SF: Universal Solvents #19 (1/2)

swede3000 at earthlink.net swede3000 at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 24 08:08:23 PST 2007

      It all started with Slithis and Gham of the _Universal Solvent_ finding his 
spaceship drifting around, and there were these dead guys floating around in it, 
only they turned out to be zombies, but that was later.  And there was this talking
bagel on the ship that wanted to go to this one planet to take revenge or something,
only these other guys came around and screwed it up, so he had to go to the Planet 
of Casinos, and his ship blew up, but he got rescued, and so did the people on the 
ship, and they were threatened by a yak.  And there was something about a Chosen 
One, like that ever works out, and there were these completely different people who
were trying to get to this other planet past these aliens with big eyebrows so they
could get transported to the same planet the talking bagel wanted to get to, where
this big police officer guy was blowing stuff up, and there was this wannabe space
villain dude who was talking to the ghost of his grandfather and...
     Never mind.  I'm just going to start the episode.
                               UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
                             (a Tale of Sfstory!)
                                  Episode 19
                                 Gary W. Olson,
                      hailing Sfstory's 20th anniversary,
                             only nine months late!
<<Zeta Ricola Beta (The Temple of the Ancients)>>
      The Ancients were watching.  This fact gave Quooth Thiiksi a slight chill, 
which in a human would be expressed by a shiver and the hairs on his or her neck 
standing on end.  Since Quooth was a Wzaxtil, phe expressed the slight chill in a 
way common to Wzaxtils: by twitching phis antennae incessantly while humming 
something that sounded to Earth humans like the theme from 'Petticoat Junction.'  
The Ancients, if they recognized the tune, gave no indication.
     Bagelos, surrounded by the ghostly Ancients (who looked rather like the monks 
that Quooth and Bagelos had spent no small amount of time running away from in the 
past three days, save for the green aura and partial transparancy) as he was, gave 
no indication of being creeped out or even mildly perturbed.  He appeared focused,
to a degree Quooth had never witnessed in the failed entrepreneur and would-be 
space villain he called a friend, on completing the ceremony the Ancients had given
him as a task.  His hands were sure, his movements quick and sharp.  A few times, 
he let out a murmur of satisfaction, which was soon echoed by the Ancients.  
Whatever he was doing, Quooth could tell he was doing it to their satisfaction.
     Quooth was unsure as to why they were satisfied.  To phim, it appeared that 
Bagelos was doing nothing except waving his hands around in empty air.  Quooth was 
forced to conclude that either Bagelos was doing something on a plane of existence 
that Quooth could not currently perceive, or that ghosts are just plain easily 
     "Excuse me, friend Bagelos," said Quooth.  "Could you describe what you are--"
     "Done!" Bagelos exclaimed.  "Who would like the first one?"
     The murmuring of the Ancients soon became the hubbub of the Ancients.  Bagelos
made a gesture as if handing something to one of them.  The Ancient looked down at 
the nothing in his hand, smiled, and walked away.  The space villain repeated his 
gesture again and again, and each time, another ghost left.
     "Friend Bagelos!" Quooth repeated.  "What is going on?"
     "Haven't you been paying attention?" Bagelos asked, as he handed another 
imaginary something to another ghost.  "I, Bagelos, was told to perform an 
extraordinary ceremony, one not performed since my grandfather, the space villain 
Baconos, last walked this planet!  It is a ceremony that shall ensure my ability to
manipulate the Proofs that control the energy stolen by my grandfather from the 
Cosmic Pancake that was the entirety of existence before the Big Bang which 
triggered the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe!"
     "Yes," said Quooth, suppressing phis awe at Bagelos's space-villainous prowess
in barking out heavily over-qualified run-on sentences.  "But what are you 
     "I, Bagelos, am preparing the pancakes!" Bagelos replied.  "And serving them!"
     "The ceremony is the Ritual of the Serving of the Pancake Breakfast."
     "I... do not understand, Friend Bagelos."
     "It's just this thing," said Bagelos.  "I, Bagelos, do not quite understand it
either.  My grandfather's ghost told me generally what the ceremony involves, but 
not how to do it.  And yet... my movements are sure.  It is as though I, Bagelos, 
was born to do this!"
     The ghost of Baconos, which was hovering not far away, frowned and floated 
     "I, Baconos, told you before, boy," said Baconos, "I, Baconos, am not a ghost.
None of us are.  We're all shades... copies, I, Baconos, guess you could say... 
captured by the energy that drenches this planet.  If you were to identify all of 
us, you'd find none of us who died any earlier than forty years ago.  I, Baconos, 
should know!  I, Baconos, was the first!"
     "But, Friend Baconos," said Quooth, "did you not leave this planet, so that 
later on, you were able to instruct your grandson on the story of the Breaking of 
the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe, and how you nearly achieved universal 
     "That is so," said Bagelos.  Now that he was done serving imaginary pancakes,
he was at a loss for what to do.  He settled on holding an imaginary pancake and 
taking imaginary bites.
     "I, Baconos, told him all my tales, yes," said Baconos, "but not the last.  
Not the one where I, Baconos, came back to this world one more time."
     "That must be a stirring tale!" Quooth exclaimed.
     The elderly ghost shrugged.  "It lasted less than five minutes.  No sooner was
I, Baconos, off the ship and headed with my secret ally for where the Proofs are 
stored than some guy runs past me and into my ship.  Seconds later, it takes off,
stranding me!  Five seconds after that, I, Baconos, get bitten by an asp and die."
     Quooth was puzzled.  "I thought there were no poisonous snakes on this world."
     "There aren't!" Baconos replied.  "Just like there are supposedly no ship 
thieves."  He shrugged.  "But there you are.  I, Baconos, died, and the energy 
soaking this planet made an impression of me.  Kind of like play-dough.  There's 
actually a highly scientific explanation for it, but you'd have to be a Spamologist
to understand.  I, Baconos, just float through the walls and utter fortune cookies
to the living now and again.  Sad, really."
     The tale inspired feelings of sorrow in Quooth.  He attempted to cheer himself
and Baconos up by playing a jaunty tune on his Holy Harmonica.  Baconos shrieked 
and flew away.  Bagelos shrieked and dropped his imaginary pancake.
     "I, Bagelos, wish you would not do that," said Bagelos.  "Very soon, the 
Champion of the ur-Bagel Shoon-Ma shall appear, and I, Bagelos, must be in place at
the controls of the Proofs.  I, Bagelos, at last understand my destiny in this 
strange and forbidding universe!  I, Bagelos, at last have a plan to conquer said 
universe that does not require me to raise large amounts of ready cash first!  I,
     "--are under arrest."
     Bagelos sputtered and turned to the door.  Quooth turned as well, in time to 
see a grey gnome with Freddie-Prinze-Jr-like features saunter in.  Behind him was 
Zark Flyby, who Quooth had thought was already in the room, having pursued phimself
and Bagelos there only to suddenly run out of cosmic destruction power before he 
could administer the final blast.  Behind Zark was the red, floating, heavily-armed
robot known as Megabot, which Quooth had last seen on the _W.S. Universal Solvent._
     "Friend Zark!" Quooth called, as there was a good fifty meters between the 
front entrance of the Temple of the Ancients and the cafeteria window that phe and 
Bagelos were near.  "Friend Megabot!  Friend Sark!  Over here!"
     Megabot floated toward them.  Zark, still lacking the munchy-crunchy cosmic 
energy that had been pouring from him earlier, stomped over.  Sark seemed to 
hobble, a condition caused by the fact that his robe was bunched up and twisted 
about, as though an extremely localized tornado had passed between his stumpy legs.
     "Your robot," said Sark Flyby, after he caught up to Megabot and Zark and 
stood before Bagelos and Quooth, "now obeys *my* orders."  He frowned, noting that 
Bagelos was having to fight to keep from giggling.  "It's not funny!  It attacked 
me!  I could have been hurt!"
     "What did it do to you?" asked Quooth.  "I see no laser burns or blade gouges 
or melted flesh upon your person."
     "He... swizzled me."
     A swizzle stick popped out of Megabot's chest cavity, spun about a few times, 
then zipped back in.
     "Anyway, once the medical monks got to me and were able to use the jaws of 
life to de-wedgie me, my programmer monks reprogrammed him to serve-- I said stop
     Bagelos managed to get his giggling under control.  Quooth was concerned, as 
Bagelos had never giggled in phis presence before.  Phe had been around enough 
enough humans to form some opinions, and one of phis opinions was that Bagelos was
not a giggler.
     "Now," said Sark, trying to assert something resembling authority whilst
simultaneously finishing a half-done job of extracting a wool robe from a place 
where wool robes were not, at least by any humans Quooth knew, welcome.  "You'll 
come with us quietly back to your cells, or--"
     "No," said Bagelos.  "You need us."
     Sark stopped picking at his robe.
     "Why is that?" he asked.
     "Because, thirty-seven years ago, my grandfather, Baconos, tried to open a 
circuit between himself and the raw power that existed in the universe prior to the
Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe.  He tried to steal the energy 
with which he could build an armada to conquer the universe."
     "And he succeeded," said Sark.  "As you will note by the existence of our 
space armada, our heavily armed soldier monks, and the force shield that 
effectively prevents all who we do not wish to come to our solar system from doing 
     Bagelos shook his head.
     "No," said Bagelos.  "My grandfather failed.  He told me so.  I thought 
perhaps he succeeded on his final trip here, but he died within five minutes of 
     Quooth marveled at how Sark's face, already pale from having his robe almost
permanently swizzled into a wedgie, grew almost completely white.
     "How did you--"
     "He never conspired with Shoon-Ma the ur-Bagel," said Bagelos.  "He never
double-crossed the ur-Bagel, thus setting up, here, millennia later, the meeting 
between your Chosen One and his Champion that will surely decimate this world.
     "That is MY destiny."
     Quooth shivered with concern again.  Sark winced.
     "Stop it!" he yelled.  "I hated that show!"  He got his annoyance under control
and looked up at Bagelos.  Quooth saw a calculating gleam in his eyes.  Bagelos 
seemed too busy with his gloating to notice.  "Very well, Space Villain.  You win.
We will take you and your companion to the Proofs at on-- Zark!  Stop trying to 
knock down that wall with your skull!"
     "Oh," Zark grumbled, as he staggered back.  Quooth could see he had made good 
headway (no pun intended) with the wall, seeing as it was the less dense of the two
objects that had been violently meeting.  "Okay."
     As the group headed for the door, Quooth glanced behind phim, and saw the 
green shade of Baconos and the other 'Ancients,' all watching with grim faces only
slightly stained with ghostly 'Aunt Jemima' syrup.  Phe turned back and looked up 
at Bagelos, who was following Sark and looking smug.
     Friend Bagelos had fallen for some kind of trap, Quooth decided.  But until 
the nature of the trap became apparent, phe could not intervene.  Phe wrapped phis 
feelers around phis Holy Harmonica.  All phe could do was be watchful.
     Sooner or later, phe would see phis opportunity, and would know what to do.
<<Mydrus (Tamask Citadel)>>
      The alliance between the Goornashk Authority and the monks of Zeta Ricola 
Beta is not one well-known by the universe in general; if it was, it would be 
considered highly inexplicable.  The Mydrus system and the Zeta Ricola Beta system 
are nowhere near one another, and even considering that access to overly-hyped 
space has made mere distance less of a consideration than it used to be, most
civilizations would think it more trouble than its worth.
     As in many cases where things seem inexplicable, Gham reflected, it helped to 
know the history.
     "Wait," said Ronald Hastings, as he fiddled with the circuitry of his personal
nuker.  "You're saying the monks of Zeta Ricola Beta came from this sector?"
     "They used to live on this world," replied Toni Williams, as she worked at 
putting on her Goornashkan disguise.  "Thousands of years ago, when the 
Goornashkans conquered this world and made it part of their Authority, the people 
here became the chief video game suppliers to the entire Goornashk race.  Then, the
High Priest of Enlightenment and Fully Destructible Environments had a revelation
concerning the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the Universe, and declared that 
his people had to go to a planet called Zeta Ricola Beta, where they would create 
The Game to End All Games."
     Gham did not like where this was going.  Too many words were being spoken in 
Capital Letters for No Good Reason.  She looked over at Jerriphrrt, her Calican 
husband, who was busy figuring out how to work an omni-camera he had swiped from 
the shelf in the janitor's room.  He noticed the look and blew her a kiss.
     "The Goornashkans didn't like it, of course," said Toni.  "But without the 
game makers, there would be no video games.  Plus, with the game makers on another,
far away world, it would be much easier to import consumer electronics from other 
star systems without having to suffer being sneered at and poo-pooed by the game 
     "What?" asked Ronald.
     Toni shrugged.  "That's just what I found out.  The Goornashkans set up the
game-maker monks on Zeta Ricola Beta and kept them busy with game requests.  Then, 
forty or so years ago, everything changed.
     "The space villain Baconos got through to Zeta Ricola Beta.  He'd heard of 
their tech and their religion and thought that they might have access to a power 
that would let him conquer the universe.  Unfortunately for him, he was right."
     Gham had heard the rest of the story, though it was somewhat fragmented.  
Forty years ago, through a conspiracy between Shoon-Ma the ur-Bagel and an unknown 
party (and the subsequent betrayal of Shoon-Ma by that unknown party), Zeta Ricola 
Beta gained a great deal of power.  The monks upgraded their planetary defense 
shields to a hyper-mumbo-jumbo-energy-tesseract and set things up so that the only 
way in and out (for non-Zeta Ricola Betans) was the hyperdimensional tele-transport
system controlled from Tamask Citadel on planet Mydrus.  The Goornashkans--while 
not particularly happy about the change in the balance of power--were no fools, and
knew that the power of the new Zeta Ricola Beta would shield their increasingly 
dodgy Authority from uprisings, rebellions, and so on.
     "Once that was done, the Zeta Ricola Betans gave up their native tradition of 
video game creation," Toni continued as she zipped her Goornashkan costume into 
place.  Immediately her voice became more masculine and raspy and Sylvia 
Browne-like.  "And then, for forty years, they waited."
     "Just waited?" Jerriphrrt asked.
     "And did monk things," Toni said.  "You know.  Monking around."
     "But they've got these prophecies," said Toni, "and we're getting close to when
the events in 'em are supposed to kick off.  Pretty standard stuff--a champion 
versus a chosen one, whack stuff happening to the fabric of space and time, entire 
planets being overrun with Hilton sisters--but these things have to be checked out.
Especially after a Nega-Cell and Nega-Transporter got stolen.  'Dad'... I mean,
Buzz Williams... was busy foiling a plan by the Chrono-Meks of Negaverse Dimension
110 to take over our universe by causing various weak civilization to crumble via 
exposure to a show called 'Spammymon Z,' so I ended up taking the assignment.
     "'Spammymon Z?'" asked Gham.  "Captain Vogel said that back on Earth, the 
entire planet was overrun with that show.  He'd been sent out to find a way to free
Earth from the horror."
     "Well, he can relax," said Toni.  "The last communication I got from Buzz said
that he and his companions succeeded, and he crossed that off his 'to-do' list.  
The Chrono-Meks made it look as though Dr. Bing Von Spleen was responsible, and the
Doc probably believes it himself, which was why he fled Earth.  Buzz said he'd see
if he could get me some backup for finishing this operation, but I never got the
chance to update him on how thoroughly the situation has been foo-barred."
     Ronald grimaced and turned away.  Gham felt for him--as a former Renegade 
Anarchist, she was no stranger to inadvertantly foo-barring others, or being 
foo-barred in turn.  As far as she was concerned, if you were going to gallivant 
around in space and mess with Space Prophecy, you had to expect Foo-Bar to happen.
     Toni's explanation of what she had been doing over the past year, while 
pretending to be a captive of the henchmen of Kalvin Certain, had been terse but 
complete.  She let Kalvin believe that it was his pudding price-inflation scheme 
that she was investigating, and that it was the theft of the Nega-Cell and
Nega-Transporter by Kalvin's agents that had drawn her to Dirk's Space Swap-o-Rama
and Grill.  Toni soon learned it was Sark Flyby of Zeta Ricola Beta who was 
stringing Kalvin along.  Sark was trying to help his planet's prophecy toward 
completion by getting Shoon-Ma the ur-Bagel out into the open, and by bringing his
son, Zark Flyby--the commandant of the Time Police--back to Zeta Ricola Beta, 
because he was either a Champion or a Chosen One or something like that.  Toni 
opined that, regardless of how goofy something like Shoon-Ma sounded, any prophecy
of destruction was made much more likely to come to pass if Zark was involved.
     Since the tech that let Sark tele-transport between Zeta Ricola Beta and Alpha
Rio VI was highly advanced, beyond even Toni's ability to crack, and the only other
way to Zeta Ricola Beta was via Tamask Citadel, i.e. here, that was where she 
focused her efforts.  Since time within the Nega-Cell where Team E (Kalvin's
aforementioned henchmen) kept her 'captive' passed faster than time on the outside,
what seemed like the work of a few weeks to set up a Nega-Transporter link to 
planet Mydrus seemed like over a year to everyone else.  Then someone at Time
Central--probably Zark's secretary, Toni opined--decided to be pro-active and 
'delight the customer'--the customer being himself--and send Zark away with an 
assignment to give to a couple seniors at Interstellar University who were looking
for a creative topic for their Senior Project, and now they were all stuck on 
     "I think I'm ready to go," Ronald said.  He brandished his nuker with one hand
while doing the Vulcan hand-sign thing with the other.  Gham guessed it was a hard
skill to master, or quite possibly a sign of advanced insanity and/or Space 
     Jerri's camera was set, and Toni was back in her disguise as General Varsoome.
Gham checked her sound equipment and nodded.
     "Okay," said Toni.  "Everyone set?  All exposition and plot-hole-filling 
     They nodded.
     "Right.  Let's go."
(continued in part two, following...)
Gary W. Olson                      
swede3000 at earthlink dot net, swede at novitious dot com
Sfstory archives: sfstory.novitious.com
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