“How much further, pilot?” I asked. “My muscles are aching for the release of battle.”
I sat with my nose pressed to the window, and watched the great, blue ball of the Earth growing closer and closer. My stomach tingled as I saw the clusters of lights where all the big cities must be.
For a Kaleth warrior whose life revolved around defending the Federation and all its citizens, including the denizens of Earth (who had no idea they were not alone in the galaxy), nothing could be more glorious than combat. And when that combat was to protect the homeworld where most of its galaxy got it entertainment, it was even more of a thrill.
I would be protecting the same primitive peoples who had come up with the concept for Maury. And WAP. And let’s not forget Old Town Road - a true warrior’s song.
“Hello?” The pilot hadn’t answered me yet. “How much longer until we land?” He kept his focus locked to the front. Maybe I was a little miffed, but as we must’ve been gearing up to land, it was hard to blame him. That kinda thing probably took some real focus.
The pilot and I had been talking a lot early into this mission, but he’d grown steadily quieter as we sailed on. Probably just dazzled by my extensive knowledge of human culture. I had been consuming it since I had been birthed. Everything from SNL and In Living Color to That ‘70s Show and FRIENDS. Even I had to admit it was pretty intimidating, and I’d had lots of conversations where others were stunned into silence by my sheer prowess.
Pretty much everybody knew about The Voice or Tiger King, but my knowledge extended way back into the rich history of human creation. In point of fact, I could name most of the episodes of the original Brady Bunch in order, as well as quoting extensively. So, take that all you aficionado wannabes. I was the true master here.
Still, as we descended through the atmosphere and closer to the swirling mass, I had a hard time containing my desire to talk. My breath was fogging up the glass, and I kept kicking my feet under my chair in the sheer anticipation of it all.
“So, what do you think the chances are that Simon Cowell is in LA right now? I mean, I know he’s from England, but do you think he might be there anyway? Given where they are in the American Idol season, maybe I could bump into him and have him listen to my death song that I sing when I kill Zanthi…”
“He’s not a judge anymore.” My buddy’s voice was surprisingly harsh, and I couldn’t help feeling like he was glad to finally one-up me on something.
“No, I know that… It’s just that…” I was embarrassed, and said the last words to the window under my breath, “he might still be there.” The ground below us was dark. Like, shockingly dark. “Hey, is LA having a blackout or something? I know that happens sometimes.”
The buildings were all dark, and surprisingly narrow. How could humans even get inside those things? As we came in for landing, I saw that they weren’t buildings at all – those things were trees! Maybe it wasn’t LA – maybe it was Central Park! New York City was just as good, as far as I was concerned.
Maybe I could get Hamilton tickets. They were warriors and I needed to avenge myself on Aaron Burr.
“Alright, buddy,” the pilot said as we touched down. “Here we are. Feel free to hop on out.” He clicked a button and the hatch opened, sending a ramp out into the dark of the pre-dawn. The smell of thick vegetation washed in over me, and I unbuckled and stepped to look out. I’d seen enough Friends to know that there was no way this was Central Park.
“So, where is this mission happening, exactly?”
“Maybe if you’d spent more time looking at the dossier, and less time quoting Anchorman, you’d know that. Now, get out there and go get ‘em!” He offered me a mock salute that hurt my feelings a bit, if I’m being honest.
Stepping out onto the soil, the bay behind me snapped shut, and the shuttle burned off into the brightening sky. Maybe a little faster than it should have, which only hurt more. Sniffing against the insult, I comforted myself that he was probably just jealous.
Clicking up my data pad, I took my first look at the mission awaiting me.
“Oh, come on! Are you kidding me?”
The Amazon Jungle? Where’s the fun in that? I couldn’t think of a single good episode of anything that had been shot out there. Rats.
Reading was always so boring, so I just flicked along at the screen until some pictures came up.
Those things were such a pain in the ass. I’d collected one that had been spawning on Lyctical and destroying the ecosystem. Chances are how I handled that one was what got me the assignment.
All it takes is one of those things to really chew up the terrain, so I knew I’d have to catch it before it started kicking out offspring. The last thing I wanted was to end up chasing around the babies again. Those little fuckers were a handful. Well, not little, actually. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, from what I was able to make myself skim over, it looked like a lone Barghle had touched down in the Amazon, and was doing what it could to generally make a mess of things. Activating my location system on the datapad, I double checked the stun blaster at my hip and headed out.
Maybe I could pretend to be Indiana Jones. He did jungle stuff, right? The only trouble was, when I tried to swing on a vine, it snapped off and I busted my ass on a tree root. At least nobody was around.
“Here, Barghle, Barghle, Barghle.” That kinda thing never worked.
Instead, I just leaned back to rely on the thing that always did the trick when trying to track one of those things. Taking a deep inhale, I smelled through all that dense jungle stuff. Those big bastards stunk!
If I was gonna snag it, I’d have to follow my nose.
Wait, isn’t that what you were supposed to do to find that breakfast cereal? The one with those commercials with that cartoon bird with the colorful beak? I loved that guy…
“Follow your nose,” I howled into the jungle. There were some kind of monkey calls in response, so I hollered again. “Follow your nose!” This was turning out to be rather fun “FOLLOW YOUR NOSE!!”
There was an immense crash in the trees a few yards away. According to The Lion King, there were hippos and elephants out here, right? Or was that one set in Africa? All those damn ‘A’ places. Anyway, given that the damage was clearly being done by something of size, it seemed like the right idea to check it out.
Opting to stow my Toucan Sam impersonation for the time being, I crept through the underbrush and toward the source of the trouble. The thrashing continued, so it wasn’t too hard to get a bead on things, and when I came into a small clearing, I was rewarded. It was the Barghle, alright. Or, at least the back of one.
For all their size, those slick suckers were quick! It slithered off through the trees, and I lit out after it. Any time it got too far out of sight, I leaned back for another big sniff. That always pointed me in exactly the right direction.
After maybe twenty minutes of tracking it, I was already starting to get bored with the whole thing. Maybe I’d just spoiled myself thinking I was gonna end up in Madrid at the very least, so clambering round in some trees didn’t seem like that much fun. I mean, they hadn’t even given me a pith helmet or anything. Jerks.
Suddenly, there it was. Maybe the damn thing had doubled back. It loomed over me, high into the trees, and I could already see the dripping purple pustules that were going to spawn off a whole legion of little Barghles. That’s just what I needed.
It saw me, too. Lurching around, it glowered down at me, those grinding mandibles slobbering under a pair of giant, compound eyes. Remember that old movie where that scientist gets his head switched with a fly, and there’s that shot where the lady is screaming, but there’s like twelve of her? I wonder if that’s what I looked like? Well, minus the screaming part.
“Tell me something, my friend,” I said drawing my stun blaster. “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” The Barghle inched closer to me, cocking its bulbous head to one side. “I always ask that of all my prey,” I gave a shrug. “I just like the sound of it.”
Clearly this critter was no fan of Mr. Nicholson’s work, or maybe it was just my impersonation (though, I liked to think that was spot on). It lunged for me, and I cracked off a shot. Thanks to the fact that I was diving out of the way at the same time, it was a clear miss, and managed to knock the limb off a nearby tree.
Taking the hint, my big, scaly friend whipped around and dove away through the trees. Falling into a run to keep up, I came up over a ridge that looked down into a low ravine. My heart soared in my chest at what I saw. Tucked back among the vines and moss, were all kinds of tiered temples covered with carvings.
Holy shit! Was this the set from the Temple of Doom? Yes!!
Turning to my datapad for a quick search, I saw that it was just some stupid ruins that start with an X and get impossible to read after that. Apparently they’re restricted to pretty much everybody, but tell that to the big bastard making a mess of things down there.
Well, regardless of whether or not I had the clearances from the local whoever-it-was, I was going in. If they wanted to find me, they were gonna have to catch me first. Once I brought down the big fucker kicking up a stink, the rangers were gonna have to give me a medal. Honestly, I’d settle for a flight to a city where I could actually get down to scoping out all the boss stuff the humans had to offer.
Of course, I had to nab the bad guy first. Tightening my grip on my blaster, I charged down the hillside and into the ruins.
So long as I had the right lines ready, this was gonna be fun.