CHAPTER THREE: The Wrong End of the Beast
When I pulled that silver lever, it was like being sucked right into God's cosmic vacuum cleaner. What a brain buzz! I spun through a sea of pulsing rainbow colour, past dimly remembered swirls of memory, right through the raw ingredients of the universe itself (or something else quite big). Just when I realised I could breathe without dying on my first flight with Zap Airlines, the in-flight show suddenly ended.
I was hovering, blue sky all around. I began to drop.
Before I could emit a startled burp, I landed on something big, soft and furry. And alive! Whatever it was let out a loud grunt of surprise. Next, it began to run! I hadn't flown across the universe! All I'd done was land on some stupid farmer's stupid horse!
The nag charged down a field, faster and faster. I hung onto the only thing I could hang onto: the beast's gross, black-haired tail. Yes, that's right, I was facing backwards, and worse, I was RIDING BACKWARDS!
I turned around to see where we were racing. Then I did the only logical thing I could do. I screamed! A small, colourful fence loomed ahead. Did the big-butted brute plan to jump? If only horses had an 'Off' button. But since they don't, and for lack of a better idea, I shrieked:
Right before the jump, the horrid horse pulled up. Unfortunately, I did not. Because of the dumb law of momentum, I flew backwards off Horsebum (good riddance) and soared over the fence before angling down on the far side (according to the dumber law of gravity), crash-landing bum first in a pond.
'Gross!' I cried as the foul brown water splashed and soaked into my clothes.
'Ow!' I groaned as my bum landed and I began to slide across the slimy bottom.
'Oops,' I moaned when I finally stopped and looked over one shoulder at the wet and fizzing zapporter. So I was bruised, slimed, in serious trouble with my dad and a long way from that Noble Prize.
Lush pastures and horse jumps surrounded me, a postcard-perfect rural scene. I hated postcard-perfect rural scenes. Behind me, much more interesting, a huge castle hogged the skyline. It glistened with gold, like something out of a fairy tale freshly burst to life…
A movement caught my good eye. Oh. It was just Horsehead the Braindead, standing beside my pond as if it was checking out my wet and humiliating situation. As if. The beast almost seemed to be… smiling.
'You horse-brained horse!' I yelled in frustration. 'Why did you stop?'
'Well,' the thing whinnied, 'you asked me to stop!'
'I… you…' I spluttered. 'Spoke… just…'
'My name is Franklin.' The horror reached out a long black leg to help me up. 'I'm sorry I ran, and sorrier that you fell off. But you startled me when you landed on my back. I do hope your fall didn't cause that black eye.'
'I startled YOU? And yeah, um… you did cause my black eye, you bully!' I pushed aside his big hoof-smelling hoof and stood up on my own. This made no sense. 'How come you can speak Australian?' I demanded.
The horse replied with a faint smile, 'How come you can speak Uponian?'
'I didn't know I did.' I rubbed my chin. 'What are you really? Two midgets in a horse suit?? An android??? A late April Fool's hologram???? There must be a tape recorder stuck down your throat!'
I grabbed the fake nag by its fake head and wrenched open its big fake mouth. Ignoring the drool dribbling down my fingers, I peered down its dark, stinky throat, but all I could see were lots of big, squared-off teeth and a few stray lumps of… pumpkin pie? Pyew, sure stank of pumpkin pie too! I stepped back and looked suspiciously at this freak Franklin. He had a mean face, like one of Uncle Bob's crazy horses. I didn't like his black hair either, or the too-cute white diamond on his chest. Only a fool would trust this… Franklinstein. Talking horses just weren't natural.
'Waitaminute!' I suddenly beamed. 'If you're really a talking horse, then that must mean…' My head whirred. 'Where am I? Is this still Australia?? Still Planet Earth???'
'Arse-trailer?' The stallion snorted. 'Earth? What odd names. This is Uponia, the Planet of Ponies and People, pronounced 'You-Pony-Aaah.' Surely you must know th-'
'Yesss!' I cried and punched the air. 'I've done it! I've zapped space! Hello No-bell!' I would've danced a lot more, but I felt a bit embarrassed splashing around in a pond with a stupid horse looking on. I had to remember my mission.
In my most sensible, Organised voice, I said, 'I'm Erasmus. Who's in charge on this planet? (Please, please be a human.)'
Hagar-head horse smiled. 'The ruler in charge of this planet is indeed a human. He is the king who owns this equestrian arena, my lord and master. For I am Franklin, the King's Prime E-'
'Yeah, yeah, I get you. Now get me. TAKE. ME. TO. YOUR. LEADER!'
'You wish to meet King Reginald?'
'Do I have to ask 99 times? Look, I'm a very important ambassador. I'm on a mission, and time is money. So shake those groove hooves!'
'Climb onto my back,' laughed Franklin. 'We shall ride to the King!'
'I'd rather walk. I know your type, Fur Face. You just go announce my arrival. Remember to say what a mega day this is for your backwater world!'
CHAPTER FOUR: Doing The Royal Haggle
The king's throne room was so big, you could've fit a Tyrannosaurus Rex footy tournament in there. It was lit by hundreds of weird looking, mutated chickens holding light bulbs in their beaks. An honour guard of horses stood fanned out from the king's throne, which rose up on a stepped podium, as if the king was on sale. I was almost glad Franklin had insisted I dry off first. I'd also changed into my party shirt with the barbecued cats design, so everyone would take me seriously.
All eyes were on me as I approached, and there were some pretty weird eyes present. A dozen fancily dressed humans surrounded the king, all on their knees. As I drew closer, I realised the king's throne was made of several interwoven people, dressed in cloth of dazzling gold. The king clearly had an ego problem, but who could blame him? He was quite handsome, with a full head of wavy hair beneath his crown (unlike my mad dad). Here was someone I could deal with. Someone rich (and not a horse).
I spoke up in my boldest voice. 'I see you are a king with a taste for funky chairs!'
'Indeed,' the king boomed. 'I am King Reginald the Seventy-seventh, Ruler of Uponia from the foothills of the Bloodhorse Mountains to the farthest beach in Seahorsia, Conqueror of the Trots Flats and several bits of the eastern territories, heir of the late lamented Reginald the Seventy-sixth and Monarch of Just About Everything.'
'G'day,' I replied. 'I am Erasmus E. James the First, uh… Ambassador of the Planet Earth, er… Ruler of my bedroom from the door knob to the farthest cupboard, um… Conqueror of 76 computer games, Emperor of science projects, all-round child genius, heir of the dog and, ah… I'm a prince too. Really. And I have come to haggle business.'
'Fabulous!' King Reginald laughed. 'You speak boldly, young ambassador. I am not used to such language from my own subjects, which confirms you may indeed be from another planet. Yet what is this business of which you speak?'
'Trade,' I smiled. 'The machine that I must use to return to my planet has been damaged. I need it repaired.' From my backpack, I removed the zapporter. It dribbled brown pond water onto the golden tiles and spat a few sparks.
'Hmm.' The King clapped his hands. A magpie-faced man in a blue cloak appeared from behind the throne. 'This is Lord Whizman, head of my Inventions Department. He can repair your trinket, I am certain.'
Whizman snaked forward to paw at my dad's invention. 'This is surprisingly advanced,' he muttered. 'And very wet. The whole machine will need to be taken apart and dried before we can even look at the problem. Could take weeks of valuable time. Expensive job. Very expensive.'
'Expensive,' repeated the King to me. 'And what have you to offer in return, Ambassador Prince Erasmus?'
'Inventions!' I replied. 'You see, I'm an inventor too! I have plans for many useful things here with me.' I pulled out the schematics from my waterproof folder. 'How about a microwave oven?'
King Reginald shook his head. 'Uponia is a very advanced world. I doubt you could have any inventions we might need.'
'Yeah, right,' I scoffed and looked around at the chook raffle refugee lighting system and the retro horsey fashions. 'You probably haven't even discovered broadband yet!'
I tried a different sales pitch. 'What about a solar powered umbrella? Or a wallaby wheelchair?? Every kingdom needs one of those. Or, um… a solid plastic container of genuine Vietnamese food???'
But the King shook his head at everything I suggested. I guess to him my inventions were just dumb words he'd never heard of (like floofyxzwackqwok might sound to us Earthlings). The King's lackeys were beginning to mutter. I needed to actually demonstrate something…
'Try this!' I ran up the podium and handed the King my LameBoy. 'My favourite is the game up now: Drag Drag Freak Racer. It has an excellent selection of super souped-up cars driven by some crazy but stylish transvestites.'
The King gave me a puzzled look. 'What are these… cars… of which you speak?'
'Check out the game.' I pointed to the LameBoy in his hands. 'It won't bite. Yeah, that's it. Press the Y button with your thumb. Now select your drag racer and ball gown using the Z button with your other thumb. Yeah, you're on it. Nice matching combo. Now you're on the starting line. Don't forget your seat belt. Starting flag… Go! Cool, now you're a real drag queen king racing a freaky drag drag racer! Not too fast into the corner… Ooh, you took out that granny! Wooh, you took out those biker police!! Woohoo, you took out your own car!?! Nice gruesome crash. Warned you about the seatbelt.'
Then it hit me… the stenchy stench of too many horses in one throne room (I felt like throne up). This dumb planet mustn't even have cars yet! I chuckled and pulled out my plans for a Holdent Model EH from the year my dad was born. This was my last chance, so I grabbed it.
'I hold here the plans for a car! A REAL car. Just like this LameBoy game, but no game! On my planet, everyone owns a car, except the financially challenged. The reason is simple. Cars are FAST! Many times faster than the fastest horse. And this invention never tires. All the best planets have cars. Of course, you'll need to master steel, rubber and chrome production, and build a few factories and discover oil and probably upgrade your roads, but it'll all be worthwhile, especially if you're into speed and efficiency. So how about it, King Reg? Are you a dull old school horse hauler, or a cool new school King of Cars?? Have we a deal???'
Every lackey, horse, mutant chook and Aussie boy in that throne room held their breath and waited for the King's reply.
'Throne room to King Reg?' I asked again. 'Hello? There's too much blue-faced breath-holding going on out here.'
But the King didn't seem to be listening. He was concentrating too hard on something else… a certain electronic game in his lap. I was used to my dad being lost in his work, so I knew just what to do. I stood right next to the King and bellowed, 'HAVE WE A DEAL?'
That did the trick. Reg almost fell off his throne. His human armrests began to snigger, but just as quickly stopped.
'What? Oh, yes.' The King recovered his composure (and his throne). 'Yes, of course I accept your trade. In exchange for the plans to build a car, you will be my honoured guest until my inventing team has repaired your… other gizmo.'
'Done,' I said, and handed him the EH car plans.
'Excuse me, sire,' interrupted Whizman, notepad in hand. 'But how do you spell car?'
'Dolt!' sneered Reg. 'Of course it's car: K. A. R!'
I opened my mouth to correct him before deciding, well, what's the point of being absolute boss if you can't impose a little zany spelling? (And a deal is a deal is a deal.)
King Reg turned back to me. 'Now, I propose a further trade.'
The King held up my LameBoy. 'This kar racing game is… somewhat addictive.'
'Tell me about it,' I smirked. 'You know, those things are expensive where I come from.'
'Of that I am certain,' declared the King. 'Hmm. How does this trade sound? I keep the LameBoy with its… Freak Freak… Drag Racer game, while you return to your home planet carrying your own body weight in gold pyramids?'
'Yeeh…' I gasped.
'Double your weight in gold!' The King boomed.
'Wooh…' My heart thudded.
'Quadruple your weight in gold!' The King rose to his feet and thundered, 'My final offer!'
'Erh… Sold!' I croaked. 'Sold to the king with an eye for a bargain! I'll, um, even throw in all these other plans.' Whizman scuttled out and gathered up my pile of schematics.
I took a deep breath and gazed around the mighty throne room. If only I'd brought a video camera to record this historic moment. For who would ever have thought I'd end up here (wherever here was): the focus of a whole planet's attention? That I'd become a brilliant inventor who really can make a difference, actually improve a world for the better? Be a hero! A friend of royalty! Be popular, with a name revered, not mocked (and bashed), plus make a tidy gold profit to boot! Was this, like… Reverse Earth?
'Fabulously fabulous!' Reginald sat back down. 'By the way, what is your top score?'
'Five billion,' I couldn't help but boast. 'I've clocked FFDR and mastered every track.'
The King looked angry, but only for a second. 'You have presented both myself and my inventing team with great challenges this day, Prince Erasmus. In the meantime, while we attend to your repairs and organise your gold, perhaps you might like a brief tour of our fair planet? If you desire, I can organise the fastest transport in the land to take you via the Trans-Uponian Highway to see the Great Wonder of Uponia.'
'Why not?' I shrugged. 'Sounds like I've some time to torture.'
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