Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 35

I was dozing in my chair, hat pulled down over my brow, feet up on the desk, when I heard the knock.  I tilted my head and looked at the door. 

“Enter,”  I said. 

Jimmy and Simon bounded in and plopped down in the chairs in front of my desk.  They had spent the last week hanging out together, getting drunk, playing video games, and patronizing strip joints under the pretense of searching for Portia, who we never did find, by the way.  I was happy for them.  Their relationship had come a long way since the beginning of this case. 

Jimmy still had a big bandage on his forehead, but was otherwise in good repair.  Simon, well, there wasn’t anything wrong with Simon.  At least nothing a good swift kick in the butt wouldn’t cure. 

I could tell by the look in their eyes what this was about. 

“Heading back?”  I said. 

“Yeah, I think it’s about time,”  Simon replied.  “Pricilla keeps calling me on my cell.  I think she’s getting suspicious that I’m just goofing off.  Wants me to come home.  Put on my suit and go to the office and start working again and all that.  I guess I probably should.” 

“Probably.  What about you Jimmy?” 

“Yeah.  I’m feeling the need, you know?  Tubes are calling, dude.  Hard.” 

“Indeed,”  I said. 

I looked at my partners and thought about all that we had been through in the past few weeks.  Or maybe months, who the hell really knew when it came to time anyway?  So much had happened, it seemed like forever since Burroughs had first walked into my office so long ago. 

Jimmy had taken a bad hit to his head on the coaster, and an even nastier fall, but nothing any worse than he hadn’t already been exposed to by surfing into piers, jetties, or luxury yachts, all of which he had done on numerous occasions.  If nothing else, the whole experience gave him a few more entries into his ‘scar log’. 

By the time I had gone down to the entrance of Space Mountain to get Simon and make it back with him to the floor level of the coaster room, Jimmy had been a little woozy but at least conscious and walking around, albeit in slow motion since he thought he had landed on Saturn and was space walking. 

Zodar, however, had no prior experience surfing into inanimate objects himself, and as such, had suffered the hit and fall much harder.  He had still been alive when we got to him, but that was about it. 

Luckily, I knew just what to do with him.  So we loaded him up onto a service truck (this took a while), drove him over to Animal Kingdom, and left him in the African wilderness.  The Disney staff found him early that morning and, thrilled at getting a free animal, especially a specimen of his size, nursed him back to health and had him out there thrilling the kids in no time, albeit under an extremely watchful eye and boatloads of heavy sedation. 

I found it ironic that his well-being and care were now being provided by the very institution that he had been trying to overthrow.  But I wax philosophic that way sometimes. 

There was, of course, some controversy during his first few days there; some of those rather prissy tourist types (the kind that seem to know everything except the fact that nobody can stand them) questioned whether a moose was actually an animal indigenous to the African continent.  But everyone generally ignored them and pretty soon the whole ruckus died down since the moose didn’t really seem to mind being there and everyone thought he was a fine looking animal on the whole and so what if he wasn’t from Africa anyway? 

“So,”  I said, “you guys be needing a lift home?” 

“That’s okay,”  said Jimmy, “I’ll just hitch a ride with Simon.  Since he’s heading that way anyway.” 

I looked at Simon with surprise. 

“Yeah, well, I kind of bought a car the other day,”  he said. 


“Yeah.  ’71 Caddy convertible.” 

“Sweet.  Not quite an Impala, mind you, but sweet no less.” 

“I think so.” 

“Well, gentlemen,”  I said, “it’s been quite the adventure.  I guess the only thing left is just to let you know how much I appreciate all of the help.” 

“Hey dude,”  Jimmy said, “No problem.  And like, if anything gnarly comes up in the future, just let me know, okay?” 

“Me too,”  Simon said.  “This whole thing was a little weird, and I still have lots of problems with it, don’t get me wrong, but it sure beats the hell out of my regular life.” 

“Good to know,”  I said.  “I’ll make a point of it. 

The three of us stood up and after exchanging a few brief “Goodbyes”, Jimmy and Simon headed out of the office.  Just as he was about to shut the door, Simon paused and stuck his head back in.  

“Say, Dick,”  he said, “are you sure that Zodar is going to be okay in there?  I mean, you don’t think he’s going to be able to escape or anything, do you?” 

“We’re talking about Disney here.  He’s worth too much to them.  Between the staff and the meds?  No.  No way he gets out.” 

“Yeah, I know.  But still .  .  .  I mean, he’s not in a cage or anything .  .  .  and he’s not, you know, a regular moose.  Are you sure he won’t be able to get out?” 

“Simon, there’s a better chance of the Earth being attacked by a couple of teenage space aliens than there is of Zodar escaping.  Okay?” 

The concern melted from Simon’s face.  “Yeah, you’re right.  Well then, hey, take care, huh?” 

“You too Simon,”  I said.  “And be sure to give my love to Pricilla.” 

The door shut and I was left once again with just my thoughts.  My calendar was empty for the foreseeable future, but after what I had just gone through, that was just as well.  Both in mind and body, I felt I deserved a little R&R. 

I lit a cigarette and smoked it in silence.  Looked around my office and felt comfort in the familiar surroundings.  Feeling a calm that I hadn’t felt in a long time, I turned to my potter’s wheel and flipped the switch for the motor.  Once spinning, I wet my hands and gently caressed the cool clay. 

Soon I was fast asleep. 
Berzdod and Xynelthorpe were up to no good again.  The two young Barzanians from Sector BB34 had once again taken their father’s Anti-Plasma Dissimilator without his permission, intent on ridding the galaxy of a few unnecessary stars.  Dazed and confused, they bounded off drunkenly into the cosmos in the family Strato-glide, the Barzanian equivalent of a ‘72 Impala.
Several hours later they found themselves sitting next to the smoking hull of the Strato-glide, having crashed into a small white moon that Berzdod had mistaken for a small white hole.  Although Berzdod frequently made this type of error, it really wasn’t his fault this time, since Xynelthorpe, ever the prankster, had secretly replaced three of Berzdod’s eyes with energy pellets.
Berzdod finished treating his radiation burns and looked up to see Xynelthorpe hopping about, still searching for his missing leg.
“Dad’s gonna be pissed,” Berzdod said.
“You’re the idiot who keeps driving into planets,” Xynelthorpe snorted.
Berzdod’s scales bristled but he said nothing in his defense, knowing that if he did his brother would once again bring up the time he “winged” that Diridian spacestation, penetrating the hull and sending the whole outpost blowing about the galaxy like a balloon.
Fuming, he stood up, surveyed the surroundings stars, and the tried to get a bearing on where they were.  At that moment, however, one of the energy pellets in his eye cluster decided to spontaneously hyper-fuse, and the resulting jolt knocked him back to the ground. 
Xynelthorpe snickered.  “What a dork.”
Really mad now, Berzdod stood up again and unstrapped the Anti-Plasma gun from his back.  He sighted in on the yellow star to his right.
What the hell, he thought.
He shifted his footpods to plant himself better against the coming kick of the dissimilator and suddenly felt one of them slide away, causing him to stumble and inadvertently pull the trigger.  On the ground once again, he looked with disgust to see what he’d tripped on and saw a small white orb covered with dimples and bearing strange markings that he didn’t recognize;  Titleist.
A crackling ‘boom’ echoed back through the vacuum of space.  Both Berzdod and Xynelthorpe looked up.  The 90 megaton plasma orb had hit home alright, but not into the ugly yellow star.  Instead, it had plowed neatly into a nearby blue and white planet.
“Nice shot, moron,” Xynelthorpe noted.
The End


Monday, February 24, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 34

We were in another tunnel, colored lights flashing from front to back, giving the illusion of speed.  Jimmy was staring at them as if in a trance. 

“Wow,”  he said.  “Check out the lights, dude.  That’s trippin’.” 

The only trip I was taking was the one headed straight to Mooseville. 

I got up on my knees, leveled my gun, and squeezed off a few shots, not really looking to hit anything, but just to make my presence known.  In the process, the wind blew my fedora off my head, momentarily confusing me and, of course, leaving me hatless. 

Zodar picked up quickly on the clue and popped a couple of caps back at me to let me know he cared. 

Blam!  Blam! 


Blam!  Blam!  Blam! 


Blam!  Blam! 


And so it went for a few moments as Zodar and I locked horns in mortal combat, the sounds of gunfire punctuated only by the occasional “Whoa”, “Dude”, and “Trippin’ man”  uttered by Jimmy as he continued his fascinated observance of the colored lights and twinkling stars as we barreled through the universe.  Up and down, a light swerve left, a hard jig right, the coaster paid us no mind as it went about its merry way, never knowing the havoc it was playing on our marksmanship. 

“Zodar!”  I yelled.  “Enough!” 

Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  he answered. 

“Oh yeah?”  I screamed. 

BLAM!  BLAM!  BLAM!  BLAM!  click, click, click, click. 

“Uh-oh,”  I said, dropping back down in the seat.  “Jimmy, I’m out of bullets.” 

“Dude, look!”  Jimmy said, pointing.  “There’s the Big Dipper!  That is soooo cool!” 

“Jimmy, will you knock it off?  We’re in some amount of shit here, okay?  I’m out of ammo.  Do you understand?  I.  Have.  No.  Bullets.” 

Ever cool under even the most dire circumstances, Jimmy continued not to pay any attention to a thing I was saying.  He was enthralled with the ride. 

“Look!  Look!”  he said, “There’s Saturn!  That’s my planet dude!” 

Suddenly, with years of fluid surfing agility and a speed that belied his normal laid back persona, Jimmy pushed himself up and hopped up on the back of the car.  It happened so fast, he was up before I could lay a hand on him. 

“WHOOO!  Yeah, dog!”  he yelled into the darkness.  “Check me out, I’m space surfing, dude!” 

“Jimmy!”  I yelled, “Get down from there before you – ” 


  – hit your head on something.” 

Jimmy disappeared off of the back of the car and into the darkness as if by magic.  And to my serious dismay, the coaster was now slowing down as it neared completion of its interstellar journey.  We were pulling back into the station, and the combination of much better lighting & less motion coupled with my untimely lack of ammunition was sure to cause a problem or two in the survivability department. 

The coaster was pulling to a stop, and Zodar was peering at me from the front car.  No stranger to the obvious, he quickly noticed the absence of great quantities of lead flying in his direction and he rose higher, a wicked grin spreading across his face. 

“I have you now,”  he said, raising his gun towards me. 

Not quite. 

With no other viable options (I mean, really, like what, trying to run away with a sore crotch through all of those damn metal railings?) I reared back and threw my now useless gun at the big red button on the control panel of the operating station.  The revolver hit it square on, and, with a jolt, the coaster started off again.  I ducked down into my seat and felt the temporary safety of the darkness wash over me as we entered the tunnel again. 

I lay there, staring up at the lights, and for a moment understood the fascination that they’d held for Jimmy as I awaited the inevitable.  I had bought a momentary reprieve, but in just a few minutes we would again complete our journey and pull back into the station.  That would be it.  I had nothing else to throw at the big red button. 

As the seconds ticked by, I contemplated my fate with a calm resolve.  I remembered the white cyanide capsule in my pocket, and considered whether I should steal Zodar’s thunder by taking myself out, rather than giving him the satisfaction of doing it himself.  Somehow, the fact that I’d be dead either way took most of the fun out of it, so in the end, it didn’t really matter to me. 

Meanwhile, the coaster continued to make it’s mindless way through the universe again, oblivious to everything else except forging ahead on it’s well known course through the planets.  Up and down we went.  A light swerve left.  A hard jig right. 

I had an idea. 

“Zodar!”  I yelled out.  “Can I ask you a question?” 

“What for?  A last request of a doomed man, perhaps?”  he laughed. 

“Might say that.  Not a request though.  Just a question.” 

“What is it?”  came the reply. 

“Are you, like, you know .  .  .  a girl moose?” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You know, a girl moose.  A smoothie.  A Moosella.” 


“Yeah, well, I normally wouldn’t ask, you know?  Good etiquette and all that.  It’s just that, you know, you’re really kind of a puss when you get right down to it.” 

“What .  .  . who do you .  .  .  how dare you!” 

“Struck a nerve, huh?  Yeah, well, truth hurts I guess.” 

There was a moment of silence and then I heard him utter a menacing growl.  I didn’t think mooses could do that – growl, I mean – but apparently they can when they’re really mad. 

“I’m going to enjoy killing you, Lassiter,”  he said finally, without a drip of humor in his voice. 

Boy, was he steamed.  Good thing that’s what I was hoping for.  Now to really turn the screws. 

“Hey, that’s great and all, but try to hold it down up there for now, okay?  I’m going to rest a while before you kill me and I really don’t feel like listening to you flap your jowls like some bitch, alright?  I’d appreciate it.” 

“I’ve got a good mind to come back there and kill you right now,”  he said.  

“Yeah, right.  Like that’ll happen.” 

“I will.  I mean it.” 

“Whatever you say Big Z.  But I gotta tell you, I’m not exactly shaking in my shoes here, know what I mean?” 

“Alright.  That’s it.  You die now!” 

I sat up in my seat and calmly watched as Zodar, furious, climbed out of the front car and started working his way back to me, steam shooting from his flared nostrils as he moved from car to car. 

“Hey, you be careful there, okay?”  I called out in a friendly voice. 

“You should be worrying more about yourself, Lassiter.  In a few moments you’re going to be extremely dead.” 

“Nah.  I’m not going to waste time worrying.  Know why?  Care to hazard a guess?” 

“Do tell,”  he said, now halfway back to me and focusing so much attention to his footing that he didn’t even notice the Big Dipper whizzing by. 

“Because you can’t kill me.” 

“Oh, really?  And why is that?” 

“Because I’m nothing.  Understand?  Nothing.  Tough to kill that.  I don’t even exist.  And not to upset you, but neither do you for that matter.” 

“What kind of nonsense – ” 

“Exist, I mean.  You’re nothing too.” 

“I’ll show you who –”

“Nothing, you hear?” 

“I’m – ” 

Nothing,  I finished for him.  “You are a figment of the imagination.”  

“I am not!”  he screamed as he mounted the car directly in front of me.  He rose to his full height and aimed the barrel of his gun directly into my face.  “I am not nothing!” 

Saturn flashed by behind his head. 

“I am Zodar the Spy Moose!”  he roared, “And you will FEEL MY WRATH! 

“Yeah?  Well, I’m Dick Lassiter.  And you want to talk about feeling something?  Check this shit out.” 


In a blur of hooves, antlers, and fur, the spy moose that was Zodar raced over my head, and was gone.  I breathed out a huge sigh of relief, and sat back as the coaster slowed down and pulled back into the station.  With a slight jolt, it came to a stop. 

I took out a cigarette, lit it, and pulled deep, grateful that there wasn’t anyone around for a change to tell me to put it out.  I just sat there a while, taking a few minutes to decompress.  Felt the tension start to slowly ease from my muscles as I considered all that had happened.  It was done. 

I glanced up, and for the first time I noticed the sign over the coaster tunnel, a familiar warning that, as ludicrous as it sounds, can be found on roller coasters across America:


Good advice. 

Next Week:  Chapter 35

Monday, February 17, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 33

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War  is a well-known, time honored classic that, to this day, is often praised for its wise, philosophical perspective on armed combat.  Being in my line of work, it should then come as no surprise to you that there was a time when I once studied this work in great detail.  Okay, okay; so I skimmed through it once during a commercial break while I was watching Everybody Loves Raymond, it still makes me somewhat of an authority, and as such, I feel righteously empowered to tell you that most of it’s just a bunch of crap. 

There was, however, something in there about “knowing your enemy”  that made at least a little bit of sense to me, and, not being one to waste good insight, regardless of where it might have come from, I took the liberty to modify that particular bit of wisdom and include it into my own personal “Guidelines of Warfare”, the entire text of which is printed below:

1) Know where your enemy is
2) Shoot at him a lot

While never having received quite the critical media acclaim as other publications dealing with the same subject matter, many laymen have embraced my philosophy for its simplicity, no-nonsense approach, and ease of implementation. 

As proof of my own confidence in this strategy, you should be aware that at this point, I jumped to my feet, aimed my gun in the direction of Zodar, and started scratching my trigger finger. 


I paused and glared out through the smoke – steel eyed, adrenaline pumping – watching for any movement.  I wasn’t sure if I’d hit him or not, but I was pretty certain that I’d at least made a valid point to him regarding my current mood.  Then, just to make sure he didn’t think I was kidding, I let go a few more. 


Put that in your pipe and smoke it, moose.  I stopped again and gave him time to chew on it a while. 

“I see you’ve changed weapons on me,”  Zodar said from somewhere on the far side of the room.  “You’re carrying an automatic now too.” 

“No, I’m not.  I just reload really, really, fast.” 

There was a moment of hesitation before his reply, and when it finally came, it came with a hint of uncertainty. 

“I .  .  .  I guess you do at that,”  he said. 

He was rattled.  I could feel it.  And about time, too.  Up until now, Zodar had been playing with a stacked deck, showing trump after trump.  But I’d finally found a card that he couldn’t match; when it came to pulling a trigger, nobody was faster than Dick Lassiter.  Now if I could just get a good look at his furry ass, I’d square my sights and end this once and for all. 

I risked a quick glance down at my feet.  Jimmy was as horizontal as a man can get, either still cowering or sound asleep, I couldn’t tell.  I gave him a nudge with my foot and, moments later, he was up by my side. 

“Time to button him up,”  I said. 

My gun still raised, we started moving slowly toward the other side of room.  Normally, we would have started moving quickly toward the other side of the room, but we had to stop every two feet to climb over those damn metal rails.  But it was either that or walk between the rails and look like a couple of idiots zigzagging back and forth. 

We were halfway there, and I was straddled over another railing, when I saw a soda can skitter across the floor towards the roller coaster.  A soda can with big old honkin’ antlers that is.  Sorry Zodar, not this time.  I wasn’t falling for that again. 

I took a bead on him, but just as I pulled the trigger, my foot slipped off the metal bar where some punk kid had spilled ice cream on it or something.  Luckily, I only fell about six inches, at which point my fall was broken as the railing came into firm contact with my crotch. 


What should have been the period at the end of the sentence instead slammed harmlessly into the floor several feet behind the scrambling can, sending chips of concrete screaming into the far wall. 

And speaking of screaming, I was doing a little of that myself as I stared at the ceiling and admired a few new constellations that I hadn’t noticed before.  Jimmy had seen what had happened and reacted accordingly. 

“Duuuuuude!”  he said, “Oh man, that had to hurt.” 

In a typical male sympathy reaction, he grabbed his own crotch with both hands and – half-staggering, half-hopping – limped around in circles, sharing my pain. 

“Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!  Oh dude, you’re hatin’ it.  Ohhhhh, man, that’s gonna leave a mark.” 

I grit my teeth and focused all of my energy in an attempt to clear my head.  After what seemed like an eternity, a few of the stars at last flickered and went out.  Then, in the lowest tone of voice I could muster, I said, “Jimmy, help me down.” 

“Right.  Help you down,”  he said. 

Very slowly – and very carefully – Jimmy helped me raise my leg over the bar until I was once again standing gingerly on terra firma with both feet.  I took a few tentative steps to see how my motor skills were working.  Definitely not 100%, but I’d recover.  As the last of the fog lifted from my mind, I became aware of an unusual mechanical hum and, seconds later, of lights flashing. 

“Quick, Jimmy!”  I yelled in a voice that was still a little high in tone, “He’s getting away!” 

With no hope of jumping the rails in my present condition, we ran/hobbled along the forced pathway as fast as we could toward the roller coaster, now alive and starting to move.  Zodar was in the front car, back in full moose form.  He was smiling at us as he raised his automatic. 

Jimmy and I were sitting ducks.  Hell, we probably even looked a little like ducks, moving back and forth across the room as we maneuvered through the human cattle chutes.  Didn’t matter though. 

I was mad, and I wasn’t thinking about taking cover now.  I was thinking about where I could find a good taxidermist. 

“I’m sorry it has to end this way, Lassiter,”  Zodar said smugly.  “Unlike my former country, I will not fold under the pressure of a capitalist regime that exists solely to oppress the – ” 

Fortunately for us, at that moment the front car of the roller coaster, with Dr.  Pontification still firmly in its grasp, disappeared from view on its way into the darkness of Space Mountain. 

Hey, you snooze, you lose.  He had his shot. 

Unfortunately for us, the remaining cars of the coaster were following the first in a smart, orderly fashion. 

“Hurry, Jimmy!”  I urged.  “We’ve got to get on that coaster!” 

Finally, mercifully, we rounded the last bend of the rails and came into the clear.  Most of the roller coaster was gone from view now, and the few cars that remained were rapidly disappearing as they picked up speed. 

Fighting pain, nausea, and fatigue, we ran as fast as we could across the loading platform and jumped into the very last car just as it slid behind the wall. 

We crumpled to the floor and were enveloped by darkness. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 32 (continued)

I began a conversation with Zodar to keep him distracted while I quietly started moving forward again in the darkness.  Jimmy followed dutifully. 

“Zodar,”  I said, “I know what you’re going through.” 

“Do you now?” 

“Absolutely.  The nation that created you – and that you loyally served – has crumbled and turned its back on you.  You’ve been maligned in world public opinion because of what Rok and Stinky Pete did.  There was probably something pretty bad that happened in your childhood.  And the woman you loved has tossed you aside like an old shoe.” 

“What woman?” 

“Um .  .  .  Portia?” 

“No idea who you’re talking about.” 

“Fair enough.  Scratch the broken heart.  But if that’s truly the case, then let me go back and elaborate a little more on the childhood trauma thing, okay?” 

“No deal.” 

Damn.  I had to keep him talking.  We were getting close.  I could feel it.  I had to keep him talking & distracted so I could sneak up and put a bullet in him. 

“Okay then,”  I said.  “But I don’t understand something.” 

“And what is that?” 

“What?  Well, nothing that you can help me with really.  In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with you at all, just something to do with mimes that’s had me puzzled for a long – oh, wait.  Yeah, you know, there is something you might be able to answer for me.  Just thought of it.  Why, Zodar?  Why?” 

“I thought a man of your caliber would have figured that out already, Lassiter.” 

“Hey dude,”  Jimmy said to me, “he just called you by your last name.  That’s cool.” 

“Really?”  I replied back.  “Is ignoring people cool too?” 

“Oh yeah.  Very.” 

“Then watch this.”  I turned my attention back to the moose. 

“You’ve been wronged Zodar.  No debate there.  But did you really think that world domination would somehow make it all better?  You’re smarter than that.  A moose like you, with your talents, you could have done anything you wanted.  You could have had it all.” 

“That was my general intention.” 

“Oh yeah.  Good point.  I guess that was a pretty stupid line of argument I was using just now, wasn’t it?” 


“Yeah, well.  But is that what all of this was for?  Revenge?” 

“You really don’t understand, do you Lassiter?  No, you couldn’t.” 

“So why don’t you try explaining it to me.” 

“Why should I?  So you can keep me talking & distracted while you sneak up and put a bullet in me?” 

Damn, this guy was good.  But if I was going to take him down, I was going to have to be better.  Up ahead I could see what appeared to be the actual, final, no shit end of the tunnel.  All I needed was a few more seconds.  I called his bluff. 

“You know I’m going to do that anyway, Zodar.” 

“I know that you’re going to try.” 

“Alright, Zodar.  Enough.  No more word games.  Talk or don’t talk.  Doesn’t matter much to me.  But just on the off chance that I’m the one who winds up walking out of here, wouldn’t you like at least one person to understand?” 

There was a few moments of tense silence as my words struck home. 

“You’re right,”  Zodar said finally.  “Regardless of how this turns out, you at least should know.” 

I was only 20 feet from where the tunnel ended.  Beyond that was a warm glow of light coming from what appeared to be a large room that the tunnel fed into.  I couldn’t tell any more than that, but I knew Zodar was in there.  I moved silently, slowly, tight against the wall. 

“All of my life,”  Zodar said, “I am raised Soviet.  All of my memories, everything I did, everything I was taught, was for the sake of the State.  Loyalty.  Honor.  Duty.  Sacrifice.  Always for the betterment of the State.  I never knew my mother and my father, if I even had a mother and father.” 

“Boy,”  I whispered to Jimmy, “did I have that childhood thing pegged or what?” 

“Nailed it, dude,”  he whispered back. 

“But I didn’t mind,”  Zodar continued.  “I had a purpose.  I could make a difference, and help the people of my country.  So I trained, I studied, and I never lost faith in what I was doing or who I was doing it for.  It wasn’t about me, after all.  It was about the Motherland.” 

“This is getting kind of political, don’t you think?”  Jimmy whispered. 

“Yeah.  I know it’s boring, but just hang in there, I think he’s almost done,”  I answered quietly, still moving towards the corner. 

“And then, suddenly, the Cold War was over,”  Zodar said.  “I confess, I never saw it coming.  And I never thought my mighty Soviet Union would collapse.  And I never thought that, just as quickly, my country wouldn’t need me anymore.” 

“Yeah,”  I called out.  “I can see why you might be pissed at them.  But we knew that part.  We’re just trying to figure out why you’re over here screwing around with us.” 

“Them?”  Zodar said sharply, “I’m not angry at them, I’m angry at you.” 

“Um, say what?” 

“If it wasn’t for you, the Cold War wouldn’t have ended, the Soviet Union would still exist, and I would be a hero in my homeland!” 

“Well, technically I didn’t have anything to do with that.” 

“But your country did!” 

“Oh yeah,”  I said, “Now that you mention it, I remember reading that part in your note.  But hey, in that note you also said you were angry at your own country too.  In fact, that was the first thing you mentioned, the whole ‘mad at those who created you’ thing.” 

“I lied.  I am a spy, after all.  It’s what I do.” 

“Good point.” 

We had reached the end of the tunnel.  I raised my gun chest high and nodded at Jimmy.  Time to play.  I jumped out of the tunnel into the dimly lit room.  Jimmy landed next to me an instant later. 

Time slowed down. 
In the first half-second, my brain had time to register that the room was huge, and filled with a literal maze of those metal people railing thingies.  The walls and ceilings were decorated with planets & stars, and large television monitors hung at intervals along the walls.  On the far end was an open area where I could see a futuristic roller coaster sitting lifeless on the tracks.  And just in front of the coaster was Zodar, wounded & weary, looking back at me. 

In the second half-second, my brain had time to register numerous blinding flashes of light and a corresponding number of very loud ‘Blams’. 

Full second #2 of our arrival into the room entered with both Jimmy and I eating carpet as the bullets that were fired at us back in the second half-second of the first second whizzed over our heads. 

Time sped back up to normal.  Thank God. 

As the shooting stopped we lay cringed on the floor, while bits & pieces of broken plastic and drywall bounced on the floor around us. 

Suddenly, Jimmy jumped to his feet. 

“That’s six shots Zodar!”  he yelled.  “You’re out of bullets!” 

Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  Blam!  Blam! 

Jimmy decided to rejoin me on the floor.  A good career move all around. 

“Dude,”  he said, eyes like saucers, “I think he’s got an automatic.” 

“No shit?”  I said. 

“Either that or he can reload really, really, fast.” 

“Thanks for that valuable input, Jimmy.  I appreciate it.” 

“No problem.” 

It’s always a little embarrassing to find yourself cowering on the floor under a hail of gunfire, especially after you’ve spent so much time and effort sneaking up on someone with the intent of blowing them full of holes.  Sure, in hindsight, maybe I had lost a little too much of the element of surprise by holding a conversation during the whole “sneaking up” process, but I had consciously given that up, believing that my “jumping into the middle of a big open space in front of a dangerous, armed villain with an entrenched defensive position”  strategy would give me the edge I needed to take him down. 

Once again, I had underestimated my foe, and for the first time, slivers of self-doubt started to wiggle into my mind.  Could I actually defeat this menace, or was Zodar simply too tough?  Could it be that he was just better than me?  Smarter than me?  Had I finally met my match? 

Then a new thought hit me:  Hey, I had a gun too. 

Next Week:  Chapter 33