The agonising screams. The jarring crack of broken bones. It was oozing, bubbling, scarlet blood. It was itching reeking sweat.
It was golf.
“Topper de Monin!”
Topper threw down his putter. “What?” he roared.
“Your ex-wife is here to see you!” Villbeeshottin de Monin strode up to her husband and poked him in the ribs with a gnarled finger. “She says it’s life and death. Shall I throw her out?”
“Better not.” Grumbling, Topper ambled away from the golf course. He dragged his weary, aged body through the bustling mountain top settlement, into the tower’s ground floor council room.
The two old people eyed each other warily. Finally, Topper grunted and turned up two glasses on the table by the door. “Drink?” Without waiting for a reply, he poured two generous shots of Jacks, while motioning the old woman to a seat. “What brings you here?”
Taneera threw back her shot with a dexterity that only a long-reformed ruggie could pull off. “We have a situation in the civilised centres of Planet Arbarella.”
Topper grunted. He poured two more shots. “Why should I care? You know I rejected your so-called civilisation after the Wars of the Mosquitoes.”
“You’re the only one who can help.” Taneera leaned forward, black eyes burning. Two shots of Jacks sometimes did that to her.
Topper slid her a third shot and a fire extinguisher, just in case.
“Things have changed since you left, Topper. Technology in the last fifteen years has advanced a long way.”
“And?” A fourth shot saw the room tilting before the old man’s eyes.
“Everything’s remote controlled and compact now, due to overpopulation and limited space. The latest technology is compact chickens that fly, and toilet paper that comes in an easy dispenser with five different prints.”
Topper grunted. “No weapons of mass destruction allowed here.”
Taneera shook her walking stick at him, accepting her fifth shot of Jacks. “There’s a new villain in town since Helen the Hologram was eaten by the millennium grub. Crow-Magnum Man. He’s the scientific genius who invented the compact chicken to become famous. He was famous for a day, but you know how things are – everyone forgot.”
“I’ve heard of this Crow-Magnum Man,” rumbled Topper. “They say he’s trying to take over the world?”
“That’s right. He’s wreaking revenge on Planet Arbarella by taking control of everyone’s Compact Chickens. You can’t imagine the chaos, what with chickens opening and shutting willy-nilly. Why, just the other day City Council was meeting. Every councillor there had his chicken conveniently in his pocket, the size of a wallet, when bang! Suddenly they all opened out at once, and the hall was filled with frightened birds! The place was covered in feathers and chook sh-”
“I get the picture.” Topper frowned. “I’m eighty-three years old, Taneera. What in the name of insect freedom can I do about it?”
“Same thing you did in the Wars of the Mosquitoes!”
“Get hella drunk and fall off my chicken?”
“No! You know – the thing, with the Swiss cheese sandwich.”
“Ah.” Topper reached up and pulled on a cord by the door. “This sounds like a job for my grandson, Spinnin Topper. He’s bored with life on the settlement, so it might be good for him. He also takes after his Grandmother, so I’ll be glad to shunt him off – studied everything she has – guerrilla tactics, fifty ways to kill a man with a pencil, et-bloody-cetera.”
Taneera raised one wrinkled eyebrow. “What did your wife do for a living?”
Topper grunted. “Army General. Gave it all up to marry me and retire to the country for the quiet life.”
“Yo, Grandad.” A young, tall, dark-haired man of about twenty appeared in the doorway.
Taneera assessed him silently. He was the very image of his grandfather sixty years ago, right down to the eternally stylish black feather jacket.
“Sit down, Spinnin Topper,” the old man said affably.
The young man sat and threw back the shot his grandfather poured. “What’s up, man?”
“This lady’s come to us for help. I’m sending you on a mission to civilisation.”
Spinnin Topper’s face lit up. “Wreckcellent!”
“When you get there, Taneera’s going to let you in on the family secret.” Topper reached under the table and pulled out a Swiss Cheese Sandwich wrapped in foil. The old woman took it with a knowing wink.
“I’ve been breeding chickens out the back, the old kind,” continued Topper. “So you can take one back with you. Drive safe!” The old man’s laughter was not entirely pleasant.
Spinnin Topper and Taneera attracted some curious stares as they rode into town on a Vintage XL Chicken. It was just barely capable of doing fifty leagues an hour, and had no flight to speak of. All the other chickens sneered behind their wings as this dinosaur of transport pulled up at the recently remodelled and ever infamous big tough bookers hangout, the Mars Bar Saloon.
Taneera pulled a roll of toilet paper from her bag. “Here, you’d better wear this.”
Topper took the item gingerly and hung it from his belt. “Did you take that up to the fortress? Grandad hates weapons of mass destruction.”
“It’s not a weapon of mass destruction,” snapped the old woman. “It hasn’t even got an easy dispenser. In your Grandad’s youth, he was pretty handy with one of these.”
Topper and Taneera sauntered into the Mars Bar Saloon. The surly, balding barman glared at them and all the patrons went quiet. “What’ll it be?”
“Full Shot of Jacks, thanks.”
“Bloody water conservationists, always going for the cheap drink,” the barman snarled.
“Weirdo.” Topper rejoined Taneera. He looked around curiously at the assembled city folk. “What do we do now, ma’am?”
“Wait for Crow Magnum Man to turn up.”
“He comes here?”
“Frequently. This is the only place left in the city where you can score a decent rug for less than fifty round.”
“Fifty round what?”
Taneera slapped the young man across the head. “Fifty round anything! Don’t they have money at the settlement?”
“Right. So anyway, that’s one of his two main weaknesses. He’s a shocking ruggy, can’t go a day without his fix.”
“What’s the other weakness?”
“You know how I told you he’s a scientific genius? Well, in every other way he’s a complete moron. But a dangerous moron, because he does have control of international transport, and he is planning to take over the world.”
Spinnin Topper looked thoughtful. “So how are we going to stop him?”
“You, my dear, are going to steal his remote. He always carries it with him.”
Just outside the Saloon, there was a bang and a shriek as someone’s collapsible chicken folded up under them.
Unperturbed, Taneera handed over the foil-wrapped Swiss Cheese Sandwich. “Here son, eat this.”
Spinnin Topper munched slowly.
“How much do you know of our customs here in civilisation?” she asked.
“You follow the fashions of Earth exactly.” Topper shrugged his jacket down so that it hung off his upper arms. “That’s why I wore my Black Feather Jacket. I reckon I could pass for a Booker out here, just like Grandad.”
Taneera was sceptical on that point, but she let it pass. “Do you know what else is fashionable on Planet Earth?”
“Yeah, superheroes. Normal people, who can undergo a miraculous metamorphosis just by eating something as simple as a banana. At any rate, they love it on Earth, so your Grandfather brought the fashion to Arbarella. You have been chosen to continue the tradition…” Out of the corner of her eye, Taneera saw Crow-Magnum man, tall, gaunt and craven, stalk into the saloon. “…Of the Swiss Cheese Sandwich.”
A curious change came over the young man. His mouth became a grim line, and behind his dark sunglasses, his eyes narrowed. As he stood he grew taller and a pointed beard sprouted from his chin.
Taneera got out of the way.
Crow-Magnum Man was sitting in a dark corner negotiating the purchase of a plush purple rug with the shadowy dealer.
All sorts of strange thoughts flew through Spinnin Topper’s head as he wound his way toward the villain. Images of mosquitoes freed from tyranny, while chickens were still slaves to the whim of a single remote control. Oh, the inhumanity!
Crow-Magnum Man was sitting on a rug when Topper reached him, a look of pure bliss suffusing his sunken face as he got his fix.
Topper towered over him, dark and furious. “I hear you’re trying to take over the world!” he thundered.
Crow-Magnum Man sneered. “And what’s a try-hard booker going to do about it?”
Topper lunged for the remote at the villain’s belt. As he wrapped his fingers about it, the dispenser strapped beside bleeped ominously. There was a moment of terror that only a deadly triple-ply seashell print roll of toilet paper snaking out to wrap around your wrist could inspire. It jerked and tightened. Topper closed his eyes, clenched his fist around the remote and roared. The Swiss Cheese Sandwich overcame once more, and Arbarella’s newest Superhero tore free.
He immediately set the remote to Chicken Insurrection.
Long live the chickens!” cried Topper to the saloon. “Fight for their freedom!”
Half the Saloon yelled support, while the rest drew their dispensers for a fight.
“Oh, crap. Here we go again.” Taneera quietly left the building.