Chapter 41: Whack-a-Mole

In which the centipede comes unglued…literally!

The wall beside Stephanie vibrated with sudden energy. The centipede had finally received the go to press message after she’d shut it down. She knew from experience that it had to clear its cache of the old print before starting a new one. Well, at least she’d been successful in sending the new edition to print. It would continue to print the entire run, unless the barbarians afoot viewed the centipede as an enemy and destroyed it. It appeared indestructible, but clearly was not. It operated off a computer that would be easy to destruct.

A great smashing sounded above her, and a low-tech, old-school monitor fell on her lap. When she looked up, a face reminiscent of Devon leered down at her. Except Devon would be happy to see her. This Minä might be, too—it was difficult to tell. He hollered and whoop-whooped and pointed at her.

“Girl! Girl!” he shouted and smacked her on the head with a stick.

She crawled out of his way, but was met by more people or Minäs—probably Minäs, as they copied the first one, banging her on the head. Minäs didn’t know their own strength, although they were beating her in a syncopated rather than brutal fashion at this point. The humans, on the other hand, had the fighting instincts of little girls. They wouldn’t be much to tussle with if there weren’t so many of them.

A human activist made himself known by shouting, “Down with the JOI! Down! Down! Down!”

Holy…! She couldn’t stand up. They were all beating her. She cowered and covered her head with her hands until she realized she was carrying two quasi weapons. She jabbed a Minä on his exposed ankle with the letter opener, and then went for his knee with the paperweight. The Minä’s surprise pain cleared a path momentarily, and she crawled out and tried to run.

Unfortunately, there were too many protestors, and she was yanked back by the hair. She could feel as well as hear her phone vibrating. So apparently could a woman next to her, who reached in Stephanie’s jacket pocket and pulled it out.

The woman held the phone up like a trophy. “Down with the JOI!”

From her vantage point, Stephanie could see her granddad’s face on the phone, and her heart sank. If she could see it, so could everybody else in the near vicinity. It didn’t help that there was an identifier: Granddad Beñat.

“Down with Tomi Corp!” another woman shouted.

Forget the phone; she let the woman keep it and turned around and jabbed and punched her way through the crowd. Somebody else grabbed at her hair. She yelped involuntarily. Her head was really starting to hurt. A man grabbed her around the chest and held on.

“Here she is, proof the JOI is controlled by the 1%!”

In her peripheral vision, she caught the swing of a weighty object crash into the man’s head, and he went tumbling down, taking her with him. She pushed herself up, ready to bolt, assuming the blow had been meant for her head. But the crowd had turned away from her and was looking instead at the infamous Mark Anderson, holding a baseball bat.

He grabbed her hand and yanked her through the hallway while the truth caught up with the protestors. Not only was she in cahoots with Oso Beñat, but with Mark Anderson, too. Because the back exit was blocked, Mark darted in the press room and slammed the door shut. There were several windows in the large industrial space, but they were high up on the wall. If they attempted to climb out of them, they’d end up on the roof of the lower part of the building.

They didn’t have time to find a ladder. The Minäs with their sticks and the human protestors hurled the door open, shouting as they marched. What did they think was going to happen if they shouted at an audience of two? Or maybe they really did want Mark Anderson’s head in a physical rather than figurative way, and hers by extension.

Mark pulled her down on the opposite side of the centipede and its swiftly moving arms. He crouched in front of her with the bat. Black spots reared in front of her eyes, dizziness overcoming her. She reminded herself that fear of the centipede went in the irrational box, despite her proximity to its mechanical arms. That other fear, of the people chasing them down—that one went in the rational box, and she needed to stay rational for her own self protection.

A Minä ran at them with his stick, whacked Mark with it, and Mark whacked the Minä back. Harder. One down. Then another ran at them, and another. It was like playing whack-a-mole. The humans, by comparison, seemed unsure what to do now that two notorious JOI journalists were cornered behind a frightening monster. One of the Minäs tried hitting the centipede and his stick snapped in two. When he fell on the machine, the bloody mess the arms made of him caused the humans to back up further.

The Minäs, on the other hand, copied their comrade in arms who had just died, and turned their attention to whacking at the beast. The machine began to tremble and shriek as its work was interrupted; splintered shards of wood and metal flew in every direction. Both she and Mark backed up as far as they could go before hitting the wall, which was about two feet.

Her mind had gone numb with the fear, as though she were watching a slow-motion movie of bleary, unfocused actors. And the movie had a soundtrack. A pleasant soundtrack. A peaceful soundtrack. The show moved forward to the gentle strumming of a guitar. La libertad for the freedom of la gente, she heard a gruff but beautiful voice sing out. The flowers se han marchitado. Necesitan florecer again and again.

One at a time, the Minäs went rigid and dropped their sticks in the claws of the beast, which finally was so jammed up that it screeched to a halt. It would do no more printing without being repaired. Silence ensued as the song ended. The Minäs looked around, their bodies vibrating, but at peace. The crowd parted as a burly old man wearing a cowboy hat, long shaggy hair, and a bushy beard drifted through the doorway, a guitar in his hands, and a music player with a large speaker strapped to his back.

Stephanie felt queer, as though a shadow stood behind her, peering over her shoulder. “Granddad?” she asked, even though she knew the man with the guitar wasn’t her patriarch. He looked like her granddad, but not quite—younger, more agile, somehow, and with a peaceful glint in his eyes.

He looked straight at her. “You must belong to Oso Beñat,” he said. “Stay where you are. All those with sticks—I want you to line up along the wall. That’s right.”

The movie had just taken a surreal turn. Who was this strange man who could direct and round up Minäs without a SWAT team and tranquilizers?

“Everybody else, disburse from this place. You’ve done enough damage for one night. If you refuse to go, I’ll have you know the police are on their way, and they have weapons. And they’re all fired up from having to round up protestors like you all over the city. Move to the exits slowly. That’s right. There’s no reason to panic.”

The humans, subdued, began to vacate in small clusters. At the end, there was one voluptuous skunk-haired woman left, holding a phone in her hand. The shadow of a tall man stood behind her. Granddad. He pushed the woman forward.

She yelped. “Fascist,” she said in a tiny voice.

“Return the phone and apologize,” he growled.

“Sorry,” skunk-hair said in a small voice, and handed Stephanie the phone before scuttling off.

Stephanie clutched it in her hand. She didn’t care about the phone. She cared that her mission had failed. “I tried to help you, Mark,” she sobbed. “The new front page was for you, but now it will never be delivered.”

“That’s all right, Steph. I was ready for a change, anyway.”

She nodded at him, tears streaking down her face. She didn’t brush them away. “Who are you?” she asked the bearded man.

“Gerald Intxausti.”

“Huh?” Now she was even more confused. “Are we related?”

“I’m just a little known family relation. Ask your grandfather who I am.” The man pulled off his hat and shook his shaggy hair out of his face, revealing a pair of giant Minä ears.

Stephanie gasped. “Samson?” she whispered.

She looked up at her granddad for confirmation. He said nothing, but instead shook the shaggy Minä’s hand and thanked him.

Likewise, the Minä didn’t answer, just smiled sadly before drifting away with his guitar.


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