Harkoff woke with a jolt, everything coming into focus instantly, rudely, the back of his head throbbing in pain, his neck feeling swollen and jarred. His legs were sprawled, not touching the ground, he was in a very small, dark, moving metal room.
Harkoff groaned, the two opposite swung their heads around.
“Wakey wakey,” said one, before beginning to laugh.
“Yeah rise and shine princess,” the other one shook it’s head. “I’d be prancing about if I’d just come out of ward E.”
As he tried to speak, Harkoff realised he was uniformed. Desert boots, leggings, his mouth full with an air filter, eyes jammed half-shut with goggles, head throbbing from the enthusiastically tight wrapping of his head-cloths.
The two others waited.
“Jou?” Harkoff’s voice buzzed musically from his filter.
“Where else, comrade?”
“It’s not what you think, though.”
“Should we tell him his bed-time story now, because the poor baby missed it before he went to sleep?”
The other laughed. “Oh yes, he’s going to ask for this one again and again when we have to put him to bed.”
Harkoff said nothing, half-cradling his head in his hands.
“Once upon a week ago, two little Jousen boys strapped up their little faces and kissed their Mummy and Daddy goodbye in the morning and climbed a big long rope up into their stupid little hot-air balloon, and sailed off into the hot, hot desert.
They looked out over their stupid crops of grain and ate their disgusting little lunches, having a grand old time fucking around with whatever Jousen farmers do growing shit out of the hard, dry cracked earth.
But this little day was unlike any other, for, the two little brothers accidently took a wrong turn all the way up there in the high, high clouds-”
“I resent this, you know.”
“Oh! Little feller’s got some fight in him today it seems!” The other jeered. “Better give the big, strong man his manly story, comrade!”
“Suffice to say, Harkoff - who thinks it’s all tea and cake telling a certain Ministerial Aide little secrets about how we run things around here, who causes said Ministerial Aide to resume the Malasrionese parliament and freedom of the press, causing mass public hysteria and utter chaos back home in good old Nela - we’ve got the next Jousen Proskut to deal with.
Two little Jousen boys sail off into a dust-storm, and are found weeks later in an ancient ruined Jousen city, one claiming to be Proskut, the other Unskol.”
“Is that it?”
” ‘Is that it?’ Why don’t you shut your trap next time nosy bastards come and poke around in business that isn’t theirs, Harkoff.”
“That’s none of your damned business.”
“I’m not going to have this argument with you, fool. Neither of us give a shit about what you say to your little girlfriend, we’re just telling you that when the pomps get red-faced and belt threats, we cop it just as hard as old bowler-hat, got that?”
“I didn’t know you had such broad shoulders, Shrendig.”
“Shut up, Harkoff, you’re sitting next to a dead man.”
There jolted and lolled the large frame of a man in the same uniform as the other three, his fat neck pushing on the head-cloths.
“Might be. Want to find out?”
“I think it’s a bit less worrying than taking each other’s pills.”
“Did it ever cross your mind that we might’ve done it deliberately?”
“That’s quite beautiful, knowing someone even better than yourself.”
The dark iron cage spluttered to a stop, a hot wind catching sand and forcing it through the vents beside the occupant’s heads.
“Last stop, the hot, hot desert, Harkoff, want to chuck up your dinner after this one too?”
Harkoff said nothing.
“Ohh! Oh is that right? Not worried, I hope! Well. When we get through this one tomorrow we’ll all see how your gut burns and wrenches!”
The entire side of the cage was removed and rattled loudly onto the ground. The fat man beside Harkoff fell head-first with it, the gloved driver watching with mild interest, hand still on the latch.
“On your feet, big boy!” Foolio’s body laughed the Shrendig’s squeal, launching out of the truck.