by Matthew F. Amati
The Rude Mechanicals flew from one end of the universe to the other, helping others where they could, generally with the best intentions and the worst results.
Buns of Steel was the strength of the team. He was a 300-ton hydraulically-concatenated grunion-jointed brute-force compressornaut. He could lift things that needed to be lifted. Buns was unbeatable at lifting, but setting things down often went wrong. He needed to be more careful setting things down.
The Six Million Dollar Mannequin was the planner, designer, inventor. What he built worked. It was a shame he usually built the wrong thing.
The Washing-Up wasn’t really a robot, just a critically-massed agglomeration of pots and pans that had somehow achieved cybersentience. Sometimes the other two left him behind to satisfy the angry mobs that so often appeared in the wake of their efforts. The Washing-Up could take a beating.
On this occasion, the Six Million Dollar Mannequin flew their ship, the I Contain Mechanicals, backwards into three black holes before he realized he had his map upside-down. The Mechanicals were hopelessly lost. They settled on a world called Mundux to get their bearings.
Mundux was a tiny world. You could walk around it in ten steps. The Emperor of the Munds greeted the Mechanicals.
“I am Juff XVII, Lord of all Munds! We Munds greet you, alien mechanoids. We rejoice to learn that intelligent life exists on planets besides ours. We feared we Munds were alone in the Universe.”
“Oh, indeed, Highness,” the Six Million Dollar Mannequin assured him, “you are far from alone. Civilized life is abundant throughout the cosmos.”
“And do other civilizations match our Mundane Empire in magnificence?”
Buns of Steel inquired as to how many Munds the Emperor ruled.
“Nine. All the Munds that there are.”
“Ha!” Buns of Steel barked, so loudly that he blew two moons of Mundux clear out of their orbits.
“What my colleague means to say, sire,” said the Mannequin, “is that this world of Mundux is, alas, but a pebble – yes! a mere sand grain! -- among the hundred thousand worlds belonging to the Pasha of Orion. His rule stretches from Aldebaran to Zubenelgenubi to the wastes of the Magellanic Cloud. The Pasha’s subjects number in the trillions.”
The Emperor and his nine subjects were aghast.
“Trillions, did you say? With a 'T'?”
“That is an estimate. The Orionites began their census shortly after the Big Bang and expect to finish just before the advent of Cosmic Heat Death.”
Emperor Juff sat down quickly. “To imagine an empire of such vastness, why, it makes one dizzy!”
In response to this revelation, the Munds immediately created a world literature steeped in the blackest sort of existential humor. They produced poems, plays, and films ironically contrasting their exalted notions of Mundanity with bitter awareness of their own insignificance.
“But my dear Munds,” said the Six Million Dollar Mannequin, “you needn’t worry. The Pasha’s demesne is not nearly so grand as all that.”
“Not at all! Why, his countless worlds are but a minor postal district of the Zandarox Dominion, an ancient union that stretches from the Dark Mass, all across the Twenty Superclusters, to the Pillars of Infinity.”
The Emperor did not appear comforted. Several of his subjects staggered about unsteadily, clutching their heads. The Munds quickly embraced a doomsday cult, complete with nihilistic chants and a charismatic fake for a leader.
The Six Million Dollar Mannequin spoke. “Anyhow, your eminence, do not get the idea that the Zandarox Dominion is some incomprehensible vastness. It’s really nothing.”
“Nothing?” the Emperor cried. “Oh woe! What are my nine subjects compared to the throngs who inhabit these cosmic reaches?”
“Oh, the Zandarox certainly have a high opinion of themselves. But they’ve lately found out that their territory is simply an overlooked turnip-patch of the staggering Kottabite Cosmostan, which itself is a minor province of the Pansignificant Parochion that covers all of space-time from the Gas Torrents of Origix to the Recursion at the End of Evermore.”
“The Parochion!” Buns of Steel laughed. “Parochion think they such big deal! Now they gotta pay tax to infinite realities of the Multiverse Mandatar.”
“Oh, agony,” the Emperor groaned. “To be but a speck among such multitudes!”
“Look at the bright side!” the Washing-Up burbled. “You Munds don’t have to be alone in the universe anymore. In fact, I’ll bet our clever Mannequin here could put a spacefaring engine right on your planet. And he can install an Atmospheric Claustrobubble to keep your air and heat in. You can jet your entire planet around the cosmos and visit all the peoples of the universe and the billion universes beyond!”
“That I can build,” the Six Million Dollar Mannequin said, and he built it. “You plot your course like so. You steer with this steering bobbin. Easy as that.”
“Thank you, kind alien Mechanicals,” said Emperor Juff weakly. And his subjects mumbled their thanks also, but they didn’t sound like they meant it. All over Mundux, Munds flopped on the ground and glared resentfully at the stars.
Buns of Steel presented the Emperor with a digital guidebook outlining travel tips and five-star eateries on more than a septillion worlds. “Where you guys want travel first?”
The Emperor and his subjects studied the guidebook. They conferred in hushed tones.
The Emperor spoke. “We’ve reached a decision. Thank you, once again, for your gift of enlightenment.”
The Rude Mechanicals left Mundux. They congratulated each other heartily on a good deed well done.
“They start planet engine,” said Buns of Steel, looking out the back window of the I Contain Mechanicals.
“They are heading out of their orbit,” observed the Six Million Dollar Mannequin.
The trio watched in silence.
“Hang on,” said the Washing-Up. “Did they just pilot their planet directly into their sun?”
“I knew I should have given them better steering directions,” said the Mannequin sadly, and as they sailed away, the Rude Mechanicals vowed to do better the next time.
About the Author
Matthew F. Amati was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois. In his short life so far, he's translated the Iliad, motorcycled around Asia, and been accidentally rude to Jerry Springer. He currently lives near a lake in Wisconsin, where he drops things and looks for them. Check out his diffidently-updated writer blog, www.mattamati.com.
More by the Author
Matthew has been published in Flash Fiction Online, Schlock Magazine, and 50-Word Stories.
World's Shortest Author Interview
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? Potential details... with shoelaces, or without? Would you wear a cosmetic mole, alive or otherwise?
Emily Dickinson and Koko the gorilla/Emily/Goat Rollup/warmly/no shoelaces/would wear cosmetic mole, but on someone else's face.
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About the Artist
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 most of the Space Squid cover designs.