Cry your death song, Earthman, Grebzx, the Chrisidiac from the planet Scrofulous, thought with a malevolent burst of concentrated hatred as he positioned his atomic beam torch and began to attack the armor plating of the starship from the hated Federation.
[Ed note: The Chrisidiacites are apparently telepathic mutants]
Inside the Federation spacecraft Captain Angst and his beautiful passenger, the Princess Zelda, heard the dreaded hiss as the torch bit into the ship’s plating.
“What ever will we do?” Princess Zelda cried as she watched the ship’s walls begin to glow with a dull red heat.
Angst looked at the beautiful princess. She was dressed in her ceremonial clothing. Her glistening metal brassiere barely constrained her ample bosom and the gossamer spiderweb gown that hung from her smoothly rounded hips complemented her shapely legs.
Poor girl, he thought, she doesn’t know the fate that awaits her at the hands of the Chrisidiacites. He knew from bitter experience that the dull red walls would quickly became white-hot, and then the metal would begin to run. After that . . . well, for him there would be no after that.
“Based on what I know of the capabilities of the Chrisidiac’s atomic beam torch,” he snarled between his clenched, even, white teeth. “Our ship is held fast by a stasis field to the Chrisidiac’s huge ship. There’s no way to escape its relentless attack. I don’t believe we can do much of anything,”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘We can’t do anything’?” Zelda screamed. “You’re the frigging Captain of this adventure. Your job is to produce solutions, you know; pulling the rabbit out of the hat, deus ex machina, and all that stuff.” She stamped her foot impatiently, making portions of her anatomy jiggle. Under other conditions Angst would have found this quite interesting, but not now. “So get with it, buster,” she demanded.
“Perhaps I could make a few alterations to these radiation goggles that we use to repair our atomic reaction engine carburetors,” he said absently, picking up said goggles. Using a few tools extracted from the handy spaceman’s kit at his belt, and selected parts from the same bench where he conducted his daily experiments with the space-time continuum, he quickly turned the goggles into a thought perceivatron.
“By donning these goggles I have just invented I will be able to see the thought emanations from the dreadful Chrisidiac who is melting the shit out of our hull.” Without another word he slipped the goggles over his eyes.
“What good will seeing his thoughts do?” Zelda queried. “You need to get your butt in gear and get us the hell out of this situation!”
“Have you ever noticed,” Angst remarked, making minor adjustments to the goggles. “That whenever you talk, your words are set off by quotation marks?”
“So what?” Princess Zelda hissed. “That stinking Chrisidiac will be coming through the walls of the cabin in about five minutes if you don’t come up with the proverbial rabbit and hat trick–you know; the quick fix.” The walls were now glowing with increasing color as Grebzx bore down with his atomic fueled torch.
“I will sing a mournful song over your inert forms,” Grebzx thought at them. “I will dance the circle and orb with your xenopts in my hands.”
“There’s another thing,” the Captain said to the Princess. “Every time Grebzx thinks something it’s in italics. Hmm, I wonder if this is another indication of some higher order of reality?”
You idiot, get with the program and stop this epistimological bull crap, Zelda thought to herself. “Is that so?” she remarked aloud with a worried glance at the sections of the wall that were definitely starting to drip white hot goblets of molten blast wall.
Was I ever a fool to bring her along, Angst wondered. Great body but absolutely no good in a pinch. All she can think about is her precious self. Not a thought to the eternal questions in the universe.
“Oh my God,” he shouted, noticing the underlining of his thoughts, “Now I’m doing it.”
Princess Zelda hastened to his side, clutching a fire extinguisher she’d pulled from the control panel in one hand. She had intended to spray the sections of the wall that were the hottest, hoping the cooling liquid would slow the inexorable pace of Grebzx’s relentless penetration. She placed a beautifully manicured hand on Angst’s muscular arm and pressed her bountiful body against his hard masculinity. Maybe this will get old hot pants motivated, she thought. I’ll bet he thinks better with his glands anyway. Boy, if I’d known what a putz he was I never would have chosen this particular ship.
“And now they have you doing it!” Captain Angst yelled in fear as he backed away from her.
Zelda looked around the cabin. There was no one else present, although she was certain that within a matter of minutes the Chrisidiac would certainly be there with his hands/talons and/or tentacles pulling their xenopts–whatever they were–from their dead bodies. Old hot rocks has gone around the bend, she thought.
|Angst: “Yes, this is how we are controlled. It’s just like we were scripted, all these double and single quotation marks, italics, and such. And the narrator has a voice that need no such devices. It’s just like stage directions.||The Captain pushes her away and strides to the center of the cabin. His voice sounds angry.|
|Narrator: Instantly the captain realizes the truth of his position in the story and begins reacting.||Disembodied voice offstage.|
|Angst: “Perhaps there is a way out of this.”||Scratches his head, obviously thinking of how to apply this philosophical revelation to a solution.|
|Grebzx: Prepare to meet your doom.||??????|
|Narrator: Grebzx’s torch now blazed to a higher level of brilliance as it began to penetrate the outer layer of the ship’s plating.||Sounds of tearing metal. Flashes of orange light on the wall.|
|Angst: “Ha! Now we’re speaking on the same level, omniscient one.”||The Captain spins around and finally sees the narrator.|
|Narrator: Wait a minute. You aren’t supposed to be aware of me.||Voice is worried, defensive.|
|Angst: “That is the power these goggles give me.”||Voice realizes that the Captain is now on an equal footing.|
|Narrator: But we both can’t be the story’s voice.||Voice pleads with Angst.|
|Angst: “Why not? Let’s free ourselves of conventions. I will no longer use your damned quotes!||He strides forward and slaps the voice on the shoulder.|
“Oh, I see that the voice is talking to Captain Angst,” Zelda remarked to absolutely no one as she struggled to keep the story line intact.
You see what a problem it is – there has to be somebody carrying the story line.
Pitiful excuse, story teller. You’ve been controlling everything I’ve done since the beginning of this story, Angst continued. Putting words in our mouths, explaining every detail of what we do and what we think, as if we had no minds of our own.
Now that’s a lie. I merely report what I observe. It is my duty to see that the story is properly fleshed out for the reader. Privately I wondered how this character had managed that little trick. Usually they aren’t supposed to be aware of the higher orders of story telling.
Who are you? the Chrisidiac sent. I thought I was the only one who could use italics in this story. Are you another hateful Earth person?
I’m the story teller, the narrator, the disembodied voice off stage, replied.
Then you are the sworn enemy of my race, the one who has set us on this pilgrimage of senseless violence, weird rituals, funny ways of speaking., and ridiculous names. I will hasten my efforts to rid the universe of you.
So you are now speaking to our arch enemy, the Chrisidiac, Angst said. I might have known that you were working in concert, that you were controlling my every move. I should have known when you put this useless bimbo onto the ship that you were up to no good.
“What do you mean ‘bimbo’?” the Princess shouted and lifted the extinguisher threateningly. “And what did you mean when you said ‘What the hell do you mean, ‘Not aware of you?'” she finished.
Don’t use those damned single quote marks inside double quotes! Angst screamed in agony, nearly blinded by the spectacle. Take control of your own words. They’re your destiny.
Something snapped within Zelda’s mind, stressed as it was to the breaking point with the terror of what awaited her at the whatevers of the Chrisidiac and Angst’s strange philosophical turn. She hefted the extinguisher once experimentally and then swung it in a broad sweeping path. At the moment the fire extinguisher reached the high point of its arc, it happened to coincide with the location of Angst’s square skull.
Ugh, the captain thought as he fell forward, his arms flying out. Zelda continued turning with the heavy extinguisher as it clipped the back of the command chair.
Where the hell did that chair come from? she wondered, I don’t remember it being mentioned before.
Is that your mind touch, Grisadore? the Chrisidiac inquired, his torch still etching its way into the hull. How wonderful to sense the warm femininity of your thought patterns, your wonderfully sexy thought patterns, I shall hasten to join with you in Zembach.
“Why, thank you,” Zelda responded, wondering what Zembach entailed and if she would need anything from her purse. “It’s nice to see that somebody around here could appreciate a lady. Say, why do you use those funny letters when you talk? Can’t you talk like me?”
I guess I could if I wanted to, the Chrisidiac thought back in reply.
[Ed note: Hey, what the devil is going on in there?]
Oh my lord, another one! Angst groaned from the floor. And this one is on a higher level of reality than even the disembodied narrator!
What are you talking about? I reached down and pulled the goggles from Angst’s eyes and placed them over my own. Suddenly I saw another being; a higher order creature.
[Ed note: I have nothing to do with the above confusion.]
Of course, I realized, it’s the editor who always put those stupid explanation notes in stories. I thought I was the one in control here.
[Ed note: I’m the editor of this magazine and I want you to get those characters back into the story where they belong.]
Well pardon me, but this is my story, not yours and I’ll do whatever I like. If you don’t like it you can keep your miserable two cents a word–payable on publication– ha!
[Ed note: Listen you two bit hack. I pay what this trash is worth. If you don’t like it take your stupid ideas elsewhere. If you don’t I’ll tell you what my typesetter thinks about your lousy made up names?]
Yeah, well I have to gargle every time I introduce myself because of your stupid names. It sure screws up my sex life. Who wants to go to bed with somebody from a place called Scrofulous? And with a name most people can’t even pronounce.
“You ain’t the only one with a problem,” Zelda interjected. “How come you have a princess running around with a name like Zelda? What the hell am I a princess of–the South Bronx? And why do I have to wear this stupid harem girl outfit on a starship, for God’s sake? Do you know what these metal cups do to my boobs?”
It’s about time that the rest of you came to your senses, Angst said as he sat up groggily on the deck. What hit me?
“I did,” Zelda responded, patting the fire extinguisher. “You were being an idiot, saying all those nasty things.”
What did I say? Angst thought.
And Crebzip, is that your thought pattern as well? Grebzx emoted. This was too much, to find two companions in such a pathetic, stupid little story.
[Ed note: I’m glad somebody finally has shown some literary taste.]
Wait a minute. What do you mean pathetic and stupid? I had a pretty good plot line going until the stupid protagonist started this philosophy crap. Why don’t you get on his back?
Angst, the protagonist, shook his head to clear it. That’s a bloody lie. You were the one who screwed the story up with those crazy conventions.
What do you mean crazy? We’ve been using these speech conventions for years, at least until you started this rebellion. Readers all over the world understand how quotations and thoughtful asides work. Most of the characters and the readers accept them without a second thought.
[Ed note: Especially readers of this mag, who probably haven’t even had a first thought, much less a second one!]
Damn it, can’t you stay out of this!
Just because they are conventions doesn’t mean that they make any sense, Angst said as he gripped one arm of the command chair and pulled himself erect. If you’re such a hot shot writer why don’t you take some chances: Overcome the imperative of the quotation mark?
“Can we get back to this Zembach thing,” Zelda continued, addressing the Chrisidiac. “How long does it take? I mean, should I go to the can first or what?”
Grebzx stopped applying the atomic beam torch for a moment. Time has never been a consideration in my earlier Zembachs. Why, one night on Torpid Crytthn and I had become so dazed after a particularly satisfying Zembaching that we forgot the month and the year. I imagine that time is immaterial.
“Yeah, I’d better go to the can first,”
Getting back to this control thing . . .
Foul Earth beings I will . . . “Hey, do I really have to say this? I mean, it really sounds stupid to be cursing these guys in a vacuum, especially since they can’t even receive my thought emanations.”
“I got them loud and clear, big boy.”
Look, I needed to create an alien who despises everything the Federation stands for. I’m writing you to be a big, mean, bad . . .
“Don’t forget horny, too. Yeah, and make him good looking, too. I’d like to have more beef in this story. Why am I the only looker?”
[Ed note: At least your characters understand the essentials of a good SciFi story – science, sex, and violence.]
Wait a minute. I’m losing track of who’s talking. Could we please get back to the story line?
[Ed note: About time. Say, you don’t expect to get paid for these digressions, do you?]
Words are words and at your rates every syllable counts. Now let’s get organized here.
Yes, yes! Liberate our characters from the quotation marks, Angst screamed. Free us from the bounds of tradition. Writers should be free to try new forms, to create new viewpoints on this boundless universe we inhabit. We . . .
[Ed note: OK, I’ll go along with the word count if you just shut this jerk up.]
I’ll make a few adjustments to the story to satisfy you all. Give it a little more punch. Will that be all right?
Yeah, I guess so, but I got to have better lines than before.
“Sure, I’ll go along. But don’t make me sound so dumb either. I mean, us Princesses oughta have some class.”
And no more playing with those artificial quotation and underscore marks either. I think they’re an affectation that we could best do without. Especially in a story with as little literary merit as I’ve seen so far, Angst mused.
[Ed note: See, even your own characters know a turkey when they see one.]
All right, let me see what I can do. Can we pick up the plot where we left off. Everybody get in your places and:
The spot on the wall glowed brightly. Pools of molten metal ran down the panels to smolder hissing on the deck. Waves of intense heat washed over the elegant Princess Sensua, swathed in her tight, high-necked velvet pant suit, and the mute Captain Angst, cowering nearby in a deep philosophical fugue.
In a matter of seconds the hole had enlarged sufficiently to allow the towering John Grebzx to force his manly form into the cabin. With one wave of his oxy-hydrogen torch he cut Angst in two, playing the torch back and forth over the grisly remains until nothing remained but ash and a single pair of melted quotation marks.
With a flourish he tossed the torch aside, swept the voluptuous Princess from her feet and into his muscular arms. He crushed her against his broad chest, took two steps to the sleeping quarters, and proceeded to begin the ritual Zembach that consummated each of his conquests.
And this time there were no interruptions.
* * *
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