A Biography of Harold Punster

This story is dated April 25, 1986, just after my last exam from my first year undergrad and close to the first time I encountered she who would become my wife. However, it stems from an unfortunate incident that occurred in a Traveller game run by a friend of my brother's, and having myself, him, and a couple of others participating that happened in October of the previous year. This episode of the role-playing game was run during a professional development day for the high schools, but I was stuck in a class and couldn't come until it was too late. My character was apparently jumped by another one (played by my brother) who had gone bonkers while we were trapped in all-terrain vehicles buried under snow in a blizzard. The Game Master, evil twit that he was, claimed that he'd rolled the only number he could get (a 3) that would have killed me (a blow to the neck from his knife, as my guy was wearing combat armour). I was exceedingly annoyed by this turn of events, of course, and eventually an escape came to mind. I'd been reading Another Fine Myth, Myth Conceptions, and some other books in the Myth series by Robert Aspirin, in which a "Dimension hopper" device is used to pop you from one plane to another and used this deus ex machina to get my character out of the jam, and had it conveniently self-destruct. It was just so unfair that my character get nailed when I wasn't there to try to get him out of it. It happened to me again in another eight years game, this time GURPS, when my guy got whacked by a madman in a tool shed with an axe. That time, however, I wasn't moved to write about it. My how age jades you...
Copyright © Harold Reynolds, 1998.

Note: Events in this biography have been altered to protect the innocent and confuse the guilty.

Right from the start it was obvious that Harold Punster was going to be a brawny lad. Soon after he was born, he began breaking things, a habit that would continue to plague him throughout his life. "Goddammit Chloe, what'll we do with this child? He's like a two-legged Scout platoon!" his father would complain. His parents were ex-Marines and as such viewed the Scouts with the contempt that they deserved.

His parents, Chloe and Rodney Punster, were members of the upper-middle class of the Haberschmaim society, such as it was, and as such enjoyed most of the available benefits. Unfortunately, one of the benefits that was unavailable was a house in a non-violent neighbourhood in their city of Schmenge. (This burg was named after one of the founding families of Haberschmaim who were expelled from the world of Melonville because of unsafe party habits.)

As a result of the local neighbourhood and neighbourhoodlums, young Harold was quick to learn the necessity of the local martial art, called "Hakka-Choppo", which was a hodge-podge of all the traditional disciplines tailored for dirty street-fighting. By the time Harold was in Grade 13, he had easily passed his Black Belt exam and had earned the coveted Studded Wristband Award for Good Work when he killed a couple of grocery-store holdup men and made it seem like an industrial accident.

As an aside, the Hakka-Choppo Black Belt exam is quite simple. All the candidate must do is go into the local biker hangout, make insulting remarks about their lifestyles, and emerge with only minor flesh wounds. Of course, no weapons may be imported into the scene of the conflict, but once it gets started, anything goes (and usually does). The other thing is that at least two of the bikers must be put out of the city's misery. The Schmenge cops don't care much about this, mainly because it saves them the trouble of doing the work themselves. But because of the relatively high law level that was supposed to be existing on Haberschmaim at the time, the fuzz have to at least make a token arrest, so the candidate also winds up being charged with assault causing bodily harm. A few bribes and kickbacks from the local Hakka-Choppo club later, the charge is quietly dropped. But I digress.

What with the training he received in the school and elsewhere, and with his natural strength and dexterity, Harold Punster developed a high physical endurance. This endurance came in handy for him because of his tendency to tell bad jokes and get negative responses to them. One of the reasons he was able to make as many horrible puns as he was is his high intelligence. He is so smart that on a preliminary intelligence test, he scored a rating of "h", but realized that he'd better not do so well on the finals because of the tendency for the Secret Service to snatch brainy types at tender ages and get them working on military projects. So he had fun writing the final, knowing that there was an agent slavering in the Office wanting him to find out just where those socks go in the wash. There was much howling, gnashing of teeth and muttering of "fluke" when his final score was found to be '8'. This did not faze our hero one bit.

How did Harold come to join the Imperial Marines in the first place? Well, the decision was all but made for him and there wasn't much that he could do to stop it.

It was a nice June afternoon in Schmenge and the Central High Grads were having a wild party to celebrate their release, when the party was made even wilder by the arrival of a bunch of biker gate-crashers, who were members of the Clobber All Them Hakka-Choppo Bastards Alliance of Bikers. They had come to revenge the deaths of their comrades on the rather large number of Black Belters present. In the ensuing battle, most of the bikers were killed (or cruelly maimed and then killed), but several of the Grads were wasted too.

"Of course you realize," said Harold in the bloody carnage of severed limbs and damaged weapons that was the aftermath of the party, "this means war." The Grads exacted vengeance of their own by blowing up all of the bikers' hangouts a couple of days later. This was the last straw as far as the local constabulary was concerned, mainly because they were using nail-bombs and killing innocent bystanders. The few surviving bikers and all the Grads were snaffled in a wave of mass arrests, at the cost of a few damaged police officers and Marines from the local garrison.

Harold Punster, who had been applying his Chemistry major to the war effort ("Hey, the nails weren't *my* idea," he protested, upon being booked.), was grabbed too, though it took the cops a little longer, several smashed groundcars and a partly-stolen ATV to get him. ("Hey, you! Get out of there!" bellowed an unfortunately observant Marine at the base into which our hero had broken. He was unable to hot-wire the thing quickly enough and was nabbed.) This was the way most student parties ended anyway.

"All right, boys and girls," said the Chief Justice in Charge of Riots (he was a busy man, these days), "you know you're not permitted to kill innocent bystanders in your petty power struggles, but because you did the fair city of Schmenge a favour by offing those bikers, the Court shall give you a choice. Enlist in the Imperial Armed Forces, or stay a while on our prison planet." So Harold Punster, "guided" by his loving parents, became a recruit in the Imperial Marines.

He managed to survive boot camp and basic training with little trouble, and was even able to teach the unarmed combat sarge a few sneaky moves, while learning even more from him. Harold liked the Marines enough to serve five terms with them, seeing little combat action and spending much of his time in the various Schools, including Commando school. During his tenure, which was by no means boring because his punning kept landing him in awkward situations, he rose to the rank of O-7 (Marine Force Commander), acquired a good number of useful skills, and mustered out with a Traveller's Aid membership and a good deal of cash.

After stooging around for a while, he wound up on a planet called Gla'adtaseeya, which seemed to be a good place to retire.

"If I can't get a legitimate job, I can always become a high school teacher," Harold mused. "I do have the physical qualifications for the job." But as luck would have it, as he was drinking his favourite beverage, a Gawdawful, and devouring a helpless pizza in one of the Starport dives, he became aware of a conversation at the table behind him and began eavesdropping, something his streetwise training rendered automatic.

By the sounds of it, a rather short member of some trading company with a large nose and black hair was trying to recruit the rather motley-looking crew of four at the table into going to some planet called Ga'adpadje for a relatively riskless and profitable venture in setting up trade with the natives there. Harold became interested to the point where his eavesdropping became noticeable and he was drawn into the conversation. This was probably the biggest mistake he'd made to date.

The next thing he knew, he was buying equipment and preparing for the mission. Unfortunately, during the mission, the party, which consisted of a belligerent, obnoxious blond ex-Marine, a disreputable ex-Army type, a diminutive ex-Scout missing a hand, and a wacko Navy guy, among others, got caught up in an enemy attack on the city. Fortunately they were able to fight their way back to the ship and were able to use its lasers to eliminate the opposition at the Starport. But while everybody bickered about what to do next (except Harold, who knew very well what to do but couldn't fly a spacecraft), the ship sustained rocket damage and, wouldn't you know it, the laser turrets were irreparably damaged.

To make a long story short, he had a brilliant idea to while away the time while they were waiting for re-enforcements in designing catapults for tossing glass barrels of fuel at the opposition across the river. With brainpower like his, how could those nasty K'tring hope to be anything but defeated?

Their next mission involved trying to convince a religious dictator to open up his planet for exploitation. They were to plant some sort of holographic projector in his bedroom in a floating palace and boot out without leaving a trace of their presence. Unfortunately, two big, mean and ugly guards with big, mean and ugly submachine-guns arrived at just the wrong moment. Most of the party was knocked out and/or killed before it could leave, and Harold had to use his strength and supplied grav belt to help tow the injured out. They were allowed to keep their stun carbines and grav belts, and picked up the monicker "The Miracle Gang" to boot.

Unfortunately, their former employer was now gunning for them, and Harold's party had to find themselves an alternate source of income and excitement. Sure enough, after cruising a few bars, they found someone desperate enough to consider hiring them.

Kinsen was the man's name and he was looking for some people to help him go to some forbidden planet to investigate this ship he'd been on eleven years ago which had crashed there. He had started salivating when he said that there was a payroll for a naval squadron on that ship, and so had everyone else in the group except, of course, Harold, to whom money wasn't really all that important. Especially since he was loaded anyway. The catch was that the planet was in a Red Zone and forbidden to travellers. While they were trying to get Kinsen's junk heap off the ground, they were harassed by the local constabulary and the Scout Internal Security Bureau, but they got through that eventually.

The expedition was a bit harrowing, but they found oodles of money and weapons and some fellow named George, the sole survivor of the crashed ship. Unfortunately, they were noticed and drastic action had to be taken to avoid getting killed. Whether they actually triggered the nuclear war which caused them to leave the planet in not inconsiderable haste is still a matter of conjecture. Alas, it was then that the ship's jump drive went strange (or stranger than usual) and they began misjumping all over the sector.

"What the blazes is going on here?" demanded Harold Punster. "Haven't we gotten there yet?"

"Cool it, star cretin!" snapped Kinsen, the owner of the pseudo-ship. "We seem to be having technical difficulties!"

"No kidding," Harold said, kindly ignoring the insult and examining the Ship's Log, which showed that they really HAD gone all over the sector. "Ah, so this is where Hernando von Cortez got off to get his cancer treated," he mused thoughtfully.

"Yaah, well what can you expect from a Scout ship?" sneered the albino ex-Marine boorishly (as was his wont). "They're all of inferior quality anyway! Anything to do with space is stupid! The ground is where REAL men belong! Whoops!" Hands clamped over his mouth, he raced out to the oubliette cabin, from which barfing noises could soon be heard. Jaymz (his name) was rather prone to jump-sickness. Harold Punster, fortunately, was immune.

"Serves him right," muttered Jean Chretien, the ex-Scout, flexing his artificial hand. "Only an idiot like him would want to burn "Miracle Gang Strikes Again" with a plasma-gun on a planet where we'd just triggered a massive nuke-outage." He fell back to muttering to himself. Some unfortunate consequences of their visit, aside from the nuclear war, which Harold didn't consider to be their fault, were that Hernando had picked up a touch of cancer and also that Jean had become mentally disturbed. Just then, Ugh shambled in, dragging his knuckles on the bridge deck. He was Hernando's replacement, picked up in some sleazoid bar by Kinsen and George when they were too drunk to know better, and was the third unfortunate consequence of their visit.

"Ugh hungry. Want eats!" he grunted. Harold groaned. Ugh was, to put it mildly, rather lacking in the brains department. Ugh came from a planet whose people worshipped a god whose human form was a short, male type with a beaky nose, beady eyes and black hair. "Funny," Harold thought when he first saw the idol. "He looks like the dude who dragooned me into this mess in the first place." But he said nothing about this to the others, who wouldn't have cared anyway.

"Well, get some from the dispenser in the galley," said the ex-Navy type, whose name, appropriately enough, was Boob. "Surely you should know how to operate it by now!" He had replaced their first ex-Navy type, who had been killed on the religious dictator's planet during the shootout.

"Duhh," said Ugh, chewing on a rusty iron pipe and ambling towards the main control panel. His forehead and head-top could be used for a 135-degree set-square with little difficulty.

"Haw! He's so dumb he doesn't even know how to pick his nose, though he tries hard enough," jeered Jaymz, re-entering the Bridge. He looked a little green around the gills, but his usual abrasiveness was unaffected. It took about ten seconds for the meaning of the remark to sift through Ugh's tiny brain, but he reacted with startling swiftness.

"You insulted me! I gotta hurt you! Just a little!" He lunged forward and swiped at Jaymz with the tooth-marked bar. The blondie ducked instinctively, but in the wrong direction and his rather thick skull was clipped above the ear. He collapsed like a sack of potatoes.

"I'll get you for this, you bastard!" cursed the ex-Marine before passing out in a pool of blood. Ugh was restrained from making a second blow by George, who had grabbed the bar. Harold's temper, already on a short fuse because of cabin fever, snapped at this and he whipped out his ever-present gauss pistol and said:

"Don't worry, I'll get him for you." He fired, just as George, who thought he was the target, was pulling out his autopistol. The slug found its mark and Ugh was thrown backwards, hitting a bulwark and falling. Unfortunately, he was still conscious. George's pistol boomed loudly and the bullet smashed into Harold's left shoulder. "Dammit, I wasn't shooting for YOU!" he yelled furiously as he crunched into a wall and was knocked out. He would later learn that Boob had jumped at George with a knife, but had only managed to embed it in his combat armour.

Harold awoke in his cabin a few minutes later. His shoulder hurt horribly, but he seemed in good shape otherwise. It was firmly bandaged up and Jean was slouching by the door.

"I've got good news and bad news for you," he said morosely.

"Give me the good news and skip the bad news," grouched Harold, falling back on his bunk and wishing he hadn't.

"The good news is, like, we've executed de-jumpage. The bad news is," he added, ignoring the other's request, "that it's a bloody ice planet with nothing on it. Oh yes, the jump drive finally committed suicide, so we'll have to stay here."

"Big, wonderful whoopee," muttered Harold as the former Scout shambled out and closed the door. He fell asleep.

It was a bright, beautiful day on Haberschmaim. The double suns blazed cheerfully in the greenish sky, shining down on the city of Schmenge and its inhabitants, some of whom were very busy.

"HEY! THERE'S ONE OF THEM! STOP IN THE NAME OF THE LAW!" Police whistles squealed and Harold Punster leaped from behind the garbage can where he'd been hiding, rendered the surprised cop unconscious with a swift Hakka-Choppo blow and tore off down the dead-end alley with more fuzz in hot pursuit. With the aid of another garbage can, the pursued person vaulted over the wall, landing on top of another gook who was scaling it and causing them both to fall in a heap. Harold, the only one to emerge conscious, scrambled up and into the gook's squad car. The best he could do for a disguise was to swipe the cop's hat, but he looked pretty un-cop-like dressed in stained combat fatigues and grease paint and he was soon spotted.

"COME BACK HERE WITH THAT CAR!" bellowed the gook's partner and the other two pursuers, who'd scrambled over the fence onto the street. Harold knew very well as he stepped on the gas and roared off that there was no way he could avoid capture for long, but he decided to do his best anyway. He hadn't had so much fun for months. He careered around a few blocks in the cruiser, got out near the Imperial Marine Base, programmed the automatic pilot to send the rather smashed-up vehicle back to headquarters, and scaled the fence into the Base, ignoring the effects of the barbed wire and electricity.

He skulked expertly around for a few minutes until, when he thought nobody was looking, he scrambled up into an ATV.

"Hey, you! Get out of there!" shouted a Marine guard, who was posted on a nearby rooftop. Harold slammed shut the hatch and locked it and the other hatch and began the process of hot-wiring the vehicle. Shortly, there was a banging on the side of the car.

"Get out!" BANG BANG BANG! "Come on, you can't get away! OUT!" BANG BANG BANG! The vehicle shook violently.

Harold Punster woke up suddenly. Kinsen was shouting something unintelligible and was banging on his door.

"All right, cut the racket! I'm awake!" he snarled. Slowly he got up and staggered to the Bridge, where everyone else, in various states of repair, was gathered. "What's going on?" he growled.

"We've landed," said George. "While you were out, the head of the spare parts section of the Naval base (if you could call it that) came aboard and offered to give us a new jump drive thingy if we'd do some exploration for him."

"We get to go in ATV's!" enthused Boob.

"That means I have to be cooped up with some of you nuts even more than usual," Harold complained. He was ignored.

Within a day or so, all of their stuff had been transferred to two ATV's, with Harold, Boob, Ugh and Jean in one and Kinsen, George and Jaymz in the other. First they wheeled off towards a camp that had been mysteriously abandoned and could find no explanation for this. As they were wandering around, Jaymz was attacked by small poisonous ice-creatures which, for better or worse, didn't kill him. Then they went to explore a source of radioactivity, which turned out to be an old fuel dump of uncertain origin. They loaded up the vehicles with intentions to sell the stuff at the next planet for extra cash on the side.

Unfortunately, Boob's initial enthusiasm for their expedition quickly died during the first part of the trip and he developed a chronic case of whining and sniveling, whimpering things like "I hate snow--it's unnatural." Very soon, at the request of everyone in the party, Harold zapped him with a tranquilizer to shut him up. Not only that, but Jean was beginning to act strangely. He always seemed to be cleaning his guns or sharpening his knives and casting furtive glances at everyone else in the ATV and the camps while doing so. It gave the others the creeps. Finally, while they were poking around the fuel dump, Jaymz drew him to one side.

"Harold," said he, "I think good ol' Jean is going to flip! We have to do something before he fatally freaks out on us!"

"Let's kill him," suggested the Punster man hopefully.

"No way, we can't do that!" gasped Jaymz. "At least, not while he's sane!" He had an idea, a rare event. "Why don't you go back and hide his ammo? That ought to keep him harmless enough."

"It's worth a try," said Harold dubiously. "Though when he finds out, we'll be in for it."

On their way back to the Naval supply base, mishap struck. The vehicles were waylaid by a fierce blizzard. "Oh, blast it! We're stuck!" cursed Harold, who was driving the ATV he was in.

"Unfortunately, so are we," said Kinsen over the radio. "Looks like we'll have to wait out the storm."

"No! No! NO!" screeched Jean suddenly, lunging at Boob and trying to throttle him. "I HATE being buried alive! Argh!" Harold had used a Hakka-Choppo rabbit-punch on him. Harold plugged him with a shot of tranquilizer from the medical kit of the ATV.

"Sorry for the interruption," said the Punster person. "Jean had a minor freak-out, there."

The storm lasted two days, and so did the supply of tranquilizer. Boob had been firmly tied to one of the six beds in the vehicle and was alternately ranting and whining away.

"Hey guys, we've finally managed to dig ourselves out with my plasma gun," said Jaymz cheerfully. "You'll be happy to know that you're buried under eight feet of snow." Jean was rooting furiously around in his locker and finally emerged, coloured like a beet.

"WHERE'S MY AMMUNITION?" he shouted. "YOU! YOU HID IT, DIDN'T YOU!" he accused, pointing at a befuddled Ugh.

"Duuh, what ammo?" he replied, scratching his armpit.

"HAH, SO IT WAS YOU!" He pounced on Harold, brandishing a wicked hunting knife, but Harold expertly disarmed him and threw him at Ugh, who still hadn't realized what was happening. Jean bounced off the humanoid and crashed into Boob's bunk.

"You no do that!" growled Ugh. "Jean my friend! I must hurt you!" He suddenly lunged at Harold Punster with a wrecking bar and tried to hit him. Harold leaped backwards fast enough to turn a lethal blow into a minor gash on his neck and Ugh, not expecting such a fast reaction, overdid his follow-through and fell down.

"SHUT UP! I'VE HAD ENOUGH FROM YOU, YOU LITTLE WORM!" Jean yelled at the screaming Boob and clobbered him with a tire iron.

"Hey, that looks like fun!" said Ugh, joining the crazed Chretien.

Mercifully, Boob had died instantly on Jean's first blow. Blood was spattering all over the cabin.

Harold got up quickly from where he'd landed and grabbed his pistol. With Boob out of action, Ugh then smashed Jean's skull with a surprise blow. Blood and brains spurted everywhere. Then Harold Punster shot Ugh twice in the back, but this only caused the sub-human to impact with the wall of the vehicle and collapse in a daze. His armour had born the brunt of the attack. Then scraping noises became audible on the top of the ATV.

Just then, Harold's locker, whose door had been knocked open by his collision with it, dumped its contents onto the floor and a long, shiny, cylindrical gadget rolled to his feet. For a moment, he couldn't place what it was, but then he remembered.

While a Marine, he had once done garrison duty on a planet whose name escaped him, but was of a seemingly low technology level. He had been ambling around the market looking for potential buyers of some Xlaturanian sunstones which he'd acquired in a particularly lucky poker game, when he encountered a shortish fellow named Skeeve and an ugly green humanoid named Aahz. Aahz had been extremely interested in the sunstones, and had been quite willing to trade the device to him and to thoroughly instruct him in its use. With the aid of total recall, Harold remembered the instructions and hastily twisted several rings on the cylinder.

"Hello? Is anybody still alive down there?" came George's muffled voice from outside.

"UGH KILL! UGH HATE EVERYBODY!" snarled Ugh, leaping up and battering the hatch with his head. "UGH KILL EVERYBODY!" He ignored Harold, who quickly scooped up about 40 000 credits and stuffed the bills in the pockets of his combat armour and anywhere else they could fit. He also grabbed his extra cartridges of ammo for his gauss pistol, made sure he had his Traveller's Membership card, hooked five grenades on his belt, activated and threw another at Ugh, and pressed a button on the cylinder.

He felt a sudden lurch inside him and the scenery suddenly shifted to the living room of his old house in the city of Schmenge on Haberschmaim. It was evening and both of his parents were reading the newspaper. The displaced air made quite a loud bang and his grey-haired elders jumped nearly three feet.

"Hi Mom. Hi Dad. I'm home," said Harold Punster cheerfully.

Harold's happy bachelor days were not to last for long. At the wild homecoming street party, he encountered a lady who lived down the block from his parents' house. After the cops had moved in to restore law and order, they had been chucked in the same cell and he found that she was his own age (39), her name was Greta and that she seemed attracted to him, though he failed to see why.

"I just love that professional way you took out those goons who broke up our little shindig," she whispered to him in the cell. They were pressed together rather intimately by the crowd of hot, sweaty and intoxicated bodies of their neighbours.

"A man has to defend himself," he replied nervously. "Just because there were five of them all at once is no reason to get all excited, you know. You were no worse than I was." Between the two of them, they'd caused nearly half of the casualties incurred by the riot cops and Imperial Army regulars who'd crashed the party. Just then, the fuzz arrived to haul them all to the courts and Harold was able to escape from her (but not the cops; they were especially vigilant and he was nabbed twice) in the confusion. However, she wasn't going to let him get away for good.

After the repercussions of the welcome home party had faded into the back pages of the newspapers, Harold left his parents' house in the dead of night and moved to the nearby community of Adanac, where things like that just didn't happen. Then, to his extreme annoyance, a merchant trader from the planet Cawdor arrived at the spaceport with news of the so-called "Miracle Gang" and, what was worse, with pictures of the suspected members. His was among them. One of the goons who'd arrested him recognized his picture and the hunt was on. Headlines like "Miracle Gangster on Haberschmaim! Mass Murderer Hunted!" forced him to lie very low and hope for the best to happen. As usual, it didn't. Greta found him first, something which proved to be a mixed blessing.

"Hi, Harold!" she chirped cheerfully, bouncing into his kitchen one sunny day. She dodged the spray of coffee and sandwich crumbs. "You seem surprised to see me," she added innocently over his gasps and chokes. "I wondered where you'd gone." Then there was a crash as his front door was knocked down and before they could move, there were Imperial Cops and mean-looking Marines everywhere.

"Mister Punster, I presume?" said the plain-clothes-dressed Inspector as he pushed aside the backup personnel. "I have a few questions for you concerning this "Miracle Gang" we've been hearing about." He smiled genially and joined them at the table. The table was dwarfed by the three, who were all tall and well-muscled.

"Who wants to know?" Harold replied cagily. "I may very well not be the Harold Punster you're looking for."

"You're the one we want, Punster," he replied. He pulled out several pictures from a portfolio case. "These were taken by some of the journalists that arrived on Ga'adpadje shortly after the...incident there." Harold and Greta looked through them, interested. One of them was of him standing by one of his catapults he'd created to lob fuel barrels at the K'tring nasties. Others had him and some of the others in various action shots of them packing up before leaving.

"That's quite a haul of weapons you had there," said Greta. "What happened to them?"

"They got...left behind in my haste to leave," said Harold uncomfortably. "OK, I give up. That's me. But don't bother to look for these dudes," he said, pointing to pictures of Jean Chretien, Hernando von Cortez and the ex-Navy type, whose name was Twerp, who was with them at the time. "Twerp got offed on the next mission after this, Hernando jumped ship after the second-last mission I was on, the one you are calling the "Mass Murder" and Jean went nuts and got killed just before I...left."

"Very interesting," said the Inspector, rubbing the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. "You could be very helpful to us, Mr. Punster, very helpful indeed. Put those down!" he snapped at the Marines, who were looking at the pictures.

"What will you do now?" asked Greta, cuddling up.

"If you'll grant me immunity from prosecution," said Harold candidly, "I'll tell you everything I know. That's mainly because you'll have very little hope of tracking them down," he added. "They'll have gotten some more recruits somewhere and who knows, maybe they'll do something legal for a change." He shrugged.

"All right, it's a deal," said the Inspector, getting up. "Actually, there really is no possible way we can prosecute you, save for the charge of entering a Red Zone, but that can be dropped. What with the war with the Spear Empire going on, we have better things to worry about."

"I'll come with you," said Greta. "For moral support."

"Thanks," Harold replied, surrendering to the inevitable.

"By the way, just how did you get here?" she asked as they went outside. A couple of Marines were left behind to mend the door and the rest followed in an ATV.

"Well, it's a long story," he hedged. "In fact, it's long enough to make into a book!" he added brightly as the groundcar and its escort drove off towards the Marine base. "I'll call it "The Miracle Gang: the True Story, or Close Enough". By the way, Inspector, just how did we get that monicker, anyhow?"

"It all started after the investigation into the sudden collapse of Cawdor Enterprises," he said. "We had practically the whole bunch of them up on several hundred counts of illegal and unlicensed trade operations, and yours was one of them."

"Figures," Harold muttered as Greta devoted her charms to him.

"The Ga'adpadje incident was actually what caused their downfall because of the journalists who arrived just as the thing was ending. They'd gotten wind of the story when a Cawdor ship appeared on a nearby planet to get its laser turrets fixed and to hire a bunch of mercs to go and help out. Anyhow, in the court case, you came up several times. In fact, the president of Cawdor had this strange fixation about wanting to kill you. Let me show you the tape we made." They had arrived at the base and were now in the Inspector's office. The president was in the witness box, looking rumpled and wild-eyed. He said "Five guys and a bunch of backwards natives defeated two divisions of crack troops. That gang of idiots pulled off a miracle and ruined us...KILL THEM! KILL! KILL! KILL!" He lunged at the judge, but was quickly tackled, stuffed in a straightjacket and removed. "The newspersons leaped on this and a name was born."

"Interesting," said Harold. "Well, get out the recorders. I'm ready to talk."

Over the next six days, Harold related his adventures with the Gang, not only to the Inspector, but to televised audiences as well. He got a tidy sum of money for this too. He even told about the device he'd used to jump back home. Everyone became very excited, but he removed a lump of slag from a pocket and said:

"It was, alas, only a one-shot deal." After the verbal interrogation was finished, he let the shrinks run a memory-visualizer on him, and they got several dozen hours of tape from that. Finally, two weeks after he went in, he was released from the base. Greta, who hadn't attended any of the sessions after the first, was waiting to pick him up and grabbed him before he could slink off. "But Greta, I wasn't going to go far..." he whined.

"Yeah, the starport is only two miles away," she replied sweetly, giving him a dazzling smile. He giggled guiltily. "The thing you forgot to say was that you got married and lived happily ever after," she scolded. He stopped giggling.

"No...wait a minute! You're not going to..."

Harold Punster got married, wrote his book, which was a blockbuster, and he and Greta lived happily and violently ever after.

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