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Sfstory Log 088

Date:         Wed, 19 Feb 1997 01:06:19 -0500
From:         cloudbusting (swede at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: Now It's Your Turn: Space Commander Buzz Williams....

        Space Commander Buzz Williams and the Terror of Alpha Hydrox II
                                David Menendez

     There are certain traditions in space outpost design, things that can
seemingly be found at almost every generic space outpost.  Oftentimes,
these things are so similar, it feels like it's actually the _same one_ at
each outpost.  One such example is the Dark, Grimy Space Bar.  Certainly,
not every space bar is _exactly_ the same -- if nothing else, the laws of
probability provide many different patterns of stains on the walls,
ceiling, furniture, and customers.  But there are certain characteristics
they all share.  Darkness and grime are the most common, as without those
they'd be Cheerful Space Bars, which are a different breed altogether.
Typically, there will be some annoying music being played just slightly
louder than the minimum level required for the customers to hear it over
the chatter of the illicit businessmen that flock to these places, meaning
the patrons can't really hear it, but it irritates their subconscious
anyway.  What with the darkness, the grime, the crime, the lime, and the
... lime?  Sorry, wasn't paying attention.  What with the darkness, the
grime, the crime, and the general air of hostility, it's understandable
that Space Heros avoid these places like the plague.  Eventually, they
figure, the minions of evil will leave the bar, and then they can catch
     On Alpha Hydrox II, the Dark, Grimy Space Bar was called Looger's Den
of Vice and Sno-Cones.  The night this story begins was like any other
night there, the band playing some repetitive music with no discernable
rhythm or melody, the various minor criminals making deals, the hot-shot
smugglers talking with locals who wanted passage to distant planets without
any ... "Imperial entanglements", and so forth.  Abruptly, the darkness was
broken by a shaft of light from the door.  No one really paid attention,
since that happened whenever someone walked in, but a few noted that this
new entrant was striding in confidently, rather than slinking in
stealthily.  He was dressed in an outfit none in the bar recognized, aside
from the grizzled old-timers who generally sat around waiting for someone
to let them recount elaborate, meandering tales of their glory years,
although they could all tell that the style was pretty dated.  It was a
shiny green outfit, with a badge on the chest displaying a generic
futuristic logo.  Its helmet, like parts of the suit, contained many, many
small devices attached to it that served no obvious purpose, except to make
it look complicated.  Those in the bar who were paying attention quickly
identified him as a Sonar Man, and went back to their flavored ice snacks.
     The Sonar Man scanned the bar, quickly noting that the only available
space were the seats immediately next to a small, fuzzy, mauve creature,
who was serenely eating a sno-cone and seemingly ignoring everything else.
The Sonar Man might have wondered why the patrons seemed to be keeping a
respectful distance from this furball, but he wasn't really into that
"thinking" thing.  He had just completed an assignment that Lord Ganush
himself had given him, and he wanted to relax.  He sat down and smacked the
bar to get the bartender's attention.  "Hey!" he called.  "How about some
     "A thousand pardons," the alien to his side said calmly, "but I am
holding that seat for a friend of mine."
     "Hey," the Sonar Man replied, "I don't see his name engraved on this
barstool."  A pathetic line to be sure, but, as noted before, he had
nowhere near the brain capacity to come up with a clever retort.  Out of
the corner of his eye, he could see the others watching him nervously.  No,
not him; they were watching the other one.
     "Nonetheless," the other continued, "I am holding it for him."
     The Sonar Man was getting irritated.  He wanted to be drinking, not
arguing with some fuzzball.  "So what are you going to do about it, huh?"
he asked.
     Instead of replying, the alien calmly drew what appeared to be a
scaled-down shotgun with numerous lights and gizmos attached to it.  The
bartender materialized almost immediately, crying "No guns!  Not in my bar!
Looger'll have my head if anything's damaged!"
     "Perhaps," the alien suggested, still speaking calmly and quietly, "we
should take this outside."
     The Sonar Man glanced at the high-tech-looking shotgun and the section
of his mind devoted to self-preservation suggested following this strange
creature's order.  As the remaining sections of his mind were busy being
entranced by the neat flashing lights on the shotgun's surface, the
suggestion met with little resistance.  The two exited the bar, and entered
the brightly lit streets of Alpha Hydrox II.
     "Ah," a new voice said, "I see you found him.  Good work, Tachi."  The
Sonar Man turned, looking for the source of the new voice.  He saw a
trashcan, but quickly rejected that as a possible voice source.  Continuing
his scan, he saw an man who, despite his age, managed to look fit and able.
More importantly, he saw the man's uniform, which was just as dated as his
own, except that it was blue and gold, rather than green.  A voice in the
back of his mind suggested that he should know who this person was, and,
grudgingly, the rest of his mind agreed to dredge through his memory and to
see if, in fact, he _did_ know who this person was.
     Oddly, it didn't take long.  "Space Commander Buzz Williams!" he
blurted out.
     "The same," Williams replied, his voice resonating with heroism.  "So
tell me, Sonar Man, what brings you to Alpha Hydrox II?"
     " is...," he babbled, trying to come up with a
convincing lie, "I'm here for a ... flower show!"  No, that wasn't it.
     Williams blinked.  "A flower show?" he muttered, glancing at Tachi.
     "A lie," Tachi suggested.
     "Yes," Williams agreed, turning back to the Sonar Man.  "What is your
_real_ business here?  And no lies, this time."
     "You can't make me talk," he replied, determination in his voice.
     Tachi whacked him with his shotgun.  "Yes we can," he said, _still_
speaking calmly and quietly.  Williams grimaced, but then hardened his
expression.  It looked almost comical;  he was evidently unused to it.
     "Fine," the Sonar Man said, deciding that these two were more of a
threat than Lord Ganush, since they were right here and Lord Ganush was
not.  "I came here to deliver a working Pepsi/Coke reaction drive to the
local planetary conqueror, General Protectionfault.  Here's his address."
He handed Williams a business card.
     "'General Protectionfault, World Conqueror'," Williams read, nodding.
"Right then, we'll look into that.  So tell me, where might I find Lord
     The still-unnamed Sonar Man gulped.  "I have no idea," he said,
truthfully.  "Although I heard he visited Planet Gloom recently."
     Williams shuddered at the name of that dreaded place.  Tachi seemed
unmoved.  Or maybe asleep.  "Well," Williams said, "we can't have you
coming after us, so we'll just tie you up and leave you in an alley.  Any
     "Yeah.  Can I have a beer first?"

     After dealing with the Sonar Man, Buzz Williams and Tachi returned to
the _Rocket Racer_, Buzz's private spaceship.  Inside, they quickly
informed the third member of their party, Bert, about what they had
learned.  As usual, Bert was highly impressed.
     "Wow," he said, highly impressed.  "Are we going to stop this General
Protectionfault's no-doubt nefarious schemes?"
     "I would assume so," Tachi answered, from where he appeared to be
meditating.  Or sleeping.  It's hard to tell with Zen Masters.
     "Yes," Buzz agreed, "we cannot allow such a villain access to a
Pepsi/Coke reaction drive.  Although I regret being sidetracked from our
primary objective, we must not allow ourselves to be so caught up in the
big picture that we forget the little people.  For instance, did I ever
tell you about the time I was searching for the T'ung Men's Shotputting
Team, when--"
     "Yes," Tachi interrupted, calmly and quietly.  Also simply and
elegantly, but that's not our joke.
     "So what's a Pepsi/Coke reaction drive?" Bert asked.
     "I am not an expert in these newer systems," Buzz admitted, "but I
believe the basic concept is rather simple.  Most companies attempt to
distinguish their products, so they'll stand out in the minds of the
consumers.  The more similar the products, the more energy expended to
differentiate them.  Coke and Pepsi, for instance, are two very similar
products -- I can't taste the difference, myself."
     "Although I can," Tachi added.  "It comes with Enlightenment."
     "Cool," Bert said, highly impressed.
     "Anyway," Buzz continued, "if Coke and Pepsi are mixed, the difference
between them is no longer apparent, so the two beverages will expend
enormous amounts of energy in a futile attempt to distinguish themselves
from their competitor.  The Pepsi/Coke reaction drive merely harnesses this
     "Now," he continued, changing subjects, "normally, we'd require hours
or months of painstaking research and snooping to discover where this
General Protectionfault is hidden.  Fortunately, we've got his address
right here, so we can skip right to assaulting his base and disrupting his
evil schemes."
     "Sounds good to me," Bert said.
     "What if he hasn't had sufficient time to find a Space Ingenue to
capture and threaten?" Tachi asked.
     "Hmm," Buzz replied.  "I suppose that's a risk we'll have to take."

     Elsewhere, General Protectionfault, the Scourge of Alpha Hydrox II and
this episode's Designated Antagonist, was engaging in the tradition of
Gloating Over the Important Device that all Space Villains are taught.
"With this device," he shouted, while gesturing at the Pepsi/Coke reaction
drive that he had purchased from the Sonar Men, "I, General
Protectionfault, shall finally achieve my goal of world domination!"
     "How so?" asked one of his henchmen.  "I don't see how a space drive
will help us achieve planetary domination."
     The General drew himself up to his full height and adjusted his
crimson robes.  "Of course you don't," he sneered, "it's far too complex
for your little mind."
     "I thought you were going to threaten to overload it thereby holding
the planet hostage," said a different henchman.
     "Oh," the first henchman replied, "you're right.  That _is_ too
complex for my little mind."
     "Are you making fun of _me_?  General Protectionfault?" the villain
demanded.  "If so, then perhaps I, General Protectionfault, have no further
use for your services."
     "Do you really have to say your name every time you mention yourself?"
the henchman, who was evidently feeling rather suicidal, asked.
     ZAP!, replied the General's blaster.
     FOOF!, retorted the henchman as he rather suddenly lost molecular
     The blaster had no response for that, although it didn't really matter
since it's opponent in the debate had had to forfeit for reasons of sudden
     The General took this opportunity to indulge in some diabolical
laughter.  His remaining henchman went back to doing whatever it is that
henchmen do when no one's watching.

     The General might not have been so cheerful, however, had he known
that Buzz Williams, Tachi, and Bert were currently walking up to his front
door.  "This looks like the place," Buzz observed, glancing at the card in
his hand and comparing it with the address given on the door.
     "Indeed," Tachi agreed, gesturing at the sign next to the door which
bore the legend "General Protectionfault" with his sci-fi shotgun.
     "Good," Buzz replied, "let's gather some clues before we sneak in."
Buzz walked over to the nearby trashcans and began estimating the number of
henchmen inside.  Tachi walked over to a window and quickly glanced inside,
to gauge what they were up against.
     Bert, on the other hand, remained on the doorstep, transfixed by the
General's custom doorbell, which, admittedly, was pretty neat looking.
Slowly, as if acting on its own, his hand crept towards the button.
     Buzz and Tachi started as the doorbell played a brief sample from
Bach's "Toccata and Fugue."
     "Bert," Tachi called, calmly, "You generally do not ring a villain's
doorbell if you wish to sneak in."
     "Why is it always 'Toccata and Fugue'?" Buzz wondered.  "Do villains
get complementary copies from the nefarious device mail order catalogues?"
     The front door opened, prompting Buzz and Tachi to hide themselves as
best they could.  "Yes?" asked the henchman who had opened the door.
     "Er," Bert fumbled, "Hello."
     The henchman seemed unimpressed by this answer.  "What do you want
here?" he asked.
     "Um," Bert said, "I'm, um, looking for a General Protectionfault.  Do
you know where he is?"  Silently, he hoped the henchman would just assume
he was too stupid to be a threat.
     "No," the henchman lied, "there's no one here with that name."
     "My apologies," Bert said, making sure not to glance at the name plate
to the side of the door.  "I'll go look somewhere else then."
     "Would you like to step inside?" the henchman asked.  "We've got a
phone book you could check."
     "Um," Bert said, again, "er... all right."  Hoping that Buzz and Tachi
were coming up with a clever plan, he followed the henchman into the
     Inside, they quickly reached a large room filled with a half-dozen
henchman and a man wearing a flowing red cape, whom Bert assumed was the
General.  Especially since he was wearing a military uniform underneath
with a large name tag that read "Hello!  My name is 'General
Protectionfault'."  The not-quite-infamous villain was standing next to a
complicated-looking piece of machinery that Bert assumed was the Pepsi/Coke
reaction drive, for no particular reason.
     "Wow," Bert said, much impressed.
     "Impressed by my nefarious device, are you?" the General asked.  "I'm
not surprised!  Even I, General Protectionfault, am impressed by it
sometimes!  Soon, I, General Protectionfault, will use it to hold this
world hostage and achieve my goals of ... world domination!"  He laughed
     "Wow," said Bert, impressed much.
     "So tell me," Protectionfault said, as he stepped closer to Bert, "are
you a Space Ingenue or a Sidekick?"
     "Sidekick," Bert answered.  "D'oh!" he added, as he realized he'd
given away his secret.
     "A sidekick, eh?" Protectionfault said.  "That means the heroes are
already here -- at least with an ingenue we'd have some time for tormenting
and, in most cases, innuendo."
     "There'll be no tormenting today, fiend!" Buzz shouted, as he leaped
out from behind a convenient crate.  The henchmen started to move towards
him, but he waved his Ray Gun at them and they stepped back nervously, some
glancing at their boss as if to request further instructions.
     "Hey!  You're Space Commander Buzz Williams!" Protectionfault said,
secretly pleased that such a well-known hero had come to try and stop him.
"Is Toni around?  She is someone that I, General Protectionfault, would not
mind making some innuendo about, if you know what I mean."
     "Hmm ... I probably don't," Buzz said, "but that isn't important.
Please step away from the reaction drive."
     "I, General Protectionfault, do not think so!  Step no closer or I,
General Protec--"
     "We know who you are," Buzz interrupted.  "If you're going to say your
name every time you mention yourself, you really should come up with
something shorter."
     "You think so, huh?  Well, I, General Protectionfault, do not care if
you know my name!  Soon the galaxy shall know my name!  People will tremble
at the mere mention of General Protectionfault!  Children will run
screaming!  Stocks will plummet!  Cats will chase dogs!  'Married With
Children' will get picked up for another season!"
     "You twisted fiend," Buzz spat, "I will not rest until the day your
evil plots are foiled!"
     "Come no closer," the General warned, "or I, General Protectionfault,
will set the drive to overload and destroy the planet."
     Buzz froze.  Bert also froze, but, since he hadn't been moving before,
no one noticed.  "But ... you'll be killed too!" Bert protested.
     "What does it matter?" the General ranted.  "As long as the galaxy
remembers the name of ... General Pro--" he cut off abruptly as a thought
occurred to him.  "Isn't there another in your group?" he asked Buzz.
     "There is," a calm voice behind him answered.
     The General turned to see Tachi standing between him and the drive's
control panel.  "How did you get past my henchmen?" he asked.
     "I snuck over while you were pontificating," Tachi answered.  He
hefted his sci-fi shotgun and added, "I recommend you surrender.  We have
other things to do."
     "And resolve this conflict without violence?  Bah!  I, General
Protectionfault, can barely conceive of such a concept!  Henchmen:  attack!"
     The heroes tensed, and then relaxed as they noticed there _were_ no
henchmen in the room.
     "Your henchmen seem to have fled," Bert noted.
     "Indeed," the General agreed.  "It seems that I, General
Protectionfault, have chosen a rather cowardly group of underlings."  He
sighed.  "You win, Williams.  I'm no match for you."
     "Why not?" Bert asked.  "You seem reasonably fit."
     "Bert," Tachi cautioned, "you generally do not want to encourage the
     "Sorry, Tachi," Bert apologized.
     "Tachi," Buzz said, as he walked over to the others, "if you will go
and fetch the local authorities, I'll watch our prisoner."
     "Very well," Tachi replied.  "Shall I pick up a Dr. Ploodux while I'm
     "If you have time."

Date:         Wed, 19 Feb 1997 01:08:41 -0500
From:         cloudbusting (swede at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: Now It's Your Turn: Jewel Scales

                                 Jewel Scales
                                  Peg Fisher

Who knows what word that lauds or rails
Shall tip the balance of the scales...


     The decrepit public announcement system sputtered and hissed, then
blatted out, "Now boarding for Outbound Systems - Hecate, Rampsworld,
Prydaine, Styge and Myers."
     "Damn strange names they're givin' 'em now," muttered the elderly man
on the bench down from her.  Meara gave him a nod as she wearily rose from
the butt numbing plas seat, hitched her carryall up onto her shoulder and
started off through the milling passengers, toward the gate.
     No one was there to see her off.  Alwyn and she had said their
goodbyes a week ago.  No need for her to take comp time off from her data
processing job to do that, Meara had agreed.  Even as kids, she and her
sister had never been that close.  No, they could share a meal at Alwyn's
precise, tidy cupboard of a cottage and say their goodbyes quietly over a
glass of her homemade wine.  Meara was content to have it so.
     Nor had Josh shown up.  With that she was not at all content, but she
was resigned by now, despite her unreasoning hoping.  A deep ache arose,
and she suppressed it quickly.  Still, her thoughts rebelled on her,
turning back to their last night together.  She had wanted candlelight and
soft music, a last lingering tenderness.  A romantic beneath her practical
surface, she'd _wanted_ parting to be a sweet sorrow.  No such luck!
Instead the tension had begun to build before they had barely lifted a fork
at dinner.  Why, why, had he had to bring up Roberto's offer _again_?  And
on that, of all nights!  The nerve of him!  And the gall of Roberto for
putting him up to it!  Thinking that all he had to do was make sad eyes at
her and say -
     "But Meara, if you stayed, we could be together..."
     "I'm going!" she cried.  "Don't try to wheedle me, Josh Baxter!  Think
I don't see the recruiters buzzing around you, treating you like the fair
haired boy, the hot prospect?  Think I don't see you getting sucked in by
the Institute, just like I was, two years ago?  I know how they are!
Roberto put you up to this, didn't he!"
     "Meara, it's not like that!"
     "The hell it's not!  I had to fight every step of the way to get _out_
of there, and I'm finally free, I'm finally outbound, and right at the last
minute you think you can snag me back in?  Think you're so subtle I won't
notice the little nudges and hooks you've been sending at me ever since you
walked in the door?  Didn't you even notice I'm blocking?  I've got years
of practice fending off that kind of manipulation.  But I didn't expect to
have to deal with it from you!"  He at least blushed.
     "I tell you what, Josh Baxter.  If you care so much, you show up and
get on board that shuttle with me.  _Then_ I'll believe it's you wanting
me, not Roberto!"
     Well, realistically, she'd known he wouldn't.  The Institute had him
too firmly in its grip now to allow it.  He'd be off back to his psi
training, they'd not post him on a permanent assignment until he was
finished that.  Roberto had wasted no time roping him in as her
replacement, oh no.  It was Josh's latent psi abilities that had drawn her
to him in the first place, and drawn Roberto right along behind her,
angling to reel him in.  And he had, oh yes.  She'd known that's how it
was, ever since she'd had to raise shields against Josh.  She'd known it
was futile to hope.  Still one sad, wistful backward yearning had longed to
see him stride down through the waiting room to meet her.  But of course,
he didn't.
     *Damn you, Roberto Ushigue!  You take, and take, and _take_ from me.
I've got nothing left to drain, and still you want to suck me back in!
It's done, it's over!  Let me go!*
     Meara kept her guard up even now, despite having seen no overt sign of
them for the past few days, despite the psi traces being only minor and
fleeting.  Could it really be, were they were releasing her at last?
Still, she'd stay wary until the shuttle hatch closed behind her.  No sense
taking needless chances.  Dealing with Roberto for two years had left her
more than a little paranoid.
     She did allow her thoughts to turn ahead, finally.  Once in the haven
of the ship she'd be safe.  Roberto wouldn't touch her there, it was too
public, too much risk of bad PR.  If he tried anything else it would be
here at the terminal, with its alcoves and back hallways to pull her into,
out of sight.  Get beyond those, get aboard the shuttle, and she could
begin to relax.  Only there could she finally let the stress begin to
unclutch from around her heart.  She made her way cautiously towards the
exit, the last barrier between herself and freedom.
     Meara clutched her ID card tighter as the boarding line dwindled ahead
of her.  There was nothing illicit to detect, oh no - nothing to hold her
back, not she, she'd gone over every item excruciatingly.  All non
exportables were disposed of, all the letting go was done, there was only
the final interminable waiting, and even that was almost over.  She was
nearly there.  "Just let me go, Roberto," she muttered to herself.  *I want
_out_ of here!  Away!*  She broadcast that intensely, not caring who in the
crowd might be sensing.
     She was passing the scanners now, nothing to blip, ah no.  *Let me go,
let me go.  There's no future with you, not now...  My mind's made up, stop
tormenting me with old lost dreams!*
     Just beyond the scanners was a last row of comm booths.  The sound
system there was even more decrepit, to the point of working not at all.
It emitted only a muted crackling, nothing resembling speech.  So it was
the flashing of the overhead announcement sign that caught the corner of
her eye, making her turn reluctantly to see her own name, Martinez, Meara,
blinking repeatedly, insistently, in red.  Almost she walked away from it.
Then she sighed, threw back auburn hair from her forehead and went to glare
into the retina scan.  Better to get it over with.
     "Martinez, Meara.  Confirmed," a mechanically neutral voice chimed,
and the screen filled with the recorded message.
     Robert Ushigue looked out at her, his Institute grays impeccable, his
black hair waving crisply back from his brow. his smile white and wide.
*And false as your heart, you demon.  Let me be!*
     "...just wanted to wish you a Good Journeying, Meara," she heard his
oily tones say unctuously.  "No hard feelings, eh?  Bygones be bygones and
all that..."
     *I doubt it.  I _seriously_ doubt it.*  Something was prickling at
her.  Irritating, like an itch in the back of her thoughts.  Surely the
fool hadn't tried to influence her _that_ way?  He knew she was
resistant...  She blinked and looked at the message slideways.  Yes, sure
enough, there was the encryption.  He must be doing it just to be annoying
then, he knew it'd never work.  She scowled at the screen, where he was
saying, "And well - if you ever change your mind, you know where we are..."
     *It'll be a cold day in the Netherhells, Roberto.  That, I promise you!*
     Swiftly she stabbed the delete button and listened with a small tight
flare of defiance as it proclaimed, "Message erased."  She shook her head.
*So like him, though.  Get myself braced for a last big battle and he does
some petty, spiteful little thing instead.  That's Roberto all over.*  She
turned and sped with long legged strides to the shuttle, and up the ramp.

     Back in Robert Ushigue's office Josh Baxter frowned at the screen.
    "No good, she's still going.  The subliminals didn't work, and she's
got some sort of shielding raised against me now, I can't get through to
her at all.  Damn.  I'd thought sure we'd sway her somehow..."
     "Oh, let her have her show of defiance!"  Robert waved a dismissive
hand.  "I've had her sent to the most boring pest ridden mudball in the
entire Outmarch!  Six months on Myers has brought more than one would-be
defector to their senses.  Many and many have come creeping gratefully back
to a berth at the Institute after there.  Let her go!  We know where she
is, and her file's flagged, she can't get passage out again without my word
on it.  She's safe enough.  Couple of months from now I'll send you out
there to check up on her, and she'll be singing a different tune, I
guarantee it."
     Josh frowned.  Behind his own shields he thought, *Oh, but you don't
know her like I do!*  Aloud, though, he said nothing.

     "Everything looks fine, Seria Martinez - " said the ship's own medtech
politely, as he checked her in from the shuttle.  An old-fashioned
courtesy, it was not required, and yet she found that it pleased her for a
fellow practitioner to take time to greet her in person.  She smiled.
     "Call me Meara."
     "Well, Meara, I see you'll be getting off at Myers.  It's our last
stop on the route.  Most of the boomers are already down there prospecting,
all we've got this time is a load of processed food, assorted supplies and
equipment, two months mail, and you.  Sorry you won't have any company on
the flight down."
     "Oh, that's all right.  I'm solitary minded by nature."
     "Um.  That's a good thing, probably, where you're headed."  He paused,
tapped in an entry on his comp pad, then fidgeted absently, eyes down.
     *He's concerned about something,* she realized.  *Wants to talk with
me, isn't sure how to start?*  She smiled at him reassuringly, and sent the
small psychic nudge, *I'm listening...*
     She felt him respond, and he turned his eyes to meet hers again.  She
looked at him enquiringly.  "Yes?  What can you tell me about Myers?  I had
the standard briefing, but that's not like firsthand observation..."
     "Got a concern to mention," he started in.  "We're the only legitimate
transport that runs out far as there.   I've got all the passenger rosters,
health records, all the registered deaths and departure listings.  There's
damn few people down there, only 583 at present.  584, with you.  It
doesn't look to be a world folks want to settle, what with New Terra and
Reachfar and Oz II opening up. They all have better climate and low rates
on land, much more attractive for settling minded folks.  So Myers gets
just boomers, trying to earn a stake to pay for one of those grants, and
then move on to claim it, or else move on to look for a better and bigger
strike.  Only families that went there have done that, and gotten out.  So
what I'm trying to say is, it mostly loner types down there now.  Hermits,
strays and not a few crazies.  You need to know, you'll be one of the few
females at all on the planet, even."
     Unconsciously her hands splayed out from her waistband, fingers
massaging an ache, an emptiness...  He noticed the gesture, face softening
briefly, sympathetically.  She looked him squarely in the eye, not avoiding
the sympathy, yet not yielding to it either.  "Oh, it's all right.  I
haven't been female for a while, now."
     "Miss it, do you?" he asked gently.
     She sighed.  "Aye.  But it was the price of getting off Earth.  No one
with hereditary defects goes out fertile, you know that."
     He nodded, understanding.  He asked no questions, yet he seemed
willing to listen, and she found to her surprise that she wanted to talk
about it after all.  His quiet attention comforted her somehow.
     She drew a deep breath, then began, "There's diabetes on both sides of
my family, all the way back.  That's what kept me wrestling with the choice
to stay fertile, or to give it up and go.   Alwyn, that's my sister, she's
content with a tiny scrap of land and a garden.  I was never so.  I think,
underneath, I knew I had to be out and away."
     "But not in the first rush..."
     "No, nor even the second.  It took me a while to decide.  I must've
knocked through half the temp jobs and all the former frontiers of Terra
before I could sort myself out.  *Before the Institute chewed me up, and I
dragged myself free.*  Finally in Alberta I went for med tech, after I had
the," she swallowed.  "The hysterectomy.  That particular giving up was not
easy.  I always wished for a daughter, it was hard to set that aside.  Yet
by the time they'd gengineer a child they'd let me bear, she'd be more
theirs than mine, anyway.  *And the Institute's had too much from me
already.*  "I had to choose as I did.  Even so, it was hard.  Very hard.
     Well, anyway.  Here I am, in the 3rd rush, bound for the most
backwater planet they could find me, at my own request."  She gave him a
rueful grin.
     "And that turns out to be Myers?"
     "So they tell me.  Something about the place, delicate machinery keeps
breaking, nothing they do works.  So they need a live medtech, that can't
break down like the autodoc, the job posting said.  Though how you can
break an autodoc is beyond me, they're such tough little boggles."
     "Beats me either.  Guess you'll find out pretty soon, though..."
     "Yeah, I reckon..."
     "We'll wake you at your port of call then, Ser- err, Meara.
Oh, and I'm Rick, by the way.  Richard Stuart Gray.  I always forget my own
name til last, somehow."  He grinned and offered a strong brown hand.  She
took it and grinned back.
     "Thanks for letting me know about that, Rick.  And thank you for
listening.  That was kind."
     "My pleasure," he said softly, and left.
     My word, she thought as the coldsleep settled over her, I believe he
really meant it.  How curious...

     Meara roused.  The pallet she lay on was blood warm and vibrating
enough to equal a rousing shake of the shoulders.  An insistent
announcement was whining, "Landing in 3 hours.  Repeat, 3 hours.  All
passengers wake.  Report to shuttle.  All passengers wake..."
     "Stupid machine.  I'ma on'y passager left," she mumbled, and managed
to sit upright.  The announcement stopped, but her head spun dizzily.
     "Oogh.  Sleepin' sickness..."  But she knew better than to lie back
down.  The bloody annoying announcement would start bleating again, and
that would be worse.  Blearily she staggered to the head, stuck herself
into the shower pod and cycled for 3 seconds of needle mist, ice cold.  The
resulting shock cleared her senses and set her brain working at normal
again, even if her body was still sluggish.  She dried, dragged herself
into a coverall, fastened up her tote, and descended to the shuttle bay.
     Rick was there to greet her.  "Down so soon?  Plenty of time yet."
     I get restless.  As well fidget here as there.  Be ready when it _is_
time, that way."
     "Ah.  Well, that's fine, not a problem.  Lt. Connell will be here in a
while to pilot you down, he's monitoring the equipment loading at the
moment.  Gives me a chance to say goodbye."  He paused, then added a bit
bashfully, "Y'know, it's been a pleasure meeting you, Meara."
     She smiled warmly at him.  "I've enjoyed talking with you too, Rick."
To her suprize, she found that was a truth, not mere pleasantry.  "And
though it sounds like Myers has little or no attractions to offer for R&R,
still, look me up if you ever do take shore leave there."
     "Hey, it can be pretty boring up here just riding herd on a bunch of
shipping pods, let me tell you!  Fair warning, I  might well take you up on
     "Good!  We'll plan on it, then.  When will you be back?"
     He made a face.  "Not for 2 months, I'm afraid.  But when we do
return, I'm bound to be dropping off supplies to the infirmary, which you
are bound to be checking in.  So I'll find you there and we'll go out for a
meal or something.  Sound ok to you?"
     "Sounds like a plan indeed!  See you in 2 months, then."  *Almost, I
wish it were sooner.  Still, I'm too raw from Josh just now.  Two months is
a breather.  Enough time to lay some memories to rest.  So, Richard Stuart
Gray, I _will_ look for you.  We'll see if you remember...*
     She knew she could plant herself indelibly in his thoughts if she so
chose.  Yet that kind of psychically imposed influence was exactly what
she'd left the Institute to get away from.  No, if Rick Gray remembered,
he'd be doing it on his own.  Then it would be for real, and worth waiting
     A tall dour faced man appeared, walking toward then down the hangar bay.
     "Well, here comes your pilot.  Have a good flight, and I'll see you
when we get back."
     Then he was away out the port and the pilot was silently motioning her
aboard.  Lt. Connell seemed as reticent as Joe was open, she observed.  She
took her position and strapped in, then meditated during the instrument
check, and slid from that state back into renewed drowsing.
     It was the movement of the shuttle that roused her again.  The air had
cycled out now, the hatch opened, and they nosed forth, down toward a dull
and muddy looking little orb.  Myers.
     "OK, new life, here I am," she whispered to herself.  "Wonder how this
is gonna be..."  Better, she hoped.  Freer, anyway...


     Two weeks later Meara knew exactly how it was going to be, and she was
bored stiff with it already.  This did not bode well, she feared.  She had
the routine of her new job down, and wished she didn't.  What little she'd
brought with her was unpacked, all her supplies were inventoried, and she'd
explored the length of Main (also One and Only) Street.  There was the long
shed that served the boomers for a sleep barracks when they came in from
their claims.  There was the Post Office/General Store.  There was the
bank, which was mostly a vault built into the hillside, and used almost
exclusively for storing the boomer's gemstones until the shuttle got back
to take them offworld.  There was a small, empty Universalist chapel that
looked much the worse for wear these days, and harbored little lizardlike
beasts.  Last, there was Striker's Bar and Grill, conveniently located just
across the street from her own infirmary.  Once she'd seen all these places
there was precious little else to do in there in Rock Gap, beyond have a
drink in the bar, of an evening.
     Yet it was odd, she kept having the nagging feeling that there was
something she'd missed finding, something important, but she couldn't for
the life of her tell what it was.  It kept her nerve endings tingling with
anticipation, her senses reaching out trying to find an elusive something
that stayed just beyond her reach.  She lost sleep over it, to the point
where she overcame her distaste for Jack Hogan's spiced beer and began
nursing one while she sat and talked with the sandgrubbers, late into the
night.  Passed the time, and put her to sleep after.
     Days, though, she had really begun feeling restless for lack of
something to turn her hand to.  The miners were an aggravatingly healthy
lot.  They brought her little or nothing to do.  She played all too much
solitaire.  She was even beginning to think seriously about trying to
repair the autodoc, just to have something even remotely task oriented
going on.  Not that she was anybody's mechanic.  Far from it.  Still,
considering that all the little bot would do now was generate a strange
wailing hum and burp out Parson's Digestive Mints in odd nauseating shades
of purple and mauve, she doubted that she could make things very much worse
by having a go at it.
     At least there'd been three Strike days already to brighten up the
tedium, with the boomers all stopping in to show off their findings.  Well,
she could be a new audience for them, admire their prizes, anyway.  That
was something.  And truly there was beauty in the stones of Myers, a sharp
contrast to the dull muddy dreariness of its swampy terrain.  She'd
marveled at star opals and vermilion jade, watched the blinkstones take
fire and begin to pulse one by one as they warmed in her hands, and grown
awed at the rainbow sheens in the odd vertebra-like discs that Yanni Samms
and his partner Mole Minkowski had found.  Dragonbones, Yanni called them,
and gave her a triple joined one.  "Bring you luck!" he said with a wink.
Mole had nodded her grizzled head, beaming agreeably.  The two of them were
brother and sister, despite the names.
     "Mink upped and died on me, last strike but one," Mole had confided,
"and Yanni's buddy Sedge took off with a synth player, so him 'n me, we
teamed back up again.  Doin' all right for ourselves too, got a good run on
local amber, to start, then hit blinkers like you see there."  She stirred
the glowing pile on the table before them with a gnarled forefinger.  "And
y'know, 's funny, but things do seem to be runnin' smoother since we found
them dragonbones.  Water pump stopped losin' pressure, 'n then we found a
nice little pocket of irisite."  She passed over an indigo crystal cluster
with deep purple veinings.  "Rare, that is.  Don't find it every day.
Worth quite a bit.  So, I do believe they're good for luck, myself, after
     "Bout all they are good for," mumbled Reds Turner.  "Ain't nobody buys
     "Oh, but they're lovely!" Meara exclaimed.  "_I_ would!"
     "Well, now, ma'am, you save your credit for stuff from offplanet,"
Yanni said.  "Mole 'n me, we'll bring you all you want of this - enough for
a whole jacket if y'like.  We got tons."
     Yanni was a calm, cheerful, balding but full bearded bear of a man who
could and often did settle arguments at Striker's by simply strongarming
the two arguers' heads together.  He carried a bottle of headache remedy
which he thoughtfully offered the combatants when they regained
consciousness.  Refilling that for him was becoming her one and so far only
regular event during office hours.  Even so simple a thing as that, she'd
begun looking forward to, to her dismay.
     "I need a hobby," she declared over her beer that night.  "You guys
gimme nothing to do."
     "Bored?" asked Jack the barkeep.  He raised a laconic eyebrow.
     "Too right!  Everyone here's healthy as a horse."
     "May be why we lose so many medtechs.  That, and they get tired of the
rain."  Something else lurked behind that in his thoughts, too, but she
couldn't quite catch it.  Or she was imagining?  She wasn't sure, even just
one beer made her sensing muzzy.  Ah well, no matter...
     Yanni nodded agreement.  "Medtechs come, medtechs go, and only us
sandgrubbers stay.  We got the disease, see.  The gotta-get-mores."
     "Well I got a suprize for you, Yanni Samms.  I got no plans to leave.
So I may just have to turn into a sandgrubber myself.  You reckon I could
get somebody and their partner to show me how to prospect?  Looks like
there's more than enough unclaimed land around.  Some of it not even that
far from here, I heard Red say..."
     "Well, now, ma'am, I guess me and Mole, we could show you 'round after
a whiles."
     "Sure," piped up Mole, "Just let me get ol' lazybutt here to finish
sortin' and gradin' the stuff we got from our last dig, so we can get it
turned in for cred before the shuttle comes.  Got a new hydro processor to
pay for."  The short woman fixed Yanni with her trademark nearsighted
squint.  "Brother Yan there, he loves to sidetrack, just give him a chance,
he runs with it.  But work's gotta happen, even so.  Lemme haul him back to
it for now, and when we get done, we'll give you a holler."
     "OK," Meara had agreed, then finished the beer and took herself back
out through the drizzle.
     "What _is_ there about this place," she kept asking herself, as she
crawled into bed.  "It's hot and squodgy dank, muddy and torturously dull,
except for Strike days.  So why does it keep feeling like that's all just
some strange kind of cover, a camouflage to keep me from knowing what's
really going on?  I feel like something big is waiting to happen, something
wild and exciting and dangerous.  Dangerous, ha!  Fat chance!"
     "Still," she argued with herself, "my senses are always on alert.
Yeah, but why, there's been nothing to spot!  I'm in a gray town by a brown
swamp where my biggest business is dispensing detox tabs.  Anybody and his
brother's bot can do that, what do they need a medtech for?  So far it's
about as dangerous as a hangnail.  Except maybe the rumors...  But that's
nothing I can pin down yet."
     Ah yes, the rumors.  No one wold tell her, the newcomer, what they
were.  The gossip buzzed behind her, fleeting, just tantalizingly out of
reach.  She'd seen the sideways glances, there in the bar, noticed after a
while how certain conversations dwindled and died as she came in, then
rebuilt gradually into mumbled whispers she could only pick up snatches of.
Fragments like "...scaly.  With big..."  And "...teeth, I'm tellin' ya,
pointy...!"  And "...never did find ol' Sanders..."  Bit by bit she'd begun
piecing together those snatches, but what she'd learned was, as yet, full
of holes as a cobweb, and about as substantial.  Still, she began to build
up an impression of something lurking back in the far-marshes, or up in the
high hills where prospecting was chancy and only the desperate and strike
crazy dared to go.  Something huge, reptilian, menacing, mysterious, and
something that the miners as a group were trying to keep her from knowing
     *Ah!  Maybe there's more than one reason why Yanni so determinedly
thumps heads at the brawls.  A guy who's out cold can't babble secrets and
let things slip to me.  Hmmm...*  With that, she had drifted off into
slumber herself.

     The next day she was playing her 17th form of archaic solitaire for
the umteenth time when Yanni stopped by to refill his supply of headache
     "Yep, we had a real humdinger of a brawl last night!"  Yanni's eyes
sparkled cheerfully.  "Just after you left, it were.  Gus Simonson took a
swing at Rafter Louie over some fool thing or other, so Louie clocked him a
good one an' broke his nose.  Blood all over ever'where.  Jack swears he's
gonna charge the cleanup to their tabs this time.  Went into a grand
freeferall after that.  Me'n Mole went back to back, fendin' 'em off.
Quite a ruckus there for a while, wonder you didn't hear us."
     "Yanni, I had a beer.  One beer.  I don't get drunk on just one, never
that, but I do sleep like the dead from it.  Back at school I slept through
a fire drill one time," she explained, adding, "well, drat.  Little enough
goes on here.  Wish I'd seen it."
      Yanni nodded.  "Man oh man, it were lively there for a while!
Cleaned me out of my last dose of the remedy."  He held up the now empty
bottle.  "I could use to get me a refill if ye're not too busy..."
     "Busy, hah!"  She waved towards the cards.  "I wish!  Prince of a man,
grant me this task, however small.  It at least brings some variety to my
day."  She took his bottle and went into her pharmacy alcove, automatically
reaching for the correct stores.  "Y'now," she said as she filled the
bottle for him, "I just about wish you all would have one of these brawls
when I was over there myself, instead of over here falling asleep from beer
and boredom.  I'd feel like I was at least doing something useful, patching
you back up.  But nobody even lets me _see_ a busted nose, much less set
it.  All the good I do here is just doling out ache meds to you."  She
deftly ran his credcard through the meter, then handed it and the bottle
back to him.
     He ducked his head sheepishly.  "Aw, ma'am!  The boys don' want
t'bother you with that little nothin' stuff.  We c'n handle it."
     Meara rolled her eyes.  "Yeah, well so can _I_ handle it!  I've got
certification in emergency field treatment, why don't you guys let me _use_
     "Um.  We didn't want to scare you off?  Last tech but one, he left on
the next flight from the one that brought him.  And the one in between him
and you, she took one look at Main Street in mudtime and went right back up
on the shuttle she'd got in on.  Didn't even stay the night.  So now you're
here, nuhbody wants t' do nothin' t' make you wanta leave."  He turned the
bottle around in his hands, looking at it and not at her.
     *And something else, Yanni, I can feel it.  What aren't you telling me?*
     She sent a query at him, and he blurted out, "Fever season's in
another couple weeks, we'll need you desp'rate bad then!"
     "Ah.  And the next shuttle leaves six days from now.  You were afraid
I'd be on it?"  He nodded dolefully.
     "Well, tell the boys they don't have to worry.  I got nothing to go
back to, and an ex I'd just as soon never see again.  Like I said, I'm
    "That's good news, ma'am," he smiled, brightening up.  "Real good!
I'll tell 'em, sure.  Mole, she'll be glad too."
     "Yeah, well, tell 'em to start letting me do my job too, will you?
Send that guy with the busted nose in, I want to check it."
     "Will do, but Gus is a touchy feller, kinda notional. I can't promise
he'll listen."
     "Then maybe I'll have to hire you to fetch him for me."
     He grinned widely at her.  "If I c'd catch 'im.  Gus ain't much
thicker than a sapling, but he's quick as a bogsnake.  Slippery.  He don'
want to do somethin', he's of into the swamps, snugged tight in some
bolthole of his and nobody's gonna pry 'im out."
     She shrugged.  "Ah well.  Ask him to drop in for me anyway, just in
case.  Oh, and speaking of asking, got a question for you myself."
     "Oh?  What's up?"  He gave her a wary look, and seemed to be bracing.
     *Not the reptile creature, not yet.  Let's test the waters here.  I'll
give you my _other_ concern, to start.*
     "I gotta admit, I've been wondering about this," she told him.  "Why
is it that none of you guys has even made a pass at me?  Not even one?  My
face is ok, I don't stink or have rat breath, but nevertheless I've been
here nearly two months, and I might as well have checked into a nunnery.
What gives?  I'm beginnin' to think I've landed on a planet of
heterophobes, or something."
     Yanni dropped his shoulders, clearly relaxing.
     *So.  Whatever you're worried about, that one's not it.  Still, we'll
start with that, and see where it takes us.*
     "Now, ma'am, it's not you!" he assured her.  "Purty as a pitcher, you
are.  No ma'am, it's us.  But it ain't that either, cep' for Jethrie 'n
Martin, and Tyler 'n Amos.  They're ol' married men anyway, been together
years.  No ma'am, it's somethin' way different 'n that."
     "Well, what?  Will you tell me?"
     "Yes, ma'am.  It's the fever dreams.  Comes a night out on the swamps
when it catches you up, and you burn high and hard, and you gotta have
clear water or you won't make it through, and there's some each season as
dies just from that.  But during the burn, if you sweat enough, then
there's the dreams.  Wilder and sweeter than sex, or finding, or
_anything_!  That itself's enough to keep some men here.  Jan, for sure,
he's addicted.  Gonna overburn one night, but ya cain't tell 'im.  Well, we
all go t' hell in our own way."
     "And these dreams, they reduce desire somehow?  Cause impotence?"
     "Wun't say reduce so much, more like replace.  Once you get deep into
fever dreamin', it eats your whole life up somehow.  None o' yer other
needs seems t' matter anymore.  Only the need to burn again and take up the
dream where you left off."  He leaned close, and his voice dropped to a
cautious whisper.  "There's some burners who's disappeared!  Vanished
altogether.  Ol' Sanders and his kid, Roolie, then Clase, Silvie Mott,
Seamus and Feral, all of 'em, just all plain gone.  Never even found the
bodies, not a hair, not a bone, nothin'!  Why, they say - "
     Suddenly the port swept open and thin, haggard man with a black eye
and a badly swollen nose half fell, half lunged through it.  He lurched
toward them, wildeyed, staring and terrified.
     "Speak o' the devil...  Gus!  What's wrong?" Yanni grabbed him by the
elbow to steady him.  Gus raked breath back into his lungs.
     "You gotta help me!  You gotta go to him!"  He clutched desperately at
Yanni's sinewy forearm.  "Hurry!  It's my partner Jan!  He's dyin'!"

To be continued...

Copyright 1997 by Peg Fisher.
Date:         Wed, 19 Feb 1997 01:12:41 -0500
From:         cloudbusting (swede at
To:           superguy at
Subject:      SF: Now It's Your Turn: Gollerdangerrung/Interlude One

                            Lawn Chairs of the Gods
                              (a Tale of Sfstory)
                                 Gary W. Olson

     In the beginning, there was darkness.
     A bit after the beginning, there was still darkness.
     The darkness hung around for a while after that.
     It was very persistent.

     "Explain to me exactly why we're here again," Ronald Hastings,
undergraduate majoring in Space Heroics at Interstellar University, Star
Trek devotee and former captain of a pinto-shaped star vessel named the
AOEDWOSTWHARSUSPWKSS High_Spock_Is_A_Weenie (named so for reasons best not
gotten into right now).
     "It's like this," Norman Sassafrass, undergraduate majoring in Space
Heroics at Interstellar University, Star Trek devotee and former crew of
the aforementioned vessel, as well as Ronald's best friend, replied.
"There were these aliens, millennia ago, who went around genetically
engineering a bunch of races and putting this genetic code puzzle thingie
in their DNA so that, when the message was reassembled, it made a picture
of an alien with a 'good vibes' message.  Now these weren't the Preservers,
these were some completely different aliens mucking about to make everyone
in the galaxy look more or less human, only with bumpy skulls or a
desperate need for a plastic surgeon.  They shaped the path of the human
race and all the others for generations...."
     "I wish you wouldn't mention that movie."
     "Sorry.  Like I was saying..."
     "And that wasn't what I meant by my question, either," Ronald said.
"I meant, why are we *here.*"
     "You're here," a voice from the intercom interrupted, causing them to
jump and hide their poster magazines, "because you missed the freshmen
student field trip to the Grand Ruins of Talapalago Ten, and your
prerequisite for next year's Intro to Heroic Archaeology Techniques
necessitates a visit to some ruins.  We're about to make our descent, by
the way, so get your asses up here."
     "Yes, sir!" Ronald exclaimed, smartly, as he and Norman stood up,
brushed out the wrinkles in their clothing, picked bits of potato chip from
the polyester fiber of their gold (on Ronald) and blue (on Norman) shirts,
and headed for the bridge of the H.M.S. Shannon II.
     "That answer your question?" Norman asked, sarcastically.
     "Hey, *I'm* not the one who started arguing with Zark Flyby about
Shatner's acting ability."
     "I wasn't arguing!  I just asked Zark what he thought of Shatner's
     "Key word.  'Thought.'"
     "I know, I know.  I'm just glad he's not on this trip."
     "Who, Shatner?"
     "Oh.  Yeah."
     The doors slid aside to reveal the bridge, which was about as
benightedly un-battle-like as Ronald and Norman had imagined a bridge could
be.  The tactical stations were long-buried under pizza boxes and Vorpogian
take-out spheres.  Laundry was carelessly draped over the main viewscreen,
obscuring more than half of it.  The floor was obscured by loose papers and
more than a few cases of beer.  In the Captain's chair, the person who had
talked to them earlier via intercom was stretched out, his white jumpsuit
stained with cheese and tomato juice.  He blinked, seeming to awaken as
they strode in.
     "Mmmm, 'bout time," Lark Purree, Time Agent 90210, said.  "We're
making the approach to Woozlbain.  S'on the monitor there... somewhere.  I
think.  Unless I left the nude alien volleyball on again."
     Ronald and Norman pushed aside trousers, shirts, pantaloons, briefs,
long johns and ballroom gowns to find that, indeed, volleyball featuring
unclad aliens was on.  It was not particularly stimulating, as the
finalists on one side appeared to be freshly-waxed Steinway pianos, while
their opponents were the Fri'jidi, a blue-skinned humanoid race from an ice
world that had, for the purposes of adhering the rules, stripped down to
just ten layers of heavy, thick clothing.  Long gone were the days of Radar
Vogel, it seemed.  They found the remote and switched the channel to a view
of the exterior of the ship.
     The planet they were descending upon looked roughly greenish and
bluish, though it was the green parts that were sloshing about and gleaming
in the sunlight, while the blue areas tended to look stable and a bit rocky
in places.
     "Planet Woozlbain," Lark said.  "Home of the Ancient Ruins of Planet
Woozlbain, including but not limited to the Crumbled Temples of Planet
Woozlbain, the Rotting Castles of Planet Woozlbain, the Abandoned
Fortresses of Planet Woozlbain..."  He stopped upon seeing how Ronald and
Norman were staring at him.  "Hey, that's what they're called in the
brochure.  I'm just a T.A. at IU, okay?  Um... anyway, there's also the
Ancient Citadel of Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr, the Creator of the Universe
and All That Lies Within, Including Planet Woozlbain."
     "An ancient god's final resting place," Ronald said.  "Can we go?"
     "Huh?" Lark asked.  "Why?  I was planning to go to the Temples.
They've got some good bars in the area, from what I've heard...."
     "We want to see the Citadel," Norman insisted.  "It's what Kirk would do."
     "No he wouldn't," Lark argued.  "He'd go to a Temple and try to get
lucky with one of the alien priestesses."
     "Well, he'd go to the Citadel after, right?" Ronald asked.
     "I suppose," Lark said, scratching his chin.  "Okay, okay, we'll go to
the Citadel."
     "Yay!" Ronald and Norman cheered.
     "*Then* we go to the bars."
     "What about the priestesses?"
     "They'll be there, too."
     "Oh.  Um... okay."
     They turned to the viewscreen and watched as the largest continent of
Woozlbain grew larger, and marveled at how closely its coastline made it
resemble Shatner's toupee.

     The darkness wasn't going away anytime soon, it appeared.  Therefore,
some positive action had to be taken.
     A rough, gutteral cough echoed off of aged stone walls.
     "Let's have some light."
     The darkness failed to leave.
     "Some light, please."
     The darkness seemed a little haughty now.
     "Crap.  Now I suppose I have to find the flippin' torches, and--"
     More darkness.
     "Okay, now I'm on the floor.  Lights?"
     Now the darkness was definitely in mocking mode.
     "Flippin' goll dang heck."

     " where, sixteen centuries before, the Great Prophet received the
word of the ancient god Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr, who had just completed
his epic battle against the villainous demon Drol, and knew he had to lead
his people into the Plains of the Interior, where they might find land to
farm and rivers to drink from and vast stretches of forest to tear down to
build strip malls," a bored-looking Woozlbainian guide, the hair of his
eyebrows dragging tiredly along the grey stones of the Citadel's northern
tower, spoke.  "The tower remained abandoned until this past century, when
we returned to this land and began to set up tourist-money-guzz... er, to
reclaim our ancient heritage."
     "Fascinating," Norman said, arching his right eyebrow in a way that
made his face look like it was trying to secede from itself.  "Your culture
is rich in history and tradition."
     "Sure it is... er, yes, it is," the guide answered.  He looked at Lark
and frowned.  "We don't get many folk from Interstellar University these
days.  Seems they all want to go to those fancy-ass ruins on Talapalago
Ten, or the fabled Shrine to Instant Oatmeal on Quaker II.  Even the ones
who do come here seem to just want to go right to the bars around the
Temples and try to get some action with the Priestesses--"
     "Oh, we're going to do that right after this," Ronald noted.  The
guide frowned more deeply, and Lark started wondering if, supposing he
moved really fast, he might knock both Ronald and Norman over the tower
edge and into the chasm of big spiky formations that surrounded the
Citadel's heart, filling in the spaces between the north, south, east and
west towers.  It wasn't a terribly heroic thought, he realized, but
technically, he *was* here in his capacity as a student teacher from IU.
     The rest of the tour group milled about the tower's roof, peering over
the edges, spitting, throwing small coins or large items of produce, taking
holographs of each other, and generally behaving badly.  Those in the group
who were Woozlbainian didn't seem to act any better than those who were
not.  For this reason, it seemed, the guide preferred to talk to Lark,
Ronald and Norman, who, at the very least, were pretending to pay
attention.  Lark decided now was the time to make his proposition.
     "I don't suppose anyone goes in there, do they?" he asked, indicating
a large spiral stone staircase in the center of the tower's roof that was
roped off.  The guide's frown grew sterner still, appearing almost angular
     "Now and then," he admitted.  "It's not a safe area.  We've mapped out
the other towers, but this one's a little tricky.  Walls keep shifting
around.  Keep finding rooms that weren't there before, and losing rooms we
thought were there.  Can't swing a dead otter around without hitting a
potted fern.  Whole teams of archaeologists with decades of experience go
     "...and don't come out?" Norman asked, his eyebrow now threatening to
slip completely over his head and down his back.
     "Oh, no, they come out, all right," the guide said.  "Broken, humbled
shells of beings, quivering at the slightest touch, seeking only to curl up
by the poolside at one of our fabulous resorts, drink large quantities of
poisonous liquor and dance into the wee hours of the night, all at taxpayer
expense.  Funny, now that I say it aloud.  Hmmmm."
     "I don't suppose there's any chance my team of id-- archaeologists
could take a quick look around, is there?" Lark asked.  The guide's frown
actually looped around at this point, though Lark was fairly sure it was
just an optical illusion.
     "Well, sir, I'd like nothing better than to allow that, but, as I
said, the structure is unsafe, and, well, what with our limited budget,
we've hardly had the money to even begin renovations...."
     "How about 20 credits?"
     "Done."  The guide took the money and pocketed it.  "Let me shoo the
other twits away first."  He turned and raised his arms.  "Okay, folks,
time to get back down the side of the tower and head over to the gift
shop!"  After some more shouting along this line and the occasional use of
one of his eyebrows as a flogger, he had managed to herd the tourists onto
the lift that ran along the side of the tower.  As the lift descended, the
guide nodded to Lark, Ronald and Norman, who had cleverly hidden themselves
behind a convenient soda machine.
     "Okay, kids, heroic archaeology time," Lark said, lifting the rope
that blocked their way to the staircase.  "Remember, keep your eyes open.
These are dangerous ruins, the kind Space Heroes have to face on a regular
basis to attain ancient, powerful artifacts necessary to vanquish Space
     "What did he mean, 'other twits?'" Ronald asked.  Lark scowled at him,
and Ronald hurried down the steps, followed next by Norman and last by Zark.
     Two minutes after they were in, a stone slab slid in place over the
opening, dragging rather loudly.

     "Right.  Let's do an inventory.  What do I have here?"
     "Darkness.  That's one thing.  There's me, for another.  I seem to
have a robe on, with some sort of heavy amulet around my neck.  There's
something in my pocket that feels and smells like a gob of rotting meat.
There's this big rectangular thing I was laying on.  There's the stone
     And darkness.
     "Darkness... no, wait, got that one.  And... owieowie... one flippin'
migraine.  Now let's see.  What next?  Standing.  Hmmm.  Yes.  Up... up...
there we go.  Doing good.  Standing.  Now... yiii!"
     "Aw, heck."

     "Lesson One of heroic archaeology," Lark said in a slightly
condescending tone.  "Do not, I repeat, do *not* step on the only
dark-colored stone tile in a hallway otherwise filled with grey stone
     "We don't take the actual class until the fall," Ronald pointed out.
     "Well, then, when you get there, you'll have an edge on the other
students," Lark noted.
     "Speaking of falls," Norman said, "could you help us up?  We're kind
of stuck here."
     "In a moment," Lark told him, not entirely patiently.  "I have to
climb out myself, you know."
     Norman had no reply, so he settled for tightening his grip on Ronald's
ankle and watched as Lark pulled himself over the edge of the large
rectangular pit.  As Ronald's hands, which were securely fastened to Lark's
bootstraps, were pulled over, Norman looked down at the bottomless pit...
     ...only to see that it wasn't quite so bottomless after all.
     "Hey, guys!" he exclaimed.  "Look!  A light!"
     "We know," Lark answered.  "I just turned it back on.  Now hold still
while I pull you up."
     "Hey!" Ronald yelled.  "My leg doesn't bend forward like-- yeeeowww!"
Despite Ronald's considerable whining on that score, Norman was eventually
pulled up over the edge and out of immediate danger, though he found he was
lying on several fern pots, a few of many that lined the stone hallway.  On
the other side of the hallway, a sliding wall had effectively blocked off
the way they had entered from.
     "Not that light," Norman said to Lark.  "The other light.  Down there
in the pit."
     Lark and Ronald peered over the edge and saw that there was indeed a
light present, shining out of what appeared to be a cave in the side of the
pit wall two hundred meters down.  He sat down and pondered for a while.
Ronald and Norman, who were good at that sort of thing, sat down and joined
him in pondering.
     "Clearly," Ronald said, "what we see down there is a room that has
gone undetected by the best of the universe's archaeologists."
     "It's not hard to understand why," Lark mused.  "Everyone else who
came down here was too smart to step on the obvious trap-springing stone
     "Hey!" Ronald, who tended to say that a lot, said.
     "It's a compliment," Lark added, quickly.
     "It is?"
     "Sure.  Space heroes have to use their natural resources to their
advantage.  Your greatest natural resource is your vast reservoir of
blithering stupidity, which you've used to make an important archaeological
find.  I predict you'll do quite well in your Heroic Archaeology classes."
     "Thanks!" Ronald replied.  "Um... I think."  He leaned over to whisper
to Norman.  "Is that something I should be thankful for?"
     "Dunno.  I've never been called a reservoir before."
     "Me neither.  Guess I'll let it pass for now."
     Lark pulled three U-Rapel-Quikl-E-Inviso-Line Projectors, palm-sized
silver boxes that gleamed in the light from Lark's lamp.  He handed one to
Ronald and one to Norman, who peered at them as if they were some new
specimen of talk show host.  Lark held his out, gripping it around the
sides with his index finger and thumb.
     "Okay, now, you're technically not supposed to be using these until
your sophmore year, but, hey, if you don't tell, I won't.  These devices
project invisible rapelling lines that allow you to descend quickly down
vertical surfaces without the noise of a jet pack.  See the lens on the
     Ronald and Norman nodded.
     "That's where the line comes out.  On the bottom is the firing button.
Hold it out over the edge of the pit, aiming the lens toward the ceiling
like I'm doing.  Now press the button."
     They pressed the buttons simultaneously, and three invisible lines
presumably shot out to make contact with the ceiling.  Lark tugged on his
to make sure it was secure, then attached the box to his belt with the
handy clip-on attachment.  Ronald and Norman did likewise.
     "Now," Lark said, "just walk over the edge."  He stepped into the pit,
and twirled around over empty air, demonstrating.  "The knob on the front
controls the rate of your descent.  We'll be heading down slowly, of
course.  Well?"
     "O-okay," Ronald said.  He took a tentative step, lost his balance,
flailed his arms, and toppled pitward.  His line caught him and swung him
around.  Ronald fought to get control, but only ended up upside down.  Lark
slapped his palm to his forehead and muttered under his breath.  His
sideburns gleeped sympathetically.
     "Ronald, you doof," Norman chided.  "Kirk would never let you on his
     "I'm completely in control," Ronald replied.  "This is just my way of
lulling whatever's waiting below into a false sense of security.  Let's see
*you* step over the edge, Crew."
     "No problem," Norman said, nonchalantly.  He stepped over the edge and
turned to gloat, only to find he was falling at an unfortunately fast
speed.  "Er," he commented, just beginning to absorb what was happening.

     "Right.  Crawling.  I can do that."
     The darkness was still all around him, mocking.
     "There's got to be a wall around here somewhere.  Where there's a
wall, there's a door.  Where there's a door, there's another room or an
outside.  From there on, I improvise."
     The darkness persisted--
     "So far, so--"
     --until he ran into the wall.
     "Okay... now the door."
     A considerable amount of time passed as he shifted along the length of
the wall, feeling for a door or a window.  All that greeted him was rock...
and darkness.
     "Well, goll dang."

     "Needlewarp!" Lark cursed as Norman plunged into the darkness.  He
touched the dial on his inviso-line and cranked it all the way in the other
direction.  Soon, he too was plummeting, faster than Norman, having set the
rapelling line to act as a repulsor.  Still, it was going to be a close
call.  The ground was rising up to meet them--
     His left hand lashed out and grabbed Norman's jumpsuit by the hems of
the pantlegs.  He whipped the dial on his line back the other way, feeling
the shudder jar his bones as his fall was suddenly arrested.  A snapping
sound caught his attention.
     "Eep!" Norman eeped.  Lark saw that his student was dangling from his
now-mostly-off trousers, holding onto them with his clasped feet.  The
belt, apparently, had come loose, as Norman was currently holding onto it
with his hands.  Instantly, Lark realized what had happened.
     "Norman, you had your projector pointed the wrong way, didn't you?"
     "I wasn't paying attention!" Norman admitted.
     "Well, just let go of the belt so I can pull you up," Lark told him.
Norman did as instructed, and watched as the belt resumed plunging
downward.  It slapped the stone-paved bottom a few seconds later, quite
forcefully.  Lark adjusted his control again and started upward, hoping
that Norman's ankles were stronger than they appeared.
     They were, and Lark successfully pulled him up and into the small,
potted-fern-filled cavern in the side of the pit.  A minute later, Ronald,
still upside down but now in somewhat more control, arrived, and Lark
untangled him.
     "Well, that was a bit more intense than was absolutely necessary,"
Ronald commented.  "Mind you, I think Kirk would be proud."
     "Oh, absolutely," Norman agreed.
     "Yes, and... um, Norman...."
     "You traitor."
     "You miserable traitor.  All this time, masquerading in the ranks of
true Trek fans... how could you do this, Norman?  Where did I go wrong?"
     "What are you talking about?"
     "You're wearing Babylon 5 underoos."
     "I... eep!"  Norman tried to hide by putting his trousers back on, but
he knew it was already too late.  "Ronald... I couldn't help myself.  I
tried to resist, but... I was weak!"
     "You don't deserve to wear that blue polyester shirt," Ronald snarled.
     "Guys," Lark said, calmly but sternly.  "If you don't drop this right
now, I'm going to have to give you both painful wedgies."
     "You can't do that!" Norman protested.  "That's a violation of the
Interstellar University by-laws, not to mention the Space Heroes' Code!"
     "Hmmm," Lark said, scratching his chin.  "You have a point.  Sid,
Johnny, you want to take this?"
     Lark's sideburns gleeped cheerfully and jumped off his face.  Ronald
and Norman cowered, but to no avail.

     He tried pretending it wasn't all that dark, but it didn't work.  Next
he moved on to tapping randomly on stones, hoping he could unwittingly set
off the mechanism that would let him out of the dark room.
     "I am becoming somewhat cross," he decided, aloud.  "I... hey, a fern."
     Before he could go further with that thought, he heard two very loud
screams from the other side of the section of wall he was leaning against.
     People!  Rescuers!
     He began pounding on the walls and shouting as loudly as he could.

     "Owie..." Ronald groaned.
     "Owie..." Norman agreed.
     "You will note, of course," Lark said, "that Sid and Johnny are
neither Space Heroes or Faculty Members of IU.  Now stand up.  We've got
some archaeology to do."
     Grumbling, Ronald and Norman pulled themselves to their feet and,
dejectedly, shoved their hands in their pockets, despite the fact that it
put their arms at awkward angles, seeing as their pockets were now up
around their armpits.  Lark's sideburns gimbaled around before them a bit
before hopping up on Lark and gyring to the sides of his face, where they
reattached themselves to their interface ports.  Lark himself was busy
considering the source of the light that had attracted their attention.
     "Mister Fizzy Fizzy Pop," Ronald read from the front of the machine.
"Have yourself a super-fizzy Fizzy Pop today.  Not guaranteed to fizz after
sixteen centuries."
     "Mister Fizzy," Lark said.  "I remember that company from my history
classes.  That drink disappeared from the market roughly sixteen centuries
ago, after the company was exposed as a front for the notorious
time-traveller Lord Drol.  The Time Agent who had gone back in time to stop
Drol succeeded, but never returned...."
     "Hey, do you here someone shouting?" Norman asked.
     "This isn't a Mister Fizzy Soda Machine," Lark realized, suddenly.
"It's a TARDIS!"
     "Isn't that a Dr. Who contraption?" Ronald inquired.
     "Ah-hah!" Norman exclaimed.  "So you *admit* you watch Dr. Who, huh?"
     "I never said--"
     "Traitor!  Traitor!  Neener neener neener!"
     "Shut *up*, both of you," Lark growled.  "It's not the first time a
TARDIS has appeared in Sfstory, you know."  Lark's sideburns gleeped
angrily, and Ronald and Norman immediately shut up.  "Anyway... say, I do
hear some shouting.  From right behind the machine here... help me move it
     With suitable masculine grunting and heaving, they shoved the machine
aside, despite the fact that it was resting on a micro-traction field which
would have allowed a pre-schooler on a Big Wheel to move it with ease.
They noticed that the back of the machine didn't resemble the black metal
they expected.  Instead, it was worn, seemingly ancient rock.
     A body wearing dark robes and a heavy amulet fell out of the
pop-machine-shaped hole they had exposed, landing on at least three potted

     With a sudden heave, a section of the wall pulled back, and the
darkness was pushed back.  He fell forward, hitting the ferns roughly.
     "Ow," he commented, as rough hands turned him over.  "Thank you but
I've already had my coconut oil massage for today... er?"  He opened his
eyes to behold three humans looking down at him.  One of them looked
vaguely like Luke Perry, while the other two bore striking resemblences to
nobody in particular.  He pushed up into a seated position and studied them
     "Hi," he finally ventured.
     "Greetings," one of the younger ones said, while the other younger one
made what he assumed to be an obscene gesture with his hand.  He felt
around for his blaster, but realized he didn't have it any more.
     "I'm Lark Purree, Time Agent 90210," the older guy said.  "This is
Ronald, and that one's Norman.  How long have you been back there, sir?"
     "I... I don't know," he said.  "There was a battle... Lord Drol zapped
me, even as he fell down the pit... someone switched my long distance
carrier... next thing I knew I was in this robe and lying on that stone bed
in there."
     "Weird," Norman opined.
     "Hey, I got it as a gift from my mother," he said.  "Anyway, I tried
to use my omni-gadget here..."  He lifted the amulet as he spoke.  "
try to project a hologram outside where I was trapped, to get the natives
to help, but they misunderstood and left for the plains...."
     "Then you're Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr?" Norman asked.  "Why, then,
do you look like John Carradine?"
     "Um... nope and I don't know," he answered.  "I'm Time Agent 501, but
you can call me Gene."
     "I think I'm starting to get this," said Lark.  "You came back in time
to fight the time-travelling villain Lord Drol, succeeded, but got trapped
when Drol triggered your TARDIS's security system with a final blast.  It
sealed you into that room, disguising that part of its surface as a stone
wall.  Meanwhile, it started using force fields, tractor beams and the like
to shift the walls and floors and ceilings around, to baffle what it
assumed must be Drol's forces.  The Great Prophet assumed your hologram was
the returned god Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr and led his people away.
Sixteen centuries pass.  We show up and rescue you.  Ba da boom, ba da
     "Um, Lark..." Norman started.
     "Shut up," Lark told him, sternly.  "Can you remember anything el--
what *is* that smell, anyway?"
     "Laaaaaarrrrrrrk," Ronald larked.
     "What *is* iiii... it...." Lark's words trailed off as he turned.  The
Mister Fizzy Machine had risen on thin, stiltlike metal legs and had
extended several large Model 1000-X Gobz-O-Deth laser cannons from its
shining surface.
     "So, Time Agent 501," a villainous voice rolled out of the coin-return
slot.  "You have finally returned after all these centuries."
     "Lord Drol!" Gene exclaimed.  "But you're dead!  I saw you fall!"
     "No you didn't!"
     "I didn't?"
     "Ha ha!  Just kidding.  Of course you did.  This is actually just a
synthetic imitation of my Lord Drol's voice.  Fooled you, didn't I?"
     "Um, this is all irrelevant, isn't it?" asked Lark, as he felt his
combat sideburns detatch from their I/O ports and prepare to spring.
     "Well, yes, I suppose.  It's just that I've been keeping Time Agent
501 holed up in that room for sixteen centuries, on Drol's final orders.
He wanted him to starve to death."
     "Little did he know I was wearing my hibernation robe!" Gene replied.
"And I had an extra supply of spam to power it with me!"
     "Spam?" the machine asked.
     "So that's what that smell is," Ronald said.  Norman nodded.  Gene
reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a heap of rotting, putrid spam.
     "You fool!" Lark exclaimed.  "After sixteen centuries, that spam has
to be unstable!"
     "That's the idea!" Gene replied.  "Hey, machine!  Catch!"
     He threw the spam at the machine.
     "Waaaaa!" Lark exclaimed.
     "Waaaaa!" Ronald and Norman yelped.
     "Waaaaa!" the machine screamed.
     "Gleep!" the sideburns gleeped.

     There was light.

     Ronald and Norman lay on the tall grass in front of the wreckage of
the Ancient Citadel's north tower.  Nearby, Lark and Gene were sprawled, as
were some of the larger pieces of Drol's machine, tangled in bits of fern.
Ronald closed his eyes, remembering vaguely how Lark's sideburns dug them
out of the wreckage, tossing large chunks of rock as though they were
styrofoam and then dragging them clear.  Still, that didn't account for how
they had survived....
     "So, are you alive?" a resonant voice sounded above them.  Ronald
opened his eyes and found himself looking up at the face of a god.
     "Er, hi," Ronald said.  "Um...."
     "I'm Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr," the ancient god
Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr told them, cheerfully.  "And not John
Carradine, despite the superficial resemblence.  I used my abilities to
keep you from dying as the tower crashed around you.  Neat, huh?"
     "So... you really were sleeping in the tower all along, weren't you?"
Norman asked.
     "Uh-huh.  Right in plain sight, too."
     "Your life-force must have been fused with the very stone walls," Lark
said.  "No wonder none of the archaeologists could find you."
     "Close, but no," Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr answered.  "I was in the
potted ferns."
     "All of them?" Gene asked.
     "Well, most of them."
     "So," Norman said.  "We've seen and demolished some ancient ruins,
vanquished a space villain's final trap, rescued a long lost Time Agent,
set free a local god, and made it through alive.  Is being a Space Hero
always like this?"
     "More often than not," Lark replied.
     "I bet Kirk would be proud of us," Ronald stated, assertively.
     "Me, maybe," Norman noted.  "You didn't see the light from the cave."
     "That's enough, traitor," Ronald said.  "Fie on you already!"
     "Admit it, Ron," taunted Norman.  "You watch B5 too."
     "I do not!  I have remained pure, I tell you, pure as the driven--
     Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr pondered what happened to Ronald and
Norman at that moment.  When it was over, he asked a very pertinent
     "Are your sideburns always that violent?"
     "Sometimes," Lark admitted.  "I think they're Buck Rogers fans."
     "So," Gene said, "now what?"

     "Ah, this is the life," Gene said, as he relaxed on a lawn chair,
sipping an Aldebaron ale.  One lawn chair over, Lark Purree was imbibing
some single-malt scotch, while Ronald and Norman, having only recently
returned from having their trousers surgically extracted from their bodies
(which were currently dressed in flamenco pants and their usual polyester
gold or blue shirts), sat drinking Shirly Temples and holding ice packs to
their heads.
     Up on the bar's stage, the ancient god Narlarbargarharmarwararrarr was
rapping out prophecies for the next thousand years to an easy, laid-back
beat, while his worshippers danced on the dance floor.  Gene realized it
was the first time he had seen Woozlbainians who were actually smiling.
     "Don't forget," Lark told Ronald and Norman.  "You're going to have to
write up a report on all this when we get back."
     "I bet Kirk never had to write reports," Norman grumped.  "Do we have
to include everything in them?"
     "You mean," Lark said, "do you have to include the details of each
others viewing indiscretions, undergarment pictures, or wedgie pain
factors?  No, not at all... so long as you apologize to one another and
agree to keep your emotions bottled up inside you until they come back
years later in the form of sarcasm and bitter recrimination."
     "Okay," Ronald replied.  He turned to Norman.  "Norm, I'm sorry I
called you a scummy traitor."
     "I'm sorry I neenered at you," Norman said.  There was a long, awkward
moment.  "So... um... what would Kirk do now?"
     "Well, he wouldn't be drinking Shirly Temples, for one thing," Ronald
stated, authoratively.  The two immediately tossed their drinks aside and
stood up.  "Secondly, he'd be trying to make some time with one of those
alien priestesses on the dance floor.  What say we beam on over there, huh?"
     "But we can't dance," Norman pointed out.
     "Like Shatner can?"
     "Ooh, good point.  Let's go."  They tossed aside their ice packs and
ran toward the dance floor.  Lark and Gene watched them go, sipping their
drinks medatatively.
     "Think I should have told them the priestesses all have boyfriends?"
Lark asked.
     "Waaaaaaaa!" Ronald and Norman exclaimed as they went flying.
     Gene shrugged and finished his drink.


     Hosoqob pressed the 'pause' button, stopping the flow of text on the
screen.  There were still more stories waiting, but he had to take a break.
     "Analysis," he ordered the computer.  "Based on the stories the
Earthers have generated, what is your computation as to their readiness for
assimilation into the Cheese Orb?"
     "Completed," the computer replied.  "Assimilation of this race into
the Cheese Orb not recommended.  Primates do not need their minds to be
uplifted further -- they are already quite clearly high."
     "I could have told you that," Hosoqob replied.  "Recommendation?"
     "Examination of remaining stories in anthology.  We may yet find one
that approaches sanity."
     "'Jewel Scales' seemed sane," Hosoqob noted.
     "Clearly a show to fool the unwary," the computer said.  "It depicted
a society where space travel is common, yet the people know nothing of the
almighty Cheese Orb.  The author is clearly delusional."
     "Now that you put it that way..." Hosoqob said.  He shrugged.  "What
the hell(tm).  Let's see some more stories."
     "I love it when you say that."
     "Oh, shut *up*."


Watch throughout the year for more Anthology stories set within... SFSTORY!
Now with radar!
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