Although the background of this story is the twenty-fourth century, it has been decided to tell it in the patois of the twentieth century. ('Patois'. Now ain't that a big word for a space smuggler?)


"Rick Suddenly." The lieutenant stopped typing my info on his keyboard and looked up. "You heard me right," I said. "Rick Suddenly. I legally changed it to that as soon as I was old enough to do so.

"Besides," I added, "all you have to do is check with your Captain Abba. We've known each other since we were kids. He asked me to come down today." Well, 'asked' wasn't exactly right. His invitation reminded me of one time when a teacher grabbed my ear and pulled me out of my desk to take me to the principal.

The door behind the lieutenant's desk opened. The doorway framed a large, square shouldered man who also had a square jaw. He stood there, smiling. "You can finish your paperwork later, Lieutenant Osprey," he said. It was Captain Abba, of course.

"Come on in, Rick," he said, stepping aside and motioning me into his office.

An aside belongs here. On old Earth there was a saying, "The wrong side of the tracks." When I first ran across the saying, I dug until I found out it was referring to tracks that carried a railroad train, a length of cars pulled by a steam-engine machine. In those days, to live on the wrong side of the tracks meant you were poor and underprivileged. It was a generalization, but it was, overall, true.

I lived 'on the wrong side of the tracks' when I was young, lived there with my adoptive parents. Abba, on the other hand, lived on the right side, as his family was well-to-do. Our paths crossed at the library. My adopted family was not online, so I used the library to practice my addiction to reading. One day I was reading a particular book and Abba walked up to me. "Hello," he said. "My name is Abba. When do you think you'll be through with that book? I'm doing some research and that book was recommended."

My book was one of Shakespeare's plays which I had read many times. I smiled and handed it to Abba. "Just finished, as a matter of fact. This was the third time I've read it."

"You read these ancient tomes?" he asked, accepting the book. "I would have thought you read -- ah -- lighter material."

My worn clothing made it obvious where I was from. I looked at Abba and grinned. "Us poor folks can't appreciate literature, I suppose."

We ended up being friends. He became the space police captain he was, and I ended up having a successful smuggling business.

Abba went to his desk and motioned me to a seat in front of it. "This time I caught you, Rick," he said, leaning back in his chair.

"Smuggling?" I asked innocently. "I'm not a smuggler. I'm just an entrepreneur who obtains items my customers want. Admittedly," I said, "I do take some short cuts to speed things up, but that's all."

"Your shortcuts include avoiding government taxes," Abba correctly pointed out.

"Taxes that triple the reasonable prices, sir," I told him. "How can we have free enterprise if the government takes so much?" I paused, and then added, "But I'm quite careful with my shortcuts. I don't see how you could have a legitimate case against me." I wasn't bragging, just stating the truth. I knew the risks I was taking, and had learned how to avoid them.

"There's a reason for high taxation, Rick. Our war against the aliens is expensive. We can't just snap our fingers and have fighting ships appear." Then he reached into a drawer and pulled out a small item I recognized. It was an electronic toy belonging to the son of one of my clients. The boy had been mooning over how great the toy was, and I had . . . ah . . . obtained him one and gave it to him.

Turns out now, it was an expensive gift.

I gulped. "It was a present, Abba. The little boy wanted one so bad, but his dad couldn't afford it, what with the taxes and all. Another client sold them. I bought one for the boy. Paid full list price."

"Without paying taxes."

"Hell no!" I snapped, and regretted it as soon as I said it. Everything in Abba's office was constantly being recorded. It even said so on a notice on his door. A notice in very small print, naturally, but it was there and I knew it.

"It was a private transaction," I said, all the time knowing it didn't matter. Private or not, the guy was a dealer. But I had to try.

Abba leaned forward, putting the palms of his hands on his desk. "I know, Rick. I'm quite aware of what you did. I trust you. However," he said, leaning back, "my superiors want something more binding." He pushed a button. "That turns off the recording, Rick. I'll erase it after you make a shipment for me."

"Which is. . . ?" Abba had a serious look on his face. "Rick, you know about our war with the aliens. Well, I need your delivery skills for a very important package to improve our chances to win. A package -- well, six packages, to be precise -- that needs to be delivered without anyone knowing about it, to a secret place. Something that requires your -- ah -- talented abilities."

I relaxed. "Hey, no prob! Why all this folderol about the toy?"

"My superiors don't want to take any chances, Rick. I know you're patriotic, but I also know you always want your books to balance. The only pay you will receive is a new drive for your ship. Nothing else. No cash. And it has to stay quiet until we defeat the aliens." Then he added, "I need someone I can trust. The bit about the toy is just insurance, wanted by my superiors in case I'm wrong."

"Well," I said, after a pause while my mind recovered. "I admit I can't put a drive for my ship on the books. But," I added, leaning back, "if that's the best you can do, I'll accept it." I held up a hand before he could say anything. "But the standard hazard clause will be activated."

Abba shrugged that away with a "Whatever." Then he continued. "The important thing is delivery of my packages. The destination is about fifteen lightyears away."

"Good to know," I said. "I'll bring along a book cube. The two week round trip will give me time for lots of reading."

"Sorry to cut into your reading time, Rick," Abba said with a satisfied smile on his face. "The round trip will be two days."

I sat up. "Two days? Fifteen lightyears in two days? You've got to be kidding!"

His look of satisfaction increased. "It would be less, except the drive needs forty two hours to cool off before you reset the destination."

"What? Why that's instantaneous! What the hell is this new drive anyway?"

"It's called a time-warp drive, Rick. It somehow warps the time of the trip to zero. Just a minute; I'll get the engineer in here to meet you." He punched a button and said, "Send Bloggo in, please."

A door in the far corner of Abba's office opened, and a red dwarf walked in.

I immediately clamped my hands over my credits belt. Because of their flexible long arms and slender fingers, red dwarfs are not only great engineers, they are also the best pick-pockets in the universe. Like all of them, this one was small. The top of his pointed head didn't quite reach my chin. That made it easy for them to work in the small spaces of an engine room.

"You called?" he sang. Yes, 'sang'. They have a marvelous and melodious voice.

"This is Rick Suddenly, Bloggo. I wanted you to explain about the time-warp drive."

"Indeed." His eyes turned to me. He walked over and we shook hands. My other hand remained on my belt. "Mr Rick, this is a miraculous breakthrough in transportation. My people developed it, after many failures. They were inspired by the way your UltraLightDrive shortens the trip time. It not only speeds up your vehicle, it also has the advantage of no time lost between your departure and your return."

I scratched my head. "Isn't that what it's all about?" I asked. "Getting there and back in a hurry, I mean."

"It's more than that. For instance, this trip would have taken two weeks; two weeks for you, that is. In those two weeks, regardless of the efficiency of the UltraLightDrive, two months would have passed at the other end. Now the local two days is a perfect match for the two days back at the launchpad. Also, messages are instantaneous. Do you understand?"

Regardless of his great voice and my interest in what he was saying, my hand remained on my credits belt.

"Yes," I agreed. "It gets back to what Einstein said about the speed of light. If it wasn't for improvements made to the ULD, years would have gone by in that trip. That is, years for those people left behind."

"Exactly! By warping time, we not only speed things up, we also avoid the Einstein effect."

I turned to Abba. "Let me guess," I hazarded, "The six packages I'm carrying are warp drives. Because of the secrecy, I must be going to a secret base, where there are battleships waiting for the drives."

"I never said that," Abba told me. "It's not my fault you are excellent at analyzing the situation. When can you leave?"

"Would right now be too soon?"

Abba looked at the dwarf. "Drive installed, packages loaded?" he asked. I didn't bother to object to him doing that without permission. After all, he was a captain in the Space Police.

Bloggo nodded. "All is in readiness for departure," he sang.

With his voice, this was almost like an opera. And we were going into space. Did that make this a space opera?

Control yourself, I thought. Let's don't get ridiculous.

"What about stars and other stuff between your ship and where you're going? I don't like the idea of running through a star."

"Consider it matter transmission," Bloggo replied. "With time warped, your ship simply goes from 'here' to 'there', and that's it."

"Ahhhh," I said. It was the closest I could come to an intelligent comment.

As I rose to leave, Abba said, warning in his voice, "Bloggo? Isn't there something else?"

"Oh, yes." He handed me a roll of bills. "I believe these are yours." Abba lifted his eyebrows, and Bloggo added another, smaller roll. "As well as my fee for, ah, my demonstration." Then he went on, "And ten credits to repair your belt."

So that was how he did it. He slit my belt to allow him access to its contents.

Well, two can play the game. I turned on my magnet and extended my hand. Turning it palm up, I displayed the small piece of sharp metal my magnets had pulled from his hand.

"And this is for you," I told him, grinning.

Bloggo's green eyes widened, and then he smiled. "Ah, I see your reputation is well-earned, Mr Rick. Shall we shake our agreement? No tricks," he added.

I shook hands with him. With his articulated fingers, it was almost like holding a bunch of snakes. Friendly snakes, I hasten to add. I've always liked snakes. I know, I know; many can't stand snakes. I think they've been given the short end of the stick. Like me. . . . Still, I shouldn't complain; I've made a pretty good life for myself. Who else do you know who owns a space freighter?

On the way to my ship, the Clunker, I brought up something. "The limit on the drive, that forty-two hour delay, reminds me of my ships' defense. I call it a screener; it sends a screen that disables all electronic fields on its target. But that only lasts twelve minutes, a period of time during which I need to scoot away before I can be blasted." Then I went on. "The screener takes an hour to recharge."

"I'm familiar with that field inhibitor," Bloggo told me. "It not only disables weapons, it also scrubs anything that prevent detection by other electronic devices."

"Exactly! Radar or anything else can spot them, then. Of course," I added, "they can be seen by any eye."

The Clunker, being a freighter, was big and bulky, but I loved her. She's not my home away from home, she is home. I have an apartment on her which includes, among other things, a king-size bed with its own gravity.

But I then realized it was missing one thing. As we walked up to her, I said, "There is one problem, Bloggo. Since I never have a crew, there's no place for you to sleep. We'll have to -- "

A lifted hand interrupted me. "Apparently you aren't aware that dwarves don't sleep. That's one of the reasons we have accomplished so much; we don't waste time in bed. A bed is a useless piece of furniture."

"Useless?" I said, thinking of members of the opposite sex, and the pleasures we had in my bed. "That may explain why there are so few red dwarfs in the universe."

Bloggo gave an indifferent snort. "There are planets where there are billions of termites, but I've never seen a termite build a spaceship!"

A female voice called out. "Hello! Is that your ship?"

I looked around to see a young woman coming our way. She was the essence of woman, intensified. She wore a white shirt with a high collar that stood up to hold some of her hair, blonde hair, of course. To me, all sexy females were blonde. Topping her head was a black-billed captain's cap. Below her shirt was a yellow skirt, a short skirt, of course. Long and curvy legs flowed down to high-top boots. She knew what her power was, and she was displaying it. She was definitely a pro.

-- Now wait a minute! I don't mean that kind of pro! It's just that she was a pro at, well, showing off her natural attractions. Yeah, that kind of pro.

"My name's Wanonna," she murmured softly. "I'm new in town."

She definitely was new. I'd kill myself if she had been here before and I didn't know it. "My name's Rick."

"I landed here, Rick, because it was the first spot I found. Since you've been here, I'd like to know if you'd recommend this as a good place to stay."

"Definitely!" I told her. I hoped I wasn't panting. "It's a good place for you to stay. Definitely!" I repeated.

"Thanks, Rick," she said, and turned to walk away, turning her head to smile at me over her shoulder.

I watched her walk, and I hoped we'd meet again. Soon. I know it's a cliche, about a guy meeting a girl and ending up with her at the end of the story, but that's one cliché I wouldn't object to. She was the girl of my dreams.

Well, back to business. When Bloggo and I boarded the Clunker and went to my control room, I looked around and said, "I see you also redid my control panel and added another seat."

"It was necessary," Bloggo replied in an off-handed manner. Then he sat in a chair built for him, looked at me, and said, "We are cleared for departure. Shall we go?"

The only thing added to my control panel was a sliding bar. Deciding that was the time-warp drive, I reached for it.

Bloggo's slender fingers wrapped around my hand. "No," he said. "We must be in outer space before using the new drive."

"Oh, okay," I replied, and switched on my regular drive. The Clunker's engine roared to life. We lifted, and were on our way.

"Any other surprises?" I asked, with a touch of sarcasm, as we soared into space.

"I had assumed you would ask me to handle the drive," Bloggo admitted. "However, I don't think there's anything else I haven't explained."

"Take over," I told him.

Once in outer space, Bloggo slid the bar across its slot. Immediately the space ahead of us was full of blobs of light, explosions where the hidden site was supposed to be.

"Oh boy! Looks like the aliens found the place and are blowing it to bits!"

"Bad news," Bloggo agreed.

Even as he said it, a shiny saucer-shaped fighter could be seen, heading our way.

Surprised, a rush of panic seized me. Thinking only of our lives, I activated the time-warp bar.

"No!" Bloggo shouted. "You shouldn't do that! We don't know what it'll do."

"Wherever we go," I snapped, "It's better than dying!"

We popped up in another solar system. To my horror, the alien fighter was still in front of us.

"They must have the same drive!" I said.

"No," Bloggo sang. "Our drive encloses a large space around us. That's why we can't activate it from port. We would take a large section of the port with us."

At last I was able to push the feeling of panic away, I activated my screener field, then used the UltraLightDrive to leave the enemy behind. With the screener activated, it wouldn't be able to detect where we went. That's what I should have done when the ship first appeared, but panic prevented logical decisions. I mean, I'm used to using the field when approached by Space Police ships or pirates or other smugglers, but none of them threatened my immediate death.

I leaned back in relief. "Okay, little fella, how do we find out where we are?"

Bloggo's fingers danced across his keyboard, then he looked at me. "Unbelievably, we are in our own solar system. I don't understand, but the instruments all agree. We shouldn't be, but we are."

"Well, then, let's get back to Earth."

We were in for another surprise. As we neared Earth, the moon was between us. We saw something strange on the dark side of the moon.

"Bloggo, what the hell is that? It looks like the back of the moon has a whole lot of small saucer-shaped fighters on it."

The red dwarf studied his screen, then let out a low whistle. "Amazing! I've heard of this, but everyone thought it was a legend."

"Heard of what? Tell me about it."

"Mr Rick, you are looking at a garden of space ships."

"A garden? You mean the aliens grow their fighters, like a bunch of plants?"

"Exactly! According to legend, it takes a flock of ships fifty years to reach maturity where they can be plucked. Then ten more years of training is required before they can be used." His pointed head shook at the wonder of it. "Further, the moon has a large amount of helium three, which is excellent for the purpose. Ship plants thrive on it."

"So every sixty years, there's another crop of fighters for the aliens to use."

"Indeed. However, they do not have ULD, so it takes many years for them to reach their destination."

"Wow! Their crew must be in suspended animation."

"Not so. They have no crew. The ships can be programmed for any destination on their own. Once they reach the aliens, then they take on their crews which guide them in their fight."

By this time, we were around the moon and heading for Earth. "Ah. . . Now I see the answer to a question I was about to ask."

"Which is?"

"I was wondering why Earth hadn't discovered the plants. Now, hard as it may be to believe, I have the answer. Your time-warp drive took us back in time."

"It did what?" Bloggo asked.

"Look at all those tiny satellites orbiting Earth. Modern Earth uses two large space stations, these days. At the end of the twentieth century, NASA stopped sending astronauts out and, instead, relied on robots or computer controlled ships. It was well into the twenty-first century before manned ships were used. That's why they haven't discovered that strange garden."

"NASA?"

"National Aeronautics and Space Association, Bloggo. You need to learn history. Anyway, that's why they never found the plants." I fiddled with my panel. "I'm going to find some automated weather station, so I can see what time it is down there."

In minutes I announced, "It's two ought seven PM Eastern Standard Time. Night." I fiddled some more. "I'm sure Houston's NASA office is on a twenty-four hour schedule. If I can find their setting, I want to talk to them."

"Houston?"

"A big city in the state of Texas. Part of the United States," I explained. "Ah! Here's their frequency."

"Why?" Bloggo was singing shorthand, I decided. Keep it simple, so to speak.

"NASA is the closest thing they have to a Space Central. I want to tell them about the plants," I replied, then I spoke into my microphone.

"Houston, we have a problem," I said.

"Sir, you need to get off our frequency," Houston immediately told me. "This is a government station."

I took control of the Clunker and continued: "I am in a space ship at these coordinates." I read them to him. "Check radar, and you will find me approaching."

There was a bit of a pause, and then a different voice came in. "We have detected you," it admitted. "Identification, please."

"My name is Rick," I answered, "and you will have no records of me. However, I have very important information I need to give you." Suddenly an alarm went off and the viewscreen shifted to reveal the shiny saucer was coming fast. "Houston, check radar again. I have a flying saucer on my tail and they want to kill me. Can you scramble some fighters? I'm almost into your atmosphere."

After another pause, the voice said, "We detect something behind you," it told me. "A flying saucer? You must be kidding!"

"I wish I was! I have no weapons. One of your fighters could bring it down.

"Please!" I added, in desperation.

Another pause. "I hope this isn't some trick. I just had the field scramble fighters to your location. If it's a trick, the entire government will be down your throat!"

Even as he said it, my instruments detected the fighters. "It'll be a very dead throat if your men can't destroy this thing! Be sure," I added, "they shoot the saucer and not me!"

By now the ship behind was closing to within a few kilometers. I aimed my screener at it, hoping an hour had passed since I used it.

Then the fighters were on it, firing tracer bullets which raked the surface of the saucer. Apparently the hour had passed, because there was no return fire and the saucer began to wobble, then disintegrate. Wiping sweat from my brow, I said, "Thank you, Houston! Could you give me coordinates for landing?"

He gave me the coordinates, then added, "I'll be there to meet you. This, I have to see! Oh," he went on, "I'm Colonel Patrick Foster. See ya!"

"Colonel," I hastily put in, "you've got to remember this is strictly top secret. No one, not even on our side, is to know about this."

"Don't worry," he said and chuckled. "If I tell anyone, I'll be in for a Section Eight before you can blast off."

"Could you send men to look for remnants of the saucer?" I asked. "It will lend more credence to a report I want to give you."

"Why not?" he asked with resignation. "I'm already way over my head." He disconnected.

"Why couldn't you have told them on the radio?" Bloggo asked. Maybe I'm wrong, but he sounded a bit peevish.

"Bloggo old buddy! Where's your sense of history? I'm actually going to stand, face to face, with a member of ancient NASA. Who, may I remind you, just saved our asses by shooting down that alien fighter that wanted to blow us to bits."

So saying, I set the coordinates for the Houston spaceport to meet the colonel. -- Okay, okay! Not exactly a spaceport, but a place I could land. Landing, I stood and went to the exit portal. At the foot of our ship, I met Colonel Foster. He was wearing full military regalia. He shook his head as I walked up. Greeting me with a handshake, he said," No one will ever believe me, I'm not even sure I believe it myself."

"Come aboard," I invited him. "I have proof for the most doubtful mind." He followed me to the Clunker control room. "Colonel Foster, meet Bloggo my alien engineer."

Bloggo nodded, accepting the Colonel, but continued working on the panel.

Colonel Foster's jaw dropped and his eyebrows nearly dislodged his military cap. "An alien," he breathed. "A real honest-to-God alien!"

"You got that right," I told him. "But he's one of the good guys. I suppose I could give you a tour of the ship, but I don't think that's necessary."

As we talked, Bloggo got up and left the control room. I guessed he was going to hook up a different time-warp drive to get us home.

"Come look at this, Colonel," I said, going to my control panel and activating the viewscreen. While he watched, I moved the view back so he could see the ship garden for himself. "There they are," I said.

He gasped as the garden came into view. "Incredible!" he breathed. Colonel Foster's cellphone signaled. "Yes?"

He had it on speaker, so I heard an excited voice say, "Colonel, this is ridiculous! We're in the area where the thing we shot down should be, but all we're finding is shiny bits of some kind of plant. It's withering away even as we look at it!"

"Do you see, Colonel?" I cut in with excitement. "That shiny stuff must speed up the rotting process. That's why you never find remnants when you shoot them down!"

"Colonel?" the voice said, puzzled.

"That's an, ah, visiting expert," Foster said, to explain my presence. "Listen, captain. Find a bag, something you can put some of that stuff into, even if it crumbles. Got that?"

"Yessir. I'll do so, and bring it to you."

"Very good, captain. I'm at the air field, and have a surprise for you. Meet me at Hanger 13." He hung up and looked at me. "Now what?"

I chuckled and then said, "I love the way you handled our presence," I told him. "'Visiting expert' was a good explanation. There's no way you could have gone into detail about Bloggo and me."

Then I went on. "We've got to find a way to take care of those ship gardens, not only those here and now, but also in the past. They've been taking over the universe for eons. Rob Shelsky has done meticulous research. According to his books, the aliens have been breeding them for over two thousand years."

Colonel Foster snorted. "That junk?" he asked. "All of it's a bunch of malarkey."

"Colonel! Do I need to remind you of the saucer your men just brought down? Do I need to show you again our pictures of the gardens of spaceships?"

He sighed. "Not necessary," he told me. "In fact, we've been asked to give the response I just gave you." He shook his head, and then asked, "Do you mean to say his books are still read in the future?"

"They get reprinted every twenty or thirty years. Paperback, with an electronic edition attached. Since the alien attack, they've all been on the best seller list and are reprinted every year or so."

"Amazing," the colonel said. "But back to the UFOs. How can you take care of things in the past?" He shook his head. "Never mind. Your presence here shows you've mastered time travel."

I chuckled. "Not exactly 'mastered'," I told him. "Still, we are making headway."

"We need to go," Bloggo sang as he returned to the control room. Colonel Foster raised his eyebrows. "Your alien has a beautiful voice."

"His name is Bloggo," I told him. "And he does sing nicely." Then I turned to Bloggo. "We'll go pretty soon. I want to get a smidgen of that decayed plant matter. Abba can put his scientists on it to come up with a super-science weed killer. Besides," I went on, "we'll get back the same time, even if we leave tomorrow."

I looked at Colonel Foster. "With that weed killer, we can spray their ship gardens and wipe them out."

"Good idea," Foster agreed, "but won't the aliens be protecting the plants?"

"Probably. Abba can have some remote-control rockets built with wide spray nozzles. They'll be small and harder to hit."

"You've given this a lot of thought in such a short time."

"In my line of work, I have to think fast." Then an idea hit me. "Colonel, if he agreed not to use your name, would you talk to Rob Shelsky?" He frowned, then shrugged. "Why not?"

"Use your cellphone's information source to get his number, and then give him a call. I know it's still night, but I'm sure he has a 'please leave a message' feature."

With some reluctance, he pulled out his phone, found Shelsky's number and dialed it. There was a pause, then he said, "This is Colonel Patrick Foster at Houston NASA. If you won't use my name, I can give you some interesting UFO information. Call me. My shift is midnight until eight AM."

He disconnected and looked at me. "Now what?"

"We wait for your man to bring whatever he collected."

"Let's go outside. It shouldn't be long," he replied.

As we exited the Clunker, I heard a loud fluttering noise. "That's his helicopter now," Colonel Foster told me. The strange vessel landed in front of us and the colonel waved. "Over here," he shouted.

A uniformed man debarked. He was carrying some type of plastic bag. The rotors above him were slowing their rotation. "Colonel," he said as he approached. He extended the hand holding the bag. "Here's what we collected." He pulled something out that resembled half of a coconut, except it was black and its interior was green. "This is the strangest piece," he told the colonel. "It was full of a very powerful acid."

"Similar to a seed pod," Bloggo trilled. He had been standing behind me, but he stepped out to see the thing the man held.

The pilot was quick. In an instant he dropped what he was holding and pulled a pistol from its holster.

Luckily for Bloggo, the colonel was also quick. His hand darted out and grabbed the pilot's gun hand. "Hold it, captain," he ordered.

"But that's an alien!" the man objected.

"Yes, but this one is on our side. He's another advisor who is helping us." The captain shook his head in awed disbelief, but he then said, "Sorry, little guy. I'm sure we need your help."

Bloggo told him, "Apology accepted."

"What was that about a seed pod?" I asked.

"Many plants eject seed pods. These have been adapted to eject acid pods for their defense."

Then he looked at me. "We go now?"

"In a minute. In a minute!" I snapped. "Boy, are you getting fidgety! Just let me get some of the stuff the captain brought." I broke off part of the pod, got some of the crumbling material, put it in the envelope and turned to Colonel Foster. "We need to get going before my engineer explodes," I told him. "Thanks a lot to both of you."

The two men nodded, and backed away as I followed Bloggo into the ship.

When we were settled in the control room, I looked at Bloggo. "What's all the rush? You know full well the time-warp will take us to the same time and place no matter when we leave."

"Saucers," Bloggo explained. "I'm certain the one shot down had a communication device and called for backup. I don't know how near some of them may be."

"Why didn't you say so?" I exclaimed. I didn't want to have acid pods eating at the Clunker's hull. "Let's get outta here now! What're you waiting for?"

"I'm waiting for your friends to get out of the way. I'm sure you don't wish to have barbecued NASA. There! They've gotten into the copter and are about to fly away. Now, here we go."

We lifted off. Barely out of Earth's atmosphere, three shiny saucer ships could be detected heading for us.

Expecting them, I felt no panic. Instead, I did what I should have done earlier. With the UltraLightDrive, I zoomed us quickly away from their threat and we were beyond the solar system.

Yeah, running from them wasn't heroic. While I've won a sufficient number of barroom brawls, I'm not one of those hard fist-throwing space heroes, I'm a believer in that old saying, 'He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.' Besides, I had vital information which needed to reach Abba as quick as possible.

"Okay, Bloggo; use the time-warp drive to get us home!"

In a flash, we returned. Our Earth and our time were below us. I called Abba.

"You haven't left yet?" was his first question.

"Much more than that, Abba," I said. "We have found the alien's secret base and a lot more. Send a car to pick us up. Even on a secure channel, I don't want to tell you everything."

Abba paused, then nodded agreement. "A car will be there," he told me.

We landed. I was disappointed not to see Wanonna, but hey; this isn't the end of the story.

After the car took us to Abba's office, we unloaded everything on him, destruction of his secret base, time travel, ship gardens, everything. Well, I didn't mention Wanonna, but she wasn't involved in our problem.

After taking it all in, Abba said, "We've got to increase production of the time warp drive," he muttered, then he looked at Bloggo and added, "You must figure out how the time element works, so we can go back and destroy their gardens, time by time." Looking at the envelope with the remains of the saucer, he continued, "Rick, your idea to create a weed killer from this is a very good one. Also the idea of a robot rocket to spray it." He shook his head at the amount of work to be done. "We've got to get busy."

"Abba, I have an idea for saving your base. If Bloggo can control time with his warp drive, we can go back to a time before the aliens blow everything up and bring out the people and the ships."

"But we have eighty ships there!" he objected.

"No problem," I assured him. "The time-warp drive reaches out a long way. I'll bet I can move them all with the Clunker."

Bloggo nodded his pointed head. "He is right. His plan is sure to work."

Abba looked at me. "Rick, you've done your part for now. Go eat and get some rest."

"And a shower," I put in.

"Please," Bloggo sang. "My nostrils are as sensitive as my fingers."

So I had the night off, while Bloggo, Abba and all his crew were putting in double time. It's a good thing Bloggo doesn't need sleep.

I considered looking up Wanonna, but after I ate went to the Clunker and showered, I found I was exhausted. I crawled into my big bed alone and went to sleep.

I was at Abba's office first thing in the morning.

"Bloggo is amazing," Abba told me. "He has the time-warp drive on the computer. After comparing the settings on the one that took you back in time to the standard settings, he worked out a way to control the time that would be reached. Not only that, but he hooked up the controls to an automated factory and they're automatically turning out three drives an hour!"

I whistled in amazement. "You'll have one hundred sixty drives for your eighty warships in no time!"

"Sounds like you're planning on two drives for each ship," Abba remarked. He held up a delaying had before I could explain. "I get it," he said. "With two time-warp drives, a ship won't have to wait forty-two hours to move again."

Then he reached down toward the floor and pulled up a gadget that looked like a capital ‘I' with a lump in the middle. I thought it was two long pipes with a drive in the center. Each pipe had a row of holes going along it. "That isn't all, Rick. I guided my engineers to produce this."

"A space traveling weed-killing machine," I guessed.

"Exactly!" Abba said. "With what you brought back, scientists developed a spray just for saucer plants. This is just a model. The finished product is sixty feet long. I put my own automated factory to work producing them. Do you think one hundred will be enough?"

"Probably. Now, take my four time-warp drives out of the Clunker and mount them on two of the ships you have in port."

"Your drives?" Abba raised his eyebrows. Then, before I could explain, he said, "Oh, yes; your hazard clause." He nodded his head in understanding. Haven't I said that Abba was smart?

Looking at me, he asked, "What's your price, Rick?"

"All I want is a tax exemption," I told him. "An exemption on what I buy and what I sell."

He paused, took a deep breath, and then pulled a form out of one of his drawers. Filling in a few blanks, he scanned the completed form and handed it across the desk. "It's officially recorded, Rick. I think you deserve it."

"You realize you have just ended my smuggling days," I told him as I accepted the form. "After this, I'm just another guy in the transport business."

An idea came to me. "Pull Bloggo out of whatever he's into and tell him to set our time-warp drive to pop us up before the aliens destroyed your secret base. We need to get busy."

"Sounds like a winner," Abba said. "Not only were eighty ships lost, but twenty good people as well." He used his comm to call Bloggo and assign him a new duty. "How long do you think it will take?" he asked. I saw him nod, then he finished, "Sounds great. I'll tell Rick."

Abba disconnected and looked at me. "Bloggo's just finishing putting a pair of the time-warp drives into the second ship. He said he'll go from there to your ship, and you'll likely be able to lift off in the morning."

"Good deal!" I stood. "I've got a thing or two to do, then I'll go to the Clunker and wait. So long for now."

There was no point telling him I was about to track Wanonna down.

She and I had dinner at a nice restaurant. What happened next is none of your business.

At eight AM the next morning, Bloggo and I were in our seats at the conrol room. “You've figured a time for us to go to before the attack on the hidden base?”

"Indeed. Our time-warp drive is set."

"Then let's go!"

We reached outer space and Bloggo flipped the switch.

And we were in the middle of a huge fleet of enemy ships!

End of Part One


How does Rick escape? The alien fleet moves in so swiftly they can't use the UltraLightDrive. Using the time-warp drive would carry the fleet with them.

Does Bloggo come up with another song?

Does Rick end up with Wanonna?

Tune in next issue to find out

ISSUE 33


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