Mister Arrow had no idea how long he had slept but it had to have been hours. He still felt weak and there was a lot of pain but he could tell that it was healing pain. He yawned, stretched and opened his eyes to find Angel squatting with her hands on her knees smiling at him. “It’s good to see you’re awake.” She leaned over and pulled his cover up from where it had slid down.
“How long?” He asked.
“Almost a day. I’ve so much I want to discuss with you about what’s happened outside of here but we have to build up your strength which means I have to go hunting. You need protein and fats to fuel your recovery.” She got to her feet and took a quiver filled with arrows and a bow down with its string wrapped around the tip. “I should be no more than a couple of hours if I’m lucky.”
She started towards the mouth of the cave and since he could see no gate or door, he called out. “If the demons come back, do you have any extra weapons?”
She looked back and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m leaving you my kitty cat, Snookums.” With a booming flap of her wings she was gone.
“Kitty cat? Snookums?” Mister Arrow sighed. “I wonder what a Snookums is?”
A shadow filled the opening to the cave and a sword-wielding demon stepped through the opening. “Hello, meat.” He raised the sword and howled as he charged.
Mister Arrow scrambled desperately back and then a huge shadow flew over him with a roar that shook the cavern. A huge paw armed with six inch claws batted the demon’s sword away to fall into the valley below. A swipe of a second paw sent the demon screaming out the entrance where his wings boomed in his hasty retreat.
The shadow flicked its tail once and then turned and moved sinuously towards him. As it paced closer Mister Arrow realized that the creature was enormous. It had to weigh at least five hundred pounds. A six foot tail flicked behind it and as it got closer he realized it looked exactly like a Bengal Tiger he had seen in a zoo even down to the stripes except this tiger had fangs like a saber tooth cat. “You must be Snookums. I hope.”
The large tiger sat back on his haunches and licked a massive paw before it looked up at him. “Of course, I’m Snookums. And what are you? Her latest reclamation project?”
“Latest reclamation project? There have been others?”
”Of course. For as long as I’ve known Angel she’s always trying to save everyone. I’m one of her success stories. A nearly storm-drowned kitten nursed back to health. She gave me my freedom. I rejected it. My one goal in life is to protect her even from herself. Remember that and we’ll get along just fine.” A rumbling purr seemed to shake the walls of the cavern.”
“What happened to the others?”
The Tiger regarded him silently for a minute. “In the end they all proved unworthy. Some even professed their undying love for her but in the end when it came down to their freedom or her, they all chose poorly. They revealed themselves as selfish and not worthy of her.”
Mister Arrow frowned. “What happened to them?”
The tiger chuckled. “If you’re asking did I kill them, then you’re asking the wrong question. The question is why it happened to them? In the end it was selfishness. There is only one exit from this land of perdition. It is through the tunnel into the Abyss under Bald Mountain. She and I led them to the final gate and they all passed through leaving her behind alone. As I said, selfish.”
A yellow-haired demoness leaned over a sphere of glowing light that gave her a picture of Mister Arrow and the Tiger. “Be careful, Tiger. We would not want to ruin the surprise.” She leaned back and considered Mister Arrow for a moment. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a skull like that dog alien before.” She looked up a shelves filled with alien skulls. “It’ll be a nice addition to my collection and his spirit will be the last one I need to transform myself into my full glory and rule this whole planet.” She laughed hysterically, sending echoes down the cavern. In the sphere Angel’s shadow appeared.
“Ah.” Said Angel as she came through the entrance of the cave. “I see you met Snookums.” She dropped several vaguely rabbit-like carcasses at the Tiger’s feet. “I brought several carnies. How do you want them prepared?”
Mister Arrow looked at the carnies. “How do you eat them?”
The Tiger snorted. “Raw. We both prefer that. If you want to burn them, go ahead.”
Mister Arrow took a carnie and held it up. “Do you have a knife?” He took the knife she handed him. “Thanks.” He deftly sliced the skin, stripped the fur off, and after sniffing it snipped off a gland near the tail. Using the knife he cut off the legs.
“Now, since you skinned it, I suppose, you’ll burn it?” Growled the Tiger.
“No.” Mister Arrow replied. “I skinned it because I don’t like fur. It gets caught between my teeth.” He took one of the legs and stripped the meat off with a single bite and swallowed it. He looked up as they stared. “What? Did you think I was a barbarian? I always prefer my food raw.”
Angel smiled as she gazed at him and then on hearing a rumble from the Tiger dove into her carnie using another knife. Snookums looked from her, to Mister Arrow, and back again. He shook his head at her expression. “This is going to be a bad one.” He swallowed his carnie in one gulp and reached for another.
“Now, Johnny, can I call you Johnny?” At Mister Arrow’s wave of assent she continued. “I want to hear what’s happened since we crashed here.”
Mister Arrow frowned. “Didn’t the others you helped tell you anything?”
She glared at Snookums. “Someone has a big mouth.” The Tiger just grinned with his tongue lolling out. She turned back to her guest. “What they said didn’t make sense. Some even tried to tell me I was imagining things but I know our history.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you do know?” He replied.
“It was Stardate 203245 and our people had to be moved from our home world by Star Command as our sun was about to go supernova. We packed millions of people, animals and plants on giant liners donated by the Star Federation and set out but on our way we were attacked by the minions of Emperor Zurr and though Buzz Lightyear and his fellow warriors fought hard we were forced to crash here. Commander Lightyear left to get help after seeing we were all safely unloaded but he never came back. At first we struggled to keep up civilization but over the years and the generations we became more and more savage until we live as you see around you. I am one of the few who has refused to give in to the animal side of my being.”
“Now, tell me. What happened? Why did Commander Lightyear never return?”
Mister Arrow sighed. “I never heard of the Star Federation or Star Command, but that is probably because much of our history was lost in the great Collapse. Civilization almost died when hackers spread programming viruses that took out all transportation. This led to starvation and riots. Finally after several centuries, civilization began to rebuild itself. One of the cores of that rebuilding was the planet Albion which had been settled by people from a planet called Great Britain. That’s why we have a space navy called the Admiralty and we are ruled by the Queen of Albion and some say we are a parody of the original British culture. Some even say we came from an almost mythical planet called Earth, but that makes no sense. Why call your planet dirt?”
“I suppose that the Star Federation was one of the pre-collapse civilizations which is why your commander Lightyear never returned. If it’s any consolation apparently this Emperor Zurr never survived either.”
“Thank you.” She said with a smile. “Do you know I had one man come here who tried to tell me that I was a cartoon character for a kiddy show called Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He then went on to declare that the real universe had been ruled by the Imperial Senate before it was overthrown by the Sith who controlled great mental powers. He tried to tell me about star wars, planet sized death stars, and something called the Force which permeated everything.”
“He was nuts.” The Tiger declared. “I should’ve eaten him, especially after he called you imaginary.”
She held out her hands to Mister Arrow. “Do I look make believe to you?”
Mister Arrow sighed. “No. You look very real and you’re…” He paused and swallowed. “Very beautiful.” He shook himself. Why had he said that? He looked at her and suddenly realized that she was smiling so intensely at him that if she had been a sun he would’ve been blinded.
“That did it.” Said Snookums as he got to his feet. “I’ll be outside taking a cold shower. Let me know when you’re ready to be sensible.”
Jim heard the roar of the approaching saucer and then the blast of fire that greeted it from the surrounding streets. He heard the curses that the rebel pirates hurled at it and knew that his father had returned. “It’s my father! Diane, did you find an exit out of here when you were looking around?”
She shook her head and clutched the baby tighter to herself. “We can’t let him have her. Whatever he wants her for can’t be good.”
He began frantically searching the room but only blank walls and blinking consoles greeted his eyes. “Jimmy, what are you looking for so frantically?” Ben Gun asked. “Can I play too?”
“Dammit, Ben. This is no game. We’ve got to get out of here before my father finds us.” He ran around the room opening cabinet doors. “There’s got to be a doorway out of here.” He paused as there was a thud as the saucer landed on the roof. “Dammit, Ben, we’ve got to find an exit.”
“I’m sorry, Jimmy, but there’s only one door here and it leads to the roof.” Ben looked up as loud slam indicated the roof door had been opened. He swallowed hard. “The only thing we have is one of the maintenance tunnels like I took you through before.” He punched a button on the wall and a manhole sized opening formed at his feet. “But it’s not a door….”
He didn’t get to finish as Jim hugged him. “Ben, I don’t know whether to love you or hate you.” He hopped down in the hole and held out his hands for the baby which Diane handed down to him and then hopped in to join him.
Ben sighed. “I guess we could keep looking for a door.” He didn’t get to finish the thought as Jim grabbed him by the foot and jerked him into the hole which irised shut behind them. In the darkness Ben blinked and then his eyes became flashlight beams. He looked at two entrances that gaped before them. “Do you want the one that leads to the street or the one that leads to the forest?”
“The forest.” Jim snapped. “He’d see us on the street and I don’t think we want to go where they’re shooting at anyone who moves.”
Ben scratched his head. “Which one? Which one? Eeny meeny miney moe.”
“Ben!” Jim shouted in frustration. This was just like the last time here, following an insane robot through the tunnels and realizing he only got where he wanted to go by luck alone. “Which tunnel leads to the forest?” Ben just shrugged.
“It’s this one.” Diane strode forward carrying the sleeping baby into the right tunnel. Ben shrugged and hurried ahead to light the way.
“How do you know?” Jim asked her as he hurried after her. “Do you remember something?”
She shook her head. “The left tunnel has the smell of burning insulation and the faint sounds of gunfire. This one has the faint scent of flowers. It seems the obvious choice.”
“Diane, I love you!” He shouted. He stumbled as he realized what he’d just said. She turned her head and gave him a dazzling smile.
“So that’s what love feels like. I think I love you, too.” She said wonderingly and then as the baby sleepily complained she patted it and hurried after Ben Gun. Behind and above them in the lab came a shout of rage.
“He’s a bad man, Jimmy, even if he’s your father.” Ben said.
An hour later they emerged from the tunnel entrance into the frond-waving forest. Strange bird calls greeted them and there were rustlings in the underbrush. Ben looked over at a pool where something like a frog with six legs and a red body covered with brown spots gazed back at him with four eyes. “Where do you want to go now, Jimmy?” Ben asked. The frog thing made a noise that sounded like SPORK.
“I guess we ought to try and join up with Mister Scroop. He’s the only ally we have here. And the baby is going to need food and fresh diapers. I don’t think we’ll find any of that here.”
“That’s not true.” A voice said from behind them. They turned to see a transparent man floating through a tree towards them.
“A ghost!” Screamed Ben Gun and put his fingers over his eyes. Jim and Diane drew back a step.
“Nonsense.” The man replied. He put his hands on his hips. “Just an astral projection.” Now that he had stopped moving they could see that he was wearing a cape with rising horns at the shoulders. He was dressed in tights and a large jewel-like object winked at them from his chest. His face was narrow and he had a small mustache. He bowed. “My name is Doctor Strange and I’m here to help you.”
Ben frowned. “Doctor Strange? You’re a side show magician from the Marvel World in the Park. Aren’t you?”
“Actually, the title is Sorcerer Supreme.” The image replied.
“That sounds like a desert like cheery jubilee.” Ben replied and received a glare in return from the image.
“Ben, how much do you know about him?” Jim asked. He didn’t like the way Strange was staring at Ben. Obviously, the man had no sense of humor.
“He’s the master of magic in the Marvel Universe but he never really caught on as a main character unlike the Hulk and the others, so he was made a side show.” Ben shrugged. “He doesn’t really command any magic. The astral projection is just a trumped up imaging trick.”
If Strange had been glaring before, he was positively furious now. “Cross the barrier you moronic metal trash can if you dare and I’ll show you what I can do.”
“Doctor.” Said Diane. “What did you mean you could help us?” She gave Ben a glare which set him mumbling to himself.
Doctor Strange shook himself. “Forgive me. I obviously need to spend more time meditating. I am here to both help and warn you. The Park is breaking down. Without intelligent guidance except for computers things have been allowed to change in manners that were never intended. You, Diane, are a perfect example. Due to programming changes induced by chance or design you a computer program have become one hundred percent human. Other beings who were computer designed and automated like myself have reached a point in our changes that we are becoming independent of the Park restrictions. We are becoming aware. And with that awareness we see the destruction of the Park coming.
“The Park still holds control but that is about to collapse in chaos as one of the Park villains has been able to breach the barriers surrounding the Park. She is trying to get free of the planet and rule everything.”
Ben laughed. “Come on, Cheery Jubilee. That’s impossible. No one can cross the barrier.”
Doctor Strange started to make a gesture and then dropped his hand by his side. “The barrier has already been breached, you metal moron and not just by the villainess. My projection is getting through and so has Kitty Pryde of the X-Men who can phase through matter. She is right now with Dago Flint raising a rebellion to stop Nathaniel Flint who is a puppet for Ursula, the Sea Witch.”
Ben scoffed. “The Sea Witch? She has less powers than Malificent or the Snow White Witch. You don’t know what you’re talking about. She couldn’t breach the barrier, especially since magic does not exist.”
“You’re so wrong, you overconfident metal idiot.” Strange snarled. “She was the only villainess whose powers were based not on magic but on chemistry, genetics, and physics. She figured things out very quickly once she realized how to gain access to the Park database through the Kiosks by making them think she was a Park Visitor. The Abes are not favored for their intelligence. When she had learned enough she just transformed herself and walked out as if she were a visitor carrying her minions in a shielded case. She then tapped into the computers and began to reprogram them. Flint’s arrival caught her by surprise and she was not prepared to stop young Jim here but she didn’t consider it a failure as she learned a lot and set her plans in motion to unleash Flint and his minions with their ultimate weapons on an unsuspecting universe. She plans to set up Flint as Galactic Emperor with herself ruling behind the throne.”
“This just gets better and better.” Jim griped. “Now we have to fight an insane Sea Witch who has control of the computers.”
“She doesn’t have complete control yet, young Hawkins. But once she gets the weapons she has the computers forge for her it won’t matter. The only thing stopping her is that you have the key which has not activated yet. Once it does, she’ll swoop down, kill you, reprogram the key and give Flint his heart’s desire.”
“Then we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t get the key.” Jim snarled.
Ben sighed. “It’s too bad, Jimmy, we don’t have a convenient volcano to throw it in.”
“Yeah.” Jim replied. “That only happens in fantasies, not real life. Diane, is there any way to destroy the key?”
“None that I know of, sorry.” She sighed as she rocked the baby. “You have to remember it survived the nuclear explosions that ended the last game. I don’t think it can be destroyed by any force we know of. Unless someone can reprogram the Master Computer to allow it.”
Doctor Strange suddenly smiled. “We may have someone who can reprogram them or failing that phase through them and destroy them, Kitty Pryde.”
“No!” Said Diane. “Shutting down the Master Computer will cause everything to collapse in chaos. It may just give Ursula exactly what she wants.”
Doctor Strange shrugged. “Then we’ll just have to reprogram them.” He looked up and smiled. “Aha, I see your ride to Dago’s camp has arrived.” As they turned to watch a scooner land, he said. “While we’ve been talking I had our location transmitted to the camp. I will see you there later.” He winked out.
A young woman with her brown hair tied up in a ponytail and a small grey dragon sitting on her shoulder said to them from behind the wheel. “Hi. I’m Kitty Pryde and I’m your ride back to camp.”
Jim held the baby while Diane climbed in and Ben fell over the rail. “I think you’re more than that.” He said to Kitty. “You may be our salvation.”