I hastily closed the blinds to my seaside casement window. The last thing I wanted to see were the native rat-people singing on the beach. Every day was another of their pagan “holidays,” and the tourists flocked to their dances and bought seashells and whatever crafts those rodents pulled out of the swamps.
I’d like nothing better than to run every last one of them back to the pit they crawled out of.
The thing of it is, Dagobahn beaches are considered public property. Owning and operating the Dagobah Digs Resort & Hotel doesn’t give us the right to fence off the beach; we have to maintain it, however.
There have been a few… altercations… between the natives and my cleaning crews. They stopped coming by at night.
“Shall we see what kind of walking wallets Starlite Express dropped in our lap?” I asked rhetorically. My loyal Toady (one of the natives) bowed in lieu of the unintelligible squeaks so common to his (?) kind. That coarse, ear-piercing chatter was banned here.
Toady slid the door (paper thin with white canvas in the wooden frame) to my office and I stepped into the main foyer.
Fans rotated slowly overhead and the faint sound and smell of crashing waves blew in through the open veranda. The furniture had the texture of bamboo with Hawaiian-style patterns on the material; faux-Asian paintings hung from the walls. Some of the more well-rested guests were sitting peacefully on the sofas reading books or magazines.
One of the new faces stood right out at me. “Angus McGriddle,” I waved, making my way to the concierge desk. “How is San Serriffe?”
“Much colder and snowier than here,” he opined, taking in the ocean spray. “I’m surprised to find an actual beach. I thought Dagobah was all swamps, despite your flashy television adverts.”
“A common misconception! The swamps are much farther inland. If you’re interested in the marshes, we have an attraction called The Wolverine Experience that might interest you…”
“No, no, I’m quite alright.” He handed his luggage to a uniformed attendant, stretched, and bade me good day as he headed off to soak in the rays of Dagobah’s furious orange sun.
“Welcome to Dagobah Digs!” I shouted unnervingly at the remaining guests. Despite just blowing my nose, I shook each of their hands. “Welcome.”
“I’m Rachel Graye,” said a woman in her early thirties with short auburn hair and the most striking green and orange eyes. “I teach sign language at a community college in Pennsylvania.”
“My name is Kieth Powers. I’m an archaeologist-man interested in studying native cultural artifacts.”
I studied Kieth intently. What an ugly plaid vest. Why would they even sell those? What company would even make something so tasteless? My very expensive spider sense was tingling. “Do you regularly use a bullwhip for grabbing objects?”
He sighed. “Only about one in thirty archaeologists has an Indiana Jones-type adventure during their careers.”
“Sad to hear it. Toady! Attend the newcomers! It’s alright, really. Just settle in. The staff is trained to respond immediately. Yes, your rooms are prepared. I believe you have the keys.” Taking them on the boilerplate tour of the ground floor, I pointed out the major sectors: “Kitchen, dining room, library, rec room. Guest suites are on the second, third and fourth floors.”
“Are there any books in the library on Timu’s Love?”
For a split-second, the ears of every nearby staff member shivered; but they continued their duties as usual. The question was innocuous, but something about that Kieth still needled at me. He blinked too often, that must have been it. He did look like he had the galloping pink-eye.
“There are some legends… but they’re just primitive oral traditions among the locals. It’s not fully known—”
Kieth puffed his chest pompously. “That’s because the ancient manuscripts were burned.” An awkward pall hung over us. The Dagobahns did their best to remain unseen, but the cat was out of the bag now.
“Sir, this resort is not responsible for any ‘cultural’ —” I smirked, “—contamination that happened long ago.”
He fumed. “Resorts like this condone the theft of Dagobahn culture.”
“Sir, we brought the Dagobahns culture,” I hissed, barely audible. Those miscreants may have the IQ of children, but they have the eardrums of dogs. “When the earthmen arrived, Dagobahns were living in caves and eating slime. We brought them jobs. Medicine. We gave them a future.”
Rachel fidgeted uncomfortably. It wasn’t her fault; there was one of these humanitarian-types in every bunch. They seem to forget than humanitarianism ends with humans.
The self-righteous lack-wit finally turned in consternation, held his valise proudly, and, nose upturned, stomped up the stairs.
“Your advertising campaign was amazing,” Rachel started, breaking the awkwardness, “can you really find ‘immortality’ here?”
“Yeah, the commemorative plates with your photo are $35 each. Guaranteed never to break or fade.”
I had the nightmare again.
Those beasts, armed with machetes and guns, smashing down the front door. Tearing up the place. Butchering the guests. My loyal staff, helping them. Joining them. And then they descend on my office, shredding the door like paper. I’m at my desk… I never saw it coming. Surprise. Shock.
As they come for me, for a brief moment I can see the resort from the outside; it’s burning. I suddenly wake up, covered in sweat and baby powder. Is it any wonder the doors here all have deadbolts, and the windows, bars?
“They’ve gotten worse since Kieth showed up,” I remarked, peering through the blinds. He was there on the beach, talking to one of the rat people.
He’d been going to their village, in the swamps. Asking questions. Learning their forked tongue. I don’t like interfering with what my guests do…
He seemed to be getting on well with Rachel this last week. The two of them had had many discussions out along the beach. Maybe it was my imagination, but they seemed to know one another.
Maybe I need a vacation.
Rubbing my weary eyes, I walked over to my hand-painted portrait of Leona Grubber, the first human born on Dagobah. She was riding Dusty the moon-calf, her favorite multiped. The Grubbers still held sway in parliament. But they were on the wane.
I pulled on the corner of the portrait, revealing a hidden wall-safe. I never opened it anymore. No need to. For the last decade, this safe housed the “lost” manuscript of the Dagobahns: the tome of heretical folklore known as Timu’s Love.
I’d read it once. The story was this:
Long ago, many spirits fought for godhood over Dagobah. There was a Great War, with great weapons. The fires were so many and so huge that their embers reached the heavens, and scorched the sky; that’s where stars come from.
The strongest of these was Timu. A being of pure love, he banished the evil and greedy spirits to the sky, to spend the rest of time cleaning the scorch-marks they caused. For many years He ruled over the Dagobahns in a shining, golden age. Pax Dagobah.
For reasons unspecified (those pages really were lost), Timu left. The book said that one day, a Prophet would return to Dagobah to reconnect Timu with his people. And of course, Timu Himself wrote this book so His Prophet would be recognized and his temple rejuvenated. Because he loved the Dagobahns that much.
“It’s high time I removed this thorn,” I mumbled, remembering the combination. It was getting too dangerous to keep it here; Kieth and Rachel might be plotting, the staff could — would — probably tell them about the safe. And Angus vanished the day he got here.
Oh, God, what had they done with Angus?!
The tumblers creaked from disuse and age, and for a second I thought about just putting the painting back and re-collating expense reports yet again. The door clicked open.
The next thing I knew, I was face-down on the ground, registering the throbbing pain in the back of my head as I lost consciousness. I could already feel the flames, see the flashing machetes. Sensational…
The haze faded. I looked around… just barely. I was tied up with the chains used on snow tires, apparently. The rocky roof was rolling with dripping stalactites, and the smell of swamp gas wafted through the cavernous hall from a large hole in a (formerly) bricked-in staircase. Lining the walls were metal cages that resembled turbines, with arm-thick wires that raced to the raised area.
Dozens of Dagobahns lay prostrate before the raised platform. Two ancient stone bins on each end held the balls of flame keeping the cave heated and illuminated. A lone figure stood between them, his back to me; he seemed so familiar.
“You’ve gone mad with power, Powers!” I sputtered, struggling to wiggle my toes. “Let me go!”
The archaeologist spun around, saliva pouring from his distended jaw. The rumpled pages were clutched in his hands. “Still haven’t figured it out yet?”
He pulled a pink ball out of that god-awful plaid vest with his free hand, and tossed it on the ground. A pillar of yellow smoke rose in an unnaturally constrained column, then enveloped him. As soon as it tightened around him, the smoke dissipated, taking with it his facade.
“Karl Überdale,” I spat, “come to ruin my resort?”
“The Dagobahns have been looking for this place since the colonists sealed the entrance,” he said with a sick half-smile.
He gestured behind him, stepping aside to unveil a statue twice the size of a normal Dagobahn. It had a pained expression of timeless loss stained across its visage. But was really drew me in were the hands. They were a different hue than the rest of the statue, and seemed a little too perfectly manicured.
“The Hands of Artemis.”
“The very same,” he replied. “How they came here is a mystery. But my quest is now over.”
“It won’t work, you madman! Only the head could talk. The foot, the one Brad Pitt had — it couldn’t have helped you rebuild the head, you must know that.”
“You don’t need a mouth to talk,” a voice echoed beyond the staircase. A very sly Rachel Graye slunk into the chamber. She put on a strange display with her hands. “Sign language.”
“Sweet Barracuda of Bermuda!”
“Rachel here is an expert on ancient Greek sign language. One of the best in the world,” Karl beamed. “She’s going to help me talk to the hand. And then the other hand.”
I sat there helplessly as the erratic enchanter connected the final cable to Timu’s spine. The energy cost of reanimating a pair of hands to the point of consciousness was far greater than you’d need for a mere head. Ho ho! At least the head had a brain in it!
With a chirping sound, the Dagobahns ran to their exercise wheels. “Faster!” Karl shouted as sparks flew past the ceremonial pyres. Chasing after the parts of Artemis had left him a broken shell of his buoyant self.
What happened to the Karl I went to high school with?
“FASTER, mongrels! I am the Prophet of Timu!” he bellowed maniacally, “I am his Messenger! His Oracle! FASTER, and he will speak to you! Timu demands you run! PRAISE TIMU!”
I fell into despair. Karl had won. Power too cheap to meter flowed into the idol; the fingers! They twitched!
My fevered mind must have been playing cruel tricks on me.
There was something in the walls!
I pressed my ear up against the primitive masonry. Nothing. And then…
The room shook as a gigantic clenched fist broke through the wall with a deafening roar. Stalactites poured over us like acid rain.
“NO!” Karl cried, as a hail of the piercing dripstones slashed through Timu, cleaving the hands and startling the Dagobahns. As another rocky spear ripped through his cheek, Karl pointed at me accusingly and burst into yellow smoke.
“Traitor!” Rachel hissed, limping toward the staircase. Blood spurted from her leg.
“It’s Timu!” I shouted at the Dagobahns. Another hand shot through the wall. “The false idol has angered him and now he’s here to banish the nonbelievers to the sky!”
I don’t know how well those simpletons understand human speech, but it was as if a herd instinct took hold. Almost in unison, they stampeded the stairs, trampling poor Rachel into an auburn smear. A true tragedy — neither her nor Karl had payed their bills.
A burly, mud-covered monster crawled out from the hole, reached down, and snapped my chains right off! “Angus?”
“Don’t… think I ever had this much fun on San Serriffe!” the old inventor laughed, wiping the mud and seaweed from his face. “I… I was sunbathing, right? Then a tidal wave sweeps me out to sea. I’m dead, right? Nope, a whirlpool sucks me in. I spent a week wandering around these caves, eating mushrooms and drinking the nectar of the gods!” He held out a hand full of dotted fungi.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m itchy and I can’t stop dancing because it hurts when I stop,” he said, pointing at his bunions.
“Yes, well, it’s a good thing I finally found you. We can call off the dogs, then.”
“You were looking for me?!” Angus asked incredulously.
“Oh, yes,” I lied, “’Spare no expense!’ I told the staff. ‘Not while Angus is in danger!’”
He started crying. “What would I have done without you?!”
“You would have died in this godforsaken pit.” I walked over to the idol and pocketed the damaged manuscript.
He hopped tranquilly on one leg. “Take me home, mommy!”
“You signed a contract,” I said very calmly into the telephone. Poor Angus was becoming more and more acquainted with Dagobah’s labyrinthine legal codes.
“I don’t have that kind of influence!”
I leaned back in my genuine leather office chair, facing the window. The pale, rust-colored moonlight rippled on the Dagobahn waves.
“You agreed,” I reminded him, “to arrange for all McGriddle sandwiches to be wrapped in a Dagobah Digs brochure starting in Q1 of fiscal year 2010. I can sue you.”
“I can’t just waltz in—”
“You were waltzing when you agreed to our deal.”
“I was hallucinating!”
“Well, you still need to wrap those sandwiches with my brochures. I can sue you in Dagobah. And in San Serriffe,” I remembered, “I know judges there, too.”
“Well, you can go ahead and do that.”
“Hey, if you don’t do it, I’ll have my judge friends, you know, I’ll have them take away your driver’s license and give you a boating license. I’ll do it.”
“Well, that’s good, because I own a boat.”
“Then I’ll have them give you a dog license. For your wife,” I added rudely.
“My wife is dead and I don’t own a dog.”
“I’LL MAKE YOU OWN A DOG!” I shouted, and hung up the phone.
A slight chill pulsed through my veins. I looked down at the wastebin; the fire was dying. I tore another page out of the manuscript and let it float into the bin. For a minute I sat and heard only the crackle of the fire. Then I reached backward under the desk.
“I know how Karl got into my office,” I said, my hand resting on the laser cannon not even Toady knew about. I had been much more careless with the safe.
There was no sound, then. Even the fire waited with bated breath. There was the sudden clanging of objects hitting my hardwood floor, then the patter of little feet and the slam of my office door.
Swiveling around, I sneered over my desk: a machete, a gun and an ID badge lay in disarray before me. I tossed the remainder of the manuscript into the bin and walked over to the Grubber portrait. Timu’s melting, curling-up face had the same timeless pain etched into the idol.
“Ignorant savage,” I said, admiring the portrait. Exquisite. “You just can’t bring sunlight to the blind.”
A band of ruby moonlight shimmered over the painting. Then another…
“That’s no moon…”
My various expense reports were burning like twigs! The fire had leapt from the bin — my desk and curtains were aflame!
“Where’s the extinguisher?!” I screamed, searching frantically. Every room was supposed to have one!
I slammed the office door to try and contain the fire and ran to each room; none of them had an extinguisher. Having finished my office, the flames now shot under the door frame. Within seconds, the support beams in the wall gave way and the door imploded.
The flames must’ve hit a fuel line, because right then a firestorm streamed out into the main hall. “No! Noooooo!”
All I could do was stand awestruck as my livelihood immolated around me. The protective barred windows were now a white-hot deathtrap. Not even the asbestos in the walls and furniture could halt the onslaught.
“Help me!” I cried, sprinting to the front door, “For the love of God, somebody help me!”
I pulled the handle crazily, and when it wouldn’t open I pounded on the treated wood and enamel as hard as I possibly could. Even as the smoke overtook me, I fought, I yelled with burning lungs, I lashed out at that door.
Several of your favorite Heroes (or Villains) from all the Universes out there are competing for the dream job of a lifetime. Only the truly deserving will survive the boardroom, the others will be be fired. Who has what it takes to become The Company Apprentice?