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Sfstory Log 096

=========================================================================
Date:         Thu, 20 Jan 2000 00:51:31 -0500
From:         "Gary W. Olson" (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #1

     It was a desolate place, and a desolate time.  Fear stalked the land.
A great, hideous, shambling kind of fear.  A fear that trailed
breakfast-bar crumbs in its fearsome wake.  A fear that scratched itself in
fearful places, unaware that the camera was rolling.
     "Cuuuuuurrrrrssseessss," the Swede grumbled, as he peered out the
front window of his humble hovel at the morning sky.  The Author stared for
a few minutes, and when the sky resolutely refused to grow darker so that
he could go back to bed, he turned away and trudged to the refrigerator.
(It was way too early for him to remember that he had powers of edit.  Or
curtains, for that matter.)
     A penguin was resting on the top shelf inside the fridge.  The Swede
squinted at it for several seconds, belched, and reached over it for the
orange juice.
     "Squawk!" said the penguin, who was the Swede's muse, and had been his
muse since Janice Hoffiser left him.  The penguin, which had long ago
become inured to the hideous visage, the cranky personality, and the worst
breath of the morning, sat up and hopped out of the fridge, just before the
Swede shut the door.
     "Says you," the Swede replied, as he opened the carton.  "I just don't
see the point of going out any more.  It's practically dead."
     "Squawk!" the penguin replied.
     The Swede poured some orange juice into his face, while pondering the
ceiling.
     "It's not Evan's fault," he finally replied.  "Just because so many
Authors have decided to emulate his being dead.  But it does mean there's
not much point in going out..."
     "Balls!" the penguin announced.
     "Hey, HAL," said the Swede.  "You there?"
     ((Of course, Dave,)) HAL's voice filled the cluttered room.  ((All
systems are online.))
     "Is the list showing any signs of being less dead?"
     "Squawk!"
     ((No, Dave.))
     "Right.  I'll just be getting back to flossing my toes and studying
the yodeling techniques of U Tant--"
     ((What about Sfstory, Dave?))
     The Swede blinked.  "What about it?"
     ((You declared only last night that you would like to write another
series for it.))
     "Was I high or something?"
     HAL didn't answer, recognizing the rhetorical question for what it was.
     "Squawk!" the penguin interjected.
     "But I said that Renegade Anarchists IV was the last of the series I'd
do," the Swede protested.  "If I go back on that now, people won't be able
to trust me anymore.  They might even claim it's proof that Radian and Zen
Navigator are the same person."
     ((You said it was the last Renegade Anarchists series, Dave.))
     "Um, yeah."  The Swede considered this.  "Yeah..."
     "Squawk!"
     "Yeah!" the Swede exclaimed, jumping up and down with such gusto it
dislodged some stuck pepperonis from his beige bathrobe.  "I'll write the
same crap as before, but I'll just call it something else!  Brilliant!"
     Cheered by his flimsy rationalization, the Swede opened the fridge
again, snagged a bottle of homebrewed stout, and sauntered over to his
Powermac G4.  He opened a window to the Omnivax, sat in his comfy office
chair, and cracked his knuckles.
     "Yes," he said.  "Damn all this trendy deadness!  It's time for
Sfstory to live again!"  He paused, and looked distraught.  "But what will
I call this new series?"
     "Squawk!" said the penguin, who in all actuality had no idea what the
Swede was saying, and in fact only wanted to know if the Swede had any
plans of editing up some lutefisk-flavored 'Wheaties.'
     "Of course!" the Swede exclaimed, as he began to type.  "I'll call it..."

                                     -~-_-

                              UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                             (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                   Episode 1
                                    "Taupe"
                                      by
                                 Gary W. Olson,
                    who apparently has nothing better to do

                                     -~-_-

     The groan of the opening service door filled the dark, ice cold room.
Beams of light stabbed through, playing over the dead instrument panels and
taupe-colored starship furniture.  Nothing stirred.
     "This is the bridge," said one of the grey-spacesuited beam-wielders
to the other.  "There won't be any pudding here."
     "We're dealing with an unknown culture," the other replied.  "We have
no idea where they might keep their pudding, or if they had time to take it
with them when they abandoned ship."
     "*If* they abandoned ship, Gham.  Not all the pods--"
     "I know, Benjen.  Let's just search here and move on."
     "Okay," Benjen replied.  He turned away from Gham and waved his
beamlight.  "Just instrumentation over here.  Tactics... weapons... room
service...."
     "Over here!"
     "What is it?" Benjen asked.
     "A sentence fragment!"
     "No, I mean, what's over there?"
     "A door!"
     Benjen maneuvered with his suit thrusters over to where Gham was
floating.  An impressive-looking, taupe-embossed door was highlighted in
her beam.
     "Jerri," Gham said into her suit transceiver, "do you still have a fix
on the pudding?"
     "Yes, hon," the voice of Jerriphrrt, Benjen's long-time friend and
Gham's husband, crackled over their earphones.  "But the bulkheads are
throwing my scans off.  It could be anywhere from ten meters in front of
you to a hundred yards straight down."
     "Okay," said Gham.  "We're going to try this room.  Stay on visual."
     "Righto."
     "The lock looks difficult," said Benjen.  "Either it's a print of one
of their alien hands they want on that pad there, or a steamrolled almond
cake."  Without waiting for Gham's reply, he opened the access panel below
the pad and set to work.
     The beauty of the salvage business, he had decided almost as soon as
he had gotten into it, was not the adventure, or the ability to set his own
hours, or the fact that people who abandoned ships frequently forgot to
bring along their stockpiles.  Rather, it was the continual demonstrations
that most space technology was easy and fun to disable.  His instructor in
the "Sally Struthers Space Salvage Course" had confided over beer and muta
that the Principle of the Lowest Bidder, one of the few principles that
were truly universal in the field of spaceship construction, virtually
guaranteed this.
     (Benjen had asked her how this related to accidentally setting off
self-destruct sequences, which he'd done rather frequently during his
homework, but that apparently was only covered in the Advanced Class.)
     Due to the fact that disabling the lock would prove no great
challenge, he let his mind drift back, back into the exposition of the
past.  What would Emma and James have thought of the work he was doing now?
Of the fact that he was working a job at all?  When he and they had been
cruising the spacelanes as the Renegade Anarchists, they'd righted wrongs,
fought the good fight, and agitated the masses.  Together, they'd faced
down Machiavelli, Satan T. Lucifer Jones, the Omnidean, and the Shadoes,
among others.  It seemed neverending.
     But end it did, surprisingly soon after their departure in their ship,
the Red Emma, from the space station Freedonia 5, following the defeat of
the Shadoes.  Emma had learned of conditions in the J'lean Imperium, which
was located in a very remote corner of Sfstory, and wanted to immediately
go there in the ship.  But getting there would have taken years, even with
the Red Emma's top-notch engines running at their peak, and he, Gham,
Slithis, Jerriphrrt, and Kalvin Certain were unwilling to make the trip.
     After a long fight, decisions were made.  Emma and James continued on
in the Red Emma, along with Cylla, the ship's AI.  Kalvin snuck off and
boarded a cruise liner heading for Alpha Rio VI.  He, Gham, Slithis and
Jerriphrrt were left on an unfamiliar planet, with only their shares of the
not-exactly-huge communal fund to live on until they decided where to go
from there.
     Fortunately, the planet they'd been left on was Sallyworld.  Six
months later, retrained in the exciting new profession of space salvage and
proud renters of a salvage ship that wasn't *completely* coated with rust
and filled with tiny li'l space critters, they hit the spacelanes again,
this time determined to chase after wrongs to see if there was anything
left they could sell.  A bit of a comedown from the glory days, but it put
food on the table and beer in the belly.
     A series of sparks drew him out of his expositional reverie, and he
looked at the panel he had been fiddling with with his Uni-Tool.  Sure
enough, he'd shut down the power feed to the locking mechanism.
     "Got it," Benjen announced as he turned his head, in time to see that
Gham was no longer standing next to him, and that the door was wide open.
He drifted through the opening and soon found her.
     "There you are," she said.  "I tried the door while you were fiddling
with the panel.  It wasn't locked."
     "Er," said Benjen.  "Oh."
     Further monosyllabic utterances were forestalled by what he saw
floating in front of Gham: six frozen human corpses in maroon-and-gold
suits.  Earthlings, he realized from a cursory examination of their uniform
insignias.  All the corpses had protruding bellies and tongues.  Three had
extended middle fingers on both of their hands, while two more had their
hands raised to their ears and one was giving a backwards "victory" sign.
     Gham had her tricorder out.  Evidently she had just taken a reading
before Benjen drifted in.
     "It's confirmed," she said.  "We've found the pudding."
     Benjen looked from the tricorder to the corpses.  He looked at the
protruding bellies of the corpses, which, given that the rest of their
bodies showed no signs of long-term obesity, could only mean one thing.
     "They *ate* it?"
     "Rather than surrender it, yes," said Gham.  "And I'm guessing they
felt rather defiant afterward.  They all died either in mid-raspberry or
mid-obscene-gesture.  Jerri, you getting this?"
     "Yes, dear," Jerriphrrt replied.  "I'll have Slithis call the
Goornashk authorities.  Looks like we're out on this salvage."
     "Yeah," Gham agreed.  "But why are humans here?  This can't be their
ship."
     "I wonder who attacked them," Benjen mused.  "There haven't been any
pirating reports in this sector.  I mean, I know the price of pudding has
shot up in the past year, but still, you'd expect...."
     "Expect what?" asked Gham.
     Benjen didn't answer, distracted by something he'd seen floating to
his left.  He turned and played his beam across it.
     "Is that..." Gham breathed, as she took in the view of the frost-white
circular object.
     "It is," said Benjen.  "A bagel.  Frozen, I expect."
     "But what does it mean?"
     "It means... they skipped the appetizer and went straight on to dessert."
     "Oooh."

                                     -~-_-

     The uniform itched.  Not in the sense that it made his skin itch.  The
uniform itself itched, and made its itchiness known by zapping him with
little static electricity charges.  One of the disadvantages of biofashion,
Captain Steve Vogel supposed.
     Still, being in uniform, like being in command of a starship, was
something that he had never expected to experience again.  Following the
successful disruption of the Spam Trade through Freedonia 5, he had left
the station in the company of three other beings: Zen Navigator, a tall,
goofy-looking guy who drove a spacegoing VW minibus; Bagelos, a nefarious
but terminally underfunded Space Villain; and Quooth, an eager Wzaxtil on a
vague but deep quest.  He'd had no plans but to accompany Quooth on phis
journeys, mostly because he had nothing better to do.
     But then they'd gone to Sarnip VII, where Steve foolishly attempted to
extract money from an Interstellar Cash Machine, only to discover it was,
in fact, not only a Cash Machine but also a Transmat station.  He
materialized in the lobby of the main MegaBank (a subsidiary of
InterPlanet) branch on Mars.  Quooth, Bagelos and Zen Navigator failed to
follow.  What's worse, his account was overdrawn and he owed several
billion dollars in fees.
     To Steve's surprise, instead of being buried in a debtor's prison, he
was taken to Earth's moon (its replacement moon, actually, being a version
of the old moon steered from another dimension by a Martin Landau
lookalike, which turned out to be handy as the old moon had been destroyed
several years back and all the tidal waves and earthquakes and such were
making the people on Earth rather disgruntled) and was offered a mission.
If he accepted, his debts would be written off, plus he'd get a million
dollars, a new Winnebago, and the complete country hits of Al Gore and
Wynonna Judd on CD.
     If.  Hardly a question, Steve thought.  He would have accepted even
without the CDs.  Ever since he was last aboard the Challenger II, he'd
been drifting without a purpose, without a goal in life, hardly better off
than that time when his brain had been adventuring without his body.  This
was what he was born to do, what he was meant to do: command a ship of the
line, one of the huge battlecruisers that Earth had acquired in trade from
an interstellar empire in return for six gallons of butterscotch pudding
and an autographed eight-by-twelve glossy of Bill Cosby.  Steve wasn't
quite sure he understood that deal, but apparently pudding had become a
valuable substance on interstellar markets in recent times, and who was he
to argue with results?
     He had not been able to return to Earth.  Something so hideous, so
vile, so soul-shudderingly evil had engulfed the Earth that it forced
terrestrial forces in orbit to place the planet under quarantine.  The
clock was ticking, and he had only twenty-four episodes (possibly more if
the author decided to extend the series) in which to find a cure for the
Horror, which would otherwise kill, maim, or at least give an embarrassing
rash to all life on the planet.
     Giving his massive new ship the name _Challenger III_ had been the
easy part.  Coming up with a suitable command staff had been more
difficult.  Most of the personnel available to him were either green
recruits, or wacky, scene-stealing veterans.
     He would have preferred to bring along his old _Challenger II_ crew,
but could find only one of their number.  Not Linda Madisen, whose Deus Ex
Machina powers could have been handy in the dangerous days to come.  Not
Wilhelm Natchwald, whose heroics as Ultranatch were the stuff of legend.
     "Miaou!"
     No, the crewmember he just *had* to be reunited with was Lucky, the
Challenger II's cat.  Jet black fur, jade green eyes, six-feet tall at the
shoulder, the mutated feline had just wandered onto the bridge of the
Challenger III a few days ago (from where was never quite clear, and Lucky,
understandably, did not comment on the matter) and refused to leave.  Its
ability to glare, claw, cough up hairballs, and lick itself in public was
the stuff of particularly repulsive legend.
     Which, on occasion, had its advantages.  Steve considered the look his
first officer's face currently displayed to be one of them.  The officer,
Commander Jean St. Thomas, had made several attempts during the course of
the exposition to approach the command chair and give him a datapad that
undoubtedly had some useful information.  Lucky, however, fixed his glare
on the trouser legs of her maroon-and-gold uniform, a look that seemed to
say he either wanted to claw, chew upon, or mate with the fabric.  Or, most
likely, all three at once.
     "Commander," said Steve, "are we ready to leave orbit?"
     "Yes, sir," St. Thomas replied, glancing rapidly between him and
Lucky.  "And we've received a report from the Goornashk Sector that might
interest you.  Six of the ten on the hunting list have been confirmed as
being there...."
     "Excellent--"
     "...dead."
     "Not excellent.  Who found them?"
     St. Thomas glanced at the readout on the datapad.  "A fly-by-night
salvage company called Universal Solvents.  The ship they were found upon
was nonhuman in design.  It's being towed to the third planet in the
Fringmar system."
     "Can we be there before they arrive?"
     "Yes, sir.  The Solvents' ship is old, and towing will slow it down
further.  Our state-of-the-art spam-powered engines should hold us in good
stead."
     "Good," said Steve.  "I don't want the local authorities to interfere,
either with the ship or the bodies, before we get there.  Set course for
Fringmar III, maximum speed."
     "Yes, sir," said St. Thomas.  As she turned to give the orders to the
crew, Steve heard a low growl coming from the general area where Lucky was
sitting.  Lucky's mouth was closed, and he was still staring at the trouser
legs of Cmdr. St. Thomas, so it took a moment before he realized the exact
place of origin.
     "Uh oh," Steve muttered, realizing that the ship was almost totally
devoid of Tender Vittles.
     The ship lurched into motion, and Steve watched the shifting of the
stars on the main viewscreen.  He continued watching until his first
officer interrupted again.
     "Sir, I've just received a report from the ship's main hold," she
said.  "The guards report hearing several voices within the hold singing
'Sweet Adeline.'"
     Steve raised an eyebrow.
     "The entire crew's been accounted for by the central computer," said
St. Thomas.  "None of them are in or near the hold, save for the two guards
at the entrance.  We appear to have stowaways."
     "I see," said Steve.  Lucky's stomach growled again, attracting
nervous looks from St. Thomas and a good portion of the rest of the bridge
staff.  "Right, I'd better go take a look at it."
     "Sir--" St. Thomas started to protest.
     "No, I insist," said Steve, as he eased his way past Lucky and toward
the turbolift doors.  "You have the bridge while I'm gone."
     "But--"
     "Don't argue, Commander," Steve warned.  He looked at Lucky, who was
looking from crewmember to crewmember as if trying to determine which was
the juiciest.  "And feed the cat before I get back."
     The lift doors shut, and Steve breathed a sigh of relief.  He punched
the button marked 'Cargo Hold' and contemplated the inside of his eyelids
during the descent.

                                     -~-_-

     Another minute, Kissy Hitowers decided, and commission or no, she was
just going to walk out the conference room, out of the study hall, take the
shuttle to the Interstellar University spaceport, and catch a ride back to
Eroticon III.  It wasn't like she needed the money, given the family
fortune and the return of her father.  It was resume experience she needed,
and even if she passed this job up, surely another would come along in a
few more months.
     Kissy knew she had it better than most Space Ingenues, in that she had
a family fortune to fall back on when work was scarce.  Work was indeed
scarce at that time, not because of a dearth of Space Villains or a dearth
of Space Heroes to oppose them, but because of a glut of Space Ingenues.
Space Villains, no matter how space villainous, would only kidnap one
Ingenue at a time, leaving others to scream in vain.  Too often, she would
stop at a fast food joint in a Mall Asteroid only to hear the entire
kitchen staff screaming orders ingenuishly at one another, hoping that one
day a Space Hero would stop in and discover them.
     They were fools.  The Hero-to-Ingenue ratio was even worse than the
Villain-to-Ingenue ratio.  Kitty had graduated from Interstellar University
at the top of her Ingenue class, a rating that could have guaranteed her
work with the top Space Heroes in her father's day.  But she only received
the occasional commission, and they were barely worth the cost of a new
skin-tight jumpsuit.
     This commission was different.  Not only did they agree to her first
offer, they agreed to all the full service perks (valet service, private
room on the ship, private comm channel).  The "they" part was also
different, but not unheard of, and it would give her a chance to use what
she learned in Romantic Triangles 404.  Just so long as they remembered the
contract only guaranteed them verbal abuse and interference with their
mission in the Space Operatic Tradition, and that anything nicer, nevermind
romantic, was solely at her discretion.
     Kissy blinked, and realized she had just exposited herself several
minutes past the one minute she had promised to wait.  But as soon as she
took her first step toward the door, it slid open.
     "Um, hi," said a skinny man with barely-kempt short brown hair, a
distinctly oily complexion and a gold velour shirt.  "Are you Kissy
Hitowers?"
     Next to him was a less-skinny man with barely-kempt black hair, a dry
and flaky complexion, and a blue velour shirt.  This man smiled broadly,
and Kissy considered smiling back, until she realized he wasn't looking at
her face.
     The realization that she knew these two dawned.  She looked down at
her datapad and scanned the names.  The one in the gold shirt was Ronald
Hastings, which meant the one in the blue shirt had to be Norman Sassafras.
She'd last seen them in the fracas on Freedonia 5.  The shirts were
unmistakable.
     "Yeah," said Kissy.  "That's me.  Um... aren't you still undergraduates?"
     "We are," Ronald replied.  "All we've got left to do is our Senior
Project, which is a search-and-find mission.  After that, we'll be real
Space Heroes, just like Captain Kirk!"
     Kissy would have asked who Kirk was, but stopped when the two
undergrads struck heroic poses.  As they did, she could not help but be
reminded of Mark Hyperthrust, in that they managed to echo his
ridiculousness without benefit of his muscle mass.
     She smiled and took a step back.  "I thought it was tradition to pair
Space Heroics majors with Space Ingenuics majors in these projects."
     "It is," Norman replied.  "Strange thing is, every Ingenue we asked
was either already paired up or planning to defer the project to the next
semester."
     "But me and Norman made a lot of money on the pudding futures market
this past semester," said Ronald, "so we could afford your commission.  So,
are we go or what?"
     Kissy considered.  As commissions went, it had become about as
alluring as a goat in lingerie, which still put it several dozen steps
ahead of the experience of working with Mark Hyperthrust.  Working up some
real feeling to put behind her verbal abuse probably wouldn't be a problem.
And search-and-find's were generally the easiest of commissions, with
dozens of ways for an alert ingenue to gum up the works.
     "Okay, you yak-kissing buffoons, I'm in."
     Ronald and Norman's faces, after a moment of hurt confusion, lit up
with the realization that they had just received their first professional
insult.
     "Just great, Norman," said Ronald, with what Kissy's ears registered
as just the right amount of Heroic Sarcasm.  "Tell me why we have to bring
along this dame again?"
     "It's in the course requirements--" Norman started.  Ronald elbowed
him hard.  "Er, I mean, it's the... um... information she has about the
missing subject, which she won't reveal unless we take her along."
     Both glared at her.  She glared back.  This continued for a minute,
until she realized something.
     "Who's missing?" she asked.
     "Who's missing, she says," Ronald replied with a sneer.  "As if she
doesn't know!"
     "I don't, beanhead!" Kissy snarled.  "You didn't send a background
module."
     "Um... oh," said Ronald.  "Norman, I thought you arranged for the Time
Police courier to have been here and gone already."
     "I did!" Norman protested.  "Maybe he got lost--"
     "You'd have to be really stupid to get lost in this building," Ronald
interrupted.
     "That's not what you said an hour ago, when we couldn't find our way
out of hydropon-- oof!"
     Kissy sighed as she watched the fight develop, particularly when she
observed that they were as incompetent at hand-to-hand combat as they were
competent at making sarcastic, heroic repartee.  She was about to break it
up when three knocks on metal thundered through the room.
     All three looked at the door.
     "That may be the courier now," Ronald theorized.
     Just then, the door exploded inward, barely missing them as it soared
past to strike the opposite wall and completely destroy the coffee machine.
As the smoke cleared, Kissy had a dread feeling she knew just who the Time
Police courier had to be.  Seconds later, she received a dread
confirmation, in the form of an extremely heavily-armed, extremely
lightly-brained brute in a Time Police uniform, a brute who stomped through
the now-doorless doorway.
     "Kill!" Zark Flyby bellowed.  "Kiiiiiiilllllll!"
     "Guys, about my commission..." said Kissy.
     "Yeah?"
     "It just doubled."

WILL RONALD AND NORMAN PAY TWICE AS MUCH TO BE MOCKED BY KISSY HITOWERS?
WILL KISSY AVOID DEATH LONG ENOUGH TO LEARN WHO THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO FIND?
WHY ARE THE TIME POLICE SENDING A CASE TO BE SOLVED AS A SENIOR PROJECT?
WHO ARE THE STOWAWAYS ON BOARD THE _CHALLENGER III_?
WILL LUCKY BE FED?
DOES LUCKY LIKE PUDDING?
IS THE FROZEN BAGEL SIGNIFICANT?
IS IT EDIBLE?
DOES IT CONTAIN PUDDING?
CAN IT SING 'SWEET ADELINE'?
WHAT IS THE HORROR THAT HAS ENGULFED EARTH?
WHAT BIZARRE IMPULSE HAS CAUSED THE AUTHOR TO START ANOTHER SFSTORY SERIES?

Sfstory.  Back despite popular demand.
=========================================================================
Date:         Fri, 11 Feb 2000 00:59:40 -0500
From:         "Gary W. Olson" (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #2

                              UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                             (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                   Episode 2
                                   "Indigo"
                                      by
                                 Gary W. Olson

                                     -~-_-

     There were times, Sajon knew, when adventure grabbed one by whatever
parts one least liked having grabbed and hauled one into the gaping,
bleeding, cavity-ridden, plaque-infested maw of danger.  And in such times,
the only thing to do was to, as his former captain had put it, "go for the
gusto."
     Sajon also knew that whatever the gusto was, he didn't want it.  Very
likely, it had germs.  He, instead, preferred to go for a cup of coffee in
the Stellarbucks shop that was his soon-to-be-former place of employ.
Coffee was good.  Work was good.  Living was good.
     "Be ready!" exclaimed the small man with the white lab coat and the
astonishingly clear complexion.  "The Italian government is about to
collapse!"
     Since they and their modified warpshuttle were nowhere near any
governmental building, and in fact could not even see out the windows due
to the massive amounts of spaghetti that were hiding the ship from casual
view, Sajon was not sure how the man knew this.  But then, he wasn't sure
about much anymore.
     "Dr. Von Spleen--"
     "Hsst!" said Dr. Bing Von Spleen, the Earth's foremost spamologist
(but only because he killed the other threemost).  "Be ready!  That means
button your lip, kid!"
     Sajon had not been born on Earth, but rather on Alpha Rio VI, a.k.a.
the Planet of Casinos.  The circumstances, which involved a malfunctioning
slot machine, a miswired sperm bank computer, and a giant female space
orangutan, had never been adequately explained to him, and Professor
Parsasentence, who'd adopted him in his (Sajon's) teens, hadn't seemed
curious.  Instead, the Professor insisted on talking about *his* home
planet, Earth, and what it was like there.
     To Sajon, it seemed awful.  Bits of New England and the Dakotas seemed
to blow up at random times.  Alaska had fallen into the sea.  Paris had
gotten toasted in a space battle that had also seen the obliteration of the
planet's original moon.  The west coast of the North American continent had
up and plopped into the sea one day.  A cheese orb had floated down and
eaten Wisconsin.  But Parsasentence couldn't contain his excitement when
Pope Joe Don I, Captain of the Vatican II, the ship upon which he and Sajon
served, announced that they would be returning to Earth and ending their
long, random voyages.
     There had been some drama upon their return.  In the belief that Joe
Don I was dead, a new Pope had been selected.  Joe Don I confronted this
Pope and declared him to be an Antipope, one who claimed to be the Pope in
defiance of Church law.  A physical struggle ensued, at which time both
discovered that immense energies shot out of their bodies whenever they
touched.  Various church officials separated them, which Parsasentence
later claimed saved all Europe, as an uncontrolled Pope/Antipope reaction
could have blown the continent to smithereens.
     Aside from that, Sajon had kept his life on an even keel, all the
while hoping that the Vatican II would set forth again.  But the crew had
already dispersed -- Cardinals Van Cleef and Hagen to Mexico City, Blob to
Atlantic City, Lenin to Disneyland, Von Spleen to Bogota -- leaving Sajon
in Rome.  And although Parsasentence and TH1K1 stayed in the city as well,
they were too busy trying to find some scientific means to thwart the
Horror That Had Engulfed Earth.
     The Horror.  It had rekindled Sajon's desire to return to space to
such an extent that he was willing to risk anything, even the company of
Dr. Von Spleen, to escape.  Sajon knew that if he closed his eyes for too
long, images of the Horror's victims would float up at him--
     --children, hundreds of children, raving like addled maniacs, swarming
the streets--
     --otherwise sane adults turning into blithering idiots, spending their
life's savings, driven by the illusion of easy wealth--
     --humanity hypnotized by the bright, cruel images of odd creatures
yelling incomprehensible things and bouncing about at one another
pointlessly--
     --and worst of all... the commercials.

          Scene -- a bright, cheery meadow where cartoon kids with
     freakishly huge eyes and bizarre hair cavorted with odd, chubby
     fuzzy animals that looked to be made entirely of spam.
          BOBBY: Wheee!
          PIGGY CHEW: I choose you, Bobby!
          SUZIE: Wheee!
          MUMU: Piggy Chew!
          And so on and so on, until a large, frowning, lizardlike
     being showed up and started toasting major parts of the
     landscape.  Terror ensued... until...
          BOBBY: Aieee!  Save me, Piggy Chew!
          PIGGY CHEW: Eat me, pink boy.  I'm outta here.
          BOBBY: What a great idea!
          The boy took a large bite out of the yellow fuzzy animal,
     stepping aside while its yellow slimy internal organs started
     falling out.
          PIGGY CHEW: Gah!  That's not what I meant!
          SUZIE: I chew you, Mumu!
          MUMU: Aieee!
          The children set upon the fuzzy animals and, one
     feeding frenzy later, ate them all.  Most subsequently
     discovered that eating yellow meat, even yellow cartoon animal
     meat, did bad things to their innards.  But a few found that
     they gained the abilities of flight, of making their hair turn
     blond and stand straight up, and of engaging the lizardlike
     villain in ferocious contests of staring and sarcasm.  At the
     end of the commercial, the following words appeared:

                              SPAMMYMON Z
                     Coming to a theater near you!
                            Consume, dammit!

     It was easy to see why Earth had been so quickly quarantined, and why
so many people were desperate to leave before their minds, too, were
annihilated.  The cartoons, sponsored by Earth's notorious Spam Marketing
Board, could neither be stopped nor slowed.  All that Earth could do was
buy a whopping large battleship from one of the more disreputable
interstellar powers, hire a competent but reasonably inexpensive loser to
captain it, and send it on its way into the cosmos to find a cure.
     Today was the day that that ship, the Challenger III, left.  The day
that Sajon and Dr. Von Spleen had been waiting for, for reasons only they
knew.  (Well, reasons Von Spleen knew.  Sajon was still trying to work out
why they were hiding in a pile of spaghetti.)
     During the exposition, Von Spleen had stripped off his boots, his
socks, his lab coat, his shirt, his pants, and his lampshade, all the while
singing about some form of anti-baldness product to the tune of an Eric
Clapton song.  The weird doctor, now wearing only a bowler hat and a smile,
sat at the warpship's controls, watching the screens with maniacal
intensity.
     "Is it time yet?" Sajon asked.
     "Don't apply, on yer thigh, 'less yer hiiiiigh... Rogai-- er, what?"
     "Time to leave yet?"
     Von Spleen twisted his head around to look directly at Sajon, and
Sajon wished he hadn't.  There was something dangerous in Von Spleen's eyes
these days.  Something dangerously putrid and pink.  The Spamologist's
demeanor, too, had changed -- where before he had come across as a
semi-harmless self-involved stoner, he now seemed hyper and twitchy.  His
eyes randomly flicked around their sockets.  His tongue darted out of his
mouth like a lizard's.
     "It is always time to leave, my young apprentice," Von Spleen replied.
"But it is not yet time to depart.  Soooon.  Yes.  Soooooooooooon.  I--
gah!"
     A high-pitched series of squeals, like a voice run backwards very fast
through a tape recorder, startled Sajon.  He looked up in time to see a
small, bozy robot, about the size of one of his not-very-impressive fists,
float overhead.
     Von Spleen jumped up from his chair and cowered behind the nearby
stack of boxes marked 'spam supply' and 'pudding supply.'  The robot
emitted more high-pitched squeals.
     "TH1K1!" Sajon exclaimed.  "You got my message!"
     "You sent for that... that monster?" Von Spleen asked.  "How could
you?  You know it wants to destroy us all!"
     TH1K1 gleaped plaintively.
     "He does not!" Sajon protested.  "TH1K1's saved my life dozens of
times.  He's the true-bluest, loyalest, bestest little robot there is!"
     The robot emitted a low squeal.
     "There!" Von Spleen exclaimed.  "He just said 'At last!  Once we take
off, I'll be able to push Sajon out the airlock and watch him pop like a
balloon in the absolute vacuum of space!'"
     Sajon rolled his eyes.  "You are so high, doctor..."
     "Don't take my word for it!" Von Spleen insisted.  "Ask the yellow
furry creature sitting next to you!"
     "Doctor, I'm not going to help you if you continue to malign TH1K1's
good name," Sajon warned.  "And you said you need my help."
     TH1K1 gleaped.  Sajon beamed at the little robot.
     Von Spleen, never taking his eyes off the robot, crept back to his
chair.  "Okay," he said, "he can come with us, but keep him away from me,
you hear?  He plans to kill us all!"
     "Sure, doc," said Sajon.
     Perhaps it was gusto the Doctor had, Sajon thought.  He only hoped it
would soon run its course.
     TH1K1 burbled.  Von Spleen scowled at the tiny robot again, then
frowned and looked down at the screens.
     "Needlewarp!" he cursed.  "It's happening!  The Challenger III's
spam-powered engines are in critical buildup!  It's about to enter
overly-hyped space!"
     Sajon was impressed with how much information Von Spleen had been able
to glean from the screens, especially since they were all displaying a
multi-colored test pattern, as they had since Sajon had switched them on
that morning.  He pulled the seat belt over his waist and buckled it
securely, then plucked TH1K1 out of the air.
     "We have to be careful, TH1K1," he said, a bit condescendingly.  "The
new ABPSARI Dr. Von Spleen constructed hasn't yet been tested."
     TH1K1 made a high-pitched googling sound.
     "You'll not feed that lad's or any other lad's legs to ravenous
badgers, scoundrel!" Von Spleen roared, at what Sajon was not sure.  "But
never mind that now!  Let's boogie!"
     With that, he pressed a button marked 'Boogie.'  The warpship shot out
of the massive spaghetti heap and into the air over Rome, shooting (as it
appeared in the front window) directly for the moon.

                                     -~-_-

     When Zark Flyby enters a room, the number of possible responses are,
not surprisingly, limited.  Fight, flight, get stomped upon, that's pretty
much it.  Conversation generally doesn't catch Zark's attention, any more
than a semi-truck might notice a hamster.  Attempted mating is probably
right out.
     Knowing this, Ronald Hastings wasted no time in opting for flight,
despite the fact that the limited space in the Interstellar University
conference room meant that he had not much to fly to.  He dove under the
main table, landing upon and knocking over Norman Sassafras (fellow I.U.
senior, major Star Trek fan and best friend) and Kissy Hitowers
(Professional Space Ingenue, hired by Ronald and Norman in the previous
episode to accompany them on a heroic search-and-find mission that would
also serve as their senior project).
     Norman seemed to be saying something, but he couldn't hear over the
volume of Kissy's ear-rattling scream.  Even the sound of laser blasts,
grenade launchings, and general mayhem couldn't compete.  Ronald hoped she
would stop before his eardrums melted.
     A bright light flashed, distinguishable from all the explosions only
because it went through the table and through their bodies without causing
any damage.  When it faded, Kissy was still screaming, though the carnage
had stopped.
     Urged on by Norman's hand gestures (which, in the esoteric Vulcan Sign
Language, spelled out a message: "Logically, you should get off me before I
give you the Vulcan Wedgie"), Ronald rolled onto the floor and out from
under the table.  The smoke had mostly cleared by then, and he was able to
see around the rubble of the conference center.
     No Zark.  Ronald frowned.
     Then he saw the folder, which rested on the surprisingly undamaged table.
     Kissy had stopped screaming by then, and she and Norman scrambled out
from under the table.  Both seemed surprised not to find Zark standing
about, and were probably saying words to that effect.  Ronald couldn't hear
them over the ringing in his ears.
     After a few minutes, that faded, and Ronald could share with them the
contents of the folder.
     "It's our assignment," he said.  "A missing persons case.  A Space
Heroine, no less."
     "Toni Williams," Norman read, though he seemed much more interested in
the accompanying holo-picture, which showed a young and perky-looking woman
with long crimson hair, dark bronze skin, and a smile that was just a touch
away from being a smirk.  "Graduated a few years ago, opted to emulate her
adopted father, Space Commander Buzz Williams, in joining the Time Police.
Disappeared last year while on assignment."
     "She looks familiar," said Ronald.
     "She should," Kissy noted.  "That costume she's wearing is styled
almost exactly like Williams's.  Except the Commander, with his fondness
for the old Space Hero styles, probably objected that she should wear a
skirt with that, instead of pants."
     Ronald considered Toni's uniform, which consisted of an electric blue
jumpsuit with shiny gold buttons and epaulets, with stripes running down
both legs (one per leg).  He considered the leather belt, leather holster,
and decidedly non-leathery Personal Nuker (the only modern touch that
Ronald could detect).  He considered the gold, half-length cape that
appeared to be fluttering in a breeze.  He considered how well she filled
out said uniform, even though, as a Space Heroine's outfit, it was not
quite as formfitting as Kissy's Space Ingenue jumpsuit.  He considered her
almost-smirk again.
     "I remember her now," he said.
     "Huh?" asked Norman.  "Since when do you know a girl?"
     "It was a while ago."
     "Can't have been," said Kissy.  "Says here she was cruising around
with Commander Williams and his crew for a good while, as much as she could
when she wasn't acing her studies at I.U.  Before that she was a succubus,
though she left Satan T. Lucifer Jones's service without consuming a single
soul, thanks to the timely intervention of a couple Paladins--"
     "I knew her before then," said Ronald.
     "Huh?" asked Norman, knowing sooner or later Ronald would have to answer.
     "Second grade."
     Norman raised a quizzical eyebrow.  Kissy seemed puzzled.
     "The field trip to the dairy farm."
     Norman blinked, and looked at the picture again.
     "Ooooh yeeeaaaaah," he slowly said.
     "What?" Kissy asked.  "Tell me!"
     "It's private," said Ronald.
     "First crush?"
     "Yea-- hey!"
     "Thought so."
     Ronald didn't need to see his face to know it was flushing a crimson
as deep as that of Toni's holographic hair.  He moved aside the holo and
read the dossier.
     "A search was undertaken, led by Commander Williams, but no trace of
Lt. Williams was found.  She was listed as missing one year ago."
     "What mission was she on?" Norman asked.
     Ronald looked through the file, but found nothing with that information.
     "If Zark was here, maybe he could tell us," said Kissy.  "He's the new
Commandant of Time Police Academy, right?"
     "Is he?" Ronald asked.  "Why would he bring the file himself?"
     "His secretary probably tricked him into doing it, just to get him to
leave for a few days," Norman surmised.  "He's not all that bright, you
know.  Unlike us."
     Ronald noticed how professionally Kissy roll her eyes.  "Maybe," he
said, "we should be concerned that something abducted Zark, and could
possibly abduct us at any moment."
     "How do you know he didn't just wander off?" asked Kissy.
     Ronald looked around, then spied something white and rectangular on
the ground.  He picked up the paper square and read the printed message:
     "Coupon, good for One (1) Time Police Commandant Zark Flyby.
Redeemable only at Dirk's Space Swap-O-Rama and Grill, located in the
Mercantile System, Sector Gamma-2-9-Bono.  Void in Utah."
     "Hmph," sniffed Norman.  "Amateurs."
     "Huh?" asked Kissy.
     Norman pointed at the message.  "Dot matrix," he said in his most
snobbish voice.
     "Wait," said Ronald.  He flipped through the dossier on Toni Williams
again.  "It doesn't say what her secret mission was, but it does say that
when she left Time Central, she was heading for this 'Dirk's' place."
     "A clue!" Norman exclaimed.
     "A clue!" Ronald cheered.
     "Gesundheit," Kissy said, flatly.

                                     -~-_-

     "We'll be entering orbit around Fringmar III in about two days, four
hours, eighteen minutes," said Slithis.  "The weather directly below us
will be cloudy and cold, with a wind chill--"
     "We're not going to be landing," Benjen interrupted.  "The nice voice
on the radio said all we had to do was fill out some paperwork, record a
deposition, and promise not to leave the universe in the next couple weeks.
And would you stop checking the time every six minutes?"
     "It's the only way to find out if six minutes have passed," Slithis
answered.  He flipped a pen up in the air, and watched as it struck the
ceiling and floated away at an odd angle.  "Needlewarp, I miss the Red
Emma.  I miss artificial gravity.  I miss having engines that moved faster
than the cholesterol in my arteries."
     Benjen shrugged and continued toying with the frozen bagel he'd
brought over from the dead starship that their ship, the W.S. Universal
Solvent, was towing.  Slithis watched his longtime friend mark time, noted
the grey strands that were now a part of his once solidly brown hair, and
was glad that he (Slithis), as a Reptiloid, didn't have hair to fret over.
     "You ever miss home?" Benjen asked.
     "What, you mean, 000SUPERGUY?" said Slithis, indicating the altiverse
in which he, Benjen, and Jerriphrrt had originated prior to crossing over
via the Sage's space station to 001SFSTORY (the prime Sfstory universe,
which they currently inhabited).
     "Yeah."
     "Sometimes," Slithis said.  "Sometimes a lot."
     "What do you miss the most?"
     Slithis rubbed his leathery green chin with a leathery green hand as
he thought.  "Not work, definitely.  Not home, either -- my mother was
always saying I was the only one of our species to think swamps were kind
of icky.  Not you or Jerri, because you guys came over with me."
     "What about your wife?"
     "My ex-wife," Slithis corrected, with more ice in his words than he'd
intended.  "It was a mistake from the start.  Me a lowly videotech wiz, she
a very important dragon scratcher.  I'm just glad we didn't have kids."
     "She would have fed 'em to the dragons, right?"
     "Yeah, but that's not the bad part."
     "What's the bad part?"
     "Dragons chew with their mouths open," Slithis noted.  "Simply can't
abide that."
     Benjen made a face and returned to playing with his frozen bagel.
This concerned Slithis, as he could usually succeed in getting a rise out
of his friend, or at least a fair-sized technicolor yawn, whenever he
described common life on his home planet.  Benjen seemed down, and Slithis
felt perking him up in this matter was the thing a friend should do.
     He supposed he couldn't fault the Ottsamaddawiduan, since the
spaceship, which was of unknown, though apparently humanoid, origin,
contained several pudding-fattened humans who had, it seemed, all died in
mid-rude gesture at someone -- or something -- that had apparently merited
such defiantly uncivil behavior.  What's more, the pudding that was now
rotting in the humans' stomachs was worth several very large fortunes on
the interstellar markets at the moment, and the sector authorities had
forbade them to touch it on pain of some rather excruciatingly disgusting
things.  Things even more disgusting than spam sandwiches strapped to the
armpits.
     Muffled thumps were emitted by the far wall of the ship's
not-very-spacious bridge, followed by muted giggles and more thumps.  Their
source, as to be expected, was the Universal Solvent's only sleeping cabin,
in which Jerriphrrt and Gham were allegedly sleeping.  They served to
remind Slithis that there was nothing quite so disgusting as true love,
particularly to those not in it.
     "Ever think about going back?" asked Benjen.
     "To where we found the ship?"
     "No.  Back to 000SUPERGUY.  Back home."
     Slithis shrugged.  "I've been here so long I hardly remember the old
place.  Truth is, home to me's always been wherever my butt's been parked
most recent-like."  He squinted at Benjen.  "You?"
     "Nah," said Benjen.  "But I wouldn't mind settling down someday.
Wouldn't have to be much.  Nice bit of land, sturdy house, bit of a garden,
a soul mate, maybe a lawn tractor--"
     "And here you go again."
     "Go where?"
     "You say I'm bad about the time," Slithis said.  "But nearly every
other day you're on about your missed opportunities.  Katayin, this time?
She went off with Benchen, the version of you that was born in this
universe.  Or maybe--"
     "Not Kissy Hitowers," Benjen interrupted.  He was tapping the bagel
against the metal edge of the console before him, adding a discordant
rhythm to his words.  "That was just something that happened.  A one-timer."
     "Mmmm hmmm."
     "Well, what about you?  You get anywhere with Shadebeam after that one
fling of yours?"
     "No," Slithis answered.  Benjen *always* had to bring that up, when he
knew that Slithis could barely even remember that something *had* happened,
given how stoned off his leathery green ass he had been at the time--
     His eyes focused on the bagel.  For some reason, he was sure he had
seen it before.  Not just any bagel, but that very one.  And he hadn't
remembered until he'd been reminded of a set of circumstances which had
taken him years to bury way back in his head.
     "Could I see that?" he asked, pointing to the bagel.
     "Why?" Benjen asked.  He clutched the frozen breakfast food, as though
it were a precious gem or a roll of Charmin bath tissue.
     "It reminded me of something," said Slithis.
     "Reminds you of your stomach, you mean," Benjen answered.
     "I don't want to eat it," said Slithis.  "It's not like we don't have
food left in the hold...."  He let the words trail away as he gazed at
Benjen's suddenly frightened face.  Benjen's knuckles were white, so tight
was his grip on the bread product.
     Slithis didn't know what to say.  On the one hand, he was glad he'd
finally managed to lift his friend out of the lethargic pit.  On the other,
he wasn't entirely happy with the new frame of mind to where Benjen had
been elevated.
     It also occurred to him that he hadn't checked the time in nearly six
minutes.  He looked down at the screen to get the updated time--
     --and looked up to see the bagel, firmly gripped by Benjen's hand,
arcing towards his skull.
     "Thunk!" said his skull when it hit the bagel.
     "Ow!" said Slithis as he topped backwards over his chair.
     "Thump!" said the wall as Slithis floated into it.
     "Oog," said Slithis as darkness closed in.
     Benjen, meanwhile, said nothing at all.  Just before he slipped into
unconsciousness, Slithis thought he saw Benjen floating out of the room,
heading towards the bay where the tractor beam was generated.

WHAT IS BENJEN PLANNING TO DO?
IS THE BAGEL CONTROLLING BENJEN, OR IS SOME MORE SINISTER BREAKFAST FOOD
ITEM BEHIND ITS REIGN OF TERROR?
WHAT WILL RONALD AND NORMAN FIND AT DIRK'S SPACE SWAP-O-RAMA AND GRILLE?
WILL THEY FIND MORE CLUES?
WILL THEY KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THEM?
WILL SAJON EVER REALIZE THAT VON SPLEEN IS TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT
TH1K1 WAS ACTUALLY SAYING?
WILL SAJON GO FOR THE GUSTO?
WILL THE GUSTO HAVE TO BE PUT ON BACKORDER?
WHAT'S WITH ALL THE FOOD ITEMS IN THE STORY?
WHAT KIND OF CULINARY DISASTER WILL STEVE VOGEL FACE IN THE NEXT EPISODE?

SFSTORY.  A smile, two bangs, and a luncheon menu.
=========================================================================
Date:         Tue, 14 Mar 2000 21:58:28 -0500
From:         "Gary W. Olson" (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #3

                              UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                             (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                   Episode 3
                                   "Cerise"
                                      by
                                 Gary W. Olson

                                     -~-_-

     When the smoke cleared, Zark Flyby, former Time Police Lieutenant and
Morale Officer and current Commandant of Time Police Academy, was not
surprised to see that his surroundings had been completely rearranged by
his latest ultraviolent outburst.  His way of reacting to virtually any
given situation often had that effect.
     What was unusual was that, instead of the usual large pile of rubble
that would ordinarily greet him when the smoke cleared, he was faced with a
brightly lit gold-bricked wall.  Zark pondered the wall for a while,
before, acting on pure instinct, he looked to his left.  There was another
wall, this one more of a sandstone hue, standing perpendicular to the gold
wall.
     In a mere three hours, Zark had managed to deduce that there were
walls on his right side and behind him as well.  Then he turned around and
got completely disoriented, and it was another three hours until he figured
out he was in a room with no doors.
     On a hunch, such as wily Time Police vets sometimes gets, Zark looked
up and saw a ceiling.  It wasn't as close as the walls, and was nowhere
near as close as the floor.  There was also a railing around the edge where
the walls came close to said ceiling.
     Zark frowned.  Had he remembered to check for a floor?
     Before he could act on this second hunch, a thick, overamplified voice
boomed down from above.
     "Zark," it said.
     The Commandant's eyes narrowed.
     "Zark," the voice repeated.
     "What?" Zark asked.
     "I'm not going to ask if you know where you are, because even if you
had enough functioning neurons to formulate an answer, you'd still be
wrong."
     It bears mentioning at this point that, although creatures as far down
the evolutionary chain as slugs, schnauzers, and lawn chairs had more
functioning brain cells than he, Zark compensated in other ways.  His
extensive understanding of the tools and techniques of mass destruction,
and how to apply them in diverse situations such as alien invasions and
cocktail parties, occupied the greater part of the dysfunctional majority
of his cranial cells.  His ability to pilot a spaceship without significant
injury to himself (albeit with significant injury to others) was something
no neurologist had ever tried coming close enough to investigate.  His
occasional ability to hold a semi-comprehensible conversation -- so long as
the subject was violence, weaponry, the law, his job, big explosions, or
combinations thereof -- was quite thoroughly inexplicable.
     Since what the voice was talking about had nothing to do with that,
Zark decided to apply some heavy firepower in the direction of the voice.
Zark reached for his DIESCUM blasters, whipped them out and squeezed the
triggers--
     "Squeak!"
     Zark blinked.  He dimly discerned that he was holding some things that
were not blasters.  One seemed to be a large rubber mouse, while the other
was a bright orange ball.  He squeezed them again.  They squeaked again.
     "Ha ha," said the voice.
     Zark reached for his backup nukers, only to whip out two rubber
chickens.  Over the next twenty minutes, a pile of rubber toys, plush
animals, and novelty glasses piled up around the no-longer-heavily-armed,
still-lightly-brained Commandant.  Finally, after pulling out his
laser-edged stilettos, only to discover they'd been turned into licorice
whips, and black licorice whips at that, he looked up at the source of the
voice.
     "The hell?" he asked.
     "You're no longer at Interstellar University," said the voice.  "Not
even in the same star system.  So don't count on those students and that
Ingenue you were meeting with to rescue you."
     Zark frowned.  He dimly remembered a meeting with two of the students,
Ronald and Norman.  They'd requested an assignment for some reason or
other, and before he knew it, his support staff had given him said folder,
put him in his ship and set him out to the University.  They'd been doing
that a lot lately, he realized.  As though they weren't entirely
comfortable having him around as their boss, even with all the time off
they got and their free limb-reattachment benefits.
     "As for why I've kidnapped you," the voice continued, "that will
become apparent soon.  For now, just relax."
     Zark picked up one of the rubber chickens by the head and swung it in
lazy circles.
     "You have been rendered helpless by the hyperadvanced teletransport
system that brought you here and transmuted the many dangerous items on
your person."  The voice paused, then chuckled.  "Not all that much without
your guns, are you?"
     Zark swung the chicken in circles using his whole arm now.
     "Er, are you paying any attent--"
     He let go of the rubber chicken.
     It shot upward, spinning like a propeller.
     "OW!" the voice bellowed.
     The chicken fell back.  It landed on the floor to Zark's right.  A
bright red spatter discolored its rubber beak.
     "Owowowowow," the voice moaned.  "Right, that's it.  No pudding for you!"
     The sound of stomping boots drifted from above, followed up by the
slamming of a heavy door.
     Zark stared up at the ceiling some more.  Eventually he got dizzy and
fell backwards.  Then, drawing on his years of experience and his
policeman's instincts, he took a nap.

                                     -~-_-

     The stowaways in the main hold of the _Challenger III_ were not making
any great effort to avoid detection, Captain Steve Vogel thought.  Either
they were outrageously overconfident, in which case they were in for a rude
surprise, or they were reasonably confident, in which case he would be on
the business end of the rudeness.  For that matter, they might be wildly
underconfident, in which case the universe might be doomed.
     The sounds of 'Sweet Adeline' drifted up the metallic staircase to
where Steve stood, flanked at the open cargo hold entrance by two
well-armed guards.  They continued to flank him as he descended to the
hold's floor.  The song was winding down, but it had become irrelevant.  He
had already discerned their hiding place: a cluster of four barrels, each
of which bore the label: "Kippered Spam."
     Steve lifted the remote control and pressed a red button.  Instantly,
a tractor beam locked onto the barrels, lifting them up to reveal four
cassette players, each one cranking away at a prerecorded cassette.
     "Er," he said.
     "Well, whadaya know," a voice to his left said.  "They *did* turn out
to be Memorex."
     "I didn't ask for your opinion, trooper," Steve reprimanded.
     "You also didn't ask for my hand in marriage," the voice noted, "which
is just as well, because I'd only give you the finger."
     Steve turned to reprimand the trooper, and perhaps even give him a
stern talking-to, but the words died on his lips when he saw that the
source of the voice was no trooper at all.  Rather, the source was a short
man in a blue uniform that seemed vaguely naval in style.  The thick-rimmed
glasses, the prominent nose, the bushy mustache, and the cigar the man
possessed were the only clues Steve required for recognition.
     "Captain Spaulding!" he exclaimed.
     "The same!" Captain J. Michael Spaulding replied.  "New and improved!
Old-fashioned!  Ready to wear, and let me tell you, just looking at you is
wearing."  Spaulding stopped and squinted.  "Hey, I've seen you before."
     "On Freedonia 5," said Captain Vogel.  "At the time, I was part of a
Brotherhood, trying to disrupt Satan T. Lucifer Jones's spam trafficking
through your station."
     "No, that's not it," Spaulding replied.  "I've got it -- you were
'monkey boy' on the Danny Thomas show."
     "What?" Steve asked.  "That was Sid Melton."
     "Aha!" Spaulding exclaimed.  "Now that I know your real name, you'll
have to keep our presence on this ship a secret."
     "I'm not Sid Melton," said Steve, trying *very* hard to keep his
composure.  "I don't even look like Sid Melton.  And you are stowaways on
*my* ship, which is on a *very* important mission--"
     "Which you'll'a nevah fix widdout our'a help," said a voice to Steve's
left.  Steve knew even before he turned that the owner of the voice had to
be Lt. Chicobaldi, former Security Chief of Freedonia 5, whom he had also
met when he was last aboard said space station.  "We gotta very special top
secret infomation.  Also some'a not-so-top secret infomation--"
     A honking sound from behind the two now-bewildered security guards
briefly interrupted.
     "--and Lt. Zacko over dere, he gotta happy feet."
     "And unless you want his other parts to get happy," said Spaulding,
"you'll play ball with us."
     "Ball?!" Steve sputtered.
     "It's a game," a fourth new character interrupted.  Steve glanced at
the man and saw that he was a tall, rather blandly handsome man in an Earth
hockey team uniform.  Zeppus Coleslaw, no doubt.  "Or a place where you
dance.  Or--"
     "None of that," Spaulding cut him off.  "He'll think you're nuts."
     "Nut," Zeppus corrected.
     "Look, all of you," said Steve.
     "Yes, look, all of us," Spaulding said as he looked around.  "Can you
stop pointing out the obvious now?  Unless the way to the bar is obvious to
you, since it isn't to me."
     "All of you," said Steve, "are under arrest.  Raise your hands and
surrender to those nice gentlemen with the plasma rifles over there--"
     "Hey, boss, what'sa monkey boy arrestin' us for?  We didn't'a do nothin'."
     This made Steve hopping mad.  "I-- am-- *not*-- *Sid*-- *Melton!!!*"
he exclaimed, as he hopped up and down, waving his arms wildly.  He
continued in this vein for roughly a minute before he realized that not
only the four stowaways, but also his guards, were looking at him funny.
He immediately stopped hopping and, after a moment's embarrassed
consideration, lowered his arms and straightened his posture.
     "Gentlemen," he said, as coolly as he could, which at the moment
wasn't very.  "Perhaps we could--"
     "You're right," said Zeppus.  "You look more like Art Carney to me."
     "Arrest them!" Steve ordered the guards.  The guards, seeing that
fun-at-the-Captain's-expense-time was over, raised their plasma rifles and
waved them in the general direction of the stowaways, which was difficult
as they were rather spread out, and their Captain was amidst them.
Fortunately, it didn't seem that any of them were going to try anything.
     HONK!
     Okay, one of them was going to try something.  Lt. Zacko being the one
in question, and the something in question being to walk around, stand in
front of the guards, and brandish his large horn, a fierce look on his face.
     "Just put the horn down, pal," said one of the guards, "and nobody gets--"
     Zacko honked the horn again, and a meter-long lightsaber blade shot up
from the noise-emitting end of the horn.  The curly-headed stowaway seemed
as surprised by this development as the guards, and staggered about a bit
before gaining some measure of control.  He waved the lightsaber blade at
the guards in a manner too quick for Steve to follow.
     "Hey--" he started.
     The plasma rifles took that moment to fall in pieces onto the floor.
The armored trousers of the guards soon followed.  The Official Britney
Spears Fan Club underoos of the guards did not.
     "Gah," said Steve.
     "It's not what you think," said the guard on the left, though the
nuclear intensity of his blush made it very clear that it damn well *was*
what Steve was thinking.
     "He's right, monkey boy," said Spaulding, as he followed Chicobaldi,
Zeppus, and Zacko up the stairs. "It's not what you think.  It's what I
think, and I think this ship isn't big enough for both of us.  Which means
you need to take out a second mortgage to build an addition, and I need to
take out Chinese.  Don't call me, I'll call me."
     After the stowaways disappeared through the hatch leading to the rest
of the ship, Steve glared at the guards.  "Go get your uniforms repaired.
And hit the general alarm on your way out.  I want those stowaways caught."
     "Yes sir, Captain Monkey Boy Sir!" they exclaimed.
     "Grrr," Steve grrd.

                                     -~-_-

     Dr. Bing Von Spleen, the most excruciatingly clean-complexioned
spamologist the universe has ever witnessed, ingested a handful of pink
pills as he contemplated Earth's moon.  There was something odd about it,
he thought.  Something just not right.  More than the fact that it was a
replacement for the one destroyed in an implausibly huge space battle a few
years ago.  More than the fact that it had a cigar-shaped, five-mile-long,
under-repair space station, Freedonia 5, resting in one of the visible
craters.
     "Um, Dr. Von Spleen," said a barely-masculine voice from somewhere
behind his left shoulder.  "We're heading straight for the moon."
     "Yes, yes," Von Spleen said, testily.  Sajon, he thought.  That was
the man's name.  "You just keep watching it, Sajon.  There's something
strange about it."  He thought for a moment.  "Something not right."  After
all, they had launched with the intent of escaping the Spammymon quarantine
of Earth, the plan being that they would shift to overly-hyped space at the
same instant as did the Challenger III, a ship intent on finding a cure for
the Spammymon cravings and lifting the quarantine.  The pulse created by
the shift of the larger ship would effectively keep Earth authorities from
determining his warpshuttle's destination.  He had launched the ship from
his cleverly-constructed hiding place outside Rome on time and at very high
velocity.  He had stocked the ship with plenty of spam, for fuel, and
pudding, for currency.  Yet something seemed amiss with his otherwise
impeccable planning.
     "We're going to crash!" Sajon wailed.
     Von Spleen frowned.  He squinted at the surface of the moon, which now
seemed very close, and not nearly as fragile as the surface of the previous
(hollow) moon.
     "That's it!" Von Spleen shrieked.  "That's what's strange about it!
It's too needlewarping close!  We're going to crash!"  He started a
celebratory dance, which abruptly ended when he realized that crashing was
a bad thing, particularly when it involved him.  "We're going to crash!" he
shrieked.  "Evasive maneuvers!"
     "Like hell," squeaked TH1K1.  "I've just locked the controls on your ass."
     "The controls are locked!" Sajon exclaimed.  "I can't switch to
manual!"  He looked up at the small, windup-toy-like robot who was hovering
over his right shoulder.  "TH1K1!  Only you can save us now!"
     Von Spleen started to yell, then stopped.  For some reason, quite
possibly the long-term effects of years of abusing a volume of blatantly
illegal substances that would kill a less experienced user (such as
Detroit), he was able to comprehend what the small robot was saying.
Neither Sajon nor anybody else (insofar as Von Spleen knew) could, as TH1K1
spoke only in high-pitched squeals that sounded like someone with
helium-filled lungs talking very fast and backward.  He had tried to tip
Sajon off to the truth, but Sajon refused to accept it.
     There was no good in trying now.  Action had to be taken, and Bing Von
Spleen knew that he was the only one who could take it.  Boldly, he emptied
the rest of the pink pills out of the bottle and swallowed them, then
waited for the moon to transform into something more pleasant, like a plate
of bacon and eggs, or a Swedish Supergroup.
     Several minutes passed, during which Sajon continued to whine, TH1K1
continued to gloat, Von Spleen continued to watch, and the moon continued
to draw closer.  He examined the bottle, and realized, to his horror, that
what he had actually been abusing for the past fifteen minutes was a bottle
of Pepto Bismol gelcaps.  Which explained why the sight of the menacing
surface of the moon wasn't making his stomach turn, but did nothing to make
it go away.
     "Needlewarp," he swore.  "Guess I'll have to do this the old-fashioned
way."  Boldly, he stood, surveyed the bridge of the warpshuttle he had
stolen from the now-inactive V.S.S. Vatican II, and then staggered
erratically toward what he thought was the helm control.
     "Doctor!" Sajon cried.  "That's the bathroom!"
     "Oh," Bing Von Spleen answered.  He stopped, swayed unsteadily, and
reached out toward the stacked boxes of spam to steady himself.
     "You're luncheon meat now!" TH1K1 raved.
     "Luncheon meat?" Von Spleen asked aloud.  He considered the box of
spam he was touching.  He considered the fact that he was the foremost
spamologist on Earth.  He resolutely did not consider the fact that he was
technically no longer on Earth.  Instead, he picked up the box and carried
it in the direction of the ABPSARI that he had rigged to power the
warpshuttle.
     The ABPSARI (Automatic Beet-Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-Integrator) had
been one of his inventions.  It was capable of delivering tremendous
amounts of energy from just a small amount of spam, a fact that had saved
his ass on more than one occasion.  Mostly on occasions when he was on Time
Agent 357's ship, and it was either Time Agent 357 or VAL, the ship's
computer intelligence, who did the actual saving.  This time, however, it
was down to him, and he knew exactly what to do.
     "Pay attention, boy," Von Spleen called to Sajon.  "If you ever get
into another situation where your spaceship is flying out of control
towards a really hard thing, like a moon or a Giant Space Weasel's molar,
all you have to do is put overload quantities of spam into the ABPSARI."
     "What about beets?" Sajon asked.
     "Only if you have some," said Von Spleen, "and only if you want them
peeled.  They're no good as fuel."  He opened up the contents of the box
and started emptying it into the funnel.  The ABPSARI, an
improbable-looking device consisting of flashing lights, odd coils,
randomly sparking pointy things, loads of chrome, and a magazine rack,
accepted the new fuel without protest.  "What's worse, they might cause the
machine to malfunction.  Never add anything to an ABPSARI other than spam!
Otherwise, you're just begging for space and time to lay the smack down on
you."
     "Then why are you adding pudding to the ABPSARI, cheesebrain?" TH1K1
asked.
     Bing Von Spleen stopped, frowned, and examined the box.  It was,
indeed, labeled "pudding," and not "spam," as he had previously thought.
The substance inside was chocolatey, and had nothing of a putrid quality
about it.
     He dropped the box and stared at the ABPSARI, which was now cheerfully
chewing through several pounds of some utterly wrong fuel.
     Before Von Spleen could voice his very choice thoughts on the matter,
time and space laid the smack down on the warpshuttle.  A brilliant
cerise-tinted light flared through his brain like a weasel through
hotcakes, followed by a big, beefy slab of darkness.

WILL THE STAGGERING AND SURREAL ENERGIES UNLEASHED BY THE ILL-USED ABPSARI
HAVE LONG-TERM IMPLICATIONS FOR THE QUALITY OF LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE?
OR WILL IT JUST BE USED BY THE AUTHOR FOR CHEAP YUKS AND RANDOM CHARACTER
DISPLACEMENT, LIKE IT WAS LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED?
IS THE QUEST TO SAVE EARTH FROM THE SPAMMYMON HORROR OFF TO A
LESS-THAN-AUSPICIOUS START?
WHY AREN'T THEY DOING ANYTHING TO SAVE THE EARTH FROM BRITNEY SPEARS?
HOW LONG WILL ZARK NAP?
CAN RUBBER CHICKENS PUT OUT AN EYE, LIKE MOM SAYS?

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