"The Secret Of The Silver Skull Machine, Part 1"
by Wil Alambre
In the ruins of an ancient city of pillars, an alien octopus
pointed eight dangerous looking ray-guns at a white-bearded
hermit. "You best be giving me that there data-cylinder, Gavrilo,
or I'll vaporize you right where you stand, I done swear it!"
The hermit was on his knees, clutching the data-cylinder close to
his chest. His mouth was wet with blood from the beatings he had
already taken, and though his eyes shone with the fiery glow of a
red sun, his assailant seems unworried. "Damn you, Pete! I should
never had told you my secret name."
"Split milk and all that, partner," the alien octopus sneered as
he used the barrel of one of the ray-guns to push back the brim of
his ten-gallon hat. "Shucks, we both knew it would come down to
something like this. I reckon I just popped you one before you had
the chance to pop me. Ha. Now..." all eight ray-hammers of the
ray-guns clicked back in series, "...that data-cylinder, if you do
The hermit's eyes burned a long moment, casting an gaze around the
pillared city and the lone rocket-ship they had come in. But the
light died out from them. As his shoulders slumped, he finally
rolled the data-cylinder toward the octopus.
Cephalo Pete holstered one of the ray-guns and picked up the
data-cylinder with a gloved tentacle. Manipulating the buttons on
the side with dexterous suckers, he was able to activate the
cylinder, filling the air between the two with a three dimensional
map of a distant star system and a very specific planet marked
with a red X.
"At last," he said with relish, "the hidden grave of King
Argentum!" With satisfied glee, he turned off the map and tucked
the cylinder in a pouch on his belt. He glanced one final time at
the dejected hermit and tossed him a laugh. "Ha! Don't look so
glum, Gavrilo. All your worries will be wiped clean away once I
use the silver skull machine!"
Gavrilo looked up, the defeat in his eyes poorly hiding a growing
"Don't you follow me none," Cephalo Pete warned the hermit as he
backed his way to the open ramp of the rocket-ship. "I see you try
to come after me before I done made warp speed, I'll use the
ship's space-lasers to fricassee you right outta outer space!" He
kept half the ray-guns trained on the hermit for good measure as
he climbed aboard the vessel and closed the airlock.
Gavrilo only had a moment to see Cephalo Pete give him a wink and
a mock salute from the pilot's portal before the rocket-ship
blasted off into the sky. It trailed fire and smoke behind it as
it raised higher and higher into the clouds and, just before it
shrunk to an imperceivable dot, it winked away into warp speed
with a green flare.
Gavrilo raised both arms into the air, threw his head back, and
howled in frustration. So close! So close to fixing everything
only to be backstabbed!
He curled into a fetal ball, weeping. Alone on this dead planet
amongst the pillars of this dead city, he wept. For hours, well
past the sunset, there was only darkness and his sobs.
Some time late in the alien night, the hermit realized he was no
longer alone. Perhaps the eight-armed coward had come back to
finish him off. Gavrilo stood up, and flung his mud-splattered
blue cloak over one shoulder, revealing the faded blue-and-gold
suit of his super-civilization. He rose a foot in the air, a pale
white glow of science sorcerous power flaring out from him.
Lightning arced out from his palms, ricocheting off the remains of
the marble pillars. The very air around him groaned, as if reality
could not contain the sheer power being concentrated in a single
"Come out from the shadows, damn you!" the hermit wizard
From behind a nearby pillar stepped out the Super Wizard From
Space. He wore the same blue-and-gold suit, though his was clean
and well maintained. The small ethereal crown hovered above his
head, ghostly white, its light outshone by the hermit wizard's
outbursts. "Hello Gavrilo," the super wizard greeted him, holding
a hand in front of him to shield his squinting eyes.
"Oh," the hermit wizard said, floating down to the ground. The
power faded from him, the light faded from him, soon he was just a
sad old man again. He frowned under his unkempt white beard, and
the many lines under his eyes seemed to age him a thousand
space-decades. "It's you. How did you find me?"
"I asked around. It wasn't too hard. Most people are willing to
tell me what I want to know. And everyone remembers you." The
super wizard shook his head, disappointed. "You know as well as I
do that once one of our super-race tells anyone our secret name,
our powers are completely useless against that person.
"And you've traded away your name so much that there is not a
sentient being alive that doesn't know Gavrilo, the Hermit Wizard
Gavrilo gave an angry bark and waved his hand. "Bah! If you've
come to throw my mistakes back in my face, you can just leave. I
don't need you of all people reminding me of bad decisions."
"No, friend," the super wizard said, walking up to him and placing
a hand on the hermit's sad shoulder, "I've actually come for your
A curious, suspicious look was the only reply.
"Our race is part of a tournament. A cosmic tournament of
space-champions, but I haven't been informed. I've been ambushed
once already, I need you to tell me what you know before I am
unwittingly trapped again."
There was a long silence, then the straggly white beard scowled.
"And what will you do for me?" the hermit wizard asked.
The super wizard took his hand off Gavrilo's shoulder and seemed
both unhappy and unsurprised. "I know about the silver skull
Gavrilo's eyes widened with eagerness. He grabbed the super
wizard's golden collar and cried with hopeful excitement. "What?
What do you know?"
"I know King Argentum was a magical giant, gifted with a silver
skeleton that worked like a reflective antenna. His every thought
was broadcast outward, allowing his whims to become realities.
This allowed his numerous normal-sized worshipers and citizens to
become a wealthy, powerful civilization.
"But King Argentum was executed by an invader from space, and
without his assistance, the civilization declined to near
collapse. In an attempt to save themselves from extinction, the
smartest of their scientists dug up their dead god's silver skull
and fashioned a machine powered by the giant bone's latent
"A time machine. Big enough for a single passenger in the cranium
cavity. Who would travel to the past and warn King Argentum before
he was killed."
"How can you know all this?" demanded Gavrilo. "It took Pete and
me space-years to piece together the entire space-legend! And more
space-years after that to find real proof!"
"I was that invader from space. I killed King Argentum."
Gavrilo let go of the super wizard's golden collar in speechless
shock, taking unsteady steps backwards. He had heard what fearful
species call this man, but until this very moment, when he looked
into cold unforgiving eyes flatly admitting to space-deicide, he
never truly believed it himself.
There was a uncoiling anxiety in the pit of his stomach.
But more so, there was a straggling hopeful need.
"Take me there," the hermit wizard said.
"The hidden home planet... the final resting place of King
Argentum... the secret location of the silver skull machine!
You've been there before! Take me there!" demanded Gavrilo,
getting more animated by the moment. "With our science sorcerous
powers, we can still reach it before Pete can use it! Take me
there and I'll tell you everything you want to know about the
"Every Super Wizard From Space knows the name of every other Super
Wizard From Space. You know and I know that you are as powerless
against me as I am to you. You can't force me to talk.
"Take me there, or you'll learn nothing from me!"
The super wizard seemed grim, but after a long thoughtful moment
agreed with a single silent nod. A pale light cocoon wrapped
around him, a star-light shield to protect him from the rigours of
space travel, and he rose into the alien sky with growing speed.
Gavrilo's heart leapt and, with a grin, he wrapped himself in a
similar light cocoon and jumped into the air, following.
The two Super Wizards From Space cleared the atmosphere and
drifted purposely into outer space. Once they had cleared the
gravitational well of the planet, Gavrilo watched his companion
bring his hands in front of him and grasp at the nothingness in
front of them. Then, with a green flashing burst, he tore open
outer space, revealing behind it a swirling green warp tunnel that
reverberated with unnatural pain. A gesture to follow was given,
and they both plunged into the tunnel.
From a hidden orbit on the exact opposite side of the planet, a
spy peered over the horizon and observed it's target depart.
Moving deeper into the relative safety of the world's umbra, the
operative began a complicated eight-figure dance, transmitting to
it's fellow drones that their prey was on the way.
It's an octopus from space that's a cowboy. Come on, that's
For those paying attention, this is my entry for the nineteenth
high-concept challenge, except it's not really an entry as I can't
submit an entry for a challenge I initiated. I guess it's a demo?
When I finished writing this story, as before, the word count was
too long. So, as before, I needed to split it up into multiple
issues. I've tried to clean up the final paragraphs a bit to not
make the cut off seem so harsh.
On the other hand, this gives me an opportunity to do so
rethinking. I wasn't entirely happy with how the story originally
ended and I was having trouble getting the next story started.
This provides me with a chance to iron that out by weaving the two
And maybe feature more space cowboy octopi ;P
Wil Alambre, follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wilalambre
"Hurry, uni-scribe! We have less than one space-hour to get to the
negotiating table before the Great Disaster arrives!" The desperate uni-diplomat paced back and forth in the room. He kept
looking at the space-clock, watching the moments tick away and
whinnying quietly under his breath. The light in the room was starting
to fade away as ominous clouds rolled in, covered up the twin suns. It
was as if the very planet understood the impending doom and was losing
"Very well, we agree. A tournament, then, to end this rampage. But you have witnessed the power at his disposal. He has a billion billion years of our science-sorcery at his command. Will all you great super-civilizations commit your super-champions to this?"
On a distant world, a mummy-robot and a brown-robed monk silently made their way to the center of a blasphemous cathedral. Though the robot lurched ungainly, it's servos making an uneven whirring sound as they moved the broken machine through black-stone hallways, it held it's bandaged head high, the ghostly
Cocytus the demon-glacier had the Super Wizard From Space engulfed in its icy grasp, forever to be a frozen prisoner of the ninth circle of Hell. Meanwhile the victorious Devil stood atop the massive field of ice, grateful to be back home. The Devil tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and just basked
On a filthy cobblestone hell-road outside the infinite walls of Double-Dis, the Super Wizard From Space stared up at the triumphant face of the Super-Devil. The monster's massive grin dribbled thick lava as he shouted out "Hey there, jerks! Welcome to Double-Hell!"
Two figures hurtled through a scarred green warp tunnel underneath the skin of the universe toward the lost planet of the silver skull machine. The Super Wizard From Space was leading the way, encased in a cocoon of hard light that protected him from the rigors of space travel. His companion, a filthy bearded hermit,
The Super Wizard From Space and the Hermit Wizard From Space were trapped in an asteroid belt by a swarm of gigantic space-bees! As it's fellow drones circled uniformly, one particularly grusome space-bee broken from the formation. It was as massive as any of the drifting asteroids, it's gigantic yellow black body big enough to drag smaller free-floating
A monstrously giant bee made of hollow electricity used its clawed legs to peel open the hull of the crashed rocket-ship. It glowed brightly with a pale light, partially transparent and seemingly fragile as it opened up the armored cockpit as if it was made of tinfoil. The ship's two occupants didn't even have a moment to shake off the shock before
The two super wizards stood stock still as the two floors of the building above them were eaten by the ghost of a cosmic megalodon. Bigger than a rocket-ship, it nonetheless hung effortlessly in the air, it's fifty-five rows of cleaver-like teeth surrounding their room as it floated vertically above them. The daylight of the alien sky shone
I am Theodor. I am a rainbow blue fish. I lived on a planet far away. Then I died. But that is was not the end. That was the beginning. I became a ghost. I became part of the infinite school. Thanks to wise Rex. This is the story of Rex. He is big fish. A big shark. Many sizes big. From a far away blue
It took nearly every ghost fish of the infinite school to confidently herd Sharkasaurus Rex into the depths of the invisible galaxy. The megalodon's monstrous instincts were near impossible to fully understand, a hundred million space-years of predatory instinct and insatiable hunger. The spectral school's entire telepathic concentration
"Oh dear me!" shouted Brody Dharma to the marble diamond hall, his gecko eyes spinning in shock as the ghostly forms of Geisel and Theodor circled over the sticky yellow remains of Queen Buzz. "Fish! Please! Contain yourselves!" "Tyrant!" flared out Geisel angrily, telepathically sharing horrific
"Master hero! Master hero!" cried out the young boy, frantic enough to ignore his disciplined training. "A terrible occurrence! The infinite school have lost their hold on their grisly teacher! The cosmic crown reacted suddenly and cut off their psychic leashes! Sharkasaurus Rex is loose!". The young boy wildly rang the same small gong all the monks in this
Geisel was gone, his phantasmal form torn apart in savage fury by the recently de-crowned Sharkasaurus Rex. The equally ethereal Theodor watched the entire sudden rending in still shock. As did the rest of the infinite school, millions of fellow ghost fish that had all gathered to psychically leash the mighty megalodon.
"Sharkasaurus Rex is feeding on the simple people of this planet," said the
Super Wizard From Space, pointing to where a sticky-looking red hue spread in
the red mist for a space-minute before the fin moved on. "He's converting their
psyches into spiritual mass, growing exponentially. This incredible instrument
is our only hope."
He was lying on the ground. Still at the top of the mountain
monastery. Yes, he was certain of it. There was no mistaking. He
remembered the feel of these particular stones. And the scent of that
particular moss. But he could not remember how he had came here. It
was like his mind was rattling around in his head while at the same
time trying to swell larger than his skull could contain.
I warned him not to use the Gong Ago, as the volume required from that sacred instrument would have unintended side effects. But like an old mule wearing ragged blinders, he rung it out anyway. And that powerful pitch has freed me and my like-minded brethren. My name is Andy Dharma. I am the master villain of the Invisible Monks.
In a clearing at the center, a nine-foot lizards bowed respectfully to his duplicate. He dressed the same way. He moved with the same simple grace. He stood with the same relaxed posture. And he looked back at him with the same calculating eyes, measuring the short distance between them, judging the smallest of movements.
"You are unbalanczed. You cannot be truszted with coszmic power." Her hand closed into a fist and squeezed. From every direction, the spectral fish tossed out their determination in crisscrossing grey lines, trying to ensnare his mind.
"Andy, don't do this," whispered Brody, "You can't." "Yes I can! Yes I will!" he shouted back at him. "No more bad habits disguised as tradition! No more of yesterday's rules deciding today's fate! I will show you what change can accomplish!" He spat on the floor in disgust, and backflipped off the balcony.
On the side of a small lake, a simple man was fishing off the end of a rickety dock. The lake was usually a clear blue, filled with many delicious fish. It was not so now. It was murky, tinted pink and red, the fish preferring to stay closer to the bottom, where the water was cleaner and lines could rarely reach. It meant the man would be lucky for even a small catch, but that would be enough. He lived alone on this shore, in his cabin up the hill, and had only himself to feed.
He wiped his hands on his bloody apron, then stroked his long grey beard with a smile. It was with great experience that he could judge the quality and balance of a blade and in all the experience, he had never worked with such magnificent instruments.
A portion of empty space bubbled and bulged, like plastic melting in a fire, then peeled away to reveal the spitting green end of a warp tunnel. Wrapped and protected in a cocoon of pale starlight, the Super Wizard From Space blasted out of the tunnel opening at incredible speed. The wound in black reality mended behind him with a practiced flick of
Sharp super-lightening split across a sick dry sky as a lone yellow cab pulled up in front of a long abandoned university. The pale driver scratched at his unkept beard. Hunched over the steering wheel, he got a better look through the windshield at the derelict campus. "You sure this is where you wanna to be?" he gruffly asked the passenger in the back seat.
"I will not tolerate your
presence here. Nor your trickery. I will burn away every molecule. I
will crack every atom. I will unravel your infernal form down to the
minimalist components and grind the remains under my boot."
"Once upon a time, five dark lords of multiple underverses made the mistake of signing a series of magical contracts in an attempt to insure some level of trust between them. Inevitably, all five of them went back on their words and now the tangled wording of those contracts have trapped them in the stone sepulchres of Quinto-Hell."
The ashen remains of the gorgon sunk into the circling river of molten rock and disappeared down the sinkhole in reality, pulled toward the punishments of Triple-Hell. A bleating car horn sounded. The Devil tugged at the wizard's shoulder. "Come along, guv. Our ride awaits."
Somewhere in the dank musky darkness swamp, a single snapping growl was followed up by a chorus of hungry grumbles and hollers and howls. Jagged trunks of twisted trees creaked and cracked as something massive pushed through. Huge lungs filled up and expelled, making for a thunderous breathy bass echo.
Black glass and brittle shale and oddly shaped boulders all bashed against each other in the tornado ferocity of the space between conceptual realities. Every small piece was both nonexistant and an immense solidity to itself, dragging and throwing and colliding with its surroundings as the entire mess fell through infinite layers of fractal
Looking about, he could see endless desert interrupted by black stone squares, similar to the one they were taking refuge on. A long wind was blowing, picking up loose dunes, shifting them up and over and around in an ever-moving landscape. It gave everything a burnt look, a rising sea of sand that just faded without an horizon. The only thing cutting through the leather-colored sky was the sun, massive and oversized, ten times larger than it should be.
The Devil, The Secret Living Language, and the Super Wizard From Space stood upon a massive square of black stone half buried in blistering desert sands. "This is it, end of the line," the Devil announced.
In the seedy bowels of a seedy mining camp, Cephalo Paul roused from blurriness to found himself at the mercy of an unkindness of anthropomorphic ravens. The lot of them stood on four clawed talons, spoke through horrifying beaks lined with serrated edges, and had too many ruby-coloured eyes.
"My name is senior lieutenant Yuri Gigan Topithecus, last survivor of the once-mighty space-sasquatch race. I was a hero of my people and a triumph of my government, becoming the first of my planet to journey into outer space... and as I completed my first orbit in my prototype capsule, I helplessly watched the Super Wizard From Space destroy my world."
The Super Wizard From Space towed his wounded prisoner to a dying system in a lonely constellation. It was a place that had been full and vibrant when the universe was young, a very long time ago. Now, it's small, dense white star bled away its diminishing heat and weak light into empty space.
Across the vastness of galaxies, a nameless forager bee achieves a stable geosynchronous orbit with distant Planet M. The ladened insect has been in contact with appropriate representatives, has deposited it cargo. It now maintains a microwave relay with the surface, and only awaits permission from the Hive to open communications.
In the clarity of the desert night, a single point of light smolders against the blue-black curtain. And it slowly grows the closer it gets, falling toward Us through immense distances. The Super Wizard From Space is coming to Planet M.
Emperor gestures back to the great monolith and declares, "At-the-behest-of-our-electronic-ennead, I've-entombed-the-Super-Wizard-From-Space-within-the-Pyramids-Of-Ka! His-power-will-feed-our-preservation-batteries-for-countless-cycles."
"The Szuper Wizard From Szpace is sztill alive. And He sztill has Hisz coszmic crown." We say it aloud. Not to anyone. To ourselves, as swirling shaking thoughts become cold and real. This is real. This is happening. "Why? Why have you done thisz?"
If you'll indulge me, I'll tell you a story about how some people ( who were much too smart for their own good, I'm afraid ) tried to find an easy, quick solution; by doing so, they doomed countless lives to AGES of suffering.
Now, I was halfway through a tale about countless doomed lives... and yes, my friend, I do know the difference between 'countless' and 'seven'. Those tragic academics were only the first direct victims of these newly formed cosmic crowns. What happened next was intended to prevent more loss of life, but it actually placed the entire universe in peril.
"A swarm! A monster swarm! Oh! Oh gods, they were everywhere. They killed everyone. They stabbed them and killed them. And the dead changed into more and went to do the same. Stabbing and changing and stabbing. Everyone's gone!"
Long spear-length stingers, glints of wet toxin at the tips. Wide crystal wings banging against torsos, making thrumming thunder. It's a *blanket* of angry buzzing. Getting thicker as they crawl over each other. At me. Looking to smother me. Kill me. If I'm lucky.
"What I'm doing, it has to be done. Because someone has to do it. Because no one else is doing it. They're scared of what might happen. Scared of what they could lose. Scared of things they can't change. We can't live like that."
Do you have any idea how this looks? We aren't at war anymore. The tournament is supposed to *prevent* this exact sort of conflict from flaring up again. You can't just go around dropping armies on the *home planets* of the universe's seven super-races."
His ancient race long ago unravelled the laws of physics, and they then learned how to redefine them. They harvest fusion fire to sustain themselves, and they hollow out suns to build their private strongholds. They are guardians of the spaces they know and explorers of the spaces they don't.
Reality stretches like canvas pulled taut. Time stutters and scratches and skips, between moments and months. The Wizard takes refuge within the umbra of the system's innermost planet, little more than a corner to be backed into.
Playing tour guide's certainly been more agreeable than playing babysitter. As far as pointless distractions go. If nothing else, its been interesting visiting old haunts, if only to see what's left of them.