Jinpei's shoes sloshed as he crept in through the back door of the Snack J. The things he'll do for a beloved hobby. . .
"Jinpei!" Jun's horrified gasp seemed to come from everywhere. "What did you do -- go to a pig farm and wallow in every pen there? You're filthy !"
"Oh no, Sis," he replied, hoping she didn't notice the soaked cardboard box that was dissolving in his hands, "nothing at all like that!"
The cardboard crumbled in his hands, spilling what seemed like hundreds of beetles and cockroaches onto the floor.
Jun let out a disgusted cry before she yelled, "You know you can't bring those dirty things in here!"
From that moment, the boy felt like scum as he had to round up the insects and clean up the mess.
WEEK 5 “Eat My Dust”
Ken should have known there would be trouble the moment he stepped into the Snack J.
The first thing he noticed was Jun. She had a broom in one hand, and was bending over to pick up a full dustpan. Joe sat in a corner. He averted his gaze as soon as Ken looked in that direction.
"An hour." Jun said as she straightened up.
"That's how late you are. Last time, you were 45 minutes late. Before that, two hours."
"Well, you see, I couldn't help --" Ken stopped himself when he saw the look in her eyes. He could have blood gushing from every pore and she wouldn't have felt sorry for him. He'd finally pushed his luck too far.
"What's wrong?" she said, the anger growing in her voice every second, "Run out of excuses for not doing all the work you promised?"
Ken shot a quick, dirty look to Joe, who still wouldn't meet his gaze. What happened to the second backing up his commander?
Jun shoved the broom into Ken's hand. "You've got a lot to make up for, mister!" She then shoved the dustpan at him, flinging the dust toward him. A large cloud flew into his face and, worse still, his mouth.
While Ken coughed and gagged, Jun spun around on her heel and stormed into the back.
Once Ken had gotten most of the grit out of his mouth, Joe finally spoke. "Look at it this way: it's better to eat Jun's dust than her cooking!"
WEEK 15 “Safety”
Dr. Nambu stood in the observation deck of one of the Science Ninja Team's training areas, glaring at the sight below him. Next to him stood a smaller, balding man with a severe combover.
"Now, Nambu," the smaller man said as he clutched a clipboard, "I don't write the Safety Committee's regulations, I just enforce them."
"But this will surely get them killed!"
"Now I seriously doubt that ..."
Standing on the floor below the two men were the Science Ninja Team. The young people were in the newly redesigned BirdStyles required by the ISO's Safety Committee.
They looked like toddlers who had just been bundled up to go play in the snow.
Their arms held out to their sides and their legs held stiff by all the padding, all the team members could manage was a series of tiny hops each time they wanted to move.
"...they look utterly safe to me!"
WEEK 50 “Cake”
Berg Katse tried not to sneer at his guests. The room was arranged to resemble a mediaeval dining hall – he sat at the center of a table on a raised level while his guests were seated at two long tables beneath him. To his left was the commander of the base, and his personal chef sat on his right.
All 12 of his guests gorged themselves on the food offered. These were the latest recipients of Galactor’s generosity, and this banquet was a gentle reminder of the debt they each now owed.
Katse found his gaze continually returning to Ibn al Hassan, the newly elected president of Islamistan. This man showed how connected he was to the common folk of his country by wearing top-line Armani suits. If Queen Noor Farouq hadn’t disappeared – run away from her responsibilities to the people, Ibn al Hassan claimed – he wouldn’t have been put in control of the country. Now he was at Katse’s feet, devouring roast pork and swilling down vintage 1928 Dom Perignon.
The topic of their conversation stayed on one thing: how good fortune – the intervention of Providence, if you will – helped them overcome impossible odds to become the rulers of their countries. Each of their opponents had either fled the country or simply vanished without a trace.
Much to Katse’s relief, the conversation changed when dessert was served. The murmurs of appreciation at the presentation of the red velvet cake became boisterous praise for the chef for creating a cake that was unsurpassed in its rich decadence. Katse let a bite of cake melt on his tongue before he leaned over to his chef. “I think we should start calling this ‘Providence Cake’, Antonio.”
The chef chuckled at the shared joke.
Katse stood and held up a hand for silence. As soon as the room was quiet, he addressed the new world leaders.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’m so glad you have chosen to come to this simple dinner to honor the newest members joining the Galactor fold.”
There was a smattering of applause.
“I’m also pleased that you enjoyed the dessert my personal chef, Antonio, prepared for you.”
Several guests raised their glasses to toast Antonio.
“And, as a final gift to you, I had Antonio create a video presentation on the creation of this very cake, so you may replicate it at home, if you choose.”
Varied sounds of appreciative delight filled the room. Small videoscreens rose from the tables and positioned themselves for each guest to have the easiest viewing. At first, it looked like a basic cake recipe with the standard dry ingredients. But then, when it came time for the wet ingredients, the video cut to a shot of Antonio standing before a vat that went to his shoulders. Just above the vat was a fine-mesh screen. And just above the screen was a ledge with a large block. The block had a notch in the center of its top line, and a muscular Galactor henchman with a scimitar stood beside the block.
“Now,” the image of Antonio said, “this is where the magic happens. You are about to see how we collect the one special ingredient that sets this red velvet cake above the rest.”
A woman in a badly-fitting prison-style jumpsuit and closely-cropped hair was marched up behind the block. The two guards escorting her held her in place for a moment while the camera zoomed in just enough for an establishing shot.
“Queen Noor!” Ibn al Hassan gasped. He almost didn’t recognize her without the flowing dark hair that went halfway down her back.
The two escorts pushed her onto the block, strapped her down, and positioned her chin in the notch. As soon as they were out of the way, the scimitar was raised high in the air and brought down, cleanly cutting off the queen’s head.
Before her head came to rest in the mesh screen, the block tipped forward just enough to allow her blood to drain from her body.
“The screen prevents any solid tissue or unacceptably thick fluids from being included.” Antonio’s voice explained from the video, “This process was repeated with all the others who would have prevented Galactor’s allies from assuming power.”
“Remember, people,” Katse called from his seat at the table, “‘Providence’ has its price!”
WEEK 58 “Wager”
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This prompt was given on Superbowl Sunday, 2013.Just after the end of halftime, the power went out in the Superdome for about 30 minutes.)
Sometimes a good, old-fashioned flogging can brighten the gloomiest days. But this wasn’t one of those times.
Holding a cat-o-nine-tails, Berg Katse slowly circled around a pole in the center of the room. Chained to this pole was a commander who had been stripped to the waist and was groaning a little while blood dribbled from the gashes in his back.
“If it weren’t for your failure,” Katse strained to keep his voice under control, “the world’s economy would have begun a catastrophic nosedive by now!”
“I realize that, sire, but – ”
Leather straps embedded with small, rusty nails tore at the flesh of the commander’s back.
“Don’t interrupt!” Katse snapped. “The task was easy enough! All you had to do was place a simple wager! But you failed! Explain yourself!”
“Sire,” the Galactor commander sobbed, “if I’d bet on the team that ended up winning, I would have violated one of your personal tenants. So I bet on the other team. ”
“One of my personal tenants? What are you talking about?”
“When the other team fell so far behind so soon, I tried to help by causing a blackout in the stadium.” The beaten man let the words flow freely, “Sire, I did what I could to keep the plan on track without placing the planned wager because, as I proud and loyal Galactor, I must never back the bird team!”
WEEK 61 “Wall”
The battle for Amagirroh was an old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground kind of fight. But, thanks to every able-bodied adult taking up arms and fighting as if their very souls depended on it, the Science Ninja Team was able to trounce Galactor’s forces.
Still, that didn’t keep Ken’s anger toward the people of this town in the Middle Eastern scrub from growing. All of the sick and elderly had been evacuated, but not a single child. Even though he didn’t see it happening here, the Eagle had been in enough fights to know this could only mean one thing: they used children as soldiers.
Ken noticed that there was a small trickle of people heading toward an ancient palace in the center of town. He decided to leave the rest of the team to assist in any cleanup and follow the people. He decided on what must have happened before he arrived: the children had been stuck in the palace to guard some useless baubles instead of being sent to safety. He and his teammates had fought to protect people who were as petty and greedy as Galactor.
“Ah, Gatchaman!” Ken heard the mayor cry. He turned to see Amagirroh’s leader stepping out from an old hotel. “You’re just in time to join me in checking in on our greatest treasures!”
“I don’t need to see your trinkets, Mayor.” Ken’s voice was calm, but it had a steely edge. The smile melted from the mayor’s face and was replaced by a look of confusion. “Why weren’t the children evacuated?!” This time Ken’s voice echoed off the walls of the surrounding buildings.
“Oh...” the mayor softly said, “I think I understand now. Please come with me so you can see, Gatchaman. It is not as you think.” He gestured for Ken to walk beside him. Ken stayed rooted to the spot at first, but then relented when he saw the pleading look in the mayor’s eyes.
In ancient times, this palace would have been considered vast and resplendent. But, by today’s standards, it may be considered a rustic summer cabin. As the two men entered, Ken saw the town’s citizen-soldiers approach one of several trap doors in the floor, lift a child out, and cuddle the little one while walking away for the next adult.
The mayor lead Ken to the center of the palace where an ancient wall stood in the middle of a vast, high-vaulted room. The wall didn’t look any different than the others in this region that managed to endure for centuries; it was a simple clay brick design with no paint on it. The mayor approached the wall and placed a hand on it and let out a shuddering sigh before he turned to face Ken.
“Once this was a glorious city positioned where many vital trade routes intersected.” the mayor began, “At one time, a kingdom to the north decided to conquer us, take our wealth for themselves. All our able-bodied men rode out to stop the invading army.
“But it was a ruse.” the mayor continued, “The real army came from the west and invaded the city. When our men returned, they found the western gate sealed by this wall. It was a difficult task, but the enemies were finally driven out. Once they saw what had happened inside the city walls, this” the mayor again placed his hand on the ancient bricks, “came to be known as Heartache.”
The mayor waited a moment for his words to sink in but continued before Ken could ask. “When this wall was built, every child in the city was sealed up in it alive. Those soulless bastards even ripped the babies from pregnant women’s wombs and threw them in.”
Ken felt himself growing ill as he listened.
“Ever since, every man and woman in Amagirroh takes a sacred vow upon reaching the age of adulthood. We will never again leave our children, even if all if hell is a step away.”
WEEK 65 “Madness”
The commander seemed no different from the countless ones who came before him. The only difference was his costume -- he looked like a strange cross between a jellyfish and a warthog.
He stood quietly in the center of the floor of a smallish room. In front of him was Katse sitting on a throne on a dias about twelve feet up.
A henchman came out of the shadows, thrust a working replica of a Kentucky long rifle into his hands, and then stepped back into the darkness. The commander admired the nearly five-and-a-half-foot long gun, paying particular attention to the flintlock mechanism.
Katse cleared his throat.
The commander quickly remembered himself, held the gun in his left hand so that the butt was resting on the floor, and saluted with his right hand. "Yes, Lord Katse!"
"You failed me." Katse's voice was unnervingly calm.
"Uh, yes, Sire." It felt as if the commander's heart was about to pop out of his throat and splatter on the floor. "The Science Ninja Team --"
"Quiet! I know."
There was a heavy silence.
"I have another assignment for you." Katse continued, "I want you to shoot yourself with that gun."
"You heard me."
"But, Sire, that's impossible! Nobody in his right mind would expect --"
"If you don't," Kate's voice took on an unnatural iciness, "I'll make you wish you had."
WEEK 67 “Bracket”
Ken and Joe were about to go out of their minds when Dr. Nambu and Jun finally returned home. They had done their homework and were running out of things to keep Jinpei busy. Thankfully, the youngest of the group had fallen asleep.
"Sorry." Dr. Nambu said as soon as he came through the front door, "Things took longer than expected."
"Well, I think we should at least get a pizza for this!" Joe grumbled, crossing his arms.
Jun was a few steps behind him, looking utterly miserable.
"Sorry, boys," the doctor replied, "but the crust will damage Jun's new brackets."
"Brackets?!" the boys cried in unison. Jun then opened her mouth to reveal the brand new braces on her teeth.