Random Chapter: How the Criten Got the Keys

An Early Start

“Brother Anopheles?”

“Eh?”

“Wake up, brother Anopheles.”

A few miles south of the compound where, among others, the Machiavellian plans of Felonious Assault were given hideous incarnation, was a rustic monastery built of sagging Eucalyptus timber. The Interplanetary Order of Chastened Accounticants (ICAO) was dedicated to tracing, resisting and when possible exterminating what were known as ‘rouge flares.’ Brother Anopheles was of this order, as was brother Trenchwater who was now endeavoring to wake his temporary superior.

“What’s wrong now? Who is it?” Anopheles asked, fumbling for his glasses and his false teeth. “Trenchwater? What do you want?”

“I hate to bother you, brother Anopheles, but brother Potts sent me. Uh, there appears to be a problem with the chickens.”

“The chickens? Trenchwater . . . what time is it?” Anopheles glanced at his bedside clock and said, “You’re worrying me about the chickens at 3:27 AM?”

“Like I said, brother Anopheles, brother Potts sent me. I really think he wants you to come and see what they’re doing.” Trenchwater stood in the doorway now, wringing his hands, looking worried and apparently trying to draw Anopheles after him by magnetic attraction.

Anopheles hauled his burlap dressing gown on and shuffled into his tire-soled slippers. Trenchwater scurried ahead, glancing back to make sure his temporary superior was following.

The stars were bright overhead, the night was cool, and Anopheles noticed these things with the unhappy thought that he would have to rise before dawn for the day’s duties. He hoped the chicken business wouldn’t take long.

Trenchwater ducked into the kitchen and waited for the bulk of Anopheles to block the doorway before exiting into the back yard. He heard a thump in the kitchen, a crash, and then pretended not to hear the muffled cursing which proceeded Anopheles into the yard. Presently his temporary superior emerged.

But as he came into the yard, Anopheles forgot the vicissitudes of the passage through the darkened kitchen. “Trenchwater, what in all of the constellations of the galaxy is wrong with those chickens?”

Grubbage

“I believe the actual term is ‘Grubbage’.”

“Eh?”

“Grubbage, Capitis Pingo.”

Clamm slammed shut the drawer he had been fumbling in. He eyed the Janitor Angelicus with distaste. He sipped his ultra-reinforced Ovaltine, wishing the janitor could bring himself to quit using epithets of dubious Latin pedigree.

“And the ‘grubbage’—as you like to put it,” Clamm said fastidiously. “The grubbage is . . . er, building up?”

“There’s too many, Capitis Pingo.”

‘Many’ threw Clamm off for a while. He supposed ‘grubbage’ to be an uncountable noun. Then he realized that the janitor was speaking of the people responsible for the phenomenon he had designated ‘grubbage.’ Clamm idly toyed with the idea of eliminating the irritating janitor. It was not the first time he had toyed with the idea, but as on other occasions, he knew it was not, however splendid, an idea he could seriously entertain because of the janitor’s connections.

“Like where?” Clamm asked, irritated now that the janitor should be his most reliable source of information. Clamm had, after all, a huge and monumental bureaucracy at his disposal. It had build the most efficient sewage system known to human kind, and therefore it irritated Clamm when things like this were sprung on him unawares by a creature of unidentifiable species such as the janitor.

“Like on earth,” the janitor replied.

Clamm stifled the urge to just ask the janitor who was in charge there. He scribbled on a piece of paper with his thick blue pencil and he put this in a drawer.

“An operative who goes by the alias Felonious Assault,” the janitor remarked casually, as if in answer to Clamm’s stifled urge.

A fly had entered the office. It was about to be exterminated by the janitor—who had some practice with these matters—and the strange thing was that the fly was vaguely aware of its impending doom. When the janitor, much to Clamm’s astonishment, deftly splattered the fly’s guts over the top drawer of a filing cabinet, a green, octagonal chip was seen glimmering on the smear.

“What?” the janitor said, leaning closer. Then he started. “A consciousness chip!”

“What! How do you know that?” Clamm had come to peer at the former fly and its chip.

“Know what?” the janitor asked, relaxed again, drawling slightly. “Know about Felonious Assault? Well, I have my ways. I don’t . . . uh, I’ve suddenly run out of time,” he explained. He pulled a large set of keys from his belt and picked one. He inserted it into the space between another drawer and the side of the file cabinet, turned the key, and opened an ideational trap door.
“Bye,” he said, and Clamm was left alone.

Clamm returned to his desk and checked the drawer. There was a long slip of green paper curling inside, and he took it out. It contained a list of names and had the infuriating title: IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Three quarters of the way down the list Clamm found what he wanted: OPERATIVE 612; ASSAULT, FELONIUS. He crumpled the list up and threw it at the fly’s remains.

“And what is a consciousness chip anyway?” he asked aloud.

In a room far away, the inevitable Yumar Canapia laughed.

Deployment

“How did they get out?” asked brother Anopheles.

“Looks like they battered down the door,” Potts answered. He had just finished explaining to his temporary superior that he usually locked the chickens inside the coop every night.

“You could take them to a circus. I bet this would sell,” said Trenchwater.

“Shut up, Trenchwater.”

For a few seconds, Anopheles entertained the idea that perhaps the chickens had been trained and that this was all a joke. But who would train a bunch of chickens to form a sort of pyramid so that the highest one could peck at an attic door set in the eaves surrounding the courtyard of an ICAO monastery at 3:30 AM?

“What’s up there anyway?” Anopheles asked Potts.

“Never checked.”

“Well, clear the chickens away so we can see.”

“I . . . sir, I’m afraid to go near them.”

“Nonsense Potts! Here I’ll—” but as brother Anopheles stepped forward, two of the hens not involved in the tower flew at him aggressively and all three of the brethren stepped back toward the kitchen. Anopheles grew pale, his jaw was hanging slightly too as he regarded the scene. But then a hard glint came into his eye, the relevant passage of the Order’s multi volume manual flashed through his brain and his jaw set.

“Men,” he said, his voice rich with authority, “10:16,76 and B paragraph 19 of the twenty-second edition.”

Both of his brethren understood.

“Full Operational Deployment,” Anopheles snapped, and his companions cried, “Full Operational Deployment, sir!”

The chickens, however, paid no attention.

Important Subsequent Bits

The inevitable Yumar Canapia steepled his fingers and looked away. “Of course you had to come here,” he said.

The Criten stared at him for a long time.

“You want to know who’s behind Clamm,” Yumar Canapia said rather pointlessly. “You want to know, you want to know.” He turned back abruptly and stared at the Criten as hard as the Criten was glaring at him. “Why should I tell you?”

“I know about the chips.”

“What chips?” Yumar Canapia bluffed.

The Criten’s gaze could have withered the carnation in Canapia’s buttonhole, had the Criten looked at it. But he did not. No, his glinty gaze was fixed on the pupil of Canapia’s left eye, and it was a lucky thing for Canapia that the eye was fake. The Criten, unfortunately, was not aware of this, and it threw him off. He faltered, doubted . . . and, I am sorry to say, fell for the bluff.

* * *
The Janitor Angelicus hurried jingling down the basalt stairs that led to the midnight door. He unlocked the door hastily—in under two minutes—and began to open it.

A crack . . . nothing; an inch . . . still nothing; three, and no sound . . . so he jerked it open and plunged through, slamming the door behind him.

He saw the raven in the starlight. It was perched on the window sill staring into the infinite cosmos, ignoring the janitor. The janitor tiptoed across the chamber holding his keys against his leg. Halfway across, he froze as the raven’s head turned. It eyed him in a manner that struck him as . . . sarcastic. Then it turned back to the night.

The janitor huffed noisily the rest of the way to the table on the opposite side of the room. He forgot about the raven as he started to study the pile of newspaper clippings. There were five of them piled one on top of the other and spread like a fan so that only the first word of the bottom four headlines was showing. It read: They, Have, Cloned, The, Future of Inmacom Uncertain, Says Canapia.

“What is this grubbage?” the janitor muttered.

* * *
The brethren of the IOCA are hypnotically programmed to become lethal martial arts warriors when summoned by their superior, using the correct portion of the Order’s multi volume manual. The condition known as Full Operational Deployment is one in which any two brethren would have been more than a match for twenty chickens, however skillfully trained the chickens. But in this case, the three brethren had a very difficult time against seventeen in the early hours, near dawn, there in the kitchen yard.

The battle raged.

Clamm Moves

Clamm pondered. It was true; there actually was too much grubbage. Things were out of hand and the situation was deteriorating. The more he pondered, the less it seemed he could stay in his office. It required a personal visit.

Clamm was a man of great bulk (and a man who wore large, dogmatic glasses). He was nimble on his feet, of course, and extremely astute. But the only way to get to earth without wasting a lifetime or two, without the other alternative of cryostasis—something about which Clamm had his doubts anyway—the only way was by means of the Transcendental Arrangement. A man of Clamm’s bulk could find some of the trap doors quite awkward.

He thought of this with little relish. he eyed the mirror over the wash stand in his personal lavatory. His personal trap door was behind the mirror, and it was ample enough. It was the other end that he worried about.

But duty called, and to earth he must go. He heaved himself out of his chair, went over to his door and changed his status from ‘Busy’ to ‘Nobody Disturbs,’ and then he locked the door. After this he went into the lavatory, slid the mirror aside and opened the trap door.

When Clamm tumbled out of the trap door and into the midst of the hurly-burly in the kitchen yard, the chickens assumed that reinforcements had arrived for the other side. They retreated and took up defensive positions inside of the coop. The brethren stood back, watching the chickens carefully and eyeing Clamm curiously. Clamm cursed, got up, and begin to brush himself off.

* * *
No longer anybody’s temporary superior, brother Anopheles stood peering out of the kitchen window into the yard in the grey, early light of dawn. Clamm was beside him, breathing through his mouth. They were watching the chickens, and the chickens were once again forming their pyramid under the open trap door.

“So they want to get into this—what did you say it was, sir?”

“It’s called the Transcendental Arrangement,” Clamm said. “It’s kind of like a wormhole based hyperspace; though I like to think of it as a cosmic attic, myself. It isn’t fully understood, apparently.”

“But what are they after?”

“We’ll have to follow them and see.”

Anopheles swallowed and said, “All of us?”

“No,” Clamm replied, “Just you and me.”

“Look!” Trenchwater shouted, “one of the chickens just went into the attic.”

Two more followed the first. After that, and with a lot of squawking, the remaining chickens tumbled back down to the yard and began to hunt and peck just like any other day.

“Quick, get a stepladder,” Clamm said. “We have to follow them.”

Potts brought one and set it up under the trap door.

As he was getting ready to ascend, Clamm paused and said, “Wait!” He ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. Returning, he grabbed a chicken and murdered it hideously. Blood spouted everywhere, and the brethren cringed. Then, and completely to their horror, Clamm began to smash the chicken’s head with a stone, and after a few grisly moments he gave a cry of joy. He pointed at a green chip gleaming in the gore.

“Come on,” Clamm said, and he sprang nimbly up the ladder.

Anopheles hesitated, but Trenchwater, looking at him with round eyes said, “It’s orders.”

It was, and Anopheles had to obey. He followed Clamm into the Transcendental Arrangement. In the yard, Trenchwater tried to calm the hysterical Potts.

“Maybe we can have the chicken for lunch,” he suggested.

Corporate HQ

The Criten was stumped. he lingered on the clean, shiny streets of Prime Accounticon, outside the tower housing Canapia Ltd. wondering. Could the inevitable Yumar Canapia have been bluffing? But I saw nothing in his eyes—the Criten thought. Glancing up, he noticed a chicken . . . no, two . . . three! crossing the road. They approached the Canapia Ltd. tower and entered by a small side entrance.

The Criten followed.

What the Criten did not notice was the bloody fat man following and behind him a slightly slighter figure wearing a burlap bathrobe and tire-soled slippers.

“Oh dear,” brother Anopheles muttered as the saw the gleaming tower which housed Canapia Ltd. “I never liked getting mixed up with corporations.”

* * *
The Criten crouched behind a large drinking fountain. He was on the twenty-second floor of Canapia Ltd., and had just watched the chickens pass through sliding glass doors which were marked: Canapia Laboratory. He did not like the look of that. As he meditated, he heard a scuffling as of tire-soled slippers on grey, corporate carpet. He glanced around the fountain in time to watch a large, bloody man followed by a slightly slighter figure wearing an outfit that strangely resembled a burlap bag enter the sliding doors of the lab.

Clamm—the Criten realized, wondering if there was anything more sinister in all the universe than the combination of the arch-bureaucrat and a laboratory. Then he noticed the janitor.

The janitor Angelicus, of course, had managed to trace the chips to their source and was employing his usual and foolproof approach to situations that required discretion, alertness and a lot of luck. He was coming down the hall impelling a wheeled bucket by the mop handle and clutching in his other hand a wet plunger. He shot a keen glance at the lab, noticed the tell-tale chicken feather, muttered “Aha!” presumably at the feather, and continued along.

He never made it past the fountain however, because he found himself in a headlock and heard a soft, insistent voice urging him to drop the plunger immediately. The janitor dropped the plunger without further ado, and thus disarmed, waited.

“Nice,” the voice said. “I notice you’re still breathing evenly, even though I’ve got a headlock on you that would impair the breathing of a human being. So my question is, what are you? and if it is easier, just tell me who.”

The janitor Angelicus explained.

The Replicator

Yumar Canapia laughed. He pressed the intercom and said, “Get me security.”

“Right, Mr. Canapia. One second.”

After a few seconds another voice came over the intercom, “Grimmshaw here.”

“Grimmshaw, what’s the status on the people?”

“The people, sir, as in -the galaxy’s most important?”

“Of course, Grimmshaw. Quit beating around the bush. How many are on site now?”

“We’ve got 54%, sir”

“Not bad. Is Gringoland Hertz here?”

“No, and he’s tying up resources.”

“What are you trying to say?”

Grimmshaw sighed, softly however, then explained: “He’s setting all kinds of operatives on the trail of the chips, Mr. Canapia, and we have to send them on a wild goose chase to keep them from arriving.”

“I see. Didn’t foresee that in your plans, did you Grimmshaw? Well, we have enough. Got the janitor, haven’t we?”

“Yes sir, he’s with the Criten at the moment.”

“How about the Dresponsillax of Kathedra in Orion?”

“He’s here. Nosy sort of chap.”

“I reckon he is, Grimmshaw. I reckon he is. Have you got them all rounded up?”

“Yes sir. All ready and waiting. What is it exactly you’re going to do with them, sir?—if I may ask.”

“Clone ’em, Grimmshaw. Clone ’em . . . with a small adjustment. And then we’ll just send them right back home.”

“Oy,” the voice of Grimmshaw came, amazed. “I see.”

“I have my ways, Grimmshaw; I have my ways.”

* * *
54% of the galaxy’s most important people found themselves imprisoned in oval chambers, lit with blue light and spaced along both sides of a very long room, at the end of which was a throbbing apparatus. 54% of the galaxy’s most important people, that is, and brother Anopheles.

Yumar Canapia, who had been strolling around the room and gloating, stopped before brother Anopheles and asked, “Who’s that?”

“That one, sir,” Grimmshaw replied, “came with Clamm.”

“Funny way to dress.”

“He appears to be part of a religious order.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“We haven’t done anything with him. Should we take a blood sample?”

“Eh? No . . . I think I have a better idea. Let’s use him for a sort of trial run. What do you think Blinklotz?” this last was directed at the chief scientist on the project.

Dr. Hughmar Emerson Blinklotz was having a very good day. Here he was in charge of a cynically pragmatic project designed unambiguously to advance the naked power grabbing ambitions of the inevitable Yumar Canapia, a cad. His old college pals, Spigot, Crinkle and Principle, would be green with envy. If this job came off to the boss’s satisfaction, Blinklotz would be given the coveted position as head of the biological re-engineering of the planet Kameldeergard, a thought which caused the doctor no small pleasure.

“Yes, Mr. Canapia,” Blinklotz said.

He made brother Anopheles take off his slippers before entering.

“Ready?”

“Please despliegate the menguotrons, Dr. Vaina,” Blinklotz said to his assistant.

The machine throbbed and pulsed.

A Hitch

The Canapia Replicator, designed by Dr. Hughmar Emerson Blinklotz, was a contraption of two chambers. In the first chamber was the subject, and in the second chamber, the empty one, was, as Dr. Blinklotz liked to put it, the object. It was a versatile machine, and the fact that brother Anopheles, its very first subject, was an alien, did not at all create trouble for it.

The fact that he had purchased a set of false teeth from a dollar store and was wearing them at the time of the first run, however, did create trouble. The replicator for some reason produced not one perfect set of false teeth, but twenty-six . . . all inside of the object’s head.

From outside it looked satisfactory at first, from what they could tell by looking through the milky glass. A shape formed, grew, and then remained—“It’s in replica,” Dr. Blinklotz explained.

“50% . . . 65% . . . 75% . . . ” Dr. Vaina kept saying. And then they noticed that the milky walls of the object compartment were all splattered with blood and brains.

“Oh dear,” said Dr. Blinklotz, blinking.

“What is this?” Yumar Canapia shouted, and Grimmshaw stepped toward Dr. Vaina, menacing.

“I’ll just run some diagnostics . . . ” Dr. Vaina said.

“You’ll just explain to me exactly what went wrong,” said Canapia.

Trapped but alert, the Criten watched. He had a good view of the contraption, probably because he was one of the first in line. He realized that time was not on his side. He saw Dr. Vaina put on rubber gloves and carefully open the door to the object chamber. A hideous figure clothed in burlap and with an exploded head reclined in the seat. The Criten also noticed all the sets of false teeth.

Dr. Vaina picked one of the sets up and examined it. “Looks like false teeth, Dr. Blinklotz.”

“Why does the subject have so many sets?” Blinklotz asked, “and how does he keep them in his head?”

They opened the subject chamber. Brother Anopheles had fallen asleep with his mouth hanging open, as he started awake, his false teeth fell out and Dr. Vaina neatly caught them.

“What is this?” Canapia said.

“Uh, we have a slight—” Dr. Blinklotz began, and he turned on his assistant “Vaina! Did you calibrate the machine properly?”

“They’re a really cheap set, sir. Look at this stuff.” He showed the false teeth. Brother Anopheles was rather embarrassed to have his cheap false teeth exposed in this way. They looked at him in disgust.

“I’d say the machine is working fine,” Dr. Vaina said. “How can it be expected to process this?”

“Uh,” brother Anopheles mumbled, “can I have them back?”

He was told sternly to leave the subject compartment, and the cleaning crew was called in.

The Keys!

Once the object chamber was cleaned, Yumar Canapia said they should try Clamm. So they did Clamm, and he appeared to replicate fine.

“No damage to the machine apparently,” Dr. Blinklotz muttered to Dr. Vaina.

Then the cleaning crew had to come back and clean the subject chamber, and that was when the damage happened. The cleaning solution left fumes, and these replicated oddly.

They were working on the janitor.

“I don’t think this one is human either,” Dr. Vaina said.

“Who else wasn’t human?” Yumar Canapia asked.

“The first one. Didn’t you see the spinal column poking out through the neck?”

“Can’t say that I was looking for details of the spinal column, but that’s your line. Alien, eh?”

“Accounticon.”

“Lots of them on this planet, eh? And where’s this one from?”

“Hard to say, but I don’t like the look of that stuff forming along the bottom of the glass in the object chamber.”

“Like some liquid,” Canapia said. Dr. Blinklotz held his peace.

“Shall I put the next one back in his cell?” Grimmshaw asked.

“No wait. Just keep a good hold on him.” Which was foolish of the inevitable Yumar Canapia, but he was in the grip of a strong curiosity.

Grimmshaw tightened his grip on the Criten, and the Criten bided his time.

“Finished!” said Dr. Vaina.

“Well, Vaina,” Dr. Blinklotz said, “open the door.”

“You want me to open it?”

“What’s the matter?” Canapia said, eyeing his top scientists with suspicion.

“Nothing, Mr. Canapia. Dr. Vaina will now open the door for us, won’t you, doctor?”

Dr. Vaina stepped over to the door, pressed the release, and swung it open, stepping back quickly. An evil smelling liquid spilled out onto the white tile floor.

“WHAT?” Canapia roared.

To everyone’s amazement, the Criten had leaped, wresting his arm out of Grimmshaw’s grip and in two bounds was standing on the seat in the object chamber.

“Sir,” Dr. Blinklotz protested, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh, I thought I was next.”

“What!?!” Canapia said.

“Isn’t it my turn?” the Criten asked mildly.

“Sir, that is the wrong side,” Blinklotz pointed out reasonably.

“Oh, quite,” the Criten said. “My mistake.”

“I don’t get it,” Canapia said. “I thought I was in charge here. And you,” he said, whirling on Blinklotz, “you have a lot of explaining to do. This isn’t supposed to be cranking out liquid versions of the subject.”

“No doubt Dr. Vaina miscalibrated, sir. We’ll clean the chamber out and give the same subject another try.”

“Yes, you do that,” Canapia said, and stormed off to have a drink.

“Sir,” Blinklotz said, turning to the Criten. “I must insist you exit the object chamber and wait your turn. Perhaps you could have a seat over here.”

The Criten leapt out over the puddle and sat quietly where Blinklotz had indicated. Grimmshaw stomped over and stood beside him, but did not touch him again. They waited while the cleaning crew mopped and toiled.

Yumar Canapia, his tie askew and his hair disheveled, his breath fetid with gin returned by the time the crew had finished. “This better work, Blinklotz,” he muttered.

“I have no doubt it will. Please proceed when ready, Dr. Vaina.”

It didn’t work, however. All they got was the same vile puddle and a lumpy mass of metal on the seat.

“Looks worse than before,” Vaina said, reading the instruments. “I think something must have broken it.”

“What’s that stuff on the seat?” Canapia asked. He had a hollow look about him.

“Looks like the replica of the janitor’s keys,” Vaina said, and turning to Blinklotz he asked, “They didn’t get liquefied along with everything else. What kind of life form is this one anyway?”

“You mean to tell me you don’t know? Dr. Vaina, surely you understand how delicate this equipment is! It might be permanently ruined now.”

“Wait,” Yumar Canapia said, “didn’t it clone the keys the first time?”

“Eh?” Blinklotz said.

“Wasn’t there a metal pile or some replica of the keys the first time?”

“The cleaning crew would surely have brought them to our attention, sir. Where is the chief cleaning lady?”

“Wait,” Canapia said, whirling to where Grimmshaw stood picking his nose beside and empty chair. “What happened to the Criten, Grimmshaw?”

“Eh?”

But the Criten had got away, and by the time they thought to open the subject chamber, the janitor had used his original keys and was no longer on the planet either.

Epilogue

At least the budget was increased—brother Anopheles reflected. He was no longer superior, but then, he knew it would never be. The work went on and that’s really why he was here. He sighed for the clear, lavender skies of Accounticon. This led him to wonder if perhaps he shouldn’t be there: the native race, after all was either dying out or wreaking havoc . . . in places such as the compound not far from the monastery.

“Grub’s on,” brother Trenchwater said.

“Chicken stew?”

“You bet.”

Well—Anopheles reflected—at least that was gained, and with the increase in the budget, maybe Potts could afford to slaughter them more frequently. Brother Anopheles paused on the way to the kitchen to focus his thoughts, an idea had occurred. Perhaps he could put in for better false teeth; now that would be something.

They all stood and waited for their new superior to appear. He had brought a significant increase in the budget, but he had also brought a significant increase in the work, especially the paperwork. Not to mention they’d had to remodel his office. But the good thing—Anopheles reflected—was that real steps were being taken and soon Felonious Assault would have to reckon with the Brethren of the ICAO.

Brother Anopheles did not notice Father Clamm II appear. But they were all sitting down, and so the meal began.

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