Rumo and his miraculous.., p.59
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.59

           Walter Moers
 

  As soon as Smyke passed through this artificial cannula and into Rala’s body, however, communication abruptly ceased. The lighting inside the vessel faded to a dull glow and the electrical hum died away. Smyke could still see through the translucent membrane, but all that met his eyes outside was a strange, lifeless world. He was dependent on himself alone.

  The submarine’s electric motor stopped, leaving it adrift in the slowly cooling, coagulating plasma of a vein whose floor was strewn with dead corpuscles and other micro-organisms. It resembled a battlefield after a crushing defeat.

  Being inside Rala’s dead body was entirely different from visiting Kolibri’s brain. This was no realm of ideas equipped with floating information silos. There were no cubes or parallelepipeds, no luminous trapezoids or pyramids, no orderly thoroughfares. Everything here was knotted and entangled like wildly proliferating jungle vegetation. How would he ever find his way around? His brain had nearly burst, Kolibri had pumped it so full of information, but anatomy wasn’t one of his fields. Smyke couldn’t tell a urethra from a capillary, a ganglion from an adipose cell. He was surrounded by a mass of nodules and protuberances, convolutions and excrescences. Was that Rala’s heart or was it her liver? Was he in her foot or in her brain?

  The only reason for not becoming hysterical, given his present predicament, was that it wouldn’t have done any good. Or would it?

  ‘Help!’ he yelled. ‘Please help!’

  ‘Help!’ replied a reedy, nasal, high-pitched voice.

  ‘Please help!’

  ‘Please help!’

  Smyke, who hadn’t really expected an answer, gave a start. Had the voice come from outside, or from here inside the boat?

  ‘Hello?’ he called. ‘I’m here, Professor Kolibri!’

  ‘Are you called Kolibri?’

  ‘Is that your name?’

  Kolibri?’

  ‘No, er, my name is Smyke, I—’

  ‘Smyke-Eye?’

  ‘Your name is Smyke-Eye?’

  ‘Smyke. My name is Smyke.’

  ‘His name is Smyke.’

  ‘Smyke.’

  ‘Smyke, Smyke, Smyke.’

  It was strange. The voices all sounded alike, but they seemed to belong to three different people.

  ‘What are you doing on board our submarine, Smyke?’

  ‘Yes, Smyke, what’s your excuse?’

  ‘Speak up, Smyke!’

  ‘But … is this your submarine?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘It most certainly is.’

  ‘You mean you’re the Non-Existent Teenies?’

  ‘The what?’

  ‘The who?’

  ‘The what?’

  ‘The, er, Non-Existent Teenies. That’s the name you go by. Or rather, that’s what Professor Kolibri – your discoverer, I mean – calls you and—’

  ‘You call us the Non-Existent Teenies?’

  ‘Er, yes.’

  ‘You don’t say!’

  ‘What cheek!’

  ‘Why not call us the Non-Existent Unmentionables while you’re about it?’

  ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t think up the name.’

  ‘You probably don’t think on principle.’

  ‘For instance, you didn’t think twice …’

  ‘… about insulting us.’

  ‘Hey, steady on! All right, tell me your real name.’

  ‘We can’t.’

  ‘Impossible.’

  ‘Too risky.’

  ‘Oh? Why?’

  ‘We do have a name, but it isn’t a name by your limited standards.’

  ‘You wouldn’t understand our name, it’s too complicated. Your brain couldn’t handle it.’

  ‘The mere sound of our name would drive you insane. It’s a number, actually. From your point of view, an inconceivable number.’

  ‘An inconceivably big number, you mean?’

  ‘No. An inconceivably small number.’

  ‘Insanely small.’

  ‘So small that time goes backwards when one utters it.’

  ‘How would it be if I didn’t address you by name and we simply went on talking like this?’

  ‘That would be impolite.’

  ‘Bad form.’

  ‘You like to make things easy for yourself, eh, Smyke?’

  ‘Then think up a name yourselves, damn it all!’

  ‘I’d like to be called Smyke.’

  ‘And I’d like to be called Smykesmyke.’

  ‘And I’d like to be called Smykesmykesmyke.’

  ‘You want to be called Smyke, Smykesmyke and Smykesmykesmyke? That’d be too confusing. Can’t you think of anything better?’

  ‘No, we’ve got no imagination.’

  ‘No?’

  ‘No. We got over our imagination an inconceivable time ago.’

  ‘An inconceivably long or inconceivably short time ago?’

  ‘Are you making fun of us, Smyke?’

  ‘Hey, don’t you have a sense of humour?’

  ‘No, we got over our sense of humour as well.’

  ‘You seem to have got over a lot of things.’

  ‘Certainly we have. We’ve got over time and space, pain and death.’

  ‘And war and taxes.’

  ‘And, last but not least, size. Any kind of size.’

  ‘Really? So what’s left?’

  ‘Numbers. Only numbers are eternal.’

  ‘So why not call yourself by numbers? How about One, Two and Three?’

  ‘Those aren’t numbers, they’re words.’

  ‘Heavens alive! Then call yourselves whatever you like! You’re a pretty fussy bunch.’

  ‘You still haven’t answered our question.’

  ‘What are you doing in our submarine?’

  ‘Well?’

  ‘I’ve come to start a dead heart beating again.’

  ‘Ho, ho, ho …’

  ‘Oh, is that all!’

  ‘Aren’t you biting off a bit more than you can chew?’

  ‘Professor Kolibri says—’

  ‘This Kolibri person is beginning to get on my nerves and I don’t even know him.’

  ‘First he calls us Teenies …’

  ‘Non-Existent Teenies!’

  ‘Then he steals our submarine …’

  ‘… and now he wants to perform miracles.’

  ‘Kolibri says there aren’t any miracles, just scientific successes of miraculous proportions. I believe his calculations have told him that the Abs … that you’ll give me a helping hand.’

  ‘That Kolibri! Fancy claiming that we’d help someone who’s pinched our submarine to perform a miracle, even though there aren’t any miracles!’

  ‘Give us one good reason why we should help you.’

  ‘Just one.’

  ‘Well, it’s an affair of the heart, so to speak.’

  ‘Cardiac surgery always is.’

  ‘No, it’s a question of love, I mean.’

  ‘Oh no, not that!’

  ‘We got over love, too, a long time ago.’

  ‘Did you know that love consists of a series of numbers which, when subtracted from itself, adds up to zero?’

  ‘Any series of numbers would.’

  ‘Yes, isn’t it shocking? If you think about it for long enough, it—’

  ‘Stop badgering him! What sort of love are you talking about?’

  ‘Now don’t go getting sentimental, we’ve put all that behind us! We’ve got over sentimentality.’

  ‘I was only asking! Facts are what I’m after. Cold, hard, unadorned facts.’

  ‘It’s the sort of love that transcends death.’

  ‘Really? How romant— er, tell me more, I mean. Give me some more cold, hard, unadorned facts.’

  ‘It’s a love so pure and great that both the lovers have more than once defied death in an attempt to be reunited, but now it seems that death has finally defeated them.’

  ‘But that’s awf— er, interesting, I mean. Interesting in a cold, hard, unador
ned way. Give us some more facts!’

  ‘Yes, more!’

  ‘More, more, more!’

  Friftar feels unwell

  Gornab squealed with delight as the gates into the arena opened. Seizing a cushion, he clasped it to his chest. He was looking forward to pulling it to pieces during the forthcoming bloodbath and tossing the feathers around.

  ‘How namy Tingerwolps will you let the Reppoc Srellik klil?’ he asked Friftar.

  ‘I’m giving the Copper Killers half a dozen Wolpertings to kill,’ Friftar replied.

  ‘Only xis?’ Gornab sounded disappointed. ‘How sarpimonious of you! Why not a zoden?’

  ‘I’ve told the Copper Killers to kill them slowly, using as many crossbow bolts as possible. It will look as if several dozen are dying.’

  Gornab grunted and redirected his attention to events in the arena.

  Friftar had the situation under control again. From now on the Wolpertings would exterminate themselves instead of wiping out the theatre’s precious stock of gladiators. This threesome was intended to signal the beginning of the end of their proud race. Wolpertings came and went, but the theatre and Hel would go on for ever. All these distractions notwithstanding, however, Friftar hadn’t managed to rid himself of the malaise that had overcome him at the sight of the female Wolperting’s corpse inside the Metal Maiden. The sensation was so persistent that he kept shaking himself in an attempt to throw it off. Could it be influenza? Never having been ill in his life, he didn’t know what influenza felt like.

  What nonsense! How could the king’s chief adviser, who was also in charge of Hel’s public health system, be ill? Friftar gave himself another shake and concentrated on the fight below.

  Plenty of fighting

  ‘That wasn’t bad,’ said Ushan, ‘but we’ll have to try even harder.’ Having just launched some fierce attacks, the trio were now confronting each other in the middle of the arena, breathing heavily.

  ‘Even harder?’ panted Urs. ‘I’ve done my best to kill you, Ushan! Honestly, you’ve nothing left to reproach me for.’

  ‘No, I haven’t,’ said Ushan, ‘but this is when things get really serious. I’d like the two of you to do something for me.’

  ‘Like what?’ Rolv asked, out of breath. ‘Go on fighting?’

  ‘No, you must kill me.’

  ‘What?!’

  ‘You must kill me. They’ll be herding those oldsters into the arena at any moment. Then it’ll be too late and many will die. You must kill me now, at once! It’s our friends’ only hope.’

  ‘They’ll be herded in here come what may,’ said Rolv. ‘We should strike right away. The three of us must scale the wall to the royal box.’

  ‘The Copper Killers would turn us into pincushions before we got there,’ said Ushan. ‘Kill me, I beg you!’ he pleaded. ‘Quick, or it’ll be too late!’

  ‘It’s already too late,’ said Urs, pointing to one of the gates with his sword.

  Some Wolpertings were entering the arena, but they weren’t frail or elderly, nor were there only six of them. They were young, strong and armed to the teeth, and scores of them were streaming in through the gates. Rolv caught sight of his friends Balla of Betaville, Vasko of the Dunes and Olek of the Red Forest; Urs spotted the triplets from his lodgings and Ushan many of his pupils from the fencing school.

  The last to enter the arena was Rumo.

  A murmur ran round the auditorium. Hellings and Homunculi sprang to their feet, Friftar stared motionless at the crowd, Gornab screamed and the Copper Killers reached for their crossbows. Rumo ran out into the middle of the arena, where Rolv, Ushan and Urs were still standing, astonished by the newcomers’ sudden appearance.

  ‘Rumo!’ Urs exclaimed. ‘Where have you been all this time?’

  ‘I had things to do.’

  ‘Did you release them all?’ asked Ushan.

  ‘I had some help,’ Rumo replied.

  ‘Where’s Rala?’ Rolv demanded. ‘Why isn’t she here?’

  ‘Rala is dead.’

  ‘Truly?’

  ‘She was tortured to death by someone called General Ticktock. I hoped I’d find him here. Do you know someone by that name?’

  Rolv burst into tears; the others shook their heads mutely.

  ‘Where is she?’ asked Rolv.

  ‘Two friends of mine are guarding her body. We’ll go and get her when we’re finished here. Now we must fight.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Ushan DeLucca, ‘now we must fight.’

  Rumo held his sword in the air to give Krindle and Dandelion a panoramic view of the theatre. The soldiers among the audience had left their seats and were streaming towards the exits on their way to the arena.

  ‘Good heavens!’ said Dandelion.

  ‘Man, oh man!’ Krindle growled. ‘This’ll be more of a fight than I ever dreamt of!’

  The acoustic servo-mechanism

  ‘That was the most touching story we’ve ever heard.’

  ‘Yes – although we got over being touched by anything a long time ago.’

  The third voice merely sobbed.

  ‘All right, how about it?’ asked Smyke. ‘Will you help me? Will you show me the way to Rala’s heart?’

  ‘Very well, Smyke.’

  ‘We’ll help you.’

  ‘On one condition.’

  ‘Any condition, as long as it’s in my power. What is it?’

  ‘We’ll tell you when the time comes.’

  ‘But it might be anything.’

  ‘Are you trying to haggle?’

  ‘He’s trying to haggle!’

  ‘Let’s get out of here and leave him to stew in his own juice!’

  ‘All right, all right!’ cried Smyke. ‘I’ll do whatever you want.’

  ‘Good, because we never haggle. We’ve got over it.’

  ‘We’re used to people doing what we tell them.’

  ‘We’ve got over self-criticism, too. We’re infallible.’

  Smyke sighed. ‘Very well, let’s go. Have you thought of a name for yourselves?’

  ‘Yes. We want to be called the Non-Existent Teenies.’

  ‘After all?’

  ‘We’ve thought it over. Actually, it’s a very good name. It’s quite an apt description of us.’

  ‘We’re so small, we hardly exist any more.’

  ‘The Non-Existent Teenies … Perfect!’

  ‘I want to be called Non-Existent Teeny Number One.’

  ‘I want to be called Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.’

  ‘And I want to be called Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.’

  ‘That’s great,’ Smyke said sarcastically. ‘What do I do first?’

  ‘You must activate the acoustic contentment servo-mechanism,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘You must purr,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘And you must purr to our own high standards,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.

  ‘Hrrrmmm,’ went Smyke. ‘Hrrrmmm …’

  ‘That’s not purring,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘That’s buzzing,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘What do you think you are?’ demanded Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘A bumblebee?’

  Storming the walls

  Rumo lowered his sword and the Wolpertings took this as a signal to storm the walls of the arena. They formed living ladders by climbing on each other’s shoulders, using their swords and clasped paws as rungs, and dozens of them scaled the barrier within seconds. Panic broke out in the auditorium. A babble of cries went up as the spectators fought to reach the exits.

  Rolv looked up at the Copper Killers. A few of them were already firing crossbow bolts into the arena, but the majority had been so taken aback by the Wolpertings’ sudden appearance that they were still busy cocking their weapons.

  ‘I’m going to nab the king,’ said Rolv.

  ‘I’ll stay down here,’ said Ushan. ‘There’s work to be done.’
r />   The first soldiers were pouring through the gates and into the arena. They far outnumbered the Wolpertings and were armed to the teeth.

  Rolv ran off, intent on clambering over the balustrade into the mad king’s box.

  The secret stairway

  Friftar reacted swiftly. He had envisioned such an emergency a hundred times. A revolt was something any royal adviser had to allow for. First he had to calm the gibbering monkey at his side. He put out his hand. The king seized it and sank his teeth in it. Friftar endured the pain without turning a hair.

  ‘Wath’s to be node? Wath’s to be node?’ Gornab screamed. ‘Wath now?’

  ‘Never fear, Your Majesty, preparations have been made for such a contingency. After all, I’ve rehearsed the procedure with you more than once.’

  ‘I’ve gorfotten it!’ wailed Gornab.

  ‘Close up!’ Friftar commanded the royal bodyguards, who promptly formed a dense cordon in front of him and the king.

  ‘I can well believe you’ve forgotten the whole thing, you crazy oaf!’ thought Friftar, but he said, ‘Your Majesty has been far too preoccupied with important affairs of state to memorise such a triviality, I know. First we open the throne.’

  ‘We peno the threno?’

  Friftar released the king’s hand and stepped aside. He operated a lever and the throne divided into two halves that slid apart to reveal a stone slab. Then the slab itself slid sideways to reveal a flight of steps leading down into the bowels of the theatre.

  ‘The spets! The spets!’ screeched Gornab, clapping his hands.

  ‘So Your Majesty does remember after all! I cannot decide on the next move without your approval.’ Friftar held up a little roll of paper. ‘May I issue a Vrahok Alert?’

  Gornab gave a start. ‘The Hokvras? Muts we?’

 
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