by Matthew F. Amati
It was Tuesday, and the Rude Mechanicals were about to plunge the Universe into mortal peril.
In other words, it was Tuesday.
The adventure had started out promisingly. “Look at this,” the Six Million Dollar Mannequin had said as their ship, the I Contain Mechanicals, shot past the Cloverleaf Quasar. “A request for services. Strength required – on a galactic scale.”
“That ME!” crowed Buns of Steel. Buns was 300 tons of titronium-reinforced whup-ass that could smash suns. He flexed his hyperpinions and punched right through the roof of the ship, knocking a nearby populated world into a black hole.
“Brainpower sufficient to calculate the nine billion names of God… also God’s four million slightly rude nicknames. Why, I can do that while sneezing,” the Mannequin boasted as his psionic supercortex crackled with blue fire. “And the promised reward – staggering!”
“Anything I might be able to assist with?” the Washing-Up mumbled. The Washing-Up was a mere collection of loose cookware. He resembled a restaurant kitchen after an earthquake. How he’d achieved sentience and self-propulsion, no one could say. The Washing-Up’s colleagues found his lack of structure galling. He wasn’t a proper cybernetic construct at all. But what could they do? The Washing-Up had saved the Mechanicals from near-catastrophe more than once.
“Go boil some noodles,” the Mannequin answered, rather unkindly, so the Washing-Up shrugged his pot-lids and dozed off.
Tuesday, the Mechanicals alighted on Karhops, a small world in the Gamma Echidnae system. Their customers revealed themselves to be a trio of sentient platypi – duck-mouthed, fur-flecked, gussied up in crimson robes and important hats. The Platypotentate of this crew was a dour-beaked platypriest by the name of Glumbill.
As soon as they disembarked, the Six-Million-Dollar Mannequin smelled the sumptuous deposits of rubies and zimstones buried in the mines of Karhops. The platypontiff Glumbill indicated that he was quite aware the Mechanicals’ services didn’t come cheap. He and the Mannequin held a short but intense conference, out of which the cybernete emerged with a look of barely-concealed avarice. “How may we help you, gentlebeaks?” the Mannequin wanted to know.
“It is written,” said Glumbill, “in our Immemorially Ancient and Awful Runes, that the Gruesome High Omnifacticus placed our world Karhops in the center of the Universe. He caused the lesser celestial bodies to circle round it, as courtiers. And He did anoint Us, the Platypi of Karhops, as the Chosen of Creation.”
“And He, your Pomperpooticus or whomever, placed you three in charge of Karhops’s entire platypopulace. Am I right?” the Washing-Up asked. Glumbill clearly didn’t appreciate the phraseology, but acknowledged this was the meat of it.
“So what problem?” Buns of Steel inquired bluntly. “Big God make you big chiefs. You gots all goods stuffs. Why need Mechanicals help you?”
“This!” was all Glumbill said. And a troupe of plainly terrified platypeasants trundled forth a tubular apparatus of a type familiar to any post-Galilean civilization.
“A telescope? What’s wrong with that?” the Washing-Up inquired, but the agitated mugs of Glumbill and his comrades hinted there was plenty wrong with that.
“Our late and hardly-lamented scientists invented this obscenity you see before you. And these heretics had the audacity, nay, the satanic hubris, might I say, to make observations of yon points of light what you see abovewards.”
“I begin to understand,” the Mannequin tut-tutted.
“What they observed…and subsequently spread among the hoi polloi… was that our world Karhops, in fact, circles around our Sun. It is but…”
“…one of many worlds. Yes, I see the problem,” the Mannequin sympathized. “I’m afraid there’s nothing for it, my dear platypatriarch. Once these ideas are out of the bottle, it’s a devil of a time sticking them back in. We can’t all be the platypivot of the Universe, you know.”
“That is why we have hired you. Strength on a galactic scale. Brains on a par with gods.”
“Wait a minute,” the Washing-Up interrupted, “are you suggesting…?”
“You will make these observations un-true,” Glumbill bellowed. “You will reassert the Truth of our Ancient And Awful Runes by making our world and the worlds around it conform to Scripture.”
“You want us to refashion your solar system – with Karhops at the center?”
“OK, we must be going,” said the Washing-Up, but the Mannequin conferred in compensatory subsyllables with Glumbill and emerged to say, “We will do this.”
Quick as a quark, Glumbill produced an elaborate sheaf bedizened with clauses and contractual codas. The Mannequin hesitated, but a whiff of buried zimstones touched his tender olfactrons and he hastily scrawled his digital ID across the base.
The first order of business: set the hefty orange star Gamma Echidnae, along with its attendant orbs, in a circular path around Karhops. Such a thing had never been done in the history of the Universe. It took the Six-Million-Dollar Mannequin a long time to calculate the outrageous gravitational vectors and mass-inversion ratios. Then it was up to Buns of Steel to put the idea into practice, and it must be confessed that this godlike mover of worlds nearly strained a panglossium-riveted mega-femur shoving the planets hither and yon at angles contrary to the stubbornly-held habits of space-time curvature. More mass was added to Karhops, which Buns accomplished by placing a collapsed neutrino phasar in the planet’s excavated heart, and then the mass of the star itself had to be reduced, so Buns dutifully scooped out clawfuls of boiling hydrogen from the star’s guts. His digits got horrendously scorched, and he made a mental note to order replacements from a certain catalog he had back in the ship.
At last the thing was done, and tiny Karhops found itself perched at the center of a ghastly unnatural orrery. The platypoids watched as their newly subordinate sun shrieked across their sky. It didn’t look the same as it had before. The platyplanet’s gravity had necessarily been increased a thousandfold, and so the Mannequin designed for the platypopulation sturdy leg braces, which weren’t comfortable in the least.
‘There,” said the Mannequin when the foul arrangement had been set spinning unsteadily as a plate on a pencilpoint, “and now for the matter of payment.”
“Not so fast,” cried Glumbill. “All is not according to Scripture.”
“What more could you want?” the Washing-Up bleated. “You’ve got the only geocentric solar system in Creation! Is that not enough for you?”
“It is written,” said Glumbill, “that the stars hang in the sky each in its little crystalline sphere. You will make it so.”
“Great prancing pomperpooticus,” groaned the Mannequin, but the contract had been signed. The Mechanicals spent the better part of fifty thousand generations rounding up whatever stars were visible in Karhopsian skies and encasing them in vitreous shells. The inhabitants of neighboring systems voiced strenuous objections, but Buns of Steel could be turned aside by nothing less than a second Big Bang, and possibly not even that, and so tearful relocations were necessary.
Returning to Karhops, the Mechanicals were met by the great-to-the-eighth-power descendant of Glumbill, who pronounced the work acceptable.
“One more thing,” Glumbill8 announced. And he told them what that One Thing was.
On the ship, the Mechanicals conferred.
“Uh-uh, nope, not gonna do it,” Buns grunted.
“We signed a contract,” the Mannequin whined.
The Washing-Up rattled his stewpots and shook his saucepans. “These megalomaniacal monotremes want the means to wipe out all non-platypus life in the Universe! Worse than genocide. They would commit omnicide!”
“It’s in their Scripture. The Platypeople are the Chosen of the Omnifacticus. He made Himself no other children. Certainly not weird bug-eyed children on other planets.”
“But universal murder! Surely this goes counter to the law of every ethical code, every Bible, every god, every conscience!”
“It does,” murmured the Mannequin. “But you’re forgetting. We signed a contract. And if you think the gods of Right and Justice and Peace get snippy when you kill entire universes full of living beings, wait till the gods of Contract Law find out you reneged on a binding agreement.” He shuddered, down to his hyperwound hippocampus.
“He right,” sobbed Buns of Steel. “We got make big gun for little beaky guys. No can break contract.”
“Do one thing for me,” said the Washing-Up. “Give the weapon a low-power setting.”
“What good is a low-power mode when the aim is to blast superclusters to proton-powder?” cried the Mannequin, but he complied.
And so the awful weapon was made. They presented it to the descendant of Glumbill.
“Splendid!” Glumbill8 cried. He gazed down the cannon’s horrid throat. He ran a flipper along its ghastly muzzle. “Servants! Prepare to fire! Aim it at that star there, the presumptuously bright one.” He turned to the Mechanicals. “Does that star harbor the abomination of Other Life?”
“Indeed it does,” answered the Washing-Up.
“What sort of life is it?” the servant in charge of firing asked.
“Silence!” commanded Glumbill8, but the Washing-Up replied “Oh, that star is home to the Sybaroons of Luxe. The people there spend a lot of time bathing in warm gallium pudding-pools.”
“Do they feed on wilted wogweed, as we do?” the servant inquired. “Silence!” cried Glumbill8 again, but the Washing-Up said “Oh, no, the delicacies of Luxe are legendary. And they welcome all visitors. We were planning a voyage there next week, but of course, you’re going to annihilate it, so that’s off, I suppose.”
“Do they sleep on beds of pincergrass, as we do?” another servant wanted to know. Ignoring the protests of the Platypotentate, the Washing-Up informed him that beds on Luxe were soft.
“Surely that world is unique in the cosmos!” cried another platypeon, and, over the purple-faced bellowing of the Potentate, the Washing-Up assured the servants that Luxe was much more the cosmic norm than the exception. “But then, there will be no worlds of any kind except the one we’re standing on, once you pull that trigger.”
“It’s your choice,” the Washing-Up informed him. “The first setting fires at a magnitude of a quadrillion Galactigons. Enough to take out about an eighth of the total of Creation.”
The servant reached for the trigger.
“The second setting is lower. It fires with the force of a trillion Mattersplats. You can take out individual galaxies as you wish.”
“All right, I suppose,” the servant said, but his flipper wavered.
“The third is quite weak. It fires a shell with the force of about three Platyblasts. You can target individual beings in groups of three. If you so desire…”
The servants didn’t so much as exchange a glance.
“What are you doing? Where are you aiming–” And that was the last phrase the Platypotentate or his colleagues ever uttered.
“Lil beaky guys no pay us,” Buns of Steel complained, as the I Contain Mechanicals hurtled in the direction of a well-earned holiday on Luxe.
“Oh yes they did,” said the Six-Million-Dollar Mannequin. “They honored the contract. They paid us a trillion of the finest zimstones I’ve ever x-rayed. Or rather, their servants paid, as our original employers were blasted into dust.”
“Into elemental platyparticles, I should say,” the Washing-Up replied, and his fellow Mechanicals stuffed his component cookwares into cupboards to forestall any further jokes of this sort. They’d had platyplenty of those for the platypresent.
About the Author
Matthew F. Amati wears socks and lives by a canal. Occasional temper-tantrums give way to resigned melancholy.
Amati’s diffidently-updated writer blog is www.mattamati.com. He is the author of the bestselling novel “Loompaland” (and by bestselling, we mean it has literally sold two copies to date) which features drunk Oompa-Loompas and gross candy.
World’s Shortest Author Interview
What’s your favorite city?
In the process of breathing, we stumble over whale parts strewn about the polo grounds. It folds in the middle. Four corners is a corner too many, I say.
If you had to watch a duel, who’d be the fighters? Who’d win? What would your delicious viewing snack be, and how would you dress for the occasion?
Let me answer that question by posing another: why don’t my cellar walls keep out the water?
And should I describe a certain poorly-compressed ham as inedible or uneatable?
Potential details… with shoelaces, or without? Would you wear a cosmetic mole, alive or otherwise?
Too many commas, I can’t decipher the anstistrophe. Dark inside these walls. Child holding a skull — why? Viola unstrung. Water brackish. The Moon is down, probably forever.
About the Artist
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Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology. He does the Space Squid cover designs and other squid stuff.