Welcome to Janet's Blog

I first used this blog to publish "Trash" before I knew about ebooks. I wrote "Trash" twenty years ago. The novel explains why, in the original version of "If not for the tomatoes" Annie wrote: "We had aliens come and tell us". It wasn't Al Gore at all.

Annie isn't the hero of "Trash", but she has her own story ( a much more polished novel). Go to smashwords.com and look for "Tipping Point". (Follow the link to the right.)

If you're a first time visitor to my blog, try reading "If not for the tomatoes" first. (It's the short story in Annie's future - look in 6/5/07) This is only half the story, though. The complete story that inspired Tipping Point appears in my other blog as "Our choices".

To begin reading "Trash", start at 17/6/07. (Many apologies for the poor navigation.)


Friday, 21 March 2008

Trash - Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-One

It was an airport much like any other.

People wandered, waiting, while others strode past purposefully, in a hurry to be travelling. Well-wishers mingled with those who wore their travelling clothes. The hubbub of their scattered conversations rose high above them, challenging the distant ceiling. Occasionally a traveller would gaze upwards as if enjoying this last taste of space, before being packed into a metal cylinder which would soon be hurtling through the upper layers of the atmosphere.

B.B. Raven made his entrance to the departure area with a stunning woman anchored by his arm. Her hair shone, and her eyes glowed in her exotic face. Stella was a remarkably attractive woman, and B.B. loved to enter a room with her, just to enjoy the reaction she caused. It pleased him to attract envy from others: this radiant woman was a priceless asset.

He had not expected her to accompany him on this trip. This was meant to be a trip for men. But she had been persuasive, and he had wanted to see the looks on their faces . . .

Their arrangements made, Stella and Raven joined their travelling companions in the bar. The desultory conversation stopped when they appeared, dramatically.

"Ah, gentlemen! I see you're all here."

The men turned their attention to B.B. Raven. He took the glass he was offered.

"Gentlemen. About to embark on a serious voyage. We set sail in search of pleasure, and any-one who isn't serious about it ought to say so now and get out!"

His audience laughed appreciatively.

"Must introduce you to the enchanting Stella. She will accompany me for this journey."

The assembled businessmen glanced at one another. This was not the usual procedure. But then, the changes to procedure were already looking interesting. The man nearest to B.B. shrugged.

"And who would argue with a man of such obvious taste?" he said, lifting his glass in a salute to Stella.

The men laughed, relaxed by the thought. Why should they spoil such a suitable arrangement? Raven could have his sex-goddess without interfering with any of the activities they had planned for the next week. She might even keep him too busy to annoy them.

"A toast! To Stella, and to the pleasures of the flesh!"

Stella smiled widely, her contempt well-hidden beneath the facade she had carefully created with her well-packaged body. She did enjoy being beautiful, and it did make this sort of thing just so much easier. Her smile became broader as she contemplated the work she must do this day.

The businessmen relaxed in the comfort of first class. When Stella left them they were discussing down-to-earth events.

"Just another stunt by the Greenies," maintained Raven.

"Perhaps, but what if this is genuine? Communication with another intelligent species from a different world to ours?"

"A race that has the technology for space travel!"

"Yes." The expensively dressed businessman continued, aware of what would impress his audience, especially Raven. "The possibilities for industrial improvement may be immense. I have my men covering the whole deal and looking for any openings . . ." He left his words incomplete. The suggestion that he had given instructions to pursue any course of action, whether or not it was legal or moral, escaped no-one in earshot.

Stella smiled a polite excuse, and headed for the toilets. She could hear, as she walked away, her employer questioning the forward-thinking man who had been speaking.

"Look, just suppose there are commercial possibilities. Still need financial backing. We've seen some interesting business together. Why stop now? Can't hurt to give ol' B. B. first option on any favourable deals."

B.B. Raven enjoyed these trips. The men would gather together and swoop on unsuspecting destinations, seeking flesh. He was in his element. He revelled in the carnal desires with a hunger that even outstripped his ravenous desire for food. And the transactions he made with these men made him feel potent. For B. B. Raven, sex was a game of conquering and using for your own pleasures. He loved it, and he loved the way these men screwed their world for their own selfish gain. Their lack of morality pleased B.B.. His heart gloated at the soaring depths of his own wickedness and the depravity of his companions.

The queue for the toilet was quite long. Stella had chosen her time well. When a hostess walked past, Stella spoke.

"Excuse me, do passengers get the opportunity to see in the cockpit? A friend told me that she did once."

"Well, yes. What's your name, please?"

The hostess found a passenger list, discovering that Stella's name was on the list of people who were scheduled to meet the captain. She showed Stella to the cabin door and opened it, introducing Stella to the flight crew before closing the door behind her.

He let the pages fall into his lap. It was so frustrating. There had to be a way to introduce the character unobtrusively - to somehow land in the middle of his world, and begin with what was happening. Always, though, there arose a need to provide information for the reader.

"Hemmingway" Smith had been working on this novel for some time now, yet so far he had not introduced it's main character. He had written a general plot, and decided what would happen in different chapters. He had even written a few of the chapters. But he had been unable to write the crucial first chapter that would arouse his reader, creating the need to read on. He overcame his urge to tear his notes apart and carefully packed them into a bulging manilla envelope.

The book had seemed such a good idea when he began it. Only every time he picked up another book, he became profoundly depressed. I'll never be able to write anything that good! he found himself thinking, as he browsed through the latest offerings by notable authors. And when his brain was not required for all of the duties he had to perform from day to day, "Shawn", his main character, languished in prison and escaped to fight oppression, the story racing through his imagination, eluding him when he could finally find the time to sit and write it down, laboriously, his arm aching with the effort.

And he kept trying. There was something that he believed was worth saying, and he would say it. But right now he had to endure this plane journey. It was the noise that unsettled him most. Even when you couldn't hear it, you could feel it.

The noise may have prevented him from writing, but it did not stop his mind from wandering, a habit he could not break. The people with whom he shared the plane were subjected to his fertile imagination.

Sitting across the aisle from "Hemmingway" was a man who was afraid of flying. He admitted this freely, if questioned, and tried to control himself. His inner monologue ran through "Hemmingway's" mind.

"Oh God! No. This plane is not going to crash! Everything is going to be fine." The plane lurched into an air-pocket, upsetting the passenger's precarious balance. The Captain tried to be reassuring.

"This is your Captain speaking. Just a little air-pocket, folks. Nothing to worry about. Lunch will be served in ten minutes."

"Well that's a comfort - our last meal. Plastic food in tin-foil trays. At least we won't die on empty stomachs!" He looked across to the window. "I can't see the wings from here. What sort of equipment would they use to monitor whether the engines are working properly? It might have stopped working!"

A nun walking past him on her way to the rear of the plane made him wonder whether it was worth praying to a God you didn't really believe in. He decided it couldn't hurt. Observed by "Hemmingway" Smith, he closed his eyes and gave himself over to religious meditations.

Eventually the nun returned to sit with her fellow Sister. They were animated in their conversation, referring frequently to several texts which "Hemmingway" had difficulty identifying. The bewimpled heads would nod or shake vigorously as each put their case to the other.

He briefly toyed with the idea of nuns discussing politics. They were training to be missionaries in some strife-torn country. Unknown to their superiors, these two were actually sympathizers, hoping to be able to further The Cause. They wanted to liberate the people and organize society so that resources were shared more equitably and people took care of each other. The establishment could not tolerate such subversive ideas - and the nuns huddled in furtive political discussion over smuggled texts of Marx and Mao.

But no! "Hemmingway" decided he was getting a bit carried away. He was starting to see "Shawn" lurking in doorways. The nuns were more likely to be studying at a university; Literature, no doubt. Perhaps they were analyzing a thesis concerning nuns as a recurring theme in literature and the performance arts.

The pert young woman who sat by herself behind the nuns was more interesting. Well-groomed and quite controlled, she chewed nervously at her finger-nails, betraying her tension. "Hemmingway" decided that her agitation had nothing to do with flying. Her exotic clothing suggested passion and adventure.

Lunch put his thoughts to an end. And the impeccably groomed flight attendants provoked a different sort of fantasy. "Hemmingway" found himself imagining in vivid detail, exactly what he would do if he were wrecked on a deserted island with one or two of the comely wenches. He was fully aware that he would prefer not to actually go through the sort of process likely to lead to the fulfilment of his desire. Being involved in an airline disaster did not appeal to him, but his daydream was pleasant and took his mind off the food that had accumulated in a baleful puddle on the tray in front of him.

After the meal he decided to try and rest. This was, after all, a business trip, and he would have work to do when the journey was over. He closed his eyes, comfortable with the knowledge that he could sleep anywhere. He allowed his body and his mind to relax. As he drifted into unconsciousness, thoughts of his unfinished novel wafted about, Shawn crying, "Freedom!" as the sun rose behind him.

No-one actually noticed Stella leave the cockpit. The businessmen in First Class noticed her when she stopped at the end of the passage from the front of the plane. She seemed to glow, her attractive figure drawing all eyes. When she had the attention she required, Stella threw back her head and laughed.

The action was the beginning of a transformation. While more and more passengers looked in her direction, the outline of her body blurred and swelled and throbbed. As the people about her gasped with horror, two powerful wings emerged, their metamorphosis complete. Two mighty feathered legs followed them, complete with cruel talons. Her laughter gone, Stella glared about her. A glorious harpy, she sought her prey.

B. B. Raven cowered behind a seat. This kind of thing was not to his liking. He didn't want to see. When a head materialized through the wall of the plane and turned its ghoulish gaze upon him, he screamed.

"Here he is!" the apparition calmly said to Stella, bringing the rest of its body inside the plane. Fellow phantoms now joined him. Their leader was a red-headed Irishman, clad in the uniform of the universal freedom-fighter. He stood, unnervingly, six inches above the floor, his insubstantial body weighted by the bullets strapped about him.

The passengers could not understand his Gaelic orders, but the ghostly platoon obeyed promptly. The four most human, least frightening, of the supernatural hijackers went to secure the rear of the plane. As they floated above the economy class, Abdul ordered the passengers to go to their seats and remain there. The passengers obeyed, terrified. Moses, to the right, hovered uncertainly above the nuns.

"Hey, Abdul mate, look at what these nuns are reading!"

"Take over Ralph," Abdul said to the negroid spook who wore the garments of a Masai warrior. Ralph gestured that the white ghost with him should back him up.

"O.K. Boss," was the reply in a heavy Afrikaans accent.

Abdul joined Moses and the books rose from the nuns' laps. The phantom creatures roared with laughter.

"What is it?" demanded the South African spectre.

As the passengers quaked with the knowledge that there was no escape, the phantoms performed ghastly charades above them. Abdul glowed and melted then re-emerged, transformed. A slight girl with pale wispy hair now smiled briefly above the horrified audience, before being drenched by blood. She turned on those watching and sent waves of destruction flaming out towards them. The humans flinched as the vengeance reached them, then looked about, startled to find themselves unharmed.

Abdul and Moses now joined together in a rendition of a creaking haunted house, possessed by a malignant secret. The passengers applauded. Pleased with the response, Arab and Jew linked arms and bowed in mid-air. They, like their human audience, were surprised when the nervous passenger leaped to his feet.

"Stop it!" He hesitated, frightened by his courage. "I don't know why you're here," his voice was a little uncertain, "but I've got a bomb in my briefcase. I really hate flying, but it was the only way I could be certain that my plans would work. There is an evil man on board, and he must die! And I won't let you do it! I must kill B.B. Raven!" He began to dash for the first-class section of the plane.

The ghouls formed ranks and converged on the man, disarming him. The briefcase dematerialized. The nervous passenger slumped and returned to his seat.

The four ghosts conferred silently with one another. They reached a decision. The white African ghost unrolled himself into a huge screen which showed the passengers what was happening in first class.

Stella stood over B. B. Raven. Her face, ghastly but beautiful, shone from amidst her feathered limbs. Behind her were weird and terrible creatures of tortured darkness. Their faces (at least, the faces of those that had faces) were set in awful grins, ready to obey their leader.

The glorious harpy looked at the businessmen around her, her glance cutting into their souls.

"Deny that you have sinned against humanity and the environment of this beautiful planet!"

The men quivered silently. The unnatural leering beasts had totally unnerved them, and now they had to work out what to say to this persuasive woman. Was the proper answer "Yes" or "No"? They did not want to risk being misunderstood. After all, they had been responsible for exploiting other humans, often endangering lives, they had been responsible for the preventable deaths of their fellow man; they had poisoned, destroyed and made unsafe the environment on which the very existence of humanity depended. Each man felt that he deserved retribution from this hideously beautiful beast.

"Guilty!" quavered one eloquent spokesman.

The passengers in the economy class sat with their eyes rivetted to the ghostly screen. One by one the businessmen slumped to their knees, sobbing. The horrified witnesses heard confessions of heinous crimes. In their quest for wealth these men had knowingly caused others to suffer. They had allowed their lust for material pleasure to rule their lives to the extent that making money was an end in itself, an enjoyable pastime. Their money was earned through the sweat of others and the rape of their planet and they were having a good time. Now the fun was over.

Stella stood over the men. She seemed unmoved by their repentances and their promises of rehabilitation. Her eyes remained fixed on B.B. Raven. He sat to one side of the main group, guarded by the ghoul that had materialized next to him. He was unnerved by the spectre, a child's face on a grotesque, putrescent body, but the foul creature was easier to tolerate than the glowing angel of vengeance that had appeared before him. Stella knew more about B.B. Raven, he believed, than any-one but himself. The knowledge, blunt and inescapable, of the perversions around which his existence revolved, rendered B.B. limp. He was unable to stir himself, even to absolve himself. The paralysis that had long ago switched off his conscience, seemed now to completely take over his body.

The other businessman were eventually all sitting, recovering from their ordeal, contrition in their every move. Still B.B. sat, finally experiencing something that was almost shame. He realized he had been wrong, but there was no pity in him. He had not suffered - and he did not wish to suffer now. Stella stared at him.

"Have you no soul?" she finally screamed.

B.B. Raven remained motionless.

"Repent! Or you will perish!"

He did not move.

Suddenly Stella became frenzied. Her wings lifted her to the ceiling, where she hovered for a moment before swooping on Raven, inert in his seat. Her powerful claws grabbed at his soft body, gripping him and taking him above the heads of the businessmen he had brought with him for what was meant to be a week of the pleasures of the flesh. The horror of his situation reached him and he began to scream.

"You're wrecking my holiday!"

Stella screeched and hurled herself at the emergency exit panel. He tensed his body, anticipating the impact while the passengers screamed. Those near the exit shrank away, while the passengers in economy class watched helplessly.

In the moment it took to travel the distance to the bulkhead of the plane, Stella's wings formed a shield around Raven. Together they hit the unyielding metal.

The passengers looked about them in stunned disbelief. No-one spoke, afraid, as they were, that the trauma had not ended. But the plane was silent, devoid of supernatural interference. The ghosts had gone. The plane had returned, as though a switch had been flicked, from the twilight zone to the revealing light of day. Eventually the public address system broke the silence.

"This is your Captain speaking. Is everybody all right?"

The sound woke "Hemmingway" Smith. Groggily he observed the startled expressions of relief worn by his fellow travellers. What had he missed this time? The Captain spoke again.

"The plane is undamaged and we are on our scheduled flight- path. Afternoon tea will be served in ten minutes."

The ground did not appear to coming closer at an appreciable speed. B.B. found himself wondering at his ability to breath. Surely he was too high up for a breathable atmosphere?

This is wrong, he found himself thinking. No-one deserves to die like this. The thought was sobering, cleansing him of the panic which had gripped him when Stella had let him fall from her grip. After smashing him through the wall of the plane (at least, that was what he thought must have happened), she had hovered, holding him with her talons while the aeroplane flew safely away. Then she had laughed at him.

"Those who give no pity deserve none," she said, and then she had let him go. As his body adjusted to the continued descent, his mind at last faced the truth.

No-one deserves to die.

A selfish life-time, devoted to gratifying every whim, satisfying every lust, was all he had to survey. It did not flash before his eyes. It was more a case of every self-centred action which had harmed others clamouring for attention, while he desperately tried to avert his gaze.

I deserve to die.

Built my wealth by exploiting others. Knew the harm I was causing but ignored it. My greed caused people to suffer. Put money before the health and happiness of others. Been responsible for the deaths of other people. Responsible for damaging the environment because I wanted more. Unsafe factories, dangerous products; I even put out contracts on people I wanted out of the way. Knowingly sent people to their deaths, without giving it more thought than squashing an ant.

And made the living suffer in so many ways. The people I paid a pittance, the men whose ideas I stole, the people who suffer because of toxic waste, unnecessary pollution, those sweet young girls . . . B.B. was surprised to find his body react to the thought of the many children who had given him pleasure over the years. He realized that he did not want to die.

The ground was getting closer.

Why didn't any-one tell me it was wrong! When I started making money I just did what every-one else did. I know things got out of hand, but . . .

B.B. found himself screaming into the wind that rushed past his face. He yelled a warning to the people of the earth below, advice that he knew no-one would hear.

"Don't do it! It's wrong. Think about the consequences of your actions. You can't hurt anybody without hurting yourself!"

B.B. closed his eyes and waited for the ground to smash into him.

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