Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brain Salad


Brain Salad
Mark A Davis
264


A hot California sun beat down.  People clawed at the red sedan -- people in jeans and camouflage, people with dirty faces and greasy, stringy hair.  They yelled and smashed signs into it -- signs that read "Down With Zombies!" and "Zombie Apocalypse -- Just Say No!"  More people rushed for the vehicle, some of them wielding clubs and hatchets and pistols and sawed-off shotguns.

"Kill it!" one screamed.  "It wants our brains!"

"It's the end of the world!" another cried out.  "It's the zombie apocalypse!  Kill it now!"

Daniel 'Three Eyes' Blumstein was a zombie.  He turned to Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, who gripped the steering wheel.  "Floooor iiiit!" the zombie exclaimed.

Grandpa Anarchy, dressed in his usual gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast, hit the gas.  Knocking people over and scattering them, the sedan  tore out of the parking lot and down the street.  A shotgun blast at the retreating car shattered the back window.

They sped down the Southern California streets.  Up ahead another group of zombie apocalypse survivors were milling about in the street.  Grandpa swerved, crashed through a wooden fence, and bounced across a vacant lot.  The car flew over a sidewalk and onto a side street, where Grandpa accelerated.

"Never thought I'd see the day," said Grandpa, "when the world was taken over by fans of zombie films.  That Walking Dead television series has a lot to answer for."

"Nooo zombiiie iiis saaafe," Three Eyes agreed.

Up ahead a pickup truck filled with screaming people wielding weapons tried to block their path.  Grandpa swerved around it.  As he passed, he leaned out the window and fired his pistol into the front tire.  The truck swerved and rolled over.

During World War II, Daniel 'Four Eyes' Blumstein had been a member of Sgt. Anarchy's Roaring Rangers.  They'd been tasked with taking out Nazi Germany's elite superpowered operatives -- and they'd done a very good job of it.  So good, in fact, that the original comic of their adventures had lasted until 1950, and then an all-new comic, The New Adventures of Sgt. Anarchy and His Roaring Rangers had been published from 1961 until 1975.

And then, sometime last year, a secret organization had brought the team back together.  They were old -- very old.  One was a cyborg.  One was nothing but a robot with the memories of one of their teammates.  And as for Daniel Blumstein -- in the intervening years he'd lost one eye and become a zombie.

I dooon't waaant to eaaat aaanyone's braaains," said the zombie.  "Whooo doooes that?  Have yooou ever tried braaains?

"Once or twice," Grandpa said.  "They eat cow brains in Mexico, you know.  It's called sesos.  They put it in tacos.  It's not bad.  And they sell fried brain sandwiches in Missouri.  Also eggs and brains, that's something people eat."

Another car tried to block their path.  Grandpa rammed it and sent it flying off the road.

"Sooounds liiike a greaaat waaay to get booovine spongifooorm encephaaalopathy if yooou ask meee," the zombie replied.

They were speeding up the coastline now.  Grandpa took a turn at twice the recommended speed and flew up a hillside.  At the top they came to an empty house.  "Bought this place back in '08 after the housing market bubble burst," said Grandpa.  "We'll hide out here.  Great location.  You can see 'em coming from any direction."  He leaped out of the car with his shotgun and ran for the frong doors.  The zombie followed at a slower pace.

"Weee caaan't hoold ouut heeere," the zombie said.  "They'll get uuus for suuurrre."

"Oh," said Grandpa, "there's no escape.  Never is in a Zombie Apocalypse, so it should be the same for a Zombie Apocalypse Survivor's Apocalypse.  In this scenario all zombies are doomed.  I hate to say it, friend, but you're a dead zombie walking.  More dead, I mean -- you'll probably be dismembered."  Grandpa cocked the shotgun and added, "But don't worry, we'll go all Battle of Thermopylae on them -- we'll make one last heroic stand and take most of them with us!"

FINI

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy
Mark A Davis
256

A Rueben in Raj-Hyella

"Three times did I dream of that beautiful city in the clouds, and three times was I snatched away from its marble-columned halls," the man said.  "It is a blessed metropolis more magnificent
than any you may imagine, resplendent with vine-covered gables shading Elysian gardens filled with cyclopean trees and verdant flowers most rare, and exquisite marble sculptures so lifelike you wonder that they do not offer you welcome to their enchanting domain.  My only goal, my only quest, is to reach that heavenly abode once again."

Grandpa Anarchy, dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast, sat at a wooden table across from a young man with a brown van dyke beard and a faraway look in his eyes.  The young man had introduced himself as Charles Carter.  He wore a brown wool suit, a derby hat, and a white shirt with an orange houndstooth tie.

They sat in a small, crowded cafe set in the corner of a large souq or bazaar.  The settings were Middle Eastern.  Men in brightly-colored robes and turbans with black beards and swarthy skin smoked hookahs, and sampled toasted flat bred with olives, dates, and hummus.  That among them strolled people that were humanoid but with the heads of dogs and cats was but one clue that this land was not actually a country in the Middle East.

Grandpa Anarchy looked about.  "Huh," he said.  "The last thing I remember is going to sleep...."

"Indeed," said Charles Carter.  "This city around us, the land in which it rests -- all lies within the realm of dreams."

"And without my sidekick, too," said Grandpa, frowning.  "So, is this gonna be one of one of those episodic dreams where I wake up each morning and I've fallen out of bed and bonked my head?"

Charles Carter shook his head.  "No," he said, "This is not that kind of dream.  This is the kind of dream from which it is difficult to wake."

"Ah," said Grandpa.  "More Dunsany-Lovecraft than Winsor McCay, huh?  Got it.  Well, crap.  Guess I'm stuck here then, until we fulfill whatever quest we're supposed to fulfill."

"As I said," Carter replied.  "I quest for that great city of dreams, which I have only spotted thrice...."

"Dream city in a dream, sure," said Grandpa.  "Now your dream cities that you find out in fields of Iowa or up in the Appalachian mountains, those ones are a real problem...."

"A dream city... in Iowa?" asked Charles, clearly confused.

"Or a dream baseball field, whatever," said Grandpa.  "Look, the point is I've done this before,  This is basically an Ozian fantasy world with a lot of weird names and images, but it don't even have to obey the few laws of physics and logic that a fantasy world is bound to.  Basically the dreamworld arises from our minds, so we can influence what goes on here.  Don't like the way things are?  Good.  Change it with your mind.  It's like those crazy people who think that you can change the world just by thinking positively -- except here, that works."

"I don't think..." the man began.

"Good.  Don't think.  Just do."  Grandpa turned and waved a hand at the man behind the counter.  "I'll have the Reuben!" he yelled.

Charles Carter frowned.  "Mr. Anarchy, we are in the dream city of Raj-Hyella, which closely resembles an earthly city such as Alexandria or Lebanon.  What they serve is largely like the Middle Eastern cuisine of our own world.  There is no 'Reuben' on the menu."

"That's what you think," said Grandpa.  "Tell me, are you wearing any pants?"

"Of course I..."  Charles Carter glanced down.  "What the...?  I was wearing them just a second ago...."

"Exactly," said Grandpa, as a turbaned waiter deposited a sandwich before him.  He breathed in the smell of roasted meat and then took a bite.  "Look," he said, waiving the sandwich about, "this rueben is just like they used to make at Papa Mike's Deli down on Fifth and Dreary."

"Your town has a street named Dreary?" asked Carter.

"Totally not the point," said Grandpa.  "See, Papa Mike's burned down in '71.  I haven't been able to get a Papa Mike's Reuben in years.  But I just got one -- exactly like Papa Mike's, down to aged swiss and the sweet pickles and the Dijon mustard."

"Mustard and pickles do not belong on a Reuben," said Carter firmly.

"Says you," Grandpa replied, taking another bite.  "But again, you're missing the point.  They don't even have a Reuben on the menu, like you said, but I wanted one and I got it.  I influenced the dream.  Just like when I suggested you weren't wearing pants."

"You cannot just rewrite the rules of the world by thinking about it," said Carter, frowning severely.  "Not even in the realm of dreams!"

"I can see this is going to require a stronger example," said Grandpa.  "Case in point."  He waved a hand in the man's direction.  Suddenly the man was shrinking.  His hair was growing longer.  Within a few moments, he was no longer a man, but a young girl in a ballet outfit.

"What... what have you done to me?" she exclaimed.

"Just proving a point," said Grandpa.  "I imagined you were my sidekick, and bingo!  You just have to imagine it hard enough.  Calls herself Swan Lake Girl.  Patterns herself after Nina Ballerina, I think."

"But you can't just do that!" the girl insisted.  "This is my dream!"  Change me back this instant!"

"See, that's where you're wrong," Grandpa said.  "One thing you gotta remember:  I'm the hero.  I'm the UR-hero.  I'm the hero of a thousand tales, the eternal hero, the protagonist.  The story revolves around me.  I'm the one that does things, and the one that everyone else looks to, the ones the villains loathe and fear.  If I'm in a dream, then it's my dream.  In fact, you might not even be a real person.  You might be a figment of my imagination."

"My name is Charles Carter, and I live in Frosthaven, NJ!" exclaimed the girl.

"See what I mean?" said Grandpa.  "Nobody who's a protagonist in a dream comes from Frosthaven, NJ."

"Oh for the love of -- you come from Frosthaven, NJ, Mr. Anarchy!" the girl exclaimed.

"Exactly!" Grandpa said.  He finished off the sandwich and wiped his hands on a napkin.  He stood.  "You know, now that I think about it, Dorothy of Kansas might suit you better.  This is an Oz riff, after all."

The girl across from him morphed again.  Her hair turned brown and formed into braids.  The ballet outfit became a gingham dress of blue and white.  A small basket appeared, within which was a small black terrier.

"That's more like it!" Grandpa said.  "Now, come on, Dorothy.  Let's get this dreamquest on the road.  I only hope we can manage to skip all of the boring parts...."


The Prophet of Wazzu

Grandpa Anarchy and the girl that was Charles Carter traveled far into dreamlands, across the Karana plains and over a great stone bridge that crossed the river Skol.  Here they entered the cat-filled city of Wazzu, wherein dwelt the great Prophet Hadacol.  As they passed through narrow, cobblestone streets past buildings with peaked rooftops and overhanging upper stories, the little dog Toto barked at every cat he saw -- and there were hundreds of them.  The girl in the gingham dress glared at Grandpa.

"Why am I still a girl?" she demanded.

"Because," said Granpda Anarchy, "Dorothy Gale of Kansas is a girl.  What else would she be?"

"I am not Dorothy Gale!" exclaimed the girl with the black terrier.  "I am Charles Carter!  I am a man!"

"Don't look much like one," said Grandpa.  "Hey, here's an idea:  try chanting ghouls and gugs and ghasts, oh my! while we travel."

"Stop this  foolishness this instant!" the girl exclaimed.  "I demand that you transform me back to myself!"

"Nah, it don't work like that," said Grandpa.  "People define themselves.  You don't demand that someone else define who you are for you."

"You did this to me!" the girl yelled.

"You let me do it to you," Grandpa replied.  "Your image of yourself is weak.  Your will to dream is lacking.  My ability to shape the dreams around me is greater than your ability to even imagine your own self.  That's the problem -- you claim to be the hero of this story, a man who is an expert at dreaming...."

"I am an expert!" the girl exclaimed.  "I descended the seventy-seven steps down into the Dreaming Caverns of Fire and consulted with the priests that haunt that place, and from there I descended the seven hundred steps to the gates of deeper slumber, and passed through the Enchanted Palouse of the Zags.  I dare to cross the black impious gulfs from the dreamlands of earth to other dreamlands, where since time began only three human souls have dared to venture and return, and two of them were afterwards quite mad...."

"I don't know where you're getting your information, but I got news for you," said Grandpa.  "Unpossible Girl, Dark Dr. Dark, Circuit Girl, Guy Shadow and I were there only a month ago, and while I'll certainly admit that none of us are quite normal -- we ain't mad in the classical sense.  Look, Dorothy, it's really quite simple -- in dreamlands reality is what you make of it.  Nothing should be more concrete and fixed in your mind than your image of yourself, so if I can override it by imagining you're a little girl from Kansas, then you got a lot to learn.  Think of it as your first test.  When your image of yourself is stronger than my image of you, then you've passed.  Until then, you're whoever I say you are."

They paused before the temple that sat atop the hill, overlooking the town.  Here was said to dwell the prophet that they sought.  Grandpa grinned at the girl.  "Last chance to put your best foot forward, and appear as yourself before the prophet," he said.  "Give it a try!"

The girl frowned.  She concentrated.  Slowly her body began to morph and shift.  She grew even shorter.  Her hair exploded in a mass of golden curls, held back by a white bow.  The dress became solid blue, and fuller, with a ruffled white apron over it.  The dog in the basket likewise morphed into a strange cat with a wide grin.

"Alice in Wonderland," said Grandpa Anarchy, "and her Cheshire Cat.  Seems more appropriate for a city of cats, don'tcha think?  Now, let's see what this famous Prophet Hadacol has to say to us."

They found the great Prophet Hadacol seated on an ivory dais in a shrine in the center of the temple.  He appeared to be a very old man, but with a sharp mind.  He smiled when he saw them, and at Carter-as-Alice he said, "My, what a lovely little girl-child, with your golden curls and your enchanting outfit!  Long has it been since such a vision of purity and innocence graced this temple!"

"Bite me," the girl replied.

Grandpa quickly said, "Forgive my foolish companion, your excellence.  We seek your aid in locating a fabled city that this girl has seen thrice in dreams -- only she wasn't a little girl at the time, you understand.  You wouldn't happen to know where this place is, or how to get in touch with the unknown gods who provided the original vision, would ya?"

The prophet closed his eyes and sat in silence for a minute.

"The gods do not wish to speak with mortals," he said.  "Especially bratty little tykes who don't respect their elders...."

"Hey!" the girl exclaimed.  "My name is Charles Carter and I'm a man!  This man is Grandpa Anarchy, and it's his fault that I look like this, and...."

Hadacol held up his hand.  "I know your circumstances, child," he said.  "Mr. Anarchy has chosen your form well, for if you cannot imagine yourself other than how he imagines you, then you are indeed a child in the ways of dreaming.  In any case, what I said is true:  the unknown gods removed these dreams from you for a reason.  To seek them out or to seek that which they have hidden from you is a dangerous path to  tread.  I will not aid you in it."

He paused, then lifted a small brown vial and added, "But could I interest you in some of my herbal vitamin supplement?  It's guaranteed to cure whatever ails you!  Only five dreambucks a bottle!"  He grinned and waggled his eyebrows.

Grandpa Anarchy and Alice withdrew a ways.  Alice said, "Mister Anarchy, I have a plan.  What you need to do is invite the prophet to drink.  Ply him with this Moon Wine which I was given as a gift by the Zags.  When he is drunk, he may reveal to us that which he now hides."

"I don't drink," Grandpa replied.  "Besides, I got a better plan...."

He turned, marched up to the prophet, and punched him in the face, knocking him off the dais.  Grandpa hauled him up by the collar of his silken robes and raised his fist.  "Now," he said, "are you going to tell us how to find these unknown gods, or am I gonna have to make a sacrifice here and now to the God of Fisticuffs?"


Butt Cheeks of the Unknown God

The bus bounced and swayed.  It creaked and rattled.  Grandpa Anarchy stared out the window at the passing rocky terrain.

"You know," he said, "when the prophet Hadacol told us about Non Sequitur Isle, I figured he was just tossing out some random crap that he made up that wasn't related to anything.  But once he explained it, it makes sense:  a carving of an unknown god on the far side of a remote mountain.  See the carving, and you know what the gods look like -- and by extension, what the humans who live near the gods look like.  Gods are always sleeping around with mortals, so your local humans are bound to have unknown god blood and look a bit like 'em.  Find humans that look like the carving, and you find the home of the unknown gods.

"But I figured we'd be in for a long journey across inhospitable terrain, and dealings with hostile folk and weird monsters who try to attack us at every turn.  I didn't figure there'd be a tour bus that takes you straight to the far side of the mountain."

"Times change," said Alice.  She sat on the bus seat beside Grandpa, staring sullenly ahead while she absently stroked the grinning Cheshire cat.

Up at the front of the bus a strange creature stood.  It was vaguely humanoid, but thick, black, and faceless, with rubbery skin, horns, a barbed tail, and with leathery wings.  It held a receiver in one prehensile paw.  "Ladies and Gentlemen and creatures of all sorts, welcome to Nightguant Tours!" the creature exclaimed -- though no mouth could be seen to move.  "We're almost at the viewing area!  In a moment, I want people to exit single file -- no pushing and shoving!  Remember, stay behind the protective fence!  The gods frown on photography but paintings and drawings are fine, and we have postcards for sale in the souveneir shop.  And once again, thank you for your patronage!"

Grandpa and Alice filed out with the other tourists and stared up at the side of the mountain, on which appeared a titanic sculpture several miles high.  It was magnificently carved, more detailed than Michaelangelo's King David.  It was of an unknown god -- specifically, of his derrière.

"I can't help but feel the gods are telling us something," Grandpa commented.

"The titanic sculpture of the moon of the gods!" exclaimed their tour guide.  "The carven butt-cheeks of an unknown god himself!"

Alice sighed.  "Well," she said, "now all we need do is find the people whose butts bear this likeness, and we will be close to the lands where the gods dwell...."

"If you think I'm going to go around pulling down the pants of every Atal, Pictman, and Kuranes in dreamland," said Grandpa, "then you got another think coming."


A Meep of Cosmic Fear

"Okay," said Grandpa, "we've started a couple of wars, we've negotiated a couple of treaties, we've been to hell and back -- and I mean that literally, we've been to the underworld kingdoms at least twice now -- we've visited a dozen weird places with weird names populated by weird creatures, and frankly most of those names felt made up -- and we've skipped over all of that because it's boring as heck.  In short, we've spent weeks and months in dreamland doing only the unknown gods know what.  Are we done with our quest yet?"

Charles Carter, who currently was a little boy with dark hair dressed in an old-fashioned white nightgown -- "Little Nemo, from Little Nemo in Slumberland," Grandpa had said.  "Gotta respect the classics!" -- stared up at the gates of the massive onyx castle.  They had arrived at the brooding Onyx City, whose towers and spires rose up so high as to be lost in the distance.   The two humans were like ants before these vast, Cyclopean gates.

"Well," the boy said, "we're finally in the city of the unknown gods.  Let's see if t hey have any answers for us."

Slowly, ponderously, the gates swung open.  Lines of dark-skinned soldiers waited inside.  Grandpa and Little Nemo were escorted through vast hallways, until they came to a room where a small, old man sat in a battered lawn chair.  He had on a greasy Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, tennis shoes, and black socks held up with garters.  He was reading a newspaper, and smoking a cigar.

"Greetings, travelers," he said.  He gestured, and two more lawn chairs appeared -- one sized for a kid.  "You've been travelling a long time to get here, aintcha?  Take a load off.  Can I get you anything?  Iced Tea?  Lemonade?  Mildred makes some great lemonade...."

Little Nemo frowned.  "We were told this was the abode of the gods...." he began.

"Of course!  Of course!  Only they ain't here right now, they're out gallivanting around -- visiting Dreamworlds Disneyland, you know.  Big summer trip with all the kids, that sort of thing.  You know how it is."  He paused to take a puff on his cigar.  "So what can I do for ya?"

"You are...?" Grandpa asked.

"Speaker for the unknown gods," said the old man.  "Name's Al.  Al "Crawling Chaos" McGill.  Nice ta meetcha."

"Oh great speaker for the unknown gods," Little Nemo began.

"Call me Al," said the speaker.

"Oh great... Al," said the boy, tentatively.  "We have journeyed far in search of a city that I have only seen thrice in dreams -- a blessed metropolis more magnificent than...."

"Whoa, whoa, I get the picture," Al said, holding up his hands.  "No need to wax eloquent or nothing, I read the first scene already.  Look, boy," he said, chewing his cigar.  "The situation, it's like this.  This dream city of gold and marble that you dreamed about?  It's basically your home town, as you remember it from your youth.  You recreated it in the land of dreams as you remember it from when you were still in diapers.  That's why it's such a fantastic place -- a city of towers and spires and tangled gables and chimneys and a lush, violet valley with a cerulean river flowing lazily through it, and many stone bridges crossing over.  It's the city of your distant memories and half-remembered dreams."

"That don't make no sense," said Grandpa.  "We both come from Frosthaven, NJ, and let me  tell you, that place ain't nobody's vision of a dream city.  It's practically the armpit of New Jersey, and that's saying a lot."

"No, Grandpa, he's right," said Little Carter.  "For you see, I grew up in Frosthaven -- but I was born in Providence, Rhode Island.  That quaint city of seven hills overlooking a blue harbor, with green terraces and steeples and citadels of antiquity -- that is the half-remembered city of my dreams."

"Providence?" said Grandpa.  "A dream city?  Why, that place is the most corrupt, crime-ridden, mob-ruled...."

"I remember it as a beautiful and glorious place," said Carter.  "I was only three at the time, after all.  But now that I know what my dream city is, I also know how to reach it."

The little boy spread his arms, and suddenly he grew.  In moments he was a man again -- the same young man that Grandpa had first met in Raj-Hyella, with the brown van dyke and the brown wool suit, derby, and orange houndstooth tie.

"You were right, Grandpa," he said.  "When we met, I did not know how to properly dream.  But I have learned.  See how I've learned!"

Carter waved his hands, and suddenly he and Grandpa were on cobbled streets, in a bustling New England city so quaint and beautiful and perfect it could only exist in dreams and Norman Rockwell paintings.  The old man Al -- speaker for the unknown gods -- was nowhere to be seen.

Carter spread his arms wide.  "Voilà!" he exclaimed!  "The city of my dreams!  We have arrived!"

"You shoulda just done that to start with," Grandpa replied.  "We coulda completely avoided all those long, boring adventures that we skipped over."  Grandpa looked about at happy people laughing and shopping and enjoying the sunshine, and kids skipping rope.  "Nice place," he said.  "So this fulfills your quest, I hope?"

"Only the first part," said Carter.  "For the other half...."  Here his face became the mask of a man mad with power, "I must conquer it, and rule this land with an iron fist... Ah ha ha ha ha!"  His mad laughter echoed down the street.

Grandpa Anarchy stared at the man.  "Come again?" he said.

"You see, Mr. Anarchy, I now control my dreams!  I am whoever I imagine myself to be!"  His body began to morph again.  He grew taller and more slender.  His skin became white as bone.  His beard vanished, and his face became smooth and beautiful, but cold and cruel.  His hair grew long and white, and his brown suit became a long, flowing gown of a blue so pale it was like looking into thick ice.  He became a she -- a pale, haughty woman nearly six and a half feet tall.

"And who I imagine myself to be, Mr. Anarchy, is Glacia, Witch of Winter and Queen of Ice and Snow!"  The woman waved a hand, and the city was encased in ice.  Wind howled, and snow fell.   "I shall remain in dreamland forever and never return to the waking lands!" she exclaimed.  "Here shall I rule over my dream city of Providence in icy splendor forever and ever!  It shall be always winter, and never Christmas!"

Grandpa frowned.  "Well, that's a heck of a thing..." he began.

"And you, Mr. Anarchy," said the witch.  "You shall rot in my dungeons for an eternity!"

She snapped her fingers, and Grandpa found himself in a dim and freezing cell block with bars of iron.  Ice coated the walls.  He shivered.

"Well, crap," Grandpa said, looking about.  "Looks like I taught Carter a little too well.  Or Glacia, as the case may be."  He  frowned.  "On the other hand, our little Witch-Queen has forgotten one crucial little detail... in this dream, I'm the hero."

Grandpa cracked his knuckles, then grasped the metal bars and bent them apart.  He slipped through.  "Okay," he said.  "Looks like I got a witch to defeat, and a dream-city  to save.  I'm going to need a sidekick...."  He paused a moment, then snapped his fingers.  An eight-year-old girl appeared with dirty blonde hair, wearing a dark brown dress with a light brown sweater.

"Lucy Pevensie, youngest of the four Pevensie children," said Grandpa Anarchy, "who goes through the wardrobe and into Narnia -- later to be crowned Queen Lucy the Valiant.  How'd you like to help me defeat a Wicked Witch of Winter?"

"Of course!" said the girl.  She produced a short, sharp silver sword.  "Ready when you are, Grandpa!"

FINI

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mummy Dearest

Mummy Dearest
Mark A Davis
263


The streets of London in 1890 were filthy.  Mud lined the carriageways -- well, people called it mud, but everyone knew it was horse manure.  Smoke and soot choked the air and made the sky hazy.  It was said of the sheep that grazed in Regent's Park that you could tell how long they'd been in the city by how dark and dirty their coats were.

Two people appeared in a mud-caked alleyway off a main road.  They were just there, suddenly, as if they'd just stepped through a doorway where no doorway existed.  One was an old man in a  brown tweed suit with a derby and a bow tie.  The other was a young woman in a wine red dress with a tight bodice, leg-o-mutton sleeves and an a-line skirt that was almost bell-shaped.  She held overhead a long staff with an hourglass symbol on one end.  Almost immediately, this staff vanished.

The woman made a face.  "Gods, the smell," she said.  "Like a sewer!"  She glanced down at the excrement that filled the alley.  "It isn't enough that I've got to wear some ridiculous outfit in this era, but I've got to walk through horse crap everywhere I go too!  At least bustles are out of fashion -- thank the stars for small favors."

"We don't have far to go," the man said.  "Mr. Montegue's office should be just around the corner."

"Yes, I know, I am the one who brought us here..." the woman replied.

A minute later they waited patiently in the well-furnished office of the Bertrand, Montegue and Leeland law firm, while the secretary announced them to Mr. Montegue.  A few moments passed, and they were ushered in.  Mr. Aleph Horace Montegue was a thin man with a thin mustache, a bald pate and sharp eyes that peered through spectacles.

The old man glanced at the wall, where a signed photo of a baseball player hung.  "Why, that's Cy Young!" he exclaimed.  "Best danged pitcher I ever saw!  And you've got his signature and everything!  You hold onto that, Mr. Montegue; that's gonna be worth money some day!"

"Grandpa!" the woman hissed.  The old man looked about.

"Oh, right!" he said, and sat down.

"And how may I help you two?" asked Mr. Montegue after a moment.

"We wish to retain your services," said the old man.  He placed a small pouch on the desk.  The lawyer lifted the pouch, which was quite heavy and jingled with coin.  He opened it up.

"American silver dollars," he said.  His eyebrows rose.  "Why, there must be at least twenty-five in here!"

"My understanding is that you represent some... rather unusual clients?" the old man asked.

"Perhaps I do," the lawyer replied.  "Define unusual."

"Hera Mac Giolla Bháin is a sorceress, and was naturally accused of witchcraft," the old man said.  "You defended her when she was acquitted at trial.  Likewise you've done work for Count Vladimir Mergulescu, who I understand is a vampire...."

The lawyer's eyes narrowed.  After a moment he said, "I do not think I have ever represented time travelers before...."

"Time travelers?" the old man repeated.

The lawyer said, "These coins look old, but some were minted this year -- and yet it's only March.  Likewise, the lady dresses quite fashionably, except -- leg-o-mutton sleeves?  Really?  That's either a very daring fashion choice, or a sign of what might be in fashion within the next couple of years.  As for Cy Young -- you do realize he's a rookie pitcher for the Cleveland Spiders, don't you?  My cousin from Ohio sent that to me just a week ago, says this boy throws fireball pitches and is going to do great things -- but he has yet to pitch even one game.  I should hardly expect to find a person in London who knows anything about American baseball, let alone one who recognizes a rookie pitcher on sight.

"Lastly, yes I've done work for Count Mergulescu, but nobody save me knows this.  As for the jury trial of Miss Hera Mac Giolla Bháin -- they only recessed yesterday.  A decision isn't expected until Monday at the earliest -- although I take it by your statement that she is about to be acquitted?  If so, that is very good news indeed!"

"Dang," the old man swore.  "This kind of stuff always messes me up!"

"You two appear to be American," said the lawyer.  "Is the young lady your grand daughter?"

"No," the man said.

"Yes," the woman replied.

The two argued in low tones for a moment.  "Say yes!" the woman hissed.

"I think I know who my grand daughters are!" the man growled.  "Their names are Angela and Claire!  Not Wynona or whatever fool name you're going by now!"

"My name," said the woman, "is Freya.  Like the goddess.  How hard is that to remember?"

"Well you ain't no relative of mine!" the man insisted.

"Young women," said Freya, "do not travel with older men in 1890's London unless they are related or are prostitutes.  I am not a prostitute...."

The man sighed.  "Fine," he said, turning back to the lawyer.  "This is Freya Willikins.  She's the third of my two grand daughters.  My name is Grandpa Anarchy...."  The man paused.  "That is, I'm Kid... no that won't work.  Look, you can call me Theodore Smith.  The point is, we don't want to hire you to represent us, per se.  We need you to represent a woman who's about to awaken from a very long sleep...."

***

Professor Wilfred Eustace Wolcott aimed his pistol and fired three shots down the hallway, to no effect.  The creature still shuffled through the shadows, coming ever closer.  He stepped back.  Buck Haroldson slammed the door.

"Block it!  Block the door!" exclaimed Sarah Goldman hysterically.  "Hurry!"

"Help me with this sarcophagus!" yelled the professor.  Harodlson and Bradfort jumped to his aid, and the three shoved the heavy stone sarcophagus in front of the entrance.

From beyond came terrifying moan.  The professor and his three graduate assistants cowered in the corner of the room beneath shelves of pottery shards.  The door rattled, then slowly it was forced open, stone scraping against cement.  The professor gripped his pistol tightly.

An arm wrapped in ancient bandages shoved its way through the gap.  It grasped the edge of the stone coffin and shoved it further aside.

"It's the curse of the mummy!" William Bradfort exclaimed.  "I knew that old man at the dig was telling the truth!"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Professor Wolcott.  "I'm sure there's an entirely sane and rational explanation for what we're experiencing...."

The door was shoved fully open.  The mummified corpse of Khama'at stood framed in the archway.  Glowing eyes set deep in empty sockets scanned the room, then the undead thing stumbled towards the professor.  The professor aimed his weapon....

From behind the mummy a man exclaimed, "άʎT!"

The mummy paused.  It turned about.  Grandpa Anarchy strode into the room, followed by the woman Freya and Mr. Montegue the lawyer.

"What we have here," said Grandpa Anarchy, "is a failure to communicate.  Miss Khama'at is disoriented and confused, and she don't speak English."  He handed a piece of paper to the mummy.  The creature took it and began to read.  "You see, she was expecting to awaken in the afterlife...."

"Of course!" exclaimed Professor Wolcott.  "All Egyptian dead expected that very thing!  To awaken as a corpse would be quite confusing.  And -- she speaks Greek?  Why didn't I realize?  This is from an Alexandrian tomb, after all!"

"Oh, she knew Alexander all right," said Grandpa.  "Just ask her!  She claims to have slept with him once!"

"Excuse me," said the professor, "but... who are you people?  We've only just opened up the neb ankh of this corpse, which immediately came to life... but you speak as if you've known Princess Khama'at for years...."

"Well, it's kind of hard to explain," said Grandpa.  "I sort of do know Mummy Ra from a long time back... that's her hero name, you know.  Only that's all still in the future...."

The mummy turned to face the professor.  "Professor Wolcott," she rasped in a heavy accent.  What followed was a stream of Ancient Greek that even a modern Greek would have a hard time following.

"She says she's sorry to have startled anyone," the professor interpreted.  "She wants to speak to her lawyer, and..." the professor frowned.  "She's requesting political asylum...?"

FINI

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Classic Anarchy for June: Space Kraken

Space Kraken
Mark A Davis
023

Smoke arose from the black pile of cloth.  Grandpa Anarchy, an old man in a rumpled gray suit and fedora, nudged the dress with his shoe.  A breeze tugged at the fabric and scattered dust across paving stones.

"Well," he said, "so much for Jamanthara, Witch of the Azure Woods.  Are there any other witches we need to defeat before we can leave this stupid fairyland?"

Next to him, a massive seven-foot-tall, four-hundred-pound man in blue and black spandex puffed on his cigar thoughtfully.  "Don't know," Unpossible Man said.  "That's the beauty of an adventure, ain't it?"

Their other companions gathered around -- Circuit Boy, dressed in white tights, go-go boots and a skirted green leotard with a circuit pattern; Tony the fry cook, in a grease-stained tee shirt and apron; a living wooden statue of Abraham Lincoln; the ghost of the Bleacher Creature, a strange being with googly eyes, shaggy green fur and a toothless smile; and the ghost of Chief Nokahoma, dressed as a Lakota Indian.

Winged monkeys emerged from the surrounding forest.  They wore red vests and  fez hats.  They surrounded Grandpa and the other adventurers.  Their king approached and bowed.  "Greetings to the Man With The Yellow Sombrero," he said.  "You are our new master.  We await your command.  Just wear the yellow sombrero and say the magic words..."

Grandpa Anarchy glanced at the yellow hat he'd snatched from the witch.  "Danged if I'm going to have a hundred monkeys following me about," he said.  "I ain't gonna enslave nobody.  From this day forward you are all free to do as you like.  So says the Man With the Yellow Sombrero."

The king's eyes grew wide.  He shrieked with joy.  Instantly all of the monkeys were screeching, jumping and flying about.

Unpossible Man puffed his cigar thoughtfully.  "You sure about this?" he asked.

"Sure I'm sure," said Grandpa.

"Only, they could have carried us straight to Amethyst City," the big blue man said.  "It would have saved us a great deal of time.  We don't even know the way out of the Azure Woods...."

Grandpa watched as the monkeys faded back into the forest.  "Too late for that," he said.

One monkey remained behind.  This one had wire-rimmed glasses and a pipe clenched between his teeth.  He bowed low to Grandpa.  "If it pleases you, your Eminence...."

"Name's Grandpa Anarchy, kid.  I ain't no king or sorcerer, just a regular, down-to-earth super hero."

The monkey nodded.  "If it pleases you, Oh Great Grandpa Anarchy, my name is Nikko.  I can lead you out...."

"We could use a guide," said Circuit Boy.

  "In return," said Nikko, "I wish to travel with you to this fantastic world of yours."

"Son, there ain't nothing fantastic about earth," said Grandpa.  "It's a world of science and industry -- it's no place for a winged monkey."

"I am a scientist," the monkey said.  "The others mock me for my scholarly pursuits.  I don't fit in.  Please take me from this backwater fairyland...."

Grandpa stroked his chin thoughtfully.  "Well, Princess here is my main sidekick, but I'll probably be in the market for another soon...."

"Thank you!" Nikko exclaimed.  "You won't regret this!  Oh, but there's just one stipulation... when you desire that I do something, can you please wear the sombrero and recite the words...."

Grandpa frowned.  "Look, I ain't reciting no silly magic words, and that's final."

"Please, Sir," Nikko pleaded.  "It means a great deal to me."

Grandpa frowned.  "Well, okay," he said.  "But you need a proper sidekick name...."

***

"My goodness!" exclaimed Scientifically Curious Nikko.  He drifted in a sea of stars.  "Architeuthis Sidereus!  A magnificent specimen!  I must get a closer look...."

Dark red tentacles wrapped about the derelict starship.  An eye the size of an asteroid glared down at them.  Grandpa Anarchy, wearing his usual suit and fedora with a bubble helmet over his head and a jet pack strapped to his back, drifted back from the massive creature.  "I can't fight that thing!" he said.

A young girl in a silver bikini and go-go boots jetted into view.  "Kuh!  Let it have the salvage ship, Grandpa," Jennie Nova yelled.  "We totally don't want it attacking ours."  She tapped her bracelet.  "Llahna?  Prepare to leave!"

A holo display appeared showing a blue-skinned girl, in a similar silver bikini.  "Way ahead of you, Jennie," she said.  "Engines are prepped.  As soon as you're on board we're blasting out of here."

"You don't gotta tell me twice," Grandpa replied.  "Nikko!  Back to the ship!  Move!"

The monkey's red fez and pipe were squashed within a smaller bubble helmet.  He stared at the kraken over wire-rimmed glasses.  "No," he said.  "I must study this creature!  This is the opportunity of a lifetime!"

"Nikko," said Grandpa, "That's an order."

The monkey glared over his shoulder.  "Rules are rules, Grandpa Anarchy," he said, "I do not take orders from the man with the gray fedora...."

There was silence save for their breathing.  Behind Nikko, like a ballet of destruction, the space squid ripped the older ship apart.

"Oh, very well!" Grandpa growled.  He pulled from his jacket a battered yellow sombrero and  placed it atop his helmet.  "There!  Satisfied?"

"Say the words," said the monkey patiently.

"Feel like a damned fool," Grandpa muttered.  He extended his left foot and began.  "Ep-pe, Pep-pe, Kak-ke...."

FINI

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Down the Drain

Down the Drain
Mark A Davis
257


"I don't care, Jay," said Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero.  He was pacing back and forth in the Anarchy cave and talking into a cellphone.  "I know you're low on recruits at the moment, but  there must be someone you can send over.  I'm working an important case and I need a sidekick."

Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.   In the background on a giant computer screen, the Anarchy Computer A.I. known as Annie Two -- who appeared as a young 19th-century librarian with wire-rim glasses and her hair tightly wound in a bun -- watched placidly.   The air was musty and cool.  In the far end of the cavernous warehouse, strange objects covered in cloth were gathering dust.

"Look, Jay," said Grandpa, "I've worked with Whole Grain Kid.  You remember him, don't you?  I worked with Boy Waitress, f'gosh sakes!  That was just a boy in a waitress uniform, remember?  Oh yeah, that's right -- he is our secretary now.

"I worked with the Erlenmeyer Flash, and she was a speedster in a costume that she could barely walk in.  I'm certain you remember that, and let's not forget Low Blood Sugar Boy, or his replacement, Lifesaver Louie -- with the suit that doubles as a flotation device.  Oh, and then there was Maple Bar Boy -- a kid dressed up like a giant donut.

"I could go on, you know.  The point, Jay, is that my standards are about as low as they can get.  Anyone you send over will be fine, but I need someone.  Got it?  I'll take anyone.  Anyone."

Grandpa put the phone away.  "I don't know why he's so reluctant," he complained.  "This is the guy who sent over Frayed Knot and Dyslexic Girl!"

"Having perused a list of names of those sidekicks currently available at Temporary Superfriends," said Annie Two, "I can verify that none of them sound in the least bit promising..."

"Low Blood Sugar Boy!" Grandpa repeated.  "I worked with Low Blood Sugar Boy!"



An hour later the doorbell rang.  Grandpa Anarchy stepped into the entryway and opened the door.  On the porch was a young lad dressed in what could charitably be described as ceramic armor -- not, mind you, form-fitted armor made out of ceramic alloys, but what looked like  the parts of a toilet, adapted as best the boy could manage to be worn in place of actual armor.   The toilet tank was the chest piece, and parts of several toilet bowls formed the lower half of the costume.  Round sections of carefully cut ceramic armor were strapped to his arms and legs.  The toilet seat itself was around his neck, and rolls of toilet paper were strapped to his belt on each side.  He wielded a toilet brush and plunger.  On his chest was a large image of a happy turd emoticon.

"Greetings, Grandpa Anarchy!" the boy exclaimed.  "My name is Toilet Humor Boy!"  This was followed by a loud farting noise.

"Yeeeaaaah," Grandpa said slowly, "I don't think so," and slammed the door.

FINI

Monday, May 22, 2017

By Any Other Name

By Any Other Name
Mark A Davis
258

"Now, let's get one thing straight," said Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero.  "I am not a Fascist!"  His fist slammed into the face of a jack-booted thug in a black military uniform.  "I fight Fascists, so that much should be blindingly obvious."

Grandpa wore his usual rumpled gray suit with the anarchy symbol stitched in silver thread over the left breast.  Today he also wore black leather gloves, a gray fedora, and a black diamond mask.  His sidekick was a young dark-skinned girl with black hair in cornrow braids, who dressed in a scooped-neck leotard with a mirrored surface, knee-high boots with the same polished surface, and wraparound mirror shades.  She went by the name of the Glass Cannon.

The air was chill.  Marching music with Fascist slogans echoed throughout the massive cavern.  The actual words were nearly unintelligible, but there was no mistaking the Nazi  flags hung from the ceiling, nor the rows of tanks and military vehicles lined up on the cavern floor, ready to roll out.

"Grandpa, every hero is a Fascist by definition," the Glass Cannon said.  She blasted a gun-wielding Nazi with a force bolt; the man screamed and tumbled from the steel railing to the floor  thirty feet below.  "We all believe in Might Equals Right."

"No I don't!" Grandpa insisted, as his  fist slammed into another Nazi.

"Grandpa, when anyone disagrees with you, you punch them in the face."

Blood spewed from the nose of the soldier in front of them as Grandpa's fist rebounded from it.  Grandpa and his sidekick charged down steel stairs.  On the next landing Grandpa plowed into a soldier with a gun, knocking him over the rail.

"Not everyone," Grandpa said.  "I haven't punched my neighbor Ninugtus the Unspeakable yet, and he's been really annoying.  Mind you, I've wanted to punch him in the face -- his Glugian Slime Worm pets keep oozing under the fence and leaving mucus all over my lawn...."

"But you know that Ninugtus is an alien bent on world conquest," said the sidekick patiently.  "And when he finally makes his move...?"

"I'll punch him in the face!" Grandpa exclaimed.

By now the two were only ten feet above the cavern floor.  The Glass Cannon unleashed a barrage of force bolts, knocking down a dozen soldiers below them.  Both she and Grandpa leaped from the steel stairs just before a missile from a rocket launcher obliterated it.

"There.  See?" she said, as they landed before a group of twenty armed soldiers.  "That's how you solve all your problems!"  She fired several force bolts, knocking down six soldiers.  Grandpa charged the rest.

"You're overgeneralizing," Grandpa said, swinging and punching.  "If I tried to solve all my problems with Mayor Doomhollow by punching him in the face, I'd spend most of my time in jail.  You've got to pick and choose your battles."

"The point," said the sidekick, "is that superhero stories are by definition tales of meta-humans -- members of a super race, in other words -- who exert their power to win battles because they can.  And another thing -- they're almost always straight white males -- all things I'm not!"

"You're not straight?" Grandpa asked, one eyebrow raised.  He grabbed a soldier and swung him into two of his companions like a battering ram.  "But you went on a Valentine's date with Electrofrog!"

"I'm bi, okay?"  the young woman said.  She fired a half-dozen force bolts into a line of soldiers.  "I like both guys and girls, but that's totally not the point.  What I'm saying is,  the only thing that separates you from a Nazi is the uniform."

"Hey, I've fought Nazis all my life, thank you very much!" Grandpa growled.  He lowered his shoulder, grasping and flipping a charging Nazi over and onto his back.  "I think I know a Nazi when I see one!"  He stared at the soldier on the ground.  "For one, they wear black or gray military uniforms with lots of silver skulls...."  His voice trailed off.  The Glass Cannon raised an eyebrow, and Grandpa frowned deeply.  "You're trying to  trick me with words into saying things, but  the plain truth is that I'm good and Nazi's are bad, and that's just the way it is!"  He punched the  soldier in the face, knocking him out cold.

"Look," said Grandpa, "I know where you're going with this.  It's been a running theme in the superhero world for forever, so I've dealt with the issue time and time again.  The important thing to remember is that I'm fighting for the side of good!  I only fight criminals and villains and people that get in my way.  Also, there's that whole thing about great power and great responsibility -- all that crap's important.

"Being a hero means more than defeating the bad guy," said Grandpa as he plowed through a half-dozen more soldiers.  "It means handling power responsibly.  It means working to ensure the freedom of others.  It means that while I work with the government on occasion, it's on my terms.  I'm not simply the superpowered enforcement wing of any governmental power or agency.  When I defeat a villain, I don't take their power for myself.  I let the wheels of justice step in and handle things from that point, and I return to my life as an ordinary citizen.  That's why I'm not a Fascist."

Grandpa Anarchy slammed the heads of two soldiers together.  Bullets whizzed past his ears.  He spun one unconscious soldier about and used the body as a shield as he charged three more.  "Let me add one more thing," he exclaimed. "Many heroes wear masks precisely because they don't want to take credit for their victories.  Everyone knows who I am, but consider Guy Shadow:  he's just a guy in a mask, cape and fancy hat.  He could be anyone -- and that's the whole point.  He's not seeking power or glory, he just wants to make the world safe for normal folks."

"Sure," said the Glass Cannon.  "And because of that he's handed nearly unlimited freedom to act outside the law in whatever manner he deems necessary, do whatever he feels is required to capture the criminal and solve the crime.  Our society hands absolute power to anyone wearing a costume.  But if he were to decide tomorrow that he's not actually an incorruptible paragon of virtue and justice, who's he accountable to?  No one.

"In other words, the only thing that keeps us all from a superpowered Fascist dictatorship is that the straight white men with all the power just happen to be super nice.  So we all have nothing to fear."  She rolled her eyes.

"You know," said Grandpa, "those force blasts of yours sure look like they hurt a lot more than one of my punches."

"Yes?" she replied.  "I didn't say I was against the use of power on bad guys -- only that it's a concept that lends itself to Fascism, and that's exacerbated by the kind of heroes we put on a pedestal."

They were quickly running out of Nazis to punch.  But in the distance, at the back of the cavern, the head villain and her toughest henchman waited on a raised dais.

"Okay," said Grandpa.  "But look -- we're up against Nazi Sorceress Fraulein Hatra and her Hatra Organization.  They are trying to bomb the Pentagon and the White House, with an extended goal of the conquest of all of North America.  There's no negotiating with these extremists, so how do you suggest I stop them?"


***


Grandpa carefully cleaned under his fingernails with a small pen knife.  Nearby, a stunningly beautiful woman with a cruel face was being blasted across the room by a force bolt.  She wore a form-fitting suit of scaled armor which looked remarkably like snake skin.  Over this was a short skirt, a cropped coat, and thigh-high leather boots, all designed to suggest a Nazi SS uniform while hiding as little of her curves as possible.

The Nazi Sorceress staggered to her feet, but before she could so much as think to cast a spell, another force bolt struck her in the stomach, knocking her back fifteen feet.

"Grandpa Anarchy!"  the sorceress exclaimed, "I surrender already!  Reign in your sidekick!  She is out of control!

"Well, of course I'd love to help you out, Fraulein Hatra," Grandpa said, inspecting his nails carefully.  "But I'm afraid that would perpetuate the myth of -- what was it again?  Oh, right -- the myth of supremacy of the straight white male.  So I'm going to sit this one out and let the Glass Cannon handle it.  Turns out she's part Roma, so when it comes to Nazis she's kind of a hothead, but don't worry, I'm gonna step in and show that I can solve problems without resorting to violence...."

"When I'm good and ready," the Glass Cannon exclaimed.

"Right," said Grandpa.  "When she's good and ready!"

FINI

Monday, May 15, 2017

Upgrade

Upgrade
Mark A Davis
261

A sleek, futuristic jet dropped out of an overcast sky and hovered over a scene of devastation.  Several city blocks of Tokyo had been leveled.  Buildings lay in rubble -- and in the center of it all lay the corpse of a giant two-headed lizard with blue scales.

The jet was painted blue and black.  On the underside of each wedge-shaped wing was a logo in yellow and blue -- A large, stylized AE in a triangle of white ringed with black, recognized worldwide as the symbol of the world's most powerful super group -- the Archons of Excellence.

The jet settled on an open patch of roadway.  Five famous figures emerged.  There was Popeye Khan, the leader of the group, who most often dressed like a Las Vegas Elvis.  There was the Bronze Beach Bum, who looked like a living, breathing statue of a California surfer dude.   There was Dread to Rights, a powerfully-muscled Rastafarian mystic with long dreadlocks.  There was Old Boy's Club -- the buxom alien woman known as Atlacoya, who dressed like a Betty Page-era pinup girl and wielded a massive crystal club that pulsed green and white.  Last was Sun Wukong the Monkey King -- a muscular man with the fur and face of a monkey.  He was dressed in loose silks of blue and gold, and balanced his famous staff Ruyi Jingu Bang on his shoulder.

Popeye Khan took in the entire scene -- streets littered with rubble, dead lizard monster more massive than the largest whale, emergency crews tending to the wounded and policemen directing traffic and taking statements from witnesses.  Red and blue lights flashed everywhere.  The air was filled with the scent of putrid, salty fish.

Despite the scene of carnage, people paused to stare at the heroes -- in particular Sun Wukong, who was a legend throughout Asia.

Popeye Khan approached a police officer.  "Son," he said, "I'm a bit corn-fused.  We were told a massive kaiju was attacking Tokyo, but when we get here, it's already dead.  What gives?"

It took a few minutes for Sun Wukong to translate -- his Japanese was rusty -- but then he turned to Popeye and the other Archons.  "They say the New League of Two-Fisted Justice took care of it -- team one, with Dark Dr. Dark, Daisy Warrior Princess, Geothermal Jenny and Girlbot 9000.  They left in their Justice Saucer One just a minute before we arrived."  He paused and added, "They -- uh -- asked if we could help with the cleanup...."

Popeye Khan's wrist watch flashed.  He glanced at it.  "Tell them we'd love to help, but we've got a madman threatening San Francisco, so we gotta run...."  He turned and raced for the jet while Sun Wukong quickly relayed the message.

***

The Archon's jet flew in over San Francisco bay.  Up ahead they saw a silver saucer hovering over Alcatraz.  The remains of some sort of 19th-century armored zeppelin were on the parade grounds at the NE end of the island.  There was a line of shadowy black creatures, who appeared to be made of soot.  They had their hands in the air, and were guarded by two small figures with odd weapons.

"Again, mon?" asked Dread to Rights.

"TANJ!" the Bronze Beach Bum exclaimed.  "That's zaradann!"

Popeye tuned in to a local radio station.  As they listened to a news report of a very recent battle over the bay, the jet's video screen  flickered, and an image of Popeye's old friend Grandpa Anarchy appeared.  "Popeye Khan!  How're you doing?" Grandpa exclaimed.  "Hey, if you're here to do battle with Baron Climate Change, we've already taken him down.  But you can stay and help us clean up...."

Popeye Khan frowned.  "Thanks for the offer, friend, but if we're not needed here, I'm sure there's somewhere else that needs our help.  What was the Baron up to, anyway?  Trying to drill a hole into the earth again?"

"That's right," Grandpa said.  "He tries that about twice a year.  Don't know if he really knows what he's doing, but we always stop him just to be sure.  Can't have madmen drilling holes into the San Francisco bay!"

The screen flashed.  Popeye pulled up another window.  "Well, my friend, we gotta jet," he said.  "Got ourselves a situation in...."  He paused, then added, "Well, you just never mind where.  We'll take care of this one, thanks."

"As you wish," said Grandpa.   The screen winked out.

"Setting a course for the Timbuktu, Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara..." Popeye Khan began, when Sun Wukong interrupted him.

"I advise you to belay that order, Captain," the Monkey King said.  Popeye's eyebrow raised.  Sun Wukong added, "The New League of Two-Fisted Justice team one is on the scene and dealing with the terrorists...."

In  the background, the news reporter said, "And speaking of the New League of Two-Fisted Justice, in this weekend's box office, the New League of Two-Fisted Justice movie has smashed all previous records -- a far cry from last fall's rather disappointing would-be blockbuster Dawn of the Archons...."

Popeye Khan drummed his fingers on the arm of his seat.

Boys," he said, "it's starting to feel like we're not actually the best and most powerful supergroup on the planet -- and that just ain't possible!"

"The New League of Two-Fisted Justice have some very smart and very powerful members these days," said Sun Wukong.  "Circuit Girl and Geothermal Jenny are two of the brightest engineering minds in the world.  Those saucers of theirs are twice as fast as our jet.   They can be anywhere in the world in just a few hours, and with two divisions they can take on two threats simultaneously.   They aren't the old, dowdy, stuck-in-the-mud supergroup of the past.  Plus that new A.I. computer system of theirs that was designed by F8Wasp and Grandpa's Annie Two almost allows them to anticipate crimes before they happen."

"Yeah," said Popeye Khan.  "Two teams -- we can't compete with that.  Faster vehicles -- well, we've got just about the best money can buy.  What we don't have is a Circuit Girl or a Geothermal Jenny, so that's beyond us too.  But the biggest problem here is that computer A.I. -- that gives them a decisive edge over us that we can't counter.  We need a system like that.

"And I know just where to get it."

***

"One billion dollars."

Popeye Khan and Sun Wukong stared across the table at a young girl in a sleek form-fitted suit of black and silver.  She had long black hair and wore a mask.  Beside her was an older woman in a dark purple dress whom Popeye had never met, but he gathered she was the reincarnation of Miss Bloodraven, a companion that Kid Anarchy had worked with in the early 1920's, long before Popeye was even born.

They were in a narrow, dimly lit tavern.  Behind an old wooden bar were rows of liquor bottles and a tall woman with long, blonde braids and an eyepatch.  The far wall of the room was dominated by a dimensional gateway -- a giant circle of carved metal, with strange symbols around the perimeter and a center that was a deep blue liquid surface, like a wishing well on its side.

Nearby on a stool sat a very old friend -- a man with long, gray hair and a rugged, stubble-covered face, who wore a purple beret, purple cape, red scarf and yellow johdphurs with black leather boots.  A black silk shirt like that of a pirate and a leather belt with two pistols and a sword slung from it completed the look.  This was John Haggard, known as Happy Jack or Hacker Jack. and this was his bar The Drunken Well II in the interdimensional city of Intersect.

"What?" Popeye exclaimed.  "One billion... for a computer system developed by a girl who ain't even twenty yet, and shouldn't even be allowed in a bar like this?  Girl you must be out of your mind if you think we're gonna pay that kind of money!"

F8Wasp shrugged.  "Then find someone else," she said.  "End of story."

"Now, hold on a cotton pickin' minute," Popeye exclaimed.  "We tracked you down all the way from earth to Intersect...."

"Exactly," said F8Wasp.  "Nobody else can give you what you want.  Can they?  Maybe you could work with Annie Two herself, like the League and at least one other unnamed supergroup have done...."

"Not a chance," said Popeye.  "We want our own system, independent of that Anarchy-centric computer.  More than that -- I want something better than what Grandpa and his New League have.  I want the next generation computer A.I.  We're the Archons after all."

"Right," said F8Wasp.  "You're the foremost supergroup in the world, and the most powerful, although perhaps still only the second-most marketable after the New League, and only the second-richest after the Black Moon Maidens...."

"We are richer and more marketable than both of them!" insisted Popeye Khan.  "We're the Archons -- we're the best there is.  Okay, maybe the movie wasn't so hot...."

"That movie was a disaster," said F8Wasp.

"Well, I didn't think it was that bad..." said Popeye.  He glanced at Sun Wukong, who shook his head.  "Anyway, that aside -- we don't play second fiddle to no one."

"Indeed," said F8Wasp, "and I don't want to go back to earth, so:  One.  Billion.  Dollars.  Take it or leave it.  I know you can afford it...."

***

Popeye Khan glowered at the cards on the table.  He downed the rest of his drink.  "How did it come to this, Monkey King?" he asked.  "We're the alpha males of the superhero world.  Used to be famous for it.  Now we're being bossed around by a slip of a girl who ain't even twenty yet...."

Popeye, Sun Wukong, the Bronze Beach Bum and Dread to Rights were playing poker at a table in their Archons of Excellence base.  Nearby, F8Wasp and two technicians from her father's computer company was installing their new system.

"She's a very smart girl, though," said Sun Wukong.  "Take it from someone who's lived thousands of years -- you have to move with the times."

"Don't be biting stars all cycle, Black Hole," said the Bronze Beach Bum.  "Once Alice is purring, everything be derisann and dossy, grok what I'm blastin'?"

Popeye frowned.  He'd never learned the space surfer slang that the Bronze Beach Bum spoke.  "Alice... purring?" he asked.

"The insumatt A.I., my Hoopy Frood!" exclaimed the Bronze Beach Bum.

"That reminds me," said Popeye.  He stood and yelled across the room, "Remember!  I want an A.I. that's both smart and sexy!  For one billion dollars, I want the smartest, sexiest A.I. on the planet!"

"Don't worry," F8Wasp replied, "I got it covered.  I know just what the Archons of Misogyny want:  the brains of Albert Einstein with the body of Marilyn Monroe."

"Dang straight!" Popeye exclaimed.  After a moment he added, "And she better talk Marilyn, not Albert!  You hear me?"

FINI