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February 5th, 2012

ULTRA BOWL 4

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            This has been an odd year for the Colorado C'thulus. Since opening their new stadium last year, their road to the Ultrabowl has been among the rockiest ever run by a team. Their victories, though consistent, have been by knife's-edge margins. Part of this, some argue, is that the restructuring of the playoff schedule to accommodate four new teams has pushed back the beginning of the football season a small but significant amount. But here at ESBN, We're inclined to think that this topsy-turvy season has been due to the new teams themselves. And as exhibit A, we submit the C'thulu's opponents: the Atlantis Ancients. Among other things, they just became the first team in history to reach the Ultra Bowl in their first season as members.

            This is exactly the kind of story that draws a crowd. Deep beneath the waves, in the C'thulu's home-stadium-away-from-home, R'yleh, some 90,000 fans crowded into some 16 dimensions of exquisite gothic architecture to witness the historic showdown... and that's just the humans. Even a veteran C'thulu fan and commentator like myself can feel the excitement in the air. The archetypical battle between the seasoned veterans and the hotshot upstarts is about to be fought.

            Which makes it a bit of a shame that not everyone has access to this universe to watch the game. So without further ado, here are this year's Ultrabowl highlights.

  • Trouble got started immediately. The sprightliness of the Ancients on the field is as much of an oddity as their habit of playing in long flowing robes, and disconcerting enough that it drew significant attention away from the C'thulu pregame sacrifice. Not to be outdone, the C'thulus hastily modified their sacrifice so that instead of being directed at C'thulu, it was directed at one of the abominations living in a nearby dimension. The wall of enraged tentacles that emerged from the ceiling certainly got the audience's attention back, but it took the stadium operators ten minutes and two additional dead lambs to get the idea of "wrong number" across.
  • In an unconfirmed act of retaliation, the ancients proceeded to douse the C'thulus with a tidal wave of water that they "accidentally" sent downfield while doing water-cast warm-ups. Since the C'thulu players are all possessed by squid-demons, however, the consensus was that this action was "mildly refreshing". Nevertheless, referees insisted that further warm-ups be restricted to actually preparing to play.
  • The pregame flip was taken by the Ancients, which some said was a bad sign for the C'thulus. This view was soon silenced, however, when the C'thulus kicked the ball off into a wall. The ball entered a portal which appeared there, reemerged from the opposite wall, and got spiked down into the ground 60 yards from the kickoff zone by a huge tentacle that emerged from the ceiling. This ensured a reasonably good starting position for the C'thulus, but shovels had to be retrieved to dig the ball out of the dirt.
  • The Ancients seemed unshaken, and quickly began picking up on the uncertain temper of the portals used by the C'thulus. Of particular interest was the play in which it became apparent that the ball was not actually required to appear at either the same point in space, or time. In it, a hike was interrupted because the ball hit the Ancients quarterback, Venerable Master Quizudo, squarely in the back of the head. The C'thulus then rushed the line and threw the ball into the portal, where it became the ball that hit the quarterback. Unfortunately for the C'thulus, the ancients ran the other ball around them as they did. After using a pencil and paper to work it out, the referees decided that the ball used in the resulting touchdown was the later ball and awarded a point to the Ancients.
  • In another incident, one-time star rookie, and perennial fan favorite, Bernard Evisceraue, made textbook use of tendrils of darkness to heft Ancients lineman Lightkeeper Gistakep into a dungeon dimension. In the past two years, the spell has become one of his signature maneuvers, and his degree of control, despite its difficulty, has been lauded among leading necromancers. But in a shock maneuver, Gistakep caught himself by conjuring a Tidal wave, which proceeded to sweep both himself and Evisceraue into a portal being used by the C'thulus to assist in a long throw, instead. Gistakep returned two plays later riding a hideous space centipede. Evisceraue was substituted for.
  • The second quarter showed increased confidence from the Ancients, and a continued deterioration of the C'thulu line. Although the ancients showed a marked weakness in making conversions, their scoring capabilities seemed on-target. But it was the  C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder, who arrived from a time portal in the future to warn his team that they would lose when the Ancients raised the Guardian of the Light, which caused some fans to despair. This lead to unforeseen deaths, since despairing in R'yleh can cause manifestations of hideous dark horrors. Paramedics on standby with upbeat techno music and smiley-face-shaped stickers managed to calm some of the panic. "After you've seen someone apply a smiley face to your nose while forcing you to listen to a dance remix, dark horrors don't really seem so bad," said one audience member.
  •  In a move characteristic of the first half, Guardian Vazhitep levitated off the ground using the mysterious glowing Atlantian technology in his shoulderpads, and dodged a cleverly placed hole in the turf. C'thulu center Arnold Bludfahl, however, aggressively pressed the attack, surrounding Vazhitep in a tiny box of portals. The portals seem to have experienced a malfunction due to their unusual proximity, however, such that when Vazhitep cast an explosive sphere of water, it rebounded through the portals and hit Bludfahl from all directions, while Vazhitep stood carefully in the corner of the box. Technically, squids cannot drown in water, but Bludfahl made a brave attempt.
  • The halftime show was provided by Pazrrmm and the Sqrggs, a zombie heavy metal band fresh off of a tour of Louisiana, where the Bonedolls owners personally hosted them. Due to their condition, they have enormous difficulty making themselves understood, but thanks to a clever choice of genre, that hasn't stopped them from reaching the top of the metal charts in the US, and third in the UK and the territory of Luna.
    Things started rough, nonetheless. Their song "Zqqflkdmna grdd? (Wwreg vlllbn)" got only a tepid response from the audience, which failed to be impressed by the acrobatic displays put on by glowing nether-demons during the song. But "Hvnl mjkptrz dlvytr" was an all-out hit. Critics called the moment when Pazrrmm offered his heart to a gigantic holographic goddess "strangely moving, with an emphasis on strange". Doctors were on hand to help him put it back in, afterwards.
  • Some felt that the finale of the song was ruined by the arrival of C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder, who came from the future to warn the team that the Ancients had a secret weapon called the Fountain of Rebirth, which they intended to use if cornered.
  • The second half seemed to be starting out much as the first had ended. The Ancients and the C'thulus were largely stalemated in the field, with the C'thulus more consistently losing ground than the Ancients. By now, the Ancients had learned that dimensional portals could easily be tracked by shooting water through them to learn where they lead. The C'thulus began using the tactic of rearranging their portals frequently, which set back the Ancients but did not stop them. By contrast, the Ancients had great success in stopping most of the physical onslaughts by the C'thulus using water shields, which meant the defensive line was largely stagnant in the third quarter.
  • C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder arrived by time portal from the future to warn the C'thulus that they would lose, but the reason was unclear because the other two versions of himself began arguing with him. The coaches called a timeout and took them aside for a quick discussion.
  • With one minute left in the third quarter and the C'thulus down by seven touchdowns, media figures began polling the C'thulu coaches on the seemingly hopeless situation of the team. The coaches responded, in one unearthly chorus: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die,". Then the ceiling exploded.
  • It turned out that the exploding ceiling was, in fact, returning player Bernard Evisceraue, wearing blood-red rags and trailing an army of abominations from between the stars. Unlike the misfired sacrifice near the beginning of the game, both the walls and the ceiling collapsed permanently into otherworldly gates which demonic hordes began to emerge from. The referees immediately threw a flag and pointed out that the demon army was, in fact, off sides. The coaches, however, successfully argued that  they were not actually on the team roster and could be counted under the rulebook as an environmental hazard. Next week's rulebook is expected to close this loophole.
  • The fourth quarter started with a seemingly refreshed team of C'thulus. Now in their element, the C'thulus began quickly recouping touchdowns by taking advantage of the apparently random motions of the pincers, eyeless heads, headless eyes, and obligatory tentacles that filled the stadium. The water casts of the Ancients faced a logistical problem because of this obstacle course. On an unrelated note, Japanese studios catering to a more adult audience are paying high prices for available footage of this quarter.
  • In retaliation, Ancients linebacker Priest Shatiliya began surreptitiously raising automatons made from glowing green light, who helped guard against the worst of the flailing appendages and could carry the ball from player to player without any apparent form of propulsion. Evisceraue responded by using some kind of acquired link between his squid demon and the otherworldly abominations to smash the automata out of the air. Said tentacles also proved remarkably useful in one point conversions, which gave the C'thulus an edge over the ancients on making up the score difference. On the other hand, they accidentally smashed Xeneder, who had just manifested out of a portal from the future when a tentacle hit him. Xeneder, Xeneder, and Xeneder assisted in dragging him off the field.
  • The C'thulus rapidly scored touchdown after touchdown on the Ancients, bringing the scores back into parity. The Ancients took a timeout to confer with each other, with just a couple of minutes remaining on the clock, and the C'thulus one touchdown and a two-point conversion from a tie. On the next play, the Ancients line erected an extra-strong water shield in order to enable linebacker Watcher Holdasteran the extra time for an especially complex change to the fabric of reality. Holdasteran rose up in the air, glowing oddly, and then the stadium seemed to split into several overlapping timestreams, all at once. The mesh of light left behind in the air was identified by Ancients Coaches as an experimental play called the Citadel of Many Paths.
  • At this point, the action became a little hard to follow. Depending on what angle you watched the game from, either the Ancients raised a giant made of illuminated water and ice, flooded the field with an endless wellspring of sanctified water to drive back the abominations summoned by the C'thulus, or crafted their hydro shields into outsized cleavers to push back the offensive onslaught of the C'thulus. Xeneder was observed to have been thrown into the origination point of the citadel of light in multiple universes. When the dust settled, however, and the referees from the nine identifiable universes conferred, it was found that the C'thulus had gained a net of exactly one touchdown and a two point conversion in the mess. With the teams officially tied, the game entered sudden death.
  • The Ancients and the C'thulus ended up squaring off exactly at the fifty-yard line following  the kick. The ancients, in a final moment of last-minute desperation, clad themselves in a matrix of light as they prepared to go on the offensive for the final time. The C'thulu players responded by extending their tentacles into a body-encompassing ghastly grey-green mass and squirming into position on the line.
  • As the fans predicted, the C'thulus used their favored endgame tactic of twisting the stadium through the bowels of time and space, but since the entire stadium was already encompassed by gigantic otherworldly portals, this also twisted the alternate universes as well. The hydro-shielding of the Ancients was no match for resulting arcane feedback, which caused the field to collapse into chaos. The center of the field could only be tenuously said to exist at this point. But the C'thulus, being naturally adapted to chaos, managed to outmaneuver their opponents in the unforeseen circumstances, and push for the touchdown. Master Quizudo barely escaped the scrum and was beginning to prepare a tidal wave that would, had it been cast, likely have pushed C'thulu Safety Wagner Greybone away from the endzone. His plans were preempted, however, when Johnson Xeneder appeared out of thin air and fell on his head.

            Thus it is that after one of the hardest-fought games in the history of the Ultrabowl, the C'thulus have narrowly escaped with their fourth Ultrabowl win. The win is not without a price, however. Commentators widely agree that this year has seen the birth of what will surely be one of the most bitter rivalries in all of football. And, as is becoming standard in the modern era of the Ultrabowl, the new stadium in R'yleh will have to be closed until someone can figure out how to stop otherworldly abominations from leaking in. There have even been reports of kidnapped players, including Johnson Xeneder, although the C'thulus told his family "not to worry, they have spares". On a related note, this year's MVP slot was narrowly taken by Evisceraue, though some argued that Xeneder's cumulative mediocrity added up to a somewhat higher value.

            How will future games between these two opponents play out? Tune in next year, and find out. Thank you, and good night.


February 7th, 2011

ULTRABOWL 2011

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             It's that time again. Streaming live to you from the Entertainment and Sports Brain Network, this is your only source for real fantasy football, the annual Ultra Bowl game highlights. This year's matchup is one of the starkest contrasts in playing style in Ultra Bowl history, with the New York Ninjas versus the Alaska Yetis. This year the game was held in the brand new Tesla Memorial Stadium in Colorado (Interestingly, the stadium was not built specifically for the Colorado C'thulus, who will be moving instead to a new home stadium in R'yleh. The project is due for completion sometime in mid to late 2011.). After some of the temporal and spacial problems caused by the malfunction of a local inter-dimensional transporter unit, it was thought that the field would be unusable. However, thanks to deft, and according to some, slightly illegal, deals with local safety officials, the field was cleared for use right on schedule. Fans marveled at the shiny weather-proof force field and luxurious ultra-modern anti-gravity seating, with most figuring out how to use said seating after sustaining only minor injuries.

 

  •  The Yetis, in characteristic fashion, arrived on the field loudly. The din from the arrival of the team was clearly taken as a challenge by the Yeti cheerleaders, who responded by jumping up and down and yelling back even louder. The sight of an angry, strategically shaved female yeti cheerleader is indescribable, but even if we could, for legal reasons, we wouldn't. No one is entirely certain when the Ninjas arrived. The referees eventually had to ask where they were, whereupon they materialized from various hiding places around the field, including one player who was disguised,ironically, as a referee.
  • The coin toss went to the Ninjas, who communicated their desire to receive through secret pieces of microfilm hidden in various places on each of the referees. One of the referees petitioned to have the Ninjas barred from the game on the grounds that “a man's underwear is private”, but the writers of the Ultra Bowl rulebook (now revised twice a year, to be on the safe side), apparently hadn't thought of that one yet. One of the Yetis, upset by the coin flip, thoroughly smashed the coin with a fist before plodding off to their end of the field.
  •  The Yetis offered a magnificent kickoff, which made it the 70 yard mark. Ninja receiver Arnold Itsimoru caught the kickoff with a magnificent triple somersault and began to run up-field. In an unanticipated move, with Yeti defenders closing in, Itsimoru threw a smoke pellet into the ground, and continued running as the bewildered Yetis collided behind him. The confusion allowed Itsimoru to get an unheard-of touchdown on the return.
  • The Yetis bounced back quickly, unmercifully using their aptitude for snow and ice spells to literally freeze the Ninjas in their tracks. At this point it became clear that even a Ninja is not especially agile when suffering from severe frostbite. Counteracted by strategic and agile defense by the Ninjas, the Yetis made a hard-won struggle for dominance of the field, scoring a goal but failing the conversion thanks to a deftly handled Katana by Ninja defender Jordan Faraday. The teams were stalemated for the remainder of the first quarter.
  •  In the second quarter, Snowfang, quarterback for the Yetis, threw a high arc long bomb just out of the reach of the Ninjas to Windchill, a young yeti whose relatively small size (standing just seven feet, four inches), and uncharacteristic agility have made him a favorite for the MVP spot three years running. Although the ball was intercepted by Daniel Lee of the Ninjas, the speed lost in intercepting the ball allowed Windchill to catch him. A personal foul was called on Windchill, however, for proceeding to hold Lee upside-down and shake him until smoke pellets and throwing stars dropped from his uniform like confetti.
  •  The Ninjas managed to wrest control of the ball back from Yetis soon after, scoring a touchdown in quarter two. The Yeti line did not realize until it was too late that they had one additional player, Ninja tight-end Barry Wader, who had cleverly disguised himself as one of the Yetis, and who, upon catching a thrown bomb, proceeded to run the opposite direction at speed. The Yetis made a point of counting their players before each play from this point on.
  • The Ninjas also scored via the brilliant tactic of using the imposing yetis as ladders before they could cast spells. Though not always successful, it was enough to put severe pressure on the Yeti linebackers and seriously disrupt their play style. Complemented by a variety of fascinating pyrotechnic abilities which counteracted the Yetis' snow casts, the ninjas began to reclaim dominance of the field. Experts near the field began to pass comment about the effects of the spells on the fabric of reality, and asked that measuring equipment be brought in.
  •  Preservering, the yetis also scored a goal when Snowfang grabbed the ball, wrapped it tightly in his arms, and charged directly though the line of much-smaller ninjas. To the disappointment of Yeti fans, additional points were not counted for the three Ninjas and one Yeti Lineman kicked through the uprights by Pinecrusher on his mighty conversion kick, which ended the first half.
  • The halftime show was provided by Pterodactylysis , a symphonic electronica band with strong big-band influences. The crowd thrilled to “Trilobyte Rhythm” which has enjoyed a three week run in the top ten on the pop charts. A brand-new, undebuted cover of the song “Ode to a Martian Girl” also made an appearance, the cool, thin harmonics striking a haunting and nostalgic feel in the air. But the mood quickly picked back up with “Towerfall” and finished with a spectacular rendition of “Heart of Krakatoa”, including taking advantage of recently perfected virtual reality technology in Tesla stadium, which finished the halftime show with a fully immersive simulation of a volcanic eruption. To say that the audience was surprised would be something of an understatement. Paramedics were called to deal with the results of the stampede.
  •  In an ironic note, therefore, the second half began with an opening play by the Yetis designed to even the field, wherein Snowfang cast a spell that deep-chilled the entire stadium, turning the supercooled grass into thousands of tiny spikes. The Ninja's kicker nevertheless made an almost impossible leap off the goalpost to deliver a very respectable kick which was intercepted by the Yetis via throwing Windchill into the air. Fans scrambled to get out of the way as he tumbled from thirty feet in the air and plowed to earth, knocking over the goalpost and leaving a swathe of destruction through the stands, scoring a definitive return touchdown and moral victory for the Yetis.
  • At this point, officials in the stands started to pick up some worrying signals as the increasing levels of magic usage weakened the already damaged fabric of reality in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. After the goalpost was put back, the Ninjas took possession. Responding to the aggressive Yeti tactics, they summoning a full-sized dragon made of fire, which burnt craters into the ground and set yeti defender Winterbranch's hair on fire. The fire dragon is a perfectly normal cast by the Ninjas in the late game, but in the circumstances it also mysteriously turned all the seats in the stadium into giant rubber ducks. It was generally agreed, however, that this made them far more useable.
  •  Not to be outdone, the Yetis called on the favorite Ultra Bowl tactic of tampering with the weather, encouraging a storm of freezing rain so aggressive that it shorted the weather-proof paneling on the forcefields (giving semi-serious electrical shocks to some of the fans), and seriously cooled off the dragon that had assisted the Ninjas in fighting their way up-field. Their ace lost, the Ninjas nevertheless scored an additional touchdown while they had the advantage of field position, Ninja Quarterback Francis Pretori spinning deftly down the field while touching the spiky turf only with a pair of knives. Two would-be tacklers on the Yeti side withstained superficial wounds while attempting to stop his advance up the field. In a related event, several of the vendors found that their wares had turned into horrible tentacled creatures with far too many eyes. Through a twist of good fortune, however, it was discovered that the creatures were delicious when wrapped in bacon or when dipped in chocolate. A major ice-cream company has since expressed interest in using them to expand their product line.
  • The Ninjas began to move from their more defense-oriented stance, traditional for ninjitsu, to a more magic-heavy stance, casting an impenetrable haze of black smoke over the field to give themselves cover to maneuver. The Yetis, however, adapted to a very harsh environment often prone to conditions of limited visibility, soon proved that they were perfectly capable of detecting the ninjas through other means, swatting them away with suprising ease. The attack was finally ended entirely by a well-aimed freezing tornado that sucked up the smoke, four Ninja linemen, two jumboscreens and a chocolate-covered-otherworldly-creature-on-a-stick vending cart.
  • To gain the upper hand, the Yetis strategically adjusted their weather spell into a thick downpour of snow. The Yetis managed to wail on the Ninjas through the tactic of magically packing on thick layers of snow and ice that both protected them against blows and increased their size and strength (an innate ability that gained yetis the name “abominable snowman”). Opposed only by the occasional well placed bomb, which would blow a lineman apart in an avalanche of snow, the Yetis proceeded to recoup two touchdowns with more relative ease than any team that has yet gone against the Ninjas, evening the score by the end of the third quarter. Key structural supports in parts of the stadium turned variously into glass, cookie dough, and a giant llama, but fans were evacuated quickly and no fatalities occurred. The llama, however, is still at large.
  • As the fourth quarter opened, with everything still to play for, the Ninjas opted for a spell that caused giant, red-hot steel blades to pop suddenly out of the field without any apparent pattern. This is a rarely used spell for the Ninjas, but their superior training gives them an advantage that their opponents do not have, and it showed. The spell made the oversized, snow-packed Yetis too encumbered and slow to react sufficiently in their environment, and the Ninjas pressed forward for all they were worth, battling the Yetis to within ten yards of their goal line. In an unorthodox move, the Yetis used a desperate last minute spell to bury everyone, including themselves, in seven feet of snow. With their massive snowshoe-esque feet allowing them to tread over the top of the buried blades, the halfback, Iceclaw, pushed the ball back 40 yards, before dropping into a crevasse that had been melted in the snow by a blade. After a short consultation with the doctors, then with a necromancer, Iceclaw returned to play with only a slight lingering craving for brains.
  • At this point, due to the ongoing magic usage, the traditional rules of gravity began to wear a little thin. Dense balls of snow and huge sections of ground hovered around the stadium according to local gravitational effects. Fans continued to cheer from the stands, some sitting on any available comfortable spot on the ceiling or wall, some having fastened themselves somehow to their rubber ducks, and in a few unsettling cases, some having used the seat-belts that the ducks appeared with in the first place. A confusing scrum started on the bottom of one of the larger snowballs which drifted slowly towards the Ninja side as the players fought for control of the ball. Most plays, however, involved the player in possession of the ball leaping from patch to patch, occasionally lurching sideways and falling into the bleachers or experiencing the dreaded fall-into-the-sky (at least until they left the vicinity of the stadium, whereupon they generally would fall back down). This allowed for some interesting ambush plays by Ninjas, who would often sneak up on Yetis from underneath to steal the ball (often to have a yeti smash the entire globe they were standing on a moment later). At one memorable point, a chase encircled one of the larger globes of snow four times before the whistle was blown. Despite the confusion caused by the fifty yard line drifting to roughly twenty yards from the Yetis and the thirty yard line for the Ninjas getting lost entirely, the teams appeared dead even.
  •  With one minute left on the clock, Snowfang fell back to regroup. In a final all-or-nothing move, he arranged the pieces of snow into a larger version of the individual snow-packing spell used earlier by the team. The resulting snow-golem, resisting the conflicting gravitational forces, began to trudge toward the ninja end zone with Snowfang on its shoulder. In response, a contingent of Ninjas quickly erected an enormous yin-yang patterned shield to block the advancing giant. But, taking advantage of an upward gravitational current, Snowfang jumped off the golem and high into the air above the stadium, shooting back down again at terminal velocity and puncturing the roof as he fell into the Ninja endzone, thus scoring the final touchdown of the game. Due to the combined duress of the golem spell and the impact of the falling Yeti, the entire outer shell of the stadium turned into Swedish to Venusian Dictionaries and blue peanuts and exploded.
           So it looks like, though both teams fought hard for it, the Yetis will be the ones taking home an Ultra Bowl trophy this year. There will be a lot of very happy yetis out there tonight, especially in the cities along the Alaskan interior. In the meantime, Tesla Memorial stadium has been shut down, pending major repairs and an overhaul of local spacetime. Despite warnings, many fans are taking home their rubber ducks as souvenirs. Some investors are predicting a serious uptick in sales of jumbo bathtubs as a result of the event. A couple of Ninjas felt an unfortunate necessity to commit hari-kari after the match, but the good news is that many of the undead teams, such as the Baton-Rouge Bonedolls and Washington Zombies, have expressed interest in recruiting them. Thankfully, not all of them took it that badly. At least one is believed to have left the stadium disguised as a rubber duck. That's all for this year. Thank you for tuning in, and goodnight.

February 18th, 2010

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      Hm. If anyone has ever wondered what a major political event looks like in the little world spinning merrily on the other end of my mind, this is the answer. I'm sorry I didn't post it sooner, but I was too busy to read the paper.

                   CAKES REBEL, KING DETHRONED

                The world of baking rocked this Mardi Gras as a guerilla attack by a group of cakes snuck into every bakery where the king cake is baked and forcibly took over. The attack is believed to have been instigated, here in Colorado, by a devil’s food cake that was making money as a model in the front window of a bakery in a major metropolitan area, though details are limited. This cannot help the plight of Devil’s Food Cakes, traditionally discriminated against as being satanic. And while all sentient cakes are possessed, the actual number of demonically possessed devil’s food cakes has been no higher than one in four (and wouldn’t even have been that high, if the Heavenly Baking Company had not, ironically, decided that hellfire would be cheaper than expensive gas piping or a part time dragon for heating the ovens).
                The history of cakes is somewhat obscure. The written language of cakes was originated with frosting, which is unfortunately far too biodegradable to preserve the historical record. While certain groups joke of “Cakeiform”, and “lickable-B”, cakes tend to identify their language as “bakeish”,  the dialect favored by most pastries. What we have been able to piece together is that cakes gained sentience comparatively very recently. Even though there was almost certainly a primordial cake, which the builders of the planet ordered shortly after they finished the soup, it does not appear to have even been alive. Actually, cakes seem to have developed a codependent relationship with lost souls, which granted them consciousness, and the souls refuge.

                Apparently, the first sentient cakes were made of souls headed for purgatory, so the temperature of the oven was close to where they were headed, and consequently they were able to redirect long enough to stay (This is why the guard, Cerberus, can be calmed by feeding it a small cake, since it should be used to eating lost souls, or at least Purina One Cerberus Chow, which is supposed to have a very similar flavor). This is why birthday candles help keep cakes from being possessed, since the souls can withstand immense heat, but not actual fire. Cakes seem to have very particular castes… some based on temperature, which is obvious because it differentiates between the type of soul that possesses it, others based on frosting patterns, level of decoration, and the diet it is intended for. “Possessed Baking for Dummies” is a simple way to find out what caste a cake you bake will fall into.

                Some radical cakes, however, are extremely upset by this rigid caste system. The target of the anger from this group is the king-cake caste. Even though it started as just a name, it seems that careful maneuvering allowed king-cakes to lead the public to believe the spoke for all cakes. As they gradually won concessions and began entering the workforce (largely as models for shop windows and commercials, although certain cakes can make a great deal of money by leaving their body to a banquet party if they opt to have a new host baked), the cakes also began to accept the rule of the king cakes, given all the rights they had won for cakes. Cakes can make quite a lot of money, even with low wages, because their only expense is generally a dry storage box to live in. The psychology of cakes is different from that of humans, in that much of what causes boredom in humans comes from a combination of physiological neural patterns. Cakes have no brain to get bored, being powered more or less by sheer willpower, and are famous for their patience.
                Due to of the acquisition of sizable personal fortunes, King-cakes established their own bakeries in order to tightly control creation of their progeny, and the recipes for king cake became closely guarded. They also established the “beef-cakes”, a new caste that closely resembles a pot pie, baked at a very high heat, which means that they are generally more unscrupulous than most cakes.
                However, on Monday, a coalition of pineapple upside down cakes, Bundt cakes, and even cheesecakes overwhelmed the beefcakes and took control of these private bakeries. With the king caste effectively overthrown, the press wanted to know what the demands of the cake revolutionaries were.
                “We demand only that cakes throw off the chains of caste, and choose their own destiny. No longer should a cake baked at 350 degrees be allowed to model only for restaurants where those baked at 350 degrees are established, lest other cakes see them and arrange an accident with a children’s birthday party. Liberty, equality, and bakery!” The FBI called out its special pastry profiling squad to attempt to diffuse the situation, but the rebel cakes were barricaded in the building. It was rumored that they are holding shortcakes, traditionally popular hosts for young souls, hostage, but this turned out to be untrue.
                Eventually, at the Colorado plant, SWAT officers armed with industrial cake-icers, capable of decorating a cake accurately at 20 yards, broke through the back door and advanced towards the bakery. Icers are very effective, because even cakes that are not class-conscious are disoriented by the addition of frosting to their bodies, much as a human would be if they grew an additional arm, and as a result suffer a moment of existential uncertainty after being iced, whereupon they can be subdued.
                After 45 nerve-wracking minutes, the officers emerged with the news that all of the perpetrators had been iced, but that serious damage had been done to the machinery inside before the rebel cakes were captured.
                All told, most of the King-Cake “palaces” have been severely damaged, and the remaining King-Cakes are calling for execution by fourth-grade class, the highest form of punishment that cakes have. Civil authorities are still considering the case, and many hearings will have to be held before a decision is reached.
                In the meantime, however, the cake world has been shaken to its core. The king-cakes have never been seen as particularly bad rulers, and cakes generally get on with their lives in peace, with very little inter-class conflict. We can only hope that this misguided revolution is not the beginning of a trend.


February 14th, 2010

CUPID IS COMBAT-READY

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            I was reading the Hippocampus Herald today, and I came across this article. Am I the only one who’s worried by this?          

 CUPID IS COMBAT-READY


       Ah, the weapons of love. The moonlight serenade, the candlelight dinner, and this year, the titanium-fronted, 10 inch, hydraulic-powered “Heartstring” crossbow, the latest addition to the arsenal of over 15,000 cherubs including the boss himself, cupid. The bow is crammed with non-standard parts, including an optical sight, limited-range teleporter to automatically reload the arrows, and a durable but lightweight carbon fiber body, which keeps it out of the hands of all but the most discerning collector.
            The problems that lead to the conception and the delivery of the “Heartstring” have been growing for a long time, but remain largely unrecognized by the general public because Cupid himself has overshadowed them. It is open knowledge, for example, that Cupid has made a great deal of money from his online matchmaking businesses, and millions more from consultations and product placements. He has astounded the world by taking the gold for Greece three times in archery during the summer Olympics. Tabloids have publicized extensively his resulting rivalry with English archer Robert Locksley, who became a regular visitor to the present following the establishment of the Cross-Universal Temporal Transport (CUTT). And there are hermits living on distant mountains who have heard of his ironic (and very public) marital problems with Psyche.
            But becoming a household name, Olympic athlete, and celebrity playboy does not change that he has been struggling to do his job with a relatively small workforce in recent years. An individual cherub could have responsibility for hundreds of thousands of couples, yet traditionally is armed with a single bow and arrow. As a result, quotas are higher than ever and effectiveness rates are through the floor. Enter Lovestruck Ltd., Cupid’s latest startup company that promises to bring an end to the downward spiral of modern romance by raising exponentially the number of couples a single cherub can unite, by force if necessary. Lovestruck is a unique company, designed to combine the latest scientific advancements in romantic research with cutting edge military tech. The result, true to the company’s motto, really does appear to be “Where Mars Meets Venus”. The company’s specific headquarters are undisclosed, though they are known to be on a private island off the coast of Greece.
            The Herald, after an extensive security screening and a ride in a private helicopter, was allowed a sneak-peek at the latest weapons off of the Lovestruck line. The “Heartstring” is the foundation of this line. The auto reload gives it rapid fire capabilities not available in prior models, while the scope gives it a degree of precision that has been notably lacking for cherub mercenaries who have less skill with the bow than Cupid. This is good news for people who always fall in love with the wrong type of person, since accuracy rates are predicted to be very good with the new tech.
            The arrows will be remaining essentially the same, undergoing only minor tweaks. Traditionally, they’re just concentrated romantic energy locked in thaumaturgic matrix that aerosolizes on contact, integrating the energy directly into the target’s bloodstream. Lovestruck has modified the spell so that the matrix can hold a more concentrated dose, and is altering the mixture of energies to include slightly more lust, in an attempt to help catalyze romantic interactions. Cherubs normally carry “innocent”, “typical”, and “lustful” grade arrows, color coded pink, red, and crimson, respectively. The “heartstring” has relegated these settings to a thumb toggle, allowing quick adaptation to each situation.
            But in addition to the arrows, Lovestruck’s new spell contraction algorithm now allows for the first love bullets to be created. These early models have the highest concentration of energy possible to fit into the matrix, and even then require a fairly high caliber. But they have ushered in a new era of weaponry for cupid and his workforce. For situations with multiple targets, for example, Lovestruck has commissioned the “palpitation” semi-automatic teleporter-fed assault rifle, which should be in the hands of some high-ranking cherubs as early as 2012. For melee, there is discussion of a combat knife with the ability to be recharged with energy. A recasting of the matrix has also lead to research into the creation of an experimental grenade, for use in parties and dance halls, as well as a heavy duty rocket launcher guaranteed to effect even the most well-guarded, sheltered, or stubborn targets on Earth, playfully nicknamed the “penetrator”.
            In the meantime, Cupid himself is carrying this year’s pistol model, the “pacemaker” around in a hip-holster. Various concoctions of pheromones, perfumes, and chemicals have been specially concentrated in blast pellets that are being equipped on the belt of all of love’s little helpers, along with specialized pieces of S&R equipment, and even an emergency beacon. “You’d be surprised how many cherubs get tagged by an angry father holding a shotgun and some very particular views” quipped Cupid, grinning mirthlessly.
            When questioned about the rumors of “love rockets”, ICBMs capable of intoxicating an entire city, Cupid laughed. “Building something like that is quite difficult”, he said, before showing us to another room. Since establishment on the island, some portions of Lovestruck’s operations have been incredibly secretive, especially those surrounding two prominent silos in the northwestern corner of the island. Official secretaries have put forth statements strongly suggesting that these are emergency storage, but there has been no definite answer. I’m sure we are all comforted, therefore, by Cupid’s assurance that it is not an easy task to construct such devices.
            So for those lonely singles reading this, you can rest in the knowledge that Cupid is hard at work on solutions that will help change that. With the assistance of Lovestruck, cupid and company predict a 70% jump in efficiency for 2010, with a further 55% next year. Following the announcement, stocks in Cupid’s publically traded companies jumped dramatically, closing 12 points higher, in one instance.
            As for those of you who wish to remain alone this year, be it for reasons financial, emotional, or religious, it looks like your best bet is to invest in a bulletproof vest.

Combat Cupid

 

Cupid takes flight with a pair of "Heartstring" crossbows, and a "Pacemaker" support weapon.The new arsenal is a far cry from his traditional bow and arrow.

February 9th, 2010

ULTRA BOWL

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                Hello, sports fans, and welcome once more to the annual Ultra Bowl game highlights, live from Entertainment and Sports Brain Network (ESBN), tuned in for your yearly dose of real fantasy football. This year was an historic occasion for two reasons. The first is that Louisiana made it to the finals in both universes, this year. The second is that for the first time ever, one of the four football teams from Earth’s space colonies (AFC-Space) has made it to the Ultra Bowl.  The Colorado C’thulus faced off against the Luna Ticks in the final four, but lost in overtime (partially due to a controversial facemask call on veteran right guard Perry Skullscar, who insists that he had just forgotten to tuck his tentacles into his jersey). However, due to their vast experience with necromancy, the C’thulus were still allowed to perform the rites for raising the Louisiana players, the Baton Rouge Bonedolls, up from the grave.
                  This year’s Ultra Bowl took place in the Tick’s Home stadium in Luna Central, where low gravity adds to the challenge of maneuvering. The indoor stadium was packed with fans, and the view of Earth through the glass roof served as a point of constant exhilaration for the many Terran fans making their first trip to Luna. There was a minor problem when the field manager heard the visiting team had been brought to life by the C’thulus, and locked himself in the closet clutching a bag of grass seed and crying, but it was quickly sorted out with a crowbar and 50 CCs of tranquilizers.

  •          There was some drama in the pre-game of this year’s Ultra Bowl. Moonbug, the Tick’s mascot, was an actual giant bioengineered tick this year, commissioned especially for the game. His instincts, however, lead him to become so overexcited by the crowd that he tried to suck the blood of The Baron, the Bone Dolls mascot. Unfortunately, the Bone Dolls also chose a realistic mascot this year and opted (with the assistance of the C’thulus), to raise a giant, tuxedo-clad skeleton via arcane forces. This resulted in two important lessons: 1. You cannot suck the blood of a giant skeleton, and 2. You should never try to eat any arcane force larger than your head. Moonbug managed to escape with superficial injuries to the proboscis and a fractured wing. Fortunately, due to the effects of antigravity on cheerleaders, at least that portion of the crowd that was male did not notice. 
  •          The teams entered with great fanfare and cheering. The Luna Ticks came in wearing their famous spacesuit/football uniforms in green and yellow, and did some showing off in the warm-ups, taking advantage of the microgravity. The Bone Dolls preferred to crawl out of the ground, groaning ominously, a move that has been popular in previous years. The fans were kept in high spirits by The Baron, who attempted to do some necromancy by cutting the head off a live cockerel. A small disconnect in the spell resulted in the cockerel being what was brought back to life, whereupon it picked up its head between its wings and pecked him repeatedly on the skull before running into the stands, where it attempted to mate with a hotdog stand. The Baron also passed out voodoo dolls to the crowd. “My math teacher iv gonna have a nafty fuprive on Monday” lisped Bone Dolls fan Nancy Bella, aged 6.
  •          The coin toss went to the Ticks, who chose, unusually, to kick off. Kicker Danny Upton explained that this was standard procedure for microgravity games, since there was a very good chance of making a field goal. And indeed, thanks to microgravity, the ball made a high, clean arch, but the Bone Dolls, acting quite literally with the speed of a thing possessed, loaned Returner Drdrack Mmerrg (as he identified himself when interviewed) some extra leg bones. Thus enhanced, he showed exceptionally good posture catching the ball, bending all eleven knees. Meanwhile, his teammates had crawled over to the other side and were busily gnawing on the legs of their opponents. Following an exceptionally complex summersault, the returner began loping unsteadily downfield, being tackled at the twenty by two Tick linemen who were being chased by the dismembered head of safety Cruxgrug gxxl.
  •          The Ticks pushed back the onslaught of the Bone Dolls by taking advantage of their jetpacks to make forceful running attacks, which proved devastating to the Bone Doll line in the early part of the game. The Bone Dolls, however, managed to hold their own, stabbing the fuel lines of their opponents with their own rib bones, specially sharpened for today’s match. The Ticks had to call in two replacements due to untimely explosions. The Baron helpfully assisted in clearing the bodies off the sidelines, although what precisely he did with them was not clear.
  •         Brazga Mgwargl, a Bone Doll linebacker, demonstrated masterful use of a surreptitious voodoo doll on the first play of the second quarter, completely incapacitating the arm of Tick Quarterback Gordon Armstrong during the hike. The hike went wild and the lines collided, with promising rookie Zrrrkra Kzrr grabbing the ball and running thirty yards with it before being brought down. Armstrong tackled Mgwargl, almost getting a penalty for a personal foul, until it was pointed out that, because of the doll, he had also managed to tackle himself. The referees asked that voodoo dolls be kept out of future plays.
  •          The bone dolls developed an interesting offensive strategy of burrowing into the ground with ball and digging underneath the Tick line, nullifying their low-grav advantage. They had similar success in using this strategy to bypass the offensive line when on defense. In response, the Ticks began firing their ice mining lasers at the ground, more or less at random. Linebacker Zizcrk Grzxm got a nasty blast through the head in the process, but managed to make the most of it by getting one of his teammates to lend him a hand, which he placed in the hole and used to distract the other players. The Baron, meanwhile, crouched on the sidelines over a mysterious pile of burnt material, busily chalking lines and placing candles.
  •          The Ticks, trying to get an advantage in the final minute of the first half, pulled out their secret weapon. Strapping a mini-black-hole powered vacuum to his helmet, center Jordon Alton attempted to vacuum up his Bone Doll Counterpart. This worked, to a point, although he only resulted in getting the dust of a very angry skeleton into his suit’s ventilation system. He ran off the field, apparently punching himself in the crotch as hard as possible and slamming his head into the ground.
  •          The Halftime show was provided by Luna, featuring the jazz-metal band “Unnatural Log” singing “Supernova” and “Geosynchronous Hearts”. They finished by hyping the crowd to fever pitch with the song “Faster than Life” and a brilliant laser display combined with well-timed aerial maneuvers from small, exploding animatronics aliens. This got a good crowd response, despite the ongoing battle with certain colonizing alien species on the moons of Jupiter being a hot-button issue. Around the finale, however, dark clouds began to gather over the stadium, which interested the stadium engineers a great deal, since that isn’t supposed to be possible. At the highest point of the song, lightning struck the podium. This was followed by an incredibly intense but relatively short rain-and-occasional-toad-storm, at the end of which, the field closely resembled a swamp. The Baron was sitting innocently on the sidelines, being fanned by two unknown zombies. Management eventually agreed, after seeing the grin on The Baron’s skull, that it was a freak accident in the climate control system. They neglected to comment on why crawfish and toads were optional atmospheric modifications. Apparently the problem could not be rectified sooner because of a surprisingly fierce headless cockerel that had put together a nest in the control room and was desperately trying to mate with a stale packet of peeps it had found somewhere.
  •          The Ticks, a team traditionally reliant on a combination of aerial agility and ground speed to score, found maneuvering in the swamp difficult. The issues of crawfish getting into various crevices of spacesuits that should theoretically have been airtight were constant, including one that made a spirited attempt to remove Left Guard Abraham Maslow’s nose with its claws.
  •          Maslow, once the crawfish had been removed and the hole it clawed in the suit repaired, showed some very fancy footwork on the team, getting a 65 yard run through the simple expedient of hovering constantly to stay out of the mud. This strategy remained popular with the team until it was discovered that the swamp-like ground now produced unexpected packets of flammable gas.
  •          The recovered Tick center, Alton, in the final minute of the third quarter, snapped the ball back long to Armstrong. Armstrong then got on top of the Moonbug, which was swimming well in the moist environment, and rode him through the defensive line. The Bone Dolls, however, responded by surrounding the charging mascot and, as one unit, forcing him into the air. The sound of the screaming quarterback slamming into the ceiling in front of 400 pounds of confused parasite served as a testament to the growing ability of the Bone Dolls to play in low gravity.
  •          As the fourth quarter wore on, the teams battled back and forth across the center of the field. In an attempt to  gain the advantage, the entire Bone Doll team rearranged itself into what onlookers described variously as “a horrible crablike thing”, “a multiheaded, hellish apparition”, and “awesome” (according to one twelve year old). Unfortunately, though they made a decisive break in the offensive line, they lost a great deal of agility, and tight end Martin Rocklorne made fifteen yards before having the entire pile of bones collapse on top of him.
  •          In the last twenty seconds, the Ticks decided to try to break the stalemate with a Hail Mary into the endzone. But, in an amazing and totally unanticipated move, Grzxm tackled the runner in the endzone, flipped over, and caught the ball with the hand installed in his head, winning the game for the Bone Dolls at the last second.
  •          At this point, all the lights went out in the stadium, due to a certain black cockerel which had managed to overcome security, swinging its own head like a battleaxe, and had attempted to mate with the main power line.

                Thus, the Bone Dolls will be walking away with their first FFL trophy this year. The Baron neglected to comment, although he did offer the interviewer a lovely string of beads before stalking away. There is currently some debate as to whether the C’thulus did something nefarious when they conjured the Bone Doll’s mascot. Someone pointed out the C’thulus are the only team banned from bringing in a realistic mascot, but had it explained to them this was a safety measure to prevent Armageddon. “We’re the C’thulus” said a spokesman for the team, heightening debate, “We’re SUPPOSED to do something nefarious”. The Bone Dolls are back in their respective graves, though some have signed contracts for further seasons and will therefore be trying very hard not to decompose in the off season. The Luna authorities have agreed that perhaps a small memorial statue to the cockerel is in order, because they aren’t entirely sure it’s dead yet and feel it would be better to be safe than sorry.

That’s the sports update for this year’s Fantasy Ultra Bowl. Be sure to tune in next year, and goodnight.

February 2nd, 2010

HELIUM HOBOS

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            I’ve often wondered exactly where the drifting balloons you sometimes see in the sky come from, though never where they go. I was always given to understand that they eventually exploded from lack of external pressure to make them keep their shape.

            … The “Hippocampus Harald” (my poor brain’s official newspaper, formerly the "Hypothalamic Harald"), apparently has other ideas.

 

                                             
HELIUM HOBOS ON THE RISE!

            
            Tonight, dear readers, we are going to look at a very serious issue. It is an issue plaguing our urban areas, yet very few people take it seriously. I am referring, of course, to balloon vagrancy.
            Balloons can be separated from their families in dozens of ways. Carelessly letting go of a string at a picnic. Carelessly letting go of a string in a carnival. Even carelessly letting go of a string after a birthday party. However it happens, the balloons, once released, are totally untrained in what to do. They have no eyes, so once they lose contact with their owner, they panic, usually going straight up. This is instinctive, from the days when primitive balloons made from animal skins would be released near the entrance of the cave, where they would hug the roof and strangle any person who wasn’t their owner with long strings woven from grass. Alas, what the modern world has lost in the dangers of stalactites, it has gained in the use of balloons for enormous outdoor events far from a handy ceiling. Thus, every day, thousands of balloons become lost, and drift for miles and miles.
            There was a time when these balloons would simply die in the wild, bereft of an owner. They have notoriously short life spans in any case. But the relatively high density of human cities has caused a change in this pattern. Balloons, which are primarily a helium based life form, are attracted by masses of non-oxygen gasses ( it is thought that at one time, the string on balloons was a proboscis for sucking in warm or lighter than air gasses. Unfortunately, the best places to find concentrations of these were in other balloons, leading to the species Balloonisaurus vaporivorum  cannibalizing itself out of existence before the evolution of man. The proboscis of surviving members atrophied until it became totally detachable, which is where we stand today.) . This leads masses of lost balloons to converge on cities, where the infrastructure is sadly incapable of dealing with their needs.
            Balloons are primarily used as a pet, so their best chance for survival is getting readopted. At the time of this writing, several shelters have been opened across the country. These facilities have lead to some emotional reunions between lost balloons and their owners, (typically one tenacious seven-year-old and two exasperated parents). Sadly, however, due to space constraints, very few of these are “no-pop” shelters. The average life expectancy of a sheltered balloon is three days, although those lucky enough to be in a no-pop shelter may live four times that long.
            But what of the many balloons that cannot get adopted or are too skittish to be sheltered? What of the horrible smiley face or clown balloons, that no one will approach because they give them nightmares? These balloons have very few job options in a growing city. Unable to get even the most basic necessities of life, these balloons become desperate, broken creatures. Some revert to a feral state, often killing dozens of people with latex allergies before being brought down. Others sink to horrible depths to survive, being preyed on by balloon pimps who contract them out to fetishists or freelance carnivals at high prices. Still others cut out the middleman, and prey on people who forgot to bring a French purse along when they hit the bar. Spartan, a preventatives company, maintains that the increase of lost balloons has had a noticeable effect on its sales, leading to the commissioning of a campaign to inform the public of the dangers of using wild balloons in an intimate encounter.
            Moreover, drug use is a more severe danger to balloons than it is to humans. Most balloons do not survive their first attempt to shoot up. Those that take up smoking often become addicted to the buoyancy caused by the warm fumes. However, within days, the heavier-than-air fumes completely incapacitate the balloon, and that is ignoring the obvious dangers of something that melts easily carrying around a lighter. As for drinking, anyone familiar with the somewhat barbaric use of water balloons during summer can predict the result.
            Yet apathy to the condition of lost balloons is at an all-time high. One reason that several people have mentioned is that they see no evidence of vagrant balloons. In fact, it is possible that your city has become infested with balloons without you noticing. The typical balloon in the city is dressed differently from one in the wild. Many adopt some kind of hat, in order to help them stay at ground level. Others may procure a coat, which they will use like a sail to help propel themselves. And of course, the ever present plethora of ill-fated addictions is mixed and matched over populations.
             If left unchecked, balloons stand a good chance of crowding out or replacing the human populations of some areas. It is unknown precisely how they reproduce, but females have been known to spawn enormous numbers of eggs tied together in a larger superstructure. Packing firms have been farming female balloons for these egg sacks, (better known as bubble-wrap), for years, but refuse to reveal their secrets. It is possible that the string is somehow involved, since it has been replaced by the small hole at the bottom of each balloon as an eating orifice. At least one scientist has put forth the bold theory that, since the string is removable, the gender of the balloon is optional, and that all balloons are a kind of situationally-based hermaphrodite.
            Whatever the actual biology of the balloon, however, it’s a distinct possibility that they will breed very quickly in cities, and the chances increase as the number of balloons does. Before we downplay the danger of this, remember that the Balloonicus domesticus is a relative of Balloonicus Giganticus, better known as the “hot air balloon”. History books recall that these genetic throwbacks to prehistoric balloons, bred during a similar boom in their population in the late 19th century, were once a real threat.
             Darwinian selection favors larger and larger balloons in competitions for mates, possibly because size is tied to the lifespan of such balloons. Eventually, physiological changes occurred that allowed balloons to become even larger. These giants, while lacking a proboscis entirely, reached enormous sizes and even formed a very primitive culture. Some of our readers may even have fathers or grandfathers who remember the balloon wars, where hot air balloon warlords drove fearsome herds of blimps across the sky, blotting out the sun. They would then set these “suicide blimps” systematically alight with their igniters, dropping them on human settlements like bombs. It is now known, for example, that the Hindenburg was a spy sent to demoralize the humans.
            Because of this historical precedent, we cannot sit idly by while the balloons slowly colonize our cities. There have been extreme solutions proposed, such as popping all balloons on sight, while more moderate activists simply recommend a better securing mechanism to prevent balloons from continuing to get lost. Others say that it is important to pop vagrant balloons currently in the cities, but people should be allowed to farm them with careful restrictions. Whatever we do, we must do it before we are overtaken by vagrant balloon populations. There is still time to act, however. Perhaps more positive occupations will even present themselves. As one spokesman for HELIUM (Home for Enabling Latex Individuals in Undertaking the Market) pointed out, airline service has deteriorated so much, with up to twenty people now being crammed in a single cabin on a small dragon, that people may be all too happy to walk into a craft supported by thousands of balloons. For the moment, though, average citizens are walking the streets with hatpins, and the crime world has welcomed the balloons into its deep and seedy bosom. Will the future be better? That is up to you.

A typical vagrant


February 24th, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras!

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Mr. Pink Elephant
The pink elephants turned out in force this year. Well known to those prone to getting too drunk to stand, their primary job is to come out of the intoxicated individuals head and circle in an amusing manner. They are, in fact, built into the universe as a safety, on the basis that if a drunk is watching floating pink pachyderms, they’ll be too confused to do anything stupid (This rarely works, although it sometimes makes the person so dizzy they throw up).
Despite the fact that Mardi Gras is one of the busiest days of the year for them (After St. Patrick’s Day and Valentines Day, although they are notoriously anxious not to discuss the latter), I’ve managed to pull one away from his work for a while in order to interview him. Via careful translation, I have rendered some advice that might help you make the most of your Mardi Gras.
One other thing: The pink elephants do not work exclusively in our world. There is a variety of information here, in fact, that one prays is not from our world. Because of the fact that our readers may include residents of other universes, I have chosen not to filter this information. Use your own judgment.

1. Be careful who you give beads to: Especially If you have had a few. With sufficiently thick beer goggles, most people would proposition a lamp. Also, do not give beads to a dragon. Why? Well, it isn’t that they won’t appreciate the shiny material (unless you’re stupid enough to give the dragon plastic beads, in which case the dragon will appreciate you. Probably for dinner). But dragons are notoriously slim in the breast department. Cows, on the other hand, are an excellent bet. They’ll show you their breasts even before you give them beads. Few people celebrating Mardi Gras in India are disappointed.

2. Remember, your love life is not dead : Nor should you feel a compulsion to make it so. When it comes to the undead, remember that it’s important to know that there are major drawbacks to many dates. Vampires tend to be a little kinky, and bite. The vast majority of ghosts are dealing with unfinished business, which is rarely the lack of dates while they were alive; those who DO have this as their unfinished business probably remained dateless for a reason. And if you feel a compulsion to hit on a zombie, see number 1.

3. Designate a Driver: Because otherwise, you will get one of two ideas. One, that you should drive yourself, in which case the elephant assures me that more people then you think end up crashing directly into the lobby of the police station. Or else, you’ll take public transportation. That’s usually code for “Charged with doing a samba on a moving bus wearing nothing but an orange tutu which you’ve stolen”. You can always call a taxi, but when a guy shows up driving a secondhand patch of carpet hastily dyed yellow, who regardless of where you ask to go will take you to a sugar packing plant across town, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

4. Do not attempt to eat the pink elephant: This is important. Under no circumstances should you reach out, grab the pink elephant around the midriff and attempt to eat him. It cannot be emphasized enough that drinking heavily at Easter and mistaking him for a peep will not save you. Expect to have your mouth sneezed in.

5. Do not drink anything you cannot pronounce: This is a simple way to keep yourself from going crazy, dying, or disappearing into an interdimensional abyss. Look at the handy reference chart below.

IF THE LABEL YOU CANNOT PRONOUNCE IS…YOU SHOULD NOT DRINK IT BECAUSE…
…A quote from the Necronomicon See: Abyss, interdimensional
…in KlingonThis drink is invariably fatal to humans. Traditional Klingon drinks are similar to the Mexican one with the worm at the bottom, except the worm is alive and the goal is to see how drunk you can get while still being able to defeat it in mortal combat.
…In HawaiianThis drink contains as much fruit as its supposed island of origin. The sugar in that glass will cause you a hangover that will need its own room.
… “blood”You are in a vampire bar and should be running. Unless you’re a vampire, of course.
 
…EverclearBecause this particular entry can cause cerebral damage just by looking at it. Patrons ordering Everclear should be forced to say the synonym “Rubbing Alcohol” instead. Anyone still capable of doing this after the first glass should be given a medal.
...VodkaBecause vodka is Russian for “Everclear”
…On fire Because you’re already too drunk. We’re assuming here that the drink in question is not on fire, but that the actual label is on fire. If you have reached the point where you are no longer sure where to stick the match, you should probably not get in bed with anyone.
…beer Actually, if you are so wasted that you can no longer say four letters you are A: not very adept at swearing, and B: ten seconds from death anyway. So go ahead and drink it.

6. If you do drink too much and voices call you towards the light, don’t go: Remember your last family reunion? It’s like that, but longer, and without alcohol.

7. Do not try to text your friends with the elephant: Elephants do not like their bellies pushed. It makes them throw up imaginary peanuts all over your hand. This is your own fault.

8. When drinking, ignore all ideas to do things not involving drinking: Do not play poker with demons, especially not if you like using the expression “I’d bet my life”. Do not try to eat a car. Do not stick your wand down your pants and conjure a seal. Do not animate the drink rack and encourage it to tap dance. Do not conquer Belgium. Do not get married to an orc. Do not engage in extra-marital relations of any kind with other species. Especially, and we cannot say this clearly enough, the pink elephant.

AND FINALLY…

9. Really, truly, honestly, we mean this, under no circumstances are you to play racquetball, badminton, tennis, ping pong, or pool with the pink elephant: Because he may be imaginary, but he can still burrow into your brain via your eyeball. He knows C’thul-Fu. They’ll have to clean up your skeleton with a mop. Leave the elephant alone.

Once again, happy Mardi Gras, and good luck to those of you observing Lent. ( it has been intimated that Friday’s special will be trilobyte bisque with Bovigryph cream and freshly exorcised possessed pepper, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. Never mind that the intimation in question is what you just read.)

February 13th, 2009

(no subject)

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Now some of you are aware that my head boasts a full variety of facilities for keeping my characters out of my hair. A writer failing to provide entertainment and comfort of a certain level is at a serious risk for characters finding ways to entertain themselves, and that’s a good way to go crazy.
Among these facilities is a fairly good newspaper, which keeps me appraised of the goings-on inside my mind. So, naturally, when the “Hypothalamic Herald” featured an interesting article in preparation for valentine’s day, I knew the moment I read the title that I had to transcribe it, for our readership’s edification. Here it is, in it’s entirety.

LIGHTING THE FIRES OF LOVE
“Dragons are excellent romantic partners,” Study says

New studies conducted among local residents and in the lab revealed this Friday that Dragons may be better lovers. Neuroscientist and biological theorist Dr. Edwin Dwight announced before the united imaginary press today that his exhaustive study had produced compelling evidence that people seeking stable relationships should look for a dragon. “Frankly, we’ve known that dragons were hot for a long time, what with breathing fire and all…” Dr. Dwight told reporters, “… but it appears that there are a variety of other things which make dragons very desirable partners.”
The study began with 100 volunteers, all of whom had recently broken up after a serious relationship of at least one year in duration, and who, according to psychological testing, had not had a dysfunctional relationship. With the assistance of a local dragon dating service, “Wyvern Wire”, these volunteers were paired up with complementary dragons, and then their experiences evaluated over the course of the next few months.
“I was skeptical, at first… but when I saw her classical square features, and shiny purple scales, well, I knew my outlook was about to change,” said local man Johnson Daley, 32.
“Oh, there’s no comparison,” agrees Lily Marie, 28, “Dragons catch a lot of flak for things like hoarding… but a dragon is really just trying to achieve security for it and its mate”. Ms. Marie, like many of the volunteers during this study, is currently planning on moving to a cave in a good neighborhood and raising a brood with her dragon.
And in fact, says Dr. Dwight, the overall sense of security people feel when they are in a relationship with a dragon goes beyond the monetary. “Three of the volunteers did have visits from mentally disturbed past contacts, two of which were ‘stalkers’. They unanimously agreed that engulfing the person in a burst of flame was a far more effective deterrent then threatening to call the cops.”
What are the disadvantages? Well, dragons can be potentially deadly in those lover’s tiffs which eventually happen. “There were some minor burns suffered in a couple of instances towards the end of the first three months,” Dr. Dwight admitted, apologetically shaking his head, “But we found that having plenty of aloe on hand, and the provision of flame retardant sheets for volunteers, was enough to survive the relatively brief wrath of a dragon. They all, without exception, were capable of catching themselves at that point, before it got any worse.”
“A dragon is highly preferential on their mate being a virgin.” Dr. Dwight added, “It’s part of who they are. On a similar note, people in earshot of dragons would be best to limit usage of the word ‘sir’, and instead use the preferential ‘mister’.”
When questioned as to whether this was for the sake of political correctness, however, Dr. Dwight denied the idea, saying that it was more in the interest of “self-preservation”.
So how are dragons in bed? Well, this being a family newspaper, we cannot offer many details, but the volunteers did not seem shy on the matter.
“He was too heavy for the queen sized bed.” giggled Jane Thouler, 29, “… and it broke nearly in two. But I cannot recall ever caring.”
“I can’t be too general, of course, because Liz is a Wyvern” said John Stockhal, 31, grinning widely, “But what I can tell you is that having a body limited only by your spinal cord makes you very flexible.”
Ginger Lochal, 36, had a more sober, sweet answer in mind. “What people forget is that many dragons are cold-blooded animals, and so need warmth to help maintain their equilibrium. I’ve never once regretted providing it.”
As valentines day approached, many dragons began collecting a traditional romantic gift of the corpses of their mate’s worst enemies. Many volunteers said that the way in which their partners determined who these individuals were was often charming and imaginative, and that people were always willing to help narrow it down by cutting them off on the highway or starting an argument with them for no reason.
Catherine Green, 35, was the proud recipient of a beautiful valentine’s day heart edged in lace, which thanks to her dragon’s great experience, was still beating when she received it. The gift had been recently removed from the chest of antagonistic neighbor Betty Holodok, 62, whom the dragon then ate, to save the trouble of burying. Police stated that investigations were ongoing, according the police chief Henry Forhald, “somewhere far away from the dragon, because there was no way we would even dream for one second of suggesting the dragon had done it. We’re not stupid.” He added, sweating.
So this Valentine’s day, if you’re one of those unfortunate souls who’s alone, remember that Valentines is also a day of opportunities. And if all else fails, try going into your local ice cream shop, and ordering the cute girl with a glossy coat of blue scales a butterscotch and brimstone milkshake.
It just might be the start of a fiery relationship.

-Alex Drole


February 2nd, 2009

Real Fantasy Football

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Well, one more Super Bowl is behind us, and this year I found myself largely disappointed to see that most of the coverage in this universe was focused on the existent football teams. So for those of you who missed this year’s struggle between the teams in the magical parallel universe, I took the trouble of tuning in my mind and seeing if I could provide the play by play highlights of the big Ultra Bowl game between the Colorado C’thulus and the Detroit Dragons (not the Pittsburg Pentagrams and the Arizona Archmages—sorry, but different worlds have different playoffs). This year the Ultra Bowl was played in the C’thulu’s home stadium on the edge of the eternal abyss. So shake off that post-game fatigue, because this year’s game was a spectacular showdown between these two old rivals.

• The game started out with the warm ups of each of the teams, and the Dragons were looking particularly good with the flying spells this year. As usual, a good showing of the fair young maidens on the Dragon’s side, and the C’thulu’s doing a relatively quiet warm-up with a pretty standard blood sacrifice ritual. The team mascot, “Squidface” nearly started a riot throwing parts of the body to the ecstatic fans. The Dragons took the coin toss with a choice to kick off, which immediately set the game on a footing for controversy, as the coin was taken from the horde of their team mascot, and so there was some discussion of enchantment. The C’thulus, of course, a traditionally more offense oriented team, but since flipping a severed limb is not considered legal, the decision stood.
• The Dragons served an impressive kick off, with the kicker leaving the ground on the forward charge and achieving a clocked speed on the ball in excess of a hundred miles per hour. The C’thulus quick-moving star rookie and jack-of-all trades, Bernard Evisceraue, ensnared the ball at the 70 with tendrils of darkness, a signature play for the C’thulus which fans were disappointed not to have seen much in the prior season. Obviously something of a surprise, seeing a cast that advanced with a relatively young player. Dragon defense strong as usual, however, so the C’thulus had only run back 15 yards before being forced down.
• The Dragons kept up a pretty good offensive onslaught, sweeping the Defensive line with a well-used fire spell repeatedly. C’thulu star defensive lineman Gordon Breaker shut down Dragon tight end Fifer Stephens at the 30 with a quote from the Necronomicon which caused the field to swallow him whole. (Unfortunately, it also turned the grass purple, and the condition of the turf continued to deteriorate throughout the course of the game).
• Dragon defense looked characteristically strong in the first half of the game, with the wall of flame technique serving equally well for retention. Late in the second quarter, however, Dragon defense broke down under the masterful conjuring of C’thulu linebacker Craig Psyton, who used a rain of blood to spell disaster for the flame spell. The grass screamed in pain whenever set alight, but the C’thulus obviously focusing more on the larger game then minor entertainments at this point.
• C’thulu Defensive lineman Perry Skullscar devoured the soul of the Dragon Quarterback Leonard Hutchins in an impressive tackle, but was ordered to regurgitate it when a foul was called upon review for holding.
• C’thulu Quarterback Milton Deathhold threw a record setting 100 yard and 62.7 S’droth’kham pass through the dungeon dimensions, which was caught by tight end Terrance Phillips. The Team was denied the field goal kick, however, when whatever it was that escaped with the ball ate the goalpost, six fans, and a riding mower. The grass laid eggs in appreciation at seeing their enemy slain.
• The halftime show featured an upbeat performance of the song “Short Legs, Tall Heart” done live by the dwarf band Kneeslice. This song obviously was a nod to the “Ghost Squeezing” ad campaign for Ichor Fizz Wildberry Soda, which was arguably the best commercial in the game despite the outrage it caused in the SPCEB (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ectoplasmic Beings). The audience soon mellowed out, however, with a ballad arrangement of “You Have a Heart of Gold, (Can it Be Mined)”. The grass, in perhaps the most dangerous act every undertaken by flora, held tiny lighters aloft and swayed back and forth.
• In the second half, the dragons moved from their strong defensive stance and tried to recoup points with rushing plays. Pretty spectacular aerial maneuvers occurred in this portion, Hutchins showing enough recuperation after being reunited with his soul to become the first player in FFL history to dunk the football through the field goal, assisted by a blurred 300 foot power dive which took the C’thulu’s by storm.
• The teams played primarily tied for the majority of the fourth quarter, until the C’thulu’s brought the ball to life. The ball proceeded to scuttle backwards between the legs of the dragon center at the hike, oinking, and streak downfield, winning itself a touchdown against the dragons. Dragon Center Burdon Nisaac Toasted off its legs to prevent further damage.
• C’thulu’s wrapped up the game with a favorite finisher, twisting the entire field through the plains of the netherworld itself. The frightened grass scuttled all over the unshaken Dragon players, who put up a brave offense. To the disappointment of Detroit fans, the whistle was blown on a fumble by dragon runner (probably Gordon Bales), a mere ten yards from an end of game flip on the score.

This commentator is happy to see the C’thulu’s take what is their second FFL trophy. Before the next practice, the field is going to have to be replanted, so officials are working diligently around the clock to put new turf down, although one of the officials said in a private interview that they were hoping for a more enchantment proof model. The C’thulus coach gave little comment, but made it quite clear that the team will not be resting on their laurels, and will be back in training as soon as possible.

And that’s the Sports update for the Fantasy Ultra Bowl. Thank you for tuning in, and goodnight.

December 25th, 2008


            I tried to contain myself. “What have you done with her?”

            He smiled. It was nearly a polite smile, but there was something about his eyes that gave it away.

            “Far more then you want to contemplate, Captain. Nordland deals harshly with traitors. We live in a harsh environment, and I need absolute discipline.”

            I was speechless. I raised my gun, and aimed it squarely at his forehead. “Alright. You seem to have all the answers. So remind me what stops me from putting a bullet in your head.”

            He smiled indifferently.  “Absolutely nothing, provided that you do not mind if Snow never lives again, or whether your children receive bombs down their chimney. Especially the latter, since it will happen quite automatically, I assure you. But if neither worries you, Captain, feel free to pull that trigger. Otherwise, you should stop pointing that thing at me.”

            I had seen this play out before. I wasn’t about to lower my gun with a convenient look of shock. He had threatened my family, but I was pretty sure the fleets still wouldn’t be airborne for some hours. And considering Kristopher’s taste for having people set their own traps, I wasn’t going to let go just yet.

            “You know something? I have a better idea. You see, I have eleven men here, all of whom have very sharp blades and a variety of other nasty instruments. And as you can see, I also have a perfectly functional weapon in my hands. Whereas you, so far, have words. So how about we see some proof, and then we’ll discuss the future.”

            He nodded. “I could hardly expect less, given that you’ve gotten this far. But I assure you, Captain, that I always tell the truth.” He lifted a hand and snapped.

            Half the wall suddenly seemed to melt away, revealing itself to be polarized glass with a wallpaper pattern when closed.

            “I’m sure, Captain, that you recognize Snow. She’s the one sitting in front of that cannon, there. I rather like the “tin horn” motif on it, don’t you? I think it brings out the best side of the device.”

            “And what does it do, besides raise the aesthetic value of your lair?”

            He laughed. That damned “Ho, ho, ho” was even more disconcerting in person. “It’s hardly a lair. Merely an inaccessible vantage point for my operations. My… unique metabolic requirements are suited by extreme cold. As for the device, it’s technically referred to as a “matter excitation cannon.” I won’t worry you with the technical details, if only because only your expert here would understand them. All you need to know is that the volume and type of radiation it emits causes the kinetic energy in whatever material it’s aimed at to rise until it melts. Would you agree that it would be unfortunate to watch this occur with Snow, or do you need proof of that as well?” He raised his fingers as if to snap.

            I lowered my gun, hastily, but didn’t call off my men. I couldn’t tell if he was bluffing.

            He laughed again.

            “A predictable decision. And now, Captain, we must talk business. In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, I’m not particularly happy with having you and these gentlemen show up on my front door. I’m not surprised, per se, but the United States has committed against Nordland what I would deem an act of war,” He turned, holding the sword cane, and began to walk down the length of the room. The wall smoked over again, and became a flattened map of the world. He turned his head to look at me, holding his arms out as far as they would go and leaning the base of the cane between his feet. “To be frank, I do not think that the US is prepared for my act of redress. I can get into any place on the planet, now, and they choose to trifle with me. Eminently capable as your men are, a dozen-man team is an insult to my power. And as the US has not been forthcoming with tribute in prior years, I am not predisposed to show a great deal of mercy. But you, Captain, can change that.”

            I drew myself up to my full height.

            “What is that supposed to mean, precisely?”

            He fixed his laser glare on me. “That is supposed to mean that I want a full confession for your decidedly “naughty” activities. I have control over most of the world media, so trust me, getting the message out is not going to be a problem. I want you to be the one to tell the world: firstly that the US will not be repeating these activities again on pain of extermination; secondly, that Nordland will receive reparations; and thirdly, that all of the countries on the Earth can and will receive the same treatment if they try to repeat your failure. I am demanding global hegemony this winter, period. The method I take getting there is their choice.”

            I stared at him for a moment. Then, one by one, my men and I broke out laughing. “Do you honestly think you’re going to manage to pull that old trick on us? Firstly, Frosty, in case you hadn’t noticed, we are enemy combatants, not diplomats. And better yet, you’re trying to get a confession out of us for what? Refusing to roll over and die? My deepest apologies. Are you so unused to enemies that you can’t intimidate immediately? Perhaps you should broaden the reach of your social interaction beyond beaurocrats, children, and your own biological creations.”

            His face hardened, and the lines became etched and cold. When his voice returned, it was like a blade being dragged on a whetstone.

            “You would do well not to mock me. I’ll gently remind you, Captain, that I directly control the safety of your country, which I had the funny idea you were sworn to protect. And as for your offenses…”

            Kristopher snapped. And then the wall did something very interesting. It cleared, and started playing video. It was synchronized with what Kristopher was saying.

            “Welcome to the Nordland television network, gentlemen. You asked what you had done wrong? Let’s tell the world, then, Captain. You began by attacking my land, slaughtering two military detachments, and blowing up my munitions storage. And then, when you were met by a greeting party, Captain Mesner, not only were you unspeakably rude to them, but you proceeded to make indecent advances on one of them.” It showed footage of me, through Snow’s eyes, as I closed the door and spoke with her. The footage was silent.

            “How did you get that?” I asked, outraged.

            He looked at me icily. “After we discovered her fingerprints on the screwdriver that was used to undo the ventilation cover—”

My eyes got very wide, and I swore under my breath. I had forgotten about that. She had already had it open when we got downstairs.

            “—we had cause to run her visual memory back through her occipital lobe for processing to see if we could figure out why. And quite a story it was. But please, Captain, let’s try to limit talk of your activities with Snow. I think you and your wife can discuss it privately.” I felt the already cold room seem to get chillier.

            “But nothing hap—”

            He ignored me, and continued more loudly.

            “You then proceeded to destroy my factory in the process of breaking into a facility containing ICBMs. Not only did you tamper with the controls of these ICBMs, but you actually sped up the countdown sequence, which is particularly shameful since one of those targets was Washington D.C. I wonder how the President and Congress feel about that choice?”

            This time, the outcry was general. Kristopher was undeterred.

            “And when your tampering resulted in the engines shutting off, you proceeded to abandon the facility completely, stealing military aircraft in order to attack me directly. The resulting explosion killed thousands of elves, many of whom were not engaged in combat roles. You then mounted an assault on my personal headquarters, which has so far involved smashing my lobby, blowing up my generator room, slaughtering a herd of my reindeer, killing the entire Winter Guard and my personal bodyguards, destroying four computers in my data processing and collection room, and an assault on my personal apartments, during which my wife died. What a proud accomplishment to discuss with your children, Captain.” He paused, and then nodded off to the side, “We’re off air again. I wonder if you could measure with a stopwatch how long it will take for that to be on YouTube once my editors get finished cutting it, preparing it, and broadcasting it. Take that as a warning, gentlemen, as to how I feel. And remember, from this moment, every second is more and more important. Ten minuites from now, every news network from California to Cambodia will have the story. At best, the fact that it’s nearing midnight on GMT will delay proliferation a few minuites, since there will be fewer people up on one of my most major networks. but I don’t think the effect will be appreciable, since Japan is in the middle of the day.” My men looked about ready to spit fire.

            I barely managed to growl. “So, the way you see it, we can either confess to that garbage, or you can blow up our homes.”

            “Call it what you like, Captain, but I said I never tell a lie, and I meant it. Every word of that is true, and I have film to prove it. If that is what you want to refer to this choice as, be my guest. But please, don’t play me for a fool. Your hands will stay well out the camera shot. No sign language. Any signs with them will invalidate their meaning, so act as your own keeper.”

            I paused. This was a hell of a situation. We could choose between destroying our country, or effectively handing it over to Kristopher by becoming his pawn. We were the last thing standing between him and taking over most of the known world.

            But Kristopher had accidentally let his hand slip early in this game. If I knew him, then I knew exactly what we had to do.

            I held up a hand.

            “I need to talk with my men.”

            He nodded. “As you wish. But you will not be keeping any secrets, here. Simply be aware that the walls have ears.”

            I retreated, and pulled my men into a ragged group.

            “Alright, gentlemen, listen carefully. We need to talk about this. Some of you could get out of this like a flash. But the rest of us aren’t so lucky. I know how you feel. Trust me, if possible, I’d want to go out with a bang. But it clearly isn’t in the cards.” I held my best poker face, wondering where the spies were.

Thyger nodded solemnly. He didn’t give a thing away.

            “I agree completely, sir. If nothing else, you need to save the girl, right?” That was well played. Kristopher would enjoy thinking that he had caused internal dissent. His spin doctoring had pretty well told the men what the truth was, though.

            But I couldn’t save Snow, now. There were millions of people in America who did not have their brains on a file somewhere, and right now, they needed me more then Snow did.

            “No, I’ll speak directly to Kristopher. I’m going to be working for my country.”

            “Alright, sir. We trust you. I think you’d better signal our resignation, though.”

            I nodded.

            We broke, and I walked directly up to Kristopher.

            “Okay, we’ll do what’s necessary to protect our country.”

            “Excellent. I thought that you might make the smart choice. Maybe you’ll even win back the respect of your men.”

            “Oh, yes,” I said, between gritted teeth. “I’ve certainly seen the light.”

            I felt a one of my men press the hilt of a knife into my hand. And then Thyger threw his last flash-bang.

 

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