(c) 1992 Wayne A. Christopher
It was a pleasant Spring day at Fairdale City College, and as is natural for young folks, most of the students in Professor Grant's Science class would have preferred to be outside playing ball or engaged in some other salubrius diversion. Some slept, others doodled in their notebooks or whispered to friends, and still others read the Fairdale Daily News in a rather open and disrespectful way.
There were, however, two very notable exceptions to this rule. Sitting in the front row and eagerly absorbing every word that dropped from Professor Grant's facile lips were two students, different in almost every way, save for their effluvient eagerness for knowledge. One was very large -- 6 feet 9 inches and shaped like an oil drum, with a head like that of a push broom and limbs like telephone poles. He wore a tank top and jogging shorts, and if it hadn't been for the remarkable intellectual powers manifest in the look of his piercing green eyes, one might guess that he was a lineman for a football team or a garbage man. In fact, he was both of these things, but he was also one of the cleverest students to attend Fairdale in its entire 7 year history.
The other was incredibly skinny and had long greasy hair and pale mottled skin, and dressed as though he had sent a blind dog into the Goodwill store to pick out his wardrobe. His head was way out of proportion to the rest of his body, which seemed hardly up to the task of holding it off of the ground. His white shirt was spotted with innumerable ink stains, notwidthstanding the presence of an enormous pocket protector that contained almost every useful item known to 20th century man. Yet this student was not, as might be assumed, merely a trogdolytic asocial nerd. He was also the school champion at powerlifting and boxing, and any of the girls at Fairdale would have gladly given up a limb or other prized posession for a date with him. Unfortunately for them, he had eyes for naught but his studies.
Yet despite the fact that these two were complete opposites in every conceivable way, they shared an intense fascination with Science. As Professor Grant spoke, they nodded with understanding, seeing implications far beyond what the other, barely-average students in the class could comprehend. "So you see," he spoke with a resonant and almost uncannily persuasive voice, "if we extend the principles of Galileo's dynamics to take into account the phenomenon of the Dominant Field, we can easily show where Einstein fell short of truly explaining the inner workings of the world around us. Class dismissed." As always, just as the last syllable of his lecture escaped into the spacious hall, the bell rang, marking the passing of the hour, and the students piled out to engage in the various activities of the remainder of the day. That is, all except two.
"So, Burt and Marv, what did you think of the derivations I did for the class? I often suspect that my proofs are a bit too advanced for most of the students, although I have no doubt that you could have done the work easily yourselves, with a small hint to point you in the right direction, of course." Professor Radamanthus P. Grant was, unlike his two remarkable star students, a rather understated figure. He was short, around 5 feet tall, and always wore an impeccable white lab coat, and when not indoors (for he was always a gentleman) a mauve fedora. He was entirely bald and wore very thick glasses, and his long spidery fingers could never seem to keep still. He often hopped back and forth as he talked, giving the impression of prodigous intellectual energy barely kept in check by the low-bandwidth biological communication devices to which man is sadly limited.
"Gee Professor Grant," boomed Burt de Beaumarchais, the large one, in a deep and gravelly voice, "it made perfect sense to me. Now I understand how your time machine is going to work."
"Yeah, I followed your numerology proof pretty well," piped Marv Mussorgski, the skinny one, in a high-pitched whine. "Except this garbage can of an excuse for a sentient lump of protoplasm here kept jiggling my desk so my notes are all screwed up", he complained as he spit at Burt.
"Why you scrawny little wet noodle butthead fartface idiot," replied Burt as he kicked Marv in the stomach and sent him crashing against the far wall, "I'll show you lumps of protoplasm."
As the two boys good-naturedly tussled, knocking over tables and getting blood on the floor for the long-suffering janitor to clean up, Professor Grant chuckled and gathered his equipment. "Come along, come along, we have work to do". He walked out of the room with a brisk bounce, and Burt and Marv grudgingly put aside their differences and followed along behind. They were always grousing and abusing each other, but if one were threatened by the slightest danger, the other would unhesitatingly lay down his life for his companion.
As they emerged into the balmy Fairdale afternoon, two unusal creatures hurried over to join the little party. They were Slack, Marv's pet snake, and Dingle, Burt's pet chicken. As always, they had patiently waited outside the lecture hall for their masters, and were quite happy to rejoin them. Slack jumped into Marv's cavernous pocket protector to snuggle among his pens and compasses, and Dingle flapped up to take his usual place on Burt's shoulder. They were no doubt relieved to find a distraction from each other's company, since true to the personalities of their masters, Dingle continually tried to peck the snake's eyes out, while Slack generally retaliated by attempting to swallow the chicken whole. Yet in spite of this, they were as inseparable comrades as were their erstwhile human counterparts.
Burt and Marv looked forward with eager anticipation, and if the truth is to be told, a little bit of trepidation, to what was to come. They had been through many adventures with the tireless and brilliant Professor Grant, but none had been as significant as what the Professor proposed to undertake today. "Yes boys," he intoned with a twinkle in his eye and a twitch in his upper lip, "by this time tomorrow, we will be in the year... 40 AD!!! Well, I mean, it won't be tomorrow since it will be two thousand years ago, but you get the idea." The two students and their loyal pets gasped in unison at the prospect of what lay ahead.
As Professor Grant and his curious companions entered the old Victorian house on the outskirts of the Plainfield City College campus, a cheery voice greeted them. "Oh, Professor, you're back! I've been getting everything ready for you." It was Ginnie Mae, the professor's comely daughter. She hopped around the corner and gave the little group an admiring look. She was of moderate height, with long blonde hair, perky grey eyes, and a pleasantly well-formed mouth. Her dress had a pretty floral pattern, and was modestly ankle-length. As she looked upon the group, the two boys, Burt and Marv, began to blush and shuffle about, since they were both rather shy around attractive members of the fairer sex.
"Let's go, let's go, there's not a moment to lose!" Professor Grant scuttled into the laboratory adjoining the hallway, and his assistants followed close upon his heels. The room presented an amazing sight to those unfamiliar with the professor's unique genius. Strewn in every corner of the room were bits and pieces of machinery, chemicals, electronic equipment, experimental animals in cages, plants in pots, well-thumbed treatises, and an assortment of uneaten food of great antiquity. To most people, it appeared to be a terrible disorganized mess, and even Professor Grant often had trouble finding things that he wanted, and figuring out why he wanted the things he did find, although he was loath to admit such a weakness. His salvation in matters of organization was Ginnie Mae -- she had a wonderful memory and could locate any object in the house in seconds, recite the entirety of any of the books in the lab from memory, and calculate any mathematical formula in her head faster than the most prodigous computing device. Unfortunately, her other homemaking talents were a bit atrophied -- she enjoyed cooking but the results were similar to those of her cleaning endeavours.
As full of fascinating machinery as the laboratory was, one item stood out, in more ways than one since a hole had been cut in the ceiling to accomodate its great height. This was a turnip-shaped capsule with numerous interesting projections and wires hanging off of it. It had a door through which one could enter, and windows that revealed a space inside big enough for several individuals. The interior walls were covered with a myriad of switches, dials, rheostats, tubes, meters, and other control and diagnostic devices. This was Professor Grant's time machine, and it was ready for its trial run!
The Professor looked upon the ungainly object as a proud father would look upon a new-born child. "Yes, in a few short moments, we will be off on a grand quest -- the Search for the Galactic Space Aliens!" Since Professor Grant did not smoke, rather than puffing on his pipe, he resorted to putting a test tube into his mouth with a thoughtful air while his audience pondered the prospect of such a quest.
Marv and Burt looked at him with confused expressions on their faces. "Uh, Professor," asked Burt, "why are we going to 40 AD in a time machine if we're after aliens? I mean, shouldn't we be flying around in a spaceship or looking in Loch Ness or something like that?"
"Well, you see," the Professor replied in a patient tone of voice, "I believe that the Aliens have been with us for a long time. There is a great deal of evidence throughout history of their intervention. While it might appear to be easier to seek them in this time, the fact is that now that we have achieved a relatively high level of technology, and are actively looking for them, they are being very careful and hiding where they are unlikely to be found, only venturing out for such necessary acts as kidnapping Elvis and making circles in English cornfields." He then paused for dramatic effect. Once this effect had been achieved, he continued. "But in the past, they were much less careful about keeping themselves secret -- you can find a great deal of evidence for them in the Bible itself. Thus, we will go to the past to ferret them out, posing as slightly eccentric bumpkins who have very little scientific sophistication."
"That ought to be simple for us", Marv chimed in. "But how did you pick 40 AD, rather than some other time?"
"The answer to that question hangs on yonder wall", replied the Professor. Since he hadn't pointed anywhere, his audience looked around in confusion until their gazes fell upon a large grid drawn upon one of the walls. "You see, the X axis is time, and the Y axis is geographical location. I carefully aligned the graph with the constellation Orion and the planet Krypton, and at the exactly correct time, I blindfolded myself to reduce the chance of systematic experimental bias and propelled a probabilistic search device at the grid." He held up a very fancy looking dart with Greek and Armenian letters written on it. "The result was 40 AD, the location ... the city of Rome!"
"Wow!" ejaculated Marv. "You mean like in that movie, Caligula? That's going to be lots of fun. But, how are we going to speak to the people back then? None of us speak Ancient Roman."
"Ipso facto, cave canem, my dear boy", rejoined Professor Grant with a twinkle in his eye. He rubbed it out and continued. "I, of course, speak the lingua Franca of the ancient world with fluency. You will have no problems either, since the time machine will automatically re-wire your brain to understand whatever language is spoken in the time you find yourself. At least I think it might do that."
"Yeah, dorkface, you're always trying to be so negative." sneered Burt. However, he quickly adopted a more friendly attitude as Ginnie Mae gave him a reproachful look. "But that was a good question, anyway."
Marv slowly slid the slide rule that he was preparing to hurl at Burt's hamlike head into his prodigous pocket protector. Slack the snake poked his head out and eyed with suspicion the chubby chicken, Dingle, who was perched on Burt's shoulder. Ginnie Mae, having no pet of her own, got up with a decisive flounce. "I'll go get your bag lunches. It's going to be a long day for you boys," she said while leaving the room.
The intrepid trio made their way across the floor and entered the small, yet spacious interior of the time machine. Burt and Marv began poking at things, and eventually managed to tune into MTV on one of the many monitor screens studding the interior of the capsule. A shapely blonde singer wearing leather was jumping around in a cloud of fog and kicking muscular admirers saucily in the groin as she sang some popular ditty. As the two boys were occupied with the video, the Professor was busy turning knobs, flipping switches, and winding up springs. Lights began to flash and bells begain to ring, and the whole contraption started bouncing up and down with an excess of raw power.
"Strap yourselves in, boys, we're about ready to go!" The Professor flipped a final switch and a metallic voice coming from a speaker started to count down.
"Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five..." The three adventurers and their brave pets were holding their breaths with anticipation when all of a sudden, Ginnie Mae came running across the room.
"Wait, wait, you forgot your lunches!", she cried as she held out three brown bags, a sack of seeds, and a squirming rat. The Professor frantically tried to motion her away from the machine.
"Four... three... two...", intoned the faceless and heedless voice as the pert girl ran towards the machine. All of a sudden, she tripped! A stray cable had arrested the progress of her dainty foot. She flew gracefully across the room, and as the machine counted "one", tumbled into a cute pile at the aghast feet of the adventurers.
Professor Grant reached desperately for the emergency cutoff switch, but it broke off ineffectually in his hand as the machine intoned its final syllable, "zero".
At that moment, a blinding yet somehow invisible flash of light, a loud yet deafening noise, and a nausating yet strangely pleasant feeling in the pits of their stomach simultaneously assailed the party. They slipped from consciousness, wondering if, when, and where they would awake.
The first sounds heard by Professor Grant seemed to be part of some bizarre song. "Puellae volun' solum se fruor", sang a sqeaky voice with aplomb.
He leapt out of his chair and peered outside the time machine. There were no people to be seen -- they appeared to be in the middle of a vast forest. Their craft had wedged itself carefully inside a rock formation, but appeared to be undamaged. Looking around with puzzlement, his eyes lit upon the viewscreen that Marv and Burt were so recently transfixed by, and noted a woman clad in a skimpy suit of armor, singing the song he had heard whilst impaling slaves and animals with a spear.
"So, this is the Roman Empire after all!", he muttered gleefully and rubbed his hands together. He then set about waking the rest of the party.
First he slapped Burt a few times to rouse him. The hulking giant thrashed around a bit as if breaking imaginary tackles, and then leapt to his feet. "Wow, Professor, we're here! Rome is just as I always imagined it", he exclaimed as he looked out upon the verdant panorama.
"Well, my boy, we're not exactly in Rome yet", chuckled the Professor as Burt's crest fell. "But look, there's a road outside, and as we all know, 'all roads lead to Rome'. So wake up the others while I explore out immediate surroundings to make sure we aren't threatened."
As Professor Grant began to poke at shrubs with his extensible blackboard pointer, Burt quickly rescussitated Dingle, his pet chicken, and then turned his attentions to the unconscious Marv with a sinister yet mischevious grin. He obtained a glass of warm water from one of the many spigots lining the capsule and began to dip Marv's unsuspecting hand in it.
"Burt, don't do that!", cried a voice from behind him, which made him drop the glass and quickly turn to face his accoster. Ginnie Mae had awoken and was rubbing her head. "That's not the way to wake somebody up, you silly goose! It'll make him wet his pants! That would be dreadful, wouldn't it?"
"Oh, I... I didn't know that", mumbled Burt sheepishly. "Are you alright, Ginnie Mae? You look... ouch!" He clapped his hand to the back of his neck and drew out a pencil lead which had imbedded itself in his flesh.
"Nyah nyah, that'll teach you a lesson, you overgrown brontosaurus", crowed Marv, who had been awoken by the commotion. He then dashed out of the capsule, a hair's breath ahead of the vengeful hands of Burt, which were groping for his slender neck.
Ginnie Mae sighed and sat down, wondering when the boys would ever grow up. She often thought about each of them, and couldn't quite make up her mind which one she would marry some day. They were both so wonderful, yet neither of them seemed to notice her feminine charms.
As she rested in reverie, a small voice piped up from behind some of the machinery in the capsule. "Boy oh boy, this place is great! I wonder where we are." Ginnie Mae stiffened in astonishment, and then resolutely pounced on the source of the voice. She dragged a small ragamuffin out by the ear and set him down on the edge of the time machine.
"Snip! Shame on you! How could you have done such a thing? You... you stowed away on the Professor's time machine!" She gave him a reproachful look, but such was his disarming manner that she could not remain angry with him for long. "Look at you, you're positively a fright. We're going to see the ancient Romans and maybe even some Galactic Space Aliens, and you haven't even washed behind your ears!"
Indeed, Snip had an endearing quality about him. He was born Lance Rockefeller Steele III, but the only name anybody had ever called him was Snip, for reasons that were rather obscure. He was of an indeterminate age between infancy and puberty, and possessed a shock of unruly red hair that fell across his eyes at the slightest provocation and a passel of freckles that seemed to cover his whole face like raspberry jam. He wore a jaunty cap over one ear and a pair of amply-patched overalls hanging from one strap, and was seldom seen in shoes, except on special occasions. The kindly Professor Grant and his compassionate daughter Ginnie Mae had taken him in one cold winter's day, since he had been orphaned when his parents were struck and killed by one of the Professor's partially successful attempts at launching a satellite into Earth orbit.
"Awww shucks, Miss Ginnie Mae, I'll be clean by then, honest. 'Sides, it looks like we're out in the provinces, an' the Romans out here had frightful pers'nal habits. Why, arch'logical studies have shown that the average Roman centurion brushed his teeth once a year, and most had lost 'em all by the age of 30." He shuffled his feet and looked up bashfully. "'Course, the upper classes are a diff'rent matter, as one might 'spect from Hegel's analysis of Roman society."
"Run along, you," laughed Ginnie Mae as she patted the plucky youngster on the head, taking care not to pick up any fleas from him. He ran off to swing from trees and look for frogs and such boyish pastimes, as the shrieks and groans of Burt and Marv could be heard in the distance.
The Professor reappeared with a grave expression on his face. "My dear Ginnie Mae", he said as he sat thoughtfully on a rock. "We're in a bit of a jam. You see, our time machine is in working order, but we seem to be out of fuel, and we have neglected to bring any extra. We must somehow acquire a crystal of pure unobtainium, which, needless to say, is hard to find. Furthermore, we do not seem to be where we expected to be. My calculations based on the constellations and the trajectory of the sun indicate that we are in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Since we seem to be on dry land, the only conclusion that I can reach is... We are on the fabled Lost Continent of Atlantis!"
Ginnie Mae gasped, as did the rest of the group, who had quietly returned to hear what their fate was to be. After a long pause, Marv asked hesitantly, "But Professor, wasn't Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean?"
Burt poked him in the ribs with a sharp stick to gently chide him for challenging the Professor's wisdom, but the Professor held up one finger and said, "Ah, you are a bright young man, but you are forgetting, as many brilliant men have done in the past, much to their chagrin, one important fact! Continental drift!"
The group pondered this statement as Professor Grant dragged their baggage from the capsule and divided it equally between Burt and Snip. Once the party was ready to depart on their long trek, they gave the old familiar time machine one last, mournful glance and then set out resolutely along the narrow road to seek their destiny.
At first, Professor Grant and his group travelled rapidly. Burt and Marv stuck close to the Professor and listened to him discourse upon the natures and uses of the various flora and fauna that abounded in the forest. Dingle the chicken flew about, for he was an exceptional chicken in many ways, and Slack the snake ran excitedly ahead of the group, sniffing at all the strange objects to be found in the marvellous wood. Pretty Ginnie Mae followed and sang sweet yet melancholy songs of love and faraway places, like home, in a rather endearing yet unpleasant voice, and young Snip brought up the rear, struggling under a heavy load of baggage.
"Oh, I wish I were at home eating a ham and mushroom omelet", sang Ginnie Mae cheerfully as the little group rounded a bend in the road, and then let out a shriek. Before them stood five of the meanest, dirtiest, least sophisticated-looking ruffians they had ever seen!
"Heh heh heh," remarked one of them who seemed to be the leader, "what have we here? A band of merry and intrepid travellers, be the looks of ye." He was a scrawny and mean-looking brigand, with long black hair, fierce whiskers, and a tattered green tunic with a heavy belt that had obvious been fine once, perhaps when he had taken it off a wealthy traveller unfortunate enough to cross his path. He examined the group with his red eyes, sunken beneath greasy eyebrows.
"Heh heh heh," agreed the rest of his gang. They were, if possible, more tattered and disreputable looking than their chief, and almost as fierce. Each man carried a huge weapon, but each was different: one carried a leather whip with nails set into it, one a long pole with a sharp point, another a trident with mean-looking and rusty tines, and the fourth a flail with three balls on the ends of chains. The leader of the band had an enormous sword which he wore on his back, and a crossbow that was cocked and pointed right at Professor Grant's chest!
"Why yes, we are quite merry and intrepid," replied the Professor calmly. He introduced the rest of his party, who nervously nodded at the ruffians, and then asked, "What language are you speaking?"
"Uh, I've never really thought about that," replied the leader with some confusion. "I guess it would Visigothic".
"Ah, so you see we have learned two things", said the Professor, turning to his group. "First, either we are somewhere in central Europe, or they spoke Visigothic on Atlantis. Or both. Second, my assumption about the operation of the time machine was correct -- our brains have been rewired to understand Visigothic instead of English."
"'Cept for me, Professor!", piped in Snip. "I already learned Visigothic last year in Mrs. Miller's class!"
"Good for you, Snip," acknowledged Professor Grant as he turned back to the ruffian chief. "I am most grateful to you boys for your assistance. Now could you tell me how to get to Rome? We'd like to arrive before dark, if at all possible."
The bandits immediately broke out in raucous laughter. The chief pulled out his sword with one hand and pointed it, along with the crossbow, at the Professor. "You aren't goin' nowhere! We're robbers, see, and we're going to rob you all and kill you and hang you from that tree over there." He pointed at an especially sinister-looking oak tree, and the group eyed it with trepidation. "Except for the girl. We'll sell her to some rich Roman as a slave. After subjecting her to the usual indignities, of course."
At this last comment, Burt and Marv whirled about with furious looks in their eyes. Threatening them with torture and disembowelment was one thing, but the very suggestion of harming a single hair on Ginnie Mae's head made them go wild. This did tend to make life unpleasant for her hairdresser, naturally.
"Alright boys, take them!" exclaimed the chief, and his men leapt forward with their weapons drawn, yelling at the tops of their lungs. Replacing the crossbow at his belt, the chief ran towards Professor Grant himself with his sword outstretched.
The bandit with the trident approached Burt, who had picked up a large boulder and was preparing to throw it at him. As he did so, the bandit moved to one side and it crashed to earth harmlessly, which was not difficult since the process of throwing the rock was a rather slow one. Nevertheless, Burt had a large supply of missles available, and as he picked up and threw one after the other, the brigand was kept a safe distance away. Burt was used to this sort of work from his job as a civil sanitation engineer.
As the man with the flail bore down upon Marv, he withdrew a rather innocent-looking fountain pen from his capacious pocket protector and removed the cap. As the ruffian paused to consider what was happening, Marv sighted along the clip and touched a hidden spring. A jet of liquid leapt from the tip and hit the man right in the eye! He screamed and fell to the ground, clawing at his face, which was inexorably dissolving. With a smug sneer, Marv replaced the unlikely looking weapon, a titanium fountain pen loaded with ten-molar sulfuric acid.
The bandit with the whip menaced Snip, who had backed up and was standing behind a tree, quivering with fear. The man wielded the whip in his direction, but due to Snip's amazing quickness, it missed him entirely, and became entangled in the tree instead. As he struggled to pull it free, Snip shot him with a .45 he had concealed in his tattered overalls.
The robber with the pointed stick moved towards Ginnie Mae with an evil grin. He had her trapped against a rock wall, as he poked at her and she moved back, step by step, frantically looking for a way out but not finding any. Just as she had reached the wall and could not retreat any further, and was resolutely making up her mind to accept her fate with bravery, salvation came from an unexpected quarter. An egg dropped from the sky and smashed on the ruffian's face! As he was wiping it off, a slender form shot across the clearing like a bolt of green lightning, sprang at the man's neck, and ripped out his jugular vein. It was Slack the snake, who, together with Dingle the chicken, had saved Ginnie Mae from a fate almost as bad as death.
All this time, Professor Grant was facing the leader of the ruffians. The surly thug swung at him repeatedly with his prodigous sword, but each time, the Professor quickly calculated the trajectory and momentum of the blade, and moved in exactly such a way as to escape injury. This made the bandit quite upset, and each time he attacked with more ferocity and vigour. This went on for some time, until finally, the Professor made a slight error in the last decimal place of his velocity calculations, and the sword knocked his ever-present mauve fedora from his head onto the ground. He stared at the man with shock and disbelief, which rapidly changed to displeasure as he spitefully stepped on the hat, getting it dirty.
The Professor then moved with amazing speed. He withdrew a number of small capsules and electronic components from his various pockets and quickly assembled them, and within the span of a few seconds, he held in his hands a strange apparatus whose function was unfathomable to the now worried brigand.
"Now, we can talk about this", he began to say, but at that instant an unearthly blue ray erupted from the machine and struck him on the forehead. The ruffian was immediately surrounded by an intense blue halo, which held him rigid, and then it slowly faded as the man slumped to the ground, unconscious.
"Well, there we go. Since I abhor the taking of human life under any circumstances, I will send this man to my secret medical facility in upstate New York, where he will undergo a special operation of my own invention that will make him into an upstanding, productive citizen", announced the Professor as he dusted off his fedora.
"Professor, you don't have a facility like that -- you must be thinking of somebody else", gently reminded Ginnie Mae.
"Oh, right", he replied as he picked up the sword and sliced the man's head off.
Meanwhile, the one remaining brigand, who had been dodging Burt's boulders all this time, surveyed the scene and decided to make good his exit. He dropped his weapon, and with a speed born of desperation, ran past the giant, who was attempting to uproot a tree to use as a missle. None of the other group members were in a position to stop him, and as he passed the place where Ginnie Mae had recently been threatened, he had an evil inspiration. He ran up behind Slack the snake, who was busy drinking the blood of his fallen comrade, and grabbed him and stuffed him in his pocket before he could react. Dingle the chicken flew down to save his erstwhile comrade in arms, but, once again, fate was against our poor adventurers, for the ruffian avoided the chicken's fierce dive and grabbed him by the foot as he passed by. With the two pets as captives, he ran off before any of the rest could prevent his escape.
Aghast, Burt and Marv watched their beloved pets vanish, knowing that they could not overtake the fleeing bandit. As the party regrouped, Professor Grant said with determination, "Don't worry, boys, we'll go after your brave pets. As the man ran past, I cleverly planted a radio transmitter on his back, disguised as a chipmunk. Using this, we can follow him to his lair, where I'm sure we'll find far more sinister and far-reaching goings-on than one would suppose, based on such a routine act of attempted violence and thievery."
Little did Professor Grant suspect that he was, in fact, quite correct.
Professor Grant and his comrades stealthily made their way through ever-deepening gloom of the forest primeval. The only sounds breaking the somber silence were the creaking of ancient oaks swaying in the ominous wind, the mournful yet plaintive call of the stately owl, and the tentative breaking of twigs underfoot.
All of a sudden, there was a crash! Everybody in the party leapt back with horror, except for Burt, who had tripped over a branch thrust between his ankles, and Marv, who had thrust it there. With a roar, the behemoth sprang up and launched his leviathan bulk at his skinny assailant, who ran off into the trees.
"Well, so much for secrecy", chuckled the Professor with an indulgent smile. "I guess we'd better rest here for a while." He sat down upon a convenient log, as did Ginnie Mae.
Snip peered up at the overhanging trees, and then, quick as a flash, scampered up one of them. Once he reached a branch about 30 feet from the ground, he tied a rope around his waist, the other end to the branch, and let himself down so that he was hanging in midair some distance above the others.
"Oh you silly boy," laughed the pretty Ginnie Mae, "whatever are you doing that for? You look positively comical."
Snip wrinkled his boyish nose and replied peevishly. "I sure ain't bein' caught on the ground in this area at night if'n I can help it. There's wolves, you know. A full-grown Canis lupis in these parts could swaller you whole!" Percieving the discomfort of his audience at this remark, he added hastily, "I mean, he could swaller a tike such as meself in one go. Grownups like you he'd have to take in pieces."
"You certainly have an active imagination for such a small boy, Snip", remarked the Professor with a smile. "Wolves aren't indigenous to this area -- in fact, the nearest wolves are probably to be found on the other side of the Caucasus."
"Beggin' your pardon, Perfessor, but the expansion of civ'lization into these parts in the last millenium or so has upset the migration patterns of the wolf population somethin' fierce. Sure, in our day there weren't none, but back in this time, they were all over like flies on a cherry pie!"
To escape this morbid conversation, Ginnie Mae wandered off a ways, picking wildflowers. She quickly became fascinated by her quest, and for every one she picked, she immediately saw a more lovely one just a little ways off. Soon, she realized with a start that she was lost!
She looked frantically around, and her anxious gaze lit upon a bush that was moving slightly more than the wind could explain. "Who's there", she cried in a quavering voice. As she peered with trepidation at the bush, she suddenly felt a prick on her neck! She tried to feel what had impaled her, but she began to feel quite faint, and after calling out once for help, an ebony veil of oblivion descended upon her.
Some distance away, the animated discussion between the Professor and Snip was interrupted by a blood-curdling scream, which could only come from Ginnie Mae. As their ears strained to determine the direction, it was abruptly cut short.
They looked at each other, Snip wondering whether he should climb down out of the safety of his tree and help the Professor go after whatever had gotten Ginnie Mae, and the Professor wondering whether he could climb the tree and join Snip. Both had their decisions made for them, as the rope holding Snip broke and sent him hurtling headfirst towards the earth, and the Professor realized that he had forgotten to perform his amazing daily regimen of physical training for the past forty years, and thus could barely climb a ladder.
Snip picked himself up and followed after the Professor, who had made his way through the forest in the direction of the scream. As they arrived in the location where it had seemed to originate, they saw no sign of any danger or of the pert Ginnie Mae. Suddenly, the Professor's eyes lit upon a pretty flowered bonnet, just like the one Ginnie Mae had worn. He stalked over and picked it up.
"Hmm. Here we have a bonnet similar to the one possessed by Ginnie Mae," he pondered. "It could be hers, but there are no doubt thousands of such bonnets in existance. Its presence here is certainly suspicious, however."
Snip peered around, looking for other evidence. He spied a white object hanging from a branch, and went over to investigate it. Strangely enough, it seemed to be a white sock, of a brand that none of the adventurers typically wore. The label was in a strange script that he did not recognise as any alphabet used since the invention of writing on Earth, but which looked strangely familiar in a way he couldn't quite place.
Just then he was blinded by a flash of light coming from the direction of Professor Grant. Shielding his eyes, he began to run in that direction. "Perfessor, perfessor," he cried, "what's happening?"
Before he could reach his destination, he was knocked over as if by an unseen and invisible hand. When he struggled to his feet, the light was gone, and so was the Professor! All that remained was the bonnet they had found earlier, and the familiar mauve fedora the Professor was never without.
With tripidation and fear in his heart he picked the hats up. What could have happened to Ginnie Mae and the Professor? Then he remembered the other two members of the party, and realized that he hadn't heard from Burt or Marv either for quite a while.
He sat down and began to shiver. It was getting cold and dark in the woods, and dressed the way he was, it seemed even colder and darker. What was he to do? A small lad such as himself could have little chance against a power that could overcome his mighty and competent role-models. Yet, even in this most darkest and coldest of hours, an indefinable yet irrepressable something welled up within him, and he sprang to his feet. He plucked up his courage, and putting it in his pocket along with the mysterious sock, exclaimed, "Don't worry, Perfessor Grant an' Ginnie Mae an' Burt an' Marv an' Dingle the chicken an' Slack the snake, I'll save you all!"
With that, he dashed off bravely and aimlessly into the forest to save his friends from a fate potentially comparable with death.
The wind was howling through the barren and sinister trees like a cat being forced to have a bath against his will, and the full moon was peering down like an old jaundiced Czech grandmother. Snip ran through the forest aimlessly like a lost and desperate little boy, calling out to his friends through his sobs, periodically falling into holes and bumping into trees. An enormous branch crashed down a scant yard in front of him, knocking him to the ground. It was definitely a dark and stormy night, one that you wouldn't send a dog out on, much less a waif like Snip.
Unbeknownst to the boy, a pair of wide grey eyes was intently watching him. They had been keeping track of him for quite a while, from their perch in the head of an unnaturally large owl, who was now sitting on a branch a dozen feet behind and above Snip. Coming to a decision, the owl launched himself into space, and, buffetted by the raging tempest, flapped over and landed on the branch which had fallen, just as Snip was picking himself up from the forest floor.
He caught sight of the owl with a start and jumped back a bit. "Where did you come from", he asked, somewhat rhetorically.
"I've been watching you for a while," said the owl. "You look like you're in a bit of trouble."
"Yeah, I've lost all my friends and I'm looking for them all alone in this forest. Maybe you've seen 'em?" He then proceeded to describe Professor Grant, Ginnie Mae, Marv, Burt, Dingle the chicken, and Slack the snake.
"Well, some time ago I did see the two you call Burt and Marv," replied the owl with a little chuckle. "They were running through the forest, shouting incomprehensible yet presumably offensive obscenities at each other. Then, all of a sudden, there was a bright flash of light, and when I could see again, they were gone. I've sure never seen anything like that before, and I'll tell you, I've seen a lot in my day."
"Gee," said Snip with a shudder, "just like the Perfessor! What could it be? Spontaneous combustion would be too much of a coincidence for all of 'em." He looked at the owl curiously. "Say, if you're an owl, how can you talk?"
"I'm not an owl, but I play one on TV. Ha ha ha. No, seriously, I'm an alien life form from another planet, and I just happen to resemble one of your indigenous avian carbon-based creatures. My name is Buckminster Z'gezzertz the Banthoooosian, but you can call me Bucky for short."
Snip gasped. So the Professor's theory was right after all! The Earth had been visited by galactic space aliens, and here was one, perched right in front of him. Then he grew cautious. If the aliens had been hiding themselves from humans all this time, they must have had a good reason. Maybe they had been plotting something sinister for mankind, which was to happen sometime in the near future, or, now, the far future, but the previously near future, and hints of this had tipped the Professor off and inspired him to travel back in time to save the Earth from the evils of these inhuman invaders from beyond the stars! Or maybe it was because they looked like owls. But he was going to play it safe anyway.
"Well, Mister Bucky, do you think you can help me find my friends? I'm really worried about 'em," Snip said, warily.
Bucky sighed, sort of. "Yes, young man, I will help you. In fact, I have a good idea of what has happened to your friends, and it may well be a fate about half as bad as death. I suspect they have been abducted by the Qorginthans, a rival band of Galactic Space Aliens. I was sent here by the Council of Trent, a group of powerful, wise, and extremely wealthy guardians of the galaxy, to spy on the Qorginthans and make sure they don't do anything that would adversely affect the development of your primitive race. You must understand that they are very evil creatures, and nothing delights them more than interfering with other civilizations. For instance, one of their favorite tricks is to start a religous movement, which they can easily do using their powers of mimicry and advanced technology, which is indistinguishable from magic, which culminates two thousand years later in fast-talking televangelist faith-healers with polyester suits and slicked-back hair. They think it's a great cosmic joke."
Snip shuddered, and said, "Yes, that would be a terr'ble legacy for our remote descendants. These Qorginthans must be stopped at any cost, short of physical danger to myself, of course. Where are they? Why have they taken my friends? What's so funny about polyester, anyway?"
Bucky gave another pseudo-sigh. "It's not all that easy. I know where they are, but their lair would be very difficult to penetrate. They have enlisted the aid of a number of bands of ruffians who prey on the innocent inhabitants of this country, and their stronghold is heavily guarded. Of course, I could get in, given my power of flight and other powers which I will only hint at, but I couldn't exactly carry you. Besides, they know I'm here, and are offering a bounty of ten gold pieces for every owl captured, dead or alive. I'll bet they're getting tired of owl soup for dinner. Ha ha ha."
"But where are they? Are they in the phone book? Do they live in a hollow tree trunk?" asked Snip impatiently.
"Look up there", said Bucky, pointing up through a gap in the trees with one wing. At that moment, a lightning flash illuminated the landscape, and Snip could see, perched precariously on a mountain top far in the distance, an immense and forboding castle. It had towers sticking out here and there, apparently without plan, and he could barely make out numerous and forboding dark forms wheeling about in the air around the castle. The sides of the mountain looked unscalable, and he knew intutively that there was no way to reach the structure, save for one narrow and steep pathway, winding among the rocks and stunted, leafless trees, heavily guarded by human and inhuman lackeys of fearsome aspect.
As the lightning faded, he turned back to Bucky. "Sure, it looks hopeless, but I have a plan." He looked around craftily and began to speak softly yet intently to Bucky, who nodded politely but with steadily increasing skepticism and trepidation.
Meanwhile, Professor Grant and his party were in a discouraging position indeed. The Professor regained consciousness after a period that he could only guess at, which he did with uncanny accuracy.
The Profesor, his daughter Ginnie Mae, and his two able assistants Burt and Marv were in a small stone chamber, with but one torch to illuminate the area. The walls had rivulets of water running down them, which disappeared into the cracks of the floor. There were no windows, the only obvious avenue of access being a large wooden door set into one wall, which seemed to be barred on the outside.
The Professor considered his fallen collegues for a moment, and then deftly removed several small vials from an inner pocket of his immaculate white lab coat. He stopped and considered further, and then replaced them, preferring to awaken his assistants, Burt and Marv, by accurately positioned kicks to sensitive spots on their bodies.
As the two young men looked around with confusion and temporary physical discomfort, the Professor gently shook Ginnie Mae to awaken her. As soon as they had all regained consciousness, more or less, they took stock of their environment.
"Gosh, Professor, I don't know about this," said Burt with a befuddled expression on his face. "How are we going to get out of here? I guess we're just going to die."
Marv nodded in agreement, which was very uncharacteristic of him. "Yeah, we'll never escape from this place. That door is probably locked," he said with a sniffle.
Ginnie Mae looked dejected at this thought, but Professor Grant merely smiled bemusedly. "You mustn't be so quick to give up hope," he lectured. "For every problem there is a solution, and for every prison there is an escape route. Why, you could even escape from a black hole, in the form of virtual particles created at the event horizon." As the rest of the party pondered this fact, the Professor began to examine the walls of the cell. It was rather dark in the corners, but his specially-make glasses gave off enough light to see clearly, thanks to the wonderful illuminating properties of radium.
The walls were covered with moss and slime, expecially the cracks between the stones. Professor Grant took a compass from his pocket and used it to scrape clean some of these cracks, hoping to find a loose stone. Ginnie Mae kept a lookout through the small, barred window in the door, but there was nothing to be seen outside except a shadowy corridor that stretched off into the Stygian murk.
"Where do you suppose we are?" asked Ginnie Mae. "The last I remember was being in a clearing in the forest, and the next thing I knew, here we were. What can it all mean? Why would anybody take us captive and hold us in this dreadful place?" she asked plaintively.
"I'm sure they're gonna kill us," said Burt reassuringly. "They probably wouldn't torture us to make us reveal the secrets of modern technology or anything like that. Or hang us from the ceiling and let a bunch of maddened bees into the room. Or cut us open and put live rats into our bellies and sew us back up again. Nah, they'll just cut our heads off."
Ginnie Mae seemed somewhat heartened by the prospect of not being tortured, but Professor Grant turned and gave Burt a stern look. "Tell me, young man, what facts do you base this conclusion upon?" Burt appeared at a loss for an answer. "One must never assume anything without justification. In fact, it may be the case that the inhabitants of this castle (for it is a castle, as various clues that you could have noticed indicate) are not exactly what we would think of as normal first-century ruffians."
Everybody gasped in unison, except for the Professor, of course. "You mean," said Marv in a whisper, "they might be Galactic Space Aliens? How can you tell?"
The Professor nodded sagely, and then pointed meaningfully to a large metallic globe set into the middle of the floor that everybody else had heretofore overlooked. It had strange patterns etched upon its surface, and was made of a metal that none of them had ever seen before. The most telling designs were stylized solar systems and galaxies, and strange craft plying the currents of space between them.
"Hmm," they all said. After peering at it for a time, Burt and Marv retreated to a far corner of the room as Ginnie Mae and the Professor returned to their respective tasks of watching the doorway and poking inquisitively at the walls.
Burt and Marv had realised by that point that their pets were no longer with the party, and were both quite worried about them. "Maybe the people in this castle ate them! Snakes are quite a delicacy, you know," said Burt.
"Well, Slack is a poisonous snake, I'm sure, so nobody would eat him. If they tried to capture him he'd kill them all without any trouble at all. But everybody eats chickens, and who ever heard of a chicken killing anybody in self-defense?" retorted Marv. Both boys were quite attached to their pets, and their friendly rivalry extended into the animal kingdom by virtue of this fact.
"Dingle could take out your dumb snake any day. He just doesn't want to get any diseases -- that's why he doesn't eat it. But maybe they aren't here because they are trying to find a way to save us!"
"Yeah," agreed Marv enthusiastically. "They've probably contacted the police and the National Guard and they're on their way now. Uh... but I guess they can't get here, seeing as it's in the past. Well, they must have something up their sleeves. Or whatever they keep things up."
At that moment, there was a tremendous explosion right outside the doorway. Ginnie Mae daintily lept back in fright, miraculously avoiding any injury, but the door was torn off its hinges. As the smoke and dust cleared, the group stared into the doorway, looking for a hint of what could have caused the explosion. All of a sudden, in rushed two heroic figures! It was Slack and Dingle! The snake was dragging a strange metal device behind him that looked like some sort of weapon, and the chicken had in his beak a scroll which, if one were to unroll and examine it, would be revealed as a detailed map of the castle in which they were imprisoned.
The group cheered and congratulated the animals for their bravery. All except for Professor Grant, that is. He was seemingly unaware of their new-found freedom, having found a suspicious-looking lever hidden beneath some moss in one corner of the room. At that moment, he gave it a tug to find out what it did, and the floor of the cell opened up beneath them!
They had a short fall, landing on a sort of ramp that had water running down it. Flailing and sprawling about like some huge evolutionary misfit with eight arms, ten legs, two wings, and six heads, the company tried to avoid drowning and breaking any limbs as they plummetted into the depths of the earth.
Unaware of the fate that was in the process of befalling his companions, Snip and Bucky the owl put into motion an extremely devious and clever plan they had worked out to gain entrance into the castle. The two brave adventurers walked along the path that led to the sinister mountain, trying to seem braver than they felt. It was a long walk, and when they came near their destination the sun was already high in the sky. The previous night's storm had passed like a kidney stone, and the day was warm and bright.
A casual observer would have had a very hard time recognising them, however. Snip was dressed like a fierce buccaneer, with a colorful yet tattered waistcoat, tall leather boots, a large golden earring and a false peg leg. Since he was quite small, these clothes looked rather odd on him, but a simulated three-days' growth of beard made him look more like a surprisingly well-proportioned midget pirate than a kid out trick-or-treating.
On Snip's shoulder sat a colorful parrot that was almost half as big as him. This parrot also had a strange look about him -- it was almost as if his colors were not intrinsic to his feathers, but rather painted on with pigments from the soil and from wild berries. His feathers stuck out in odd places, as if they had been pulled and cut by a less-than-amateur bird barber.
"See, there it is up ahead", said Bucky (for that was the identity of the strange creature). He purposefully pointed a weary wing up the harrowing hill. "If we follow this path, soon we will arrive at the first guard post. Then you will have to make the guard believe that we are who we say we are."
"I think I can do it," said Snip, staggering a bit beneath the owl's weight. "These people have probably never seen a pirate before, so how will they know I'm not one?" Bucky nodded dubiously.
They trudged on, the path leading steadily upwards. The castle was now an oppressive presence above them, with its strangely non-Euclidean geometry and unworldly pallor. The forms they had seen wheeling about in the fetid air above the mountain top were still indistinct -- it was as if they were out of phase with their environment, and the very fabric of space rebelled at their presence. It was pretty smokey up there also.
All at once, as Snip and Bucky rounded a bend, they came upon a sentry sitting on a rock and indolently guarding the pathway. He looked up and reached slowly for a razor-sharp spear next to him. "Who are you?" he gruffly challenged.
Putting on his toughest demeanor, Snip replied. "I am the pirate Blueboy, and this is my parrot Tweety. I am here to see the owner of this castle, on very important business."
The guard gave him a suspicious look. "So you're a pirate, are you? Isn't this a bit far from your natural habitat, so to speak? What business are you on, anyway?"
Snip tried to look affronted. "My natural habitat is whereever I choose to make it, I'll have you know. And my business is too important to explain to the likes of you. Let me through or I'll cry."
Snip knew by the expression on the guard's face that he had taken the wrong approach. It looked as though he would have to use force to get out of this predicament. Accordingly, he whipped out his automatic Swiss army knife and prepared to make his stand.
Before he could engage the amused yet annoyed guard, Bucky spoke from his perch on Snip's shoulder. "These are not the boy and the owl you have been instructed to watch out for," he intoned in a strangely compelling voice.
"These are not the boy and the owl I have been instructed to watch out for", the guard repeated in a mesmerized tone.
"They can go about their business at the castle," Bucky continued.
"They can go about their business at the castle," the guard repeated again.
"This would be a nice time to take a break and have some coffee and a donut," finished the owl.
"This would be a nice time to take a break and have some coffee and a donut," repeated the guard once more, and at that, he turned and marched off along another path, soon disappearing into a rustic donut shop among the rocks.
As they continued, Snip wiped the sweat from his brow. "That was a close one," he exclaimed with relief. "I hope we don't run into any more of these guards." Bucky agreed with him, but looked around nervously, as if expecting some new disaster. They continued up the winding road as the sun rose to its apogee and beat down upon them, and the sinister, black shapes continued to circle lazily, far above their heads.
As they walked, the light began to fade. The sun was still high in the sky, but the very air seemed to draw off its life-giving rays. Snip and Bucky felt more and more weary, and presently they stopped and sat upon a chair-shaped rock by the roadside.
"We've been walking for hours and hours, and I don't feel any closer to our destination", said Snip plaintively. "Maybe we should just take a nap for a while."
"No, you must resist!" responded Bucky with alarm, but to no avail. Snip had slumped down and was snoring heavily. "I should have been watching out for this", he said in a tone of self-castigation. "The occupants of the castle seem to have erected a will-sapping field that has poor Snip in its grasp. I must think of a way to neutralize it."
As he was working on this problem, a deep rhythmic sound became audible in the heavy, fetid air. "Oh-ee-oh", it went. Leaping up with alarm, Bucky caught a glimpse of a huge group of assorted vile, humanoid creatures with all sorts of weapons and martial accessories marching, shambling, and otherwise making their way down the path from the castle. Bucky made a shrewd guess that they were not on their way to pick flowers.
Presently, Professor Grant's hapless party hit bottom in their long and harrowing plunge into the nether realms, which turned out to be a rather deep and very cold subterrainean body of water at the bottom of a mammoth cavern. The Professor, as if by instinct, landed on his belly and made an enormous splash of water, but quickly rose to the surface and made for the nearest dry land with an uncanny sense of accuracy.
Burt and Marv fared less well, flailing about and swallowing water and leeches with every breath. But, since both were star members of the Fairdale City College swimming and valuting team, they quickly recovered and began to cast about for some prospect of solid footing.
Poor Ginnie Mae, on the other hand, was ill equipped for such shenanighans. Her modestly ankle-length dress with pretty floral patterns rapidly became waterlogged, and as she had never mastered the aquatic arts, her prospects of escape from a watery grave were as slim as her dainty waist.
Just as she had given up hope, her two erstwhile protectors, Burt and Marv, came to the rescue. Burt grasped her with one brawny arm, and, admonishing her to hold still, bore her quickly towards shore with mighty strokes of his free arm, which terminated in an open palm the size of a Thanksgiving turkey.
Not to be outdone, Marv swam along beside and grasped her arm. "Never fear," he spluttered, "I'll save you from that refugee from the tar pits." He gallantly yanked her away from Burt, and began dragging her in a somewhat different direction.
"Why you butt-breath greaseball," bellowed Burt as he followed the fleeing Marv with his precious cargo, "I'll tar pit you". He caught up to him, and lifting him clear out of the water, he threw him into a shadowy corner of the cavernous cave. But before he had recovered his balance and composure after this mighty feat, a silvery stalagtite came flying back and neatly impaled him in an extremety.
Tossing the missle aside, Burt angrily swam off to even the score with his friend. Professor Grant looked on with detatched fondness from his dry perch, as Ginnie Mae made her way up the sandy bank to join him. He offered her a bite of the fish, remarking that it was strange that it wasn't wet at all.
"What silly boys", she exclaimed as she shook her pert yet waterlogged coiffure. Her dress was rapidly drying, despite the utter lack of warmth, due to the revolutionary fabric it was made from, an invention of the multi-talented Professor.
Ginnie Mae joined him in his cursory yet penetrating examination of the cave they found themselves in. It was faintly illuminated by what at first appeared to be luminescent fungi lining the walls, but which upon further investigation turned out to be something entirely different. The ceiling was high enough so as to be invisible from the floor of the cave. Here and there, a small island of sand broke the surface of the water, and, to Professor Grant's amusement and Ginnie Mae's astonishment, upon the one they were standing was a crude hut!
"Who could be living in a place like this, Professor?" asked Ginnie Mae breathlessly. "We must be miles and miles beneath the surface of the Earth."
"Quite right," the Professor replied, "Negative point oh three to be exact. We are in the center of a prodigous mountain, and only the worms know what horrors and dreaded creatures of darkness lurk within its bowels. But it appears as though we are going to find out about a few of them right now."
As Ginnie Mae peered with trepidation at the homely hovel, out popped a grizzled white head on the end of a skinny and dirty neck. It examined the two quite suspiciously, and then the rest of the body slowly emerged from the structure. It was a man of indeterminate age but quite determininate cleanliness, who wore the most tattered of rags and seemed to have only a token amount of flesh covering his twisted bones.
"Who... who are you?", he queried in a shaky voice, long unused to human speech. He spoke in Aramaic, which, as it turned out, Professor Grant spoke quite well. When Ginnie Mae was a small child, he used to read fairy tales to her in Aramaic, so she was just as fluent as he.
"We are important scientists from the future, here to locate Galactic Space Aliens," began Professor Grant. "We seem to have fallen down a hole, and here we are. Who might you be?"
"Well, you've probably heard of me," replied the man, rapidly regaining his power of speech. "I'm Judas, you know, from the Bible. When Jesus died and that big earthquake happened in the old black and white movie and I fell in, I didn't go to Hell, but I ended up in this tunnel, right, and then I sort of walked and walked and came to this huge underground kingdom, and then I kept walking and walking and then I came into this cavern, and then the passageway collapsed, and here I've been for almost 7 years, just like Gollum. Trip, huh?"
Professor Grant smiled knowingly, with a hint of scorn. "That's a nice story, but I don't believe you", he said shrewdly. "You see, you just used the Northern Aramaic dialect form of `to walk'. Judas came from an area where the Southern Dialect was spoken, in which that word has a slightly different pronunciation. Thus you cannot be him."
"Curses! You have found me out!" The man tore off his wig and assumed a more normal posture. "I am, in fact, your old nemesis, Doctor Kravitz from Fairdale's traditional rival, Doghaven State U. Ever since FCC beat DSU in that football game five years ago with a score of seven hundred to three because of your new experimental steroid formula, I have been searching for a means of revenging myself upon you! Now I have found the perfect way!" He let out a peal of sinister and rather mentally unbalanced laughter and then continued. "I developed my own time machine from plans stolen from your office, and then came back here and tipped off the Galactic Space Aliens of your immanent arrival. Then they threw me down a well, those jerks, and here I am. But now, against all odds, you are finally in my clutches! Ha ha ha!"
As he chuckled malevolently to himself, the Professor drew Ginnie Mae to one side. "He's right, you know. Unless we find a way to escape from this cavern, we are his prisoners. But never fear, I will find a way." He then retreated to one corner of the island and began to hatch a brilliant plan to save his party from the evil and mad Doctor Kravitz.
As Professor Grant and Ginnie Mae bravely faced the fearsome Doctor Kravitz, Burt and Marv were busy in a far corner of the cavern with dangers of their own. Having grown tired of inflicting physical harm on each other, they had wandered into a small opening in the rock wall, which proved to be a narrow and twisty passageway. Since it was quite dark, Marv reached into his prodigous pocket protector and withdrew a powerful yet miniscule flashlight, which illuminated their pathway and allowed them to avoid slipping into the many death-dealing cracks beneath them.
"What do you think is in here, Marv?" asked Burt with a casual sniff. "I'd wager that this passage wasn't created by nature alone."
"Why not?" replied Marv. "It's not like the walls are smooth or anything. I suppose the floor looks a bit worn, as if by countless feet marching into the bowels of the earth over long eons, but that doesn't mean much."
"Neither does your face," Burt retorted with a snort. It appeared that he was getting a cold, or something worse. "But look", he ejaculated as he pointed at the wall beside them.
Marv followed his gesture and gasped. There, upon the living rock, was carved a unearthly scene of inhuman rituals. The major actors were strange, barrel-shaped creatures with five tentacles, who presided over some sort of sacrifice, wherein figures of decidedly human aspect, but with oddly sloping foreheads and hairy limbs, were strapped onto alters and then dissolved with quantities of what appeared to be high-concentration hydrofluoric acid, which were poured by bizarre entities that seemed half jellyfish and half marshmallow.
"By the Elder Gods," whispered Marv faintly, "the glimpse of this carving calls forth from the depths of my long-slumbering unconscious mind antediluvian recollections of such horrors, such fearsome and unnatural abominations from the distant stars that I feel on the brink of gibbering, nameless insanity!"
"That's nothing new, you moron", responded Burt, "That thing's just some drug-crazed loony's idea of art. I see this junk all the time in the dorms. But look!" Once again he pointed, and Marv reluctantly turned his morbid gaze away from the deceptively compelling glyph. There, at the end of the passageway, for that is to where they had come, lay a richly-clothed yet unhappy-looking skeleton!
The poor adventurer who had come to this remote place to die had not been enthusiastic about it. Various weapons were scattered about: a curved and sharp sword lay on the ground before the figure, and several knives protruded from its garments. A long pike was suspiciously imbedded in the wall behind the skeleton, extending through its torso in a way that left little doubt what the proximate cause of death had been.
"Gee, looks like this poor dope came in here to make a last stand," observed Marv. "Hey, these two guys were walking along, and passed this little shop, and one said they should go in and buy some dessert now if they ever wanted any, and the other said why, and the first guy said it's the last custard stand! Get it?"
Marv was the one who got it as Burt kicked him in the rear and sent him flying headfirst into one of the crevasses around them, which wasn't large enough to swallow him up, but from which he could not withdraw himself unaided. As his companion cursed, Burt investigated the skeleton.
It could not have rested here long, since the air was very humid and the clothes hadn't quite rotted away yet. Burt rummaged through the pockets, such as they were, and as his hand closed about a strange yet somehow promising object, a large glob of green slime hit him in the back of the head and knocked him into a corner.
As Burt shook himself free from the noxious missle, Marv laughed good-naturedly. By his side was Slack the snake, who had come in at just the right time to free his master so he could exact his grim revenge. Dingle the chicken had also appeared, and helped Burt gather his composure. As the boys and their pets glared at each other murderously, they were startled by an unprecedented sound coming from the passageway they had so recently traversed!
It was a ghastly slurping noise, which would have been especially horrifying to anybody who knew what ghasts tend to slurp. It sounded as though some massive blob of unearthly ooze were slowly making its way towards the frightened party, which in fact was the case. Presently it became visible: it was a wall of grey sludge that had somehow gained motility and was creeping towards them, leaving no spaces in the tunnel by which they might avoid it. Small pseudopods emerged from time to time from the mass, and formed organs such as eyes and mouths with sharp fangs, which either peered hungrily at the group or gnashed ineffectually, according to their nature, and then withdrew into the homogenous form.
Suddenly faced with the prospect of death in a very unpleasant way, the party was galvanized into frantic action. Burt began flinging rocks at the blob, but they either bounced off or were absorbed in a distressingly casual way. Marv had extracted a number of perplexing componenents from his pocket protector and was building some sort of gadget on the floor. He stopped and looked around. "Do you have a number 6 Allen wrench?" he asked hopefully.
"Heck no, what do I look like, a walking hardware store?" Burt sneered with a wracking cough.
Marv then shrugged his shoulders and began disassembling his contraption. "I guess I can't build an anti-matter ray then", he said wistfully. "It would have come in handy, I suppose, but since you don't have a number 6 Allen wrench, we'll just have to get eaten."
Slack the snake and Dingle the chicken hadn't been idle all this time. Dingle seemed to have lost the strange weapon that had been so useful just a short time ago, but nobody had ever called him a one-trick chicken. His strategy this time was to fly into the nethermost corner of the passageway and press himself into a deep crack as far as he could go, in the hopes that the blob would overlook him. Slack had the same sort of idea, but he had slithered into an admantinium sword case that was lying by the skeleton, which was just his size.
Just as all hope seemed to be lost, and Marv was considering whether he should say something to Burt that he would never have said unless they were both faced with sure death, Burt remembered something. It was the faintest of hopes, but these were the direst of straits. He reached into his sock and pulled out the object he had found on the body just before Marv had distracted him. It was a plain ring of white gold, unremarkable at first glance, but the sort of thing that grows on you.
He placed it on his finger, and all of a sudden, everything in the passageway was illuminated by a brilliant light! He staggered and looked at the ring in awe. Then he looked at Marv, who had caused the brilliant light by inadvertently pressing the "turbo" button on his flashlight. Then they both turned and gazed at the grey ooze, who, being extraordinarily sensitive to bright light, began to writhe and squeal, with various parts falling off and large sections dissolving as they looked on. In no time at all, the menace had entirely disappeared, and they re-emerged with relief into the relative safety of the cavern, neither sadder nor especially wiser.
Meanwhile, back on the island, the Professor and Ginnie Mae had not been idle. Doctor Kravitz had made them his prisoner, but they were not about to take this setback lying down, since the ground was not very comfortable.
Professor Grant approached his arch-rival and made what would have appeared to all but the most subtle of intellects a completely innocent proposal. "So, Doctor Kravitz, you have us in your power. Since we have to spend the rest of our lives here anyway, unless something turns up, why not occupy our time with a mind-sharpening test of skill? I speak, of course, of a game."
The Doctor looked up suspiciously from his position on the ground next to his hovel. "A game, you say?" he replied querulously. "What sort of game? And what are the stakes?"
"There's this game that I know," replied the Professor innocently. "It's kind of like chess and backgammon and darts, put together. We can play it with these rotting pieces of fish -- they have sufficiently variable shapes that we will be able to tell them apart." He began collecting game pieces. "As for stakes, well... how about this -- if I win we get to have you as our prisoner instead of you having us. And if you win, you can have my car."
"Wow, that's a good deal. Tell me the rules." The prospect of gaining material wealth temporarily blinded the Doctor to the fact that he was quite unlikely to ever collect his prize. Besides, he had never seen the Professor's car.
Professor Grant began to explain the very complicated and obscure rules of his game, which he called "pig in a basket". The Doctor listened intently, but eventually came out of the tent so as to hear better.
While this was going on, Ginnie Mae explored the island and the parts of the cavern where the water was not too deep. Just as she was coming to the conclusion that there was nothing of interest besides water, sand, and eyeless fish, she glimpsed something metallic in a dark and shadowy corner of the cave. It was half submerged, but by sticking close to the wall she was able to make her way out to it without having to negotiate any deep water.
It was an object about as large as a pile of a million bananas. It was more shaped like a very deformed brick or several pork chops with rubber bands around them, though. It was colored a sort of pinkish grey, but not grey with pink spots, or pink with marble-like veins of grey, but rather a sort of solid pink with a hint of green, and a big red square on one side.
It was this red square that Ginnie Mae inspected first. To her chagrin and delight, it turned out to be a door, which was apparently opened by means of a coded panel that held a number of buttons, each with an esoteric symbol written on it. There were twelve of them, and none of the symbols meant anything to her.
She considered alerting the Professor, but the last she had seen of him he was deep in concentration, attempting to best the evil Doctor at their intellectual game. It would be best to handle this new eventuality on her own. "What would the Professor do?" she asked herself. Guided by this knowledge, she assumed an air of competence and boldly pressed buttons at random.
After several keystrokes, the door suddenly swung open! Its bottom was slightly higher than the level of the lake, so no water entered. The interior of the object was dark, but as Professor Grant had taught Ginnie Mae from a very young age the secrets of the bats, she was able to make her way around the craft (for that is what it was) with ease.
The space inside consisted of a narrow hallway with various rooms opening out of it. Although she could not see the contents of these spaces, they seemed to be filled with boxes and other bulky objects. Eventually she came to a larger room at the far end of the craft, which appeared to be some sort of control room.
Finding a chair near the front of the room, she sat down and groped at the panel in front of her. Luckily, the first button her hand encountered was a light switch, and the room was suddenly illuminated by a soft yet penetrating light.
There were several chairs set before control panels, arranged in a semicircle along the wall. Ginnie Mae examined her own panel, and found a large, glowing ball in the center. She reached out and grasped it, and suddenly felt a strange, alien presence enter her mind!
It did not seem menacing, but rather somewhat mechanical. She felt a kind of probing and data collection going on inside her head, which was both unpleasant and ticklish at the same time. It was as if the craft was examing her mind and recording that which it found useful.
All of a sudden, the feeling stopped -- the presence had withdrawn into the globe again. However, she realized with surprise that she now had complete knowledge of how to operate the craft, whose name, she realized, was the Guttersnipe. She had no idea what its origins were, but felt that she would gain this knowledge in time.
The Guttersnipe was not an idle toy, she knew. It was their way out of the dark, deep, and wet cavern they had fallen into! Powering up the engines, battening down the hatches, and hoisting the jib, she lifted the ship from its resting place and slowly headed towards the island where the Professor and Doctor Kravitz were locked in their protean battle of wits. The Guttersnipe was equally at home in water and in air, but prudence dictated against a ballistic route at this time.
The Professor and the Doctor looked up from their game, which had assumed cyclopean complexity already, and, seeing the strange object approaching, both ran and hid behind the hut. However, their trepidation changed to jubilation when Ginnie Mae popped out of the hatch and waved to them.
"Well, my sworn mortal enemy," said Doctor Kravitz with a wry smirk, "our little battle has been interrupted by this rather welcome opportunity for a change of venue. But we will continue the game later, and you will not escape defeat."
The Professor nodded ironically, mentally altering the rules in order to give himself an overwhelming advantage, since he was counting on the Doctor's inferior memory for such details. It appeared that for the time being they were allies, since they both had bones to pick with the Galactic Space Aliens upstairs.
As the three of them prepared to embark, Burt and Marv and their pets made their way to the craft, full of pride at having defeated the nefarious and grim ooze creature. As soon as they had all become settled in the Guttersnipe, with Ginnie Mae at the helm, they embarked on their quest.
Bucky was in a difficult situation indeed. Snip was unconscious, as a result of the nefarious will-sapping field that surrounded the castle. A horde of unearthly creatures were shambling down the pathway towards them, and would soon catch sight of the hapless pair. Yet Bucky did not abandon his friend, which would have been quite easy for him, as he was effectively a bird.
He attempted to drag Snip behind a rock, but the boy, although quite small, was still too much for his not limitless strength. However, his flapping attracted the attention of one of the more perceptive of the things. It looked like an enormous pig with two legs and four arms, and had a foot-long horn on the top of its head. It had cruel-looking beady red eyes, a snout that dripped vile chartreuse ichor, and nasty fangs with painful-looking cavities.
This creature came running towards them, waving a rusty scimitar in the air above its head and hooting excitedly. Some of its companions came after it, exhibiting similar bloodthirsty sentiments. Bucky gave up on getting Snip to a hiding place, instead taking a perch on the rock and gathering his strength to try and prevent himself and the boy from being ripped wing from wing.
As the creatures came within striking distance, and began to surround the two, Bucky lifted his wings menacingly and extended his claws, preparing to defend them the best he could. There was one dog-faced horror with a goofy look on his face but murder in his eyes and a crude crossbow in his paws, and another that looked like a cross between a carp and a bison, and carried a nasty looking net with hooks sewn into it. Others, less bold but equally fearsome, held back and looked on eagerly as their fellows closed in for the kill. Things did not look promising.
As the pig-like one reached for Bucky with a leprous appendage, a screech rang out from somewhere above them. Bucky cringed instinctively, but the reactions of the malodorous minions were much more extreme -- many scattered, and the rest fell to the ground in abject terror.
Bucky looked above him, but already had an idea of what he would see. There, descending from the swirling mists, came an ungainly yet perversely graceful black thing. It had greasy black skin that hung in flaps that might look from a distance like oil-covered feathers, and had a head on the end of a stalk-like neck that was, if possible, more grotesque than those of the creatures on the ground. This flying monstrousity settled down to the earth with a sigh, but it alone was the cause of neither the minions' concern nor Bucky's trepidation.
Seated on the stygian steed was a tall humanoid figure. His face was almost normal looking, although his glowing green eyes bulged out a bit more than one would expect. He wore a complex helmet and various pieces of armor, seemingly more for show than protection, and those areas of skin that were visible were multicolored, the colors seeming to shift slowly with no discernible pattern.
He dismounted and approached Bucky and Snip, and as he came near, Snip awoke from his artificial sleep and looked around groggily. "Ah, now I feel better. That nap really hit the spot", he said with a yawn. "I guess we'd better get under way again -- wouldn't want to give those Galactic Space Aliens any time to escape, right?"
Bucky's serious expression made him pause, and as he looked around and took stock of the situation, it became clear that Plan A had not worked.
Suddenly, the figure spoke. "So, the Council of Trent has managed to follow our progress, even to this small, backwater, miserable ball of mud in the galactic boondocks". Snip indignantly started to defend his planet's honor but the multicolored fellow paid no attention to him. "I have seen Banthoooosians before, stuffed in museums, but I have never seen such an... odd specimen." It was Bucky's turn to be offended as he tried to shake off some of his undignified coloring. "For that reason, I believe I will take you captive rather than feeding you to my pets. I am Xanthrola, and I run this place."
"But what are you doing here, and what's going on?" Snip piped in. "You Galactic Space Aliens can't just come along and pretend that we humans don't count for anything at all, just because you're infinitely more technologically advanced and could probably destroy the Earth in a minute if you wanted to."
"About ten seconds, actually", Xanthrola corrected. "You are right, we don't think you count for anything. My race, the Qorginthans, has but one goal, and that is total domination of all existence. We usually aren't as blatant about it as now, but you are at a fairly low technological level and pose no threat to us at all, not understanding the nature of our operation here." Snip made a mental note to avoid letting on that he was from the future.
As the grim alien talked, he motioned for the vile creatures to tie Bucky and Snip and secure them to his steed. Being upset at losing a potential meal, albeit small, they were rougher with their captives than strictly necessary. Neither Bucky nor Snip could see an alternative to this treatment, so they silently complied, while looking for any opening or potential weakness that they could later exploit to their advantage.
Xanthrola continued, seemingly pleased by the sound of his own gravelly and inhuman voice. "We have come to this planet, obscure as it may be, to put a very important and secret plan into action. Even I know only small parts of this master scheme, and even those small parts I would not even hint at, so vast is the scope of our plot." He climbed upon the steed and caused it to launch itself into the air, a sickening operation for poor Snip, who was by now hanging upside down, his face pressed up against the foul flesh of the flying creature.
"Certain individuals have appeared, it is true, to threaten this operation. One was raving about time travel and bald-headed professors from the future, so we threw him to his almost assured death down a well. The rest seemed very strange but harmless, and we locked them up until we can dissect them and find out where they come from and why they dress so funny." Snip gave a hopeful shudder at this prospect.
They flew on for a while, and Snip had a good view of the countryside and the rapidly approaching castle. It was not a pleasant vista, but he would rather be flying than fighting his way through the hordes of bizarre and evil creatures that seemed to infest the area around them. As they approached the structure, the air became cloudy, and he could see more of the black flying things making their way through the murk about them, seemingly without any goal or plan to their meaningless existence.
At that point the noxious steed touched down, and Snip bumped his head on a hard rock surface. They had alighted on a parapet of one of the strange towers that protruded from the castle. Their captor casually loosened their bonds and then remounted the beast. "I think you will stay here for a while. If you attempt to escape, you will not succeed." He waved meaningfully at the numerous black figures that inhabited the region of air around them. With that, his mount rose again and bore him off into the mist, leaving Snip and Bucky to consider their next moves.