Chapter 10: Signs of an Unforeseen Circumstance
The surviving Moron ran along the goat path, peering over cliff-edge and looking for his brothers down in the sweeping river. They do not swim very well. He stopped running, looked ahead to ruptured chains and no Ekhida, turned around, surveyed where he came from, and decided, I think everyone has disappeared. He then clanked his way down the path through the Demon’s Door Bolt, and ran past his one remaining brother standing against the inner wall. Stopping quickly, he turned back and flipped his brother’s switch.
“What time is it?” asked the other Moron.
“Early afternoon,” he returned.
“What is happening?”
“Ekhida and four brothers are missing.”
“Where did they go?”
Moron hesitated, looked outside, and droned, “Over the cliff.”
“Is that bad?”quizzed his brother.
“I think so,” Moron affirmed, “What should we do?”
“Push the alarm button,” his brother declared.
Moron shuffled to the first step of the stairway, ran a finger along the wall, studying the signs over three alarm buttons as his brother caught up with him. Over the signs, a much larger one proclaimed, “SIGNS OF A SIGN ARE THE SIGN.” The left sign read FIRST LEVEL, the middle one SECOND LEVEL, and the right button was marked THIRD LEVEL. A smaller sign under the buttons read, PRESS ONLY IN EMERGENCY. Moron stood perplexed. Is this an emergency or is it just a non-emergency? And so he asked his brother, “What is an emergency, anyway?”
The second Moron paused and replied, “A sign of an unforeseen circumstance calling for immediate action. A missing Amazon and four missing brothers are all signs.”
Moron pondered, “Have I seen signs of an unforeseen circumstance?”
“Yes. Five, just like these signs,” and he pointed to them.
“Then, these signs are signs of an unforeseen circumstance. Which button do we push?”
His brother scratched the top of his head with a forefinger, “If these signs are all signs of a sign, we press all three.”
· * * * *
“What in Hell is that?” screamed Corax of Syracuse, the First Level Praefect. He’d been down here for a thousand years, and never had he heard it. It’s the frigging alarm! As the inventor of legal verbiage and Daemon’s lawyer, he had composed Hell’s official signs in proper double-speak, each sign explaining correct protocol and identification, including additional signs over the EMERGENCY alarm buttons—such as the SIGNS OF A SIGN sign—for in a real emergency, as opposed to a non-emergency, procedures following the first mentioned emergency had to be spelled out equivocally and perfectly clear, the whole intent of avoiding confusion, otherwise a false alarm could occur, disrupting any one of the three levels, or in fact all three, in which case he himself might have to implement the proper modus operandi—like Right NOW!
Having written it, he knew the contingency from the Praefect’s Manual. Arm every able-bodied man and scramble them to the Upper World. Something like this could mean an explosion in the lower levels, the shock-wave rising up the stairwell, wiping out all signs of the dead, the non-living, and even the signs themselves. There goes my career as a sign painter and lawyer. Corax the Crow—I was the best. Could get an axe-murderer off with a wrist slap, bribe impeachable judges, suck-up to the nastiest tyrants, and paint the best legally-confusing signs. Now what? It’s herding a bunch of felons up six thousand steps!
Daemon ran out from the Front Office, yelling, “What’s going on?” He had laid out his evening wardrobe for the great debauchery: his shiny black boots, pin-striped jodhpurs, and piggy jacket. Using a pig’s-bristle brush, the jacket was almost clear of lint when the alarm sounded. The speaker was directly overhead, the noise making him jump and drop the jacket to the floor. Son of a frigging bitch! The damned thing is filthier than when I started.
· * * * *
On the Second Level, Attila the Hun ran along the corridor, screaming, “Break open the Weapon Lockers! All killers and murderers arm yourselves. Pickpockets, diseased whores, and pig-pokers stand aside!”After fifty years of complete boredom as Second Level Praefect, something was happening up Topside and he was ready this time, no over-drinking, no screwing sneaky bitches. Attila always wore his armor, just in case. Now where in Hell is that Sword of Power? I left it here somewhere, right after stabbing that ass-kissing Goth.
· * * * *
Haman the Agagite sprang to his feet, rubbing his neck. The rope-burns never quite healed, now compounded by heat rash, cancers, and pustules. The Third Level was so hot he no longer wore clothes, the luxury of a tunic and trousers a distant memory. As the alarm sounded, he ran from the Watch Room bellowing, “Floor Supervisors to the Main Hall! Now!” He beat his way through the solid mass of killers with an iron prod, some snarling, baring remaining teeth, others yelling, “Piss off!” A few tried to grab him as he beat them to the hot subsurface. The alarm had never sounded before, so he knew this was some type of cataclysm within an Upper Level or the Surface. He screamed sardonically as his eyes rolled, “Yes! Now I can continue my original plan—exterminating Israelites, especially Mordecai and that two-faced Esther. Ooo-a, ha ha, hah!” And he wiped slaver from his chin.
Treaders abandoned the Wheel of Pain, and the Vertical Lift was forgotten as supervisors ran into the Hall, all nude and milling about, searching each other’s eyes as they shoved the deranged and dangerous. Intense heat and untold years appeared in their physicality as open sores and hunched backs. And a rotting blackness, dry and flaking, clung to their limbs from a sulfurous gas seeping up from the earth’s core, smelling like brimstone.
“Listen up!” Haman shouted, “The Emergency siren means one thing. We are beginning the War for the Worlds. You all know what we are dealing with—marching Rot-Brains, all dangerous, demented killers, and crazed arsonists. That’s why all the weapons are stored on the Second Level. Use your flails often, keep them moving up the stairwell. This will not be easy! A hundred mile climb with no rest periods.”
“How long will it take?” quizzed Supervisor Sulla.
“The Praefect’s Manual states five to six days, but there were less maniacs down here when it was written. Look at this place! Rot-Brains packed like anchovies in a barrel. The worst are the older ones, the heavy-browed cavemen. They still have comprehension problems.”
· * * * *
The river rolled past Amanirena, muddy brown and deep, yet she could not find any visible sign of Galen, Czaba, or the Amazon. She saw them leap from the cliff above the Door Bolt, and then they vanished underwater as a singular splash. Too many moments passed, and she feared the powerful current swept them downriver. The Ural was huge, far larger than she had imagined; and for anyone to swim it safely appeared impossible. In desperation she left the horses behind, running downstream along the rocky shoreline.
“Amanirena!” someone shouted at her back.
She turned around and found Galen standing near the readied mounts. He leaned forward, his hands placed upon knees as he gasped for breath. Trying to stand upright, he coughed, and she realized he had almost drowned: he Galen, a good swimmer! She paced over the rocks, all rounded and some slippery, trying to get back to him.
“Have you seen Czaba? Ekhida?” he gasped between coughs.
“No!” she blurted, “The river carries too much power, and eddies form whirlpools.”
He nodded, leaning upon his knees again. After a moment, he raised his head; and a brightness of recognition flashed in his expression, “Here he comes. Downriver.”
She turned around. Two hundred paces downstream, Czaba was leaping along the rocks, coming their way with Ekhida draped over his shoulder like a sack of wheat. How can he do that! Run upon such a difficult surface. For a man who refused to be the seventh warrior, he was a living, running, anomaly. She turned from his approach, running past Galen to grab a blanket draped over a horse’s saddle, then returning to water-edge. As the powerful Magyar reached her, Amanirena declared, “Quick. Wrap her in this, for the water is nearly freezing.”
“Tell me about it,” he shot back, laying the Amazon down carefully as Amanirena tucked the wool material around her. He knelt to them, “Pray to the gods she makes it.” Ekhida appeared pale, she breathing shallow.
“She’s cold, exhausted, and unconscious at the moment,” the Nubian affirmed.
Galen stood upright again, waving a hand toward the cliffs, “They’ll be pouring out of that Black Hole like hornets to a man’s balls.” He breathed deeply, finally retrieving his breath, “We’ve got to ride fast. Want me to carry her?”
Concern lined Czaba’s expression, “Not on your life. She’s light, and I’m pumped. I told you I had an agenda, and this is part of it.”
Amanirena looked up to him. What an odd statement.
· * * * *
The lumps upon Daemon’s temple throbbed, his eyes cutting like steel through flesh as he grilled the two Morons. Again addressing the second, “You saw all the signs of an emergency. And then you perceived the bright idea of pushing every button you could touch. Correct?”
“Yes,” droned the Moron, “On the wall, I saw five signs of an unforeseen circumstance requiring immediate attention. They were all signs of a sign.”
Daemon gave him a hard stare. Unbelievable! The Moron acted correctly for an incorrect reason. He turned back to the first Moron, “So two men ran across the bridge, killed your brothers, and stole Ekhihda; is that it?”
“Yes,” the machine agreed, “Two men with bows and a sword. They kicked my brothers into the river.”
In ten long strides, he stepped outside, standing next to the All-Seeing Eye. It took him a half hour to sprint up the stairway, followed by an equally long tantrum. Yet now he was calm and calculating. Whoever they were, the raiders were halfway back to the steppe. Four Morons washed downriver, all traces of them gone! Somehow, two men figured out how to render them inoperable; and if I cannot find out how, I’m going to lose more of my investment.
With them went the Amazon! He could always send a lackey to the Hyperborians or Magyars and kidnap a concubine; but that woman would be weaker and less intelligent. He needed Ekhida. She killed Achilles in a single shot! And Homer—that lying sack of shit—pinned the deed on Paris. The damned Greeks. They never could acknowledge the truth: a woman killed their greatest hero. She had more grit than ten men, the perfect mother of the Anti-Christ.
He had to calm himself, think clearly. The alarm had been sounded on all three levels, and this was it, no turning back. Daemon projected the scenario. At the moment, Corax the Crow kept the Upper Level crowd where they were. But in three to four days, Attila and all his Second Level thugs would reach the upper one. In six to eight days, Haman’s slavering Rot-Brains would pack into the stairwell and reach the First Level. All of them—the whole damned lot—might turn upon each another, hacking their numbers to dwindling returns. The only solution was immediate action. He would bring First Level combatants Topside and present a challenge to the Magyars and whoever these Moron destroyers were. A stalling tactic. Yes a one-on-one contest to see who keeps Ekhida. It might work; and even if his champion lost, what difference would it make? He was Daemon! And his word of honor was totally worthless.