In the cold darkness of deep space, a small, white, elliptical disk traversed the emptiness. Microscopic in comparison to the grandeur of the universe, this tiny vessel made up for its size with speed, due to the skills of a small mechanic on a backwoods planet (his motto: Always put big, overpowered engines into tiny vehicles.) Nearly all the space on the ship was taken up by a powerful 790 antimatter crossfire hydrogen turbo-boost ion engine, a more compact version of the 790 fusion-fission-fusion reactor power plants found in super freighters. Those were usually used to move masses twenty-five hundred times greater than the Esprit. This ship had only one purpose, to transport Intergalactic Intelligence Agency rangers vast distances in a very short time.
“Ever since we had the speed actuator serviced we’ve been unable to calculate our velocity accurately,” moaned Fred, the navigator, as he banged the top of the console with his fist. He shook his head and frowned when nothing changed on the readout. “One of these days it’s going to bite us in the sunisa. I’ll put in a repair requisition when we get to headquarters.”
Frank, the pilot, nodded. He wished his superiors would stop partnering him with the energetic, won’t-shut-up rookies. They were always so annoying. But he knew the reason why. He sighed heavily as he recalled the events of the Arturo Express, a case he had worked on over thirty years ago, that involved corruption, politics, a head of state, an affair, and a choice. And with Frank’s usual luck, the corrupt politician with the jilted daughter became his boss. One day I will get a Shazbotian partner; they don’t have mouths and can’t speak.
“We should be arriving, that is, if there are…”
Frank closed his eyes and rolled his head back against the seat, ignoring the unceasing droning. He didn’t know what was worse, the constant babbling, or the never-ending high-risk assignments. Their last assignment had cost them both a lot of sleep and time, including a stint in a healing chamber. That was the price of being highly trained espionage agents for the Soufte government and members of the infamous Intergalactic Intelligence Agency. The IIA was composed of every type of being in the recognized galaxy except for one, the Quesontes, Soufte’s historic enemy.
Galactic History 101
A long time ago, in this very same galaxy, the Quesonte Empire grew to be the largest single empire of contiguous territories ever known. They managed to occupy twenty-one percent of the galaxy. It doesn’t sound like much, but, if you do the math, it’s a huge volume. As with any self-perpetuating autocracy, not everything was peaches and cream. Political unrest, conspiracies, corruption, and internal conflicts eroded the mighty empire.
Worlds in the Quesonte Empire grew tired of the oppression, repression, and exploitation of their masses and their resources. They decided to unite and create an anarcho-syndicalist community in which the workers would facilitate a cooperative economic system, based on democratic values and centered on humanoid needs within a capitalistic society.
But the Quesontes rather enjoyed hanging on to their outdated imperialistic dogma and enacted martial law, which further angered the populace and encouraged separatist factions to develop among the outer colonies.
The first such faction called themselves the Humanoid Front of Soufte, or HFS, which didn’t sit well with the non-Soufte planets. To appease every humanoid, they changed their name to the Extraterrestrial Humanoids Front, or ETHF, which no one liked either. They finally agreed on the Astral Species Syndicate. The Quesontes thought it smelt of a bad idea.
A long and boring civil war broke out with lots of historic figures, dates, and events; enough to make history the most dreaded class of any middle school student’s life.
Short version: They called it a draw and have been in a bitter cold war ever since.
Fred and Frank stood about 137 centimeters tall, with heads that seemed too big for their bodies. Their long, thin necks ended abruptly at their blue shirt collars. The green lights of the flight controls splashed the cabin and its occupants, causing their rough, gray skin to appear greenish and reflecting in their big, black, glassy eyes.
Fred worked on the report for their last mission, his long, sinewy fingers entering data through a smooth console in front of him. As the rookie, he had to do all the menial tasks.
Mortimer, their field chief, always said, “The mission isn’t over until the debriefing is done.” The fastest way to get through a debriefing was with a finished report. And since one percent of space travel is setting the coordinates into the guidance computer, and ninety-nine percent is waiting to get there, Fred had plenty of time to finish it.
Entering a remote star system, the Esprit whisked under a small, yellow sun. A star flare erupted, gracefully framing the tiny craft, and emphasizing its frailty against the enormity of space. The leading edge of the Esprit glowed slightly while passing through the thin atmosphere of a brownish-red planet, fourth from the sun. Swooping down, the craft skimmed rapidly across the ground, carving a shallow canal, and raising a rooster tail of fine sand fifty feet into the air.
Coming upon a small cave that appeared as nothing more than a hole in the ground, it instantly sank below the surface of the flat horizon, leaving only a trail of dust. The dust slowly settled, covering everything in its path, including the photovoltaic array of a small mechanical rover. Having been deposited there from a nearby planet several years ago, the rover had just inched its way up to the cave’s entrance, only to die as the dust blocked out its energy source.
The Esprit‘s windshield emitted a beam of light, like a headlamp, in the dark cave. The ship glided along rapidly, navigating the cave’s every twist, rise, and fall. After one last quick lift, they emerged onto a ramp that joined a major three-dimensional freeway leading through the center of a vast, underground city. Tall buildings rose from the floor and climbed all the way to the ceiling of the cavernous expanse. Light filled the city from an unseen source, giving the feeling of natural daylight. Although more a military base than a city, it was quite homey and comfortable to live in, due to the laid-back frame of mind of the colonists and its extreme distance from civilization.
The 3-D freeway had sixteen lanes, four horizontal and four vertical, separated by stationary dashes of light that floated in midair. Vehicles traveling at high speeds could change lanes left, right, up, down, or even diagonally if they chose. (Remarkably, after only thirty hours of training, even a sixteen-year-old was legally qualified to drive it.)
The Esprit was unusual compared to the other vehicles — capable of intergalactic travel, and yet small enough to be used for an everyday commute. This made it doubly advantageous for IIA rangers, since they didn’t have to deal with spaceports, customs, or borders. They could just slip on and off of a planet quietly and easily, using the same vehicle for all purposes.
Frank and Fred battled their way through traffic to the outer lower lane of the freeway. They exited onto a small side street surrounded by more modest buildings that did not rise to the rocky ceiling above. They were in an older part of the city with buildings that had actual roofs on them. It felt much more open and spacious.
Pulling in front of one of the all-glass structures, Frank carefully maneuvered the Esprit in an acrobatic display known as parallel parking. Even though it was small enough for commuter driving, the Esprit was still a large vehicle. Cautiously, he eased the ship in between two parked vehicles. He was just about in the space and in line with the curb, when he bumped the vehicle in front of him, setting off the alarm. He pulled back a little and bumped the vehicle behind him, setting off its alarm. “Perfect fit!” he declared.
He and Fred climbed out through the gull-wing doors, stretched off their long journey, then Frank paid the parking meter while Fred retrieved a valise from the Esprit.
The stately lobby was adorned with ornate architectural features unnoticed by the hustling throng of people. Only the security guard manning the checkpoint took the time to appreciate the arches and carved features.
Fred and Frank approached the weary guard, who sighed as he noticed them and politely asked, “May I see some ID, sirs?” Frank and Fred pulled out their wallets and fished out their IDs. The guard glanced over them, peered at Frank, and double-checked his ID. “You’ve changed a bit, haven’t you?”
“Ah yes, the mustache.” Frank smoothed the pencil-thin strip of hair above his lip with his fingers. “I grew it a year or two ago.”
“I’m surprised General Office hasn’t required you to get a new ID,” the guard commented. “It’s not like they have very accommodating hours,” Frank retorted, defending his outdated ID.
“You’re preaching to the choir, sir.” The guard looked past Frank and Fred to notice his line growing and sighed again. “I’m still trying to get my worker’s comp from last spring.”
“Good luck with that,” Frank replied.
“Come on through.” he waved them toward the door that circumvented the metal detector.
They proceeded to the elevators with a large group of people. Since Fred had never visited this particular outpost before, he was overly suspicious of the other riders and held on to the briefcase as if his life depended on it.
When they arrived at their floor, they walked out of the elevator into a long, empty hallway. Their footsteps echoed off the drab walls as they made their way to a plain door that had a keypad lock.
Frank punched the combination into the keypad and slid his ID through the slot. The door did not open. He slid his ID back and forth a few more times, but the door remained closed. He tried turning the badge upside down, rubbing it on his sleeve, and even using Fred’s badge. They stood dumbfounded. Finally, Frank knocked. A muffled buzz sounded from inside, and the door slid open to reveal a receptionist’s office.
“Good morning, Marty,” Frank greeted upon entering. “Is the ID scanner down?”
“Hello, handsome,” she flirted as she continued typing information into a console. “And yes, it is.”
Even though the conversation wasn’t directed at him, Fred felt sensuous warmth from her greeting. “You should put up a sign or something,” he complained.
“Sometimes I just like to see how long it takes for someone to knock.” She looked up from her display screen. Her large, blues eyes met theirs, and a welcoming smile crossed her face. “Good to see you again, Frank. And who is your delightful friend?”
“He’s no delight,” he quipped back, “he’s my new partner, Fred.”
Martha Harriet, aka Marty, was an Allterrainian, an alien species that Fred had not encountered before. A unique species, Allterrainians were sexually attractive to all other species in the universe. The attraction was so strong that they had been used by both sides to gain information from spies during the Disturbance, a war that lasted for twenty-two years. Without operant conditioning (which Frank had the displeasure of going through) no species was immune to their wiles, especially if an Allterrainian was actively trying to lure you in.
Marty’s natural attractions could be distracting in an office setting; however, her administrative skills were top-notch, she was a great multitasker, and she rather preferred this job. When Marty applied for the position, Mortimer found it impossible not to hire her.
A screech came over the intercom. “Is that Agents Surovell and Jackson? Get them in here!”
“You heard the man.” Marty buzzed them through the locked door behind her.
“It’s about time you two arrived,” Mortimer complained. “Stop gawking at Marty and close the door.”
Fred obeyed, but he stared at the Allterrainian. He was transfixed by her pleasing features: a very long neck, a small and very round head, and big, beautiful eyes that seemed to drink him in. Finally, the door closed.
Mortimer, Fred and Frank’s field chief, was an Escher. Short and stocky, he appeared to have no neck, and you were never sure where one physical trait started and the last one stopped. He had a dark complexion, and his sturdy, round head displayed his military buzz cut. A former marine and drill sergeant, he still barked intimidatingly, as if he were facing new recruits on their first day.
Mortimer, noticing Fred’s fixation on Marty, said to Frank, “I’m signing him up for negative reinforcement therapy.” He made a note on a pad on his desk.
“We have the dossier on Metcalfe,” Frank said, as Fred laid the satchel on Mortimer’s desk. They seated themselves. “It took a little finesse, but we were able to liberate it from the computer banks on Minocqua.”
“Good, good. I’ll have the boys in the tech lab look into it immediately,” Mortimer answered. “I’m going to forego the usual debriefing for now. You need to leave for Ladascus immediately.” Mortimer cleared his throat while studying a file on his desk. “We’ve noticed a massive redistribution of Quesonte agents. Not the usual reorganization, but a radical and abrupt shift. It has all the indications of a military coup. Unofficial word is Evinrude Boulougante is at the center of it. And Ladascus seems to be the key.”
“Evinrude dropped out of sight several years ago,” Frank said. “I assumed he was dead.”
“I can assure you he is quite alive,” Mortimer continued. “We have a lead on an intermediary the Quesontes are using: Henry Streator, a Ladascan small-time gem dealer. Apparently, he frequently travels between Quesonte worlds and will be carrying information regarding the movement of Quesonte agents…” Mortimer trailed off, noticing that Fred was preoccupied with the door again. Mortimer drilled out, “Fred! Front and center!”
“Oh, sorry sir,” Fred had been distracted by the thought of Marty, just behind the door. She had cast a spell on Fred, not intentionally, just the nature of her species. It’s not surprising that Allterrainians have never had to go to war. All disputes were usually settled in negotiations that also, unsurprisingly, ended in their favor.
“Focus, man, we need a copy of the data Streator is carrying within two weeks,” Mortimer stressed. He slid a memory card across the desk to them. “I’ve prepared a file for you to study along the way. Time is paramount.” Frank picked it up and secured it in his shirt pocket. “The older the data gets, the more useless it becomes.”
“Does this mean that Marty’s not going to debrief us?” Fred directed a disappointed whisper to Frank.
“No, she won’t.” Mortimer was getting increasingly terse and upset. “I’ve already told you, we will not be conducting the usual debriefing at this time.” Mortimer hopped off his chair; except for the top of his head, he was completely obscured by the desk. He walked around the desk to shake Frank and Fred’s hands, a good-luck tradition he maintained whenever someone left on their next mission. Frank and Fred reached down to shake Mortimer’s hand. (It was unusual for them to be the tallest in the room.) Mortimer continued, “I need you two on Ladascus, ASAP. Good luck, gentleman. You’re dismissed.”
Frank turned and walked out of the office with Fred in tow. Fred, gazing at Marty, whispered, “But a mission isn’t over until the debriefing is done.”
“Shut up, Fred.”
A short distance away, on a somewhat larger and definitely bluer planet, two young college men were on their first leg of a hike along the Continental Divide. Buried deep within the forest, far from more touristy campgrounds, they had pitched their two-man tent in a little swale next to a mountain lake. Night had fallen, and the two men sat near a campfire.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this, Joe. I’ve never been outside of Brooklyn, let alone camped in the middle of nowhere,” Homer fussed.
“We’re only about 10 miles from civilization,” Joe reassured him.
Homer questioned, “By civilization, you mean fast food, cell phone service, girls, and plumbing?”
Joe had convinced his friend to go camping over spring break. They had set up camp and eaten dinner without much conversation. Taking a sip from his coffee, he looked to the sky. It was a perfectly clear night, and millions of stars were visible. When he was a kid, he had sat outside and gazed at the stars, wondering if there was anyone or anything out there. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked, gazing at the stars.
“Sure, I guess.” Homer, only just noticing, asked, “Are there always so many stars in the sky, or just out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yes,” Joe laughed.
“Do you believe there is life out there, waiting to meet us?” Homer asked.
“Waiting to meet us, no, but out there, definitely yes,” Joe assured, relying on a childhood hope.
“If there is, they are probably planning to wipe us out, or some such thing.”
“If they can travel here, I doubt that they are as warlike as we are. To maintain a civilization long enough to develop interstellar travel, they would not have the desire to wage war,” Joe speculated.
“That’s a rather pie-in-the-sky attitude, I’d say,”
They sat looking at the sky for some time. Several shooting stars crossed the sky.
“I do have two burning questions for you, Joe.”
“What would those be?” Joe took a sip of coffee.
“Where am I going to take my morning dump?”
Joe was unprepared for that question and sprayed his coffee across the fire. Laughing, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and said, “Well, I suppose you’ll have to find some secluded spot. What’s the second question?”
Homer looked at him with disdain. “Well…” He paused, then continued in an overly proper and prim voice. “I was formally potty-trained within the confines of a domesticated society. I’m not sure if I possess the necessary knowledge or skills to satisfactorily conduct myself appropriately, conducive to wilderness etiquette, regarding this subject.”
“What?” Joe was awestruck by the length to which Homer’s question had grown.
Homer blurted out, “I’m not using a pine cone or my hand to clean up!”
“Well, actually, the proper way is to dig a hole six inches deep and squat over it. When you’re done, cover it back up and use a rock to clean yourself. Now I, myself, prefer a smooth, rounded rock for comfort, such as this one.” Joe picked up a large nearby rock as a visual aid. “Sometimes it’s hard to find one that fits the contours just right. But some people prefer a rock with a good edge, takes care of any nasty itching that may need tending to.”
Homer looked at him in horror, so Joe chided him a little more. “Toughen up, will ya. Come on! We’re roughing it.”
Homer was still horrified. “Here we are in a facility-free wasteland of plumbing-less splendor, and you’re cracking jokes!”
“Well, actually, no. The hole is ecologically friendly and so is the rock. This method leaves no litter, and the environment can handle the waste better if it’s buried.” This tidbit of camping information did not comfort Homer at all. Laughing, Joe picked up his bag and pulled out a roll of toilet paper. “I was ready for you, ‘Rapidly Dissolving Biodegradable Toilet Paper’. But if you decide to be truly outdoorsy, you have a choice.” Joe set the rock and toilet paper down beside his bag.
Homer picked up a small branch and threw it at Joe. “You jerk.” They both laughed and sat for a bit longer.
“You know,” Homer pointed out, “most people go to Daytona Beach for spring break.”
“This is ten times better.” Joe’s enthusiasm grew.
“In what way? There are no girls. No beach. No warmth. No girls.”
“It’s beautiful here. You have the mountains. It’s peaceful and quiet. The sky is full and bright with stars.”
“There are still no girls here,” Homer lamented. “I think it’s time for me to turn in and leave you alone with your stars.” Homer got up and headed into the tent.
“Sleep well, Homer.” Joe stayed up and waited for the fire to die out. He moved closer to the lake and out from under the canopy of the trees. The night air was filled with the sounds of the forest, and a breeze drove a chill through his Iowa State sweatshirt. He meandered to the far side of the lake and climbed onto a boulder that hung out over the water. Looking back toward camp, he could see his tent in the bright moonlight. He lay back, looking up at the sky. How anyone can not believe that there’s life out there is beyond me!
As a child, he had often stared at the stars for hours on end. His parents would scold him for staying up so late. They wondered if he was stuck in some science fiction delusion. Very few of his friends shared his passion for the stars. He would have become an astronomer if there had been any money in it, but now it was merely a hobby. Homer had only a passing interest in astronomy, but since both of them had few friends, it was easy to talk Homer into camping. After all, they didn’t have girlfriends who demanded their time and attention.
A shooting star sped across the sky.
Joe fell asleep.
The small, disk-shaped craft plummeted toward the surface of a backwater planet, twisting and tumbling over itself. Frank and Fred worked frantically to maintain control as the cockpit filled with smoke.
“What the anneheg happened?” Frank yelled.
“Main guidance system failure.”
“Backup guidance system failed, too.”
The ship entered the atmosphere, fire lapping at the hull. The craft bucked hard, riding shock wave after shock wave. The two passengers struggled to reattach their safety harnesses.
“The inertial dampeners aren’t working! I may hurl!” Fred choked.
Frank ignored his partner’s complaints and continued his attempt to fly the ship. This rookie was one of the best partners he had ever had in his 30 years of service, but he did whine an awful lot.
“What about a complete shutdown?” Frank asked.
“All systems failed,” Fred responded.
“Overrides?” Frank still questioned.
“Overrides?” Fred also questioned.
“Yes! The O—VER— RIDES!” Frank’s patience wore thin.
“Oh, overrides. Right…. Um, where are they?”
“Up here!” Frank growled through clenched teeth as he reached above them to a panel clearly marked system overrides. Frank savagely ripped open the panel and flipped some switches. “Macideneb! The overrides aren’t responding!”
“One hundred meters to impact!” Fred called out readings from the console.
When they started hearing the sound of impacts on the fuselage, they looked at each other, horrified, then they both panicked.
Working feverishly, Frank fought the controls and Fred struggled with the fail-safes. The craft shook and jolted from side to side. “Fifty meters to impact!” Fred yelled. Frank’s arms were shaken by the jerking controls.
Tree limbs, branches, and other debris flew over the top of the viewport, as the Esprit mowed through the treetops, leaving a deep gouge through the forest. The ship itself was undamaged but streaked green and brown from the shattering trees.
The silence of the forest was broken by a sonic boom, followed by a roar of rocket engines and the tearing of tree limbs. Joe, startled awake from his slumber on the boulder, saw the undercarriage of the Esprit cruising above him as if it were in slow motion, pelting him with branches and debris.
The ship took a nose-dive into the lake, sending a tidal wave toward the campsite. Joe sat, stupefied, as he watched the wave race toward the tent, wondering if it was a dream. The wave hit the shore and loomed over the campsite, but fortunately fell inches short of the tent.
The craft bobbed to the surface and wobbled; it eventually became still and started drifting. Inside, Fred and Frank looked at each other, slightly dazed, but relieved that the Esprit could float. Fred smiled awkwardly, as if to shrug his nonexistent shoulders.
Frank glared at Fred and ordered, “You get to work in the engine compartment. We’ve got to get off this planet and back on course quickly!”
Fred opened the door and a rush of smoke billowed out, like a small mushroom cloud.
“I’ll check the systems in here.” Frank tried fanning the smoke out with his tiny hands, to no effect.
Fred climbed out the door onto the fuselage to the rear. “Open the compartment, Frank.” A panel shimmered and then disappeared. Another mushroom cloud of smoke exploded, causing Fred to reel from the heat and soot. He shook his head; he knew this couldn’t be good. He hung his feet into the smoky compartment, took one last breath of fresh air, and jumped in. He began tinkering with the engine.
Joe just sat on the rock, bewildered as he watched the craft, with its two little attendants, float closer and closer to him. He was now convinced it was some sort of dream.
The craft drifted so slowly that Fred and Frank didn’t notice its movement until the Esprit hit the boulder that Joe was sitting on.
Fred popped his head out of the compartment and stared directly into Joe’s face, only inches from his.
“Hi,” Joe, convinced he was having a lucid dream, said casually to the alien.
Fred responded “Evlas.” (Greetings.) They stared at each other for what seemed an eternity, until Frank leaned out the door to see what had happened.
“Ni abbig son diuq —?” (What did we bump into —?) Frank hesitated as he saw Joe. “Munegidni a mungam ho. (Oh great, a native.) Sutcatnoc suluco non tnuidoffe te suidrat eriliser sutsui, Derf” (Fred, just back away slowly and don’t break eye contact.)
Fred slowly eased himself up onto the fuselage and backed away, trying to distance himself from Joe. But the circular ship slowly rotated in the opposite direction of Fred’s crawl, and he never moved any further; in fact, he seemed to be getting closer. Frank just shook his head in disgust.
Fred, not noticing the edge of the ship, fell into the lake. He floundered for a moment and then sank.
Joe instinctively jumped in after him. The rush of the cold lake water drove home a sudden realization that he wasn’t dreaming. He was actually awake, and this was real. He hesitated for only a moment, and his instinct to save a drowning person kicked back in. He dove down for the struggling being and pulled him up, Fred terrified and gasping for air. Astonished by how remarkably light this small creature was, Joe lifted Fred onto the ship.
Frank just shook his head and complained, “Eratan tsetop sov.” (You can swim.)
“Oidisearp ffo sutpac aiuq.” (It caught me off guard.) Fred coughed. “Auqa tarou oge.” (I swallowed water.)
Joe pulled his drenched self onto the ship next to Fred. The water drained away from him and into the engine compartment, where it started a short across some electrical panels. Sparks and pops were heard coming out of the compartment, and Frank just sighed. One more thing to fix. Joe placed his hand on Fred’s back. “Are you okay?”
“Mue eravres sumussop?” (Can we keep him?) Fred turned to Frank, smiling, and begged playfully.
Frank screamed, “ON!” (No!)
The two began to bicker back and forth savagely, like an old married couple.
Joe couldn’t understand a word of it and they seemed angry, so Joe assumed he was the cause. The ship drifted close to a steep embankment, and Joe jumped ashore. He watched as the two aliens floated away, still arguing, then realized, “My camera, it’s in the tent! I’ve got to get pictures! And Homer, he’s got to see this too!” Joe hurried along the bank. His tent was quite a distance from him now. He made his way along the thin rocky beach, his wet shoes squishing as he ran. A tall cliff rose over the shore on Joe’s right side as he raced back. He could hear the engines sputtering and coughing trying to come back to life. After one more final cough, a huge burst of backfire brought the engines roaring back to life.
Suddenly waking up, Homer looked out of the tent just in time to see Joe blasted off the rocky beach. The explosive backfire ricocheted off the cliff wall and lofted Joe into the air, landing him on top of the Esprit.
Inside, Frank and Fred heard a thud and then a rolling sound, and they simultaneously looked at each other. “Probably just some vegetation blown up by the engines,” Frank commented, and they turned their attention back to the controls.
Joe rolled into the still-open engine compartment, and the panel shimmered shut above him.
The powerful 790 antimatter crossfire hydrogen turbo-boost ion engines blasted full strength, first driving the ship underwater and then straight up into the sky, dragging a mighty plume of water behind it.
Homer watched in astonishment as the alien vessel whisked away, his gaping mouth turning to horror as the wall of water created when the ship’s plume fell back into the lake headed straight for him. He zipped the tent shut and fell back onto his sleeping bag. The tidal wave fell on the tiny tent, and it collapsed onto Homer. He stared at the ceiling of the tent as it wrapped around him, outlining his form. What the hell? And just as quickly, the water receded, and the tent sprang right back up. Fish were strewn everywhere, flipping and flopping about the campsite.
“Joe?” Homer squeaked in a timid voice, pushing his head out to survey the campsite. The sun was beginning to rise, and Homer’s bowels began to gurgle on cue. Homer looked over to Joe’s bag and noticed the soaked Rapidly Dissolving Biodegradable Toilet Paper rapidly dissolving next to the rounded rock. “Oh, crap.”