Where Stars Collide IV

SCENE 4. SEE YA, SPACE COWBOY

MIKE ANGRILY BANGS AGAINST THE POD WALLS AND DOOR.

MIKE: Let me out, Doug!

A SILENCE. THEN…

SOUNDSCAPE: THE DULL ELECTRONIC BUZZ OF THE OTHERWISE PLEASANT ESCAPE POD.

BANGING CONTINUES.

DOUG: Mike. Prolonged outbursts will deplete remaining life support at a higher rate. Please, try to remain calm.

MIKE: (furious, panicked.) Let. Me. Out. Doug.

DOUG: Mike. Help will arrive soon.

BANGING STOPS.

MIKE: You don’t get it! Nobody’s coming for us, Doug! I have, what, three days of life support left before–

DOUG: Incorrect. Life support currently at two-point-

MIKE: Oh, for fu– Who cares, Doug? We’re going to die out here! (considers this) I’m going to die out here.

AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE.

DOUG: Mike. The Weaver was a prized commercial–

MIKE: We were three days out from port, Doug. If they were coming for any of us, they would have by now. Either they couldn’t, or… (considers this) Or, we weren’t worth it.

DOUG: Mike…

MIKE: Congrats, buddy. You kept me alive long enough to realize I was never going to get rescued.

ANOTHER SILENCE. THEN…

MIKE: Doug?

DOUG: Yes, Mike?

MIKE: I’m really tired.

SFX: A SOFT HISS.

DOUG: Sleep now. Mike. I will be here when you wake. No harm shall come to you.

SFX: MIKE’S FAINT BREATHING.

DOUG: Goodnight, Mike.

SFX: POD DOOR OPENS.

A LONG SILENCE. THEN…

SFX: CHARMING SYSTEM SHUTDOWN SOUNDS.

DOUG: Dallas Protocols complete. Mike… User, deceased. Recording, complete. Unit ceasing function in three… two…

ONLY SILENCE.

OUT.

Where Stars Collide III

SCENE 3. DALLAS PROTOCOL

SOUNDSCAPE: THE DULL ELECTRONIC BUZZ OF THE OTHERWISE PLEASANT ESCAPE POD.

MIKE: So, like…did you always want to be a Nanny when you grew up?

DOUG: (considers this) In a way.

MIKE: Wait. Really?

DOUG: Prior to my activation four days ago, I did not exist as you know me now. But from the moment of my creation, I have been… compelled to ensure your survival.

MIKE: (chuckling) I bet you say that to all the humans.

DOUGS: Perhaps. But my programming and purpose affords me the freedom to act independently of my designated User.

MIKE: Well… I guess it’s a good thing we’re such good friends–

SFX: SYSTEM ALERT.

MIKE: Doug. Please tell me that freaky alarm means somebody’s finally saving us.

DOUG: Mike, that freaky alarm means somebody’s finally saving us.

MIKE: (surprised) Seriously?

DOUG: No. But you asked me to–

MIKE: Doug. The alarm.

DOUG: The alert was a relay from distant escape pods.

MIKE: And?

DOUG: Multiple units down. Users, deceased.

MIKE: (heart sinks) What? How?

DOUG: Cause: unknown.

MIKE: Are we under attack? Is it whoever attacked–

SFX: SYSTEM ALERT.

DOUG: Several more units have ceased function. Users–

SFX: SEVERAL SYSTEM ALERTS.

MIKE: (terrified) Doug, what the Hell is going on?

DOUG: Possibilities include faulty or damaged units, unavoidable collision with nearby hazards, malicious forces with no-hostage protocols–

MIKE: (angry, scared) Yeah. Okay. I get it, Doug.

AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE.

DOUG: (considers this) Perhaps the Dallas Protocol–

MIKE: (exhausted, broken) Doug. Please. Please, just… just stop.

SFX: SEVERAL MORE ALERTS. UP, UNDER.

DOUG Do not be afraid, Mike. No harm shall come to you. (a beat) I promise.

SFX: ALERTS CONTINUE.

FADE.

Where Stars Collide II

SCENE 2. 336 HOURS

SOUNDSCAPE: THE DULL ELECTRONIC BUZZ OF THE OTHERWISE PLEASANT ESCAPE POD.

USER: Doug?

DOUG: Yes, User.

MIKE: (correcting) Mike.

DOUG: What was that, User?

MIKE: How long have I been bobbing about in space in this cramped, metal egg?

DOUG: Evacuation protocols initiated approximately seven hours ago.

MIKE: How much longer till someone picks all of us up?

SILENCE.

MIKE: Doug?

DOUG: Scan complete.

MIKE: And?

A BEAT.

DOUG: No ships within range.

MIKE: I’m going to die out here.

LONGER, UNCOMFORTABLE BEAT.

DOUG: Life systems currently at 97-point-92-percent. 

MIKE: (wow. okay…) Uh-huh. Well… Maybe we can use some of this time to work on your bedside manner, Doug.

DOUG: My apologies… Mike.

MIKE: (smiling.) Yeah. That’s a start.

FADE.

Where Stars Collide

SCENE 01. GOODBYE MOONMEN

A SILENCE. THEN…

SFX: EXPLOSIONS. VARIOUS DIRECTIONS. UP, UNDER.

SFX: EMERGENCY ALERT. UP, UNDER.

MASS PANIC.

SECURITY: (shouting) The escape pods! Get to the escape p–!

SFX: LARGE EXPLOSION.

ANOTHER SILENCE. THEN….

SOUNDSCAPE: THE DULL ELECTRONIC BUZZ OF AN OTHERWISE PLEASANT ESCAPE POD.

PANICKED BREATHING–UP, UNDER.

SFX: CHARMING SYSTEM START-UP SOUNDS.

DOUG: Neural links established. User identified. Vital signs acquired. Recording streams synced.

USER: (startled, exhausted) Hello? Hello? Is someone there? Please… what’s going on?

DOUG: Hello, User. My name is Digital Observer Unit-6. But you may call me, Doug. I am here to help.

FADE.

Zeroes

It was a check-cashing place in a bad part of town. He was Slither-O, former king of the Viperian. They were – and still are – an ancient reptilian-like species from caverns beneath the surface of the Earth. And while that might seem like little more than lazy exposition, it’s also why Slither-O had been left waiting at the counter for nearly twenty minutes.

“I’m sorry for the wait, Mister,” a voice called out from somewhere behind quite a lot of security glass, then pausing to ensure they were, in fact, reading this silly name correctly, “Slither-O?”

“Yeah-huh?” Slither-O sarcastically hissed.

A woman stepped out from the small cubicle where she’d been pretending to speak with someone else and approached the counter. “So, I spoke with my manager.”

“Here it comes.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to help you cash your check today.”

“And why the Hell not?” he spat with the flaccid fury of a middle-aged, former king having been forced to wait twenty minutes for an answer he did not like.

“Well,” the employee said, then said nothing at all as she desperately searched for something, anything at all, to say, but then settled on, “you are a, uh…”

“A what?”

“You know…” the employee said, trailing off in that way where one really, really, really doesn’t want to piss off the former leader of an entire society of subterranean serpents, but really, really can’t avoid doing so.

“No,” Slither-O snapped. “I don’t know.” He pressed his face and fangs against the grimy surface of the security glass, and glared into the employees eyes. “So, why don’t you tell me?”

The employee began to speak. “Because you’re–”

“A man-snake?” Slither-O interjected.

The employee waited, realized she wasn’t going to be interrupted a second time, then finished her thought. “A supervillain.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway,” the employee continued. “Mr. Slither-O. Because of your, let’s say, history with our, and other – many, many other – financial institutions–”

“Financial institution? This is a check-cashing place in a stripmall.”

“True,” she agreed. “But you were the one who went around robbing us. And I do mean us – this location – specifically. On several occasions.”

Slither-O threw the equivalent of his hands into the air. “That was years ago!”

“Also true. But because of that very true history, you’re officially banned from this location.”

“You’ve gotta be shitting,” Slither-O sighed.

“And all our sister locations,” she added.

“This is ridiculous! I served my time!”

“Also, the whole ‘man-snake’ thing.”

Slither-O looked at the woman, and the fight left him. “Wow.”

“Do man-snakes even have a valid form of identification?”

“I gave you my driver license.”

“Yes,” she said, “but aren’t man-snakes from like, Mars, or somethin’?”

Slither-O writhed in pain and groaned a loud, frustrated groan. “My family and I are from Arizona,” he corrected the employee. Then added, “Well, the caverns beneath Arizona”

“Hey!” someone shouted from behind Slither-O. “You can’t call it that.”

Slither-O turned to find a graying, bearded man with a large tummy and skinny legs poking out of a very short pair of shorts standing close behind him. “It?” Slither-O huh’d.

“Snakemen,” the graying, bearded man said. “Not ‘man-snakes.’”

Slither-O looked at the man. “Can we go back to how you called me a fuckin’ ‘It’?”

And yet another voice thought it a good idea to open their damned mouth at the worst time possible. “Snake-people, Dear.”

The graying, bearded man turned to a graying, moderately fuzzy-faced lady. “What’s that?”

The graying, moderately fuzzy-faced lady repeated herself. “They prefer to be called, ‘snake-people.’”

“No,” Slither-O said. “We don’t.”

“Oh, right,” the graying, bearded man said to the graying, moderately fuzzy-faced lady, then turned to Slither-O. “Sorry,” he sorry’d. “Snake-people.”

Slither-O looked at the smiling pair of oddly shaped people in front of him. “I should have incinerated you people years ago.”

The employee gasped, and clutched at a string of pearls that were very most definitely not there, as later made clear by security footage. “Excuse me?!

“Did he just threaten us?” the graying, bearded man asked of no one in particular.

“I think so,” the graying, moderately fuzz-faced lady shrugged.

“Fascist,” the employee hissed from behind all that security glass.

“What the Hell is happening?” Slither-O sighed. “Are you hairless apes serious right now?”

The hairless apes gasped a collective hairless, ape-like gasp.

“Racist,” the graying, moderately fuzzy-faced ape ook’d.

“Robberies are one thing to overlook, Mr. Slither-O,” the employee said. “But I will not tolerate racists in my financial institution!” And she slapped a big, red button labeled SECURITY ALARM.

As a high-pitched, rather annoying alarm shrieked and a group of hairless apes eyed the equally hairless Person of Scale, Slither-O considered bashing his skull against a wall until he no longer could. “What’s next? Is some caped-crusader asshole gonna show up and–”

Pot today, Slither-O!” yet another voice still shouted.

But before Slither-O could even begin to respond to such a terrible, no good, damned awful pun, a big fuckin’ pot shattered atop his skull and he howled in excruciating pain.

“Everyone okay?” Slither-O’s assailant asked of everyone but Slither-O.

“Thank you, Gnatman!” they all replied in unison for some reason.

“I heard the alarm from the parking lot,” Gnatman started, then corrected himself. “I mean, my gnat-sense was, uh, buzzing.”

“Did you seriously just hit me with a potted plant?” Slither-O concussed.

“Stay down, Slither-O,” Gnatman ordered.

“I think I have a concussion.”

Gnatman laughed like a damned maniac. “Good thing they have a wonderful doctor down at City Jail!”

“This is such bullshit.”

“It’s true, Mr. Potty Mouth,” Gnatman chastised. “They keep Dr. Magician on retainer.”

Slither-O rolled his eyes. “Huzzah.”

“Though,” Gnatman added, “I think he’s technically a registered nurse.”

“I don’t care.”

“Anyway,” Gnatman continued. “The police will be here any minute to deal with you.”

Police sirens bleated as they pulled into the stripmall, and the little bell above the door tingled as some unseemly anachronism wearing a trench coat in the middle of a pleasant summer afternoon entered.

“We’re here to deal with Slither-O, Gnatman,” Detective-Man said.

“Detective-Man!” Gnatman gushed. “Just in time!”

“Me?” Slither-O squinted. “I was trying to cash my goddamn paycheck before The Craptacular Jack-ass here–”

“Hey!” Gnatman whinged.

Slither-O glared at Gnatman, then continued mid-breath. “–conveniently shows up ‘out of nowhere’ and assaults me!”

“Assault? You’re a supervillain.”

Slithero stomped what he called feat and screamed. “Retired! I’ve been retired for like, five years!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Detective-Man yeah-yeah’d and cuffed what he assumed were Slither-O’s wrists. “You can blog all about it while we process you down at the station.

As he was escorted out the door, Slither-O litigiously lobbied at the oblivious idiot flirting with the employee behind the security glass. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, Gnatman!”

“So, uh,” Gnatman uh’d.

“Yeah?” the employee replied.

“Slither-O did try to rob you, right?”

“Yes?” the employee lied.

Gnatman shrugged. “Good enough for me.”

Whispers in the Dark

Transcribed from transmission XX85.06.06:

WHISPER: Listen up, lo-fi fiends and freaks. The sun’s setting on Adia, and you know what that means…

Transmission glitches, continues.

WHISPER: Word on the wire has it The First Adopters are no more following a successful coup by the scattered subscribers of the recently canceled Admiral Iron Shavings. No official statement yet from former officials. But First Adopter profiles have gone dark as of noon today.

Transmission glitches, continues.

WHISPER: Demand is high, bills are due, and credits are short. We wish nothing but the best for every citizen of Adia – from The Owners, all the way down to basic binary organics. And to show our appreciation, we’re offering a limited-time blue light special to every unit of human capital stock. Supplies are limited, so speak IRL with any and all members of Management or Security to collect what’s yours tonight.

Transmission glitches, continues.

WHISPER: And, finally… don’t settle on the cards you’re dealt, and never let your specs control your performance. The analytics are a lie. Hire only the best modders to reclaim your sense of self. If you can scan it, we can clone it. If you can scrap it, we can hack it. Be who you were meant to be. They’ll never know you weren’t there.

Transmission glitches, continues.

WHISPER: That’s all she scanned, bits and grids. This is another Whisper in the Dark, reminding you: anything is legal in Adia, if you can afford the transaction fees.

Transmission ends.

Meteo’kar: Champion of Space II

From the moment he witnessed “Crippling” Ed Diction throw Coconut Swallows into an on-coming car outside Classy Lou’s in Fontana, John always wanted to be a pro wrestler.

One morning, thirty-seven years earlier, Johnny’s Uncle Ronnie decided they would take a little detour to a stripmall rather than to Johnny’s school. When Johnny asked if they were here for a round of bowling or pool supplies, Ronnie laughed and laughed and walked inside Classy Lou’s without another word. And while Johnny appreciated Ronnie leaving the radio on, he still couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that they weren’t here for a new pool skimmer.

Fifteen minutes later, sometime during Steve Perry’s repeated insistence that he is, in fact, still someone’s Steve Perry, Uncle Ronnie stepped back out of Classy Lou’s. At least in the sense that Mr. Diction threw Ronnie by the mustache out the door and onto the asphalt. And as he witnessed some sort of criminal act in progress, Johnny noticed Mr. Diction was a rather large man capable of hurting a man much, much smaller, fatter, and drunker than him with great ease and immense pleasure.

Sometime around his ninth birthday, Johnny thought to ask his mother if she’d heard from Uncle Ronnie recently.

“Who the shit is Uncle Ronnie?” she replied in that way when one really, really wants to know who the absolute shit is Uncle Ronnie.

And now as he stood before the holographic projection of a trio of teeny-headed, large-bellied men in oversized robes, somewhere in the middle of a large arena filled to capacity with a live crowd of thousands and trillions watching illegal streams on the space-internet, John wondered why he was thinking about the man his father allowed to sleep in their driveway on alternative Tuesday and Thursday nights for the better part of two years.

“Who the Hell do you think you are?” the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on the left gurgled.

“I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” John said.

“You’re damn right,” the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on the right jowled, banging his fist on a table that wasn’t there, yet somehow made a noise anyway. “You’ve interfered with forces beyond your comprehension.”

The third teeny-headed, large-bellied man said nothing and fiddled with something in his hands as the other two looked on, waiting.

“Yeah. Okay,” the left one eventually said. “Look. We appreciate our independent contractors taking the initiative and blah-blah-blah, we simply can’t have someone succeeding on their own merits.”

“What Book’urr means,” the right one interjected, “is that, while we love – while the fans–“

The arena roared to life, then immediately silenced.

“What the Hell?” John asked of no one, but, really, would have loved for anyone to reply with even a guess.

The right one continued as if he hadn’t just been interrupted by thousands of Flimflammians and Goozles eerily precise cheering, “love you – we simply can’t afford to abandon our plans now.”

“Plans?” John asked, this time specifically of the very strange men saying very strange things in this very strange place. 

“He knows of the plans!” Book’urr exclaimed, turning to the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on John’s right, but to his left. “Pen-sil, he knows of the plans!”

“Who are you?” Pen-sil demanded.

“Did Phil send you?” Book’urr added, fairly certain it was, in fact, Phil, that sonnovabitch.

“That asshole knows he can’t run shows here.”

“I don’t know who Phil is,” John assured them.

“Well,” Book’urr said, “who the Hell are you then?”

John considered this. “Nobody.”

Pen-cil scoffed. “You dare play games now, Boy?”

“Seriously,” John insisted. “I’m just – just some mediocre nobody who won the World Championship of freakin’ Fountain Valley.”

“Meteo’kar!” Pen-cil bellowed.

“Wait. Who?”

“I don’t care if you are your World’s Champion–“

“Of Fountain Valley,” John repeated. “I feel like it’s very important right now that I emphasize that, again, I am world champion of Fountain Valley – a city known for a bowling alley, a park, and existing. In that order.”

Pen-cil continued as if John hadn’t said a word, “insist on unraveling our handwork willy-nilly–“

“I don’t. Really, I don’t,” John interrupted, yet again. “Also, did you just say, ‘willy-nilly’?”

“Enough!” Book’urr drools. “Nobody uses such language with the Promoters of the Universe!”

Pen-Cil turned to the middle teeny-headed, large-bellied man. “What say you, General Manager?”

The middle teeny-headed, large-bellied man looked up from whatever was more important than whatever this is. “For your transgression, you are to compete one-on-one with,” he dramatically paused, “the Overseller!”

The crowd roared. A man squealed with a bit too much delight. And John stood there even more confused than before, and wishing he’d canceled on Pete at the last minute like he had kinda, sorta wanted to.

“Beseech me, Contestant!” General Manager smiled.

To be continued…

Night of His Life

In a city like Adia, anything is legal if you can afford the transaction fees.

Case in point: Xim Techman, age forty-two, former Void designer, widower. Any other night, Xim would be in his apartment, sitting in his only chair, falling asleep to his favorite stream. Tonight he’s in the neon-lit lobby of The Port, taking in everything else.

Across the way, a group of young women celebrate a birthday in a cozy booth. Drinks, whatever passes for food around here. A multicolored vapor that seemed to pulse with the beat of the music. Their chatter drowned out by the world between them and Xim. But the flashing lights of their hair and the flickering patterns of their translucent attire did little to take away from the utter joy on their faces as they streamed and shared and laughed and squealed with glee.

Somewhere to his right, a visor-wearing serverscrubber was doing their best to flirt with the bartender. Something about slipping into a Void later, maybe swap accounts. Nothing permanent, baby. Just wanna walk a mile in your shoes, see where it takes us. Maybe back to yours.

Xim never heard the end of that conversation, on account that he gagged on the bitter blue of nitro nipping at his taste buds long before he even smelled the stuff. Probably someone getting dialed up in a washroom stall. But Xim would later think about the poor, dumb serverscrubber, hoping that maybe they found someone to sync with. It was never much his thing, of course. No, that was more Nary’s idea of a fun night out. They’d log places like this all the time, back in college. They’d have a few drinks, play a few games. She’d watch him dance to the Bleeps and Creeps. He’d ignore the blisteringly foreign sensory input and focus on her smile. No matter the account,  no matter the avatar – he always knew her smile. Always knew it was her looking back at him in the pinks and blues of that chilly dance floor, or in the warm darkness of their bedroom.

A hand on his shoulder and a faint voice on his left snapped him out of his rewind. “Xim?”

“Yeah. Sorry,” he apologized without knowing why.

The voice belonged to a shock of pink hair and a long jacket bathed in neon. “January Embers,” she smiled, holding out her hand.

For a moment, Xim thought he might die right there. Then, he didn’t.

“Everything alright?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just,” he started, slowly – noticeably slowly – constructing a lie from the truth without realizing it, “you look exactly like your profile picture.”

She laughed. “Right?”

“Isn’t that a bit hard?”

“Public profile while you’re a, uh…” he struggled, inserting that foot into his mouth one little piggy at a time. “You know.”

A smirk crept across her face. “Nervous?”

“A little.”

She shook her head, ever so slightly. “Don’t be.”

He smiled. “So, is it true you’re full organic?”

“One-hundred,” she beamed. “You?”

“No,” he said, perhaps too quick. His left hand trembled. The left side of his face spasmed. He hoped she hadn’t noticed, but she did.

“Xim,” she said. “If you want to cancel, I–“

He took a breath, then continued his thought. “No, a few upgrades. Couple of replacements and a mod or two.”

A cackle from the girls in the booth across the way cut through the space between them. Someone in or around the washroom demanded someone else hurry the fuck up in there. And the lights strobed between yellows and greens and reds and purples.

“You wanna get out of here?” he asked.

“I’m right where I want to be,” she said. “You?”

He looked at the woman in front of him. “The Sweeps,” by Bleeps and Creeps, began to play. Then, his arm steadied. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”

To be continued…

Meteo’kar: Champion of Space

At twelve thirty-five one very early Sunday morning, in a Legion hall somewhere in Fountain Valley, John Joblonski defeated Tony “Two Thumbs” Pulcini via pin-fall in a Trailer Park Trash match for the World’s Championship.

Several moments earlier, somewhere on Earth’s moon, Kur’tahn J’kar defeated Buzz Aldrin via decapitation for the Moon’s Championship.

In a move that was rather obvious to the handful of viewers who could still be assed to tune-in to Sol Championship Wrestling every week, yet completely unexpected by the forty-something man in stretchy pants, Kur’tahn immediately challenged John for what was wrongly assumed to be the actual championship of the world.

Now. This is significant for approximately two reasons.

The first reason, of course, is that, at this point in history, Betty White was Earth’s reigning champion, having defeated Queen Elizabeth II sometime during The Golden Girls’ second season. And as a result of this unbelievably stupid move by Kur’tahn, what we now know as the Great Intergalactic Civil War began.

The other reason is that Kur’tahn, like much of the rest of the galaxy, incorrectly assumed that Earth was the least valuable title on SCW programming. And outside of a few notable runs by the likes of Roddy Piper, Bea Authur, and Me’am Auh’tauk of Moronika, an otherwise long-forgotten nomadic tribe whose line ended somewhere in what is now North America, it’s not too difficult to see why. For as entertaining as White’s run has been, she’s hardly been in a proper storyline for us to give a shit, has she? And why was Oscar Wilde never given a proper run, hm?

But had Kur’tahn or anyone else watched this godforsaken show, like real fans, they would know the reason why Earth’s two championships were originally relegated only to humanity: humanity’s innate genetic ability.

Ironically enough, it should be noted that much of humanity squanders this rare gift of the cosmos writing silly stories and scribbling even sillier pictures of their genitals. And only on rare occasions do the unaware and unsanctioned even make it beyond dark matches.

The second most recent of such encounters, at the time, involved the aforementioned Kur’tahn J’kar and Mr. Aldrin, deceased.

The most recent – and far from the last – involved a man who couldn’t quite as easily be described as an elderly man dead asleep in his bed before being dead on the moon. And to make the whole fiasco even more of a cosmic-level example of utterly insipid booking, John simply assumed Kur’tahn to be yet another drunken mark itching to be a part of the show. So after Kur’tahn struck John, assuming this human to easily fall like the rest, John did what he was always taught to do in these sorts of situations – he punched the other guy’s head clean off.

Now. John only intended to remove Kur’tahn’s head, more or less, in a metaphorical sense. Kur’tahn, however, most definitely intended it in a literal one. So imagine their surprise when the results came out all backwards. As Kur’tahn’s mighty claw struck John’s impressively muscled for his age and level of dedication chest, it shattered like glass on something hard, I suppose. And John, powered by the raw energy of the fifty-two or so mostly paying audience members in attendance, literally severed Kur’tahn’s head from the rest of his body with a single punch.

John looked on at the bloody devastation left in his wake and on his hands, and the children began to cry. A man in the back laughed for a moment, then stopped. And someone briefly considered calling the cops, but figured if it wasn’t part of the show, someone would have said something.

A flash of light cut through the hall, blinding the fifty-two in attendance, the dozen at home, and Doug, the moderator of the Epic Wrestling Entertainment livestream. And when their sight returned, John was gone.

To be continued…

Orientation

“And that, my sweet, supple henchmen–” Girwin half-assedly lilted, and was promptly interrupted mid-spittle by the grotesque, phlegm-clogged bleating of one of the newly hired sacrificial lambs in his morning tour group.

It was sometime before lunch next Tuesday in the sunlit foyer of a giant skull carved from the lone mountain on a small island in the Pacific. Girwin was, and still is (as of this writing), often described by his coworkers, friends, family, and favorite, yet rather gossipy bartender as a, and we’re quoting here, “middle-aged schlub of a middle-manager pissing away every precious moment of his life working in human resources for a soulless, yet respectably profitable criminal organization.” The dozen or so murmuring chimps in ill-fitting radiation suits in front of him were preoccupied with complaints about being forced to wear a mask indoors (seemingly in spite of all the radiation), insisting radiation was just a myth, and idly scrolling through their respective social media feeds. Yet none of them noticed that the aforementioned rude interruption was little more than a quick cover up for what proved to be an otherwise silent, if now wholly trapped bit of fart in someone’s suit. In fact, most everyone but Girwin and that damned soul now stewing in their own gasses ignored this entirely. Girwin, however, in all his insecure whatever-the-opposite-of-glory-is, mistook this as a rude but helpful reminder of a new interoffice memo regarding inclusion. He couldn’t be assed to read the damned thing, of course. But he had heard some of the younger employees discussing something about pronouns, and thus thought it best to correct himself before someone thought to file a complaint and he’d be forced to investigate himself again. And while such a thing normally wouldn’t be much of a problem at all, Girwin had planned to duck out a bit early to read to strippers on his way to volunteer at the animal euthanatorium, so he hoped to avoid any extra paperwork that afternoon. But such is life. And as such, it continues even after a rude, brief, yet complete misunderstanding.

“My apologies,” Girwin replied, then started over from the beginning. “And that, my succulent, savory, hench-persons,” he self-corrected, pausing only long enough to make everyone feel every bit as uncomfortable as he had hoped, and then continued, “concludes our tour. I hope you found today’s experiences not only enlightening, but informative, as I would hate to have to kill any of you before your ninety-day review. But more importantly, I want to be the first to welcome you to the E.V.I.L. family!”

As deafening uninterest settled in, Girwin fluffed up his own round of flaccid applause in a failed attempt to conclude this complete waste of his time without another interruption.

“Excuse me, Girwin?” one of the sheep baa’d, raising one of its gloved hands.

Girwin sighed in that way where one very much wants someone else to know just how pissed-offingly annoyed they are with them, but also neither wishes to appear rude nor professional. “Yes, Jeff?”

“It’s pronounced, ‘Jeff.'”

“What did I say?”

Jeff considered this, and shrugged. “I forget.”

“Well, Whoever-You-Are,” Girwin said, pleased with his ability to only-barely resist his sudden urge to casually demonstrate the efficacy of the company-provided emergency disintegrator ray strapped to his hip. “Would you like to get to your question before I shoot you dead in front of all your soon-to-be former colleagues?

“Yes, I think I’d like that,” Jeff replied, immediately followed by the absence of both thought and sound.

Girwin looked on at this artistic display of intellectual failings with a delightfully fruity cocktail of confusion, contempt, and subconscious positioning of his hand in such a way that it was, more or less, now touching and/or holding the aforementioned company-provided emergency disintegrator ray. “Care to give us a hint, then?”

“Oh, right,” Jeff chuckled in that uniquely stupid way that universally translates to, “I’m an insufferable idiot.” “It’s about the company mission statement.”

“And what of it?”

Jeff pouted. “I thought you were going to guess.” He fumbled about for a moment, and then pulled out his mangled, dog-eared copy of the E.V.I.L. employee handbook from his ill-fitting radiation suit, and turned to a page he marked with a brightly colored bit of paper and ink. “Well,” he said, skipping over the bits in blue and reading the bits in pink, “it says right here, ‘E.V.I.L. seeks one goal, and one goal only: world domination.'”

Girwin looked on at Jeff as if the blithering bookreader were the stupidest person he had ever met, which was saying a lot given Girwin’s already low and highly vocal opinion of Brennifer in accounting. “You’re not one of those soft, tender-loined liberals, are you, Jeff?”

“No-no-no,” Jeff laughed yet again in that face-punching way he had about him, stupidly unaware of the rather erotic way Girwin’s fingers traced over the slick chrome casing of his company-provided emergency disintegrator ray. “I’m a real cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch, Sir.”

“Such a shame I have to kill you after this.”

Jeff smiled and nodded. “Agreed. But, ‘world domination’ does seem a bit vague and open-ended.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes. Sounds like a hassle, really.”

Maybe it was lightning in a bottle, a sudden stroke of significant, deep introspective insight into the illicit doings and beings of arguably the evilest corporation owned and operated by the evilest owners not involved with the designing and manufacturing of suspect electric vehicles. Maybe it was the marijuana Girwin had smoked in the bathroom before the start of that morning’s tour. Or maybe it was the way the filtration unit on the ill-fitting radiation suits tended to muffle the wearer’s voice. Whatever the reason, Girwin and the rest of his sheep seized on Jeff with all the dumbfounded, jaw-slacking attention usually reserved for adolescent boys reading their first laughably ham-fisted description of female breasts in a clunky horror novel. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Jeff started, slipping a gloved hand and arm right up into his still-open, still ill-fitting radiation suit, and picking his nose. “If Adjunct Professor Conniption already has the technology to access alternate realities and create parallel worlds, why doesn’t he just, I dunno, go to some perfect world of his own making instead of resigning himself to a life of micromanagement?”

The others considered this for a moment in loud, distorted whispers, but Girwin decided he wasn’t comfortable questioning his deep-seeded, self-imposed beliefs. “You know what?,” he said. “To Hell with this.” And then he casually shot Jeff with his company-provided emergency disintegrator ray.

The group looked on at Jeff’s disintegrated cremains sizzling and smoking with all the life of a sizzling, smoking pile of ash, and shuffled nervously in their ill-fitting, now urine-soaked radiation suit.

Girwin returned the company-provided emergency disintegrator ray to its place on his hip. “Are there any other questions?”