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Adventure Kay and

The Claw of Karnak

Part 1 - Asian Antics or
"Leggo my Eggo!"

©by Philip J Eggerding - aka Cirrel2004


Skip to Part Two
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1. Beginnings

    A glint of metal and a telltale creak was all the warning he had before the massive claw clamped onto his throat.
    "You have done a bad thing again, Knotgudenov. A pity. I could have used your gaming skills in my new design. No matter. The legendary Claw of Karnak will be all the advantage I need."
    "But, sir!" croaked the skinny red fox with the bent tail. "How have I betrayed you? Have I not passed you valuable..."
    "Silence, you poor excuse for a canid!" roared the massive wolf, his metal mandible creaking. "Your information has been valuable, yes, but you forgot to use the 'Ode-kay' you 'upid-stay ox-fay'!"
    "Orry-say," mumbled the fox.
    "Yes, you will be sorry, Knotgudenov," hissed the wolf, "it seems you mistakenly hit your RPG's mailing list button when you sent your last transmission. Now they will all know of the Claw of Karnak."
    "But sir!" pleaded the fox. "How could they know of the Claw's significance?"
    "Whether they know or not doesn't matter. It will soon be in my paw," continued the wolf. "However, it is the fact that you have screwed up once again that rusts my claw. This must never happen again!"
    The wolf's jaw split into a ferral grin.
    "Therefore, I must punish you."
    The wolf released the trembling fox and walked over to the fox's computer. A black cable modem with green lights playing across its face gleamed on the desk next to the monitor. The wolf placed his metal claw around it.
    "No! Please!" cried the fox. "Not that!"
    The wolf merely smiled and slowly tightened his grip.
    "A punishment for actions unbecoming of an ancillary member of the Wolf Revolution - I sentence you to...


    In a university office far away, Professor Kayngi hit her "Get Messages' button. The usual plethora of junk mail and spam spilled across the screen only to disappear quickly into the 'Junk' folder. A few messages remained, and one item in particular caught her eye. Hitting 'View Message', she glanced through the body of the message, and then reached for a dusty tome in the massive bookshelf behind her. She flipped through the pages and stopped at one that had an old, old illustration.
    "So..." she mumbled to herself. "Apparently the Claw of Karnak really does exist."
    She glanced back at the message.
    "'Message for the Kolonel from RedTail?' This RPG game is turning out to be even more interesting than I thought."
    With that, Professor Kayngi, opened a drawer in her desk and pulled of a shiny, black bull-whip.

  2. Who do you know?

    As usual, Professor Emeritus Cirrel walked into the office without so much as knocking - and found himself instantly wrapped in black leather.
    "Nice to see you too, Kay," he said , drolly.
    "Of course it is," answered Kayngi, who released the retired senior professor with a practiced flip of her bull-whip. "I'm always nice to see."
    Cirrel smiled as he straightened his rumpled coat. "You're awfully happy this afternoon... which can only mean one thing." He pointed. "You've got a 'project' cooking in that fuzzy head of yours. What is it this time, Professor, and can we expect you back within a reasonable time?"
    Kay snorted as she wrapped up her whip and hung it on her belt. "You don't seem to mind taking over my classes when I'm gone. Could it be all those pretty co-eds?"
    Cirrel pulled up a chair in front of her desk, turned it backwards, and sat down, resting his paws on the backrest. "The only 'co-eds' who take your class are drooling males who can't resist your incredibly large... stores of knowledge."
    "True, I do have those, but as to this 'project' you so correctly surmised, take your eyes off my incredible stores of knowledge and look at this."
    Kay opened the book she had been consulting and showed Cirrel a page.
    "Recognize it?" she asked.
    Cirrel looked at it for only a moment. "It's the Claw of Karnak. Legend has it that if the one who possesses it is willing to part with one of their own hands, the Claw will attach itself to the stump and make the wearer invincible in battle." He looked up at Kay. "You don't seriously think the Claw of Karnak exists."
    Kay shrugged. "I still have my doubts, but it appears someone else believes it's real." She showed him the e-mail message.
    Cirrel pointed to the header. "It's a mail-list mailing. Who do you suspect?"
    "If you look through the header you will see the domain of one of the recipients called 'The Kernal' is 'worlddomination.cw.com'."
    "So who do we know with the initials C.W. who wants to take over the world."
    Cirrel's eyebrows shot into his hairline. "Him? You be careful, Kay! You've tangled with him before, and once, you almost came back in a pine box!"
    "But I didn't come back in a pine box. I came back with the Skull of Snuffles, and the museum you work for now was mighty happy to get it too! Besides," she pulled out her Ruger .44 auto-mag, and checked the empty chamber and the safety, and stuffed it into her belt. "You know what a careful kitty I am."

  3. Looking for Facts

    "Know where you're going to start looking for the Claw of Karnak?" asked Cirrel. He pointed to the mass of books behind Kayngi's desk. "Might be something in those that would help."
    Kay nodded. "While you're looking at the dead-tree information storage systems, I'll contact a few furs who might know something." She pulled a cell phone from her pocket and punched in a number. After a moment, a fur answered.
    "Mapper's Art Emporium and Army for Hire. We can wreak Art or Armageddon. Looking at bare walls? We decorate 'em and destroy 'em all in the same day! What can I do for ya?"
    "No pictures or precision attacks today. Mapper. I'm looking for information."
    "Dr Kayngi! Nice to hear from you. What do you need."
    "I need to know if you can find out the present whereabouts of a certain armored Kolonel we're both familiar with."
    "Ahh, Kolonel C.W. eh? I don't know where he is off-paw, but I have some contacts I can ask. So what does our metal-armed friend have up his sleeve this time... besides an oil leak?"
    "It seems he wants a new fashion accessory to add to his collection of exchangeable paws... something called the Claw of Karnak. Ever hear of it?"
    "Nope. But since you're involved, I take it this Claw is more than just a nail clipping from some poor slob named Karnak."
    "Too true," answered Kay. "It's an ancient artifact that supposed to make the wearer invincible in combat."
    "Sounds dangerous in the wrong paws... or should I say 'on' the wrong paw. But since it's ancient, would this Claw be familiar with modern warfare technology? We're a bit past the 'sticks and stones' stage, ya know."
    "I couldn't say, but then our Kolonel may not want it for pitched battles. Maybe he only needs it to clobber individual adversaries. In any case, could you see if you can locate him? I'm gonna go for the Claw myself, and it's always nice to have the enemy where I can see him."
    "Yep. They're easier to annihilate that way. I'll see what I can do and get back to you. If you need us for anything else, don't hesitate to use the Badger Signal and we'll show up - mushrooms and all."
    Kay winced as Mapper cut the connection. That Badger Signal itself was enough to drive most adversaries insane. Mapper just showed up afterwards to clean up the quivering bodies. She thought a bit and then punched in another phone number. Kay smiled when another fur answered.
    "Hello. Skunk Fox here. How may I molest you?"
    "As little as possible SF."
    "Dr. Kayngi! So nice to hear from you! Well, since you won't let me glom you directly, I'll just fiddle with my life-sized Adventure Kay rubber bobble-head figure here. So soft, so life-like, so bobbley..."
    "Earth to Skunk Fox."
    "Hmmm? Oh. Sorry Doctor. Got carried away with your wobbliness there."
    "Always the charmer SF. Anyway, I need a favor."
    "Anything for my delightfully gelatinous friend, Doctor."
    "Since you are a master of forum free-for-alls, I need you to check out a Role-Playing-Game acquaintance of mine called 'Red Tail'."
    "Red Tail? Nice name. I take it he likes getting his backside paddled?"
    "I wouldn't know, but I'm sure you can find out. In fact, I'd like you to find out as much as you can about him, especially his real life location. The RPG he hangs out at is on EZBoard, .and it's called the Magical, Endless, Get Awesome Stuff to Kick Unsuspecting Newbie's Knuts off Quest - or MEGA-SKUNK for short. I'm sure you'll love it.
    "Sounds like my kind of RPG."
    "Thanks. I need that info as soon as you can get it..... Skunky? Hello?"
    "Sorry, Doc. My imagination just took me someplace nobody should go... but it was fun."
    "SF, drop your latex lady and go to the computer, now! MEGA-SKUNK is calling."
    "Ah yes, the Call of the Wild... and the Insane... and the Squishy. Okay! I'm off to poison the minds of some unsuspecting, but no doubt deserving, furs. Later, Doctor."
    Kayngi switched off her cell phone and stuffed it into her shirt pocket before turning back to Professor Cirrel.
    Cirrel nodded and pointed to the dusty book he was reading. "According to Google's 'Ancient Artifacts 'R' Us' the Claw of Karnak was last known to be in Bang-La-Desh, a country named after its first ruler - some French colonialist guy named 'Desh'. It's on the border of In-Dia.
    "Who was In Dia?" Kay said, giving the required responce.
    "According to legend, everyfur and his brother. That was one hot Hindi goddess."
    "My kind of diety," smirked Kay.
    "There's also a reference here to the Claw possibly being in Pack-Estan," continued Cirrel.
    "Which was named after its first ruler, some Spanish colonialist twit named 'Estan'."
Cirrel closed the book and smiled. "So my lectures weren't for naught. You actually listened when you were in my class."
    "At least when I wasn't looking at your cute butt," Kay commented, grinning evilly.
    Cirrel raised an eyebrow and swished his tail. "Wish I would have known that back then."
    "All you had to do was turn around and look, Professor, but you were always so fascinated by what you were writing on the board." Kay smiled - a grateful smile this time. "And so was I. That's why I got into archeology."
    "So, I'm the cause of you going off on these jaunts and giving me gray hair?"
    "Yep. All your fault, Professor," said Kayngi as she pulled another book from the bookcase and began leafing through it. "And I learned something else from you, too. Always do your homework. That way, when surprises come up later, you're prepared."

  4. Relaxing by the Fire Breathing Dragon

    It had been a long day, what with all the research she and Professor Cirrel had done on the Claw of Karnak. It was now time to relax a bit before heading home to pack for the trip. Dr. Kayngi stepped into the 'Snoot Full', a bar across from campus and found a quiet table near the back before ordering a Mud Slide. She had just been served when she noticed a movement out of the corner of her eye.
    The dragon-like figure drifted slowly out of the shadows and came to loom over her. Its slitted eyes burned with a cold green light, and a wisp of smoke drifted from the corner of its mouth. Both nostrils seemed to have corks in them.
    Instantly alert, Kay moved her paw to the holster with the .44 auto-mag. "And what do you want."
    The dragon's mouth opened to reveal rows of gleaming gold teeth.
    "I hab bed boughd to dis plade to gib you a wardig."
    "Pardon?" asked Kay.
    The dragon blinked and looked cross-eyed at its snout. "Sowwy bow dat." It removed the corks in it's nose and immediately sneezed. The table next to them burst into flames and several furs screamed while others tried to douse the blaze with their pitchers of pilsner.
    Kay eyed him cooly. "You were saying something before you toasted the furniture?"
    The dragon returned its haunting gaze back to her. "The corks are a precaution. I do try to be careful, but..." It shrugged. "As to my message, I have been brought to this plane to give you a warning."
    "We're not on a 'plane', Mr. Aim-n-Flame. We're in a bar - one that's a lot smokier than it was before."
    The lofty dragon's golden eyes darted about for a moment. "Um...yes. Well then, I've been brought to this noisy, smelly, overpriced, drink establishment to give you a warning."
    "I hope it's not the one about the lady's toilet. I've already been given that one."
    The dragon looked mournful. "Well, that was the main one, but I have another warning for you around here somewhere." The dragon opened the pouch around its waist and drew out several jewel encrusted warning signs. One was a ruby covered 'Danger. Flammable' sign, another was a giant, yellow topaz in the shape of a 'Yield to My Power' sign, and a third was a beautifully enameled 'Do not operate under the influence of the planet Mars' placard. Finally the dragon withdrew a ragged piece of parchment.
    "Here it is, but I must demand payment for a second message."
    "How much?"
    The dragon eyed the contents of the bar. "A gallon of paint thinner should do."
    Kay signaled to the barkeep. "A gallon of 'Old Handyman' for my friend here."
    Reluctantly, the barkeep served the dragon who downed the volatile liquid in one gulp. Then it belched flame - which set off the sprinkler system - which doused the patrons - which made the whole place smell like wet pooch.
    "You got your drink," grumbled Kay, shaking the water from her hair and trying not to gag. "Now let's have the message."
    The dragon cleared its throat, and Kay patted out the flames where the spittle set the tablecloth on fire.
    "Ahem. Here goes then," the dragon said, ominously. "Be thee warned, mortal. Beware the Boot of Karnak!"
    "The what?" exclaimed Kay.
    "The Boot of Karnak," repeated the dragon.
    "What's this about Karnak and his wardrobe? What's next? His athletic supporter? Are you sure it says 'Boot', and not 'Claw'?"
    The dragon looked closely at the wet parchment, turning it back and forth. "I suppose it could say 'Beware the Poot of Karnak', but that would imply a serious gas problem."
    "Not unlike someone else we know," mumbled Kay.
    The dragon replaced all the items back in its pouch and bowed. "I have given my messages, and now I must leave you," it said, moving slowly back into the shadows. Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash, and smoke billowed out of the corner.
    Kay thought it smelled amazingly like a beer fart.


5. A Little Warning is Always Good

    Kayngi thanked the powers that were for drip-dry clothes. She was almost presentable when she reached the Furnet University Museum.
    When she walked in the door, she was surprised to see an old gray raccoon behind the reception desk.
"Mike! What are you doing here? How did they ever pry you away from your beloved Library?"
    The raccoon looked up from the book he was reading. "Hello Professor. I'm just filling in for the regular curator this evening. As to how they 'pried' me away from the University Library? That was easy. I like it here too. You must remember that artifacts are just 'books' written in a different dialect. They can tell you many things. You should know that. After all, you speak their language."
    "A truer word was never spoken, my friend." Kay smiled. Mike had been invaluable to her numerous times when she'd needed information from the library. "I thank you for your counsel whenever I'm lucky enough to receive it. It bears the wisdom of many winters."
    "In other words, I'm an old fart."
    "But a nice one."
    Mike chuckled. "So, what brings you to the museum this evening? Research?"
    Kay looked off toward the east wing and absently rubbed her chest. "Sort of." she said in a far away voice. "Actually, I've come to see an old friend."
    "I haven't seen anyone head toward the east wing this evening, Will they be showing up later or have they been here all day?"
    "They were here before you came," said Kay. "I'll just show myself in. See you later."
    Mike waved her past and she started for the east wing. As she walked, the twinge in her chest grew stronger, but rather than being alarmed, Kay felt a renewed sense of security. She always did, and that's why she came here every time before going out on one of her little 'jaunts'.
    The twinge progressed into a true pain as she entered the east wing, but she kept walking. It was easy to ignore the pain. She knew where it came from, and she was grateful for it. It had saved her life many times.
Finally she reached the far end of a long vaulted room. A single pedestal there supported a glass case and she stepped up to it - the pain in her chest, a burning now.
    "Hello there, old friend" she said, running her fingers along the glass of the case. "I told him I didn't know what you were for, but that wasn't the whole truth. I had my suspicions, and I thought he might do what he did. So now, no matter where I am, whenever death is near, you warn me with a convenient twinge in the chest - a premonition of the death I experienced, yet never did. Someday, I will have to thank Tygon Panthera for killing me."
    Kay unlocked the glass case with a special key she'd had made, and despite the fierce burning it caused, reverently touched the artifact within.
    It was the Dagger of Time.

  6. Duct Tape and A Public Announcement

    Dr Kayngi stepped out of the shower, keenly aware that this might be her last one for a long time.
    "Good thing my normal scent isn't bad, but that doesn't mean I won't get sprayed, scent marked, or generally dumped on out there."
    She toweled off and hung the towel up to dry, aware that if she tossed it in the laundry hamper it would be green and fuzzy by the time she got back. Not a good thing for a towel that was supposed to be white and fuzzy. She re-braided her hair before heading to the bedroom.
    Her 'field work' outfit was laid out on the bed and she began to dress. Spandex polyester under things to wick away sweat and moisture. Durable cotton denim trousers under leather chaps with a full compliment of pockets. Polyester under socks. Padded cotton outer socks. Leather walking shoes. Cotton/polyester shirt. Black leather jacket. Light sensitive Ray Bans. Black leather fedora.
    She eyed herself in the full length mirror. It looked like a 'hot' outfit - in the temperature sense of the word - but she could always take something off and carry it if necessary. What she needed when the time came was the durability and protection leather could provide.
    "Dagger of Time or not, you can still get yourself killed, lady. Always keep that in mind."
Suddenly, Kay felt a peculiar tingling on the back of her neck that had nothing to do with the Dagger of Time.
    It was the Portal of Authors.
    "Well. I'm glad Cirrel at least waited until after I was dressed," she mumbled, and turned toward the shining portal. It was 'Announcement Time' and she put on a pleasant face.
    "Okay then. To all you PlanetFurry furs who are out there reading this story, Cirrel told me to tell you that at no time will he *intentionally* write anything nasty, derogatory, or out of character when he includes a PF character in this story. However, since this is an 'off paw' type of writing, Cirrel is *not* spending a whole lot of time researching facts. He doesn't have the time. He's also including characters *as they come to mind* and probably will *not* be asking permission to include your character. However, he will always try to be considerate of them. If you truly don't want inclusion, let him know - otherwise, your fair game. Consider this whole thing to be a 'First Draft' subject to revision. If Cirrel pulls a real boner, it can be changed. Remember, mistakes will be made, but they can sometimes be the best part of the story. Learn to laugh at yourself. Cirrel does... all the time."
    Kayngi, the character, looked up at Cirrel, the author. "Good enough for you?"
    "Fine by me."
    An evil sort of grin spread over Kay's muzzle. "Hey boss. Do you think these readers will ever figure out that they, themselves, are just figments of a bigger Author's imagination?"
    "Some of them already have. Shall we get back to *your* story now?"
    "Right." said Dr. Kayngi, and the Portal of Authors faded from view.
    Kay gave a little shiver. Talking through the Portal of Authors was always a little scary, but she had other things to do now, and turning to the dresser, she checked her travel backpack.

        Bullwhip: Check.
        .44 auto-mag with magnum sponge loads and side holster: Check
        International Weapons Transport papers: Check
        Passport: Check
        Solar-Powered Badger Signal Palm Pilot Phone/Camera with satellite uplink: Check
        American Expresso card: Check
        Combo Swiss Army Knife, archeological shovel/brush, and lock-pick: Check
        LED Flashlight: Check
        Aluminized Space blanket: Check
        Toothbrush: Check
        Toilet paper: Check
        Imodium AD when Toilet Paper runs out: Check
        Cork and Superglue when Imodium AD runs out: Check
        Duct Tape when everything runs out: Check
        All the stuff I usually forget - not here: Check

    Satisfied, Kay closed the black leather Gucci backpack and slung it over her shoulder. It was time to head for the airport.

  7. Friends and Lackeys

    A gleaming metal fist came down on the computer keyboard with a horrendous crash, scattering plastic keys and flex wire everywhere.
    "RATS!" screamed an enraged voice.
    Suddenly, thousands of small bodies filled the room.
    "Joo call us, boss?"
    Kolonel CrazedWolf whirled around in his chair.
    "NO! I'm just mad as hell! Now, GET LOST!"
    "Joo got it, boss!"
    The rodents quickly disappeared in a cloud of outdated maps, error-riddled driving instructions, and rat pellets.
    The angry wolf glared. "Dumb @ss lackeys! They take me so literally. I REALLY need to find myself a different expletive! Or better lackeys!"
    Still angry, he walked to a cabinet in his office and pulled out another keyboard from the dwindling stack that was there. "Gonna have to order another two-dozen of these."
    He plugged in the new keyboard and looked back at the screen at what had angered him so. He'd just read the header of Red Tail's misguided message to his RPG group. One of the names there had been like a slap in the muzzle.
    'Sword Sister of Dark Justice'
    "From goforthegold.fnu.edu no less," he grumbled. "It MUST be her! And knowing the good Doctor, she'll try to get to the Claw of Karnak FIRST!"
    His metal fist punched a ragged hole through the LCD monitor, sending sparks flying everywhere.
    "RATS! Try to screw me, will you?"
    The room was suddenly filled again with thousands of small bodies.
    Plus one large tube of K-Y jelly.


    Dr Kayngi had arrived at the airport in good time and was now approaching the special hanger set aside for private aircraft. She'd called her pilot friend earlier and he would be arriving soon, if he wasn't already here giving his 'baby' a thorough going over. She half expected to see him when she walked through the door, but what she saw instead made her stop dead in her tracks. Next to her own twin engine Kitsune sat a white and black striped civilian T-38.
    ''When did he get into town?' she thought.
    It couldn't have been long ago because she could still feel the heat radiating from the engines. Kay stared only a moment longer before putting on her 'don't mess with me' face and heading straight for the flight plan office.
    "Alright, mister! You owe me!" she snarled as she burst through the doors. "A stick of jerky does NOT qualify as a steak dinner!"
    The absolutely stunned look of the white tiger sitting at the desk was so funny Kay couldn't keep a straight face and burst out laughing. Still laughing, she pulled him out of his chair and gave him a rib-crunching hug.
    "Hello there, Tigermark! Good to see you again!"
    "Still the ebullient personality, eh?" answered the white tiger as they broke their embrace. "I see the university hasn't turned you into a book-worming sour-puss, yet."
    Kay punched him in his shoulder. "And they never will. So, what are you doing here?"
    "I'm on my way to the New Delhi Airshow," said Tigermark. "It's a rather new show. They haven't had that many in that part of the world, but New Delhi is in the second largest country in the world, population-wise, and they're becoming more affluent. It seems the organizers of the show think my dilapidated old bird is something of an eye-catcher and will help draw crowds. They paid my way and everything."
    "Too bad it's a single-seater," Kay commented as she peered at the striped aircraft through the office's hanger window, "otherwise, I'd try to bum a ride off you. I'm headed for Bang-La-Desh, myself."
    "But, Kay, the T-38 is a two-seater," said Tigermark. "It was a military trainer. You probably thought it was a single-seater because I have an instrument training hood blocking the rear seat windows. You should be more familiar with my ride than that. You've used me often enough as a fast courier."
    "True," replied Kay, "but all those times were - shall we say - rather rushed? Not much time to observe."
    Tigermark was nodding and eyeing her. "Yes they were. You know, Dr. Kayngi, you sure operate at a hectic pace. I always thought archeologists were slow moving creatures with thick glasses and dusty hats that smelled of ruins, but not you. With you it's always rush, rush, rush. In fact, that's how I came to owe you a steak dinner, as I recall. Seems I was 5 minutes late to a rendezvous and you demanded the dinner as punitive payment."
    "And like I said, mister." Kay faked a growl around her smile. "Tossing me a stick of jerky at our last rendezvous doesn't count as a steak dinner, so you still owe me. But..." she folded her arms and tried to look stern. "I'll forgive the debt if you give me a ride to New Delhi in your 'dilapidated old bird'. It's only a hop, skip, and a jump to Bang-La-Desh from there."
    "It'll take an extra half-day to redo the paperwork for a passenger," commented Tigermark in a droll voice. "A passenger cuts my range and refueling stops have to be re-calculated."
    "No problem," answered Kay, flashing her American Expresso card. "I can pay for the extra fuel, and your flying scrap-heap will get me there faster than my puddle-jumper. In addition, the extra day will give me time to wrap up some things here in person instead of over the phone."
    "Plus," added the white tiger, "it will keep me grounded long enough to finally buy you a real steak dinner, right?"
    "You got it, mister," Kay replied, licking her chops.
    "Um, Doctor, I really need to tell you something before we have dinner together."
    The white tiger seemed nervous now. Something Kay had never seen in him before. What kind of problem could there be just going out for a steak dinner. Could it be...?
    "Tigermark, you're not..." Kay started, but the white tiger was now pointing to a gold band on his paw, and she let out a breath of relief. "Oh, it's only that. Let me see, you were afraid I might want to jump your bones if you didn't tell me, right?"
    Tigermark nodded, embarrassed.
    "I'm an archeologist, remember?" she laughed. "The only bones I jump have been dead for centuries."
    "Somehow, I don't think that's entirely true, Doctor," replied Tigermark, grinning now. "But if it wasn't my marital status you were worried about, what was it?"
    Kay sniggered. "I thought for a second you might have turned 'Vegetarian' on me, or something."
    Tigermark's grin turned into a big smile, showing all of his very white teeth.
    "Do these look like they were designed for a salad-bar?"
    At that moment, a medium sized Main Coon in a leather flight jacket strode into the office. His hard blue eyes behind steel rimmed spectacles swept the room before coming to rest on Tigermark.
    "Alright. Whose fancy, striped junk-pile is blocking my plane?"
    The Maine Coon's voice was low, but its tone could have rivaled any drill sergeant's on the first day of boot camp. Tigermark wasn't smiling now.
    "Um, it's mine... Sir."
    The Maine Coon looked the white tiger up and down and Kay could see Tigermark trying to stand a little straighter. Kay suppressed an urge to smile and looked dour, instead.
    "You complete your post-flight check?" The Main Coon's tone implied serious doubt.
    "Completed and logged," Tigermark answered.
    Kay saw Tigermark visibly struggle not to add the 'Sir' to the end. Then she saw him grin ever so slightly.
    "So, your plane is the Kitsune?" Tigermark said quickly, letting his grin grow into an appreciative smile. "Excellent aircraft. Reliable Pratt & Whitney engines, tough airframe, easy to maintain in the field, and I see it has the STOL modifications added as well as the floats. I take it you use lot of unimproved airstrips as well as water? That takes some skill as well as a good aircraft. You probably have an interesting story or two to tell."
    Kayngi couldn't help smiling now. Tigermark had taken exactly the right approach, so she stepped forward to make introductions.
    "Tigermark? Meet my pilot and good, if somewhat crusty, friend Cateagle. Cateagle? This is Tigermark. I've used him occasionally when speed was essential. You'll have to admit that his plane is a bit faster than ours."
    The edges of Cateagle's muzzle were struggling to rise in a smile. They almost made it when he finally spoke. "I'll give him that." He held out a paw. "And for a jet-jockey, you do know your aircraft." They shook paws.
    Then Kay turned to Cateagle, a little nervous about what she had to say now. "Cateagle, I know we were going to take this trip together, but I need to get on this thing as fast as I can, and Tigermark has offered to give me a ride. Do you mind flying over to Bang-La-Desh by yourself?"
    Cateagle's expression had gone hard again, but he didn't make the fuss Kay had expected.
    "I'll still need you over there to do the really important stuff," she added.
    Cateagle nodded slowly. "I gotta go then. I'll need time to prep her if I want to make it to St. Johns at a reasonable hour." With that, the Maine Coon walked out of the office.
    Kay sighed. "I hated to do that to him. We're sort of a team - at least when I need to get out of a scrape fast."
    Tigermark turned to the water cooler and poured himself a cup before turning back to Kay. "Tell me, do you like hard Country and Western music?"
    Kayngi shivered. "No. Are you thinking of taking me to some steak house that plays it?"
    "Nope," he answered.
    "Then why did you ask?"
    "To needed to find out if your pilot was going to be alright by himself. I think he will be."
    Kay stared. "How would you know? And what does C&W have to do with this?"
    Tigermark smiled. "I briefly checked out the Kitsune before coming in here to finish my paperwork. It really is a well built plane. But I also noticed a few CDs in the open toolbox on the flight deck. Hard C&W. I think Cateagle will be listening to a few tunes on his long and oh, so lonely trip - tunes he'd normally not get to hear, unless, of course, you like to travel with your headphones turned off all the time."
    Kay looked out the open door at her pilot, who was going over a checklist. "Hard C&W. My pilot? Who'd have thought it?"
    They walked out of the office and toward the hanger door.
    "So what kind of music do you like?" asked Tigermark.
    "All sorts," answered Kay. "Except, of course, hard C&W."
    "Give me anything but Techno-Rock," said Tigermark. "I'll listen to that when pigs sprout wings."
    Kay burst out laughing. "I guess you'll have to listen to Techno then."
    Tigermark gave Kay an incredulous look. "What makes you say that?"
    But Kay merely went into another fit of laughter and pointed.
    Tigermark looked to where she was pointing and there, emblazoned underneath the pilot's window, was the name of Dr. Kayngi's Kitsune.
    "Miss Piggy"

  8. Pit Stop

    The sky over the Wreck-Yer-Wick, Iceland was a deep, almost purple, blue, and the sun - a brilliant whiteness to the south.
    Kay could care less as she came back from using the airport 'facilities'.
    "Where onboard were you storing that female adapter for 'Personal Relief Tube' thing? One of the wingtips? It was freezing! Talk about sphincter paralysis! I had a time convincing my bladder just now that it was okay to unlock again!"
    "I think things of that sort are designed that way. When was the last time you heard of a comfortably warm bed-pan?" answered Tigermark, who had just finished refueling his jet for the next leg of their journey. "Adequate potty facilities are not the T-38's specialty. You ready to rock 'n' roll?"
    "In a minute. Gotta check my voice mail. I'm expecting some important messages." Kay pulled out her Palm Pilot, and switched on the satellite link.
    "----- Scotty! Your brea ------- up. Ple ------ boost ------ She kenna go any faster, Capn. ------ the dylithium ------ "
    "Wrong satellite?" asked Tigermark.
    "Wrong universe," answered Kayngi.
    She rebooted the up-link.
    "---- You're listening to KWKAT, PlanetFurry radio! Weeeee ------"
    "Definitely, wrong universe," muttered Kay, shaking her head. She tried one last time.
    "Welcome to FurryGlobe Satellite Services. Please type in your private access code."
    "Finally!" She punched in her password, and one of two messages cycled.
    "Dr. Kayngi, Mapper, here. Seems our mutual friend was last seen leaving Drinktillyouspew U., a college in Undergrad, Lap-Via. You know, the country on the Ball-a-Tick Sea whose first ruler was some Valvolined vixen named Via. He was heading south in a hyper-tuned LADA, closely followed by a mob of rats dressed in badly matched lingerie. Looks like this could be... a situation. Not sure what kind, but definitely a situation. Remember, if you need me, send up the Badger Signal and the mushroom mongers will descend like bad case of IRS auditors."
    Kay smiled and pressed the button for the second message.
    "Kayngi! My delectably diddleable Doctor, SF here! I got Tail! It's Red! And it's in Got-Amala! You know, the central-american country whose first ruler..."
    "...was some free-tailed tush-monkey named Amala," Kay mouthed along with SkunkFox's voice.
    "It seems my latest victim is associated with a big, bad military type named Darke Wolf. Apparently, DW is not into the lighter pastel-print fatigues that are so fashionable this year. But enough talking! I have an RPG to terrorize! It's time to break out the Severe-Bodily-Harm-by-Tickling Machine. Later!"
    Kayngi sat for a moment, thinking. She wasn't surprised that Darke Wolf was involved. She'd tangled with him and Kolonel Crazed on the Golden Mellon Idol affair. But why would information about the Claw of Karnak be coming from Got-Amala when all her sources said it was in Bang-La Desh? She activated the e-mail function on her Palm Pilot. Maxx wouldn't be up yet. Too early there.
    "Maxx, Dr. Kayngi here," she typed. "I need a favor. Can you locate the whereabouts of our mutual friend Darke Wolf? I think he's still in Got-Amala. Get back to me at this e-mail addy when you can." Kay pressed the send button, and waited for the acknowledge signal before switching off.
    This new development was disturbing. She might still have some power over Kolenel Crazed, but his infatuation with her might have waned by now. Only a muzzle to muzzle meeting with him would answer that question. However, she'd never had the same effect on Darke Wolfe. He was an unknown. But then he might not be involved that much with this situation.
    "Don't buy trouble if you don't have to," Kay muttered to herself. "Even though it looks like it's on sale this week."
    She turned to Tigermark. "Time to hit the heavenly trails, bud."
    Fifteen minutes later, afterburners blazing, they were heading toward frozen Cyber-rhea.
    You know.
    The arctic land in far northern Asia whose first ruler invented the cybernetic diarrhea called junk-e-mail.

  9. Lingerie and Limos

    Kolonel Crazed Wolf sat by his smoking LADA talking to Dark Wolf on his satellite-phone.
    "Yes? You got my message? What? Why are you shouting! No! I don't think you're dull! You're one of the smartest furs I know! What? Holy hairballs DW, that wasn't a CAPS LOCK error! That was the acronym for the place where I found the Claw Map! D.U.L.L. stands for the Drinktillyouspew University Lending Library! Red Tail was right! It was there! Okay. Okay. I'll spell it out for you next time. Is Red Tail with you now? I sent him to you because he can't do much damage there. Got-Amala hasn't got internet access. What! It does? Then whatever you do, keep him off... He did? RATS! No more screwing around!"
    "Hokay boss!" squeaked scores of slicked down rodents in red teddys. "What we do wit da fun-duds now?"
    Kolonel Crazed howled. "What do I look like? Customer support for Fredrick's of Furrywood? Figure it out yourselves! Go sell 'em on FurBid or something!"
    "Joo got it, boss!" The rodents disappeared in a cloud of red lace and cheap perfume.
    "Stupid, useless…" Kolonel crazed shook his head and turned his attention back to his conversation with Darke Wolf.
    "Yeah. Give Red Tail a swift kick in his red tail for me, too! But I got another problem. My ride just died, and I gotta get to Bang-La-Desh before Dr. Kayngi does! What? Of course she won't 'get' to me again. I got aversion therapy for that, remember! Now the mere sight of her triggers… well, never you mind what it triggers. Right now, I need to know if we have any operatives here in Jaw-Jia. You know, the country on the Black Sea who's first ruler… oh, never mind. All I want to know now is do we have someone here who can get me some new wheels! We don't? RATS!"
    "We back, boss!" squeaked the mob of rodents. "What joo need now?"
    Kolonel Crazed turned to scream at his lackeys… and stopped dead, jaw open. Thousands of rats in svelte suits and ray-bans crowded around the biggest stretch limo the Kolonel had ever seen.
    "I'll get back to you, DW," mumbled the Kolonel and disconnected. Then he pointed. "Where did you get that?"
    "Got good deal on FurBid. We go now?"
    The Kolonel merely nodded.

  10. That's Some Pair of McMuffins!

    Tigermark had safely stowed "Stripes One" as he called the fancy T-38, and he and Dr. Kayngi were now enjoying a mouth sizzling curry at the New Delhi airshow office cafeteria. He waved his paw in front of his mouth.
    "Woooo! This In-Dia food is definitely in afterburner mode. Are you sure it's safe?" He took a few gulps of filtered water.
    "Nope," answered Kay, downing another forkful, "but I imagine any bugs in it will be even worse off than us. This is what a good curry should be like. Curls your whiskers on the way down, doesn't it?"
    "Yeah. It'll probably curl my tail on the way out, too," he laughed. When his laugh subsided, he pushed his empty curry bowl to one side and gave Kay a serious look. "The airshow isn't for another week Doctor. If you need some help, I can cover your back."
    Dr. Kay put her paw over the white tiger's. "Why do you think my backside needs…"
    Tigermark held up a paw. "I'm not blind you know. I'd have a hard time flying if I was. Let's say that during our brief encounters I've noticed you carrying items not normally associated with archeology. The ruger .44 Auto-mag for instance?"
    "Well, you might call what I do 'Action Archeology', but I'm perfectly safe. Really I am."
    Tigermark sighed. "Well then, I can at least see you safely out to the parking lot."
    Kay nodded, and the two of them walked out of the cafeteria - after Tigermark insisted on paying the bill, that is.
    Since the airshow was a ways off, the parking lot was relatively deserted for a crowded country like In-dia. There were only a few dilapidated taxis and a bus that had seen better days - probably a couple decades ago.
    "Not much choice here," commented Tigermark. "Maybe we could get a ride to the main airport and you could fly to Bang-La-Desh."
    Kay shook her head. "Their airport there is not much better than some of the unimproved airstrips Cateagle and I have used. If I'm gonna fly into one of those, I want it to be on my plane, with him piloting it. In lieu of that, I'll take ground transport."
    "How about the trains?"
    Kay shook her head. "Too unreliable. I need something that won't be stopping for every fur who holds up a paw."
    Just then, a large stretch limo pulled into the parking lot.
    "And something comfortable, too?" commented Tigermark.
    Kay smiled. "Yeah, I think this will do just fine."
    Before they so much as took a step toward the limo, however, a voice from inside screamed "Get her!"
    Hundreds of rodents swarmed from the vehicle, and Tigermark roughly pushed Kay behind him before whipping out a .45 Auto Estate. "Get outta here, Doctor!" he yelled, but it was too late. They were surrounded. He noticed Kay wasn't exactly helpless. She had her .44 Auto-Mag out and ready for action.
    For a moment, the two stood back to back, waiting for the surrounding rats to make their move. Then a voice came from the Limo.
    "So nice to see you again, Doctor. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to turn over those oversized pea-shooters of yours. As you can see, I've go a lot more 'fodder' than you've got 'cannon'.
    That was obvious, so they didn't resist when several rats relieved them of their weapons.
    "Don't worry," whispered Kayngi. "I can handle this one. I recognized his voice. He's got this weak spot for me....I hope."
    They saw the rear Limo door being opened by a menacing looking metal paw. Then a figure slowly emerged, and Kaygi put on a seductive pout that could melt steel.
    "Kolonel, darling," she said in a voice that even made Tigermerk shiver a bit. "You wouldn't hurt us now. Would you?" She batted her eyelashes.
    Kay could see the sweat running down Kolonel Crazed Wolf's forehead as he slowly approached them.
    "It… will… not… work… this… time," he said in a choked voice, his metallic paw creaking as it balled into a fist. Then his head tilted back as if to howl, but instead he screamed. "Must… Have… WAFFLES!"
    A score of rats pulled boxes of waffles out of the Limo trunk and tossed them to the Kolonel. He grabbed as many as he could and ripped them open before looking back at Kay and Tigermark with a slightly crazed gleam in his eye.
    "Mwahahahah! The therapy worked! I'm immune to your animal magnetism now, Doctor! When I see you, all I need are a few waffles!" He stuffed a dozen into his mouth. "Oo cannah efcape me ow!"
    "Syrup?" asked a rat, pointing a Super-Soaker at him.
    "Ooo, fyrup!" drooled the Kolonel. "Gimme…"
    Suddenly, the satellite phone in the Limo went off, and the Kolonel sprayed bits of waffle everywhere.
    "RATS! No phone calls now! Cut me some slack, already!"
    "Joo got it, boss!"
    A dozen rats grabbed the phone and then they were all off in a cloud of flapping ties and shining shoes. In a flash, the parking lot was deserted except for the Kolonel, Kay, and Tigermark.
    Kay immediately grabbed the Super-Soaker, but instead of pointing it at the enraged Kolonel, she turned it on herself and dribbled some of the syrup onto her shirt front.
    "Oh Kolonel," she cooed.
    His expression did a 180. "Huh?"
    "Care for some breakfast? Just think of me as a big, fluffy Eggo." Kay scooped a dollop of syrup from her chest and sensuously wrapped her tongue around the glistening finger.
    The Kolonel's eyes bugged out. Then his eyes dropped to her shirt, and they glazed over. "Niiiiice.. Waaafffllless… niiiiice..... nuhhhh...."
    He was out on his feet.
    Tigermark retrieved their weapons from the Limo and gave Kay hers after she'd wiped the syrup off her shirt.
    "Talk about sticky situations," grinned Tigermark. "I knew I was right about you. I don't wanna hear any objections now. I'm gonna stay with you at least until you get to Bang-La-Desh."
    Kay nodded as she searched the petrified Kolonel. "Alright, then. I'll admit, for a jet-jockey, you handle a side arm pretty well. Ah! Here it is!"
    Kay held up a very ragged looking piece of rolled leather.
    "What's that?"
    "The map I need to know where I'm going." She stuffed it into her backpack. "We better scram before the rats get back. No doubt, his lackeys have a copy, so we need to get a head start."
    "Should I play chauffer, or do you want to pilot this land yacht?"
    Kay motioned him to the front as she climbed in the back. "Home, Jeeves. If anyone calls, I'll be in the pool."
    A few moments later, the parking lot was empty except for some shabby cabs and a smartly dressed, if catatonic, wolf with a metal arm.

    An hour later, Kolonel Crazed woke up to see himself surrounded again by his hoard of lackeys.
    Each one was holding out a pair of sliced slacks.

  11. The Cry of the Bungle

    Tigermark shifted position once more on the water buffalo that was carrying him. The Limo had been abandoned earlier that day when the road ran out. The bouncing had been entertaining at first - at least when looking at Doctor Kayngi - but now he had a bad case of 'numb bumm'.
    "That's an awfully fast pace they've set, Doctor," he griped. "What's that song they're singing to keep time?" He noticed Kayngi had been humming along.
    "Most work songs in this part of the world are agrarian," she answered, "this being an agricultural based economy. Roughly, the lyrics translate into 'I need a brand new combine harvester, but I'm too poor, you see. Why don't we two get together, and rip one off for free?'"
    Tigermark eyed his mount. "Not very law abiding are they."
    "What law?" said Kay. "The only law here is Bungle law."
    "Don't you mean 'Jungle' law? 'Eat or be eaten'?"
    "Nope. Bungle Law. 'If things can go wrong, they will.' 'Bungle' is local dialect for 'Murphy'. Flood, famine, earthquake, you name it, this place has it. 'Dirt poor' is the high end of the social ladder here."
    "Why do they live here then?"
    "No lawyers - no one can afford one."
    "In other words, it's paradise."
    "You got it."
    Tigermark then asked something else that had been puzzling him. "Doctor? I noticed that you didn't eliminate the Kolonel when you had the chance."
    Kangi turned to him. "Would you have?"
    "Can't say," answered Tigermark. "I don't know the circumstances."
    "So there are circumstances under which you would deal out death?"
    Tigermark was quiet for a long time.
    "I'm sorry," said Kay. "I shouldn't have asked."
    "No. No. It's a fair question," replied Tigermark. "It's just one that requires thought, and that's something I take comfort in. I don't think I would like the furson I would be if I found the answer too easy."
    Kay nodded "Okay, I won't push it. Let's just say that eliminating the Kolonel would make things much harder for me, rather than easier. Enemies have friends - ones that aren't likely to forget. Right now, I'm an irritation to them. I don't wish to become a major objective. But enough of this! It's a nice enough day and the sun is warm upon our backs!"
    "I wouldn't know about that," said Tigermark, wincing. "I stopped feeling my backside about ten rice-paddies back."
    Suddenly both water buffalo stopped and dumped Kay and Tigermark unceremoniously to the ground.
    "No go further, Sahib!" one water buffalo said, pointing toward where the jungle rose in a solid wall beyond the last field. "Bad mumbo-jumbo!
    "What?" the two travelers asked.
    "No go there, Sahib! Bad Mumbo-Jumbo!" said the other water buffalo, shaking his great horned head vigorously.
    "Pardon? What do you mean - bad mumbo-jumbo? Is that like bad JuJu?" asked Tigermark.
    "Bad Mumbo-Jumbo!" cried both water buffalo, gesticulating wildly.
    "Could either one of you be more specific?" demanded Kay.
    The bigger one grabbed them both by the collars, and pulled them to within an inch of his snout.
    "Let's put it THIS way! It has been posited by several highly-regarded world-class scientific institutions that a significant sector of the arboreal region spread out before us now may be under the influence of a hitherto unknown aberration in the fabric of quantum gravity and space-time, thus rendering null and void all know laws governing the normal behavior of matter, energy, space, and time!. Izzat specific enough for you, Sahib?"
    "Bad mumbo-jumbo," said Kay. "Got it."
    With that, the water buffalo headed for the opposite horizon and the two adventurer looked toward the forest.
    "Ladies first?" asked Tigermark.
    "That's kind of you," Kay answered with a hint of sarcasm. "Always the gentlefur."
    "I try to be."

    They had entered the lush jungle two hours ago. It was dark, but not as gloomy as one might have expected. Even the windless heat was tolerable.
    "Doesn't seem so bad in here," said Tigermark, looking around at the vaulted forest canopy.
    "Not so bad? You're not the one who got a fish stuck in your ear when she fell into the creek." Kay shook her head again. "I can't believe how that thing affected my hearing. I could have sworn there were voices all around me." She unrolled the map and looked at it. "This way," she pointed, stuffing the map back in her shirt, and they started off again. Despite the calm, something about this place was bothering her. She'd felt it ever since they entered the jungle. She scratched a twinge in her chest.
    That twinge!
    That's what she'd been feeling! Death was near!
    Kay had her .44 Auto-mag out and a round chambered before she knew it.
    "What is it?" hissed Tiger mark pulling out his .45.
    "I don't know," whispered Kayngi, peering through the foliage. "Something... is very wrong here."
    Sweat trickled down her face as the minutes ticked by.
    Two barrels pointed directly at... a squirrel... who screeched, spit nuts, emptied itself from every orifice, and fainted dead away.
    Kay's eyes continued to dart around.
    "I take it, that's not what's wrong," whispered Tigermark.
    Kay shook her head, her chest hurting badly now. "There's something else here. Something..."
    Without warning she whirled around and her .44 filled the air with deadly fire until it was empty. Tigermark had turned and emptied his 13 round clip as well.
    But to no effect.
    The giant black shape looming before them did not move. It merely resolved itself into a tall, hooded figure with a giant sickle.
    "I HAVE COME!" boomed a terrible voice. A long, scabbed, and skeletal paw snaked out of the black robe and pointed directly at Kayngi. "FOR YOU!"
    She felt her heart freeze, but Doctor Kayngi was made of sterner stuff. Her bullwhip was in her paw, and with a mighty snap, she wrapped the end around the skeletal paw and yanked.
    The paw popped off and clattered to the forest floor.
    "Hey! What didja do that for?" yelled the hooded figure.
    "I will not die easily today, Mr. Death!"
    "What? I'm not here to kill anyone!"
    Kay stared and tried to get her heart to slow down. "But... But you're Death, aren't you?"
    "Yes! I am Death - Maynard Death."
    "Maynard Death? Then...you're not the Grim Reaper?"
    "No! My brother, Al, got that job. I'm just the Mildly Annoying Reaper." He picked up his paw, jammed it back onto his wrist upside down, and opened a rotting roll of parchment. He looked at it for a bit before turning it around to Kay.
    "I'm here to give you a bad day. Sign here, please."
    "I'm already having a bad day, thank you!" yelled Kay. "What if I don't sign?"
    "Then I refer the matter to the collections department," rumbled Maynard.
    "Lemme guess," said Kay. "Al's in charge of the collections department."
    "You got it."
    She signed and threw the quill back at Maynard. "How come I don't see you every time I have a bad day?"
    "You do," said the figure. "You just don't remember." He waved a skeletal paw and a fog flowed through Kayngi's brain.
    She blinked.
    "Doesn't seem so bad in here," said Tigermark, looking around at the vaulted forest canopy.
    "Not so bad? You're not the one who got a fish stuck in your ear when she fell into the creek." Kay shook her head again. "Come on, let's move. I got a feeling that this is going to turn into a really bad day."

  12. Sometimes Bad be Good

    They'd been walked in the Jungle for quite a while now and Dr. Kayngi still couldn't seem to shake the feeling. It was like she was being watched. And there was something right on the edge of her memory - something she could almost hear - like a voice saying "You just never remember." Finally, out of the corner of her eye, she seemed to see a darker patch of forest that disappeared when she turned to it.
    What had the water buffalo said? This place didn't behave in the normal way. Bad mumbo-jumbo? What the hell. Magic was worth a try - in this place, anyway. Kayngi slowly slipped her vision toward the darkness in her peripheral vision. With a very soft whisper she mumbled a few words.
    "Hocus-pocus, I need focus."
    The darkness resolved itself into a shape and Kay's memory came rushing back.
    The hooded figure jumped a foot. "DAMN!! Don't scare me like that!"
    Then it cocked its hooded head. "Hey! How can you see me?" It quickly waved its skeletal paw and Kayngi felt the fog slip into her brain - and slide right out again.
    "No dice, Maynard. I can still see you."
    "Who are you talking to, Doctor?" asked Tigermark, but she silenced him with a signal.
    The hooded figure tried his spell again, and when it failed once more, Maynard started swearing a blue streak.
    Suddenly, a humongous booming voice shook Kay right down to her bones.
    "Eep!" Maynard crumpled and cringed. "Sorry boss."
    "What was that?" whispered Tigermark, his .45 Auto Estate in his paw. "I thought I heard something!"
    "You did," hissed Kay. "I'll explain later. Just don't question anything I do or say right now, Okay?"
    "This is your show," Tigermark said, a hint of doubt in his voice.
    Kay turned to the still cowering hooded figure.
    "Get up Maynard, I can see you. There's nothing you can do about it. You're supposed to give me a bad day today, but you ain't your brother Al, so I guess I can at least live with it."
    "You'll have too. It's a binding contract," answered Maynard, standing up slowly. "But this is all highly irregular."
    "Yeah," Kay smirked. "You've never had to worry about someone watching you pull off your shenanigans before, have you?"
    "Aw, come on. Gimme a break. I got quotas and standards to meet, ya know."
    "My heart bleeds for you." Kay turned to Tigermark. "Looks like we have an invisible traveling partner. The Buffalo boys were right. This place definitely is screwed up."
    Tigermark looked around. "What kind if a thing are we talking about here?"
    "Thing! I'm no 'thing'!" cried Maynard, advancing on Tigermark.
    "Back off, Joy-boy!" yelled Kay. "Tigermark isn't in the contract! I'm your 'Date for a Day'."
    Maynard growled and looked grumpy - hard to do for something with no face.
    Kay shook her head and looked to Tigermark. "Our Mildly Annoying invisible partner is my problem. You should be okay, though."
    "Ooookaayyy," said the white tiger, holstering his .45..
    She looked back and forth between the two of them. "Males," she muttered and turned away. She'd walked several paced before she noticed she wasn't being followed. Stopping, she looked back at them.
    "Well? Let's get moving!"

    Four shapes stood across the entrance into a giant pyramid-shaped hill.
    "So those are The Guardians of Creamy Goodness shown here on the map," Kayngi frowned. "Somehow we've got to get past them. The Claw is supposed to be inside."
    The Guardians were huge - like giant, round boulders, 10 feet across. Each was a different bright color, and though their arms and legs looked spindly, they appeared to easily support their bulk. All were plainly sentient and were scanning their surroundings with huge, menacing eyes.
    Suddenly, they began to roar in unison beating their little fists on what was obviously an extremely tough outer shell.
    "What does that mean?" asked Tigermark over the din. "And what are those markings on them? They almost look like letters, but they're smudged.
    "I don't know," said Kayngi. "What say we find out how tough those shells really are."
    Tigermark nodded and they both stood up from their hiding place, cutting loose with a volley of fire. A roar came from the guardians, and suddenly bricks, rocks, and tree trunks, were flying through the air. The guardians were charging as a unit, picking up anything in their path and hurling it at their attackers. Kay and Tigermark scrambled out of the way and headed for the jungle. Fortunately, they weren't followed far. Apparently, the guardians would not stray much from their gate.
    At a safe distance, they stopped to catch their breath and Kay heard a sort of cackling.
    "What are you laughing at?" she groused.
    "I'm not laughing," said Tigermark. "Oh. You're talking to Maynard again."
    Tigermark had told Kay that he had finally come to the conclusion that she wasn't crazy. She'd spotted Maynard setting traps and pitfalls that no one could have spotted beforehand, and as a result, they had successfully negotiated them. Tigermark couldn't deny that Kay was seeing 'something' helpful.
    "You are finally having a hard time of it, eh?" chuckled Maynard. "This is not going well, is it."
    Kay regarded Maynard with a scowl, but quickly softened it. "I wouldn't say that. All in all, I'd say you were of enormous help today. It went a lot better than I expected. I think we'll just call it a day and attack the Guardian problem tomorrow."
    Maynard made a choking noise. "Aw, come on! That's not fair!"
    "Tough, Maynard! Maybe now you know how a bad day feels!"
    She ignored the griping Reaper and turned to Tigermark, whispering, "We're not going to have any better luck tomorrow than right now, and I'm betting our buddy here, may still be of value. Let's go back to the gate and check for damage."
    She stood up. "Alright Maynard. Come on, then. We're going to try again now. Maybe you can get a few more yuks in before the sun sets."
    They headed back to the clearing in front of the gate. When they reached it, the guardians were back in place, but Kay immediately noticed a difference. One of the guardians now had a crack in its outer shell However it was only a small one. She checked her ammo supply and sighed.
    "There's no way we're going to blast our way through."
    Tigermark agreed. "I didn't pack for a pitched battle. I've only got two clips left."
    Kayngi peered back at the guardian with the crack. It was large enough in one place to expose what was underneath. Kay peered closer. There was something brown there. Could it be?
    Just then. Kayngi caught a whiff of a familiar scent on the air and it confirmed her suspicions.
    She smiled and stood up.
    "Well nothing more to do here this evening. Might as well head back to that nice stream we saw a while back and enjoy ourselves before we hit the sack."
    "What?" choked Maynard. "You're not gonna try again? Aw, man. This really sucks."
    Kay turned to the Reaper and cocked her head.
    "Maynard. You've been here all day to give me a bad day, right?"
    The glum, Reaper nodded slowly. "Yeah, but nothing I've tried has worked! How can it when you're watching me? Al is gonna be so pissed at me."
    Kay folded her arms across her chest and gave Maynard her severest look. "I'm not totally blind to your dilemma, and unlike what you would have done, I'm going to give you one more chance to make your quota for the day - one more chance to make me miserable."
    "Just one?" Maynard groused.
    "Don't go asking for trouble, Kay," cautioned Tigermark, who had picked up the gist of the conversation, even though he could hear only one side. Kay signaled him to be quiet before turning back to the Reaper.
    "Maynard? I think I can safely say what I propose will make up for all the other missed opportunities today." She leaned toward the hooded figure and whispered something. "Can you do it?" she added at the end.
    Immediately, Maynard's hood started bouncing up and down. "Ooooo. Yes. Yes. Yes! No problem. That would be great! Thank you!"
    Kay turned to Tigermark. "Whatever happens, stay out of the way. My invisible friend is about to do something to me."
    Tigermark raised a paw, but lowered it at Kay's determined expression. She turned back to Maynard.
    "Alright. Let's get it over with."
    Maynard Death stood up confidently to his full, menacing height and cleared his throat. Then he pointed his scabby paw at Kay.
    "Dr. Kayngi. I, Maynard Death, the now very gleeful Slightly Annoying Reaper, give you... P.M.S.!"
    Kay's expression changed in a flash. Her features darkened, and Tigermark backed off.
    "Uh-oh. Whatever just happened Kay, I don't think it was such a good idea."
    But Kay wasn't looking at him or Maynard any more. She was looking past them across the clearing to the gate and the Guardians. She stood up, shaking.
    Then in a voice that boomed across the clearing, she screamed.
    "Give.... me... CHOCOLATE!"
    The overblown M&M guardians didn't stand a chance.

  13. The Barx Brothers

    "Oooo. I think I ate too much."
    Kayngi sat up and looked around. She was sitting on a huge mound of Plain M&Ms. Strewn around her was what was left of the Guardians, broken into myriad pieces. She could see now that they had resembled giant, plain M&Ms, and if the letter 'M' on their front side hadn't been so smeared, she would have recognized that fact sooner. The fact that the Guardians looked like M&Ms at all told her something else.
    "This ruin is not deserted. Someone is here. M&Ms haven't been around all that long."
    "I was wondering about that," said Tigermark's voice behind her.
    Kayngi felt strong paws begin to knead the tenseness out of her neck.
    "Aaaaah. That feels better. How long have I been out?"
    "All night," replied Tigermark, continuing his massage. "How are you feeling? Whatever happened to you last night sure got to you. It looked like the mother of all PMS attacks."
    Kayngi nodded. "How did you know?"
    "I'm married, remember? I see it occasionally. Think we can go on today, or will you need some more time?"
    Kayngi shook her head. "Since this 'condition' was Maynard's doing, I hoped the effect would only last for what was left of the day. Also, it's not my time of month. What I'm feeling mostly now is cramps from sleeping on lumpy candy."
    "And eating too many of them," added Tigermark.
    Kayngi shifted position to relieve the pressure on her backside coming from of a particularly lumpy lump of Guardian - and felt the whole M&M pile move slightly. From somewhere below them a creaking sound could be heard. Suddenly there was a bang and the whole pile dropped about six inches.
    "Don't move!" hissed Kayngi. "Something's opened up beneath us!"
    Apparently the opening was small enough to allow the compressed candy to bridge over it, but any movement could dislodge the whole pile down the hole.
    "Let me see if I can reach my whip," Kayngi whispered and slowly moved her paw to her hip.
    They both looked up at the sound to see the now very messy looking squirrel they'd encountered earlier standing off to one side with a satisfied smirk on its little muzzle. It was tossing and catching a single M&M.
    The pile inched down again.
    "Aw hell. I ain't giving that rodent the satisfaction."
    With that, Kay thumped the pile and with a mighty clatter, the whole thing caved in.
    "SHIT.... It's a CHUTE!" yelled Tigermark.
    It was true. They were shooting down a giant chute. (Why do ya think they call 'em 'chutes' anyway?) M&Ms clattered all around them as they twisted and turned until, after what seemed an eternity, they shot out into a vast, dingy hall. The two slid through rattling and rolling M&Ms until they finally fetched up against a wall.
    "EEEEEEEeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaa!!!!!" yelled Tigermark. "Let's do it again! That was Grrrrrrreat! "
    "Not unless you can afford it, Tony Tiger," Kayngi muttered, shaking M&Ms out of her hair and pointing. Above them on a damp, mold covered wall was a large, peeling sign.
    'Barx Bros. "Shit! It's a Chute!" Ride. Admission: Five zillion drachmas.'
    Suddenly, from the other end of the dark hall came the sounds of slipping, sliding, and cursing... with an accent.
    "I tol' ee, we shoulda used Dragoons 'r Trolls fer Gate Guardians! But ye hadda goo wi' yer sweet tooth. Of alla stoopid… AAArrrrgh! How we suppoosta walk throo these 'ere candy coated ball-bearings?!"
    "I dinna hear ye complainin' when we checked 'em out at Uzbeck's Used Uglies! 'Nice meanies 'n' candy to boot' ye said."
    Out of the dark came three slipping and sliding Scottish Terriers - kilts, caps, cardigans, and all. One even had a set of bagpipes.
    "Hullo there," called one, waving to Kay and Tigermark. "'Ere' for the amusements, or to plunder 'n' pillage?"
    "Um... which answer gets me in the least trouble," said Kay, eyeing the 'Shit, it's a Chute!' ride.
    "Both be aboot ta same," said the Scottie. "Pillage will cost ye. We don' give nuthin' away fer free. Ta rides ain't cheap niether. Either way, we gitcher gold cos ye gotta do one or t'other, or pay an 'exit fee' ta get out. Canna let you get away 'Scott' free, now can we?" The Scotties all guffawed at the old joke.
    "No hard feelin's, ah hoope," the Scottie continued. "This be just ta way of ta business. We're relly quite personable, an I'm sur ye'd like us if'n it was a sociable-like meetin'. By the by, we're ta Barx Brothers. I'm Yippo, this 'ere's Yeppo, n' theht there's Yuppo. Yuppo cannna yap, but he nods a fair bit an' plays ta pipes. Give us toot thar, Yuppo."
    Yuppo filled his lung and blew. An ear-piercing combination of screech and groan filled the hall, echoing down the corridors, shattering a vase along one wall, and sending a cloud of bats racing around the rafters.
    "Egads! Stop already," yelled Tigermark, clamping paws to ears. "I think that racket just erased some of my stripes!"
    "Hey! This inno catterwhahlin' 'ere!" cried Yippo over the din. "This 'ere be the pipes, an' he be playin' our song! Ha' sum respect fer an ol' and grrrrand tradition! Our Scottish Order goes back to afore ta last millennium!"
    The Scottie stuck a pose, which looked goofy, but Kay wasn't about to laugh - yet.
    "A thousand years agoo, our order was formed by a princely poltroon ta guard this 'ere dump from anna 'n' all whoo might be a-lookin' to plunder it. Paid in gold, 'e did. 'Nuff ta buy ta order's service fer hoonerts a years."
    "How many hundreds?" asked Tigermark.
    "Nah sure boot that, now. All we knows is ta gold ran out, so ta keep us a yappin' - 'cept fer Yuppo, o' course - we ha' ta find different means o' restitution. So we advertise in alla archeological perrrriodicals and such. You got some lost whoo-ha to find? Whal, we got it right 'ere! Then, when them robbers or noodle-head perfessors show up, they gotta pay to get back out!"
    "What!" yelled Kay. "This place is a fraud?"
    "Hey!" growled the Scottie. "This be a legit business 'ere, lassie! We got the usual hi-quality replicas. Make great converrrrsation pieces. That, an' we got a few pieces o' junk lyin' around what's been 'ere forever, don't we, boys?"
    Yeppo nodded and Yuppo blew another blast on his bag that shattered a skylight, and rained glass on everyone.
    "Ennaway," Yippo continued, brushing shards from his kilt, "in keepin wi' ta purpose o' our business, its official title is ta Pure 'n' Ultra-Secret Society o' Yappers Who Help Isolate Pilferers 'n' Professors from Excess Dough."
    Kay blinked. "In other words, you're P.U.S.S.Y.W.H.I.P.P.E.D.?"
    All the Scottie's eyes bugged out, and Yippo's nose turned red.
    "Thet's nae troo! A bald-faced lie! Tae it back, I tell ye!" The two Scotties that could, were yapping hysterically, and all of them started doing back flips in paroxysms of rage - except Yuppo, who got tangled up in his pipes.
    "Alright, boys! Knock it off! I take it back!" yelled Kay.
    "I take it they don't go for acronyms." Tigermark added in a mutter as the Scotties calmed down.
    Kay shook her head and turned back to the Scotties. "So, if this is someplace you boys want raiders and professors to find, what's with the candy-coated uglies at the gate?"
    "They filter out the poor run-o-the-mill grave-robbin' riff-raff," chuckled Yippo, rubbing his paws together. "Takes a bit o' real financial backin' to get past those."
    'Or PMS', thought Kay.
    She put on a pleasant face. "Well, boys, I suppose me and my partner ought to get about the business of looking around. If I'm gonna get fleeced, at least it should be pretty fleece."
    Yippo held up a paw. "Before ye do anythin, lassie, I need ta see yer gold."
    "Somehow, I don't think these guys take American Expresso," whispered Tigermark.
    Kay merely smiled and pulled a bottle from her pack. At the sight of it, she saw the Scottie's eyes glaze over.
    "Ooooo, lassie. Migh' tha be a bottle o' single-malt scotch whuskey I see?"
    It was only a brown bottle of filtered water with a fancy label, but Kay knew a weakness when she saw one. She waved it seductively at the Scotties.
    "You got it! "GlenSpewedit" Aged 20 years if it's a day, BUT... first we look around."
    The Scotties bowed as one. "Look to yer 'earts content, lassie. Yer liquid 'appiness is as good as gold."
    Kay and Tigermark slipped and slid past the bowing Scotties and made their way to the first corridor at which point Tigermark turned to Kay. "Why are we bothering to look around this dump, if it's a hoax?"
    Kay cocked her head. "Figure it out, TM. Yippo said there's some old junk here that's been lying around forever. Now, if you wanted to hide a valuable object from poor grave robbers and rich, snooty professor types, where would be an ideal place?"
    Tigermark smiled. "Somewhere no self respecting tomb-raider or professor would stay in once they found out it was a fraud."
    Kay nodded. "An Underground Ripoff Antique Shop and Amuzment Park."
    Tigermark grinned. "Or to put it succinctly: U-R-A-SAP."
    Kay nodded and they were off to look for the Claw of Karnak.

  14. Let's Make a Deal

    They'd already negotiated the 'Merry-Go-Round till ya Puke' ride, the 'Bumper Mine-Cars in the Tunnel of Doom' maze, the 'We Shoot Back!' target arcade, and the 'Death by Cholesterol' corn-dog stand.
    Now this.
    "So how, under the suns, are we supposed to get over that?" asked Tigermark.
    A massive cavern dominated by a lake of bubbling lava stretched before them. A sign on the shore said "Hot-Tub Hysterics - This is an Orange Ticket Ride" A flimsy dingy was pulled up next to the sign.
    "I don't suppose you have an Orange Ticket on you," commented Dr. Kayngi.
    "Nope. But even if I did..." Tigermark prodded the dingy with his boot, and the boards crumbled. "Whoops. Oh well. Looks like we gotta backtrack."
    Kay was looking at her map and thinking hard. "Not yet. I think the Claw is somewhere on the other side of the lake, and something about this place is familiar."
    For a time, all that could be heard was the gentle bloop-bloop-bloop of the lava, then...
    A giant fountain of gas and flame shot to the ceiling, and a horrendous stench filled the cavern.
    "Holy Gas-Bag," coughed Tigermark. "Who cut the Camembert?"
    "That's it!" shouted Kayngi, seemingly oblivious to the smell. "I know what this place is now!"
    "What is it, then," asked Tigermark, covering his nose, "besides smelly enough to gag a maggot?"
    "This whole place is an exact replica of a certain Video Game level! I used to play it as a kitten!"
    "What sort of game would kill your player using stink bombs?" asked Tigermark, looking slightly sick now.
    "Commander Cool-Beans versus the Ass-Hats of Armageddon!"
    Kay whipped out her Palm Pilot. "I played it all the time. It was a blast!"
    "I can imagine."
    Kayngi quickly accessed the game function and did a search. "Aha. I knew it!" She put the Palm Pilot away and stepped to the edge of the lava lake. "Do exactly what I do. This is important." She spun around counter-clockwise three times, lifted her right leg, did a deep knee bend, and followed it all with a back flip. Reluctantly, Tigermark did the same. Then he saw Kayngi do something that made his heart do a back flip, too.
    She stepped out onto the surface of the lava lake.
    "What the...!"
    "Come on. It's perfectly safe," beckoned Kayngi. "In the game, you could access hidden power functions by having your character go through a certain sequence of actions. We're protected now."
    Tigermark gingerly stepped out onto the lake and found that it felt cool and solid. "Aha! So, what we did just now put us into 'God' mode or something?"
    "Nah. The lava is just to fool you. It's fake. What you had to watch out for in the game were the fart geysers. Your scent set them off."
    "So what power mode did we just activate?"
    Kayngi flipped her nose in the air and looked haughty. "Why, the 'My-s**t-don't-stink' mode, of course!"
    The two crossed the fake lava lake quickly and scrambled up onto the farther shore.
    "And what have we here?"
    On a wall in front of them were five doors labeled 'One', 'Two', 'Three', 'Elevator', and 'You Don't Wanna Know'.
    As they stood there, the elevator door whooshed open and out stepped...
    "Kolonel Crazed Wolf!" yelled Kayngi. "How did you get here?"
    The Kolonel looked over his shoulder and then back at Kay.
    "I took the elevator! What's it look like?"
    "That, an 'e paid admission, too!" said Yippo, stepping out from behind the Kolonel. "That gets ye special prrrrivaliges." The Scottie was immediately followed by Yeppo, Yuppo, a hawk in a wheelchair, and a hoard of the Kolonel's rat lackeys.
    "Uh Oh. I have a bad feeling about this," whispered Tigermark.
    Instantly, audience bleachers rose from the ground, along with three contestant lecterns and an announcer's stand.
    "Tae yer places furs!" yapped Yippo. "Ta verra exciting game show 'Let's Do A Deal' is about to begin! Kolonel? You ha' place noomer one. Dr. Kayngi? Kinely tae place noomer two. An in place noomer three, we have out Celebrity Guest Contestant. C'mon adience! Gi'ye a big hand to Doctor Steven Hawk-ing! Worl' renoowned theoretical Physicist!"
    The rats in the bleachers applauded wildly.
    "Yo! Tiger-boy," called Yippo. "You ca' play translator fer the good Physicist. Ah nae could get the hang o' listenin' to tha' artificial voice o' his."
    "Tiger-boy?" groused Tigermark, but Kay kicked him in the shin.
    "Let's play this out," whispered Kay. "I have the feeling the Claw is behind one of those doors."
    "Ookay, then," continued Yippo. "Afore we start, Yuppo! Theme music!"
    Groans from the rat audience and Yuppo's pipes blended together in an almost unbearable cacophony before Yippo cut it off with a wave of his paw.
    "Now, afore we git ta the main event, a few side deals, eh?" Yippo pulled out a sack of what sounded like gold coins.
    "I be a willin' ta pay one gold piece fer anyone who has Amelia Erhart's flight goggles from 'er last flight in their pocket. Anyone?"
    "Thank 'e Doctor Hawk-ing! Er. Wha 'e say thar, tiger-boy?"
    "I think he either said "No, I've haven't got it.' or 'Eat my shorts, ya kilt-wearing wiener-dog.'"
    "Er... yes. Ookay. Next! I be a willin' ta pay two gold pieces to anyone who has a Purina Dog Chow Flambé casserole in their pocket."
    "Errr. Wha ta hawk say?"
    "He said 'I musta left mine cooking on the stove cuz I can smell the stench from here."
    "Ummm. Yes. Ookay. Last offer. I be a willin' ta pay three gold pieces to anyone who has the ONE RING OF POWER in their pocket."
    "Don't look at me. I haven't got it," said a disembodied Hobbit voice next to the underground lake.
    "Alrrrright, then. I guess it's on ta the main ta-do," said Yippo. "We'll start wi'' the Kolonel. Pick a door!"
    "I'll take door number three!" said the Kolonel.
    "Awwwww," chorused the rat audience.
    "I'm so sorra, thar Kolonel," said Yippo. "Noothing be thar, but please accept our consolation prize of a genuine, claw file and nail clipper made in Tie-Juan - you know, the country who's first ruler was..."
    "I don't wanna know!" yelled the Kolonel.
    Kay could see the smirk on the Kolonel's muzzle. No matter which door held the prize, he was going to go for it. Kay wished she and Tigermark hadn't had to use up all their ammo in the 'We Shoot Back' arcade. Things were going to get nasty.
    "Dr. Kayngi," said Yippo, "please be so kind as ta pick a door."
    "I'll take Door Number One!"
    "Awwwww," piped up the rat audience.
    "Tha' be a shame, lassie. Noothin' behind door Noomer One but an old boot."
    An old boot?
    Beware the Boot of Karnak! Was this what the dragon's warning was about?
    She had no time to think, because the Kolonel had turned to his rats. "It's behind Door Number Two! Get it!"
    But the rats didn't move, it seemed they were too mesmerized by the game.
    "Kinely sit doon, Kolonel," admonished Yippo. "We ha' one moor contestant. Dr. Hawk-ing. Which door will you pick?"
    "This is a no-brainer," mumbled Tigermark.
    Apparently, Dr. Hawk-ing agreed and thought it an insult to his intelligence because his artificial voice was squawking a blue streak.
    "Errr. Wha ta hawk say?" asked Yippo.
    Tigermark shook his head. "You don't wanna know."
    Dead silence.
    Tigermark looked up to see that the Scotties had all turned an uncomfortable shade of green.
    Then he remembered.
    The fourth door!

  15. Will that order be 'To Go'?

    A thunderous boom filled the underground cavern and the 'You Don't Wanna Know' sign on the fourth door clattered to the floor. Underneath was another sign.
    "Karnak's Harem - Keep Out! This means YOU!"
    "Whal furs," said Yippo in a small, shaking voice. "Ah thin' that wrrraps up anoother excitin' game o' 'Let's Do A Deal'. An' now, a few words frum our sponsors.... RUN FOR IT!"
    The Scotties disappeared into the elevator in a flash of tartan and squealing bagpipes, and were gone.
    Another resounding boom shook the chamber and the fourth door exploded outward, showering everyone with bits of wood and rock.
    Kay thought the voice that issued from the gaping hole in the wall sounded amazingly like Richard Simmons.
    "RATS! GET THE CLAW!" roared Kolonel Crazed Wolf.
    A totally chaotic scene ensued. Doors, rats, bleachers, and consolation prizes flew everywhere. The old boot hit Kay in the head and she grabbed it cursing. She was about to toss it at a rat when an inscription on the heel caught her eye.
    "So THAT'S what the warning really meant!" She needed to get to the Claw of Karnak more than ever now to confirm her suspicions, so she stuffed the boot in her pack and dodged Dr. Hawk-ing as he whizzed by.
    But Kolonel Crazed Wolf had already reached Door Number Two, and he yanked it open. There, on a pedestal sat a gleaming, golden claw. Before Kay could stop him, the Kolonel lunged forward and grabbed the artifact.
    "It's MINE! Mwahahahah!"
    "But for how long!" cried Kay, pointing behind her.
    "It's MINE for as long... as...... I....... want?"
    The Kolonel blanched and his voice trailed off as he looked to where Kay was pointing. There, filling the space between them and the lava lake, stood the terrifying occupants of the fourth door.
    Dr. Hawk-ing zipped up to them.
    "What he say?"
    "It was either 'Gimme a Big Mac , to go', or 'Holy shit! It's the BUTT MONKEYS OF DOOM!'"
    "Damn!" said the Kolonel. "Talk about 'Super-sizing' your order!"
    There, before them stood the biggest monkeys any of them had ever seen... at least their butts were.
    "If this is his harem, it looks like Karnak was a 'tush' man," whispered Tigermark.
    All the Butt Monkeys had grins on their faces and a hungry gleam in their eyes. "Hello there boys," cooed the biggest one. "We haven't had a male in EVER so long."
    "Eep!" croaked the Kolonel. They all made a mad dash for the elevator and banged on the call button. A little sign lit up.
    "Dammit all! It says 'Do Not Use Elevator in Case of Fire or Butt Monkeys!" He pounded the elevator door in frustration. "RATS! All we need now is for the lava lake to explode!"
    "Joo got it, boss!" squealed the rats.
    "NO! I didn't mean...!"
    But it was too late. The rats had dashed to the edge of the lake, dropped their drawers, and cut the cheese. The lake immediately erupted in fountains of fire, knocking everyone off their feet. Kay was the first to scramble up.
    "Now's our chance! While the Butt Monkeys are down!"
    Rats, adventurers, crazed dictators, and wheelchair-bound theoretical physicists alike took off across the seething lake. Dashing through the entrance on the other side, the Kolonel yelled "Now all we have to do is find a way out of here!"
    "What he say?"
    "It was either 'Pass me the potato salad.' or 'Use the Claw of Karnak to defeat the Butt Monkeys, you idiot!'"
    "Oh! Good idea! Hold this for me while I take mine off, will you?"
    The Kolonel gave the Claw of Karnak to Kay who immediately looked at the bottom of the artifact. The inscription there made her smile.
    "Aw man! I left my screwdriver in my other uniform!"
    "Why don't you use your nail file consolation prize?" suggested Kay.
    "Good idea!" The Kolonel used the nail file to pop off his own claw. Then he grabbed the Claw of Karnak and jammed it on his stump. A rectangular arrangement of thousands of tiny jewels on the back of the Claw lit up, and a pixilated message scrolled across it.
    "What the hell? It says 'Replace BATTERIES'?!"
    Kay laughed. "I think we've been had, Kolonel! What you got stuck on your stump there is a REPLICA! It's just a fancy combo can-opener and AM/FM radio!"
    "So where's the real one!" cursed the Kolonel. "If I know you, you've already figured it out!"
    But there was no time for an answer. The sound of squeals and thundering cellulite echoed from the lava lake chamber. "Ready or not, boys, here we come!"
    "Let's MOVE!" yelled Tigermark. And they did.
    With the Butt Monkeys on their tails all the way, they finally made it to the M&M chamber.
    "Oh great," said the Kolonel. "All we have here is a slippery chute and a busted skylight! Where do we go now?"
    "Patience Kolonel," said Kay, fixing a device to the end of her .44 auto mag. "Grapple launcher," she said when Tigermark gave her a quizzical look. She looked at the Kolonel. "Repeat after me. 'RATS! I need rope!"
    "RATS! I need rope?"
    "Joo got it, boss!" At lightning speed, the rats doffed their duds, unraveled the cloth, and rewove it into a rope.
    "Useful little buggers when you know how to use 'em," commented Kay. She attached the rope to the grapple, took aim, and fired it through the skylight. The grapple slipped a bit, and then held.
    "Our stairway to heaven. Up you go!"
    Up went the rats, followed by Tigermark, who helped them haul up Dr. Hawking. Finally the rope came back down to Kay and the Kolonel. He grabbed the rope and held it away from Kay. The sound of squeals and collapsing walls was getting closer.
    "How did you know the Claw was a fake?" he growled.
    "I read the label on the bottom. "Made in Tie-Juan" is not a normal inscription for an ancient artifact."
    "So where is the real one! You're not getting out till I find out!"
    Kay looked over her shoulder toward the approaching sounds of destruction, then back at the Kolonel. "Umm. Unless our zeppelin-sized friends are ACDC, I don't think I'm the one who needs to escape quickly."
    "Curse you Adventure Kay!" yelled Kolonel Crazed Wolf. Then he smiled. "I always wanted to say that." Then he handed Kayngi the rope. "Ladies first?"
    "You're too kind," demurred Kayngi.
    She scrambled up the rope followed by the Kolonel just as the Butt Monkeys of Doom crashed into the chamber.
    "CHOCOLATE!" was the roar that came from below.
    Kay pulled the rope up quickly. "Maybe the candy will keep them occupied for a while."
    Noises that sounded like giant vacuum cleaners drifted up from the chamber.
    "Then again, maybe not." She looked around. They were outside on the side of the massive pyramid-shaped mound. "We're totally out of fire power and I don't think we'll get far by the time those Honeys from Hell break out. This stinks."
    "Well, Doctor Kayngi," said the Kolonel. "This is where I must leave you. It's too bad you won't tell me where the real Claw of Karnak is hidden. I might take you with me."
    "Would you believe it if I told you I don't know where it is?"
    The Kolonel's smirk answered that question. "I will continue to look for it, but I'm afraid you may not get the chance." The pyramid rumbled as he turned to his rats. "Rats! Back to headquarters!"
    "Joo got it, boss!" The rats disappeared into the jungle in a cloud of dust.
    The Kolonel stared and Kay laughed. "They were supposed to take you with them, weren't they?"
    The Kolonel growled. "Stupid rats! No matter!" He yanked off the fake Claw of Karnak, tossed it aside, and replaced it with his own. "I have other means of transportation." He pressed a stud on is claw. "Go, go, gadget helicopter!"
    The Kolonel's claw transformed into helicopter blades and started whirling. Then he was off in a hail of maniacal laughter.
    "Well. So much for sticking around for the fun," Kay grumbled. She wondered if turning on her 'charm' to keep him around would have helped. Probably not. With him gone it was one less thing to worry about.
    Tigermark tapped her on the shoulder. "Looks like it's down to us and the Hawk." He was holding the fake Claw. "Do you know where the real Claw is?"
    Kay pulled out the old boot and showed him the inscription on the heel.
    "On temporary loan from the Temple of Bootodaheadouch in Got-Amala."
    "Looks like even the ancients had artifact exchange programs," said Kay. "I'm betting that's where it is."
    She stuffed the boot back in her pack. It might come in handy if she could figure out what it was for. When she'd first seen it, she'd thought it was the boot the Dragon's warning was about, but no. The Dragon had misread the warning. It wasn't 'Beware the Boot of Karnak'. It should have read 'Beware the Booty of Karnak'.
    "Hell hath no fury like a big-bottomed female scorned - or at least one denied 'tail' for a thousand years," she muttered. Kay could almost sympathize if it wasn't for the fact that the Butt Monkeys would shortly pound them all into paste. It was time to call in the cavalry. She pulled out her Palm Pilot and activated the sat-link.
    "Cateagle, this is Kay. Where are you?"
    "Nice to hear your voice again, Doctor. I'm about 30 minutes from the Bang-La-Desh airport. I take it you need rescuing?"
    "Can't fool you, can I. Yes, I need your assistance, but I'm not sure even you could land on a pyramid, and it's the only clear space for miles around. What I need is air support and a supply drop. We're out of ammo and things may heat up here in a bit. You have my location on your GPS?"
    "Got it. I'm on my way."
    Kay thought a bit, then punched in another code and sent it off. She was glad she didn't have to resort to the normal Badger Signal this time. The noise of the signal was handy when one wanted to drive off hoards of normal attackers, but it would probably just make the Butt Monkeys irritable. And now that the Badger Brigade had ballistic sub-orbital insertion capability, they could arrive anywhere on the planet in less than an hour. As the pyramid continued to rumble beneath them, Kay only hoped they had an hour left.
    Suddenly, Dr. Hawk-ing whizzed up to them.
    "What he say?" asked Kay.
    "It was either 'I have a Buick up my nose', or 'They've broken out!'"
    Kay knew she had no choice but to try on the boot, now. "Time to kick some way-overblown ass."
    "What he say?"
    "It was either 'I gotta pee.' or 'Calculations show kicking a Butt Monkey's ass only bounces you into next Tuesday.'" Tigermark cocked his head. "Hey, he's the expert on time and space. I'd listen."
    "Alright then, we'll just have to evade them until the troops arrive." They both climbed onto the wheelchair. "Dr. Hawk-ing? Kick this thing into overdrive!"
    After a few moments, Kay had to admit the physicist had one hot set of wheels. Then it was a fast-play game of cat and mouse with the wheelchair crowd playing the rodents. Butt Monkeys chased them, collided with each other with near cataclysmic results, and generally made like Keystone cops on crack.
    Finally, Kay saw several contrails in the western sky. It looked like they were heading this way. "Come on, Mapper!"
    The tips of the contrails burst, shining objects flew out, and sped toward the ground. It looked like they were about to crash when they too, burst open, each disgorging a heavily suited figure under a para-glider.
    Then out of the north came a familiar drone.
    In precision formation, the Badger brigade hit the ground next to the beleaguered trio, and opened fire. Immediately, the Butt Monkeys closed ranks and turned their best face forward - their butts. The fire seemed to just bounce off, but at least they weren't advancing.
    "Nice to see you again, Doctor," roared Mapper over the din. "Looks like you got a situation here. Hello Dr. Hawk-ing. Thanks! The new ballistic insertion pods worked great -just like you said they would!" Mapper clipped an energy rifle into a special socket on the Hawk's wheelchair and the physicist joined the fray.
    "I'm not sure conventional fire will stop these things," yelled Kay.
    "Looks like you may be right!" answered mapper. "Is that your plane we saw coming from the north?"
    "Yes, but there's no way he can land here!"
    "Gunner!" yelled Mapper to another badger, "Fly-by Acquisition Kit. On the Double!"
    The biggest badger stopped firing long enough to pull a box from his carry unit and toss it to Mapper, who popped it open. "Put these on!" he yelled, tossing body harnesses to Kay and Tigermark. He then pulled out a grapple hook launcher tied to a long rope ending in a shock absorbing lanyard and what looked like a portable auto-winch.
    "Tell your pilot to do a single low-level low-speed flyby and be prepared for a big jerk to the right."
    Kay relayed the information as Mapper attached the winch and shock absorbing lanyards to Kay and Tigermark's body harnesses.
    "Your going for a ride," he said.
    Kay nodded and turned to Tigermark. "You think the Chute ride was fun. Wait till you see this!"
    "Better hurry," said Tank, one of the other badgers. "The Butts are advancing!"
    Kay grabbed Mapper's arm. "You gonna be okay?"
    "No problem. We gotta plan!"
    The drone of 'Miss Piggy' was getting louder and Mapper steadied the launcher. Suddenly, the 'Miss Piggy' burst out above the trees to their right and Mapper fired. Perfectly aimed, the grapple sped toward a rendezvous with its target and wrapped itself around the plane's right pontoon support. The rope snapped taught, and instantly Kay and Tigermark were nearly jerked out of their fur as they shot into the air behind the Kitsune.
    Kay felt the auto-winch activate and pull them toward the climbing plane.
    "WAS THAT GREAT OR WHAT!?!" yelled the white tiger.
    They were soon winched up to the plane, and careful not to slip, they both climbed in.

    Satisfied that the two were safe, Mapper turned back to the battle.
    "Can't hold them back much longer sir!" yelled Radar.
    "Yeah," said Mapper. "Enough farting around. I think it's time to do some... ART!"
    He turned to his troops and held up a clenched paw.
    "Troopers! By the colors! Red on right to Blue on left! PAINTBALLS!"
    As one, the company switched ammo-packs.
    "Big 'W" attack! On my mark!"
    Mapper turned to the rear ends of the advancing Butt Monkeys.
    "It's Showtime!"

    "That was close! Too close by half!" grumbled Cateagle as he leveled out the 'Miss Piggy'.
    But Kay wasn't listening. She had her eyes glued to a set of binoculars. She let out a whoop. "Tigermark! Grab the other set of binoculars. You gotta see what's going on!"
    The white tiger put another set of binoculars to his eyes. "What am I looking for?"
    "The Butt Monkeys! Look at their butts!"
    "Do I have too?"
    Kay turned and punched his shoulder. "Do it! Look what the badgers painted on their butts! Talk about precision paintball!"
    Tigermark did as he was told. "Hey! Is that what I think it is?" He started laughing. "Oh, man! Someone's going to really be pissed."
    "They already are," said Kay. "Look over there."
    Tigermark lowered the binoculars and looked to where Kayngi was pointing. He could see an enormous dust cloud spanning the western horizon. It looked like it was being kicked up by a vast army.
    Kay was laughing so hard she almost couldn't talk. "I don't think... we have to worry... about Mapper and his boys."
    "Yep," agreed Tigermark, chuckling. "Well, since we're no longer needed here, I think it's time I got back to the New Dehli Airshow! This adventure stuff is fun, but give me open sky any day!"
    As the 'Miss Piggy' turned northwest, Tigermark pointed his binoculars one more time at the scene below and focused on one particularly large butt. As with all the others, it now sported a large logo with a sign underneath.
    The Logo? The Windows XP Flying Window.
    The sign pointing to the butt crack? "Hey Bill! Where do you want to go today?"
    The approaching army? Public relations executives and copyright lawyers from Redmond.

    The Butt-Monkeys of Doom didn't stand a chance.


END - Section One of Dr. Kay and the Claw of Karnak


Que intermission music


On to Part Two!


© 2004 by Philip J. Eggerding
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