Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Quill-meister Richard K. Lyon once again drops into P&D with this zany number featuring an all-star cast, from King Kong to Prince Hamlet, as they face off against the evil Thoth Amon, master of the Central Processing Unit!  It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...


Rotational Assignment

By Richard K. Lyon
About the author

"The technique of having employees of similar rank exchange jobs has several benefits.  Not merely do the employees undergoing these rotational assignments gain a broader base of experience but they bring to their new jobs a fresh viewpoint and approach which can often resolve longstanding problems."

                                              E. M. Quod
DOCTOR, I HAVE THIS PROBLEM; the phone company is mad at me because I keep smashing their phone booths."

 "I see. Why don't you come in and sit down: take that easy chair in the corner. Now for my records, your name is Clark Kent?"

"Not exactly. There was another guy, Clark with a C Kent. I'm Klark with a K Kent, taking his place on a rotational assignment. Actually I'm also taking his name, though I insisted on keeping my own initials."

"And your occupation?"

"Same as the other guy, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."

"I see." The doctor nodded his utterly bald head, his deep-set eyes narrow with secret thoughts, a cunning smile ghosting quickly across his thin lips. Though it hardly seemed possible this new Kent was even more naive than his predecessor. Luring him into this trap had been as easy as snaring a dumb ape with a banana. "Now you say you have a problem with the phone company?"

"Well, yes. You see, I'm a crimefighter and I use phone booths to undress."

"Yes,...why does changing into your costume ruin the phone booth?"

"I don't change. I just undress."

"You mean you fight crime naked?"

"Certainly not. I don't need clothes to fight crime because I have a nice thick coat of black fur."

Frowning the doctor replied, "That is rather different. Tell me, are you stronger than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet?"

"Not quite. I'm pretty strong but I'm slow."

"What about leaping over tall buildings in a single bound?"

"Ahh, actually I don't do too well there. Once I fell off the Empire State Building and hurt myself real bad."

"With all these handicaps how can you be an effective crimefighter?"

"I think I do all right. Since I've started roaming the streets at night, crime in the streets has vanished. In fact there aren't even any people in the streets anymore."

"I see." Dropping his hand toward a desk drawer, the doctor hesitated. It wasn't quite the time to open the lead lined drawer. "Tell me, Mr. Kent, why do you ruin phone booths when you undress?"

"That's rather complicated. This suit and these thick glasses are a disguise so you can't see me as I really am.  Secretly, I'm really forty feet tall. So, whenever I undress inside a phone booth it's smashed to kindling."

"Mr. Kent," the doctor snorted, "I won't pretend to understand what you're telling me nor do I greatly care, since I've something here that will solve all your problems, permanently."

As the desk drawer sprang open, the room was filled with fearful green light. Lifting the burning emerald crystal the doctor held it toward Kent.

"We meet at last, Doctor Luthor!" Kent yelled, even as he pulled off the thick glasses and tore open his shirt. Abruptly the mad scientist was staring up at a giant ape towering above him. For a moment he waved the harmless Kryptonite, desperately screaming before a great paw swatted him like a fly.

Since the great ape was far too large to leave the office via the door, he smashed out a wall and climbed down the side of the building. So far this system of exchanging problems was working rather well.  The other fellows were doing well with his problems and soon he could go home to his jungle island and -- oh why had his wife had to leave him?  He knew they'd had their problems, she a motion picture star and he just a big dumb guy from an island in the middle of nowhere, but shouldn't they both have made a better try to work it out?

Maybe but that was the past, old business, and now he had to go to London and deal with Professor Moriarty.  After that he'd go to Sherwood Forest and face the Sheriff of Nottingham.

On reaching the airport, the great ape resumed his mild-mannered-reporter guise.  As he checked in for his flight to England, two men approached him.  While both wore civilian clothes, the first walked with the intensely erect posture of a military professional.

"There," this man said, "has been a change of plans.  I'm Colonel Olive South and I'll be taking over your mission to Sherwood Forest.  Don't worry.  Supplying arms to rebels is my speciality."

"And I," the second man said, "want to make one thing perfectly clear.  I am not a crook.  My taking care of  Professor Moriarty doesn't mean that--"

"WAIT!" Kent exclaimed in astonishment. "Aren't you Richard Nix--"

"Shh," the man cut him off, "I'm supposed to be dead."

"We," Colonel South continued, "are taking over your missions because there's an emergency that requires your skills.  An evil wizard has kidnaped your ex-wife."

While Kent struggled to get his mind around this terrible news, Colonel South continued: "There's a limo waiting outside.  Prince Charming and Prince Hamlet are in it.  They can tell you all the details and they'll go with you on the rescue mission."

In a room black as midnight Thoth Amon chanted the words of power.

1150 FORMAT A:
1170 ON ERROR GOTO 2090
1180 ON L-1 GOSUB 200, 330,1*30
1200 COPY C:\PRINCESS\*.* A:*.*
1220 LOAD eye of newt
1230 LOAD ear of bat AND blood of dragon
1240 PEEK Library of Congress cat no 946.783.382

From the dungeon beyond the wizard's workroom a woman was shouting.  "Thoth Amon, I want to talk to you!"

"Silence, foolish woman!" Thoth Amon snapped angrily, as he continued to form the words of power. The vastly dangerous thing he did required total concentration.  The practice of black magic, the summoning of demons, was doubly perilous for the demons themselves would destroy him given the slightest opportunity and such contact violated the COMMANDMENTS of the CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT. While he knew the CPU was not the omnipotent omniscient BEING the pious imagined -- how could It be and demons and other evil still exist? -- still ITs powers were vast. The countless worlds were all ITs creation, dreams floating in ITs mind, given reality from moment to moment only because IT imagined them.

1250 IF AS="Princess" THEN GOTO 980

Small wonder the pious worshiped IT blindly and only the very clever few, of whom Thoth Amon  was chief, were shrewd enough to see that the power was nearly all mechanical, that the CPU gave almost no heed to what IT was doing. A man cunning enough to avoid receiving COOKIES could easily gain wealth and power by the practice of evil magic.

"Damn it! Wizard, listen to me! I've a bargain to offer you, one that's very much in your interests."

Knowing her words were but a clever way of pleading for  mercy, Thoth Amon paid her no heed as he continued to work his dire spell. It must be perfect before he said RUN. Demons existed by eating information, the little ones by eating the scenery, sucking a stray bit from a rock here, a byte from a tree there, the greater ones by devouring whole characters, complete living people. Only when his spell was finished and ready for the mighty command of power RUN did Thoth Amon turn his attention to his female captives.

Three of them there were and all beautiful princesses, or at least all three were beautiful and had been brought here by a GET "Princess" spell. Two lay on the floor of their iron barred cell, silent except occasional desperate sobbing, wetting the straw with their tears. Well could they quiver in fear, for their kings had failed to pay their ransom. Three days Thoth Amon had given them for payment. Three days now gone which meant the hapless pair must be sold as demon food.

The third was a more recent addition to his collection and still possessed her pride and spirit. Her small fists clutching the iron bar of her cell, her eyes angry, she faced the dark mage and demanded, "Alright! Are you finally willing to listen to me?"

Quickly taking his silence for agreement, she continued, "Wizard, I don't know what all you go through to summon a demon, but--" She pointed at the mass of green glowing BASIC commands that floated in the air, "--obviously it's a great deal of work. Wouldn't you like me to show you a way to make the same or better profit with less work?"

Thinking about how this haughty royal beauty would scream when the demon ate her, Thoth Amon smiled and replied, "I hear you."

"Look, I have three days left and these poor dears have none. Let me give each of them one of my days. That way if the ransom is paid you get rich. If it isn't --" she shrugged.

"I would," he finished the thought, "need only summon the demon once to eat all three of you instead of having to do it once for them and then later for you."

One of the doomed pair rose to protest. "No! Your Highness, you must not endanger yourself for us!"

Laughing, Thoth Amon declared, "You're a braver fool than any I've ever met before. Very well, it's a bargain done and sealed!" As he spoke, Thoth Amon admired the woman's bravery and wit. She actually dared attempt to trap him. A clever effort that might destroy a lesser wizard. Though she'd implied that she knew naught of magic, 'twas doubtless a lie. She hoped he'd leave his spell floating there and SO give her the opportunity to slip a small error into it.

Grinning unpleasantly, the dark mage thought that she would find matching wits with him to be a very expensive game.

785 APFrT stone dragon

1270 IF PA="demon" TIEJ7 G00 785

There, it was done. The spell was modified. It was time for RUN. As the awful word of power was set in motion the very nature of reality quivered. A sense of enormous might filled Thoth Amon at the fearful thing he'd done and he gloried in the terrified screams of his captives.

When 'twas over, when the walls and floor were solid again, he gestured with pride at a window high in the dungeon's nearer wall. Since the dungeon floor was not far below ground its window looked out on his castle's courtyard. His female prisoners could see the courtyard and what it now held. The stone statue of a dragon now transformed into a living firebreathing monster stalking about with hunger gleaming in its yellow eyes. Thus confined in the statue, the demon would have to wait the extra day for its feeding and the danger of having his spell damaged was removed.
Though the Princess should have been dismayed at his cleverly evading her trap thus, she appeared unimpressed. In fact, she was smiling, as though he'd just entered a trap.

"Wizard, would you please answer a question?"

After a thoughtful pause, he replied, "Yes, one question and only if you agree to tell me your story, the whole truth about yourself."

"Done!" she snapped. "Tell me, is it not true that a wizard, though he may show very bad faith to his promises, is still bound by their literal meaning?"

"Yes," he answered softly, "under most circumstances. One cannot use magic to break a promise." Perhaps, the dark mage decided, he'd made a mistake. While this woman was clearly working on some plan, it wasn't what he'd expected. Probably 'twas some foolhardy notion born of her ignorance and fear. Still, though, it would be prudent to dispose of her as rapidly as possible.

"Good!" she exclaimed happily, and, turning toward her fellow prisoners, continued, "Ladies, we can all relax now. We're going to be safe!"

"Your Highness," Ophelia said, "I'm sorry but 'twas a terrible mistake for you to waste your concern on me when your own life is in great peril. Even if the present dangers can be averted I fear my story is not one that was meant to have a happy ending."

"I share your dreads and regrets," Cinderella added. "I cannot understand why Prince Charming did not arrive in time with my ransom and I fear the worst."

To this Ophelia replied, "Matters between King Claudius and Hamlet are so ill, I doubt he was able to leave Denmark."

"Pray cease your witless chattering!" Thoth Amon commanded. "Woman, you made a promise, and the part of your story I want to hear first is your birth and rank." The eyes with which she stared back at the wizard were as hard and cold as his. Was there, he wondered, any chance that she understood the dilemma she faced? There was one situation in which one could use magic to break a promise, when the other side had previously defaulted on their promises. A promise not to harm her today bound Thoth Amon for the moment, but she'd some secret she obviously wished to keep. If she overtly refused to keep her promise, or lied, Thoth Amon would immediately be free to give her to the dragon.

"Why," she replied cheerfully, "I'm as much a commoner as Cinderella here. The fact is, Wizard, that your princess kidnaping spell isn't very accurate. None of us is a king's daughter, which is the proper definition of a princess." Turning back toward her fellow captives, she added, "And Ladies, please don't worry about your princes. I'm sure they both set out bravely to rescue you... and were promptly captured by the bandits Thoth Amon here has stationed along the trail. That is your game, isn't it, Wizard? Instead of letting the princes deliver the ransoms, your thugs rob them, allowing you to make a second profit selling us to demons?"

Though Thoth Amon said naught, his face showed the truth of this accusation. "I hardly," Ophelia said softly, "see any good news in this."

"The good news is that my Ex will be traveling with them.  The bandits don't have a chance. And, Ophelia, after we're all rescued, my Ex and I will stop in Denmark on our way home. He has a unique approach to complex political problems."

"Your what?" Cinderella asked.

"My ex-husband, the King. I'm a princess only in the sense that I'm the former wife of a king."

"Few men would pay any great ransom for an -- wife," Ophelia said glumly.

"Oh, I don't expect him to ransom me," she replied cheerfully. "My king doesn't have a cent of money."

"Ohh! I see!" Cinderella said brightly, smiling to show her perfectly capped teeth (one of  the few gifts from her fairy godmother to survive midnight). "Your king spent all his money raising an army and now he's coming to rescue us!"

"Not quite," she replied. "My king never had a bit or byte of money and he never had an army."

"Then how," Cinderella asked, her smile turning to a frown, "without money or an army can he be a king and rule a country?"

To this Ophelia added, "More to the point, how is he going to rescue us?"

"My king," she declared, her voice glowing with pride, "will come in his own person to fight for me."

The wizard shrugged. "In that case, I shall let my dragon eat an appetizer before the three of you."

She shook her head firmly. "On our honeymoon alone I saw him kill three reptiles, all of them bigger than your dragon."

"Impossible!" the wizard snapped. "No armored knight with sword and lance could best my dragon!"

"Actually, more he's the mighty barbarian type. Never saw any use for weapons. Just kills things with his bare hands, breaks their necks."

Was she mad, Thoth Amon wondered? There seemed no other way she could tell such absurd untruths without lying. "Tell me," he demanded, "of your marriage to this unusual king."

"There's not a great deal to tell. It was an arranged marriage. I didn't meet him until our wedding day, which for me was quite an emotional experience. Not exactly love at first sight, though I can honestly say that when I saw him I felt the earth move. Of course, it was doomed from the start. I'm a city girl, New York, the greatest city in the world, and he was a country bumpkin.  Before we met he'd never left the backward little island he ruled. When I ran away, back to New York, he followed, though that was partly against his will. When I met him I was starring in a movie. My producer managed to trick him into an iron clad contract. Of course, trying to go into show business was a disaster for him because he couldn t manage the press. Especially newspaper photographers with their flash bulbs.  The whole affair came to a head in a very nasty scene on top of the Empire State Building. As best I can tell -- he and I never talked that much -- he was pulling a stunt to impress me. Whatever his reasons he wound up getting terribly hurt. Still when he had a chance to get his emotions back in order, he could see that much as he loved me, it just couldn't work between us."

"Though your tale," Ophelia said, "be madness, yet there's method in it. Pray tell me, how can you be sure this passing strange king of yours will arrive in time to rescue us?"

Thoth Amon was having similar thoughts. This seemingly mad woman was dancing around the truth, talking nonsense without quite lying, keeping him bound to his promise and distracting his attention from whatever else might be happening. 'Twas high time he forced some straight answers from her.

"Woman," he demanded, "by your promise to tell your story, I now require that you tell me what you have avoided saying before. Tell me your names, your maiden and married names."

Laughing lightly, she tossed her blond head. "I was born Fay Ray, but, Wizard, to you I'm disaster. To kidnap us you used blind take-what-you-get spells and you should have known that one day they'd bring you more than you could handle. Don't you see? The answer to Ophelia's question is that I knew my Ex would be here soon because I've been keeping my ear to the ground. He walks with quite a heavy tread. As for my married name, I was Mrs. King --" She paused for breath and shouted, "KONG!"

Abruptly the other two women were also shouting, "KONG!  KONG!  KONG!  KONG!  KONG!  KONG!  KKOONNGG!  KKKOOONNNGGG!"

The chanted name meant nothing to Thoth Amon, but the initials K.K.-- what had Lex Luthor said?  Ignoring the hot moist air which suddenly blew in through the courtyard window, the wizard tried to remember.  Luthor had said something about a Klark Kent -- was it possible that... "Woman," Thoth Amon demanded, "tell me what other names you have."

With horrifying confidence, she replied, "Only one more.  At the time you kidnaped me, I was on my way to a new job.  Movie stars have short careers and I was about to take a position as a reporter on the Daily Planet, writing under the Lois Lane byline."

That was a name Thoth Amon recognized.  He still couldn't remember just what Lex Luthor has said and now it made no difference.  While the woman had been speaking, there'd been a sound from the courtyard outside the dungeon, a sound like that of someone breaking a chicken's neck ... though rather louder as if the chicken were very large.

Glancing toward the barred window to see what was happening in the courtyard to make that strange sound, the wizard stared in stunned horror.

The window was filled with a single enormous eye staring back at him. Thoth Amon still couldn't remember Lex Luthor's warning, nor could he recall any of his spells or anything else.  The eye inspired absolute terror.

As suddenly as it appeared, the eye disappeared, replaced by a vast paw that swept into the dungeon, snapping iron bars like so many noodles. Struck by it, Thoth Amon was knocked flat. Before he could arise or even clear his vision, two young men were standing over him, their swords pointed at his throat.

As both Ophelia and Cinderella rushed to embrace their men, each wisely careful not to interfere with their sword arm, a third man stepped through the shattered window, a rather unpreposessing man who wore glasses. After staring at him in wide-eyed surprise for a long moment, the former Mrs Kong asked, "Is that you?"

"Yes," he replied, "I'm not surprised you have a problem recognizing me. These glasses change my appearance a lot."

"It's a great improvement," she replied.  After thinking for a moment she asked, "Do you wear them to bed?"

"Yes," he replied eagerly, "With glasses and pajamas I sleep in a regular size bed."

"In that case," she said smiling, "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that our marriage was never legally annulled and since you can now sleep in a regular bed we can have our honeymoon -- but don't start getting too happy. ; The bad news is that we're not going back to Metropolis. I'll still be Lois Lane but I'll be going to Washington D.C. to work on the Post. You're going to Florida where you're running for governor."

Feeling as if he were watching the gates of paradise opening and threatening to shut, he protested, "But surely we'll still be together?"

"Only if we're very discrete.  You're going to be Janet Reno."

The End?


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Rotational Assignment is copyright by Richard K. Lyon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)