"Oh come on, come on", said Ransey, impatiently.
He was standing at the pay-desk in the bank, whilst the clerk behind the iron grille took an age to count out the wad of notes which were ultimately destined for the boatyard. The clerk was steadily taking more and more offence at his impatience, and when he had reached the requested amount he unlocked the grille and began to hurl them at Ransey as though he was pelting him with rotten eggs.
They were thus engaged in this battle of wills when they heard the air-buggy go over. Almost at once it seemed a commotion erupted outside. A great army of women converged on the town square, most of them packing revolvers or rifles. Ransey rushed out to them, clutching his canvas bag of money. It didn't take him long to gauge the situation. The women were convinced the Ministry had arrived solely in order to round them all up and pack them off baby-farms.
"We don't know what they're here for yet", said Ransey, in a loud and firm voice "But I can promise you one thing. Neither I nor Kieran will allow them to condemn you to such a fate, so please calm down. And I notice some of you are sticking your revolvers down your cleavages. I urge you not to do this, ladies. It fills me with almost as much horror as men who insist on tucking guns down the front of their trousers!"
Kieran and Joby arrive don the scene soon after and announced that they were going out to the air-strip to meet the dreaded Ministry. The women followed on behind them like a particularly ferocious-looking posse. *
Inside the customs shed Kieran was astonished by the sight gathered there. Instead of the usual gang of grim-faced men in dark suits, all meaning business, were a gang of whey-faced men milling about in quiet bewilderment. And in their midst was Codlik, the President himself.
"We weren't expecting you!" Kieran blurted out "We had no word that you were coming ... Your Grace".
Codlik turned to look at him, and it was obvious to one and all that he was in a highly emotional state.
"Haven't you heard?" he said "The City's destroyed. There is nothing left there".
Kieran felt as though he was having a disturbing dream. Even the way Codlik spoke was straight out of a dream.
"I don't understand", said Kieran "What do you mean, it's destroyed?"
"There's been a terrible earthquake", said Codlik, calming himself a little "Whole parts of the City no longer exist. The death toll amounts to about three-quarters of the City population. We've managed to evacuate the survivors to Krindei, as they have the best medical facilities there, and so many are injured you see. This all happened three days ago, I'm surprised you didn't guess something was wrong when the television network shut down".
"Well no", said Kieran, helplessly "We're used to that down here. Joby, am I dreaming this?"
"No, it's real", said Joby, grimly.
"It's all gone", Codlik went on "The worst earthquake in nearly 200 years. Pipes torn out of the ground, weaving about like snakes, roads moving like reams of silk ... crowds of people swallowed whole".
Kieran embraced him, and they held each other silently for a moment.
"You all look in need of rest", he said, eventually "I'll take you to Myrtle's hotel, it's the best place to stay in town. Joby, you and Ransey had better spread the word as to what's happened".
The next few days passed like an unwanted holiday in limbo. Most of the Ministry slept on mattresses on the floor of Myrtle's function room, and spent their conscious hours sitting in huddled groups whispering frantically, like French aristcrats on the eve of a mass execution.
Codlik spent a lot of time alone with Kieran. The President had turned increasingly to religion for solace in recent years and gained some comfort from discussing spirituality with him. Kieran took him to the little chapel which overlooked the river, and there they lit candles and said prayers for the dead.
The whole town had a numb, unreal feel to it, like that dreadful time lapse between a death in the family and the funeral, when all anyone can do is keep saying to each other "in a few day's time it won't feel as bad as this, and at least we'll be able to get on with the rest of our lives". All anyone knew at this stage was that nothing would ever be the same again.
"Kieran informed me last night that he's in the middle of saying a novena for the souls of the dead", Julian wrote in his log-book "Which means we have several more days of this! It must be said though that he's as anxious as I am that life should resume to some semblance of normality as soon as possible. But we also remarked that we have no idea what that normality will now be. We have talked about the end of civilisation in the City many times, but none of us imagined it would come as quickly or as abruptly as this! It's left us rather in a quandary. It's pretty certain that the focus of the world will now shift to here, but we don't want the Ministry taking us over and turning us into a carbon-copy of the City. Kieran feels that the era of one organisation governing the entire world is now over, and that all places should now be self-regulating. I entirely agree ... on condition Toondor Lanpin isn't governed by Codlik and his chums!
The Indigo has felt like a bus-station these past few days, with people endlessly traipsing in and out, wanting to exclaim over everything in a very ghoulish and unnecessary way. So much so that I've felt like changing the name of our home to that of an inn I saw once back in our time, the 'Who'd Have Thought It'! I have absolutely no wish to captain a bus-station, so I am preparing to take measures to deter all non-residents from coming on here. Nothing drastic, like boiling in oil, but enough to make our wishes plain.
In the meantime, in spite of the constant interruptions, I have tried to maintain life on an even keel here. I packed Adam back off to his studio for a few hours each day, but Bengo is at large here all the time, as the Little Theatre has closed for a week out of respect for the earthquake victims.
Joby has been largely absent though, as he goes off to help Kieran a lot with his consoling of the Ministry. I have taken advantage of his long absences to try and impose some kind of discipline on Tamaz. The wretched creature is far too spoilt, and everyone else seems to be in danger of pampering him just for the sake of a quiet life. The last straw for me came the other day when Hillyard wanted to take him out for some exercise. It was a damp, foggy day and Hillyard suggested he put on an oilskin jacket. Tamaz's reaction was "I'm not wearing that stupid coat!" My patience I have to say was exhausted, and I shut him in his room for the rest of the day. He's been damn lucky it wasn't the hold!
Since then I've taken great pleasure in turning him into a kind of glorified tweeny-maid. I've taken away his ballgown, fur and fancy undies, and I've set him to work scrubbing the table and floor in the galley, and even peeling potatoes, although he's so hopeless at this that the waste he causes really doesn't make it worthwhile. Tamaz has got to be the most spoilt and wilful creature I've ever come across (and the competition for that particular accolade is fierce!). He is a shining example of the Ghoomers' complete and utter failure at child-rearing! I have had cause these last few days to beat him a few times, but in all honesty I have to say that the long-term benefits of this appear to be minimal. All I can hope for is that eventually some sense will seep into him, probably when he gets sick and tired of having sore skin! I still believe the Hungarian aristocracy had the right idea. They would pay a servant just for the purpose of thrashing the eldest son four times a day, whether the little wretch deserved it or not. Obviously, like me, strong believers in osmosis!"
"You don't mean to tell me I've managed to convert you after all these years!" said Kieran, sliding into the back pew next to Joby.
"No, I thought I'd come in and wait for you", Joby whispered, hushed by being in the chapel "I thought I wouldn't disturb you if I sat back here. Codlik still looks in a bit of a state".
Codlik was lighting candles at the front, just below the icon. It was dusk, and the bank of candles added a warm glow and a soothing atmosphere to the building.
"He's getting better", said Kieran, biting his lip pensively "He's started talking about re-settling the world's administration capital down here".
"I don't like the sound of that", said Joby "Not turning Toondor Lanpin into another hotbed of beaurocrats!"
"Which is why we have to nip it in the bud early", said Kieran "Get him and his men tamed like we did Tamaz".
"I think Tamaz was easier", Joby grunted.
"Probably!" Kieran gave a quiet laugh.
"Trouble is", said Joby "The only way we can do it is if you become Governor. That would stop 'em in their tracks".
"Maybe", said Kieran "Or someone else who's local. Get someone elected democratically. I suggested to Julian last night that he should stand, but he wouldn't hear of it".
"Why not?" said Joby, in surprise "He enjoys being in charge of us lot".
"He said that's a different thing entirely", said Kieran "We're a tight little unit, not a sprawling great town. Those were his words. He also said he's too old to start all that nonsense, and I must admit I can see his point. He doesn't want the hassle. And Adam certainly wouldn't want it, not when he's got his studio to play with. I've had enough of all that sort of thing, and Ransey says all the ceremonials would bore him stiff. The only other likely candidate from our mob is Finia, and he's too private for all that ... plus of course it leaves you".
"No way!" said Joby "It was bad enough having to partner you, I don't want it for meself!"
"Just a thought", Kieran sighed "But I think you've got a lot of qualities you could bring to it".
"No, Kieran", said Joby, firmly "Not on your life. Ask Hillyard, he would certainly liven up local politics!"
"Oh come off it", said Kieran "Aside from the obvious problems, that he'd cause a fresh sex scandal every five minutes, he'd never remember his policies, and getting him to turn up for meetings would be a nightmare".
"Look, face it", said Joby "No one from our lot wants to be Governor. The Indigo would have to become the Governor's residence for a start, and that would be beyond a joke. I can't imagine this town's short of prospective candidates. It doesn't need us to stick our oar in. And if you insist on interfering you'll find yourelf nominated!"
"You couldn't be that cruel!" said Kieran "Anyway, I suppose we've got enough to do distracting Codlik from taking over. To start with, I've invited him home for dinner with us tonight".
"I should think that's the last thing he needs right now!" Joby exclaimed.
"No, I thought it'd do him good", said Kieran "Show him that life goes on and all that".
"It's quite relaxing in here at this time of day isn't it?" said Joby "I think if you religious bods stuck to putting up peaceful buildings and left out all the do's and don'ts, you might get a few more customers!"
"The New Religion tries not to impose too many", said Kieran "No nonsense about when and how you can eat food, that kind of thing. A lot of that kind of thing was only invented for practical reasons anyway, like being wary of eating pork on a hot day. But somehow it all got dressed up in mysticism".
"True, from what little I know about different religions all the rules about meat-eating tend to come from hot countries like the Middle East and India".
"Mm, and like the old Muslim law of holding funerals within 24 hours of the person's death", said Kieran "It was probably a case of having to originally!"
Codlik finished attending to the candles and strolled over to them.
"Joby", he said "I expect you'll be glad when I've finished hassling Kieran and you can have him to yourself again".
"No, I don't mind", said Joby "At least I usually know where to find him when he's with you. When he's out preying on people I never know where he is!"
A monk came in and moved to the front of the chapel, where he knelt down and began clicking miniature cymbals tied to his fingers. Kieran couldn't see this without remembering the monk who had hung around Thetislog on the eve of the comet blast. They had been convinced that that was the end of the world too, but it had been far from it. Somehow it was an encouraging sign that the world had managed to keep turning thus far, in spite of everything.
Joby and Kieran took Codlik back to the Indigo, where they were greeted by a billboard on the deck which proclaimed "CLOSED TO ALL NON-RESIDENTS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE".
"Good start to bringing a guest home", said Joby "Must be Julian's idea".
"I'm sure he doesn't mean you, Codlik", said Kieran.
They went below deck, where they found Ransey sitting on the bottom step, reading the local newspaper.
"About time you came home", he growled at Joby "Go and talk to your lovely girlfriend. He's lying in bed snivelling, and because of that bloody hole in the wall I can't have a quiet time in my own cabin!"
"Alright, don't get your specs in a twist", said Joby "I thought Hillyard was gonna fix that wall anyway?"
"We've all got sidetracked these past few days", said Ransey "Nice to see you, Codlik. Julian's in the saloon. Order him to pour you a drink if you like".
"I'm not a big drinker", said Codlik. (This was only too true. Codlik had been known to make a single glass of wine last for an entire state banquet).
"Ach, I'm sure you'd like a little pre-dinner drink", said Kieran "You go in. I'll just pop in the galley and tell Adam we've got an extra one".
"Really that sign is just to keep out some of our more tiresome visitors", said Julian, pouring out for Codlik a measure of brandy "Fradie and Jonner in particular".
"Have I met them?" said Codlik.
"You might have done. Jonner's an artist. Fradie's a writer. Both are actually quite good at what they do, credit where it's due", said Julian "But Fradie is an insufferable sponger, not happy unless there's free food in the offing. And Jonner ... well he's worse in my opinion. He's always trying to cadge my people off me, to paint them ... or worse. I also get the impression he wants to move in here, when he's got a perfectly good apartment over the river".
"I take it you're not keen on that idea?"
"No I'm not! This family is quite large enough. There are eleven of us here, and I absolutely refuse to countenance the idea of taking in yet another one, particularly as I said when he's already got a home of his own".
"It'd make a nice round dozen", said Codlik. The brandy was making him skittish for the first time in years.
"I don't see the advantages in a dozen", said Julian "We've had Jonner to stay here sometimes, and the overwhelming feeling I get is that he wouldn't fit in. I can't think why, but he just doesn't. Strange really when you think about it".
Tamaz was lying curled up like a hedgehog on his bed, when Joby went in to see him.
"It's gonna be dinner-time soon", said Joby "You'd better get up".
"Bastard!" Tamaz shrieked, sitting up so suddenly that Joby flinched as though he was about to be struck "You leave me alone here, and all I do is get punished!"
"You've just been giving a few chores to do that's all", said Joby.
"Are you going to allow that man to carry on beating me?" said Tamaz, haughtily.
"If you don't behave yourself, he can do what he likes", said Joby.
Tamaz gave an animal-like spit.
"Now listen to me", said Joby, firmly "This is your home. You belong here. We all want you here. But for better or worse Julian's in charge, and if he decides to give you something to do, then do it. If only because it makes life easier for yourself in the long-run".
"Alright!" Tamaz screamed "But why do I have to walk around in this shitty old t-shirt?! I want my clothes back".
"I'll get 'em for you", Joby sighed, wearily.
Tamaz sniffed the air like a dog scenting a thunderstorm.
"I heard that Codlik creature just now", he said "What's he doing here?"
"Joining us for dinner", said Joby.
"I hate him", said Tamaz, with alarming simplicity.
"You'll behave in front of him", said Joby "Or it'll be the hold with bread and water, and Julian thrashing you with the razor-strop, got me?"
"He's not staying here is he?" said Tamaz, warily.
"No he's not staying here. There isn't room for one thing!" said Joby.
"Toppy is really stupid", said Lonts, laying the table in the galley "He gets all worked up just because Tamaz pulled all his clothes out of the cardboard box and threw them on the bed. As if anyone cares that Toppy had folded them up!"
"You are rather unfair to Toppy, Lo-Lo", said Adam "I know he's got rather exacting standards, but that's only because of the way he was trained".
"I bet you wouldn't like him as your assistant in the studio", Lonts retorted "Joby says Toppy's a proper little fairy, and he's surprised he doesn't get a job as a hairdresser!"
"Finish laying that table, or I'll pinch your butt", said Adam, trying not to laugh.
The others all drifted in soon after and took their places. Normally Adam and Julian sat at opposite ends of the table, but Codlik was granted Adam's place, and Adam went and sat next to Julian.
"Hang about", said Julian "We're one short. Where's Freaky?"
Tamaz walked in as if on cue. He was wearing his coffee-coloured teddy, with his wrap slung over his shoulders, and his mouth liberally smeared with strawberry-coloured lipstick.
"Tamaz believes in undressing for dinner", said Adam.
"I give up!" said Julian "That creature is completely beyond redemption. It's as if all my efforts of the past few days are worth nothing".
Tamaz paused by Codlik's chair and stared down at him. Codlik felt uncomfortable under his amber gaze, and fancied he could almost hear the snakes' heads hissing.
"You were one of the ones who voted not to pay my income tax bill for me", said Tamaz, accusingly.
"That was rather a long time ago, Tamaz", said Codlik "The world has changed irrevocably since then".
"Sit down", said Joby, directing Tamaz into his seat.
"Eat up, Codlik", said Adam "We don't have to worry about not having enough food to go round anymore".
"Poverty is a soul-destroying thing isn't it?" said Codlik, earnestly "I had a taste of it when I was very young, and studying to pass my entrance exam for the Ministry. I remember going without food so that I could buy a set of handkerchiefs".
"Weren't your priorities rather round the wrong way, old love?" said Adam.
"Appearances were all I'm afraid", said Codlik.
"Even so, I can only assume you weren't as poor as you thought", said Julian "When you're completely on your uppers food is paramount. Nothing else matters".
"Food and keeping warm", said Adam "Everything is boiled down to the absolute basics".
"Certainly not hankies", said Hillyard.
"It's not as if you could get arrested for not having one!" said Joby.
"The hankie police", Adam laughed.
Codlik steered the conversation onto world politics. A subject he felt more at ease with. He voiced his reservations about Kieran's plan for self-regulating areas, saying it would only lead to future conflicts between states.
"How?" said Kieran "We're all too widely-spaced for that. It's not like the world was in our day, when it was densely populated, and countries were crammed in next to each other, cheek by jowl. These days there are only a few million of us scattered over the entire globe, and as long as we all keep communicating I don't envisage a problem. That's why I think keeping the Council of Governors is vital. It could meet once or twice a year to discuss things, and anything that is a cause of concern can be brought up and analysed".
"I was thinking that it could meet at Woll's place", said Adam "For the first one anyway, to see how it goes. I'm sure Woll wouldn't have a problem with that. He's usually open to suggestions, he's just too shy to broach them himself".
"It's not as if he hasn't got the space", said Joby.
"I think he'd like it", said Hillyard "He's a frustrated host at heart, and his staff are well up to organising it all".
"I suggest we have the first one in a month's time", said Kieran "At Christmas. It makes it a festive occasion, and it's a good time for making big plans for the future".
"We could take the show there to entertain them with", said Bengo, rising to his feet in ecstacy "Oh I can see it all now!"
"He's off", said Joby.
Bengo threw himself excitedly onto Julian and smothered him with kisses.
"Oh it'll be wonderful!" he cried.
"Bengo, I'm trying to eat my dinner", Julian pushed him off "Now sit down and eat yours too".
"This is all very well but who is to represent Toondor Lanpin?" said Codlik.
"Julian can represent us for the first one", said Ransey "Until we've had a chance to have our first election next year".
"Kieran will be performing instead", said Bengo.
"Me true vocation", said Kieran.
"But what about me?" Codlik cried, in exasperation.
"Well I would think you can be the Chairman", said Adam, to general approval "Referee it as it were".
"This is all nonsense", said Codlik "I am the President. The President of Earth!"
There was a short embarrassed silence, and then Joby said quietly "You WERE the President of Earth".
"But that post no longer exists", said Kieran "I don't want to add to your troubles, Codlik, but I'm afraid it's true. This is the way forward. The days of the Ministry are over".
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