In Pursuit of Princess Nepalia
by Ronald Linson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The moment the kid left his office, Eddie made some phone calls. To his delight, there was more than a little interest in the project from agents and investors. True, the plot, what there was of it, was rather cliché, but wasn’t that part of the fun? Eddie could smell it. A future cult classic all the way.
However, with each passing day, he grew increasingly worried that the kid would cancel, or that something else would happen that would poison the deal. The phone number the kid provided led to a voicemail system which refused to record messages, and there was no response to emails.
Eddie Dufour, closet pessimist, woke the morning of the big meeting and seriously considered not going to the office. He had this intense feeling of foreboding. Something really bad was going to happen, and he knew it had to do with the kid, one Arthur A. Armstrong. The name was probably bogus too.
But his fears were unfounded. Eddie pulled into his spot in front of the building and there he was, waiting beside the door. Strange, his assistant wasn’t here yet. As he got out of the car, he remembered that he’d given her the day off because Armstrong had been the only appointment.
“Hey, pal,” Eddie said, waving. “Good to see you. I tried to confirm, but I couldn’t get hold of you.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Armstrong said. “I was busy.”
Eddie grinned. “Yeah, I guess so.” He held the door open. “C’mon.”
Eddie headed straight for his office, pointedly ignoring the manila envelope on his assistant’s desk which contained the contracts ready to be signed. No need to jinx things now.
They settled into their accustomed easy chairs and Armstrong started up the video. This time, there was an introduction. Grandiose music swelled as words began to scroll up the screen.
Eddie cringed. It began with the words, “Episode III: Revenge of the Queen.” He shot Armstrong a dirty look, but the kid seemed oblivious.
* * *
A tall, fine-featured dark-skinned man in a red-and-white uniform stood at attention. Behind him, several ranks of men occupied the staging area of a cavernous spacecraft hangar.
Queen Dartalia paced back and forth in front of the tall man. She had traded in her red-and-gold dress for a long black gown. She had also exchanged her usual ruby-red lipstick and nail polish for glossy black.
She turned to face him. “You are the captain of the tower guard,” she said.
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“It is your personal responsibility to ensure the safety of the royal family.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“You have failed.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
The queen moved close to him and looked up into his face. “Nepalia may never be queen, but she’ll always be my little princess,” she said quietly.
“Yes, your Majesty.”
She stepped back. “Clarence,” she said in her most regal voice, “you will retrieve the Princess Nepalia and return her safely to me. If you cannot, then do not bother returning at all.” And with that, she turned her back to him and walked away.
When the queen had gone from sight, Clarence spun on his heel and addressed his men. “I know that each and every one of you would sacrifice his life for the queen. I will not ask you to do this today. I shall save the princess myself, alone.”
Discipline broke. To a man, they volunteered to accompany their captain, shouting and raising their fists.
“No!” Clarence said, silencing them with a single word. “I have made up my mind. I will go alone, and there will be dire consequences for any who dare to follow.”
He dismissed the guardsmen to their regular duties, then set about preparing for his mission. He donned a non-descript white spacesuit, selected the swiftest two-man scout ship available, and was off.
Clarence pointed the needle-nose of the ship straight up and pierced the sky. Once in the blackness of space, he pressed a button labeled “Hypertube Drive,” and the ship vanished.
Deep within a dark nebula, a small spaceship emerged from a ripple and immediately shut down its engines. It drifted through the dense clouds of dust. Suddenly, they cleared to reveal a small rogue planet lit only by flashes of lightning in its atmosphere.
Clarence muttered a prayer, then restarted the ship’s engines. He checked the radar screen, and to his relief, there was no sign of other vessels. He gunned the engines and dove straight toward the storm-whipped world of Salazam.
Turbulence buffeted the craft as it descended through the roiling black clouds. Clarence gripped the control stick with white knuckles, trying desperately to keep a ship designed primarily for space from tumbling out of control. Red and yellow warning lights flashed all around the cockpit, accompanied by several alarm klaxons at once.
The engines failed. That is to say, they emitted a sound like a hundred people belching simultaneously, and that was that.
Clarence awoke face down in a bog. His spacesuit saved him from drowning in the muck, but he had to scrape the slop off his faceplate in order to see. The driving rain helped.
It didn’t take him long to locate his ship, which had thoughtfully ejected him before it crashed. It lay half-submerged about a quarter mile away. He stood for a long time staring at it. Nothing short of a lot of force was going to get it out.
Clarence climbed atop the ship, since it was the tallest thing around, and scanned the horizon. Moving lights in the distance caught his attention. The rain made it difficult to make anything out clearly. He checked that his beam pistol was still in its holster and set off.
The source of the lights turned out to be the headlights of boxy ground vehicles driving along a paved road. Clarence hunkered down and waited a few yards off the side of the road.
During a lull in the traffic, he singled out one vehicle and leapt onto the road in front of it. Tires screeched as it swerved to avoid him. It stopped and the driver got out, looking displeased.
“What the...” The driver trailed off when he saw the spacesuit.
Clarence raised the faceplate, letting the helmet retract into the collar of his suit. He drew his pistol and leveled it at the driver. “Sorry, friend. I need your truck... and your clothes.”
Wearing the driver’s clothes over his spacesuit, Clarence drove the truck right up to the gates of a titanic walled city. A soldier held up a hand and motioned for him to roll down the window.
“Good day,” the soldier said, although it wasn’t quite evident that it was actually day. “Space fighter parts, eh?”
“Good, we’ve been waiting for those. Take the second left, then a right. Can’t miss it.”
Following the directions, Clarence came to a large warehouse with a sign reading “Space Fighters” above the door. As he approached, the door rolled up.
A man holding a clipboard waited inside, waving Clarence in.
“You’re late,” the man said. “You should have been here an hour ago.”
Clarence shrugged as he got out of the truck. “There was a hold-up.”
“No excuses,” the man said, peering at the clipboard. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? You know the rules.”
Clarence froze mid-step. “Huh?”
“Yes, I know, but I need to use the can,” Clarence said. “Long trip.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Fine. Five minutes.” He waved to some workers with the clipboard. “And it’s over there,” he added, pointing in the opposite direction from where Clarence was heading.
Clarence went into the bathroom, peeked out to make sure no one was looking, then slipped out and hurried down a side corridor. When he reached a large open area, he stopped dead in his tracks.
In various states of assembly were half a dozen space fighters, each painted a putrid shade of greenish-yellow.
“That filthy pirate,” Clarence cried. “That scoundrel! That... that... weasel! That...” He stopped when he noticed a group of nearby workers staring at him. Scowling, he waved them off, and spying an open rear door, made his exit.
He blended in with the crowds on the street, listening to snippets of conversation.
“... just this morning ...”
“... a princess.”
“... so beautiful ...”
“... the wedding ...”
“... this evening.”
Clarence adjusted the usher’s jacket as he trotted down a hallway. Joyous organ music reverberated from somewhere ahead. He found a half-open door and peeked in. The church was standing room only. The doors at the back opened, and everyone turned as the bride made her entrance on the arm of an elderly gentleman.
Clarence used the distraction to slip inside and take a place along the row of ushers. He joined in watching the bride’s procession down the aisle.
She wore an elegant white dress with silver filigree, and held a bouquet of white flowers. Though her face was hidden behind the veil, her posture bespoke infinite sufferance at the indignity of it all.
Salazam waited by the altar in a black tuxedo with a silver bowtie. He looked immensely pleased with himself.
“Do the ushers get to kiss the bride too?” the man next to Clarence asked.
“No,” Clarence growled through gritted teeth.
The bride arrived at the altar. The elderly man stepped aside and Salazam took his place. The organist stopped playing.
“We are gathered here today,” the minister said, “to join Lord Salazam and Princess Nepalia in holy matrimony. If anyone knows why these two should not be wed, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace.”
“I know why!” Clarence yelled, drawing his beam pistol and running toward the altar.
He managed to reach the first few rows of pews before the shock wore off. Soldiers in dress uniforms began leaping from their seats, bringing their own weapons to bear. Clarence shot the nearest of them, then ducked as hot pink rays of energy lanced through the air.
The guests who weren’t part of the battle stampeded. In the confusion, the soldiers started shooting at the ushers, who, interestingly, also happened to be armed. More soldiers stormed in as the number of noncombatants thinned, then the ushers called for reinforcements.
Clarence was gratified to see the princess tear off her veil, kick off her silver slippers, and then aim a white stocking-clad foot at Salazam’s lower command center. Salazam deflected the kick, snagged the back of her dress when she tried to run, and hauled her onto his shoulder. With one last look around, he carried the shrieking little girl away.
Fade to black.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ronald Linson