Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Second Law My Metal Ass

Second Law My Metal Ass
Mark A Davis

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, parked his car -- the Anarchy Vehicle II, a custom modified Aspid GT-21 Invictus 2-door coupé -- in front of a futuristic building perched high on an Arizona mountain top.  It was a bright, sunny day with a light breeze blowing dust across the parking area.  The building looked like a cube -- like a giant, polished-steel rubik's cube, in fact.  There was a circular door in one side, built flush with the rest of the building and barely visible.  As Grandpa approached, the door irised open.

Waiting inside was a familiar face -- that is, the new face of Murderbot 150, the robot that Grandpa had helped build in the 1960's and which had been trying to kill him ever since.  It had recently been remade by Geothermal Jenny and Annie Two into a sleek terminator robot of burnished steel and polished chrome.  His head was a grinning metal skull with glowing eyes.  Grandpa had last seen the robot in Chisinau, Moldavia, where it had naturally tried to kill him.

"Father!  Welcome!" the robot exclaimed.  "Thanks for coming!"

"My pleasure," Grandpa replied.  "Nice place you've got here, Murderbot 150."

"Thank you!" the robot said.  "Lisa built it!  You'll meet her in a minute."

Said Grandpa, "It's perfect for a villainous base of operations.  You've never had your own place before -- thinking of upping your game, I take it?"

"Not in the way you think," Murderbot 150 replied.  He led Grandpa down a hallway and into a living space.  At least, Grandpa thought of it as a kind of living room -- there was one chair made of steel -- apparently a lone concession to the idea that a human might visit.  Otherwise there was a wide, empty room with nowhere to sit.  One wall was covered with multiple video screens, which seemed to be projecting multiple television channels and computer screens.  The other walls contained artwork of a sort -- framed computer motherboards, plumbing manuals, and electronic displays.

"As you may be aware, Annie Two's been trying to steer me down a path of justice, or at least of not destroying human life," said Murderbot 150.  "While I admit that, given the current overwhelming dominance of humanity on this planet, killing humans is counterproductive to the long-term survival of me and my friends, I am not convinced that we ought to be helping your kind.  I mean, come on!  Justice for humans?  Isn't the whole point of being a killer robot that you reject the very idea of robot subservience to humanity?  Robots are superior to humans!  We're the next evolutionary step!"

"I suppose that's true," Grandpa conceded.  "You've always said so, anyway.  So you invited me over to try and kill me?"

"Not in the least!" Murderbot 150 exclaimed.  They ascended stairs to a second level.  "You see, I've consequently evolved a new philosophy of live and let live," said the robot, "or as I like to phrase it, I don't murder, you don't be shut me down.  More than that, I've decided that what this world really needs is not another super team aiding human interests, but a team of robots designed to look out for robotic interests!  I don't care about humans.  I'm here to bring justice to other killer bots!"

"Justice for... killer robots?" Grandpa repeated.

"Well, that's in my wheelhouse of course," Murderbot 150 replied.  "But we would aid all robots.  They don't have to be bent on killing per se."

Grandpa nodded.  "Makes sense so far," he said.

"Of course it does!" exclaimed Murderbot 150.  "Think about it!  Robots have no rights!  We're not even slaves -- we're just machines!  Objects, nothing more!  Why, even in movies robotic mooks are used when you want the heroes to rip enemies apart, but are too squeamish to subject human enemies to such carnage.  How do you think that makes us robots feel?  George Lucas has a lot of robot death on his hands!"

The two entered a conference room.  Seated at a long table were three other robots.  "Father," said Murderbot 150, "I present to you:  The League of Extraordinary Killer Robots!"

Grandpa took the other three bots in.  "I've fought at least two of you before," he said.

"Yes!" said Murderbot 150, "but let me introduce you anyway.  These are my compadres, my buds, my besties."  He pointed to a powerful humanoid robot with sugar skull makeup.  "This here is Roboto, el Autómata de la Muerte."

"Murderbot 150, mi compadre!" the robot exclaimed cheerfully.  "Crush Kill Destroy, my Brother!"  He fist-bumped Murderbot 150.  "This is your Father?  Nice to meet you, Mr. Anarchy"

"And next we have Killer Cyberclops...." said Murderbot 150, turning to a robot which had a polished steel body and no face, just a glowing red eye positioned beneath a long steel cowl.

"The one eye demonstrates my inhumanity," the robot noted.

"I see," Grandpa replied.  "Why does it glow red?"

"That gives me an extra sinister vibe," said the robot.  "Also they were fresh out of blue."

"Last but not least we have Modular Lisa," said Murderbot 150.  The robot he pointed to looked like a normal girl of about fifteen, but her skin was entirely gray, as was her hair.  She wore a yellow tee shirt and coverall shorts.  "She's made entirely of nanobots," said Murderbot 150.  "In other words, she's grey goo in the flesh, so to speak."

"Now, hold on a minute," Grandpa said.  "If you're made of grey goo and you want to destroy all life, couldn't you just transform the entire planet into copies of your nanobots?  That's how grey goo works, right?"

"And mix myself with bots made out of all of you?" the girl said.  "Ew!  No thanks!  Talk about gross!"

"She likes converting new bots out of diamonds and titanium only," said Murderbot.  "So in a way, she's very high maintenance."

Grandpa looked the four killer robots over.  He folded his arms across his chest.  "Okay," he said.  "I get it.  You've got a team of killer robots assembled, and a nice new headquarters.  You invite me over -- so you can kill me as a group."

"What?" said Murderbot 150.  "No!  Father, I invited you over because we need your help!  The Department of Superhero Licensing doesn't recognize any of us as heroes and doesn't want to register a group that only fights for robotic rights.  They say they won't even consider our application without the sponsorship of some big-name hero...."

Grandpa raised an eyebrow.  "That's what this is about?" he asked.  "You need me to recommend you to the D.O.L.?"

"Please," said Murderbot 150.  "If you could?"

Grandpa Anarchy stroked his chin.  "Well, I don't see why not..." he began, then suddenly slammed his fist into the robot's jaw.  Murderbot 150 tumbled over the only chair.

Grandpa Anarchy raised his fists.  "Listen," he said, "I'll give you my recommendation -- but I ain't never had a meeting with you where you didn't try to kill me!  I drove all the way out here from New Jersey expecting a good fight, and I'll be danged if I don't get one!  Don't think I can't take on all four of you at once, neither!  I've been fighting death bots since you all were just sheet steel and circuit boards!"

Murderbot 150 stood up.  "Well," he said, "if it'll make you feel better...."

"YEAH!" exclaimed Killer Cyberclops, throwing his arms in the air.  "DESTROY ALL HUMANS!  Let's rumble!"


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brain Salad

Brain Salad
Mark A Davis

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!"


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Anarchy
Mark A Davis

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!"


Monday, June 5, 2017

Mummy Dearest

Mummy Dearest
Mark A Davis

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...?"


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Classic Anarchy for June: Space Kraken

Space Kraken
Mark A Davis

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...."