BOOK TWELVE - !DEMATTING¡
CHAPTER FORTY - “HAMMAWT!”
The antique clock looming over the dematting party reaches 2355. Rateyes waves… to the extent his manacles permit… and the throng inexplicably falls silent.
“Thank you! Thank you!” the condemned jim waves again. “Never realized I had so many friends…”
A dissenting voice cuts through the scummy red fog of the dancefloor… Junkyard Tony! “Just here to see you demattied!”
“… and others, too! No, really…” Rats gestures, “we're here tonight because I had a dream, and tried to take advantage of it. Did pretty well, too, for a boy from the Baawl!”
The prekts, of course, have gotten as drunk in ten minutes as others have in hours atop whatever street roor they’ve consumed!”
“Long live the Baawl!” hollers the boss boff…
“Mawt to the Regency…” Marina cries out and, watching from above, Detective Crandall motions to a wolfpack of uniforms below to cut off any more discouraging words…
“…and the Regents can take my life, even make all of you disremember I ever existed,” Rats continues. The index finger of his manacled right fist points upwards at the machines humming and waiting above and a commotion ensues beneath. “But they can't save themselves. The Regency gives us progress and order, so they say… and a fortunate few even acquire some property… but where is our meaning, our humanity? Our… well, you know what I mean. The Regents can't wash the blood off their hands, or the rawth from their breath… they can lock away the chimes and rewrite history, even steal my ship, Rassoul bless you, Marina, for themselves. But they can never erase such words like I heard at the rim of bezend, no matter how they scheme. Ask not what your country can do… when, in the course of human events… happy trails to you … I have a dream… we are not the rawth the Regency tells us we are! We are not cattle for the milking, sheep to be shorn…” and the partygoers with aspects of each look up… “we are the people, and the Regency only our collective hallucination. Gimme a drink… and a feel…
One of the heathers, Mandy, fills Rateyes' glass and lifts it to his lips as a shurt lunges to knock it away but trips over the steps to the dematting throne and goes sprawling as the jims and the janes howl with laughter… Candy leans in, stroking the prisoner’s groin. then clasps his hand.
“Stop that!” Crandall screams from the mezzanine…
“Dee naa mee! Now forget me! Most of you do… most of the time, anyways…” and Rats gives a manacled little shrug. “Aaay, I'm forgettable. My curse! But never, never forget that I have heard the voices of the ancestors who laughed at absurdities like the Regency, then faced and destroyed its rawthin’ forefathers. Who lived and loved, overcame and dispersed!”
He jerks his head towards the shurts on the mezzanine and, compliant to the bargain, one of the uniforms powers up a moodie that plays the condemned’s last request, an ante-Dispersal ditty that has returned to popularity again and again every century or so like a wandering comet – a theme bombastic and dynamic as the Hammawt itself, that begins with a drawn-out tremolo…
And then, raising his hands as high as the manacles permit, Rateyes unstoppers the vial he's hidden with a thumb and forefinger and out flows a chime… three chimes, in fact, all pluds of course (given the age and pedigree of the seven seconds and its black and white shading); all middle-aged males – one of whom is fat and bald, the other two distinguishable by their hair (one with a thick so-called “bowl” cut favored in antiquity, the other sporting a towering mass of frizz as if just electrocuted)… grimacing and poking as they swoop downwards towards the dancefloor where the music pounds and, behind the strains of the aria (whose lyrics celebrate an artist who did things "his way" the eight centuries old chime chimes out…
"Calling Doctor Howard… Doctor Fine… Doctor Howard!"
“Who… what?” Hamanavisqoo sputters, “I’m the doctor here!” Turning to Crandall, now out of the clutches of his superiors but still under surveillance, he screams “Get that!”
A shurt, reaching out to grasp the swooping chime, falls from the mezzanine onto a table of food and drink and rioting ensues… the crowd of prekts and pawnbrokers, heathers from the Baawl and former Andromeda tenants like Walter and Barbara pelting the shurts with food and bottles. Mr. Arbatax dances with Sandy, Quaia bargains with the Yasrick manager, and the chime swoops and plummets above and, sometimes, through the mob, casting warped, elongated shadows on the walls. No harm seems to be coming to the jims and janes through whom the stooges pass, but the shurts on the mezzanine recoil and some even cover their eyes under their tinfoil helmets as the anthem plays on and the unseen voice pages the Doctors again and again and again until the music reaches its final crescendo…
“… I did it…”
Suddenly a wrathful Crandall bolts from his protective custodian, cuts the music off and presses the button atop a rawthpile of machinery; blue light envelops Rateyes, dematerializing him upwards from toe to scalp while red light pulses through the rented warehouse, burning the criminal's face and voice from the memories of all his guests. They start to shake their heads, look around, wondering what they're doing... then Hamanavisquoo, covered with filth, drooling and still crowned with tinfoil, leers down from the mezzanine…
“Party's over, veebs!” he brays. “This has been an object lesson… we decide who lives and dies, we decide where you work, what you think and wear and even whether you breathe or not. You and I… all of us… we live under Regency law. We are in control! You're nothing… rawth!… we allow you to live because you are useful, some of you; because we can, and we can change our minds at any time, and for any reason… or no reason at all! Hai Regency!” Hamanavisqoo salutes and the shurts follow suit, all save Crandall and Pimm, who glance towards one another with weary, dreary expressions.
“Calling Doctor Howard…” the mocking chime reiterates… although softer as it seems, as it hovers near the ceiling… “Doctor Fine… Doctor Howard!"
Stunned and shamed, the recently debrained shuffle out without reply, scratching their heads and mouthing a thousand variations of “What happened?” under the prodding of soiled and tin-foiled shurts… no longer sure why they are where they are or even who they are… a side-effect of the blast that Regency doctors have assured the shurts will be temporary. Undeniably resentful, however… especially the prekts and Arbatax. No less angry are the doctor and Detective Crandall.
“Was Broonzy here?” Mac hectors Turpin. “Did you see him?”
“Me, I… I couldn't see anything down there. People fighting? Might've been. Might not… Broonzy? What's he look like?”
“Bool!” Crandall snarls and, before Pimm can intervene, he slaps the psychiatrist across his snout. Hamanavisqoo’s spectacles fly off his face and downwards into the throng.
“You didn’t tinfoil him!” the Detective accuses.
And as the shrink sputters out apologies and excuses, the stooge chime, high above, squeezes through a broken window and soars off as a distant churchbell peals.
In the churchyard, Broonzy stirs at the bell and chanting voices… sits up unsteadily. Robed, cowled old-believers are kneeling before the huge icon – so many of them that he worries that they are going to tear him apart for his intoxicated sacrilege.
“Hai Rassoul!” they chant, over and over. “Hai Rassoul!”
More follow, knifing through the crowd bearing flowers, candles and incense that they lay at the statue’s feet, clearing a path for an elderly priest who approaches, bowing and kowtowing…
“Vessel of Rassoul… hail and homage! As the good books foresaw, the Messiah has anointed the twenty-eighth Isaam to come to the lap of the prophet on Rassoulnacht, on the passing of his Most Holy predecessor. All powerful, thou art… all wise and virtuous… accept our homage and devotion. Chee-up!”
Broonzy blinks, fighting back an urge to vomit. “Uh… like… Hai Rassoul, prestoes! Chee-up!”
An acolyte presses a black jeel upwards and Broonzy suddenly realizes that he has lost his trousers and his raincoat – he is standing, buck naked, in the lap of the Prophet. Hurriedly, he slips the jeel over his arms and, seeing them raised, the devotees of the cult mistake it for a blessing and close in around him with their gifts, a parliament of moths and ravens with nightwings black as the Old Mort.