SF: Universal Solvents #18
swede3000 at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 26 12:44:36 PDT 2005
(a Tale of Sfstory!)
Gary W. Olson
Tiny lights sparked between Ronald's eyelids and his eyes.
Something that felt like steam was rising from his ears (and, he
hoped, from no other orifice). He could feel his hands twitching,
his legs spasming, his nose twitching and his buttocks clenching. He
heard the droning of what sounded like an inebriated fire alarm.
The last thing he remembered was leaping through the portal of
Toni Williams's Nega-Transporter in a desperate attempt to escape
from Team E's captivity in the Nega-Cell. Given that he had not
been phasered into oblivion (which did not sound so bad at the
moment, given how his nervous system was crackling to some kind of
unheard disco beat), he gathered that his escape had been successful.
But had Norman and Kissy gotten through as well?
He opened his eyes, which made the sparking go away. The
ceiling was metal and greyish, lit by fluorescent strips on the wall.
The floor beneath him felt equally metallic, and the several tall
racks he could see against the walls looked grey and utilitarian.
What kind of bizarre alien room had he been transported to?
Just then, the alarm sound stopped, and Ronald realized it had
not been an alarm at all.
"We're in a janitor's supply room," he heard Kissy say.
Ronald forced himself to sit up. Kissy stood near the door,
smoothing down her original-Trek-style miniskirt.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"Sawdust," she said, pointing towards a large bucket. "And a
pile of old Playbeing magazines. The boiler's over that way. And
here's a fedora and a red-and-black striped sweater--"
"Standard janitor supply room equipment," said Ronald. "But
what planet or space station are we on?" He looked around some more.
"And where's Norman?"
"I don't think he made it through," said Kissy. "The
Nega-Transporter must be busted, otherwise they would have come
through and gotten us."
Ronald frowned. Norman was still in Team E's hands. No doubt
alive, since Team E had been taking them to their employer, but still
a captive. And there was no way he could get to him.
"What are we going to do?" he asked. "Norman... he's the crew.
He's *my* crew. Without him... I'm crewless!"
"I've been saying that since I started this job," Kissy snapped.
In the back of his mind, Ronald knew she was just trying to start
some Space Ingenuish banter, as he had contracted for her to do on
his mission, but he could not reply.
"Crewless," she repeated. "You know." She waited. "Crewless!
Clueless! It's wordplay! Come on, you had to have taken Heroic
"Norman," Ronald repeated. "Gone. What am I going to do? He's
always been there. We've always been a team. We joined the Star
Trek club together. We got kicked out together. We got trapped in
orbit in a Pinto together. We... I don't know what to do!"
He pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the fading twitches of
pain, and looked around. The shelves were full of equipment he did
not recognize. The Nega-Transporter portal was dark. There was only
one way out, the door with the 'exit' sign next to it.
"I don't know what to do!" he wailed.
Kissy shook her head. "For the love'a Sam," she grumbled, just
before grabbing the collar of Ronald's gold velour shirt, pulling him
toward her, and giving Ronald a kiss. One that could quite easily be
described as lip-slithering, tongue-tonguing, saliva-intensive,
dental-filling-counting, stock-footage-of-stars-exploding, that sort
of thing. To Ronald, it made the experience of getting fried by the
Nega-Transporter seem minor.
When she pulled away, he tried to say 'thank you,' but it came
out as "wubba."
"You're welcome," said Kissy. "Tell anyone I did that, and
death will not release you from my vengeance."
Ronald took a deep breath. Already, his head felt clear.
"Norman will have to wait," he said. "Team E will keep him
alive. This must be where Toni Williams was going while Team E
thought they had her captive in the Nega-Cell." He looked over the
racks of stuff. "Electronic parts... I should be able to reactivate
my personal nuker with some of this stuff."
"You do that," said Kissy. "I... hey, what's this?"
Kissy removed a blanket that had been covering an old monitor.
When she did, Ronald observed that the monitor was on, in power-save
mode. Which made no sense, unless--
He tapped a button next to the screen. Several pictures
appeared, showing an assortment of aliens in control room
environments, hallway environments, and prison cell environments.
"Toni must have tapped into the security system of this place,"
he said. "These aliens... they're Goornashkans, I think."
"What tipped you off, phaser-brain?" Kissy asked. "The
eyebrows? The number of arms and legs? The large stockpile of
aerosol deodorants on that shelf over there?"
"Why don't you get kidnapped by them and find out?" Ronald
replied. "I-- hey, is that where we are?"
He pointed at one of the screen windows that showed an image of
a hallway. A door was on the far side of the image, bearing
Goornashkan stenciled letters. He looked around on the monitor,
found a button that read 'translate into English (for use by
infiltrating Space Heroes only)' and pressed it. The letters
immediately transformed into English, and read "Building Maintenance
Technical Specialist," with smaller letters beneath that read
"Must be," said Kissy.
"Well, that settles it," said Ronald. "Toni Williams is
definitely operating out of here. Now we just have to find where she
is and... uh-oh."
The hallway image now showed several Goornashkans, all but one
with laser guns drawn. The one Goornashkan who did not have a gun
was one of the three prisoners who were looking at the business ends
of said guns. The other two prisoners were a Calican and a human
with small horns on her head.
One of the Goornashkans looked like he was speaking to the
others. The other armed Goornashkans listened, then saluted,
holstered their weapons, and marched off.
"That's weird," said Kissy. "I wonder why--"
"Hide!" Ronald exclaimed. They looked around, but it was too
late. The door opened, and four people marched in, three with their
hands up. Ronald immediately drew his personal nuker, holding it so
that the charge light (currently dark from lack of energy) would be
hard for the Goornashkan to see.
"Who are you?" the Goornashkan with the gun asked.
Ronald looked at him. His sterling silver uniform fairly
clanked with all the ribbons, russet-gold medallions, and other bits.
"I'm Ronald Hastings, foul villain, and I'm here to disrupt your evil
plot, rescue your captives and maybe save the universe, depending on
how forward-thinking your evil plot is. Now, stand aside and... hey,
you guys look familiar."
"We should," said the olive-jumpsuit-clad woman. "I'm Gham, and
this is Jerriphrrt. We met on Freedonia 5 a few years ago, remember?"
"I'm Major Lalan," said the third captive, the unarmed
Goornashkan. "We have not met."
"And your companion is Kissy Hitowers," said the armed
Goornashkan. "How're you holding up?"
Kissy screamed. The Goornashkan nodded.
"About how I thought."
"Hey," said Ronald, "back to your evil plot a moment, and how
I'm going to disrupt it."
The Goornashkan shrugged and handed his gun to Gham, who did not
look in the slightest surprised to receive it. Then he reached back
behind his neck. Ronald heard an unzipping sound, and was startled
to see the Goornashkan's whole body fall away...
...to reveal Toni Williams, this time in a fully-together
electric blue jumpsuit.
"As for my evil plot," said Toni, "it looks like you've already
disrupted that. The Nega-Transporter is down, right?"
"Erk," said Ronald. "Sort of."
"Needlewarp," Toni said. "Team E must have reached their master
by now. I'd been hoping... well, never mind that. We'll have to do
"Like what?" Kissy asked.
"Follow their original plan," said Toni, pointing to Jerriphrrt and Gham.
"Get to Zeta Ricola Beta," said Jerriphrrt.
"Save the universe," added Gham.
"In roughly that order," Toni finished.
"Ah, right," said Ronald. "Well, we're in."
"Damn right you are," said Toni. "So, you've probably been
wondering what I've been doing ever since I allowed myself to be
captured by Team E...."
<<Zeta Ricola Beta>>
To Bagelos, the Sacred Temple of the Ancestors did not look all
that sacred. Nor did it look particularly templish. Had he seen it
on another world, he would have thought a microscopic black hole had
appeared in a trailer park, only to disappear once all the trailers
crashed together into a roughly pyramidical shape.
The high-powered lights from the surrounding security towers
ensured that Bagelos got a good look. It also ensured, he realized,
that all the security personnel in those security towers got a good
look at him. But he did not care. Bagelos was more than ready to
trade his liberty for safety from the cosmic-powered menace that
hounded his every step.
(Well, most every step. At times, the cosmic-powered menace in
question became distracted by falling leaves, squirrels, and, on one
occasion, a tree shaped like Stuart Margolin.)
But where was Quooth? Had phe already been captured?
That question was immediately answered when he spotted Quooth,
who stood at the main entrance to the Sacred Temple (next to the sign
that read "Sacred Temple of the Ancestors / The Ancestors want
Spiritual Fruit, not Religious Nuts / Pancake Breakfast Thursday
Night 7 pm / Bingo to Follow"). The Wzaxtil waved to him in a far
too cheerful manner. Not until he crossed the separating distance
did it occur to him that there was reason to be cheerful: he had not
been shot at by anything as he approached.
"Friend Bagelos!" Quooth exclaimed. "I was concerned when we
became separated during our exercise!"
"Exercise?" Bagelos asked. "I, Bagelos, thought we were running
for our lives!"
Quooth gestured to the entrance. "I got up to this far last
time before the soldier monks showed up. Shall we go inside and see
what is there?"
"Right," said Bagelos. "But... there must be guards. Where are--"
The sign took that moment to explode. Bagelos and Quooth tried
to hide behind one another, and only succeeded in falling to the
When Bagelos looked up, he saw Zark Flyby stalking towards them,
a murderous umber light emanating from his eyes, nostrils, mouth,
ears, pores, and probably other orifices he really did not want to
think about. Behind Zark was the flaming wreckage of the forest
through which Bagelos had passed.
Which meant the guards had seen the carnage, and did something
surprisingly sensible, for guards: they got the hell out of the
Bagelos had the immediate urge to be just as sensible, but there
was only one direction to flee: into the Temple.
Quooth opened the door, and they went in.
If the exterior of the Temple looked like something from a
bizarre merger of Old Egypt and Old Florida, the interior looked more
properly templish. Before Bagelos's eyes was a cavernous chamber,
lit by hundreds of torches. It appeared mostly empty, though
well-maintained -- no visible dust, and the distinct lemony scent of
a leading floor wax in the air. He could just make out what looked
like stacks of tables against the far wall, along with several racks
of folding chairs.
No Ancestors, though. Bagelos gathered that they were not the
"Friend Bagelos," Quooth said. Something in phis tone was
unusually solemn. "We are treading upon sacred ground. Can you not
Bagelos nodded. He had never been a spiritual man, and in fact
was someone who took the maxim about there being no atheists in
foxholes as a warning to stay as far as possible from foxholes, but
there was definitely something of the old skin-prickling,
hair-standing-up-on-end, nerve-tingling goings-on in the air.
"I, Bagelos, can tell," he answered. "Best to be about our
business and then gone, Quooth. Once I understand what that business
"You do not know?" Quooth asked. "Did your grandfather not tell
you all about his voyage to this place?"
"Almost everything," Bagelos replied. "Baconos told he of a
ceremony he went through in this place. It was to make it possible
for him to manipulate the Proofs without having his brain turned into
"Would he not require the assistance of the holy men of this place?"
"I would have thought so. But he never mentioned such
assistance, which leads me to think it was something that he could
have done on his own. But what that is..."
He looked around again, trying to see things he had missed
before. Doors leading to the kitchen, doors to the lavatorial
facilities, doors to offices and storage rooms and the basement. A
simple altar at the far end of the room. A bingo hopper in an open
supply closet. Some paper-mache pictures that represented Ancestors,
insofar as he could tell.
But no large, shadowy passageways with signs that read 'This way
to the cool occult kibble that will make you heap powerful, 'nuff
said.' Those tended to never be around when he needed them.
"Perhaps we should have not come here," said Bagelos. "Perhaps
I, Bagelos, was not meant for--"
At that moment, the door of the Temple's main entrance came
flying by, riding an explosive wave. The sound of the explosion
struck at the same time.
By the time Bagelos felt his insides settle and was able to
extract himself from a rack of folding chairs, and by the time Quooth
was able to find phis way out of the kitchen, the cause of the
explosion made his way to where they were.
"Er, Zark," said Bagelos, keenly aware that this was one of
those foxhole moments he generally tried to avoid. "Nice night, is
"Kill," Zark replied. Umber light poured out of him as he
raised his arms, ready to launch a blast that Bagelos was sure would
do exactly as Zark said. He wanted to run, but being thrown into the
chairs had caused wicked pain to shoot through his lower back and
legs. The best he could manage was a spirited hobble.
"Well met, friend Zark!" Quooth said. "We are treading on
sacred ground, can you not tell?"
Zark fired a blast of cosmic destructiveness dead on at Bagelos
and Quooth. Bagelos flinched, felt the wave hit him--
--and pass. He kept his eyes shut, sure that when he opened
them he would see either the Pearly Gates, or, more than likely, the
brimstone-scented corridors of a ship-of-the-line in Hell's Armada.
Needlewarping foxholes, he thought.
Finally, he opened his eyes and saw Zark Flyby, still standing
before him. Only now he lacked the umber light and looked somewhat
"Kill?" Zark asked, looking at his hands.
"Looks like someone cut off your power supply," said Bagelos.
"Too bad. Best to go home, eh?"
Zark looked up, and Bagelos realized that, even without the
power cosmic, Zark could still kill with his hands.
That was when the ghost appeared. It was ghostly in the classic
manner, being partially transparent, green-tinted and luminous, and
stood next to Zark as if it had been accompanying him all along.
Which, perhaps, it had.
It was a ghost that Bagelos recognized.
"Bagelos," the ghost of Baconos replied. "Welcome to the Sacred
Temple. You have done as I hoped."
"Er," said Bagelos. "What?"
"What?" Quooth asked.
"Kill?" added Zark, who was still looking at his hands.
"You heard me," Baconos replied. "Now come on, you've dawdled
away almost all the time. Things are going to happen very fast now,
and I don't have time to explain them like I should. You've got to
undergo the ritual I talked about."
"Oh, right," said Bagelos. He should have known, he thought,
that it would come down to something like this. "What is it?"
More ghosts appeared. Bagelos recognized none of them, though
he observed they all wore robes identical to the monks he had earlier
escaped from. These, he realized, were the Ancestors. They did not
look particularly happy to see him.
"You will learn soon enough," Baconos said. "But be warned:
there is a good chance you will lose."
"And if he loses?" Quooth asked. Bagelos noticed phis feelers
were on phis Holy Harmonica, and wondered what the Wzaxtil would do
if phe got an answer phe disliked.
Baconos did not, however, answer. He merely smirked and looked
"I, Bagelos, accept the challenge," said Bagelos. "Now, can I,
Bagelos, sit down? My back is killing me."
<<Alpha Rio VI, the Planet of Casinos>>
The last time Sajon had been in a back office of one of Vino the
Three-Headed Yak's casinos, it had been so that Vino could talk with
Sajon about the perils of trying to leave the planet. Vino, a strong
believer in backing up his words with action, said few actual words
in his talk, but had his henchyaks make up for it with a lot of
action. It had the desired effect: Sajon vowed never to try to
escape again, once surgeons succeeded in extracting the alfalfa from
A few months later, one of Vino's technicians hooked up a
teleporter to a slot machine, and Sajon's bioengineered Ultraluck
power (which worked only on Alpha Rio VI) immediately set it off.
Sajon wound up on Freedonia 5, the technician (he later learned from
the 'U! True Universe Story' on Vino) wound up on Kelfestrus, the
Planet of Yak-Devouring Weevils, and the slot machine appeared on
Broadway, where it became an immediate star until it had an
unfortunate 'accident' wherein Nathan Lane shot it with a
blunderbuss. And through all the years that followed, and all his
ineffectual attempts at being a Space Hero that followed, Sajon knew
he would someday be drawn back to his homeworld. It was, as Vino
would say, a sure bet.
This time, the back office of one of Vino's casinos was less
threatening, because Vino the Three-Headed Yak was not present. It
was the office of Kalvin Certain, a mid-level executive in charge of
the House of Merriment and Extortion, the particular casino he was
in. He was in this office because he, along with Shadebeam Moroboshi
and Slithis, were attempting to figure out why the heck the ABPSARI
(which had mysteriously vanished after teleporting him and his
companions to this world) had manipulated them to this point, and
what was the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe, and
what Kalvin knew about it. At least, Sajon thought that was what it
was about. It was either that or an excuse to sponge up free drinks.
A number of Typical Luck Generators were strapped to Sajon's
body. They were muting his Ultraluck power. Sajon wished he knew
how much battery life they had left. They were also itchy as hell.
"...and that is when I decided to recruit Team E," Kalvin said,
continuing what had been a long monologue about legends concerning
the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe, and how he had
gotten roped in by Sark Flyby to track down and capture his son, Zark
Flyby. "Because Sark and his crew on Zeta Ricola Beta wants the
cosmic showdown, beats me why, cosmic showdowns are something to
avoid, I would think, but he tasked me with tracking down Shoon-Ma
the Ur-Bagel, you know, drag him out of hiding to get the show on the
road. And I'm thinking, bugger that. I need some disposable
henchmen, because I know whoever goes after Shoon-Ma is dead, no
mistake. I found some within my modest budget range on Earth at a
As Kalvin continued to ramble, Sajon looked at one of the
henchmen in question. He had entered the room at a rather high
velocity not too long ago, knocking over Kalvin and causing a
considerable bit of chaos. Two other members of Team E entered the
room and tried to explain what happened, but for some reason they
could not speak. Kalvin noted they had been eating messy jelly
donuts (the jelly being the source of their verbal immobilization)
and summarily dismissed them. He kept the one that had knocked him
down in the office, so as to dress him down later.
There was something oddly familiar about that particular
henchman. Sajon could have sworn he had seen the young man before.
"...and that's when I learn that Toni Williams is investigating
my operation on Dirk's Space Swap-o-Rama and Grill," Kalvin said.
"While normally I would have welcomed her help, I didn't want Vino
finding out she was nosing around a perfectly legitimate pudding
price-inflation operation, the action of which Vino was not getting
his cut of, you know how it is. So I had them capture her, just
temporarily, until I'd worked out how to get to Zeta Ricola Beta
without setting off alarms, that is, causing their security forces to
come after me with large guns..."
Sajon glanced at Shadebeam. She was fidgeting in her seat.
Several times she had lit a cigarette, and lifted it as far as her
lips before the office's anti-smoking system lasered it out of her
hands. She looked like she wanted to smack Kalvin and tell him to
get a grip. Sajon was familiar with the look. Over the years, many
had directed such a thing at him.
Next to her sat Slithis. Slithis seemed hypnotized by Kalvin's
storytelling, which made no sense to Sajon. True, Kalvin Certain had
a strong reputation for suaveness and glib talking, but it was
nowhere apparent in the rambling diatribe to which they were being
treated. Something was upsetting his usually cool nerves.
"...which is why I think this vision thing you were telling me
about could be the key," Kalvin continued, referring to the
hallucinations Shadebeam and Slithis had experienced in their early
times as Renegade Anarchists, which Sajon only knew about because
they had talked about them while they thought he was asleep. "I
mean, there's any number of ways I can sneak onto Zeta Ricola Beta,
if I put my mind to it, but what would I do when I got there? If the
cosmic showdown between Sark's Chosen One and Shoon-Ma's Champion
happens, that's it for universal stability. Galaxies blowing up,
giant space amoebas eating entire civilizations, time and space
dissolving into metaphysical pudding, even more Hilton sisters
spontaneously appearing and getting their own reality shows... the
havoc would be endless!"
"Well," said Shadebeam, who had given up on the whole cigarette
thing, and had apparently followed Kalvin's semi-coherent speech,
"you said something I've been thinking about myself, how there must
have been something in those hallucinations Slith and I had that's
the key to averting all this. But I've been over it again and again,
and I'll be damned if I can see--"
"Can't you just have another one?" Kalvin asked.
"Another what?" Slithis asked.
"Another hallucination!" Kalvin exclaimed. "However you did it before."
Sajon judged from the surprised looks on the faces of both
Shadebeam and Sajon that the idea had not occurred to either before.
He looked at the Team E henchman, and was surprised to see he was
giving Kalvin a thoughtful look. Thoughtfulness, Sajon noted, was
not a typical henchmanlike trait. Who was he, really?
"Er," Sajon said. Kalvin looked at him, as if surprised he was
still in the room.
"What?" Kalvin asked. "You have an idea?"
There was a wild look in Kalvin's eyes. Sajon decided to take a chance.
"Vino knows," said Sajon. "Doesn't he?"
Kalvin jumped as if gerbils had crawled into his shoes and taken
two chomps. He looked around the office and wiped sweat from his
"What makes you ask?" he squeaked.
"You see a chance of getting a piece of universal power," said
Sajon. "Everything you've been waiting for all your life, I bet.
And you probably thought you could cut Vino out of it, like you did
with the pudding price-inflation scheme, right?"
Kalvin said nothing, though his rate of sweating increased.
"I think you've got something," said Shadebeam. "I was
wondering what was so whacked about this deal."
"You mean," said Slithis, his hypnotized look vanishing as
horror entered his eyes, "the drinks aren't free?"
"Okay!" Kalvin yelled. "So my motives are less than pure! I
wasn't kidding about the danger facing the universe if this cosmic
confrontation thing happens! And I really do think the only way
we're going to figure out how to stop it is for you to have another
"Never mind that," Shadebeam snapped. "Why are you so nervous?
Is Vino on his way here?"
"Vino would not accompany the attack," said Sajon. "But he
would make sure you knew something was coming, right?"
"I've been getting reports from the security system," said
Kalvin. "Assassin yaks have surrounded the admin wing of this
casino. They aren't coming up, but they've sealed off all
ground-level exits. We're sort of... trapped."
"What about the Nega-Transporter thing?" Slithis asked. "The
one you used to abduct Zark, and send him and Sark back to Zeta
"They've cut off power to the room it's in," said Kalvin.
"So they've got us," said the velour-shirted henchman at the
door. Kalvin, Sajon, Slithis, and Shadebeam all looked at him,
startled that he had a speaking role in this. "Oh, sorry. I'm
Norman Sassafras. Not a henchman, more of a prisoner, really. I
think he was going to interrogate me."
Norman pointed at Kalvin, who scowled, but did not deny the charge.
"Yeah, they've got us," said Shadebeam, "but why aren't they
coming up to collect us?"
Just then, the office shook.
"Or do I want to know the answer to that?" Shadebeam added.
The office shook again. Then, the entire wall on the far side
of Kalvin's office was savagely ripped away, revealing the garish,
neon-lit night sky of Alpha Rio VI, and the heads of several
something Sajon recognized. He felt his blood run cold.
"Wayne Newton?" asked Slithis.
"Several Wayne Newtons," said Shadebeam.
"The top half looks like him..." Norman started. He did not
finish, because it was not the sort of sentence a man could finish
while staying sane.
Three climbed into the office. From the waist up, they bore a
fiendishly clever resemblance to the universally beloved lounge
singer, down to the fine details of dark brown hair helmets atop
bulbous smiling heads and a torso wrapped in a tailor-fit suit that
was only incidentally bristling with micro-weaponry. From the waist
down, they had six silver, pincer-like legs that allowed them to
climb walls, rip through brick and metal, and quite possibly do fine
carving work on a roast ham. Sajon thought it a pity there were not
any roast hams about, as they might have made for nice distractions,
or at least a decent last meal.
"The Arachno-Newtons," Kalvin wailed. "We are *so* dead."
"Arach... arachno-WHAT?" asked Norman.
Sajon did not answer. The Arachno-Newtons were priming their
Aural Assault cannons. He heard the opening strains of 'Red Roses
for a Blue Lady' building up, and knew he had only seconds to act.
With one swift move, he unstrapped all his Typical Luck
Generators and tossed them past the Arachno-Newtons and out of the
"What are you doing?" Kalvin asked. "Arachno-Newtons are bad
enough without you skewing the forces of probability."
"We have to make something happen," Shadebeam opined, as she,
Slithis, and Norman backed away.
At that moment, the long-missing ABPSARI materialized from thin
air and landed on Sajon's head, knocking him out.
WILL THE ARACHNO-NEWTONS DESTROY OUR HEROES WITH THE NIGH-UNSTOPPABLE
FORCE OF THEIR SONG REPORTOIRE?
WILL SHADEBEAM AND SLITHIS, ALWAYS ASSUMING THEY SURVIVE THIS, GO
ABOUT HAVING ANOTHER HALLUCINATON?
WON'T THEY HAVE TO GET STONED FIRST?
WON'T I HAVE TO GET STONED FIRST?
SHOULDN'T I ASK SOMETHING ABOUT THE OTHER TWO SCENES?
DOES ANYONE REMEMBER THE LAST TWO SCENES?
Stuff keeps on happening in the next exciting episode of... THE
HILTON SISTERS CONQUER THE UNIVERSE!
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