Chapter 54

Becky Sue waved goodbye to Sandy and headed down to the bus-stop lost in thought, some of which belonged to her.

"So how did the conversation go between Sandy and her sisters?" JB asked as he slid into her mind. He had felt uncomfortable with the idea of being there unseen so he kept himself busy trying to convince Karl of the benefits of buying suits on-line. He lost the argument, of course, but it kept him busy and enjoyed the sparring

"Oh, not too bad." Becky Sue said with a smile. "Apparently they're settling in nicely, where-ever the heck that they are. They wouldn't tell Sandy a'course, so I still have no idea."

"Bummer. Still, it does make sense, and makes them that much harder to track down."

"Yeah, they're going by, what I'm guessin' are, their middle names too. Noreen and Nansheen?" Becky Sue said, still not familiar with the names.

"Yikes. There's some good Gaelic monikers for you."

"Yeah, Sandy said something about 'Dad finally getting his way.' The one goin' by Nansheen now ain't all that thrilled by it either, but I'm guessin' she'll get used to it, or switch to Nancy or something."

"One can only hope. So what are they doing?"

"Well, Noreen is apparently going to get a dental degree. Right now she's doin' duty as a hygienist. I'm guessing she was the water one since Sandy said she was a natural with the rinse."

"I'd bet. I'm surprised that folks don't complain about getting a mouth full of warm seawater."

"Sweetie, a girl wears just the right outfit and you can squirt fresh squeezed skunk juice into a guy's mouth without him sayin' 'boo'. Actually, that's one of the things Sandy also mentioned. Apparently, the girls are off'a the celery and water diets and actually eatin' real food."

"Hopefully, they know when to say when."

"Well, from the pictures I saw, they could use a pound or two."

"What about Nansheen?"

"Gotta love this, she's a waitress by day and is doing community theater at night."

"Does she fight crime?"

Becky Sue giggled, "Not if she wants to say out of the pokey, she don't. To hear Sandy talk about it, you just couldn't keep Nan out of the spotlight."

"Well, that makes sense, sorta..."

"Yeah, Sandy said that she could be bright when she wanted to be."

"Ooh, bad pun"

"Yeah, Sandy did start laughing pretty hard about that."

"Happy I missed it. Ah, here comes the bus. So what do you think Sandy will think of Chris?"

She thought quietly as she dug her bus pass out. She also put a phone's earpiece into her ear, partly so she could continue her conversation, partly to keep others from starting one with her. "I'm not sure. She said she was kinda mixed up about things. She's mighty grateful about her sisters being out on their own, even if they're not exactly above the board about it. Heck, I'm not so sure I'm really up on the idea either."

"Becky Sue, I know Chris better than anyone. He doesn't make decisions like this lightly. Heck, we talked with him about this because he wanted you to give Sandy the phone number."

"Yeah but bustin' out yer girlfriends..."


"Ok, his ex-darn-near-fiance's sisters outta the pokey is pretty much bettin' on a one way ticket inside her pants!" Becky Sue annoyance with JB's interruption blossomed into an exclamation that pretty much made her the star attraction on the bus. It took a second or two for her to realize that. Afterward, she tucked her head down and tried her best to slither under the seat.

"Yeah-huh." JB countered calmly, "and that's the reason he had you do the leg work instead of after Mark's lesson this afternoon. Rebecca, Chris doesn't operate that way. As much of a jerk as he can be at times, I've learned I can trust him when he gives me a reason for something. In this case, I trust he means it when he said that getting those two out of the Facility was so that he could get more information about what's going on inside. The fact that Sandy also benefits is purely a coincidence, although I agree that it may have had something to do with the decision. The ball is now in Sandy's court. It's up to her to bring up anything, and if I know Chris, he's not going to rush that again either."

Becky Sue though quietly about it all. She also did her best not to speak quite as loudly. "I guess. I just feel a bit weird about this. I mean, Chris broke the law and all. That kinda puts him in among the folks we used to go after pretty regularly."

"I'm not so sure about that." JB replied. I've been going over some of the info about that place. You know that they've never had anyone escape from there?"

"What?", Becky Sue blurted, "That's impossible. Someone's bound to make a run fer it."

"They've also only had twelve repeat offenders."

"But... But that's just plain crazy! How in tarnation... There are some varmints that get into rustling up trouble. It's the only thing they're good at. They're just born lookin' to go pick a fight."

"Only twelve." JB said calmly."Granted, that's taking their word for it and since they're the ones that do their own accounting..."

Becky Sue caught on. "Wait a minute. Y'all are sayin' that they just take out an eraser and fix up the files whenever someone flies the coop?"

"I'm saying that the board of Enron could have learned a few tricks."

"But then why the hidin'? Why not just come out and say 'Hey Sandy! Here's a map!'?"

"Because there are more than a few reports of certain ex-inmates disappearing under mysterious circumstances. To put things bluntly, I believe the system corrects itself. They're willing to turn a blind eye if you don't raise attention, If you draw a bullseye on yourself, you'd better be ready for them to hit it."

"Yeah, but that would take someone pretty darn powerful."

"Becky Sue? They've got open access to the most powerful beings, some of which have absolutely no moral complications with the idea of disposing of someone else. I think with that kind of power at their disposal, laying low becomes a darn good idea."

"Lay low, Plaskowitz." a voice sarcastically taunted from the inky blackness, mimicking The Shareholder's last words before Plaskowitz had set off. "Lay low."

There was a sharp metallic clang and the lights flickered on. Plaskowitz thew the spanner back into his toolkit, which may have looked like a 20 gallon garbage can full of various "well-loved" tools, but was in fact a 21 gallon garbage can full of various "well-loved" tools.

Plaskowitz was not a good packer.

Still, he knew not to mess with a direct order, no matter what sort of fruitcake had given it to him. Particularly a fruitcake that would happily feed him into a fusion core. So lay low it is.

In this case Plaskowitz had decided to set up office in what the locals called the Marianas Trench. Sure, it wasn't the sunniest of locations, but it wasn't as bad as the time he had to set up shop in the core of a gas giant for a few years. Besides, it felt good to have solid ground underneath him. Somewhere. Probably beneath the layer of what appeared to be spy satellite parts that were strewn throughout the deep sea canyon.

Naturally, getting a link for local communications was the fourteenth order of business. The first thirteen having to do with other routine checks like internal pressure, power, and supplies of pop-tarts.

He'd sent out the spinner bot hours ago. Behind it trailed a fiber optic cord wrapped in carbon fiber that lead back to the ship. Sure, setting up a relay would have been simpler, but this was far more reliable, and more difficult to trace. One of the monitors suddenly started displaying screens of scrolling information. Plaskowitz watched it intently looking for patterns to the various noise. Eventually one did appear. He watched the display intently, carefully adjusting controls to match first the general signal, then the crude cryptography.

As with most, the signal remained a morass of static as meters and displays continued their unceasing reports. Then with a few careful tweaks of a timing system, the display snapped to life.

Plaskowitz watched as a pair of young humans performed some sort of simple play. The male was informing the female that her aquatic exercise system was properly cleaned and maintained. The female then reported that due to unforseen complications, she lacked sufficient funds in order to recompense the male.

This was followed by something Plaskowitz would later learn was called "a heavy bass beat".

Ok, so maybe finding a more appropriate communications channel could wait an hour or two.

Avey looked out her kitchen window to a large dark chrome nose. It whined at her.

"Oh Margie," she said in a concerned voice, "what's the matter, honey?" She slid out of her gloves and stepped out into the backyard. Margie snuffed a greeting at her hand and then turned to look at the garage door. She let out another concerned whimper.

Bob was in there.

It seemed like Bob was always in there as of late. It didn't seem like he even slept. Just kept tinkering around with whatever it was in the garage. She pushed the door open. The garage was never well organized, but now it was even worse. A pile of cloth that looked more like a nest was lumped up on the back of the Rolling Deathtrap. The air was thick with ozone and burnt solder.

"Bob?" Avey called. "Are you in there?"

There was no response, but the flickering blue lights of arcing electricity told her that he was. "Bob?"

Avey caught enough of the flickering shadow to see that it was Bob slumped over working on something.

"Bob?" Avey called again, "I think that Margie needs a walk."

"The construct does not require such things, simply open the access panel and switch her off."

"Switch her off?" Avey said with a note of horror, "Bob, you can't simply turn her off like..."

"Like a machine!" Bob barked back. He turned to look at Avey and suddenly she didn't recognize him. It was as if he was a completely different person.

There was a reason that Bob had married Avey, and it wasn't just for her turkey parmigiana. She walked over to him, and gave him a proper sanity inducing backhand. Bob crashed into his workbench and crumbled to the floor.

Bob figured that if he hadn't proposed to her, she would have killed him. He was probably right.

He moaned and looked up at her. He looked horrible. Several days growth sprouted from his face, his hair was matted, and an angry red lump started to grow across his cheek. He looked tired, no, more than tired, he looked exhausted, but he also looked more familiar.

"Bob," Avey said with command, "you're a mess. Get in the house, take a damn shower and go to bed."

Bob looked dazed, more than he should have from the blow, as if he had suddenly woken from a bad dream. He looked down at his clothes, then slowly pulled himself up. "I'm.. I'm sorry." he said, not completely sure what he had done but fully aware of the consequences. "I guess I'm just over tired. I'll.. I'll go get some sleep."

"Shower first." Avey said as she folded her arms.

Bob stumbled into the house and closed the door behind him. Avey looked around. Part of her was happy that he wasn't working on that damn truck, but she had no idea what it was her husband was working on.

Probably another school project or something.


She turned to see Margie peeking through the rear door. Her tail swishing against the yard. Avey smiled and walked out to see her.

Margie nuzzled her massive head gently against Avey's hand, happy that Bob seemed to be himself again.

"You know something Margie? It's a damn good thing that man has us around to take care of him."

Margie wuffed again and continued to nuzzle against Avey.

A shredded envelope from USHA lay on the floor, separate from the usual pile of catalogs and bills that normally prevented the dining room table from rocketing skyward, just in case it had wanted to.

"Yes. My name is Chris Reid and I... No, I've been holding for.. AAAUGH!!"

The trail of overturned furniture and crumpled wads of paper lead to the older, smaller of the two futons. At the edge of it sat Chris, rubbing his head with one hand, holding the phone with his other, and his leg bouncing in a semi vain attempt to remain in moderate control.

"Yes! Hello, my name is Chris Reid and I... The Grayhound.. G-R-A-Y-H-O-U-N-D. Boise. Yes. Look I've given out all this information eight times already. Don't you people have computers or something?"

A previously wadded and then straightened letter sat on the desk in front of him. It was USHA letterhead with a very large "Good News!" banner across the top.

"Yes, I'm calling about a letter I just got from the Property Promotion Department." Chris struggled to keep his voice calm this time. "It's in reference to the upcoming project, I'd like to know what I can do to cancel it."

"Yes, I'm talking about..." Chris picked up the paper and carefully read the name of the offending item "'Dark Dogs and Bright Cats, the Legend of The Grayhound'" He groaned.

"No, I don't want tickets, I want to kill the project, as in, never let it see the light of day."

"What do you mean 'I can't'? Look, I'm The Grayhound, with capital letters and everything. I'm the guy that this show is all about. In fact, I'm the guy that risked his freaking life in order for you to do this little escapade."

"No I don't mind you're doing that story, it's just that I've got problems with how you're doing it. The city was in serious poop, buildings were destroyed. We're talking space based death beams."

Chris finally blew his gasket again, "What I'm saying is that I don't think that it's appropriate material for a Broadway Musical you idiots! Hello? HELLO!? AAAARRRGGHHH!!!" Chris once again sent his phone flying.

Captain Industry rescued the device milliseconds before it shattered against the wall next to the stairs. "You really ought to consider sending a letter to Samsung about building you a more fortified phone." Karl's voice spoke, but the personality behind it was absolutely JB. Lately though, it was getting hard telling those two apart.

Chris glared. A nearly visible black cloud of evil radiated from him. Karl brought up the last outbound number. "USHA? Should I even ask?"

Chris wadded up the letter again and hurled it toward Karl. He uncrumpled most of it and read through it. "Ooh, Tickets go on sale in six weeks! I'll have to mark my calendar."

"Laugh it up you two. Take a look at who the director is."

Karl again turned his attention to the letter, and JB lept in, "They got him? Well at least the sets will look Fabulous. Oh, come on Chris, it's not that bad. Chances are it'll bomb in two weeks and you'll be left with a good beer story. If you want to know really bad, you should talk to the Masked Archer. Some lizard people hit him with a reducing ray , so he got stuck with a deal where they did an entire Saturday morning series where he was played by a midget in a fat suit. I think they even got some of the old costumes from H. R. Puffin..."

Chris' cellphone rang again. Karl looked at the display. "It's USHA. Do you wish to talk to them?"

"No." Chris said flatly. "unless they apologize first."

Karl hit the talk button, "Grayhound Answering Service. Fighting battles with a song in our heart."

"You've been hanging around JB too long." Chris growled. Karl just smiled wryly. JB was definitely becoming a corrupting influence.

"No, I am his associate, Captain Industry, how may I be of service?" Karl listened to the phone. His expression frozen in a pleasant grin, but the gentle daze of confusion started to creep across his brow, "I'm sorry, he's what?"

Karl listened some more, not asking questions but not really looking any less confused. Finally, he thanked the person on the other end of the line and hung up the phone.

"So, you mind telling me what I've been signed up for now? Maybe guest appearances wearing a bear suit down at the mall? Or maybe a nice sponsorship deal with Fleet enemas?"

"No.. nothing like that." Karl said. "You've got... hero duty."

"I've got what?"

"It would seem that a few of the larger heroes are taking a vacation this week. You have been selected to handle any unscheduled situation that threatens your area."

Chris simply stared at Karl. The nearly visible black cloud was back.

"The good news is that your area is just the northern hemisphere." Karl observed.

"Any unscheduled situation?" Chris echoed back flatly.

"Well, yes. That was the crisis control center, and I would guess controlling crisis is what they do."

"While the other heroes are on vacation."

"Well, heroes and villains mostly. It's one of those mutual understanding things. She did say something about there being a nice cruise in the Caribbean this year."

Chris didn't say anything. He simply chose to stare at his larger room-mate.

"Oh, come on Chris," JB piped in, "she said that if it's anything too bad, like an invading army of undead alien turnips, we could call back and the heroes would cut their water-skiing short, but the chances of that happening are.."

".. about to go down to 1:1 if you finish that sentence." Chris sighed heavily. "I can hardly wait to find out what it is."

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the thirteenth annual Fort Frances Great Rubber Duckie Race. It's a beautiful day for the race and turnout is expected to be fantastic. As always, proceeds from todays race will be going to St. Iverson's home for Wayward Weblows and as always, thank you for your warm generosity. I'm Chuck Mead and sitting in the booth next to me is the lovely DeeDee McDonald, Miss Latex 2003. Welcome, DeeDee.

Hi Chuck, It's sure fun to be here. My those are sure a lot of little yellow duckies.

They sure are, DeeDee. I should note that those rubber duckies were actually salvaged from floating in the arctic waters.


You bet. But we've cleaned 'em up given them a good rest and they're ready to go.

Hopefully they won't get lost again!

Oh, no worries about that. With all the people here, I'm sure everyone would be happy to point them in the right direction.

Looks like they're ready at the dumptruck, Chuck.

Right you are DeeDee. So let's get the race going. Duckies take your mark... and GO!

Ha! Ha! I love seeing all those duckies hit the water like that. They're so cute!

Yep and the kids love it too.

Say, Chuck. Shouldn't they be bobbing around more than they are?

What do you mean DeeDee?

Well, it looks to me like they're just grouping together. It's.. it's sort of creepy really.

Why Dee Dee, your right. Must be an eddy in the water that making them group up like that. I'm sure once the current gets a hold of them.

Chuck, they're going up-stream.

See, that's the current...

Chuck? They're jumping over the walls. My God! They... The duckies are attacking the crowd!

Holy Cow! There are duckies and screaming people running. It's chaos, utter chaos down there. Oh the Humanity! I don't know if I can continue! Ernie! How could you lie to us so!

Oh GOD! They're coming in here!

What? NO! AAAAH!!



Does this spell ducky doom
for the citizens of Fort Frances?

What's the matter with Bob?


Let's hope that the Author's own cortex doesn't do us a favor and explode before the next thrilling episode:

Mallard Feasance
Dang, We're Ducked

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