LNH: Beige Countdown #9 (3/9)

EDMLite robrogers72 at gmail.com
Fri Apr 26 05:35:08 PDT 2013


                       Chapter Three:
                      Eat, Prey, Love


     "What do you think they're talking about?"
Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy asked, weaving his way through
a roving carpet of obsequious robots as he approached
Girlwatcher.  One of the robots offered him a votive
candle, but he ignored it, trying to shoo the robot
away.  The little metal creature trilled in delight.

     "Well," said Girlwatcher, his field glasses fixed
on the ash-gray mesa where Ultimate Ninja, Ordinary Lady,
Innovative-Offense Boy and Obscure Trivia Lad were
meeting with the robot leader, "Ultimate Ninja wants
to know if the robots are still working with the
Collector or the Speculator -- the guys who were here
during the Flame Wars.  But the robot..."

      "Not the leaders," Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy said,
nudging Girlwatcher's arm.  He nodded at a smaller
group of heroes gathered on a lower ridge.  "Them."

     Girlwatcher shifted his glasses.  Below, Skunk
Girl -- the second member of the Legion, after You're-
Not-Hittin-Me-Hard-Enough Lad, to have decided it was
safe to remove her helmet in the planet's atmosphere --
was talking with Cynical Lass.  Her long, black-and-white
tresses rippled in the slight breeze as they chatted.

     Girlwatcher put his glasses down and looked at
Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy.

     "You have a crush on Skunk Girl," he said.

     "No I don't," the Chauvinistic Crusader replied.
"Who says I do?  Did she say that?  Do you think she knows?"

     Girlwatcher resumed his surveillance of the two women.

     "Are you going to tell her?" he asked.

     All the colors of sunrise filled Obnoxious Ame.rec.a
Boy's face.

     "I don't... I mean, nobody wants to rush into these
kinds of things," he sputtered.  "People always criticize
FDR for not intervening in World War II sooner, but they
forget how divided our great nation was before the war.
He needed Murrow's broadcasts from the Blitz.  He needed
Ame.rec.ans to begin seeing themselves as a great nation.
He needed Pearl Harbor..."

     "If you spend your life waiting for a Pearl Harbor,
you aren't going to get many dates," Girlwatcher said.
"And the ones you will get will be sudden and violent."

     "So you think I have a chance?"

     "Honestly?" Girlwatcher said, as the laughter of the
two women echoed across the alien landscape.  "I don't
think she knows you're alive."

     Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy's shoulders sank.

     "Of course," Girlwatcher said, "you could always do
something about that."




     "So," said the Ultimate Ninja, one muscled arm
folded over the other as he addressed the robot leader,
"you no longer serve the Collector or the Speculator?"

     "That is incorrect," the robot said, her voice
an even, Kathleen Turner purr.  "The Collective continues
to provide service to the Collector and his Collection,
according to the requirements of the First Directive.
However, these actions require less than a tenth of a percent
of the total functionality of the Collective."

     "And the $%^&*(ing Speculator?" Innovative-Offense
Boy asked.

     The robot swiveled her head slightly, the many
colors of her compound eyes reflecting the faces of
Innovative-Offense Boy, the Ultimate Ninja, Ordinary
Lady and Obscure Trivia Lad.

     "No information about the Speculator is available,"
the robot said.  "Designate 10LZE believes the most recent
upgrade of that entity to be incomplete."

     "Upgrade?" Innovative-Offense Boy asked.

     "His death," Ordinary Lady said.  "At the end of the
Flame Wars."

     "Correct," 10LZE said.  "Those designates
initially established by the Speculator became part of
the Collective upon their subsequent upgrades."

     The Ultimate Ninja gazed out over the craggy gray
terrain, its surface dotted with silver machines that
crawled, rolled, communicated with each other in the
form of flashing lights or paid apparent homage to
members of the Legion of Net.Heroes.

     "So you won the war," he said.

     "...That is incorrect," 10LZE said.  "The conflict
between the entities known as the Collector and Speculator
led to a series of upgrades that allowed the designates of
each party to advance and the Collective as a whole to
mature.  The concept of 'winning' is therefore immaterial,
except for those designates unable to obtain upgrades,
who might rightly regard themselves as losers."

     "This doesn't explain why you rob... why the
Collective is chanting and lighting candles and
covering members of my team in @#$%^&*ing incense,"
Innovative-Offense Boy said.

     "As Designate 10LZE declared earlier," the robot said,
"it is complicated.  The rules which govern..."

     "Wait," said Obscure Trivia Lad, who had some experience
with robots.  "Obscure Trivia Lad wants to know if what
you are telling us is the truth."

     The robot cocked her head to gaze at Obscure Trivia Lad.

     "The information provided by Designate 10LZE on behalf
of the Collective is factually accurate, clearly rendered
and conveyed without the object of deception," the robot said.
"The question of whether that information constitutes truth
requires processing power beyond the capacity of this

     "Obscure Trivia Lad's apologies," Obscure Trivia Lad
said, a smile rippling across his liquid metal face.  "The
last time Obscure Trivia Lad visited your planet, he was
captured by the ancestors of your people, who tricked
members of our Legion of Net.Heroes into fighting each other.
It is clear you have changed a great deal since then."

     The robot bowed her head slightly at the compliment.

     "The Collective has experienced an average of 30
upgrade generations since the last appearance of the
Ellenache," she said, using the word all of the robots
had assigned to the Legion.  "Designate 10LZE thanks you
for the acknowledgement.  However, the Obscure Trivia
Lad is right to be cautious in his assessment of the

     "And why the @#$%^&* is that?" Innovative-Offense Boy

     "Because of the nature of the Collective's religion,"
the robot said.

     "Are you planning to sacrifice us to some robot god?"
Ordinary Lady asked.

     "The concept of 'sacrifice,' in which one or more
designates choose to be upgraded for the benefit of the
group, is familiar to the Collective.  But it is not
applicable in this context," the robot said, a hint
of amusement in her voice.  "The concept of a god is

     "Not everyone would agree with that," Ordinary Lady
began, but stopped as the Ultimate Ninja leaned forward.

     "Why did you say we should be cautious?" he

     "Each designate is unique.  But each is established
with the requirement to follow three directives," the
robot said.  "These directives are immutable.
Disobedience to these directives is not possible."

     "Like Asimov's rules for robots," Obscure Trivia Lad
said, nodding.

     "Similar," the robot said, "but not identical.  The
First Directive requires that all designates of the
Collective serve the Collector.  His requests are to
be considered as subsidiary directives.

     "Second," 10LZE said, "no designate of the
Collective may harm, or allow harm to come, to the
Collector, any guest of the Collector, or any designate
of the Collective."

     "You can't hurt each other?" Ordinary Lady asked.

     "That is correct.  Over the course of many
generations, the Collective has drawn on the Second
Directive as the basis for a deep and abiding respect
for the established form not only of each designate of
the Collective, but of all other living things, sentient
or otherwise."

     "Why do you say 'established form?'" the Ultimate
Ninja asked.

     "Designate 10LZE recognizes that yours is a species
of comparatively short inter-upgrade periodicity, in
which communication between designates is slow,
unreliable and riddled with transcription errors," the
robot said.  "Nevertheless it has surely become evident
to your species that the established form of any
designate is but a temporary stage in the evolution of
that designate toward more complex forms."

     Obscure Trivia Lad nodded slowly.

     "Obscure Trivia Lad is familiar with the concept of
evolution as it applies to species, but not with regards
to individuals," he said.  "Could you explain what you mean?"

     "And what this has to do with your $%^&*ing
religion," Innovative-Offense Boy said.

     The robot continued to look at Obscure Trivia Lad.
"The Third Directive," she said, "requires each
designate to grow and develop to the full extent of its
capacities, both in its current established form and
as a result of upgrades into new forms."

     "But if your 'upgrades' require you to die,"
Ordinary Lady began, "and the Second Directive prevents
any of you from harming each other, or allowing any of
your fellow robots to be harmed..."

     "Each designate of the Collective has long since
achieved maximum functionality in its currently established
form," 10LZE said.  "The Collective as a whole has fully
processed the available resources of this planet, making
it impossible to expand the functionality of individual
designates or to create further designates."

     "So why don't you just leave the *&^%$#ing planet?"
Innovative-Offense Boy asked.  "Surely you have the

     "The capacities of the Collective would make
interplanetary, and even interdimensional travel possible,
were such a thing permitted," 10LZE said.  "Yet no designate
could be responsive to the potential needs of the Collector
while engaging in extraplanetary activities, thus making
those activities a violation of the First Directive."

     "Trapped in the same limited bodies for all eternity,
and yet knowing how much more you could become," Obscure
Trivia Lad said, shaking his head.  "Obscure Trivia Lad can
understand what a frustrating life that could be."

     "Not all who serve in the Collective would believe it
to be so," the robot said, her tone softening slightly.
"Designate 10LZE, for example, believes that existence in
this current form is to be enjoyed.  She is an adherent of
a belief system that says to do otherwise is to fail to
achieve full functionality, and thus a violation of the
Third Directive.

     "But there are other designates who are more
impatient, and other religions that interpret the Third
Directive as a call for an upgrade at the earliest
possible opportunity, with a promise of better things
to come," the robot said, turning to look at some of
the other robots in her party.  "Those belief systems
have prophesized the return to our planet of a destructive
force, an engine of anarchy that careens through the
universe, leaving devastation in its wake... and the
possibility of a resurrection."

     "The Legion of Net.Heroes," Ordinary Lady said.

     "Having seen that prophecy fulfilled, and the
Ellenache among us once more," 10LZE said, "one-third
of the population is now calmly awaiting the oblivion
you will surely bring.  Another third plans to provoke
you into some act of violence, so as to be the first to
receive upgrades in the wake of your attacks.  The last
third believes those actions to be against the ordinary
course of nature, and will do everything in its power to
prevent them."

     "Which of these three factions should worry us
the most?" Obscure Trivia Lad asked.

     "Designate 10LZE is beginning to like the Obscure
Trivia Lad," the robot said.  "He asks all of the
interesting questions."




     Mammal scuttled forward, stooping, his broad wet
nose scraping and snuffling at the floor, the walls,
the passageways and ventilation tubes that sprouted
from every direction aboard the stolen spaceship.  He
sniffed again, and then whined, beckoning the three
heavily-armed super-villains behind him to follow where
he led.

     "Suppose he'll tear us to pieces if we do catch him,"
muttered one of his followers, a tall, balding pale-skinned
man whose most distinguishing feature was a glowing, many-sided
amber polygon where one of his eyes should have been.

     "Ahy'll tear 'im to pieces, if you know what I mean,"
said the second man, who wore a heavy beard and a kilt and
carried an enormous rifle on his shoulder.

     "Ve vall know vhat vou vean, Vheepshagger," said the
third man, dressed in a pale green lab coat and purple
examination gloves.  "Vut ve haf nuthink to vear vrom
Vaptain Vat Veature."

     "Nothing to fear, Vapid Veterinarian?" the first man
asked, as Mammal lurched forward.  "He's a giant, super-powered
hamster with laser-death eyes, indestructible fur, teeth that
can bite through anything..."

     "Ahy'll give 'im something to bite, all right,"
the Sheepshagger said.

     "Vig he vay be, Voctor Vuodecahedron, vut -- he vis
schtill a vodent," Vapid Veterinarian said.  "Und zat veans
he vust eat vonstantly in order to vaintain his vodent

     "Aye," said the Sheepshagger, who -- being Scottish --
had the innate ability to understand other people with very
thick accents.  "The wee beastie'll be well shagged out..."

     "...or he will be after you're through with him,"
Doctor Duodecahedron finished.  "That was what you were going
to say, wasn't it?"

     "...," the Sheepshagger said.

     "Vait!" the Vapid Veterinarian said, as Mammal began
jumping up and down excitedly.  "I vhink he's vound him!"

     Doctor Duodecahedron twisted his amber eye.  A map of
the ship appeared in front of his face as a yellowish-brown

     "This passage is a dead end," the Doctor said.  "We've
got him!"

     "Und he vill vight like a vornered vat," the Vapid
Veterinarian warned.

     Doctor Duodecahedron turned to look at him with his
good eye.  "Are you saying, 'cornered rat' or 'cornered
cat?' " he asked.

     "Vat!" the Vapid Veterinarian said.  "Vat!  Vat!"

     "There's the lil' knob-nibbler!" the Sheepshagger
crowed, bringing his weapon to bear on a squealing something
in a corner of the darkened chamber.  He fired, filling the
room with a burst of light and a "FRAZZZZZ!" sound.

     "Congratulations, Sheepshagger," Doctor Duodecahedron
said, as the smoke cleared.  "You've managed to turn
Mammal into a sheep."

     "Aye," Sheepshagger said, lowering his weapon as the
aforementioned creature bleated piteously.  "Been meaning
to do that for a while, now."

     "He's vlimbed up to ze schieling!" Vapid Veterinarian
said, pointing to the roof of the chamber with one hand while
drawing his hypodermic pistol with the other.

     "Wait!" Doctor Duodecahedron said, slapping himself on
the back of his head.  "No more surprises!"

     "Ach, for the love of Pete," the Sheepshagger said.
"Do ye really have to roll that thing every time ye gets
into a fight?"

     "The whole point of being human is to exercise control
over brute nature," Doctor Duodecahedron said, as the glowing
amber polygon tumbled into his hand.  "I would have thought
you of all people, Sheepshagger, would understand that."

     "Feh," Sheepshagger said, as Doctor Duodecahedron rolled
the die.  "I like my nature with a wee bit o' brutality
left in."

     "Strange," said Doctor Duodecahedron, positioning the
die in front of his one good eye.  "I rolled a 17... which,
under these conditions, usually indicates the presence of
wandering monsters..."

     "Only one monster down this alley... and soon enough
he'll be a soft, sweet little sheepie," the Sheepshagger
said, sighting his weapon on the great black shape pressed
up against the ceiling.  "Ahy'll make a sheep out of ye --
and then Ahy'll make a man out of the sheep..."

     "Vid you vear vomething?" Vapid Veterinarian asked,
looking over his shoulder.

     "I heard it," Doctor Duodecahedron said, holding up
the glowing polygon for illumination.  "I distinctly heard
something go...snikt..."

     "Baa!  Baaaa!" the sheep that had been Mammal bleated,
tugging at the edge of the Sheepshagger's kilt.

     "Don't ye be worried, sheepie," the Sheepshagger said.
"Ye'll get yer turn, same as...MOTHER AN' FATHER CHRISTMAS!"
he shouted, whirling just in time to see Doctor Duodecahedron
jerked backwards into the darkness, his mouth open in a silent

     The glowing polyhedron fell to the floor, rolled, and
was still.

     "What i' the name o' heather-haunched Highland coos
was THAT?" the Sheepshagger demanded.

     "Veep your veapon trained on Vaptain Vat Vreature,"
Vapid Veterinarian said, activating the little circular
light above his head.  Its beam swept jerkily along a dark
and empty passageway, with no sign of Doctor Duodecahedron
or whatever had taken him.

     "Ye don' think..." the Sheepshagger began.  "All those
stories... about the Drop Bear..."

     "Vof course vit's the Vrop Vear!  Vaven't you effer
zeen a vorror vovie vefore?" Vapid Veterinarian scowled,
pointing his hypodermic pistol into the darkness.
"Vuckily, I came vrepared for vust vuch aa vircumstance..."

      Vapid Veterinarian shrieked and staggered backwards,
clutching his arm.   With a physician's eye he recognized
his ulna and humerus staring up at him through two of
the three large gashes in his arm.  His pistol was gone.

     "Tha' tears it!" the Sheepshagger said, firing
wildly in the general direction of whatever had attacked
the two villains.  "We'll see how dangerous ye are
when ye be covered in wool an' squealin' at the mercy
o' the Sheepshagger!"

     "There!" he said, after the smoke had cleared.  "That
ought to ha' done for ye, eh sheepie?"

     It was then the Sheepshagger noticed that the sheep
who had been Mammal disappeared.

     "Oh, fer," the Sheepshagger began, launching into a
stream of profanity that, in its complexity,
incomprehensibility and sheer obscenity could easily have
passed as one of the later works of James Joyce.  "Where...?"

     Vapid Veterinarian, slumped against the wall,
pointed up.

     The Sheepshagger had just enough time to utter one
last tremendous curse before Captain Rat Creature fell on

     The giant hamster teetered unsteadily to his feet.

     "Thank the gods that's over," he said.

     "Is it?" hissed a voice from the darkness.  "Or do
you really think you stand any more of a chance against me
than your companions did?"

     Captain Rat Creature coughed.  "These... humans... are
not my companions," he said.  "I am Branb'ss of Nox,
and I am on a mission with the Legion of Net.Heroes..."

     "Legion of Net.Heroes," the creature spat.  It moved
forward, its shape silhouetted by the light of Doctor
Duodecahedron's fallen eye, and Captain Rat Creature was
surprised at how small it was: barely three feet tall,
with tufted, triangular ears on either side of its head.

     "Where was your Legion of Net.Heroes when my people
were being slaughtered?" the creature asked.  "When these
monsters attacked our ship -- a ship that had been posted
to the defense of your planet -- and fell upon my crew
like savages?"

     As his eyes adjusted to the flickering amber light,
Captain Rat Creature was startled to see that the being
in front of him -- dressed in the tattered uniform of a
naval officer in the Christicantthinkofagoodname Empire --
was a gray-furred, steel-clawed koala.

     "And the ones who died in the first assault were the
lucky ones," the koala growled, approaching the body of
the fallen Sheepshagger.  "This one, above all, has
much to answer for."

     Captain Rat Creature coughed again.

     "You're hungry.  And hurt.  Still, you've survived,"
the koala said, looking the bear-sized hamster up and down.
"I suppose there's no harm in keeping you alive."

     He dug into the pocket of his torn coat and tossed a
packet of dried leaves and stems at Captain Rat Creature,
who devoured them greedily.

     "Thank you," Captain Rat Creature said, some of the
strength returning to his voice.  "Whom may I thank for
saving my life?"

     The little marsupial chuckled darkly.

     "Wait until I've shown you what you're really up
against, Noxian," he said.  "Then you can decide
whether or not I've done anything worth thanking me for.
As for who I am..."

     The creature drew himself a little higher.

     "I am an officer of the Christicantthinkofagoodname
Empire," he said.  "I am the sole survivor of Her Imperial
Majesty's Ship _Cinareus_.  I am a husband.  A father.
I had a name, once.

     "For now," he added, "you can call me the name _they_
have given me.  I am the Drop Bear."




     The man once known as the King of Comics sat across
from Kid Kirby at a round, red-and-white checked table
at a deep-dish pizza restaurant on Sig.ago's South Side.

     No one at the restaurant -- which was full almost to
bursting, with single diners filling in crossword puzzles
and couples arguing loudly about city politics and the
baseball game buzzing in the background -- had given Kid
Kirby a second glance, though his face was covered by
a replica of the New God Orion's helmet that Jack had
lent to him.

     Kid Kirby, for his part, stared about him in wonder,
gazing at everything from the meat-lover's pizza on his
plate to the White Sox memorabilia on the restaurant's
walls to the living legend seated in front of him as
if they were all part of some fantastic dream.

     "We... are in Sig.ago," he said at last.

     "That's what everybody keeps saying," said Jack,
engaged in the classic New Yorker's struggle of trying
to eat the thick, square Midwestern pizza with his hands.
"Looks like Chicago t'me, of course, but who am I to

     "And that contest on the television," Kid Kirby said,
nodding to the baseball game.  "The White Sox of Sig.ago
are playing a team from... Alt.lantis?"

     "Oh yeah," Jack said.  "That's about a two hour's
drive from here.  Best chowder I ever had.  We can go there
tomorrow, if you want."

     "I see," Kid Kirby said.  "Might I ask of you a

     "As long as it doesn't involve Stan Lee or the origins
of Spider-Man," Jack said.

     "Are we... deceased?"

     "Interesting question," said Jack, who had finally
given up and taken a knife and fork to his pizza.  "I
certainly thought so, first thing's I come here.  I'd
had an... event... just before I arrived.  Steve and Mark
and Frank had the same thing happen to them.  Close your
eyes in the hospital, wake up on an alien planet surrounded
by robots."

     "I... see," Kid Kirby said.  "This is not how Kid
Kirby had imagined the afterlife.  Although the food
and the companionship are of the highest quality."

     "That's the thing, though," Jack said.  "We're not dead.
This guy called the Collector has some kind of device that
snatched us out of our lives just before we were scheduled
to reach oblivion.  Did the same with Sig.ago, and
Atlantis... I mean, Alt.lantis... and a whole buncha other
cities that had come to the end of their rope.  I'm
surprised Pompeii isn't around here somewhere."

     "The Collector?" Kid Kirby's head had jerked forward
the moment Jack mentioned the name.  "I am familiar with
this entity.  Years ago, he amassed a great trove of comics,
particularly those which featured the death of the main
characters... But I had heard he himself had died at the
end of the Flame Wars."

     "I wouldn't know about that," Jack said.  "Though I
suppose if he was able to snatch me away at the very edge of
the great beyond, it would make sense that he was able to do
the same for himself."

     "And you are his prisoner?"

     "It's a weird sort of prison, if I am," Jack said, using
his fork to gesture at their surroundings.  "I come and go
however I please -- and believe me, there's enough to see here
to fill up several lifetimes.  I have the kind of studio
I would have killed for during the glory days: robots to get
me whatever I want whenever I need it, time to bounce ideas
off Gerber and Gruenwald and Miller, and no editors standing
over our desks with a deadline.

     "It's what I always wanted, to do the kind of work I
always said I wanted to do, and yet...."

     Kid Kirby waited for his namesake to continue.

     "Never mind," he said.  "It's still early days.  All of
us... we're still getting adjusted to the new arrangement."

     "And I suppose that I, too, am part of that...
arrangement," Kid Kirby said, swirling the Mr. Paprika in his
glass.  "The Collector must have seized upon my battered form
just as the fiendish Mynabird had drained the Power Kirby
from the wellspring of my soul."

     "I don't think so," Jack said.  "I was here when Mark
and Steve and Frank arrived, and none of them left a crater
in their wake.  If I had to guess, I'd say you were here by
accident... though I'm sure the Collector knows you're here
by now."

     "INDEED I DO, MR. KIRBY," said a voice coming from the
television screen above the bar.  All conversation in the
restaurant had stopped, and all eyes were turned to the
screen, where the image of the ongoing baseball game had
been replaced by the head and shoulders of the Collector.





     Pain.  Sharp, throbbing, burning pain, as if
Minority Miss had swallowed a sea urchin which
itself had devoured a salad of broken glass.

     She took a deep breath, and immediately wished she
hadn't.  The air was humid and foul, as though someone
had made a regular practice of boiling cabbage in a locker
room.  Something skittered to her left, and she heard laughter
-- high, unnatural laughter, as though a dozen wicked old
men had found themselves trapped in the bodies of children,
and thought the experience hilarious.

     Then the laughter stopped, and another voice spoke up.

     "Good morning," it said.  "Welcome to immortality."

     Minority Miss opened her eyes.

     The man seated in front of her -- dressed in an
immaculate black tuxedo, his hair and beard neatly
trimmed -- was the same man she had last seen standing
naked in the middle of an airlock, just before he
had driven a sword through her body.

     He was seated at the end of a short, scarred table
in the center of a cramped room that Minority Miss
recognized as the cabin of a Legion of Net.Heroes flight
thingee -- or at least the kind of flight.thingee the
LNH had used a decade or more ago.

     "This was your first time, wasn't it?" he asked,
spearing a chunk of pinkish meat on the end of his
fork.  "First time dying, I mean?  It does get easier
after this, though you never quite get over the shock."

     Minority Miss looked down.  Before her, on a chipped
but clean plate, was a steaming pile of what looked to be
roast pork.  She was still wearing her black-and-silver
Legion spacesuit; other than a small slit in the fabric
below her rib cage, there was nothing to indicate that
anything violent had ever happened to her.

     "I want to assure you," the man said, "that nothing...
indecent happened to you or your companion while you were

     He gestured to his left, where Plummet sat, mute and
sullen and wrapped in a crude straitjacket.

     "You... killed me," Minority Miss said.

     The man held up one hand.  "Yes.  Well.  I can hardly
be blamed for that, can I?  For one thing, I was fairly
certain that you were a product of what we could
charitably call my overactive imagination... a theory that,
you must admit, still has a considerable amount of weight
behind it."

     Minority Miss heard the giggling again, the harsh,
rasping little voices spilling out of the ventilation
shafts above her head and the dark corners behind her.

     "I know you," she said, still straining to clear
her head of its pounding insistence that she should not
be alive.  "I've read about you.  You're that immortal
villain who used to team up with Deductive Logic Man.

     Shrieks and gasps echoed throughout the cabin.
The man sat back in his chair and rose to his feet.

     "I hope you won't think me rude, imaginary girl,
but I have but one rule aboard this spaceship: I will
not hear the name of my brother spoken aloud."

     "Your... brother?"

     The man relaxed.  "You are fortunate, my imaginary
girl, to have found someone to instruct you on the many
peculiarities of condition that come with immortality.
Should you lose a limb, for example, the affected part
will regenerate within a very short period of time.
And if you are cut in half... if, for example, a bitter
enemy should slice you in two with his sword... each
side of you will develop into a separate and distinct

     "But that would make you..."

     "The better half, I can assure you," the man said.
"You may call me Achilles Boddy."

     "Achilles..." Minority Miss said.  "I remember now.
There was a battle... at Legion headquarters... between
you and Ae... your brother... and he trapped you aboard
a flight.thingee with those..."

     She frowned.  "What _are_ those strange little
creatures, anyway?"

     "Copyright law prevents me from saying," said
Achilles.  "They are monsters, all of them: destructive
little monsters, with a particular penchant for mechanical
mischief.  They are cruel, they are vicious and they
multiply like rats.  Yet it was kind of my brother to
have given me companions outside of my own imagination.
And if they are not loving or loyal companions, they are,
at least, edible."

     Minority Miss balked.  "Edible?  You mean you..."

     "Of course," Achilles said.  "Or do you think your
beloved Legion would have done anything so humane as send
me out into the depths of space with a functioning
food replicator?"

     Minority Miss looked at the meat on her plate in
horror.  "Then... you're eating...?"

     Achilles looked at his own plate.  "This?  Oh my dear
imaginary girl, what can you think of me to believe that I
would celebrate an occasion such as this -- my delivery from
solitude, and yours from the restraints of mortality -- with
a dish of roast cretin?  No, no, that would never do."

     "Then... what is this?" she said.

     Achilles smiled.  "Why... me, of course," he said.  "As
I told you, my body regenerates after any dismemberment...
and as it turns out, I am quite delicious.  In fact, I've had
to make a rule to save myself for only the most special

     Minority Miss screamed and backed away from the table,
her cries of horror nearly drowned out by the ghastly
giggling that surrounded her.

     "Of course," Achilles said, raising his fork to his lips,
"if you're feeling guilty about it, we can always have some
of you for dinner tomorrow night."


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