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Queen Sharon appeared with a powerful flourish that sent most of
Will's household machines into powerpack arrest. The apartment
was empty. She closed her eyes and scanned the city before
quickly vanishing. After checking that the coast was clear, the
vacuum made.a tentative appearance to inspect the damage. It was
obvious that this stain just would not come out. The floor was
scorched where the Queen had been standing. The small sign that
she had landed on was a bubbling gooey mess. It had read: HEROICS
When Will woke up it would have been easy to think it was all
a dream. The cell at COMS central was just like his apartment.
There were some differences. The window shutters informed him
that they performed an entirely decorative function, the door
would not respond to his voice command, there was a working GRUB
machine and video screen, and lastly, Sulphur was quiet. These
things were curious, but in his drowsy state, not threatening.
The bed looked nice and cosy and ever SO relaxing, he would
return to its warm protection and....
There was something he had forgotten; a reason not to sleep
that he must remember, that was important to remember. With a
huge effort, he thrust himself away from the bed.
A shower would help him think. Will staggered over and
pressed for water. The shower politely informed him that 'Due to
disappointing recent rainfall statistics in this hemisphere, COMS
water is restricting bathing to one session per customer per day.
You are therefore ineligible. Please try later.'
Something was making a thumping noise but he ignored it.
The video screen would tell him why he was so sleepy. Will turned
Unfortunately, it was a new one; they were always a bit hyper in
the early days, before their depression set in.
'Hello. I'm your video screen and I'm here to assist and
educate you. I'm confident about making a valid tutorial
contribution to your life. Here at the COMS Correctional
Facility, we aim to provide a full background to your treatment.
For a simply thrilling documentary on mental retraining, please
specify channel A.'
Will was finding it hard to concentrate as he rested his
head against the screen. The "Ay" he mumbled was more a symptom
of incomprehension than a request. He recoiled in fright as a
large, manic, salivating simulation of himself appeared on the
screen adorned with a caption that read: Mr Hyde.
'Mental re-education has in past been a source of great fear
and superstition. Your ignorant ancestors felt compelled to
dismiss this process as brainwashing, Today of course, more
enlightened minds realise that there are a full range of positive
benefits to be derived for the logical restructuring of your
Will was slowed by the drugs in his system. It took a while
for the term "Brainwashing" to filter through, but when it did,
the effect was electric.
'That's why I can't go to sleep. I'll never wake up!'
He knew that he would have to take drastic action. Slapping
himself in the face almost succeeded in inducing a state of
unconsciousness that the drugs had failed to achieve. The General
Refreshment and Universal Buffet machine was his only hope.
Pained, groggy, but full of panic induced adrenaline, he staggered
to its side. Fortunately this machine was unique.
'As this is to be your last meal before mental retraining,
normal, and if I may say so, sensible nutritional controls have
been relaxed. You may have any meal or drink you require.'
Even in his doped state, Will was able to register the irony
of finally finding a flexible GRUB machine in these circumstances.
'Five pints of water, ten cups of hot black caffeine-
permeated Coffee, and a plate of rancid bacon fat please.'
The Machine reluctantly dispensed his order with the vocal
equivalent of a sneer.
'This is the sort of irresponsible menu composition that
made us necessary, but I suppose it's your stomach.'
Having drenched himself with the water, vomited at the smell
of the bacon fat, and drunk the coffee, Will was starting to snap
out of things. The waste disposal system, on the other hand,
filled with stinking bacon remains was not feeling too healthy.
The thumping noise started again and he was wandering if it
was some odd after-effect, when he realised that it was coming
from a strange looking trunk in the corner. Keyed up and with
some trepidation, he tentatively opened the lid and sighed with a
mixture of relief and amusement. Inside the trunk, trussed up in
a heat resistant muzzle and bindings, was a very dishevelled and
angry looking Dragon.
'But, why you?' Will was confused.
'Because I'm programmed to take care of you. Even against
my own kind.'
'So what happened? Was it a trap door or something?'
'No, nothing like that, nothing melodramatic. Everything
was normal, Talking about the stresses and strains of the job.
Did I ever tell you how boring conversationally the canine model
Will struggled to control his impatience.
'Is it important at the moment?'
'I turned to go and they all jumped me. It wasn't easy;
there were some fur and feathers flying, I can tell you. The next
thing I remember was bashing my sensitive magatronian head in
trying to attract your attention.'
'You know why I'm here?' Will tried to keep the tremor out
of his voice,
'Mental retraining. Congratulations! You finally made the
most unwanted list.'
Will ignored the chiding tone.
'What's going to happen to me?'
'I don't know. There have been odd rumours, some may be true.
They do a little redecoration inside your skull and you come out
with a more positive attitude.'
'And you ?'
'I get reprogrammed. Almost everything will be erased.
There's no point in my remembering the old Will, except as a
sobering reminder. They might even destroy me. The new you
probably won't have the imagination to order a dragon. You'll get
something nice and comfortable, maybe even one of those dull
Will could not believe how sanguine Sulphur sounded about
his imminent destruction.
'Will it hurt?'
Sulphur thought about it.
'Not me. It's just a switch. You won't feel a thing, or at
least you won't remember feeling a thing.'
'Why didn't they Just do it? Get it over with whilst I was
'COMS are not monsters, Will. They're doing this for your
own good. They've obviously delayed things so that you can enjoy
'Do you think it's for my own good. To have my brain
'I know you're not happy. You've made that fairly obvious
over the past few years.'
Will dully slumped against the wall.
'So, that's it. We just wait for them to commit the great
The video screen butted in before Sulphur had a chance to
'You could watch some programmes. I have a wonderful
collection of cop shows and prison dramas on correctional cable.'
'What's the point?' Will asked. 'I won't remember them.'
'If you don't mind me saying so,'' the screen pompously
replied, 'that's the sort of negative attitude that got you here.'
'That's right. It means I've got nothing to lose so, SHUT
'Well if you're going to be grumpy about it...'
The Screen switched itself off with all the grandness an
appliance speaking in a falsetto voice could muster. It wondered
to itself if it was permissible to ask for a transfer on one's
Will moved over to Sulphur. In a rare display of somewhat
laboured camaraderie, he solemnly knelt and gazed into the
dragon's eyes. Sulphur's discomfort level rocketed as he met the
human's pathetic stare. They had avoided a "Buddy" speech thus
far in their co-existence and Sulphur could see no reason to go
'I'm not very good at this, I mean, I've never done this
before. But if this is the end, thanks for all the help. I'll miss
you I suppose, even if I don't remember you.' He placed a
quivering hand an the dragon's scaly green head. 'Is this all,
Sulphur was not a sentimentalist. He soon decided that he
could tolerate no more of such syrupy rubbish.
'Please stop this nonsense. It doesn't suit you, In fact
its nauseating. The worst performance I've seen since Tiny Tim.
IS IT ALL, INDEED!' The dragon puffed a plume of contemptuous
'Are you insane? Have you gone completely gaga Will? What
happened to Heroics Incorporated? We may not succeed but at least
we can try.'
Will looked disturbingly like he was going to hug his
companion. Sulphur warded him off with his savage glare circuits
on maximum setting. Will contented himself with simpering in a
loose approximation of a resolute smile.
In reality. Sulphur was not as confident About their
chances as he appeared. "DIODES! I finally bypass my veracity
programming and all I can come out with that garbage. Well," he
consoled himself, "as long as it keeps the great fool happy until
they come for him."
The door didn't have a face, but if it had possessed lips, they
would have been curled into a sneer, Sulphur had the exhausted
feeling that, if he puffed out one more blast of flame, he would
'Go on,' the door's audio circuit said sarcastically, 'try
again, I'm enjoying it. You give me a nice warm feeling all
Sulphur tensed. Enough was enough; this time he would leave
his mark. The force of the blaze the dragon spat forth was
tremendous but the sprinkler system remained unimpressed. It
informed him for the fifth time of its inability to implement fire
safety services due to disappointing recent rainfall statistics
etc.; the usual prepared message.
The door remained totally unblemished by the fiery assault.
'Come on...' it said in a smugly exasperating tone, 'I'm
burning to see what you try next.'
What next Sulphur thought to itself despondently. Giving up
that what's next. It's all very well trying to cheer Will up, but
this is getting us nowhere. I might as well just switch myself
Will hardly noticed that his companion's escape efforts had
ceased. So weakened by impending heat exhaustion that he'd lost
the desire to be apathetic. This must have been what an
historical celebration roast turkey felt like, with the emphasis
on the "roast."
The door was in the midst of triumphantly crooning to
'Come on scaly, light my fire,' when it evaporated. Will and
Sulphur slumped together in their mutual gloom, hardly noticed the
searing explosion that reduced the door to ashes. It was a shame.
The Purple Thingy knew how to make a entrance.
'Sulphur, it won't work, Stop it...' Will mumbled weakly,
'Stop it now.'
Curiously enough, although aimed at Sulphur's lapsed efforts
to cremate the door, Will's words happened to exactly echo the
Purple Thingy's sentiments as Sharon surveyed her potential
champion. Will was not the sort of person epic poems were written
about. He just did not look the type.
He was just under six feet with a pronounced paunch that
defied the best efforts of modern nutritional technology, and the
posture of an arthritic ninety year-old. Will's long, thin face
also did little to inspire much confidence. Mousy straight brown
hair that, even when not twisted into weird contortions by his
dysfunctional shower, still managed to refuse any attempts at
control. His eyes were a soft brown, troubled and defiant, partly
masked by an ancient pair of glasses, long made obsolete by COMS
optical repair techniques. His lips were full but tightened by
tension and surrounded by a straggly pathetic attempt at beard
It was indeed fortunate for the continuance of life in the
solar system that, being unfamiliar with the structure of the
humanoid type, the Purple Thingy did not recognise a "dork" when
it saw one. Then, there was the dragon to be considered. The
universe was full of terrifying, magnificent, reptilian beasts and
this seedy-pocket sized worm in no way resembled any of them, With
its long slender neck, chiselled fangs and large yellow absorbent
eyes. This beast seemed to the Thingy to embody all the
aggression and spite of a baby hamster.
The Thingy was sorely tempted to return to its original plan
of complete species irradiation when Will spoke.
'How much time do we have ?'
Time? The Thingy paused, Time, that was the trouble. There
was a time limit on the choice, A Thingy could shuffle universes
like playing cards but it could not alter a second to find its
champion. That was against the rules and Purple Thingys were
sticklers for regulations. They did not do that sort of thing.
That is not to say, that there was no such Thingy as one that lied,
cheated and was not very nice, because there was.
Far, far away. So far that it would take the entire lifespan of
everyone who has ever lived on Earth to get there, there lived
such a Thingy. An Orange one.
This Thingy did not regard itself as being mean. There had
to be some sort of counter-balancing system in the universe to
stop everything becoming too nauseatingly happy. The Orange Thingy
performed a useful socio-economic function. To be fair, how many
times have humans chased wasps with rolled up newspapers and said:
"Come here - I won't hurt you?"
Concepts of truth and murder did not enter the mortal mind
when exterminating insects. It was a curious by-product of
Mankind's self-absorption that, while it mostly viewed the
extinction of nearly all other species on its world in this same
unimportant light, the occasional personal injury - a stubbed toe
or minor cut for example - was of major import, and it was
basically the same principle with the Orange One. The Thingy felt
perfectly justified in any treatment it decided to mete out to
trivial cultures; after all, a human does not consider the
disgruntled feelings of numerous surface dwelling bacteria before
taking a shower.
Like its Purple counterpart, the Orange Thingy had recently
noticed the species Homo Sapiens and it was gaining a considerable
amount of amusement from Queen Sharon's efforts. This was going
to be simple.
It was difficult to gauge which of them were stunned most by their
visitor, Will or Sulphur. Both their mouths hung limp with equal
elasticity. Queen Sharon remained silent. The Thingy had learned
that it was wise to allow primitive life forms time to assimilate
its incredible presence. Normally a few hours were adequate.
However, there was some doubt about these two.
It had to be said that when constructing a new form the
Thingy did a terrific job and Sharon, Queen of the Illuminated Way
was magnificent. Her supremely-modeled light purple physique was
eight feet tall and radiated power from every perfect inch,
cloaked in fine robes as finely decorated as she, more than
fitting the royal bill.
A lush forest of marvellous lilac tresses framed a face filled
with regal authority, a force of personality lightened and warmed
by the gentlest eyes and kindest smile ever to make their
appearance on the planet. It was hardly surprising that Will took
a while to find his voice.
'Has the brainwashing started?'
Sulphur mumbled reply was sure.
'If COMS could create this. We wouldn't be working for
'Are we dead?'
It was then that Sharon spoke In a voice that managed to be
both commanding and richly musical.
'Know ye, mortal and mechanism, that I am Sharon, Queen of
the Illuminated Way and Guardian of all that is good in the
Will nodded to himself
'No, We're not dead. It's worse than that,' Sulphur hissed.
'I have chosen you, Will Prince, representative of Earth, to
be my champion.'
Will adopted a fixed grin to hide his panic.
'Never mind that! What do I do now?'
'I don't know. But whatever it is, be polite.'
Will tentatively raised a shaking hand.
'Excuse me, your,' he searched for a form of address,
'Call me Sharon.'
The Purple Queen fixed them with a lock of such gentle
understanding that Will almost forgot what he was going to say.
'Sharon. It's a nice name. I'd like to find out more about
the champion thing. It sounds, interesting. But...well...why
'If you like, I will explain. I must warn you however that
I don't like interruptions.'
Will replied with a nod. A silent one.
In contrast to its Purple compatriot, the Orange Thingy was having
a wonderful time. Floating about ninety million miles from Earth,
gently supported by a solar flare, it gained a vast amount of
amusement from viewing the Purple Thingy's new persona and the
absurdity of its choice.
It quickly decided not to kill Will, as, for the moment, he
was no threat, and besides, it had destroyed all life in the
Patellian system before breakfast and did not want to appear
The Purple Queen finished her address. Will turned to Sulphur
with a glassy-eyed grimace that vividly said: "This is your fault.
You made me get up this morning."
The Queen's explanation of what was required had been fairly
simple and straightforward.
On the other side of the universe was a planet with the
incredibly stupid name of "Spoggle". On this planet, closely
guarded by possible sundry dark forces (at least no one had
survived so far) and probably protected by the odd impossible task
or two, was an object of vital importance to the future of all
life. This object was called the MADID.
Since universal protocol prevented the purple Queen from
rescuing this "MADID", the Queen had decided to elect Will as
champion and engage the services of HEROICS INC. for the job.
There were of course many dire dangers and grim perils inherent in
this position but that was what heroes were for - dumb bravery.
Will was welcome to recruit others from his system to help
his efforts, subject to the terms and conditions of his
employment. That was it in a nutshell. Will felt that the
nutshell image was appropriate. The whole thing sounded like the
work of a nutcase.
Sulphur filled the uncomfortable silence.
'Your Majesty. May we have a moment to discuss your offer?'
The Queen granted her assent and vanished. The Thingy would
Will reacted with the normal two-pronged reactions of a
human faced with impending difficult tasks:
A. Try to avoid a decision.
B. Be totally sure that you cannot do the job. He had no idea what
'Well?' Will anxiously questioned Sulphur as he slumped back
onto the bed.
'Well, she's not computer generated.'
'Is she real?'
'Is she an all-powerful purple ruler? How do I know? I've
never met one.'
'How do we find out?'
'Ask her for proof. It's no good making a decision about
the rest of what she says without it.'
'So we Just say - Dear Sharon. Sorry about doubting you but
can we have some proof of your powers...'
It was instant. The terrible lack of air, the rugged dead
terrain. Will felt his body start to swell as his internal gases
struggled to spread him over the surrounding lunar landscape.
Sulphur screamed: "Enough!" soundlessly in the vacuum, and
they were back in the cell. Several seconds of thankful wheezing
gasps and a sore throat later, Will managed a hoarse verdict.
'It's got me convinced. What's next ?'
'There's the offer. On the minus side, you could die'
'On the plus side?'
'On the plus side, you always wanted an adventure, like your
'My heroes were myths and fiction. You can have dangerous
adventures when you're fictional. It's easy, you can't get hurt
and it doesn't matter if you do. The only live examples I've seen
were actors, and they were supported by a film crew the size of an
army and a big special effects budget.'
'Look at it this way. You're in a cell waiting to be
brainwashed, and I'm probably going to be scrapped. What have we
got to lose?'
'So. You think we should try it?'
'I think you should at least ask for her terms. There may
be a special effects budget.' Will agreed. "Can I see...'
He felt his hand clasp something, and glancing down, noticed
a rolled piece of hide had appeared. Will lay it on the ground
and unrolled it, noticing as he did the scaly green texture. He
winked at Sulphur.
'Maybe it's a relative.'
The hide was covered in strange symbols, written in what
looked like red ink, Will was impressed.
'She certainly goes in for all the props.'
'Never mind the frills. It Would be more useful if it were
in an Earth language.'
In response to Sulphur's words. The gobbledegook instantly
became legible. As they began to read they both momentarily
wished that it had not.
Will Prince and Heroics Inc., Standard Employment Contract NO, 666
Relating to the Retrieval of the MADID.
1. With the exception of transportation from subjects native
system to SPOGGLE and, probably, the return journey, no assistance
will be provided by Sharon, Queen of the Illuminated Way, as said
assistance constitutes direct contravention of universal protocol.
2. In the event of the subject's death, accident or injury, no
liability will be borne by the employer.
3. The subject is required to engage adequate help to undertake
the task. There is no set number of assistants. However, the
subject is strongly advised to bear in mind possible mortality
rates when making this choice
4. Payment. With the exception of THE MADID, which shall remain
the property of the employer, any material gains or precious
objects obtained by the group are liable to be kept by them.
5. Adherence to those laws of Spoggle that become apparent must
be followed at all times, unless subsequently proved to be life-
threatening or nonsensical.
6. Uniform. The subject will be provided with a weapon and a
Band of Intangibility, These items to be returned an completion of
task or death of subject, whichever is sooner.
7. Any or all conditions of employment are subject to change at
the discretion of the employer. The employer is not liable to
provide written or verbal notice of any change.
I, Will Prince, hereby accept all conditions present, or future.
Signed: Sulphur: Witness:
Sulphur tried to make the best of things.
'At least it seems honest.'
'Bugger that! I don't want honesty. I want rights and
privileges. At the very least, help and protection.'
'Is it the right to be brainwashed or protection from
brainwashing that you require?'
Will visibly wilted as his lack of options sank in, his
voice had quietened when he finally spoke.
'So. You think this is really happening?'
'Do I think that we have been visited by a purple demi-god
who wants our help in saving the universe?'
'Mankind has, over the centuries, believed in all sort of
strange deities, I find the idea of Queen Sharon to be no more
preposterous than most of those. It may be, that living with you
has severely overtaxed my logic functions, but yes, I do think
that she is real. I know of no earthly force that could fake her,
or of any that would want to. Her example was very convincing.
She could have fooled your mental systems but not mine without
possessing some sort of major internal power.'
'What about Spoggle? This MADID, whatever it is?'
'We have to take her at her word. After all. She had no
reason to pick us. Although I can't say much for her taste.'
'So you think I should do it?'
'I think WE have no choice, You always wanted a job.'
'It's hardly a career with a future.'
'Think of it as an adventure. A thrill that you've always
wanted, like free-falling.'
'Without a parachute,' Will wearily closed his eyes. 'What
a birthday present. No more birthdays, I suppose Spoggle can't be
as bad as Dickensland.'
'No,' Sulphur smiled, showing off his fangs to best
advantage,"...or brainwashing-land for that matter.'
'Still, it would be nice if they had a tourist board so that
we could see what it was like. Imagine the brochure: "Come to
Spoggle for an adventure you'll never forget. ... If you survive
'I think you've made a decision.'
'Not really. I think this is the sort of decision that's
made for you. How do you think we call back her great Queenliness
Queen Sharon reappeared before Will could even finish.
"Silly question," he thought.
The good thing about being an Orange Thingy was that you were
right a lot of the time, or at least, no one argued with you if
you were wrong. Yet again, the Orange One had cause to
congratulate itself, on its fine Judgement. It had been right not
to kill the human; his droll comedy of a life could prove to be
A tourist brochure for Spoggle. The very idea was
What next... a handbook for Hades? a manual for Nagrorian Six, or
perhaps in view of their cannibal population, a menu! Perhaps
these creatures would not be as dull as they seemed. The Orange
Thingy hoped not. It had a extremely low boredom threshold.
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