SF: Universal Solvents #24

Gary W. Olson swede at garywolson.com
Sat Dec 31 09:34:59 PST 2011

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Copyright (c) 2011 Gary W. Olson, All Rights Reserved.
Gary W. Olson      swede at garywolson dot com
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