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Sfstory Log 107

=========================================================================
Date:         Sun, 09 Mar 2003 15:40:56 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at cheek.org)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #24 - Birth of a Hero

SF: HMS Golden Lance #24 - Birth of a Hero

Diana Dark awoke with a jerk.  But then she looked down at the man
sleeping beside her and decided that he wasn't _that_ big of a jerk,
as far as men go.  Though men did go pretty far in that direction, now
that she thought of it.

The object of her affection, one Time Agent 357, lay sprawled on his
back, mouth hanging open, tiny drop of drool running down his unshaven
chin, a sound somewhere between a whistle and a wheeze barely audible
above the whisper of the room's ventilation fans.

And he doesn't even snore, Diana said to herself wonderingly.  Then
she poked him in the ribs and told him to turn over and stop snoring,
just on general principles.

Making sure that 357's headphones were still firmly in place, she
climbed out of bed and barefooted her way over to her computer
console.  In minutes, she had checked her email, updated her website,
checked to make sure that the proceeds from her webcam were still
being sent to her secret unlisted account, and banned the six new
aliases that Omegas had used to access the aforementioned webcam.

Diana then prowled the corridors of the HMS Golden Lance, which
resembled a mid-70's ranch-style home more than a timeship with
interdimensional capabilities.  Nothing was amiss.  Returning to bed,
she saw the CD that 357 was listening to was about to repeat.  Having
an Earth female's usual respect for her boyfriend's privacy, she dug
out an extra set of headphones and settled down to listen in...

Life story of Time Agent 357, chapter the first.

I was born in a small hospital just outside of my home town, which is
located on my home planet in my home alterverse.  I know that Val, my
ship's computer, told me to be specific, as if I were telling my life
story to someone who knew absolutely nothing about me, but I'm afraid
that I'm going to have to fudge on some of the details.

My people are a fairly private people.  Generally speaking, we don't
share a lot of details of our lives with outsiders.  We don't have a
lot of experience doing so.  You see, we never met any outsiders until
just a few centuries ago.

Our home alterverse is, to my knowledge, unique in several ways.  To
start with, rather than being surrounded by dozens of very similar
alterverses with only minor changes (like who won the last national
election), ours exists in a relative void in the hypersphere.  Unlike,
say, the Earth of my friend Doctor Bing Von Spleen, we didn't have car
keys and eyeglasses and other small items constantly and spontaneously
jumping to other nearby realities.

Also, ours was unique in that there was exactly one (1) intelligent
race in the entire universe, and we pretty much filled it up.  No
matter where we went, there we were.  It is assumed that our race
developed on a single "home" planet and from there spread to every
other planet.  The inhabitants of just about every planet claim that
theirs is obviously the "home" planet of our race, even those planets
which were colonized within the lifetimes of their inhabitants.

Finally, our altiverse is unique in that most higher animal lifeforms
there are, for all practical purposes, immortal.

Not immortal in the sense of always having existed and always going to
exist like, say, Omegas and assorted dieties I've encountered, but
rather immortal in the sense that everyone lives forever barring
accidents, acts of violence, the occasional suicide, and stupidity.

For my race, the aging process is pretty much along the lines of most
other humanoid races I've encountered until late puberty, when the
aging process begins to slow.  Within a few hundred years, depending
on the individual, aging grinds to a halt with an apparent age of late
30's to early 40's, based on average humanoid norms.

There exist elders among my people who have lived for tens or even
hundreds of thousands of years.  We don't worship our elders as
sources of wisdom, however.  Our brains only retain knowledge for a
few thousand years or so before it begins to fade.

I won't have that problem.  My lifespan is only going to be roughly
one thousand standard years.  I'm what they call a genetic throwback.
Like some of the lower animals on some worlds, I have above average
strength, speed, reaction time, and (I like to think) intelligence.
And I heal very quickly.  Illnesses and injuries which would kill
others of my race barely slow me down.

I was born after a fairly normal pregnancy, unique only in that it
lasted nearly ten years instead of the usual 1.3 or so.  Or, at least,
that's what my sainted mother claimed on numerous occasions, usually
after I'd done something stupid.

My first memories are those of being held by my mother, looking up at
my father, and wondering what all the fuss was about.  In the corner
of the room, I saw my doctor holding an ice pack over a rapidly
blackening eye.  Apparently, my first act after coming into this world
was to take a swing at him.  I don't remember doing it, but I'm sure I
had a good reason for doing so.

The nurse at least had the common decency to explain what she was
doing before she stuck me with that needle.  She ran some of my blood
through a scanner right there in front of me, encouraging me to "ooh"
and "ahh" at the pretty colors, while I tried to figure out how to get
my mouth and throat to work so I could tell her the "low battery"
light was on.  I was beginning to think that being born wasn't such a
good idea and that there should be a way to put it off until after I
was fully grown.  I broached the subject to my mother later, but for
some reason she wasn't at all interested in discussing it.

When the scanner beeped that it was complete, the nurse looked at it,
shook her head, and handed it to the doctor.  The doctor held it up to
his eye, realized that it was the eye with the ice pack over it, and
shifted it to his other eye.  Then he approached my parents with a
grim look on his face.

"Gentlebeings," he said softly, "I'm afraid that the earlier tests
were correct.  He's mortal."

"Well," my father said bravely, "We'll just have to love him all the
more in the thousand or so years we will have with him."  My mother
affirmed this and began babbling at me in the high-pitched, silly
willy language that most people use with dumb babies and cute animals.

Or maybe that was the other way around.

"Have you picked out a name?" the doctor asked, apparently trying to
change the subject.

My mother took a deep breath and rattled off the thirteen given names
and the four family names that they had chosen.  The nurse quickly
typed them into her computer.

"A very nice name," the nurse muttered.  "The computer here says that
he is number 1,973,484,357 to be named that."

"Our little 357," my mother cooed.

And that's how I got my name.  With an alterverse full of immortal
beings, we ran out of unique names millions of years ago and started
using numbers.  My nephew, born a few hundred years after I was, is
named after me.  We call him 386.

My childhood was fairly normal up to the time I entered kindergarden.
Until then, I didn't have much contact with other kids.  My mother
would make snide comments about how I would break them or something
like that.  She's such a kidder.

The normal kids are not told of our immortality until they reach
adulthood.  Something about the benefits of a normal childhood and
having a fully developed psyche before being hit with the news.

Or so the theory goes.

It turns out that pretty much every kid figures it out themselves, or
is told by other kids at school.  We learn young and deal with it as
best we can long before our parents can swallow their discomfort and
discuss it with us.

Much like sex, but that's another story.

Myself, I figured out myself pretty early on what was different about
me:  not immortal, but hard to hurt and quick to heal.  I had several
death-defying adventures while still a toddler, which my mother claims
is the reason why she developed grey hair at such an early age.

I remember being dropped off that first day at school by my frowning
but loving father, my crying but loving mother, and our rusted but
loving hovercar.  To this day I still don't know why we used the
hovercar, and frequently asked ever since I discovered that the
downstairs "closet" was actually a perfectly good matter tranmitter
booth.  But my father kept insisting that I was not allowed to use it
until I was older as it was too dangerous.  Pish posh and nonsense.
The auto recall circuit pulled me back from low orbit long before I
would have suffered any permanent damage, and it was not like the
closet was locked in any serious manner in the first place.

An edubot escorted me inside and introduced me to my classmates.  I
was born on a fairly rural and underdeveloped continent of the planet,
so it there were only twelve other children with the same birthdate as
mine who lived close enough to be in the same class.  The ones I
remember most clearly were Suzie416, whose family obviously used a
slightly different naming convention, and 13.

I remember trying to shake 13's hand.  He asked my name.  I rattled
it off as best I could, though back then I tended to get my four
family names jumbled up.  When I finished, he sniffed and walked
away, leaving me standing there with my hand sticking out.

"Don't let 13 get to you," Suzie416 said, stepping forward to shake my
hand.  "He thinks he's hot stuff because he has such a low number."

"What's so impressive about having a number that ends in 13?" I asked.
"I could call myself 7 if I wanted."

Suzie416's eyes got wide.  "Oh, you don't know.  It's not that his
number ends in 13.  His family is very rich and did an extensive
computer search before he was born.  They found a name so rare that it
had only been used 12 times before in all of our history."

Wow.

End of the first chapter.

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

The tall, trim, dark-haired, humanoid male hunched forward in his
command chair.  His handsome face cut have been carved from granite,
except where the slightest hint of a frown caused creases in his
lightly-tanned forehead.  He knew he should be concern.  Hell(tm), he
*was* concerned.  Worried, even.  But he knew that a good captain
never showed such concern in front of his crew.

Never allow them to observe you perspiring.

Especially if he were the captain of a Maudlin-class time cruiser.

"Full alert," he ordered softly, but clearly.  His crew lept into
action around him.  No two appeared to be of the same size, shape,
species, or even gender, but they worked together with an almost
frightening efficiency.  They had to.  Their Captain would accept no
less.  Nothing less.

"Shields to standard," he almost whispered.

"Shields to battle standard," came a quick reply.

"All weapons to standby," he added.

"Weapons room standing by."

He stood and, one at a time, made eye contact with each member of his
crew, one by one.  Each responded with a small nod, a quick half
smile, or some other acknowledgement.  He did not have to tell them
what was at stake.  He did not have to tell them how much he depended
on them.  They knew.  No, they *knew.*  They were a fine crew.

A damned fine crew.

Fighting back a powerful wave of emotion which might have produced a
tear from the eye of a lesser man, he squared his already impossibly
squared shoulders and said, simply, "Take us in."

There was a hint of a sound, almost like a collective drawing in of
breath, as if every being present had anticipated that order but had
secretly desired never to hear it.  Every visual sensory organ was
epoxied to its respective control station display.  The tension was so
thick it could have been cut with a knife, wrapped in brown paper, and
sold to tourists at heavily inflated prices.

Minutes ticked by with agonizing slowness.

Those beings who normally blinked, tried not to.

Finally, just as some of the less experienced crew members started
considering the possibility that they might be able to begin relaxing,
alarms and klaxons began sounding.  A muffled cry to some diety or
another came from aft of the bridge.

"Belay that, ensign," he snapped.  "We're not dead yet.  Report!"

"We're out of the groove by 0.00003%, Captain!"

He slapped the intercom button hard enough to make his hand sting.
"Engine room, what's our status down there?"

"We're running at 109% of norm, Captain!  Whatever the problem is,
it's not caused by a lack of power!"

"Dammit!  I asked for 110%!" he snarled, then calmed himself with
visible effort.  He stared at the main dispay, creating and solving
multiversal navigational equations in his head.  "Helm, adjust our
heading to 103 mark 15 mark 23.999 with a 7.38 degree roll to port."

"But, sir!" came the start of a protest.

"Do it, mister," he said slowly and clearly.  "That was an order."

"Aye, sir."

The alarms and klaxons shut off one by one, leaving only the single
blaring note of the full alert, which had been sounding throughout
the entire scene ever since full alert was ordered.  The Author
requests that the reader go back and re-read that section again, this
time imagining said single blaring note.

"That did it, Captain," one of the crew off to his right.

Shouts of joy began to sound from the crew members.

"Belay that!" he shouted, but his eyes were smiling.  "Open the
flight log and make it official."

One of the crewmembers did so, entering the current time, date, and
location code, then recording these historic words:

"Achieved standard orbit around Time Central."

He went from bridge control station to bridge control station,
shaking hands, paws, and pseudopods; patting shoulders, backs, and
non-differentiated cartilidgenous masses; and telling everyone that
they had done good jobs, but he expected better in the future.

"Time Central is hailing us," reported Fim.

"Thank you, Mif," the Captain replied.  "Put it on the screen."

"That's 'Fim,' sir."

"Whatever."

Fim sighed, then blinked his eyes in twos and threes in sequence
around his head until he'd gotten all of them at least twice.  This
seemed to have a calming effect on him.  He then activated the screen.

On the screen appeared a large desk, covered in an even larger pile of
papers, reports, letters, forms, and field trip permission slips that
looked as if it were seconds away from collapsing and killing everyone
within a square mile.  The rest of the room looked worse.

Behind the desk were two humanoid beings.  In the background was a
human-sized turtle-shaped being of a remarkable blue color.  The
darker of the two humaniods grabbed a report seemingly at random from
a pile on his left, scanned it briefly, scrawled a signature, then
passed it to the turtle behind him.  With speed seldom seen in
sentient technicolor reptiles, the turtle logged it into the computer,
then tossed it into a disposal chute.

(The report was sucked through the chute, routed to a sorting bay,
where it was compacted with thousands of similar reports into a cube.
The cube was jettisoned in the general direction of a black hole
located on the other side of the solar system.  The black hole sucked
the cube in and added the mass of the cube to its own, causing the
black hole's gravity to increase by exactly 0.00003%.  Due to Time
Central existing slightly out of phase with normal time, this increase
in gravity actually made itself felt to the outside universe starting
roughly two weeks earlier.)

Looking up, the dark skinned humanoid noticed that the screen was
active and elbowed his companion.  "Ah, Captain Morgen of the HMS
Dentless.  Right on time as usual, I see."  The words and his lips
were slightly out of sync, the communications circuits not quite
compensating for the shift into normal time.

Captain Morgen examined the beings on the screen.  The humanoids were
known as Sean Landorian and Ian Lockheed, former captains in the Time
Police's Internal Investigation Affairs Division.  They were dead
ringers for the 20th century Earth celebrities Billy Dee Williams and
Sting, simply for the reason that all members of the IIAD were dead
ringers for celebrities from that planet and that time period.  Time
Agent 357 had given the two IIAD officers the job of catching up on
paperwork and keeping the place running until a new Time Chief could
be selected.  As the form requesting a new Time Chief was one of the
first forms they had misfiled, this was taking a while.

"Any problems on that last assignment, Morgen?" asked Lockheed, who
was the one who resembled Sting.  Or perhaps Billy Dee Williams.  No,
it was Sting.  Morgen had never been to Earth and had no idea what
those people looked like.

"None, sir," reported Morgen.  "It turned out not to be a full-blown
invasion, but rather shock troops from a nearby altiverse.  We held
them off until reinforcements could arrive, then drove them back
through the interdimensional gateway."

"Which you then sealed by personally flying a scout ship loaded with
explosives into said gateway, teleporting to safety at the last
second," said Landorian, reading from yet another report.

"Yes, sir," said Morgen, his chest swelling with pride.

"Morgen, you take needless risks, make entirely inappropriate demands
of your crew, and are one pompous, grandstanding, son of a bastich,"
Lockheed said slowly.

Fim, and several other crewmembers, silently prayed that the next
words would be "you are hereby relieved of duty."

"However," continued Lockeed, "you are one of the few members of the
Time Police who have been consistently successful in holding back
Greez Hyperiok's forces, which have been taking over altiverses (that
is, alternative universes) one by one."

Landorian continued.  "Your orders are to track down Greez Hyperiok
and personally stop him using any means necessary."

Fim quietly began reviewing his life insurance policy.  He couldn't
remember if death by power-mad dictator was covered or not.

"Understood, sir!  Morgen out!"  Morgen stood and slapped his hands
together in glee.  "Finally, an assignment worthy of my talents.
Tracking down and defeating an evil overlord!"  In almost manic tones,
he ordered sensor sweeps, search patterns, weapons drills, and as an
afterthought cancelled all shore leave.

"Excuse me, sir," ahemmed Fim.  "Might I remind you that I currently
have some twelve years of accumulated leave time?"

"Fil, you know that I wouldn't cancel shore leave if it wasn't a
bonafide emergency."

"Last month you cancelled shore leave so you could pick up your dry
cleaning early.  And that's 'Fim,' sir."

"Whatever."  Morgen could not be bothered with details.

"And, if I may ask, sir, why are we going to the trouble of tracking
down this Greez Hyperiok when Time Central gave us his coordinates?"

Morgen looked at him evenly.  "Fin, you have no sense of style."

And with that, Morgen turned and, his chin of heroic proportions held
just so, gazed upon the stars shining through the viewscreen, and
wondered about the father he had never known.

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

"Be that as it may," someone was saying, "I had to suggest something.
And stop holding that chin of heroid proportions just so.  It makes it
look like you're posing for a picture or something."

Greez Hyperiok looked at his chief flunky evenly.  "Dijon, you have no
sense of style."

Dijon Mu'tard, former cosmic-level Satanic Agent At Large and current
chief toady of Greez Hyperiok, former Time Agent and current power-mad
dictator, sighed and tried again.  "Greez, no matter how you slice it,
we're finally starting to see some resistance.  Expansion has slowed
to a crawl."

"Thousands of alterverses a day is hardly a crawl."

"Considering that the total number of alternate universes in the
multiverse is very nearly infinite, anything short of a geometric
progression is going to take forever and a day.  If you could just
let me borrow the ABPSARII for moment..."

"No!" shouted Greez forcefully.

Dijon referred, of course, to Doctor Spleen's ABPSARII, or Automatic
Beet-Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II, which sat in the
corner beeping and buzzing and contentedly and generally looking
nothing at all like a food or sub-atomic processing device.  An
improvement on the original ABPSARI, this device could grant the user
pretty much anything he asked for, as long as it was fueled with
enough SPAM (Sickening, Putrid, Artificial Meat).  A three-dimensional
vector of a multidimensional substance, spam has actually been
mistaken for food on some backwoods planets.

"But the ABPSARII could make you dictator for life!" Dijkon whined.

"No," Greez repeated.  "We will do this the, as you say, hard way.
We've already killed Time Agent 357 and his companions.  The Time
Police have barely been able to slow us down.  We've pitted several
god-like beings of near infinite power against each other, effectively
cancelling each other out.  All we have to do is keep doing what we're
doing and we'll be supreme rulers of all reality in no time."

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

In another altiverse altogether, aboard the HMS Golden Lance for
which this serial is named, while his companions planned for upcoming
battle, the allegedly dead Time Agent 357 slept the sleep of the
heavily medicated...

Will Greez Hyperiok be able to take over all of reality?
Will Time Agent 357 be able to stop him?
Will Captain David Morgen be able to stop him?
Will the write-in campaign save Farscape?

For the answers to these and a few other carefully ignored questions,
tune in next week for ever more...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2003 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
=========================================================================
Date:         Wed, 12 Mar 2003 19:07:39 -0500
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at cheek.org)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #25 - Date with an Angle

SF: HMS Golden Lance #25 - Date with an Angle

Previously on SFSTORY...

=The HMS Golden Lance and her crew have been trapped inside an unknown
and unknowable temporal, dimensional, and spacial anomaly for the last
150 years.  We've escaped, but we are being pulled back in!=

"Time Agent 357, I rescued you and Omegas because I need your help.
My experimental ABPSARII has been stolen."

"The Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II is a
miniature interdimensional and time travel device combined with a
highly efficient search engine.  It can grant literally any wish."

"One by one, all universes will fall before the awesome might of my
ABPSARII!  I, Greez Hyperiok, will rule supreme over the multiverse."

"The ring is a combination of god-like alien power, ancient magic,
ultramodern superscience, and a few components that Ralph had picked
up at the local Radio Shack."

=I'm afraid it's even worse than that.  Time Agent 357 is being erased
byte by byte from SFSTORY history!=

"NEKKID 69 reporting for duty!"

"I may just be a musty old copy of an Author, but I'm not without
power.  And I've made sure you're stuck here with me!"

=Sensors indicate that the entire milliverse just exploded!=

"Time Agent 357 is dead.  Nothing can stop me now!"

And now, on SFSTORY...

The HMS Golden Lance (which was actually a pleasant shade of blue)
rocketed through time and space in a way which was actually more
interdimensional convergence than rocketry.  But, never one to mess
with a good metaphor, flames and smoke poured from her aft section
anyway.  Inside, her crew sat at a briefing table.

Time Agent 357 sat at the head of said table.  Mortal offspring of
immortal parents, he was simply very difficult to kill.  He was one of
the Time Police's greatest agents, even though he'd spent most of his
career trying to retire.  Celebrated Champion of Truth, Justice, and
the Ability to Consume Large Amounts of Alcohol in a Single Sitting,
he was perversely stone cold sober at the moment, having not had a
drink in nearly seven minutes.  A pair of battered headphones hung
from his neck, ready to remind him of his life's story should he start
to fade from history again.

To his right was Omegas, former omnipotent and streetwise servant of
Heaven and current semi-potent pain in the neck.  His eyes glowed red
with (un)holy power, visibly so no matter how thick and cheap his
sunglasses, though he tended towards thin and expensive ones.  He was
at that moment buffing his nails and looking entirely too cool and
composed for anyone's peace of mind.

At the foot of the table was acclaimed Spamologist Doctor Bing Von
Spleen of Earth.  Spleen was the inventor of the Automatic Beet Peeler
and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator, an accident with which had propelled him
into SFSTORY many years earlier.  He was quite ready to retire, though
younger versions of himself were still adventuring.

Continuing around, one found the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V, but
you can call him Ralph.  Ralph was actually a friendly, easy-going
weaseloid from Leibowitz IV and an accomplished ukulele player in his
own right.  Normally a cheerful if timid type, he was currently
polishing his Least Great Ring of Unholy Power and vying with Omegas
in both the 'cool' and 'composed' departments.

Rounding out the group was the pleasently rounded Diana Dark, seated
to 357's immediate left.  A sweet, innocent girl from Chicago, or at
least as sweet and innocent as anyone from Chicago could be, she was
transported into SFSTORY by an explosion caused by the interaction of
Cheez-Whiz and beer.  She had been partner (professionally) to Time
Agent 386, 357's nephew and heir to his Time Agent heritage, until 386
disappeared in a storyline which has not yet been explored by this
Author.  Now she was partner (personally) to Time Agent 357.

=We've reached our destination,= announced a sexy if annoyingly nasal
voice from the overhead quadrophonic speakers.  This belonged to the
VAL9000 computer, the heart, soul, brain, and gall bladder of the HMS
Golden Lance for which this serial is named.  =Scanning...=

"We've been scanning for hours," rumbled Omegas in his trademark (and
trademarked) basso profundo voice.  "Like, when do we, you know, get
some action?"

"This is the last one," Diana snapped back.

Doctor Spleen and Time Agent 357 each started to add something, but
everyone suddenly shut up when Ralph held forward his weaseloid paw
and allowed a tiny spark of energy to "BUZZAP!" from his ring.  In the
ensuing silence, Ralph went back to cleaning his whiskers.

For a cheerful, carefree rodent, Diana thought to herself, Ralph sure
is pushing his weight around lately.

=Scan completed,= stated the computer.

"Analysis, Val," 357 requested.

=The temporal degeneration which was erasing Time Agent 357 from
history has stopped.  History has, in fact, started reasserting itself
and is repairing the damage.  Within a matter of months, all will be
as it was and 357 will be safe again.=

In the mean time, 357 thought, I'm never going to be far away from
this CD player containing a narrative version of my life's story.

"What now?" Diana asked, always willing to do anything to move a
storyline along as long as it did not involve (much) public nudity.

"Vacation?" suggested Omegas half jokingly.

"Power consolidation?" suggested Ralph half seriously.

"Retirement?" suggested Spleen half asleep.

"None of the above," stated 357 flatly in a tone so forcefull that
only someone with a fully accredited Bachelor of Heroic Deeds (from
Interstellar University, Home of the Fighting Cephalopods... GO PODS!)
could use it.  "We're going to do the job we set out to do in the
first place.  We're going to track down renegade Time Agent Greez
Hyperiok, take back Doctor Spleen's Automatic Beet Peeler and
Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II, and *then* retire."

"How?" someone (it's not important just who) asked.

"I have a plan..."

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

The shape of a Maudlin-class time cruiser hung in space.  From the tip
of her ultra-relativistic bow to the base of her mega-dimensional
stern, she gleamed in sparkling perfection.  The ship's name was
emblazened proudly across her spotless hull.  Work crews, which had
been swarming around her, entered through numerous hatches.

The last worker, actually an inspector, gave the hull a final once
over, then headed to a hatch himself.  Just before entering, he
reached into his tool pouch and removed a small ball peen hammer.
Gently, he tapped a single ding into the ship's aft hull plating...

Just below the ship's name:  HMS Dentless.

On the bridge, a greenish-skinned alien turned slightly blue, then
turned his primary pair of eyes to his captain.  "Work crews announce
that the cometary dust has been cleaned from the hull, Captain."

"Thank you, Fizz," responded Captain Morgen, he of heroic chin cleft.

"That's 'Fim,' sir."  Not quite audible sigh.  "And the Astrogation
crew reports that by overloading their sensors and inventing twelve
new types of technology, as you ordered, they have tracked down Greez
Hyperiok's location.  Incidentally, he's exactly where Time Central
said he would be today."

"Good!" affirmed Morgen.  "Set course, maximum speed!"

A chorus of "Aye, aye!" echoed around the bridge, mostly drowing out
the occasional "Up yours!"

"You have a plan, sir," Fim asked hopefully.

"Of course I have a plan.  What did you expect?" Morgen snorted.

"Honestly, sir?  I expected you would go charging in personally and in
defiance of all regulations and common sense, guns blazing, and hope
for some kind of last-minute miracle to save the day."

Captain Morgen looked at his first officer suspiciously.  "How did
you guess my plan?"

Fim sighed, then blinked his eyes in twos and threes in sequence
around his head until he'd gotten all of them at least three times.
For some reason, this didn't calm him as it usually did.

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

Dijon Mu'tard stood on the bridge 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.

Dijon medium-sized, human-looking male being wearing impossibly
expensive but utterly ridiculous-looking clothes, taupe sports jacket
over mauve trousers, and currently was idly scratching his name into
the arm of the command chair.  Someday, he sighed.  Then sighed again
when several figures entered the bridge.

One was renegade Time Agent Greez Hyperiok, power-mad dictator to
Dijon's chief flunky.  The second was NEKKID 69, a battlebot whose
holographic disguise was that of an attractive female humanoid tightly
garbed in leather and chains.  Some of those chains, however, led to a
pack of snapping, yapping animals of some kind.  Dijon noted that it
was all NEKKID 69 could do to keep the animals from pouncing on Greez.
These were, Dijon decided, Greez's latest collection of 'pets' whom he
had trained to obey him and only him.  Anterean killer marmosets or
some such nonsense.

"Stay!" commanded Greez forcefully, not noticing that his pets were
still making every effort to pounce at him.  NEKKID tied the animals
to a sturdy conduit a safe distance away.  The animals, Dijon noticed,
did not make any attempt to attack NEKKID.  Of course, a few did seem
to have broken teeth, missing limbs, and other injuries.  Perhaps they
had already tried it.

"Report!" Greez commanded Dijon, just as forcefully.  Greez had also
attended Interstellar University (GO PODS!).

Dijon snapped to a rough approximation of what he probably thought was
a proper military stance.  "We've arrived at altiverse 414ANGLE.  And
as near as I can tell, it has nothing to do with angles and received
its name simply so the Author could make a bad pun in the title."

"Be that as it may," Greez stated, "it's next on our list to be
conquered, enslaved, and used to fuel our unstoppable war effort.
Isn't that right, NEKKID?"

"Of course, my liege," answered NEKKID in a perfectly normal voice,
and not the funny ASCII-delimited speech used by most intelligent
machines in SFSTORY.

Greez opened his mouth to go on, but stopped when a nearby control
panel started emitting various beeps, buzzes, and noxious odors.
"Say that again."

More beeps, buzzes, and the odors got worse, if possible.

"Impossible," Greez muttered, almost under his breath.

"Uh, Greez?  Mind filling us in?" Dijon asked.

"This fool of a ship's computer is trying to tell me that the HMS
Golden Lance just entered this star system.  We all know that the ship
was destroyed with all hands lost when we detonated a mine contain 10
gallons of New Coke and 7up.  The resulting cola/uncola reaction
destroyed all matter within..."

More beeps, buzzes, odors, and some obscene hand gestures.

"Doubly impossible!" Greez shouted.  "Now it says that a time cruiser,
the HMS Dentless, has entered this star system from the other side and
her captain is challenging me to teleport down to the nearest planet
to engage him in personal combat."

"The nearest planet is a gas giant with roughly 40 times standard
gravity," NEKKID put in helpfully.  "Tell him to go first."

Greez answered by going into a ten-minute long rant, frothing at the
mouth and chewing scenery in a melodramatic, B-movie kind of way.
Dijon and NEKKID waited for him to run down.  The HMSes Golden Lance
and Dentless, in the mean time, had closed the distance and had begun
firing on the S.S. You Are About To Die, whose defensive screens
easily turned aside their attacks.

"...and now they have the nerve to fire on me!" Greez finally
finished.  "That does it!  Ready one of our super-secret, ultra-
destructive, unstoppable doomsday killing thingies and target the
Golden Lance.  Fire when ready.  Then destroy the Dentless."

"Um, Greez?" Dijon piped up.  "I would be negligent in my duties as
your toady if I did not point out that all our super-secret, ultra-
destructive, unstoppable doomsday killing thingies have horrendously
long charging times.  S.S. You Are About To Die has regular primary,
secondary, and even tertiary weapons which could destroy both ships
before you could blink.  We've also got some fourth-level weapons,
though I can't remember what they're called.  How does that go?
Primary, secondary, tertiary...."

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

In their control room, the crew of the HMS Golden Lance waited with
worms in their mouths.

Um, I mean, they had bait on their breath.

I mean...  Never mind.

=Sensors show that some kind of super-secret, ultra-destructive,
unstoppable doomsday killing thingie is charging on the S.S. You Are
About To Die,= announced the ship's VAL9000 computer and MP3 player.
=It appears to be aimed towards us.=

"Nice to know they've finally noticed us," Omegas grumbled.  He had
been in charge of the attack, and he was thoroughly disgruntled by the
fact that he had yet to cause any damage whatsoever.

Time Agent 357 stood, smoothed his retro-futuristic silver jumpsuit,
adjusted his captain hat to a slightly more rakish angle, smiled at
his girlfriend Diana, and sat back down as he realized that he had no
place to go.  "Ready back there, Doctor Spleen?"

Doctor Spleen, poised to slam an extra-large serving of processed
meat-like food product into the auxillary fuel intake of the ship's
Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator, signaled ready.

"Go!"

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

"Where'd they go?" screamed Greez Hyperiok, grabbing Dijon by the
lapels and shaking him violently.

"They... appear... to... have... gone... inter... dimension... al..."

"Follow them!" Greez commanded, shoving Dijon towards the nearest
control panel.  "Immediately!"

"Of course, sir," Dijon answered.  "Just as soon as extrapolate their
course to make sure that they're not leading us into a..."

"What part of 'immediately' did you not understand?"

Gulp.  "Yes, sir."

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

"Where'd they go?" screamed Captain Morgen, grabbing Fim by the lapels
and shaking him violently.

"They... appear... to... have... gone... inter... dimension... al..."

"Follow them!" Morgen commanded, shoving Fim towards the nearest
control panel.  "Immediately!"

"Of course, sir," Fim answered.  "Just as soon as extrapolate their
course to make sure that they're not leading us into a..."

"What part of 'immediately' did you not understand?"

Gulp.  "Yes, sir."

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

All three ships appeared in high orbit around a planet.  How do I best
describe this planet?  Imagine a planet untouched by human hands, or
the hands of any (other) intelligent species.  Imagine a planet where
the creatures of nature live in harmony and cooperation.  Imagine a
planet where the most difficult decision involves on which side of the
bed you want to have sex with your beautiful, insatiable partner.

Now, forget all that and imagine the Planet of the Supermarkets.
Every square inch covered with grocery stores, strip malls, factory
outlets, and those little kiosks which promise to sell every product
ever known to man (or alien) but never seem to be open.

Power production on all three ships simply ceased.  Such was the power
of the Planet of the Supermarkets.  Fresh batteries may be found in
Aisle 3.  Have A Nice Day.

The HMS Dentless, farthest out from the planet, began drifting off
into space.  Captain Morgen, floating helplessly through the ship as
the synthetic gravity failed, screamed for his crew to stop laughing
at him and perform some kind of engineering miracle.

The S.S. You Are About To Die, closest to the planet, shuddered as
emergency generators kicked in.  Operating on a slightly different
frequency than the main engines, they managed to create enough power
to keep the ship from spiraling into the atmosphere, but no more.

The HMS Golden Lance, mid-range from the planet and shielded from
direct view by a convenient asteroid, kicked over to pre-rigged
secondary generators and maintained almost normal functioning.  The
crew began prepairing for an attack.  "Automated hoppers are dumping
Britney Spears CD's into the furnace as fast as it can take them,"
Doctor Bing Von Spleen reported.

"Target Greez's ship," ordered Time Agent 357.

"We don't have long before the planet attacks," Diana said, flipping
buttons.  "They'll target us first because we still have power."

"You mean," Omegas suggested, "because we have defeated the planet's
Zipper-Locked (tm) protective field, their primary means of defense,
that they will consider our very presense an act of agression and
respond accordingly?"

Diana sighed.  "No, I mean that by entering this place in a vehicle
which can leave under its own power, we've deprived them of their
usual fee for valet parking."

Diana had barely finished speaking when the VAL9000 computer announced
missiles being fired from the planet's surface.  Said computer also
announced an intruder alert.

"Intruder alert?" all organic beings simultaneously asked.

A viewscreen flickered to life.  It showed an attractive female
humanoid dressed in leather and chains in the aft cargo bay.  Well,
technically, she was only half in the aft cargo bay, clawing her way
through a hole she had already clawed through the hull, pulling
herself in despite the gale-force winds caused by the cargo bay's
atmosphere's sudden decision to exit the ship.

=Internal defenses are operating at only 20% efficiency due to our
power situation,= VAL9000 reported.  =I'm not even slowing her down.=

"Somebody go stop her," 357 ordered.  "I've got to destroy the S.S.
You Are About To Die while we still have a chance."

Diana, Spleen, Ralph, and Omegas left the control room at a gallop
while 357 and VAL continued calculating firing solutions.

Omegas, whose idea of tactics was simply to overwhelm his opponent
with overwhelming force, attempted to overwhelm his opponent with
overwhelming force.  Had he still been an all-powerful streetwise
servant of Heaven, or even still a mostly-powerful streetwise servant
of Hell(tm), this attack might have succeeded.

No one was quite sure what his attack was, as it blew out all the
recording and monitoring devices in that section of the ship.  Diana
suspected that it was unsuccessful, however.  She suspected that when
Omegas came crashing through the wall of her quarters and continued on
through the next wall over.  She saw 357 look up in surprise as Omegas
landed in a smoking heap at his feet.

This was, she decided, not good.  Diana grabbed the rest of her
weapons and went off to join the battle.  She caught up with the
intruder in the hallway outside the control room.  The intruder was
wearing Ralph wrapped around her neck like a huge weaseloid feather
boa.  According to an announcement from the overhead speakers, Doctor
Spleen had done his best and was retreating back to the control room.

The intruder bounced off the wall and seemed to be taking a long time
to get her bearings.

She was also talking to herself.

"NEKKID 69 reporting in, sir," she said.  "I have disposed to the
god-like alien Omegas and the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V.  Doctor
Spleen has retreated but turned out to be much more dangerous than I
had anticipated.  He blinded me with spam."

A pause.

"No, sir.  I am fully shielded against the reality-altering properties
of SPAM (Sickening, Putrid, Artificial Meat).  What Spleen did was
post my email address in several Uselessnet discussion groups.  I'm
getting so many high priority advertisements for free herbal Viagra
and breast enhancement creams that I can't clear them fast enough.
The pop-up windows are obscuring my visual sensors."

Ka-bong!

"And now the annoying human female is hitting me over the head with a
stick.  Please stand by."

Vision finally clearing, NEKKID 69 faced off against Diana Dark.  The
two women appeared to have roughly the same height, weight, muscular
development, bra size, and taste in clothing.  All throughout the
entire multiverse, overweight and slightly drunk men in bars cast
uneasy glances at their mud wrestling pits, somehow certain that they
were missing something they would have sacrificed vital parts of their
anatomy to see.

"I am NEKKID 69," said NEKKID 69 by way of introduction, incidentally
firing off a laser blast that would have burned a hole through Diana's
midsection had she not backflipped out of its path.  "Networked
Electronic Killing and Kamikaze Infiltration Device."

"Diana Dark," replied her opponent, swinging another blow with her
staff at the robot's head.  It was a blow which would have no doubt
killed any organic opponent and perhaps even decapitated a lesser
mechanical one.  It merely knocked up NEKKID's holographic projector,
allowing her mechanical endoskeleton to show through.

"You see that you can't harm me," NEKKID explained.  "I am a robot."

"We'll see about that," Diana replied.  "I am from Chicago."

32 seconds later, NEKKID stepped into the control room.  She was
walking with a pronounced limp, curls of smoke curled from some of
her more sensitive external sensors, and one arm hung loose.  She
dropped Diana and Ralph into a heap on top of the moaning Omegas.
Doctor Spleen cringed in a corner.  357 looked up distractedly.

"Resistant to the (un)holy power of god-like aliens?" he asked in a
conversational tone.

NEKKID admitted that she was, taking a step forward.

"And I hear fully shielded against the reality-altering properties
of SPAM (Sickening, Putrid, Artificial Meat)?"

NEKKID simply nodded, taking another step.

"And proficient in hand-to-hand combat?"

NEKKID said nothing, but took yet another step.

"Ever fight in the Temporal Wars?"

NEKKID 69 stopped short.  "Pardon?"

"Though not," 357 said.  With that, he calmly drew his favorite
sidearm, the telechronal displacement pistol, and equally calmly blew
the battlebot's programming a few million years into the future.
Devoid of a controlling intelligence, the battlebot chasis crashed to
the floor.

Turning back to his control panel, 357 typed in a firing sequence.  A
beam of pure destructive energy and Cheez-Whiz leapt from the HMS
Golden Lance and sped towards the S.S. You Are About To Die.

Only to be turned aside at the last second by a forcefield.

"Very good shot, Agent 357," came the voice of Greez Hyperiok, whose
image soon appeared on a convenient nearby monitor.  "Fortunately, I
was able to get to my ABPSARII in time to have it create a shield to
block your famous Golden Lance energy beam."

"The Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II that
we've been searching for!" Time Agent 357 gushed, indicating the
device Greez held, which less resembled a miniature interdimensional
and time travel device combined with a highly efficient search engine
and more resembled an antique computer keyboard.

"Yes," agreed Greez.  "The prototype which I stole from Doctor Bing
Von Spleen.  Which I have been using to take over universe after
universe.  Which I will now use to make you my slave forever!"

357 helped the others to their feet, thinking furiously.  Suddenly,
the control room was deluged with a rain of hail-sized golfballs.

"Vuja De," said 357.

"What's that mean?" asked Diana Dark.

"It's an old Time Police expression.  It means getting the feeling
that nothing like this has ever happened before."

"Ah."

On the viewscreen, Greez was shaking the ABPSARII violently.  "What's
wrong with this thing."

Dijon took some readings.  "The Zipper-Locked (tm) protective field of
the Planet of the Supermarkets is interfering with the ABPSARII's
ability to process SPAM.  If I read this right, it only has enough
power to grant one more request.  One.  Uno.  Single."

"Then what do I do?" Greez said, obviously to himself as he never
listend to Dijon's advice, anyway.  "I want to enslave Time Agent 357.
Yet, if I do that, my ship will be destroyed by those missiles, which
will impact in less than 60 seconds.  I can't decide."

Dijon reached for the device.  "Give it to me.  I've got an idea which
can save both you and the ship."

"Never!" Greez shouted.  "I will never give up the ABPSARII.  I will
die first.  I will...  Hey, where the Hell(tm) did it go?"

357, and everyone else, turned around at the sound of a soft "plop."
The ABPSARII popped into existance and fell into Ralph's paws.  His
Least Great Ring of Power glowed brightly and then went dark.

"Great job, Ralph!  You da weasel!" everyone shouted.

Greez raged and fumed on the screen.  357 called for his attention.
"Greez, we've got enough power to teleport you and your crew to our
brig before we kick in our Cheez-Whiz Interactive Drive and get out of
here.  Or you can die.  You have 30 seconds to decide."

Greez fumed some more.

357 turned to his companions.  "Well, that just about wraps up this
adventure, all in a nice even 25 episodes.  Another few minutes and...
Ralph?  Just what do you think you're doing with that?"

It was only then that everyone heard the pitter patter of little
weaseloid paws on the keyboard of the ABPSARII.  357 reached for the
device, but suddenly found that space and time were twisting around
him.  He passed out.

He realized that he was being shaken awake.  "Hur-ree, mon amie.  We
must flee before eet iz too late!"

357 allowed himself be dragged to his feet by a group of small, furry
beings.  It was only after he was dumped inside an abandoned warehouse
with Diana, Omegas, and Doctor Spleen that he got a good look at said
small, furry beings.

They were weaseloids.

A particularly scruffy-looking one, although they all looked as if it
had been months since their last flea-dip, waddled up to speak to
them.  He was wearing a shirt with horizontal red and white stripes.
An eyepatch covered one eye.  His whiskers curled at the ends.  A
ragged ear poked out from one side of his head.  The other ear was
covered by a red beret worn at a jaunty angle.  He smiled a smile that
was missing several teeth.

"Mes amies, fear not," he said.  "You have just been rescued by zee
Ferretine Underground Resistance!"

What the heck is zee Ferretine Underground Resistance?
What exactly did Ralph do with the ABPSARII?
Will the HMS Dentless be doomed to float powerless forever?
Do these pants make me look fat?

Jack be nimble.  Jack be quick.  Jack be sure to read the next
exciting installment of...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2003 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
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