"We're dead, Jim."
The words drifted almost casually out of the hyperwave transmitter. Moments later, the Terran battleship's warp containment field lagged out. The inevitable matter/anti-matter blast that followed vaporized the ship, the Azure Drake, and the planetoid both ships had been orbiting.
Captain Farnham and the rest of the crew aboard the Azure Drake watched the 3-D images in the view dish in stony silence. Farnham recalled a very old expression: 'You look like a goose just walked over your grave.' It hadn't made a grain of sense until now. But then, watching yourself get turned into a dissipating burst of photons was enlightening in a lot of ways.
The Central Artificial Intelligence Network was the first to break the silence. "I've completed my analysis," volunteered CAIN.
"Go ahead," ordered Farnham.
"Sensor logs indicate that the server split occurred at 14:22 hours and resulted in a divergence of 0.00006 percent," reported CAIN. "It appears that we were the epicenter again."
"That would explain the other Azure Drake," commented Farnham.
"I have isolated the divergent element: They had a living Lord Cool onboard, whereas we only have his cryogenically preserved brain," CAIN told him.
"I had a feeling our guest might be involved," nodded Farnham. "What's the chance that we're just caught up in a natural flurry of Boojum activity?"
"Zero," replied CAIN. "The concentration of B/F particles is off the scale. I will devise a new scale... Done."
"Any possibilities other than the obvious?" asked Farnham.
"None significant enough to tell you about," answered CAIN. "This is the work of the Adversary."
Captain Farnham nodded and addressed his helmsman. "I've seen enough. Take us out of here, Mr. Wirt. Maximum warp."
"Aye, Captain," affirmed Ensign Wirt.
Whatever it was that Wirt was trying to sell them got shot out of his hand by a bolt of black fire. The boy yelped and sucked his blistered fingers. Sugar screamed and Dolt moved protectively in front of her.
Maximum Evil had returned, riding his black Hell Horse through the overcast skies.
"You again?" Dolt and Stupidhead sneered in unison.
Solo realized that she her life depended on people named Dolt and Stupidhead. Her morale plummeted.
"I'll deal with this walking waste of Mana," Stupidhead assured them, leveling his staff at Maximum Evil.
"I don't think so," laughed Max. With a gesture, Stupidhead's staff morphed into a Cave Viper. The giant creature coiled around the aged wizard and sank its teeth into him.
Biff leaped to Stupidhead's rescue, swinging Little Thumper, while Dolt did likewise with his Strange Axe of Slaughter. Max morphed the great stone club into a giant kielbasa, and the axe into a cardboard sign that read, "I'M A BIG GIRLY DOLT!"
For Biff, the distraction was all too much. His appetite was as big as his attention span was short. He sat down to devour the sausage. Since Dolt couldn't read, he found the transformation of his weapon frustrating, rather than infuriating, as Max had hoped.
Maximum Evil's stallion suddenly swerved violently in mid-air to avoid a barrage of Chain Lightning, arrows and Blood Stars. Solo, Sugar, and Red Vex were attacking. Even the puppy Deathspit spat a cute little acid ball at him.
That certainly wouldn't do. With a thought, Max put a muzzle on the puppy. Knowing that a cheap thrill is better than no thrill at all, he turned Solo's cap, armor and swords into a platinum blonde wig, a pair of pasties, a G-string and matching vibrators.
Red Vex took one look at Solo and fainted.
Undaunted, Sugar kept firing.
Maximum Evil was about to deal with the Rogue when, suddenly, the gleaming shape of CowLord was in his face. "HAVE AT YOU, HACKED HELL-SPAWN!" boomed CowLord. "STAND AND FACE THE DIVINE BOVINE!" He punctuated his bold challenge with a barrage of Cudstars and Holstein Bolts.
Maximum Evil's stallion was quick, but not quick enough to avoid being hit several times. Maximum Evil raised his arms and attempted to morph CowLord into a pile of rotting manure, but nothing happened.
"YOU'LL NOT FIND COWLORD SUCH EASY PREY," boasted CowLord, answering Max's assault with a Firebull.
The black Hell Horse took the brunt of the blast and decided that he had had enough. The stallion bolted.
"You fool!" Max cursed at the horse to no avail. Refusing to accept defeat empty-handed. He cast a combination Stone Curse and Telekinesis to snare Sugar.
"I've got you!" cried Wirt, grabbing the petrified Rogue around the waist.
Unfortunately, no one had Wirt, so when Maximum Evil disappeared through a Horadrim Portal, he had them both.
"Mindy!!" cried Dolt, who had actually managed to beat the Cave Viper to death with his Cardboard Sign of Slaughter.
Lord Cool was in a bed in a clean, small room, the likes of which he'd never seen before. No, that wasn't right. He actually had been in a room something like this one. Sickbay is what they'd called it. He remembered the cranky old doctor in the blue shirt who had examined him and showed him how to use the turbo-flush. Lord Cool had entertained himself finding different things to put down the turbo-flush until the Chief Engineer had warned him to stop on pain of death.
Thinking about the turbo-flush reminded Lord Cool that he had to pee. He rolled out of bed and staggered across the floor. He felt... well, funny. It wasn't anything he could put a finger on, he just felt funny. Of course, there was the problem with not having any idea where he was, nor having any idea how he got there.
Cool thought hard. It hurt.
Wirt had been there in Sickbay with him, and the redhead with great big... That was it! He'd been with Red Vex. And he'd gotten lucky! At least, he was pretty sure he'd gotten lucky.
He'd always heard that having sex with a succubus could be dangerous, but what was the worst thing that could possibly happen?
Lord Cool lifted the turbo-flush lid. Then he lifted his nightgown...
"You twisted fiend!" sobbed Cool, crouched behind the turbo-flush, when Dr. Pepin arrived in the lab. "What have you done with Little Cool?"
Dr. Pepin sighed. It was clear his patient hadn't quite caught on. If only they'd been able to use one of the good brains. But the procedure was untested, and Lord Cool's had been the only brain they'd been willing to risk.
"Get ahold of yourself, Alexander!" ordered Pepin.
Cool froze. No one had called him 'Alexander' since the first chapter of Unlikely Heroes of Tristram. "Don't call me 'Alexander,'" whined Cool. "I'm Lord Cool."
"Not anymore," replied Pepin. "You are Codename: LC4."
"What are you talking about?"
"I want you to stand up and tell me what you see."
Cool stood up and looked in the mirror across from the turbo-flush. "I see a hot-looking blonde with great big...." Cool gasped. "My God!"
"Now do you understand?" asked Dr. Pepin.
"I can't believe it!"
"Believe it," said Dr. Pepin. "We've..."
"She's coming on to me!" Cool rushed out from behind the turbo-flush and knocked herself out cold when she slammed into the mirror.
Dr. Pepin rolled his eyes. This was going to take a long time.
It did take a long time. It took four more mirrors before it finally dawned on LC4 that the hot-looking blonde was, in fact, her reflection. After that, came the arduous period of adjustment that LC4 needed to come to terms with her new identity and gender. Waking up in the body of a beautiful woman would have been traumatic for even an intelligent, well-adjusted man. Fortunately, Lord Cool had been neither. LC4 had the self-awareness of a week-old cabbage left on the kitchen counter, and that worked in her favor.
The drugs didn't hurt either.
Finally, Captain Farnham ordered LC4 to report for briefing. "Have a seat, LC," invited Farnham as LC4 entered the briefing room in her skintight blue body suit.
"Don't call me Elsie."
"Whatever. Stop that. It's time to fill you in on your mission."
"I have a mission?"
"Why do you think we went to all the trouble of putting your brain into a super-powered android?"
"Doc Pepin gave me the impression that it was mostly for laughs."
"Well yes," admitted Farnham, "that was an element. However, we are in the midst of a crisis that could threaten the entire Battle Net."
"So what do you want me to do about it?"
"Stop that. I'm glad you asked. Have you ever heard of the Boojum?"
"How about the Lag Monster? Leave those alone, willya?"
"I suppose there's no point in asking you about B/F radiation and entropic corruption dynamics."
"I didn't think so. Look, we only have time for the short version: The Boojum is an elemental force that helps maintain the cosmic balance across the worlds of the Battle Net. When something upsets the cosmic balance, the Boojum absorbs it. Knock it off and pay attention.
"A few years ago, a powerful and foolish sorcerer sought to tamper with the laws of reality. He messed up big time, so much so that even mentioning his name invites disaster. Stop that.
"When the Boojum showed up to clean up his mess, something went terribly wrong. When it absorbed the tainted magic, a corrupt duplicate of the Boojum sprang into being. We call it the Adversary. It seeks nothing less than the total destruction of all... For the love of Mike! Will you stop playing with your breasts and pay attention?!"
"Look, obviously we've already taxed your limited attention span about as far as it will go," said Captain Farnham. "Here's all you need to know: As soon as this meeting is over, CAIN is going to generate a portal to send you back to Tristram. Once there, your mission is to find and destroy the Adversary by any means possible. Any questions?"
"Why did Dr. Pepin make me a girl?"
"His exact quote was, 'Seemed funnier that way,'" answered the Captain. "But the truth is, your brain is nothing to write home about. The main reason we used it is because we felt we could spare it if something went wrong with the procedure. Once it was clear you were going to survive the operation, we had to compensate for your mental and neurological shortcomings. Those large round melons you've been sitting there fondling are loaded with neuro-packs to enhance your reflexes, cognitive skills and psionic index score."
Captain Farnham sighed. If LC4 had enhanced cognitive skills, he would have hated to meet her -- him -- before the operation. "Dr. Pepin packed extra brains in your chest to make you smarter, stronger and faster."
"I still don't see why he had to make me a girl. If I needed more brains, he could have just put them in Little Cool."
Captain Farnham pinched his eyes together. "Little Cool would have needed to be over three feet long, and that would have been even tackier than this. Besides, according to Dr. Pepin, letting Little Cool do your thinking for you is what got you in this mess in the first place."
"Hey, where is old Doc Pepin anyway?"
"He placed himself on medical leave when he realized he was obsessing over you."
LC4 preened. "Well, I am kinda hot."
"Actually, he was obsessed with the idea of chucking you out the nearest airlock."
"Anything else, LC?"
"My gear consists of a couple of swords, a dagger and a backpack full of ordinary junk," complained LC4. "Why no high-tech future weaponry and stuff? And don't call me Elsie."
"It doesn't belong in Tristram," explained Farnham. "It would certainly alert the Adversary to your presence. You gotta play by Tristram rules." Farnham pressed a button on his desk. "CAIN, if you will?"
A blue Horadrim Portal opened up underneath LC4.
"Wait a second!" she cried as she disappeared from sight. "Will I ever get my old body back?"
The portal snapped shut.
"An unlikely hero," commented CAIN.
"Heaven help us, she may be our only hope," said Farnham.
"During your briefing, I noted that you neglected to tell LC4 that, in addition to the neuro-packs, her chest contains enough anti-matter to vaporize a city block."
Captain Farnham shrugged. "If she's successful, she won't ever have to know about it. For that matter, if she's unsuccessful and we have to detonate her, she won't be around long enough to about it either."
"I've calculated LC4's chances of success, based on available data," volunteered CAIN. "Would you like to hear?"
"No. However, I do have a question: Whatever became of LC1 through LC3?"
"I'm sorry, my friend, but you do not have sufficient clearance for that information."
Solo had cast a Heal spell on Stupidhead and was fashioning a poncho for herself from CowLord's cape. It was a poor substitute for her armor, but at least it would keep Red Vex from screaming and fainting every time she saw her.
A Horadrim Portal opened and LC tumbled through and landed in Stupidhead's lap.
"Zakarum be praised!" shouted the wizard.
LC scrambled out of Stupidhead's lap, but not before he managed to cop a quick feel.
Acting instinctively, Dolt swung his Cardboard Sign of Slaughter at the intruder, but LC's enhanced reflexes allowed her to dodge the attack easily. She darted between CowLord's legs and nimbly leap-frogged over Biff before Solo knocked her out of the air with a Telekinesis spell.
Solo drew what had been her swords and pointed them at LC. LC just stared at the plastic devices. Red Vex fainted. "Damn you, Maximum Evil," grumbled Solo. "Who the hell/hell are you?" she demanded of LC.
LC glanced around. She recognized the unconscious Red Vex and Stupidhead, who was panting audibly and drooling a little. What was she going to tell these people? It was then that the puppy Deathspit leaped into her arms and began licking her face excitedly.
"Oh, what the hell. Call me Elsie."
"I did not give you a portion of my power so that you could go waste your time on old scores."
"I'm sorry, Master. Please don't be cross," Maximum Evil said into the roiling black fog.
"Never mind. Put your toys away. I have a task for you."
With a gesture, Maximum Evil transported Wirt and Sugar to a cage in the caves beneath Tristram. "I am ready to do thy bidding, my Master."
"Of course you are. My enemies begin to move against me. You will stop them while I retire to the center of the labyrinth to gather my power."
"None shall pass me."
"Good, then allow me to introduce you to your troops."
The oily black fog parted and Maximum Evil drew back a step. Even he could not fully suppress the gut-reaction of horror at the sight he saw.
"Behold," said the Adversary. "The Army of Things That Should Not Be!"
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