Rumo and his miraculous.., p.64
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.64

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘It isn’t easy to control,’ Yukobak explained. ‘There are riders on its back who try to do so. They’re probably having trouble at the moment. This is the biggest specimen that’s ever been ridden into the city.’

  The Vrahok now extended its gigantic trunk. It slithered over the rows of empty seats in search of prey and all in its vicinity fled, screaming and trampling each other underfoot. The tip of the trunk squelched open and greedily sniffed the air. The Vrahok’s sense of smell quickly guided it to one of the exits where jostling, panic-stricken spectators were striving to escape. The trunk descended on them and indiscriminately proceeded to suck up everyone it encountered. Screaming, the luckless individuals shot up the transparent tube and were engulfed by the monster’s pulsating intestines.

  Rumo was less surprised than most by the sight of the Vrahok. Knowing these creatures and their capabilities, he was primarily interested in General Ticktock, who was watching the monster’s activities with as much fascination as everyone else. He gripped his sword, feverishly wondering how best to exploit this moment of universal consternation.

  ‘Have you had an idea?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘I’ve remembered an old story,’ Rumo replied.

  ‘What old story?’ asked Krindle.

  ‘The story of the Battle of Nurn Forest. It tells how General Ticktock came into being.’

  ‘You mean you know how he originated?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘It’s a legend. What’s interesting is the part where the alchemist who created General Ticktock inserted a nugget of zamonium in him, an element that would bring him and the Copper Killers to life. If the story is correct, he must possess something in the nature of a brain. Or a heart.’

  ‘And if he’s got a heart or a brain,’ said Krindle, ‘it could be ripped out of his body.’

  Rumo nodded. ‘I’m going to climb inside General Ticktock,’ he said.

  The connectors

  Smyke, breathing heavily, was back inside the subcutaneous submarine with sweat streaming down his plump body.

  ‘Everything ugo, Smyke?’

  ‘Yes, Smyke, everything ugo?’

  ‘Come on, say something!’

  Smyke couldn’t have produced a coherent answer even if he’d wanted to.

  ‘That was incredible, Smyke,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘How did you manage it?’ asked Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘Yes, Smyke, how did you manage it?’

  Smyke drew several deep breaths. He wasn’t finding it easy to switch back to lung-breathing. His gills were still pumping away like mad.

  ‘It had a spine,’ he said.

  ‘A spine?’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘A spine?’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two.

  ‘A disease with a spine?’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.

  ‘Yes!’ snapped Smyke. ‘The disease had a spine! A spine capable of being broken.’

  The Non-Existent Teenies fell silent.

  ‘Good,’ Smyke said at length. ‘Can we get on with the confounded operation at last?’

  ‘Yes, Smyke.’

  ‘If you’re ready, we’re ready too.’

  ‘The boat’s in position.’

  ‘How do we proceed?’ asked Smyke.

  ‘Can you see the connectors, Smyke? We’ve set the videomembrane at maximum magnification.’

  ‘Yes, I can see them,’ said Smyke. There were six peculiar bulges and indentations in the cardiac muscle fibre, but everything inside here consisted of peculiar bulges and indentations. He couldn’t have said what was special about these particular ones.

  ‘That one is an amalorican adaptor,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘It takes care of the heart’s electrical circulation.’

  ‘And that’s a hallucinogenic synapse,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘It’s a gangliate cord of the autonomous nervous system that conveys the sympathetic vibrations of the hallucinogenic key.’

  ‘That’s an opabiniatic adaptor,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘It alone can enable the stimuli of the opabiniatic pincers to operate freely.’

  ‘That’s a nabokovian knob,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘It reacts activo-passively on the stimuli imparted by the nabokovian whip, thereby regulating the heartbeat.’

  ‘That’s an epithalamian egress,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘It’s the epicentric microcentre of the aorta that coronarily equalises the sympathetic vibrations.’

  ‘And that’s an odontoid tube!’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘The precise function of the odontoid tube has never been satisfactorily explained, but it’s demonstrably of a positive nature.’

  ‘Is that clear, Smyke?’

  ‘As daylight,’ said Smyke. ‘I’m in the picture now.’

  ‘In that case, activate your instruments,’ commanded Non-Existent Teeny Number One.

  ‘Hrrrmmm,’ went Smyke. ‘Hrrrmmm …’

  Trapped inside Ticktock

  Rumo simply jumped. He hadn’t spent long debating where to land, because no part of General Ticktock’s body seemed a particularly suitable landing place. He was now clinging to the general’s back at the point where the two silver wings had folded outwards. From here he had a good view of the interior. It concealed still more weapons, still more clicking and ticking metal components, but he couldn’t discern anything in the way of a heart or a brain.

  General Ticktock groped for Rumo with his steel claws, trying to brush him off like a troublesome insect, but his arms, although long, were constructed in such a way that certain parts of his anatomy were hard or impossible for them to reach. Everything about him was geared to attack, not defence, and nobody, least of all General Ticktock himself, had ever dreamt that anyone would be insane enough to cling to his back.

  The other Wolpertings bravely hurled spears, knives and axes at the general, but there was little more they could do, being far too preoccupied with dodging his own weapons and missiles. Although Olek scored some magnificent hits on the Copper Killer’s head with his sling, all they produced were some dull clangs.

  ‘Climb inside him,’ called Dandelion. ‘You’ll have to if you want to find his heart. Besides, you’ll be safe from him in there.’

  Rumo squeezed between two close-set steel rods and into the metal warrior’s interior. The ticking and clicking, the whirring of cogwheels, the rhythmical pounding of pistons and the crackle of alchemical batteries attained such a pitch that they almost drowned every sound outside. Everything jerked and clicked at regular intervals. It was rather like being inside a watch. Was there really a heart hidden in here? Did such a sophisticated machine require an organic motor? Rumo pressed on. Everything around him was in motion, pumping up and down and back and forth. He had to take great care not to get his hands and feet crushed between two revolving cogwheels or trapped by some sharp-edged spring. Every component was smooth, burnished, and smeared with lubricating oil. It was almost impossible to find a firm handhold or foothold.

  ‘Enjoying yourself [tick] in there?’ boomed General Ticktock, his voice sounding even hollower and more mechanical than before. ‘Are you enjoying yourself [tock] inside me, Wolperting?’

  Rumo didn’t answer.

  ‘Make yourself [tick] at home!’ cried the general. ‘Be my [tock] guest! I’ll shut the doors so we won’t be [tick] disturbed!’

  A grating noise came from somewhere, and the wheels and pistons speeded up. Rumo once more heard the music that had accompanied the general’s expansion to twice his original size, except that this time it sounded still more discordant because it was playing backwards. The sheets of armour-plate encasing General Ticktock’s body slid together. Flaps and openings snapped shut, metal locked into metal. The crankshafts and pistons which Rumo was balancing on or clinging to rose and fell unceasingly. It was growing darker inside the general.

  ‘He’s shutting himself up!’ cried Dandelion. ‘We must get out of here, quick
!’

  Weapons were being retracted on all sides: razor-sharp blades, saws and scythes, axes and spears, arrows and knives. Some shot in at high speed, others were withdrawn quite slowly. They came from left and right, above and below, ahead and behind. An axe whizzed just over Rumo’s head, a scythe shaved clumps of fur off his arm, a long, double-edged sword blade darted between his legs. He had to keep ducking and dodging or pulling in his legs to avoid being beheaded, skewered or mutilated. At the same time he tried desperately to reach the aperture he’d entered by. Just as he was about to squeeze between the steel rods, however, the two silver wings that formed General Ticktock’s backplate closed. It was silent now, and completely dark except for the criss-cross shafts of light that filtered in through narrow chinks. A muffled bell note rang out, like that of a clock chiming the hour.

  ‘We’re trapped,’ said Dandelion. ‘We’re trapped inside General Ticktock.’

  The operation

  ‘The amalorican hook has engaged with the amalorican adaptor,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘This means that the heart’s auratic electrical circulation is guaranteed.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm …’ went Smyke.

  ‘The hallucinogenic key has been inserted in the hallucinogenic lock and turned,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘The sympathetic vibrations have now been decoded and can flow into the autonomous nervous system.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm …’ went Smyke.

  ‘The opabiniatic adaptor has been clamped to the opabiniatic membrane,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three.

  ‘Opabiniatisation can commence.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm…’ went Smyke.

  ‘The nabokovian whip is stimulating the nabokovian knob,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘The consequent passivo-active reaction has fully adjusted the heartbeat.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm …’ went Smyke.

  ‘The epithalamian screw is rotating in the epithalamian egress!’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Two. ‘The sympathetic vibrations are being coronarily equalised.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm …’ went Smyke.

  ‘The odontoid tube has been inserted in the odontoid socket!’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number Three. ‘Whatever it does, it’ll be for the best.’

  ‘Hrrrmmm …’ went Smyke.

  ‘Good. Now to feed in the auratic charge.’

  ‘Let’s cross our fingers, Smyke.’

  ‘Wish us luck!’

  ‘I will.’

  ‘How many fingers have you got, Smyke?’

  Smyke did some mental arithmetic. ‘Fifty-six,’ he said.

  ‘That ought to do the trick.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Smyke, ‘it ought to – unless there’s still a curse on me.’

  ‘You never can tell,’ said Non-Existent Teeny Number One. ‘The operation is now in progress.’

  The greatest show ever

  Friftar shut the spyhole through which he had been watching the arena and clapped a hand over his mouth.

  General Ticktock’s theatrical performance had left him utterly dismayed. Already bristling with weapons, the Copper Killer had contrived to make his body even bigger, more complex and dangerous. He had transformed himself into an invincible fighting machine. How could his, Friftar’s, modest diplomatic resources hope to compete with him?

  His other source of dismay was the Vrahok. What a fiasco! Why had those idiotic alchemists sent him one of the biggest and most unpredictable specimens? A fifty-footer would have been quite big enough! No Vrahok of such a size had ever set foot in the city before and it was out of control. If word got out that he had issued the Vrahok Alert, the Hellings would hold him responsible for the losses in their own ranks. And the stupid monster simply wouldn’t stop sucking respected citizens into its maw – aristocrats, wealthy merchants, army officers and all. It was more than the eye could bear to watch!

  Friftar swore. He was doomed to sit still and wait for General Ticktock and the Vrahok to finish wreaking havoc in the Theatre of Death. At least the crazy king was asleep – that was one mercy.

  He opened the spyhole again. It was too stunning a spectacle to miss. The arena drenched with luminous blue rain, the gigantic mechanical warrior in combat with the Wolpertings, the even more gigantic Vrahok devouring innocent Hellian citizens from above, the corpses, the screams of the dying, the showers of sparks from the Copper Killers’ gallery … What a sight! To be quite honest, thought Friftar, it was far and away the best show the Theatre of Death had ever presented.

  Ticktock combines pleasure with business

  General Ticktock was entitled to feel satisfied. His victim was trapped. Wolpertings might be excellent fighters, but strategy didn’t appear to be their greatest strength.

  The general’s body contained forty-seven large swords, fourteen glass daggers filled with poison, two dozen circular saws with diamond-tipped teeth, seven axes, eighteen spears, and hundreds of arrows, crossbow bolts and other missiles, half of them poisoned. His arsenal also included a built-in guillotine on rails, acid-filled syringes, flame-throwers, spiked metal throwing discs, arbalests, and many other weapons. The Wolperting was already dead; all that remained was to decide on the manner of his death. He had climbed into his coffin of his own accord. General Ticktock decided to combine pleasure with business. He would do battle with the other Wolpertings, try out a few of his new toys and simultaneously give the intruder hell – send blades whizzing back and forth for him to jump over. For the first time ever, Ticktock was in the delightful position of being able to torture someone and, at the same time, do some fighting and killing. He could feel his sorrow subsiding.

  The heart in the dark

  Rumo had found a girder forming part of General Ticktock’s basic framework to which he could temporarily cling. The light filtering through the chinks and the gaps between the general’s distorted ribs was so poor that all he could see of the crankshafts, rotating cogwheels and retracted weapons was a jumble of dark silhouettes.

  ‘There’s nothing here that looks like a heart or a brain,’ Rumo decided. ‘If he ever had one, perhaps he lost it.’

  ‘You will seek the heart of Death on Legs, but you will find it only in darkness!’ said Dandelion.

  ‘What?’

  ‘The last of the Ugglies’ prophecies, don’t you remember?’

  ‘What are you getting at?’ Krindle demanded. ‘What have those old hags to do with this?’

  ‘It means I must shut my eyes,’ said Rumo. ‘I must try to locate General Ticktock’s heart with my nose.’

  ‘Good idea,’ said Krindle. ‘Carry on!’

  Rumo clung tightly to the girder and shut his eyes.

  ‘What can you see?’ asked Dandelion.

  ‘I can see metals of various colours,’ Rumo replied. ‘Metals and lubricating oil – it’s everywhere. I can see other things, but only when they’re moving and making noises.’

  ‘What about a heart?’ asked Krindle. ‘Can you smell his heart?’

  ‘I don’t know. There are some strange, unfamiliar smells – acids, poisons, pungent powders – but nothing that could be a heart. Or a brain. If they’re inside here, they’re well hidden.’

  ‘Perhaps we should go further in,’ Dandelion suggested. ‘If they’re hidden he’s bound to have buried them as deep as possible.’

  Rumo opened his eyes and climbed further into Ticktock’s mechanised innards. Climbing proved riskier again because the motion was even more hectic and universal than before. The general lurched to and fro, lunged and retreated, turned on the spot. Rumo could hear sword blades clashing and missiles bouncing off him. Finding a couple of fixed metal rods that weren’t in motion, he clung to them, shut his eyes and sniffed the air again.

  ‘What can you smell?’ asked Dandelion.

  Rumo’s nose again detected the strong-smelling powder, the reek of flammable oil in the flame-throwers’ tanks, the smoky tang of a used flint, and the acrid smells given off by sundry poisons and chemical cleaning agents – all of them visible as colo
ured ribbons that knotted themselves tightly together to form a graphic picture of the general’s inner life. And in its midst, in the centre of the mechanical warrior, Rumo sighted a rhythmically pulsating green glow.

  ‘I can see a light,’ Rumo whispered.

  ‘Where?’ asked Dandelion.

  Rumo continued to climb, this time with his eyes shut.

  ‘Be careful what you hold on to!’ Krindle warned. ‘There are lots of blades here. They may be poisoned.’

  Rumo squeezed through some bars, ducked under a rotating wheel with sharp teeth, stepped over a glass blade filled with crimson poison – and found himself immediately above the source of the pulsating glow. He was near enough to open his eyes and ascertain its nature.

  It was hard to make out in the gloom. Encased in lead, it was a small, brick-shaped box from which numerous cables led to various parts of the machine. The box was humming and crackling. Rumo rested his paw on it: it was as cold as ice.

  ‘It’s an alchemical battery,’ he said disappointedly.

  ‘A battery doesn’t pulsate,’ said Dandelion. ‘It’s in there – his heart is inside the battery, surrounded by acid. It must be immensely powerful if you can scent it through the lead. A good hiding place.’

  ‘Smash it!’ Krindle urged. ‘Smash the battery and rip the heart out of his body before he grasps what we’re up to in here!’

  Rumo raised his sword and split the battery’s lead casing at a stroke. With a hiss, glowing green acid escaped from the crack, sending up a cloud of acrid vapour. As the acid drained off into the darkness below, the white object enclosed in it became visible.

  ‘Pah!’ said Krindle. ‘Just a stupid stone.’

  ‘The zamonium,’ Dandelion whispered. ‘Take it!’

  Rumo sheathed his sword, reached for the zamonium – and recoiled.

  ‘What’s wrong?’ asked Krindle.

 
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