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Sfstory Log 109

=========================================================================
Date:         Tue, 17 Feb 2004 23:57:49 -0500
From:         Gary (swede3000 at earthlink.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #14

                               UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                              (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                    Episode 14
                                   "Cerulean"
                                       by
                                  Gary W. Olson

                                       -~-_-

((The Nega-Cell (somewhere in Nega-Space)))

      Kissy Hitowers was ready to scream.
      That was, in and of itself, no great shock.  She could, and 
frequently would, scream at the drop of a hat.  Her scream, in turn, 
could cause other hats in the general vicinity to drop, which would 
incur more screaming, and by the time everything got sorted out, 
she'd have been inconveniently kidnapped by ravenous beasts or 
strapped to a Space Villain's electro-lathe or forced to lounge about 
in a chain-mail bikini at the feet of an evil barbarian.  In short, 
she was a professional Space Ingenue, who in more prosperous times 
would have had no shortage of employment opportunities working for 
Space Heroes who couldn't get enough of battling beasts, villains, 
barbarians, or hearing loss.
      But the economy was in the dumps of late, a fact that had 
compelled Kissy to accept an Ingenue job: working for a couple 
seniors from Interstellar University on their senior project (the 
rescue of a captive Space Heroine).  The seniors in question, Ronald 
Hastings and Norman Sassafras, had been able to pay up front because 
of their success in speculating on the interstellar Pudding Futures 
market.  So off they went, and through a convoluted series of events 
managed to get captured by the enemy and held in an apparently 
escape-proof cell.
      Which brings us back to Kissy Hitowers being ready to scream. 
 From boredom.
      Three days had passed since the velour-shirted minions of the 
High Spock had managed to get herself, Ronald, and Norman to trap 
themselves in the Nega-Cell, which had been inexplicably fashioned 
into a replica of the bridge from the original 'Star Trek' series. 
Three days of listening to the would-be Space Heroes bickering over 
whose turn it was to record the Captain's log, over what Kirk would 
do in this situation, and over just which damn planet was on that 
never-changing side viewscreen, anyway.  Three days of listening to 
those annoying beeps and whirrs that lingered, sourceless, in the 
recycled air.  Three days of tea, Earl Needlewarping Grey, hot.
      The one upside of their confinement, the fact that they had 
finally found the Space Heroine they had sought (one Toni Williams by 
name), had also soured.  Toni occupied the Captain's Ready Room, 
which she had apparently converted into a bedroom of sorts. 
'Apparently,' because after her initial greeting, three days ago, she 
retreated into the room and had not come out since.
      Ronald and Norman were busy playing three-dimensional chess, 
having managed to improvise chess pieces from cheese provided by the 
food synthesizer and the boards from panels around the bridge.  At 
the moment, they were, as far as Kissy could tell, either 
concentrating fiercely upon the game, slightly constipated, or both. 
Neither looked up when she stood, marched over to the door separating 
the bridge from the Ready Room, and started pounding.
      "Open up, damn it!" Kissy yelled at the top of her lungs.  "We 
came all this way to rescue you, and the least you could do is hang 
out with us some!"
      "No point bothering," said Norman.  "She hasn't answered in 
three days.  And there's no way to open up the doors from outside."
      "Have you tried?" Kissy asked.
      "Every day," said Ronald, as he moved a roquefort pawn up a 
level to confront Norman's swiss rook.  "The door won't move."
      "What, exactly, have you tried?"
      "We tried the panels around the door," said Norman.  "But the 
wiring's just for show, like most of the rest of the bridge.  We 
tried using our personal nukers to blast the doors down, but like she 
said, they got deactivated once we arrived here.  We tried kicking 
them down, but only hurt our feet."
      "There's got to be some way," said Kissy.  "How does the High 
Spock get in?"
      "Er," said Ronald.  "What?"
     "The High Spock.  Your archenemy.  Leader of Team E.  You don't 
think he'd just let Ms. Williams seal herself off without having a 
way to get in so he could taunt her, do you?"
      "A point," Norman admitted.  "He probably has some kind of 
remote control to override her lockout.  But that doesn't help us 
any."
      "Why not?" Kissy asked.  "Can't you guys try different 
frequencies, see if you can set it off?"
      "I don't see..."
      Ronald's voice trailed off as he started to think.  Norman 
raised an eyebrow, which he apparently did whenever he was trying to 
think extra-hard.  After three minutes of this, Ronald snapped his 
fingers.
      "I know!" he exclaimed.  "I'll have the food replicator build a 
xylophone out of cheese!  We can test the full signal range in 
minutes!"
      Kissy clapped her hand to her forehead as Ronald and Norman 
raced off to do exactly that.  She removed it only when she heard 
Ronald exclaim something else.
      "No, wait!  We just find a way to alter the background beeps and 
whistles, using a standard vector tau modulating transnoberator!"
      "Where are we supposed to get one of those?" Ronald asked.
      Norman thought a while on this.
      "Make one out of cheese?" he finally asked.  "I mean, they 
didn't teach us about the cheese-based technologies of the Bovinian 
Hegemony in Unlikely Tech 401 for nothing..."
      Kissy, at this point, redoubled her efforts to tune out the 
conversation.  She considered screaming some more, but before she 
could make up her mind as to which of her various specialty screams 
fit her current circumstance, she heard Norman shout.
      "That got it!"
      She turned in time to see the Ready Room door whoosh open. 
Ronald and Norman charged into the room, and Kissy waited for them to 
fly out, courtesy of the fists of Toni Williams.
      Several moments passed without either aspiring Space Hero 
exiting the room by any means.
      "Hey, Kissy!" Ronald called.  "Could you come here a sec?"
      Kissy took a deep breath, steeled herself to give one hell of a 
scream, just because there had to be *something* in that room that 
merited it, aside from Ronald and Norman themselves.  She ventured 
toward the doorway.
      There wasn't much to see.  A desk, a cot, some clothes piled in 
the corner, a large glowing rectangular machine thing against the far 
wall.  Ronald and Norman examined said thing while consuming what she 
assumed was their cheese-based transnoberator.
      "Er," said Kissy, feeling oddly cheated.  "Where's Toni?"
      "Not here," Norman said, without looking back at her.  "Probably 
skipped off three days ago.  Those are the clothes she was wearing 
over there."  He pointed at the pile of clothes in the corner.  Kissy 
recognized the tattered uniform Toni wore at the time.  It was lying 
atop several not-so-tattered uniforms.
      "We think she went through this," said Ronald, indicating the 
rectangular part of the glowing rectangular machine thing.  "It looks 
like the same kind of thing we went through when we got trapped in 
here."
      "So she wasn't a prisoner here at all?"
      "Probably she let herself get captured," said Norman.  "To throw 
them off their guard.  And she comes back from time to time, so they 
think they have her locked away.  Meanwhile, she's off doing... 
whatever it is she's doing, wherever it is she's doing it."
      "Pretty common tactic, really," Ronald added.  "We Space Heroes 
are crafty like that."
      Kissy knew an opening for insulting banter when she saw it.
      "Well," she said, "if you're so crafty, why did it take you 
three days to think of using cheese-based technology to get in here?"
      "Are you kidding?" Norman asked.  "Some people go their whole 
lives without even once trying to use cheese to stymie electronic 
locks!"
      Kissy found she could not refute this, and decided to scream instead.
      "AIEEEEEEEE!"
      It was your standard Extremely Loud Scream in the key of Oh God 
My Ears, heard in situations ranging from Little Kid Being Menaced by 
Acid-Dripping Aliens to Dumb Teenager Being Confronted by 
Mask-Wearing Serial Killer to Man Who Paid Too Much for His Muffler. 
It had the intended effect of making Ronald and Norman clutch at 
their ears and writhe on the floor.
      Several phaser beams lanced into the room, missing the three 
inside by wide margins -- an unintended, but very welcome, secondary 
effect of the scream.
      "Needlewarp!" Ronald exclaimed.  Kissy turned and saw the High 
Spock and two other velour-shirted members of Team E, all with Type I 
phasers aimed in their general direction.  Norman took advantage of 
their captors momentary disorientation by balling up what was left of 
the cheese transnoberator and throwing it at the door lock switch.
      The doors whooshed shut, and the 'locked' sign lit up on the 
screen above the switch.
      "That'll hold them for a few minutes," said Ronald.  "But they 
should be able to burn through quickly with those phasers.  We've got 
to get this Nega-Transporter working and get out of here!"
      "But with what?" Norman asked.  "We're out of cheese!"
      Fortunately, Kissy had an 'Out of Cheese' scream that was 
exactly appropriate for the situation.

                                       -~-_-

((_Challenger III_, Mydrus System, Goornashk Sector))

      "We're now emerging from overly-hyped space, sir," Commander St. 
Thomas reported.  "Twenty degrees above the solar plane of the Mydrus 
system."
      "Enemy vessels?" Captain Vogel asked.
      "None in the immediate vicinity," Steve's second-in-command 
replied.  "Initiating long-range scans."
      Steve Vogel nodded.  "Very good, Commander."  He shifted in his 
Captain's chair and pressed his fingertips together.  It was the 
_Challenger III_'s third day of following the Goornashk Authority 
ship that Jerriphrrt and Gham were on, and so far, everything had 
gone according to plan.  Transmissions from the Goornashk vessel shut 
off the appropriate scanners and diverted the appropriate security 
ships at the appropriate times.  There was absolutely no sign that 
their intrusion deep into Goornashk space had gone detected.  Which 
was all the more worrying, because Steve knew his luck was just not 
that good.
      An emphatic yawn erupted from somewhere about the region of his 
feet.  Steve looked down at Lucky, the ship's mascot-by-default.  The 
large, six-foot-tall-at-the-shoulder mutant black cat looked back up 
at him, yawned again, and proceeded to gnaw on a mega-sized cat toy, 
one specially created by Steve and laced with catnip, sedatives, and 
appetite suppressants.  Which in most cases wouldn't be what one 
would give one's mascot, but was appropriate in this case, at it kept 
Lucky from clawing, eating, or mating with his crew.
      "Long-range scans coming back, sir," Jean St. Thomas announced. 
"Heavy concentration of ships around Mydrus, as expected.  Some in 
the asteroid belt further out.  That's about it."
      "Any sign of Jerri and Gham's ship, Commander?"
      "They're on approach to Mydrus," Jean said.  "It looks like 
they're getting in undiscovered."
      "It's too easy," Steve said.  "I don't like it."
      "We won't be able to get any closer," Jean said.  "We're just 
beyond the edge of their sensor arrays now.  Once the security net is 
down, we should be able to get in."
      Before Steve could respond, the turbolift door opened, and in 
walked four men wearing cerulean blue jumpsuits and carrying a large 
chunk of oddly shaped metal.  Steve inwardly groaned, knowing that 
whatever these four men did, it would rapidly bring his luck level 
back in line with reality.
      "Good day, sir," said J. Michael Spaulding, Captain of (on 
leave, or possibly AWOL, from) the space station Freedonia 5. 
Spaulding tipped his cigar in Steve's general direction.  "You're 
looking in top form today, Captain -- you're making my eyes spin. 
You look like you're ready to either invade enemy space or Deal a 
Meal, or possibly both."
      Steve frowned, in what he hoped was his least effeminate manner. 
"What do you want now?"
      "We finished the job you gave us," said the man next to 
Spaulding, one Zeppus Coleslaw by name.  "I think you'll find we've 
exceeded the specs we were given, but if you could just give us some 
windex, we'll clean those specs right off."
      Steve tried to remember what job he had given the irritating 
foursome that had stowed away aboard his vessel and proved too 
troublesome to try to eject.  Something inconsequential requested by 
Jerriphrrt and Gham three days ago...
      "We present-a to you," said Lt. Chicobaldi, "Meester Funboy Ay-yi."
      "That's two, you poor excuse for a soldier," Spaulding said. 
"Can't you read Roman numerals?"
      "No," Chicobaldi replied.  "Only tha ones that-a stand still. 
An-a the twos, an-a the threes, an-a the fours..."
      "Are the fours with you?" Spaulding asked.
      "The cat ate them," Zeppus said, gesturing at Lucky, who yawned again.
      Spaulding knelt before Lucky and peered into his mouth.
      "I only see the dark side of the fours," Spaulding reported. 
"On the in side of the cat.  And I hear a lot of heavy wheezing."
      "He does that," Steve snapped.  "He's an old cat."
      "You shouldn't talk about your elders that way," Spaulding 
replied.  "I have half a mind to give you the back of my hand, or 
half a hand to give you the back of my mind, whichever is messier."
      Steve felt his head start to throb.  "Tell me," he said, already 
sure he would regret it, "about this 'Mr. Funboy II.'  I think I 
remember about it now.  Will it do what Major Lalan expects?"
      "Oh-a, you bet," said Chicobaldi.  "Hey-a, Zacko, show da boss 
what-a the gun does, hey?"
      Steve, while not being necessarily the most accelerated particle 
in the particle accelerator, was still bright enough to pick up on 
what would happen next.  He immediately adopted the best defensive 
posture he could achieve (i.e., hiding behind his chair, and that 
only because the general stampede for the turbolift was too much to 
break through).  Seconds later, bright plaid beams of light flashed 
overhead, smashing into vital control panels.
      Zacko, his eyes bulging as he huffed and puffed as aggressively 
as possible, spun around and fired at everything that looked like it 
might make a good target.  Steve wasn't sure if the man was insane, 
or was just doing a really good Zark Flyby impersonation.  He cringed 
as Zacko used the ungainly weapon to thoroughly shoot up his bridge.
      Of those still on the bridge, only Lucky seemed unimpressed.  He 
yawned again, which caught Zacko's attention.  Zacko yanked the 
loader of what looked like a grenade launcher strapped to the 
underside of the gun, and fired a high-velocity fish directly into 
Lucky's open mouth.  Several more fish followed, which clearly made 
Lucky's day.
      "Okay, partner," Chicobaldi said, from where he was crouched on 
the floor.  "You-a can stop now."
      Zacko looked down at Chicobaldi, smiled, and pulled the trigger 
again.  A noxious green gas billowed from the gun, filling the bridge.
      "Oh, needlewarp," thought Steve as he slipped into unconsciousness.
      It was, perhaps, a mercy that he could not hear the 'approaching 
warship' alert that blared through the ship a second later.  That 
would have *really* ruined his day.

                                       -~-_-

((Alpha Rio VI (The Planet of Casinos)))

      There comes a time in even the most intricate conspiracies or 
plots when there is no more conspiring or plotting left to do.  The 
final details of the final orders to be given to one's agents have 
been given.  The final double-cross has been laid, the final 
deceptive red herring has been planted, the final trap has been set. 
Everything is moving precisely according to plan, and the points at 
which the plan is most vulnerable to being scragged by a hero or a 
passing asteroid or what have you are still well in the distance.  It 
is this time, betwixt finally putting the neatly-printed Universal 
Domination plan into its bloodstained three-ring binder and having to 
throw it into the shredder, where the Master Plotters were separated 
from the Master Plotter Wannabes.
      Kalvin Certain was determined not to repeat the mistakes of his 
predecessors in the field of Master Plotting.  He had learned from 
the example of the Reddish Claw of Scalron Six, who filled the 
downtime between his plots and their fulfillment or failure with 
round after round of Scalronian Uber-Golf, to the point where his 
merely taking out a Laser Putter was a signal that a plot was under 
way and it was well-advised to take a vacation or dump one's shares 
in Reddish Claw, Inc.  He would not, as the Dark Empress Mahimba of 
the Throttolian Nebula had, celebrate the implementation of a 
fool-proof plan to take over the universe by getting smashed on 
Pailong Smoke, which has the unfortunate effect of interfering with 
even the most basic verbal commands.  (There is the famous example of 
how she once tried to order Buzz Williams fed to the Ravenous 
Wildebeest of the Temple and also order her manicurist to give her a 
manicure, which, thanks to a grievous misunderstanding on the part of 
her guards, resulted in the Empress being fed to the Wildebeest, 
which also got a manicure out of the deal.)  He would, in short, play 
it cool.
      Right at that moment, playing it cool meant taking care of 
business as usual.  He was on the main floor of Vino the Three-Headed 
Yak's House of Merriment and Extortion, mingling and schmoozing with 
the higher-rolling patrons of the casino that employed him.  The 
silver tuxedo he wore was the same he wore every night at this time, 
as was the pattern he walked, the small talk he made, the deals he 
supervised, and the George Clooney lookalikes he had taken off the 
floor and made to watch "Batman and Robin" until they promised never 
to pretend they were in a Steven Soderbergh film ever again.  He was 
doing what he always did.  He was playing it cool.
      Soon, he thought, the wait would be over.  All the pieces he had 
put in motion were moving without hindrance, and soon he would be 
able to play it hot.  The universe would never know what hit it--
      "Hey, boss!" yelled a yak.  "Message just came in for you!"
      Kalvin, who had been in the process of instructing the guards on 
what to do if they saw anyone who looked like Matt Damon or Brad 
Pitt, and how often to recharge the electric cattle prods while doing 
it, looked up and frowned.
      "Take a message!" he yelled back.  "I'm busy!"
      "It's from the Security System, sir!" the yak replied.
      Kalvin sighed, then nodded.  The Security System was an expert 
computer system mandated by Vino the Three-Headed Yak, and when it 
had a message, it was best to not be tardy in checking it out.  Vino, 
as his name implied, had three heads, and absolutely no sympathy for 
anyone who begged not to have one of theirs cut off just because they 
didn't have a couple backups.
      The walk back to his office took only a minute or so, as he had 
been nearly done with his rounds for the afternoon.  He flicked on 
the wall screen and immediately froze.
      The security cameras had zeroed in on three patrons who at first 
glance appeared to be no different than any of the other patrons in 
Vino's casino, in that they were gambling, drinking, and happily 
losing money.  Indeed, they might have fooled even the Security 
System, so well were they blending in, were it not for the fact that 
one of the three was Sajon.  He wasn't causing slot machines to 
explode with coins this time, unlike the messy scene he had caused 
when he unexpectedly was teleported in three days ago, but that was 
probably due to the numerous Typical Luck generators that had been 
strapped to his person in an apparent attempt to disguise his 
odds-busting nature.
      But Sajon was a known quantity who could be dealt with.  It was 
the two who were with him that had Kalvin's attention.
      The reptilian Slithis he recognized immediately, despite the 
nun's habit Slithis wore as a disguise.  It took a few moments more 
to remember Shadebeam.  He had only seen her once in person, in the 
middle of stealing a spaceship from the OmniDean, and her look was 
somewhat different than it had been, but... it was her.
      Two of the original Renegade Anarchists in his casino.  Coincidence?
      Hardly, Kalvin thought.  The waiting period was simply ending 
more quickly than he had anticipated.
      But even now, he would play it cool.
      "Security System," he said.  "I have new orders for you..."

                                       -~-_-

((Shoon-Ma's ship, somewhere in overly-hyped space))

      Benjen held his breath as two red-velour-shirted zombies glided 
past his hiding place.  They were not turning their heads (zombies 
are not big on being thorough in their searches), but if he let out a 
breath, they would hear.  He had found that out yesterday, the hard 
way.
      Three days had elapsed since he escaped from Shoon-Ma's 
captivity, and he was no closer to finding a way off the weird alien 
ship he was stuck on than when he started.  Most of his time was 
spent blundering about in the dark, breathing air through a mask 
attached to a U-BREETH-E-Z compressed air tank, relying on the 
sensors from a stolen tricorder to navigate about the mostly 
lightless, airless, and gravityless ship.  The only rations he'd been 
able to scrounge tasted bitter and suspiciously like grey-meat 
meatloaf, and the only water he had been able to find caused him to 
hallucinate dancing Jacksons for hours on end.  He had barely gotten 
any sleep, and he was close to sure there were no escape pods on the 
ship at all.  The aliens who formerly owned it apparently had not 
believed in such extravagances.
      The zombies reached the end of the oblong room, opened the door, 
and left without any theatrical pausing as if they had heard 
something.  Benjen slowly let out his breath and considered what to 
do next.
      He had no idea what to do next, so he considered what had 
happened to him so far, instead.  It had been something he had lately 
been doing a lot.  (Well, that and feel glad it was his hallucination 
of Janet that had the wardrobe malfunction and not Michael or Tito.)
      There was something about the events on the ship as he knew them 
that did not make sense, even by the relaxed 'sense' standards that 
years of living in Sfstory had given him.  When he and his 
compatriots on the W.S. _Universal Solvent_ first investigated the 
derelict alien spaceship, they had found it powerless, apparently 
crewed only by a number of pudding-bloated dead humans in velour 
shirts.  There had also been a frozen bagel floating aimlessly 
around, and Benjen had brought that with him when he returned to his 
own ship.
      The bagel turned out to be Shoon-Ma, who revived and 
telepathically forced him to return to the alien vessel, which 
immediately started up and took off.  A bunch of people came and 
went, as people are wont to do, but Benjen ended up stuck on the 
ship, the subject of (staged) experiments at the hands of Dr. Bing 
Von Spleen.  Thanks to the intervention of the tiny robot named 
TH1K1, Benjen escaped, and thus started his marathon of avoidance of 
zombies and trying to find a means of escape for himself and Dr. Von 
Spleen.
      None of this failed to make sense to him.  He was used to these 
sort of things going on, though it had been a few years since such 
goings-on were this intense.
      While he had been on the bridge of the alien ship, listening to 
Shoon-Ma gloat, he learned the chronology of what had recently 
occurred to the ship.  A group of alien archaeologists (the original 
owners of the ship) found Shoon-Ma buried on a forgotten world and 
were heading back home when their ship was hijacked by the 
velour-shirted fools, who started taking the ship back to wherever 
*they* had come from.  So far, so good.
      At some point, Shoon-Ma must have tried to take over.  Hell, it 
had probably been his influence that let the velour-shirted men 
defeat the archaeologists in the first place.  But when the 
_Universal Solvent_ crew found the ship, it had been powerless, 
drifting in space, and the men all had bellies full of pudding and 
victorious expressions on their dead faces....
      That was it.  There had been no explanation for the situation 
they had found the ship in.  It was as if the humans had found a 
means to resist the ur-Bagel's mind-control abilities, long enough to 
shut down the ship.  And it had to do with the fact they had bloated 
themselves on pudding, he was sure.  Perhaps pudding interfered with 
Shoon-Ma's ability to control minds, but why would the men have been 
travelling with that much pudding about in the first place?  Would 
the archaeologists have had that much pudding?  It was an extremely 
valuable commodity in the interstellar futures markets, not the sort 
of item one casually brought on archaeological or 
hijacking-of-archaeological expeditions.
      He had located no pudding reserves in his search of the ship, so 
it seemed a moot point.  He had yet to locate even a simple computer 
terminal, an item which would have solved a lot of his problems--
      The door at the far end of the room hissed open.  Benjen 
crouched behind the desk that had been his hiding place.  He heard a 
series of high-pitched whistles and squeaks.
      "TH1K1!" he exclaimed.  The words were muffled by the airmask he 
wore, but the tiny flying robot seemed to understand him 
nevertheless.  It emitted a lot more whistles and squeaks.
      "Okay, okay, you want me to follow you, right?" asked Benjen. 
TH1K1 bobbed up and down in the air, which Benjen took to be an 
affirmative.  "Fine, I'm with you.  I hope you've had better luck 
than I've had."
      He followed the small robot through a confusing series of 
uniformly dark corridors and doors.  It wasn't until, some twenty 
minutes later, when he saw the dim green glow from a computer screen 
on an otherwise black wall, that he truly started to feel things were 
going his way.
      The little robot was humming.  Benjen was sure it was only a 
leftover fragment of hallucinatory liquid that made him think the 
humming was in any way malevolent or homicidal.
      Benjen examined the screen.  Sure enough, it was a main 
interface terminal, one which, given his skills, he was sure he could 
use to take control of the ship away from Shoon-Ma.  Which wouldn't 
mean much if the ur-Bagel re-mind-controlled him, but it seemed to 
Benjen that its powers were already extended to their limit in 
controlling the zombies and the ship and keeping Dr. Von Spleen in 
line.  If he did things right...
      Suddenly and without warning, the readout turned red, and began 
flashing in the universal and time-honored 'you're screwed now, 
bucko' tradition.
      "Oh, needlewarp," Sajon muttered.  "What did I do now?"
      "Self-Destruct Program activated," a printed message on the 
screen informed him.  "One hour until I go boom."
      Benjen stared at the screen for a while.  He tried typing in 
commands, but the screen was locked.  He tried glaring at the screen. 
He tried hitting it.  Only when he looked up from this did he notice 
that TH1K1 had gone missing.
      Probably off to rescue Dr. Von Spleen, Benjen decided.  He was a 
good judge of character, and he was sure TH1K1 was the most 
dedicated, most selfless robot helper any of them could hope for. 
Von Spleen was no doubt in good hands, but Benjen was not.  Surely 
there was something in his training that covered this situation...?
      There was.  Benjen stood, looked around to make sure he wasn't 
observed, then put up the screen saver and briskly walked away.

IS DR. VON SPLEEN IN GOOD HANDS?
WAIT, DOES TH1K1 EVEN HAVE HANDS?
WHAT IS KALVIN PLANNING FOR SAJON AND COMPANY?
WILL IT INVOLVE FREE DRINKS AND A SHOW?
WILL THE CREW OF THE CHALLENGER III AWAKE IN TIME TO FEND OFF ENEMY ATTACK?
WILL RONALD AND NORMAN BE FORCED TO CUT THE CHEESE?

SFSTORY happens, and you are there!
=========================================================================
Date:         Fri, 23 Apr 2004 07:04:55 -0400
From:         Gary (swede3000 at earthlink.net)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #15

                               UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                              (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                   Episode 15
                                     "Umber"
                                       by
                                  Gary W. Olson

                                      -~-_-

((Zeta Ricola Beta))

      Had it not been for all the people trying to kill him, Bagelos 
reflected, he would have enjoyed his time on the planet Zeta Ricola 
Beta.  The forest he had been hiding in for the bulk of the past 
three days was rugged but pleasant, with few biting or stinging bugs 
and even fewer large animals with sharp teeth.  The air was warm in 
the daytime and only slightly cooler in the evening, and was neither 
too dry nor too humid.  And large sections of it were being destroyed 
on a semi-regular basis, which pleased the evil Space Villain in him. 
It would make a fine vacation spot, he decided, once he was Ruler of 
the Universe.
      A blast from a military-grade nuker slammed into the tree trunk 
next to him.  Bagelos immediately took to his heels, sprinting 
through the underbrush with an urgency that had become all too common 
to his movements.  It told in how quickly he felt himself tire, in 
how he gasped for air with every step.
      For monks, Bagelos thought, they seemed very keen on using 
high-tech weapons to turn him into a high-tech blood smear.  But 
then, they had a powerful space armada, a force field that prevented 
all unauthorized entry into their solar system, and Space knew what 
else.  What had he expected, enigmatic sayings and lots of zoom-zoom 
martial arts action?
      A shot exploded near his foot, and he picked up the pace of his 
frantic flight.  Even as he did, the somewhat rusty entrepreneurial 
wheels of his mind started to turn.
      *They're monks,* he thought.  *Like Space Heroes can't resist 
alluring Space Ingenues and cats can't resist paper bags, monks can't 
resist learning zoom-zoom martial arts and the enigmatic sayings that 
go along with them.  If I, Bagelos, open an Evil Dojo of Martial Arts 
Villainy here, I, Bagelos, should be able to make enough money to 
fund my plan to take over the Universe!  Yes!  That will work!  I, 
Bagelos, shall--*
      "Whump!" said the mighty oak in front of him as Bagelos ran into it.
      "Ow," Bagelos commented as he fell backward onto the dirt.
      Bagelos looked up through a haze of blinking lights, swirling 
stars, and tweeting birds to see three heavily armored Soldier Monks 
(whose slogan, Ohm All That You Can Ohm, Bagelos frequently heard 
whenever he snuck into a dwelling in the nearby town to steal food, 
drink, and Internet access).  He tried to fire a laser at one of them 
from the big red ruby that covered his left eye, but only heard a 
weak fizzle.  Out of power, curse his luck.
      And soon, perhaps, out of life.  The Monks did not look like 
they were about to say anything enigmatic, or anything at all.  All 
three simply raised their nukers, pointed them at various parts of 
his trembling body, and squeezed triggers.
      At the exact same time, a stunning (in the same loose sense that 
being smacked in the back of the head with a lead pipe can be 
considered so) harmonica rendition of "She Bangs" ripped through the 
scene.  The atrociously atonal sound wreaked havoc with the delicate 
internal circuitry of the nukers, causing them to backfire with loud, 
messy, but (from Bagelos's lie-down-point) very positive results.
      "Friend Bagelos!" a high-pitched voice exclaimed.  "There you are!"
      "Quooth!" Bagelos replied.  "You found me again!"
      "It was not easy, friend Bagelos," the insectiod Wzaxtil said as 
phe made phis way through several clumps of underbrush.  "You did not 
show at the rendezvous point last night.  Some nice monks showed up, 
though, and offered to show me how their weapons worked if I did not 
tell them where you were!"
      Bagelos struggled into a roughly standing (if wobbly) position. 
"And did you?"
      "Did I what?"
      "Tell them where I, Bagelos, was."
      "I did not know where you were," Quooth replied, as phe 
scratched phis ear (located in the center of phis chest) with a 
feeler.  "So I used my Holy Harmonica to play the Song of Finding 
Friends, which wzaxtils have used since time immemorial to find lost 
friends.  I did not detect you then, sadly, but when I finished, I 
looked up and discovered the monks were gone!"
      "Was this... Song... the same one you just played a moment ago?"
      "Why, yes, friend Bagelos!"
      Bagelos looked around at the smoking spots on the ground where 
the Soldier Monks had once been standing.  He nodded once with 
satisfaction.
      "Well, then," Bagelos said.  "I, Bagelos, thank you for so 
diligently finding me.  But now I, Bagelos, think we should split up 
again--"
      "But I have found the Sacred Temple of the Ancestors," said 
Quooth.  "Is that not what you seek?"
      It was, a fact that caused Bagelos to become vexed.  He had 
hoped to find it first, thus making it much easier to ditch Quooth on 
his way to gaining great amounts of money and power to be put to 
Space Villainish use.  Bagelos sighed, and decided he would simply 
have to wait for another opportunity--
      "KILL!!!!!!!"
      The voice (which really did deserve all those exclamation 
points, so strongly did its owner feel about the sentiment voiced) 
rolled through the forest.  Bagelos spun, and nearly fell again.  The 
voice had come from one of the most damaged sections of the woods.
      Scant seconds later, its owner barged into view.  He was fairly 
largish in both height and width, and most of that bulk seemed 
composed of muscle (including the part between his ears).  He wore a 
somewhat ragged looking Time Police Academy Commandant's uniform, 
which did nothing to contain the umber glow that radiated within. 
His eyes, in particular, had a savage glow that made Bagelos deeply 
uneasy.
      "Why, hello, friend Zark!" Quooth exclaimed.  "What a surprising 
and fortuitous coincidence to find you here!"
      The name Zark reminded Bagelos of one of the insanely violent 
maniacs who he met on the space station Freedonia 5 a few years ago, 
during the conclusion of the Shadoe War.  A maniac named Zark Flyby. 
A heavily armed maniac named--
      "Quooth!" Bagelos commanded.  "Play your Song of Finding 
Friends!  Quickly!"
      "But, friend Bagelos," said Quooth, "I already know where you are!"
      Twin beams of horrific cosmic energy shot out of Zark's eyes and 
obliterated a swath of forest just inches to Bagelos's left.  Bagelos 
had no idea if Zark meant to miss, or was just really easily 
distractable, say, by a falling leaf or somesuch, but did not want to 
stick around to give Zark another shot.
      Zark was using the power of the Proofs, and that was, in 
Bagelos's book, really bad news.
      "Right," said Bagelos, "I, Bagelos, have an idea.  You, Quooth, 
lead me to the Sacred Temple of the Ancestors as quickly as possible 
-- if at all possible faster than Zark here."
      "But we have only just re-encountered friend Zark again," Quooth 
protested.  "Surely we should exchange pleasantries--"
      Zark fired again, this time annihilating a tree stump just in 
front of Bagelos.
      "That is about as pleasant as it's going to get, Quooth!" 
Bagelos declared.  "I, Bagelos, command you to... 
ruuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnn!!"
      Quooth ran.  Bagelos ran.  Zark destroyed more of the forest, 
then ran after them.
      Above, the sky began to deepen into night.

                                     -~-_-

((In orbit around Alpha Rio VI, The Planet of Casinos))

      "Now entering orbit around Alpha Rio VI, the Planet of Casinos," 
the voice of Shoon-Ma echoed over the alien ship's PA system.  "Dr. 
Von Spleen, report to the bridge at once!"
      Dr. Bing Von Spleen looked up from his workspace, not at the PA 
box above the door but at the two red-velour-shirted zombies to 
either side of it.  They blinked, slowly, turned their heads to look 
at him, slowly, nodded, slowly, then walked toward him.  Slowly.
      He picked up the pinkish pill and contemplated it.  So small, so 
innocent, so much like the many other pills he had seen (and 
ingested) in his years as Patron Saint of Drug Abuse.  And so, so 
much more powerful.  The single pink pill was the pinnacle of his 
spamological reasearch, the ultimate product of his formidable 
knowledge of the properties and uses of that fearsome substance known 
as Spam.  It was the product of the revelation he had been given by 
TH1K1 three days before, and the fulfillment of what Shoon-Ma wanted 
him to accomplish.
      *If only Shoon-Ma knew,* he thought, *that it won't be his 
Champion who gets this little pill...*
      The zombies finally reached him, and made erratic but 
nevertheless comprehensible 'go that way' gestures with their laser 
weapons.  Dr. Von Spleen put the tiny pink pill in an otherwise empty 
Altoids box, tucked the box in a pocket of his lab coat, and let the 
zombies escort him to the door.
      Ten minutes later, he was on the bridge of the ship.  The 
breakfast buffet was gone, and the bridge was restored to its former 
exceedingly black and menacing state.  Shoon-Ma hovered before the 
viewscreen, which showed a large picture of the Planet of Casinos.
      "Impressive, Doctor," the ur-Bagel said in its George Clooneyish 
voice.  "Is it not?"
      Von Spleen regarded the Planet of Casinos.  The atmosphere was 
severely distorted by epic quantities of neon light boiling up from 
every land mass and most of the ocean surface.  The numerous gigantic 
floating gambling palaces that floated over the other numerous 
gigantic land-bound gambling palaces gave the planetary surface, as 
seen from orbit, a distinctly slithery and shifty quality.  There 
were so many advertising satellites, attack satellites, and other 
space flotsam circling around that Von Spleen had the impression that 
the planet was some form of elderly entertainer who, in a feat of 
stunning denial, put on enough jewels to make any onlookers freeze 
like banana-bloated monkeys in the glare of the reflected light.
      "Eh," said Von Spleen.  "It's okay."
      (Von Spleen's lack of enthusiasm was not feigned, as this was 
not the first time he had seen the surface of the planet -- only the 
first time while sober.  Prior to this, anytime he had seen the 
surface of the Planet of Casinos, he had been completely out of his 
mind on assorted illicit substances, to the point where he thought 
the planet *was* a banana-bloated monkey.)
      "Sajon is on the surface," said Shoon-Ma, "secure in the false 
belief that he has escaped from me... and from his destiny.  We shall 
show him the truth, shall we not, Doctor?"
      "Hmmm?" asked Von Spleen, who was looking for wherever the food 
had gotten to.  "Oh,  yes.  We're all over that.  Yes."
      "And how shall you give Sajon the cosmic powers he requires to 
take back the Proofs?"  A not-so-innocent question.  Von Spleen knew 
very well that Shoon-Ma knew what Von Spleen had produced, ever since 
increasing monitoring and security following the unfortunate incident 
three days before when his test subject, Benjen, escaped from 
custody.  Had the ur-Bagel been an instructor in some villainous 
equivalent of Interstellar University, Von Spleen thought, he would 
have been a shoo-in to teach Precocious Yet Evil Coyness in Modern 
Space Villainy 401.
      Von Spleen removed the Altoids box from his pocket, opened it, 
and showed Shoon-Ma the little pink pill.  "Within this pill is the 
sum total of my genius in Spamological research and manipulation! 
The one who ingests this pill will have power beyond imagining, and 
yet will be totally subservient to your will, as per your specs."
      "The one being Sajon, of course," Shoon-Ma replied.  It hovered 
closer to him, exuding a sort of vague, bagelly menace.  Von Spleen 
wondered if it was all the carbs in Shoon-Ma that made him so good at 
that.  "You wouldn't be entertaining any ideas about ingesting that 
little cosmic pill yourself, would you, Doctor?"
      Von Spleen, who had been entertaining exactly such an idea, 
shook his head and said, "Of course not.  Thanks to some random 
ABPSARI interference, I can't ingest, inject, insert, or otherwise 
experience mind-altering things of any kind.  And there's nothing 
more mind-altering than this."  He closed the Altoids box and tucked 
it back in his pocket.  "Furthermore, per your specs, Sajon's 
biological profile was coded into the release mechanism.  Only he can 
unlock the cosmic potential inside this pill."  An unfortunate truth, 
one forced on Von Spleen by Shoon-Ma's constant watchfulness, though 
Von Spleen had a plan for getting around that at the appropriate 
point.
      "Then... hand over the Altoids box, Doctor," said Shoon-Ma. 
"And I shall... release you, as I promised."
      Von Spleen rolled his eyes.  "I'm not some wet-behind-the-ears 
gullible Space Hero, Shoon-Ma.  Sajon's transformation won't be 
complete without a final modulation signal from me, using only a code 
I know and can reproduce.  A code I will send only after I am well 
outside any good possibility of being recaptured by you."
      Shoon-Ma thundered and cursed at him for a number of minutes. 
Von Spleen did not catch much of what was said until the end, when 
Shoon-Ma calmed down a bit and said, "Are you sure you're in a 
position to make demands, Doctor?"
      Von Spleen adjusted his posture.  He lifted one foot and placed 
it on a chair in classic 'knee-up' style.  He puffed out his scrawny 
chest, made his hands into fists and jammed them against his waist, 
lifted his chin and cocked an eyebrow.
      "How's this?" he asked.
      "Damn," said Shoon-Ma.  "Your Demand-Giving position is too 
good.  Very well, you shall live... provided you do not renege on 
your word.  If you do, the universe shall not be big enough to hide 
you from my wrath."
      "Yeah, yeah," said Von Spleen.  "I--"
      He stopped talking as a shudder ran through the floor and up his 
feet, nearly knocking him onto his ass.  It was followed by several 
other shudders, causing the Doctor to abandon his Demand Giving 
position and adopt a more appropriate Holy Needlewarp What Was That 
position.
      Shoon-Ma examined the sensors.  "Hmm," he finally said.  "That 
shouldn't be."
      "What shouldn't be?"
      "According to the computer," said Shoon-Ma, "this entire ship 
will self-destruct in ten minutes.  Which is weird, because I thought 
the ship didn't even *have* a self-destruct."
      "We can get back to my ship," said Von Spleen.  "If it's still 
in the hold."
      "I had it disassembled to prevent you from escaping," said 
Shoon-Ma.  "Furthermore, there are no escape pods left.  We are... 
trapped!"
      Von Spleen thought furiously.  The solution did not take long to appear.
      "Can you open a communication line to the planet?" he asked.
      "Yes," said Shoon-Ma.  "But why?  Do you know someone down there?"
      "Well... let's say someone knows me."
      Shoon-Ma bobbed in the air.  Von Spleen assumed that was a nod.
      The clock continued to tick toward zero.

                                      -~-_-

((The Nega-Cell, in Nega-Space))

      "It's no good, Ronald," Norman said, as he removed the 
electrodes from places on Ronald where he and Ronald formerly thought 
electrodes would never be applied.  "It would be a great party trick, 
if we ever got invited to those sorts of parties, but your 
nipple-twitching abilities aren't strong enough to power our escape 
through this Nega Transporter door."
      He and Norman shook their heads, paused, thought, then looked at 
Kitty Hitowers.  Kissy paused in her screaming long enough to give 
them a glance so withering that death by phaser blast actually seemed 
sort of preferable.  Norman quickly tossed away the electrodes and 
looked at the door that was all that seperated himself, Kissy and 
Ronald from the group of people who were all too prepared to 
administer said death.
      "Come out!" the voice of the High Spock called from beyond the 
locked door.  "There's nowhere for you to go!  We control the only 
way in or out of the Nega-Cell, and you don't!  So... um... so..." 
There was a pause, in which Norman could imagine some hurried 
consulting with other members of the High Spock's gang, Team E. 
"So... so put that in your tricorder and smoke it!"
      Ronald looked around, desperation making his eyes dart about 
like sugar-crazed weasels.  Norman could understand why.  The High 
Spock obviously did not know there was a Nega-Transporter, another 
doorway out of the Nega-Cell, in the room they were in and which Toni 
Willians formerly had been.  But, without a means to power up the 
Nega-Transporter, that did them, in the technical parlance, a 'fat 
lot of good.'
      "We've only got one chance," said Ronald, his usually sharp, 
nerdy voice taking on a nearly Patrick Stewart-like resonance. 
Norman made a silent note to check out the 'Sound Like Picard in only 
Twelve Weeks' audio programs that Ronald had been listening to before 
their current assignment.  "If we generate a spatial anomaly using 
the Nega-Transporter, the reversed polarity circuits of our 
non-functional personal nukers, and the text of the speech where Kirk 
tricked Nomad into blowing up, we should be able to travel back in 
time to last week, where we can convince Toni Williams not to keep us 
locked out of this room for three days while she goes away to do 
whatever it was she was doing while she was pretending to be a 
captive here.  Quickly!  Disassemble your nuker!  Take out chip 
BX-247--"
      "Ron?" asked Kissy.
      "Not now," Norman said, as he extracted the requested chip and 
handed it to Ronald.  "Just keep screaming like you were before.  The 
volume should cover up what we're trying to do."
      "There's something--"
      "I forgot!" Ronald exclaimed.  "My PDA, with all the scripts for 
all the episodes of every series, is in the High Spock's possession! 
We'll have to enter the speech manually!"
      "But how?" asked Norman.  "There's no speech module, or keyboard, or--"
      Suddenly and without warning, the Nega-Transporter glowed a 
brilliant yellow, and emitted an industrial-type 'I'm on, and I want 
the world to know' sort of noise.  Ronald and Norman looked at Kissy, 
who was lifting her finger from the transporter's side.
      "It was just in power-save mode," Kissy said.  "It didn't make 
sense to me that it wouldn't have power.  I mean, how would Toni get 
back, if it was powerless?"
      Norman stared at Kissy.  Ronald stared at Kissy.  Kissy cleared 
her throat.  Norman and Ronald shifted their eyes so they were 
staring at Kissy's face.  Kissy cocked her head in a 'what?' sort of 
pose.
      "Thanks," Ronald finally said.  "That was... um... quick thinking."
      "You would have thought of it," Kissy replied.  "In fact, it's 
not like anyone has to know that I thought of it..."
      "Really?" Ronald asked.  "Thanks a lot.  I was kind of hoping 
you'd say that..."
      "...for an additional thousand, on top of what you've already 
agreed to pay in commission."
      Norman gaped.  Ronald gaped.  Kissy cocked her head in a 'what 
you gonna do about it?' sort of pose.
      Then the door exploded into the room, sending big pieces of 
metal everywhere.
      "A thousand it is," said Norman, as thick smoke obscured his 
view of Ronald, Kissy, and just about everything else.  The glowing 
frame of the Nega-Transporter was barely visible.  "But how do we 
keep them from following us?"
      "Hey, Vernon!" Ronald yelled.  "How'd your last math test go!"
      Norman's eyes widened.  Nobody... *nobody*... called the High 
Spock by his real name unless he was looking for twelve different 
kinds of trouble.  And nobody... *really nobody*... brought up his 
math test scores (which were not all that great, and terribly at odds 
with pretending to be logical all the time) without upping the 
different kinds of trouble count to roughly a zillion.  Norman hoped 
Ronald knew what he was doing.
      Suddenly, the smoke was lit by numerous bolts of phaser fire. 
None of them hit, because nobody in the room could see much of what 
they were doing, but there was only a little time.
      "Into the Nega-Transporter!" Norman exclaimed.  He ran for the 
glowing rectangle of light.
      The rectangle pulsed once... then twice.  Norman hoped that 
meant Ronald and Kissy made it through.  He was close.  He leapt--
      Something exploded in front of him.  Sparks struck his face just 
before the carpet did.
      Norman's brain, at that point, decided that the best tactical 
response to the situation was to pass out.  So it did, despite 
Norman's protests.

DID RONALD, NORMAN, AND KISSY ESCAPE TEAM E?
WILL VON SPLEEN AND SHOON-MA ESCAPE THEIR SOON-TO-EXPLODE SHIP?
WILL BAGELOS AND QUOOTH ESCAPE ZARK?
CAN ZARK'S BRAIN CELL HANDLE A MULTISYLLABIC WORD LIKE 'ESCAPE'?
WILL ANY OF US ESCAPE A SEQUEL TO THE 'NICK AND JESSICA VARIETY 
HOUR', OR WHATEVER THAT WAS CALLED?

SFSTORY.  The few, the proud, the posting.
=========================================================================
Date:         Sun, 01 Aug 2004 09:16:51 -0400
From:         "Troy H. Cheek" (troy at cheek.org)
To:           Superguy List (superguy at lists.eyrie.org)
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #26 - New Weaseloid Order, Part 1

SF: HMS Golden Lance #26 - New Weaseloid Order, Part 1

Previously on SFSTORY...

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

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Good job, Ralph!  Using your ring to steal the ABPSARII from Greez
Hyperiok was a stroke of genius.  Now we need to...  Hey!  Just what
do you think you're doing with that?"

And now, on SFSTORY...

Time Agent 357 shook his head violently, almost as if he were shaking
off the effects of being present when an entire universe was reshaped
into a completely new reality, which describes exactly what he was
shaking off at that moment.

"Mes amies, we are zoe hap-py that you have zurvive-ed!" said the
furry monster who had just helped him to his feet.  Said furry monster
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.  "You have just been rescued by zee Ferretine
Underground Resistance!"

"I think you said that before," 357 mumbled.  Ferretine Underground
Resistance, he considered to himself.  "FUR?"

"Not FUR, ma bon amie, FEW!"

"FEW?"

"Ferretine Entergrund We-sis-dance," the furry thing repeated,
allowing his accent to get the better of him.  "The few, the proud,
the...  well, the FEW."

"Ah," said 357 as he and his three companions made the necessary
mental, mechanical, and electronic adjustments to filter out the worst
of the accent.

Being reminded of his three companions reminded 357 of his three
companions, who were themselves currently being helped to their feet
by other furry woodland creatures.  "Is everybody all right?"

"Quite well," answered Omegas, a former all-powerful streetwise
servant of Heaven who was not going to let a little thing like a
universe being ripped to shreds around him make him lose his cool.

"Still in one piece," answered Diana Dark, a sweet innocent girl from
Chicago, or at least as sweet and innocent as anyone from Chicago can
be, confident that no harm would come to her as long as she was 357's
girlfriend.  And as long as the Author's girlfriend continued to
identify with her and refused to let him write her out of the series.

"Garfle phlox menglen figgle," answered Doctor Bing Von Spleen, the
galaxy's fourmost (because he killed the other three) Spamologist and
quite possibly the only one who understood exactly what they had just
lived through and how lucky they were to be alive.  Although he was
not quite completely unmanned by fear, it was a near thing.

=I think he just said he picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue,=
came a sexy yet irritatingly nasal feminine voice from the vicinity of
357's wristcomp, which he always wore but was never mentioned as it
never became necessary to the plot before now.  =By the way, I'm fine,
though I can't seem to contact the main VAL9000 synthetic intelligence
on the HMS Golden Lance.  It's almost as if the ship doesn't exist.=

"Carry on as best you can, Val," 357 said distractedly as he hugged
Diana to him and took another look at their furry hosts.  They were
weaseloids, he suddenly remembered from the end of last chapter, which
felt like it was a year ago instead of just a few seconds ago.

The one speaking to him now was a particularly scruffy-looking
specimen, although they all looked as if it had been months since
their last flea-dip.

"I am Jean-Perrier," he said with just a hint of accent.  "We were
lucky to rescue you.  Emperor Ralph's Science Squad would have had you
in minutes."

"Emperor Ralph?" asked Time Agent 357.

"Science Squad?" asked Diana Dark.

"Beer?" asked Doctor Bing Von Spleen.

Jean-Perrier rolled his single eye and explained.  "Beer is plentiful.
Here, have one.  The Science Squad is a group of weasels equipped with
super scientific inventions which they use to track down and capture
anyone entering this universe from another.  Emperor Ralph is the
undisputed king of this reality."

"If he's the king," Omegas asked, "then why is he called emperor?"

"Copyright considerations," answered Jean-Perrier absently as he
looked over the group.  He was rather shocked at how quickly they
were depleting his beer supply.

These were heroes?

"Perhaps I'd best explain from the beginning," he began.

And he did.

He explained how the universe suddenly shifted overnight.  How it went
from being dominated by hominids to being dominated by weaseloids.
How suddenly it was ruled by Emperor Ralph.  And how a select few
people seemed to know that this change came about literally overnight,
even though it seemed to everyone else that this was the way it had
always been and there had been no change at all.  Jean-Perrier had
been one of the few, and thus had founded the FEW to overthrow Emperor
Ralph and restore the universe to its natural order.

But how?

Some of the older ferrets remembered a badger who used to know a stoat
who, in the end, would lead them to an otter who remembered hearing of
Emperor Ralph back when he was known simply as the Giant Space Weasel
of Anthrax V.  This reminded a polecat of the HMS Golden Lance and her
crew, which lead to Jean-Perrier and his weaseloid band being onhand
when they appeared in this universe.

Quite simple, no?

"No," answered Diana.  "If this is our Ralph, he not only has a Least
Great Ring of Unholy Power (+8 to AC), but he also has the only known
working Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II,
which makes him effectively a god.  How can your little band have
survived all this time?"

"We're just too smart for him," answered Jean-Perrier smugly.

"He just doesn't care," answered a wolverine in the back.  "Aside from
keeping tabs on incoming extra-dimensional travelers, he lets us do
pretty much anything we want as long as nobody gets hurt and not too
many people complain."

"So, you're not, like, outcasts from society, hiding in the shadows
and scrounging out a living from what other people throw away?"

"Oh, heavens no!  We just dress up like this to feel the part, though
most of us do tend to skimp on bathing when our wives aren't around.
We're normal, well-adjusted weaseloids.  All of us have normal jobs.
I, for example, work in a comic book store.  We're all just regular
guys.  Except for Jean-Perrier; he thinks he's in Les Miserables."

Jean-Perrier answered with a weaseloid Elvis sneer.  "Regardless, now
that we have the legendary Time Agent 357 and his companions, we can
finally implement...  Drum roll, please...  The MASTER PLAN!"

One of the other weaseloids kicked the drums away from the otter.  "I
told you to cut that out!"

"What master plan?" 357 asked, tossing back just one more beer.

Jean-Perrier explained "Emperor Ralph is holed up in his impregnable
fortress, cowering in fear..."

"Living in the lap of luxury," the stoat interjected.

"Regardless, we have discovered that under the proper conditions, his
impregnable fortress is actually quite... um... pregnable?"

"What conditions?" Diana Dark asked.

"There's a back way in," answered the otter, stowing away his drums.
"But it's booby-trapped.  First, there's an electronic minefield which
can only be traversed and deactivated by someone with incredible
agility and acrobatic talent."

Diana wasn't listening, but rather was amusing herself by doing
reverse handsprings off the girders in the roof.

"Then there's a biolectric energy field, which can only be entered and
dissolved by someone with inate abilities rivaling Ralph's Least Great
Ring of Unholy Power (+8 to AC)."

Omegas paid no attention, intent on frightening juvenile weaseloids
scampering around his feet with the gigavolt electrical discharge he
was passing between his hands.

"The temporal maze can only be solved by someone of unusual
intelligence with centuries of practical experience with time travel."

Time Agent 357 stopped filling out MENSA applications long enough to
shine the "300 Years Exceptional Service" medal he had recently
received from the Interstellar Time Police.

"The innermost door has an electronic combination lock which will
sound an alarm unless we have a computer which can try entering all
3x10^17 combinations within seven seconds."

On 357's wrist, the VAL9000 wristcomp beeped and buzzed happily to
herself as she generated random numbers.

"And finally, a micro-fine soporific gas, capable of seeping past any
breathing mask we can create, is circulated through the corridors.
Only someone who can function while completely stoned can reach the
ventilation controls and vent the gas."

Doctor Bing Von Spleen wasn't listening.  Instead, he was showing some
of the female weaseloids how he could play darts even after
demolishing the beer supply.

The various weaseloids looked at each other.  "To Hell(tm) with all
this exposition!" one exclaimed.  "Just grab them!  I'm sure they'll
figure it out somewhere along the way."

After Diana Dark had traversed and deactivated the electronic
minefield, Omegas had entered and dissolved the biolectric energy
field, Time Agent 357 had solved and passed through the temporal maze,
the VAL9000 wristcomp had tried all 3x10^17 combinations and opened
the lock in 6.97 seconds, and Doctor Bing Von Spleen had reached the
control panel and vented all the soporific gas to deep space (though
he naturally kept a few bottles for himself)...

The crew of the HMS Golden Lance, for which this serial is named, and
their weaseloid companions were immediately arrested by the army of
weaseloid soldiers whose barracks they had just gone through all that
trouble to break into.  They were then dumped unceromoniously in
front of a tall throne.

On that throne sat Emporer Ralph, Undisputed King of this Reality,
formerly known as the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V.

"Hello, old friends," he said warmly.  "Have fun storming the castle?"

Jean-Perrier strode forward.  "Emporer Ralph, we accuse you of crimes
against the proper functioning of Time, Space, and Spam.  In the name
of the Ferretine Underground Resist-YIKES!"

Jean-Perrier found himself lifed up and hurled across the throne room,
landing in a quivering heap in the far corner.  He immediately leapt
up, ready to resume his rant, but suddenly found himself bound and
gagged as if by magic.  Ralph had barely gestured a paw at him.

357 stepped forward.  "Not very tolerant of dissenting opinion, are
you?  I remember a time when you would happily debate anything for
hours on end."

Ralph smiled again.  "357, I _have_ debated with Jean-Perrier and his
band for years.  Do you think this is the first time they've breached
my fortress and confronted me here?  Do you think this is the first
time they've recruited you to help them?  They do this fairly
regularly.  Their pathetic attempts help alleviate the boredom of
being the all-powerful ruler of a perfect universe."

A stoat pushed forward.  "You mean, you're not going to execute us?"

"Heavens and Hell(tm) no!" Ralph exclaimed.  "I'm just going to alter
your memories so you remember none of this and send you back to your
lives.  Yet again.  I'm sure you'll come up with a new plan in a week
or so.  You always do."

"We do this every week?" a muskrat asked incrediously.

"Of course.  It keeps you occupied and, as I mentioned before, it
keeps me amused."

Before anyone else could say anything, Ralph gestured, his Least Great
Ring of Unholy Power (+8 to AC) glowing faintly.  The Automatic Beet
Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II (ABPSARII) appeared in his
lap, looking like nothing else so much as an archaic computer
keyboard.  "Shift F7," he incanted as he called up a macro that caused
every weaseloid in the throne room other than himself to disappear.

"So," Ralph said pleasantly to the crew of the HMS Golden Lance.
"Want to chat for a while before I send you back as well?"

"We've been through this before, too?" Spleen asked.

"Many times," Ralph answered.  "Although usually they just recruit
Time Agent 357 and occasionally Diana.  In the past, when the whole
team has joined in, one or more of you has always died in the attempt.
I think this is the first time you've all made it this far.
Congratulations are in order.  And a memo to make the challenges
harder next time."

"There won't be a next time," Omegas said darkly.

"You say that _every_ time," Ralph answered just as darkly.

A weaseloid soldier stuck his head into the throne room just long
enough to report "Emporer Ralph, our fleet in galaxy 2247 reports
they've had to retreat.  The rebels are on their way here.  Our
defenses are useless against them."

"So much for being the all-powerful ruler of a perfect universe," 357
said scornfully.

"Puh-lease," Ralph yawned, keying up another macro on the ABPSARII.
"I have dozens of galaxies in revolt at any given time.  It keeps the
malcontents content, knowing that they're fighting against the
establishment, and it gives the more patriotic weaseloids a chance to
die for king and country.  Of course, I make sure that nobody notices
that nobody actually dies in any of the battles."

Ralph punched a few more buttons.  "You see, I've created a perfect
situation here.  Weaseloids are no longer the downtrodden underclass
of the Multiverse.  Anyone who wants to live out their life blissfully
in peace is free to do so.  Anyway who wants to fight and struggle
every day is free to do so.  Even misfit bands of would-be Time Heroes
have a place in the grand scheme.  Perfect."

Ralph held his paw over the ENTER key.  "And now, I'm afraid, this
is the point where one of you usually tries to attack me, so we're
going to have to cut this conversation short."

Emporer Ralph sat camly on his throne, paw held over the ENTER key of
the ABPSARII, ready to reset the universe as soon as one of his
one-time companions attempted to attack him.  Would it be 357 and his
telechronal displacement pistol this time?  Would Diana Dark expertly
attack using her martial arts skills?  Would Doctor Bing Von Spleen
use his inside knowledge of the ABPSARII to try to sabotage the reset?
Would the VAL9000 wristcomp, uncharacteristically silent during this
exchange, try something?  Or would Omegas simply attack with what he
thought was overwhelming force?

Ralph never knew for sure what would happen.  He kept this part of his
universe random, just so he would never get bored.

What will happen?
Will 357 attack with his telechronal displacement pistol?
Will Diana Dark expertly attack using her martial arts skills?
Will Doctor Bing Von Spleen sabotage the reset?
Will VAL9000 try something?
Or will Omegas attack with overwhelming force?

Find out the answers to these, and maybe a few other questions, in
Part 2 of The New Weaseloid Order.  Only in...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2004 by Troy H. Cheek troy at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org
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