Sail Away – Chapter Thirteen – Unlucky for Some…

Chapter Thirteen – Unlucky for Some


I stood in a line with the other new recruits, back straight, chin up, staring without seeing ahead at the shiny steel bulkhead. We were fresh meat at the cattle call; I hoped they’d at least attempt to milk us dry before they sent us off to slaughter. The best we could hope for in the elite New Republican Guard was that we would live a few more days before the hammer finally fell. And hope we did.

The man with the red moustache walked past, twirling it between his thumb and forefinger as he inspected me from head to toe. He stopped.

“What’s your name, soldier?”

His voice rasped in the back of his throat before coming out barely louder than a whisper. He was the sort of man that was used to people listening when he talked. The stripes on his lapel confirmed what I already knew to be true; before me stood Major Ivor Bootkin, commander of the mission and the most senior ranking man on the planet, or on this planet at least.

“Private Wright, sir!”

I gave him my best salute and a cheeky grin. This did not go down well at all. He was a large man, as tall as he was broad and not short in either axis. The other lads called him Major Cubekin. He loomed over me like a giant moustachioed die and I’d just rolled a one. He let me have it.

“Wrong! Your name is whatever I tell you it is you smirking idiot! You’re in the Interplanetary Marine Corps now Private Wrong and you will drop and give me fifty!”

As I complied, Major Bootkin dressed down the rest of the platoon one at a time and soon we were all bobbing up and down at his feet like natives praising their enormous angry god. We popped up one at a time after our completing our allotted press-ups like a line of dominos on rewind. Bootkin stood, hands behind his back, waiting for the last of us to stand. I stood to attention, sweating in my full uniform. His nose glistened in a shaft of light, a bright rosy red. At last, he spoke again.

“Welcome to the Interplanetary Marine Corps men. You are honoured to serve the IMC and your brothers in arms are honoured to serve you. And everybody here is honoured to serve me. I am Major Bootkin and while you are stationed here on Headshot, you report to me.”

A slight man with wispy white hair and a crisp lab coat entered the hangar behind the Major. He handed him a piece of paper and bowed back out, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. As he left, something flicked out from beneath his coat for just a second and he was gone. I wanted to rub my eyes but I couldn’t. The scientist had a tail, I would swear to it. Major Bootkin continued.

“You scumbags lucked out. This is the best posting in the IMC. We are here to keep the peace. Headshot is an exploratory colony set up on this savage planet to guard the eggheads while they run tests for minerals, resources and terra-forming potential. Earth is overcrowded, Mars is full. This is humanity’s best shot at long term survival. There is no conflict here, just dumb animals scratching their asses in the jungle. This is a purely peace-keeping assignment.”

I breathed a little sigh of relief. Mars would have been far worse. There had been conflict between the Western Allies and the Eastern Empire settlers since the first day of terra-forming thirty years before. It was brutal. Bootkin wasn’t done yet.

“Now, you’ve probably heard a lot of half-baked rumours and scrambled information at the Academy about our intentions here on Headshot, but let me tell you now, none of what you have heard is true. There are no giant man-eating monsters shaped like giant eggs, there are no harems of naked blue nymph-women for your pleasure. There is no McDonalds. What Headshot boils down to is this. You stand where you’re told, you point your gun at whatever we tell you to and you keep your mouth shut. If you follow those three basic principles exactly, we will be excellent friends. If you fail to follow orders, I will smash you where you stand. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir!”

The platoon answered as one voice.

“Now, get out of my sight. Platoon, quick march!”

We turned on our heels and marched out of the gloomy hangar into the brilliant sunshine. The jungle, The Wilds as it was known, looked beautiful in the strong light of the alien star. Headshot sat atop a rocky bluff above a thousand shades of green as the canopy stretched on and on, as far as the eye could see. Here and there enormous purple trunks rose through the sea of green and gigantic towering trees, hundreds of feet tall with blue-tinged leaves loomed above, casting vast shadows on the rainforest beneath. In the sky above hung the ghostly outlines of the twin moons, Titania and Oberon.

As we marched back down to our barracks, I thought about what the Major had said. He was wrong; some of the information floating about the Academy had been true. There were two moons. There were giant trees and rainforests. There were natives. I shivered.

I hoped what I’d heard about them wasn’t true. Soldiers returning from their tours had told of evil, crazed creatures, half-animal half-man with razor sharp claws and strange abilities, a cross between Looney Tunes cartoon characters and superheroes.

Back at the bunk house, Bootkin had posted up a roster of our names and where we were to report at 0700 hours the following morning. Somebody had scribbled out Private Wright and written in “Private Wrong” in what I can only describe as a maniac’s scrawl. This showed a terrifying amount of foresight on Major Bootkin’s part, or perhaps just that the joke was so predictable, so inevitable, that perhaps I had been picked to serve on Headshot solely because of my name and the humorous opportunity that this would present. Bootkin was, therefore, either a genius or completely off his rocker. We would soon find out.

Next to my name, the sheet of paper told me that I was to report to “Area 17 – Restraint Solutions and Probing” first thing in the morning. I hoped that it would not be as kinky as it sounded; I was in no mood for games. I tucked my boots beneath my bed and, as soon as my head hit the pillow which it seemed was made of bricks; I fell fast asleep, listening to the other men talk about clowns and pussy.


Sail Away – Chapter Twelve – All the World is Mad

Chapter Twelve – All the World is Mad

So, today it came. A man in a van with a plan came and hooked us up, drilled a hole in the wall and fitted our cables (and probably at least one spy camera/bug), plugged in the router and left us flashing madly in the hallway. Uncle Archie spent most of the time sitting beneath the old oak tree in the garden, meticulously loading, smoking and cleaning his pipe, muttering to himself in the breeze like Popeye in a retirement home. Technology does not sit well with him.

Since that moment I’ve been catching up with world events. The last six weeks in Polpollo have left me isolated and ignorant of the wider world. Being fifteen years old, watching the news or buying a paper were clearly out of the question, and so I had been wrapped up in the gossip of Polpollo Academy, cocooned in rumours of James Gordon’s gayness and who exactly fingered who in Religious Education. These events, no matter how interesting on a basic human level, are no real match for the glossy apocalypse and rampant sensationalism of rolling news.

Being online again also means that I can look up the meaning of phrases like “rampant sensationalism” and “constitutional rights” at the touch of a button. I am not loyal. I flit between search engines like a magpie in the treetops, eyes peeled for shiny diamonds. A Google here, a Yahoo there, sometimes a little Ask Jeeves if I feel like going mad, yet the outcome is always the same. Wikipedia, the temple of lies, the fabricator of half-truths, the masters of obscure knowledge is always rewarded with my first click. I know that is open source, that anyone can contribute and amend and this, contrary to what my teachers might say, is what I like about the site. Anything which will teach me about any area of science, politics, popular culture and more on demand but will also allow me to record, for posterity’s sake, that Tony Blair was an evil shit-head definitely has my vote.

It seems that the world has started spinning faster or something. It has definitely gone a little mad. The American’s are in the middle of one of their favourite trips; it is election season. It is as though the whole country is gripped by a prolonged fever of patriotism, a Super Bowl Sunday guaranteed to last at least six months. The frontrunner at this point seems to be a young Democrat named Barack Obama, a cross between Martin Luther King and JFK with a name that turns into piss in the mouths of the Republicans and Bible-Belt America. Wikipedia defines this as:

“The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s average.”

Like you, I had to follow the links provided and spent at least ten minutes of my life that I will never get back reading about Social Conservatism. I feel that I have learnt more in the last four hours than the preceding six weeks. My brain hurts, my eyes ache, but I must persevere.

Obama is up against John McCain, a Republican candidate who is too rich, too pampered and too white to win the election. He is also hampered by his running mate, a wild-eyed woman from Alaska named Sarah Palin that would glefully nuke the world’s polar bears just to shut environmentalists up for good. There is something strange about the pair of them, otherworldly, like the Clintons seen backwards through a telescope, Bizarro Bill and Hil, made in a laboratory in the nineties from DNA found on the carpet in the oval office by an evil shadowy corporation.

More importantly, it seems that there are some risqué pictures of Disney’s darling Hannah Montana, the actress Miley Cyrus floating about somewhere on the internet, though I haven’t found them yet. This is not for want of trying. The problem is that, although she is fifteen and so am I, if I try to Google certain phrases I fear that Special Branch will swoop in through my bedroom window and whisk me away to Guantanamo Bay on charges of “being a nonce”. I am too young and paranoid for this. I will try and order a back issue of “Vanity Fair” instead. There is plenty of free and legally available porn on the internet to tide me over in the meantime.

Also, the new Batman film will be released in a couple months. This is the best news I’ve read in a long time. “Batman Begins” is probably the only decent superhero movie ever made and “The Dark Knight” is the same cast and director, only this time they have the Joker too, played by Heath Ledger. I watched the trailer eight times in a row. This, combined with my Miley Cyrus “research”, has taken me almost half of my time on the internet so far today. I told you about the Obama stuff first so that you would not think less of me. It is strange to see Heath Ledger play the Joker so well knowing that he died alone in a hotel room shortly after filming. It is a shame that Batman will never face him again, but at least it has given Goths something new to dress up as.

The Joker is probably my favourite villain ever. I love Darth Vader, I love all the mad James Bond villains with their cat obsessions and gold-paint perversions and I love Bowser the fat dinosaur/dragon/turtle in the Mario games, but the Joker is the one. Unlike most other characters, he has many different conflicting back stories to explain his existence and all of them are lies. There is one simple truth to the Joker. If Batman exists as a terrifying and insane force fighting for good, then nature or comics requires that there is an equal and opposing force fighting the bad fight. It is Ying and Yang, night and day, Batman and the Joker. Without one, you have neither. And it is, by implication, therefore Batman’s fault every time the Joker decides to gas half the population of Gotham or paralyse Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. It is personal.

I wonder if this reasoning explains Jodie Craddock’s existence. Every time I see her at school I feel as though the whole place empties in an instant, leaving just me and her locked in an endless stare out across the classroom. She is my Joker, and I am her Batman. If I had a utility belt, perhaps things would be different. But instead she kicked my ass and now I am doomed to fantasise about putting her eye out with a Batarang in the middle of French. If I was Batman, Gotham City would be burnt to the ground by now.

There is a lot of rubbish music in the charts right now, Chris Brown and Flo Rida and lots of other songs that sound like the theme tunes to films about high school break-dancing competitions. The new Kings of Leon (which I have a leaked copy of), however is immense. If Polpollo Academy had a break-dancing competition, I would wait until it was Jodie Craddock’s turn before cutting the lights and swooping down on her from above, dragging her up into the lighting rig and stealing her top before leaving her tied upside down so that when they get the lights back on it will look as though she is drowning in her own fat.

That may be too much; I fear I have gone too far. It is because I am immensely bitter. I spent the last hour stalking my former “friends” from St Catherine’s on Facebook. When I logged in, I had one message, one single solitary message, from Matt Davies, my best friend since Primary school and ex next-door neighbour for five years. I have included here for you in its entirety. All spelling is correct:

“Greg u big gay twat, whers my copy of Headshot I lent u? Have you nicked it and took it down to Bendersville with you? If I ever c u again, you are dead mate. Every1 here hats you now. U cant just leave without sayin goodbye. It is like tellin us 2 fuk off.


PS I fukked Lins last night. She calld you a bender.”

I checked Matt’s profile for proof of his boasting. It says that he is “In a Relationship” with Lindsay Mancini. MY Lindsay Mancini! He knew how much I fancied her. She has written several comments on his wall. In one of them she calls him “big Boi”. I sit now, staring out of the window at the harbour, lit up against the night sky. I want to tear his little round head off and drop kick it into the sea. I want to drive the Batmobile up his fat ass and open the doors. I want blood.

I settle instead for a cup of milky tea with three sugars and an early night. Before I fall asleep, I plot the downfall of my enemies but I can’t muster the energy to hate them as much as I should. I feel a tear pricking the corner of my eye. I will not cry. I will not let them win. What would Bruce Wayne do? I remember that my mother is still alive and wonder how she is, sleeping the deepest sleep. I try to clear my mind and pretend that I too am in a coma, but all I see is Matt Davies made up as a clown, laughing like a madman.