02:05:11 - Paint Your Weasel

"This is Captain Archon Jonnither of the starship Curious. This may be my last entry. Four days ago, we touched down on a class M planet which we believed was devoid of intelligent lifeforms. We were mistaken. While the crew was out examining local flora and fauna, several of the planet's natives snuck on board. We only realized they were here when it was too late. Now they're multiplying, and destroying everything they can get at. Almost half the crew were killed when one of the creatures got into the ship's central processor core and caused a malfunction in the ship's bathing system. The result was that the baths began dispensing hydrochloric acid instead of saliva. Many other crewmembers were killed in a food replicator malfunction that poisoned our milk. There are only a dozen of us left now, and I fear our time may be short. We've managed to locate a planet in the Sol system where we can crash the ship. We pointed the ship in that direction shortly before the engines shut off. Hopefully the guidance systems will still be functioning enough to give us a safe landing. Should we survive the crash, the atmosphere will be hospitable enough for us to live until help arrives. Chances are slim that we'll live that long, and we can only hope that Freyja will watch over us. Captain Jonnither out."

"Eat molten death!" Flarm shouted as the mottled rabbit with the angular ears rounded the hallway. A red spray of plasma shot from the end of his weapon, incinerating the foe. "You're fragmeat buddy! I am the Fuzzy Bunny Fragfest king!"

The ship's proximity alert went off, causing Flarm to look up from his game momentarily. On the display screen, a small blue dot was visible. At first, Flarm thought it was a computer-enhanced location dot, but he soon realized it wasn't. Bolts of lightning arced out of the dot, and a hole appeared in space where the dot had been just moments before.

"What the snanx?"

As Flarm watched, the hole grew in size exponentially and then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, it collapsed again. As he studied the sensor readings, he realized that several small objects were now drifting away from the rift. Flarm zoomed in found that they looked like...

"Socks," Flarm said to himself, unbelieving.

The computer scanners confirmed that the objects were socks. Most were made of wool, but smatterings of other man-made fibers were represented as well. As Flarm watched, the socks were sucked into the planet's gravity well, one by one, and quickly burned up in the upper atmosphere. It almost wasn't worth the ridicule he would get, but Flarm decided to radio GC headquarters anyway. The whole event had been recorded by the computer sensors, a fact for which Flarm was grateful. Nobody would believe him otherwise. Flarm immediately started calculating the worst possible scenerios.

"You interrupted me up for this?" Phil asked. Phil had apparently been on night watch at the GC, which was the worst scenario Flarm could think of when he decided to call in the incident.

"Look, I'm just doing my duty," Flarm said.

"Space socks," Phil said, shaking her head. "I was just at a good part of my book and you interrupted me to tell me about space socks."

Phil was angrily shaking a book at the camera. Flarm freezed the image and enhanced it on another monitor. The cover of the book showed two Verrokonians, a male and a female, both pale blue like Phil, with long, black hair. The male was holding a shield and a club with nasty looking spikes at the end of it. The female was dressed in black leather and was swinging a mace above her head. They were obviously engaged in a Verrokonian courtship ritual. The title of the book was, "Welts in the Summer Rain."

"Come on now," Flarm said, copying the image to several disks in case he needed some blackmail material later. "I thought maybe someone on Earth had developed a matter transporter and they decided to test it on socks. Whatever it is, it's worth reporting."

"Space socks," Phil said again.

"Cut me some slack, Phil. I was up to thirty kills and two deaths. Do you really think I wanted my game interrupted for a handful of... er... hold on."

While Phil looked on, questioningly, Flarm tapped a few keys on the computer console. A ship was coming out from behind the moon and making a B-line for the Earth.

"Phil, I got something," Flarm said.

"Me too," Phil replied. "I just picked it up."

"Lifesigns are screwey," Flarm said. "Whatever's in there is moving too fast for the sensors to get a proper fix on."

"It looks derilict."

"There's no hull damage, but the engines are off. It's coasting right toward the Earth."

"Can you stop it?" Phil asked.

"Not in this tug," Flarm said. "This is just a transport vessel. That ship is Mmmmrowl, and probably weighs more than Rhino's forehead. They build 'em solid you know."

"Track it," Phil said, standing up. "I'll wake the others."

"It's definitely a Mmmmrowl ship," Roger said, looking at the information on the screen in front of him. "The Mmmmrowl use some of the heaviest hull designs in the known universe."

He was hunched down, and oozed partially behind, the two front seats of the orange, refrigerated van that the GC had picked up from a foreclosure auction on a well-known, but failed, internet grocery deliver service. The screen set into the dash was flipping through the data recorded by Flarm. Phil was driving, and Jack was riding shotgun. In the back of the van, bundled up in electric blankets, were Carla, Rhino, and the latest Shimo.

This latest Shimo differed from all the previous Shimos in the prodigious forehead he displayed. Apparently the GC computer, dismayed at the repeatedly interrupted clonings, reprogrammed the Clone-O-Matic without authorization. As a result, the Clone-O-Matic built Shimo's brain first. But the programming was faulty, and while it build the rest of Shimo, the Clone-O-Matic continued to develop brain mass. The result was a Shimo with a swollen head and an incredible IQ.

Flarm had calculated the descent of the ship and given them fairly good directions to the wooded area outside Toronto that would serve as the ship's landing zone. The ship's shielding was reflective, obviously designed for planetary landings, and despite the intense heat generated by its planetfall, it wasn't coming down in a giant fireball; in fact, it was scarcely visible to the naked eye at all.

So accurate was the computer projection that it was a mere five minutes after the ship's crash that they arrived.

"So this is what a spaceship wreck looks like," Carla mused, rubbing her hands together to rid them of the frosty numbness the back of the van had caused.

"It's usually messier than this," Roger said. "But the Mmmmrowl are an inquisitive species, and all of their ships are designed for quiet planetfalls and built solid."

"The Mrow?" Carla asked.

"No, Mmmmrowl," Roger corrected. "Imagine, if you will, a race of seven foot-tall Persians."

"Arabs?"

"No," Roger said. "I meant Persians as in the cats."

"I see," Carla said. "That would explain the curiosity."

Suddenly, the sky above them was split with cyan lightning bolts. While they watched, a dark split appeared in the sky, and half a dozen socks rained down on them. Then the vortex vanished with a loud clap.

"What the?" Roger said.

"A wormhole," Jack replied.

"Do you think whatever caused it was in the ship?" Carla asked.

"No," Jack said.

"Space socks," Phil mused.

"Sorry?"

"Space socks," she said again. "Flarm sent in a report about space socks before the ship appeared. He thought maybe someone was experimenting with matter transportation."

"Not just anyone," Jack said.

"Look at this," Rhino called, before Jack could elaborate. He was further down the ship, looking at an open hatch. As the others got closer they could see a great swath of destruction leading away from the hatch.

"Whatever did this," Roger said, "it's out now."

"We'd better get a look inside," Rhino said, cocking his weapon.

The inside of the ship was a disaster area. The only system still running was the life-support, which was owed to the infamous Mmmmrowl paranoia of life-support failure. Each of their ships was designed with multiple life-support back-ups.

As the agents picked their way down the halls of the ship, they were stunned by the destruction. Wires had been torn out of the walls, panels were lying all over the floor. Everything that wasn't nailed down had been chewed and shredded. Several times the agents found small piles of debris heaped into makeshift nests.

"Over here," Rhino called. "This door is pretty scratched, but it looks unopened."

"Let me take a look," Shimo called. "Yes, the computer panel's been shredded, but I think I can hook my pocket system up to it. Rhino, if you'll loan me one of your weapon's power cells I think we can get it open."

Rhino dutifully turned the cell over and Shimo got to work. Before the others had a chance to recline for the wait, Shimo had the door unlocked and partially open. Rhino and Phil worked together to pull it the rest of the way open and, as the light from their flashlights fell inside, a plaintive wail came back out.

"Don't eat me!" someone inside called.

"It's ok," Jack said. "We're with Galactic Customs."

"Galactic Customs?" the voice echoed. A deep, throaty clicking rumbled out of the doorway; Carla thought it sounded almost like purring. "I'm saved!" the voice called.

Jack offered his hand and out of the shadows a white, furry mitt reached. The figure that stepped into the light was almost eight feet tall. He was dressed in a neat, sky-blue uniform decorated with sequins, and he was covered from head to toe in fluffy white fur. His eyes were bright green with dark black slits that narrowed in the light, and two pointed ears stuck up from the top of his head. Jack helped him to his feet and into the corridor.

"I'm saved," he repeated.

"Who are you?" Jack asked.

"Jonnither," came the reply. "Captain Archon Jonnither. This is my ship, the Curious."

"Next question," Jack said, "what happened?"

"It was horrible," Jonnither growled. "Very very horrible. They were all over, everywhere. They got into the computer, into the tongue showers. Everything was destroyed."

"What were they?"

"Ferrets," Jonnither said.

"I'm sorry?" Rhino asked. "I think there might be something wrong with my translator. Did you say ferrets?"

"Indeed I did," Jonnither said. "We landed on a small planet in the next system over. We thought it was uninhabited except for lower lifeforms. We were wrong. The ferrets snuck aboard and we didn't realize it until we were well away from the planet. By then the damage was already begun. They played with everything they could find. Oh, Freyja! They were worse than kittens!"

"Well," Jack said. "Let's get you back to GC headquarters. We'll call for a biological containment crew to take care of the ferrets and see about getting you a ride back."

"It'll be too late by then," Jonnither said. "You must stop them now."

"GC's not equipped to deal with biological invasions," Jack said.

"They'll have to be," Jonnither said, in a low growl. "They'll have to be."

Outside, the agents in the front of the van could see that Jonnither's warning was more than just a dire prediction by a crazy cat. All along the road they could see signs of the destruction caused by the alien ferrets. Houses were left in ruins, power poles had been knocked over, and cars were in tatters. The crew in the front of the van were in awe. In the back of the van, where Carla was keeping warm by snuggling against a purring Captain Jonnither, they couldn't see the destruction. Jack thought it best not to let them in on it.

Just a few miles outside of Toronto, however, they were almost driven off the road by another vortex that opened in the road almost directly in front of them. When it closed, a large, round, sock-filled hole was left in the road.

"It's getting worse," Phil said. "They're starting to cause damage now."

"Yes," Jack agreed. "I think it's time we visited the source of the problem."

"I'm here to see General Seagoon," Jack said.

"I'm sorry," the clerk replied, "there's nobody at the embassy under that name."

The American embassy was all but empty at this time of night, and the clerk behind the counter was in a surly mood. Jack was in an equally surly mood, and refused to play military games.

"Tell him Jack Fournier of Galactic Customs is here." The clerk's jaw almost fell off of his face.

"Right away sir," the clerk said, snapping to attention.

He disappeared through a door and reappeared seconds later. The agents were hurried into a back room where a tall man with a buzzcut and an American military uniform was waiting.

"What can I do for the GC today?" General Seagoon asked. He smiled patiently, and stood with his hands clasped behind his back. "I want to know why the Americans have started Project Apollo again," Jack said. At the mention of the top-secret project, the color drained from the General's face.

"We're not currently running that project," he said.

"Then tell that to the vortexes appearing over the city," Jack snapped.

"Look, you don't understand," the General started.

"No, you don't understand," Jack said. "Sixty years ago the Americans played with technology they didn't understand. The results were almost catastrophic. And now they're doing it again."

"It's not like that," General Seagoon said, flopping into a chair. "See, in the late 40's, America was falling behind the rest of the world. Our economy was crippled by the war, more than we'd ever let on. The public didn't know it, but we were doomed. Our military technology was falling behind, we knew that just by looking at the captured German weapons. The war effort had all but bankrupted the government and most of the country's businesses. We were sunk. Then we got our Deus Ex Machina."

"Roswell," Roger said.

"Yes, Roswell," General Seagoon agreed.

"What happened at Roswell?" Carla asked.

"A Ter'Ecloath party vessel crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947," Jack said.

"An intergalactic Carnival Cruise," Rhino whispered to Carla.

"There wasn't much left of them," the General said. "Except their clothing, what little there was of it. We managed to recover three pair of socks unlike any we'd ever seen."

"Until a few years ago," Roger said, "when, against the advice of their marketing department, they introduced a line of hideously ugly purple and yellow garterless dress socks that were held up by magnetic rings, the Ter'Ecloath were the makers of the most advanced socks in the galaxy. They ruled the market. So it figures that, if anything else, their socks would survive the crash."

"We saw it as our opportunity," the General said. "We reverse engineered the socks and started selling them through government-run companies. It revitalized the American economy, saved us from total economic collapse."

"Until the wormholes began," Jack said.

"Yes," the General agreed. "Until the wormholes began. We didn't know it at the time, but the clothes dryers that were on the market at the time created high-density magnetic fields. When exposed to these fields, the socks would undergo atomic collapse. Their density was powerful enough to create wormholes in space. But the wormholes were small, only the size of the socks. And since the wormholes were the shape of the socks as well, only other socks could fall through."

"The missing socks," Carla said.

"Ask any man over the age of fifty about missing socks and he'll tell you that he has, or had in his lifetime, several dozen unmatched socks," the General said. "It happens rarely these days, mostly with older laundromat dryers, but the socks were gone nonetheless, and people started to notice. We knew the socks went somewhere, and we were determined to harness this new-found technology for the military. Of course, the reverse-engineered alien socks were destroyed in the process, but we knew they were the cause, so we started studying them closer."

"Project Apollo," Jack said.

"Project Apollo," General Seagoon nodded.

"What's Project Apollo?" Carla asked.

"Project Apollo was a top-secret American experiment in matter transportation," Rhino said. "High amperage energy fields were created in gigantic generators."

"Dryers," General Seagoon said. "We created several massive,

Tesla coil driven dryers. First we tried teleporting soldiers wearing the socks, but all that disappeared were their feet. Then we tried making uniforms of the same material as the alien socks, to try and teleport the entire soldiers."

"But that didn't work, did it?" Jack rebuked. "I wonder how many brave American soldiers were lost or maimed in those ill-fated sock experiments, all in the name of cold war supremecy."

"Yes, those early experiments were a failure," the General admitted. "So we tried to think bigger. We upholstered an entire battleship with the material and mounted the giant dryers inside."

"The Philadelphia Experiment!" Carla shouted, with some glee. It wasn't often she knew what the GC and its peers were talking about, but she'd seen the movie, even if it didn't mention alien socks.

"Quite so," the General agreed. "But that experiment failed as well. We didn't know why we couldn't locate the missing soldiers or ship, so we started examining the wormholes more closely. By the time we realized what was really going on, it was almost too late. The sock technology had already propogated around the world. Our only hope was in fixing the dryers. We spent billions designing new dryers that wouldn't cause such heavy magnetic fields, and created powerful anti-magnetic dryer sheets to help combat the effects of those that did. Over the next few years we purposefully leaked that military dryer technology to civilian businesses. But the problem didn't really start to correct itself until the 70's. By then, an estimated four hundred and eighty million American socks had vanished."

"Tragic," Rhino muttered. "Such a waste."

"Yes," General Seagoon said. "We hoped that the wormholes were far enough away from the Earth that they wouldn't cause problems, but it wasn't until the 80's that we learned the truth: they weren't wormholes in space, they were wormholes in time."

"And now they're all terminating here," Roger said.

"But why Canada?" Jack asked. "Why not over the places where they were originally opened?"

"I think I can answer that," Shimo said. "The Earth's magnetic fields go through one-hundred and twenty year cycles. The strongest bands of magnetic energy run around the poles, but two smaller ones wobble over both hemispheres. The northern band runs over Canada right now, but four or five decades ago it was over the United States. The dryer effect would have been amplified by it since the band is the perfect attractor for the wormholes. That explains why they're being pulled over Canada now."

"But we don't know how to stop it," General Seagoon said.

"We'll have to give it a shot," Shimo replied. "I think I might know a way. General, you wouldn't by any chance have one of those generators available would you?"

"Why yes," General Seagoon smiled. "Yes I do. It hasn't been turned on in decades, but we thought the new embassy would be the perfect place to hide it."

The generator was a huge white box, about five meters tall, and dominated the beautifully manicured park that sat in front of the newly rebuilt Amercain embassy. On the front of the generator was a large glass porthole, and a Tesla coil arced on top. Shimo was standing beside it, typing something into the pocket computer. The other agents stood to the side of the van some distance away. Behind them, lining the trees, was a small army of American soldiers, carrying enough weaponry to take over a Baltic country.

"How long?" Jack yelled.

"It's powering up," Shimo called back, fully realizing that wasn't an answer. "If we can let it build up a large enough charge, we can open all of the wormholes at once. They'll all be burned out here, and we won't have to worry about them causing damage to..."

Suddenly, one of the American soldiers screamed. Someone else discharged his weapon, but the fire was sporadic, and terminated quickly. The GC agents turned around to discover a wave of ferrets rolling out of the trees around them into the park. The ferrets leapt from soldier to soldier, playfully nipping at their uniforms and weapons. Several of the ferrets had isolated an M-16 and were taking random nibbles at it and nudging it with their noses.

"Into the van!" Rhino shouted. The others didn't need to be told twice.

They were in the van a scarce second before the wave of ferrets rolled over it. Carla, Jack and Phil piled into the front while the others took shelter in the rear. They could hear the ferrets chewing on the outside, and the van lurched as one of the tires burst, elliciting squeals of surprise from the ferrets. Carla wondered, as the windshield started to crack, if the warmth of the front of the van was worth the risk it came with. The van shuddered with each poinging bounce the ferrets bounced on the roof.

"Look!" Carla said, although she didn't need to. Jack and Phil could see with their own eyes, past a ferret swinging on the van's radio antenna, that a vortex had opened over the park above the generator, and it was getting larger.

The ferrets saw the vortex as well, and they started moving en masse toward the generator. Shimo was oblivious to their presence until they started leaping on top of the generator. His surprise quickly turned to annoyance, however, when the first ferret leapt onto the Tesla coil and was fried in place. The coil shorted and sparks shot around the generator. The ferrets hopped back, but quickly invented a new game with the sparks. Shimo, swinging the pocket computer like a club, made his way toward the ladder on the side of the generator.

"Shimo!" Jack called, rolling the window down a crack.

Several ferret noses immediately poked through the opening. "Shimo! Get away from it!"

"No!" Shimo yelled back, getting up on top of the generator. "If I don't clear them off of it, it'll blow!"

Already the lightning around the generator was getting worse, and the rift was starting to close. Shimo batted at the ferrets as best he could, and it didn't take them long to realize that he wasn't fun to play with. After clearing the top of living ferrets, Shimo set to work ridding the coil of fried ones. The rift returned with a vengeance, and quadrupled its size. Soon it was a massive roil of energy above Shimo, who stood looking up in fascination.

"Shimo!" Jack yelled again. "Get away! Get away!"

"My God!" Shimo yelled back. "It's full of stars!"

The vortex intensified, and the others had to shield their eyes from the brightness. Squinting, they could see the sillhouette of Shimo on top of the generator. Trails of energy swept down from the vortex and engulfed him, hefting Shimo and the generator high into the air and then into the rift. The vortex shuddered, then exploded. Thousands upon thousands of socks rained down on the park in great, wind-driven dunes, and in moments, it was all over.

As the light faded, they could see the first of the ferrets poking their noses up from under the mounds of socks. The ferrets were confused for a moment, then burst into a frenzy of activity.

"Did those ferrets just cheer?" Carla asked.

"Good," Jack said. "That's what I thought too. I was afraid I was going crazy."

The ferrets dove and dug through the piles of socks. It wasn't long, however, before they realized that one end of each sock was open, and it was even less time before each and every ferret was staggering around with a sock stuck on its head. They bumped into each other, into the van, and into the American soldiers. They rolled and twisted, but their front legs were too small to get the socks off of their heads. After struggling fruitlessly, and bouncing against the embassy building, they began to lay down and go t7o sleep. Soon, all the ferrets, their heads covered in socks, were snoozing against the building wall and covering its steps.

"Well," Phil said. "That'll make them easy to capture."

"Shame about Shimo," Carla said.

"Yeah," Jack agreed. "I thought this one showed promise."

"What do you mean 'this one?'" Carla asked.

"You mean you still haven't told her?" Phil rebuked.

"It was on my list," Jack said, sheepishly.

"Look out!" one of the soldiers outside shouted as the votex flared up again, this time a thousand times larger and fiercer than before.

As Jack, Phil, and Carla dove out of the van, Rhino and Roger were just opening the back door to see what was going on.

"Run!" Phil yelled at them. They ran.

Just as they reached the trees a tremendous thud shook the ground, throwing them off their feet. It was followed by a second, thud. When they looked, they saw a battleship lying on its side in the park. The entire ship was covered with a knitted material that featured giant, swirling purple paisleys. The tip of the bow was lying where the van had been only seconds before. Several confused sailors and a dozen or so soldiers dressed in paisley uniforms meandered around the wreckage.

"Well, the van's a write-off," Carla said, catching her breath. Inwardly, she was glad that she wouldn't have to ride in the cooling unit anymore.

"Don't worry," Jack smiled. "We bought thirty of them."

"Great," Carla said, shivering for no good reason.

"Several thousand ferrets, apparently being shipped to parts around the world by pet store giant PetWorld, were accidentally released in downtown Toronto causing wide-spread panic," the reporter said. "But disaster was averted when a quick-thinking department store manager had a shipment of men's and women's socks diverted from the warehouse and dumped into a park where the ferrets had congregated. The confused rodents were quickly immobilized when they climbed inside the socks and couldn't get back out. No charges have been brought against PetWorld, which says that the whole incident was just an unfortunate accident."

Just outside Bellinger, she lay down in the cleft of a small tree. Her breaths were coming quickly now. She regreted missing out on the fun that the others were surely engaged in, but, unfortunately, Nature had other plans for her. Just after the crash, while the others barrelled outside the ship, she walked off in search of a good hiding spot. It had taken her quite a long time to wander here, and she wasn't sure she was entirely safe, but she could go no further, and took shelter inside the tree.

With a grunt and a whimper, the first baby emerged. This place was strange, she thought to herself as she licked the sticky sack away from it. Strange indeed, but there would be so many things here for her children to play with.