Copyright Carolyn Horn 1994
All Rights Reserved
The Air Force Commander sat back in his microlight blimpette and surveyed his bomber helicopters as they rattled along beside him. Old they might be - well actually, they were so decrepit that their flying ability was a bloody miracle - but they could still drop a bomb or two. He chuckled to himself and squirmed in his seat. Oh goody goody goody, I'm going to drop some bombs today, I'm going to drop some bombs... He glanced down; the edge of Uptonburgh's Grand Square staggered into sight below and began to tilt upward toward him. Damn slackers- He snapped forward in his seat and yelled into the mike: "Forepedaller, get those legs moving. Move it! One-two, one-two, one-two..."
The microlight around him bucked and swayed, its fine structure creaking between the two slug-like blimpettes. Its fore- and aft-rotors rattled around in manic desperation as the two pedallers did their best to move it. They did so well that the machine began to rise above the bombers.
The Commander settled back again. Ah, that Sir Liam Hang knew a thing or two about demolition, and about controlling the masses. Discipline, that was the key. A bomb here, a bomb there - well, a few bombs everywhere, actually, that was the way to solve problems.
Mind you, those bombardiers had sounded a mite squeamish. He frowned. Standards today weren't what they used to be. People used to know how to take orders and go into action. Better give this lot a pep-talk: "...Right then, have you dumb-bells got it? I'll have none of your whinging about damage to civilians; what d'you think you joined the Air Force for? We died for people like you in the last war. Ah, those were the days. Precision bombing; a whole town could be wiped out by a single squadron. Danger? We welcomed it in the name of Duty! My god, some of those natives would be throwing spears at us - but did it stop us? Of course not. Discipline, that was the thing. So when I say 'drop it', you just bloody drop it, and I'll have none of your namby-pamby-"
It was at this point that a large flying cat landed on his lap with a yowl, and things became a little hectic. There are certain social occasions which are calculated to destroy the sang-froid of the most dignified. The receipt of a spitting, clawing cat on the stomach is one of them. Especially when that cat is moving at speed and the stomach has recently been filled with duck a l'orange, two profiteroles, and a few measures of fine port. It is to his credit that the Commander, though deeply moved, refrained from sharing these half-digested items with the rest of the world for a whole second - until a flapping eagle and a heavy monkey dropped in to gatecrash the party. His stomach then rose with enthusiasm and disgorged itself over the Grand Square in a spray of colour and duck.
It was sheer bad luck that someone was down there at the time, apparently hugging the marble slabs of the Square beside a huge crater. The Commander blinked in surprise; then he lost interest in the scene below. Matters of more moment were occurring in his lap; the monkey, in explorative mood, was investigating his host's trousers.
Frantically trying to save what remained of his dignity and his personal posterity from invasion, the Commander clutched at his genitals and yelled: "Drop it."
Two bombs slipped majestically out of the helicopters and hurtled to death or glory in the Grand Square.
"Oh-oh... Oh bugger..."
When Festin Burke regained consciousness, his mind considered life with caution, feeling its way through Ow! and What the hell? to Oh... Bombs. Aagh - I'm dead!
A soft, cool hand touched his forehead, and a lemon-fresh scent teased his nostrils briefly. His eyelids creaked open; Sherelle's face hovered over him, gentle concern radiating from it. "Shush," she said, and smiled.
He closed his eyes again and sighed. Paradise. By golly, he'd ended up in heaven. Well, death wasn't so bad then. It did seem to ache rather, but what the hell. He hovered on the verge of slipping into a warm sleep...
Mind you, he thought as a less delicate scent struck him and crawled up his nostrils, the place did seem to stink a bit. Stink? He snapped into full wakefulness and glared wildly around, wincing as his bruised muscles did some vigorous protesting. The sleas-house; definitely not Paradise. Bugger.
"Shush. You'll be alright," Sherelle said. "The Fallen Angel's head gave you a nasty bump, but you survived a stone UFO, two bombs, and a bucket of sick. You were very lucky - we even managed to save most of your- " She was interrupted as the door crashed open.
Sir Liam stood there with his cousin Linsey, his eyes a bleaker grey than usual and he frowned deeply. "What the hell do you think you've been doing, Burke? I expect better than this; it isn't my Councillor's job to go hanging about in the Square all day. Is it too much for the taxpayer to expect people to do their jobs properly? And now, even the Air Force can't understand how to perform a simple demolition order. Well, Burke, don't think you can get away with malingering; none of this 'convalescing' nonsense."
For once, Festin hardly heard the Great Man. He had some personal worries to sort out. What had Sherelle been about to tell him? He tried twitching his feet; phew. Okay there. Fingers? Yep, no problem. Then what...? He began to sweat.
"Sir Liam," the little nurse drew herself up and faced up to the Great Man, "this man is my patient and he has been injured. He will not leave my care until he is fit."
She was a magnificent scrap of spitting defiance, and all on Festin's behalf... He wanted to hug her. However, right now he had more urgent matters to attend to; he lifted the sheet and peered anxiously at himself. Yes, all the bits seemed to be as attached to him as ever, so what- Hang on, I'm naked! he pulled the sheet up to his neck and blushed all over.
Sir Liam turned to go. "Don't be impertinent, nurse. Just do your job. See to it that he's back at work soon; the Grand Square is in a shocking state, and it's high time the council got the place cleaned up."
His cousin had been looking around, an eager light in her eyes. She said: "Are these the bodies you're going to offer at our exclusive auction?"
Sir Liam clicked his tongue in irritation. "No, that's finished. It ruins the damn sewage, and we'd lose that Drongan contract."
She pouted. "Oh, I was so looking forward to it. I thought of a really good idea - but I'd need a sheep, too."
Sir Liam's lips tilted faintly into a superior smile, and he put his arm around her waist. "I can't let you have these, but I can get you all the animals you want. I'm preparing a new experience which will be worth far more than bland old sex. What do you say to a True Reality Hunt, eh? You can be in at the kill." He gave her buttocks a little slap to steer her out of the room.
"Well - yes..." Her voice floated back to Festin as she left the room. "By the way, Liam - can you get me an elephant? I'd like to try- "
As the door closed behind the couple, Sherelle pulled a face. It was a masterpiece of a face; one that owed much to a mobile tongue, and a finger stuck up the nose. It was a face that could have won any girning competition outright. Festin saw her in a whole new light.
He cleared his throat. "Sherelle - nurse - Please tell me. Which part am I missing?"
Her face slipped back into its pinched tiredness. She stared at him. "What? Oh!" Her laughter rang through the room. It was a joyous sound, soft and clear. Then she sobered. "I'm sorry. No, all your body bits are there. It was your clothing that got damaged, and your hat - you kept mumbling about this." She dug into a locker and produced a squashed brown bowler.
Festin looked down at it, wishing that she would laugh more often but ashamed of what she must have seen. Somehow the hat seemed pretty irrelevant. He cleared his throat. "My clothes, nurse? Did you happen to notice-?"
"Oh yes; we had to wash them all. Most of them were a bit torn, but these were fine." She held up his pants, laughter bubbling behind her eyes, and he felt himself blush vivid as a beacon. It wasn't their colour that was so embarrassing - after all, purple silk boxer-shorts were perfectly standard. It wasn't even the scarlet lace crotch, though that was a tad individual. No, the problem was the soft cotton "bunny-tail" which nestled in the front and teased its wearer fluffily through the lace. Festin made a strangled little noise and wished desperately for a good big hole to disappear into.
Sherelle put the pants down and patted his cheek; the laughter was gone and her eyes were shadowed with concern. "Hey, calm down. It's only a bit of fun." She leaned over and straightened his sheets, tucking him firmly in. "Now, you just go to sleep; you've had a nasty shock. And I've got work to get on with."
Dreamily, Festin watched her move from bed to bed, turning, adjusting, speaking a few words to this zombie, patting an arm of that one. He could almost sense what it felt like when she smoothed a man's penis into its tube with such care - oh god, yes; his own tool was stirring in sympathy. His mind grabbed an elusive thought and clicked it into place, another piece of the Sherelle jigsaw; of course - his pain filled the universe and it was like that with everyone. On that note, he slipped into unconsciousness and dreamed he was bounced over by a hundred purple rabbit-scuts.
The sun hung low in the sky, swollen and red-faced; its best sunsets were constantly being undermined. Well, why should it bother? It was off to bed, and sod the lot of them.
Beneath its glare, the Beltane fire roared with vigour, flinging sparks and herbal substances into the air.
The display of military might over Uptonburgh's Grand Square went almost unnoticed at Fallekin Barrows. The Guardian Officers piled back into their car muttering "Destruction of property - must look into it"; but who else cared about two measly "booms" and the crackle of stressed-out marble? Not Doug Marrow, certainly. In fact, he didn't care about anything much at the moment; he sat before the Beltane fire, his face black with smoke, giggling gently to himself.
Wow, he thought. Impressive. The fire took its job seriously; smoke curled and cavorted over the crackling, herb-laden sticks, heady with a mix of sharp and musky volatile oils, and poured in a delicate rainbow of earth-colours from every crevice. Some enthusiastic coughing and spluttering had greeted it at first, but now everyone lay or sat around, wreathed in fumes and smiles, occasionally remembering to breathe.
Everyone except for the GODLY stalwarts. Aggie hiccuped gently to herself and beamed around at everyone, but Mr. Dimbly was made of sterner stuff; he marshalled his followers. With one last cry of: "Let us leave this place of damnation!" he grabbed hold of Aggie's arm and dragged her off.
The column staggered back into the Forest, coughing its way raggedly through a rendition of "Onward Chri-hic-shan soldiers".
The vicar sat on top of one of the Stones with Natasha on her lap, waving Mr. Dimbly off; each young lady seemed to be trying to outdo the other in the matter of rude gestures. Theola had a particularly effective one, which consisted of the delicate admixture of three rigid fingers, a twirling thumb, and a tongue. Her eyes were wide and sparkling, her cheeks delicately pink, and her smile was pure joy.
"Well," Brigid hissed in Doug's ear, "Thou hast made a right cock-up of thy duties, hast thou not?"
Her priest jumped; then he yelped as one of the thorns on his costume made itself felt. He hadn't just made a cock-up of his duties; he'd completely forgotten what they were. "Oh shit," he said. Then he brightened. "But the animals are all getting a lungful anyway- " He stopped with a yelp.
A couple of green and gold arms had snaked around his neck and started to unclip his costume. "Thou hast still some priestly duties to perform. Perhaps I'd better take thee to have thy memory fixed."
Doug batted at Brigid's hands and glanced around wildly. Farrell lounged nearby, pouring the contents of Ceredwen's bagpipes down his throat and snuggling up to a strangely transparent woman who had appeared from nowhere. Doug stopped struggling in surprise. "Hey," he yelled, "who the hell is that? Isn't it Megan's dau- "
"Eh? Oh, you mean Vinny." Farrell tapped a finger knowingly against his nose. "'S my Vinny. We can't see her, not really - need the Cap. She's a figment, y'know. Oh wow. Stop doing that, Vinny... Oh wow."
Doug grabbed the pipes out of Farrell's suddenly slack grip and sucked thirstily. Well, he thought, you could have fooled him; he couldn't see how a figment could do such interesting things with their hands - and get such positive results. And as for that...
Vinny sprang to her feet and began to dance, her whole body swaying to the tapping of her feet, her full, diaphanous gown swirling around her ankles, and her- phew, Doug wouldn't have believed that such intricate counter-rotation was actually possible if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes.
The lost sound of Kerr's horn rose mournful and long from the other side of the fire to accompany the wraith, finally rippling down to a throaty riff. Vinny spun around faster and faster, her skirt flying outward ever higher; Farrell's eyes gleamed and he grabbed his special panpipes. Their husky sound wove its way around and over the horn. Doug felt his heart light as a breeze, and then Brigid gave a wild whistle and he was floating...
"Hello, dear. Did you want some rosemary and cardamom tea?" Arianrod's voice was its usual placid self.
Oh hell, thought Doug, covering his crotch protectively, not this damn cavern again.
"Ugh," said Brigid. "No, they're burning much better stuff in YUK just now. But perhaps thou canst give this priest of mine a better memory?"
"Well, dear, I don't think I can do that without recycling it, which would be a pity; it's in pretty good condition otherwise, isn't it?"
"Yes, but he's- "
Doug felt strangely detached from their discussion. Perhaps he could thank the bonfire's heady smoke; but for once, he didn't feel faintly hysterical listening to these two. He wandered around the softly-lit walls, marvelling at the intricate design of tree-roots and stalactites. Neat stuff. Great stonework. This huge potter's wheel, too, was pretty impressive - smooth and cool. As for the pile of almost life-sized figurines beside it, they looked exactly like...
He turned eagerly to the arguing goddesses. "It's you! You make those wonderful statues!"
Arianrod whirled around. "What did it say? Oh, my new SIK designs." Her face brightened; she wiped her fingers on the spangled gown, and picked up one of the figures. "You like it, dear? Well, this is quite a radical departure - you see this reproductive mechanism?" She pointed to the five writhing snakes. "Well, they can twirl around, like so, and then this part here shoots up the back there, and- "
"Whoa!" Doug's eyeballs were revolving. "It looks a bit complicated to me. Now look, that bit's good, you can't fault it. But the balance is a bit out. If you take this - here, have you got a hammer and chisel that will actually cut this hard stuff? Good; now, watch." He took the chisel and tapped the corner, very lightly, against the figure and chipped at it. "There! See?"
Arianrod looked at the figure thoughtfully from every angle. Then she turned to Brigid, an edge of excitement to her voice. "I do believe this one's sentient. I shall keep him."
"Thou bloody well shalt not! He's my priest."
"Don't swear." Arianrod turned back to Doug. "Wouldn't you like to be my apprentice, dear?"
Doug looked in panic from the lusciously statuesque potter to the glowing, vibrantly annoyed Brigid and back again. His frantic mind finally made its decision; he passed out.
Strange and erotic dreams disturbed his slumbers. When he awoke at last, he lay on his back beneath the cool stars; the smouldering, deserted remains of the Beltane fire warmed his side in silence. Two womanly whispers from his dreams still vibrated in his inner ear:
"Now thou art in sooth my priest- "
"No he isn't, Brigid dear. See - this makes him mine..."
His balls were aching gently, which worried him something chronic.
As the sun rose with caution on the morning after Beltane, it peered down on a world from which all traces of smoke had at last dissolved. Unfortunately for Uptonburgh, the shattered Square remained as rather a solid witness to the Air Force's little gaffe.
Parliament House squatted, scarred but unbowed, at the end of the Grand Square; its ancient facade gazed at the scene with an aloof superiority. Greater scenes of treachery and bloodshed had been perpetrated within its walls in the past. This very day was likely to be no exception.
That day's Session opened with a sea of unrest which rippled around the benches; the Members shifted uneasily through the preliminary business of the day - such momentous items as the Clothespeg Regulation Bill and the Hospital Demolition Amendment were zipped through and unanimously passed.
Everyone eagerly awaited Question Hour. Everyone, except for the slumberous member for West Sleasford - and Gerald Fonsbrick-Smythe.
Gerald was trying to think how best to put across his latest speech. The government simply had to learn about the terrible problems and distress which Teledildonics' products were causing.
At last the great hour was upon them; questions came thick and fast:
"Is the government aware of yesterday's appalling destruction to public property..."
"Has the Minister considered the cost of repairing our..."
"I hope that the government is taking into account the fact that private property has been damaged; what compensations..."
"The taxpayer has a right to know the cost..."
Sir Liam Hang arose to answer everyone. He stood, calm and pale, deflecting each barbed question and showing no trace of strain.
Gerald had to hand it to the Great Man; he gave an amazing performance, with never a slip of the Gerbil: "Mr. Keeper, the honourable gentleman is perhaps unaware that this government is already solving the problems of public expenditure which even now tighten their grip on our taxpayers' throats. The outlay to repair the Square - and the honourable gentleman's facade - will be as nothing to the savings which will accrue when Teledildonics Incorporated's latest product goes on the market. In a matter of days, a new form of Virtual Reality - they call it 'Suicide-VR' - will begin to be used by many of the down and outs, the addicts, all those who are a drain on our economy and cannot afford the more expensive product. The special Virus - a Suicide Subliminal - which is installed in this latest model will be of paramount importance in helping to rid us of the surplus population."
As the applause started on the front benches and swelled to fill the hall, the Gerbil leapt onto Sir Liam's shoulder and bit his ear. Sir Liam's smile slipped and his natural phlegm deserted him. He lashed out all around with his rolled-up speech; the resulting outcry was greeted with happy Opposition cries of "No Gerbil! Out of line! No Gerbil!"
The Keeper retrieved his Gerbil and shouted "Order! Order!" Nobody took the slightest notice. The ensuing pandemonium resulted in several squashed toes, a scattering of bruised egos, and an infuriated Keeper.
Gerald sat still for a minute. Then he climbed wearily to his feet and walked out of the House, tearing his speech to shreds as he went and letting it drop in a confetti of broken illusions.
The member for West Sleasford stirred in his sleep and frowned.