Chapter 4: TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
By W.J. Ramsden
"Zool. Death planet where the intractable criminals of ten thousand worlds…"
"Etc." broke in Lieutenant Photon, casting his superior a worried glance. "What about it, Captain?"
The Captain frowned, running his fingers over his stubbled chin and leaning forward in his leather chair to adopt the pose of "The Thinker".
"According to our onboard computer, there’s a great deal of trouble in that area. It sounds as if the different factions of the University are at war again."
"Not that interminable and bloody struggle between the ChristChurch-Corpus-Brasenose and St John’s fleet over planet Zool, sir?"
"The one that’s so far claimed millions of lives and threatens to tip the entire galaxy into galaxy-wide galactic war?" asked Photon, tautologically.
"Yes, Photon." The Captain stood up proudly, surreptitiously flicking a switch to start a fan on the control desk, sending his cloak billowing out behind him. He strode forward, with one hand on his hip and the other pointing out into space through the window. "Zool."
"Yes, Photon?" the Captain rumbled.
"What about it, sir?"
"Set course for Zool, Lieutenant. We are sentient beings of the galaxy. We cannot allow this slaughter to continue without making an effort to promote peace and pro-free market propaganda. Send my apologies to the King, and make sure that his fleet is ready to drop in at the last minute to save us in a good deus ex machina finale. All this death will be brought to an end, or my name’s not CAPTAIN ZAP!"
"Zap!" The Warlord Arshall steepled his fingers under his chin, then stopped, because it looked silly.
"Beg pardon sir," said his obsequious fawning underling, "but all our lasers are fully loaded and our fleet is the most powerful in space. Why should we worry about one lone altruistic fool?"
"Because he is CAPTAIN ZAP!" the Warlord thundered. "Saviour of the people of Keble, protector of the Zoltar, destroyer of the evil swarming Kaleaklex people of Quarble-wokka, the man who obliterated the Dark Planet, fought back the Mutoids of Zegrod Nine, crushed Bart Simpson, repelled the Evil Unicron, re-energised the Mighty Sceptre of the Ovbiavbbvsoabshqqwur, and… slightly irritated the Daleks."
"Er… yes sir. But… with respect, the Dark Planet was just in a comic." The Warlord sprung from his chair and began to stalk around his dark and sinister domain. Since their victory the other day, Zool was practically theirs. The evil scum of the Congregation skulked with the southerners behind the planet, and total conquest was almost in his grasp. Now, CAPTAIN ZAP threatened to bring an end to all that. He snarled, taking a guard’s laser gun and blasting him with it. The Warlord remembered their last confrontation. He’d just been a minor Space Commander then, trying to subdue rebels on the desert planet Arrakis II, when a small space ship had suddenly shot out of Hyperspace and somehow disabled his fleet. When he blasted down to the planet he had been confronted by a tall, cloaked figure in a bronze spacesuit. They had fought for a long time before Zap had won, slicing off the evil Warlord’s hand with a laser sword. Now, the Warlord flexed his cybernetic hand and cursed.
"I will destroy you, Zap… I will destroy you…"
"Sir, with respect, we do have a plan that might help you defeat Zap and salvage your shattered ego, sir."
"Well?" Arshall swung round, gripping his underling in an iron grip and raising him off the ground.
"We have regenerated a dead astronaut from the twentieth century, sir. With his advanced knowledge of primitive space travel…" the underling trailed off, then wrinkled his brow. "Er… actually sir, that’s a dreadfully silly plan, now that I come to think it through. Sorry."
"No matter!" the Warlord dropped him. "Any ace I can use against Zap… anything… anything!" He began to laugh, evilly. His robot starling mascot started to caw in time with his laughter, and he gripped his stomache with both hands, laughing louder and more evilly. His underling joined in too. The starling fluttered to his shoulder, its red eyes glowing redly. "You’re finished Zap… finished!!!!"
A few hours later the Warlord stared at the feeble looking figure crouched on the bridge.
"You were right, Underling," he breathed with a sigh. "It was a damn stupid plan."
"Er… this, sir, is Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon."
"I see. And you think you can help me vanquish CAPTAIN ZAP, do you, Aldrin?"
"Why… Yessir," came a wheezing American voice from the ancient figure. "Ah travelled space when you wuzn’t even born… ooh arr. To infinity and beyond, ah went," continued Buzz, as the Warlord stalked slowly back to his desk and sat behind it. "Ah wuz the second man to land orn the Moon yu see, zur, an ah’m the only here man in this little ol’ world that can stop this here Captain Zarp."
"Hmm." The Warlord’s finger strayed closer and closer to a small button on his desk. "And you think that you are capable of this, Mr Buzz?"
"Ooh arr, Jim lad," grinned Buzz inanely, turning to Jim Bhond. "Shiver me timbers if I won’t send em all to Davy Jones… the noo."
"In fact," the Warlord said to his underling in a conversational tone, "it was a plan so stupid that even John Norman wouldn’t have used it as a plot." He pressed the button, and suddenly a concealed trapdoor opened beneath the underling, who screamed as he fell out into space. Bhond looked dispassionately out at space through the hole for a second before it closed, then turned to face the Buzz clone.
"What do you want done with this?"
"Ye lay a finger on me boyo an I’ll cut ye into cutlets and feed ye to the sheep, the noo. And a top of the mornin’ to ye. Don’t ye threaten me or I’ll skin you and hang yer skin out for the little leprechauns, boyo." The Warlord scowled.
"Prepare to have him killed in a slow and unecessarily complicated way."
"Yes sir," snapped Jim, seizing the babbling loon and dragging him from the bridge.
In two hours they would reach Zool. CAPTAIN ZAP paced his cabin nervously. He’d sharpened his stubble, put on his most gold cloak, and plucked his eyebrows. In two hours he would face once again the evil Warlord Arshall of St John’s College. His nemesis. He remembered the hallucination in the Cave of Confusion on Catworld, remembered going into the cave to confront his worst fear, remembered fighting Arshall, striking him down, and pulling the mask he never wore from his face to reveal his own features. The great enlightened git Horatio Ginger had not been able to explain the illusion. Zap sighed, pacing the cabin more nervously. Horatio Ginger was a legend to the people of Catworld, the man who had lead their people out of the dark ages. Still, he was undeniably an annoying, lecherous, bad tempered, smelly old tom cat. Sorry, tom Cat. Zap sighed, remembering.
Catworld was a far off planet, so distant from Earth that it could only be reached by flying through a black hole. It seemed that, millions of years ago, a meteorite carrying DNA from Earth had ended up in the Cat’s solar system, and infected the three planets, now known as Catworld, Dogworld, and Birdworld. On Catworld, an enlightened civilisation had developed, one of the best in the universe, but threatened only by one thing. Every seven hundred and three years, it seemed, the planet’s orbit would take it close enough to Dogworld, where the evil tyrannical Dogs, savage space pirates with no regard for life, would plan their campaign of evil. They would invade Catworld, crushing all resistance, and brutally gutting the planet’s resources, massacring the population, and generally being well and truly unpleasant. This time though, the Cats were organised enough to put up some resistance. During one of the last battles of the war, evacuation transports began to leave Catworld, bearing the children of the race away. One of these was mistaken by the Dog’s stupid ruler, Scrounger, as bearing the Cat monarch- Blackcat 1st. In fact, it carried his rather feckless wastrel son, Blackcat 2nd, but Scrounger did not realise this until it was too late. He attacked the ship, boarded it, killing the pilot, but a courageous group of young kittens, led by Sam Ginger, son of the great court advisor and philosopher Horatio, managed to overpower the Dog assault team and, in a courageous attempt to rid Catworld of the Dog leader forever, Sam crashed the ship through interstellar space into the planet Earth.
Four million years passed. The ship had been cryogenically cocooned when it crashed, and only a nearby freak volcanic eruption brought life to them again. The Dogs left the ship first, Scrounger furious at being separated from his massive war fleet, but determined to conquer the Earth. However, the brave Sam Ginger was able to stop him, forging his gang of kittens into an invincible fighting force, the most fabled of fabled invincible fighting forces, the….CAT TEAM!
When Zap had met them, the Cat Team had just defeated the Dogs, after a long and bloody struggle, and Sam had been transformed by the power of the near mythical Catstone into the indestructible, the incredible, the unbeatable Super Cat- Tabby. Tabby was immortal, invulnerable, absolutely unkillable. Sadly, during their absence, Blackcat 1st had been deposed by his evil nephew, the hardline King Catrak, and when Tabby led a civil war to free Catworld from Catrak’s iron grip, his own lieutenant, the eccentric scientist Blackcat took the thrown. Power corrupted Blackcat 2nd, and eventually, in the interests of democracy and giving the hero of the story the top job, Tabby was forced to perform a coup against his own former best friend, and assume control of Catworld himself. Zap had helped in both those civil wars, and in the process,had been introduced to Tabby/Sam’s now ancient father, the sage Horatio. His mind rippled back across the years.
"You have a destiny, Zap. What it is, I cannot tell, but that your fate is somehow forever bound up with that of Warlord Arshall."
"Then I shall go and seek out that destiny. I hear that Arshall has begun moving against the planet of Zool."
"Zool? Death planet where the intractable criminals of ten thousand worlds…etc?" Tabby enquired, smoothing his whiskers.
"No," Horatio interjected, swishing his tail crossly, "Zool, the new variety of Kitekat. Of course the Death planet. Idiot."
"Then I shall come with you, friend Zap," Tabby purred. "Together we shall draw a line against the night."
"Er… no thank you." Zap took Tabby by a paw and led him to one side. "This is my fight, Tabby. I have to face him again."
"I understand," Tabby nodded. "We all have demons to face, my friend. Still, there is your crew to think of. If you need us, then we will be there."
"If you need us, then we will be there." Zap shook his head. There was an ominous feeling hanging over his head. Suddenly, his door flew open. Lieutenant Photon ran in.
"We’re coming out of Hyperspace, CAPTAIN ZAP!" he shouted.
"Then let’s go!" Zap replied, leaping into action. They ran dramatically along the ship’s corridors, into the ship’s lift, and continued to run dramatically on the spot whilst the lift ascended to the command deck, for fear of losing momentum. When the doors opened, they ran dramatically out into the ship’s brothel, realised dramatically that they’d got out at the wrong floor, turned round dramatically, and re-entered the lift.
"ZAP!" Snarled the Warlord, absent mindedly crushing the neck of one of his guards.
"Yes sir. He jumped to normal space about a minute ago sir. He’s two light years away. Look sir…" Bhond pointed out of the window. "If you squint really really hard then you can just about see him."
"ZAP!" The Warlord clenched his fist around the dead guard’s face, tearing his nose off. "This time he will learn what it means to oppose the evil might of St John’s College. Zap… you have made your last mistake." Snarling, he opened his mouth and ate the dead guard’s nose. "Set us on a collision course, prepare to loose our deadly secret weapon, and…." He turned a peculiar shade of green, "… and tell me I didn’t just eat what I thought I just ate."
"St John’s fleet dead ahead, sir". Photon pointed to the radar screen, where a large number of green dots captioned "The Bad Guys" was moving slowly towards the centre. Zap swallowed once, then took up his central position on the bridge.
"Open communication channels with the University Police. Inform them that we regret taking this unilateral action, but their rank cowardice in failing to check the evil ambitions of the evil Deceptic… er, the evil ambitions of the evil St John’s force has forced us to declare independent action. Let’s see them get off their encounter suited butts and do something! You are the one. If you go to Z’ha… er no, cut it after, ‘and do something!"
"OK, sir." Photon flicked a switch.
"Now open communications channels to the enemy." Photon flicked another switch. "This is Archie Photon calling the enemy, calling the enemy. Please respond, enemy." There was a dramatic fizz, and the Warlord’s face appeared on the monitor screen, a cyborg starling perched on his shoulder.
"So, Zap, we meet again."
"So, Arshall, we meet again."
"Well, well, well."
"Well, well, well, well, well."
"Well, well, well, well, well, well."
"So, Arshall, it’s finally come to this."
"Yes, Zap. We meet again for the last time. Prepare to die slowly, painfully, and in a groundbreaking special effect."
The screen went blank. Zap clenched his jaw.
"Well, in spite of my best negociating efforts, it seems we must fight. Now, remember, that is a University fleet, so they may have access to weapons we can’t hope to counter."
"Captain, with respect," murmured a female junior officer who had suddenly appeared for no very good reason, "we lost a firefight with Starbug last week. I don’t think anyone has weapons we could hope to counter."
"They’ve launched Boaties!" Photon cried, running back to his station and finding it occupied by the new arrival instead. He looked worried. Zap activated the ship’s telephoto vision facility and stared. A fleet of Spaceboats screamed towards them, each one a one person craft of destruction.
"Fire Rocket Punts!" A swarm of Rocket Punts zoomed out from Zap’s vessel, their rotating Laser cannons destroying Spaceboats by the thousand. The Rocket Punts arced round in a dramatic and physically impossible manoeuvre and headed towards the Warlord’s flagship. The Captain peered at them. Suddenly his eyes widened. "Tell them to get clear! The Warlord’ll launch…"
It was too late. A series of green, tree shaped objects blossomed from the Evil Warlord’s ship, hooking around the Rocket Punts and tipping them over, sending their brave pilots tumbling down to oblivion. Zap stared in horror. Of his hundred strong Rocket Punt fleet, only three had evaded the trees, but these three were also slaughtered as the Spaceboats began firing jets of Cherwell acid on them, killing the pilots instantly.
"Damn him!" Zap cursed, slamming his fist into his hand. A laser bolt shot out of nowhere and hit his ship, causing the control panel to spark. A small spark began to drift towards Zap.
"Look out CAPTAIN!" Bellowed Photon, hurling himself bravely in front of the spark to protect his leader. He staggered, losing his balance, and fell, breaking his neck.
"PHOTON!" Zap knelt by his friend and fellow officer.
"It’s all right… Captain… the writing… was on the wall…." He gestured to the female officer sitting in his place. "All I ask… is that you…. " his voice began to fade. "nail…. Warlord….. reproductive organs….. to….. wall…"
"I’ll do it, Photon," Zap promised. "I’ll do it for you." He sadly dropped his friend’s head onto the floor, which it his with a clunk, and stood up. "Take them out!"
"It’s no good sir," Bhond said, running into the Warlord’s office. "Zap’s fighting like a maniac. He’s destroyed all our St John’s Boaties."
"No great loss," the Warlord muttered.
"He’s moving in on this ship."
"What? You mean… I might get hurt?… I mean, You mean he dares to attack the flagship of St John’s College?" thundered the Warlord. "Very well. Loose our secret weapon. Destroy Zap! DESTROY HIM! Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-hah!
"Sir, look!" The new female lieutenant pointed at the small dots emerging from the Evil Warlord’s flagship.
"What’s that?" gasped Zap, suddenly remembering the enemy could shoot back. Then he narrowed his eyes. A cold wave of fear scuttled down his spine. Surely not even the Warlord would go so far. He had…
Suddenly, Zap leapt over to the command position, where he should have been anyway, during a battle, and signalled the crew’s attention.
"People, we have a serious problem. The Warlord Arshall has broken one of the cardinal rules of Intercollegiate Mass-murder."
They moved towards the warm metal thing through the blackness of space. Their skin was pallid, their eyes heavy and sunken, rimmed in purple from lack of sleep. Fingers twitched in a grotesque parody of life and they weakly raised their arms to shield them from the painful light of the sun. The warm metal thing held the Chips and Cheese they sought. They would gain entry to the warm metal thing.
"Your sensors do not deceive you." Zap swallowed, the only sign of weakness he would permit himself before his crew. "The Warlord has unleased Students." Then he gripped the rail, unaccountably seeming to hear Horatio Ginger’s voice echoing through his brain.
"Use the Kebab Van, Zap." He raised his head.
"Launch Kebab vans. They’re the only thing that will stop a student." Metal boxes began to fly out from Zap’s ship, encircling the ravening clouds of students. The monstrous creatures paused, hovering, and then moving away from Zap’s ship to swarm over the vans. In his control room, the Evil Warlord stamped on the skull of one of his guards. On his bridge, Zap waited, his finger inching closer and closer to a large red button.
Suddenly, the kebab vans exploded, liquifying the students instantly. But, as Zap had feared, the force of the explosion struck his ship as well, fragments of student and hardened unidentifiable supposed meat tearing through the vessel. The ship shook, throwing the new female officer into Zap’s arms as they fell to the floor. They stayed that way for a moment, but then the lights came back again, so they got up. Zap’s desperate gamble had saved their lives, but at what cost?
The Evil Warlord snarled. "Your fault, Bhond! Your bloody bloody bloody stupid plan! Use students?" Bhond stumbled back nervously.
"But it was your…"
"Don’t interrupt me when I’m passing the buck!" The Evil Warlord’s finger inched closer to the button on his desk, the button that had sent his underling tumbling to oblivion. "Now not only is Zap still alive, but we’ll have the entire Congregation fleet out to utterly kill us!" He poised his finger over the button. "Is there anything you can do to stop me pressing this, Bhond?"
"Er, yes," said Bhond, pressing it first. The trapdoor opened under the Evil Warlord’s chair and it, and he, plummeted out into the vastness of space. Bhond smiled, shaken, but not stirred, and pressed the communicator switch. "I want to talk to CAPTAIN ZAP."
"Your vessel is disabled, Zap. You can’t fly, you can’t fire. I could kill you in a second."
"Who is this?" Zap stood in a dramatic pose on the flight deck. "You aren’t the Warlord Arshall."
"Arshall is dead. I am in charge now." So much for Horatio’s stupid prophecies, Zap mused. "I am Space Commander Bhond, and, unlike my ludicrously bearded and frankly majorly psychotic former Warlord, I am a reasonable man. I can tell you that Arshall planned to have you killed, then re-animated by sinisterly arcane technosorcerers from the biochemistry department, then killed again. I am not a hate crazed megalomaniac with a guard murdering fetish, so I’m just going to have you killed."
"Oh, very decent of you, thanks very much." Zap replied, dryly. He licked his lips. If you need us, we will be there. Zap clenched his jaw. He’d said that this was his fight, but that had, in all honesty, been a pretty damn stupid thing to say. He pressed his red button.
"Muah-ha-ha-ha-hah…" Bhond squinted at the crosshairs narrowing about Zap’s ship. Coldly, he imagined that ship exploding in a ball of flame, Zap’s body bursting in the vacuum. He opened communicators again.
"Just one thing you should know about me, Zap. I am your father." There was a silence, and then Zap’s voice came back."
"I am your father. You’re supposed to scream: NOOOOOO!"
"But… I thought the Evil Warlord was my father."
"Look, it was a pretty unconventional relationship, OK. Still, I was definitely the paternal one. And now, Zap, my son, you die."
Suddenly, a vast fleet of ships appeared out of nowhere, their enormous lasers slicing away the weapons systems and engines of the St John’s fleet.
"Are you sure about that, Dad? I brought along some old friends." There was a crackle, and then the face of an anthropomorphic tabby cat appeared on the monitor, and a strident yet mellifluous voice filled Bhond’s ears.
"This is the voice of Tabby. Commander of the Cat Team. King of Catworld. Defeater of the Dogs. Vanquisher of the Seven Elbowed Qewhfgwo of Amalgam 4. Killer of Captain Kirk. Scourge of all evil, and aspiring sorceror in training. Also, I can do a fairly good Hamlet." He purred briefly.
"Captain Zap is under the protection of the Cat Empire. We have allowed your species to have your own way for a very long time, but we remember and protect our friends. I saved your world countless times and you never even knew about it. I helped Captain Zap destroy Unicron, and you said some cartoon robot had done it. We don’t want to control you. Our policy has always been to allow lesser races to grow on their own, just as we grew on our own. Still, if you hurt our friends, then we will cut you up into little pieces and spit on them. What do you have to say to that, you foolish little ape?"
There was a pause. Suddenly, a shadow fell across the blackness of space and, on all three flagships, all talk ceased. Zap and Tabby’s eyes widened in amazement as they stared at the vast, planet sized object approaching. A huge purple sphere, massive orange spikes protuding from it and centreing about its hungry maw.
"No… it can’t be!" Tabby gasped. "We destroyed it."
"ERROR." The massive voice boomed across the universe in Orson Welles like tones. "I WAS NOT DESTROYED."
"What the hell is that?" squeeked Bhond, across the communicator.
"All our worst nightmares," Zap responded.
"I HAVE COME FOR YOU, AND THIS PITIFUL PLANET OF ZOOL. I AM THE PLANET EATER. I AM UNICRON."
The saga will continue… I’m afraid.