Evil Appliances and the Three Fridges of Fate
by Chris Hugh
"Fire!" someone shouted and the word echoed in Oroka's sleeping mind.
Not fire, she thought in her dream. Darkness. Suffocation. All her precautions had failed her, just as she knew they would. She groaned in her sleep. The dream was terrifyingly real: she was stuffed in a refrigerator, like so many female comic heroines before her. She'd known this would be her destiny the moment she lost her powers. That was the day she stopped being a Manga Magical Girlfriend and became a Disposable Romantic Interest.
"Fire!" the voice cried again. Oroka's dream shifted. Was she at the gun range? She spent hours there every week, honing her skills in a hopeless effort to escape her fate. Or did she have heartburn? All the takeout meals took their toll. She hadn't set foot in the kitchen, not once since she and her boyfriend moved to the United States.
Something landed on the bed next to Oroka and broke the dream. She smiled in her sleep. It was Mr. Kitten, her magical cat. Then she frowned as she began to wake up. No, it couldn't be. Taikutsu had insisted they leave the cat behind in Japan. Now he worked as a robotics scientist on a top-secret project, and she spent her days alone, trying to survive.
Oroka finally opened her eyes. Her best friend Nakama was shaking her and a faint acrid smell stung her nose. "We have to do something!" Nakama cried. Oroka started to get up. "I think the smoke's coming from the kitchen!"
Oroka froze. The image of the stainless steel side-by-side fridge loomed in her mind. "No," she whispered. "Not the kitchen."
"Come on, Oroka" Nakama said consolingly. "Don't be afraid. No one's going to lock us in your refrigerator. I noticed it's a Maytag," she said with false cheer. "Your kitchen is probably just on fire." 1.6 millions Maytag refrigerators were the subject of a recall due to fire hazard. Oroka relaxed a bit. "Maybe it's even not that," Nakama continued. "Maybe it's your Maytag dishwasher." 1.7 million Maytag dishwashers were subject to a separate recall, again due to their propensity to catch fire in the middle of the night. Oroka wavered.
Nakama put her hand on her friend's shoulder. "Oroka, I know you're scared but you've got to spring into action! Get ahold of yourself. What would Blondhilda do?"
Oroka closed her eyes and thought of Blondhilda the Warrior Goddess, the greatest and most buxom of all the gods in the comic hero pantheon. Written and drawn by Stanley Chester Brown, Blondhilda was invincible. Her power was as vast as her armored bosom. Her courage as deep as her cleavage. Oroka thought of Blondhilda and steeled herself. She squared her shoulders and tugged on her plaid school backpack. "Okay," she whispered. Then louder, "Blondhilda wouldn't cower in her bed while the kitchen was on fire. Let's investigate." This was the moment she'd been preparing for. She sniffed at the burning plastic smell. "And we'd better open some windows."
* * *
Ten minutes later a trickle of water brought Oroka and Nakama back to consciousness. Eerie light floated through the circular window and a stuffy smell filled their noses. The fridge's mechanism had flashed into flame and then sputtered out, but that wasn't the only danger. Intruders had been lurking. When the girls walked into the kitchen, they knocked them unconscious and locked them in Oroka's Maytag Neptune Washer (which was also subject to a recall but at least wasn't currently on fire). "Maybe Taikutsu will come home and save us," Nakama burbled.
"No, he works all night," Oroka said, twisting about. "We'll drown before he gets home!"
"What are we going to do?" Nakama cried, smacking her head on a moldy gasket as the water reached the girls' shoulders.
"Hold on, I've been preparing-" Oroka grunted.
"Hurry!" An exclamation point appeared over Nakama's head and a blue stripe of annoyance appeared across her face although it wasn't easily visible in the dim light. She made her voice extra snippy to compensate. "Your gigantic school backpack is digging into my ribs," she gasped, struggling to keep her head above water. "You've been out of school for like six years. Nostalgic much?"
"Not nostalgia," Oroka said through clenched teeth, pulling the backpack off and taking out her self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA). "Self preservation." She handed Nakama the regulator and then took a breath herself. "Get ready!" Oroka cried, pulling out her oxy-acetylene torch and lighting it in the last bit of free airspace. She also took out her M16A2 rifle and set it on three-round-burst. "I want to be ready for anything once I get this door open."
* * *
Nakama climbed out the hole in the top of the washer while Oroka stood guard. "Careful of the edges; they're still hot."
"Okay," Nakama said, splashing pertly to her feet and bowing to her friend. "Thank you for saving us," she giggled. Both girls' babydoll-style pajamas were plastered to their thin-yet-shapely frames. "You are like most honorable MacGyver-san." She frowned as she surveyed the bodies of the gunmen scattered about the kitchen. She tilted her head at her friend, raised one eyebrow and a question mark appeared over her head. She hadn't heard any gunshots.
"Kidney failure. Acute cadmium poisoning." Oroka explained shortly, poking one of them in the ribs with her foot. A McDonald's Shrek glasses rolled out of his hand. "Hmm," she said leaning over extravagantly and examining the badge on one of the dead men. "They came from TC Enterprises. That's where Taikutsu works."
"We'd better go and check on him," Nakama said.
"Kuso," Oroka swore, surveying the smoking remains of her kitchen. "I don't know whether I'm more afraid of my enemies or my appliances. She looked at the laundry alcove. "Let's get out of here before the dryer explodes."
* * *
Oroka and Nakama ran through the abandoned halls of TC Enterprises. Utterly vacant. Finally they found a beautiful woman splayed in the company's main conference room. "Hello!" Oroka cried. "Where is everybody?"
"I'm so happy to see you, dear," the woman said without looking at them. She had luxurious blond hair, flawless skin and dead eyes.
"I'm looking for my boyfriend, Taikutsu," Oroka said. The woman remained silent, staring fixedly into space. Oroka repeated, "Taikutsu."
"You're cute too," she finally replied.
Nakama strode up to the motionless woman and put her hands on her hips, thrusting out her modest chest. "This is urgent!" she cried. "Urgent!"
"Virgin," the woman said, her mouth unmoving. "Virgin personality loaded. Hello, I'm Sandy, the randy android prototype. Welcome to TC Enterprises, your premier American sex robot manufacturer." The girls looked at each other and a question mark appeared in the space between them. A vein in Oroka's forehead began to throb.
Suddenly, they heard an engine start. They ran though the building and outside to what looked like a small private airport. A plane marked "Refrigerated Air Transport" was taxiing out of a hangar and turning into position to take off. In the still-open rear bay door the girls could see Taikutsu's terrified face.
* * *
The girls ran after the plane, their nubile breasts bouncing more than mere physics would have predicted. Taikutsu shrank against the inside of aircraft, rigid with fear. "Jump!" Oroka cried. "Jump!"
Taikutsu's face turned completely blue with terror. Once aloft he would be completely at the mercy of his kidnappers, but he could not make himself jump. His eyes grew impossibly large. Oroka could hear the plane's engines gunning, preparing for takeoff. The automated rear door began to close.
There was nothing else to do. With a final burst of speed, Oroka jumped aboard, then reached back and grabbed Nakama just as the plane sped up to where even a Manga heroine couldn't catch up with it.
* * *
"Brrrr" Nakama said, looking around the refrigerated cargo area of the aircraft. "It's cold in here." The front of her blouse underscored her meaning.
Oroka cradled Taikutsu's head in her arms. "Are you alright, darling? Are you hurt?" she cried. The plane climbed, banked, then leveled out.
"Yes, thank goodness, I'm fine," Taikutsu gasped, reaching into his pocket to pull out a comb. He stared about distractedly, smoothing his hair as Oroka told him about the girl's near escape in the kitchen. Suddenly, he seemed to notice her. "Why did you take so long to save me? When we were in school, you saved my life a thousand times and never made me wait like this."
"Did you hear what I was telling you?" she asked, keeping her voice carefully neutral.
He opened his mouth to reply, then stopped aghast. Oroka was dressed in torn, wet pajamas with welding glasses handing from her neck and a machine gun slung from her shoulder. Rapidly-darkening bruises covered her arms and legs; her long brown hair hung down in limp clumps. Taikutsu looked her up and down with alarm. "You look very unattractive right now," he finally said.
Oroka's narrowed her eyes and her facial features shrank. Small beads of sweat appeared around her and an unflattering vein in her forehead began to throb. She took an exaggerated breath and began to offer an opinion of her boyfriend's sensitivity just as a large man burst into the compartment with an AK-47.
"Aii-yaa!" he screamed, firing at random as Nakama kicked him in the side.
"You are a very bad boyfriend! You don't even say thank you for all the times I saved your life!" Oroka screamed at her boyfriend.
"Take that!" Nakama screamed at the gunman.
Taikutsu cowered and Nakama flipped in the air, narrowly missing the low ceiling and landing on the other side of the gunman. She kicked him in the back and he staggered against the wall of the fuselage, the rifle loose in his hand. Nakama tore it from him.
Turbulence rocked the plane. Taikutsu fell onto his back, his legs curled up, his arms over his face. Nakama wobbled and the gunman fell onto her, pinning her gun arm against the floor with one hand, squeezing her neck with the other.
Oroka swayed a bit, her hands on her hips as she shouted at Taikutsu. "And worst of all, you didn't let me bring Mr. Kitten with us!" She straightened her arms beside her and fisted her little hands. "I'm very angry!" she concluded, grabbing gunman and breaking him across her knee. She looked from the dead assailant to her boyfriend and gave them the same disgusted look. Then she stamped her foot onto the stock of the AK-47; it flicked up and popped into her hands. She tossed it to Nakama who caught it smartly and held it at port arms. Oroka made a dusting motion with her hands. "Let's go talk to the pilot," she growled.
* * *
Taikutsu, Nakama and Oroka stood in the doorway of the empty cockpit. The dead gunman was the pilot. "Kuso," Oroka swore. They all reflected on that.
Oroka walked slowly to the instrument panel. The autopilot light was on. In the far distance they could see an airport. Oroka's heart flooded with hope. They were safe; the autopilot would keep the plane in the sky for now, and someone in the airport's control tower could talk them down. Then Oroka saw Nakama's hand slowly reach toward the radio, trembling, and her heart sank. A stray bullet had destroyed it. There was no one on board competent to land the plane, and there was no way to communicate with tower. Oroka slumped into the pilot's seat. A strident electronic beep rang through the cockpit.
* * *
Oroka pulled her cell phone out of her backpack and Oroka and Nakama leaned over to read the text message as Taikutsu buried his face in his hands. It was in LOLspeak, the idiosyncratic language of funny Internet cats: U CAN HAS CLEAR TO APPROACH. PLZ TO EASE BACK ON THROTTLE, LOWR LANDING GEAR N PREPARES TO ENGAGE REVERSE THRUST ON TOUCHDOWN. KTHXBYE. Nakama bounced up and down and both girls clapped their hands happily and cried, "It's Mr. Kitten!" Even Taikutsu smiled.
* * *
Ten minutes later Oroka's phone beeped again and she looked at Mr. Kitten's second text message: AFTER LANDS, PLZ TO WATCH OUTS FOR EVIL HOOMANS. She rolled her eyes as she marched with Nakama and Taikutsu, at gunpoint, into a large building on the airfield. She kicked a small rock out of her way and cursed poor cellphone service and delayed messages.
Their assailants shoved them into the building and locked the door. It looked like a normal Quonset hut, metal and shaped like a giant can of beans sliced vertically and placed sideways on the ground, but huge refrigeration units had turned it into a gigantic freezer. A modestly-dressed blond woman was in the corner, burning junk mail for warmth, and ministering to a short, bespectacled man. She seemed familiar.
Oroka drew closer as Nakama examined their prison, checking for weaknesses. Taikutsu poked around aimlessly.
"Blondhilda?" Oroka asked, her breath puffing out white in the frigid air. She gasped when the tired, weak-looking woman nodded. How could it be? Blondhilda was indomitable. Her fighting skills were as tight as her miniskirted warrior armor. Her wits as sharp as her 5-inch-high dagger-heeled thigh-high battle boots. What could have happened? What was she doing here? Why was she dressed like that?
Blondhilda understood the unspoken questions. She huddled against the man and explained. "This is Stanley Chester Brown, my creator. He is delirious from the cold and doesn't believe in me right now. His belief created me and when he loses that belief, I become-" she gestured to her stringy hair, beige suit and orthopedic shoes "-diminished. It's happened before."
Nakama came and stood beside Oroka. She shook her head; there was no escape; the Quonset hut's walls were reinforced steel, its doors solidly locked.
A dark furry lump on Stanley's chest shifted and Oroka jumped. A wan smile lit Blondhilda's face. "This is another celebrity," she said.
Nakama took a step closer. "I don't believe it. Could it be? Is that...Twitch?" The black cat blinked at her levelly with jade green eyes and began kneading Stanley's chest.
Blondhilda nodded as she put more junk mail onto her little fire. The famous LOLcat had been pictured in the best-selling Icanhascheezburger LOLcat book, How to Take Over Teh Wurld.
The girls gazed at the renowned feline; then, at his silent command, they both fell to petting him.
"Twitch belongs to my lord, Stanley Chester Brown," Blondhilda said. "Although famed for his wit and beauty, most people don't know that Twitch was also the inspiration for Stanley Chester Brown becoming a world-famous author."
"I never knew that," Oroka breathed.
Blondhilda coughed a little and hugged Stanley tighter as he shivered. "Back in the mists of time, my Stanley worked as a lowly temp attorney and did but write on the side. Twitch shot to fame and glory, but their home still suffered from a lack of gold."
Taikutsu wandered up. "You mean Stanley Chester Brown was motivated to actively his market short stories because his cat was on the New York Times Bestseller's List and he still hadn't gotten a single thing published?" he asked.
"No," Blondhilda replied with a withering glance. The idea of jealousy staining Stanley Chester Brown's noble heart repulsed her. "Twitch is subject to feline lower urinary tract disease and gets struvite in his urine. My Stanley was motivated to make more money to keep up with the vet bills."
Oroka tilted her head to the side and light glinted off her limpid brown eyes. She was thinking of an old episode of Star Trek where Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk escaped imprisonment by using a crystal to create a laser to cut through their steel bars. She leaned her chin against her right hand for a moment; Twitch stared at it pointedly. Oroka shook herself and resumed petting the cat with both hands.
Taikutsu shambled off.
Blondhilda picked up another piece of junk mail, an ad for a correspondence school, and looked at Oroka. "I remember you. You were a Manga character of great power. You used to have school erasers that would turn evildoers into plush toys. What happened?"
"After I wasn't in school anymore, magic erasers no longer appeared in my backpack," Oroka answered sadly, fingering her ratty backpack. Their assailants had divested it of everything but an old hairbrush and some gum wrappers. Blondhilda looked at the junk mail in her hand and back to Oroka.
"Did you say your erasers disappeared after you finished school?" she asked. Oroka nodded. A lightbulb appeared over Blondhilda's head.
Oroka started and looked from Twitch to Blondhilda. "Did you say Twitch's urine has struvite crystals?" she asked. Blondhilda nodded. A lightbulb appeared over Oroka's head.
* * *
Two hours later, all of them were back at TC Enterprises. Using Twitch's crystals, Oroka had created a laser and cut their way through the side of the deathly freezer. Meanwhile, Blondhilda had filled out the paperwork for Oroka's correspondence course; as soon as it was completed, her backpack had been instantly replenished with magical erasers. Nakama kept Taikutsu out of trouble while Oroka reduced all the evil guards to cute plush toys. Released from the freezing Quonset hut, Stanley Chester Brown regained his senses and Blondhilda regained her glory.
Now Blondhilda stood resplendent in the TC Enterprises conference room. A chill wind dramatically blew back her waist-length flaxen hair. A pale light illuminated her skin-tight battle bodice and scanty armor. Her Sword of Transportation and Truth had transported them back to the main conference room; now she was using the Sword to extract the truth from Taikutsu. The sex robot with the imperfect speech recognition slumped in the corner.
"Make a clean breast of it," Blondhilda commanded, pointing the sword at Taikutsu. "Speak not with a forked tongue!"
Sandy the randy android cleared its throat. Nakama shut it off before it could say anything.
"I simply could not live with the shame." Taikutsu hung his head.
"Of course you were ashamed to be making such a disgusting device," Oroka said.
Taikutsu looked up, his anguished face confused. "No, I was ashamed that America was making a better sex robot than Japan." He sniffed a bit with wounded nationalistic pride and continued. "I was selling TC Enterprises' secrets to a Japanese manufacturer. That's why Oroka, Nakama and I were targeted."
Stanley Chester Brown hard stared at him and made a rolling motion with his hand to invite further explanation. Taikutsu turned to Oroka. "Um," he coughed. "Love robots often have very beautiful faces, including sometimes faces of Manga or Anime characters..."
Oroka took a step back, a blue stripe of indignation appearing across her face, her forehead vein pounding. Stanley put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "They targeted me because I was enforcing my copyrights," he said explained.
Oroka's mouth hung open as she processed what she heard. Taikutsu had used Oroka's face for one of the robot models. And yet, the great graphic artist had said he was enforcing his copyrights. That could only mean one thing. Oroka's brown eyes welled with tears of gratitude. She turned to Stanley Chester Brown and placed her hands on the fronts of her thighs and bowed deeply. "Brown-san has bought my rights?" she asked him.
"Yes," Stanley said. "I'm going to draw you from now on." He smiled. He'd always admired Oroka. Now he'd make sure she was always safe and powerful and drawn with at least a modicum of sensitivity. He gave her a fatherly hug and Blondhilda beamed.
Nakama clasped her hands together, bounced up and down and gave her best friend a hug.
"Let's take Taikutsu back to Japan," Stanley said.
* * *
Blondhilda and Oroka leaned back in their leather chairs, sipped champagne and looked out over the lights of Tokyo 20,000 feet below. Nakama pulled the door of the airplane closed and ran to one of the portholes to wave goodbye to Taikutsu.
"Well," Stanley said from the pilot's seat of his Learjet. "I think we'd better give you some new names. Oroka's too silly a name for a hero like you. And Nakama, I think you need a new name too."
The girls giggled excitedly. Blondhilda turned to Nakama. "I admired the method you used to encourage Taikutsu to deplane just now. What would you think of the name 'Sidekick?'" Nakama, now Sidekick, jumped around the plane, practicing martial arts moves. "I love it!"
"And what about you?" Blondhilda asked Oroka.
"Well," she said. Oroka reflected on the night's adventure, from waking up to a smoking refrigerator to losing her boyfriend to an overblown sex aid. "I've learned today how evil technology can be when it's used irresponsibly. Not only can appliances be hazardous when they're manufactured poorly, but some people might even use them to take the place of normal relationships." Oroka was now properly dressed in Mary Janes, over-the-knee striped socks, a miniskirt and a cropped shirt with a maritime theme. "I idolize Hello Kitty and I revere Sailor Moon," she said thoughtfully. Then she stood up, legs shoulder width apart, hands on hips. "I choose a name that honors both my heroes," she announced, "a name that celebrates the spirit of human friendliness and interaction." A soft light glinted off her huge brown eyes and an unexpected breeze threw back her lustrous hair.
And so the legend of Hello Sailor begins.
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