The sky is full of red and orange.
Sid’s standing on the broken freeway under the clouds. His trenchcoat’s blowing back. It’s not clear why he’s there, why anyone would be there—the freeway doesn’t even end, just breaks in half to make a cliff a hundred feet above the ground.
But he’s not alone.
Max is walking up the path. He’s breathing hard. It’s a bit of a climb on foot, but broken freeways aren’t the kind that you take a car on.
(That’s not a poetic exaggeration, either. Sally took a car on this freeway, a few years back. It was a mistake. The car’s dead now, broken, down at the bottom of the cliff. It’s cold and crumpled and it’s got a shell-less hermit crab in it. The crab is trying very hard to illustrate the concept of hubris.)
“Hey, Max,” says Sid, as Max gets closer.
Max looks around. He takes a breath of the evening air.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Max says.
“I went away for six years,” says Sid. “I studied business administration.”
Sid centers himself. He masters the reckless Chi that flows through him. His mind calms and his consciousness unfolds like a lotus. This is the Chi Gung Business Administration enlightenment.
“I can handle it,” Sid says.
“It’s the apocalypse, Sid,” Max says. “It’s the four bloody riders. You won’t be able to get rid of them by redefining your business objectives.”
Sid considers his business objectives.
“I won’t have to,” he says.
Max looks at him. It’s kind of a pained look, half-sad, half-laughing. “It’s your own business,” he says.
“That it is.”
The riders are coming now. They’re on their horses and their horses are running through the sky. The riders are bringing suffering and torment and the end of things, dragging it down behind them from somewhere beyond the red-orange clouds, pulling it down towards the broken highway and the Earth.
They ride not towards the whole end but towards the broken one. The horses’ hooves will not touch asphalt but rather pass inches beyond its ragged edge; and by no coincidence. It is the premonition of those hoofbeats, the fluttering stomach-twisting awareness of their coming, that broke that arching structure down.
Max turns to face the horsemen of the apocalypse.
He draws his gun.
“You could at least stand back,” Max says.
The wind is blowing hard now.
“I’d fall,” Sid says.
“Not that far back.”
Max sights carefully. He misses with his first shot. He misses with his second. Now he’s sweating. He grits his teeth. His hand is not trembling, but everywhere else his muscles are.
He fires a third shot. It is as if thunder has struck the rider on the white horse; his neck jerks back, his head blossoms red and black, and he falls limply sideways in his saddle. The white horse slows only marginally in its run.
“Good,” Sid says.
Max moves his hand. He fires. The rider on the red horse stares down in disbelief at the redness of his chest. His sword and reins fall from his hands. He clutches his wound. Slowly the life passes from him.
“My business administration,” Sid says, “could not do better.”
“Heh,” says Max.
He points his gun towards the rider on the black horse. He fires. There is a voice that rises in and around them, saying: “The slaves are restless.”
But the rider is not wounded; the rider does not fall.
“Hell,” says Max.
His face grows fiercer. He steadies his hand. He fires again. The rider on the black horse has half a face; he stares at Max with gallows intensity, his jaw dangling to the right, for three long seconds. Then, as Max frantically reloads, he falls.
Max is too late. He has wasted too many bullets. The fourth rider is upon them.
“I am Death,” says the pale horse’s rider.
“Sid,” says Sid, with the most abbreviated of bows.
The hoofbeats are louder than a neighbor’s music in the air.
Sid’s hands move left, right, left, in the style of his teacher. He is like air. He is like water. As the rider thunders past, Sid seizes him by the arm. Death commits an error; he pulls his arm inwards, and Sid is moving, in the air, his feet bracing momentarily against the horse’s head, his body coiled, as he drags Death around in the direction of that motion; and spectacularly, terribly, Death twists off his horse, one bony knee snapping, and his head and Sid come down horribly against the broken road.
Sid flails as he falls. He catches hold of the road with one hand.
Death comes, through the sun roof, to the hermit crab below.
“That’s not business administration,” Max says, looking down. “That’s martial arts.”
“It’s a revolutionary approach to maximizing a company’s revenue stream,” Sid recites, “inspired by traditional Oriental philosophy.”
Max holsters his gun. He spits, off to the side.
“I see,” Max says.
“If you syncretically fuse the commonly understood notions of profit and loss,” Sid says, “you can see beyond them into the true nature of things—the eternal Dao from which all revenue springs. This is the strategy of Chi Gung Business Administration.”
There’s a silence for a bit. Sid tries to reach the road with his other hand.
“You gonna ask for help?”
But Sid doesn’t answer. He just strains.
Shaking his head,
Max walks away.