Chapter Eighteen


The Incredible Shrinking Trick, AGAIN!! * by Greg Hartman


As the city that looked like Tillamook, but wasn't, rushed by, Greg sat up, startled.

"Waitaminit!" he said excitedly. "Tillamook should be off to my left, not my right. Something's wrong here!"

Looking ahead, he saw shark fins.

David and Craig opened their eyes.

"Darling! It's been TOO long!" said an attractive nurse, handing them Snapples.

Catching on quickly, David said, "I'd like a backrub, please!"

"You never said you were such a CHEATER!" Mike roared, whipping out a phaser and disintegrating the mirror on the wall behind him, which Todd had been using to improve his game of Battleship.

"I like being a J-Man Supreme, but couldn't we have a fair game of anything, just once?" he groused, stomping to his quarters and slamming the door.

"TOLD ya Mike had less patience than Ben," Jeff snickered, drawing his five-thousandth Fiero on the computer's doodle pad.

Todd sighed, drumming his fingers. Wrigley's Pleasure Planet had grown boring--and too expensive--within days. The J-Men had been wandering the quadrant for months, trying to rustle up a mortal enemy or two, without success. Now all Jeff wanted to do was draw Fieros, and all Mike did was whine about having no one to fight with.

Craig sat up, startled. "Hey! I just thought of something!" he said. "If Mike deserted us for dead he probably did something rude to Greg, too!"

"How long have we been here, anyway?" David said, shooing away his masseuse.

"Seven months," she pouted over her shoulder, flouncing out of the room.

"Time does fly, eh?" Craig chuckled. He and David went to Hubris Valhalla Central.

"How did we get here, anyway?" David suddenly thought to ask, as they signed in with the Special Requests clerk. "We were looking for the portal when our air and shielding ran out."

She punched up their file. "Well, we knew you weren't in any real danger, but our scans showed Mike's duplicity, and we wanted him to think Hubris Valhalla was a figment of your imaginations. So we cloaked the portal until he was gone, then beamed you over."

"Um--we sorta need to help a friend," Craig explained. He quickly outlined the situation. "So we don't even know where Greg is," he concluded, "and besides, it's been seven months."

"Time is no object," smiled the clerk. She handed David and Craig three odd-looking devices and began to explain......

Greg flailed frantically at the water as the first funny-looking shark approached him, sniffing at his legs.

The shark opened its mouth and lunged at Greg's left ankle......

.........and its teeth crashed together on nothing, giving the shark a terrible headache.

Greg sat up in the transporter bay, his clothes wet and squelching. "Hey! What happened?" he said.

Craig handed him a towel. "Mike was only pretending to join the Q-Men," he explained. "He beamed you to a parallel universe, saved Todd and Jeff, left us for dead in a lifepod, and burned up our headquarters!"

"Headquarters, shmeadquarters; we got secret headquarters all over the place," Greg shrugged, drying off and changing into a fresh uniform. Looking at the monogram on the towel, he smiled knowingly. "Hubris Valhalla pulled our fat out of the fire again, eh? What WOULD we do without those beautiful masseuses?"

"Let's get back to our own time and universe," Craig exclaimed, handing Greg a latte and ushering him to the bridge of the trans-dimensional timeslip ship Hubris Valhalla had given them.

"THAT'S IT!!" Mike shrieked, flinging the Uno deck at Todd. "You stacked your hand with 35 'Draw Four' cards? We aren't even playing for money, you putz!!"

Soon a full-fledged brawl was underway. Mike had the upper hand over Todd and Jeff; Todd didn't really want to fight because he couldn't cheat at it, and Jeff was fighting both Todd and Mike because his Fiero drawing pad had been stepped on early in the melee.

Suddenly, there was a loud PLONK! and all three assailants froze. With horror, they realized their clothing had turned to stainless steel, and they could barely breathe.

"Like our new Matter Transmogrifier?" Greg asked, stepping into their field of vision. "I bet it's REALLY familiar to you and Jeff, eh, Todd?"

"You guys had mental powers last time!" Jeff howled, struggling to move. Mike's foot was rammed into his solar plexus, having been in the middle of a kick when the Q-Men froze them, and his stomach felt like a Mack Truck was sitting on it.

"Hubris Valhalla constructed Outboard Power Replicators for us that duplicate those abilities," Craig said, brandishing the odd-looking device the clerk had given him. "Nice of Mike to drop us off there, eh?"

"You moron! Why didn't you say you took them to Hubris Valhalla? " Todd yelled at Mike.

"Hey--I thought they were making it up!" Mike blubbered, rolling his eyes. He could barely see Todd from the angle his head was twisted.

The Q-Men stepped forward, their brows furrowed in concentration, as the J-Men screamed in fear and tried to cringe...........

The J-Men struggled to breathe. Their clothes were still made of stainless steel, and their clothes were shrinking at the rate of one-half size a minute.

"Never hurts to lose a little weight, right?" Greg smirked. He sat in a chair on the bridge, sipping a latte and watching the J-Mens' agony on a monitor. The Q-Men had left the J-Men in the brig, deciding they would have less chance of getting messy with blood or other nastiness if they watched the fun over a monitor.

"Wrong! It hurts a LOT!" Todd gasped weakly, his face turning purple. Mike's head lolled as he struggled to remain conscious.

POP! Jeff whimpered as one of his ribs snapped. "I wish I could see my Fiero one last time!" he sobbed.

"Shut UP about your stupid Fieros!" Todd panted. A deck of trick cards popped out of his shrinking pants leg and scattered over the floor.

"I KNEW you were cheating in that poker game last week!" Mike crowed triumphantly. CRACK! He winced as his toes mooshed in within his shrinking shoes just a bit more. "If I could reach you I'd punch your lights out!" he rasped, straining futilely against his relentlessly smallifying prison of steel.

"Now, now!" Craig lectured. "Can't we all just get along?"

The Q-Men laughed uproariously as the J-Men's clothes got just a bit tighter and more unbearably painful............




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