The Shaman of PoogundagarBy Steve Gerber
Fecch! A mouthful of sand! Captain Gunnar Hulik spat it out viciously! His eyes surveyed the terrain around him. Sand. Sand. Sand. Sand. Nothing but hot, white, dry sand in every direction but up. Not even the hint of a cloud in the blazing red sky. No living creature, not even a lizard, in sight.
It slowly dawned on Hulik that, wherever he was, he was completely, totally alone. And despite the blistering heat of whatever desert he lay upon, the thought sent a cold shiver up his spine.
How long had he been unconscious, he wondered? He shook his head to clear out the cobwebs, then struggled slowly to his feet. He noticed his uniform had been badly ripped. (By the old man?) He noticed, too, that he was thirstyinsanely so.
Why hadn't he vaporized that old dog? The Articles of Demos, which forbade the killing of inhabitants of non-hostile worlds? No. Hulik was a starship captain. He could easily have dodged even that most rigorously-enforced ruling of the Prime Consulate.
No, it was something in the old man's eyes. Something forced him, it seemed, to hesitate for one critical instant before pulling the trigger of his diasporator. It was the old coot'sdare he believe it?magic.
"Dremus, I must demand that you return our captain to us. Otherwise, we shall be forced to take action against you." It was the voice of Commander John Grudney, Hulik's first officer aboard the starship U.S.S. Fugue, speaking to Dremus, the aged witch doctor of the tribesmen of the planet Poogundagar.
Dremus's grin spread wide, almost taking up the slack of the wrinkles in his ruddy face. "Friend Grudney, you do not even like Captain Hulik!"
Grudney frowned. "This isn't a matter of personalities, Dremus. Regulations compel me to consider Hulik's abduction a hostile act."
"It was he who was hostile, Friend Grudneyalmost from the moment he set foot on our planet's surface and beheld its treasures. A thoroughly corrupt, despicable scoundrel is your captain." Dremus sighed. "If you really must communicate with him, you may. Now. Go ahead."
Grudney pulled his transceiver from his back pocket and opened it on all frequencies. "Grudney to Hulik. Captain Hulik? Can you respond?"
Hulik's familiar bellow come through loud, if not quite clear, on Grudney's device. "Grudney! Where the hell am I?"
"We don't know, sir. Dremus will give us no information as to your whereabouts. However, if you'll describe your surroundings, the ship's sensors may be able to locate you."
Hulik said, simply, that he was in the middle of a desert. Grudney went pale. "Captain, there are no deserts on Poogundagar."
"Cease communication!" Dremus snapped. Hulik's signal abruptly quit.
Grudney's transceiver beeped. It was a hailing signal from the Fugue. "Grudney here. Go ahead, Fugue."
"Mr. Grudney? Ensign Justis reporting, sir. We monitored your communication with the captain."
"Did you attempt to trace his transmission, man?"
"Aye, sir. We could not pinpoint. It seemed to be coming from...the general direction of the Epoxi system, sir."
"That's ridiculous, ensign! The Epoxi system is more than 4,000 light years away. The transceiver's range..." He cut himself off. "Grudney out," he murmurred into the device.
Dremus only grinned more broadly as he calmly explained: "Your captain is a man of the past. He lives for battle. He is at a loss in time of peace. Had he learned that Poogundagar possesses the secret of ultimate peace, he would have destroyed this planet."
"I think you're judging the captain a bit harshly, Dremus..."
"Friend Grudney, our race is older than the stars. Our race made the stars. Our race made your race. And if you were to destroy Poogundagar, we would destroy all we made. We are as gods, Grudneybut we're petty that way."
Suddenly, the old man leaped into the air. He began scratching his armpits vigorously, left hand to right pit, right hand to left pit. He jumped up and down randomly, sometimes landing on the ball of his foot, sometimes the heel, occasionally on the wide expanse of his seven toes. "Behold! The Cosmic Dance of Creation, Destruction, and Face-Removal!" He leaped higher and kicked Grudney in the head. Grudney's face fell off and landed nose-down in the Poogundagarian dirt.
"Wait! Stop!" yelled Grudney's face. "You can't do what I think you're going to do!"
The old man giggled. "Oh, but we can, we can!" The old man hooked the larger of his big toes in Grundney's face's eye. He lifted the face to his hands, then stuck it backward onto the bloody mass that only moments ago had been the front of Grudney's head.
"Mmph, nghg," the face sputtered, from inside the head. Then the entire Grudney body collapsed.
The crewmen of Grudney's landing party fired diasporator blasts at the mad shaman. The shaman only danced harder and faster. The tribesmen stood up and began dancing too, and they chanted a strange chant: "Chant. Umbug. Chant. Ozone. Chant. Biloxi. Chant. Fabot. Chant. Gershwin. Grumbug neolite wearever hotpoint. Gunga-uha. Norge. Derelict. Num. Da da."
Suddenly, dried beans and small pieces of gravel rained down from the sky in a torrent, first battering the crewmen senseless, then burying them.
"You try to kill da shaman. Now, shaman you!" And Dremus let forth the Cry of the Death of the Universe.
On a planet some 4,000 light years away, Captain Hulik scratched at his crotch. It bit back. He realized then that the sand was not sand, but a horde of tiny organisms eating him alive. Before the scream of terror could escape his throat, the sky went black and the universe quietly died.
On Poogundagar, the lone planetary survivor of universal doom, Dremus looked up at the starless void, shrugged, and turned to his tribesmen. "You want to make another one now or wait awhile?"
The tribesmen took a vote and decided to wait.
Text Copyright © 2001 Steve Gerber. All rights reserved.