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(PosterNote?: Please pardon/correct-if-you-feel-like-it the formatting...this has been through a lot of different formats)

Our Story Begins: 2nd Edition

FLANS;' first attempt at a round-robin story

Chapter I: Laura White, 3-27-00

How many people were actually aboard the S. S. Basil when it vanished is uncertain. Some accounts say 7,521, while others go as high as 22,000. The giant interstellar vessel was originally commissioned to hold a crew of 2,713, along with a cargo load of 22,000 and a passenger capacity of 8,376.29. However, in the twenty-odd years since its construction, seven captains and countless engineers had so redesigned the interior of the metallic interstellar hulk that no one really knew how many beings it could hold. In fact, the present Captain Rathbone had just successfully completed an enlargement of the ship's brig when the Basil passed the last signal beacon of Newarkkian space.

At the time, Captain Rathbone noted that they were already 7.51 light years away from his home planet, Snalf. And he was not the only one contemplating this fact: the second mate, heading back to his quarters after his last shift, tried not to think of how he would not see his beloved Arty for the next 4 months. The S. S. Basil pulsed with life as it left Newarkkian space, each individual mentally gearing up for the journey ahead.

And then, suddenly, the Basil was gone.

Dave Petrovich awoke to the throbbing of his skull. He was lying prone on the floor, naked. "What the...?" Gaining control of his vision, he recognized that he was on the floor of his own sonic shower. "Petrovich to Sickbay," he croaked, but no response followed. He raised himself up and crawled out of the shower, where he promptly lost his balance and cracked his head against a chair.

At the same time Emmanuel Yates (or Yeats, as he preferred) was regaining consciousness. The dull, painful throb in his entire body did not surprise him, but he uttered a string of profanities about starship officers and stun guns as he awoke. It was only after his vision had refocused, and he saw that he was lying on the floor of the brig central, looking into a small cell, that Yates let out an exuberant cry. Then, seeing that there were neither guards nor other prisoners, he hot-wired the ZanProtec?(r)(tm) Security Doors and ran out of the brig. As he made his way slowly to the bridge, he wondered at the lack of people on the starship. Where was everyone? In his preoccupation, he almost tripped over Cliel Nazcanth, who lay prone on the passage floor, clutching a datapad.

Eman stopped in his tracks and bent down to examine her. He carefully removed the datapad from her fingers, and skimmed its files. A menu from the galley. A half-finished status report on the efficiency of the ship's turbolifts. And a note from someone named Dev'von, asking whether she would like to meet him for dinner this evening. Cliel's hand reached out and she let out a soft groan of pain, then clutched her head, causing Eman. to drop the datapad to the floor and take off running down the passageway. A few seconds later he thought better of the idea and turned back to the ensign, who had lifted herself up on one elbow and was looking around frantically. He came up behind her rather quietly, so that she was startled and would have collapsed again had Eman not knelt down and steadied her.

"Wha- what happened?" she asked, obviously distressed. "Where is Dev'von, and who are you?"

Eman stared at her, thinking quickly.

"I am just a passanger... I'm not really sure what happened. The alarms went off, and I heard an announcement on the com that we were some sort of special phenomenon, and then I don't remember any more," he explained. "I haven't seen anyone else on the ship yet-that's why I left the passenger levels and came to see if I could find any of the crew."

"Alarms? I don't remember any alarms," said Cliel. "I do remember an announcement, though...some sort of black hole...Class 7, I think. Help me up, please. I must get back to my station, and determine what is going on. What did you say your name was?"

"Emmanuel. Emmanuel...Aguilagre," said Yates, as he helped the ensign to her feet and put her arm over his shoulder. "My father is a merchant on Tireth-I was going to visit him."

"I'm Cliel Nazcanth," she replied, trying to keep her balance by leaning on Yates as the world spun in before her eyes. "I work in operations, which is on Deck 36. The turbolift is down the next hallway on the right."

The pair continued to make their way slowly down the corridor, when they were startled by the sight of Dave Petrovich stumbling out of his quarters in front of them, buck naked.

Chapter II: Svetlana Yarosh, 3-28-00

Cliel screamed and promptly fainted Yates caught her without effort and raised his eyebrows at the naked dude.

"Now look what you did! Go pull on some knickers or at least cover up; you can air your family jewels later and in private," Yates remarked with a smile, obviously enjoying this, "Why are you naked, anyway?"

Dave looked confused for a moment, then replied, "I was taking a shower-yeah-and I think I lost consciousness."

Eman seemed to lose interest. "Oh... Well, you're pretty boring for a naked person. Here, help me wake up Cliel."

They splashed cold water on her face until she opened her eyes, only to see a naked man splashing cold water on her. She fainted again.

"Wow, she really doesn't like naked people," observed Dave. Yates seemed disappointed.

"Well, that put a crimp in my plan," he mumbled under his breath and continued normally, "First, get dressed. Otherwise we won't make much progress." Dave Petrovich wrapped a towel around his midsection. Now they finally succeeded in bringing Cliel back to a world that included naked men. She opened one eye cautiously, then the other. "Yes!, the naked dude has dressed!"

Suddenly, Dave's towel slipped down to the floor.

Three hours later, all three fully dressed comrades were working their way down the long ship corridor. Suddenly, a small but shiny wallaby appeared before them; in its teeth it had a metal file. As soon as it saw Yates, it dropped the file and jumped into his embrace. It seemed very happy, or at least it would seem happy to anyone who knows what happy wallabies act like. Currently, the wallaby was prancing wildly and biting everything in sight.

"Ow!" screamed Cliel. "Your kangaroo bit me!"

"I'm so happy I put on some clothes," mumbled Petrovich.

"It is not a kangaroo." Yates seemed offended. "It's my pet wallaby and his favorite rock."

"I don't see any rock," Cliel said skeptically.

"That's because it's invisible! Didn't you have any imaginary friends as a child?" answered Yates.

"Will you two stop with the rock! We've got to find the bridge or the ops if we want to see what's going on," Petrovich remarked calmly, extracting his foot from the wallaby's mouth.

"OK, okay, we're going," Cliel said, and started walking.

As she walked past a viewport, she thought about how the space-elves were getting smaller every year. She executed a perfect cartoon double-take: "Space-elves!"

The two guys looked at her as if she had just spouted a fourth head from her third head's right ear. Until, that is, they too got a good look out the viewport. And indeed, there was a small and not at all shiny elf floating past the window. The elf was not wearing any protective gear except flip-flops on his feet. As he noticed the observers, he gave them a friendly wave. The next sound was that of three heads hitting the floor.

Chapter III: Jen Fick, 3-29-00

The next thing Emmanuel knew, he was lying on the cold steel floor. Cliel's body lay across him, and Dave's was a few feet away. A loud banging noise repeated itself every few seconds; Emmanuel tried to look around to see what was causing it.

"Mr. Trotsky!" he exclaimed as his pet wallaby bounded down the passageway toward him, carrying the flip-flop-wearing elf on its back. He started up, dropping Cliel to the floor and shaking her rudely awake in the process. Seeing the elf-bearing wallaby, she screamed and promptly re-lost the consciousness she had only recently achieved.

It was then that Eman sensed a slight looseness below his waist. He was jiggling around-his pants and edible underwear (for use only in direst emergencies) were gone. A quick look at the wallaby-elf pair (Eman did have to admit that they made a striking couple) showed him the culprit: the elf was wearing skin-tight silver pants and Mr. Trotsky was chewing complacently on the waistband of the unmentionables. In addition, Dave's shoes dangled from the elf's ears and Cliel's brassiere was around Mr. Trotsky's midsection. Taking what was in hindsight a rather unfortunate action, Emmanuel took his backup pair of undies out of his head-pack and put them on.

Mr. Trotsky had, it appeared, developed a taste for the fruit-leather flavor of the garment. He bounded forward and snapped the second pair off Yates, taking with them a rather large section of what Yates had earlier referred to as the "family jewels". Emmanuel let out a high-pitched yelp and sank to his knees.

The elf, who was wearing a self-adhesive nametag bearing the inscription, "¡Hola! Me llamo Miguel", now dismounted and regarded Emmanuel quizzically as Mr. Trotsky masticated his new-found snack. "¿Qué pasa?" inquired Miguel.

Chapter IV: Clay Hambrick, 3-29-00

"¿Quién es Usted?"

Emmanuel whirled and was startled to see Dave Petrovich standing shakily behind him (or, rather, in front of him).

"My people have such an awful language of our own that we make it a point to learn virtually every other language which we encounter," he whispered in answer to Emmanuel's unasked question. Aloud, he said, "¿Habla Ud. la Interlingua?"

"No," replied the space-elf, who was now rubbing Mr. Trotsky down and giving him what appeared to be instant oats.





"Ummm...¿La Idioma Común?"

"¡¡Sí!!" the space-elf finally answered, and the two men were startled to see that his nametag now read "A star shines on the hour of our meeting. I am called Maglor".

"That badge must be nanotech," whispered Eman. Dave nodded.

"A thousand pardons for the inconsideration of my previous speech," the elf continued. "I was once on a planet in your lit., and that was the language-"

"Wait a minute," interrupted Petrovich. "You were in our what?"

"Lit. Short for Literâwë," continued the space-elf. "Each lit. is a separate idea of the Creators-"

"Who are the Creators?" queried Yates.

"Our legends say that the six Creators are the omnipotent beings who control all the lit's. We call this lit the F-lit.. You come from the S:F-lit.. Our legends further state that the Creators share their rule, with each one having total control for a set period of time. No one knows how long each period is, however."

"That's very interesting," Emmanuel lied. "But how does that help our problem? How do we get back to the S:F-lit.? You said you were there once. Can't you take us?"

"Alas, no," replied Maglor. "I could transport you back, but only you, not your ship, and only to the space between the planets, so-"

"Spacesuits!" exclaimed Petrovich suddenly. "The Basil has a full complement of spacesuits."

"A worthy idea, but fruitless," responded Maglor. "When I say that I could transport you three-four!" he amended, as Mr. Trotsky gently bit his leg, drawing copious blood. "When I say that I could transport you four, I mean only you, no clothes, no equipment, nothing. And the odds of you being picked up by a passing spaceship before you suffocate are-"

"2267,709:1 against, I know," sighed Yates.

"I think that your best bet," continued Maglor, "is to go and see the Pretty-Wise, Most-Things-Knowing, Fëyodanor."

This odd pronouncement caused Cliel, who had just woken up again and had her eyes uncourageously closed, to once again slide ungracefully to the floor.

Chapter V: Laura White, 3-30-00

Cliel was floating, drifting slowly through the inky blackness...

...Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle...waxed fruit...pencil sharpeners...Elvis sightings...WHAM!

A giant slab of concrete, floating in the darkness? Cliel wondered.

quack. quack. quackquack, quack, quack.


Yes. Ducks we appear to you, though our actual powers are far greater, said the oversized yellow feathered being in front of her. He was accompanied by a regiment of 47 canards of various types, from mallard to puddle-duck.

We are the nej-quack, sworn protectors of the f-lit.. you are an outsider. You do not belong here.

"But where is here?" Cliel asked, completely bemused by the sound of quacking voices filling her mind.

This is the f-lit., recently taken over by the revolutionary "six creators" who have wreaked havoc on our realm. You must leave, before you and your friends further disrupt the balence of this sector. You trouble the visions of the Nej-Quack.

"I want to go home!" Cliel agreed. "This universe is full of Freudian references, and I don't know where Dev'von is! Plus, I've fainted multiple times and been bitten by a shiny wallaby."

A wallaby? This is very bad indeed! Our dreams have shown the coming of such a wallaby from the hellish depths of the S:F - Lit, a wallaby that will destroy the plans of the Nej-Quack and disrupt our alliances, bringing chaos to this sector. Quickly, now. Take this pill, and you will be instantly sent back to your own world.

A large purple pill, with green spots, materialized in Cliel's hand, and she felt a cold shiver go up her arm.

"How do I know I can trust you? And what about my friends?" Cliel questioned.

Why would you NOT trust us? We are the Nej-Quack, feathered and friendly to outsiders. Swallow the purple pill, and you will realize the truth of what I say.

"I...I don't think so," said Cliel. "I'd really like to return to the S. S. Basil now. My friends are probably wondering where I am."

But you are in a trance. On your ship, you are merely unconscious. Your 'friends' simply believe that you are prone to fainting.

"So that's why! You are the ones who have caused me to faint at the slightest provocation! Next thing I know I'll be in a permanent coma! Damned if I'm taking this pill, you feathered rats! Send me back!!"

Quack quack quack QUACK! quack quack quack qu- QUACK!


Cliel slowly regained consciousness on the S. S. Basil for the fifth time in

the last few hours. In her left hand, she clutched a purple pill with green


Chapter VI: KC Frodyma, 3-30-00

As soon as Cliel was able to speak again, the first words out of her mouth were, "You guys still don't have any clothes on?"

Dave discretely indicated Mr. Trotsky, who was in the process of shredding two terrycloth towels and was surrounded by the ragged remains of what appeared to be every textile product on the ship. Cliel was almost on the ground again when she realized that she was doing exactly what the Nej-Quack had programmed her to do. "I-am-autonomous-" she muttered fiercely, barely able to retain control of her faculties.

Maglor had only a slightly greater degree of success controlling his own senses when he saw the small object that had fallen from Cliel's left hand.

"You-you-you-Yenewes Pill? WHERE DID YOU GET THAT??" he demanded.

Cliel, struggling to hold onto consciousness, could only gibber the name "Nej-Quack." Mr. Trotsky stopped nibbling fabrics only long enough to pull Maglor off the floor.

"THEM! Bright beings, but absolutely hideous administrators-put a bunch of drivel-spewing pedants in charge of inter-lit transportation, and this is what they came up with. Very, VERY unpleasant side effects. . ."

"It will take us back to our own lit, though? The Nej-Quack were right about that?" asked Cliel.

"Oh, it will-not that you'll ever want to live again after having taken it. Very unpleasant side effects."

"Hmm . . ." muttered Eman. "It. US. Interesting how the one word is singular and the other is plural. Is there any way the Yenewes Pill can work for more than one person?"

"Perhaps dividing it into three peices will bring us all into a sort of nether-lit in between this lit. and ours," suggested Dave.

"The Nej-Quack didn't seem to care where we went, as long as we got out of this lit.," said Cliel hopefully, as she was concerned mainly with not meeting the ducks again.

After a prolonged mathematical argument about the best way to divide something into three peices so that everyone is sure that he has at least a third, they began to divide the pill, Maglor insisting that the side effects were too dangerous for him to risk.

As Dave sank out of the universe he now knew to be F-lit., he was aware of a painful sensation in his ears. At first he thought that Mr. Trotsky had latched onto him with his teeth, but he soon realized that that would be preferable to what he was hearing now. An insipid, helium-enhanced voice was crooning inanely:

"I love yoouu, you love meeee..."

Dave was vaguely aware of hearing Cliel and Eman screaming, "Make it stop!" but the only think he could think of was ways to permanently destroy his eardrums. Anything to stop the pain...

The threesome landed on a peaceful green planet in an unknown lit. and immediately blacked out.

Eman was the first to recover consciousness, and immediately noticed another unpleasant sound; although the noise emitted by the Yenews Pill had been debilitatingly horrific, this sound was merely annoying. It was a perfectly in-tune 440-Hz A whining across the hills of this otherwise peaceful planet. Eman instinctively moved away from it; the others, who had recovered from the hideous journey, followed him. In a short time they approached a very

large woman lying in the grass, wearing a button that said GO AWAY in 633,972 languages.

"Um," said Dave.

"Go away," said the woman. "I'm of no use to you, and you certainly are of

no use to me."

"Okay," replied Cliel, turning back in the direction of the droning A.

"Unless," said the woman hopefully, "there's any information you don't


"All right then," said Dave, "Who was the nineteenth person executed in the

uprising against the government of Miehdureb the Squishy on Akbren Xi?"

"Rohen Delbrets. Pretty obvious you didn't need to know that."

Eman, meanwhile, had perked at the mention of information. "You're not by any chance the Fëyodanor, are you?"

"HA! You'll have to do more than take a Yenewes pill to get to him. No, I am the Feyodanor."

"And what is the difference?" asked Cliel.

"It's obvious, isn't it? No? The dieresis! The damned dieresis! Just because he has it, he gets to guard all information which might be either useful or interesting, while I get such tidbits as the calendar systems of every planet in every lit. in the cosmos. Did you know that there's a planet somewhere that considers a nine-hundred-ninety-nine-year mark to be a good time to have a huge celebration for a thousand-year anniversary?"

They all pondered this for a moment, in awe of such monumental stupidity.

Dave was the first to break the contemplative silence.

"Well, as we're no use to each other, I guess we ought to be moving along-"

She interrupted him. "Are you sure? I may not have any useful information, but I have tea! Anyone want some tea? How about stewed squirrels? Please don't leave me! Do you have any useful information?"

Chapter VII: Rebecca Cheng, 4-3-00

The trio glanced at each other in a rather puzzled manner before Dave said, "Forty-two."

"Forty-two? Yes, that's it!!" the Feyodanor cackled. "Wait till the Fëyodanor heres about this! I'll show him interesting! Well, now I think I do deserve some tea." With that, she waggled her eyebrows and dissapeared in a puff of smoke.

Both Eman and Cliel stared at Dave. "Forty-two?"

Dave simply shrugged. "It was the first thing to pop into my mind. But let's go see if she will share some of that tea."

"Yeah," Eman chimed in. "I'm looking forward to some stewed squirrels." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "The squishy brains, the crunchy bones..."

Cliel began to turn slightly green and threatened to faint yet again. Dave, assigning himself as the impromptu leader, began walking off. Eman and Cliel ran to catch up.

"Hey, where are we going?"

Dave shrugged. "Umm..." he consulted his never fail, all-purpose survival watch. "West."

"Why west?"

"It's as good a direction as any, and besides, we're lost and naked. We

need to find some shelter before it gets dark."

"Speak for yourself," humphed Cliel.

Eman leered good-naturedly at Cliel. "Why don't you join us? It's be fun." Cliel's eyes narrowed. "What do you think this is, the Garden of Eden("

"I'll be Adam, if you're Eve."

She stalked off. Laughing, Eman ran to catch up with her, trying to get her to strip off her clothing. Dave sighed and rolled his eyes before following the bickering pair. This was going to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Chapter VIII: Svetlana Yarosh, 4-11-00

Eman was sitting in a meadow of high green grass, looking thoughtful. He felt rather confused and was trying very hard to piece together the events of the past twenty-four hours. He remembered being in the brig for-well, never mind that, when suddenly the guards disappeared and the security system turned off. He once again reviewed in his thoughts his meeting with Cliel, Dave, and later the space-elf. Eman shuddered as he thought of their trip to this lit. Suddenly, he realized what had been bothering him about this whole adventure: neither Dave nor Cliel felt any remorse about leaving everything they knew behind. His own lack of emotion didn't bother him; after all, he didn't have that much to lose. But he knew for sure that

Cliel had some attachments among the disappeared crew, Dev'von or something like that.

He looked over at her, hoping to detect some emotion. She was completely oblivious to his scrutiny, trying to make Dave wake up by sticking blades of grass into his nose. Her blank gaze terrified him.

"Since we've arrived here, I've felt like frolicking," he mumbled to himself. Suddenly, he saw a pattern: some universes/lit's had emotions associated with them. If we stay here, he thought, we'll slowly lose our minds, until we are no longer capable of anything but frolicking.

Eman was now determined to leave this lit. He felt a haze resettling over him, as his thoughts slowed to the sticky speed of molasses. Frantically, he tried going through all of his options. He didn't have a Yenewes pill from the Nej-Quack, but there must be some other scientifically valid method.

Suddenly an idea struck him like the tail of a wandering lamprey. "Why don't I just use my portable replicator!" he screamed out to the grassy meadow.

Eman reached into his pocket, pulling out a checkered cloth the size of a hankerchief. He laid it out on the ground and pressed some buttons at the top left corner, causing another checkered cloth to appear on top of the first one. He took the new cloth and unfolded it, this one turned out to be about the size of a tablecloth. He repeated the process, replicating bigger and bigger peices of material until the whole meadow was covered with one continuous replicator. This time he pressed a different sequence of buttons and a small but sturdy spaceship appeared on the checkered surface.

Eman woke up Dave and Cliel and practically dragged them to the ship. He could feel his mind starting to slip again, so before doing anything, he set the ship's course to the nearest black hole in such a way that he couldn't change it later because of the influence of frolic-land. Finally,

exhausted, he slumped down into a cockpit chair.

As he watched the meadow and the planet getting smaller and smaller, he realized his mistake, and slapped himself on the forehead. "Damn, I forgot to take the replicator with me!"

His cries were drowned out by the siren alarm as the ship entered the black hole. As soon as the ship stopped trembling and it was clear that the black hole had been penetrated, Eman felt the haze lift itself from his mind.

Dave came into the cockpit and slapped Eman on the shoulder. "Thanks, Yates! I can think again, I no longer feel the urge to frolic!"

Cliel suddenly perked up. "Yates( Who's Ya-? Oh gods, you're Emmanuel

Yates, the criminal!"

Eman looked very uncomfortable as his two new friends loomed over him, waiting for a response.

Chapter IX: Jen Fick, 4-11-00

"It's Yeats! Yeats, dammit!" he shouted, deciding to become defensive over the most insignificant error in pronunciation rather than address the serious situation at hand. "More 'a', less 't'!"

"And my name actually has a silent 'a' in it," said Dave. "But nobody bothers to remember it. And a slight discrepency in vowel-arrangement hardly excuses what you did to all of those poor Suedian platypus-farmers."

"Anyone who lives on Suede has it coming," said Eman. "Especially when they're going around covering up all the land with those stupid mammal-mansions."

"My father was a platypus farmer!" Cliel broke in. "And those 'mammal-mansions' keep you in edible underwear. Where else would you get the high-quality platypus skins needed?"

"It just so happens," replied Emmanuel, "that my father was also a platypus farmer. And not only does free-range platypus farming defile the land far less, but it also provides greatly superior furs."

"I don't understand," said Dave. "We're all from Snalf- aren't we?"

"My parents moved when they had me," said Cliel. "They didn't want to raise me around such a bad element as those lecherous Suedian farm-hands."

" I don't actually claim citizenship on any planet," said Eman. "It's too complicated when you move around so much."

"Speaking of moving around," said Dave, "the consequences of your actions would be far less severe if you hadn't led the Interstellar Peace Commission on a wild goose chase all over the universe."

"Oh come on. You don't actually mean to imprison me under these circumstances, do you?"

"Oh, no. But be prepared to do a lot of toilet-cleaning, Mister."

"I don't see why I- hey!"

"What now?" asked Cliel, exasperated.

"Where's Mr. Trotsky?" Eman frantically demanded.

"I don't know," said Dave. "I haven't seen him since we took that wacky pill. And frankly, if you ask me-" Dave's jaw dropped and the others wheeled around to see the elf formerly known as Miguel and Mr. Trotsky, both on space leashed outside the cockpit of the S. S. Basil, which looked much the worse for wear from its inter-lit travel.

"Hey!" said Cliel, "that damn wallaby lost my last clean bra!"

"Help! Help! Aidez-nous! Au secours!" shouted Maglor who, in his distress, had not noticed that he had slipped into a greatly inferior language.

"Fnip!" Mr. Trotsky added. The distressed wallaby then kicked something at the small ship his concerned owner now occupied. Using the space claw, Dave pulled it into the cockpit and examined it curiously.

"What is this?" he wondered out loud.

Emmanuel approached and then, as he peered over Petrovitch's shoulder, an enlightened expression came over his face. "He always told me it had stones from Planet Telex embedded in it, but I never believed him. I wonder how he made it visible?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" demanded Cliel.

"It's Mr. Trotsky's pet rock!" Eman responded. "He wants us to use it to save him!"

"And how, exactly, are we supposed to do that?" asked Dave incredulously.

Chapter X: Clay Hambrick, 4-13-00

After a half-hour of examining the pet rock for a hidden button or writing, during which the (radio-broadcast) cries and actions of Maglor and Mr. Trotsky grew steadily more urgent, Eman, Dave and Cliel were ready to give up.

"Well, I guess that as the great archaeologist Sigmund Schliemann once said, 'Sometimes a rock is just a rock'," Eman sighed finally.

Dave was just about to make a sarcastic comment on the subject of random, uncalled-for allusions when a sudden idea struck him. "Maybe that's the idea," he said. "How would you use an ordinary rock to help someone escape imprisonment?"

"I guess I'd throw the rock at the guards to distract them, while an accomplice freed whomever it was that I was saving," replied Eman.

"That's right," Dave affirmed, "except that instead of a rock, we're going to use...Cliel!"

"Hey! Why me?" Cliel asked angrily.

"Because I've got to fly the ship, and Eman has to be ready to rescue you if you get in trouble," Dave replied reasonably. "All you have to do is get a spacesuit, float around to the Basil's cockpit window, see who or what is up there, and get its attention. Meanwhile, I'll swing by and put the prisoners in the airlock with the spaceclaw."

The plan was quickly effected. Cliel went out the airlock in the "Space Bubble"(r)(tm), a two meter sphere of clear ultraplastic, with a self-contained life support pak attatched. The ultraplastic was supposedly invulnerable to every type of projectile or energy weapon in the known universe, but everyone knew that a sufficiently powerful weapon could easily puncture or

penetrate it. As Cliel approached the cockpit window, with Eman following in a normal spacesuit at a careful distance, Dave slowly approached the prisoners at the rear of the Basil in the ship. When Cliel reached the large window, she gasped in horror.

"Oh, my nonexistent God!" she cried. (Cliel was an atheist.) "It's- it's a

huge pair of black wings! With nothing attached to them!"

As the wings slowly turned to regard Cliel, she perceived that there was something at the junction of the wings: a vast shadowy form, like a huge body, though small compared with the wings, which stretched from wall to wall. Cliel was about to faint, and not from the Nej-Quack influence, when the ship suddenly came up behind her and enveloped her in its airlock. As the space door closed and the ship sped away, Cliel collapsed on the floor of the SpaceBubble?, shaken severely by the sheer malice of the strange being she had just encountered.

Once Eman had helped Cliel to the bridge, she burst out, "What was that thing?"

"Those are the wings of the Balrog of Moria," replied Maglor. Seeing the general confusion, he continued, "I will tell you the story..."

The Story of the Balrog and His Wings

Once, (began Maglor), the Balrog and his wings lived happily together in the deeps of Moria, where he spent his days, and most of his nights, hunting whosoever wandered into his doemesne. However, he was very vain, and always asked his acquaintances how he could improve his appearance. So many people told him that he would look better without his wings that eventually he parted ways with them. However, the wings had so much of the balrog's essential power and nature that they continued their existence without him, only slightly less powerful and equally as evil. Interestingly, just as a human whose limb is removed can still feel twinges of pain from the nonexistent appendage, so the balrog's missing wings and the wings' missing balrog are still faintly visible."

"Fascinated as I am," interrupted Dave, "I believe that our immediate problem is that the wings are pursuing us!"

Chapter XI: Laura White, 4-30-00

Mr. Trotsky leapt onto the control panel with a commanding air of wallaby-ness. His ears twitched with self-importance as he picked up his pet rock. He tossed the rock (which was, of course, still visible at this time) to Maglor, who caught it and watched curiously as little specks lit up in different patterns.

"What the heck is going on, you twits?" asked Cliel. "We are about to die here, and you're all watching as our clothing-stealing elf friend stares at a wallaby's pet rock!"

"Don't you dare insult my wallaby, or his pet rock," Eman growled with barely-restrained menace.

"Shhh," Maglor whispered, while Cliel looked frantically from the nearby viewscreen, where the balrog's wings could clearly be seen gaining on the shuttle, to Eman, who was still watching her carefully.

"The rock-Trotsky's using the rock to communicate in a basic/visual wallabish hybrid language!" Maglor informed them. Mr. Trotsky's normally shiny fur positively glowed with an air of superiority as Maglor began to translate:

"Thank you, O furry wallaby deity! You non-marsupials are so thick! Eman, access that control panel over there, switch to manual and fly this ship!"

"No! I'll fly it!" demanded Cliel. "I've at least had some experience with

the Snalfian fleet."

"And what makes you think Trotsky and I haven't?" snarled Yates. "We've criss-crossed the Snalfian sector with dozens of ships like the Basil in pursuit. You Snerfs are all alike: athetic at pursuit and even worse at evasion. Now move over."

Chapter XII: KC Frodyma, 5-9-00

Eman had just managed to deactivate the autopilot when Cliel caught his wrist and sent him barreling away from the control panel. "Listen," she seethed. "I have had enough of your treating me as though I were some helpless little damsel in distress. You use me as a decoy, you expose yourselves to me-"

"Hey, not intentionally," broke in Dave, while Eman only smiled.

"I get no respect at all from you!" she continued.

"Hey, hold on," said Eman. "Have you done anything worthy of respect? Fainting every five seconds-"

"That is not my fault!" she screamed. "And of course it would be me that they put under their influence, because it would be so much easier to believe that it was a woman who was prone to fainting."

"This is actually an interesting phenomenon in the S:F-lit," spoke up Maglor. "Within its confines, women are often reduced to supporting roles-"

"Oh, come on," interrupted Cliel. "You think this is unique to our lit? What about yours? I suppose in the F-lit the sexes live in complete equality?"

"Well...um..." said Maglor, trying to think of a single example of gender equality in his lit and failing miserably...


"Good going, Cliel," said Eman. "While you've been up on your little soapbox, you've neglected to note that we are no longer on autopilot!"

Cliel turned rather red. "Well, then," she said, "I suppose I'll go out and check on the damage to the ship." She donned a space suit and left very, very quickly...

When Cliel returned a few hours later she said, "Not good. Pretty much our only hope is that the planet is inhabited and we can find a parts place somewhere. And I don't think that's likely, because I took an atmospheric sample and it's cyanide.

"Oh, another thing-I saw the Balrog wings lying on the ground in a crumpled heap. What do you suppose happened?"

"It's pretty simple, actually," said Maglor. "The wings were pursuing us, we were heading for a planet, they followed, they were subject to the planet's gravity, they fell."

"What?" said Dave, trying unsuccesfully to keep a straight face. "You mean the wings fell? Why on...well, whatever planet we're on...couldn't they fly? What, they're purely decorative wings?"

"Well," said Maglor, "I did say the Balrog was very vain."

"Still," said Dave, "wings that can't fly?" He was laughing rather hard now. Eman had started to join in. Mr. Trotsky was already rolling on the floor, but then, he usually was. Cliel simply hoped that this would take their minds off the fact that she'd nearly destroyed the ship.

"Hey, let's go outside," said Dave. "I want to get a look at those flightless wings. Essential part of his nature. Suure..." He started laughing again as he put on a spacesuit and exited the ship.

Three minutes later he burst back in, not laughing at all. "Okay, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the planet is in fact inhabited; I saw some beings about a little more than a meter high and shaped like toilet plungers. The bad news is that the wings seem to have company. Very closely related company, it would appear. Judging from the shadowy winglike forms around it-"

"Oh my possibly existent God!" yelled Maglor (he was an agnostic).

"There! Out the viewport! It's a Balrog!"

Chapter XII: Jen Fick, 5-11-00

"Maybe it won't see us," said Dave as he tried to fit himself under the

control panel.

Everyone else was too busy covering their eyes to respond: everyone, that is, except Maglor. "You don't really believe that if you can't see him, he can't see us, do you? The Interstellar Peace Comission has been trying that for years, and it DOESN'T WORK!" (Editor's Note: Jen claims that she didn't steal this idea, that of the "Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal...a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you-" from Douglas Adams, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chapter 3, page 21 in the combined edition)

"How would you know about the IPC's tactics?" Cliel demanded from behind

her hands.

Maglor declined to answer, but he put on his invisibility cloak and continued to look out the viewport. To his suprise, the Balrog shook his head, looked back in the direction of the shuttle once more, and continued to nurse his wings. The elf had to try very hard to suppress a giggle as the Balrog reattached his wings using an elastic strap.

"I didn't know balrogs could breathe cyanide," Cliel hissed through her teeth.

"Stupid girl!" Maglor hissed back. "Balrogs don't have to breathe at all."

"Why are you hissing?" asked Dave.

"I can't see you," Cliel replied to Maglor, "or I'd kick you. And I'd still like to know how you heard about the IPC's troubles with optical blockers."

"I take it you've worked out a few bugs," said Maglor dryly.

"As for how I know about them-"

But Maglor silenced himself as the airlock opened and the balrog stepped into the shuttle. It walked up to a control panel and began trying to get the damaged ship to fly.

It was only now that Cliel and the others (except Maglor) discovered one of the major drawbacks of optical blockers-even properly functioning ones. Due to the necessary operating specifications of the technology, to keep the balrog from seeing them it was necessary for them not to be able to see it. They had to rely on their ears to guess the location of the monster. Not

only that, but they couldn't see where they were going.

To Maglor's horror, the sound of heavy wallaby breathing began to fill the bridge-Mr. Trotsky was about to sneeze. He shot an icy glare in the approximate direction of the erring marsupial, and the room was once again quiet-for ten seconds. Then Dave, who ad been trying to find a more comfortable position underneath the controls, accidentally kicked the balrog. The aforementioned monster, which had always had very sensitive shins, let out a high shrill curse, and looked under the control panel just as Dave removed his hands from his eyes in order to place them over his ears.

All hell broke loose. Dave, now discovered and completely trapped, released a shriek of his own and began to kick desperately at the metal control casing. All the others were forced to deactivate their own optical blockers to see what was going on, and they, too, began to kick at anything within reach. Only Maglor remained still, shaking his invisible head. He threw his left flip flop at the balrog's right ear; thus knocking it out cold. The racket in the shuttle slowly died down, and finally Maglor was able to speak.

"I was able to determine the Basil's location while you were all hiding your heads in the sand, and it's not far away. There are some jet packs and space suits here-I suggest we make use of them while we still have the chance."

For once no one disagreed, and within an hour they were all safely back aboard the Basil. All the way to the bridge, Maglor derided the IPC's training program.

"I can't believe they still teach such antiquated and pitifully useless techniques to their recruits," he said. "And as for the optical blockers-I think we can all see the problem with them. No pun intended, of course. Now, as for your knowledge of the creatures you're likely to face here...rudimentary, at best. Less than rudimentary, in fact. Out of date, incomplete-" he stopped and turned around to glare at Mr. Trotsky, who was mocking him. "We won't even begin to discuss the behavior that should be expected of an IPC-issue wallaby commando," the incensed elf blustered. "Suffice it to say, you're all just barely worthy of an "incompetent"

ranking-if that."

"You leave Mr. Trotsky out of this," said Eman. "He saved our lives."

"He saved our lives," Maglor mimicked in a high-pitched voice. "I'm wondering where you got your IPC-issue equiptment-even if it's as useless as a set of optical blockers and a defective wallaby."

"There are surplus stores all over the universe, you know that as well as I

do," sputtered Eman.

"That's enough from the both of you," Cliel asserted, taking charge. "You," she said, pointing at Eman, "should be put back in the brig, and you, fantasy-fairy" (redirecting her gaze at Maglor) "have some explaining to do. How do you know so much about our lit if you've been in the F-lit all your life? And were did you get all this top-secret IPC information?"

Chapter XIII: Laura White, 5-16-00

"That's not for me to discuss with a poorly-trained IPC cadet," retorted Maglor.

"CADET? I'll have you know that my official designation is ensign, and right now I happen to be the acting captain on this ship!" Cliel seethed, stepping forward to tower over the elf, who, despite his extensive knowledge of confidential IPC information, only stood 3 feet 6 inches while wearing his flip-flops. Meanwhile, Mr. Trotsky hovered between biting Maglor on the knee or Cliel on the ankle. Unable to decide, he returned to his place behind Eman, who absentmindedly patted his wallaby on the head while exchanging a meaningful glance at Dave.

Chapter XIV: Svetlana Yarosh, 5-16-00

Maglor shifted his gaze from Cliel's determined face to Mr. Trotsky's mindless expression.

"Well, Mr. Trotsky, should we tell them?" Maglor asked casually.

Mr. Trotsky spoke up with the voice of James Earl Jones: "Yes, my most delightful minion, you may tell them. But they must know that there is a most delicious price to pay for their knowledge. Yes indeed, a most delicious price! Haha haha hahaha!!!"

"Mr. Trotsky?!" exclaimed Eman.

"Mr. Trotsky??"screamed Dave.

"Mr. Trotsky!!!" accused Cliel.

"Yes, Mr. Trotsky," acknowledged Maglor, and added, "So, do you still want to know the truth?"

"I'll risk the delicious punishment to learn the truth about my wallaby's betrayal-my very own wallaby!!" cried Eman dejectedly.

"I'm just curious about the delicious price. So I'm willing to learn the truth just to find out what the punishment is," Cliel admitted.

"I don't care either way," Dave said while running circles around Cliel and Eman (a nervous habit that he had).

"Very well then," continued Maglor.

Chapter XVI: Clay Hambrick, 5-16-00

Meanwhile, on the planet's surface, the Balrog awoke in the replicated shuttle. Obeying a will other than its own, it climbed to the top of a nearby mountain, where it was startled to find its long-estranged wings. Suddenly, a giant, fiery duck appeared in the sky.

"What is thy bidding, my master?" growled the Balrog.

"I have summoned you and the wings to give you a mission of the most vital import," the duck replied. "Those who have just eluded both your grasps: the elf, the men, the woman, and The Wallaby; you must find them and destroy them before they reach the Fëyodonor. For this purpose, I command you and your wings to reunite. Now, GO!" And with that, the duck disappeared with a clap of thunder.

Slowly, the balrog and the wings turned to face each other. Slowly, the balrog turned back around, his back to the wings. Slowly, the wings flopped toward the balrog. As they touched him and integrated with him, the balrog seemed to grow larger and more powerful.

"Ahhhh..." he thought to himself. "I pity the Moria balrog, whose wings are nonfunctional. I had forgotten how much of my essential nature and power I lost when I followed his idiotic fashion trend. I will never release my wings again or my name isn't Gothmog, lord of Balrogs!"

Chapter XVII: Laura White, 5-18-00

Meanwhile, back on the S.S. Basil . . .

"Very well then," continued Maglor, shooting a nasty look at Petrovitch, who had ceased walking circles around Cliel and Eman in favor of walking around and around and around a beam that some half-wit IPC engineer had stuck randomly next to the helm controls on the Basil's bridge.

"I suppose our story starts back about four years ago, Trotsky?" he questioned the wallaby, who nodded almost imperceptibly. Eman interrupted:

"But...wallabies, even the first prototype wallabies, have only been out for three years-everyone knows that!"

"Including me, you fool!" snapped Maglor. "Now shut up! Four years ago, the IPC started to work on the prototype for a kangaroo commando, but within a few months it was obvious that the project would be a complete failure. Kangaroos are simply too large for stealth-tracking, and their hopping reverberates on the metal floors of interstellar vessels. Also, the

programming of the prototype-kangaroo commandos refused to cooperate, even with the IPC's best neuro-compuprogrammers working on the project. Kangaroo-commandos were mentally unstable, and prone to jello-addiction. The project was completely scrapped, until-"

"Wait one minute! How do you know all this?" Cliel demanded, despite Eman's restraining hand on her shoulder. "I've asked you once about your knowledge of highly confidential IPC projects, and you ignored me, but I won't let you this time! How are you obtaining this information?"

SILENCE interrupted a grating voice in Cliel's mind, sending her reeling backwards in pain.

YOU WILL FIND OUT IN GOOD TIME, the voice said, heavy with barely-restrained menace. Eman turned to Cliel with a look of concern, and even Dave stopped circling the post to see what was wrong, but she just shook her head, pain reflected in her eyes, as Maglor continued the story as though she had never interrupted.

"IPC leaders had all but given up on the C.A.C.M.P.-that is, the Compu-Animated Commando Marsupial Project-until a highly-sensitive message reached the High Pooh-Bah of the IPC..."

-Here Cliel almost interrupted again to correct his extremely rude remark about Prime Minister Naderine Jaasparth, but the pain in her head made her think better of it.-

"The message was, of course, from this area of space, from the F-Lit. More specifically, from a scientist whose species you,"-here he nodded at Cliel, who winced-"have already encountered. The Nej-Quack. The scientist, unbeknownst to your beloved Head Pooh-Bah of the so-called Interstellar Peace Commission, had stolen copies of the specifications for a project that another scientist was working on. A project that revolved around merging artificial and biological intelligence at the cellular level.

"This Nej-Quack scientist contacted Poohbah Jaasparth of the IPC with a trade

negotiation. He told Jaasparth that there weren't sufficient scientific resources in the F-Lit to make the plans a feasible reality, and offered to trade them if the IPC would become an active member in the F-Lit trading alliance. It seemed like a perfect deal to your Pooh-Bah, who signed without a second glance, not even noticing the clause in the contract which specified that the plans must be used to create a finished project within 180 days."

Cliel, Dave, and Eman stared without comprehension as Maglor continued the tale. Mr. Trotsky leaned against the post that sat beside helm control, yawning, but Maglor did not stop, and his explanation took up so much of everyone's attention that no one even noticed a silent alarm blinking orange at the navigation station, a few yards away.

"Of course," continued Maglor, "the IPC took the plans from the Nej-Quack's scientist/thief and gave them to the almost-defunct CACMP, which got to work with a desperate fury to integrate the foreign technology into Snalffian marsupials. This time, the wallaby was chosen for the first commando prototype, and when the 180 day deadline arrived, the Nej-Quack ambassador was pleased to see Prime Minister Jaasparth had sent him complete specifications and a working prototype of the small-but shiny-commmando wallabies.

"What was a surprise to Jaasparth and the IPC was that the Nej-Quack, who had stipulated the quick creation of the product, seemed uninterested in actually purchasing any of the walaby commandos. Even the scientist who had first contacted the IPC about the project merely asked if the IPC-CACMP had registered their patent on the wallaby-commandos with the F-Lit trade alliance, and then severed the com link. It seemed very strange to the IPC, but not to those of us here, in the F-Lit. To anyone who knows anything about political relations between the Raal-Mar and the Nej-Quack, the whole incident is as clear as a Balkonian crystal."

At this point, Dave couldn't take it any more. Deprived of the pole to walk around because of Mr. Trotsky's menacing glare, his nervous energy had built to the breaking point.

"What??? What was it???? In the name of the void of nothingness, just tell us and get it over with!!!!" he screamed out.

Mr. Trosky arched a single furry eyebrow, and Dave Petrovich immediately was bent almost double with pain, spasms that were unbearable-but thankfully short. He straightened up slowly, silently, and Cliel shot him a sympathetic glance. Maglor continued:

"The Raal-Mar are, of course, my employers, and rather generous at that. They provide me with anything I need for my unspecific job of scout, translator, and information gatherer, and keep me constantly supplied with the latest fashions in industrial-strength titraniumite Bames-Jond flip-flops.

"It was from a Raal-Mar researcher, of course, that the Nej-Quack scientist stole the plans for the cellular artificial/biological-intelligence merging technology. The plans weren't complete, since the researcher, Dr. Traiga McFlur?, was proceeding slowly to avoid making any mistakes, but they were enough for the IPC, and the more devious intentions of the Nej-Quack. You see, F-Lit patent law says that continuing work on a technological endeavor that has been patented elsewhere in the F-Lit trading alliance is a crime punishable by corporeal death and mental imprisonment. Dr. McFlur? had no idea the IPC had used his plans (stolen by the Nej-Quack) to create the F-Lit patented wallaby commandos-not until the F: Lit Interplanetary Marines showed up at his laboratory three years ago. Tipped off by the Nej-Quack government (who also, I might add, highly pressured the Patent Law Judgement Council), he was taken to a detention center on Zzzakl 7, and convicted within 72 hours. They removed his mind the next morning, implanted it in the single wallaby-commando prototype that Poohbah Jaasparth had sent to the Nej-Quack ambassador, and executed McFlur?'s corporeal body that afternoon."

Maglor paused, as realization sunk in among his audience.

Cliel was the first to understand. Already nauseated from the pain in her head, she glanced quickly from Maglor to Eman to the small-but-shiny wallaby relaxes against the pole in the bridge, took three steps back and left, and vomited neatly beside the Operations control center. Eman didn't even turn to look for her this time (whether because of the retching noise, or his own turbulent emotions, I do not know).

"Mr....Trotsky?" he asked sadly, already knowing the answer. "He isn't really the cute little defective commando wallaby I bought from a pawn shop on a Suedian moon, and nursed back to health with Flurkiin milk from a large, purple six-legged herbivore whose species name I can't recall? He's a brilliant scientist from this sector of space involved in shady political dealings??" Yeats' voice rose an octave, almost cracking, as he finished, not daring to look at the wallaby.

"Well, not exactly," commented Maglor. "That's part of the problem. You see, Dr. McFlur?, as a Raal-Mar, was a strong telepath as well as a brilliant scientist."

-At this, Cliel and Dave exchanged glances, and each stole quick, wary looks at the lounging wallaby.-

"Unfortunately, the plans that the Nej-Quack stole from Dr. McFlur?, the plans for artificial/biological intelligence combination, the plans that were used to create the brains of the first wallaby commandos like Trotsky here-those plans do not work especially well when another intelligence, one with telepathic abilities like Dr. McFlur?, is inserted into the brain. It

took the good doctor a few months to gain control of the wallaby's consciousness for even a few minutes at a time. It seems very likely that much of the time you have spent with Trotsky has been genuine bonding moments with your pet-while a poor captive alien observer watched,helplessly, you understand."

Yeats swallows visibly at this, not sure whether he was reassured or not. On one hand, his beloved pet hadn't betrayed him, and wasn't just an alien scientist. On the other hand, it meant a dangerous witness to his murder of those Suedian platypus-farmers...and it was Eman's firm policy never to have witnessess-at least not live ones. His thoughts were interrupted by Cliel, who was quickly approaching a realization that neither Dave nor Eman had yet had the sense to appreciate.

"Soo...the S.S. Basil didn't just come here by accident. And the Nej-Quack contacted me, and were worried about the wallaby, because they're afraid that our presence here will expose their underhanded political dealings to the rest of the F-Lit trade alliance. Correct?"

"Brilliantly deduced," affirmed Maglor. "Actually, your presence here is really rather inconvenient. Doctor McFlur? was planning to space the entire crew and passengers of the Basil through a telekinetic port when he jumped the ship to the F-Lit, but he lost control of the wallaby-mind for a second, and missed you three."

They stared, mouths agape, at Maglor and the restful wallaby.

"As it is, I suggest you make yourselves useful. The Raal-Mar government is not generally unkind to helpful aliens like you...of course, it may not help your case that you are highly involved with the IPC, who are allied with the Nej-Quack, sworn enemies to all Raal-Mar in this sector. Still, if you let the wanted murderer do the talking, you might get off with three

years of hard labor and another five of community service. Not exactly a cushy bureaucratic job with a lifetime supply of industrial-strength Bames-Jond fashion flip-flops, I grant you, but still..." Maglor's voice trailed off as the three comrades stared in astonishment. It was just then

that Mr. Trosky began series of violent spasms, and Cliel noticed the orange warning light that had been blinking at the navigation station for the past 35 minutes.

[Author's Note: *possibly* gratuitous apology for monopolizing the FLANS; book-Meanwhile, back in the Milky Way galaxy, on an M-class planet called Earth, a high school student ignored her calling homework in favor of further plot advancement, and carried on writing. She realized that she had far exceeded the page limit imposed upon her, and told herself that after she finished redirecting the plot in the next couple of pages, she would relinquish

control of the book for the next 20 pages.]

At the same time that Maglor was explaining the complicated politics behind the life of Mr. Trotsky, wallaby commando, and Gothmog, lord of balrogs, had just finished swearing his loyalty to the Nej-Quack cause, promising to destroy Dave, Eman, Cliel, Maglor, and Mr. Trosky or possibly Dr. Traiga McFlur? or both, a hasty meeting was being arranged on a cloaked satellite in orbit above the Nej-Quack homeworld.

Interestingly, the satellite was not cloaked to avoid detection from anyone planetside, but instead to keep from being seen by passing trading vessels, or ships in the Raal-Mar fleet. In this satellite, James P. Ehez, the Nej-Quack spokes-person/duck/alien/whatever who had contacted Cliel, along with the Nej-Quack scientist whom Maglor had spoken of, and a few ambassadors and a handful of interstellar traders and business owners who lived on or were associated with the Nej-Quack homeworld were assembled. James Ehez spoke first. Or rather, he sent telepathic thoughts to the feathered gathering-his thoughts were not so harsh and grating as those that Mr. Trotsky/Dr?. McFlur? was sending to Cliel at that same moment, but just as controlled and decisive. The telepathic quacking that had previously filled the conference pool (for it was, in fact, a giant swimming pool in which the group was floating) subsided almost immediately.


James P. Ehez turned to a female mallard floating to his left, who flapped a wing, signaling a viewscreen to lower over the pool.



Cheers sprang up throughout the pool, especially from the end where several feathered members of the F: Lit Council of Interstellar Technology and Patenting appeared to be floating together.


Suddenly, an image of the S.S. Basil appeared on the viewscreen.


A murmur of telepathic quacking filled the room, and one of the trade officials spoke up-DR. MCFLUR WAS BANISHED TO THE NEWARKKIAN SECTOR IN A HOST BODY TWO YEARS AGO! HE'S OVER A THOUSAND GALAXIES AWAY IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LIT!


As the restless sounds of worried ducks rose to a crescendo in the room, images of Mr. Trotsky appeared on the viewscreen, labeled "Prisoner #92A285B9".


The image of the Basil reappeared on the viewscreen, followed by a glamour photo of Cliel, a "galaxy's most wanted" shot of Yates, and a high school yearbook picture of Dave Petrovich. The viewscreen then stopped at a photo of Maglor, smiling, as two young, attractive Raal-Mar placed fashionable flip-flops on his fuzzy feet.


James P. Ehez told the now nervous-looking crowd of Nej-Quack politicos.


Chapter XVII: Rebecca Cheng, 5-23-00


Immediately, the whole council was in an uproar.





Almost immediately the quacking died down.


There were uncertain glances between the rest of the council before a young member, barely out of her duckling stage, spoke up for the rest of the group:


James P. Ehez stared, as well as a Nej-Quackian could, flabbergastedly at everybody. He would have reached up to rub his temples if he had had a temple, or fingers to rub them with. WELL, THEY ARE. WHICH IS WHY WE COMBINED THEM.

He then turned to General Flahanon, ANYTHING ELSE TO REPORT?


Again, the thought pool was cluttered with thoughts.





That last thought caused all of the council members to look towards a (as he preferred to be called) horizontally challenged mallard who had the good graces to look sheepish.


And so the Nej-Quack continued on their daily business, reviewing the ratio of kelp to krill and other important subjects, but we won't bore you with the details.

Back aboard the S.S. Basil, things were in a bit of a panic. Cliel was staring at the little blinking light, trying to figure out why it was blinking, while Eman was hovering over the quaking Mr. Trotsky.

"We have to do something!" cried Eman. "Sedatives, quick!"

Miguel shook his head. "No sedatives. That may destroy his delicate neurological telepathic neurocran."

"But, but..." Eman stood, sputtering.

Miguel took out a rather large greenish pill that had a rather interesting metallic hue to it and placed it in the poor wallaby's waste disposal tube. The wallaby screamed and quaked for a few moments more before calming down. Suddenly, he began to sing. "It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all . . ."

Everybody clamped their ears, save Dave. "Make it stop, make it stop!! Please, for the love of all that is good and just, make it stop!!!"

Dave did the only thing he could think of; taking a roll of duct tape, he quickly duct-taped shut the mouth of the wallaby, who had begun singing "It's the song that never ends." Several rolls of duct tape later, Mr. Trotsky was carefully placed in an out-of-the-way position before Eman looked to Maglor.

"What happened?" he asked.

As Maglor opened his mouth to answer, he was interrupted by an ear-piercing shriek from Cliel, who was pointing to the viewscreen:

"Look, oh my dear non-existent Lord, oh possibly existent heavens! It's, it's..."

[Author's Note: At this point, Laura White created these random requirements for the next two entries:

(1) A sentient left sock

(2) A snack machine with a hidden compartment

(3) A paper clip or a shoelace or a straw

(4) Silly-putty or a remote-control fly]

Chapter XVIII: Clay Hambrick, 6-1-00

It was a giant duck. Specifically, (thought the humans did not know it) it was a gargantuan Holo-Projection of the Nej-Quack James P. Ehez (or Gov-duck as he was known to his friends).

SURRENDER NOW, MCFLUR! Ehez psychically broadcast.

"To my lab, Maglor!" squeaked Mr. Trotsky, who had removed the duct tape from his mouth and now had the voice that James Earl Jones might have if he were to inhale two liters of helium. Maglor immediately went to the control panel and pressed some buttons.

"He's activating the hyperjump!" screamed Dave, as the Basil blinked out of existence.

Exactly 1/286,998 of a second later, the Basil rematerialized in orbit of a tiny moon of an uninhabited planet circling an inconsequential star in a quiet corner of the F-Lit.

"Let's go to the teleporter," ordered Maglor.

Soon they materialized in the teleportation chamber of McFlur?'s lab.

"Stay there for a moment, please," squeaked Mr. Trotsky as he and Maglor exited the pad. Suddenly, the teleporter activated again and the three humans found themselves in what appeared to be a jail cell. After a minute, Maglor strolled into the room in front of them.

"Sorry we had to do this," he said, "but you three were getting in the way. By the way," he added with an evil grin, "you two" (he indicated Cliel and

Dave) "might want to, well, 'get together' as soon as possible, if you know what I mean."

"What? Why??" chorused the two.

"Why, everyone knows that Dr. McFlur? performs his most heinous experiments on virgins," Maglor said, and left. No sound was heard in the cell but that of Eman's soft laughter.

When he finally regained control of himself, Eman said briskly, "Well, looks like I'd better use my amazing prisoner skills to bust us out of here."

But he could not. After trying for hours, he was forced to give up and join the virgins in having some food from the free vending machine which was sitting oddly in the corner of the cell.

In a few minutes, however, Eman was extremely glad that he had been unsuccessful in escaping the cell. Maglor entered, dragging a struggling animal on a leash. "Dr. McFlur? has no further need of this," he said, as he thrust none other than Mr. Trotsky through the unidirectional force field into the cell.

"Mr. Trotsky!" exclaimed Eman, as Maglor snorted and left.

Hello, Eman, a voice replied in his head. It was nothing like James Earl Jones', with helium or without . In fact, it sounded exactly like you would expect a defective second-hand wallaby commando who had just acquired the power of speech through being possessed by an evil Raal-Mar scientist to sound like; that is, like nothing else in any Lit.

I seem to have acquired both increased intelligence and psychic powers as a result of my recent possession by Dr. McFlur?,. Mr. Trotsky continued. We must escape quickly, for he is evil. While he possessed me, I knew his thoughts. But wait! I sense another nonhuman intelligence in this cell. It seems to be concealed in a secret compartment in...that vending machine!

On Trotsky's direction, the three humans quicly located and forced open the secret compartment. Inside, they found: a sock. On this realization, the four suddenly heard an odd sound: a series of short and long beeps, of the same A440 Hz tone they had heard previously on the dangerously pleasant planet of frolicking.

It's the sock!. broadcast Trotsky. It's psychically broadcasting using Morse Code!

Chapter XIX: Jen Fick, 6-5-00

"Do you know Morse Code?" Dave asked Trotsky, a hopeful smile on his face.

Actually, the wallaby broadcast, I was hoping that you did.

"Oh." Dave's smile drooped.

Well, responded Mr. Trotsky, I said I had increased intelligence, not knowledge of archaic modes of communication from backward, ignorant planets.

"Good point," said Dave.

The cell was quiet for a few minutes. Quiet, that is, except for the constant beeping coming from the sock.

"Suppose it's an evil intelligence test..." commented Cliel.

Just then, the sock disappeared and a rather unfriendly-looking gas began seeping into the room. A voice came over a scratchy intercom, the speaker for which was located in, on, or around the vending machine. "Ssshuurlchshshshi . . ." it said.

"What?" coughed Cliel.

"I think it wants to know if we want fries with that," quipped Eman.

This is no time for jokes, broadcast Mr. Trotsky. Eman stuck out his tongue at the offending marsupial and began to sing "Hickory Dickory Dock." Cliel and Dave joined in on the second time around.

Oh dear, Trotsky thought to himself, looking askance at the vending machine. Suddenly, the intercom came back to life.

"I suppose you think you're funny, you stupid elf," they heard Dr. McFlur?'s voice say. "Well, I never would have used you if you hadn't looked so damn good in those flip-flops. But now I see through...oh, I'm on. Ahem. Hello, dears. This first experiment should be relatively painless. This gas will go through your system and give me control of your emotional

states and levels of maturity. I can make you believe you're in any situation I want. I must say, I've never had such fine subjects before."

Why? broadcast Trotsky, who was apparently not affected by the gas.

"Because!, you stupid kangaroo wannabe!" McFlur? cackled. A few seconds

later, Maglor came in and removed Trotsky.

Suddenly, Cliel retreated to the corner and drew her knees up to her chest. Eyes wide as relatively small saucers, she rocked back and forth: "No! No! Please..." she pleaded with some unseen bogety. And then she buried her head in her lap. "Please don't say that," she sobbed. "You know it makes me feel worthless...Why don't you listen to me?"

But Dave and Eman, too were wrapped up in their own McFlur?-induced delusions to notice Cliel's. Eman sat erect, eyes closed and hands folded. "Forgive me, father for I have sinned." There was a pause. "I have had unclean thoughts, father. About a girl in my class. And I stole a box of milk." Another pause. "No...I also-" But here the conversation was cut off, as a new situation worked its way into Eman's psyche. He drew up his knees and began

to weep. "I don't need any friends," he said through his tears. "They're all stupid anyway. I'll be fine on my own..."

Meanwhile, Dave also seemed to be going through his own personal hell. "No, Dad, please...please, I promise I won't ever do it again..." He stood up and began to swing at thin air with his fists. After awhile he stopped and looked down, then fell to his knees. "Oh my God," he whispered. "Dad?"

Then, as suddenly as it had all started, it stopped. The three returned to normal, looking at each other in blank disbelief of what had just happened. Dr. McFlur?'s evil cackle came back over the intercom. "Interesting," he said. "As you've most likely discovered, these are all things I've pulled out of your subconscious. I've learned some useful information...perhaps I'll delve deeper into this another time. But for now..." He snapped his fingers and they heard a buzzing sound. "Mertin will be down to collect you shortly," said McFlur?, and then the intercom shut off.

"The first question," said Cliel, "is whether or not he'll have control over us forever, or if the effect of the gas wears off. Because if it doesn't..."

"We're screwed," Eman finished for her. "What I wouldn't give for Trotsky's calculating genius right now..."

Well, now you've got it, Trotsky broadcast from right inside the door,

where Maglor had just thown him. But as for what good it's going to do you... He stopped and pointed up, where they could plainly see some sort of fly hooking a leash to their cell. Within seconds, they were being lifted into the air.

"I presume that's Mertin," said Dave.

"Well, we obviously can't do anything until we're back on the ground," said

Cliel, "so . . . Eman, I've been thinking. I don't think I could stand dying a virgin. Would you..."

"Trust me," Eman responded, "I'd love to. But there's one small problem."

"What about me?" Dave asked.

No one said anything.

After a few minutes of this uncomfortable silence, Mr. Trotsky spoke up. Look, if that Mertin thing gets us to McFlur?'s main lab, we're toast. So the only thing I can think of is to disable it and find a ship as soon as possible.

"Two problems," said Eman. "One: no atmosphere. Two: what ship is going to be supplied with oxygen?"

Ours, remember? Trotsky snapped. And as for atmosphere, how long can you all hold your breath?

"Not that long," said Dave.

What we could do is reprogram Mertin...disable his remote control

device and then find some way to pilot him to our ship, reasoned Trotsky.

"Yeah," Eman acquiesced, "but how do we do that?"

Trotsky sighed telepathically. We improvise. With that, he hopped up to the top of the snack machine. He reached up with his paw. Just as he'd hoped, he was able to go through the ceiling. Slowly, he climbed the leash and sat astride Mertin. Taking a wad of putty from his pouch, he stuck it over the giant fly's single antenna. They stopped in midair.

Trotsky looked all over for a control panel, but could find none. However, there were two rings on either side of Mertin's head...desperate, the wallaby called to Dave, Give me your shoelace! Dave, who had wisely decided not to ask any questions, tossed it up. Trotsky caught it and tied either end to the rings. "Giddyap!" he shouted, and Mertin began to move again. Giddy with his unanticipated success, Trotsky squeaked. And not telepathically, either.

A speaker in one of Mertin's eyes activated itself. "I know you're there, and I know what you've done to Mertin! Don't expect to live long!" The speaker shut off again.

"Mr. Trotsky,"shouted Eman, "do you know where our ship is?"

No, said Trotsky, but I figure it can't be far from where we were being held. I'm turning around.

Chapter XX: Svetlana Yarosh, 6-10-00

Mr. Trotsky turned around...and around. They'd been going around in circles for the past 15 minutes. Apparently Trotsky's superior intelligence did not apply to a better sense of direction.

"This is ridiculous," sighed Cliel. "Doesn't anyone know the way back?"

"I do," whishpered a small voice, but before anyone could comment, the transmitter speaker on the fly crackled. It was Dr. McFlur?.

"Ha! I have activated a self-destruct device in Mertin's body. If you don't stop blocking my remote control, you will all explode and your innards will rain on this Todd-forsaken planet. Muaha-muaha-ha-ha-ha!" The next sound heard was that of McFlur? falling out of his chair and landing on Maglor. It sounded something like this: "Crash meowow!"

When the transmission ended, the whole group looked pensive. Their dark thoughts were once again interrupted by a small voice: "Please don't let him kill me!"

"It's Mertin! He's talking!" exclaimed Cliel.

"Please don't let him kill me," repeated Mertin. "I promise to help you in return."

"How can you possibly help us if you can't even deactivate your own

self-destruct(" accused Eman.

"Well, I know the way to your ship for one thing. And (and this only concerns you, Eman) I know the way to the secret land . . .a land where all your injuries can be healed, if you know what I mean," said Mertin.

"Even the 'secret land' wouldn't be able to find a way to heal us if we don't deactivate the self-destruct sequence-and soon," Dave worried.

I may be able to solve that problem, said Mr. Trotsky. With Mertin's knowledge of his own circuitry and my incredibly talent in electric engineering, we should be able to deactivate it.

With everyone's blessing, Mertin and Mr. Trotsky began their work.

Finally, the bomb was deactivated, though not without some personal sacrifice on the part of Mertin (we're not going to discuss it, let's just say it had to do with the explosive's location in Mertin's body).

"Yay! Now we can go get our ship!" Dave yelled happilly.

"No, not yet," said Mertin quietly. "We have to go back to the lab."

Everyone stared at him without comprehension.

"Did you lick some toads or something" screamed Cliel. "You want us to voluntarily go into the lab of an evil scientist, underwear model, and Todd knows what else(("

"Yes." Mertin looked down. "McFlur? has my remote control, and while he as it, I will always be fighting for control of my own body."

Dave and Cliel exchanged looks, while Eman looked pensive.

"So, guys, what are we going to do?" asked Mr. Trotsky.

Chapter XXI: Brian Walsh, 6-14-00

"Well, isn't it obvious?" blurted Cliel. "We need Mertin to get out and if we leave without the remote McFlur? can use Mertin to bring us back."

There was a moment when everyone grumbled a little, but they all knew she was right.

"Well, I guess it's off we go to McFlur?'s lab, isn't it," mumbled Eman, then added, "lead away, Mertin."

So off they all flew down the hallway on Mertin's back (Mertin having dropped the detention cell in order to conserve fuel). The hallway up ahead forked and as they came to it, Mertin made no move to turn either way.

"Uh, Mertin, where are we going?" asked Dave, as they hurtled closer and

closer to the wall.

"To Mcflur's lab of cour-!"




"Mertin-" THUD "that's a wall" THUD "that you're" THUD "running into," Cliel managed to cry out as they continuously rammed into the wall in front of them.

"Is it really?" asked Mertin, then stopped and added, "I really can't tell-when Mr. Trotsky deactivated my self-destruct it damaged my antennae, and my vision."

"Well, what do we do now?" yelled Eman.

"Well...I suppose you could tell me what our surroundings are. I can probably find my way with your help," said Mertin.

So for the next couple of minutes, Mr. Trotsky, Eman, Cliel, and Dave gave Mertin a running description of where they were. Mertin in turn choose his way through what seemed like a giant maze of criss-crossed halls and turbo lifts.

Eventually, when they came to a door with a large sign that read "Do Not Disturb; conducting evil experiments on virgins", Mertin came to a halt. The door, of course, was the entrance to McFlur?'s lab.

"What do we do now you guys?" asked Dave.

"Get my remote, please," answered Mertin in a pleading voice.

Eman banged Mertin's metal head. CLANG! "No, dummy! What do we do to get in, not get re-captured, and get away with the remote?" Eman said in a mocking voice.

"Sorry," Mertin meeped. (Yes, meeped.)

How about if I run in, and bite McFlur? and act like a defective wallaby commando as a distraction. Then you guys can run in, grab Mertin's remote, and run out. I'll follow later, suggested Mr. Trotsky.

"Sounds good to me if you can handle it, Mr Trotsky." replied Eman.

Sure thing, said Mr. Trotsky in a confident voice.

"Okay, let's do it!" said Mertin, who was eager to get his remote.

Mr. Trotsky dismounted from Mertin, walked to the door, pushed it open, and ran in. Three seconds later the others heard Mr. Trotsky scream:

For the love of Todd, it's so evil!

Eman and Cliel both pushed the door open while Dave stayed outside. He heard Cliel scream, and then heard a thud, which he guessed to be Cliel passing out.

What Eman saw when he entered was Mr. Trotsky frozen staring at the horror of what was going on in the lab. In the middle, he saw Maglor and Dr. McFlur?, who were still unaware of what was going on because they were so involved in what they were doing. Maglor was sitting in an elevated chair moaning, while Dr. McFlur? was nibbling Maglor's toes. Dr. McFlur?'s new body was something that looked like a big, pink . . .

[Brian's requirements for the next two entries:

(1) a teletubby (not McFlur?'s new body)

(2) a jar of raspberry jam (not McFlur?'s new body)

(3) Mr. Trotsky smoking a bong]

Chapter XXII: Laura White, 6-18-00

. . . weasel. No, Eman amended, as the weasel straightened up to bite the elf's ear, a HUGE pink weasel. At least 6 1/2 feet, and that was a low estimate. Drawing his gaze away from the repulsive scene in the center of the room, Eman sized up the situation.

The room that Eman was looking into was roughly oblong in shape, with a ceiling that curved upwards on all sides to form a dark dome which loomed above his head. To his right, the walls were composed of thick-plated

windows, reinforced with heavy metal beams and girders. To his left, the walls were solid metal, and a long, curved platform that butted up against the wall above Eman's head served as a second floor to the laboratory. Judging by the shelves of carefully-labelled flasks, bags, and boxes, this appeared to be used as storage space.

The ground floor of the Slaughterhouse 586 laboratory was filled with the specialized equiptment McFlur? used for his many experiments. It looked, Eman reflected, like a dentist's office, with clusters of tables, chairs, and machinery in different areas of the room- although what would be the "patient's chairs" looked far less comfortable, especially with those arm and leg restraints. Along the wall to his left, he could see three or four different sets of doors, probably leading to other areas of the Slaughterhouse compound.

So. Those were his surroundings. Now, his assets. Eman glanced at the floor in front of him. One defective but highly intelligent wallaby commando, who at the moment was grimacing at the revolting scene in front of him. One Cliel Nazcanth, currently unconscious. And the element of surprise. He decided his third asset seemed the most promising. Timing his footsteps so that they would be masked by the space-elf's loud moans, Eman tip-toed towards the center of the lab, making sure to stay out of the giant weasel's line of sight. He got it worked out to a careful pattern: Maglor would moan, Eman would leap up and run to another piece of machinery, chair, or table, the elf would stop, and Eman would crouch down behind the nearest piece of equiptment. The system was so effective that he found himself just a few feet from the center of the room, hiding behind a table with a rather nasty-looking syringe on it, when he realized that he had NO IDEA what Mertin's remote control looked like, or where in the room he might find it.

"Oh, crap!" he said, realizing this meant he'd have to go all the way back to the entrance and ask Mertin what he should look for, and then creep all the way back into the lab again. At the nearby and none-too-quiet sound of Eman's cursing, the giant pink weasel turned.

"Mertin?" he questioned, having been rather absorbed in what he was doing.

"What the- it's Yates and the girl and the wallaby!" McFlur? slapped Maglor, who simply moaned again, then bounded after Yates, who had abandoned all attempts at being surreptitious, and was running for the door screaming like a maniac. At Eman's crazed screams, Dave poked his head in the door, where he saw Cliel and Mr. Trotsky passed out on the floor, and Eman running at him, being chased by a bounding, 200-pound pink weasel.

It was at this point that Gothmog the Balrog, wings and all, stepped out from behind one of the racks of specimens on the second floor, took out a jar of "Weston's Explosive Raspberry Jam,T" and threw it at the scene below.


As the jar hit the ground right behind Eman, it exploded like a small grenade, sending him flying through the air. He landed with a sickening crunch, and when the smoke cleared, a slightly-charred Yates found himself lying across the legs of Cliel, who was just beginning to regain consciousness.

"...Your...hair...didn't used to be black," she said slowly. Eman nodded politely and attempted to prop himself up on his right arm, but the pain of putting any pressure on the limb at all, which he quickly assessed to be broken in at least two places, was too great, and he merely collapsed back onto Cliel.

At the door, Dave and Mr. Trotsky were unhurt by the explosion, but stayed where they were as the balrog, wielding a neon-orange crossbow fitted with metallic green arrows, advanced upon them. Gothmog reached into a pocket of the rather ratty-looking leather tunic he was wearing, and pulled out a slip of paper.

"Okay, let's see, I want to do this completely according the Nej-Quack official execution regulations....so please raise your hand or say 'present' when your name is called," Gothmog said, crimson eyes gleaming and wings fully extended. "Maglor the space-elf, employee of the month for the Raal-Mar division of semi-secret service?"

"What sort of services might THOSE be?" muttered Yates quietly, eliciting a disapproving look from Cliel, who still had not noticed the balrog.

Maglor, who had gotten up from the chair he was sitting in when Gothmog threw the jam, waved his hand and then turned back to McFlur?, who, though his pink fur was somewhat charred at the edges, was getting up without much effort.

"David Nathaniel Petrovich?" Dave waved at Gothmog from his position at the door, and then turned to whisper something to Mr. Trotsky.

"There will be NO talking!" Gothmog boomed out, his wings stretching to an

even higher height. "Cliel Nazcanth?"

Cliel, begeinning to come out of her daze, said "here!" automatically, and then looked toward the sound of the voice, seeing the balrog for the first time. "Uh-oh, Eman. That looks kind of like the balrog I saw earlier, except now it has wings..." she said very, very quietly.

If the balrog heard, he ignored her. "Emmanuel Zacariah Yates?"

Eman attempted to raise his hand, but the pain shooting through his arm forced him to settle for a simple "here".

"Very good," boomed Gothmog. "And finally, is there a former Raal-Mar scientist named Dr. Traiga McFlur?, now in the body of a defective, IPC-issue, wallaby-commando prototype? Yes, that is most definitely a wallaby over there," he mumbled, checking "McFlur?" off his list.

At this, Eman, Cliel, and Dave all attempted to interrupt, while Gothmog raised his crossbow and the pink weasel only smiled.

-"He's just a wallaby now!" screamed Eman.-

-"The weasel...he's McFlur? is the weasel is McFlur?, who was a wallaby, but now's a weasel," Cliel babbled incoherently.-

-"Have you got a wallaby hunter's permit?" asked Dave.-

"Excuse me?" boomed Gothmog, his crossbow-holding arm wavering with uncertainty.

"A commercial wallaby-hunter's permit. Valid for five years, and available from the nearest interplanetary game bureau. Do you have one?"

"Well, no...I have orders from Gov-duck James P. Ehez of the Nej-Quack..." Gothmog consulted his scrap of paper again, "...to execute three humans, one space-elf, and one wallaby."

"But no commercial wallaby hunter's permit. That's a serious offense. How do you ever expect to obtain future contracts from the Nej-Quack government if you don't go about things legally?" asked Dave, a slight grin hovering around the edges of his mouth.

Gothmog considered for a moment, but McFlur? interrupted. "I'm sure you have carte blanche from the Nej-Quack for whatever executions they wish you to carry out, Mr. Balrog," he said greasily. At this, Maglor turned to McFlur? with a betrayed look on his face, but the weasel merely slapped him and Maglor stayed silent.

"Perhaps..." said the balrog. "Then again, I can't just think for myself anymore. I have my wings to look out for."

"But surely, Mr. Balrog, the Nej-Quack would wish you to do your duty as soon as possible?" the pink weasel persisted.

"Perhaps," said Gothmog again, "but I am ahead of schedule. Besides, who would care for my wings if I were arrested? They would be all alone. I think I must go find the nearest game bureau. Do you happen to know where one is located?"

"On Orca," sighed McFlur?, obviously disappointed. "And if you contact your local gaming representative, they may be able to help speed up the process."

"Much thanks," replied Gothmog, lord of Balrogs, and marched out the nearest door, tucking his wings in so they wouldn't hit the doorframe.

As soon as he was gone, Mertin the remote-controlled fly buzzed in.

"What's going on?! What was the explosion?? Did you get my remote? AAHHH!

Master! Nnooooo!!!!!"

McFlur? had pulled Mertin's remote control out of a pocket, and was reeling the fly in like a flopping fish, a sight that would have been highly amusing were it not for the gravity of the situation. At a nod from McFlur?, Maglor scampered over to place a leash around Mr. Trotsky, only to be stopped by Dave, who clenched a trembling fist, and slammed it into Maglor's forehead. "Sorry, Dad," Dave whispered shakily as the elf fell to the floor.

Cliel, meanwhile, had helped Eman slide off of her legs and was finally completely conscious. She stood up abruptly as Mertin buzzed past her head, screaming, and caught him in midair.

"DAVE! Catch!!" she yelled, then threw the fly with all her strength at Petrovich, who snapped out of the past and grabbed the struggling fly.

Unfortunately, in order to throw the fly to to Dave, Cliel had had to turn her back on McFlur?. The weasel's claws raked across her back, and she screamed in surprise and pain, then turned and executed a perfect karate-kick to McFlur?'s face.

"Auggh!" the weasel shouted, and snapped at her arm, missing by only a few centimeters. "Yes, my dear Cliel, I think you'll do perfectly."

"Perfectly for WHAT(" yelled Eman, who had raised himself up with the help of a nearby lab table, though his right arm still hung limp to one side.

At the door, Dave wondered whether to try to rescue Cliel, or to protect Mertin. "Can you hold onto Mertin by yourself?" he asked Trotsky dubiously.

The wallaby shook his head no.

"Don't try to save me. I feel so guilty already. I'll surrender, and then he'll let the rest of you go free, right?" interrupted Mertin.

I'm afraid not, broadcast Trotsky, as he glanced at Cliel delivering

another viscious kick to the weasel's ear. He seems to want Cliel for


Trotsky and Petrovich both held on tightly to Mertin as the doctor again attempted to use the remote control. Glancing back, Eman saw them and shouted, "Cliel! Run! Go with Petrovich and get out of here! I'll hold off McFlur?!"

Delivering another karate chop to the weasel's left temple, Cliel didn't even stop to reply.

"Cliel!" Eman screamed. "Please!"

In one smooth motion, she picked up a metal wrench off a piece of machinery, hit McFlur? over the head with it, and turned toward Eman. "You think you're the only one who can be a bloody hero?? Send the three of them away if you refuse to go, but you should know by now that I detest chivalry!" She turned back towards McFlur?, right into a stunning punch that made her grunt with pain.

Eman flinched as McFlur? hit her, and took off running towards where the two were fighting. "Go! Get out of here! We'll meet up with you when we can!" he yelled back over his shoulder to Mr. Trotsky. If we can, he thought to himself as he raced towards the center of the room.

Good luck, Eman. Trotsky broadcast regretfully, and then turned back to Dave. Come on, Petrovich! If we can get back to the ship, we might be able to save them!

"Just one moment," said Dave. He ran over to where Maglor was still lying unconscious on the floor, and used the leash the space elf was still holding to tie him up. Then, lifting Maglor up, Dave climbed aboard Mertin behind Trotsky. The foursome shot out the door, headed for the S.S. Basil.

Eman grabbed the wrench Cliel had dropped off the floor, and ran up to where Cliel and McFlur? were still locked in combat. Jumping between them, he struck out savagely, swinging the wrench in an arc that collided with the left side of McFlur?'s face. The impact caused the weasel obvious pain, but was not enough to stop him from lashing out at Eman's right arm, causing the

already-wounded man to fall to his knees.

"Bastard!!" screamed Cliel as Eman clutched his injured arm in agony. "What do you want, anyway?" she yelled, as she attacked with a fury.

"You," spit the weasel menacingly as he lashed out again with his claws. "I want your body," McFlur? said evenly, and then laughed derisively as Eman struggled to his feet.

"Not like THAT, you fool. It's not my intention to waste her virginity on this worthless fuzzy pink host body. Do you think I CHOSE my present corporal attire? When I say I want her body, I mean so quite literally," the weasel explained, as he ducked a punch, grabbed a scalpel off a nearby lab table, and held it to Cliel's throat. "And if you cooperate, Yates, not only will your little girlfriend here not get hurt in the process, but I might even be willing to make you a deal."

"Like hell," replied Eman through gritted teeth as he watched McFlur? pin Cliel's arms behind her back with one paw, and press the scalpel next to her jugular with the other

"Oh, come now Mr. Yates. You didn't have such high moral principles when you murdered those Suedian platypus farmers," McFlur? said sweetly, while using the scalpel blade to force Cliel's head up so that she was looking Eman in the face.

"They were trying to kill Mr. Trotsky!!!" yelled Eman, his fury temporarily blocking out the pain in his arm.

"Now, now, Eman. Don't be so touchy. Actually, they were trying to kill me-I was in possession of the wallaby's body at the time, and I was attempting to steal their village's only transport ship in order to return to the F: Lit." McFlur? saw Eman's eyes widen in shock-and horror. "Didn't you know that, Yates? That family of farmers you murdered were innocent

citizens-but I'm grateful to you. In the process, you saved my life. So now I'm offering you a chance to save yours. Help me transfer to Cliel as a host body, and I'll send you back to the S-F:Lit on the Basil, to some out-of-the-way, uninhabited planet."

Cliel suddenly began to struggle to free herself, and McFlur? pulled her head back by grabbing her hair and pushing the scalpel against her neck so that a thin line of blood appeared.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Cliel. It's hazardous to your health, and in a few short hours, your health will be my health. In fact-" McFlur? started, then stopped to think for a second.

"Eman, I'm just going to settle Cliel in this chair here so we can talk comfortably, okay? I'm sure there must be some way I can convince you to lend your assistance," he remarked conversationally while forcing Cliel into one of the many rigid metal chairs that dotted the lab room. McFlur? fumbled a bit while fastening the arm and leg restraints around Cliel, but secured them tightly and then leaned back against a nearby table, on furry, scalpel-holding pink paw still hovering around Cliel's neck.

Through all of this, Emmanuel Yeats said nothing. But the pink weasel was not deterred.

"Eman, my old friend. You have no idea how enjoyable it was to be your pet wallaby for the past three years. Too bad that host-body, like this one, is useless for performing delicate surgery. I feel like I know you so well."

"Sorry I can't say the same," snapped Yeats, eliciting only a patronizing smile from McFlur?.

"Yes, indeed, Eman. I can predict your responses right down to those little sarcastic quips you're so fond of. I know how you think and react, Emmanuel, and I know how you're feeling right now. Of course you like Cliel-and maybe your feelings run even deeper than that. But she has no loyalties to you-she's still just an IPC ensign who would turn you in, in exchange for a promotion, as soon as you returned to the S-F:Lit. You needn't feel compelled to protect her. Besides, it's not as though I'm going to cause her physical harm."

"Oh no. Just imprison and enslave her body and mind!" snapped Eman, as Cliel struggled to free herself from the chair's built-in binders, then stopped as McFlur? again brought the blade perilously close to her jugular.

"Why should I help you, anyway?" Eman demanded. "I don't really think you'd slit Cliel's throat if you want her as a host body. And if you believe you can convince me that I can return to the F-S:Lit and evade IPC capture, you don't know me as well as you think."

"The S.S. Basil disappeared carrying a benign load of cargo and passengers-with the exception of one extremely dangerous, high security prisoner: me. If I return to the S-F:Lit, I'll be dead within two weeks," Yeats stated, trying to keep his voice emotionless as he fixed his gaze on Cliel's erratic pulse, beating beneath the scalpel's sharp blade.

McFlur? sighed. "Always the optimist, aren't you, Eman? So what if you can't return to the S-F:Lit - there are thousands of worlds here in the F:Lit that you could settle on and live happily. And if you're still going to ask why you'd want to help me-" here he glanced at Eman knowingly, "last I checked, your injuries include some broken bones, cuts, burns, contusions, and a good-sized portion of somewhat vital anatomy that somehow got bitten off by a, uh, wallaby-commando. I'll have you know, Eman, the 'doctor' in 'Doctor McFlur?' is not just an honorary title. I can easily remedy all of your problems-once you assist me in taking a host body with more nimble fingers," McFlur? said, with a snide little wink.

"All I need you to do is operate the automatic mental transference unit during the procedure," the weasel wheedled. "It's very simple: I set up the transference matrix prior to the procedure, and initiate the initial preparation of the host. Then I hook myself into the machine's other unit end, and you press the button that initiates the transfer. Should the transfer malfunction (unlikely, considering the relative success of my transfer to this body, and even my involuntary transfer into 'Mr. Trotsky'), or should you fail to push the button to initiate the transfer within 30 seconds after I hook myself into the other side of the transference unit, the machine will automatically wipe the mind of the would-be host," McFlur? explained, a wicked gleam in his eye as he took two steps back from the chair Cliel was trapped in. At this, Cliel found the courage to speak up for the first time.

"And where do you keep such sophisticated lab equipment when you're busy fraternizing with traitorous space-elves?" she asked mockingly, her demeanor still defiant, daring Eman to even consider McFlur?'s offer.

"Right here," replied the weasel, pressing a button on the lab table that cause reinforced clear molded plastic to lift out of the floor and form a cell-like box around Cliel's chair. Electrodes, tubes and monitors attached automatically to her struggling body behind the barriers.

"I'll begin the initial preparations for transference immediately," McFlur? said with a smile.

Chapter XXIII: KC Frodyma, 1 July 2000


"A ten-day waiting period for a wallaby-hunting license?" screamed Gothmog the Balrog. "What is this lit. coming to?"

"Um," said a very frightened Orcan, who had just started that morning on her new job at the Bureau of Alcohol, Pipeweed, and Firearms. "Yes, that is the law, as passed by..."

"Save it," snapped Gothmog. "Just make out the license, and I'll come back in ten days and pick it up."

"But that's not..." whispered the Orcan.

"Or perhaps you'd like my friends to help you?" said Gothmog, brandishing his wings.

"Friends? You mean those shadows?" inquired the Orcan in what she thought was a polite tone.

"That's it!" roared Gothmog. "No one insults my wings!" He looked so fierce that the Orcan cowered and said, "Yes, ah, that's G-O-T-H-M-O-G, right?"

"Correct," said Gothmog airily as the Orcan made out the license.

"You can come back in ten days," she said. "You and those shadow things, I guess?"

"Aaarghhh!!!" In a few minutes, the Orcan lay dead on the floor. Gothmog noticed her pink fuzzy slippers as he stepped over her body. They were kinda cute. He pocketed the license, put the slippers on his feet, and prepared once again to find the possessed wallaby and his entourage.

At the same time, Dave, Mertin, and Mr. Trotsky were fleeing Slaughterhouse-586, with Dave dragging the tethered Maglor behind him.

"Now how do we get back to the Basil?" Dave asked breathlessly, checking Maglor to make sure there were no signs of movement.

"As I was trying to tell you before," said Mertin, "I know. But we'll never get there if McFlur? know that that's where I'm trying to take you."

Of course he knows, broadcast Mr. Trotsky. He'd be pretty stupid not to think that's where we would go. The question is, does he care? I'm willing to hazard a no.

"That's very comforting," said Mertin. "How exactly do you think he would be willing to be apathetic about this?

Because, broadcast Trotsky, his energy is almost entirely focused on Cliel. He won't see us as a threat once he's able to possess her.

"Which is all the more reason we should get to the ship and back as fast as possible," said Dave. "Mertin, stop worrying about that remote and just go."

Mertin went. Six corners, three traffic circles, and eighty-seven orange cones later, they were standing in front of the Basil, which had been neatly waxed.

As Dave flew the ship back to McFlur?'s lab, he remarked, "McFlur? probably hasn't done anything yet-if he had, he'd probably think back to Mertin and send us flying into Orca or something. Either that, or he's too mad with his newfound power to remember-ack! Do you suppose that's it? Are we too late?"

"I don't know. Do you think we are, Petrovich?" asked a voice Dave had hoped never to hear again. It was Maglor.

"How did you untie yourself?" Dave demanded.

"Pretty easily," remarked Maglor casually, "as once I regained consciousness it was fairly obvious that you had neglected to tie my arms."

Dave slapped himself. Hard. Just ignore him, he told himself. Just get in there, get Cliel and Yeats, get out of there.

Dave, you are such a moron, broadcast Mr. Trotsky. You make it sound as though that's going to be easy or something.

Dave was rather perturbed at the wallaby's telepathic intrusion into his thoughts, but he was more concerned about the space-elf.

"Let's just go!" he said loudly, and drove the Basil through the wall of Slaughterhouse-586.

McFlur? jumped. It was an odd thing to see a 200-pound pink fuzzy weasel jump, Cliel thought, but at least the distraction gave her enough time to move her head out from under his scalpel. Then she looked at what had made him jump. Was that the Basil that had just made a rather large hole in the wall and upset twenty racks of test tubes? Judging by the beings getting out of it, it had to be...Dave...Mertin...Trotsky...oh Todd! Maglor!

"What are you doing to my lab?!" McFlur? screamed at Dave. "Just look at this mess! Do you know how long it'll take me to rearrange those formulæ? Not to mention the broken glass!"

While McFlur? was chewing out Dave, Eman flipped the switch which operated the arm and leg restraints that held Cliel down. They quickly jumped behind some wreckage.

McFlur? turned and saw the empty chair. "And you let my potential host body escape! You'll pay for this!" With one swift motion he grabbed Dave and strapped him into the chair. He picked up one of Dave's hands and examined it. "Not quite so delicate, nor so dexterous as Nazcanth's," he said with a sinister grin, "but far, far better than these," he said, glancing down at his large pink paws. He spotted Maglor. "You! Space-elf! Come here and assist me!"

Maglor trembled. "Are you sure, sir?" He had not forgotten the earbiting.

"Yes, I'm sure! Now get over here!"

Maglor trembled again. If McFlur? thought he didn't perform satisfactorily...

"What are you waiting for, you wretched Noldo? Do you want to lose you position? Your sizable expense account? Your harem of elven warrior princesses?"

"Yes, sir, right away, sir!" said Maglor, trotting over to McFlur?'s side.

"Now, help me with these electrodes," ordered McFlur?...

After several loud buzzes, there cam the sound of a bell, clear, loud, and signifying success. Dave spoke.

"You can release those restraints now, Maglor, thank you very much." Cliel, Eman, Trotsky and Mertin looked on in horror. Dave/McFlur?'s eyes wandered around the room.

"Trotsky," he said, picking up the wallaby, who squirmed and wriggled to get away, but failed. "Trotsky, Trotsky, Trotsky. Ah, yes, poor Mr. Trotsky. All these months with Yeats over there, while he was using his charms to bed curious young women-" Cliel's eyes narrowed. "And, when that failed, taking advantage of the red-light districts of Suede-" they narrowed further "but you, Mr. Trotsky, you never got lucky, did you?" He cackled evilly. "Fortunately, it makes you rather well suited to my experiment: how long can virgin wallaby ears stay immersed in liquid nitrogen?"

"No!!!" screamed Eman. "Not Mr. Trotsky!!!"

He leaped through the air, wrestled Trotsky away from Dave/McFlur?, and ran right into Gothmog.

"Ah," said the balrog, whose wings were aflame with excitement. "I get a wallaby-hunting license, and just a short while later a wallaby appears right in front of me. What do you suppose the odds are of that?"

"Well, I'd say about..." began McFlur?, and then he stopped. "Stupid!" he murmured to himself. "Stupid! Why didn't I wait until that nefarious Nej-Quack gun had finished his business before transferring to a host body that was on his hit list? Stupid!"

"Petrovich, isn't it?" said Gothmog. "Yes...well, I suppose I had better start...Oh. Hello there." He noticed the pink weasel. "I must say you were enormously helpful getting that license, although those bureaucrats..."

"Who are you," said the weasel, "and what do you want?" It spoke with the voice of Fran Drescher.

"Oh," said Gothmog, "I'm sorry...I didn't realize...you know, you are very attractive..." He glanced down at his new slippers, thinking how nice they would look on her.

"Oh Gaaahhd," said the weasel. "No. No way. Do you know how many times I've had my body invaded by unwanted hosts? Six! Well, I'm not giving myself up this time. You want this body, you're going to have to fight for it!"

"No, no..." said Gothmog. "I have no intention of possessing you...it merely gives me pleasure to look at you."

"Oh," said the weasel, flattered. "Well then...is there anything I can do for you?"

"Well," said Gothmog, "I have to kill these people and that wallaby. Any chance you could help control them?"

"I'd love to help you," said the weasel.

"Ha!" said McFlur?. He was holding a Special Millennium Edition Murder n Mayhem Deluxe Blaster(tm).

"That will do you little good, I'm afraid, Petrovich," said Gothmog, melting the weapon into a small puddle. "Now, I believe the wallaby is the most dangerous...we should probably start with him."

"Shuah," replied the weasel. "What should I do?"

Chapter XXIV: Clay Hambrick, 7-20-00

"Well, first-" began Gothmog, his eyes sweeping the room. "Wait a minute!" he interrupted himself, "is that a Mind Transfer-o-matic (r) (tm) I see there? Great, just great! Now I'm required by law to verify who's in what body before I kill anybody," he finished in exasperation.

Oh, thank Todd, Mr. Trotsky broadcast.

When Gothmog had finished his mind scans, he made himself a handy reference chart, which looked like this:



Eman. Yeats

" "

Cliel Nazcanth

" "

Dave Petrovich

Traiga McFlur?

Wallaby commando

" "

Giant, pink weasel

Dave Petrovich

(Author's annotation to the second edition:

Owing to Dave's inexperience with mind-transfers-indeed, his inexperience with pretty much anything at all-the weasel's native mind was dominant for several minutes before Dave gained control.)

"All right," said Gothmog. "You," he indicated Mr. Trotsky, "may go. As for you two," he indicated Dave & McFlur?, "Nej-Quack regulations specify that, for some pointless reason, all criminals must be executed in their original bodies. So let's go!"

No sooner had the Mind-Transference bell rung a second time, than onto the scene who should burst but the all-but-forgotten Mertin! Strapped to his back was the Destructo-Matic 5000, the only indestructible weapon of destruction in any Lit.

"Now who has the advantage, 'Master'?" Mertin meeped menacingly. McFlur?, who was still strapped in to the MTM, said nothing, but held up his Emergency Backup remote control, which he had pulled from his-well, suffice it to say that the control was only accessible from that body. "Who are you?" boomed Gothmog. The sudden noise so startled Mertin that he activated the Destructo-Matic, at the same instant that McFlur? chose to activate the remote. The net result of this was that a sizeable chunk was blown out of one of McFlur?'s remaining walls. Over the next 5 seconds, the following things occurred:

1) One flying chunk of debris activated McFlur?'s Black Hole Inter-Lit. Transport device, which immediately sucked Eman, Cliel, Mr. Trotsky, and Maglor into its maw.

2) A second piece hit the release lever on Dave's side of the MTM with such force that he was catapulted into the BHI-LT as well.

3) Yet a third piece, this one the size of a VW Beetle, slammed into Gothmog, knocking him into the recently vacated half of the MTM.

4) The final piece of wall debris destroyed the BAI-LT, one piece of which flew through the air and activated the MTM. In a flash of poeto-judicial intuition, Mertin, who had been badly damaged, used his last few electrons to destroy the functionality of the MTM with his Destructo-Matic.

Looking around their new planet, Eman remarked to no one in particular, "I get the feeling that we're under the influence of a very powerful Improbability field."

"It's the Creators!! It's the Creators!!" Maglor shrieked hysterically.

Chapter XXV: Jen Fick, 8-10-00

And then the space-elf blinked out of existence.

"Maglor?" Eman inquired, starting forward and inadvertently running into the eggshell-colored wall he had been standing near. Something struck him as rather odd, but he couldn't put his finger on it...

Suddenly he realized: "Eggshell!" he though. "Now that's a color I haven't seen in a while!" For the past five years of his life, ever since shortly after his twenty-first birthday, Eman had lived aboard spaceships, with only a bit of inter-Lit travel and the odd stop-off at a mad scientist's laboratory to spice up his increasingly dull life as a fugitive. He took a moment to think about the lack of purpose growing ever more evident in his existence-3 years ago he had been taken off of the list of the galaxy's "most-wanted" criminals, and even the IPC had been ready to give up when he'd made a stupid mistake and played right into their hands. Imagine, the notorious Eman Yeats, picked up for nicking an orange from an unprotected market stall...but then he realized that his train of thought, while it provided some interesting insight into his heretofore mysterious past, had become somewhat of a digression, not to say highly irrelevant. He returned at once to a thread that would do a considerably better job of advancing the plot: namely, he contemplated his surroundings as all good and helpful little characters do.

Before detailing what he saw, it is worth noting what he had been used to. In order to accomplish this it is necessary to include an excerpt from Mel Ting-Butter's book, Space Travel: What Every Planet Lubber Ought to Know:

"The interior of spaceships, despite what the producers of modern television shows like 'Mally LeReal?' and 'Planet Voyage' want us to believe, are what might be described as Spartan. The walls are usually stainless steel, and carpet is an extreme luxury found only in the most opulent of private ships. Furniture is kept to a bare minimum (usually a stateroom contains a bed, and perhaps a chair or desk, all of which are bolted to the floor to keep them from shifting during particularly turbulent flights), and decoration is practically unheard-of. Potted plants are right out."

But now Eman stepped back from the wall and found that he was standing in a room that was ,if nothing else, very tastefully decorated. The furniture (a large, comfy-looking couch and two arm chairs with ottomans) was upholstered in a delicate floral silk, which clashed aesthetically with the sky blue, pale pink, and white-striped curtain and throw pillows (strategically placed to suggest maximum comfort while not allowing it to be achieved without their removal). The coffee table proudly showcased several back-issues of Reader's Digest and a stack of woven coasters. Flanking the sofa were two end-tables (both in wrought iron with glass tops, like their larger counterpart, and serving to support one marguerite-filled glass vase each), and a sophisticated home entertainment center completed the picture.

Needless to say, Eman had never felt more out of his element in his life, except maybe for the time he'd stumbled into a convention of vehemently anti-human merpeople in the Suede Hilton's swimming pool. His clothes were sweaty and rather grungy, he hadn't shaved or bathed in at least a week, and his hair was desperately in need of a trim. And, he remembered as a sharp pain shot up his right arm, he had at least one severe fracture that needed immediate medical attention. But barring that (which he now did instinctively after having lived in hiding for five years), he needed help of whatever kind he could get. He collapsed onto the couch, being careful to fall on his left side.

"Dave?" he called. "Cliel?..Mr. Trotsky?"

"What is it, dear?" came a reply from just beyond the eggshell-painted wall. Soft footsteps came to the door.

"Emmanuel!" exclaimed the disembodied voice...an effeminate but most definitely male one, much like Dave's if he were, well...

Eman lifted his eyes and saw a man who did indeed appear to be a stereotypically homosexual version of his companion. His hair was immaculately coiffed, his skin was well-taken care of (no more embarrassing acne), and his clothes were very attractively tailored - a much more appealing Dave Petrovich than anyone in any Lit had ever seen.

"What are you wearing? And what's wrong with your arm, dearest?" Dave asked.

"Ummm...nothing," Eman replied, deciding that he'd rather not go into it just at the moment.

"Well, in that case," Dave went on, "I'd like to read you a poem I've written about my Ukrainian dance partner-you know, Bill?"

"Um," was all Eman could come up with in reply. What the hell was going on? He stared blankly at Dave, who had ignored him and launched right into the poem somehow communicating a lack of capital letters without having to state this explicitly:

oh what a night

of senseless dreaming

of you (gleaming)

seeming to seem only,

but simply your goodness

being too good to be true

and your unending truth

overturning everything

but you.

"Well?" demanded Dave. "What do you think?" There was an extremely awkward pause, for Eman was not only extremely confused, but had never read more poetry than he absolutely had to, and had always chosen Qwertian haiku (with a 1,2,1 structure) whenever he was forced to memorize a poem for school. Consequently, he was woefully ill equipped to analyse Dave's work.

"Uh...well, it rhymes...sometimes...and, uh, it uh, repeats words...but..."

"But what?"

"Well, I though you said he was your dance partner," Eman replied petulantly. He felt protective of Dave, though he knew not why.

Suddenly, without any warning, he was waltzing around on the tip of a pin with a very short man who looked exactly like Maglor, except that his name was Bill-his nametag said so, and nametags never lie. "Something very peculiar is happening," was all he had time to think before he was back on the couch with Dave hovering five feet above him in the air, wearing a pink tutu and gauzy fairy wings and holding a glittery plastic wand.

"I can read your mind, you know," Dave stated matter-of-factly. "And I don't know why you're so jealous, baby! After all, I'm your great aunt!" And sure enough, Dave metamorphosed into Eman's (deceased) Great Aunt Gertrude. The stench was awful. He/she flew a circuit of the room and then returned to the couch, hitting Yeats with her wand as he/she passed.

"What is going on?" he wondered, as everything went black. No answer was extant, though, as the world around him came into focus. He was standing at the foot of a platform upon which Dave (now back to his normal shape but still in the tutu), Cliel, Mr. Trotsky, and "Bill" were seated.

Just wiggle your little toe three times on the left side and seven on the right and everything will be fine, broadcast Trotsky.

Eman didn't ask questions, but closed his eyes and did as the wallaby had commanded. It took some time, but he eventually got the hang of it.

And slowly, slowly, he opened his eyes again. Standing over him were Cliel, Trotsky, Maglor, and...Eman? But how?

"Dave?" inquired Cliel concernedly. "Dave? We've been trying to wake you for hours. You blacked out when Eman started talking about improbability fields. We're in the middle of what could possibly become a very serious situation, and you decide it's time to take a nap. Great." It seemed that now that she was assured of his good health, she was quite angry with him.

"Oh..." Dave replied, befuddled. "But I had the most lovely dream-I think I've learned something very important about myself...And you were there," he said like a little boy at Christmastime, (or possibly Dorothy), indicating Cliel, "and you (Trotsky), and you (Maglor), and...well (looking at Eman)...well, you were there, but not in the most conventional sense...I was you...er, I mean, you were me...or...wow! But I knew so much about you! Our souls must be cosmically linked!"

"Dave," said Eman in an extremely frustrated voice, "that's really nice, but we don't exactly have time for that kind of thing right now."

Chapter XXVI: Becca Cheng, 8-25-00

"But..." Dave whimpered slightly, "I-"

Before Dave could say another word, Trotsky cut in. Quite right. We need to find out just what lit we're in.

"The last thing I remember is Maglor screaming about the creators," replied Dave, still with a slightly hurt look on his face. Everyone else, save Maglor, blinked, and in unison asked:

"The Creators?"

Maglor flushed, but had apparently calmed down from his earlier bit of hysteria. "The Creators."

"And who, in the name of the Bloody S-F: Lit, is THAT?!" exclaimed Eman, looming over the space elf.

Maglor merped, "Well...you see...um..." He cast a pleading look towards Trotsky.

The Creators are a group of beings who have nothing better to do than use their massive extent of Hydro-fiberical Petafolds and mammouth neruotical masses to set up situations that would otherwise be totally impractical.

The group stared at Trotsky. "So, you're telling us," began Cliel, "that we're here by the whims of a bunch of rich spoiled brats?"

No, they are most likely arguing over the meaning of 47, an utterly pointless exercise considering how obvious the answer is.

"Then just what are we doing here? And where is here?" Dave asked, indicating the rather bland looking room that just so happened to have a small group of pilgrims telling each other a series of very dirty tales.

Eman was soon amongst these pilgrims, laughing as one of them told a story about how an old man had left broken wind as his legacy. Cliel twitched at the sight of this and marched over, dragging Eman up by his ears.

"Oww...Owww...Oww!!" screamed Eman, his arms flailing about. Trotsky and Maglor winced at the sight and large beads of sweat formed on their foreheads as Dave jumped into the fray, yelling something about getting what was rightfully his.

Maglor glanced at Trotsky. "We should break this up-"

Trotsky shook his head and handed Maglor a bowl of artificially flavored popcorn butterballs, which Maglor took happily, then leaned back into a plush movie seat and watched the WWF-caliber fight.

Chapter XXVII: Laura White, 10-12-2000

The results were classic.

"Come back here, you uncouth fool!" Cliel yelled at Eman as she grabbed his ear, and winked.

"Oww...Owww...Owww!!!" screamed Eman quickly, flailing his arms to catch Dave's attention as he and Cliel put on a show. Dave caught Eman's meaning instantly (perhaps it was the cosmic link...), and jumped into the fray.

"Get your hands off him, Cliel! You keep your filthy claws off Eman! He's rightfully mine!"

"Never, Dave! Emmanuel loves me, and only me!"

"You may address me as 'Mr. Petrovich', you shrew!" snapped Dave, putting a hand on Eman's shoulder. Eman put his hands out as if to break up the fight-

-and at this signal, all three humans rushed the alien-looking "pilgrims" in the corner, pinning them against the wall.

At the same instant, Mr. Trotsky used his long hind leg to give Maglor a sharp kick to the temple, rendering the space elf unconscious.

"Wow," commented Eman, who still sported bruises, lacerations, a broken right arm and a nasty second degree burn on the entire left side of his face from the balrog's Exploding Jam (TM), and was just barely staying upright. "Two years of being a fugitive, and I've never once seen that trick performed successfully. Guess there's a first time for everything."

Cliel had already lifted the greenish-skinned, 4 and a half foot tall ringleader of the pilgrims up against the wall, causing the other five creatures to raise their scaly appendages in surrender.

"Please, sirs and madams... madam-" said the leader

"And furry one," interrupted another.

"And furry one," amended the green leader, hastily. "We mean you no offense. Let us go, please," he stuttered, shaking as Cliel maintained her grip.

"We don't grant wishes any more!" added a third Greeny. "We're reformist dwarf geenies, not traditionalists!"

"Genies?" questioned Dave, while Mr. Trotsky stuck a popcorn-flavored butterball in each of Maglor's nostrils and bounded over.

"No..., uh, like the garage door openers," stuttered the third green "pilgrim".

"You grant wishes?" Cliel asked the geenie she had by the throat.

"NO! PLEASE! MY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MALIGNED AND ABUSED TOO LONG! IT DRAINS OUR RESOURCES AND IT ISN'T FAIR!" he squawked in response, twitching like a cornered hamster.

Cliel, however, was not deterred. She'd been transported, abused, duped, confounded and taken advantage of enough in the past four and a half days...she assumed it was four and a half days...had she even slept or eaten at all since the Basil had entered the F:Lit? It seemed so long ago...

Cliel brought both hands to encircle the scrawny green geenie's windpipe and applied slightly more pressure. "Life isn't fair, buddy. So stop trying to convince us you're innocent victims. I don't buy that any more. I don't believe in God, and I'm beginning to wonder about this whole good and bad thing, too. Tell us where we are, and who you are-briefly-and then we'll talk."

Dave was shocked. Sure, the geenie/pilgrims had been kind of vulgar, but he hadn't really expected Cliel to threaten them like this. Then again, she had had her mind invaded by the Nej-Quack, and then had fought off Traiga McFlur? for a solid half hour... Mind invasions, Mcflur. He shuddered involuntarily, and his left hand reached up to where the electrodes from the Mind-Transfer-O-Matic had attached to his forehead. Just then, the Geenie began to speak...

"Oh taller ones, we are the humble green geenies of Nasphalt, and this planet that we are both standing on is the planet Nasphalt. We settled here 6 months ago when the wish-laws on our home planet, Concretinop, were given more severe penalties for those who refused to grant at least three wishes a week. You are standing here in our 'koobeto'," he explained.

"Your what?" asked Cliel.

"Our koobeto. It is a name for an after-drinking story building. How did you get here? The next transport isn't due for a month."

"It's a long story," answered Eman, weakly.

"Then why don't you put me down? We are a small and quiet colony, but we welcome visitors. Perhaps you could stay here for a few days, and tell us your story. The colony's entertainment screens have been on the fritz for the last week; that's why we were here at the koobeto tonight."

Cliel looked at Eman, now leaning wearily against the wall, and then at Dave, who was rubbing his bruised forehead with an absentminded look. She was about to glance down at Mr. Trotsky when a voice spoke into her head.

I trust them, said Trotsky quietly.

Cliel slowly lowered the small scaly green "pilgrim" to the ground, who dusted himself off briskly, apparently not in the least bit fazed by the treatment he'd just received.

"My name is Fezzik," he said with a smile, touching his right shoulder with the hand from his lower left arm in what was apparently a gesture of welcome. "On behalf of the Reformist Geenies of Nasphalt, may I introduce you to our colony."

The travelers followed the Nasphaltian geenies out the door of the koobeto, not even remembering that Maglor was still collapsed in an easy chair with butterballs up his nose.

Fezzik found them a guest room in a Nasphaltian house belonging to one of his cousins. All four of them, including Mr. Trotsky, had devoured the unusual dinner, which appeared to be, well, a spongy bark. "Love that Popeye's," Eman had said flippantly. The others wisely declined to comment.

Sleeping accommodations were equally...odd. Their room, strangely hexagonal in shape, consisted of bare floor...with a pit the size of a backyard swimming pool in the center. Dave peered over the edge, perplexed.

"It's about 12 feet down...there's some sort of hot pink material down there...looks soft, I think. Wonder what that's for?"

A soft landing, idiot, Trotsky broadcast directly to Petrovich, and without another word, jumped over the edge.

"TROTSKY! Nooooo!" cried Eman, as he turned and saw his wallaby jump.

What, you don't want to sleep? asked a voice from down in the pit. Ah, well, all the more room for me.

Cliel and Eman had joined Dave at the edge of the pit, where Mr. Trotsky was laughing in the way only a wallaby commando can, and trying to get them all to come down. First Dave jumped, and then Eman, holding his arm with his opposite hand. The landing was soft, and the pink stuff cushioned your fall. Eman examined it more closely and saw it was...

"Bark! Ha-ha, wonder if it's edible. Why don't you taste it, Cliel? Love that Popeye's, right?...Cliel? Cliel?" Eman looked around, seeing only Trotsky and Dave, examining some bark pillows in a corner of the pit, and then looked up. Cliel was crouched at the edge of the pit, six feet above his head.

"Cliel? I wasn't being serious- I wouldn't really make you eat it..." he stopped at the look of absolute terror in her eyes, that she had unsuccessfully been trying to conceal. "Is something wrong?"


"It's not food poisoning, is it?"

"No...I ...I ...think I'd rather sleep up here, thanks," she got out, stuttering.

"Huh? Why?" Eman questioned. "You aren't afraid of sleeping with us guys, are you?"


"I'm certainly not going to try anything," he commented bitterly.

"It's not that."

"Then what?"

"I...it's...you're really far down there," she managed.

"You're afraid of heights??" Eman sputtered. "How did you ever get past the IPC performance entrance exams? I thought they made you free-fall 3,000 miles through the atmosphere of a gas giant!"

"My-uh, Dev'von got me some...medication. I don't remember that particular test at all, but everyone told me I really enjoyed it."

"Ah," replied Eman, understanding. "The wonders of modern dru- I mean, medication. Too bad we don't have any with us at the moment."

"It's alright," Cliel responded hastily. "I'll be quite comfortable, really."

"That floor is freezing, and it's hard as a rock! Why don't you just look at the ceiling and step off the edge?"

"I can't do that!" she replied, panicked.

"I'll catch you!"

"Your arm is broken, stupid!"

Eman grinned. "Well, it was worth a shot. Look, couldn't you climb down?"

"It looks kind of steep..."

"Just turn around and lower your legs off the edge, slowly," he coached her in a soothing voice, moving closer as Cliel began to follow his instuctions. "That's it, real good. Keep a hold on the floor up there, and bring your foot down so I can reach it...there you go. You can still get back up if you need to. That's right. I can almost reach your left foot. Now let your right foot come down, too, and lower your body over the edge-"

Cliel felt Eman's hand touch her foot and, realizing she had reached the point of no return, began to panic. She struggled to haul herself back up, but Eman's grip prevented her.

"Let me go! Let me go!"

"It's okay, Cliel, it's okay. Calm. Calm. Close your eyes. You're safe. I'm not going to let you fall," he lied with the practiced ease of a criminal, and then, getting a better grip around her ankle, jerked, hard.


"OOF! Aaah! My-my arm-pain! Oooooooh...uuungh."

A minute later, Dave and Mr. Trosky checked to make sure both were still breathing, and then found their own places to sleep, wanting to be as far away as possible when Eman and Cliel regained consciousness.

A minute later, Dave and Mr. Trosky checked to make sure both were still breathing, and then found their own places to sleep, wanting to be as far away as possible when Eman and Cliel regained consciousness.

Despite their exhaustion, the three humans slept fitfully in the soft bark that night, racked by disturbing dreams.

Dave found himself floating through emptiness, wearing a pair of angel wings from his younger sister's Halooween costume. "Trick-or-Treat, smell my feet," he sang along with Maglor, who stood beside him wearing a fake beard. His nanotech nametag read "Space-Dwarf."

Then Dave was in his old neighborhood from back when he was a kid, ringing the doorbell to his own house.

"Coming," said his father's voice though the door, impatiently. "Hold on a sec."

The door unbolted and opened in front of him, and Dave stepped in, hesitantly. "Come in, come in, I just have to finish this project your goddamn mother told me I had to do," he heard his dad say from the kitchen. Dave poked his head in the door, and his father was bent over the kitchen table with a hammer, his back to him . . .

. . . he turned around, and HE WAS A BALROG!

"What the hell'd you do with my wings, junior?" the balrog demanded, setting his can of beer down on the table. "Answer me, boy! ANSWER! Or I'll use this Mind-Transfer-O-Matic on you!"

And indeed, the project his "father" had been working on was a Mind-Transfer-O-Matic, gleaming brilliantly on the kitchen table.

Dave ran. Out of the kitchen, down the hall, past his little sister, out the door, down the front steps and onto the street. He was running so fast, he ran right into someone walking in the opposite direction. A very familiar someone.- Dr. Traiga McFlur?.

"You!" screamed McFlur?. "You wrecked my lab! You'll pay, you'll pay! Meet Bill, my Ukranian dance partner. . ."

"NOOO!" shouted Dave, and dodged around McFlur?. He was immediately accosted by "Bill"/Maglor? the space elf, who was juggling butterballs and chanting:

"There's no place like home,

There's no place like home

Oh, what a night

Of senseless dreaming

Lions and Tigers and Bears."

Cliel, lying on her back across Eman's broken arm, was having similarly frightening dreams.

She was sitting in her quarters on the S.S. Basil, when Dev'von came in the door.

"Hey, baby," he greeted her, giving her a warm hug. "I brought you some more 'medication'."

"But-Dev'von, I already passed my entrance exams! I don't need this!"

"Take it anyway," he counseled, placing a container on her desk. "But then again, don't take my word for it. After all, I'm dead!" he shouted, and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Cliel blinked, and examined the prescription bottle he had left:

"Yenewes Pills. Take twice daily with food and water."

"What the heck," she thought, opened the cap, and popped four. The world swirled in a day-glo mist, and Eman's face appeared before her.

"It's okay," Yates said. "You can trust me. I won't let you fall-" he said, then put his arms around her and jumped off the cliff.

They were falling,



Going to die, anyway.


Cliel tossing and turning on his injured arm had added a physical aspect to the mental nightmare Eman was dreaming. Mr. Trotsky, wearing a fuzzy weasel suit, had strapped Eman down to a lab table, and was stabbing his arm repeatedly with a surgeon's scalpel.

CONFESS said the voice of James Earl Jones.


Red-hot pain shot through his body yet again, leaving him writhing in agony. "Trotsky" took a break and smoked a cigar in front of Eman, who tried desperately to escape. The handcuffs were too tight! He couldn't escape! He couldn't escape! There was no way out! It couldn't be-

"Trotsky" stabbed him in the arm again, and then poured orange juice over Eman's arm. Orange, orange juice, acid, something about an orange. . .

He couldn't remember. He couldn't remember. He had lost it, he had lost something important and now he couldn't get it back-maybe Cliel would know what he'd lost-AAH! PAIN! Cliel-he had to save Cliel, because they were going to do something-OW! AARGH! and she couldn't stop it alone. . .

Out of the four, Trotsky was the only one who slept soundly until morning.

Cliel was shaken out of unconsciousness by the sound and feel of Eman twitching and muttering restlessly in his sleep. When he had pulled her off-balance, she had fallen across his broken arm, with the back of her head resting on his shoulder. He was breathing heavily, convulsing occasionally, and arguing with some inner demon.

"I don't know! It wasn't me!" Twitch, convulse. "No! I'm innocent! Self-defense! Please, no! Oh, God! Run, Trotsky, run!"

Cliel tried to get up slowly without waking him, but in the process accidentally put even more pressure on his arm. Eman's face contorted with pain, and he awoke.

"Innocent! I'm innoce-. Oh."

"Yeah, sure you are, Mr. 'I-won't-let-you-fall'. How could you do that to me?" she demanded.

"Do what?" asked Eman, hiding a smile. "I caught you, didn't I?"

"Lying bastard! I'll break your other arm-" she responded, when just then Trotsky, Dave, and another of the geenies appeared above them, interrupting.

"Halloo the pit!" yelled Dave, cupping his hands around his mouth facetiously. "Looks like you two finally decided to join the land of the living. Trotsky and I woke about three hours ago. Come on up, and have breakfast. The fruit and gelatin's probably all gone, but I'm sure there's plenty of bark left!"

Dave tossed down a rope ladder of an odd silky material, and they clambered out of the pit.

Good morning said Trotksy with a mental snigger. He had apparently caught most of the recent interaction between Eman and Cliel, as well as how the two were now deliberately avoiding looking in the other's direction.

"This is Terrell," said Dave, oblivious, nodding toward the (relatively) tall Geenie who stood beside him. "He's Fezzik's son. Fezzik was here earlier, but had some business to attend to, so he left Terrell to show us around the colony. Terrell, this is Eman Yates, and that's Cliel Nascanth."

"Nice to meet you," Cliel and Eman said in unison, and then both stopped, flushing in anger and embarrassment. The young Geenie merely nodded curtly, and turned to lead them to the dining area.

All through the breakfast (of bark, accompanied by a strange, lukewarm sweet liquid), Eman noticed Terrell observing them silently, and almost expectantly. To break the cold and awkward silence, Trotsky made an attempt at conversation.

I notice that you are significantly taller than your father, or in fact any of the Nasphaltians we saw last night, Terrell. Do you perhaps play a sport?

"No." Terrell responded shortly, showing no surprise at Trotsky's means of communication. "I do not. All young Geenies are taller than adults, and besides, there is no sport here, only 'the good of the colony.' The...Nasphaltians you saw my father with last night were all more than sixty revolutions old, according to Concretinop time. Their age explains their stature, as well as...other differences. But, my father would say that he is young again here on Nasphalt; the planet's cycles are slower, so he tells his age as thirty-two revolutions. According to his sense of time, I am a mere child of six. But my actual age is fourteen."

There was a pause, again broken by Dave. "Oh," he said cautiously. "I. . . see." He helped himself to another piece of bark, and no one said anything else for the rest of the meal.

After breakfast, Terrell showed them around the main colony compound as his father had requested. Initially, the young Geenie spoke in concise, monotone phrases, but he showed surprising enthusiasm when Trotsky spotted the compound's medical facility and suggested that the travelers might make use of it.

"It's kind of self-serve, nothing so good as at hom- I mean, on Concretinop. But it's adequate," he explained as he led them down branching hallways to a circular-shaped room that was partially partitioned off into smaller rooms. "I'll probably have to recalibrate some instruments for your physiology," he said, excitedly. "Most interesting thing I've done in weeks."

Terrell halted before a blinking red box that bore unintelligible symbols on blue and gray buttons, and began pushing them rapidly. He picked an instrument off a shelf with his third hand and gave it to Cliel.

"Would you please scan yourselves with this?"

"What is it?" she asked cautiously.

"A simple diagnostic tool. Non-invasive and absolutely harmless. The cuero-regenerator-that's this thing-needs some basic info about your genetic and physical makeups before it can begin regrowing your skin and stuff like that. Unless you'd prefer green scales like me?"

"No offense, but no," Cliel replied with a grin, surprised by the quiet Geenie's sudden enthusiasm and attempt at humor. Maybe he'd decided they were okay, after all. She used the device to scan herself and then handed it to the others who did likewise, while Terrell deftly manipulated the cueroregenerator some more and then turned.

"You three," he said, indicating Trotsky, Dave, and Cliel, "can just use this machine to heal yourselves. Take one of these instruments over to a partition, strip, aim for the cuts, bruises, or other injuries, and press down the orange button. But you, Eman, had better come along with me. We have another machine where I can do some more detailed scans. I'm not exactly sure how to knit calcium-based bones back together. . ."

Eman followed the curious green youth to another room, and the others also did as instructed. Terrell seemed extremely animated, but almost afraid to speak as he transferred data into a second machine, looking at Eman and then glancing quickly away as he did so.

"I must say you have a lot of injuries," he said awkwardly, his three hands flying over the screen in front of him.

"Inter-lit space travel does seem to have that effect," replied Eman drily.

"In fact," continued the Nasphaltian hesistantly, "I can cure most of them, but the database just doesn't seem to have, well, an easy solution. . . for, . . . uh,"

Eman sighed. "Honestly, I wasn't even expecting it. But thanks, kid."

The young Geenie sighed in relief. "I can take care of the bones, though. And that nasty burn," he said, passing an instrument over Eman's face and shoulder, "and the bruises and, hey! Internal bleeding! Yup, that's fixable, too. Now, I'll just do a few more scans. This inter-lit travel sure seems to 'take it out' of a person, huh?"

Eman smiled uncomfortably. "Well, it's not so much the travel as the ensuing complications," he explained. "Attacks by mad scientists, balrogs, aliens who take over the body of your pet wallaby-"

"Oh, so that's how!" interrupted the young Geenie. "The scans noted it was an animal bite... no tetanus or other infections, though," he said helpfully.

"How comforting," replied Eman. "Let's not talk about it, shall we?"

"Sure! Tell me how you all got here," said Terrell.

"Well, we were on a ship..." answered Eman cautiously.

"You can fly a ship?" asked Terrell, with obvious awe in his voice.

"Well, yeah, but-"

Thankfully, Eman was interrupted by two beeps, which signified the scans were complete. He hopped off the bed and headed back into the other room, followed by his green-skinned hero-worshipper.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, with Terrell showing them some more of the compound and watching them all (but especially Eman) with admiration. Everyone felt (and looked) noticeably better after having his or her injuries treated, and by the end of the day, even the tension between Eman and Cliel seemed to have abated. Terrell's good mood vanished, however, at the sight of his father waiting for them at the door to the house.

"Welcome, welcome back!" Fezzik greeted them warmly, his arms outstretched. "I trust my son gave you a pleasant tour of our fine colony?"

"He did indeed," replied Dave, with a smile at Terrell.

"Good, good. You must be hungry. "Terrell, show our guests to the cleansing room, and then you may go upstairs to eat."

"But Father, I wish to eat and talk further with our guests-"

"Nonsense, boy, you are far too young. Your place is not at the main table. Now, do as I say; you will see them again tomorrow," Fezzik ordered.

"Yes, Father," replied Terrell sullenly, and did as he was told. Eman tried to offer the boy an encouraging look, but Terrell just shrugged his shoulders and turned away, radiating disapointment and anger.

Dinner that night was more formal, with Fezzik presiding over a meal of soup, which was accompanied by the ever-present and eternally bland bark. The elder Geenie spent the evening explaining the short (but detailed) history of his colony, and asking them a few questions about their own backgrounds.

That night, the four travelers retired again to the pit of pink bark, this time using the ladder to descend. Rested, healed, and fed, they felt better than they had in days, and were awake enough to talk a little before going to sleep.

"Odd customs here," remarked Dave. "I feel sorry for that kid. He's not so young as Fezzik makes him out to be."

True, agreed Mr. Trotsky, but I think it would be wise to keep our opinions to ourselves; we don't want to offend our host while we're staying here.

"Agreed," chimed in Cliel. "And speaking of that, just how long are we staying here? I for one think we need to decide what we're doing. Personally, I think our first priority ought to be returning to the S-F: Lit..."

"Oh really?" asked Yates with a sneer. "And what, specifically, makes you so anxious to get back there? It wouldn't have anything to do with a multi-million credit reward, followed by certain promotion from the rank of 'ensign' to 'lieutenant commander' for the efficient capture of Emmanuel Yates, suspected mass-murderer as well as convicted criminal?"

"As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with you, you pompous criminal. I'd like to see my family again..." she trailed off, and Eman turned his head aside in silent apology.

"Well," said Dave, filling the awkward pause, "that's something we can all think about. If we do decide to leave, we're going to have to find a ship. So we ought to start thinking about how we would obtain one..."

Fezzik is very generous, as all the Geenies appear to be, Trotsky observed.

"I wouldn't be so sure," Cliel broke in. Did you listen to what he was saying at dinner about the colony's ban on so called 'magical philanthropy'- you know, giving wishes? Not that I believe in such things," she added hastily.

There was a long pause, during which time each of them separately came to the conclusion that perhaps, in a situation this surreal, sleep was a more viable option than conversation.

"Well," said Dave finally, yawning, "I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to discuss this further tomorrow."

He couldn't have been more wrong.

"Pssst. Hey. Hey! Wake up!"

Eman awoke groggily to an urgent voice in his ear, two hands shaking him by the shoulders, and a third over his mouth. Green hands, he thought slowly, as he began to realize where he was. Oh, yeah. This planet.

"You've got to wake up!" Terrell repeated desperately. "If we don't get moving, my father will find us out, and then we're all dead bark!"

"Huh?" said Eman, his exclamation muffled by Terrell's hand.

"We're escaping," clarified Terrell. "Unless you and your friends would prefer to be sold into servitude to the next merchant transport that stops by... my father said he'd make an excellent profit- something about your wallaby companion being a 'unique commodity'."

"Mmph," commented Eman. "You've got my attention. Lead the way."

"We have to wake the others," Terrell answered softly, taking his hand off Eman's mouth. "You take Cliel, I'll take Dave."

In less than two minutes, Terrell had explained the situation to them in all its monstrous clarity. The night that they'd arrived, he had overheard his father's plans to sell the travelers "for the good of the colony." Not wanting the foursome to be enslaved for life, he'd decided to help them escape.

"So, if you care so much, why did you wait this long to tell us?" asked Cliel as they scrambled out of the pit.

We should be happy he told us at all, Trotsky commented.

"No, it's a valid question," replied Terrell. "I wanted to make sure I could trust you, for one thing. And I needed people who could get me back to Concretinop once we get into space."

"Space?" asked Dave and Eman in unison.

"That's where the ship comes in," answered Terrell. "Follow me."

He led them out of his father's house, along the avenue and down a side-street to what appeared to be a more commercial area of the colony. "Storage," Terrell explained. They entered one of the buildings, and there it was. A ship. One of the most beautiful, streamlined, small passenger-class ships Eman had ever seen. He ran his hand over the shining hull above his head, appreciatively.

"You're stealing it?" he asked.

Terrell nodded, and pressed a series of buttons which opened the overhead entrance hatch.

"You're stealing it?" asked Cliel in a totally different tone as she followed the others up through the hatch and into the ship's interior. She looked around the finely-furnished vessel, whether in astonishment or admiration, she wasn't sure. "Well, your morals may be lacking, but you sure have good taste."

"Well thanks," said Eman. "That means a lot to me. Lately, I haven't been sure if you cared any more."

"I meant Terrell," she growled.

The Geenie just grinned in response.

Terrell's plan, which he had apparently thought out over the course of the past two months, worked flawlessly. The colony was too small to bother monitoring incoming and outgoing vessels, so Eman, after some quick instruction from Terrell, was able to ease the ship out of the atmosphere just as dawn began to break, with no one the wiser. The Lievah, as Terrell referred to the ship, not only handled smoothly but had some of the most efficient C-class engines Eman had ever seen, so that they were out of the Nasphaltian system in less than 20 minutes.

"Where to, Captain?" Eman asked Terrell jokingly.

"Concretinop," answered Terrell immediately. "Home. My real home, where no one looks down on philanthropy, or tries to sell random travelers to slave merchants. You all should come with me," he added. "It's a good place to start from, no matter where you're headed."

"I'm not sure where we know where we're headed, either," commented Dave, "but I think I speak for all of us when I say we'd love to come with you to your home planet."

The others nodded, and Terrell smiled. "That's good," he replied. "Because if you decided not to come with me, I'm not sure how I'd fly this thing home!"

Over the next few hours, the five-member crew of the Lievah familiarized themselvves with the ship's systems. Eman and Cliel, the only two with piloting experience, took turns at helm and tactical, the main stations. Eman routed weapons control to a specific station for Mr. Trotsky, commenting that it would be "just like old times," while ignoring Cliel's glare. This left navigational control, which, after Eman and Terrell plotted a course to Concretinop using maps on the ship's computer, was handed over (with much finger-crossing) to Terrell and Dave, the two people with absolutely no shipboard experience.

Once this had all been worked out to satisfaction, talk moved to other topics.

"So, Terrell-you rescue us, steal a ship, and plot a course back to your home planet-what is it about Concretinop that you're so anxious to get back to?" Cliel asked.

There was a pause as Terrell thought about how to answer the question. When he spoke, his tone was suddenly serious. "Is there anything you've ever wished for-I mean, really wished for?" he asked them.

"I for one wish the next aliens we meet don't have secret evil motives," responded Dave.

"I think everyone here knows what I'd wish for," contributed Eman.

Trotsky, perched ridiculously atop the stool at weapons control snorted with laughter. It may seem sort of callous, but I really wish that places I went actually had seats that fit individuals of my stature, he commented. How about you, Cliel?

"Me?" she asked, with feigned astonishment. "I wish I had a life!"

Terrell gave her an odd look at this comment, which didn't entirely disappear when she explained it was just a human expression.

"My own wish," he said finally, "has always been to enter the Philanthropic Djinn Order on Concretinop, so that I might legally use my abilities to aid others. Unfortunately, my father, as a Reform Geenie leader, disapproved of my aspirations. I think that's part of the reason he decided to move to the colony. But that's a long story. Now that you are helping me in my return, I can join the Order at last. I promise you now that the first wishes I grant as a Philanthropic Djinn will be the ones you have just shared with me."

Chapter XXVIII: Svetlana Yarosh, 11-1-00

"Oh, no! If I knew this was for real, I'd have wished for something better!" exclaimed Dave, "Can I change my wish?"

"That's not a good idea. Didn't your parents ever read you The Practical Guide To Making Wishes(((" Eman said. "Only when one starts to really contemplate what one wants does one get in trouble."

"Oh come on, those were just fairy tales. Pleeeeaaase?" Dave whined to both Eman and Terrell, "What are the chances that my simple wish (which I already thought of) will cause us any problems?"

"Well, that's just asking for trouble," Eman mumbled. "However, I concede that Terrell should decide what to do, after all, he is the one who's performing these wishes."

Dave looked at Terrell with cute puppy dog eyes. At least Dave thought they were cute puppy dog eyes, to the others he just looked vaguely lost.

"All right," Terrell finally conceeded (no thanks to Dave's "puppy dog eyes"). "What would you like?"

"I want a pair of wings-small, not necessarily functional, wings." Dave said as he attempted to sit on Terrell's lap.

"Well, then you shall have them," grunted Terrell while trying to push Dave off.

And there was much rejoicing as Dave pranced around the small cockpit.

Their ship touched-down gently on the landing platform of the Concretinop space port. The clear platform, which floated in mid-air, seemed to slightly give under the weight. As Eman stepped out onto it, he was reminded of the soft pink bark on which they slept not too long ago. Thousands upon thousands of similar platforms stretched in a seemingly infinite grid.

Cliel walked around uncertainly on the spongy material. Cautiously approaching the platform's edge, she gasped as she looked down...and down...and down. She quickly sprang away, for from this height the landmass below looked like a patchwork of fields. Gasping for breath, she could imagine herself falling.

"How are we going to get down from here?" Cliel asked as she tried to calm down. She could see no elevators or any other familiar ways of descending to ground level.

Terrell smiled; he seemed to be greatly enjoying himself. "That's my favorite part. Come on!"

He helped Mr. Trotsky down from the ship. As soon as all of them were standing on the platform, five bubbles appeared in fronts of them.

Following Terrell's example, Cliel entered through the wall of one such bubble. She heard Terrell give directions to the bubble. The clear walls of the bubble seemed to vibrate with his words.

Finally, all five of the bubbles lifted off the platform. Their walls immediately became hard to the touch, and almost invisible as the vibrations stopped.

"Oh my non-existent god!" Cliel gasped, as the bubble began dropping. They were almost in free-fall. Cliel could barely see the walls now, and had to keep touching them to make sure that they were still there. She closed her eyes.

Suddenly, the walls of the bubble disappeared! But before Cliel could scream, she felt her feet gently touch the ground. She slowly opened one eye. Seeing that she wasn't dead yet, she opened another.

Nobody else seemed affected by the experience. Terrell breathed in deeply, obviously glad to be back home. Eman and Dave were fighting-apparently Dave tried to get into the same bubble as Eman and now wouldn't let go of his hand. Mr. Trotsky seemed bored. He was trying to entertain himself by seeing how far into his pouch he could stick his head.

"All right," said Terrell, "the Philanthropic Djinn Order University is right this way. Now all I need to do is take the entrance exams."

"Entrance exams(" gasped Dave, now very obviously interested in getting his wings. "But don't you need to study or something."

"Of course not," laughed Terrell. "The entrance exam consists of three parts: literature analysis where they don't tell you what to analyze or how to analyze it, history questions where you just need to know stupid cliches like 'Go to Nasphalt, young man, go to Nasphalt,' and finally a part where you have absolutely no idea what to do, but whatever you do needs to involve art history." Taking a deep breath, he continued, "as you see, one cannot study for such a test at all. On the bright side, though, you do get pretzels from the strange land of Penkehuna (PA, for short) after you're done."

"Sounds like my third year of IPC training," snickered Cliel. "Good luck, you'll need it!"

Terrell sighed and waved good bye to them as he headed towards the building. "I should be out in about three hours. Try to keep out of trouble!"

We will. Mr Trotsky thought at him, head still in his pouch.

As soon as Terrell was gone, Eman whispered something to Mr. Trotsky. Mr. Trotsky was immediately interested: he (not without an initial struggle) extricated his head from his pouch and wiggled his eyebrows in a very meaningful manner.

All of this did not go unnoticed by Cliel and Dave. "Oh no," exclaimed Cliel. "Whatever the two of you are planning is not going to work. Terrell told us to stay here."

"Terrell," said Eman, "is a fourteen year-old kid. He does not know of a certain side of this planet. Mr. Trotsky and I, on the other hand, have been on this planet half a dozen times, and come back here every year or so."

"What do you mean, you come back here every year?" asked Dave, "This planet is not in our lit."

"Yes, I realize that now," Eman continued impatiently, "Several years ago, the interstellar patrol discovered a wormhole leading to what was thought to be a distant part of another galaxy . . ."

"How do you know of this?" Cliel interrupted. "That is classified information; even I'm not supposed to know about it."

"Exactly!" Eman continued. "Many people were not 'supposed' to know about it. However, security was lax and key information was leaked to the GalaxyNet?. I trust you got it from the same source as I did- gxn.ultimatewallabyporn.xxx ."

Cliel blushed and looked at her shoes. "I went there by accident, I clicked the wrong link."

"Of course, I wouldn't suggest otherwise," Eman said, while sending a very meaningful look to Mr. Trotsky.

Dave, however, was still suspicious (he may be generally silly, but he's not an idiot). "I can believe you going to see wallaby porn, and I can believe you getting classified information online, but that still doesn't explain how you got here-the wormhole must have been heavily guarded."

"Guarded it was, but not from all civilians," explained Eman. "The truth is that the information was leaked by the government in order to make money for several of its illegitimate platypus farming corporations. They leaked the news of a planet where all your dreams can come true, and they promised passage there for a hefty sum. In our case however, Mr. Trotsky and I blackmailed one of their key leaders by threatening to release incriminating information...that we didn't have."

Those were the days! added Mr. Trotsky.

"Anyway," Eman went on, "my wallaby and I were planning to go to the UPANME (Ultimate Pornographic And Non-pornographic Movie Experience). So if you two would like to join us..."

Cliel and Dave looked intrigued. "Okay," Cliel finally conceded, "lets go."

Mr. Trotsky led the group down a dark passageway of a big mall. At the end of it, several large neon signs advertised the quality their services:

They walked past them, into the lobby of the UPANME.

"Greetings, Mr. Trotsky, how nice to see you again," a worker personally greeted them. "Oh, I see you brought your friend." He gave Eman a dirty look, obviously disappointed.

"I propose that we send Dave into the low-level porn theater, a.k.a. 'The Romantic Comedy,'" Cliel whispered to Eman.

"I concur," Eman said while ushering Dave into the first room on the left. Then he walked swiftly to the "Perverts Only" door at the very end of the hall.

Terrell ran out of the building, happy that he'd never have to go through that again. Waiting for him outside were Mr. Trotsky, Eman, Cliel, and Dave.

"So, did you guys do anything while I was gone?" he asked them.

"Nothin'" mumbled Cliel.

Terrell knew that this couldn't be true because Dave was looking off into the distance with a dreamy smile on his face, Cliel looked like she was trying very hard not to be sick, and Eman was giving Mr. Trotsky the weirdest look. However, he chose to let it go.

"Good news, everybody!" he said, trying to change the topic. "I got into the order. Tomorrow, I will make all your wishes come true. In the meantime, we should have some fun. I know this great UPANME on the corner of Juesti street."

That was the last thing he remembered saying before Cliel brutally attacked him.

The next morning (after a whole evening of explanations and a whole night in a Philanthropic Djinn Order University dorm room) the five set out towards the main office of philanthropic transaction.

"I don't understand," Dave whined, "why can't you just grant us the wishes?"

"Because," explained Terrell, "there is a lot of bureaucratic red tape involved with the entire wish-granting process. After all, many wishes have unpleasant side-effects. Without these procedures, our courts would be swamped with petty lawsuits: 'oh no, your honor, oh my god, he turned me into a newt.'"

This quieted Dave down. Frankly, he looked scared now, but at least it was the quiet type of scared.

Finally, they found the building. The main lobby was set up much like a doctor's office.

"I'm going to have to go get prepared," explained Terrell, "you're going to have to stay here while the secretary feeds you some paperwork. After that, I'll call you in, one by one."

The secretary gave them one form (apparently, that was the extent of their bureaucratic red tape):

We, the clients, will not hold anybody but ourselves responsible for any results of us getting our wishes.



"Everybody present has to agree to this," she said.

So everybody signed and thumb-printed the sheet. She took it, stamped it with a "high risk" stamp, and put it on file under "May have thought about wish."

Suddenly, the intercom made a buzzing sound. The secretary pressed the button, and said in a friendly tone of voice: "Batphone, batman speaking."

"Uh, yes," said Terrell from the other side, "send in Eman, please."

Eman stood up and walked slowly towards the door. He was gone about twelve minutes, when Cliel and Dave heard a horrible scream. Then Eman skipped out of the door.

Yes, he was skipping. And every time he bounced off the ground he loudly yelled "Skip!"

"Ah, yes," he said, "that was what I missed the most-the feeling you get when you skip! This one is even better than my old one." He turned to Cliel. "Wanna see? Hey, hey, touch it, come on, touch it! You know you want to touch it!"

Dave was about to offer his services when the intercom buzzed again: "Send Dave in."

Seeing Eman's good results, Dave strolled bravely through the door. He came back quicker than Eman did. The others didn't even notice he was gone. Eman was too busy trying to get Cliel to sit on his lap. But everybody did notice when he came back.

For one thing, he was naked. But more importantly, there were two little pink wings attached to his...buttocks. Eman and Mr. Trotsky burst out laughing, while Cliel desperately smiled and nodded (to keep from passing out).

Dave took the general merriment to be a sign of approval. "Aren't they great?!" he yelled.

"And they're even functional too!" With those words, the wings began to quickly move up and down, and as they did, Dave was lifted from the ground.

Seeing this, Mr. Trotsky was laughing so hard, he wet himself. Eman was busy trying not to do the same. Cliel decided to retreat. She quickly ran into the room that the others have visited. She realized her mistake only when the door locked behind her.

There, Terrell greeted her. "Oh, hi," he said, "I was about to call for you."

"What do you mean?" asked Cliel, "I didn't actually make a wish, that was just an expression."

"Oh, yes, you did," said Terrell.

He whispered something in her ear. Cliel first looked taken aback, then thoughtful.

"Actually, I would like it," she finally spoke, "But, wait, you aren't actually going to...uh...yourself."

"Oh, no, no, no," he smiled, "I haven't even gone through puberty yet. We'll do it the magic way."

About ten minutes after Cliel was gone, Dave finally noticed her absence.

"Hey, Cliel's gone," he elbowed Eman, "Did she even make a wish?"

"She probably decided on something else later," suggested Eman, "Terrell would let her change her wish, after all, he can't really give her a life."

"Hey, what about Mr. Trotsky, he didn't sign the paper," asked Dave, "is he still getting his wish?"

"Oh, he already got it," cut in the secretary. "There was no magic involved there, only technology, so he didn't need to sign anything. See," she pointed to a small device on Mr. Trotsky's belt, "this will allow him to change his size to fit any seat. Much more practical than trying to change all seats to fit him!"

"Wow!" said Eman excitedly, "Can I have one of those?" He thrust his hips forward to make his meaning clear.

Before the secretary could refuse, Cliel walked in.

She looked like she was glowing. The others looked at her quizzically.

"I'm pregnant," she explained.

This story is long and . . . strange. I saw at least one continuity problem (Eman reaches into a pocket when he's naked). Because of the length, it might be advisable to break the story up into separate Wiki pages.

''Ahh, but that particular continuity problem has a LongAndGlorious? history. And yes, this could be on multiple pages...so go ahead and MakeItSo. This is Wiki, after all. -ClayHambrick

SeeAlso?: GroupStoryOne, GroupStoryTwo, et al...

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