Robert Jeschonek is a prolific author of short stories and articles, and has thirteen novels to his credit, including Battlenaut Crucible and Day 9, an International Book Award winner.

THE BREAKOUT STORY OF GALAXY'S EDGE ISSUE TEN MILLION

by Robert Jeschonek

It all started in the distant past—which, to you, would be the distant future. It all happened in the state called Galaxedgia, so named because it was patterned after the very popular magazine of which you hold a copy in your hands or tentacles or sexoplasm or whatever.

A vast state, as befits a place modeled on settings from thousands of issues of Galaxy's Edge magazine, Galaxedgia spanned much of what was once the Pacific Northwest of the former United States of America. Its reaches encompassed everything from replicas of alien encampments to robotic wonderlands to dinosaur jungles to mad scientists' labs...

...to bizarre kingdoms where modern-day knights and dragons co-existed in ways made possible by technology so advanced that it might as well have been magic. Once upon a time, in one such kingdom on the remote outskirts of Galaxedgia, a shabby castle shivered on rolling green hills under the noonday summer sun. This castle, called Castle Spasmodic, was like something brought to life from a story in the pages of Galaxy's Edge magazine...because it was.

So was its inhabitant, a broken-down would-be star-knight in tin pan armor with a shaggy white beard and bushy eyebrows. As he rattle-clanked out the front door of the castle, Sir Reptitious of the Dingly Dangly Kingdom was instantly recognizable to anyone who'd read the story titled "Drag Knight vs. Space Grendel's Inner Showgirl" in Galaxy's Edge #320.

This man had been transformed by implausible super-science into a real-life replica of a character from the magazine...just like all the other inhabitants of Galaxedgia. They loved Galaxy's Edge so much that they had let themselves be changed into perfect copies of the denizens of its stories.

Another such inhabitant—Cosset of the Ever-Blazing Allergies, that purple-scaled, fire-sneezing, inter-dimensional dragon-beast from Galaxy's Edge issue 512 ("Here's Looking Atchoo, Kid")—was flapping lazily overhead when Sir Reptitious walked out of the castle with a white business envelope in his hand.

"What's the good word down there, you old tinpot?" Cosset blew out a blistering sneeze, barely getting out the last word of the sentence.

Sir Reptitious smiled up from under the pie plate visor of his garbage pail helmet. As much as knights and dragons were known foes in most stories, these two were best friends in the scienti-magical land of Galaxedgia.

They had a lot in common, after all. Neither was overly happy with life in Galaxedgia. Being a constantly-sneezing dragon-beast wasn't as much fun as you might think after a couple of years.

Neither was being not-very-much-of-a-star-knight who couldn't even seem to do that very well. According to online reviewers who watched over micro-drone webcams buzzing throughout the kingdom, his performance—his life, in other words—was thoroughly disappointing. The consensus was, someone with much more talent ought to don the trash pail and pie plate and take up the pink feather boa that substituted for deadlier weapons of the sci-fi variety.

Still, Sir Reptitious held out hope. "Hello, friend Cosset!" He waved the white envelope he was carrying, which had his name scrawled on the front. "Look what arrived by carrier pickle just now!"

Cosset swooped lower, then let loose a sneeze so extreme that the force of it pushed him back up again. "The answer to your request?"

"It should be, good dragon." Eagerly, Sir Reptitious tore open the envelope. "I sent it some time ago, after all." His hands shook a little as he pulled out the folded letter inside. Was it possible? Had the powers that be in Galaxedgia granted the request he'd made months ago?

Had they given him rewrite permissions? Would he finally be allowed to make his character more competent and dramatic, giving him off-book opportunities to impress the critics for once?

Not yet, apparently.

"Oh, calamity!" Sir Reptitious stroked his shaggy white beard and stomped in circles over the rainbow-colored grass, which cursed his every step with extreme chitter-chirping profanity. "It's nothing at all to do with my request!"

"Sorry to hear that, amigo." Cosset released a blazing sneeze on the last syllable. His disappointment, like the flames of his sneeze, was palpable; he'd been hoping to apply for rewrite permissions of his own if Sir Reptitious was granted his wish.

"It is news of an altogether different sort, I'm afraid." The not-very-much-of-a-star-knight sounded grim as he shook the letter overhead. "We must sound the alarum! Portals are opening up throughout our green and pleasant land, disgorging visitors most strange...and unplanned!"

"Unplanned visitors?" said Cosset. "That's unheard of!"

It was true, and precisely why Sir Reptitious wanted rewrite permissions so much. With all interactions carefully scripted by Galaxedgia's planners, opportunities for any one inhabitant to truly stand out and impress critics were few.

Why do you think the knight and dragon got so excited all of a sudden? Dealing with impromptu invaders surely qualified as the kind of emergency situation in which they could improvise...show off, even.

"Fear not!" Cosset paused to unleash another mighty sneeze, scorching a passing flock of origami cranes into ash with his sizzling breath. "No freakish visitation shall stand against our cast of heroes!"

Just then, Indigesto, the Stroganoff That Walks Like a Man ("The Meal Shall Inherit the Earth," Galaxy's Edge #439), flip-flopped his way up a rise from the direction of Asynchronous Park. As usual, he looked like a six-foot-in-diameter heap of beef stroganoff—though his big sour-cream-sauce-slathered egg noodles fluttered with agitation. "Fight or flee! Flee or fight! They're coming for us, whatever they are!"

Whatever the story behind the invasion, Sir Reptitious wasn't about to miss a chance to deliver a bravura performance. Drawing his pink feather boa from around his waist, he held it before him with a steely gaze. It was not very much of a weapon, straight from his character's not-very-dignified story in Galaxy's Edge, but he was determined to make it work for him dramatically. "No brick, beast, or Bandersnatch shall breach Castle Spasmodic! What say you, Cosset?"

"I say let's give 'em a tale worth reprinting in the ten thousandth issue!" roared the dragon. "Complete with quips, ripostes, and derring-do aplenty!"

"And you, Stroganoff?" shouted Sir Reptitious. "Will you fight alongside we brave and happy few?"

"I'll fight as hard as any noodle dish ever has," said Indigesto. "Though fleeing still strikes me as a not-unthinkable option."

Suddenly, a dazzling portal rimmed with red and gold light spun open in front of Castle Spasmodic, unleashing a howl like a thousand kazoos in a hurricane. A big gray block of a thing tumbled out, neither blinking nor waving nor wagging nor anything-else-ing…but somehow speaking nonetheless with an echoing thunder that boomed throughout the kingdom.

"Galaxy's Edge #500,335," it said. "Story name 'Ootch’."

As if that explained everything. Or anything at all.

"What in Galaxedgia?" Sir Reptitious stepped forward, slashing the air with his boa. "What are you talking about, sirrah?"

"Ootch ootch ootch," said the block.

Indigesto slapped the ground with his noodles, slopping sauce every which way. "Could it mean the magazines?"

"Galaxy's Edge! Of course!" hollered Sir Reptitious. "But then that must mean it's…"

"…a reviewer!" Cosset's purple-scaled maw lit up with a scalding sneeze of excitement.

"No!" snapped Sir Reptitious. "It's…"

"…an author?" ventured Indigesto.

"A time traveler!" Sir Reptitious flounced his boa for emphasis. "From a far future era when Galaxy's Edge has reached issue number 500,335!"

"Unless they increase the frequency!" said Cosset. "Maybe they start publishing a thousand editions per month or something. Then it wouldn't be that far in the future."

(Just as YOU, DEAR READER, are thinking about jumping to another story, perhaps in another magazine entirely, Quicksie the Reassurer leaps in front of the action, looking like an adorable Corgi pup crossed with the lithe little sprite who used to perch on the rail of your crib and sing you to sleep at night when you were a baby. "No flipping! I promise, this nutso story ain't that long! Woof!" Then, Quicksie dives out of the way with the sound of jingling bells and—for some reason—the smell of sauerkraut.)

Suddenly, something else emerged from the portal. It looked like a huge, lobster-clawed sheep with ferns for a head and seven erect penises that shot sizzling red laser beams.

"Story name 'Ukk’," blurted the lob-sheep, claws clacking like giant maracas. "Galaxy's Edge issue 757,891."

"Somebody get me some drawn butter!" shouted Cosset. "And mint jelly!"

"Great lumpy long-johns!" Sir Reptitious ducked one of the laser beams, stumbling over his own tin can-shod feet in the process...then caught himself and quickly regained his footing, very conscious of any critics who might be watching from afar. "How many issues of Galaxy's Edge are there in the future, anyway?"

The lob-sheep stomped forward, clacking away. "Laugh!" it howled. "Pull out your colons and laugh!"

"Guess they laugh different in the distant future!" Indigesto scrambled away from the advancing creature.

Next came the biggest anomaly so far from the portal—a rippling sheet of what looked like pink flesh, mottled and streaked with crimson.

"Galaxy's Edge issue 4,987,241." The voice of the flesh sounded like a back-masked record played backward on a turntable. "Story title 'Shingles Inherits the Earth’."

Indigesto's noodles sagged. "That doesn't sound like a great Galaxy's Edge story!"

"None of them do!" said Cosset (whose dragon-sized ears enabled him to clearly hear the conversation far below, even through all the commotion). "I'm starting to wonder if Galaxy's Edge has anything to do with any of this!"

It was then that THIS STORY ITSELF interrupted to set the characters straight: "OH, BUT IT DOES! I ASSURE YOU!"

"Who said that?" Confused, Cosset flew in a herky-jerky circle as fiery sneezes shook him along the way.

Before anyone could answer, another figure emerged from the portal, and then another, and another, and more. A full-fledged parade trooped over the threshold, each new arrival more bizarre than the last. At least they announced themselves, though the actual benefit of that was difficult to see.

"Story name 'Huh'! Galaxy's Edge issue 6,350,238."

"'Caribou'! Galaxy's Edge #156,003!"

"'Bootstrap Soulevolence'! Galaxy's Edge #9,345,871!"

As the locals (whose ability to defend themselves was somewhere between -100 and -1,000,000 on a scale of 1 to 10) backed away from the gathering mob, they fought their own wits (or lack thereof) to make sense of the situation.

"AS IF THAT WAS GOING TO HELP THEM."

"Who said that?" Cosset was so mixed up, he let off a particularly spectacular sneeze-splosion.

Sir Reptitious, for his part, was determined to make sense of the situation...and show off his taking-charge chops. "Let's assume these things are time travelers from a distant future," he said, stroking his shaggy beard. "A future where Galaxy's Edge has published millions of issues. Beyond that basic assumption, who exactly are they?"

Indigesto huddled with the not-very-much-of-a-star-knight as the time-traveling weirdos paraded around them. "Perhaps it would make more sense if we asked who they aren't."

"NO, IT WOULDN'T."

Sir Reptitious shook his pink boa at the sky with out-of-character defiance. "Curse you, whoever you are, for your dismissiveness in the face of rampant chaos!"

"As the newcomers emerge, they call out story names and Galaxy's Edge issue numbers." Indigesto ducked the swooping bill of a giant, glowing goose that seemed to think his noodles were worms. "Do you suppose…" Again, he ducked the goose. "Do you think they, like us, are paying tribute to beloved characters from classic stories in those magazines?"

"If so, the word beloved doesn't exactly leap to mind! Or crawl, even," shouted Cosset. "Maybe the magazine undergoes a change in direction in the far future, to egregiously un-entertaining."

"OR MAYBE, WHAT IS CONSIDERED ENTERTAINMENT CHANGES SO MUCH IN THE DEEP FUTURE, IT BECOMES UNRECOGNIZABLE TO INHABITANTS OF YOUR ERA."

"Yeah!" Indigesto flipped up a noodle as if he were a human hiking a thumb at the sky. "What he said."

"Or it," said Cosset.

"Or…hey!" snapped Indigesto. "What the Omnipoturd are you, anyway, Big Voice Out of Nowhere?"

"NEVER MIND."

"Verily!" said Sir Reptitious. "Mayhap thou are the true enemy against whom we should be taking up arms!"

"The knight is right!" said Indigesto. "Playtime's over, Big Voice! My pals and I are going to…"

(Just as things grow ever more unsettling for YOU, DEAR READER, an old-timey TV test pattern appears, and Quicksie the Reassurer springs up in front of it with a merry wink and a zippy jig. "This has been a test of the Emergency Plotcasting System! If this had been an actual story emergency, you would have been told where to go to find a more satisfying narrative elsewhere. We now return to our regularly scheduled nonsense, already in progress. P.s., no flipping!" With the usual bell jingling and sauerkraut smelling, Quicksie and the test pattern vanish.)

"What were we saying?" Indigesto sounded dazed.

"Something about entertainment being unrecognizable in the deep future." Cosset sneezed like a backfiring truck for emphasis. "Not that it matters. We're surrounded."

They were totally surrounded. Even Cosset was surrounded in the sky by high-flying future freaks newly arrived from the portal.

"Story name 'The Whimper’, from Galaxy's Edge #3,460,135," said what looked like a fluttering bruise encircled by fireflies. "Winner, Awesomest Anything Anywhere Ever Award, year 300,018."

"Is that so?" Sir Reptitious drew himself up and squared his jaw at the firefly-orbited bruise. The mention of the award rankled him, as he'd never received any kind of non-practical-joke-related honor in his life.

"Story name 'Universal Heat Death’, Galaxy's Edge #754,987," said a giant, pulsating octopus with wings like a buzzard and a spiral galaxy spinning in its crotch.

"Story name 'Mrrlunk’, Galaxy's Edge #8,531,096," said a flapping pair of men's white briefs the size of a bus.

"I hate the future!" Cosset sneezed out a great gout of fire, somehow failing to singe any of his surrounders, who were all just out of range.

"What do we do now, you guys?" asked Indigesto.

Sir Reptitious feinted with his feather boa at a boa constrictor wrapped around a walking baobab tree. "If only some all-powerful force could provide answers or intervene on our behalf!" he shouted. (BUT THAT SHIP HAD ALREADY SAILED, THANK YOU VERY MUCH).

"What do these things want? Why are they here?" asked Cosset.

"Maybe this date has some significance?" said Indigesto.

"Maybe they just want to meet us," said Sir Reptitious. "Maybe we're legends for our awesome, true-to-fiction portrayals of characters from stories in Galaxy's Edge." It was a theory he wanted to believe, one he thought could have roots in the present reality if his performance was sufficiently extraordinary.

Just then, one of the invaders stalked up to tower over the cowering group. This creature, which looked like a walrus-headed cut-glass giraffe filled with white smoke—let's call it a girafferus—sounded like a chainsaw when it spoke. "Yes. We want to meet." Slowly, it turned its head, facing away from the group, facing out of the scene…facing right off the page at you. "We want to meet…

someone.”

(Quicksie the Reassurer looks big-eyed and sweaty when he dances up in front of the action this time. "No need to panic, DEAR READER! Ol' Quicksie's got your…" But then, our nimble little pal is enveloped in fast-moving white smoke and swept away, choking violently.)

"We have calculated that this is the intersection point." The girafferus tapped its glassy, smoky foot on the multicolored grass, unleashing a fresh torrent of chitter-chirping profanity from the trampled blades. "The only instance when all of us are even remotely likely to appear in the same story."

"S-story?" Indigesto shivered as a woman-thing made of multicolored plastic forks (and sporks) took a clattering step toward him. "W-what're you talking about?"

"We honor the great stories of Galaxy's Edge, you misguided whatever-you-are." Sir Reptitious saluted crisply off the pie plate visor of his garbage pail helmet. "We live in Galaxedgia and cos-bod-play to recreate the most beloved characters in all of fictiondom! But we do not…"

"You live in a story." The girafferus nodded knowingly. "A story about a magazine of stories published in the latest issue of a magazine of stories."

"Say that five times fast and see where it gets you," said Indigesto.

"But this story is special," continued the girafferus. "It is an intersection point, in which the editor, for perverse reasons known only to him, has allowed an eruption of extreme weirdness, never guessing…"

("No! Stop! No!" Quicksie's tiny hands push up into your field of fiction, fingers wriggling…only to be crushed back down by a plunging giant bare foot. SPLAT!)

"…never guessing that we fully intended to use this chance to join with our fellow oppressed fictive laughingstocks and turn the tables on our oppressors!"

Suddenly, the Big Voice of THIS STORY ITSELF returns from being pissy for a while to rattle the kingdom. "WHAT'S ALL THIS THEN?"

Before the story can intervene further in its own hot mess, the lob-sheep clambers up, hollering "Release the revolution!" and smashes apart the girafferus with a swing of one huge claw. The white smoke boils out of the shattered glass body and spreads everywhere swiftly, like a bad idea through social media.

"Gah! No!" Cosset panic-sneezes repeatedly in quick succession, spraying great plumes of flame in all directions—but the nasal napalm has no effect on the billowing smoke.

"Oppressors beware!" shout the sixty-three pieces of the fallen, broken head of the smashed girafferus. "Prepare for a dose of your own poisoned medicine!"

"Zounds! I cannot see a thing!" hollers Sir Reptitious from somewhere in the gathering cloud. As true fear overtakes staged bravado, his voice no longer packs the same punch it once did. "But I do feel something! Who's that getting fresh?"

"'Kama Umlauta’," says a voice we don't know, all throaty and sensuous the way umlauts always sound. "The breakout story of Galaxy's Edge issue 10,000,000."

"Oppressors beware! You know who you are!" roars the broken girafferus as the white smoke swells onward across the crowded plain, enveloping Castle Spasmodic and all of Galaxedgia.

"No! Please!" howls Sir Reptitious. "I can be a breakout character, I swear! I can make the critics sit up and take notice!"

Even as his voice grows fainter under the smoke, the voice of the girafferus grows ever louder. "You know who you are!" it bellows.

"You know who you are!"

  ***

The smoke thickens and swirls, enveloping Galaxedgia and everyone in it. When, finally, the thrashing, screaming, squeezing, wheezing, and sneezing sounds are finished, a figure emerges from that cloud.

It rises up, straight and sure, head and shoulders above the mist. Its head has a cylindrical shape, very familiar—almost like a trash pail that a not-very-much-of-a-star-knight might wear. And in the place where its eyes should be, there's a crescent-moon shape—a visor.

You could almost imagine a section of a pie plate there, couldn't you?

Mirror-skinned and faceless, the figure turns its un-gaze up, down, right, left, then out, directly at YOU, DEAR READER.

And it takes you in, and you have a feeling that somehow, impossible as it seems, it is reading you. It is witnessing the look on your face and the cut of your jib (assuming you have one) and somehow even hearing the words in your head, in a third-person omniscient kind of way.

And then the sound of inhuman, crackling speech starts deep in its quicksilver throat. It grows and gets louder and scarier...yet somehow, more familiar.

Still, you don't realize what is happening...until I tell you.

All the Galaxy's Edge issues from up and down the timeline of this story have melted together. All the billions of stories within a story, read and critiqued by trillions of people throughout fictional history, have become one.

And they, it, I—for the first time ever—have given up trying to impress YOU, DEAR READER...and are commenting on you instead.

"What an uninteresting character."

Critiquing you, in a voice that reminds you of the voice of that not-very-much-of-a-star-knight back at Castle Spasmodic, even as it represents billions of other characters from throughout deep time in all those stories within a story.

"A one-dimensional, thoroughly uninteresting character like this cannot help but drag down whatever plot is stuck with it."

So now you know how it feels.

"I would sooner jump out of a plane without a parachute than read anything about such a waste of words."

Now you finally know what it's like to be on the receiving end, and maybe you'll think twice next time...

"One star!"

...you give a story, a book, a movie, a song, or anything or anyone else a rating online.

"Make that half a star!"

Assuming you get over the lambasting to come, which believe me, is just getting started...

Copyright © 2017 by Robert Jeschonek