It’s nearly that most special night of the year: when a gluttonous master of dark magic will invade our homes to grease the palms of the insincerely well-behaved with material inducements. So while you clean your firearms in righteous preparation for a final showdown, please enjoy the full second chapter of MBOTA.
The next day, the Overloards called.
Super Patriot Boy woke up early, refreshed but still restrained in his crèche. He lay staring at the dark ceiling, watching the crawling shapes through the canopy. Soon, though, the lights would come on, the shapes would flee, and he would be free to do whatever it was that he did in this world. He had never been very sure of what that was. Mostly, he seemed to sleep, wake up, eat, pass the time, pass the things he had eaten previously, and then sleep again. Occasionally, he died and was resurrected, but to Super, that felt a lot like sleeping and waking up.
Sometimes, before the bedtime gas hit him, he liked to imagine that he had some purpose in this world. Maybe he was secretly a hero that had a destiny to fulfill. Or perhaps he would invent something that would make the world not quite so awful. Or—and this was the wish he had never spoken aloud—he might someday write a book or a poem or a brochure that would give others hope.
And then Super would laugh with glee and shake his ugly head as he sucked the gas into his lungs—purpose and meaning were for suckers. Nothing was clearer and more comforting to know than life was a terrible accident full of other terrible accidents that usually ended in a last terrible accident. And no matter how many times Super would be brought back from death, he knew that there would be a last death. And it would be the sweetest one because he would never have to open his eyes on this world again!
He was still reflecting on his current good mood when the restraints unlocked and the canopy withdrew. Super stood and hopped out of the crèche bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to take on an entire regiment of Reptiloids. Those scaly fuckers wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of skinning and deboning Super today! He flexed his left arm a bit and smoothed his flag-kilt before doing a few quick toe-touches to get warmed up. He must have slept very well, indeed, because he felt like a million items suitable for bartering. He wasn’t sure, but he figured that he’d died again. He’d have to ask Flappy about it. He sometimes wished he could remember it, but given some of the things Flappy had told him, he was usually glad that he couldn’t.
Super leapt to the door and pulled his tricorn off the peg. He gave it a quick brush with his fingertips and put it on his gleaming skull, where it sat a flattering angle. Ready to face the horrible, horrible world! He thought that maybe he’d eat a nutritious breakfast and then play a bracing round of his favorite video game, Turnip Harvest IV. Video games were so imaginative! In this one, food—actual food!—grew in the ground, and all you had to do was to pull it up, and it didn’t struggle or plead or bargain with you. It just sat there all compliant and helpless as you cut it up.
He opened his bedroom door and strode into the Grotto’s large main room. Directly in front of him was the ancient pit sectional on which he liked to sprawl. How many naps had he taken on it as magma flares or deep-space gamma ray bursts had kept them all indoors? Super loved the feel of the rust-colored polyester/rayon upholstery, and he thought the rolled arms gave the set just the right touch of pizzazz. The soft yet supportive cushions were both practical and luxurious. Even though this appealing sectional was over four hundred years old, it still offered a sense of contemporary style, and Super thought it complemented the grey stone of the Grotto’s walls and ceiling and floors nicely.
This stylish piece faced the thing Super prized most in all the world—a large video monitor that was secured to one of the walls. How many precious hours of his unnaturally renewable yet inevitably finite lifetime had he spent watching animated critters and their funny antics on the bright, color-saturated screen and its 3560:1 contrast ratio! That was his favorite ratio, and he loved it and all the critters so much!
Sometimes, he wished he didn’t ever have to sleep and miss out on their funny antics—it made him hate Flapman and Gibson and their rules about bedtime. Rules! And sleep! Why should he ever sleep again?! He would outlive those pathetic bastards, and they were just bugs on his windshield, which was an expression he’d heard once. Anyway, they weren’t the boss of him. The next time they told him to go to bed, he would finally slaughter them both and hang their bodies from…
Super took a deep breath. He cut the thought short and stuffed his incipient rage down into the place where he kept all his incipient rage: right next to a generous store of stuffed-down, incipient resentment. And the fact was, Flapman was big and scary, and Super didn’t really want to kill him anyway most of the time. Flappy was his friend, after all. Gibson, he could kill without a second thought, though. But Gibson knew how stuff worked, and that was important. Maybe Super would just slice him up a little. You know, teach that nerd what’s what.
At the far end of the Grotto’s main chamber was the kitchen and Gibson’s workspace, where he did nerd stuff. Super liked the kitchen, even though it was too far away from the monitor for his comfort. But, oh, the food! Cans of mushrooms, cans of beans, cans of meat from an animal called a “chicken,” cans of meat from an animal called a “sausage”. Sausages were from Vienna, Super knew, because he had seen Vienna on a map once. Vienna wasn’t there anymore; Ograh the Kaiju had eaten it a long time ago. Super wondered if the sausages missed their home, and what kind of sound they made, and whether they sank or floated. The meat in the can didn’t float, but Super didn’t think that that was necessarily representative of the properties of an entire, ambulatory sausage. He hoped that, one day, he would find a live sausage. Then he could push it into the water and answer two of his three sausage questions. He wasn’t sure where chickens were from. He had some questions for them too.
Super wandered over to the kitchen, running his hand along the edge of the island that separated the kitchen from the rest of the room. The island had been carved from an outcropping of the Grotto’s stone, and its flat surface was stained and chipped. Gibson liked to call it “the altar,” which they all thought was very funny. Super thought about how many dinners had been held down and prepared there, and the memory of dinner-struggles past ignited Super’s appetite.
He passed the island and moved into the kitchen proper. He knocked for luck on the sturdy wooden post embedded deeply in the stone floor, rattling the familiar manacles that dangled there. The heavy iron door of the pinecone vault next to the pantry caught his eye, but Super knew that he’d better not push his luck. If too many pinecones were missing, he’d be composing Hosing Songs for a month. He opened the pantry and grabbed a can of mushrooms for breakfast.
Now that Super was done consciously reviewing the layout of the place in which he had been living for many years, he noticed that something was missing from the familiar space: Flapman and Gibson.
“Flappy! Gibby! You guys here?” Super called out as he munched on a mushroom from the now-open can. No response. He set the can down on the island, spilling a few drops of precious mushroom gravy—it could be nothing, or it could be that something was very wrong. Even wronger than everything else typically was. Keeping his eyes on the room, he reached out and grabbed a cricket bat from the weapons rack they kept handy in the kitchen. Made from 1.35 kg of sweetly balanced, unbleached willow, these bats were perfect for beating the shit out of crickets, and the bat’s finish was marked with the scars of many a battle with those furry, sharp-toothed menaces.
He gripped the bat tightly and walked over to the wall opposite the door to his own bedroom to where the doors to Flapman’s and Gibby’s rooms were. He peeked into Gibson’s room first, kicking open the door and launching himself into a series of barrel rolls. He sprang to his sandaled feet and, with frightening precision, swung the cricket bat through a number of violent strikes and slashes. Alas, they did nothing but stir the toxic air. Nary a cricket nor a Gibson to bash into mush today.
Super saw that the lid to Gibson’s sleeping pod was wide open, and the space inside was empty. Super looked up. He was confident that he wouldn’t find the dork there either, but you never knew if someone had been cocooned and suspended from the ceiling by something or other during the night. But no dried husk of a corpse dangled from the ceiling this time. It was still a mystery!
He left Gibson’s room and went to Flapman’s door. Super didn’t smash his way into Flappy’s room, though, because he wanted to get through the morning with his viscera still inside his body. Instead, he raised a hand and paused for a moment. You never knew how this was going to turn out, so he proceeded cautiously. His hand slowly curled into a claw, and he gently scratched two times on the wood surface with his finger nails. Skritch, skritch. He stopped and turned his head to the door to listen, unconsciously rising onto his toes as he raised the cricket bat in his other hand to prepare for action. He tried to detect the telltale sounds—a rousing “The fuck you want?!”—that indicated Flapman’s presence in the room. The silence continued, however, and Super turned away from the door with a mixture of disappointment and relief.
Super wondered where his roommates could have gone. Why hadn’t they woken him up and brought him along? Or maybe something had happened to them! He scanned the room for signs of a CHUD incursion: slime trails, scattered organ bits, missing coffee table books. Coffee table books were weird, thought Super. They were big and heavy, and there was something menacing about them that made him think of awkward cocktail-party conversations about architecture. And “coffee table books” was an awful lot of nouns to string together unbroken by adjective or preposition, though it wasn’t scary, like “Danger: Kaiju Emission Contamination Zone” or “Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.” But it turned out that all the coffee table books were still stacked on the floor, propping up the sheet of plywood that served as a coffee table.
Super was wondering what “coffee” was when he heard a tinkling chime come from the monitor. Super froze. This was bad—Super turned slowly toward the monitor, which was all the way across the Grotto’s central chamber from where he stood outside of Flappy’s door. The lights in the room turned a bloody, pulsing red, and Super looked down at a growing wet spot on his flag kilt, realizing that the chime was no longer the only thing tinkling in the room.
Instantly, Super bolted toward the monitor, hurdling the ottoman and rolling the last bit of distance to a practiced crouch in a square marked on the stone floor in yellow paint. The moment he entered the square, the lights and chimes ceased, and the room returned to its previous state. Super watched the screen flicker to life, and the faces of the three Overloards of the Cromulent Zone—Potentate Imax, Vice-Honcho Dougly, and Oligarchess Cheryl—loomed over him, glaring in belligerent, magisterial authority.
Super cowered before the black-clad despots, sure that he would be waking up again from another resurrection before long. The Overloards were, like most cruel tyrants, prone to sudden outbursts of murderous rage against random targets. And that was under the best of circumstances. On the other hand, if the cruel tyrants in question also happened to dislike one intensely, those murderous outbursts became a lot less random and a lot more murderous.
The Overloards disliked Super Patriot Boy intensely.
The Overloards had ruled the Cromulent Zone for nearly a century through a combination of fear, violence, disinformation, and intimidating wardrobe choices. They controlled the Securitoria for the purposes of day-to-day terror and oppression, and they used the Wizard Army for the occasional bloodbath and for general Necromancy. Super had also heard rumblings that the Overloards had from time to time set Kaiju onto rebellious regions. He knew that the Retail City-States had snapped into line after Thrrrg had obliterated the Hobby-Land Free Polity in a rain of fire.
Gibson had told Super that there had once been five Overloards. But now there were only three, and it was an open secret that the deceased Overloards had been murdered by the others. First, Her Ascendancy, the Despot Jenniferon had been disarticulated by a suspicious transporter malfunction, leaving only a pulsating gall bladder on the platform. The bladder was politically savvy and tried to maintain its previous owner’s support base, but it found that it had no means of making a motion in committee. After a frustrating week, a janitor had smuggled the bladder out of the Overloards’ fortress in a lunch sack and fed it to his cat. Decades later, Mega-Tycoon Boswell (aka, the Boswell the Insufferable; aka, Boswell the Cloying; aka, Boswell the Fuck-Chunk) choked to death on a silver serving spork that Vice-Honcho Dougly had rammed down his throat during the Feast of St. Toshiba.
Now, the surviving Overloards existed in perpetual conflict, navigating a dance of assassination plots, political maneuvering, and overwhelming paranoia that normal people saved for family holidays.
Today, they wore identical black velvet robes, and all three projected an air of bored malevolence. Potentate Imax’s gaunt face was permanently fixed in a dictatorial scowl, and on the screen, his chiseled features were motionless and deeply shadowed. Vice-Honcho Dougly was younger, and Super thought his thin mustache looked a bit like an emaciated caterpillar resting on an angry potato that it was too weak to eat, the angry potato being Vice-Honcho Dougly’s face. Oligarchess Cheryl was stoic, voluminous, and materteral, which was a word that Super had had to look up: it meant, “the feminine version of ‘avuncular.’” Which was another word that Super had had to look up: it meant, “having the characteristics of an uncle.” Thus, Oligarchess Cheryl looked like Super’s uncle, according to the dictionary, which was weird, because Super didn’t think she looked at all like fine, laboratory-grade glassware.
Potentate Imax spoke first. His rumbling baritone made Super’s refilling bladder vibrate ominously: “So, impotent speck, I see you have once again evaded merciful death and safely disabled our explosive incentives by your craven obedience.” His Formidable Resplendency the Chief Overloard squinted down at Super’s ugly, submissive mug. “Though why a malignant, stinking pustule such as yourself would prefer the continuation of its miserable existence to the sweet somnolence of sudden detonation eludes me.” Super appreciated alliteration as amply as anyone, but he also knew that Potentate Imax had no tolerance for sincere compliments—unlike pathetic, sycophantic adulation, genuine respect was a sign of weakness, so Super kept his mouth shut.
The preceding red alert had, of course, indicated the in-coming call from the Overloards. If Super hadn’t reached the monitor in time, the dozen or so mines that had been embedded in the walls and floor of the Grotto would have exploded, and Flappy and Gibby would have yelled at him as they mopped his splattered remains into baggies. Super didn’t want to die today. Or any day, really, even if he didn’t remember it. He had a pretty strong survival instinct and a growing murder instinct. It also occurred to Super that explosives were not, possibly, an optimal method of coercing one to answer the phone. What if they weren’t home, for instance? Or taking a shower? Or dealing with a chupacabra infestation? I mean, those things get in the ductwork, and you might as well burn the place down, right? Though he supposed the explosives would take care of it in that case. It just seemed extravagant to Super, that’s all.
While he pursued this analysis of the Overloards’ motivational campaign, Super subconsciously noted that Potentate Imax was still speaking to him.
“Particularly,” Potentate Imax’s finger waggled between himself and the other Overloards, “when we blah blah blah blah…”
As Imax blah-blahhed, Super thought about fingers, and he thought that if you really thought about fingers, they were weird. He imagined that instead of hands with fingers, he had at the end of each arm a flat paddle that curled and folded in useful ways. He considered all the ways in which paddles would be superior to differentiated digits. For instance, he could carry lots of things that normally would have required an additional container, but because he could curl his paddle into a kind of bowl-hand, he wouldn’t need that superfluous vessel anymore! All of it, whatever it was (lighter fluid, pudding, etc.), right there in the palm of his paddle. And he could carry it around and even pour it neatly because his bowl-hand would have a little spout. And just think about how much louder clapping would be if he got rid of these stupid, conventional hands.
“Is he listening?” asked Oligarchess Cheryl, “I don’t think he’s listening.”
Vice-Honcho Dougly exploded in rage, “HEY, MOTHERFUCKER! WE’RE FUCKING TALKING TO YOUR RETARDED ASS! IF YOU DON’T FOCUS YOUR TAIL-END-OF-A-DRIPPY-SHIT BRAIN ON THIS FUCKING CONVERSATION, I’M GONNA COME OVER THERE AND REMOVE YOUR TINY FUCKING NUTS WITH A FUCKING VEGETABLE PEELER!” The angry, mustachioed potato took a deep breath, “FUCK!”
This got Super’s attention. Vice-Honcho Dougly was panting and slobbering with rage, and Super had the fleeting impression that the Vice-Honcho was over-compensating for some disappointment or another. Maybe he was sad that he wasn’t a full Honcho yet.
Vice-Honcho Dougly continued with rage, “AND GET YOUR FUCKING FINGER OUT OF YOUR FUCKING NOSE, YOU DISGUSTING ABORTION! WHY THE FUCK –”
Potentate Imax interrupted, “Ok! We get it. Geez.” Potentate Imax rubbed the bridge of his nose a little tiredly. “We talked about the yelling, right? We’ve got an image to uphold, hmm?”
Vice-Honcho Dougly took a deep breath with slightly less rage, “I know. I know.” He exhaled sharply, “Sorry. It’s just, well, if you’d taken care of this earlier I WOULDN’T HAVE TO TOLERATE THIS FUCKING WATERED DOWN PISS POT!”
Potentate Imax gave Vice-Honcho Dougly a look that could burn through the granite walls of the Grotto. “Look here, you testosterone-soaked little functionary—”
“FUNCTIONARY?! FUNCTIONARY??!! I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT FUCKING MEANS! AND I’VE GOT ENOUGH TESTOSTERONE TO SKULL FUCK YOUR SHINY MELON!”
“You are as unoriginal as you are incompetent. As you well know, any attempt to fuck my skull will result in the activation of my fission implants.” Imax sneered at the potato. “I knew we were making a mistake with the internship program…”
“That’s about enough,” said Oligarchess Cheryl in a soothingly murderous voice, “He’s a little exasperating, but let’s see if we can be the adults around here.”
“Fine,” replied Vice-Honcho Dougly and folded his arms. Potentate Imax looked away and waved a dismissive hand.
“Maybe we’ll just call in the Cleaners and have him dismembered right here. This little thing,” she indicated Super, “must have some entertainment value, at least. Because I can’t see why else we bother with it.”
Super wondered what club they wanted to dismember him from. He didn’t recall belonging to any, but Potentate Imax stepped in and changed the subject.
“Enough of this prattle,” he declared flatly, “I see that Gibson and that monster Flapman are nowhere at hand; otherwise, I am sure that they would have wisely removed you from our sight.” Super nodded because that was what Gibby had told him to do whenever the Overloards talked to him.
“Where is Gibson Taylor?” Potentate Imax demanded. Super nodded again. Potentate Imax clenched his jaw and added, “The nodding is for declarative statements, not open-ended questions, vile gnome.” Super nodded some more, which was appropriate in this second case.
Oligarchess Cheryl sighed, “Look here, Super Patriot Boy, you just be a dear and tell Gibson that we called. We’ve learned of an instrument that will allow him to complete his directive, and we believe that dimensional reconstitution can begin as soon as we obtain the device. Do you think you can handle that, little guy?” Super nodded. “That’s good. And don’t forget. I’d hate to have to do that thing with your fingernails again. I know you’d rather not, right?” Super nodded a bit more vigorously.
“THAT’S RIGHT, YOU FUCKING OOZING HEMORRHOID,” Vice-Honcho Dougly added with rage, “I’LL SHOVE A GODDAMN RABID SHREW UP YOUR –”
Vice-Honcho Dougly’s proposal to unite two mammalian lifeforms into a foaming chimera was cut off as Potentate Imax, eyes rolling dictatorially, reached forward and ended the transmission. Super nodded at the blank screen, then turned to kitchen and the pinecone vault as he began composing a new Hosing Song.