The other cops made a path for her as she stormed through the
station house, trying to look natural and not to be too obvious
about their avoidance of her. Behind her, though, the stares and
whispers resumed, fingers pointed and rumors were muttered. The
powder keg was about to blow -- this was the general consensus.
She was too much the maverick, the loose cannon on deck. The
wildest and most dangerous cop in the city was probably going
to lose her job today.

Of course, that's what they'd all said yesterday, too.

She jerked the door open, making no attempt to hide her anger
at being here. She belonged on the street, keeping the scum in
line, not pushing papers in some office! "You wanted to see me,
Chief?" she growled.

Police Chief Cain's one good eye glared at her over his desk.
"Don't you know how to knock?" he snarled back.

"I don't knock, Chief. I'm a cop. I usually just kick 'em off the

He pointed at a chair. "Sit down, Detective Rokossovsky. Or
should I call you 'Dirty Mary'?"

"That depends on how much you want my fist in your face, Chief."
She flopped into the chair, first taking care not to sit on her
machine pistol. "So, what is it? If it's about that Best Original or
Crossover Character case, I've got it cracked--"

"That's just it, Rokossovsky. I'm pulling you off the case."

She was on her feet instantly, both hands on his desk, her face
right in his. "You're _what_?!"

"You heard me. Orders came down from City Hall. The Best
Original or Crossover Character case is being closed as of now,
and you're getting a transfer to the Vice Squad."

"You can't do this!" she spat. "Don't you know--"

He cut her off. "I know I'm your boss and you'll do what I say.
You're going to Vice and I'm giving you a rookie partner to train."
He motioned to someone outside the window behind
Rokossovsky's back. "This is her now."

A small, pale girl in a patrolman's uniform stepped into the office,
smiling nervously at the living legend she knew as 'Dirty Mary',
the toughest cop alive. "I'm Rookie Patrolman Bella, Detective
Rokossovsky, and, golly, I'm really looking forward to working
with you on--"

The outside window shattered as a sniper's bullet smashed through
it and struck the rookie in the chest, knocking her to the floor in a
shower of blood.

"Sorry," Dirty Mary shrugged to the girl's body. "That happens to
every new partner I get." She turned back to the Chief. "Anyway,
you can't close the investigation now! I've got the case solved.
Look at this."

She pulled out a set of photographs and threw them onto his desk.
"I had it narrowed down to four suspects. First there was this chick."
She tapped on the picture of a scowling dark-haired girl whose arms
were covered in tattooed scales that made them look like a pair of
serpents. "Delilah Tod, native of the 'Dark Carnival' Round-Robin.
Vicious little thing with a rap sheet a mile long. She's an exotic
dancer by trade, and as deadly as she is beautiful. Been known to
poison people with those tattoos some way."

She pointed to the next picture, showing another scowling, hard-
faced girl, this one a young redhead with black wings on her back.
"Then there's this dangerous little piece of work. Embericles, from
the Then Do That Over story 'She Talks to Rainbows'. Juvenile
delinquent. She's got prior felony convictions for assault and
gets bad grades in school. Tends to have a bad effect on anyone
she gets close to, too."

The third picture was actually two separate photos together, one
a mug shot of a dark, brutal-looking man in his thirties, the other a
red-haired woman who bore a strong resemblance to the previous
suspect. "This guy or girl -- not sure which at this point -- is known
only as 'Number One' or by the alias 'Ember Ashe' and also comes
out of this 'Dark Carnival' area. Wanted for a whole slew of violent
crimes and firearm-related offenses. May also have a son, but we're
still looking into that."

The final picture was as different from the others as day from night.
The girl in it was smiling broadly and seemed bright, chipper, and
wholesome, a brunette teenager with feathery white wings. "And
this last one is a whole different matter. Nyssaias, from that same 'She
Talks to Rainbows'. She's got no prior record, not so much as a
jaywalking ticket, and everybody I talked to says she's as sweet and
pure as driven snow. _Suspiciously_ pure, if you ask me, but I
couldn't find the first piece of dirt on her.

"Four suspects, any one of whom could be our perp. But finally this
morning, the last few pieces fell into place and I know who it is now."
She snatched up the photo of the one called Embericles and thrust it
in his face. "She's the one, Chief. She's the Best Original or Crossover
Character. Embericles from 'She Talks to Rainbows'. All we've gotta
do is go pick her up."

Chief Cain pushed her hand aside. "That's all very pat, Rokossovsky,
but let me repeat, you are no longer to pursue this investigation. Do
you understand me? You are _off_ this case, as of now! It's _over_!"

Rokossovsky pocketed the photo, a dark look on her face. "I'll say
when it's over!"

"Golly, this is exciting!" exclaimed Rookie Patrolman Bella as she
climbed to her feet. "Real police work!"

"I thought you were dead?" Dirty Mary demanded, sounding

"Gosh, no. It takes more than a bullet in the chest to kill _me_." Bella
fingered the blood-caked hole in her shirt, pouting a little. "And this
was a new uniform, too!"

"Get over to Vice Squad, Rokossovsky," the Chief snapped. "And if
you want to keep your job, you'll stay _off_ that Best Character case.
You hear me?!"

The blonde detective stalked out, scowling fiercely. Bella scampered
along behind her a moment later, sniper bullets chewing the floor at
her heels.




"Four fat little ducks for the plucking. And skewering. And eating
with a rich orange sauce."

Helmsman Doug winced just a bit. "That was a pretty belabored
metaphor, Captain."

"But accurate, my loyal darlings. Entirely accurate." Mistress
Helen, Pirate Queen of Space, peered greedily at the four lumbering
shapes on the viewscreen. Each was a slow, chunky freighter
wallowing along near the outermost edge of the star system,
traveling in convoy with only a couple of puny gunboats for
protection. An inviting target any time -- so slow and soft and
vulnerable, like straggling lambs in the forest -- but especially
so now, if rumor was to be believed.

"Range to convoy, 3.78 AU," Diane reported from the scanner
console. "Bearing 345 by 86. Time to intercept range, fifteen

Mistress Helen rubbed her hands together and leaned forward to
get a better look at the screen. After a moment of squinting and
turning, she took the patch off her right eye and was able to make
out what was what.

"I don't know why you wear that stupid thing," Diane grumbled.
"There's nothing wrong with your eye. All it does is make you
hit your head on things."

"On the contrary," Helen replied distractedly, "all it does is make
me look incredibly cool, like a real space pirate captain."

"You _are_ a real space pirate captain," science officer Nyssa

"All the more reason I should look the part, then." The Pirate
Queen stabbed a finger at the cluster of blobs on the screen.
"Which one of those is which?" she demanded. "And which
one is carrying the Golden Icon of Adric?"

Nyssa called up the image on the bridge's main viewscreen,
highlighting each of the shapes in turn. "The first one there is the
old Drabble-class freighter _Fun With Doc and [Sarah] Jane_,
owned and operated by BKWillis. The second, larger one, is a
variant of the Drabble class, the _Spring Surprise_, also owned
and captained by BKWillis. The third one, with the odd lines, is
Paul Gadzikowski's _time and the cockroach_. And that last and
biggest vessel is _The Princess Bride_, run by Imran Inayat. All
solid old ships, with skilled captains, but they shouldn't be any
match for us."

"Strange names they give their ships," Helen said, wrinkling her
nose. "Not nearly as cool-sounding as our _Solarcadia_."

Nyssa shrugged, an evil grin on her face. "It's not like they'll need
names much longer, anyway, except possibly for 'Victim A', 'Victim
B', and so on. Heh heh... As for which one has the Golden Icon,
we'll be able to tell by scan as soon as we get within hard-ray range."

"It should be on the largest ship," said Helen. "That makes the most

The _Solarcadia's_ fighter commander, the nameless girl they called
'Number One', chuckled wryly at that. "Since when has that lunatic
they call the Emperor ever done anything sensible? You know how
_I_ heard they picked the ship to transport the Icon?"

The rest of the bridge crew shook their heads.

She explained: "The way I heard it in the bar on Skazki, the Emperor
held a contest among the ship captains. You know what a nut the
Emperor is when it comes to literature, right? Well, it seems he
ordered the captains of those independent merchant ships to
compete to see who could write the best story using his ship's name
as the title. And what's more, they had to make it what they call a
'crossover' story, where you take two existing works and mash 'em
together into one story. What I heard they did, was Captain Inayat
wrote a story where the cast of the 'Doctor Who' novels played out
the plot of the novel and movie 'The Princess Bride'. Then Captain
Gadzikowski, he combined the old 'Doctor Who' TV show with a
series of writings known as 'Archy the Cockroach', where this cat
goes back in time. Then Captain Willis got to enter twice since he
owned two ships and he first did some kind of deal where he made
a 'Doctor Who' novel into an old 'Dick and Jane' primer, which I
heard was kind of funny. Then, finally, he mashes up the 'Doctor
Who' TV series with another TV show called 'Ranma 1/2' and turns
the whole thing into some kind of weird romantic-comedy thing."

Doug's eyebrow had been arching steadily higher the whole time.
When she's finished, he said, "You sure know a lot about what went

"I just know what the man said," she replied.

"Some stranger just told you all that?" By the tone of her voice,
Nyssa and credulity weren't even on speaking terms.

"I think he was trying to pick me up," Number One said carelessly.
"Not my fault I'm a freak magnet."

"How did they decide whose was the best?" Mistress Helen

"I heard the Emperor let his counselors vote on it, and then he gave
the Golden Icon of Adric to the winning captain to transport.
Supposed to be some big-time honor to have charge of it, or some
such." The redhead flicked her cigarette into the nearest disposal
unit. "Me, I'm with the Cap'n. I just want to melt that sucker down,
sell it off, and get incredibly drunk off the proceeds."

"So, who won?" asked Helen.

"Dunno. The guy who was trying to pick me up hadn't heard."

"I'll tell you," said Diane. "We're in hard-ray scanning range now.
Scanning for gold... scanning... Whoa! I'm getting a signal response
from _two_ ships!"


"Yeah, two. It looks like... Paul Gadzikowski's _time and the
cockroach_ and BKWillis's _Spring Surprise_ are each carrying a
part of the Icon." Diane threw up her hands. "Don't ask how or
why, but they must have split the Icon in half."

"Tie vote," nodded Doug. "The Emperor's counselors must have
been evenly divided as to who wrote the Best Crossover, so they
awarded it to both captains. Sounds like something that wackjob
Emperor would do."

"Yes," purred Helen, putting her eyepatch back on. "And stealing
it from them sounds like something _I_ would do! Full speed ahead!
Number One, get ready to launch fighters and take out those
gunboats! Paul Gadzikowski's _time and the cockroach_ and
BKWillis's _Spring Surprise_ may have the Best Crossover awards,
but I've got a big old pirate ship that says that Golden Adric is
_mine_! MWAHAHAHAHA--!"


She _still_ hadn't gotten used to the eyepatch blocking her vision
on that side. For the fifth time that day, she raised up right into her

"Told you," muttered Diane.




JULY 4, 200X

President Condoleezza Rice strode into the office that had been
prepared for her in this secret base, a half-mile beneath the Blueridge
Mountains. Such of her Cabinet as could be found were already
assembled there, most looking tired, haggard, and filthy. Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld had one hand wrapped in bandages, but the
other rested on the butt of a Glock .40 jammed into his belt. The
others were unarmed, but they all kept casting glances upward
every so often.

"Let's get to it, people," President Rice said, taking her seat. "I
need to know what the current status of the alien invasion force

General McKnight spoke up. "Madam President, our last reports
indicate that the alien main force has completely routed the
Chinese and is now poised to annihilate California, while their
raiding groups continue to strike at government centers and
targets of opportunity around the world."

Rice pondered that. "Hmm... Not much we can do about the small
forces and California's nothing to get worked-up about, so it looks
like we have some breathing room. I'm open for ideas."

"I have a plan," growled Rumsfeld.

"Let's hear it, Donald."

"We launch an immediate nuclear strike on France using our 6th
Fleet assets and European Pershing missiles."

"Why France?" she asked.

"Do you have to ask?"

"Okay, point. But why now?"

Rumsfeld shrugged. "'Cause we can blame it on the aliens?"

The President arched an eyebrow. "Hold that thought. It's good,
but it doesn't really address our main problem. Anybody else?"

Colonel Ashford, who was in charge of the base, raised her hand
in the back. "Madam President, if I may, I think one of our scientists
here may have developed a means of hitting back at this Godless
alien menace."

"What kind of 'means' are we talking about, Colonel?"

Ashford stood up. "It will be easier showing you than telling..."


The young scientist blushed mightily as she held out a hand for the
President to shake.

"President Rice," said Col. Ashford, "this is Dr. von Drakken, one
of our top minds."

"The pleasure is all mine, Madam President," von Drakken gushed.
"I voted for you."

"Uh, thanks." Rice, with some difficulty, extricated her hand from
the girl's grip. "So, what is it you've got to show me?"

"This." She led the President's party through a security door and
into a hangar. There, filling up most of the three-story chamber,
stood an enormous robot-like vehicle, a huge bipedal machine with
a cockpit visible just about where a face should be. Large-bore
cannons were affixed to its arms, missile pods covered every
available surface, and the whole monstrosity was plated in sheets
of heavy armor.

"This is our new combat mech, the Bipedal Air-Deployed Assault
Support System, or BADASS for short. It's fully self-propelled,
capable of sustained combat on the ground, in the air, underwater,
or even in space, and it should be able to withstand most attacks
from the aliens' weapons."

"Incredible," breathed the President. "How many do you have?
And why haven't you deployed them yet?"

"Ah, we only have the one," said Col. Ashford. "But we think
that one will be sufficient to take down the alien mothership."

"And as for why we haven't deployed it," von Drakken explained,
looking a bit embarrassed, "there's this one little hitch in the

Rice glowered at them. "Go on."

"Well, you see, the way its control systems are configured and
how it integrates with the operator... Well... It can only be
operated by a, um..." She muttered something too low for Rice
to catch.

"Operated by a _what_, Dr. von Drakken?" she demanded.

"By a... fan-fiction author."

"By a very good one, to be specific," the colonel amplified. "Only
the best can get the most out of the BADASS's capabilities."

"Why in the _world_--" Rice started, but cut herself off. "No, never
mind. That doesn't matter. The question is, do you have one of
these... _authors_ available to pilot it?"

Von Drakken perked up a little. "Actually, we have five possible
candidates and are trying to decide which one is the best of them
all." She picked a set of folders off the cart beside the BADASS
and handed them to the President. "There is, as Col. Ashford
says, a direct correlation between writing ability and the ability
to control and fight in the BADASS. We want to make sure that
the one we pick is the creme-de-la-creme."

"So, call Stephen King," Rice said. "Or that one guy I like...

"It won't work with professionals," von Drakken explained. "It
has to be authors who only write for the joy of it."

President Rice looked at them as if they'd both gone mad, but
argued no further. Instead, she just flipped open one of the
folders. "Fine, whatever. So, who are our candidates?"

"The one you're looking at there is Helen Fayle," Ashford told
her. "She does a lot of work with European folklore and
Arthurian legend in a science-fiction setting. Strong
characterization and lots of hidden references. Since BADASS
combat techniques are somehow directly connected to writing
technique, we predict that her use of the BADASS would be in
a combat style with a strong defense that leaves few openings
and that her counterattacks would be subtle and well thought-

"That next one," said von Drakken, flipping open another folder,
"is Clive May. Very innovative fellow. Given to wide, sweeping
plots and richly-detailed settings in which the narrative then
zooms in to focus on a few key players. He can also be very
surreal at times. If he pilots the BADASS, I should expect that
he would launch attacks over wide swaths, then close in to strike
at vital points. I should also expect that he would make up the
rules as he goes along."

"Then there's _this_ guy." Col. Ashford indicated the third folder.
"Brad Willis, but he writes under the name BKWillis. Very prolific
and highly unpredictable. He does a little bit of everything, but
his strong suit is fast-paced comedy, which he sometimes alternates
with intense drama in an effective one-two combination. If we let
him fight in the BADASS, his methods are likely to be direct, rapid,
and unorthodox, with the emphasis on attacking without letup."

Dr. von Drakken opened the fourth folder. "This is Graham
Woodland. Verbose and highly accomplished technically, his
style is often convoluted, but tremendously effective, featuring
interwoven layers of plot strands and well-realized characters.
Very textually dense and filled with sly wordplays, clever
neologisms, and erudite puns. When operating the BADASS,
we should expect to see his attacks and defense overlapping
and multiple possible targets for every shot. He may not go in
fast, but his strikes should be overwhelming."

"Last is Igenlode Wordsmith," she went on. "Stylistically about
halfway between Willis's punchy minimalism and Woodland's
intricate verbosity. Generally works in the swashbuckling vein,
with powerful characterization and intense emotion. Well-paced
and knows how to set a scene. Wordsmith's BADASS piloting
should strike a nice balance of offense and defense." She grinned.
"Probably a lot of close-in fighting, too, since the BADASS is
equipped with a sword."

"They all sound very skilled," said the President. "So, how do
you decide which one is the Best Author?"

The colonel shrugged. "This is a democracy, right, Madam
President? We're letting their readers vote on it."

"Is there time for that?" Rice exclaimed.

Col. Ashford nodded. "Should be done just any minute now."

No sooner had she spoken those words than a soldier ran up and
handed her a note. "Well, well," she said. "It looks like we have
our BADASS pilot. They've voted BKWillis the Best Author."

Rice gestured to one of her own aides. "You heard the woman.
Go have this BKWillis brought here immediately. Tell him we
need him to save the world."


Two hours later...

"President Rice?" An aide carrying a cell phone scurried up beside
her. "It's about that author you wanted. The Secret Service has
picked him up and is bringing him here, but he insists on speaking
with you. Something about... conditions."

"I'll take it," Rice said wearily, bringing the phone to her ear. "Hello?
Mr. Willis? This is President Condoleezza Rice. Yes, thank you, I
appreciate your voting for me. I'd just like to say how grateful I am
that you've agreed to help us in this matter... Yes. Yes, I understand
that you have some _requests_. Yes, I understand that you both
fight and write better when you're happy. I'm sure we can arrange--
What? No, it's aliens we need you to fight, not Communists. Well,
I suppose you can kill _some_ Communists, if you see any, but
mainly aliens. Yes, I suppose it's possible that the aliens _are_
Communists... About those requests of yours-- Okay. That
shouldn't be a problem. Yes, I can repeal that. Uh-huh. Again,
not a problem, as I'm sure we have plenty of whiskey and
cigarettes on hand..." A furious blush rose to her cheeks, further
darkening her deep brown skin, as her jaw fell open. "You can't
be serious!" she yelled into the phone. "What?! Non-negotiable?!"
She ground her teeth, then set her jaw. "Fine. If you absolutely

The President turned to the aide who had brought the cell phone.
Through gritted teeth, she said, "I need you to find a swimsuit,
preferably a bikini, in my size before Mr. Willis's arrival..."

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Epilogue & Credits - Summary

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