“I should see the dentist more often, I know,” said Lord Zorgon.
by Rob Hunter


“Would you like a breath mint?” she asked.

It was raining and Gearbox—Rachel Mae Welding—and I were hanging out in her room. We were curled up with our piles of comics and paperback books. Between us was a bag of Oreos and a jar of super-crunchy—the no-name house brand peanut butter—with two spoons, our usual rainy day brain food. Gearbox slid the jar over to me. “Sue Ellen...” She caught herself, looked up from her reading and made an apologetic sound.

“You know I hate that name,” I said, “...Rachel Mae.” I punched her. I fully expected her to punch me back.

She did.

“Sorry,” she said.

Last year—we were in the fifth grade then—Gearbox and I came across a trunk of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books in my attic. On the covers, warriors and monsters flexed unlikely if not anatomically impossible muscles. There was always a pretty girl in trouble. Our parents had been something they called “the counterculture” together; we figured this meant they read paperback books a lot. Gearbox tried to convince her folks that their last name, and by virtue of childbirth hers, was Barsoomian. Did I ever tell you about that? Gearbox did a real head job on her folks who exhibited mixed feelings about their daughter becoming a Martian. “Barsoom is so cool,” she had declared. “I gotta get the name. My secret name...” I pointed out that if everyone called her Gearbox Barsoomian it wouldn’t be much of a secret.

But whatever their feelings on the matter, Gearbox’s parents would have to go through endless legal rigmarole to have their name changed from Welding to Barsoomian. Gearbox however used her nickname all the time. “Gearbox Welding,” said her dad, “...that sounds like a sign you’d see down by the highway.”

Gearbox had these “episodes.” That is what her parents called them. For her—as she told me once, I had asked—“I just fall down. I don’t remember a thing. For me time stands still; I’m just ‘away.’ Most of the time.”

“Most of the time. What happens the other times?”

“Oh, I go places. Oops...” She went all glassy-eyed and I knew I was going to lose her.

*  *  *

Rachel Mae Welding, known as Gearbox, looked up. A large viridian personage sporting bundles of tentacles from its shoulders—taller than an NBA center except green with golden pustules that caught the light and made it seem to shimmer—was reaching down to assist a red slug-like creature the size of a Humvee through a smoldering hole in her bedroom floor. “Lord Zorgon! Mo’ron!”

“That’s us,” said Lord Zorgon of Sulunia.

Gearbox ran over to the hole. Its edges were shiny with cooling slag from the polyester in the carpet. She’d hear plenty from Mom about this. “Wow! I didn’t know you were real.”

“What is this real? We have feelings, too. That we may have not been seen in these parts recently is no indicator for reality.”

“Uh, sorry.”

“No offence taken. And you are...?”

“Gearbox Welding.”

“Sounds like a sign you’d see down by the highway. Level with us, kid, what’s your real name?”

Gearbox wiped her nose on a sleeve. “Rachel Mae Welding. I got named after an aunt.”

An orifice opened in the side of the giant red slug. It spoke. “Give us a hand then, Ted.” Unlimbering a pair of dorsal tentacles, Lord Zorgon threw a viscous, dripping lifeline into the hole. Lord Mo’ron, likewise of Sulunia, rappelled out.

“But your fleet, The Perfect Swarm, is destroyed. Princess Tyaelaera, Righter of Wrongs, Keeper of the Cauldron of Heaven, etc., etc, did it in Warrior Princess issue 4. She chased you out of the Horsehead Nebula.”

“Ha!” snorted Lord Zorgon. “You are tragically out of the loop, kid. Lord Mo’ron and I escaped alive. We have had to find other work.”

Gearbox stared; her manipulative machinery was spinning at high speed.

“Your mouth is open, little girl,” said Lord Zorgon as he wiped his tentacles on the curtains. “Our arrival has discomfited you. If you prefer you may call us by the names we use in our home universe.”

“Ted and Sally,” said Mo’ron, oozing the remainder of its considerable girth out of the crater.

“Ted and Sally?” queried Gearbox Welding, “but that’s so lame...”

Lord Zorgon finished with his tentacle wiping and gave the curtains a final satisfied flourish. They tore. “Lame or not, that’s who we are. Listen kid,” said Ted, Lord Zorgon, “Tyaelaera is hot on our tail and we need to do business fast.”

“Business? With me?” asked Gearbox. Now the curtains were ruined as well as the rug. She explored her armamentarium of alibis for anything dealing with demolition by extraterrestrial invaders. Mom would be furious.

“Business.” Ted pointed to Gearbox’s discarded comic book. “And believe-you-me, out of a gazillion possible parallelisms, this neighborhood of yours is the equivalent of strolling through a back alley late at night. The sacred attributes of that text which you so recently clutched in your grubby, pre-adolescent hands aside, you read too many comics.”

“You aren’t here to straighten out my reading habits. I wasn’t born yesterday—you are here because you haven’t got anyplace else to go.” Gearbox had a Warrior Princess rolled up and was thumping Lord Zorgon over the head with it.

“Ow! Hey, easy there little girl. Is that issue 16? Well, if that’s what you’re reading, that is what is going on—for us, for now. Warrior Princess is one of our sacred comic books. Along with the Snap-On Tools catalog.”


“Handyman’s Bible, you betcha. Blue cover; can’t miss it. And the Bhagavad-Gita, of course.”

“Of course. Gita...” Lord Zorgon’s leaps of reason made irrefutable comic book sense somehow. “You want something,” said Gearbox.

“You want something.”

“Well... yes. I want more,” said Gearbox. “I hate my name and I hate how I look.”

“It would then appear we have begun our negotiations. It is written: The event will dictate its own parameters.”

“Cool. But why me?”

“These are the imponderables, kid. In science fiction, the operative word is fiction. The stuff is made up.”

Gearbox pouted and tugged defensively at the ends of her very long and very straight hair. “I know fiction is made up stuff.” Gearbox’s tugging at her hair had given her split ends.

*  *  *

Gearbox was back.

“I was talking with Lord Zorgon and Mo’ron. While I was away?” Gearbox sat down and grabbed a fistful of Oreos.

“And what’s the latest word from Lord Zorgon of Sulunia?” I was trying not to sound snotty.

“We didn’t get much past introductions. But if I read things right, he and Lord Mo’ron are in a bind. They need my help.”

“Your help. The Sulunian battle lords, commanders of the Perfect Swarm, need your help. You are in too much of a hurry to grow up,” I said and went back to my reading.

“Look.” She held up Warrior Princess, issue 16. “This is a sacred book, Sue Ellen,” she said. She wanted all of my attention, now. I pretended not to hear. Princess Tyaelaera bestrode a shattered city, rebuilding herself with scaffolding and beams. Tyaelaera was naked to the waist. “Isn’t she the most awesome...”

“She is certainly large,” I said. “You’re not thinking of getting a boob job, are you? We’re eleven years old, for Christ’s sake. How does she put her socks on? Don’t they get in the way?”

We caught the giggles and ended up bent over double, gasping for breath. Even though we were supposed to be too young to understand, grownup enhancements via facelifts and boob jobs had filtered through the careless clutter of parent talk. “You are still in too much of a hurry to grow up,” I hiccoughed as tears ran down my cheeks.

Gearbox thrust a finger down her throat and made gagging sounds. “I don’t want to grow up. I just want to look grown-up. For a while. Well...?” said Gearbox. “Is she awesome or what?”

“Well... She certainly seems to know who she is. She has, umm...”

Gearbox tugged at her hair. “Body-consciousness,” she said. “She knows where her hands are.”

“We already have that,” I said.

Gearbox held her hands up to her face. “She’s the real deal. She’s first-rate and I’ll bet she doesn’t fall over when she puts her socks on,” she said, going glassy-eyed again. “Besides, with a plastic surgeon and a personal trainer, all things are possible.”

Gearbox flickered in and out, like a fluorescent bulb—she did that sometimes. Maybe it was her eyes, maybe mine. She caught at my shoulder to steady herself, “Nope—false alarm, I guess.” And then she was gone. I scooped a spoonful of peanut butter and reached for a comic book to read while she was away. Tyaelaera—goddess, warrior, princess—went serenely about her affairs on the cover.

*  *  *

“Destiny rolled your number, kid. So sue me.” Lord Zorgon’s breath reminded Gearbox of the last time her dad had the septic pumped. Row after row of glittering incisors flashed.

“Would you like a breath mint?” she asked.

“I should see the dentist more often, I know,” said Ted, Lord Zorgon.

“So what exactly have I agreed to?” The proffered mints hung between them. Lord Zorgon brushed them aside.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Sally, Lord Mo’ron, eating the mints box and all.

“Shouldn’t we be spitting in our palms and shaking hands or something? To seal the deal?”

“You don’t trust me?” Tentacles flailed. There was a chilling Clack! as he snapped his fangs shut.

“Rachel Mae Welding!” from downstairs.

“It’s cool, Mom, I just dropped a book.”

Sally held his lips close to Gearbox’s ear. “Negotiations are ended. Thank you for your open-mindedness, young lady.”

“You are stringing your hair,” said Lord Zorgon. “This is an annoying behavior.”

“What I do with my hair is my own business.”

“Didn’t your mother ever warn you about what happens to little girls who string their hair?”

“Lowered self-esteem,” said Sally. With obvious distaste, the giant slug picked up Warrior Princess, issue 16 and held it under Gearbox’s nose. “Look at her. Think she has any problems with self-esteem? Not too damn likely, I’d say.”

“Rachel Mae! What’s going on up there? Do I hear voices?”

“It’s just the TV, Mom.”

“I know it’s the TV, Rachel Mae Welding. You turn it off right now and get on that homework. When your father comes home...” The threat was left unuttered. Dad was a pushover.

“Yes, Mom.”

“You have a Mom, too. This is only too excellent,” said Sally. “But we must keep her out of your room for the duration.”

“Shhhh,” said Gearbox, “...she’ll hear. Duration? How long were you planning on staying?”

“The duration of our business. We are here to help you achieve that self-aggrandizement which you crave. I like that about you human beings; you are ready to believe in anything that will buff up your pathetic self-image.”

“Sure... What?”

Sally sidled up and pulled at Gearbox’s sleeve. “Ahem! You are a normal human child. Got any girlie books? It’s been a while.”

“I am a girl in case you missed that. Uh, there’s a magazine under the mattress. It’s my research. For a boob job.”

“Ahh, resources.” Sally swarmed over Gearbox’s bed, enveloping it and sucking at the mattress.

“You could just pick it up. Reach under the mattress,” said Gearbox.

“These are troubled times for borderline intelligences,” said Lord Zorgon, brushing Sally aside. He picked up the generic slick-covered magazine and flipped to the back where lonely hearts and plastic novelties predominated. “Voilà!” Three tentacles pointed. A half page advertisement trumpeted the merits of Lovely Linda, Inflatable Beach Bunny in lurid, three-color detail.

“She’s a balloon. We could stuff her into the hole and save the universe,” said Gearbox. “That was in Nemesis, Righter of Wrongs.”

“My, but you do read extensively, little girl,” Lord Zorgon said. “Issue 6, to be precise. And it was a zeppelin, not a beach bunny.”

“...and time would unwind itself and you’d catch yourselves on the way out. What a great plot twist...” said Gearbox. She was taking notes.

“Stars go nova all the time. Why not Lovely Linda? No one would be any the wiser,” said Sally.

Gearbox was unconvinced. “Lord Mo’ron? Your name, there’s an apostrophe in there, right?”

“Most decidedly.”

“OK. I’ll go on the Internet,” said Gearbox. “FedEx can get Lovely Linda here overnight. They say so in their TV ads.”
Lovely Linda was out of stock and had to be back-ordered.

“We don’t do patience well,” said Sally. Lord Zorgon moped.

“Must you look so glum? The tentacles and all...? You look like a wilted broccoli—not impressive. There’s always lots of fun things if you just apply yourself, use your imaginations. Weren’t there all sorts of shipboard activities on the Perfect Swarm? Sing-alongs, volleyball?”

“We put the crew in suspended animation,” said Lord Zorgon. With a flailing of tentacles, he waved Gearbox off. “They were frozen stiff for the duration. Ahh... an inspiration.” He juggled a backwards baseball cap above his head and mimed an old-time newsreel cameraman cranking away at his camera. “We’ll make a movie.”

*  *  *

“Sue Ellen, they want to make a movie. Starring me. Of course, you’ll be in it, too.”

“Rachel Mae...” I punched her again, the second time that day. She did not punch me back. This usually meant we were about to start in on serious give and take. Gearbox chose her name; I was stuck with mine—Sue Ellen Arbuthnot. Arbuthnot is my parents’ last name, mine too. Mom is a Polansky.

“A movie. Do you even have a title?”

“It’s called Anomaly. Sally liked that one. We found it in a crossword dictionary—it means a thing that looks OK at first but shouldn’t be where it is.”

“Suppose there are these kids,” I said. “And they buy all the comics and see every movie as it comes out. Then they notice an anomaly.”

“Correctissimo. There’s this one movie that they really, really like a lot. But there’s so much going on that it’s confusing. They don’t get it the first time. Or the second. They have to keep on bringing it home. Week after week... And about when they can recite the lines along with the actors, the movie gets different?”

“And who do you get to play?”

“Tyaelaera, of course.” Gearbox got that far-away look and her eyes swam out of focus.

*  *  *

“Back again? My stars and garters, but you do zing about.” Lord Zorgon of Sulunia sighed, a great exhalation redolent of smoldering carpets. “Where was I? Boob jobs and facelifts, yes. Women, whatever their ages, never wish for sensible things like orthotics or a tonsillectomy.”

“I already had my tonsils out.”

“None the less, your yearnings are for the grown-up lineaments of a woman on the cover of a comic book.”

“I want to look like her,” said Gearbox.

“The radiance of your face will shine like a thousand suns,” said Ted, Lord Zorgon.

“That’s a promise, right?”

“We, too, have our wants and needs,” said Sally. “We’d really, really like to have our battle fleet back.”

“And, failing that, we’d really, really love to ride the bumper cars.” Lord Zorgon gave Sally a broad wink.

“Our fall-back position,” said Sally, who received an immediate dope-slap. Gearbox knew the maneuver from the Three Stooges on TV. “But that’s what we...” Sally whimpered.

“Let us not dwell overly on methodology, shall we little girl? POSIWID—the purpose of a system is what it does.”

Gearbox would only have to keep one step ahead of the Sulunian battle lords.

*  *  *

“The Sulunian battle lords?—They’re waiting for Lovely Linda.”

“Who?” She filled me in and my jaw must have dropped a foot. “An inflatable WHAT? We are eleven years old.”

“So I was studying up. And I know how old I am.” Gearbox looked thoughtful. “The radiance of my face will shine like a thousand suns,” she said. “That’s the Bhagavad-Gita.”

“The what?” Gearbox looked abnormally pleased with herself, even for Gearbox.

“Bhagavad-Gita. It’s a holy book. Lord Zorgon quoted it in Warrior Princess number sixteen. The one with the bare-chested lady?”

I riffled through our stacks. “Hah!” I said. There was no Bhagavad-Gita quote in my Warrior Princess number sixteen. There was no Lord Zorgon. And now no bare-chested lady on the cover either.

“This was Lord Zorgon’s personal copy,” said Gearbox.

“My folks have a camcorder,” I said. “We can play all the parts and plug it into the TV,” I offered. Here we were, two kids and starring in our own film. We started shooting Anomaly the movie, making the script up as we went.

We were gluing chopped-up lengths of garden hose to a garbage can, one of the shiny galvanized ones we had spray painted green. This was to be Lord Zorgon in the scenes where I had to double as Sally. Gearbox came out of the house dressed in a cut-down lamé gown with sequins we picked up at the Salvation Army store. She carried the lid to the garbage can, Tyaelaera’s shield.

“Look at me! Flat as a clam. I gotta get that overhaul,” she said, definitely drooping. “We just have to do the Sulunian battle lords one little favor.”

“Ahh, that favor again. What kind of favor?”

“Rachel Mae!”

“Mom!” This was to be Gearbox’s afternoon at the dentist. We ended up hiding out at my place until soccer practice.

“About that favor...” I asked again.

“Lord Zorgon and Mo’ron? Their real names are Ted and Sally.” Before she could finish she was gone again.

I picked up a book and lost myself in tales of chivalry and swordplay on distant worlds. Gearbox still sat glassy-eyed and expressionless. There was an oozing from under the pile of comic books and paperbacks. The slug, Sally, clambered over the side and shook itself like a retriever, flinging dollops of scarlet goop over the walls and ceiling. I threw up and fainted dead away.

When I came to, Gearbox was fanning me with Nemesis, Righter of Wrongs. On the cover, Nemesis looked a lot like Captain America, except with more muscles if that was possible. “This is how they make their entrances,” she said. “Your mom won’t notice a thing. Sue Ellen Arbuthnot, meet Sally, Lord Mo’ron. Lord Mo’ron, Sue Ellen Arbuthnot.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Sally.

“Sally, Sally, manners, please,” said a green improbability that waved its tentacles as it levitated out of the hole. “Ted,” said Lord Zorgon, “Call me Ted. The movie is coming along famously. I am ecstatic. My compliments to your mother. Sorry about the rug,” he said.

A wispy curl of acrid smoke wafted from the far side of the Sulunian battle lords’ tunnel. “Achoo!” Gearbox was rubbing at her eyes.

“A point of information,” said Sally. “Are you laughing or crying? This is of interest to me.”

“Neither. I am sneezing. The fumes.”

As it was still raining, the four of us read comics together, passing the peanut butter back and forth. Lord Zorgon became engrossed with a great stack—all sixty-four issues—of Nemesis, Righter of Wrongs.

“This is all very boring,” said Sally, gnawing on my mother’s draperies. “What’s next? You do have bumper cars in this parallelism? Bumper cars or a chubby priest?” it asked hopefully.

“A chubby priest?” I asked.

“The very same!” Lord Zorgon exclaimed. He gave a whoop and balanced upside down on his spare tentacles as he cycled a comic book in an arc over his head. It looked like a cheering routine.

“It’s been a long dry spell for us,” Sally said, by way of explanation. “Chubby priest-wise.”

“The chubby priest appears in Nemesis, Righter of Wrongs, issue 2. See? It’s a different set of comic books from Tyaelaera, Warrior Princess. Like I said, made-up stuff. The stories tend to get all jumbled, but this is the way of things. Said priest will most likely have misgivings about an eleven-year-old ordering an inflatable play pal on the Internet. He must be neutralized.”

“There’s Fr. Lumley at All Souls.” We went to ecumenical Sunday school together, Gearbox and me, although not at Fr. Lumley’s church.

“The very one,” said Ted, Lord Zorgon. Gearbox picked up the phone.

Gearbox’s side of the conversation with Fr. Lumley featured mainly wheedling and cajoling. “Fr. Lumley will be over this afternoon,” said Gearbox as she set down the phone. “Oh, by the way, Lovely Linda came...” was almost an afterthought.

“We’ll be at the Mother Ship,” said Ted as he and Sally dived down their tunnel.

*  *  *

We got to Gearbox’s house the old-fashioned way—the vacant lot, then her yard. The Sulunian battle lords were there ahead of us. Sally, Lord Mo’ron, was stuffing Lovely Linda the inflatable play-pal into the hole in the carpet.

“Perfect fit,” said Lord Zorgon. “Can’t beat that FedEx.” The doorbell chimed and he paled to aquamarine, his tentacles twisted in a complex knot.

There was a “Yes, yes, yes...” and the sound of Mrs. Welding’s footsteps from downstairs. Fr. Lumley was at the door; he carried a small black satchel.

“But we’re Congregationalists...” said Helen, Mrs. Welding—Gearbox’s mom.

“I have to see about a portal in your daughter’s floor. An exorcism or something.”

“A what? GEARBOX!”

“Yeah, Mom? Oh, Fr. Lumley. Come on up.” As Fr. Lumley trudged up the stairs Gearbox cast a reproving look at her mother. “And you don’t have to yell.” Gearbox eyed the black satchel. “You don’t have a Snap-On Tools catalog by any chance?”


“Just wondering.”

As Gearbox ushered Fr. Lumley into her room, Helen Welding called up the stairs, “...and be sure to leave the door open.”

Fr. Lumley sighed, “We’ve had a lot of bad press lately, I’m afraid. Now, what can I do for you, Rachel Mae? Hello, Sue Ellen.” Fr. Lumley knew all the kids in his parish, Catholic or not.

“Hello, Fr. Lumley.”

“I was wondering if you could see a hole in the rug,” said Gearbox.

Fr. Lumley looked concerned. “Do you see one?”

“Nope. That’s the problem.” Gearbox was checking our new-found reality through the eyes of a trained observer.

“Well, I don’t either if that’s any help. And don’t forget to call me if you ever need an exorcism.” Fr. Lumley retreated down the stairs past the watchful eyes of Mrs. Welding.

“See. Neutralized,” said Lord Zorgon.

“But, but... you didn’t do anything. I expected something extreme.”

“I picked his satchel.” He held a three-ring binder aloft. “The Snap-On Tools catalog. And now that we have almost solved our interstitial dilemma, it is time for some well-deserved frolicking before we return to do battle with Princess Tyaelaera, Righter of Wrongs, Keeper of the Cauldron of Heaven, etc., etc. You mentioned bumper cars?”

“No. You did, actually,” Gearbox reminded him. “And what about my...”

“As we promised you, kid—you take care of us and we’ll take care of you,” said Lord Zorgon. Incisors flashed.

Sally looked up from gumming my mom’s curtains, which he must have dragged along through the tunnel. “Have your fun while you may, I say. Same thing as growing up, going nova, just bigger.”

“Size matters,” said Gearbox, thinking about boob jobs.

“Only if you’re in the way,” said Ted. “Now about those bumper cars...”

*  *  *

We looked in the pockets of our parents’ coats, under the seat cushions of easy chairs and couches and came away empty-handed. We had to dip into our special reserves. From the cellar came our La Paloma cigar box that had once held carefully sorted machine screws.

“Thirty-eight dollars,” Gearbox announced after the four of us had counted the nickels, dimes and quarters. Lord Zorgon was particularly adept at handling small change because of the tentacles.

The same carnival set up every year in a vacant lot, stomping all over the chickweed and thistles for one afternoon. “It’s a little early.” The man who operated the bumper cars looked us up and down and shook the cigar box.

“All to ourselves for an hour. Thirty-eight dollars,” said Gearbox.

“Well...” He tucked the money under his arm. “Just the two of you, OK?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure.”

The man threw the main power switch and sauntered off.

“Wheeee...” Ted and Sally bumped, crashed and sideswiped each other for an hour or more. Lord Zorgon wrapped his tentacles around one striped tent pole and pulled himself to a stop right in front of Gearbox and me.

“Thank you for this, little girls. The only respite we have had in millennia; fiction is a cruel mistress. Oh-oh, I see the concierge is returning. Time for one last go-round.”

With that, he spun back onto the track. Gearbox and I turned to see the bumper car man on his way back. The La Paloma cigar box was still under his arm but from the way he carried himself we knew it was empty. He smelled of beer and pickled herring. At the sound of footsteps behind him he paused. A glorious woman—tall and graceful with shining body armor—strode past, ignoring him. She jiggled a little but had things generally under control—she did not fall over. The gape-jawed ticket taker made an abrupt U-turn and retraced the dusty path to town.

The woman glided over to us balancing on the balls of her feet, graceful and alert. She stopped in front of us, her hazel eyes misted and compassionate.

“Who are you?” I had to ask but I already knew the answer.

“Me? Why, I am Tyaelaera, Warrior Princess, and the radiance of my face shines like a thousand suns.”

“The bumper cars man saw you but he didn’t see Ted and Sally...”

“Who would want to? I flatter myself that I am the better-looking.” She winked at the two of us. “I knew the Blow-up Play Pal would be stuffed into the hole separating the two pallelisms. This is irrefutable comic book sense. I simply deflated Lovely Linda and popped on through.”


“Some assembly required? No problem,’ to quote the Snap-on Tools catalog. It is better not to question what you don’t understand.”

She turned to the circular raceway where Lord Zorgon was slamming Mo’ron into a retaining wall. “Ted. Sally?” The two looked up and blanched.

“Princess Tyaelaera!”

“Righter of Wrongs, Keeper of the Cauldron of Heaven, etc., etc? Correct, oh dingy one. Your battle fleet, the Perfect Swarm? I shall demonstrate the grace to allow you time to return through the portal and join with them in obliteration, the warrior’s way. And this time be careful about the rug on the way out, there’s good fellows.”

“Rug? But I don’t...” As a smoldering hole opened in the ground, Lord Zorgon flashed through an encyclopedia of hues, finally settling on chartreuse. “How can we ever plan on anything if the rules are always changing?”

“Fiction at work, uncoiling its inscrutable ways, Lord Zorgon,” said Tyaelaera. “Because that’s the way things are, and no mean feat, let me tell you.”

Gearbox leaned over the edge. “What’s down there?”

“Down, up, through... whatever. It’s all the same. And don’t stick your head in. The portal is frisky, unpredictable. You could very well trigger an annihilation.”

“Like kaboom?” said Gearbox.

“Kaboom,” said Princess Tyaelaera.

Gearbox was intrigued. Kaboom, any kaboom, was an interesting possibility and to be investigated.

Tyaelaera knelt in front of Gearbox. “I have put in a good word for you with Father Lumley. However, I do have some sad news. A noseypoke parishioner stumbled on your boob job magazine in his satchel. The good father’s credentials were questioned and he has had to leave the neighborhood.”

“Cool,” said Gearbox.

“But that is new business; we shall finish our old business first.” Tyaelaera hurled a fireball and the bumper car pavilion erupted in a pillar of blue flame. The cries of the Sulunian space commanders ascended skywards, where they dissipated—torn to tatters by an anguished wind. “Ahh... just like in the movies,” said Princess Tyaelaera. Now,” she dusted off her hands. “With Lord Zorgon and the lovely Sally gone...”

“Not so fast. There are some loose ends, I believe.” Gearbox fidgeted and ground a toe in the dust.

“Eye contact please, my dear.” Tyaelaera smiled a radiant smile; she had great teeth, too. “Is this about a particular favor you flimflammed the Sulunian battle lords into? The noösphere is full of unclaimed favors.”

“Sue Ellen, close your ears.” Gearbox beckoned Tyaelaera into a huddle. They seemed to be doing some deep bargaining. Then they spit into their palms and shook hands.

“Sorry,” Gearbox said to me. “Did you feel left out?”

“Yes,” I pouted.

“You’ll thank me for it later.”

I like to think Gearbox presented Tyaelaera with a proposition so reasonable that by the time she was through with her the Warrior Princess felt she had thought of it herself. Gearbox was an operator of considerable skill.

*  *  *

Eventually, Gearbox stopped coming to school. And, after some frantic calls around the neighborhood, her parents seemed to adjust. She grew taller in our movie, fleshed out and rippled with inappropriate clusters of muscles like the overly endowed ladies on the paperback covers.

Gearbox was now Tyaelaera. She moved smoothly but warily, poised and ready for danger from any direction, a true woman warrior. She was my friend and I was happy for her. She was a good kid in spite of herself. And I know the universe is a safer place with Gearbox Barsoomian, Warrior Princess out there on patrol with Nemesis, righting wrongs.

And I never once, not in all the many times I watched Anomaly the movie, saw Gearbox, when she was Tyaelaera, wipe her nose on her sleeve. She was a super hero now. And as such of course couldn’t be bothered to show up and snarf down pizza with me.

copyright 2008, 2015 Rob Hunter

Facelift was first published in the February 2008 Aphelion—the Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Robert Moriyama Short Story Editor.

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