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Chapter 28

Algren Eighteen liked to think that the Cerulean third of his personality was the dominant one.  That was where he got his ambitiousness.  The other two-thirds of Algren Eighteen was Tripedal, which was why when he entered the service of the Master he started as a library guard.  Tripedals were dexterous and fiercely responsible, though not noted for their intelligence.  Ceruleans, on the other hand, were among the shrewdest races on Oric, and probably the wealthiest.  It was only their remarkable lack of any racial loyalty to speak of that allayed any fears among the general population that the seven or eight hundred thousand Ceruleans on Oric might pool their wealth into one of the Galaxy's most powerful economic cartels.

The Ceruleans had six sexes, the Tripedals had three.  Consequently the mating exercise that produced Algren Eighteen was composed of two Tripedals and two Ceruleans.  The Tripedals undoubtedly thought the entire proceeding was a touch kinky.  As a result Algren Eighteen turned out trisexual.  Be that as it may.

He was now chief of the attendants at the Master's launching deck two levels below the pyramid's base.  He was still only guarding things, but he was rising fast.  Apparently his position would become more important as time passed, at any rate the deck was being used a lot more than it used to be when Algren Eighteen was first transferred here.

He supervised six other guards and kept records of the comings and goings of the Master's vehicles with the assistance of his very own assigned portable computer terminal that followed him on wheels while he was on duty and whose red light flashed on to activate it at the sound of Algren Eighteen's voice.  He did not give his Computer a name.

Algren Eighteen was even more ambitious than all that.  There was a windfall coming and Algren Eighteen knew that the Master was going to be sharp enough to be at the top of it.  There were beings of great affairs flocking to Oric these days from the farthest reaches of the Galactic Arm, sometimes even beyond.  What about that bareheaded humanoid with the filtrum, Algren Eighteen thought, he must be from clear out at the Central Cluster.  He heard the chief speaker in the temple go on about the opening of a new age in our lifetimes.  The educated beings those days spouted something about an eight-billion-year-old Prophesy made by Sonnabend himself.  And bigwigs in the organization lurked in corridors muttering to each other about the Future, as if it were some corporeal presence to be awaited like a cosmic dust cloud or the guy who relieves you on the next shift.  If they were all planning to be ready to move up, then so would Algren Eighteen.  In his spare time he was teaching himself to pilot the Master's vehicles.

The problem was that when he finally figured out how to bank the surface cruiser into the magnetic lines of force somebody brought in the shuttle bus.  Before he had the time to decipher the controls of the unwieldy machine that transported up to seventy five mediumsized beings from world to world there were the teleport casters.  Teleportation itself was not hard to master, but there was the problem of making sure the object or creature that was teleported did not materialize in solid rock—or in the space of another creature.  And then there was the fleet of interstellar jaunters, which were single passenger crafts piloted by remote control from Oric.  Algren Eighteen finally caught up with his local technology and got a handle on all this machinery, and now he hoped to play with the new device, a black bulb surrounded by eight coiled arms, whose function he could only begin to guess.  When night came he would have a chance to transport this vehicle up the undersea launch ramp and experiment.  That was, if traffic down here let up by then.

The day's work was nonstop.  Crafts were running in and out of the deck like communicable diseases.  He was collecting written and oral coded authorization information and feeding it into his computer terminal for each entry and departure.  He recorded the time, position of the planet with regard to Vega, course and purpose of each voyage.  The data were an unholy mess, sitting inside that animate machine.  When he was off duty, before he laid his three hands on that new vehicle, Algren Eighteen would organize it all into a coherent daily log.

"You there, you in charge here?" Algren Eighteen spun in the direction of the voice.  It was the new humanoid.  The bare-headed one with the filtrum.

"Yes sir.  May I help you?" Algren Eighteen saw that the humanoid was accompanied by another larger one whom he should probably have recognized as one of the Master's attendants.  He himself was in the uniform of a menial and of course had no filtrum.  All these humanoids looked alike, it seemed.

"There isn't a moment to spare," the bald one rushed through his words.  "We're taking the Black Widow."

"The what?"

"The Black Widow.  This one.  The vehicle with the bulb.  We can both fit.  Don't worry, my friend has top clearance." The two humanoids were upon the new vehicle.

"Halt.  Hold it there.  You need authorization.  What is the purpose of your departure?"

"Listen to the pretzel brain, he wants authorization.  Look, mucous-face, while you stand here playing petty bureaucrat Superman is zooming halfway to Oa to alert the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps and the Galactic Tribunal and God for all I know to the fact that your boss, my boss, the boss of bosses who owns you and everything you see is up to something with a touch of unholiness.  Get that weapon out of my face or you'll be scratching for worms with the rest of the turkeys before morning."


"Right.  Very good.  Tomorrow we learn to spell cat.  Superman's escaped.  And don't tell me you didn't know the Master had him here.  The news about how the boss and I captured him is probably halfway to the next Galaxy with that cockamamie clown poet by now."

"Yes, I knew that.  But the alert systems—"

"—will very likely be in operation by the time the old flyboy's sprinting into the central Cluster.  I'm the one who tracked him down before.  It's only through the incompetence of some idiot like you that he's away now.  And if you make me wait for your meshugenah coded authorization the best laid plans of prophets and kings are going the way of the tyrannosaurus and the Dodo, which seems to be making a dramatic comeback right here in this room."

"I do not understand the translation of what you just—"

"You do not understand a whole lot.  It was all I could do to enlist this burly specimen in my aid." The outspoken one pointed to the dull-looking humanoid menial at his side.  "How many vehicles left here in the past ten minutes?"

"Ten minutes? Computer," the red light went on, "How many vehicles left here in the past—"

"I don't want numbers, you loon.  I want to know if you let anyone out of here in that time."

"They're coming and going all the time.  At least six beings teleported somewhere, another three were authorized for the various—"

"That kills me.  The creep got out right under your nose, or whatever it is you call that banana under your middle eye.  Help us get this craft to the hydraulic launch ramp, and I'll think about going easy on you in my report.  It's very lightweight.  Bulky, but lightweight."

Algren Eighteen gulped, or did something like gulping, and chattered away at his computer terminal as he helped Luthor and the humanoid aide with the Black Widow.  "Vehicle designated Black Widow departing coordinates 11:14:50 with reference Vega.  Two occupants, both humanoid designated..." Algren Eighteen asked the two their names and fed them into the computer terminal ...  "Lex Luthor and Abraham Lincoln."

Bells sounded and lights flashed all over the room.  It was the alert system.

"See?" Luthor said.  "See? I told you he escaped.  Quit feeding that gibberish into the dumbwaiter and set your dials to shoot this cruiser a thousand feet or so over the ocean surface."

Algren Eighteen did that, frantically, as the two humanoids climbed into the open bulb, ready for launch.

"Scramble pattern pipeline yellow," Luthor barked at the computer terminal which immediately began to flash lights and erase information from its banks as the launching ramp hatchway closed and the Black Widow lifted off in the direction of the star Vega.

"What?" Algren Eighteen asked.

"Not a bad escape plan for an amateur," Luthor told his companion as solar energy took over from inertia to fuel the Black Widow.

"Well, it was you who got all that computer information, like the pyramid's layout and the way to scramble the computer record of the escape," Superman complimented Luthor as he tore off the fake uniform and the wad of flattened building material he had scooped out of a wall and used to cover the cleft of his upper lip.

"And you're awfully cute when you smile.  Now I suggest you get your bulk out of here so I have the elbow room to pilot this thing before those goons down there figure out where we went."

Superman opened the bulb hatch to do a swan dive upward, and raced the cruiser to the edge of space.



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