James and the Missing Space Station

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Run Against Time by Cattail : t@cattail.nu

How had he gotten into this mess? James wondered. More importantly, how was he going to get out of it? His feet thudded on the pavement as he dodged into yet another city alleyway. The eight men in military greens that were chasing him couldn't be too far behind, their plasma guns ready to fire. His breath was coming in harsh gasps and his throat and lungs burned. To add to his discomfort, sweat now stung his eyes.

He felt like he had been running along Beta IV for an eternity. Beta IV is an interesting rock that a few industrial companies have colonized. At least that is what James had told his girlfriend, Marie. She would never have approved of this. At the moment, he wasn't sure if he approved of it. Luckily she was safely bored back in their hotel room. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her, and all that.

Were they gaining on him? Surely they wouldn't give up the chase. He listened, strained to hear footsteps other than his own. Yes, they were still coming. He struggled to run even faster, careful not to drop the plain manila envelope he hugged against his chest.

pat, plop by Roy : donroy@ameritel.net

Pat, plop, pat, plop went his running feet. Golly he hated these city alleys. At least there were no vehicles to dodge because the alley was too small. The worst alleys never dried up. This dark slimy one was a good example. Well at least one side was dry.

Up ahead it looked like a gloomy dead end awaited him. Possibly his dead end. Clomps and splashes echoed along the walls from behind. They could see him clearly now, and he was in immanent danger. James desperately looked for an exit.

Some of the water in the alley was spilling in from beneath a bright blue door. He pushed the preasure panel and it opened. Where it led did not matter.

James remembered the dumb chase scenes in the archived flicks. The prey just ran. James however was more than just common prey. He stopped to close the door. He even took the time to see if it could be locked from the inside. Today he was lucky.

He locked the door and turned to dash further into the building. The water drizzeling out under the door was condensing out of cold foggy air. It was cold near the now sealed door, but warmed up fast as he groped further into the dense clammy air of the building's interior.

Out at the door there arose a terrible clatter. His pursurers apparently believed those ancient flicks and expected the door to open as easily for them as it did for him.

Just when you think everything will be alright - it isn't. In one continuous supprising unganely movement James tripped over a lump on the floor, pawed the air, wrapped his arms around a soft fleshy body, brought it along with him to the floor and bonked his head.


Code Blue Area by Mike : donroy@mail.ameritel.net

James groped about to feel what or who he had just bumped into. "Oh (r@%p", he thought, "It feels like a guy wearing a jump suit." Then he realized. "My envelope, where is it?" Feeling around James wished he had turned on the light.


Clap! Clap!

The lights came on. James looked up to see a man wearing a gray thermal jump suit. "What are you doing in here, son?" the man said. "This area is code blue."


James was baffled as he noticed his envelope apparently stuck to some sort of slime on the man's chest who at this time did not notice it.

I'm not Blue by Roy Maier : donroy@ameritel.net

"Are you alright?" James panted as he rubbed his sore head. "I really didn't mean to hurt anybody."

"No," the stranger said. "But if you had got here a couple of minutes sooner we would have been very unhappy." He stressed the 'very'.

The man he had run into was also a bit out of breath. It was easy to tell he was physically fit. His jump suit accentuated his powerful arms and legs. He pushed something he was holding into the pocket on the front of his pants, pulled his suit back into place and slowly pulled the envelope from his chest.

"This is yours I presume?" He sniffed the back of the envelope. "It seems to be a bit sticky. I hope you don't mind." He did not hand it to James.

Then to the guy on the floor he said, "Hey Bart. Are you OK?"

From the floor there was a moan, not necessarily of pain. He sounded like he was waking from a long snore. "Yeah man. What a rush. Just when I thought it was over I get one more kick out of it. Moss you're the best." "Let me help you up," Moss said reaching his arm down.

"Not yet." Bart gasped. "Let me just lie here a bit and enjoy the after shocks."

Moss raised his head to look at James, slowly and asked, "Are you of the blue persuasion?"

"No," I said cautiously. "Actually I'm a plain purple heterosexual."

"So why are you here?" demanded Bart. "The door is clearly marked code blue."

"I have a bit of a problem. You can hear it banging on the back door. I desperately needed an escape. If the door had been pink I would have entered there too. I suspect I would have had a harder time with the women than here with you," James said hopefully.

"That you would," Moss said knowingly.

He held up the envelope in his hand. He watched me eye it nervously. "They want this?" He questioned gesturing toward the back door.


"You want it too, right?"

"Yes, I do." James said. To fight appeared unwise. James was in the opponent's territory, and out numbered. James was sure he could take Bart, but surely he had friends not far away.

"And?" teased Moss.

James decided upon the diplomatic approach. He took a breath. "I am a runner. I have to deliver that envelope and soon."

"A runner," Moss repeated. "I was a runner for awhile." Moss turned the envelope over. "Hum. No address. That fits. Never address the package. Only you know where it is going?"

"I know who, but not exactly where." James replied. "She is somewhere here in the Ghetto of Colors."

"I think you have just told me too much," Moss taunted. "Perhaps your loose lips is the cause of the noise at the door."

"Not me," assured James. "Somebody else must have sent them."

Moss mused, "being a runner is a risky business. Most of the time it is good money for little hassle. But sometimes your life is on the line and it ain't worth the money. That is why I retired. Too close too many times."

James concurred, "I know what you mean. This was supposed to be easy. Surprise again."

"Well, this envelope will cost you something. Let's see. What will it be?" Moss drawled. "How about you tell me who gets this?"

"The Princess Scherezade Moonbeam Starr," James answered cautiously.

From the floor Bart said, "Very interesting. Is this package going to be good for her or bad?"

"Well this was it," thought James. "The fifty-fifty chance to get the envelope or to get the shaft." He considered the nuances in the way Bart had asked the question. He guessed as he said aloud, "As I understand it, it ain't going to do her any good."

"Give him the envelope," said Bart getting up.

"Awe," said Moss, "I'd like to keep it as a remembrance of you."

He handed James the sticky envelope and said, "This way to the front of the hotel."

As they walked through the clearing mist Moss asked, "Anything we could do for your friends at the back door? From the sound of things they should be figuring out how to get in pretty soon."

"I sure would appreciate it if you could detain them a bit." James said.

As they entered the air conditioned and clear lobby Moss said in a loud voice, "Hey boys. We have another bunch of rowdy guests at the back door. What do you say we give them what they came for?"

There was a general commotion of agreement as more than enough Blues went to open the back door.

At the front door Moss offered, "If you ask for Zod at the ticket and information booth in the arcade they will help you find her. Good Luck."

"Thanks ever so much. If there is anything I can do for you please tell me," James said.

"If you ever need a runner incognito, and have some money to cover it, come see me. Somebody here will know where I'm at. Just ask for Moss."

"I may not," said James.

"Oh I've had a few times that it would have been a lot safer to pass the package to someone unknown," Moss said. "See you around. Me and Bart have to hit the showers."

James stepped out into the center of the Ghetto of Colors.

James meets the Princess by Lorilei : fenrir98@aol.com

Weaving his way through the Ghetto of Colors, James finally found himself at the palace where the Princess Whats-her-name resided. The guards at the entrance eyed James with suspicion. After all, James looked (and smelled) like he had just taken a bath in the city sewer. "HALT!", one of the guards barked. "What is your purpose here?" "I have to deliver this envelope to the Princess. It is of the utmost importance! Please! You must let me through!" James held out the soggy envelope. The guard crinkled his nose at the sight of it.

Suddenly, a troop of soldiers appeared behind James. They had followed him! Nervously, James again plead to be let in the palace. The guards looked at the soldiers and recognized them as belonging to the Princess's royal army. The commander of the troop bellowed at James. "You have something we want! Hand it over!!!" "NEVER!", James screamed. While the palace guards were busy trying to figure out what the heck was going on, James took a running leap and jumped over the guards. "STOP HIM!", the commander yelled. But it was too late. The half-witted guards were too slow.

James ran down the hallways until he reached a mighty room. He had no time to take in the spectacular view of the cathedral ceilings or the immense size of the room. There, he found the Princess. "Your majesty," he implored as he genuflected. "I have brought you this envelope which contain vital information and plans." Childlike in appearance (she has often been mistaken for a porcelain doll), the Princess said, "Oh, goody! It's here!" She held out her small hand to recieve it. "Kinda icky, isn't it?" she said as she examined it. "Oh, umm, sorry about that!"

Just then, the commander, his troops and the guards rushed in. "SEIZE HIM!" "STOP!" cried the Princess. "You will not touch this noble man! He has brought me the only thing that can save my kingdom! He has brought......." All eyes were now on the envelope as she opened it. "MY ENTRY FORM FOR THE 50 BILLION DOLLAR INTERGALACTIC CLEARINGHOUSE SWEEPSTAKES!!!!!!" "Huh?" everyone muttered, including James. "Well, how else do you think I can afford the spacestation? I'm broke, ya know! If I have the winning numbers and have it in the mail before midnight tonight......." she continued to mutter to herself as she slowly turned and walked away. James looked at the commander. And both men shrugged their shoulders. Who knew??

A Few Months Later by Roy Maier : donroy@ameritel.net

Some relaxing and entertaining months have passed since James discovered of the Ghetto of Colors which was blatantly dedicated to providing human pleasures of all kinds. This vacation spot of the otherwise mundane Beta IV had become part of James's regular routine. He had brought Maria here often to partake of its many offerings. Their favorite together spot was the Purple Pig which displayed and sold many off world bottled beverages that had exotic tastes as well as the usual selections of hallucinogens, alcohol, uppers and downers. Maria had actually spent an evening at the Pink Panther. That same night James had made a short visit to the Blue Bangle extending his friendship with Moss and Bart.

Maria was now employed by the law firm of Ex Wives of Goldberg, Goldberg & Goldberg, Inc. as a spotter. Unhappily this cut down their partying to only once or twice a week. However she was doing very well. Two weeks ago she spotted a middle aged couple arguing in the city park. She pulled a real coup by getting Mrs. Edna Goldberg to represent the man and at the same time she arranged to have Mrs. Uri Goldberg represent the woman. Both now have suits and counter suits. She got a bonus when she convinced them to join together to initiate a class action suit against the City Park Commission for not having argument warning signs posted. The firm expects to make a bundle.

This afternoon had James deliberately come to the Purple Pig to listen to the news. The winner of the Intergalactic Clearinghouse Sweepstakes was to be announced today. He liked listening to the news here better than anywhere including home because The Purple Pig had found a way to set the advertisement detector volume below the legal limit. It wasn't low enough to get in trouble with the spotters but it did make a difference. Maria had noticed it but didn't think it would be profitable to report it. Here the volume of the advertisements was about 80% of the news volume. He couldn't do that at home.

James took a cautious sip from his fresh Vogon Gargle Blaster. He listened.

"... is the number one fast food restaurant on Beta IV. Over 1,000,000,000 sold. Refer to this ad on your next visit and get a free plastic Boggle Worm straw."

The volume increased just a little. "A spokesperson for the Galactic Trade Organization said today that the rise in stock prices is due to the decision they made two weeks ago to impose a special tariff on gambling winnings of persons of special rank like princes and princesses. The inside investors seem to expect windfall profits for the GTO in the near future."

The volume doubled to say "COKA". It was immediately reduced to continue with "Cola is the favorite sex enhancing drink of Beta IV. It makes you look good while feeling good. Coka provides three times the social pleasure than any other drink. Coka is your passport to social acceptance. Coka with others is better than Coka. Buy Coka anywhere. Coka is the only thing."

"Do you need money? Has anybody accidentally offended you? If you have a phone you have a lawyer after some bodies money. Call Ex Wives of Goldberg, Goldberg & Goldberg, Inc. today."

"Need wheels or wings? Sam the Slam has the highest quality used flyers and ground cars available anywhere on Beta IV. Selected vehicles are on sale now. Sale ends soon, so hurry. Warranties are purchasable from 30 days up to five years, depending upon model selected."

The volume tweaked up. "Well anchor woman Ginger, today we will reveal the winner of the 50 billion dollar Intergalactic Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Do you think this will cause some commotion on Beta IV"

"Anchor man Paul I believe it will. Since it was announced last week that the winner is someone right here on Beta IV there has been a lot of excitement. The media and the Clearinghouse are certainly geared up to make the most of this event. We will have more on this hot breaking news story right after these messages."

"ALPHA Beta Travel includes the space station with it's 'Best Places on Beta IV' premier tours. You will see the multi-million dollar renovations that are transforming the stop over space station into an exquisite entertainment home for Princess Sherri and her guests. This is a 'must see' attraction. Call for seat reservations today!"

James stopped listening to recall his brief encounter with The Princess. Clearly she intended to win the Sweepstakes. After all she had the audacity to pay for and have secretly delivered to her the winning entry form. Great plan! He wondered how she had arranged it? Everybody knows these contests have been rigged for centuries, but he had never expected to be even close to seeing it in action. She could be a very interesting person. He would like to get close to her again mentally and physically. Maybe it wasn't her all her doing. A few others must have known what she was doing because he had almost gotten killed delivering the winning entry blank.

The volume upped a notch indicating the return of the news. "I have here with me a spokesperson for the Comptroller of the Beta IV committee for budget and taxation. Do you think the awarding of the Intergalactic Clearinghouse Sweepstakes here on Beta IV will have any impact on government services? Yes, anchor woman Ginger, I certainly do. The increased windfall tax collected from these winnings will allow us to... Excuse me Sir but we have to break for a few messages. We will continue this interview when we come back."

The loud blast of "BLOKE'S" indicated the start of advertising. It faded to "Bread. Bloke's Bread. Bloke's Bread. Bloke's Bread. Bloke's Bread. That's our motto. Bloke's Bread. Bloke's Bread. Bloke's Bread."

"Yuk," said James aloud. Then he chuckled softly as he saw the humor about to befall the tax department. They would not collect these taxes from someone tax exempt like a princess. The money would not fall into the hands of the government but would be available to those who really planned to take it. The big money guys helping Princess Scherezade are really cool. Looking around the room James saw what he expected. No one but him knew the joke. Ha Ha.

The news returned. "Because of the off planet influx of representatives of charitable organizations seeking donations from the soon to be announced winner the lodging and transportation industries are experiencing a financial boom."

"And anchor man Paul, don't forget the lawyers."

"Certainly not anchor woman Ginger, lawyers and their spotters are streaming in at hundreds per day. They will surely get their share. We are however hoping that most of the money will remain on Beta IV. We will be right back."

James sipped his Gargle Blaster and thought, "The princess is going to be pretty popular over the next few months. He probably would never to get to see her. Sigh." He thought about at the bright side. "The runner business will be booming too. I bet I could get some of the big bucks myself being a runner for her or her friends. Perhaps I could even be her personal runner of choice. She did like me." He dreamily imagined his great financial successes as a contributor to the saving of the Space Station.

The volume change began the next news segment. "And now to announce the winner of the 50 billion dollars we are going to the temporary headquarters of the Intergalactic Clearinghouse set up in City Park. What does it look like there in City Park?"

"Anchor man Paul the crowds are going crazy. Sales are booming. The Intergalactic Clearinghouse is doing very well today. They are just now gathering at the dais to announce the winner."

"COKA Cola is the favorite sex enhancing drink of Beta IV. It makes you look good while feeling good. Coka provides three times the social pleasure than any other drink. Coka is your passport to social acceptance. Coka with others is better than Coka. Buy Coka anywhere. Coka is the only thing."

"Where was the Princess now?" thought James. "Probably on her space station uncorking a bottle of Coka getting ready to celebrate. The prize money would save the space station and then some." He scanned the faces in the Purple Pig to find some he would like to celebrate with. "Sherri maybe?" Nope. Considering the interest shown him he may as well have been there alone.

A couple more mindless ads passed and the news came on. "We are switching power to the microphones where the CEO of Intergalactic Clearinghouse is ready to speak."

"I'm sure you are all excited because today Beta IV and its space station are the center of the galaxy. We are here at the center of the excitement. However the one person who is making all this possible is not here. She does not yet know who she is." The noise of the crowd drove to a crescendo yelling "She, she, it's a woman."

"THE INSurance Store sells all kinds of insurance. Our specialty is 'Spotters Insurance'. We have the most competitive rates in the industry. Pay us now or pay their lawyers later. The Insurance Store."

"Do Gooders Anonymous knows how to make your personal cause become a national cause. We know advertising. Do Gooders Anonymous has the finest lobbyists available to serve you. With your seed money we can generate a fervor for you cause and raise additional funds. No matter how insignificant your cause may be Do Gooders Anonymous can make it into a law. Just send us your money and your wish will become a requirement for everyone."

"Terminators Incorporated. Assist the departure of your loved ones with our euthanasia specialists. According to your desires we can send them out with a bang or a whimper. Make their parting a gala party or a slinking off into the mist. Terminators Incorporated know how to make the death of your old folks be the best end of their life they ever had."

The volume came back. "Here we are live in City Park where the CEO of Intergalactic Clearinghouse has just announced the name of the winner of the 50 billion dollar Intergalactic Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Right now they should be knocking on Maria Jehosophat Smith's door. The crowd is exploding in a frenzy to get to her first where ever she is."

"Jehosophat!" said James. "That doesn't sound like Princess Scherazade Moonbeam Starr. What the hell?" He got quiet and thought instead of speaking. "Maria Smith? Maria J. Smith? That's my Maria! The J. is for Jehosophat? You've got to be kidding." He finished off the Vogon Gargle Blaster. "Well there goes the space station. It will soon be missing. Good by Princess. Hello Maria."


James strained to remember. He had left the envelope in Maria's care for a short time while he had taken a shower. She couldn't have tampered with the envelope? No, she wouldn't Did she? She must have!

Realization hit. Most of the patrons of the Purple Pig heard James say "H O L Y S H I T !"

Carmen Mendoza by Kheldar : sstuddard@worldnet.att.net

Several weeks had passed. James had tried valiantly to get ahold of Maria, but to no avail. Her phone was either busy or he got the answering machine. "Hi," it would say in a soft, sexy voice. "I'm sorry that I am not available right now. Please leave your name and entire 32 digit phone number after the beep and I will definitly give you a call as soon as I. . ." Her machine always got cut off at the end. She wasn't very digitally inclined! He decided to give her one more try before giving up and accepting that he had been used. Rrrring!... Rrrring!... "Hello?" A man's voice. James froze with confusion. "Yes? Who is this?. . . Look! We have her and you better deliver the disk before something unpleasant happens." James mustered a feeble "Disk? What?" The phone went dead in his ear. CLICK! What was going on? What happened to Maria? What disk? He was very confused. He sat for hours thinking back on all the time he had spent with Maria and who might have wanted to hurt her. Billions of dollars can buy an awful lot of protection. Why didn't the man ask for money and not some disk? Suddenly, something that Maria had said several months ago popped into his head! "James, if anything should ever happen to me, I want you to go to 4500th Street and look up an old friend of mine, Carmen Mendoza." James had blown it off. "Nothing will ever happen, baby. Not while I am protecting you." She had folded into his arms with a sense of security and love. The next morning she seemed okay again.

The next day found James at 4500th Street. He pushed the button for Carmen Mendoza. "Yes?" a distintly spanish voice answered. "I'm here to see Carmen" he answered. "It's about Maria." A huge silence fell. "Come inside quickly! You're in terrible danger!" Her voice sounded hysterical. James rushed inside when the buzzer sounded. Even in the 31st century some of the old door lock systems were still the best. Carmen lived on the 26th floor and the hydro lifts weren't working so James was huffing and puffing when he finally reached her door. At least she wasn't on the 280th floor. James might have given up if that had been the case. He knocked on her door, too softly he thought, but the door was opened almost immediately. The woman there was stunning. Her long wavy blonde hair accuented her heart shaped face and samll sharp nose. She was about eight-ten, a little shorter than James and most of the people he knew. Ever since the height expulsion of 2076, most people weren't under nine-one. She haad a very nice form, athletic and trim and well, he had to be honest, curvy. The most striking aspect of her though was her eyes. Pale blue-green orbs that saw through eternity and yet were not hardened by the cruel aspects of life. Very sensitive. "Hi! I'm Carmen." He almost knew it had to be. "Hurry up! Get inside!" She pulled the door shut behind him. He turned towards her and saw her bolt the door in about five places. "No one followed you, right?" "I. . . I don't think so." "Good! What news do you have? We have been waiting for weeks. . ." she trailed off waiting for him to answer. James briefed her on what had happened so far. How he had delivered a package for some spoiled royal snot, seen the news where his girlfriend, Maria, had won the billions of dollars, and then called her house and had the brief conversation with the man on the other end.

They sat sipping their COKA Cola's while Carmen thought things through. "James, there is something I must tell you," she started. "About five years ago, Maria and I were roommates just graduating from Milak on Garraronar V. That was one of the few institutions in the six galaxys to specialize in Law and Order Enforcement. "We were two of an elite group that also took mulitiple courses in Secret Entities and Organizations, the lessons teaching us everything from weapons handling to bare hands fighting and to abolishing identies, much as the FBI did back in the 20th century. "We were the top of our class, getting many offers and missions before we even graduated. Over the next four years we ran many assigments and had many victories. . . and a few losses. Our last mission involved a group calling themselves Deepspace Uniformed Protection Agency, or D.U.P.A. for short. These were BAD guys, James. They did everthing from destroying ecological systems on inhabited planets to stealing a solar system's sun. We had finally found where there hideout was. I was chosen to infiltrate their headquarters and learn what I could. "For three months I lived among those cretins prentending to like them and their ways. Even now I shudder at the memory of some of the things they did in their off time. Brrrr! I learned of their main objective quite honestly by accident. I was sharing a bed with the second in command, 'Torch'- I had to fit in or I was dead, that's all there was to it- Anyway, 'Torch' talked in his sleep. "'. . . on every sun. . . same time. . . hnnhnn. . . all dead. . .' I was stunned. Every sun? That would be chaos and death on a scale larger than anyone has ever seen before. It would destroy whole races, whole galaxys. "I had to get away and let Maria know so she could make a report. I was caught contacting Maria and we were both captured and tortured for weeks before we were rescued. By that time our superiors had learned that the plans for this nightmare were being housed on the Kebbler Space Station around Cyrius XI, named after Lawrence Kebbler who discoved Gravitational Drives for Galaxy Cruisers and all forms of hyper space travel. "Our division knew too much and D.U.P.A. took action. One by one our life long friends and families begin dying. Our organization took control. They relocated anyone who had known us and gave all of us new identies. That is about the time Maria met you. We continued our work for a few more months and then we got the break we needed. "Darran, one of our best operatives, was killed bringing us the disk containg the location of the Kebbler Space Station. DOA." she paused a moment with a sad look in her eyes. "Darran was very special to me. To all of us. He was a great agant, and a good friend. Unfortunately, the disk was coded. Better than we could even crack. We needed help. "The most famous hack in all the known galaxies is Wertyl Wysisig from planet Agrote in the Trepidor Galaxy. We contacted him and he agreed to help us. . . for fourty billion dollars! Well, even our agancy doesn't have that kind of money. We didn't know what to do. "When Maria stumbled upon your courier duty to the Princess she delved further. She discovered what it was that you were delivering and arrainged to swap the entries so she would recieve the winning ticket. "She knew the risk involved. Being a public figure would definitly draw attantion to herself and make her a target for D.U.P.A. What other choice did we have? We needed the money to pay Wertyl and this was the only way we could see to get it quickly enough to stop D.U.P.A. "Now you know the whole story. . . will you help us stop D.U.P.A. and find the missing Kebbler Space Station? Maria told us about you. We could use someone like you." Carmen sat back and watched him with her vibrant eyes. James sat thinking for a long time, not saying a word, trying to assimilate all that he had learned. Maria didn't abandon him! She was in desperate trouble! They had been together for almost nine months and had had never realized. . . "Carmen," he said, lifting his COKA cola cylinder, "I would like to help you." He tilted his COKA cola, downed it in one gulp, and sat watching her, his hands shaking from the enormity of his decision.

Questions by Roy Maier : donroy@ameritel.net

Carmen sat quiet and pensive for a few minutes. It was the proverbial pregnant pause. They just stared at each other. James didn't really see Carmen, but he did feel the aura of her athletic curves. He felt the presence and absence of Maria. He saw Maria's body and then Princes Scherezade's head. Images fading in and out. He visualized a woman, who looked like Maria, but who wasn't Maria. The curves of Scherezade were the curves of whoever Maria was. Carmen's blond hair adorned the face of Sherri who was holding an empty moneybag. Scherezade's face turned to anger, revenge. Suns winked out and it was dark. He was cold. James shivered and he saw piles of money, fifty billion dollars burst into flame. He felt as if he had just jumped into the biggest fire he had ever seen.

Carmen broke the silence. "James", she said softly, "this is pretty big stuff. It's too big for us to handle alone. Thanks for joining us. We desperately need someone with your experience and motivation." James did not respond so Carmen asked a question. "Well Agent James do you think you can handle this?" Pause. She leaned closer. "Could you live up to the title of Handsome Viral Manly Desired Agent James?"

His eyes focused into hers and he came back from eternity. He sat up straight, sucked in his gut, puffed out his chest, smiled demurely and said "Ah, for you I could do almost…" His smile twitched a little. "For Maria I could...ah…" His smile clearly strained a little more. "To save the Galaxy is a noble cause anyone, especially me, could…" The smile was gone. His mouth hung open. "Where's the money?"

"Actually, I don't know. That's part of the problem. Maria should have it, but I haven't spoken to her in several weeks. Perhaps it is tied up in litigation or the Intergalactic Clearinghouse hasn't transferred it to her yet. The lawyers may already have a claim on it. Perhaps she and her captors have it. Did your mystery man at her place say anything about the money?"

"No." James was pensive. "Strange too. I keep thinking about 50 billion dollars versus a disk versus Maria. What is with that guy? He must already have the money. Why would he want to hold Maria as ransom for the information on some disk? Besides, what made him think I knew anything about a disk? Yeah, and how did he know who was calling?"

"Good questions James," encouraged Carmen, "but I do not have the answers. The guy at Maria's place may, or may not have been part of D.U.P.A. He most likely is though because he knows about the disk."

"Perhaps he just thinks he knows. May be he is after some other disk."

"I don't think so." Carmen responded and changed the subject. "If we are to work together we need to trust each other. At the moment I'm not too sure. I must check if you have the right motivations before I can tell you any more. We do need your help to accomplish the organization's goals and save the Galaxy. I hope you don't mind a little quiz. Which is more important - Maria or 50 billion dollars?"

James hated 'little quizzes' and trick questions. No matter how you answered it was going to be wrong. He hoped he would provide passing answers. "OK. It’s a tough choice but I'd better go with Maria."

"Is that your final answer?"

"Yes, Maria is worth more to me than 50 billion dollars." But as he said it he knew he was lying. And he knew he was a looser for believing that way. He hated these quizzes.

"Wrong answer", said Carmen. "Maria knows as well as I do that as an agent she is expendable for the cause. Money, especially lots of money, is a necessity for winning at anything. Let's try another question. Which is more important - the disk or Maria?"

James answered with no hesitation. "Maria of course. The disk has nothing on it but the location of their hideout. It can not be worth much because they surely know where their own hideout is."

"Wrong answer", said Carmen. "Same reasoning. James you're not doing too well. Sigh. Because they want the disk it must have more information on it than we suspect."

"Give me a break. They just don't want YOU to find out where the Kebbler Space Station is. How about I ask some questions. I might not want to join up. I just want to rescue Maria."

"OK", allowed Carmen.

"Why me? Why pick me and not one of your regular operatives?"

"Come on James, think. What special skill do you have that we need?"

James pondered. "Nothing I can think of."

"You are a Runner. I have the disk. Maria has the money. Maybe? Wertyl is in the Trepidor Galaxy. The Kebbler Space Station is someplace else. Lots of money needs to be quietly moved. Our headquarters at a location I can not reveal needs the information on that disk before D.U.P.A. can act. But most of all we need someone we are sure is not a possible double agent for D.U.P.A. and is not known by them. Maria has checked you out long enough for us to know."

"I see", James slowly whispered. "Is Maria my girl friend or just an operative?"

Carmen hesitated then enunciated, "I should not answer that. It is between you and her."

"Who is she, really?"

"You know better than that. I can't blow her cover."

James was having some misgivings rescuing Maria. This was a bit more complicated and risky than he had surmised. Maybe Maria J. Smith wasn't even Maria, but somebody else. She was somebody else. Did that somebody else care about him? Should he care about the Galaxy suns? "OK another question," James continued, "How do you know this isn't just some madness chase and the suns are not really in trouble?"

"While I was their captive I learned more from them than they did from me. I believe they can and intend to do really bad things. Stopping them is vital." She sounded very sure.

"If I join up", posed James, "what is in it for me?"

"Besides getting to save Maria you get to save me. I'm at risk too. I could be a nice prize." She paused observing James. Regretfully she changed her pitch. "Wertyl is expecting forty billion. How much of that he actually gets and how much sticks to your pocket is up to you. But you must get the true information from the disk!"

"OK. Maybe." James adjusted himself to a more comfortable position on the chair. "So, where is the disk?"

Carmen did not answer directly. "Would you care for another drink, with a bit of Floozal in it?" This time Carmen smiled demurely and gracefully transformed her sitting position to gliding around the entertainment table to the cupboard doors on the other side. She bent down to get something appropriate from the cooled shelves.

James was of course watching her. He relaxed some, thought "cleavage", and said, "be a little more inventive. Put together something much stronger. Enough to give me a jolt, but not so much so I can't still think clearly."

"I think what you need is some fortified Quadulpa Juice from Cyrius XI. Have you had it before?"

"Can't say that I have."

"You'll like it," she said as she poured a sparkling pale yellow liquid into a frosted glass.

She poured a second glass, passed one to James and leaned on the blue-green Jade counter top. It was color coordinated with her eyes and the effect was not lost on James. "Sip it slowly", she warned.

He did not drink, but rolled the glass between his fingers and asked again, "So where is the disk?"

"Hiding right here." Carmen stood up straight in a confident and arrogant pose that was very appealing. "It is in plain sight. Right where D.U.P.A. would not think to look for it. I, of course knowing where it is at all times will not lose it. Can you find it?" She teased.

She was indeed stunning. He looked at her and not for the disk. That pose accentuated her chest. Firm under her silk pale green blouse the rise of her taut nipples was holding his attention.

"James, the disk. Where is it?"

James looked away in embarrassment and then around the room while Carmen gave an impish smile. He looked carefully at the full wall mural slowly panning though a rainy forest. It wasn't there. He studied the pictures of far away places hanging on other walls. A likely place for a disk was in the ornate frames, but it was not there. The aqua carpet and the light forest brown walls had no hiding place. The pale blue light emitting ceiling was free from any blemish. A plush deep green and brown pastel sofa had no spots that could be a disk. He looked at the entertainment table. It had only a couple of wet glasses and some water rings. His gaze returned to Carmen.

Her deep ocher silk pants enhanced the presentation of the right body parts. He looked up into her face. "I'm not doing to good at this either. Am I? How about some hints? Can I see it from here or do I have to get up and wander around?"

Her smile laughed although she did not. "You can see it from where you are sitting. The hint is I don't expect the boys from D.U.P.A. to find it, so I don't expect you to find it either. If you can you will make a great operative."

"Could Maria find it without your help?"

"I'm pretty sure she could."

"Drat!" He searched the room swiveling slowly in his chair, but refused to get up.

After a few minutes Carmen said, "We can't wait all day. I will just have to tell you."

"OK I give up where is it?"

Carmen was clearly having fun toying with him. "Well actually there are two coded disks. One was created by our organization. It is to be used to test Wertyl Wysisig's willingness to give us the truth from the real disk. It could also be used as a decoy during delivery. One disk is marked 'left' and the other is marked 'right'. I'm not sure which is the real disk. One disk must get to Wertyl. The right one of course." Then she did laugh. "So where are the disks?"

James sighed, "I don't know."

"Another hint. They are tucked away with an aluminum marble." She giggled.

"I give up."

"Men are such wimps! They are right here adorning the front of my false bra."

He adjusted the way he imagined through her blouse. "You mean that ain't really you?"

"No James, only part of it is me. The rest is a great place to hide both disks, one on the right and one on the left." Carmen shook her head pretending disgust with his inability to find the disk. "I think you need that drink in your hand."

He did. He sipped the cool liquid slowly. "Ooo. Aah. That does taste good." He sipped again. "Makes me feel younger and stronger too." He swallowed most of it down. "Those Dupa guys had better watch out. I feel like I'm ready to take them all on. I have a strong desire to do anything for you, with you. You don't by any chance have a need for a good man do you?"

Meanwhile... on the other side of town... by Nadine : llandra@netscape.net

Orange lights.

Infrared spots.

Brown spirals of COKA cola fizzing into an infinite point in space.

The acne-dotted face of James, staring into her eyes whispering, "Maria, I love you."

A man's harsh voice interrupts the miasma of colours. "Rise and shine, sweetheart. It's time to move again."

Ishani, code name Marie, opens her eyes, squinting them against the harsh sunlight. They must have drugged her heavily, she can still feel the bitter taste of Naliytrinin on her tongue. Cheap drug. Hallucinations that looks like a 3-vid gone wacky. And a splitting headache.

The man drags her unceremoniously to her feet. Walking in her drug-induced state is not the most pleasant of experiences. The man had to wait impatiently for her to vomit a couple of times. After a dizzying trip through a hydro lift, the door opens to show the landing dock for a spacecraft. The ship itself is tucked in a corner, sparkling silver. An Inteli Lambda 3401. Those ships can move you from this galaxy to the next in fifty seconds. A brief tinge of regret passes through Ishani's mind. Even though James was a fumbling lover, she would have liked to say goodbye to him.

"What are you staring at? Get in there." A hand shoves her into the opening doors of the ship.

A Short Trip by Roy Maier : donroy@ameritel.net

Ishani stumbled through a short corridor into a lift. It went up. When the door reopened she was pushed into a circular passenger compartment. She banged into the server's station and flopped onto the floor.

" Aah, soft carpet", she slurred.

Ishani thought this was a nice place to stay, but her momentary comfort was harshly interrupted. The man lifted her and dropped her unceremoniously into one of the oversized plush passenger seats. He buckled her in and then handed her a barf bag.

"Hang on and keep this at the ready. You'll be fine in a little while", he said.

A spacious distance in front of her the cylindrical wall of the central ship's core boasted a tasteful mural of drifting clouds which curved away from her both left and right. The clouds were drifting along in both directions. Or was it just her head drifting? The green concave carpeted wall behind her could have been the outside of the ship or it could have been a forest. Ishani closed her eyes and rocked with the boat.

"Stay there," growled the man.

She peeked open her eyes and attempted a derisive look conveying incredulity that she should want to go anywhere. He was headed for the server's station. He fixed a drink. She saw him dump a little packet of powder into it. He brought it to her. "Drink. It is the antidote."

She did not question nor think. She drank it and handed the glass back. When the man walked back to the server station Ishani looked around. The roomy passenger seating was aligned along this wall. This was clearly a first class compartment. All the seats were empty and there were no flight attendants. Ishani suspected this was to be a private flight. Just Ishani, a well dressed swarthy man and a headache. A headache which fortunately seemed to be abating. Unfortunately she could now feel the gripping distress in her stomach. It felt like it was being used as a clothes cleaning machine buffeting the clothes around and sucking out the residue. The residue would soon be ready to go to the barf bag.

The man selected a seat a few away from her and buckled in. The hum of the engines started. Ishani usually liked the elastic gravity changes of lift off. In happier circumstances she had often pretended the space ships were large roller coasters taking her to new heights. Subtle vibrations joined the humming. She suspected this trip would not be so enjoyable. The Laundromat load was off balance. She looked at the bag in her hand, then at the man. He smiled understandingly and nodded at the bag. Maria was resolute not to use it. Ishani was queasy.

"Bing, bing, bing," said the intercom speaker. "This is the pilot sleeking. For the comfort of sour passengers we will be shifting off at shree Gees. Please sway in your seats. For this slight the IGSFSA requires smee to make tish safety announcement. In case of undue turbulence shore engine malsuction shoe are to hold your shead down between your legs and kiss your arse good-by. Ha. Ha. Ha."

There was a forceful surge of engine energy. The seats stretched out to almost flat and swung backwards to the horizontal. She sank deeper into the cushions that grabbed her like the warmth of a hot bath. The roiling in her stomach pressed down to a minor seething lump. The man relaxed, closed his eyes and seemed to sleep. The humming mellowed and the vibrations increased to become long waves synchronizing with the pulsing in her head. The room swayed gently and Ishani grew heavier. The extra weight overcame the pain in her head. She would almost seem comfortable if only she could move a little to relieve the stabbing in her hip. What was she sitting on? The drugs took effect and Ishani doped off to unconsciousness.

When she awoke she felt much better. Mostly because she had lost half her weight and was easing on the top of the soft cushions holding her up like the soap bubbles of the warm bath. The passenger seat had resumed its chair attributes and now had her facing a flat carpeted wall rising straight up from a green valley floor. Overhead the muraled clouds floated up around the cylindrical sky. Behind her a flat wall alternated panels of glowing light with pastels. To her left a short way up the green carpeted slope the man was at the server station fixing a drink. It was for him.

The man continued up the slope rolling the glass in his hands. She watched him walk up the curve as it became the third wall of the room until he was standing horizontal to her floor on the wall. He stopped, turned and warned, "Remain where you are. It is a short trip." He continued up to the top of the compartment turning upside down. He disappeared behind the other side of the cylindrical ceiling.

Maria shook her head and thought, "The up down perspective of space travel never seemed quite so disorientating before. Must be the drugs."

She relaxed and assessed her position. Her headache wasn't so bad any more. Her stomach would hold its contents. The bruise on her hip remained. Maria's brain began to clear and she thought she remembered what was important. Internally she commanded herself, "I am Maria! Ishani must be suppressed! Get into control. Stay in control."

"Bing, bing, bing," said the intercom speaker. "Please buckle into your seats and prepare for arrival."

The man came out from behind the clouds and picked a seat up there to Maria's left.

The Engine noise gently increased as did Maria's weight. The seats flattened and swung forward. The perception of down moved from the curved carpet on the concave of the room to the flat circular carpet in front of her. This time the vibrations and humming were not painfully uncomfortable. The Gees weren't bad either.

A klunk and a jolt. The vibrations stopped and all was quiet. They had docked at a space station.

The man approached her chair as Maria unbuckled and easily arose in the 70% gravity. They walked lightly to the lift door. The man pushed the button. When it opened he led her in. It went down. They left the ship through a short corridor that could have been the same one Maria had entered through, if she could have remembered it. He took Maria's arm and propelled her through metal passageways to an impressively ornate door. He knocked. It opened. He pushed her in. The door closed.

Maria stumbled and then stood in the presence of The Princes Scherazade Moonbeam Starr.

"So! Where is my money?" demanded the Princess.

The Play's the Thing. by Maryland Seaturtle : md_seaturtle@yahoo.com

"Okay, hold it! Cut, Cut, Cut" shouted out the director, Al Hitchcock, Jr. of the Strange and Unusual Events Theatre Company. "You guys are really blowing this really good script!! I've seen better acting in a middle school production."

And with that pronouncement, Al Hitchcock summarily fired all the actors who were working on the staged version of ex-President Bill Clinton's latest short novel entitled "James and the Missing Space Station".

Walking from the theatre, Hitchcock Jr. thought to himself, "This was one of Clinton's better works... Too bad we couldn't have carried it off. It could have won a number of people Tonys or Helen Hayes Awards or Emmys or maybe even Oscars if properly done.. Oh well....."

Hitchcock Jr. then thought to himself, "And the sad thing about it is that the short novel was really based on fact. Everything President Clinton wrote about actually happened to him in a former life when his name was James, the very James who was the title character in the book and subsequently the play."

He continued "Maybe, maybe I ought to reread the play with these new insights. Then armed with those insights, I should interview President Clinton to get the full story"

"Yeah, I think I'll do that! I've read it many times.. But now I remember, the last time I read it I couldn't get past the part of the play based on the novel chapter titled 'A Short Trip'"

Hitchcock Jr. found his dog-eared copy of the short novel 'James and the Missing Space Station'. He looked at it fondly, thinking of all the wonderful locations where he had read it: Paris, Kenya, Fiji Islands, the North Pole, Ridge (Maryland) and Kook............amunga. "Ah, such memories...but I digress!"

As he started to read it, he became so relaxed that he started to dream and his dream began something like this:

"Ishani stumbled through a short corridor into a lift. It went up. When the door reopened she was pushed into a circular passenger compartment. She banged into the server's station and flopped onto the floor.

"Aah, soft carpet", she slurred.

Ishani thought this was a nice place to stay, but her momentary comfort was harshly interrupted. The man lifted her and dropped her unceremoniously into one of the oversized plush passenger seats. He buckled her in and then handed her a barf bag................................"

And later, "A klunk and a jolt. The vibrations stopped and all was quiet. They had docked at a space station.

The man approached her chair as Maria unbuckled and easily arose in the 70% gravity. They walked lightly to the lift door. The man pushed the button. When it opened he led her in. It went down. They left the ship through a short corridor that could have been the same one Maria had entered through, if she could have remembered it. He took Maria's arm and propelled her through metal passageways to an impressively ornate door. He knocked. It opened. He pushed her in. The door closed.

Maria stumbled and then stood in the presence of The Princes Scherazade Moonbeam Starr.

So! Where is my money?" demanded the Princess."

But his dreamy reveries were not to last. It was a dark and stormy night. A shot rang out.

As he ran around looking for the shooter he thought to himself "I simply must continue my reading....."

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