What’s Opera Season
by John C. Bunnell
Author’s Note: This was written for a contest: award-winning novelist, eminent SFWA President, and gentleman blogger John Scalzi wanted to know how he and actor/writer Wil Wheaton had found themselves in the situation illustrated below. When the obvious answer occurred to me, I couldn’t resist submitting it….
It started with a Rock Band duel. Then the assassin burst into the room.
“Nobody move!” he said, waving a complicated-looking ray gun. “I have an Illudium R-49 Implosive Space Modulator!”
Scalzi took a defensive stance, guitar raised. “Don’t you mean an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?”
Wheaton cocked an eyebrow (he’d finally persuaded Nimoy to teach him the technique). “You don’t look like Marvin the Martian.”
The assassin regarded them scornfully. “The R-49 uses completely different technology. Allow me to demonstrate! Mwahahahahahaha!” He squeezed the trigger; a neon-purple beam corkscrewed outward, flashing between Scalzi and Wheaton.
“Missed!” the author and the actor taunted as one.
“Did I?” The assassin gestured. His targets turned – and gulped. Scalzi’s laptop – no longer running Rock Band – glowed ominously, made a peculiar gleeping burble, and a ripple pulsed from the monitor, catching Scalzi and Wheaton in mid-gape. The two men froze, caught in the energy wave, then pixelated and dissolved like glitter caught by a dust-buster as the ripple reversed itself, spiraling inward and vanishing into the monitor with an audible gloop!
The assassin, now alone in the room, merely smiled.
Scalzi groaned. There’d been a purple flare and a wrenching roller-coaster gravity drop; the combination had left him feeling decidedly queasy.
Then he glanced down at himself. “What the Hell???”
He was…green. Also unexpectedly stockier, and clad in cheap armor and high boots. “Who died and made me Shrek?”
“Wong universe. I think.” Wheaton’s voice was oddly squeaky and augmented with an an odd vocal twitch. “Pwease teww me you didn’t have Wowld of Wawcwaft on that waptop.”
Scalzi swung around and stared. Wheaton had changed too. He was still human, but whatever had zapped them into wherever this was had bulked him up dramatically, giving him a physique worthy of Hercules – or at least Schwarzenegger.
“If I did, I’d be lying,” Scalzi said. “But this can’t be Warcraft; if it were, no way would you be wearing that.”
Wheaton followed Scalzi’s pointing finger. “Hey! No dissing the Infamous Cwown Sweatew™! Besides, at weast I’m stiww the wight species. You wook wike – an owc, maybe. Yeah, definitewy an owc.”
“That’s a ScalzOrc™ to you.”
“Oh, yeah? If you’we a ScalzOwc, then I’m Wiw The Warwowd™!” Wheaton threw a fist upward toward the sky – and an enormous golden spear materialized in his clenched hand. On cue, thunder rumbled dramatically, and the ground shook beneath their feet.
“Uh-oh,” Scalzi muttered, taking stock of their surroundings. The landscape was definitely animated – the edges were too sharp, the colors too crisp, and the 3D elements too pronounced for live action. He could see why Wheaton had thought of Warcraft; the rugged landscape, the molten lava running down the nearby mountains, the perpetual-twilight cloud-ridden sky all said sword and sorcery with the proverbial vengeance. But the magic was wrong. You didn’t get a plus-infinity spear like that in Warcraft just by gesturing dramatically. And his ScalzOrc body bore no resemblance to any Warcraft character he’d ever played.
Wheaton, meanwhile, was grinning, his eyes gleaming dangerously. “Be vewy qwiet,” he said, or rather, sang the words. “I’m hunting ScawzOwcs.” He twirled the spear and took a step toward Scalzi.
Scalzi groaned, instantly recognizing the shtick. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“ScawzOwc tracks!” Wheaton said, pointing with the spear.
Evidently, Scalzi decided, this was what he got for letting Athena download Web videos on his travel computer. But if he’d become a cartoon character, then cartoon physics should be in play. He dodged, wove, and went ZIP! – and the ZIP! took him out of Wheaton’s line of sight, giving him a critical moment to regroup. He dodged again, zigzagging into the mountains and ducking into the second cavern he spotted, then peered back along the trail. Wheaton, true to shtick, was poking the spear determinedly into the first cavern’s entrance.
Might as well play along for now, Scalzi thought, cautiously tiptoeing back toward Wheaton.
“Kill the ScawzOwc, kill the ScawzOwc, kill the ScawzOwc!” Wheaton’s singing was disturbingly enthusiastic.
Scalzi slipped behind Wheaton, peering around one muscular arm, and sang as innocently as he could manage. “Oh, mighty warlord of great fighting skill…” The Warlord ignored him, still jabbing at the empty cavern. A carrot appeared in Scalzi’s hand; he glared, and it became a chicken leg. “… might I inquire to ask, what’s up, Wil?”
Wheaton didn’t bother looking backward. “I’m going to kill the ScalzOwc!”
It figured. “Kill the ScalzOrc?”
“Kill the ScalzOwc!”
“Oh, mighty warlord, ‘twill be quite a task. How will you do it, if I might inquire and ask?”
“I will do it with my spear and magic sweatew!”
Now that was seriously twisted. Still, shtick was shtick. “Your spear and magic sweater?”
Wheaton grinned maniacally. “Spear and magic sweatew!” The sweater glowed, its clown face rippling eerily. At least Scalzi hoped it was only the sweater, not the cartoon muscles underneath it.
It was suicidal, but Scalzi couldn’t resist. He aimed a thumb at the Infamous Clown Sweater. “Magic sweater,” he sang derisively.
“Yes, magic sweatew! And I’ll give you a sample!” Wheaton darted back and upward, scaling sheer rock faces and leaping chasms with heroic ease till he reached a suitable clifftop. He gestured dramatically with the spear. Thunder crashed, a volcano erupted, and the sweater’s aura burned with red and white fury, its clown face frenzied, as sky and earth did its bidding.
A glob of molten lava splattered six feet to Scalzi’s right. “Bye!” he yelped, ZIP!ping again, recalling all too vividly how the original cartoon ended. It was definitely time for a rewrite…
Wait, what had the weirdo with the raygun said? Implosive space modulator? Maybe they really were in Warcraft – partly, anyhow. If the gizmo had squashed together the WoW graphics and Athena’s toon download, then anything on the hard drive might be accessible. It was insane, of course – but then, so was cartoon logic. Scalzi frowned, considering strategy. No Stargate characters, he decided – it would be an easy win, but there were NDAs to consider, and the instant they got out, the studio’s lawyers would confiscate the footage. The Fuzzy Nation material – no, there’d be rights issues with that, too. The Old Man characters were all his – but if he invoked John or Zoe just to nuke the Infamous Clown Sweater, the fans would never let him live it down.
Abruptly, a light bulb popped into existence over the ScalzOrc’s head. He caught it before it hit the ground, grinned, and whispered a dark and powerful name.
A patch of animation blurred, pixelated, and reconstituted itself. Scalzi blinked. “Um – what big eyes you have!”
“Mrroww,” said the giant tabby not-exactly-a-kitten. Besides the big eyes, there were big ears, big claws, big teeth, big thick-feathered wings, and a unicorn’s horn. “Hello, Tormentor.”
“Oops,” Scalzi said, belatedly recalling the cat’s Twitter shtick – and some of Athena’s experiments with Photoshop. “Bye!” And he ZIP!ped.
Glaghghee ZIP!ped after him with Roadrunner-like speed. “Mrroww!”
Scalzi ZIP!ped up a vertical cliff face. Ghlaghghee flew inches behind him. Scalzi ZIP!ped through a forest. Ghlaghghee followed, batting trees aside like toothpicks. He ZIP!ped along a riverbank. Ghlaghghee banked and kept pace, wingbeats generating whitecaps as she flew.
Abruptly, a familiar voice bellowed dire lyrics. “Kill the ScalzOwc, kill the ScalzOwc, kill the ScalzOwc!”
Ghlaghghee paused, hovering, eyeing the wearer of the Infamous Clown Sweater. “Mrroww! Nice spear.”
“I wiww kill him with my spear and magic sweatew!”
The kitten sang back. “I will rend him with my claws and magic gold horn!”
“Magic gold hown?”
“Magic gold horn!” The horn glowed ominously.
Cat and Warlord sang together. “We will kill him with our mighty magic weapons!” At a nod from the unicorn pegasus kitten, Wheaton leapt onto its back.
Scalzi desperately thrust a hand skyward – and found himself holding a heavy orcish axe. He brandished it menacingly at his foes…
…but the spear, the sweater, and Ghlaghghee’s horn glowed as one, and the axe shattered in his hand.
“Yipe!” Scalzi ZIP!ped, and the pursuit resumed. But his ZIP!s soon grew labored; trying to ZIP! and think at the same time was difficult. Then another light bulb – a CFL this time, he noted – popped overhead. He caught it instinctively, tossed it aside, and whirled to face his foes.
Deliberately not singing, he looked up at Wheaton. “Prithee, O traveling clown, couldst thou direct me to Wil the Warlord’s hideout? I wouldst fain join up with his band of merry outlaws.”
“I will kill you with my spear and magic sweatew!”
“Oh, cut it out, I’m serious,” Scalzi replied nonchalantly. “If you don’t know where he is, just say so.”
Wheaton glared, clown sweater glowing, and jabbed with his spear. “Ho! Ha ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin—”
Scalzi extended the broken handle of his former axe…and the whirling spear stopped with a thwack in mid-arc. Instead, Wheaton and Ghlaghghee counterspun rapidly, landing in an untidy heap on the ground as Scalzi reached forward and plucked the spear out of the air.
Wheaton groaned. “Owww.”
Ghlaghghee yowled. “Mrrrahhh! Are you a Warlord or a fool?”
Scalzi leaned down, tugged Wheaton out from under the unicorn pegasus kitten with his free hand, and whispered briefly into his ear. Wheaton nodded, brushing pegasus feathers from the Infamous Clown Sweater.
Ghlaghghee stretched, rose, and eyed Scalzi. “Tormentor…”
Scalzi grinned, gesturing with the spear at a notice that had suddenly appeared on a nearby boulder. “Don’t look at me – it’s Warlord season!”
Wheaton did a double take and ripped down the flyer, revealing another behind it. “No, it’s ScalzOrc season!”
Scalzi ripped and pointed. “Warlord season!”
Wheaton pointed and ripped. “ScalzOrc season!”
“Clown sweater season!” Feline claws flexed at the prospect of yarn.
Wheaton looked momentarily alarmed, then grinned fiendishly “Tormentor season!” The portrait on the new poster showed Scalzi in ordinary human form – and Scalzi felt his body transform to match the image.
Shtick, however, was still shtick. “Clown sweater season!”
“Clown sweater season!”
Silence. All three of them stared at the latest poster. Wheaton double-taked again. Scalzi looked intrigued; the image on the flyer showed Ghlaghghee without a unicorn’s horn or the wings of a pegasus. The two men swung round to find the feline still super-sized, but otherwise restored to natural kitten form. Scalzi hefted the immense golden spear, eyeing it thoughtfully, and smiled as it morphed into a golden cylinder with a large button near one end.
“Tormen—mrrroww!” Glahghghee blinked and pounced – not on Scalzi, but toward the brilliant crimson dot that had appeared on a nearby boulder when Scalzi pressed the button.
He and Wheaton grinned at each other as he twirled the giant laser pointer, flashing its dot on a more distant rock face. “Be very, very quiet,” the two men said, tiptoeing after the enthralled feline. “We’re hunting kittens!”
Purple light abruptly corkscrewed from nowhere, and Scalzi felt a wrench and a loud, fizzing whooooshh! as reality pixelated and dissolved around him.
“That was freaking weird,” Wheaton was saying as Scalzi shook his head to clear it. “Did we just get tooned, or what?”
“Who knows?” Scalzi hurried over to his laptop. A quick check showed no obvious damage. “You know how fans are.”
“True. Still, I’m turning in.”
Later, in his room, Scalzi’s cell phone rang. “Dad?”
“Everything okay, kiddo?”
“Pretty much,” Athena said. “Only Fluffy’s been in your office again, and it’s a mess.”
“There’s all this red and white yarn, like, shredded. But you don’t have a sweater like that, do you?”
“Definitely not.” And now, Scalzi thought cheerfully, neither does Wil. “Vacuum for me?”
“Love you! Bye!”
He flipped the phone closed, smiling. Developing the R-49 had been expensive – but it had been worth every penny.