“Don’t lie to me, old man! I’ve read the files, I know everything Kobold does.”
The spasmodic wall scones betrayed his discomfort. “Posh! I have no time for your trivialities. Leave me be, man!”
There was definitely something here.
“You call this trivial?” I grabbed his arm, turning it so we could both see the skillet-shaped mark on his hand. “Just because you couldn’t handle the skillet, don’t you dare presume — ”
“Nobody should have that kind of power.”
So... Kobold wasn’t just an oxygen-stealing troglodyte after all. Planting spies among the galaxy’s culinary upper crust had been a logistical nightmare, but now I had it: the skillet was here, all along.
“Normally I would agree with you, but I need that skillet right now like you can’t believe.”
“Could you just order?! My children are in the car!” the woman behind me hollered. A seventy-year-old man tapped his foot behind her, and behind him a teenager gave me the evil eye while listening to an iPod.
“I’m still making up my mind,” I lied, and turned my attention back to the reptilian servitor. Perhaps I could use the civil suit I filed against him earlier this week as leverage to get that skillet...?
“What’s it gonna take for you to never set foot in this hallowed place again?”
I smirked. “More than the skillet, mi amigo. But consider it a down payment.” I pulled him close. “Do you know why I want it? Who I’m up against?”
“Can I have a Hackburger with flies, two larval meals, and seventy orders of munga fruit pies?”
It wasn’t so much that the woman had pushed ahead of me, breaking the unspoken etiquette of line travel, but that the patrons behind her had backed her up by blocking me! Acting as if with a group mind, they had broken my tenuous grasp over the cash register. The last time I’d been... oh no.
“Get down, old man!”
Whipping out my Sonic Discomfort Beam, I set it to wide dispersal and fired at the line until each one of them was on the ground, clutching their stomachs. Then I used the beam to shatter some expensive-looking glasses, just to see if it could.
“Stop-a the jibber-jabberin’! They weren’t people at all, you trusting fool! They were carrots... disguised flaming carrot henchmen, sent at the behest of my newest arch-foe, the head chef of Galactor’s ship the Executive...” I holstered the ray-gun and looked into the camera while a timpani beat dramatically. “Reid Fleming. Canada’s toughest milkman.”
He grooved on that for quite a-while.
“How’d he get to be a head chef? Fleming always despised authority.”
“Ah, now you see my dilemma, old spice. If he’s changed tactics, how has his cooking changed? An army crawls on its stomach. With Reid it’s probably waddling on udders; I need that skillet.”
“Fine!” He wailed, retrieving a shimmering, ruby-encrypted device from behind his right ear. Magic. “Take the accursed skillet! Take it all the way to outer space. Let me finally be rid of it!”
As my fingers caressed its sleek lid, I felt a surge of power behind my eyes (although that may have been one of my many medical maladies). Reid Fleming, consider your rump roasted!
“This is a Daemon Hurts original piece... yes, cost me ten million.”
Question: Dollars, pounds, or euros?
I stared blankly. “Pounds of what? Flour? Bread is made from flour.”
The tape recorder clicked off, indicating an epic win. My chef mentality was fully in place. “Excellent. Now: full power to the atomic space catapult!”
Atomic is really a misnomer, as the catapult works on a subatomic level to fire all parts of a large object through the vastness of space with such speed and precision that it’s considered by the Peruvians to be a form of teleportation.
But this wasn’t Peruvia, and I wouldn’t need to move all that far... just far enough to get past the deep skyblue armoring. I rotated the teleprompter’s rotating revolver cuff at the Executive’s expected position. “Targeting... sending data... expectorating...”
The odds are one in thirty thousand that someone traveling via atomic catapult will reintegrate with a large chunk of them missing. One in thirty million that something will go horribly wrong and you’ll end up an inside-out blob of pain.
The odds against anything going wrong were just... impossible.
Which is why I didn’t stop to think twice when I rematerialized completely without incident and went about my business, feeling great.
“I’m hungry for adventure!”
Popping a chef hat over my normal hat, which was actually a dust cover, I roamed the silver hallways looking for a quadlift to the lower sectors, where the kitchen had been in the online floor plan. The fools... holding a virtual tour of a battleship to spur recruitment? What intergalactic empire does that?
Minutes later I was outside the galley, peering in through the porthole. I struggled for a whiff of delicious army chili, fresh rolls, Salisbury steak... but all I could smell was-
A burly hand grabbed my shoulder and threw me through the door into the kitchen. Six or so flaming carrot-headed sub-chefs scattered as my head connected with the linoleum.
“Reid Fleming, I presume?”
“That’s me,” he spat, wiping a milk mustache from his stubble. “Want to fight about it? What’re you doing here anyway, impersonating a chef? That’s a crime!”
“You’re one to talk. You’re also a mega long way from Canada, milkman.”
“I get... around!” He picked me up by my war-ankles, flipping me upright. “Now who are ya and what d’ya want?”
“I’m here to challenge you to a cook-off! If I win, you got back Canada, fighting villains with milk bottles or whatever it is you do.”
“And if I win?”
“Oh, you won’t.”
The hooting among the staff was audible. “Bobby! Get me my pasteurizing hood. What’re we making here?”
I inhaled quickly. “The most delicate of dishes: Soufflé. To bake, we must have complete silence. The slightest atomic explosion might cause an epic fail.”
Fleming barked into the chefside commbox, “Engineering! Shut it down! SHUT IT DOWN! Shut it all down, we need silence up here! Kill the weapons! Kill the propulsion! Kill the dead man’s switch! SILENCE! There,” he hung up the receiver, “Bobby! set the timer for thirty minutes! Let’s see what you can do, smart guy.”
By the country kitchen style counter next to the meatlocker I saw a barrel of potatoes. “Salvation!”
While Reid was busying himself with whatever really goes into soufflés, I dumped the whole sack of potatoes into the small pan while a carrot henchman waddled up beside me. “Your plan is in motion, sir.”
“Excellent, Kobold. When should the effects become-”
“Ach!” Fleming dropped like a penny from a skyscraper. “What’s-s-s-s hap-p-p-p-p-pening?!”
Carrots gathered around us, falling in turn as the milk curdled in their bellies. “I’m afraid your milk’s gone bad, mister Fleming. One might say... evil?”
“How?” He sprawled. “My homogenization is top notch! You... couldn’t...”
Agent Kobold took the hint and wiped the orange makeup from his face. “A parsnip! There was a... you had a parsnip in my kitchen! But... the skillet!”
“The old man was in your pocket the whole time. You knew I would challenge you to a cook-off, and you knew I’d cheat to do it. That’s why this whole chamber is lined with anti-magic structs, isn’t it?” I clanged a ladle on the hollow wall. “You gave him that skillet on Omicron 4 and retconned the travel logs. Then...” I flipped through Kobold’s notebook. “You came back here and mixed hallucinogenic chemicals into the general milk supply for Galactor’s soldiers.”
“That’s... right... you idiot!” He gasped. “I was undercover! Did... didn’t you look into why I was here?!”
“I heard something about a covert milkman, but as Hans Cuttler (five-time winner of the Pierre LePike Remedial Spike) says, ‘until you can see your own buttocks, all you have is a pile of dung and a theory.’ Hans Cuttler said that, but with more salty language. Salty like a pretzel.”
Fleming made some more gurgling sounds before convulsing into unconsciousness. Evil milk doesn’t agree with pretzels, it seems. Regardless, with the Executive’s head chef out of commission and the kitchen staff beside him coughing up their stalks, there was no way Galactor’s semi-sentient soldiers could feed themselves.
“Parsnip Kobold! Raise the polka-dotted flag of victory!”