Includes illos by Tim Riley

An alien fleet surrounded us.

There were so many of them. I turned the screener on to disable their weapons. For that matter, they were so close they couldn't shoot for fear of hitting one of their own. So it appeared they decided to smother us!

I'm no good at unexpected emergencies. If I head into trouble and know I'm heading into trouble, I'm okay. But this?

Looking at Bloggo, I said, "They're going to crush us. I wish we had a force field!"

"We do," Bloggo sang with aggravating calmness. (Why is it red dwarfs always sing? Must be something about their vocal cords.) "It comes with the time-warp drive, in case we pop out where meteors are swarming."

"Oh," I said, momentarily reassured. Then it hit me. "But we're prisoners!" I told him. "Yeah, they can't crush us, but we can't get out! We can't use the time-warp, because they'd be taken with us." I jumped out of my chair and started pacing down the hall and back. I pulled at my hair, I gritted my teeth. Then I suddenly realized we had a limited amount of food on board. The air could recycle again and again, but we could starve while they held us here.

I gnashed my teeth as I felt my stomach beginning to growl. "Shut up!" I yelled.

"Sir? I didn't sing a word."

"Forget it!" I snapped and paced some more.

Finally it hit me. Get help!

I went to Bloggo's chair. "I'm captain of this ship, remember? What I say goes. So -- call Abba for help!"It came out awfully close to a scream.

"Yes, sir!" Bloggo answered as he began his operatic response. He was. sounding almost like an underling. Almost. That was his purpose. "Very good, sir. You are in command, sir. And you have a brilliant idea there, sir. So brilliant that it reached me over five minutes ago, and I called. Using the time-warp drive, they are heading our way with the weed controller designed to dissolve this fleet. They said they would send many rocket sprayers around the fleet before the aliens are even aware they are there. They should arrive any minute, sir."

"Very good," I said, irritated by his sarcastic attitude but mollified because help was on the way.

I waited ten long seconds, then said, "Well, where are they? That drive is instantaneous."

"Indeed it is, sir. However, it takes time to man their ships. It shouldn't be much longer."

Even as he said it, the speaker announced, "Captain Rick Suddenly, we zoomed past them and released the spraying rockets. There is some firing from the alien ships, but we've avoided being hit. They aren't paying a bit of attention to the small rockets. You should see results very soon."

To my relief, 'very soon' was hardly out of the speaker's mouth when I noticed signs of dissolution. The alien ships were beginning to shrivel. Good thing I had found out the bulk of the alien ships were plants, grown on the back side of the moon. It hadn't taken long to develop a super equivalent of weed killer which withered them to harmless ash.

"You see, Bloggo?" I said. "There wasn't a thing to worry about. We're safe as we can be." Dear God, I've got to think of a good way to apologize after we get out of this.

"I'll remember your bravery till my dying day," Bloggo replied.

You're not making an apology any easier, I thought. Then I looked at him and saw a grin.

I couldn't help it. I started to laugh and it became an uproarious response to what had happened.

Finally, shaking my head at my behavior, I stopped laughing and said, "Bloggo old buddy, how do you put up with me?"

"You have your good points," he sang.

"Oh. Such as?"

"Well, for one thing, you. . . ." He paused. "And of course, there's your way of. . . ." He tilted his pointed head. "It's hard to -- Hey look," he interjected, "The alien ships are just ash, and our rescue team is joining us."

I knew he was putting me on. I shouldn't have asked for compliments. I seated myself beside him, an idea growing. "I'd guess you warped the message to Abba and gave them our location. Right?"

"Affirmative."

"Then we're here before they destroyed the post."

"True."

I called our rescuers. "Guys, we've got some work to do. You have two time-warp drives in each ship, right?"

"Right."

"You have the comm code to talk to them?"

"Indeed."

"Call them and tell them the aliens are coming. Everybody there should get on their ships. Then they're to take off, in tight formation, leaving a few of their weaker ships behind. One of your ships then joins them and warp the whole kabooble to another time and place, where they'll be safe. The aliens will think they hit us hard, while everyone will actually be safe and sound."

"Sounds like a winner to me! Will do."

"We'll meet you at the port, present time." I leaned back in my chair.

"Clever, sir," Bloggo sang.

"Thankee kindly," I replied. That was a genuine compliment. "Now let's go home."

###

We landed and got out, heading for the car Abba had sent. I had hoped to bump into Wanona (with that bod of hers, she 's real fun to bump into!) but my luck wasn't with me, so we entered the waiting car and were soon in Captain Abba's office.

Standing, he extended a congratulary hand. "Great work, Rick. I knew I could count on you."

I squeezed his hand and sat. Getting right to the point, I asked, "How many of those weed-eater rockets do you have in stock? I want to go back to old Luna and start spraying their gardens."

Abba clicked a screen and studied it. "We have sixty-five completed. Now that everything's in place, they'll be turning out at least forty an hour." He looked at me. "How many do you think you'll need?"

I'd been giving it some thought. "I think four rockets per garden should do the trick. Each garden takes fifty years to mature. Four hundred stops will cover two thousand years. That might not get 'em all, but it'll wipe out enough to cripple their fleet."

Abba nodded. "Using four per garden, you'll need sixteen hundred rockets. Can the Clunker hold that many?"

"She's built for big hauls," I told him. I looked at Bloggo. "Load up what they have, then set up a flow. You can handle that, my friend. I want to start wiping out alien fleets ASAP. Okay?"

Standing, Bloggo asked Abba, "Where's the factory? Are there delivery trucks there?"

Captain Abba wrote an address on a slip of paper and handed it to Bloggo. "Take the car you came in," he said. "And yes, there are trucks at the factory. You can start moving the sprayers right now. I'll tell them you're coming." He made his call. Bloggo left.

Leaning back in his chair, Abba looked at me. "You seem to be in a hurry, Rick. Not," he added, "that it isn't important."

"I'm worried the aliens will discover our use of the weed killer. I want to get it in action before they're aware of it."

"You know," Abba said, "I can open another factory to speed things up. My superiors got all over me about the one that's operating, but they relented when we wiped out that fleet."

He pushed a few buttons to get things rolling, then asked, "Do you think they have some way to send messages to the past?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, but I don't want to take any chances." Then another thought popped into my head. "Are you recording this?"

Abba reached for a switch. "Sorry; it's a habit."

"Don't turn it off!" I quickly insisted. "I want it on, and I want a copy of it when we're through."

He lifted his eyebrows. "Oh? Why?"

"Messing with time makes changes. When I return, I might find you an executive in charge of making lawnmowers! I want this recording to show you when I return, to prove I'm not just telling tales. If this works," I went on, "you won't be threatened by aliens. You'll be living in peace, without knowing what you've missed."

Abba rubbed his chin, considering what I'd suggested. "I see your point." He grinned and added, "It'll be great, living in peace. Sure, I'll make you a copy."

Which he did, and I left.

###

Back at the Clunker, Bloggo looked up from arranging the current load. "I have a suggestion," he sang.

"Suggest away."

"When we depart, we should orbit several of these rockets around the Clunker, far enough out where they'll be beyond our force field. If we pop up with alien ships around us, the rockets can spray them away."

"Great idea! We'll do it.

"By the way," I added, "Abba now has another factory going. We should be ready in a little more than a day."

"Which gives you time to visit Wanona," Bloggo trilled and grinned.

"You know it! But I'll be here when we're ready to go."

###

When we returned to old Earth, I checked the local time. "We returned to the time we left," I informed Bloggo.

"Interesting, the way time works," he sang.

"I'm going to look up Rob Shelsky's address. I really want to see him now. We might never come back."

"I thought you were in a hurry to spray."

"A few hours shouldn't make any difference," I replied.

It was still night (well, early morning) when I floated the Clunker down in Shelsky's front yard. I left her floating half a meter above his lawn, in order not to do any damage to his landscape.

"He's probably still asleep," Bloggo warned me.

I climbed down the landing ladder and went to Shelsky's front door. After ringing the bell, knocking, then ringing the bell again, the door opened. Shelsky was standing there in his bathrobe, a pistol pointed at me.

Backing up, I said, "Hold on! I just wanted to show you my space ship."

Shelsky blinked, looked from me to the Clunker and then back to me. His eyes widened. "I'll be damned!" he exclaimed. "It's actually floating there. What kind of trick is this?" He still sounded suspicious, but he put his gun away.

"No trick," I assured him. "In fact, if you check your phone messages, I think you'll find one from Colonel Patrick Foster of NASA. I just paid him a visit and he said he'd call you about a flying saucer his outfit just destroyed."

"NASA? Flying saucers? A spaceship in my front yard?" He shook his head. "I'll wake up any minute."

"It's no trick, Mr Shelsky. I'm a great fan of yours, and I wanted to meet you."

He rubbed his eyes. "A fan from the future? Now I know I'm dreaming!"

"Come get on my spaceship. I have some to show you."

Tenuously accepting it, he followed me. "A fan from the future?" he asked. "You mean they still print my books in the future? What author wouldn't like to hear that."

"Your flying saucer books are reprinted every twenty years or so. Right now we're fighting flying saucers, and they can't turn out enough of your books to meet the demand."

I started up the ladder, then reached down a helping hand. "Not only that, but my ship's engineer is an alien."

"Why not?" he said. "Flying saucers, time travel, a spaceship in my front yard. . .an alien just rounds it out."

We entered the control room and Bloggo stood up. "How are you, Mr Shelsky?" he sang.

Rob Shelsky shook his head. "My mind's on overload," he sighed.

I turned on the viewscreen and sat the recording for our first approach to Earth, where we saw the garden. "Look at this," I said. "It's the other side of the moon."

Peering at the screen, Shelsky asked, "What's that, a bunch of small flying saucers?"

"More than that," I replied. "It's a garden of flying saucers! They grow them on the other side of the moon!"

He looked like he needed to sit down, so I guided him to my chair.

"This," he whispered after a moment's recovery time, "is just too much." He looked up at me. "The aliens are growing flying saucers?"

"You see it right there," I told him. "It takes them fifty years to mature. Our scientists have developed a super weed killer. I'm going to spray that garden, then go back fifty years in time and spray the next one, and keep it up for two thousand years. The aliens have other ships, but the bulk of their fleet is grown. I intend to wipe 'em all out, so they'll never be a threat to my time, your time, anyone in the galaxy's time." I poured him a cup of water. "Drink this, and think about it."

He took a drink, looked around, then took another one. Shaking his head, he sipped the remainder, smiled, and looked up at me. "You know what? I can't help but regret I won't get royalties on all those reprints!" The smile turned into laughter and another shake of his head. "By the way; I didn't ask your name."

"I'm Rick Suddenly," I told him. "My engineer is Bloggo."

"I'll remember this for the rest of my life."

"I'm afraid not, Mr Shelsky. After I destroy all the gardens, time will change. You might never write any UFO books. You might not write at all, in the changed surroundings. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" he said. "I've made a good living with my writing!"

"Think about me," I replied. "I'll return to an entirely different way of life. For years, we have been fighting the aliens. When I go back, it'll be a world of peace. I have no idea what I'll return to."

Shelsky sighed. "A world that will never have heard of me." Then he smiled. "But peace is worth it," he added.

"You bet!" I exclaimed. Then I added, "Well, we've got to get going, Mr Shelsky. I can't begin to explain how great it was to meet you."

He got to his feet. "Even though I won't remember this, it was a blast!"

###

We sprayed saucer gardens for two thousand years, and it was uneventful. Boring, in fact, with the forty-two hour recharging the drives demanded. Then we went home.

The landing port didn't look very different. A landing port is a landing port, war or peace. But how would we find Abba?

"I suggest we go to his office," Bloggo sang.

I noticed a space outside the port where cars would pull up and receive passengers. "Let's try that," I said, thinking I'd give the driver Abba's address.

There was no driver! When we entered the car, an automated voice said, "Destination, please."

I gave the address as we seated ourselves.

"For safety, please buckle up, and then we will depart."

We buckled up and the car moved away.

None of the buildings we passed looked familiar, and the same was true of Abba's building. A sign over the door said, "Abba Industries", so I knew we were at the right place. What other changes were there?

A pretty girl at the reception desk looked at me and beamed. "Mr Suddenly!" she said. "Welcome back. As partner, you and your friend go straight to President Abba's office. He'll want to see you right away."

I looked around. "Ahhh, I've been gone so long I forget how to get there."

She gave a tinkling laugh, then pointed at a bank of elevators. "Always the kidder! Take the center elevator, of course. I'll tell him you're coming."

We took the center elevator. When it stopped, the door slid open to reveal a magnificent office. Abba came around his desk, smiling. Then his eyes took in Bloggo.

"Who's your friend?"

I took out the copy of the recording of our last meeting. "This will explain everything," I told him. "It'll simplify matters if you view this first."

We sat at his desk while he watched the recording.

When he was finished, while he still had the amazed expression, I asked, "How's production going on the time-warp drive?"

His face went blank. "Time-warp drive?" I realized reference to the drive hadn't been on the recording.

"Settle back, old buddy," I said, "and let me tell you how we're going to make another fortune."

When I finished, Abba leaned back in his chair. "This is fabulous. I tell you what, let's go out and celebrate."

As we stepped out of the elevator onto the bottom floor, Wanona came through the front door. She was beaming with pleasure as she spotted me. "Rick!" she cried out as she ran to me. "Lanalita called and told me you were back." Grabbing me in a big hug, she looked up and said, huskily, "How's my marvelous husband?"

Husband? Huh? I thought. I'm a bachelor, and I love the bachelor life. Then she gave me a long, passionate kiss and rubbed that glorious body against me.

Well, there are advantages to being married. We'll have lots of kids. Maybe we'll name one of them Bloggo. . . .

CONTENTS
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