Brak brings the Rivitir down to a bumpy landing. I don't notice because I'm asleep or in the throes of a gigantic lethargy when I'm not. I didn't care where we landed except that it be peaceful. I have been so excited about visiting the Little Lost Corkers for so long and have been so thwarted in this desire for even longer that I am rendered indifferent. Land anywhere Rover tells you, I tell them, although I seriously doubt that Rover knows, but you know, whatever, go ahead and land wherever he says, I say.
I'm Capt. Rosy of the All-Vehicle Rivitir. Brak is our ace pilot, Jant runs the radar and Rover looks at maps. These then are the voyages of the AV Rivitir.
I was awakened by the front door opening. When you're the captain of a spaceship, which is a hermetically sealed environment, you stay conscious of the door. If it opens, you know it. Even when you're away, usually. So when our front door opened, I was awake. I stood and crossed my luxurious suite in a single bound. Throwing the door open I yelled, "What's happening?" but got no response.
Ellim rolled up and offered me some tea. Ellim is our 11:11BS service bot.
"Thanks, Ellim," I said, looking around. "So, where is everyone?"
"Out, Captain," he replied, without moving.
I take a sip of the tea, which is excellent, and continued, "Out where, Ellim?"
"To the beach, Captain. My orders were to not disturb you."
"Beach?" I asked with wide eyes.
"Yes Ma'am. It's really quite marvelous. It's called Paradise Beach, said to be the finest beach in all the Corkers."
"The Corkers?" I repeated in amazement. I walked over and gazed out the window, with Ellim following.
"Yes," he continued, "the beautiful city you see over there is Wataspot, the finest city in all the Corkers." He seemed somehow to be beaming with pride. He pointed back. "Behind us is the beach. We're parked in a shady picnic area, configured as a caravan camper. We got a week reserved."
"Oh, golly this is swell!" I whooped. I rushed back to my Captain's Suite to change into beachwear and grab a towel. My excitement was high. From what I'd seen of Paradise Beach through the front window this place was well named. Ellim handed me the big umbrella that I like to use on the beach and I was starting for the door when it suddenly swung open and a frantic Rover, Brak and Jant came rushing in, slamming the door behind them. Brak ran to the driver's seat and started the engine, while Rover peered intently out the window.
Jant ran to the radar. "Captain," she said as she ran past, "I'm glad you're up." She began pushing buttons and turning switches. "Hmmm," she murmured, gazing at the screen.
"What's going on?" I yelled, peering out the window beside Rover. This was kind of freaky.
"The Corkers are being invaded," he told me as Brak took us to the air.
"Invaded? What? Who's invading?"
"The Umpalumpians," he said as we flew away from Paradise Beach and the Little Lost Corkers. "It's a tribe of renegade mushrooms. They used to be okay in the dark but now, all of a sudden, they want sunlight. Lots and lots of sunlight like you would find on the equator, and places like the Little Lost Corker Islands."
"That sounds horrible!" I yelped. I looked outside at the war machines becoming visible on the horizon. "You're telling me these mushrooms are going to war for . . . what again?"
"Sunlight! Their dastardly king demanded sunlight just out of the blue, and that's got them all riled up," Brak answered.
"Yeah, sunlight," Rover muttered.
"So now there's war," Brak continued. "The Umpalumpian invasion fleet is on the horizon and since the Corkers have never needed a military, they stand defenseless."
"Jeepers! So these mushroom people are demanding sunlight? What do we do?" I asked. It's important for the Captain to know what's going on.
"Get out of the way until we know what's happening," Brak replied, quite sensibly steering the Rivitir away from the war zone.
"Dang! That invasion fleet is managing to hide their force. I'm just getting a small signal. Like it's just one ship," Jant said, looking up from her radar screen with a worried expression.
I went over and looked at the screen. "Wow, how'd those mushrooms get the power to hide like that?" I asked, looking out at the massive invasion force that now, apparently, also has the power to electronically hide their movements.
"They're not true mushrooms is what I heard," Rover answered, "rather they're related to humans in some sort of dark, twisted way, rather like Grimn-Leapers." He looked out at the approaching armada, now becoming more visible, and grimaced. "Their curiously shaped heads make them look like mushrooms and their choice of dark places to live make them seem like mushrooms except now they want, or demand, sunlight. They mean to occupy the lands with the most sunlight."
"The Little Lost Corkers," Jant said, tonelessly.
Rover nodded then continued, "They appear to have been quite industrious in their hidden caverns, creating this massive force." He gestured at the approaching battle fleet, now way below us. It was huge with hundreds of battle ships and support boats. Brak took the Rivitir up higher to observe. The boats seemed packed with mushrooms, until they moved, then you could see that they were humanoid creatures.
As we watched, the Corker Islands all surrendered. The Corkers knew nothing of war and bowed down to the professionals, waving white flags everywhere. No one wanted to mess with this business. The Umpalumpa mushroom people took control.
I was angry, of course, and took it personally. After virtual eons of trying to get here, to these fabled Corker Islands, to, well, Paradise Beach, which I actually saw in real life, through a window I was that close, before it was all snatched away by villainous mushrooms intent on conquering. And for what? Sunshine. Sunshine, which is available in huge quantities throughout the tropics, all shining down on this big ol' ocean-sized lake, Bigwata, that encompassed the earth . . . I stopped.
"In all of this huge ocean lake are the Little Lost Corkers the only land?" I asked Rover.
"Well, there's that island with Skipper and that lot," Rover replied as he pulled out a map. I remembered. Alleged castaways of a three hour tour gone bad. "Ah, here it is," he said, unrolling the map on the floor. There was a broad strip of blue with five brown blobs representing islands. I bent over and read the names.
"East Cork, Fobble, Zonk, Cork and Bobble. Hmmm. Where's the castaway island?"
"It's in uncharted waters Captain," Rover said, scowling at the map and pointing to a penciled in X.
"So there's no other islands?"
"I can't say. No one can as most of Bigwata's northern and southern sections are uncharted."
I stared in disbelief. "So conquering the Corkers makes sense if you want guaranteed sunshine," I murmured with wide eyes.
"But why would mushrooms want sunshine?" Brak asked.
"That is the question," Rover answered, nodding. "Normally mushrooms like dark or shady areas. Why are they after direct sunlight?"
"I think we need to investigate this," I said.
The next morning we landed on a remote road on the far side of Fobble then, configuring the Rivitir as a caravan, we drove into Wataspot, hoping to return to our space in the park. We had a week reserved so there should be no problem.
When we got to the park there was a closed gate in front and two curious people standing guard. They had large oval shaped heads that, when they're wearing the traditional brown dome hat, made them look like mushrooms. Their clothes were brown and they tended toward pole like figures. At even a short distance, if their arms are at their sides and they hold still, they look just like mushrooms. I was stunned and tried not to stare. We stopped in front of the gate and one of the mushrooms came up to the driver's window.
"Whatya want?" he demanded as soon as Brak rolled the window down.
"We're camping here and went for a drive," Brak explained as he showed them the permit. "Is something wrong?"
"They's new management," the mushroom shrieked. "Pay again!"
Keeping our calm we paid again for another week. We didn't want to rile any feathers or raise suspicions. When we got to our spot, we gathered in the front to peer out the window. There were militant looking mushrooms marching about in small groups, occasional elves here and there, whether islanders or visitors we couldn't tell, and little else. There was no traffic in the lanes that I could see.
"Where's all the military equipment?" I asked. I looked over at Paradise Beach which was deserted. "And the boats?" I looked at the crew with wide eyes. "Yesterday we saw hundreds of ships full of soldiers heading this way and today there's just some soldiers and nothing else?"
"Maybe they took off as soon as they got control," Rover suggested. "Maybe to take the other islands."
"I dunno," I said, shaking my head. "We all saw that invasion force. It was huge, bigger than we thought possible, easily enough to overwhelm all the islands at once with troops left over. Now there's no sign of that, just a few subdued elves and maybe a couple dozen militant mushrooms marching around trying to look scary."
"Scared me," Rover murmured.
"Yeah, well, okay they are scary. They got that. So where's all the rest?"
"Another thing," Rover added. "Did you notice how the mushrooms keep to the shade?"
I did now. All of them that I could see, were definitely avoiding the sun.
"There's something untoward going on here, something big and scary," I said, feeling a shiver of apprehension.
Brak and Rover decided to take a walk into town. Wataspot is said to be the most luxurious vacation city in all of Yudonke.
"I want to go," I said. I couldn't believe that I was actually here on Fobble and haven't even stepped foot on the ground, much less marveled at the sights.
"Yeah, okay," Rover agreed.
Jant is staying to keep an eye on things and we have the Rivitir's innards set up just like inside a traditional caravan so any investigation should come up as just another common vacationing group.
Wearing typical tourist clothing Rover led the way as Brak and I followed. We had just arrived at the lane when, from out of the shadows, we were accosted by a group of five militant mushrooms.
"Halt!" one of the mushrooms yelled at us. We stopped. "What are you doing?" he barked. I could tell he was a leader because he had a gold bar on his hat and he was doing the talking.
Since I'm our leader, the Captain in fact, I spoke up. "Well sir, we were just taking a walk, sight-seeing, you know? We're tourists here and we hadn't heard anything about you guys."
"We are the new masters," he replied in a stentorian voice. "We are Umpalumpa! And everything belongs to us! All of it!"
"Gosh, that seems a bit much," I replied.
"You will bow down to the supreme commander." He turned to the others, the ones who didn't have a gold bar, although one did have a silver bar, and screeched, "Bring them!" Then he turned and walked away, right into the shade. We followed, surrounded by four angry Umpalumpian militant mushrooms who seemed relieved to be in shade again.
They took us to a luxury hotel where, in the main lobby, a royal court had been set up. They'd put one of the lobby couches on a table or something then draped the whole thing in brown sheets. The window shades were pulled and it was quite dim in the room. Sitting on the chair, well above everyone else, was a wizened old mushroom man with a large oval head and a crown like the dome hats the others wore only fancier, who was presumably the king, or supreme commander.
"Here's you some tourists to mess with, oh great leader," the gold bar mushroom announced, bowing low.
There were other Umpalumpians in the room besides the guards, like a court perhaps, and they began to chant softly; "Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba habba Gumba! Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba, habba Gumba! Humba bumba, hooey wooey, habba, habba Gumba! . . ." and on and on like that. The supreme leader stared straight ahead, seemingly unaffected by what was going on except he was tapping a foot in time to the chanting. Suddenly he stood and began a sort of weird singalong to the chanting, marching back and forth in front of his throne, pounding his chest.
"I'm de boss, I'm de master, I is supreme! I'm de blaster, yes, I'm de su, su, supreme leader! I'm de boss, I'm de master, I'ma su, su, supreme master blaster, I de boss, I decider what is righter, I de leader I is Num! Mer! One!"
The chanting stopped and Gumba stood with his arms spread, grinning wide as the Umpalumpians in the room broke into applause and cheering. Then he resumed sitting on his throne. The throne did look like a fine piece of hotel furniture. Must have come from the presidential suite. Then I wondered why the boss here wasn't in the presidential suite?
"Okay then," Gumba said authoritatively. "What we got here?"
"We got us some touristers yer worship," gold bar answered, grinning proudly.
"Is that so?" He looked at us. "You come to worship me?"
"No Gumba, we came to swim. Why're we here?" Rover growled.
"You can't swim here you dummy!" Gumba shrieked. He didn't seem aware of the fact that the hotel's swimming pool was attached to the lobby behind him as well as there being a massive ocean-sized lake with a beach behind us.
"Why not?" Rover asked.
"Cuz, I didn't say you could!" Gumba snapped, petulantly.
Rover growled low in his throat and, wearing a fierce expression, barked, "Well say we can! Now!"
Everyone agreed instantly including Gumba who jerked back with a surprised look. "Okay, go swimming," he sputtered in a small voice. He looked at the guards and the court. "Iss okay. They can go swimmin'. I said. Go! Go!" He was brushing us away with his hands.
We turned and strode out, returning to the Rivitir where Jant informed us that two more 'authorized' park rangers had come knocking, demanding the fees to park there. They both angrily denied the authenticity of the receipts we already had, claiming looters were operating and we should be more careful. Following our No Waves policy, Jant paid them, being careful to get another receipt each time.
"Well, this place has sure gotten weird," I said, shaking my head.
"I'll say," Rover agreed. "One thing's for sure, though, Gumba isn't behind it all. I think those mushrooms were lied to and coerced into invading. They don't know what to do next, except to grab as much as they can before . . ."
"Before what?" I asked.
Rover looked at me somberly, "That's the question then, isn't it?"
"The Umpalumpians were all dressed in drab brown clothing which we might be mistaking for uniforms," Brak observed.
"Not real military?" Rover questioned with raised eyebrows.
When I thought about it nothing, except for the gold and silver bars and the leader's ostentatious hat, there was nothing suggesting military at all. Something was really off here. There should be troops everywhere based on what we saw of the invasion. What we saw, I repeated, remembering that horrifying vision, but as I recalled, we didn't really hear anything.
I looked at the crew. "Do you guys remember when we first went to Lillow's Farm, how Spike took us through the Glamoury Wall? Remember how big and how scary it was?"
"Yeah, I do," Rover said with a thoughtful expression.
"I remember how silly I felt when we found out it was all just magical illusion," Jant said. "Just illusion, the whole scary thing. Imagine."
I nodded. "I think the invasion was mostly glamoury, like the Glamoury Wall back on the farm, big and scary, but in the end just illusion."
"And the Umpalumpians were the small part that was real," Rover said, nodding, "so that the islanders would have actual invaders to surrender to, actual foreign people to deal with."
"Yeah, that sounds right," Brak asserted. "From what I saw I don't think the Umpalumpians could hold out if the people resisted,"
"No, I don't think they could," I agreed. "But the illusion was strong enough that the people wouldn't resist. But I don't think the Umpalumpians are the main problem. Given time their ruse will collapse and society will step in to resume its natural order, unless that is, whoever conjured that glamoury invasion, whoever is presumably the master mind, well, unless they step in. Because that's where the real power is located."
"Who could it be?" Rover asked. "And what do they want?"
"I doubt the Umpalumpians would know," I replied. "So for now it looks like all we can do is wait and see what happens."
"Meanwhile," Brak said with a big grin, "we needa go swimming."
"It's what we came for, eh Rover?" I said with a smile.
"That's right," he replied, "and I got us permission, so let's go!"
Next: Part 2 The real bad guy, probably.