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The Camel

One in, all in

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TQM emitted a low moan. "I don't feel so good."

"I told you those cracklings smelled a little odd," said Old Guy.

"No. It isn't that. I feel -- I dunno -- as if I don't belong."

"I feel the same way," said Joker. "Kind of ephemeral. Know what I mean?"

"Ephemeral?" Old Guy shook his head. "There's a word you didn't learn in the Ready Room."

"I learned it in college."

"At Texas A&M? You've got to be kidding."

"Well, okay. Maybe it was something I picked up in a movie." Joker rubbed his temples. "Let's get outta here. This place gives me the creeps."

TQM stood up suddenly. "Avert! Out damned spot!" Everyone in the bar turned to stare at the madman. He blinked owlishly and started for the door.

"Right behind you!" cried Joker. "The game is afoot!"

"Damn Melville," muttered Old Guy. "Bad portents and mixed metaphors." He tossed off the last of Joker's beer and followed his companions. "At least we were spared a soliloquy."

Outside, he found the two Simians staring in shock at a vast expanse of desert, broken only by rocky outcrops and a few scraggling plants. "What happened to the blizzard?" asked Joker.

"It's elsewhen," said Old Guy. "There was sanctuary inside the Spouter Inn. Beer and cracklings and a roaring fire. Snow and sleet frosting the window panes. But out here is another reality. The desert was always here -- pulling at us. I thought we could escape this maelstrom conjured up by Kamel and Donnie, but now I see that it was not to be."

"Don't start," warned Joker.

"Start what? I didn't start anything."

"No. I don't mean the situation. I mean -- don't start a soliloquy. Not now."

"Oh." Old Guy chuckled. "Old Melville can really put a hex on a guy, can't he?"

"So what do we do?" asked TQM. "Where do we go?"

"My vote is that we go back inside and try to forget this whole mess."

"The way is shut," said a strange voice.

A man in antique armor stood before the Spouter Inn door. "The way is shut," he repeated.

"From what hell have you sprung?" asked Joker.

The man shrugged. "No hell at all. Acme Bit Players & Spear Carriers, LLC. It's a living. Anyway, you can't go back in. The gray-haired fellow knows why." With that, he faded away.

"It's that damn jacket," said Old Guy.

The two Simians nodded, as if his simple phrase actually explained anything. As a rule, Simians are reluctant to admit ignorance.

"Donnie's jacket," added Old Guy. "The one we gave him a few years ago."

"The flight jacket!" cried Joker. "But what does a stupid leather jacket have to do with this?" He swept the bleak landscape with an outstretched arm.

"It's complicated." Old Guy walked a few paces toward the rising sun. The Spouter Inn wavered and vanished. "When Donnie responded to Kamel's little opening message, he must have been wearing his flight jacket. That jacket acts as a lens for his twisted desires and dark imaginings. That's why everything is so mixed up."

"Wait a minute," said TQM. "Donnie? I can understand his twisted imaginings. But dark desires?"

"Donnie isn't evil," agreed Joker. "A lecherous scoundrel addicted to over-large boobs, but not evil."

"I didn't say he was," huffed Old Guy. "The jacket takes his innocent lusts -- like a dream of a voloptuous vixen tricked out in black -- and magnifies it into something darker. The jacket is an imperfect lens, like a circus mirror. When Donnie opened the conduit into Kamel's open-ended story intro, it gave the jacket a route by which to obfuscate and confuse, while imbuing the storyline with evil."

"A scrap of tanned leather did this?" Joker clearly did not understand the deviousness of the Dark Powers.

"Well," said Old Guy. "It's either that or Simian storytellers have taken to using a Ouija board to generate plot lines and scenes."

"Okay, so the story is screwed up."

"It isn't just screwed up, it's impossible. Stans is in Syria, possibly dead. Donnie is probably dead. The jacket had to eliminate him early on. Stag and Gunny are who-knows-where, fighting each other when they're not slaughtering the local population. And Kamel? He's apparently on a slow boat to Iran with his aft cavities stuffed with gelignite."

"Well -- yeah." Joker looked pensive. "I'm sure Stag and Gunny mean well."

"Look, Joker. When the collateral damage begins, you better have a political organization standing by to muddy the waters, so to speak."

"Why is Stans in Syria?" asked TQM. "I mean -- Kamel wasn't anywhere near there."

"Stans is a dentist flying a fictional civilian airplane. We don't expect much of Stans, except that he stand where he's supposed to stand and get killed when the script calls for blood sacrifice." Old Guy sighed. "This is what happens when he goes off on his own hook."

"Speaking of beer," said TQM. "We probably should have laid in some supplies before we left the inn. Beer, especially. And cracklings."

"Yeah." Old Guy whipped out his android phone. "We better get moving."

Joker laughed. "There can't be any signal out here."

"Are you kidding?" snarled Old Guy. "We're on the fringe of a catastrophic mix of fiction and reality, with a frisson of magic thrown in. Of course the phone will work."

"While you're putting the Universe in order," said TQM, "don't forget to order more beer."

"And chips," said Joker. "I didn't care for those cracklings."


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"Why is Stans in Syria?" asked TQM. "I mean -- Kamel wasn't anywhere near there."

"Stans is a dentist flying a fictional civilian airplane. We don't expect much of Stans, except that he stand where he's supposed to stand and get killed when the script calls for blood sacrifice." Old Guy sighed. "This is what happens when he goes off on his own hook."

:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

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Meanwhile In a bedouin tent in southern Libya...

'Bridgitte, pass me that massage oil....merci. What are you doing with that book mon Cheri?'

'I am reading it Mon Capitaine'

'But why ees your bosoms 'eaving in that way?'

'Eet is a most exciting story Fifi, let me read por vous a leetle..."Stans is in Syria, possibly dead. Donnie is probably dead. The jacket had to eliminate him early on. Stag and Gunny are who-knows-where, fighting each other when they're not slaughtering the local population. And Kamel? He's apparently on a slow boat to Iran with his aft cavities stuffed with gelignite..."

'Ewww, Bridgitte, I like not thees stuffing of the Kamels cavities descreeption!"

'Do you not Mon Capitain? I find it strangely...comforting...and also the thought that so many of our foes are probably dead...Stans, Donnie...and there are also pieces of comedy from the Old Guy and Joker...eet is most...inflating of the emotions, oui?'

'You are already inflated enough Bridgitte...but wait! What ees that approaching through the desert 'aze. Eet looks like...could eet be...non! C'est non possible ca! My shirt cannot contain my beating 'eart!' (Pop pop pop pop pop) Bridgitte! Pick up those buttons and pour me a bath! We are about to entertain...a visitor!'

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Meanwhile, outside a bedouin tent in Southern Libya...

"Fritz you feiglingk! You cannot giff up now! vi haff been trekkingk through ze desert for five years without vasser, women or wine und finally now after all zat time, not to mention ze occasional rapingk by sand pirates, vi find here in ze middle off novere zis bedouin tent und you say 'Herr Oberleutnant I kannot go vun more step!!!??"

"But my feet hurt."

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Stans is not dead. Yet.

I'll let you know when it's time to face the Reaper, Stans.

Meanwhile, Joker, Quiet Man and Old Guy ponder the age old question. Are they real or silicone? Does it matter?

Details to follow. Film at eleven.


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A Loop in the Time Stream

Old Guy tucked his phone away and motioned toward the rising sun. "Come on. We have a schedule to keep."

"What did you do with your phone?" asked Quiet Man.

"I reset the time to a couple hours before Stans got killed by the airport thugs."

"Right," said Joker. "So what good does that do? Your time isn't Universal time."

Old Guy glanced at the aging Aggie and shrugged. "Wanna bet?"

"Uh -- no." Joker levered himself erect. "I was getting tired of that rock anyhow."

"So Stans ain't dead," said Quiet Man. "How long do we have to save him?"

"Two hours, more or less. Tweaking the time stream has consequences. The guards might move faster this time. Or, they might not be there at all. Stans could be in Yemen instead of Syria. We'll know when we get there."

The three men started walking. "How far is the airfield?" asked Joker. "Can we make it in time?"

Old Guy pointed at a wind-etched outcrop a few hundred meters ahead. "Transport should be just on the other side of that funny looking rock."

Quiet Man mulled the old fart's words over for a few minutes, then said, "You sent two text messages and reset the time on your phone. How did you arrange for transportation that fast?"

Joker chuckled. "Been a while since you were on one of our little outings, eh, TQM?"

"If you must know," said Old Guy, "one message was to my wife. I had to let her know new driveway would be delayed. The other text message went to Halliburton."

Quiet Man groaned. "Halliburton? I mean -- I know those guys are good, but . . ." His words trailed off as they walked around the 'funny looking' rock formation and started down the leeward face of a sand dune. A battered Toyota Land Cruiser and an equally abused Toyota crewcab 4wd pickup were parked on the flat at the base of the slope. Two burly men in sleeveless coveralls waited beside the Land Cruiser. Both wore sunglasses and carried stubby sub-machine guns.

"Hell," muttered Joker. "Are we going to use one of those beat up rigs? Stans might as well shoot himself now."

"Ye of little faith," replied Old Guy. In a louder voice he hailed the men below. "My waders are full of eels!"

Laughter floated up from below. One of the men waved and climbed into the Land Cruiser. The other, a gray-haired, husky type, sketched a salute, then did the same. They drove north along the graveled flat between dunes and were out of sight by the time the Simians reached the pickup.

Joker cursed. "What a wreck! I hope there's water on board. We might need it when this contraption craps out."

"No more negative waves -- okay? If you look under the hood you'll find a fresh engine, new batteries, and generally first class mechanicals. Inside, in the cooler, I've arranged for ample supplies of water, for those who like water with their whiskey. There is also a reasonable amount of beer. Rations include chips. In the back, under that ragged tarp, you will find AK-47s, .45 Colt pistols, and a rack of RPG-7 missiles."

"Well . . ." Joker shook his head. "I suppose that will do. Is the cab air conditioned?"

"It is -- but when we drive through villages we will keep the windows down and sweat like the locals. I hope to avoid populated areas as much as possible."

TQM dropped the truck tailgate. "Are these clothes for us?"

"Not just any clothes. Uniforms. Well-worn, nondescript stuff used by militia units and regular military soldiers all across the region. To complete your get-up we have tennis shoes, baseball caps and sunglasses. You too will look the part of a blood-thirty terrorist looking to slaughter unarmed civilians or a militia thug out for the chance to have sex with strange women and make a few shekels on the side."

"You sound a bit jaded," observed Joker. "Was that part of a longer diatribe?"

Old Guy laughed. "My wife says I should have been a lawyer or a television evangelist. I have an unfortunate tendency toward bombast." He sighed. "In truth, the current crop of wannabe soldiers in these parts are no different than armed mobs have always been. Your ancestors and mine both went to war for similar reasons."

"What are we?" asked Quiet Man. "Privates? Corporals? I always wanted to be a corporal." He took up a position he though was 'attention' and cranked off a sloppy salute. "Corporal Quiet Man, reporting."

"You two won't wear any insignia," said Old Guy. "I'll be a captain, complete with a once-spiffy jacket, faded rank badges and a worse-for-wear officer's cap. With any luck the locals will take us for down-at-the-heels but well-armed thugs and leave us alone."

Explanations completed and time wasting away, they changed clothes and took up their Quest -- Rescue Stans Before He Gets Wasted - Again. A kilometer of travel on the flat between dunes brought them to a rough track leading west. "This will bring us out on the east side of the airstrip. When we get there, shoot first and we won't worry about asking any questions. Try not to hit Stans."

"Might be tough," said Quiet Man. "I've always wanted to kill a dentist."

"Me too," said Joker. "But lets try to get Stans out in one piece."

Old Guy glanced over his shoulder. "If things don't work out, we can use him for target practice."


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On the bridge of the USS Doorprize captain Stans eases himself into the captain's chair. He pushes a brightly colored button on the arm of the chair and watches a small viewing screen just above the brightly colored button. Captain Stains found brightly colored buttons interesting and fun to push, much like the buttons of females, even oddly colored females of various alien species.

"Mister Spork!", he shouts, "do we... have the proper... coordinates?" Captain Stans also had a penchant for placing painfully long and numerous pauses in his sentences.

"Yes, captain, coordinates confirmed and locked."

"Thank you... Mister Spork. Mister Checkup... are we... in orbit around... the... planet?"

"Yesss keptin, Ve are."

"Mister Silo... is the... security team... ready?"

"Yeth captain, I have a freth group of red thirth all ready and thanding by."

Captain Stans stared uneasily at Silo, he wasn't quite sure what was going on with Mister Solo, but he knew he wasn't quite like all the other male members of his crew.

"Thank you... Mister? Silo."

Captain Stans pushes another brightly colored button on the arm of his chair. "Spotty! Doctor Hurtzembadd! Meet me in... the... transporter room." Captain Stans pushed the button again and stood up. "Mister Spork... you have... the comm... thingmie. I'm... beaming down... with the away... team."

Mister Spork, knowing the history of beaming down to unknown worlds and the likelihood that they will soon need to hire more red shirts, is concerned about the captain's decision.

"Captain, are you certain that it is wise for you to go with the away team? Perhaps as captain you should remain aboard the Doorprize and let someone else, perhaps Mister Solo, go with the away team?"

"Mister Spork... when I... want your opinion... I'll give you... an... opinion. Now I'm... going... down to... planet Boobage... and personally... introduce them to... me."

Captain Stans leaves the bridge, enters the elevator, when the doors of the elevator open he is directly across the hallway from the transporter room. Entering the transporter room he is greeted by Doctor Hurtzembadd, engineer Spotty, and a group of freshly minted red shirts. They gather on the transporter platform, Captain Stans gives the command, "Fire up... this... thingmie and let's... get 'er done!"

Light sparkles around the away team, Captain Stans closes his eyes, he always felt better about beaming to new worlds with his eyes closed. That which he could not see could not hurt him sort of mentality. The beaming process was complete, he knew it was by the tingling sensation it always gave him. Captain Stans slowly opened his eyes and...


"What? Oh, I must have dozed off. What a wild dream that was. Where am I?"

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Stans. Stans. Stans.

You are in Syria, curled up under a jeep. A trio of guards are standing around that jeep discussing whether they should castrate you before or after the gouging out of eyes.

Help IS on the way and should arrive in time to save whichever part they elect to deal with second.

Depending on the time stream we MIGHT even get there before they decide what to do first.

On the other hand, our little assault team is going to have difficulty surviving no matter what we do. Perhaps it would be better to maintain a low profile and try to sneak out of the country now instead of trying to rescue a dentist. :)

Hmm. Decisions, decisions.


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On a bluff overlooking the entrance to Wadi Siham harbor Corporal Mustafa sat before the display console of a brand new Vietnamese-built knock-off of a Chinese copy of an American deep scan maritime surveillance radar. His relief was late, as usual, and he had to piss. It was nearly dawn. Other than a few small service craft, only a Jihad Incorporated transport, Death to Infidels, was on the move inside the harbor. A small coastal freighter was outside the breakwater, chugging slowly toward the entrance. If the little ship had a name, Mustafa didn't know it and he didn't care. His bladder ached. That idiot, Private Boaz, was probably lingering over his morning coffee.

A few minutes later, as Death to Infidels and the tiny freighter were about to pass in the entrance, the idiot in question opened the radar van door and walked in, yawning. He was greeted with a string of curses. Mustafa bolted from the van after a perfunctory wave at the display. Boaz shrugged and sat down at the surveillance console. He noted the container ship's ID and frowned at the UNKNOWN tag Mustafa had assigned to the inbound craft. An interrogation command returned nothing. Like most of the coastal traffic, the freighter had no identification equipment aboard.

Mustafa returned, visibly relieved. "My back teeth were floating, Boaz. You were late -- again."

Boaz turned away from the display. "It's all that infidel soda you drink. Besides, I happen to know you haven't any back teeth. Didn't Achmed come up from the guard shack to give you a break?"

"Achmed? No. That bag of bones has been sent off on some errand. Probably another nitwit scheme hatched by those NWO morons he keeps company with. I wish the commandant would forbid such nonsense."

The private paid little attention to Mustafa's whining. He pointed at the display. "What craft is this coming into the harbor?"

"God knows. I don't."

Boaz hesitated, then reached for the Deep Scan button. "We'd better make sure nothing suspicious is aboard."

"Be careful. Allah knows we haven't been properly trained on the deep scanning feature. Besides, the system hasn't been calibrated yet."

"Who would calibrate it? I doubt if the Vietnamese who built it even have a technical staff. We should have bought the Chinese unit." Boaz initiated a deep scan of the small vessel.

Mustafa came to stand at his side. "Hah. You can count the rivets holding the old tub together." He touched the display. "Three people on board. Boxes and bales in the hold. What's this on the foredeck?"

Boaz adjusted the display. "Animal. Too big for a goat. Hah! I have it. A camel."

"An ugly one, by all the martyrs! But what is the animal carrying?"

"Can't tell for sure." Boaz cranked up the deep scan power. "No. Whatever it is -- isn't being carried. It's inside the creature!"

Mustafa reached for the power lever. "Careful, Private. We don't know what so much power will . . ." He stopped speaking as the target on the display expanded into a large ball, then faded into a scattering of returns. Death to Infidels broke into two parts.

Both men froze as a ground-borne thud vibrated the van, followed by a thunderous blast.

Corporal Mustafa backed away from the infernal device. The container ship was clearly sinking in the harbor entrance, while the small ship had vanished utterly. "We are dead men, Boaz."

"I -- I have a cousin, twice removed, in Saudi. He runs a trash hauling company. Several times he has offered me a job."

"And I, friend Boaz, have a motorcycle capable of carrying two men over the border."

"Well I know this, my friend. I suggest we make all speed. Before the duty officer arrives."

Thus it was that when the duty officer, he of the oversized helmet and malicious manner, kicked open the van door, he found no one there. Because a thorough search failed to turn up the soldiers who should have been on duty, the local commander had the duty officer shot just before noon prayers.

Boaz, being a second cousin to the trash company owner, drives the truck. Mustafa rides on the tailboard and dumps trash. Both men smile a lot and attend prayers regularly.



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Stans opens his eyes again. Blurry objects barely come into focus. Boots... lots of boots. A small stream of liquid drips from his brow... blood. "Ohhhh... I must have hit my head on something when I dove under the jeep" he thinks. The pain coursing through his head is intense, he closes his eyes again, hoping the pain will go away and his situation will improve.

There, that should satisfy OG and the storyline... at least for the time being. :D

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Wait. Seriously? I didn't even get close to the underground Iranian bomb making facility?

Oh. Hang on a minute, here it comes.

'Hey, what's that bright light coming toward me in the darkness? I feel mysteriously drawn toward it.'

No no camel do not go toward the light!

Yes. I think I shall go toward the lght.

Wait, is that a bedouin tent I see? And...and..i hear giggling...

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Dentist, Doxies, and Disaster

"Are we ready," asked Old Guy. "Shall I go over it again?"

"We're ready," snarled Joker. "Keep our caps pulled low, wear sunglasses, look tough."

"Let's go," added Quiet Man. "I'm tired of practicing threatening facial expressions."

Old Guy put the Toyota in gear. "Try to handle your weapons as if you know how to use them." He let out a long sigh. "I don't want to shoot these guys unless we have to. We don't need half the thugs in Syria chasing after us."

"What if none of them speak English?" asked Quiet Man.

"The brochures should make everything clear. I hope." Old Guy eased in the clutch and drove through a break in the dunes. Moments later they bumped across the edge of a taxiway and motored toward three men standing beside a much-abused jeep. "Frown," advised Old Guy. "I'll handle the smiling. And don't giggle, whatever you do."

"I don't feel much like giggling," muttered Joker.

"I do," said Quiet Man. "But I think I can hold it in."

None of the guards reached for a weapon as the Simians approached. Old Guy stopped a few meters short of the jeep and got out. One of the Syrians noted his rank badges and proffered a casual salute. He gabbled something none of the lads understood.

Old Guy produced a handful of color brochures. "Allah grant that one of you speaks English."

Joker and Quiet Man took up flanking positions behind Old Guy. All three of the guards glanced at their own weapons, lying in the back of the jeep. None made a move in that direction.

The man who had saluted eased a centimeter forward. "Sergeant Kazan, sir. By the will of the Prophet, I speak English. Are you a UN officer?"

"No," admitted Old Guy. "We're Canadians."

Kazan relaxed and spoke a few words to the others. All three laughed and nodded. "I am glad you are not Americans or Englanders," said the sergeant. "Canadians are A-okay." He flashed a thumbs-up.

"Allah be praised, your English is very good, Sergeant. Where did you learn it, if you don't mind my asking?"

"UCLA, sir. I earned a BA in Freedom Fighter Studies."

Old Guy handed a brochure to each of the men. "Your hard work will be rewarded in Paradise. I would discuss your education and various polite subjects, Sergeant, but we're short of time. We would like to relieve you of your -- ah -- prisoner. In addition, I represent a Canadian firm offering opportunities for benighted -- er, for under-employed people -- an opportunity to better yourself. The brochures explain the process."

Kazan glanced over the literature. "All-expense paid travel to Montreal?" He paused to utter a few words to the others. Old Guy heard the words 'Quebec' and 'Canada'. The sergeant was explaining where Montreal was. "A gasoline station and convenience store of our own, financed on easy terms." Kazan looked up. "Interest on a loan is forbidden by the Quaran, sir."

"I'm aware of that, Sergeant. I assure you the financial arrangements are handled in a satisfactory manner."

"Jaffar here has a cousin in Miami. He operates his own store and prospers." Kazan smiled. "I believe the climate in Miami would be more suitable to ourselves."

"A common attitude, Kazan. Turn the brochure over and you will find information about just such a business opportunity in Miami." Old Guy shrugged and spread his hands. "I, of course, cannot speak for the American offer, being a poor, but honest Canadian."

The back of the brochure was taken up with a picture of a scantily clad female (human) posing on a beach which might have been near Miami. All three guards stared at the image with obvious interest.

"Ah -- Captain -- we are but militia soldiers, Allah be praised. How can we pursue an interest in this offer?"

"I know nothing more than you, Sergeant. The brochure lists a meeting at Wadi Yrstuk and gives the GPS coordinates for that location. That's all I can tell you."

"Beard of the Prophet!" cried Kazan. "The last meeting is today. Within the hour." He saluted Old Guy and motioned his compatriots into the jeep, shouting an unintelligible stream of dialect.

Old Guy pointed at a pair of sandal-clad feet visible beneath the jeep. Joker shouldered his weapon and rushed to drag the unfortunate Stans out from under the vehicle. The jeep lurched away, dragging a cloud of burned oil in its wake. None of the guards looked back. Kazan drove. The others were hunched over their color brochures, dreaming, no doubt, of the good life in Miami, even if it was still occupied by infidels.

Stans looked up at his three Simian comrades and grinned. "I thought I was a goner for a minute or two there." He rubbed at the bruises on his face and slowly got to his feet.

"You were a goner," said Old Guy. "Joker and TQM voted not to bother rescuing you, but since I was driving and it wasn't far out of the way -- here we are."

"Thanks -- I guess." Stans shot the other Simians a poisonous glance.

"Hey!" cried Joker. "That's not exactly how it was."

"Get in the pickup," ordered Old Guy, bustling everyone toward the Toyota. "We can talk about the historical context later, after we've stopped the NWO slime."

"New World Order?" Stans gaped in surprise. "What have they got to do with -- with anything?"

"Who do you think sent you to Syria? Kamel was sent, supposedly to penetrate the Iranian nuclear bomb factory and steal an atom bomb for the NWO. Your task would have been to fly that bomb to -- somewhere."

Stans was shocked. "Bomb? NWO? How do you know all this?"

Old Guy waved him into silence. "Fifi and Brigitte, of course. It's lucky I thought to pay the ladies to penetrate the NWO. I know Fick and those other morons couldn't help but brag about their plans. But the instructions sent to you, Kamel, and other Simians were a ruse, designed to draw attention away from their real attempt to steal a bomb."

"You mean . . ." Stans' voice fell to a whisper. "I was -- duped?"

"You're a dentist, Stans, and you love to fly simulated civilian airplanes. They took advantage of your interests."

"Wait a minute," said Joker. "How did they manage to convince Stans their messages were real -- er, simulatedly -- fictionally -- official -- you know what I mean."

"Simple," said Old Guy. "They've broken the Simian Code."

"Egg of the Code," wailed Quiet Man. "Not that!"

The others, having no idea what he was going on about, ignored his outburst.

"Where are we going," asked Joker. "What do we do next?"

"Ah." Old Guy waggled an admonitory index finger. "That's a good question. Why have none of the Simians thought that far in the last few days?"

Stans felt the blood rush to his face. "I -- ah -- I dunno."

"They were presented with opportunities which fit their temperament and skill set," said Joker, surprising even himself.

"Exactly." Old Guy steered the Toyota through a tricky section between two dunes before continuing his combination explanation and sermon. "Gunny and Stag were told to fare forth and slaughter evil-doers. Dude was probably told of a lucrative business deal. Donnie was needed because his flight jacket transmits his fevered dreams out into Simian-space, clogging communication gateways and directing some of the lads on aimless missions."

"What about Cobraj?" asked Joker. "Didn't I hear he was in Yemen with the rest?"

"Cobraj. Hmm. Well, he's good with a weapon. Maybe they intended him to be cannon fodder. Or he might simply have been brought into the scenario as a barfly."

The lads rode along in silence for some time, digesting Old Guy's information. Finally, Quiet Man broke out the beer and they started lying about women.

"What do we do about Gunny and the rest?" asked Joker as he reached for a second beer.

Old Guy handed over his cell phone. "Call him. Tell him to switch his enigma to the backup SOI. He'll know what you mean."

"Okay." Joker handled the phone gingerly. "What's his number?"

"It's in the Contacts directory under Marine."

"Of course. Where else would it be."



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Meanwhile inside a bedouin tent in Libya...

"You see Fritz, ze grand plan ist verkingk! All ze fools are on zere vey to zere doom...just as vi planned."

"But Herr Oberleutnant, zey are all drunk, heavily armed, highly trained und und...zey haff a dentist!"

"Ja ja Fritz, but vi haff...ein exchplodingk Kamel!"

"Mmmmfff mmmmfff mffff mfffff!"

"Herr Oberlt ze French faulien ist tryingk to zay zumzink, shall I untie her?"

"Nein. I am tryingk to zink. Vot to do now...vot to do..."

"Vell Herr Oberlt vy do vi not put ze femme hostages und ze Kamel in ze Dassault MD 315 Flamant parked conveniently behind zis tent, und fly low under ze radar to ze city of Qom und..."

"Shut up Fritz you fool...I am tryingk to zink...ja, ja I haff it!! Vi vil put ze femme hostages und ze Kamel in ze Dassault MD 315 Flamant parked conveniently behind zis tent, und fly low under ze radar to ze city of Qom und..."

"...secure ze nuclear veppons for ze glory of Ze Old Order und blow to smizzereens all ze New Verld und Freedom Fighter Johnnies und begin our ascent to ze Fourth Reich in a radioactive cloud of glory?"

"...ja, ja, just vot I vas goingk to say Fritz!"

"You are a genius Herr Oberlt. Now do you vant to take ze frauleins, or ze Kamel?"

"Vot do you zink Fritz?"

"Zer gut. Here nice schtinky slimy Kamel, Fritzy has zum dates for you..."

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Yeah... ummm... not everyone is going to fit into a Flamant. Poor Camel, lower intestinal tract packed with gelignite and now, apparently about to be abandoned. See, fellas, that's why I brought a Beech 1900, plenty of room for everyone and everything. Well, back to where I was, wondering how I was so easily duped. Oh, look! Shiny, metal spent pistol casings on the floor!

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Down in Yemen

"I don't understand it," said Donnie. He held up his flight jacket. "Every time I put this on I start having blackouts."

Gunny snorted. "Blackouts? You mean like you can't see or just can't remember what you were doing while you had it on?"

"Um -- the can't remember bit -- I think." Donnie stared at the jacket for a long moment, then started to put it on. "No," he muttered suddenly and took it off. "This thing has a mind of its own. I don't want to put it on again."

"Good idea," agreed Stag. "If Old Guy is right, it's clouding our minds and sidetracking our efforts." He frowned. "I don't know why we didn't notice earlier."

"That's not hard to figure out," said Dude. "These little adventures frequently take us off in strange directions. How were we supposed to know which bits were generated by the NWO and which were fermented in Old Guy's brain?"

Gunny took the jacket from Donnie and examined it. "He's had this for -- what? -- six years? Why is it all of a sudden causing all this havoc?"

Jay raised a hand. "What's a havoc?"

"It's a WW2 light bomber," said Donnie.

"He's right," said Gunny. "But it's also a word for murder and mayhem." He grinned. "'Cry Havoc! And loose the dogs of war.'"

Dude laughed. "Jeez. A Marine who reads."

"I've heard that line somewhere before," said Stag.

"Never mind that crap," growled Gunny. "Look at this." He displayed a small, flat metal case. "Wanna bet this is what's causing all the trouble?"

"Wow!" cried Donnie. "You mean my jacket ain't cursed or possessed of evil spirits?"

"Nope." Gunny dropped the device and crushed it under a boot heel. Instantly, they all felt better. The big Marine continued stomping until only broken and twisted bits remained.

"Can I go back to sleeping in my jacket?" asked Donnie. "I'll bet all those nightmares are gone now. My dreams can go back to normal. Boobs, boobs, and more boobs."

"Never mind all that," said Gunny. "Let's get out of here."

"Where to now?" asked Dude. "All Old Guy said was 'Midnight at the oasis'. He didn't use the regular black dog or waders full of eels code messages."

Gunny shouldered his pack. "I know where to go. The less said the better. Come on. Shake a leg."

Jay stood on one foot and shook his leg. "Now what?"

"Clowns," lamented Gunny. "I'm surrounded by clowns. Get your gear and follow me."

"I hate clowns," said Donnie.

"Of course you do," said Dude. "Clowns don't have boobs."

"Hey! Boobs aren't the only thing I think about."

"Oh yeah?" Dude laughed. "Name one other thing."

Donnie was silent all through the taxi ride. In fact, he didn't say anything until they were aboard the Halliburton C-130. Then, face shining in triumph, he shouted, "Farts."

Dude shook his head. "I asked for one other thing you THINK about."

"I do think about farts," mumbled Donnie. "Sometimes." He sulked quietly for the duration of the trip.



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"Hey! Boobs aren't the only thing I think about."

"Oh yeah?" Dude laughed. "Name one other thing."

Donnie was silent all through the taxi ride. In fact, he didn't say anything until they were aboard the Halliburton C-130. Then, face shining in triumph, he shouted, "Farts."

Dude shook his head. "I asked for one other thing you THINK about."

"I do think about farts," mumbled Donnie. "Sometimes." He sulked quietly for the duration of the trip.

:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

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Infidel Oasis

Joker stared at the double lines of chain link fence topped with barb wire. The road ran parallel to the fence. "What is this place? Are those guard towers manned?"

"They are." Old Guy slowed the Toyota. "We're coming up on the gate. There's only one way into the Oasis."

"With any luck there will be at least one way out," said Stans. "What oasis is it?"

"The Infidel Oasis." Old Guy smiled the way he usually does when his reply to a Simian question explains exactly nothing. He rolled to a stop two meters short of a barrier manned by two heavily armed guards. Shadowy figures occupied towers on either side of the gate. From each tower machine gun muzzles frowned down at the Simians. Lettered on the barrier were the words: SHUT OFF HEADLIGHTS. Old Guy killed the lights.

One guard approached the driver's side. The other stood to one side, weapon trained on the Toyota. "Keep your hands in plain sight," cautioned Old Guy. He proffered a plastic card to the guard.

"It's you again," said the man.

"I just couldn't stay away, Rashid. How's business?"

"Can't complain. We have a new guard commander. Make sure you leave an envelope at the check-in desk with four fifties inside."

"Two hundred dollars? That's twice the usual rate."

Rashid shrugged. "The commander makes the rules. He has an expensive mistress." He extended a hand, palm-up. "I'll take my fifty now."

"Damn it, Rashid. Don't you guys give discounts to regulars?"

"No. Too often regular customers stop being regular. Too many of you are in dangerous lines of work. Besides, I have to share mine with the other guards you know. If we didn't collect our usual rate, what would happen to my wife and kids? And don't forget the commander's mistress."

Old Guy handed over a fifty and received his plastic card back. "Take care of yourself, Rashid. And don't spend my money all in one place."

The guard motioned for the barrier to be raised. "Stop at the armory and check your weapons. You know the rules."

"It's highway robbery," grumped Old Guy as he drove through the gate. "The guards never used to ask for more than ten bucks."

"What the hell is this place?" cried Joker.

"I told you. The Infidel Oasis." Old Guy chuckled. "The Saudis don't like foreigners, especially Americans, entertaining themselves in Saudi cities when off duty. Gives the ordinary clods strange ideas about royalty, representation, and women's rights. So they built this prison-like compound way out in the desert. Outsiders can come here to drink, gamble, associate with fallen women, and so on. The place makes money. They wouldn't keep it open if it didn't."

"Drink," said Quiet Man. "Do they have beer?"

"They do."

"I take it this is where Gunny is bringing the others?" Joker turned suddenly, staring out the side window. "There's a golf course out there. I see people playing under lights."

"Of course," said Old Guy. "It's too damn hot to play during the day. And, yes, Gunny is on his way here with the others."

"I wish I had an expensive mistress," said Stans.


Colonel Barani ignored the skeletal wretch his aide ushered through the door. The Colonel had trouble thinking of the thing huddled miserably on a powered wheelchair as human at all, much less a spy.

The dossier open in front of Barani spelled out what was known of the half-man known only as Achmed. Under interrogation 'Achmed' sometimes claimed to have lost his legs in a failed bomb attack against an American legation in Spain. Other times he said the legation was in Tripoli, Bahrain, or Shangri La. He also claimed to be a high ranking officer in a shadowy organization called the New World Order. Whoever he was, Achmed was offering to sell out the NWO in return for medical maintenance. His mutilated body required an amazing combination of drugs and machines.

Finally the Colonel looked up. "Your fellow fanatics in this -- NWO -- have refused further treatment?"

"Yes, most honored Colonel. My semi-martyrdom fades from the Emperor's memory. He sees only the monthly bills and . . ."

"Emperor? What madness is this?"

"A fancy, Lord Colonel. A deranged lunatic of the kind known to Americans as wingnut."

"I have heard the term." Barani glanced at the dossier. "Martyrdom? Witnesses say you lost your legs and lower torso in an industrial accident involving a woman of ill-repute, a gallon of cooking oil, and a stamping machine usually used in making toaster parts."

"Lies! All lies! Vile falsehoods spread by NWO members jealous of my intellect, my low animal cunning, and my good looks." Achmed ran a clawlike hand over his bald head. "Jealousy and lies, esteemed Colonel. I keel them! I keel them all!"

"You are free to 'keel' them," said Barani. "That is your affair. But what could you offer Iran that would be worth the cost and trouble of keeping you alive?"

"Oh, most intelligent Colonel. I have knowledge of a plot -- a plot to steal an atomic bomb from your factory in Qum."

The Colonel sat back in his chair, feigning surprise. He glanced at his aide. "That -- that might be worth our time and money, Achmed. My aide will take you to officers who can see to your health. Kindly give them an outline of this plot. If your information is good, we will discuss more permanent arrangements."

As the aide walked to the door, Achmed started to turn his chair. It jerked and shuddered, then stopped. The wretch banged on the controls, cursing luridly.

"Have someone tend to Achmed's chair," said Barani. His aide pushed the chair into the outer office. A few minutes later he returned.

"Colonel, there are no bombs at Qum."

Barani nodded. "Of course. This NWO seems to have swallowed one of our cover stories and are preparing steal a non-existent nuclear weapon. It will be worth our while to intercept the thieves and slaughter them."

"And what of this Achmed, sir?"

"Provide the necessary medications. Fix his chair. Hint at an accommodation that will allow him to live in comfort for the rest of his days. Find out all he knows."

"And the accommodation, sir? The usual?"

Barani chuckled. "Right. An unmarked grave."



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