Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Environmental Hellby Max Barashenkov, illustrations by Baden Moir and Jason Bronkhorst / 20.10.2010
[If Rocking The Daisies was a Harry Harrison pulp science fiction novella and not a pretentious festival for jocks with mediocre music tastes, it would read a little something like this. Subjectivity, activate.]
“Captain Roger, Captain Roger, what is the status of the landing party?”
No reply. Shit. This is not going to be good, thought Bill as he spun the sizzling escape-pod through the upper atmosphere. It wasn’t…
Bill, decorated hero of His Imperial Armed Forces, drunkard and addict, proud owner of two right arms – the left-right one being muscular and black, a present from the sloppy military surgeons, stood on a ledge roughly half-way up the Mountain that tore from the endless ocean in a decapitated pyramid. It was the only landmass he could locate before the ship jackknifed itself into the rock, leaving him without a radio, without any survival equipment, without front teeth and only a cheap pack of stimulants to ease the pain. The sub-particle cannon, mercifully, still hung at his hip and made a smooth transition into his hand as a ragged man scaled the wrecked pod, cast his narrow eyes at Bill, hissed and launched himself at the galactic hero. The man was familiar – Bill recalled that handsome, violence-streaked face, those straight black locks, those long fingers undoubtedly honed on some alien instrument, from somewhere. A stab of the trigger erased the man’s head along with any concerns of recollection. Bill breathed a sigh of relief – handling natives has never been his forte – and looked down. Below him, tidal waves were washing thousands upon thousands of squirming bodies onto the shore, the men and women picking themselves up from the rocky beach and, driven by some animal instinct, charging up the slopes in rabid packs. The scene grew gruesome quickly – teeth were sunk into backs, bodies were flung off in the scramble, fights exploded in the general exodus as the ocean birthed even more locals. Bill grunted, it was the same on every other planet, only in different form – beasts killing each other only to find themselves cold and alone on top of a pile of corpses. It bored him. With that he turned his gaze upwards because wherever Captain Roger was, knowing his habits, he could have only gone up.
The stimulants were running strong, casting a psychedelic glow around the climbing galactic hero, who sweated and cursed as he cut hand-holds in the rock with the cannon, power output set to ‘low’. The going was tedious, Bill having not had a workout since the ten-day orgy in the brothels of Hogus Prime, but that was six months and fifteen light-years ago and all he could do now was fantasize about those tender snouts and all-penetrating hooves. The natives, being genetically bred for endless ascends and falls, were making solid progress as a unified front. Bill had to swat away the more zealous of the savages, who chanted androgynous song lyrics even as they tumbled down. Whatever Earth-colony these beings had de-evolved from, it was clearly hooked on the blander sounds of the early 21st century. Bill ground his remaining teeth and climbed further.
The scene that awaited him at the top was both spectacular and horrifying. The flat-topped Mountain was in fact a dormant volcano, a ravenous Maw descending for miles, crowned by a ledge of no more than twenty meters wide. Those natives that made it up, they were the strong, the beautiful, the well endowed and the rich, if such a civilized concept existed here. Their faces were un-scared by intelligence as they circled the crater in even rows, abandoning their grizzly in-fighting for a different kind of ritual all together.
Above the Maw, on an unexplainably levitating dais, men and women in ceremonial garb twitched and shook to the beat of tribal drums, most frothing at the mouth like speed-freak ponies, all shouting praise to Mama Kondor. Whoever Mama Kondor was, Bill thought, her priests and priestesses had a particularly bad sense of performance – most of them were out of time and tune. But their disciples didn’t care, too enthralled by the shaking mammaries of the priestesses, all males helplessly aroused on the pheromone level by the flowing curves, in turn moistening the females in a stimulatory, up and down grind-dance. The ledge swiftly disintegrated into a festival of carnal pleasure, still somehow maintaining the clock-work precision of movement. This was obviously not enough for Mama Kondor’s men, who howled in nasal tones, and, from the bowels of the floating platform, a beast was produced, to the celebratory moans from the ledge. It towered on dystrophic legs that disappeared into a mass of knotted hair, covering its entire body and head, and roared something that sounded like ‘TeeeJaaai’. Then it sneezed, showering the surroundings in a thick carpet of dandruff, which on closer examination turned out to be first rate cocaine. Bill snorted down a handful, watching the natives guzzle the stuff mid-fuck, but was no closer to understanding the meaning of this circus. He yearned for Captain Roger to break the monotony of this mindless consumption of flesh – the man was knowledgeable in all areas of alien culture, as well as a righteous fiend.
Illustration by Jason Bronkhorst.
It was then that the Hell Hound sunk its jaws into Bill’s left-right bicep, shook him up in the air and spat him out, into the Maw. He had no idea which Pandora’s Box the canine was unleashed from, but, as he cart wheeled down, he gained its purpose. The Hound paced the ledge, acting as a fanged engine of natural selection, casting more and more revelers to follow the galactic hero’s aerial projection. Landing with a satisfying crunch of the jaw, Bill saw that the crater lived up to the Maw title – being studded with gyrating and crooked teeth. Maybe it was the combination of stimulants and poisonous Hell Hound saliva, but the Maw was made up of cut-up streets and hills of San Francisco, of the old-Earth. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Ciot Tower, Market Street, they all crunched and churned in a drug-fueled caricature of the original, the cast-down natives wandering the streets on a spiraling course, chasing that elusive cool, which wasn’t the razor cool of New York City, but the unattainable beyond-cool of the truly hip. As they stumbled through the labyrinth, the jaws stripped them of skin first, then muscle, then soul, granting in return joys of graphic design, advertising production and awesome photographic skill, until they were sucked into the vortex beak of Mama Kondor, who waited at the bottom. Bill didn’t get too depressed at this ritualistic dehumanizing – on his planet depression was a bourgeois construct for the philosophers, and half-heartedly enjoyed the parade of well-toned legs. Soon enough, the beak swallowed him too.
Inside, was Hell. An intestine-like cavity, a white colon of bodies and sounds. It pulsed with demonic bass and screeching electro, sending arms and legs flailing in cubist paintings. Bill was disorientated, no idea as to where up or down was, swimming through the typhoon of natives and flesh, eyes closed. Then, when the static, the frequencies and the screams became perfectly aligned, he heard Her. She spun the madness from her fingertips, the Goddess of Electro, speaking in tongues to speakers, to subwoofers, to machines more alive than men. He didn’t know how, but he knew her name – some linguistic deformity of an ancient Japanese mountain – as she drew him closer. By now, Bill was struggling to remain in a vaguely human form, letting himself go in the torrent of computer-generated filth was an increasingly more alluring prospect, much more than hunting after Captain Roger’s behind.
“I see you are lost, traveler,” she boomed in a dub-step breakdown. Bill, eyes still firmly shut, hearing how beautiful she was, how all-encompassing her power and knowledge was, could only stammer nonsense in return and, in a flash of reason, pictured her total domination – in a year, she will emerge from her rubber cocoon and rule the dais upon which the hairy, thin-legged beast now sat. He feared to think what would happen then, to what lows would the natives stoop.
“Still your thought, hero,” she purred, “Your search for Captain Roger has hit a dead-end, but worry not, for this is 2nd-rate fan fiction and, here, the character doesn’t drive the plot, it works the other way around. The answers that you seek shall come to you themselves.”
When Bill opened his eyes and mouth to speak, she was gone, instead a man was paddling towards him. He had a slightly up-turned nose, a pair of thin rectangular spectacles perched on it and the look of musical genius behind those. In this soup, he shone as a beacon of hope, a man immune to the degenerate hypnosis of Mama Kondor. He swam up to Bill and, without saying a word, jammed a rusty harmonica in the galactic hero’s mouth. It fitted perfectly in the gap left by the crash landing and, with all the improbability of a Babel fish, allowed him to speak and hear perfectly over the noise.
“Captain Roger sent me,” said the man and tugged Bill to follow him, “He is waiting and, you know, has a foul temper when in-wait. By the way, how do you feel about progressive jazz?”
“Who are you?” managed the hero, for whom coherency, laws of nature and narrative were blended in a thorough future hangover. Waking up is going to be a bitch – streaked from somewhere under the skull, a falsely comforting thought as it implied that Bill would wake up at all.
“Why concern yourself with the back-story? Why care about meaning when everything around you is turning into pulp?”
They fought their way through the tronsed natives and soon were at the outer wall of the hellish intestine. The man, letting go of Bill’s black arm, fished out a pocket-knife, cut into the rubbery substance, producing ropes of yellow pus, floated back a little, thrust the knife at Bill and said: “Climb.” Too drugged and confused, Bill didn’t object, merely fastened his grip on the hilt and dove into the un-welcoming slit…
Mama Kondor, it turned out, was only a condor by name, in reality presenting in herself an enormous squid, attached upside down to the bottom of the Mountain. Her Black Hole beak devoured all, her Hell-bowel digested it into an undeterminable sludge of pop culture references, broken clichés and failed artistic endeavors. It then vomited it all out, as it now did with Bill, into its upper cranium, to seep out slowly back into the ocean, forming new half-people to begin their climb up the Mountain.
Bill scrambled to all fours, covered in the sickly pus, and found Captain Roger staring down at him. The leader of the expedition was roundish and in a cheerful state, swaying slightly, despite his apparent dissatisfaction with the events around them.
“Bill! Where the fuck have you been?” he bellowed as he helped the galactic hero up. The Captain clutched an empty bottle in his paws and clearly wanted more.
“Come, the local brew is prime, let’s go to the bar,” he offered, and so they did, drinking the rest of the Mama Kondor boredom away.
Opening illustration © Jason Bronkhorst
Second illustration © Baden Moir / Calibreed.