Chapter 6: Primetime
Returning to the Vanguard was nothing short of a hassle. His borrowed method of transportation, Sonjay's Desert Screamer, wasn't all that useful when hovering over the clustered, forested terrain. Cortex was forced to travel at a much slower pace in order to avoid bumping his transport into boulders, bronze tree trunks, and yellow-leafed shrubs. Scratching up such a sleek-looking hoverboard felt like a crime unworthy of forgiveness.
Soon enough, after a sweaty excursion through the humid jungle, Cortex located the Vanguard and entered the dormant shuttle via its lowered ramp.
Activating the recorder feature on his camera again, Cortex began a new video log.
Sitting at his desk, Cortex stared directly into the camera's lenses and dictated, "Discovery log number four. Day five. It's been approximately twenty six hours since my last entry, and…good gravy, have I come across some bizarre, bizarre things…"
Reaching for the small notebook situated on his desk, Cortex sighed exhaustedly before opening it up and saying, "Where do I begin? Let's see…I guess I'll start with that black hole that royally screwed up my traveling plans. When I left off last time, I was preparing to embark on a new planet. Well…I'm here. I'm here on the planet, and…I've come across an entire civilization of intelligent life forms. Get this: each and every one of them look like they're anthropomorphized versions of mammals on planet Earth. They walk around on two legs and speak perfect English just like regular human beings. I'm not kidding…"
Going over some of his scribbled notes, Cortex shook his head and continued, "That's not even the wildest part. After a young villager knocked me unconscious, one of the elder villagers—an ocelot, I think—seemed to recognize me as some sort of deity. They brought me out to their village, where more of these unique mammals dwelled, and they all mistook me for their god! They actually think I'm a god! Everyone assumes my memory is hazy thanks to the blow I took to the head, so this ruse is circumstantially working in my favor. Then, last night, a wombat anthropoid named Warron Teemyer escorted me to the real cream of their civilization: their enormous kingdom!"
Unable to cap his excitement, Cortex erratically planted his hands on the desk, beaming into the camera while explaining, "It's an actual, genuine kingdom with civilians, guards, and a reigning monarch—all of whom worship me, 'Neo,' their god! This is the break I've been waiting for—with their unyielding servitude, I'll have an army of loyal Cortex Commandos in no time!"
Relenting in his excitement a tad, the eager scientist relayed, "So last night, I met up with their king. He had a lot to say about the state of their economy. Apparently, he reluctantly signed a rapport with some alien warlord named Iron Oxide. All of the kingdom's highly trained soldiers, called the Continental Guard, serve as mercenaries under this Oxide fellow, conquering other planets in his name in exchange for new technology."
Reclining in his chair slightly, Cortex pondered a bit before exhaling a sigh. He continued, "One last thing: yesterday, two villagers left a deep impression on me. They're a young, married couple; both bandicoots. The male serves in the kingdom's Continental Guard, and, judging by the way he outright doubted my credibility as their god, he didn't seem to be the religious type. Probably had something to do with his past life. The other, a female bandicoot, is much more religious and friendly than her husband, to be frank. Her name's Kemani Zev Mallicoot, she's nine months pregnant, and she's more than willing to help me with researching the lifestyles of these people. She really is something special!"
Chuckling to himself, Cortex shook his head once before stating, "I've rambled on about this long enough. I'll have more information on these creatures later. Today, I plan to meet with the alien called Oxide. He currently stands in the way of my future plans. End transmission."
Reaching over, Cortex deactivated his camera and promptly stood up from his white desk, eyeing the lone crate sitting in the corner of the spaceship's cabin. With a stern, emotionless expression, Cortex strolled over to a nearby freezer affixed to the wall, opening the container to pull out an extra-large raw steak wrapped in tinfoil. Shutting the freezer's door, Cortex slowly made his way over to the crate in the corner of the room.
Vacantly looking down at the crate for a moment, Cortex briskly peeled the tinfoil off of the raw steak, now holding the cold piece of meat between his index finger and thumb before suddenly kicking the bottom of the crate with a mild amount of strength.
This evoked a feral response from the demon of a mutation living within the crate. Accompanied by sudden jolts and thrashing, the closed-off box seemed to growl and roar at the unflinching Cortex, who merely tossed the raw steak between the metal bars of the crate's small, dark window.
Listening to the sounds of Ripper Roo absolutely destroy that piece of steak, Cortex shook his head while saying, "Manners, Roo. Never forget your manners."
Cortex rode the Desert Screamer all the way back to the kingdom, using the jet-powered hoverboard to quickly surf across the dry canyons and desert. Upon reaching kingdom's west gates into the Outer City, Neo switched his hoverboard into a slower gear so there weren't any unfortunate mishaps with the pedestrians. After thirty or so minutes of slow cruising, Cortex had successfully retraced the correct path to the king's palace through the now crowded city's streets. As the anthropoid citizens cleared a path for the scientist, they each stopped and gave Cortex intrigued looks.
This little trend noticeably increased as Cortex neared closer to the middle of the Inner City. A gathering of diverse mammalian peoples began following Cortex all the way through to the palace's gates. Stepping off and deactivating his Desert Screamer, Cortex couldn't help but stare back at all the various, bug-eyed citizens. This diverse, mesmerized crowd consisted of gaping cougars, bloodhounds, beavers, koalas, opossums, zebras, lemurs, hippos, and even panda bears.
Mutterings erupted from the crowd before Neo, with words like "our god," "the prophecy," and "King Amos was right," being tossed around.
Definitely flustering as he backed up against the palace gates, Cortex felt a strong need to say something meaningful to these mystified people. Clearing his throat first, Cortex nervously announced, "Um…your great god Neo commands…that you all go away. You're freaking out his holiness."
A loud collective gasp exited every mouth in the immediate area surrounding Cortex, followed by a sharp round of cheers and praise from the diverse anthropoids. Just then, the gates behind Neo creaked open, revealing King Amos arriving at his rescue.
"Silence in his presence!" Amos commanded boomingly.
To half of Cortex's relief, the gathering of anthropoids at least quieted down a good deal, but all of their green eyes were still perturbingly fixated on the scientist.
"Forgive me, creator," Amos addressed Cortex with a sheepish look. Placing a furry hand on Neo's shoulder, he explained in a whisper, "After you left earlier this morning, I called for an entire congregation to hear an address regarding your return to the realm of the living. I figured this was a much better option than letting the people slowly figure it out themselves."
"Do they have to stare at me?" Cortex whispered back, showing signs of agitation.
Guiding Neo through the palace's gates, the king suggested, "Let's go inside and give the people a chance to let everything sink in."
After a brisk walk through the spacious courtyard, Neo and Amos entered the lobby of the royal palace. Unwilling to carry his Desert Screamer around with him, Cortex left it leaning against a wall in the lobby. As they began walking up a rectangular flight of stone stairs, King Amos popped a random question, "Do you remember meeting my son, Khan, last night?"
"Yes. It was brief," Cortex replied indifferently.
"Right, of course. Well, do you also remember my mentioning of a newborn son?"
"I do. Why?"
Amos scratched his brown mane and explained, "The queen and I are having trouble selecting a name for the infant boy. We would be honored if you aided us, your holiness."
"Selecting a name?" Cortex echoed. "How hard could that be?"
"Surprisingly difficult," Amos admitted. "Avela and I can't come to an agreement on anything. Maybe if we heard your input, we'd pick a name much sooner. Will you please help us?"
Cortex's main priority was confronting Iron Oxide, so this idea of christening someone's kid wasn't the least bit attractive to him. At least, it wasn't at first. Then it hit him; this wasn't just someone's kid—it was the king's kid, a.k.a. the prince of the kingdom. Participating in coming up with a name for King Amos's child would not only get him on good terms with the king, but also the entire kingdom itself. The royalty, at the very least, would uphold Neo even more than they do now.
Then again, he could always bargain.
"Sure, I'll help you," Cortex agreed. "But at some point in the near future, I'd like to have a meeting with Iron Oxide."
"Oxide? Hm…why not? It's a deal!" King Amos settled with a smile.
It turned out that naming a newborn child was a bit of a convoluted system in this society's culture. Neo was thankful that he didn't have to learn an entirely new alphabet just a pick a name.
Avela, a lion woman wearing a sundress of warm, summer colors, sat in a wooden chair while holding a stirring baby cub in her arms. The queen had lengthy blonde hair braided into a single ponytail, held together by various golden rings. Currently, she was in the middle of detailing the rules of naming a child to Cortex.
"Everyone's first name contains one element from their mother's maiden name," Avela explained as Amos paced back and forth. "It's the last three letters of someone's first name; it derives from the first three letters of their biological mother's last name."
Cortex was leaning against a dresser within the king and queen's royal bedroom, which was undoubtedly larger in square-feet than the bandicoots' village hut. Looking between Avela and Amos, Cortex asked, "Could either of you give me an example?"
Avela volunteered, "Take my name. It ends in 'E-L-A.' That comes from the first three letters of my mom's last name, Elanoz. The same goes for Amos. His mother's last name is Mosafa."
"Right. I understand now," Cortex said, tapping his chin in thought. "And your last name is…?"
"It was Hannis," Avela answered earnestly.
Cortex recalled the name of their firstborn child. He asked to clarify, "And that means your first son's name is spelled something like 'K-H-A-N,' right?"
"Yes, that's right," Queen Avela confirmed with a nod.
"So basically, we need to come up with a name that ends with 'han.' That shouldn't be too hard." Cortex immediately began brainstorming English names that ended in said letters.
Meanwhile, King Amos expressed his exasperation with a sigh before saying, "I'd like to name him Johan, Zohan, or maybe even Gohan, but she doesn't like any of that. She only wants to name him Byhan – no exceptions. But I don't particularly want to name my second son Byhan."
"Byhan is a beautiful name," Avela asserted with a frown. "Just accept it so we can move on, already!"
"You know…at least I'm giving you more than one option to roll with," Amos retorted. "That's right, Avela. Options. Plural. There's mobility in options!"
"Oh, quit whining," Avela snapped with a little more scorn than before. "Our son will be called Prince Byhan, and later King Byhan alongside his brother, Prince Khan!"
"Why do you have to be so rigid, woman?" Amos asked in a mild begging tone.
Deciding now was a good time to quell their marital argument, Cortex, who'd been withholding an idea for a short time now, confidently spoke up, "Shush, you two. You know what I think? The two of you aren't quite thinking outside the box. Have either of you ever considered inserting a 'T' before 'han'?"
Amos timidly asked, "That would give us the word 'than,' wouldn't it?"
"I'm not finished. I had another thought; why not make his name begin with the letter 'N' like me?" Cortex proposed.
Rubbing her chin in thought, Avela nodded and beckoned, "Go on, your holiness."
His Holiness openly proposed, "Nathan."
"Na-than?" Amos repeated. Deeply considering Cortex's proposal, the king pondered out loud, "What kind of name…?"
"It evokes power," Avela commented, a smile spreading across her lips. "Wonderful! It's even better than Byhan!"
Amos suddenly turned to his wife, fixing her with a baffled expression. "Really? Just that easy?"
"What?" Avela asked, smiling down at her cooing baby boy. "You don't like Nathan?"
Scratching his beard, King Amos delicately remarked, "Nathan…it's, you know…Look, I like it, but that name just seems so…different."
Secretly losing some of his patience, Cortex mentally reached deep down and pulled out his most convincing god-act yet, "But these are different times, aren't they, Amos? Your kingdom is in the middle of economic growth. Your all-knowing god has mysteriously descended from heaven to bless his majestic creations with kind wisdom. Meanwhile, aliens dare to infringe upon the privacy of your people. If that weren't enough, you now have a nameless newborn child helplessly lying in your wife's arms…It's time you embraced change, my son! Go with the name Nathan—let it be synonymous with a brighter future! Besides…at least your wife can accept it."
Looking between Neo and Avela nervously, Amos sighed and conceded, "Nathan, it is."
Avela stood up with young Nathan in her arms, excitedly announcing, "I'll go inform the clergy right away. Prince Nathan!"
As soon as Avela left the bedroom, Cortex wasted no time in bringing up the sore subject of Iron Oxide. "Now that we've accomplished that, I need to know the soonest possible time I can talk to Oxide."
"Right, about that…" Amos began, sheepishly rubbing the back of his furry neck. "Oxide isn't in the habit of accepting appointments."
Cortex wasn't anywhere near ready to tolerate such an answer from the so-called king. With a visibly irked expression, the unsatisfied scientist sternly reprimanded, "That isn't an acceptable response, Amos. I expect more from the crowned monarch of my creations. Much more!"
Suddenly looking desperate to get back on Neo's good side, Amos pled, "Please, holy father…it's just that he only shows his face during days of deployment."
"And what is that, exactly?" Cortex asked with a heightened eyebrow.
"It's when Oxide sends his scaly minions down here to collect a few of my soldiers and then ship them off on assigned conquests. Unfortunately, my next deployment is four weeks from now."
Taking a deep breath, Cortex calmly stated, "You should consider yourself lucky that I'm currently in a patient, compassionate humor. But alas, I don't find four weeks to be…an optimal waiting period. Tell me, Amos, are there any other deployment days that take place sooner than four weeks?"
"Yes—many, actually," Amos positively informed. "Are you willing to take a vessel all the way to the moon with some of my other men?"
"Isn't the moon where Oxide is stationed?" Cortex asked scathingly while impatiently tapping his foot on the stone floor.
"Yes, your holiness," Amos dutifully answered.
Cortex retorted back, "Then, yes I am! Quickly, when is the next deployment?"
As energetic as ever, King Amos responded, "I'll need to go check the ledger!"
"Hurry along, then," Neo commanded, allowing King Amos to hastily exit the royal bedroom.
Sighing to himself, Cortex was a tiny bit thankful to have a moment alone. Looking around the lofty bedroom, Cortex placed his hands behind his back and walked around in a slow, brooding manner. The only thing on his mind at the moment was Iron Oxide. He was determined to confront the controlling alien no matter the odds. In addition to meeting and eventually overthrowing Oxide, Cortex also wanted to size up this potential adversary. Oxide is clearly an individual sitting in a position of total power. He's successfully managed to seize control over an entire population of combat-ready, mammalian versions of ancient Spartans. Did this mean Oxide ruled with unstoppable power?
The doctor's reverie was keenly interrupted by the pervasive sounds of some sort of chattering congregation. Definitely bewildered, Cortex wasn't quite sure where the sounds were coming from. Looking around the king and queen's empty bedroom, Cortex spotted a pair of reddish brown wooden doors situated on one of the beige walls. Between the doors' cracks leaked in sunlight; it must have led to one of the palace's many balconies that overlooked the city.
Cautiously approaching the wooden double doors, Cortex noticed the sounds of a crowd were undoubtedly growing stronger. With a curious push, Neo stepped out onto the stone balcony, nearly blinded by the blooming sunrays. What really snagged his attention was the bustling congregation of anthropoid citizens gathered in the palace's wide courtyard below.
The moment that Cortex had set foot outside, the watching crowd below him erupted into thousands of joyous cheers. Almost startled by the enthusiastic presence of the crowd, Cortex let his eyes widen to the size of dinner plates, hardly able to take in the uncanny sight of so many anthropomorphic mammals praising him. Leaning on the banister with a proud smile, Cortex couldn't help but drown in his own overwhelming divinity, no matter how fraudulent it was.
"Heh," he chuckled to himself. "Looks like I'm a god."
By pure coincidence, Cortex happened to spot Warron the wombat standing in the middle of the crowd with a light smile on his face. Settled beside him was that blonde haired bandicoot from yesterday, Burnec, or Kemani's husband. With crossed arms, he stood looking like a somewhat bored statue, visibly standing out in the sea of ecstatic citizens. Both he and Warron were still sporting their green military getup, which puzzled Cortex a bit.
From behind him, Amos emerged from the wooden doors, joining Cortex on the balcony's banister. Holding what appeared to be an electronic tablet in his left hand, Amos beamed at his plethoric underlings, holding up a hand to quiet them all down.
"People of Furra!" Amos announced with one hand on Cortex's shoulder. "I present to you—Neo, the Great Creator!"
After another round of cheers and applause, Cortex wasn't quite sure how much of this he could take. In his mind, the only thing that all of this priceless praise was accomplishing was making the doctor want to usurp control from Iron Oxide that much sooner.
"In addition to returning in the flesh, his holiness has been kind enough to help the queen and I pick a name for our newborn child. If the queen hasn't already spoiled it to any of you, I'm proud to announce that our child will be known throughout Furra as Prince Nathan Terramor!"
During the next round of applause, Cortex turned and muttered to the king, "Have you found the ledger?"
"Certainly," King Amos replied, bringing up the black tablet to show Cortex. Displaying the screen to the scientist, Amos informed him, "There's a deployment tomorrow morning. It's a four-man squad consisting of one Elite, one Mod, and two Boors. In fact, I believe you're already acquainted with two of these soldiers."
"I am?" Cortex asked, scouring the screen of the tablet. Of the device's list of four names, he actually found three of them to be familiar.
Amos commented, "I believe you've already met Warron Teemyer. And I'm sure you remember Sonjay, the one who loaned you his Desert Screamer."
"And I've met Burnec," Cortex stated, reading the final name off of Amos' tablet.
"That's good news, then. From what I know, they are all good, strong soldiers who work well as a team. They should have your back."
Not to sleight Sonjay, but Cortex decided it would most preferable to ship off with Burnec and Warron on their deployment. He knew where they lived, he actually kind of liked the friendly villagers of the canyons, and above all else, he promised to return to Kemani.
With the sun beginning to creep below the horizon, the congregation ended soon after starting. Amos dismissed his subjects after a concluding address and led Cortex back down into the palace's lobby, where the scientist's Desert Screamer still awaited him. After a formal goodbye to the king, Cortex mounted his hoverboard and raced out the palace's doors, flying across the courtyard and exiting through the front gates.
As he cruised along the sandy streets of the Inner City, plenty of wild stares still accompanied his journey, but Cortex was far too preoccupied with searching for Burnec and Warron. He looked from person to person all the way into the kingdom's Outer City, scouting left and right for a pair of green military outfits. Cortex must have passed by at least six hundred different citizens before reaching the city's outskirts.
Neo swore under his breath, "Darn. It's as if they disappeared."
Pressing his foot down on a small peddle to shift into a higher gear, Cortex angled his body and allowed his Desert Screamer to swiftly carry him through the city's west gates. After an exhilarating ride across the wasteland under the setting sun, Neo arrived at the canyons again, zeroing in on the Mallicoot home.
Knocking on the door twice, Cortex stood and waited in front of the miniscule, dome-shaped house, expecting a nine-months-expecting bandicootess to answer in the next ten seconds. However, Neo was humbly surprised to see a familiar wombat open the door and greet the doctor with a crooked smile.
Warron answered the door with close to a thousand unique greetings for the scientist, "Whoa, buddy! Well, if it ain't my man, my dude, my homie—Neo! Howzit going, man? Saw ya today chillin' with the king! Like a boss, am I right? Here, come on in!"
After being ushered inside the quaint hut, Neo couldn't help but ask, "Uh…how did you two get here so fast?"
Within the living room, Burnec could be seen in the middle of the floor doing countless push-ups on his right arm alone. Judging by his prevalent vigor, the bandicoot seemed to be overly motivated by something. Counting each time he exploded off of his right arm, Burnec heaved, "Eighty-three, eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven…"
Finally acknowledging Neo's question, Warron responded, "Fast? Whadya mean?"
Looking between Burnec's endlessly moving form and Warron, Cortex elaborated, "I saw you and Burnec standing in the courtyard from the palace earlier. After that little pep-rally ended, I couldn't find either of you in the crowd, nor did I see you in the desert. So…how in the world did you two beat me here?"
Shrugging, Warron replied nonchalantly, "We raced each other home. Loser had to do one hundred pushups on each arm. As you can see, yours truly won that race." Smirking down at his bandicoot comrade, Warron cheered on, "Keep it up, Burnec! You're a champ!"
"Screw you," Burnec exhaled, chuckling between gasps of air. Finishing off his set, Burnec mumbled, "Ninety-eight, ninety-nine—one hundred, baby!" Leaping up to his feet, Burnec practically started bouncing around the room as he was filled to the brim with unbridled testosterone. Currently, the bandicoot was minus the top of his military armor, showing off a well-built, furry physique. He appeared to still be wearing his green, leather pants, of which had two red stripes running down the sides of his legs.
Burnec's lengthy blonde hair stuck to his neck and shoulders as a result from the perspiration. Finally, he seemed to take notice of Neo's presence, fixing the false god with a quizzical stare before asking aloofly, "What do you want…?"
"I hear you two are decent soldiers, correct?" Neo asked, lightly holding his hands together in front of him.
"That's one thing you could call us," Burnec replied, putting his hands on his hips as he eyed the shorter man.
Cortex continued, "Then does that mean I can trust you to safely escort me to Oxide's moon base tomorrow morning?"
"Moon base?" Warron repeated. "Wait…you want to go to Oxide's stronghold…with us…tomorrow?"
"I'm guessin' the king told you about our deployment," Burnec quickly surmised. With suspicion laden in his voice, he interrogated the scientist, "What business do you have with Oxide? Trying to cut some sorta deal or somethin' like that?"
Neo truthfully told the questioning bandicoot, "I just want to get to know the foreign power currently using my creations like his very own army of henchmen. That is all."
"Hmph," Burnec grunted. "Using? More like giving us purpose."
Just then, one of the bedroom doors slid open, revealing an evidently exhausted Kemani holding a hand over her inflated belly. Blinking slowly, she announced to everyone in the room, "I'm not sure how, but I think I did something to piss off the baby…For the past hour, this thing's been kicking the living crud out of me."
Burnec's entire attitude took a wide left turn the moment Kemani entered the room. Beaming, he cooed while approaching his wife, "Babe…you look beautiful."
"You look like you're ready to deploy," Kemani replied back with a wink.
"I am," the male bandicoot softly whispered in her ear, embracing her intimately.
In his awkward position next to Cortex, Warron intervened, "Take it easy, love-larks! We kinda have a god in our presence, so save all that funny business for later. Sheesh…"
Addressing Neo for the first time, Kemani stated with embarrassment in her smile, "So, uh—Burnec and Warron tell me you got to meet the people of the kingdom today. How was that?"
"Excellent," said Cortex with a subtle smile, holding his hands behind his back. "However, my original goal was to go see Amos and find out an appropriate opportunity to speak with Iron Oxide. He advised me to join your husband on his deployment tomorrow morning."
"You want to go to outer space with Burnec and Warron?" Kemani seemed baffled. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Neo?"
"How else will I confront Oxide?" Neo countered. "Burnec and Warron are good soldiers. I trust them to keep me safe."
"And we will," Burnec suddenly interjected, still extremely hyper from his exercise. "But first, me and Kemani are gonna need the house to ourselves for the rest of the night, so Warron, Neo—the door, please."
Nudging her husband with a mortified look, Kemani hissed, "Burn, shut up."
"What? They know it's to give me good luck on my voyage," Burnec asserted. "I strongly believe us getting intimate is the only thing that keeps me alive out there."
"Amen to that, brother!" Warron vocally concurred with a wink. Inching towards the hut's wooden door, the wombat announced before departing with an enormously eager smile, "If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go hit the town and flaunt my fine, furry backside like a piece of meat in front of some of the kingdom's finest, most thirsty female patrons."
After the door slammed shut, Cortex asked with a mildly nauseated look, "Is he always that vulgar?"
"No, sometimes he's just perverted," Burnec joked around. "So, uh…Neo. Where're you sleepin' tonight?"
Neo already had a hunch Kemani would pipe up and answer that question for him, so he remained completely silent as he basically sat back and waited for the bandicootess to win the incoming argument arriving in three, two, one…
"He's sleeping here, of course!" she heatedly persisted.
"Why here of all places—of all nights?" he shot back.
"He wants to leave with you tomorrow morning. You're his escort!"
"Seriously? I have to escort him in his sleep, too? Isn't he on good terms with the king? I'm sure he wants to stay over in the huge palace, not this crap-shack."
"He's already here, so he might as well stay. And this is not a crap-shack, Burn. You and I built this house with our own hands from the ground up. You proposed to me after we completed this house. I said yes to you in this very room. A few inches from where you're standing right now is where we conceived our baby. Remember being too eager to reach the bedroom? Also, this is going to be the house that we raise our children in until they go off to make precious memories of their own. Is it still a crap-shack, Burn?"
Cortex enjoyed a quiet night's sleep on the Mallicoot's comfy sofa.