ve barely scratched the shell myself on all there is to learn. Dysmas clasped his own hands together.
O’Beefe pulled out his notebook & scribbled out notes.
Well, this should do for now. He snapped his finger.
Men, take Dysmas somewhere safely. Ensure that he’s well-treated; we may still need him.
Dysmas blinked @ him in confusion.
Sir, there must be some mistake; I’m in no need o’ protection.
O, don’t bother ’bout that, ol’ pal, O’Beefe said with a light punch to Dysmas’s shoulder.
It’s the least I could do for the funky info you gave me.
O’Beefe’s men grabbed Dysmas’s shoulders & pulled him toward the door.
But, Sir… ¿How can I continue my experiments locked up?.
O’Beefe was no longer looking @ him, full attention on the console.
O, we’ll figure something out, if you’re a particularly good guest.
With them gone, O’Beefe sat in the seat before the console & shifted his weight round till he got comfortable, including putting his feet up on the table next to the console. Then he grabbed the joystick & slowly moved it round, watching the lime lines move ’hind the lime square in the center. He tilted the joystick leftward till the larger lines mostly disappeared & a few reappeared. He stopped the middle square on the only other square.
Let’s see how this goes. ¡O boy!.
He pressed the button & heard the sound o’ crumpling paper, followed by a thick white line spreading out to the horizon, followed by a heavier blast.
¿Could it’ve worked?.
O’Beefe’s hands were shaking. His grin was wide as could be.
He could imagine the headline: “Parliament Obliterated in 1 Stroke from God”.
Autumn watched the TV with a mix o’ horror & amusement. Now she sat back with her legs crossed & an arm resting on the chair arm. For now, as she only had to collect info, her motions were o’ no import; she just wasn’t sure how long any o’ them would be able to sit like that e’er ’gain.
When she judged the useful info given by O’Beefe’s o’erlong televised speech expended, she rose & said,
¿You think O’Beefe knows we know Violet & Felix?.
I don’t know, said Dawn, rising herself @ seeing Autumn do so.
It’s not safe to stay here.
Dawn nodded silently.
Though I hate to risk them, just being associated is all the risk they’ll need, said Autumn.
¿What do you mean?, asked Dawn.
If he can blast Atlas Tower in 1 hit, he can do the same to both o’ our apartments.
But think o’ the other casualties —
Think o’ all the other casualties in all the other buildings he struck. Autumn threw her arms up.
Motherfucker’s clearly off the pipe.
¿What ’bout the storm drain?, asked Dawn.
He knows ’bout that, too, & it’s probably already being destroyed. Don’t worry too much: I have an idea for how to perhaps delay O’Beefe.
No time. We’ve already wasted too much talking. Get what you can quickly & let’s go.
¿We’re not going immediately?, Dawn asked with alarm as she watched Autumn walk o’er to the coffee table.
Not without all my money, Autumn said as she scooped her bills off the table.
Though no mortal could see it, a ship with wood green from mold & a steel-gray sail wandered through Orange Ocean — which was looking mo’ like burnt bones than fruit under the cast o’ the clouds.
Cap’n Clearbeard stood @ an edge with her palms tightly grasping the rail, looking downward. The waves were far too violent for twilight.
Her gaze rose up to the cluster o’ steel & dirt far off in the eastward distance. Whenever her seas were perturbed, she knew ’twas due to them — or some other pimple o’ land.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim, sail toward Boskeopolis, she said without changing direction.
However, she did glance toward her calciferous amphibian 1st mate & saw him give her a confused stare.
¿Have you forgotten English, Jim?, she said with a raised brow.
A deep voice rang out o’er the ship,
I’m a giant fish. Both Clearbeard & Jolly Jim elected to ignore it as always.
Yes, Cap’n, Jolly Jim said in a dry voice as he slowly turned the wooden wheel.
We’ll have to investigate what’s causing my waves to shake like naked chihuahuas, said Clearbeard.
Jolly Jim nodded.
I saw something odd with them. ¿Did you see the lightning strike that city?.
No. It’s probably connected, though — divine retribution, hopefully.
Actually, that was a lie: the last thing she wanted was to be deprived o’ the fun o’ enacting her own retribution.
Dawn could only giggle as she sneaked looks o’er her shoulder @ their doppelgängers strewn ’long the couch as if asleep.
Hopefully, if O’Beefe does blow up this building, pieces o’ our copies’ll appear, Autumn said as she quickly fiddled the front door open.
’Fore Dawn could reply, Autumn turned back to her with an index to her lips barely unconcealed by her rust-red coat hood.
Autumn opened the door just ’nough to poke her head out. After a second, she opened the door all the way & stepped back.
Go quickly, Autumn whispered as she waved a hand toward the door. Dawn & Edgar nodded & filed out.
But Dawn couldn’t halt looking o’er her shoulder, — which slowed her a byte — only to see that Autumn was just shutting & locking the door.
Autumn made up the space ’tween them ’fore Dawn reached the 2nd floor, & both immediately caught up with Edgar, who’d lingered for them.
You know, I think if the place is blown up, I doubt the lock’ll make a difference, said Dawn.
It’ll loook mo’ genuine, said Autumn;
but I’ll admit that it’s a frivilous detail. O’Beefe would be mo’ likely to notice & become suspicious toward all o’ the other sudden vacancies.
So soon after hitting the ground, Autumn led them into the 1st alley, & then through thin, dark passages.
Violet’s nerves were so flayed that she jumped when she heard the pitched scream o’ her doorbell.
Knees still shaking, she turned to Felix & said,
¿Harbor you the sentiment that we be obliged by the formalities of etiquette to respond to the reveille emitted from our door?.
O, I dunno, Felix said with full blinks.
¿Don’t doors usually have those holes you can see through to see who’s there? She held up a hand with its index & thumb locked in a ring before 1 o’ her lunar eyes.
¡Such an artful conception!.
’Pon reaching the door, Violet peeked into the hole with the rest o’ her body leaning back in case some ruffian pounded the door.
How fortuitous that you conceived of this device, Felix: it transpires that our visitors are none save Madames Summers & Springer & Sir Winters.
She opened the door to the wall & exclaimed,
How relieved are we in regards to your arrival, before wrapping her arms round the 3’s shoulders.
We only wanted to ask if we could leave some o’ our stuff with you, mumbled Autumn, her eyes pointed down from Violet as always;
though if you can, we’d advise you to look for an alternate residence, as you ne’er know if O’Beefe may want to go after you for your affiliation with us.
¿But for what purpose would Sir O’Beefe harbor venomous aims against your persons?.
¿You don’t remember our year in prison thanks to him?.
But… He couldn’t….
Autumn looked up @ her in confusion.
You saw what he did to Atlas Tower, ¿right?.
Precisely, but… ¿By what normative degeneration could any human commit such atrocities?.
Autumn’s mouth skewed into a smile. Quite a riveting 1, if it may be compared to merely the limp want.
She didn’t say this, ’course, but only said,
You’d have to ask him if you get a chance. ¿Did he not say in his ‘2 Hours Prate’? I tuned out.
She looked up & continued,
¿I take it you’re not relocating then?
Violet kneaded her hands together.
I… I have not considered that yet….
If it makes you feel better, despite having plenty o’ time to try, he hasn’t hit our apartment yet, so you may be safe here, said Autumn.
Still, it’s life that you’re risking. ’Course, trying to fly ’way may be risky, too: he may know o’ any planes that fly ’way & may destroy all o’ them. He may have destroyed all airports as well as the police & military.
After a short pause, during which Autumn noted Violet’s rare case o’ thin-cheeked silence, Autumn added,
But if you do surive, ¿would you mind protecting our stuff?.
¿W-wherefore are you 3 destined?.
Into the stomach o’ the snake: to investigate O’Beefe’s li’l tower & see if we can… get rid o’ it, I s’pose. I won’t pretend it’s a wise plan; but we’re not wise people.
Violet clutched Autumn violently by the shoulders, which caused the latter to look up @ the former’s face in wide-eyed surprise. For reasons beyond reason, Autumn noticed o’ all life’s innumerable details o’ varying significance a peachy scent on Violet.
¡You cannot!, exclaimed Violet.
¡Ponder on how treacherous such a mission would be!.
I’ve long learned that life itself is quite dangerous, said Autumn.
& you’re talking to someone who’s fought rose monsters, ancient witches, giant eldritch arachnid rapists, & the dreaded Santa Stalin, thank you.
¡But this is a mission that ought to be obliged by military personnel!. Violet turned to Dawn & Edgar standing back a few meters with awkward stares to the side.
Perhaps if they weren’t obliterated, said Autumn.
But if they could not stop Sir O’Beefe, ¿how could you?, asked Violet.
¿Why is it necessary for you to embark on this?.
I have an ace, said Autumn.
It didn’t take long for Cap’n Clearbeard to find the tower: e’en gainst all o’ the other erect metal dicks, it stood out like fur on a fish.
She turned back & called out,
¿Did your poles get caught in a manhole? ¡Push these propellers, turtles!.
We’re coming, we’re coming, Jolly Jim Joe Jim said through panting.
You know —
I’m a giant fish.
Both Clearbeard & Jim looked ’way, brows furled.
¿Why did we bring him, Cap’n?, Jim said with 1 bony hand on his side & the other pinching the brow o’ his nose.
E’en if he’s thicker than a man’s 5th limb in the presence o’ mermaids, he has his secret powers, said Clearbeard.
Jim crossed his arms.
I’ve yet to see him do anything useful.
Well, thank the million invisible tentacles that you still have time in the future. Clearbeard turned ’head ’gain.
Anyhow, less talking, mo’ walking.
¿You’re not uneasy on land, Cap’n?.
It’s the dirthumpers that ought to be drenching their trousers ’bout me being here.
Though in reality, Clearbeard did feel her skin stand round these airy caves o’ steel. The strips o’ carved stone for the walkers went on fore’er, running in a million directions, which only confused things mo’. Though she suspected walkers weren’t s’posed to walk in the dark rock, which is meant for the machines, she didn’t quite feel like following such time-wasting nonsense. ’Sides, she didn’t see any o’ those machines round now, & had remembered seeing quite a few humans breaking the same laws the other times she’d explored.
The trip must’ve cost a’least 2 hours, which ached her knees & tried her lungs, which was to say nothing ’bout Jolly Jim. She actually found the long wait from him catching up to be worse — & e’en worse than that was his petulant whines when she asked him to beat it into his feet.
But she ’ventually saw the crooked stone tower emerge from ’hind the other buildings like a ship arriving o’er the horizon: with its color deepening, its lines & details popping in, & its size becoming engorged, as if ’twere packing its face with air as many sea-dwellers imagined ships to do with the seas.
Let’s see if they’ll go the easy way, Clearbeard said as she stomped up the wooden steps to the wooden door.
’T’s good I came just after the rain, when the wood’s a li’l wet, Clearberad murmured to herself.
Shit’s hell in the summer; no wonder these other idiots have to wear these stupid feet jackets.
A voice on the intercom said,
Sorry, Cap’n Chewberry, but nobody’s home right now. Please leave a message @ the beep & we’ll get back to you in a snap. BEEEEEEEEEEEEP.
Clearbeard twisted her mouth in a strange mix o’ both annoyance & amusement. She recognized the voice.
Cute, she said just ’fore ramming her shoulder into the door, busting it off its hinges & onto the floor.
Since nobody’s home, I can’t imagine my doing that could’ve disturbed nobody, Clearbeard said as she stepped on it.
Serves them right for what they’ve done to the rest o’ us, Jolly Jim said, following with furtive glances shot all round inside.
O, ¿What the mud is this fuck?, Clearbeard said with a sneer as she pointed @ the elevator with her sword.
E’en I’m not land-dumb ’nough to know that elevators ne’er been in castles from the fucking 1400s. It doesn’t e’en look like it fits. ¿Think that’s intentional?.
Must be: you know they can’t go without having both their savage traditions & their empty lightning toys, said Jolly Jim.
The intercome spoke ’gain:
¡ERRRRT! Rudie-Tooties in the his-house. Lt. Lightning saw everything you did, kids, & he thinks it’s lame-O. Better scurry back to your reefs, please, ’fore things get freaky.
We know ’t’s you, O’Beefesteak. We could tell by your verbal vomit everywhere, Clearbeard said with her head thrown back.
Be a good cupcake & come down here.
You know I’d love to; but I’m just slammed. Gotta hit those deadlines in DirtWorld 2.0, ¿you know?.
No, but I don’t think we’re heartbroken ’bout it, said Jolly Jim.
Hmm… Let’s take the stairs. I don’t doubt that Beefsteak can control all o’ the lightning shit & screw with us if we’re inside 1.
Halfway up the steps, they saw a silent man in a white suit. He didn’t speak or e’en look Clearbeard in the eye. He only clogged the passageway.
Make way, mannequin, said Clearbeard.
You don’t want to get poled. She raised her saber.
Still the man didn’t respond. So Clearbeard pierced its belly with the tip o’ her saber. The man’s body sunk into itself as air whistled out — so strongly that Clearbeard could feel its warm thickness on her face. ’Ventually the man was left as just a flabby puddle.
I warned you, was all Clearbeard said ’fore continuing her climb.
3 / 4 the way up, they saw ’nother white suited man; but rather than standing statuesque, he banded down the stair 2 @ a time. Clearbeard held her arm & saber up with her feet planted like roots with Jilly Jim & Buzzjaw holding on ’hind her. However, when the man reached them, he only siddled round them & continued down the stairs. Just to be sure, Clearbeard turned round & watched him disappear past the spiraling wall.
Let’s hope the others are as wise, Clearbeard said as she resumed their rise.
Elbowing through the top door was as easy as through the front. She could hear Beefsteak’s voice taper off just after hearing the slam. Unlucky for him, Clearbeard could clearly see the electric gadgets round his ears & mouth. She pressed him back to his console with her sword trained on his stomach & swiped the whole can-&-mouth contraption. She put the top part to her ear, but only heard silence. Impatient, she tossed it ’cross the room & focused back on Beefsteak. Though his smile was as wide as a porthole, she could see his legs wobbling like drunk tentacles.
You’ve been being such a rude host, Beefsteak. ¿Aren’t you gonna tell us ’bout the contraption?, Clearbeard said as she poked O’Beefe.
O’Beefe laughed & adjusted his bowtie.
O, you don’t want me to bore you with all the details. Gotta get to the punch, as they say.
Then get to the punch ’fore I do. Clearbeard clutched her unsabered hand.
For starters, ¿how’d a doofus like you learn to use such a thing?.
As they say, practice —
Clearbeard grapsed O’Beefe by his collar & leaned forward.
Don’t cowshit me, cowboy: I can see this shitsburg from the sea, & I know by Leviathan that this shit wasn’t all here mere hours ago — much less all o’ that shit you’ve been doing to my seas. ¿Who’s helping you?.
O, well, there’s my guards you just s — ¡aw! The last part was screeched as Clearbeard shoved her foot deep into his crotch.
It’ll only get worse for you if — she shoved him ’way from the console.
& don’t think I trust you round that.
O’Beefe spread his hands out.
All righty, I’ll tell you how to — & then he turned & sprinted down the steps, so quickly that they could hear him shout as he tumbled down like a boulder down a cliff.
Cap’n Yellowspine’s parrot couldn’t sail a better ship.
She turned back to the console & examined all its buttons & levers.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim, I want you to search this whole tower & see if you can find any instructions or any other friends o’ Beefsteak’s hanging round.
Left ’lone, Cap’n Clearbeard thought, Forget what those weed-bearded Mad Socks say: I don’t need no magic rituals; I can flood the world myself.
To be continued…