Before you continue, consider reading the previous chapter so you’re all caught up.
Justin McElroy, savior of Earth and hero to all humanity, hovered above the Largfnaac pit, his body cocooned in an energy field restricting his every movement.
“I’m Justin McElroy,” he said. “Savior of the Earth and hero to all humanity. I bet you’re wondering how I got here.”
“Not especially,” said Lord Haalblaine, drumming his clawed fingers against the smooth handle of his obsidian trident. “We found you floating aimlessly in space, so we picked you up.”
“Ah!” smiled Justin. “And having heard of how I rescued the Earth from a celestial body by punching it square in the selfie surface, you’re hoping to enlist my aid in saving your own kind.”
Lord Haalblaine began picking at his claws with the tip of his trident, trying to remove some dirt. “Not as such, no.”
“No, mostly we were thinking, ‘Hey, I wonder what space meat tastes like?’”
Justin furrowed his brow. “Space meat.”
“In fairness, Ja’ason was the most curious about it,” said Lord Haalblaine, motioning to another of his species standing in the corner of the room. The man wore what could loosely be described as a baseball cap, a tee-shirt bearing the image of short-lived 80s new wave music act Seona Dancing, and jorts. He gave a small wave.
“He was all, ‘Hey, I bet space meat tastes great,’” Haalblaine continued, “and at first we thought, y’know, that’s stupid. You’re stupid, Ja’ason. Is there even such a thing as space meat? The whole premise was absurd. But then the idea just wouldn’t leave our heads, and suddenly we’re jumping in the Deathspire hittin’ the big black in search of space meats.”
Justin couldn’t believe what Haalblaine was saying, though this was primarily because he couldn’t hear it — he was halfway down the adjacent corridor making a run for the shuttle bay, having used his captor’s rambling about space meats as a distraction that granted him the time to easily disable the small device that generated the laser cocoon.
In the decades to come, scholars of the Planet J’Vipnar — homeworld of Lord Haalblaine and his jort-wearing minions — would debate with ferocity exactly how McElroy had been able to disable the cocoon. As a field of purest energy, there should have been no way for McElroy to disable it. It would be almost a century before anyone even considered the fatal flaw in the device’s design — in order for it to function, the individual being held captive has to hold it in their own hand, a feat usually accomplished by handing it to your intended victim and saying “Hey, hold this for a sec.” In the millennia the device had been used, it had occurred to only one person that the device could be disabled by simply dropping it, and he was now sitting in the cockpit of a T-180 Cruiser, blasting away from Lord Haalblaine’s Deathspire and out into space. His meats, once again, were free.
“Shall we give chase, Lord Haalblaine?” asked Ja’ason, adjusting the hemline of his boxer-briefs.
Haalblaine considered for a moment. Then: “Nah, man. He earned it.”
Before we continue we must consider, for a brief moment, the biology of the Laarggfnac.
Laarggfnac are small, furry rodents roughly the size of a quarter, or a ten-pence piece if you’re from the UK (other nations, you’re on your own). They are unique among the galaxy’s various rodentia by virtue of the fact that their bodies are approximately 87% teeth, with the remaining body being mostly hair, two beady little eyes, tiny little human hands, and a tail so thin it can only be seen under an electron microscope.
They are aggressive, hungry, and relentless in their pursuit of their prey. This is why Lord Haalblaine, and indeed all the Dark Lords of the unfortunately-named Keimart Nebula, employ them in their various traps, tortures and pits — once a disappointment1 of Laarggfnac have the scent of their next victim, they will not relent until they are removing the last morsel of meat from their teeth with an irregularly-sized toothpick.
And yet Justin, a man from a planet with exactly zero Laarggfnac living on it, had somehow managed to expertly evade these deadly, tiny creatures. Indeed, he’d managed to avoid falling anywhere near the Laarggfnac. This, too, would baffle scholars for some time — many millennia longer than the mystery of the laser cocoon would trouble them.
Four-thousand years into the future, in a time of commercially-available and relatively environmentally-friendly (if not necessarily affordable) time travel, the last scholar in the universe — Gavin the Curious of Planderex XXXVII — decided that the question could go unanswered no longer. Nearing the end of his life, he used the last of his money to travel back to this point in history to witness McElroy’s escape so that he might document it. He arrived in the chamber of the Deathspire, where his scent was picked up by the Laarggfnac, and was promptly set upon and chewed to death.
This allowed McElroy to drop silently and effortlessly into the now-empty pit, and from there he dashed down the corridor and towards the shuttle bay.
Gavin the Curious’ sudden disappearance was of interest to no one, in part because there were no more scholars to express such an interest, but also because he was, at his core, such a fundamentally unlikeable person. He was missed by nobody and mourned by no one.
There is no moral to this story, nor room to retrofit one for people who like to put neat ‘n’ tidy bows on things. Sometimes things just happen, and sometimes those things happen to people named Gavin.
And the universe spins on.
The T-180 Cruiser, currently occupied by the most daring hero that planet Earth had ever produced2, scorched through space away from the harsh, utilitarian lines of the Deathspire and towards what McElroy hoped would be Earth. He was an expert at many things — cooking, lovemaking, identifying very specific brands and models of sporting utility vehicle from a variety of distances — but astrology was not what he would call his forte. This was evident by the fact that he had, in his mind, just referred to the science of observing celestial bodies as “astrology”, which was the one with the horoscopes.
McElroy performed several mid-flight checks. The Cruiser was level, or as level as a ship designed to travel through space was capable of being. He had enough fuel to last him 40 years. His reflection… yes, still gorgeous. Fantastic.
With the Cruiser on autopilot, he thought he was probably safe to take one of his patented macro-naps. This was a particular clever innovation of his, wherein a nap that would ordinarily take ten to thirty minutes would instead be spread out across a larger period of time — often as many as eight hours — to achieve the maximum potential rest. It was a brilliant idea, and he was always disappointed in people who hadn’t quite cottoned on to the premise themselves.
Short naps, he knew, did nothing. They left you feeling confused, frustrated, and inexplicably more tired than you were when you first lay down. But he discovered that the longer the nap, the more lucid and with-it you felt upon waking, and so before long he was taking as many as two macro-naps a day just to keep himself constantly and consistently refreshed. He often found he lost whole days, but he was more alert as a result, and that made it all worth it.
He was awoken seven hours and thirteen minutes into his nap by the sound of alarms blaring and the flash of mauve lights in the cockpit. As he looked to the flight coordinator and saw his Cruiser locked into a tailspin with the ominously red planet currently filling the cockpit windscreen at an alarming rate, he thought only two things: That his macro-nap had been cut short just prior to achieving optimal rest, and that the planet he was about to crash into was almost certainly not Earth.
He uttered an obscenity, figured there was little he could do to change whatever fate would befall him, and resumed his nap.
Deep in the crimson jungles of the most humorously-shaped continent of Planet X, wildlife scattered as the Cruiser doomf’d into the terrain, tearing down trees and destroying habitats.
Far away, atop Mount Signus, a figure in a tattered purple robe stood, his bony fingers wrapped around a crude wooden staff, as he watched the Cruiser collide with the vista below.
If someone had been standing in front of the figure, they would have accomplished two things. The first would have been to obstruct the figure’s view of the jungle, which would have annoyed the figure immensely. The second is that they would have seen the figure’s face, such as it may be called, contort into what could perhaps be described as a smile.
If they’d been there, the figure might have felt compelled to say something out loud.
Instead, they just smiled, and thought to themself: At last. He has arrived.