BOOK EIGHT - !METH¡
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX - “SHE LOVED YOU!”
On the following Gargarday, Rateyes and Broonzy make for Tony’s but Turpin, after paying his rent, takes the Mag out to the methane yards - dark, satanic mills with huge, vibrating funnels, like tornadoes (actually called “tords” by the same Hurtists as are always too lazy with words), twisting down from the sky. Veritable skyhooks lift equipment and men from one repair site to another. "Headquarters" is a grimy tower rising above the hissing engines and boiling pools of liquifying refuse from which the vapors are seized up into the tords, then dispersed across Die as the rancid smog locals call the “arby” (of which nomenclature Turp is beginning to have his suspicions). He shows Mr. Arbatax's card to the security desk and is directed into an elevator that shrieks up to the penthouse offices which command a view of the whole, infernal facility and… in the distance, the dome and lights of Tao City. A slithery secretary takes the card and picks up a silent communicator when Turpin introduces himself.
“I’m Vella,” she replies – catlike but with other aspects, reptilian things that could make a jim’s flesh crawl with pleasure or repulsion, depending on his tastes. “Mr. Arbatax is in a meeting, but says he will see you when he's out… maybe half an hour?”
She seems impressed that the shabby snaker has access to the inner sanctum – or perhaps is only pretending respect. “Thank you…” Turpin nods…
“You may use the number six moodbox while you're waiting,” Vella points. “May I bring you something to drink… caffa? Khegma?”
Turpin watches the news on the moodbox… images of diplomacy, starship wreckage, a battle of knaufs… and is enjoying his second cup of the best caffa of his life when the sirens sound.
“Rassoul-hai!” Vella cursed, and a terrible curse this was. “Another leak… masks are over there…”
She points to a display on the wall, reaching under the desk to find the mask for her own face. Turpin glances out the window… one tord has been rent asunder, bleeding green clouds that illuminate tumbling forms he recognizes as workmen. Skyhooks drag panels of black, rubbery goo to the wounded tornado…beetly hovers surround the leak, spewing thick, spidery ropes. Arbatax himself barks orders through the communicator.
“Inform the usual suspects it's a level four rupture… probably won't even stink in Tao.”
“Aay, boss!” the secretary answers, having activating the communicator to broadcast across the entire plant. “Hi, this is Vella, am I talking to Vector Seven?” (A babel of terrified voices replies.) “Presto - we're experiencing a level four incident that the Chairman has determined poses no danger to persons or industry within Tao City… those in undomed proximity to the yards may have to take precautions for up to two hours.”
She disconnects the communicator and shakes her masked head, supporting it with long, supple hands, elbows on the desk.
“They always want
details… and they're always the same! How many poor sikken
A door flies open and frustrated businessmen flee, chattering and gesturing… Arbatax following behind them, maskless. The scales on his neck and face are oozing black ichor, but the meth king waves off Vella’s offer of protection with a sharp-clawed fist. His clients, if clients they be, are fighting one another – six shurts, four masks.
“You can wait out the alert on the 92nd floor lounge gentlemen… there's an open bar, sims, or I can have a couple of heathers come by. Nothing to get alarmed about…”
They pile into the elevator, still fighting, and are gone…
“Veebs!” Arbatax spits and the lesions on his face and hands spit, too. “Tell them it happens all the time but I owe them money, and there's no sense frightening them any more than they are already! Young man! Snaker Turpin… isn't that so? Come in! Vella, hold my calls, even from the Regency; I'll issue the usual rawth in ten minutes.”
Turpin closes the door behind him and the noise of the outside world… even the sirens… vanishes. From one of Arbatax's bay windows he can see the hovers and smaller birds swarming round the damaged tornado like wasps attacking a cobra.
“Ever see methane transported?” the tycoon queries. “We suck it out of the gas giants here… Gamma and Delta Dubanhka… freeze and condense it into a sort of slush that orbits Die, then shoot it down here. Usually liquid like oil, only concentrated to a few thousand times heavier density, but sometimes it slurries during the transport and busts a funnel. Down here we molecular-condense it to a couple thousand more powers and seal it in antigrav, so a couple sidereal tons get a big passbird or cargobird through a snake. But you don't want to hear details…
“Actually, I do.”
“Oh?” Arbatax replies, taking a kackle from a silver box, offering another to his guest, gesturing for Turpin to take a seat in front his desk.
“I came because I need meth… a lot of it…” Turp appeals, taking a long draught on the kackle, “and you did say you could help me out. Rateyes… the fellow who located Mooshie…”
“Mushnovarian! A prince among shysters! Did you know he concluded my tragic affair with the moodbox quiff with a relatively small fine and a civil settlement? Of course the fact that she recovered from her injuries had much to do with it. Still, my gratitude's enormous.”
“Thank you, sir. Anyway, Rats thought up this complicated scheme where I'd ask for a job in the yards and somehow find a way to divert meth, but I have to tell you once I got a look at this place, I realized I wouldn't know what the hell I was doing!”
“Appreciation of one's own limitations is a consequence of maturity,” the businessman grants.
“So I thought… like… well, I might have something to say to you, and then you might…well… give me enough meth to get our ship into a snake and back. Loan me… as an investment, of course…”
Arbatax snuffs the kackle out on an ashtray of Shaulan marble. “Mister Turpin, that is a lot of meth. What could you tell me that would make me consent to do that… granted, that I’m already deeply indebted to the both of you…”
“Well… sir…” Turpin stammers, “…on the night that your wife, uh, you know… well, I was there!”
“Of course you were! As were many others over the years…” Arbatax nods, opening the silver case of klackers then, apparently, thinking the better of it and laying the humidor on his desl. “Myself, for instance, the quiffs and those useless, useless shurts…”
“I mean I was with her. In her room… when she died. I was her spimmy. We had had… uh… relations…”
“And this… this confession…” the meth king answers, icily, “this is something you actually believe would incline me to grant your request?”
Turpin puts his hands up as if believing that the beastly businessman might attempt to strike him or… worse… spear him with the long, prehensile tongue flickering out from between his lips at a mile a minute, now, as if searching for ants or… something other. “Hear me out! That morning… the detective and all those shurts making fun of you, saying that l… that Mrs. Arba… your wife…”
“Go ahead, young man! Say it! Say her name! Lyca! Certainly she asked you to say it, didn't she?”
“Well she did… uh… but anyway, those people who came to the conclusion that she… Mrs. Lyca… she killed herself 'cause she couldn't take being married to you anymore?”
“And what of it? I have few friends on the Baawl. By Rassoul… boy!… do you think you were the first? I knew she was unhappy… I'm a rich, ugly old man… hated by everybody, almost, on Die… in the entire Doo system. People I've never laid an eye upon curse me before they fall asleep. Even the wiseguys want nothing to do with me… socially… because I can buy and sell any or every one of 'em, even have them put down if I choose. Shurts, courts… all of them. Without these methane yards, Die's out of business! Lyca was beautiful, intelligent… and aging, and marooned on a planet no sentient creature deserves to be stuck on. Why shouldn't she kill herself? Lyca was a precious flower, buried alive. If I was a better man, and a wiser man I’d have taken her away… to Hurt, or Rigel Fifteen, at least, but, as you faq, I cannot leave this place. If I did, the methyards would fail, and thousands of jims would have no source of skilk. I am as chained to this dirty rock as any hummuck from the yards is to his miserable job.”
He sighs – a drawn out, dribbly exhalation. “I have a mansion just outside Tao… the arby doesn’t affect me at all… some of the local wiseguys called it that, after my great-grandfather who built most of this place. Lyca hated it, couldn’t breathe… kept running away to the Baawl, If she could find relief in a few hours with you instead of with me, or with the roar, well, I’d call that a blessing.”
“But she didn't! Yeah…” the snaker proffers, “maybe she wanted escape for a little while. That's why she took roar! Me… I guess. But she didn't want to die. There's this horrible rawth going around that looks like roar, but kills people. Your wife got her hands on some…”
Arbatax sits back in his grand, executive chair, bewildered. The com buzzes, he ignores it. “She didn't kill herself because she hated me?
“She loved you. She told me…”
A cry escapes Arbatax’ gullet that sounds somewhat like “Glorp!” but is no word in no dictionary in the galaxy, save, perhaps that of the dillohydes, and his head drops to the giant desk where he sobs and occasionally moans Lyca's name while Turpin, wanting to leave but not knowing how to escape the rich man’s sanctuary glances out the window at the repair of the meth funnel until Arbatax raises his head…
“She… she loved me? How could… excuse me, sir I want to be alone, I'm sorry. No, wait…” Arbatax changes his mind. He opens a channel on his communicator and the outside world and its bedlam pours in – at least the crisis has passed, the sirens fallen silent.
Even so, Turp hears only one side of the conversation.
“Smiff! Smiff… come in… yes, forty minutes, it's alright. Smiff… a gentleman by the name of Turpin will be coming to see you; I want you to give him a load, off the books. Use the yellow form. He… (addressing the snaker while holding a hand over the com) …how much did you say you'd need?”
“Whaever it would take to get a light cargokeeft into a snake… and back again… Rats thought maybe ten gross of cylinders…”
“Twelve magloads, Smiff. Delivered to…”
“One to Tony's junkyard in the Outback, right away. The rest to
“One to Tony's junkyard onworld,
immediately… Mister Turpin will tell you how to get there. And the rest to
He rises, bids Turpin join him at the window, looking down at the yards and upwards at the writhing funnels, under control now.”
“I am not a good man, Mister Turpin… not at all. Do you see all
of this? Some of my gear's over three centuries old… I cannot afford to replace
it, and I choose not to go out of business. Soon… tomorrow, perhaps, or next
year… or maybe fifty years from now… then will come the day of final breakdown,
our cataclysm. Masks won't be of any use, nor the dome over
“And yet Lyca loved you…” Turpin sighs, taking her ring from his pocket and dropping it on his desk. A change washes over Arbatax, a smile like the simultaneous rising of Die’s three suns when the planet is in full alignment, a once-in-a-century happenstance…
He smiles, craftily…
”Do you think Vella would?”