The Savage Arena, Part Six: The Die of Fate And now that Captain Sturgeontrousers has found love, the skeletons are off in the ice mines, the zombies are fertilizer, Wensleydale and that kid whose name no one ever bothered to learn are dead, and Hans and Ivan are busy debating with the ghost of John Maynard Keynes over the finer points of macroeconomics, it seems only Jack of the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad and Skitterybones of the pirate ship Wastrel are left to compete for the prize of . . . The Savage Arena!!! (That was, we admit, a bit of a run-on sentence). The Cephalith guarding the entrance to the Arena slides into the floor, opening the way . . .
Meanwhile in St. Clair, Layzie Bone and Eazy-E kick it at the crib with dat hoe from the cheerleading squad, sipping forties and watching Need for Speed . . . Backdrop: a panel from Quantum and Woody #2 by James Asmus, Tom Fowler, and Jordie Bellaire
. . . while Krayzie and Bizzy tear up a cop car outside. Backdrop: a panel from Quantum and Woody #2 by James Asmus, Tom Fowler, and Jordie Bellaire
. . . and Flesh-N-Bone has become so wealthy from slangin’ and bangin’, he’s decided to have a pyramid built for himself like the ancient Pharoahs. Here he sips wine while watching the workers place the final tiles in the grand portico. Backdrop: A detail from Pyramid by David Macaulay, page 63.
Hey, kids! Officer Bible here! Just wanted to remind you that what you saw in the previous three episodes is not only antisocial, it is suuuuuuper illegal! Gang activity and busting up cop cars is not okay! Stay safe and have fun out there!”
Salutations to the readership of @tiny_suicide_squad! My name is Edward Burnham, and I represent Burnham, Slashem & Brakem, the legal counsel for this publication. There has been some speculation from our readers regarding the likelihood of legal action against @DarkTalent for his misuse of my client’s intellectual property. I fear I must disappoint those legal gorehounds among the readership. Burnham, Slashem & Brakem prefers a ‘give them the rope they need’ approach to litigation. We encourage @DarkTalent to carry on as he pleases. We’ll just be here watching and sharpening our teeth. Backdrop: The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli. Chapter XVII: Of Cruelty and Clemency
Jack and Skitterybones enter just in time to see the Sasquatch journalists photographing the past years’ Savage Arena Champions together. These brave warriors will be among the chosen defenders when Jack and Skitterybones draw straws to fight for the prize of the Savage Arena! They are a doughty looking crew – lions, tigers, and bears!
Now Jack, Skitterybones, and the past Champions of the Savage Arena gather around to admire this years’ Grand Prize – a giant pile of weapons! The winner of the Savage Arena will take all these beauties home!
The floor of the Arena shakes and the tiles separate, revealing a smoking chasm below. A platform rises from the chasm, and suddenly amid fountains of flame and flurries of cash, a malevolent figure in a tailored suit appears. Next to him is a large twenty-sided die. “Greetings, Savage Arena challengers!” cries the man in the suit. “I am the Jerk in Charge! Before me lies the Die of Fate! This (I swear) totally impartial instrument will determine the conditions of your combat in the Savage Arena! Step forward and let pure chance decide your fate!”
Having no wit to guide him otherwise, Skitterybones steps forward.
The Savage Arena, Part Five: Beelzebufa Snark Meanwhile Skitterybones, undaunted by virtue of his illiteracy of the menacing message in the labyrinth passage, pauses to pet a kitty.
He is so absorbed in his new friend that he fails to notice the notorious witch Beelzebufa Snark hidden in an alcove nearby!
Beelzebufa Snark’s first instinct is to open a smoldering crack in the earth to swallow the skeletal pirate whole, but watching him pet and caress her cat Fumarole momentarily melts her icy heart. This, plus her displeasure with the management of the Savage Arena for drafting her into their testosterone-fueled farce, sparks a wicked idea in her mind . . .
“Boy!” she cries to the skeleton. “Come here!” As Skitterybones draws near, Beelzebufa Snark looks deeply into his eyes. Satisfied that there is nothing inside his skull but a tarnished £2 coin and a wad of dried chewing gum, she smiles to herself. “How would you like to be the champion of the Savage Arena?” she asks. Skitterybones shrugs. “Okay.” Without another word, she passes him her magical flying broom and whispers instructions in his ear . . .
As Skitterybones flies away on the magic broom, Beelzebufa Snark turns to her cat. “Fumarole, call my bookie!” she cries. “I want £1000 on the skeleton!”
Meanwhile, Hans and Ivan get bogged down in a debate with the ghost of famed economist John Maynard Keynes over economic interventionism and the finer points of the aggregate supply and demand model. Backdrop: A passage from “Selfish Genes and Selfish Memes” by Richard Dawkins, collected in The Mind’s I by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett (page 140).
When Skitterybones rounds the corner on Beelzebufa Snark’s magic broomstick, he flies smack into the same trap that conquered the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad. Professor Geryon’s Marvelous Engine of Misfortune bathes the chamber in unwholesome radiation which should, at the very least, negatively impact Skittery’s diversified bond fund and/or sperm count. However, the witch’s broom is a creation of pure magic, and as a consequence unusually resistant to the machinations of Science. Within seconds of entering the chamber Skitterybones has already bitch-slapped the first of the man-flies with the bristle end of the broom and turned to engage the second.
The second man-fly proves no more resilient than the first, crumpling under a stout blow to whatever passes for junk on a man-fly. What do fly balls look like anyway? Are they compound like the eyes?
Now Skitterybones is on a roll! While the man-flies are busy groaning over their dented churchbells, Skittery plants a solid blow right in Geryon’s wedding tackle and snatches his potion. The skeletal pirate pauses briefly to rearrange the floor tiles in a more aesthetically pleasing configuration, and then saunters off into the labyrinth having kicked hella ass.
A reader has recently written in with the insinuation that Skitterybones is not a ‘proper’ skeleton; that he is in fact just wearing a skeleton costume. At this point it seems fruitless to remind our readership that this is a work of fiction, and that ALL the actors are wearing costumes. Instead we asked Skitterybones to take his mask off. The result is frankly horrifying. We are sorry our reader ever asked, and sincerely hope he is too.
The Savage Arena Part Four: How the Pirates Fared Ignoring the helpful warnings printed on the floor tiles, the zombies of the pirate ship Wastrel plunge deeper into the labyrinth of the Savage Arena, thrusting aloft their weapons amid boistrous cheers of “Aaargh!” and “Ahoy!” Were their brains not rotten, it might occur to them that such clamor is only likely to attract unwelcome attention . . .
Two of the Wastrel’s skeletal sailors are captured by an ice bear and led away in chains to work in the ice mines far to the north. The jarls of the ice bear tribes demand ever bigger and more elaborate ice palaces, so the demand for slaves to work the glacial mines is constantly on the rise.
Captain Sturgeontrousers has a brief encounter with a wraith in a dark corridor of the Arena. The wraith’s touch has a strange effect on the pirate’s undead flesh. Rather than leaving him drained and aged, the wraith’s touch restores some of his youthful vigor. His skin regains the healthy green shade of his youth, and even his missing eye and hand are restored. His only regret is that the wraith does not linger long enough to restore his missing leg. The experience is transformative; Captain Sturgeontrousers decides to leave the Arena and put his pirate ways aside. He remembers that it was his love of intricate rope work that lured him to the sea, and recalls with fondness his mother’s macramé.
Meanwhile, Captain Sturgeontrouser’s zombie crewmen encounter a pair of ravenous plant monsters surrounded by the indigestible remains of their last meal. Curious readers will be interested to learn that the plant monsters have most recently consumed a trio of interstellar minerals brokers dispatched to Earth in search of valuable resources to ruthlessly exploit. The appetite of the plant monsters very likely saved the entire planet from alien devestation. This knowledge will be of little consolation to the zombies, however, as they are swiftly seized by thorny vines and rendered into fertilizer. Soon their sabers and muskets will join the helmets, tanks of concentrated sulfur dioxide, and mineral detectors littering the ground at the plant monsters’ roots.
Burton T. Squibb here, President and CEO of the Interstellar Coalition of Hamartian Ore Reclamation. Behind me are some of the courageous and hard-working miners of I.C.H.O.R. whose beloved families would be in peril if their livelihoods were taken away. We would like to take this opportunity to remind you (and the lawyers representing @tiny_suicide_squad) that libel is illegal on nearly every planet of the Galactic Hegemony. The previous post contains some serious allegations that should in no way be taken as truth. I.C.H.O.R. takes its responsibility as galactic resource stewards very seriously. Our relocation schemes are among the most humane in the industry, with barely 13% of civilizations collapsing during our off-world transport protocols. And nearly 42% of the planets we harvest are still capable of sustaining life after we are done with them – that’s 12% above regulatory standards! So remember, I.C.H.O.R. is your friend! Keep buying those cheap consumer electronics so China has to keep processing rare earths! And vote yes on fracking! The more you humans do to extract your resources from the crust, the easier it will be for everyone when we come to fulfill our manifest destiny! Burton T. Squibb signing off! Backdrop: a panel from Prophet TP Volume 2: Brothers, by Brandon Graham
On his way out of the Arena, the newly revivified Captain Sturgeontrousers meets a pretty little zombie girl with nice pom-poms. Having no flowers at hand, he offers her his sausage. She is charmed, and the two resolve then and there to set up shop together on the waterfront selling macramé craftwork.
The Savage Arena, Part Three: the Marvelous Engine of Misfortune! Hans and Wensleydale round the corner just in time to witness a terrible sight! That kid whose name no one ever bothered to learn is locked in the grasp of a huge man-fly. The soldiers open fire on the monster just in time to watch the kid breath his last and collapse in a loose-limbed heap. The Arena has claimed its first victim!
Now the battle is joined in earnest! The men of the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad pour into the chamber, machine guns chattering wildly. Giant man-flies descend on them from every direction, biting, clawing, and choking with powerful claws. Around them the light flickers in different hellish shades – purple, green, red, blue. Jack, Hans and Ivan, the most experienced of the crew, suddenly realize the danger of the trap they have fallen into. The light suffusing the chamber can only signify one thing – Professor Geryon and his Marvelous Engine of Misfortune!
The battle is not going well for the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad! That kid whose name no one ever bothered to learn is dead, his throat torn out by a man-fly. Although Jack has killed the man-fly and avenged that kid’s death, Hans and Ivan are having a hard time of things. And the Engine of Misfortune continues bathing the chamber in thoroughly unhelpful radiation!
Wensleydale sights down the barrel of his rifle, taking a careful bead on Professor Geryon’s oversized forehead. He should have aimed for the Engine of Misfortune instead! As the soldier pulls his trigger, the Engine’s rays skew the laws of probability, and the round explodes in the breech, killing Wensleydale immediately. With two of his men down, Jack issues the command to flee the chamber. The dispirited men of the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad press deeper into the labyrinth, their first taste of the Savage Arena bitter in their mouths.
Meanwhile back in Professor Geryon’s laboratory, the experiments have escaped their cages. They’ve eaten all the foie gras and now they’re getting lit on mutagen and turning themselves into monsters. Backdrop: The Doré Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, Plate 12: Limbo – Poets and Heroes.
And in the basement of Professor Geryon’s laboratory, things are getting entirely out of hand. Now the experiments have discovered the Professor’s Brain-Enhancing Ray Emitter and dialed it all the way up. One of the clones will now be blessed with six times the Professor’s intellect and one-eighth the sanity. Will mayhem ensue? We think it likely. Backdrop: The Doré Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, Plate 53: Thieves
Meanwhile the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad, having withdrawn for the moment to discuss tactics, now advances down the corridor to confront the Intractable Cephalith. The statue has regained its position blocking the entrance of the Savage Arena. The Cephalith watches serenely as the men take up firing positions. “To enter the Arena, you must answer this riddle,” the statue rumbles. “I get bigger when I eat, but die weaker when I drink. What am I?” Jack has no patience with riddles. He turns to the soldiers of the Suicide Squad. “FIRE!” Ignoring the fusillade of bullets, grenades, and bazooka shells, the Intractable Cephalith slides into the floor of the Arena, satisfied that the riddle has been answered. For the second time today, the Savage Arena stands open.
As the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad moves cautiously into the Savage Arena, that kid whose name no one ever bothered to learn draws near Jack. “Hey, Captain,” he whispers. “What do you think about that riddle, huh?” “Sounded like a bunch of sukiyaki to me, son,” Jack retorts. The kid whose name no one ever bothered to learn looks back in wonder at the place where the Cephalith disappeared into the floor. “I wonder what the answer was,” he whispers.
Meanwhile outside the Savage Arena . . . a whip-wielding catwoman subdues a Dire Squirrel while ceratopsians battle for dominance. In the distance a hungry velociraptor perches atop a Cephalith, watching the contests with interest . . .
The Savage Arena, Part Two: Into the Labyrinth Once inside the labyrinth of the Savage Arena, with his crew surging ahead to explore, Captain Sturgeontrousers is suddenly reminded of the camera he took from the Sasquatch journalist outside. Although he is not mechanically inclined and his hook is ill-suited for such work, he manages to get the bag of lenses open to examine. One lens in particular catches his eye, and after much struggle he gets it screwed onto the camera body. Peering through the lens, he happens to swivel the camera toward the wall . . . . . . and sees the most astonishing sight!
The lens of the Sasquatch journalist’s camera allows Captain Sturgeontrousers to see through the wall! The adjoining chamber is awash in hellish red light, illuminating a startling scene: famed sexploitation director Jess Franco, dressed all in black leather, prostrating himself to the ministrations of a whip-wielding, glowing-eyed vampire dominatrix! Although Captain Sturgeontrousers did dabble a bit with Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in his youth, such lurid imagery no longer sits well with him. Crying out “preverts!” the pirate flings the camera away. It shatters against the wall of the Arena, but not before the reflexive action of Sturgeontrouser’s hand depresses the shutter, capturing the image for posterity. Mumbling under his breath about decaying morality, the zombie pirate limps away on his peg leg, deeper into the Arena.
Meanwhile the Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad fan out and push deeper into the labyrinth, weapons and senses alert for any sign of danger. Ahead of them a lurid light flashes above the walls . . .
“Stay close!” Jack hisses to Hans. The corridors resonate with the sound of machinery, and there is a faint electrical potential in the air that raises the hairs on their necks.
The source of the noise and sound is just around the next corner! The Dirt Cheap Suicide Squad advances silently and slowly, fingers poised over triggers, teeth bared in deadly snarls.