Rev. Sternodox Keckhaver

Brass Zamph was uncomfortably entering what he reckoned was his third full day of 'Frop withdrawal. He was also unable to move his arms or legs. Hours earlier, in the minutes after he had regained consciousness, he had amply demonstrated the futility of attempting to physically wrest himself from the grip of the metacrystal chain-field that encased his extremities and held him, magnetlike, to the wall, but the knowledge did little to halt his straining.

Brass was just able to painfully cock his head a few degrees and survey a fraction of his surroundings, and what he saw didn't fill him with optimism. Obviously the Samuels Brothers had trapped him inside a metallic, egg-shaped vessel of some kind, and within the narrow confines of his vision he could make out shiny concave walls, clustered with consoles and gadgetry like a cross between the inside of a submarine's conning tower and an Xist interrogation closet. Flashing red lights and constantly changing displays on a multitude of monitors faced him six feet away on the opposite wall, reflecting in his eyes like fireworks and increasing the fury of his 'Frop withdrawal migraine.

"Ah, so yer fahnly awake." The Southem drawl of an obviously drunk teenager bawled from a speaker behind his head.

"Give me some goddamn 'Frop, jerk-off," Brass bleated, summoning up what remained of his rapidly fleeting patience.

"My, my. Ain't you the uppity slack dick today. It's gone be awhile 'fore you git any Frappy. We got a couple surprises in store for you 'fore you fit anything."

"Samuels, when I get shed of this tin can I'm gonna wad it up toot sweet and 'X' it right up your lily-white asshole."

"Whoooo-eeeee! Ain't you the toughest tit on the acid sow? I guess I'll jus' turn this thang off till my brothers git in, an' then we'll show you some damn shit, fer sure."

"Samuels! . . . "

The telling click behind Brass' head indicated that it would be useless for him to waste any more breath. His nose itched and he began mentally cursing his inability to move his arms. He realized not only that his nose itched but that, like the rest of his face, it hurt. In fact, his entire body was beginning to throb with a dull but tolerable pain.

"Shit," Brass mouthed. "What I wouldn't do for a 'Frop-cig right about now."

"So, you want some 'Frop, do ya?" The speaker behind his head came alive again, this time with an older, more familiar and similarly dmnken voice.

"Well, if it isn't Big Man Samuels," Brass grunted. "Stooping to petty kidnapping these days, eh?"

"Among other thangsi Bray-ass. Among other thangs. How you like our little jail-pod?"

"Give me a fucking break," Brass snickered, "Don't try to take credit for all this Xist technology. You dipshit Samuels Brothers don't have the brains to dismantle a SexHurt barrel."

"We got enough brains to catch your ass, though," the voice in the speaker slurred. "Take a look-see. What you think 'bout this shit?"

Eighteen inches above Brass' head a slender, jointed steel arm emerged from a small compartment in the pod's wall and twisted itself down so that its tip hovered directly in front of the stmggling prisoner's face. A small spheroid-shaped protuberance on the end of the arm began to unfold like a glinting flower and shortly it became a flat polished circle of metal, a mirror in which Brass could see his own face.

"You bastards! You stinking squid bait," Brass shrieked as he glared at the reflection in the mirror, taking in every shocking detail, from the carefully combed-back black hair to the straight aquiline nose and wide brown eyesl Every trace of the classically Negroid features Brass was used to seeing when he observed himself in a mirror was replaced by an all-too-familiar countenance.

"Now all you gotta do is stick a pipe in your teeth 'n you be quite the dude. See, we even got all the dots in place," the voice in the speaker drawled.

Brass' mind raced as he struggled against the unyielding bonds that confined him. He'd known for months that the Samuels Brothers had been planning something. The Xist codes had been quietly being broken since the first Arrival, and everyone on NHGH-IV had been nervously anticipating an attempted microlRupture, but even the Big Nine themselves hadn't foreseen anything quite this blatant.

"OK, Billy. What are you getting out of this? I thought you blew those alien scumbags off after they dissected Wanda."

"Oh, don't you worry 'bout that. They fixed me up good . . . real good. Hell, pussy's pussy, even if it IS clone snatch. The new one don't bitch at me neither. But you oughta be worryin' 'bout yore own ass, not 'bout some pound up dirty-leg."

Brass' head swam. He was seriously in need of some 'Frop and desperately forced himself to ignore the peripheral hallucinations which were beginning to manifest themselves as subtly shifting colors and. patterns in the air around his head. If he didn't ingest the needed Tibetan herb soon, it wouldn't matter what the Samuels Brothers had in store for him. Nothing would matter.

"What happens now?"

Brass was beginning to feel giddy. His tongue felt thick and woolly, and his head ached abominably.

"It just 'bout time fer you to find that out, Subbie."

The voice in the speaker had taken on an ethereal, resonant quality that Brass half-consciously realized was due more to his own 'Frop-deprived imagination than it was to any change in the audio signal.

"Bye-bye, birdie!"

Brass' entire body was suddenly wracked with an intense spasm of muscular contraction followed by what seemed like billions of tiny needles entering and breaking off just underneath the surface of his skin. Though his arms and legs were no longer bound to the wall of the vessel, he was vaguely aware that he had no control over them. The air around him was exploding with a panorama of bright balls of light that filled his head with sharp lingering lances of intense pain; a wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm what little sensibility he still maintained. Brass no longer felt the floor beneath his feet nor the wall behind his back, but seemed to be falling slowly through a blinding torrent of mesmerizing light bursts and halos of fire. Suddenly, in the confusing pattem of semi-images surrounding him, he became aware of a small, nondescript object floating inches away. Scarcely willing to trust his punished judgment, he painfully forced the muscles in his arm to contract, reached out and clumsily grasped the object, which his fingers told him was a small tobacco pipe of some sort.

Thinking himself insane, he struggled against the spectral winds that buffeted him mercilessly and brought the pipe close to his face. Looking inside the white-rimmed bowl he hazily made out a small wad of beautiful, wonderful, lifesaving 'Frop.

"Praise "Bob," " Brass muttered as he raised the stem to his lips and greedily inhaled the aromatic plumes of smoke exuding from the mysteriously ignited lump of herb.

Drawing in a double-lungful of the potent smoke, Brass dreamily closed his eyes and felt the aches in his head and body dissipate within seconds. He was about to take in another lungful when he realized that his feet were in contact with a hard surface and that he was subconsciously walking forward. Opening his eyes, Brass was instantly, horribly cognizant of the Samuels Brothers' plan.

"Fucking Xist Time Control," he muttered as the figure bearing down in front of him raised the shiny-barreled revolver and fired point-blank into Brass' heaving chest.

Brass fell like a dead weight to the wooden floor of the stage, the smoking pipe still clenched in his teeth, blackness and noise resolutely overwhelming him. As he felt himself slipping into the impending darkness he plainly heard the jangly intro to a vaguely remembered song.

Nodding his head in mute, final resignation and instinctively tapping a toe to the discordant croaking melody, the words "Sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, sick-a, "Bob" " bounced harmlessly off his suddenly useless eardrums.