Episode 2 - Fist full of Gerbils

Dundas Dorn and Hrbleblrble Blb sat on the couch in their dingy basement suite and stared at the now-blank television screen in dismay.

"This is an unanticipated and disturbing new insight into Terran society," said Blb. The Kfarn - essentially an intelligent octopus in a heavy mechanical enviro-suit - blew several bubbles contemplatively.

Dorn stroked his chin absently. The unexpected feeling of exposed skin added to his already unnerved state. The Millicentaurian had shaved the fur off his face, neck and arms that afternoon so as to pass for a human. It worked fairly well, as long as he stuffed his simian tale into his trousers. The clerk at the video store - who, admittedly, was accustomed to ignoring his customer's peculiarities - thought he was just a tall punk with a bad sunburn.

"This is good," said Dorn finally. "No, this is good. I'm glad we found out about this. Can you imagine if we started wandering around out there without knowing they were like this? Hell! Imagine if we hadn't taken Kesorbus's advice and done this little bit of research... "

Blb had taken out a data-pad and was making notes. "It would be wise for you to avoid situations where this sort of behaviour may occur. You must extricate yourself immediately if any humans proposition you."

Dorn shuddered. "Don't even joke about that... I'm going to go check on the animals."

Blb looked up from his pad and looked at Dorn with his saucer-like eyes.

"Make sure that you complete the check forms properly, this time. It is essential that a complete record of the animals' health and sanitation be maintained."

"Yeah, yeah." Not for the first time, Dorn wondered how a Kfarn - a species known for their obsession with order and bureaucracy - ever became a counterfeiter.


"Right this way, Shimo."

"Thanks, Roger... hey, when did you guys repaint the lunch room?"

"Three years ago."

"Looks nice."

"Thanks, we're getting used to it."

They sat down at the table behind Philoxia Unpronounceable, who was sprawled comfortably across several chairs and languidly sipping coffee. One table over, the burly ex-marine (are there any other kinds?) Sgt. Ulysses "Rhino" Cannon sat reading a worn blue hard-cover.

At the front of the room, Jack Fournier sprang to his feet. A laptop computer and a projector were linked together on the table in front of him, and behind him was a pull-down projector screen. "Shimo, good to have you back. All right, folks lets get started."

"What about the new secretary?" ask Phil. "Is she occupied?"

"Don't worry. She's on the phone with #4344. She'll be busy for at least forty minutes."

Phil nodded. Jack had a surprisingly large number of elderly women on the payroll, whose purpose was to provide distractions of one kind or another. Number 4344 was one of the best.

"Okay," Jack continued, "Here's our situation. For the past several weeks, the Jelvan Central Bank has been tracking a ring of suspected counterfeiters, two of which they believe have set up shop here on Earth. A couple days ago, the Jelvans collared a Millicentaurian for passing underage currency -- "

"Underage currency?" said Shimo.

" -- and the guy ratted out the others. Trouble is, the Jelvan Central Bank has no authority outside the Empire, so it's up to GC to collar these guys. "

"So we're looking for an alien printing press?" asked Rhino. "These are Jelvans, Rhino," said Phil, "They don't do anything the normal way."

"Exactly," said Jack. "So for Rhino and Shimo, here's a crash course in Jelvan currency."

He tapped a key on the laptop, and a picture of a group of creatures that might have stepped out a Dr. Seuss book was projected on the screen. They were of several different sizes and shapes, but all of them were covered in fluffy green fur.

"The basic unit of Jelvan currency is the Gobliak," Jack continued. "Like most societies, the vast bulk of transactions in the IJSE are conducted electronically, so little hard currency usually changes hands. However the physical Gobliak is still used and accepted throughout the Empire. This -- "

He used his laser pointer to indicate one of the smaller animals. It looked like a green hamster, with two tiny black eyes at one end.

"This is a Gobliak."

"You mean they still use animal skins for currency?" said Shimo.

"No, they use the live animals. "

"Excuse me?"

"The Gobliaks are extremely long-lived. The green colour of their fur comes from colonies of algae, which they live with symbiotically. They get most of their food and water from the algae, so they almost never have to eat or drink."

"How much are these things worth, anyway?" asked Rhino, "In Earth currency, I mean?"

"Well,..." said Roger, "the Gobliak's been a little low on the markets lately, what with dropping interest rates and the continuing uncertainty in the upper Qsirmu sector..."

"Yeah?"

"... so, roughly seventeen thousand, five hundred and sixty two American dollars," Roger concluded.

Shimo's jaw dropped open. Phil nearly spit out her coffee. "That low?! Tarcch, I'd better call my broker..."

"Keep in mind," said Jack, "that technology that's dirt cheap on the open galactic market would cost millions to develop on Earth. That's primarily what depresses the value of terrestrial currency. Remember how Europeans bought Long Island from its residents for twenty bucks worth of trinkets."

"So how do you 'counterfeit' these things?" said Rhino, "Cloning?"

"That's the usual way," said Jack, "Although the Gobliaks have certain anti-cloning sequences in their genes which make clones easy to spot. Makes them come out with extra eyes or limbs or something. No, these guys lucked out - they got their hands on a breeding female and several fertile males."

He indicated the other creatures on the screen. The breeding males looked much like the standard Gobliaks, only rabbit-sized. The female was largest, about the size of a house cat.

"Normal Gobliaks used as currency are sterile males. The breeding males and females are kept under strict control by the Central Bank. About one in five hundred Gobliaks born is a fertile male, and maybe one in two thousand is a female. Gobliaks don't exist in the wild anymore, as you can probably tell they've been the subject of quite a lot of selective breeding and genetic engineering."

"How'd these guys get a hold of the breeders?" asked Phil.

"That's still under-investigation," said Jack. "Our job is to get the breeders and any illegally bred Gobliaks, and if possible apprehend the counterfeiters."

"That sounds perfectly reasonable," said Roger, "I'll start checking the pet stores, and the rest of you can walk around with a piece of cheese calling 'Here, money money money.'"

"So do we have any leads?" asked Rhino.

"Well," said Jack, "the counterfeiters will probably try to get some of the locals to breed the Gobliaks, so that they can just sit back and rake in the cash, so to speak. That's probably how we can trace them. I thought Carla might be able to help us there..."


Blb adjusted the rubber mask strapped to his enviro-suit's helmet and leaned towards his partner.

"Dorn... "

"I told you," whispered Dorn, looking (to Blb) disconcertingly human in an ill-fitting three-piece suit. "Don't call me that here." Blb blew bubbles. "Fine. 'Justin', are these all who are coming?"

They looked over the community college classroom. Only five humans had responded to Blb's advertisement - two males in denim coveralls who smelled vaguely of some kind of ruminant excrement, an overweight female in stretch pants, a pimply adolescent male listening to some sort of industrial machinery over a pair of headphones, and an elderly woman with a spiral notebook who sat at the back of the class. Dorn glanced at his time piece.

"I suppose so. It's past six, local time."

"I do not understand the lack of response. One would presume, given the capitalist nature of their society, that humans in this country would find an electronic offer to 'Make Money Fast' highly attractive."

"Never mind," said Dorn. "This will be enough. And the fewer humans, the less we have to pay out, right? I'm going to get started. Remember, keep quiet and try to look like a mammal."

He wished Blb had taken his advice and stayed behind, but the Kfarn insisted on coming. Dorn wondered if even these humans might find Blb's beach-ball sized 'head' with it's rubber face suspicious, despite the baseball cap and cheap oversized trench-coat. He straightened his jacket, stood up and cleared his throat.

"Ah, good night-cycle," he said. "If I could have everyone's attention... Thank you all very much for coming here. My name is Justin Credible, and this is my business partner, the well-known businessman Dirk Hollywood..."

The adolescent and the overweight woman snickered. Not for the first time, Blb wondered about the wisdom of adapting aliases from the reproductive film that Dorn had rented. But as Dorn argued, the movie had billed itself as an in-depth exploration of high-temperature gender roles. How could it have been anything but art? Perhaps the names were simply more esoteric than the norm...

Dorn continued his spiel. This was his partner's gift, Blb knew - the ability to sell water to a Zxanxi.

"We have come here to this pla-ah, town seeking people with a keen business sense and a tongue for genuine money-making opportunities. By coming here tonight, you've shown that you are exactly that sort of people."

"Now, at this point you're wondering - what is this tall, attractive man saying? What kind of scam is he running? This is no scam, my friends, but a genuine, entirely legal within the laws of this country, opportunity for you to achieve your dreams with little or no effort. I am asking nothing of you but this - do you like animals? Small cuddly beings, pets, as it were? Of course you do. All I ask is that you open your selves up for these small, clean, cuddly creatures, and large quantities of venture capital will be yours!"

Dorn pulled the sheets off the two cages that sat on the table in front of him. In one cage was a large female Gobliak, sleeping peacefully. In the other, three fertile males were rustling around in their straw bedding.

"Woo! Gosh-amighty! Lookit, Scooter, them critters is GREEN!" The two males were staring wide-eyed at the cages. The elderly woman peered at them with interest and made a note in her notebook, and the adolescent looked on with a lack of any visible cognition. The large female squealed in delight.

"Oh! Oh! My cats will just LOVE them! They're so KEE-YOOT!" Blb made a mental note not to allow the breeding animals to go to the cat woman. He had, in fact, already selected the two males in coveralls as the recipients of the breeders.

"Yes, they are kee-yoot, aren't they?" Dorn cooed, "These are a set of rare endangered Indonesian groundhog -- "

He glanced over at Blb. Blb nodded.

" -- which a local tribe of Eskimos found orphaned and abandoned on their native tundra. They wisely brought them to our conservation office, where we have been preparing them for release back into the wild."

"I wasn't aware that there were any Eskimos or tundra in Indonesia," said the older woman.

"Ah, they come from the north. Very few people go there," said Dorn, "As I was saying, these creatures are both rare and endangered, and while they are in captivity, we wish to breed them. What we are looking for, is first of all, someone to care for the breeding animals, and then, others to raise the young offspring to maturity, when they will be released back into the wild."

Or rather, thought Blb, when they will become legal tender. "We are prepared," Dorn continued proudly, "to offer five hundred of your Earth dollars for each animal born and raised to maturity."

His statement had the intended effect. The humans became very excited.

"Ah, Misser Creddabul, whadduthey et?" said one of the off-smelling males.

"An excellent question," said Dorn, "They eat absolutely nothing. They drink no water, either. All you must do is keep them in a warm, humid environment with adequate lighting, such as they are used to."

"Like the tundra," said the elderly woman.

"Precisely." Dorn beamed. This was going over like gangbusters.

Dorn elaborated over the proper care and non-feeding of the Gobliaks, holding the humans spell-bound, all the while. Blb became more and more encouraged. Fortunately, the large female volunteered to be a post-natal caregiver ("Oooh, babies aminals are so PRESHUSH!"), and the breeding animals went to Scooter Dan and Cletus, the two males, who, as luck would have it, had experience raising a local meat animal Cletus referred to as a "hawg".

Dorn was just wrapping up the meeting when Blb nudged him with his foot. Dorn winced in pain; Blb frequently forgot the enviro-suit's strength. He glared at Blb, and a silent conversation ensued as the humans peered and cooed at the Gobliaks. Finally, Dorn relented.

"Ah, one other thing," said Dorn, rubbing his bruising shin, "We realise that it's an important part of, uh, everyday culture, but I would ask you to please refrain from mating in front of the animals."

The humans stared at him. I knew it, thought Dorn, I've offended them.

"It's just that it may, ah, disturb them. Particularly when, ah, the female reaches the vocal stage of her, er, climax. Okay? Thanks a lot!"

The humans continued to stare at him as if a larval Thyrix had just burst through his chest. Dorn turned to glare at Blb. Blb nodded and blew bubbles behind the mask. "That was very well said, 'Justin'."


"Come in!"

Carla Scot hesitantly opened the door to Jack's office and peered in. Jack was sitting at his desk looking at his laptop computer, while Roger was sitting on the edge of the desk.

"Come on in, Carla," said Jack, smiling warmly. "Anything come up with those search results?"

"Are you kidding? When I searched on 'make money fast', Google gave me about half the Internet. The half that isn't porn, anyway. Searching within those results for 'green hamster critter rodent' and so on narrowed it down quite a bit. Ten sites gave non-accidental matches."

She handed him a laser-printed list of URLs.

"Super," he said. "Thanks, Carla. Let's check these out..." He opened a browser on his laptop and started typing in the first address. Roger leaned in to watch. Carla noticed that the laptop wasn't connected to anything, and was about to point this out, when Jack hit 'enter', and the target web page loaded far faster than any high-speed connection she'd ever seen.

"That's a site selling 'Huggy Hampster' merchandise." Jack frowned. "Not what we're after..."

They seemed to forget Carla was in the room. She hung around, curious whether she'd come up with anything useful. It wasn't the first bizarre web search they'd asked her to do in the two weeks since she'd started. Most of them were for phrases that seemed to come out of the computer games that they were always talking about - things like "plasma cannon clearance" and "hyperdrive graviton filter". Some of them were on seeming nonsense words, like "barthak" or "quirininan". And some of them, like this last search, were just bizarre - like "nut bladder aphrodisiac" or "digital guru auction".

Her new co-workers were nothing if not eccentric. She never actually saw any of them doing what she though of as work related to an Internet start-up, mostly they just hid away down in the basement or talked about their science fiction-like computer games. Actually, she thought, maybe that isn't too different from any other Internet company.

But the people themselves were something else. Jack was very kind, and the big guy everyone called Rhino seemed nice, if a bit withdrawn. Russell Shimo was quite peculiar, he seemed to be constantly in a state of not knowing what was going on. He seemed to have a very poor memory - she'd heard him express surprise three times about the paint in the lunch room, which apparently had been the same for the last three years. The woman called Phil was very strange - everyone else seemed a little nervous around her, especially where coffee was concerned. Although she was fairly nice to her. And something about Roger - aside from his abrasive personality - gave her the creeps, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Nor, she suspected, would she want to.

"Aha!" Jack exclaimed. Carla jumped as she fell back to reality.

Jack and Roger were examining a LiveJournal page, littered with little animated pictures of busty women in various poses and stages of undress, and the most atrocious spelling she'd ever seen. " '...raisin' thees green criters 4 $$$500$$$ each w000,'" Roger read, "Good lord, it's worse than I expected. Where is he?"

"Ah...," Jack scrolled down the page, occasionally wincing. "West Virginia. Yeah, that matches what #7423 reported. Get this to Shimo, he can get us the name and address."

"Yes, sir!" Roger saluted, grabbed the print-out and rushed past Carla. She looked curiously at Jack.

"Oh, Carla," he said. "Sorry. Good job, we found what we needed."

"Great. Ah, what was it?"

"Oh, ah... just a customer who owes us some money. No big deal."

She smiled guardedly. "Ah, okay. Sure. No big deal... I'll be at my desk if you need me."

"Okay. Thanks again, I appreciate it."

"No problem."

She slipped out and shut the door behind her. A customer who owes them money, huh. Right... There was something strange going on here, she decided, something that wanted thinking on. She turned and headed back to her desk.


Cletus and Scooter Dan peered into the pen.

"Well, whaddya know," said Scooter, "they're tuckered out from all that fornicatin'."

Cletus rolled his eyes. "Dammitol, Scoot', would you cut it out with your big fancy Page-A-Day words? Jus' say it like regular folk, they bin shaggin'! Fornicatin', nobody says 'fornicatin' 'cept if your a preacher on the Tee-vee."

"Aw, you's just sore cause I got more learnin' than you.," said his brother.

They had set aside a corner of the barn for the green rodents and blocked it off into a pen with some plywood. The four males pounced on the female as soon as Cletus released them into the pen, and the little creatures had been busy "fornicatin" all afternoon. Now they were lying listlessly in the straw, wheezing peacefully.

Scooter scratched his nether regions. "Cletus, I reckon they look hungry t'me."

"That Jewish fella said they don't need t'ate."

"I tol' you before, he weren't Jewish, he's Swedish. You ken tell by the pants they wear. Cletus, you ever heard of any animal that don't eat? Everthing's gotta eat sometime. I reckon that Mr. Credible just said that so's stupid folk like that fat woman wouldn't think they was hard t'look after. Look here, you go out and gather some greens for 'em. Dandylion leaves or grass or somethin'. I'll get'em some water."

He returned a few minutes later with a bowl of water. He found Cletus happily feeding the little green animals handfuls of crab-grass.

"You's right, Scooter Dan! They must be famished! They're eatin' it right outta my hand!"

Scooter gave his brother a gap-toothed grin. "I tol' ya so, Cletus. Iff'n there's anyone who knows his critters, it's me."

"Mama always said so."


Dorn collected his wad of bills from the cashier and picked up his steaming styrofoam cup. He passed the bills to Blb, and sipped the beverage. His eyes rolled back in his head and he sighed serenely. "Ohhh... heavenly. Blb, this planet may be a backwards feces-hole, but they make the best thassid anywhere off Talvinus."

They stepped out of the store onto the sidewalk. They were still wearing their disguises, although after several days Dorn's facial fur was starting to grow back, and Blb could no longer be bothered to make sure his rubber mask wasn't lop-sided. The occaisional human they passed on the street would look at the oddly, but for the most part they were too inobservant to give the two aliens much notice.

Blb burbled noncommittally as he sorted the bills Dorn had given him by denomination and placed them in his money pouch. The human currency was laughable easy to counterfeit - all he needed was a cheap three-scanner and halfway decent all-texture printer. He could almost do it with native technology.

"I would appreciate it if we could stop at the pet supply store we passed earlier, Dorn, and pick up some more freeze-dried krill."

"Have a craving, do you?"

"We satisfied yours, it is only fair to satisfy mine."

"Naturally," said Dorn, sipping his coffee. "It's just up here."

They came up to the pet store a few minutes later. Blb was just about to go in when an anguished cry came from Dorn, who grabbed him by the arm.

"What? What?" asked Blb, alarmed.

Dorn was grabbing at his head fur with his other hand, and looking very distraught. He pointed at the pet shop window. "Look at what that human's doing! The child!"

Blb followed his gaze. Inside the store, a small human female was feeding a leaf of lettuce to a guinea pig. It took a minute for the Kfarn to realise the implications.

"Oh Darkness... Dorn, you told the humans the Gobliaks don't need to eat. You don't think they would... ?"

"If those humans feed plant life to the breeding pair -- "

"The moment the chlorophyll hits their blood-stream -- "

"Sweet baby Kolus," said Dorn, "We have to find those humans..."


Cletus knew that something was wrong from the moment the pickup turned onto the dirt road up to the ranch. Even Skunk, the scraggly mongrel that hung around the place waiting for table scraps, didn't come running and fussing at the truck like he normally did. It had only taken Cletus two days to drive down to Waldron to pick up supplies, but in that time his brother had screwed something up. Cletus spit when he saw the barn door open.

"Scooter Dan!" he called, getting out of the pickup. "Scooter Dan, where is you?"

The barn was silent. As Cletus entered, he saw that the pen was empty. The feed bowls were empty as well. The pile of grass they'd been feeding the animals with was missing.

"Aw, Scooter Dan," Cletus mumbled. "Whatdja do? That Mr. Credible ain't gonna be happy when he sees his critters done runned off."

Cletus walked back outside, holding his hand up to his forehead to shield his eyes from the bright, West Virginia sun. That's when he saw the corn field. Breaking into an odd, bowlegged gait, Cletus ran to the house and burst through the front door. He charged down the darkened hallway to the rumpus room.

"Scooter Dan!" he shouted, seeing his brother laying on the couch in the dark. "Scooter Dan, gittup! Something done ate the corn! The whole field is gone! Scooter Dan! Hey, Scooter Dan, kin ya hear me?"

But his brother wasn't moving. Cletus reached over and turned the light on and got a surprise. The animals they'd had in the pen were here, but there were more of them, many more of them. In fact, the whole room was filled with them. Every available flat surface was covered with small, fuzzy green Gobliaks. Even his brother was covered, had he wasn't breathing.

"Aw, dang you critters!" Cletus shouted. "Ya done smothered my brother!"

Then he heard the chattering.

Cletus turned around to see thousands of the creatures running down the hallway toward him. He barely had time to cover his face before the wave washed over him.


Roger grimaced as the car hit yet another pot-hole. At this rate, his backside would be a solid purple by the time they reached the counterfeiter's ranch.

"Are we there yet?"

"No," snapped Phil from behind the wheel. "And we won't be there yet the next time you ask, either."

Up front, Rhino tapped his handheld GPS display. "Pretty soon, actually," he said, "The McGillicuddy ranch is just over this next hill."

"Good. Roger, shut up and look at the pretty scenery."

"All right..."

Roger turned and looked disconsolately out the window. He had to admit, the countryside was nice to look at. Waves of golden corn, the mountains in the background, the rolling green fields...

He wrinkled his brow.

"Rhino... is that field moving?"

Rhino looked out the window, following Roger's gaze. "Huh? ... Holy mackeral, you're right... that's not grass, it's -- Phil! STAMPEDE!"

Phil slammed on the brakes as the green "field" spilled over the fence and washed around the car like a river overflowing its banks. Phil, Roger and Rhino looked out with amazement as thousands of small, green rodent ran frantically around them and across the road. "What the hell?" muttered Rhino.

"It's a stampede of Gobliaks," said Roger. "We're literally surrounded by stampeding money. If we could get out there --" "They'd smother you," said Phil. "Go ahead if you want, just don't let them into the car."

After about thirty seconds, the tidal wave reduced to a stream, then finally a trickle. They opened the doors and got out of the car. A few Gobliaks continued wandered along the side of the road, munching on grass. Roger frantically tried to gather them up, but most of them scampered out of reach.

Behind them, the Gobliaks had left a wide swath bare of any grass or vegetation.

"They're in a feeding frenzy," Phil murmured. "Rhino! Better break out the flame-thrower."

"Right."

"No!" cried Roger. He dived after a Gobliak that was taking refuge in a ditch. Two more slipped out of Roger's pockets as he slipped and fell in the trampled mud. "It's money! You can't -- "

"Yes we can," grinned Rhino. He had the trunk open and was slinging the 'thrower's fuel tanks on his back. "And that's exactly what the Jelvan Central Bank would say, too."

"Roger! Over here! Bring the repair kit!"

Roger got to his feet, and walked over to where Phil was kneeling, pausing just to pull the requested kit from the car. She had walked several meters back from the road, surveying the path of the Gobliaks.

She was kneeling next to what appeared to be a very badly damaged Kfarn enviro-suit. Upon closer inspection, he saw it still held a Kfarn. The helmet's transparent dome was cracked , and it was leaking water. The Kfarn appeared to be unconscious.

"Sealant!" barked Phil. Roger opened the kit and started to rummage around in it; Phil reached past him and grabbed a tube and applicator. In just a few seconds she had sealed the leak.

"He must have been swept up by the stampede," Phil muttered as she hurriedly fixed the other signs of critical damage on the suit. She taped off a punctured hose and nodded. "That will do until we get him a medic."

"He's coming around!" said Roger.

The Kfarn's eyes fluttered open. It mumbled a few mild Kfarn oaths - well, actually, all Kfarn oaths are fairly mild - and blew several half-hearted bubbles. When his vision cleared, he found himself staring at the point of Phil's blaster.

"Hrbleblrble Blb, I presume?" she asked in trade language.

"Ahh... yes?"

Roger pushed his way into Blb's field of vision. "Hrbleblrble Blb," he intoned, "You are charged under Galactic Customs code ST-1123, section 6, pursuant to Galactic Treaty T-655, possession of and attempt to breed contraband and/or protected animals, as well as code ST-214, section 28, ibid., counterfeiting of state-issued currency and/or securities; and while we're at it, let's tack on codes ST-781, sections 12 and 56, introducing alien species to a developing world and willful damage of a protected eco-system, respectively."

"Shit," burbled Blb.


"What the hell happened, anyway?" Jack asked.

"Well," said Phil, sipping her coffee in the lunchroom, "we pieced some of it together, but the Gobliaks literally ate a lot of the evidence. The McGillicuddy brothers fed the breeder Gobliaks native plant life, not knowing what effect it would have. Gobliaks don't need to eat, but like any animal, you put food in front of them and they'll eat."

"And chlorophyll acts like a super-fertility shot for them," said Roger, "Not only does it make the breeders extra fertile, but the offspring will all be fertile as well. And the gestation time for Gobliaks is unnaturally short - it actually takes less time for the young to develop and be born than it does for the parents to mate in the first place. End result after two days - thousands of happy, horny and hungry little Gobliaks."

"And the clean-up?"

"Got most of'em," said Rhino, "It wasn't pretty, but it was either that or let them over-run the state. We packed up a few to ship back to the Jelvans. We found the original breeding pair back at the remains of the McGillicuddy ranch. The offspring smothered them as well as the McGillicuddy's, most of the McGillicuddy's livestock, and the Millicentaurian Dundas Dorn."

Jack nodded. "Great. The Jelvan free market economy is safe, as is the ecosystem of West Virginia. Nicely done."

A startled shriek broke up the meeting. Phil, Rhino and Jack rushed out to see what had happened, while Roger made vague noises about checking the back room.

They burst into the front office to find Carla standing on he desk, nervously scanning the floor around her.

"What? What's wrong?" asked Jack.

"A.. a mouse," Carla stammered, "Or, I think it was a mouse... it was green! It ran over there!"

She pointed towards the heating register.

Rhino nodded. "I'll go get the flame-thrower."