Empire on Ice #50:
The Pizza Pizza
Part the Fifth of:
The Quest for Emperor Josh
This week! Our heroes’ search for Emperor Josh takes them to the Pizza Pizza, run by the grizzled Colonel Maelstrom.
[At lunchtime the next day, the Pizza Pizza is hopping. "Turkey in the Straw" is playing on the speakers, and people are having a right old time. There are arcade machines, games, and a giant ball pit. Pizza is everywhere—on tables, on counters, on the floor, flying through the air—thanks to the characteristic zeal of the servers. DeLatia, Silence, Afiach, Gregor, Thanatos, and a greatly chastened and handcuffed Dave enter as a party, each one wearing their own expressions and thoughts.]
Thanatos: Just think of all the money people waste here, that they could have applied toward their financial security.
Gregor: Hah! Is there no room for pleasure or joy in the life of a tax accountant?
Thanatos: I don't even know what we're doing here.
Gregor: Number One has been paying Dave in Pizza Pizza SlicePoints, remember? There's a connection here to Number One.
DeLatia: I wouldn't be surprised. I hear this place is run by Colonel Maelstrom. All kinds of seedy connections to the criminal underworld.
Silence: [To Dave.] How much did you get paid, anyway?
Dave: 10,000 SlicePoints a day.
Silence: You could live here on that!
Dave: That's why I turned to a life of crime.
[A perky host walks up to greet the party.]
Host: Welcome to the Pizza Pizza! Party of six?
DeLatia: Let's see…
[In rapid succession, she…]
[Points at Silence.]
DeLatia: One child.
[Points at Dave.]
DeLatia: Our indentured servant.
[Points at Afiach.]
DeLatia: One miscellaneous.
[Points at Thanatos.]
DeLatia: Death warmed over.
[Points at Gregor and then herself.]
DeLatia: And two adults! Do we get a discount for any of that?
Host: I'll speak to the manager. In the meantime, right this way to your table.
[But it's no good. They've already split up to go do their own things. At the table, only DeLatia and Dave are left as the host seats them.]
DeLatia: Sigh. Like herding cats.
[Gregor and Thanatos have wandered off toward the games area. Surrounding them are all kinds of arcade machines and physical games. The place is hopping, too, with people of all walks of life enjoying themselves.]
Gregor: You know, when I was a kid I'd come here and play Imperial Space Invaders for hours. I can understand outgrowing the habit, or not having the taste for it yourself, but do you really see no merit in the people here enjoying themselves? For a little while, they can forget how bad things have gotten since Emperor Josh disappeared three years ago.
Thanatos: Pleasure today means suffering tomorrow. Most of these people are escaping from life, not recreating. They're living paycheck to paycheck. When it comes time to pay their taxes, they'll shamble into my office in tears, begging that they just don't have enough to pay their dues this year. No investments. No assets. No liquid cash. It's a straight line from here to there.
Gregor: Well, then at least you can take some satisfaction in knowing that you'll never run out of clients, right?
Thanatos: There's no pleasure in watching people throw their financial security away just for a little happiness and joy.
Gregor: Spoken like a true tax accountant.
[Suddenly, Gregor's entire demeanor changes. His eyes light up and he points, mouth agape, to a particular machine.]
Gregor: It's DOFT!
Gregor: Dextralitarian Overlords of Fascist Tyranny!
Gregor: Only the greatest pinball game ever made!!!
Thanatos: You're, what? Forty-five years old?
Thanatos: Sigh. You too, eh?
Gregor: Hey, I have a retirement savings account.
[They reach the machine and he touches it with reverence.]
Gregor: But, back in the day, I must have spent a thousand Jiggities on this little machine. I can't believe they still have it! The point of the game is that Fascist Right-Handed Supremacists have taken over the government, and you're an ace commander for LOFTY, the Left-Handed Order—
Thanatos: You sound like a ten-year-old. Or Silence, even.
Gregor: Not even close.
[He pulls some Jiggities out of his pocket.]
Gregor: I need to find a token machine.
[Meanwhile, Silence is at the ordering counter, looking at the big menu on the wall, salivating heavily, eyes wide at all the options. Afiach is tagging along.]
Silence: [Still looking at the menu.] What do you think?
Afiach: Maybe the Number Four: pickles, anchovies, whipped cream, gummies, kiwis—presumably the fruit but I'll be prepared for one of the other two possibilities—and jerky. Maybe a can of salad. What about you?
Silence: Oh, I think I know what I'm getting.
[She walks up impishly to the cashier.]
Cashier: What'll it be?
Silence: I'll have…the Number One.
[Someone nearby drops their tray in shock. The entire staff behind the counter is horrified. Finally, a manager shakes off his daze and joins the cashier.]
Manager: Ms. Terlais, no one orders the Number One.
Silence: Till now.
Manager: B-but…what if Colonel Maelstrom hears of this?
Silence: Then you'll be grateful for Joshalonian unemployment insurance and free healthcare.
[Suddenly, from around the corner, we see a pair of cowboy boots with spurs, walking methodically across the floor. The camera rises, to a pair of scruffy denim jeans, a damn fine leather belt with a big buckle and gun holsters at either side, then a buttoned blue shirt with a suede vest and a bolo tie, and, finally, the face of Colonel Random Malestrom, head of the Pizza Pizza: grizzled, chewing a piece of straw, eyes squinting. He's wearing an eleven-gallon hat.]
[He joins his staff at the counter, and looks Silence up and down, then speaks in a gruff, Texan accent.]
Colonel Malestrom: You again.
Colonel Maelstrom: Thought I told you we were done, after what you did to my boys. Now I hear you place an order for…The Number One?
Silence: Pretty gutless, blaming me for your own failures as a father. What I'm really hearing is, you don't have the brass to serve me the Number One.
[Colonel Maelstrom glares at her, expressionlessly, for a long moment. Finally, he answers.]
Colonel Malestrom: No one orders of the Number One.
Afiach: [Aside, to herself.] But, it's just a cheese pizza…
[Back at the booth, DeLatia and Dave are eating their appetizer soups.]
DeLatia: So, you don't care about Imperial politics. You shot Galavar for the SlicePoints.
Dave: Actually, I think Galavar's an egotistical blowsack. I can't believe he's getting first billing in After The Hero: The Motion Picture.
DeLatia: Did Silence pay you to say that?
Dave: Silence? The one with us? What would she have to do with it?
DeLatia: [Astonished.] How can you have an opinion on Galavar's billing and not know who Silence is?! What corner of the fandom do you come from?!
Dave: Okay, you people are definitely as weird as Number One said. Look, you're never gonna find him. I don't know where to find him.
DeLatia: We'll find him, all right. We'll find him and tear him in half till he tells us where Emperor Josh is.
Dave: I don't think he does know. I think he just wants to take advantage of the power vacuum.
DeLatia: And you'd do that just for the SlicePoints?
Dave: And recognition! Everyone gets to work on the ATH film but me. Even that weird bard.
DeLatia: That's a dumb motivation to bring to your life, Dave. Most people live their lives in obscurity. It's not so bad.
Dave: Spoken like a celebrity who's forgotten what it's like. You get so many admirers that it tires you, inconveniences you, to be so adored and inquired after. You get free everything; everyone wants your autograph; you never have to worry about paying the rent.
DeLatia: In the Empire, it's the same for everyone.
Dave: No one asks for my autograph.
DeLatia: All right. Can I have your autograph?
Dave: Are you patronizing me?
DeLatia: No, I just think it's charming to meet such a righteously indignant nobody.
[Back at the DOFT pinball machine, Gregor is doing very well, and Thanatos has gotten equally absorbed into his progress. The machine is blipping away merrily.]
Thanatos: There! No! Yes!
Gregor: I've unlocked the Elite Sinistal Strike Force! Now I can target the DOFT command center!
Thanatos: Gregor, no! This power can only end in ruin! You're down to your last Energy Pod.
Gregor: I have to try! If DOFT gets one more Argentum Capacitor they'll be able to wipe out the whole LOFTY ground force!
Thanatos: What are you gonna do?!
Gregor: I'm going for the supply depot to get some more laser turrets, and then it's a showdown with Dexter's right-hand mate, Adroit!
Thanatos: It's impossible! You've only got 33 more seconds of LOFTY Mega Power!
Gregor: Crunch time! Told you life is better when you live a little! Living in the moment!
[At the ordering counter, the standoff continues.]
Silence: I'm ordering the Number One.
Colonel Maelstrom: You know, I'm not surprised. It's always you. When you're not busy being a goof, or a fat-ass, or a kook, you're always there behind the scenes, up to some ridiculous marvel or another.
[He leans in toward her, over the counter.]
Colonel Maelstrom: Why don't you just step in and take over the Empire yourself?
[She doesn't answer. They match each other's expressionless glares.]
Afiach: Maybe she doesn't want to.
Colonel Maelstrom: [Looks at Afiach contemptuously.] Who the hell are you?
Afiach: I'm Afiach Bard.
Colonel Maelstrom: You look like a scared secretary.
Afiach: I have a show on The Scenery Channel.
Colonel Maelstrom: Well la de la. [To Silence.] Doesn't matter if you want it or not. You have a responsibility. This Empire's in decline. The whole world, even. Rather than setting foot on my premises and intimidating my staff—
Afiach: But it's just a cheese pizza!
Colonel Maelstrom: —you ought to be stepping up to your obligations. You're the only one who can run the Empire now.
Silence: You know…you're not wrong. If we get to the end of this thing and Josh really is gone, and not just locked in his own shoe closet or something, the bench of future emperors isn't that deep. Not in this world of mooks.
Colonel Maelstrom: You can say that again.
Silence: I'm sure I could take over. But I wouldn't. Honorable mates like you understand that. I don't give a damn about other people's notions about my obligations. It has to be worth it.
Colonel Maelstrom: You saying it's not?
Silence: I'm not interested in babysitting the world. They'll get out of it what they put into it. I'm interested in interesting people. Josh wouldn't be Emperor without me around. And I wouldn't be Emperor without him around. There's nothing more to it, really.
[A long pause. Colonel Maelstrom wiggles his moustache a couple times, thinking things over.]
Colonel Maelstrom: So. You really want the Number One?
Silence: It's what's on the menu.
Colonel Maelstrom: …
Colonel Maelstrom: Get your people. Meet me out back in ten minutes.
[He turns around, and dramatically walks away.]
[Silence remains expressionless for a moment longer, then gets a glint in her eye, smiles impishly, and looks at the cashier.]
Silence: And as for you…
[Back at the booth, DeLatia and Dave are eating their pizza when Silence and Afiach join them. Silence has three different slices of pizza hanging out of her mouth. She's carrying a giant open tub of pickles under her left arm, and a carton of milkshakes in her right. She's also wearing an entire metal bin of hot dogs, strapped to her belly with a belt, vendor-style.]
Silence: Mfm frrmrmff.
Afiach: Allow me to translate. We talked to Colonel Maelstrom. He's taking us to see Number One. Took me a while to figure out they weren't talking about cheese pizza.
Dave: Well I'll be damned.
DeLatia: [To Dave, disdainfully.] You see? That's why you're Dave, and not somebody important. Important people don't give up. They— [She looks at Silence's ridiculous appearance and sighs.]
Silence: Mfff! Rmffmr!
Afiach: She says "Say it! Say it!"
DeLatia: Ugh! I was going to say: Important people don't give up. They set a higher standard and live up to it. [To Silence.] Goddammit why do you always make my words sound so ironic!?
DeLatia: Let's go get Gregor and Thanatos.
Thanatos: Thirteen miles to go! Get your Gauche Torpoedoes ready!
Gregor: They're ready! They're ready!
[Gregor misses with a paddle.]
Gregor: DAMMIT! They took out my last shield. One more hit and it's all over!
Thanatos: Just nine miles and DOFT is history! Use your Obama Boost!
[Gregor slams the Special Power button. The machine lights up.]
Thanatos: Yes! Yes!
[DeLatia and the others join them.]
Thanatos: Five more miles!
Gregor: Here comes Dexter! I've never made it past the final showdown before.
Thanatos: There's his command ship. FIRE!!
Gregor: Torpedoes away!
Gregor: Look out, Dexter! Today's the day that LOFTY puts your evil reign to an end!
Afiach: Wow! How are you evading all that?
Thanatos: There go the torpedoes!
Dave: You blew up the DOFT command ship!
Gregor: This is it. Dexter's coming out in his personal elite fighter.
[The machine begins to play "The Final Countdown."]
Thanatos: Shouldn't be so hard. You have everything you need!
Gregor: I've never beaten this fight before.
DeLatia: We believe in you, big guy!
[Dexter fires a shot and takes out half of Gregor's paddles!]
Gregor: I've lost my Imperial Options! Half my thrusters are out! Can't hold altitude!
Thanatos: You still have enough power for one shot from your Left Wing Superlaser! Go for the core!
[From the machine, Dexter speaks in a delicious evil and robotic voice.]
Dexter: Muah ha hah, poor LOFTY scum! Your end is near!
DeLatia: Don't take that shit! Kill him! Kill him with a mighty rage!
Gregor: All right. Here it goes. His shield is rotating. And—
Afiach: She said go left!
DeLatia: No, it's perfectly centered!
Silence: Rrrfmf rmrfff!
DeLatia: Of course! That's the secret. When you think you've got your shot—go left!
Gregor: Why didn't I ever think of that?!
Thanatos: The shield's almost back in alignment! Hurry!
[The entire machine lights up spectacularly as Dexter's fighter explodes. Sparklers pop out. A massive explosion of sounds and noises fills the area. Gregor has won.]
[Cheers and whoops all around as everyone rushes Gregor to congratulate his highly metaphorical victory. Silence goes to kiss him but her half-eaten pizza slices just end up smearing tomato sauce, cheese, and anchovies in Gregor's face instead. He flinches and pulls away in disgust.]
DeLatia: Now it's time for the tickets to shoot out of the machine. I bet you get a thousand!
[But no tickets come out. Instead, a small panel next to it opens. Inside is a small, sealed envelope.]
Thanatos: What the devil is that?
Dave: It looks like a letter.
DeLatia: What the hell?
Afiach: There's a name on the front.
[Gregor pulls out the envelope. On the front, in handwriting, is "Arderesh."]
Gregor: The Captain of the Guard of Galavar.
Afiach: She says "That's Josh's handwriting."
Gregor: What could it mean?
DeLatia: I think it means it's time to finish assembling our party.
Gregor: Do we do that after meeting with Number One, or before?
Afiach: Colonel Maelstrom only gave us ten minutes to meet him out back, and eight of them are up. I think he's taking us to Number One right now.
Dave: Number One doesn't tolerate missed appointments.
Thanatos: I guess that settles that question.
DeLatia: Is it right to face him without the full Guard assembled?
Gregor: I suppose we'll find out. [To Silence, pointing at her metal bin.] Will you share one of those hot dogs?
Afiach: She says—
Gregor: No, I think I get the message. The vending machine it is!
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!