Michael Shack

(Mr. Shack wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Jerry Page.)


It is not unusual for Captain Shiver to save a planet, a solar system -- or even a universe!

Oglethorpe's Universal Encyclopedia -- Volume Three

Space screamed. The universe itself seemed tortured and dying. The sky twisted, the stars slewed to this side and that, and gravity did strange things. Captain Shiver knew that if she had made a mistake she - and the rest of the universe - would pay for it now. She was careening - she and the planet she was standing on and the stars around them - through the great worm hole, and she could not stand up. She fell sprawling and lay there while creation itself spun and whirled and screamed and rose and fell -

And then it was over and everything was quiet.

Or almost everything.

"Golly gee, Captain Shivers," Urgus said. "You saved the universe!"

"Oh, double bummer," said Thurston. "I'll bet you saved entropy, too."

"By crackies!" said space marshal Grabby Haze, using all ten tentacles to lift himself from the ground. "I knowed you could do it, Cap'n Shivers. Why, by doggies, it reminds me of the time I helped young Curt Newton figure out how to deal with them thar ornery space fabric vortexes on Duceon IX. Waal -"

"Will you for frippin sakes cut it out with the nostalgia," said first officer Nadir McGuirk dusting himself off with his right wing. "This is serious stuff here. While we was zipping through space I thought for a minute my cigar went out."

Shivers climbed to her feet and gazed at the sky behind them. It was muddied and clouded and the clouds moved like whirlpools of quicksand. "It is serious. I thought I designed that worm hole to be unstable. But it's not breaking up."

McGuirk puffed on his perpetual stogie. "So? We got through it, didn't we?"

Abstractedly, Shivers nodded her head. "Yes, but unless that thing collapses, Doctor Ping's space devourer can follow after us and if it manages that, we won't have escaped, and it'll destroy the entire universe anyway."

"In that case," said Thurston, "it's just as well you saved entropy."

"Forget entropy," she said, with a snarl. "Ping's lab is just over that hill. Come on, we can't have much time."

"You had to bring time through that worm hole, too," Thurston remarked.

She started off at a fast walk, forcing her friends to scurry to keep up with her long-legged strides. She was thinking that all this was really her fault.

Six years ago, she and Grabby went after Ping and Percy Pontifex, a loving couple of space extortionists who were threatening planets on the off-side of the Horse's Head Nebula, with a planet gobbler they had invented. She realized now the planet gobblers were small-scale versions of the thing Ping was now letting loose to destroy the entire universe, but they seemed impressive at the time. Grabby captured Ping. Captain Shivers were after Percy. She tracked him to his space lair where he was creating the planet gobblers. In the resulting fight, Percy fell into one of his own planet gobblers and was devoured. When she heard, Ping swore revenge.

She spent a year in jail and then escaped, successfully dropping out of sight once she was out of prison. No one knew what she was up to until three days ago when it was realized she had managed to created a planet gobbler of such macrocosmic proportions that it had the ability to swallow - after carefully chewing up - the whole universe.

But Shivers had a couple of tricks up her own sleeve. Instead of attacking the gobbler directly she flew to Outpost, a planet on the outskirts of the universe on the far side of creation from where the gobbler was forming. While the gobbler was still outside, she used Mesomorph technology, combined with a trick she had learned that vortex season she's worked with "Storm" Cloud, and created the biggest worm hole ever. So big the universe would zip through and find itself elsewhere when the space devourer attacked. But if the worm hole didn't collapse of its own instability, the space devourer would simply follow after them.

It was no surprise that Ping's hideout was located on this cold and desolate, virtually starless planet. It was the only logical place, all things considered, and Captain Shivers had considered them twice. Now, determined one way or another to put an end to all this, Shivers made her way toward Ping's stronghold.

"Wow, are we ever in luck," exclaimed Thurston. "She left the front door wide open!"

"Waal, I never," said Grabby drawing his six guns.

"In that case," McGuirk snapped, "stop bragging about it all the time."

"That thar ornery she-male mad scientist done set a trap for us. She expects us to just stupidly walk right in through that door whar she'll be a-waiting for us. Come on, boys! And you too, Miz Cap'n Shivers! Let's sneak around this way."

Before she could stop him, Grabby took off around the building with Thurston, McGuirk and Urgus following, right into the concealed pit.

Shivers peered over the edge. They had fallen into the strong, sticky web of a giant spider. The spider looking hungry, was eagerly moving toward them. Happily, it was a small giant spider and she felt certain it was no match for her crew. She could get them out of the web later.

She ran across the rocky ground to the open door. She pressed against the wall, her d-gun held ready, and peered inside. The interior of the building was dark, of course. Very dark. Captain Shivers' brain raced.

This was a trap, of course, but that had to be weighed against the short amount of time left before the space eater would stabilize enough to get pulled into the worm hole. Ping had a better opportunity for subtlety than she did. So Captain Shivers took a long, deep breath and darted through the doorway into the trap.

As she suspected, there were guns trained on it. She saw the flash of their muzzles as they launched their energy rings in her direction. She dropped to the floor and rolled under them, her own gun firing to disable them. Something snapped. Something else crackled and popped. The hidden guns ceased firing. She got to her feet, saw a corridor before her and ran down it.

Abruptly her path was blocked by a gigantic being that stepped from an alcove. It was naked to the waist and its skin was scaled like that of a snake. From it's pit viper's head a thin, forked tongue extended and trembled, testing the air. In its three-fingered hand it held a scimitar which it swung at Captain Shivers, aiming for her neck. She ducked and let the flat, curved blade pass above her. She fired her d-gun straight into the guard's mid-section. Rings of violet and green, orange and blue, read and yellow energy donuts sprouted from her weapon and consumed the creature. Captain Shivers continued onward.

She found herself in a large, mostly empty room. Draperies were hung on all sides covering any openings there might be except for the one she had come through. The light was dim and rather ghostly, she thought. Why must these mad scientist types always be so dramatic? Oh, well. There was nothing else to do. She stepped into the center of the room.
She knew there would be a trap and she was certain it would come from the ceiling. She hoped it would be an easy thing to duck under it as it fell and thus escape it. But as it fell, it fell faster than she thought possible. As she darted to get out of it her shoulder slammed painfully against the curved glassite wall. She was trapped like a fly under a cup. Lying there she fired her gun just to confirm her suspicions. Sure enough, the photonic rings crackled harmlessly against the hard transparent metal.
"Trapped at last," said Ping, stepping out from a nearby hiding place and standing in front of Captain Shivers.

Shivers got slowly to her feet and holstered her useless d-gun. Under her breath she cursed herself for this miscalculation. Such recklessness! How could she be so stupid with the lives of everyone in the entire universe at stake?

Seeing her lips move, Ping misunderstood her anger and said, "Curse me all you like, you fool. I will be the one to have the revenge. Me! Not you,"

She was tall and slender. She wore the elaborately revealing black gown of a lady mad scientist. The cowl was thrown back to show the twin streaks of gray hair that shot from her temples through her long, straight black hair. Her eyes were cold and angry, the semblance of a smile that twisted her lips, false. She leaned closer to the barrier that separated them.

"Oh, how I've hated you these past, ugly years, Captain Shivers, for what you did to my lover. You came, you and those fools who follow you, because I threatened the universe. But destroying the universe is trivial compared to revenge against you." She stood up straight and with hatred dripping from her words, said, "Because of you I lost the only man I ever loved."

She moved with a lithe grace ver to the wall and pulled back the drapes to reveal a control panel. "Your cell is not just a prison, but the barrel of a space catapult. It was extremely difficult, but while you were creating that dismal worm hole of yours, I managed to induce a small added potential into its energy fundament. It can't collapse until something goes back through it. Anything will do, you know. Even your small mass. With one pull of this lever, I will send you hurtling into space back into the gravity well of the worm hole. You'll be shot back to the other side of the sevagram where my universe devourer awaits. I'm sure it will be disappointed having just you to devour, but I look forward to the event." She smiled the way a snake smiles at a bird with a broken wing. "I'll build a new worm hole, then. After all, if you can build one, anyone can. And I'll bring my space-eater here." Her hand clutched the lever and she laughed madly.

"That highly efficient Earle K. Begery design lady space captain's uniform you wear will protect you from the rigors of space, of course, but I advise you to take a deep breath now, because I don't intend to give you the opportunity to don a space helmet."

The tube in which Captain Shivers was trapped had a diameter of about four feet and though it was smooth, it was no more than eight feet to the top. The catapult mechanism had to be in the floor. As Ping turned, Shivers made her move.

She pulled her Swiss Army ballpeen hammer from her belt and jumped.

Using the hammer as a grappling hook, she caught the top of the tube and pulled herself up. Ping saw what she was doing and leaped for the control lever.

As she reached it, and pulled, Captain Shivers yanked her d-gun out of her holster and, thumbing the control stud to force field and fired straight down at the catapult. The idea was not to destroy the thing but to balance forces. Forces must balance, you know. The mechanism of the catapult sang. But the thing did not spring. Shivers pulled herself up out of the tube and dropped to the floor.

Ping saw what was happening and, with a scream of rage, drew her own d-gun, thumbing the control stud to kill, and fired. Shivers hit the floor, dropped and rolled clear of the round, colorful rings of the energy donuts, and fired.

There hadn't been time to thumb the control stud back to combat. The force field slammed Ping against the wall panel. A lever - not the catapult release -flew up. The glassite tube rose back into the ceiling.

"I'll kill you with my bare hands!" Ping said, charging. But her hands were not bare. She held a wicked looking knife and was slashing, too angry to be effective. With a move she had learned on the playing fields of Miss Amelia Tidwell's Space Academy for Genteel Young Ladies, Shivers straight-armed her opponent, sending her sprawling to the floor, right over the catapult.

The catapult strained against the pressure of the force field. Shivers jumped for the control panel. But before she could reset the catapult release lever and stop it, the catapult burst free.

Ping screamed as she was hurtled aloft.

For a long time Shivers just stood staring up at the hole in the ceiling through which Ping had exited. Then McGuirk walked in, puffing on his stogie and said, "I see I had all the hard stuff, again."

"Did everyone escape the spider safely?" Captain Shivers asked

"Oh, yeah," said McGuirk moving toward the middle of the floor. "One puff of my old stogie and I had old eight legs taking off like a turpentined banth."

"Good. Oh, you better moved away from that spot."

McGuirk looked down at the floor which gave no indication of the now-reset catapult hidden beneath it. He scowled and said, "Why for?"

She told him. "Because Ping the Percyless says you can't stand there."