Milady, the peasants are demanding an answer.
She turned to her adviser, the green beads in her hair swaying about as if there were no gravity. Her hair was dark and shiny, but smoke-like, the same color as coal.
She shoved the laser rifle into his hands roughly, growling, Well, then, give them one.
Can you feel the suspense?!
Please sire, you must return to the riotous homeland, the countess is-
You forget yourself, dirt-turner! the King roared, his belly full of rage and sage. You have neither the station nor the ineptitude to address royalty!
But- but Im the keeper of the duck. I polish young Wimbledons beak every day, and feed him oats and barely, the man quivered.
And if you wish to keep your position and all the comforts that come with it— head-attached-to-body privileges for a start, you will show your king the respect due to him, the King hissed, his pointed beard nearly poking out the keepers eye.
The normally impassive keeper let out a labored wheeze before bowing hastily, his translucent face ashen, beads of sweat forming on his thick aquamarine brow. I meant no disrespect to you, o Great and Corpulent one! I- I must have been led astray... but even you must admit, he begged the king, that that is one well-polished beak.
Yes, yes, Wimbledons beak has won all of the duck shows, said the King, who had occasionally bribed the judges with lordships. Thats the only reason I put up with your whining.
Your Grace, I beg that you leave for Capitolia— while theres still a city to return to!
The relentless impositions you have made into my private affairs can no longer be tolerated! the king shouted in a fit of candy-induced rage. Im promoting you immediately to Earle of the Southern provinces!
That would certainly solve my wretched peasant familys financial hardship, but it does not address the question of how youre going to overthrow the Countess and restore the constitutional monarchy of our space-age fiefdom, the new Earle bespoke unto his fellow royal.
See? You arent even making any sense, the King snorted, drawing another strand of licorice from the hidden compartment in his scepter. There is no Countess in the Kingdom of Bubbleria. Theres not even a count— I abolished mathematics, remember?
I remember, came a voice from the prefab doors as they opened with a hydraulic hum. I remember the bloodshed, the screams of mathematicians as you marched them all to slaughter... I remember the total chaos, the anarchy of yesteryear.
How can you remember something that happened... before you were even born?! the king quizzed at the intruder, who his gut told him was only seven years old.
The numbers remember, said the boy as he stepped towards the King. A guard moved to restrain him, but he ducked between the mans legs. In his missile-proof armor, the guard could hardly turn around to reinitialize pursuit. And the numbers are in my blood, arent they, father? the boy continued as a long, curved dagger found its way into his hand.
Restrooms and restaurants! Is this what it has come to?! the kings countenance rippled with layers of cellulose as the Earle crept out through the balcony, using endangered vines to support his malnutrition-wracked body down to the dried and glass-covered ground.
My whole life Ive had to wait behind dearest Countess... every time I wanted a slice of cheese, she had to have one first... every time I wanted to go to sleep, she had to be asleep first... every time I wanted overthrow you and claim your throne, she had to do it first... no more! the willful child thundered as he pounded his cute little fist onto the ruby-encrusted antique end table.
But, my Prince, as I was explaining to the Keeper of the Duck, there is no Countess, the King babbled.
You hated mathematicians, father... said the Prince. Its a shame you married one!
WHAT? cried the King, My sweet Elizatroff? It couldnt be!
But it is. And Im going to save my kingdom from her, my lord father.
Very well, my sole heir, the king conceded. But you shall have no help from me, or my army of super-apes. You alone have stood between me and Elizatroff, and between the two of you, I like her better.
With a scream of rage, the Prince leaped into the air. The low gravity of the flagship Royal Crab did not inhibit his flight across the throne-bridge towards his fathers throat. There was a flash of red across the Kings throat in the split-second before the dagger incinerated his body.
The half-tone prince and his overhanded rebellion.
Long live the new king... I think... whats going on up there? I cant make out anything at all, really, the Earle of the Southern provinces called up from the ships makeshift arboretum down below the balcony, circling around in a crablike manner to avoid the broken glass.
A new tomorrow dawns for Bubbleria! the seven-year-old Prince- nay, the king announced to not only the Earle, but to the peasants, robots, and intelli-squids that dwelt upon the flagship, via the master intercom control.
The Countess floated weightlessly up the crystal tower. The Kingdom of Bubbleria stretched out all around her, under her, ending only where the artificial dome separated Bubbleria from the surrounding wastelands.
I dont care what you have to do, Captain, she was saying into her cell-phone, Withdraw the troops from Iraq, for all I care... yes, I know its a tradition, but I want these rebels put in their places.
Achem! coughed Commandant Ignoblus virulently, spraying ink and mucus on the otherwise clean tower floor.
Ill have to call you back later, when you have good news to report... and if you have no good news, never call me again! the Countess screamed, crushing the small phone like putty in a carburetor.
My Countess, we have received word that your beloved husband the king is now... vaporized! the timid squid cried.
I offer my sincerest— what?
I hated that oaf. I spent my entire life in hiding, because of him... her eyes narrowed and began to glow red. Because of his ignorant, fatheaded, irrational fear of numbers...
So, should I go ahead and cancel the 400 ray-gun salute, the memorial skateboard park, the-
Cancel 426 divided by two minus 13 percent of your planned festivities!
That leaves barely... eighty percent! squids were notoriously bad at math; it was only through his family ties to the Squid Delegation that the Countess kept Ignoblus swimming in plankton... and at her side.
For every memorial activity you planned, I wish for there to be two slanderous ones.
As you say, mLady.
And make sure all the activities are... laminated.
Ready the Royal Crabs power-lancers, King Prince declared, Well be upon Capitolia in mere hours.
A little girl stepped out of the shadow of his throne to council him. She said, Your Grace, perhaps it would be better to use the hammer harpoons. Theyll pierce the citys dome more easily.
The boy king nodded sagely at her; Catry was older than him, nine years of age, and he was glad to her as his adviser. She gave sound advice.
The carpenters poons, then. The dome must come down.
Vesabata kooshabe bo blier voxia passik!
He stared at her in horror and supposed foreknowledge of her most heinous misuse of the vernacular.
Prince Albert did not die in that forsaken can of his so you could speak so disrespectfully to your new master sovereign! the young king intoned, his head full of jelly and peanut butter. Perhaps I should make you my jester, instead of my adviser, hmm?
Rixaeli fo nessus whee zho! the little girl laughed.
Have her removed from my sight, King Prince cried, slightly terrified. The language she was speaking sounded almost like the language of the—
Embrosians! someone shouted, and the Throne Bridge erupted into chaos.
Four hours later, the Embrosian Delegation was calmed down and prepared to discuss their terms for entering a strategic treaty with the new king against the Countess. The Embrosians were, in the opinion of 14th epoch Chiceroy Eidlespine, the most genetically enhanced humans to not reach planethood.
You seriously expect us to coordinate our bio-warships with the infant forces of a mere... infant? demanded Vice-Chiceroy Grandlor, who hand-managed the Embrosian war machine since the 36th epoch.
No, Mr. Grandlor. I expect us to die, said Catry. Ive spent years among these Bubblonians, trying to earn their trust.
You cant be serious, the elderly Embrosian Vice-Chiceroy argued, twisting his face up and chanting immaturely, You cant, you cant, you cant!
Silence! boomed the king, his tone betraying a confidence and intellect far beyond his seven years.
Perhaps you have a few Embrosian nucleotides, chuckled the Vice-Chiceroy, nudging Catry. Or maybe youre just an insane little monster, bent on total universal destruction; either way works for me, buddy, as long as you ensure the safety of the Embrosian homeword.
Dont you mean homeworld? asked King Prince, his head about to explode from the mispronunciation.
No! We Embrosians have no need of planets. We live inside words. And our homeword is unknown.
The word unknown, or...?
The rebel headquarters consisted of a inn with dirt floors and its stables. The rebels wished they had blaster rifles and grenade launchers with which to combat the Prime Number Legions scouring Capitolia, but alas, the Mathless Brigade was armed only with pitchforks, shovels, and a whole lot of heart.
Friends! announced their leader, William Guesstimate, I have portentous news. The King is dead.
There was a sussuruss from the brigade. Whispers shot back and forth. Dead? The King was incompetent, irrational and irresponsible... but he was well loved, especially for outlawing those sinister mathematicians. Everyone had hoped he would return to smash the Countess and hang every accountant in the realm from a strangler tree.
The good news is, Prince Prince has been coroneted. He is now the rightful King of Bubbleria, and is on his way to smash the Countess and hang every accountant in the realm from a strangler tree, William continued. Awesome, right? All we have to do is maintain a low profile, and continue harassing those filthy Prime Number Legions!
At that exact moment, the door burst open, and in stepped Captain 7.
I heard you were serving... punch and pie, Captain 7 chuckled, the brigadiers oblivious to her inside joke. Oh, if only they knew the backstory to that particular non-sequitur!
Why dont you return to your floating palace, you traitor! barked one of the more aggressive clods. You know how many rebels were deloused at Tesla 8 because of you?!
And on behalf of the Countess of Earth, I admit no fault.
Thats better! another goon shouted. Was it just her, or did these rebels not understand basic grammar?
Enough of your senseless banter, 7 groused, slamming her cyborg arm on the really, really big table that sat a little off the center of the room. A fraction of a moment later, the rebels, Captain 7, and the entire room was sprayed with a veritable fountain of soot and ash; 7 had inadvertently slammed her fist down on an ashtray.
You come into our lair, you make unreasonable demands, you cover us with our own filth, and now you beg us for help?! Guesstimate bellowed, the veins popping from his eyes.
7s obsessive compulsive twitch kicked in, forcing her to push the cigarette remains into a small pile and run her finger through it, giving the lump a little smiley face. I... didnt ask you for help.
Then what do you want?!
I do not wish to be interrupted-
Ach-ough! Cawaw! OOooooough! choked Commandant Ignoblus. It was the most disgusting sound Countess Elizatroff had ever heard. It was also the most disgusting thing she had ever seen, as the squids eyes bulged with every wheeze, his slimy, leathery skin contracting and changing hue with every mucus-spraying gag.
What is that... whats wrong with you?! Do you have some kind of disease?!
Ignoblus W-shaped eyes began to tear up. I... didnt know you cared!
Im going to have to get back to you... yes, and bring me the head of Walt Disney! she slammed her nano-phone shut. Now, for what unimportant trivia have you forgotten your manners to interrupt me with?
Uh... it doesnt seem very important now. Something about Captain 7 turning the Mathless Brigade into double agents, or something like that. I wasnt really paying all that much attention... she called at the same time Morning with Mortch was on, and you know how much I love that show.
You and your variety shows! chortled the Countess. Youll be the death of- what?! She got them on our side?! Excellent news! she telepathically signaled the towers CPU to descend the disco balls, and funky music filled the cavernous control room.
Today we quell this uprising... once or for all! Ignoblus shouted over the blaring techno.
And thats why we told her we were on her side, Commander Guesstimate pleaded to the Councilors. The Ectomorphic Delegation had already been partly-formed; it consisted of the Embrosians, the Loyal Royals, and the sporadic rebel groups that grew out of popular discontent with the math-laden rule of the Countess. But only by bringing the Mathematicians back into the fold could the Delegation be complete.
The councilors whispered back and forth for a moment. The hushed judiciary process had Guesstimates hair standing on end. Suddenly, one of the councilors shouted, CAPTURE THE FLAG!
Rushing forward, Guesstimates men seized the Bubblonian flag and absconded with it. The councilors swiveled in their turret-seats, missing sporadically. Missiles collided with the Council Chamber walls, detonating harmlessly. The Mathless Brigade recovered the flag without a single loss.
Well done, said the Supreme Councilor, Justice Manbeak. You have passed trial by combat. It appears that you have acted justly.
Guesstimate knelt, bowing his head. The fifteen minutes he spent training his rebels in the holosphere had certainly paid off.
For the Ectomorphic Delegation! he shouted. The assembled company took up the cry, and the Halls of Deliberation rang with the voices of freed men.
Prepare my escape pod! the Countess screamed into her communications collar.
Im sorry, mLady, came the electronic reply, Wahaugh. Hoook!
Ignoblus! I said, prepare my escape pod!
Im sorry, mLady, the squid replied, But after I lowered the citadels... wheeeeeeeze... force shields and detonated the... scrnuff... detonated the armory, Im afraid I also- HRAAAGH- I also used your pod to escape the planet.
Ignoblus, you TRAITOR!
MLady, I opened the door for the true king. If I recall, it was you- Snnnnrk- you who committed treason.
Artists rendering of the one true king.
The countess turned away, fuming. She crushed the collar with her fist. If only there was some way to recover the situation...
MLady? the squid inquired. Dead air greeted him.
Do I look like a lady to you? Im a seven year old boy! King Prince frustratingly explained, holding out his hands in a gesture that said, whats wrong with your brain?!
You humans and your subtlety, Ignoblus grunted, a viscus goo dripping from the back of his head. You- kagh! Khaaaaa! Ha-khaaaa!
Prince turned his head, hoping to avoid childhood trauma... too late.
The sight of that intelli-squid vomiting up its organs... will haunt my dreams, and cause me to become a bitter old man, unable to form meaningful relationships, he groaned to himself. But at least I cannot be further traumatized!
Yay! the rebels cheered as they rushed the courtyard, taking out the Countess remaining Prime Number Squad. Their victory cries were like butter in the Kings ears, as he watched the creature press a tentacle against its head to relieve the pressure. The squids head throbbed visibly for a moment, and then stopped after a small popping noise.
My sinuses are clearing up now, Ignoblus slurped. So, I hear youre going to need a new high-ranking squid to bring the pods into the Delegation, eh? Well sir, Im the intelli-squid for you! Im hyper-intelligent, boring, covered in parasites, I eat ten times my... own... body weight...
Commander Ignoblus stopped listing his qualifications as he noticed the king lying on the ground, shaking. The small boys eyes were twitching rapidly, much faster than normal. His lips were rolled up, but his teeth were clenched, and small bubbles were forming at the corners.
Aw, dude! was all Ignoblus could think of before a rebel jopper-hopper kicked in the tower doors, screaming obscenities in a long-lost language.
Vous avez tourné mon roi dans la colle!
No! No, it wasnt me! the shifty squids optic nerves darted about as he tried to explain why the king was lying on the floor twitching while he was walking about in full military regalia. It didnt help that he was holding four types of laser-weapons, and was standing on one of the kings hands.
Maintenant, vous payerez votre régicide!
I dont understand what you just said! Ah-chum! Hhha-cawgh! Khawgh! Gluh!
Luckily, Ignoblus lawyers explained everything through pantomime.
And thats the story of how I became the unquestioned ruler of the Ectomorphic Delegation, Matriarch Catry said, closing the illuminated manuscript. The materials composing the book itself was priced beyond money, but its symbolic value was worthless.
Are there any further questions? she asked the small gathering of children. It was always a pleasure to hear the story of how the Matriarch defeated her opponents by turning them against each other. How she did it remains a mystery, one that Catry promised to take with her to her deathbed. But only the Matriarch knew the truth about the death of King King, the ascension and fall of King Prince, and the whereabouts of the evil Countess.
Matriarch? peeped a child of about seven. What happened to the Mathless Brigade?
Im glad you asked me that question, she yelled at the top of her lungs right into his face, hoping to discourage future questions. The Mathless Brigade transformed from a ragtag under-supported military tag-team to a state-of-the-art world-class football team. They were inducted into the hall of fame for their relentless goal-keeping in the World Cup 2939034.
Well done, team! Weve made it to the semi-finals! the red-faced coach gloated.
I knew my men would make it, said Guesstimate, whose hair had gone gray.
The entire Mathless Brigade had aged twenty years, since the War of the Numbers. Theyd won every game this season by kicking the ball into the scoreboard. The Mathless Brigade hated numbers, and it only exacerbated the matter when the standard regulation pig-skin was traded in for photon torpedoes.
Well, you boys done me proud, the coach congratulated, his arteries throbbing with each word.
What is it, soldier?
He caught the pie, but missed the atomic football.