In Pursuit of Princess Nepalia
by Ronald Linson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Clarence?” Eddie asked. “Clarence? What kind of name is that for a hero?”
Armstrong shrugged. “It’s his name.”
Eddie shook his head. “It’s a perfectly good name and all, but it’s not... uh, traditionally heroic. You know what I mean?”
Eddie sighed. “All right,” he said, “you have your classics, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and John Carter. Then you have modern staples like Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and... um...” He recalled the name of a certain vampire slayer and changed the subject. “Anyway, I told you to recast the princess. She’s too young.”
“Yes, but I can’t—”
There was a loud crash from the outer office. Both of them were on their feet in an instant. Before Eddie could take three steps, the door flew open.
The actor who played Salazam stormed in, his face twisted in fury. “You!” he shouted, pointing a quivering finger at Armstrong. “You have much to answer for, worm!”
Eddie held up his hands, palms outward. “Please, calm down. Whatever your grievance is, I’m sure we can resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Irate actors were nothing new to Eddie. He couldn’t think of a single project he’d produced in which there wasn’t at least one who seriously needed anger management.
“Satisfaction,” the actor sneered. “I shall derive great satisfaction from doing horrendous things to him.”
Eddie turned on the kid. “What’s up? Did you stiff him? Is that it? You owe him money?”
“Money?” the actor snarled. “I care nothing for money!”
Ah, his reputation. That was the other thing actors threw hissy fits about. That, and bowls of hand-peeled grapes.
“Don’t worry,” Eddie said, “we will make sure that you receive all due credit.” Eddie belatedly realized he didn’t know the guy’s name. He didn’t know the names of any of the actors. What had he been thinking?
“I don’t want credit!” the actor howled. “Do you know how many of my plans he’s ruined? I can’t go anywhere without being recognized. It’s gotten so bad even piddling little planets like yours have heard the name Salazam.”
Eddie was confused. Very confused. “What?”
“This person,” Salazam sneered, “has taken it upon himself to spy on people all over the galaxy—”
“Freedom of information,” Armstrong cried, shaking a fist at Salazam. “People have a right to know what’s going on. I’m just making sure the truth gets out.”
Salazam grimaced. “And you sell it as entertainment.” His lips curled in distaste on the last word.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Armstrong said. “It’s the best way to make them pay attention. If something is boring, they choose something else, no matter how vapid it might be.”
Salazam grabbed the kid by the front of his suit jacket. “You show only your version of the truth,” he screamed in Armstrong’s face.
Salazam turned to Eddie. “He’s responsible for no less than three major wars, two assassinations, a slew of rebellions, and more sex scandals than I can count. Do you really want to deal with somebody like this?”
Eddie wondered if he could get to his car. These guys were nuts. Or maybe he was. He wasn’t sure.
“I stand by my work,” Armstrong said. “I don’t need to defend it.”
Salazam grinned. “Perhaps you would be great entertainment for my soldiers, or perhaps... He paused, thoughtful. “There are those who would pay well for your head.”
“I thought you didn’t care about money,” Armstrong said.
Salazam drew back a fist to strike the kid. Eddie tensed, ready to make a run for it, and then the picture window exploded.
Little chunks of safety glass sprayed the room. Eddie threw up an arm to shield his eyes. He thanked all his gods that he’d had it installed last year after a mildly disgruntled actress had hurled her agent’s brand new smart phone through it.
When Eddie lowered his arm, a figure in a grubby spacesuit was crouching on the floor, aiming a beam pistol just like the ones in the film at Salazam. One-handed, the figure lifted the faceplate, letting the helmet retract. Clarence.
“Return the princess, knave,” Clarence said, “and I will let you go.”
“And you, you’re another thorn in my side,” Salazam said.
“I will continue to be until you give her up,” Clarence said.
“She’s not here,” Salazam said, swinging Armstrong around so he was between himself and Clarence. “She is mine now, and you will never have her.”
Clarence shot the kid in the back. Armstrong groaned and crumpled to the floor. Salazam let go of his jacket, shocked.
Eddie, in a moment he would later always find inexplicable, tackled Clarence.
“Get off,” Clarence grunted. “He’s getting away.”
Eddie glanced up, and indeed, he saw Salazam’s back as he sprinted out the door. Then his eyes went to Armstrong’s limp form. “You killed him! You killed the poor, dumb kid!”
Clarence shoved him off and got to his feet. “I did not. This is a stun pistol,” he said, holstering the weapon. “He’ll wake up soon.”
Eddie walked over to the kid, grinding glass into the carpet as he went. Sure enough, his breathing was deep and regular and his pulse was strong.
Clarence looked down at Armstrong. “I recognize him. No wonder Salazam came here. He probably detected his ship in orbit.” He nudged Armstrong with his foot. “He really is a nuisance.”
“I am not,” Armstrong croaked, opening his eyes.
Eddie and Clarence helped him to a chair. Eddie fetched a glass of water and Armstrong drank it all in one pull.
“Let me see if I understand this,” Eddie said. “All that stuff in the film is real?”
“Yes,” Armstrong said.
“More or less,” Clarence said at the same time.
Armstrong shot Clarence a dirty look. “It is real. I just edit out the irrelevant stuff.”
“Huh,” Eddie said, sinking into his easy chair.
“Look,” Clarence said, “I need to be after Salazam, but I would ask a favor of you two.”
* * *
The following year, Space Hero was a box office hit, raking in over a hundred million dollars its first weekend. It was nominated for many awards, but won none. Eddie thought that was for the best. None of the “actors” were available to accept them anyway.
Armstrong disappeared right after the premiere, leaving instructions for his royalties to be brought, in quantities of various refined metals, to a set of GPS coordinates in the Utah desert every six months. Eddie made the deliveries personally, and never told a soul about it. Lots of questions were asked by various agencies, but investigations were always dropped almost before they began. Eddie suspected he knew why, and he never told anyone that, either.
Clarence gave Eddie a strange little device with a jury-rigged USB port. When the movie was finished, Eddie was to upload it to the device, which Clarence said was for interstellar communications. When asked why, Clarence’s only response was, “She needs to know that I’m doing my best.”
On a hot day in August two years after the premiere of Space Hero, Eddie was dozing in a lounge chair beside his new in-ground pool when he heard a splash. Someone was in his pool. He opened his eyes and sat up, only then noticing the shadow on the end of his chair.
Clarence stood there, smiling broadly. He wore an obnoxiously multicolored Hawaiian shirt and a pair of equally rude bermuda shorts.
“Clarence,” Eddie said, “going native, I see.”
Clarence laughed. “We decided to drop by on our way back.”
“We?” Eddie asked and looked toward the pool.
A girl with platinum-blonde hair climbed out of the water. She strolled over to Eddie and Clarence, squeezing water out of her hair as she went. She had grown a bit in the past two years, her minimalist red and gold foil bikini showing just how much. Eddie stolidly kept his eyes on her face as she adjusted her top.
“Princess Nepalia,” Clarence said, “this is the man I told you about: Eddie Dufour, film producer extraordinaire.”
Copyright © 2015 by Ronald Linson