THE MIDDLE OF "BUILDING A BETTER MOUSETRAP" (THE STORY OF A DESERITE FREEDSLAVE ON THE BURNING STREETS OF KANSAS, THINKING OF THE TIME WHEN SHE WAS LOST IN THE "BIRTHPLACE OF PRESIDENTS"...OHIO....)
To the stars, with some
Catal Huyuk Jerichius chose a route above the Tidewater, one that afforded his party a view of the Palace streets below. Pilgrims and squatters ran through the boulevards and indiscriminately bloodied -- and even killed -- one another. In the distance, smoke rose from one of the long and slender minuets of the Piedmont, and every now and then, the flames of a fire visibly erupted from the sides of a building.
Louisa May Lee saw it all. She felt a touch of neo-cola classicism. With a view to a kill.
She sat at the elbow of Shiloh. He had begun to wake from his sleep, and like the rest of their party, waited out the chaos of the odyssey. Louisa could hear the din below. Screams and the crash of windows, the hurried mass of human bodies on the run drifted upwards, and for a second, Louisa feared the violence might discover them. But just as the sounds threatened with their approach, they traveled the path of less resistance. High above the city, Louisa and company could afford some safety. They waited.
Shiloh moved sluggishly away from the windowpane. He still leaned on his side, barely able to sit upright, except for the support of Louisa’s shoulder. His lightness surprised her. She wondered if he still suffered from what he only called the flu. But he still was heavy with his wit.
-What were we thinking? None of these people can get along with each other. They’re Americans in the grip of decline, sore losers, all of them! They’d slide into homebase with their cleats up, in each other’s face, just to stay in play.-
She saw that Catal Huyuk had listened to Shiloh. He leaned against the edge of the window, his hand on the hilt of his macuahuitl, scanning the chaos on the lower streets. But he still had the time to look at Shiloh, shake his head, and laugh.
-How come you intellectual types always reference baseball? You wish you were pedestrian.-
Louisa popped her head up, giggled, and put a hand over her mouth. Catal returned his careful watch to the end of the hall. Nothing moved. Just the flutter of banners with the seal of Kansas and the motto, Per Aspera Ad Astra.
Shiloh’s bruised ego overcame his...flu...and stirred.
-Whose side are you on, tall, dark and handsome?-
Louisa watched Catal and Shiloh, two past heroes of Kansas, lock eyes with each other. Both of their movements lacked passion. For the storm they had seen in the streets of the Palace had sapped any optimism. The dream seemed to have evaporated before their eyes, with only a dried up sea of well-wishes to remain.
Catal looked away, still on watch, still in-wait for trouble.
-Kirsten held the peace of pilgrim and squatter together. Without an empress...-
A shape moved from behind the tower of Catal Huyuk, and Louisa smelled this person before she heard their words.
-Fucking Hirohito, that’s what. Kansas is his sick American joke. He married an empress who promised everyone power. Now...they look to use it.-
Louisa thought Abrax-zeez the Cusp spoke better than he smelled. She looked upon him, and only saw a mass of matted hair and a braided beard. Anything to keep it out of his soups. Louisa knew him as most did, as the Monkey Messiah -- sans monkeys. She guessed he had put his primates to bed.
Shiloh stirred again and sat up straighter. When he moved, Louisa saw discomfort from...the flu.
-I will hang out with an occidentalist anyday; anything is better than these racists in Kansas. I can say that. I am an expert after all. From Texas, if you've forgotten...-
Louisa felt an internal groan, but the continued barrage of Shiloh Mackenzie drowned out her thoughts or anyone else's thoughts on burning Kansas.
-...Thats why I had to get my butt back here -- back to Kansas! If this place had been left to the salt of the Earth, then the plains of Carthage would be salted. I came back to my duty; advised my empress, my cousin. Yet even me -- I -- don't want to blast this place to hell. Not like Hirohito. I didn’t point a gun at the place! Not a space gun, anyways...but you can't blame Hirohito. Raise a hand if you have suffered the West’s ‘orientalism’.-
Louisa knew eight pairs of hands belonged to their company. And eight pairs of hands would not be raised. Maybe to silence Shiloh. But maybe once had been enough. She watched Shiloh focus on Catal Huyuk. The Son of God, Man of Thunder did not look. But Louisa knew her kinsmen well enough. He knew.
-No one is blaming you for this crack-up at the race riot. So shut it.-
Shiloh made a sound in protest.
-That’s not what I think is going on here. You want the modernist breakdown? It goes like this: The partisanship rages without the steady hand of leadership. The Regency -- which our fascist ally, Robert Paul Luke so nicely created -- has no head, let alone any clothes. No Empress, no Viscount. Just a bunch of stupid people walking around. Or stupider. Or the stupidest. What’s a boy to do? Admit we fucked up?-
Shiloh kept his eyes on Catal Huyuk. The Monkey Messiah squealed and got his attention.
-Thats what I said, our dear Vizier. Luckily for the masses they have a Vizier who’s really good looking.-
Color returned to Shiloh’s face.
-You think so? My charm? Maybe that’s what can...-
Catal looked and Louisa read his mind.
-Just kidding, buddy.-
Shiloh looked drained again.
-Mock me, dark knight. But you hit on a good point: even for a good looking guy like me, without an Empress, I don't have any use.-
The Monkey Messiah took a step towards them. Louisa could really smell his stink now. It reminded her of the filth and the fury of the last king of Texas (rest in peace, stinker!)
-Shiloh, I am going to say what our brave Catal Huyuk will not: this mess is your mess. And I want it picked up by dinner.-
Shiloh continued to stare at Catal Huyuk. Louisa thought Shiloh, their wayward Vizier, looked drunk, giddy even. Delirious, maybe. Resigned?
-And when will my best buddy Hessia be turning me over to good, old reliable Justinian Thorogood? I just can’t wait to get back to Texas!-
Catal Huyuk turned his head. But not to look at Shiloh. He looked down the hallway. Nothing. He said nothing, but Louisa knew he thought little of Thorogood, the Texian dictator.
-We’re keeping you away from her. From Hessia. And Janus...especially her. There’s a enough religiously inspired mayhem going on here, right now.-
Louisa knew he was right, though she doubted he even knew. Granted, what R.P. Luke had previously told her still made no sense. But Catal Huyuk's reluctance to give Shiloh away sounded like something R.P. Luke had said. The words of a dead man still lived then.
Catal Huyuk must have known that the best bet to save Kirsten lay with Shiloh. Not Janus, nor even Hessia. For while the martial arms of the heroes of Kansas could produce a solution to redeem the Empress from captivity, it might actually take the silken vocal chords of Shiloh to bail his cousin out of trouble, and as R.P. Luke had said to her in soviet-Ohio...
Shouts traveled as echoes down the hall. A crash of glass, then voices raised higher and higher. Steps into dead runs, then marshaled into angry shouts. Louisa and company turned in that direction, with Catal Huyuk the first to show a sign of alarm. Soon, Abrax-zeez slouched towards the dark warrior, and said a few hushed words. Shiloh sat up, and when he did, so did Louisa.
The sounds of the mob. Louisa and company were found. Commotion increased and came closer. Come closer -- no one said that!
Then, came sudden gunfire. Plasma bolts rang out, their phase-cycles magnified by the echo of the halls. A few screams, then the sound of panic. The noises retreated. Then footsteps. Casual footsteps without a prance of urgency. Many came. They came towards them all. Boots on the blocks of marbellium. Louisa thought about the next heads on the blocks now.
Catal Huyuk swung his macuahuitl from his scabbard. Black obsidian flashed with the sun's angry light.
-Onward wildcats. This can’t be good.-
Louisa shot up with everyone else. Shiloh got up slowly, and they soon joined Abrax-zeez, as he followed the dark warrior.
Faces formed out of the dark of the hall and confronted Louisa and company with human menace. Men in urbane camouflage. Mottled gray and blacks. They wore red berets, which sat off-balance on their heads. And guns. Weapons pointed at Louisa, at Shiloh, at Abrax-zeez. Even Catal Huyuk had stopped in place, and when he did, everyone knew they should follow.
A man with a large black hat and a thin moustache strutted front and center. Laughter heralded his arrival.
Shiloh drew in a breath.
-Well, good job keeping me away from Texas. Here, if you wanted to know is the fucking, in-the-flesh-proof, that sometimes good guys don't always wear black....-
The ‘perical chassie of technocentrism.
The House of the Studebaki did what its name intended, and quite successfully. The storied suburban fortress housed the one-time fugitives of the Dismantling Congress, those who survived the death of the great American cities. Eventually their descendants became the Estate of Andramadeus. And, as families with long memories tend to do, they stoked the fire of a revival.
The ferris wheel lit up the fairground, its bright lights caught the bedazzled eyes of youth with cotton candy and bi-tip sandwiches in hand. Balloons, music from the pipes of organs, and the yells of a hundred electro-carnies filled the muggy Ohioan air. Yet the unease was palpable. Some other feeling stirred, and the carnival laughs and screams and lights formed a far different chorus than intended. A specter haunted the funhouse. With the pin of every blue ribbon on every cloned vat-of-beef, in the snapshot light of every standout portrait carved out of neo-butter, a harshness loomed over the fairgoers. They scurried, maybe to avoid the judgment.
Louisa had long walked by herself. With a cornrust-dog in her hand, she wandered in thought. She could only wonder. What took the Viscount so long? He had left her hours ago. Since then, no sign of him. Not that she missed him. She already planned to make her escape. The man she talked to now could do that, or so he said. Yet he had already told her many things she could hardly believe.
-Step right up, and see a flying zebra from the cloud tops of Venus! Step up and see the razor claws and stinging tail that the convicts of the Planet of Love have had to long avoid....-
Tattoos covered the Illustrato head to toe. Even his privates, and way too public for Louisa's taste, had been inked. Not a trace of hair remained on his body. Unfortunately she could attest to that. He claimed this as more proof of his origins. The planet Venus, the prison planet of the Outer Planets.
-No way, you're full of it!-
The Illustrato bent down to talk to her. When he did, she thought his breath smelled sweet. Not so sweet as his voice though. He almost whispered when he talked to her.
-Not so, dear, not so. I could take you there, if you'd like, that is. You could see all the planets of our Solar System. The best one are the Innies. The Veneran Hives are quite a sight. So too, the Giants of Mercury....-
Louisa took a bite out of her cornrust-dog. The fungus tasted really good today.
The Illustrato stood up and steepled his hands. Louisa saw the tattoos on his body ripple with his movements. She saw a story there...
-Well, you might go one day.-
The Illustrato smiled. On the sides of his face, she saw a lion and an eagle. On his forehead, a bull. She pointed.
-What do those archeo-animals mean on your face?-
He pointed, she nodded.
-Alpha and Omega, my dear.-
She was confused, and he saw that, and continued.
-The Beginning and the End.-
-Can you get me out of here?-
He looked excited.
-You want to leave the Earth?-
No, and she shook her head.
-I want to leave Ohio.-
He looked around.
-That might be harder...-
He crouched again.
-Let me talk to some friends.-
-Like that movie, I'll be back.-
He failed to notice her attempt at neo-cola classicism, which made her think what a strange world it must be on the Outer Planets--Innies or the Outies or whatever! She wondered if they ever thought about the Americas.
She wandered around, rode some creaky old rides that seemed particularly unsafe. Electro-carnies offered her free hits of pot if she...the whole thing made her sick. After one ride caused her to vomit, she resumed her courage and chose another ride. She was amused by her choice. The cars were shaped like a woman's breast. She stood in line and noticed, after a while, that the line stopped in place. Annoyed, she looked to the front and saw the cause of the logjam. An electro-carnie with a mirror-plated face that said “Scorpions” held a young boy by the arm. He could not have been more than 5 years or so. Herein lay the problem. The height indicator clearly said how tall he should be. The boy had long curly hair, which Louisa found strange. Every other adolescent had a cut high and tight. Something made her wonder...He turned around and faced her.
It was Ewarian...Ewarian Machellis. The one-time demi-serf of the Empress...now cloned...now...
A person stood over her, and when she looked, she drew in a breath.
Do you mind if I smoke?
Jeff Davis had already lit his cigarette, after which, he strutted out from the protective cover of his Carthage Grays, who laughed and cajoled with each other.
Louisa could tell that, they alone, found any amusement in the situation. These religious autarchs showed no sign of discomfort. Or at least they did their best to hide the signs. Yet, with their phase-bore rifles drawn and pointed at the dark warrior of the Mysterium, they must have known the risks. Weapons never stilled a person's nerves. Here in burning Kansas, no one took any chances. These men with guns eyed Catal Huyuk nervously, and the dark knight looked bowed, his chest out. Ready to spring.
Louisa stood next to Shiloh, who had gotten up, seemingly fully recovered. He pointed at a sign on the wall. No smoking.
Jeff Davis ignored him, and all other outward signs of annoyance, failing to read the room as he walked across it.
-I really just know all of you from the Eye-NC, so this is really an honor, really! It's like I'm hanging out with a bunch of rock stars, or something.-
He looked at Shiloh.
-Well, most of you, anyways. I have to say that I'm surprised the Vizier of the Empress has decided to return.-
-It's winter in the Pacific, so it was time to leave.-
-I bet it was!-
He dropped his cigarette, and before the smoke could leave the air, he ground it out with the toe of his boot. His eyes left the ground and dug into Shiloh.
-Where is she?...-
Louisa knew so little about Jeff Davis, only that he belonged to the Badge and the Bible. Only that he hailed once from the Ministries. That was before the creation of the Sea of Kansas. So he bore some minor grudges.
But he spoke about the now, the here-and-everyone-present. Except one. No one else seemed to understand what he referred to, and she was in some pretty good company. Or had been. Before the arrival of Jeff and these men with guns.
-Where is she?-
Shiloh shrugged. Yet she knew him well enough to know when he feigned. Didn't he always feel like an actor on the stage? Anyways.
-Where is she?!-
Louisa imagined Jeff and a gun and Shilohs face -- and what was left of his beautiful face. Jeff chose the other approach, and walked over to Shiloh instead.
-I'm tired of this game. I want to know where to find that hillbilly.-
-I'm tired too. I am pretty sure I have brain damage. From this arm of the Mormon church, over here...-
He motioned towards Catal Huyuk, but never shut his mouth. Shiloh had amazing talents.
-...At least you didn't get hit over the head, so you could be used as a bargaining chip...-
Catal Huyuk unfolded his thick arms.
-Save it for the interviews, rocker.-
-You know what I'm talking about!-
-I care! The earth cares. Why else would Kansas bleed again?-
-It’s called history, not ‘did you see the size of Shiloh’s penis?!’ I am pretty sure most of the masses don't know who you are, anyways. So get over it. Stop trying to be famous.-
-I already am!-
Jeff Davis stomped his pretty boots. Louisa judged his dance moves critically. He wished it was the low spark of high-heeled boys! Sometimes. Louisa wanted to say every bit of neo-cola classicism that came into her head! Jeff Davis, though, he was as modern as they came.
-Enough! The drama might work on the Eye-NC, but I could care less.-
Louisa remembered R.P. Luke now, something he had told her, and she knew it would only make sense when she said the thought aloud.
-Maybe we can help you?-
Shiloh turned his head very slowly in her direction. He mumbled, and she failed to hear. She dared not look in Catal Huyuk's direction.
Jeff smiled slick-as-snot.
-Ah, well, what do we have here? The freed slave wants to help.-
He snapped his fingers. Clumsily the Carthage Grays converged on her. Catal Huyuk swung his macuahuitl up. Black obsidian flashed angrily, ready to decapitate the whole lot of them. But Louisa jumped in front of him.
Catal Huyuk stopped. His lips trembled. His black eyes betrayed rage, as he looked from one autarch to the other. Ready to cut them down.
Louisa smiled at him with the hope he understood her. Gradually, his macuahuitl lowered. Jeff Davis laughed. It sounded like phlegm.
-Bringing stolen property back to Texas! This is way better than I would have thought!-
The Carthage Grays grabbed her by the arms and dragged her away. The last thing she saw was Shiloh. He looked pained. She just hoped R.P. Luke was right.
She took a breath of relief. So far, so good...