“Down here at Center Neptune,” he said, “many leagues under the sea – not the 20,000 of the Jules Verne novel, we’re just a meager 19,999 leagues – I maintain my never-ending vigil to safeguard the security of every galaxy in the universe. I don’t know what I’d do if we ever open up passageways to parallel universes! I’m already spread so thin.... well, maybe I’d better save THAT for another episode!”
The robot stood before his favorite console in his control room. The electronic beeps and buzzing have steadily grown louder. In fact, the noise had become so loud that Zark found himself yelling over the din. “Usually things are peaceful, but sometimes, like right now, they can be very disturbing. Take this noise! It’s rattling my circuits so much that I almost missed the swarm of tiny unidentified flying objects my long-range sensors picked up coming from outer space and heading straight toward Earth!”
Zark considered this for a nanosecond before continuing. “There could be a number of explanations for this phenomenon, such as a dirty monitor screen.” His legs extended until he was eye-level with the upper-right monitor. “It wouldn’t be the first time a speck of dirt set off an Early Warning Alert. Why, I remember the time it looked like Earth’s northern hemisphere had been devoured by a black hole!”
He pulled out a bottle of window cleaner and a cloth from an unseen compartment and cleaned the screen. He put the items away and then pulled out a squeegee and ran it over the screen. After he put that away, he leaned in closer to breathe on the screen and wipe it with his sleeve, but then he remembered he didn’t have a sleeve, and he couldn’t breathe anyway...
“This screen’s clean, and those UFO’s are still heading toward Earth.” Meanwhile, the other screens flashed messages like: “What are we, chopped liver?”, “Equal pay for equal screening!”, and “What would Chief Anderson think if I started screening your cyberporn, Zarkie boy?” Ignoring the other screens, Zark lowered himself down to his normal height.
“This is very strange.” the robot continued, “If it’s an invasion force, I can’t pick up any of the usual Spectra identifications....Incredible! The unknown forces appear to be a swarm of insects from an alien galaxy. I’d better give G-Force a Red Alert immediately!”
There’s something about the city at night...an alluring intoxication in the air...the unique energy that comes with being both safe and in danger at the same time. “A night on the town,” Zark said as he watched random views of the city on his monitors, “and Keyop and Princess are getting down at the disco. I hate to interrupt their fun, but – ”
A generic montage of neon signs floating in and out of view appeared on the screen. “This is bad. And on top of that, I can’t get through – the security channel is jammed.”
Meanwhile, Princess and Keyop were busy jamming to the beat in 70's 4-Ever, their favorite hang-out after Jill’s. They were determined to make the most of their visit; the last time they were here, Keyop almost got them banned for life, thanks to his version of the Funky Chicken.
Suddenly, the music stopped and everything went dark. The dancers stood frozen in mid-boogie, waiting for some sign from the DJ. They continued to hold their poses until their muscles spasmed and their legs buckled under them.
“The entire city’s experiencing a total power blackout!” Zark cried as he continued to watch the screens. The “Stating the Obvious” alarm sounded, but the robot ignored it. “This could be very serious! Even the emergency back-up systems are out!.... Oh my! There could be traffic accidents!” 7-Zark-7 started making hyperventilating noises as a monitor displayed a 7-car “worst parking job done by a sober valet” incident.
“Jason calling Center Neptune. We’ve got a crisis on our hands.” G-Force’s second had been trying to contact 7-Zark-7 for a while. The traffic had completely stopped, and drivers all around were in danger of wearing out their car horns. Jason let out an annoyed snort – there was only one reason Zark wasn’t responding: that overrated trash can was entertaining his invisible audience. Again.
“I’m over the airport now.” Mark reported from the cockpit of his Cessna, “It’s looking bad.”
“Better check out the solar fusion plant, Commander.” Zark replied.
A chill ran down Mark’s spine. The voice that came from his bracelet didn’t have its ususal bubbling chirpiness – it had a businesslike sobriety, as if Zark had suddenly become a competent coordinator. Mark shuddered at this thought – this must be a seriously serious matter!
Within moments, Mark had transmuted and was docking with the Phoenix. Jason had beaten him there and was quietly hoping nobody would ask how he got out of the traffic jam, especially since he nearly ran over two dog walkers as he sped along the sidewalks.
Steam rose from the power plant’s cooling towers. This made everything seem normal at first glance. But there was a strange sound coming from that place. The sound filled the air, drowning out all the automated alarms that had gone off. It was a sound that filled the atmosphere with a horrible dread, as if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had been trying to play “Gangnam Style” on worn-out bag pipes and broken accordions.
The entire plant was covered by billions of large ants swarming all over and making that terrible noise. One ant skittered over to a spot in the power plant’s dome and spat lime-flavored Kool-Aid onto it. Every bit of the wall that was touched by the fluid dissolved instantly. (Maybe it has something to do with the warning on every Kool-Aid packet : “Do not store in a metal container.”)
While part of the swarm rushed through the hole, another group scurried to the towers bearing high-tension electrical wires and began spraying lime Kool-Aid on them until there was nothing but a puddle of goo left.
Soon the fusion plant was in flames. The dome of the main building was so full of holes it looked like an upended sieve. The cooling towers exploded.
The Phoenix arrived just then. Chief Anderson had finished briefing G-Force, and the team had finally figured out how to shut off the “Rehashing the Obvious” alarm the chief had triggered.
“I don’t think our rockets will be very effective – there are zillions of those things!” Mark said, “But I think this might work!” He tossed a pea shooter to Jason. “I hope you’re not too winded when you’re done.”
Jason threw the pea shooter back as he stepped to the front. “I’m not doing something so stupid.” he muttered. He then noticed a small movement out of the corner of his eye. “Put away the slingshot, Tiny!” he snapped, “I’m not using that, either!”
“So how are we gonna get rid of ‘em?” Tiny asked.
Jason pointed to the image of an aqueduct on one of the monitors above the main viewscreen. “We flood them out.” he replied, “That aqueduct just happens to run next to the power plant.”
“But won’t that contaminate the water?”
“This is a nuclear FUSION plant, Tiny,” Mark replied, “not fission. This plant produces energy just like the sun does, and we don’t have to worry about radiation from the sun.”
“So I’ve been wearing sunscreen for NOTHING?!” Princess cried.
Jason tapped the red button, sending a missile into the aqueduct. A virtual tsunami washed over the nuclear fusion plant, washing away the seemingly infinite swarm of ants. Keyop made a flushing sound as the water dissipated.
The morning sun glistened off the dripping power plant. The members of G-Force carefully made their way through the rubble.
“Be careful.” Mark warned, “With all the ants we’ve seen, there’s bound to be a few uncles hanging around!”
While the others stifled a moan, Jason fought back the urge to deck his commander.
Princess let out a small shriek. Mark was instantly at her side. “That looks awfully painful!” she cried as she pointed to the carcass of an ant. Mark took a closer look and saw an exhaust pipe sticking out of the ant’s rear.
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I’m not an expert at an-ant-omy!” He reached down and scooped up the ant with both hands before Princess could punch him.
The rest of G-Force gathered around their leader, their attention focused on the giant ant sprawled across both of Mark’s hands.
Suddenly, they could see the machinery inside the ant’s abdomen.
And the ant had become a projection upon a wall.
And G-Force was standing in a conference room, wearing their civilian clothes.
And Chief Anderson was standing by a projector.
“We’ve never seen anything like this.” Chief Anderson said as though the team had been there for quite a while, “It’s powered by a tiny turbo engine. It’s got hydraulics that would put most lowriders to shame. And the rims – they’re so gangsta!”
“Uh, Chief,” Mark interrupted, “is there anything WE need to know?”
“Zark has cross-checked the data.” Anderson said, pulling himself back to business, “The metals comprising the ant come from the planet Tramulus.”
“Zark couldn’t just read the ‘Made on Tramulus’ label on the ant’s butt?” Jason said with a derisive snort.
Mark chose to ignore Jason. “Does this mean we have a new enemy?”
“Yes.” Anderson replied. Tiny and Keyop let out a small moan – they were hoping for a more dramatic answer.
“Time for a Tramulus trip!” Jason proclaimed.
From space, Tramulus looked like so many other planets – a brown, poorly-formed Jell-O mold. On the surface, however, there were so many sand dunes that x-treme athletes from all over the galaxy would gladly flock there and spend their life savings, if they only knew about the place. Mark, Princess, Keyop, and Jason stood among the sand dunes, still in their civilian clothes. They were four colorful dots in an endless tan-colored backdrop.
“Good thinking, Mark.” Jason said, “We’re sure to blend in, especially with the Phoenix hanging overhead like a kid’s kite.”
“Do you think Tiny could position the ship to block the sun?” Princess asked, glancing at the pink hue her arms were acquiring. “Oh, yeah, I forgot – we don’t have to worry about solar radiation.”
Mark set the repaired robot ant onto the ground. “Okay, little guy, you’re back on your home planet!” he said in a syrupy tone, “Show us where you live, and I’ll give you a nice, big sugar cube!”
“Oh brother.” Jason rolled his eyes.
Keyop leaned in close to the ant. “No tricks!”
The ant’s antennae rotated in its head while it looked around. It took a moment before it started off. G-Force – both the members on the ground and Tiny in the Phoenix – quietly followed.
Maybe it was the alien desert heat. Maybe it was the hypnotic effect monotony can sometimes have on the mind. Or maybe it was just an unskilled scriptwriter. One thing was certain: G-Force lost track of the giant robot ant.
They ran in the general direction the ant was headed before they lost it. They ran full-tilt, determined to let nothing stop them. They kept running in spite of the desert heat. They kept running in spite of the poor traction the sand provided. They kept running until they almost ran off a high, steep cliff.
An amazing sight was before them. Two towers that seemed to be made of sand and that looked like a factory’s smoke stacks stretched from the chasm floor far below to a place well into the sky above.
“Ant castles!” Keyop cried after a bit of amazed sputtering.
“They’re ant HILLS, Keyop.” Mark corrected, “Ants don’t build castles.”
“But there’s turrets and a drawbridge!”
“We found the base!” Mark declared, ignoring Keyop’s comment.
“And now we knock it down!” Jason gleefully cracked his knuckles in preparation.
“No,” Mark replied, “we’ll wait them out.”
“Wha – ?”
“Sometimes force is counter-productive.”
Jason’s eyes narrowed. “You really need to stop using fortune cookies for strategy.”
The moon of Tramulus shone behind the towers. Without warning, thousands of ants emerged from the base.
“I bet they’re going on another raid.” Mark said, sounding both self-assured and slightly awestruck.
“Are you sure?” Princess asked. “It’s such a lovely night, they could be taking a romantic stroll.”
Suddenly Mark bolted from their observation position, charging down a path leading to the chasm floor nobody noticed before. The other three raced after him without hesitation.
Just before they reached the towers, the ground opened under them. They were swallowed by a vortex of sand. Mark had just enough time to transmute the team to Bird Style.
And Jason had just enough time to plan the destruction of the fortune cookie factory.
And Princess had just enough time to read a Spectran romance novel.
And Keyop had just enough time to advance a couple of levels on the version of “Evil Walking Dead Quest” he’d downloaded to his wrist communicator.
Through the wonders of Tramulus technology, G-Force fell into an underground chamber without a single grain of sand. Mark, Princess, and Jason landed on their feet, striking dramatic poses, ready to fight. Keyop, however, did a face-plant, ensuring plenty of work for Center Neptune’s dentist later on.
“Greetings, G-Force!” a voice boomed throughout the chamber, “Allow me to introduce myself: I am the mighty Antoff!”
They looked up to see a man with an ant’s head wearing an Elizabethan collar as well as red and blue tights. They doubled over with laughter.
“Name sounds like bug spray!” Keyop burbled.
“We’re supposed to be afraid of you?!” Jason cried, “You’re wearing a TUTU on your NECK!”
As they continued laughing, G-Force moved closer together.
“I am soon to be the supreme ruler of Earth!” Antoff shouted over them, “You are my prisoners in my incredible ant castle!”
“Told you it was an ant castle!” Keyop muttered to Mark.
Mark ignored Keyop’s comment. “Okay, Zoltar!” he called, “Enough with the joke!”
“Zoltar isn’t here. Spectra isn’t involved with this operation at all.” Antoff calmly replied.
“Then why are you surrounded by Spectran soldiers?”
“They are citizens of Tramulus.”
“Maybe ‘Goons R Us’ had a clearance sale.” Princess softly said to her teammates.
Antoff turned to one of his men. “Flip the switch.”
Without realizing it, G-Force had made things conveniently easy for their newest enemy. They had centered themselves perfectly when two halves of a clear dome rose up out of the floor and joined over their heads. Mark threw himself at the dome. He stabbed at it with a blade of his sonic boomerang without any effect.
“I have an arrangement with Spectra.” Antoff explained, “Earth is mine to rule if I get rid of you, G-Force.”
“And we all know how obsessive Zoltar is when it comes to keeping his word.” There was no hiding the sarcasm in Jason’s voice.
Mark leaned against the dome’s wall, gasping and exhausted.
Keyop pulled out his bolos and began loading them with black powder.
“Be careful.” Princess warned, “Don’t overload those charges.”
“The kid knows what he’s doing.” Jason countered. An unspoken “Unlike our commander.” hung in the air. In fact, Jason was sure that Mark would have used freshly ground black pepper instead of black powder, if the commander were in Keyop’s place.
Antoff and his entourage stared at the activity within the dome. Maybe this could be the beginning of a new enterprise. Perhaps Tramulus could make a fortune selling small, plastic “human farms” that ant children throughout the galaxy could watch in fascination for hours on end...
The foursome huddled beneath their capes a moment before the charges exploded. A hole just large enough for each of them to crawl through was blasted into the clear wall. Keyop snatched up his perfectly unharmed bolos as he clambered through.
“What happened?” Mark asked as he looked around the chamber only to find that he and his teammates were the only souls left there. Keyop flitted up to where Antoff and his men had been moments before.
“Took off.” the Swallow said, “Left behind puddles of pee!”
The sounds of footsteps and the occasional splash of someone stepping in an unseen puddle echoed off the walls of a wide corridor. G-Force crept down the middle, crouching down as if to hide from view.
Suddenly, something caught Mark’s eye. He darted over to a wall and pressed himself flat against it. The others followed, though they didn’t know why.
Princess followed Mark’s gaze to the giant room at the end of the corridor. “Eeeeewwww!” she cried, “That’s one ugly pupa!”
“Yes, Princess,” Mark replied, “that is a disgusting cocoon.”
The enormous white thing turned, showing G-Force the words “Compliments of ‘Pupae R Us’” stenciled on its side.
Meanwhile, back at Center Neptune, 7-Zark-7 paced the floor of the control room. “I always worry about G-Force when they’re away on a mission.” he said, “But, lately, I’ve been especially worried about Tiny! He seems to have started talking to himself whenever he’s left alone on the Phoenix! That can’t be a good sign....”
The Phoenix continued to hover over the general area where the other four members of G-Force were last seen. “I hate it when nobody tells me what’s going on.” he complained to the empty seats around him, “It just makes me think back to the time we were sent to Makemake. The rest of the gang took off to a party on Namaka without telling me. I’d probably still be hovering over Makemake’s Silicon Plains if Zark hadn’t told me two days later – ”
The sand beneath the Phoenix shifted as the enormous pupa emerged from the underground chamber.
“That’s weird.” Tiny said as a man who isn’t startled by much anymore. The outer husk of the pupa burst open, allowing a colossal ant mecha to thrust itself into the air.
“Whoa!” the pilot of the Phoenix cried, finally surprised, “I didn’t know robots needed a larval stage!”
The ant turned its head toward the ship as if it could hear Tiny’s voice.
“Better grab some sky!” Tiny cried as he maneuvered the Phoenix just in time to avoid a stream of toxic lime Kool-Aid from the ant’s mandibles. The mecha’s antennae rotated for a couple of moments before it crawled away. It was as if the ant decided it had better things to do.
“Tiny, get ready to pick us up!” Mark’s voice commanded over the communicator.
A short time later, Mark, Princess, Jason and Keyop clung to a thin line as it was slowly hauled up to the Phoenix.
“Why are we doing this, Mark?” Princess asked, “Couldn’t Tiny just come in low enough for us to simply glide in?”
“I think the scriptwriter wanted to kill time without using Zark.”
“I guess that guy’s not a TOTAL idiot, after all.” Jason added.
Chief Anderson briefed the team as they rushed back to Earth.
“Antoff is a space pirate from the galaxy DQ3.” the image of the chief flickered on one of the small screens above the main viewer.
“Man, I knew the economy’s bad,” Jason said, “but I never dreamed a Dairy Queen employee would be driven to THIS!”
“This is Antoff’s first time attacking Earth,” the chief continued, “so he qualifies for the Federation’s Newbie Discount, even though he seems to have gotten Spectra’s cooperation.”
“So what’s the ant’s current location?” Mark asked.
“Zark reports that the giant ant has landed. It’s gone underground and is heading toward the Civic Center.”
G-Force exchanged confused looks.
“Uh, Chief,” Mark said, “which Civic Center?”
“THE Civic Center.”
“Oh!” the members of G-Force cried almost in unison, “That Civic Center!”
“Whew!” Tiny sighed with relief, “Glad you cleared that up for us, Chief!”
“But what can we do to the ant while it’s underground?” Mark wondered.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will surface soon.” Anderson replied.
“Do you honestly think the screenwriter’s clever enough to come up with an underground battle?”
In less time it would take 7-Zark-7 to say his name, the enormous robot ant tore its way up through a sidewalk in the downtown area. But then Antoff discovered that the city’s leaders had taken advantage of the Rigan Surplus Store’s recent clearance sale; an entire squadron of surplus Red Ranger fighter jets attacked the mecha.
“Take this machine into the tunnel that runs under the river!” Antoff commanded, “Maybe the Earthlings’ notoriously short attention spans will cause them to forget about us!”
“But, sir,” one of his men asked, “what if they’re taking Ritalin?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“But we’re going into a tunnel, sir, not crossing a bridge!”
“The ant is trapped in the Breslin Tunnel.” Chief Anderson informed the team, “It can’t get out without flooding the tunnel.” He paused a moment before adding in a cheerleader’s tone, “Go get it, team!” The screen faded to black.
The chief took a position in the observation tower the city’s leaders had built just in case there was a giant mecha attack. As he peered through a pair of binoculars (also supplied by the city), the Phoenix took up a position at the end of the tunnel where the ant was bound to emerge.
“Ready the electron blaster.” Mark ordered. He glanced up at one of the little-used small screens above the main viewer. It received a transmission from the National Weather Service, which said “Partly sunny with 100% chance of giant mecha attacks.”
“Blast,” he muttered, “we need total sunlight for our new weapon to work.”
“How would that work,” Princess wondered aloud, “if we don’t have to worry about solar radiation?”
“It’s heading right for us!” Keyop reported.
“Position the solar reflector screen.” Mark commanded. Tiny pressed a button. The front panels at the Phoenix’s nose – the ones that normally conceal the G2 – retracted to reveal an unfolding parabolic dish.
“If the electron blaster doesn’t work,” Jason said, “maybe we destroy the ant by beaming a bunch of bad American reality shows at it!”
The sky cleared as the ant dragged itself out of the tunnel without causing a flood. The dish turned toward the ant and sent down an intense beam. The ant shuddered as holes opened up in its exoskeleton.
The combined noises of the robot ant in distress and the beam blasting down created one of the worst noises ever heard by human ears. It even surpassed the disastrous version of “Gangnam Style” Taylor Swift released after prepubescent boys quit dating her, depriving her of her only source of song material.
“Come on, sunshine!” Mark cheered. The sky rewarded his enthusiasm by completely clouding over. The dish made a fizzling sound as the beam vanished.
“Now to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” Antoff crowed.
“Uh, sir,” one of his men said, “Muhammad Ali’s lawyer is on the line...”
Once again the ant shuddered. But this time it sprouted wings.
“Holy crap!” Tiny cried, “You mean it’s that thing’s mating season ?!”
“Don’t need any more!” Keyop added between agitated chirps.
The ant took to the air. The Phoenix just managed to dodge another stream of Kool-Aid. Tiny’s fingers danced over the control panel as he urged the Phoenix to soar above the cloud ceiling.
“On board ailerons have lost orbital electrons!” he reported.
“Maybe we should reverse polarity of the neutron flow.” Princess suggested.
“Or maybe we could ignite the dermahexagoop in its wings.” Jason added.
Keyop’s vocal tics rose an octave in pitch as he frantically flipped though his well-worn copy of “The Pseudoscience/English-English/Pseudoscience Dictionary”.
The surplus Red Ranger planes reappeared and launched missiles at the flying ant. This gave G-Force just enough time to get above the clouds. The parabolic dish again aimed at the ant and fired.
“Everyone!” Antoff shrieked at the horrendous noise punctured the eardrums of all aboard, “Get to the aerial life raft!”
The ant spiraled to the earth below, black smoke billowing from the exhaust pipe stuck in its rear.
“We rock!” Keyop cried.
“But the real hero here is the sun!” Mark added.
“Yeah.” Tiny chimed in, “But how do we stick a medal on THAT?”
“Once again G-Force has saved the universe from certain doom!” 7-Zark-7 bragged from his control room at Center Neptune. “Although I must admit I’m a little jealous of those robot ants from Tramulus – they had more modern circuitry than me!”
The tone indicating an incoming transmission sounded.
“Center Neptune Control, 7-Zark-7.”
“Hello, Zark.” the breathy voice of Susan filled the room.
“Oh, hello, Susan!” Zark cried, his antennae shooting straight into the air with a “boing!”
“I was just calling to see if you’ve finished working on the new dance moves.”
“Why, yes I have! The ‘Funky FOSDIC’ is ready to be unleashed on the universe!”
“Oh. Don’t you think it would be better if you called it ‘Zarknam Style’?”