He had so many expenses, he didn’t know what to do.
Of course, I am not complaining.
Even though it’s a tennis shoe and not a cowboy boot.
I have got an ice cream truck outside. Sponsored by Hot Wheels.
And now that I have a substitute teaching job, I almost have more money than bills… well, some months… maybe.
But I still can’t afford ice cream. Or insulin.
But my neighbor lives in a house made of eggshell. And he has cancer. But he gets visits from the Partridge Family in their funky school bus. It is better to live on a shoe-string budget than an eggshell budget. But we all have our troubles. Which Aetna will never willingly pay for.
Except for the rich guy who lives on Mel Gibson Hill. He has no troubles.
He has plenty of money.
And he is the reason the rest of us are poor.
Because he pays for politicians to give him tax breaks on all that money that never trickles down the hill.
But life is good in Toonerville Town.
Unless that shoestring comes undone.
And then it takes lots more hard work to tie it up again.
If you have the bad habit of reading this particular blog more than once, then you are probably aware that I used to be a public school teacher. Even worse, I used to be a middle school English teacher. Aagh! Seventh graders! It explains a lot about how life has warped my intelligence, personality, and world view. It also explains somewhat where I found such a fountain-like source for some of the worst jokes you ever heard.
Now, as to the question of why I have chosen in my retirement early-onset senility to become a humor-blogger… well, that is simply not something I can answer in one post… or even a thousand. But kids are the source of my goofball clown-brain joking around.
Kid-humor, you see, is stunted and warped in weird ways by the time period you are talking about. The eighties, nineties, two thousands, and the tens are all very different. And those are the various sets of students that I attempted to learn moose bowling from by teaching them English.
Still, there are certain universal constants.
Potty humor really kills. If you want to make a thirteen-year-old crack up with laughter, roll around on the floor, and maybe wet his or her pants, then you only need to work the “poop” word, or the “nickname for Richard” word, or the “Biblical word for donkey” word into the conversation. Of course the actual words, even though we all know what they actually are, are magical words. If you actually say them to kids in school as their teacher, those words can actually make you magically and permanently disappear from the front of the classroom. All kids are big fans of George Carlin and his seven words, even though most of them have never heard of him.
And violent humor is popular with kids from all decades. The most common punch line in the boys’ bathroom is, “… and then he kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!” followed closely in second place by, “… and then she kicked him in the Biblical word for donkey!” I am told (for I don’t actually go in such scary places myself) that in the girls’ bathroom the most popular punch line is, “…so I kicked him right in the soccer balls, and he deserved it!” Why girls are apparently obsessed with soccer, I don’t know… or particularly care.
So my education in humor began with bad-word jokes, slapstick humor, put-downs, and rude noises coming from unfortunate places. Humor in the classroom is actually a metaphorical mine field laced with tiger traps, dead-falls that end with an anvil hitting you on the head, or being challenged to a life-or-death game of moose bowling. (Don’t know what moose bowling is? Moose bowling is a very difficult game that, in order to knock down all the pins and win, you have to learn to roll a moose down the alley.) Sounds like I spend too much time watching cartoons and playing video games, doesn’t it? Well, there’s more. And it gets worse from here. But I will spare you that until the next time I am foolish enough to try making excuses for my really bad jokes.
Now you finally get to sample a bit of my genius at historical analysis. I will lay on you one of the theories of history that I created, and which has had a profound effect on the whole debate over whether History is a Science, or merely a gathering of talking idiots and puppets of the governments who won the wars.
The theory is this; History is always about pirates. I know that statement probably alarms you, or makes you simply dismiss me as a loony, bald-headed goofball who just likes to talk and is meant to be ignored by you. Don’t be alarmed, and I am NOT a goofball.
History is never really written about the builders and creators who craft a society or a civilization. The occasional Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Gragg of Mars, or Googol Marou gets mentioned in a history book, but it is always the man, men, or peoples who see the civilization, want the civilization, and then either take the civilization for themselves or totally destroy the civilization who ultimately get the notice and the credit for making History happen. History is not about making something, but about taking something that is already there.
Consider how this played out in the history of the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy. It truly began with the Ancients who colonized the entire galaxy and then, for reasons unknown, totally disappeared from it, leaving only powerful and dangerous artifacts behind. They were creators and makers, so the story could never really be about them.
The story then would have to proceed to the gentle alien folk called the Sylvani. Now, they may actually be the Ancients, we have no way of knowing, but they don’t actually make History happen either. They created jump drives and interstellar travel, particle readers and material synthesizers (as well as the Skortch beams and disintegrators that can be derived from them), and anti-gravity technology. They did not colonize the stars. They had the bad sense to leave everything as they found it and live their lives in relative peace. The fools!
The amphibianoid people known as the Tellerons were the first to colonize and make an empire in the Orion Spur. These prolific frog-men of Telleri spread their form of civilization to eleven worlds. They wouldn’t have been able to do this, however, if they had never made contact with the Sylvani people while the latter were peacefully exploring the world of Telleri. The frog-men imprisoned the Sylvani explorers and forced them to yield up the all-important space travel technologies they had created. It was an act of space piracy. They basically stole all the knowledge and equipment needed to make a star empire.
Now, the Tellerons were basically fools themselves. They were ruthless explorers and conquerors but were a bit shallow in the thinking end of their gene pool. They were not adaptable and had to carefully recreate their swampy home-world environment everywhere they went. Thus, they were easily conquered themselves when they met far more adaptable races like the Galtorrians from the Delta Pavonis star system and the Earthers from the Sol system.
Words are what basically conquered the Telleron Star Empire. When they reached the Galtorrian homeworld of Galtorr Prime, they got themselves hooked on an alien cultural anomaly caused by TV broadcasts from Earth. The Galtorrians had been receiving and decoding the television signals of Earth for twenty years. A virulent black market existed there for pirated episodes of a TV show called “I Love Lucy”. Reruns of that TV show became a model for both the Galtorrians and the Tellerons who tried to conquer them.
Truth be told, the Tellerons began worshipping the character of Fred Mertz being played by an actor named William Frawley. Frawley’s frog-like mouth and toad-like wit made the fin-headed frog-men think Fred Mertz was a god. The Galtorrians had already adapted the English Language from the show because it was similar in sound patterns to Galtorr-speak. It had become the language of, not only entertainment, but of commerce and diplomacy. Now, English is a twisted and demented sort of language, capable of double meanings, puns, and irony. There are no sacred rules of grammar, word-formation, or spelling, and so the language can be shaped to suit the nefarious purposes of those sinister professionals known as “writers”. Galtorrians were able to trick Tellerons with the so-called “Word of Fred Mertz” into giving them the secrets of space travel, Skortch rays, and material synthesis.
So, space travel and the Telleron Empire fell into the hands of the Galtorrians by piracy. They stole the empire from the rival alien race. They then ruthlessly expanded their new empire. Being a pirate was the thing that created the History.
Now, a very similar process also happened on Earth. Tellerons, easily tricked by Earthers, also lost control of their stolen technology when they tried to invade Earth in about the year 1990 A.D. They tried to invade using invisibility technology acquired by showing their Sylvani slaves old episodes of Star Trek with Romulans in them. The Sylvani succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of Gene Roddenberry. Of course, this backfired, because it is hard to intimidate someone you are trying to conquer with armies and weapons that cannot be seen. The Tellerons managed to lose their devices and Skortch themselves during an invasion that almost no one knew was happening. Again, the technology was pirated from them. I firmly believe that it was one of my own ancestors, a genius named Orben Wallace who reverse-engineered all the alien devices and brought the technology to Earth.
The empire of all humanoid and intelligent life forms in the Orion Spur would be taken and retaken using the stolen technologies and the stolen words of what would become known as “Galanglic,” Galactic English. So, you can see, I have brilliantly proven my theory. All History is about pirates.
Ged and his students burst through the doorway to Raylond King’s private suite. Phoenix and Rocket Rogers were both blazing in fire-form. Projectiles whirred around Shu Kwai in accelerating orbits. Jackie had brought little Freddy to join the strike team, and the dark-skinned boy was now transformed into were-cat form, half boy, half black panther. Ged himself was there as himself, waiting to see what might be needed before he transformed.
What they burst in upon was easily as disconcerting as anything they might’ve expected. Tara was dressed in luxurious purple silks and holding in her arms a tiny baby, possibly a girl. In fact, Ged immediately felt the baby’s mind probe into his head. It wasn’t just any baby. It was his daughter. Next to Tara, and clutching her right hand like a love-sick puppy, was one of the three rulers of Mingo Sector, Raylond King. King, of course, was nothing like you’d expect from the macabre rulers of a mechano-zombie world of rot warriors and ruined palaces. He wore black eye make-up to make his pale face slightly sinister, but this dark lord had an innocent-looking cherub’s face in so many ways. The horned helmet he wore on his head was in many ways more of a child’s toy than a warrior-king’s helm. He was also dressed in a purple silk robe.
“Prepare to die, King!” growled Emperor Mong from a spot safely behind Ged and his student-warriors.
“Ged!” cried Tara, confused. “You’ve come! But…”
Ged’s eyes grew immediately sad and dark.
“I am not trying to hurt her!” insisted Raylond King as two human torches, a telekinetic ninja, and a cat-child all closed in around him.
“Stop!” ordered Ged. “You don’t require assistance, do you, Tara?”
“No. Not now, I don’t. Where were you all when those Monopoly Brigade pigs were torturing me and having their way with me?” The bright mental fire of Tara’s recent pain burned into Ged’s mind with humbling accusations.
“I’m sorry, Tara. I should have come immediately.”
Ged knew she could read the self-blame and self-loathing that consumed him. Her anger softened like butter on a hot skillet. He could feel it happening, and he felt the baby responding to it too.
“Ged, you know I still love you, but…”
Ged’s mind flitted to the beautiful Lizard Lady. “I love you too, but…” he stammered.
Tara began to laugh a soft, tittery laugh. “We have been foolish,” she said. “Both of us. I want you to get to know Lord King here. He’s a very special man, and he rescued me when my life was at an end.”
Ged stepped forward and bowed to the young ruler.
“I owe you a great debt for saving Tara,” he stated simply.
Raylond King’s eyes dipped downward. He blushed delicately, like a woman. “I didn’t do it for you…”
“It’s all right,” said Ged. “She never was mine to be jealous over. I am honored to meet the one who will be her partner in life.”
King now took a turn at bowing.
“What will you do with the child?” Ged asked Tara.
“She will be yours, more than mine,” said Tara. “As soon as she is old enough to be independent of me, we will send her to you. The planet Gaijin? Is that right?”
Of course, she already knew it was right. She only asked that of Ged to be polite, sensitive to the fact that she automatically invaded the privacy of his mind every time they were both in the same room.
“I am happy for you,” said Ged sadly.
“I am happy for you, too,” said Tara, almost as wistfully.
“Waitaminnit!” cried Mong in frustration. “He’s a leader of your enemies! Kill him! I demand that you kill him now!”
“Actually,” said Ged, “He’s my new ally. He will administer this planet for us, and I will gladly turn you over to his custody.”
Emperor Mong fainted dead away. Rocket and Phoenix extinguished their fire. Shu Kwai let all his small swirling stones settle to the ground. Freddy actually began to purr.
“Thank you, Ged Aero,” said King. Ged smiled. He knew this man was the perfect choice to take care of Tara. The planet would change dramatically under his stewardship.
“Oh! Ged!” cried Tara suddenly. “I found the most terrible thought in Mong’s evil head! Your brother Ham was trapped by Admiral Tang at the battle for the planet Coventry!”
“Ham has found a way out of serious situations like that on his own in the past. I am afraid I have to depend on him to do it again. I have these responsibilities to care for… as well as a doomsday device from the Ancients to deal with.”
While the adults were talking, Jackie had sidled up near Tara where she could look at the baby.
“She’s beautiful,” Jackie said. “Can I hold her?”
Tara handed the baby to her almost without thinking. Without talking aloud she said to Ged, “You must spend some time consulting with us about the planet, the joining with the New Star League, and what to do with Mong. We will also talk about how we are going to help you complete your quest with the doomsday thing.”
“What is the baby’s name?” Jackie asked.
“Amanda King,” said Tara aloud.
“Amanda Aero-King!” declared the baby loudly in everyone’s mind.
“Let me introduce myself. I am Smiley Creaturefeature, Imperial Harlequin of the Triumvirate now present on Mingo!”
A second Harlequin also stepped through the ruined doorway. “And I am Sharpwhistle Crackplatter, his second in command.”
The two costumed cyborgs both switched on a feature of their armor simultaneously and immediately sent the entire hallway into chaos. Flashing and strobing colored lights along with barely audible sonic waves warped the senses of all the Psions the cyborgs faced, and Emperor Mong even couldn’t get his pants pulled back up.
Phoenix and Rocket both ignited their fire forms, but neither was able to see through their own flames because of the constant color-changing lights.
Jackie was unable to concentrate enough to teleport. The sonic waves kept her from using her inner eye.
Shu could pick up rocks and debris, but his telekinetic senses were fooled enough by the lights that he couldn’t accurately target anything.
Ged’s senses also were overwhelmed. But he took a moment to think, letting Smiley and Sharpwhatsit cartwheel around him and his distressed students. He didn’t particularly care what they maybe wanted to do to Mong.
Now, the Blind Kraken of Jargoon was a creature with no sense of sight or capability of hearing. It’s tentacles were guided by a superb heat-sensory organ that could identify shapes and locations of both hot and cool things And the amphibious creature had no problem being completely out of the water for long periods of time. And Ged had both hunted and eaten one more than an Earth decade ago.
“What is that blobby white thing?” Smiley said to Sharpwhatsit.
“Dunno… but it don’t look bullet-proof.”
Both Harlequins whipped out slug-throwing weapons called machine guns and filled the air with projectiles. Ged used several of his twenty tentacles to shift his writhing students out of harm’s way while his gelatinous body absorbed and digested all the slugs that hit him.
“It seems to like that!” shouted Sharpwhatsit as he did a handspring and cast the machine gun aside.
“Lasers, then?” asked Smiley.
“Lasers, yes!” answered the other clown.
The medium-laser pistols they both pulled out fired hot laser light at Ged’s shape-changing body. He not only absorbed the attacks, the extra heat energy he absorbed made his tentacles quicker.
The first catch was Smiley Creaturefeature’s right ankle. The second catch was Smiley’s gun hand. Then he poured megajoules of heat energy into Smiley’s limbs, completely melting his muscle-control circuits. He was completely immobilized though he was still alive in the way that cyborgs are alive, He was out of the battle.
“I will avenge you, Smiley,” hollered Sharpwhatsit. He cast away the laser and pulled out a vibro-sword. Each tentacle that Ged reached out with was immediately lopped off and rendered useless.
But the Electric Coil Monster of New Spain had once been hunted by Ged and his brother, and then dissected for the scientist that hired them. Ged knew it inside out.
When Sharpwhistle Crackplatter’s blade embedded itself in Ged’s coil, he sent a lightning charge of electricity coursing through the surprised dancing clown. He fell writhing to the floor, all his circuits shorting out, making him as dead as an undead cyborg can technically be.
The students, no longer incapacitated by the Harlequins, stood around Ged as he transformed back into his human form.
“I hope we don’t have to overcome any more of those things,” said Phoenix.
“You should go after the Triumvirs that have your girlfriend right now before they call up any more of those terrible monsters,” whined Mong, still sniveling.
The fight had been almost boring as the waves of rot warriors shambled forward, trying to aim their various spears, guns, and lasers, and then being disassembled by the student Psions of Ged Aero’s Dojo. Shu Kwai had been the most destructive, able to rip out electronic controls with a mere thought. Phoenix had also laid waste, melting the circuitry out of the Mechanoid-zombie army of Mong the Unmerciful. The minions of Mong had melted like margarine in a microwave. Ged had found himself in his armored cat form with nothing to actually do.
The invaders soon found themselves virtually in control of the Ruined Palace of David King. Jackie teleported back to the Celestial Dragon and picked up Gyro. The little Neulon whiz kid hooked up some software in an injector device he had pulled together by rearranging molecules with his mind. He then linked it to an uncrushed rot-warrior skull and pulled out a map of the complex through the skull’s control link to the building’s computer system.
“What’d you find there, Smurf?” Phoenix asked almost immediately.
“I am finding Emperor Mong in his suite surrounded by rot-warrior generals trying to destroy two guys called Triumvirs with an even bigger horde of rot warriors than we just polished off,” said Gyro, grinning at his own manipulative genius at controlling computers without relying on Junior’s special Psion power.
“What?” said Phoenix, frowning.
“He’s telling you he found the Emperor in his private living quarters focusing his attacks on somebody besides us,” said Shu Kwai with an icy superiority.
Phoenix frowned at the nearly naked boy in his white loincloth. Ged could feel tension building again between the two.
“Okay,” said Phoenix, “so what do we do now, Ged Sensei?”
“We go pay Mong a little visit,” Ged answered, now back in human form and dressed in the jumpsuit and fedora hat he had brought with him.
“Has he detected us?” Rocket asked Gyro.
“I don’t know for sure, but maybe not. He is in… I don’t know how to say it in Galactic English. The kapooiac.”
“I have a feeling that means the fresher… or restroom… probably,” suggested Phoenix.
“Let’s go quickly,” ordered Shu Kwai, “so we can maintain as much surprise as possible.”
Gyro led the way through bone-littered corridors. The whole place had the feel of an old black-and-white monster movie. This wasn’t surprising, since the Galtorrians had based much of their culture on the TV programs they intercepted from ancient Earth in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Galactic English had become the norm in the Orion Spur due to the fact that the Galtorrians worshipped the TV comedyI Love Lucy. Through artificial cobwebs and gray stonework, they wound their way down into the bowels of the palace. Finally, Gyro stopped them before a blank stone wall.
“There is a secret door here,” he said with a sweet blue smile.
“Good,” said Phoenix. “I’ll open it!”
A wall of flame swelled outward from Phoenix’s fingertips. The wall of artificial stone and plasticrete melted away before them, revealing Mong on his personal throne. It was not his throne of office, either, but rather the natural place one goes when he can no longer keep his bowels from emptying from fear.
“Eeuw! Gross!” cried Jackie, staring at the emperor with his pants down.
Mong was cringing while staring out from under his golden skullcap with the carved dragon as its crest. His Fu Manchu moustache was wet with tears of fear.
“Oh, great Ged Aero! You are the one my agents have been telling me about, aren’t you?” Mong’s voice was squeaky and timid, surprising from so sinister a caped figure, even with his pants down on his throne and toilet paper in hand. Shu Kwai, Rocket, Phoenix, and Gyro all laughed about this man they had so recently dreaded.
“Mong, I have come for her,” said Ged. “I want Tara Salongi back.”
“What? I don’t have your young lady! But you have to defend me! Protect me from those clowns and I will gladly give her back to you!”
The pitiful evil emperor was pleading in such a sniveling, groveling manner that Ged couldn’t bear it.
“Do you have her? Or don’t you? All I require from you,” said Ged, “is to lead me to Tara and then flee this planet for your pitiful life. If I don’t get her back, I will hunt you down and tear you to pieces.”
There was a large, startling crash as someone tore the fresher door on the opposite side out of the wall.
Ged’s eyes flashed with anger, an emotion that none of the students present had ever actually seen in him before. It chilled them all to the bone.
An armored clown stepped through the hole. He was obviously a cyborg, but far more sophisticated than any rot warrior they had yet encountered.
“So, Mong is not out of champions yet!” declared the Harlequin menacingly.
The corridors of the Ruined Palaces were empty and still. Much dust danced through an empty-hall ballet as the stillness of disuse filled the place. Then, as suddenly as a star goes nova, there was a loud crack as Jadalaqstbr brought Ged Aero into the palace by teleportation.
Ged’s brown fedora fell from his head and began rolling away.
“Are you all right, Ged-sensei?” Jackie’s brown face showed concern even though recently Alec Songh had led her to be a bit disrespectful and defiant.
“I didn’t know teleporting left you disoriented like that,” said Ged, trapping his hat with a foot before it rolled too far.
“It doesn’t do that to me, but Alec says it bothers him.”
“We may need to be quieter in a place we have invaded.”
“Yes, sorry,” Jackie whispered. “Are you ready for me to go back for the next one?”
At the word from the master, another thunderous crack marked Jadalaqstbr’s departure. Ged used the moment to begin his planned transformation. He changed his head into a tiger’s head for the sensitive nose, but it was not an earth tiger. It was the head of a large black Talosian tiger. And Ged did not settle for the mere body of a tiger. The cat-form he created was sheathed in armor plates much like the armored auger-creatures of the planet Nix, supple yet impenetrable. It also had wings like the great war-eagles of Barad Allamar, large enough to carry a ton of creature mass through the air.
When Jackie cracked the air next, it was Phoenix she carried. She set him down and immediately imploded through space again.
“Ged-dono?” asked Phoenix, hesitation in his sarcastic voice for the first time that Ged was aware of.
“Yesss, thiss iss mmmme. New formmmm.” The tiger’s tongue was thick and slurred in his huge mouth.
“Good trick,” said Phoenix, nodding. “I have one to show you, too.”
Phoenix’s transformation was even more alarming than Ged’s. Fire started around his hands, and then began to crackle around his entire form. He seemed to become a boy of living flame.
“RRRRrrrr?” questioned Ged.
“I call it fire-form,” said Phoenix. “I am intact under here and able to breathe normally. I’m really just wearing fire like anyone else would wear clothes.”
Ged nodded his massive head. It was a good trick that might serve Phoenix well.
Jackie burst onto the scene once again with Rocket Rogers in her grip. She dropped the cowboy-hatted boy onto the floor tiles and vanished yet again.
“Wow!” said Rocket, “I’ve been missing quite a party.”
“Look into my mind, Rocket,” said Phoenix from within the flames. “You can do this too.”
Ged had been impressed during lessons at how willingly Phoenix would teach his skills to Rocket. The cowboy fire-starter was a quick learner, too. Ged wasn’t entirely sure he was comfortable with Phoenix becoming a better instructor than Ged himself. He couldn’t deny, though, that Rocket could learn more effectively from someone who shared the same skills.
Jackie disappeared yet again.
Rocket burst into flame, his cowboy hat sizzling away to cinders.
“Dang!” said Rocket. “I goofed. I burned up all my clothes and my best cowboy hat.”
“Did you burn yourself?” said Phoenix’s fire-form to Rocket’s fire form.
“No, I’m okay. I get the part about a cool layer just below the flame. I can do the temperature layers just the way you pictured it for me, but I have to learn to get the thicknesses right.”
“You learrrn fast,” remarked the Ged tiger.
“Thank you, sensei. Phoenix is a good teacher, just like you.”
When Jackie reappeared she carried Shu Kwai, the final member of the strike team. He was dressed in a white leather vest, tooled with interlocking spider designs, a white loincloth, and white tabai boots. He carried a pearlescent trident with three wickedly sharp tines. For a boy of twelve, he looked formidable. He had learned enough martial arts skills from Ged and from Alec Songh to be deadly, even when he didn’t enhance his blows with telekinesis. Like Ged himself, though, this boy was dedicated to winning any battle without causing any injury or death.
“Are we ready?” asked Phoenix within his fire-form.
“We will find our way easily,” said Shu Kwai with that quiet confidence that made him so spooky. “The mission will be no challenge.”
Ged had to wonder if the Gaijinese boy was trying to reassure himself and the others, or was simply stating what he knew to be a fact. Ged knew one of these three boys would end up being the leader of the entire group. He simply didn’t know which. But the time had come for action. Ged’s tiger nose detected the approach of rotting flesh and circuitry. Rot warriors were headed their direction.
Mingo was one of those most worrisome of things, a cartoonish bad guy world full of grotesque evil dudes and shambling undead Mechanoids. You could tell just by looking it was evil. The skies were polluted a dark, rusty orange from industrial waste and the foul stench of death.
If you couldn’t tell its evil nature by looking at it, as Emperor Slythinus no longer could, you could also tell its rank foulness from the never-ending smell of the place, something Slythinus also couldn’t do, because he was not only blind, but also stone-cold dead. The Mechanoid industry of recycling used flesh gave the place an air of death and decay. The air was artificially regenerated, but no one bothered with purification. The denizens of the planet, for the most part, loved it the way it was. The cityscape was endless, crusting over even the planet’s ample oceans. The concrete-gray and soot-blackened features of the place were oppressive. The most impressive sights on the planet were the well-known Ruined Palaces District, once the site of the Imperial Capitol, before the Galtorrian Jihad had removed Imperial rule back to Galtorr Prime.
The majority of the vast population of the place was now Mechanoids, the crusty re-animated remains of humans and Galtorrians remade into a deathless life-form of rotting flesh and robotic circuits. Oh, there were human and Galtorrian people there who were living, but the effort to create deathless soldiers and an ageless workforce had emptied every graveyard and charnel pit to a point where the once-dead outnumbered the living ten to one
The ruler of the planet preferred to call himself an Emperor instead of a Duke or Prince. Emperor Mong was a cartoonish bad guy in all the clichéd ways that cartoonish bad guys are always portrayed, only cartoonier. I know that isn’t a real word in galactic English, but you get the idea, and after all, I am a scientist, not a poet! Mong wore his pointy little Van Dyke beard in the fashion of Mephistopheles. He loved helmets with fancy carved dragons on the crest and silk robes in bright colors, complete with a melodramatic cape and cowl. He was a brooding, evil, and thoroughly stinky bad guy who only got his jollies from coming up with really elaborate and fiendish tortures for his arch-enemy Brash Gordon. Unfortunately, the heroic Brash had long ago expired in Mong’s prison, and Mong had nobody to turn his terrifyingly terrible attention to but the whole rest of the Milky Way Galaxy. Weren’t we lucky!
The standing orders on Mingo were that anyone who died was, by law, transformed immediately into a rot warrior. These were the brainless Mechanoid soldiers that Mong maintained as his standing army, well, leaning-shambling-drooling army. They were all controlled by that infamous intelligent computer known as the Master Cylinder; Mong’s most evil of numerous evil henchmen.
Now, Slythinus, when he was in actual control of the Galtorr Imperium, had greatly feared the machinations of Emperor Mong. He knew that Mong would one day try to challenge him for Imperial rule. Mingo, after all, was one of only four planets that had ever been the Capitol of the Thousand Worlds. Galtorr Prime, Earth, and Regina were the other three. It had a long tradition of rulership. Each of the standing Ruined Palaces represented a former ruler who once held and lost power in the Imperium, and was a native of the wicked planet Mingo. So, Slythinus had craftily set up a triumvirate of rulers in the Mingo Sector of the Imperium to divide up and dilute the power. He had appointed Ancillus King and Karg Hardretter as co-rulers. These two black-bearded villains had a vicious and aggressive character that easily matched Mong.
Still, Mong would win out in the end. A famous assassin Mechanoid by the name of Ace Campfield got the better of both King and Hardretter, leaving their young sons to fill their empty thrones. These Mong tolerated as long as they presented no real threat to his rule. When Slythinus was himself out of power, Mong was free to do away with both Raylond King and Smoky Hardretter, a thing he hadn’t gotten around to doing since both boys were soft-natured and lacked the evil streaks that ran through both of their fathers.
So, all in all, the planet Mingo was a very, very terrible place, in a way that probably needs six more verys, though I know that that’s not a good word either, especially if you use it too much.
The Ancient Red Dragon starship popped out of jump space to find the planet Mingo bustling with activity. The spaceways around the heavily industrialized planet were crammed with merchant ships of every kind, from gargantuan, cigar-shaped mass haulers to the smallest of independent beetle-shaped personal transports. It wasn’t that no one noticed the dragon-shaped vessel as it arrived from the complex gravitic web of outer space; it was more a matter of everyone being too busy to care.
Three system defense boats came out to look over Ged’s Ancient spacecraft, but as they scanned it and found it was not alive, they quickly lost interest. It had no weapons that registered on any kind of detector. The human signatures on the routine life-scan would tell the transport police that nothing about this unusual craft suggested it was hostile in any way.
“Ged-sensei, we have arrived at the place your girlfriend is hidden,” said Billy Iowa, coming out of his clairvoyant trance. “I see her in the palace below, the one called David King’s Hall in the Ruined Palaces District.”
“It is a shame we don’t have any computer database available on this ship,” remarked Ged. “I suppose even if it did, it couldn’t tell us anything about Emperor Mong or his planet Mingo.”
“We have to get down to that palace and save her,” asserted Junior, looking determined.
“Don’t get ahead of us, Smurf,” growled Alec. “What are the Ruined Palaces?”
“It’s a place where the buildings have all been attacked at one time or another,” said Billy, looking with his inner eye. “Their damage has been preserved as a part of the decor of the buildings. David King’s Hall is one of the three biggest ones.”
“Whoa,” said Alec, half-laughing, “why would they rebuild something and make it look like it’s still ruined?”
“An evil sense of humor,” said Phoenix. “It’s like something Bres might do.”
“You put Bres down too much!” said Alec, suddenly hot.
“No, he can’t be put far enough down, Alec,” answered Phoenix coolly. All could see the air begin to sizzle around the Phoenix.
“Yeah, whatever.” Alec backed off from the subject.
“We do have to go down there,” said Ged at last. “We need to be prepared to use our Psion powers. We know what rot warriors are, but we have no experience of what they can do.”
Taffy King, who had only been looking at the back of Rocket Rogers’ neck before, spoke up. “I grew up around them.” Her blue snake’s eyes glowed with angry fire. “They are like robots who don’t work right. They lurch around and stumble into things, but when they are ordered to fight, they do it one hundred to one. They overwhelm the opponent with bone-headed force.”
“What are they really?” asked Sarah innocently.
“Re-animated skeletons,” offered Rocket. “I’ve seen them before on Bradalanth Colony. They are bones and circuits and some patches of leathery skin. Mechanoids with no brains.”
“Monsters!” moaned Hassan Parker.
“Remember, young ones,” said Ged, “they are easily defeated because they cannot think for themselves. As long as we work together and let no one get overwhelmed by numbers, we should be able to overcome them. I worry more about what other problems may arise as we try to get past Emperor Mong’s living minions.”
“Geez, you sound like an old holo-cartoon show!” remarked Phoenix.
“You disagree with something?” Ged was suddenly a bit annoyed.
“Oh, no. You are right. It just sounds so cartoonish!”
“So, what will we do, Sensei?” asked Junior carefully, afraid of rousing more ire from Ged.
“Sarah? Can you help us see the distant places Billy can sense?”
“Yes, Sensei.” Sarah was capable of transferring images from one mind to another.
“Jackie, if you see the place, can you teleport us there one by one?”
The pretty, brown-skinned girl smiled at Ged for the first time in a while. “You know I can!”
Smoky Hardretter and the synthezoid Sorcerer 27 stood over the operating table with a Mechanoid stretched out upon it. Mechanoids, of course, are deceased humanoids that have been reanimated by robotic implants and electronic reconstruction to make of them what are basically cyborgs, except for the fact that they have not merely been enhanced while still alive, they have been dug up out of graves and zombified by the Mechanoid-making process.
“This body in life was one of the best Imperial Guardsmen we ever had. He defended three different Triumvirs while he was alive. He had 500 clones that also served as guardsmen.” Smoky looked questioningly at Sorcerer after explaining the guardsman.
“This body will be perfect for our needs. He has been put through the tissue-regeneration protocols that I set up as an automated process?” Sorcerer grinned, something previous Sorcerers were not capable of doing.
“The nanobots are transforming the flesh now. It seems he is growing huge muscles as we watch.”
“Oh, yes. He will be an unbeatable warrior. He is not only going to be more powerful and more agile than any existing Mechanoid, but he will also be unkillable. His flesh is natural armor and quickly repairs itself when he is wounded. He will also be nearly impossible to hit because of his agility and camouflage.”
“Camouflage? He’s dressed in multicolored clown clothes!”
“That’s also why he’s called a Harlequin. He’s acrobatic enough to dodge bullets and plasma streams. And his combat dress produces strobing and flashing colored lights that will make targeting nearly impossible when the energy dampers are working at full power.”
“So, he will be like an acrobat? Flipping through the air to avoid being shot while firing his weapons from midair?”
“Now you’ve got the core idea,” said Sorcerer. “He will be capable of putting on a real show of power. And imagine how effective an entire squad of these troopers performing in unison will be.”
“I am impressed,” Smoky said.
The Mechanoid suddenly sat up. His face mask, obscuring the skull-like corpse head underneath, was a grinning, white clown mask.
“I can’t believe I’m alive again. What are your commands, Lord Hardretter?”
Smoky smiled contentedly. “I think we need to run some tests.”