1 When Upon Life’s Billows
The Criten wavered, indecisive and, of course, unusually so. What do to? How to face this latest? Should he plunge out into nothing? Chance it? Clamm, was close, and he needed to move, but this choice could mean the death.
Or not. And what other choice did he have? The Criten leaped for the ideational air-lock and activated the mechanism. The door was sucked shut, the system hummed, clicked, whirred very oddly . . . in a way the Criten had never heard an air-lock whirr . . . and then the outer door popped loose.
The Criten pressed it, holding his breath. A cargo hold. Breathable, albeit damp, air! He was safe . . . but, why did it say 1611 AV over the door? Was this still the transcendental arrangement playing tricks with him?
No, it was a ship, he could see a planet through the porthole . . . Jupiter! “By Jove!” he swore. Could he have ended up on a ship on course for earth?
2 Count Your Many Blessings
A quiet hum filled the bridge. The instruments twinkled in the operational twilight. Figures moved silently along the indicated walkways, silhouettes were poised at the farious stations in various attitudes of attention.
“Please check the beam,” the captain said.
“Roger, Bro Captn,” a voice said. “Anything we should aim for?“
“Try something unrelated, like a manual.“
“Roger, Bro Captn.” Then after a few seconds. “Halleloujah! It worked sir!“
“What’s it look like, Bro Barny?“
“Like the real thing. Gold edges and all.“
“That’s wonderful, just neat. Neat, neat, neat, neat, neat. Good.” The captain rubbed his hands together and twirled in his chair. “Bro Lieutenant?“
“Set course for ki xi sigma, BroLly,” the captain ordered (BroLly being his abbreviation for Bro Lieutenant Harry Fox’s full title).
“Bro Captn, Sir, shall we change the dress code?“
The captain groaned. Not a big fan of the proliferating dress codes, he was reluctant to order the whole ship of going to the trouble of changing their clothes yet again, especially since full formal required him to carry a rolled umbrella, which was awkward onboard. But the occasion probably demanded it. It was, after all, Project Armageddon. It would be the solid thing to do.
“Order full battle dress, formal,” he said. “And let me address the crew.“
“Go ahead when you’re ready, Bro Captn.“
The captain cleared his throat and said, “Well, folks, this is it. We have some real solid work ahead, but it will change the world. We are going in on Project Armageddon. The beam is really neat and we are getting in position to shoot it. You’ll notice we have changed the dress code: it’s an important occasion and we need to live up to it. So let’s just have a worda prayer. Lord we thankya for the privilegenopportunity we have this day . . . “
3 And It Will Surprise You
Miles away, unsuspecting people all over the earth were going about their business, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, getting drunk, staying up late, making things clear and making them muddy, watching TV and wearing informal attire, raising chickens and devouring them. Some were reading their technical manuals or the Koran.
In the middle east, a camel stuck his nose into a tent, like a neo-evangelical trying to infiltrate fundamentalism (for all you history buffs out there), but that aint nothing to do with this story.
Well . . . it sort of is, you see, because there was a copy of the Koran sitting on a low stool and right before the camel’s unsuspecting eyes it became a brand new, gold edged, black leather with a red marker 1611 AV Red Letter King James Bible with the Old Schofield notes. The camel wasn’t used to that kind of transmogrification, so he blinked (I don’t reckon he’d ever heard of Schofield notes, old, new or otherwise). Then he tasted the Bible, but found it was not anymore his taste than the Koran had been formerly—not a solid, Schofield man . . . er, camel. The net effect was that he left it alone and withdrew from the tent, which was unheard of and probably the most singular event of that day save one.
4 When You Look at Others
“How’s the situation cooking along?” the captain asked.
“Roger that, Bro Captn. 10-40 would be putting it mildly,” said the first mate. “I reckon if there’s any snakes behind the toilet on this one, they aint coming out.“
The captain had always found his first mate’s language rather colorful, and wasn’t entirely sure it corresponded to full battle formal, but had no way of establishing a countervailing case. He had wondered, from time to time, whether he ought not to give the first mate a plant to keep in his quarters, as a litmus test to see if it withstood his language. But he was afraid the plant would survive and might even thrive, which would then become a hindrance in any argument he attempted when at last he found a way to settle the first mate’s language.
“That’s the trouble with these guys that went to secular universities,” the captain muttered to himself, fiddling with his umbrella. But he was pleased that project Armageddon was going as planned, and carelessly twirled the umbrella around. It opened abruptly, and the edge struck and recoiled from the captain’s control desk, plunging the handle into the captain’s gut.
“Yes, BroLly?” the captain said weakly.
“I had a doubt, sir . . . “
What now—the captain thought. He had managed to close the umbrella but was having trouble with the velcro thingy that kept it wrapped shut. He appreciated Bro Lieutenant Fox’s earnestness, but wondered if they guy had to always make a career of it.
“What about internet books?“
“What I mean is, do you think the Armageddon beam will change them too?“
“Hmmm . . . never thought of that one. That’s good, BroLly, you should write it down so we can send it in.”
“Pop it right at them like a bat out of the toaster, Bro Fox,” the first mate said.
I can’t take more of this—the captain thought. He set the umbrella back in the stand beside his chair. “Bro First Mate Cadmus? Will you take over, sir?“
“Yes sir, you bet all the cotton balls in the jar I can. Once away and ten-ho, Bro Captn.”
“Thanks. I’ll . . .“
“That’s all right, Bro Captn. I know exactly where we can rustle you up from if anybody comes making requisitions, we’ll tell them where to grind their ax too. Hahahaha! Don’t let them getcha in broad daylight, sir! Not to worry, they’re dumber than toe-nail polish . . . bullet in the armpit . . . ” he pattered on.
5 When You Are Discouraged
The captain sank into the hot bath with a weary sigh. He squeaked his rubber ducky, but without any great enthusiasm. It has been a long day and he wasn’t sure the whole Armageddon project had been the best idea, though it had come down from on high.
From Accounticon, actually, which was all Captain Ferdingeld Mackenzi knew about it.
But the world, as we know, is not that simple. What lay behind Accounticon? Clamm, of course. And what was behind Clamm? Ah, well, that was still something of a secret, though the sage of Hinga Lum Dura was getting close on it.
But you mention Clamm and you think of the Criten, right? Of course. And the Criten?
You may well wonder. He had managed to find out a thing or two on the IDSF Starship and was working on the beam projector.
6 Thinking All Is Lost
“Bro Captain sir!” The intercom squawked.
The captain sat up violently and splashed some water out of the tub. “What’s that?“
“We seem to have encountered some lines of extenuating difficulty, sir, and we’re wondering if we should let sleeping dogs bark.”
“What do you mean by that, Bro Mate? Is there a problem with the beam?“
“Yes sir, Bro Captn. Sure is and no bones about this fish. Looks like some condensation, as they say. Looks like the tent’s is in the camel’s nose with this one, because it is definingly wet.”
“You bet your last umbrella sir; dollars to monkeys its got a problem with condensation forming water on it, or something similar, and it aint your mother’s milk.“
“Of course it isn’t, you idiot!“
“Exactly what I told Bro Fox not a minute ago.“
“Put BroLly through, you chump. I need someone who can talk English.“
“Easy as falling into a box of rocks, sir . . .” the first mate said, and the intercom clattered as he dropped the mouthpiece.
“What is going on there, BroLly? Can’t I leave for a minute?“
“I’m awfully sorry, Bro Captn, sir, but the beam is acting up. Water’s coming out of it, and we think it is due to condensation.“
“Why would it form condensation, BroLly?“
“The warming mechanism at the heart of it isn’t working. It can’t maintain the temperature and since the atmosphere in the ship is so humid . . . ” here the Lieutenant coughed, uncomfortably, it seemed to the captain, and he wondered why that should be. “Anyway, sir, what with the humid atmosphere, and the cold heart, the thing is forming condensation which is understandably interfering with the algorithms.“
“Turning a lot of books into NIVs, sir.“
“GREAT DAY IN THE PARK!!” The captain roared, leaping out of his bath. “They’ll have my head drawn and quartered for . . . what am I saying? Where is my towel now? RATS!!! Stop that thing NOW.“
“Roger that, Bro Captn,” the Lieutenant said. “Standing the beam down and maintaining orbit.“
7And You Will Keep Singing
Somewhere in the cargo hold, a snicker sounded, but it wasn’t heard by any of the crew. The Criten had struck again, and he kept saying to himself, rather gleefully: “Heart of Cold!” And added, ” Wait till I can tell somebody about this one. Talk about counting your blessings.” And he held up the missing Blessing-Rod-Mixer, which rather resembled a human appendix. He chortled and began to hum.
Clamm, on the other hand, was not pleased at this development, especially as there apparently were no spares on board.
And yet, as the ship orbited meditatively, a cheerful song was heard in the cargo hold, a faint drumming and a gospel twang.