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Sfstory Log 113

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Date:         Sat Feb 18 18:41:46 2006
From:         thc2005 at cheek.org (Troy H. Cheek)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #33 - From the Home Alterverse

SF: HMS Golden Lance #33 - From the Home Alterverse

Diana Dark of Earth gasped, goggled, stuttered, sputtered, and did any
number of other things that people generally do when they are in situations
they do not understand.  Oh, she wasn't flummoxed that she was standing on
the bridge of a dying starship hundreds of lightyears and thousands of
universes away from her native planet.  She wasn't at all put out by the
fact that her boyfriend was a 500 year old alien from even farther away
(Time Agent 357).  It didn't bother her that she was sharing the room with a
degenerate old Spamologist (Doctor Bing Von Spleen), an intelligent
weaseloid ("Call me Ralph"), a former immortal servant of Heaven itself
(Omegas), and the android avatar of a shipboard synthetic intelligence
(Valerie McSteel).  She could even handle the fact that several enemies had
recently introduced themselves and gotten killed off one after the other
(Greez Hyperiok, Dijon Mu'tard, and Priscilla Tussbonnet).  See previous
issue for details.

What had her gasping was the fact that their latest enemy, the grand high
galactic overlord of them all, was in fact...

"357! It's you!" she gasped.

The dark figure before her paused, hands still on the hood it had just
pulled back.  It was the same height and general build as Time Agent 357.
The eyes were the same steel blue.  The hair had the same wave, though it
was shot through with considerably grey and thinning in the back.  The
crooked smile was a mirror image of 357's, though the face was somewhat more
lined and scarred.  There was definitely a resemblance.

A family resemblance.

"No, it's not 357!" the figured yelled.  "I'm 386, you brainless git!"

"My young nephew!" 357 exclaimed.  "We didn't know what had happened to you.
We planned to track you down once we finished our current mission."

"I *am* your current mission, dolt!  It was I who persuaded Priscilla
Tussbonnet to convince her son Sylvester (better known as Greez Hyperiok,
Renegade Time Agent) to hire Dijon Mu'tard to steal Doctor Spleen's new
Automatic Beet-Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator Mark II."

Diana found her voice.  "But why?  You're one of the good guys."

"I was," 386 snarled, whirling to face her.  "I did my best to be the best
Time Agent I could.  But everywhere I went, I was competing against the
memory of 357.  People mistook me for him.  He got the credit for the cases
I solved and the people I saved.  Even when they did realize that I was 386,
the headlines would read 'PLANET SAVED BY NEPHEW OF FAMOUS TIME AGENT 357!'
Hell(tm), I've spent 800 years zig-zagging through time and space trying to
make a name for myself, and all I've done is increase his legend!"

"800 years?  But I last saw you only a few months ago."

"Zig-zagging through time," 386 repeated.  "I grew old and frail in the
service of the Time Police.  When I was finally ready to give up and retire,
in what to you would be the distant future, Commander Floyd Cobalt called me
'357' all through my retirement dinner.  My own dinner!"

He glared at them all before continuing.  "That was when I decided that I
was through playing mister nice guy.  I commandeered a timeship, jumped back
in time to just after I'd last seen you, killed my younger self, and freed
Greez Hyperiok instead of delivering him to Time Central.  I replaced him
with a synthorg which was supposed to destroy 357, but naturally it failed.
The real Greez did manage to steal the ABPSARII for me, but also failed to
destroy 357.  All the other minions failed to destroy you, though the did
keep you busy while I tried to erase 357 from history."

"You what?" 357 gasped.  "That must be why I was flickering in and out there
for a while.  It was the universe trying to adjust to the reality of me no
longer existing.  Luckily, we were able to come up with these headphones
which continually reinforce my life story in my own mind, which gave me an
anchor to concentrate on.  That, combined with-"

386 barged in.  "That, combined with your Time Agent training which makes
you resistant to alterations in the timestream, aided by the fact that we
are of an ancient and long-lived race, kept you in one piece despite my best
efforts.  Any changes I made were only temporary, eventually corrected by
the timestream."

Doctor Bing Von Spleen, realizing that this was his one chance to get in
some dialog in this episode, interjected.  "That's why you needed my
ABPSARII!  With it's power, you could finally wipe out 357 once and for all,
rewriting history so that you got all his glory."

"That was originally the plan," 386 admitted.  "But plans change.  I no
longer think I will be satisfied with eliminating 357.  No, I think I need
to eliminate my entire species."

The heroes present shouted out their protests.

"That's genocide!"

"You can't do that!"

"Billions and billions..."

"Is anybody else hungry?"

"SILENCE!" shouted 386 in a commanding tone which could only be learned at
Interstellar University, Home of the Fighting Cephalopods (GO PODS!) during
Time Agent training.  It was sufficient to get everyone's attention.

"Now that I have everyone's attention..."  He gestured and a bright light
appeared, blinding or otherwise clouding every eye and videocamera and
sensory input device in the area.

When 357's vision cleared, he saw that 386 was gone.  So was the ABPSARII.

"Uh oh."

Diana shared his concern, but tried to bolster his spirits.  "Don't worry,
357.  We can track him in your ship, the HMS Golden Lance.  He won't get
away."

"We don't have to track him," 357 said.  "I know exactly where he's going.
The only place he could go to wipe out me and the rest of my kind."
357 activated his communications link and contacted his ship.  "Val,
configure the engines for prolonged maximum power output.  We're going
home."

"You mean..." Diana gasped.

"Exactly," 357 confirmed.  "You're going to get to meet my mother."

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

In the beginning, there was nothing.

It exploded.

 From this primal explosion, this Pretty Darn Big Bang of which physicists
still speak, all of Creation was, well, created.

The instant matter coalesced from energy, choices were made.  Would this
atom fall into this gravity well or that one?  Would this electron stay in
its current orbit or move to a higher one?  Would this group of near-organic
molecules be fried by a nearby lightning bolt or be energized by it?  Would
this primative primate wander out into the plain or were the trees quite
nice enough thank you very much?

With every choice, there was a split in the fabric of reality.  With every
alternative, a universe was formed.  An alternative universe.  An
alterverse.  An altiverse.  Spellings and terminologies differ from culture
to culture, but any scientist who understands that the universe he lives in
is not unique also understands that there are a lot of alternatives out
there.

Imagine a giant beach ball.  In the center is the beginning.  As time
passes, new alterverses are formed around it with every passing chronon.  (A
chronon is a fundamental particle with a halflife so infintesimally small
that only one thing in an entire universe can happen before it disappears.)
Imagine the beach ball inflating.  This inflation is the passing of time.
This array of alterverses, this nth-dimensional hypersphere, is sometimes
referred to as the multiverse.

There are a lot of alterverses in a multiverse.

There should be an infinite number of alterverses, but there aren't.  Not
all alterverses are created equal.  Some peter out and die quickly.  But
most do not.  Most continue for billions and billions of years.

Eventually, entropy wins.  Everything runs down.  There are no more choices
to make.  There is no more expansion.  Without growth, there is no life.

Without life, there is only death and decay.

On some far distant day, the last choice will be made.  The last alterverse
will be created.  Instead of inflating, the beach ball will begin to shrink.
The shockwave which propelled change through the hypersphere will return to
its origin, unmaking all the choices that had been made.  The multiverse
will be undone.  All will be destroyed.

Not all.  Some will survive.  Some individuals have the power and ability to
exist outside of time and space as we know it, to survive the death of their
universe.  Or, indeed, any universe.  Timeless, immortal beings.

Some might call them gods.

Others are simply lucky.  Somehow, somewhere, an alterverse gets pulled away
from the hypersphere early in its existence.  Instead of splitting and
re-splitting and forming countless alternatives, it simply continues.  Life
evolves, or is created, or simply *is*).  Life.

A different kind of life.

Imagine an alterverse where every sentient being is, for all intents and
purposes, immortal.  No disease, no passing years, no minor injury can
create any damage which can not be healed in time.  Advances in safety
technology make it increasingly difficult to receive a major injury which
can actually threaten survival, and advances in healthcare technology reduce
the chances that one could actually die.

The leading cause of death is dying in bed at age 800,000 while having sex
with a gorgeous 19 year old redhead, shot to death by a jealous spouse.

Of course, for every rule, there are exceptions.  Every once in a while, a
baby is born who is not immortal.  His cellular processes are such that
instead of maintaining the status quo indefinitely, he will actually grow
old and die.

These poor things rarely survive more than 1200 years.

Almost as a consolation prize, these poor things are also very, very hard to
kill.  The very cellular processes which cause their premature aging also
rebuild and repair damaged tissue very quickly.  What would be a major,
life-threatening injury to anyone else is to them a minor inconvenience.

Roughly 500 years ago, as he figures his own personal timeline, a poor thing
which would be later known as Time Agent 357 was born.  He was, as people
often refer to such, a throwback to an (assumed) earlier time when people
were not immortal.  He grew up knowing he was different, but developed a
healthy sense of self worth regardless.  He eventually became the first of
his kind to travel outside of his home alterverse.  Others followed, but
none were as famous as he.

Roughly 200 years later than the time cited above, another of these poor
things was born.  By coincidence, as it has been shown that such things are
not genetic as was once thought, the poor thing which would be later known
as Time Agent 386 was born to 357's perfectly normal brother.  357 took
little 386 under his wing.  Eventually, 386 followed in his uncle's
footsteps and traveled outside the home alterverse.  He eventually joined
the Time Police.  He eventually became famous, though not quite a famous as
his uncle.

He eventually went mad.

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

In a well-kept yard in a well-kept city in a well-kept country on a
well-kept continent in a well-kept hemisphere of a well-kept world orbiting
a well-kept star in a well-kept galaxy in what was probably the wellest-kept
alterverse in all the multiverse, though it wasn't technically part of said
multiverse, a spaceship sputtered into existence.  This was not the normal
method of travel into and out of the home alterverse.  Normally, travel was
accomplished with a specially modified Temporal Teleporation Terminal, or
TTT for short.  T3 if you wanted to get really short, but then you would get
it confused with three movies, two television series, and a rap music band.

The HMS Golden Lance settled gently on the lawn, somehow managing to squeeze
its landing gear between the white picket fences.  A hatch opened and a
group of people climbed out.  The most heroic, shoved from behind by his
girlfriend, knocked politely on the front door.

An attractive women answered the door.  She appeared young, but there was a
maturity and strength about her that hinted she had lived many lifetimes and
had raised many children.  When she saw who was at the door, her eyes lit up
and she rushed to hug him.

"357, it's been 20 years.  Why haven't you written?  Don't they have phones
in Space?  I bet you haven't been eating regularly.  Are you wearing clean
underwear?  Wha-"

"Mom!  Mom!  Mom!  Slow down.  I brought guests."  In short order, he
introduced most of his companions.

"But who is this young lady?" his mother asked.

"Mom, this is my girlfriend, Diana Dark.  Diana, this is Mildred, my moth-"

357 broke off because it is hard to hold up your end of a conversation when
the other person is hugging your girlfriend and jumping up and down
screaming "He's dating!  He's dating!  He's finally dating!" over and over
again.

A short while later, they were all enjoying tea.  Well, most were enjoying
tea.  357 and Diana had their hands full trying to keep Mildred from
planning their wedding.  "We're just dating, Mom!"
"Pooh," his mother poohed in a way that only a mother can pooh.  "Knowing
you, you'll put off marriage until you're too old to have children!"

"I'm only 500, Mom."

"Pooh," his mother poohed again.  "By the time I was your age, I'd already
had three children.  Why, in those days-"

357 jumped in to interupt what he knew would be a long story.  "While we're
on the subject of children, I need to tell you about your grandson, 386."

"Is that boy in trouble again?  Poor 519, bless his soul, did his best but
never quite raised that boy right."

"519?" Diana asked quietly.

"My oldest brother," 357 informed her before continuing.  He gave his mother
a quick rundown of the current situation.  "He's gone nuts, Mom.  He plans
to wipe out our entire alterverse.  I'm going to try to stop him, but I'll
need help."

"Son, you know that we of the home alterverse are many things, but we're not
fighters.  There hasn't been a war in recorded history, and our recordings
go back pretty far."

"I know, but we have to try.  Help me track down some of my old friends..."

Meanwhile (not all that far away in terms of time and space) an aged,
cloaked, hooded figure typed furiously at the keys of an Automatic
Beet-Peeler and Sub-atomic Re-integrator Mark II, programming it for the end
of existence.

Will 357 be able to stop 386's nefarious plot?
Will the destruction of the home alterverse disrupt the multiverse?
Will 357 buy the cow when he's already getting the milk for free?

For the answers to these and many other questions, come back in 30 days for
the next exciting episode of...  SFSTORY!

Copyright 2006 by Troy H. Cheek troy2005 at cheek.org http://www.cheek.org/
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Date:         Fri Feb 24 22:07:41 2006
From:         thc2005 at cheek.org (Troy H. Cheek)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #34 - A Splinch in Time

SF: HMS Golden Lance #34 - A Splinch in Time

In a well-kept breakfast nook in a well-kept home with a well-kept yard in a
well-kept city in a well-kept country on a well-kept continent in a
well-kept hemisphere of a well-kept world orbiting a well-kept star in a
well-kept galaxy in what was probably the wellest-kept alterverse in all the
multiverse, though it wasn't technically part of said multiverse, a tea
party commenced.  At least, that's how Diana thought of it.

It was, as far as tea parties went, pretty weird.  But then, her life had
been pretty weird for some time now, so that was to be expected.

Diana looked around the table, which somehow kept expanding to make room for
all the guests as they arrived, and counted them off in her mind.

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

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

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

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

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

6, 7, and 8) Three natives of Time Agent 357's universe.  She didn't know
them very well.  The VAL9000 computer aboard the HMS Golden Lance, their
ship, listened in through a communications link.

357 set down his teacup.  "Everybody, these are my two oldest friends,
Thirteen and Suzie416.  You've already met my mother, Mildred."

There was a general murmer as each person greeted the other.  By the time
they'd finished, most had lost track and began greeting again.  Diana put a
stop to that.

"We're in a bit of a hurry, people," she snapped.  She didn't like to snap,
but she was a redhead and such things were expected.  "I only have one quick
question before we begin.  357, why is it that you and 386 and most of the
other people from your alterverse have numbers for names, but your mother is
Mildred?"

Mildred explained.  "We're pretty much immortal, dear, and we cover an
entire universe, so quite a while back we ran out of names.  The current
naming scheme involves the use of thirteen given names and four family
names.  Even that isn't enough to avoid duplication, so we tack a number on
the end of it."

"My number is 1,973,484,357.  Or 357 for short," 357 put in.  "My nephew was
named after me, but 28 other people had used the same name between our
births, so he goes by 386."

Mildred continued.  "In my circle of friends growing up, there were already
a few children with similar numbers, so I ended up using one of my names to
avoid confusion.  Most people use a number or a name with a number in casual
conversation."

"Ah, that makes perfect sense," Spleen said.  Of course, the main reason he
said it was because he'd dumped his tea early on and had been filling his
cup from a hip flask.  Everything was making perfect sense to him.

"Now that we've finished with the pleasantries--" Omegas spoke the last word
as if it left a bad taste in his mouth "--let's get down to business.  How
do we stop 386?"

Thirteen, who had been doodling on a napkin, spoke up.  "My wife Suzie416
and I are temporal physicists.  We've been working on the problem since
Mildred first contacted us.  Well, rather, we've been working on 386's
problem."

Suzie416 jumped in.  "What Thirteen means is that we've been trying to
figure out how 386 plans to destroy the universe.  Even with the
near-infinite ability to manipulate time and space that Doctor Spleen's
invention gives him, he has to have a plan."

"History has a way of correcting itself," 357 explained.  "Even if an
alterverse is completely destroyed, which is pretty darned difficult to do,
the multiverse abhors a vacuum.  Almost immediately, a new alterverse will
begin forming to take it's place.  It might not be identical to the old one,
but it will be functionally equivalent."

Ralph was in way over his head, but didn't let that stop him from voicing a
thought.  "But, this alterverse is special, you said.  It exists outside the
multiverse.  Will it still be replaced?"

"Quite possibly, though it's not certain," Thirteen said.  "It may take
longer, but the very uniqueness of the formation of this universe will
almost force the multiverse to spawn an equivalent."  He tried to show
everyone the doodles on his napkin which showed just how likely this was,
but nobody paid much attention.

"So, since not just any alterverse-killing scheme will work, what are 386's
options?" Diana asked.

"Go back to the beginning," Thirteen stated, definitively.

"Go forward to the end," his wife Suzie416 stated, just as definitively.

357 and Diana exchanged worried looks while the old married couple carried
on like, well, an old married couple.

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

Meanwhile (not all that far away in terms of time and space) an aged,
cloaked, hooded figure typed furiously at the keys of an Automatic
Beet-Peeler and Sub-atomic Re-integrator Mark II, programming it for the end
of existence.  He was quite pleased with himself.

"I knew that tapping their communications link would pay off!" he exclaimed
to himself somewhat giddily.  "Two good ideas.  Now which will I use?"

After a few minutes, he stopped wondering and smiled.  It was not a pleasant
smile.  He executed a series of particularly difficult seven-fingered
control sequences on the keyboard, then finished off by hitting ENTER with a
flourish.

"This plan will wipe out my entire home alterverse.  I'll never have to
worry about 357 or anyone else from here stealing my fame.  I, 386, will be
unique!  I, 386, will be the most (in)famous being in the entire
multiverse!"

And with that, he teleported out.

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

"I knew that letting our communications link get tapped would pay off!" Time
Agent 357 exclaimed to himself somewhat giddily.  "Somebody track that
teleportation trace!"

"Already on it," responded Valerie McSteel.  She and the VAL9000 computer
worked well together, which was to be expected seeing as they were both
chunks of advanced computer hardware running copies of the same core
programs.  "I have a vector."

=Heavy temporal readings as well,= the VAL9000 commented.  In contrast to
Valerie's low, seductive tones, Val had a high-pitched, nasally voice.  Also
in contrast to Valerie's quite normal voice, Val's was obviously artifically
produced.  =Looks like a negative time gradient.=

"He's going back to the beginning.  I was right!" bragged Thirteen.  His
bragging was cut off by the swift kick to the shin his wife delivered.

"Setting course," Spleen spoke.  "Engaging temporal drives.  Atomic
batteries to power.  Turbines to speed.  Spam cans stacked neatly."

In no time at all (literally) they had backtracked through time to the point
where the home alterverse -- Diana realized that she had never heard it
called by any other name -- first spun off from the multiverse.  It was
quite a far ways back in history.  It was so far back that when she asked
the computer for an estimate on how many alterverses currently existed, the
number was small enough to fit on only three display screens.

"There it is!" someone shouted.

Sure enough, someone was right.  Up ahead, though technically behind as they
were moving backward in time, a strange disturbance seemed to be blocking
the home alterverse's attempt to merge with the multiverse, though
technically it was moving away as they were, as mentioned before, moving
backward in time.

=There's some kind of structure over there.  I read a breathable atmosphere,
standard gravity, and a complete lack of the types of lethal radiation which
should be zipping through the area right about now.=

357 adjusted his captain's hat to a more rakish angle.  "Diana, Spleen,
Omegas, Ralph.  You're with me.  Valerie, you and Val monitor from here.  If
things go wrong, warp out of here with Thirteen, Suzie416, and my Mother
before the time eddies can wipe them out.  Get back to the multiverse and
contact Lieutenant Floyd Cobalt of the Time Police.  He'll know what to do."

"We're not leaving you, 357," Valerie stated quite clearly.

"If this mission goes wrong, there won't be anything to leave behind."  By
this time, he and his selected group had already stepped onto the Temporal
Teleportation Terminal, or TTT for short.  "Activate!"

The teleportation sequence was instantaneous and 100% efficient.  The
electrical crackling, lightning arcs, and rainbow afterimages were simply
showmanship.

Time Agent 357 opened eyes that he didn't remember closing, let out a deep
breath he didn't remember holding, and scanned the area.  357 knew that he
would find his nephew, Time Agent 386, ready to destroy his team.

357 was quite put out when he could not find 386.  Instead, he saw five
figures standing in front of them.

Diana, as contractual agreements required, spoke first.  "Um, 357.  That
looks like us over there."

357 agreed.  The five figures were an exact match for himself, Diana Dark,

Doctor Bing Von Spleen, Omegas, and Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax
V.  He reached for his sidearm, but noticed that his counterpart moved at
exactly the same kind.  He sighed a sigh of relief.

"They're just temporal echoes," 357 explained.  "Illusions!  Nothing to
worry about."

357 holstered his sidearm.

His echo pointed his at 357 and opened fire.

"What the Hell(tm)!" Spleen yelled as he dove for cover.  Diana
managed to take 357 down with a flying tackle that carried him out of the
field of fire.

"Those don't appear to be illusions," Diana opined as she helped him to his
feet.

"Okay, so I don't know what they are," 357 admitted.  "But I do know that
they're heading this way.  Spread out!"

357 faced off against his duplicate.  "Who or what are you?" he asked.

The other 357 smiled and responded in an eerily similar voice.  "I'm you.
Or, rather, a duplicate of you created the moment you entered this
structure.  A synthetic organism."

"A synthorg!" 357 shouted.  "Just like when I faced renegade Time Agent
Greez Hyperiok at Time Central a while back.  It wasn't really him."

"I remember that incident as well as you do.  You don't need to remind me,"
his double chided him.

"Yeah, but it's been a while.  I thought the readers might need a reminder."

"True."

"So, what should I call you?"

The duplicate smiled again.  "I am the Transforming Intelligent Machine
Engineered for Assassination, Galactic Exploration, and Nocturnal
Troubleshooting #357.  Or T.I.M.E. A.G.E.N.T. 357 for short."

Time Agent 357 took advantage of his opponent's lengthy name to fire off a
few shots of his own.  The T.I.M.E. A.G.E.N.T. dodged as easily as 357 would
have done himself.

Meanwhile, Diana Dark squared off against her own opponent.  She whipped out
her expandable staff and started swinging.  Her double was equipped with an
identical staff and just as swiftly began blocking.

"And what do I call you?" Diana screamed over the sounds of staves whacking.

"D.I.A.N.A. D.A.R.K.: Digital Intelligent Android Normally for Accurate
Destruction, Assassination, and Rational Killing."

"Of course."

Meanwhile, Omegas faced his doppleganger.  This was not a new experience for
him.  More than once, Omegas had been split into two beings and had faced
his other half (who called himself Sagemo) in battle on at least one
occasion.

"Omegas," he stated quietly by way of introduction.

"O.M.E.G.A.S.: Operational Mechanical Exploration and Galactic Assassination
Soldier," came the equally quiet reply.

"So," said Omegas.

"So," agreed O.M.E.G.A.S.

Meanwhile, Doctor Bing Von Spleen squared off against his duplicate.

"V.O.N. S.P.L.E.E.N. or Versatile Operational Neohuman Skilled in
Peacekeeping, Logical Exploration, and Efficient Nullification," the
duplicate cheerfully explained.

"Lovely," Spleen answered.  "Well, I'm not much of a fighter."  He gestured
toward the two Dianas who were pulling each other's hair as they rolled
across the floor.

"Me, neither, of course," S.P.L.E.E.N. responded.  "We both seem to be
lacking in advanced weaponry, too."  357 came sprinting by, tossing some
kind of grenade over his shoulder at the other 357 chasing him.

"I don't even know what Omegas is doing," Spleen admitted.

"We lack his unholy power in any case," S.P.L.E.E.N. put in.

"Too bad I picked this week to quit drinking," Spleen said wistfully.

"You, too, huh?  Definitely too bad.  Why, I've got two whole cases of fine
aged Denoobulan whiskey in my backpack."

"What a coincidence!  So do I.  Say, why don't we let this whippersnappers
fight it out amongst themselves while we go have a drink or two."

"Well, okay, but just a small drink."

"Tiny."

"Infintestimal, even."

Meanwhile, Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V raised his hackles.
His slavering mouth dripped acid.  Blood dripped from his unbreakable claws.
  His eyes glowed red with laser vision capable of tearing a planet in half.

And his counterpart did the same.  Which Ralph had to admit was a good show
and might have frightened him had he not known that he was just a simple
powerless weaseloid from Leibowitz IV.

"Robotic Artificial Logical Peacekeeping Humanoid," his counterpart
mentioned conversationally.  "But you can call me R.A.L.P.H."

"We aren't humaniods," Ralph mentioned.

"I had to come up with a name in a hurry," R.A.L.P.H. responded.

"Ah, well, we can always work on something better later."

"If there is a later."

Will there be a later?(br)
How will 357, Diana, Omegas, Spleen, and Ralph defeat their duplicates?(br)
Where is 386 and was he duplicated as well?(br)
Who put the bomp in the bomp bomp bomp ba-bomp?

For the answers to many unusual questions totally unrelated to these, tune
in again tomorrow, same SFSTORY time, same SFSTORY channel!
=========================================================================
Date:         Sat Feb 25 08:15:14 2006
From:         thc2005 at cheek.org (Troy H. Cheek)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #35 - Battle at the Beginning of Time

SF: HMS Golden Lance #35 - Battle at the Beginning of Time

Time Agent 357's favorite weapon, not counting his ship's Golden Lance
energy beam, was his trusty Telechronal Displacement Pistol.  This weapon
had many settings.  It could send its target into the far-flung future.  It
could send its target into the deep dark past.  It could send every particle
of the target a different amount of time into the past or future,
effectively shredding it and scattering it from the beginning to the end of
time.

357 particularly liked that last setting.

He wasn't particularly fond of it at the moment, though, as said weapon was
being used against him.

Time Agent 357 squared off against his synthoid duplicate, the Transforming
Intelligent Machine Engineered for Assassination, Galactic Exploration, and
Nocturnal Troubleshooting #357.  Or T.I.M.E. A.G.E.N.T. 357 for short.  In
addition to being a perfect reflection of himself personally, the T.I.M.E.
A.G.E.N.T. also seemed to have all of 357's weapons.

357 generally carried a lot of weapons.

Most of the weapons and all his defenses were based on temporal physics in
one way or another.  He was, after all, a Time Agent.  The good news was
that most of his weapons were not very effective against his own defenses,
what little temporal force that reached 357 did little damage due to his
advanced Time Agent training and long personal history, and what little
physical damage that actually occurred was quickly healed by his rapid
metabolism.  357 could do this all day.

The bad news was that his opponent could do this all day as well.

Diana Dark squared off against D.I.A.N.A. D.A.R.K. (Digital Intelligent
Android Normally for Accurate Destruction, Assassination, and Rational
Killing), who matched her in intelligence, resourcefulness, and bra size.
Each having broken her unbreakable staff over the other's head, they were
currently involved in some complex gymnastics designed to disorient their
opponents.  Their opponents were, of course, not disoriented.

Being the gentle, caring, nurturing females that they were, they went back
to biting, scratching, and hairpulling.

Meanwhile, Omegas faced his doppleganger.  This was not a new experience for
him.  More than once, Omegas had been split into two beings and had faced
his other half (who called himself Sagemo) in battle on at least one
occasion.

"So," said Omegas the streetwise former timeless immortal servant of Heaven.

"So," agreed O.M.E.G.A.S. the Operational Mechanical Exploration and
Galactic Assassination Soldier.

Meanwhile, Doctor Bing Von Spleen and V.O.N. S.P.L.E.E.N. (Versatile
Operational Neohuman Skilled in Peacekeeping, Logical Exploration, and
Efficient Nullification) sat on the sidelines.  They were of course entirely
too learned and mature to engage in something as silly as a gunfight or
fisticuffs and lacked the unholy power of the likes of Omegas.  However,
between them, they had four whole cases of fine aged Denoobulan whiskey.

Well, three cases.

Well, actually, two cases and a few spares, but they were working on the
spares.

Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V faced off against R.A.L.P.H.
(Robotic Artificial Logical Peacekeeping Humanoid).  In spite of his
(assumed) predatory ancestors, he wasn't much a fighter.  Neither was his
opponent.  They also weren't humanoids, so the duplicate's name didn't make
much sense.

"We aren't humanoids," Ralph mentioned for not the first time.

"I had to come up with a name quickly," R.A.L.P.H. responded for not the
first time.

"How about Robotic Artificial Lifeform Programmed for Harm?"

"Excellent!"  They shook paws and congratulated each other for a while.

"I don't know why we're supposed fight."

"We don't even have weapons."

"All I carry with me is this ukulele."

"I have one, too."

"I'm pretty good with mine."

"Well, I'm quite accomplished my own self."

"I bet I can play better than you."

"You're on!"

Nearby, one 357 threw yet another grenade at the other, whose personal
forcefield neatly deflected the blast.  That one answered by releasing
swarming spheres of energy, a memento of an adventure in an alterverse
composed of primal Chaos.  It was met by identical swarming spheres of
energy which cancelled each other out quite spectacularly.

One Diana got the other in a chokehold, which she broke by yanking on her
assailant's cape.  When it ripped off, her opponent reacted by tugging at a
loose thread on a nearby skirt.

Spleen poured Spleen another drink.  By their calculations, by the time they
started their last case of whiskey, both women would be completely naked.

Omegas stared at his double, who stared back.

"So," said one Omegas.

"So," agreed the other Omegas.

Ralph finally got Ralph's ukulele tuned the way he (Ralph) liked it, and
they began to sing a song Ralph had written after an incident on the
Netherspace Nympho Beach some years before.  And it sounded a little
something like this...

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

Satan Went Over To Netherspace

((Sung roughly to the tune of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," with special
thanks and apologies to the Charlie Daniels Band. http://www.charliedaniels.com/ ))

Satan went over to Netherspace
He was looking for a soul to take
Needed one on the double (he was having quota trouble)
And wanted a deal he could make.

Then he found a young weaseloid strumming
A ukulele and sounding so cool
So Satan jumped on the nearest nympho on the beach
and said "Listen up, you fool!

"I bet you never suspected,
But I can play the ukulele too,
And if you're set to make a bet
I'd like to compete with you.

"Now you strum a pretty mean ukulele boy
But give the old Deceiver his props
I'll bet a ukulele of silver against your liver
That old Scratch comes out on top."

The weaseloid said, "You can call me Ralph
And though it might be tactically unwise
I'll accept your terms and you'll soon learns
That I'm reasonable talented for my age and size."

Ralphie limber up your paws, strum that ukulele fast
'Cause Satan's come to Netherspace to dine on soul repast
If you come out on top you'll get a ukulele made of silver
If Satan succeeds he'll carry off your liver!*

(* Weaseloid mythology erroneously states that the weasoloid soul resides in
the lower half of the liver, much the way many humanoid cultures mistakenly
places the seat of romance and emotions in the human heart instead of the
kidneys.)

Satan whipped out his ukulele and said,
"If you don't mind, I'll start this thing!"
Unholy power sprayed across the beach
As his fingers strummed across the string.

And when he tapped his fingers on the fret
It sounded just like a hammer.
Then he conjured some demons from out of nowhere
And they set up an awful clamor.

No matter how hard and fast Satan played
It just never sounded any better
And the demons started calling him names
And insuating he was a bed wetter.

Finally the demons got completely fed up
And dragged Satan back to Hell.
Ralph picked up his silver ukulele and said,
"My, that turned out well."

And Ralph played:

Satan's in Netherspace, run girls run!
Beach is heating up in the morning sun!
Weaseloids in the cooler picking up beer!
Buddy does your Nympho bite? No, friend, no fear!

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

It was, of course, just a song.  It never really happened  Obviously, the
forces of Hell had never actually invaded Netherspace.  Satan had never
actually challenged anyone to a ukulele playing contest.  Ralph had never
actually won a silver ukulele.

And, of course, Ralph would never take advantage of his opponent being
carried away in song to club him over the head.

Ralph stepped over the broken and battered form of his robotic duplicate and
marvelled at the ukulele-shaped dent in its cranium.  Humming softly to
himself, he went about touching up the woodgrain paint on his ukulele.

The silver was shining through again.

Time Agent 357 and Diana Dark stumbled against each other.  Both were
looking somewhat worse for wear.  Neither had felt this tired since their
last all-night lovemaking session.  They looked over their shoulders at
their opponents.

"Switch dance partners!" they both decided at the same time.

In the Superguy alterverse, this is called castling, I'm told.

As they each squared off against their lover's duplicate, they suddenly
realized that they weren't exactly sure who was the original and who was the
copy.  They hesitantly leaped into battle.

Spleen and Spleen were holding onto each other very tightly.  They had to.
The floor kept moving and trying to make them fall off.

"Jush a coupla mores," slurred an intoxicated Spleen.

"Tee lootle bottles left," agreed an equally intoxicated Spleen.

"So," said Omegas.

"So," agreed Omegas.

357 traded blows with Diana, decided that she didn't feel quite as soft in
quite as many places as usual, and blasted her with his Telechronal
Displacement Pistol.  Her atoms, individually address to sequential years
from now until the Big Crunch at the end of the universe, went their
separate ways.

357 turned to see the other Diana flashing the other 357.  She then used his
popped-out eyes for leverage and twisted his head off.

They faced each other, doubt clouding their features.

"How do I know it's you?" Diana said to 357.

"How to *I* know it's *you*?" 357 said to Diana.

"I guess you'll just have to kiss me and find out," Diana suggested.

They were still "kissing" several minutes later when Ralph and Omegas pulled
them apart and made them put their clothes back on.

"Omegas!" 357 sputtered.  He looked around and saw that the other Omegas had
been dismembered, mechanical parts laying everywhere.  "How did you defeat
your duplicate?  We never saw either of you actually do anything!"

"Foolish mortals," sighed Omegas.  "I am a timeless, all-powerful being.  My
kind do not engage in senseless combat.  My duplicate and I carried on our
conflict in higher plane, far beyond the understanding of your pitiful
intellects."

"Really?" Diana asked.

"No, not really," Omegas scoffed.  "We were still trying to fake each other
out when Ralph slipped up behind us and brained us both with his ukulele.
When I threatened to barbeque Ralph's face instead of accepting his apology,
he knew I was the real me and clubbed the other one a few dozen more times."

They went over to the pair of comatose Spleens.  "My god, they're both
dead!" Ralph shrieked.

"Dead drunk," Omegas corrected.

Picking up the Spleen who puked the most when they poked him in the stomach,
they returned to the HMS Golden Lance (for which this serial is named) where
the other members of their party waited.

"Was I right or was I right?  Right?  Was I right or what?" asked Thirteen,
temporal physicist and the reason they were here at the beginning of their
universe.  "High five!  Don't leave me hanging."

"I'm beginning to remember why I never liked you growing up," 357 snapped.

"Obviously, honey," Thirteen's wife and fellow temporal physicist Suzie416
said, "you were wrong."  *Again*, she left unstated.

"But-but-but," Thirteen stammered.  "My calculations showed that in order to
completely destroy our universe without any possibility of it reforming
later, renegade Time Agent 386 would have to either return to the beginning
of its formation or the very end of its existence.  And my calculations
clearly showed that it would be the former."

"Any *my* calculations showed that it would be the latter," his wife
quipped.  "Val!  Reverse course!  We've got to get to the end of time before
386 does."

She was speaking, of course, to the VAL9000 computer which was the mind,
heart, soul, and small intestines of the HMS Golden Lance.  She powered up
her drives.

And got her engines started, too.

357 took the controls.  He stared ahead, ready for his date with Destiny.

"Destiny is running a little late.  Why don't you sit for a minute and visit
with me and her father.  Harold, say hello to the nice man.  Harold!  Oh,
don't mind him, young man.  He always gets this way when he's cleaning his
guns.  As I said, Destiny will be right down...  Where are you going?"

What will 357 discover at the end of time?
Will he be able to stop 386's plot to destroy the home alterverse?
Why do they say 6:30 when they know they won't be ready to leave until after
8:00?

Be sure to tune in again soon to see The Battle At The End Of Time.  Only
on...  SFSTORY!
=========================================================================
Date:         Sun Mar 12 10:47:54 2006
From:         thc2005 at cheek.org (Troy H. Cheek)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: HMS Golden Lance #36 - Battle at the End of Time

SF: HMS Golden Lance #36 - Battle at the End of Time

"Setting course," Doctor Bing Von Spleen said. "Engaging temporal drives. Atomic 
batteries to power. Turbines to speed. Spam cans stacked neatly."

And with that, the HMS Golden Lance and her heroic (ahem) crew blasted through 
space and time all the way from the very beginning of this particular alternate 
universe (alterverse) to its very end.

Some alterverses end with a bang. All evidence pointed to this one ending with a 
whimper. Entropy had apparently won out in the end and everything had run down. 
Matter and energy and life had spread thin until it was at last evenly 
distributed about the alterverse at its average level.

And since most alterverses are little bits of interesting fluff lost amidst vast 
reaches of nothingness, that average level was zero. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

The exception being the vast and obviously artificial structure containing the 
breathable air, standard gravity, and pleasant artificial sunshine.

The HMS Golden Lance shimmered into existence. Several members of her crew 
stumbled out.

"Deja Vu," someone murmured.

Instead of facing renegade Time Agent 386, who had recently declared his 
intention to kill all other natives of his home universe, they instead once 
again faced android duplicates of themselves, synthetic organisms known as 
synthorgs.

Time Agent 357, Champion of Truth, Justice, and the Ability to Consume Large 
Amounts of Alcoholic Beverages in a Single Sitting and also favorite uncle of 
the aforementioned 386, faced the Transforming Intelligent Machine Engineered 
for Assassination, Galactic Exploration, and Nocturnal Troubleshooting #357.

Doctor Bing Von Spleen, the galaxy's foremost spamologist (because he personally 
killed the other three) and inventor of the Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic 
Re-integrator Mark II which was the cause of all this fuss in the first place, 
faced the Versatile Operational Neohuman Skilled in Peacekeeping, Logical 
Exploration, and Efficient Nullification.

Ralph the Giant Space Weasel of Anthrax V, in reality a friendly, easy-going 
weaseloid from Leibowitz IV and an accomplished ukulele player in his own right, 
faced the Robotic Artificial Logical Peacekeeping Humanoid who, realizing that 
he wasn't in fact humanoid, had recently renamed himself as the Robotic 
Artificial Lifeform Programmed for Harm.

Omegas, streetwise former servant of Heaven and a near-omnipotent timeless 
immortal before he went and got himself depowered, faced the Operational 
Mechanical Exploration and Galactic Assassination Soldier.

Diana Dark, sweet, innocent girl from Chicago (or, at least, as sweet and 
innocent as any girl from Chicago can be), heaved her hefty bosom and faced the 
Digital Intelligent Android Normally for Accurate Destruction, Assassination, 
and Rational Killing. "Deja vu," she said again.

The group had just come from a lengthy battle with similar synthorgs at the 
beginning of time, only just barely overcoming them. Tired, weapons depleted, 
and makeup in disarray, our heroes had no chance at all in anything remotely 
resembling a fair fight.

Time Agent 357 activated a communicator. "Val? Now."

Luckily, our heroes had no intention of fighting anything remotely resembling a 
fair fight. Remaining inside the HMS Golden Lance were a couple of 357's old 
school chums, his mother, a battle android with much greater destructive 
potential than any synthoid, and a synthetic intelligence running in the ship's 
VAL9000 computer core. We call her Val.

The VAL9000 powered up the ship's Golden Lance energy beam for which the ship 
was named. This beam of pure energy and highly processed artificial cheese-like 
food product cut a destructive path through the center of the structure.

Exactly where the synthorgs were standing.

"Well, so much for that!" Ralph exclaimed, brushing his weaseloid paws together 
as if dusting off the dust generated by a strenuous job well done. "Can we go 
home now?"

"Back to the ship!" ordered Time Agent 357.

They met up with Thirteen and Suzie416, temporal physicists from 357's home 
alterverse and also the aforementioned school chums. "Impossible!" Thirteen 
ranted. "386 has to be here! Only at the very beginning or end of the existence 
of the home universe could he possibly unleash the powers necessary to 
completely destroy it. We've just been to both and he wasn't there! Impossible!"

"It's not impossible if it's happened!" snapped back Suzie416, who in addition 
to being the more highly decorated physicist of the pair was also his wife. "We 
got our calculations wrong somehow. Run the numbers again. We have to determine 
our error before it's too late."

"There may be no error," Diana said.

"What's that, dear?" 357 asked.

"It may be that there is no error. Time Agent 386, my former partner, didn't say 
that he'd destroy your entire universe. At least, I don't remember him saying 
that to us. Even if he did say it that way, he might not have meant it as 
literally as we're taking him. What I remember him saying is that he's going to 
wipe out all life native to his alterverse so that he has no competition."

Omegas sauntered by, cool as always. "So what? Everyone knows the best way to 
wipe out all life in an alterverse is to destroy said alterverse."

Nobody quite had the nerve to ask Omegas how he knew so much about genocide.

Doctor Spleen looked up from his beer. He'd finished drinking his synthorg 
opponent into a mutual coma less than an hour ago, so naturally he was stone 
cold sober now and in dire need of a drink. "Is there anything unique to your 
alterverse that would allow 386 to wipe out all life without harming the 
alterverse itself?"

"Of course not," 357 stated.

"Of course there is," his mother corrected. Mildred, whose actual name and 
number was too long to go into here, continued. "You kids these days don't pay 
enough attention in church. Surely you remember the Repository of Souls."

"Of course!" shouted all the other home universe natives in unison. They 
likewise slapped their foreheads in unison hard enough to knock themselves down. 
They hit the floor not quite in unison, and by the time they had climbed back to 
their feet they were moving independently again.

Diana, not impressed by the synchronized overreacting, asked "Can someone please 
fill me in on this Repository of Souls?"

357 set his ship on a course for the Repository of Souls, then turned to her. 
"It's a long story."

"We have all the time in the universe," she replied.

"Well, it goes something like this..."

Almost any group of intelligent beings, regardless of alterverse, galaxy, 
system, planet, or local geography, will almost certainly at some time in their 
existence develop a concept of an afterlife. This may be a religious concept, or 
strictly a matter of physics, or some half-formed concept that occurs only when 
the being is half-dead from alcohol poisoning. Even those who deny all gods and 
deny any possibility of there being anything more to existence than living out 
their days in their mortal shells have a damned good idea about what kind of 
afterlife they are denying.

The inhabitants of the Planet of the Supermarkets believe that when they die, 
they go to a place where they live out their dreams as the stars or directors or 
producers of the television shows and movies that they spend most of their lives 
watching. Their exact place in this dream is determined by their performance in 
a huge collection of TV gameshows known as the Afterlife.

A small collection of mutated lizards and similar creatures in a nearby galaxy 
believe that if they are good when they die they will be taken to a far away 
planet where they will get to spend eternity smashing cities and eating tiny people.

On a tiny little insignificant planet known as Earth, most religions speculate 
some kind of Heavenly reward for those who adhere to the tenets of the faith and 
some kind of Hellish punishment for those who do not.

In the home universe, there is the Repository of Souls.

It is said that when the universe was created, the Powers of Life generated a 
certain number of souls. These were stored in the Repository of Souls. As each 
new life was created, a soul from the Repository would be chosen to join with 
it. When that life ended, the soul would return.

After a large but unknown number of trips through this cycle, the soul would be 
judged by the Powers of Life. If the soul was deemed to have done more good for 
itself and others of its kind than bad, it was taken back into the Powers of 
Life, it's experiences and dreams and hopes enriching the universe.

If the soul was deemed to have done more bad than good, however, it was reduced 
to nothingness.

Depictions of the Repository of Souls vary in literature. Some describe it as an 
endless series of tombs, one for each sould. Each tomb contains a number of 
vaults, one for each incarnation of their soul. When the soul runs out of 
vaults, it is time to be judged.

Some describe it as a huge city of office buildings. In every office building 
are found innumerable filing cabinets. In every filing cabinet is a bunch of 
folders, one for each soul. Every folder contains sheets of paper, each sheet 
detailing the individual incarnations of that soul.

There are also depictions of mountains of index cards, enormous hyperlinked 
documents, and orchards filled with trees bearing soul fruit, but you get the idea.

Regardless of the depictions in the literature, it is generally believed that 
the Repository of Souls resides in a pocket dimension within the home universe. 
This sub-alterverse is by definition much smaller than the alterverse within 
which it is located, but contains infinitely more space. The mathematics of this 
are left as an exercise for the reader.

The destruction of this Repository of Souls would disrupt the cycle. At the very 
least, souls could not be reincarnated. At the very most, the destruction of the 
pocket dimension would reverberate through space/time so that it would be as if 
said dimension never existed, and thus none of the souls would have ever come 
into being in the first place.

Only a fool would try something like that.

A fool known as Time Agent 386, the secondmost successful Time Agent of all time 
(the first being his uncle, Time Agent 357), the secondmost famous person from 
his home universe of all time (the first again being his uncle), and the 
secondmost fastest sudoku player in all the multiverse (the first being Mrs. 
Vivian Rochester of Brighton Park), stood in the Repository of Souls.

To 386, the Repository resembled nothing so much as a giant library. Endless 
rows of books stretched in every direction. Each book as the story of a soul, 
with each chapter in that book being a record of each individual incarnation. 
Some shelves were rather dusty. Considering that his people as a whole were 
somewhat immortal, 386 supposed that a little dust was to be expected. The 
turnover rate among the souls was probably rather slow.

After walking for some time, 386 realized that he was not getting any closer to 
the center of the library. In fact, given the convoluted nature of the 
sub-dimension he was in, it was quite possible that he could have arbitrarily 
chosen any point and found that it was the center of the library.

386 also realized that he didn't really need to be in the center of the library 
to carry out his plans.

 From his cloak he pulled the Automatic Beet Peeler and Sub-Atomic Re-integrator 
Mark II, or ABPSARII for short. Currently in the form of an impossibly archaic 
computer keyboard, this device combined a miniature time machine with the 
reality-altering properties of spam (Sickening, Putrid, Artificial Meat, 
mistaken by some primitive cultures to be a food product) and as an added bonus 
featured an extremely fast search engine. Activated by simply typing in a 
request, the ABPSARII would then search all possible times in all possible 
alterverses for the required parameters. Since anything which could possibly 
happen eventually will happen, it's just a matter of finding it. Then the 
ABPSARII could take the user to it, or bring it to the user, or alter the 
current location to match the request using what was found as a template, or 
something like that.

No one was really clear on exactly how it worked, including the inventor, one 
Doctor Bing Von Spleen of Earth. But no one denied that it did work regardless.

Time Agent 386 began programming the ABPSARII. This took some time, as the 
Repository of Souls was an ancient and powerful place. It was unlikely that 
doing something so mundane as transporting a handful of exploding supernovae 
into the middle of it would have the desired effect. 386 was also constrained by 
the fact that he wished to survive the process which would destroy all other 
intelligent life from his home universe. He also planned to make himself truly 
immortal so that the final resting place of his soul would be a moot point. He 
might have to do the actual programming for that some time later, but wanted to 
make sure that nothing he did now would make that more difficult when the time came.

Rather tired from all the walking and having to type with one hand while holding 
the ABPSARII with the other, 386 looked around for a chair or desk. Not finding 
one, this after all not being a reading library, he settled for pulling a 
particularly large book from a nearby shelf. Moving this book might have 
resulted in the particular soul whose journey through the cycle of reincarnation 
it was chronicling to not be able to return to it, but seeing as 386 planned to 
destroy all of them anyway, he really didn't give a crap.

386 was about to sit down and use the book as a particularly uncomfortable Lazer 
Lounger when he happened to notice the name on the cover.

It was his.

Oh, it didn't have his current designation of thirteen given names and four 
family names followed by the number 1,973,484,386 or 386 for short. (A universe 
full of mostly immortal beings tend to use up a lot of names.) Instead, in a 
combination of letters and numbers and symbols and concepts which were more more 
sensed than seen, he recognized the name of his soul.

Overcome with curiosity, he opened the book.

The first chapter told the story of his first life. It was a hard one. 
Everything was stacked against him. It was no wonder that in that life he had 
done more bad than good.

The second chapter told a similar story, as did the third. 386 was beginning to 
believe that the odds had always been stacked against him when he flipped 
forward and found a life where he had been born into a perfect life.

A life in which he still managed to do more bad than good.

386 flipped back and forth. There were some good lives. There were some great 
lives. But no matter what the circumstances of his birth, no matter what the 
circumstances of his life, the best he had ever managed was to kind of even out 
the evil he had done or would do again. If, at this very moment, it came time to 
decide his fate, he could go one way or the other. Even though 386 planned to 
destroy the Repository of Souls and deal himself out of this game entirely, that 
still bothered him somehow.

Closing his own book in disgust, he grabbed a few others at random. He'd see how 
badly others had screwed up their many lives. That would cheer him up. The other 
books were much smaller than his. They told stories of souls born into horrible 
times and places which had nonetheless managed to better themselves and the 
lives of those around them. These relatively thin books ended with the souls 
being accepted in the Powers of Life.

After very carefully putting these books back on the shelf, he turned to the 
back of his own book. 386 found that there was but a single chapter left 
unwritten, a single cycle left for his soul to complete.

The current one.

"I'm on my last incarnation," 386 said wonderingly. "I've been given more 
chances than almost anyone else here, but I've used them all up without showing 
enough good to be accepted back into the Powers of Life. And this life I've led 
most recently..."

He paused. He looked back on his life. Sure, he'd been a great hero for a great 
number of years. He had bettered himself and helped a great number of people. 
But that life didn't come close to making up for the death and destruction and 
pain he'd caused since he decided to turn evil. Even if he didn't finish 
instructing the ABPSARII, even if he didn't cause the spam-powered destruction 
of the Repository of Souls, he had still done enough bad things to assure that, 
in the end, his soul would be reduced to nothingness.

He carefully closed his book and, with a loud grunt, placed it back on the shelf.

386 picked up the ABPSARII. It hummed with the promise of power. With it, he 
could destroy the Repository of Souls, deal himself out of the game of 
reincarnation, and prevent his soul from ever being judged. He could make 
himself unique and immortal. He could make himself a god.

Time Agent 386 pressed the buttons marked "Ctrl" and "Alt" and "Del."

Are you sure you want to restart? Warning! All unsaved programs will be lost!

386 walked towards the nearest door. "Yes, I will start again. I will use my 
remaining time to make amends for all the bad things I've done in my life. I 
will do good. I will be accepted back into the Powers of Life."

He laughed. Long and hard and strong, he laughed. For the first time in 
centuries, 386 felt good about himself. He felt as if he had a future. He felt 
as if he could do something which could make a difference in the world. He felt 
that he could do good. He felt that he could be good.

He was still laughing when he stepped out the door.

He was still laughing when he was blown to bits.

Is this the end of 386?
Is this the end of the ABPSARII?
Is this the end of these silly questions?

Tune in again next week for the world-shattering conclusion of the HMS Golden 
Lance series. Only in... SFSTORY!
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