The Inspection

My second Star Drek "episode", dated December 22, 1985 (just in time for Christmas). As usual, my Poppy Street fixation affected the story, but my well of inspiration was running dry and I needed a way to finish the thing. I like this story -- the style and content are much superior to Snore Leave, and with some work it could probably be turned into something that could stand on its own, with no Poppy Street interference.
Note the name of the planet of the Poppy Streeters is "Shigella", the name of a bacteria that causes a nasty form of food poisoning.
Copyright © Harold Reynolds, 1998.

The elevator doors ground open slowly and Captain "Grim" Siberius Cork stumped through them and onto the Bridge of his beloved junker the U.S.S. (Uninterrupted Sustained Snoring) Improvise. The doors then snapped shut rapidly, nearly catching his tunic again, and he cursed. None of the other members of the Bridge crew were in a state to notice this because they were all asleep at their consoles, as usual.

"Blast it all!" groused the Captain. "You go away for fifteen minutes to go to the can and you come back and they're asleep already!" He then noticed that they all were in various positions that involved trying to keep their ears stopped up, but obviously to no avail. All, that is, except for Mr Spook, the Science Officer, who was slumped in his seat in the last stages before falling out of it. His mouth was hanging open, revealing a jawful of unfulfilled cavities.

"Huh! He must have been telling them about his days in Starbleat Academy again," Cork muttered as he lumbered to his plush, overstuffed command chair in the centre of the circular room. Cork knew this because his tales of his youth in the Academy elicited similar reactions, though he never knew why. Before climbing into his chair, he gave the dormant Lt. Bubu and Ensign Checkout, the navigator and assistant navigator, kicks, but they didn't respond at all. An evil leer appeared on his countenance.

"Maybe this will teach them a lesson," he cackled sadistically as he touched a secret panel on the left chair arm. A small console appeared. "Wakey-wakey, Dr Destroy," he said, pressing a button. The ship's chief quack let out a shriek as 1000 volts of electricity surged through his chair and he leaped three feet up.

"WHAT THE--" he snarled. One thing the good doctor hated more than cute fuzzy animals (on which he liked to conduct sadistic and unnecessarily gruesome experiments) and Mr Spook (on whom he'd like to perform said experiments without anesthesia) was having his naps interrupted. Crones landed heavily.

"Rise and shine, Lt. Yahura," Cork wheedled, stabbing another button. Over at the Communications console, the only female officer of the bunch squealed and jumped up, causing stress marks to temporarily appear on her blouse. "Have a quick one, Mr Snott!" he added, jabbing another button. The perpetually inebriated Chief Engineer hastily vacated his seat. Mr Snott had known the Captain for the longest time, though nobody had made the connection yet. "Hey Checkout! Hey Bubu! I have shocking news for you!" Down went two more buttons and up went two more officers.

"And now, Mr Spook," he smirked malevolently, "let me add a little charge to your storytelling." He turned a dial up to "full" from "quarter-charge" and pressed the last button. There was a loud pop and Captain Cork catapulted ungracefully over the navigation consoles, cursing fluently in seventeen different languages, fifteen of which he didn't know. He softened the impact with the hard, hard floor with his oversized stomach, showing he had lots of guts, and bounced to his feet. Even if the other crewpersons had been in full control of their faculties, they wouldn't have dared to laugh. At least, not while he was around.

As Mr Spook slumbered peacefully (and noisily: he snored) on, Cork examined the wiring of his console and discovered that Spook's chair's wire had been mysteriously connected to his command chair. With some more blistering oaths, the enraged Captain made the necessary adjustments and pressed the magic button. With a loud KABOOM, the pseudo-Science Officer's chair exploded and flung the Sulkin head-over-heels on a trajectory that the far wall rudely interrupted. With a sickening crunch, Spook caromed off and landed on Mr Snott's legs. Since the Engineer was feeling no pain anyway, he didn't notice.

"Mr Snott, we have got to stop meeting like this!" said Spook.

"Aye...(belch)...sorr," came the bleary reply. "You didn't even bring my

whisk--whisk--hooch!" He keeled over with a gurgle and went back to Never-Never Land.

"Captain, I really must complain about the quality of the officer material in the Engineering Department," said the Sulkin, getting up and dusting off his trousers. "Not to mention the chairs."

"Haw-haw!" chortled Destroy. "You lose! He didn't even blink!"

"Dagnabit Spook!" raged Cork. "You knew I had a bet with him that I couldn't get a reaction out of you before today! Why couldn't you have let me win, just to spite him?"

"Didn't want to," Spook replied, poking Destroy in the eyes with long, bony fingers. "You didn't pay me more than he did."

"YARGH!" howled the quack, blindly flailing about and managing to bite the greenish-tinted hand. The Sulkin grimaced momentarily, punched the doctor's forehead and yanked his injured extremity to safety. "What did you do that for?" he demanded, blinking his eyes until the quadruple images melted into the usual two. "I'll smash your face to putty!"

"ALL RIGHT! ENOUGH!" exploded Captain Cork as Dr Destroy lunged at the pointy-eared Sulkin and was adroitly tripped by Checkout's outstretched foot. "Now listen to me and listen good! Starbleat Command has just communicated to me by an untappable--" He laid emphasis on this word and everyone's eyes wandered elsewhere. "--subspace link and has said, in no uncertain terms, that we must report immediately to Starbait 13 for a complete ship inspection!" These leaden words instantly silenced the hilarity and acrimony surrounding the doctor's attempts to get at Spook.

"No!" gasped Yahura, shocked. Cork nodded grimly.

"And we're only half a day's travel from Starbait 13 too!" wailed Bubu, quickly checking his navigational computer. "Mr Snott will have to arrange for another engine breakdown!" But Mr Snott was still totally out of it, sprawled drunkenly on the floor.

"Maybe we should take off in the opposite direction at Warp Twelve," suggested Checkout hopefully.

"No!" negated Spook promptly. "We're well within their sensor range. If we do something suspicious, they'll call an alarm and we'll be blasted by anybody who's near us!" His knees knocked.

"That means we must issue the crewpersons scrubbing brushes and get this ship into a reasonable state. We must also get the engineers to repair the backlog of broken stuff, which is rather large, I daresay." Cork thought for a moment. "Oh yes, throw Snott into the detox unit. We can't have the Admiral see him in this state." At the mention of the word "detox", Mr Snott suddenly reactivated. Cork pressed the "Summon Security" button.

"No, no! Not the detox unit!" he blubbered. "I promise not to drink again! I promise not to throw up behind the potted plants at our little parties any more! I won't even raid Crones' still!" The elevator doors whooshed open and two Security goons appeared. They were large, muscular hunks, blonde, blue-eyed and beefy: eminently expendable. Doors always work for Security men.

"Detox unit?" asked one, indicating the grovelling Snott. Cork nodded, with a smirk. "All right Mr Snott, will you come peacefully or shall we have to use force?" This was a formality.

"No! No, coppers, you'll never get me alive!" raved the Engineer, scrambling up. He was grabbed, subdued by having his head dent the floor a few times, and carted limply out.

"Now let's get this scrap-heap fixed up before the Inspector-Admiral arrives!" ordered the Captain. At once, everyone became busy at his/her console, bellowing often conflicting orders at the hapless crew. Checkout manned the Engineering board and got a printout of all the minor and major breakdowns and another of general health and safety violations. The long violations list was thrust into Bubu and Destroy's unable clutches and they were booted off the Bridge to make sure something was done about them.

"Let's set up HQ in the Sickiebay," suggested Crones. "It's a nice, central location."

"It's where most of the health violations are anyway," cracked Bubu, dodging a heavy blow. "As well as the Mess Hall."

Meanwhile, on Starbait 13, Base Commander Barney Blogg was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Inspector-Admiral Lee Tranner.

"Damn that Cork and his garbage scow anyway!" he cursed over the background noise of people trying to neaten the station, a task almost as formidable as that of neatening the Improvise. He too had just been informed. He pulled his ratty brown hair as he paced back and forth. "He must have weaseled out of one mission too many. It's just my luck that he'd be near here when the Fudderation lowered the boom." The intercom buzzed.

"Sir," said his second-in-command, Ferd Finkelstein, "reports from the outpost in the city indicate that the natives are killing each other again!"

"Wonderful. Just wonderful!" shouted Blogg. "You'd think that after all these wars they'd all be dead by now!"

"Apparently not, sir!" chirped the intercom. "They have a device called a clone machine that keeps recycling them! Oh, and by the way, the Admiral's flagship has just docked. The official message is that Lee Tranner's team fell ill en route from Earth and was replaced by a Hilda Thorksson of Thor and company."

"Oh, no! Not Hilda!" Blogg choked. "Put a picture of her on my screen!" Ferd obliged. "It is her! After all these years, she's finally tracked me down!" he wailed. "Ferd, you have the command. Go down and give her the usual red carpet bull. And call the Improvise and tell them to hurry up! I think I'm needed planetside to restore order!" He scampered from his dingy office.

"Now what brought that on?" asked a puzzled Ferd Finkelstein. He would soon find out.

A little while later, Cork and Checkout appeared at the Sickiebay, where Dr Destroy, Bubu and Nurse Chapwell, the head nurse, were busily directing the junior doctors, nurses, interns, patients and even a Security guard dragooned from the corridor in an effort to bring the medical centre up to medieval standards. One of the nurses was going around with a mallet and smashing the cockroaches, Altairan Squawk Beetles and other insect pests that had migrated from the Mess Hall in search of something better, while Destroy was shooting the rats with an old-fashioned projectile hand weapon. In the midst of this bedlam, some poor intern was trying to treat an injured crewman, with little success. By means of hand signals, Bubu was brought out.

"Bubu," said Cork, "I am giving you and Checkout one of the most dangerous and difficult assignments in your careers."

"We have to tell Spook that Destroy was right about something?" asked Checkout in his Brooklyn Russian accent.

"No," said Cork, with a snicker. "Worse."

"We tell Destroy that Spook was right about something?" hazarded Bubu. "That's bad, especially during your next medical."

"Wrong again," tittered Cork. "You have to keep Snott sober." The two navigators blinked stupidly for a few moments until the sheer magnitude of this task sank in.

"And what sort of incentives do we have?" asked Bubu cynically. "This may just prove too difficult for two of us." The Captain frowned, nearly causing his toupee to fall off. After a quick adjustment, he said craftily:

"The first thing that will need doing is to clean out all of his stocks of hidden booze. Now, this is going to have to go somewhere, isn't it?" Light began to dawn in their eyes. "If you can make it, shall we say, disappear, no questions will be asked." The two rubbed their hands gleefully. The magnitude and variety of Snott's stashes was well-known throughout the galaxy, and he often made a tidy profit selling some to backwards natives. "Of course, you'll have to keep him from finding out where it went," cautioned the Captain. Bubu and Checkout toned down their joy somewhat, recalling that Snott didn't take kindly to booze thieves. "Now git. I'll take care of Destroy's still." He patted them on their behinds to speed them on their way. Alarms shrieked noisily.

"Captain, our wallets, please," said Checkout sternly. Caught in the act, Cork guiltily returned them. They left after checking the contents. Cork sighed.

"The men just don't seem to trust their Captain any more." After a few invigorating breaths of the comfortably stale air, he marched to the doors of the Sickiebay and banged into them, bending his nose slightly and causing blood to start gushing forth. The doors were supposed to open on approach, but obviously they had broken down since last they were used. A few kicks from his boot convinced the mechanism to unjam and the doors opened.

"EEK!" shrieked one of the nurses, who was always handy when there was screaming to be done. "Count Dracula has returned!" Everyone burst into gusts of laughter as Cork stomped angrily into Destroy's office, from which shooting could be heard.

"Everybody's a comedian around here," he muttered. "Crones!" he shouted over the background bellow of someone accidentally stabbing himself with a scalpel. Crones paused to blast a rat the size of a football to hamburger with his .55.

"Oh, hello there, Grim," he said genially, scraping the remains into a garbage chute.

"I want you to dismantle your still," said the wounded Captain, finally staunching the flow. "I'm letting Snotty loose so's he can supervise the major repair work, and I want him sober. We dock in three hours. This ship, as you know, hasn't been drydocked in ten years, and if we fail the inspection, the Fudderation will be only to glad to send the Improvise to the scrap heap and us elsewhere."

"But I don't wanna!" whined the quack, taking a slug of his medicinal moonshine. Cork was not deterred.

"Do it now temporarily, or do it later permanently," he intoned, adding a threatening edge to his voice.

"I still (har-har) don't wanna." He took another swig.


"Got it," replied the doctor, cowed. His hair was plastered backwards on his skull from the force of the blast.

"GOOD!" Satisfied with his diplomacy, Cork tramped out.

Meanwhile, Checkout and Bubu had broken into Snott's living quarters and had uncovered a huge quantity of liquor of all varieties. Realizing that they had no hope of hiding it all, they reluctantly called in Mr Spook and Lt. Yahura, who gladly took what they wanted and began distributing the rest to their cronies. The traitorous Mr Style, the teetotalling Third Engineer, helpfully guided them to stashes in the Engine Room, Auxiliary Control, the torpedo tubes and other ingenious places he'd noted.

"We should put it all into the anti-matter chambers," he suggested. The others were unreceptive.

"Mr Style, that would be a waste of the most incredible magnitude!" chastised a horrified Spook, spotting a bottle of ancient Sulkin hooch in the Transporter Room's air duct and retrieving it. He sampled its delicate aroma.

"What is it?" demanded Checkout greedily.

"I believe it is called 'Aqua Velva'" he replied, squinting at the nearly unintelligible runes and pocketing the bottle.

"That's all the stuff I know about," said Style. "There's probably some more lying around, though, so be careful. Good luck." Bubu and Checkout took the last of their swag to their quarters, mystified at Style's attitude, washed very thoroughly, changed their clothes, and went to the Brig.

"Well, Mr Snott, we've come to let you out," said Bubu cheerfully when they arrived. The Security guard, forewarned of their arrival, killed the Stay-Put force field.

"It's about time!" snarled the Engineer. "I need a drink!"

"Sorry, sir," said Checkout smoothly as he barged out of his cell. "No ice--er, dice. The Captain says you're going to work on some major repairs right now, with no lubricants." Snott looked hostile, but relented when they pulled their nader guns on him.

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alive and well," muttered the dry one as he stamped to the Engine Room. The two followed, whispering conspiratorially to each other.

"Greetings, most brave, courageous and beautiful inspector," fawned Ferd as Hilda and three other Thorians hulked from the docking bay and passed a hastily-summoned honour guard. His next pleasantries choked in his throat as he saw why Blogg had weaseled out at the last minute. Hilda Thorksson, at 6'6" towered above everyone else except her compatriots. All of them had long, blonde, braided hair, blue eyes and very large muscles. Their clothing consisted of a gold-coloured, form-fitting armour, a large shield slung over the back, a claymore that any Scot would have been proud to own (but be barely able to lift) and a large dagger that was more than just ornamental.

"Go on, you haven't finished yet," laughed Hilda, sounding like a large brass gong.

"Uh..uh.." babbled Ferd. "I can't think of anything else."

"Just as well," boomed another Thorian. "It would have been a lie anyway. That's what diplomacy is all about." She winked at him and gave him a friendly swat on the back with a massive hand that sent the Sub-Commander hurtling 20 feet across the room. "Whoops. I forgot that you have weak gravity around here. Sorry."

"That's all right," whimpered Ferd. "I'll recover as soon as the docs find all my vertebrae."

"Nonsense!" bellowed Hilda, thundering over and picking him up. "Please forgive Gretchen. She hasn't been off Thor before." She stretched his back into position with loud cracks and pops.

"I forgive you," he quavered weakly. "How could I afford not to?" he muttered under his breath as Hilda held him upside down by the left leg. "I must inform you though that the Base Commander has gone planetside to help quell some unrest."

"So, old Barney found out we were coming, did he?" said Gretchen as Ferd was righted and put down. "Too bad."

"Barney Blogg?" demanded Hilda forcefully.

"That's right, Hilda," replied another of the group, later introduced as Freya. "Didn't you know? That's why we arranged for Lee Tranner and friends to be--detained."

"It was meant to be a surprise," added the fourth, named Olga.

"Happy birthday, Hilda," the three chorused, sounding like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in soprano.

"Don't look at me," excused Ferd. "I don't know anything about this." He looked as innocent as a terrified man can look.

"Thank you, girls," giggled Hilda, sounding like three ducks getting stepped on. "But now, for business. Where's the Improvise? We're doing a graduate thesis on Fudderation inefficiency and thought that this was the best place to start."

"At the Starbait?" squeaked Ferd, mindful of his cushy job.

"Not necessarily," soothed Gretchen, sidling up to the quaking swivel servant. "He's cute, isn't he?"

"Not as cute as some of those Security guards," he hastily replied, indicating the brawny hunks in the honour guard who hadn't yet sneaked away. "Besides, we have nothing to hide."

"We'll expect bonuses for this," said one of the guards as they edged towards a doorway.

"The Improvise will be here sooner or later, even if we have to tractor-beam them in!" Ferd said. "They escaped one inspection by rigging an engine breakdown in the Coal Sack nebula, where we couldn't find them with our sensors. But let us have something to eat and you can tell us," he emphasized the latter word while motioning to the four sneaking guards to get the hell over here, "about your trip. I'm sure you must be hungry." He'd finally recovered his composure, a feat aided by running through in his devious brain ways of blackmailing Commander Blogg. As the group went to the tube to go to the central hub of the station from the one of three outlying pods, he muttered to one of the guards:

"You'll get bonuses for this if we get out of this in one piece." The guard nodded. Ferd hadn't risen this far for nothing.

The planet Starbait 13 orbited around was called Shigella, whose only mention in the Galactic Encyclopedia was a passing reference under "Warfare". Poppy Street City was where the Fudderation, in its dubious wisdom, had set up an outpost; the wisdom being dubious because this was where all the violence occurred. It was at this outpost that Commander Barney Blogg materialized and he was met by an old crony of his.

"Hi Barney," said Ernesto Slacker, the head man of the base, which was staffed mostly by behaviourial psychologists. "What brings you here?" Gunfire of the projectile variety hammered nearby, while other sounds of battle could be heard far off.

"Ern, we're in big trouble," said Blogg. "Hilda's here. So's the Improvise. She's going to inspect it."

"Oh-oh! Double trouble!" said Slacker. "Does she know you're the Commander? Or more importantly, if I'm down here?"

"I don't know," he replied nervously as a truck with "Burper King" on its sides was blown up by rocket fire.

"What's this about who?" demanded Col. Mike Rowfon, commander of the detachment of Fudderation troops here to protect the Poppy Streeters from the psychologists. "And the Improvise?"

"About ten years ago we were stationed on the planet Thor," explained Ernesto, as Blogg was too busy hiding under a chair from the explosion of the truck. "It's a heavy-gravity planet. We encountered two ladies there who took a fancy to us."

"So?" asked Mike. "We've got a deflector shield, Blogg."

"That planet has a matriarchal system," said Barney, getting up. "And their parents were very influential."

"And they put body-builders to shame," added Ernesto. "We chickened out and caused a minor fuss over there."

"So you wound up here," said Mike. "Too bad." He snickered.

"What I'm more afraid of is that she and her cronies will inspect the station!" raged Blogg, shaking Mike. "If they do, then my career will be shot forever!"

"The Fudderation might even send him back to Thor," snickered Ernesto, dodging a kick.

"Exactly! I don't want that! I hate high-gee planets!"

"Yeah, I see your point," said the Colonel, freeing himself. "I've been up there. It looked like those people out there had been fighting in it for a few days."

"Hey, Colonel," said Blogg, with an uncharacteristic flash of brilliance, "what are they fighting about here?"

"Two junk food chains are fighting for control of the city," he replied. "Have you thought of something?" Blogg nodded gleefully and began explaining a plan.

"This is Captain Cork of the U.S.S. Improvise calling Starbait 13," said the Captain from his command chair on the Bridge. All of the other Bridge officers, save Snott, Bubu and Checkout, were there, looking rather nervous. "Request permission to go someplace far away from here," he added hopefully.

"Request denied, Captain," replied Ferd Finkelstein promptly. "Come in at Dock 2 and take your medicine."

"But he's not sick!" said Yahura before she could be stopped.

"Wanna bet?" chorused Spook and Destroy. Cork made a vulgar gesture at them, which Ferd saw.

"Hello, Captain Cork," said Hilda, looming suddenly into the background and coming into focus as the camera adjusted. Destroy whistled. "I am Hilda Thorksson, your chief inspector for today. Are you ready?" Destroy shivered.

"Yes!" enthused Spook stupidly.

"Sure!" said Yahura. She had nothing to hide.

"I suppose," hedged Destroy. It was then that the Captain's chair malfunctioned and began twirling uncontrollably.

"No!" rebutted Cork. "Get lost!"

"We will arrive in ten minutes!" said Hilda firmly. Cork finally brought his chair back under control by bouncing his full weight on it a few times. It ground to a halt, fortunately facing forewards. Then the screen shifted to the Transporter Room, where Bubu's rather bloody face appeared in the foreground. In the background, Snott was pouring a bottle of whiskey down the semi-conscious Checkout's unresisting throat. The Engineer was obviously drunk and Checkout soon would be.

"Sir! Bad news! Snott unearthed a secret cache of booze and went berserk when he found out we'd swiped the rest! We couldn't stop him! He nearly killed us!"

"I'll call Security at once!" bellowed Cork. "He must not be around when the inspectors arrive!"

"Don't worry about that, sorr," burred Snott, his Old Earth Scots accent returning with the aid of its native beverage. "I'll nae be aroun'! I'm gettin' off! Get out of the way!" Snotty had moved to the Transporter control console and Bubu was valiantly trying to stop him, mainly because he knew Cork would be watching. A right cross to the temple with the bottle decommissioned him and the Chief Engineer set some coordinates. "Bye-bye!" he burbled, staggered to the platform with the half-empty bottle and dematerialized, just as eight Security goons, armed with billy clubs, nader guns and a butterfly net, thundered in. Then Hilda, Freya, Olga, and Gretchen materialized and surveyed the scene with interest. The guards promptly snapped to attention and chorused:

"Welcome to the Improvise!" Hilda and Gretchen pulled out notebooks, while Olga and Freya took out video cameras.

"Captain Cork! I know you're listening!" Hilda accused. "We're splitting into two teams to do the job quicker! Where do you want us to start?"

"The Sickiebay," volunteered Spook loudly.

"The Science labs," countered Dr Destroy.

"The anti-matter chambers," suggested Cork helpfully. "Go right in and have a look!"

"Olga and I shall go to the Sickiebay," announced Gretchen. "We'll take these two with us," she added, as they scooped up Checkout and Bubu. On the Bridge, Spook looked smug.

"Freya and I shall check the labs," said Hilda.

"And we shall go with you," said the leader of the Security squad, displaying an unusual intelligence. "Split up, men! We don't want these lovely ladies harming themselves, do we?"

"No, sir!" the other seven chorused, splitting up.

"That man gets a promotion," said Cork. Fortunately, he'd turned off the intercom. He flipped it back on. "Have fun. Don't get lost, now." A large section of the ceiling of the Transporter Room collapsed as Hilda and Freya were leaving and they noted it.

"Pity it didn't happen any sooner," said Yahura.

"I heard that!" said Freya.

At one of the Transporter platforms in the Starbait, Mr Snott materialized, but due to a fluke in the Improvise's Transporter, his bottle of hooch was not with him. The Engineer was beyond noticing this. He fell drunkenly off the platform, staggered upright, and stumbled out of the room. Unfortunately for him, the space station's security system was still operating and he didn't get too far before a couple of goons caught up with him and popped him into the otherwise unoccupied Brig.

The bottle, however, materialized on a sidewalk of a small sidestreet in Poppy Street City, where it sat happily.

"Avaunt, Burper King pigs!" shouted a voice a few minutes later. From around the far corner ran Kermit the Frog and Grover, armed and in battle fatigues, followed closely by a pack of "innocent" kids wielding knives, chains and clubs. "Leave us alone!" Kermit continued, yanking a grenade from his bandolier, pulling the pin and heaving it over his shoulder. The kids saw this and paused, momentarily and fatally. The device blew up in their midst with a flash of flame and blood and the two pursued Muppets, now with enough room behind them to operate their guns, turned and hammered the bleeding remnants with submachine-gun fire until the kids were no longer discrete units.

"Whew, that was too close!" gasped Grover as he collapsed near the bottle, wheezing for breath. "Those animals nearly got us! Imagine, being forced to eat a Burper King (yecch!) Burger!"

"It's not so much that as eating a Bob-supported Burper King Burger!" huffed Kermit. "What's this?" He picked up the bottle. "It looks like some of the hooch the Fudderation namby-pambies swill." He took a swig.

"How's it taste?" inquired Grover. Kermit suddenly turned greener than usual, rushed to a sewer grate and began barfing.

"Maybe they're not such namby-pambies after all," said Grover aloud. Kermit was known for his alcohol consumption. With a shrug, the furry blue Muppet dropped the bottle down a manhole and replaced the cover. There was a tremendous explosion and towers of guck shot from all the storm drains, including Kermit's, drowning the unfortunate Muppet.

"Thanks a lot," said Kermit's clone sarcastically.

"You're welcome," said Grover. "I thought you'd learned by now not to drink stuff you find on the street." They began quick-marching to the other end of the street. When they reached the corner, they saw the battle that was going on down the street in front of the Fudderation outpost. Seeing that their Muppet allies were in trouble, they rushed to help. But just as they were about to hose the attacking Adults and "innocent" kids with lead from behind, some Fudderation troops came out and shot everybody, including them, with their ray guns.

When Grover woke up, he was lying on the floor in a large room with the other Muppet combatants on one side and the others on the other side. There were three men in the middle, surrounded by several others, brandishing the ray guns. Soon they were all awake and shouting abuse at each other.

"SHUT UP!" bellowed Barney Blogg, firing a few rounds from a confiscated submachine gun. They shut up. "You!" he said, pointing to Grover. "Why are you fighting them?"

"It's traditional," replied the Muppet. "This time, they are supporting the evil, foul, disgusting Burper King in his efforts to control the City's burger business!"

"That's a lie!" bellowed Mr Hooper, an Adult. "Those scheming Muppets are supporting the despot Roland McDownal in his attempts to overthrow our gracious (there were boos and catcalls from the Muppets) Emperor Bob! We enlisted the Burper King to produce Burger weapons to counter Roland's!" There was more shouting as everybody yelled at once. Blogg silenced them.

"How would you like to fight on Starbait 13?" challenged Barney. "How would you like to really trash it? It would make a real change, wouldn't it? You won't have to pay for it, either."

"But the clone machine doesn't work beyond the atmosphere," said Guy Smiley, a Muppet who was actually a double agent. "We found that out when we shot Bob's mother off-planet with a rocket and she didn't return when it blew up."

"That's how Bob got into power," added Cookie Monster, another Muppet. "We helped him, and look what he's done for us! Traitor!"

"FINE!" bellowed Ernesto as the bedlam was quashed. "You guys have stun bullets, I know you do!" he accused. "They even automatically veer away from the target's head and other vital parts! Use them! We're going to beam up Roland and the Burper King and Bob and everyone else and turn you loose! You know by now that those--Burgermen--are using you as pawns! After it is over, we take them and send you back! No risk, no questions asked. Got it?"

"Sure!" everyone chorused. Ever since the clone machine had started cloning buildings, the Poppy Streeters hadn't had the satisfaction of trashing anything.

"Go out and spread the news! We'll start beaming you up in about an hour! Now scram!" enthused Blogg. They scrammed, all hatred forgotten. "It worked! It worked!" he squeaked, elated. "Those Thorians will never know! By saying that a power failure allowed some of them to escape from the Brig, get to the Transporter rooms and beam up their cronies for a mega-party when the power came on again, we'll have an air-tight excuse!"

Meanwhile, on the Improvise, the inspection was going ahead.

"Sorry, you can't go in there, madam," said one of the guards politely but firmly as Hilda and Freya tried to enter a chemical analysis lab. The four resolutely barred the way.

"Why not?" demanded Freya. "What could be the matter with it?"

"It probably isn't ready," said Hilda, making the logical deduction. They picked the guards up, one for each hand, and gently set them down away from the door. The Security men, unruffled by this treatment, blocked the way again. The Thorians sighed, picked them up again, knocked their heads together and put them on the floor. "We tried to be nice," she said. The door was locked, so they punched a hole in the wall where the control panel was, and ripped it up. The door opened onto a scene of confusion.

"Go away! We aren't ready!" shrieked a hassled female lab technician. There were a couple of rows of long, narrow desks, each with a different vertical assembly of beakers, tubes, flasks and burners, with a few distillation things thrown in. They had obviously not been cleaned for ages, with the one near Hilda looking like it had been used for several different experiments.

"What is this?" Freya asked, filming the frantic activities of the lab people. Two of them, both carrying boxes of unclean glassware, collided, bounced off each other and went smashing to the floor. The impact caused one of the wobblier setups to fall over and hit another, creating a domino effect that caused great havoc. Glass and metal parts flew everywhere.

"My, my!" said Hilda, scribbling in her notebook. "Nobody wearing safety glasses! People running in the lab! Grease on the floor!" At one of the several sinks, a desperate assistant wrenched the cold-water tap too hard and it broke, sending water fountaining up to the ceiling, which bore evidence that this wasn't an uncommon happening. As a couple of people rooted under the sink trying to shut off the tap, two more with brooms and dustpans scooted from a storage room into the lab, slipped on the grease on the floor and, while falling, released their cleaning utensils. They flew through the air, a dustpan clobbering another technician on the head and knocking him out with a gong. He collapsed and knocked over one of the instrument frames that had just been righted. The gal setting them up got clobbered and went out too, tripping another man, whose load of glass flew.

"No! Not my nitroglycerine experiment! I just set it up!" screeched the lab supervisor, entering to investigate the ruckus just as the cleaners slipped. A broom knocked over the rack and it crashed to the floor. Fortunately, only a tiny amount had been made, so the explosion was not very large. The air pulse was strong enough nevertheless to cause the weakened ceiling over the sink, which wasn't stained like the rest of it and the walls, to collapse with a crunch and clouds of wet and dry plaster.

"That'll teach that tap!" said one of the scientists-cum-plumbers, who was protected by the sink from the collapse. Then the weakened pipe cracked open and soaked him and the other fellow, who both cursed roundly, for the water was very cold. Both Hilda and Freya were using their shields to protect their faces from flying glass and one of the dustpans, which bounced off with a clang and embedded itself in the nearby wall. This made a short circuit and one of the fluorescent lights exploded, glass shot everywhere and plunged the unfortunate room into semi-darkness.

"See what you have done?" bellowed the lab supervisor, now that the self-destruction of the room seemed to have stopped. "You've destroyed my lab!" Broken glass and unconscious or semi-conscious bodies, all with cuts and scrapes, were littered all about. Freya shrugged.

"This room fails the inspection," she said.

"Yes," said Hilda. Then more of the ceiling collapsed and one of the wall panels blew out with a flash of sparks. "Let's get out of here!" They hadn't gone much further than the doorway, so it wasn't too hard to do. The Security goons were just beginning to stir, only five minutes after they'd been konked.

"Wake up, boys. It's time to go somewhere else." They groaned miserably and got up slowly. "Hurry up," said Freya.

Meanwhile, as promised, Olga and Gretchen arrived at the Sickiebay with Bubu and Checkout. The door whooshed open and they stepped in and saw the intern who'd opened the door manually. They then saw Dr Destroy and Nurse Chapwell standing in the middle of the room, which had twenty beds with monitor screens above them. All were neatly made, save for one which had a patient in it and he was all trussed up in bandages. Everything was surprisingly neat and passably clean, or so it seemed.

"Hello," said Dr Destroy with a smile that nearly cracked his face. It wasn't used to that expression. "Welcome to the Sickie--er Sickbay," he corrected. "Here, we'll take care of them." The two injured officers were grabbed and plunked on beds.

"This is incredible!" gasped one of the Security guards. "I've never seen this place so tidy in my life!"

"Shaddap!" hinted the doctor as he and Chapwell busied themselves repairing Bubu and force-feeding Checkout a detox pill.

"What do you mean?" quizzed Gretchen.

"It has always looked like a pig sty," said the goon, ignoring the nurse's shushing gestures. "I wonder where he hid the rats and the bugs?" Olga smacked one of the walls and a large Altairan Squawk Beetle scooted from behind a cabinet. Destroy stamped on it with his heavy boot and it gave a squawk and died.

"We unfortunately are on the same deck as the Mess Hall," said Nurse Chapwell apologetically. "And the insects and other creatures that are there tend to migrate here."

"It's on the same deck to catch the food poisoning crowd," explained the Security guard, whose name was Oliver. "As it happens, Altairan Squawk beetles are a perfect antidote for it." He got angry glares, but ignored them.

"Have a look around," snarled Destroy. "If you have any questions, I'm sure the interns will be glad to help you." He returned to his false smile. "Now, Mr Security guard," he said sweetly, "I and the Nurse wish to talk to you, ALONE."

"No way!" said the goon, who was the one Cork was going to promote. "My job is to keep harm from coming to these ladies," he said. "And myself," he muttered. "Captain's orders," he added.

"What's in here?" asked Olga, opening a cabinet. A cascade of medical instruments, all blunt, dull and questionably clean fell onto the floor. Her armour prevented them from puncturing her as they were meant to. Gretchen opened a linen cupboard and found a nurse and an intern smooching in it. She shut it again.

"Oops," said the doctor. "I'll get someone to clean those up."

"Don't bother," said Olga. Gretchen then thumped the patient experimentally and it flew to pieces with gouts of pressurized ketchup, tomato sauce and spaghetti flying hither and yon.

"There's someone who lost his lunch," quipped Oliver.

"A dummy!" she exclaimed. "Olga, something is wrong here!"

"No, not at all!" denied Chapwell. "Don't go in there!"

"Oh no you don't!" shouted Oliver, swatting the hypodermic from Destroy's hand before he could be jabbed with it. "Men, subdue these people! The inspection must go on!" While the six fought it out with great violence as more cupboards were knocked open and more equipment poured out, Olga and Gretchen battered down the door that led to the inner complex of the medical section. There in the hallways they saw that most of the junk that had accumulated in the ward room had been thrown in here.

"What kind of idiots did they think we were?" muttered Gretchen as they opened some doors. One of these was locked and was punched in, revealing a couple of imprisoned male interns.

"Are we glad to see you!" said one as they got up. The room was dark, save for a couple of smoky, flaring torches. In one corner was an apparatus that was apparently a rack. Trays of stale bread crusts and gluey water were scattered on the floor, with evidence that at least two had been thrown at something. The walls, ceiling and floor were covered with grimy, peeling linoleum that was supposed to represent stone blocks. Three rubber bats dangled listlessly from the ceiling and a skeleton was nailed to the right wall with the arms and legs located creatively. The interns were dirty, unshaven and chained to the far wall.

"Yeah!" said the other. "Are we ever!"

"What is this place?" asked Olga, shocked, as she filmed the scene while Gretchen yanked out the chains. Even she was hard pressed to do this; the links were half an inch thick and heavy.

"This is Crones' Torture Chamber," said the first intern. "We got stuck here because we contradicted him about something and were right! May I borrow a hairpin? Thanks." He expertly picked the lock of his leg iron and the other's.

"If we contradict him or a nurse contradicts Chapwell and we turn out to be wrong, they laugh and make fun of us, but we don't get the Chamber," said Number Two. "We've been here for two days." They left the room and everyone blinked at the bright light.

"There you are," said Oliver, who was in the hall. "They've been subdued and strapped to a couple of beds, ladies."

"Thank you, uh.." said Olga.

"Oliver," said Oliver. "My pleasure. I've always wanted to do that to them." He rubbed his hands.

"But tell us more about the doctor's little operation here," said Gretchen, giggling at her pun. The others groaned, sounding like classic Destroy patients, as the five continued inspecting.

"If you think the Torture Room is bad," said intern Number One, "you should see the animal experimentation labs. They look like abattoirs!" He shuddered. "There's blood everywhere."

"And signs that it's been licked off the walls," added Oliver.

"How did you know?" demanded Number Two. "Never mind."

"I also heard about how you have to keep switching the medications around so's they don't administer the wrong stuff," added Oliver. "Something about how they usually choose the wrong drug and you have to change it behind their backs." The interns nodded gloomily as they peeked into a room at the end of the corridor and saw the dismantled remains of Destroy's still.

"I've seen enough," said Gretchen. "This place definitely is below even Fudderation standards! It fails." The interns and Oliver looked pleased. "Let's get out of here!" They strode back down the corridor and into the ward room, where Destroy and Chapwell were strapped to two of the beds and the other three rather battered and clawed looking guards were keeping a close eye on them and also resuscitating Bubu and Checkout.

"Thanks guys," said Bubu, getting up. "Now we have to find Mr Snott. He's the Chief Engineer," he explained to the inspectors.

"I think that's where we should go next", said Olga. "We'll leave them (indicating the head medics) to the interns' tender mercies." Dr Destroy and Nurse Chapwell howled in outrage and fear as the inspectors and the Security team left for the Engine Room.

Meanwhile, on Starbait 13, Commander Blogg and Ernesto Slacker had just beamed up and were met in the Main Transporter Chamber by Ferd Finkelstein, who was not looking overly happy.

"Commander Blogg," he accused, "what were you up to down there? That was a cowardly thing to do, running out and leaving me in the lurch with those inspectors!"

"Don't worry about it," said Blogg smoothly, getting down from the platform. "Count it as diplomatic experience. I've got everything worked out. They can't possibly give us a failed inspection now." he said, looking smug.

"Oh?" demanded Ferd as the three made for Blogg's office. "What makes you think they haven't already?" Blogg halted suddenly and Ernesto collided heavily with him.

"What do you mean?" he bellowed, shaking Ferd until he rattled. "Have you let them inspect the station already?"

"Maybe I have and maybe I haven't," said the Sub-Commander shiftily, getting another shake. "I won't tell if you keep shouting at me." He was released.

"If they have, then you'd better call off beaming up those Poppy Streeters," said Ernesto. Ferd goggled at him and made weak exclamations. Blogg explained their plan.

"You can't do that!" squeaked Ferd. "The whole place would be destroyed! Where would everybody work? How would we live?"

"I hadn't thought of that," muttered Blogg.

"HA! So you admit that it hasn't been inspected yet!" crowed Slacker. Ferd scowled and owned up to it.

"I hope it isn't too late to stop them!" yelled Blogg, taking off at a run. "Ferd, Ernesto! Go to the nearest Transporter Rooms and tell the technicians not to beam anybody up! I have to get to an intercom and make a general broadcast! Run!" They ran.

Starbait 13, like all the other Starbaits, was very large and had about a dozen Transporters scattered throughout it, including one in each of the three docking pods, and including a couple of big ones for bulky cargo. Unfortunately, the crew of the Starbait was well-disciplined and efficient, in spite of the faulty equipment and Commanders, and they had already been beaming up Poppy Streeters as they had been ordered to. The thing was that Blogg had forgotten to say "In an hour".

Back on the Bridge of the Improvise, Captain Cork was far from happy. He was unwillingly listening to Hilda's report.

"Captain, this ship is a disaster waiting to happen!" she snapped over the intercom from the Mess Hall. "It is the most decrepit, broken-down, unsafe, unhealthy piece of space junk I have ever had the displeasure to be in!" she bellowed forcefully.

"If you think we're bad, you should see one of the Klaxon battlecruisers," said Checkout.

"Flattery will get you nowhere," smarmed Spook.

"And neither will this ship!" retorted Gretchen. "The Sickbay is a torture chamber, the Science Labs are a shambles, the crew's quarters are squalid and your Chief Engineer has gone missing!"

"He's on Starbait 13," said Bubu, who had finally tracked him down. "He's repairing some mechanism in the Detention area."

"He was never totally here anyway," said Yahura snarkily.

"The Engineering section is the only part of the Improvise that has passed the inspection so far," said Freya.

"What? That's impossible!" spluttered Cork. Everyone else on the Bridge, save Ensign Style, looked startled.

"Ever since that nice Mr Style took charge, that is," she qualified. "Captain, under the authority invested in us by the Fudderation, we are ordering this ship to go to the drydocks at Tau Ceti for a complete and thorough overhaul!"

"ENOUGH ALREADY!" shouted Cork. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with my ship! I won't do it!" he added petulantly.

"If you refuse to comply," added Olga, "we'll call in the Court Martial and have some competency hearings!"

"Mr Checkout," said Cork swiftly, "let's go to Tau Ceti!"

"Yes sir," said the assistant navigator, punching it in. Suddenly, there was a jet of smoke and a small explosion and an electric arc played hopscotch all over the console, melting a good portion of it to slag and sending the pretty buttons flying all over the Bridge. Checkout was blown from his chair and landed in Cork's lap, smokestained but unhurt. "Sorry girls, but there's been a slight problem," wheezed Cork. "Our navigation console has just disintegrated. It will be a while before we can fix up a replacement."

"Captain!" said Spook suddenly as his computer terminal began squawking at him. "The auxiliary control has just blown up!"

"Damage reports coming in," said Yahura. "Crew report that wall panels are falling off, lights are blowing, several fires have started and that things are just falling apart!"

"Style! This is your fault!" bellowed Cork.

"No it isn't!" shouted Style right back. "It's Snott's fault! Call him up and you'll see! He should be sober by now!"

"Captain, you needn't bother," said Spook over the din of one of the minor consoles exploding. "The warranty has expired."

"What?" shouted Hilda from the Mess Hall. "The warranty?"

"Yes!" yelled Spook as the console continued making lots of noise, in spite of Style's attempts to stop it with an axe.

"This is serious!" howled Hilda. The food dispensing machines in the Mess Hall had suddenly erupted and were squirting all sorts of gooey glop all over the room and all inside it. Olga smashed one with her claymore, but that only made things worse. Gallons of melted sundaes began pouring from its mangled orifice. "Captain, you and Spook must get to the Transporter as soon as possible and beam down to Starbait 13! They have the documents required to get a warranty extension of one year. We shall come with you because we must co-sign it for it to be any good! Hurry!"

The four inspectors slogged their way through the debris of the Mess Hall towards the exit, stoically ignoring the gushing sundaes, flying hamburgers and dead insects and rats. The extra-strength door refused to budge under even their combined strength, so they smashed through a nearby wall instead, creating an exit for the other crewmen trapped inside too. It was sometimes a matter of conjecture for the people in the Mess Hall as to whether they would be able to drown in food or whether they'd be corroded away by it first. Strangely enough, none were willing to find out.

Cork and Spook had a lot of trouble getting off the Bridge because the only access was the elevator, and it was not to be trusted. Sure enough, from the shaft they heard a whoosh as the box suddenly lost its magnetic support system and fell down.

"Captain, there are some repair access ways through the ceiling," offered Style. "It'll be a tight fit, since you are rather tubby (Cork glowered at him, but he took no notice), but you should make it." After a precarious bit of boosting, the hatch was opened and first Spook and then Cork were propelled into it. "I'll go with you," he added, so up he went too.

"I hope you know what you're doing," said Cork.

"Don't worry. I know these passages like the back of your hand," replied Style, avoiding a smack. With his guidance, and despite several times when Cork got stuck, they finally appeared in what Style said was the Transporter Room. To prove his point, the floor beneath them collapsed and they fell onto Hilda, Olga, Freya and Gretchen, who were knocked down, but not out. "Glad you could drop in," said Gretchen.

"My, you ladies look fetching!" said Cork snottily, dodging a blow that would have ripped his head off. The Thorians were covered with goop and plaster dust and looked just marvellous, thank you. Fortunately the Transporter was still working and they beamed over to the station.

The room was empty where they materialized and it had an intercom panel near the door.

"Captain Cork to... Who should I be asking for?" he asked.

"Commander Blogg or Sub-Commander Finkelstien," replied Hilda grimly. Gunfire rattled and echoed. "A battle! Oh boy!" she exclaimed. "I haven't had one for years!"

"Cork to Blogg, come in!" shouted Cork. There were a few clicks and rattles from the speaker.

"Blogg here," came his harassed voice. "Look Cork, I've got troubles of my own here! The Poppy Streeters have invaded and are tearing the place apart! My hands are full!"

"Well drop everything and get a warranty extension!" bellowed Cork. "My ship is self-destructing! The warranty has expired!"

"Big bloody deal!"

"Barney," said Hilda sweetly. "I know you're there. If you don't have a warranty extension for the U.S.S. Improvise by the time we get to your office, Gretchen and I will tear your body into little chunks and JUMP ON THEM!" she roared.

"But I'm not IN my office, Hilda," he whined, sounding like he was about to go off the deep end. "It is occupied by some clown named Roland McDownal, who, with a small army of these Muppet creatures, is fighting off another clown named the Burper King! The Security forces are having a tough time with them!"

"Don't worry about that!" said Hilda. "Be there! We're coming, and woe betide he who gets in our way!" The four Thorians drew their shields and sword-like dirks and thundered out of the room, with the three Improvise men racing after, giving directions.

In another part of the station, Grover, Kermit and several other Muppets had set up positions in hallway and were shooting at some "innocent" kids with stun bullets. The kids were shooting back and lots of damage was being done. Then, over the racket of the firefight, they heard a sound of thunder.

"Artillery? Here?" was the question on everybody's lips. Then the Thorians barged around a corner and smashed through both of their ramparts, scattering combatants like nine-pins. Then the three Improvise crewmen, followed by several Starbait Security beefcakes, appeared and stunned them all with their nader guns.

"Come on!" said Spook, who liked shooting helpless foes, even if it was only stunning them. "We're falling behind!" They ran on, panting, after the oversized Amazons. Finally they arrived at the office approaches, where the big battle was raging. As the women stopped to plan and the Improvisers stopped to collapse, Style's communicator whistled plaintively. He wound it up and opened it.

"Hello, Style?" inquired a familiar, but groggy, voice.

"Mr Snott!" exclaimed Style. "Are you still in the Brig?"

"No. I was let out when some of these Poppy Streeters raided the place to release some compatriots. The Security fellows have been arresting them and carting them here for the past little while. I'm not too far away, though. Ooh, my head."

"Stay there, Snotty," wheezed Cork. He hated running. "We're renewing the ship's warranty." Snott groaned.

"The warranty! I should have known that that was what was causing all those malfunctions," he said.

"If you'd been sober, you may have twigged onto it," sniped Style. "And don't say I should have known because I had no idea that Fudderation heavy cruisers came with warranties!"

"Hurry up over there!" interrupted Bubu's voice. "We don't have much time left before the anti-matter systems blink out and we go bye-bye! So, of course, will Starbait 13," he appended.

"Boys!" said Hilda as she clumped over and fresh Security heavies arrived, armed with nader rifles. "We're going to take the direct approach. Stay back so you won't get hurt." Then the smokestained figures of Ferd, Slacker and Blogg arrived with more goons. "So, we meet again," said Hilda.

"Yes indeedy," said Blogg blithely. He'd been drinking.

"CHARGE!" she expostulated and the four towering, muscular hunks of she-woman stormed around the corner and down the corridor towards the door to Blogg's office. They mowed down anyone within their considerable reach in the wide passageway as the Security types added nader fire and knocked out the others. The imported oak doors were smashed down, revealing for an instant what must have been Roland McDownal and the Burper King wrestling on the floor, trying to throttle one another, with little luck. Security mopped up and Cork, Spook, Style, Slacker, Ferd and Blogg scooted in behind the Thorians, who made short work of the Burgermen.

"Where's the warranty extension?" demanded Freya.

"In one of these filing cabinets!" screeched Blogg.

"Hurry!" urged Bubu and Yahura. As the ten ripped through the files, which were in bureaucratic order (that is to say, crazily placed), Snott ambled in. He was weaving slightly and hiccuping.

"Wha...whart're you lookin (hic) ffff--for?" he slurred, tripping over the inert Burgermen and falling heavily.

"The warranty extension!" everyone yelled.

"Blogg, I want you to kill the person who did these files!" howled Cork. "I want my ship in large pieces, not tiny ones!"

"Try looking under...hic...candy," he mumbled. "After all, it will be a life saver." He passed out. Frantic scrabbling turned up, sure enough, one warranty extension for Fudderation cruisers.

"Hooray!" cheered Spook in relief. "Oops!"

"HAH! An emotional reaction!" crowed Cork, dancing up and down as Blogg fumbled the document, cleaned some of the debris from the desk, and rapidly filled out the form. "I got a reaction from him! Did you hear that, Crones?"

"I'm sorry, but Dr Destroy is not available for comment," replied a voice from the Sickiebay over howls of pain.

"There! Sign the blasted thing before it's too late!" squealed Ferd, thrusting a pen at Hilda, who signed and passed it to Cork.

"It was not an emotional reaction!" Spook sputtered, trying desperately to think up some reasonable sounding lies as the Captain made first an X, then scratched it out and signed his name properly. He gave the pen to Style, who bobbled it.

"Sir! Deck 14 has just collapsed!" reported Bubu. Style recovered the pen and signed under "Acting Chief Engineer". Then there was silence as they all held their breaths.

"Sir!" It was Checkout this time. "Sensors indicate a beam of energy is hitting us from the planet! The ship--it's regenerating! My console is fixed! Deck 14 is repaired!"

"My nails aren't broken anymore!" squeaked Yahura excitedly.

"I'm free! I'm free!" This was Destroy's gravelly voice.

"Oh-oh," said several other voices, which were the junior doctors, interns and nurses. Sounds of a violent fight erupted before the channel was switched back to the Bridge. Bubu and Checkout made a running commentary on the repairs as the others brought their affairs to a close.

"Well, I guess we pass the inspection after all," said a relieved Captain Cork, pulling his untucked shirt over his paunch.

"It must be the clone machine they have," goggled Ernesto Slacker as Gretchen planted her large self in front of him. "I always knew there was something magical about warranties," he said. "But that it would come to this."

"Cork to Improvise," said Cork. "Four to beam up." Style and Spook were supporting the intoxicated Snott. As they shimmered and vanished, he left these haunting words: "Don't forget to write."

"I think you owe us several hours of explanation," said Hilda to the cowering Barney Blogg and Ernesto Slacker. "And once this offal (she indicated the Burper King and Roland, who were just beginning to wake up) is removed and the Poppy Streeters are deported, you can start." The Security guards were called in and the long process of cleaning up was begun.

Several days later, once the entire crew had been recalled from shore leave on the station, the nice, shiny Improvise prepared to warp its way to its next assignment away from the dull, grungy Starbait 13. All of the Bridge officers and Dr Destroy had assembled on the Bridge before the final departure.

"Congratulations on your forthcoming marriage, Mr Blogg," said Cork from his now-functioning command chair. He hid a smirk behind his hand. "Too bad you're resigning from the service," he lied.

"Cork, I'll never know how you do it!" raged Blogg. Hilda was with him, and kept him from attacking the screen which had the Fudderation Captain's smug features on it. "You and your crew get yourselves into such ridiculous situations and then weasel your ways out unscathed! How? How?" he gibbered.

"Almost unscathed," corrected Destroy, looking pointedly at Spook, who busied himself with his computer terminal.

"You and your ship will make excellent subjects for our theses," said Hilda, cuddling her fiance to near-asphyxiation. "I am sure that our recommendation of creating unlimited warranties for Fudderation spacecraft will be heeded," she added.

"Good-bye," said Cork. "The next time we're around Thor, maybe we'll drop in to see you," he fibbed diplomatically.

"No! Please! Anything but that!" whimpered Blogg. "I don't want to see that horrible man ever again!" He cut the link.

"Only too happy to oblige," beamed Cork. "Mr Checkout, set a course for Altair, Warp Factor One."

"What, did we kill all his Squawk Beetles?" retorted the navigator, punching in the course with his left hand and blocking Destroy's boot with his right.

"Well, Doctor," said an amused Captain, twirling his chair to face the sawbones, who was trying to extricate his foot from Checkout's tenacious grip. "I guess I won the bet after all!"

"No you didn't!" snarled the quack. "You had nothing to do with it!" Checkout gave a shove and he fell down with a crash.

"I said "hurry", not "hooray"," said Spook stiffly. "I just had a bit of dust in my throat that made my voice change."

"Hogwash!" rebutted the prone Crones. Bubu asked,

"Mr Snott, how did you know to look under "candy"?"

"Only a drunkard can figure out a bureaucrat's files," replied Cork. Snott fell down. "It's nice to have a new ship."

"Captain Cork, you're too fat!" said his chair suddenly. "When was the last time you went on a diet? Lose weight now!" it nagged.

"Maybe I spoke too soon," he muttered as everyone laughed.

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