Rotund Robin looked out the window at the labyrinthine garden below, with its tall hedges and genemod bovines. Where is that royal pooper-scooper? she thought. It couldn’t have taken this long. Hadn’t the royal biological waste disposal specialist (what was her name?) found the Time Hog or whoever already? Robin knew she shouldn’t trust one of the royal employees. Why had she called upon the royal pooper-scooper, of all people, in the first place? It would have made more sense to call the royal police. Then she remembered. Round Robin had left her a note several years ago and had always reminded her of what it said every week or so. She could recall it from memory:
Whenever I am missing and you don’t know where I am,Rotund Robin scratched her head. Oh, well, if that was what her sibling wanted, she’d do it. And she had. But the situation looked hopeless. Perhaps she could do something else as well.
Please don’t call the police, because they won’t give a dram.
You should, of course, instead, believe in what is true,
And seek the pooper-scooper, for only e/it/she/he knows what to do.
She walked back to Round Robin’s room, where her sibling had lived alone by emself every day, only occasionally leaving for some reason or other. E had been so silent, so withdrawn from society, that Rotund Robin had always felt sorry for em. Er room looked as it had always looked, neat and clean and orderly, almost as if no one had really existed there.
For a moment, Rotund Robin thought, What if it was all a hallucination? What if I had never had a sibling?
And then the feeling passed. She shook her head and passed through the doorway into the room. Maybe there was something in here she had missed. Perhaps a note stuck under the bed: Do not look for me, for I am gone forever. I’ve left for Mars, disguised as a featherless marine toucan. Even such a note would be better than this. Nothing. Not a sign of anything. Maybe Round Robin had just disappeared into the ether.
Rotund Robin searched, but she couldn’t find anything significant in the room. Disappointed, she left and returned to her own room. She picked up the vidphone receiver and called Quetzalcoatl 4000, a superhero she knew she could trust, unlike all those other so-called “superheroes” running around like idiots.
”Hello, Quetzal? This is Rotund Robin. I’ve got a problem here, and I was wondering-”
”Oh, it’s you, Your Royal Fatness I mean, Your Highness. I haven’t spoken with you in a long time. How’s everything going?”
”Look, Quetzal. My sibling, Round Robin, is missing. Missing, you understand? I can’t find em anywhere. E’s just disappeared! This is very important. Can you come over right away?”
”Oh, sure,” Quetzal said. “I’ll be right there. Just let me finish watching this TV program. You just made me miss the funny part-”
The line went dead. Slowly, Rotund Robin put the receiver down. Well, she could wait a little while.
There was an Oracle by the name of Gorvlar on the other side of Neptune Park. It was one of those weird genetically engineered attractions that nobody seemed to notice and thus was a perfect destination for their first venture into the world as the Time Hog returned from the figurative dead.
That was the plan, anyway. He Imaluni wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.
”All right,” Umberto said, coming out of the shack again, carrying a big box of stuff. “This is the last box. Once we’re done with this, we can go consult the Oracle of Gorvlar about how to go about looking for Round Robin.”
”But why do we have to go ask Gorvlar anyway?” He said. “Why can’t we just, you know, investigate the scene of the crime-I mean, the place where Round Robin was last seen or whatever? What does Gorvlar know anyway?”
”Look, I know it’s pointless, but-”
”Then why are we doing it?”
”Because-” Umberto said, getting irritated. “Back when I was the Time Hog-the first time-the two of us had a contract. It was quite a messy deal, but I think it worked out for both of us. We’d advertise for each other and everything, and one of the conditions was that I consult Gorvlar for information every so often. I don’t know why, and I don’t care. But that’s what we’re doing, so if you don’t like it, too bad.”
He and He put the box in the back of the taco truck, and Umberto, with effort, shut the door. Then he returned to the shack and closed the front door, which was really pointless since the stupid thing would just open by itself anyway. The lock didn’t work.
Muttering and cursing, Umberto walked back to the truck and climbed in the driver’s seat while He opened the passenger side door and got in.
”Good,” Umberto said. “Now let’s get going.”
”What did you bring the boxes for?” He asked. “What’s in them?”
”That is strictly Time Hog business, and you don’t need to know.”
”All right. But this is the Time Mobile, right?” He said. “You painted over it?”
”Yeah, and I don’t got time to put the original Time Mobile design back on, so this will have to do. For now.” With that, he started up the engine and backed the truck onto the street. And then they were off. Umberto turned right at the corner and proceeded through Neptune Park, which was a feat of genetic engineering in itself. The plants looked surreal and magical, as if they belonged on some other planet. They formed masses of spectacular multi-coloured vegetation that stretched on and on, making the park one of the most delightful places to visit in the city.
Umberto drove through the whole park silently, and when they got to other side, he parked the taco truck in the parking lot at the Oracle of Gorvlar.
Apparently the place was closed-permanently. The sign on the front door of the one-story building said that the Oracle of Gorvlar was now inactive and that Gorvlar had gone somewhere else.
”Ah, crud,” Umberto said. “Oh, well, I guess we can’t consult Gorvlar then. Let’s see if my old mentor Quetzalcoatl 4000 can do something for us-”
A terrifying screech came from inside the building, and as He turned around, she saw for just an instant a flicker of light from two bright green eyes.
Ngakaukawa Watermelon-Sunshine suddenly thought of something. Didn’t the Time Hog have a sidekick? He could distinctly remember the Time Hog having a sidekick. If so, shouldn’t the sidekick also return to life along with the Time Hog?
Then he remembered. He was the sidekick. How could he have forgotten? He dug through his closet until he found the Chrono Log suit and straightened it out. It still looked good, even after all these years. He put it on and looked at himself in the mirror. Now all the memories of good crime-fighting fun came back, and he smiled. Now was the time for the Time Hog and the Chrono Log to reunite!
He wondered if Umberto had left his shack yet. If not, he could hurry over and join his old companion once again.
Adjusting his cape around his neck, he dashed out the front door and down the sidewalk, excitement filling his mind. A few blocks from the Imperial Museum of Dairy Products, he turned and ran across the street. Only after the moment of impact did he realise that he had stepped in front of a speeding bus.
The bus slowed to a stop in front of the Imperial Museum of Dairy Products. Abdul-Akinkuotu departed the bus using the special stealth-hop that he had learned from the Invisible Weekly Gazette. When he could find it, it was quite useful. Astutely observing the multi-coloured smear on the front of the bus, he gestured at the bus driver to wait. “Dude. You wasted a ped, yo.”
The driver stared back through glassy eyes, put the bus in gear, and pulled away from the curb, with the sticky remains of the Chrono Log plastered to the front. Abdul-Akinkuotu shrugged. The bus driver’s plan seemed to have backfired. The only person he’d mind-controlled had been himself. There was a word for that, but Abdul-Akinkuotu’s limited vocabulary prevented him from remembering it. He had a job to do, anyway.
He turned and entered the Imperial Museum of Dairy Products, taking the path to the right wing and the Hall of Pervasive Stench. Here, he could research the smell Dingo had described and find out why a person would have such a smell. He stopped at the first nostrilator and stuck the nodule up his nose. He didn’t have to inhale, exactly, but habit made him do so. The sharp responding stink sent him reeling backward with his hand clapped over his mouth, trying not to gag. Vomit? He examined the label. No, it was the unadulterated, full-strength smell of dried parmesan cheese. Which made way more sense, although he still felt like he might add a new smell to the Hall of Pervasive Stench . . . right on the floor. Gulping deep breaths, he moved on to the next nostrilator.
This time he read the plaque first. “Cheese-Induced Flatulence.” Oh, he thought, this ain’t gonna be pretty. Dingo’s gonna pay for this crud, man. Friendship is one thing, but Flatulence? I don’t know what it means, but it sounds RANK. This is whack, dude.
He looked again, but there was nothing there-at least nothing that she could see. But she could have affirmed that there was something there, something with two bright green eyes.
”-of course, knows something or two about being a superhero and doing this kind of stuff,” Umberto was saying as he drove the taco truck out of the parking lot and down the street back through Neptune Park. “He is Quetzalcoatl 4000, after all.”
”Quetzalcoatl 4000?” Can this superhero really be the god-person Quetzalcoatl returning to Earth? He almost jumped with delight.
”So, let’s go, uh, what’s your-name . . .”
”Oh, yes, that’s right. I remember now. You were the . . . uh . . . I remember you from somewhere . . . uh . . .”
”I was the president of your fan club, Hog Time. We used to support your endeavours and cheer you on and keep track of your accomplishments at every weekly meeting. And then the club kind of fizzed out.”
”Probably because I retired from being a superhero and started selling tacos instead.” Umberto’s tone changed, and He could see tears form in his eyes. “I’m sorry, He. I didn’t realise that I meant so much to-”
”Whoa!” He grabbed the steering wheel and pushed it to the left. The taco truck swerved and narrowly missed crashing through a barricade and flying over a cliff. “Concentrate on your driving, Umberto.”
For just a moment, she saw in the rearview mirror a flicker of green light in the street behind them.
The bus sped on, the remains of the Chrono Log plastered on its front. Upon impact, the nanocomputers embedded in the suit, which looked like a section of a tree with clock faces on it, instructed the nanofactories to start producing nanomachines to reassemble the atoms forming what was once the Chrono Log into something else. The bark faded away, leaving behind a chitinous exoskeleton. Yellow kernels started to grow on it, completely enclosing the white surface beneath. Eight appendages extended from the exoskeleton, with small kernels appearing on them as well. Inside, nanomachines took the atoms that once formed the endoderm and mesoderm of the Chrono Log and assembled different organs. A brain formed, and the thing that was once the Chrono Log woke up.
An inadvertent computer error at the factory where Ngakaukawa Watermelon-Sunshine had customised the suit had resulted in a different reincarnation program than the one desired. So, instead of bringing the Chrono Log back to life, the nanomachines in the suit created the Corn Ghool.
It reached up, drove two of its appendages through the windshield of the bus, and grabbed the driver by the throat.
First published at the Asimov’s Forum, 2002.
Copyright © 2002, 2003 by Sherry Gray, David Norris, The Invincible Spud