Captain Sirius Driggs pulled his plasma pistol from its holster and thumbed the hammer. The air was thick, both with condensation and tension, but Driggs kept his cool while the patrol of pygmy warriors passed on the other side of the tree line. When they’d disappeared, he let ‘Ol Trusty drop back into its holster and stepped free of the jungle brush. “Shouldn’t be too much further, what does the map say?”
Following a few paces behind him was the only person in all the galaxy Driggs trusted more than the gun at his hip, Astro Pike, his co-pilot and confidant. Stepping from the treeline the shorter man sighed, “Do we really need to use the map? I can see it right over there.” He pointed through a clearing in the trees.
Driggs gasped, leaping behind one of the many ancient stone totems that punctuated the vegetation. “Black holes!” he exclaimed. “It seems my calculations were incorrect, we’re nearly at the gates of Argamel’s stronghold already.”
The Grand Wizard Argamel had stolen away to this inhospitable jungle moon after kidnapping the wise and lovely Imperial Princess Renea just weeks before. Upon hearing the news, Driggs and Pike had wasted no time giving him chase, following his tracks here, to his very doorstep. Now it was time to kick the gate in.
The captain crept closer while Pike hung back, covering the rear. But when they reached the clearing where the Wizard’s crumbling minaret stood, Driggs retreated behind the thick trunk of a jungle tree. Examining the approach to the door of the keep, his fingers wandered back to ‘Ol Trusty. “Alright,” he said, turning to his compatriot. “It looks as though Argamel has used his magic to bend a pack of fang-hounds to his will. One of us is going to have to deal with them while the other hacks the field disruptor. Pick your poison, Pike.”
Fang-hounds were troublesome creatures. They had four mouths, each of which were covered thick with serrated teeth and acidic slobber that could chew clean through titanium. But disabling the field disruptor was just as dangerous, one wrong turn of the maxi-tool and ten-million volts could be boiling your insides. The choice was far from simple, yet not a single line of worry creased Pike’s face as he considered it. “So I either have to chase away the dogs or go poke at that street lamp?” he asked with a sigh.
Driggs’ brow twisted in confusion. “This jungle air must be getting to you, Pike. You’ve fought fang-hounds before, you know they’re much more than domestic mutts.”
Pike scoffed. “Yeah? Well they look like spaniels to me.”
The captain shot a look back to the hounds. They no longer had spikes running down their spines and their four, razor filled mouths had morphed into one. Ones which weren’t filled with razor-like cuspids, but lazy, wagging tongues.
Eyes growing wide, Driggs unholstered his pistol and raised it shakily toward the man beside him. “Some trick of sorcery,” he said. “Tell me imposter, who are you and what have you done with Astro Pike?”
The other man scowled, “Don’t point that at me.”
“I’m sorry,” said Driggs, putting his thumb to the hammer again. “But I can’t afford to take any chance–” The wind left Driggs’ chest as Pike gave him a heavy push, sending him sprawling to the jungle floor.
“My dad was right,” said Pike, wrestling ‘Ol Trusty from his captain’s hand. “Hanging out with you is like begging for an ass-kicking.”
He took the gun then, putting the barrel beneath his boot heel and pulling upward on the grip. The captain shrieked, reaching for his sidearm, but it was too late. It made a sickening crack as it broke, feeding the dirt the invaluable neon plasma that had powered it. Driggs looked back to his partner, stunned into silence.
“You know what’s the craziest part of all this, Cal?” Pike said, staring down at him. “You’re a year older than me. I mean, you’re going to be in high school next year and you still haven’t let go of this—this little kid shit.” He shook his head, then laughing a little, started back toward the trees. “If you get sick of being a dweeb, I’ll be playing football across the street, okay?”
Sirius lay silent and still as he watched his friend disappear into the jungle. When he’d gone out of sight, the captain closed his eyes and the sticky jungle heat began to thin, inching its way to temperance. His eyes blinked open and he saw that the canopy above was much thinner now, as if half the trees had suddenly been weeded away. He propped himself up and blinked again, a handful of totems crumbled to dust before his very eyes. After a few more blinks, Argamel’s stronghold, the last of the trees, and even Driggs’ galvanized titanium plate-mail disappeared, giving way to a jungle-gym, an empty park in Indiana, and a grass stained t-shirt and jeans, respectively. When he blinked a final time, Driggs himself disappeared and Calvin Dodds was lying in the park alone.
He crawled over to where two pieces of wood lay beside them, each one splintered heavily on one end. One was L-shaped, with a clothespin screwed to the top and a place to grip, while the other was long and slender, with grooves down the center that would fit any of the multitude of rubber bands the boy was carrying in his pocket. He picked both of the pieces up, one in each hand and stared down at them. Scrawled across the pieces in messy black marker, was a message that was broken at the center. On one half it read “’Ol,” on the other, “Trusty.”