Copyright ©1997, Jon Patch
CHAPTER ONE - OUR GAME
universe wasn’t always the peaceful place it is today. No, it
used to be quite different. And not so long ago as I’ve
forgotten. Let me tell you about it. I was there, you
know. Right in the thick of it.
changes started during a routine voyage. Me and my mates
aboard the good ship Hickelroy were enjoying an exciting game of hide
and seek. Except for our paper-airplane fights, it was our only
fun on many of our interplanetary voyages. The hardest part was
finding places to hide on our tiny ship.
the middle of the game, a mighty roar interrupted the discovery of
Jack Black (our candlemaker) hiding under a large pot in the
Now mighty roars are rare in space, and we decided to send Pete Porter
normally inoffensive elevator operator) to investigate the cause, and
with the game. Porter had taken a correspondence detective course
few years back and had his own pocket magnifying glass.
he was still looking for his equipment when another roar came out
of nowhere and the room was filled with a purplish-green glow emanating
from a large caterpillar which had materialized in our midst. We
were irritated at this caterpillar for spoiling our fun. Vladimir
“Sparks” Ilness (our normally offensive radio operator) took issue with
the intruder. In a blistering outpouring of invective Sparks
attacked, “Caterpillar, you bug me!”
caterpillar arched its back into the air, and snarled an angry
reply, “HyTuir iU^ki’lgn!!”
jumped out of the corner. “Now, I think both of you are over
stressed. Maybe we should all calm down and share a group
Sparks and the caterpillar both looked at Jack.
sneered, “You can take your incense and your crystals and . . .”
is something going on?” Our Captain, Captain McElroy, had
come out of his reverie. He rarely took part in our games.
We were always pleased when he decided to join us in our reality.
His mother had called him “Henri Jacques” but that was a point of
embarrassment for the Captain, and it was never mentioned.
caterpillar spoke, this time more intelligibly, “You bet there
is! I’m looking for Fancha . . .”
Captain interrupted, “Now just a minute.” Forceful, our
Captain. “You have boarded our ship without permission,” he
berated the oversized insect. “You have not followed
protocol.” As the Captain spoke Jack was putting the pot back on
its hook in the scullery. But the
stool he chose to stand on was past its prime. We heard a snap,
. . .
The huge pot hit the floor with a deafening
noise. Everybody hit the deck. The caterpillar jumped two
feet in the air, looked terrified, then dematerialized. That
settled the matter. So until morning we all went to bed, except
for the man on watch, George
CHAPTER TWO - EXCUSE ME,
. . .
added something extra to the crew, always ready with a joke or a
story. He would often gallop in tight circles around the room
throwing paper airplanes at everybody. And it was his lessons in
origami that had gotten us started with the planes in the beginning.
first, he wouldn’t clean up after himself and that bothered some of
the crew. But in time we got used to it, and George Jungle was
really more like everyone’s kid brother.
fact, most of our crew of 15 had been together on the Hickelroy
since we were children, pressed into service on our way to
Named after ancient King Edmund Hickie, our ship hauled fruits,
and (at Jack’s insistence) a variety of 100% natural dietary
to outposts throughout the Federated Planets. Although there was
one room, it was 150 feet across, and the thoughtful designers had
zig-zagged the walls so that we each had our little corners. Plus
had neat special corners like the radio shack and breakfast nook.
center of the room was piled high with boxes of sugar beets and kiwi
bound for our destination planet, Molevine.
a distance the Hickelroy’s original bold orange and magenta
markings were still visible here and there through the rust. On
closer inspection the thousands of parasitic creatures clinging to the
underside of the ship gave signs of life to what otherwise might be
given up for dead.
Molevine was a planet which the Hickelroy had visited many times before
delivering various cargoes, but this time we had an extra passenger: a
Planets envoy, Montague Plantagenet. He had kept pretty much to
during the trip, always writing in a little notebook.
* * *
lizard kept poking his tail into my flesh with an insistence that was
fast becoming annoying. I reached for my shotgun, but before I
grab it, I woke up. It was really George poking me awake.
Rats! Such a neat dream—I wish I did have a shotgun.
Carl, wakey-wakey time.” George was whispering intently, or
as intently as a zebra can whisper, “Get your gun and follow me.”
suppose I should tell you something about why I was on board the
Hickelroy. As the best marksman this side of the Gong planetbelt,
I was a natural
to be sergeant-at-arms on board a spaceship in those times of full
war with the Rotnufians. Carl Alexis Thimm could be of great
in a pinch.
up my gun without bothering to dress, I followed the beckoning
George out of my corner. Thinking I might be more useful if I
why I was being accosted in the middle of the night, I stopped him and
“George . . . ”
Do you want to wake the egg?” I hadn’t the foggiest
idea what the egg was, or why it was asleep, but the urgency in
voice was unmistakable, even at night.
led me to the cookhouse (another corner of the room) where the
reason for his urgency became clear. A tree had sprung up where
no tree had sprung before, out of an egg. I had obviously
awakened the egg. The tree was filling the room, and its snakey
arms were starting to reach for some of the bodies sprawled in the
depths of sleep. I guess it
toyed with waiting a while to see if it would feed, then decided it
would be best if I shot it where I thought it would be fatal (the
head). I lifted my trusty weapon. And then an idea hit me:
here’s a chance to try out some of those fancy negotiation skills
they’d taught us during the last layover. Let’s see, first
I lowered my gun.
me, Mr. Tree, I wonder if I could have your attention for a
minute.” The tree paused, one branch only a couple of inches from
McElroy’s head. OK, now we’re supposed to acknowledge.
“Thank you, Mr. Tree, I really appreciate your time.” What was
turned slowly to stare at me, mouth agape. I ignored
him. A branch from the tree began to move towards me. This
stuff was really working! “Mr. Tree, my name is Carl.
to our ship. Would you mind telling me your name? I hope
I haven’t offended you by calling you Mr. Tree. If you . .
Suddenly the branch shot towards my head.
BLAM! My shots found their mark. The tree
withered. Clearly I should not have called him “Mr. Tree.”
I would know better next time. They did say that becoming a good
negotiator took some
George started laughing hysterically, falling back on his hind
legs and clacking his forehooves in delight. “Boy, you fell for
that, hook, line and sinker.” Then I realized what was going on
and glared at him, beet-red. It was just another mail-order joke.
The noise woke everybody up so Barnard Berkeley (our Chinese? stovepipe
scientist) suggested that
Cook make breakfast. Cook’s insistence on using prechewed whale
for cooking oil, salad dressing and as a tenderizer had resulted in
of digestive disorders and disfiguring degenerative diseases in the
crew. But everything tasted great.
Jack announced the discovery of a new game. “There must be
a reason this came to me,” he said thoughtfully to nobody in
“But, if you take a two-credit piece, and put it on a table, press down
on the edge with your fingernail, and then slide your fingernail off
edge the piece pops three feet in the air!”
was amazing, and cries of, “Demonstration, demonstration!” arose
immediately. Jack was always looking for the reason behind this
or that, and giving
us lectures on spiritual oneness and Reiki. He came up with the
Can I Play?
the trip to Molevine went pretty uneventfully, except for some
discoveries on the part of Jack about his new game. About two
after he discovered that he could send a two-credit piece flying with a
fingernail, he found out that by using another coin instead of his
and using the same principles of pressure, he could make a coin go at
five feet in the air, and TEN along the floor. Montague had
he first demonstrated this new principle, Naba Kov (our one-eyed
helmsman) came up with a great idea. Kov had an edge to him, and
usually kept to himself, but he had a keen eye for new ideas. He
as good at avoiding spacebergs. Rumor had it that he’d lost the
in a collision. His wild teenage years had resulted in the loss
an arm and a leg to settle a gambling debt. Now still alive 70
beyond any normal lifespan, a number of the crew were jockeying to be
in line for his job.
think you young’uns should set up a target and see who can come the
closest," Kov suggested. A downright exciting idea, that, but I
of one problem. "What can we use as a target?" That stymied
us for a while, but Jack saved us from thinking too long and hard.
wrong with the shower drain?"
at all!" Porter echoed the general sentiment.
few hours of cleaning later (we rarely used the shower, but George
had used it the day before and it was a mess), Jack challenged Porter
to a game. Jack won and took all comers until we got to
Molevine. "It’s meant to be," Jack observed philosophically.
* * *
day Porter decided that our meals needed some variety. Porter
always wanted to please, and he had an idea for some kind of
He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was, but took an old garbage bag and
of Berkeley’s chisels out the back door with him.
was gone for hours. Occasionally we thought we heard hammering
on the hull, but were too absorbed in our new game to care.
Eventually we could hear him back at the door. There was a loud
is it?" George asked.
me, Porter! Open the door, please, I’ve got my hands full."
responded in his best sing-song voice, "I can’t heeaaar
you!" He looked around at us and winked. A look came on
Jack’s face, and he turned out the lights.
OPEN THE DOOR! I’VE GOT MY HANDS FULL!"
ran up to the door, put his shoulder to it and said, "Oh, OK,
I’ll turn the knob but you’ll have to push hard, I think it’s stuck."
TELL ME WHEN TO PUSH."
put all his weight against the door and turned the knob.
"Porter?" he called.
can push now."
door creaked a bit. George said, "You’ll have to push harder,
it’s really stuck!"
ALREADY PUSHING HARD!"
sung George in his alluring falsetto. Suddenly
we could hear the clatter of hooves as George ran away from the door.
the faint light of the instruments, we could see the outline of Porter
flying through the door, a full garbage bag over his shoulder.
Porter slid on something, straight
into the fruit crates in the middle of the room at full speed.
The garbage bag flew through the air, hit the ceiling and split
open. Whatever was in it showered down all over the room.
Jack turned on the lights.
don’t know who screamed. I don’t think it was me, but it could
have been. Six-inch parasites were everywhere, scrambling with
many legs to find nourishment. They were latching on to legs, arms,
anything they could find. Then Kov shouted, "Just a gol-darn
minute! Hold it everyone!" We all stopped in mid-flight,
the parasites pausing in mid-munch. "You little guys know better
than to come in here! Out! Right now!" The parasites
hesitated. "I mean it!" Kov put his hand on his hip
by one they sheepishly let go of their mouthfuls and scuttled out
the still-open back door. When the last one was gone Kov went
over and slammed the door. "Dang varmints!" he muttered.
That’s the last time Porter suggested a change in our diet. Sparks
sounded three chimes--planetfall in one hour.
* * *
destination on Molevine was the main fruit distribution center,
Norsilzarota. As we approached the planet, I took a seat where I could
watch it racing towards us. Its light purplish glow soon filled
the porthole, and
about ten minutes before planetfall I could make out a dark smudge that
was our destination. The smudge became a city in a few minutes,
in what seemed like seconds later we came to a stop with a
bump. Cutlery and plates crashed to the floor from cupboards in
you couldn’t berth a ship gently if you were moving it two
inches." Somebody obviously agreed with my evaluation of the
we there yet?" Kov’s question did nothing to improve our
* * *
tough reputation had been earned in early pioneer days,
when hardy settlers challenged an arid climate, rocky soil and acidic
atmosphere to create a completely unsuccessful agricultural
industry. More recently it had grown to be a top-notch
high-technology center, and boasted a modern full-service spaceport
second to none. In aesthetically landscaped industrial parks, leading-edge science was married with
innovative minds and endless capital investment in a carefully balanced
ménage-à-trois that provided substantial incomes for
technical gurus carefully selected from many galaxies.
parks, gourmet restaurants serving good old Federation
wholesome food, and graceful subdivisions carved into the bleak
a happy, healthy, nurturing family-oriented environment.
glass buildings, perpetual water fountains, and creative entertainment
to be found everywhere, all the conveniences that you’d expect in a
what the big sign said anyway. I’d seen it enough
times. All I knew was that this is where we delivered our cargo
and we had two
days for "creative entertainment" at the notorious North Norsilzarota
Club, only a block from the modern full-service spaceport second to
none. That’s as far as most of us ever got on our layovers there.
as we were leaving the ship, Berkeley pulled me aside. He’d
never joined us at the Nebula Club. He’d gone to university in
Norsilzarota, so we figured he visited friends on our regular trips
here. Berkeley said, "Hey, Carl, how about something a little
different this time?"
looked at him. "Why?"
I’ve got an idea for something really neat! Trust
me!" Berkeley rarely spent much time away from his technical
Sometimes he’d spend hours on the Semiconductor Substrate Forum on the
GalacNet. And I was ready for some creative entertainment.
I wasn’t too interested.
Carl, what’s keeping you?" George was calling from across
this once? Do it for me," Berkeley pleaded.
hesitated, then looked at George and waved, "I’ll see you
there!" I sighed. "OK, but this better be good."
won’t regret it!"
* * *
he is!" Berkeley had taken me to one of the endless
leading-edge buildings in an aesthetically landscaped industrial
park. We walked into a large room with a couple of
friendly-looking shirt-sleeved people at a table. It looked like
I was expected. There was a box on the table, with a picture of a
candy-cane on the side. Berkeley introduced them, "Carl, this is
Ken and Kurt. Ken, Carl. Carl, Ken. Kurt, Carl. Carl,
Kurt." They both gave me warm handshakes and friendly
smiles. They looked like twins, youngish, with glasses and nifty
pencil holders in their white shirt pockets.
Carl, have a seat." Ken slid a wheeled chair towards me,
and waved me into it. I had no idea what was going on, but sat
down anyway. "Carl, Berkeley here tells us that you’re pretty
smart." Kurt looked at me with a knowing nod. He leaned
forward, gave me a wink and said, "So we’re going to let you in on
something that could change your life!" Oh, oh, last time I heard
that I ended up with a time-share condo. On a sun.
sat on the edge of the table beside me, one foot on the
floor. "Carl, are you tired of always working for the other
guy? Tired of never having enough money?"
no, I don’t mind at . . ."
made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "Carl, have you
considered your retirement? Do you know what inflation can do to
I’m letting my . . ."
shook his head and pursed his lips. "Isn’t that always the
way? Tell him, Barnard."
looked at me for a minute, then put his hand on my
shoulder. "Carl, fate has put us together. There is a once
in a lifetime opportunity here. An opportunity to invest in a
technology that will change the face of the universe forever. A
technology that the three of us here have developed in our spare time."
nodded to Kurt, who took something out of the box. It
looked like a little girl, except it was only 8 inches tall or
said, "Carl, this is Candy." I don’t think it was real.
kind of plastic maybe. It sure didn’t look like candy. Kurt
reached behind the little girl and I could see him put a finger in a
loop. He pulled and about a foot of string came out of her.
he let go.
maaaa." The little girl spoke! Wow!
smiled and looked at me. "Now, Carl, for less than the
credits you probably spend on food in a year, you can be a part of the
and Kurt started talking so fast I lost track of who was saying
what. "Get that sailboat you’ve always dreamed of."
’bout a new powersaw?"
rid of those old debts!"
enough change for the bums in the street!"
your family and friends wish they were you!"
yourself a beautiful new home, with running water!"
life will be one fabulous vacation!"
Berkeley smiled and said, "So, Carl, whad’ya say?"
looked at Candy, and then sadly at Berkeley. "I don’t have any
money. Well, enough for some drinks, maybe. I send it all
Ken and Kurt were quiet for moment. Then Ken and Kurt
looked at Berkeley. Berkeley flushed, then stood up
quickly. "That’s very compassionate of you, Carl. Need a
ride to the club?"
* * *
blastoff time approached I was accosted in the club by Kov who
hobbled rather furtively up to me and said nonchalantly, "Did you know
are taking the Marsop back to Carvile?" That was something.
We’d never had a cargo for Carvile before, and the Marsop was a troop
with offensive weapon capability.
to hide my excitement, I replied with equal nonchalance,
And I just bet you think you’re going to be quite the
whippersnapper on board in charge of the neuroneutralizer."
CHAPTER FOUR - MY YOUNG
way to Carvile on the Marsop, of course I’d let no-one from our crew
near the NX-53 neuroneutralizer. Or the quarkruptor. The
disinteflator was well beyond their understanding as well. It was
fun playing with the weapons, and I’d almost forgotten my
disappointment at missing the investment opportunity of a
lifetime. Granny was worth it anyway. I figured that as
President of the First Interstellar Bank she probably knew what she was
doing with my money.
did let Jack oil the NX-53 injector pins. He seemed to enjoy
himself; his Tarot cards had said that he needed to be working with his
entire crew had been assigned to the Marsop. We were joined
by sixty ThunderTroopers of the 7th Argyle Division, complete their
with playfully-colored socks and full complement of enthusiastic pipers.
we left, we had been briefed on the blastoff pad by no less than
Her Rampantly Holistic Princess Doda Nigit III, suffering from one of
rare moments of sobriety. It was not a pretty sight. Her
had been wasted from years of late-night parties and appearances on
shows. We’d hear rumors that her diet consisted only of
algae. The bright sun reflecting off the black plastic of the
ThunderSuits provided a blessedly blinding background to HRH, as she
affectionately known. Montague stood at her side. He had
been evaluating our crew for suitability for our task.
pipers were playing, “My young Bonnie Brae,” it’s romantic and
yearning lilt bringing tears to our eyes. Eventually they wheezed
to a stop and HRH stepped up to the podium. “Good day,
surveyed her audience meaningfully. “You are about to embark on a
mission, of the utmost importance. The security of the entire
Group is in your hands, and no cost or means is being spared to ensure
success of your mission.
have been carefully chosen for this most urgent task. Your
intelligence, your diversity, your commitment, your attitude, your . .
. ah, yes, ah
. . . your character, yes, the character that this crew has shown
manning the Hickeytoy on its important missions in the past is the firm
foundation on which we now lay the mortar of our trust . . .”
missions?” Porter had whispered to me, “What important
She’s coming to the important part.”
. . when you succeed on this mission—and we know you will
succeed—the glory of the Federated Planets will be bestowed upon you,
and we will pleased, no, we will be humbled, to grant you whatever
small tribute can possibly
compensate for the brave task you will have completed.” HRH,
in her traditional boyish blue-jeans and tank top, flanked by brass
banners waving behind her, raised her hand in a royal gesture. We
and clapped as one, eager to show our willingness do whatever small
we could for our Federation, as the pipers began, “Nearer My God to
* * *
just exactly how much do you think we’ll get?” Sparks asked
the Captain the next day.
not important, Mr. Ilness, what’s important is that we have an
important mission, and all these fine young ThunderTroopers to protect
took his remaining withered hand off the wheel for a moment, and
peered at the Captain with his good eye. “Just what exactly is
our mission, Captain?”
then, it’s to . . . ah . . . we are going to . . .” The
Captain lapsed into silence. All eyes turned to him. Except
thrumming of machinery, the sighing of air escaping from suddenly
bagpipes and the faint chka-chka-chka-cha of mutilated rock from
headphones, you could have heard a pin drop.
* * *
Marsop was a completely different ship from the Hickelroy.
Much larger, we each had individual cabins, with video, foodalator,
urinal and multi-colored plastic-coated bobby pins. The central
alone was larger than the entire single room we’d shared on the
Hickelroy. One by one, though, over the first few days, we’d
taken to bringing our
sleeping bags to the control room (which we now called the playroom),
spent less and less time in our cabins.
by now, everybody except the ThunderTroopers (who we’d come to call
TeeTees) was either on duty or sleeping in the playroom. It felt
home. It looked (and smelled) like camp. We had lots of fun
with our new game, and Berkeley had let me have my own Candy when I
him who my Grandmother was. He even gave me an extra one to send
her. Everyone wanted to pull her string.
TeeTees were very standoffish at first. I had never
understood how much of them was human and how much machine. In
port they rarely said hello on the street. Really, I didn’t know
anybody who’d seen
them out of their ThunderSuits. Mostly they sat around and read
books. They showed no interest in the Tuesday evening origami
or even in throwing the paper airplanes. The only time they
to come to life was during their ritual dances when the pipers would
up a lively jig or some light jazz. From time to time some of us
join in the dance, holding hands with the TeeTees as the firelight
our faces and our hearts.
one point their First Nation commander, Jout Foogall, came to
inspect the armaments. “Sergeant Thimm!”
I’d been thinking about my new SpeedStreek 100.
That’d be a good reward. My commute time would be cut in half.
Thimm, I wish to inspect the neuroneutralizer!”
Commander Foogall! Yah, sure, no problem.” I knew he
like being called “Commander.” Sounded like a video control to
me. We walked down the stairs to the weapons room. Jack was
there busy polishing. Dedicated, that Jack. He didn’t look
Black, I have come to inspect!” The TeeTees in general were
a pretty weird lot, and Foogall was no exception. Everyone was
this, Sergeant that. Jack looked up.
by me, your Commandership. Enjoy.” Foogall proceeded to
completely dismantle and reassemble the equipment over the next
He knew his stuff.
* * *
this time the TeeTees began to take an interest in Jack’s game,
which we now called “Snapitatata.” Now with TeeTees, “interest”
is a pretty strong word. It’s not like they were madly flipping
two-credit pieces with their fingernails. We weren’t even sure if
they had fingernails. No, they were way more subtle than
that. It was just that whenever we had a Snapitatata tournament
(which was almost all the time) there would be more than the usual
number of TeeTees in the playroom.
couple of days before we reached Carvile, one of the TeeTees, who had
never told us his name, but we called “Fluffy,” approached one of the
tables. “Me beat any of you at game. Me watch, me learn
Me bet many credits.”
Fluffy, don’t be too hasty.” Sparks looked up. He had
been giving Jack a run for his money at the game. They both were
expert. Actually we were all getting pretty good. Even
George had developed a snappy two-hoof delivery that was breaking
beat Black! How much you bet?” Fluffy eyed Jack
have you been drinking?” Porter summed up our common
thought. In thirty seconds Fluffy had already exceeded the total
word count of himself and all his clones in the entire trip. And
he was showing something dangerously close to emotion. Caution
was the word here.
not like me? You not let me play?” A few TeeTees moved
closer. This was getting unpleasant.
Captain blinked awake and queried incisively, “Is there a problem
broke the tension. “Sure, Fluff, hey, no problem.
Let’s have some fun. How ’bout 20 credits to start?”
that did it, by the time we reached Carvile, every TeeTee except
Commander Foogall was a committed Snapitist. Fluffy did lose the
game, but was almost unbeatable after that.
* * *
in one hour.” The intercom announcement echoed the
three chimes, “All personnel please report to the playroom for a
briefing. Repeat. All personnel . . .”
CHAPTER FIVE - RIPPED GENES
intercom announcement was redundant. “All personnel,” including
TeeTees now, were always in the playroom. But it sounded
official. Both the Captain and the Commander would like that.
began the briefing. “As you know we are on an important
mission. As you also know, we don’t know what it is.
you, Captain McElroy.” Foogall paused impressively.
I think that’s what the pause was, anyway. “I, too, remarkably,
and for the first time in my rather extensive and illustrious career
have not been appraised in advance of our complete mission. All
we know is that
it is important, we have the unending support of HRH and the Federated
Planets, and that it begins on Carvile. Captain, the remote.”
picked up the video control from the console. And the
narrative. “We have just received a flashvideo transmission from
Federation headquarters. Please give your attention to the
viewing pod. Mr. Black, lights,
please.” The room darkened ominously and an image took shape in
center of the room, wavered and then stabilized. A groan passed
people.” It was HRH again. “Your mission is about to
begin. We can now reveal its true purpose. You have been
chosen for this
great work because of your dedication, your resilience, your
and your corresponding intelligence. My brave warriors, my
fearless gladiators, I have sad news for you. “We now believe
the evil Rotnufians have actually been dangerously influencing the
Planets for longer than the current conflict. Indeed we have
that the recent round of hostilities has been preceded by several
years of genetic manipulation on the part of these notorious
She leaned forward for emphasis as she said “notorious.” Every
in her face screamed for medical attention. “Let me explain,” she
you know, I am one of the few women in the Federated Planets in
recorded history that has worked outside careers in the tourism
industry, driving trucks and designing variegated-impulse star
drives. Men, like yourselves, fulfill the other roles, such as
raising children, growing crops, telling bad jokes and operating
starships. We, as peoples of the Federated Planets, have come to
understand these as our roles.
we now know this is not always how it was.” This pause was
definitely for emphasis. In fact I nearly had time to go to the
washroom. HRH attempted to straighten her malnourished four and a
half foot frame, the result was not impressive. I could see
George out of the corner of my eye trying to stifle a giggle. He
managed a cough.
courageous soldiers, recent analysis has proven conclusively that
at one time men and women had equal roles!” A murmur ran through
crew. Even the TeeTees glanced at each other. At least I
that’s what they did. A couple of their shiny heads rotated a bit
. . and we have concluded that the only way we could have lost this
wonderful heritage is through a fiendish alteration of our genetic
Our scientists have labored intensely and concluded that the evil
Rotnufians must have altered the radiated spectrum of all luminaries of
the Federated Planets!” Spittle began to fly. “This mutated
spectral energy then has warped our very genes!”
Those bad Rotnufians! HRH was building to a frenzy.
we believe that the control center for this horrible travesty is
right in the midst of the Federation! Yes, we have proof that
Carvile is the center!” HRH was drooling. She stopped and
looked down for a moment, mercifully wiping her chin. There was
silence in the room. Even the machinery stopped. This was
pretty scary. Maybe I didn’t need that new SpeedStreek. No,
I knew I didn’t need it. I started to put my hand up, then
continued in a low, measured voice, “You, my undaunted heroes, will
find that terrible control center and destroy it. With its
will come freedom for all of us from roles that have caged us for
of years. With its destruction will come glory for the Federated
Planets, glory for you, and unbounded joy for all our peoples.
Our hearts go with you.”
image vanished. No-one spoke. The slap-skrunch-slap,
slap-skrunch-slap of the windshield wipers counted out the
seconds. Caged? Altered genes? Fiendish
alteration? I kind of liked my job. In fact most everybody
I knew was pretty happy. Maybe we should think
about this first. The lights came up.
have heard the words of HRH. Planetfall in 30 minutes.
We have plans to make. I am confident in our success,” Captain
McElroy said authoritatively. I looked around. Although
some uncomfortable looks, nobody was objecting.
least we had a mission.
CHAPTER SIX - PRACTICAL
SCIENCE AT WORK TODAY
tunnel was completely dark. Well, we weren’t sure it was a
tunnel. But we were sure it was completely dark. And
damp. And smelly. Jack, George and I had been assigned to
infiltrate the massive data banks of the Department of the Anterior in
the southern Carvilian capital of Heeldert. We were joined by a
half-dozen TeeTees to make us feel warm and fuzzy. A scout ship
had deposited this menagerie near a ventilation intake less than a mile
from the storage facility, and we had enthusiastically crawled in.
we found almost immediately that we had forgotten the flashlights,
and with radio silence our next move was the object of debate.
“Whenever there’s a challenge, we are always given what we need to
solve the problem.” We could hear Jack pull out the string that
normally bound his fetching
pony tail. “I’ll make candles! We just need wax, but I
my Q-tips! OK, who’s first?”
got matches?” I asked. Silence.
Jack sounded disappointed.
don’t we just wait a couple of hours here until the pickup
time? We don’t have to tell them that we didn’t go
anywhere. Do we? Who’s to know?” Now George was
making sense. This was the kind of thinking that brought us here
in the first place.
do not understand.” One of the TeeTees spoke. In the
dark it was hard to tell which one. In fact even if there was
would have been hard to tell which one.
do not understand.” Yes, it was Marvin. He’d been a
problem child, rumor had it, and had yet to come to grips with his
assigned role in the scheme of things. Whatever that was.
It looked like it might be time for a little reality bite for our shiny
black friend. I took on the challenge.
Marvin, what is it that you don’t understand?”
mission is to destroy the evil Control Center that is changing the
spectral emanations from our luminaries that are altering our genetic
causing us to create artificial differences between the roles of the
that prevent us from realizing our true destiny in the great universal
good, Marvin. You have been listening well. I think
you do understand.” Didn’t this kind of logic work for
Kirk? “So how long do you think we have, George, before the ships
more than . . .”
me.” Marvin wasn’t giving up so easily.
Marvin, is there something else?” He must be near overload
I do not understand. If we do not search the data banks
then won’t that make it difficult to find the Control Center?”
countered quickly, “That’s right, Marvin.”
how do we destroy it?”
I let this one sink in for a while.
the darkness we could hear the faint whir-whir now and again as a
TeeTee head swiveled this way or that. To what end, I have no
idea. At last Marvin spoke again.
spoke up. “So, about an hour and half you think, George?”
* * *
gentlemen, our first reconnaissance missions have been less than
satisfactory.” McElroy was beginning to sound like Foogall.
am able to summarize the preliminary analysis as indicating a
bias towards a presumption of insufficient ancillary evidence.”
were back on the ship. McElroy paused, looking pleased.
that mean we found nothing, Captain?” Porter’s eyes widened
as he realized what he’d said. “I mean, we don’t have your
Captain, perhaps you could explain in . . . ah, what I mean to say is
we come from a cross racial-linguistic-specie background . . .”
spun his head twice, then looked at Porter; we’d come to know
this gesture as the TeeTee equivalent of a dirty look. Then he
the rest of the crew. “We’ve sent out four teams to the most
locations for the enemy Control Center and found nothing. All
report a thorough search. So we are going to have to take a
my staff and I . . .”
me, sir, why don’t we ask the computers?” Berkeley was
the unlikely speaker. Ask the computers? What was he
that Mr. Berkeley?” Foogall sounded surprised.
“What do you mean, ‘Ask the computers?’”
bubbled, “Well, I mean, we scientists know that when we are
studying something and we don’t quite know exactly what it is we’re
quite what it is we’re looking for but we know that there’s something
and we have a research team and a budget and papers that we have to
publish in the next four months then we take all the data that we have
and put it into a computer. Then we ask the computer
questions. Sometimes you even get an answer that makes
sense.” At last he took a breath.
spoke up, “Hey, didn’t HRH say that it was her scientists that
had figured out the genetic stuff? Did they use computers?”
bet they did.” Berkeley sounded authoritative. “So even
if we don’t find the control center, we can make a huge report that
what a thorough job we did and proves that the other scientists really
to go back to their computers and ask some more questions.
know that HRH won’t want to make any mistakes after she thoroughly
reads the 500 page report that we give her so she’ll understand and
us our reward anyway. Or at least an extension to our research
around, Berkeley saw all eyes on him. He barely
paused. “And to help in making sure that she fully understands
the report maybe
she’ll have to hire some of us as expert consultants, seeing as we have
hand experience. At extremely high daily rates.”
looked thoughtful. McElroy was nodding sagely.
nailed his point home. “If something goes wrong, we can
blame the computer.”
clinched it. Foogall turned to one of the TeeTees.
“Mr. Dodgers, do you know where the computers are on this ship?”
sure I do, sir. I know right where they are. Yes I
do. They’re right in storage section 027, sir.”
we know how to hook one up?”
broke in, waving his arm frantically. “I do! I do!”
well. Mr. Dodgers, take a detail and retrieve a computer to
the playroom here. Set it up . . . ah . . .” Foogall looked
around at the sea of sleeping bags, cots, candy wrappers and unwashed
underwear. “Belay that. Set it up in my cabin.” He
turned to Berkeley.
Berkeley, is 30 minutes sufficient time before we can begin our
questioning of the machine?”
hour would be better, sir.”
it 30 minutes.”
Berkeley was too excited to argue. “I mean, yes, sir!”
CHAPTER SEVEN - A DAY AT
the black plastic thing with the three metal rods sticking out, and
into those holes in the wall.” Berkeley was reading from a large
that what those holes are for! You learn something new every
day!” Mr. Dodgers lined up the black thing and pushed it into the
take the other end of the rope and push it into that box there.”
know what, Barnard? It just doesn’t fit. Isn’t that
put down the book. “Let me see.” He took the rope
from Mr. Dodgers and turned the end over. “Now try.”
Dodgers pushed it in. “That’s better. Didn’t that feel
good? That felt really good to me.” From inside his helmet,
we could feel Mr. Dodgers’ warm smile. Someone had got the idea
connect the cabin video scanner with the video pod, so we were all able
to watch the action from the cozy comfort of the playroom.
had Mr. Dodgers and Sparks to help him.
asked, “What do I do with this?” He was holding another
rope that came out a different box, this box had one side that was
had a really nifty stand that it sat on. Berkeley had called it
“herganaumik” or something like that.
stovepipe mechanic picked up the manual again. “Ah . . . same
thing, yes. Exactly the same.” Sparks repeated Mr. Dodgers’
the end it did take almost an hour. The result was one
rectangular box with some buttons on it that sat on the floor with
ropes that went
to the glass box, and to a flat thing with dozens of buttons. The
flat thing sat on a table in front of the glass box.
rope went from the rectangular box to an even bigger box.
Berkeley had Mr. Dodgers fill it up with our scrap paper. We even
to flatten out some of our paper airplanes. He said that this box
be very important when we were ready to make our report.
these boxes had ropes that went into those holes in the wall.
Finally there was one little box in the shape of rat with a little rope
the rectangular box. It had a couple of buttons on it and sat on
Foogall,” Berkeley called to the playroom on the intercom.
ready to turn it on.” Berkeley was almost jumping from one
foot to the other. He was excited.
be right there.” Foogall and McElroy went to the cabin.
everyone was settled, Berkeley whispered to Mr. Dodgers, who put
his finger to one of the buttons on the rectangular box. Berkeley
folded his arms. “Whenever you’re ready, sir.”
nodded, Mr. Dodgers looked at Berkeley. “Should I push it
now, Barnard? Just tell me when. I won’t push it until you
me.” Berkeley nodded.
then, here we go, hold on to your hats. Isn’t this
exciting?” Mr. Dodgers had become very talkative recently.
He pressed the button. We held our breath. A whirring sound
started, got faster, then another whirring sound merged into a
high-pitched whine. The glass part of the glass box began to
glow. Suddenly words came up on it, flashed
by too fast to read. Then the glass went blank. Berkeley
a little worried, some colors and more words appeared. Then we
trumpets! It must be working! This was great! A
ran through the crew, some smiled. Berkeley looked
Minutes passed as little boxes appeared on the glass in different
What was it doing?
the glass stopped changing. Foogall looked at
Berkeley. Berkeley hesitated for a moment, then looked at the
manual, reached over and pressed one of the buttons on the rat
box. The glass went dark, then a magnificent warrior slowly
appeared on the glass, swinging a mighty sword. The computer
began to sing! This was more like it! HRH would be pleased!
the sword froze, the singing stopped, and some words came on
the glass on top of the warrior. Everybody leaned forward to read
QUAKE XCVII caused
a Fatal Exception Error in
CHAPTER EIGHT - DON’T TREAD
across her cell for the thousandth time. What could be
keeping Vortok? Vortok had promised. He said she’d only
have to wait a day. It had been more like a week. She was
surviving on one Lalolita leaf a day shoved through a slot in the
door. She’d kill that Vortok, rip every leg off if it took all
* * *
then. There it is. Isn’t it? Not much one can
say, is there? Even if one wanted to. Which one might
Bother!” Hoop Inniw was at his wits’ end. Vortok was
he said he had no idea what had happened to Fancha.
didn’t matter whether Hoop believed him or not, he was going to have
to get help from somewhere else. He had no choice but to call out
vast empire under Hoop the Inniw’s control was under constant
threat, and his troops were scattered across many galaxies. It
would be an annoyance to have to redeploy key resources just to find
his missing sister.
the few scouts he’d sent into the Natball sector where Fancha was
last seen had all disappeared, probably victims of local
personal transcendentalist, Yogi Mahesh Nautgo Baire, had related a
in which Vortok had seduced Fancha. But with Vortok’s steadfast
that was leading nowhere.
just have to send in the troops.
CHAPTER NINE -
it saying?” McElroy looked a little concerned.
thought for a moment, then brightened, “I think it understood
our question—this may be our answer.”
began to clamor in the playroom. “Where is the 500 page
report?” Porter wanted to know.
I try?” Somebody (rather pointlessly) shot a spitball at the
video pod. Paper airplanes began to fly.
Foogall’s cabin, Berkeley continued, “I see, yes, now I understand.”
ahead. Anytime.” Foogall was ready.
the warrior and the music must represent the glory of the
Federation before the Rotnufians started to mess with our genes.”
Berkeley began to warm to the explanation. “Yes, that’s it.”
they interfered, that’s the ‘Fatal Violation Error,’ and those
numbers must be the coordinates of the control center.”
what’s this ‘Fault’ thing?” McElroy cocked his head at the glass.
looks like someone named Quake something broke down our
defenses. Maybe she was a traitor.”
looked up at the video scanner. “Mr. Kov, come down here.”
the playroom, Kov handed the wheel to George. “Here, take the
helm.” George put it back on the console and gave it a
spin. The ship lurched.
sat back in the seat and stuck a hoof in the wheel. He
smiled. “Sorry. Won’t happen again.”
glared at George, then made his way to the cabin. “What do
you make of these coordinates?” Foogall asked.
squinted. “Would you mind reading them out? Just to
make sure I’ve got them right. Hold on a minute.” With
slowness he pulled out a notepad. “Anybody have a pen?”
Dodgers held a pen out. “Here you go, Mr. Kov. This is
a very nice pen. Don’t you like very nice pens? I like very
looked down at the pad in his hand, then at the pen. He
thought for a moment, then dropped the pad and took the pen.
“Thanks. Now what were those coordinates again?”
read them out. Kov put the pen thoughtfully in his
nose. “Sounds like coordinates all right. But not in our
It’ll take some time to decode.” He handed the pen back to Mr.
who took it gingerly between two fingers. “Mind writing those
for me? Pad’s on the floor. Thanks.” Kov turned and
* * *
few days later Kov went to the Captain. “Captain, can I see you
for a minute in your cabin?”
Captain cleared his throat. “Yes, Mr. Kov. Where’s
we don’t need him quite yet, Captain.”
well.” The Captain led the way to his large (and unused)
cabin. Kov looked at the floor.
don’t know quite how to tell you this. It’s like . . . well,
I’m not sure those coordinates are exactly right.”
not? Weren’t you able to decode them?”
hesitated, then said, “Well, yes, I was, but . . .”
what!” The Captain was getting impatient.
the coordinates are located in the center of The Wasteland.”
stared for a moment, then began to pace back and forth.
“I see your point, yes I do. This won’t do. The coordinates
must be wrong. Yes, maybe the computer malfunctioned or
something. Computers do malfunction, don’t they? Yes, there
must be a problem
with the computer. Mr. Berkeley will know.” He turned to
communications screen and flipped the switch.
Berkeley, to my cabin on the double!” In the playroom
everyone looked up. Nobody could remember when McElroy had ever
wanted anything done on the double.
showed up with Foogall. Foogall looked at the
Captain. “Anything wrong, Captain? Anything I should be
Captain stuttered, “Ah, no, it’s just . . . I mean, it’s . . .”
. . an internal disciplinary matter.” Kov came to the rescue.
Commander, a minor internal matter. Not to worry.”
The Captain was sweating profusely.
well, Captain.” Foogall left. Kov closed the door
looked from the Captain to Kov. “What did I do? I
didn’t mean it, honest. It was somebody else’s fault. It
have been.” He began twisting his toe rather endearingly in the
velvet plush carpet.
your blubbering, idiot. We have a question about the
computer.” The Captain looked scared.
can you discipline a computer? What did it do wrong? I
didn’t promise it would work!” Berkeley’s paranoia was deeply
for a minute!” Kov sneered at Berkeley. “Consarned
Berkeley, do you think those coordinates are correct?” the Captain
suppose so, hard to tell for sure, I mean they seem OK, don’t they?”
picked up the questioning. “Is there another way we can ask
hesitated. Over the past couple of days he’d worked on
the computer endlessly, pushing different buttons, plugging in
different ropes, turning it upside down. The result was always
the only answer I can get.”
moved closer to Berkeley. “How do you feel about a little
vacation in The Wasteland? Been there recently? Know
anybody that has?”
eyes widened and he started to tremble. Then the door
burst open. Foogall stood there with half the crew craning their
behind for a view. George had the best view. Foogall looked
at the Captain, hands on his hips. From behind Foogall, Porter
out, “We don’t have to go to The Wasteland, do we, Captain?” Kov
leaned over to the communications screen and flipped the switch to
* * *
am authorizing the installation of the new experimental subspace
transmutilator on the Marsop. My sister designed it
herself. It will allow
you to travel to The Wasteland in less than a week in a series of
subspace hops.” HRH had spoken directly to Foogall. A
team had traveled to Carvile while we waited, and now swarmed over the
of hammocks had been installed in the playroom. Apparently
we would need to be in these during the pleasant subspace hops.
hung them on ropes from the ceiling, and we’d taken to stringing our
between the ropes. It was really quite convenient. I had
make a special little hammock for Candy. It put a damper on
though; there wasn’t enough clear space to get any kind of a decent
So we’d taken to lying in our hammocks and swinging back and forth
we hit the next hammock. It was most effective when the target
contained a sleeping body, and if done just right the victim would end
up on the
TeeTees showed no interest in this, and when Sparks dumped a
dreaming Fluffy, it cracked the plastic top of his helmet. Fluffy
amused, and Porter had to put a strip of red electrical tape across the
crack. Although Fluffy wouldn’t let on we secretly suspected that
he was proud of his battle scar.
technical team worked on the outside of ship as well, although we
had no idea what all the hammering was doing. Early on they
covered the windows with lace curtains in a stunning array of designer
pastels. In the engine room, the steam engines were removed in
sections and replaced with dozens of small cages with cool little
wheels inside them. Later a series of boxes with small holes were
delivered. From behind the closed doors to the engine compartment
we could hear strange squeaks as the technical people worked long into
one day the work was completed, and the technical team
left. Kov was given some last minute instructions and we were
dim the lights!” Jack turned a knob at McElroy’s
command. “Everybody in your hammocks!” We all jumped in,
and 76 hammocks swung gently back and forth.
had a neat little remote control with an antenna on it and
everything. It had a couple of knobs and some buttons. From
his hammock he adjusted the knobs carefully.
There was a crack as Kov’s control hit the
floor. “That darn thing is hard to hold on to!”
the last few days we’d lost some of our fear. Certainly with
the windows covered it would be less likely that the evil dog-monsters
we’d heard about in legends of The Wasteland could see us. We
also looking forward to the pleasant subspace hops. And of course
had all those ThunderTroopers. Everything would be fine.
* * *
last thing I remember was Kov’s gnarled finger coming down on a red
button, there was a sudden squealing, a roar and then I blanked
What seemed like days later I came to. I immediately threw
It was horrible. My guts felt inside-out. I felt better
ten minutes or so. But relief was only momentary, as I looked
the crew and TeeTees were slowly waking up and heaving everywhere.
was a nightmare. I won’t even begin to describe the
smell. I will leave the whole terrible scene of TeeTee’s helmets
filling up, the cleanup with the firehoses, the washing and airing of
the clothes, and
the psychological recovery to the imagination. I don’t want to
about it. Ever.
do you mean, there’s 16 more?” McElroy was almost screaming
it’ll take us a total of 17 hops to get to those
coordinates.” Kov didn’t look like he was too happy with the idea
was listening. “Get me Federation Headquarters,” he told
the end we were airlifted several hundred bottles of Lovarg, a drug
which put us into a hallucinatory state. Now we were ready for
pleasant subspace hops.
we go!” That may have been what Kov said, anyway.
Kov managed to keep pushing the buttons, I have no idea. I
remember hearing him cackling wildly, “Last one!” Nobody
cared. I vaguely saw a 50-foot claw pushing on a giant red
beetle, and was out again.
CHAPTER TEN - I’D LIKE MINE
MELTED ON THE INSIDE, PLEASE
it out!” Jack was peering through some kind of waving pink
flag. “There’s, like, millions of antelopes out there,
man!” I focused on a spinning spiral of black and white.
Must be George. I closed my eyes, and opened them again.
Rows of hammocks. That was better.
crew was all staring different directions with a fascinating
variety of expressions on their faces. Except for the
heads were spinning at several hundred RPM. We must have
I crawled generally in Jack’s direction, then decided to fly, it’d be
Get off my stomach!” Porter was whining about
something. I reached for a beautiful pastel tablecloth, then it
shrunk to an inch
across. I pulled at it, and there was a ripping sound from
looked out the little window. “Wow! Those aren’t
antelopes! They’re marshmallows! Big black marshmallows
with yellow markings
and weapons turrets! Open your eyes! There are millions of
them, though. You’re right about that.” I was amazed that
anyone would equip marshmallows with weapons turrets. But there
there was a blinding flash, and seconds later there was a
deafening “CRACK!” I was thrown violently against the wall.
Dishes crashed and crew and TeeTees alike flew everywhere.
they’re firing on us!” It was impossible to tell who
spoke: the floor was a mass of seething bodies and TeeTees.
Nobody was left in the hammocks.
it must be a video game! Let’s shoot back!”
that sounded like fun! “Battle Stations! Battle
Stations!” McElroy was shouting. Somebody found a button,
the lights went red, and sirens screamed, “AH-OOO-GAH!
rather pleasant automated female voice announced over the sirens, “We
are under attack, please attend to Battle Stations at your earliest
convenience. We are under attack. Please . . .” The
recording repeated endlessly.
maaaa,” Candy said.
Porter! Marvin! Fluffy! Follow
me!” The effects of the Lovarg were wearing off quickly. I
wanted to get into the game while we were still spaced-out. It’d
be way more fun. The five of us scrambled our way to the weapons
Platoon! Engage megagasters! Gamma Platoon!
Activate forstall devices!” Foogall was shouting orders at the
remaining ThunderTroopers. TeeTees desperately grabbed at their
spinning heads, and began to flip
open access panels on their chests. Buttons were pressed, and
of the TeeTees began to shout insults. Others sprouted wheels,
and comic books.
platoons, follow me!” Foogall led the way to the back
door. The TeeTees were bouncing off each other and the walls like
balls in a
pinball machine as some of the spinning began to transfer to their
bodies. As we raced down the stairs, I glanced back and saw
TeeTees crashing their way out the door like Swiss army bowling pins.
We all hit the deck and waited for the impact. We
could hear the shell whistle as it passed just by the bow. That
was close! Once in the weapons room, I assigned the
goodies. “Marvin, man, er . . . you use the disinteflator!
Fluffy, take the quarkruptor! Porter, keep them supplied with
ammo! I’ll take the NX-53. Jack, you absorb the
recoil.” Jack took position behind the butt of the
. . . under attack, please attend to Battle Stations at your earliest
. . .”
was this fun!
armaments were formidable. The disinteflator projected an
energy field that let the air out of the tires of any ship unfortunate
to fall within its deadly range. The quarkruptor created a
vibration in its targets that caused complete disintegration, leaving
only small chunks in a variety of Lego®-brick shapes and
colors. Attempts to reconstruct humans sometimes took
months. And the results weren’t always pretty. Although
ruthlessly effective, it had a short range.
The heart of our defense
was the NX-53 neuroneutralizer. It was capable of sending a wide
beam of brain-scrambling infomercials nearly a million miles.
Those unfortunate enough to be caught in its vicious swath had their IQ
drop 50 to 60 points, and found their names added to over 500 e-mail
took our positions. “Boogie at 10-o’clock high!” shouted
Jack. Actually there were boogies at every-o’clock everywhere,
but it sounded
on him!” I had him in my sights and pressed the trigger.
said Jack. Immediately the target began to turn, and
spiraled into two other marshmallows in the tight formation. All three
in a multicolored fireball. Great simulation!
many points do you think that was worth?” I ignored Jack’s
question, and just held the trigger down. With millions of
targets so densely packed, it was impossible to miss.
Marshmallows started careening
in every direction. “Ooof.”
Marvin was busy with the disinteflator. Marshmallows
had started to slow down, some came to a complete halt. I could
see troops coming out with tire-irons and spares.
that one’s headed straight for us!”
had seen the shell coming and said, “Me got.” He carefully
aimed the quarkruptor and fired. The shell exploded and a shower
blue, red and yellow Lego® rattled off the ship’s hull. “Try
that back together!” We hadn’t seen Fluffy’s vengeful side before.
the battle raged, I noticed many of the TeeTees clinging to the
outside of the ship, hurling humiliating taunts and insults at the
people. Others had used self-propulsion devices and were off in
distance butting the marshmallows with their magnificent antlers.
Some had created a distraction by reading them Spiderman and The
Hulk. Now more marshmallows were firing. These graphics
really hi-res. Shells were coming from every direction. All
weapons raked the skies knocking out hundreds of marshmallows.
there were too many of them . . .
we heard a squealing and a roar and I blanked out. I
came to almost instantly. We were still in the middle of the
no-one was firing at us. In the distance we could see a great
as thousands of the marshmallows seemed to be firing at each
Every second dozens of them were exploding in flames. We stopped
watch for only a second, though, shells began streaming towards us, and
we returned the fire.
* * *
every time things got too hot, Kov would push the red button.
He’d found that if he pushed a green button at the same time there were
no ill effects from the transmutilator and we were only out for
seconds. He’d put us somewhere else among the marshmallows.
Over the next hour the crew, watching intently from the windows,
counted over 7 million marshmallows destroyed. Only a few
thousand remained, and eventually they turned and fled. We
couldn’t begin to imagine how many points we’d racked up. It took
a while to retrieve all the TeeTees, though. Hopefully that
didn’t lower our score.
CHAPTER ELEVEN - IN MORE
WAYS THAN ONE
Montague.” HRH had never liked her chief advisor
much. And she hated being interrupted during a workout.
have reports that several million dog-sleds have appeared along the
border with The Wasteland.”
continued to pedal, wiping the sweat from her forehead. “Why
are they there?”
looked flustered. “Well, we don’t really know, your
then get their leader on the radio! I’ll ask him
myself!” HRH returned her attention to the CliffMaster.
few minutes later Montague returned with a portable radio. “He
says his name is Hoop the Inniw, most Imperial Emperor of the
Empire and High Keeper of the Great Yenoh Fields.”
cleared her throat, then took the radio and pressed a button.
“A great pleasure to speak with you, sir. This is Her Rampantly
Holistic Princess Doda Nigit III of The Federated Planets. You may call
me HRH. How may I address you?” She kept pedaling.
answered, “Ah, yes. Don’t let’s be too formal, eh
what? Just call me Hoop, if you like.”
well,” HRH nodded. As if Hoop could see it.
continued, “Look, sorry to bother you and all that. But,
well, the thing of it is, is that it seems as if, well, we rather
misplaced my sister, Fancha Watcha Bono Inniw. The odd bit is we
last heard of
her in your neck of the woods, as it were.”
see, can you give me a description?” HRH asked.
rather difficult to describe, if you know what I mean.
Tell you what though, I do have a photo. And a rather boffo one
at that. I could show you the photo, if you like.”
would be satisfactory. One moment, please.” She
turned to Montague. “What are their coordinates?” Montague
a string of numbers.
HRH turned back to the
radio. “Mr. Hoop, are you still there?”
HRH, haven’t moved a muscle. Absolutely not. I
wouldn’t be going anywhere, would I? You know. Not without
it would be best if you brought the photograph here. Why
don’t you and a few of your key advisors attend to my castle.
where you are, let me see . . . yes, proceed straight to the green
cluster, and then turn left and continue for about 20 minutes.
will come to a group of yellow planets around a pink and white
Have you got that so far?”
good. Just a tick, though, and I’ll fetch a biro.”
There was a pause. There was a faint sound of reggae in the
background. “Right then, I’ve got that part. Then
what?” Hoop’s voice crackled a bit.
well, at the stoplight, turn left. My planet will be the
fourth one on your right. Look for the monkey puzzle tree out
front. My escorts will meet you there. The journey should
take you under
an hour from where you are.”
HRH, this is so good of you. Yes, much appreciated, you
know. We’ll see you in a bit then, won’t we? Indeed.
I do look forward to meeting you, I’m sure you’re quite
enchanting. Quite. Enchanting. Bye for now,
then.” Hoop signed off.
What a fascinating voice, HRH thought to herself.
* * *
stared at each other, jaws slack. In the door to HRH’s
throne room Hoop stood erect on a few hind legs, displaying his full
ten foot height. His 75 well-formed forelegs dangled languorously
at his sides, framing the soft off-white of his segmented
underbelly. His elegant yellow and black striped antennae
twitched, perhaps a little nervously. He exuded an earthy, musty
odor that filled the room, overwhelming the usual smell of
Chianti. His 24th and 25th legs clutched a large brown envelope.
sat on her throne, the bones of her emaciated frame clearly visible
through her tight fitting jogging suit. Mascara ran from her
The hastily applied lipstick had only partly found its mark. Montague
coughed. “Possibly we weren’t expecting such an, ah, unusual
species? Bourbon, perhaps?” He snapped his fingers and a
waiter appeared with a tray.
and HRH continued to stare at each other, then she turned to her
advisor. “Montague, leave us alone. We are not to be
interrupted.” She looked at the servant. “Out. You’re
dismissed for the day.” They left the room by the side door.
took a step into the room, then turned back to the door and spoke
to his retinue, “Do wait outside, will you? Would you mind?
Thanks, so much.” He turned back to HRH, closing the door.
HRH, I really had no idea you were so, so, well . . .” Hoop
trailed off. HRH stood, swayed for a moment, then walked towards
him, trembling. She stopped just in front of him and looked up at
his exotic face.
Hoop, I am feeling a little disconcerted. I do not quite
understand . . .” She tentatively reached out and touched a
leg. It was soft, well lubricated, stimulating. Her lips
stuttered, “Ah, if I may be so forward, HRH, I cannot remember
meeting anyone so, so very attractive.” The envelope fell to the
looked up at Hoop, her glazed eyes glazing to opacity.
she grabbed a handful of legs and pulled his pulsating mouth
down to hers. Then she pulled back, teasing, smiling fleetingly.
HRH,” Hoop shuddered. He could control himself no
longer. He grabbed HRH with dozens of legs, pulled her tight body
to his yielding softness. His antennae wrapped around her head,
forcing her eager
mouth to his. They kissed deeply, passionately, then they fell
to the floor, Hoop’s undulating torso cushioning the blow.
want you,” HRH breathed. “I want you now, my love. Take
yes! Oh, my princess!”
* * *
are much alike, you and I, in so many ways.” HRH inhaled, and
passed the cigarette to Hoop.
so, my little chicken, quite so.” Hoop’s many legs rippled
contentedly as he lay on his back. He drew deeply, then blew
figure-eights with the smoke. They lay quietly for a time, HRH
on Hoop’s abdomen, absently playing with his feet, Hoop rippling.
tranquil scene was interrupted by a chime. “Damn!” HRH
crawled to the communications console, put her hand over the video
“What do you want! I asked not to be interrupted!”
was Montague. “I apologize, HRH, but we have an emergency
transmission from the Marsop.”
snapped, “Very well, go ahead.”
was static, then a voice said, “Commander Foogall reporting, HRH.”
ahead, Commander, what is so important?”
HRH. We have not found the control center at those
coordinates. Instead we found ourselves in a somewhat detailed,
ah, video game, HRH.” Foogall sounded a touch nervous.
video game! What do you mean?”
materialized in the middle of this 3-D projection of millions of
sat up abruptly. “What, ho! Do ask him if the
marshmallows had any markings. Could you?”
heard that,” Foogall responded, “They were black with yellow
looked stunned. “I say. Those sound like my
ships! Now, look, can you tell me where this happened? If
you don’t mind, of course.”
dear,” HRH said. She started to put her jogging suit back
on. Hoop and Foogall continued to talk. After some
discussion and translation of coordinates, Hoop looked puzzled.
That’s right in the Disco sector! Usually I have
that area patrolled with the dog-sleds I have with me here, you
see. You know, those bumbleships you’ve seen are normally in the
Kanu and Fing sectors. Odd that they’re in Disco, isn’t it
then? It doesn’t make sense. Something’s afoot!
Right, Foogall, my good man, can you tell me where these ships were
headed? Be clear, now.”
gave more coordinates. Hoop furrowed his brows.
“Zip, zip, ziiiiip.” HRH was getting dressed. She didn’t
sound of this.
Hoop’s eyes widened. He jumped to his many feet.
headed straight for the center of the Empire!
Vortok! It must be that Vortok!” Hoop frowned. “Now
this is very important, you understand. Listen closely, do you
hear? What Exactly Happened To
the Marsop everyone was listening in, and all eyes were on
Foogall. This looked like big trouble. They had no idea who
was on the other end of the radio, or who Vortok was, but somebody had
just got a lot of
ships destroyed, and he was with HRH. Kov began to reprogram the
transmutilator. Foogall took a deep breath and said evenly, “We
annihilated almost the entire fleet. Seven million marshmallows
had backed towards the side door, ignored by Hoop. Now she
turned to run. Hoop looked shocked. Then he laughed and
shouted, “Oh, good show!” HRH stopped dead and looked at Hoop.
show’? What do you mean, ‘Good show’? Are you
serious?” HRH asked in disbelief.
explained, “That blackguard Vortok is a dastardly traitor.
He was going to use my own ships to overthrow me. While I was
distracted looking for my dear sister that he’d kidnapped!
Indeed! My own ships! I say, your ship has saved my empire!”
EPILOGUE - BILLY ASKS A
that, my boy, is how the universe came to be such a wonderful
place. We found Fancha safe on Carvile, and the grateful Hoop
joined forces with us in defeating the Rotnufians. Vortok was
captured and sent to a healing circle. Hoop and HRH were married
and the Great Pan-Galactic Alliance that is our home today was born,
with all the galaxies of what was the Federation of
Planets, the Caterpillar Empire and the old Rotnuf Kingdom.
crew were all heroes. That’s how we got our SpeedStreek
100. But I was only doing my job. Of course, it might never
have happened if I hadn’t been manning the neuroneutralizer.”
Dad, what about the poison sun rays?”
right, there’s one more part.”
EPILOGUE II - BUT, DAD,
THE POISON SUN RAYS?
ou know there’s got to be something else this computer can do.”
Berkeley was poking at it again. He’d moved it to the
playroom. The transmutilator had broken down under the stress of
battle, with the steam engines removed it would take us nearly a month
to return home under tow. We were
all looking for things to do to fill the time. And disappointed
we couldn’t join in the roust of the Rotnufians.
Dodgers came up, he’d been rummaging in the computer storage room
for more parts. “Barnard, hello! I found another
thought it might help.” He handed the book to Berkeley.
took the thick volume, turned it over and handed it back to Mr. Dodgers.
OK, you read it.”
Dodgers thumbed the pages. “I already did that, I knew you
were very busy. Would you like to know what I found out? I
can tell you if you like.”
Berkeley was not enthusiastic.
I’ll tell you. Well, this computer is broken. That
means it’s not working properly. The book says it
‘crashed.’ So it must have been in an accident. The numbers
you got on the glass weren’t coordinates at all. No they
weren’t. Not even in the neighborhood. They just looked
like coordinates. Because coordinates are just numbers.
Why, I might have made the same mistake myself. Can you say,
overheard, and ignoring the fact that Mr. Dodgers did make the
same mistake asked, “Do you mean that computers can make mistakes?”
Dodgers replied, “Well, sometimes, even though we mean well, we all
make mistakes. And that’s all right. We’re not all perfect,
know. We just have to say we’re sorry.”
started to crowd around. Porter said, “So HRH might
have been wrong about the genetic stuff?”
looked shocked. “I talked to her scientists the other
day. They found the same numbers on their computer that we
had. They had decoded them as the formula for the spectrum
shift. I thought that’s why the coordinates didn’t work for us.”
genes are OK?”
that mean we don’t have to give directions to lost tourists?”
turned to Sparks. “Get me HRH, immediately!”