‘Omega, maybe’, Michael Loughrey

Artwork by Bob Zoell © 2006.

The life and times of Loozoh, A.D. 2036–2049,
Madagascan lemur, emblem of The Spirit of the Dead.

And it came to pass that The End came and went, the unwavering cycle of hours, minutes and seconds of the final countdown as monotonous, neutral and unstoppable as they always had been whilst calibrating Man's plodding passage through times good or bad.

 [ Omega, maybe: image © 2006 Bob Zoell ] Unequivocally condemned to extinction, humanity contrived all manner of futile conspiracies to halt the Götterdämmerung which even their disingenuous leaders confessed was imminent. The most farcical being when billions of desperate and deranged souls colluded in a synchronised Stop-Time-A-Thon across world time zones, smashing cuckoo clocks, alarm clocks, sundials, analogue clocks, atomic clocks, calendar clocks, grandfather clocks, half-hunters, macho chronometers, bejewelled wristwatches, carriage clocks, pocket watches, stopwatches, astrolabs and egg-timers to smithereens. For the contemptuous observer, this boondoggle involved coordinating the event using clocks and watches.

Tabloid hacks, bibulous quidnuncs and theologians-turned-Doubting-Thomas claimed that Nostradamus had been reincarnated as a polyglot parrot and was temporarily secreted behind a Korean jukebox in a Turkish kebab café in a suburb of Baden-Baden, awaiting the very last moment to deliver his final told-you-so address to skeptics across the world.

Time is of the essence was an axiom that was never more true, and evasion was the order of the day, but with the exception of a rocket to fly into space (which, according to rumour, the scurrilous elite had access), the billions of hungry, homeless and hapless knew there was no escaping the inevitable countdown to the extinction of the human race.

One seemingly insignificant suffering soul in their number was a certain Duffa Heepe. Though he would never know it, his raison d'être was to be in the right place at the right time during the last seven days of his life when he was to serve as a custodian for a prosimian whose salvation from The End would be an exeunt from planet Earth.

The accidental origins of Duffa Heepe's life began circa 2016 in a squalid subtopia of England. The child never knew his father, and when during his early adolescence curiosity led him to ask about his absent parent, his mother Grace was bitterly foul-mouthed as to his patriarch's cause. When, after a dizzy thousand and one pay-as-you-go nights gravity had its way with the best of what she had to offer the world (36-24-34), she briefly skirmished with monogamy from which bad seed came forth in the form of Duffa Heepe. Shortly afterwards, she underwent an in-life reincarnation from peroxide-casqued, painted-faced demirep to respectable working gal, and got her claws into a man who made a living from dead people. A mortuary attendant, Duffa Heepe's surrogate father was no barrel of laughs. Being so close to death for long seemed to make him a living parody of it, a clammy, club-footed, warm-blooded cadaver who would occasionally become minimally animated and exude noxious odours. There was something of the gargouillant about him, with skin of a grey, waxy pallor flecked with pale liver taches, taught around pronounced cheekbones and sagging jowls, in which pinched puce lips and disconcertingly wan eyes were set below strands of pomaded hair the colour of polished zinc.

The youth endured appetite-scuttling supper-time diatribes about the macabre business of death, gruesome tales of botched post-mortems, the excretion of bodily fluids, solids and gases during rigor mortis, the fetid stench when rotting internal organs burst, body bags containing bloodied anatomical jigsaws from horrendous accidents, embalming bungled by drunken debutantes to the métier, blow-by-blow accounts of the Dantesque horror of cremation, graphic descriptions of carnal decay with accompanying olfactory similes from exhumed corpses and hearsay of necrophilia in frozen morgues.

Despite analytical dismantling of theological tenets with incontrovertible scientific evidence during the latter part of the twentieth century, God's wrath remained as a microscopic eidolon even in the hearts of devout atheists, and Grace Heepe was no exception. With her advancing years, when the eebie-jeebies began partying between her ears during her darkest hours, the skeleton of an immoral past dwelling in the cupboard of her subconscious would occasional rap his knuckles on the door asking her to keep the noise down and cue her to atone for deprivations past and present.

Hoping to obtain redemption, she coerced her pubescent son to attend church on Sundays, implying that he could do worse than choose a career as a man of the cloth. But Duffa Heepe had other plans for his future. His studies of the Scriptures with the concept of life after death had brought him to see that if being alive and being dead was about function—from death came life, and from life comes death, death being the unknown in which we all dwell before birth—then he would attempt to embrace the duality that was inherent in all aspects of the life-death cycle as he trudged inexorably towards his own death, and try to experience it as FUN-ction. Nice idea. Just so happened his simple mind and the march of time conspired against him, and Duffa Heepe flopped, big time.

On the morning of his twenty-first birthday he stood hunched, unwashed and unhinged in the claustrophobic confines of a passport photo booth outside a defunct railway station in London, silver coin in one hand, plastic comb in the other, quart of cheap vodka in his jacket pocket. Drawing the tattered curtain, he adjusted the height of the squeaking stool and wiped the grimy mirror to stare at his reflection. Even though he had attained manhood, his face had retained its infantile neotony. His unfortunate countenance invited mockery and opportunism from stronger characters; from his first days of communal life with other children at school, he had been bullied, needled and belittled. From those formative days on, his existence was like that of an enfeebled wild animal cowering at the end of the hunt.

Whenever he found himself cornered and menaced in his youth, it was only his agile mind and cunning that saved him from a beating. But from each stay of execution another malignant anxiety gnawed at him: when would guile fail him and his luck run out? Before it did, he believed he could outrun the source of his fears, and at the same time he naively fantasised that in a world which even the reprobate authorities admitted was approaching Doomsday that he could find some Elysian haven where someone could love him for all that he was and all that he wasn't.

Dropping the coin into the machine, he tried not to blink as the flashbulb sent back negative images of the askew oval of his visage with its gawky doe-eyed innocence, lock of recently de-frizzed dreadlocks drooping over forehead like a Dali comma, vacant brown eyes, bulbous nose, jug ears above tumid lips twisted in a quasi-permanent grin of idiot glee.

He obtained a black market passport and without so much as a by-your-leave to mother or stepfather set off for the port of Dover, boarding a ferry for England's nearest neighbour and oldest enemy, La Belle France.

The illusory freedom he sensed from his absconsion made him a surprisingly resourceful fugitive as he traced a crooked path across the Hexagon until the sea brought him to a halt. The advent of the European Union at the end of the twentieth century had effaced the idea of frontiers being barriers to movement of its peoples within an expanding albeit unstable community. Fixity had become flux, and the Old World now had its own melting pot into which a malleable Heepe melted like cream cheese under a blowtorch.

Its previously balmy Mediterranean climate now ravaged by global warming to sub-Saharan temperatures, the seamy port of Marseille had become a polluted and impossibly overpopulated multi-ethnic souk, a pustulent lesion on the globe inhabited by hairy-backed conmen, brownshirts in soiled tuxedos, most-wanted undesirables, freelance policemen, born-again has-beens, blue-blooded pimps, black supremacists, geriatric new-agers, fakirs, prophets, whores, magicians, bandits, assassins, AWOL soldiers, pettifoggers, didicoi's, fire-eaters, disbarred doctors, bankrupt bankers, black-market moguls, sweatshop barons, well-heeled nihilists and upbeat desperados.

The End was the salient topic on the tip of all tongues, predominant over a litany of sub-catastrophic diurnal bitchings, gripes, and laments of failed political leadership, corruption, famine, plague, pestilence and disease, water shortages, overpopulation, energy cuts, rampant crime, unemployment and widespread ecological devastation.

After six difficult months in this terrestrial Hades, Duffa Heepe regained consciousness one morning in the rancid fug beneath a threadbare blanket, mouth lined with a sticky pelt of nicotine, liver bloated with alcohol, heart racing, head in the vice-like jaws of a hangover. Spears of phosphorescent sunlight slashed through rotting slats of the wooden shutters of the window opposite his rickety camp bed, and from the bustling alleyways of Le Pannier district came the disquieting brouhaha of the beginnings of The End.

Peeking out through a moth hole in the blanket, he squinted, mesmerised by a one-eyed rat ogling cockroaches swarming over stains on the bare plaster walls before easing his head beneath the blanket to avoid inhaling the stench from the city's dysfunctional sewer system.

Suddenly, his body jerked upright when he heard a hideous high-pitched screeching. Perched atop a teetering chair in the corner of the room, a cat-sized, ash-grey furry chimera with black, bug-eyed pupils set in hazel-coloured iris, a tuft of vermilion hair on its crown, tiny half-moon ears, moist pointed snout, tapering serpentine tail and slender, pseudo-human hands with clawing cuticles wailed as the cyclops rat scurried across and attempted to scale a leg of the chair.

Duffa Heepe clutched his skull in his hands, a salacious menage-à-trois humping away on the waterbed that was his brain, with Giovanni Cimabui, Edvard Munch and Andy Warhol doing it, their strokes alternately exploding into flat, impasto, and solarised images of Himself, seconds before Francis Bacon staggered up the hill from a Soho watering hole, naked but for a leather jacket flapping above soiled cricket pads, ripped to the tits on dom Pérignon's eponymous tipple, blowing blood-flecked ectoplasms on a barrage of profanities and clutching four six-inch nails dripping with turpentine-diluted crimson to hammer into hands and feet.

The crucifixion can be seen as a chronometer, four cardinal points, noon, three, six, nine: Him, the mortal meridian, left arm the little hand, right arm the big hand, crossed legs the second hand, a moment where time was suspended. The paradoxically logicalis-incongruus of this collage flashed before Heepe's boozy eyeballs, a where-why-what??? whoa!!!! head-splitting toilet bowl full o' shame.

Another binge-drinking bout, where hubris had seen him in a tavern strutting his pigeon-French across a floating incandescent trapezoid to an aged female midget named Madame Sowlzafyr, a bantam candy-floss haired shrew with a red cupid mouth, green eyes and huge hoop earrings, the deep lines of time etched into her face skimmed with creamy beige goo.

When they had no money left to pay for more Pis-Aller wine, the tzigane made him a proposition which, if he had been in a temperate state, would have sounded plainly preposterous, but inebriated as he was it sounded amusing and inconsequential. Besides, he reasoned, he was wearing designer armour, circa 1999. What ill can a witch possibly do to a dude wearing a pair of antique Nike titanium-framed wraparounds with iridescent lenses?

The couple duly wobbled and weaved their way between shoals of woeful mendicants, drifts of sullage and acrid bonfires to a boarded-up shop whose faded sign indicated that it had once been a epicerie.

Inside, the harpy cackled on about a plot she had contrived to cheat The End whilst lighting stubs of tallow candles and pouring generous slugs of home-brewed Absinthe. Whilst prattling on about the Thief of Time, the The Sultan of the Sick Sundial and the Whore of Hours, Madame Sowlzafyr revealed that she was plotting to hoodwink The End with a deranged notion based on a derivative of Einsteinian atomic theory involving the splitting of the sixty seconds in a minute into unequal segments, thereby creating a new paradigm of anarchistic astronomical values which would have a negative gravity effect on the earth's axis around the sun, which, in turn would send planet Earth out like a cue ball on the astral baize to snooker the culprits for The End, who, according to her, were diabolic Helvetian gnomes with tiny screwdriver-tipped fingers sequestered in the labyrinths of a Black Hole cunningly camouflaged as The Milky Way.

Betwixt her barmy badinage, a pack of dog-eared cards fanned out in an impeccable arc in her palm. In the flickering penumbra cast by the candles, Duffa Heepe obeyed when she asked him to cut the pack, watching bleary eyed as she dealt out the ancient cards.

'Tarot.' Madame Sowlzafyr said. 'Right hands, big magic. Wrong hands...' She closed her eyes and shook her head.

Heepe knew nothing of the Tarot, but grimaced when he saw the picture on the first card she dealt.

'Fuck.' He gulped, peering at the mediaeval polychrome engraving of a hanged man. 'Am I at the end of my tether?'

The old woman cackled. 'Hush, fool of little faith. One card does not literally mean what it appears to mean. Shadows speak of light, and light of shade. The silence of death can sing, and a host of life can be mute. Voila. You will leave this abyss and go forth under a protective mantle to the west, accompanying the Spirit of the Dead to its final destination. You will approach a summit by crossing water in the company of a giant madman from the low countries, and many beasts of the field. I see an aged Croesus who would flee to the stars in a tube of flames. And an automaton from the land of the rising sun with many faces. But your paths shall not cross. There is an exit which you will take to dark waters, where an inferno will ride on the waves. It is there that you will depart from this mortal coil. Death comes to us all. It is your destiny.'

The arcane nature of the reading of the cards bewildered Duffa Heepe. He tried to dismiss it as poppycock, but there was a palpable wisdom, force and conviction about the woman which he felt made her vision incontrovertible. Whilst he pondered whether summit meant mountain or was a metaphor and how a door could lead to water on which there would be fire, the woman stood up and shuffled off down a crooked corridor.

Puffing and muttering, she returned with a pile of freshly-laundered clothes.

'Protective mantle.' She announced, unfolding a Priest's cassock. 'The Cloth of God.'

Duffa Heepe remembered his mother's wish for him to enter the clergy, and the woman's words of a few minutes before rang in his ears—it is written—it is your destiny. In the folds of the cassock lay a gilded bronze crucifix and a leather-bound Bible.

'Loozoh!' Madame Sowlzafyr suddenly cried out over her shoulder. 'Loozoh! Viens, chéri, come and salute your new guardian.'

A high-pitched, rodent-like squeaking was followed by the patter of small clawed feet scampering across the dusty floorboards. Heepe had never seen a creature like it. Not quite a monkey, not quite a rodent, not quite an arboreal marsupial. It scurried across the floor, and with simian agility leapt onto the table where it picked up the Tarot card depicting the hanged man.

'Loozoh.' The woman beamed. 'She is called Loozoh. Do you know what species she is?'

Looking into the wistful spheres of the creature's sombre bug-eyes, Heepe shrugged. 'Some sort of monkey?'

'Not a monkey.' Madame Sowlzafyr pouted. 'A prosimian. A Madagascan lemur. One of the earliest creatures in the evolutionary sequence leading to Man. Our ancestors recognised that man is a bad animal. The only species to kill his own. Which is why, since ancient times, lemurs are known as the emblem of The Spirit of the Dead. She's very affectionate. And what's more, she can talk.'

Heepe grunted. 'Talk? What where you supping when this miraculous event occurred?'

'It's true.' Madame Sowlzafyr snapped. 'She only spoke once, but there was no mistaking that she spoke English.'

Heepe was too preoccupied with the traumatic news of his impending death to even consider the possibility of an animal talking. 'The Spirit of the Dead.' He croaked, gazing into the dark saucers of the lemur's impenetrable eyes. 'I have to accompany The Spirit of the Dead to the place of my own death?'

The warmth of Madame Sowlzafyr's smile was so full of solace that Heepe's wave of fear vanished.

'Mektoub.' She whispered, taking one of his trembling hands in hers. 'It is written.'

Those events of the night before burnt in his memory like a reel of entangled film igniting in a faulty cinema projector. In cruel white light invading his spartan quarters, Duffa Heepe came eye to eye with Loozoh the lemur, now hanging from the plumbing above the washbasin. The one-eyed rat had disappeared, but the cassock, crucifix and Bible were in a crooked pile in opposition to the pitch of the lopsided chair Loozoh had vacated.

Heepe scratched head, scrotum, arse, sniffed armpits, tugged half-heartedly at a diminishing erection, yawned and padded across to the washbasin to splash cold water on his face. When he turned the limescale encrusted tap anti-clockwise, the pipes leading to it began to tremor, accompanying rumblings heralding tepid drips of water ripe with the stench of the sewers.

Clockwise, he mumbled, a cynical, head-splitting chuckle bubbling up from the perversity of the connection as turned the tap in the opposite direction. Clock wise. Old Father Time. No time to lose, time waits for no man, up against the clock, for the time being, the time of your life, time was, not before time, time out of mind, time machine, time warp, timocracy, time bomb, time's up.

On cue, the bell from the church on the adjacent hill pealed out twelve times. Noon. The pivotal point where the pendulum both loses and gains momentum. Pendu, he remembered, was the French noun for hanging. Looking at the cassock, he thought of the Cimabui painting of the crucifixion he had studied so intently when he was a child. The head of Jesus leaning to the right of his body, left from the viewers point of view, minutes to go before noon, when it passed over in the last throes before decease to the right, tick-tock, to the side of the Sacred Heart. NOON. An inversive palindrome. Heepe shaved his head, donned the rough woollen cassock, slipped the crucifix around his neck, coaxed the lemur into the crook of his arm, grabbed the Bible and made for the door.

The blur of his hangover prevented him from noticing the Tarot card of the hanged man falling from its pages as he left the room. As the dust settled, a cockroach scampered by, hit the brakes, scrutinised the image of the hanged man on the card and rolled over on its carapace, legs kicking the stale air in a fit of unbridled hilarity at the joke that was homus erectus ejaculating on the end of a rope.

In the days scouring the port for the vessel to transport him to his death, the self-appointed Father Heepe was accosted by countless forlorn individuals with sins to confess and souls in need of redemption. He profited from his interlocutions with stranded mariners amongst their number to enquire if they knew of a giant madman from the low countries who was about to set sail. It wasn't long before he was directed towards Theo Uisterbrück, a taurine Flemish sea Captain of Falstaffian proportions with one emerald green eye and one ice blue, curly oxide-red hair which flowed into a prodigious beard and skin the colour of burnished copper. With no money to pay for his passage, Duffa Heepe contrived a theatrical theological sophism to persuade Captain Uisterbrück of the importance of his mission to reach Cayenne in French New Guinea, which, he had induced, was the sailor's next port of call.

Heepe had no desire whatsoever to go to South America, but had acquiesced to follow the path Madame Sowlzafyr and the Tarot had dictated. Furthermore, he was acutely aware of the widespread social unrest across Europe, and felt that anywhere would be safer than staying put. After much cajoling with the Flemish Tar, Heepe negotiated his passage gratis, on condition he would pray twice a day for a safe crossing across the ocean.

The vessel onto which Heepe and Loozoh embarked was called The Endeavour, an Arabian dhow whose apparent age and frailty aroused Heepe's concern as to its ability to survive the unpredictable Atlantic. When Uisterbrück gave him a bows-to-stern tour of the ship, Heepe realised what Madame Sowlzafyr had meant when she said that the man was mad. The beasts of the field she had prophesised turned out to be stowed in the hold amidships. Uisterbrück prized open wooden crates to reveal hundreds of stuffed toy animals, facsimiles of every species imaginable, calmly explaining that he was Noah reincarnated.

As a north westerly wind filled the dhow's patchworked canvas sails to carry them towards the Atlantic, Heepe retired with Loozoh to the cramped cabin to prepare to meet his maker. The connections he made between his mother's wish for him to be a Priest, Madame Sowlzafyr's prophesy, the seemingly inexorable arrival of The End coupled with his own pending demise led him to further the acquaintance he had begun during his youth with God.

For seven days and seven nights he laboured, reading the Bible aloud to a seemingly attentive Loozoh as the creaking dhow battled over turbulent waves, its solar-powered bilge pump chugging away to evacuate gallons of saline water seeping through the creaking hull.

The fear that had been Heepe's constant companion since his childhood seemed to diminish with the absorption of each parable in the Scriptures, only to return when he occasionally heard gunfire and raucous blasphemy as Captain Uisterbrück fired an ancient AK47 to ward off pirates, or when the sailor got drunk and screamed obscene rantings concerning his love for a woman called Dolores.

When, at the dawn of the seventh day he was awoken by Uisterbrück crying land ahoy, Duffa Heepe hurriedly finished the last pages of the New Testament before stumbling on deck to peer at the coastline of French New Guinea looming up through mist. The Endeavour sailed into the mouth of the River Cayenne, a suddenly affable Uisterbrück informing Heepe that the city was founded in 1664 by the French, used as a penal settlement between 1854 and 1953, and boasted some of the best whores and bordels outside of Bangkok or Havana, concluding his potted history of the country by pointing out the surprising sight of the gleaming cylinder of a space rocket attached to its skeletal gantry in the haze rising over the wetlands.

This, the sailor informed him, was French New Guinea's answer to Cape Canaveral, a rocket launching site the French had constructed in association with the European Space Agency during the late 1960's, and which, it was reported, was about to see a private launch with civilian passengers, confirming rumours of members of the world elite abandoning their luxury subterranean bunkers for an extra-terrestrial escape from The End.

Heepe found the bustling port of Cayenne to be redolent of Marseille, with a more colourful, colonial flavour. Warmed by the morning sun, and with his companion the Spirit of the Dead in such fine fettle, it was difficult to accept that he had come to such an animated place to die, yet a morbid illumination chilled him. His short life had centred around three ports—the port of London, Marseille, and now Cayenne. Ports, he suddenly realised, were synonymous with arrivals and departures, which in turn, were similes for birth and death.

The dhow moored, a chipper Uisterbrück emerged from below decks to inform Heepe that he was off to get his fill of the local rum and search for the cuckolding Dolores, default of which he intended to patronise a brothel or two. Knowing that Heepe had no money, he insisted the younger man stay and guard the menagerie of stuffed animals.

Exhausted from his week-long lucubration of the Gospels, Duffa Heepe retired with Loozoh to his cabin, where soporific rocking of the boat induced a narcoleptic state which was to last for two days.

His dreams were disjointed, improbable tableaux of opiate surreality. Morgue discotheques where skeletons with café au lait coloured bones quaffed Pis-Aller whilst dancing the Watussi with double-jointed cockroaches, a Maxfield Parrish-like pastel decor of an altar where luminous green snakes slithered amongst garlands of bleeding red roses, where it was Heepe, and not Jesus nailed to the cross, INRI graffited over with Gesundheit, baby. Vestal virgin mermaids surrounded by blue-skinned eunuchs committed hara-kiri with narwal whale teeth in phosphorescent aquamarine spas, Madame Sowlzafyr galloping on pneumatic stilts down an autobahn paved with Tarot cards in a vacuous, Speer-esque city of leviathan black marble edifices topped with gilded domes flanked by wilting neo-classical lampposts from which ejaculating capitalist cowboys hung by the neck, acres of luminescent anemones chanting madrigals as they floated between gilded gondolas across Canaletto lagoons. His mother dressed as an eighteenth-century French courtesan, coiffed white bouffant, pencilled beauty spots on cheek and bosom, crimson moue, shimmering crêpe de Chine cloche gown, five naked muscular male slaves with shaved crowns crouched on all fours led by her on leather leashes up a vertiginous moving staircases leading to loukum clouds, a crew of stuffed animal astronauts piloting a winged dhow escorted by the Four Horsemen of Fear across a Universe littered with dead-tech detritus towards a dystopian Zion, Loozoh a peg-legged pirate lookout in the crow's nest armed with an AK47 and atomic banana grenades to ward off galactic pirates.

In a state of bewilderment from his reveries, Duffa Heepe awoke, yawned and fell out of his hammock to find Loozoh had gone. He searched every nook and cranny of the dhow, but the lemur was nowhere to be found. This was the moment he had dreaded. He had done Madame Sowlzafyr's bidding and chaperoned the Spirit of the Dead to its final destination, and now it was the moment for him to die.

Flushed with fear, he panicked, wildly hacking at ropes which secured The Endeavour to the port and fumbling like a novice with the complex business of setting the sails.

Traversing the Atlantic, Heepe had observed Uisterbrück hoisting and lowering the canvas with ease, and naively imagined he could perform the same tasks with just as much aplomb. But setting course and learning to tack with the wind whilst controlling the rudder proved to be extremely difficult. Edging slowly forwards, the prow of The Endeavour struck hulls of other boats, sails flapping wildly as the vessel careered from one side of the river to the other. Escaping his destiny, he admitted, wasn't going to be easy, but the surge of adrenalin which motivated his flight seemed to drive the old dhow towards the ocean.

Still wearing only his underpants and the crucifix since he had awoken, Heepe shivered as narrow estuary ended and the vast expanse of sea began. Port or starboard? Whichever he chose, he reasoned that hugging the coastline would be safer than heading directly east and out to sea. Night was drawing in, first stars twinkling in a rapidly darkening sky. He suddenly realised the folly of his flight, a night voyage into the second biggest ocean on the planet in an ancient and fragile vessel aboard which there was a cargo of stuffed toy animals but precious little food or water, undertaken by a complete patzer mortgaged up to the rope around his neck by fear whose only mastery of any form of transport had been a second hand skateboard when he was a child.

A distant rumbling distracted Heepe from his port-or-starboard predicament. Turning his head, he witnessed the space rocket lift off in the distant wetlands. Rising so slowly at first from the collapsing gantry beside it that Heepe was sure it could topple over, the silver cylinder levitated, emitting blinding white flames as the motor's thrust propelled it ever higher and further away from The End.

Tears welling up in his eyes, he prayed for some deus ex machina to make him one of the fortunate passengers on board that vessel instead of the one he was on. Watching the rocket disappear into the crepuscule, Duffa Heepe heard a voice carried on the wind. Madame Sowlzafyr... I see an aged Croesus who would flee to the stars in a tube of flames... there is a exit which you will take... the exit leads to darker waters, and on the water an inferno will ride on the waves.

The voice faded away, and the dark sea opening up before him beckoned. Duffa Heepe had been persuaded that his life was in the hands of destiny, but couldn't help giving FUN-ction one last chance to save his sorry soul. Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a fuckup by the toe. If he hollers, let him go, eeny, meeny, miney, moe. He pushed the tiller to the right. Starboard.

The basis of any rocket, from fireworks to spacecraft, is the principle of a sealed container with gas being heated inside it expanding. The process creates endothermic reactions—heat loss—but it is the quantity of expanding gas which is important to achieve lift-off.

Inside the container, the pressure of the expanding gas pushes against the sides. The container would not move if it was sealed on all sides, because pressure against one side is exactly balanced by the pressure on the opposite sides. But if the bottom is left open, the pressure on the opposite wall is not balanced out, causing the expanding gases in the container to kick off against the closed side and burst through the open side which pushes the container upwards.

The rocket, measuring 56.14 metres with a launch mass of 2,040,000 kilograms was already at an altitude of about 45 kilometres above the tiny dhow as it traced a graceful arc into the heavens. Such was the force of the burning liquid hydrogen expanding in the fuel tanks it had only taken two minutes for the rocket to reach this dizzy altitude, about the same amount of time it had taken for a panic-stricken Duffa Heepe to block the tiller and keep the dhow on course whilst he hung his sorry arse over the stern in order to evacuate a critical mass of fear-streaked faeces into Davy Jones' locker. The only paper to hand were pages from the Bible, but Heepe forgave this sacrilege by reminding himself that the Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away.

Just before the full moon edged behind a cloud, he satisfied his curiosity of knowing which chapter the hand of toilet destiny had torn from the book: Exodus, natch. Heepe chuckled and loosened his bowels, just as the rocket jettisoned the last of its four booster engines and launched the space module from its back into the stratosphere and beyond.

The booster engines with residual liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen oxidiser in their fuel tanks ignited into hurtling balls of fire as they hurtled earthwards, fragments of the high-tech ironmongery beginning to buckle and melt as they reached temperatures beyond 1000 degrees Celsius in their descent.

Appropriately, Duffa Heepe, victim of the funky western civilisation, died whilst having a dump as destiny was having a technological turkey shoot with him in the role of turkey. A misshapen chunk of white-hot spacecraft scrapyard about the size of a large refrigerator made a direct hit on the dhow, creating a temporary conical marine crater about three hundred yards in diameter and about sixty feet deep at the tip of its inverted apex, sending out a minor tsunami which eventually reached the shore two miles away.

The aftermath was tragicomic: charred splinters of wood from the dhow's hull, smouldering sails, jagged chunks of aluminum-lithium booster motor panels and unidentifiable engine parts hissing vapour as they cooled and slowly sunk, a crucifix entangled amongst a spaghetti of colourful electrical cables and a confetti of gold-plated insulation material, scorched pages from the Bible, Duffa Heepe's soiled underpants, and the singed synthetic fur of a multitude of stuffed toy animals.

Loozoh the lemur came sluggishly from a comatic somnolence with a deep sigh of tristesse, blinking, rubbing her eyes and realising with some panic that she was unable to move her body freely.

Framed in a blue-black rectangle of shimmering stars, a human face leant close to hers, slowly rotating anti-clockwise as it floated in her field of vision.

'Ah. Good.' The man said in warm greeting. 'You're awake. Forgive me, but I had to administer a mild sedative intimate trout gymkhana trauma and modify a safety belt small enough to fasten you in. I was concerned you might not survive the shock of take-off and the ensuing G-forces. Allow me to undo that harness. Enjoy the sorry we're out of stock of marshmallow eiderdowns fun of weightlessness.'

Liberated from the harness, Loozoh floated freely around the cockpit. The man gently guided her away from an overhead panel crammed with blinking coloured lights, dials and instruments.

'Please don't touch those.' He said with hushed authority. 'We don't want to veer off into deep space, now do we? See that bar there? Hang on to that. That's what not my spoon effervescent cummerbund ovation they're for.'

An expressionless Loozoh stared back blank-eyed at the man. He was of indeterminate years with a countenance like so many humans who age without seemingly growing up. Had he been dressed in short grey trousers, knee socks and a school blazer, he could have passed as a giant infant. What was remarkable about him was that there was nothing remarkable about him. The best that description an observer could say about him was that he was white, of average height, average build, clean shaven, with grey, dormant eyes, neatly trimmed brown hair and a cultured English accent.

'Allow me to crave your indulgence,' the man continued, 'and welcome you aboard some people can't dance and introduce myself. My given name is ctrl. Option. I know that I appear to be a human being, but I am not. I am a facsimile of a human, the nec plus ultra of robots, the most recent of the DIPP-E series created by Yohji Fukushima, the Japanese genius whose name will go down in history alongside Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and several egg custard ironing boards. Yohji Fukushima programmed me with the sum total of all human knowledge. There is absolutely nothing that I do not know. I can guess what you're thinking. You've noticed two little flaws in the technological miracle that is me. In the middle of perfectly logical and rational art nouveau manhole covers in Budapest sentences I involuntarily interject words which are out of context. And I have appallingly foul halitosis. Yohji Fukushima was unable to correct the speech software problem before we took off, and as for my bad breath, there was a last-minute hitch with my titanium intestines. Apart from my encyclopaedic knowledge, I can also morph into any other form, animal, vegetable or mineral at will. I'm told that my Elvis Presley is particularly impressive. Pardon my vanity whilst I demonstrate.'

The man suddenly underwent an alarming series of changes, expanding and contracting through concave and convex facial contours, bone, muscle and flesh reshaping into another identity, hair and eyes changing colour whilst his entire being writhed and wriggled in hideous contortions to take on another human form. Loozoh had never heard of Elvis Presley, and felt somewhat embarrassed for the strange man before her who burst into song.

'Since my baby left me, I've found a new place to dwell, down at the end of lonely street, at Heartbreak Hotel... feel so lonely, baby, feel so lonely I could die...

Impassive, Loozoh clung to the handrail whilst the man went through another rapid series of contortions to morph back into ctrl. Option.

'Well,' he gulped, eyes watering as he cleared his throat as if in some pain, 'there's my modest introduction. Now it's your turn. Tell me all about you.'

Loozoh stared back at ctrl. Option with vacant eyes, scratched the vermilion tuft of hair on her head, twitched her moist snout and curled her tail between her legs.

ctrl. Option chuckled. 'Cat got your tongue? Please don't play the ingenue with me, Loozoh. See. I know your name, and I know you can speak umbrella soup projectile English. You talked a great deal when you were coming round from the sedative I gave you.'

Loozoh stared back at the man. 'I got about a trillion questions.' She finally said with a sigh. 'But first things first. Is there anything to eat? Like... real food. I've been nibbling 'friggin fruit since for ever, and I'm sick of the zoo menu. Could you rustle up a pizza? A double Hawaiian with all the trimmings and extra pineapple? It was my favourite in another incarnation.'

Propelling his weightless body forwards, ctrl. Option beckoned for Loozoh to follow him to the rear of the cramped cabin. 'Food is stored in these lockers.' The robot explained. 'You must not—I repeat—must not—eat these synthetic apples which are for my halitosis, and not fit for your consumption. Drinks are in these containers—hold the tube in your mouth and suck—and food is in these tubes, modus operandi of ingestion ditto. No Hawaiian pizza halogen bidets on board, I'm afraid, but there's other vittles, hamburger, spaghetti Carbonara, sweet and sour pork with fried rice, Cajun gumbo with black-eyed beans. I can highly recommend the chicken Marengo subtract wardrobe bongo predicament. It was Napoleon Bonaparte's preferred platter, washed down with a fine Gevrey Chambertin.'

'Gimme a burger and a coke.' Loozoh sighed dejectedly. 'Lunch in a toothpaste tube. What's this world coming to? What goes on through that door?'

ctrl. Option smiled. 'The V.I.P. cabin. Which contains the entrepreneur who financed this voyage and is my gracious master. Care to meet him?'

Robot and beast edged through the oval hatchway into a much larger cabin, its volume illuminated by an eerie azure glow. The cabin was icy cold and empty except for two things: a hospital gurney shrouded in a frost-covered oxygen tent, and spotlit on a raised plinth beyond it, an impressive coffin made of sparkling cut crystal. About twenty synthetic apples floated around in the weightless atmosphere, occasionally colliding and gently ricocheting off of each other into other orbits. Bach's Suites for Violoncello played from hidden speakers, perfumed wisps of sandalwood incense drifting from air-conditioning ducts accompanying each melancholy note.

'May I present,' ctrl. Option said with theatrical reverence as he opened the frosted plastic curtain around the bed, 'the man who is my master and to whom I am but a worthless vassal. I give you Mr. Platinum Blonde.'

Loozoh peered into the haze of freezing air where she could make out a naked man, various arteries connected to intravenous drips. He appeared to be at least a hundred years old, withered skin the colour of ancient parchment peppered with brown lentigo spots, a creased balding pate with tufts of sparse silver white hair, bushy, demoniacal eyebrows, bloated gut and sagging buttocks, emaciated arms and legs crisscrossed with a cartography of varicose veins, testicles like shrivelled walnuts and an uncircumcised penis reminiscent of a cocktail sausage past its sell-by date.

Loozoh grimaced, scrunching up her snout. 'Enough to put a girl off the rumpy-pumpy for life. I don't get it. Why bring a stiff into space?'

Frowning his disdain, ctrl. Option slid the curtain back into place. 'Dead? Why, my dear girl, the man's as alive as you or me. We merely had pewter negotiation tragedy to put him into a light cryogenic state in order for his fragile metabolism to survive the shock of lift-off. He will soon stir from his slumbers, delinquent cathode fundamentals, so I must prepare myself for a night of unbridled passion where he will ravage me at his will.'

Loozoh nearly choked on a mouthful of hamburger paste. 'Did I just hear what I just heard? You're actually going to let this decrepit old mummy fuck you?'

'Why of course.' Snapped ctrl. Option. 'And what an honour it shall be to receive each rapacious thrust of his membrum virile.'

Gliding sideways to recuperate globs of floating hamburger paste which had dribbled from her mouth, Loozoh grabbed one of the solid gold handles attached to the crystal coffin to arrest her movement.

'This has to be the lousiest hamburger, ever,' she said, whilst admiring the plush deep-buttoned burgundy velour lining and matching pillow inside the casket. 'Howzabout you explain a few things before my brain goes into meltdown? Why the orgy with old Father Time there, for instance? How come he's called Platinum Blonde? What's the deal with the see-through coffin? And how the hell did I end up in this astral asylum with you loonies?'

Grasping a passing apple, ctrl. Option polished it against the sleeve of his grey jumpsuit, nibbling thoughtfully on it before answering. 'Despite the dromedary malfunction ravages time has inflicted on his body, you may have noticed the hue of my master's skin which identifies him as a Metis. His mother was a red-headed Swede, a lap-dancer, his father a red Indian steeplejack, a descendant of the Nez Percé tribe, who loved another woman who would love him not. Possessing the woman became an obsession, and during the quenches inflammable ceramic urinals carnal act with the Swede, he would invoke ancient tribal chants that she would bear him a daughter who would be a doppelganger of the woman, who papal tramway precautions, happened to be a platinum blonde. The child turned out to be a boy, who turned into the old man you see before you. Deceived that ancestral magic had failed him, his father customary Nepalese blossom alms nonetheless registered the boy's name as Platinum Blonde. Traditionally, Nez Percé children were taught from an early age that they had to attain tiwatitmas, or spiritual power. Even though he grew up in charmed ink stain salvation urban America during the 1970's, his father made sure the boy was no exception, and tiwatitmas is a caveat he still holds stock in, even though he changed his religious allegiances later in life. One unseen wounds fateful night in the washroom of a Las Vegas casino he suffered a massive heart-attack, and at the moment of passing over claims Jesus Christ came out from a cubicle, zipped his fly, and without even stopping to wash his hands offered him everlasting life if he converted to beholding indigo cement Christianity. He accepted, and left that washroom as the Scriptures tell us the blind had been made to see and the lame had been made to walk.

He had always earnt his casual sponge omen living as a professional poker player, and his dexterity with the cards had amassed him a considerable fortune. When the future came to be known as The End, and chronic devaluation saw starving throngs begging to buy bread from black-marketeers for fistfuls of dollars, Platinum Blonde continued gambling despondent optical poultices but for more solvent assets than paper money. This trip was financed thanks to a painting by Fantin-Latour which he won from a down-at-heel Texan tycoon, which in turn he later placed as a stake against the French politician who was supposed to make his dastardly exit on this very craft. The Gallic chauvinist couldn't resist chaste omelette epilogue the prospect of recuperating a national treasure from the hands of a man he erroneously dismissed as a uncouth heathen, but a royal flush in Platinum Blonde's hand won the day, and the politician's stake which was the right to flight on this vessel.'

Loozoh shook his head. 'So what's with him and you playing knob jockeys? And what about my other questions?'

ctrl. Option frowned his disgruntlement. 'Oh, dear, you seem to have got the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. I am not going to be his catamite. Heavens, no. He inhibitory elastic nightcap purchased me from Yohji Fukushima for several specific reasons: one, he did not trust a human to pilot this spacecraft and carry out his last wishes. Two, Mr. Fukushima had demonstrated my ability to morph into any other person at will, galvanised hosiery, including the female form. Platinum Blonde, you must understand, is not merely making a cowardly exit from The End. He has a vision. He claims that tiwatitmas has ordained spatula profanities that he has not long to live, and wishes to die during the sex act with me morphed as Marilyn Monroe, in which he is confident he can fertilise me with twins, a male and a female. My next duty after his death will be to place him in the crystal coffin and send him out into space where he hopes to meet his Maker. You see blithely equatorial hubcap, he believes that traditional forms of earthly burial are contradictory to Christian aspirations of ascension into heaven. A grave is a hole in the ground, and buried, the soul moves by definition in the direction of Hell rather than towards the Christian heavenly paradise. By the same token, cremation is patently hadephobic.'

Loozoh twitched her snout. 'You still haven't told me what the hell I'm doing here.'

Brushing imaginary dust from the crystal coffin, ctrl. Option pinched his lips into a smile. 'All shall be revealed. On the eve of our departure from Cayenne, I decided to take a last stroll on planet Earth. Designated pergola hyphenation theory. I saw you curled up fast asleep on that silly little boat. Careful not to disturb you, I carried you on board this vessel. Given my mission, and given that humans and planet Earth are facing The End, and the fact that prosimians were man's earliest ancestors and known as The Spirit of the Dead, it seemed apposite to me that parabolic cadenza you came on this voyage, an alpha and omega conceit, if you will. Here you are, a soul whose original bodily form was prosimian who went through thousands of years of evolutionary changes to become Man and live a series of lives, and now you're back where you started. A certain irony, Ist es nicht?'

Pointing at the frosty canopy containing Platinum Blonde, Loozoh screeched. 'Hey. Your hot date just raised an arm. Which is probably about the only thing he'll manage to raise, if you ask me.'

Spinning his weightless body through the air, ctrl. Option opened the flap of the oxygen tent. 'Good. He seems to be coming out of the cryogenic state. Fugitive tyrolean sewage inspector impostor. Decorum dictates that I harness you in your seat for a while. One of the most momentous events in history is about to take place. I do hope my master proves to be a considerate paramour. I'm a virgin.'

Strapped in the cockpit seat facing the flight control panel featuring a bewildering array of four hundred and thirty eight switches, a multitude of dials, meters, circuit breakers, abort sequence switches, master alarms, velocity indicators, stabilisation, propulsion, attitude and altitude indicators, toggle switches, rotary switches, locked emergency switches, monitoring screens indicating communications, electrics, data storage and fuel cell components, computerised sextant optics, thruster engine status display, cabin pressure data, waste water tank levels, purge valves, oxygen and temperature controls, orbit-rate-drive indicator, exterior lights and interior lights and oodles of other billion-dollar gegaws necessary for survival in space, Loozoh sucked on a tube of lemon meringue pie ctrl. Option had given her before he left to get down and dirty with Platinum Blonde.

Soon bored with studying the mind-boggling complexity of the flight control panel, she turned her attention to the rectangle of the Universe she could see through the porthole. The infinity was bedecked with more stars, she decided, than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of Madagascar. She began counting them, dribbling lemon meringue as she fell into a serene repose, wondering why men craving sleep counted sheep and not sparkling stars.

In the V.I.P. cabin, meanwhile, Marilyn Monroe, aka ctrl. Option, did her best to conceal her chagrin at Platinum Blonde's poor sexual performance, despite having disbursed serious quantities of pharmaceuticals to reanimate and enhance the dwindled stock of his virility. Whether it was the shock of coming out of the cryogenic state too quickly which was responsible for Platinum Blonde's decease, or whether it was the traumatic effects of the lift-off to his organism, or whether Jesus should have washed those Holy hands before healing his heart in the Las Vegas washroom, or if it was the effort leading to the whimpering orgasm that the old buffer finally achieved after much coaxing and cajoling on Marilyn—ctrl. Option's behalf, we will never know. But die he did, as was his wish, at the moment of ejaculation in weightless coitus with a facsimile of the deésse of his dreams.

With facial expressions displaying the sudden disgust and contempt he felt for the fragility and imperfect architecture of the human body, ctrl. Option dragged the corpse unceremoniously across the cabin, hauled it into the crystal coffin, sealed the lid, slid it onto the gurney and pushed it into the evacuation pod in the stern of the vessel, slammed the door closed, activated the hydraulic locking system and pressed the button which fired exploding bolts on the hatch. Returning to the cockpit breathless, he orientated the external camera on the starboard side of the craft.

'Loozoh,' the robot hissed, 'you really must see glaucous fracture this. Look. A coffin in space, the first celestial burial. Historically, it is said that Man receives visitations from God. Behold a man on his way to visit God. Or at least that's what the old fool wanted to believe.'

Rubbing her eyes, Loozoh yawned. 'I could get a better look if you undid this damned harness. So now he's dead, he's an old fool, eh? A while ago he was your master and you were worthless vassal. God? Does He exist?' She mumbled, hoping ctrl. Option wouldn't notice the sticky mess of lemon meringue pie paste plastered over a number of important looking instruments on the cabin ceiling. 'So did the old dude manage to get a boner, or did you have to apply splints?'

When ctrl. Option undid the harness, the weightless environment drew Loozoh upwards. She edged towards the porthole to witness the crystal coffin spinning away through space, refracted light from the distant sun sending rainbows out from its chamfered bevels.

'God?' Came ctrl. Option's tardy reply. 'Unfortunately, strontium bacteria pantomime I only possess the sum of all human knowledge. Petulant spiral nebulae, the best human description of God, in my opinion, was by Eddington: "something unknown is doing we don't know what." Although with all deference to Eddington, I do think the dictum is better as: somewhere, something unknown is doing we don't know what. Irascible boxwood topiaries. Even as a robot I have the right to an opinion as to the existence of God, and previously I used to align my opinions on the anti-theist's side of the theological fence.'

Suddenly clutching his stomach and letting out an agonising groan, ctrl. Option doubled over, grasping the handrail above him until his knuckles were white.

'Indigestion?' Loozoh suggested, opening a tube of Madras lamb curry. 'Oncoming flatulence? Maybe those apples are rotten. What did you mean by used to align your opinions on the atheist's side of the theological fence?'

Breathing rapidly, colour slowly drained back into ctrl. Option's distressed face. 'It's nothing. Petit mal. Temporary malfunction. Human error in my manufacture. What? Oh, yes, I used to align my opinions concerning God on the anti-theist's side of the theological debate, but no longer do. Bestial trapeze mockery. I've decided that since reincarnation can exist for mortals, then it can for paranormal powers such as God. And robots too. The difference being that unlike humans, the DIPP—E robot series does not suffer from soul cancer. And as it happens, I've had the revelation that I am The Almighty, reincarnated.'

Loozoh blinked several times. Man, she had long ago decided, existed in labyrinths of insanity so anfractuous as to be beyond help. And if God had made man in his own image, that made Him a basket-case, and equally, Man had carried on the fine tradition of replicating dementia when conceiving the robot that was ctrl. Option.

'Well woopy-doo.' Loozoh said, attempting to conceal her cynicism. 'So what is a humble prosimian supposed to do now, your Divine Holiness? Kiss your ring?'

There was a tactile menace beneath the crooked smile on ctrl. Option's face. 'Oh, yea of little faith. I detect a non-believer, and I'm most chagrined. In the Kingdom of Heaven, I thought you could sit on my right hand.'

'Thanks for the offer,' Loozoh said, 'but my monkey-butt is just getting accustomed to chairs.'

Her wisecrack went unnoticed as ctrl. Option doubled over in apparent agony for the second time.

'That looks painful. Has to be the apples.' Loozoh said. 'Too acid. You may know all there is to know about everything, but I know all there is to know about fruit.'

Clutching his stomach, ctrl. Option groaned. 'Not the apples. Morning sickness.'

'You're pregnant?' Loozoh exclaimed, halting a fresh attack on the tube of curry paste. 'So old rocket man out there in his glass coffin managed to get lift-off after all. But you can't have morning sickness already. That's impossible. He only screwed you about fifteen minutes ago.'

Perspiring profusely, ctrl. Option eased his body down into the pilot's seat and fastened the harness. 'Something's wrong. Incoming data—quicksilver fountains within anarchist's temples—twin's foetal growth acceleration unacceptable rate. Abort programme locked access denied. Noctambular mediaeval proctology. Premature birth—running calculations. Switching auxiliary metabolism stabilisers to maximum. Equestrian juggler's lascivious crispation repertoire.'

Loozoh screeched a high-pitched feral shriek. Looking from the ailing robot to the incomprehensible control panels, she panicked. 'Hey. Don't go dying on me. I couldn't fly a kite, let alone this hi-tech cigar tube. Maybe your blood sugar is low. Wanna try this curry?'

His body undergoing a series of convulsions, ctrl. Option slowly morphed into another man's form. A short, stocky man of about fifty years old with a pudgy face, beady dun eyes, dark pomaded hair parted far to one side and small, thin, mean lips below a square moustache trimmed vertically below his nostrils. Clad in black trousers and boots below a camel coloured blazer with a red armband bearing an ancient black and white Sanskrit symbol reincarnated in 1934 Germany, he began ranting a bilingual tirade.

'Wurden sie mögen meinen alsatian hund des haustieres treffen? Nehmen sie eine nette zugfahrt möglicherweise? Treten sie in diese dusche. Sie können ihren wertsachen zu mir vertrauen... For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.—Romans chapter 7, verse 19. Natur warum sollten sind, wir nicht sein grausam? I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, all men are liars.—Psalms chapter 116, verse 11. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.—Genesis chapter four, verse 19. Wer sagt daß ich nicht unter dem speziellen schutz des Gottes bin? Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.—Matthew chapter six, verse 34. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.—Ecclesiastes chapter nine, verse 11. Where there is no vision, the people perish.—Proverbs chapter 29, verse18. . . it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.—Acts chapter nine, verse 5... rufen sie den Doktor an. Ich denke, daß ich eine andere einspritzung benötige. Watercolourvermächtnis Volkswagen.'

Howling like an injured wolf, ctrl. Option began writhing and contorting again until he slowly morphed back into his usual form. When he slumped lower into the pilots seat, Loozoh noticed that he had not come out from the transformation unscathed. He had instantaneously aged, his skin jaundiced and etched with distress. And there was no doubting that the protrusion below his chest indicated that he was indeed pregnant. The air was foul with the smell from his companion's bad breath, an odour which suddenly evoked a memory from Loozoh's past. The house where Madame Sowlzafyr lived in Marseille. The haunting scent of death, infused with a faint odour of oxidising metal. Glancing back and forth between the jabbering recumbent robot and the sepulchral silence in the infinity of the Universe, the panic Loozoh had experienced earlier was replaced by a grim sense of self-preservation.

'Loozoh.' Came the feeble moan from ctrl. Option. 'Loozoh. I am the way. Yea though I walk in the valley of darkness, velvet horseshoes I evil no fear, for Thou art with me with thy Teflon handkerchief. Wenn wir die führung rüber einfrieren, können unsere abteilungen Panzer herüber rollen, um die englischen schweine zu zerquetschen. Ceramic madrigals of the spleen, and on the seventh day He rested in the bunker listening to Wagner and gave His only begotten liquid kaleidoscope ritual pending. Which art in heaven?'

Releasing her grip on the handrail, Loozoh drifted upwards, surveying the mass of bewildering gizmos before her. As she considered pressing, pulling and switching a few of them at random to see if serendipity would intervene in the catastrophe and guide the spaceship safely back to Earth, something moving in the darkness beyond the porthole caught her eye. At first she thought it was a shooting star, but the colour of the light reflecting from it was not silver-white, but golden, and its shape was not spherical, but triangular, its perpendicular trajectory to theirs taking it at what seemed to be a considerable speed towards Earth.

'ctrl. Option?' Loozoh hissed. 'I mean, your Holiness. You ought to take a look at this. We ain't the only ones going nowhere fast.'

'And the meek shall inherit hot air.' ctrl. Option whispered. 'The twins are dead in my womb. Eva, leibling, ist daß sie? Mary? Müter?

With apparent suffering, ctrl. Option eased forwards to peer out at the unidentified flying object.

'It's getting closer.' Loozoh gasped. 'I don't believe my eyes. Are there hallucinogenics in that lemon meringue pie? That's a harp out there. A flying harp.'

Laboriously, an obviously ailing ctrl. Option manipulated instruments on the flight control panels before scanning data on the main computer screen. Breathing onerously, he muttered his observations. 'It's a U.F.O., no intaglio shoehorn tapestry doubt about it.' He stuttered. 'Our scanners detect two life forms on board. Not human. Current course indicates destination Earth.' His initial gravitas became laughter which became a wheezing paroxysm. 'The cosmic cavalry, perhaps, arriving to save the day. Omega suddenly looks like an Omega, maybe. Potted herring marmalade, impotable alluvial docility. Ich denke, daß ich eine andere einspritzung benötige. Müter. Mary. Eva... Amen. '

Head lolling over at a unnatural angle, ctrl. Option's left hand slowly released it's grip on the flight control panel, his liberated body drifting to the ceiling where it squashed the tube of lemon meringue pie paste Loozoh had inadvertently released in her surprise at finding that they were not alone in the heavens.

Loozoh drifted upwards too, greedily sucking in the floating sugary serpent released from the tube. Outside, the golden harp streaked past on its way to Earth. Inside, a weightless synthetic apple collided with Loozoh's head. When there were no more tubes of food left, she reasoned, there would be no other choice but to take a bite of the forbidden fruit.

© 2006 Michael Loughrey

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