Just as I finished my MORAL ranting, I screamed ALOUD as the NAILS of a CLEATed shoe pierced my chest. The Queen of Soccer's epic flying kick landed, putting me in my PLACE. A sweating ROYAL referee stood frozen, a red card half-removed to indicate a foul, but she dared not raise it against the Queen.
Gregori slammed the RELAY into the marked ON position. The MagnoMatic sensor on his holster began chirping frantically. He took a quick glance and saw the reading: 1,200 WEBER. “Shit” he scowled. “Warning: Magnetic flux exceeds standard operating levels for COMS Array Alpha. Please REFER to the OSWO guide section 3.1 and address immediately,” said a synthetic, CHEERful female voice over the ship’s intercom.
“Gregori! What’s going on with the COMS Array?” Corporal Sky barked over the intercom. The heat in the control room was suffocating. “I could cook a SMORE in here! It’s like the ship is having a FEVER,” Gregori quipped exasperatedly as sweat fogged his glasses. NEVER did he think Commander Dunbar would do something as crazy as ERASE the ship AI’s memory.
The brain of the ship had been expertly trained to operate the ship efficiently and maximize the length of the voyage. It would learn from our behaviors and use that to make every breath, every sleep cycle, and every meal tuned to the crew’s exact physiology and needs. “Please DETER from aggravating the ship’s already delicate state. We need to carefully configure the array and stabilize it long enough to re-download the ship’s AI. The more time you spend screwing around the FEWER moments we spend alive on the ship,” Sky scowled through the hiss of the speakers.
The haggard man plunked a few RUBLEs worth of change into the abandoned pinball machine. Lights flashed erratically across the headBOARD in a brilliant display. From the dust and ashes of a forgotten age the thing whirred to life and began to SHOUT its long forgotten chorus and OPINE for the new player to begin the game.
His SCALY and WOOLY hand pulled back the plunger. A metal sphere dashed along ritzy alleys and flew across precarious skyways. In the frenetic path it took it eventually smashed into something with a distorted voice exclaiming "Great, ki-ii-d! Dooon't get COCKY". The silhouette of a handsome American face showed on the LED panel and (what looked like) a space ship flew away shortly after. If only the LOWLY men of this world who sat at high places could have heeded such a warning, he thought to himself.
With the last ball sinking to its doom, the electro-mechanical creature finished its dance of light and sound. He picked up his pack and climbed out of the rubble of the Sputnik Arcade into the toxic and ashen air of what once was Moscow.
You call me on your CORAL PHONE Fingers grip a SHOCK of STONE You tell me that you want to roam I tell you that I want a home
In this WORLD we are alone Atop my STOVE there is a scone Got my brew, I'll sip the foam You even took my garden gnome
"'Walk the PLANK!' at Buccaneer Bob's GREAT FOAMS SHACK here by the beautiful SHALY WATERfront next to downtown! Leave your SHALMs at home as you say 'ADIEU' to your pesky body hair using our world class foams and razors. Even if your stubble is as hard as a bag of COALS, we promise you SHALL not be disappointed!"
The short, cat-like whiskers of the fish scraped the pebbles of the aquarium. It’s body moved in a lazy arc around the the tank. The submerged plastic castle and stalagmites were like PYLONs guiding the LOACH’s path. Perhaps the loach thought it was a dragon screeching through the pale and murky blue sky, facing the VALOR of some mighty warrior from below. The creature could not see – it’s eyes a dull, murky white – but it’s BLINDness did not interfere with the instinct for the time, place, and taste of its ALLOTed daily meal. From one of the SLOTS above I poured lunch into the tank.
I sometimes imagine I speak to the loach. It helps me parse my thoughts. My feelings and instincts are indistinct and fuzzy until the clarity of my word, spoken out loud, crystallizes them into my truth. The sentences flow through the air like the loach glides through the water, my internal knots and emotions like the plastic pylons in the tank.
“What if today I reorganized the contents of the tank, of your world? What if I added new and removed old elements? Would this still be the same tank? Would I still be the same person? Would you let be someone different and to speak and find my new truth in the wake of this change?” I said.
“I’ll ALLOW it” the loach said out loud, to my surprise.
"Howdy and welcome to FRIED AL's PHONY TRAPS & GAGS Emporium! We got your classics like rubber landmines, broken bear traps, teasing tasers, but also modern additions like realistic ransomeware, and Allegro the animatronic guard dog. New in stock is this exquisite bouquet-sprouting tripwire shotgun! It'll keep their heart poundin' in their CHEST as they scramble from your abandoned property. For those that like to travel we have the dynamite jacket, perfect for being the center of attention on your honeymoon PLANE flight. Let your next LAPSE of judgement start here at Fried Al's Phony Traps & Gags Emporium. When you buy at Al's, you'll hoodwink your pals!"
"It is a place full of EVILS and slow-motion debauchery. A never-ending and eternal droll of silly hats and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Do not even whisper its name, for the mere mention brings forth an unspeakable vortex of birthday wishes that forever traps you in a long-winded and lurid gale of hollow joy. Many an adventurer hath entered that putrid domain, but never to emerge again. Be THANKful, for I have warned you of the EVILS in the CRYPT of the PARTY SLOTH. Let us pray that within a MONTH's time this undead party will have ceased and we'll all be spared our doom." The old man stared, one eyebrow cocked so high it almost touched the ceiling.
"Dude, I just wanted directions to the ice cream shop. Just because you don't like their decorations doesn't mean I'm not going to go," the foolish young man said before marching off to get a snow cone.
[Salesman walks into frame] "Have you ever wanted to have impossible stains to get out of your favorite shirt or dress? Introducing POWER STAIN! Rub it! Spill it! SLOSH it! Smear it!"
[Chipper young boy looks at salesman] "Wow, I don't even need to drop dinner spaghetti on me?"
[Salesman] "Yes Jimmy, that's right. No more wasted meatballs!"
[Camera pans to people getting messy] "Don't wait to reach your optimal and natural state of filth. Buy POWER STAIN now for one insanely low price of $19.99. POWER STAIN!! 'You've got gunk to show and we want your hard earned DOUGH'"
[Winking smile twinkle; dirty CLOTH hits salesman in face]
(Continued from #243 "The Good, The Bad, and The Shark")
"Umm and your name sir?" The clerk SPOKE with a LOATHing glare at the BRIBE that slid across the counter.
"EAGLE... Buff EAGLE" said the half-bird man doing a small flex of his PRIZEd muscles. The clerk's chair rocked back with a WHINE taking in the strange bird-man. "You know" Buff started "when the ink DRIES, I'm done here. And you - SCRAWWWWW - can either take my generous offer or..." Panic creeped across the clerk's face, but he was looking beyond the feather-headed bird man.
"FOUND YOU" bellowed a maw of sharp teeth, the smell of BRINE filling the air. "You're mine Buff 'Buck' EAGLE, I've been looking for you".
"Ah, sheriff Ripley, so kind of you to join us" Buck said turning to the glowering shark sheriff.
TO BE CONTINUED
"THROW it!" Buiz yelled to his companion. In a moment of instinct, the prince Dragoak took a SHORT leap onto the TOADStool and aimed his mouth to the looming POLAR bear. "Piercing THORN!" he yelled as his tongue shot out of his mouth, the end of it turning into a spear as it flew towards the beast.
"Alright, alright, shoosh," Hot Comet Nina quieted the thieves. She rolled out the blueprint. "So this is how it's going down …
"HOTEL EARTH. The fanciest spot on this side of the moon, with the best views of the planet. Tonight's event: Artifacts of the Past, the largest auction of the year. Our target: The GREAT TENOR Saxophone.
"Vinny! You'll head to the back vent here with Two-Face Jack. It'll take you to the heavily guarded laundry room. They take their Downy seriously. Take the guards out, hide 'em in the dryers. Vinny'll grab a guard's uniform, Jack you wear the maid get-up.
"Jack, head to room 247. It's right above the sax. You'll find the trap door under the rug. It'll take you to the ceiling tiles. Wait THERE with the magno-matic 3000.
"I'll woo Malcolm Mercury. He's a softy for blondes, it'll be simple. I'll tell him I was a VOTER for his campaign and then get him sloshed on Moondust Mules. I'll get him to show me the saxophone, and will sneak the other magnet onto the case.
"In the meantime, Madcap Miranda and E.T. Petey will do their thing. We've hacked the sensors, so your ID chips should work. About an hour in, make a scene, and make it punchy. But Petey, no tentacles. This place is classy.
"Demolition Don, you'll meet Vinny at the back door. Control room is through these doors here. Don't be a blockhead, no explosions tonight. You figure out how to cut the power, and cut the gravity, and do it quietly. Wait for the signal.
"Jack'll swan dive from the ceiling and snag the case in the dark. We'll toss it in the laundry cart. Once gravity's back on, wheel it on out of there."
They all cheered and clinked their drinks. She sat back and grinned. This space HEIST would be like no OTHER. Finally, she could pay off that student loan.
“H-HOWDY, S-SHARK,” The bartender trembled, nearly dropping an empty pint.
The bustling saloon went quiet, and the swinging batwing doors creaked and cried. Bullseye Bill hid behind a corner. Lady Flemmings covered her face with her fan. Poker-Pal Al dropped his seven of SPADEs.
Black boots met them all at the entrance, accompanied with clenched fists and a soggy sheriff’s badge. Instead of a neck, there was a dorsal fin and bloody gills. And in place of his head were beady black eyes, an enormous snout, and teeth that could grind up any Winchester. Ripley didn’t like the way they looked at him. He was still sheriff, even after what had happened. He growled and bit at the air. He had no SHAME.
Looking around, he saw no sign of him. But he knew the man was here somewhere. Ripley had checked all his other LAIRS. Nobody did something like this to him and got away. Nobody.
He grabbed the bartender by the shirt and pulled him close. “WHERE IS HE?” He demanded.
“W-who are yah--Sheriff Ripley we’re simple folk here, don’t want aaany trouble--”
Impatient, Ripley chomped on the bar, and hurled a huge chunk of it at the piano, decimating it in a splintered dissonant twang. A distant glass shattered on the floor.
He spit out the last bit of wood. “WHERE’S BUCK?” He roared, giving the bartender a good SHAKE.
Then he heard a back door slowly shut, and shot his eyes up. There he is. Ripley dropped the bartender. Twirling his Derringer, he crept towards the back room with a toothy grimace.
“Yippee-ki-yay, Mother Flounder.”
"Crap, it pierced its AORTA," Bill said, carefully examining the ARROW in the ALIEN's chest.
"So basically," Cody said, "The only dude who knows how to drive this flying saucer time machine is gonna die, and we're stuck in ancient Greece?" He looked out the ship window. "Whoa, you Odyssey this view."
"Will you shut up with the puns?"
"Whoaa man, apollo-gies brosif, gimme a BREAK."
Bill slowly blinked. He just had to be stuck with the intern. He wondered if he was ever going to make it back to Vegas. Out of all the work TRIPS, this one was supposed to be the one. Where he'd finally be recognized for his ARGON research, and get that chrome AWARD. Everything was going great until he woke up hungover in Area 51.
He pounded the table. He never should have had all those vodka cranberries.
The alien coughed. "Zyphrog! Stay with me," Bill said.
"Ask him if he knows the password to this thing," Cody said, now tinkering around with the control panel.
"Zyphrog, what's the passcode?"
Wide eyed, Zyphrog just blurted "Aaaaaaaggggrooommrrrmaaaaaaaauuuuuugh" and then collapsed.
"Shit. Shit! What did he say? Was ... was it 'AROMA'?" Bill asked.
"Nah dude, I heard 'AGORA'."
"It's all Greek to me, man."
"Stop! Watch out!" Angela grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. The CRYPT wall cracked and crumbled, leaving the ancient key hole behind a mountain of rubble. Their torches sent light swimming through the dark mist.
She pulled off her glasses and wiped her forehead. "Great."
That was their ticket out.
"Maybe we should try a new ANGLE." Tadashi stopped to THINK. He brushed off his armor with stony hands and tossed down his sword.
Angela still couldn’t believe she was talking to a statue, especially a RONIN. She looked at her right hand again. All stone, now past her elbow. She was getting weaker. The amulet around her neck still glowed, but it was starting to whimper. And Tadashi 's own amulet was getting brighter by the minute. The two were PAIRS. Once her light went out, she'd just be a stone relic of this ancient labyrinth, lost forever, and he'd be flesh and blood. If either one took off their necklace, they'd both die.
Ancient curses suck.
"What's that sound?" She said, hearing more cracks in the wall.
Tadashi sniffed at the air. "It smells ..."
"MINTY," Angela finished. Distant cracks echoed down the corridor. "It's back!" she yelled. "The FUNGI!"
Soon the walls oozed with green fuzz, and particles floated through the mist. Pointy vines grabbed for the amulets, to return what had been stolen.
Tadashi pulled her down a dark hall. "This way!"
They bolted in the dark, and the vines slithered after them. Magic amulets, a talking samurai statue, deadly spores, this was definitely not how she thought she'd be spending her time in Japan. Would this be the end? She could only think back to simpler times, behind a desk watching market trends, investing in MUNIS, complaining about her boss with Jill. Why did she leave it all for archeology? She had LOVED the dream, but this was definitely not what she signed up for. She promised she’d no longer be a CYNIC. Curses were real. Her vision got blurry. They had to make it out of here. They had to …
With her amulet no brighter than a candle, she collapsed with stone legs, and just heard Tadashi’s echoed screams of her name.
Tiplekrazilblub still got up, cracked his neck, and his sharp purple batlike wings stretched out their kinks. He let out a deep coughy laugh.
"He's ... He's still alive he's still ..." Yuko faced the DEMON, wide eyed, still clutching his laser sword.
"You cannot defeat him," Lairus laughed. "Creatures from my dark ALTAR are too powerful, muahaha! Meet your FRAIL end, Yuko."
The dark forest shrouded them. Not one chirp of happy LARKS. A defeated silence. TEARS welled in Yuko's eyes.
"Beep boop," his robot J-43 piped in, "ABORT mission Yuko. My calculations were accurate, thirty cherry bomb detonations did not annihilate the beast."
"No," Yuko snarled. "NooooooOOOOO!" He wouldn't give up. He grabbed J-43 and opened the hatch behind his head.
"Beep boop, I do not appreciate being probed INTRAcranially."
There it was, the big red button: ULTRA-J. His robot friend would never be the same, but it was his only hope. In one hard press, a beam of cyan light burst from the bot, and it grew 10 times in size, stronger than anything in the woods.
The two BEARS, out of breath and sweaty, really did STINK as they faced each other one more time. They gripped the lances tight, with one hand on the reins of their rhinos.
"GRAAAAAAAAH!" One of the bears roared. "I shall avenge my father," he thought.
"GRAAAAAAAH!" The other bear bellowed back. "He shall not take our land from our people, nor our honey. Never!" She thought.
Then, there was silence, just the huffs and growls of the rhinos remained, ready for their charge. Both bears gritted their teeth, each giving a fierce, MOIST, JOUST STARE.
The last charge began.