In orbit around Earth #169-J-00561
The docking procedures seemed to be going smoothly, which made Tom Stranger happy, since even the slightest error could destroy their shuttle and eject them into the hard vacuum of space. Tom, having been biologically and cybernetically augmented by the finest tech available from a thousand worlds, would easily survive, but atmospheric reentry was hell on the wardrobe, and he’d worn his favorite bowtie. The charcoal three-button suit from Men’s Warehouse was easily replaceable (since it was a well-known fact that 92% of the cataloged alternative Earths in the multi-verse did in fact have Men’s Warehouse), but the tie was irreplaceable. He’d found it in a thrift store on Home Office World. It was green, with small black polka-dots, which his secretary said brought out the color of his eyes (the green of which was actually the color of the holographic targeting system implants), but regardless, it was Tom’s favorite bowtie, and blazing through the atmosphere in a five-thousand mile-an-hour fireball would surely destroy it. His intern would probably not fare too well either.
Curious, Tom Stranger turned to the new intern. “What’s your rating on the Grylls Survivability Scale?” The GSS was the industry standard measurement of survivability in unforeseen circumstances, i.e. a score of how difficult it was to kill you. A 1.0 was the amount of trauma necessary to kill a single Bear Grylls. (which was a remarkably consistent measurement across many worlds). Being ejected into space was a solid 4 on the GSS, or enough to kill four Bear Gryllses, or a single Bear Grylls four times. Tom Stranger’s GSS was a 142.9.
But Stranger & Stranger’s newest intern was busy staring out the porthole, holding onto the overhead strap with white knuckled terror. “Is that duct tape? Is that space station actually held together with duct tape?”
“What did you expect from a planet full of space barbarians?” Tom shook his head sadly and checked his infolink. The intern, apparently named Jimmy Duquesne, rated a measly .07 on the GSS. Which was a rating just above that of a standard Earth chicken. “You know, when I first got into Interdimensional Insurance, we had to be at least as tough as a space marine. Are you sure you want to take this internship?”
“Dude! Man! No way—“ Jimmy turned away from the porthole and vomited, which was an especially bad move in zero G. Tom activated his personal energy shields to protect his suit from the incoming second hand nachos. It took Jimmy a minute to compose himself. “I just needed the credits to graduate. I signed up for insurance agent because it sounded easy. I didn’t know about extra dimensions or outer space or nothing.”
“And you didn’t notice when we went through the Thorne-Gate to get to this dimension?”
“I thought all the flashing lights were because I was still tripping, man! My roommate made ‘shroom brownies last night.”
“And when we boarded this archaic shuttle on Earth 169-J-00561?”
“It looked a lot like my older brother’s Nissan Pulsar, man! How was I supposed to know?”
“There are solid rocket boosters mounted on it,” Tom pointed out.
“I don’t know, man, I thought they were like… pontoons or something.”
Jimmy was even dumber than most college interns. “Hmm…” Tom checked his infolink again. It was like Wikipedia, only correct, and downloaded directly into his brain. Jimmy was from a relatively backwards Earth where the populace had limited exposure to the Multiverse. Plus, Jimmy had attended that reality’s Chico State, which explained the sorry condition of both Jimmy’s brain cells and liver function. “It seems there’s been a mix up in HR. It says here you were supposed to be sent to a call center in Nebraska where you would provide auto insurance quotes for Allstate… Oh well. I’m sorry Jimmy, but Stranger & Stranger only accepts the best.”
“I’m totally cool with that!” Jimmy screamed as their shuttle collided with the space station.
“ Very well. If you live through this I’ll take you right back to your dimension.”
“What?” Jimmy squeaked. “Dude, I don’t wanna die!”
“I’m afraid that I can’t promise that. You see, the most important duty of an Interdimensional Insurance Agent is to take care of our customer’s needs, no matter the risk, no matter what the cost. I’ve made a sacred vow that good customer service is more important than my life. And this mission is the deadliest type of all… We’ll be lucky to get out of here alive.”
Jimmy’s eyes widened. “What is it?” Then he flinched as a nacho struck him.
Tom lowered his voice to a dangerous hiss. ”Expect the unexpected. Stay behind me. Stay low. Do not make any noise. Do not make eye contact. And for heaven’s sakes, pull up your pants and turn your hat around the correct way. This is Arbitration.“
“Well, howdy, Stranger!” Jeff Conundrum shouted in greeting as Tom Stranger and Jimmy the Intern entered the space station’s conference room.
“Conundrum…” Tom muttered. Instinctively his hand moved to the CorreiaTech Combat Wombat under his suit, but Tom hesitated. Blasting Jeff Conundrum into a red mist would be satisfying, but wouldn’t necessarily be providing his client with the finest customer service possible.
“Howdy, Stranger. Ha, ha ha! Get it?” Conundrum was rotund, and as always, bore an expression of red-faced, forced joviality. Conundrum’s neon blue hair and glowing suspenders offended Tom’s conservative senses. Conundrum was always loud, always on, and always, always annoying. “That never gets old!”
“Yes. It does,” Tom stated, glaring at his nemesis. “What are you doing here, Jeff?”
“For the arbitration.” Conundrum jerked one fat thumb at the space mutant sitting at the head of the conference table. “Conundrum and Company has been hired to insure Goreblog the Death-Slayer.”
The space mutants seated around the table were all massive piles of steroid-enhanced muscle, but Goreblog was by far the biggest. The king of the space mutants was sitting, but still towered several feet over Tom’s average height. He wore a necklace of baby skulls and every inch of his muscled torso had been tattooed with pictures of Garfield, and various cartoons of Garfield engaging in acts of violence and depravity. Goreblog the Death-Slayer stopped absently scratching his back with a giant board with nails in it, long enough to nod his spiked football helmet toward Tom. “Hey.”
“Mr. Goreblog,” Tom said politely. “Your fleet of mutants has invaded Earth 169-J-00561 and committed a series of atrocities, including cannibalism, genocide, and the indiscriminate playing of Insane Clown Posse music in public at extremely high volumes. This dimension is covered by Stranger and Stranger. This is a violation of–”
“Hey, whoa there, Stranger in a Strange Land,” Conundrum said, holding up one bloated hand. “Save it for the Arbiter.”
Tom resisted the urge to blast Conundrum through the bulkhead. “Very well.”
Conundrum laughed. “What did I tell you, Goreblog? Doctor Strangeglove here is all business, all the time.” He reached up and slapped the barbarian cannibal on the back. Goreblog growled and Conundrum stepped back. Jimmy the intern huddled behind Tom’s legs.
“Mr. Stranger?” Jimmy’s voice was meek. “I don’t feel so good.”
“That’s probably because of the sub-optimal gravity created by the station’s rotation… and the fact that my scans are showing you possess a blood alcohol level sufficient to incapacitate an adult water buffalo.”
The arbiter arrived a few minutes later. Interdimensional Insurance Agents never knew which Galactic Arbiter would be assigned to the case, only that they would always be fair, their judgment wise, and their justice swift. Tom had worked with this particular one before. “All rise,” grunted the cannibal space mutant serving as the bailiff. Everyone did so, including Goreblog, who had to duck to keep from impaling his helmet spikes into the ceiling. “The honorable Chuck Norris of Earth 872-Round-House-Kick presiding.”
“Holy crap, it’s Walker Texas Ranger!” Jimmy cried. Tom kicked Jimmy where he’d been hiding under the table. You didn’t want to upset a man so incredibly awesome that they’d renamed his home planet after one of his karate moves.
The arbiter scowled, took off his cowboy hat, and took a seat at the head of the table. “Gentlemen, this is cutting into my Total Gym time, so let’s make this quick. What seems to be the issue?”
Tom Stranger cleared his throat as he activated his hologram display. “These space mutants have invaded this dimension without provocation. My client planet needs them to leave and seeks damages for th—“
“Easy there, Strangers in the Night, exchanging glances,” Jeff Conundrum interrupted. “This dimension clearly provoked my client. They were just begging for Goreblog’s unholy wrath.”
“Is that true?” Chuck Norris asked. “And I warn you, Mr. Goreblog, I eat space mutants for breakfast… Literally. In fact, I had one on my waffles this morning, so do not test my patience.”
Goreblog reached one armored gauntlet into his leather vest and removed a single Polaroid photo. Chuck Norris took the picture, studied it for a moment, then passed it to Tom Stranger without comment. The picture showed a white fence with the words Space Mutants r teh suck and lame spray-painted on it.
“As you can clearly see, teenagers from this dimension defaced Mr. Goreblog’s fence. He had no choice but to destroy their entire planet in reprisal.” Jeff Conundrum stuck his thumbs through his suspenders. “Ergo, all the damages from this invasion are not Mr. Goreblog’s fault. In addition, his mental anguish and suffering from this vandalism requires compensation.”
Chuck Norris stroked his manly beard thoughtfully. “I’m afraid he’s got a point, Mr. Stranger. Sounds like your client started it, and as galactic law clearly states, don’t start shit if you can’t finish it.” Much of the galactic code of laws had been based upon the Planet of Texas.
But Tom Stranger hadn’t been given the award for best customer service for three years in a row for nothing. He flipped the photo over to hide it from view. “So… Mr. Goreblog… This fence of yours that was defaced, what kind was it?”
The space mutant leader looked to Jeff Conundrum in confusion. Conundrum seemed surprised at this development. Goreblog looked back at Tom Stranger. “Uhhh… pokey with stabby spikes?” Tom shook his head. “Uhm, does it have skulls on it?” Tom shook his head again. “Metal with razors and landmines?”
“Three strikes,” Tom Stranger made a tsk-tsk noise as he passed the photo back to Chuck Norris. “And no touch down.”
The arbiter took one look at the photo and frowned. “That is clearly a vinyl fence, Mr. Goreblog… Did you just try to fabricate evidence during my arbitration?”
“I didn’t know anything about this, your Awesomeness!” Jeff Conundrum begged.
Chuck Norris slammed his fist into the table, because only a wuss needed a gavel. “I find in favor of Stranger and Stranger. The space mutants need to pay for the damages and return to their own dimension. Arbitration is adjourned.”
“ENOUGH!” Goreblog rose, grabbed the conference table and flipped it across the room, revealing Jimmy the Intern, who screamed and crawled under Chuck Norris’ chair. “Foolish humans, Goreblog has no fence! I swear on the soulless void of Arbuckle that you will feel the wrath of Goreblog! ATTACK!”
Tom’s targeting eye scanned the forty enraged giant space mutants and then the structure of the space station itself. “I’d suggest keeping small arms fire and energy weapons usage to a minimum,” he said to Chuck Norris. “Or this whole place will come apart.”
“Fine.” Chuck Norris stood and cracked his knuckles. “I haven’t face-punched anything to death yet today anyway… and it’s almost noon.” Chuck and Tom stood back to back as the slavering mutants surrounded them. “What about your friend?”
Tom looked to where Jimmy the Intern had assumed the fetal position on the floor and had begun sucking his thumb and rocking back and forth. “Please, try not to trip over him, Mr. Norris. He’s new.”
The mutants attacked in a screaming wave of clubs, meat cleavers, and roid rage. Tom pulled one of his cufflinks off and threw it to the deck, where it exploded into a cloud of nanobots. The microscopic robots immediately began to devour the first rank of enemies. Tom leapt through the black cloud and mass of dissolving tissue and melting bones, and landed in the mutant’s midst, where he really got down to business. Tom Stranger moved faster than the mutant’s eyes could follow, striking with surgical accuracy and superhuman strength, each blow of his hardened fists sending mutants flying.
Meanwhile, Chuck Norris had responded with sheer badassitude. Tom looked up from decapitating a mutant with a length of monomolecular wire to see Chuck Norris round house kick Goreblog’s head entirely through the mutant’s own torso and out his rectum, literally turning the space mutant king inside out. Tom’s considerable knowledge of biology had not considered that possible. He automatically updated the Chuck Norris Wiki on his infolink.
They had been outnumbered twenty to one (13.333 to one if you counted Jimmy, which Tom did not, since Jimmy had spent the entirety of the battle being kicked back and forth like a fleshy soccer ball) but it was over in seconds. Tom dispatched the final mutant by chopping its head off with the reinforced edge of his hand.
The space station shuddered as a drop ship fell from the dock. Tom watched out the window at the flash as Jeff Conundrum escaped. Tom scowled after the departing ship. “We’ll meet again, Conundrum,” he promised.
Chuck Norris dusted off his jeans. “I got mutant on my boots. I think they’re ruined.” he stated flatly, then spotted Goreblog’s corpse and cheered up. “I think I’ll skin that big one there, make me a new pair… Thanks for the assist.”
“Always a pleasure, Mr. Norris,” Tom said happily, moving aside as a mutant torso fell from the ceiling and splattered on the floor. “Will that be all then?”
“Don’t forget him,” Chuck Norris said, pointing at Jimmy. “I do believe he’s wet himself. Sheesh. These kids today.”
Tom Stranger grabbed Jimmy by one foot and dragged the incoherent intern down the passageway. Jimmy’s crazed babblings struck a cord and Tom had a sudden thought. If he’d been given this guy on accident, that meant that Stranger & Stranger’s proper intern had been accidently sent to Nebraska. The thought of somebody with so much potential being chained to the soul-crushing abyss of an Allstate call center filled Tom with dread. He dragged Jimmy faster.
“Ow, hey! Dude!” Jimmy shouted as Tom tossed him into the airlock. “What’s the dealio?”
Tom Stranger did not know what a “dealio” was. “Quickly, Jimmy, we must get to Nebraska!”
Author’s notes: I worked for Allstate providing insurance quotes one summer… Remember that line from Metallica, “Hold my breath while I wish for death?” Yeah, it was something like that.
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