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Sfstory Log 101

=========================================================================
Date:         Fri, 09 Nov 2001 13:12:41 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #08 - After the Explosion

SF: HMS Golden Lance #08 - After the Explosion

The SuperMaxi Security wing of Time Central was completely wrecked,
almost as if a very powerful android replicate of a renegade Time
Agent had overloaded its power cells and exploded with sufficient
force to kill everyone present.

Which, now that you mention it, was exactly what had happened.

First Lieutenant Floyd Cobalt of the Time Police struggled to his
feet.  This did not take long as he was fairly low-slung and walked
around on all fours anyway, closely resembling a giant Earth turtle
the way he did and all.  He was quite surprised to find himself
unharmed.  Well, not any more harmed than he was before the explosion.
He checked that his sling was still in place and looked around at all
the other Time Officers and assorted beings laying around him.

The only being not laying around was the being known as Omegas.  He
was still standing.  His arms were outstretched in some kind of
warding gesture.  His body was surrounded by a soft blue glow of some
kind.  As Floyd watched, the glow flickered and faded.  Omegas dropped
his arms, swayed back and forth a bit, and collapsed in a heap.  The
melted remains of his DIESCUM pistol smoldered beside him.

Floyd noted that Omegas, in his zest to get first shot at the android
version of Greez Hyperiok, had inadvertantly shielded most of the rest
of the group from any major harm, though a squid-like being was
holding a few of his arms as if he thought they would fall off should
he let go.  The main exceptions were three Time Central Safety and
Security Officers (aka TimeCen SafeSecs) wearing uniform yellow shirts
and Time Agent 357.

The security officers would have made really interesting abstract art
exhibits, if anyone could have looked at them without throwing up.

Time Agent 357 rolled over, the force of the turn helping to re-seat
his dislocated shoulder.  By the time he climbed to his feet, most of
the bleeding had stopped, and his lungs had healed enough that he
could take a deep breath.  "Needlewarp," he cursed quietly.

Being a genetic throwback, 357 thought not for the first time, had its
advantages.  He might not live forever like most of his kind, but he
was damned hard to kill in the thousand or so years that he did have.
Still, had his miniature shield emitter not contained most of the
force of the explosion, he would have been neatly vaporized.

The pile of beings shifted slightly.  "I say," came a cheerful voice
from the bottom of it.  "Is anyone besides me in extreme pain?"

"We all are, Ralph," said 357 as he and Floyd helped Ralph, the Giant
Space Weasel of Anthrax V, to his feet.  Together, they dug through
the bodies and located Doctor Bing Von Spleen.

"Did anyone, I say, did anyone get the number of that truck?" Spleen
asked.  Being the only person from Earth present, nobody recognized
the reference.  Well, 357, having spent many years on Earth during
various missions to save space/time as we know it, recognized the
reference.  He just didn't think it was funny.

"We need to get back to the ship and track down the real Hyperiok,"
barked 357.  "I'm now certain that he's responsible for the theft of
your ABPSAR Mark II."  357, Spleen, and Ralph picked up Omegas and
started back towards their ship, the HMS Golden Lance for which this
serial is named.

The form of a large blue turtle stepped in front of them.  "Sure you
don't want to stay a while?" asked Floyd.  "We can help patch up you
and Omegas, give you some help tracking down Hyperiok..."  He trailed
off when 357 showed no signs of stopping to talk.

"No time, Floyd," snapped 357.  "I want to get started right away."

Floyd seemed distressed.  "Well, at least let a few of us come with
you.  I can ask for volunteers?"

"No time," 357 repeated.  Once aboard the HMS Golden Lance, he ordered
the VAL 9000 computer to blast off immediately.  "Val, start checking
the GalNews Archives for any other Greez sightings.  Spleen, start
working on some way to track the ABPSARII.  Ralph, get Omegas to the
medical bay.  I'll ready the ship for combat.  Enough of this running
around waiting to be attacked.  We're going on the offensive!"

                        * * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, on a planet where the trees walk around and sniff at dogs
which are firmly rooted to the ground, which was known officially as
Latigid though most people simply called it the planet where the trees
walk around and sniff at dogs which are firmly rooted to the ground,
two beings sat around a campfire.

"Dog for dinner again, Eert?" asked Brnie.

Eert's reply was cut short by a technicolor explosion of spectacularly
bad special effects.  A tall, robed and hooded figure stepped through
them.  "REPORT, MY MINIONS!"

Brnie stuttered and sputtered, but Eert was able to find his voice.
"We defected and waited here as instructed, my Master.  We gave Time
Agent 357 the name you told us.  By now, he has no doubt been blown to
bits along with all of Time Central."

"NONSENSE!  357 LIVES!"  The robed figure turned as if to leave, then
paused.  "HOWEVER, YOU HAVE PERFORMED YOUR ASSIGNED DUTIES WITHOUT
FLAW.  I GRANT YOU A BOON.  WHAT DO YOU DESIRE?"

Brnie said "We humbly request that we be allowed to live out the
remainder of our days here, my Master.  This storyline is entirely too
confusing for our tastes."

"SO MOTE IT BE!"

"Um, is that a yes?"

                        * * * * * * * * *

Onboard the HMS Golden Lance, Time Agent 357 answered an incoming comm
signal, cutting off his evening viewing of Andromeda City Limits.
"...looks like I'll run out of space/time before I outrun the pain..."

Floyd Cobalt's face appeared.  "357, I'm sending you a list of the
last dozen places Greez Hyperiok was captured in.  So far, this is all
we've been able to come up with."

"Thanks, Floyd.  We'll check for a pattern."

"You might want to try tracking down Time Agent 386.  He was the last
one to bring in Greez."

"I remember you telling me that.  357 out."  357 scanned the list and
had the VAL 9000 set a course for the last entry.

Spleen looked up from his work.  "Why this sudden urge to track down
Hyperiok?  And why the sudden conviction that he's the one who stole
my ABPSARII, otherwise known as my Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-
Atomic Re-integrator Mark II?"

357 double-checked the navigation computer before finally turning to
answer.  "I remembered what you said about how the ABPSARII worked,
how you could specify an object or person or situation and it would
sort through all times and all realities to find whatever it was you
were looking for."

"Yes?" prompted Spleen, making a silent pledge to stangle the author
for inserting all these dramatic pauses.

"Well, I remember Eert and Brnie on Latigid telling me that just
before the person claiming to be Greez Hyperiok first showed up, some
of the guys were sitting around saying that they were so bored that
they'd take the next job offer that came up, even if it came from a
power-hungry psychopath bent on multiversal domination."

Spleen considered for a moment.  "That's pretty weak."

"Oh, I think Eert and Brnie were telling the truth about that..."

"No, I mean it's pretty weak presenting the information that way.  You
left it out of your log entry, out of your earlier verbal report to
me, and even out of the narrative of the previous chapter.  I think
that withholding vital information like that is the worst kind of
literary shenanigans you can pull on somebody."

=357, we're approaching the location you specified,= came the voice
of the VAL 9000 computer.

"Where Greez Hyperiok was last captured, and the last known location
of my nephew, Time Agent 386?" 357 asked.

=The same.=

"Reviewing information that all the characters already know just to
cue in the reader.  Weak."  Spleen toddled away.

357 began looking for something to throw at Spleen.

The planet was fairly nondescript, having no local name, only a
catalog number, too long to go into here, the reader being bored silly
by numerous commas, which connected a flurry of incoherent sentence
fragments, totally against all rules of proper grammar.  Grammer?

Whatever.

In the mean time, the HMS Golden Lance for which this serial is
named arrived in orbit.  Time Agent 357, Doctor Bing Von Spleen, and
Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V zapped themselves down to
the surface using the Temporal Teleporter Terminal.

"I wish we could have brought Omegas along," said Spleen.  "Now that
he's starting to manifest his old powers again, I want to keep him
where I can see him."

"Sorry, doctor," responded Ralph.  "The Autoquack v1.5 told me that
he'd be unconscious for at least another hour."

357 said nothing, being fully involved with scanning for any life
forms in the area, but couldn't seem to get the scanner to work
properly.  In fact, he was so involved with working the scanner that
he failed to notice the group of life forms sneaking up behind him.
He did notice them once the things they were throwing began to rain
down around him.

"Take cover!" he shouted.  Unnecessarily, as it turned out, as Ralph
and Spleen had already hit the deck.  He reached down and picked up
one of the things being thrown at him.  "Books?"

"Oh no!" wailed Ralph.  "The dreaded Librarians!"

Spleen didn't see the point.  "Librarians?  Little scholarly guys who
not only didn't make the football team, but they couldn't even make
the band?  Those Librarians?"

"Maybe on your planet, Doctor," huffed Ralph as he made a shield wall
out of old copies of Encyclopia Galactica.  "But most civilized races
realize that knowledge is power, so only the most ruthless, power-
hungry individuals devote their lives to being Librarians."

The deadly rain of books slowed.  Several massive figures, who looked
no less menacing for their bad haircuts, oversized ties, and
horn-rimmed glasses, closed in.  Each hefted a hefy book.  All were
overdue.  The largest one approached 357.

"Auio ioiaa oiaeeiy oui!" he declared.

357 smiled.  "Ioueaii ioiaie ii ya ieeaoi?" he asked.

The smaller librarians looked at each other.  "He knows the sacred
language, Nanoc!"  "This has never happened before."  "Nanoc, whatever
shall we do?"

"Quiet!" shouted the largest, the aforementioned Nanoc the Librarian.
"We do what we always do!"

"And what's that?" inquired 357.

Nanoc smiled.  "Eat our prisoners."  The Librarians advanced.

357 shook his head sadly.  Well, if it has to be this way, it has to
be this way, he thought.  Raising his trusty telechronal displacement
pistol, he prepared to send all Nanoc's individual molecules on random
unplanned trips through space and time.  357 pulled the trigger and
was surprised to hear only a faint click.

"Uh oh."

Meanwhile, back on the Golden Lance, Omegas awoke.

Is this the end of 357?
Of Spleen?  Of Ralph?
What will Omegas do now that he's awake?
Will Spike and Buffy ever go all the way?

For the answers to these questions, tune in at a random time and date
for the next exciting episode of SFSTORY!

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Thu, 15 Nov 2001 11:19:38 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #09 - Enter the Darkness

SF: HMS Golden Lance #09 - Enter the Darkness

Nanoc the Librarian, resplendent in his leather loincloth and horn-
rimmed glasses, advanced on our heroes.  At his back, close to a dozen
slightly smaller Librarians raised their reference books in a very
menacing manner.  "Let's eat," mumbled one of them.

Time Agent 357 (retired) holstered his useless weapon and looked to
his companions.  These were Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V
and Doctor Bing Von Spleen from Earth.  As they were not armed to
begin with, they had nothing to holster.  Ralph was waving his ukulele
in a vaguely threatening manner.  He was not, however, waving it at
the approaching Librarians, but rather at Spleen, who was making
"don't hurt me - take the weasel" hand gestures.

357 activated his comm system.  "Val, now would be a good time to get
us out of here."  The comm system was deader than 4 o'clock.  357 was
getting ready to make one of his famous last stands when he sensed
movement on the cliff face above him.

A lithe hooded figure sommersaulted over 357's head to land in front
of the Librarians.  Hands and feet lashed out, sending books and index
cards flying in all directions.  Within seconds, the Librarians were
routed and running for their lives.  "The Dark Mistress!  It's the
Dark Mistress!  Run for your lives!"

"That's Miss Dark, you idiot information junkies!" the figure yelled.
The figure turned around.  The hood was pulled back to reveal an
attractive young redheaded humanoid female.  "Ralph, great to see you
again!  Doctor Spleen, you look well."  She finally turned to face
357.  "Time Agent 386, when did you get so old?"

"Actually, I'm 357," answered 357.  "386's uncle."

"Oh," answered the female.  "Well, there's a big family resemblance
thing going there.  You look just like I imagined he would when old."

"I'm sure.  Who exactly are you, and how do you know my nephew?"

Ralph stepped forward.  "This young lady is miss Diana Dark, a human
who travelled with Time Agent 386 and myself for a time.  She was
instrumental during our attack on the Planet of the Supermarkets.
When we parted company, she was still with 386, as I remember."

"I was," said Diana.  "We traced renegade Time Agent Greez Hyperiok to
a ship in orbit around this planet.  After we captured him (which
involved a case of beer, a set of handcuffs, and a very good acting
job on my part), 386 went off to take Hyperiok to Time Central.  As
that was expected to be a milk run, 386 left me here in the mean time
to make peaceful contact with the natives."  She tossed a dictionary
at the retreating figures.  "As you can imagine, this was a difficult
task, especially considering that no advanced technology seems to work
on the planet's surface."

"So I've noticed," grumbled 357.  "386 never returned?"

"Nope.  No word."

"Time Central records show that 386 brought in Hyperiok, then left a
flight plan saying he was coming back here.  He should have been here
by now, if I understand the timeflow in this alterverse correctly."

"You do.  Months ago," Diana confirmed.  "I hope nothing happened to
him.  Well, at least Hyperiok is locked up in the SuperMaxi Security
wing of Time Central where he can't hurt anybody."

Spleen, who was idly plucking pieces of equipment off 357's belt to
see if anything was working, spilt the beans about Hyperiok.  "It
turns out the Hyperiok in the SuperMaxi wing was an andriod duplicate,
which self-destructed after chewing the scenary a bit.  We have no
idea when or where the substitution took place."

"It took place after 386 left with him," answered Diana firmly.

"How can you be so sure?"

"During the capture, I bit him," Diana said.  "Androids don't bleed."

357 looked Diana over again.  He liked a woman who could fight.  As
long as she wasn't fighting him.  "I see.  Well, we'll worry about
that later, along with finding out what happened to my nephew.  Right
now, we need to figure out a way to get back to my ship, the HMS
Golden Lance for which this serial is named."

"Serial?  What serial?"

"Um, never mind.  Do you have any sort of signalling device?"

Diana Dark parted her cloak, revealing many interesting things, which
included several sophisticated electronic devices.  "I'm a walking
radio shack, meaning the fancy room on a ship and not a trademarked
chain of electronics stores, but none of them work down here."

"Let me see what I can do," said Spleen as he ran his eyes and hands
over Diana's equipment.  After she smacked him several times, he
limited himself to the electronic devices.  Within minutes, he had
constructed a device which he claimed would signal the ship.

"That should do it," he said as he flipped the switch and the rest of
the group dove behind a large rock.  He was about to chide his
companions for their lack of faith in his abilities when the device
exploded in a huge ball of flame.

Onboard the HMS Golden Lance for which this serial...  Um, never mind.

Anyway, onboard, Omegas was amusing himself by trying to use the
Temporal Teleporter Terminal to duplicate a particularly tasty keg of
beer.  He had just set the proper temporal and dimensional coordinates
when he was interupted by the ship's computer, the VAL 9000.

=Sorry to interupt you, Omegas...=

"No, you're not," answered Omegas.

="Okay, so I'm not.  However, I do need you to step away from the TTT
platform.  I've just scanned a large energy discharge on the planet's
surface and 357 is not responding to my signals.  I'm going to TTT
everybody up as a safety precaution.=

"Well, okay, but just let me move..."

With a swirl of rainbow colors, a group of people appeared, displacing
the atoms of the keg and its contents, spraying them all over the
walls and teleporter controls.

And all over Omegas.  "...my beer."

Spleen looked around and took an appreciative sniff.  "Reminds me of
my lab back at the university."  He and Ralph snickered at Omegas,
then left the room, each carrying a load of assorted reference books
they had scavaged.

Omegas wrung beer from the tail of his loud Hawaiian flowerdy shirt.
"357, that infernal computer of yours has got to..."  Then Omegas
seemed to notice Diana Dark.  "Well, hello, there!"

"Omegas," answered Diana coolly.

"I see my reputation has preceeded me," Omegas said suavely.  "But
please do not believe anything these ruffians have said about me.
I'm sure that you'll find that the truth is much more interesting.
Might I show you around, my dear?"  He turned smoothly to lead her
into the corridor.  Well, smoothly until he tripped over a lexicon on
East Europan postal workers of the 2200's.

"Um, some other time, perhaps.  357 and I have something we need to
discuss right now."

"Very well," said Omegas, as he strode away, his sandals making little
splish splishing noises in the beer.

"357, is something wrong with Omegas?" Diana asked.

"Nothing more than usual.  He's currently without his immortality and
near infinite powers, so he's fairly harmless as long as we keep him
away from sharp objects.  Why?"  As he talked, he led her to the
nearest break room, because she really looked like she could use a
good meal.

Diana shucked her cloak and hung it on a hook by the door.  "Well, he
acted like he didn't know me.  386 and I have encounted Omegas several
times.  And I've never known him to be polite.  The first time we met,
he asked me to please step outside."

"That's not polite?"

"Outside of the spaceship."

"That's rude."

"That's my point."  Diana sighed.  "Anyway, Omegas has plenty of
reasons to remember me, and no reason at all to be nice to me."

357 considered.  "Well, Omegas and I did just spend the last 150
subjective years trapped inside a temporal, dimensional, and spacial
anomaly.  I know that I've had some memory lapses because of it.  For
example, I still can't remember exactly how we ended up inside that
anomaly in the first place, though I'm sure it's his fault."

"I'm sure," agreed Diana in her best 'humor the Time Agent' tone.

"Well, let me find you a room," said 357, who hated being humored.
"Val, assign Miss Dark a room."

=Working on it.  Do you prefer pinks or purples?=

"Pinks."  Diana made herself at home in the break room, helping
herself to a large portion of whatever it was the food slot was
serving at the time.

Seeing that she would be busy eating for a while, having survived the
last few months on roots, berries, and the leather covers of various
types of reference books, 357 wandered off to do whatever it was that
he did when he wasn't being a hero.

As he walked down the corridor, an observer would observe that 357
flickered in and out of reality several times like a badly tuned and
impossibly archaic TV signal.  There were no observers, however.  357
paused, shook his head, and moved on, not realizing that he'd just
been part of an important plot point.

Diana was on her third plate when Ralph came in.  "So nice to be
adventuring with you again," he said.

"Thanks, Ralph," Diana answered, suppressing a burp because, after
all, she was a woman.  She looked around the spacious break room.
"Say, how is it that this ship is so much bigger on the inside than it
is on the outside?"

"357 said it was dimensional transexualism or something like that."
Ralph helped himself to a plate.

"But what does that mean?" Diana wondered aloud.

"It means that it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside,"
Doctor Bing Von Spleen answered aloud as he entered the break room and
began filling a plate of his own.  "Hey, I designed it, and even I
don't understand it."

They all chewed quietly for a while, except for Ralph, who literally
could not chew with his weaseloid mouth closed due to anatomical
reasons beyond the scope of this story.

"Say," said Ralph, spraying his half-eaten food halfway across his
half of the table.  "I just realized that you are both from the same
alterverse (alternate universe), same planet, and even roughly the
same time period.  What are the odds of that?"

"Pretty good, actually," answered Spleen.  "Most of the authors are
from Earth in that alterverse, and they tend to write what they know,
limiting themselves to humans or at least human-like characters."

"Authors?"

"Never mind," Spleen said hastily.  "Anyway, my Automatic Beet Peeler
and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark I, or ABPSARI, was sabotaged by
Radar Vogel, which is how I came to leave Earth.  You?"

Ralph finished the last of his food.  "I was quite happy on my
homeworld, Liebowitz IV, when my P.R. agent decided to rename me as
the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V and signed a contract on my behalf
with Hell (back before they were incorporated) to be a Satanic Agent
At Large, or SAAL.  By the time I weaselled out of my contract, I was
far from my home with no idea of how to get back."

Diana decided to tell her story.  "I had kicked out my boyfriend and
was cleaning up the apartment.  I carelessly threw a pair of handcuffs
under the bed, knocking an open can of beer into leaking can of a
processed cheese-like snack product."

"Ah," gasped Spleen.  "The reality-warping properties of the leaking
Cheez-Whiz (for it could be no other product) combined with the mood-
altering properties of the beer, no doubt destroying your apartment
and transporting you into another reality."

"Right," continued Diana.  "There was an explosion the likes of which
I had never seen before."

Just then, a massive explosion ripped through the HMS Golden Lance,
the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

Except Diana, of course.

What caused the explosion?
Has Diana really seen its likes before?
What is happening to Time Agent 357?
Why can't Ralph chew with his mouth closed?

For answers to these and other questions, consult a Ouiji board, cause
you ain't gettin' nothing here...

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Sun, 02 Dec 2001 22:33:43 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #10 - Under Attack (Again)

SF: HMS Golden Lance #10 - Under Attack (Again)

The cast of characters...

Time Agent 357 - Born of a race of near-immortal beings who tend to
live for hundreds of thousands of years until they die of boredom or
stupidity, 357 is actually a genetic throwback who is only expected to
live a mere thousand years or so.  His only goal in life is to retire.

Omegas - A very nearly all-powerful, almost omnipotent being of
unknown origin, Omegas has served the forces of Good, Evil, and
(mostly) himself.  This god-like alien, or alien-like god, could very
well set himself up as supreme ruler of all of Creation, if only he
could avoid getting himself into stupid situations that result in his
powers being drained.

Doctor Bing Von Spleen - The Galaxy's foremost Spamological Engineer
(because he personally killed the other threemost), Spleen invented
the Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-Integrator (or ABPSAR).
Doctor Spleen was once an professor at a respected university, where
he enjoyed sex, beer, recreational drugs, and having a good time
irresponsibly, proving that he was actually a college _student_
trapped in a professor's body.

Ralph - Known as the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V, Ralph is
actually a friendly, easy-going weaseloid from Leibowitz IV and an
accomplished ukulele player in his own right.  He would much rather
return to his home in Netherspace and enjoy the company of his 500
weaseloid wives, but realizes that somebody has to be the "everyman"
character that the reader can relate to.

Diana Dark - This sweet, innocent girl from Chicago (or, at least, as
sweet and innocent as any girl from Chicago can be) was transported
into SFSTORY by an explosion caused by the interaction of Cheez-Whiz
and beer, though the police have attributed her disappearance to a
bizarre Cruisinart accident.  Partner to Time Agent 386.

Time Agent 386 - Nephew to Time Agent 357 and heir to his Time Agent
legacy if and when 357 ever successfully retires.  Like 357, he is
extremely hard to kill but not immortal, unlike the rest of their race
which can be killed easily by violence but will live almost forever
otherwise.  386 is currently missing in action.

HMS Golden Lance - Time Agent 357's ship, the HMS Golden Lance, was
designed and built by Doctor Spleen to replace an earlier ship by the
same name, also designed and built by Doctor Spleen.  It is part
timeship, part interdimensional cruiser, part warship, and part
retirement home for 357.  It is controlled by the VAL 9000 computer,
or Val as her friends call her.

The story so far...

Time Agent 357 and Omegas were trapped inside inside of a temporal,
dimensional, and spacial anomaly until rescued by Doctor Bing Von
Spleen.  Joined by Ralph, they are attempting to recover the new and
experimental ABPSARII (or ABPSAR Mark II) which Spleen has somehow
lost.  Their efforts have led them to Diana Dark, who has joined the
crew hoping to locate her lost partner, Time Agent 386.  Shortly after
coming aboard, the HMS Golden Lance came under attack (again)...

A massive explosion, the likes of which no one (except Diana) had ever
seen before, ripped through the HMS Golden Lance for which our serial
is named.  =All hands to the control room!= announced VAL 9000, the
ship's computer.  Computers, of course, could not panic, though Val
was doing a reasonable impression.

Time Agent 357, already at the controls, called for a status report.
"Status report!" he called.

=Energy beam of unknown type and origin!= the computer barked back.

"It was a beer/Cheez-Whiz reaction!" shouted Diana Dark.  "It was just
like the one that propelled me into space to begin with!"

"Everybody quit yelling!" shouted Omegas, who was in a particularly
foul mood for no reason in particular.  Well, he was an immortal, all-
powerful being who was currently mortal, powerless, and still soaking
wet from being doused in beer in the previous chapter, so I guess he
did have a reason or two.

He was also being thoroughly ignored by Diana Dark, even though he had
politely pulled out a chair for her.  Ralph thanked Omegas as he took
the chair for himself.

Doctor Spleen checked some readings.  "Unknown vessel off the port,
uh, um, front part of the ship."

=On screen!=

The attacking ship did not look at all impressive.  It looked more
like a two-year-old's attempt to model a ship with clay and pipe
cleaners.  On the side was crudely written, as if in crayon, "S.S.
You Are About To Die."  The ship continued to look not at all
impressive right up to the moment that it fired another energy beam.

357 leaped, or lept, or whatever, to the controls.  "Val, commense
evasive ma-Yikes!" he yelled as the computer quickly changed course
and speed, overpowering the synthetic gravity and sending everyone not
buckled in against the far wall of the control room.  Since Omegas was
the ship's Safety Officer, this meant everyone period.

The course change did not, unfortunately, save the ship from damage.
The energy beam hit the port landing skid.  =Ouch!  Ow!  Owowowow!=

"Val, damage report!" shouted 357 from under a pile of bodies.

=Owowowowowowow!  Ow!  The bastich blew off my port landing skid and
you want a frezzing damage report?  He's blasting through our shields
like they aren't there!  Ow!=

"Never mind that," 357 continued from under the pile.  "Prime and
fire the primary weapon before the blows us to bits!"

=And why'd he have to hit the port one!  That's my cute side!  Now
I'll have to make left turns all the time to hide it!=

"Val, fire!"

=Firing!=

The Golden Lance energy beam, a destructive combination of raw energy
and processed cheese-like food products, blasted toward the attacking
ship.  Just before it reached the ship, it was brushed aside like a
small furry woodland creature off a groundcar's bumper.  The attacking
ship's series of answering blasts destroyed auxillary control, the
Hypertechnical Orange Thingy, and the bowling alley.

"Well, that didn't work," said Omegas helpfully, or as helpfully as
Omegas ever said anything, as he extended a hand to help Diana up.
Diana ignored it, instead performing a full back flip from a prone
position and landing on her feet.

=Signal coming in!=

The signal had a visual component, and the main screen displayed it.
The assumed control room of the attacking ship also looked to be made
of modeling clay and pipe cleaners and designed by a small child.
Sitting in the captain's chair was a familiar figure.  "Well, 357,
looks like the shoe's on the other foot this time."

"Greez Hyperiok!"

"Yes," answered Hyperiok.  "It is I, Greez Hyperiok, renegade Time
Agent, mass murderer, and all around bad egg.  I'm also the person who
stole Doctor Spleen's Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-
Integrator Mark II, or ABPSARII, since you aren't smart enough to have
figured that out for yourself by now."

"Actually, we did," answered 357, wondering where Hyperiok got such a
powerful warship.

"No matter," replied Hyperiok.  "You're probably wondering where I got
such a powerful warship.  Well, with the ABPSARII, it's easy.  I
simply specified that I wanted a ship powerful enough to destroy you
and waited for it to find one.  It took a while.  That's why I sent
those mercenaries to slow you down."

I wonder how much longer he's going to play with us, thought 357,
before he destroys us for good.

"If you're wondering how much longer I'm going to play with you before
I destroy you for good," continued Hyperiok, "the answer is exactly 60
seconds.  Bwahahahahaha!  59...  58...  57...  56...  55...  54..."

"Val, fire up the engines and zap us into another alterverse!"

=I can't.  The attacking ship has some kind of Ziplock Protective
Field.  It's neutralizing our Spam and pretty much every other fuel we
have.  All our interdimensional drives are dead.=

357 and Spleen scrambled feverently to restore main power.  VAL 9000
muttered to herself about looking like something the cat dragged in.
Omegas wriggled his eyebrows up and down at Diana, while Diana ignored
him and assisted Ralph in trying to activate the ship's escape pods.
Well, she assumed that's what he was doing.  Ralph was actually just
changing wires around at random to kill time.

"Needlewarp!  This isn't going to work," decided 357.  He dug into his
pocket and pulled out 37 cents in change, a used subspaceway token, a
button, and some pocket lint.  He handed them to Diana.  "Here, drop
these down the auxillary ABPSARI fuel feed there in the corner."

"Okay," she said as she did so, not noticing that Spleen's eyes had
just bugged out of his head and that Omegas and Ralph had just assumed
classic 'duck and cover' positions.  "What good will this do?"

What good will this do indeed?  The Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-
Atomic Re-Integrator, or ABPSARI, is perhaps the safest power source
known to intelligent beings anywhere.  But only, as trial and error
has determined, if powered by SPAM (Sickening, Putrid, Artificial
Meat), NeoSpam, and a select number of other overprocessed meat-like
food products.  When powered by anything else, ANYTHING can happen.
Lives can be ruined.  Civilizations can rise or fall.  Heaven's gates
can crumble.  Charleton Heston can vote Democrat.  Anything.

"23...  22...  21..." Hyperiok continued to count, until he realized
that the HMS Golden Lance had just faded out of existance.  "WHAT?"

Hyperiok sputtered and huffed for several minutes before finally
demanding to know what just happened.

"I demand to know what just happened!"

The ship answered back with a series of rapid clicks, loud buzzes,
warbling whistles, flashes of color, and rude hand gestures that
Hyperiok somehow understood.

"I can see that they activated some kind of interdimensional drive and
blasted themselves into some other alterverse (alternate universe).  I
specifically told you to keep that from happening!"

More clicks, buzzes, and whistles.

"Put *what* in an ABPSAR?  That could result in ANYTHING happening.
They must be crazy."

Buzzes, colors, whistles, gesture or two.

"No, that doesn't get you off the hook.  I told the ABPSARII that I
wanted a ship powerful enough to destroy 357.  It looks like you're
not it."

Clicks, buzz, and several rude gestures.

"Because I didn't WANT to destroy the HMS Golden Lance completely
within the first tenth of a second of the attack.  There's no fun in
that, no sense of revenge, no dramatic impact..."

Click, whistle, and a prolonged raspberry.

"Well, I don't care much for your personal habits, either!"

Hyperiok was now truly angry.  "You!" he screamed as he closed on the
ABPSARII, which was cowering in the corner as much as an inanimate
object was capable of cowering.  He picked up device, which looked
much like an impossibly archaic computer keyboard with several odd
wires and components welded on, except where it didn't.  He popped a
panel off the back and made sure that it still had a hefty supply of
Spam, the Breakfast of Champions.

"You," he repeated in a slightly less insane tone, "will begin
searching for the HMS Golden Lance.  Once you find it, I want you to
do this..."

What does Hyperiok want the ABPSARII to do?
What happened to the HMS Golden Lance?
What happened to the HMS Golden Lance's crew?
What happened to the plans for SFSTORY the Musical?

For the answers to these and several other interesting but totally
unrelated questions, right to your congressman about repealing the
anti-SFSTORY laws in your state!

Copyright 2001 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Mon, 10 Dec 2001 19:30:04 -0500
From:         Gary (swede at acd.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #9

                               UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                              (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                    Episode 9
                                   "Cimarron"
                                       by
                                  Gary W. Olson,
                               the newlywed Swede

                                      -~-_-

      Jerriphrrt was a Calican of outstanding resolve.  When he made a 
decision, that was almost always the last word, unless Gham had 
something else in mind, or he made another decision to ignore the 
first decision, or he had another drink, or he was distracted by a 
shiny object.  Now, racing onto the bridge of the Earth battle 
cruiser _Challenger III_ in time to see, on the viewscreen, the 
engines of his ship flaring to life, he made another decision of 
outstanding resolve.
      "Does anyone have a cigar?" he asked.  "I've decided to start 
smoking, and I may never stop."
      "Be serious, Jerr," Gham scolded.  "Captain Vogel, is there 
anything you can do to stop the thieves?"
      "Is there anything we can do?" Steve Vogel asked, in way of 
response.  "Is there *anything* we can *do*?"  He turned to his 
second in command, Jean St. Thomas.  "Commander!  Fire all forward 
guns at the _Universal Solvent_!"
      "She meant something that stops short of destroying our ship!" 
Jerriphrrt shouted.
      Captain Vogel blinked.  "Oh.  You should have said."
      The viewscreen flared as dozens of bright red beams converged on 
the dingy, dented, somewhat disreputable form of the _Universal 
Solvent._  The flare grew brighter as the beams hit a globular force 
shield surrounding the vessel.  When the lasers cut out, the 
_Universal Solvent_ was still intact and still pulling away.
      "You never told us it could do that," Captain Vogel said, while 
trying very hard not to look like he was pouting.
      "It can't," said Gham.  "It can barely hold together when we do 
a bank turn."
      "Captain," Commander St. Thomas said.  "There's a second vessel 
shadowing the first.  I had the sensors adjusted to detect stray 
inviso-rays and found it right away.  It's being cloaked by a 
U-NO-C-US Inviso-Shield -- and it's clearly where the laser shield is 
coming from."
      "Can you keep them from going into overly-hyped space?" Gham asked.
      "They have to drop the laser shield before the _Universal 
Solvent_ can jump," said Vogel.  "And even if they did, they'd have 
to build up power and speed first.  There's no way they can escape."
      Jerriphrrt winced.  "Now I really need a cigar," he grumbled.
      "And a cigar you shall have, my good cat!" a jovial voice boomed 
in his ear.  "Just as surely as 'good' and 'cat' are contradictions 
in terms, and contradictions are something Central American freedom 
fighters use when trying to speak English."
      "Captain Spaulding!" Captain Vogel exclaimed.  "Now is not the time--"
      "Relax, Captain Monkey-Boy," Spaulding said.  "I'm flying the 
white flag here.  Actually, it's more of a beige dish towel, and it's 
not so much flying as it is laying in my dresser drawer back on 
Freedonia 5, but it's the thought that counts."
      "I'a thought it was'a the fingers that count," Chicobaldi, 
predictably right by Spaulding, said.
      "In your case, it's because you can count all the thoughts 
you've had on your fingers," said Spaulding.  "Now, Captain, you go 
and take care of that scoundrel on the departing ship.  I shall see 
to relieving the terrible lack of cigars among the personnel here!" 
He turned to Zacko, who was in mid-pursuit of Cmdr. St. Thomas. 
"Lieutenant!  Bring us some cigars at once!"
      Zacko nodded vigorously and rushed off.  Spaulding nodded and 
withdrew a cigar from his coat pocket.
      "Er," said Jerriphrrt, "might I smoke one of your cigars while 
we wait for him to return?"
      "You might," Spaulding replied.  "If this wasn't the last one."
      "But sir," said Zeppus Coleslaw, in his only line in this 
episode, "you've got a dozen cigars under your coat!"
      "Yes," said Spaulding, hoisting his cigar, "and I smoke each one 
like it's my last."
      Jerriphrrt shook his head and returned his attention to the 
viewscreen.  He watched as his ship receded slowly away.  With 
outstanding resolve, he wished he was out standing somewhere else, so 
that no one could see him sucking on his thumb.

                                      -~-_-

      It was difficult for Dr. Bing Von Spleen to decide what was 
hurting more at the moment: his brain or everything that wasn't his 
brain.  The pain had erupted suddenly, almost a second after he heard 
a bagel say that his assistant was a Champion who fulfilled an 
ancient prophecy.
      "Sajon," said Dr. Von Spleen, "you didn't put down on your 
employment form that you were a Champion who might get called away to 
fulfill ancient prophecies."
      "First I've heard of it," said Sajon.  Von Spleen heard the 
confusion in the lad's voice, along with a slight quiver of terror. 
"And you didn't give me an employment form.  Technically, I don't 
think I am employed, since you don't pay me anything, and I think you 
sold some of my stuff to bet on the horses once..."
      "Never mind that," said Von Spleen.  He turned to look at the 
talking bagel, which was hovering over a well-stocked breakfast 
buffet table.  Von Spleen chose to disregard, for the moment, the 
fact that said table was in the middle of the bridge of a very 
advanced, very sleek-and-dark alien spaceship which was under the 
floating bagel's control.  He paid no heed to what the bagel had said 
before, about its name being Shoon-Ma and it being an ur-Bagel bent 
on avenging the wrong done to 'its kind' at the Breaking of the Fast 
at the Dawn of the Universe, whatever the needlewarping hell *that* 
was.  "Shoon-Ma, if it's him you want, does this mean I can split?"
      "Hey!" Sajon exclaimed.  "What about loyalty?"
      "What about it?" Von Spleen asked.
      "Never mind," Sajon grumbled.
      "No, Doctor," Shoon-Ma said, "you cannot leave.  None of you may 
leave, until the ancient prophecy is fulfilled and vengeance is mine."
      "Like hell," said Shadebeam Moroboshi, the blonde, Asiatic, 
red-spandex-jumpsuit-wearing woman who had joined Von Spleen's group 
through the bizarre, reality-muffing machinations of an ABPSARI with 
a bellyful of pudding.  She made several gestures at the bagel, and 
scowled when they did not seem to cause anything to happen.
      "Your magic will not work here," Shoon-Ma said.  "It is still a 
part of you, but you will not be able to use it until you return to 
your altiverse."
      "This *is* my--" Shadebeam started to say.  "Wait.  My cells got 
their quantum signature thingy changed up a few years back.  You're 
right."
      Shoon-Ma exuded vibes of bagelly smugness.
      "I'll just have to hit you, then," Shadebeam added.
      Von Spleen realized, just then, that she was still carrying the 
towel that had been her only covering when she'd materialized on 
board his Warp Shuttle.  He only saw it again in a blur, though, as 
she snapped it at the floating ur-Bagel.
      SNAP!
      Shoon-Ma rebounded against the viewscreen (which displayed only 
the oily blackness of deep space, which was what the ship was zipping 
through at that moment) and landed on a massive stack of pancakes.
      "Hey," Benjen, one of the two people who had already been 
prisoner here when Von Spleen's party arrived (the other one being a 
reptilian humanoid named Slithis).  "That was going to be my lunch!"
      "Do you want to hang around?" Shadebeam asked.
      "Well, you've got to admit," said Slithis, "not every ancient 
prophecy of vengeance comes with such a well-stocked breakfast 
buffet."
      "Do what you like," Von Spleen said, "I'm getting out of here!"
      As he bolted for the door, he was mildly surprised to see it 
open for him.  He was also more than mildly vexed when he heard the 
air on the bridge start rushing through that entryway.
      "Have you forgotten?" Shoon-Ma, floating once again, bellowed. 
"I control this ship!  Disobey and I will take away all your life 
support!  So there!  Ha ha!"
      "Close the door!" Sajon croaked.
      Shoon-Ma relented, and the doors closed...
      ...but not before admitting one more person.  A broadly-smiling, 
curly-haired person in an ill-fitting uniform.  A person armed with a 
large horn and carrying some delicate machinery.
      "It can't be," Von Spleen muttered as he tried to focus on the 
machinery.  "It's the ABPSARI that was lost when I accidentally 
shoved some pudding into the funnel.  But who is this man?  How did 
he--"
      Before any questions could be posed, the man ran up to 
Shadebeam, handed her the ABPSARI, took her towel, and scampered 
toward the breakfast table.
      "Zacko?" Benjen asked.
      Zacko grabbed a handful of bacon bits, turned, and ran out the 
door he had come in.  Von Spleen saw a small metallic blur zip 
through the opening, just before it closed.  Wherever TH1K1 was 
going, he thought, good riddance to it.
      Shoon-Ma, meanwhile, was sputtering with rage.
      "Who-- was-- that?" it asked.  "Sputter!  SPUTTER!"
      "You should know," said Shadebeam.  "You let him in and out."
      "No!" Shoon-Ma growled.  "I had no idea he was even on the ship!"
      "Never mind him," said Von Spleen.  "He found the ABPSARI that 
disappeared from the-- what's that resting on the funnel?"
      Shadebeam looked at the funnel atop the ABPSARI.  "Some kind of 
fish," she reported.  "A herring, I think."
      "Well, get it off of there!" Von Spleen ordered.  "If it slides 
into the funnel--"
      It slid into the funnel.
      OOMPAH, went reality, filling the air with a cimarron haze for 
dramatic effect.
      "Needlewarp!" a variety of characters cursed.
      But when the cimarron haze disappeared, and reality got its shit 
together again, Von Spleen saw there were three people missing.
      "Slithis!" Benjen exclaimed.  "Shadebeam!  Um... other guy!"
      "Sajon," supplied Von Spleen.  He looked around the bridge, 
trying to see if they were hiding behind an errant piece of alien 
machinery.  But they weren't.  Nor were they in front of, beside, 
within, or on an oblique angle with an errant piece of alien 
machinery.  They had vanished.
      "SPUTTER!" bellowed Shoon-Ma.  "SPUTTER!"

                                      -~-_-

      The High Spock contemplated his enemies as they marched, hands 
up, out of the sales office of the Sonar Man named Satik.  He wished 
he had a tricorder to go with his authentic imitation type-I phaser, 
so that he could record the image for all time.  An image he could 
put into a screensaver, or print out and frame, or even... yes! made 
into a series of collectible plates that he could sell for inflated 
prices at science fiction conventions on Earth.  Revenge would be a 
dish -- whether it was served cold or heated would depend on the 
buyer.
      There had been a time when all he could do was sketch revenge on 
a paper plate and just sort of pretend.  Left behind, earthbound, 
while Ronald Hastings and Norman Sassafras somehow built or acquired 
a Pinto capable of spaceflight and warp travel, which they'd 
humiliated him with both on leaving Earth for the first time and on 
their return.  He'd been delighted when he heard that the Pinto had 
crashed somewhere in North Dakota with a force that should have 
destroyed it; he'd been dismayed when he learned that Ronald and 
Norman had somehow -- somehow! -- recovered it and had left Earth in 
it again.  Even being the absolute despotic ruler of his own Star 
Trek club hadn't entirely eased the pain.
      A year ago, at a con in New York, the easement arrived, in the 
form of Kalvin Certain.  Kalvin hadn't been looking for the High 
Spock and his group, exactly, and the High Spock had never managed to 
be entirely clear on what Kalvin *had* been looking for.  The man 
nevertheless hired him and his group as 'technical advisors' and took 
them with him when he returned in his dingy warp shuttle to the 
planet Alpha Rio VII, the Planet of Casinos.
      It was there that Kalvin explained his plan.  Some members of 
the High Spock's team were homesick (never mind that they'd been 
kicked out of their parents' basements long ago), some questioned how 
Kalvin's plan fit in with Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision, and some 
were security personnel who were too busy complaining about how they 
regularly got mugged while protecting the High Spock, but after a few 
rounds of Romulan Ale and dancing Orion slave girls (or what he had 
been told were dancing Orion slave girls -- they'd had the Romulan 
Ale first, and all of them had suspicious green patches on various 
parts of their bodies when they awoke), they agreed to work for him.
      Kalvin split his team up, sending the High Spock and four of his 
most trusted crewmembers on a mission to Dirk's Space Swap-o-Rama & 
Grille, while sending the remainder of the club on a mission so 
secret Kalvin wouldn't even tell him about it.  They'd done much 
while on the station, and the payoff had finally come: Ronald, 
Norman, and their ingenue, locked up with no hope of escape.  The 
High Spock looked forward to mocking them with his superior grasp of 
Trek trivia for the rest of their imprisoned lives.
      As Ronald, Norman, and the ingenue (whose name was Kissy 
something- or- other, the High Spock remembered, and who filled out a 
velour shirt and miniskirt in a way that made him forget much else) 
approached an intersection, a curly- haired man ran toward them, 
waving a towel and repeatedly honking a large horn.  Kissy screamed, 
while Ronald and Norman yelled something that could have been the 
man's name.
      The man ignored the captives and rushed at the High Spock's lone 
red-shirt, the one standing closest to the captives.  The lad 
cringed, expecting a beating, and was mildly surprised when all the 
curly- haired man did was take his phaser and place a herring in his 
uniform trousers.  The man then aimed the phaser at the ceiling and 
vaporized a good chunk of it.
      Dust and pandemonium filled the corridor.  Ronald and Norman 
fled, dragging the still- screaming Kissy with them.  The curly- 
haired man ran past the High Spock and into Satik's office.  The High 
Spock's crew tried their Shatnerian martial arts out, not realizing 
their captives had already escaped and that they were only beating up 
one another.  The High Spock retreated to Satik's office.
      A door in Satik's office was open, and through it the High Spock 
heard much cursing.  He saw Satik emerge from behind what looked like 
a giant black pepper mill, dodge around some lightning- discharging 
cone things, and dash out.
      "Did he come this way?" Satik asked.
      "I saw him run in here," the High Spock answered.  "I think."
      "He stole my last Omni-Galactronic Charger Chip!" Satik snarled. 
"Snapped a towel at me and made me drop it!  Then he handed me the 
towel, honked his horn, picked up the chip and ran off!"
      "We have other things to worry about," said the High Spock, 
trying to steer the conversation back to things that mattered.  "The 
prisoners have escaped!"
      "They're probably in league with him," Satik fumed.  "And he was 
probably in league with my old arch- enemy, Buzz Williams!  I knew 
Williams had to be behind their visit somehow!"  He pushed a button 
on his antiquated, 'futuristic' silver belt, and the rest of the wall 
between his office and his science lab rose up.
      The High Spock heard a rumble, and had to jump out of the way 
when a small vehicle rolled up to where Satik was standing.
      "Get in!" Satik urged.  "This is the moment I've been waiting 
for, to show the whole universe I've still got what it takes as a 
space villain!  We'll go after those self- styled heroes the 
old-fashioned way, guns a'blazing!"
      The High Spock struggled to his feet and tried to keep the 
skepticism he felt from showing.  The treaded tank that Satik had 
summoned, while it was indeed armed with a beam cannon that looked 
like it could do some damage, did not seem the most likely of 
prisoner- recapturing vehicles.  For one thing, it looked like it was 
made out of cheap plywood, which had been painted to look sort of 
like metal and adorned with more retro 'futuristic' lightning bolts. 
For another, it was tiny, and put the High Spock in mind of one of 
those little Shriner cars he'd seen in parades on Earth.
      Satik yanked him by the arm into the passenger seat.  The 
vehicle shook and rumbled into the corridor.
      "Hold on to your 'Depends,'" Satik exclaimed, "'cause it's gonna 
be a bumpy ride!"
      The High Spock held on, already anxious for the chase to be over.

                                      -~-_-

      The _Universal Solvent_ shuddered violently as Quooth stepped 
out of the lavatory and onto the ship's bridge.  The wzaxtil clutched 
phis holy harmonica and looked around, but the ship was holding 
together.  Barely.
      "What was that?" asked Quooth's partner and latest 
quest-companion, the aging sometimes-space-villain Bagelos.  "Have 
they broken through the laser defense shield?"
      Quooth sauntered over to the controls and looked at some readouts.
      "No, friend Bagelos," phe replied.  "There's a note in the 
ship's maintenance log that warns about flushing the ship's toilet 
too hard.  I fear I may have done that just now."
      "Oh," said Bagelos.  "I, Bagelos, do not understand how this 
ship could be so decrepit and yet be basically functional."
      Quooth scratched phis chest-located ear with a tentacle and 
frowned.  Since a wzaxtil frown involved making complicated sounds 
not unlike the chorus of "Lady Marmalade," and since the _Universal 
Solvent's_ entertainment center's remote control was sound based, 
this resulted in all viewscreens showing ESPN (the Extra-Sensory 
Perception Network) while translating the language of those on the 
screen into Altarian Gangsta Esperanto.
      While Bagelos made pained shrieking noises and started running 
around and flipping switches, Quooth watched the video.  A 
large-bosomed, even-larger-bottomed being named Rigel Broadbottom was 
talking to a human in a cage, above what looked like some friendly 
dogs.  So friendly that they were salivating quite a bit and growling 
just as much.
      Before the uplifting, heartwarming meeting of human and dogs 
could be shown, though, Bagelos succeeded in wresting control of the 
screens away from the entertainment system.  Pictures of space, of 
the _Challenger III_, and of assorted stars and planets that were 
clearly stock "space" photos replaced the ESPN picture.
      "Why did you do that?" Bagelos asked.
      "Do what?" Quooth asked.
      "Make that horrid noise that changed all the channels."
      "That was a frown, friend Quooth."
      "Then why did you frown?"
      "Because you said you did not understand how this ship could be 
so decrepit and yet be basically functional," Quooth reminded him. 
"Even though, just on the way over, you remarked to me that its very 
walls are older than much of the universe, and that it contained such 
extraordinary power that--"
      "Tsch!" Bagelos cut phim off.  "Yes, I, Bagelos, said that, but 
that was before I, Bagelos, got a real look at this crap-heap.  It's 
now clear to me that this is a mere shadow of the ur-Saucer I, 
Bagelos, had believed it to be.  Ownership has no doubt changed a 
multitude of times, and each owner has no doubt made as many 
modifications as bad judgment or heavy drinking might lead him to 
make.  The rot you see in the walls is no illusion.  They are no 
doubt replacements for replacements for replacements for-- well, you 
get the picture."
      "So do we leave?" Quooth asked.  "I hesitate to remind you, but 
you estimated we only had fifteen minutes before the _Challenger 
III's_ guns overwhelmed the laser shield of the ship provided by 
Kalvin Certain."
      "No!" Bagelos snarled.  "This is the ship, I, Bagelos, am certain!"
      "I thought you were Bagelos," said Quooth, following with a 
quick humming of 'pop goes the weasel' to indicate surprise.
      Bagelos sat in the chair next to the ship's helm.  "Quiet, 
please.  I, Bagelos, need to think.  The materials have changed, but 
it still retains the perfect saucer shape, the Form of the Ideal 
Saucer.  And the walls, no matter how poor in construction, 
maintenance, or workmanship, still stand."
      Abruptly, Bagelos's eye (the one not covered by a death-beam 
projecting red ruby) widened.  He sprang up, ran over to the wet bar, 
grabbed it by a corner and pulled it from the wall.  Grudgingly, it 
broke free, along with several layers of paint and a few layers of 
substances one hoped were paint.
      Quooth toddled over to see what was up.
      "It *is* here," said Bagelos, gesturing to a fist-sized red rock 
embedded in the steel wall.  "I, Bagelos, felt its call when I, 
Bagelos, first walked by, but I, Bagelos, assumed it was the booze 
calling to me.  Mind you, the booze probably *was* calling to me, but 
there will be time for celebration later."
      "Hooray!" Quooth exclaimed.  "Er, what am I cheering about?"
      "This is the ancient power source for the original ship," 
Bagelos explained.  "It is why the ship has retained its true saucer 
shape, and why it still holds together.  But it is at low ebb!  If I, 
Bagelos, can route some power from the engines, I, Bagelos, may be 
able to charge it enough so it can effect our escape!"
      "Hooray!" Quooth exclaimed.  "How easy will this be to do?"
      "Impossible," said Bagelos, as he sank to the floor.  "The ship 
was involved in some combat recently, probably with the Goornashk 
Authority vessel drifting nearby.  The engines are all right, but the 
control circuit's are shot.  The only way it will ever get fixed is 
if someone walks in and hands me an Omni-Galactronic Charger Chip, 
and what are the chances of *that* happening, I, Bagelos, ask you."
      Just then, someone walked in and handed Bagelos an 
Omni-Galactronic Charger Chip.
      "Friend Zacko?" Quooth asked.
      "Ergah?" asked Bagelos, too stunned to make sense.
      Zacko honked his horn and handed Bagelos a handful of bacon bits.
      "Friend Bagelos, surely you remember friend Zacko from that time 
on Freedonia 5..."
      "Oog," said Bagelos.
      Zacko nodded, honked his horn again, and reached into the wet 
bar.  He reached behind various colorful bottles and pulled out what 
looked like a box of cigars.
      "Friend Zacko," said Quooth, "we appreciate the sentiment, but 
it is not time to celebrate yet!"
      Zacko nodded and dashed off through the turbolift door, barely 
missing Megabot, who was so surprised by the strange man's presence 
that it stood aside and let him pass.  Quooth noticed that Zacko was 
trailing bacon bits.
      "There's not much time," said Bagelos, holding the Charger Chip 
up as if it was a holy item.  "I, Bagelos, have to wire this into the 
main system.  How long will our own ship's laser shield hold out?"
      A section of apparently empty space (which actually was the 
inviso-shielded ship projecting the laser shield) on the viewscreen 
suddenly exploded.
      "Never mind," said Bagelos.  "Do what you can to make this ship 
evade the lasers, Quooth.  This will either work, or it'll kill us."
      "Hooray!" Quooth exclaimed.
      Bagelos groaned, but did not reply.

                                      -~-_-

      Gham was the only one who noticed when Lt. Zacko stepped off the 
lift onto the bridge.  Everyone else was watching as the _Universal 
Solvent,_ which was getting closer, as it was not able to match the 
_Challenger III_ for speed, durability, or much of anything else. 
The destruction of the ship that had been generating the laser shield 
had been a fortuitous event, and everyone was looking forward to 
shouting, or dancing, or making vigorous armpit noises as soon as a 
tractor beam could be locked on the vessel it had been protecting.
      Almost everyone.  Gham had a feeling that something was going 
wrong, that someone had stirred up so much chaos in their general 
vicinity that nothing was certain.  When she saw Zacko's return, she 
tried to intercept him, but the odd officer (who was, strangely, 
leaving a trail of bacon bits behind him) went straight to 
Jerriphrrt, cigars extended.
      At that moment, the _Universal Solvent_ flashed, shimmered, did 
a sort of fluctuation thing, undulated a bit, shimmied, shook its 
money maker, and then winked out of apparent existence.
      "Bwah?" Jerriphrrt asked.
      "Oh, no," Gham groaned.
      "Sensors!" Captain Vogel exclaimed.  "They must be cloaked 
again!  Can you find them?"
      "No, sir," the ensign manning the sensors replied.  "No 
Inviso-Rays detected.  We have, however, found a large concentration 
of... um... this can't be right...."
      "What is it?" Gham asked, dreading the answer.
      "Bacon bits," the ensign answered.  "Real bacon, too.  Not that 
that matters, since they've instantly frozen in the harsh vacuum of 
space, and are now indistinguishable from those artificial ones, 
but..."
      "Now *I* need a smoke," Gham grumbled.  "Give me one of those." 
She snatched a cigar from Zacko, as did Jerriphrrt, Captain 
Spaulding, Captain Vogel, Chicobaldi, Zeppus, Cmdr. St. Thomas, and 
Lucky.  Zacko produced a subdued flame from his horn, and lit the 
cigars for everyone, including the last for himself.  Everyone stood 
around taking a stress-relieving smoke break.
      "You know," Jerriphrrt said, managing, through outstanding 
determination, to smoke and talk at the same time, "these are kind of 
familiar.  Almost exactly like those novelty cigars I had tucked in 
the wet bar.  You know, the explo--"
      "BOOM!" said the cigars.
      "Waugh!" said the smokers.
      The ventilation system cleared the smoke in moments, revealing 
nine ash-covered faces, each with a protruding, comically-exploded 
cigar stub.  Gham was trying to work her mouth open to remove her 
stub when Jerriphrrt spoke.
      "I've decided to quit smoking," he said, just before passing out.

WILL JERRIPHRRT STOP SMOKING, OR AT LEAST SMOLDERING?
WOULD THE REVELATION OF THE HIDDEN TRUTH BEHIND THE _UNIVERSAL 
SOLVENT'S_ SHAPE HAVE BEEN MORE STUNNING IF I'D ACTUALLY MADE SOME 
PRIOR REMARK ABOUT IT HAVING BEEN SAUCER SHAPED?
WILL SATIK PROVE HE STILL HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A SPACE VILLAIN?
WILL THE HIGH SPOCK ISSUE A SET OF REVENGE CUPS TO GO WITH THE REVENGE PLATES?
WILL SHOON-MA BE ABLE TO TRACK DOWN SAJON?
WHAT'S TH1K1 UP TO?
WILL CAPTAIN SPAULDING EVER GIVE UP HIS CIGARS FOR THE COMMON GOOD?
WHY WEREN'T THE _CHALLENGER III's_ SENSORS SET TO DETECT INVISO RAYS 
IN THE FIRST PLACE?

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The Sonar Men were created and trademarked by David Menendez, and 
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