One More Day’s Light, More or Less
AUTHOR’S NOTE: My muse is crabby and apparently has PMS. She made me write this. I don’t argue with my muses.
Telemachus Rhade quietly moved to the middle of the small crowd that had gathered in the underground cavern. They were all clean and nicely dressed. He was very pleased that he’d had the foresight to bathe and wear clean clothing for the first time in six months, else he would have been horribly conspicuous in their midst. He pulled the hood of his cloak closer around his face so it wouldn’t be readily apparent that he wasn’t as vaguely Oriental in appearance as the inhabitants of Seefra-5.
There was a small fanfare and colored lights shone upon the small stage. A choir of six women in flowing black robes took their places to the rear of the stage and began humming as they swayed together.
There was a crackle of static, and a cheery voice blasted through a public address system. “And now…you know him, you love him! The Underground Lounge is pleased to present our very own charismatic leader, Burma Shave!”
There was scattered applause from the two-dozen in attendance as a slender man in his mid-forties soft-shoed his way into the spotlight. “Thank you, thank you! I just flew in from Seefra-1, and, man, are my arms tired!”
An off-cue rim-shot sounded in the background amidst polite laughter and applause as one of the choir girls held aloft a cue card that had the words “laugh and applaud” written on it.
Burma grabbed a glass of water from the stool at center stage and smiled at his audience. “Seriously folks, I have an important public service announcement for you. There is a troublemaker named Dylan Hunt who has been running commercials for a week now, commercials designed to scare your socks off.”
A couple of guys near the front lifted their pants legs and looked woefully at one another; their socks were gone.
“I’m here to tell you that Dylan Hunt is a big, fat liar-head. The sun is not moving toward Seefra-1. The sun is not chewing up planets in our systems as it moves toward Seefra-1. If you’ve been trying to call someone on Seefra-9 or Seefra-8, and haven’t been able to reach them, it’s not because the moving sun has incinerated those planets. Their communication systems are managed by Charter Communications, the leading provider of high speed cable Internet services, and someone has accidentally cut one of the main lines. Within 24-48 hours, a trained technician will have service between the planets restored.”
There was a unified sigh of relief.
“However, there is a traitor among us,” he continued darkly as the spotlight changed color to a dark maroon. “My very own sister, Ashael Shave! Come on, guys, bring her on out!” he exclaimed, waving two of his cronies forward from off stage.
A struggling woman with long dark hair was dragged into the spotlight. “Burma!” she cried out. “Please, not the spotlight. I haven’t had time to put on my makeup, and I just got new foundation from Mary Kay this morning!”
“Too bad!” he hissed at her, grabbing her chin to force her to look into the crowd.
Her dark eyes scanned the crowd. “I’m thinking of a happy place, I’m thinking of a happy place,” she chanted as her eyes locked with Rhade’s.
She’s attractive, he thought. And, the only chick I’ve seen since I got here. I better toss out a little of the ol’ Rhade charm, he decided, returning her gaze with what he assumed was a sultry look.
Poor man, Ashael thought, he looks like he bears great pain. I wonder if he’s constipated or suffers from some esophageal reflux disorder?
“Enough of your happy place chanting!” Burma Shave screeched, clamping his hands over her mouth. “I will hear no more of this heresy! You have conspired with Dylan Hunt, tried to convince people to leave our wonderful Underground Lounge and escape to Seefra-1 where a man called Harper has a bar. You’ve done all this under the name of sanctuary and salvation, buying into Hunt’s lies about the sun devouring planets!”
“It’s not a lie, and I’m not the only one who believes!” she protested, although with his hands over her mouth, it sounded more like “Mfff ggg alkj sfdh!”
He arched a meticulously groomed eyebrow. “Say again?” he asked, removing his hands.
“I said, it’s not a lie, and I’m not the only one who believes it!” she repeated.
“Yeah? Well, remember those three guys you convinced to leave?”
“I had them all killed. So, there!” he said with a grin.
She hung her head in sorrow. “Wow,” she whispered.
“See, technology caused all of this, my friends!” Burma crowed to the crowd. “Dylan Hunt used technology, which we have wisely outlawed here years ago, to broadcast those commercials that caused the fear. Charter Communications, while outrageously high in their residential service rates, failed to provide adequate telephone service between planets, thus adding to the allusion that the planets are being destroyed. Technology is evil, my friends, evil! Technology is the devil!”
“No, technology can be useful!” Ashael protested.
Burma shook his head, gesturing to one of the choirgirls to bring him a syringe. “Use this! It’s a deadly poison, and now you will die a long and painful death,” he shouted, plunging the syringe into his sister’s back.
“Ow, that hurt!” she shrieked, immediately going into a spasmodic seizure.
“Hey, that’s not nice!” Rhade yelled from the crowd, whipping back his hood to reveal that his hair was nicely combed and tied into a small Steven Segal-like ponytail.
“Who they heck are you?” Burma demanded.
“I’m Telemachus Rhade. I’ve been sent by Dylan Hunt to rescue whatever people want to escape the impending destruction of the sun that belongs to my friend Trance Gemini. At least, I think she’s my friend, or she might just have PMS. Anyway, your sister and three other guys wanted to leave the fabulous Underground Lounge, so that’s why I’m here!” he yelled, clawing the air with his fingers in a menacing way.
Burma rolled his eyes. “Lies! Take him away!” he ordered.
“Grrr!” Rhade yelled as three men dragged him away. “Grrr!”
“Now,” Burma could be herd saying, “Did you hear the one about the Perseid, the Nightsider, and….”
Rhade awoke in a puddle of drool on the damp floor of a jail cell. He sat up and pouted for a moment; his nicely combed hair was all messy and the ponytail had mostly fallen out of the rubber band holding it back. He also noticed that his nice, clean shirt was all ripped up. Darn it! Someone was going to pay for that!
He was just about to complain to the bellhop when he saw a guard escort Ashael to his cell.
“Hey, you’re not dead,” he observed brightly. This was good. He could still put the moves on her. Dead chicks weren’t good dating material.
“Nope, not dead. My brother gave me the antidote for the poison he put inside me. I’m okay now,” she confirmed. “Open the door,” she ordered the guard. “This man has two severe paper cuts, and if they get infected, he’ll die. My brother says he’s no good as a bargaining tool if he’s dead, so he sent me with this box of Band-aid brand adhesive bandages and some herbal salve.”
The guard didn’t question her and pulled an index card from his pocket. “Get back!” he ordered Rhade, waving the card in the air. “Get away from the door or I’ll give you another paper cut.”
Rhade scampered to the back of his cell. He didn’t want anymore of those painful paper cuts. They might make him handle cut lemons or salty potato chips again. Yikes! That really hurt.
The guard opened the door so she could step inside, and then slammed it closed.
“Remove your shirt,” Ashael demanded.
Rhade stuck out his right index finger. “The boo-boo is right here,” he pointed out.
“Remove your shirt,” she repeated.
“You don’t understand,” he protested. “The paper cuts are right there,” he said. “If you squint and the light falls on it just right…”
“I said take off your shirt, and I mean right now,” she said, stomping her foot.
With a shrug, he pulled his shirt off. She stood back and appraised him thoughtfully with a lecherous grin. “I really just wanted to see you with your shirt off,” she announced. “Okay, put it back on.”
He did as he was told. She slapped a Band-Aid on the paper cuts. “You’ll live,” she announced, handing him the box of bandages and something squishy in a lace handkerchief.
“Hey, I wanna ask you something,” he said, seeing that she was ready to leave and he hadn’t had a chance to put any smooth moves on her yet. “When we were in the Underground Lounge, it was like you were saying something when you looked out and saw me.”
“Oh, yeah,” she nodded. “I said ‘I’m thinking of a happy place’ and then I saw you.”
“What does it mean? Where is your happy place?”
“Uh, it means I was thinking of a happy place so I could escape, not that I’m making any cryptic message for you when I say this. My happy place is near the McDonald’s Playland, there’s a cave there, which is actually a cleverly concealed location for the Vedran chambers that tie all the planets together with a mystical teleportation device.”
She handed him the handkerchief bundle. “Think of a happy place so you can escape, if you know what I mean,” she said, winking broadly as she called for the guard to release her.
“Uh…yeah,” he said as he watched her leave.
He opened the bundle to find a box of Band-Aids and a Twinkie. He was starving, but still slightly disappointed to find that there was already a tiny bite taken out of the spongy golden cake. He took a huge bite and nearly broke a tooth on the key cleverly hidden inside.
He had to get rid of the guard. Maybe then he could escape to Playland, or maybe he’d just use the Vedran transport chambers and go back to Seefra-1. This rescue mission that Dylan had sent him on was completely bogus and he had better things to do.
“Hey, guard!” he yelled. “Do you know if they validate parking outside the Lounge?”
The guard shrugged. “Dunno.”
“Can you find out for me?” Rhade asked. “I left my slipfighter out there, and really didn’t intend to get imprisoned while I was here.”
“Yeah, sure, pal,” the guard replied. “It’ll take me about ten or fifteen minutes to go up to the administration offices and check with the manager there. Need anything while I’m out?”
“A glass of milk would be good.”
Rhade waited until the guard was gone and was happy to find that the key opened his cell door. He looked reluctantly at the Twinkie in his hand. A glass of milk would be really good with the cake, but he wolfed it down anyway and scampered off to the Vedran chambers.
Ashael Shave snuck around a stalactite. She had her overnight bag in hand and froze when she heard a sound.
“Rhade?” she called out.
Her brother, Burma Shave, and one of his cronies jumped out from behind a rock. “Boo!” he yelled and she screamed.
“Gonna meet your new boyfriend and use technology to leave this world?” he asked.
She looked downcast, shuffling her feet. “Yes.”
“You know technology is evil, it’s the devil, and it kills, right?” he demanded as his cronies grabbed her arms.
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”
“Well, here’s some technology for you!” he screeched, producing a syringe from his pocket and injecting her with it.
She immediately began to tremble and fell to the ground. Burma and his cronies ran toward the Vedran chamber. Moments later, Telemachus Rhade rounded the corner and found Ashael Shave weeping as she leaned against the stonewall. She was shaking violently.
“Hey, whatsamatter with you?” he asked. “I’ve still got some Band-Aids,” he offered.
“No,” she said through clenched teeth. “My brother…Burma Shave…injected me with something…I think it was the poison again…but he ran away…no antidote this time.”
He crouched by her side, wanting to give her words of comfort. “Uh, that Twinkie was really good. Did you know they come with keys inside? That’s how I escaped.”
She jerked spasmodically. “Erk! Ack! Hold me!”
He eyed her dubiously. “You’re not gonna hurl on me if I do, right?”
With a reluctant sigh, he took her into his arms, realizing this was probably his last chance to make a move.
“The pain! Make…it…stop!” she begged, beginning to drool.
He glanced down at her and shrugged. It was a very Nietzschean thing to do, and he was a Nietzschean, after all. She had no chance of surviving this poison; it acted quickly, and it was pointless to watch her writhe in pain. Remembering the remnants of the Steven Segal ponytail he work, he took inspiration from it, and quickly snapped her neck. Instantly, she was dead.
He stood just as Dylan raced into the cavern. “Hey, Rhade, how’s it going?” he asked, skidding to a stop.
“Failed this mission, got a boo-boo, and had to kill this lady,” Rhade replied.
Dylan looked at the dead woman and back at Rhade. “Uh, is that Ashael Shave, sister of Burma Shave? The woman who was our contact here?”
“Uh…yeahhhhhh,” Dylan began, taking a step back. “I passed Burma Shave in the hall, and he said to tell you that the syringe was a placebo---nothing in it but sugar water, completely harmless.”
Rhade looked at the woman and covered her face with her cloak. “Oops.”
He stood and jogged down the hallway with Dylan. “What’ve I missed since I’ve been here?”
“Trance is apparently evil or has PMS, we don’t know which,” Dylan offered quickly. “Oh, yeah, you might find this interesting. There are Nietzscheans in the system and they’re having high tea with Beka. Seefras nine through six are gone. That’s about it.”
“Okay, I was afraid I might have missed something really important,” Rhade replied as they entered the Vedran chamber.
Burma Shave and his cronies had captured Harper, who had stayed behind to fix a locked door while Rhade went to find Ashael Shave. He also had time to start a quick hand of solitaire to pass the time after he’d fixed the door. One of the cronies held a gun on Harper while the other finished his card game, cheating once or twice in order to win.
“Hey, that red eight goes on the black seven, not on the red nine!” Harper protested angrily.
Dylan shot the two cronies. A man’s card game was sacred, and that thug had no right to intrude on Harper’s hand.
Burma looked up and smiled. “Hi, guys!” he said brightly, waving. “Hey, Rhade, remember how I said tech was evil and that the moving sun story was a lie? I was wrong on both counts. Oops, my bad! Tech is cool and I’m going to Seefra-1—tee hee!” he said, then skipped off into the transport chamber, dragging Harper with him. The doorway exploded, leaving Dylan and Rhade unable to use the transport device.
Dylan frowned and leaned over the abandoned card game, putting the red eight on its rightful place atop the black seven. The red nine lay alone again.
“Well, I hope Harper’s not dead or in danger, Rhade,” Dylan said. “Let’s just assume he’s all right and hurry on back to Andromeda before Trance’s sun incinerates this place. We can wax philosophical on the command deck.”
Back on the Andromeda, Doyle, the android girl who wanted to be Rommie but wasn’t, confirmed that Harper was alive and well on Seefra-1. Rhade was getting a shower and a clean change of clothes, so all was well.
On the command deck, Trance was deciding whether to act good or evil when Dylan arrived.
“So, who are you anyway?” he demanded.
She smiled mysteriously. “My name is Puddentane; ask me again, and I’ll tell you the same,” she said, skipping away.
Dylan nodded. Well, at least that cleared THAT up, he thought as he watched Trance’s sun devour Seefra-5. He pulled a list from his pocket and marked through the third entry: evacuate Seefra-5.
He sighed contentedly. “One down, three more to go.
Seefra-4, ready or not, here we come to rescue you!”