Life, the Universe, and Bingo the Wonder Dog

by Rand Ratinac


My left eyelid twitched.

"You say…yes…"

It twitched again.

"That’s…that’s an interesting…an interesting…"

This time, my right eyelid, and most of the rest of my face for that matter, joined in.


I gritted my teeth and ground my thumbs into my eyes to stop them from twitching.

"You…you say…hmmm…" He stopped for nearly a full minute and began to rub his chin thoughtfully.

A shudder of almost physical pain wracked my body. I stifled a moan.

"The question was…what is the flower…associated with…the…the Battle…the Battle of…Flanders."

I must admit, I was surprised by just how musical the sound of my head beating repeatedly against the chair in front of me was. The guy sitting beside me looked at me with some surprise, but I think he was one of the paid audience members – plus, he had earplugs.

"Your answer was…hmmm…" Again, he began rubbing his chin, although in all honesty, his expression seemed less thoughtful than vapid.

Somehow, I managed to pull myself together, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer. With a gasp, I straightened in my chair and stared fixedly at the stage, attempting to ignore Rupert DePalma’s words…mutterings…no, waffle. It would dignify them too much to call them ‘ruminations’ or even ‘thinking out loud’. Gibberish was almost too kind a term. And this was supposed to be an easy job.

We’d been hired a couple of nights ago by a man who called himself Johnson. Big surprise. He told us that he represented a man named Gerald Terwilliger, a contestant on the ‘incredibly popular’ game show, "Who Wants to be a Billionaire?" Mr. Terwilliger had been informed that he’d been selected to compete on the program, but was unsure of his chances, not being one of the biggest trivia buffs in the world. And with a top prize of, as the name of the program would imply, ten million nuyen on offer, he was unwilling to take risks. So he decided that employing shadowrunners to fix the show might prove to be a good investment. And we decided that, if Mr. Terwilliger wanted to give us half of anything he made on the program for his services, it might be a good idea for us to make sure he won as much as possible. One million nuyen apiece for a few hours work seemed like a fairly easy job at the time. It’s funny how the plan hardly ever coincides with the reality.

Mr. Terwilliger had already done most of the work by the time he called us in. His plan was for us to meet with, and cajole Mr. DePalma into providing the answers to the questions. Mr. Terwilliger had devised a complex code which Mr. DePalma would use to signal him – one finger if the first option was correct, two for the second option, three for the third option and four for the fourth. Brilliant. All we had to do was sneak into Mr. DePalma’s dressing room before Mr. Terwilliger’s appearance and threaten him with sufficient bodily harm to induce him to cooperate. We thought it sounded like a pretty good plan, and in all honesty we didn’t have any better ideas, so we decided to go along with it.

The only thing Mr. Terwilliger hadn’t counted on was just how fragging irritating Mr. DePalma could be. We’d never seen the show, having better things to waste our time on, so we had no idea what it was like. Let me put it this way – I was one of the more stable members of our team and now, watching DePalma in action, even I was having trouble controlling myself.

As DePalma droned on, I glanced around at the rest of my team. Lollipop, our mage, had lost her usual vacuous look and was staring at me with an expression approaching sheer, unbridled terror. I could only imagine what DePalma’s delivery was doing to her somewhat slanted psyche.

The other two had taken seats behind me, so I had to crane my neck to see them. As I might have guessed, they had appropriated most of the rear row of seats and were busily tangling their tonsils. Babykiller and The Cannibal were our two samurai. Despite their names, they were both rather nice – for mentally unbalanced, sociopathic, loony bin escapees. They were actually a rather interesting pair. Born Clyde Morton Bottomley the Third and Bonnie Wilberforce, they had taken a shine to each other and started on a life of crime long before I met them. They found, however, that the names Bonnie and Clyde did not inspire the respect on the streets that they had nearly a century and a half ago, so they decided to pick new ones. Personally, I would have selected rather more respectable tags, but then most of my mental faculties are still intact. The thing is, Babykiller and The Cannibal then took their street names to heart and started getting themselves all chromed up. The Cannibal had his teeth replaced with titanium fangs. Babykiller got herself a cybertongue. And so on and so forth. Now they’re both made up more of metal than of meat and they’re pretty much stuck with each other, because their version of ‘snuggling’ would’ve proven fatal to anyone but a troll. Not that it’s dimmed their enthusiasm for each other, though.

"Hmmm…daisies, you…you said…daisies…very…interesting." My body shook and a sob tore itself from my throat. DePalma’s words seemed like a relentless assault on my increasingly fragile mind.

"Watch it, Rupert," I muttered. "There’s only so much I can take."

Slowly DePalma began to shake his head. "I’m…sorry," he said. "That’s…that’s…"

Suddenly a buzzer blared through the studio and DePalma looked up with an angelic smile. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s all we have time for tonight. Tune in tomorrow night to see if Mr. Ping Dodder’s answer is correct."

That was the final straw. I’m not proud of it, but I have to admit I snapped when DePalma said that. We -knew- that the fragging answer was wrong, so why couldn’t he just come out and say it? With a roar of fury and anguish, I pulled my Vindicator minigun from the concealment of my armoured duster and triggered a spray of slugs into the ceiling. Screams filled the air, followed quickly by huge, rainbow-coloured soap bubbles. Lollipop clapped her hands together and the bubbles burst, releasing bubblegum-scented gas that began to knock out the security guards and the audience members.

By that time, Babykiller and The Cannibal had figured out that something was going down and had armed themselves, The Cannibal dragging his Panther Assault Cannon out of the leg of his pants and Babykiller whipping her trademark multi-shot missile launcher from her purse. As one, the three of us charged down to where DePalma sat stunned, staring at us with his hair on end.

I skidded to a halt and shoved my minigun underneath DePalma’s nose. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t geek you now, you slot!" I screamed.

DePalma’s eyes bugged out. "Don’t…don’t kill me!" he blubbered. "I’m just doing what they tell me to do!"

"What are you talking about?" I grated.

DePalma raised a shaking hand and pointed to something behind me. "Look," he pleaded. "Look!"

Even as I began to turn, I could feel the sheer, palpable evil radiating from the infernal device. As my eyes fell upon the machine I was shaken to the core of my being. Never could I have imagined such horror, such sheer, malicious loathing, emanating from…a teleprompter.

The words were written there in black and white for all the world to behold. "Hmmm daisies, you you said daisies very interesting ."

My cry of fury shook the very foundations of heaven itself. "Who?" I bellowed. "Who would dare presume to force such an abomination upon this poor, unsuspecting world?"

"Umm…that would be the director," DePalma informed me helpfully.

Again I spun on him. "Where?"

He pointed past the teleprompter, towards the ceiling. "In the booth up there."

Whirling, I lifted my Vindicator into the air. Holding it at the full extension of my arm, I locked my elbow and, loosing a howl of triumph, I filled the booth with lead. Sparks sprayed from the flimsy construction as I riddled it through and through. "Die!" I screamed. "Die and take your hellish script with you!" Cables frayed and construction plastic shattered as I continued to fire, blood slowly leaking down as I repeatedly perforated the sinister director and his hapless stage crew.

Suddenly a whistling noise filled the air. I looked up in time to see a missile arc through an open window and head directly for the stage. I took one step and leapt, diving into the cover of a folding chair. The Cannibal was less fortunate, moving too slowly to avoid the high-explosive warhead. His body was tossed through the air by the blast before slamming into a wall at neck-breaking velocity. Meanwhile, the scarlet droplets of DePalma’s minced corpse spattered over most of the studio.

Babykiller had taken one step towards her fallen beau when the ugly chatter of automatic weaponry filled the air. A spray of rounds punched into her side, flinging her to the ground in a welter of blood.

I looked up in time to see men clad in the burnished armour of Lone Star pour into the studio – then flee screaming before the terrifying image of a hideously malformed clown performing a mime act.

As the room slowly quieted, Lollipop dropped the illusion and sagged to the floor, exhausted. Standing once more, I called out, "How are we doing?"

There was a crashing sound from off to one side, then The Cannibal strove to his feet, shoving aside slabs of ferrocrete that had been shattered by his impact with the wall. "I’m okay," he reported after a moment. "It’s just a flesh wound." He began to brush off his charred clothing.

"Same here," Babykiller stated with a groan, plucking bullets from her torso with a hair clip. "Flesh wound."

"Good," I said with a smile. "We’d better get out of here before the cops come back."

We headed out the back and piled into the getaway van driven by our rigger, Grunt. Even before the doors closed, Grunt took off. Let me tell you, no one in their right mind would want be in the same city, let alone on the same street, as an angry, antisocial dwarf rigger driving a van with more armour and weaponry than a main battle tank. So we made pretty good time back to our doss. A clean getaway, you might think.

The only problem, though, was that we’d been seen on national trideo killing a number of people, including a personality. That made us public enemy numero uno as far as Lone Star was concerned. We had to figure out a way to get the cops off our backs and we had to do it fast, before some public-minded citizen turned us in. I could only think of one person who might be able to help us.

Madame Zelda, of Zelda’s Downtown Fortunes and Fine Wines.

Again, we made rather good time, crushing three Jackrabbits and running a white Americar off the road in the process. We parked in an alley a few blocks away and headed on in, leaving Grunt to hold the fort.

As we approached Zelda’s shop, a skinny, nervous-looking man stepped out, staring up into the sky, his eyes fearful. As he stepped into the road, a large truck barrelled past and smeared him across the asphalt.

A grating cackle greeted our ears as we entered the store. "Ha!" the voice cried. "I told you, didn’t I, buster? No, wait…I said a plane would fall on you, didn’t I?" The voice paused for a second. "Oh well, my mistake."

As the door swung shut behind us, a troll picking his nose in the corner of the room began to call out, "Ding, ding, ding, ding!"

A haggard, old woman bustled out of the back room, with a beatific smile on her face. "Ahhh, visitors!" she cried. "How can I help you?"

"We need help," I replied.

Zelda frowned. "I know that. How can I help you?"

"Oh," I said. "Sorry. Look, the cops are after us. We need to get them off our backs."

"Hmmm…let me get a look at you, then," Zelda mused. She hopped back and peered up at me through a yellow, puss-filled eye. "I know you!" she breathed after a moment. "You’re the ones who did away with Rupert DePalma and his horrid show! Please, please, come through, come through. This one’s on the house." I grinned at my teammates. Seemed like our unwanted fame was good for something, at least.

Zelda led us into the back of the shop and seated us at a small table before a crystal ball. I sat across from her and Lollipop snuggled in under my arm. Babykiller and The Cannibal found themselves other amusements.

"Now, before we begin," Zelda said, "would you care for some refreshments? A nice, robust Chianti? I shook my head. "No?" she continued. "How about a crisp Chardonnay?"

I sighed. "Look, Madame Zelda, can we get on with this? The longer we waste, the more time the Star has to find us."

"Okay, okay." Zelda began to wave her hands over the crystal ball, all the while muttering something about the impatience of youth. After a moment the globe began to glow softly and she spoke, her voice sonorous and nasal. "Your name is…Sunshine. You are five feet, eleven inches tall, you weigh one hundred and ninety three pounds and you like candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach." She glanced up. "How am I doing so far?"

I blushed, but Lollipop already knew all that stuff and neither Babykiller nor The Cannibal were paying any attention. "All right, all right, get to the good stuff, huh?"

Zelda peered at the crystal again. "You seek to turn aside the destiny fate has in store for you. There is only one way this can be done. Go to…Big Bob’s Delicatessen, corner of Fourth and Pine." Her eyes flicked up to meet mine. "Use the back entrance. Ask for Bingo the Wonder-Dog."

Zelda looked down once more. After a moment of quiet contemplation, she continued, "Your nose will become large and swollen." She paused, glanced up at me, back down at the ball and then back up at me once more. "Sorry about that," she said. "It’s your reflection."

As she gazed into the shimmering ball a final time, Zelda’s eyes rolled back in her head and she began to quiver and shake. Minutes passed, then she coughed, cleared her throat and stared at me with a wicked grin. "Is your license number 555-AUV?"


Zelda frowned, then her face slowly whitened. "Hey…hey, that’s -my- license plate!" She scrambled to her feet and raced towards the front door, shrieking at the top of her lungs. "Get away from my car, you freaking -punks-!"

That, apparently, was to be the end of the session, but no matter. We had already learnt what we had come for. We made it across town in record time. Grunt enjoyed himself immensely, blowing up two Lone Star cruisers and a school bus in the process.

Roaring around the corner into the alley behind Big Bob’s Delicatessen, however, we found ourselves heading directly towards a brick wall. Grunt stomped on the brakes, but, going at over a hundred miles per hour, there simply wasn’t enough time to stop. As usual, Grunt had failed to buckle his seatbelt and the rest of us had been equally lackadaisical in our safety precautions.

With a tremendous crump, the van slammed head on into the wall. Grunt went flying through the windshield at a rather remarkable speed and the rest of us were tossed around the back of the vehicle like the contents of a drunk’s stomach on a rollercoaster.

After a moment of pure agony, I realised that not only was I alive, but I was going to survive. With a groan, I staggered to my feet. "Condition?" I croaked.

Babykiller lifted her head. "I’ll be okay," she reported. "It’s just a flesh wound."

The Cannibal concurred as did Grunt when he finally managed to free his head from the wall. "Just a flesh wound," he grumbled angrily. Lollipop was whimpering, but that was to be expected.

We piled out of the van, but came up short, however, as a secret door slid open in the wall we’d struck and a figure out of our worst nightmares emerged. Nigh on ten feet tall, with a body sculpted of living metal and rotary autocannons in place of arms, the only thing that broke the steely-grey monotony of the cyborg’s appearance was its heavily-stubbled jaw. A smoking cigar was clenched between yellowed teeth and small red letters spelled a message across its torso. I narrowed my eyes, forcing my vision to telescope in until the writing became clear. I shuddered as I beheld a chilling message of doom – "If you can read this, you’re too damned close."

With nary a warning, the autocannon arms burst to life, sending shells screaming across the alley to chew apart Grunt’s van. The irate dwarf was struck repeatedly and collapsed in a boneless sprawl. "Move it!" I cried.

We split up, beginning to return fire, but the cyborg pursued us relentlessly. I dropped into the cover of a cardboard box just in time to avoid a murderous barrage, but Lollipop was not so lucky. As the cyborg’s fire tracked over her, our mage screeched and tumbled to the ground.

"Nooo!" I screamed. My cry of anguish echoed from the walls of the alley as Babykiller, The Cannibal and I erupted from cover and opened fire on the metal monster. My slugs tore into the cyborg’s body as The Cannibal’s shells blasted away at it. Then Babykiller’s anti-vehicular missile struck home in the fiend’s belly and exploded.

As the smoke slowly began to clear we watched with grim satisfaction for an instant. Then twin streams of autocannon shells blazed forth in such profusion they seemed to form a wall of solid metal. As the cyborg stalked into view once more, both Babykiller and The Cannibal were hit and blasted across the alley.

I stared at the fiendish apparition before me in despair. Nothing we’d done had even scratched it. It turned towards my teammates to verify they were out of action and I saw what was possibly my salvation. A big, red button sat in the middle of the creature’s back. Fluorescent green lettering above it spelled out the message, "PRESS HERE" and emblazoned on the button itself was the legend "OFF". Arrows in all the colours of a bad LSD trip pointed to the button from all directions. Then the cyborg turned on me and there was no more time for thought – only for action.

Taking two quick steps forward, I leapt into the air as the metallic monstrosity opened fire once more. I came down atop those terrible, virtually solid streams of ordnance. Surefooted as a gazelle, I raced towards the cyborg.

The chrome beast attempted to bring me into its sights once more, but by that time it was too late. I planted one foot on a shell and sprang forward, somersaulting over the cyborg’s head. As I came down, I arced my elbow back, striking the monster full in the button. A horrid squealing pierced the air, then the cyborg slowly leaned forward and was still.

As silence settled an impenetrable blanket over the alley, the creaking of a second secret door opening penetrated it. A tall, slender elf stepped forward, gazing upon the frozen cyborg in surprise and no little awe. "No one’s ever beaten The Unbeatable Guardian before," he breathed.

I frowned. "But it’s got the ‘OFF’ button right out in plain sight."

The elf shrugged. "Everyone seems to think it’s a trick."

I shook my head at that foolishness, then turned to address the welfare of my team. "Are you guys okay?"

A chorus of "Flesh wound!" greeted my question and I smiled in relief. Then Lollipop shrieked.

"What’s wrong, Lolly?" I called.

"I broke a nail, Sunny!" she wailed piteously.

My eyes widened in terror. "Damn! Babykiller, The Cannibal, help her! Grunt, call DocWagon!"

As my team sprung into action, the elf took my arm and guided me aside. "Your friends will be all right," he assured me. "You, however, have defeated our Immortal Champion and must be inducted into the greater mysteries of the Sixth World. You alone have earned this unparalleled honour."

I shook my head. "Thanks, but we came here to get the Star off our backs. We were told to ask for Bingo the Wonder-Dog."

The elf nodded as he led me towards a third secret door, changed his mind and selected a fourth instead. "It has already been dealt with. Come. I am Ehran the Scribe and I will be your guide into the higher mysteries."

As we stepped through the door it slammed shut behind us and I found myself in a world of dreams. Torchlight flared, illuminating a cavern the size of a football stadium. Around me flitted elves and dragons of various sizes, shapes and colours. Even as I watched, more and more poured in, mingling and socialising in a party of titanic proportions.

Nearby, an elf with his face painted into a clown’s mask arm-wrestled with a towering, rust-coloured dragon. A second, silvery-blue dragon crouched nearby. After a moment, the second dragon declared, "Lofwyr, you’re cheating again."

The rust dragon snarled and a wisp of smoke curled up from his nostril. "You know, Dunkelzahn, I liked you better when you were ‘alive’ – and I hated you then."

Dumbfounded, I followed Ehran deeper into the cavern. "What is this?" I queried, mouth agape.

"This," Ehran informed me, "is the most powerful conclave you will ever see. The beings here are the secret masters of the sixth world. And now, you shall be one of them."

I couldn’t answer him, merely staring as a group of insect spirits fluttered into the cavern, followed by chittering hordes of hairy, black creatures. As the two groups alighted on the ground, they shimmered, assuming their true appearances, the bugs becoming elves and the other creatures – Horrors, as I now know – transforming into dragons.

This staggering procession went on for hours until each and every being of power and influence in the world had gathered in the cavern. I rubbed elbows with the likes of Damien Knight, Richard Villiers, Juan Atzcapotzalco, Honey Brighton and Kyle Haeffner. Each and every one of them was, in truth, either an elf or a dragon. My mind nearly collapsed upon itself as I slowly came to understand the depths of the conspiracy that lay beneath the foundation of our entire world.

Eventually, however, all were present and things came to a head. Ehran and I watched from the shadows as these beings of power gathered in a huge circle around the cavern and the rust-coloured dragon, Lofwyr, moved to take his place in the centre. A current of enormous, yet controlled power rippled around the circle and I knew – -knew- – that the crowning moment of my entire existence – the moment where all would be revealed and I would become empowered beyond all belief – had arrived.

A pregnant pause filled the air, then all eyes focused on Lofwyr and as one, the assembled beings raised their voices in song.

"Happy birthday to you…"

©1999, Rand Ratinac - used with permission