The barrage outside continued for a few seconds, the roof and walls flaring purple and white as the blasts discharged into the timbers and arced along the corrugated roofing. The sparks fizzled out before they hit the floor. Then it went quiet. The barn was silent, except for Alex’ moans and the hollow clanking of empty gas bottles as he crawled out of his pit of bruising. Combined with the creak of the barn’s walls flexing themselves back into shape, the place sounded like an ‘80s horror soundtrack.
The Petulance‘s hatch cracked open with a hiss and a high-pitched shrieking. If anything, the man-beast looked even worse than before – more stretched. Half of the fourth arm was now visible and both of his heads seemed to be talking at once. It seized a helium bottle and, twisting the valve, inhaled mightily. The other body squealed in pain and tried weakly to wrest the bottle from its twin’s grasp. The stronger twin ignored the grasping rasp of its pair and tossed the empty bottle down angrily. Lots of anger. Alex just let it wash over him for now; it was better than the spinal pain he was suffering.
“You fool”, the Siamese man squeaked (menace leaked surprisingly well into the helium pitch), “that was my last bottle”. Frantically he rooted through the other cylinders like a junkie scraping dirt from a sofa onto a spoon. The emerging man was growing slowly more animated, swatting at its progenitor as he dragged him around by the hip.
“What the fuck are you?” Alex hissed accidentally. This was counter to Alex’ plan which was to blend into the background and get out alive – being here was in no way an indication that his plan was likely to succeed. The rooting man ignored him, but the other croaked out a piteous “help me”. Immediately the primary guy (Alex had a desperate need to label them, at least for his own mental reference) jerked upright, declaring “that’s enough from you” and slapped it hard across the face. Both men flinched from the blow. Weird(er). The secondary man began to struggle more seriously, wrenching his flesh loose. It wasn’t pretty. Alex was pretty sure this was going to lead to a lot of poor quality sleep and possibly therapy. The primary lunged towards Alex, seized him and shoved him back on the ground.
“And you, wasting my precious time. But you’re not police – what’s your problem?”
“Oh, hi. Um. I’m Alex,” (he resisted the urge to wave) “I’m a private investigator. It’s… lovely to meet you”
“Investigator? What, the clowns? You’re investigating clowns? Even the police don’t care about clowns”
“Oh well – no, not really. It’s just the clowns seemed, y’know, odd.”
“Of course they’re odd – why would anyone behave like that?”
“No – I mean. It was a lot of clowns to um, die suddenly like that.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get enough helium to suppress this bastard?” he indicated his self-extracting twin, “Once he’s out there’ll be two of us again. And that is not something I want. Helium slows it down. But they won’t let me have any, no. Dad and Pip got plans.”
“Wait – you’re in Galaxy Team though right?”
“What’s the matter, struggling to grasp the internal politics of someone else’s family? Not heard of the really freaky kids? Just the pretty ones for the camera.” He sneered bitterly. “You can call me Mutanto.”
“That sounds like a Mexican restaurant.” Alex needed to learn when to shut up.
“Better than Clive”
“Yeah, that’s fair enough. I never liked being an Alex”
“Right. Great. Well, we’re definitely going to be best friends now.” This sounded like a lie, but Alex was oddly reassured when Mutanto continued, “Once I’ve taken your head off, obviously.”
“Look, I get that you’re angry and uh, busy with your…” Alex gestured vaguely at whatever it was that was happening to Clive; the outgrowing Clive waved back, “But, clowns?”
“Don’t you even listen? What kind of investigator are you? The helium.”
“Right. Helium.” It seemed worryingly like Alex might actually have been right all along. Of course, he was in a distant barn with a maniac, so being right wasn’t especially good news.
“Yes, helium” Clive broke off for a quick scream at as his nouveau-him tugged its pelvis free. “It slows this down long enough for me to get away, keeps it quiet and passive so I can deal with it myself.”
“It’s a gift, right? A gift from Dad, the marvellous Alpha Strangemind. No one remembers he’s just a jumped-up geography teacher now do they?” Wow, the sarcasm positively dripped off this guy.
“I. I didn’t get on well with my Dad…” Alex felt obliged to
“Oh right, that must be tough. Did you grow up without a strong role model? Aww. Well my Dad’s a generous soul. He gave us all gifts you know, those of us who survived. Those few who didn’t die during their experiments. And this is my gift – the gift of asexual reproduction. Thanks Dad. The man’s a psychopath.”
“You know, I hate to bring up pots and kettles…”
“Back to the clowns again? Who gives a damn. Do you cry for them Alex? I hate fucking clowns with their I’m crying on the inside, but I can make you laugh and that makes everything all right. They had what I needed and I took it. Do you want something to cry about – try automatically fertilising yourself every six months and waiting for this thing to grow out of you, eating up your body and tearing itself loose. Any idea how much that hurts?”
“I’d guess lots.” Alex had all the answers he needed to questions that had not occurred to him to ask.
While Clive had been ranting at him his clone had almost completely separated from him. An awful snapping sound made Alex wince as the clones’ knees parted.