BOOK ELEVEN - !BUSTED¡
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT - “FIRE!”
Broonzy stalks grimly towards Andromeda’s stairwell and climbs, proceeds to room 919, the red door seen in Lyca's nightmare, kicks in the door and surprises Meechee Chealls at his labors… distilling counterfeit bah-roor from the slime pouring down his inhuman, inhurtian face…
“Thought it'd be you…” he scowls, “…jammin' poisoner…”
The immigrant raises his hands, pleadingly. “No poisoner! Honest work. Sell carpet…”
He rises from his devices, standing in his long, reeking overcoat made from the same rough material as his rugs, sweating vile ichor as he gestures to the pile of carpets on the bed.
“Doc Kollucks was right… we aren't alone!” Broonzy accuses through curled lips. “Too bad we share the jammin' universe with rawth like you, you jammin’ alien poisoner…”
He kicks out with his left leg, smiting the alien rug dealer and seemingly breaking him in half beneath the long overcoat. Chealls' upper body tumbles to the floor, the vaguely human aspect withering like a deflated balloon while slimy… things… scuttle out the door on what seem a million oily tentacles... The casing used to simulate human legs disgorges fluttering, flapping pale gray creatures… somewhere between octopi and spiders. Broonzy flails at and kicks at these, and squishes a few… most follow their host down the hall and disappear beneath doorways.
The screaming starts…
Broonzy hurries downstairs and steps back into room 640; the violet mist, the rustlings and ripplings of Lyca Arbatax are more pronounced, almost corporeal, embracing him with limbs strong and desperate as any living prue. Her face stares back at him from the mirror, unseen hands fingers his hair and trousers. He strips the bed, rips the scapescreen down, gathers various left-behind garments, hair and paper, sweeps everything into a trashbucket and sets this afire. Holding it to the walls and ceiling, he makes sure that 640 is burning briskly before leaving; passing Al's room on his way to the staircase. Ever courteous, Al tips his hat.
“Save those as value second chances,” Broonze dictates, “let the rest of the jammin' veebs burn!”
Al replaces the old, black fedora atop his skull and looks placidly upwards. “Sir?”
“Have to trust you to make the right decisions… nobody else here will…”
So Broonzy made of me what I'd dedicated my years to avoiding…a judge of others… and I walked up and down in the Andromeda, that evening, and it were as if a mark had been inscribed onto every door that showed me my errands… now an angel of mawt in passing, now a redemptor. And I saw in the flames the living and dead, and of the dead and vanished souls forgotten or concealed by infamy; I wept, but tears would not subdue these flames, nor would the Regency, nor God, nor Rassoul…
On the Baawl, Broonzy crosses the swarming, smoky nighttime street, threading his way through the arriving firemen, refugees and gawkers to the pawnshop, bracing the jackal-faced pawnbroker behind his window.
“Lemme guess,” says the shkook, “you're a seller, not a buyer?”
“How much for my unilator? Works good,” he promises, removing the device and handing it over to the pawnbroker, who attaches a monocular glass to one eye to inspect it.
“Piece of rawth! Ten sols ,,,” the shkook decides.
“Can't understand you!” Broonzy shouts back, pointing to his naked ear. The pawnbroker nods, holds up eight fingers. “Ten,” Broonzy replies, and the jim raises a thumb; the snaker nods, hands over his soycard for charging and takes it back, with his redemption ticket. Crossing the street back to al-Gool… inexplicably still in business, and crowded, despite the flames above and water cascading down the walls… he revels in the myriad mysteries of a hundred tongues that surround him, desultory conversations rendered foreign, even exotic…
“Gimme an ale…” he bids the publican.
“Draft or bottled?” comes the reply… and as his customer frowns…
“Draft or bottled??”
“One o' those…”
Broonze points to the tap and, once served, quaffs deeply, sitting on a barstool as the rising water laps at his ankles. A segment of Klub al-Gool’s ceiling near the front door suddenly falls, aflame – only now do the babbling patrons… the swobs and the heathers, the danks and sikken, methyard drudges and gamblers and shkooks waiting on Old Mort… all flee now (some still holding their drinks), emitting a torrent of incomprehensible, unimaginable curses. The publican scuttles out from behind his bar and disappears into the throng, but Broonzy remains on the stool, savouring his last drink.
Another segment of ceiling collapses with a fiery shriek.