Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Battle

The typical Kreblonian fighter—a model of spacecraft called the Ares-Fighter-Killer—was built to look threatening. They were, generally, painted black. (When they were first deployed, the effect was of AFKs flying into each other and blowing up almost immediately after they left Kreblon’s atmosphere. After the first batch was destroyed midway through test flights, the maker of the craft—Kreblon Space Solutions—decided to put large red lights on the fore and aft parts of the ship. The red lights sometimes added to the effect of being threatening, but, sometimes, did nothing more than make the ships look like they were on their way to a space-rave.)
They resembled tridents. The middle spike would be the cockpit—a two-person cockpit, with the front seat reserved for the gunner, and the rear seat reserved for the navigator (this, it should be no surprise, was the reason that the survival rate of anyone flying an AFK was remarkably low). The two flanking spikes were the space-lasers—weapons of such devastating energy that, it was said, the lasers could fire clean through a planet. (This claim was never tested as, generally speaking, the navigator had the ship flying in completely random directions. It was remarkable luck if the gunner ever managed to hit something—even something as large as a planet.) Just below the cockpit was the source for the ultralithium missiles—weapons that, generally, were fired off within the first ten seconds of battle, and thus their potency was never tested.
The typical formation for a Space Division engagement was like the symbol for a WiFi signal. The outermost arc would be made up of novices to the Division, who flew straight for a little bit, then careened off in random directions as the battle took place and the navigators lost their minds. The second arc would be the survivors of the previous engagement, who could fly just a little straighter and whose gunners knew not to fire lasers and missiles into the people directly in front of them. The third arc would be the survivors of the engagement before that—and so on and so on until you arrived at the dot at the bottom—which consisted of only Commander-General Flarf and whoever he convinced to be his navigator.
The Division flew out of the atmosphere and almost immediately saw the Swarm-Horde. The beasts were too horrible to describe, other than to say that they exploded in very squishy fashions. “Commander-General,” Ames said.
“Yeah, Ames?” Flarf said, watching the Division blow each other up and get eaten by the aliens.
“I can’t see to navigate.”
“No problem, Ames. Just keep flying like this and pray that my aim is true.”
Eventually, the first arc got their shit together and split up into squads, tracking down and eliminating enemy targets. The second arc—which had already done that to a certain extent upon leaving the atmosphere—dove underneath the first arc and began spraying fire wildly in front of them. The third arc—which had slightly more sense than the first two, split down the middle and shot off to attempt to flank the front of the Swarm-Horde.
(It should be noted that the flank tactic was not something they learned at Division Academy—the only thing the Academy really taught was two courses: The first was for navigators, and it was called, “Blind Navigation, or Praying to Space-God That You Don’t Run Your Ship Into Something.” The second course was for gunners and was called, “That Little Button On Your Joystick and How To Keep It Held Down.” The flank tactic, rather, was created by Commander-General Deathmann when he was a fighter pilot, and had been employed in every major engagement.)
As the remaining arcs broke into their own formations and chipped away at The Swarm-Horde, Flarf and Ames sped steadily forward, guns blazing. Malformed beast after malformed beast exploded into gooey goo as the most-decorated AFK of them all barrelled through layer after layer of enemies.
After much fighting—and the complete annihiliation of the first two arcs of the Division—which meant that, roughly, forty percent of Kreblon V’s Space Defense Division was now destroyed, Flarf—throat raw from screaming solidly for forty minutes—and his constantly-sweating navigator Ames broke through to the center of The Swarm-Horde. In front of them was the All-Mind, disgusting, leaving a trail of pink goo as it floated through space. Electric flashes dashed across the surface of its bumpy exterior. “Dear Space-God,” Flarf said.
“What is it, sir?” Ames asked, not quite sure what to do, so he tapped the acceleration panel a few times.
“Will you look at that disgusting thing?”
“I can’t, sir. If I did, I’d probably kill us both by ramming into whatever it is you’re firing at out there.”
“A valid point, Ames. You’ve got a mind like a steel space-trap. Never you mind, Corporal, it’s disgusting and, thus, must be destroyed.” Flarf grinned, held his finger over the button in front of him that said Ultralithium Missiles—Only Six, Don’t Waste! “My friends,” he said, “you won’t be wasted now.”
He pressed the button. Six times. In rapid succession. Six flashes of blue light shot out from underneath the cockpit, across the space between the AFK and the All-Mind, and buried themselves in six very sensitive places. One missile—as a result of a midflight navigational hiccup—went around the brain stem and hit the cerebellum dead-on, blowing half of it away and forcing the rest off of the rest of the mass from the explosion. The temporal lobe—a sickly yellow color—exploded in a cloud of goo. The brain stem itself was hit by three missiles and flung off through space. The last missile hit the center of the All-Mind and split it in two.
The AFK shuddered from the six massive shockwaves—for ultralithium missiles contain the destructuve power of eight billion high-yield hydrogen bombs—and Ames, not sure what to do, screamed in mortal terror, turned the spaceship around and back towards Kreblon-V.
A lesser Commander-General would have demanded to see The Swarm-Horde split up, run for its life. But Commander-General Flarf knew that, since the enemy commander had been eliminated, there was no sense in him hanging around. He touched his communication button on the HUD in front of him and addressed the Division. “Men,” it should be noted that the Division was the only place in the sector that did not allow women into its numbers—Flarf felt that they would distract from the military instinct inherent in every Space-God-fearing man, which would in turn make them lose their willingness to fling themselves at the enemy without regard to personal safety. “Men, today we have strickin a powerful blow for Kreblon-V. The All-Mind, the link that held together these bastards, has been obliterated. Good work being meat-shields. What say we drive home the point and fight on for another few hours?”
A half-hearted cheer filled the communications channel. (Half-hearted because, as they had all noticed, after the destruction of the All-Mind, all of the beings in the Swarm-Horde had turned a grey color and stopped moving. It seemed jued a bit unsportsmanlike to keep on destroying creatures that couldn’t move—kind of like kicking a sleeping puppy—but, after all, these things were indescribably ugly, so it was sort of justified.) “A few more hours, sir?” Ames asked.
Flarf laughed. “For them, Ames. Not for us. No, as Commander-General, I get to go back, report back to those spineless cowards back in the capital, and soak up all the glory.”
“But what about them ships up here?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Ames. I’ll paint them as true patriots, willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good of Kreblon-V. A sacrifice that, hell, I wouldn’t be able to make, and neither would you. Would you, Ames?”
Ames thought. Though he felt bad about leaving his fellow IPSDCers out in the lurch like this, there was the very real chance that, flying blind like this, he could crash the AFK straight into a comatose beast. In fact, judging from the exclamation of, “Holy space-shit, look at the explosion from that,” from Flarf, pilots were doing just that. How could he, who had so much hope for a future of subsistence farming/acting like a subsistence farmer while being a planetary leader, how could he jeopardize everything in front of him? “Sir,” he said, “I reckon you’re right.”
“Ha!” said Flarf. “I knew you’d see reason, Ames. Yessir, you’ll go far in the IPSDC, Ames. Might be a Commander-General some day. Hell, you know what? I think this deserves a promotion to an officer’s position. Congratulations, Ames.”
Ames, against his better nature, grinned and thought that Betty-Sue would be right damn proud of him.

After they returned to Kreblon-V, Flarf was promoted to the newly-created position of Über-Commander and was given the newly-created Order of the Crimson Killer and Defender of Kreblon-V. All of this meant that, while his duties did not change as leader of the armed forces of Kreblon-V, he did receive a massive pay raise.
Ames was promoted to Space Lieutenant. He continued to be Flarf’s aide-de-camp, and was thus never in any real danger on the battlefield. (You see, the Kreblon-V Defense Forces couldn’t allow their new Über-Commander to be anywhere near death, and so kept him and his aide-de-camp far away from any place of death.) Along with this, he steadily received promotions, which was the cause for his eventual break-up with Betty-Sue—now happily starving to death back on Georgia. But Ames didn’t care: he was on the rise in the IPSDC and everything was hunkey-dorey.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Inside the Space-Space-Observatory

The space-space-observatory was a white dome-mounted structure at the top of Kreblon Hill, just to the north of Evergreen’s city limits. It had a super-powered telescope that could see all the way across the galaxy, through the galactic center (which, in the year 15,000 AE, had been turned into a gigantic billboard for a space-coffee company that shortly thereafter went out of business), and straight to Earth. (It should be noted that, at this time, the population of Earth, being decimated by Ragnarok, was back down to a manageable two—who were being goverened, finally, by the Norse gods.) What’s more important, the space-space-observatory was the secret testing site for most of the high-powered space-weapons in this sector of the galaxy. Flarf would sometimes come to the SSO and just drool over the testing labs.
Today, though, was not a day for drooling. Today was a day for kicking ass. Kicking dirty, disgusting, destruction-desiring alien ass. Flarf made sure the scientists—wearing their dark green labcoats and scurrying like cockroaches from the light seeping in through the open from the front door—knew it by strutting into the front lobby of the SSO and shouting, “I hear some alien scum want to kick some ass. Are we gonna let them, boys?”
“For Space-God’s sake,” shouted a woman in a green labcoat, hiding in the fetal position behind a water cooler next to the reception desk, “close the door! The light burns us!”
Flarf shut the door and muttered an apology.
The light from the outside disappeared and the scientists, slowly, carefully, emerged from their hiding places—still masking their heads behind space-clipboards. A couple brave ones tiptoed across the room from behind some potted plants and disappeared into corridors.
A gorgeous woman with brown hair pulled back, black glasses, and wearing a brown pantsuit walked out of the doorway marked “Break room,” walked up to the desk and noticed the cringing scientists. She looked at Flarf. “Did you open the door without pressing the button outside? You military jocks are all the same. You need to press the buzzer; it lets the scientists know that sunlight is coming and they need to seek cover unless they want to get burned.”
Flarf, for a moment, thought that this woman was worthy of receiving his genes, but then remembered that the sex instinct clouded the military instinct and puffed out his chest in a thoroughly military manner. “Fuck ‘em. Pansies got too much going on up here,” he pointed to his head, “and not enough down here,” he pointed to his space-pistol.
“I’m sure,” said the woman, sitting behind the large, white desk and pressing the screen in front of her a few times. “Now. What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to see Dr. Kananga. I heard you guys picked up a signal from space. A signal that may doom us all.” Flarf approached the desk, put his hands on the raised bit facing the front door, and leaned forward. “You understand that, lady, or do I need to simplify it?”
The woman smiled acidly and said, “There are two things you need to know. One: I hold three space Ph.Ds in space-quantum space-physics, time travel, and genetics—which means I could travel back in time and fry your ancestors, just on my lunch break. Two: I am allowed to castrate anyone who shows the slightest hint of misogny.” She reached into a drawer and pulled out a business card. She placed it on the desk in front of Flarf.
Flarf picked up the card and nodded. “Right. This certainly is a castration-certification card.” He slapped it down on the desk. “Lady, you have some brass cajones on you, you know that?”
“My name is Triple-Doctor Samson, I’ll thank you to remember.”
Flarf shook his head slowly. The vein in his forehead throbbed a bit. Some people didn’t have the necessary respect for authority. That’s what they taught you in those space-ivory digi-towers known as space-academia, though: disregard for history, tradition, honor, and shiny, shiny medals. “Fine then, Triple-Doctor Samson, what are you doing sitting at a desk when you could be curing space-death-cancer?”
Samson sipped from the white mug of space-coffee in front of her and said, “Space-death-cancer? Oh. That. Right, I cured that when I got in this morning. I’m a secretary on my break. You see,” she leaned forward—her pantsuit was a little loose up top, and Flarf really thought that she was worthy of receiving his genes and—nonono the military instinct! the military instinct—anyway, she continued: “the usual secretary takes these ridiculously long lunch breaks—half an hour, can you believe it?—so I come in on my break and usually finish up half the tasks she has to do for the day. I like having something to do.”
“I like that,” Flarf said. He tapped the desk. “You want to join the Defense Force? I need a good secretary.”
“Can you pay three million Kreblon space-dollars per year?”
She sipped the coffee. “Nope.” She tapped the screen in front of her. “Dr. Kananga will see you now. Down that corridor, eigth door on the right. G’bye, Commander-General.”
Flarf knew when someone wanted him gone, and, generally, he’d just shoot them in the head for showing insubordination, even if they weren’t technically his subordinates, but this girl, was something special—probably because she drank black space-coffee. No one drank black space-coffee anymore, which was a shame, because the space-creamer companies didn’t deserve the revenue they got. He nodded and walked down the corridor.
It was a typical corridor in the SSO. The walls were blank and white, with the exception of large images of space formations ranging from comets to nebulas to—what was that last one? Flarf stopped. It was a purpleish-pinkish mass. It was astoundedly less in-focus than the others. As if—and Flar wasn’t any expert in the forms of space imagery ever since he was a child and his Little Tyke’s Super Hubble Camera was shattered by his space-Boston Terrier—it were approaching at a faster rate than would be expected. He looked at the information for the picture, helpfully tacked up to his right. “Unknown mass,” it read, “approaching at roughly eighty trillion times the speed of light.”
Some part of his mind—the last part of his brain that was a fan of the sciences and thought in general—spoke up. “If it were travelling faster than the speed of light, especially at eighty times the speed of light, then no camera would be able to get a picture of it. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“There you are, you bastard,” said Flarf. He isolated that last part of his brain and smothered it.
“Ah,” said a voice to his right, “Commander-General Flarf, there you are.”
Flarf turned. A small man, about five space-feet, six space-inches stood just in the corridor from a doorway. He wore the lime green lab coat typical of the SSO, very thick glasses, and his hair was a tangled mess of black curls. “Dr. Kananga,” Flarf said, “good to see you again.”
“And the same to you,” Kananga said with a smile. He motioned into the doorway. “Come on into the lab. I have some things you might be interested in seeing.”
The lab was a circular room. All around the edges of the room were computer terminals, all connnected—wirelessly, of course—to the giant mainframe that stood just to the left of the entrance to the lab from the corridor. In the center of the room was the control panel for the giant telescope that pointed towards the Beetle Nebula. “I bet,” said Flarf, “you can really peek into some windows with that thing.”
Kananga raised an eyebrow. “What? Oh. Really, Commander-General, I wish you wouldn’t treat the greatest machine known to Kreblonian science—nay, this sector of the galaxy—as a tool for being a peeping space-Tom.
Flarf mumbled. “Of course. Only joking, Doc.”
“Right. Well.” Kananga walked over to a terminal, pressed the monitor a few times in rapid succession, and a screen lowered down from the ceiling. A projector hummed on and he said, “As you no doubt have heard, we recently intercepted a belligerent message from a host of alien beings. The message was first received last night at twenty-three hundred hours, and has repeated steadily ever since then. We have no reason to believe that this mass of beings—which you saw out there in the corridor—has any other goal other than our complete and total annihilation.”
Flarf nodded. He looked at the screen. All he could see was a pinkish, brownish mass, barely defined shapes, and, just in the center, a large brain, barely visible through the breaks in whatever were floating around it.
Something about the whole situation made the espionage portion of his military-focused brain switch on. Why Kreblon-V and not any one of the number of planets this thing was rocketing past? The planet—as a whole, not just Evergreen—didn’t even have a decent space-red light district. Space-God, they barely had a good bar scene on this place. It was almost as if—yes. “Tell me,” Flarf said, “has it consumed any other planets?”
Kananga shook his head. “Not as far as we can tell. It seems to simply be whizzing by them.”
Flarf nodded. Then it simply made sense. “Tell me, Kananga, why are you summoning this thing to this planet?”
Kananga blanched. “I don’t know what you mean, General-Commander.”
“You mean Commander-General. It’s an easy title to remember. The only people who would forget it are people who are trying to cover their own ass. Am I right, Doc?”
“I—uh—that is to say that—”
“Stammering, are we?” Flarf folded his arms behind his back and slowly approached. “Another sign that something is fishy in the state of Kananga’s head—by which I mean you’re trying to cover your own ass—by which I mean you’re summoning this thing with your witchcraft.”
“No!” Kananga slammed a fist on the terminal. “Science! I am summoning it by science!”
“Ha!” Flarf said. He flung out the space-electro-handcuffs, which cuffed Kananga. “I knew that would trip you up, Mr. Smart Man. Not so smart are you now, Mr. Smart Man?”
“But how did you know?”
“Never mind that,” Flarf said. He took out a space-dictaphone-recorder-device, put it on the tabletop with the terminal, and turned it on. “Tell me how you’re summoning it and why.”
“No,” said Kananga. He glared at Flarf. It was the glare of a man defeated.
“Yes,” said Flarf.
“Fine. I originally summoned it using the Mind-Reading device. I learned through my science experiments that if the Mind-Reading Device is turned up high enough, then it can be used to control thoughts and actions. Using the MRD, I convinced the Swarm-Horde and the All-Brain to come and consume Kreblon-V.”
“But why?” asked Flarf.
“Because I decided that I wanted to be a mad scientist. Ever since I was a young boy, I wanted to be a mad scientist, and, damn it, one has to live out one’s dreams at some point, doesn’t one?”
“Or two,” remarked Flarf.
“That’s incredibly stupid.”
“So’s your face, Doc,” Corporal Ames said from the doorway.
“Ah,” said Flarf. “Corporal Ames, good to see you. I suppose you heard Kananga’s confession.”
“Every damn word, sir. It’s like what we used to say back on my farm: When a headless chicken runs everywhere, you’d best get out the way less you want to get blood all over ya, then you can’t sit at the dinner table.”
“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Kananga.
“Wrong,” said Flarf. “It makes perfect sense. And now,” he took out his space-laser gun, “you traitorious scum, you will die.”
“Sir, that ain’t right,” Ames said.
“I’m sorry,” Flarf said. “What?”
Ames walked over and stood between Flarf and Kananga. “Sir,” he said, “you can’t go around killin people all crazy-like. That ain’t right. There’s gotta be law out here in the boondocks, and, sir, I reckon that as a branch of the armed forces, we gotta be that law.”
“You know,” Flarf said, “buried underneath all that callous, farmer exterior, you might just have a spark of the politician in you.”
Ames blanched. The politician was an even less acceptable caste back in Georgia.
“Yes,” Flarf said, “I think that, if you keep with the way you’re going, that big-breasted Betty-Sue of yours might just be First Woman of the Galaxy some day.”
Ames groaned.
“But enough of the future,” Flarf said. “We have to figure out what to do with the traitor. Doctor, will the Swarm-Horde continue on its present path?”
“Oh yes. Well, until it consumes the planet, that is. At which point, we won’t know what it will do, because we will be dead, digesting in the bodies of a trillion beasts.”
Flarf snapped his fingers. “I have it.” He pressed a button on his wrist communicator. “Sergeant Wilkinson,” he said, “I want you to send a detachment to the SSO to arrest Doctor Kananga on charges of conspiracy to kill the planet. You’ll find him space-hog-tied on the floor and the evidence in my space-dictaphone-thingy.” He turned off the communicator, pulled some space-electro-rope from his belt, and hog-tied the doctor. The doctor, throughout the process, squirmed on the ground and made threats like, “You’ll never get away with this, space jockey,” and, “I will have my revenge, by the burning suns of the Beetle Nebula,” and generally cackled madly, as those in his vein tend to do.
After the mad doctor was space-hog tied, Flarf stood and nodded. “One enemy taken care of. I’d rather blow his head off with my space-laser, but I suppose you’re right, Ames. Can’t go around blowing people’s heads off with space-lasers all willy-nilly.”
“Glad to hear you say that, sir,” Ames said humbly. That was it. If Flarf was bent on sending Ames careening off on a career of politics, shtupping incredibly attractive aliens, and Space-God knew what else, then, damn it, he would go about the whole thing with all the humility of a subsistence farmer back home. (This, incidentally, began the trend of space-wrist bands that were engraved with What Would a Subsistence Farmer Do?)
“Now, we fight.”
“Er,” Ames said. He looked around. The only other people in the area were a group of confused scientists standing in the doorway, peeking around the frame and muttering to each other in equations. “What do you mean, sir?”
Flarf shook his head. “You haven’t seen much in the way of action, have you, boy? What I mean is quite simple. Disgustingly simple, you might say. We get into a fighter, fly up to this Swarm-Horde fella, and blow its brains out.” Flarf made sound effects and motions with his hands to illustrate the process.
“Isn’t that dangerous, sir?” asked Ames.
“Oh, incredibly so. We might die, Ames, but, really, when you get down to the heart of the matter, what’s important is that the All-Mind dies. That pile of scum. That wretched heap of so-and-so.”
Ames took off his cap and scratched his head. “Sir, you know that I don’t know much. I ain’t what you might call a tactical thinker. But, well, we got them mounted laser cannons what fire from the ground and, I reckon, could peg a space-fly from eight parsecs away, don’t we?”
“Assuming the space-fly didn’t move for twenty-five years, yes.”
“Well, how come we don’t just fire that up at the All-Mind? Easy as pie, don’t have to run the risk of dyin.”
Flarf walked over with a sigh and clapped his hand on Ames’s shoulder. “Ames, you don’t have the experiences I have. Now, I know you’re all concerned for your Betty-Sue, but, well, do you think I got my plethora of medals by sitting around a firing control station and barking the word ‘Fire’ over and over again?”
“Well, no, sir.”
“Exactly. I earned my plethora of medals by flinging myself and my various brigades blindly at my enemies. Sure, I may have been inadvertantly responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 good troops and fighter pilots because I refused to take the safer route in battle, because I absolutely refused to fight from high ground, because I saw a vastly superior force and charged at them while screaming obscenities about their mothers, or because, unlike the cowards at the capital, I see allies as nothing more than enemies in waiting. Sure, they may have died because of all of that, but you know what’s more important than human life, Ames?”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Honor and glory. Those peaceniks in the capital might say otherwise but you and I? We know better. We in the military know better. The people under our command are nothing but hunks of meat to be thrown in the shredder in front of us so that we, the chosen, can fire the missile at the opportune time and take all the hope and glory.”
“Sir, permission to speak freely?”
“How the Hell did you get promoted to Commander-General by systematically losing every army you commanded?”
Flarf laughed. He didn’t laugh often, but when he did, he understood the importance of laughing. Cleared the mind—to a certain extent—so that the mind could be used more effectively to kill. “Because,” he said, “I earn glory when I fire the game-changing missile.”
Sergeant Wilkinson and his MPs (in their olive green uniforms with the Kreblon-V chimera on the front and their space-swords clipped to their black belts) teleported into the room. Wilkinson saluted.
“Wilkinson,” Flarf said. “There’s your prisoner. Take him to the prison and hold him until I return from blowing up his stooge.”
Wilkinson nodded, saluted, and began the process of booking the prisoner in the field—which, in Kreblonian terms, meant kicking the man until his ribs broke.
Meanwhile, Flarf turned to a terminal, accessed the KDF database and issued the order for the Space Division to ready their fighters for an assault on their attackers.