ACT I: “I’m a big deal”
I’m Rocky. The chief operating officer of Universe Winner. This customs bureau, here in Empire city on planet plastic, might feel like the biggest galactic cluster of a DMV you’ve ever seen, but it’s the nerve center for this whole universe. For universe winner, I mean. Who gives a shit about universe loser. Those are people we sent away. Anyways, I keep it all running. Universe winner, I mean. All of it. The losers take care of themselves somehow. No matter how chaotic or crazy a group of aliens get, as soon as I walk by, they calm down and beg for my help. I’m the guy who fixes things. 152 alien worlds, all under control. You’re welcome.
I’ve got a perfect life you’re really jealous of. For sure, you are. I’m smart, I’m down to earth (That’s where you’re from, right?), I’m crazy successful (we already covered that) and my humility is off the charts.
My wife, Suzanne? Sure, she’s happy enough. You might say there’s some emotional distance between her and I but what-ev’s. I give her lots of cool things. I can do that because of my immense stature. You know that line from Orwell, “all animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others”? Ok, sorry, sorry. Back to my family.
My son, man, I give him everything. What, you think he’s spoiled? Maybe I’ve bought him one or two more things than he’s earned. But, come on, I love that little sucker. I just wonder how this identity happened. He’s got this Bruce Lee meets Elvis schtick (it’s still all about Earth somehow) that’s pretty hilarious but I have no idea how he got it. What? You think he’s looking to imaginary heroes to create a false confidence that will only shatter as soon as he faces any real pressure in life? Dude, he’s got me for an example! Besides, I’m working 20-hour days! I can’t give him my time!
Ok, fine, I feel a shit ton of guilt. I send Turniss quasor messages on the daily. You know, those cute little holographic messages with the catchy music? I shoot them at him (Yes. They fire like lasers and zap you. “Take that!” appears before a really sweet message plays. Like shock and sweet. Like dipping fries in your shake at the 50’s diner in the mall at Empire city. Only you would get zapped as soon as the fry is in your mouth.) Anyways. I send him these damn quasor’s every day. What do I get? Nothing. Maybe one-word. Once, I got four words. “Get a life, dad.” I saved that one. I’ll read it after a long day. I don’t know. It just makes me feel like I can see him.
Last night, I was working at home when he peaked in the door. He asked if I’m coming to his school play. I told him I’d do everything I would try my absolute best, but the Empire board meeting is that night and I can’t miss it. What? I really can’t. What am I supposed to do?
Ok, yes, I’m having an affair. Fuck. Ok. Yes. Major sidenote. Her name’s Lillith. She’s a warrior for the Empire’s secret service. Some call her a man-eater. I prefer “magnetic.” She’s alluring, powerful and really, really, manipulative. But, come on, man we all have our shit. She’s just a little higher on the dark triad than most of us. You think she’s only attracted to my power and status? You’re crazy! What we have is real!
Three or four nights a week I stay awake watching the ceiling fan spin, but we all do that, right? Dear Lord, what am I doing? What am I doing?
When I do stare up at the fan, I use my headset to create the image of my room as a kid. These things are amazing. They’re synched to my neurons and central nervous system. For years, the porn industry had a monopoly on them. Wait, sorry, we had them first in the military. We weaponized the headsets to wipe out the rebels. The death blow was when we made a Mother Ship of Doom with our collective minds. The power of community, right? THEN the porn industry took them. At some point, they went mainstream. People could use them for things like pretend family pictures and fake vacations. It’s great for that. But also, to relive memories like these.
I grew up on planet desert. It was a “suburb” where we drank fake water and acted like we weren’t thirsty. That’s just how it was, man. The neighboring planets ran flying bus tours to laugh at us. Fuckers. They’d laugh, point, chug real drinks, and fly off.
The memory I’m talking about is saved on my headset. I was five. Mom says dad wants me outside. I thought it was to do chores, and I was drawing and reading comics, so I didn’t want to go. She tells me to get off my butt and get outside or I’d be spanked. Ok, fine. Fine! I slogged out to the front of our planet and saw dad holding the boom ball. Ok, I guess we’re doing this? He taught me to throw it a couple times. I had no idea what was going on. At first, he was frustrated I wasn’t getting it. But I wasn’t getting it because I wasn’t playing boom-ball. I was playing “what the fuck is going on with dad and how do I not piss him off?” Anyways, once I focused, I chucked that boom ball a country mile (another earth reference for you. You’re welcome.) And man, did he get excited. “Hey, Cindy! Cindy!” He yelled to my mom. “The fucking kid’s good!” “Very nice,” Cindy replied. I tried harder and harder. My Dad’s smile grew bigger. We spent a lot more time together.
He coached me hard. Weekends. Weeknights. Hours on end. All outside. Remember, its planet desert, so the heat’s no fucking joke, dude. We don’t sweat, we steam. But mom always had a washcloth ready for “our sports superstar.” And that, my friend, is the memory.
That fucking washcloth was heaven, man. Heaven! It had real water! Real moisture! The drops fell on that dry hard brick in my mouth people call a tongue. I could feel it shrink into something actually meant for the human body. Water makes your tongue shrink! Did you know that? My five-year-old self sure as shit didn’t! I wanted to steal more water just to see what else I could shrink. Boom ball = washcloth. Ok fine, it might have also meant my mom snapping, “he’s more than a book worm” and my dad cracking “looks you’ll make something of your life after all, ha-freaking-ha,” but that shit just reminded me to hide my comics and kick ass in school. None of it, absolutely none of it, could compare to the two minutes of bliss that came from that fucking washcloth. I was a little boy again. Worried about nothing.
I’d say goodnight and close the door of my room, snap on the ceiling fan, and lay the washcloth over my face. I’d feel the breeze of the fan brush over it. Underneath my blankets was my greatest treasure, the newest Captain Electric comic. I’d pull the comic really fucking close to my huge thick glasses. Then, I’d hear some footsteps. Mom and Dad on the other side of the door. Please don’t open it. Please don’t open it. The doorknob would rotate a quarter turn. I’d lift my blanket and slide the comic back under. The doorknob would turn to halfway. I’d stare, wait. If I could just stay quiet enough, the doorknob would relax. The sound of steps would fade down the hallway. I’d put the washcloth back on my face. It didn’t feel magical anymore.
I asked my dad one time. Why do we keep acting like we’re drinking real water and pretending we’re not thirsty? Usually, he was in the middle of working when I would ask questions like that. “That costs money,” he would say. “You got any?” There’d always be a long silence after that. “Do your chores. We’ll practice boom ball tomorrow.” I’d rush through my chores, counting the minutes before I could turn on my fan and open my comic. Maybe Captain Electric could keep the door closed longer tonight.
Ok, my marriage will be fine. At least, I think it will be. Yeah, yeah, it will be fine. I’m just in a phase! Lillith and I went to the same food mart at different times yesterday (yes, they still have food marts. One’s floating right around the corner. Processed foods will always have a market!) to buy matching burner watches (You thought those were ever going away? Where else are we going to keep illicit videos and compromising messages) No, seriously, it’s kind of sweet. Matching burner-ok, fine. It’s not sweet. Thanks for your obvious disapproval, dick. I can’t win this conversation. Moving on.
Turniss’s play is happening while I’m at the annual Empire board meeting. The universe’s most powerful people all in one room. I am presenting my latest creation. A light speed automation of the supply chain. Goods will get to the consumer faster than ever before. Soda, chips, porn, all at double light speed! Fucking amazing!
I turn the button on, the board members wait, and…nothing. It won’t turn on! The power won’t turn on! There’s no fucking power! Everything in universe winner is shutting down. The power source, the black bile, it’s all vanished! Gone! Ka-poof! How can it fucking vanish? Black bile is at the core of what makes universe winner a winner! I smell a rat. More on that later.
We find a reserve of black bile in a storage tanker way down in the basement. Things light back up. I’m sure a starving family on planet poor could have used this power but, details! We’ve all got needs, man! Like, my rank and title!
The sorcerer. Fuck that guy. He just cleans and polishes his big pale tentacles. He’s the CMO; chief magical officer. What a crock of shit that is. He suggests I should know the source of the power outage. Just because I’m the COO? Ok, fine, he has a point. But he’s an asshole. And he keeps staring at Lillith. She even smiles back.
Famine spreads across the universe. Black bile gets more and more scarce. It’s not getting better. The customs bureau, if you can believe it, is more packed with more angry aliens than it’s ever been. Our supply chains are completely fucked up. Food and medicine aren’t being distributed on time. I can’t get a grip on the randomness of the bile’s availability. And I can’t use the instruments I need to fix these problems without a power source. And, I have the answer! I was about to present it! But I can’t do it without any fucking power! Who ever thought we’d have a shortage of black bile in universe winner? This is not good. This is really not good. I asked the emperor’s secretary for a meeting, and he says “The emperor will get back to you.” Since when does the emperor “get back to me”? Fuck!!
No sexy messages from Lillith on my burner today. What the hell?! The emperor cancels his meeting with me. Leaving work, I saw a board meeting without me. Ok, that’s a red flag. The emperor walks out of his throne room, arm in arm with Lillith. ARM IN ARM WITH LILLITH! What the fuck are they laughing about? There’s the Sorcerer, floating right behind them. One day, I’m going to toss him by his tentacles into the asteroid belt.
Rita, the Candelabra, my right hand through all of this, brought her own coffee to the customs bureau today. She never does that! I always bring two cups of coffee, one for her, one for me. I say good morning and ask about her 24 crying kids. I love Rita. Our relationship is the best part of me. The most honest part. Without it, I’m just all the bad stuff. I can’t be all the bad stuff! She just said, “my kids are fine, Rocky.” And went back to work. Leaving me standing there with the two cups. I chugged them both. But I didn’t like it. I thought I saw her fourteenth head shake at me. Her kid, baby 18 or 19, is sick and needs medicine. I ask if the supply chain is holding up to at least get her that dosage. Rita chokes up. She doesn’t answer. I’m going to make sure she gets it.
I do a systems analysis to track down the medicine for Rita’s kid. Lillith appears. Well, hello stranger. She asks for access to the black bile reserve to impress the emperor. I think she’s kidding and kiss her. She breaks it off quickly. She’s not kidding. She says she has somewhere to be. What? I’m the one who’s supposed to be too busy! She’s the one who flatters me and acts grateful for my affection. What is happening?!
The food shortages get even worse. I can’t get the bile to stabilize. I’m going mad.
I charge into the board room I wasn’t invited to, blueprints in hand. We have to change the way we operate. We have to mimic the systems of planet sustainable, in universe loser. They laugh me out of the throne room.
I’ve never felt such panic. They tell me somehow; I should have been able to predict the bile shortage. Lillith, suggests my focus was off. My what? Does she know who she’s talking to? My fucking focus is never off! I am great at my job! How could she say that?
The Empire wants me to enter rehab for sex addiction. What? “We know you were having an inappropriate affair, Rocky,” says the Sorcerer, that suction-cupped fuck. “Now, Billy” The Emperor admonishes. Wait, wait, wait. The Emperor is calling the Octopus, Billy? This is really happening. This subterfuge. This backstabbing. It’s really happening. Then…the dagger. “We just want you to stop hurting people, Rocky.” says Lillith, right before sobbing in the emotional angst only Lillith can fake.
The emperor’s mountainous gelatinous “body,” I guess, jiggles oozes and rumbles off his throne. One step at a time, big guy. His huge translucent feet slowly (and I mean slowly) slap against the floor. Three steps, dude. I could time you with a calendar! He bellows some guttural chant channeled straight from hell. Mucus bubbles swirl and fold inside his gelatinous body as he wiggles forward. All twenty servants hurry to help him along. Slime slaps over their heads and hands. Lillith gulps. She’s about to be the recipient of this twenty-ton tub of fun. Luck you, lady. Lucky you. His arm coalesces enough for him to fling it over her shoulder. Lillith tries hard not to gag. In an act of pure will, she wrestles the corners of her mouth upward in a tortured smile. Gross-a-mundo! But man, Lillith can keep her eye on the prize. The Sorcerer sees his chance to get in on the action and wraps a tentacle around her. Mistake. She squeezes it, twists it and it snaps back in his eye. Ok, that was funny as shit. The emperor sneezes a torrent of slime over the Sorcerer. Everyone laughs. The Sorcerer falls to his ass. His tentacles work away on the slime. He just seems to be pushing it around more than getting any off.
But, what the fuck! The three of them are conspiring against me? What the actual fuck!
“Rocky, Rocky, think of the money we’ll all make when the dust clears! There’ll be a made for tv movie next year about it for sure!” They offer me 1% of the gross on the back end. Lillith even promises me she’ll stay quiet about the whole deal. “You know, to other people,” she says. “All the people outside this room who don’t benefit me and don’t have any power. I won’t say a word.” “Very kind,” says the sorcerer. Shut the fuck up! I yell. The emperor and Lillith laugh at that, then go quickly back to fake serious.
The emperor’s lackey asks for my badge. I hand it over. They give it to…Lillith?!
All those texts and videos we sent to each other under the shadow of darkness, then deleted at first light. We were in love!
You know what? Fuck this place. I kill myself for these people and get nothing back but pain and ingratitude. I’ve been hating my life for years now. Have I told you about the dark hours staring at the ceiling fan saying I’m a fraud over and over. I did?
I talk to Suzanne and Turniss, who are freaking out. I tell them I’ve been eyeing that inhabitable rock of a planet for a long time now. Planet empty. I show them the map. It looks perfect! Dirt and rocks on a desolate unforgiving horizon! I will grow a beautiful plant on that hell hole. I will do it under the cover of an impenetrable force field. Everyone in universe winner will see it but never be able to be a part of it. It’ll be alone real peace and quiet. Turniss is upset because he has another play coming up; “Mist of the mideon demons” and a big basketball game, but that’s life.
We pack up and travel to Planet Empty. Turniss will love it.
ACT II “This place sucks, Dad!”
Ok, Turniss hates it. Like, really hates it. Yes, yes, I was kidding myself he would like it! You know what? How’s the view up on your high horse?
Lotus Mac, a retired Buddha warrior with blue-grey skin, glowing mohawk and really fucking way too big sunglasses, delivers us