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The Fantastically Baffling Story of the Greatest Time-Space Traveler That Ever Lived: Rip Tapioca, Marshal of the Time Stream and Leader of the Semi-Intelligent Cat Toys of Arcturus-5, With His Sidekick George of the Gelatin-Brains

 

The First Book

 

In a rarely traveled sector in the far reaches of outer space, there was a pair of boots. They were not attractive, even for footwear, because of the many electrodes, dials, and digital display units covering every square micrometer of the exposed rubber.

Inside these boots was a man. A man without a belly button, because he tried to use medical technology every possible way to keep from cleaning lint out of a body cavity. A man with Velcro® implanted in his ankles to flawlessly keep his socks from falling down. A man with stainless steel fingernails to destructively drag down blackboards, a truly original way to annoy people and a fun conversation piece. A man named after the last words of the senile warlord of Polaris-7: Rip Tapioca. Of course, since he was senile actually he was saying "blahg hubba hubba" but he completely mispronounced it.

The aforementioned boots were independently tap-dancing, fastened to our hero, Rip Tapioca. He was diligently working, trying to translate a nearly indecipherable language into English: the series of grunts that James Brown used in his singing.

Another man, shorter and more pathetic than Rip, swooped through the doorway/arch and smashed with a bonecrushing thud into an iron shrine in the shape of Marilyn Monroe's beauty mark.

The man slid off the shrine, smashed to a pulp, and as he settled on the glittering floor he noticed he was in great pain.

"Yeeeeeooowweooooeech!"

"Correct, George. My extensive research shows that phrase as meaning, 'Darn, I swallowed my mouthwash.'"

"Ooooowweee! Ooooowweee!"

"Of course, that only applies when used with the possessive pronoun 'hhunnnh' so in most cases the verb is unconjugated."

"Ooglam!" George pleaded.

Then Rip turned his head. "George, you're a greasy smear. We'll have to fix that, I suppose." Rip flipped a coin, covered his eyes, and stabbed his finger down on the button-covered control panel.

An eerie glow coated the room just before the place exploded into subatomic material.

"Oops," Rip gasped.

Behind Rip's ear was a plastic salmon about eight inches long. Before explosive decompression set in, Rip grabbed the artificial fish, a.k.a. the Artifish, and pressed a scale. With that, the spaceship Titanberg reconstituted, as well as the now-erect George of the Gelatin-Brains. George stood about five foot four if you counted his toupee. He had large feet wearing plaid high-tops and was clothed in a T-shirt reading "My parents went to prison and all I got was this crummy T-shirt." His lips were white and quivering.

Getting back to work, Rip inquired, "How does it feel to have flesh the same consistency as Play-Doh? I'm curious."

"It's a bit like being sucked through a straw," George answered while cleaning his ear.

"Fascinating," replied Rip. "It's a good thing you arrived when you did. I'm onto another breakthrough in my linguistics study. I have learned what 'ow-buh-zoo-buh' means and may be able to link it into the main sequence of verbs."

George scratched his chin.

"Incidentally, would you enlighten me with the reason you flew into this room with the estimated speed of a comet hurtling through space?"

"Dunno," shrugged George. Then his ear fell off.

"Hmmm. Take care of that detachable ear, will you?"

George picked up his ear and attempted to reattach it to his head. "I though this thing was childproof," grunted the Gelatin-Brain, trying to simultaneously press down and turn his ear.

"Oh, I almost forgot," blurted Rip as he noticed one of the monitors on his left boot blinking with a yellow light, "it's time for an investigative expedition through time and space!"

The Titanberg and everything aboard zipped through the cosmos as Rip pressed another scale on the Artifish.

"Golly gee!" exclaimed George, in a rare display of alliterative exclamation. "Why didn't you warn me? I was planning on clipping my toenails."

Snatching a razor-edged eggbeater out of his back pocket, Rip bounced across the room onto George and edged the device toward his nose.

"Do you enjoy the sense of smell?" Rip snarled.

"Ummm..."

"ANSWER ME!" The eggbeater edged closer.

"Yuh-yuh-yes?" George stammered.

"That's the correct answer!" Rip flipped up, tossing the eggbeater over his shoulder into an object greatly resembling a miniature black hole.

As George started doubting Rip's sanity, a booming voice came over the Titanberg's public address system. "Today's big winner is ... George of the Gelatin-Brains! Now he must choose a prize: a box of Rice-A-Roni or a version of our home game!"

Blinking, George repeated, "Home game?"

"A mass of cardboard intended to serve as a consolation for losers of game shows."

"Game shows?"

"Insanely popular broadcast content from the last 20th century on Earth. Aided by perky hosts, worthy contestants are awarded money, cars, and unnecessary appliances."

"Earth?"

"Yes, you nitwit! The third planet from Sol! The place with smog and holy wars!" Rip attempted to retrieve the eggbeater from the black hole.

"Now I remember! Watergate and Yugos!" George gasped.

"Quite right," said Rip, " and games shows are only one facet in the prism of our investigation." Reaching down to fiddle with his galoshes, his head jerked back up. "George! The front left bottom gauge on my right Timeboot is reading 14%!"

"Does that mean..."

"Yes," Rip answered, ice in his voice. "I forgot to brush my teeth this morning." He pressed the Artifish again and a twelve-foot toothbrush materialized. He grabbed the long, thin handle and began scrubbing.

Trying hard to sort out the last few minutes, George muttered, "I've always wondered why your toothbrush is so long."

"Gotta get to those hard-to-reach spots!" Rip revealed, spitting toothpaste in a disgusting mist.

"Ick," commented George.

When the toothbrush wore down to dust on Rip's bicuspids, Rip was finished.

"Gee whiz!" said George. "Dental hygiene makes an awful mess." His ear fell off again.

Rip shook his head. "Did you notice...?"

"Yeah, yeah. I got it." George retrieved his ear with a sigh.

"You would think that the Gelatin-Brains would find a more practical way to insert your brains at birth," Rip expositioned. "Perhaps if we drilled a large hole in the top of your head and corked it."

"Head-drilling? That's good for slasher movies, but not nearly as efficient." George had no idea what the word "efficient" meant.

"It's your brain." Rip had once seen the word "efficient" on a bottle of disinfectant.

"Now what do we do about this mess?" George had already forgotten that he said the word "efficient."

"The toothbrush dust?" Using a short sentence to make his point was rather "efficient," as far as Rip was concerned.

"Yes." This single word was the most "efficient" sentence yet.

"The Artifish can help us with this task," said Rip, who recognized that the "efficient" gag was never that funny in the first place. He poked another scale on the powerful plastic salmon, causing a small door in the floorboards to be winched upwards. A cartoonish mouse creature with frizzed fur scampered from the opening, his eyes racing crazily. When he spotted the pile of powder that had once been a toothbrush, he scurried over and screeched wildly.

"Crackers the Mouse!" identified George. "How brilliant!"

"Efficient as well," said Rip, always willing to get in one more cheap joke. Crackers stuck his nose into the heap of dust and snorted it up in one motion. Then he zoomed into his hole, which closed up behind him with a thud. Rip scratched his head in confusion.

George twisted his ear back on. "That is one brain-dead mousie," he said.

"Brain-dead! That reminds me -- it's time to meet our first specimen. And what a specimen she is!" Rip rolled the eye of the Artifish around in its socket until it reached the proper position, then tugged its tail.

Rip gazed expectantly at a stage that greatly resembled a boxing ring, starkly empty except for a folding chair and a sturdy table holding a steaming pot of tea and some bone china. The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there she was: a shapely blonde woman with handsome features, wearing an obviously expensive dress and holding her arms out in a pointing gesture. As George gasped at her beauty, Rip cleared his throat and spoke boldly.

"Your name is Vanna White, correct? You are a game show hostess from a television program called Wheel of Fortune."

"Ummm..." Vanna appeared to very confused.

"Can you describe your job function in twenty words or less?" asked Rip, pulling a writing utensil from a compartment on his Timeboot.

"I...I...I turn letters." Vanna blinked.

"Excellent!" remarked Rip. He scribbled furiously into an LED notebook with a specially encoded pen -- typical paraphernalia for an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power.

At this point, George started staring.

Rip began a line of questioning. "Which profession did you claim on tax forms, Miss White?"

"Television personality, letter-turners category. But..."

At this point, George started drooling.

"Turning letters has been a fulfilling vocation for you?"

"Very much so. But..."

At this point, George started panting.

"You have a question, Miss White?"

"WHERE THE HELL AM I?" Vanna squealed, causing veins to pop out of her forehead.

Rip merely nodded and made a note. "Not as wholesome as previously documented," he mumbled.

At this point, George gathered all his strength and vaulted himself at Vanna's feminine form.

The game show hostess, her wrist strengthened by years of letter-turning, shattered George's jaw. The Gelatin-Brain hit the floor with an awful thud, feeling crushed. Perhaps he had this particular feeling because he was crushed.

"Pardon my manners, Miss White." Rip took a step toward his guest, oblivious to George's gland condition. "You have been teleported through time and space to the spaceship Titanberg. I am Rip Tapioca, Marshal of the Time Stream and Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power. It is my duty to research important matters for the Universal Tribunal."

"Oh."

"I am presently studying the late 20th century of the planet Earth by interviewing various humanoid creatures who made history."

"I made history? Little old me?" Vanna blurted, her wholesomeness returned.

"Thank you for your time. I've seen enough." Rip pulled the Artifish from its holster. "I will now send you back to your proper place in time. Incidentally, you should keep an eye out for manhole covers in the near future."

"Manhole covers? What do you -- " With that, Vanna blipped back into the past.

Rip suddenly looked frustrated. "Blast! I neglected to test the legendary power of her left hook!"

"Wip! Wip!" blathered George. "Thwee bloke muh thaw!"

"Wonderful!" said Rip gleefully. "You've done the work for me! I have proof!"

"Wip! Eye bin payne! Hep me!"

"Quit your whining, dolt. You can heal yourself with this tube of Krazy Glue." Rip tossed a tiny packet to George and checked the scribbles in his electronic notepad. He was shocked to learn that some of them were legible. George turned toward a hologram mirror and grumbled about cosmetic surgery.

"Our next subject: the immortal elf himself!"

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a shortish middle-aged fellow with a dazzling smile and hair that appeared synthetic. He had a look on his face that just screamed, "What happened to Rate-A-Record?"

"George, say hello to Dick Clark, idol of millions and host of television programs on all three major television networks!"

"Thbeeze ta mut ya!" George yelped, still working on his face. His lips were partially stuck together with Krazy Glue.

"Tell me, Mr. Clark, how does it feel to be the caretaker of a pyramid?"

"It's like this..." Dick started.

"I'm especially interested to find out how the budget of $20,000 breaks down."

"You see..."

"My records show that your duties on the pyramid only last for thirty minutes a day, five days a week. How is that possible?"

"Well..."

"And all the while, you're playing record albums and practical jokes! How do you -- "

"SHUT UP!" Dick Clark bellowed. "Quit your yapping! I'm a celebrity, for God's sake! You're nobody! Not even a blooper!" His thickly glazed hair detached from his head and a set of false teeth flew out of his mouth. The spit-soaked dentures found their way into the miniature black hole, which only increased Dick's outrage. "Gosh dangit! Why in tarnation did you make me lose my temper? You forget the power at my disposal. I could play a practical joke on you that would make your head spin!"

"I'll make a note of this," Rip chuckled.

George, who had managed to rearrange his face, picked up Dick's wig and looked at it with admiration. "Nice rug!" he said, plopping the toupee in place of the store-bought green Afro wig that usually perched upon his skull. "Let's swap, okay?"

Waving his arms frantically, Dick charged at George. The green Afro landed backwards on Dick's head and he stumbled for a few feet. Then Rip poked the Artifish and zapped him back into his busy schedule.

"How sporting of you to trade wigs with Mr. Clark!" applauded Rip. "When was the last time you had it cleaned?"

"Cleaned?" said George, confused by the term.

"I'm doing my best to imagine Mr. Clark on American Bandstand wearing hair that stinks of Gelatin-Brain."

As the twosome mulled over the mindboggling implications of this non-sequiter, a platypus strutted into the control room. The duck-billed mammal approached Rip directly, hopped into his arms and stared the Marshal of the Time Stream squarely in the eye. Then the platypus snarled, "You know what?"

"Wuh-what?" an astonished Rip stuttered.

"Your breath is rather offensive," said the platypus. He hopped to the floor and waddled away.

Rip looked at George.

George looked at Rip.

Both men cleared their throats and shuffled their feet.

"There's only one way to address this dilemma," Rip groaned.

"Namely what?"

"Gargle, my soft-brained companion, I must gargle! And while performing this delicate operation, I must avoid the James Brown phrase 'Yeeeeeooowweooooeech' at all costs!" Rip bounded away, adding in midstride, "It's so refreshing to apply a second language!" With that, the Leader of the Semi-Intelligent Cat Toys of Arcturus-5 popped a Certs® and leaped through a doorway clearly marked as the entrance to a Gargling Laboratory and Sword-Swallowing Clinic.

Shaking his head, George repeated that puzzling word: "Cleaned?"

Minutes later, Rip returned to the control room with a whip in his grasp and mussed hair. Putting down the whip and grabbing a writing utensil, Rip approached the sign marking the doorway. Using bold strokes, he crossed out the words Sword-Swallowing Clinic and wrote Brothel of Amazons. "I really have to gargle more often," he thought aloud. Rip slumped into an opulent chair and regurgitated memories of the past few minutes.

George grew restless. "Could we get on with it?"

Rip looked up and grinned. "Of course we will! Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope sh -- "

Much to the relief of Vatican officials who might prefer that the Pope's camping habits remain a mystery, George boldly interrupted Rip. "It isn't necessary to make stupid analogies. Let's continue."

Rip arched an eyebrow and took a long breath. "Continue we shall. Now pay attention while I press the teleportation scale on the Artifish while tap-dancing, juggling, and singing the second verse of Row, Row, Row Your Boat!"

"Amazing! Startling! Earth-shaking!" sneered George, suddenly stumbling onto sarcasm.

"That's not Earth-shaking," repelled Rip. "This is Earth-shaking." He slapped the Artifish against his thigh, setting off a series of gravity generators that increased George's centrifugal force exponentially. In layman's terms, George began to spin like a disco dancer, rattling uncontrollably. When George stopped whirling, he fell to the ground with consciousness failing him and uttered one of the more profound proverbs of the Gelatin-Brains:

"I feel dizzy."

Then George fell into a deep sleep and dreamed about kittens or something.

"Good help is so hard to find," sighed Rip, who then touched the Artifish so that another subject would be teleported onto the examination stage. He accidentally phased George away at the same time, distracted by his efforts to tap-dance, juggle, and sing simultaneously.

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: an odd-looking boyish fellow with a crewcut, wearing a small gray suit with a red bow tie. A maddening laugh echoed across the stage as he appeared.

"Ha ha! Ha ha!" The little man spotted the teapot and pranced over to pour a cup.

"...life is but a dream," Rip crooned, watching the events with great interest.

The little man took a sip of tea and bellowed, "Mmmmm! La la la!" He was thoroughly enjoying himself but seemed to be mocking the tea-drinking ritual.

Rip pulled out his digital notebook. "I understand you are Pee Wee Herman."

"I know you are, but what am I?" blurted the man, smelling a flower lovingly. "Ha ha!"

"I'm nothing of the sort. My name is Rip Tapioca."

"I looove that story," said Pee Wee, taking great delight in his joke. "Ha ha! Ha ha! La la la!"

"Question for you," Rip fumed. "Did my matter transferal unit erase your brainwaves, or have you always been a raving lunatic?"

"I know you are, but what am I? Ha ha!" He danced around jerkily.

"How distressing for your parents," mumbled the Marshal of the Time Stream. "I have a few questions for you. They should be a breeze, even considering your disability."

"La la la!"

"Is it true that your name spelled backward means 'the handkerchief consumed several vegetables' in Swahili?"

"Knock knock! Who's there? Swahili! Swahili who?"

Rip snarled. "I can see this is pointless."

"So's your head! Ha ha! Ha ha!"

"You are a jabbering moron."

"I know you are, but what am I?"

"ENOUGH!" Rip exploded in a tangible rage. He stabbed the Artifish with a trembling finger, causing a robotic Asian chef to zip into the room with two ginsu knives flailing. The hyperactive robot chopped Pee Wee into tiny bits of make-up and gray polyester, and then puttered away in search of pesky rodents.

Rip was pleased at his handiwork. "Pee Wee Herman is dead. Suicide rates on Earth will surely drop. Civilization will no longer live in fear of that giggling idiot," he boldly stated, but upon contemplation of the bloody chunks among the residual tufts of the gray suit, Rip could feel his messiah complex dissipating. A twang erupted in his heart as a droplet rolled down his cheek.

"Damn pacemaker is twanging again," he said, wiping off his cheek as another drop splashed in his face. "And I really have to get that water pipe on the ceiling fixed."

Rip analyzed the situation: "In order to prevent mass suicide on Earth, we must prevent Pee Wee Herman from continuing his foolish behavior. Gruesome murder is rather depressing and tends to result in lawsuits and black eveningwear. Black is not my color. I could pulverize his brain with a force blast, but brain-dead people can only function in society as paperweights or congressmen. And they're never fun at cocktail parties. My only course of action is forcing him into a crisis situation that will ultimately make him drown in his own misery." Suddenly joyful, Rip snapped his fingers. "It's so simple! I can destroy his happy-go-lucky nature by finding him a wife! Marriage conquers all!"

Rip punched a scale on the Artifish again, instantly assembling the corpse of Pee Wee Herman with incredible ease. While Pee Wee trembled, Rip approached his vast computer console and hunted through the sands of time for a suitable mate. Finally a perfect match was located, and Rip swiftly snatched Pee Wee's wife-to-be from history and deposited her body on the spaceship Titanberg. The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there she was:

"GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUUUUUNNNNN!"

"Great Scott!" Rip nearly went into shock.

"Pee Wee, buddy! How ya doing there, big guy?" A screeching Brooklyn accent emanated from the woman, who wore shabby thrift-store clothing and several layers of glossy makeup.

"Ha ha! Ha ha! It's my old friend Cyndi Lauper! I hope this space guy doesn't 'lop her' head off! Get it? Cyndi 'Lop her'? Get it? Ha ha!"

"What's wrong with you people?" Rip exclaimed. "How come you had no adverse reaction when you were transported millions of light-years from home by my awesome technology?"

"Come now!" said Pee Wee. "I work with a talking chair and a refrigerator packed with animated food!"

"When you dress like this," Cyndi explained, "you expect weird things to come your way." Rip's two subjects squawked in delight, sounding like insane schoolgirls.

"ENOUGH AGAIN!" Rip slapped the Artifish against his elbow and shot a few million volts through the nervous systems of his guests. Pee Wee twitched uneasily while Cyndi's hair looked a little more frizzy than usual. "Do I have your attention now?"

" Absolutely," Pee Wee whispered through clenched teeth.

"Hey, space guy! Why is Pee Wee's little toe stuck onto his earlobe?" Cyndi blurted.

Rip sighed. "Reassembly is a delicate art. Mistakes are easy to make." He used the Artifish to put the toe back in line. "Incidentally, do not refer to me as 'space guy.' My name is Rip Tapioca."

Cyndi and Pee Wee looked at each other and erupted in gales of obnoxious laughter. It sounded like a crate of Canadian geese had fallen off the back of a pick-up truck and caused a hundred car horns to blare at once. Rip aimed the Artifish at the chuckle cousins and they stopped immediately.

"You have been brought together today to be joined in the bonds of Holy Matrimony."

"Married? Why would we get married?" asked Cyndi.

"Trust me. I know what I'm doing." Rip poked through a drawer for his Big Book of Solemn Ceremonies.

"We barely know each other! Like, duh!" spouted Pee Wee.

Rip let out a long sigh. "Keep in mind, please, that this room contains several hundred gadgets that could easily disembowel you within seconds."

"I see."

"Where do we stand?"

Opening the Big Book of Solemn Ceremonies to the "Fake Marriages" chapter, Rip rattled off the whole speech about love, honor, sickness, health, and all that other great stuff. Pee Wee and Cyndi nodded appropriately and Rip pronounced them man and wife. "I can't stomach the thought of you two kissing. Begone!" The Artifish sent the newlyweds back through space and time to their familiar surroundings on Sol-3.

In their place appeared a very perturbed George of the Gelatin-Brains with torn clothes and large gashes on his arms and chest.

"Where have you been, Georgie-boy? You missed the wedding of Pee Wee Herman and Cyndi Lauper. What an occasion! It's a shame that we didn't have a marriage license, a blood test, or two witnesses. And my station as an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power doesn't give me the authority to perform a wedding."

George looked quite agitated.

"You must understand that I had a duty to whisk them away as soon as possible. Legends state that if those two freaks speak at the same time, all molecular bonds within earshot will be destroyed by the resulting vibrations."

George's eyes grew red with rage.

"I hope they get a nice secluded home in the country. What would the neighbors think if -- "

"WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?" George detonated. "How could you be stupid enough to zap me in the middle of a lion's den in ancient Rome?"

"Oh! That's where you wandered off to. I had been wondering why you were dripping blood all over my nice clean floor."

"YOUR NICE CLEAN FLOOR? You heartless bastard. I was just stabbed by a gladiator named Polonius, and you're concerned about YOUR NICE CLEAN FLOOR?"

"Don't be so silly, George. Blood can make a horrible stain."

George clutched the remains of his novelty T-shirt, weeping openly. "And those lions destroyed the only memento I have from my parents."

"Come now. Your parents were cruel people who wanted you to eat brussels sprouts. It was my duty to send them to prison."

"And all I got was this crummy T-shirt!" George blubbered. The sight reminded Rip of a video game junkie who lost his last life on Pac-Man after three straight days on one quarter. To be concise, George went bonkers.

"It's not fair, it's just not fair!" cried George. His ear fell off again.

"Pick up that ear and -- "

"I don't care, I just don't care!" snapped George. He buried his face in his hands.

"Hey, that's a pretty good rhyme. It could be a song! 'I don't care, it's not fair, la de da da da....'"

"Let's make a deal," the Gelatin-Brain sniffled. "I'll stop crying if you bring Vanna back to the Titanberg."

Glancing at a gauge on his Timeboots, Rip shook his head ominously. "It may be too late for Vanna. Let's see what we can find out." He swiftly entered some coordinated into the Artifish and started the teleportation process. The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a Latino gentleman with a thick moustache and a wardrobe that made a bold attempt to be hip and conservative at the same time.

"Welcome to my spaceship, Geraldo Rivera. I should make it clear that I am only willing to stoop to your level for the sake of expediency. As an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power, I could investigate and report a hundred times before you even had a chance to blink."

"I am aware of your powers, Rip Tapioca."

"You know me?" Rip said, genuinely surprised.

"I know a lot of things," Geraldo waggled.

Rip disregarded Geraldo's irreverent attitude and continued. "We wish to know the current status of Vanna White."

Quickly infusing his voice with a professional tone, Geraldo started his report: "This morning at the NBC Studios in Burbank, California. Calm? Tranquil? No such luck. Not after an event that rocked the very foundation of -- "

"Just the facts, man."

Geraldo cleared his throat nervously. "Vanna White was killed today when a construction worker became distracted by Miss White's buttocks and jackhammered a manhole cover until it became airborne."

George moaned, "Those buttocks...."

"The manhole cover flew directly at Miss White, flipping end over end like a hockey puck of surreal proportions, when destiny showed its dark face -- "

"The facts," Rip reminded.

"Ahem. As she was crushed by the great weight of the manhole cover, she screamed one name -- your name -- Rip Tapioca."

"Astonishing! History has repeated itself in two different solar systems. Vanna White and the senile warlord of Polaris-7 shared the same final words. Mom and Dad would be so proud of me."

"Millions of devoted fans are devastated by this loss and are holding a candlelight vigil in the streets of -- "

"You've served your purpose," said Rip, using the Artifish to blip Geraldo away before he could wax dramatic any further. "How tragic that Vanna failed to heed my advice. If she had been more careful, she might still be turning letters today. Isn't it sad?"

George had fashioned a noose around his neck and was looking for a place to string himself up.

"How's it hanging, George?"

"You killed Vanna!" condemned George. "Some Marshal of the Time Stream you are."

"I didn't kill her, you dolt -- I tried to save her."

"You could have tried harder. All you did was give her a vague warning that meant nothing."

"Be serious," snapped Rip. "Don't you remember how this spaceship got its name? I used that iceberg to show the Titanic they were off course and look what happened! I attempted to fix a gas leak on the Hindenberg, and the rest is history!"

"Oh," said George, wondering where his detachable ear had gone.

"As you know, our Turbo-Charged Intangibility Drive is powered by the souls of those hapless victims, giving us totally free transportation across the cosmos. But even though I profited handsomely from those needless deaths, we must never interfere with history."

"Please forgive me, Rip."

"I'd rather bottle up my anger and take it out on you at a later date."

"That sounds okay," said George.

"Break time!" announced Rip. He summoned refreshments by pressing a scale near the Artifish's dorsal fin. A bell tinkled in the distance and a slimy three-eyed alien slithered into the room with a tray of liquor. Rip poured himself a stiff drink, noted the alien's thick eyeglasses, and gave a nod of approval. "Thanks, Six-Eyes."

With a look of disgust, the alien squirmed away after filling the teapot on the examination stage with Everclear, a potent alcoholic beverage that could also be used as lighter fluid.

"You really shouldn't insult the aliens," warned George. "You'll start another intergalactic war."

"Don't fret like that, you pathetic schlub." Rip took a seat and sipped his drink. "I believe that the majestic beauty of an intergalactic war is lost on most species. There's nothing as lovely as an exploding planet in the distance, or glittering laser beams pulsing through the sky. I have recently learned that residents of Earth spend time watching muscle-bound goons called 'boxers' pound each other senseless instead of mastering interstellar travel. Quite sad, really."

"So very sad," agreed George, rubbing his bare scalp.

"What ever happened to Dick Clark's toupee?" Rip asked.

George gasped. "I must have lost it when I was in ancient Rome!"

"Excellent! It's possible that you caused the invention of the toupee. Temporal anomalies are fun, aren't they? Let's cause another one," Rip said, punching a scale on the Artifish.

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a muscular Italian hunk with a swollen black eye. "ADRIAN...!" the man bellowed.

"Sylvester Stallone, welcome to the spaceship Titanberg."

"Who the hell are you? " Stallone's Philadelphia-flavored accent grunted.

"Here's one of those muscle-bound goons, George. In addition, Mr. Stallone will serve as our current subject."

"Hello there. Want some Everclear?" George offered.

"Mr. Stallone, you are regarded as a ultraviolent beefcake without a shred of dignity. How do you respond to these perceptions?"

"It's pretty cool, I guess."

Making notes, Rip remarked, "You really are quite brainless, aren't you?"

"I'm smarter than I look. I have a couple of Oscar® nominations to my credit. I even wrote the screenplay for Rocky."

"Which was cribbed from every sports movie ever made then recycled in Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV and countless others."

"See? My influence is immense?"

"Your EGO is immense," mumbled Rip, turning to his faithful sidekick. "George, would you like to see Mr. Stallone's talents in action?"

"That would be neat! Your examination stage is about the same size as a boxing ring anyway."

"Don't you want to see me act?" Stallone scoffed.

"I said 'talents,' remember? Acting is not your strong suit."

George looked closely at Stallone's pectoral muscles. "He looks pretty tough, Rip. Where will you find a worthy opponent?" Meanwhile, Stallone admired his own pectoral muscles.

"No problem," said Rip, a clever gleam in his eye as he tugged a fin on the Artifish. The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a Sylvester Stallone look-alike wearing Everlast shorts and boxing gloves.

"Rocky Balboa?" Rip checked.

"Yeah," sneered the fictional character.

"Let the match begin!" the Marshal of the Time Stream shouted, ringing a convenient bell. The two Italian stallions stood motionless, having no idea what to do or why. "Why aren't you fighting yet?" yelled a perplexed Rip.

"Don't be angry, Rip. The poor man is beside himself in confusion." George laughed so hard at his own pun that he fell over a guardrail and began a long experiment proving the existence of gravity.

"Uh...can I go home now?" asked Stallone. "I was having a nice dinner with my girlfriend Adrian."

"What are you talking about? Adrian is my wife!" cut in Rocky.

"Different Adrian, punk. Mine is a blonde bombshell with boobs as far as the eye can see."

"Mine is a brunette who has stood by me through thick and thin. We even went to Russia together. And we have a kid."

"My Adrian is better," Stallone scoffed.

"Take that back!" demanded Rocky.

"Make me."

And so it began. The right jabs, uppercuts, and bodyblows came easily, and soon the boxing ring was moist with blood, spittle, and sweat. Before too long, Rip became concerned that a fight between two men with identical abilities might never end. As soon as George dragged his way up from the sub-basement, Rip asked for a suggestion.

"You need to find someone who can break up the fight," George offered. "Someone just as strong as those two."

"Yes! Another perfect match!"

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a longhaired bloodthirsty man, shirtless, holding a couple of machine guns and wearing military pants. He greatly resembled both combatants.

"Go get them, Rambo!" Rip ordered.

The articulate soldier let out a primal scream and pointed the weapons at the two dueling figures. As he pumped them full of exploding lead, Stallone and Rocky called it a draw and fell to the ground with a thud.

Rambo was quite pleased. He pointed the guns skyward and wildly shot everything in sight. "RRRRRRAAAAUUUUGGGHH!" he commented.

"Clearly, this idea was not among my most clever." Rip scratched his head as the spaceship Titanberg crumbled around him. "I'll try one more perfect match."

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: another look-alike wearing leather and dark sunglasses. This one was also well-armed.

"Officer 'Cobra' Cobretti?"

"Yeah? What's your problem?" Dripping with attitude, Cobra didn't seem to realize that almost no one saw his movie.

"Assassinate that man!" said Rip, gesturing at the reloading Rambo.

Cobra looked at Rambo and his eyes narrowed. "You're the disease, and I'm the cure."

"RRRRRRAAAAUUUUGGGHH!" replied Rambo, and Cobra shot a bullet through his brain.

"Excellent catch-phrase!" cheered Rip. "It appears that I have stumbled upon a sane character."

"Who else to I need to kill?" asked Cobra, lighting a cigar with a butane torch.

"Get them all out of here before another movie comes out!" pleaded George.

"Already done!" said Rip, phasing all four men into their various realities. "Now tell me, George, do you understand the philosophy behind the sport of boxing?"

"Yes," George lied, hoping Rip would be impressed enough to give him a cookie.

"Splendid," Rip stated. "Explain it to me."

"Hey! They spilled the Everclear!" George scurried to the fallen teapot, worried about the potent alcohol.

"Well said," an enlightened Rip droned.

At that moment, Crackers the Mouse blasted through his door and sent metal fragments flying everywhere. He hastened to the puddle of Everclear and vigorously slurped it up. A cartoony belch followed, and then a fully intoxicated Crackers the Mouse bumbled back to his home with a hiccup.

"I'm really starting to worry about that mouse," said Rip.

"For what reason?" George asked.

"I will consult the Timeboots for some advice." Rip bent over and began conversing with his galoshes. As he did so, a tiny parachute floated from the heights of the room to Rip's computer console. The small passenger landed, detached the parachute, and could then be seen as a cockroach in a three-piece suit. (It bears mentioning that insect anatomy is different from human anatomy, so a three-piece suit for this cockroach would barely recognizable to most readers. Insectwear normally consists of one garment for each set of legs, so bugs wear three-piece suits and centipedes wear fifty-piece suits. Ties are optional. On second thought, maybe none of this bears mentioning.) The elegant cockroach smoothed the pinstriped silk, cleared his thorax and began speaking.

"Greetings, gentle reader. My name is Eekillit and I will be your guide in this work of literature. I have been observing the characters during the course of this narrative and can share important background information with you. I hope that it will enhance your reading experience.

"Ripley Tapioca has been designated as an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power. While he was born on the far side of the universe, he is essentially humanoid and maintains an undying devotion for the legends of the third planet from Sol. This explains his unerring reliance on Earth-based cliches in his speech patterns and the focus of his studies. Rip Tapioca is an Earth junkie, plain and simple.

"Our hero is also the Marshal of the Time Stream, and so utilizes many tools in his trade. Rip could not perform the tasks demanded by his position without the help of the sentient galoshes on his feet, otherwise known as the Timeboots. They allow him to travel anywhere in time when they are at the point in space corresponding to that moment according to The Beginner's Guide to Time/Space Travel. Look for it in your local bookstore.

"Another interesting possession is the Black Hole Trash Relocator. This device uses the power of a hyperspace warp so that any waste material placed within is randomly teleported to another spot in the universe. For example, Dick Clark's false teeth were automatically relocated to an uninhabited island a few hundred miles west of Hawaii. Considering the proximity, he should have no trouble retrieving them."

Just then, Rip burst into a fit of laughter as the Timeboots reached the punchline of a dirty joke.

"The Artifish is possibly the most crucial of Rip's possessions. This computerized salmon is made of artificial materials and has been designed so that every scale directs a particular function. These controls are activated by touch, as you witnessed when Rip pressed various scales. The rolling eyeballs allow Rip to locate a subject with pinpoint precision, so that -- yeeeeeaaarrrgh!"

George stood over the well-dressed cockroach with a can of Raid, morbidly spraying the corpse with insecticide. "Kills bugs dead!" he said, being both redundant and repetitive.

At that point, Rip stood erect once more and felt a vertebrae snap in two. He briefly reflected on finding a better way to speak with footwear. "The Timeboots believe we should have Crackers committed to an institution." Pressing yet another scale on the Artifish, Rip summoned a squirrel and a lizard wearing hospital smocks and carrying a stretcher. They plunged into Crackers the Mouse's doorway, had a brief scuffle, and soon burst into view carrying the prone body of Crackers strapped into a straight jacket. They hobbled offstage and were never heard from again.

"The Timeboots claim that we have two more subjects to examine in this sequence." Rip rolled the eyeball of the Artifish and dialed up another celebrity. The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: a poorly-shaven heartthrob in a pastel-colored suit jacket. The fashionable fellow looked terrified, and he ran around in little circles briefly before swooning and fainting.

"That was neat!" George yelped. "Was he supposed to pass out like that?"

"Not really. Records show that Don Johnson, star of Miami Vice, is supposed to be a macho stud. Apparently he is a weak-willed wimp." Rip scribbled that down. "Are you okay, Mr. Johnson?"

Don said, "Ubba."

"Should I slap him?" George offered.

"I have a better idea," said Rip. He strolled over to a computer console and made intricate adjustments to various dials. Then he yanked the Artifish from its holster and tapped the same scale twice. In the space of three seconds, Don found himself at the bottom of a boiling tar pit in some prehistoric age, stranded at the South Pole wearing nothing but a linen suit, and hanging from the wing of a starship in the depths of outer space. Then he appeared back on the examination stage.

"Help me, mommy!" he bawled, shivering and twitching.

"Welcome to my spaceship, Mr. Johnson. I have a few questions for you."

"Mommy...mommy..."

"Do you believe that you are somehow entitled to vast wealth and superstardom?"

"Definitely!" said Don, wondering if this had anything to do with the drugs he took in college.

"Why?" prodded Rip.

"Just because." Don's gravelly voice and macho demeanor had fully returned.

"More information, please."

Don scratched his temple. "I've got a pretty cool car."

"And....?"

"I dress real nice."

"And....?"

"I'm an entertainer. I sing and I act."

"If that's what you want to call it," Rip smirked.

"I have a gold album and a TV show viewed by millions every week!"

"Success is not evidence of talent, Mr. Johnson. Your fan base is reported to consist wholly of lust-ridden females."

"Thank heaven!" blurted Don.

Rip gave him a dirty look and continued. "Do you have any other evidence that can prove you worthy of your wealth and superstardom?"

"No, that's about it."

"Are you certain?"

"Yup."

"Words fail me."

"Me too," George interjected. "You didn't even mention your keen hair!" Don was inspired to proudly run his fingers through his sun-bleached hair as George applauded.

"Incidentally," Rip said, "you neglected to shave this morning."

"I did?" Don cried, reaching up to feel his rough face. "Dang it all! I keep forgetting to buy shaving cream and nobody on the set seems to notice."

"I'm going to send you back to Miami now, Mr. Johnson. Don't eat any sushi for a few weeks, okay?" Rip zapped Don away before he could say a word.

"Hey!" accusingly spat George. "I thought you were going to stop warning people about their impending deaths!"

"Stop whining, George. You know as well as I do that our actions can't change history." Rip plopped down in his opulent chair.

"Who's the last person on our list?"

"He's not exactly a person. I suppose he could be described as an 'it,' but not really because he has the personality of a man, even though he...it...he...kind of...." Rip began to tug out his hair as he searched for the proper words. "Let's just summon him to the Titanberg and see what happens." Rip adjusted the Artifish and started the teleportation process. The air got fuzzy, and there it was. (The air didn't buzz. This is an important detail. Keep in mind that the air didn't buzz.)

"A television set?" George laughed. "That's our subject?"

"I b-b-beg your PARdon?" defended the television set.

Baffled beyond belief, George reached for a convenient straight jacket.

"Where the DEvil am I and WHAT am I doing HERE-here-HERE?" stuttered the humanoid face on the screen.

"I have your name as Max Headroom -- do you prefer to be called Mr. Headroom?" Rip had never encountered a comparable lifeform and wanted to remain as polite as possible.

"Just M-M-M-M-MAX will be OKEY-dokey, Smokey. HA!"

" M-M-M-M-MAX, you say. Could I amend that to simply Max? The other way makes my teeth rattle."

"WhatEVER trip-trip-trips yer trigger, PARTner!"

George saw that Max had a seemingly computer-generated face. The screen rendered him with slick sunglasses and a flashy tie, as a psychedelic display of color and light flashed behind him. George wondered if Max ever had to shower.

"Please describe yourself, Max."

"WHY? U can see ME, c-c-can't U?"

"Indeed, yet I believe that your perspective will be unique."

"Oh KAY then! I can HANdle that. Once upON a t-t-t-time there LIVED a man named EDison Carter who KRISH-krush-CRASHED a motorcycle and NEARly bought the FARM! EDison's mind was STORED within a comPUter and the REsults were astonishing-ing-ing. Just LOOK at me! I'm GORgeous!" Max grinned widely, and a white light flashed from the screen.

"Quite unique," said Rip, making notes in his electronic notebook.

"Now M-M-M-M-MAX has a question 4 U, buddy BOY. I was FILMing a commercial for new-new-new Coke, and now I'm STARing at YOUR ugly mug. Who ARE U people?"

"Pardon my poor manners. I am Rip Tapioca and my friend here is called George of the Gelatin-Brains."

Max's wisecracking image suddenly tensed up. He growled and bared his perfect white teeth.

"You have been teleported to the spaceship Titanberg so that I had use my vast skills as an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power. The Universal Tribunal requires that I verify moments of history in various parts of the universe. For instance, our last assignment involved a list of people with cruel and unusual names."

Max began to electronically snarl. George noticed this and shivered, then looked around for a parka.

"Joy Payne, Jay Byrd, Mike Hunt, Ben Dover and his lovely wife Eileen, et cetera. I also remember a young woman named Pumpkin Pye."

Max was now having computerized convulsions.

"Is something wrong, Max?"

"That's M-M-M-Mister Headroom 2 you, SCUMbag!" Max bellowed, as four limbs of solid energy sprouted out of his television set. He took a few hesitant steps on his new energy legs, and cackled. "NOTHING sets my chips in a t-t-tizzy MORE than someONE named after a dessert-ert!"

"Quite unique," blurped Rip, making a few more notes.

Max stuttered his way through a berserker snarl and carved a swath of destruction across the lab. Laser beams of ominous power pulsed from his eyes.

"Heavens! Tapioca is a dessert!" realized Rip. He leaped under his computer console.

Meanwhile, George of the Gelatin-Brains was trying his best to reason with the unhinged TV screen. "You don't need to kill me. My name is George, and that's not a dessert item."

"KILL the GELatin-BRAIN!" crackled Max. The insane robotic beast seized George around the neck using his newly sprouted arms and bonked George's sloshy head against the floor. This experience served to teach George about the phrase "crushed skull."

Rip poked his head over the computer console and witnessed the violent abuse. He howled in a valiant tone, "Stop this madness!"

"NO!" grunted Max.

"Okay," returned Rip. He went to the refrigerator and rummaged around for something to munch. The blueberry yogurt looked particularly tasty.

George grew more and more miffed, for his recently fixed face was being ground to powder. He tried to object: "Why [bonk] are [bonk] you [bonk] bonking [bonk] my [bonk] face?"

Max let out a sinister laugh. "It is MY des-ti-ny 2 kill EVERYone who is named afTER a dessert-ert-ert-ert!" As this plot device was now wearing thin, Max suddenly vanished and George fell to the floor. His face was healed and the spaceship was no longer destroyed.

"What the -- "

A brilliant light shone through every nook and cranny of the Titanberg as a cold and forceful wind blew relentlessly across the room, an obvious forerunner of pure evil entering these time/space coordinates. An apparition appeared, as they often do, floating above the floor in a very apparition-like fashion: a shapely yet shapeless female form, wearing an obviously expensive mist and holding her arms out in a pointing gesture with supernatural fire blazing from her wrists.

"Uh-oh," commented George.

"I AM THE GHOST OF VANNA WHITE!" This unearthly voice would surely cause insects to become sterile.

"Hello," said George.

"YOU WILL BE TORTURED WITHOUT MERCY AND THEN SLAIN BY THE MOST PAINFUL METHODS IMAGINABLE!"

"Seen any good movies lately?"

At this point, Rip looked up from his yogurt and saw a transparent game show hostess threatening George with a lovely parting gift. "Welcome back, Miss White! Sorry about that business with the manhole cover. You should have heeded my advice."

"HEEDED YOUR ADVICE?"

Discreetly pulling out his notebook, Rip jotted the words "hard of hearing."

"I'M NOT HARD OF HEARING, YOU DOLT!"

Rip crossed out those words and wrote "omniscient" instead. Then he said, "I'll bet that you were the cause of Max Headroom's irrational rampage."

"ISN'T THAT OBVIOUS? THAT WASN'T THE REAL MAX HEADROOM! DIDN'T YOU NOTICE THAT THE AIR DIDN'T BUZZ WHEN YOU ZAPPED HIM ABOARD?"

"It didn't?" Clearly Rip had not been reading the parenthetical notes in this narrative.

"DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT A COMPUTER-GENERATED PERSONALITY WOULD SPROUT ARMS AND LEGS BECAUSE HE WANTED TO KILL PEOPLE NAMED AFTER DESSERTS?"

"I wouldn't know. Max is the first computer-generated personality I've ever had the pleasure of meeting."

"I CREATED THAT DUPLICATE OF MAX HEADROOM WITH MY BOUNDLESS POWERS!"

"Letter-turning isn't exactly a power. It's more of a craft, a skill that can be learned with time and practice.

"YOU DIE NOW!" screeched the ghost of Vanna White, releasing bolts of lightning from her fingertips.

Rip said, "Aaaaaauuugh!"

George said, "Oooooooowwwww!"

A contingent of semi-intelligent cat toys said, "ATTACK!" They swarmed on Vanna's mistlike form as she screamed in horror.

"Holy deus ex machina!" cried Rip. "It's the Semi-Intelligent Cat Toys of Arcturus-5! They arrived in the nick of time to save their legendary leader, namely me!" The Marshal of the Time Stream shook off the excess electricity and watched the exciting exhibition. Dozens of wind-up mice were viciously spinning, causing the ghost of Vanna White to dissipate. Countless balls with bells charged in wave after wave of vicious fury, hurling incredible force into her ethereal face and making a cute dinging sound in the process. Using the strength of their vast numbers, the cat toys slowly drove the ghost toward the Black Hole Trash Relocator. Vanna shrieked loudly, chilling the spines of all whom had spines to be chilled. The brave cat toys gave one final shove and the apparition found itself consumed by the Black Hole Trash Relocator. After a tremendous flash subsided, the ghost of Vanna White was gone forever.

"Is it over?" asked George, getting up from the floor. He obviously had no idea that when the enemy is instantly transported into the depths of space, it's usually over.

"Yes, noble Gelatin-Brain. The nightmare of Vanna White is over." Rip turned to the cat toys, which were enthusiastically rallying around his legs. He vigorously shook his legs to disattach some of his loving subjects. They got into formation and awaited word from their leader. An adorable cat toy murmur arose.

Rip hopped onto the examination stage and used the Artifish to levitate it above the floor. The Timeboots giggled with glee. George came up behind Rip and whispered, "Why don't you say a few words?"

Rip cleared his throat and began. "Railroad, cantaloupe, androgyny, copyright, extinguish, perfume, filibuster, anthrax, barbecue -- "

"Maybe I'm stupid," George interrupted, "but I think 'a few words' usually indicates complete sentences."

Rip slapped himself forcefully. "That's right! I'm rather new to this leadership jazz." He started over:

"Honorable cat toys, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and conversely the heart of my bottom. You were the Gatorade™ for my thirst, the Tylenol© for my headache, the Pepto-Bismol® for my heartburn. I was grasping for straws, and you gave me big old telephone poles, which are much bigger and therefore better. These metaphors are getting tiring. Please titter appreciatively if you understand any of this."

Most of the cat toys tittered appreciatively.

"Well done. Thank you, my precious cat toys. Thank you so very much." Rip bowed in gratitude and noticed that the floor needed a good wax job.

The cat toys as cheered as their leader completed his speech, and those who had legs gave him a standing ovation. Soon they made a beeline to their lightspeed transport, which appeared to be a stylized Volvo. (It bears mentioning -- just barely -- that cat toys are universally accepted as the worst drivers in existence. In one legendary incident a pack of cat toys ran a red light, grazed a dozen bag ladies, collided head-on with a comet, and caused a binary star system to go nova. All this carnage was achieved on one tank of plutonium hydrate. Did this really bear mentioning? And did we mention the bear?) Several cat toys swarmed over the steering wheel and gearshift while others operated the accelerator and brake pedal, and they all worked together to wreak havoc all the way back to Arcturus-5.

Rip watched the spacebound Volvo travel at lightspeed until it was a tiny dot in the far reaches of space. This took about three hours, so George took a nap while Rip's neck slowly cramped.

As soon as Rip decided that he had been staring into space long enough, he went back to the computer console to renew his work on the infernal language of James Brown.

"Snnzzl uzk," droned George.

"I believe that phrase means 'to trip on shoelaces,'" said Rip. Suddenly realizing that George was not present for his extensive James Brown studies, Rip took a gander at the dozing Gelatin-Brain.

"Tsk, tsk," muttered Rip as he pressed a worn-down scale on the Artifish.

The air got fuzzy, buzzed, and there he was: wearing the garb of the Chicago Bears, the immense man-mountain rookie known as William "The Refrigerator" Perry. "Wazzup, Rip? Did George fall asleep without permission again?"

"Unfortunately so, William. Would you mind kicking him into next week once more?"

"No problem, buddy."

Rip approached his computer console. "I'll set the controls and you can put George into position. Be careful not to wake him up!" Rip warned, fiddling with some widgets.

The Fridge gently lifted George and propped him into a sitting position. "Guess what, Rip? I gained twenty pounds this month, and my trainer thinks that some of it might be muscle!"

"That would be a pleasant surprise, wouldn't it?" Rip finished his calculations and a dimensional interface resembling a vertical puddle of glittering water appeared a few meters ahead of George and the Fridge.

"Now?"

"Now."

The Fridge dropkicked George into the time-warp puddle. A mere instant before being transported to next week, George came back to consciousness with one thought racing through his skull: Now I remember why I came crashing into this room with the estimated speed of a comet hurtling through space! I was dropkicked by --

Then he was gone.

"Cool!" the Fridge cheered. "By the way, how come you keep forcing a memory loss? George won't remember what he did wrong, so he'll probably just do it again."

"The punishment is subliminal. His subconscious mind gets closer to figuring out his sins with each censure."

The Fridge checked George's trajectory and frowned. "We forgot to aim him at Marilyn Monroe's beauty mark like last time."

"I'm certain that he'll find some other large metal object to be shattered upon," Rip reassured. "Shall we adjourn to lunch? There's an excellent sushi bar two galaxies over..."

The Fridge glared.

"Or we could go to your favorite place. It's called Gluttons Galore, correct?"

A smile overtook the Fridge's lips, which he started licking in anticipation of the Side O' Beef Special. "What are we waiting for?"

Tapping the Artifish, Rip stuttered, "Th-buh-th-buh-th-buh-that's all folks!"

"Porky Pig impressions when you're standing next to a fat guy? How insensitive."

"Never mind the subtext, William. Let's go eat."

As the twosome faded from view, the Black Hole Trash Relocator trembled just enough to anticipate a sequel or two.

END

Want more? Stick around for Part Two




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