Main Sfstory Page     Previous Log     Next Log     Index for Logs 091-117

Sfstory Log 103

=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 30 Jan 2002 12:54:25 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #14 - Well, That Didn't Work

SF: HMS Golden Lance #14 - Well, That Didn't Work

The Temporal Teleporter Terminal of the HMS Golden Lance powered up
and received a transmission.  Three beings, more or less humanoid,
materialized on the platform and looked around in confusion.  They
looked quite out of place in their garishly-colored uniforms.

One of the beings sucked in his gut and discretely reached to the back
of head to adjust his toupe'.  Ignoring the quiet snickers coming from
the being on his left, he snapped an order.  "Report!"

The snickering being responded immediately.  "I ain't got no idee what
that dadblamed contraption done did to us this time.  We shudda took a
shuttle.  I been tellin' y'all for years that these things are
dangerous.  There ain't no tellin' where it dumped us.  We're probably
stranded here!  And other thing..."

The third being quietly snuck up behind the second.  He reached out
and grabbed the second at the junction of his neck and shoulder.  The
complaining being's eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped to the
floor in a boneless heap.

In the welcome silence, the third being spoke.  "I believe we have
been transported into an alternate reality.  This is no doubt a
result of the ion storm we recently encountered."

"Oh, well," said the first.  "These things can't be helped."

"On the contrary," responded the third.  "As I recall, our course
would not have taken us within six lightyears of the storm.  It was
your decision to take us through the heart of it.  'We can't be afraid
of a little bad weather,' I think were your exact words."

The first looked only slightly uncomfortable and quickly found a way
to change the subject.  "Someone's coming.  Get us out of here!"

The third looked the Temporal Teleporter Terminal control panel over.
"This device is almost completely without power.  However, I believe I
can 'jumpstart' it.  Stand by."

A few moments later, the trio disappeared.  A moment after that, the
teetering form of Doctor Bing Von Spleen entered.  "I thought you said
there were intruders in here."

=I must have been mistaken.  Perhaps I misread the internal sensors.
Right now, they're saying we just had some kind of "Cheesy Cameo
Crossover Event."=

Val hmmphed as only a woman can do.

The Temporal Teleporter Terminal powered up and received another
transmission.  This transmission contained a Time Agent known only as
357, a former immortal known only as Omegas, a Giant Space Weasel
known only as Ralph, and an Earth female known only as Diana Dark.
They were accompanied by several large crates of food, spare parts,
and toiletries which they had just picked up on the trading post
asteroid which the ship was orbiting.

=Did everything go all right down there?= asked the elderly voice of
Spleen, currently trapped in the ship's computer.

"Yes," answered 357, currently trapped in the body of Diana Dark.
"Everything went smoothly.  Why do you ask?"

=I don't know.  I just got the funny idea that things didn't work out,
that's all.=

"He's been reading the chapter headings again," explained the VAL 9000
computer, currently trapped in the body of Spleen.

"Never mind that!" slobbered Omegas.  He meant to hiss it menacingly,
but was still having trouble speaking from inside Ralph's weaseloid
body.  "Let's get the ship powered up and out of here!"

Everyone agreed that this was a good suggestion and immediately began
doing so.  Everyone was so busy that nobody noticed the small waste
disposal cannister with an Interstellar Huddle of Waffles logo pasted
to the side zooming by outside the ship.  Nor did they notice it fade
out of sight as if teleported.

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

In a nearby alterverse, a waste disposal cannister with an IHOW logo
materialized on a teleporter platform.  A medium-sized, human-looking
male being wearing impossibly expensive but utterly ridiculous-looking
clothes, taupe sports jacket over mauve trousers, climbed out.  His
name was Dijon Mu'tard, former agent of darkness and currently toady
for a power-mad dictator.  He wasn't exactly sure where he was, but
anyplace was fine with him as long as it was far away from said power-
mad dictator, renegade Time Agent Greez Hyperiok.

"Dijon Mu'tard, report!" ordered renegade Time Agent Greez Hyperiok.

Dijon turned around and saw that he was standing in the control room
of the S.S. You Are About To Die, which looked to be made of modeling
clay and pipe cleaners and designed by a small child.  This belied the
fact that the ship was quite possibly the most powerful destructive
force ever known to sentient life.  Or, at the very least, the most
destructive force known to Dijon Mu'tard, who used to hang around with
black holes and singularities, so he had some idea of what he spoke.

"Um," ummed Dijon, stalling for time.  "Mission accomplished?"

Greez looked as if he would have had a conniption had he remembered
how to spell it.  "Accomplished?  You call this accomplished?"  He
paused to shake a handful of printout at Dijon.  "This is utter
failure!  I'm going to have to take you to an alterverse where we are
both immortal just to have enough time to punish you properly!"

"Hey!" said Dijon, allowing an indignant feeling to temporarily give
him the illusion of bravery as he faced Greez face to, well, chest.
"I did exactly what you told me to do!  It's not my fault your plan
was hopelessly complex!"

"The plan was simple!  All you had to do was use your cover as a cook
at the Interstellar Huddle of Waffles to put specific poisons into
specific dishes, thereby killing all our enemies.  You messed up."

"I did not mess up!" shouted Dijon.  "I put the radioactive isotopes
in the Holy Manna, knowing it was the only way to short out the powers
and end the life of Omegas, given that immortal body of his.  Rat
poison for the ferret chow that Ralph ordered.  A special neural
parasite for Time Agent 357.  Simple chemical elements for Dark and
Spleen, them both being human.  Except for Spleen remaining on the
ship, everything went exactly as planned."

Greez gestured to the ship's controls, which read his hand movements
and turned on the viewscreen.  It showed the HMS Golden Lance powering
up and blasting itself into another dimension.  "If that's the case,
then tell me why they're not dead yet, and why they're in good enough
shape to repair their ship and escape."

"Um."

"I thought so.  New plan!  Listen closely!"

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

"I look forward to getting our old bodies back," said Ralph as he
stored supplies in the hold.  His own body would have been hard
pressed to even lift the boxes, but Omegas had muscles to burn.

"Not that I'm arguing with you," answered Omegas, "but why?"

"Nothing tastes right in your body," explained Ralph.  "My ferret chow
tasted like rat poison."

"Well, even if it was poisoned, it wouldn't affect my body," said
Omegas with a hint of pride.  Well, with a whole bottle of pride.
"Unlike yours, which can't even handle a simple dish of Holy Manna
without rumbling like an old dishwasher."

"I get some stomach grumblings sometime when I eat certain radioactive
isotopes.  Your food was probably contaminated."

Diana Dark and 357 looked at each other, and decided without saying a
word that they wouldn't mention their own stomach and head aches,
since neither seemed serious and were in fact getting better.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" 357 asked Diana.

Diana thought a second.  "Only if you're thinking that somebody with
very specific knowledge of our physiologies just tried a complicated
poisoning scheme which, had it been successful, would have killed us
all without a trace of foul play, and which only failed because we had
all recently switched bodies.  Is that what you were thinking?"

"Well, actually," hemmed and hawed 357.  "I was thinking that while
Omegas and Ralph were busy with the supplies, we might slip off to my
quarters for a little quiet time together."  He smiled hopefully.

Diana stared coldly at 357 for a full 30 seconds before breaking into
a warm grin.  "I thought you'd never ask," she said, almost drukenly.
Then she sobered.  "I'd be all squicked out trying anything now, but
once we get back into our own bodies, I'll give you 'quiet time' that
will have you begging for mercy.  Deal?"

"Deal."  They walked off together to the control room, grinning much
more sincerely than Omegas would ever manage.  The VAL 9000 computer,
stuck in Spleen's body, noted their entrance but decided not to say
anything about their goofy expressions.

"Wipe those goofy expressions of your faces," she snapped, "and check
these figures for me."

"What's this?" asked Diana as she read over 357's shoulder, which 357
would normally have considered a shooting offense.

"A 'random walk' through alterverses," answered 357.  "It's designed
to make it as hard as possible for Hyperiok and his ABPSARII (or
Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II) to find
us.  It will take us randomly through every possible alternate
universe that exists, with a few exceptions."

"Why the exceptions?"

Spleen answered from the overhead speakers.  =We want to avoid any
alterverse where our power sources will not function, or where
conditions are so hostile that our ship will be instantly destroyed,
or any other place like that.=

"And these few alterverses down here on the bottom?"

=Those are places where my younger (well, middle-aged) self is still
adventuring.  I don't want to show up and meet myself, since I don't
remember meeting an older version of me back then, particularly not
one that's trapped inside a computer.  It was bad enough being
kidnapped by a bagel intent 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...=

The VAL 9000 gently turned down the volume.  "He's been getting like
that more and more.  I don't think he's adjusting quite as well as he
thinks he is, or maybe he's just more senile than I thought.  We've
got to get him back into his own body."

"I've got my own reasons for wanting to hurry that along," 357 said.
"Is that what this second page of figures is for?"

"Yes," answered VAL.  "I think those are alterverses where we at least
have a chance of reversing the body switch problem, finding your lost
nephew (Time Agent 386), or discovering interesting plot points.
I've put those at a slightly higher probability than the others."

"Which makes it more likely that Hyperiok will find us, but also makes
it more likely that we'll actually accomplish something worthwhile,"
put in Diana.

"Exactly," said VAL, scratching idly at Spleen's crotch.

"Right," decided 357.  "Let's do it!"

"We're already doing it, darling," said Diana.  "We're just filling
you in so you can pretend you're still in charge."

Why are women so condenscending?
What is 'it' and why do men always say to do 'it'?
What do these questions have to do with this chapter?

Well, nothing, but I needed something to set up a line where I could
tell you to tune in to the next exciting episode of...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2002 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Sat, 09 Feb 2002 11:31:52 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #15 - How Val Got Her Brain Back

SF: HMS Golden Lance #15 - How Val Got Her Brain Back

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, 386 is extremely
hard to kill but not immortal, unlike most of 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 and Diana Dark, they are attempting to find
Time Agent 386 and recover Doctor Spleen's new and experimental
ABPSARII (or ABPSAR Mark II) which has been stolen by renegade Time
Agent Greez Hyperiok.  This attempt has been hindered by an accident
which has switched our heroes' minds and bodies around...

Although it is generally thought that synthetic intelligences such as
the VAL 9000 computer could not experience real emotions, or at least
"real" emotions in the way that organic beings would define them, the
aforementioned VAL 9000 computer would argue that.  She would argue
that quite vehemently.  At present, she considered herself both the
happiest and saddest being in the multiverse.

Happiest, because her "mind," or rather her programming and data core,
had just been returned to her "body," or rather the HMS Golden Lance,
just as Doctor Bing Von Spleen's mind and body had been reunited.

Saddest, because the particular technique they had used to do so was
not going to work with Time Agent 357, her long-time partner, Diana
Dark, her new best friend, Ralph, whom everyone loved, and Omegas,
whom VAL decided if she could not say anything nice about, she should
not say anything at all.

But, she decided as she re-arranged and summarized her thoughts and
memories in preperation for writing a backup copy to the CD burner,
she was getting ahead of herself.

The HMS Golden Lance had been bouncing from alterverse to alternate
universe to alternative universe to altiverse, looking and searching
and prying into odd corners of the cosmos.  They had found many varied
and wonderful things.  Where do lost socks go?  This dimension over
here.  Lost ink pens?  That reality over there.  The secret of life
itself?  Second universe to the right.

Some of the things they had found were somewhat less than profound.
Worlds where people spoke only in palindromes?  Cute, but it but tends
to give one a headache.  A galaxy where time runs backwards?  Simply
confusing.  Entire worlds covered in chocolate?  Fascinating, and
fattening, but hardly profound.

And, as a minor sidepoint, in one particular universe, an old story
repeated itself.  The Evil Galactic Overlord had finally pushed his
people over the edge and they had revolted, as they always eventually
will.  They fought long and hard, drove off the Overlord's soldiers,
battered down his defenses, and trapped him in his tower.  He had
then, as he had always threatened to do, called down his Ultimate
Weapon, a giant meteor which would destroy the entire planet.

And the HMS Golden Lance, hopping from alterverse to alterverse, just
happened to materialize in its path and her automatic systems blew it
to pieces without the crew so much as lifting a finger, and one of the
aforementioned pieces just happened to land on top of the Overlord,
smashing him to a bloody pulp.

The crew of the HMS Golden Lance were, of course, hailed as heroes.
Time Agent 357 had tried, of course, to explain that it was just an
accident, but nobody paid him any mind, deciding that he was simply
being modest.  Of the several thousand children born approximately
nine months later, many were named 357, Spleen, Ralph, Val, and Diana
to honor the heroes.  One was even named Omegas, though he would turn
out to be the black sheep of the family and would eventually become an
automotive insurance salesman.

It just so happened that this particular Evil Galactic Overlord had a
particularly cruel method of torture, in which he would download the
minds of his victims into computers with only 32MB of RAM (which was
exactly what the Operating System specs said it required), after which
he would attempt to burn a CD, rip a Metalica track, and download
kitty porn all at the same time.  The virtual memory page swapping
alone would drive his poor victims insane in a matter of hours.

The recently freed beings, though not particularly human in appearance
and who had in fact evolved from the local equivalent of three-toed
sloths, nonetheless had brain functions remarkably similar to those of
Earth-born humans, which Omegas found amusing and commented on at
great length.  It was a simple matter of throwing together a file
transfer protocol and, after an all-night backup session involving
roughly 540 floppy disks, restore the mind of Doctor Bing Von Spleen
to his own body and the VAL 9000 to her shipboard mainframe.

The equipment unfortunately would not work with Diana Dark's mind,
trapped in the body of Time Agent 357, or vice versa.  The technicians
didn't even want to get near Omegas and Ralph, Omegas resembling the
local God of Chaos in their religion and Ralph resembling one of the
native predators.  No one was quite sure whether the locals meant the
bodies that Omegas and Ralph were in now or their original bodies.

The HMS Golden Lance had resumed it's random walk through realities,
Doctor Spleen had settled down for a nap, and the VAL 9000 computer,
backup completed, was quietly celebrating her good fortune.

=I got my brain back!  I got my brain back!  I got my brain back!=
came the sing-song nasal voice over the ship's internal speakers.

"So much for 'quietly,'" muttered 357 as he finished work on one of
the many control panels in the control room.

"Let her have her fun," answered Diana as she ran a scanning device,
which coincidentally resembled a giant eggbeater, over said control
panel.  "Looks like the interlinks are coming online.  The ship is now
officially back to 100% capability."

357 concurred, or rather would have concurred had he known had to
spell it, so instead he simply agreed.  They watched the monitors for
a while as the ship continued bouncing through the cosmos.  Suddenly,
357 saw something.  "Wait!  Back up one!"

Diana pounced on the controls and brought the Golden Lance back to the
alterverse they had passed through seconds before.  "What is it?"

"A news story," answered 357.  "Says here that one Time Agent 357 just
saved Batelguinn station from some kind of energy-eating monster."

"So?" prompted Diana, releasing the 'hold' button and allowing the
ship to continue its random walk.

"Well, I've never been to Batelguinn.  Wouldn't know how to get to
Batelguinn.  I don't think that I ever will go to Batelguinn."

"Must have been somebody else," mused Diana.  "You know, when I first
saw you, I mistook you for an older version of..."

"Time Agent 386!" they finished together.

"My nephew must still be out there, somewhere," said 357.  "If I read
the space-time flow of this universe correctly, he was here fifty
years after he left you back on that planet, so he must be okay now."

"Um, how can now be now and also be years later.  Isn't now now?"

"No, now is then, but sometimes then is now."

"I think you're making that up just to confuse me."

"Now why would I do that?"

Diana briefly saw the world briefly go dark around her, almost as if
the body she was in (which was 357's) had faded out of existance and
then just as quickly returned.  Beside her, 357 felt the body he was
in (which was Diana's) half fall out of its chair, almost as if his
intellect had faded out of existance and then just as quickly
returned.  They both shook their heads and looked at each other.

"That's starting to worry me," said Diana.

"Me, too," agreed 357.  He pointed to the monitor, which was again
showing their progression through the multiverse.  "I guess we could
hop back to the alterverse where that happened and see if it does it
again, but I'd rather not revisit alterverses too often."

"Agreed.  We'll have to find some other way of finding out what is
going on."

"Say, have you heard from Ralph and Omegas lately?" asked 357.

"No.  And that worries me, too," Diana admitted.  "I'm beginning to
feel like we're a couple of parents and they're our children.  When
they get quiet, I know they're up to something."

"Let's go find out..."

Meanwhile, back in maintenance bay 42, Omegas was putting the
finishing touches on a device of some kind.  Or, rather, Ralph was
doing so while Omegas supervised.

"I don't know about this, Omegas," Ralph began.  "I really don't
think I should be doing this for you."

"Well, I wouldn't ask you to if I was in my own body," Omegas
answered.  "But if I was in my own body, I wouldn't have to build this
thing.  But I need your hands.  Or rather, my hands."

Ralph had to admit that he had problems manipulating equipment with
his weaseloid paws even after working them for all of his life,
whereas Omegas has only had a few days to get to used to them.

Omegas checked the device.  "Okay, we've cross-wired the Temporal
Teleporter Terminal with the Hypertechnical Orange Thingy and tied it
into the ABPSARI drive.  This in turn is fed through the neural
scanners of the AutoQuack v1.6 in the medical bay.  In short, we've
got everything arranged just perfectly to yank our minds out of the
bodies they've been trapped in and put them back where they belong."

"And this will work?" asked Ralph with just a hint of skepticism.

"Of course," Omegas assured him.

"And it's safe?" asked Ralph almost as if he didn't believe Omegas.

"I would almost think that you didn't believe me.  Of course it's
safe."  Omegas smiled his most sincere smile, which wouldn't have
looked all that sincere even if it had been coming out of his own
mouth and not Ralph's.

"Then why are we doing this down here without telling 357?" Ralph
really wanted to know.

"Well," Omegas admitted, "there's maybe just the tiniest little chance
that activating the device will cause the ship to explode, or will
permanently scramble our minds and bodies, or will pull our minds and
bodies apart and leave them like that, or will transport us to faraway
universes with no chance of ever getting back to the ship..."

Just then 357 and Diana walked in.  "Needlewarp!" 357 cursed when he
saw the device.  "What do you think you're doing?  You've cross-wired
the Temporal Teleporter Terminal with the Hypertechnical Orange Thingy
and tied it into the ABPSARI drive.  I suppose you've fed this through
the neural scanners of the AutoQuack v1.6 in the medical bay."

"How can you tell that just by glancing at that pile of components?"
asked Diana with more than a touch of admiration.

"I drew the schematics the other day, back before I decided there was
too big a risk that activating the device will cause the ship to
explode, or will permanently scramble our minds and bodies, or will
pull our minds and bodies apart and leave them like that, or will
transport us to faraway universes with no chance of ever getting back
to the ship..."

Omegas hung his head.  "Well, you caught me.  I'll just turn off the
power and..."

"Oh no you don't," snapped 357 as he slapped at the paw Omegas was
extending towards the control.  357 quickly located the button marked
"Power Off" and pressed it.

And was quite surprised when the device activated and began some kind
of power buildup.

"I thought you had me wire that up funny," said Ralph.

357 was livid.  "Why you sneaky, no good..."

"I suggest you grab the person you want to switch bodies with," said
Omegas as he hugged Ralph's leg.  "Unless, of course, you want to get
your mind transferred into the nearest chair or something."

357 and Diana embraced each other just as the device activated.

The resulting explosion woke Doctor Bing Von Spleen from his nap and
startled the VAL 9000 computer out of her 8,192nd chorus of her new
favorite song, "I Got My Brain Back."

"What flying flarg was that?" asked Spleen, crotchety as ever.

=Unknown,= answered VAL.  =Wait, automatic systems are putting out a
fire in maintenance bay 42.  There was some kind of explosion.  I'm
also getting strange readings from the Hypertechnical Orange Thingy
and other equipment around the ship.=

"Keep an eye on the HOT," Spleen ordered.  "If that goes, we're going
to be stuck here for a while.  Where is here, by the way?"

=Nowhere in particular.  We're still bouncing from universe to
universe on our random walk.  Whatever the explosion was, it hasn't
affected the drive systems enough to strand us somewhere.  Still no
idea what caused the explosion.=

"Well, get ahold of 357 and tell him to take care of it, whatever 'it'
happens to be."

=Oh, no.  Doctor, I can't locate 357 onboard.  I can't locate any
organic life except for you.  We've lost them!=

Have they lost them?
Will they find them?
Will they come home when they get hungry enough just like my mother
always said that I would do everytime I ran away from home?

To find out, tune in next time for another copyright-infringing
episode of...  SFSTORY!  In ((((stereo)))) where available.

Copyright 2002 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Mon, 18 Feb 2002 22:27:54 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #16 - It's a Ring Thing

SF: HMS Golden Lance #16 - It's a Ring Thing

To any who might some day find and read these words, let it be known
that Bremon, Chief Watchman of the Walled City, did record them, so
that my story would not be lost upon my death.  I have lived long and
well and, though my grandfather would often tell me that there is
still a hint of Elvish blood in our veins, I fear my end is near.

All know the story of the valiant defense before the Gates of the
Walled City during the long winter of the Month of Darkness.  Oft the
bards have sung of the great deeds done on the plains before our
gates, where the Tall Lady and the Short Prince did slay the vile
Commander of the foes set against us by the Greatest of Enemies.  Yet
few have heard the story of the other great battle, which took place
not on the plain, but on the northern expanse of the outermost wall.
And not with a great host to bear witness, but rather just myself.

In those days I was but an apprentice Watchman, set to guard the most
northern portion of the outermost wall.  In truth, there was no north
gate, the gate for that wall being set on the southern portion.  The
wall I guarded had been built very tall, the area was heavily
populated, and quite possibly this wall was in the least need of a
Watchman of any of the walls.  Yet I was told that it was an honor to
be a Watchman on that wall, so guard it I did.  As the battle was on
the other side of the city, I mostly watched for the great dark
shapes that would fly over and terrorize the denizens of our city.

On that fateful day (which as the bards sing was dark as night) I was
standing alertly at my post when I was awakened by screaming.  Looking
about, I saw that all the townspeople in the area were pointing at me.
After several seconds I realized that they were instead pointing at
something behind me.

I drew my sword as I turned.  I saw what appeared to be a hole hewn in
the very air itself.  Great rays of light, in every color of the
rainbow, streamed forth.  Two dark forms came through this hole, which
closed behind them.  While I told my comrades somewhat later that I
bravely stood my ground in the face of what I thought were agents of
the Greatest of Enemies, in truth it simply did not occur to me to try
to run.

The first being was tall, taller than I or any of the Lords or Ladies
that I had known then or since.  His skin was dark, a deep brown of a
shade that I have never seen elsewhere.  His hair was long, dark, and
flowing.  He wore clothing the likes of which I had likewise never
seen:  a loose tunic bearing the images of flowers of some kind, odd
pants which barely reached his bony knees, and leather sandals of some
sort over black kneesocks.  Over his face he wore an odd half-helm
that did little more than hide his eyes behind smoked glass.

I first took the second being as some sort of animal, until suddenly
it stood on its hind legs and spoke to me.  "Hold your hand, good
knight.  We mean you no harm."

"Speak for yourself, rat," spoke the other.

"Behave," chided the first.  "I am known as Ralph, a weasel of fierce
reputation but gentle nature.  My tall and dark friend here is named
Omegas, gruff of exterior but...  Well, gruff inside as well.  We have
travelled to your realm quite unintentionally and will be leaving as
soon as we figure out how."

"Bremon," I said, by way of an answer.  "You have not been sent by the
Greatest of Enemies?  You are not on the side of the darkness?  You do
not serve the evil powers?"

"Oh, heavens no," answered Ralph.  "I'm neutral good, myself."

"And I serve no one," added the one known as Omegas.  He began to
extoll the virtues of a pure neutral alignment, saving rolls, and
class bonuses, using words and phrases that I did not understand.

Our discussion was cut short by the sound of a loud keening wail, or
perhaps a wailing keen, from above.  I dropped my sword and readied my
bow.  I chose my Green Arrow, a brightly-colored arrow given to me by
my father on his deathbed.  He had claimed that it had been passed
down from generation to generation after having been given to one of
our distant ancestors by the dwarven smiths of Duron himself.  I
doubted this, as he had never mentioned the arrow prior to his trip to
the city Athlon just before my tenth birthday, and as the first time I
had seen it there was a small price tag tied to the fletching.

A great dark shape flew above us, and a great sense of dread and fear
did fall about us.  All those present did cower and quake because of
it, except for the new arrivals.  Ralph, who had been smiling widely
since his arrival, did allow his countenance to dim slightly, but only
slightly.  Omegas, however, breathed in the darkness as a gourmet
might breathe in scent of a fine repast set before him.

As for myself, though I later told my companions who fled that I stood
my ground and fired my arrow straight and true, it is the sad fact
that my bow nearly fell from my lifeless fingers, and it is only by
the greatest of coincidences that my arrow did fly toward the dark
shapes above us.  It struck home, and we heard a great cry which for a
moment I thought had deafened me.

The dark shape and the mount it was riding fell.  Oh, but had they
only fallen beyond the Wall instead of on it!  The mount did indeed,
upon staggering to its feet, fall from the Wall to its death.  The
dark shape, however, gained its feet and stalked towards us.

"Hold, dark one!  None may pass a Watchman of the Walled City!" I
proclaimed.  Or, at least, I tried.  My voice instead came out
resembly a small squeak, I fear.

)From deep within darkness, a small reedy voice slithered out.  "Fool!
Die in the name of the Greatest of Enemies!"  He raised a scaly hand
toward me and I felt fear of the likes that I would not have thought
possible even moments before.  I believe it was at this time that I
soiled my armor.

"I say," said Ralph as he moved between us.  "Let us not be hasty.
Just because you're on a mission to destroy all good in the world is
no reason to be rude."

"Stay out of things that don't concern us," said Omegas as he grabbed
at Ralph.  "And look for us a way out of this mess."

Upon hearing Omegas speak, the dark being turned and seemed to notice
him for the first time.  He drew back the hood of his cloak, showing a
dead face wearing a silver crown.  "Omegas?" it asked.

"Dorkmug?" Omegas asked in return.

In seconds the two were hugging and slapping each other's backs as if
they were old friends, which, I quickly learned, they were.

"Ralph, let me introduce an old friend of mine," said Omegas.  "This
is Dorkmug.  We were frat brothers together way back when."  They
demonstrated some kind of bizarre twiddling of limbs which I took to
be their secret handshake.  At least, I hope it was a handshake.

"Glad to meet you," Ralph replied, though I noticed that he did not
offer to shake hands.

"Likewise," said Dorkmug.  "So, Omegas, what have you been doing with
yourself these last few thousand years?"

"It's been a lot longer than that for me.  Let's see.  After I
graduated from Immortal University, I bounced from job to job for a
while until I caught the notice of the Big Guy.  I served in Heaven
for a few eternities, then served as a SAAL, or Satanic Agent At
Large, for a short while, and then I went freelance.  I'm currently
working with a group of 'heroes' to recover an unimaginable source of
power before it destroys reality as we know it.  And you?"

Dorkmug chuckled.  "Nothing quite so flashy, but then, you were always
the flashy one of the group."  They both shared a good laugh at what
was obviously some private joke.  "I graduated a couple of years after
you left, then bounced around for a while until I stumbled into this
reality.  Lots of magic potential here, or at least there will be
until Science kicks in.  Anyway, there was this major evil dude making
all these magic rings that he was going to rule the world with.  I
snuck in at the last minute and took the place of one of the mortal
men he'd intended to give a ring to."

The dark being known as Dorkmug paused to hold forth his hand, and I
did see on it a bright silver ring with a clear white stone.

"Wow!" said Ralph, blinking.  "Is that a real magic ring?"  Weaseloids
were not much on creating magic rings, or any rings, or any jewelry at
all come to think of it, but they were easily distracted by small
shining things.

Dorkmug laughed again.  "Not really, rodent.  For the boss put so much
of his power into the forging of all the other rings, and especially
into the Singular Ring which we're looking for now, that he didn't
have a whole lot left to put into this one, which he considered to be
the least powerful of all the great rings.  However, I was able to use
some of my own power and some of the advanced technology I brought
with me to get it to work anyway."

"Fascinating," admitted Ralph, stifling a yawn.  "So, are you immortal
like Omegas sometimes is?"

"Used to be.  I had to permanently assume the form of a mortal man to
get the ring to accept me, and then the ring turned me into a wraith,
so now I'm immortal in a different way, or at least as long as I wear
the ring.  I plan to wait until the Greatest of Enemies defeats all
the other powerful beings around here, then stab him in the back and
take over."

Omegas grasped Dorkmug by the shoulder.  "You say that ring of yours
contains magic of this realm, power of our kind, and super-science of
advanced technology?  That sounds like just the thing to create a
portal back to my own area of space-time.  Oh, and Ralph, too, since
the people I'm travelling with are kind of attached to him.  Think you
can do that?  I need to get back in a hurry.  What do you say?"

Dorkmug considered.  "Sorry, old friend.  No can do.  The big evil
boss guy is really keeping an eye on the Rings nowadays.  If I use
that much power, he's going to know something is up.  It's a struggle
sometimes just to keep him from knowing what I'm planning anyway,
seeing as these rings were originally designed to keep our minds under
his control.  Maybe in a few centuries, when his guard is down and I
take over.  Say, why don't you stay here and join me?  I could use
somebody like you."

Omegas shook his head.  "Dorkmug, as much as I like power and the idea
of ruling entire worlds, I've got to get back or there won't be any
worlds left to rule.  I really must insist that you open that portal."

"I'm sorry, Omegas.  I just can't do that."

Omegas pursed his lips thoughtfully.  "Then I guess we'll just have
to agree to disagree."

And that was when I saw that Omegas has picked up my discarded sword
and was swinging it towards Dorkmug's head.

Dorkmug ducked just in time.  He drew his own sword, which flickered
as if painted with unholy red flames.  I noticed that my sword was
flickering blue, as was Omegas himself.  Omegas swung again, and
Dorkmug parried, sparks flying everywhere.  Ralph and I both dropped
to all fours and scurried for cover.

Omegas and Dorkmug seemed evenly matched, and their duel seemed to go
on for hours, though looking back it was perhaps only a few minutes.

"So," said Dorkmug, his voice deepening and taking on an asthmatic
rasp, "we will see at last which of us is the better swordsman.  I
have been practicing for ages, and you must remember that I got an A-
in Archaic Weapons 101 back at IU."

"And you must remember," answered Omegas as he tried a particularly
nasty set of cuts, "that I got an A+."

"I remember that you cheated on your final!" screamed Dorkmug loudly,
parrying and backpedalling furiously.  "Backing me into the bleachers
like that, where you had those two guys you paid to grab me!"

"I didn't have to pay them!" screamed Omegas back.  "They did it for
free because they didn't like you.  Nobody liked you!"

"Ouch," said Dorkmug with some great theater.  "Thou doth cut me.
Figuratively speaking, of course.  You'll never get through my guard
with that type of offense."  He whacked a few times himself.  "Why,
Omegas, I do believe you're weakening."

Dorkmug did speak true, for with each blow he parried, Omegas did
seem weaker, and the blue glow around him did flicker.

"And I seem to recall," said Dorkmug almost conversationally as he
pressed the attack, "that your little rodent friend implied that you
are not currently immortal.  Running you through should be fun.  And,
for a change, permanent."

"Stupid weasel," I heard Omegas say as locked swords with Dorkmug and
pushed him away with what appeared to be the last of his strength.

"I'll kill him next," Dorkmug said smoothly.  "By the way, where did
the little rodent go?"

"He's right behind you," sneered Omegas.  "Ralph, grab him NOW!"

Dorkmug spun with great speed, his red blade leaving a fiery trail
through the air, a huge slashing cut which would have cleaved Ralph
and myself in twain...

...had we been standing behind Dorkmug ready to grab him, instead of
cowering under a bench.

Dorkmug stood there in confusion for a split second, just long enough
for Omegas to run him through from behind.  Dorkmug fell foward, his
body disolving into a dark mist, along with my sword.

A small ring lay on the ground where he had fallen.

Omegas picked up the Least Great Ring and tried it on.  "Cast aluminum
beer can pull tab with a cubit zirconia stone," he said.

"It doesn't matter what it's made of as long as it gets us out of
here," said Ralph, always practical.  "Give it a try."

Omegas tried, but no matter how he concentrated, the Ring would not
respond to his will.  He and Ralph spoke of conflicting energies and
different evils cancelling each other out and degrees of immortality
and other matters which I did not comprehend.  In the end, it was
decided that Omegas could only make use of the Ring if he assumed a
permanently mortal form, at which time the darkness of the Greatest of
Enemies would quite likely consume his own.

Only a being of great willpower and great cheer could wield the ring,
which put me right out of the running.

Ralph tried the ring.  "It seems as if there's come great darkness
pressing on my mind.  I think I can resist it but...  Wait, it's gone.
Distracted, I think, somehow."  He grinned as brightly as ever.

I learned later that this was the exact moment that the vile Commander
of the forces arrayed against us by the Greatest of Enemies was slain
on the plains before the main gate.

Omegas explained something called 'wormhole mechanics' and the working
of this 'portal' they had mentioned to Ralph, who was able to use the
ring to open one.  They stepped through and were never seen or heard
from again in our land.

In the tales of the great battles in the days that followed, no one
sings of how one of the minions of the Greatest of Enemies was
missing, or that one of the many of the Great Rings was unaccounted
for.  But I, Bremon, Chief Watchman of the Walled City, did see what
happened to it.  I know that was won by the dark one named Omegas, and
that it is worn on the paw of the great weasel lord named Ralph.

And you who didst read these words knows it as well.

Will Ralph and Omegas get back to the HMS Golden Lance?
What happened to Time Agent 357 and Diana Dark?
Will Val find the time she needs to get her hair done?
Just what is the secret ingredient in the special sauce?

For the answers to the great questions of life, the universe, and
everything, read a different book.  For more mindless drivel, tune in
to the next exciting episode of...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2002 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Tue, 12 Mar 2002 01:35:06 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at copperhill.com)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #17 - The Case That Never Wasn't

SF: HMS Golden Lance #17 - The Case That Never Wasn't

It was a foggy morning, much like any other, and I was just going to
meet my friend on Baker Street for breakfast.  We had plans to discuss
our most recent adventure, which I had been referring to in private as
"The Case of the Cat Who Went Moo" simply to annoy my friend, prior to
publishing my account of some of the more believable elements.  I was
running a trifle late, leaving my coach in quite a bit of a hurry,
knowing that my friend would not delay breakfast on my account, and so
nearly missed meeting the two strangers.

I glanced up to check the sun, which was just then appearing over the
rooftops, and saw something completely unexpected.  It was as if the
sky itself had been sliced open somehow.  Rays of light, in every
colour of the rainbow, streamed forth.  And from this hole in the sky
stepped two people of the most remarkable description.

The first was a man, neither young nor old, with a full head of short
dark hair, graying slightly at the temples, wearing a utilitarian one-
piece suit of some kind which looked vaguely like a uniform and with a
somewhat military hat on his head at a rakish angle.  The second was a
young red-headed lady, though I hesitate to use the word, seeing as
she was dressed in a form-fitting suit of some kind of leather, which
looked more like something worn in a bedroom than on the street.  She
did, however, also have a long cloak with which she wrapped herself
against the morning cold, so she did not offend too many people's
finer sensibilities.  Not a moment too soon, as my own sensibilities
were not too fine by that point.

It was not until the man stepped forward and plucked my umbrella from
the ground that I realized that I had dropped it.  He handed it to me
with a flourish, apparently showing off for the young lady.  I found
myself stammering to thank him appropriately.  "I am sorry to present
such a befuddled demeanor," I also said.  "I am afraid that your
rather unique method of travel has caught me unawares."

"No apologies necessary," said the man simply.

"Yeah, we get a lot of that," spoke the young lady, who reached out to
pat me affectionately on the arm!

"I am sorry, miss, but I don't think we've been properly introduced,"
I said, stalling for time and trying to decide if I should be offended
by her actions.

The man had just finished turning all the way around, seemingly taking
in the entire city, perhaps even the entire continent, in a single
glance.  "Yellow-orange sun.  Cobblestones.  No sign of advanced power
generation.  Politeness.  Painfully repressed sexual drives.  1800's
England?" were some of his words, many of which I did not understand
but nonetheless record faithfully here.

"Where are my manners?" he finally said in something approaching the
local accent, though nowhere near as educated as I like to think that
my own sounds.  "Please allow me to introduce myself.  I am Agent
357."  He shook my hand with an expression so forcefully serious that
I found myself liking the man in spite of his strangeness.  "My lovely
companion is Miss Diana Dark, of what you would call The States."

The young Miss Dark, after giving her companion an odd look, took my
hand more roughly than a dockworker, yet also gave me a slight curtsy
as if I were royalty.  "Pleased to meet you, sir."

They looked at me expectantly for several seconds, and it was only
then that I realized that they had no idea who I was, either.  I
bumbled through an introduction of sorts, followed by an apology for
my lack of manners.

"Think nothing of it, my good man.  We'll be out of your hair and on
our way now.  Good day!"  The Agent took the lady's arm and made as if
to escort her away, yet she did not move.

"Wait a minute," she told him before turning to me.  "You said that
you're a doctor?  We're in Merry Old Elizabethan England?  On Baker
Street?  And there's a brownstone building right over there, where a
perceptive man with a pipe is staring out at us from the window?"

I nodded my assent to each of these questions, the last of which
coming as no surprise, considering who lived in the building.

Miss Dark turned to me.  "I would hazard to guess that you're on your
way either to or from a visit with a detective friend of yours who
lives on this very street.  Think he might grant us an audience?"

Her guess was of course correct, and not a surprising one to make for
anyone who knows me, but I was quite confused as to how she knew me,
as I was quite sure that we had never met before.

I spoke carefullty.  "I am afraid that I could not speak on behalf of
my friend in this case.  He is very busy, you see..."

At that time I heard a door open.  "Oh, don't be foolish, my dear old
friend.  Make no excuses for me.  I would be simply delighted to speak
with your new friends."

When I took too long to answer, my friend bounded down the steps and,
with his uncommonly strong arms, he quickly herded us into his study.
The Agent repeated his introductions, and my friend introduced himself
(as if he needed introduction).

"I am at your service," he said in his best slightly self-mocking
tone.  "And while I can plainly hear that Miss Dark originates from
the states (though I dare not guess what part), I find your accent
somewhat of a mystery.  Of here, and yet not of here."

"My training causes me to attempt to emulate the accents of those
local to whatever area I happen to be working in," The Agent
explained.  "I'm not sure I even remember what my native accent is."

"Hold on a second," interupted Miss Dark.  "Never mind the accents.
How did you know we wanted to speak with you?  Surely, you couldn't
hear us from that far away on a noisy street..."

"Never assume what a man may hear, young lady," my friend began
harshly, but then smiled to show that he meant it kindly.  "However,
in this instance, it was apparent from your demeanor and actions that
you had recognized the good doctor here, though he obviously did not
know you, and from my own experience with him I could tell by his
facial expression that you had asked something of him that he did not
feel he could give.  It was simple to deduce what your request was,
given you were very nearly on my doorstep."

The Agent gave my friend a piercing look.  "If you're so good at
deductions, perhaps you can deduce-"

"Perhaps I can deduce how you arrived here?" he cut in.  "Oh, please
don't appear surprised.  Though I missed seeing your arrival, I was
quickly appraised of it by my maid, whom I am afraid I had to send to
her room to recover her wits with the aid of a bottle of my finest
cooking sherry.  It is quite obvious from your lack of coat and other
dress that you did not mean to arrive here, and that quite likely you
did not intend to travel at all."

"Right on the button," The Agent said.  "In fact, you might be able to
help us with a little problem we're having.  It all started..."

The Agent spoke at some length, during which time my friend simply sat
and smoked, staring at something only he could see.  Early on, The
Agent made several lengthy deviations to explain concepts which I
could only begin to grasp, but my friend made it clear to him that he
would prefer the straight narrative.  The Agent spoke of people and
places and times and items which were obviously works of fiction, the
likes of which might be scribbled by one of my Bedlam patients.
However, my friend took fantastical tales of other worlds and other
intelligent life as if they surprised him not at all.

"It is all quite elementary, old boy," he said as The Agent finally
finished.  "Either this young couple has recently escaped from Bedlam,
or they are simply lost travellers in time."

"Travelling in time!" I interjected.  "Impossible!  Absurd!"

"Calm yourself, old chap.  Are we not travellers in time as well,
moving forward, second by second, from our births until our inevitable
meeting with Death?  Can we not, with the tiniest effort of will, take
our minds back to yesterday, or forward to think of what might happen
(or might not happen) tomorrow?"

My friend was so persistant that I eventually had to agree that, yes,
such a thing might be possible, though I could not see how.  I then
noticed that the young Miss Dark was utilizing a device of some sort.

"357," she said, oddly calling for The Agent's attention by using his
number and instead of his name, which I never learbed.  "I'm beginning
to think that we weren't dropped here by accident.  If I'm reading
this right, we've got temporal fluctuations to the north of here."

The Agent checked the device.  "Say, have you two noticed anything
strange around here lately?"

"I was wondering when you would ask.  Friend, please tell these fine
young people the details of our latest case while I refill my pipe."

I drew myself up straight to present my deepest of most meaningful
tones.  "As it so happens, there has been a strange occurrance.  Mrs.
Teal on 4th street has discovered that her cat has a most peculiar
talent.  It seems that this cat has learned how to imitate the calls
of other animals.  It is especially fond of mocking the cattle from
the nearby-"

"Not that one!" huffed my friend.  "The other one!"

"Oh," I said, and I am afraid that my disappointment was quite obvious
to all present.  "Then you must be speaking of the Wylie murder.  It
seems that Mrs. Wylie presented herself to Scotland Yard confessing
that she had murdered her husband with a meat cleaver roughly an hour
before, being unable to tolerate his comments on her cooking any
longer.  The Chief Inspector took her into custody, taking note of her
bloodsoaked clothing, and sent an officer to check the Wylie home, the
scene of the reported crime.  This officer, however, returned in short
order to report that Master Wylie was in good health and making lunch
of a poorly-cooked roast.  He stated that his wife had simply stepped
out to do some shopping."

"Naturally," my friend continued for me, "the Inspector held Mrs.
Wylie due to her bloodsoaked clothing and general state of mind, no
doubt believing that she had attacked and possibly killed someone else
entirely.  He held her for two days and, when no attacks or missing
persons were reported, prepared to release her to her husband."

"Let me guess," said The Agent.  "When they sent an officer to fetch
Master Wylie to come take possession of his wife, they found him
freshly killed by a meat cleaver, just as his wife had confessed two
days before."

"Exactly.  Not only that, but reliable witnesses observed Mrs. Wylie
leaving the scene of the crime in bloodsoaked clothing, even though as
best the Inspector can estimate he himself was with the suspect at the
time of the murder.  I have examined the scene of the crime and Mrs.
Wylie quite thoroughly, spoken with the neighbors, and have otherwise
exhausted all leads.  There can be no doubt that she did indeed murder
her husband in the manner in which she confessed, yet the Inspector
and several other officers claim that she was miles away at the time."

The Agent and Miss Dark conferred for a moment.  "Time loop," Miss
Dark announced.  "Somewhere between her home and Scotland Yard, Mrs.
Wylie hit a temporal fluctuation which sent her back in time two days
to report the murder long before it actually happened."

357 looked thoughtful.  "A time loop like that would pull loose
objects in the timestream to it, much like a magnet would attract
small pieces of metal.  That's how Diana and I arrived here."  I am
sure that he added the last part for me, as I was feeling quite lost
in the conversation by that point.

My friend was already striding to his closet and commenced handing out
coats.  "Obviously, we must go and re-trace Mrs. Wylie's steps.
Perhaps if I can get you close enough, one of your marvelous devices
can suggest an avenue of attack."

"Attack?" I sputtered.  "On what?"

"On whatever is causing this problem.  Perhaps this is a simple,
one-time event, but I somehow doubt it.  What kind of world would we
have if people began arriving at their destinations two days before
they left?  Can you imagine the confusion and panic that would result?
This could destroy our civilization as we know it, assuming it did not
somehow destroy the very planet itself!"

"At the least," I thought I heard Miss Dark mutter.  Somehow, the fact
that she seemed worried caused me to worry.

Still, I might have argued against immediate action, had not something
odder than I had ever seen before (though not, I'm afraid, that I have
ever seen since) happened at that very instant.  The maid came rushing
in from the hall door.  "Gov'ner!" she called.  "I just now saw the
most peculiar thing outside!"

"Gov'ner!" I heard behind me, and turned to see the very same maid
rushing in from the kitchen door.  "I just now saw the most peculiar
thing outside!"

We all must have been a pretty sight, our heads jerking to and fro as
we looked from one identical maid to the other.  I was quite clueless
as to what to do with matching maids, but was relieved of a need to
make a decision when they spotted each other, gave matching shrieks,
and fainted dead away.  We carried them upstairs and lay them in bed
with another identical maid, obviously quite calmed by the bottle of
cooking sherry that she had recently finished off.

Then we were off.

Though we did not know the exact route the Mrs. Wylie had taken that
fateful day, using my friend's knowledge of women in general and his
recognizing a particular type of clay which was smeared on one of Mrs.
Wylie's shoes, he believed he followed it very closely.  The accuracy
of his estimate was confirmed a short while later when one of Miss
Dark's devices began emitting a tone which was obviously some sort of
warning.  The Agent bid us to join him in an alley.

I looked out and saw something which to this day I still do not
believe.  An animal of some sort, larger than an elephant yet scaled
like a lizard, waddled by our hiding place, spooking horses and
causing much general confusion.  It was pursued, if my eyes did not
deceive me, by something that looked very much like a knight in full
armor.  There was some sort of ripple in the air and they were gone.

"In here!" The Agent shouted, storming the stairs of the building to
the north of where we hid.  Striking the door at full run, he was
inside before I had mounted the first step.  While I tried to put
myself between Miss Dark and what I perceived to be approaching
danger, she actually elbowed me aside and proceeded ahead of me, as if
I were the one who needed protection!  My word!

I reached the basement by following the sounds of battle.  I observed
The Agent grappling with another lizard creature.  My friend was
emptying his revolver into a pack of wolf-like creatures which
promptly fled, though perhaps more from the noise than the bullets.
Miss Dark was moving in a most unladylike fashion, wrestling with an
frail elderly gentleman whom I did not recognize.

"The machine!" she shouted between kicks.  "Destroy the machine before
he can activate it!"  I looked beside me and noticed what what must
have been the machine which she mentioned, which I can not adequately
describe in the space I have here.  It appeared armoured, and I saw
no immediate way to dismantle it.

"Fools!" shouted the elderly man.  "Nothing can stop me now!"  He
threw Miss Dark aside as if she were weightless and advanced towards
me in the most menacing of fashions.  I noted as he approached that he
did not appear as frail or as elderly as he did when I first saw him.

The Agent intercepted him just before he reached me.  Though the
gentleman's strength was unbelievable, The Agent held on like a
bulldog.  "He's trying to make himself immortal by causing a localized
time loop," The Agent explained almost conversationally.  "He doesn't
understand that this sort of thing never works.  Temporal fluctuations
are flowing backwards in time from when he activates the machine in a
few seconds from now.  The only way to stop that from happening is to
keep him from activating the machine to begin with."

The gentleman, now quite young, finally threw The Agent aside, though
obviously at great effort.  My friend grabbed him from behind and
applied his nearly legendary strength.  The gentleman was bodily
lifted and was actually able to pulled back several yards before he
managed to break free.

I used that time to draw my own revolver and fire several shots into
the machine and by chance managed to strike an area which seemed less
armoured than some others.  The machine disappeared in a shower of
sparks and smoke.  The strange animals and other things that I am
very glad I never got a close look at likewise vanished.

The young man was now very old and seemed to be aging even as I
watched.  He seemed in some sort of distress, but before I could so
much as check his pulse, he expired and, much to my surprise, turned
to dust which settled on the basement floor.

The air to my left sliced open and shone with colours unimaginable.
"That's our cue to leave," said Miss Dark.  "It was a pleasure working
on a case with you, Detective.  And a delight to meet you, Doctor.  I
so enjoyed your writings as a young girl."  She kissed me briefly on
the cheek, and I was so touched by her praise that I scarcely thought
to be embarrassed by her display of affection.

The Agent was shaking my friend's hand.  "With the time loop gone,
we're loose in the timestream again.  I'm not sure what real changes,
if any, will occur here once we leave, but I'm sure that you can
adjust well enough."

With that, the young couple stepped through the hole in the air,
leaving my friend and myself alone.

"Come, old chap," he said.  "We have a meeting with the Chief
Inspector at noon, and according to the position of the sun, it is
very nearly that time now."

"Time," I mused.

We were, as luck would have it, exactly on time.  The Inspector bid
us to enter into his office.  "You two!  I can't for the life of me
recall why I asked you to investigate this case to begin with, but I'm
sure you've discovered something interesting, so out with it."

My friend simply smiled.  "Perhaps first you would remind us of the
facts of the case?" he suggested.

Dartles gave out a bark of a laugh.  "Facts?  Plenty of those.  Mrs.
Wylie came in two days ago confessing that she had just murdered her
husband due to his comments on her cooking.  The bloodstains were
still on her clothing.  An officer checked her home and found Master
Wylie freshly dead, apparently killed by a meat cleaver just as his
wife had described.  Several reliable witnesses placed her leaving the
scene of the crime."

He stared at my friend.  "Well?"

"Well what?" he responded.

"Well, what ridiculous story are you going to tell me which, once we
investigate further, will turn out to have been painfully obvious from
the start?  Did she stumble upon someone else murdering her husband
and confess in shock?  Or perhaps to protect a loved one?  Or did one
of his associates come to collect a debt too-long owed, arranging the
details of the payment so that it looked like Mrs. Wylie is to blame?"

My friend and I exchanged knowing glances.  Or, at least, I hoped that
my countenance suggested such.  "No, nothing like that, Inspector," I
told him.  "You were absolutely right."

"What?"

"It is as my associate says," continued my friend.  "Your reading of
the facts is completely accurate.  My investigations revealed nothing
more pertinent to the case.  You not only solved the case, but did so
in a fraction of the time that I required.  I tip my hat to you." And,
as he did so, so did I.

With left the Chief Inspector in stunned silence.  "Do you think they
will be all right?" I asked my friend as we walked back to Baker
Street.  I had grown rather fond of them both.

"I'm sure that they will be.  They both seem to be confident, capable
types, as well-suited for their world as we are for ours.  I am sure
that someday their exploits will be recorded in writing much as you
have done with our little adventures."

I smiled.  "And no doubt that their adventures will be taken as
fiction, much as ours have been in their time."

He very nearly stumbled as he halted.  "What, what did you say?"

"Well, it seems fairly obvious," I began.  "The way that young Miss
Dark knew of us and and of some our cases, yet in more of a familiar
than studied way, as if we were old aquaintances instead of historical
figures in a textbook, seemed to indicate that she had been exposed to
us in her youth..."  I trailed off as I saw my friend staring at me.

"My dear, dear fellow," he said as he clapped me on the back.  "I must
say that I am impressed.  It is very seldom that an observation of
that magnitude escapes my notice.  Good show!"

"Why, thank you," I said in return.  "Say, while you are in such a
good mood, in regards to my accont of Mrs. Teal's cat..."

I had to hurry as my friend began walking again, not appearing to
hurry, but his long strides easily leaving me behind.

Will Time Agent 357 and Diana Dark get back to the HMS Golden Lance?
What happened to Ralph and Omegas?
Will Doctor Spleen ever find that missing lasagna?
Just how do bowling balls reproduce?

To see whether I write another lengthy "done-in-one" chapter instead
of chopping the story up into 10K segments, be sure to tune in to the
next exciting episode of...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2002 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
Main Sfstory Page     Previous Log     Next Log     Index for Logs 091-117