“Good morning, and welcome to Vaticanny FM. This is Enos Roswell with you on this bright and sunny Tuesday. Today the Commons will have their monthly debate session, which is always open to the public. If you have time for a spot of enlightenment and mental exercise, or if you just want to see how the Common-rank gods run their debates, do head over to Parliament House before 9.30 AM. Audience seats are limited, but don’t despair if you miss out, because we will report on the proceedings as it happens. I must say that nothing beats watching it live, so do try to attend.”
“Good morning, Vaticanny citizens! This is Oran Mic the radio god, bringing you your daily fix of alternative news! Today’s morning broadcast is gonna be a little short because I’m heading out for the monthly Commons debate! I’m not debating this time, but I *will* be smuggling in my broadcast kit into the hall so you’ll get to hear the debates live! None of that whitewashed crap Vaticanny FM calls ‘reporting’, just dialogue straight from the mouths of your gods! I’d better head there now to get a good spot!”
“You’re the one accusing me of exaggerating my results, you prove it!”
A woman with red streaks in her hair faced the highest seat in the room. “Honourable Speaker, it is clear that this-” Farrar pointed an accusing finger at Godfrey, “-god refuses to defend his position because he doesn’t HAVE a defence! I hereby move that he be investigated by an independent committee to verify his claims!” A corner erupted in hoots and cheers while she did a flourish.
Finnegan leaned in to Godfrey, with a gloved hand over the microphone. ” Just show her the data.”
“No,” Godfrey insisted. The atmosphere in the opposite corner heated up and spread along the walls, taking more gods with it.
“Well, you’ve got to think up something quick before they second her motion and you get some makeshift investigation team out for your blood at every corner. You’d think once was enough.” Finnegan spoke from the corner of his mouth while looking at the crowd.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.” Godfrey slammed his palms on the desk. The sound bounced off the walls, taking the cheering with it until a hushed silence filled the room. He then pointed a dramatic finger at Farrar.
“Farrar, I challenge you to a duel!”
Finnegan’s palm slapped his forehead.
Finnegan paced around the optimist god, wind whipping his dark hair into a wavy mess. “This is your ‘I got it covered’? A duel?”
Godfrey pulled up his gloves, wiggling his fingers. “Yup. Best idea I’ve had all day!”
“It’s not yet twelve, and you’re no fighter.” Finnegan’s voice struggled amid the spectators and the winter wind whistling through the main courtyard.
“Oh, and you have so much experience!” Godfrey said in a mocking sing-song voice.
“Because I’m the military school graduate with combat experience…?Yes!” Finnegan turned to a visibly-excited Sedna standing behind them. “Talk some sense into Godfrey, he listens to you!”
Sedna cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Kick her ass, Syr Godfrey!”
Godfrey gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up; Finnegan sighed.
“At least some friends are more encouraging.”
“I’m being realistic!”
“She’ll protect me just fine.” Godfrey patted his cannon besides him, a six-foot orange-yellow monstrosity of twisted pipes and valves converging into a gramophone-like barrel more likely to play loud annoying music than fire a shot. Astrida walked towards them, tucking her gloved hands in the pockets of her wool coat uniform.
“The duelists’ weapons have passed the checks, are you ready?”
“Bring on the victory!” Godfrey said. Astrida gave an acknowledging nod and stepped to the side with Finnegan and Sedna following.
“Duel begins at the signal.”
Godfrey gave his cannon a once-over and nodded, his thumb stroking a bright red trigger button in his hands. Farrar cocked the barrel of her gun and nodded. They faced each other, awaiting the cue.
Godfrey pushed the button, firing a large ball of compressed air at Farrar. She sidestepped and sprinted at him; before he could ready a second shot she had closed the gap, and let loose a hot stream of dragon blood onto his face.
“Good afternoon, and welcome to Vaticanny FM. Today’s Commons debate ended on an exciting note with a duel in the main courtyard. Farrar, the brat god ended the duel against Godfrey the optimist god with a decisive shot from her handgun. There have been disputes on the outcome of the battle, and we will update you on further developments.”
“Good afternoon, Vaticanny citizens! This is Oran Mic reporting live from the aftermath of the post-debate duel! Paramedics have just rushed Godfrey to the hospital, and I have got to say he was NOT a pretty sight! Security & Public Order‘s blocked off the area, and they should because dragon blood is spreading through the cobblestone cracks! Groundskeeping is flushing out the water in the fountains and replacing it with fresh water, so whatever you do, do NOT touch the courtyard fountain until further announcement from the SPO! Farrar is definitely getting into big trouble for using illegal substances in a duel, but maybe the real issue here is HOW she got hold of it in the first place! This is the radio god signing off and remember, the Vaticanny Place runs deeper than its official layout!”
“How do you miss a round of dragon blood!?” Finnegan yelled into his phone, pacing the corridor outside the emergency oom. An irate nurse was trying to wave down Finnegan while pointing at a sign requesting silence in the waiting room. It wasn’t working.
“We inspected her weapon, it wasn’t on her at the time. You saw us do it.” Astrida replied.
“You sure you looked hard enough?”
“Compared to a guy whose eyes took a bullet and now has to wear glasses? Yeah.” Finnegan pushed up his glasses quietly. Hearing no response she immediately added, “I’m sorry, that was-”
“Is there going to be an arrest and trial?” Finnegan interrupted.
“We’ve taken her in for questioning and we plan to search her lab, so-” Astrida’s voice suddenly stopped and Finnegan only heard unintelligible murmuring in the background. He said hello twice, but whatever Astrida was dealing with took priority. He stayed on the line, oblivious to the visibly-relieved nurse in the background.
“Finnegan? I have to go. Farrar says she has something important to tell us, I’ll call back.”
Astrida hung up. Finnegan waited, shrugged, then put the phone in his jacket’s inner breast pocket. A reptilian head donning a nurse’s cap peeked out behind a curtain.
“Syr Finnegan? Your friend wants to talk to you.”
Finnegan beckoned Sedna to follow, who got up from his chair. The nurse pulled the curtain slightly to let them enter, and whispered into Finnegan’s ear: “He’s in no shape to talk, so don’t push him too hard.”
Godfrey looked more like a mannequin with swathes of bandages heaped onto the shoulders for a makeshift head: to say he was in no shape to talk was an understatement. Finnegan could not understand a word from Godfrey, so he let Sedna translate the optimist god’s muffled hisses and breathy gibberish instead.
“He’s asking about Farrar, Master Finnegan.”
“SPO have taken her in for questioning, Astrida said she had something really big to tell them-”
Godfrey suddenly grabbed Finnegan’s arm tightly. Rapid hissing and moaning followed.
“He says you need to stop her. She got the dragon blood from him.”
Finnegan paused. “Wait, what? When did you start dealing in illegal contraband?”
Godfrey tugged harder, pointing to his bag resting beside the wall. Finnegan pulled out a tablet computer and handed it to Godfrey. For a man who currently had no face he was a dab hand at touch screen interfaces. He passed a spreadsheet to Finnegan. Swiping through the data made him squint and stare at the screen in disbelief.
“How long have you been using dragon blood to run planets?” Finnegan demanded.
“He says ever since his planet discovered sustainable dragon farming at least half of the gods have been depending on his export. Just because it’s toxic in The Vaticanny Place doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere.”
He waved the tablet. “I get that Farrar’s on the list, but why is my name included in your celestial drug cartel?”
“Remember the time there was a massive ink tsunami on your planet and how after using his ‘cleaning solution’ all your coral reefs grew back?”
Finnegan started fearing the direction the conversation was taking. “Ye…s?”
“And then your planet discovered nuclear fusion energy with it and you used it to build that crazy peaceful mountain?”
Godfrey said something, but it went untranslated.
Realisation dawned over the darkening abyss in Finnegan’s stomach. “Oh me.”
“Syr Godfrey’s optimistic even the Vaticanny authorities aren’t stupid enough to shut down half the universe, but he’s not sure what they’ll do to his supply…Master Finnegan, where are you going? Wait up!”
Astrida would remember that on the evening of the January Commons debate a Vaticanny god in full uniform sprinted down the corridor demanding to know Farrar’s location, then barged into Interrogation Room #3, dramatically pointed a finger at her and shouted, “Farrar, I challenge you to a duel!”
For the rest of Security & Public Order, it was Tuesday.
You never do duels. Something happened. What happened?”
Finnegan unwrapped a stick of gum and put it into his mouth. “Not telling.”
Astrida rolled her eyes. The evening sun was partly hidden behind a clump of large fluffy clouds. Unlike the first duel, this one was outside the Security & Public Order office and thus had less spectators. Finnegan chewed his gum while a security mook inspected his gun. At least wearing full Vaticanny uniform kept him warm.
“First you were hoping she got an arrest and a trial, now you’re saying if you win she has to drop the whole thing including the debate. What gives?”
“Circumstances have changed.” Finnegan shrugged and continued chewing.
“Will you ever tell?”
“Maybe…if I win.”
The security mook returned Finnegan’s weapon but kept his palm open. “Syr, I must ask you to remove your chewing gum.”
Finnegan pulled the gum out and made a gooey pink line between his mouth and fingers before wadding it up and gently placing it on the mook’s gloved hand. He faced Farrar, clenching and releasing his hands.
Finnegan immediately coughed into his hand and rubbed his palms together. A beam of light emanating from his hands parted the clouds as it shot skyward, and a roaring silver dragon emerged above them. It opened its mouth and released a large ball of white fire at Farrar. The area around her exploded, throwing up granite tile shards, bricks, and various metals and stones up and around. When the smoke cleared, a very dazed but thoroughly defeated Farrar laid in a smouldering crater, covered in a thick layer of dust.
The security mook raised a shaky arm on Finnegan’s side. “The winner!”
Astrida coughed. “I thought it was odd of you to chew gum. What was in it?”
Finnegan wiped his spectacles. “It’s not the smuggling that’s illegal in duels, it’s what you use during it. Funny how dragons aren’t illegal but their blood is.”
“Great job, but I think you overdid it.”
Apart from the crater, the blast had also thrown several patrol cars into a pile of flashing red lights and sirens, with a car or five laying on its side without doors or windows. The entrance of the office also now had no doors, and millions of wood and glass splinters from the doors and windows were strewn all over the dusty carpet. The topmost floor of a side tower had also blown off, exposing a confused and angry officer emerging from underneath his desk.
“Yeah, I agree.”
Astrida cocked an eyebrow at Finnegan. “What should I write in my report?”
He placed an encouraging hand on her shoulder. “You’ll think of something. You always do.”
“Good evening, and you’re tuned in to Vaticanny FM. Anyone heading to the main courtyard are advised to take alternative routes as it is closed for clean-up procedures until further notice. The Security & Public Order department estimate a day, but we will inform you when all is clear. In other news, the dispute between Farrar the brat god and Godfrey the optimist god has been amicably solved as both parties have dropped the issue. It is always heartening to know that civilised and rational minds still prevail in the Vaticanny Place, the utopian centre of the universe. And now for the weather report.”
“Good evening, Vaticanny citizens! Oran Mic here with shocking news! Farrar the brat god had another duel earlier this evening in front of the SPO office! She fought against Finnegan the rebirth god, and he used – I’m not kidding here – a dragon! I’ve been tipped off that he chewed gum before the duel, but summoning dragons aren’t illegal, so he won the duel! Vaticanny FM will tell you that Farrar has dropped the issue raised during the Commons debate, but we must look at this with a more critical eye, dear listeners! Why did Finnegan – a god totally unrelated to the earlier incident, mind you – challenge her to a duel? Why hasn’t Vaticanny FM mentioned anything about the SPO office blowing up and that half their manpower is now working on rebuilding? What is everyone hiding? Do not let The Vaticanny Place take you for fools, fellow listeners! While you ponder over these new perplexing questions that only add to the tangled threads of the Vaticanny’s deepest secrets, I bring you…the weather!”
Finnegan stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his head. “Are you listening to that radio junk?”
Sedna hung up Finnegan’s jacket and placed it in a garment bag along with the other dust-layered clothes, ready to send for dry-cleaning. “They’re pretty informative at the right times, Master Finnegan.”
Finnegan grunted. He turned off the radio and turned on the television.
“I think Vaticanny FM gets the right when they say it’s an utopia, don’t you Master Finnegan? All these gods living peacefully except for the occasional murder-or-nothing duel, and just the right amounts of peaceful living and secretive conspiratorial government. And the affordable groceries! Oran Mic always rags on the Vaticanny Place, but I bet he enjoys living here as much as everyone else.”
Finnegan plonked himself on the sofa, putting up his feet on the coffee table. “Utopia’s just what you make of the circumstances, Sedna.” He took a gulp of water. “And this is mine.”
The opening chords of the Superwholock theme started. Sedna threw a small pillow near Finnegan’s lap and dove onto the sofa, snuggling into the pillow.
“S’funny, it’s mine too,” he said.