Chapter 40

Hey Annie.

Hey Cutie! I'll be with you in one minute, I'm just taking care of another customer.

Annie I wish you wouldn't, ...ew.

mmmrrrpph! MMMRRRPHH!

Is that comfortable?

Well, no not at first, but some folks really get into that. Now hold still Leonard and I'll fix your plug and those nipple clamps.


There, much better?


Maybe it's that thing poking him?

What thing?

That.. it looks like a traquilizer dart stuck under that strap.

Oh, silly me! I forgot to remove that one.


Are you sure he's enjoying that?

Sure he is! Aren't you Leonard?


Annie? Why was there a traquilizer dart sticking out of one of your customers.

It's very important when fitting someone for a hanging truss like that they be in a relaxed state.

So you tranq them?

It's cheaper and less messy than single malt. But enough about Leonard. What can I do for you hun?

I.. uh.. I need some information about... Can we talk somewhere else? Seeing a slowly rotating naked man struggling against his bonds is a bit distracting.

mm-mmm, isn't it though? ... Still I suppose you want to be a spoil sport and talk shop in the back room?


Oh, fine, ruin a guys fun. MIKEY! Mikey, be a sweet and look after Leonard for me?

Who's Mikey?

Oh just someone I met at an Anniversary party. Now, let's adjourn to the back room.



Annie closed the door to the back room. For a moment Chris thought he saw a monkey in a blue shirt holding a dented folding chair, but the door closed before he could get a good look. Chris decided to just try to put the whole front half of the store as far out of mind as possible.

"Now, where where we?" Annie said cheerfully.

Chris got straight to business, "Zrng's been kidnapped by some outfit calling itself the RUS. Apparently they look like utility work…"

"The Rural Utilities Administration? HERE!?" Annie became a bit more animated than Chris was accustomed to seeing.

"The who?"

Annie's eyes got even wider, "They're here too? Geez-uz I didn't even hear that tickets went on sale!"

Chris put his hand to his forehead, and attempted to stave off any additional confusion, "What? Huh? No, Annie, who is the Rural Utilities Service?"

Annie apparently wasn't paying attention, "I thought that Willie had just smoked one too many wumpus, but if you say they're here…"

"Annie!" Chris interjected. "Who - are - the - Rural Utilities Service?"

Annie dropped back into the current conversation. "Oh, that's just the cover they use. I haven't been able to get all that much information about them, really. Other than some stuff about how the government pretty much ran out of secret, shadowy organizations back in the 80's so they had to start borrowing from other departments. Apparently this one has some bee up their bonnets about Canada. I don't know if it's some NAFTA thing, or just some bad blood about curling, but supposedly they've been on the move lately."

"That's fine, but what would they want with Zrng?"

"Maybe they have a thing for short green guys with Mohawks?"

Chris simply stared at Annie.

"Honey, you get used to all kinds of bends in this business."

"Let's presume for the time being that's not the case." Chris said. "Is there any way we could ask your contact?"

"No, sorry, he was just passing through town on his way to meet some friends south of here."

Colonel Johnson tried to make the best of it, but there was simply no way that his maple desk would ever stand properly again. It sagged, then with the same groaning scrape it once again separated at the fracture and slumped into two parts.

"Uhm, sir?" A heavily bandaged Captain knocked on the frame of the shattered door. Johnson flicked a glance as the Captain attempted to salute, and nearly brained himself with his splinted arm.

Johnson sighed, "At ease, Captian. We've been through a heck of a battle. I think the formalities can slide for a day."

"Uh, yes, sir." The Captain agreed.

"So what's the damage, Mike?"

"Most of the rooms are trashed, sir. He pretty much knocked out most of the comms and recon. Six of the trucks are beyond repair. Damage control is trying to extinguish most of sections three through nine. No fatalities, but we're down to only about five percent, and they're currently got guns trained on our guest. Oh, and one other thing, sir."

"What's that?"

"He backed up the toilet."

Johnson grumbled beneath his breath. "Fabulous, just freaking fabulous."

"Do we have any idea how he managed to break the cables that were holding him?"

"Well, that's actually the good news sir, they didn't break."

Johnson shot the Captain a curious look.

"He sheared through the aluminum clasps that were holding the cables in place, sir"

Johnson went back to rubbing his forehead.

"Actually, we're kind of lucky. I'm guessing the cables held him back."

Johnson slowly surveyed the damage he could see. Even though he was in a supposedly inside office he could make out a fair amount of it. "Lucky indeed." He said with little enthusiasm.

Johnson's phone rang. "Johnson. Yes Sir!" He snapped into the phone. "The interrogation went worse than we had planned, sir. There was a bit of unexpected excitement. The visitor managed to escape, Sir, but we have him secured again."

Johnson listened to his superior officer speak.

"Sir, I understand, but I think that the visitor is a sizable threat, I think it would be better if we dealt.."

"No Sir, He made pretty short work of our operations center as is. Sterilizing it would be about half an hour's work in the worst case.."

"Yes Sir. I understand, sir. I just believe.."

"Yes Sir."

"Aye Aye, Sir."

Johnson listened for a few more seconds then carefully hung up the receiver. "No need to tell you who that was."

Mike quietly nodded, he figured.

"And we've gotten the latest set of orders. We're to make sure that our visitor stays healthy and secure. I'm adding the last part. They have also informed me that we are not to take first offensive, and to meet any CSOC action with matched defensive actions."


"We can't shoot 'em first but if they punch us, we get to punch them."

"Aye sir." Mike nodded, a bit disappointed really.

"Apparently, the brass still wants to keep things quiet. Damn stupid, but we're just the grunts. Go tell the rest that we're gonna be staying here for a bit. I'll determine work detail later. Right now, I'm just curious about one thing."

"What's that, sir?"

"Whether or not HQ will ok the beer and pizza I order for the troops tonight."

Chris glared at the utility van as it pulled back into the municipal lot. It was another dead lead. He leaned his head forward and rested it on the steering wheel. "JB? Tell me you found something."

"Nope. Looks like it's a normal utility truck." JB said as he monitored the scanner. "And the building the driver walked into is just another alien free US-West warehouse."

Chris said nothing.

"Uhm, Brah?"


"I'm not sure how I can put this."


"Well, it's just that you're not going to believe me."

"Try me."

"It's just that I think that following utility trucks around isn't really going to get us any closer to finding Zrng. We need to figure out a real plan of attack."

"You're right."

"That we need to plan?"

"That I wouldn't believe you said that." Chris pulled his head up off the steering wheel and looked out the front window. "But you're right. Chances are that whoever these RUS guys are, they wouldn't be roaming around once they found what they're looking for. Presuming that Zrng was what they were looking for.."

Chris fired up the engine and put the car into reverse.

"JB, wanna know where you can get great maps of any Federal installation in the world?"

JB sat thinking for a moment. "Army Corps of Engineers?"

"Nope." Chris said as he hit the accelerator. "The Russians."

Chris sat idly rapping his knuckles against the kitchen counter. "C'mon, Jim. Answer the phone..." After four rings, there was a click, then silence, and then a raspy otherworldly voice spoke

"A shout cast against the tide spends much time going nowhere, a whisper washed with the tide reaches beyond imagination. Cast wisely *gurgle*"

Chris looked at his phone for a second to make sure he had dialed the right number.

"Uh-- Hi, HG? This is, Chris. Uhm, I need to ask you a favor and see if you know anything about a Canadian group called C-S-O-C. We're kind of in a rush because our roomie from out of town has gone missing. Call me on my cellphone or just send JB an email or whatever. Thanks!"

Chris thought he heard another gurgle before he hung up the phone, but the line had gone dead. "Those guys have got the weirdest answering machine."

"Who does?" JB asked as he poured himself a bowl of cereal.

"Oh, your buddies from up north. At least I think it's theirs. I may have gotten the number wrong. Hey, where's the Buzzy Bits?" Chris said as he dug further into the pantry.

"We're out. You finished off the last of it last night for dinner, remember?"

"I thought we got five boxes last week."

"We did. Seriously Chris, you need to cut back or at least switch to something better for you. Try this."

"What is it?"

"It's Mount'n Man Munch. It's kinda tasty."

"It looks like sugar frosted horse feed."

"Well it doesn't taste like it. Look, just try a bowl. We don't have anything else."

Chris reluctantly poured a small amount into a bowl, he added some milk and took a mouthful. He chewed slowly.

"See?" JB told him, "eating that stuff didn't kill you."

"Not for lack of trying." Chris said, and tried to chew a second time.

Rob, Janet, welcome, welcome!

Vanessa! Hi!

Oh you shouldn't have! The blooms are lovely!

Well, we didn't want to come to your housewarming empty handed did we Rob?

Uh.. yeah.

And we figured that you could plant it out front in the garden!

Oh, how fun! I'll do that this weekend! Well, come in - come in! Let me show you around!

Oh Vanessa! I love this place! Nice hardwood foyer and the colors are so rich! Must
be a bit of Martha in you, right Rob?

Err.. yes, I suppose.

Well, thank you, thank you, I can't take all the credit. The previous owner did the walls, I just touched up the trim. Anyway this is the main entrance, down the hall are the bathrooms and bedrooms, I'll give you the grand tour later, but first let's go into the living room. You know, I got a fantastic price on this house, I mean it was practically a steal, and there were no other bidders.

Really? Why?

Oh, probably because there's a floating head of Satan in the living room.

I noticed.


Oh, no you didn't you big fibber.

Ooh, your furniture fits in nicely here. Rob, stop staring.

Uh, Vanessa? Why is there a floating head of Satan in your living room?

We're not sure really. At first we were thinking about getting rid of it, but it's funny, it really comes in handy every now and then.

Well, it sure is a conversation piece.

You bet. Plus we never have to worry about break ins.

I can bet.

Plus it's fun to snuggle by the light of the otherworldly fire that flicks off his head.

It's not bad, kind of like Opera once you get into it and try to ignore the words.

Doesn't it seem a little odd to have an disembodied incarnation of the
hoary underworld drifting in your house?


No, it's ok! I've heard it all, believe me. The worst thing is the groups of villagers that storm up here every month. They wind up yelling and carrying on for a few hours which just gets the head all riled up. After a while Ray goes and turns the hose on them.

Where is Ray, by the way?

Oh, well, he's got a small pox of boils he's trying to deal with.

That's it, no Oprah for you Mister!

I sent Ray down to the Longs to get some Clearasil for it. He should be back later. So, shall I give you the rest of the tour?

Sure, we can't wait!

Great! Well, this way to the kitchen, mind the pentagrams.

Ok, so how much more material could he steal from JIM?

What fiendish plan does the
RUS have in mind for Zrng?

Will Chris and JB rescue their alien
roomate before they have to go back to
eating their own cooking?

Will I ever get the image of Leonard
out of my mind?

Tune in next time for:

A Feel for Battle
Touch and Goad

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