Alexa wound down the window and flicked her cigarette out into the carpark. She listened to the slow exhalation of the city, the thrumming from the factories in the east, then checked her pistol. It was loaded.
“What about him then?” she said and pointed to the shadow rummaging behind a skip at the end of the alley.
Toby’s lips smacked around his all-day-testosterone-sucker. “Whadda bout him?”
“What if we take him in, you dolt?” Alexa said.
“How do you know he’s a him?”
“You all look the same, don’t ya?”
Toby squinted into the darkness. “Mum wanted O’Neill. We should keep on lookin’ for O’Neill.”
“O’Neill is dead or vacuumed,” Alex spat. “Probably both.”
The man rubbed his crotch and sighed.
“What,” Alexa said.
“The sack… He saw the car. We shouldn’t ‘ave parked so clo—”
Alexa clipped him over the head with the butt of her pistol and his head banged against the dashboard. “You want that I scratch that crotch for you with a chainsaw?” she asked.
Alex raised the pistol again. “He got spooked, that is all.”
“We’ll just net this wriggler and say he was the only guy there, got it?”
“This way we don’t go home empty handed.”
“Mum don’t like when we go home empty handed.”
“Stop rubbing your fugly face and go grab the numbplugs.”
Toby opened the back of the truck and removed a squat cylinder. He pulled open a hand grip and brought the butt of the cylinder to his shoulder. “Whenever yer ready,” he said.
They kept close to the buildings, out of the moonlight, and found a dark corner behind theskip. Alexa screwed up her face and covered her nose. Even for the inner West, the streets reeked. Ahead of them, the rustling of plastic and striking of matches, a frantic panting. She pointed to her chest. “Wait for the signal,” she mouthed then pulled out her pistol.
The man was barefoot, on his knees and fanning a small flame. Beside him was a white sports bag filled with plastic bags. “Little warm for a fire isn’t it?” Alexa said and flicked the pistol’s safety. The man froze. “Go on. Turn around. I don’t bite… much. Whatchya doin’ down there?”
“Nothing,” the man said. He looked down to the fire. “Burning rubbish.”
“Cleaning up this shit hole of a city, one pile at time. Good man.”
“What do you want?”
“What do you think I want?”
“Don’t hurt me.”
“Don’t hurt me’,” Alexa mocked. She looked at his dirty overalls and mottled skin. “Go on, then. Pants off.”
She brought the pistol to the man’s forehand. “Look, man. I’ve been from Bondi to Bankstown, rustlin’ all night. I’m tired. I have my period, and I’m just waiting for some dumb effete to get in my way so I can eject him from the pool. Pants. Off.”
The man unbuttoned his overalls, stepped awkwardly out of them and covered his genitals with his hands. “You lot checked me just last week.”
“Us lot? No, honey, not us. You’d know if we checked you.”
“You’re not Gene Police?”
Alexa laughed. She shone a pen torch, first at his eyes and mouth then at his crotch, which was marbled with red and blue scars.
“We’re on the side of humanity if that’s what you wanna know. We don’t carry no god damn bibles. Sweet mother, you smell like a sewer. When was the last time you bathed, man? Hold out your hands.”
The man turned over his arm and held it up to the light. On his wrist were three red dots of equal size lined in row.
“See? I’m no use to you. Let me go.”
Alexa said and lowered her pistol. “No, you’re no use,” she said and whistled, as if to call a dog. A flash of blue bolts shot out from behind the skip and man croaked, then fell face-down into a plastic bag.
“Get the truck,” Alexa said to Toby as she picked up the white sports bag. “And wrap him in sumptin’. Let’s hope Mum’s in a good mood.”
She stamped on the fire and it surged into a mini whirlwind of embers.
* * *
The lab spread over the inner chamber of an abandoned planetarium, perched on the crumbling rocks of the inner habour . It had been a science museum once, and now its outer halls and the garden perimeters were taken up with sleeping quarters and armaments. The main auditorium was crammed with rusted scrap metal, cracked and bleeding monitors and mainboards and knots of wires. A row of white, kitchen freezers hummed on a stage at the front of the room. Somewhere beyond the walls, a generator spattered out syncopated coughs.
Mum scowled as Alexa and Toby dumped their collection on the auditorium floor. “What’s this sack? What happened to O’Neill?”
“Address was right. That’s where we found him,” replied Alexa and kicked at man’s limp hand. “That right, Toby.” Toby nodded and scratched at his crotch. “So the way I figure it, he must be our man.”
Mum stood up. She was a large woman, stout and aged like an old sea tortoise. She circled the man, then opened his eyelids and rubbed a wet finger behind his ears. “The hell it is,” she said and thrust one of her stumpy hands into the man’s pants. After several seconds of digging around, she cocked an eyebrow.
“Where did you find him?”
“Like I said—”
“Cut the crap, Alexa,” Mum said and sighed. “I swear you were bullshitting the minute you came wriggling out of my legs. You,” Mum pointed at Toby with the hand that had been in the man’s pants. On the tip of her nail was a long and wiry pubic hair. “Where did you find him?”
Toby glanced at Alex, shoulders bent, his thin eyebrows bunched. “Well, go on,” Alexa snapped. “What are you waiting for? Tell her.”
Before he spoke, he brushed the front of his soiled shirt. “Out by the park, Mum. Along the old sports club.”
Mum clapped the man on the back. “Westie, hey? Haw!”
They stood there, around the man, silent for a minute, Toby scraping the floor with his foot and Alexa dragging urgently on a cigarette. Finally Mum sucked in a breath. “And I suppose my darling daughter thought it best to lay any ol’ lump on my doorstep instead of none…”
Alexa stepped forward. “I—”
“Bullshit me one more time I’ll rip out your womb and feed it to the dogs. I didn’t ask you. I asked the man. So? Tell me, man.”
“Dunno,” Toby said.
“You dunno. Well, let me show what a good judge my idiot daughter is.” Mum took the man’s arm, twisted it, and spat on the mark on his wrist. She rubbed on the dots with her thumb and they turned into three smudges. “He ain’t no damn effete. He’s your lucky day, my friend. You found one of the last of Adam and he’s going to make us filthy rich.”
* * *
Alexa plug the numbplugs from the man’s spine, then pulled back his head by the hair. “Wake up, man,” she said. The man groaned in reply.
“Now, now,” said Mum and tutted. She was seated opposite in a rocking chair, wearing a green hospital gown. Strands of hair stuck to her pink cheeks like wet seaweed. “That’s no way to welcome our guest. Hullo there, westie boy.”
“Wha… who are you?”
“No one,” Mum said. She twirled a flabby arm. “Mother Earth, the future of our race, whatever you want me to be. I’ve been called a mighty great deal. I heard the Gene Cops call me the sperm whale. I don’t resent ‘em for it. But you can call me Mum.”
“Mum,” the man said.
“That’s right. I’d be polite and ask after your name but I’m not polite and frankly I give a shit. But there’s one thing I am curious to know… and that is, just how a sack like you,” she pointed her nose in the direction of the man’s groin, “avoided the pump for so long.”
The man brought his knees together and said nothing.
“You got yourself some nice ink, enough to fool my brainless daughter. But not me and sure as hell not the gene cops. I was in the force once, long ago. First wave of recruits we were. Put on to stop all that sperm bank looting going on. ‘Project Save Darwin’, they called it. Probably a man’s idea. I tell you. The Ys were pretty thin on the ground even back then. Things might ‘ave turned out better for your kind had we been better prepared. Put a bunch of girls in uniform, give ‘em a few guns and some people to kill and you’re a few tits away from them persons who got us into this mess in the first place. But after twenty years on the job, I’m a pretty good judge of fertility. I can smell a warm pouch of cum at fifty paces and can tell if a man is sterile just by looking into his eyes. Ask my Tobes over there if you don’t believe me.”
Toby shrunk further into his tattered suit.
“And if there’s one thing I know right now — you’re no ball-scratching eunuch. Who you got watching your back?”
“I’ll give you what you want,” the man said, his voice breaking. “Just let me go.”
“We’re not asking, man,” Alexa said and slapped the back of the man’s head so hard a string of drool whipped from his lip and onto his bare chest.
“How’d you fool the screeners?” Mum said.
The man looked from Mum to Alexa. “I got lucky is all.”
Mum let out a hoary laugh and her giant bosoms pendulated. “You sure did!” She waddled over to a mirror which was hanging on the far wall under a faded print of Venus de Milo. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I found you first.” She removed her wig to expose a smooth white scalp.
“Please, you have to let me go,” the man said and struggled to free his hands.
“Why? What possible use are you to me out there? You should count yourself lucky I found you first and no one of those scrotum hunters.” Mum let the gown fall to her ankles. “Now, do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?”
“Don’t be choosy now. I may be no beauty queen, but I’m ovulating. Can you smell it?”
“No!” The man’s gaze flicked from Mum to Toby then to Alexa.
“Sure you can. Try harder.” Mum’s shoulders slumped. “You’re not fucking my daughter, if that’s what you’re thinking. She’s got the maggot in her.”
“No, please,” the man shook his head. “Look, we can do a deal. My wife—” The man screwed his eyes shut. Then shook his head.
“Oh, you need not worry, dear. Your wife will never know,” Mum said, and she stood straight and planted her hands on the hips. “Well, looks like we have to harvest. Your loss, ain’t it.”
Alexa went to a shelf and took out a tray of metal instruments. Behind her, Toby was rolling a stainless steel barrel across the floor.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Mum said wrapping herself in the gown. “What did you expect would happen? Do you know how much each of those little guys is worth? A few million in a teaspoon at twenty thousand each…. Not bad for being born.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Depends on your yield,” Alexa said.
Mum looked up. “Where’d you pull that from?”
“Depends on his yield,” Alexa repeated. “I heard that’s what they used to say back in the day. On the dairy farms. I saw it in a documentary once. They put these suckers on the cow’s teats and—”
“Idiot girl. Shut up and hand me the sucker,” Mum said.
Alexa handed Mum a large needle which was attached to a clear tube. “I must apologise in advance — the facilities aren’t top of the range, but they do the job.”
Toby and Alexa dragged the man, chair and all back and laid him face up on the floor. He twisted in his bonds and cried and gnashed his teeth. They pulled apart his legs and attached them to two gymnast rings which hung roof. Toby cut away the man’s his overalls, then opened the steel barrel. A plume of white mist rose from the top. He withdrew an empty test tube.
“Don’t struggle it’ll just make it worse,” Mum said.
“Okay, okay,” the man screamed. “My wife… she’s a Gene Cop. She’s a cop! She fixed the tests.”
Mum clapped her hands. “I knew it. You see? A prize prick like this don’t just go running around the streets without a leash. What’s her name?”
“Her name?” the man said, his face incredulous and frantic. “What does it matter?”
Mum shrugged. “It doesn’t really.”
“When she finds out I’m gone, she’ll come looking.”
“I’m sure she will,” Mum said. “Selfish lady like that, keeping a little Hercules like that all to herself. She’ll want you back, I’m betting. Shame she ain’t gonna find you out here.”
Tears fell down the man’s cheeks. “No. Wait. There’s something else—”
“Enough! Alexa, fill his mouth before I go mad? I haven’t pulled a decent load since your maggot father, and I don’t want his whining to spoil it. Let’s do this.”
“What stinks?” Alexa looked around and spied the man’s white sports bag in the corner. Inside were several plastic bags, matches and bunches of soft paper. “Whaddya got in here? A dead cat?”
“Will you make it snappy?” Mum said, rolling her eyes. The needle whistled in her hand, ready to strike. Alexa took one of the paper bundles from the bag and went over to the man and pushed it into his face. The man groaned and twisted his head.
“What the hell is that? Mum said. “It smells like Toby’s aftershave, but…” She cocked her head a moment, blinked, then a wide and horrible grin spread between her fleshy cheeks. “Well, kiss my liver!” She snatched the bundle from Alexa’s hands and threw it across the room. “You idiot,” she snarled, then slapped her daughter hard on the forehead.
Alexa reeled backwards, and glared at her mother. “What?”
“You said he was burning stuff down on the street?” Mum shouted.
“Yeah, so what? He’s a pyro.”
“Our westie boy here… daddy here was burning nappies.” Mum smiled and pointed the needle in the air. Under the bright light, her teeth almost seemed white. “And from the look on his face I’ll bet we’ll have another candidate in a few years, a little bouncing baby boy-making factory. Haw!” Mum leaned into the man’s ear. “This won’t hurt a bit,” she whispered, and laughed at the hiss and spit of the man’s screams as she drew the needle down into his groin.