Chapter Fifteen


I'm melting! * by Mike Nelson

In the darkness, the Awareness focused. Life or what passed for life consisted of an endless barrage of foul ichor coursing down the Feeding tube, and into the Maw. The only thing that remained was the Maw.

Detritus 4076-b, processed. Fungoid matter-1187-c(rev.) Amino acid compound 1145-k.

And on in and endless barrage. As the entity processed this refuse of the galaxy, it began to think, beyond the endless array, beyond the refuse. A name came.. Todd. It had very little meaning anymore. He could remember his past life, when he had been a person, a human being. He reviewed the historical data on the entity. Instrumentalist, galaxy wanderer, mercenary. It all came back.

The Awareness that had been Todd remembered, and with awareness, he sensed another in the same conjunction. He accessed his memory files. Jeff, the other had been. He summoned long unused vocal emitters within the program now the Awareness.

"Jeff." He called.

"SWEET CAROLINE! BA-BA-BA-BA! GOOD TIMES NEVER FELT SO GOOD!" The music came crashing into his auditory circuits, a spiritual wave of Neil Diamond.

"SWEET CAROLINE! BA-BA-BA-BA. . . . ad nauseum. It seemed Jeff had been caught in an auditory loop.

"JEFF!" Todd sent, overriding the code, and downloading directly into his Core Processing Unit. He had to rewrite several thousand lines of Jeff's Core Personality Matrix in order to get through. It took several years, but he had plenty of time.

'"WHAT!" Jeff finally made the link.

"You have the olfactory control within your operating system!" Todd sent.

"Yeah, so? You know, this stuff doesn't taste so bad when you get used to it!"

"Shut up and listen!" Todd sent, annoyed. "If you turn off the olfactory senses, we won't have to "taste" the junk that keeps coming down! The taste buds work in conjunction with the olfactory senses, so if you shut down yours, we won't taste this anymore!"

"Yeah, but we still don't have bodies." Jeff replied, as he shut down the olfactory circuits.

"One thing at a time, I'm working on it." The awareness that had been Todd reported.

Craig, David and Greg stood around a circular table, virtual displays set to seven card stud.

"Check." David said, in his electronic voice.

"Check." Greg added, and they both looked to Craig.

Craig trundled out from behind the table, servos whining. "You know, this just isn't any fun anymore, I mean we got these heavy metal bodies and all, geared to the teeth, heck we could take on a small army and then some, but now there is nothing to do.

"You could bet." Greg said in a soft static free voice.

They had been cruising around the universe in the three years since hoicking Todd and company into the refuse systems. Sure, they had raided settlements in other star systems, claiming treasures, and wealth beyond their imagination, but without any adversaries, it just wasn't fun anymore. All they had left was each other, and poker.

"Are you going to bet, or whine some more?" Greg asked, his face an unreadable mask. All their faces were unreadable now, they were cyborgs.

"Check." He responded and returned to rest position along with the others around the table. They all threw in their virtual cards, and were dealt new hands..

"Ok. I have a plan." Todd sent the Jeff awareness after contemplating all of their options.

"What is it?" Jeff sent back.

"I have completely emptied recycle container number 1354678, and the sterilizing crew have just finished sanitizing it. I'm going to download you some specific elements to look for in the refuse we have been disseminating, and when some comes down the chute, you direct it into that container. You must do a self diagnostic and make sure there are no flaws or gaps in your categorization logarithms, even one milligram of a difference could cause catastrophic events."

"Ok, I will. But what good will all this stuff do? Amino Acid, water. . . What are they for?" Jeff responded.

"I'm going to build us some bodies from this refuse. I noticed all of the chemicals in one form or another, and I have a copy of my DNA strand recorded in my logical cortex, you should have one too . . ."

Yes, but . . .how are you going to get it to combine? I mean, humans are made up of chemicals, but the combinations . . ."

Todd cut in. "Once I reconfigure the DNA strands, and record it into the embryo, normal growth patterns should occur, and I may be able to make some slight modifications as well. Don't worry about it, just don't screw up the measurements, and we should be fine."

"Ok. Your the boss." Jeff replied, and immediately began reassessing the refuse.

Craig, David, and Greg were just finishing their thirteen billionth, nine hundred and ninety nine millionth game of blackjack on board Lender's ship, when the alarm claxon rang. The loud braying noise jammed many of their sensitive auditory circuits.

"Darn! What the heck is it?" David screamed, holding his head between metal hands.

Craig immediately plugged in an interface into his direct connect socket on the side of his head. A virtual video screen jumped to life in front of him, replacing his field of vision. A small blip appeared on close range scanners, dodging in and out of a meteor field, heading directly for their ship.

"A ship! Small one, fighter maybe, heading this way through the meteor field. He's fast!" Craig responded to the others as they were connecting to the ship's computer.

After they had all joined in, virtual images of themselves were projected onto the display. In this mode their ship could be guided instantaneously through pure thought commands. They were the ship.

Greg gave his report. "Tactical reports multiple photon warheads, already energized, fifteen ten gigahertz phasers, and a disrupter array. He also has a number of other weapons the computer can't identify. Switch to visual . . .now!"

The three friends watched as the virtual display switched to a crystal clear view of a small dark ship darting between ungainly asteroids, with the Orion belt in the background.

"Life signs?" David asked to no one imparticular.

"One." Craig answered.

Together they immediately raised their ships shields and energized it's defenses.

"Shields up, photon's primed, it's all up to you David." Greg reported. This was the way ship routines usually worked, Greg on tactical, Craig on scanners, and David on targeting. It wasn't that they couldn't do other jobs, it just worked out this way.

David carefully paced the small dark ship, watching it's every move. "Open a channel." David commanded, Craig complied.

"Unidentified ship. You have exactly thirty seconds to make your business known, or exit this area. Otherwise we will blast you from the sky!" David sent over the wide range emitter.

"Blast you from the sky?" Greg asked, in a quiet mocking voice. "What is this, Flash Gordon?"

"Oh shut up." David quipped as they watched the small ship stop, facing them nose to nose.

Thirty seconds passed, and then forty, and fifty. "Well?" Greg inquired. "Aren't you going to blast him?"

"Yeah, and then let's start another game." David responded morosely. He had hoped this would be more fun, but it looked pretty routine.

At that second, before David could think 'fire', the other ship lit up, firing phasers, photons, a disrupter and what seemed like fifteen other types of weapons at them, in a geyser of power. It seemed impossible that such a small ship could contain such force.

"Holy smoke!" David screamed, as the energy engulfed their ship, shredding the shields, and rocking the ship violently from side to side.

Shields are down!" Craig roared, as he fought to remain on his treads.

"We've lost tactical, and all power!" Greg screamed, as fires broke out all over the ship, and the claxon sounded again.

"Hull breach, and the reactor core is gonna go!" Craig yelled. "Get to the life pods!" He jerked the transducer out of the side of his head, and started rolling towards the life pod bay.

David and Greg fought to keep control of the battered ship in the wake of the blast from the adversary to no avail. At the last moment, they trundled over to the life pods, and jetted away from the crippled ship. In the porthole, they watched as the ship winked into brilliant light.

"Who was that guy?" Craig asked to no one imparticular.

"They're ready." Todd reported, after another year had passed. Jeff had grown quiet in the past few months, he had grown tired of asking if the bodies were ready yet.

"What?" Jeff responded, startled out of his reverie.

"They're ready, the bodies, our bodies. All we have to do is output our personality matrix over a redundancy loop, through the effluvial transducer, and were back home again, with some slight improvements.

"Great!" Jeff beamed, "let's do it!"

After they had successfully jumped into the organic life forms, Jeff immediately noticed something was wrong. "Wait a minute! This isn't my body!" He looked down at himself, after they had made their escape, up the chute they at stared at for the past five years.

"Well, it is, and it isn't." Todd responded, looking down at his own dimensions. "You see, the refuse we used was tainted. We purified it as much as we could but when it came to congealing, the colloid components lacked much of the adhesive elements found in human bodies.

"But I'm melting!" Jeff shrieked, as part of his face oozed into his mushy hands.

"Yes, we are melting, but one of the modifications I built into these bodies will help. You see, if we lose to much of ourselves, all we have to do is find the nearest refuse receptacle, jump in, and our bodies will absorb the elements it needs to reform again!" Todd looked at the other man, eyes burning. "Don't you see? We can't be killed!"

Jeff look at the other, in stunned disbelief. "You mean, we're made of . . "

"Crap!" Todd exclaimed with a gleeful tone. "And not only that, watch this!" Todd raised a somewhat lumpy hand, and pointed it. It immediately began to change, melt, into a rounded barrel shaped form. He pointed it at a nearby door, and then bucked, firing at the portal. From the end of the gun came a greenish spray that coated the metal of the door. Immediately the door dissolved into a puddle of noxious ooze. "The most powerful acid known to man! In combination with a few other chemicals I discovered down there!" He looked positively proud of himself.

"I had to modify it a few times, adjusting the range, concentration and so on, but now we can melt anything within a hundred meter range!" He stopped looking over at Jeff for support. "And with a slight adjustment, instead of melting the spray can solidify any gelatinous fluid, including flesh!"

Jeff was astounded. "What do you call this . . . weapon?" He asked, fearing the answer.

"Well the melting spray, I call the Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben, and the solidifying spray the Great Solidifous Fahrtensolden. Try yours!"

After experimenting for a couple of hours, dissolving and solidifying various objects around the station, the two friends made their escape in a slow moving freighter, bound for the Orion belt. It was easy to sneak aboard, they found the effluvial duct, jumped into the holding tank, and their bodies oozed down the pipes into the ships hold. From there they were able to exit through a standard ship oublette.

"I don't know if I am going to like this life of slime." Jeff announced after reforming in the head (Bathroom. You know, on board a ship the bathroom is called the head).

"Believe me, you will when we find the 'Q-men'." Todd said vehemently. "I can't wait to give them a 'taste' of their own medicine!" He waved the end of the fahrtenglobben (or was it fahrtensolden) fastidiously.

"Me neither." Jeff muttered as they watched the freighter slowly pull away from the penitentiary station.

"Get out of my way you great lumbering oaf!" Craig yelled at David, as for the umpteenth time he rolled over the edge of his tread. They had been tumbling through space for weeks, with no rescue in sight. The distress signal they had been beaming appeared to go unheard. This was good and bad, they hadn't been rescued, and they also had seen no sign of their mighty adversary in the black fighter.

The life pod was just not designed to contain three robocop fighters, and they quickly had grown tired of the confined space.

"I'm going insane!" David screamed, as Craig bumped him with an iron clad elbow. "I gotta get out of here!" He started to wheeze as his panic grew.

"Chill." Greg commanded in an even voice. "Somebody is bound to hear the distress call. Power down, and we'll wake you when we're rescued."

"OK. David answered, and he quickly went blank, the life sign readout showing minimum output.

"In fact, you should power down too, he mentioned to Craig. If anything happens, I'll wake you."

Craig nodded, and went blank.

Greg looked out at the spinning star field. They had used up the small allotment of fuel, jettisoning from the ship. Now they were tumbling in the endless darkness, waiting for someone to find them. Again his thoughts returned to the small black ship. Who had done this?

Todd and Jeff quickly located themselves near the main computer terminals. Punching in some quick codes, Todd was able to find out many things about the freighter, destination-(Regis 3), total load (10,00 tons of bifurcated stronium crystal) and speed ( a slow warp 1.5). He entertained himself on the long voyage by going over maintenance lists, computer log entries and other routine ships tasks, so he was not surprised when they met with a visitor.

"Here's something, we just docked with somebody." Todd mentioned as he downloaded the information onto his terminal screen.

"Who is it?" Jeff asked, moving towards the screen. He had been sleeping in one of the cargo holds in the cavernous bay they currently were located in.

"Don't know, but it's a fighter!"

Jeff whistled.

"Man. Look at that fire power!" He moved towards the door. "We gotta get in there!" Todd exclaimed.

Jeff followed him out of the cargo bay and down the hall to the nearest trash receptacle. He watched as Todd folded himself into the cubicle, and fell down the chute. Jeff followed, feeling his body change dimensions to the shape of the chute. It was a strange experience. Falling into the slime at the bottom of the hold, he followed Todd, as he made his way towards the dump chute connected to the docked fighter. In this form they were not even remotely recognizable as human, just a bit off ooze, moving in the direction of the attached ship. They flowed up the intake pipe, and into the tank of the small fighter, which was barely big enough to contain the two creatures. The flowed out of the head and reformed their bodies in the small room.

"We're in! Now all we have to do is take over the ship, and find those guys!" Todd exclaimed gleefully, as he formed his arm into the secret weapon.

Mike Nelson studied the star field, engrossed in computation. He had to find the escape pod! He studied the star map closely, magnifying different areas to get a better view. The craft he had destroyed earlier was now fragmented across the galaxy in tiny bits and pieces, but the main quarry had eluded him in the last instant. His ship's computer had notified him of the jettisoned pod, and he had quickly moved to intercept, but because of all of the space junk from the destroyed ship, he had lost them.

He smiled, as he thought of their reaction to the massive amount of firepower he rained on them before they could react. Try to take on a Black Knight, and you'll pay the piper! He thought with grim satisfaction. He had stopped to investigate the larger ship, hoping they would trade food for information, or software, or even technology. Mike had been OD (acronym for Out Deep, Out in the Deepest parts of space) for more than a year on a mission with the rest of the Black Knight squadron. However they had run into a nasty planet sized space creature, and it had eaten the rest of the squadron. He had barely escaped with his life, and his ship, after destroying the creature, luring it into the Orion Nebula to be bombarded and destroyed by gamma radiation.

His ship had made all of the necessary repairs on itself, and had ingested large amounts of tachyon emissions from nearby star fields on the long voyage back, thereby bringing the ship up to full power. He had found fresh water on one of the small planets circling an unknown star, yet he had not been able to find food, his rations ended more than a week ago.

That was why when he spotted the ship hovering on the opposite end of the asteroid field, he had moved to intercept, hoping they could help him. When they had tried to contact him, he found his sub space broadcast jammed by an unexpected influx of Muon particles, probably a result of passing to near one of the ice capped asteroids. He had listened to their countdown, frantically trying to clear the Muons out of his broadcaster, to no avail. When he saw they were targeting him, he had no choice but to eliminate the offensive ship. Who did they think they were, anyway? Why would they destroy an unaggressive vessal?

As he adjusted the ships coordinates for another pass, he heard something move behind him, actually, it sounded more like a squish, than movement. He turned around to face to strange looking creatures.

"Hello!" One of them greeted, raising an appendage that looked like the barrel of a some type of weapon. Mike sighed, not again! He had no time to grab his laser, the creature had the drop on him. "Well, it appears you have the advantage sir." Mike replied to the creature.

"Yes, and if you don't do exactly as I say, I will spray you with acid, and it will dissolve you into a glistening puddle of ooze." Came the reply, as a second creature came into view within the confines of the small cabin. Mike noticed the stench emanating from the beings was horrible.

"What is it you want? Maybe we can avoid any unnecessary bloodshed." Mike replied, feeling his stomach churn in distaste at the offensive stench. At least he wasn't hungry anymore.

"We require the use of your ship to locate some 'friends' of ours, and your assistance in dispatching them." The first creature reported, moving closer.

Mike tried to slide away, but he was trapped in the confines of the navigational station.

"Who is it you are looking for, and what do you mean by dispatch? Mike asked, eying the duo suspiciously.

"We're looking for three robodudes!" Jeff announced, brandishing his arm/weapon at the hapless captain. "And if you don't help us we'll turn you into goo!"

"Goo?" Asked Mike.

"Goo." Todd emphasized, and sprayed a nearby data recorder. It quickly melted into a puddle.

"Heh heh, well, I guess you continue to have the advantage, what can I do to help you . .er . ."

"Todd. And this is Jeff." Both creatures relaxed a little, and allowed their arms to return to their normal gelatinous texture.

"Let me tell you what's been going on." Todd stated, indicating the lone chair on the small bridge. Mike moved over and sat down. Todd began at the beginning, relating the story of the Q-men, and ending with being sentenced to trash mouth detail.

"That must have been awful!" Mike grimaced as Todd continued his narration.

Todd finished, and looked up at Mike expectantly.

"Well?" Todd asked.

Mike frowned. "I think I have seen your ship!" He exclaimed, moving to tactical, "did it look like this?" Mike brought up an image on the screen. Todd glared at the form. "Where is it?!" He gritted harshly.

"I blew it up!" Mike announced, "but an escape pod was jettisoned during the . . . Suddenly a beeping came from the scanning board. Mike swiveled in the chair to get a good look. On the screen a tiny blip tumbled through the star field.

"There they are!" Mike yelled. He spun, and grabbed the steering yoke.

Todd's eyes widened in amazement. What were the odds of bumping into the Q-Men so soon! Jeff looked at him in amazement. "Could it be true?" He whispered.

"Apparently so." Todd answered, and watched as Mike expertly brought the ship to within a few hundred feet of the tumbling pod.

"Well? What do you want me to do? Your claim on revenge predates my own." Mike asked, bringing down the targeting computer.

"Do you have an energy transfer point aboard this ship?" Todd inquired.

"Of course! I'm a Black Knight, only the best for my ship." Mike's eyes narrowed. "You don't want me to beam them aboard do you?"

Todd's eyes narrowed evilly. "Yes. That is exactly what I want you to do!" Todd whispered in a dangerous voice. "Bring them here, right in front of me. Now!" Todd instantly formed his arm into the Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben, and watched as Jeff did the same.

Greg watched the dark ship hover in the porthole window. There was absolutely nothing he could do. The ship had overtaken them quickly, and he hadn't time to rouse the others. What was the use, wake up so you can watch yourself get blown to bits?

'Come on, quit toying with us!' He thought as the interior of the ship dissolved in a grayish haze. When he came to, he was standing within a different ship, small, but at least larger than the pod they had been traveling in. Directly in front of him was a creature so hideous it defied definition. It appeared human, but all of the recognizable features continually dissolved and reformed in front of his eyes. The smell penetrated his sensitive odor scanners like a freight train on overload.

"Hello Greg." The creature greeted him in a voice that sounded like gravel falling through a rusty rain chute. Greg stared at the creature in confusion. How did it know his name?

"Hello." Greg responded pensively.

"You don't recognized me? Your 'friend'? Todd!!" The creature yelled. It brought it's arm up and sprayed him in the face and all over his body with some kind of burning fluid. The pain was exquisite, all receptors both human and machine screamed in unison. 'Todd? How could this be Todd'.

Before he dissolved in a puddle, he was able to see a second creature, (Jeff?) spraying his two companions who were still asleep.

"But . . ." Was all Greg could say as he dissolved completely. Blackness engulfed him.

Todd stared at the three metal tips on the floor. The only evidence left of the Q-men were the brain caps that housed all of the electrical impulses of their souls. He reached down, and picked up the cap on the floor, and stared at the titanium wiring.

Jeff looked at him with glee. "They're dead! They're finally dead! I can't believe it!" Jeff exclaimed, staring down at the metal caps on the floor. He picked up what had been Craig.

Todd looked at the wiring inside of the caps.

"Well they aren't exactly dead, but they certainly aren't the Q-Men anymore, that's for sure!" He held up a cap, and looked at his two companions.

"Looks more like a Q-Tip if you ask me!" He exclaimed, laughing. Mike and Jeff roared in amusement.

After laughing for a good five minutes, Todd collected the three caps. "At last! We have seen the end of the Q-Men." He muttered, turning to the view screen, and the everlasting star field.




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