[SG/LNH] New Exarchs #11 - Getting Squirrelly

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Feb 22 08:21:13 PST 2008


     In a small room full of glowing lines that seemed to stretch off to
infinity, Paul Oakthorn paced.  Then he did some push-ups, followed by
crunches.  There wasn't a lot to do in the otherwise empty room, after all.
Long days of sameness, broken only by the occasional....
     "Good morning," Sung the Stainless said, entering through a glowing
     "No," Paul replied.
     "No, it's not good?" Sung smiled somewhat smarmily.  He was in his usual
crisp and clean (and no caffeine) naugahyde uniform, looking like a cross
between a stormtrooper and a bellhop.
     "No to whatever your latest demand is," Paul snarled.  "But it's not
good either, and if *you* say it's morning then it probably isn't."
     "In this virtual environment, it's whatever time of day I say it is,"
Sung countered.  "And I say it's morning.  A GOOD morning."
     Paul snorted.  "Virtual environment my behind.  That grid is just day
glow paint," he gestured at the lines around him.  "You make sure the door is
strongly backlit when you enter, and my food is drugged to make everything
feel hazy and indistinct.  Those 'security programs' ready to defend you if I
try to take a poke at you again are just goons with shock batons."
     Sung scowled.  "Interesting delusion, but you're strapped to a slab in
my tower, being fed by tubes while your mind is hooked into an elaborate
virtual reality engine.  Any 'food' you may think you eat is simply a
hallucination your mind has created to help you cope with the idea that
you've been in here for a very long time with no contact other than me, or
sometimes my chief scientist, Wrinkle.  Unless, of course," he added with a
twinkle, "I had Wrinkle modify the VR environment to provide you with false
food.  Wouldn't that be interesting?  It wouldn't even have to be very good
at this point, your mind would fill in the blanks."
     "Give it up," Paul rolled his eyes.  "I've been in virtual environments.
You might say my whole life was a virtual environment up until a few years
ago.  This little cell of yours is a cheap sham, lame basic cable special
     "Then how do you explain the fact that you eat, but you do not excrete?
There's no appropriate facilities in this virtual prison, after all," Sung
pointed out, his tone half-amused, half-condescending.
     Paul snorted.  "Whoever you have taking care of that end of things had
better be getting paid really well.  But you don't research cheeez as long as
I have without being familiar...intimately familiar in some cases...with your
own digestive system.  There's more drugs in my food than just the ones
keeping me feeling disconnected from reality."
     "Much as I'd love to continue this conversation on the excretory system
of a virtual construct," Sung changed the subject, "that brings us back to my
reason for visiting.  Your research.  More specifically, the paleoculture.  I
know it's been retrieved from wherever it was you hid the samples, and it has
been used.  Ah, you react!  You seem worried...why, is the paleoculture less
stable than I was led to believe?"
     "You thought it was stable in the first place?" Paul spat back,
defiantly.  "If it were, I wouldn't be in this cheap imitation cyberscape."
     "So, the portals generated using paleoculture could be as unstable as
those I've been using already?" Sung seemed concerned.
     Paul laughed bitterly.  "Oh, I suppose there could be some risk there.
But you have NO Elvis-dammed idea what's on the other side of those cheeez
portals.  The sorts of things that might just wander through to this side and
casually wreak havoc on your world while searching for frappes or toast.
Before you caught me, I had a little look around your world, and it's pretty
tame compared to where I came from.  Back there, it's a metastable state in
which unimaginable forces balance each other out and only the actions of a
nearly omnipotent entity known as Superguy keeps it all from blowing up in
our faces.  Even the squirrels could destroy your entire dimension!"
     "You...have squirrels as well?" Sung seemed genuinely concerned.
     "Hell YEAH we have squirrels!"

__--__--__--__--__--__--__--     \\NEW//       --__--__--__--__--__--__--__
 .|,Coherent Comics Presents      \\ //        #11 - Getting Squirrelly 
--X-------------------------     E }X{ ARCHS      copyright 2008 by the
 '|` A Superguy/LNH Tale          // \\        Dvandroid (Dave Van Domelen)
--__--__--__--__--__--__--__     //   \\       __--__--__--__--__--__--__--

     "Halt, stranger!  Drink not, lest ye be doomed!"
     Jonkatta, veteran special agent of the Red Squirrel Nation, looked
around to take in the strange sight surrounding him.  Dozens of squirrels
rough-hewn from damp clay, yet alive!  Gray like the clay of the landscape,
and speaking an ancient version of the language of the Gray Squirrel Nation,
the mortal enemies of his people.
     "Why would I be doomed?" he asked cautiously in modern Gray.  To tell
the truth, there wasn't a lot of difference between modern Gray and modern
Red, it was all just a lot of chitters and squeeks.  But there were cadences
that distinguished the two languages, and he hoped his use of Gray-style
speaking would defuse any potential nastiness.
     "That is the dreaded blackwater, poisoned generations ago by the acts of
the ground apes," the spokes-squirrel replied.  "It is the reason for our
curse of living clay," he placed a globby paw to his chest, indenting the
clay slightly.  "None who live may drink it and be untouched, but it affects
each race differently.  The ground apes merely become whiny and take to
wearing black.  Birds simply suffer bouts of irregularity.  Fish don't seem
to notice at all, but they are well known to be as intelligent as a sack full
of rocks, so maybe it simply makes them *less* intelligent in ways too subtle
to notice.  But we squirrels cease to be true squirrels, transforming into
this mockery of life.  Sadly, the effect takes place slowly, and by the time
we realized what was happening, we were all DOOMED."
     Ground apes...humans, presumably...might become whiny, but apparently
squirrels became really long winded, Jonkatta observed as the exposition
unfolded.  He decided to keep that observation to himself, however.
     "And there is no cure?" Jonkatta asked, edging away from the damp seep
in the valley.  "No way to purify the water, at least?"
     The Clay leader shrugged.  "The ground apes have machines that make
blackwater safe to drink, although they have too little to share, or to waste
on frivolities such as washing clothing.  Hence they smell even worse now
than they once did, save for those who swear allegiance to the head of the
Nauga Clan."
     Jonkatta suppressed a shudder.  At the best of times, humans were no
picnic for a well-trained nose.
     "But for those already affected, there seems to be no cure," the Clay
leader shook his lumpy and misshapen head sadly.  "There are legends, of
course, but these are mere dramatic foreshadowing regarding saviors from afar
and generational legacies, and nothing on which to base a robust research and
development program."
     "Well, I'm from afar," Jonkatta admitted.  "And I've done my share of
saving in the past, but I'm afraid I don't have any generational legacies to
speak of.  Dad was a forager, as was his father before him...I'm the first in
the family to even live on a college campus, much less get educated."
     The Clay leader flicked his blob-like tail dismissively.  "We did not
think they referred to you, unless you are one who is not born yet who lives.
You were born at some point, yes?"
     Jonkatta nodded.  "Everyone is born at *some* point," he added.
     "Indeed," the leader nodded sadly.  "Hence you can see why we've been
having difficulty basing our policy decisions on the basis of these legends.
They're all like that.  Alive yet never born, come from afar yet not from
afar, four pieces together yet not whole...the usual oracular rubbish.  Now,
come.  The clay flats are inhospitable at night, and we have a small cache of
purified water we use in our experiments towards finding a cure...."

               *              *              *              *

     "Well, while I appreciate being out of that wasteland," Anna observed,
"I could do without the really tall trees blocking out the moonlight."  After
a few more rustling steps through the forest litter, she asked, "Are we even
still headed in the right direction?"
     "Inertial compass," Skysabre waved a small handheld device.  "We may not
be headed in the right direction, but we're headed towards where the sunset
was," his tone expressed doubt in the reliability of directions given by
squirrels on an alien planet.  Especially those who had ended their advice by
threatening to kill all three of the heroes should they ever return.
     "Less chatter," Kat warned.  "I think we're being followed.  Don't turn
on any lights...we'll just stand out worse and kill our nightvision.  But it
sounds like something's moving in the treetops that's too big to be regular
arboreal animal life."
     Skysabre pocketed the compass and loosened his katanas in their sheaths.
"I think you're right.  I don't smell that overpowering clay odor anymore, so
I doubt anything followed us from the clay flats.  Just normal forest
smells...a bit on the musky side, I suppose."
     Suddenly, a voice came out of the darkness.  "Who goes there?  Friend or
     "I suppose that depends on what you like!"  Skysabre shouted back.
"Anna and I are generally pretty friendly, but Kat can be a bit hard to get
to know at times."
     "Well, at least he didn't introduce me as a stone bitch this time," Kat
muttered under her breath.
     There was a rustling in the branches, and they found themselves
surrounded by the shadowy forms of men.  The musky odor was even stronger
now, and there was a sussurating as they moved, like that of a soft leather
garment.  In front of them, close enough to make out his ruggedly handsome
features by the scattered moonlight breaking through the trees, was a man who
bore himself as a leader.
     "What is your business in the forests of the Suede Clan?" he demanded.
     "Merely passing through," Skysabre held out his hands in a well-
practiced pose.  It looked like he was showing them to be empty of weapons,
but from that position he could draw and attack in the blink of an eye if he
had to.  "I'm Skysabre, the leader of the Exarchs.  And who are you?"
     "Men call me Earl, and I am a duke of this clan.  But it's my destiny to
be the King of Suede...."





     Answers to some of these questions, but hopefully not that third one, on
the next...SUPERGUY!


Author's Notes:

     In my original notes about blackwater, I'd decided that it only affected
clothing and humans, not plants or food animals, "what's up with that?"  It
was a jab at how all the plants seemed to be doing fine in the endless forest
scenes on Mongo in the 2007 Flash Gordon series, only the humans were worried
about graywater.  But then I decided to use parsimony to explain the Clay
Squirrels (i.e. not introduce an entirely new plot device) and changed
blackwater to simply have different effects on different species.  ;)
     I'll come out and admit that I'm not quite sure where I'm going at this
point, though.  On the one hand, there's a strong attraction on my part to
the idea of wrapping up this arc with #13 or #15, on the grounds that the
original Flash Gordon serials had that many episodes.  On the other hand,
it'd take a monumentally anticlimactic resolution to pull that off, or for at
least one episode to reach Eric Burns-level linecount.  22 episodes (the
length of the first season of the new Flash Gordon series) is probably a
better length for the "Flash Drives" arc.  But I'm still not worrying too
much about planning and plotting here...I save that for ASH.  Here I write to
be weird and blow off steam.  And use squirrels in dramatic scenes.  Hard to
do that in ASH.

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