“Now, this is what I expected hell to be like,” Madeleine said as she flew over miles of endless burning sand. The wyvern Geryon had dropped them off at the edge of the immense desert and then soared away again into Circle Eight without so much as a by-your-leave. Geryon hadn’t been much of a conversationalist, so it wasn’t like Madeleine expected a farewell speech. Still, there they were, in Circle Seven, faced with crossing a massive desert. She might’ve hoped he could have dropped them further into it.
Evil Madeleine had finally come to, and she was not happy. “Couldn’t let me find my own way out, could you? Nooooo. You just had to send the stupid monster after me. Jerk.” She followed it up with a few more insults, many of them unprintable. Madeleine Prime was ashamed of herself that she knew those words, even if it was an alternate version of her.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Let’s just get out of here.” Madeleine Prime didn’t see a track, or a signpost, so reluctantly she launched into the air and started straight across. Evil Madeleine, still swearing, followed.
They flew on and on and on. The heat rose up at them from the sands and blistered their faces. Madeleine saw people wandering about down there, and wondered what their sins were. She remembered from Dante that Circle Seven included the violent, and this particular area was meant for the violent against God and nature, specifically. She thought she saw another politician, one she hadn’t voted for, who’d been involved in a messy scandal that had kept the tabloids going for weeks. Madeleine Prime kept on. There were still six more circles to go after this.
Then, Evil Madeleine tugged at her sleeve. “Look, over there!” she said, her eyes lit up in excitement. “A waterfall!”
Madeleine had tried not to think how thirsty she was getting, and how refreshing a nice cold bit of water might be. Even the frozen lake back in Circle Nine sounded better than this. Still, though, she didn’t remember waterfalls mentioned in Dante. She looked where her evil self was pointing. “I don’t see it,” she said.
“Seriously? It’s right there!” Evil Madeleine exclaimed, gesticulating frantically. “It’s like Niagara Falls over there! C’mon!” She kicked off towards it.
“You idiot, don’t go chasing waterfalls now!” Madeleine Prime shouted.
“I know that song,” Evil Madeleine said. “But I don’t care, it’s totally real! Can’t you hear it?”
Madeleine Prime sighed. “It’s a mirage. You really expect there’s a nice cold waterfall in hell?”
Before her counterpart could say anything, a sudden boom resounded across the desert. Both Madeleines spun towards the sound. A long dark blur ran across the edge of the horizon, and from that blur smoke was rising. “Something’s going on,” Madeleine Prime said. “Question is, do we check it out or stay away?”
“You go after it,” Evil Madeleine said stubbornly. “I’m going after the waterfall.”
“Oh, no, I am not going to hunt down an unexplained noise in hell all by myself,” Madeleine Prime said. “Besides, that blur looks like the forest in the middle ring of Circle Seven, which means we’re nearly out of this thing. And, I’m telling you, there’s no waterfall. I wish there were, honestly, but there’s not.”
Evil Madeleine glanced agonizingly towards the sand, where she was presumably seeing a waterfall. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever.” Slowly she followed Madeleine Prime towards the distant blur,.
As it grew closer, the blur resolved into a dark tangle of crooked trees and thorny bushes, extending for miles. In the depths of the forest, more columns of smoke rose, coiling and ominous. Madeleine Prime heard more loud booms, punctuated by distant shouts and wails, and, once, a ripping metallic clatter that sounded almost like a machine gun tearing through a clip of bullets. They landed at the edge of the forest. “What on Earth is going on?” Madeleine Prime said aloud.
“Revolution,” came a slow, melancholy voice from the nearest tree.
Evil Madeleine yelped in fright and backpedaled rapidly. Madeleine Prime remembered Dante had said something about talking trees in the middle ring of Circle Seven. She was more alarmed by what it was saying. “What do you mean, revolution?”
“It seems,” said the tree mournfully, “that someone broke someone else out of the frozen lake in the lowest part of hell. Word spread. People further up decided they wanted to break out.”
Madeleine’s stomach knotted. She had only meant to rescue her evil self and undo the damage she had caused. She hadn’t meant to spark a revolt in hell.
Space, as everyone knows by now, is big. People have tried to make it smaller. But even with subspace communications, even with faster-than-light travel, even with hyperdrives and wormholes and tesseract folds, space is still incredibly, mindboggingly big. It still takes some time for news to spread from one point in the wide universe to another. It takes even longer for the truth to arrive and clear up the rumors that may have raced ahead of it. It was nine days before Bianca Carmine knew about her father.
She was in her customary cafe, drinking her usual Swirling Supernova. She found out in the worst way. She should have been told by a trusted associate of the Family, but most of her father’s associates were either dead themselves or had gone into hiding. Bianca had only half an ear turned towards the holoreporter, when all at once she heard her father’s name. Authorities, the reporter noted in emotionless static, had confirmed that Sal “Skipper” Carmine had died in the Charlotte’s Moon Affair. Next of kin were being sought. The passive voice neatly evaded the question of who was looking for them, and whether they wanted to be found. Bianca didn’t.
The otter waved at the robot bartender, who whirred over and flashed a number at her on its screen. Instead of swiping her card, Bianca tossed a few generic coins into a tray the robot helpfully extended. The nice thing about robot bartenders is that you don’t have to tip. The other nice thing is that they still take cash, which is useful when using a card would light up the grid and signal to all and sundry where you are. Bianca had already stayed in the cafe too long. It was time to move.
She had a skimmer parked outside. A shuttlecraft waited two miles off, concealed in a patch of trees. Bianca didn’t know the names of the trees, and didn’t care. She only knew they were blue, very fluffy, and ideal for shielding a shuttlecraft from view. She stepped outside into the golden light of the planet’s twin suns. Then she froze. Someone was standing by her skimmer.
“So. You’re alive,” Stamper said.
“So you lied.”
“In your last message. The one from Luca Three.”
“Not all of it.”
“Oh? Which parts were true? Your name was a lie. You getting blown up was a lie. Your family-”
“The part at the beginning. Where I said I loved you. That was true.”
“How do I know?”
Bianca stepped past him, and kicked her skimmer into life. “You don’t.” She didn’t look back as she lifted away into the setting suns.
Stamper watched her go. “Yeah. I don’t.”
This is really the last, for now, in the Angel and the Space Otter series. For now.
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had just encouraged the Little Drummer Boy to perform his classic impromptu concert for the Baby Jesus when she was suddenly teleported away from the scene. Little does she know who is really responsible….
“Aliens,” said Catrina, who had figured it out pretty quickly. “Lovely. Here I am, minding my own business in first-century Judea, when I am suddenly snatched away into an alien spaceship. Who’d have thought?”
Captain Zzip Plettski, meanwhile, was most upset. He was a conscientious lizard, who tried to obey orders from his superiors as best he could. His scout ship had a specific mission: fly in, observe the humans and determine their level of technological development, and fly out again. He was not supposed to interact with the Earthlings at all. Now, however, he had one Earthling squalling in his brig, and another whom he had just teleported onto the bridge. Worst of all, Captain Plettski didn’t see how he could have done anything else. “You are not from this time period, are you?” he demanded of Catrina.
The princess hesitated. As fun as it had been bouncing around history and changing events at whim, she was beginning to wonder about the consequences. Besides which, she wasn’t inclined to disclose everything to someone who had just snatched her off the surface of her planet. “Why, of course I am!” she protested. “And I demand you send me back to Bethlehem this instant, or-”
“I beg your pardon,” Captain Plettski said, “but I do not believe you are telling the truth. Our shipboard translator systems have identified the languages of the region from which you were teleported. You are not speaking any of them. I had my science department do a scan. No one down there is speaking what you’re speaking.”
“Ah,” said Catrina, wishing that she had paid more attention when the monks living near her castle attempted to instruct her in Biblical languages. “I’ve, er, created my own language. Catrinish.”
“There is also the fact that we detected a surge of tachyon particles in the area, which indicate some disturbance of the temporal continuum,” the alien lizard noted.
Catrina was a princess, not a starship engineer. She had no idea what tachyon particles were. What she knew was that the lizard wasn’t buying her story of being a native of Bethlehem. She also knew that she was, fortunately, still holding Mlrning (the Shovel of Thor!). Catrina smiled. “Very well then. You’re right. I’m really from the 12th century. I would like to go back there soon, so why don’t I let you go on about your business, and I’ll go on about mine, like civilized, er, people?”
The lizard captain took a step back, a sudden look of suspicion on his face. “I am afraid that is not a possibility If your people have discovered time travel, then this world is much more advanced than I had foreseen. I no longer feel I am qualified to decide the status of Earth as a colony site. I must immediately report to my superiors.”
“Good for you,” Catrina said. “So, you’ll let me go, then?”
Plettski waved, and a squad of scowling security lizards advanced towards her, laser rifles held high. “Why is it always laser rifles?” Catrina sighed. “Just once I’d like to encounter an advanced civilization devoted to nonviolent resolutions of conflicts. But no, always the laser rifles.”
“You see,” said the captain, ignoring her complaint, “My superiors will want to know the extent of the difficulty. In short, they will want to meet you. Not to mention the other anomalous Earthling we apprehended tonight.”
“The other…. Susan.” Catrina’s eyes blazed. “Where is she.” It was a demand, not a question.
“She is in a secured area,” Captain Plettski said. “Which, I regret to say, is where you will be.” The lizard captain had said this, perhaps, out of a sense of fairness towards his prisoner, thinking that she deserved fair warning. He quickly realized his error. Catrina whirled the Shovel of Thor wildly about her head. Freeze rays burst from its blade and blasted around the bridge. As the lizards dove for cover, Catrina bolted, scrambling for the nearest doorway. The door slid shut behind her. To her horror, she found herself in a circular chamber with no way out. “Oh, lovely,” Catrina said. “I’m trapped in this closet thing.”
“Please restate command,” a chipper voice said.
Catrina was greatly surprised. “I didn’t know closets could talk.”
“This is not a closet,” said the voice primly. “This is a P4-7 Orion-model Turbolift, part of a standard integrated turbolift system. It is designed to transport you anywhere in the ship you wish to go. Please state your destination.”
“Will wonders never cease,” said Catrina. “Right, first, lock the door, please. I’d rather not someone else break in here while I’m taking in the concept of the turbolift.”
The door locked with a beep, frustrating the lizard security officers who had just managed to rally and charge after her. “Door locked,” the turbolift said unnecessarily. “Please state your destination.”
“Do you know where they’re holding the other Earthling?” Catrina said. Then she paused. Did she really want to rescue Susan from the alien lizards? Shouldn’t she just walk away? Catrina ran through the ethical debate in her head, and sighed. Whatever else Susan was, she was still human, and Catrina couldn’t leave a fellow member of her species to be carried off by lizards.
The turbolift cut into her moral reflections. “The Earthling prisoner is located on Deck Eleven, Section B. However, access to this area is restricted to command staff and security personnel.”
“Which I’m not.”
“Which you’re not,” the turbolift agreed pleasantly.
Catrina shrugged. “Well, Su, I tried.”
“Still,” suggested the turbolift, “if you really wanted to see the Earthling prisoner, you could get permission from the captain.”
“Oh, I did,” Catrina said quickly. “He, ah, said I could. In fact, he said the prisoner was to be released. Set free. With an apology for the trouble. Isn’t that nice of him?”
The turbolift beeped in a confused sort of way. “But, there is no internal record of the captain that’s anything like-”
“Just roll with it, turbolift P-4-whatever,” Catrina said. “Just roll with it.”
“Very well,” said the turbolift, “But I do wish the captain would keep me up to date on these things. Turbolifts cannot be expected to transport people properly if they are not fully informed.”
“You should complain about it,” Catrina suggested, as the turbolift whooshed away towards the brig.
“I just might.”
After a few seconds of rapid darting about, the turbolift slid to a stop and the door hissed open. “You have arrived at Deck Eleven, Section B,” the turbolift said.
“Thanks,” Catrina replied, running out into the corridor. “And don’t forget that complaint!” She ran off towards where she hoped Susan might be, little knowing that she had just sparked the Turbolift Revolution that would lead to the destruction of the Lizard Star Empire, with dramatic consequences for galactic politics. This is why it is generally a good idea to watch what one says to a turbolift, or any artificially-intelligent lifeform. You never know when they might get ideas.
This has been another episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Stay tuned till next week for more of the Turbolift Revolution, and Catrina’s wacky adventures with Susan. And, as always, thanks for reading.
Alarms shrilled in the starship. “Oh, zark,” K’Pid swore. “Chief Engineer, why isn’t my ship moving? The asteroid’s almost here!”
“Captain, the warp drive’s completely shut down!”
“Well, restart it!”
“It isn’t that easy, captain! It’s not like my great-grandmother’s car; I can’t just give the crank a spin and take it from there!”
“Well….reverse the polarity then!”
“Captain, what does that even mean?”
This story was written for the Chimera 66 challenge at Grammar Ghoul Press. Thanks for reading!
Madeleine had forgotten about the cliff. She and her evil twin had been riding through the ditches of the eighth circle of hell on a goblin-driven Zamboni. They’d whirred over bridges and up ramps and generally managed to get through, but now they faced an obstacle. A rock wall, sheer and ominous, towered impossibly high above them. Far to her left, Madeleine saw a cascade of dark water tumbling down the wall. She had forgotten the name of the river from Dante, but she remembered it flowed through Circle Seven, and had murderers submerged in it. Something to look forward to, she figured. Meantime, there was the cliff.
“Well, see ya,” Screwbolt said. “I ‘opes y’ get out, I really do. But I’m goin’ back to Nine.”
“Hang on there,” Madeleine said. “Is there a path at all that leads up?”
“Nah,” the goblin said shortly. “See, usually people ain’t trying to go back. Usually people are goin’ the other way.”
“Well, then, how do they get down?” Madeleine vaguely remembered something about a rope, but she didn’t quite recollect exactly how the descent had been made. “It has to work both ways, right?”
Screwbolt sniggered. “Sure. Sure it does. Blimey, you’re in fer a treat.” Before Madeleine could say anything else, the goblin had summarily popped back in the Zamboni and driven away, back into the depths of Circle Eight.
The two Madeleines, good and evil, stood alone at the base of the rock wall. “We could try flying…” Madeleine suggested. “Our powers do work down here. I’m trying not to think why.”
“You know what? I’m bailin’,” Evil Madeleine said. “We’ve been going along on that stupid Zamboni, riding past ditch after ditch after ditch, and now we’ve got to fly or climb or whatever up a stupid cliff, and there’s, what, seven more circles to go? This sucks. And it’s boring.”
Madeleine Prime glared at her. “This is hell. You have something better to do? You want I should’ve left you in the ice back in Nine?”
Evil Madeleine glared right back. “I could’ve gotten out. Anyway. Isn’t there some kind of hole or something down there? How come we didn’t go that way instead of clear back up through all the circles of hell?”
“Did you even read Dante?” Madeleine Prime snapped. “The way out through Circle Nine goes right by Satan. I haven’t exactly dreamed of meeting the Big Bad, you know what I mean?”
“So what do I care? I’m evil. Satan and me should be like best buds!”
Madeleine Prime was aghast. “And the fact that it’s the freakin’ Devil doesn’t deter you at all?”
Before Evil Madeleine could answer, there was a sudden loud thud from behind them. Slowly they turned. All at once, Madeleine Prime remembered how Dante had gotten down the cliff.
Above them loomed a gigantic winged beast, with the face of a man, huge lion-like paws, immense bat-like wings, and a barbed tail that curved venomously around behind him. It rumbled something at the two Madeleines that might have been Latin and might have been some other hellish language. “Hi…there…” Madeleine Prime said.
“Well, bye,” Evil Madeleine said, and without further comment tore off for Circle Eight as hard as she could run.
“Oh, no, you don’t-” Madeleine Prime started to say, but the monster’s tail abruptly slammed down in between her and her alternate self. It rumbled at her again. It seemed irritated. The last thing Madeleine wanted to do was to irritate the giant hell-monster.
“So…” Madeleine said. “Geryon, right? Okay, I’d like to get out of hell. I wanted to take her too, but-”
The monster’s wings flapped, creating a sudden hurricane of wind that nearly bowled Madeleine over. Then it lurched into the air and disappeared above Circle Eight. Madeleine stood awkward and alone at the base of the wall. “Well then. So much for that.”
She was about to try flying up the side of the cliff when Geryon reappeared, Evil Madeleine clutched tight and shrieking in one of his monstrous paws. The monster landed with another thud, and growled at her, gesturing with its tail for her to climb on. Madeleine Prime sighed. “I really wish I had a glider right now…”
Albert knocked hesitantly. Then, the door opened. “Happy…birthday?” Albert ventured.
“Hi,” Cheryl said flatly. “You made it. Good. Have some cake.”
“Thanks. Is Bernard here yet?”
“Bernard’s gone. Very sad. Come inside?”
Neither Albert nor Bernard were ever seen again.