Dawn’s shuddering teeth weren’t just due to the freezing rain that poured o’er them.
She said loudly o’er the deluge,
This is going to sound silly, — a rarity from me, I know — ¿but do either o’ you feel a strange mix o’… thrill ’bout everything, but also skin-numbing horror @ the fact that we’re probably going to be pummeled to death by the baddest arsenals @ nature’s disposal?. A laugh rattled out from the back o’ Dawn’s throat, as dizzily as everything else in the wind.
You get used to it, Autumn said without looking back @ her, her voice almost smothered to silence.
Dawn leaned forward, licked her lips, & said,
¿You have a plan?.
O…. Dawn leaned back, but without letting her smile wane.
¿So you’re just going to do it live?.
As it turned out, Autumn realized she did feel something different as she climbed o’er a fallen trunk: her acknowledgement & acceptance that she was probably dead — but now out in the messy, cool, silver air ’stead o’ cloistered in boiling darkness — jolted her senses beyond their usual attention. While her body moved mo’ slowly than she’d expect in such chill & such danger, her attention raced o’er every detail o’ every piece she touched: the soggy smell o’ greening wood, spongy cardboard under her fingers.
…back when I was in secondary school & my biology class went on a field trip to this science institute where we examined lobstrosities on a beach….
¿Huh?, Autumn asked as she glanced ’hind herself.
I said, this reminds me o’ a time I was on a field trip @ a beach. ’Twas truly windy that day & there were tons o’ fallen sprigs & such. Obviously not as many as now, though.
Hmm…. Autumn’s bridge creased as her irises passed left & right.
¿We lost?, asked Dawn.
Maybe. I’m trying to remember our way back to that tower.
Can’t blame you. I can hardly see anything in these sheets o’ showers. Dawn lifted her raindrop-stained hands like basins.
My jacket’s getting so wet that I feel like I’ll collapse under its weight.
Yes, I wondered ’bout that….
¿You think its a — it’s foreboding something?.
Almost the opposite: ¿why’s he making it rain so much when he can just strike anything he wants with lightning? ¿Is he showing a rare use o’ calm, calculation & figured ’twas mo’ efficient to murder everyone through an all-encompassing flood than by a billion bolts?.
That’s dark. ¿You truly think he just wants to kill everyone here?, said Dawn.
There is an alternative….
Our ol’ pal could be bluffing.
¿What d’you mean? We can see it all all round us — we saw Atlas Tower get hit ourselves.
We saw that before his announcement, ’long with everything else. He ne’er proved he was ’hind it.
So… ¿You think he’s just taking credit for something someone else did? ¿Why would he do that?, said Dawn.
¿To bolster his shriveled ego in others’ eyes? ¿To make them fearful o’ him? I don’t know his mind. Wouldn’t want to, honestly.
Well, then maybe that means he can’t kill us all then. That’d be good.
No, it’d be worse.
You mentioned someone else being ’hind this, but you ignore a better hypothesis — surprising, since a scientist like you should’ve guessed it immediately.
¿What? ¿That some aliens are ’hind it? ¿Some hyperevolved lobstrosities?.
& nature’s far harder to foil than douches in tweed suits & bowties.
Autumn & Dawn both looked down round the same time. Dawn raised a foot out from the turbid lake now surrounding them.
You don’t think that flood thing’ll truly happen, ¿do you?.
With a steel face still aimed @ her invisible feet, Autumn said,
I don’t accept guarantees for anything anymo’.
The high-pitched drone o’ the rain & gusts was accompanied by guttural sloshing o’ Autumn’s feet as she hastened ’head.
Come. Let’s hurry.
Edgar & Dawn matched her pace.
The waves appeared to pulse under the reflection o’ the lightning, bouncing back & forth ’long their parabolic tips.
Dawn almost choked from the laughter & panting. She couldn’t tell if the former truly didn’t affect Autumn or if Autumn was just forcing her face still; but still, ’twas as Autumn stared onward in consummate concentration, all 3 pushing themselves forward equally on their fir boat by boughs. Said boat kept rocking every so oft, clearly bumping into things that were unclear.
Dawn laughed dryly.
@ this rate we won’t hardly recognize Boskeopolis anymo’.
In monotone, Autumn replied,
Yeah. It makes me wonder if there’ll be much left to save by the time we’re done.
They were both silent after that, leaving the steady but light songs o’ the falling rain & slushing waves to fill in for them. No matter how much Dawn shifted in her seat, she still felt a stale folded-cloth constriction all round her.
But her attention was yanked back to the present when she heard Autumn say,
I think I see it leaving the distance.
Dawn looked up & saw a needle that appeared to glow cyan slowly grow from the horizon into a shiny brick tower. If one squinted @ the clouds ’hind it, one could glimpse a pulsing white halo gainst its back.
As Edgar stared @ it, he couldn’t help noticing something err ’bout it. Just after he thought this, Autumn said,
You’ll notice King Claptrap’s citadel looks different.
¿Huh?. Dawn leaned forward.
Wonder what that means, muttered Autumn.
¿Did he finally find time to redecorate?. She sat up stretched with tensed tendons.
Won’t matter now: we have direr dilemmas.
I’m surprised he hasn’t spotted us & zapped us flylike yet, said Dawn.
We shouldn’t criticize him too early; he still has a chance. Speaking o’ which….
She turned back to Edgar, scooted o’er to him, & held his hand.
In case we die, let’s perform our final rites, she said ’fore kissing him, as well as sticking her other hand up Edgar’s robe.
Hey, ¿where’s mine?, said Dawn.
You have to make the 1st move, said Autumn.
So Dawn slid o’er to them & wrapped her arms round them both, squeezing them.
With choppy words, Autumn said,
Now let’s do it without wrecking our sternums, please. We need to give O’Beefe the opportunity.
Sorry. I’m just… I dunno….
Fucked, that’s what, said Autumn;
that’s why we call this our final rites.
This didn’t mollify Dawn’s amusement, but spread it to Autumn in a milder dose.
¿Now who’s the grimly pleased ’tween us?.
Cap’n, I see some possible challengers heading for our tower…. Jolly Jim Joe Jim squinted.
Folks I reckon I remember.
Cap’n Clearbeard grabbed his shoulder.
Let me see.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim stepped back & Clearbeard stopped in his previous place, peering through the telescope with her good eye.
Sí, I recognize them: it’s the thief & her bony bitch. Clearbeard stepped back from the telescope.
Don’t recognize the other bitch, though. Must be new.
¿What’ll you do to them, Cap’n?.
Clearbeard scratched her head.
Dunno. Might want to play with them, honestly. Plus, they’re too close to zap ’em or flood ’em without causing damage to ourselves.
You’re in charge, Jolly Jim Joe Jim said with a shrug.
Clearbeard looked back out the window, watching with part pleasure the nearby raindrops looking like they were crushing the far’way intruders whilst she drummed her fingers on the sill.
The question is how we should play….
I wouldn’t know a thing, said Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
Honest as always.
Jolly Jim Joe Jim stiffened @ this, but said nothing.
It won’t budge, Autumn said as she jerked the door a cm back & forth.
Guess he was smart ’nough to foil the easiest invasion.
¿Want me to try my hairpin?, asked Dawn.
The knob turns; there’s something blocking the door from the other side.
Autumn looked skyward & spied some windows — but far up the top.
¿Wanna try human pyramid?, Autumn asked as she backed some steps & bent down.
Dawn climbed onto her back, & then Edgar climbed onto hers; but when they all stood, Edgar found that the windows were still mo’ than ’nother someone’s meters ’bove them.
’Pon dismounting, Autumn pulled out her rope hook & flung it up toward the window, only to find she couldn’t throw it high ’nough.
This is terrible luck, said Dawn.
No, we can combine our 2 failed techniques, said Autumn.
So they rebuilt their pyramid, with Autumn atop, & this time, after a few tries, Autumn was able to clasp the shot’s metal claw onto the bottom lip o’ the window. However, as she was tightening it down, she saw a bony gray hand holding a lit match lean out & hold the fire up to the rope.
Fuck. ¿Do I try climbing, hoping I reach the top ’fore it’s broken, or try salvaging the hook?.
Won’t need it now, anyway.
Thus begun her ascent; but ’fore she e’en reached a meter up, the rope broke, plummeting her down onto the pyramid, causing all its contents to crumble to a pile, including the hook, which slammed Autumn on the right arm, to her exclaimed curses.
Returning to her feet, Dawn said,
Autumn rose, rubbing her right shoulder.
Yeah. Should only be glad it didn’t land on my head.
So Dawn & Edgar sat cross-legged round some rocks while Autumn paced there & here, inspecting the impenetrable fortress.
I guess our best chance is ramming the door in sync, said Dawn.
& I left my spike shell @ home, too.
That shit’s as hard as a rock — not to mention whatever’s holding it back, replied Autumn.
No, I’m thinking our best bet is if I can climb the niches in the bricks; but then, whoever’s in there’ll probably spill something out to cause me to fall — probably scalding oil, knowing my luck.
¿Who’s in there?.
I saw a skeletal arm reach out to break the rope.
Dawn’s eyes enlarged; but they were nothing compared to the expression on Edgar’s face.
¿It broke the rope with just a naked hand?, said Dawn.
¿That thick thing?.
No: it just torched it. But ’twas still skeletal — literally, as opposed to metaphorically.
¿Who else could be in… there? — Ugh.
Dawn & Edgar rose, Dawn yanking out the now-damp back hem o’ her jacket to see a puddle stretching under their legs. Autumn, having turned back to see what caused Dawn’s disturbance, was now looking down @ the puddle as it quickly reached the soles o’ her shoes. But its speed was bespoken e’en mo’ by the harshness with which it slammed gainst the walls o’ the tower, splashing water onto the already-sopping bottom-sleeves o’ her sweats splayed o’er her shoes.
It seems we have a time limit, said Autumn, staring lazily @ her feet.
Dawn, wanting mo’ info, looked up to see the puddle quickly spreading ’cross the land to the horizon. She looked back down to see that the surface was rapidly rising & ’twas already halfway up her shoes.
I thought the tower was only capable o’ shooting lightning, Dawn said with quivering lips.
Autumn began rubbing her chin.
Might be that O’Beefe — or whoever — struck something holding back a river or something, causing it to flood out. ¿Weren’t there a few beaver-made levees on the western side o’ Boskeopolis? — like Odd Dam, I think.
¿What now?, Dawn asked, widemouthed.
We find higher ground or we drown, said Autumn.
Dawn turned her head round the vicinity. Other than the loose groups o’ firs, she couldn’t find much that’d work.
¿Can you climb trees, perhaps?, asked Dawn.
Autumn shook her head.
There’s a risk that the flood’ll ’ventually cause the trees to fall o’er — not to mention the risk o’ Castle O’Beefe shooting its lightning @ us… but then, I guess they haven’t struck us yet, so maybe we’re too close or something. The water isn’t going inside the tower, though. Our best bet is probably to find a way inside. We need to, anyway, to protect ourselves from everything else it can do. She took a deep breath & looked down. The sea level was already up to Autumn’s ankles.
But — fuck — I can’t think o’ anything.
Wait: you can swim, ¿right?.
Yeah. Edgar can’t, though. ¿Can you?.
Uh huh. Learned it back in 2nd grade during a summer vacation, ’long with a few cousins o’ mine. That was the day we came up with that game — .
We don’t have time for autobiographies, said Autumn.
¿What was the inspiration you obviously had? I hope you’re not thinking we’ll just hang ’bout swimming fore’ever….
O. Sorry. No, what I was thinking was, ¿what if the water — the surface, I mean — what if it reaches the window ’fore we get tired?.
It’s rising so quickly, that’s likely… if…. Autumn paused, & the cringed. She stepped toward Dawn, only to realize ’twas probably needless halfway through. She whispered,
That is if the water doesn’t stop ’fore it reaches the window, & then instantly added,
but then, I can’t imagine how they’d just stop the water wherever they want.
Dawn looked down @ what was quickly growing into a lake, lifting a foot now dripping, its formerly white sock as dim-gray as the sky.
¿You think we ought to try protecting the rest o’ her clothes in case we need them to be dry? You know, to prevent hypothermia.
I don’t think we’ll last out here long ’nough for that to be a concern — though you ne’er know, said Autumn.
Plus, Edgar doesn’t have anything under his robe. But then, he can’t swim, anyway, so perhaps we should help him up to drier heights. Might have to try the trees. We ought to, anyway: e’en if we’ll have to swim in it, no need to stay in it till the end. ’Sides, might trick ’em. Plus, ¿who knows how perilous or illness-filled this water is?.
Dawn wrapped hands round her.
Plus I’m cold.
So Autumn led them @ a trudge to the nearest fir & they formed a human ladder with Dawn @ the top so she could reach a lower branch. Then Edgar latched onto Autumn’s back & Autumn climbed up after Dawn.
Trouble is, we’ll soon have to go higher, anyway — if this tree isn’t knocked o’er, said Autumn, staring down @ the new ocean.
It’s good ’nough for now. Dawn hung her legs o’er the edge o’ the bough & scraped the debris clinging to the bottom o’ her tights. Then she frowned.
I wonder ’bout everyone else here, though….
If they were smart, they would’ve flown the fuck outta this war zone long ago, said Autumn.
Some can’t afford plane tickets — if planes are still running.
Autumn tilted her head.
This reminds me more o’ the Old Testament.
Yeah…. Dawn let out a limp laugh.
I’m not surprised you’d incline mo’ toward that god.
He was mo’ efficient back then; he just missed a few, is all.
Dawn smiled uncomfortably.
Perhaps we shouldn’t joke ’bout that….
The conversation tapered out from there. In the quiet, they could hear the bob & splotch o’ the waves bouncing round. It unnerved Edgar, making him feel as if the water weren’t an inanimate object, but some thick creature that was spreading round them, cognizant, but apathetic to them or all matters o’ civilization.
¿Did you hear what 1 o’ them said ’bout the water level rising?, asked Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
Aye, the red-head’s quite clever, said Clearbeard.
But it’s not like they can do nothing, anyway; we o’erpowered her troupes before, & we’ll do it ’gain. Let ’em work ’fore we let ’em bite our hook.
Mmm. Jolly Jim Joe Jim’s eyes wandered round the room, only to stop & widen ’pon something.
Cap’n, I think I found an easier way to deal with them….
I think it’s getting close…, said Autumn.
Autumn stood & began to unzip her jacket & pull off her T-shirt & sweats down to her bathing suit. Dawn & Edgar stayed seated. Autumn had already discussed her plan during the past 10 minutes; now she was merely scouting ’head to see what they were up gainst ’fore they’d enact their actual invasion.
Make sure these don’t fall in, please, Autumn said as she hung her o’erclothes o’er their e’ergreen shelter’s elbow. She then picked up her binoculars.
¿Want me to hold them in my lap?, asked Dawn.
No, I want my pants to dry; & judging by the way you were staring @ me, I think your lap’s the last place I want them.
Ew, that’s gross.
I know, ¿innit? Some people, though….
Autumn dropped down into the ocean & swam to a point in front o’ the window, but still far ’way, & used the binoculars to see inside. There she saw not O’Beefe @ all, but, o’ all people, Cap’n Clearbeard & her 2 carnival henchmen. The skeletal crocodile was the closest, & she was glad she noticed him, for she then noticed what was in his hands & then felt her heart gasp — ’specially ’pon looking up & seeing him watch her.
She turned back to the tree & shouted,
¡Dawn! ¡Drop the rope!, ’fore swimming back toward the tree as quickly as she could.
¡O shit!, Dawn shouted as she scrambled for the backpack.
Edgar, hold this while I get the rope.
But by the time she found the rope, Autumn was already scaling the tree. A moment after, they heard a splash.
Autumn increased the speed o’ her ascent till she reached the branch on which Dawn & Edgar sat & began panting wildly.
¿What’s wrong?, asked Dawn.
We’re fucked, Autumn gasped.
Dawn did, & then muttered,
O God…, as she saw sickly yellow sparks crawl all ’long the sea surface.
¿Did they throw a toaster in or something?.
¡Hell no! ¡He threw in something that was fucking sparking already! ¡A toaster wouldn’t have done shit like that thing!.
¿Who was it? ¿Did you see?, asked Dawn.
Autumn grasped her forehead.
’Twas some undead crocodile henchman o’ Cap’n Clearbeard — You don’t know ’bout her. But she’s far mo’ competent than ol’ O’Beefe.
¿Have you robbed her?.
¿What now?, said Dawn.
We die. I told you, we’re fucked: e’en if this flood ’ventually stopped ris — ¡Look!. Autumn’s eyes bugged out. She pointed out to a floating trunk.
That might happen to our tree. These things are nothing compared to the power o’ floods.
Dawn squeezed the wooden arm under her.
It doesn’t feel particularly unsteady.
Yeah, & it seems to be slowing a bit, Autumn said as her breathing began to ease.
Maybe that’s from closer to where the flood began, where there was a stronger current. Yeah, it looks like it’s going — O….
Autumn’s face fell.
That’s probably our only chance o’ survival — very low. We’re fucked.
¿What? ¿How? ¿We use it as a boat?, said Dawn, staring @ it.
Our only chance…. Autumn bit her lip.
I just hope it doesn’t conduct the electricity to us… Shouldn’t, though, since trees are bad @ conduction — if it did, it should set fire.
’Course, this’ll only work if the tree reaches us, anyway, & it probably won’t….
The 3 sat staring @ the log floating so peacefully, despite the leaping sparks surrounding it. Dawn stared @ it with a muffled frown, her chin in her upraised hands; Edgar’s vision flicked round him; Autumn held a half-sitting, half-standing crouched position while tightly grasping their bough, her eyes penetrating into its grains. She was breathing heavily, still feeling the sparks o’ anxiety from her race ’way from the sparks o’ death.
Fuck, Autumn said with an exhale.
I’d almost rather just jump in & go out than sit here waiting for that fucking thing to take its time to maybe come o’er here.
Dawn turned to Autumn.
I still have that enlarged leaf glider….
Autumn stared @ Dawn for a second, her eyes thinning in absorption. She noticed Dawn’s side bangs bouncing forward & back, ’way from Dawn’s face, as if trying to ’scape — or rather, as if being nudged o’er & o’er ’gain.
Get it out.
¿You sure it’s safe?.
Nothing’s safe — & trying to procrastinate danger only creates mo’ danger.
While Dawn dug her glider out o’ 1 o’ her million superspacial jacket pockets, Autumn dug through her backpack & pulled out her reward for surviving half a work month to herself: her “water bottle”.
Here it is, Dawn said as she held her glider up.
Autumn unscrewed the cap o’ her bottle & took a meaty chug. With a few drops o’ its translucent liquid falling from her lower lips, she said,
Let’s fucking do it, darling. She figured this would probably give it ’way, — & so soon — but was too thirsty to care.
Sure ’nough, she noticed Dawn staring @ her, but with a bit o’ humor in her confusion.
I know it’s just water; shut up & give it here, she said as she put her “water” ’way.
Only if I can come, too, said Dawn.
Edgar raised a hand & said,
Your funerals, said Autumn.
Autumn reached down & snapped a branch off the branch on which they were sitting.
¿What’s that for?, asked Dawn.
We’ll need an oar, ¿won’t we?.
& with that Autumn took the glider while Dawn & Edgar chained arms round her back. Autumn gazed in wait @ the target oak, so tiny @ its distance, & dropped a heavy breath.
Jump @ 0. 3… 2… 1… 0.
The trio leapt ’head as far as they could & then felt the wind carry them forward. All were silent as they stared sweat-headed @ the sliver o’ a log on which they had to land, leaving just the thwaps o’ their flapping sleeves like fall leaves.
Then Autumn’s eyes dilated.
¿What?, called back Dawn.
We’re too high up: when we land on it, our weight’ll push it down underwater. We’re fucked.
¿What if we took it all the way to the tower?.
The window’s far higher than whence we dropped; but I guess I could try latching onto the niches ’tween its bricks. Not sure if that’s safer than dropping onto the log, though.
So she held tight to the glider & held an e’en tighter sight on the tombstone-tinted brick wall gradually popping into detail. Halfway there, she said,
Mount my shoulder when we near the wall & be prepared to take the glider the second we hit the wall.
But this time ’twas Dawn who licked her lips & sweat, & thought, ¿How precisely will I have to do this? I doubt I’ll do it well ’nough….
She began climbing when she saw the tower wall stretch past the limits o’ her vision, but found that they bumped into the wall sooner than she’d expected. She grabbed the glider a second after & held it o’er her head while she heard the scrape o’ Autumn’s shoe gainst stone. A moment later, they halted. Dawn could feel a slight bounce from the wind hitting their glider, only to bounce back into their latched place.
Then she felt their position gradually rise & looked down to see Autumn climbing notch by notch, only to stop when they heard a noise from far ’way & felt the wall vibrate under them. Autumn tightened her grasp, causing her fingers to pinch painfully, & muttered,
However, the vibrations quickly vanished, & Autumn resumed their ascent. ’Ventually they reached a few meters from the roof & stopped. Dawn thought to herself, I don’t dare look down….
We must hush after this, ¿’K?, said Autumn.
But 1st, the plan: Edgar, ¿can you take out 1 o’ my smoke bombs & put it in my pocket, please?.
Progress on the landhumpers, Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
They rode some magical leaf somewhere past my vision, Cap’n.
Resourceful, ¿aren’t they?.
Jolly Jim crossed his arms.
But they still won’t be able to do anything without going to the window, so there’s nothing they can do.
I do hope they hurry, though. Clearbeard leaned back in her chair in front o’ the console & stretched her arms out with a yawn.
I’ve done all I find interesting to do here. Wanna go watch the plankton dances.
But Jolly Jim was jabbed to attention when he heard a crash & felt the world throttle under him. Clearbeard’s reaction was somewhat mo’ mild: just sitting up straighter with a perplexed look.
Seems they’re mo’ resourceful than you think, said Clearbeard.
Jolly Jim had already turned back to the window.
Could be a ruse… ¿Should 1 o’ us check down there?.
Might as well. I can watch out the window, anyway, said Clearbeard.
It didn’t take Jolly Jim long to find out the cause o’ the disruption.
You’re damn right they’re resourceful, Cap’n, she heard Jolly Jim’s tunnel-vision voice say from the bottom floor:
they blew a hole in the front door. The whole bottom 2 floors are already flooded.
Clearbeard’s eyes screwed a bit, though she didn’t take her eyes off the gray sky outside.
Now, ¿why would they do that? ¿Do they not know who’s in here? ¿Do they not know that we’re better underwater? I mean, if they want to make this an aquatic tower, by all means.
Um, ’bout that…, called out Jolly Jim’s voice.
¿You notice that thing I threw into the water to stop our toy — .
Ah yes. Clearbeard tapped her fingers gainst the console.
A taste o’ our medicine, I s’pose. But it’s still not too much a problem: this top level is ’bove the surface, ¿right? Just blow a hole in the wall below this level so that it ’scapes back outside ’fore reaching us.
O. That may not be necessary, called out Jolly Jim, his voice becoming clearer as he went back up the steps.
I think there’s already windows round here.
Make mo’ just in case, said Clearbeard.
But something still stirred uneasily in Clearbeard’s mind: ¿How did they do that without touching the water? Surely they didn’t just toss a bomb — .
Clearbeard’s thoughts were interrupted by an explosion o’ thick smoke filling her face.
Just as Clearbeard was pulling out her saber, she felt a shoulder slam her to the side, knocking her sword ’cross the room. Multiple people held her down while 1 cuffed her writsts & ’nother cuffed her feet. All the while she was coughing — Clearbeard so much that she couldn’t call for Jolly Jim, & e’en Buzzjaw couldn’t inform everyone for the umpteenth time his quality o’ being a giant fish.
She recognized 1 o’ the muffled voices.
I don’t see the crock anywhere here.
Quite an elaborate distraction, I must say, thought Clearbeard.
But Clearbeard was surprised she hadn’t heard Jolly Jim call out for her. Surely he knows what’s going on; he can’t be that deaf.
’Stead her ears filled with the clattering o’ feet, — rodent movement — till that was broken up by heavier clattering, & the ponytailed rat yelping out.
However, Clearbeard didn’t have long to smile. After the sound o’ shattering glass, she heard Jolly Jim’s voice cry out.
Some other woman was breathing heavily.
We should bandage that.
I’m fine, murmured the ponytailed rat.
That was near, said the other woman.
Then ’nother strange voice said,
Near, but no nicotine….
There were curses, followed by the soft sound o’ moving air, — probably a silencer or something — & then dropped bodies.
Then she heard the knocking sound o’ feet clambering upstairs & scraping meat & cloth gainst wood. By this point the smoke had dissipated ’nough so that Clearbeard could see the entrance to the room clearly. There she saw enter not the ponytailed rat, but some utterly unfamiliar woman in shades, dragging Jolly Jim’s handcuffed body. The woman stared straight @ Clearbeard.
You should feel proud, said the strange woman:
I respect you as a threat ’nough not to risk playing with you.
She dragged Jolly Jim straight toward the window. All Clearbeard could do was push all o’ her strength into flopping round on the ground in the hopes o’ being able to get up — & failing miserably.
You’d be less risky not to do that, Clearbeard said angrily.
Halt & we’ll leave peacefully. Else… You don’t want the wrath o’ Atlantis on you….
Your threats’re just as useless as your interpretive dance there, said the strange woman just ’fore shoving Jolly Jim’s struggling body out the window.
Then the strange woman hustled o’er to her. With her voice deepened by exertion, she said,
Don’t worry: you’ll get to join your lover in his grave, as she lifted Clearbeard off the ground & hefted her toward the window.
Clearbeard’s mind was already rocked by pure adrenaline ’fore she hit the water & felt the electricity drill through her body till it knocked her out with pain.
Autumn sat up to find herself locked back to a 5-ton weight with what she soon recognized as her own handcuffs. She marveled @ her luck. She could feel Edgar locked just ’side her while Dawn was trapped in some glass container, gazing bemusedly.
But then her breathing caught up when she saw the culprit: sitting before her was the familiar stranger in shades: “Dagny”, or whatever her true name was.
Dagny spread her knuckles.
It’s been a long time.
¿What are you doing here?, Autumn said, her voice hoarse from rusty sleep.
Dagny stretched back in her seat.
I could ask the same as you.
Autumn’s brows fell.
’Cause you knocked me out & locked me here.
Dagny rolled her eyes.
Smart assery won’t get you far with the person under whose control your life lies.
My goal was to destroy this tower so it wasn’t killing everyone for no reason, since it’s quite hard to rob people when they & their goods are completely obliterated, said Autumn as she shifted her knees out & in.
Dagny threw a hand back.
Well, looks like your boring goal’s failed….
Autumn raised a brow.
¿Why are we still ’live?.
You’d rather I’d killed you in your sleep… Yes, that would be easy for you, ¿wouldn’t it?.
Autumn’s brows crumpled.
It’d be easier for you, too.
Not as fun, though.
Autumn stared @ Dagny as one might stare @ crayon scribbles o’er a finance book, but didn’t say anything — couldn’t say anything. If she derives joy purely from my pain, ¿what use could be communication ’tween us?.
Dagny swung back to her console.
I s’pose you wouldn’t think much if I were to blast a few places here & there. She began manipulating the controls in ways Autumn couldn’t see clearly, & then jerked her attention upward @ the sound o’ thunder shooting just ’bove, like muffled gun shots, rapid, rapid, rapid.
Autumn licked her lips. She could see Dawn & Edgar’s gaping expressions; though, as she thought ’bout it mo’, she couldn’t help noticing the dissonance o’ their reactions — as if this were different from the damage already done.
Still, while O’Beefe & Clearbeard’s actions & motivations weren’t clearly viewed, here Autumn could clearly see Dagny deliberately blasting people.
Must not be fun for you to watch me obliterate your potential marks & their precious goods & be completely debilitated from being able to hinder me in the slightest, huh, said Dagny.
Sure, said Autumn. Though she tried to tell herself that there’s nothing she could do to stop Dagny, she still felt her nerves pinch with the urge to rush up & stop Dagny somehow.
I must say, I’m surprised you haven’t asked why your badly-dressed friend is in that glass cage o’er there. Autumn looked up @ the smile on Dagny from which this statement came.
¿Did you e’en notice?.
¿Why?, asked Autumn.
A neat scientific experiment o’ whoever built this place I found lying ’bout down below, said Dagny. She added,
& I like science, as she pressed a button.
Autumn turned to the glass cage to see the tube @ the top begin leaking in liquid.
Don’t worry, it’s not electrified, so she won’t go in the exciting way the pirate friends you conveniently debilitated for me did.
Autumn’s mind raced. Fuck practicality. I can’t let her die. If she’s ’bout to die… I can’t do it. Better nothing then….
Autumn didn’t hide her horror, but aimed it straight @ Dagny’s growing smile.
I’ll admit, I maybe ought to have tried seeing if your skeleton buddy there would drown, but didn’t want to take the risk. Maybe after this 1.
¿Is there anything I can say that’ll do something?, thought Autumn.
By this point, Dawn’s cage was already full o’ water. Dawn was holding her face with cringing eyes. To Autumn’s surprise, Dawn wasn’t kicking her legs or struggling much, but only slightly vibrating. Smart ’nough to know that struggling would only waste air.
Dagny laughed as she lifted a cigarette & began lighting it.
I can just imagine such cute li’l lungs currently being shriveled.
Dawn’s shaking began to become mo’ violent, her grip on her face tightening, till finally Autumn saw bubbles spurt from under Dawn’s hands.
Jesus…, Autumn muttered. She raised her voice.
Alright. Whatever. Just kill her already, if that’s what you’re going to do. Anything but this — this is… ¡Augh! ¡God!. Autumn was breathing heavily herself by this point.
But she was staring @ Dawn closely.
O, god, I’m terrible. ¿Why aren’t I doing something now? ¿What are you waiting for?.
There was a click o’ a button, & then Autumn saw with a sharp intake o’ breath the water level in Dawn’s cage quickly fall, with swirly movement ’bove the floor from which the water was clearly being sucked.
As soon as the water level went below Dawn’s face, she threw her head back & began gasping & coughing. As the water reached the bottom, Dawn fell on her knees, wobbling in place, while blood spilled from her nose & tears from her face, her coughs & exhales mixed with curt sobs.
Autumn turned carved-wide eyes to Dagny, who was grinning cheek-to-cheek.
Enjoy that feeling o’ relief while you can, said Dagny;
’cause I can take it ’way anytime I want with the simple press o’ a button — Dagny held a rapidly-bending finger o’er the console —
just as I can to the rest o’ this city — probably the world. Meanwhile, you can’t e’en press a button — & when I’m done with you, you may ne’er have the chance to press a button e’er ’gain…. Dagny laughed.
I can’t blame you for being a bit miffed.
Autumn continued to stare @ Dagny hatefully, but said nothing.
But Dagny was wrong: had Autumn absolutely no control, had she been completely debilitated, she’d have felt no stress, for she’d have no choices, no differing consequences o’er which she’d have to vacillate…
The last dozen minutes after Dagny began snoring were the worst, but Autumn forced herself to endure them.
She muttered to Edgar with the tired tone o’ 1 who’s said it a million times,
Try not to be bothered by my snores — though with hers, I doubt it’ll matter, anyway.
Then Autumn pulled a key out from a niche on the inside o’ her pants & used it to unlock her cuffs.
She slowly dropped her hands, while keeping them ’hind her. Her eyes were locked on Dagny’s face. The hairs on her arms straightened @ every stir & sound from Dagny. She put a hand in her pocket, where she was surprised to still find a smoke bomb. Uppedy dipshit. I won’t make the mistake with you, you shriveled sack o’ filth. Her other hand kept the cuffs in-hand.
She slowly rose & crept toward Dagny, her grip on both items tightening. Then, ’pon getting just half a meter from Dagny, she rushed for Dagny’s wrists & snapped the cuffs on in 1 quick motion. Dagny stirred, but kept her eyes closed & her mouth open, leaking mo’ drool o’er her sleeping bag.
The next thing Autumn did was dig through Dagny’s pockets & take her sleeper. She then took everything else o’ Dagny’s just to be thorough. She dropped her pack & pulled out a spare rope & used that to tie up Dagny’s wrists & ankles — in case Dagny happened to have a key hidden on her somewhere, too. Fuck it: pays to be paranoid. Then, to be extra sure, & admittedly for her own personal desires, she took out a roll o’ tape & plastered Dagny’s mouth with it.
When she was finally finished, she stood a few centimeters back from Dagny, staring down tiredly @ Dagny while she held the poison-purple-filled window in the corner o’ her eye.
I ought to throw her out the window. I should kill her. It’d be safest, — not only for us, but for the rest o’ society — & would be justified, considering what she’s done already. In terms o’ pure practicality, there’d be many pros & no cons. To oppose killing her would be pure abstract superstition — & would risk mo’ consequentially-equivalent deaths if she got free than her 1. ¿& wouldn’t that be equivalent to killing those people? ¿Who cares if it’s “direct” or “indirect”? — & if I locked onto that distinction, ¿could I argue that just throwing her out the window & letting the sea kill her is no mo’ a “direct” kill than letting someone I know will murder mo’ people given the chance still keep the faculties that may be later used to do so?.
Autumn knew that if she were ’lone, she might do it; but she knew that Edgar & Dawn were superstitious, & was deathly ’fraid o’ what their reaction may be…
She dug through her pack till she found her flashlight & walked o’er to Dawn’s glass cage, where Dawn was shivering with her eyes closed. Autumn knocked her fist on the glass & whispered her name. Dawn whimpered & opened her eyes — & then widened them when she saw Autumn standing before her.
Scoot back & be calm, Autumn said in a deep voice. When Dawn did so, Autumn stood back, held the flashlight to her side with a few li’l circle swings, & then swung it with full force @ the glass repeatedly, rapidly. ’Ventually, cracks began to grow ’long the front, where Autumn was hitting it, followed by falling shards. She kept hitting it, kept breaking off shards, to the point that all o’ her focus locked on it, till she figured the stress that Dawn had to endure waiting while that heavy slamming strummed so nearby probably outweighed the risk o’ cutting her on glass. She stopped & stood back with a hand inviting Dawn out.
O, thank you, Dawn said in a quiet tone, her voice still raspy.
¿You OK?, said Autumn.
Autumn walked o’er to Edgar & unlocked him from the weight.
They all gazed round the tower, with particular focus on the controls & Dagny lying tied up on the ground with her eyes closed.
We already know you’re ’wake, so you can stop pretending, if you want, said Autumn.
It’ll do you no good, since I’ve been watching you closely e’en while you were still ’sleep.
Dagny didn’t respond.
So, ¿what now?, said Dawn.
I guess we’re the ones in control o’ the tower now.
Woo-ee, said Autumn.
Unfortunately, unlike most o’ the people we seem to encounter today, I’m less interested in murdering random people arbitrarily & mo’ concerned with such petty issues like how we’re going to be kept fed & other health problems.
Dawn’s eyes widened.
O god… The flood… the electricity….
Yeah, said Autumn without a change in expression.
Dagny was probably bluffing, since there’s probably no one else in Boskeopolis still ’live. Admittedly, Clearbeard was far mo’ evil than Dagny — though that, I think, was more out o’ callousness than sociopathic fetishes.
Felix & Violet…, said Dawn.
They’re definitely dead, said Autumn with a galeful inhale.
No way they were able to fly out o’ here. They’re gone.
So, I guess we have no idea what we should do now, huh…, said Dawn.
I have a plan already. Autumn bent down & dug through her pack.
O’Beefe was actually quite right: I am a terrorist — albeit 1 with far mo’ tedious goals than whatever fun fantasies flowed through O’Beefe, Clearbeard, or Dagny’s faulty wires. She pulled out what looked like a laptop. When she saw Dawn’s twisted brows, she said,
This is a bomb. We’re going to blow this tower up so no one can use it ’gain.
Dawn nodded slowly.
’Course, where we go, I don’t know….
Dawn bit her lips.
I still have that leaf….
¿So we can sit on a tree for days till we slowly die o’ dehydration or hypothermia?, said Autumn.
You can, if you want. But I’d prefer to get it o’er with.
Dawn’s frown fell farther.
& all communication lines are down, aren’t they, so we can’t e’en call for outside help.
We’re dead. All o’ Boskeopolis is. Better amputate it than spread it to the rest o’ the world.
But then Dawn’s brows knit in concentration.
You know… It may be that someone else, I mean, someone has to realize what’s going on here. I’d bet someone will investigate. Maybe the US….
O, it’d be wonderful if they got their hands on this tower, said Autumn, her voice still shaking with anxiety.
The 1 country that has e’er nuked people.
I have to say, you’re surprisingly noble ’bout all this, said Dawn.
Noble my ass, said Autumn.
There’s no outcome in which this tower continues to exist with which I can exist peacefully. Already that outcome’s probably come. Either this tower goes or I go — & if I go, I’m doing my damned surest to make this tower go down with me.
Dawn bit her lip.
It’s possible nobody will notice us here, & that the flood will ’ventually abate, allowing us to leave safely. We may as well wait before we do something irreversible. ¿Can you make that bomb go off immediately?.
Within a second or so a’least, answered Autumn.
Ne’er know when I might need to lob it & have it explode just after.
Dawn laughed uneasily.
I don’t know whether to be impressed or disturbed by the amount o’ thought you’ve put into blowing things up.
But as they were waiting, Autumn thought she noticed subtle movement under her. Then, a li’l after dawn rose, & a slight trickle o’ rain grew into torrents that sneaked pieces into their tower, the shifting became less subtle, & was accompanied with quiet creaking.
Dawn turned to Autumn.
¿You feel that?.
Autumn was holding her hands out, trying to clasp the brick floor by its niches.
Yeah. This tower isn’t steady. It’s going to collapse.
Dawn’s mouth hung open.
Autumn nodded with neither happiness nor sadness, but simply a harried expression.
Yeah. I noticed it hours ago, but now I see it’s getting worse. Look: Autumn pulled out a coin & set it on the ground, only for it to slide toward her right, bouncing into flips as it knocked into the niches.
It’s going gradually now, but exponentially. ’Ventually, it’ll hit its limit, & snap all the way sideways, crashing into the deluge. We’re dead.
Dawn began to rise from the ground, holding herself up the same way Autumn was keeping herself still.
¿What’ll we do?.
I’m serious, said Dawn, her pitch rising.
I am, too, Autumn said with mo’ force.
¿What do you think we should do? ¿Fly ’way on a magic carpet?.
There’s gotta be something we can do.
Autumn began to climb up toward her left, face splattered with raindrops.
Our only chance is to climb up out o’ the tower through this window out here & hope that when it topples sideways, that side’s end is still ’bove the surface. Doubt it, though.
¿What’ll we do ’bout her?. Dawn pointed o’er her shoulder @ Dagny, still tied up.
Autumn glanced @ Dagny for a second before turning back to the other side.
Leave her. ¿Who cares?.
¿You’re not seriously considering letting her die, ¿are you?.
Yeah. ¿Why not? Considering what a murderous sociopath she is, it’d be less costly in terms o’ lives to let her die than to save her. If anything, if we look @ the results, it’d be mo’ murderous to let her stay ’live. Autumn kept her eyes ’head, keen to avoid Dawn’s & Edgar’s @ all prices.
You can’t truly mean that, ¿can you?.
I ask ’gain, ¿why not? ¿Where’s the flaw in my logic?.
You’re assuming it’s a binary choice o’ let her live & be able to do whatever she wants & killing her, said Dawn.
We could pass her o’er to the police.
Yeah, we’ll pass her off to the aquatic police that have developed the ability to withstand thousands o’ volts o’ electricity running through their bodies. I’m sure they’ll ride right on o’er on their white seahorses seconds after our call.
I meant in other countries.
Where they have no jurisdiction o’er what she did, & have no proof that she did what she did — not to mention the risk that we’d look guilty.
It’s our word gainst theirs.
O, come on: they wouldn’t believe that.
Autumn looked back @ Dawn sharply. To the corner she could see Edgar nervously vacillate ’tween them.
¿Why not? It makes perfect sense: 3 people infamous for being arrested for suspected terrorism gainst the Boskeopoleon government cause major disasters in that very city, — the greatest form o’ terrorism — & then find some innocent woman, tie her up, & frame her for it.
Dawn tilted her head impatiently.
¿You truly believe they’d do that?.
I know it’s risky ’nough to not bother going through all the complications to save the life o’ a mindless killer, said Autumn.
Now, come on, we don’t have much time….
Looking o’er her shoulder, she could see Dawn storm o’er to Dagny. Looking Autumn straight in the eye, Dawn said,
Well, I’m going to take her with me. ¿Care to stop me?.
Autumn turned back ’head ’gain.
Well, hurry if you want to live & don’t want to waste all the effort I took to save you from her.
By this point the tower was down ’bout a radian — ’nough that ’twas just as safe for Autumn to go out the window & sit on the wall while holding herself onto the window edge as ’twas safe to stay inside. There she waited as she heard Dawn quietly ask Edgar for help. But after ’bout 5 minutes, she looked inside to see Dawn & Edgar inching up the steepening floor.
Fucking hell, Autumn said in whispered exasperation.
Hurry it up.
She climbed back in, grabbed them, & helped push them up the slope till they were out the window & on the other side. There they sat, clutched to the wall with Dagny held ’tween Dawn & Edgar, an arm each. All were shivering in now-soaking clothes, e’en Dagny who had her eyes open, though not looking @ anybody.
Now we just need to die o’ hypothermia is all, Autumn said through chattering teeth.
Maybe we should press ourselves together for mo’ warmth, said Dawn.
I’m not touching that psycho, in case she has a poisoned dart in her eyelid. ’Sides, I think an orgy would distract us from the job o’ keeping us from sliding down into the murderous ocean, said Autumn.
I think it’s beginning to level, said Dawn, though the way her legs kept sliding down, only for her to wrench them back up, belied this claim.
Let’s hope it doesn’t level underwater, said Autumn as she watched past the horizon o’ the tower wall.
¿You think we’d be able to row this tower like a boat?, said Dawn, staring up @ the still-dark clouds.
With brows furled, Autumn said,
I wonder what we should do after the tower levels, then.
I have no idea. As I told you, we’re pretty much guaranteed dead, & now we’re just procras — fuck.
Dawn looked @ Autumn.
I just realized I left the bomb inside. It’s probably underwater by now.
Now how will you blow up the already blown-up Atlas Tower.
I meant for this tower, Autumn said in a humorless tone.
That was the goal, ¿remember? Destroy this piece o’ shit so it can’t be used ’gain. We can’t e’en guarantee that now.
If it makes you feel better, I’m sure having the console underwater would surely destroy it — ’specially with all that electricity flying round.
Surely you’ve heard o’ ‘water-proof equipment’, Autumn said, her voice deepening.
’Less that console’s electronic parts are open, there’s no guarantee o’ anything.
It took ’bout half an hour o’ everyone shivering & squirming in the cold for the tower to level ’nough for them to let go o’ the wall & not fear sliding in. Autumn looked down the other side & saw that there were still a few meters below before reaching the surface. She then did what she usually did when planning nel mezzo delle cose: surveyed her environment for tools with which to work. All she could find were far’way trees.
¿Think o’ anything yet?, asked Dawn.
Yeah: I think we’re fucked. ¿What ’bout you?.
If you can’t think o’ anything, I doubt I e’er would, said Dawn.
Autumn continued to look round, her head movements becoming mo’ abrupt & her eyes straining as she tried to push mo’ force into her thoughts, only to be left with air.
Dawn dribbled her fingers as she shifted back & forth ’tween staring @ the sky & @ Autumn.
Then she saw Autumn slide her pack off her back, unzip it, & look inside.
Then, suddenly, Autumn’s head bobbed up & down in a silent laugh.
¿Did those gray cells come up with a brilliant plan? I knew it, said Dawn.
What crazy McGyver tools you plan to use.
No McGyver, said Autumn.
I was just reminded o’ an ol’ heist I did wherein I used this same plan. She turned to Edgar.
You remember it, ¿right? The prom.
Edgar looked @ her in confusion, but Autumn only leaned back & stared up @ the clouds — such a beautiful mess o’ grays, o’ precious ugliness.
¿You guys think we’re in danger right now?, asked Autumn.
Dawn glanced ’tween Autumn & Dagny still tied up.
Um… ¿Is that a trick question?.
No. I mean, think ’bout it: this tower’s level. The water can’t reach us. Though we won’t exactly be fed like kings, we have ’nough trail mix & water to last us a couple days — perhaps ’nough days for this flood to naturally dissipate.
Edgar’s eyeholes deepened in epiphany.
Turning to Dawn, Autumn said,
Maybe the solution is to just do nothing but wait.
While Dawn slept, Autumn & Edgar lay back, snuggled under a blanket, staring up @ the soup o’ stars & clouds flooding the sky, Autumn slapping glances @ Dagny. A couple rain drops fell on them, which caused them to shiver a li’l; & yet the shivering only made the warmth under the blanket feel warmer.
It’s amazing how sometimes being incapable o’ doing anything makes me feel crazy, & sometimes it makes me feel calm.
Then ’gain, I guess that applies to everything.
I’m a giant fish.
Buzzjaw said this o’er & o’er as it wandered a sunset-lit Banana Beach till it finally found what ’twas looking for: charred bones & cloth splayed ’long the surf, meshed with seaweed & seashells.
Buzzjaw opened its wide mouth & engulfed it all in 1 gulp, leaving nothing but sand to leak from its mouth. It swished the contents in its mouth for a minute before spitting out Cap’n Clearbeard & Jolly Jim Joe Jim.
Clearbeard immediately jumped to her feet.
Thanks, Buzzjaw, she said. She turned to Jolly Jim.
Plankton, ¿when’s the last time we needed to do that?.
I don’t know. Jolly Jim stood, slowly wiping the saliva off him while trying to keep his expression from becoming too disgusted to the point o’ seeming ungrateful.