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Sfstory Log 116

=========================================================================
Date:         Mon, 27 Dec 2010 13:49:25 -0800
From:         swede at garywolson.com (Gary)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #22

                         UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                        (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                             Episode 22
                               "Khaki"
                                 by
                            Gary W. Olson,
                     who has a new email address

                                -~-_-

     Friends, it has often been observed, do not always do what you
want them to do.  Sometimes they take your car keys away, when you
want them to let you drive on both the highways in your wobbly frame
of vision.  Sometimes they suddenly depart, only to return six hours
later with an emu, a police officer, and a songbook, when what you
wanted was a cheeseburger.  Sometimes they do what you need for them
to do, even if you don't realize it at the time--though if you really
*did* need an emu, a police officer, and a songbook, without knowing
it at the time, you should also stop to reflect that you have a really
good friend indeed.
     Quooth was unsure if Bagelos would regard phim as a good friend.
The Wzaxtil had spent much time with the middle-aged would-be space-
villain, and had observed that Bagelos was not the universe's best
financial wizard, in the same sense that Richard Dawkins was not the
universe's best Pope.  All of Bagelos's many schemes for universal
domination relied on Bagelos's ability to raise massive funds (to be
spent on building warships, killer robots, Death Varmints, and the
like), and as that was the case, none had come to pass.  But now, for
the first time, Bagelos was trying something that did not rely on his
cash flow--albeit only because he had been sent to the planet they
were on (Zeta Ricola Beta) against his will, and had figured out how
to usurp the plan his grandfather, the space villain Baconos, had
started to implement forty years earlier.  There seemed a real chance
that he would succeed.
     By playing (on phis Holy Harmonica) the Song of Connection to A
Friend Who is Having Cosmic Things Happening to Phis Head At The
Moment, Quooth had attempted to see directly what Bagelos had been
doing while connected via the Proofs to the ur-Pancake that was the
universe before the Big Bang.  While phe was unable to witness
Bagelos's activities directly, phe connected with Shadebeam Moroboshi
and Slithis, two other friends who--due to having been shifted into
cosmic space by an Automated Beet-Peeler Sub-Atomic Re-Integrator
(ABPSARI)--knew what was going on.  Phe also knew that Shadebeam and
Slithis had been shifted into altiverse 000SUPERGUY and out of the
series altogether, and that meant that phe was now the only one who
knew what was going on, and how to stop it.
     As Quooth re-tuned phis senses to the physical realm and finished
phis song (with the notes that accomplished this sounding to the non-
Wzaxtils in the room much like 'shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits') phe saw
that the body of friend Bagelos was warping in and out of reality.
Watching this, and for some reason holding their ears, were Zeta
Ricola Beta natives Sark Flyby and Tarlus, an assortment of guards in
monk-appropriate brown robes, and the menacing red robot Megabot.
Quooth removed his feelers from the Harmonica.  Bagelos's body stopped
being so warpy and got on with full-time physical existence.  The Zeta
Ricola Betans lowered their hands from their ears and glared at
Quooth.
     "Did you *have* to do that?" Sark Flyby asked.  The grey-skinned,
Freddie-Prinze-Jr-featured gnome shook his head.  "My head hurts now."
     "Such is the price of cosmic connection, friend Sark," Quooth
replied.  "I would be glad to discuss it with you at great length..."
     "Another time," Sark quickly interrupted.  He looked up at
Bagelos, who had let go of the Proofs and was patting various areas of
his body to be sure they had all reported for being material.  "So,
was that it?  Is the deal sealed?"
     Bagelos shook his head, though the expression on his face was
insufferably pleased.  "I, Bagelos, have done that which I, Bagelos,
can at this point.  I, Bagelos, contacted Shoon-Ma from before the
Dawn of the Universe and conspired with him to steal the cosmic power
from his fellow ur-Breakfast Food Items.  Cosmic power was brought to
you in this fashion... forty years ago, from your point of view, as
Shoon-Ma saw me as an agent acting on behalf of my grandfather
Baconos.  It is, of course, not permanent... though today, it shall
become so.  I, Bagelos, decree it!"
     "That's nice," said Sark.  Quooth thought he sounded mildly
perturbed, a curious reaction to an announcement of impending cosmic
power-uppage.  "Very good work.  Our alliance with you has exceeded my
wildest expectations.  Care for some lunch?"
     "Do you have any Oorglactovian Balls?" Quooth asked.  "In hot
effluence, if possible."
     "Oor... what?" asked Sark, a shade of green leaving his grey
features.
     "Not balls," said Quooth.  "What is the word... eggs.  Yes, that
is it.  And when I said 'effluence,' I meant--"
     "Nope, sorry," Sark hurriedly said.  "Just sandwiches.  Bacon
sandwiches.  With mayonnaise."
     "I, Bagelos, do not hunger," Bagelos declared, "save for
universal conquest!  Nor shall I, Bagelos, fall for your ruses to
cause me to leave this room, where the Proofs and the Fiber are in my
grasp!"  The space villain gestured behind him at the large and
ungainly teapot-shaped machine, from which were suspended the
cardboard-appearing Proofs, and which had plugged into it the glowing
reddish rock known as the Fiber (which had until recently been at the
heart of the ship that Bagelos and Quooth had arrived in, the
_Universal Solvent_).
     "What... are you saying, friend Bagelos?" Quooth asked.
     Bagelos grinned.  It was a look Quooth had never before seen on
his friend's face--one of Space Evil Triumphant.  "Our host, Sark
Flyby, knows that the deal is not yet complete because Shoon-Ma has
returned to Zeta Ricola Beta.  As his prophecies have foretold, the
ur-Bagel, seeking revenge for the betrayal that I, Bagelos, just
recently commited, has made his way to this world, with his Chosen
One--"
     "Champion," Tarlus interrupted.  "*Ours* is the Chosen One--Zark
Flyby!"
     Bagelos looked briefly exasperated.  "I, Bagelos, do not give an
effluence what you call him.  But Shoon-Ma is here, and his presence
prevents the circuit from achieving completion.  But once
Shoon-Ma's... Champion--whom I understand to be a former nuisance of
my acquaintance named Sajon--is vanquished, and Shoon-Ma is then
destroyed, the circuit shall be complete, and cosmic power shall be
mine!  Ahahahaha---"
     "Thunk," said a metal box as it connected with the back of
Bagelos's head.
     "Whump," said Bagelos's body as it sagged to the floor.  Tarlus,
who had employed the metal box to knock Bagelos out, glared at
Bagelos.  He seemed unsure as to what to do next with the box, so he
shook it at Bagelos.
     "*That,*" he said, "is for mocking my control box!"
     "Tarlus," said Sark, "we were going to have one of the guards do
that, remember?"
     Tarlus shook the box once more, then set it down.  He visibly
sagged, and shook his head.  "Just like the last one, Sark.  Baconos.
Too busy ranting to *think.*"
     "What do you mean, friend Tarlus?" asked Quooth.
     "He means," said Sark, as two monk-guards lifted Bagelos up by
the armpits and began to drag him away, "that the phrase 'cosmic power
shall be mine' has an important corollary, to wit: 'cosmic power is
not yet mine, and so I should watch out for blunt objects or asps.'"
     Quooth recalled how Baconos's pseudo-ghost, in the Temple of the
Ancients, had claimed he had met his end by asp-bite, while on his way
to meet his 'secret ally.'  This was despite the established fact that
there were no poisonous snakes on Zeta Ricola Beta, which meant the
asp had somehow been brought by the thief who stole Baconos's ship.
     "Are you, friend Sark, the 'secret ally' spoken of by Baconos's
ghost?" Quooth asked.
     "That's hardly a secret," said Tarlus.
     Sark nodded.  "It was a secret at the time," he said.  "I suppose
that old shade thinks it still is."  He smacked his hands, as if
dusting them off.  "Well.  Enough of this rot.  Bagelos has served his
purpose.  Now we must locate this 'Sajon,' send my son Zark after him,
and fulfill the prophe--hey!"
     Quooth was already heading for the ramp that led out of the
underground complex and to the surface, Tarlus's black box clutched
securely in phis feelers.  While phe was uncertain as to what phis
proper course of action was, it seemed to phim that if Sajon and Zark
met, and engaged in a universe-shattering cosmic battle, it would
severely impede, or at least inconvenience, his Holy Quest.  Also,
friend Bagelos would not like it if cosmic power came rushing in and
he could not partake.
     Monks moved swiftly to block his escape, so Quooth did the only
thing phe could think of--toss the black control box high in the air,
then quickly play his Holy Harmonica in an attempt to persuade the
monks of the nobility of his actions.
     Some monks tried to catch the box.  Other monks tried to stop
phim, but ended up clutching their ears as a harmonica rendition of
'Rhinestone Cowboy' assaulted them.  Quooth zipped past them and up
the ramp.
     Friend Bagelos would no doubt want Quooth to directly come and
rescue him, Quooth thought, but rescue was not what Bagelos *needed*
at the moment.  What Bagelos *needed* was for the monks to no longer
have cause to hold him captive, which meant that the prophesied cosmic
showdown had to be averted.  And because phe could not cut off power
from Zark Flyby, having been forced to give up Tarlus's black box to
escape, that meant keeping Sajon from whatever event would give him
cosmic power.  Which first meant finding Sajon.
     Quooth hoped phis friend Bagelos would someday understand, as
phis friend Robert Downey Jr. had eventually understood about the emu,
the police officer, and the songbook.  If there was one thing Quooth
prided phimself on, it was in being a good friend.

                                -~-_-

     As sudden, involuntary translocations went, it was not the worst
Benjen had experienced.  In fact, parts of it were quite pleasant--the
part about now no longer being in a room on the Planet of Casinos
where a cosmically-powered ur-Bagel was laying into everyone who was
not a cosmically-powered ur-Bagel, for instance.  The transition
itself was brief and painless, and a bit tingly.  Only the last part
kept the experience from the 'wanna do it again' column, as it
involved appearing six feet above the ground, followed by landing on
said ground and discovering it consisted of prickly burrs and weeds.
     "Oog," Benjen commented, as he staggered out of the burr patch.
The Hottentottian then conducted a brief and informal inventory
process to ensure all his bits had made the transition with him.
"Horns, hair, nose, lips... hmm... nipples, beer gut, fingers, toes...
um, wait."
     Benjen silently reflected on the question of why, during the
translocation, he had suddenly been reclothed in a bodysuit made out
of lettuce.  Iceberg lettuce, no less.  After coming to the conclusion
that any further reflection on this question would start him on a good
and hearty round of gibbering, he redirected his thoughts toward
puzzling out where the hell he was.
     Around him was a forest, filled with large trees and--to judge
from the sounds--a large number of birds that considered his sudden
appearance as cause for comment.  It was daytime, though he could only
judge this by the quality of light seeping through the thick green
canopy overhead.  While it was true he could easily fly up--using the
bioelectricity-powered tactile telekinesis common to members of his
otherwise human-appearing race--to get a better view, he decided he
was better off staying on the ground for the time being.  At least
until he found out if anything else was around, carrying a gun and
having a broad view of the concept of 'skeet.'
     "Hey," said someone almost directly behind him.  Benjen whirled,
hand raised and bioelectric blast at the ready.  He saw a young-
looking human man in a torn velour shirt and pants that appeared to
have been fashioned out of beets.  He appeared to be as lost as Benjen
felt.  "I'm not here to hurt you.  I just... showed up here."
     "Same here," said Benjen.  He frowned, thinking the human seemed
somehow familiar.  "Do I know you?"
     "We briefly met on Freedonia 5 a few years back," the man said.
"I'm Norman Sassafras.  You're... Ben?"
     "Benjen," Benjen corrected.  "I think I saw you more recently,
though.  On a screen in Vino's ballroom."
     Norman blinked, then exhaled.  "Right.  Kalvin said it was Vino
that sent those things with the sharp legs and the singing."  Norman
shuddered.  "He must have wanted you to watch... but why?"
     "Long story," said Benjen.  "I managed to get taken captive by a
floating bagel bent on revenge, escaped the destruction of its ship,
and got captured by Vino.  How did you get into Kalvin Certain's
office?"
     "You know him?" asked Norman.
     "Unfortunately," Benjen replied, as he looked around.  "He's--"
     "--got a gun," another voice interrupted.  Benjen jumped and
whirled.  Stumbling out of some dense foliage was Kalvin Certain, his
human suaveness and charm marred slightly by the fact that he wore a
toga made of bacon.  In his right hand was a laser gun not made of
bacon and apparently quite functional.  Despite the fact that Kalvin
now sported an eyepatch over his left eye, something Benjen did not
remember him having, Benjen had no doubt Kalvin would not find depth
perception an issue when it came to shooting at people in his way.
     "I was his prisoner when the fight in his office started," said
Norman.  "He was going to interrogate me or something."
     "Water under the bridge, lads," said Kalvin, as he lowered his
gun.  "We're not on Alpha Rio VI anymore, and no longer being attacked
by giant mechanized half-spiders-half-lounge-singers.  And if I don't
miss my guess, we're on Zeta Ricola Beta, which is exactly where I
wanted to get to.  Hey, Benjen, where're the rest of your merry crew?"
     Benjen thought of responding with a bioelectric bolt, but decided
it was not worth getting into a fight--at least, not while Kalvin was
armed.  "You got me.  I last saw Jerri and Gham three days ago, before
I got abducted by Shoon-Ma.  Slithis I haven't seen since watching the
attack on your office.  Though if Norman's here..."
     "...Slithis is too," Norman finished.  "Probably.  And that woman
who was with him.  Shadebeam.  And the dude, Sajon..."
     "Forget them," Kalvin hissed.  "You were *with* Shoon-Ma?  Has he
selected a Champion?"
     "That would be Sajon," said Benjen.  "And how do you know
about...?"
     Kalvin waved his hand, dismissing the question.  "Never mind
that," he said.  "How close are we to the Daaksvong complex?"
     "No idea," Benjen answered.  "Maybe Shoon-Ma knows."
     Kalvin frowned.  "But, how..."
     "That's him over there, right?" asked Norman.
     It was turning into a day for sudden appearances.  From out of
the woods shot a flying bagel, blue lighting arcing from it into
trees, dirt, and shrubs.  It abruptly halted less than a foot away
from Benjen.
     "It cannot be a coincidence that you are here," said Shoon-Ma,
its confident voice echoing in Benjen's mind as it hovered before him.
Though, as it was to all appearances an ordinary bagel--and as such
lacked eyes, or a mouth, or any other sensory apparatus--Benjen had
the strong feeling it was looking directly at him.  "Or, rather, it is
a coincidence so unlikely it could only have been engineered by an
ABPSARI."  Shoon-Ma flew over to hover in front of Kalvin.  "Which I
last recall seeing in *your* care... *Mister* Certain."
     "Don't have it," said Kalvin.  "Don't need it.  You... er... know
who I am?"
     "You sent several uniformed cretins to steal me from the
archaeologists who dug me up," Shoon-Ma replied.  "I turned said
cretins into zombies.  Sadly, they do not appear to have been brought
by the ABPSARI to this world with me--I could have used an army.  But
I suppose you three shall do."
     "Now wait a minute," said Norman.
     A bolt of lightning shot from Shoon-Ma and scorched the ground at
Norman's feet.
     "Um... orders, sir?" asked Benjen.
     "Yes," said Shoon-Ma.  "You shall... stop that man!"
     Benjen regarded Kalvin, who was hot-footing it into the woods.
He took off after Kalvin, determined to take a good long time in
chasing the man, at least until he was far enough away from Shoon-Ma
that he could peel off and start searching for Slithis and Shadebeam.
He took a few potshots at Kalvin to make it look good, and was
rewarded by the sound of sizzling bacon.
     "Ow!" Kalvin yelped.  "Stop that!"
     "Return at once, fool!" bellowed Shoon-Ma.  Benjen realized that
Shoon-Ma was flying alongside him, and silently cursed.  He risked a
look over his shoulder, and saw that Norman was huffing and puffing as
he struggled to keep up.  Clearly, today was not shaping up as a day
of goals achieved.
     Abruptly, Kalvin skidded to a halt--so abruptly that Benjen flew
into him and knocked him into a clearing.  They tumbled about, Kalvin
cursing and flailing, Benjen feeling a sudden breeze as his lettuce-
based outfit proved its ineffectiveness as crash-protection.
     "I hope no one around here's dressed as a tomato," Benjen said,
as he struggled to his feet.  He would have said more, but the sight
of what had caused Kalvin to stop caused the words to dry up.
     Below the waist, the three were fearsome, metallic, and sharp.
Each had six legs that were hinged blades, and moved with grace and
deadly precision.  Above the waist, they were Wayne Newton--white
tuxedo, thick gray hair helmet, toothy grin, and beady eyes.  Benjen
had seen these Arachno-Newtons on the attack before, and had a bad
feeling as to who they had been sent after, and who had sent them.
     "Welcome," the closest of the three said.  "Thank you for being
our targets for tonight.  Our host, Vino the Three-Headed Yak, sends
his regards, and hopes that in the next life you'll know better than
to show him disrespect.  Before we begin dismembering you, do you have
any requests?"
     "'Shangri-La,' maybe?" asked the Arachno-Newton on the previous
speaker's left.  "Or 'Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast,' or..."
     "Die! Die! Die!" exclaimed Shoon-Ma, as lighting arced from it
and into the lead Arachno-Newton.  The Newton lit up with blue energy
that soon went into the ground and dissipated.  The sheepdog grin on
the Arachno-Newton was unchanged.
     "Sorry, sir," it said.  "Don't know that one.  But... 'Danke
Schoen' for asking!"
     The three Arachno-Newtons opened their mechanical mouths, and the
air began to fill with an orchestral arrangement.  Benjen felt his
ears starting to hurt, even before the first of the banal lyrics of
the song named could assault them.  The Arachno-Newtons surged,
foreleg blades raised for the kill.

                                -~-_-

     Sark Flyby was not pleased.  Before his very eyes, a crack team
of soldier-monks had been made fools of by a man-sized, harmonica-
wielding bug named Quooth.  He watched in disdain as the last of them
disappeared up the ramp.  He shook his head and turned to Tarlus.
     "Is the control box intact?" he asked.
     "Ehrm," said Tarlus.  It was not a promising noise.  Sark grew
concerned.  Tarlus showed him the box--or, rather, the pieces of what
had been the box.  "It appears to have taken an unfortunate amount of
damage."
     "Can it be repaired?"
     "Ehrm," Tarlus answered.  Sark progressed from 'concerned' to
'vexed.'
     "The final showdown," said Sark, "between my son and this 'Sajon'
of Shoon-Ma's is imminent!  Without the power moderated by that box,
Zark will stand no chance!"
     "Well, no worries there," said Tarlus.  "According to the control
station readouts, the cosmic power feed to Zark is at full.  He now
has full meta-destructive capabilities, which should be more than
enough to finish Shoon-Ma, his Champion, and anyone else in his way!
No one can stop him!"
     "Good," Sark replied, feeling the tension behind his eyes lighten
some.  He looked down at Bagelos's unconscious form, then up at the
menacing red robot known to him as Megabot.  Megabot's single ruby-red
eye-slit pulsed, as if the robot was excited.  "Megabot... you should
have gone after the... what do you call it... Wzaxtil."
     Megabot sagged slightly, then floated toward the ramp.
     "But never mind that," Sark went on.  "Pick up Bagelos here and
drag him to the prison cell two floors up.  He can wait there until--"
     "Er, Sark," said Tarlus.  "If I might interrupt..."
     Sark seethed, but managed to tamp it down.  "What... is... it?"
he asked.
     "I have just realized an unfortunate consequence of these recent
events," said Tarlus.  "Your ultraviolent son is now cosmically-
powerful in the fullest."
     "Yes," said Sark.  "We've been over that.  'Finish anyone in his
way,' I believe you said.  Also, 'no one can stop him.'  What of it?"
     "Well," Tarlus answered, "it's just that the 'no one'... includes
*us.*"
     Sark started to shout, then paused.  He looked at the broken
pieces of control box in Tarlus's hands.  He looked at the Proofs, and
the machine connected to them, which was glowing a very violent khaki
color.  He considered how ultraviolent and ultrastupid Zark Flyby was,
even before being cosmically-enhanced.
     "Oh, needlewarp," he said, at last.
     "Quite," Tarlus agreed.
     "Can you fix the box?" asked Sark.
     "Doubtful," answered Tarlus.  He considered the pieces in his
hand.  "It was of a piece with the great Teapot Interface designed for
us by Baconos.  Many of the pieces broken now have no replacements,
and cannot be refashioned into replacements."
     Sark frowned.  "So we now have no means to reduce the flow of
energy to my son, other than that of destroying the Teapot or removing
the Fiber.  Which would put an end to the cosmic circuit altogether,
losing us all the power we have worked for so long to attain."
     "Yes," Tarlus answered.  "Not to mention that the explosive
backwash would annihilate this complex, and us with it."
     Sark nodded, and frowned harder.
     "There is... one alternative," Tarlus noted.
     Sark raised an eyebrow.
     Tarlus gestured at the still-unconscious Bagelos, who was
presently being hoisted by Megabot off the floor.
     Sark's frown grew more vehement.
     "He has shown he can interface with the Proofs," Tarlus said.
"I see no alternative."
     Sark fumed.  Sark swore.
     Finally, Sark said, "Okay."

                                -~-_-

     Sajon was not sure if he was having a good day or not.  He was no
longer on Alpha Rio VI--something he generally considered a good
thing, for it meant he was just another man trying to make his way in
the universe, instead of a bio-engineered piece of meat who could
cause entire rows of slot machines to spontaneously gush coins.  He
was also no longer on the same planet as Vino the Three-Headed Yak,
which meant Vino would probably forget about him after a while and he
could stop checking his bed for horse heads or telemarketer spleens.
So there were reasons to look up.
     On the 'not a good day' side of things, he was running through a
forest, evading laser fire from a group of the most muscle-bound monks
he had ever seen.  And he was, for some reason, wearing a tutu made
out of carrots.  Already, he had been flushed out of two hiding spots
by rabbits who thought he had dropped in to be lunch.
     He had had little time to process the change in planetary venue
and clothing edibility factor he had undergone while he had been
passed out.  The last thing he remembered was tossing all the Typical
Luck generators he had had strapped to his body out the window, in the
hope that his bio-engineered luck powers (which only worked on Alpha
Rio VI) would come up with a way of keeping him from being carved up
by the Arachno-Newtons that had been sent by Vino.  Evidently, they
had, though he had been too unconscious to know precisely how.
     But he was no longer on Alpha Rio VI, and artificial luck would
not lead him to answers, or do much of anything else for him.  He had
to make his own luck; or, failing that, his own gravy.
     Laser bolts slammed into the tree trunk closest to him.  It was
closely followed by a loud cracking sound that Sajon realized was the
rest of the tree beginning to fall over.  He narrowly avoided being
hit as it thundered to the ground.
     "Sajon!" someone exclaimed.  For a moment, Sajon thought it was
one of the monks calling to him, but realized they had no way of
knowing his name.  Well, unless *they* had been behind translocating
him to another world, but if that was the case, would they not have
planned it out a bit better, or at least given him a robe instead of
carrot-wear?
     Then he saw the man behind the bush revealed by the fall of the
tree.  He was bald, slightly shriveled-looking, and in a surprisingly
stylish red, green, orange, and yellow robe.  He was beckoning Sajon
to run toward him.  As his previous strategy of 'run through the
forest at random and hope for the best' was not proving successful,
Sajon did as beckoned.  It was not until he was close that he
recognized the beckoner.
     "Dr. Von Spleen!" Sajon exclaimed.  "How..."
     "...did I get here?" Von Spleen finished.  "Involuntary and
highly inexplicable ABPSARI-caused translocation."
     "What..."
     "...am I wearing?"  Von Spleen examined his robe.  "Fruit roll-
ups.  Not as tasty as one would expect, given all the dirt that is
sticking to them."
     "Why..."
     "...um... do birds cry?" Von Spleen finished.  Sajon realized he
must have looked confused, because Von Spleen shrugged.  "Sorry, that
was a stretch.  Keep down!"
     Von Spleen pulled Sajon down behind the bush, as Sajon heard
crashing sounds from beyond the downed tree.  He waited, quietly, as
the sounds grew louder.
     They waited.  And waited some more.
     Finally, the crashing sounds came again.  Whatever was causing
them, he realized, was moving away.
     After waiting a while, with no crashing or suspiciously armed-
monk-like sounding noises to be heard, Von Spleen risked a peek over
the top of the bush.  He was evidently satisfied, as he then stood.
Sajon stood as well, and saw that the forest appeared empty, save for
the two of them.
     "Well, boy," said Von Spleen, "it *should* boggle my mind that
we would meet in such circumstances, eh?  But I expect there's some
ancient prophecy that covers it.  Can't be helped, given the
circumstances."
     "Which..."
     "...are?" Von Spleen said.  "Ha, got that one.  The circumstances
are: one, you are Shoon-Ma's Champion.  Or Chosen One.  I'm not sure
the nomenclature matters at this point.  Two, despite sneakily being
ABPSARI-translocated away from Shoon-Ma's ship three days ago, leaving
me behind to unwillingly do Shoon-Ma's bidding, we've managed to be
reunited.  Three, we've been reunited on Zeta Ricola Beta, where the
circumstances behind the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the
Universe were both initiated and are destined to be fulfilled.  Five,
swallow this."
     He thrust a pink pill at Sajon's mouth.  Sajon, surprised in the
middle of asking why he skipped 'four,' was too surprised to stop him.
He did take a half-step back, however, and tripped over a rabbit that
had chosen that moment to nibble at the carrots that made up his left
trouser leg.
     "What..."
     "...is that?" Von Spleen finished, as he extended a hand to help
Sajon up.  "It is your future, boy.  Your destiny.  The pinnacle
application of my unsurpassed spamological knowledge."  Sajon did not
take Von Spleen's hand.  Instead, he scrambled to his feet and backed
away.
     "You were ready to just hand me over to Shoon-Ma three days ago,"
Sajon said.  "Hand me over, say 'go ahead and make him your Champion,
I'm outta here.'"
     "Hey, you're the one who left *me* behind," Von Spleen replied.
"You and that Moroboshi woman and the Reptiloid.  Just vanished with
my ABPSARI."
     "Okay," said Sajon.  "Technically true, though I had no control
over that."  He paused, reflecting that the discussion had grown
rather awkward.  "What did Shoon-Ma make you do?"
     "He made me create this pill," said Von Spleen.  "It puts the
consumer in direct contact with the Primordial Spam from which this
entire altiverse arose."  He held up the pill between his thumb and
forefinger.  "It is a direct line to the ur-Spam, as it were.  The
only thing that can counter the power of the ur-Breakfast Foods."
     "If that's so," said Sajon, "why have *me* take it?  Why not take
it yourself?"
     "Because," Von Spleen, sharp bitterness creeping into this voice,
"due to the ABPSARI's manipulations, I am now painfully and completely
sober.  I cannot take even a simple aspirin, let alone a pill that
bestows cosmic devastation-dealing abilities.  Because of this, and
because Shoon-Ma would have killed me if I did not, I made it so that
only contact with your saliva can unlock its power.  Only *you* can
ingest this... and be the Champion."
     Sajon considered this.  All his life, he had been in the service
of others.  First Vino, then Bagelos, then Professor Parsasentence,
and then Von Spleen.  If he accepted the pill, would all that really
change?  Or would he simply enter the service of Shoon-Ma?
     Before he could answer this silent question, a wide beam of
pulsing light sliced the air just above his head.  The forest seemed
to explode.  He and Von Spleen fell back as multiple trees toppled to
the ground--all with smoke curling from the severed ends of their
trunks.
     A gleeping and squiggling noise drew Sajon's attention.  He
turned to see someone he considered a true friend fly out of the
billowing dust.
     "TH1K1!" Sajon exclaimed.  "We're over here!"
     TH1K1 emitted several beeps and whistles, and flew over to him.
It gleeped and whistled as he plucked its tiny, toylike form from the
air and cuddled it.
     "TH1K1, you wonderful, funderful little buddy," said Sajon.  "If
the ABPSARI brought you here, then I know everything will be all
right!"
     TH1K1 emitted a stream of electronic noise.
     "He's laughing," Von Spleen said.
     "Of course he is," Sajon said, as he released TH1K1 into the air.
"Because he's overcome with joy at finding us."
     "No," said Von Spleen, as he looked around.  "Because he believes
he will witness our complete cellular-level annihilation in just a few
moments, by a being he has personally led here to do just that."
     Sajon scowled at him.
     "I keep telling you," said Von Spleen, "I understand everything
that homicidal maniac says!  Why can't anyone believe that?"
     "Because you're the Patron Saint of Drug Abuse," said Sajon.
"Don't worry, TH1K1, I don't believe any of his sland--"
     At that moment, the dust clouds parted, and they heard something
stomping towards them.  The ground shook with every step.
     "Needlewarp," Von Spleen sighed.  He took out an Altoids box from
an inner pocket of his fruit roll-up robe, tucked the pink pill in,
and put the box away.
     The figure that emerged resembled Ronald Reagan, though he had
the dimensions of Fat Albert.  He wore a torn Time Police Academy
Commandant's uniform and a very violent expression.  Red energy rose
from him as if smoke from a fire.  His eyes were pools of exuberant
power, and Sajon instantly deduced that they were the source of the
forest-decimating beam.
     "KILL," said Zark Flyby.
     Sajon gulped.

WILL SAJON AND VON SPLEEN BE BLASTED TO ATOMS BEFORE THIS WHOLE
PROPHESIED FIGHT-TO-THE-DEATH THING CAN HAPPEN?
IF SO, WILL ZARK GO ON TO BLAST THE UNIVERSE TO ATOMS?
WILL QUOOTH FIGURE OUT HOW TO RESCUE HIS FRIENDS?
WILL BAGELOS GET HIS HANDS BACK ON THE COSMIC PROOFS?
WHAT WILL PROVE MORE DEADLY ? THE BLADES WIELDED BY THE ARACHNO-
NEWTONS, OR THE MIND-MELTING BANALITY OF THEIR SINGING?
WHAT WILL PROVE MORE TASTY - BACON SANDWICHES OR OORGLACTOVIAN BALLS
IN EFFLUENCE?
IF THE UNIVERSE IS BLASTED TO ATOMS, WILL TH1K1 FINALLY BE HAPPY?

Find out, in the next patience-testing episode of Universal Solvents,
a tale of SFSTORY, only on the SUPERGUY mailing list!
--
Gary W. Olson        swede at garywolson dot com
Sfstory Archives:    http://sfstory.garywolson.com/
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=========================================================================
Date:         Thu, 26 May 2011 12:33:13 -0800
From:         swede at garywolson.com (Gary)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #23 (1/2)

                         UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                        (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                             Episode 23
                               "Plum"
                                 by
                            Gary W. Olson

                                -~-_-

     Death had finally come for him, Norman Sassafras realized.
Unlike many of his young peers, he had for quite some time understood
that he was mortal, and that one day he would go the way of all mortal
things.  One could not watch Star Trek as much as he had, and hear
Doctor McCoy say 'He's dead, Jim' for as many times as he had, without
this sliding deep into the furrows of his consciousness.  It was one
of the immutable truths of the universe, as far as he was concerned--
sooner or later, no matter one's rank in life, one eventually had to
put on the red shirt.
     What his many years of watching Trek and its sequels had not
prepared him for, though, was the truth that one might come to welcome
death--to regard the velour of security with relief.  As the Arachno-
Newton closest to him continued belting out the words to 'Danke
Schoen,' the fear Norman felt at the sight of its razorblade legs was
swiftly eclipsed by the gagging sensation brought on by the cloying
sappiness of the song.
     Norman's ankle slid out from under him in the soft grass, and
that was all that saved him.  A massive blade breezed over him as he
fell.  What reflexes his heroic training from Interstellar University
had instilled in him kept him from landing flat on his back--he caught
his descent with his hands, scrambled back, and quickly got to his
feet.  Another blade slash cut into the red beets that made up his
garment, though the tip did no more than graze the skin of his
stomach.
     The others who were in the clearing with him fared no better.
Kalvin Certain--the now-former casino manager and currently clad-in-
bacon cad whose machinations had more-or-less resulted in Norman's
current predicament--scrambled to avoid being scrambled by another
Arachno-Newton's blades.  Benjen--a onetime Renegade Anarchist whom
Norman had met years ago and had, as a result of different
machinations, been brought here to planet Zeta Ricola Beta and
outfitted in lettuce--was trying to fly above the battle, only to
discover that the aural assault of the Arachno-Newtons was interfering
with his bioelectrical field.  Shoon-Ma--the powerful ur-Bagel whose
desire for revenge was one of the prime drivers of the current drama--
had no such problems, and equally no problem with hanging back and
avoiding the battle.
     "Any last requests?" asked the Arachno-Newton trying to kill him.
"'I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time,' maybe?  Or shall I cover a
song by my good pal Neil Diamond?"
     "Gurk," Norman replied, as he dodged another blade.
     "'Heartlight' it is," said the Arachno-Newton, sounding
delighted.  Immediately, all three of the Wayne Newton-emulating
killer robo-arachnoids started emitting the syrupy orchestral music
that was the start of the song.  Norman started seriously considering
leaping toward the slashing blades.
     Before he could do so, the Arachno-Newton's face exploded.
     "Yaaah!" exclaimed Norman, as he stumbled back.  A massive form
slammed into the Arachno-Newton, toppling it to the ground.  Norman
was alarmed to see that it was a six-foot-tall-at-the-shoulder black-
furred mutant cat, and was further alarmed to see the cat sit on the
remains of the robot, raise its leg, and start in on a dignity-free
round of self-grooming.  A flying metal skiff swooped low over
Norman's head, and Norman saw multiple other figures--these all more
bipedish--jump out.
     "Down!" a woman's voice ordered, and Norman hit the forest floor
again.  Further laser blasts echoed above and around him, and Norman
realized he knew who had given the order.  He looked up and saw Toni
Williams, just as she plunged her laser sword into the neck of the
Arachno-Newton that had been threatening to slice Kalvin Certain into
kibble.
     "Norman!" a man's voice called, and Norman realized he knew who
owned this voice as well.  Forgetting Toni's order, he sprang to his
feet and looked around.
     "Ronald!" he called, as he saw his best friend and fellow Star
Trek fanatic running towards him.  With Ronald were two heavily armed
human Space Marines who were waving their guns around as if daring
more killer robots to come out of the undergrowth.
     Before the reunion could take place, the air was split by an ear-
rending shrill scream.  Norman clutched his ears, even as he
recognized this hearing-damaging noise as well.  Sure enough, he saw
Kissy Hitowers a moment later.  She had somehow gotten between the
last remaining Arachno-Newton and Benjen, in such a way that it kept
Benjen's attempted rescuers--Jerriphrrt and Gham, two more former
Renegade Anarchists--from having a clean shot at the machine while
simultaneously blocking Benjen's escape path.  There was no doubt
about it, he realized with pride--Ronald and he had chosen a Space
Ingenue who knew her stuff.
     Norman knew it was time to do something heroic.  It was his and
Ron's senior Space Heroing project that had led to their hiring Kissy
to be their Ingenue, and she had set them up so that the only way they
could save her from a messy death would be to do something so unlikely
to succeed that the odds were massively against it.  With that in
mind, Norman picked up the severed blade-leg of the Arachno-Newton
that had threatened him, hoisted it over his head, let out his most
heroic bellow, and ran at the robot threatening Kissy.
     Both the Arachno-Newton and Kissy stopped emitting their
competing noises, regarding him with what Norman felt sure was
amazement at his heroic recklessness.  The Newton recovered first,
raising two of its bladed legs into a position that Norman belatedly
realized would both parry his blade and relieve him of his aching feet
by removing everything below his knees.
     This failed to happen, if only because the blade of a laser sword
emerged from the mouth of the Arachno-Newton.  The machine sparked and
hissed, then collapsed.  Toni Williams, who was now standing behind
it, withdrew her sword.
     Norman swung his blade down at the Newton anyway, if only because
his momentum had decided that action for him.  It clanged against the
Newton's metallic hair-helmet, left Norman's hands and went flying.
     "Hey!" Benjen exclaimed, as the blade embedded itself in a tree
trunk, just inches above his head.  He considered the blade, gulped,
and said 'hey' again, just in case he had not been clear before.
     Norman stumbled to a halt.  He breathed hard, then looked up at
Toni.
     "I would've got him," said Norman.
     "I know," Toni replied.  He searched her eyes and expression for
signs of derision, but she seemed utterly sincere.  She even seemed
unfazed by the fact that he was clad in beets.  He heard footsteps to
his left, then felt a hand on his back.
     "Norman, you okay?" Ronald asked.  "That was great--kind of like
Kirk in 'Amok Time,' you know?"
     Norman straightened, and beamed at his friend's compliment.  His
reply was cut short by a snort from Kissy.
     "My heroic rescuers," she said.  "Thanks for reminding me to fill
out my organ donor card.  Another rescue like that and it'll see some
use."
     "Look, Little Miss Hearing Loss," said Toni, "we were doing
*fine* until you got into a mess.  Why don't you walk your little pert
behind over to the skiff where you'll be safe?"
     "Er, Toni," said Ronald.  "She's *our* Ingenue."
     Toni looked at Kissy, who shrugged and nodded.  "Right," she
said.  "Sorry.  Instinct.  Go on."
     Norman wondered how often such an Ingenue-poaching situation came
up in the annals of Space Heroics, and how it got resolved.  He soon
found out, as Kissy wheeled on him and Ronald.
     "My 'pert little behind,'" Kissy went on, as if it had been
Ronald or Norman she was quoting, "is the only reason you even had a
shot at that thing.  If it wasn't for me, you'd have been run
through!"
     "Um," said Norman.  Suddenly, the pressure was on.  He thought,
frantically, trying to come up with a suitable heroic response.
     "That's because our behinds aren't pert!" Ronald declared.
     Kissy's brow furrowed.  Ronald elbowed Norman, and Norman
realized he was trying to prod a followup heroic zinger out of him.
     "Yeah!" Norman said.  "They're... um... they're Pert Plus!"
     Toni winced.  Kissy looked as if her retort had gotten caught at
the 'make sense of the Space Hero's statement' stage of her train of
thought.  Norman wondered if he should find a bush to hide under.
     "Hey!" someone yelled.  Norman realized it was Jerriphrrt.
"Kalvin's getting away!"
     Norman looked past Toni and Kissy in time to see a bacon-wearing
figure dashing madly into a very foliage-clogged area of forest.  He
was followed closely by the massive mutant black cat Norman had seen
earlier.
     "What happened?" Toni demanded, sounding simultaneously angry
that her quarry was escaping and relieved that she did not have to
witness more of a train wreck of a heroic repartee session.
     "There was a bagel floating up in the trees," said Gham.  "Kalvin
saw it and was off before we could stop him."
     "It was Shoon-Ma the ur-Bagel," Benjen added.  "He's---"
     "Lucky!" Toni called into the forest.  "Get back here!"  She
waited, then sighed.  "Stupid cat.  Wasn't supposed to even be on the
skiff.  Hope Captain Vogel wasn't too attached to him.  Kalvin
Certain's not important right now... stopping universal apocalypse
is."
     "What's been going on?" Norman asked.  "You have more marines
with you?"
     At this point, a large wad of exposition occurred.  Toni started
it off, explaining as succinctly as possible how she came to be on
Zeta Ricola Beta, investigating the prophecies concerning it, Shoon-
Ma, and the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe.
Jerriphrrt, Gham, and Benjen added details about how they had been
minding their own business, salvaging derelict spaceships and such,
and had gotten drawn into the mess by boarding the wrong ship at the
wrong time.  Ronald, Norman, and Kissy explained how Ronald and
Norman's Senior Space Heroics Project had gotten them crossed with
Kalvin Certain's henchmen and thus to Zeta Ricola Beta.  The six space
marines told moving stories about their Facebook settings that had
nothing to do with the adventure at hand.  Somehow, between them all,
they managed to summarize large parts of Universal Solvents #1-22 in
under six minutes, something the Author has never managed to do, which
is why he is Telling and not Showing in this paragraph.  At the end of
the exposition, Norman thought of a pertinent question.
     "What now?" he asked.
     "Now," said Toni, "we've got to split up.  If, as I suspect, Zark
Flyby has been maneuvered into being Zeta Ricola Beta's Champion
and/or Chosen One, we have to find him and take him down, assuming he
hasn't already come into his power.  I'll head that team.  Ron,
Norman, Kissy, you're with me."  She gestured at three of the six
marines.  "You three as well."
     "And the rest of us?" Gham asked.
     "Stay with the original mission," said Toni.  "Get to the
Daaksvong complex.  It won't be far from here.  Find Sark Flyby--he's
Zark's father, and the guy pulling his strings.  Disrupt whatever he's
doing."
     "We'll try," Jerriphrrt promised.  "Um... do we get marines,
too?"
     "Yes," said Toni.  "The other three."
     "And waffles?" Benjen asked.  The others glared at him.  "What?"
he added.  "I missed breakfast."
     "Fix your lettuce," Jerriphrrt suggested.  Benjen looked down,
saw what the lettuce was not covering, and slapped his forehead.
     Norman, Ronald, Kissy, and the remaining marines watched as
Jerriphrrt, Gham, Benjen, and three Space Marines slipped into the
forest, with all the stealth that comes naturally to ex-Renegade
Anarchists and Space Marines.  Once the torrent of disturbed birds,
squirrels, and other small animals subsided, Toni shook her head.
Norman thought of another question.
     "How are we going to find Zark?"
     Toni and Ronald winced.  A second later, a large portion of the
forest in the opposite direction from which the others had gone
erupted.  They gaped as massive trees flew overhead.
     "Right," said Norman.  He checked again to be sure his beet-suit
was still mostly intact, then followed the others into the woods.

                                -~-_-

     It was not a good day for running away from cosmically violent
maniacs, Dr. Bing Von Spleen decided.  For one thing, the weather was
awful, in that it was raining trees.  For another, he was sober, and
thus had no chemically-induced delusions regarding his chances for
survival to give him the maniacal disregard for probability that
sometimes allowed him *to* survive certain death.  For a third, he was
wearing--thanks to the ABPSARI that had brought him to Zeta Ricola
Beta--a suit made of fruit roll-ups, which were by now very sticky in
unpleasant places.  For a fourth, instead of having with him a
competent Space Hero such as 357, who might reliably think of a way to
take on the cosmic menace, he was with his carrot-tutu-wearing ex-
assistant Sajon, who was, just as reliably, way out of his depth.
     The aforementioned cosmic menace, Zark Flyby, growled 'KILL!'
again, then let loose another blast of power.  It sheared through the
air above him, blasting away more of the forest's trees.  Von Spleen
knew that Zark, while generally ultrastupid, was extremely competent
in his chosen specialty, which was violence and mayhem, and that any
deficiency in areas such as 'aiming' would be--as they always were
with Zark--compensated for by 'overkill.'
     "We should split up, Doc!" yelled Sajon, who was a bit behind
him.  "He can only get one of us that way!"
     Von Spleen had already thought of that, but had not suggested it,
as he had not come up with a way to guarantee that the one being 'got'
would not be him.  Instead, he tried another gambit, one only someone
unable to outwit an anvil might fall for.
     "Wallaby!" he yelled, pointing to his left.
     A long moment passed, then the air was rent with the sizzling
sound of another power blast.  Trees well to Von Spleen's left
exploded into splinters and chunks.
     "KILL!" yelled Zark, who was veering left.  Von Spleen dared to
hope he would escape--
     "No, over here!" called a high-pitched voice.  "They're right
here, Zark!"
     Von Spleen looked up and snarled.  The tiny robot TH1K1 flew
overhead, staying close with Von Spleen.  Von Spleen knew what he had
heard had not actually been English; rather, it was a high-pitched
burst of beeps and squiggles, translated by some drug-mutated part of
his brain.  He also knew why TH1K1 was doing this--he was a would-be
homicidal maniac who saw in Zark an opportunity to actually succeed
in causing death and mayhem for once.
     "Wretched robot!" Von Spleen yelled.  "I'll get you yet!"
     Another blast hit trees nearby, as Zark corrected course and came
after them again.  This time, a tree trunk slammed down right in front
of Von Spleen and Sajon, barely missing crushing them.  Unfortunately,
Von Spleen and Sajon could not barely miss running into it at full
speed.
     "Whunf!" said the tree trunk.
     "Splat," said their bodies, as they fell back into the dirt.
     "Ow," said Von Spleen, as he struggled to his feet.
     "KILL!" roared Zark.
     "Not yet!" exclaimed Von Spleen, as he attempted to cover most of
his body with his arms while simultaneously hiding behind Sajon.
Sajon, for his part, was trying to remove the carrots that formed the
collar of his unusual outfit from his face.
     Von Spleen waited for the end.
     And waited.
     And waited.
     "WHY NOT?"
     Von Spleen opened his eyes and looked up at Zark Flyby.
Incredibly menacing and promising of violence in ordinary times, Zark
had grown even more dangerous-looking in these cosmic times.  Heat and
light shimmered from his skin like smoke, obscuring most of his
sizeable body--just as well, as Zark's clothing had been vaporized a
long time ago, and Von Spleen had little wish for his last mortal
sight to be of Zark au natural.
     "Um... because!" said Von Spleen.  His mind raced.  Zark was
ultrastupid, and thus easily fooled, but there was a danger.  Anything
he tried that seemed like trying to dissuade Zark from violence would
not work, because violence was Zark's first--and usually only--
solution to most situations he encountered.  How he had become Time
Police Academy Commandant was beyond Von Spleen, although he imagined
it was to keep Zark away from positions where he might do even more
damage--i.e. anywhere else.  On the other hand, any suggestion that
encouraged violence would not work, because even if it was directed at
anything other than Von Spleen, the power at Zark's fingertips would
likely do considerable damage just from proximity.
     "Because of the prophecy!" Sajon declared.  The lad, Von Spleen
observed, had gotten to his feet, and amazingly had spoken to Zark as
if the man could not obliterate them at any second.
     "PROPHECY?" Zark asked.  He was not shouting; Von Spleen assumed
it was cosmic power that caused him to talk in all capitals.
     "Right," said Sajon.  "You're with the Time Police, so you know
all about prophecy and stuff, right?  How you can't go against it, and
have to do whatever it says?"
     "UM..." Zark started.
     "And the prophecy from this world says you have to face off
against Shoon-Ma's Champion," Sajon went on.  "Only once you defeat
him can you go on to... I dunno... blow up the universe and stuff."
     Zark broadly smiled.  Von Spleen guessed it was the thought of
blowing up the universe that made him so happy.
     "SO WHO IS THE CHAMPION?" Zark asked.
     "Someone who lives fa--" started Von Spleen.
     "I am!" Sajon declared.
     Von Spleen wondered if Zark's ultrastupidity was rubbing off.
Certainly Sajon had to be wondering that, as Zark's eyes narrowed, and
his power rose.
     "But only after I *get* that power," Sajon went on.  "I don't
have it yet.  Until I do, you can't go blowing stuff up or killing
anybody.  Says so in the prophecy.  Right, Doctor?"
     "Er, right," said Von Spleen.  He wondered what Sajon was playing
at.
     "Which is why Doctor Von Spleen is going to hand over that pill
now," said Sajon.  He held out his hand in Von Spleen's direction.
Von Spleen regarded it as if it were the hand of a bill collector or a
D.E.A. agent.
     "What pill?" Von Spleen asked.
     "GIVE," Zark ordered.  His eyes flared with raw power.
     "Eepyesssir!" Von Spleen replied, producing the Altoids box that
he had earlier stowed the pink pill in.  He popped it open and
deposited the pill into Sajon's hand.
     It was the pinnacle of Von Spleen's spamological know-how; a
shell containing a small quantity of Spam engineered by Von Spleen to
remove all barriers between a sentient being and the primordial Spam
that was the ur-substance of the universe.  It had been further
engineered so that only contact with Sajon's saliva could unlock the
pill's cosmic-power-bestowing properties; a safeguard Shoon-Ma had
forced him to include so that, if Von Spleen's ABPSARI-enforced
sobriety wore off, he could not just take the pill and the power
himself.  He had earlier tried to get Sajon to take it, knowing
exactly what his next move would be.  It was still possible now,
though having an uberviolent ultracosmic idiot standing just feet away
itching for a fight made the move he was contemplating much harder.
     But running away, his favorite other option, was not feasible.
So, Von Spleen thought, the hell with it.  He waited for Sajon to lift
the pill to his lips...
     ...then cried out, as Sajon threw the pill into the forest with
all his strength.

(continued in part two, following...)
--
Copyright (c) 2011 Gary W. Olson, All Rights Reserved.
--
Gary W. Olson      swede at garywolson dot com
Sfstory Archives:  http://sfstory.garywolson.com/
SG/SF LiveJournal: http://superguy-list.livejournal.com/
SG/SF Dreamwidth:  http://superguy.dreamwidth.org/
SG/SF Facebook:    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=47273370926
=========================================================================
Date:         Thu, 26 May 2011 12:34:33 -0800
From:         swede at garywolson.com (Gary)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #23 (2/2)

(continued from part one, preceding...)

                                -~-_-

     Gham fidgeted in her loose plum-colored robes, and tried hard to
look janitorial as three soldier-monks stomped past.  Beside her,
Jerriphrrt, also wearing the plum-colored robes that meant that he was
a janitorial monk, pushed a mop in loose circles on the tile floor.
The soldiers gave them a glance, but no followup.  She let out her
breath.
     "Where's Benjen?" she asked.  "He should have been back by now."
     "Dunno," Jerriphrrt answered.  "It's not like there's a lot of
personnel in here right now."
     It had not taken their group long to reach the Daaksvong complex
where Toni had indicated they should go to find Sark Flyby and conduct
generally disruptive activities.  The underpopulated current state of
the complex made it easy for them to reach a janitorial alcove and
assume convenient disguises.  Benjen had taken the opportunity to log
into a workstation, after hacking past its relatively primitive
firewall, and had quickly determined that the complex was on alert
because a prisoner had escaped, and was low on Soldier Monks because
most were out chasing after him.  At the same time, the names of two
other prisoners had caught his eye, and he and the three marines
immediately headed for the cell blocks.  Gham and Jerriphrrt had been
left behind to keep an eye out for returning soldiers.
     "Do you suppose--" Jerriphrrt started.
     "There he is!" Gham interrupted.  A set of double doors slid
open, admitting the plum-robed Benjen and the three plum-robed Space
Marines.  Her heart fell when she saw no one else was with them.  Her
eyebrow raised when she saw that Benjen was carrying what looked like
a wetvac.
     "They weren't there," said Benjen.  "At least, not by the time we
got there.  But we saw what happened on the video playback."
     "Then---"
     "Slithis and Shadebeam are somewhere else," Benjen confirmed.
"They were in the cell, talking about something or other--"
     The Marines started sniggering.
     "--and then they started going at it."
     "Um," said Jerriphrrt.  "Point of clarification.  'Going at it?'"
     "Bow-chikka-bow-ow," Benjen replied, his tone deadpan.  "Up until
the end, where the light emerged from this..."  He held up the wetvac.
"...and they disappeared into it."
     "Er," Gham said.  "They're not..."
     "It's not really a wetvac," Benjen told them.  "In fact, it
didn't turn into a wetvac until well after they disappeared.  Before
that, it was an ABPSARI--the one Doctor Von Spleen was using when he,
Sajon, Shadebeam, and that TH1K1 robot showed up on Shoon-Ma's ship.
The upshot is... wherever they are now, they're out of this
storyline."
     Everyone paused to think of their comrades, stopping only when
they threatened to turn green with envy.
     "Why did it take so long to review the video?" Gham asked.
     "It didn't," said Benjen.  "It took that long to figure out how
to get their DVD burner going."  He held up a disc.  Jerriphrrt
grinned, and Gham swatted the back of his head.
     "We also got schematics for the entire complex," one of the Space
Marines, whose name tag said he was 'Corporal Rhedshart,' added.
"Everything seems centralized on a massive teapot in a central chamber
one floor down."
     "Er," said Gham.  "Teapot?"
     "I just read 'em, ma'am," the marine replied.
     "Right," Gham said with a sigh.  "Let's go see what we can screw
with."
     "Now there's a battle cry I can get behind," said Jerriphrrt.
     The trek to the central chamber was, to Gham, surprisingly
uneventful.  The complex seemed nearly deserted, and they had only had
to hide once, when a group of Kitchen Monks wheeled a sandwich trolley
past.  Soon, they were at an open doorway, where they beheld the inner
workings of the monks' lair.
     "Geez," whispered Benjen.  "They're putting away the sandwiches,
ain't they?"
     Indeed, the monks in the room were tucking into the sandwiches on
the trolley as if they were starving.  For all Gham knew, they had
been; they had probably been so focused on the upcoming apocalyptic
prophesied confrontation between Champions that they had forgotten
lunch.  She quickly picked out Sark Flyby (as described to her by Toni
Williams) from the group—the grey-skinned gnome's facial resemblance
to Freddie Prinze Jr. was as remarkable as his ability to polish off a
large portion of a ham-on-rye in seconds.
     Her eye then went to the one person in the room who was not
momentarily obsessed with food--if only because he was chained to a
mammoth teapot, out of reach of the sandwiches.  He was pressing his
fingers against several pieces of dangling cardboard.
     "Isn't that Bagelos, the Space Villain?" Jerriphrrt asked.
     "The same," Gham said.  "I wonder how he got roped into all
this."
     "Doesn't look like a willing participant," Benjen observed.
"Right, so what chaos shall we sew?"
     "None," a voice from behind them answered.
     "I think that's a counterproductive suggestion," said Jerriphrrt.
"What if we just ran in, waved the wetvac around, and yelled
incoherently?"
     "We'd shoot you," the voice replied.
     "You'd... what?" Gham asked.  She looked over her shoulder, and
saw that the three Space Marines who she had thought were behind her,
Jerriphrrt, and Benjen were no longer there.  Instead, six Soldier
Monks, each armed with mean-looking laser pistols, were in their
place.  The monk that had spoken grinned in an un-monk-like way.
     Gham put her hands up and entered the chamber, followed by her
companions.  The sandwich-eating monks looked up with no apparent
surprise.
     "Ah," said Sark.  "There you are.  I was wondering when you would
get here."
     "You knew we were here?" Jerriphrrt asked.
     Sark nodded.  "Yes.  Sadly, we're a bit short on personnel at the
moment, so we had to wait for you to come to us."  He paused.  "So,
what do you think of our operation?"
     "Aside from the way you wait for both prisoners and sandwiches to
come to you?" Benjen asked.  "It's certainly... competent."  He looked
around.  "What *is* it, anyway?"
     "Our captive, here," said Sark, "is re-asserting his control over
the cosmic-power-streaming process.  Which will allow us to reassume
control of Zark Flyby.  I *assume* that that is something you *don't*
want to disrupt, yes?"
     "Actually, yes," said Benjen.  Jerriphrrt and Gham gave him
strange looks.  "What?" Benjen asked.  "Toni said to disrupt whatever
he was---"
     "I, Bagelos, believe that I, Bagelos, have located him!" declared
Bagelos, startling everyone present and causing Sark to fumble the
sandwich he was holding.  Gham frowned as Bagelos continued to
manipulate the pieces of cardboard that were attached to the machine
that resembled a massive teapot.  To judge from the attitude of the
soldier monks, Bagelos was also a prisoner, though he seemed quite
unperturbed by this fact.  "Behold!" Bagelos declared.  "The video
screen!"
     They beheld the video screen.  It was having a difficult time
showing a clear picture of Zark Flyby, owing to the amount of bright
light and energy Zark was exuding.  There were two people in front of
Zark, one wearing a carrot-based outfit, the other appearing clad in
sticky fruit roll-ups.  Gham thought she recognized one of them.
     "That's Sajon, right?" Gham asked, indicating the cowering,
carrot-clad man.
     "Looks like," Benjen.  "And that's Doctor Bing Von Spleen.  I was
wondering if we'd see him again.  You know Shoon-Ma wanted him to
experiment on me to make his cosmic power pill?"
     "You covered that in the briefly summarized exposition two scenes
ago," Jerriphrrt reminded him.
     "Oh, yeah."
     "Well, villain?" asked Sark.  "Can you draw down Zark's power
now?"
     "I, Bagelos, cannot," Bagelos admitted.  "He has too closely
merged his consciousness with the cosmic energies.  Unless something
occurs to jar him from that identification..."
     "Hmm," said Jerriphrrt.  "Does this mean we can go now?"
     "No," Sark answered.
     "Aw."

                                -~-_-

     For a world at the center of violent cosmic melodrama, Ronald
Hastings thought, it certainly seemed peaceful.  The forest was
immense and not too difficult to traverse, the air slightly crisp
without being too cool.  There were a fair number of uprooted trees
lying about, he noted, which indicated that it had not always been
peaceful.
     Norman, who was hiking next to him, seemed a little winded by the
trek.  He was trying to hide it as best he could, though, helping
Kissy avoid muddy areas and over tree trunks.  Kissy, for her part,
rewarded his help with snide comments and imperious indifference,
showing a professionalism Ronald admired.
     "This has been some Senior Project, hasn't it?" Ronald asked.
     "If I'd known it would be this tough," said Norman, "I'd've built
a diorama of alien foreheads from the various Trek series."
     "Again?" Ronald asked.
     "It got me a passing grade in Exo-Anthropology 332," Norman
noted.  "I just wish... nah, nevermind."
     "What?" asked Kissy, who slowed to fall in between them.
     "My last heroic charge," said Norman, "didn't end up all that
heroic."
     Kissy sighed.  "It's hard to be heroic with a veteran around,"
she said, gesturing at Toni Williams, who was leading their group.
"But if it's any consolation, I think the way you charged that
Arachno-Newton was foolhardy, insanely suicidal, and shows you're
either very brave or have severe brain damage.  In other words, you're
a natural for being a Space Hero."
     "Thanks!" Norman replied, seeming pleased.  He considered Toni.
"Hey, Ronald, you ever get a chance to talk to her about... old
times?"
     Ronald winced.  He had hoped Norman had more sense than to bring
that up.
     "Oh, right, the crush," said Kissy.  "She said she didn't
remember you when we met her in the Nega-Cell.  And you didn't talk
much to her after we escaped to Mydrus."
     Ronald shrugged.  "No reason she should remember me.  We were
kids."  He opened his mouth to say something else, something along the
lines of 'now would you shut up on this topic before I do something
extremely unheroic to the both of you with a tree branch.'  But before
he could, a blast of brilliant yellow and white energy sheared through
the trees above and all around them.
     "Down!" Norman exclaimed, tackling Kissy as severed tree trunks
rained all around them.  Ronald tripped over them and rolled on the
mossy ground.  Trees thundered down for a few moments more, then
silence returned to the forest.
     "What... was that?" one of the Space Marines asked.
     "There!" Toni exclaimed.  "It came from that clearing!"  She
immediately demonstrated her own traits of bravery, foolhardiness, and
possible brain trauma by charging toward said clearing.  The Space
Marines followed, after a moment's hesitation and another moment's
well-contained freaking out.
     "Get off me, you oaf!" Kissy exclaimed.  Norman stood, then
helped Kissy up.  Ronald struggled to his feet on his own.  Something
seemed to be happening between Norman and Kissy, he thought.  The sort
of sparks between a Hero and an Ingenue that were known to endanger
galaxies.  Though Ronald had kissed Kissy not too long ago, there had
been no such sparks between them.  Perhaps, he thought, because his
mind was on someone else.
     Then Norman took a deep breath, puffed up his chest as heroically
as possible, and ran after Toni and the Marines.  Ronald ran after
him, determined not to look less heroic than Norman.  Kissy ran next
to him, weird little noises escaping her lips.  Ronald realized she
was priming her voice for some massive screaming.
     Soon, they burst into what could have charitably been called a
clearing.  Chunks of tree, ground, and foliage were everywhere.  Dust
and dirt were settling.  Ronald and Kissy had to come to a sharp stop
to avoid running into Toni, Norman, and the Space Marines.
     "What's going on?" Ronald asked, as he peered over Toni's
shoulder.
     "Zark!" Toni exclaimed, ignoring and answering Ronald at the same
time.  "How are you today?"
     To Ronald, it seemed an odd question to ask of the large, cosmic-
power-exuding biped--whom Ronald barely recognized as the Time Police
Commandant who had given him the files on the 'missing' Toni Williams
so many episodes ago--just ten yards away.  Confusion gave way to
understanding as he saw Zark's face screw up with intense
concentration as he tried to figure out the right answer.
     Before Zark were two guys Ronald remembered from his time on
Freedonia Five--Doctor Bing Von Spleen and Sajon.  Like Norman, they
were clad in theoretically edible garments, though Ronald strongly
doubted any appetites in the vicinity were desperate enough to take a
bite.  He remembered what Benjen had said about Sajon supposedly being
Shoon-Ma's Chosen One and/or Champion, and how his prophesized
confrontation with Zeta Ricola Beta's Champion and/or Chosen One (aka
Zark) would lead to universe-wide cosmic carnage.  Sajon was hardly
looking cosmic at the moment, though.  Perhaps the situation could yet
be salvaged.
     "Von Spleen," said Toni.  "And you, other guy.  Get over here
while he's trying to---"
     "I AM HAVING A VIOLENT DAY," Zark said.  He seemed pleased with
his answer.  "I AWAIT SHOON-MA'S CHOSEN ONE, SO THAT I CAN BE VIOLENT
AT HIM."
     "Speaking of floaty things," muttered Sajon, "where did TH1K1
go?"
     Ronald decided that, if he was going to save the universe and get
an A on his Senior Project, he would have to tap his Inner Kirk and
step up.
     "That's a logical inconsistency, Zark!" he declared.  "You can't
be having a violent day if you're waiting to be violent!"
     "Yeah!" Norman added.  "So you have to self-destruct now!"
     Toni groaned.  But Zark seemed to be seriously considering their
words.
     "KILL," said Zark.  His eyes flashed, and the ground in front of
them erupted.  Ronald went flying back into the woods.  Kissy
screamed, causing everyone, including Zark, to wince.
     "You can't kill!" Sajon insisted.  "I'm not Shoon-Ma's Champion
yet, and I won't be until I consume Doctor Von Spleen's pink pill,
which is now permanently and forever lost in the forest!"
     "Hello!" a new voice called.  "I think I found it."
     A four-foot tall buglike biped with feelers, tentacles, antennae,
and a well-polished harmonica emerged from the undergrowth, carrying a
pink pill with one of phis feelers.  Sajon appeared flummoxed.  Von
Spleen was dumbfounded.  Kissy screamed.  Toni slapped her forehead.
     "Quooth," said Von Spleen, identifying the alien Wzaxtil.  Ronald
remembered phim also from Freedonia 5.  "What the hell are you---"
     "I escaped Daaksvong to find you," Quooth interrupted, phis
tentacles quivering.  "I received a warning from friends Shadebeam and
Slithis, just before they left this altiverse.  You, friend Sajon,
must not consume this pill!  It is the only way to prevent universal
apocalypse!"
     "Well, then," said Toni, as she essayed a few steps closer.
Ronald remembered reading that she had psi powers, and wondered if she
was planning to use them--though she had gotten along very well
without them while battling the Arachno-Newtons.  "Thank goodness you
found it so that he could be tempted."
     "You're welcome, friend Toni!" replied Quooth, master of not
perceiving sarcasm.  "Here you are, friend Sajon!"  Phe placed the
pill in Sajon's unresisting hand.  "I am so glad I arrived in time to
give you this warning!"
     "Well... then," said Sajon, eyeing the pill with trepidation.  He
then looked at Zark, then at Von Spleen, then at the forest beyond.
The fact that so little of the forest was visible in the crowd
surrounding Sajon, and so much of Zark was all but in his face, seemed
to Ronald to be weighing heavily on him.
     "Sajon..." said Von Spleen.  "My apprentice.  My assistant.
My... friend..."
     "No way, Doc," said Sajon.  "I'd rather... whumff!"
     For such a scrawny, clean-complexioned guy, Ronald thought, Von
Spleen could *move.*  Von Spleen's swung his hand in such a way that
it caught the back of Sajon's hand, causing the pill that had been in
the palm of said hand to fly directly toward Sajon's mouth.  There had
been stories... nay, legends... of Von Spleen's prowess at the
drinking game of quarters, but as the pill shot into Sajon's mouth,
Ronald had to admit there was something to his ability to bank a shot
just right.
     Space warped.  Space shook.  Space did the lambada, which was
forbidden.  Ronald felt his insides go jelly-like for a second before
solidity returned.  Before anyone could comment, Von Spleen followed
up his slap with a punch to Sajon's gut.
     The pill flew out, glistening with Sajon's saliva.  Von Spleen
reached for where it would be--
     --and closed his fingers on empty air, as the pill deflected off
of Ronald's fingertips.
     "Needlewarp!" both Von Spleen and Ronald exclaimed.
     "I've got it!" Toni yelled, only to miss as Sajon lunged after
the pill and deflected it off of his fingertips.  Quooth tried to
catch it with his feelers, succeeding in only knocking it aside--
     "KI--" Zark started to bellow, only to gag a bit as the pill flew
directly into his mouth.  Everyone watched, aghast, as Zark swallowed
it.
     A hush fell over the forest.
     The angry glow that had been rising from Zark grew more intense,
and was soon joined by odd bolts of lighting and a massive rumbling
from deep within Zark that, Ronald guessed, was not merely a cosmic
burrito on its way to backfiring.
     *KILL.*
     The word rang in their minds, while Zark's grin grew broader and
more portentous.
     "Well," said Von Spleen, "that's the last time I try *that.*"

WILL VON SPLEEN TRY *THAT* AGAIN?
WHAT DID HE HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH *THAT*, ANYWAY?
WILL JERRIPHRRT AND HIS TEAM FIND A WAY TO INTERVENE?
WILL THEY GET TASTY SANDWICHES?
WILL SHOON-MA GET HIS REVENGE?
WILL LUCKY GET CATNIP?
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE _CHALLENGER III,_ ANYWAY?

Find out, we hope, in the next plausibility-rupturing episode of
Universal Solvents, a SFSTORY production on the SUPERGUY mailing list.

Why won't they look?
--
Copyright (c) 2011 Gary W. Olson, All Rights Reserved.
--
Gary W. Olson      swede at garywolson dot com
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