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Sfstory Log 099

=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 21 Feb 2001 08:11:15 -0800
From:         Gary (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #8

                               UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                              (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                    Episode 8
                                    "Magenta"
                                       by
                                  Gary W. Olson

                                      -~-_-

      Time dragged on, until Time Police Commandant Zark Flyby lost 
count of how many days his imprisonment had lasted.  Locked in a 
small room with high walls, all his weapons transformed into novelty 
toys, unable to extract an answer from even the flimsiest of the 
rubber chickens as to who was keeping him captive.  They had thrown 
ration packets and water tubes in at some point, possibly, he 
thought, in an attempt to keep him from eating said rubber chickens 
and keeping his strength.
      Well, he would show *them.*  Whoever them were.
      Finally, almost two days after his initial capture, his captor 
walked in.  Zark warily watched warily while he struggled to his 
feet, still groggy from his latest nap.  Thin, suave, sharp-dressed, 
with a measuring look in the eye that wasn't covered by an eyepatch. 
Zark imagined snapping him in half, and the resulting smile produced 
an unnerved look on the man's face.
      "Don't try anything," the man warned.  "There's an invisible 
repulsor field keeping you in check."
      Zark grumbled.  He hated repulsor fields, especially the tough, 
silent, invisible ones that were so popular these days.  Everyone he 
knew at Time Central seemed to have one.  He'd even been told he had 
one, but he had no idea where it was or how to operate it.
      "My name is Kalvin," said the man.  "I'm here to offer you a business--"
      "I'll do the offering," another voice interrupted.  "Back off to 
the door, unless you want your other eye poked out."
      Zark's mind was far from the fastest around, even in situations 
when all that's around is walls and novelty toys.  But, since hurling 
a rubber chicken into the eye of a mocking mysterious person the day 
before had been the sole highlight of his current imprisonment, the 
memory immediately returned.
      "Heh," he said.
      "Heh, what?" the other voice asked.
      "He thought it was funny that all my weapons got turned into 
rubber things."
      "Oh, that," the voice replied.  "Nicely done, really.  Shows 
that all my efforts haven't gone *completely* to waste."
      "Hey," said Zark.  "Where are you?  Are you invisible, too?"
      The owner of the voice sighed.  "Look down here, Zark."
      "Hah!" Zark replied.  "I'll never fall into your trap!  Nev--"
      "Oh, look," the voice interrupted, "an Arcturian flesh-shredder grenade."
      Zark looked down.  What he saw, besides stone floor and assorted 
novelties, was a grey-skinned gnome wearing dirty grey robes.  The 
gnome's humanoid facial features resembled those of Freddie Prinze 
Jr. to a degree that Zark found mildly disturbing.  Its mouth was 
attempting a broad smile without the support of the rest of its face.
      "You're not a grenade," Zark said, after about a minute of 
intense scrutiny.  He felt fairly safe in this assessment, since if 
there was one field he knew, it was that of weaponry.
      "No, I'm not a grenade," the gnome said.  "I'm your father."
      Zark considered this revelation.
      "And you've brought me a grenade?"
      The gnome lost anything resembling composure in that instant.
      "No, you feckless idiot!  I'm Sark Flyby, Grand Patriarch of our 
beloved homeworld, Zeta Ricola Beta, where even now our people are 
gathering to witness the return of their Chosen One, the one who will 
save us from the dreaded Serving of the Check!  I come to take you to 
your destiny as the glorious savior of our people!"
      "Once you've completed your training," Kalvin interjected.
      "Right, right," Sark said.  "There's training involved, too. 
Don't worry about it."
      Zark considered some more. 
      "I've already had training," he said.
      "Not this kind of training," said Sark.  "The kind of training 
I'm talking about will unleash your vast, untapped abilities.  You'll 
be able to move at ultrafast speeds, teleport at will, fire 
devastating cosmic blasts--"
      That caught Zark's attention.
      "How devastating?"
      "Very.  You'll be able to lay waste to whole armadas!  Blow up 
suns!  Shatter armies!  Stuff like that!"
      "Do I get grenades?"
      "I just said you get to fire devastating cosmic--"
      "Just say 'yes,'" Kalvin interrupted.  Zark looked up at him and snarled.
      "What?" asked Sark.  "Oh.  Right.  Yes, Zark.  You can have 
grenades.  All you can carry."
      "Okay, pop," said Zark.  "I'm in."
      "Good."
      "Um, where did you go?"
      A loud sigh emenated from somewhere near the floor.
      "I'll fill you in later, son," said Sark.  "Just walk toward the 
open doorway here, and follow Kalvin and myself to--"
      "What about the invisible repulsor field?" Zark asked.
      "What invisible repulsor fie--"
      "Ahem," Kalvin ahemed.
      "Oh... *that* invisible repulsor field," said Sark.  "Um, right. 
We, ah, switched it off.  Just right now."
      "Okay," said Zark.  Father or not, he would have to keep an eye 
on this fellow.  Wherever he'd gotten to.

                                      -~-_-

      A starship captain was nothing if not cosmopolitan, Steve Vogel 
believed.  One simply couldn't deal with the bizarre things the 
universe threw at one on any given day if one's sense of propriety 
was being spun about faster than a ballet dancer in a wind tunnel. 
(Steve also believed that a starship captain's metaphors did not need 
to make sense.)  In his years of running about the universe, he had 
been subjected to indignities too numerous to mention, the worst 
being when he had existed simply as a brain while his body was off 
doing other things.
      So it was with cosmopolitan politeness that Captain Steve Vogel 
of the Earth battlecruiser _Challenger III_ regarded the way that 
Jerriphrrt and Gham, whom had been recently rescued from the 
Goornashks, ate the five-star meal they were being served in his 
dining room.  He only hoped their repeated belches wouldn't make the 
tasteful beige paint peel.
      "This is delicious!" Gham exclaimed.  "It's so... aquatic!"
      "It's seafood," Vogel replied.  "I think it's supposed to be that way."
      "We've only had microwave food and cheap beer for the past six 
months," Jerriphrrt noted, after finishing off the rest of the 
sphaghetti and using the dry-vac to clean the sauce off his face. 
"We're not used to this."
      "Any luck with the information we gave you?" asked Gham.
      "Your story about how you found the bodies," said Steve, "did 
not tell us anything not in your earlier report, which the Goornashk 
Authority relayed.  And the video of the circumstances in which 
Benjen and Slithis left the ship raises more questions than it 
answers."
      "Like, why were they fighting over a frozen bagel?" Jerriphrrt asked.
      "And how could either of them pilot the alien ship so well to 
leave as quickly as they did," said Steve.  "I'm wondering if there 
was something on the bridge you overlooked."
      "Maybe," Gham allowed, in between slurps of her Rigellian 
lawyer-noodle soup.  "We didn't do any further exploration after we 
found the bodies."
      Steve picked up a stick of celery.  "One other thing turned up," 
he said, as he slathered cream cheese upon the celery.  "The six 
humans you found.  The uniforms were Earth Space Naval, yes, but we 
couldn't match any of the faces you recorded on your helmet-cams to 
any current or former officers or enlisted men.  We did a wider 
search on missing persons, though, and were able to identify them."
      "And they are?" Jerriphrrt asked, as he pushed his empty plate away.
      "Bob Simmons, Morton Javersky, Phil Potts, Ernest Potts, Arnie 
Berger, and Zachery Scott.  All disappeared a few years ago from 
Earth, the night they were arrested, along with four others, for 
trying to sabotage a science fiction convention in Baltimore.  In 
their depositions, they claimed they did it because they were angry 
about having to pay full price to stand in line for autographs from 
Leonard Nimoy, because, according to them, they all knew him 
personally."
      "Did they?"
      "Mr. Nimoy gave a statement that says he had no idea who they 
were," Steve said.  "The paperwork accompanying the statements said 
the ten all did pretty good imitations, though.  It also says they 
were part of this group called 'the Association of Extremely 
Dedicated Watchers of Star Trek who Dress Up Like Crew and Pretend We 
Have Phasers.'"
      "Weird," said Gham.  "And not all that interesting.  Is dessert ready?"
      "Should be," said Steve.  As he set down the celery to push the 
button, he noticed that it had been snipped off at both ends.  He 
stared at it a moment, then pushed the button.  Immediately, someone 
in a waiter's white outfit entered, while another man who in no 
fashion resembled a waiter followed, pushing a dessert cart.  A third 
man in a hockey outfit brought up the rear, hockey stick in one hand 
and a big plastic bag in the other.
      "Haven't you seen me somewhere before?" the waiter asked when he 
stopped in front of Gham.  "I know!  It was in Paris!  Ah, Paris! 
The music, the wine, the Frenchmen swaying in the breeze!  I looked 
into your eyes, and I knew, right then, that you had two of them. 
What would you like for dessert?"
      "Captain Spaulding?" Gham asked.
      "You're married and you can ask for that?" Spaulding exclaimed.
      "Guards!" Steve yelled into the intercom.  "Report to the 
Captain's dining room!  The stowaways are in here!"
      "They'a won't hear'a you too good," said Chicobaldi, the man 
with the dessert cart.  "We snippa'd the little thingies that 
connect'a that button to you computer."
      Steve saw that he was surrounded, and that Jerriphrrt and Gham 
weren't going to be too much help, as they clearly weren't perceiving 
the threat as serious.  At least, not as seriously as they were 
taking their dessert selection.
      "This has gone far enough, Spaulding," Steve said in his best, 
least effeminate commanding tone.  He picked up another celery stick. 
A snipping sound reached his ears, and he looked down to see the 
stick cut off just above his thumb.  A honk behind him told him all 
he needed to know about how that happened.
      "You say this has gone far enough, sir," said Spaulding, "but I 
say it hasn't!  I say it could go far much less, but only if you buy 
today!  Act now, get back end participation later!  And front end 
participation if you buy me flowers."
      "Hey, how comma you no buy me flowers anymore, boss?" Chicobaldi asked.
      "How come you don't buy me senators anymore?" Spaulding replied. 
"Or spies, or secret agents?"
      "How'm I gonna buy an agent if he's'a secret?"
      "I'm thinking of asking *my* agent that."
      "Have you decided on your desserts?" Zeppus Coleslaw, as Zacko 
emerged from behind Steve to take his plastic bag.  Zeppus then 
started clearing the table by swinging his hockey stick and knocking 
plates, silverware and glassware into the bag.
      "I'll have the mousse," said Jerriphrrt.
      "I'll have the cheesecake," said Gham.
      "I'll have the top secret information on this mission that you 
claimed you possessed the last time we met," said Steve Vogel, in a 
strained, yet highly cosmopolitan tone.
      Zacko jumped up, dropped the sack, and ran out of the dining 
room.  He returned a moment later, leading Lucky, the ship's mutated 
six-foot-tall-at-the-shoulder giant cat.  Lucky had a muzzle on his 
mouth, antlers strapped to his head, a Betty Page poster attached to 
the antlers, and a videotape suspended from a stick by a string in 
front of his not-at-all-pleased-eyes.  Before Jerriphrrt, Gham or 
Steve could react, Spaulding, Chicobaldi, Zeppus and Zacko dashed out 
of the room, with Zacko pausing only to pick up the sack of dishes 
and honk his horn twice.
      "Er," commented Gham.
      "So," said Jerriphrrt.  "No dessert?"
      "Mmmmmrrrr," Lucky growled.
      Steve Vogel removed the videotape from the string and examined 
the title.  "'The Breaking of the Fast at the Dawning of the 
Universe,'" he read.
      "No!" Jerriphrrt exclaimed.
      "Don't watch it!" Gham moaned.
      "Why?" Steve asked.  "How bad can it be?"
      "You don't understand!" Jerriphrrt wailed.  "It's-- a Dino di 
Laurentis Production!"
      Steve shuddered, and nearly dropped the videotap, prevented only 
by his nerves of steel, and the surprisingly adhesive nature of the 
cream cheese that had stuck to his fingers.  He wasn't sure, though, 
if even that could make him watch the contents.  But if this could in 
any way solve the mystery, he would have to watch it, and send the 
bills for expensive therapeutic drinks back to Earth.
      Just then, a voice from the P.A. system rang out.
      "Captain to the bridge!" his second-in-command, Cmdr. Jean St. 
Thomas, exclaimed.  "Captain to the bridge!  The _Universal 
Solvent's_ engines are powering up.  I'm getting indications of a 
distortion field nearby--"
      "Needlewarp!" Jerriphrrt swore.  "That's our ship!  It's all we 
have left to our names!"
      "Come on!" Steve exclaimed, tucking the videotape into his 
uniform as they madly dashed out of the dining room.  For some 
reason, despite all they had done so far, he doubted that Spaulding 
or his men were behind this attempted abduction.
      Which meant someone else.  Someone who knew perhaps more than 
Jerriphrrt and Gham.  Someone who was too busy to stop for dinner.

                                      -~-_-

      The sliding doors that led to the bridge were a dark and 
unfriendly shade of gunmetal black, complementing the greys and 
blacks of the airlock.  Just once, Sajon thought, he'd like to see a 
set of doors on a starship that were another color.  A more cheerful 
color.  Magenta, perhaps.  Any color that didn't strongly imply that 
doom and disaster lurked ahead.
      "I still could go back to the ship," Sajon said, waving his 
hands in what he hoped was a 'casual' way (as opposed to the 
'panicky' way his insides were behaving).  "Secure... you know... the 
doors and... things."
      TH1K1, hovering next to Sajon, squeaked in what Sajon thought to 
be an encouraging fashion.  He wasn't sure, however, why Dr. Von 
Spleen looked at the small robot and narrowed his eyes.  Although 
their recent shared experience had forced him back into total 
sobriety, he still regarded TH1K1 with unjust suspicion.
      "They've been leading us along," said Shadebeam.  "Filling 
corridors with air, then depressurizing them after we've gone 
through.  Too bad Dr. Von Smarty Pants didn't think to bring space 
suits along, huh?"
      Sajon decided not to volunteer the information that it had been 
his task, as Dr. Von Spleen's handpicked assistant, to make sure the 
Warpship had been fully stocked prior to leaving Earth.  Besides, it 
wasn't his fault that Dr. Von Spleen had decided to leave Earth, 
which was being rapidly overtaken by the horror that was 'Spammymon 
Z,' on the day that Sajon had sent the suits to the cleaners.
      But then, who could have predicted that Dr. Von Spleen would 
accidentally put a quantity of pudding into the Warpship's engine, 
the ABPSARI, instead of Spam, its intended fuel source?  And who 
could have predicted that the resulting reality flux would not only 
catapult the warp-shuttle to an unknown point in space that just 
happened to be in the way of a marauding black alienesque ship, but 
would also pluck a young woman (Shadebeam) from another altiverse and 
bring her into the ship?
      If the ABPSARI hadn't disappeared during the reality flux, they 
might have still escaped.  As it was, Sajon wasn't sure how they 
avoided colliding with the larger, weirder, fast-traveling ship. 
Shadebeam, who had turned out to be sort of nice, in a sarcastic, 
pissed-off kind of way, explained that the larger ship had just sort 
of opened up and scooped up their little shuttle-type vessel into a 
hangar.
      Which led to the group investigating the hangar, and in turn, 
the corridors, which led them to... the bridge.
      The doors opened.
      "Enter," a George Clooney-like voice boomed.
      "Enter?" a somewhat familiar voice responded.  "Whatever 
happened to 'Come in?'"
      "Hey," said Shadebeam.  "I know that voice."
      Sajon watched the scowl on her face vanish for the first time 
since he had met her.
      "Shadebeam?" the owner of the somewhat familiar voice asked.
      "Ohmi... Benjen?"
      Shadebeam darted around Von Spleen and dashed up the poorly lit 
steps to the table that seemed to be serving as the command center. 
Sajon could see two guys at the table, both wearing beige jumpsuits 
decorated with stray bits of a well-enjoyed breakfast.  She hugged 
the more humanish-looking one, while the other, reptilian one looked 
on in what Sajon recognized as stunned disbelief.
      "Benjen!" she exclaimed.  "Holy fucking needlewarp!"  She turned 
to look at the reptilian.  "And... um... don't tell me... er..."
      "Slithis," said Sajon.
      "Slithis!" she exclaimed, drawing the dismayed reptilian into a hug.
      "You're Sajon, right?" asked Benjen.  "Didn't we meet on Freedonia 5?"
      "Yeah," Sajon replied.  "You remember TH1K1, right?"
      "Sure," said Slithis, as he separated from Shadebeam, who seemed 
embarassed that she hadn't remembered his name.  "Who's the 
super-pink guy?"
      "I," said Von Spleen, "am Dr. Bing Von Spleen, the Earth's 
Foremost Spamologist!"
      "Because he kil--" Sajon started to say, before Von Spleen 
clapped a hand over his mouth.
      "Which of you is in charge here?" Von Spleen asked.  "I thank 
you for rescuing our adrift vessel, though I am quite curious as to 
how you happened to be in this area of deep space on a course that 
just happened to intersect the position we were teleported to by a 
reality flux."
      "It was no accident, Doctor," the George Clooneyish voice 
bellowed.  "Your appearance in this space was foretold in antiquity. 
I regret that I had to scare you as I did, but I experienced some 
unfortunate setbacks in gaining control of this vessel from those who 
had previously hijacked it, and felt the need to hurry."
      "Er," said Sajon, "who's talking?"
      TH1K1 squealed.
      "The bagel," said Von Spleen.  "See it hovering there?"
      Sajon focused on the bagel, which was indeed hovering.
      "My name is Shoon-Ma.  Your arrival fulfills the ancient 
prophecy that will result in the settling of the bill, so to speak, 
for the wrong done to my kind in the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn 
of the Universe.  Now that my Champion is here--"
      "Hey!" Shadebeam exclaimed.  "I am *not* your 'Champion,' you 
little floating froot loop!"
      "Correct," said Shoon-Ma.  "You are not."
      "And furthermore," Shadebeam seethed, "if you think you're so 
impressi-- pardon?"
      "You are not the Champion."
      "Oh," said Shadebeam.  "Right.  Um.  Glad to hear it."
      "Oooh, burn," Benjen stage-whispered.
      "Shut up," Shadebeam replied.
      "The Champion," Shoon-Ma bellowed, "is the one known to you as... Sajon!"
      Sajon blinked.
      "Bwah?" he finally asked.
      "Bwah, my new apprentice," Shoon-Ma said, an ominious rumble in 
its voice.  "Bwah is only the beginning."

                                      -~-_-

      Danger was no stranger to professional Space Ingenue Kissy 
Hitowers.  She had faced a villainous space tyrant (later a headless 
space tyrant), a five-mile wide key lime pie, deadly shadowy entity 
things, a deranged duck, and the libido of Mark Hyperthrust.  She had 
thought she had faced all the universe might throw against her.
      But that was before she had accepted her current freelance 
assignment, assisting two Interstellar University undergrads with 
their senior project of finding the missing Time Police agent Toni 
Williams.  Said assignment had resulted in her being taken to a space 
station that proudly called itself "Dirk's Space Swap-O-Rama and 
Grill," where she had immediately been kidnapped by a space villain. 
Now she was in the villain's clutches and found herself facing an 
entirely new threat.
      "--so there I was, my hand on the button that would fire the 
alphanator beam into the heart of the black hole, when Buzz Williams 
breaks down the space elevator door, which surprised me because I was 
sure the Devil-Beast of the Sheep's-Bladder Nebula would have eaten 
him by then--"
      A villain who would bore her to death.
      "Mmph," she mmphed into the silver gag.  This attracted the 
notice of the villain, an elderly, pasty-skinned human man who wore 
an outfit that might have been considered 'futuristic' sixty years 
ago but looked terribly dated now.  Faded silvery robes with tacky 
lightning bolt emblems in strange places did nothing to disguise the 
cheap look of the silver spandex on his spindly body.   Tufts of 
white hair stuck out from the silver spandex cap he wore on his 
wizened head.  Only his voice seemed strong.
      "I'm almost done," he promised.  "Now, where was I?  Did I cover 
the part where Buzz Williams foiled our plans to sell Arch-Executor 
Zoron the Excruciatingly Evil the gamma particle cannons he needed to 
conquer the pacifistic Aquarian Confederation?"
      "Mmmph!"
      "Thing was, I thought I'd disposed of that meddlesome hero that 
time as well, by leaving him dipped in barbeque sauce and suspended 
over the Pit of the Carnivorous Night Varmints.  Little did I know he 
had fooled the Varmints into letting him go by convincing them that 
he'd eaten a granola bar just before being captured, thus making him 
too healthy for their tastes--"
      "Mmmph!"
      "--so there the cannons were, being delivered by robot 
freighters to Zoron's ships, when suddenly a meteor swarm pops out of 
nowhere and annihilates everything!  I found out later that Buzz had 
used the ancient machine he'd found in the Sunken City of Cleef-Lund 
to translocate the swarm, and let me tell you, my second-in-command 
swore he saw my spandex cap rise twenty feet!"
      Mercifully, the door behind the old man opened.  Perhaps not so 
mercifully, Kissy realized that it was the undergraduate heroes she 
was working for, Ronald Hastings and Norman Sassafras, who were about 
to try to save her.  At least, she thought, they might make the old 
guy shut up for a little while.
      "Hey," he said.  "Close the door, boys.  You're letting in a draft."
      Norman, his blue velour shirt looking especially dated in the 
harsh light of the cheap fluorescents, half-leapt, half-tripped over 
to the chair to which Kissy was tied.  He whipped out a chrome 
multi-tool and she closed her eyes tight, expecting him to hack her 
wrists off.  She was mildly surprised when he cut her bonds, then 
reflected that she shouldn't have been, since he and Ronald had, if 
nothing else, shown repeatedly that they were good with gadgets.
      "So you're... the one... who kidnapped... Miss... Hitowers!" 
Ronald bellowed as heroically as Shatnerian diction would allow as he 
waved a personal nuker in the villain's general direction.  "We 
should have... known!"
      Instead of looking afraid, or angry, the elderly man simply 
slumped in his cheap office chair.  "Heroes again," he mumbled.  "And 
so *young!* I remember when *I* was that young--"
      "Don't let him tell a story!" Kissy yelled.
      "Ow!" Norman said.  "I'm right next to you.  Please don't yell."
      "Okay!" Kissy yelled.  "Just keep him to short, declarative sentences!"
      "My name is Satik," the man said.  "Satik the Sonar Man.  Once a 
respected and feared armer of space villains, now... now the field 
manager of the Dirk's sales office."  He looked up at Ronald.  Kissy 
saw the pleading look in his eyes.  "You three came to the station 
searching for the missing Time Agent Toni Williams."
      "No we... didn't," said Ronald.  Kissy wondered if he was 
intentionally trying to speak as though he was ladling each word with 
five pounds of dramatic gravy.  "We're space... mercenaries... 
wanting to buy... type I... phasers."
      "Hardly," Satik replied.  "The boys out front only send 
customers back to me if they want antiques.  What would hardened 
space mercenaries want with antiques, eh?"
      "Um," said Norman, "they're pretty?"
      "Never mind how I know," said Satik.  "Yes, I kidnapped Miss 
Hitowers, as you say, but only because I wanted to lure you here.  I 
was curious as to why you, and not the illustrious Buzz Williams and 
his current crew, are spearheading the search for Miss Williams."
      "Then what was with story time," asked Kissy.  "I think you 
brought us here because we're the only excuse you've had to ramble on 
about your glory days in years."
      "Hardly!" Satik insisted.  "I only wanted to frame my inquiry in 
the proper context.  How would you know the nature of my interest in 
Buzz Williams if you were unaware of how he disrupted my planet bomb 
refurbishing and reselling operation in the Fornax Cluster?"
      "No--" Kissy started.
      "I mean, there I was, with six clients on the hook, and only 
needing a measly twelve tons of irridated Spam to finish the 
contract, when up comes Buzz and his allies, the Rutabaga Men of 
Fornax V, and bang! My whole operation is smashed.  Mind you, on 
reflection, I should have stayed to watch his whole match against The 
Gerbil That Time Forgot, but I thought sure he was a goner there.  If 
it hadn't been for--"
      "Tell us where Toni is!" Ronald exclaimed, forgetting to 
impersonate Shatner for the moment.  "Tell us what you know!"
      Satik blinked.  "I know you forgot to charge up your nuker 
before you came here."
      "You're crazy to think we'd fall for that," Norman said through 
a sneer.  "He wasn't in charge of keeping our student-issued weapons 
powered up -- I was!"
      Satik reached under his robe and whipped out a ray pistol that 
was clearly anachronistic, even without the cheap lightning decals on 
the side of the barrel.  Ronald tried to fire his nuker, only to 
discover that, just as Satik said, it was not charged up.
      "Fizzle," said the nuker.
      "Put 'em up," said Satik.
      "Cripes," said Kissy.
      "Damn," Norman grumbled, as he put 'em up.  "I hope this doesn't 
also mean I forgot to set the recorder in our dorm room to tape 
'Voyager.'"
      "It's unfortunate I can't accomodate your wish to purchase any 
Type I Phasers," said Satik, as he picked up from his desk what 
looked to be a pine cone.  "But I recently sold my remaining stock to 
another set of buyers.  We also swung a side deal for me to inform 
them of your arrival and keep you captive until they could take you 
off my hands."  He shook his head, looking somewhat regretful.  "Days 
were when I would sentence would-be space heroes such as yourself to 
fates worse than death.  But I'm an old man, and one with few 
resources, so I'll have to enjoy your torment vicariously through 
these young gentlemen."  He brought the pine cone, which Kissy saw 
was attached to the desk by a wire, to his lips and spoke.  "You can 
come in now."
      The other door opened, and four men walked in, Type I Phasers 
armed and pointing in their general direction.  All four wore velour 
shirts - two red, one blue, and one gold.
      The one in gold had plastic points glued to his ears.
      "You!" Ronald and Norman exclaimed in unison.  "It can't be!"
      "But it is!" the man replied.  "Your former commander, who you 
so shamefully humiliated with your fancy flying Pinto, to the point 
where I swore I and my crew would get out into space somehow and get 
our revenge!"
      "The High Spock!" Ronald and Norman exclaimed.  "Of our old Star 
Trek fan club, the Association of Extremely Dedicated Watchers of 
Star Trek who Dress Up Like Crew and Pretend We Have Phasers!"
      "Only we're not pretending anymore," said the High Spock, 
hefting his phaser.  "Hence the name change."
      "By Stewart's Glare!" Ronald and Norman exclaimed.  "He's right!"
      "Make them stop talking in unison," Kissy growled.  "Please."
      "You'll be pleading for a lot more than that," the High Spock 
promised.  "But that's for later.  Right now, I want to offer you the 
hospitality of Team E."
      "Team E?" asked Norman.  "What's the E for?"
      "It's for extra--" Kissy started.
      "No, it's not!" the High Spock, who had clearly heard the joke 
before, insisted.  "It stands for Enterprise.  But never mind that. 
Put your hands over your heads and start walking."
      "Where are you taking us?" Ronald asked.
      "Someplace you won't like," said the High Spock.  "So there! 
Heh heh heh!"
      "You'll want to deepen that villainous laugh," Satik suggested. 
"I've got a throat manipulator that should--"
      "Thank you," said the High Spock, "but I think our business is complete."
      As Kissy Hitowers marched out of Satik's office, her hands 
clasped over her head, following Ronald and Norman, she realized that 
if the tables didn't turn, and quickly, their lives might also turn 
out to be complete.
      At least, she thought, it wouldn't be boring.

WILL IT BE BORING?
WILL IT HAVE DANCING MAMMALS OF SOME SORT?
WILL IT MAKE SATIK'S SPANDEX CAP RISE TWENTY FEET?
WILL SAJON GET MORE RESPECT NOW THAT HE'S THE CHOSEN ONE?
WILL SLITHIS FORGIVE SHADEBEAM FOR FORGETTING HIS NAME?
WILL BWAH INDEED ONLY BE THE BEGINNING?
WILL JERRIPHRRT & GHAM'S SHIP BE SUCCESSFULLY STOLEN?
WILL THEY RETURN TO THE DINING ROOM TO ENJOY DESSERT?
WILL THEY WATCH THE VIDEO, DESPITE THE WHOLE DINO THING?
WILL ZARK FLYBY GET ON WELL WITH HIS FATHER?
DID ZARK HAVE A MOTHER, OR WAS HE HATCHED OR SOMETHING?
JUST HOW DISTURBING DO FREDDIE PRINZE JR. FEATURES LOOK ON A GREY GNOME?

Don't look now, but SFSTORY is staggering toward it's fourteenth 
birthday!  Only on SUPERGUY, where people occasionally write things, 
sometimes.
--
The Sonar Men were created and trademarked by David Menendez, and 
appear with his permission.
=========================================================================
Date:         Mon, 08 Oct 2001 23:49:52 -0400
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #01 - The Return

SF: HMS Golden Lance #01 - The Return

In space, no one can hear you art direct.

In space, no one can smell your breath.

Or touch your forehead to see if you have a fever.  Or kiss you
goodnight.  Or eat a good meal.  Or do any of the other things one is
normally fond of doing.

In fact, space is a silly, boring, utterly useless place.  Let's not
go there.

We're already there?  Darn.  Okay, then what do we find in space?

Nothing.  Lots and lots of nothing.  I mean, imagine the emptiest
piece of nothing you can imagine.  Now, stretch it out nice and thin
until it covers an entire universe.  Now, run it through the wash
several hundred times using the most caustic detergent you can buy.
Dry on 'High' for 114 years.  That's the type of nothing you find in
space.  On a good day.

On a great day, however, you might actually find something interesting
going on, if only in one small corner of one small section of one
small quadrant of space.  (Definition of quadrant:  A really big,
large space; one fourth of a bigger, larger space.)  What would a
hypothetical observer see in the particular space that you the reader
is currently reading about?

He would see a temporal, dimensional, and spacial anomaly forming.  It
would be so unlike any he had ever seen that it would be completely
unknown and utterly unknowable.  It would boggle the mind.

Actually, our observer wouldn't see very much, because his eyes would
freeze over when exposed to the vacuum of space, followed almost
immediately by several small blood vessels rupturing, surrounding his
face with a cloud of rapidly freezing/boiling blood and other, even
less pleasant, bodily fluids.  And even if he could see through all
that, he'd be distracted by the feeling he'd get when his lungs and
various other organs would attempt to leave his body.

Assuming our hypothetical observer was wearing a functional space
suit, he would see a temporal, dimensional, and spacial anomaly
forming.  Then said observer would instantly die, the very atoms of
his body breaking down due to the intense radiation accompanying an
event such as this.

Assuming our hypothetical observer was in a space ship nearby, said
ship, followed quickly by said observer, would be ripped to shreds by
gravitational fluxes.

Assuming our hypothetical observer...

For the sake of convenience, we will assume our hypothetical observer
is aboard a well-shielded, well-equipped, long-range research vessel
located some seventeen light-minutes from the anomaly.

This observer would see the anomaly grow from nothing to something
slightly larger than the size of Rhode Island, which exists only so
long as people continually compare it to things larger.  This observer
would see the anomaly change from darkest black to brightest white.
Then, from this anomaly, something would emerge.  Something soon did
emerge, and the narrative shifted from present tense to past.

The "something appeared" to be a ship, or rather what one could call a
ship if one were legally blind and in a charitable mood.  It tumbled
end over end in a stately if somewhat nauseating ballet, sailing
quickly away from the anomaly but moving more slowly every second.
Small attitude jets fired in short, precise bursts.  The tumbling
finally stopped, more or less, just as the ship exhausted its forward
momentum and began to slide backwards towards the anomaly.

With a light brighter than that of a small sun, a drive engine kicked
on.  Several others, each progressively larger than the last,
followed.  Engines from a dozen different technologies kicked ions,
plasma, tachyons, neutrinos, and small furry woodland creatures
backwards out of the ship, stopping its slow return to the anomaly.

Tumble corrected and progress slowed, it was now easier to make out
the alleged ship.  It might have once been a sleek, functional, even
graceful ship.  Now it looked like Rube Goldberg on acid.  It was a
shadetree mechanic's wet dream, with devices and instruments and
doodads from a hundred different worlds welded and glued and zip-tied
on with no thought of beauty or grace or even symmetry.  It looked,
instead, every bit like someone's half-mad attempt to cobble together
enough power to escape from an inescapable temporal, dimensional, and
spacial anomaly in which one was trapped.

With what sounded like a scream of pain, the largest engine of all
began spewing forth a wicked stream of radiation so powerful, so
dreadful to gaze upon, that it looked as if it could have come from
the right hand of God, or from the darkest depths of Hell, or from an
unholy (by definition) marriage of the two.  The ship began to gain
ground, slowly pulling away from the anomaly in spite of the intense
gravity, spacial gradient, and rubber bands that tried to stop it.

One part of the hull, a cyan-ish blue in color, sported the name "HMS
Golden Lance."  This was perhaps the largest and best preserved part
of the hull.  Another part said "HMS As Yet Unnamed."  A third could
possibly have read "USS Challenger II," if one squinted and looked at
it sideways.  Several other identifiers were simply unreadable, hence
they did not even qualify as identifiers.

The ship began gaining ground faster, finally making what looked like
decent headway in its mad dash for freedom.  But then, with another
seeming scream of pain, which is in itself remarkable considering how
poorly space conducts sound, the largest drive unit fizzled out.  One
by one, the others followed suit as their control circuits fried,
their fuel tanks drained, their reaction chambers split, or they
simply stopped working due to their warranties expiring.

The small attitude jets, supercharged and modified so that each was
powerful enough to lift the ship off a standard gravity planet, came
into play again, but their combined thrust was a butterfly's sneeze
compared to the larger drive engines which had been lost.  This ship
began another long, slow slide backwards.  The useless engines and
several unidentified pieces of equipment went flying off into space,
either by accident or design.  The anomaly gobbled the loose pieces
up and patiently waited for more.

Several antennae of various designs sprouted on the hull.  They began
transmitting an ultra-wide broadband distress signal.  It fought to
be heard over the other transmissions flying through the area.

"...like a virgin (hey!) touched for the thirty-first time..."

"...and in other news, pants are flying at half-mast today at Time
Central in honor of the disappearance of Legendary Time Agent 357
some ten years ago this date.  357 is credited with saving The World
As We Know It (tm) on countless occasions.  I'm Ran Dather, and this
is ESPN, the Extra-Sensory Perception Network.  Coming up next..."

"...one small step for a weasel, one giant leap for..."

"...there ain't no lower class than Tennessee Trash..."

=...is being transmitted on data subchannel F.  Message repeats.=

=MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!  There is an EMERGENCY going
on!  This is the VAL 9000 computer onboard the HMS Golden Lance.  This
ship has been trapped inside an unknown and unknowable temporal,
dimensional, and spacial anomaly for indeterminate period of time.  If
you are receiving this transmission, we have successfully exited the
anomaly.  However, we calculate that the transition to normal space
will leave the ship with insufficient reaction mass to keep it from
being pulled back in.=

=EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!  This is the HMS Golden Lance.  If you receive
this transmission, please respond immediately.  The anomaly emits high
levels of unknown radiation.  I am sending details of the radiation
and how to adjust your shields on data subchannel A.  Attempting to
approach the anomaly without proper shielding will result in your ship
going inactive and eventually being pulled into the anomaly.=

=CQ!  CQ!  CQ!  Please prepare your medical bay to receive wounded.
Passengers are expected to be seriously injured, if not technically
dead, after the transition to normal space.  Complete medical files
are being transmitted on data subchannel B.=

=MAYDAY!  EMERGENCY!  In the event that we do not survive, I am
transmitting redundant copies of our life stories on data subchannels
C, D, and E.  We respectfully request that you remember us, and pass
our stories along to any who have known us in the past.=

=EMERGENCY!  MAYDAY!  As I do not expect my computer intellect to
survive the transition to normal space, I have placed this message on
tape for endless repeat.  In the event that the VAL 9000 hardware from
this ship is salvaged, or that another equivalent hardware package is
available, a backup of my current mental state is being transmitted on
data subchannel F.  Message repeats.=

=MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!  There is an EMERGENCY going
on!  This is the VAL 9000 computer...=  The rest was lost in a burst
of static and ship's power failed and main systems shut down.

Still having minimal fuel reserves but lacking central computer
control, the attitude jets each fired as they saw fit, fighting
valiantly but slowly losing ground.  One by one, they ran out of fuel.
With increasing speed, the ship began to fall towards the anamoly.

And what about our hypothetical observer?  Still watching from his
well-shielded, well-equipped, long-range research vessel.  Tired of
being left out of the story, he powered up his engines, adjusted his
shields, readied his towing beam, and screwed up his resolve to do
something exceedingly brave and totally out of character.

Is it really out of character?
Who exactly is this character?
What exactly is a Golden Lance?
Who exactly is among the crew?

Find out all this, and more, when Troy H. Cheek aka "The Cowboy"
returns to the world of SFSTORY!

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 10 Oct 2001 09:22:45 -0400
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #02 - The Exposition

SF: HMS Golden Lance #02 - The Exposition

A well-shielded, well-equipped, long-range research vessel slowly
cruised some seventeen light-minutes away from the temporal,
dimensional, and spacial anomaly.  The battered remains of another
ship, if one charitably wished to call it that, were in tow.  The
anomaly, is if pouting due to having lost its victim, fizzled out of
existance in a shower of sparks.

"Fizzle," said the anomaly.

Onboard, Dr. Bing Von Spleen hummed his #1 hit tune "She Blinded me
with Spam" as he programmed the navicomputer.  Dr. Spleen, PhD, MD,
and SoB.  Dr. Spleen, the cleanest complexioned man in the known
multiverse.  Dr. Speen, known by many as the foremost spamologiest in
the galaxy (because he had killed the other three-most).  Dr. Spleen,
his unruly shock of hair faded to a dull almost-white which would have
shocked anyone who hadn't seen him lately.  Come to think of it, his
face, though still pre-puberty clean, was wizened with age.

Secure in the knowledge that his navicomputer was actually heading
away from the location of the above-mentioned anomaly at a
non-negative realspace velocity, Spleen left the bridge and headed
down to the medical bay.

"Doctor Spleen to the medical bay.  Doctor Spleen to the medical bay,"
droned an overhead speaker nearby.

"I'm already here, you silly machine," huffed Spleen huffily in his
best old codger voice.  "Now stop that infernal racket or I'll disable
your voice circuits like I did for the ship's main computer.  Why I
ever thought it would be a good idea to give computers like you
personalities..."

"I have finished the bioscans on the two patients," the voice said
when Spleen finally ran down.  "They do not appear to be human."

"Duh!" exclaimed Spleen, showing that in spite of his apparent age, he
was still a kid at heart.  And mind, for that matter.  "What do you
think those medical files I uploaded into you were?  Poorly-written
science fiction?"

"That would not have been outside your previously demonstrated range
of destructive behavior," answered the voice.  Sensing that Spleen
was closing on the nearest speaker grill with a pair of wire cutters,
the voice decided to change the subject.  "I have the report ready if
you'd like to read it."

Having proven that he who has the last laugh has the wire cutters,
Spleen settled into a nearby chair equipped with a vidscreen.  He then
flipped the vidscreen down flat to use it as a tray for the drink he
was pouring himself.  "No thanks.  Just tell me the highlights."

"Autoquack v1.4 Bioscan report," began the Autoquack 1.4 unit which
belonged to the voice we've been hearing.  "Subject 1 is a humanoid
male.  Name, Time Agent 357.  Race, classified.  Universe of origin,
classified.  Planet of origin, classified.  Age, approximately 500
years.  Subject's cells appear to be regenerating at an incredible
rate and he will be conscious in approximately two (2) hours."

The Autoquack paused for a moment to see how Spleen would react to
this report.  Spleen reacted by belching quietly and pouring himself
another drink.  The Autoquack continued.

"Subject B is a humanoid male.  Name, Omegas.  Race, unknown.
Universe of origin, unknown.  Planet of origin, unknown.  Age,
unknown, but dirt under his fingernails checks out at over 10 million
years old.  Aside from some unusual residual energy readings, subject
checks out as a more or less normal humanoid and not has the god-like
immortal alien, or alien-like immortal god, of nearly omnipotent
abilities that I was told to expect.  He will be conscious in
approximately one (1) hour."

Autoquack cleared its electronic throat before continuing.  "Doctor
Spleen, I can't properly treat my patients without full access to
their medical histories.  Much of Subject 1's medical file is
classified, and most of Subject B's medical file reads as religious
propoganda.  Also, I am still unable to connect to the Medical Center
computer to check on the latest treatment protocols and properly bill
your insurace company."

"I'm afraid the ship's main electronic communication network is still
offline due to solar storm activity in the area," lied Spleen as he
tossed the ship's main electronic communication network fuse into the
trashcan by the door.  "Adjust treatment so that both 357 and Omegas
will come around at about the same time."

"That would violate my medical ethics," stated Autoquack.  Noting the
wire cutters that Spleen was clicking menacingly in his general
direction, it continued with "But I'll see what I can do."

Spleen spent the next two hours performing vital ship maintenance
chores, such as cooking a large meal, having a large bowel movement,
and taking a short nap.  The ship's computer woke him up by accessing
his bed's controls and dumping him onto the floor.  Spleen rose,
yawned, stretched, and staggered to the medical bay just in time to
see the Autoquack do the same thing to its patients.

357 slowly climbed to his feet, moving each limb individually as if he
wasn't quite sure each was still connected to his body.  357 was a
good head taller than Spleen, more because the latter tended to hunch
over in a "B" movie elderly mad scientist sort of way than because of
any difference in their respective heights.  357's full head of dark
hair was cut short, graying slightly at the temples.  His well-tanned
body was muscular without being overly so, well-fed looking without
being fat, making his utilitarian jumpsuit look like some kind of a
uniform.  His cool gray eyes were both friendly and menacing.  He
placed his worn but comfortable captain's hat on his head at a rakish
angle.  The combination of worldly wisdom and still-youthful good
looks made him irresistable to women of all ages.  In short, 357
actually looked like what every middle-aged male being in any galaxy
who buys the local equivalent of a sports car and tries to date female
beings half his age only imagines that he looks like.

Omegas likewise slowly climbed to his feet.  Omegas was a head taller
than even 357.  His untamed mane of dark hair cascaded down his
shoulders.  His dark skin would have made the average mahogany desk
turn green with envy.  His huge muscles were barely visible beneath
the garish tropical paradise of the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing.
His feet were clad in a pair of stylish sandals.  His hands found a
pair of sunglasses and he placed them over his eyes, which were
faintly glowing with an unholy reddish color.

357 and Omegas eyed each other uneasily, as if each considered the
other a particularly nasty bug which he wanted to step on, but did
wish to ruin a perfectly good pair of shoes by doing so.

"So," said 357, glancing from Omegas to Spleen.

"So," said Omegas, glancing from Spleen to 357.

"So," said Spleen, glancing from 357 to Omegas.

"So what?" said the Autoquack, glancing from nobody to nobody because
its design did not include video monitoring equipment.

"SHUT UP!" screamed everyone else who, for all their differences, were
all agreed that most electronic devices served no useful purpose and
should be seen and not heard in any event.  Pausing only to rip a few
handfulls of electronics from the Autoquack's innards, they filed out
of the medical bay and into a briefing room located nearby.

"It's been a long time, Time Agent 357.  Longer for you than for me,
I think," began Spleen.  He offered 357 a beer.

"Seeing as I've spent the last 150 years subjective time trapped in an
anomaly of some sort, I'd have to agree with you," replied 357.  He
accepted the beer.

"An anomaly that you'd still be trapped in, dude, had I not drained my
almost limitless power getting us out of it," put in Omegas.  He took
a beer for himself and proceeded to chug it down.

357 sipped a small sip of his favorite beverage.  "An anomaly which
wouldn't even exist if it hadn't been for you.  My memories are a
little vague, but I'm sure this is somehow all your fault."

"Oh, sure, blame the has-been immortal.  It couldn't possibly have
been a Time Agent screw-up, could it?  Not that I remember, either..."

"Ahem," interrupted Spleen.  "All that aside, I rescued you because I
need your help, 357.  I have two major problems, and you're one of the
few people I think can pull my chestnuts out of this fire."

"I supposed you rescued me because you need my incredible knowledge
and power."  Omegas chuckled in his deep voice.  "What's to keep me
from just killing you and cutting out of here instead?"

Spleen chuckled as well, though with a slight squeak which rather
ruined the effect.  "Actually, the Autoquack kind of picked you up by
accident.  I wasn't expecting you.  In fact, my records show that you
should be in another author's storyline altogether at this point in
space/time/spam.  Besides, I wouldn't expect you to help if it was
the end of the world.  Which, incidentally, it might just be.  And, in
case you hadn't noticed, all of this ship's internal defense systems
are currently dedicated to tracking you and blasting you to ions at
the first hint of you manifesting any superhuman abilities."

Omegas briefly managed to look concerned, but only in an extremely
hip, devil-may-care kind of way.  He went back to his beer.

Spleen turned back to 357.  "In my personal timeline, it's only been a
few months since I sold you the HMS Golden Lance, which you planned to
take on an extended road trip to celebrate your retiring from the Time
Police.  In your timeline, you've had many grand adventures since
then, which apparently ended with you and Omegas here getting trapped
in that anomaly.  But in mine, I've continued my Spam research and
made an important advancement in the realm of quasi-food power
sources:  the ABPSARII, or Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic
Reintegrator Mark II!"  He paused for applause.  There was none.  "The
ABPSARII has all the benefits of the original ABPSARI (ABPSAR Mark I),
very few of the faults, and incorporates both temporal and dimensional
travel as well as advanced search functions."

"Search functions?" asked 357.

"Yes!!!" said Spleen calmly.  "Specify a particular type of object you
want, and the ABPSARII can search through all timelines in all
alterverses until it finds that object for you.  Likewise, specify a
certain situation you want to be a part of, and the ABPSARII can find
it somewhere, somewhen in the multiverse and transport you there."

"So what?" snickered Omegas.  "I've done that myself a few times.  I
searched out an alterverse full of powerful demonic warriors who were
willing to follow me into battle against Time Central."

"You did give me the idea," admitted Spleen.  "However, you method
involved a mini-ABPSARI, an experimental time travel device devised by
then-Time Chief Logan, and your own then-not-inconsiderable power.
The ABPSARII will allow that kind of wish fulfillment by anybody.
Indeed, everybody could soon have everything they could ever want.  No
more hunger.  No more war.  And huge profits for me!"

357 finished his beer.  "Sounds like Heaven, Nirvana, and Paradise all
rolled into one.  How is this a problem?"

Spleen bowed his head in shame.  "The prototype has been stolen.  I
need your skills to track it down.  You know more about travel between
the alterverses and temporal zones than anybody else."

Omegas considered all this, and decided that tagging along would be
good for a few laughs, and that access to Dr. Spleen's advanced
research equipment would be his best chance to regain his powers and
immortality.  He decided to stifle his boredom and contribute to the
conversation.  "You said there were two problems, doc.  What would be
the second?"

"Bloop!  Bloop!  Bloop!" the Red Alert klaxons blooped bloopedly.

The well-shielded, well-equipped, long-range research vessel, now some
twenty light-minutes away from the former location of a temporal,
dimensional, and spacial anomaly, shuddered under the sustained
blaster fire of several larger ships.  The remains of the rescued
ship, outside the protection of the shields, exploded seconds later.
The research ship went spinning ass over teakettle.

"Um, that," answered Spleen, hiding under the briefing room table.
357 jumped up and went looking for the ship's control room.  Omegas
helped himself to another beer.

Who are these mysterious attackers?
Why are they attacking our heroes?
Why doesn't the research ship have a name?
Why is there so much boring exposition?

Find out the answers in the next exciting episode of SFSTORY!

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Fri, 12 Oct 2001 14:00:21 -0400
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #03 - The Fleeing

SF: HMS Golden Lance #03 - The Fleeing

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.  From this
nothing came everything that followed.  Not just the known universe,
whichever one you happen to be sitting in as you read this, but all
universes.  All alternate universes, or alternative universes, or
alterverses, or altiverses, or whatever you might call them.  A
collection of them.  A multiverse, if you will.  A multiverse arrayed
in a massive hypersphere.  A hypersphere constantly expanding, growing
ever more impossibly larger with every passing instant.

All realities are here, somewhere.  All times are here, somewhen.  Any
place imaginable.  Any time imaginable.  Any person imaginable.  Any
situation imaginable.

Imagine a well-shielded, well-equipped, long-range research vessel,
some twenty light-minutes away from the former location of a temporal,
dimensional, and spacial anomaly, shuddering under the sustained
blaster fire of several larger ships.  Imagine a mortal born of a race
of immortals, a human from a little-known planet called Earth, and a
former streetwise servant of Heaven, all onboard that vessel.
Imagine, indeed, the current situation of our heroes.

Go ahead.  Imagine.  I dare you.  Aw, c'mon.  Please?

Time Agent 357 (retired) swore.  He swore at great length.  He swore
against many different things.  He swore in several different
languages.  He swore to such an extent that, as he entered the bridge
of the unnamed research vessel, his curses distorted the very fabric
of the local space/time/spam continuum to such an extent that the
paint actually peeled off the walls.  This did not affect the
functioning of the primary viewscreen, which showed that he was
surrounded by half a dozen ships, each much larger than the one he was
currently in.  357 took manual control of the helm and sent the ship
on a spiraling evasive course designed to gave the enemy's targeting
computers a stomach ache.  It did, at least for the moment.

Doctor Bing Von Spleen, owner and nominal captain of the vessel,
bravely strode onto the bridge to take control of the situation, if
one defines the word "bravely" as screaming in panic, "strode" as in
being bodily carried by Omegas, and "control" as having absolutely no
idea of what he needed to do.  Spleen was just that kind of guy.

"Omegas!" shouted 357, finally in his element after two chapters of
inactivity.  "Get to a gun turret and see if you can hold them off
long enough for me to warp us out of here!  Doctor Spleen!  Get to the
communications system and see if you can call for help!"  The enemy's
targeting computers had finally figured out the evasive course, so 357
switched to spelling out curse words with the ship's exhaust.  Omegas
began poking buttons at random trying to locate the weapons system.

"Um, little problem with that," apologized Spleen.  "This is purely a
research vessel and has no armaments."  He staggered a little as the
enemy's blasters found a weak spot in the shields.  "Also, we can't
call for help, as the younger version of me is also active in this
area of space/time/spam.  He gets wind that I was here, when I plainly
don't remember that, and it'll cause a temporal paradox.  I might just
cease to exist.  Omegas, too, I think."

"Paradox, smaradox," teased Omegas, apparently not at all concerned
about the possibility of altering the timestream and erasing his
entire zillion-year existance.  Irritated that he was not going to get
to fire the nonexistent guns, he amused himself by launching probe
drones at the attacking ships, which banked off to avoid them,
thinking that the harmless probes were weapons of some kind.

357 angrily snapped off an alarm which he assumed was telling him that
he was about to get his butt vaporized out from under him, which he
already knew.  He muttered under his breath, wishing that he was
aboard his old ship, the HMS Golden Lance, which he missed terribly
and felt could have handled this situation with ease.  He missed his
ship's computer, the VAL 9000, which probably could have handled the
situation without him.  Most of all, however, he missed his
retirement, which never seemed to last very long before he was dragged
into messes like this again.  Seeing that Omegas' probes had
distracted the enemy, he straightened out the course and hoped that
the shields would hold long enough for the navicomputer to do whatever
it was that it thought it needed to do.

It did not occur to 357 that he had absolutely no idea what the
navicomputer thought it needed to do.

After several subjective lifetimes, it did, however, do it.  The
ship's main engines, powered by a standard ABPSARI (Automatic Beet
Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-Integrator), told space and time to get bent.
Space and time obliged.  The research ship just disappeared.  Onboard
the six attacking ships, targeting computers decided that ships don't
just disappear, and sniffed around for other targets.  They found
them, and happily opened fire.  Four of the ships managed to destroy
each other before things were brought back under control.  The
remaining ships licked their wounds and began scanning for Spam
residue, the only way to track an ABPSARI-powered ship.

                        =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"Are we live?  Oh, good.  Rigel Broadbottom here, bringing you another
exciting episode of Untamed Universe."

"What's going on.  Let me out of here!"

"As you'll remember from the last series, we found a spacial warp
which led us to several previously uncharted planets.  During one of
those expeditions, we collected this lovely specimem here."

"Let me out of here and I'll give you specimen!"

"Our scientists were quite disappointed to learn that in spite of her
extensive vocalizations, she is nothing more than a dumb animal.  We
were unable to communicate with her on any but the most basic level."

"What do you mean?  You've spent months talking to me!"

"Ah, yes, lovely little Clara has spent quite a long time away from
home.  But that's all about to change..."

"The name's Chuck.  Now let me out of here!"

"Today, we've rediscovered the planet where we captured her, and are
ready to release her to rejoin the herd."

"What are you talking about?  This doesn't look like Jersey."

"Ah, yes, here comes the other members of the herd.  They do seem
excited about the prospect of seeing Clara again."

"Herd?  Those things look like wolves on acid!"

"We believe that these larger, more hirsute creatures are the male of
the species.  The largest one appears to have taken a special interest
in our little Clara.  Let's release her and see what happens."

"No!  I don't want to dropped out of the cage.  Help!  Help!"

"Ah, beautiful.  It looks like they've hit it off.  The males seems to
be engaged in some sort of symbolic biting game.  We believe that it
is a prelude to mating."

"Help!  Oh, God!  Help!  Augh..."

"I see that Clara is releasing a great quantity of a reddish substance
from her body and is lying very still.  We believe that this signals
her willingness to mate.  We'd best leave these lovebirds alone.  Once
again, I'm Rigel Broadbottom, and this has been Untamed Universe."

                        =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

In another area of time and space, a ship appeared.  A nearby planet's
gravitational field decided that ships don't just appear, and so
ignored it.  Which was a good thing because the occupants of said ship
were in no condition to contemplate the subtleties of orbital
mechanics.  Or any other mechanics, for that matter.

Doctor Spleen was busy barfing his guts out.  Time Agent 357 was
upchucking.  Omegas was just plain puking.  Even the ship's systems
seemed just slightly put out.  Once recovered sufficiently to stand,
Spleen programmed the ship to take them to a base which was in orbit
around the planet.  They staggered out of the ship and into the base.

"What the hell was that?" Omegas asked once he had regained some sense
of dignity, or at least as much dignity as a former immortal in a very
loud oversized Hawaiian shirt can have.  He adjusted his sunglasses as
he looked around.  It looked like some kind of automated shipyard.

"Interdimensional feedback," Spleen answered as he led them deeper
into the innards of the base, pausing only to hand a few floppy disks
over to a passing robot of some kind.  "We travelled to an alterverse
very far, spamologically speaking, from the one we were in without
passing through Netherspace or any of the alterverses in between.
According to accepted theory, we should all be hazy clouds of ionized
particles right now.  Luckily, I know a few tricks.  It just takes a
lot of preparation and a carefully pre-mapped route."  They eventually
came to another briefing room.

"Meaning," 357 said as he found a chair, "that this base is where you
were planning to take us all along."

"More or less," Spleen admitted as he and Omegas found seats as well.
"This was all an elaborate plan to bring you back into a storyline."

"Needlewarp!" cursed 357.  "Why can't anything ever be easy?"

"Easy?" asked Spleen.  "You want easy?  You were gone for nearly 10
years objective time.  You were forgotten by the authors.  You were
lost to a world which annually celebrates your disappearance.  You
can't just open a door, walk into the room, and say 'Hi, there!' like
nothing ever happened!"

Just then, the door opened.  A figure walked into the room.  "Hi,
there!" it said, like nothing ever happened.

                        =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Two recently repaired ships scanned the heavens.  They locked onto and
sorted through a plethora of trails, looking for the one they wanted.
Narrowing their choices down to a mere handful, they split up and
moved off.

Who is the figure?
What are these ships?
What is this storyline of which Dr. Spleen speaks?
Why am I asking all these stupid questions that I have no intention of
ever answering?

Find out next week, same SFtime, same SFchannel!

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
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