The Worst Story Ever Written

"There are three secrets a man masters. Kung fu, the ways of the chicken, and handling Asplodium."


They were chasing him because of the secret thing that he had. They wanted to get the secret thing but he wouldn't give it to them so that's why they chased him. There were a lot of them so he had to run really fast. They chased him all through this city that was like really futuristic looking. He hid behind a big plastic object that only certain people could see through and they couldn't but he could so they ran past him. But that was only some of them. So when he went running a different direction more of them chased him some more.

He ducked into a shop that sold old timey bicycles. Those were hard to hide behind so he went into another shop that sold appliances. This woman was just closing the door on a refrigerator and he tried to jump inside, but there were all these shelves and that didn't work out so good and he almost got caught.

But he ran some more out of the city and got to the water and there was this really cool power boat scene. They shot at him with future guns and their future bullets were flying all over the place. Maybe they were beams - I like beams better than bullets, don't you? So they shot lots of future beams but missed him, but sunk the boat. But before it sunk he jumped off into the water and they thought he sunk with the boat and shot the water around the boat full of future beams. They made neat hissing sounds when the beams hit the water. But he didn't die because he had jumped off earlier like I said and was somewhere else. He did get a really bad scrape on his arm though.

He swam back to shore and ducked into a store to catch his breath because he was tired because he had been running and swimming.

He couldn't remember his name because that's what they did to him. He took off his shirt when he remembered his mom had written his name in some of them. His name was L.L. Bean.

"Can I help you?" she said. She was a really pretty girl and he just realized he had ducked into a dress shop. She was asking him that probably because she worked there.


"Yes you can," he said. " I need a dress, and need it fast. Like faster than the shavings fly off a pencil being ground down in the pencil sharpener."

"That's pretty fast," she said breathlessly, "I'll do my best. We have some girls coming in later to have their bridesmaid dresses fitted, they'll never miss one, so I'm going to give you the one closest to your size. You look like you'd fit a 94 and a half, to me."

"Bingo!" he said, that's just my size, "Whip it out forsooth!"

"For who? I thought it was for you."

"That's me. Name is Sooth. Game is booth. Phone booth, if you get my drift." He winked at her caustically.

"Coming right up Sooth!" she exclaimed valiantly, brushing the sparkly pink frizzy ethereal bangs out of her eyes. "It's just your color, too, lavendar, with big puffy sleeves, I tell ya, these are going to show off your biceps like nothing you ever even dreamed about in your dreamiest dreams."

"Cool," he agreed readily. "Can you help me with a hat, too? Something big, I'm thinking."

"Absolutely," she assented, nodding her head like one of those bobble dolls in the back of a car window when the brakes are slammed on.

"Could I interest you in gtetting that disgusting beard off your face, too? I just want you to look your very best while wearing our product."

"Well, ok," he relented, "but this took me a long time to grow. And I'm kind of in a hurry. Unless you can hide me. I'm, being chased you know. It's my lot in life, always pursued, pursued, followed, trailed, stalked, chased, and honey I am JUST SO TIRED." He threw himself onto the fainting couch with a dramatic flair, sort of like you'd see in a jr. high school presentation of Arsenic and Old Lace.

She came at him with a pot of leg waxing wax, and slathered it all over his face, from forehead to under the chin. "I'm gonna fix you right up honey, best disguise you ever had. Course you're gonna have to be in this wedding you are stealing the dress from now, but it'll be fun and you'll be safely hidden from those relentless pursuers. NOw you just sit still a minute and I"ll bring out the dress and your petticoats."

He relaxed, for the first time in days. Maybe weeks. Hell, may it was the first time this year.

She returned bearing a giant pugffy lavender cloud of net, sequins, satin, and feathery trim. "That's just your headress, be right back."

He was drifting off to sleep when suddenly it felt like his face and scalp were ripped off with such force that he spun around three times and crashed to the floor, crushing a pile of lavendar stuff.
"SON OF A BITCH!" he yelled, "I am going to KILL YOU, soon as I find my face and stick it back on, you harlot! You scum bucket crack whore demon from the pit of hell. I Might've known you were into the rough stuff."

"Oh calm down, for heaven's sake," she said haughtily, "you men are such sissies. I"ve given you a free exfoliation, and now you can start fresh with a new haircolor and eyebrows. I"m not even goign to charge you for that part."


"Screw THIS!" He said as he crawled around on the floor, dripping bloody face goop all over the carpet, and searching for his face. "I'm gonna find my face and - AHA! Here it is!" He tugged at a bunch of the shop girl's pubic hair, thinking it was his face.

"Hey!" She shouted. "That is NOT your face and I did NOT give you permission to touch that!" Her voice sounded like some sort of scary monster. "NOW you must paaaayyyy!!" She gave him such a knee to his face space that he flew backwards, through several walls before stopping.

"Just as well," he thought as he got up and dusted himself off. "I need to start running again anyway." He ran towards a crowd of people and tried to blend in. They all walked to a park. There was a party going on and several family reunions. A little kid saw him and started screaming. He figured that was a little too much attention - especially since he was already having trouble hiding the fact that he was still missing his face - and decided to run again.

This time, he found an open car and got into it. He was extra happy because the keys were already in it and there was a hunk of meat, fries, and a small drink sitting in the passenger seat. He was so relieved because he was hungry and he went to take a bite of the hunk of meat.

Suddenly, the hunk of meat's eyes opened and a mouth appeared on the box of fries and the small drink grew a pair of ears. The mouth said, "You are lucky, Friend. On a normal day, jumping into this car, and trying to eat us would've gotten you shot with my buddy's gigantic ear wax pellets." The small drink wiggled its ears, threateningly. The box of fries continued. "But, since we were ready to leave the park anyway, instead, you get one wish. And none of that using a wish to wish for more wishes, shit, either."

"Wowsa!" Sooth said, excitedly. "I wish I knew what to wish for!"

"Done!" The box of fries said.

"What? How?" Sooth was confused. "I don't even know what I wished for?"

"Well, you knew something," the box of fries said. "Because look at what's shown up over there," the box of fries pointed at the windshield with one of its fries.

Sooth turned and saw .....


A mirror. FINALLY, he thought, rushing to take a look. Staring back at him was a super-handsome face. Not too high on the forehead nor two low were two orbs of dazzling violet and above them hair like freshly-spun flax. "Now I finally know what i look like and have found a nifty way to convey this to my readership in a way that is not at all obvious!" he exclaimed.

The box of fries rolled its eyes and gasped audibly, clearly sick of Sooth's shenanigans. It rattled itself as a rogue squirrel from the city's park scampered past, but the squirrel wasn't even tempted.

Meanwhile, totally and completely unbeknownst to the box of fries, Sooth had fallen in love with his reflection, but most astonishing of all, his reflection had fallen in love with him and his tightly-wrapped lavender bicepts. He bent down to lick the half of the face of the reflection in the mirror which wasn't freshly-waxed and plucked-chicken looking. "Ooh baby, you're mine," he pontificated.

But before Sooth and mirror-Sooth could consummate their love for one another, a laser beam hit the upper eastmost corner of the mirror and reflected off, narrowly missing Sooth's face.

"Hey!," he announced, looking for the source of the attack.

Below him on the grass was the box of fries, holding a wicked lazer stun-gun. "Hahahaha," laughed the box of fries. "You didn't even know that I was part of the enemy that was frantically coming after you," the box of fries accused.

"NO!" gasped Sooth.

"Yes!" replied the box of fries.

"How can this be?" asked Sooth, incredulously.

"It's simple," started the box of fries. "...


"... deus ex machina, my friend, deus ex machina," finished the evil box of fries as it unloaded a vast array of lasers, perforating said car and nearby landscape making it look not unlike a fine formage of the Alps (swiss cheese).

Luckily boxes of fries tend to be very slow runners, particularly while madly cackling as they were wont to do. Sooth booked it and used his handy dandy parkour training to flip around on stuff and lose the evil box of fries, which was quite difficult in his big frilly dress. Breathing pretty darn hard against a brick-faced building he took a chance to rest and remembered his dear love, mirror-him. Mirror-him winked and batted his eyes and gave him a come hither stare. Consummation time. He closed his eyes and kissed for all he was worth.

That's when he realized he was kissing a cold inanimate object, not mirror-him. Slowly his senses came back to him. That dress shop must have been filled with some kind of hallucinogen vapor. Maybe it was the dress? Was it spiked with chemical crazy-making devices? He stripped down to his boxers, just in case. Then he lit a cigarette, breathed in the nicotiney goodness and used the lighter to burn the dress so he could stay warm. He crouched down on his haunches and warmed himself at the lavender dress sidewalk fire.

Sooth became lost in thought. The dressmakers must have been a part of S.W.A.R.M., the people who he'd stolen the thingee from. Man, they held a grudge. One little thingee and death to Sooth. Hold on, he thought, I'm not Sooth, that was my brilliantly improvised pseudonym. I'm actually L.L. Bean. He'd never been so grateful to have his name back. It hadn't been easy growing up Ladies Love Bean. Just because one's mother really liked L. L. Cool J was no reason to go through life with a name like Ladies Love. It stirred many disturbing childhood memories, which he was grateful to have as it meant his mind was returning to normal, but far too painful, so he stuffed it deep back down inside. He had more important things to do. Like not dying. And keeping the thingee away from S.W.A.R.M. That's the ticket.

Having been lost in thought for several minutes (with several painful childhood PTSD flashbacks) he noticed that he was one, naked in his boxers with his thingee-laden man's carry-all, and two there was a small crowd of people pointing and giggling at him, aside from the few who pretended he didn't exist.

He looked at his watchless wrist, and said, "Well would you look at the time," and whistled, swang his arms with a clap or two and nodded at the gigglers. Once away from the crowd he ran full speed.

And there he was, the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the city - Starbucks Alley. An entire street, both sides, of Starbucks, all competing with each other - the delicious dark-roasty smelling bastards. He had to tread lightly. But dammit he was L.L. Bean! He went into the 1st Starbucks, hung out near the bathrooms, cold-cocked a hipster, pulled him into the men's room and stole the hipster's clothes. He slipped out like an obese clumsy ninja and went to the next Starbucks to get a latte.

Once there, he screamed, "There's eighteen Starbucks next to each other and you're still charging me seven bucks for a venti? Are you shitting me!" and stormed out sans caffeine.

He lit up a cig and strolled down the block, muttering to himself, turned a corner and saw a very creepy woman with long dark hair staring at him with her hands behind her back and two large goons.

"Hello there, Mr. Bean."

"And who the fuck are you,' said L.L. slinging his man's carry-all behind his back, as he prepared to fight or flee.

"Machina, Deus X. Machina."


"Wow, that's really an incredible coincidence," said the artist formerly known as Sooth. "I've heard that recently somewhere, although I can't think where at the moment."

"I'll take the thingee NOW," Machina muttered meancingly.

"That's really a fascinating name," he replied. "What does that mean exactly? ....No wait, don't tell me, I'll look it up on my incredibly expensive pocket electronic device. I keep forgetting I have this thing."

"Give it up or die - and I don't mean 'give it up' in that fun spanky kind of way," Machina mentioned mocking merriment.

"OK, now correct me if I'm wrong, but that name sounds Dutch to me. Was your father from the Netherlands by chance?"

Machina shot a blast of laser past L.L.'s locks.

"Alright, Geez. Some people are just testy about their childhood" L.L. Forsooth replied.

"My patience is precipitously approaching its peak," she warned.

Sooth Bean discretely put several papers in different pouches of his carry-all which was really difficult because it was behind his back, but with camera angles and all they can make that look possible on TV.

"Gotcha. But let me just ask this one tiny little question, if I may. Which thingee is it that you want?"

"The..." Machina began.

"Could it be the plans for the Fur Refrigerator Cover that I invented? Those plans actually belong to me, despite the complex legal agreement I signed which was full of loopholes..."

"No, that's not it."

"The bug proof windshield spray?"


"The shoe squeak fixer?"

"You can fix squeaky shoes?"

"Yeah, no foolin'. Works great."

"Wow. I've got some really comfy plimsolls but they make such a noise..."

But just as things were getting friendly another laser beam wizzed past his head coming from a different direction and he heard a familar voice.

"Die you saltless bastard!" It was Frenchy the dangerous french fry assasin, who had finally caught up with them.

It looked hopeless for our hero - caught between Frenchy and Machina - but he had one heckuva trick up his boxers.


She stood in the dim backstreet light and looked Bean over with tawny eyes so weird it's hard to describe. But it creeped Bean out big time. "Oh, Beanie," she sighed, "how is it you always make your way back to Starbucks Alley?"

Bean didn't know that, or her, so he observed: "I don't know you, lady."

"Sure you do," she assured him. "I'm your partner from the Asplodium mines, where for five years we did secret agent stuff and probably had sex and trained our bodies and minds vigorously. Yes, it's your old friend Deus X. Machina, and I'm here to make all your problems go away."

Bean was more confused than ants raiding an anteater picnic. Something about her name rang in his mind still recovering from what those evil doctors did to it. He smoked his cig a while, smoked it hard. "Is that right?" he questioned skeptically. "Offers like that come with a price."

Deus flipped her dark hair off her shoulders and smiled that eerie smile and gestured to his smoke. "Got one of those?"

Stalling while he scanned the alley for a narrow escape route, Bean rummaged through his man's carry-all. His pack of cigs was as empty as that treacherous box of fries would have been if he had eaten it. Fortunately he had a second pack that he got off that hipster. "Take it," Bean said, tossing it to her.

"Thanks," Deus stated thankfully. She tapped the pack with a long, sparkly, crimson-tipped finger and stuck the whole thing in her mouth and lit it with her futuristic laser gun. "We wan weh weewet wing."

"What's a weewet wing?"

Deus removed the blazing pack from her mouth and blew Bean a wall of smoke. "The secret thing you took. The one that has you running all over this cool city that looks like The Fifth Element but there's no smog."

Bean clenched his fists. "SCREW YOU!!!" he cried out exclamatorially. "S.W.A.R.M. isn't getting its hands on the secret thing!! Not after all my narrow escapes!"

Another wall of smoke. "What makes you think we're S.W.A.R.M.?"

"You're not?" Bean asked dubiously.

"We're worse," Deus threatened. She ground out the smoldering pack on the greasy pavement. "And you were the worst of us all. We have all the answers you seek for those things they made sure you forgot."

God, Bean wished he could remember those things. Anything. He longed for his gorgeous face in the mirror and the peace he would know only when the darkness in him was expunged and the deaths avenged. Deaths! Yes, there had been deaths he swore to avenge! But who? What? How? When? Where? Why? Could he trust Deus? Could he not trust her? What should he do?

Deus did something vaguely sexy. "All you have to do is hand over the secret thing you took. Oh, and come back to work. It's off to the mines again, partner."

"Like hell!" Bean screamed from the part of his soul that screams with the best adverbs.

"You magnificent bastard," she said aloud. "Get him, boys."

The goons rushed him but Bean laid on a few kung fu moves all suspended up in the air, but the goons fought like that too, and after a lot of air fighting Deus blasted Bean with her future laser.

"Ouch!" Bean complained and after that he was unconscious.

Chapter 8

When Bean awoke, he was covered in feathers and riding in the back of a truck that was hauling chickens. He jumped up in fright and caused such a ruckus that he got pecked several times in the face. The chickens were also scared to see a man jump up in the midst of them. They'd also taken serious offense at getting kicked. Bean apologized to the ones he'd kicked (especially to the two sisters he'd kicked particularly hard in the stomach) and shook wings with the others who would accept it. They all somehow understood him when he asked them where they were going. He was incredibly excited to see the comprehension in their little beady chicken eyes. But, he got disappointed when he realized that, though they could understand him when he spoke English, he could not understand them when they spoke chicken. Their answers were a cacophony of clucks that left him still confused.

Suddenly, the truck came to a stop. Because Bean was so scared, he asked the chickens to hide him. They all jumped on him and covered him in a pile of stinky, yet, oh so soft chicken feathers. But, he also got poked in the eyes by chicken feet. He wasn't too happy about that.

Bean heard Deus X. Machina's voice as she instructed someone to open the back of the truck. Bean saw a glimpse of light before the fog from the packs of cigarettes the men were smoking rolled into the truck. Bean wondered what was up with everyone smoking whole packs at a time, but decided that paying attention to what they were saying to him was more important. It was hard to hear each other over the chickens, so the two men drug him outside and threw him on the ground in front of Deus.

"Are you ready for the second part of your torture?" Deus asked.

"And what part would that be?" Bean asked.

"The part where you get rolled around in gelatin," Deus said.

"The fuck kinda torture is this?"

"The kind that makes you give us what we want!" Deus took the fistful of cigarettes out of her mouth and tapped them to shake off the ashes.

"What'll you do next - make me eat pancakes while covered in ketchup?"

"I hadn't thought of that," Deus looked interested. "Maybe we could try that tomorrow." Deus stuck the cigarettes back in her mouth. "Wif wu wive." Deus nodded at the two men who drug Bean outside, and they grabbed him by the arms and drug him again.

They drug Bean down a small hill to a large, circular shaped building made out of wood. Inside the barn-style doors, there was a super large tub of gelatin. There was a small, step-ladder leaning against the tub. The men drug Bean over to it and ordered him to climb up and in.

Deus leaned against the wall and watched as Bean did as he was told. The gelatin was clear, so he could see straight through to the bottom. And at the bottom of the large, gelatin-filled tub was...

Chapter 9

...the refection of popular TV reporter Jiggly Wiggleswell who had sneakily appeared on the other side of the tub. Sooth immediately recognized her famous blonde hair and outrageous curves even in a pool of jello. Plus there was a camera man behind her which was a also a big clue.

"What's going on here, peeps?" beamed the always upbeat Jiggly.

"Basic torture scene. Nothing of interest," said Deus dismissing her dismissively. "Move along now."

"Then who is this man in purple boxers who would be quite handsome if he weren't missing half his face?"

"Oh him? He's nobody," lied Machina. "We just torture people at random you know. And really, he's not even that good looking. I mean, I'm not even trying to sleep with him anymore - it's just that he has this secret thin..."

"What? Secret what?" The detective side of Jiggly knew she was on to something. "Secret thimble? Secret thin weight loss program?"

"You're so not even close," sneered Deus.

"Really, little mousy brunette girl? Well, let me tell you some stuff I do know." Jiggly motioned to the cameraman. "Earl, zoom in on my good side while I tell her off." Earl zoomed in on her breasts.

Jiggly turned back to Deus. "For one thing nobody uses gelatin in torture any more. That's sooo yesterday."

"Do so."

"Do not."

"Uh huh".

"Un unh."


"Nope. Unless..."

There was a long pause.

"You're supposed to say 'unless what'," commented Jiggly.

"Sorry, I lost whose turn it was," replied Machina.

"Unless you are part of the underground resistance fighting the Starbuckian empire.

"Whoa, that's just silly," a nervous Machina replied. Her goons tried to laugh unsinceredly. "That's just about the funniest thing I've heard in a long time," she continued.

But Jiggly was not to be deterred even though she didn't know what deter meant. She responded anyway,

"And if I'm not mistaken, this dude with half a face looks a lot like the missing former leader of the resistance.

Who him? Ol half-face man? Not a chance, " lied Machina.

"So you won't mind if I send his picture to Cruton Magnus?"

" mean the leader of the Starbuckian empire? That Cruton Magnus?" gulped Machina.

"That's the one, plain Jane. Earl get your camera off my boobs and get a good shot of him."

But Machina had heard enough and lept into the jello and grabbed Jiggly's perfectly styled hair and pulled her in. The two girls fell into the jello making a splat.

"Get his photo, Earl," cried Jiggly trying to get up. Machina reached out to pull her back down but only resulted in ripping off half her wrinkle free blouse. Earl's camera stayed trained on the girls and the goons all gathered around cheering as the two girls tumbled around in all sorts of sexually suggestive ways. It was really getting interesting until...

Chapter 10

Machina jumped out and shouted, "OK, enough of this providing the readers with their own little private porn dreams about jello wrestling! We have business to attend to here."

Jiggly floundered over to the edge and clung to the step ladder on the side of the tank. "What business would that be?" she queried.

"This happens to be the top secret location for the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Jello Dive Team. But I think you knew that, in fact, you had better be the reporter who was sent to practice with the team and do an onsite report. Otherwise, you've just violated classified space, might be a spy from some enemy country, and will have to be detained indefinitely."

"Well yeah," said Jiggly, "Please call me J.T. from now on. That stands for Jenuinely Truthful. It's genuinely true, no matter how it's spelled. And it's my personal credo. I quickly tire of being reminded of my weight problem, in fact I see it as a type of bigotry. Where do I go to suit up for practice?"

"Nobody said you had a weight problem, though we can help you with that, if you like. If you'll just step this way, one of my attendants will be happy to provide you with your dive suit."

While JT struggled into her divesuit, which consisted of industrial strength Spanx knit into a shape like footed pajamas, and decorated to look like a Star Fleet Uniform (The Next Generation of course), Bean swam laps in the jello, trying to look innocent, and wracking his brain for a way out. Machina and her goons pushed several dive platforms into place around the giant jello vat.

When JT toddled back out to the jello vat, she could hardly walk, since the ultra strong suit didn't allow her to bend her knees at all.

Machina clapped her hands and shouted, "All right! Now! We'll begin on the 3 meter board. I want you all to start with the reverse double somersault with a half twist, and hold hands while doing it."

Bean slowly climbed out of the pool wondering how the hell JT was going to climb up three meters without bending her knees. He had stuffed his man purse into the back of pants, giving his butt the appearance and contours of a lumpy breadbox. "How's she going to get up on the platform?" he asked meekly.

"You're going to carry her, smartass!" rejoined Machina. "On your back."

"Happy to," muttered Bean. While JT clung around his neck, he began to climb slowly. She was rather heavy, and as he climbed she swung out slightly, each time coming back to thump against his manpurse-butt.

He took the opportunity to whisper to her, "I'm going to pass the thingee to you during the dive, I'll insert it into that mess you call a hairdo. You must escape with it, because they're never going to let me out alive."

"What? What? Um, Ok. I don't know how to dive," she said.

"Who said anything about knowing how?" he replied crossly. "Just copy me, and act like you know what you're doing. Head up."

The two of them perched on the edge of the diving platform, with their locked hands raised above their heads.

"On my count," shouted Machina. "One, and two, and THREE! Now dive!"

Bean gave JT a little shove and jumped off after her. "Not like that!" he yelled, tumbling after her and forcing the thingee into her voluminous hairdo, so that it was firmly anchored at the base of her neck, in the collar of the dive suit.

They hit the jello hard, both landing on their backs and screaming with all their might.

Bean left her lying in the jello, made his way out of the tank and complained, "I need a better partner, she's worthless."

Chapter 11

"You ever seen raw Asplodium, boy?"

Bean knew this was a flashback because the corners of his vision were soft focus and had squiggly lines. He had his full, original, glorious face that looked good in helmets. He had to be nine because he lost that fourth nipple at ten. He was out back on the chicken farm and across the tool shed his father ZZ grinned knowingly and held out a Starbucks thermos.

"No, Daddy," Bean said. From somewhere he smelled French fries and they smelled like frying oil and potatoes. "Everybody says you're not supposed to handle it."

"Hell," his father said and poured a double malt Scotch that he cut with a single malt Scotch. Scotch Suicides, he called them. "That's 'cause they can't handle Asplodium. Blows up like nobody's business sure enough. But there's a difference between shit that makes no sense to do and doing it anyway. You get what I'm telling you, boy?"

Bean didn't but lied and said he did. Asplodium was bad news, as bad as that time Han Solo got sealed in carbonite. A nugget like in the thermos would take out the shed and most of the coops. A chunk the size of a future baseball could destroy the big S.W.A.R.M. installation that comes later in the book.

Bean asked his dad to mix him a Scotch Suicide.

"Why the fuck not," his dad agreed and poured Bean one. "It'll burn them extra nipples off you."

"I hope so."

"How I lost mine."

Bean took his drink and they both lit up and smoked their cigs a while, smoked them hard.

His dad began spinning the thermos in his hand. His dad had hands like elephant ears. Not the carnival kind. Not webbed either. His dad had big hands. "Ladies Love," he uttered syllabically. "Why your momma named you Ladies Love I don't know."

"Careful with that Asplodium, Daddy," Bean grimaced cringingly. He smelled the French fries wafting in the shed window and wondered why they smelled stronger now. He blew smoke and said, "The name's hard at school sometimes."

"What you do about it?"

"Last kid I broke in half with my kung fu."

"That's the style," said his dad. He began to unscrew the thermos. "Son, there are three secrets a man masters. Kung fu, the ways of the chicken, and handling Asplodium."

Bean thought his father was full of wisdom and that it would be a shame if something terrible happened to the man he idolized, so he said so aloud. "Daddy, you're sure full of wisdom. It would be a shame if something terrible happened to somebody I idolize so much."

His father got that look when it was an important moment. "Son, there's stuff you need to hear. Important stuff about me and your Uncle Cruton and the Starbuckians. I could tell you now, nothing's stopping me, but first I'll say this." His dad lit a cig off the last and knocked back his Scotch Suicide. He poured another and took the Asplodium sliver in his hand. "Sometimes a man finds himself on the run with something secret. It all looks pretty bad, maybe his mind's been erased and he's swimming in a mess of jell-o with laser fire every which way and not a damn thing in his carry-all and somebody done ate half his face. You following me, boy?"

Bean nodded with his head. The French fry smell came again, like from right outside the shed.

"That's when a man does something nobody expects," his father asserted forcefully. He smoked and drank and toyed with the Asplodium. "What a man does."

"But what about you and Uncle Cruton? Nobody would ever suspect either of you being involved with those evil Starbuckians."

"No, nobody would. But here's what you got to know, son. Here's what if I tell you will launch you on a quest the likes of which fits within this genre. But if something were to happen right now and you never heard it, why, you'd be haunted forever. Well, it's this. Simply this. Cruton - "

Then, all of the sudden, future laser beams filled the shed. French fry storm troopers were lined up along the window sill, and they looked normal except they had circuitry. Like they were cyborgs.

"Ha ha ha!" cackled the head fry.

"Get down, boy!" his dad yelled and put his cig in his mouth and started blasting back.

Fries were crawling everywhere like fried inchworms down into the shed. Except they had circuitry. Laser beams ricocheted off the walls and all the chicken tools but none hit Bean's dad standing in the open with his Asplodium and laser gun.

His dad picked off cyborg fries with each blast. "Better bring more heat than this, you S.W.A.R.M. bastards!!!"

More fries were crawling in. Bean saw his dad stomping the fries so he did the same. They squished like soft potatoes. Except they had circuitry. Then Bean remembered the secrets of manhood, and that he knew some of them. He flew around the shed doing kung fu and clucked the chicken alarm call.

Then, from out in the yard, screeching chickens stormed the shed, and Bean could hear them fighting the fries outside and feathers and fries and laser beams were literally everywhere. His dad got hit, and you knew it was bad because the flashback slowed down and the focus got softer.

"Ha ha ha," cackled the head fry.

"I'm hit, boy."

Bean dodged more lasers that were everywhere. "It's not so bad, Daddy."

"I'm done in. Don't believe no one, especially not Cruton Magnus, but you might could trust a body had some genuine sounding kind of name. Now get to running, boy. "

His dad's grin turned crazy and he kept firing and dropped the Asplodium into his Scotch Suicide and drank it down. He scoffed, "Hit me again, you deep-fried fuckers!"

The fry storm troopers didn't know future lasers made Asplodium explode so they kept firing everywhere. Bean couldn't leave his dad. But his dad dropkicked Bean out the window, out onto the barnyard where the chickens were eating up the cyborg fries.

"BOOOOOOOOOOOMMM!!!" exploded the shed explosively.

The fiery, blazing inferno of a blast wiped out all the fries. Bean hurtled away at high speed along with squawking chickens, thinking how very, very crappy it was that his father exploded. Bean swore in mid-hurtle to get a lot of revenge someday. Bean hit his head against coop debris and then the flashback was over.

It was time to do the one thing absolutely no one expected...

Chapter 12

In front of Bean, Deus ex Machina was grinding out her pack of cigarettes. "Well don't just stand there, say something! Tell us - is Nathaniel an acceptable substitute for your jello-diving routine or not?"

Bean blinked and shook the fuzzies from his head. "Sorry, some jello got into my ears, I didn't hear a word you've said." Inside of his mind, Bean was forcing himself to remember the flashback. The fries. Normal, except that they had circuitry! Uncle Cruton. The reek of the Scotch Suicide, the convenient foreshadowing device of his father's Asplodium-suicide. His father's voice echoed in Bean's head ...but you might could trust a body had some genuine sounding kind of name.

Behind him, JT, short for Genuinely Truthful, climbed out of the pool. Well, not so much climbed. She kind of pulled herself out of the pool like some kind of slug and rolled into a standing position, then teetered over to Bean and Machina. "No way! That was a fluke! You can't replace me with Nathaniel!"

genuine sounding kind of name... genuine sounding kind of name... Nathaniel's name was the most genuine sounding of anyone in this entire story! Everyone else's name was insane, or delusional, as if it were some eccentric writer's nightmare name - a remnant of bad cheese, perhaps. But Nathaniel. It was solid. Some would even say it was Genuine.

Bean pushed JT, short of Genuinely Truthful, out of the way and eagerly greeted his new Jello-diving partner. He had to get some time alone with him to plot how to steal the thingy back from JT, short for Genuinely Truthful. "Let's practice right now!"

Machina nodded her head as she stroked a pack of cigarettes the way that guy from Inspector Gadget stroked his creepy hairless cat. "yes, yes. Practice. That's right. Practice."

From the sidelines JT looked worried. But more than that, she looked constricted, and maybe even constipated. That spanx suit was no good for anything except giving her a Barbie Figure and perhaps constipation. And now Bean was climbing the ladder with Nathaniel. Nathaniel! Who had heard of such an absurd name before? Nothing good could come of this. Up on the ladder, Nathaniel insisted on carrying Bean on his back. "It's the least I could do after you were saddled with that unfortunate Genuinely Truthful woman," he said.

"Why thank you!" said Bean, shifting his unfortunately-shaped and jello-logged bottom and climbing onto Nathaniel's back. But it was very slippery, which made no sense, since the jello was so very sticky. Bean didn't know a single thing that jello didn't stick to, so why wasn't it sticking to Nathaniel? Bean apologized as he dug his fingers into Nathaniel's slippery shoulders and clenched his knees around his chest. Bean and Nathaniel paused for all the ladies reading this to take a moment to imagine the scene - ropy man-legs, slippery chests, etc. etc. before Nathaniel began the climb. Perhaps Nathaniel moaned, or perhaps Bean did. Maybe they both did. Or maybe you're just imagining it because you are a dirty, dirty girl who gets off on slash fiction. Whatever. Bean totally does not judge.

As Nathaniel's foot slipped on the fourth rung of the ladder, Bean's forehead bumped the back of Nathaniel's head. He took a big whiff. Instead of smelling like anti-gelatin shampoo, as Bean would have guessed, Nathaniel smelled vaguely of fast food. Bean took another whiff. There was definitely a greasy odor about this young gelatin-diver. He smelled kind of like French fries. Could it be?

Down below JT, short for Genuinely Truthful, began to scream as she liberated her ample (yet bikini-clad and totally PG-rated) bosom from the strict confines of the Spanx suit like some kind of Hulk. She reached out from behind her head and pulled out the ever-important thingy and brandished it in the air. "GET OFF, BEAN! HE'S ONE OF THEM!"


Bean jumped off, ripping the Nathaniel disguise off the French Fried bastard!

Bean did some unnecessary flips during the fall and stuck the dismount. Machina, JT, Nathaniel and even some anonymous thugs flipped score cards. As the judges totaled up, Bean noticed a prisoner with hands tied behind him and a bag over his head. It wasn't one of those tacky burlap bags that terrorists use, it was a tastefully designed shopping bag from Williams Sonoma. Bean's scores came in and he did pretty well, but it was not the time to contemplate his score. It was the time for things to happen, dadgumit!

Bean threw the Fries' disguise at Machina, blocking her view and ran towards JT.

"Close your eyes!"

He grabbed JT, threw down a flash grenade blinding everyone. He dropped down and lifted bag-face guy in a fireman's carry over his shoulder. They ran down the hall and could hear Machina order her thugs to pursue. It quickly became apparent that this place was a maze of tunnels. There were lots of pipes and occasional steam, bad lighting and things were very dirty as they wandered around the tunnels.

It was pretty apparent that no one knew their way around as Bean, bag-face and JT were quickly lost, but so apparently were their pursuers.

"So it looks like we're lost," said LL Bean.

"I've never been to this part of the U.S. synchronized jello dive team complex before. Perhaps I should do a report on it, government waste and all."

"Yeah, maybe, but wait a sec, do you still have the thingee?"

"I put it back in my hair." She pulled it out and body parts bounced egregiously, they may have even used CGI to get the ripples right.

"You don't even know how to use it, why'd you pull it out before anyway?"

"That's what she said. Uh... I mean seemed like the thing to do at the time."

"Well we're alive and all, what about your cameraman?"

"Earl? Eh, he's a tertiary character we'll just forget about him anyway, don't trouble yourself. I mean he didn't even have any lines."

"I guess that makes sense."

"So what DOES the thingee do anyway?"

"Hell if I know, I have amnesia and stuff, but it's gotta be important."

LL lowered bag-face to the ground forgetting to untie him. Bean and JT wandered around the dirty halls in a montage that indicated there might be a future love scene at some point. Bag-face man tried to follow them, bumping into walls as he went.

They came to a fork in the tunnels and there was a golden art deco double doorway that was surprisingly clean considering the rest of the place.

"Man, all this wandering around sure gets tiring, let's rest next to this golden door."

LL and JT sat on the stoop of the golden door. But bag-face man was unable to see where the door was and stumbled about until he eventually hit his head on a low hanging light fixture and landed near them.

"You know I think we've wandered into a completely different set. I think we're really far from that jello room," said JT as she paced the hallway in her mind.

"Yeah, I think you're right. And what's with this golden door? I mean it's a pretty crappy underground tunnel. Why would you put a golden door in it? Waste of money to me."

"I think it's just gold plated, that's cheaper."

As Bean and JT gave each other flirty looks, the lump known to them as bag-face made a noise.

"Did he just say something?"

"He probably just farted."

"No I didn't," mumbled bag-face.

Bean jumped into JT's arms in fright.

She dropped Bean, and they both walked over. Bean turned him over.

"Thank you young man. I have been listening to you two flirt and prattle on, but I detect that you would be sympathetic to my cause. I can't talk for long as having a bag over my face and my many other wounds is quite painful and tiring."

"You seem to be doing alright so far," snarked JT.

"Shut up. I don't have much time," and he coughed for several seconds. Mercifully Bean pulled the bag off of him revealing a simpler plain brown bag but with holes cut for the eyes.

"There, that's better. I am Gregor Gravitas former and hopefully future leader of The Apollo League. We are the premier Starbucks Empire resistance group, accept no substitute. That bitch Machina was a mole for the Starbucks Empire and is planning to take over the resistance and destroy it from within. We cannot let that happen. You must help me fight for truth, justice, and democracy instead of dark roasted dictatorship."

"Well, I'm in," smiled L.L. Bean.

"Me too," bounced JT.

A sudden look of surprise and realization came over Gregor Gravitas.

"You're Ladies Love Bean aren't you?"

"Why yes, how'd you know that?"

"Because you are one of our agents, what have they done to you? My poor boy."

"I really can't remember, but I'll take amnesia and wounds that have healed surprisingly fast due to movie magic over a permanent bag face anytime."

"Point taken. The last I saw you I sent you to steal the Eschaton Device from the S.W.A.R.M. courier before he delivered it to the Starbuck Empire. Do you still have it?"

JT took the thingee out of her hair.

"That's it."

"Wow, you are just full of information."

"I'm very important."

"Help me stand."

LL Bean helped Gregor Gravitas to his feet.

"Now that I can see out of my bag, things are looking up. We have the Eschaton device. I have dear LL Bean back with us and perhaps a place for you young lady. COUGH my lap COUGH COUGH."

They walked up to the golden doors and he attempted to put his hand on a flat plate - but they were still tied behind him and he wasn't able to reach that high.

"Do you supposed you could untie me?"

"Oh, yeah, sure," Bean replied loosening the bonds.

"Maybe we could save that rope for later," JT winked.

Bag man placed his hand on the plate. A golden metal hand emerged from the wall near the plate and he did one of those fancy handshakes that only black people know. The golden doors opened.

"Welcome to the super secret back door to the ultra-hidden underground base of the Apollo League."

And then JT kicked Gregor in the nuts for the 'my lap' comment.

Chapter 14

Gregor crumpled to the floor, cursing in ways that will insure a mature audience rating.

The highly secret twin golden doors swung open and clouds of cloudy stuff drifted out.

JT locked eyes with Bean and leaned into him with a nudge. "What do you suppose is behind all that swirly smoke stuff?" she purred.

Amidst groans, Gregor answered. "There's a wealth of knowledge...about the history...of the Apollo League. Many important..."

"Apollo League? That sounds like a hair club for men," joked Bean.

"Or a Ron Howard movie starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon." She giggled.

The smoky clouds continued to drift out around them.

"Information...about your father...that could reveal..." continued Gregor.

"I'll bet that's not even real smoke or clouds or whatever it is. Probably dry ice from a disco. I'll bet there's people dancing in there right now." Bean slid his arms around JT's waist swaying with the imaginary music as the clouds continued to surround them.

"I thought I heard them playing "Night Fever" inside," she replied.

"No it was Stayin' Alive".

"Pretty sure it was Night Fever." She wrapped her arms around his neck.

His words melted into a kiss. "Wayin awive".

"You morons," grimaced Gregor, "don't you realize..."

But they were lost in the moment. And as they were engulfed by the smoky cloudy stuff, the secret thingy fell to the floor without anyone noticing.

Chapter 15

Vart Valdevader looked in the mirror. Yes, he did. Because he's an evil mastermind who liked to reflect on how evil his plans are. He even liked that it was very late in the story to be introducing yet another main character. That was evil too. Or at the least, discourteous.

He was in his inner sanctum at the S.W.A.R.M. compound, where he kept his future books and future torture devices ('cause remember we're still in the future even though we've had flashbacks.) He was wearing his favorite pair of chaps. All villains have their trademark, he reminded himself. Mine are chaps. So what if the editors think it's too western, fuck them. It was here in the S.W.A.R.M. compound wearing his chaps that Valdevader felt his most evil.

His head was bald and scabby. His veined and blotchy neck was crisscrossed with veins and blotches. You as a reader should be getting scared right now, because this is one scary looking fucker in his chaps with all the bald scabbiness and veined blotchiness going on. I mean, you might want to wear Depends when the story gets to where you understand his full evilness.

He also had a scar on his cheek that was a parting gift from a showdown with the Bean Brothers, Cruton still hiding behind his Starbuckians and Funkycoldmedina long ago silenced in his chicken coop.

Years ago Valdevader thought his cheeks had been his best feature, so cute so you'd want to pinch them. And then when you were all distracted checking out his cute cheeks, he'd spring a trap or something. But since he got the scar he was less cute and people were more suspicious and nobody fell for the trap any more. "Dammit, this is Bean's fault", he reminded himself. He shot one of his flunkies with a future laser just because he was pissed off. (I told ya this is one scary Mo-Fo).

And now there was another Bean. And Ladies Love Bean might not be so easy to deal with since he was a master of improbably cool kung fu moves. And it pissed Vart off that Bean was on the run with Eschaton Device. He laser-shot another flunky.

"I must get it back," Valdevader clenched his claw-like hands into fists and said for effect.

"That pretty boy, LL Bean, is probably out there about to have sex", Valdevader thought sneeringly, "while our noose closes ever tighter."

The door chimed kind of like on Star Trek. TNG, not the reboot crap. Valdevader wheeled around suddenly toward the door because he always moved with dramatic wheeling flourishes.

He donned a bomber's cap and knit scarf and clenched his nostrils as he commanded potently, "Enter!"

The door dematerialized, which was how S.W.A.R.M. designed doors and always pissed Valdevader off because then someone had to install a new door when he wanted to be alone with his evil plans and shop for chaps. In his sanctum skulked the most beautifully vicious of creatures - Oko-Yono. She had black hair and a lot of it. It trailed after her like a cape and it was cut into sharp edges she used like whips. Also, she was hot and wore lederhosen and clogs.

"God, you look evil," she slurred sensually.

"Remember your place," retorted Valdevader. "Report."

Oko-Yono smiled like a kitten-eating cat shop owner. "Let's just say I broke up the U.S. Olympic Synchronized Jello Dive Team. And their secret compound. They're dead. All of them but Machina."

Valdevader clenched his toes. "You forget Bean is out there on the run, he and his kung fu, and that meddlesome and jiggling partner of his. We must find them and retrieve the Eschaton Device."

"It won't be long now," Oko-Yono snickered friskily. "And then I can unveil my terrible secret and hidden agenda."

"What's that?"

"I snickered it won't be long now."

"I already thought that. Just now before you dissolved my god-damn door. " Valdevader tightened the buckle on his chaps and snuck a look in the mirror, "We can't begin the final phase without the Eschaton Device. Look at us. We're sitting...shit. What's a metaphor for stuck out in the open?"


Valdevader clenched his scalp, the scabs and creased skin writhing. He hated ducks and how their random silliness and cute babies sapped his evil. "Ducks," he ground his teeth. "What if someone came here with a baseball-sized chunk of Asplodium?" [Does he mean for the ducks???] Seriously, go get some adult diapers for when he gets REALLY evil.

Oko-Yono smiled like the kitten-eating cat store owner expanding the one store into a national chain. "He'll run into an army."

"They're ready?"

"Fried to perfection." Oko-Yono threw a few more kittens onto her smile. "Come see for yourself."

Valdevader followed his she-devil lieutenant and her train of hair out through the dematerialized door, around the crew showing up with the replacement door, down a dimly lit corridor with lots of exposed pipes and blinking lights, up an elevator, by the soda machine for a Sprite Zero, into one of those little cars like in the Bond movies, out into the cavernous hangar and staging area underneath Starbuck Alley's subterranean and secret-base sized ice-skating rink, and up to the parade stand. Valdevader intensely climbed the metal stairs, scarf flapping with the sheer whirling drama of his movements, and stood arms akimbo to survey what only L.L. Bean might possibly stop.

It was magnificent. Valdevader clenched his jaw.

Oko-Yono stole up beside him. "Magnificent, isn't it?"

"Stop repeating what I just thought," Valdevader warned her cautionarily. "But you're right. The next generation of S.W.A.R.M. at last."

They both laughed low and fully, smiling too, she like that cat store owner, he like somebody way more scary than Hannibal Lechter. Filling the entire staging area, laser fittings at the ready, were myriads of French fries in formation. Except they were fryborgs - the latest in fry-cyborg technology, with super-powered lasers, self-destruct mechanisms, less calories from saturated fat and bristling with ill intent. There were straight fries, his storm troopers, and curly fries, the specialist assassins. There were giant steak fries, the heavy artillery with mega-lasers and armored skin. There were crinkle fries in wet suits, his marine and underwater shock troops. And there were the little brown fried bits left in the oil, capable spies.

"Ha ha ha!" the army cried.

Chapter 16

Bean grew up with chickenboys everywhere working his father's farm, wild men with wild eyes and wild kerchiefs and wild hats like rooster crests and surprisingly sensible pants. The men slept when the chickens slept, ate feed when the coops ate feed, rose with the cockcrow. They understood the chicken's ways, and the chickens understood them. Probably. They never said they didn't. "I want to be a chickenboy," Bean would tell his father while they smoked out in the shed and his dad mixed Scotch Suicides.

"It's a hard but righteous life," his dad always said. It ain't for everyone. "For some being alone with their thoughts is what does them in. For others, it's not truly getting chicken" - he thumped his chest - "right here."


"Others it's a kind of avian flu we ain't tied down yet."

"Dad, seriously. Can we wrap this flashback up?"

Bean's dad poured another Scotch Suicide and said, "How's that?"

"I'm sorta...with someone right now, and this chickenboy stuff is throwing me off."

"Shit! You're rutting right now?"

"Big time."

"Hot damn. I'll make this quick: find Cruton Magnus. There's gonna be a scary-looking fucker coming after you some day, I mean like piss your pants scary, and I fear you'll need Cruton's help. Now get back to your business."

And so Bean got back in his rhythm, feeling all warm and manly until a nightmarish vision rippled across his mental chicken farm like a scary, rippling wave. He shuddered and rolled off the mountainous womanscape that was J.T. Jigglesworth.

"Seriously?" she complained unhappily.

Bean sat up sweaty in the bed with the aluminum-looking sheets and space-age alarm clocks. Seared in his mind was a really scary but vaguely familiar guy with a bald and scabbed head and an imposing set of chaps. "Did you feel that?"

"No!" J.T. moaned moaningly. Not the good kind of moan she had been working up to, either. "Do we need to talk about something?"

"It's not like that," Bean corrected. "I couldn't focus 'cause of an important flashback. And what had to be ominous foreshadowing."

J.T. cleared her sweaty hair from her face. "Because, just so you know, I'm not cool with it."

"Stay with me," Bean implored. He was torn because J.T was incredibly hot but in his mind still the scabby man in chaps stood arms akimbo. In case it isn't clear, arms akimbo in chaps came off super scary, especially in this guy. "I'm feeling this...I won't call it a disturbance or a force, but it's kind of like that, enough anyhow, and I think there's some super bad guy out there after us now."

For a while they lay there and ate genetically-enhanced plantain chips.

J.T. said, "It feels late-ish to have that kind of vision."

Exactly what bothered Bean the most. First he thought he had to protect the secret thing, the Eschaton Device it turned out, from S.W.A.R.M. against impossible odds, the kind of odds that would have killed a lesser man already, but now he had glimpsed the scabby evil face of S.W.A.R.M. and he understood what he needed to protect was the world. And to do that, maybe he needed to use the Eschaton Device. Maybe, because he didn't know what it did, but with a name like that it did something important.

J.T. poured Bean a Scotch Suicide and made one for herself, tacking on a finger of Smirnoff Lemon. Briefly Bean wondered how she knew what all made a Scotch Suicide but then thought the vodka looked good so he had her add a splash. He drank and lit a cig and blew out smoke and said, "You know how I think I can trust you?"

"I'm jenuinely trustworthy. With a j."

Bean nodded, not out of agreement but because her name made more sense to him now, so he said, "Exactly. It's going to get tougher from here. Lasers. Kung fu. Explosions. And that guy in the chaps, I'm telling you, he's bad news."

"It's not my first tough assignment," J.T. said, and suddenly it was her point of view.

J.T. had started out on the astro-dog show circuit, interviewing the Bichons and Schnauzers that took best in orbital show. It wasn't as glamorous as it sounded, not the chicken shows, and there were all the producers and managing editors with seemingly tear-away slacks. But she resisted, falling back on her power to earn trust anywhere anytime with her combination of honesty, straightforward expressions and hot babe magnetism. In time she topped the crime beat, and years of contacts and digging had led her here. It was the story of this cool, semi-futuristic century, of this place overrun by corruption not appearing in the story and by all those Starbucks outlets and damned if now she had fallen in love. Not like deep forever love, but the lust-ridden kind that gets tested somewhere down the line. What Bean said about danger rang true, so before she relinquished the point of view J.T. said, "Just so you know, some folks call me Jenuine Trouble."

Bean nodded and smoked, trying to settle down after perspective somehow seemed to shift back on him. For a while there it was like he fell into limbo. Anyway, he was back now, and the pieces started to fall into place, not the full puzzle but that part where most of the corners and several patches of the middle were pieced together on the card table. But there was a piece he needed to acquire but dared not mention, one that would make J.T. cringe and the scabbed-up chaps guy sorry.

For a moment Bean was nine again and back among the chickenboys on the farm. He saw all backlit and cinematic his father asking him, "You ever handle raw Asplodium, boy?"

Chapter 17

"Whah wah whaht?" Deus X. Machina said. She stopped her rant about finding Bean and braced her catsuited form against the shiny space-age conference table, not easy to do with the towering flame and cellophane fumes coming off the lit pack of cigarettes in her mouth.

Around the Starbuckian underground situation bunker with exposed pipes and blinking lights and baristas, her surviving goons, their own packs afire in their mouths, looked at each other for support and shrugged shoulders that could carry tea services. "Whah?" one ventured cautiously.

Deus shuddered in the aftermath of the vision, the horrific leering and scabby visage of a man in a bomber's cap and chaps and wheeling around with random suddenness but keeping his arms akimbo. Her dormant sensitivity had erupted like this only twice before, when her cheerleading for the Starbuckian High antigrav field hockey team ended in the IMAX-grade shoot-em-up that signaled the revolution had begun, and during her first time with Bean. That last one had kind of petered out when somehow Bean lost his timing.

Deus sighed out a cloud of smoke, dropped her pack of cigs in her signature salmon macchiato and, when the sweetener caught fire, she stomped the burning, fishy mass out with her shoe. "Didn't any of you assholes feel that...thing just now?"

More shrugs of shoulders shaped like helipads, but smaller ones like you could land a helicopter carrying an exotic monkey in. A super-rich one with his own helicopter.

"Withurbanth?" the brave goon re-ventured still cautiously.

"That's the word. Exactly. Some kind of disturbance in this spiritual energy kind of like a force but not really. It's disturbed, as disturbed as an exotic monkey loose in a helicopter." Deus didn't much rise out of that, either the metaphor or its implication, so she adjusted her catsuit and that did the trick. She ratted her silvery hair and made ambiguously scheming facial expressions because she was super scared at the image now disturbingly seared in her brain. "Seriously, he's all scabbed up and crap your pants scary."

A charged silence hung in the cancerous haze of the situation room. Lights blinked, even though I already said that, and it sounded like computers.

"This is no coincidence," Deus said, pounding the table hard enough to slosh everyone's coffee. "That buxom reporter comes sniffing around, Bean escapes with the secret thingee--"

"We wethawhon dewice?" the brave goon inquired hesitantly.

"Is that what he has? The frigging Eschaton Device?" Deus choked down a flash of panic, like what you'd get if it was your turn to let the monkey out of the helicopter. "Shit. And now this scabby guy, I mean I can't describe just how terrifying he's is, and with those arms akimbo. I bet he's the one who wiped out our people at the Jell-o tank."

"Wipe wus wout?"

"Later," Deus said. No one knew, not Bean or Cruton or her cat Sir Licksalot, of her latent sensitivity and connection to the force-like not-force. Both S.W.A.R.M. and even her own Starbuckians harvested those with psychic gifts as fodder for what so far might seem like a purposeless war and existence. She would find her life energy slowly sucked dry in a hospital bed, as covered in diodes and drip lines as the guy who let the monkey out of the helicopter. Never again would she be free or think her own thoughts. Never again would she see or smell or taste or touch or hear Bean. Never again would Bean draw her near and explain the ways of chicken and chickenboy. Never could she speak to him the three words kept buried so deep inside: tutti-frutti, aw rutti.

"Would we kwahl Whutwon Waghwus?" the brave goon asked bravely.

Machina had dreaded that inevitable question. She feared Cruton Magnus, Starbuckian Overlord, even though they dated briefly and decided just to be friends. Cruton's neediness and tendency to cry ended at the bedroom door. Out in the hallway and down the stairs and out in the rest of world Cruton inflicted misery to include death and near-death events and Asplodium-laden vengeance upon enemies and failed underlings.

And there came the aftershocks of her vision, a scabbed-over face atop a cape-whirling body. Usually you needed one arm holding the cape to make it whirl right, but this guy had both his akimbo and still the cape sliced through the air like monkey teeth. He was a scary guy in chaps.

Goons looked at Deus from around the space-age table. Lots of computer lights enclosing the situation room blinked at her in silent accusation. Deus knew what she needed: a miracle. A miracle named Bean. With an Eschaton Device.

Fortunately, if her vibe was correct, Bean needed Asplodium, and Asplodium she had. Out the ying-yang.