(Mr. Shack acknowledges the contributions of Gerald Page, without whose efforts this story could not have been written.)

Center illo Paul McCall, end illo Wm Michael Mott
   

“Oh,Urgus!” Nadir McGuirk, first officer of the starship Starsnipe called, sweetly. Urgus looked around; all around. McGuirk never said anything sweetly.

“Why, what’s wrong, little buddy,” McGuirk continued, slipping a wing across the poor spacelad’s shoulders. “You act as if something wasn’t, heh, heh, on the sclabberdabbin up and up.”

“Are you going to hurt me?” Urgus whined.

“What! How can you even think such a thing as that.” McGuirk pressed the back of one wingtip against his forehead and looked for all the galaxy like a wounded doe. A tall, ugly, green, feathery wounded doe, to be sure. “After all we’ve meant to each other. All the times we faced death side by side.”

 


“Weren’t you usually kind of standing behind me most of those times?” Urgus said.

“Hush; you’ll hurt your smafflubbing brainpan. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. I mean –” He blinked watery bloodshot eyes at Space Kid Low Class Urgus. “I mean, after all, it’s not like I ever hurt you, is it?”

“Well, golly gee,” said Urgus. “There was that time just this afternoon – ” “You wound me to the glabstabbing quick, old chum.” McGuirk sniffed. “And me standing here holding a present for my little old pal.” “A present?” Urgus yelped. “Wasn’t that cigar you taught me how to smoke a present?”

“Will you forget about that? It was a joke. Uh, that is, an

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initiation, that’s what, into the manly fraternity of spaceship crewmembers. Is it my fault that blagnarvin thing made such a loud noise when it exploded? Besides.” His voice became very silky of a sudden. “As sure as I’m a pure-blooded mutant, you’ll find this to be very, very quiet.”

He was holding up a bottle-shaped metal flask.

“That looks like a bottle,” Urgus said, suspiciously.

“How very perceptive of you,” McGuirk said, holding the object in question a couple of inches in front of his beak and inspecting it closely.

“And I bet it’s got grog in it.”

“You wound me yet again,” McGuirk said, raising himself to his full height of six and a half feet. He clutched the bottle to his green-feathered bosom. “Would I serve grog to a mere spacekid? One who’s been a mere space kid for almost as many years as I’ve been a mutant?”

“Can I help it,” said Urgus, “if I come from a planet with a very long orbit?”

"Never mind that now,” McGuirk said. “Just hold on a minute, while I demonstrate something.”

McGuirk uncorked the bottle and wafted it under the spacekid’s nose.

 

Behind the lenses of Urgus’s thick glasses, his large, brown eyes blinked as his nose twitched suspiciously. Then his eyes widened and he stared up at McGuirk.

“How’s ya like them apples?” McGuirk asked.

“Apples!” Urgus said. “It smells more like lemons.”

“Lemons?” McGuirk squinted down into the bottle. “Hmmm. Now that you mention it, it does look – and smell – just like that.”

A furrow formed between Urgus’s eyebrows. “In fact, it smells like lemonade!”

“Lemonade?” McGuirk smiled an evil smile, a strange sight to behold on a condor-like beak that held tightly to a foul-smelling cigar. His head cocked to one side at an evil angle. “Why, you just love lemonade, don’t you Urgus?”

“This is some kind of dirty, evil trick, isn’t it Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir?” said Urgus.

“Shame on you, young chum.” McGuirk held the bottle up to the light. “I will take it on myself to prove to you this is simple lemonade. Watch closely.”

McGuirk tilted the bottle to his beak and drank lustily.

And then wheezed, coughed, wheezed again and said, “Now, that’s what I call a spaceman’s lemonade.”

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Urgus said, “Are you sure?”

“Here, let me take another snort – uh, taste – to make sure.”

“Uh, don’t.”

“Why not?” McGuirk asked sweetly.

“Well,” Urgus said in a subdued tone. “Maybe it is lemonade. And if you take another swig, there won’t be any left.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” McGuirk scratched the back of his head and tried to look thoughtful for a moment. He failed miserably, then turned his bloodshot eyes on Urgus. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” said Ugus, weakly.

“It sure is a true slobtubbin dilemma,” McGuirk said. “Here, hold this. It’ll help you think. Heh, heh, heh.” He handed Urgus the bottle.

Abstractedly, Urgus took the bottle from McGuirk and said, “Goshonentlies, I wish Captain Shivers were here. She’d know what to do, wouldn’t she?”

“Let’s not think about that just now,” McGuirk said, hastily.

 

The pungent citrisy smell of lemons filled Urgus’s nostrils. “I just don’t know what to do!” he said. And absently took a drink.

“Oh, that is so good,” he said. He took another.Then he carefully handed the bottle back to McGuirk and fell over, unconscious.

McGuirk drank what was left. Urgus snored peacefully.

2

“Deal,” McGuirk said, sitting himself in the vacant chair at the table in the officer’s lounge – also known as the laundry room – of the starship Starsnipe. “Where’s that there young un, Urgus?” asked Grabby Haze pushing back the brim of his battered old space-marshal’s hat with the tip of one of his ten tentacles.

“Resting peacefully,” McGuirk said, chortling wickedly. “I fear me he mistook a bottle of Old Star Whiskers for lemonade.”“But that means he won’t be able to sit in on our poker game,” said Thurston, the Smileyfacian who served as the ship’s chief technician. He was a large, flat, round yellow person with a perpetual smile consisting of beady eyes and a thin-lipped mouth. In spit of his stick figure arms and legs, he looked sort of like a six foot tall – to say nothing of wide – smileyface Button. “That means I won’t have anyone to beat, now.” He spread his hand on the table. “Four aces,” he said, morosely. “Woe is me.”

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“Yeah,” snarled Grumlit, the ship’s cook. “I got five of them things, myself.”

McGuirk picked up the eight cards Grabby had been kind enough to deal for him while he was out of the room. “That’s interesting,” he said. “My hand seems to consist entirely of threes. All of them red.” He glared at Grabby. “By the way, I notice that in addition to the marked cards you’ve been dealing, you’re wearing a wristwatch sized mirror on each tentacle."

“Double bummer,” grouched Thurston. “That must interfere something awful with shuffling.”

“Actually,” offered Grabby, “you’d be surprised how much it helps. I’ll demystrate on the next hand. Which reminds me, I got a full house, McGuirk. Matter of fact, I got two of them.”

“Well either one of them beats my threes,” McGuirk said, tossing in his cards. “Fragnabbit, Grabby, I suspect you wish you’d placed a wager on that one, too.”

“Maybe I’ll bet on the next hand,” Grabby said. He smiled at Thurston, winked and said in a low tone, “I got me this feeling this here now green-feathered rube is a-gonna regret taking on the two of us.”

Thurston blinked uncomprehendingly. “Do you think I should bet, too?” he asked.

“Well, now, that sounds like a good idee, if’n you asks me,” Grabby said, raking in the cards.

 

A bell sounded from the airlock.

“What’s that?” McGuirk said.

“Sounds like the bell from the airlock,” Grumlit said.

“You don’t think it’s the captain back from her night on the town, do you?” Grabby said. “Tarnation! That there woman is the wust poker

player I ever saw. She always insists on traditional rules, and she always wins.”

“Nothing worse than that,” McGuirk agreed.

Grumlit said, “I thought the captain had her own key to this tub. Why would she ring the bell?”

“A-cause of she’s a shemale and naturally devious,” Grabby said. “Let’s hurry it up and get another hand played before you let her in.”

The bell rang again. McGuirk said, “That can’t be the captain, of course. But whoever it is the bell sounds brakkling mad, so I better go open the airlock just in case it is her. Don’t want Captain Shivers too angry.” McGuirk stomped past where Urgus lay snoring and opened the airlock.

The fellow standing there was slender, short and bright yellow. He had narrow shoulders and a large head with purple eyes and somewhat floppy ears. It appeared to McGuirk that the caller held a lily in his right hand, but McGuirk was no botanist. The visitor said, “I have a message for Captain Shivers. Actually,” he amended, “a request.”

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“And that would be?” McGuirk said.

“If she’s not too busy this afternoon, would she mind please finding my murderer?” the chap croaked. In more ways than one.

McGuirk glared down at the fellow’s prostrate form, which had fallen across the airlock entryway. “You inconsiderate swine,” he snarled. “Did it ever occur to you she might have other plans?”

Peering around McGuirk’s feathery flank, Grabby said, “Kind of reminds me of the time Julie Caesar asked me to meet him on the Senate steps.”

“Grabby. You mean you actually saw Julius Caesar on the Senate steps?” asked McGuirk.

“Sure did,” Gtabby said.

“That’s amazing. I never even knew you’d been to Washington.”

“What the heck is going on now?” snarled Grumlit. “Am I gonna have to cook for that guy in addition to the rest of you deadbeats?”

“I don’t think so,” McGuirk said. “The flabberin dinkcark asked for the captain just before he did this.”

“Then mebbe we should kinda drag him inside until she gets back,” Grabby said.“Yeah, I guess we better,” McGuirk said. “You know what a stickler the captain is about showing hospitality to visitors. But be quiet about it. We don’t want to wake up Urgus. He’ll want to play poker with us if we do.”

 

“Triple bummer,” said Thurston, grabbing the visitor’s collar with one powerful stick-figure arm and pulling him into the ship.

“Be sure to roll him to one side,” McGuirk said. “Last time we left a corpse in the doorway the captain nearly broke a tibia.”

“Did she trip over the corpse?” Thurston asked.

“Not her tibia,” Grumlit explained. “McGuirk’s.”

The Smileyfacian lugged the corpse across the room to the corner where the young spacekid peacefully snored and arranged him alongside. Grabby peered closely at the fellow. “Waal, lookit thet. He’s holding a dang lily. Now that’s what I call coming prepared.”

McGuirk scratched the back of his neck. “Now, I’ll bet that means something. Like a clue, maybe.”“He’s probably a florist,” Grumlit growled. “Let’s get back to the game.”

“Oh, yes,” said McGuirk. “The game.”

“Shouldn’t we call a representative of the law and report the murder?” Thurston said, as they sat down at the table again.

“Naw,” McGuirk said, reaching for the cards. “That’s not necessary.”

“It’s the consarned law, McGuirk,” said Grabby.

“Aren’t you a certified space marshal?” McGuirk said.

“Well,” said Thurston, “if he hasn’t been certified by now, he sure

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ought to be.”

“Thunderation,” snarled Grabby. “I plumb forgot about that. In that case, I suppose the law’s been notified. Whose deal is it?”

“Mine,” McGuirk said. As he started arranging the cards, the airlock chimes sounded once again.

“Fragnabbit! I hope that’s not another dead being,” growled McGuirk, getting up from his chair.

When he opened the airlock, McGuirk found himself gazing at a visitor who was not only alive, but would actually be welcome, even during a card game.

“Ooooh!” she said, crooningly. “You must be that famous Nadir McGuirk. Oh, my goodness, I’ve heard so much about you. May I touch you? I mean, may I just touch your wingtips? It would be such an honor to touch your wingtips.” She breathed deeply and, in that lowcut black outfit she was wearing, spectacularly. She looked down and scowled. “But you aren’t wearing wingtips. Those are spats. And talons, I think.”

There seemed to be something about the young lady that was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t think of anyone he knew who wore hornrimmed glasses. She had on a black version of the Earle K. Bergey designed lady space captain’s uniform, apparently mostly leather, and rather plain if you discounted all the flesh it revealed. But considering the quality of the flesh being shown, McGuirk had no intention of discounting it. She wore two pink skull and crossbone earrings and a ring with a garnet the shape of a human skull on her right hand.

 

“Hmmmm,” he said. “I’ll just bet you’re working your way through space academy by selling brushes, and we stocked up just last week. Of course a good spaceship can always use another forty or fifty more brushes…”

“Did you figure that out just by looking at me? Because that’s just amazing, if you did.”

“Yes, well. Amazing? Yes. Uh, come in why don’t you, Miss – Miss –”

“Uh, Miss, uh, yes, yes. Miss will do just fine.” She brushed back long, thick black hair from her cheek as she noticed Urgus and the dead man. “Oh, dear. It looks as if you already have company.”

“Company? Those two? Pay them no mind. They’re just a couple of space sailors back from a tour of the local watering holes.”

“They can’t be very comfortable lying on this hard floor like that. Perhaps if I got them pillows –”

“That won’t be necessary, er, Miss. The hardships of space are good for a man.” He paused without opening the door to the cardroom. “Uh, I just remembered. The whole crew is worn out from our advantures in space. We fought space pirates – not just any space pirate, either, but the notorious Captain Cruiser, that slut, and her whole frajibackin crew of bloodthirsty cut-throats across the light years from the Coal Sack to the Horse’s Patootie. There’s men asleep in here, too. Fact is, the only place in the whole ship where we aren’t likely to disturb the rest of some poor worn out space hero, is my cabin.”

“Ooooh! Like every woman in the Galaxy, Mr. McGuirk, I’ve always dreamed about being invited to that famous little old cabin of yours.”

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“Well, now, how could I possibly bring myself to disappoint –?”

The door to the cardroom opened and Grabby stuck his head out. “Is we gonna play cards or not?” Then he noticed the woman. His thick eyebrows rose. “And who be that?”

McGuirk quickly grabbed Miss’s hand. “A relative. Mine. I’m her nephew.”

“Then bring her in here,” Grabby said, throwing the door wide open. “What’s a poker game without an auntie?”

“Oooooh!” cooed Miss, tickling Grabby’s whiskers. “I just adore men who play poker.”

“He’s lying!” McGuirk snarled. “They’re playing role playing games. Dragons and Dimwits, and all they need to complete the game is a large lizard.”

But it was too late. Miss had already gone into the room. Muttering to himself, McGuirk followed her in.

“And what brings a handsome young filly like yourself to this consarned space barge?” Grabby asked,

“Ooooh!” sighed Miss, leaning forward and breathing to everyone’s delight. “I’m looking for my brother, uh, Lloyd. Maybe you’ve seen him. He’s short, yellow and had big, soft, purple eyes.”

“What’s he do for a living?”

 
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“He was a florist.”

“Oh, good,” said Grumlit. “He can use the discount.”

But before they could continue the conversation, there came from the other room, “McGuirk, get the hell out here!”

“I didn’t hear the doorbell,” Grabby said.

“I must of left the airlock open,” McGuirk said. “Besides which, I seem to recall the captain has her own keys.”

“The Captain!” Miss said, in panic. “Oooooh! She’ll never understand about little old me being here.”

“Zapperdaggles!” McGuirk swore. “She won’t.” He shoved Miss toward Thurston. “Hide her somewhere. And be quick about it, while I see what Captain Shivers wants.”

In the next room, McGuirk saw the Captain bent over the snoring form of Urgus. As the mutant approached, she leaped to her feet. “McGuirk! What’s going on here? I’m out of the ship twenty minutes and I come back to find Urgus in a drunken stupor.”

“The kid’s no trouper?” McGuirk offered.

“And there’s a corpse holding a lily, right next to him.”

“What’s wrong with that, Captain? A lily’s traditional, isn’t it?”

“Where are the rest of that pack of juvenile delinquents that passes for a crew on this bucket?”

 

“Uh –”

Before McGuirk could think of another lie, Captain Shivers was past him and through the door into the card room. It was an amazing demonstration of speed. He scutted after her.

“Okay, you three. What’s going on?”

“Entropy!” Thurston complained. “It’s everywhere, undermining all our hopes and dreams.”

“What’s that smell?” said the captain, suddenly. “Perfume? Has there been a woman in here?”

“Captain,” McGuirk said, valiantly attempting to sound reasonable, “you yourself are a woman. Perhaps the perfume is your own.”

“I don’t wear Eau de Strumpet.”

“So that’s what that’s called,” McGuirk said.

Captain Shivers turned toward McGuirk. She glared. “there’s a woman hiding somewhere on this ship,” she said. “Go find her.”

“I’ll check the engine room,” said Thurston.

“I’ll check the galley,” said Grumlit.

“I’ll check the hold,” said Grabby. They all started off.

“That leaves the crew’s quarters,” McGuirk said. He sped down the passageway and was a reasonable distance along it before the

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Captain’s perfect pronunciation of his name and several more descriptive words reached him. He skidded to a halt and turned. His return to the cardroom achieved considerably less speed.

In fact, about a minute had passed by the time he got back and the first thing he noticed as he fearfully poked his head into the doorway, was that the Captain was no longer there.

The second thing he noticed was that the lovely, dark-haired Miss was.

“Frably scarbweks, woman! The captain better not find you,” he said.

“Ooooh! But it was so stuffy in that little old closet I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I needed some air.” She leaned forward so he could watch her breathe and appreciate why she needed air.

“And you put it to such fine use,” he said. “But if the captain finds you, it could be the last air either of us breathes.”

“All I want is to find my uncle –”

“Uncle? I thought he was your brother.”

“Ooooh! That’s right. It’s so easy to get confused about those complicated relationship things when you come from as large a family as I do.”

“And now I think about it,” McGuirk said, “there doesn’t seem to be much family resemblance.”

 

“Our parents were adopted,” she explained. “Both of them. You know, I didn’t get a really good look at either of the two gentlemen on the floor in the next room, but didn’t one of them have purple eyes?”

“Purple eyes?” McGuirk said, suspiciously. “Purple eyes? Both of those guys had their gluffhlaberin eyes closed.”

“But a girl surely knows the color of her little old brother’s eyes and I’m just sure that’s him. I’d like to see him.”

She undulated her hips in a way that transcended mere walking, and motivated herself toward the door. McGuirk started after her but was stopped halfway there by a thumping sound. It came from the closet in which Miss, uh, just Miss had been hiding.

With some misgivings, McGuirk opened the door. He saw Captain Shivers glaring angrily at him. A lemon was shoved in her mouth. McGuirk had prepared Urgus’s lemonade-grog in that closet and at the time thought that actually using lemons was a nice touch.

It was a narrow closet and Captain Shivers was wedged in so tightly that with the door closed she couldn’t move her arms. McGuirk pulled her out and she spat out the lemon. It bounced off the end of McGuirk’s beak. She snarled, “McGuirk, what are lemons doing in my storage locker?”

“The carioca?” he ventured. “Uh, what happened here, anyway?”

“Someone hit me from behind and when I came to -,” she said. “Wait a minute. I saw the person who hit me. What in seventeen snarling

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gravity wells is Captain Cruiser doing on my ship?”

“Captain Cruiser? The space pirate queen? Our old enemy? That slut?”

“And wearing glasses, yet,” growled Shivers. “As if that would keep me from hitting her.”

“Oh,” McGuirk said in a small voice, as much dawned on him. “You know, I kinda thought she sort of looked familiar.”

“You mean you saw her too? And you didn’t stop her?”

“I was, er, pursuing her when your dainty thumps for rescue reached my ears,” McGuirk said. “Uh, she went thataway.”

Shivers, grasping the situation quickly, rushed through the hatchway. McGuirk hoped he would hear more thumping from a closet but none came, so he was forced to follow along after her.

They saw Cruiser bending over the dead fellow, prying the lily from his hands. As the pirate queen saw them, she yanked the flower free and leaped to her feet. She pointed the lily at Captain Shivers.

“Don’t come any closer,” she barked.

“Drop that lily, you two-bit space slut,” Shivers sneered. “This time you’re headed for jail.”

 

For reply, Cruiser fired the lily. A beam of pure, hard energy streamed from the blossom and punched a dent in the bulkhead to the left of Shiver’s ear.

“Jabbercrumbies!” McGuirk screeched. “That’s no ordinary blossom! It’s one of those notorious laser lilies from Saturn’s forty-third moon.”

“Exactly,” Cruiser said. “And if you try to stop me, I’ll incinerate you with it.”

“I thought all of those were destroyed twenty seven years ago,” Shivers said.

“All but one,” the pirate queen said. “I’ve followed it across half the galaxy, too. That little yellow rat Mickey got his mitts on it and I found out. He tried to ambush me with the thing, but I got off the first shot. I hit him, of course. I trailed him to your ship. Fortunately, I had a disguise with me – a pair of hornrimmed glasses. Your numbskull crew never recognized me.”

“We were merely stringing her along to find out what she knew,” McGuirk said. “Hey, wait a minute. Did you say ‘Mickey?’ I thought his name was ‘Lloyd.’”

“And a fine job they were doing of stringing me along,” Cruiser said, with a laugh. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just blast the two of you out of this continuum and be on my way – eeeyipes!”

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Young Urgus awoke while she was talking and, unseen by Captain Cruiser, groggily sat up. And, in fact, still held the flask of chilled lemonade-grog in his clammy little hand. He drunkenly waved the icey cold metal container about and in doing so caused it to come into contact with the amply exposed left cheek of Cruiser’s posterior. Cruiser yelped – and jumped.

The lily flew from her hand. McGuirk thought Captain Shivers would catch it but he quickly realized she was too occupied stepping in close to Cruiser and delivering a wicked right cross to the pirate queen’s jaw. So he grabbed for the flower, caught it and shouted, “Hands up, you fragdabbin she-devil.”

Shivers turned and glared at him.

“I meant the other she-devil,” he said meekly.

Cruiser wasn’t about to put her hands up as McGuirk had demanded. She was stretched out on the floor and too unconscious to follow mere orders. Captain Shivers snatched the lily from his hand.

Urgus meantime had unsteadily climbed to his feet and was groggily watching the procedings, apparently without much comprehension.

“So this is what it was all about,” Captain Shivers said, examining the lily.

Urgus staggered over, dropped to all fours and rubbed against McGuirk’s ankle, like a cat. “Gee whillikers, Unca First Officer Nadir McGuirk, sir,” he purred. “That sure was good lemonade.”

“Lemonade?” asked Shivers. “Did I hear the word ‘lemonade?’”

 

“A trick of the acoustics,” McGuirk said, quickly. “You know how these clarbnumlik spaceships are. You can’t understand anything anyone says.”

“And while we’re at it, why are there so many decks of cards in the laundryroom?”

“Cards?” McGuirk cleared his throat. “Oh, those. They must be calling cards. Yes, that’s what they are, fragnabbin calling cards. I think the entire population of the planet stopped by for a spot of tea while you were gone. You just missed all of them.” He suddenly brightened. “Wait a minute! That explains everything! Somehow poor Urgus must have gotten himself a pot of bad pekoe.” He snatched the flask from Urgus’s hand. “I think this is it. The very pot. It’s gotten cold.”

Captain Shivers casually pointed the lily at it and heated it while it was still in McGuirk’s grasp.

# # #

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