From Bob and the Cyber-Llama
Bob was only a few minutes into his search for food when the doorbell rang.
He answered. It was a hairy, chubby man with a thick moustache and an orange shirt with a logo that had been obscured by years of sweat. He held a clipboard, and behind him were two muscular men carrying a wooden crate a little taller than they.
“You Bob Halibut?” the man asked.
“Sign here, please,” the delivery guy said, handing Bob the clipboard. Bob signed and the man signaled his compatriots to carry the box into the house.
“What is it?” Bob asked.
“I don’t know. Some lawyer—Powers, I think his name was—just told us to deliver it to you. Said it was from your dead grandma or something.”
With a mighty thud, the delivery guys dropped the crate in the living room and handed Bob a crowbar. Bob tipped the three of them with gold coins and shut the door. Alone now, he stared at the crate, hesitant to open it.
Finally, he plunged the crowbar into the crate and pulled. The front of the crate snapped off and all four sides fell to the ground with a clatter. Bob dropped the crowbar. Before him stood a llama. A yellowish-brown llama with its eyes shut. It had a monocle on its right eye and wore a finely-pressed black suit and gray slacks. Like the house, the llama smelled expensive.
Then it stirred, opening its eyes and clearing its throat. It glanced around the house and shook its head. Disorder, as usual. The llama turned to Bob and spoke:
“Good afternoon, sir. The house is in a bit of disarray, wouldn’t you say?”
Eyes wide as a baboon’s buttocks, Bob took a step back. The llama took a step forward.
“I am Jeeves, your grandmother’s butler. You’ve inherited me along with the rest of Edwina’s possessions, and I dare say this place is in desperate need of a good cleaning. Shall I start in the drawing room, sir?”
Bob just stared.
“I’ll take your silence as a yes, then,” Jeeves said. Trotting casually into the drawing room, Jeeves twitched his long llama neck slightly. A radar dish sprung from his forehead and began scanning the room. After a few seconds, it disappeared back into Jeeves’ head as quickly as it had come.
“Just as I thought,” Jeeves said, “millions of dust particles, carpet full of dirt fragments, box of silver coins 0.25 inches from its proper place, and trace amounts of cat feces. Edwina really left the place to rot while I was away!”
Bob crept closer to the finely-dressed llama, watching as a thick chord with a vacuum attachment on the end sprung from its midsection and began vacuuming the carpet. If it did notice him, the llama was not responding.
Swallowing, Bob finally worked up the nerve to speak: “What, uh…what are you?”
Jeeves paused. “I am a class-23 cyber-llama, programmed to serve your grandmother, Edwina Halibut. But I thought she’d have told you that.”
“She didn’t tell me much,” Bob said, looking back at the kitchen.
Finished with the drawing room, Jeeves trotted bouncingly into the kitchen. Dozens of small wires shot from his sides and, like tiny tentacles, wriggled through the air until their found their way into the strange wall ports. The oven light turned on.
“Hmmm,” Jeeves murmured, “Why don’t you tell me what you do know about your grandmother?”
“Uh…well…she was born in 1926…had three brothers, one sister…studied Anthropology at Wellesley College…worked in a munitions factory during World War Two…”
“No, no, no! I mean, what do you know about who she really was? Her travels, her discoveries, her adventures.”
Jeeves’ cables flew out of the wall as the oven beeped and its door opened. Bending his long neck forward, Jeeves poked his head into the oven and recovered a golden-brown turkey. He gripped the hot pan in his mouth and set it on the table. Then he made an abrupt farting sound and, reaching behind him, produced a set of fine silverware.
“Yes, sir. Adventures,” Jeeves continued, setting the silverware next to the turkey and motioning for Bob to sit down, “Your grandmother was quite the world traveler back in her day. I think I still have a few films of our travels in my data log if you care to see them.”
“Great,” Bob said, sitting down and cautiously examining his fork, “Why don’t you, um, show them to me while I eat?”
“You’ll need to access them yourself, sir,” Jeeves answered, “Edwina was insistent that I store the videos in an inconspicuous place so that no unauthorized persons could access them. Just press the button in my left nostril.”
Warily, Bob eased his finger into Jeeves’ nose and heard a faint clicking noise. A bright light shot from the llama butler’s eyes and projected a grainy, black-and-white image onto the kitchen wall. “This data log was taken on our trip to the Sahara,” Jeeves explained, “It was after we recovered the Blue Ruby of Cairo from a local temple.”
The woman shown was definitely Grandma Edwina, but she was young, beautiful, and more full of energy than Bob had ever seen anyone. She wore a leather jacket and cargo pants and ran as if possessed. Her arms swung by her sides as she ran and, in a pouch, she carried a large jewel.
Bob heard gunshots. As the angle of the film’s camera changed, Bob saw that Edwina was sprinting away from a black jeep while a deluge of bullets and German curse words flew toward her. The young woman reached into her pocket and effortlessly tossed a grenade at the car, which exploded in a hail of fire and smoke.
The llama blinked heavily and a new image appeared on the wall. In this one, Edwina stood on a boat holding an intricate, golden statue. Arrows whizzed past her as she quickly knelt and fired a rifle at the opposite shoreline where dozens of half-naked islanders shrieked while reloading their bows.
“It’s uncanny, sir,” Jeeves chuckled, “Native peoples become so quarrelsome when you steal their war gods.” He blinked again.
This new image showed Edwina surrounded by all sorts of wooden animals: rhinos, monkeys, beavers, hamsters, lions, huge snakes, and other creatures—each made of intricate gears, wires, bamboo poles, and wooden plates—swarmed Bob’s grandmother as she desperately swung her polearm left and right. Lasers shot from beneath the camera, destroying many of the creatures.
“Here we are in combat with the wooden robo-creatures of Screaming Death Island,” Jeeves explained, “My chest beams came in handy that day, I should tell you. Would you like to see more?”
“Yes,” Bob found himself saying.
The old films continued playing and Bob saw his grandmother endure one deadly challenge after another; Through the images in Jeeves’ eyes, she raced through ancient Aztec temples, battled vicious pirates on the high seas, and used a walrus to slide down a snowy hillside, pursued by gun-toting penguins. Before he knew it, Bob had eaten almost the entire turkey. The images disappeared.
“That’s all I have left in my data logs,” Jeeves said, “Unfortunately, I had to delete some other films to make room for these. But I think you can see just a smidge of who your grandmother was now, can’t you, sir?”
“Yeah,” Bob said, shaking slightly as he came back into reality, “I had no idea. But…why did she do it, um…Jeeves, right?”
“Why did she do it? The exploring and adventuring, I mean.”
Jeeves put his hoof to his hairy llama chin and rolled his eyes up, thinking. “Well sir, she didn’t keep me abreast of the reasons for her travels. I seem to recall the military hiring her a lot initially. To distract and perturb the Germans, you know. After the war, I believe she worked for different museums, historical societies, and anthropologists. There were the occasional secret missions funded by individuals with code names—I recall the two of us recovering a large cache of Atlantian gold for a Mr. ‘Silver Banana’—her reasons varied.
“But if you were to ask for my opinion, sir, I would say she did it for the adventure. There wasn’t a day your grandmother spent in this quiet, old house that she wouldn’t rather have spent chasing after some ancient golden trinket or shooting at foes from the galley of a wooden warship. Being a cyber-llama, I’m not very good at reading human emotions, but I never saw more joy in your grandmother’s face than when she was in deadly peril.”
“I see,” Bob said. He stood and began walking, slightly dazed, toward the bedroom. “Look Jeeves, it’s been a long day and I have a lot to think over. I’m going to take a nap.”
“Very good, sir,” Jeeves said, “We shall discuss our first mission when you’re more well-rested.”
Bob ignored Jeeves’ last comment. Falling on the gargantuan bed, he closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds.
If you’re jonesin’ to see what happens next, click here to purchase the book!
Jeeves’ retinal floodlights shot out a beam of light, and the pair made their way down a shadowy hallway. The scent of age hit Bob in the face like a charging horde of crusty, old ladies, and the air became thick as the pair ventured further into the narrow tunnel. It grew warmer and, if he concentrated, Bob could hear bubbling liquid.
At last, the tunnel opened into a massive, circular room. Bob took a step forward but felt Jeeves’ hoof against his stomach.
“Careful, sir,” the llama said, “I smell a death trap.”
“Because you’ve been in temples like this before?”
“No, because I have sensors in my nostrils.”
Jeeves gazed at the floor for a moment nodded. “Pressure plates. You’ll have to follow me across the room, sir. Just make sure to step in the same places I do.”
The llama sauntered across the room, his rump bobbing nonchalantly as it always did. Bob, squinting to see Jeeves’ hooves in the darkness, tried to copy his steps. He made it about halfway across the room before he heard a sharp clunk.
The torches lining the walls burst to life and illuminated the chamber. The ceiling of the circular room towered several stories above Jeeves and Bob and the walls were covered in intricate stone carvings of Aztec warriors with fierce eyes and mouths frozen mid-battle cry. For a moment, Bob forgot his peril and admired the expert craftsmanship. Then he heard two slamming sounds. The room’s thick, stone doors had shut.
Bob clenched his eyes and groaned. “I’m sorry. I must have mis-stepped.”
“No. That was my fault, actually. Seems my sensors overlooked a pressure plate. You may want to have them adjusted, sir.”
The sound of gurgling liquid grew louder. Like water through a sluice, a smoking, brown goo shot from the mouths of the warriors carved into the walls. Dozens of puddles of the boiling fluid began to collect on the floor.
“Fascinating,” Jeeves said, “Impractical, but fascinating. The Aztecs who built this temple intended to boil any intruders using one of their most precious resources.”
“But what is this stuff?” Bob cried, hopping away from a puddle of the bubbling goo.
“Sir, have you ever heard the phrase ‘death by chocolate?’”
Bob and his llama back-stepped as pools of molten chocolate crept toward them. Thick balls of sweat streamed down Bob’s face; the heat of the deadly liquid seeped into the air. Bob swallowed and felt his back brush against Jeeves’ soft fur.
“Well, sir,” Jeeves said, extending his metallic arm and dabbing Bob’s forehead with a handkerchief, “I’d say it’s high time we employed the rectum rocket, wouldn’t you?”
Bob nodded and clambered onto Jeeves’ back. A gout of flame shot from the butler’s backside and he rocketed upward, far from the pool of tasty brown lava. Bob smiled nervously, and the room grew hotter.
The booster sputtered. Jeeves’ movement became choppy. Tightening his grip on the llama’s fur, Bob peered downward and saw that the lake of chocolate, which now completely covered the floor, was rising.
“What’s wrong?” Bob shouted over the sound of the dying flame jet.
“I’m afraid the room’s become too hot, sir,” the quadruped explained, “And since I used my rectum rocket just a short time ago to reach the city, it’s begun to overheat.”
“Well, what do we do?!”
“You’ll find a pair of thick gloves in the compartment just above the right side of my ribcage, sir. I suggest you put them on.”
“Because they’ll make the climb up the hot stones a great deal easier.”
The rocket went silent and, for a split second, Jeeves’ body hung in the air. Then he dropped like a potato down an elevator shaft. Clenching the supple llama fur with white knuckles, Bob strained to keep his eyes open. He fought against the wind rushing past him and popped open one of Jeeves’ compartments, slipping on a pair of padded, black gloves. As they drew nearer to the rising pool, a wave of hot air hit him, and Bob took in the smell of delicious, impending doom.
Jeeves stretched his mouth open like a snake about to swallow its prey and let out a deafening bleat. A large grappling hook shot from his mouth, catching one of the stones above. With a jerk, Bob and Jeeves stopped falling. The cable retracted, yanking the twosome upward.
Jeeves’ hooves clambered furiously until he had climbed onto a flat piece of stone. He swallowed the grappling hook and spoke: “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll have to make the climb on your own. Your weight would make it difficult for me to maneuver.”
“Of course,” Bob sighed, spotting a handhold on the rock wall. Praying it was stable, Bob grabbed onto a small stone and began his climb. Inch-by-inch, he wrapped his fingers around the jutting stones and niches in the rock. None of the Aztec carvings were easy to grip and, more than once, Bob slid backward and barely caught himself. But there wasn’t time to look for solid footholds. The thought of ending up a giant chocolate-covered raisin pushed Bob to climb faster.
Like a mountain goat, Jeeves leapt from ridge to ridge, keeping his hooves close together and balancing expertly on each ledge. He made his way up the rock face efficiently and nodded approvingly. This Aztec architecture was indeed sturdy.
“You’d best hurry, sir,” he shouted to his master about twenty feet below, “I’d like to reach the ceiling sometime this week.”
Bob didn’t answer. His lungs aching, he continued his climb. Hot air radiated from the rocks. Though the gloves helped him to keep his grasp on the stone, Bob could feel puddles of cold sweat collecting around each of his fingers. Clamping his eyes shut, Bob extended his arms as he shimmied past one of the stone faces. A stream of chocolate still poured from the carving’s mouth, inches from Bob’s tender flesh. The heat from the tasty death liquid singed the hairs on Bob’s arm.
Somehow, he reached the top of the room and the flat, stone slab that made up the chamber’s ceiling. Jeeves stood calmly on a nearby ridge.
“Alright,” Bob panted, “We reached the ceiling. What now?”
“Climb on my back, sir, and activate the missile launcher. We should be able to blast through the roof and escape this chocolate chamber.”
“Okay,” Bob gasped, clutching his side, “Just give me a minute.”
“We don’t have a minute, sir.”
Bob nodded and pulled himself onto the llama’s furry back. The plates on Jeeves’ upper back slid aside and revealed the control panel. Bob glared at the flashing buttons, switches, and levers of all colors and groaned.
“Well, get on with it, sir,” Jeeves said, tapping his hoof as the sound of bubbling chocolate grew louder.
“Uh…which one do I press, again?”
“Didn’t you read the manual?”
“Well, no, I didn’t. Not the whole thing.”
“And why not?!”
“It was hard to understand. I don’t even know how a toaster works, let alone a cybernetic ungulate.”
“Well, perhaps you should learn. I’m a complex marvel of engineering, sir. You can’t just hop on my back and figure it out as you go along like you would with a tricycle or a gene splicer or a space shuttle.”
“Can we continue this conversation later?” Bob asked, unable to take his eyes off the rising pool of chocolatey death.
“Very well, sir. You can activate the missile launcher by pressing the blue button.”
“Which blue button?”
“With respect, sir, perhaps you should just begin pressing all the blue buttons and hope to get lucky.”
Bob slammed his fist on one of the flashing blue buttons and the panels on Jeeves’ right side shot forward, revealing a cannon on a swivel. Grabbing the trigger guard, Bob swung the gun toward the ceiling and fired. A large, pink glob shot from the barrel and clung to the stone roof.
“Ah,” Jeeves said, “You’ve found the bubble gum cannon, sir. Don’t underestimate it. That gum’s been aged and moistened so meticulously over the years, it’s stronger than super glue and tougher than Kevlar.”
The chocolate rose. Bob pressed another button, and a soft trumpeting sound erupted from Jeeves’ bottom. Bob sniffed the air.
“That’s my air freshener, sir,” explained Jeeves, “It’s set to lilac, I believe.”
If you’re sufficiently pumped to see what happens next, click here to purchase the book!
“It said what, sir?”
“The castle. The ghost said we can find the answers we seek inside its castle.”
“Well, at least we have something to search for now. Your family always did have a way of attracting the supernatural. Did this apparition happen to mention how we might go about finding its castle?”
“No. The whole thing was pretty vague and mysterious.”
Jeeves shook his head and sighed. “Spectral beings tend to be like that, I’m afraid. Prophecies and riddles and the like. I remember when the ghost of Henry the Fifth haunted Edwina’s attic for a week. It took us days to figure out that by ‘the grating of the steel parchment echoes throughout the crevice’ he meant that we needed to buy higher-quality toilet paper.”
Bob couldn’t tell whether or not they were making any sort of progress. The trees, bushes, and other shrubbery began to blend together and he found himself daydreaming and dozing on his feet and he trudged along. A yell from his llama yanked Bob out of his trance:
“Look there, sir! The three maidens!”
Bob poked his head up and saw Jeeves pointing to a square, wooden structure in the distance. It was hard to make out, but Bob could see three figures moving inside it. “The what?”
“The three maidens. You’d no doubt know this if you’d read up on Arthurian myths, as you were instructed, but according to the Excalibur legend, King Arthur located the Black Knight’s castle with the help of three mystical maidens he met in the forest. And they’re just ahead!”
Bob jogged alongside his llama, grinning. A lead at last! As they neared the structure, three maidens did indeed come into view. All three wore long, flowing dresses and had daisies, pansies, and other flowers braided into their shiny hair. Each one sat in a folder chair behind a wooden stand labeled “information and vacation packages.”
“Good morrow to you, fair ladies,” Jeeves said, making a cap-tipping motion with his mechanical arm, “We are travelers, noble warriors from across the great sea, who seek adventure and noble quests. We have heard tell that thou knowest the way to the castle of the Black Knight. I implore you, please, provide us with such guidance.”
One of the maidens sighed and raised a nail file to her fingernails. “Yeah,” she said, staring at her nails and thrusting a pamphlet at Bob, “Just follow the map.”
The young adventurer unfurled the colorful pamphlet titled “The Mystic Forest, a Peaceful Holiday Getaway.” Flipping through pages of ads for local attractions and hotels and a series of restaurant coupons, he at last found a cartoon image of a stone structure labeled “Black Knight’s Castle.” A convenient map showed a short path leading straight to the castle gate.
Another of the maidens removed her headset. “Would you be interested in our Black Knight vacation pack, sir?” she said in a monotonous, droning voice, “It includes a tour of the pixie’s toadstools and the meadow of sorrows, as well as a discounted rate on your hotel.”
“Go for the upsell, Sheila,” the third young woman whispered.
“Oh, yeah. And for an extra forty pounds, we can upgrade you to platinum status, which includes a pre-tour breakfast and a souvenir jar of sleeping potion.”
“Thank you, good woman,” Jeeves said, “Your offer of platinum statues does my heart good, but methinks my young companion and I must ride on, continuing our noble quest.”
“Whatever,” the first maiden said, blowing on her fingernails, “Thank you for choosing the mystic forest. Have a magical day.”
The foliage thinned and the sunlight streamed onto the stone bridge before them. Though the bridge was sturdy, the stones were covered in moss and ivy and were cracked with age. Beyond the bridge was a grass-covered hill, beyond which was the castle they sought.
Across the bridge now, Bob scanned the castle and scratched his head. The square keep was sealed up tight, the stones so closely-fit together they looked like corn kernels on a cob. Inside the outer wall was a single, wide tower, which overshadowed the rest of the landscape like a Saint Bernard among Yorkies.
The front lawn was coated in golf course-green grass, but contained only a single tree, an apple tree that bore no fruit. Instead, it was covered in rusted shields. Heater shields, bucklers, kite shields, parmas, and tower shields hung from the branches. The rust and dust obscured the shield’s crests, but it was clear that many knights had been this way
Resting against the trees base was another shield, a large, black one that, like the shield borne by the ghost Bob had seen last night, had no design. A black battle hammer, overgrown with grass, lay before the shield.
Jeeves cleared his throat. “Sir,” he said, “I’m not sure your ethereal friend knows we’re here. Perhaps you should ‘ring the doorbell,” as it were.”
Bob nodded and hefted the hammer, scattering dirt and grass on the ground. Struggling to keep the weapon balanced, he aimed at the shield and swung. The hammer head slammed into the shield, and Bob felt vibrations ripple through his arms. A gong-like banging echoed throughout the forest, followed by an unbroken ringing.
Silence followed. Then he heard a series of clicks, sliding metal, and shifting gears. The castle gate groaned open and fell to the dirt with a thud. The cracking of hooves followed and a black steed, complete with black saddle and black reigns, thundered from inside the castle. Atop the horse was the figure Bob had seen last night and, though he’d seen the Black Knight before, Bob swallowed hard.
The sable warrior hopped off his horse and strode toward Bob. He carried two lances, long and pointy, and without saying a word, handed one to the young adventurer.
Bob accepted the lance and, trying not to let his knees shake, cleared his throat. “Um…*ahem*…hello, good sir. Uh…what are the lances for?”
“Inside my fortress do indeed lie the answers you seek, young warrior,” the Black Knight answered, “But not all may quest for the sword Excalibur. Thou must prove thyself a noble soul and a worthy opponent if thou wishest for my guidance. Let us begin with the second requirement.”
The ancient knight mounted his horse and galloped back toward the castle. As soon as it reached the gate, the black steed whirled around, and the warrior pointed his lance straight at Bob’s head.
“What’s going on?” Bob asked Jeeves, already knowing and dreading the answer.
“The Black Knight will only deal with those who prove themselves in battle, sir,” Jeeves answered, kneeling, “Now hop on and grab your shield. I’m sorry there wasn’t time for a jousting lesson before we left, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to learn as we go.”
“What?! But Jeeves, I—”
“Steady the lance, sir.”
“Okay, but you’re going to shoot him with some sort of mechanical device at the last minute, right? You’ll hit him with the nacho cheese cannon or something?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. Knights, samurai, and their ilk tend to be sticklers for honor codes. If you use anything but what you have on your person to fight the Black Knight, he may not lead us to Excalibur.”
“Steady the lance, sir.”
If you’re salivatingly excited to see what happens next, click here to purchase the book!