SF: Universal Solvents #19 (2/2)

swede3000 at earthlink.net swede3000 at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 24 08:11:37 PST 2007

(continued from part one, preceding...)
     The door to the surprisingly well-stocked janitor's room opened.  Outside, 
Major Lalan--a Goornashkan they had corrupted with promises of weaponry and
pudding--snapped to attention.  Kissy Hitowers--the Space Ingenue hired by Ronald 
for her ability to be kidnapped and menaced  by Space Villains--blew on her 
fingernails and gave Ronald a glare.
     "It's about time you got ready," she said.  "I was thinking of getting 
kidnapped just to pass the time."
     Ronald nodded.  That was why they had told Lalan to keep an eye on her.
     "Time passing's... over," he said, lapsing into his Shatner impersonation.  
"The show... is... on."
     "Glad something is," Kissy said, before stalking down the corridor.  Ronald 
looked at Lalan, shook his head, and followed.  Lalan seemed confused.
     "Not bad," said Toni.  "Kissy's a professional, I can tell, but Ronald struck
me as being a bit green behind the ears.  Plus, the Shatner impersonation is kind 
of lame, even by Shatner-impersonation standards.  Is that a thing with him or 
     "I think so," she said.  "Him and his friend Norman, who's not here.  The last
time I met them, they were really into 'Star Trek.'"
     "Huh," said Toni.  "I knew a boy like that, when I was growing up on Earth.  
He... wait, was that what he was talking about three days ago?"  She looked 
thoughtful for a few minutes, then shook her head and followed the others.
     Having offloaded just about all the exposition and plot-hole-filling the 
author had larded them down with, the group made excellent time to the entrance to
the control chamber for both the planetary security grid and the hyperdimensional
tele-transport (which Gham had earlier erroneously referred to as a 'transmat').  
It was convenient that both were located in the same chamber, as they would have to
shut down the planetary security grid before the _Challenger III_-- the ship that 
Gham, Jerriphrrt, and Lalan had come in on--could approach the planet and get
tele-transported to Zeta Ricola Beta orbit.  But that was about the only bit of 
luck Gham could see in their favor.
     The chamber, Lalan had assured them, held over twenty armed-to-the-large-
bushy-eyebrows Goornashkan marines, in addition to the dozen console operators that
controlled the flow of traffic to and from Zeta Ricola Beta.  The chamber was 
monitored by outside security with access to dozens more marines.  A direct assault
had a very low probability of succeeding.
     But there were other ways.
     "Excellent," said Gham, as soon as the doors swished open to reveal three 
Goornashkan marines.  "But somewhat obvious.  What if there were only two here, 
plus one just on that side of the door there waiting in ambush?"
     "We'll have to make this look darker in the game," said Jerriphrrt as he swung
his camera around.  The light made the marines look like startled tanks.  "Should
those pipes be oozing noxious chemicals?  Bright green and all that?"
     "I refuse to be menaced by bright green chemicals," Kissy snapped at them as
she stalked past the marines.  "It makes me look grotty.  I look more vulnerable
against red or violet."
     "So I dash in here to save you," said Ronald.  "But... come on, the layout of
this place is all wrong.  I mean, maybe on the super-difficult setting, sure, but
you've got to give me some cover in the lesser settings.  A console here I can hide
behind, maybe...."
     "What's going on here?" a Goornashkan finally asked.  He was the only 
Goornashkan in the room in a command uniform (you could tell because it had lots of
medals and clinky shiny bits), so Gham guessed he was the Commander Vilif that
Lalan had told them to expect.  "Who are---"
     "They are here on my authority," said 'General Varsoome.'  "Our Citadel has 
been accorded a great honor--it will be level eighteen in the currently-in-
development Final Vengeance of the Death Stalkers IV!  These people are here to 
evaluate our command center as the sight of this level's Boss Fight, and---"
     "Four?" asked a tech seated next to where Commander Vilif stood.  "They
haven't even released three yet!"
     "And how can it be the 'final vengeance' if it's their fourth go-round?" a
marine asked.  Another marine slapped him on the back of his head.  "What?  I've 
been wondering that since two..."
     "--this will not do," said 'Varsoome.'  "The game players will expect a decent
environment for a boss fight, but this... *this*... THIS... would not even 
inconvenience Super Needlewarping Mario!"
     Both soldiers and technicians flinched at this scathing assessment.
     "...acoustics are probably all wrong for a 'terrified princess' scream..." 
Kissy muttered.  "My agent will be furious...."
     "It's all right," Jerriphrrt said, with an airy wave of his hand and a 
dismissive swish of his tail.  "What I'm concerned about is the post-boss 
     "Would it happen to be," said the Commander, "'the party must shut down the 
planetary defense grid, reprogram the tele-transport system, and then tele-
transport back to their ship and get to where they're going before the enemy gets
     Gham blinked.  Jerriphrrt blinked.  Lalan blinked.  Ronald blinked.  Kissy 
screamed and blinked.  'Varsoome' did not blink, because the suit was not built 
that way.  The marines did not blink, because they raised their weapons.  The techs
did not blink, but they did snigger.  Commander Vilif did not blink, but he did
     "Captured human ship _Challenger III_ has been brought into orbit under 
guard," a tech reported to Vilif.  "Awaiting your orders."
     "Tele-transport the prisoners... including the so-called 'General Varsoome'...
to this _Challenger III_.  Once they are there... destroy it."
     The techs applauded this as the marines herded the group to the tele-
transporter, after forcing Toni to remove her Varsoome costume, and after disarming
Ronald and taking Jerriphrrt and Gham's computer equipment.
     "Was this part of the plan?" Ronald asked.
     "No," said Toni, "but don't worry, there's always a chance, if we can break
away before they trans---"
     She did not finish her sentence, as she and Ronald, Gham, Jerriphrrt, Lalan,
and Kissy were tele-transported away.
<<Alpha Rio VI - The Planet of Casinos (Vino's House of Merriment and Extortion)>>
      Shoon-Ma's explanation of the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the 
Universe was succinct, if a bit one-sided, Dr. Bing Von Spleen thought.  Since it 
was something like the twentieth attempt since this story began to make sense of a
legend about the theft of the power of breakfast food from before the universe was
created, Von Spleen tuned it out and instead focused on the only thing in the 
universe that interested him more than getting loaded: getting his ass out of 
danger, and the rest of him with it.
     Though Vino had not specified which of his humble establishments that Von 
Spleen and the rest of the group on the once-derelict (and now destroyed) black 
alien vessel were now in, Von Spleen at once identified it as Vino's House of 
Merriment and Extortion--specifically, the 24-hour buffet on the north side of the
high rollers sector.  He had spent about six months a few years back as a 'security
consultant' paid by Vino to use his spamological knowledge to shore up casino 
security, though what Von Spleen had done for most of that time was shore up his 
levels of pharmaceutical consumption.  He recognized the buffet room because he had
spent incalculable time on its carpet, staring at its complicated and faded 
patterns and wondering if he had become some form of aardvark.
     The cushy gig had ended abruptly when Icthor--the Marauding Goat with a 
Thousand Whining Teenage Goat-Young--broke through the fabric of time and space and
demanded to know just who it was that was getting around forty of her goat-young 
corrupted by the fast-paced, high-living, booze-intensive Lifestyle Of Today.  Had
Vino been around, he would have handled the situation--even though it was the very
kind of situation that Vino was paying Von Spleen to prevent.  Von Spleen--his
chemical-dosed mind already unhinged by the alarming visage of a being whose mere 
presence shattered rational thought, and whose pearl necklaces and pancake makeup 
somehow put him in mind of Minnie Pearl--could not control his thoughts.  Across 
his mind's eye flashed an image of Vino's sons, Frankie and Artaud, giving martinis
and a bunch of pills in an Altoids box to a group of forty or so teenage goats.
Icthor saw the image, shrieked, and disappeared.  When Frankie and Artaud later 
went missing, Von Spleen knew it was time for him to disappear as well.
     It had been a minor relief to learn, after convoluted circumstances brought 
him back into Vino's clutches, that Vino did not know who had inadvertantly tipped
Icthor off.  Von Spleen knew that, had Vino known, he would already be dead, and
possibly part of one of Vino's casino shows (Vino was one of the pioneers in the
small but profitable field of zombie musical shows and chorus-line revues).  Vino,
unknowing, was focused on the main power-broker of Von Spleen's group--Shoon-Ma, 
the ur-Bagel.
     "Now that I have told you of the Breaking of the Fast at the Dawn of the 
Universe, and why I yearn for revenge by pitting my Chosen One against Zeta Ricola
Beta's Champion--"
     "I thought it was the other way around," said Benjen (a native of the planet
Hottentot who had become one of Shoon-Ma's prisoners when his company, _Universal
Solvents_, tried to salvage the apparently-derelict ship Shoon-Ma had been on).
     "Hush," Shoon-Ma replied.  "Vino, I would ask of you... how have you 
suppressed most of my cosmic abilities?  I can float and I can talk, but as for the
     "This world is more than just a planet-sized gob of Las Vegas cliches," Vino
interrupted.  One of the Yak's three heads removed a cigar and spat on the carpet.
"My Science Yaks are pioneers in the field of chance manipulation.  We developed
luck-suppressing technology, and once bioengineered... well, never mind that.  The
point is you're not the first cosmic being to come down here, throwing his weight
around, acting like a big shot, and not giving proper respect to your betters.  
Hell, planet Aragan's God of Luck and Fortune and Free Drinks dropped in on another
of my casinos just last week, thinkin' he was the biz.  But now his luck is gone 
and he's working off his debts as a bouncer in one of my entertainment houses in 
sector twelve."
     Shoon-Ma, Von Spleen noted, was a quicker study than was to be expected from 
an ur-powerful talking bagel.  He bobbed in what Von Spleen guessed was an 
approximation of a bow.  "No disrespect is meant, sir.  I have always been a friend
     "Sir," said one of the armed Assassin Yaks next to Vino.  "We've got the live
feed from Mr. Certain's office ready."
     "Right," said another of Vino's heads.  "Light it up, boys."
     The giant screen over the buffet, which had earlier shown the explosive 
destruction of the ship that Von Spleen and the others had come in on, lit up with
a display of a battle going on in an office.  It was initially very hard to make 
sense of what was going on, a fact that Von Spleen blamed on his current incurable
     "Hey, there's Slithis," said Benjen, pointing at a green-scaled humanoid who 
was busy ducking a sharp pincer wielded by some kind of android that was half- 
terminator-style-arachnoid, half-Wayne-Newton.  (Von Spleen was not sure which half
he found more frightening.)  "And Kalvin... what happened to his eye?... and a guy
in a velour shirt, and... hey, that's Shadebeam!  What's she doing in this 
     Though he had only met her once, thanks to an ABPSARI-related accident that
had transported her to his ship, Von Spleen recognized Shadebeam at once.  She, 
along with Slithis and Sajon, had been on Shoon-Ma's ship until *another* ABPSARI-
related accident teleported them away.  Shoon-Ma had tracked them with his cosmic
abilities to Alpha Rio VI.  But where was Sajon, the former assistant that Von 
Spleen had been charged with turning into Shoon-Ma's Champion...?
      There he was.  On the floor of the office on the screen, with the ABPSARI 
next to him.  Judging from the welt on Sajon's head, the APBSARI had re-entered 
time and space directly above him and knocked him out.
     Despite himself, Von Spleen felt a chill.  He had *known* it would happen 
this way, ever since the robot TH1K1 had unlocked his perceptions three days 
before.  The events of today, both in this room and in Kalvin's office, were so
spam-saturated they defied time itself and projected into the past.  How TH1K1 had
known was something Von Spleen could not fathom--could the tiny toy-like robot be
spam-powered?--but it had known, and it had overridden the homicidal furies that 
were its ordinary motivation for any action in order to adjust Von Spleen so *he* 
     Kalvin, Slithis, Shadebeam, and the velour-shirted guy were fighting a losing 
battle.  One of the... the...
     "Hey," said Von Spleen.  "What are those half-arachnoid, half-Wayne-Newton 
     "Arachno-Newtons," Vino replied, deep satisfaction causing his voice to boom.
"I have instructed them to put on a good show for us.  That is why they have not 
yet gone for the kill."
     "Ah," said Von Spleen, and returned to his thought.  One of the Arachno-
Newtons had battered Slithis pretty hard, and the velour-shirted guy was clutching
at his ears.  Because Vino had the sound turned down, the cause of his distress was
not immediately apparent, but it appeared that the Newtons were singing something--
which would have explained the distress even if their lower halves were not 
mechanical arachnids with sharp-bladed legs.
     Von Spleen saw TH1K1 hovering over the buffet, apparently watching the battle.
The velour-shirted zombies that had been tele-transported from the ship with them 
had stopped milling around and now appeared to be filling out employment 
applications.  Shoon-Ma was hovering over the swedish meatballs, no doubt trying to
figure out how to free himself from Vino's cosmic-power-suppression field.  Benjen
had a plate of bacon and hors d'ouvres in one hand, and a honey dijon mustard
squeeze bottle in the other....
     Suddenly and without warning---
     "Look out!" Shoon-Ma exclaimed.
     Suddenly and with warning, Benjen heaved the bacon and hors d'ouvres plate 
into the air, exclaimed "pull," and squeezed the mustard bottle.  A stream of 
mustard shot out, hit the plate, and deflected onto one of the zombies.  Von Spleen
was unsure of what Benjen hoped to accomplish with this culinary maneuver, until he
saw Vino's Assassin Yaks surge forward.
     Benjen was creating a distraction.  No doubt he expected Von Spleen to make
full use of it.
     The platform that Vino had used to showily rise into the room was slightly 
elevated, and Von Spleen saw a gap between its edge and the floor.  Vino was 
regarding the melee Benjen started with a bemused disdain, and was making some
no-doubt-cutting remarks to the Yak on his left.  Some zombies stumbled past, 
trying to pick up the pencils the combat had caused them to drop, along with the 
hands that had been clutching said pencils.  Von Spleen used the zombies as cover 
until he reached the platform edge, and dove into the gap.
     He landed on the Tech Yaks that were beneath the platform doing something 
inscrutable with an allen wrench and a diagnostic tool.  Von Spleen snatched up 
both as he disentangled himself from them, then sprinted down the badly-lit 
corridor.  Soon he was in the audio room from which Vino had spoken to them before
making his appearance.
     His TH1K1-powered visions had left this part out.  Von Spleen knew he would 
have to disable Vino's suppression field before those visions came to pass.  Though
Von Spleen did not doubt that Vino held the controls himself, the actual generators
had to be accessible to the Tech Yaks that actually knew what was what down here.
     "Over here, Doctor," he heard TH1K1 gleep (a noise that Von Spleen could 
translate in his head to English only because the volume of pharmaceuticals he had
abused through the years had altered his mind enough to make it possible).  Von 
Spleen turned and saw TH1K1 hovering over a set of controls.  "Hook the diagnostic
tool here.  You can overload the suppression field relay circuits with ease."
     "Why are you helping me?" Von Spleen asked, even as he sidled to the controls
TH1K1 indicated.
     "Why do you think?" TH1K1 gleeped.  "You, with cosmic power?  Should be good
enough to finish off several star systems, at least.  Maybe a galaxy or two, if I
can get Zark Flyby to fight with you instead of against you...."
     Von Spleen gulped.  It was as he feared.  TH1K1 was playing him like a spam-
powered accordion.  The only honorable thing to do at this point would be to refuse
to do anything further that would serve the tiny homicidal robot's grandiose (and 
thus far ineffectual) dreams of slaughter...
     "He went down this way!"  The cry came from far back in the corridor.
     "Bring him to Vino at once!"
     Well, okay, thought Von Spleen, as he plugged the diagnostic tool into the 
controls.  Maybe just *one* more thing to help the grandiose dreams of slaughter 
along.  Honor could wait.
     It was the work of moments to locate the suppression circuits and overload 
them.  Suitable, since Von Spleen had only moments before several armed Hench Yaks
burst into the room and applied a yak-style smackdown.  As they dragged Von Spleen
back out of the chamber, he wondered if exclamations such as 'I am BeoYak!' were 
typical of yak-style smackdowns, or if his was a special case.
     The Hench Yaks pulled him through the gap between Vino's platform and the 
floor, then dropped him.  Von Spleen knew, even before he struggled to his feet, 
the reason for their sudden lack of interest.
     Shoon-Ma had wasted no time in setting things more to his liking once his
cosmic abilities were restored.  The Assassin Yaks were on the ceiling, pinned with
their own weaponry and kept silent with stale bread rolls.  Vino's three heads were
knocking against one another in what looked to be a rather painful example of a
perpetual-energy demonstration.  Benjen was hiding under the table with a plate of
sliced ham.  TH1K1 floated over to Benjen and pretended to cower as well.  The
zombies seemed annoyed by the gratuitous blue lighting that shot from Shoon-Ma at
odd moments, since it usually meant damage to them and a need to get a
non-bloodsmeared copy of the application.
     "You have done well, Doctor!" Shoon-Ma roared.  "Once Sajon, my Chosen One, 
has defeated the Champion of Zeta Ricola Beta, you shall be amply rewarded!"
     "I didn't do it for you," said Von Spleen.  His eyes were on the viewscreen 
behind Shoon-Ma, where it appeared that the Arachno-Newtons were finally getting 
down to the business of the slaughter.  One held the velour-shirted guy and was 
prepared to rip his throat open with its impossibly shiny teeth.  Kalvin Certain 
was sprawled on his desk, either unconscious or dead.  Sajon was still a lump on 
the floor, and Shadebeam was cutting a lock of hair from his head.
     A moment later, as an Arachno-Newton loomed over her, she fed the lock into 
     Von Spleen smiled without mirth, as the ABPSARI came to life.  Her choice of
fuel for the ABPSARI was clearly not random, though he wondered if she had worked
out the full extent to which Sajon's luck was intertwined with this particular
ABPSARI's manipulations of space and time.
     Then he wondered no more, as space and time gave him a smackdown that even
BeoYak would envy.
SFSTORY has the answers you seek.  Good luck getting them.
Gary W. Olson                      
swede3000 at earthlink dot net, swede at novitious dot com
Sfstory archives: sfstory.novitious.com
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