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Sfstory Log 117

=========================================================================
Date:         Sat, 31 Dec 2011 12:34:59 -0500
From:         swede at garywolson.com (Gary)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #24

                         UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                        (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                             Episode 24
                               "Lime"
                                 by
                            Gary W. Olson

     (Author's Plug: Right, for those of you who don't know, my 
      first novel was published just a month ago by Damnation 
      Books.  It's called _Brutal Light,_ and if you fancy weird 
      dark fantasy verging on horror, check out the book trailer, 
      blogs, interviews, and other such tomfoolery for it at: 
                  http://BrutalLight.GaryWOlson.com
      It's a lot less silly than what follows, I assure you.)

                                -~-_-

     It had been a good run, Captain Steve Vogel reflected.  Sent from 
Earth to discover a solution to the 'Spammymon Z' plague, he and the 
crew of the _Challenger III_ had faced down overzealous Goornashkans 
and prophecies of universal destruction.  They had made a daring 
stealth approach to the heart of a planet's security net, tricked them 
into opening teletransport gates to a far-off star system called Zeta 
Ricola, and stylishly evaded the incredibly beweaponed space armada in 
that system while on their way to the second planet from the sun, Zeta 
Ricola Beta.  They had even taken the news that a renowned Space Hero, 
Buzz Williams, had taken care of the 'Spammymon Z' problem for Earth 
while they had been out and about with remarkably good grace and a 
minimum of embarrassed facepalming, all things considered.  But the 
good run was just about over.
     "Capital ships closing in," Commander Jean St. Thomas informed 
him, her fingers flying as she brought up images of approaching space 
battleships on the central screen.  Vogel appreciated the view--the 
monks that designed them, being also accomplished video game creators, 
had made them exceptionally striking to look at, though Steve was at a 
loss to understand the functionality of piling what looked like an 
orchard's worth of synthetic cherry blossom trees around and about all 
the major gun turrets and missile launchers.  Did symbolically tragic 
cherry leaves float all that well in the vacuum of space?
     Something else then caught his attention.
     "What... *is*... that?" Steve asked, aghast.
     "I... oh," said Thomas.  She touched her workstation screen, and 
on the big screen, a window that had been displaying a document 
suddenly acquired a signature and then disappeared.  "Sorry, I was 
just updating my last will and testament.  Always was meaning to do it 
before..."
     "And what are you leaving to me?" asked J. Michael Spaulding, who 
was seated at Thomas's left elbow.  He pulled out a cigar from 
somewhere within his over-ornamented blue uniform.  "Your stamp 
collection?  Your stocks and bonds?  Tell me it's your prize 
autographed copy of Donald Trump's face!  I need a coaster."
     "Getcher last testament kits'a here!" called Spaulding's fellow 
stowaway, Chicobaldi.  The former Freedonia 5 security chief, scruffy-
looking even in a standard Earth blue space-force uniform, was seated 
at a makeshift stand, waving a fistful of paper around.  Next to him, 
stowaways Zacko and Zeppus Coleslaw were accepting cash and poultry as 
payments.  "One'a size'a fits all!  No money willa be refused!  
Guaranteed ta lasta you th' rest'a you life."
     "Captain Vogel!" Thomas exclaimed.  "We're surrounded!"
     "I know," Steve sighed.  "Just think, in a few more moments, the 
space armada will relieve us of this problem..."
     "I was *talking* about the armada," Thomas noted.  She glanced at 
Spaulding, who was waggling his eyebrows at her.  "But I take your 
meaning.  What should we do, sir?"
     "Our engines are fine," said Steve, "but they've outmaneuvered 
us.  Our weapons systems are down.  Our shields are down.  LiveJournal 
is down.  There's only one thing to do... open up a communications 
channel with the enemy fleet..."
     "Communications are down, too!" Thomas exclaimed.
     "Really?" asked Spaulding.  "Have you tried counseling?"
     "Enemy weapons systems are about to fire," Thomas reported.  
"This is... wait!"
     "Always she tells us to wait," said Spaulding, clutching his 
chest.  "If I have to wait any longer, I may have to do something 
drastic--like give these guys some money."  He gestured at Chicobaldi, 
Zacko and Zeppus.
     "You canna trust us widda money, boss," said Chicobaldi.  "We'a 
at least as'a trustworthy as'a Trump."  Chicobaldi grinned.  "That'a 
Trump, he's a card, no?"
     Zacko honked his horn.  A mass of orangish-brown hair flew out 
and landed on the table, where it evaded Zeppus's attempts to swat it 
with a chicken.
     "I mean wait," said Thomas, "because ships are coming in, hot out 
of overly-hyped space!"
     Steve gaped as more ships appeared in the depths of space.  Eight 
heavy cruisers bearing the insignia of the Time Police--and explicitly 
not bearing any ornamental trees of any kind--wasted no time in firing 
on the armada of the Zeta Ricola Betans.  Their laser and disrupter 
strikes were surgical, neatly putting engines out of commission and 
slagging weapons turrets.  Space around the monks' armada was 
momentarily clouded by fake cherry tree leaves.
     After a few minutes, a group of soldiers appeared in a transmat 
flash on the bridge of the _Challenger III._  Vogel yelped and 
scrambled behind his chair, before observing that they were not space 
monks and were therefore probably on his side.  In the midst of the 
troops--who wore the black-and-silver insignia of the Time Police 
SWATH (Special Weapons Against Temporal High-Jinks) division--was a 
man Steve belatedly recognized--by virtue of the extreme datedness of 
the design of his electric blue-with-gold-buttons-and-striping 
jumpsuit--as one of the most famous Space Heroes in the universe.
     "Is everyone all right here?" asked Buzz Williams, sounding much 
more authoritative than anyone who looked older than Larry King had 
any right to.  "Where is the Captain?"
     "I'm the Captain!" Steve and Spaulding simultaneously shouted.
     Williams glared at Spaulding, before a smile broke over his 
elderly face.  "Spaulding!  It's been a long time, old friend!  You 
still owe me a cigar!"
     "But... but... *I'm* the Captain!" Steve petulantly exclaimed.  
"And how did you make it through the hyper-mumbo-jumbo-energy-
tesseract that surrounds this system?  And who even told you that we 
were here in the first--"
     "Sirs!" Thomas interrupted.  "I'm picking up a huge power surge 
from planet Zeta Ricola Beta, in the area where we sent Toni 
Williams's party."
     "Toni's down there?" asked Buzz.
     "Communications are down, too," said Spaulding.  "It's been a 
pretty depressing day, all told."
     Steve petulantly chewed his lower lip, but said nothing.  
Instead, he watched the screen, and wondered if they had been rescued 
from the frying pan, only to fall into the fire.

                                -~-_-

     *KILL.*
     Quooth Thiiksi frowned.  The sentiment mentally expressed by phis 
friend Zark Flyby seemed entirely at odds with what phe had believed 
would happen when phe gave phis friend Sajon the pink, cosmic-power-
bestowing pill phe had found in the forest.  As phis no-longer-in-the-
altiverse friends Slithis and Shadebeam had instructed, phe had warned 
Sajon--whose tutu-made-of-carrots had seen much damage that day--not 
to ingest the pill, else it would transform him into the ur-bagel 
Shoon-Ma's Champion, forcing him into a prophesized universe-
shattering showdown with planet Zeta Ricola Beta's Chosen One, Zark 
Flyby.  Surely, Quooth had thought, such a warning was sufficient to 
avert universal catastrophe.
     Yet, immediately following the warning, an awkward series of 
events had transpired that had caused Sajon to get his saliva on the 
pill, only to lose said pill when it went flying in the air after Dr. 
Bing Von Spleen punched him in the gut.  Von Spleen's objective had 
apparently been to claim the cosmic power for himself, but instead, 
the pill went into Zark Flyby's mouth, amping Zark's already high 
levels of cosmic energy to nigh-pants-wetting levels.  Now, instead of 
preventing universal disaster, it seemed well on its way to happening.
     Around phim, an assortment of Space Heroes reacted to this sudden 
and unwelcome development.  Toni Williams, Norman Sassafras, and 
Ronald Hastings had weapons aimed at the violently glowing Zark, 
though they had not yet fired.  Kissy Hitowers's scream had grown so 
high-pitched that Quooth could no longer hear it, though it was 
causing small sounds to slip from his Holy Harmonica.  Von Spleen had 
tried to run away, only to slip on the hem of his fruit-roll-up robe 
and fall.  And Sajon...
     Sajon was smiling.
     *KILL,* Zark repeated.  The light coming off of him in red, 
orange, and white waves grew even more intense, only matched by the 
rising heat.
     "Zark," he said.  "Congratulations."
     "What do you mean, friend Sajon?" Quooth asked.  "He has consumed 
the pill meant for you."
     "Exactly," Sajon replied.  "That means, in addition to being the 
Chosen One of the monks of Zeta Ricola Beta, he is now also the 
Champion of Shoon-Ma."
     "Thus guaranteeing the destruction of the universe," snapped 
Toni.  Quooth thought she sounded rather upset.
     *KIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL...*
     "But the prophecy," Sajon went on, "still must be fulfilled.  
Right, Zark?"
     *KIIIII... ER, YES?*
     "The Chosen One of Zeta Ricola Beta," said Sajon, "must fight the 
Champion of Shoon-Ma.  It is written."
     Light continued to blaze from Zark's body.  Everyone watched, 
waiting for Zark's reaction.
     *MAN.  WHAT?*
     "Therefore!" Sajon exclaimed, pointing a finger at Zark.  "You, 
Zark Flyby, must fight... yourself!"
     Quooth watched Zark absorb the statement.  Others around phim 
slapped their foreheads, emitted low groans, screamed (Kissy), or 
tried to crawl away (Von Spleen).  Quooth thought phe understood why--
surely, even a friend such as Zark, who was reputed to be unable to 
outwit a log, could see through the fallacy in Sajon's statement.
     Zark snorted.
     *YOU'RE TRYING TO TRICK ME.*
     "Um," said Sajon.  "Yes?"
     Zark snorted again.
     *I KNEW--HAH!*
     Zark swung a mighty, cosmic-power-trailing fist... and punched 
himself in the face with it.  His entire body rocketed over Quooth and 
the others, and landed in a pile of tree trunks.
     *HAH!* Zark telepathically yelled.  *CAUGHT ME BY SURPRISE!  NOW 
TAKE THAT!  AND THAT!*
     "Really," said Toni.  Quooth recognized the look on her face as 
what humans called 'flabbergasted.'  Zark continued punching himself, 
pausing only to grab his left ankle and pull it behind his back.  He 
fired devastating blasts at his own chest.
     *OH!  SO STILL FIGHT IN ME!  HA HA!  EAT PROPHECY, ME!*
     "It may be a good idea," said Ronald Hastings, "to allow Zark 
some... um... room to work all this out."
     "How long do you think it'll take," Norman Sassafras asked, 
"before he realizes he's doing something really stupid?"
     Kissy stopped screaming, and took a few breaths.  "How long does 
it usually take?" she asked.
     Then Zark landed a solid punch to his own sternum, and went 
careening into the forest, causing a further rain of tree trunks.
     "Zark may be focused on fighting himself," Toni observed, "but 
he's still expending a lot of cosmic energy.  He could destroy this 
entire world without even realizing it."
     "What about the power flow?" Von Spleen asked.
     Quooth considered the doctor, who had hauled himself up to his 
feet with Sajon's reluctant help.
     "What do you mean, friend Spleen?" phe asked.
     "The monks on this planet were feeding him energy in a controlled 
fashion," Von Spleen noted.  "At least, that's how it looked to me.  
But a fight such as what is occurring now must be causing some huge 
feedback in their control center, wherever it is."
     Far away, a small mushroom cloud suddenly erupted.
     *OW!* they heard Zark's telepathic voice yell.  *NO SUB-ATOMIC 
FUSION BOMB BLASTS BELOW THE WAIST, ME!*
     "You're right," said Toni, as she lifted her wrist to her mouth 
and tapped her wrist-transceiver.  "Toni Williams to Gham and 
Jerriphrrt.  Are you receiving me?  Over!"

                                -~-_-

     Bagelos's concentration grew intense.  He put aside the fact that 
he was a prisoner of the monks that ran Zeta Ricola Beta, and that he 
was now deep within the underground complex the monks called 
Daaksvong, forced to try to re-establish control over the power flow 
to Zark Flyby.  The spamological pill that Zark had consumed had had 
the perverse effect of making him much more powerful, but also much 
more vulnerable.  As he had previously told Sark Flyby, the leader of 
the monks, he could only re-establish control for them if something 
happened to disrupt the identification of Zark's consciousness with 
the cosmic energies from the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of Time; 
swallowing Von Spleen's pill had done exactly that.
     "If only that buffoon would stop hitting himself," Bagelos 
snarled, "I, Bagelos, would be able to control the flow!  As it is, it 
is all I can do to keep the feedback from overloading this machinery!"
     The machinery in question was the teapot-shaped contraption that 
the monks used to channel the energy Bagelos had conspired with Shoon-
Ma to steal from before the dawn of time.  Already, the pseudo-
cardboard Proofs attached to the teapot had begun to smolder.  The 
Fiber--formerly the secret heart of the _Universal Solvent,_ the 
wretched ship he had come to this world in--was leaking lime-colored 
light through jagged cracks.  And with every blast Zark directed at 
his own body, it grew worse.
     "We really ought to get out of here," opined one of the prisoners 
the monks had recently captured.  Jerriphrrt, Bagelos remembered.  An 
anthropomorphic feline--a Calican--from another altiverse.  "I don't 
think he can pull this off."
     "It seems unlikely," added Gham, another prisoner.  She appeared 
human, though the small horns poking through her long black hair 
belied this.  Bagelos was mildly disappointed that the plum-colored 
janitorial monk robes she had stolen to wear kept anything else from 
poking out.  But it was her statement that really exasperated him.
     "Ha!" Bagelos exclaimed.  "I, Bagelos, shall show you all!  I 
will take control of the cosmic power, and then I, Bagelos, will be 
the ruler of the uni... hey, that's not a wetvac."
     "You're right," said the third prisoner, a brown-haired fellow 
named Benjen.  Another member of Gham's race, he guessed, as he had 
similar nubbish horns on his brown-haired head.  He waved the hose-end 
of the wetvac-that-was-not-a-wetvac in the general direction of the 
monks, hampered only by the fact that his hands were tied behind his 
back.  "Tell 'em what it really is."
     "It's an ABPSARI," Bagelos said.  "Automatic Beet-Peeling Sub-
Atomic Re-Integrator.  It spontaneously changed forms after its last 
use."
     "How the needlewarping hell can you tell?" asked Sark Flyby.  The 
grey-face, Freddie-Prinze-Jr.-lookalike gnome did not sound entirely 
convinced.
     "I, Bagelos, am infused with cosmic perceptions right now," 
Bagelos reminded him.  "That may look like an ordinary wetvac, but if 
anything other than beets or spam goes into that hose, some really 
strange and unlikely events are bound to occur.  Why was he not 
relieved of that instrument when he was captured and bound?"
     The soldier monks in the room immediately looked down and started 
scuffing their feet.  Megabot, the large and occasionally-menacing red 
robot that had been through many masters and was for the moment 
obeying Sark, hovered a bit lower to the ground, while his one red 
ruby eye pulsed sheepishly.  "We don't get a lot of prisoners," one of 
the soldier monks admitted.  Sark groaned.
     Benjen edged closer to the sandwich trolley, upon which a few 
sandwiches left over from the monks' lunch remained.  He placed the 
nozzle next to a ham-on-rye and grinned.
     "It's up to you," Gham said.  "For all we know, the ABPSARI could 
turn this entire world into a replica of Gavin MacLeod's head."
     "And you with it," Sark pointed out.
     "That's the chance we're willing to take," Jerriphrrt noted.
     "Ha," said Bagelos.  "I, Bagelos, do not believe you.  I, 
Bagelos, recognize you as three of the group formerly known as the 
Renegade Anarchists.  We met on the space station Freedonia 5, 
remember?  You are no Space Heroes!  Running away is more your style!"
     "Well spotted, sir," Benjen said.  "Now how about you lot set us 
free so we can go about doing th--"
     The underground complex shook with tremendous force.  Bagelos, 
plugged into the grid, knew at once that it was because Zark had 
slammed his own head into the side of a mountain, while simultaneously 
blasting his own nipples with mind-melting (though apparently not 
nipple-melting) cosmic force.  Though that had occurred far away, the 
vibrations had still reached them.
     Bagelos became aware of a high-pitched whirr.  It lasted several 
seconds before ceasing.  He looked at Benjen again, and was 
simultaneously deeply-dismayed and not surprised to see the remains of 
the sandwiches around the edges of the ABPSARI nozzle.  Nothing 
remained on the sandwich trolley.
     "Benjen!" Gham exclaimed.
     "What did you do?" Sark asked, his eyes wide with horror.
     "It was an accident!" Benjen exclaimed.  "Bagelos was right, I 
was totally bluffing!"
     Bagelos could perceive the ABPSARI processing the sandwich.  
Then, an enormous pulse went through them all--and the cavern went 
dark.
     "Oh, poopie," said Jerriphrrt.
     Red lights came up.  Bagelos realized something was different, 
though it took him a moment to realize what that was.
     "My connection is gone!" he exclaimed.  "I, Bagelos, am cut off 
from the cosmic power!"
     Sark rushed over to the instruments, which were the only sources 
of non-red light in the control chamber, and which clearly had an 
internal emergency power source.
     Bagelos heard someone else's voice now, crackling through a tiny 
speaker.  "Toni Williams... (sqwwlllkkzzzz)... and Jerriphrrt.  Are 
you rece... (ffzzzzwwzzzz)... Over!"
     "I can't respond," Gham said.  "The send button on my 
transceiver's busted."
     "This is strange," said Sark.  "The cosmic energy flow has been 
cut off.  That stupid machine of yours somehow undid the circuit you 
created, villain, and now all that's left is the power within Zark."  
He considered the readings some more, and frowned.  "What's more, the 
cosmic spamological energy he absorbed from the pill is negating the 
power from before the dawn of time.  Zark is literally beating himself 
powerless!"
     "Incredible!" Bagelos exclaimed.
     "You're telling us," said Jerriphrrt.  "The resolution to this 
crisis is even more unlikely and contrived than the crisis itself."
     "There must be some way of getting the power back," said Sark.  
"Villain, if you lay hands directly on the Fiber, surely you can re-
establish your link!"
     Bagelos considered the Fiber, which was now emitting violent 
pulses of lime-green energy and was convulsing in an unhealthy-looking 
manner.
     "Hmmm," said Bagelos.  "I, Bagelos, possibly could."  He reached 
toward the shifting, melting rock, then paused.  "Or, I, Bagelos, 
could say no needlewarping way and get the heck out of here!"
     "Warning," a masculine voice echoed over the room's speakers.  
Bagelos, who had been about to make a mad dash for the nearest exit, 
knowing full well he stood little chance of making it, froze in his 
tracks.

                    "Destruction is time:  
                     a flower in the warp stream;  
                     all is red nectar."

     "What was that?" asked Benjen.
     "It sounds like..." Gham started.
     "The self-destruct haiku!" Sark exclaimed.  "The cosmic energy 
feedback must have triggered it!  We don't have much time!"
     Bagelos's feet unfroze, and he launched himself at the nearest 
exit.  The monk guarding it made no move to stop him.  He nearly 
reached it, only to find 'nearly' was not good enough.  A metal plate 
slammed down in front of him, nearly crushing his toes.  He stumbled 
back, his uncovered eye wide.
     "Now what?" Jerriphrrt asked.
     "Now we die!" Sark yelled.
     Bagelos spun and regarded the others.  His attention was drawn by 
the wetvac ABPSARI Benjen held.
     "Oh, no," said Benjen, divining Bagelos's thought.  "Besides, 
there aren't any sandwiches left."
     The warning voice from the speakers spoke again.

                    "Time is illusion,
                     explosion is unpleasant:
                     kiss your cheeks and sigh."

     "There is something else that must go into your machine," Bagelos 
told Benjen.  Benjen's eyes went wide when Bagelos indicated what the 
something was.

                                -~-_-

     The explosion came from a completely different direction than 
Kalvin Certain expected.  The orange and yellow and black cloud rose 
above the trees, and seemed strangely out of place against all the 
weird meta-cosmic violence that had been going on to that point.
     "That was about where the Daaksvong complex was," said Shoon-Ma.  
The floating ur-Bagel seemed rather pleased with this news.  "I am not 
certain what has happened, but it seems that the monks have been dealt 
a crippling blow.  Von Spleen's idiocy may have cost me my desired 
revenge upon the universe, but at least Bagelos's and Baconos's 
conspirators have also failed.  I... hwwwwow!"
     Shoon-Ma dipped sharply, nearly landing in a bush.  Kalvin had 
noticed that his power had become erratic ever since Zark Flyby had 
started trying to pound the crap out of himself.
     "Zark is losing power," Shoon-Ma managed to say, confirming 
Kalvin's suspicions.  "As... am I.  He has been cut off from the power 
before the dawn of time.  The circuit is shattered.  And I..."
     Kalvin adjusted what remained of his bacon toga.  Everything he 
had worked for, conspiring long and hard hours while ostensibly 
working for Vino the Three-Headed Yak, now lay in ruins.  Shoon-Ma, 
who had also been watching the action with Zark from a distance, and 
who had for a while been forcing Kalvin to do his bidding, no longer 
seemed like a power to be obeyed.  There was no reason to stay.
     He took a single step back, and Shoon-Ma whirled on him.  Why a 
floating bagel should take the time to whirl, Kalvin did not know, but 
whirl he did.  Shoon-Ma floated up to his face, radiating menace.
     "You," Shoon-Ma seethed, "shall remove me from this world.  I 
have yet enough power to fry you, and I shall if you fail me.  Rest... 
assured..."
     Shoon-Ma dipped again, and that was all Kalvin saw of him before 
he turned and fled at maximum speed into the forest.
     "Get back here!" Shoon-Ma roared, and Kalvin knew that the bagel 
was flying after him with every ounce of force it could still muster.  
Energy splashed against a tree trunk very close to his head, but this 
only compelled Kalvin to try to force extra speed out of his legs.
     Suddenly before him, he saw a massive, black-furred form, with 
hungry eyes and enormous open jaws.  He stumbled and slid to the 
ground.
     "Kalviiiiiin!" Shoon-Ma yelled.  "I will get y--"
     The rest of the exclamation was lost as Shoon-Ma the ur-Bagel 
flew directly into the jaws of the beast.  The beast's eyes bugged 
out, surprised, and it gulped out of pure reflex.  Kalvin thought he 
heard Shoon-Ma cursing from within its stomach.
     He recognized the creature now.  It was a six-foot-tall-at-the-
shoulder mutant black cat that had accompanied Toni Williams and her 
crew.  He had seen it briefly during the struggle against the Arachno-
Newtons.  Toni had named it 'Lucky.'
     Next to Lucky hovered a small-toy like robot with the word 
'TH1K1' on its side.  It emitted a high-pitched series of squeals.
     Lucky burped.
     "Right," said Kalvin.  "Thank you for the... assist, I guess.  
I'll just be on my..."
     Lucky looked down at him and growled.  Kalvin backed up.  Lucky 
maneuvered so that Kalvin would have to move to his left to keep 
backing up, then growled again.
     The robot gleeped some more.  For a paranoid instant, it sounded 
to Kalvin as though it was encouraging Lucky to tear his throat out, 
then realized that, being a heroic sort of toy robot, it was clearly 
urging Kalvin to surrender, and move in the direction Lucky wanted him 
to go.
     Lucky leaned down and ripped a good portion of Kalvin's bacon 
toga off.
     "Um... white flag?" Kalvin asked.

                                -~-_-

     "Confirmed, _Challenger III,_" said Toni into her transceiver.  
"Glad you were able to get your comm systems... um... cheered up, did 
you say?  Well.  Looking forward to hearing all about it.  See you 
within the hour."
     "So what's going on?" Norman asked.
     "Buzz and a fleet of Time Police ships showed up," said Toni.  
"They iced the Zeta Ricola Betan armada and rescued the _Challenger 
III._  What's more, they say the cosmic emanations from this planet 
have entirely ceased.  Zark's somewhere in the Kaldak Mountains trying 
to outwit himself by covering himself in mud and staying very still.  
The Daaksvong complex blew up, and what soldier monks we've run into 
since then seem in no mood to fight.  Somehow... and I have no idea 
how we managed it... we won."
     "Hell of a senior project," said Kissy Hitowers, who was a few 
feet away, repainting her fingernails.  Norman wondered if the sonic 
force of her screams had chipped the paint.  "I'd hate to see what 
your Master's thesis looks like, Norman."
     "I suppose so," Norman answered.  He supposed he should try for 
something more in the way of heroic repartee with his contracted space 
ingénue, but the weight of all that had happened over the last few 
days felt all of a sudden like lead.  He couldn't even bring himself 
to feel embarrassed over only having on a velour shirt and pants made 
out of beets.  "As long as it ends as well, I guess I don't mind."
     Kissy glanced up at him and smiled.  "Me neither, hero," she 
said.  Norman felt his face redden, but did not fall back, as was his 
wont.  Nor did he wonder what Kirk would do in this situation.  He was 
too exhausted to do either.
     "Hey, Kissy," he said, "when we get back to Interstellar 
University and I can cash my pudding stocks to pay the balance of your 
contract, would you be willing to... um... go out with me?"
     Kissy looked as surprised to be on the receiving end of this 
question as he was to realize he had asked.  Moreover, she looked as 
if she was seriously considering her answer.  He guessed she was as 
tired and loopy as he was.
     "Norman, I--"
     At that point, she, he, and most everyone else in sight were 
surprised when Kalvin Certain, naked save for a g-string made of 
bacon, emerged from a thick clump of foliage.  He was being followed 
by Lucky, who had a smug look on his mutant feline face.  Floating 
above them both was TH1K1, who was emitting a long stream of squeals 
and bleeps that to Norman sounded like very vexed cursing--which only 
proved to him how tired he was, as Sajon had told him all about what a 
heroic robot TH1K1 was.
     "I surrender," said Kalvin, sounding tired, "to whomever you lot 
are... ah!  Norman!  So you survived after all.  Capital.  Can you 
take me into custody before this... animal... eats my last bit of 
clothing?"
     "I'll handle this," said Toni.  "Kalvin Certain, by the powers 
vested in me by the Time Police, you are *so* under arrest..."
     "Lucky, are you okay?" asked Kissy, as she moved to the mutant 
feline's side.  "You look ill."
     "He ate someone who disagreed with him," Kalvin said.  "Ur-bagel. 
Shoon-Ma."
     Lucky opened his mouth in a yawn, and Norman swore he heard some 
feeble cursing.  Lucky then punched his own stomach a few times, and 
the cursing subsided.
     "Hey, guys!" he heard Ron Hastings call from nearby.  "It's Gham 
and the others!  They made it!"
     Ron, Sajon, and Dr. Von Spleen parted to allow Jerriphrrt, Gham, 
Benjen, Bagelos, Sark Flyby, and Megabot through to their clearing.  
All seven looked like they had absorbed their weight in explosive 
soot, and looked as tired as Norman felt, but they were alive 
nonetheless.  Benjen was carrying something that looked like a wetvac.
     "Hey, guys," said Jerriphrrt.  "The marines with us didn't make 
it.  Nor did the few monks who stayed behind in Daaksvong, except for 
Sark here."
     "Right," said Sark.  "Who do I surrender to here?"
     "Line forms behind me," said Kalvin.
     "Like I want to be looking up at your oily pink tuckus?" asked 
Sark.  Megabot, whose allegiance had once again shifted, floated 
behind him and nudged him forward.  Sark snarled, then sighed.
     "We got out of the underground complex," said Benjen, "after 
Bagelos here got the idea of feeding the Fiber into this ABPSARI.  It 
teleported us to the surface, whereupon we ran like hell and got under 
some cover just in time."
     "That's... my APBSARI?" Dr. Von Spleen asked.  "What did you do 
to it?"
     "It transformed itself," Gham told him.  "Long story involving 
the cosmic goinking of two friends of ours.  Ben's got a DVD if you 
want to see how it happened."
     Von Spleen took the ABPSARI from Benjen, who appeared glad to be 
rid of his burden.  He followed Megabot and Sark over to where Norman, 
Kissy, Lucky, Kalvin, and Toni were.
     "I'm going to have to deactivate it," said Von Spleen.  "It's too 
dangerous to use in this condition.  They were very lucky it saved 
your asses when they fed that fiber into it."  Norman watched as Von 
Spleen set it on the ground and started examining it.  "By the Great 
Space Bong!  It's entirely rewired itself to produce enormous 
contrivances to advance the plot!"
     "Is that really bad?" asked Toni.
     Von Spleen shrugged.  "No more or less than the usual random 
disasters that happen whenever it is fed inappropriate fuel.  Of 
course, now that the plot is winding down, it could get tricky.  Here, 
let me just see if I can force it into safe-mode so I can deconstruct 
it in a lab on one of the Time Police ships..."
     All of a sudden, Lucky started making horking sounds.  Kissy 
stood, stumbled back, and would have fallen if Norman had not caught 
her.
     "Take cover!" Kalvin yelled.
     "Not on me!" exclaimed Sark, trying to hide behind Kalvin.
     Lucky then emitted a tremendous HORK, and Shoon-Ma flew out of 
his mouth.
     "Free at last!" the ur-Bagel exclaimed.  "Now, I shall take 
revenge for this latest indigniAAAAARGGHHH!"
     Shoon-Ma struck the funnel of the ABPSARI and was instantly 
snorked inside.  The wetvac immediately started flashing some weird 
and funky colors.  Norman thought he saw its shape changing again, 
becoming strangely snakelike.
     "Oh, needlewarp," said Von Spleen, with as much resignation as 
anything else.  Then he and the ABPSARI disappeared in a flash.
     Norman, along with everyone else, watched the empty space, 
expecting Von Spleen to reappear at any moment.  When this failed to 
happen, Toni spoke.
     "Don't worry about 'im," she said.  "I'll have to talk to Buzz 
about this, but this may explain some contradictory elements in Von 
Spleen's known history.  In the meantime, keep your guard and watch 
for the _Challenger III's_ skiffs."
     Lucky coughed a couple times, snarled, then went off in search of 
some grass to chew.  Megabot hovered behind Kalvin and Sark while Toni 
set up their electro-bonds.  TH1K1 flew over to Sajon and Ronald, all 
the while sounding to Norman as if he was grumbling.  Jerriphrrt, 
Gham, and Benjen listened to Bagelos as the space villain made what 
sounded like a business proposition to them.  Quooth polished his Holy 
Harmonica.  It seemed to Norman like everyone was accounted for now, 
except...
     "Ahem," said Kissy.  Norman realized she was still where she had 
fallen, right into his arms.  He tried to set her upright, but she 
made no effort to leave.
     "Er, Kissy..." he started.
     "Coffee when we get back to I.U.," she said.  "Maybe some 
clubbing as well."
     Norman thought he understood.  More than one girl had threatened 
to club him, often before he said anything to her.
     Then Kissy kissed him, and the universe suddenly became a much 
nicer place.

SO... IS IT REALLY OVER?
HOW DID BUZZ WILLIAMS AND THE TIME POLICE CAVALRY GET THROUGH THE 
     HYPER-MUMBO-JUMBO-ENERGY-TESSERACT THING TO SAVE THE DAY?
WHERE DID VON SPLEEN AND THE ABPSARI GET OFF TO?
WILL JERRI, GHAM, AND BENJEN HAVE TO HITCH A RIDE WITH THE TIME 
     POLICE?
WILL LUCKY HAVE TO DRINK AN ANTACID?

Find out in the series-ending epilogue of UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS, coming 
'soon' to SFSTORY, a wholly-owned subsidiary of... SUPERGUY!

Yay!
--
Copyright (c) 2011 Gary W. Olson, All Rights Reserved.
--
Gary W. Olson      swede at garywolson dot com
Gary on the Web:   http://www.garywolson.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:         Sat, 25 May 2013 16:42:59 -0500
From:         swede at garywolson.com (Gary)
To:           superguy at lists.eyrie.org
Subject:      SF: Universal Solvents #25

                         UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                        (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                             Episode 25
                               "Gold"
                         (the series finale)
                                 by
                            Gary W. Olson

                                -~-_-

     The world around Bing Von Spleen seemed more-or-less the same as 
it had been, but he immediately saw that it was not.  The verdant 
forest around him was undamaged, and mighty trees--which only hours 
ago he had seen broken to pieces by the titanic cosmic energies 
expended by Zark Flyby--stood tall and proud.  The sky was a slightly 
darker shade of blue, and held more clouds.  An asp was considering 
his exposed thigh, something he was quite sure had not been the case 
only a few seconds ago.
     "Yipes!" he exclaimed, as the last fact sunk belatedly into his 
consciousness.  An instant before the asp lunged, he jumped back, 
twisted in midair, and hit the ground running.  The remains of his 
fruit-rollup cloak fluttered behind him as he streaked (in multiple 
senses) through the trees.
     As he ran, he considered recent events.  He had been in a 
clearing with Toni Williams and a large number of other combatants on 
planet Zeta Ricola Beta in the battle to prevent the Breaking of the 
Fast at the Dawn of the Universe.  Through a slew of spectacularly 
contrived and unlikely happenings, combined with willful stupidity of 
cosmic magnitude, that event had indeed been prevented, and the 
energies prophesized as the doom of the universe were capped.  The 
device that powered so many of those contrived, unlikely, and stupid 
happenings, the ABPSARI (somehow changed into a wetvac), had been in 
his hands, and he had started to shift it into 'safe mode' in 
preparation for the erratic device's deconstruction.  Then Lucky, the 
six-foot-tall-at-the-shoulder mutant black cat that had eaten one of 
the authors of the drama--the ur-bagel Shoonma--horked up said ur-
bagel right into the ABPSARI nozzle.  The ABPSARI transformed into an 
asp, of all things, and it and Von Spleen had been consumed in a 
flash... and wound up here.
     'Here' seemed to Von Spleen likely to be planet Zeta Ricola 
Beta, though not of the time he had only recently inhabited.  As a 
semi-regular voyager with time travelers such as 357, he was not 
particularly fazed by this realization, though he was considerably 
annoyed.  Past or future, it would be a challenge to find a way 
offworld, to someplace with decent food, clean clothes, and quality 
mind-altering substances.
     He looked over his shoulder, and emitted another yelp.  The 
ABPSARI-asp was slithering through the foliage after him, moving at 
speeds he was almost sure snakes were not known for achieving.  Why 
it should be fixated on him, he did not know... although, as the 
Earth's foremost Spamologist, it might have been because of all the 
Spamological radiation he had been exposed to over the years.  He 
resolved that he was not so curious about the answer as to stop 
running, and in fact picked up his pace.
     Moments later, Von Spleen burst into a broad clearing, in which 
rested a silver starship that was about thirty-five yards long from 
nozzle to thrusters.  Its landing ramp was down, and two figures near 
it stood conversing, oblivious to his approach.  One figure was 
short, grey, wore gold robes, and had a face that bore a strong 
resemblance to that of Freddie Prinze Jr.  The other was a heavyset 
man in a retro-gold-and-black spacesuit, who looked only vaguely 
familiar.
     Von Spleen didn't pause to identify the figures, as he was too 
busy sprinting past them and up the ramp.
     "Hey!" the space-suited man exclaimed.  "You can't go in there!  
I, Baconos, future overlord of the universe, forbid i--*gaaaaaaaah!*"
     "Sssss," said the asp-ABPSARI, as it removed its fangs from 
Baconos's right calf.  It appeared dazed, as if it had run into the 
Space Villain by accident, and had reflexively bitten him.  The other 
figure, who Von Spleen now recognized as a younger version of Sark 
Flyby--one of the rulers of Zeta Ricola Beta in the future he had 
come from--took several brisk steps back.
     Before the asp could resume its pursuit, Baconos expressed his 
displeasure by shooting it with his DIESCUM laser pistol.  The 
ABPSARI vanished in a neutron haze.
     Von Spleen, peering around the edge of the hatch, watched as 
Baconos looked up to consider him.  When Baconos toppled onto the 
grass, nearly landing on Sark, Von Spleen decided he had seen enough, 
and pushed the 'close hatch' button.  He then went to the cockpit and 
pushed a sequence of 'launch the ship and get the hell out of here' 
buttons.
     As the blue haze of the sky was replaced by the starry darkness 
of outer space, he contemplated his future, which now, it seemed, 
included roughly forty years of his past.  He'd have to avoid himself 
for those forty years, to avoid causing paradoxes and/or explosions 
of his person(s).  But that would be easy enough.  All he had to do 
was think of where to go first, and where would be a good place to 
hide during times when he might otherwise run into himself...
     (Which pretty much worked out for the next forty years, up until 
the events of the HMS Golden Lance series, in which the now-elderly 
Von Spleen (or just 'Spleen', as he signed his last name by then) got 
re-involved in many exciting semi-heroic exploits despite himself.)

                                -~-_-

     Still on Zeta Ricola Beta, but back in the 'current' time (i.e. 
less than half a day after the end of Universal Solvents #24), 
Captain Steve Vogel stood on the deck of the earth ship _Challenger 
III,_ watching two vessels depart on the main viewscreen.  One was a 
Ford Pinto, a converted-for-interstellar-travel vehicle owned by a 
couple of Interstellar University senior students.  The other was a 
decidedly shoddy and rusty saucer-shaped craft bearing the name W.S. 
_Universal Solvent_.
     "Looks like they're on their way," said Toni Williams, the Space 
Hero who had taken charge of the battle on Zeta Ricola Beta and 
sorted out the aftermath with remarkable patience.  "I'm told that 
repairs to your starship are also completed, and you can depart at 
any time."
     "Ah, good," said Steve.  "I'm a bit surprised the _Universal 
Solvent_ could still fly, given that its primary power source, the... 
um..."
     "'The Fiber,'" Toni supplied.
     "The Fiber," Steve repeated.  "I'm surprised their ship can fly 
without it.  Of course, going visually, I'm surprised it could fly 
*with* it..."
     "We replaced the Fiber with a standard n-core Spam-pod," Toni 
replied.  "Did some light reconfiguring of its power relays.  It 
should last them a while."
     Steve nodded.  "It was... interesting, traveling with them.  
Wonder what they're going to do next?"
     "Hard to say," said Toni.  "What are *you* going to do next, if 
I may ask?"
     "The _Challenger III_ is returning to Earth," Vogel said.  "Buzz 
Williams took care of Earth's 'Spammymon Z' problem for us, and now 
that this excitement is done with, we have no reason to be out and 
about."
     Just then, the turbolift doors opened, and four uniformed 
figures spilled out, apparently in the midst of a high-speed chase 
that had been only momentarily interrupted.
     "Stop that man!" exclaimed Captain Spaulding.  "He's committed 
an act of treason!"
     "But I was just pretending I was taking pictures of the ship's 
power plant!" Zeppus Coleslaw replied.  "Honest!"
     "That's'a why he'a said it was an act'a treason," Lt. Chicobaldi 
scolded.  "If you wasn't'a acting, he would'a just called it'a 
treason!"
     Lt. Zacko honked his horn and chased Zeppus about the bridge.  
He then noticed Toni, and attempted to give chase to her, which she 
managed to fend off by placing a firm hand against his forehead.  
After letting him run in place for ten seconds, she spun Zacko around 
and sent him running to the lift.  Chicobaldi and Zeppus followed.  
Steve fumed, silently and effeminately.
     "It's been a pleasure seeing you again, my dear," said 
Spaulding.  "Last time I saw you, you were this high."  He held out a 
hand at waist level.  "Next time, lay off the drugs."  With a tip of 
his cap, he raced to the lift, just before the doors closed.
     "I'm also looking forward to getting them off this ship," said 
Vogel, after a heavy sigh.  "Fortunately, I was advised this morning 
that their space station, Freedonia 5, is now fully repaired and is 
being towed from the Moon to a La Grange point orbit around Earth."
     "I can see how that's a relief," Toni answered.
     The lift door opened again, this time disgorging Cmdr. Jean St. 
Thomas, Buzz Williams, Kalvin Certain, Lucky, Megabot, and an elderly 
man in a retro-futuristic silver jumpsuit.  The energy shackles 
around his wrists indicated the old man was a prisoner, but unlike 
fellow prisoner Kalvin, whose wrists were also shackled, the old man 
seemed in high spirits, and was animatedly conversing with Buzz 
Williams.  Jean St. Thomas seemed markedly annoyed, however, and 
split off from the group as soon as she could.
     "They're ready to transfer back to the Time Police vessel 
_Zenyetta Mondatta_," she said, as Lucky padded over to his spot next 
to the captain's chair and settled down.  Then she lowered her voice. 
"Now, sir, please.  I don't think I can take another old story from 
those two."
     "What?" Toni asked.
     "I was just getting to the part about the giant fire ants of 
Raknos Six," said the old man.  "I... oh, hello, Captain, I don't 
believe we've met.  I'm Satik."
     "A Sonar Man?" asked Steve.
     "Quite," Satik replied.  "I was just telling your Commander 
about a particular time I was trying to kill Buzz Williams, here, 
back... oh, several decades, I think..."
     "Twenty-eight years," Williams supplied, as he scratched his 
chin in thought.  "Right after I nearly caught you helping the Space 
Pirates of the Chartreuse Nebula..."
     "I don't remember... wait.  Was that where I tried to feed you 
to the Giant Basset Hound of Arctos?"
     "No, that was a year before... I think..."
     "I'm quite ready to get out of here," said Kalvin Certain.  "In 
fact, I'm not sure I wouldn't object to just being beamed into space 
at this point."
     "Nonsense!" said Buzz, clapping Certain on his back.  "You 
haven't even heard how Satik and I ended up having to form a 
temporary alliance to fight off the rise of Death Lord Randlak's Frog-
Yams on Beta Targon.  You want to be a Space Villain, after all, and 
how're you going to do that if you don't have a good grounding in the 
history of Space Villainy?"
     Kalvin responded by making small strangulated sounds and 
shutting his eyes.
     "Mr. Satik," said Steve, "I understand it's you we have to thank 
for the Time Police arriving in the nick of time to save this ship?"
     "Right, right," Satik replied.  "After those fellows, Ronald and 
Norman, and their Space Ingenue... Kissy, was it?... yes... after 
they were captured by this fellow's 'Team E' henchmen...'  He tilted 
his head at Kalvin Certain.  "...well, they'd left their spacegoing 
Pinto on the space station we were on.  That whole mini-adventure we 
had in capturing them was the last straw for me.  I was done working 
in the sales shop for those arrogant young fools that Sonar Men are 
these days!  So I tracked down the Pinto, hotwired it, and took off, 
determined to recapture my glory days!"
     "So what happened?" asked Toni.
     "He was red-flagged by the security system on Talmot's 
Asteroid," Buzz noted.  "They reported his capture to the Time 
Police, I came out to take him in, and heard his story.  From that 
and the information Toni relayed to me over the past year, I 
immediately deduced where everyone was headed--that is, here--and 
assembled a Time Police fleet."
     "I'd had some prunes and fiber just before Ronald and Norman 
showed up," Satik explained, looking somewhat sheepish.  "And the 
Pinto's waste facility was both distasteful and... er, offline.  So I 
had to stop somewhere."
     "Speaking of stopping somewhere," Kalvin interjected, "may we go 
now?  I've never looked forward to a solitary cell so much."
     "Satik's just with us temporarily," Buzz explained.  "Our 
bargain was his information for his freedom.  We'll drop him off at 
the trade station on Cephelos IV."  A smile then lifted his wrinkly 
cheeks up.  "Until then, though, he'll have the solitary cell next to 
you, Mr. Certain.  I'll be down, of course, to talk some more about 
the old days..."
     Kalvin absorbed this news, and responded by making more tiny 
strangulated sounds.
     "Everyone ready, then?" Toni asked.  Buzz and Satik nodded.  
Kalvin grunted.  She turned to Steve.  "Goodbye, Captain Vogel.  
Hopefully we'll meet again soon."
     "The pleasure's mine," Steve replied, in a tone he hoped was 
more suave than effeminate.  He then stepped back as Toni tapped her 
wrist-transceiver.
     "_Zenyetta Mondatta,_" Toni said.  "Four to transmat, identified 
by beacons.  Acknowledge."
     "Acknowledged," came the reply.  Toni, Satik, Buzz, and Kalvin 
then gradually disappeared from the bridge in a haze of cheap-looking 
special effects.
     "Well, then," said Steve, after a few moments silence.  "Time to 
head to Earth, then."
     "Aye, sir," said Commander St. Thomas.  "Er, sir, what about..." 
She finished by pointing to a space just behind Steve.
     "Lucky seems to have shown no ill effects from eating and then 
tossing up an ur-bagel from the beginning of time," said Steve, as he 
glanced at the massive shaggy pile of black fur.  Lucky paused in the 
un-unseeable act of bathing himself long enough to give him a 
disdainful snort.
     "I meant..."  She pointed again.
     Steve stifled an effeminate shout, having not realized that 
Megabot was hovering so closely behind him.  The massive, menacing 
red robot hummed as innocently as it could, its single crimson eye 
slowly pulsing.
     "Er, yes," said Steve, rallying to take command of the 
situation.  "Megabot.  I received your crew application.  I... 
suppose, being down a good number of crewmembers, we do need a bit of 
support in security."
     Megabot bobbed happily at the news.
     "So... um... Security Crew... bot Megabot," said Steve.  
"Welcome aboard.  For your first task, um..."
     "Alert," chimed the _Challenger III's_ computer system.  "Floor 
wax deployed on level 4.  Floor wax deployed on level 4.  All 
personnel warned to be cautious."
     Steve grimaced, then looked at Jean St. Thomas.
     "Spaulding, I'll bet," he said.  St. Thomas nodded.  Steve 
looked back up at Megabot.  "Right, then.  Your first task... subdue 
Spaulding and his crew and sit on them until we're back in Earth 
orbit and we can get them back to their space station."
     Megabot's head whirled--Steve presumed out of delight--and it 
and the rest of the robot bolted for the lift.  As soon as Megabot 
was gone, St. Thomas gave Steve a questioning look.
     "It'll keep both him and them busy," Steve said.  "I hope."
     She nodded.  "Orders, then, Captain?"
     "Time to head home," said Steve.
     "Alert," chimed the computer, "New security robot on level 4 has 
been temporarily blinded by fire containment foam.  Do not approach 
him or comment on how his foam has been sculpted to look like a 
corset."
     "Past time," Steve added.
     "Oh, yes sir," Jean answered.

                                -~-_-

     Meanwhile, on the spacegoing Pinto, still in 'current' time (or, 
as current as time can be in overly-hyped space) Ronald Hastings set 
the Pinto's controls on automatic and leaned back in his seat.
     "Captain's log," Ronald said, while the computer cleverly 
disguised as a battered stereo tape deck recorded his words.  "We 
should be arriving at Time Police Academy in six hours, forty-one 
minutes.  Our mission to rescue Commandant Zark Flyby was a 
resounding success.  He is now comfortable and unconscious in the 
trunk of this vehicle, with all traces of the earlier cosmic powers 
he displayed gone.  Once the Commandant has been returned to Time 
Police Academy, we will return to Interstellar University, where my 
crew and I will turn in our report on the successful conclusion of 
this Senior Project."
     The man in the passenger seat, a self-styled hero named Sajon, 
glanced in the back seat.
     "Should your crew add anything to the report?" he asked.
     Ronald looked in his rear-view mirror.  In the Pinto's back 
seat, his crew--a.k.a. his best friend, Norman Sassafras--was having 
an earnest, whispered conversation with the space ingenue--Kissy 
Hitowers--they'd hired to assist them at the start of the project.  
Somehow, despite the general unlikelihood of the connection and the 
specific disavowal that such a connection might even happen in the 
contract they'd signed, romance had blossomed between Norman and 
Kissy, a fact that Ronald regarded with absolutely no jealousy 
whatsoever.
     "Er," said Sajon, "you're crushing your steering wheel."
     Ronald blinked, and removed his hands.  Sure enough, the parts 
of the wheel where his hands had been were thinner and somewhat 
mangled looking--which was more of an indicator of the quality of 
Pinto parts than Ronald's hand strength.  He sighed.
     "It can be a frustrating life, being a Space Hero," said Ronald. 
"I'm sure you can identify with that."
     "I'll say," Sajon answered.  "I don't suppose you know any cute 
women at Interstellar University, do you?  After giving it some 
thought, I've decided it's time to really apply myself to becoming a 
Space Hero like you."
     Ronald experienced, at that moment, the new thrill of actually 
being looked up to.  He gave his best, most Kirk-like grin before 
replying.  "As it happens, I'm graduating soon, but if you're looking 
for mentors, I think we can handle that.  Right, Norman?"
     "Hmmm?" asked Norman.  "Oh, um... sure."  He went back to 
whispering.
     Just then, the Pinto violently shuddered.  The boring grey 
expanse of overly-hyped space did not change, per se, but Ronald 
thought he saw the Pinto's hood quiver.  Sajon saw it as well.
     "Um, looks like that came from the trunk," he said, as he looked 
over the viewscreen built into what had been the glove box.  "Should 
it be doing that?"
     The Pinto shuddered again.  Kissy screamed.
     "Kissy!" Norman exclaimed.  "It's all right!  Toni's engineer's 
upgraded the trunk to hold a Mark VI U-SLEEP-NAO time dilation 
capsule.  She figured just in case Zark's tranquilizers weren't 
strong enough, it'd keep him from causing damage.  It's got to be 
something else..."
     Kissy screamed.
     "Kissy!" Norman exclaimed.  "What is it?"
     Kissy blinked.  "Oh... I've just always found 'something else' 
to be worth screaming about.  Professional instinct."
     Just then, 'something else' squirmed out from between the rear 
seat cushions.  Kissy screamed, on principle.
     It was a small robot that resembled a wind-up toy.  As it 
floated up and away from Kissy and Norman, it emitted a long series 
of gleeps and squeaks.
     "Hi, TH1K1!" Sajon exclaimed, plucking the robot out of the air 
and giving it a warm embrace.  TH1K1 added a low series of 
electronic noises that, to Ronald, had a sort of ominous tone.
     "What's going on?" he asked.
     "TH1K1 must have been investigating what was causing the noises 
back there," said Sajon.  "I'm sure he must have fixed i... uh oh."
     "Uh oh?" asked Ronald.
     "There's been a sort of... um... containment breach... thingie," 
said Sajon.  "Zark's kind of gotten... out."
     There was silence as everyone considered this news.
     A second later, there was ear-clutching as everyone who was not 
Kissy tried to consider this news while avoiding being deafened by 
Kissy's screams.
     Ronald thought... what would his hero, Captain James T. Kirk, do 
in this situation?  Kissy would probably object to being made out 
with, at least by him.  He couldn't get back into the trunk while the 
Pinto was in overly-hyped space, and he strongly doubted that karate-
chopping Sajon or Norman would help matters, as tempting as it felt.  
Shatner had always made it seem so *easy*...
     He paused.  *Shatner.*  Of *course!*
     "Computer!" he yelled.  "Activate emergency CD archive!  
Playback area confined to Trunk Level!  William Shatner!  I am the 
Walrus!"
     "Working," said a voice from the Pinto's stereo deck.  Moments 
later, the mellifluous sounds of William Shatner singing "I am the 
Walrus" drifted from the trunk.  Everyone who had removed their hands 
from their ears immediately clapped them back again.
     More violent thumps came from the trunk.  Sajon watched the 
readout, then said something.
     "What?" asked Ronald.  He risked removing a hand from his right 
ear.
     "Zark has gone unconscious," Sajon said.  "I don't think his 
mind could cope with the sheer atonality."
     "Computer," said Ronald, "volume down to one quarter level.  
Return to previous level if subject in trunk shows signs of 
consciousness."
     "This is Zark we're talking about," Kissy noted.
     "Okay," said Ronald.  "Signs of awakeness, then.  Got that, 
computer?"
     "Affirmative."
     Sajon let out a sigh of relief.  TH1K1 let out a series of 
squeals that Ronald could have sworn had a sour tone, as if the robot 
had deliberately sabotaged the containment unit in an attempt to kill 
them all--something Ronald knew could not be the case, given what a 
good, loyal bot TH1K1 was.
     "Quick thinking, Ron," said Kissy.  "Zark could've easily 
destroyed this craft."
     "That's right," Norman affirmed.  "Hey, you think we should get 
those under-seat tele-transport modules we were talking about as a 
backup safety system?  I know they're expensive, but..."
     "I think we should," Ronald agreed.  "With all the money we've 
made in trading in pudding futures, we can easily upgrade the hell 
out of this Pinto, or buy ourselves a real kickass starship."
     Norman grinned, then turned back to Kissy.  TH1K1 rested in a 
cup holder, looking as if he was sulking about something.  Sajon 
started humming a tuneless tune, prompting Ronald to put on the 
radio.
     *sqlllrrrrk* "--in financial news, investors are panicking today 
as pudding futures collapse on the interstellar trading exchanges, 
wiping out fortunes in the blink of an eye.  News from the Zeta 
Ricola Beta system confirms that, with the collapse of the governing 
monastic authority, the system's control of the pudding market has 
also collapsed, as former officials cashed in their shares to buy 
legal representation--" *sqlllrrrrk*
     Silence reigned in the car for several moments.
     "I *do* hope the check you guys wrote me cleared," said Kissy.
     Ronald sighed.  "Computer... check our finances."
     "Working."  Computery sounds came from the stereo speakers for 
six seconds.  "Last check cleared was check to Miss Hitowers."
     "Current balance, computer?"
     "Working."  More computery sounds ensued, but only silence 
followed.
     "Computer?"
     "Laughing."  Computery sounds came.  "Ha ha ha ha ha."
     Ronald sighed.  Norman sighed.  TH1K1 perked up a bit.
     "I don't suppose," he said, "there's been a pickup in hiring of 
Space Heroes, has there?"
     "Still laughing.  Ha ha ha."
     "Don't worry, Ron," said Norman.  "It could be worse.  Someone 
could get the idea to completely reboot the Star Trek movie series, 
overthrowing decades of continuity to show the Enterprise crew as a 
bunch of twentysomethings who don't sweat all that heavy philosophy 
stuff while they go around blasting enemies and getting undressed 
around one another."
     Ronald and Norman shuddered at the very idea.
     "It'll never happen," said Ronald, glad there was at least one 
constant in life he could hold on to.  He set the controls, leaned 
his seat back a bit, and settled in for a nap.  The Pinto continued 
flying through overly-hyped space toward its destination, and for a 
time, all was well.

                                -~-_-

     Elsewhere, also in overly-hyped space in 'current' time, the 
Warp Ship _Universal Solvent_ flew along, its n-core Spam Pod 
efficiently and quietly converting Spam to power.  On the bridge, its 
crew members were conducting an important ceremony, one that would 
have important ramifications for the future.
     "You've got to find more credit chips!" Benjen insisted.  "How 
are you going to gain entry to Madame Latrelle's House of Illicit 
Ways to Abuse Bubble-Wrap?"
     "Yeah," said Gham, as she made marks on a scorecard.  "Barbados, 
Planet of Physical Delights is many things, but 'cheap' isn't one!"
     "I, Bagelos, am convinced your couch does not contain any more 
change!" the Space Villain named Bagelos declared.  "I, Bagelos, am 
also convinced that I, Bagelos, have found all the credits in every 
junk drawer, storage hold, and empty pizza box on this vessel.  How 
can there be any more?"
     "Friend Bagelos," the wzaxtil named Quooth said, "fear not!  
From what we have been told, we have far to go in the art of shaking 
down our surroundings for loose change.  Friends Gham, Jerriphrrt, 
and Benjen are masters!"
     "Slithis was the best at it," said Jerriphrrt, as he sipped from 
a beer he was holding with his prehensile furry tail.  "I'm pretty 
sure the volume of change he was able to get out of that couch over 
the years exceeds the actual size of the couch..."
     "I wonder how he's doing now," Gham mused.  "Him and Shadebeam."
     "As I told you," Quooth answered, while fiddling with phis Holy 
Harmonica, "they went through a cosmic portal to altiverse 
000SUPERGUY, to the point where the ABPSARI originally pulled friend 
Shadebeam to our altiverse, 001SFSTORY."
     "That doesn't tell us what happened after," Benjen noted.  
"We'll have to work on getting in touch with them, in between rubdown 
sessions in the Mind-Expansion Saunas of the Southern Desert."  He 
looked at Gham's notes.  "Which at the moment seem well beyond our 
ability to afford."
     "I believe I know of a way to help," said Quooth.  Bagelos, who 
knew what forms the wzaxtil's help could take, immediately dove 
beneath the table that Gham, Benjen, and Jerriphrrt were seated 
around.
     The tune that came from Quooth's Holy Harmonica only seemed, on 
the surface, like a Bruno Mars song as rendered by tubas, chainsaws, 
and weasels in heat.  It was only later that Quooth explained that it 
was his people's Song of Added Value, which had been written as a 
paean to the virtues of social marketing and the spiritual delights 
of search engine optimization.
     When Quooth was done, phe put the Holy Harmonica down and 
started feeling about the couch.  Phe soon pulled out several credit 
chits.
     "Hey," said Bagelos, "you never told me you could do that."
     "When we were on the Planet of Casinos," Quooth answered, "there 
seemed no need.  After all, money was all around."
     "These chits, combined with our other monetary resources, have 
enough credit on 'em to buy us a landing berth for four days," said 
Jerriphrrt, as he examined them.  "Plus suitable accommodations, 
libations, and recuperations."
     "I was hoping for more than four days," said Bagelos.
     "There's always the pay-with-work program," Gham noted.  "Which 
is not as fun as it sounds--that's how they get people to do all the 
necessary, not-physically-delightful work of keeping a planetary 
economy going."  She smiled, a faraway look in her eyes.  "Though 
they had some really big... compensation packages."
     Jerriphrrt snorted.  She stuck her tongue out at him, then 
grinned.
     "Here's an idea," Benjen interrupted.  "How about we take all 
this money, here, and... go someplace else."
     Bagelos, Jerriphrrt, and Gham regarded him as if he had grown a 
nipple on his forehead.  Quooth began cleaning phis Harmonica.
     "I mean it," said Benjen.  "This ship's not likely to last much 
longer, especially now that the cosmic fiber-thingie that we never 
knew was in it in the first place keeping it all together is gone 
now.  When it goes, so does our space salvage business.  Maybe we... 
well, maybe we ought to start thinking about where we're really going 
from here."
     "I, Bagelos, am going to conquer the universe," Bagelos 
declared.  "Is that what you're talking about?"
     "Well, sort of," said Benjen.  "I mean, it's all well and good 
to *say* you're going to conquer the universe, but that's doesn't 
tell you much about what to do with your last 323 credits."
     "One of my conquest plans requires with a mere 6.3 billion 
credits to buy a used asteroid-redirector..."
     "So what is *your* plan, friend Benjen?" asked Quooth.
     "Yeah," said Jerriphrrt.  "What's your big idea?"
     Benjen grinned.  "Entertainment!"
     Silence, and much blinking, followed.
     "I mean," Benjen went on, "we get in with one of the big 
entertainment channels, like the Extra-Sensory Perception Network.  
You and me, Jerr, we used to work in that field when we were in 
000SUPERGUY.  What we do is we get some work at a regional branch 
for some local sim-news outlet, maybe editing or signal-gathering, or 
something like that, build up some real cash, and then strike out on 
our own."
     "What?" asked Gham.  "How is that different from now?"
     "I mean, launch our own concept!" Benjen raved.  "A new channel, 
or an entertainment idea no one's ever conceived of yet!  We'll make 
billions!  What do you say?"
     More silence followed.
     "I, Bagelos, think my idea's more realistic," Bagelos said.
     "I don't think that's going to be my road," Gham told him.  "As 
for my husband..."
     Jerriphrrt shook his head.  "I can't see it.  I was glad when we 
left that life before... it's not something I want to go back to."
     "I expect to fulfill my quest," Quooth noted.  "And possibly 
appear in a music video with Beyonce."
     Benjen nodded, as if he had expected these reactions.  "It 
sounds like this may be... it.  We're all going to go our separate 
ways at long last.  No more adventures together.  No more saving the 
universe, or high-flying adventures desperately trying to evade 
horrifying monsters or cosmic-powered morons or three-mile-wide pies 
or what have you.  It's over.  Finis.  The end."
     Gham nodded. "That's about the size of it."  She looked at 
Jerriphrrt, who smiled and took her hand.  "Which means the planet we 
land on next is likely to be our last, as a group."
     "And I, Bagelos, just got here," Bagelos grumbled.
     "Pardon, friends," said Quooth, "but, given that all this is 
true... does that not mean our next destination *should* be Barbados, 
Planet of Physical Delights?"
     "Er..." Benjen started.
     "After all," Quooth went on, "if we are to go our separate ways 
soon, should it not be on a world dedicated to making any occasion as 
pleasurable as possible?"
     Benjen thought about this.  The others did as well.
     Moments later, the _Universal Solvent_ was on course for 
Barbados, and the couch--and everyplace else on the ship--was getting 
a considerable what-for in the search for the Last of the Loose 
Change.

                                -~-_-

     "...and that's why I have this," said Jerriphrrt, as he gestured 
to the free-floating Justin Bieber head about three feet above him 
and two feet to his left.  "A souvenir from our last visit to 
Barbados, for which the money we got from selling the _Universal 
Solvent_ for scrap only just covered the treatment expenses.  
Fortunately, it only comes out around this time of year--it's just a 
little warped patch in the sky the rest of the time.  That's why, 
when we have The Talk with our kids, I'm going to make sure they know 
how to play safely to avoid contracting an S.T.B."
     Benjen scratched his goatee.  He looked at the floating Bieber 
head.  "S.T... B?"
     "Never mind that," said Gham.  "How've you been, dear?  It's 
been thirteen years since the last scene, and we're so glad you were 
able to come to this, our reunion picnic, here at our home on Vilamix 
III."  She exhaled.  "Wow... exposition's harder than I remember."
     "Not doing bad," Benjen answered.  He adjusted the collar of his 
expensive-looking silk tunic.  "Bit hotter here than I'd imagined."
     "Have some beer," said Jerriphrrt, handing him an unlabeled 
bottle.  "I brewed it earlier this summer."
     They drank, while surveying the fields that ranged beyond 
Jerriphrrt and Gham's enviro-dome home.  Some were dedicated to crops 
of various kinds, while others were grasslands where cows, sheep, and 
potatoes grazed.  (Vilamix III is famous for the quality of its farm-
bred, ambulatory potatoes, the creation of a Space Villain with too 
much free time on his hands and not enough oxygen getting to his 
brain.)  Three adolescents--Jerriphrrt and Gham's children--were 
riding six-legged horses and chasing one another a few fields over.
     "You've done well for yourselves, too," said Benjen.  "Seems 
really peaceful here."
     "Managing these lands isn't as easy as it looks," said Gham.  
"Even though it's mostly keeping the robots that do the work in line, 
and a lot of accounting and marketing.  Plus some of the orders we 
receive from our Social Media Overlords are kind of strange."
     "Huh," said Benjen.  "And I said Bagelos's Real Life Farmville 
idea would never work.  How is he, by the way?"
     "Working on step two of his plan to conquer the universe," 
Jerriphrrt answered, after taking a swig.  "It's the first time ever 
he's had enough money to get beyond step one of any of his plans, and 
he's discovering it's not so easy to keep a deadly space armada 
supplied as he thought.  Last I knew, he'd rented out his personal 
death cruiser to the Koch Brothers in order to replenish his stock of 
planet-destroying missiles."
     "Ron, Norman, and Sajon stopped in a few months back," Gham 
said.  "They've tracked Dark Lord Abrams through several galaxies, 
and they're pretty sure they'll catch him soon.  Kissy and her sons 
were with them, and you would not believe their screams..."
     "Heard anything from Quooth?"
     "Last e-mail we got said phe was back on phis homeworld," 
Jerriphrrt replied, "having finally completed phis larger quest.  Of 
course, phe never said what that *was*, exactly.  Dr. Spleen went 
through a convoluted series of adventures with time agent 357, and 
survived them mostly intact and occasionally sober.  Steve Vogel 
recently retired from captaining the _Challenger III_.  The space 
station Freedonia 5 is still in orbit around Earth, though I think 
Captain Spaulding and his crew have wandered off.  Buzz and Toni are 
still about, keeping galaxies safe from Space Villains.  Kalvin 
Certain's directing a holo-miniseries of his life story from prison.  
Zark Flyby retired from the Time Police Academy and went back to Zeta 
Ricola Beta..."
     "That explains all those news stories about people fleeing that 
system," Benjen interrupted.
     "Quite," said Jerriphrrt.  "And... that's all I can think of, 
off the top of my head.  Gham?"
     "We still haven't heard from Slithis or Shadebeam," she 
answered.  "I wonder..."  She stopped, on seeing Benjen's sudden 
grin.  "Okay... what do you know, mister?"
     Benjen reached into his coat pocket.  "Well, you all know how I 
made *my* fortune, right?  By marketing viral videos of cats doing 
cute and/or strange things?"
     "If by 'cats' you mean 'nubile sentients of various species and 
genders wearing cat-ears, cat-tails, and nothing else,' then sure," 
Gham said.
     "Well," Benjen went on, "I took my initial profits--after paying 
back all I owed to Madame Latrelle on Barbados--and bought a small 
company that was doing some very keen work on making inter-altiversal 
communication a functional reality.  It's not easy, but we've made 
strides in making it both portable and only slightly insanely energy-
consumptive.  And thanks to the Sage, and a few of our old friends 
still in the holovision business back in 000SUPERGUY, I was able to 
get some receivers down to the version of Earth over there, and... 
well, just look."
     The disc, which was about the size of a coffee saucer, hovered 
in the air after Benjen withdrew his hand.  Above it, light shimmered 
in a variety of funky colors, finally resolving into holographic 
shapes.
     "Amoeba, amoeba, amoeba," Gham and Jerriphrrt chanted.
     "Hush, kids," said Benjen.  "It's syncing now... ah."
     Abruptly, the hazy shapes resolved into two holographic people.  
One was that of a human female of Asian descent, with long blonde 
hair, sharp eyes, and a smoker's mouth that seemed etched with a 
knowing smirk.  The other was of a reptilian humanoid with scales 
that continually shifted color.  After blinking a couple times, it 
became clear that they could see right back at those viewing, because 
they immediately started screaming.
     "No!" Benjen exclaimed.  "It's not really Justin Bieber!  It's 
just a phantom floating Bieber head!"
     They stopped screaming and considered this.
     "How does that make it any less scary?" asked Slithis, the more 
reptilian of the two.
     "Man," said Shadebeam, the more mammalian of the two, "we should 
not have done this the morning after the end of Burning M00se."  She 
shook her head.  "So, how's tricks, you guys?"
     "Great!" Jerriphrrt answered.  "I... um, how long do we have, 
Ben?"
     "These are powered by micro pink holes," Benjen said.  "They're 
beta models, so they'll probably only last a couple days, but once 
we're up and running--"
     "Pink holes?"
     "Super-dense spam," Benjen said.  "Dr. Spleen's invention.  
Massive quantities of spam subjected to gravitational implosion.  So 
powerful that not even putridity can escape."
     "Well, then," said Gham.  "Let's never mind that.  What's been 
going on?  Slithis, what's going on with your scales?"
     Slithis nodded, as if expecting this to be the first question.  
"You're never going to believe this..."

SFSTORY.  It may stop, but it never ends... just like... SUPERGUY!

                                -~-_-

Author's afterword: 

     Thank you for reading these tales.  Hard to believe, but 
Sfstory's been around for over 26 years now (the last 13 of which 
I've been working on this serial).  This is, most likely, the last 
thing I'll write for Sfstory (though not necessarily for Superguy), 
which may explain why it took me so long to finish.  (Actually, I was 
busy writing other things.  But we can pretend, can't we?)  I'm 
hoping it's not the last anyone writes for SFStory.  But either 
way... we had a good run, eh?
     Don't forget, these stories are archived on my Sfstory site: 
http://sfstory.garywolson.com .  I can't promise this archive will be 
around forever, but I can promise that as long as I draw breath and 
can pay my web hosting bill, it will be.  (When I become a cyborg and 
no longer need oxygen, though, all bets are off!)
--
Copyright (c) 2013 Gary W. Olson, All Rights Reserved.
--
Gary W. Olson      swede at garywolson dot com
Gary on the Web:   http://www.garywolson.com/
Sfstory Archives:  http://sfstory.garywolson.com/
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