Okay, so I can't program a flash-back, use your imagination. I was twelve, a friend (Dominic Smith), my brother and I decided to write a radio-play based on the classic space trading game Elite. We called it Elite, predictably enough. If I ever have the time, I'll put the original script up on here one day. We were young, high-spirited and completely lacking in any kind of recognisable talent so the play involved digestives, super hamsters and lots of ready / reddy jokes. After a year or so it was finally finished, only to lie half-forgotten in a bedside cabinet somewhere near Grimsby.
Now, back to date. It's 1996 and thanks to my limitless imagination, rather than think up new characters, I've returned to those that appeared in that very radio-play. Thus far there have been two books and about seven short stories set in that universe (which now bares no resemblance to Elite, primarily for legal reasons). This is one of those short stories.
It deals with a day in the life of Juggernaut Haulage Contractors, the owner - Hilda Juggernaut, and one of her pilots - Jacobi Paris. This is my only attempt to fully capture the flavour of the Elite : The Radio-Play. If you read it, perhaps you will see why.
Okay, cue the bad jokes and fat people gags:
No, no, stop! Take me back to Keyboard Graffiti!
The Big Bouncing Bomber Affair
It was another calm and peaceful Pryor morning. From speakers concealed behind the authentic looking shrubs and trees a continuous loop of cheerful birdsong was played. The commuters hopped onto the monorails with a bounce in their step and greeted each other with smiles and nods of the head instead of the wearisome disregard they usually treated others of their ilk to. It was indeed a most extraordinary day in the planet's long and truly monotonous history. At least, that was what everybody believed it to be until the monorail station on three hundred and twenty second street when boom, accompanied by a mushroom of gay flames and much screaming and running of legs.
As is inevitable in such a situation, the first on the scene, beating the paramedics by a good couple of yards, were the vans of the holovision networks. The medics made head way as miles of cable was turfed from the back of these vehicles, only to be pushed aside as the reporters vyed for the first eye witness account of the incident.
Thus, after piecing together the mumblings and burblings of the traumatised victims, the ten o'clock news broadcast the story of the Big, Bouncing Bomber and the Blown-Up Monorail station. And apart from those families now in mourning, everyone was happy. In particular certain film editors who fell about in hysterics as yet another newsreader said Bonorail instead of Monorail. They then proceeded to humiliate the aforementioned newscasters infront of the masses in another compilation of Holovisual out-takes. The ratings proved a slip of the tongue was indeed a rib-tickling event.
"Listen to this," said Jacobi Paris, his eyes fixed on the high-resolution screen of the newsreader, "the culprit is believed to be a man in his mid-thirties, dark haired, of above average height and weighing in at approximately five hundred pounds." Paris shot a sly glance at his employer who was regarding him from the doorway of the canteen. "Jug, you haven't been going out in trousers again have you?"
He pretended to ignore the hulking figure moving towards him with increasing momentum.
"Remember that fancy dress party? When you dressed up as a frog? The tabloids next day were full of stories of how a gigantic lizard was destroying the city. I mean sometimes I think they go just too far. When you tripped and flattened that mini-mart it was because of that crack in the walkway ..."
Paris was wisely leaping for safety when Hilda Juggernaut's fist landed heavily on the chair that he had recently been occupying. No one noticed the single metal shaft buckle under the impact.
"You should have sued the council," said Paris, "that's what we pay taxes for."
A table suddenly lost half its re-sale value, going the way of the chair, but yet again Paris missed out on substantial injuries.
"Well, some of us pay taxes. No doubt I needn't remind you that you're still behind on air rights duty."
Hilda Juggernaut grunted like some pre-historic beast and hurled a coke vending machine in the general direction of Jacobi Paris' head. It missed, landing neatly on the floor to eject all the change it had been stealing from its customers over the years. Needless to say, such behaviour did not impress the stranger now standing in the doorway.
"Miss.Juggernaut?" asked the stranger, sneering with contempt and adjusting his wire-rimmed spectacles so he could better read the papers he withdrew from his plain black mackintosh.
"Huh?" said the Miss.Juggernaut in question, her rational side quickly bundling her wild, animal side out through the back door. With an innocent smile that did its best to convince the man that what he had just seen was merely a figment of his imagination, Juggernaut asked: "Yes? How may I help you?"
"Miss.Hilda Juggernaut, I am from the C.T.D."
The sound of the T.L.A. hung in the air like death knell.
"Confederacy Tax Department," hissed the other occupants of the canteen in horror, before donning false beards and glasses and walking inconspicuously for the nearest exit.
"I am here for your tax," said the man from the C.T.D., callously.
Whipping a twelve-foot long scythe from within his mackintosh, the taxman swung the blade in a wide arc that surgically removed Juggernaut's head from her shoulders and took the life from her body. Metaphorically speaking of course.
As punishment Hilda Juggernaut had decreed that Jacobi should accompany her on the trip to the C.T.D.'s offices along with all her tax returns for the past seventy-seven years and an assortment of flavoured candy. After all, there were one or two taxmen who were not incorruptible.
Juggernaut, being cautious with money (or being a tight-fisted cow, depending on who you listened to) had bought tickets on the standard class of the monorail. Standard meaning, in any language other than that of the salesman, the worst accomodation we can possibly get away with. As such, Jacobi had not seen the blue skies of Pryor since he took his first fateful step onto the train.
One eye was staring into blackness. A blackness caused, Jacobi feared, by Hilda Juggernaut's right buttock pressed up against his face. His other eye could see several feet through the writhing crowd aboard the transport. One arm was trying to hold on to the strap hanging from the ceiling for standees, the other was subject to the flow of the crowd - caught as it was through the straps of someone's handbag. His left leg was fine, though the sheer pressure exerted by the other passengers meant he would hang in his present position regardless of this single support. Several new boots were standing on his right leg - the unworn tread merciless in its tearing of his fragile skin.
Jacobi Paris didn't like public transport.
Only a violent jolt that threw the occupants to the far end of the carriage told them they had arrived at the station. When the doors opened the effect was similar to that of opening an airlock. Jacobi found himself sucked out the train to be left in a heap on the platform before he could utter the first syllable of the string of profanities that now spewed from his mouth.
"Get up Jac," ordered Juggernaut, unscathed by the ordeal. "We're going to be late as it is."
Jacobi Paris swung his head to look at the station clock and noted it said 10:03. If they wanted to be punctual for this appointment someone would have to invent time travel pretty quickly.
"If we run, we'll make 10:05," stated Juggernaut.
"If you run you'll cause an earthquake," muttered Jacobi, climbing to his feet. He pictured the C.T.D. building being swallowed up by a recently opened rift in the earth's crust. A crowd of right-minded people were cheering and popping the corks out of champagne bottles.
"Get those legs moving," cried Jacobi, sprinting past his employer.
Before Hilda Juggernaut could indeed get those legs moving, which required the same kind of timescale as continental drift, Jacobi's progress was halted.
He lay stunned on the ground. Only seconds ago he had been running free, with the wind blowing against his face. Then, without warning, he found himself suffocating and a warm, jelly-like mass was threatening to engulf him. One of Newton's laws popped up and the jelly-like substance returned to its original shape, flinging the poor pilot retro-wise onto his back.
The flabby culprit had not noticed the collision. Instead he looked about the crowded station with an evil gleam in his eye. In several minutes time, the Big, Bouncing Bomber would strike again.
"Always sleeping on the bloody job you," chastised Juggernaut, swinging a hefty leg that barely missed Jacobi's private and painful place.
Jacobi clambered to his feet yet again and nursed his bruised leg. His eyes flicked from one mountain of human flesh to the other. If his rudimentary grasp of physics was to be believed, such a close proximity of two super dense objects would create a gravitational field that would flick him across the city any moment now.
After bracing himself for several seconds Jacobi finally decided his rudimentary grasp of physics probably was not to be believed.
"You know what they do when you're late?" Juggernaut asked, slinging him under one arm and making for the exit.
The ensuing pause made Jacobi think this was not a rhetorical question as he had first suspected.
"No," he replied.
"No one does," Juggernaut told him, "no one lives to tell the tale."
"That's just superstition," dismissed Jacobi, enjoying the free ride.
"No, it's bureaucracy. Like, you know you never see your local politician until it's a by-election, same thing."
"Lawks," commented Jacobi.
"MUHAHAHAHA!" went the man who Jacobi had collided with as he rolled past them.
"That's the manical laugh of a psychopath," remarked the pilot, eyeing the large man suspiciously.
"Don't talk talk nonsense," retorted Juggernaut. "Listen. Muhahaha!"
"It's not the same," said Jacobi.
"You're right. Anyhow, there's the C.T.D. building."
Their conversation had taken them outside the confines of the monorail station and looming over the buildings ahead was a towering grey construction. Strangely, it was built of brick and mortar and swayed precariously in the wind. Ravens perched on the rotted window sills and black clouds hid the very top.
It did not need a big neon sign to inform passers-by that this was the place to pay your tax. It had one nevertheless.
"MUHAHAHA!" went the gigantic gentleman yet again. A podgy finger stabbed a red button on a remote control handset.
The monorail station exploded.
Jacobi was thrown to the ground by the blast. Juggernaut was thrown on top of him. This saved him being sprayed with large chunks of flaming debris. Asked later he said he'd take burning rock over being reduced to two-dimensions any day.
"Bloody Hell," commented Juggernaut.
"Mmf, bloody, mmf," went Jacobi until his employer rolled off of him.
"Save the papers," shrieked Juggernaut, espying her tax returns burning happily in the gutter.
Jacobi was in no fit state to do anything. He stumbled about in the street until he fell again against the man the press called the Big, Bouncing Bomber.
A chubby face harbouring malicious intentions looked down at the flatter than normal person infront of it. Jacobi noticed the sun had suddenly been blotted out and sought the reason. Upon finding the answer he decided enlightenment was highly over-rated.
"The train's were always late," said Jacobi, "they deserved to be blown up."
Nodding and making plenty of thumbs up gestures, Jacobi backed away slowly. His halted his strategic retreat when the street was filled with the sounds of sirens.
Displaying the efficiency of Pryor's police force when there is a doughnut shortage, the ends of the road were filled with cops in seconds. They hid behind opened car doors and pointed guns at the Big, Bouncing Bomber.
"Okay, Blubber-guts," called a senior officer through a mega-phone, "come quietly and we won't shoot you a lot!"
The fat man seemed momentarily taken aback. His head swung from side to side, his eyes telling his brain that these guys were not kidding.
Jacobi's stomach churned as the folds of fat upon the man's face slipped and slid until a large grin formed. Throwing off a previously unmentioned overcoat (extra-extra-extra large), the Big, Bouncing Bomber showed the world the collection of explosives wrapped about his torso.
"MUHAHAHAHA!" went the Big, Bouncing Bomber.
The police started whispering furtively amongst themselves. The senior officer referred to his Procedures Handbook and nodded as he read the relevant paragraph. Conferring only briefly with his colleagues, he quickly ducked back into his car and stuck it in reverse.
As rapidly as they had arrived, the police fled with their tails between their legs. Protect the peace? Yes. Serve the people? Yes. Get blown to pieces? Not on your nelly.
Jacobi could not blame them really. Well he could.
"Bastards!" he shouted as the last squad car disappeared.
A lone flyer flew over head and then ducked into the street. Swishing past a cameraman made a thumbs up to the pilot and it vanished back up into the clouds.
So, thought Jacobi, here he was, stuck in a street with a psychopath wearing a vest that could level the city. There was also the matter of the meeting they were nearly eleven minutes late for.
"Come on, Jac," said Juggernaut. "I saved most of the stuff, we can still make quarter past."
Keeping a wary eye on the mass of explosives, Jacobi followed his employer.
666 Avenue ran down a hill to terminate at the revolving doors of the C.T.D. building. It looked menacing, forbidding, evil even against the dark sky.
"Can't you manage on your own?" asked Jacobi, hopefully.
"It's your fault we're here, you're not wimping out."
"My fault? My fault you didn't pay your taxes? My fault you were throwing a coke machine at me when the inspector walked in?"
Juggernaut said nothing, just walked on down the hill. Jacobi was reluctantly trailing after her, becoming gradually more and more desperate.
"MUHAHAHAHA!" went the Big, Bouncing Bomber as he walked up behind them and donned his out-size overcoat.
Yet again he had satiated a slice of his desire for revenge against the monorail company. The police were nothing but doughnut-munching fools. Mmm, doughnuts. Food.
The Big, Bouncing Bomber began to salivate and thus never noticed the evilly placed foot in his path.
"MUHAHAYOIKS!" went the obese psychopath as he fell forward and began an uncontrollable tumble down the hill.
"Bloody Hell," remarked Hilda Juggernaut.
The unsnowy ball grew smaller and smaller until it broke through the revolving doors of the C.T.D. building and passed out of sight.
A few seconds of nothing was ended by a spectacular explosion that tore the grey tower apart from its base to its tip. The ravens took to the air and flame licked at their hind feathers and sent bricks flying across the city.
A crowd suddenly and unexpectedly gathered about the two on the hill watched the smoke clear. A red glow filled the sky and indeed there was nothing left of the menacing tax office save for blackened ash at the bottom of 666th Avenue.
"HURRAH!" shouted the crowd as one and popped the corks of the champagne bottles they had bought for this very occasion.
Carried aloft the shoulders of the grateful commoners, Hilda Juggernaut took a swig of bubbly and turned to a similarly held Jacobi Paris.
"Paris. Now I know I'm not an expert in such things, but I thought that explosives don't generally go off without their detonators being triggered."
"Ah, yes. No doubt God was smiling and there was a little miracle," replied Jacobi, smiling. "Be glad your tax transgressions are now nothing but dust on the wind."
The crowd cheered again and carried the heroes off to the pub so they could avail themselves of more champagne and assorted other beverages.
When the revellers were gone from sight a piece of paper fluttered to the ground. Atop the page letters conspired to spell out Juggernaut Haulage Incorporated. Smaller letters arranged below detailed various missing payments and overdue returns.
A bony hand picked up the form and eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles examined the document. The head nodded and the legs made after the departed crowd.
A raven perched on a nearby building noted that it had seen this very man sitting at his desk in the ex-tower but minutes ago. Then it told itself it must be imagining things, unless what they said was not just superstitious nonsense.
That tax men cannot die.