“Doom, Doom, Doctor Doom. Picks his teeth with an old straw broom,” that rake of a robot sang.
Curdling, I removed all ill thoughts, focusing only on the bicycle pedals. I hadn’t ridden a tandem foot-peddler since the Depression. But with this clownish companion, every day was a veritable cloud of depression.
His oafish facade belied a quite erratic nature. Verily, it was as dealing with fire: a dangerous servant and fearful master.
And he could be hurtful.
“I said, are you sure this is the way to Doom’s castle? I’d hate to end up at a different castle. If I thought for a second we were heading to the wrong castle,” he shook the handlebars. The bicycle lurched, almost hitting a birch tree. “I might make a mistake.”
“Like how you crashed our dropship?”
I’ve lived through dozens of wars, but the sight of those tarmac workers fleeing, engulfed by flame… a fearful master, a dangerous servant.
“Your parachute worked, didn’t it?” He gloated, picking another chunk of gravel from the base of his skull. “I mean, my parachute turned out to be a knapsack with an umbrella in it.”
“It was the knapsack you brought aboard!”
“Never mind that now,” he grabbed my arm. So cold. “¡Estamos aquí!”
Castle Doom rose from the dark and discolored soil, lo! a blackened blemish on the face of the Earth. The looming mountains seemed to slope around it, bowing deferentially for the obscene obelisk.
A hideous man clad in green and silver met us at the gate. I reasoned him a mute, as he lead us silently through the cavernous hallways. But that didn’t stop the robot from making musical conversation:
“They call me Alaskan Gus, I’m the king of the Klondike rush. When I sift my gold pan everyone sees Gold, lots of gold, Gold, lots of gold, Gold, lots of gold.
Yes sir, I’m Alaskan Gus, I’m the knife in the gold vein gush. When I smack my pick-axe, rocks start to drop Gold, lots of gold, Gold, lots of gold, Gold, lots of gold…”
I was, honestly, very happy to provide the refrain.
“So, you must be the legendary Dr. Doom,” I smiled. Doom bowed reverently while hobbling along. He must have heard of our exploits.
We finally reached a large dining hall. The table was narrow, but long enough to easily seat fifty people. Dishes from every brick in the food pyramid created an unbelievable aroma, and I’d have given anything to take a single bite before what was sure to be a difficult task.
But the robot said it was all cursed.
Two staircases waited at the end of the table. One spiraled down into a pit, where a dull orange light gave the black metal an insect-like quality. The other staircase ran upwards, to a platform mind-numbingly suspended in midair. The second stair was more glassy, and it looked like it wouldn’t support any weight at all.
“This one has a choice for you,” Doom boomed. He gribbed the shady stair. “Either you descend into the abyss and reclaim a soul from the reaper,” softening, he moved to the translucent case, “or journey through time and space to plunder from pirates. Choose.”
I’m not into the whole metaphysical scene. So when he said something about pirate treasure, that just lit up on my radar. “How about it?” I asked Gyrobo. “Pirates?”
“Grinning like a madman, the two of us raced to the top step,” he yelled, making good on his word.
The platform was much bigger close up. Below, Doom was barely visible, the table virtually the spitting image of a coin’s edge. A panel on the staircase had a timer and recall unit strapped to it. In the center of the platform was a circle of sand, probably deep: the machine was designed to transport a spherical volume of matter through space and time. Part of the ground would move with us.
“Keep you arms and legs inside the boundary lines,” I jokingly muttered as the timer counted down. Seven. Six. Five…
“Don’t worry,” he assured me, pointing to a pouch clipped to his belt. “Nothing can stop us with this,” he winked awkwardly.
“…We’re singing it right, Not an ounce of Py-rite!”
Ouch. I tried to move. It felt like one of my ribs had turned to broken glass. “Ow…”
“Ah, look who it be— wakey wakey, matey!”
A gloved hand set me on my feet by the scruff of my cuff. “Where are we?”
Aside from my companion, the beach was deserted.
“Short term memory loss. A pity, but what can I expect from one of you people? We’re on a small island off Tunisia. The year is 1504.” He pulled a sword on me! “Now, give me Redbeard’s treasure, or I’ll run ya through!”
I froze for a moment. Not sensing movement, he turned his attention to a seashell while I went off to scope the island. Situations involving pirates are mostly dangerous, but when time travel is involved…
All kinds of paradoxes can happen. We might run afoul of a rampaging Megaladapis— a now-extinct giant lemur that swung from trees and ate human flesh. Or maybe Redbeard could get his hands on some loose nukes.
Either way, I’d keelhaul myself for missing the warning signs.
After twenty minutes shuffling through the foliage, I stumbled upon a most ghastly summit: a chest overflowing with Greek coins and Arabic jewelery, and half a dozen scalawags clad in mock leather and bandannas digging a pit for it. Hippies. Above them a one-eyed, level 50 Piratelord with a menacing cutlass and trappings worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan — the original Barbarossa in the flesh — Redbeard.
“Not hippies. Buccaneers,” Gyrobo whispered, correcting my very thoughts. “Also, I followed you, you betcha!”
We sat, listening to those sea dogs argue. Redbeard was in the thick of things, dominating the conversation with his wry Turkish wit.
“You want to hire a doctor for your teeth?!” He fizzed at a pirate trying hard not to get dirt on his yellow vest. “Give me yon shovel, I shall cure your ache!”
That cracked them up, to which the pirate replied: “Fellows! Take it one or twenty generations, all will receive dental care!”
I pondered how to get the treasure. “We’ll follow them back to the shore, and then when they’re a safe distance from the island—”
“In theory, we have infinite time…”
He unclipped the pouch from his belt, opened it wide and reached inside. Whatever he pulled out he swallowed quickly.
Just as quickly, the fool ran from the trees… right up to the pirates.
“Ladies and gents!”
Great! Now I would have to figure out a rescue plan…
“Arrrrrr! What harlequin trickery is this?!” Redbeard blasted, jabbing an angry index finger at what was surely the first robot clown he’d ever seen. His crew jumped to attention, drawing their scabbards and stabbers, their scabbed sabers and staff-swords.
Then they put all those away and pulled out their newfangled guns, because the image of pirates using swords is just an image perpetrated by the media and popular culture. In the same way that gangsters and wild west outlaws and assassins have been lionized, pirates are nothing more than common criminals, albeit ones that often had government backing via Letters of Marque. And there’s nothing romantic or nostalgic about crime.
“Who are ye?!”
“Alaskan Gus. They call me the king of the Klondike rush, I believe. I’m here to buy that treasure from you,” Gyrobo purred. The pirates stood down. “For my lord, Davy Crockett.”
“I’ve not heard of ‘Davy Crockett.’ From where does he hail?” Redbeard inquired.
While that tinpot tyrant tested the tinkertoy traveler, I twisted the trees, snicker-snacking my vorpal blade until I was at the pirates’ backs.
“Why, he’s the buck-skinned buccaneer, he is! Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, the greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree, he killed him a bear when he was only three! The king of the wild frontier. Davy Crockett.”
Puzzled, the pirates surrounded him. “Where is this ‘Freeland?’ Is Tennessee in the Orient?”
“You don’t know where Tennessee is?!” my… friend… asked, shocked. “You’ve never heard of Tennessee, birthplace of Alvin York? Alvin York, who took out an entire German machine gun regiment? You’ve never heard of the Volunteer State?”
“It must be in the New World,” one of the lackeys lauded.
“Tell us about this Captain Crockett,” Redbeard pressed. Gyrobo sputtered, clearly not having a full story prepared.
“This is starting to get tedious. How about I put a Sony Walkman on you and play Van Halen until you think I’m an alien and obey me?”
Growling uffishly, the salty dogs again drew their weapons.
“I’ve got the treasure!” I blurted hastily, bungling my toe on a sharp rock in a mad sprint to the pit. Grabbing a brass handle, I hoisted the chest before me like a shield and barreled through the pirates like a tank.
Then I tripped. The treasure spilled out onto the sand and the clasps holding the container together snapped apart.
“Noooooo! Now I’ll have to count it all again!” Barbarossa wept. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder cuts across all social cleavages. “KILL THEM! WITH WEAPONRY!”
The treasure was gone, and I couldn’t handle a crew of armed pirates. Sweating like a pig, I fingered the recall trigger and ran for Gyrobo.
“You’ll never take us alive, coppers!” he shouted, pointing a bright red water pistol at the burly marauders.
A sphere of superheated plasma rose around us as round after round of musket balls ripped through the robot’s head.
The transition back was a little easier, but the emotional shock made it worse. Gyrobo slumped down beside me, his head turned to Swiss cheese by hundreds of pellets.
I flipped him over and checked his neck: the on/off switch was clearly in the “off” position.
For a minute it was all I could do to hold myself still.
Holding him over my shoulders as though the body was a sacred relic, we solemnly made our way down the stairs. Somehow they looked a lot stronger this time around, and less lustery.
Doctor Doom waited for me in the candlelight. He shook his head. After all that… nothing.
The Doctor rose to lead me out. We may have butted heads once or twice, but it was now my responsibility to see that Gyrobo got the magma burial he spoke of in our travels.
“Do you… do you hear that?” Doctor Doom froze, craning his neck toward the dark staircase. The orange glow had gotten brighter, and we could hear voices below.
As soon as we peered over the banister, there was a loud humming noise, and a great slate-gray object shot through the helix up into the air!
I was knocked flat on my back, and — heavens! — Gyrobo’s body landed face-down in some kind of tomato paste. He would have enjoyed that, but it was all too traumatic for me.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” I gnashed, picking myself up and directing all my inner rage at the object as it rose before me. “You- oh my God!”
“Yes, I am.”
My jaw dropped. I looked at Gyrobo, his face buried in sauce, his pants slowly falling down. And then I looked at— “Gyrobo?”
“Yup,” he whisked, swishing slime from his skin. I did another double take. The two were identical except—
“You’re naked.” I rubbed my forehead. “What… what’re those doing there? And what is that?!”
“Those were expensive, but I won that one. And this was a gift.” He pulled the clothes off his own corpse, handing me that curious pouch off his belt.
I poured the contents into my hand. “Green mushrooms? What…?”
“1-Ups!” He spit in my hand. This went unexplained. “Just hold one in your mouth when you die, so’s you can take it with you. Mephisto loves these things!”
Doom scribbled studiously on a blue notebook. This was good stuff.
Grabbing the nude corpse, I threw it at him. Cranial and hydraulic fluid dribbled all over both of us. “I thought you were dead!”
“Ouí. I was, but my clever thinking saved our challenge. Behold!” He held up his arms. “A rescued soul!”
“Put on your pants.” He hesitantly obeyed. I sat down.
“So, now we go to the throne room…?”
“Why did we fight pirates if you could do that at any point?!”
He smiled, lighting a comically large cigar. “It had to look like an accident. I’ve got an obscenely high-priced life insurance policy, and I’m my only beneficiary. They thought they were ripping me off, but when I show up with this body…”
It boggles the mind! “I’m not sure I like the moral, you know, being involved in reincarnation-assisted insurance fraud.”
“Bah!” he spat at the body that once housed his soul. “He’d have done the same to me!”