WRAITH SHIPS Part II: SAVE OUR SNAILS
I hate Save Our Snails and all the rest of that mob. They destroyed my childhood dream when I was just eleven years of age, and the damage they have done to my life is permanent and beyond repair. At age eleven, my hope, my dream, my life flame's desire, was nullified by SOS, and for that I will never forgive them.
So here I am, one day after my eleventh birthday, sneaking by night on the lumpy terrain of Rebthot Peat Diggings, property of Jonathan Lucent Rebthot. You have to get past barbed wire (very rusty old wire) which is adorned by red signs saying "MINE FIELD."
I'm half way out, only twenty paces from the Bunyip Tree, when I freeze up. A panic attack. The MINE FIELD signs have been working on me, and now they've precipitated a panic attack. I am marooned. Can't move.
And that's when I hear one of Johnny Reb's dogs waking up inside Blackheart, the Rebthot stronghold.
The dog galvinizes me into action, and I do my own little one-boy infantry assault (yes, I was a mere boy, then, for all that I imagined myself to be a man) to the Bunyip Tree, which was heavy with big orange-purple Bunyip Snails, unique to our planet and doomed to extinction on account of the pollution that would inevitably result from the polyvinyl chloride plant that was soon to open in our neighborhood, over the dead bodies of our Local Council. (All nine members of the Council had committed suicide to protest against Planetary's decision to force us to host the PVC plant.)
The snails - I still remember how they felt under my trembling touch - were velvety, with tiny little prickles in amongst the velvet of their fur. I gathered five, ten, twenty. I only needed half a dozen for my Grand Scheme, but the others would come in handy for trading purposes. I would be the only person in Known Reality to have surplus Bunyip Snails available, and, even at age eleven, I had a realistic appreciation of the kind of leverage that would give me.
I shoveled the snails into the shoplifting pockets built into the lower legs of my denim jeans, and that was when I was grabbed from behind. By who? Johnny Reb, it turned out.
Once he had me down in the basement of the Rebthot stronghold, he did a full-scale Military Interrogation. I mean, the whole thing. Face slapping, a strangulation mask (an efficient alternative to water boarding) and adroit use of both a Taser and a cattle prod. The cattle prod, boy, that was brutal.
I withstood all. If I could resist interrogation, there was a chance that I would get out of here alive with my sacred dream intact.
Here on planet Sentosa, we have more snails than all the planets in the rest of Known Reality put together. I'd always been fascinated by snails, ever since I was old enough to walk, and I'd been collecting them seriously since I was three.
By the time Johnny Reb was interrogating me, I was supported by my dream. Give me a why and I will endure any how.
My dream was to have my own snail museum, a place of elite spaces and crystalline light, a meticulously ordered alternative universe entirely divorced from the sweat and vulgarity of daily life, life as lived by the peasants who inhabited my planet.
So I endured.
But Johnny Reb did not give up. He had his daughter Mezlot phone my mom and con her into believing that I was going to be saying over at the Rebthot place to play mahjong. Actually, I did not then (and do not now) play mahjong.
My mom bought it. She had been a serious alcoholic for at least five years by then, and she wasn't anything you could seriously think of as as a "mother."
Having secured time in which to work, Johnny Reb picked up the phone and summoned five of his cronies, all whiskery whiskey drinkers aged between, I would guess, fifty-five and sixty-five. And, for a solid week, we played games in the basement. Mahjong was one of them, but there were a lot of other games, too.
What happened in that basement is something that I have never discussed with anyone, not even the psychiatrist who worked with me for six months, doing a Deep Dissection, during the first year of my five years of training as an Interrogator.
He wanted to know why I was phobic to, amongst other things, mahjong boards and the tablets used to play the game of mahjong.
I hung tough for the whole week, then Johnny Reb threw me in the shower, shoved a vial of Invigorator into my veins to get my legs working again, had his wife do a makeup job on me and forced me to take three tablets of Sluggard to make sure that I didn't turn friskily informative when I got home.
When I got home, I laid out my precious Bunyip Snails on my quilt, the one my grandmother had made, completing it just the week before. My snails, my precious snails. The achieved foundation of my dream.
"My real life has started," I said.
That was a line straight out of a comic book, I know that. But, with so many years having passed, I can no longer remember which comic book.
A week after Johnny Reb sent me home, a helicopter winched two kids out of the lumpy terrain of Rebthot Peat Diggings. One of them was winched out on a stretcher, having lost both legs, as he had stepped on a Deep Waltz longlast mine (an A#22-7/0-mod-redux#9, if you happen to be an afficionado of the very interesting universe of land mines.) The mine had been there since the Long War, one of the estimated seven billion unexploded mines on our planet, so Johnny Reb didn't get into trouble on account of it.
I gloried, then, in the possession of my snails, all the more precious becuase (albeit unknowingly) I had hazarded my life in a minefield to win them.
Nobody else, I was sure, was going to be doing any snail poaching in, on or near the Rebthot property. My monopoly, my lifelong monopoly, my unique sales point, was locked in and secure for the rest of my life.
Then those Save Our Sails sods, those unspeakable excremental urine-drinkers, they did me in, trashing my dream, destroying my hopes, and sending my dream castles tottering down to ruin.
The Conservation of Species Act, that was what did it. Having strongarmed Planetary by an eighteen-year campaign of terrorist acts, including the use of polonium bombs, cobalt 90, ricin and the mutated and highly lethal strain of nanovirus known as Quelp, they had broken the will of the Central Government to resist.
Under the terms of the Conservation of Species Act, it became illegal to own, kill, farm, breed, collect, sample, scientifically investigate, archive or DNA-type dolphins, whales, penguins, wombats, quokkas, platypuses, tarantula spiders, any cephalopod certified as having an IQ higher than 17 ... and snails.
Any and all collections of any such organisms, whole or fragmentary, were to be surrendered immediatley for destruction.
I saw the details on the TV news in the evening and, that night, set my alarm clock so I woke before dawn. My parents were, convniently, out of the house for the day, attending one of the compulsory marriage-counseling sessions mandated by the court.
Like all boykids on Sentosa, I was competent at basic carpentry, which was a subject that we actually studied at school, where it was called "woodwork." With a boy's lifetime of comic book reading behind me, I knew exactly what I had to do.
By the time I was finished - it took more than a whole working day, but I got it done before a taxi decanted my extremely drunken parents outside the house shortly before four in the morning - if you reached up to the top of my bedroom door then there was a panel you could slide away.
The panel would slide right off, then you could lift it up. And, suspended from it by thin threads of fishing line nylon, there were my precious Bunyip Snails, each in its own little plstic bag, safely wrapped in cotton wool.
I knew from my boyhood comic book reading that, historically, this was one of the stash-em-and-hide-em tricks that had been used, way back when, back in the Twentieth Century, by the Israeli Secret Service ("Israel" being, depending on what reference book you consult, (a) a planet that was part of the Home System, (b) a nation state or (c) a leading chain of fast food restaurants at atime when Planet Earth was ruled by coalitions of such chains, each coalition always at war with all the others.
In my smugness, I was sure that my secret was perfectly safe, and my only bad moment came when my mom, whose sense of smell was much sharper than mine, enquired as to why my bedroom smelt of wood shavings.
A week later, one hour before dawn, my bedroom door shattered into splinters as an elegantly calculated incursion charge blew the door off its hinges.
As I stumbled out of bed, a tear gas grenade went off in the room. And, as I was making futile efforts to open my lock-back pocket knife, I was clubbed into submission. My entire room was smashed, ripped and shredded, and, of course, they found my snails. They had grown up reading exactly the same comic books that I had.
I was interrogated for a solid three months but they got nothing out of me. Nothing. Not one single word. In consequence of this unprecedented feat, I was computer-selected for the career track I am on now.
I have, at this writing, the honor of being an Interrogator, a full colonel in Planetary Interrogation. I won my rank by extorting from General Cheops the prevacise location of the Happy Valley thermonukes. When I got to work, we were only two hours out from Deadline, the moment at which the nukes would do their stuff and cobalt 90 would render our planet uninhabitable.
To do the job, the only piece of equipement I had with me was granny's quilting hook, the one she had used to make the quilt that used to adorn my bed (one of the many things that vanished in my parents' suicide pact fire).
I broke General Cheops in precisely ninety minutes, the most intense ninety minutes of my entire life, so shattering in their intensity that I needed a month to recover.
That is what I am famous for. But now, I think, my apotheosis has arrived. Over the weekend, Planetary has had armed police taking down a whole range of dissident groups, everything from Save Our Snails to Clean Air Now! They have been hauled into court on murky charges, with gagging orders slapped on those few of them who have been granted bail.
I am itching for the call which, I hope, will come before the week is done. But now I have to leave this file for a moment and head off to Brynderwyn Hospice, where, all going well, I will be able to persuade Colonel Cuthbert to sign off on the surcease papers that I need to bring an end to the life of Captain Slocum, the client I have been working with for a solid five years now.