As tracer bullets zinged above them and steadily destroyed the far wall, Analie scrabbled around on the musty carpet, trying to pull on her black jeans while simultaneously doing her impression of a bullet-ducking flatfish. She pulled on her T-shirt and shoes in two dimensions, painfully aware that if she raised her arms even a couple of inches, she’d probably lose them.
When the horizontal rain of bullets paused for a moment, she flipped onto her stomach, grabbed her pregnant rucksack, and crawled out through the fresh hole in the far wall, counting her blessings that Clingdog appeared to be following.
She hoped that the effects of the drugs might at last be wearing off; and her hopes improved when he mumbled: “How’d they find us so quickly? I thought we’d be safe for tonight at least.” But her heart sank when he burbled something else, and she realised that he was still talking about rabid monkeys.
The ancient elevator was still at their floor, but they’d be way too vulnerable in that lift shaft as it cranked laboriously down to the lobby. So they cascaded down the adjacent stairwell, feet slipping on the concrete that was crumbling beneath the torn carpet.
“Wait,” said Clingdog, grabbing Analie’s waist in a move that struck her as overly familiar. She stopped and stared at him with a silent expression that easily said: “What the fuck is it now? Keep moving or we’re dead! Sheesh, amateur!”
“They must’ve been in the building across the landing strip,” he explained, his drugged-out world merging with Analie’s reality. “But there must be more than one; so they’re almost certainly waiting in ambush downstairs. They had time to set this up before the damned monkey Commandos started shooting up the armoury. This is well executed; Purple Singularity soldiers always plan their attacks down to the letter.”
She fought to extract meaning from his ramblings. “Upstairs, then!” she suggested. “If they’re below us, we have to go up.”
They reversed their tracks and began to sprint up the stairwell, bounding up several steps at a time. “But what then?” he asked, beginning to despair. Analie didn’t answer.
They bounded up a couple more storeys, almost at the top floor.
“Wait!” he called again, wheezing unhealthily. She stopped, exasperated. “It’s just... those things chasing us... they’re not really monkeys, are they?”
She hugged him, making his knees buckle.
He continued: “I know because by my calculations, all those Superstring-mangling bombs bouncing off the Arsetanium Gribbleweave and exploding outside the armoury with the giant waterbed... surely they would have like totally destroyed the corridor and probably the whole outer shell of the building, maybe even the entire Spaceport. But the corridor outside our room was still there, and here we are in the stairwell... do you know what I’m saying? So that means... you’re not really a Princess, are you? And I’m not the Champion Pallbearer to the Emperor of... whatever planetary system it was... which means... oh, crap... so we didn’t... you know, in the shower, and on the water bed... you were so flexi-”
“You’d best stop there,” she suggested through pursed lips, “before you say something that you might find really embarrassing later.” She resumed bounding up the steps, and he quickly followed, reality beginning to re-assimilate for him, thudding him back down to Earth. His head felt cloudy and numb, as if he’d been listening to the exact same channel of anatomically similar songs on Pandora.com all day. Shit, he thought. That illusory bendy sex with Upgraded Princess Analie had been like totally incredible, though.
They reached the top of the stairwell. As is always the case in these situations, the door to the roof was unlocked, so they were able to burst through onto the summit of the crumbling concrete mountain.
“Now what?” Analie shouted, exasperated. The cold night time air bit through her damp hair, which she hadn’t even had time to comb through before the bullets had started flying. “If we head downstairs, we’re surely dead. If we stay here, we’re definitely dead...”
A noise from above, like the beach scene from Apocalypse Now (only without Ride of the Valkyries blaring out) beat down at them. Stunned, they both dropped to their knees, clinging to each other as a gale-force wind whipped up around them.
Then a familiar voice blurted over a loudspeaker: “Get out of the way so I can land, dumbasses!”
They rolled over to the relative safety of the stairwell, and stared with incredulity as a rainbow-striped helicopter bucked and bounced its way down onto the flat rooftop. The door opened, and a giant leapt out, grinning from ear to ear. The rotor blades whizzed by just inches over his head.
“Rez!” called Analie with a guilty start. She ran to him, and Rez flung his arms around her in an almighty bear hug that nearly popped her backbone.
“Hey, did you think you’d never see me again?” he quipped over the noise of the helicopter.
Again, the guilty start. “Well, it’s just...” she began, then hesitated. “It’s just...”
Clingdog said it for her: “We just naturally assumed you’d been killed,” he explained awkwardly, “’cos, you know... the cheerful black guy always gets it first.”
“What?” he exclaimed, his grin fading.
“Well, you know...” His adolescent brain grappled for the words. “It always happens. Like in Alien, with Parker, you just knew he was gonna get it in the stomach from the vicious beast.”
“After he’d knocked Ash’s head off with a fire extinguisher,” Rez pointed out, sounding perturbed.
“But then there’s... actually I can’t think of any other examples, but it’s true though, yeah?”
“You guys,” said Rez, shaking his head sadly. Then he gave Analie another bear hug, shaking her up and down like a pneumatic hammer-drill. The rotor blades whipped off a couple of wisps of her tousled hair. “I guess I’m the cheerful black guy then!”
Clingdog exhaled, mightily relieved. But the sense of relief – of safety, rescue – didn’t last for long. A bullet whizzed over from the building across the street, and implanted itself in the helicopter’s engine. Its healthy “Phut! Phut!” rhythm changed immediately to a nasty-sounding “Clank! Clank!” accompanied by an approximately 120 BPM metallic rattle.
“We gotta go!” shouted Rez, and bundled Analie into the chopper. Clingdog began to follow, but then he paused.
“You guys get going,” he yelled over the noise. “I’m staying – I’ve got an idea. I reckon I can create a diversion...”
If he’d expected a dramatic scene with the wind blowing the hair across Analie's face as she screamed: “Clingdog, no!” while Rez grappled to restrain her so that they could escape to safety, then he was disappointed.
“Good luck!” Rez shouted, sliding the door shut. Analie had called something that may have been “goodbye and thanks”, but she was drowned out by the increasingly ill-sounding flying machine. Then they took off. Suddenly alone, he had the presence of mind to duck down, just as another bullet zinged over his head.
“Shit,” he said under his breath, the silence pressing in on him. He forced himself to admit it: he didn’t actually have a plan; he just hadn’t fancied the prospect of mounting Rez’s chopper and bucking skywards.
He watched the prospect of safety ascend into the heavens, black smoke trailing out of it. Even from this growing distance, he heard the engine start to cough and stutter. Something was seriously wrong with it now.
“They’ll be okay,” he lied to himself, crawling doggedly to the stairwell. He forced himself to think about his own predicament; to summon up the courage needed to charge down to the lobby and make good his escape.
“I’m Clingdog the champion pallbearer to Emperor Augustus of the Twelfth Planet of the Megaton Empire,” he insisted. It felt good, so he said it again, louder. Then he shouted it. An anonymous guffaw drifted across from the opposite side of the street. But he didn’t care. He was ready to fight back.
IN THE NEXT EPISODE: SEASON FINALE Part II: Hank