Chapter Sixteen


And Away Go Troubles Down the Drain * by Greg Hartman

As Todd gazed out the window, one of the metal caps sank quietly into the palm of his gooshy hand.

Todd caught himself about to whistle a Slim Whitman tune as he pondered the Horsehead Nebula (actually, it looked like a kangaroo from the angle he was looking at it) and decided he had reminisced enough.

"So!" he said to Jeff and Mike, turning from the window. "I guess we'd better destroy these--" he stopped. "Where's the other tip?" he exclaimed, looking at the two tips in his hand.

Jeff's head snapped around alertly, causing one of his eyebrows to fling off against a bulkhead, where it left a smelly brown stain.

"Did you drop it?" he asked, peering at the floor.

Todd's eyes suddenly crossed, then refocused. "Er--there it is, by your foot!" he said, pointing at Jeff's left foot. As Jeff looked down, Todd abruptly stepped forward and rammed his fist into the top of Jeff's head, his arm sinking in past the wrist.

As Todd pulled his hand free of Jeff's head with a loud slurping sound, Jeff stumbled back, snarling with rage and lifting his Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben.

Suddenly, Jeff's eyes crossed, then refocused. "Is that Greg or David?" he said.

"It's me--Greg," Todd said. "I guess this is David's pip here," he continued, displaying the third titanium metal tip.

"What's going on here?" Mike demanded.

Todd/Greg turned. "Sorry about firing on you earlier," Greg said. "My name's Greg." He extended a squishy hand, which Mike declined to shake.

"I thought you were Todd?" Mike said, confused.

"Ah so--not!" Greg chuckled. "My pip sank into Todd's body and I commandeered his nervous system."

"Then he put my pip in Jeff's body," Jeff/Craig put in, "and I took him over as well. We were on the ship that fired on you earlier. Jeff's memory tells me your side of the story. I apologize, too. We got a little bored and a lot trigger-happy."

"Look, we're awfully sorry about all this," Greg said. "REALLY sorry," he said ruefully, looking down at his disgusting body. "How can we make it up to ya?"

Mike reached into a drawer and produced a clothespin, which he affixed to his nose. "I'm starved," he announced. "Tell me the nearest place to eat and we'll call it even."

"I can do better than that!" Greg said. "The asteroid with our secret base is only fourteen parsecs from here. How 'bout we nip over there, pick up our old bodies, and get rid of these yucky things while you pig out? We have lots of great food."

"Sounds good!" Mike said. "Where is it?"

Greg named a set of coordinates and Mike quickly punched them into his navputer.

"Course set?" David asked.

"Oh, we're there already," Mike said airily. "This is a FAST ship." He grinned at their astonished expressions. "C'mon, I'm starved!"

"This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Greg chuckled. "Say, have you ever heard of cappuccino?"

Greg, back in his old body, patted his lips with a nice linen napkin and set down his cappuccino cup with a contented sigh.

Mike set down his eighth cappuccino cup and marveled again: "This is the best stuff I ever tasted!"

"So--what'll we do with them?" David asked idly, gesturing at the stasis chamber in which Todd and Jeff stood, frozen in a millisecond of time.

Greg analyzed Todd and Jeff's bodies with a molecular scanner. "Hmmm..." he mused. "They seem to have slightly modified their DNA."

"Don't forget about those acid guns they can do," Mike warned.

Greg asked the computer a few questions, then turned to the food replicator and ordered a 50-pound bag of pectin.

"What in the world are you doing?" Jeff asked.

"If these calculations are right," Greg said, "the pectin should disrupt their ability to shape-shift or produce acid. Computer! Transport Todd and Jeff into the brig, turn off the stasis chamber, then activate the forcefield door immediately after I throw in this pectin."

"Understood," replied the computer.

Todd and Jeff shimmered into existence in the brig. Todd's eyes crossed and recrossed, then focused.

"You!" he shouted ineloquently. He raised his Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben just in time to get a faceful of pectin.

As the forcefield winked into life, Todd and Jeff staggered back, the pectin bubbling and sizzling on their gelatinous bodies. It stopped after a few seconds, and Todd raised his arm again.

"Uh-oh!" Mike quavered. "His hand's turning into that gun thing again!"

Greg placed his finger on the stasis switch, ready to flip the field back on. "The force field will hold the acid back long enough to activate the stasis field again," he said. "Let's see what happens."

Todd grunted, and foul-smelling grape jelly spewed from his Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben, spattering the walls. Furious, he tried to slither under the edge of the forcefield, but found he could only shimmy and wiggle like Jello. Other than the ability to turn his hand into a Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben, which only emitted rancid grape jelly, he had lost his shapeshifting powers.

Jeff gritted his teeth in concentration, his Great Gelatinous Fahrtenglobben quivering, and hundreds of brown jellybeans cascaded onto the floor. They smelled terrible, and the Q-Men suspected they were not chocolate.

As Mike and the Q-Men rolled with helpless laughter in the corridor, Todd slammed his fist into the forcefield in fury. It rebounded violently, sending him careening into Jeff.

Jeff smashed his fist into Todd's face, and Todd bounced across the room, boinging into Jeff, who ricocheted off Todd like a pinball.

As the helpless J-Men (J for Jello) bounced around the brig like Superballs, Mike wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and sat up.

"Guys, I haven't had this much fun in years. I wanna resign the Black Knights and join up with you!"

"That'd be great, but won't they want the ship back?" Greg said.

"Yeah, we don't have a ship now," Craig added.

"Oh, no--I've been with them long enough to retire early, and the since the ships are custom-built for each Black Knight we get to keep them," Mike said.

They shook on it.

"Whadda we gonna do with them?" Greg said, pointing at the J-Men, who lay quietly, panting and trying not to move enough to get them bouncing again.

"I have an idea!" David said. "They're still made of sewage, right? Let's dump some enzymatic septic tank cleaner on them. It'll eat them alive!"

As the J-Men's eyes bugged out in terror, Craig said, "Great idea! Computer! Dump 200 pounds of waste-eating bacteria in the brig!"

Two seconds later, the J-Men began to shriek hideously.

As the Q-Mens warped out in their new ship, ready to take on the universe, the J-Men grew smaller and smaller.

Several inches of brackish, sterile water covered the brig floor. Only a few ounces of the original effluvial essence Todd had created remained............................




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