HOWS OF ZERO
This story was first published inAmbrov Zeor #2, September 1976, and was selected to be placed on-line by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. This online version was scanned and OCRd from 1984 reprint edition and then reformatted for the web. Scanned by Ronnie Bob Whitaker, converted to HTML by Mike Giroux.
The Sime~Gen universe was created byJacqueline Lichtenberg. This story or its setting may not be reused without her explicit permission. This story copyright © 1976, 1984, 1997 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. All rights reserved.
It was nigh onto nighttime and Harold Folderol was mighty tired of stomping thru the mud, patrolling the border. So far, all he'd apprehended were an itinerant band of partridges, two refugee Gins he'd shaken down for "visa fees", and a 7-foot, 8-inch chap with bolts in his ears, asking directions to Mary Shelley's.
Suddenly, two riders pounded up. "Harold, your wife, Ahchu Woof, is gone! She's been stolen by gypsies," shouted one, whom Harold recognized as Spacy, his boss. He couldn't make out the other, pink-mustachioed fellow. "Gee, that's a shame," clucked Harold.
"And they took your autographed photo of Lawrence Talbot, too," Spacy added.
"What?!?" shrieked Harold.
"This is where I come in," put in the muddy-booted stranger. "I have reason to believe that my business rival, Vandle, is opening new territory over here in Gin country, which is unfair, illegal, and mainly, he's mucking up my profit. I'll help you rescue your wife if you'll help me stop Vandle."
By this time, Harold had made out by the light of the crescent moon the long black cape, the tufted, pointy ears, the two-inch fangs, and the writhing nose tendrils of the stranger. He was a Slime! that fearful cross between humans and star-nosed moles. "No way!" objected Harold, as Spacy sneaked up behind him and put him out for the count with a rock across the medulla oblongata.
"Anything to get them out of here," Spacy grunted, tossing the comatose rookie over the back of his glue-factory reject, and slapping the nag on the rump. "Bye!" he shouted as the Slime and the Gin meandered off into the gloom. "Write if you get work. Don't call us; we'll call you."
Tour de Farce
Eventually, Harold returned to that state of semi-consciousness in which he normally operated, and groggily re-forswearing unprocessed potato mash, realized he was surrounded by salivating Slimes, all of whom were obviously counting on him to provide the main course. "First dibs!" insisted his erstwhile companion, and the others disgruntledly fell back.
"Allow me to introduce myself," the Slime continued, flourishing his cape. "I am Clyde Farce, Asimov Zero. I will teach you the whys, wherefores, and the hows of Zero." The sight of Clyde melodramatically posturing, the tentacles around his nose writhing like a can of bait, had a profound effect on Harold. He became profoundly sick.
By the Hows of Zero, by the Shining Big Sea Water
Later that afternoon, Folderol began casing the Housebayou of Zero. Among his newly acquired swag were a table service for six, an unexpurgated copy of Dracula, and two dozen ballpoints embossed with "Property of the United Federation of Planets". He squirreled his take into his pack, which no Slime would touch, because also in the pack was some garlic bread left over from last week's lunch.
Passing by the Civics Class, he stopped to watch the fifth kid in the third row suddenly develop fangs, hairy pointed ears, and a Transylvanian accent. "I always said, they never should'a passed bussing," he signed and moved on.
Lunch Ain't Nothin' but Food Misspelled
That evening at din-din, while the Slimes sat down to their typical meal of tomato juice, extremely rare steak, and strawberry malteds; and the Gins sat down to their typical meal of beer, pizza, french fries, and beer; there was the ceremonial initiation of the Slime, Hray, into the Hows of Zero.
Hray, restrained by a triple-strength-test grade of steel collar and chain from slobbering over a bewildered Gen, was not aware until too late of Clyde, as Imperial Grand Poobah and Master Station Selector of Zero, sticking him in the tail with the business end of a transfusion tube. As the reconstituted type O gurgled out of the bottle, the half-drunken Slimes and Gins looked blearily up from their plates to half-heartedly croak, in more or less unison, "Up Zero!"
Robert Was Browning and Elizabeth Couldn't Barrett
After the sun rose the next day, Harold went off to tiptoe thru the tulips, when he heard a banging on the front gate. Thru the open door collapsed a bullet-riddled Slime, with six or seven daggers buried in his back, and a poison dart sticking out of his ear. Harold surmised he was injured.
". . . Feledown . . ." gasped the Slime.
"Well, let me help you back up," Harold offered.
"No, that's my name. Ahchu . . ."
"Ahchu, your wife, Naziturd . . . You know," Feledown continued conversationally, "they gave Roland the last measure of wine for bringing the good news from Aix to Ghent."
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Just that 'Valor deserves reward', you know."
"Yeah, well, 'Empty minds get empty mitts'. Now spill."
"Oh, all right. Vandle does have your wife, Ahchu, along with a load of other Gins. As a matter of fact, if Clyde and some of the other Soaktubs don't grap Park Place pretty soon, he'll have a monopoly. Well my three minutes are up. Gkkkk!!" With a number of dramatic kicks and groans, Feledown's parking meter flag went up, and he expired.
Harold broke down completely when the full extent of the tragedy hit him--Feledown's pockets were empty.
You Can Telephone Girl, But Can You Tell Her Old Man?
"Before we go, I'll have to tell Grandpop and my wife, Yenta," Clyde said to Harold, opening the door to Grandpop's simple eight-room suite, "The poor dears. Every time I go somewhere, they have to console each other."
As the pair trotted in, a startled Yenta scrambled out of Grandpop's bed, hastily straightening her nightgown. Apparently, they'd heard about our departure, thought Harold; they seem to be consoling each other already.
"Is--is that you, Clyde?" groaned the old goat, pulling a pretty convincing case of paraplegia.
"Yes, Grandpop. But I'm afraid I have to leave for a while. Business, you know," Clyde answered, unconscious of the 87 nitroglycerine capsule wrappers littering the floor.
"That's all right, dear," reassured Yenta. "Grandpop and I will console each other somehow . . . Whoop!" as some of that consolation reached her posterior.
Satisfied, Clyde left, accompanied by Harold, who was contemplating simultaneously the ceiling and the stupidity of some Slimes.
A Pimple on the Face of the Earth
That night, as the quarter moon rose, the vamp and the tramp hit "Ye Olde Greasy Spoon and Whorehouse". There they performed a few obscene and disgusting unnatural acts, which are better left undiscussed, but they also learned of a Choice Action, a discount house opening up the next day in the capital city of Podunk. On the way they found themselves accosted by a noisome old boor by the name of Cashbar, and his faithful Indian Compendium, Lolls Loyce, who both quickly appraised the status of their picnic basket, wallets, and threshold of boredom.
The loss leader of the Choice Action on opening day was a selection of Gins that had been priced at $150 each, now for a limited time only, $99.95. They were sold in lots according to blood type.
Harold and Clyde wandered around the aisles, idly pricing the fang polishers, house-brand blood stain remover, mirrorless bathroom cabinets, garlic neutralizer, silver tarnish, and portable blood-typing kits. Unfortunately, they couldn't shake Cashbar, and Lolls soon found the three again, giving Harold a dirty look. "The little bugger knows more about knots than I had thought," Harold groused to Clyde.
Cashbar had picked up on the house special, and had in tow three prize, if neanderthaloid, Gins named Grendel, Prints, and Vred, but Ahchu was either still in the stockroom or not there.
Love Means Never Having to Say You're Straight
Having nothing better to do, Clyde and Harold tagged behind Cashbar to his Housebayou, that of Pimple. There, in an unguarded moment he immediately regretted, Harold let slip that he had once worked as an advertising layout man before he became a nark. The freeloaders of Pimple instantly prevailed upon him to do some gratis commercials for their mail order dirty book business.
Five minutes later, Harold found himself with three badly sharpened #2 pencils, one rubber eraser that ate paper, a pad of grade triple Z pulp, and two queer Slime models, Sighing deeply, Harold surrendered to the inevitable and tried to get the models to stop pawing each other and to assume the classic "Heaven Nose" position, whereby the models were nose to nose, tentacles braided together. Fighting down his unhappy digestion, the Gin sat down to sketch the, to him at least, not so much titillating as asinine pose.
He was head down over the pad, partly to get it right, partly to avoid looking at the Slime queens, when Egad, the one on the left, caught a tickle in his nose "Hold still, dammit," growled Harold irritably, as the Slimes hurriedly tried to disengage before the imminent sneeze ripped them apart. Harold stomped over, scattering eraser crumbs and pulp fibers into the air and Egad's respiratory system. "Ah--ah--AH--SCHOO!" Egad blasted, removing the possibility of any more sneezing in the near future, along with half his proboscis.
"I know you miss your wife, Folderol, but really!" said a scandalized Clyde, entering the room and seeing Harold narrowly evade being tackled by the enraged Slime.
"Help!" Harold suggested, running two yards before the grasp.
Cashbar stepped in and braked Egad. "Down, boy! Heel! Here, boy!"
"He bwoke my widdle nose," wailed the nance, clutching the offended item.
"There, there. Bruce, take him to his room," Cashbar instructed the other model. Bruce, smiling lewdly and waggling his eyebrows, went off to console Egad.
Cashbar walked over to consider Harold's doodle. "Not bad, not bad," he judged. " 'Course it's not bad," put in Lolls. "It's miserable."
"Tell ya what I'm gonna do, Farce," Cashbar draped a Dutch avuncular arm across Clyde's shoulders. "I won't tell anyone that you were here today, and you take that station selector Zimmerman off my hands."
"I'll publish this over your name," Cashbar threatened, Indicating the obscene cartoon.
"I'll do it."
"Fine. First thing next week, I'll have him breeze over to Zero. I always said, to all our problems, the answer is Dylan in the wind."
Poetic License, or, Get the Number of That Sonnet!
The gibbous moon had set some time ago, the sun had risen, and Harold and Clyde headed off toward Zero.
"I don't see how it matters whether or not you turned off the bathroom light," Harold grumbled.
"Hold it!" Clyde stopped the laggin-twain. "There are enemies about--the Runti Raiders."
"How can you tell?"
"To a trained Slime station selector, the smell is painfully obvious," Clyde answered witheringly. "This way."
The demonic duo set off due forward, across the plain, over the river, and thru the woods, past an old scoreboard reading "Deer 6, Antelope 3", and came at last to the bunions of the Whachamajigger Mountains.
"Me for some shuteye," said Harold, stripping off his pack.
"Not yet; we'll be safer in the mountains," Clyde insisted, pointing at the lowering storm clouds, the incipient avalanches, and the curious yeti.
"Rats. Hoped we could call it a day," the Gin complained, climbing the noon sunlit slopes, following the Slime trail.
As sunset and halfway up coincided, so did the path of an extremely ferocious rabbit, which jumped Clyde from behind and ripped his right earlobe off, leaving him out to lunch.
Harold considered the relative advantages of leaving Clyde there and going home, against having an alternative food source. His sense of prudence won out, so, shrugging philosophically, he picked up his octopus-faced friend and trudged toward a sign that said "Deus ex Machina Motels, two yards ahead."
Over an offstage left, the author, Fate, two of the Parcae, and a misplaced Muse were snickering over this latest plot twist. "Wait'll he finds out why he shouldn't have done that!" chortled the writer.
Count Dracula, Count Yorga, Count Down
Harold dumped the Slime on the rickety old bedstead in the hut, then began to light the fire. However, he became so engrossed in the girlie magazines in the tinder box, that he failed to notice Clyde, tentacles a-quiver, rise slowly from the bed and approach Folderol from the rear. He had a second's warning from the vampire's fetid blood breath, before the nosepeds whipped about his neck, clamping him into position for Clyde's fangs. As the Slime's mouth gaped wider, Harold suddenly remembered the old Double Cross talisman his schizoid mama had won in a penny arcade and used to distract him while she had made her getaway.
"Back, fiend of Satan," he roared in Hollywood's finest tradition, shoving the sharp-edged phallic symbol in Clyde's face and practically up his nose.
"Bleah! Bleah!" cried the Slime, backing off hastily, and returning to normal. "Oog! Harold, don't ever move me again when I'm asleep. It gives me nightmares!"
"Must be a real whoopee on an overnight Pullman," Harold muttered.
Vandle and the Wight Visitors
The next day the two headed west into the rising sun and tracked the Suwaj River downstream to the source. Consequently, they wound up not too far from Vandle's camp, where they were promptly captured by a passle of Vandle's hired orcs.
"Hah! I are got yew now, finko," Vandle gloated before the cells containing Clyde and Harold. Across from them was--surprise!--Ahchu, who was distinctly bored with the whole affair.
"I wants a Gin tewnight. Sen' one 'long later," Vandle directed as he prepared to leave.
"Take two; they're small!" Harold shouted at the exiting Slime captain's hulkish back.
"Brilliant, lover. Now you got any ideas how to keep that stupid slob off our throats?" Ahchu snorted.
"Ah, well, that's the one part I hadn't quite figured out yet," admitted Harold. "Hey, Soaktub! How do you stop a charging Slime?"
"Promise to keep it to yourselves?" Clyde asked, glancing conspiratorially.
"Cross my heart and hope to die!"
"Step on a cat and spit in his eye!"
"Then I'll tell you. Just punch him in the nose. This paralyzes his feelers, so he can't get a good grip on you," Clyde explained.
"Fantastic," crooned Ahchu, as the Slime guards returned to fetch her and Harold for Vandle. They were given clean neckties and ushered into Vandle's boudoir with typical Slime grace.
Picking herself up off the floor and soothing her bruised arse, Ahchu delivered her opinion of the locker room green walls accented with touches of bandaid beige, the tastefully arranged Early Auction bedspread-covered furniture, the exquisite Japanese paper lampshades on the black filigreed 30-weight wrought iron base, and the 18-foot philodendron in the corner. "Yeuhh."
"Yeah, I like it too," said Vandle, lumbering into the room.
"Ooh, you startled me, sneaking up on pussyfoots like that," Ahchu trilled.
"Huh?" said Harold, bewildered.
"What an even surface on this end table you have!" she cooed.
"Oh, oh yeah, that are the board we rub ar' whiskers off'a wit', hhee, hhee, hheeeee," explained Vandle as a glow of moronic pleasure lit up the craters of his face.
"Mm." Ahchu snuggled up to Vandle's rotund belly. "So that explains these nice, smooth cheeks you have."
"Ah, honey," Harold tapped his wife on the shoulder. "Honey?" This wasn't doing much for his sense of machismo.
"And what a nice, flat--nose you got pal," Ahchu finished, balling her beefy fist up practically to her bicep and delivering the haymaker at Mach 2.
She squirmed out of Vandle's unconscious embrace. "Let's go. The moon will be rising soon."
"Just a minute." Harold rifled thru his sack for the garlic bread left over from Chapter Three. This he stuffed into his mouth and, chewing moistly, tailed Ahchu out the door.
I Was True to You, Dear, but You Werewolf to Me
Mighty as Ahchu's fist was, her husband's halitosis was mightier. The stench overpowered not only all the Slime guards, but a good part of the township, as well. The two hustled out of camp, closely followed by Clyde, whose cage door had been melted by Harold's garlic breath.
Finally, at the top of a hill, the three called a halt. "Well, I think we proved something," puffed Clyde, as the full moon rose behind them. "Slimes and Gins can work together. Aside from the vampirism, we're very much the same."
"Bets?" asked Harold, as with a blinding "pfaf!!", both he and Ahchu turned into wolves, and in the bright moonlight, loped slavering after Clyde.
End of story
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