Thursday, August 31, 2017

Another Time, Another Place

Another TIme, Another Place
Mark A Davis

Grandpa Anarchy and his sidekick Hexcoder sat back to back, tied to steel-framed chairs.  The room was round with bare gray walls.  Thick glass panes looked out onto a dark, alien landscape and a star-filled horizon of black more deep and pure than anything you could see from an atmospheric planet.  They might have been on the moon, or on Mars.  Somewhere an air cycler hummed.

Grandpa wore his usual rumpled gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol over the left breast, while his sidekick -- a young black man -- wore a dark red robe and wizard's hat, paired with red hightop converse sneakers.  Although bound like Grandpa, he had one hand free which clutched a smartphone.

A door slid open and Kid Calculus floated in.  He was a young man in a dark blue spandex outfit that had mathematical symbols and formulae floating above its surface in a silver script, which morphed and changed slowly, recombining into new symbols and equations.  Floating beside him was his ever-present holographic computer pad.  He glanced at Hexcoder and said, "That phone of yours is quite useless.  We're many, many light years from any cell tower."

The sidekick ignored him.  Slowly, Kid Calculus spun about, hands extended.  "Well?"  he asked.  "What do you think?  Not bad?"

"Nothing personal," said Hexcoder, "but the place is a dump, if you ask me.  There's no personality."

"Ah, well," said Kid Calculus, "it can't be helped.  The nearest Home Depot is so very far away.  Besides, you only say that because you have no idea where we are or how difficult it was to build this place.  It was quite the feat of engineering -- I had to set up a semi-permanent gateway to transport the materials.  I employed ten workers in the construction, and training them to work in a near zero-G vacuum was quite the obstacle.  Of course, when it was done, I couldn't let them live."  He laughed. "Oh, don't worry -- I didn't kill them.  Not exactly.  I just abandoned them in some random, hostile dimension and left them to fend for themselves.  Surely that's giving them a fair chance -- as good as they'd get from any villain, I think, and if they screw it up and die then it's no blood my hands, right?

"Which, by the way, is what I intend to do to you," he added.

"You're insane," Hexcoder snarled.

"On, I'm very sane," replied Kid Calculus.  "Grandpa Anarchy abandoned me to my fate many times, so it's only fair I do the same to him."  He looked Hexcoder up and down.  The boy in the red wizard's outfit continued to fidget with his smartphone.

"I'm going to tell you a story," said Kid Calculus.  "You see, many years ago I was Grandpa Anarchy's sidekick.  I was young and naive, but I was also smart -- no doubt the smartest sidekick Grandpa has ever had.  I had developed a device that allowed me to travel sideways to reality, opening portals to other dimensions.  You remember, don't you, Grandpa?  We saved hundreds of other worlds together.  We aided that Clockface Guy, Lord Pip, Baron-Who-Cares-For-Pets...."

"Don't remind me," Grandpa said.  "Saving that villain's world almost got me killed."

Ignoring Grandpa, Kid Calculus continued.  "On our first mission, Grandpa and I travelled together to a dimension called Salnell H'rgo -- well, as nearly as I can remember the name anyway.  There were a kind of intelligent insect people there whom we helped save from a supernova.  I was really proud of that one, but you know what?  Grandpa abandoned me on the planet just days before the supernova was predicted to take place.

"Mind you, that was only the first time he did such a thing...."

"This again?" snarled Grandpa Anarchy.  "My primary goal is always to defeat or capture the villain and to save people's lives.  I don't hire sidekicks so I can babysit or mollycoddle them.  You were perfectly capable of getting yourself out of those situations -- which you obviously did.  End of story."

"Always denying your legacy of abuse," said Kid Calculus.  "You never learn.  Well, this should give you a chance to reflect on your sins.  Do you know where we are?  Do you have any idea at all?"

"We're in space, obviously," Grandpa replied.  "I've been here before."

"Oh, Grandpa," said Kid Calculus, "I do not think you've ever been in this sector of space.  I do not think anyone from earth ever has.  You see, we are on a planet orbiting a star in the NGC 4666 spiral galaxy, found in the constellation of Virgo.  It is over 80 million light years away from earth!"

Grandpa Anarchy shrugged.  Anger filled the villain's eyes.

"I see you have absolutely no concept of how remote this location is from earth or how difficult is is to get here, let alone construct this small base.  You see, I've improved my teleportation gateway technology by leaps and bounds.  Once I could only travel to other dimensions -- traveling to different places within our own dimension was impossible for me.  I'd explain why but I'm afraid the math involved is above your heads -- above the heads of virtually anyone on earth, in fact."

"Try me," said Hexcoder.

"No, I think not," said Kid Calculus.  "That would simply be a waste of my time.  Suffice it to say, for each possible alternative universe, Narrative Causality has a place in space and time where you are meant to be, and it is consequently very easy to teleport between dimensions to those points, because you can shortcut a lot of the math involved.  Teleporting to a different place in the same universe where you aren't supposed to be?  Much more difficult.

"However, once I'd conquered that problem, I was still limited to travelling around our own Milky Way galaxy.  Mind you, even one galaxy is more vast than any human can even imagine.  I'm certain I've been to places in the Milky Way that no one in the Eieio (pronounced Ee-Yow) Empire has ever seen, let alone any human from earth.  I'll remind you that the Eieio Empire spans over 2,000 star systems in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way -- unimaginably vast to anyone from earth, but only an infintesimal fraction of the entire galaxy.

"It took a great while for me to alter my device so that I could make the leap to other galaxies.  You have no idea of the mathematics and energy involved.  I won't bore you with the details; suffice it to say I've spent the last half-year searching the far reaches of the universe for a planet like this.  Once I'd found the right planet, I built this little base just for you!  And now that I have you here?  I'm going to leave you.

"Do you understand me, Grandpa?  I'm going to abandon you on a lifeless rock in another galaxy, 80 million light-years away from anyone that knows you.  Trust me when I say, no one will ever, ever find you here, and you will never find your way back.  This room will be your final resting place -- literally on the other end of the universe...."

Hexcoder rolled his eyes.  "Do you not understand that the furthest object in known space is 13.4 billion light-years away from earth?" he asked.  "That's orders of magnitude further than this little rock.  We might as well be around the block, cosmically speaking, or at least in the next town over."

Kid Calculus's face grew furious.  "Do you think it was easy to teleport to a point 80 million miles from Earth?  I defy anyone to travel further!  Not even the gods can cross billions of light years in the blink of an eye, so don't suggest that my accomplishment is weak in comparison.  Comparison to what?  To who?  Who has gone to greater lengths to kill Grandpa Anarchy?  Who has put in half the effort that I have?  Does this not prove the depth of my hatred for Grandpa?  Does this not prove that I am his true Arch Nemesis?

"You and Grandpa will die here, on the lonely shores of this isolated world in a stellar system that is just one of hundreds of billions of systems, in a galaxy that is one of countless galaxies... when you think about it, a needle in a haystack is child's play compared to finding this exact spot in an potentially infinite universe.  No one will ever find you two!"

For a long moment there was silence.  "You finished?" asked Grandpa.  Kid Calculus nodded, and Grandpa added, "Good  Now, do you realize who the head of my fan club is?"

"Not that I pay attention to such silliness," Kid Calculus replied, "but I believe it's that ridiculous woman who calls herself Kid Continuity.  What of it?"

"Actually she's Continuitae these days," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "She's literally the Avatar of Continuity -- you might remember that crazy god gave her the power last year.  She's obsessed with me, and she's read the entire run of the Grandpa Anarchy comic book that was produced by the Painters -- that's a race of extra-dimensional beings that can look into the future and the past simultaneously -- and so those comics kind of predict what's in my future.  And then there's her girlfriend Saturnae, Avatar of Time, who travels through time and space by magic -- no calculations required.

"Point is," said Grandpa, "if you think those two don't know where I am and how to find me, then you really don't understand how my fan club works."

At that moment there was a flash, and two young women appeared.  They were dressed like extras from a Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon cartoon.  The one on the right had a white leotard with a skirt of dark purple with a stardust pattern, and wielded a staff with a strange symbol on one end -- a kind of squared-off Celtic knot.  There were amethysts set in a tiara, in bracelets, a necklace, and there were ribbons, bows, and ruffles.  The second was similarly dressed in a white leotard with a skirt of brown.  There were similar ruffles, bows, and jewelry set with chocolate diamonds, and there was a time theme -- clock faces worked into the tiara and necklace, an hourglass design at the end of her staff, and the skirt was encircled with numbers.  If viewed from above, it would resemble a clock.

"Oh, hey!" exclaimed the one in purple.  "Did we miss our cue?"

"Right on time," Grandpa replied.

Kid Calculus's eyes bugged out so far they threatened to fall out of his head.  "What?  Impossible!  How did you find this place?"

Continuitae rolled her eyes.  "Not only is it possible, it was actually quite easy."  She held up a comic book -- Kid Calculus was on the cover, facing off against Grandpa and the boy in the red wizard outfit.

"Grandpa Anarchy issue 2,799," said Continuitae.  "Grandpa Anarchy and Hexcoder vs. Kid Calculus in the Urquathal Galaxy".  You'll have to forgive the Painters, they don't use the earth galaxy naming system, but they give precise coordinates for this location in relation to the Milky Way as well as some very clever three-dimensional star maps.  You'd be amazed what an extra-dimensional being can fit into a simple comic book!"  She smiled, and added, "Incidentally, it's not one of the better episodes, I'm afraid.  It's mostly just you ranting and raving while Hexcoder hacks your dimensional gateway program and alters it for his own purposes...."

Kid Calculus's eyes widened further.  "He... what?"

Hexcoder tapped his phone.  A gateway irised open beneath the villain.  He dropped out of sight.

"You know," said Grandpa Anarchy after a moment, "getting back from another dimension is practically the first thing Kid Calculus ever learned...."

"Of course it was," Hexcoder replied.  "So I sent him to the dimension where wishes are real, every girl owns a pony, the Cleveland Browns are perennial Superbowl champions, and where Kid Calculus always easily defeats Grandpa Anarchy every time they do battle."

Grandpa frowned.  "That place don't exist," he said.

"Indeed," said Hexcoder.  "My bet is he's never had to calculate his way back from an imaginary dimension before...."


Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed In Time

Eclipsed In Time
Mark A Davis

"Are we sure this is legal?" asked The Split Second -- a young girl in red spandex with mouse-brown hair and glasses.

"Legal Schmegal," Grandpa Anarchy replied.  The world's oldest hero wore a rumpled gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  "When it comes to fighting a villain, you do whatever you need to.  This is how it was done in the comic.  Besides, there are no laws about committing crimes in the past."

It was June 20, 1955.  Grandpa and his sidekick The Split Second, plus a collection of former and future sidekicks including Wayback Boy, Kid Continuity, Magical Midriff, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl, Boy Gravity, You Go Girl, Magical Mimic Cosplay Girl, Quantum Uncertainty Boy, and Suck It Up Buttercup, were all gathered on a hill in the Philippines.  It was a bright day, with the sun high overhead -- as well as a near-invisible moon.  The calls of lemurs and cockatoos echoed from the rainforest.

Nearby, a shadow creature writhed and howled.  Its voice was like that of wind through a canyon.  It was humanoid, as if the shape of a man had been cut from reality, and it appered to be pinned to the ground.  Boy Gravity -- looking for all the world like an exceptionally well-dressed girl in a white silk blouse and pink courderoy skirt -- had a look of intense concentration.  He stared at the creature, his manicured hands raised skyward.

"My Precious!" exclaimed Wayback Boy in a contorted, wheedling voice.  Wayback Boy was a young man dressed in World War I flight leathers, with a strange machine strapped to his back.  Grandpa stared at him.  "You said Smeagol," Wayback Boy added.  As Grandpa continued to stare uncomprehending, Wayback added, "Oh, never mind."

Grandpa shrugged.   "According to Wayback Boy here," he said, "this day in 1955 is the longest solar eclipse since the 11th century -- and according to Kid Continuity," he nodded to a woman in a white spandex outfit with a sort of squared-off geometric knot on the chest.  "This creature of the void is a thing I fought in the Grandpa Anarchy comics, and it can only be defeated by a total eclipse of the sun...."

"It's called the Shadow of Evil," said Kid Continuity.  "World of Anarchy issue 102.  Cloned from the shadow of Carnival Act himself using a Heart of Darkness replicating machine."  As several hands shot up, she sighed and added, "It's a comic, it doesn't have to make sense."

"Is this going to actually work?" asked Manic Pixy Dreamgirl -- a young woman in a rainbow-hued crop top and mini skirt and rainbow-colored pigtails.

"We'll know any minute now," Grandpa replied.

The sky grew dark.  A shadow was eating the sun.  The shadow creature screamed in pain and terror, its voice like the combined cries of eleven million holocaust victims echoing through time.  Shivers went down the spines of those gathered as the creature thrashed and howled.  The screams intensified as the eclipse neared total darkness.  They could barely see the shadow creature at all now, but it appeared to be coming apart, bits of it tearing away and drifting out into the night.  Slowly the screams faded to just a murmur, and then to silence.

After a few minutes, the sky grew light again.  Soon they were once again standing in bright daylight.  They heard the sounds of the rainforest and felt a breeze as it rustled the grass and trees.  The shadow creature was nowhere to be seen.

"It's gone," said Suck It Up Buttercup -- a young black girl dressed in yellow leathers, jacket and fingerless gloves.

"Well," said Kid Continuity, "apparently Joseph Zuzarte knew what he was writing about."  She turned to Wayback Boy.  "Our work here is done.  Shall we head home?"

  Several minutes later, the collection of costumed heroes were back in the Anarchy Mansion in Frosthaven, NJ, and back in what they considered the present.  They were celebrating.  Grandpa Anarchy was making strawberry pancakes for everyone when there was a knock at the door.

Grandpa answered.  A humanoid lion stood on the porch, flanked by a gray alien with bulbous eyes and a humanoid cockroach.  All three wore uniforms of blue and black that seemed vaguely police-like, although clearly not from any precinct on earth.  Behind them floated a blue ball of pulsing light.

"Theodore Harold "Paul" Smith, known colloquially as Grandpa Anarchy?" asked the lion.  "My name is Sargent Kosay, and these are Officers Hanzel Selenite, Neostylopyga Rhombifolia and XHEZHANXTLAN."  He indicated the gray, the cockroach, and the ball of light in turn.

The ball of light pulsed.  "CALL ME OFFICER XHEZ," it said.

"We're from the Eieio (pronounced EE-Yow) Empire Galactic Federation Police, Zendeth Sector, Precinct 27345A.  We have some questions regarding the death of a sentient being known as Szillsshallsh.  I understand on your planet it may have been referred to as the Shadow of Evil...."


Superpowered Self Defense

Superpowered Self Defense
Mark A Davis

"When your opponent has super powers or special abilities, that don't mean they automatically trump you in combat," said Grandpa Anarchy.  The world's oldest superhero was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with an anarchy symbol stitched in silver over the left breast.  "Now, pay attention!  Super speed doesn't make you a better fighter." He beckoned to his current sidekick, a young girl in a red spandex outfit named the Split Second.  She had mousy brown hair and glasses.  "Come at me, girl," he said.  "As fast as you want."

A handful of other young people in brightly-colored costumes were gathered in a large semi-circle around the two, in an open area of the Anarchy Cave, located deep below the Anarchy mansion.  Former sidekicks Magical Midriff, You Go Girl, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl, and Boy Gravity were here, as were several younger people who had not yet had the pleasure of being Grandpa's sidekick.

The Split Second licked her lips nervously.  "You sure?" she asked.  "I'm a lot faster than you.  I'm one of the fastest humans alive."

"I'm sure," Grandpa said.

"Okay," the girl replied.  "But Imma cut you so low, you can milk a pregnant snake!"  The girl struck.

Her movements were a blur, too fast for the eye to track -- but surprisingly, she wound up on the floor of the cave with Grandpa on top of her, pinning one arm behind her back.

"Now," said Grandpa, "given that I can't move even a hundredth as fast as Split Second here, anyone want to explain how I took her out?"

After a moment, Boy Gravity -- who appeared to be a nicely-dressed young woman -- raised his hand.  "You anticipated her moves," he said.  "There's really no other way."

"He could have used magic to temporarily boost his speed," said You Go Girl, "but I would know if he had."

"Correct," Grandpa replied.  "When someone has a superpowered advantage over you, do anything you can to counter it.  Even the odds.  If they're super-fast, then think five steps ahead.  Just being fast doesn't mean she can out-think me.  If they're super-strong, then try to beat them with finesse.  Lots of powerful fighters never learn technique because they don't have to.  Oh, and by the way -- just because Split Second is fast, doesn't mean she can punch me any harder than a normal human.  Not unless she wants to shatter her own fist.

"Here at Grandpa Anarchy's School of Superpowered Fisticuffs, our goal is to teach you how to fight with beings more powerful than you are.  Although in some cases...." -- he paused to glare at You Go Girl and Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl -- "you're rather unlikely to find any opponents more powerful than you are."  He gestured to Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl.  "Your turn, Dreamgirl."

The young woman with the rainbow-hued crop top and miniskirt, and thigh-high boots, and rainbow-colored pigtails stepped forward.  A moaning sound echoed throughout the cave.  Grandpa frowned.  "Wind sure makes strange noises when it blows through here," he muttered.  "That almost sounds like...."  He paused, then shook his head.  "Nevertheless!  When I say go, I want you to try and hit me -- as hard as you like."

"I can punch you into next Tuesday," Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl said.

"You can try," Grandpa agreed.  "But don't underestimate me.  Hubris can get you killed."

Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl launched herself at Grandpa.  He ducked her punch.  A telescoping baton appeared in his hand, and he swung it into her knee.  Everyone winced -- the impact was loud.  Ignoring it completely, Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl grabbed Grandpa by the collar and flung him across the room, where he collided with a dusty exoskeleton, which looked like it had been built in the sixties.

Grandpa groaned.  He stood up.  "Now, there," he said, "was a perfect example.  I used a hidden weapon to try and even the odds -- and it would have worked, if only Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl weren't invulnerable.  Basically, in a fight with someone who's invulnerable, you're screwed."

"I'm nigh invulnerable," Magical Manic Pixy Dreamgirl interjected.  "It's kind of how they say it in superhero circles."

"Yes, that," Grandpa replied.  "Point is, she's much stronger than me, so she had a serious advantage in a fight.  It's my job to try and even the odds a little.  Strength alone does not trump someone who really knows how to fight."

"Why not just pull a gun on her?" asked Boy Gravity.

"Bullets bounce off me," said Dreamgirl.

The Split Second's eyes narrowed.  "Oh, I got something that would work...." she muttered.

There was another moan -- louder this time.  It was a howl of pain, a cry from a deep abyss.  Grandpa frowned.  "I've heard that sound before..." he began.

Behind him a shadow appeared.  It stepped out of the wall like a ghost.  It was a humanoid blackness, as if a man had been cut out of reality -- the void given human form.  It howled like the moan of wind through a deep crevasse, then turned to Grandpa Anarchy.

You Go Girl's eyes grew wide.  She and Split Second took a step back.  "What the hades?" Boy Gravity exclaimed.

"The Shadow of Evil!" Magical Midriff replied.  "It's back!"  She leaped to her feet.

"Ah.  I thought we'd see this thing again," Grandpa muttered.  He produced a pair of black gloves and pulled them on.

"But what is it?" You Go Girl asked.

"A creature from a 1970 Grandpa Anarchy comic book," said Magical Midriff, "Kid Continuity could tell you the exact details.  Somehow it became real.  Grandpa and I fought it months ago.  According to the comic, it can only be destroyed by a total eclipse of the sun or with the aid of friendly shadow creatures.  Anything else that touches it gets sucked into another dimension.  That's what happened to us last time...."

The creature swung an arm at Grandpa.  He ducked, then punched the thing in the head, or where its head should be.  The creature flew across the cave.

"To paraphrase Nietzsche, if you punch the abyss, the abyss also punches you," said Grandpa.  He held up his fists.  The gloves on his hands weren't just black -- they were the darkness of the void between the stars.  "The trick is landing a punch on a walking void.  Like I said, when an enemy has an advantage over you, find a way to neutralize it.  Think ahead.  Also, it helps to be friends with the Supreme Sorcerer of Earth, and to place an order for something like these Gloves of the Void."  Grandpa cracked his knuckles as the shadow creature got to its feet.  "Pay attention --  I'm going to show you a way of interacting with the void that Nietzsche never considered...."

The creature collapsed to the floor.  It was nearly flat -- as if an invisible force were crushing it.  It howled in anger and pain.

"Or," said Boy Gravity, stepping forward, "You could just ask someone who doesn't need to touch the creature in order to subdue it."  He held up manicured hands.  "Powers over gravity, remember?"


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Games People Play

Games People Play
Mark A Davis

The sky was flat.  No sun was visible, nor clouds, just a flat expanse of blue like that from a paint brush -- it had that unreal quality.  Beneath this was the jungle, and the wide path through it, paved with squares of alternating green and white marble.  On either side the dense, impenetrable foilage barred travel in any direction save forwards or backwards.  There was something else odd about the path -- each square was numbered.  The heroes were on square 62.  One square ahead, on square 63, stood the giant snake.

It towered over them like a serpent of legend -- a great Naga of Hindu mythology, or a Jörmungandr of Norse tales.  Its scales flashed blue and green and gold.  It glared with half-lidded yellow eyes and hissed, its tongue flickering in and out.  A musky, cloying odor hung in the air.

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, punched the snake in the underbelly.  He was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver Anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  Unsurprisingly his punches had little effect.  However, his companion Sun Wukong the Monkey King delivered stiffer blows with the end of his giant staff, Ruyi Jingu Bang -- a gold-banded black staff that would shrink or grow per the whims of its master.  He drove it into the serpent's neck.  The snake hissed in anger.

Sun Wukong wore black silk pants and a loose top of green and gold.  Overhead flew their two companions -- the Bronze Beach Bum on his flying surfboard, looking like a California surfer dude cast in bronze.  Clinging to the back of the surfboard was Grandpa's current sidekick, a boy in brown spandex with a brown paper bag over his head with eye holes.  He called himself the Unknown Sidekick.

"Dnyaneshwar was an important poet, philosopher, saint and yogi in 13th century India," Sun Wukong said.  He spun the staff around and, swinging in a wide arc, slammed it over the giant snake's head.  "I never met him -- he only lived to the age of 21.  But his Dnyashwari is a vital piece of writing in the Marathi language -- a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita that is praised for its aesthetic and scholarly value."

"All very interesting, I'm sure," said Grandpa, not sounding the least bit interested.  Grandpa Anarchy slammed his fist repeatedly into the giant serpent's side.  "So this is the guy that invented Chutes and Ladders?"

"No, Grandpa, Chutes and Ladders is a game marketed by Milton Bradley from the 1940's," the Unknown Sidekick called out.  "I'm only sixteen and even I know that!"

"Yes, but that game is based on Snakes and Ladders," said SunWukong, "which is the English name given to the ancient game which Dnyaneshwar created.  It's known variously as Moksha Patam, or Parama Padam, or Mokshapat, or several other names.  The game is designed to teach Hindu philosophy to children.  The ladders represent virtues and the snakes are vices, which result in a lower reincarnation."

"Yes, okay," said Grandpa, dodging the snake's next attack.  "Only I don't recall any rule where, when you met a snake, you could avoid sliding back to square one by killing the creature...."

"These worlds we're being sucked into are only based on children's games," Sun Wukong replied.  "We can't expect the rules to match up exactly with this reality.  Incidentally, the phrase back to square one originates from this very game."

"Eat my Bolts of Interstellar Force, Dirtbreath!" yelled the Bronze Beach Bum.  He flew low over the snake, blasting it with bronze-colored beams of cosmic power.

"You'll never know who punched you!" exclaimed the Unknown Hero, leaping from the flying surfboard.  He landed on the snake and peppered it with blows more futile even than those of Grandpa Anarchy.

"The only thing this game teaches you is that everything is random," Grandpa exclaimed.  He leaped onto the giant snake's back; it hissed like a giant tea kettle.  "Good things happen, bad things happen, but it's all at the mercy of the roll of the die.  There's no strategy or skill involved at all.  They might as well have named the game Crap Happens.  At least in the Monopoly world, we could use a bit of strategy!"

The snake writhed, tossing the Unknown Hero aside.  He bounced off the wall of vegetation and onto square 61.  "I'm still mad that all that Monopoly money I made isn't good for anything...." he said.

Grandpa slammed his fists down on the snake's head as hard as he could.  The snake writhed, attempting to shake Grandpa free.  Its mouth opened wide and Sun Wukong sprang forward, placing his staff in the creature's mouth.  Both ends of the magic staff extended, prying the creature's mouth so far open that it threatened to pull the head apart.

"Beach Bum, if you please!" Sun Wukong called out.

"Totally groshing, My Drook!" the Bronze surfer exclaimed.  He swung back around and fired one of his bronze energy blasts straight into the creature's gullet.

The snake thrashed about, emitting a hissing scream.  Grandpa was thrown from it's back.  The other heroes backed away and watched its death throes.  Soon the creature ceased to move.

The four heroes moved forward, guided by die rolls that appeared in the sky above them.  Soon they'd reached the end of the board -- square 100.   They waited on the last square.

"Well, that's that," said Grandpa as the world around them faded to a gray fog.  "What next?  We've scaled the Gumdrop Mountains and rescued King Kandy in Candyland.  We defeated Simon Says, even though he didn't tell us to, and we rescued the Cat in the Cradle from Jack in the Pulpit -- or was it the other way around?  Anyway, how much more of this foolishness have we got?"

"The box did say Twenty Classic Children's Games Box Set," said Sun Wukong.

"The important thing is what it said after that," Grandpa replied.  "The next time someone brings a Jumanji Edition version of any game to poker night, I'm gonna punch 'em in the face!"

The gray fog faded away.  The heroes found themselves in the center of a large stadium.  They were in some kind of giant yellow ring -- like a boxing ring the size of a baseball diamond.  Before them towered a giant robot.  It must have been fifteen feet tall, and appeared to be made of red plastic.

The crowd was screaming.  Words appeared in the air overhead:  Knock His Block Off!

Grandpa Anarchy cracked his knuckles.  "Take it easy, boys," he said.  "I got this one."


Friday, August 11, 2017

Feeling Wordy

Feeling Wordy
Mark A Davis

The library was a large, open building, three stories tall with an open center.  It was dark, lit only by weak moonlight that filtered in through wide windows.  Everywhere tall bookshelves were draped in shadow.  The air was cool -- somewhere an air system hummed.  Like any modern library it was clean and orderly, but there was still a hint of the musty, dusty smell that you always get in the presence of old books.

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, strode into the center and yelled, "Literate Lemur!  I know you're here!  Show yourself!"

Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over his left breast.  Beside him stood his current sidekick, a young black man dressed in red converse hi-tops, a red robe and a red wizard's hat.  He called himself Hexcoder, Adept of Apps.

From high above them a voice called out.  "Tell me, Grandpa, did you follow my clues to the headwaters of my crime spree, or did you simply head for the nearest library as you usually do and just assume you'd find me there?"

Grandpa cracked his knuckles as he peered up into darkness.  "I think you know the answer to that," he said.

"I am sorry to say that I do indeed," the voice replied.   "Do you even care to know which books I am attempting to steal, or why I would want to steal them?"

"Nah," said Grandpa.  "The only book I'm interested in is the Book of Justice."

Hexcoder tapped what looked like a smartphone.  At the same time he exclaimed, "I cast magic missile at the darkness!"  A flash of light lit the room for a moment, revealing the Literate Lemur standing on an upper balcony.  He was a somewhat rotund man dressed in a costume of black and white stripes with a long, striped tail, a masked face and reflective eyes that flashed in the bright light.

"By Librarium!" exclaimed the thief, stumbling back.  "My eyes!  You should provide sufficient warning before you shatter the night with such fireworks!  I believe it was Ursula K. Le Guin who said:  When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.  Thus am I revealed!"

Grandpa was running for the stairs to the second floor.  "You always talk too much, Lemur!" he called out.

"Naturally, as one who loves the literary arts, that would be the case.  As for your supposed Book of Justice -- I must say, there are of course actual books that you might be referring to, but sadly I know that you speak not of any physical book.  Really, any conversation with you is no more rewarding than conversing with a brick wall.  As Marcus Tullius Cicero said:  Silence is one of the great arts of conversation."

Grandpa reached the third floor and charged the villain, who stepped lightly off the balcony and dropped to the top of a bookcase below.  The Literate Lemur carried a satchel that apparently held several books, and carried a large tome in his hands.

"Those books are the property of the city public library!" Grandpa exclaimed.

The Literate Lemur laughed.  "As if any member of the public can appreciate them as I do.  No, books of this stature and age belong to someone like me who will cherish them for what they are."

"Binding Net!" exclaimed Hexcoder as he stabbed his device.  The Lemur leaped into the air, avoiding a net of glowing yellow light that appeared from nowhere.

"You shant catch me so easily, my good lad!" he called out as he disappeared between shelves.  He dodged around a corner, only to find Grandpa Anarchy waiting for him.

Grandpa punched.  The Lemur blocked with his book, then swung it in an arc, striking Grandpa Anarchy in the head.  As Grandpa staggered into a shelf, the villain disappeared again.  He called out, "Did you notice the sound that the book makes when I struck you?  Biblock!  See, that's a word of my own design -- a neologism and an onomatopoeia in one.  Quite clever, no?  I would expect a man as enamored with the Biffs! and Bams! and Pows! of the world as you are would appreciate it.  As the bard once said:  Action is eloquence!"

Grandpa chased the Lemur through the library as they exchanged blows.  His sidekick tried to keep up, and made two more attempts to ensnare the book thief.  The Lemur laughed, and used a grappling hook to suddenly ascend to the ceiling beams.

"You know, Grandpa," he called out, "a battle between us in an old library like this is almost perfect.  Where else would you and I choose to duel?  When I'm in places like this, I feel a profound sense of vellichor.  Do you know what vellichor is?  No, of course you don't -- although I can't really blame you, as the word is another neologism -- that's from the Greek  néo-, meaning new, and lógos, meaning speech or utterance, in case you didn't know.  Vellichor was coined by John Koenig ins 2013 in his remarkable online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.  I am normally not a fan of online media but an actual book is said to be forthcoming and to be honest I find his work fascinating and worthy of attention.

"The word means the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time -- filled with thousands of old books you'll never have the time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and gagged and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured."

As the thief talked, Grandpa and Hexcoder had once again run up the stairs to the third floor.  Grandpa climbed atop a bookshelf and leaped for the rafters.  He scrambled onto a steel beam and ran the length of it, charging towards the Literate Lemur.

"Quite a lot to take in!" exclaimed the Lemur as he dodged Grandpa's first punch.  The two exchanged blows as he continued to talk.  "But I find this word perfectly describes my own feelings when entering an old bookstore or library.  A feeling of melancholy that comes over any lover of books when in the presence of so many old and wonderful tomes -- the smells of old books, the look of such waiting on shelves, the dust of years and the hopes and fears of the death that you will find within them -- these are such things as haunt my dreams, and it is wonderful that a word exists to describe them."

Dodging a kick from Grandpa, the Lemur dove backwards off the beam and fell three stories to the ground floor.  Halfway down he fired another grappling hook and swung to the far side of the library, where he landed before the history section shelves.

"The word is obviously from the Latin vellum, meaning fine parchment, and quite possibly borrows an ending from petrichor, meaning the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of dry, warm weather," said the Lemur.  "In short, it's a perfectly cromulent word.  Another that I'm feeling at this moment is kuebiko -- a state of exhaustion brought on by many acts of senseless violence."

"Never felt that," Grandpa said as he raced back down the stairs.  "But I got one for ya.  What is a word for the feeling of wanting to punch someone in the mouth?"

"I'm pretty sure that is simple anger," the Literate Lemur replied.

"No," said Grandpa Anarchy, "it's not anger.  My motivation is justice -- the desire to bring about justice through violence."

Grandpa was on the second floor now.  He leaped from the balcony to the top of a bookshelf, which shook when he landed.  His sidekick was right behind him, magical app device in hand.  They hopped down and charged the Lemur, who stood in the same spot, apparently unconcerned.

"Ah," said the Lemur.  "I do not believe such a word exists.  But if I were to consider for a moment -- justice is from Latin, but the Old English equivalent is probably rehtwisnisse, or right witness, which is akin to righteousness -- although technically that derives from righteous, which is made up of the words right and wise.  Yearning is Old English as well -- actually they believe it's Proto-Indo-European, the word gher, to like or want.  Likewise fyst is an Old English word derived from Proto-Indo-European penke, meaning five."

The floor opened beneath Grandpa and his sidekick.  They fell into a narrow pit with smooth sides.  The Lemur appeared at the lip, staring down at them.

"I'm no expert in conjugating Old English," he added, "to say nothing of Proto-Indo-Europrean, but I think a word like yearpenkewise or 'yearning for a wise fist' should do nicely.  There you have it:  yearpenkewise, a new word to describe the longing or desire to punch someone for the sake of delivering justice!

"Sadly, you must continue yearning, Grandpa -- for once again you fall into my trap, and I shall make my escape with my stolen goods.  You know, if you only read the clues and solve my riddles you might have avoided this.  I suspect what you are feeling right now is a  profound sense of énouement -- that is, the bittersweet feeling of having met the future but being unable to warn your past self about it."

A shadow appeared behind the Lemur.  "Nah," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "I've never felt that."  The shadow grasped the thief by the shoulder and spun him about.  The Literate Lemur found himself face to face with Grandpa Anarchy.

"What?" exclaimed the villain.  "But... how...?"

"I'm Grandpa Anarchy from the future," the second replied, "here to warn myself about a terrorist bombing in downtown New York.  But I got a moment to deal with you too.  Yearpenkewise this!"

He punched the Literate Lemur in the face.  The villain staggered backwards.  He mumbled, "That... is an improper use of the word," and collapsed into oblivion.


Friday, August 4, 2017

My Clone Sleeps Alone

My Clone Sleeps Alone
Mark A Davis

It was an oval room, like the inside of a squashed balloon.  Smooth white walls curved in a seamless line from floor to the ceiling, broken only by two round windows of thick glass that looked out onto darkness.  Dim lights illuminated the space, within which were shadowy table surfaces and couches and little else, save a spiral staircase descending into the floor.  All was quiet.  It was like a space station, but through the portals no stars were visible.

Sudden shadows swirled at the center of the room, and a portal into another place appeared -- a place of fire and explosions.  Six people jumped through -- one carrying a seventh.  Leading them was a tall man dressed all in black and with the bearing of one in charge.  He had black hair and a black beard, dark glasses and a black cape that billowed about.  Blood flowed from a cut on his cheek.

He spun about and extended a hand.  "FULMINIS!" he exclaimed.  Lightning flashed from his open palm and through the portal.

As the others poured through he yelled, "Quickly!  Hurry!"  Moments later the portal swirled shut and the shadows vanished.

"Dark Dr. Dark, what in Hades were they trying to summon?" asked a teenage woman in green and white power armor.  The suit was scratched and battered, but a circuit board pattern could be seen, with a kind of armored skirt and lower legs that resembled go go boots.  Across the chest were the words "Circuit Girl" in white letters outlined in dark green.  "Those glowing eyes gave me the creeps...!"

"A demonic entity named Weidachin," the sorcerer replied.  "He is a very powerful creature, fond of animating corpses, with whom I have tangled with before.  Though I had not been made aware previous to tonight that Agamemnon and the Stellar Council were likely to seek demonic aid...."

"Perseus and Andromeda escaped," said Circuit Girl.  "We'll need to track them down."

"Yes," replied Dark Dr. Dark.  "The Stellar Council have grown in strength over the last few years.  I fear we must consider them a major adversary from this point forward...."

"Forgive me, but is now the time to discuss this?"  The woman speaking was young and black, with cornrow braids and a spandex outfit that was part Nun habit, part star-spangled superhero spandex by way of Parliment or Funkadelic.  Her costume was also torn in several places.  "Grandpa Anarchy is dead!"

Dark Dr. Dark raised an eyebrow.  "Have no worry, Sister Fryer," he said.  "This is nothing which we have not encountered before.  That is precisely why I brought us here."

He glanced at another young girl, barely a teen, dressed in blue and black spandex that was ripped and torn.  She was tall and slender and was carrying the body of Grandpa Anarchy, dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol over the left breast.  Blood soaked the front of his shirt.

"Unpossible Girl," he said, gesturing to a table.  "Set the body down there."

Circuit Girl removed her helmet.  "And where is here exactly?  Space?"

The last two women in the group had their names emblazoned on their chests just as Circuit Girl did.  The first was Geothermal Jenny, a woman in her mid twenties with dark skin and dark brown hair tied back in a long braid.  She wore a badly-damaged suit of red and white power armor similar to Circuit Girl's, but minus the skirt or go go boots.

The second was Girlbot 9000, who looked at first like another armored heroine, but on second glance was missing an arm and was obviously a robot.  She was short -- under five feet tall.

"We're still on earth," said Geothermal Jenny.  "I'm reading coordinates somewhere east of Guam...."  She glanced back at the thick windows, and her eyes narrowed.  She walked towards them.  "That would place us near the Mariana Trench?"

Dark Dr. Dark nodded curtly.  Girlbot 9000 said, "You built a secret base in the Mariana Trench?  Are you insane?"

"Oh my, no!" exclaimed Dark Dr. Dark.  "That would be quite impossible!  We're barely 2,000 meters below the surface -- only halfway to the abyssopelagic zone, which you'd need to pass through before you'd reach even the lip of the trench itself."

Geothermal Jenny's eyes crossed.  "Forgive me, sorcerer, but 2,000 meters below the surface of the ocean is still over 200 atmospheres of pressure!"

"Yes," said Dark Dr. Dark.  "On the outside of this base, certainly.  But do not worry, it's very well built and protected by powerful spells...."

"That's deep into the midnight zone!" Jenny exclaimed.  "No wonder it's dark outside!  Light doesn't penetrate down here.  Why, by Gaia, would you build anything in such hostile conditions?  And more importantly, how did you do it?"

"Miss Jenny, I am the world's foremost sorcerer," said Dark Dr. Dark stiffly.  "Have some faith in my abilities.  I built this place with the aid of the Electric Bluejay and Miss X herself.  The League of Two-Fisted Justice has several such Resurrection Chambers around the globe.  One is located at my Sanctum Sanitorium at the North Pole.  That is Resurrection Station Sanitorium.  Another is located here, beneath the Pacific Ocean, in what is sometimes called the twilight zone.  I therefore call this Resurrection Station Twilight.  It is the most remote and inaccessible base we own -- even more remote than the Sanitorium, or my monastery retreat in Nepal.  When I really want to get away from it all, I come here.

"As for why build a base so deep beneath the ocean?  Can you think of a place more remote and inaccessible?  We do want to keep this base away from our enemies, for it serves a very important purpose.  One has to remember that I confront elder gods and eldritch horrors as a matter of course.  I have enemies the likes of which no normal hero can even envision.  But only a sorcerer as powerful as I can reach this point, and even then, only if they know exactly where to teleport to...."

Dark Dr. Dark paused, for someone was ascending the spiral staircase.  It was a woman in a flowing black robe with a hood that completely hid her features.  Dark Dr. Dark blinked in surprise.  "Oh!  I did not realize someone was already here!" he exclaimed.

"Do not worry, Bartholomew," the woman replied.  "I was just about to leave."  She glanced over the others, then down at the body of Grandpa Anarchy.  "Mr. Anarchy is doing much better," she added.  "Good day."

With a gesture, another swirling portal appeared.  She stepped through and was gone.

"Who was that?  What did she mean by that?" asked Sister Fryer.  "Can't she see that Grandpa's dead!"

"I am sure that she meant he will be better," the sorcerer replied.

"That," said Circuit Girl, "was Miss X?"

"I am not at liberty to say who that was," Dark Dr. Dark replied curtly.  "Come.  The Resurrection Chamber itself is on the lower level."

Most of the group, save Unpossible Girl, followed Dark Dr. Dark down the stairs.  They found themselves in a shadowy room with coffin-sized glass containers on each side.  These were filled with a viscous green liquid, but within each floated a naked human.  The faces were familiar.  Here was Daisy, Warrior Princess, and in the next chamber, Guy Shadow.  Across from them was Dark Dr. Dark himself, with Circuit Girl in the next tube.

Circuit Girl's eyes widened.  "Clones?"  Her voice squeaked.  "These are clones!  One for each member of the League of Two-Fisted Justice!"

"As well as key members of Temporary Superfriends, yes," Dark Dr. Dark replied.  "Permission to clone you is written into your contracts, but I understand if you didn't bother to read through them.  I began growing clones for each new member just after you joined last year."  He paused, looking over the collection of clone vats, and added, "The technology is, of course, patterned after the regeneration vat technology of the Eieio (pronounced Ee-Yow) Empire which is used by their 5-E division and the Society of Intergalactic Space Babes.  We set these up with the aid of our friends Jennie Nova and Llahna the Arellian from Kootah Delphi Seven.  Of course, our system is considerably more crude -- but should any member of our team be slain, I have the power to bring them back to life in short order."

Circuit Girl's eyes narrowed.  "I find it hard to believe that a supergroup which, until I came along, had an empty office in downtown Frosthaven NJ as its headquarters also has several secret and sophisticated bases of this sort hidden around the world.  Does Hearthrob 6000 know anything about this?"

"Your silly boyband computer A.I. is not welcome here," Dark Dr. Dark replied.  "Also, to forestall the next inevitable question -- yes, we have used this process, several times on Grandpa Anarchy, and as a master of the dark arts I can assure you that the resulting clone is always inhabited by Grandpa Anarchy's soul...."

"Wait," said Sister Fryer.  "Why didn't you use this stuff to bring my uncle Deep Fat Fryer back from the dead?"

"Alas," Dark Dr. Dark replied, "the entity known as the Reality Bender saw to it that your uncle's clones were removed.  It was his plan all along for you to replace your uncle, after all, and he is a god, of a sort, and very single-minded."

Dark Dr. Dark paused before an empty glass tube.  He frowned.  "Now, that's odd," he said.  "Grandpa Anarchy's clone appears to be missing.  Only I and Miss -- that is, that other woman whose identity I will not confirm -- have access to this base.  There is no door or gateway in or out."  He stroked his beard.  "The Reality Bender has access too, but she was just here.  But why would she...."

A thump came from the stairs.  The heroes turned.  There stood Grandpa Anarchy.  He had died less than twenty minutes ago, but his skin was gray and putrid.  Bone protruded in places, and his sunken eyes glowed an unearthly green.  He grinned, displaying long, needle-sharp teeth unlike any Grandpa had ever had.

"Weidachin!" Dark Dr. Dark exclaimed.

"I remember you," the creature rasped.  Its voice was like the sighing of the wind, and seemed to emanate from all about them.  "You're that puny sorcerer who has impeded my path to this mortal realm several times now.  I have business with you...."

Dark Dr. Dark began to chant, but the creature raised its hand.  Black energy crackled and shot across the room, stabbing the sorcerer in the chest.  The chant broke off as Dark Dr. Dark screamed in pain.  He fell to his knees.

A naked man leaped from the shadows and shoved something into the undead creature's jaw.  He punched the thing in the face.  There was a hiss and a scream like that of the wind in a storm.  The thing toppled over, its lower face dissolving as smoke spewed forth.

"Holy water," the naked man said.  They saw now that it was Grandpa Anarchy.  "Even against an undead demon like Weidachin, it's effective.  Miss X added some kind of spell to it, too...."

Dark Dr. Dark stood and straightened his clothing.  "Who?" he asked.  He strode forward and began to chant, banishing Weidachin with eldritch spells.

Grandpa rolled his eyes.  "Sorry, my mistake.  I meant that mysterious unnamed woman who will certainly chide you later for leaving my corpse in the upper room.  Now, if it's not any trouble, do you think you could magic me up some spare pants...?"