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The Triga Plains made Barlazzi look like a heaving metropolis at the centre of the Universe. The community was widely spaced over the entire area, and was a throwback to the days when it had been an open penal colony owned by the Ministry, where prisoners were sent to live effectively in exile from the rest of the world. This was a good 200 years before, and during the intervening time it had been completely forgotten by the Ministry, and the rest of the world. As this had enabled the women to escape the Massacre they weren't unduly distressed by this Ministerial neglect.
Nomads and peddlers kept the locals posted on events in the outside world, but this news was erratic to say the least. They knew the Vanquisher had arrived in their world, and that he had subsequently abdicated the Presidency. They knew about the earthquake even, but didn't know (or more importantly didn't care) about Gorth and Codlik's stints as world leader. This worked in the Indigo-ites' favour, as it meant they had no knowledge of Tamaz or some of his deeds.
The Indigo Players decided to perform their revue in a clearing at the centre of a gorup of huts, with piglets and chickens running amok around them. Kieran had been recognised and greeted rapturously by the women, who like all the others in these hidden communities, were delighted that he had removed the threat of Ministry discovery and takeover from them a few years before.
The three sketches they had created so far were performed, and got the best reception they had had anywhere. To Joby's relief 'Love In The Laundry' did not spark any hostile reactions this time, even though Tamaz was a real woman as far as the locals were concerned. Julian had feared Tamaz might get offended by this and do something impulsive, like dropping his drawers to prove otherwise. Fortunately he didn't, and the illusion remained intact.
"I'm so glad he decided to behave", said Adam, who was frantically towelling Bengo dry before helping him into his tattered frock-coat.
"I think it helped that Julian was in the audience", said Bengo, putting on his old stovepipe hat "I need a cigar. Julian, can I have yours as part of my ensemble?"
"I'm smoking it", said Julian, testily.
"Oh go on, my character isn't complete without it", Bengo pleaded.
"Why can't you just use an empty cigarette-holder like Finia does?" said Julian, handing it over nonetheless.
"That may work for his character, but it doesn't for mine", said Bengo, haughtily.
In this community 'The Stallion' proved to be the most provocative piece. Lonts stripped down to a jockstrap was a sight to gladden the heart of any red-blooded woman, but it was merely grudgingly tolerated by their menfolk. Not helped by the way the women participated in the sketch by enthusiastically yelling out their own bids for him!
"We'll give him to you for five chickens and a cow!" shouted Bengo, much to everyone's amusement, or nearly everyone's.
"Stop pursing your lips, Ada", Julian snorted "You look like Codlik!"
Tamaz created a diversion by throwing up the back of his petticoat and wriggling his bottom (sporting the embroidered love-heart on his drawers) at the audience. This seemed to greatly mollify the men, many of whom reached out to grope him. Joby managed to pull him out of their grasp before anyone got too carried away.
"That was a close one", he muttered to Kieran.
'The Fat Constable' also proved to be a success, but then any sketch which mocks pompous authoritarian figures so mercilessly will always raise a laugh. Even the visual jokes alluding to oral sex and buggery got laughs.
"What a wonderful audience they were, weren't they, Adam?" said Lonts, as the close of performance.
"You certainly scored a hit, that's for sure", said Adam, forcing him into his clothes.
"I didn't think we'd get away with the blow-job bit", said Joby "I mean, there were kids in the audience!"
"It's not as if I really got it out", Hillyard protested.
"Anyway, they're rural children", said Julian "I was one myself. We tend to be more advanced and practical in carnal matters than you townies".
"I bet you certainly were!" said Joby.
Hillyard pulled the padding out from under the greatcoat he wore in his role as the Fat Constable.
"Good grief", said Julian "I wouldn't have thought you needed it!"
"Ignore him, Hilly", said Adam.
"You were all pretty good", said Bardin, coming over to them "But it could be a lot better. I don't feel you're getting into your parts strongly enough. Hillyard, you're nowhere near nasty enough. You're supposed to smack me around the face as though you really detested me. You barely touch me, which makes the pratfall I have to do unconvincing".
"But I thought I only had to do a sort of symbolic slap", said Hillyard.
"Can't one of us just stand behind the scenes as it were and crack two pieces of wood together?" said Joby "Like they do in the films, just to get the noise".
"That may be all very well for the films", said Bardin, snootily "But it is not good enough for a live performance. Slapstick comedy doesn't work if it's entered into half-heartedly. You have to really hit me".
"I can't", said Hillyard "I'm a gentle person".
"No you are not!" Bardin exclaimed "For the duration of the sketch you have to be the Fat Constable, one hundred per cent. And the Fat Constable would take the greatest of pleasure in hitting me".
"I can't do it", said Hillyard "I'll be too scared of hurting you".
"Do Bengo and I hurt each other when we're belting each other with washboards during the laundry sketch?" said Bardin.
"He knocked you unconscious that time at the Festival", Hillyard chuckled.
"That was different", said Bardin, indignantly "I wasn't expecting that. I couldn't absorb the impact properly. What you all have to remember is that while the sketch lasts you are the character you're scripted to play. You forget your real lives completely, and for those few minutes you love or hate whoever the script dictates".
"Sounds like hard work", Joby sighed "And if we're getting the laughs already, does it matter?"
"Yes!" said Bardin, exasperated "Because we could be getting even bigger laughs, and all this definitely applies to you as well. You didn't smack Tamaz hardly at all. He was lying across you with his hands on the ground!"
"I was trying to keep my balance", said Tamaz.
"Exactly", said Bardin "Where were your shouts and screams and your wriggling about?! Joby's so worried about upsetting the women in the audience he wasn't remotely convincing as the irate laundry owner. Joby, you have to forget the punters for that little while. I know for a fact you can do it because Bengo's told me you've done that to Tamaz in real life".
"For Christ's sake", Joby protested "If all you want is a sadist I don't know why you don't get Julian to play the laundry-owner!"
"You can't do that", said Lonts "That wouldn't be fair on Tamaz at all!"
"I'd never have a chance to recover between performances!" Tamaz exclaimed, in horror.
"Joby, you have to play the part", said Lonts, who was now clinging onto Joby's singlet in a beseeching fashion.
"Alright, alright", said Joby "But I want protecting from any aggressive-looking women in the audience!"
"Didn't anyone measure up to your specifications, Bardin?" said Adam.
"You were all good", said Bardin "It's just I know you can all be even better. Apart from Toppy, he was excellent".
"Toppy?!" Lonts bellowed "Toppy wasn't acting at all. He was playing a nervous cadet, and he's always nervous in real life so he didn't even have to try. I think he had an unfair advantage over the rest of us".
"That doesn't matter", said Bardin "He was still very good".
They all went back to the Indigo for lunch and another rehearsal. The plan was that they were to go into the forest for an early evening performance outside the area's main hostelry. In the meantime everyone honed their performances as per Bardin's instructions.
Up on the forward deck Hillyard practised throwing slaps at Bardin, who kept urging him to hit harder, like an over-enthusiastic masochist. Adam and Joby watched whilst wincing.
"When do we start suggesting this is above and beyond the call of duty?" Adam whispered.
"Perhaps Julian's been right all along", said Joby "All clowns are masochists at heart. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm cut out for showbusiness".
"Of course you are", said Adam "Look how anxious Hawkefish was to get you into his revue. Bardin's right, you just need to overcome your nervousness and inhibitions. Remember, it's only a play after all".
"I'll feel better about it when I've got another role to play as well", said Joby "Preferably one where I don't have to clout anybody!"
A cart was hired from one of the local log-cutters, and the Indigo-ites used it to transport themselves and their props into the forest for the evening show. This was staged outside the bar in the main village, which acted as the administration centre for the whole area, and it went off better than they could have wished. The audience were willing to be entertained (which was the most important requirement of any audience really), and entered into the spirit of it with all the eagerness of people for whom a bit of light-hearted escapism was like a shot of cocaine up the nostrils.
They culminated the show with a new musical number. Bardin sang a hammy love-song in his rich operatic voice, but accompanied by various clumsy gestures. He was "serenading" Finia, who had to look haughty and distinctly unimpressed throughout it. Not easy to do as Finia found highly amusing and so had to bite his bottom lip frantically to stop himself from bursting out laughing. Whilst this was going on Kieran and Tamaz did a waltz round them on their rollerskates.
"Are you o.k?" said Bengo, going up to Joby, who was standing on the sidelines with his hand stuck under his armpits.
"My hand's sore", said Joby "If Bardin criticises tonight's performance I'll kick him somewhere tender!"
"Why didn't you powder your hands before going on?" said Bengo.
"Eh?" said Joby.
"Oh come on, you've seen me and Bardin do it", Bengo pulled a small pot out of his tote-bag, which contained a fine powder "Did you think we dusted ourselves with this just to make our hands look beautiful or summat!"
"I dunno why you assume we all know the tricks of the trade straight off", said Joby.
"You'll get there", said Bengo, stroking Joby's hand tenderly "You've got all the makings of a first-class clown".
"So I've been told many times in me life!" Joby grunted "I think Bardin should sing for real. He's got a good voice".
"Trouble is, it's difficult to do both in the same revue", said Bengo "If he tried to do a straight turn, everyone'd be waiting to see if anything funny happened".
The show came to an end amidst enthusiastic applause, and a donation of free beer from the bar-owner.
"The musical finale was very funny", said Adam "I'd love to see it again".
"Ada, after a couple more weeks of this you'll be a gibbering wreck everytime you hear it!" said Julian.
"That's if we don't all end up in hospital", said Hillyard, after taking a hearty slug of beer "If I have to clout Bardin like that 2 or 3 times a day he won't be able to sing, because he'll have a broken jaw!"
"Let alone poor Tamaz", said Adam "We'll have to carry around a cushion for him to sit on".
"Just use Hillyard's stomach", said Julian.
"You'll all get used to it", said Bardin, joining them.
"I suggest we go inside and see if this place does food", said Ransey.
They filed into the bar behind Julian, all except the clowns, who loaded the props onto the cart first.
"This revue's taking off even better than I expected", said Bardin "You and me aren't squabbling as much as we did at the Little Theatre, and the others respond so well to direction".
"Don't get carried away", said Bengo, shortly "It's still Julian who's in overall charge, not you".
"He's the producer", said Bardin "I'm director".
"Not sole director you're not", said Bengo "It was my bloody idea to start this revue, and now I find myself being completely sidelined! I hadn't realised how much you'd taken over until now".
"Oh don't ruin it by getting jealous", said Bardin "If the ideas had been left to you, we wouldn't have any show to put on. Just face it, I'm the one with the imagination, you help put it into production. We all have our bit to play ... right, is that everything?"
"Think so", said Bengo, sulkily.
"Let's go and get some grub then", said Bardin "Or do you want to stay out here and mope amongst the trees?!"
"I'll be in in a minute", Bengo mumbled.
"Look, if we sold programmes", said Bardin, slipping his arm casually round Bengo's shoulders "We could put on it, 'produced by Julian, directed by Bardin, based on an original idea by Bengo!' But we don't, so there, you'll just have to lump it".
"You haven't heard the last of this", Bengo snapped.
"Huh", said Bardin "Somehow, knowing you, I didn't think I had!"
The bar was currently being dominated by an old woman who had set herself up as the local faith-healer. She often turned up here of an evening and pressed her fingers along the areas of people's aches and pains.
"There's nothing supernatural about it at all", Joby whispered to Kieran "What she's doing is what in our time any osteopath could have done, and yet she's claiming she gets it direct from God!"
"I suppose as long as she eases people's pain that's all that matters", said Kieran. But his brow was furrowed and he didn't sound any too convinced by his own words.
He and Joby were filling a pail with water from a standpipe in the corner of the room, ready to take it out to the horse. Lonts though had other ideas. He had informed the faith-healer that Joby was blind in one eye, and so was in urgent need of her services.
"I told her you got it after looking at the Slime Man, Joby", Lonts boomed.
"Why don't you go and sit down!" said Joby, blushing to have his private experiences exposed in front of the whole room.
"I can cure you instantly", said Eugenia, advancing towards him "All you have to do is to put your entire faith in me".
"Oh is that all?" said Joby, sarcastically.
"You must often ask yourself, why did this happen to me?" Eugenia continued, unabashed.
"I know why it happened to me", said Joby "I was scared shitless by the Slime Man. It was an hysterical nervous reaction. Some people lose their hair after a shock, well I lost the sight in one eye. One day it'll come back, I just don't know when that's all".
"It is all much more easily explained than that", said Eugenia.
"That sounded like a pretty straightforward explanation to me", said Kieran.
"Forgive my forthright speaking", said Eugenia, tilting her head back and talking down her nose at him, as a lot of crashing bores do when making their point "But the Church has proved singularly inept at dealing with cases like this".
"How?" said Kieran "All the Church asks is that people talk to them when they're troubled. God is there to try and absorb your pain".
"And how exactly can He do that?" said Eugenia.
"The horse needs his water", said Joby, insistently.
"He loves us all", said Kieran "And when you love someone you want to take their pain from them, that is what He tries to do, but people have to take that first step and let Him into their hearts".
"Why have you not cured Mr Joby's partial blindness?" said Eugenia, hectoringly.
"'Cos he's not a faith-healer", said Joby.
"Because neither of you are looking at the real cause of it", said Eugenia "And the real cause is that this is Joby's punishment for the sins of a previous life".
"What rubbish!" Kieran exclaimed "I hope you're not going around spouting things like that, because that's dangerous and distressing".
"The stark fact is", said Eugenia "That Joby, dear man though he may be these days, could well have, say a thousand years ago, in a previous existence, willfully caused someone to lose the sight in their eye, and so he is now being punished for it".
"If she'd said 2000 years ago I could have put her right", Joby muttered "It was Adam who did all that, not me!"
Kieran wasn't to be mollified. He was furious by this woman's assertions.
"What you're saying is highly damaging", he said to Eugenia "It's all too easy to put everything awful down to some vengeance of God, I did it meself sometimes when I was younger, through bad education, but it's simply not the case ..."
"Who is the most evil person you have ever met?" said Eugenia.
"Father Gabriel", said Kieran "Certainly for the sheer scale of destruction that he caused".
"Quite, he killed thousands upon thousands of people", said Eugenia "So what do you think happened to him when he died? How do you think in the After-Life he could possibly atone for what he did?"
"He can't", said Kieran "The crimes of some people are completely beyond atonement. He could never be redeemed. All that I personally wish for is that he stays completely dead, and never returns to wreck more havoc and misery".
"Ah, but what if he was to return to suffer for his crimes?" said Eugenia, with a strong note of triumphalism in her voice "What if he had to return to live for several more lifetimes on this earth, and in each one he had to suffer for his sins, say as a starving child for example".
"He'd have to go through a helluva lot of lifetimes", said Joby.
"So in effect", said Kieran "You're saying that any starving child could be possessed by the spirit of Father Gabriel? What are people supposed to do then? Refuse to help the child, because to help it would be to help Gabriel?! You're not making any sense at all, woman! If we were to follow your doctrine no human being would extend a helping hand to one less fortunate than himself, just in case it was some evil spirit in disguise! We'd all be walking around cloaked in paranoia!"
"I really think it's time to water the horse", said Joby, firmly.
"People listen to charlatans like her", said Kieran, feeding the horse some mints from his open palm "They always did, and the Church has to take the brunt of the blame for that. It ballsed things up so much people lost faith in it and got wary of it", he gave a long drawn-out sigh "But perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps you should have got her to have a look at your eye".
"No thanks", said Joby "She'll probably tear it out and feed it to the horse! I'd have to wear a glass one like Hawkefish! Anyway, I've always been wary of anyone who promises any quick solutions".
"Quite rightly so", said Kieran "So many expect the quick solution from God. They treat Him like a slot-machine. Put your money in the slot and out pops a candy bar".
"I liked what you said about loving someone and wanting to take on their pain", said Joby, quietly.
"You do it so well yourself", said Kieran, gently "Look at when Tamaz got in a state. You always say to him 'I'll take care of you'. Like you have done to me all these years. That's what it's all about, that's the meaning of life, if there is any at all. Mutual affection. If there's one thing every human being on this earth wants and has ever wanted, it's a pair of loving arms around them. If everybody had that, you wouldn't have got the crazed lusts for power we've seen so many times. I really do believe the best form of security and government this world could ever have would be one of Christian Socialism".
"Equal shares for all, free love and everyone hugging each other?" said Joby.
"It sounds wonderful", Kieran sighed "But it'd get abused. The beaurocrats and the money-men would be allowed to take over, and then it'd become a travesty, like Communism did. Telling people how to think, stamping out religion, and forcing people to live together instead of letting them choose, as we've done. It's all so simple, I can't for the life of me understand why it can't work for everyone".
"Because all the crud in people's minds gets in the way", said Joby "And the power freaks aren't kept in their place. Let's go in, the grub must be ready by now".
They walked back to the main entrance of the bar, which was currently being blocked by two drunks leaning against the door-frames.
"Enjoyed the show", said one, leering beerily.
"Well we're sure glad about that", said Kieran "Will you let us through?"
"Hey", the drunk grabbed Joby's singlet in his grimy fist "Liked the way you sorted out your tart in that laundry sketch. That's how all women should be treated. It's the only language they understand. Anything else just confuses 'em".
"You were saying about power freaks and the crud in people's minds?" Kieran looked dolefully at Joby "Will you let us through now?"
The drunks made a grandiose gesture of letting them pass. Inside the other Indigo-ites had pushed two tables together, and were sitting around eating bread fried in beer, coated with cheese. Eugenia was sitting at one end of a bench examining Hillyard's bare foot.
"'Ere!" Joby advanced on Bardin "I wanna word with you! I'm not doing the laundry sketch anymore. As if it's not bad enough that I get beaten up by militant women, now I'm getting praised and congratulated by sad psycho's! And don't tell me that's showbusiness, because I'll brain yer!"
"O.K, calm down", Bardin held his hands up in surrender "You'll be pleased to hear I've been giving it some thought anyway, and I've got an idea for improving it".
"Go on, amaze me", said Joby, sitting down next to him.
"I thought that after you'd spanked Tamaz, he could box your ears or give you a smack round the jaw", said Bardin.
"Oh perfect solution", said Ransey, sarcastically "More violence, just what's needed!"
"Do they still kiss at the end?" said Adam.
"Yeah, that's essential", said Bardin.
"Well I must admit it sounds altogether more balanced", said Adam "Less overtly sexist anyway".
"How can you be sexist to an hermaphrodite?" said Julian.
"I suppose it rather depends what mood Tamaz is in!" Adam laughed.
"Alright", said Joby, grudgingly "If it'll keep drunken thugs from forming a fan club in my honour, I'll go along with it. Although I'm not rehearsing it like you do!"
"Are you happy with that, Tamaz?" said Bardin.
Tamaz was busy tearing a boiled baby chicken limb from limb with his bare hands. He shrugged as though the matter was of supremem indiffference to him, and carried on eating.
"I think it sounds quite superb", said Adam "There are shades of 'Carmen' to it. Another role that would be perfect for Tamaz".
"You're just turned on at the thought of me getting clouted", said Joby "Does Hillyard have to get his feet out when we're eating?"
"I'm sure I sprained something when I was chasing Toppy around", said Hillyard "My foot gave a nasty click. Eugenia is sorting it out for me".
"Not a job for the fainthearted", said Adam.
"Can you feel the heat leaving your body?" said Eugenia "If not, I'll have to concentrate much harder, and complete silence will be required".
Someone dropped a tray of pint-pots on the tiled floor.
"I think it'll be easier if I soak 'em in a bowl of warm water when we get home!" said Hillyard.
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