Today’s Letter

August 22, 2009


Dearly beloved and desired with every bone in my body reader,

Well here we go, the third whack at our kooky writer’s game. Got me a new partner in literary crime. Name’s William Saunders, a fine man and dedicated writer I found on Twitter.

The way this game or writer’s exercise goes is first you get two writers. They make up imaginary characters, and then those characters carry on an imaginary correspondence. Neither writer knows what the other will come up with in the next letter. The characters may, but generally they don’t tell you.

I think William might have a photo of himself in his brief (I hope) bio to follow, so I suppose I should too. All I have is an old picture, since in recent decades I’ve become too unpleasant to look at if you don’t have to, so I’ll use this from my earlier days.

Tom Howe

Hope you enjoy our shindig! Sure is fun to write this way. Like playing tennis with words, except you hope your serve is returnable.

Blessings be,

Tom Howe


August 25, 2009


William was born at an early age and while he’s gotten older hasn’t grown up much. He’s a dad, carves pipes, does steampunk mods and is a writer working on becoming an author. You can see his stuff at scholaroffortune.com, follow him on Twitter @ontheblob, partake of his daily Twitter story @apocalypsewow, or see his crudely drawn but occasionally funny comic at paperbagninja.com. If you’re really into him, he’s on Facebook as William Saunders.

William Saudners


~ 1 ~


To Whoever it Might Concern,

Sorry to barge in on you like this, friend, but my recently departed and still lamented partner, Colonel Frank Trapezoid of the Galactic Star Rangers, tol’ me with his last breath it was important I send this along o’ you, whoever you are, so here ye go. I ain’t one to neglect the last wishes of my dear partner Frank, noways, may he rest his bones in peace.

Ye see, my name is Hank Pickens, auxilliary ranger with the Rangers, part time anyways. The rest o’ the time I’m back on Earth, workin as a top secret international spy for the good ol’ U.S. of A. We been fightin’ the Cowzonians over a patch o’ space over by Last Gulch Starhole these last few months, and yesterday we come across one of their hidey-holes down on this godforsaken planet named Darn Tootin IV. Never saw such a place for sulfuric gas and neutrinos in all my days.

Anyways, we found this alien contraption inside one o’ their blasted-out bunkers. Now Frank, ye see, he’s the expert, or was, and could read Cowzonian easy as a pig suckin slop. Come to find out this here contraption is some kind o’ time-space doohickey, and can send messages not only across space, but through time, even though it’s so teensy. We’re in the middle of a sort of alien conspiracy here I reckon, not that I know much about that. I left that stuff up to Frank. I pretty much stick with what I know, which is the laser lariat – good for poppin’ the heads off them Cowzonians.

(They ain’t really called Cowzonians, by the way. I just call ‘em that because o’ the giant udder on their heads. They look like a cross between a upside-down cow and a octopus, with maybe a frog or a sheep or somethin’ thrown in. And they’re spotted, though more like blobs than actual spots. Frank called ‘em Calonian Zitherwhips.)

Well, of a sudden, here come a whole passel o’ new Cowzonians, counter-attacking us, mooin’ like they was about to bust a cud. By the time they was all dead, there lay Frank, no legs and all, bleedin’ like a stuck pig. He was gaspin’ and barely breathin, but he handed me the message machine and told me I had to contact...and that was all. He was dead.

Don’t know who you are or where you are or even when you are, but I’m hopin’ Frank has this thing set up to the right place and you’re the right fella, because here it comes.

My best to you,

Auxilliary Ranger Hank Pickens


~ 2 ~


Ranger Pickens,

I am greatly saddened to learn of the Colonel’s death. He was a stalwart warrior, a worthy person, and a good friend. As his partner, his passing must be even more tragic for you.

You may call me Liam Kilgour. I was, until recently, an operative for...well, perhaps we should leave that vague. Suffice it to say I am a friend, and engaged in much the same business as yourself. Colonel Frank Trapezoid and I “bumped into”, you Americans say, each other more years ago than I care to recall, and formed a fond acquaintance after we stopped trying to kill each other. (This was before the Calonian Zitherwhips became an issue and we humans were still merrily engaged in attempting to eradicate ourselves.)

I doubt Colonel Frank ever mentioned me; although notionally allied, our respective employers did not always see eye to eye and the Colonel and I were occasionally forced to work at cross-purposes. Acknowledging our friendship would have caused him no end of bureaucratic cock-ups, so we limited our interaction to seedy bars and stinking brothels. Being in The Business, you know the places.

You however, are a legend among the Illuminati. Your exploits at Dagnum’it (I confess, interstellar naming conventions have become much more interesting since you Americans nationalized the Star Registry) sent a wave of awe throughout our small community. I was unaware a Calonian Zitherwhip could tap dance.

If Colonel Frank trusted to vouchsafe to you the existence of the Interspacial Chronoacappellatelegramaphone, I trust his judgment enough to tell you why I sent him to his death. During our infrequent meetings we would talk shop, as craftsmen often do, and our pooling of information led us both to believe a darker evil than the Calonian Zitherwhips menaced our fair Earth. You were correct in your analysis of being intertwined within a conspiracy. I wish I could say the threat was external in nature, another attempt by the Zitherwhips to weaken human resistance and allow them to spread their spore throughout the universe. Alas, the plot involves the all-too-human traits of greed and betrayal, and led to my recent unemployment.

This missive is not the appropriate vessel for that tale. Stirring deeds of daring-do are not a fit meal for a man still digesting his partner’s untimely demise. Suffice to say Colonel Frank and I decided to work in partnership, alone but on parallel lines, to spay this latest challenge to humanity’s existence. He has passed his baton to you, Ranger Pickens, and I welcome you to the fight for your life.

Colonel Frank and I believed these devices to be secure from the snoopings of undesirable interlopers. Please report to me if there is an increase in the attempts to assassinate you. I will, of course, extend to you the same courtesy. If our communications do not appear to be compromised, I will share the details our friend thought important enough for which to give his life.

Yours In Secrecy,

Liam


~ 3 ~


Dear Mister Liam,

Boy am I glad to hear from you. Them Cowzonians been kickin our ass down here on Darn Tootin. Wouldn’t think a cow could be that mean, but I think they got some wolf to ‘em, or badger maybe.

Sure am glad it’s you that Frank – rest his cow-bustin soul – set me up with. I heard a lot about your exploits from Frank, and know you’re a good feller to have on my side in any alien dustup, or spyin’ too. How’s the missus? He probably didn’t mention it, but I ain’t with Ellie Mae Padbusher no more. She didn’t take too well to me wearin spurs in bed. No idear why, but you know womenfolk, they can be as particular as they are peculiar.

I’m hoping this Chronowhatchamadillyphone is still workin right, since I set on it yesterday, after our last battle with the Cowzonians. Boy was I tuckered. They shot down our transport with a udder-gun and now we’re stuck. Hoping maybe you can send along another rescue crew, asap. There’s only three of us left.

Glad to hear what you say about the Illuminati. Always wanted to be a legend, even if it has to be a secret and all. Better get some help to us soon down here, though, or I’ll be a dead legend. Them aliens sure are a bunch o’ conspiriatin fools, ain’t they? Now I got a complaint or two about us humanfolk, but we sure beat the bejeesus out o’ them Cowzonians for niceness, in general anyways. Would hate to see us go. Is somebody squawkin with the Cowzonians?

Illuminati seal

Lookin forward to more info on this mess you got us into – from what you say – but if Frank trusted you with his skin, so do I. Don’t worry none about me fightin for my life, that’s what I been doing this many a long year. God bless Ranger Colonel Frank Trapezoid. He done his best.

Your desperate cowpoke,

Hank

(sorry to hear about your job)


~ 4 ~


Ranger Hank,

I’m glad to hear you are not dead. I have placed a discreet call to a mineral broker of my acquaintance, indicating a recent survey had shown Darn Tootin IV to be incredibly rich in Naqahdah and Dilithium crystals, with a smattering of Octiron. You should be inundated shortly with wildcat miners come to contest over the mineral rights. They usually arrive armed for bear and willing to fight anyone: human, Calonian, or other. They will certainly be in a fighting mood when they discover D.T. IV is basically frozen swamp gas. I expect that you will be able to commandeer a spacecraft in the resultant confusion; if not, you are not Hank Pickens.

The Zitherwhips were able to put their Udder-gun into production? That’s disappointing. I thought we had deterred that line of inquiry.

Be warned: most of what Colonel Frank told you is likely lies and exaggerations. At least, if he told you what I told him. Knowing Frank, he did his due diligence and researched me independently. So we will have to see if he believed the lies I told to those people as well.

I am sorry to hear that your and Miss Padbusher’s relationship has ended. I do understand her stance on spurs in bed, however. A woman can darn sheets for only so long before she is faced with a difficult choice. I trust you only wore clean boots to bed however, so there remains a chance for reconciliation.

Alas, I also find myself “in the market”, as it were, for companionship. My darling wife and children were part of the benefits package offered by my former employer. When we parted ways I was forced to return them at the exit interview, along with my executive bathroom pass and cyanide pill. I do miss that bathroom. The mints were divine.

I would not be concerned about breaking the Interspacial Chronoacappel-latelegramaphone. It may be, for our intents and purposes, indestructible. Colonel Frank and I located the one I carry accidentally. (It is amazing what you can find while browsing for rugs in a Turkish bazaar.) Through trial and error we learned the IC can send messages not only across the vastnesses of space, but also, as you know, through the reaches of time. We had a delightful correspondence with a chap named Wodanaz from the old Victorian era. He was cagey on how he had procured the IC he was using, but interestingly enough, we may have been communicating using the exact same device! I discussed the possibility with the Newtonian Chair at Cambridge, and she had to go have a lie down with a headache.

We do not know exactly how the IC works, but we are certain of two things: it is most likely not of Calonian construction, and it is beyond humanity’s furthest technological graspings. Whether this makes it an artifact of a long vanished alien race or the tool of a new, unsuspected player we do not as yet know. We learned from various sources that the Calonian Zitherwhips had unearthed (or would that be unDarn Tooten’ed?) a similar device on D.T. IV. Being uncertain of the full abilities of the ICs, but seeing the value of a device that would allow us to collaborate without garnering the attentions of our friends and enemies, and the dangers such a device would pose in the appendages of our enemies, Colonel Frank and I decided one of us would have to risk infiltrating the Calonian outpost. (For all his skills, the good Colonel was a lousy Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock player. I even gave him two out of three tries.)

Someone is talking to someone, that is certain. Does humanity suffer a turncoat within its ranks? Have the Zitherwhips infiltrated Earth’s diverse tapestry? Or are we facing a new threat, exposing our flanks to an attack for which we are totally unaware and woefully unprepared? I’m glad you are up for a fight, Hank, because there will be plenty of that, as soon as we can figure out whom the enemy is. And where.

Do be in touch when you have extricated yourself from your current predicament. If you can procure a Zitherwhip for later interrogatories, all the better. ‘Fraid I have to sign off, old boy; another consignment of ninja monkeys has arrived via post, and their attempts to assassinate me are distracting.

Yours,

Liam


~ 5 ~


Bad news pard. Them miners your friend sent is mostly dead. They was some fightin fools, that’s for sure, but I don’t think your contact mentioned to them that this place is crawlin with Cowzonians. It was a massacree.

We did manage to snag a rusty bucket left by some dead miners, but hope soon to snatch something with a little more poop to it, since it crapped out while we was tryin to bust orbit, so had to sidle back down to the other side of the planet. Luckily it’s in a place without any Cowzonians, so far. And there’s plenty o’ fungus here, so we won’t starve. Cain’t say I’m partial to fungus, myself, specially alien fungus, but it’s better than starvin. Breaks me out in purple spots.

Not surprised to find out Frank was a big fat liar, since he sure was one winkin’ sonofagun, bless his soul. I figgered mebbie he had a tic, but apparently he was tryin to tell me somethin. I do great with liars, anyways, being partial to whoppers and tall tales, myself. So you and me oughta get along just fine, Liam. No need to call me Ranger Hank, by the way, not that I got anything against the Galactic Star Rangers. It’s fine if’n ye like fancy outfits and all, but I'm just an associate, and I’ll stick with my buckskins.

This Interspacial Chronomagillicuttyphone is beepin and honkin and twinklin to beat the barn lately. Don’t know what to do with it. Also got some voice blips – may be from that Wodanaz feller you mentioned. Did sound kinda hoity-toity.

Got Quanson here with me, so that’s good. He’s most as good at machineratin as he is at killin’ and that’s sayin something. When I tole him you said there’s some Octiron and Dilithum crystals down here he let out a big ol’ whew and set out to find some, with his quinzilator, across them thar rocky hills. Needs it to get this busted-up old junker to run some. A Ford Starlane – if you can believe that. Didn’t know any more of them was still around.

Ford Starlane

Also am with Sargent Betty Varoomatoot, the only other survivor here from the Ranger battalion. She sure fills out her Ranger outfit right pretty. The top of it got torn up some during the battle, and her cleavage is fillin out my dreams right now too. I think she likes it when I call her Sarge.

Well, Liam, looks like we’re stuck here for a few days, so if’n you got any more info on them Illuminati types, or all your lyin, I got the ears for it. Sorry to hear about your fambly. Hope you can get a job soon and pick up another one. And if you hear any news about enemies, I’m rarin’.

– Course me and Sargent Betty might figger out somethin’ to do whilst we’re waiting on you and Quanson, so don’t get too all-fired perky on the time thing.

Hank Pickens


~ 6 ~


Associate Ranger Hank,

I am glad you are in a place of safety. The loss of the miners is of little consequence. They served their purpose, and hopefully took some Calonian Zitherwhips with them as they died. If not, the shock and surprise of their ‘attack’ should buy Quanson some time to get the ship in order. Fortunately for us, the Zitherwhips do not process new data very quickly. It is probably the result of being ungulates. I have noticed that cud-chewing is not conducive to rapid mental functions.

If you have any, try adding either salsa or rosemary to your fungi. I have found that increases its palatability quite a bit. (Not, I admit, a great challenge.) Do get pictures of the purple spots. I have a picture of Colonel Frank in plaid after he ingested a native dish on a small, unnamed moonlet orbiting Rattlesnake Creek. He coincidentally duplicated the tartan of the Black Watch, which came in handy when we were later captured by the atavistic Scotsmen who populate that planet. Did he ever tell you about the three weeks he was worshiped as a god? He was personally responsible for deflowering the entire female population of the planet in order to discourage sacrifices. I have never seen a more selfless man. It was also during this time he swore off knickers and whiskey, but that is a story best saved for another day.

Colonel Frank Trapezoid

I refer to you by your title as a token of my respect. Consider it a cultural idiosyncrasy, along the same philosophy as your buckskins, whatever those may be.

Wodanaz has his airs, but is a good person. If you do strike up a correspondence, please convey my regards. I would also be interested in his reaction. I do not think he will know what to make of you.

When Quanson returns, please extend my sincerest apologies for his fruitless search. The rumours of Dilithium and Octiron were necessary falsehoods to entice the miners to your location. I have full faith in his ability to overcome their lack and to render your craft spaceworthy again.

A Ford Starlane? I used to own one myself, in my youth. Ah the memories come flooding back: the incomprehensible breakdowns it incurred whenever I made a left turn; the mind-numbing grind of the public transportation I was forced to endure as the ship was always under the tender care of my mechanic; the constant taunts I underwent for driving such a piece of offal. Now I have a Jaguar XXX, which sounds much naughtier than it is, but still retains the Ford Starlane’s charming tendency of enriching my mechanic. Only, being a Jaguar, doing so much more expeditiously.

Is Sgt. Varoomatoot of the famed Dutch/Hottentots clan? If so, inform her I said it is imperative for the success of the mission that she perform oral sex upon you. It is not, really, but the Varoomatoots, as I am certain you are aware, have taken the gold medal for fellatio at the last 16 Olympic games. I feel this bit of subterfuge is the least I can do for a friend.

Enjoy your vacation. When Quanson returns, inform him to jiggle the wire to the battery, and to pump the petrol pedal a few times. If that doesn’t work, try washing the windows. That always seemed to help for some reason.

And avoid left turns!

Liam


~ 7 ~


Dear Liam,

Quanson already tried washin’ the windows, since he had a Starlane in his youth too – though it’s hard to picture a hardcase like him ever havin a youth. No luck there, pard. And the petrol pedal on this bucket is busted off (gotta gas it with a crowbar) so that don’t work neither.

Sorry to hear that bit about the Octiron and Dilithium crystals being another one o’ your goldurn lies. I missed that – prob’ly was distracted by Sergeant Betty’s cleavage or somethin. Hope he finds something good out there, though, cause rosemary don’t do a darn thing for this fungus (I got a cachet in my rucksack, just in case I shoot a duck). I’m ready to leave this rock before the Cowzonians come lookin.

I told Sarge what you said about the Hottentots and that imperative stuff. She slapped me. Sure is a good slapper. Bet if they had slappin in them Olympics she’d take first place for sure. Don’t know if it’s her Ranger training or she’s just a natural. And we was gettin along so good! Remind me not to take your advice on my love life anymore, Liam.

Had an old shot o’ Frank, bless his soul, that must’ve been taken on that moonlet, since I can see that tartan blotch. He did mention being a god for a while. Always was a top-notch deflowerer, that fella.

Well, gotta go back to makin up with Sarge. Sure hope she don’t slap me no more. And hope Quanson don’t fix to go into one of his rages after he finds out you & me sent him off on a wild goose chase. Last time he went into a rage we had to leave the planet in a hurry, all them dead folks and all, even though they was only Parsleeps and Friggles, and a few buildin’s.

Let me know if you hear from the Illuminati. Tell ‘em the legend is a-waitin. This is the sorriest vacation I ever had.

Hank


~ 8 ~


Hank,

I am trying to remember Americans do not append their honorifics at every opportunity, and find their continued usage to be burdensome. Colonel Frank and I compromised on my calling him Colonel Frank. Being a full-time Ranger “lifer”, I believe he was more comfortable with the usage of his title than you, an individualistic free spirit, may be. I will attempt to restrain my ingrained habits. Please be forgiving, however, when I slip.

I apologize for any confusion over the Dilithium and Octiron. I certainly did not mean to mislead you! I needed to make those claims to induce the wildcat miners to descend on D.T. IV to divert the Zitherwhips. I shall attempt to be clearer in the future as to what falsehoods I am telling, and to whom they are directed. I could promise not to lie to you, but as a known prevaricator it would be unwise to believe me.

I also apologize for getting you slapped. (I do seem to be apologizing a great deal in this letter, do I not? I hope this is not a portent for the future!) Please feel free to plead that I am the lothario in need of chastisement. After all, you were only following orders in good faith.

I suppose, given my history, I should refrain from advising others on their relationships.

Have Quanson check the air in the tires. Independent miners are notorious for their lack of even basic maintenance. As for the petrol pedal, just duct tape it to the floor and hang on. Once you get off planet you will have plenty of time to deal with that.

If that does not work, I have informed Heckler and Koch’s Wild Space Show that you are currently vacationing on D.T. IV and would be amenable to being engaged for a one-time special performance displaying your skills with the laser lariat. From your description Sgt. Varoomatoot should fill out the spangly accouterments H&K calls a costume quite nicely, and I am sure a position could be found for Quanson as well. Perhaps as a clown for the kiddies?

Cowzonian races poster

I saw on their itinerary the Wild Space Show’s next stop would be on Yer Gonna Hang Ya SOB. The American president is also going to be on planet at the same time. I am hearing chattering which leads me to believe your presence in her presence would be desirable. I lack details, which is frustrating, but the famed Hank Pickens should have little trouble gaining access to her Presidency, and having her under your eye would not be a bad thing. It could be nothing, it could be a coup-de-main, or it could be unrelated to us. Still, considering the importance of the personage under discussion, I feel we should err on the side of caution. The pinch of prevention vs. the pound of cure, you know.

I hope your vacation gets better.

Liam


~ 9 ~


Dear Liam,

Well, pardner, I tried out your sage love advice on the President, and it worked like a charm. Guess she ain’t as particular as Sargent Betty when it comes to the ol’ fellato thing. Have to say I needed that, after all my hankerin fer Sarge.

Guess I might’s well get you up to speed here, Liam. Turns out Quanson ambushed a squadron of Cowzonians when he was out in them thar hills, so we didn’t need no Octiron or Dilithum crystals. He snagged us a brand-new Jaguar XXX, just like your’un. Lordy, you musta had one highfalutin job to afford one o’ them! She’s a peach. No idear where the Cowzonians got it. Maybe stole it off a rich miner or somethin, after they done scragged him.

Anyways, we sped off to Yer Gonna Hang, like you said. Lordy that Jag sure is one sweet-runnin unit. Reminds me of my favorite mare, Triggette, back on the ranch. Gait smooth as grandma’s punkin pie. Mouth soft as pussywillow. And fast? Whoo-ee! Light speed is a canter to her. Specially liked the video screens, them champagne dispensers, and the real actual vinyl upholstery – rare as hen’s teeth these days. You got that in yours too? Whew, lap o’ luxury, though gotta make up to Sarge again, since she didn’t quite cotton to that XXX video display. No idear why. Like I said, them womenfolk can be as particular as they are peculiar.

Jaguar XXX rocket ship

So, soon as we popped outa the wormhole and sidled down to the landing dock on Yer Gonna Hang, I sent Quanson over to persuade them secret service boys to let us see the president. – He ain’t a big talker, but a damn good persuader, so pretty soon there I was in the Presidential suite, gettin my fellato. Ain’t much of a looker, the prez, but dang special at that fellato business. No wonder them voters were partial to her. She’s got my vote.

After she got done wipin her lips, she said I needed to talk to Cowzonian Bill, who runs this here Wild Space Show with Heckler and Koch. Says he knows more’n you’d think, jest lookin at him, and when I tipped her off about you, she said you was in on the know too. Her eyes got real big when I said I was beepin with Liam Kilgour on my Interspacial Chronotiddlywinksphone. (Hope you don’t mind too much, Liam, if’n I start callin’ this alien gadget a I-phone. I got as much respect for the English language as the next feller, but not that much.)

Don’t unnerstand why she reckons you’re so important and know so all-fired much, since you says you don’t, but guess that’s spyin fer ye. Maybe you need to chew the fat with some o’ your Illuminati pals. Somebody knows somethin they ain’t sayin.

Sounds like the universe needs our help, pard. I’ll send more news when I got some. The prez has got that look in her eye again.

Vacation’s over!

Hank


~ 10 ~


Hank,

Take President Scyldsdotter and leave. Now. One of you is in grave danger.

Make it look like you are taking the Jaguar XXX BUT DO NOT DO SO! Have Quanson and Sgt. Varoomatoot don disguises and enter the Jaguar in your place. Try to be out of atmosphere before they disembark; I do not know what the blast radius of the neutrino bomb embedded in the Jaguar will be.

Travel with Cowzonian Bill and the H&K Review. Watch William, he believes himself to be quite the lady’s man, and does not allow reality to interfere with the completion of his “conquests”. Keep President Scyldsdotter close, and do not allow her to sleep alone.

You are welcome.

Stay with the Review for as long as you feel safe. If possible, covertly contact your superiors in the Rangers and United States Government. The “death” of their beloved president will be a sharp blow to your country’s psyche, but Pres. Scyldsdotter can use the ensuing national rage to pass emergency legislation that will make it easier to uncover more of the conspiracy. Concoct a “last minute escape” cover story with the president; you are well suited to be the “golden boy” hero who rescued the “damsel in distress” through pluck and daring. Enjoy your time in the spotlight, but stay aware: you are in essence a goat staked out as bait. Our enemies are certain to try to kill you. Harder.

Be sure to Kill Bill when you leave the Review to prevent him from betraying us. It may even be necessary for the entire show to suffer a tragic accident. I will arrange the details.

People are going to start dying in earnest. Try to make sure none of them are you.

Liam


~ 11 ~


Mister Liam,

I’m startin to wonder if Frank had this alien I-phone set to the right feller, because he was a Galactic Star Ranger though-and-through, and no friend of his’n would ever tell a Ranger, associate or not, to kill off his squad-mates, no matter how many neutrino bombs was in the area. Are you dumb, or just mean? Did I get that right, Liam? You wanted me to blow up Quanson and Sargent Betty?

Quanson’s been my pard ever since we hit the rodeo circuit right after kindergarten, and Sarge is my feller Ranger and new true love (no matter how good the prez is with her fellato). Sargent Betty Varoomatoot saved my sorry skinny cowboy ass more than once in our fracases with them Cowzonian bastards, and I owe Quanson my skin fifty times over. I’d as soon kill my ownself ‘fore I’d harm a hair on either of them two.

Besides, forgot to mention, Quanson found that neutrino bomb right off when we snagged the Jag, and we left it on Darn Tootin for the Cowzonians to munch on.

At present we do have President Scyldsdotter with us, since when I got your funny message (strange not ha-ha) I decided right then to skedaddle off-planet, and she was so stuck on her fellato she wouldn’t let go, so had to drag her right on back to the ship with me. Them secret service boys didn’t seem too tickled, but Quanson decided ‘em in our favor. Sarge sure warn’t particularly pleased to see the president stuck on my knob like that, trailin along after and all, but I’m used to makin back up with Betty by now. Face still hurts some.

I noticed, when we was flyin over the city on our way outa town, that the Wild Space Show had that accident you was talkin about. Don’t know if Cowzonian Bill survived, but did see some chunks o’ Cowzonian zip past the windshield. You’re damn good at them accidents, boy, gotta give ye that much.

Soon as I can figger out a way to get the prez pried off my southern regions I’ll have a chat with her and maybe find out more about what’s going on here. I ain’t dead yet.

Pickens


~ 12 ~


Hank,

You remind me so much of Colonel Frank it makes my heart weep.

The good colonel never approved of my methods. He understood, in theory at least, that not all of the universe’s problems could be resolved with a stand-up fight between beings of honor. We usually retained our friendship despite our differences. Did I ask you to sacrifice Quanson and Sgt. Varoomatoot? Yes, I did. I did so neither out of malice nor ignorance, but of necessity. I make no excuses for choosing the greater good; in chess one does not weep when sacrificing pawns to save the king and queen. Our enemies are dedicating a great deal of effort to kill you, the president, or both. What our enemies desire I oppose on general principles. Our friendship makes it personal. Your history with Quanson and Sgt. Varoomatoot makes it regrettable.

Killing yourself to protect the others would invalidate our efforts. Please refrain from doing so, or the Space Rangers may have be forced to bring you up on charges of aiding and abetting the enemy.

Despite the timing, I had nothing to do with destruction of the Heckler & Koch Review. It would seem William’s other sins finally caught up with him. This is doubtless for the best, as we were beginning to strain our resources.

The president may not be intending to fellatio you to gangrene. Occasionally she suffers from muscle cramps. Apply heating pads to the sides of her head, this should ease the tension and allow her to release your member. After you are done, of course.

I scanned the incoming telemetry and there are no indications of a neutrino bomb exploding on the surface of Darn Tootin IV. This makes me worry the bomb may have been planted with the intention of it being found so as to lull us into a false sense of security. This means we have possibly fallen into manipulations of someone else’s design. Possibly the president’s. You can ask her when you talk. Continue to be vigilant.

Do keep me informed as to your next course of action. I will continue to monitor the situation to see if anything untoward is brought to light after the recent churning of events. I would suggest returning to Earth as quickly as possible. I believe we have need of Hank Pickens, Cowpoke of Mystery more now than we need his laser-lariated alter-ego.

Before you condemn me, I ask you to ruminate upon this: Our species is in a fight for its very existence. For every straight-shooting upstanding citizen like yourself, circumstances demand a bastard who can think their way through a corkscrew without bending. Fortunately for humanity, they have us.

Glad you are not deceased,

Liam


~ 13 ~


Well, thanks Liam, I’m glad not to be dead my ownself, and right perky that you understand – if not actually approve – my reluctance to blow up my pards. To my mind some things just take priority over the universe, and standin by yer friends is one of ‘em.

Managed finally to get the president to quit honkin on my number. She said she didn’t mean nothin’ by it, but I was just extry-tasty. Must like horse-flavored, I reckon.

Turns out it was a good thing she came along, as you advised, since she said that bomb what blew up the Wild Space Show was most likely meant for her. Come to find out Cowzonian Bill is a turncoat and is workin with the Cowzonians. Don’t know if we’re shut of him yet, but I doubt it.

We headed back to Earth like you said, but before President Scyldsdotter could bring me up to speed, we was jumped by a squadron of Spurzites. Came outa nowhere, at least a dozen of ‘em, with them jumped-up Zanefighters from Tumbleweed Nebula. Them Spurzites kept me busy for some time, I tell you what. You never saw so much zippin and zingin your whole life. Good thing this Jag is such a honey. This baby has some mighty sweet armaments, I’ll say. Six-shooter antimatter atom blaster, dual-action double-loaded lasers, practically oozin with photon torpedos, and one heck of a shield. Why our shields held up the whole dang time. Not once did Quanson have to yell out, “Shields down to twenty percent, Cap’n!” or whatnot. All he did was set there and smoke his stogie, shootin’ down Zanefighters with his atom-blaster like ducks on a pond.

space battle

Finally had to snuggle into that asteroid pasture south o’ Dagnum’it to brush off the last few aliens. By the time we was shut o’ the whole passel, though, we was winged pretty bad, so right now we’re hitched to a moonlet off Dagnum’it whilst Quanson sets us back to rights. He’s still mutterin’ somethin about the Dilithium crystal.

Don’t know if Frank Trapezoid, bless his soul, ever mentioned it to ye, Liam, but killing aliens has a tendency to set me a-thinkin (or a-smellin, actually, since I think with my nose). And I think I smell a rat. I’m starting to wonder if that Evil Mister X has his greasy paws in on this ruckus, back on Earth. That no-account sodbuster has had it in for me ever since I busted up his Earth-Eating Eviltron, back in my spyin’ days. You might get your Illuminati boys to look into that.

While we’re waitin on Quanson, I’ll have a set-down with the prez and see if we kin hash out some griddle cakes together. Don’t reckon Sarge will let her get after any o’ them fellato tricks o’ hers in the meantime, no matter how much she hankers after Ol’ Paint.

Hank


~ 14 ~


Hank,

I completely approve of your antipathy to killing your comrades, and am glad people like you, those with a moral code, exist. You are the shining lights that make our race worth fighting for, a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark sea of amorality. I yearn for the day when the ocean of humanity basks in the glow of your shining faces, and the shaded grey sharks like myself that lurk beneath the surface are anachronisms to be feared and excoriated.

I studied the telemetry of the explosion that decimated the traveling review, and I’ll give you three guesses where our missing neutrino bomb went. I have no doubt Cowzonian Bill was selling his services to the highest bidder. Knowing him, he was working for multiple employers, and double-crossing them all. If we are lucky he survived, nay orchestrated, the blast: better to continue facing an opponent we know then to be stalked by a new, unknown enemy.

If Ol’ Paint is horse-flavored, I think you are spending a bit too much time in the saddle, old boy. And if it is named Ol’ Paint because it is splotched and discolored, I do NOT want to know.

The Spurzite attack is troubling. They have been quiet neighbors since Earth submitted to their demands for annual tribute to cease their piratical pillage of the spaceways. This was early in my career, so probably a bit before your time. The Space Rangers hadn’t been incorporated as yet, and Earth-flagged ships plied the interstellar aether unprotected. The Earth governments had their individual navies, of course, but political rivalry and apathy prevented the synchronization needed to ensure safe passage. The Spurzites approached various Earth governments with what seemed to be a workable solution: for an annual tribute for the life of the Grand Botrytis, the Spurzites would not only cease their attacks on Earth flagged ships, they would actively protect those ships as they traversed Spurzitian space. As the Grand Botrytis was aged and infirm, and the treaty would have to be renegotiated upon its death, most governments agreed; the general consensus was by the time the treaty would be renegotiated the Earth navies would be integrated into an effective force and the Spurzites could be spurned. Such was the plan.

Grand Botrytis

Before the ink was dry the Spurzites had cocooned the Grand Botrytis in a suspended animation chamber ensuring its effective immortality. The GB and its support devices were then entombed in a block of pure Octiron, with enough dilithium, it is rumored, to preserve the Grand Botrytis until after the Earth’s sun goes nova. True to their word, the Spurzites ceased their predations on Earth shipping, and as they had been the only attackers preying on the Earthling transports in Spurzitian space, fulfilled their obligations under the treaty in an exemplary fashion. The Earth governments have been paying “out the nose,” I believe the phrase is, ever since.

As an interesting aside, there have been more assassination attempts on the Grand Botrytis than on any other entity in history.

The Jaguar does indeed seem to be a fine piece of precision machinery. The upgraded shields and expansive armory sound familiar. Wait a moment...does this ship have the sauna/hot-tub option?

Will Quanson be able to affect the necessary repairs? The sudden disbanding of the Heckler & Koch Traveling Review has resulted in a glut of used spacecraft on Yer Gonna Hang, so I could get a replacement ship delivered to you fairly easily. (That’s the nice thing about neutrino bombs: they kill people but don’t damage the local infrastructure. The explosion you saw as a secondary bomb meant to distract attention from the neutrino.) It might smell of bit of livestock, but I doubt you (or the president, evidently) would mind that much.

You defeated Mr. Ten’s E3? (I refuse to utilize his Latin patronymic. He’s not even from the Mediterranean, he’s Qwghlmian.) I can finally get an answer then to a question that has bothered me for years: HOW did you get past the robotic attack llamas with the lasers on their frickin’ heads? Do spill ol’ boy, inquiring minds want to know.

I’ll ask my compatriots in the Illuminati to see if anyone has kept recent tabs on Mr. Ten. To be honest, I do not know how pleased they will be to hear from me after our falling out. Turns out they were a bit thin-skinned about me torturing their families as an information gathering technique.

Be wary. For the Spurzites to risk incurring the wrath of the Earth navies and losing their profitable tribute payments means someone is investing a great deal of money to kill you and/or President Scyldsdotter. An investment like that means someone is expecting to reap richer returns. We need to determine what the end goal of our adversary is. Once we know the why, it will show us the who, and then we can discern the how. And how to stop them.

Liam


~ 15 ~


Dear Liam,

Not that it’s none o’ your business, pard, but Ol’ Paint is called that cause I spilled some old paint on it once. Had a heck of a time getting it off. Had to rub like all tarnation.

You know, I was in on one o’ them attacks on the Grand Botrytis, or maybe two, come to think of it. Lordy that is one ugly alien. And his looks ain’t nothin compared to how he stinks. Makes a hog waller smell like the best rose you ever smelt. Guess now that he’s bottled up in that contraption he wouldn’t be so bad.

That second time we went after the Globby Bastard, as I call him, they sent only me and Quanson, and we was lucky to get out with our skins. That sucker may be as ancient as the hills and twice as stinky, but he sure knows some tricks. Got so many sleeves his tricks is interminable. Nailed Quanson with his stench blaster and Quanson was laid up in solitary confinement for months afterwards, only because he stunk so bad. Just smellin’ him whilst I hauled him outa that Spurzite palace practically killed me too. They near had to amputate my nose.

Quanson’s bout done fixin up Rosetta (had to name the Jag after she brought us though that wrangle with the Spurzites in one piece. Darn fine name, eh? Don’t know how I thunk up that one. Just kinda came to me, I reckon) so we’ll get off this rock pretty soon and head back to Earth.

Lordy that President Scyldsdotter is one fine politician, ‘cause she’s cozied up to Sargent Betty now and they’re thick as thieves in a hideyhole. That took some doin, but now they’re always off messin’ with some kinda female business seems like, jabberin away like monkeys in a cage. Good thing I got this hot tub to relax me, since that was the first thing Quanson fixed. Just me and Rosetta at present. At least one female around here likes me.

I can’t get a word in edgewise with the prez anymore, so may be a while fore I can figger out how to save the universe this time. I’d tell you how we stopped them robot llamas, Liam, but if I did I’d have to kill ye, so I’ll hold off on that one unless the prez gives me the go-ahead – if I can ever talk to her again.

That spyin’ business sure ain’t as clear cut as this here space navy rigamarole, that’s for sure. Torture ain’t my cup o’ branchwater, so I’ll leave that to you. Not much wonder them Illuminati boys fired you. So you on your own now, or did you hook up with another secret crowd?

If there was one fella in this here galaxy I wouldn’t mind torturin’ for a bit, it’d be that Evil Mr. Ten, as you tag him, not bein partial to Roman numerals and all. I still have the feelin’ he may be in on this Cowzonian/Spurzite deal.

Still your pard,

Hank


~ 16 ~


Hank,

The shields, armament and hot-tub are all custom options available by special request from Jaguar for a nominal fee. I have only ever known of one vehicle to combine the amenities you describe. Please take good care of Rosetta, because when you return to Earth I am going to shove that craft straight up the hole in my mechanic’s arse. He said he needed to keep my Jag until a part came in.

Of course, he has been “waiting” for that part for the last seven years, so perhaps I should have been a bit more suspicious.

Thank you for explaining about Ol’ Paint. I know it was not properly my concern, but the probable causes for its moniker were horrifying. Your elucidation was actually one of the least worrisome possibilities. I imagine the chafage afterwards was near intolerable.

You are older than you look if you were involved in the pre-encapsulation assassination attempts on the Grand Botrytus. I was not aware the Rangers engaged in wetwork; was this in your spying days? I have faced off against spore Spurzites in my travels, and have too suffered the ostracism resultant from being on the receiving end of a stench blaster. Given that their stench glands sharpen with age, I am truly impressed with your esprit-de-corps at being able to even approach Quanson, much less carry him. I am also impressed with Quanson’s mental fortitude at not being scarred into insensibility by the event.

It would have been a tragedy if you had been forced to have your nose amputated, seeing as you mentioned you thought through your olfactory appendage.

I have never been allowed in the presence of President Scyldsdotter (it’s not like I make a habit of assassinating heads of state) but from all reports she a true people person. I am not surprised she was able to find common ground with Sgt. Varoomatoot. I would not relax too much; it is very possible that the “female business” they are so earnestly discussing is you. Try to get the gist of their discussion. Remember: someone has betrayed humanity to the Cowzonians, or worse, and until we know whom everyone must be suspect. While I believe Sgt. Varoomatoot can be safely trusted, being of too little importance to merit our opponents’ attention, consider this: how much damage the President of the United States could do if she were to be turned?

Betty in battle gear

Despite my suspicions, I would appreciate if you could ask Madam President to release you to explain how the robot llamas were defeated. I had a hand in designing the prototype model, and I am interested in seeing where we erred.

I do feel I need to elaborate on the torture issue so we can put it behind us once and for all. The entire incident could have been avoided had they simply given me the information I had asked for in the first place. I understand that it was their Grandmother’s Secret Pudding Recipe, but sometimes people in our business take things far too seriously.

I have been engaged by a new set of partners as an outside contractor. Due to the standard non-disclosure agreements I am not allowed to say much about them. I am certain you understand.

I would be very surprised if Mr. Ten was not in the midst of this mystery. This modern Moriarty tends to gravitate toward towards skullduggery, and has fine hand/eye coordination for snatching passing opportunities. I have sent out feelers to see if we can determine his degree and mode of involvement. I suspect he is mostly providing arms and equipment to the Cowzonians (it is well known he funnels supplies to the Spurzites) but I do not believe he would find it in his interests to actually ally with them. His criminal enterprise would falter and fail if the Earth were to come under their dominion, and Mr. Ten is, at base, a businessman. We could use some extra eyes on this. Perhaps the Rangers have an active investigation? Or could be induced to open one?

Also be warned: Cowzonian Bill has been seen. He was caught on camera exiting a biscotti shop on Ol’ Yeller. He has shaved off those ridiculous muttonchop sideburns but has replaced them with an even more horrendous facial tattoo. He was in the presence of a tall, dark and mysterious stranger, whom I am fairly certain wasn’t me. I do not know if this is a new player in our Great Game or an extraneous stranger, but keep your laser lariat handy just in case.

I will see if I can direct a Ranger patrol along your probable trajectory toward Earth to ease your return. I look forward to having you closer to home.

Liam


~ 17 ~


Dear Liam,

Well gosh, pard, glad to hear you got you a new job. This savin’ the universe business can get kinda lonesome all by your ownself. So did they set you up with a new family and all?

And by golly I am kinda tickled to hear Rosetta is your’ns, even though I was growin’ partial to her. Makes it more homey, somehow, round here. Wondered where them stains came from. Hope you don’t mind that Quanson switched the champagne dispenser to bourbon and branchwater. Right now it’s only that rotgut Cowzonian moonshine, but was hoping for some right Kentuk redeye when we get back to Earth. We’ll take good care of her for ye, if’n we don’t get blasted no more. Sorry about the dents.

Yeah, I was put on spyin’ detail by the Rangers when we went after the Grand Botrytus that one time, though I don’t pay all that much attention to politics, more just the do what they says kinda cowpoke, long as I agree with it. And I am older than I look, least that’s what folks tell me, since I never pay attention to years and such. Couldn’t tell ye right now how old I am. Would have to go home and ask Granny on that one.

Thanks for alertin’ me to the prez. I just figgered they was jawin’ about sewing or somethin, churnin butter mebbe. Who knows what them womenfolk chat about? Not Hank Pickens.

Will keep an eyeball peeled for tall dark mysterious strangers, and fellas with facial tattoos, though don’t reckon we’ll see many on our way back to Earth, but you never know. We’re gettin’ ready to blast off now, so gotta go, but will be back in touch soon. Hope once I get them gals back into Rosetta I’ll be able to corner the prez and get some info. I’ll let you know if she says it’s okay to spill the beans on the llamas. Thanks for alertin’ my boys we’re comin home. And give a holler if you smell that bastard Mr. Ten slinkin’ around. Ain’t partial to his business tactics.

Best ever,

Hank

(Think I may’ve been by that biscotti shop on Ol’ Yeller once. They brew a damn fine cup o’ joe, fer aliens.)


~ 18 ~


Hank,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I had put out some feelers as to the location of Mr. Ten, when he, and a pack of his ruffians, show up at my very door! I doubt my spastic contortions to avoid their massed weapons fire were as graceful as the waltz you did with Rosetta, but they did well enough that I escaped with only minor bumps and bruises. I activated the demolition charges I had set and demolished the apartment block as soon as I was clear, but it would be the extreme edges of luck if Mr. Ten had been caught in the blast. As you know, he is a regular Houdini at slipping away from justice. I have been busy setting up a mobile base since then, and have not found the time to write.

At times like this I am glad that my new overseers are not family people.

I don’t have any Kentuk redeye, whatever that is, but you should find a very nicely aged bottle of Dalwhinnie single malt in a secret compartment at the back of the mini-fridge. Just twist the ice dispenser handle 180 degrees. Drink it to our friendship, and save the Cowzonian rot to power the ship.

Dalwhinnie dispenser

I would be surprised if Cowzonian Bill still had the facial tattoo, the same hair color, or even the same number of appendages as when he was last spotted. He has displayed a penchant for disguise, and has had ample time to reconstitute a new identity. He has done this innumerable times before, and has the pattern down pat.

Are you still stuck on the asteroid? There is a patrol of Ranger ships heading out to investigate a “good Samaritan” report of Spurzite pirate activity in your area. If you simply sit tight you should have a large number of heavily armed friends around you very shortly. You, Sgt. Varoomatoot and Quanson all richly deserve the fêting you will receive.

I would also like you to do me a favor: I would like you to have Rosetta. Please accept her graciously and without argument. I have lived without her for many years and hardly noticed her absence. I would like her to be with someone who will care for and appreciate her.

If you do chose to flatly refuse her, I expect you to hammer out the dents.

Liam


~ 19 ~


Well gosh durn, Liam, I may be proud but I ain’t crazy. I’ll gladly accept your generous gift of Rosetta. Don’t mind tellin’ ye that’s the greatest present anybody ever give me, bar none, and I don’t even know you, other than by this Chromodipsydoodlephone. If’n you can afford to give away a rootin-tootin ship like Rosetta, you must be richer than Croesus himself – since at Galactic Ranger pay rates, if I saved every cosmo-penny I earn, I could buy her in about a thousand or two years.

Quanson and me polished off that bottle o’ Dalwhinnie in about two glugs when we found out Rosetta was ours again. Purty fine beverage for not-bourbon, if a little weakish compared to redeye, or especially Cowzonian rotgut, which, funny to say, I’m starting to pick up a taste fer.

Anyway, thanks pard! Now you be sure and tell me if’n there’s ever anythin’ I kin do for you, in the personal line, ye hear?

Sounds like a good thing your new outfit don’t set you boys up with famblies. Congrats on escapin’ getting blowed to bits by Mr. Ten. That’s another thing you and me got in common now I reckon, Liam, since I’d need more than one hand to count the times that evil sodbuster left a explosion in my wake. You and me need to take that boy down a peg or two, just to keep him from blowing stuff up.

We hooked up with that Ranger patrol you sent out for us, so the rest of our trip back to Earth should be a waltz in the park. Thanks for that, even though I reckon we kin take care of ourselves, mostways.

Had a set-down with President Scyldsdotter finally. Got her and Sargent Betty liquored up on rotgut and Betty passed out, so got a chance to chat one-on-one. That prez is not only the best darn fellato person I ever knowed, she can sure handle her liquor. She drank near a quart o’ that Cowzonian swill and never batted a eyelash. Only person in this galaxy what might have a chance o’ drinkin’ Quanson under the table, way I see it.

Anyway, pard, I don’t trust her. She’s a tad too smooth, even for a president. Tole me the whole Spurzite confederacy with Earth – holy smokes, what the...?


~ 20 ~


Hank,

I sit her in stunned amazement, resisting the subconscious desire to pinch myself. Did I really just read that a Space Ranger could not hold their liquor, regardless of the type or quantity? The statisticians are correct, in an infinite universe, everything is possible.

I am afraid my personal estate is not as overflowing as I might wish. Rosetta did not come into my possession from the contents of my coffers, but through my fleetness of my feet and the fact that the original owner went bouncing into a volcanic caldera. As it was erupting at the time, I do not THINK she survived, but I would be on the alert for a heavily burned woman spastically pushing a key fob.

As Rosetta is now your ship feel free to utilize some of her titanium plumbing to replace your intestines when the Cowzonian Rotgut lives up to its name. And if we happen to meet before it is out of your system, please be courteous and stand downwind. I can only take the smell of pickled herring for so long before gag reflex becomes overpowering.

You are correct to have a healthy dose of mistrust for Madam President. I returned to the charred remnants of my apartment building to look for clues, and found a badly burned wallet, with Mr. Ten’s Ident card in it! I, of course, eagerly scanned the address, thinking this could be the chink in his armor that allowed us to end his villany once and for all; imagine my consternation when his home was listed as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave! It may just be his idea of a joke, but it may mean we are swimming in deeper waters than we ever envisioned....

I must say, the life of a Space Ranger seems to be very exciting. When you have extricated yourself from this latest kerfluffle, please drop me a line to tell me how it went.

Yours,

Liam


Top

The Hai Tree Ask Wisdom Boy! Stonebringer Writers' Den Home