Bewildering Stories

Fergus Fungus and the Reality Link

Vedgy Tarien



Meet Fergus Fungus

Meet Fergus Fungus, your average kid struggling through school, having lots of difficulty doing homework, not paying enough attention in class, getting detention every other day, getting stuffed into a locker every day not getting detention, always sitting in the seat with a puddle of some strange greenish liquid in it—and maintaining clandestine telepathic connections with a secret organization defending Earth from a catastrophic alien invasion no one knows about.

The school, of course, was Warthogs Academy. That explains it.

The school, to give a brief background, was one of those strange academic institutions founded by an obsessed cult that believed in, of all things, magic. Obsessed, they incorporated magic into their curriculum and resorted to illusions and deceptions in order to make their students believe in magic. Their attempts were futile, and none of the students actually believed in magic. Of course, none of the students actually believed in non-magic either. All of the students were incapable of belief either way. In fact, most of them were plastic logs left over from the Invasion of 2073. The teachers, who were very stupid, could not tell the difference between human beings and plastic logs. Fergus Fungus, of course, was a human being and, being a human being, faced speciesist discrimination. The teachers seemed to favor the plastic logs somehow.

Life was really boring for Fergus: wake up, eat breakfast, study magic, study more magic, eat lunch, study even more magic, do homework, eat dinner, sleep, wake up, eat breakfast, study magic . . .

Life was indeed boring. The daily schedule was the same for each day, and Fergus Fungus was getting bored.

One day, however, while studying magic out of a smelly old textbook entitled Quidditch Through the Ages, Fergus received an unusual telepathic message from the secret organization defending Earth from a catastrophic alien invasion no one knew about.

Cliff Hangar Returns

"Fergus, you there?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Fergus, Cliff Hangar has returned."

"Huh?"

"You know who Cliff Hangar was, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Well, the termites are back and worse than ever. And Cliff Hangar's not in a very good condition."

"Huh?"

"We need your help. Figure out a way to escape from Warthogs. We need you. The Earth is being invaded."

***

The story of Cliff Hangar is essential to our saga of Fergus Fungus, so we must tell it in its entirety (except for the parts that would infringe other people's copyrights if we published them). Cliff Hangar was a lost, confused, and bewildered individual in a war between humans and termites. It was a strange war, full of unexpected surprises and smelly waffles. Alas, it had to happen. And it happened this way. . . .

Intermission: Breaking Apart

"Arg! It's breaking apart! Hold it together! Hold it!"

"I am! I am!"

"Then try harder! 'Cause it's still breaking apart!"

"I'm trying! I'm trying!"

"It won't hold! It's gonna blow! Run for your life!"

The Omega X Device

"Oh, darn it! What the heck do you have planned?" the Captain said.

"You will see, my dear Capitaine."

"See what?" the Captain said.

"All these years I have waited, seeking the true meaning of life. And it has always escaped me. But now, I truly understand. Life is nothing but the path toward dynamic equilibrium. I understand, but now this understanding has caused my plan to fail."

"What plan?"

"And so there is only one solution. To use the Omega X device."

"What's the Omega X device?"

"A device that rearranges matter to form what it was X seconds ago, where X is a variable."

"Oh."

"It is the only solution. I had another plan not too long ago, and I told it to my babies, but now their mission will be unsuccessful, and they will die. All 11,000 of them . . . But now that I have the Omega X device, they won't have to die. I'll just have to fix things when we're X seconds back in time."

Francesca displayed the Omega X device, a grayish-looking cylinder.

"Hey, where'd you get that?" someone said.

But Francesca ignored the comment. "And now to input the variable . . ." She pressed some buttons. "And now we can activate the Omega X . . ." She pushed down on the big red button in the middle.

And the universe spun around and around and around and around . . .

And outside the ship, a mysterious visitor watched, silent with happiness, and thought, Finally, my plan is working!

And inside the ship, Francesca realized with a start: No! If we're going back in time, I won't have the memories I'm having right now, and I will be unable to correct the situation!

But the universe had stopped spinning, and all the matter in the universe had been rearranged to their positions X seconds before. . . .

Another Plan

The Termite King laughed with glee.

"Ah ha! My plan is going to work! With this device"—he gazed upon his green cylinder—"I can influence those stupid Terrans' thinking, so they'll act like the Three Stooges! Ho ho, that will be hilarious!"

The Termite King chuckled.

"Victory is mine!"

The Seconds Before the Seconds Between

"Oh, darn it. What the heck do we do now?" Wallahoo screamed. "Who the heck will lead us out of this stupid heck of a mess?"

A mysterious visitor appeared, cloaked in a black cloak.

"I will lead you out of this mess."

"Who are you?" Wallahoo said.

"Wait one moment."

"Huh?"

The mysterious visitor sprayed something in the air.

"Wha—? Uh . . ." Wallahoo said, and fell to the ground.

"Ah, that's better," the mysterious visitor chuckled. Everyone was unconscious. "Now . . . to relocate Hangar back to his previous location. I mustn't leave him lying here."

Unbeknownst to the crew, the mysterious visitor had come from the future to correct an incongruity. If the crew had been allowed to continue, the space-time continuum would collapse.

The Seconds Between

"Holy mud!" Deuce exclaimed, and ran out of the room (the Termite King fired the green weapon but missed), following a mirage of a waffle. It floated down the hallway back into the previous room, where Deuce met Francesca again.

***

Cliff could smell a pleasant aroma drifting in the air. "Hey, Termite King! That's some good smell! What is it?"

"That's for me to know and for you to find out. Only you won't find out. Ever."

"Oh."

And then Cliff felt a sense of pleasure.

"Ah . . . that feels good. You give awesome back rubs!"

***

"Wait a minute!" Cap said. "That's not hundreds of people marching in metal shoes! It's just one robot, and its footsteps are echoing off of the walls!"

"Now where'd this [bleep]ing thing come from?!" Red said.

The robot turned around. Cap and Red followed it but soon lost track of it.

***

Blast! Wallahoo cursed silently. I should have known. That Chaplain Dougal McDougal's inciting mutiny! They don't think I'm a good captain! And this weird smell is horrible! Not good for your health at all!

Wallahoo waited until no one was looking and sneaked out.

By Grabthar's Hammer

Grabthar, the Monarch of the Gubachuks, impatiently waited for its shipment of waffles to arrive.

"Where are my waffles?" it exclaimed. It waved its infamous hammer threateningly in the air.

"Um . . . they're coming, thar," Ipthar said.

"I need my waffles! Where the heck are my waffles?!"

"I'm sure they're on their way now, thar."

Ipthar didn't want to be near that hammer. It was horrible. It seemed to strike down at any moment. Ipthar shivered.

"I'll go check on it, thar."

Ipthar left the building and went to Keruthar's Waffles.

"Yo! Where are the waffles?!" it asked Keruthar, the former emissary of the Gubachuks and the current owner and operator of Keruthar's Waffles. "What happened to the waffles? Grabthar wants its waffles! Where are they, thar?"

"What do you mean, thar? We have shipped them!" Keruthar said, looking puzzled.

"Well, your shipment of waffles did not arrive at the Monarch's Palace!"

"What? It did not? But that is impossible!"

"Well, they did not, thar, and I demand to know what happened to them! We must appease the wrath of Grabthar! By Grabthar's hammer!"

"No! Not Grabthar's hammer!"

"So what happened to them?"

"I truly do not know. My guess is that they were stolen."

They searched all over Gubach for the missing waffles, but their search was unsuccessful. They did, however, find information about the waffles' whereabouts.

The theft of the waffles was linked to a certain "Francesca Delahunte."

Identity Crisis

The Gubachuks found their way into the termite colony.

"What the heck is this place, thar?" Ipthar asked Keruthar. "All these . . . insects . . ."

Keruthar looked around, puzzled.

Suddenly, an organism that looked like a Terran leaped out of nowhere, chased by a couple of drones.

"Holy megahertz!" it screamed.

The thing did look like a Terran! Ipthar thought. Amazing!

The Gubachuks had unsuccessfully invaded Earth not so long ago, and they were disgusted with the very thought of Terrans, or Earthlings as some called them.

"You from Earth?" Ipthar asked.

"What?" the Terran said.

One of the drones grabbed the Terran's lower appendages with its pincers. The Terran waved its upper appendages in the air and then fell down. The drones swarmed over it, followed by more drones.

"Help!"

"Are you from Earth?" Ipthar repeated, oblivious to the plight of the Terran.

"Help! Drones! Everywhere!"

"I said, Are you from Earth?" Ipthar said again.

There was now a mound of drones all over the Terran.

"Help me!"

It managed to pull a weapon out, and then it blasted the drones to bits.

"Ah. That was better. Now what was that you were saying?"

"Are you from Earth?" Ipthar said.

"Uh . . . yes . . . I am from Earth. Why do you ask?" the Terran said, uncertain.

The Gubachuks stared at the Terran. The Terran stared at the Gubachuks.

"Stop staring at us like that!" Keruthar, who was obviously familiar with this situation, said.

"What?"

"You think we look like potatoes, don't you?"

"Uh . . . actually, yes."

"I thought so. You stupid Terrans always mistake us for overgrown tubers."

"Uh . . . what are you?"

"We are Gubachuks from the planet Gubach. We have discovered the theft of a shipment of waffles, and we have traced it here, to a 'Francesca Delahunte.' Are you 'Francesca Delahunte'?"

"Huh? Bubbles? No, I'm not Bubbles. I'm Ellsign Wallahoo. Captain Wallahoo, now."

"Ah. Do you know of the whereabouts of 'Francesca Delahunte'?"

"Somewhere around here. We're trying to find her."

"Ah. And you are with—?"

"Uh . . . the other . . . uh . . . members of the crew . . . of the ship . . . uh . . . forgot what it was called . . . and also the former captain, Cliff Hangar, and . . . uh . . . hold on, I'll ask him."

Wallahoo ran down the corridor, its footsteps echoing across the walls.

Ipthar looked around, confused.

"Let's go on, thar," Keruthar said.

They continued in the opposite direction, the direction where Wallahoo had come from.

And burst into a room. There were two Terrans in it.

"Either of you 'Francesca Delahunte'?" Ipthar asked.

"Wha—?" the female said.

The male stared. "Holy—" it said, and then it fainted.

"Okay . . ." Ipthar said.

Suddenly, another Terran burst into the room, followed by a termite who was rubbing its back.

The Terran said, "Wallahoo?!! Where are you?!!"

They looked around at the other people in the room.

"Wha—?" the new Terran said.

"Wha—?" the termite said.

"Wha—?" the female in the chamber said.

"Wha—?" Ipthar said.

"Wha—?" Keruthar said.

"Wha—?" the Terran who had fainted seemed to say but did not.

"Cliffie?" the female said.

"Bubbles!" the new Terran said.

"Wha—?" Ipthar and Keruthar said in unison.

They stared at each other in a stupor.

Ipthar broke the silence. "We have come because we have traced the theft of a shipment of waffles to the Great Monarch of All Gubachuks, Grabthar. So, by Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Alpha Centauri, the waffles shall be avenged."

They stared at each other in a stupor.

"We have traced the missing waffles to 'Francesca Delahunte.' Which one of you is 'Francesca Delahunte'?"

"I am," the female said, and then its voice somewhat changed, and it said, "No, I am Bubbles," but then it changed back, and it continued, "I am Francesca Delahunte III. But . . . what is this? I have nothing to do with waffles."

The Terran who had fainted came to its senses.

"Wha—?" it said.

"Wha—?" the new Terran said.

"Wha—?" the termite said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte said again, in the other voice.

"Wha—?" Ipthar said.

"Wha—?" Keruthar said.

"Wha—?" the Terran who just fainted said again.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"All right, this is stupid," Ipthar said. "Let's just identify ourselves, okay? This is confusing. I'm Ipthar the Gubachuk."

"And I am Keruthar the Gubachuk," Keruthar said.

"Francesca Delahunte III," Delahunte said, and then, "Bubbles," in another voice.

"Cliff Hangar, former captain of the Chocovanilla Hippopotamoose Pi and sibling of Coat Hangar, the garbage collector."

Suddenly, another Terran burst into the room.

"Wha—?" it said.

"Wha—?" Hangar said.

"Wha—?" the termite said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte's alter ego said.

"Wha—?" Ipthar said.

"Wha—?" Keruthar said.

"Wha—?" the Terran who had just come to its senses said.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"All right. We remember you. You're Ellsign Wallahoo, now Captain Wallahoo," Keruthar said.

"That's right. Hey! It's Cliff! I've been looking for you, man. What's the name of our ship again? I forgot."

"Ellsign Wallahoo—" Hangar started.

"Captain Wallahoo," Wallahoo corrected.

"No one takes my position away from me, not even you, Ellsign Wallahoo. I'm demoting you. You're now Kaysign Wallahoo."

"But what was our ship called?"

"You mean, you didn't remember what our stinking ship was called?"

"No."

"It was the Chocovanilla Hippopotamoose Pi, you dolt!"

"Oh. That's right. I remember now. Thanks, Cliff. I'll be seeing ya."

"Oh, no, you don't!" Hangar said, and leaped at Wallahoo. And threw Wallahoo out the door. Into two more Terrans.

They looked bemused.

"Wha—?" the first one said.

"Wha—?" the second one said.

"Wha—?" Wallahoo said.

"Wha—?" Hangar said.

"Wha—?" the termite said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte said.

"Wha—?" Delahunte's alter ego said.

"Wha—?" Ipthar said.

"Wha—?" Keruthar said.

"Wha—?" the Terran who had fainted before said.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"Okay, let's finish our exclamations instead of saying, 'Wha—?'" Ipthar said. "What?"

"What?" the first of the new Terrans said.

"What?" the second one said.

"What?" Wallahoo said.

"What?" Hangar said.

"What?" the termite said.

"What?" Delahunte said.

"What?" Delahunte's alter ego said.

"What?" Ipthar said.

"What?" Keruthar said.

"What?" the remaining one said.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"Okay, this is stupid. Let's introduce ourselves now. Ahem! My name is Keruthar, former emissary of the Gubachuks and current owner and operator of Keruthar's Waffles."

At this, the Terran who had fainted before gasped and then swallowed its gasp.

"And I am Ipthar, one of the twelve official advisors to Grabthar, Great Monarch of All Gubach," Ipthar said.

"And I am Cliff Hangar, former and current captain of the Chocovanilla Hippopotamoose Pi, and don't you forget that again, Kaysign Wallahoo!" Hangar said.

"Wallahoo. First name unknown. Not sure whether I'm a captain or a kaysign," Wallahoo said.

"Francesca Delahunte III," Delahunte said, and its alter ego said, "Bubbles the Barbie Doll."

"I am the Termite King," the termite said.

"Cap and Red," one of the new Terrans said. "I'm Cap. He's Red."

Half of Delahunte, supposedly the alter ego, leaped up and screamed, "CAP AND RED! CAP AND RED!" and then a lot of unprintable expletives.

"Bubbles!" Cap said.

Delahunte's alter ego screamed some more, and then the first Delahunte entity calmed it down. "Ahem."

Everybody looked at the remaining Terran.

"My code name's Deuce X. That's Deuce X, not Deuce XX, not Deuce XY. Deuce X, the mysterious person whose gender is unknown," it said, and then it seemed to realize that it had said too much.

"But your gender isn't unknown," Delahunte said. "You're male."

"Um . . ." the mysterious Terran said and turned a bright shade of red.

"What's this about waffles?" Hangar said.

Ipthar wondered why Terrans were so weird. "We have traced the theft of a shipment of waffles to a certain 'Francesca Delahunte.'"

"Um . . ." Deuce X said and turned even redder.

Hangar said, "Everybody knows Deuce loves waffles. Doesn't he?"

"Um . . ." Deuce X said, and its face turned even redder.

Everybody seemed to agree with Hangar's statement.

"You're Francesca Delahunte?" Delahunte said. "That's your real name? You have the same name as I do?"

"Um . . ." Deuce X said. Its face turned extremely red.

"Oh, I get it. You're me. I'm you. Ha ha. I get it! A joke! That's funny!" Delahunte laughed. "Heh heh." The laugh faded away.

Everybody looked at each other in a stupor.

"OKAY!" Deuce X said, exploding (figuratively). "I AM FRANCESCA DELAHUNTE! I STOLE YOUR WAFFLES! I ATE THEM ALL!"

The room became silent.

Everybody looked at Deuce X in a stupor.

"It's not a joke?" Delahunte said.

The Clone Selects Its Own Variety: Evasion and Emulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Something or Other: A Delahuntean Perspective

"Holy mud," someone said.

"Yes! It is true! I am really Francesca Delahunte. Francesca6 Delahunte, to be exact. I'm a clone. That is, I was a clone. My genetic code was derived from yours, Francesca. They put me through the Processor so that my genetic code could be altered. So yes, I was once female. But now I'm male genetically and in all other aspects. The only remnant of my femininity is my code name," Deuce X said.

"Now what's this about your code name?" Hangar said.

"Wait, I'll get to that later."

"Hold on, wait a minute," Delahunte said. "If you're Francesca6 Delahunte, then where are the other four clones? And what am I?"

"You are actually just another clone, Francesca. Your real name is Francesca3 Delahunte, not Francesca Delahunte III. That fact was erased from your memory. You don't remember any relatives having the name Francesca Delahunte after whom you were named, do you?"

"No."

"And 'Bubbles' is really Francesca4 Delahunte, whose mind has been transfused into your mind."

Ipthar realized something. Why were the Terrans fighting the termites anyway? And who was fighting whom? Terrans were fighting termites, and termites were fighting termites, and Terrans were fighting Terrans, and termites were fighting Terrans.

That is interesting, Ipthar thought. I know!

"Ahem," Ipthar said. Everybody looked at it. "Okay, this isn't working. We can't just fight each other. There's no point. We have to have a reason for fighting. So why are we fighting?"

They looked at each other in a stupor. No one spoke.

"Okay. You do not know the reason for fighting. Let's analyze our background and discover the true reason for fighting. If, after sufficiently examining the past, we find no true reason, then we shall have peace instead of war."

"Sounds like a plan," Hangar said.

"Okay, you first, Deuce X, or Francesca6 Delahunte, or whatever you call yourself. Tell us about your mysterious origins."

"Such a variety of organisms here," Deuce X remarked. "Amazing. And such a variety of worlds in this entire universe. Amazing."

"Ahem. You are digressing. Please tell us of your background."

"And I choose this one. A small variety within a larger one."

Deuce X seemed stupefied.

"Yes?" Keruthar said.

"I . . . I can't remember."

"Ah, that is no problem. Here. Try this. This may help you remember more clearly." Keruthar gave Deuce X a plastic bottle having a green liquid inside.

"It's . . . it's an emulsion."

"Yes. Drink it."

Deuce X drank it.

"Ah, I remember now. Do you have a waffle I can eat? It helps me remember."

Ipthar gave it a waffle.

Munching quietly on the waffle, Deuce X said, "I'm thinking about all of the events that led to this undeclared war against termites. I see . . . I see . . . Russian Alaska, cake, the world's obsession with 'just add air' inflatable products, Cliff . . ."

"What?" Hangar said.

Deuce X continued, "I remember everything vividly . . . I see another place, another time . . . and the mysterious origins of Deuce X:

"That stupid train got to Russian Alaska at last. The trip had been really long and stupid, from some town or other, and he felt disgusted. Those stupid Russians were thinking about letting the Tlingit and the Haida join some stupid Confederation of Native States or other, also called the CNS, but they demanded more coercion. That is, they wanted money, and lots of it, the supply of which was, at that moment, really short because of the Lakota Rebellion. But nevertheless he had somewhat indifferent expectations for this area even if the stupid people embraced Orthodox Christianity without really thinking about it instead of the single real faith of Tecumseh.

"He was me. Or she was me. Wait, I was male at that time. I had already been through the Processor. So he was me. Or anyway, it was me. No, that's not right. They were me? No. I'm not plural. They was me? No. Wait a minute. Shouldn't I use a subject pronoun for a predicate nominative? They was I? No. They were I? He was I? She was I? He/she was I? She/he was I? E was I?"

"Shut up and continue, Deuce," Hangar said.

Ipthar raised a nonexistent eyebrow.

"Okay, okay. Be patient. I'm telling you about my background! Geez! Anyway . . .

"Well! I thought. If the Russians were considering allowing the Tlingit and Haida to join the CNS, then let them eat cake!

"Thinking of cake, I felt disgusted. Cake is such a horrible food item, I thought. Why had someone invented it anyway?

"The train had derailed. Again. For the fiftieth time, perhaps. I got up from where I was hiding so that I could get a better look. My head was aching horribly. I looked over the top of the hill. Some moron was waving a plastic shovel in the air, screaming, 'Orthodox Christianity is the only religion! Cake is good!'

"By Tecumseh! I thought. The strange things people do! Well, let them eat cake! They probably have lots of it. After all, Russian Alaska is the world's leading producer of cake.

"I, Deuce X, hit myself in the head with my bottle of water. How stupid of me! I thought. I should have known! They're smuggling books into the Alaskan Library! The creeps!

"Something felt strange about the bottle of water. I looked at it. It was empty.

"'Who the deuce drank my water while I wasn't looking?' I said out loud, then froze. I had given away my location.

"I looked around slowly at the snow-covered ground around me. Everything was white. I could sense no movement.

"I looked back at the train, still derailed, still lying on its side, still being kicked by Orthodox Christian fundamentalists with plastic shovels, metersticks, and toothbrushes.

"I stood up and dashed toward the train, running into the falling snowflakes that were obscuring my vision. I leaped over the train, flying in a parabolic arch, and landed in a pile of snow on the other side. My white clothing made it impossible for anyone to see me. I looked around, seeing no change in the crowd of Orthodox Christians gathering around the train. They were still futilely attacking the train with plastic shovels, metersticks, and toothbrushes, as if that helped. The train wasn't in bad shape, but the rails were. They always were. That was the reason why the train derailed in the first place. Any reasoning person would know that inflatable rails wouldn't work. But there it was, an inflatable railroad system crisscrossing North America. One protester accidentally hit the rail with a toothbrush, and it popped, deflating as all the gas flew out of it. The toothbrush popped, not the rail. The protester was staring in shock at the remains of the toothbrush, which was, or had been, an inflatable toothbrush. The rail was fine, but then the protester, madly screaming, stepped on it, and it popped and deflated. The rail, not the protester. But the protester was figuratively popping and deflating anyway."

"'Just add air'!" Hangar quoted. "Ha ha! The morons!"

Deuce X continued, "The Orthodox Christian fundamentalists were attacking the train because it was carrying biographical books about Tecumseh, which were going to be smuggled into the Alaskan Library. These people couldn't tolerate anything besides their own faith.

"I shook my head, stood up, and dashed away from the train, running toward the town in the distance. Only it wasn't a town. It was Library City, home of the Alaskan Library. Only it wasn't a city. It was just the library building and nothing else.

"I shook my head again. I took a flying leap at the building, screaming at the top of my lungs, soaring in a parabolic arch . . . into the ground."

"Ow!" Francesca3 Delahunte said.

"'Ow!' I said," Deuce X said. "It hurt. Flying leaps never seemed to work for me. My head throbbed. I walked around in a circle, dizzy, and tried to regain my balance. I couldn't, and then I crashed through the door by accident, but since that was my intention, maybe that wasn't really an accident. Anyway . . ."

"Anyway . . . Deuce, waffles ain't good for your health," Hangar said.

"I stood up and looked around," Deuce X said. "I was still dizzy.

"Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant termite out of nowhere leaped out of nowhere and landed out of nowhere in front of me out of nowhere, waving out of nowhere an inflatable plastic tuna fish out of nowhere redundantly.

"'Take this!' it said, and it whapped me on the head with it.

"'Ow!'"

"Ow!" someone said.

"The termite whapped me again.

"'Ow! Hey! Stop that!'

"Whap!

"'This isn't funny!'

"Whap!

"'What are you, nuts?'

"Whap!

"'No, I am not nuts. I am a termite. And, no, I'm not a vegetable. People keep mixing vegetables up with nuts. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts. They're related to peas. So peanuts are neither nuts nor peas, but they look like nuts and are related to peas. Whatever.'

"'Um . . . I'm not sure I understand exactly.'

"Whap!

"'Ow! Hey!'

"'I'm also a poet. Want to hear my poetry?'

"'Um . . . no.'

"'This is a poem called "There Is No Point." Here goes:

"'There is no point
And that is the point.'

"'Um . . . neat,' I said. 'Did you really write that?'

"'No. I didn't write it. I ate it.'

"'What?'

"'I ate it, and that's how I know it by series of pumping chambers with an upper tube having openings along the side that allows colorless blood to move forward by a wave of contraction.'

"'What?'

"'I know it by heart. But the word heart has certain connotations that I do not wish to imply. Anyway, it's just an expression. I also have a prothorax, a metathorax, a mesothorax, ganglia, and gastric ceca.'

"'Uh-huh. And?'

"Whap!

"'Ow! Hey!'

"Whap!

"'Ow! But you said you didn't write it. Who did?'

"'This was a poem by Alkaline Spudwort, otherwise known as something or other, whom I have also eaten. I just love the taste of basic potato plants in the morning. The poem was rejected by no one, not even the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction.'

"'Oh.'"

"Huh?" Hangar asked.

Deuce X, or Francesca6 Delahunte, looked at everybody strangely.

"Whap!

"'Ow! Why do you keep hitting me? Who are you, anyway?'

"'That is for me to know and for you to find out.'

"'What?' I said.

"Whap!

"'Okay, okay, my code name is Deuce X. That's Deuce X, not Deuce XX, not Deuce XY. Deuce X, the mysterious person whose gender is unknown. Okay, now who are you?'"

"But your gender is known!" Hangar said. "You're male . . . aren't you?"

"Yes, I am male. At this moment. But once I was female. So it's just a saying of mine. Never mind. It's horrible. Anyway . . .

"'Join me, Deuce, and together we can rule the galaxy!'

"'What?'

"Whap!

"'I'll never join you!' I said.

"'If you only knew the power of the quark side. Okeechobee Kenobi never told you what happened to your water.'

"'Who's that?'

"Whap!

"'Stop hitting me with that stupid inflated plastic tuna fish, you stupid termite! Were you the one who drank my bottled water?' I said, and I displayed my empty bottle of water.

"The termite stared at me. 'Deuce, I am your water.'

"'What? No! Impossible!'

"Whap!

"'Deuce, I am your creator,' the termite said.

"'What? No! Impossible!'"

"Well, was it?" Hangar asked, somewhat curious. Ipthar groaned.

Deuce X said, "Actually, yes. Sort of. It was actually on the genetics team that cloned me and put me through the Processor. But it was disguised then, so no one knew it was a termite. Anyway . . .

"'I'll show you!' I said. I bonked the termite on the head with the plastic bottle.

"Whap!

"And we were fighting. I hit the inflated plastic tuna fish with the plastic bottle, and the two weapons collided with a sharp metallic clang. The termite leaped into the air and crashed into a shelf of books. The books tumbled off the shelf.

"'You inconsiderate moron!' I said. I swung the bottle at the termite, missed, spun around in two circles, and hit myself with the plastic bottle. It hurt.

"'Ow!'

"Whap!

"'Hey!' And we were fighting again.

"And that's all I can remember now," Deuce X concluded.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"Wha—?" went ten and a half different voices.

"And outside, watching from behind the cover of a white camouflage suit, someone was watching, listening to the metallic clangs of the colliding weapons and wondering how plastic weapons produced metallic clangs. . . ." someone said. It was Hangar.

Ipthar looked at Hangar.

"That person was me," Hangar said.

"Wha—?" Francesca3 Delahunte said.

Everyone looked at Francesca3 Delahunte.

"No! That person was me!"

"No! It was me!" Hangar demanded.

"Well, well," Keruthar said. "We can't have all this argument, now, can we?"

Everybody was silent. Everybody looked at Keruthar.

"Okay now, let's use the Memory Machine to share our memories with each other. Just relating it by voice doesn't seem too successful." Keruthar produced an odd-looking contraption that had the shape of a cylinder. It placed the object in the middle of room and activated it. Everyone gathered around it in a circle.

"Now why don't you go first, Francesca3 Delahunte? Tell us your side of it. But don't say it out loud. Just think, and the machine will share the memories with everyone."

"Okay," Francesca3 Delahunte said. "I'm going to relate my narrative in the third person, so as to give it an objective perspective . . ."

And the memories started to flow. . . .

A Really Big Headache

Yeah, it was really stupid. Francisca had a really big headache. It was horrible. Yuck.

Deuce X and Francesca3

Everyone experienced the memory vividly.

"Wha—?" went ten and a half different voices.

"You misspelled your name. It's Francesca, isn't it? Not Francisca?" someone said.

Deuce X screamed, "That wasn't real! I was only telepathically transmitting a false flashback so that you wouldn't realize my existence. But it was a flawed one. It did reveal my existence. It was then that I realized with a start that the flashback had been accidentally telepathically transmitted to you, Francesca. Or should I say, Francesca3?"

Everybody looked at Deuce X in a state of stupor.

"Holy mud and a pile of cheese!" Deuce X, or Francesca6 Delahunte, exclaimed. "I knew I had to fix this situation. I had to send another telepathic message to correct the situation. And so I sent another telepathic message to correct the situation. . . ."

Deuce X and Not Francesca3 and Francesca3 and Not Deuce X

"And after I did it, I felt better. 'Ah, that should do it,' I said. 'I have sent a lot of junk to Francesca's mind. This should be very interesting. Now, Francesca will think that what I accidentally telepathically transmitted was just a bunch of hallucinations. What I have just transmitted will cause Francesca to think that everything happens at the same time, which will be even more confusing. But I must do anything in order to keep my mysterious past a secret. Anything except not tell the truth. I have not told any untruths with this. I suggested that I might be female, but this was only part of the dialogue, so it is not an untruth. This will confuse Francesca, who, in my humble opinion, is somewhat stupid. Nothing I have transmitted is untrue, but I have presented it in a way that seems to be untrue. That is the art of persuasion. I must not tell a lie, for I am bound by the Code of . . .'"

"The Code of What?" Hangar said.

"I am not stupid, thank you!" Francesca3 Delahunte said.

"Hold on. I'll get to that later," Deuce X said.

"But what was the message you sent?" Ipthar asked.

"The message? Why, yes! The message! I have it. I accessed the past and the future for bits and pieces of truth that I could send. Why, I remember them now!"

"Wait! What about me?" Hangar demanded. "It was me on the hillside!"

"Hold on, thar," Ipthar said. "You'll get your turn later. It is Francesca6 Delahunte's turn now."

Inconstant Flux: Why Everything Happens at the Same Time: Another Place, Another Time: The Same Time: The Mysterious Origins of Cliff Hangar and Deuce X: Deuce X's Gender: Bubbles in the Hall of the Hall of the Hall of the Hall of the Hall of Endless Repetition: Inflatable Termites: Space Toilets: Round Robins and Square Robins: Ornithology: How Energy Relates to Right Triangles: Gardening Tips: The Demise of Science-Fiction Magazines: Waffles: Why Really Long Titles Don't Work Unless You're Connie Willis

"Who's Connie Willis?" Hangar asked.

Everybody seemed to be in a state of stupor.

"Okay," Deuce X/Francesca6 Delahunte said. "I'll continue . . .

"The meaning of life was really horrible and incomprehensible. It was just like that, you know. That was its nature.

"Remember that? I accessed that part of the space-time continuum, too."

"Excuse me, thar," Keruthar interrupted. "Here, I must remark on something. Time is not real. It is only an illusion. All events occur at the same moment. There is no such thing as time, for time is not real. All things happen at the same moment. A moment that appears to result in another moment does not cause the other moment to occur at a later moment in time. It simultaneously occurs. All events occur simultaneously. They take place in separate dimensions, but not time. This is how Francesca6 Delahunte was able to access the past and the future."

The memories started to flow, but Francesca4 Delahunte (Francesca3 Delahunte's alter ego) interrupted.

"Wait! This is my part! I think it would be better told from my viewpoint."

And the memories continued to flow. . . .

"Ah, thine eyes resemble the deformed pits of the fruits of the watermelon tree," a voice said.

"What?" Bubbles, otherwise known as Francesca Delahunte III, said.

"Well, they do," the voice said, and its owner appeared out of nowhere. It was Deuce X.

"Holy mud and a pile of cheese!"

"Uh . . ."

"Is that an insult?"

"No. It's just an observation."

"But it's not right!"

"If it is not right, then it is simply a mistake. Either way, it's not an insult."

"Um . . . that was interesting," Keruthar said. "And meanwhile . . . for, you know, everything happens at the same time . . ."

Memories continued to flow from Francesca4 Delahunte's mind. . . .

Bubbles was confused. But then everything was confusing to Bubbles.

She picked up a Xik Xik stick, which seemed really interesting.

"I wonder what kind of weapon this could be used as," she said to herself.

"And meanwhile . . ." Keruthar said.

Deuce X continued the memory-flowing. . . .

Deuce X II, or Deuce XII (Deuce 12?), whatever, looked at Deuce X I, or Deuce XI (Deuce 11?).

"You look just like me!" Deuce (which one?) said.

"And you look just like me!" Deuce (the other one) said.

They looked at each other in a stupor.

"I've come to dispose of you," said the Deuce from the future.

"What?"

"Yes. We are the same person. I come from the future. And we simply cannot have the same two people in the universe at the same time."

"Why not?"

"It just doesn't work."

"But wouldn't disposing of me prevent your going back in time to do this? Wouldn't it contradict itself?"

"No."

"Say, has anyone figured out your/mine gender yet?"

"No," the Deuce from the future said.

"Well, I've been thinking. 'Deuce' means two, right? So 'Deuce X' means XX, which means that we're female."

"Now that's just a little joke on my part. I was male at the time, and so was my former self at that time," Deuce X said.

"But who was your former self? Francesca5 Delahunte?" Hangar said.

"Actually, no. I have no idea who Francesca5 Delahunte is. Both my former self and I were Francesca6 Delahunte, since we were the same person, one from the future, one from the past."

"Ah . . ."

"Meanwhile . . ." Keruthar said.

"Meanwhile, I was there on the hillside, watching the battle, thank you very much!" Hangar stared contemptuously at Francesca3 Delahunte.

Memories flowed from Hangar's mind. . . .

Wearing the white camouflage suit, Cliff Hangar approached the library building. He could still hear the metallic clangs of the plastic weapons of the morons fighting inside.

Cliff burst through the door.

The termite stopped. The other person, wearing a white camouflage suit just like Cliff's, stopped. Cliff stopped. They stared at each other.

"Your shoe's untied," the termite said.

"What?" Cliff said and looked down at his shoes. They weren't untied.

The termite whapped Cliff in the face.

"Hey! You stupid termite! How dare you come here and take over? This is Earth, you hear?"

"No, I'm deaf. I'm reading your mind."

"What?"

"So you were there too!" Francesca3 Delahunte exclaimed. "And I was there! And that's where we met Deuce . . . and each other . . . and fell in love . . ."

"No, it wasn't love. No, not exactly—" Hangar started to say.

"Meanwhile . . ." Keruthar interrupted.

Memories flowed from Francesca4 Delahunte's mind. . . .

If only all this junk could just stop and everything went back to normal, Bubbles thought.

She scratched her name on the Xik Xik stick with a pencil. It seemed illegible.

That's it! she thought. I'm going to bonk the termite monarch on the head!

She stood up slowly and made her way toward the termite ruler, who was busily doing something she couldn't tell.

She said, "All right, loser! Why did you kidnap me in the first place anyway? Huh?"

The termite continued to busily do whatever it was doing.

"Didn't you hear me?"

The termite didn't seem to notice.

"All right! How about this?"

Bubbles attacked the termite with the Xik Xik stick.

The termite popped. All the air burst out of it. It was an inflatable termite.

"Inflatable?!! No way!" Hangar exclaimed.

"Well, now," the Termite King said. "That wasn't exactly me. That was a fake."

"Ah."

"Wha—?" Francesca4 Delahunte began, before Francesca3 Delahunte subdued it.

"Meanwhile . . ." Keruthar said.

The memories flowed from Hangar's mind. . . .

They beat up the termite, who left the library building in a state of stupor.

"Awesome! That was good!" Cliff said.

"Uh-huh," the other person said.

"So . . . what's your name?"

"My code name is Deuce X. That's Deuce X, not Deuce XX, not Deuce XY. Deuce X, the mysterious person whose gender is unknown. What's yours?"

"Cliff Hangar. At least that's what they call me. I don't remember much of my past. I'm beginning to think that what I do remember of it was artificially infused and that I'm an artificial being. But I'm not really sure."

"So . . . why did you come here to Russian Alaska in the early 22nd century anyway? You know what? The world really seems to be becoming a dystopia."

"Uh-huh. Why'd I come here? Hmmm . . ."

"And?"

"Oh, yes, I remember now. It's one of those tiny tidbits I do remember of my past. Let's see . . . I came here because I'm about to set out on a journey across space and my space-toilet's broken."

"Oh."

"You never know how important a space-toilet is until it's broken. I mean, I tried to get on without it, but that wasn't too successful."

"Oh. Well, I'm a machinist, among other things."

"Well, that's superb! I've been roaming the countryside looking for a machinist. So that's the situation. The space-toilet's broken. What the deuce, Deuce?"

"I'll fix it."

They boarded Cliff's spaceship.

Deuce fixed the space-toilet.

"My flush beats your pair."

Cliff groaned.

"Wha—?" went ten and a half voices.

Wait a minute! Ipthar thought. Ten and a half? That doesn't seem right. Delahunte, Delahunte, Delahunte, Hangar, Wallahoo, Cap, Red, Ipthar, Keruthar, the Termite King . . . only ten. And why would Hangar exclaim at its own memories? And how can Delahunte and Delahunte, who were sharing the same body, exclaim in unison? But before Ipthar could look up to see who else was in the room, Keruthar said, "And meanwhile . . ."

Memories flowed from Francesca4 Delahunte's mind. . . .

Bubbles flew through the air, space and time melting together around her.

Everything made sense. It finally did.

"Ah, now that was a short one," Keruthar said. "And meanwhile . . ."

Memories flowed from Francesca6 Delahunte's mind. . . .

The Deuce from the future disposed of the earlier Deuce. Nothing happened to the former (latter?) Deuce (the one from the future). No incongruities happened. Everything just seemed to work. The paradox was solved.

Then Deuce set about replacing his counterpart with himself.

"Meanwhile . . ." Keruthar said.

Memories flowed from Hangar's mind. . . .

It was a dark and stormy night in space. That was right. Dark and stormy. And in space. Of course, it was dark in space, except for those twinkling stars. But stormy? Why yes! A particle storm! Hydrogen ions and photons and neutrinos and protons and positrons and gluons and nonexistons colliding together in the same place, disrupting the function of the spaceship.

"Oh, mud," Cliff Hangar said. "My spaceship's not working. What the deuce, Deuce?"

Deuce yelled, "Shut up, you inconsiderate moron! I'm eating a waffle!"

Cliff said, "What the deuce, Deuce?"

Deuce yelled, "Oh, all right! Just let me finish my waffle."

Cliff waited while Deuce finished his waffle.

"Okay? Are you done?"

"Yeah. Hold on."

Cliff waited.

Nothing happened.

"What the deuce, Deuce?"

"What?"

"Why aren't you up here? You said you were done with your waffle!"

"I'm eating another one!"

"What the deuce, Deuce?"

"Ah, very interesting," Keruthar said. "And meanwhile . . ."

Memories flowed from the collective mind of the termite colony. . . .

The termite left the library building, cursing under its breath. Why had it let those two humans (yuck!) beat it up? It hurt all over.

It walked a short distance across the snow and was teleported back to the termite spaceship, somewhere in space.

"What happened?" the Great Termite, Ruler of All, demanded.

"They beat me up."

"Well, why'd you let them beat you up?"

"I didn't let them. They just did."

"Ah . . ."

"Good!" Keruthar exclaimed. "And meanwhile?"

Memories flowed from Hangar's mind. . . .

"Well, finally, Deuce! What the deuce took you so long, Deuce?"

"I had to eat everything in the waffle room."

"What the deuce, Deuce?"

"I was hungry. Sorry."

"Okay, then! Now explain to me why my spaceship isn't working."

"Sure," Deuce said. "Well, you've got a particle storm. Hydrogen ions and photons and neutrinos and protons and positrons and gluons and nonexistons colliding together in the same place, disrupting the function of the spaceship."

"Well, duh! But why?"

"Well, the hydrogen ions and photons and neutrinos and protons and positrons and gluons aren't doing anything. It's the nonexistons. That's what's making your spaceship malfunction."

"Nonexistons? And what, may I ask, are nonexistons?"

"Particles that don't exist."

"Ah . . . and how are particles that don't exist causing my blasted spaceship to malfunction?!!!!!"

"If you really must know (and I don't think you must), particles that don't exist can and do exert an influence," Deuce said, citing knowledge acquired in a future time.

"What?"

"Dark matter, you know. There's nothing there. But it's holding the universe together. It's what making the Big Crunch possible. You see, the nonexistons exert an influence on the stuff around them. Gravitons, tachyons, morons, whatever you call them. They're basically nonexistons."

"Are you calling me a moron?"

"No. A moron is a nonexistent hypothetical particle named after Arkazarv Mor XXXVII."

"So what's the big deal?" Cliff said.

"Well, you see, E = mc2."

"Uh-huh."

"Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared."

"Yeah. And?"

"But, according to Pythagoras, c2 = a2 + b2."

"Yeah. I don't get what you're talking about."

"Therefore, by substitution, E = m(a2 + b2)."

"What?"

"Energy equals mass times the sum of the squares of the two legs of a right triangle."

"What?!! That is totally absurd!"

"And that proves the existence of nonexistons."

The memories stopped flowing.

"That was . . . that was so . . . so . . . so emotional!" Hangar said, and started crying.

"Now what the heck was that?" someone said.

Hangar was still crying.

Everybody looked around at each other in a state of stupor. Ipthar suddenly remembered and looked up just in time to see the source of a new voice:

"All right! Why are you sitting around in a circle telling stories? There's a war going on! The drones are revolting!"

"Revolting, eh? I always thought they were repulsive," Wallahoo chuckled, not looking up.

Ipthar gasped at the sight. . . .

The Mists of Confusion

Wallahoo choked. He felt weird, like someone besides himself. It must be that Memory Machine. Or something. Those Gubachuks brought something with them that's making us act like we're not ourselves. He saw someone standing there, a mysterious visitor in a black cloak. Who? He couldn't think correctly. All this stuff . . .

"Hold on," he said. "What about those bits and pieces of the past and future? I'm confused. They need to be connected. What's the chronological order?"

No one replied. They were all staring at the mysterious visitor.

Wallahoo choked again. "Okay, there was that part about Russian Alaska with Deuce, right? And then that part about Francesca on the hillside happened while Deuce and the termite were fighting. Okay. And that part about the deformed pits of the fruit of the watermelon tree happened later. Deuce X wasn't really there. That was just a hallucination. And the confusion part with the xik xik stick happened after that. Then the part with the two Deuces happened way before that. That was when the Deuce from the future went back to dispose of the Deuce from the past. And the part about Cliff and the library building happened after Deuce and the termite were fighting. And the part about Bubbles attacking the inflatable termite happened after the part with Bubbles and the xik xik stick. And the part with Cliff and Deuce happened after the part where Cliff approached the building. And the part with Bubbles flying through the air happened after the space-time continuum healed. The part with Deuce disposing of the other Deuce happened after their encounter. And the part with the particle storm happened after the spaceship departed and before the termites came. The part with the termite happened after the fight between Deuce and the termite, and the part where Deuce explains the existence of nonexistons happened after the particle storm. Okay, I get it.

"So the chronological order is," Wallahoo continued, answering his own question, "(1) Deuce arrives from the future and meets Deuce from the past; (2) Deuce from the future disposes of Deuce from the past; (3) Deuce goes to the library building and fights the termite; (4) Francesca watches outside and experiences hallucinations; (5) Cliff joins Deuce and beats up the termite; (6) the termite reports to the Termite King; (7) Cliff talks with Deuce, and Deuce fixes the space-toilet. After that, they meet Francesca and set out on a space voyage. Which brings us to (8) they experience a particle storm; (9) Deuce explains the existence of nonexistons. Then after that, the Termite King abducts Francesca, and the crew go after them. I remember that. And afterward, when the Termite King was keeping Francesca as queen, (10) Francesca experiences a hallucination and talks to a nonexistent Deuce; (11) Francesca gets confused, maybe because of the hallucination, and picks up a xik xik stick; (12) Francesca attacks the termite with the xik xik stick. But the termite was an inflatable fake. And then later (13) Francesca flies through the air and everything makes sense. Oh, I get it. Everything's all connected now."

Everyone was staring silently at the mysterious visitor.

"Huh? Who are you?" Wallahoo said.

The Identity of the Mysterious Visitor . . . Is Not Revealed

"First things first," the mysterious visitor said. "You're all acting like the Three Stooges. This doesn't connect with anything else, and I can't make heads or tails of it."

"Wha—?"

"Hmmm . . . yes, I see! That's it! Why, yes!"

The mysterious visitor walked over to the cylindrical Memory Machine in the center of the room and pressed a hidden button on the side.

Everybody came to their senses.

"Yes! It's been on all this time! This thing's been interfering with your thinking! What's the meaning of this, Keruthar?"

"What?" Keruthar said.

"You don't know. This isn't yours, is it?"

"No."

"Well, it's been interfering with the thought processes of humans. It may not affect your thinking, Keruthar, but this is a problem. Hmmm . . . yes, why, that's it! I think I know who programmed this thing to make you act like the Three Stooges!"

The mysterious visitor walked over to the Termite King.

"Just as I've thought! It's a fake!"

The mysterious visitor found a plug on the back of it and pulled on it. The inflatable termite deflated.

"Yes! The Termite King has arranged this nonsense so that he could have extra time organizing his army! And we fell for it! Right now, he's preparing to launch a counter-attack! We must fight back! There's a war going on!"

Intermission: The Council of Proper Narrative

The Council of Proper Narrative decides to investigate a certain story formerly entitled "Cliff Hangar in the Hall of the Termite King!" and is currently dead.

The entities forming the council are somewhat confused and not sure about the issue. One picks its nose lazily.

They gaze upon the collective authors of the story, sitting on the seats in front of them.

"Ah . . ." Zmib says. "The authors of 'Cliff Hangar in the Hall of the Termite King!' Do you know that you have violated clause 3.1415926535897932384626433832795 of Section 2.718281828459045 of the Intergalactic Law of Proper Narrative?"

The authors look confused.

"You! Alkaline Spudwort!"

"Huh?" Spudwort says.

"You have digressed from the main thread, creating your own thread! This story is inconsistent! There are two separate storylines, and they do not connect to each other! That is punishable by a 1,234,567,890 credit fine!"

"Huh?" Author #1 says.

"But it was all Alkaline's fault!" Author #2 says.

"Well, I kind of like Alkaline's thread," Author #3 says. "It makes sense in its own weird sort of way."

"Inflatable termites? Now that's just not consistent," Author #4 says.

"Ah, well, I liked that comic strip. That was pretty good," Author #5 says.

"We're getting sick of this story. We need a new one," Author #6 says.

"Um . . ." Author #7 says.

"Hold it!" Spudwort says. "I have the right to post my own stuff! If it doesn't fit with the rest, then it doesn't! But that doesn't mean I can't post it! Consider it an alternate thread."

The Council is baffled.

"What are you saying?" Zmib says. "Are you defying the law? All narratives must be consistent!"

"But it is consistent! It's consistent with the story before it launched off! The continuation of that thread is also consistent with the story before my thread launched off! They're just not consistent with each other! So they're two different versions of a story! This isn't a violation of the law!"

"Ah," Zmib says. "Then why doesn't anybody post in your thread, then?"

"Because . . ." Spudwort says and looks around at the other authors. "Say, why don't you post in my thread?"

Tlugok raises an eyebrow. Thlunk picks its nose again. Zmib shakes its head. Grmblop is snoring very loudly. Krzmblatt is enjoying its hurricane nachos. Vptsmrigu yawns.

It is going to be a long day . . .

***

"Arg, darn it," Spudwort says. "I'm sick of my own writing. It was fun to write them, and fun to read them, but now it's no longer fun to write more. So my part is done. What about you other people?"

Authors #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7 all look baffled.

"So . . . I've had it with this stupid Council of Proper Narrative thing!" Spudwort says. "Let's get back to the story! It needs some writin'! And why don't I let you people do it? Meanwhile, I'll just doze off into Slumberland, whose population is currently 2,342,523,536. Anybody got a free ticket?"

A Mystery

The mysterious visitor spoke: "All right. We must fix this problem. It is a very severe problem, and that is why we have to fix it. The Termite King has foiled us, and we refuse to be wrapped in aluminum foil! Therefore, we have to stop this nonsense and stop the Termite King from defeating us and taking over the entire universe!"

"Right. Where's my waffle?" someone said.

"And we must begin by solving this mystery. Where is the Termite King, and what plan does he have in mind?"

"I dunno. You got me," someone, the same someone who had spoken earlier, said.

"Ah, yes, that is it," the mysterious said. "Right now, the Termite King is planning his escape. So we must stop him from escaping. And once that is done, we shall have stopped him from taking over the entire universe."

"Huh?" someone, not the same someone who had spoken earlier, said.

The mysterious visitor's black cloak dragged across the xik xik wood. The mysterious visitor looked up (or appeared to look up) and then looked to the left and then to the right and then to the left again and then to the right again and then up and then down and then to the left and then to the right. . . .

They got dizzy.

Solving the Problem

"Okay," the mysterious visitor said when everyone had recovered. "All right, we have to solve this problem. And it's a very hard problem to solve. And we're wasting too much time. Who knows where the Termite King is?"

"There," Wallahoo said, and pointed to the deflated Termite King decoy lying flat on the floor.

"No!" the mysterious visitor said. "The real Termite King!"

"Oh."

"Okay, now. If you all will follow me . . ."

The mysterious visitor left the room.

An Abundance of Xik Xik

They were in a maze, a very very very very very big labyrinth. That was, of course, what the termite colony was. In fact, if you look at it from outside, it sort of looks like a brain. Or at least, the cerebrum, anyway. The cerebellum isn't quite there. And don't think it's squishy, 'cause it's not.

Anyway, there they were.

"What the heck is this place? All these passages and tunnels, passages and tunnels, passages and tunnels, passages and tunnels, passages and WHAT THE HECK IS THIS???!!!" someone said, munching on a waffle.

"What's what?" someone else said. Probably Francesca.

"My shoe! I stepped on a piece of bubble gum!" Deuce said.

"Huh?" Francesca said.

"Just look at this!!! Who'd chew bubble gum in a place like this?"

Someone raised an eyebrow.

"This is stupid. We have to work together to solve this mystery!" Cliff said.

Someone else raised an eyebrow, then lowered it, then raised the other eyebrow, then lowered it, then raised both eyebrows, then lowered one, then lowered the other.

They continued down the passage. There was xik xik wood everywhere.

Xik xik wood, for those who don't know, which includes just about everybody, is known as "the rarest of all woods." This is only a myth, however. Xik xik is obviously not rare. For an entire termite colony the size of a planet (and planets vary in size, so that wasn't a very good comparison) to be made completely out of xik xik wood to exist, there must first be an extraordinarily large amount of xik xik wood. Obviously, this would not be rare. However, at a certain point in time, when all other woods had been disintegrated by a very powerful weapon used by a certain dysfunctional individual on a certain world known for its dysfunctional individuals, who filled every position in society, including the government, the complete control by dysfunctional individuals of which resulted in the creation of that very powerful weapon, to annihilate and obliterate all known types of wood in the entire space-time continuum, which contains the universe as well as other chunks of matter and energy located outside of it, not a single xik xik cell was destroyed, for xik xik, by a chance occurrence of a misspelled word entered in the Directory of Known Types of Wood by a certain dysfunctional individual not identical to the dysfunctional individual who used the very powerful weapon to annihilate and obliterate all known types of wood, was not recognized as a known type of wood, and, therefore, was not annihilated along with all the other types of wood. And all this happened because of a bookkeeping error. But that is just pointless digression. Xik xik wood, for those who don't know, has the consistency of the Earth wood known as balsa wood, which is very strong and extremely light. Xik xik, of course, is very strong and extremely light. Its strength has allowed multiple termite colonies to be constructed out of it. Its extreme lightness however, results in a severe lack of gravity, which may cause extreme nausea in those individuals not accustomed to the gravity of a typical termite colony. Xik xik was first encountered on the planet Xik Xik, which was known for its xik xik wood, by termites. The termites, however, completely stripped the planet of xik xik wood, of which it had an abundance. No xik xik remains on Xik Xik today. Finding themselves horribly out of xik xik wood, the termites were unable to build more than a limited number of termite colonies. Early attempts at xik xik cloning failed miserably, not to mention their drain on resources. Thus, there is only a finite amount of xik xik wood, for no living xik xik tree remains, thus rendering impossible the reproduction of the xik xik species. It is also for this reason, perhaps, that xik xik wood is known as "the rarest of all woods." Xik xik also, of course, has certain medicinal properties that make it illegal in certain places. This, too, might be the reason, or one of the reasons, why xik xik wood is known as "the rarest of all woods."

Someone got dizzy and threw up. It wasn't Deuce.

"Repent, Nincompoop!" Said the Termite King

"Repent, nincompoop!" said the Termite King.

"What the heck?" Cliff said. "Where'd that come from?"

"Ah, this way!" the mysterious visitor said.

Someone walked into the wall.

"Not this crud again!" someone else said.

"Ah, it's here! I can feel it! It's here!" the mysterious visitor said, leaning against the wall.

"What?"

"The wall is thin here. There must be a hidden passage! We must break it down!"

They ran at the wall. Some of them went splat! like space bugs on a spaceship's solarwindshield.

"Okay, that wasn't too successful. Let's . . ." the mysterious visitor said, and fell down.

"Are you all right?" Cliff said.

"Hold on. I'm okay," the mysterious visitor said, and stood up. "Okay, then, let's try again. And remember, teamwork. We have to work together, or this isn't going to work."

They ran at the wall together. A hole in the wall appeared. There was nothing behind it. They fell down. . . .

Someone's head was ringing. It was Deuce.

"Hello?" someone said, picking up the phone.

They landed. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

"Repent, nincompoop!" said the Termite King.

"Get stuffed!" Cliff said.

***

The Termite King stood there, laughing at them, laughing in a semi-hideous voice that seemed somewhat electronic as it echoed throughout the xik xik walls, bouncing off the xik xik wood, which absorbed all sound. How this was possible, no one knows.

The Termite King stood there, still laughing, still being semi-hideous, still looking like another inflatable decoy.

"All, right, moron!" Cliff said.

The Termite King's voice sounded very weird now, as if it were powered by a battery that was quickly giving up trying to live and flopping down on the pavement like a frozen watermelon that was way past its expiration date.

"You're a lame duck that's barking up the wrong cauliflower, buster!" Cliff said, mixing metaphors.

***

"You know you're not going to win!" the Termite King said, in a very distorted voice. "You all are going to fail, and fail miserably you will! Your plan has been foiled! Not only am I winning, but I am winning splendidly! You puny little humans don't know what you're up against! You think humans are more evolutionarily superior than termites, but you are so wrong! Now you will see what I have in store for you! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . . ."

The voice faded away.

The Termite King stood there, silently laughing at them, silently laughing in an absent voice that seemed horribly silent as it didn't echo throughout the xik xik walls, not bouncing off the xik xik wood, which absorbed all sound.

The Termite King stood there, still silently laughing, still having an absent voice, still looking like another inflatable decoy.

"All right, moron!" Cliff said.

The Termite King's absent voice still sounded very weird, as if it had once belonged to a battery that was barking up the wrong watermelon, freezing itself in a lame way into a cauliduck flower as it did so, but had escaped in an expired way and was now paving on the flopment.

The Termite King deflated.

***

"The heck?" Cliff said. "What the heck was that? Just what was that? I don't get it. I seriously don't. I just don't get it."

"Hmmm . . . another inflatable decoy. Just as I suspected. But wait! It's a trap. Don't get near that inflatable decoy, people!" the mysterious visitor said.

No one did.

Someone raised an eyebrow.

***

The mysterious visitor was now approaching the deflated inflatable decoy. The thing now upchucked a very weak message:

"Repent, nincompoop!" said the Termite King.

"Get stuffed!" Cliff said.

Someone raised an eyebrow.

"It sure needs some stuffing! It's all flat!" someone said.

***

"What do you suppose this is?" the mysterious visitor said.

"Hold on! I just noticed something!" Francesca said.

"What?" someone said. Not Deuce. Not Cliff. Not Wallahoo.

"I hear something. It's coming from this direction!" Francesca said, pointing to the wall.

"Huh?"

"Hmmm . . . I am picking up a high contentration of electromagnetic radiation coming from that direction," the mysterious visitor said, and approached the wall. "Hmmm . . . it's very thin here. It must be another hidden passage! Let's work together now! We'll break down the wall!"

They gathered together, leaped at the wall, and burst through . . .

A Very Suspenseful Moment

. . . and fell, and fell, and fell, and fell . . .

. . . down toward the bottom of a bottomless pit.

Only it wasn't bottomless. They could make out some tiny specks down there now.

They were . . . they were . . . termites.

"Holy monkey! Termites!"

There were thousands, no, millions, no, billions, no, trillions, no, what-the-heck-illions of termites down there. And the people were still falling.

They seemed to fall forever.

"It seems that I must use my special abilities now," the mysterious visitor said in a surprisingly calm tone. "It appears that it is necessary now. I must do it. I must."

They fell, and fell, and fell, which took a really long time since the gravity of the termite colony wasn't that much, due to the relatively light weight of the xik xik wood it was made of.

And so they fell, and fell, and fell, and fell, and so on, and so on, etc., etc., etc.

They accelerated slowly because of the gravity, but they still accelerated. But not much.

And then they stopped accelerating and started to decelerate. Their velocity approached zero.

And then they were hovering in the air above the termites. The termites were snarling and growling and waving their appendages threateningly at the people.

Cliff noticed a strange green radiance emanating from the mysterious visitor.

"What the—? Huh?"

"This is so . . . very . . . weird . . ." Francesca said.

"Ah, the space-time continuum is flowing around us now," the mysterious visitor said. "Can you feel it?"

Cliff felt it. It felt wonderful. There were no words to describe it.

And then Cliff could see that the termites weren't really that many. It was a trick of the light, an optical illusion. There were only a few, maybe three, maybe four, maybe four and a half. Their appearance was refracted and reflected, reflected and refracted, magnified and shrunken and distorted so that there appeared to be thousands, no, millions, no, billions, no, trillions, no, what-the-heck-illions of termites, but there were only a few. Cliff understood. It felt wonderful to understand.

And then they fell . . .

The Bottom of the Bottomless Pit

. . . toward the bottom of the bottomless pit. And hit it.

It felt wonderful to hit it. The impact was slow and graceful. The bodies floated down toward the bottom of the bottomless pit. And slowly, oh so slowly, they moved toward the bottom. And slowly, they collided with it. It felt very wonderful indeed.

And they kept going . . .

The Nothingness That Is

. . . beyond the bottom of the bottomless pit. It felt wonderful to do that, too.

And now the universe started to distort itself and shake in all dimensions. Different chunks of space-time broke off the continuum and floated around, hitting other chunks. Space-time became distorted. All the little pieces broke off, and the little pieces broke into even smaller pieces, and they floated about in the emptiness. And all the pieces swirled around the center, pulled by a mysterious force. They fell toward nowhere.

Recycling

The universe recycled. At first, the almost infinite number of infinitesimal pieces and chunks of the fabric of space-time dissipated and swirled around the center of the universe, pulled throughout space and time by a mysterious force attracting each and every single particle and sending each and every one flying in almost random directions, flickering this way and that, bouncing off each other, moving in almost random patterns, reflecting and refracting across the gulf of space-time and exerting forces on each other, and pulling and pushing and moving things and accelerating objects, and swirled and swirled and twisted and turned and swirled some more and distorted itself to form immense complex geometric shapes and instantaneously form other immense complex shapes, fluctuating and oscillating and reverberating among the infinite variations of shapes and appearances; later, the entire universe shrank in on itself, the infinite variations infinitely varying and combining and concatenating and consoliding into larger and larger chunks that combined to form even larger chunks that swirled and swirled and twisted and turned and swirled some more, forming a gigantic rotating spiral that contracted as it moved, the effects of space and time losing strength to the great ulterior force that controlled everything, swirling and swirling and swirling some more as it rotated and contracted and contracted and rotated, the particles revolving around the center and succumbing to the ulterior force attracting them toward the center, forming a condensate mass of matter and energy that continually shrank and pulled outer layers inward as it consumed the streams of matter and energy flowing toward the center; next, all of the matter and energy falling in toward the center stopped rotating as everything became consumed by the ulterior force attracting everything toward it, the effects of space and time proving to have no effect at all, and creating a shrinking mass of condensate matter and energy that continually shrank and decreased in overall size as the streams of matter flowing inward faded away into nonexistence and left only a shrinking mass of condensate matter and energy that rotated as it did so, collapsing under its own ulterior force and shrinking and becoming ever smaller and diminutive in size as the ulterior force collapsed the rotating object until, as it approached the limit of contraction, the rotations no longer were rotations but forces exerted by particles upon other particles, pushing and pulling and pulling and pushing at the other particles until the mass of matter and energy became nothing; finally, the nothingness gave in to the conflicting forces acting upon it, swelling and fluctuating instantaneously in size, shape, and appearance and forming even more complex geometric shapes that expressed the immensity of the forces acting upon them in a dramatic dance of life and freedom and evolution and relativity and entropy as the counterforce opposing the ulterior force forced itself against the ulterior force and the two forces forced themselves against each other, the tension increasing and approaching infinity until the forces overcame each other and the condensate mass exploded, sending shock waves throughout the universe and the space-time continuum, filling the empty vacuum with matter and energy, forming fundamental particles and the particles those fundamental particles constituted, and the more complex particles those particles constituted, and so on, recycling the old universe and making a new one. This is also known as a black hole.

And so, after the universe was recycled and a new universe was formed, Cliff Hangar and the others found themselves in a very strange place indeed. The Termite King, of course, had escaped. But to where? They could only guess . . .

. . . that is, until they could find out what actually happened.

Insect Warriors in the Hall of Interdimensional Transport

Cliff and the others burst into the hall of interdimensional transport.

There were a few termites inside.

They fired. All of them exploded. They were inflatable termites used as decoys by the Termite King.

"Blast it!" Cliff said.

Wallahoo blasted one of the already deflated termites with his gun.

"No, not 'Blast it!' Blast it!" Cliff said.

Wallahoo blasted it again.

"NO! I meant 'Blast it!' as in 'Blast it!' I was exclaiming an interjection!" Cliff said.

Wallahoo blasted it yet again.

The Meaning of All Existence

"Ah, they have escaped," said the mysterious visitor. "My plan is actually working. The termites have escaped to their auxiliary colony. All is working."

"What? What's this plan you're talking about?"

"Well, that is a difficult question to answer. You see, I'm not quite . . . like you. I'm different. I belong to another kind of existence. For ages, members of your kind of existence have viewed me as a sort of hideous and evil creature. They perceive my actions as acts of violence, but they do not understand me. They do not grasp the deeper meaning. They are mistaken. They simply do not comprehend the ways of my existence."

"Uh—what?"

"We have reached the end of our journey. The mission was to resolve the conflict between the Terrans and the termites. Such conflict would, in the future, result in the end of the universe as we know it. And such a thing cannot be possible. As a being interwoven within the fabric of space-time, I have the obligation to correct the situation. And I have done so. There will be peace."

"But just what are you?"

"That is a question that is difficult to answer."

The mysterious visitor stepped toward the interdimensional portal, which was still active after the Termite King and the termites used it.

"They call me . . ." the mysterious visitor said and, for a moment before disappearing through the portal, seemed to transform into a majestic entity of the space-time continuum about to soar into a playground of fields, loops of force that spread all through creation, defining the sprays of matter and energy that endlessly overlapped and interacted in an infinite dance. ". . . Geveniginore."

An Alternate Universe

They stared, aghast.

"That was . . . something," someone said.

"Our universe is doomed," someone else said. "There is absolutely no good future for us. Everything is going to heck. This just isn't going to work. But that interdimensional portal. That can transport us to another universe, an alternate universe, one in which all this stuff that happened recently never really happened and there could be hope for the future. Do you think that is possible?"

No one answered.

One by one, as if they were puppets controlled by a higher entity, they stepped through the interdimensional portal.

Intermission: Connection

"Ah, I almost have it. Yes, it's coming together! Almost . . . almost . . . arg! Got some glue?"

"Sure. It's around here somewhere. Hold on."

"Come on! It's gonna fall apart again!"

"Okay. Got it. Here you go."

"Thanks. Okay, we'll just glue it together right there and it'll be fine. Just a little more glue on the edges . . ."

"You think that should do it?"

"Sure, why not?"

Fergus Fungus in Action

Fergus Fungus escaped from Warthogs. It wasn't an awfully hard task to do. No one actually noticed. Those plastic logs were just too, too much. Ah, well, maybe next time.

Fergus maintained an electronically aided telepathic connection with the secret organization.

"Hi. It's me, Fergus."

"Hello, Fergus. Cliff Hangar is now returning to our universe but may be facing some unexpected difficulties. We'll wait and see. In the meantime, here's what you have to do. . . ."

Two and a Half Discussions on the Existence of Fakes in a Terran Spudstream

"Potatoes, you say?" Deuce X said. "Holy . . . They're alive!"

Francesca gulped.

The potato standing in the middle, apparently the chieftain or leader or something similar, stepped forward, waved its . . . arms in the air, and started chanting something very, very weird.

Francesca gulped again.

The potatoes gathered around Deuce and Francesca.

"What are you?" Deuce asked.

The chieftain potato continued to chant and wave its arms in the air in a kind of rain dance or whatever you call it. It didn't rain.

The potatoes formed a circle around their captives. Each one now joined the chieftain in chanting the rain dance chant or whatever you call it. It still didn't rain.

Deuce and Francesca both gulped.

Quickly and efficiently, almost too fast for Deuce and Francesca to notice it, but not quite, the potatoes wrapped them up in ropes that had apparently appeared out of thin air. Only the air wasn't thin. It was quite thick.

The captors threw their captives in a sort of river vessel that was floating on a stream. It resembled an upturned crescent. The boat bobbed up and down as Francesca and Deuce landed in it. Then some of the potatoes joined them. Others stayed behind, dancing and chanting. It still didn't rain.

The boat started to drift downstream. Because of their position, Deuce and Francesca couldn't see much. They were lying on the bottom of the boat. Above them, they could see a sunny sky through the leaves and branches hovering overhead. It obviously wasn't going to rain.

"Deuce," Francesca said, "what do you make of these potato-like things?"

"They're very familiar somehow. But I know I haven't seen them before. It's as if they were memories infused into my mind from an alternate self in an alternate universe. In that alternate universe, I encountered them. And a word is forming in my mind. I know what they are now. They're Gubachuks."

"Guba-what?"

"Gubachuks. They came from the planet Gubach. But what are they doing here? And why are they so primitive? I . . . I don't get it."

"Do you think they might not really be what they seem to be? Maybe they're all fake. Maybe the Termite King's using artificial robots or something to dispose of us. Maybe we're all hallucinating and we're really back home on the Earth we know and love, the one way back there in the past."

***

Cap and Red, in search of firewood, hacked their way into the undergrowth using makeshift machetes.

"Listen, Red," Cap said. "We don't have to take this [bovine excrement] from them. It's all just [bovine excrement], you hear? They don't have no control over us. That's just [bovine excrement]!"

"Yeah. It is just a whole [excrement]load of [bovine excrement], isn't it?" said Red.

"Yeah. Just [bovine excrement]."

They came to a stream.

"What? Where's the firewood?" Red said.

"I don't know!"

Cap looked upstream. There seemed to be something on the water.

"Huh?"

Cap squinted, but couldn't make it out. It seemed like a sort of boat or something.

"What do you make of it, Red?"

"Make of what, Cap?"

"There," Cap said. "It looks kind of like a boat."

Red looked. Whatever it was, it was no longer there.

"Huh," Red said. "Probably just [bovine excrement]. You've been seein' things, Cap. There ain't nothing there. Just a fake."

"Yeah. I guess so."

***

Following in the footsteps of the Termite King, Gruek stumbled and tripped over sticks and stones and cursed the anatomy of humans. It was so horrible to walk around in a human body. Termites were much better adapted to this kind of environment.

"Yes," the Termite King was saying, although Gruek wasn't really paying a lot of attention, "the local termites. They must be here. Yes, they must."

Gruek cursed silently and felt nauseous.

Soon, they found themselves at a stream. Gruek looked across the stream at the ruins, which were still in the distance, and cursed again.

"Ah, just a little bit more, Gruek," the Termite King said. "We'll be there shortly."

Gruek cursed, looked at the stream, and hoped that it was just a mirage, a hallucination. It didn't have to be there. Why did they have to cross that stupid stream anyway?

"It's just a . . . a fake," Gruek said, very nauseous indeed. "Just a . . . a f-fake. See? It's . . . not . . . real, not . . . real . . . at all. There's nothing . . ."

Gruek stumbled and fell in the stream.

24/7 Views of Mt. Oldufuji Gorge, by Hangar

The sun was setting.

Cliff and Bubbles sat on the beach, staring at the sunset.

"Oh, Cliffie, isn't the sunset beautiful?" Bubbles bubbled, and embraced Cliff.

Cliff started to speak but could only make unintelligible guttural noises.

"Uh . . . Bubbles . . . could you remove . . . your arm . . . from around . . . my throat?" Cliff squeaked.

"Oh, it looks so pretty!" Bubbles said, ignorant of Cliff's predicament.

Cliff's face turned a ghastly blue that reflected only certain frequencies of the light it received from the orange, fiery sunset.

"Oh, look at that!" Bubbles said, and lifted an arm, the one that had been pressing heavily against Cliff's throat, to point at something in the distance.

Cliff inhaled deeply.

There was something there in the distance, but Cliff couldn't quite make it out. It seemed like either a mountain or a gorge, but it was very ambiguous.

"Oh . . . it looks so beautiful!" Bubbles bubbled. "We must have a name for it. What do you think we should call it, Cliff?"

Cliff was inhaling and exhaling quickly and deeply.

"Um . . . it looks like a mountain. Or a gorge. So I think I'll call it . . . Mt. Oldufuji Gorge."

"Oh, Cliffie, that's a beautiful name! And for such a beautiful thing! We could look at it all day long, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. . . ."

Slime Perceived as a Confluence of Semi-Glutinous Fibers

The Gubachuks were laughing uproariously and having a drunken celebration. They seemed quite intoxicated. Some of them were holding glass containers of some kind of liquid, which they were wasting. One of them fell over, and the container it was holding spilled out its contents, which flowed across the bottom of the boat.

"They look . . . intoxicated," Deuce said. "And that stuff they're drinking is getting in my hair."

"You know what I've learned after all this time being a secret agent, Deuce?" Francesca said.

"What?"

"Now is the time to make our escape."

"That's what I'm thinking also."

All the Gubachuks seemed totally immersed in their drunken celebration. What they were celebrating, Deuce did not know. And it still wasn't going to rain.

The beverage the Gubachuks had been drinking made a shallow pool in the bottom of the boat. It was making the ropes loosen up. Deuce and Francesca wiggled their way out of them and jumped over the side of the boat. None of the Gubachuks seemed to notice.

***

"Ugh! Yuck!" Francesca said. They were in the stream, only it wasn't exactly water that was in the stream. It was some sort of green slime. It was disgusting.

Deuce looked at it, disgusted. It seemed to be made mostly out of some organic stuff. It was probably alive, although Deuce couldn't know for sure. Deuce looked carefully. It was some sort of algae. It was made of thin green fibers that resembled cellulose. The sticky fibers ran together to form the slime that they were standing in. Deuce wished they weren't standing in it anymore.

"Let's get out of this muck," Francesca said.

Not too far away, the boat continued on. The Gubachuks were still drunken. One of them fell overboard.

It Has a Mouth, and It Can Scream

The Termite King and Gruek came to the ruins at last. There was a pyramid in the center. It rose above the rest of the ruins, casting its shadow over them.

Gruek groaned. "No! We . . . need to stop. We . . . have to . . . stop. We can't . . . go on. I can't take it anymore!"

The Termite King said, "Gruek, shut up. We are going to investigate these ruins in order to enlist the service of local termites. So shut up. Do you want to be a traitor?"

"No . . . no . . . I . . ." Gruek said, and fell on the ground, unconscious.

There was a strange sound. The Termite King turned around. The sound seemed to come from Gruek.

"Oh, shut up with that racket! What are you up to now?"

Gruek remained unconscious. The Termite King cursed and went over to Gruek. The unconscious body was apparently making a weird electronic sound. The Termite King puzzled over this for a moment and then kicked Gruek. The unconscious body rolled over, revealing the object that Gruek had fallen on.

It had a mouth, and it could scream.

It looked like a potato. The Termite King picked it up and looked at it more carefully. It was a horrible-looking potato. It was dressed in a loincloth, and it had a mask on, and it appeared to be waving a sharp spear back and forth. The Termite King looked away in disgust.

The sound seemed to be coming from the thing's mouth. It sounded like a scream.

Suddenly, the Termite King realized what it was. It was an alarm. Gruek's falling on it had triggered it to start screaming. The screams were really loud. The Termite King looked around frantically. Nothing was there, but it was obvious that someone or something would show up soon. . . .

A Rift Just Off the Islands of Loggerrithums: Latitude 368° -54' S, Longitude -0° ??' 72" NNE

"Oh, Cliffie!" Bubbles said. "Just look at that! Isn't that so pretty?"

"Huh? What" Cliff said.

"Look! Islands!"

To the right, in the distance, Cliff could see a small archipelago.

"Ooh! It looks so beautiful! What do you think we should call it?"

"Huh? Oh. Um . . . it looks . . . like one of those doggone math functions or whatever you call them."

The chain of islands seemed to form a curve that twisted sharply to the right, stretching in that direction.

"You know . . . um . . . log . . . logamasomethings," Cliff said.

"What?"

"Um . . . logarithms." Cliff wasn't sure how to spell the word.

"How do you spell that?"

"Um . . . L-O-G-G-E-R-R-I-T-H-U-M-S, I think," Cliff said.

"Oh, Cliffie! That is such a beautiful word!" Bubbles bubbled.

"Um . . ." Cliff squinted. The earth seemed to open up a short distance to the left of the archipelago. Cliff squinted some more. It looked like there was a crack in the water, as if the ocean were splitting apart.

"What the heck is that?" Cliff said.

Gradient Bean Tar

It was slimy.

Deuce looked at it. It wasn't the same sort of slime as before. No, this was obviously different.

"Francesca, come take a look at this."

"Huh? More slime?"

"But this looks like a different kind of slime. Just look at it. It has a different color and a different texture. Its appearance is different."

"Hmmm . . ."

"Beans."

"What?"

"It's made of beans. They're all compressed together to form . . . a paste, a kind of tar. And it's inclined above the other slime."

"Hmmm . . . amazing."

"It's . . . gradient bean tar."

Enter a Gubachuk. Later: Enter Another

The Termite King squinted. There, in the distance, was a potato. The Termite King stared in disbelief. And then another potato appeared beside it. And then another. And then another. And then another.

There were potatoes everywhere now. They were all over the place.

The Termite King gulped.

They had formed a circle around the place where the Termite King stood and Gruek lay on the ground, unconscious.

The Termite King gulped again. Those potatoes seemed so threatening. Each of them was wearing a loincloth and a mask, and each one was waving a spear threateningly back and forth in the air. One of them was waving two spears.

The Termite King cursed. Where are the local termites when you need them?

Lava Is the Plan the Plan Is . . . There Is No Plan

Cliff gulped. The rift in the water seemed to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

"Oh, Cliffie! Isn't that just so beautiful?" Bubbles bubbled.

A red substance bubbled out of the rift.

"So beautiful!" Bubbles bubbled.

The red substance bubbled.

Bubbles bubbled.

The red substance bubbled. It was lava.

Cliff shrieked.

"Huh? What's the matter, Cliffie?" Bubbles bubbled.

The red substance bubbled. Bubbles in the red substance bubbled. Bubbles the person bubbled.

Cliff shrieked. "Holy monkey! It's bubbling lava, Bubbles! Bubbles are bubbling, Bubbles! We're all gonna die! Run for your life!"

The Great Upchuck

The universe upchucked.

Cliff Hangar found himself standing outside some type of school that had a sign that said WARTHOGS ACADEMY on it.

Someone was leaving the school in a surreptitious manner.

Darn! He was caught! And where was he anyway?

Cliff looked around for someplace to hide, saw a tree, and dashed behind it.

The kid approached, apparently completely possessed by a map with flickering colors, passed by and did not seem to notice Cliff. Cliff sighed.

The kid continued and walked out of sight, down the road past a large boulder.

Cliff looked at the school. What kind of a place is this? he thought. This smells!

The Beginning of Reality

After walking past the large boulder, Fergus Fungus stopped by the side of the road. The air smelled interesting enough, full of an aroma that evoked a sense of transcendental reality.

Somewhere a bird chirped. Somewhere a frog croaked. Somewhere a wombat was programming a computer.

All appeared normal. Fergus didn't have to deal with all that stupid magic stuff anymore. Reality had returned, and Fergus would finally experience it.

Parts of this story were first published online at the Asimov's Forum, 2001.



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Copyright 2001-2002 by Vedgy Tarien and Bewildering Stories.