Happily Ever After, with Comet1

1 requires at least passing familiarity with Thundarr the Barbarian.

It is 1994.

Prince Charming and Cinderella are living happily ever after. A runaway planet passes between the earth and the moon. This causes enormous gravitational disruption. The cascading side effects kill both Prince Charming and Cinderella. Vines grow over their bodies. Their bodies fade to dust. There are also miscellaneous unpleasant effects on others.

A thousand years of sorrow pass.

In the majestic and haunting ruins of Portland, the terrible witch-queen a tower builds. In glory and in cruelty and in silence she reigns. For many years, her subjects know nothing of her save that they should cower at her name. She carves out a black chamber and decorates it with a table made of bones, a bladed chandelier, and tasteful furniture from Ikea. This is her throne room and her dining room. She sits there, with her mother and her legions of chitin-armored cyber-samurai. She sups on cold green ichor. She broods upon the world.

“It’s time you gave me grandchildren,” her mother comments.

One of the samurai looks up, in sudden hope, but the queen waves her hand in airy dismissal.

“I don’t ask much out of life,” the queen’s mother says. “I’m happy to live in this dread tower and rule over the Portland peasantry, but I’d also like grandkids. Not that many. Just a few.”

“It’s actually my peasantry,” the queen points out. “Not yours.”

“It’s not that much to ask,” her mother says. “Your dear father died before he could give me any more children, you know.”

“I know, mother.”

“So it’s up to you to carry on the family and bring some bundles of joy into the world. You should find a man and get breeding!”

The witch-queen taps long, sharp nails upon the arm of her throne.

“Maybe a lawyer.”

The queen gives her an icy glare. “Mother,” she says, “there are no lawyers in this world; and if there were one, you should hardly know of what his profession entails.”

“True,” her mother admits. “But they always sounded so romantic in the old books, from before the disaster.”

The witch-queen tilts her head. “Should I trawl the polar ice,” she says, “hunting for a man-lawyer of ancient days, waking him from his thousand-year sleep to be my dark consort? Such a man would be chilly, and no doubt require the most terrible magics to revive.”

Her mother looks uncomfortable. “You should do what you think best, dear.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“Fine.”

“Ah,” one of the chitin-armored cyber-samurai starts to say. He is interrupted.

The witch-queen claps her hands for attention. “Cyber-samurai!” she shouts. “Hear me! In three days, there shall be a ball. I summon all the horrid peasant-men of Portland, on pain of dismemberment! And tell them this: I shall dance with them, those that seem handsome to me, and take the least benighted of them as my consort!”

“Oh,” the samurai says.

Three days pass. Invitation teams are arranged and dispatched. All through the kingdom, men are rousted from their beds and dragged to the ball—all save one.

His name is THUNDARR.

A cyber-samurai invitation warrior enters Thundarr’s room at the hostel. Subtle details of the samurai’s armor identify him: he is the samurai who almost spoke to the queen. He looks around the room. He sees a pile of blankets. He extends one chitin-armored hand to pull them aside. There is no one beneath.

Thundarr is hiding against the wall by the entrance. He steps forward and sets his sword at the samurai’s throat.

“What foul witchery is this?” Thundarr whispers.

“I have come,” says the cyber-samurai, “to invite you to a ball.”

“I think not,” says Thundarr. He pushes the cyber-samurai away, letting the creature stumble against the wall. “I am no slave to your witch-queen’s dark magics!”

“In this respect, we differ,” the cyber-samurai admits. “Both her dark magics and her vulnerable beauty have enchanted me. Yet . . .”

“Yet?”

“Surely, a ball will do you no harm.”

“I am not dressed for it,” Thundarr says, indicating his uncured animal hide short-shorts.

Something inside the chitin armor whirrs and clicks. “Have you no alternate outfits, barbarian?”

Thundarr considers this.

“If I return unsuccessful, and for no other reason than this, then I shall be cored, and served at the feast. It’ll be the worst night of my life.”

The eyes of the chitin-armored cyber-samurai are large and blue and sad. Thundarr sighs.

“Very well,” he says. “Ariel! Ookla! Tailor!”

Ariel shakes her head sadly. “You give in too easily, Thundarr,” she says. But with Ariel’s magic and Ookla’s brute strength, they quickly create a dashing post-apocalyptic tuxedo for Thundarr.

“Excellent,” clicks the cyber-samurai. “Step forward, barbarian; I shall drag you off to the ball.”

“No,” Thundarr says. “For a chitin-armored cyber-samurai to carry me there—this would be unmanly!”

“On whose part?” the cyber-samurai wonders.

Thundarr gestures sharply, cutting off the samurai’s speculation. “I cannot attend,” he says. “I have no adequate transport.”

“No chariot of ancient magics? No horses? No giant bees?”

“Horses!” declares Thundarr. “By Ikea’s blood! That’s the answer!”

He turns to Ariel and Ookla. “Ariel!” he cries. “Ookla! Ri—”

“Be warned,” interrupts the samurai. “At midnight, your clothes will turn back to a stinking fur loincloth and your horses will run away.”

Thundarr thinks about this. “. . . Why?”

“Forbidden magics of the queen,” whispers the cyber-samurai. “Expecting that her mother will choose some unsuitable match for her, she intends preemptive action. She will strip the glamour and glitz from all men save her choice; then not even her mother can object!”

“Ariel! Ookla!” Thundarr cries. “Provide moral commentary!”

“That’s awful!” says Ariel. “We’ll have to get you away before the clock strikes midnight!”

In the secret and animalistic language of his people, Ookla says, “I reserve moral judgment.”

“As evil sorcery goes,” the cyber-samurai points out, “this is relatively tame.”

Thundarr develops a plan. “I will attend, my chitinous friend,” he says. “I will eat small hot dogs, and drink sparkling cider, and dance. Then, when midnight approaches, I will draw my magnificent glowing blade and make some feeble excuse for departure—thus thwarting the forbidden magic of the witch-queen! Ariel! Ookla! Ri—”

The samurai holds up one taloned finger. “I must know, noble barbarian. Why do you address your companions in this peremptory manner?”

“It is an ancient barbarian leadership technique,” Thundarr says. “If you shout people’s names, they cannot help but obey!”

The cyber-samurai’s chitin creaks as it raises one eyebrow.

Thundarr raises one hand. “Ariel!” he cries. “Ookla! Stand on your heads!”

Ariel grits her teeth. “This is why I can’t wear skirts around him,” she says.

Ookla makes a hideous and untranslatable noise.

With Ariel’s magic and Ookla’s brute strength, Thundarr’s two stalwart companions quickly invert themselves. They glare at Thundarr.

“Ah,” says the cyber-samurai.

“Now!” Thundarr cries. “Ariel! Ookla! Cyber-samurai! RIDE!”

It is the night of the ball. All eyes are on the mysterious stranger, Thundarr! His glowing sunsword lets him prepare shishkebabs without a grill. His magnificent fighting techniques render him the best dancer on the floor. The witch-queen and her mother are both utterly charmed—but they do not know his name!

“Demon dogs!” cries Thundarr. He skewers several small cocktail demon dogs and nibbles them off his sword.

“His etiquette,” whispers the witch-queen to her mother. “So poor! One could fairly call him a barbarian.”

“Yes, yes,” admits her mother. “But his thews! Look at his thews!”

“Mother!” the witch-queen exclaims.

Her mother shrugs.

Quietly, behind the throne, Thundarr’s chitin-armored cyber-samurai friend sighs.

The witch-queen rises from her throne. She drifts towards Thundarr. “Mysterious stranger,” she says. “You must give me your name.”

“I am THUNDARR, THE BARBARIAN!”

The witch-queen hesitates. “That is a title.”

“Ariel!” Thundarr snaps. “Provide the standard excuse.”

“In the year 1994, a runaway planet hurtled between the earth and the moon. Centuries later, the earth has become a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery.”

“You see,” Thundarr says, “I am savage. Thus, my name involves the phrase ‘the barbarian’. It is also occasionally spoken in all-caps. Ariel is a sorceress, and Ookla is a product of genetic super-science. In a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery, we are iconic figures, representatives of the system who nevertheless fight to hold the darkness back.”

The witch-queen studies Ookla. “Super-science?”

“Some thought that there were moral and practical dangers in stem cell research,” Ookla explains, in the mysterious language of his people. “Yet to us, these biotechnologies are a holy mystery. Through them moved the hand of the Creator, giving our people life.”

“What’s that, Ookla?” Ariel says. “Is Timmy 2094 in trouble at the old well?”

The witch-queen looks between Ariel and Ookla.

“They don’t actually understand me,” Ookla admits. “But, you know, we have good times.”

“Ah,” says the witch-queen.

The clock chimes. Thundarr looks at the clock. The witch-queen looks at the clock. Ariel and Ookla also look at the clock.

It’s the first chime of midnight.

“Ariel!” cries Thundarr, in sudden panic. “Ookla! Dispose of my cup!”

Ariel’s magic and Ookla’s brute strength quickly dispose of Thundarr’s cup. The three jump on the backs of their horses. The witch-queen looks from one horse to another, confused.

“Wait!” she says. “Fair prince! How will I find you again?”

The clock chimes.

“Ariel! Provide a glass slipper!”

Ariel holds up her hand and unleashes her powerful sorcery. A glass slipper appears in the witch-queen’s hands.

The clock chimes.

“ARIEL! OOKLA! CYBER-SAMURAI! RIDE!”

The last chime of midnight rings out, and Thundarr is gone.

“I should go back,” says the chitin-armored cyber-samurai. “I’m only riding with you because of your barbarian leadership technique.”

Thundarr pulls in rein, and the others do the same.

“You love her,” he says, “don’t you?”

The chitin-armored cyber-samurai hesitates. “Perhaps.”

“She will never stop chasing me,” Thundarr says, “unless she finds a worthy man to replace Thundarr in her esteem.”

“This is true,” the cyber-samurai says, sepulchrally.

“Then go,” Thundarr says. “Think on the meaning of the glass slipper. If you understand it, you can win her heart.”

The cyber-samurai looks down, then back up. “Thank you, Thundarr,” he says. They clasp hands. Then the cyber-samurai turns, and rides away.

“The meaning of the glass slipper?” Ariel asks.

“Long ago,” Thundarr says, “my people found a glass slipper in the valley of terrible vines. We came to worship it as a sacred message sent to us by the gods. Its meaning is this: ‘When you grasp at air, it seems you hold nothing; but if you cling to your dreams, they will lift you above the corrupted earth.'”

“Oh,” Ariel says.

“It has a power for happy endings,” Thundarr concludes.

It is hours later, at the palace of the witch-queen. She is standing, frowning intently, staring at the glass slipper in her hand. “Why?” she asks herself. “Why a slipper? What means this thing?”

And into the room, the cyber-samurai comes. He has shed his chitinous armor and now wears a post-apocalyptic tuxedo. He walks up to her. He folds her fingers around the glass slipper. He wraps his hand around her own.

“I know its meaning,” he says.

She looks at him. She seems uncertain.

“It’s a terrible weapon,” he says, “from the time before the devastation of the world.”

Gently, he pulls back her hand. He helps her throw. The glass slipper flies from her hand and strikes a peasant on the forehead. He falls like a stunned ox. The glass slipper circles back to the witch-queen’s hand, dripping with the peasant’s blood.

The witch-queen looks down at the slipper, rapt with wonder for the thing she holds. “Oh,” she says.

The two of them look out at a suddenly different world. “We’ll always remember you,” says the witch-queen.

The cyber-samurai nods. “We’ll always remember you, Thundarr . . . the BARBARIAN!”

2 thoughts on “Happily Ever After, with Comet1

  1. That just made my morning suck a lot less.

    I’m guessing there’s some symbolism in the witch queen looking for a tolerable peasant when there’s a freshly-bathed cyber-samurai right there… either that, or you’re picturing something different than I am, perhaps a robotic samurai that can’t actually procreate.

  2. Tom, I’m sorry, but when she’s on the East Coast, the drinks are on me.

    Rebecca:
    Minor nitpick: it’s “Ariel! Ookla! *WE* RIDE!”
    Otherwise… you’ve made my week.

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