02:04:27 - From Parts Unknown

The morning sun was a bit brighter than expected as it shown through the bedroom window of 423 West Remington. The weatherman had predicted morning clouds, which weren't there. The real reason that the rays of spring sunshine warmly lighted the bedroom of 423, was because like the morning clouds, 421 West Remington was also not there.

The local police and fire department had done an admirable job of making sure that the roughly house sized crater where Mr. and Mrs. O'Sullivan had previously lived was not tampered with by the hordes of on-lookers, news vans, fire trucks, emergency services equipment, national guardsmen, boy scouts and t- shirt vendors who were gathered outside the perimeter.

Detective Thomas Boyer was not a happy man. Granted, anyone who knew him swore that he lived in the same two piece blue suit and worn, stained green overcoat which only helped him look more ruffled than the early morning crisis warranted. A dark cloud of lingering doom followed him as he stormed his way to where an older uniformed officer stood looking down into the pit.

"All, right, what do we have." He commanded more than asked.

Officer Simmons, a seasoned veteran of the working force merely glanced at Boyer from the corner of his eye. "We have a rather large pit. The list of things that we don't have is a bit longer. Would you be interested in hearing them?"

"Who the hell are they?" Boyer steamed at Simmons as he pointed toward the pair of jumpsuited individuals working near the bottom of the pit.

"Ah, they would be the folks from Customer Service." Simmons replied calmly.

Boyer absorbed the statement for a few beats. "Who?"

"When we got here everything was gone except for a vacuum cleaner, still running. Considering what used to be here, would you want to go down and turn it off?"

Boyer lowered his hand a bit.

Simmons continued, "Fortunately, a van claiming to be from the vacuum service department showed up a few minutes after we did. Said that they were in the area on another service call and heard about the incident on the radio. They asked if they could help."

"And so you just let them go down there?" Boyer sniped back.

"Considering that there was no power cord on the thing and it was still running, yes. I want that damn thing off before this little neighborhood becomes even smaller. Besides, I've got Johnson down there watching them."

Boyer couldn't argue, although he desperately wanted to. Instead he simply stood and fumed next to Officer Simmons.

Simmons leaned toward his senior (by rank anyway) officer and said quietly, "Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job and all, but you might be wanting to do something about clearing away this crowd. If there's something down there, I don't think we'd want all these folks staring at us while we try to remove it."

Boyer sighed heavily. Mike was right, again. Boyer hated dealing with the press, but knew that he was the only one who could do it right now. He turned, and over his shoulder he said, "Watch them!"

Simmons raised his hand in acknowledgement. He knew that Johnson would do a better job than he would. Johnson was younger and much more gung-ho about it. Sure enough, Johnson was still standing there, arms folded looking down at the workers.

"His eyes are going to get dryed out," Roger said as he glanced toward the officer that stood just above them. "You should have waited until he was in mid-blink before you put him in stasis."

"It was the only shot I had." Shimo said back to Roger, "besides, it's only until we can replace the main unit. There, got it." Shimo removed a small cylinder and deftly hid it in his hand. He replaced it with a filter from a dishwasher that looked almost right.

"You sure that's it?" Roger asked.

Shimo looked at him, "You want me to open it and show you?" Shimo moved a finger toward a release catch.

"No, no!" Roger said emphatically, I believe you. I guess I just expected it to weigh more than that."

"Trust me, it does. Just not right now." Shimo slid the device into his pocket and closed up his toolkit. "Now why don't you get back into position and I'll release our friend."

Shimo pressed a small nub on a device and Johnson returned to the normal flow of time. "Gaah!" He said as he rubbed his dry eyes.

Roger and Shimo rushed over to help. "Are you OK?" Roger asked.

"Yeah, man, my eyes feel like they're full of something."

"Oh, that's probably just dust, these things tend to kick out a fair amount when you shut them off like that. Sorry, I guess we should have told you to close your eyes for a second."

Shimo helped Officer Johnson make his way up the slope, "We have some eyedrops in the van if you like."

The two helped Johnson up out of the pit and got him a fresh eyewash kit from the van. They made sure that all of the officials had the bogus contact information they had generated for just such a situation, had their belongings inspected for any suspicious items, and were thanked and released.

"So how does that thing work?" Roger asked Shimo as he drove the van back toward the shuttle pickup point.

"This?" Shimo said as he held up the device he had removed from the vacuum. "It's a temporary singularity gate. If I remember correctly they use these things as sub-light drives for old Archarian freighters. It creates a series of temporary singularities just ahead of the gravity well of a ship that pull it along. Effectively the ship is constantly about to fall into a black hole. Needless to say, it's pretty bad if they ever do."

"Wait a minute, that thing creates black holes?" Roger said with a tone of disbelief.

"Well, very small singularities really. I'm not really sure how it all works, but I do know that they require a lot of energy to do it. This one probably had a few terawatts stored in the C2 crystals he.."

There was and oddly quiet "Fup" and then the sound of a small canister hitting the metal floor of the van.

Roger looked to where Shimo had been a few seconds ago. He returned his eyes to the road. "Damn, two more days and I would have won the pool."

Roger entered the Medical Lab and strode briskly over to Phil. She finished typing in a sequence on the Rhankau Clone-o-matic.

"He's never going to finish if you keep doing this, you know." Roger said as he crossed his arms.

A pleasant female synthetic voice cautioned, 'Warning, process is at ninety-eight percent completion, do you wish t-- Override process initiated.'

"Well we wouldn't need to break him out early if you hadn't let the last one discharge the last bit of power in the singularity motor."

"How was I to know there was still some power left in the damn thing?"

"Mind your tongue, there's a lady present." Phil said somewhat half- heartedly. Her vocabulary could shellac a Vall'arq at thirty paces when she was pounding on the transport engines.

"I thought that devices like that motor thingy were your area of expertise." Roger inquired, ignoring the correction.

"I deal with things that go boom and get you from here to there, not doo-hickeys like that."

"Ah, so nothing smaller than, say, a coffee pot?"

Phil looked at Roger violently.

The Clone-o-Matic chimed, 'Process Complete. Caution, early prerelease void any warranty the Rhaunkaunian Collective offers. Please be aware that abnormalities may be present, or possibly highlighted. If this one is a goof, it's your fault, bucko. Have a nice day, and thank you for using the Rhankau Clone-o- matic." The pressure seal released and the heavy chamber door slid away. Inside was a perfect replica of Lt. First Class Russell Shimo.

Then the stasis fell away and he started screaming, "--uch that button!!! Huh, what? Phil! Roger! Where, what? Is this the MedLab? Roger, when did you shave off the mustache?"

Roger rolled his eyes and began his monotone litany. "Yes Shimo, and you're a very lucky lad in deed. You managed to escape with just a few minor injuries but we had to put you into the box for a bit. Phil just needed to collect a quick sample.."

"What sample? OW!"

"..to make sure that you don't have any other diseases. Unfortunately, the door was a bit sticky and it took us a while to get it unjammed. Sorry about the delay. Now let's go get you something to eat so I can bring you up to date." Roger lead Shimo away to the mess.

Phil could hear their conversation as they walked down the hall

"So how long was the door stuck?"

"About eight years."

"WHAT!!?"

Phil placed the sample into the Clone-o-matic. The lettering had pretty much worn off of the keys by this point, but she knew the sequence by heart. 'Thank you for using the Rhankau Clone-o-matic. Beginning Scan.'

Phil watched the meter slowly creep toward one hundred before she turned and walked out of the lab. A small part of her regretted accidentally pushing that button so many years ago, still, Shimo had come in very handy over the years. Well, most of them at least.

"Hey," Shimo said between bites from a large sandwich, "isn't that a temporary singularity gate?" The device was sitting on the table still sitting in the rubber salad tongs Roger had brought it in.

"Yes, say, aren't these used in Archarian freighters?" Roger said with the air of authority, not above using recently acquired knowledge to impress others.

"Well, way old ones at least, but yeah." Shimo replied.

"And what about this?" Jack said as he offered another device.

"Hmm," Shimo said as he furrowed his brow. "I'm not sure but it looks like a magnetic resonator."

"We found it in a home stereo speaker."

"How much of the living room was left?"

"Most of it, well, until it landed anyway." Phil stated blandly.

"It's the fifth such item we've found this week.", Jack continued.

"Sixth if we count the salad shooter.", Roger remarked.

"Did Flarm catch up to it?" Phil asked.

"Well, no, but he did report it leaving orbit and headed toward deep space."

Shimo leaned back a bit with a confused look on his face. "How.. How are these getting here?"

"That's the sixty four thousand Gobliak question." Jack said as he leaned back. "We've got Carla running a check on the net, can you id the make model and serial number on these."

"Who on the what?" Shimo grew more confused.

"Ah, right, sorry. Uhm, Carla just started a few days ago, she's.. err.. " Jack sputtered. He tried to come up with some rational explanation for why Carla would know who Shimo was. He was awful at thinking of things like this on short noticed.

"Yes, quite a number that Carla. Sat and studied each of our profiles in depth in just an hour. Amazing really, but she remembers all sorts of little details about people, so much so that she just instantly feels comfortable around others." He carefully looked around him to make sure that unwanted ears were not listening then leaned close to Shimo and whispered "We're doing a bit of a check on her, but for now, act calm and presume that she's known you for about a month or so." He winked broadly.

Shimo returned to a state of moderately confused.

"So, Russell, do you think you can get us some ids?"

Shimo stared at the components, "Uhm, yeah sure. I'll take these to the lab and get started." He collected the items and the remains of his sandwich and started out the mess door.

As he left Carla brushed by. "Oh, Hi Shimo. Hey Jack, here are the sites you asked for."

Russell stood and stared suspiciously at Carla for a few seconds. Carla glanced up and caught his expression. "I knew it. I go and get my hair cut and the only person who would even think to notice would be Russell. I swear the rest of you can get so wrapped up with what you're doing you never notice the little things."

Russell turned and shuffled his way to his lab, settling back into the now too familiar state of pure confusion.

"<Welcome to Lao-Tse Electronic Parts Emporium, Can I mrrph-frruuf?>"

Although the middle aged Chinese man began speaking in Cantonese, he found that it is universally difficult to finish sentences when there is the barrel of a PL-39 Pulse Phase cannon located in your mouth. At the more preferred end of the weapon stood Roger, smiling daintily.

"I suppose that setting up shop in Hong Kong might have seemed like a good idea, but sadly, you forget that it's just as easy for us to pop in here as it is across the street."

"mmrrrfffuuurfffmmmmffffrrorrrrfffluufff?"

"A yes, silly me. You are Mr. Lao? Or should I call you Prakar F'Lan?" Roger held up his scanner which showed an image of Mr. Lao and a decidedly not Mr. Lao. Lao's eyes grew a bit wider as he slowly nodded.

"Ah, good, Mr. Lao, You are charged under Galactic Customs code ST- 631, section 19, pursuant to Galactic Treaty T-655, distribution of unlicensed advanced tech to an undeveloped world, ST-631 section 24, providing devices without proper manuals and technical support, and ST-4658 section 14 paragraph 5, advertising your goods and or services by using unsolicited electronic communications. I mean really, spamming? That's pretty low."

"Mrrrfllvrrphlllffffrrrffrff!" Mr. Lao said as he shook his head and waved his hands excitedly.

"Hmm, well, I do suppose that it's remotely possible that you may not be Prakar F'Lan. If that's the case, then I apologize. In fact here's a gift of some delightful salty snacks I picked up."

Prakar's reaction was both immediate and impressive. Once he spotted the small packet of heavily salted airline snacks his Lao outfit nearly exploded as he shot out from behind, splatted heavily against the wall and slithered at amazing speeds up the wall to a small corner of the ceiling. The remains of "Mr. Lao" hung lifelessly off the end of Roger's cannon. Roger stood looking at the packet for a few seconds, clearly oblivious to the alien's reaction. "Funny, I have the same reaction myself whenever the stewardess offers me some. Thankfully, for me at least, it's just because they give me gas. Now, would you like to come quietly?"

There was an odd squishing pop and Prakar was suddenly no longer in the room. Roger called out, "He's running. Rhino cover the roof."

"I'm on it!" Rhino responded into the comms unit as Roger headed out of the room and up the stairs. Prakar, of course knew better than to go all the way to the roof. Instead he cut over one of the vent pipes and oozed into a locked upstairs storage room. He knew that those GC idiots would waste their time trying to find him and would run around like the hardies they were. Prakar wasn't squirted yesterday, he had his plans and escape routes ready. He was prepared for such an event. In fact he was prepared for anything.

Well, except Carla having phased into the room, found an empty container, and allowed Prakar to ooze into it before she snapped the lid tight.

"I got it, or him, or whatever it is." she said into her coms unit.

"Fantastic!" Roger replied. "Can you bring him out?"

"I.. I don't know. I've never phased with someone else before I don't know what might happen."

"Well, unlock the door and let us in, then."

"Oh, yeah, sorry."

Carla tried the door, but it was locked securely. "Uh-oh."

"What do you mean, 'uh-oh'?" Roger asked, a bit worried.

"Well, I can't open the locks. There's no unlock thingy on this side, just a bunch of key holes. Looks like I need a key here too. "

"And the only person who would know what key that would be is currently in the can." Rhino pointed out.

"Well, we can burn our way through." Roger said as he set his rifle appropriately.

"No you can't!" Carla yelled back. "There's barely enough room to turn around in here!"

"Well, put our friend in a safe spot and come out." Roger said a bt testily.

Carla looked around and found somewhere to put the bucket of alien. Prakar nearly filled the container, and although Carla could hear his muffled protests, Prakar couldn't get enough momentum to do anything other than dully thud on the interior.

Carla phased through the door easily. And Roger readied for the burn.

"Roger?" Rhino commented, "I.."

Fortunately the brunt of the blast was directed away from the GC members, but the dust and minor debris drifting from the empty hole where the storeroom had just been did cause Carla to sneeze a few times.

"..don't think that's the right setting" Rhino finished.

Roger said something rather base in his native tongue. The street below was littered with the containers. Roger and Rhino raced down the stairs. "Carla what did the bucket look like?"

"Uhm, it was white with a bunch of red Chinese writing on it." As Carla looked at the scattered buckets, she realized that almost every single one of them fit that description.

Roger simply barked the order, "Grab all of them then, all you can carry, and get to the transport. The police will be here any second."

"Well you have to admit Jack, it's very good soy sauce."

"Roger, what exactly are we going to do with forty gallons of soy sauce?"

"Did you ask the Oracle?" Rhino said and then chuckled at his own joke.

"Where's Prakar?"

"He must have gotten away in the explosion. Look we've got his suit. It's just a matter of time before he shows up and we nail him."

Jack didn't say anything but simply glared at Roger. "I want full reports from all of you on exactly what happened, and I want them on my desk in an hour. I don't care who's fault it was, but I want to make sure that they don't do it again. Am I clear?"

"Yes sir." they said in unison.

<Qi, this soup! It's delicious!>

<Ah, you like it?>

<Like it? This is without a doubt the best soup you've ever made! What's in it?>

<Oh, the usual things, chicken, cabbage, mushrooms, plum...>

<But what's this broth? It's so rich and full bodied!>

<Ah, my secret ingredient.>

<Yeah, I thought one of the buckets of soy paste looked funny, but it still tasted good after I dumped it into the boiling water. I'm going to ask Lao if he has anymore of those.>

<That reminds me, have you seen Lao around lately?>