SOMETHING QUITE DREADFUL suddenly emerged from beyond.
It reached out with rabid sensors – probing intensely
Tendrils uncoiling – seeking fervently
Dimwid stared in abject terror at what confronted him. Too horror-struck to move, yet too scared not to run for his life – he had absolutely no desire to stand rooted to the spot while his mind was sucked completely dry!
Who in all Creation, and of sound mind, would want to?
Not Dimwid, he’s a sworn coward! It’s an excellent survival trait!
Despite his shortcomings, he knew he needed his mind – it’s what gave him identity, made him who he was. Such as it was; it took him a long time to develop. It had history. Without it, his brain would be empty. He’d just be a zombie.
It was too terrible to even contemplate.
But what could he do? The Lurgi was coming to get him!
And the only way to escape the dreaded Lurgi, was to penetrate the inter-dimensional fabrics, and the Gedow-Doveer Kapsule was his only passport.
But unfortunately, it had been severely depleted of its Soopa-Doopa powers.
Dimwid gazed imploringly at it as it nestled inertly in the palm of his hand, like some reluctant unyielding jerk.
“You must get me out of here,” he whimpered. But the Kapsule remained truculently silent. “I’m sorry if I inadvertently caused the loss of much of your Joos,” Dimwid whined miserably. “But –“
“You were too busy thoughtlessly joyriding between dimensions, without taking any precautions” retorted the Kapsule. “Which alerted the Lurgi to your presence and gave it plenty of chances to latch on to your signal, drain our powers and follow you.”
“Surely, you have some Backup Joos in reserve for grave emergencies?”
“Hah!” If Kapsule had arms he would have folded them across his chest – if he had one – if he was a he. But kapsule was just a sentient piece of software – a quirky, cantankerous interactive program, in a three-centimetre capsule.
“Please, Kapsule! My life is at stake! Can you just get me out of here?”
Zip! With a sickening lurch that felt as though his guts had been turned inside out, Dimwid found himself up to his knees in a field of mud.
It was very warm mud, and bubbling noisily and a steam rose from it that had the most goddamn awful foul stench. With an explosive gurgling sound that rent the sulphurous air, Dimwid retched violently and emptied the contents of his guts into the bubbling mud.
His eyes streaming and his throat raw, Dimwid was just reaching into a pocket for something to wipe his eyes when a voice in his other hand startled him.
“Hey, Dimwid! Get me stashed away real soon, before you drop me in this ruddy mud, or I won’t be here to get you outa trouble again.”
“Yeah! Thanks a bunch, Kapsule! Nice one,” said Dimwid, coughing and waving sulphur fumes away from his face.
“What’s with the tone of voice? I got you outa serious bother, didn’t I?”
“Sorry! Very true! And I’m – choke – most grateful! Took me by surprise, that’s all,” he said, squinting at the horizon and seeing a blurred representation.
It was pretty mountainous and Dimwid was looking principally for a safe way out of the mud. He coughed up a huge lump of phlegm and spat it out vehemently into the roiling mud.
“Take that, you smelly slimy git! It belongs to you, anyway! I’m gonna have to get these friggin’ jeans cleaned soon or I’m gonna smell like something that crawled out of a goddamn sewer! As for the shoes!” He shuddered. “Talk about rot your socks! Yuck!”
“May I suggest, Dimwid, before you do anything else, that you put me back in with Matrix and zip me securely away, if you don’t want to lose your FRIGGIN’ DIMENSION-HOPPING ABILITIES!”
“Sure,” said Dimwid halting in his tracks with shock at Kapsule’s outburst. Hurriedly reaching for Matrix he slipped Kapsule in and zipped them both away in his jacket pocket with a long drawn out sigh.
Then feeling as though he were wading through a lake of congealed treacle and looking like a zombie with his arms swinging from side to side and his knees jerking up and down with great squelches and squirts as he struggled through the bubbling mud, Dimwid set out for the nearest stretch of terra firma. The occasional cough and splutter accompanied his slow progress as he spat and cursed and staggered his way to dry land.
“Let’s hope I don’t trip over any boulders or suddenly sink down some dip,” he muttered, edging his way cautiously towards a flat shelf surrounding a rocky hillock. “Wouldn’t want to be up to my neck or worse in this shit!”
Tense and drained, Dimwid arrived safely at his destination and hauled himself on to the shelf, where he just laid back against a mound exhausted.
He awoke with a start, wondering how long he’d been asleep.
Sunlight from somewhere out of sight behind the hillock angled low around him, sending his elongated shadow across the bubbling field of mud, its heaving surface and the rising plumes of steam tinged with hues of orange, pink and gold.
A hissing, gurgling sea of burps, hiccups, plops and raspberries ensued as bubbles rose up within the mud, forming and collapsing continuously. It reminded Dimwid of porridge simmering in a saucepan, except the colour and smell was all wrong. Any porridge smelling as unpleasant and offensive as that would be quite unpalatable, to humans at least.
Well, wherever this place was, it was certainly not geologically dead. The trouble was, how to get out of it and back to civilization and get cleaned up.
He was at the disposal of the irascible Kapsule, totally reliant on the services that crotchety old Kapsule could provide. Without Kapsule he would now be dead, or worse, mindless and wandering like a zombie, courtesy of the dreaded Lurgi.
The sun had almost set and a dull reddish twilight was descending.
He unzipped the pocket containing the Matrix and took it out. The minute that Matrix was opened, the Kapsule automatically came to life.
“Is there any chance of getting out of this place, Kapsule? Otherwise I’m – er – we are well and truly fucked!” Dimwid thought he could hear a faint whirring sound while the Kapsule pondered that.
“We’re gonna have to consult Matrix on this one,” Kapsule replied. “Matrix is the only one that can access data for available situations on reserve Joos. All I did to get us here was activate an emergency switch, but I had no control over where it would send us! ”
“Great! Its just damn lucky for me there was a breathable atmosphere and favourable climate and pressure here, otherwise I’d be a dead duck by now!”
“Matrix wouldn’t send you anywhere you didn’t have a fighting chance of survival. It’s programmed to recognize the requirements of its users!”
Suddenly a peculiar croaking sound began to echo all around.
Dimwid pulled his collar up and peered into the dusk. He could see nothing but the bubbling mud. “What the hell is that?”
A soft fuzzy voice interrupted the proceedings. “Bog fairies, an amphibious lifeform. They only come out at dusk. Don’t worry – they won’t bother you. They live on microscopic thermophiles that thrive in the sludge. Which service do you require?”
“Ah, Matrix,” said Kapsule. “We’re on reserve and desperate to reach civilization. What are the chances?”
“I need to consult Galactic Web. Give me a few nanos and I’ll get back to you.”
There was hardly a pause as the flanged tones of Matrix continued. “There’s a favourable connection with a nearby portal. Initiating transfer.”
In a blinding flash, the rocky surface beneath Dimwid’s reclining body vanished, leaving him with a momentary sensation of freefall.
When vision returned, he found himself in the vast concourse of a busy Starport. He appeared to be leaning back against a grassy bank on one side of a wide pedestrian moveway. Beings of all manner, shape and substance rolled, hopped, swung, floated, galloped, slithered and bounced past him in a constant two-way flow.
They never gave him a second glance. Why should they? He was only a wimpy middle-aged human, slight of frame and pale of complexion, with a straggly growth on his chin and a spiky thatch on top.
Though his preferred vocation was intergalactic adventurer, his actual profession was battery supplier and fitter of domestic appliances, which was how he came across the Matrix in the first place.
The previous owner had it handed down to him in a will and thought it was some sort of esoteric gadget that just needed a battery. Upon discovery that all his attempts to open it failed and that it seemingly had no use other than as ornamentation, he handed it to Dimwid as a gift.
And Dimwid only discovered its real purpose when he activated it accidently, by squeezing it midsection between forefinger and thumb and found himself instantly hurled light-years away; the Matrix simply obeying its last unused instruction.
Ever since then, he’s been woefully pursuing his chosen calling as an intergalactic adventurer. He knows he’s no hero but he’s always lived in hopes of finding that subway in the sky that lands him the power of Shazam. So far, no luck in that direction, but then, you’ve got to have a dream.
Dimwid came out of his reverie with a jolt as a uniformed official on an aircycle pulled up ten feet above his head and called down to him in a language utterly incomprehensible to his ears.
“Ginsting iz gorbid! Wosh judu onda shtingel, scur?”
He fingered the stud of the tiny two-way translator in his right earlobe and the flow of words suddenly made sense.
“You can’t linger on the sidestrip, sir. Would you please step onto the moveway and let it take you to your destination?”
Dimwid got up from the grass and craned his neck upwards. “Uh, sorry. I got transported here by accident, officer!” He answered in perfect dialect, as if he had been speaking it all his life and the ludicrous sounding words he uttered now made absolute sense to him.
“You want to be more careful where you’re beaming down to in future, sir.”
“If only you knew,” Dimwid murmured in his own lingo, reversing the polarity of his translator as he made his way to the nearside lane of the moveway.
He stepped on and stood there, letting the five-mile an hour speed carry him, while he carefully stowed Kapsule in the matrix and zipped Matrix in his jacket. Then he started walking and stepped on to the next lane.
Soon he was standing on the centre lane where to his right, an assemblage of beings flashed past like whirlwinds in the opposite direction, while he was swept along at goodness knows what speed to the starport passenger lounge.
The slipstream of the moveway had dried the mud, which now caked his jeans and shoes with a stiff starchlike covering. It made him walk a bit strangely.
In the passenger lounge, Dimwid found a seat in a quiet corner away from the crowds and unlocked the Matrix.
“What’s the next advisable move,” he said, as soon as Kapsule came to life.
“We need to get ourselves out of the clutches of the Lurgi, otherwise we have no foreseeable future worth mentioning.”
“We? It’s my blood the damned fiend is after. I’m human, you’re inorganic, it can’t feed on you because it needs the products of biological substance!”
“But it can drain the power from me and Matrix to get at you, thus rendering us useless!”
“You can regenerate your power, though! You’re doing it all the time from stars or whatever cosmic matter it is that you utilize!”
“Not as fast as the damn Lurgi can drain it. It’s exponential. The faster we obtain power, the faster the Lurgi can drain it. It was getting pretty damn close to overtaking us.”
“Was?” Dimwid’s eyes lit up.
“By activating the emergency control, I altered the sending pattern, which temporarily broke the Lurgi’s connection.”
“Temporarily?” Dismay dimmed the light in Dimwid’s eyes.
“The Lurgi will keep scanning till it relocates your signal and resume the chase. Lurgis don’t give up easily on prey when they have its signal code. They’re known to work hard to claim a victim once they’ve located one.”
“They can spend long stretches of time in limbo between victims, searching for elusive trails in the confusing junkyard of cosmic wavelengths.”
“Your signal stood out like a sore thumb. You were pretty much like someone crashing clumsily through the jungle in concrete army boots, banging a saucepan with a spoon and singing boisterously at the top of your voice, while hungry tigers prowled all around you.“
“Gulp! I’m completely fucked, then – one way or another. I’ll have to keep on running from the Lurgi for the rest of my life, however long that’ll be now!”
“All we have to do is get the code changed.”
“Can we do that?” Dimwid raised his brows.
”We can, but it’s a job for Matrix, I’m just the driver of this outfit, Matrix is the brains.”
Dimwid turned his head sharply as something slithered past nearby.
“Uh oh! People and uh, other things are starting to stare this way. I must still stink something rotten – to those of them that have noses. I’ll have to put you back in stasis while I find somewhere to get cleaned up and get some fresh clothes.”
“I’ll link with Matrix while I’m in there and we can discuss our mutual problem. By the way, Dimwid, unless you can change what you have in the way of credit, you might find yourself with a currency problem here.”
“I’ll get Matrix to forward your credit details on the Galactic Web and you’ll have credit waiting at the Starport Exchange Bureau.”
“What? Where? When?”
“Never mind that now. Matrix can fix it! Get me back in stasis before we have the whole starport watching.”
“That’s just great – leave me to face the music here while you drop out of sight into the cosy oblivion of hibernation. Thanks a bunch, Kapsule!”
“Dimension it, Dimwid.”
* * * * * * * * *