They had been on Nepenthe for fourteen days. For fourteen days, it had rained. On the thirteenth day, some very bad things had happened, which they didn't like to talk about very much, unless they were blaming one another for them. All through the next day, they had lain, broken and bleeding in the insufferable mud, occasionally trying to move, without much success, and cursing Neel, because he had escaped instead of being mortally wounded like the rest of them. Eventually they had all agreed that Neel's survival meant that he must have betrayed them somehow, and deserved to die.
Sometime around sunset Neel had shown up in a mud-spattered wartrukk, Doc Bonetinker and his throng of Gretchin assistants in tow. Neel and Bonetinker had immediately set about fishing Rikk, Vivyun and Boss Mychul out of the soupy soil. As the eternal grey rain pelted unceasingly down, Neel sat and watched gloomily as Doc and his Gretchin servants had set about the laborious task of patching the boys back together. Quite incapable of anything resembling gratitude, the boys shrieked their pain and hatred and lashed out with whatever functioning limbs they still possessed whenever they could. Occasionally one of Doc's Gretchins had his skull crushed and flopped nervelessly into the muck, but Doc Bonetinker went on about about his work without seeming to notice...there always seemed to be more Gretchin.
"Just look at me! squawked Rikk. I mean, really! Look at me! I had a broken spine, thanks to that bone-brained Ogryn, and what does Doc here do about it? I'll tell you! He puts me under, and when I wake up, I find he's given me a bloody Aqualung!"
"Well, he also gave you a metal backbone, moaned Neel indignantly. You ought to be grateful. I mean, you can walk now, eh? You couldn't do after the Ogryn broke you in half."
"But I didn't ask for an aqualung, did I Neel? Rikk bubbled wrathfully in reply. No, I didn't, did I? Hello! Hello! My name's Rikk! I was perfectly happy breathing oxygen, thank you, and now, Ach! Suddenly, I've got an integral aqualung! My head's in a bloody goldfish bowl! How am I supposed to meet girls with my head in a goldfish bowl?"
|Da New Rikk|
"We're Orks, Rikk, we don't have girls." snarled Vivyun, metallically. He was sitting over by the Wartrukk, idly banging his new head against it and enjoying the rattle and clash of steel on steel. Doc had scooped Vivyun's head out of the mud and tried to sew it back on, but something hadn't been quite right. As soon as his head was back on, Vivyun had started speaking in a soft and kindly tone of voice, trying to encourage his maimed and suffering friends, assuring them that the worst was over and that things would soon be alright. This had really frightened and upset everyone, and Doc soon stilled the panic by removing Viv's head again and replacing it with a mechanical one. This head immediately began to threaten and disparage all and sundry, in a raucous, clangy sort of voice, which made everyone breathe a sigh of relief.
All the same, the tinny echo of Vivyun's new voice set Rikk's teeth on edge. "Well you don't know that for certain, do you Vivyun? I mean there could be stacks and piles of girls on the next planet over, just waiting for us to stumble onto them, but it doesn't much matter to me now, does it? His voice quavered and he seemed about to burst into tears. "Not that you'd notice that I'm about to burst into tears...Because my head's in an aqualung! he wailed. I can't make out with girls in an aqualung! I don't even know how I'm supposed to eat!"
"Aqualung never hurt anybody! Growled DocBonetinker, stitching up a huge hole in Mique's larnyx. S' an improvement! I know a lotta boys'd kill fer an aqualung."
"Ugghl...Urk!" said Mych.
|Da New Mych|
Something strange happened in Neel's head. Sitting in the bed of the Wartrukk, chin cupped in one big, green paw, rain running out of his lanky gray hair into his mournful eyes, he began to murmur to himself...
"Aqualung...gurls...Feelin' like a dead duck, spittin' out pieces of our broken luck...
Sittin' in a dark trench...eyein' little girls with bad, bad breff...
Snot runnin down me nose...greasy fingers in frilly panties and lederhose...
The mysterious song's cheerful imagery almost made him feel not suicidal, and he mumbled it happily to himself for awhile until...
|Same Old Neel|
...He looked up. The others were all staring at him. Somewhere, far away, as if in the halls o' Gork and Mork, he heard a sound like a studio audience laughing in concert. After an appropriate pause, Rikk broke the silence.