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Richard Frankfurt

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The Ultimate Rip-off
by Richard Frankfurt   

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· The Pinball Apocalypse
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Copyright:  2004

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The third book of the Filthy Lucre Trilogy. Altogether bored with their earthly existence, Trinculo Natherington and his unexpectedly wealthy child-bride Nebraska are offered transportation elsewhere by a trio of extraterrestrial Three Stooges impersonators. Accompanied by their parasitical long-term houseguest Anton Pesticide and an elderly voodoo priest named Papa Benjamin, they embark on a cosmic odyssey of self-transmogrification, which leads them into a tangled web of transdimensional and intergalactic intrigue, kinky sex, and other wildly improbable coincidences, culminating in a visit to a planet where it is truly more blessed to receive than to give, and a fateful encounter with the mother of all black holes. And as always, lots of money continues to change hands.


Katrina Stepanov awoke to find herself securely bound, in a spread-eagle position, to some sort of strange, shiny, metallic framework. Moreover, she was naked, and there were spindly alien hands all over her. Most women would have screamed. Most women would have struggled violently and uselessly. Most women would have gone into hysterics, and thereby rendered themselves all the more vulnerable. Most men would have probably done the same. Katrina Stepanov—as calculating and self-disciplined as she was relentless and vicious—did none of these things. Instead, she drew a deep breath and quietly began to take in the situation. There were two of them. Whatever they were, there was a clumsiness in their demeanor that suggested youth and inexperience. At the moment, they were both too preoccupied with what they were doing to notice that she was no longer unconscious. Better not to enlighten them further on that point until an opportune moment presented itself. The rest was becoming clear. The surroundings were compact, streamlined, and clearly more technologically sophisticated than any terrestrial idiots could have devised. Either this was all an elaborate mock-up, or it was the real thing. In either case, she had no choice but to put up with it until she found some way to get loose. Once she was loose, it would be a simple enough matter to take the two of them in hand. If this was the real thing, she would need to keep at least one of the bastards alive to pilot the spacecraft. Otherwise, she would kill both of them—preferably by slow torture if she had time.
            Naturally, it did occur to her to wonder how she had come to be in such a predicament. The last thing she remembered, she had been poking about among the sagebrush, looking for some clue to the possible whereabouts of Earwig Pesticide. Then—somehow or other—she had been knocked unconscious. And now she was here. No one had crept up on her and overpowered her. She was certain of that. She was just here. But by what means? And exactly where was here? Somehow she began to sense that this was no mock-up. It had too much of a cold, otherworldly sort of sterility about it. Then she remembered 5½ Coyotes’ drunken babble about how some of the men from the evil place had gone up into the sky in a great light. Could it be that this was all Earwig Pesticide’s doing? The supposed aliens could have come out of his cloning lab. And as for the rest of it…well…possibly he was a far more formidable antagonist than she had anticipated. That would actually be very refreshing. She had always relished a challenge, and the last few contracts had been all too easy.
            After what seemed like an eternity, the assorted gropings and fondlings came to an end, and the two alien pubescents got on with their version of the primal mystery. Then they left Stepanov hanging limp in her bonds, and began chattering contentedly back and forth. Most of what they were saying would have been unintelligible even to their own kind, but its general drift was that they had really enjoyed the experience, and that they would rest a bit, and then do it again. And afterwards, they might even do it a third time. Whenever they were finished with her, they would follow the standard procedure of dropping the Earth female outside the offices of the National Prevaricator, so that she could recount her story in a place where she would be sure to be believed.
            Unfortunately for the two of them, Stepanov had other ideas. Her bonds had been slowly loosening on their own, and she had worked them to the point that both her feet could easily be slipped free, one hand was entirely free, and the other hand was very nearly free. She had only to wait for her captors to turn their backs on her—which they presently did—and she was on them in a heartbeat. She disabled one of them with a kick to the midsection, then came down on top of the other, with her hands round his throat.
            “I don’t know if you can understand me,” she hissed at him, “but if you can, nod your head if you want to live.”
           The alien nodded his head vigorously.
            “Good,” said Stepanov, only slightly relaxing her grip on his throat. “We understand one another, then. That’s very important if people are going to get along. I do hope you and your little friend had a good time, but if either of you dare to touch me again, I’ll cut open your skulls and spit on your brains. Now I want my clothes back, and then we’ll discuss what the two of you need to do to stay alive.”
            Elsewhere in the space-time continuum, the Starship Pesticide was as lost as ever. Earwig Pesticide had awakened from his latest debauch in a typically ugly mood. He had been having a dream, in which his brother Anton was being flayed alive over hot coals, and it always distressed him to find out that that sort of thing was only a dream. Then he realized that the freighter was already underway, and as usual, no one had bothered to ask his permission. This, in turn, sent him into a towering rage, and he went storming up to the bridge and got into another shouting match with Tess—culminating in an exchange of racial epithets, and concluding with Tess’ suggestion that if he didn’t like her driving, he could get the hell out and fart his way home. In the end—for want of any actual power to assert himself over anyone with the cheek to stand up to him—he was obliged to withdraw from the fray, and went forth in search of a batch of idiot clones to take it out on.
            In the meantime, Bambi was having some serious difficulties with her powdered triceratops horn experiment. Her pithecoid lover had continued to devolve more and more rapidly. From demi-ape, he had mutated into a snarling, baboon-like quadruped, then into a small, bewhiskered, possum-like creature, then into a toothy, slimy amphibian, then into a poisonous, slug-like gastropod, and finally into a malodorous puddle of primal slime. Through all these transformations, this devolutionary nightmare had pursued Bambi relentlessly throughout the ship, giving her not so much as a moment’s rest until reaching the primal slime stage. That, one might have thought, would be the end of it, and nothing more to be done but get a mop. Undoubtedly this was what Bambi was thinking when she breathed a sigh of relief, and ordered two passing idiot clones to clean it up. Unfortunately for her, her sigh of relief was a tad premature.
           With their usual brainless obedience, the two clones approached the puddle of primal slime somewhat more closely than caution would have dictated. The puddle of primal slime responded by seizing both clones by their ankles and swiftly absorbing them, all the while growing larger and bubblier and more menacing. Then it went oozing after Bambi, and continued to pursue her until it finally cornered her in a small utility compartment. At this point, Bambi quite naturally got very upset—alternately screaming, sobbing, and pleading with the puddle of primal slime to go away and leave her alone. Of course, the puddle of primal slime did not understand any of the noises she was making. In any case, it had no intention of leaving her alone, nor was it in any wise open to persuasion on that point. It slithered closer, and Bambi (who had nowhere to run, and nothing to climb up on) screamed louder. It lapped at her toes, covered her feet, rose as high as her ankles, then stopped—as if uncertain what to do next. For a moment, it lay still about her ankles. Then it began swirling over her feet, around her ankles, down and back around again. It did this over and over and over, while Bambi continued to make the noises it did not understand. Eventually it seemed to get enough of this activity. It started bubbling profusely, then snatched the sandals off Bambi’s feet and held them aloft like some sort of trophy. Finally it took the sandals, oozed its way to a ventilation shaft and departed—leaving Bambi with a fairly complex set of misgivings to sort out.
           As she often did in times of extreme tribulation, Bambi went to her friend Tess for consolation, and told her the whole story. Tess listened as politely as she could, but with growing incredulity and inward mirth that were difficult to restrain.
           “Girl, what have you been smoking?” Tess finally inquired, with appropriately raised eyebrows.
           “Nothing, I swear,” said Bambi. “Every word I’ve told you is the truth. And that thing is still loose on board this ship. It’s in the ventilation system. God knows where it’ll turn up next.”
           “And all this happened after you fed the powdered dinosaur horn to that clone?” Tess pursued.
           Bambi nodded.
           “I told you not to fool with that shit,” scolded Tess. “Didn’t I tell you not to fool with that shit?”
           “You did tell me,” Bambi admitted.
           “See what happens when you don’t listen to me?” Tess rubbed it in.
           “Yes, you’re right,” mumbled Bambi, hanging her head in shame.
           Tess was about to say something further, when Bambi suddenly let out a shriek, and practically climbed onto Tess’ lap. The primal slime was oozing its way up through a floor vent, directly beneath the command console; and before either of the two hookers were able to get out of the way, it had both of them by the ankles. What followed was more or less the same experience Bambi had had in the utility compartment. In the end, Bambi lost another pair of sandals, Tess lost a very nice pair of black patent leather boots, and the primal slime retreated back down the vent with its plunder. For the next few minutes, Bambi and Tess sat in stunned silence, scarcely moving a muscle. They stared at one another, then at the vent, then at one another’s feet, then back at the vent, then back at one another again.
           “It seems to like women’s shoes,” Tess finally managed to remark.
           “I don’t believe this,” murmured Bambi.
           “According to you, it used to be a man,” Tess reminded her. “Some men have a thing about women’s shoes.”
           “Ooooh, this is sick,” said Bambi disgustedly.
           “It takes all kinds, honey,” said Tess, with an uneasy shrug.
           “How can you joke about a thing like this?” asked Bambi.
           “Beats getting hysterical,” Tess replied.
           “What are we going to do?” whined Bambi. “I can’t handle any more of this. I’ll go crazy. I’ll go out of my fucking mind.”
           “Well, if this floor wasn’t so damn cold, I’d just go barefoot the rest of the trip,” said Tess. “I guess we’ll have to find some more shoes for it to play with. Maybe if we give it whole bunch of shoes, it’ll be satisfied, and then it’ll go away and leave us alone.”
           “And what if it doesn’t?” Bambi asked.
           “Then I guess we’ll have to climb into the escape pod and blow up the ship,” said Tess. “That was in some movie, wasn’t it? We’ll blow up the ship, and then we’ll drift through space for a thousand years, in suspended animation, until somebody finds us and puts us to work in another goddamn whorehouse. And there we’ll be, with slimy alien tentacles all over us for a lousy twenty bucks an hour, and all this sci-fi shit because you had to go fooling around with that goddamn powdered dinosaur horn, and get us into this mess, you dumb white bitch! Next time maybe you’ll listen to me—if there is a next time.”


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