The heavies were already closing in at the Venusian sauna when the madwoman blocked Jonathan's path. She was nearly seven foot tall, with green dreadlocks and wild eyes.
"Cthulhu will get you," she sneered. "I've planted bombs. Everywhere. All your factories on every planet will go up at Midnight. Ka-boom!" She threw her hands upward and her anatomy did frightening things under her dark green shirt. "No more Happy Toys!"
Jonathan glanced behind him. The four heavies were wearing fogged up sunglasses and the black robes of the Church of Cthulhu. The steaming crowd of naked men and women parted before them.
Past the Amazon, Jonathan could see two outward-bound gates: the horned gate of Pluto that led to the cold swimming pools, and the winged gate of Mercury where the spas were. There was only one chance of escape.
He darted around the Amazon and jostled through the crowd, never stopping until he plunged through the Mercury gate. His skin tingled in the sudden darkness, and moments later, he tumbled out into Mercury's pink spa hall.
There were only a few people there, all having a quick soak before going to their Millennium parties. Jonathan headed for the dimly-lit private rooms and chose a spa that was particularly deep.
He dived in and hooked his hands and feet around the rails on the bottom, then sucked his mouth onto an air jet.
He hated the Church of Cthulhu. They'd already stolen every Gargantuan Happy Toy that he'd donated to the capital cities, and spirited them away to their underground bunkers. Jonathan had been a crusader for widespread happiness for two hundred years, and this was profoundly depressing.
Now they were after him.
It wouldn't be safe to surface again until Universal Midnight; by then, the heavies would be in their bunkers for the Cthulhu rituals. Of course, he'd miss the celebrity gala dinner on Mars. Why had he turned down the security escort? Why had he even come to the baths tonight?
The bomb threats were bad enough. His factories and offices had already been evacuated, but his insurance had been cancelled. Even if he survived, he would be a ruined man.
He tried not to think about it for the two hours that he stayed submerged. His lips were sore, and his muscles were beginning to cramp. His eyes burned whenever he checked his watch.
At last, at five minutes to Midnight, Jonathan surfaced. He climbed out stiffly and found a Travel Baths information panel.
"Help me," he said to the friendly AI head-image. "The Church of Cthulhu wants to sacrifice me."
"Certainly," the face said, without losing its perpetual grin. "We have a variety of comfortable safety chambers for legally-pursued individuals."
"Of course. The laws of interplanetary religious freedom state that members of a registered religion, such as the Church of Cthulhu, may legally pursue, capture and sacrifice at most one individual per registered ritual."
"But of course, you have the right to flee if pursued, struggle if captured, escape if detained, and scream if sacrificed."
Despite his long dip, Jonathan's blood ran cold.
"Travel Baths values its customers, Sir, and our rooms are of excellent quality. We guarantee absolute secrecy, and provide facilities -"
"I'll take one," said Jonathan.
He couldn't interest himself in the room's entertainment. With only three minutes to the destruction of his two-hundred-year empire, he couldn't sink into the oblivion of Healthy Neuro Drugs - or connect the VR unit to his head socket.
He ignored the comfortable armchair and sat on the floor in front of the large vidscreen.
"One person has been taken for questioning after the suspicious disappearance of the Happy Toys president." The broadcast showed the same seven-foot green-haired madwoman being pushed inside a police aerochopper. A reporter poked a microphone at the Grand High Dreamer of Cthulhu himself.
"She had no right to get involved," he said. "She was excommunicated three years ago. She was already insane. And if you've already lost your sanity, then what do you have to offer our Lord of Impenetrable Darkness? Nothing!"
Unlike me, Jonathan thought bitterly. Obviously this was a pre-recording; the Grand High Dreamer would be in his underground bunker by now.
His heart sank when the gate-sped broadcast of the Martian gala dinner appeared. There was a wide shot inside the huge hall with its glass ceiling, and the terraformed-blue sky above. The compere, a vacuous young blond man, was poised in front of the camera with a champagne glass, talking about the great time that all the celebrities were having.
Abruptly, the vidscreen fizzed. Jonathan's heart missed a beat when the Grand High Dreamer appeared, holding a huge electric carving knife. Behind him were hundreds of chanting Cthulhu followers. And, hanging from the ceiling by its feet, was Jonathan's favorite Gargantuan Happy Toy - a tall, smiling clown with a yellow suit and red hair. It had been one of his first designs, based on an ancient folk hero called Ronald, who entertained children and provided food for the masses. Jonathan wanted to cry.
He looked at his watch. Two seconds to ruin.
The carving knife screamed.
The vidscreen fizzed again, and showed the dizzy blond jumping around ecstatically.
"Happy New Millennium, everybodeeee!"
The numbers '3001' exploded into the Martian sky in a spectacular display.
It took a few minutes for Jonathan to realise what had actually happened.
The madwoman was quite charming when sedated and suitably restrained. She peered up at Jonathan from the padded floor.
"I've brought you a present," Jonathan said, waggling a fluffy Cthulhu doll so that the face tentacles bounced and twitched. She beamed. Once Jonathan left the asylum, they'd let her out of her strait jacket and she could bite the toy to her heart's content.
"I told you I planted bombs everywhere," she giggled, "but they weren't in your factories! So much for those awful Gargantuan Happy Toys, eh? Did I kill lots of people?"
"If I become sane," she continued, "I can get out of here and join the Church of Cthulhu again."
Jonathan paused. Should he tell her?
"Why don't you start a new church?"
Copyright © 2006 Naomi Hatchman.
This page last updated 16th September 2008.