The arrow-point tip of Captain Britney Pulsar's brilliantly green ponytail weaved wildly. She wore her United Space Exploratory Force uniform, a purple minidress trimmed with black, with a blue utility belt and white high-heeled boots. Green tape covered her lips so that she could not speak; brilliant yellow rope encircled her boots, her legs, her torso, her arms. She could not take a step, although with effort, she could move forward by bending her knees and taking high hops. Still, where could she go on this lonely asteroid, primed to explode in mere seconds?
Despite the seeming hopelessness of her position, Captain Pulsar bounded forward once again, looking for a sharp surface to cut her bonds. As she searched, the camera tracked backwards, so her image became lost as audience viewed the comet as though from space.
There was a silent explosion as it blasted into trillions of pieces. Bits flung out in every direction. The 3-D effect worked so well that some viewers couldn't help but flinch; the rocks seemed headed straight toward them!
"No!" Philbert gasped. "Britney was stuck there when it exploded!"
"Shh!" several other cinemagoers angrily hushed him.
"You know she's okay," Joan whispered loudly. "You'll see that space scavenger rescued her just in time."
"I thought you said you hadn't seen this movie before," Philbert protested.
Joan sighed and reached for his popcorn. Discovering her boyfriend was out, she turned to Marsha-Anne, and borrowed some popcorn from her boyfriend, Matt. On Matt's other side sat Lllrij, a shapeless green blob with yellow eyes. It might seem odd that such a peculiar creature could visit a movie theater without attracting attention; however, this was New York City, and the locals were used to sights considerably stranger than this being from another planet.
The scene shifted to the interior of Rick Photon's salvage spaceship. Rick lounged nonchalantly on the bridge, sipping a purple drink from a crystal glass. He wore tight, shiny trousers, a shirt opened to reveal much of his muscular chest, several tattoos, a couple days of stubble on his chin, and a look of intense brooding on his chiseled features. His rusty brown hair, streaked with gold, had a carefully crafted windswept look. He blinked at a computer screen and nonchalantly pressed a button.
"He hasn't saved Britney!" Philbert exclaimed. "I can't believe they killed her off when they made the movie!"
"They haven't," Joan explained with strained patience. "Keep watching and see!"
A human outline appeared next to Rick, and coalesced into Captain Britney Pulsar. "Mpfff," she exclaimed, almost falling over in surprise.
"Quite a successful salvage operation, wouldn't you say, Britney," he drawled. "Certainly with most beautiful results. Ah, but, allow me to assist you out of those ropes."
"Thank you!" gasped Britney. She leaned forward, but her communicator beeped impatiently and a hologram of Commodore Winthrop Jovian appeared.
"Captain Pulsar! Come in, Captain Pulsar! We have determined that Rick Photon is completely innocent; Overlord Negatron framed him!"
"Nice to see the old man finally believes in me," Rick murmured, offering Britney a triangular martini glass with a tall, curly stem. A creamy, green liquid, garnished with several chunks of blue fruit, swirled invitingly.
"So you are now completely safe…." Commodore Jovian broke off as he noticed the drink in Britney's hands and the gleam in Rick's blue eyes. He clutched his balding head in alarm. "Captain Pulsar! I must remind you that you are still in uniform and thus you must act appropriately for as long as you are!"
Rick turned off Britney's communicator, causing her commanding officer to flicker out of existence. "Where were we?" he asked as Britney raised her lips to him again, this time without interruption.
"Lllrij, you can take off those 3-D glasses now," said Matt. "They're only for viewing the movie. You're not supposed to use them as sunglasses."
"My eyes are different from yours, Earthling," Lllrij returned primly. "I'm not using them as sunglasses, but to see hidden dimensions in reality unknown to you primitive creatures."
"Matt, don't worry about Lllrij," Marsha-Anne told her boyfriend mildly. "You know he's different."
"That movie was way awesome!" Philbert exclaimed. "And Rick Photon is great, a strong loner. He's misunderstood, but does the right thing, even if people don't think so at the time. And very attractive to the ladies. He's a lot like me, don't you think, Joan?"
"Yes, just like you," Joan told him with a smile.
"And Brianna Cork was way hot as Captain Pulsar!" If Philbert had been more observant, he would have noticed the frown replacing the smile on Joan's face, but he blithely gushed on. "She's my new favorite actress. I'm going to write and ask for her autograph. Don't you think she's terrific, Joan?"
"Hey, you're not thinking about some other girl when you're with me, are you‽" Joan shouted, giving her boyfriend a slap on the arm, playful, but still with sufficient force to get his attention. "Brianna Cork was okay, I guess, when she was younger, but it got ridiculous when she kept playing teens when the best makeup artists couldn't pass her off as one anymore. And for her first foray playing a grown-up, she expects us to believe she's Britney Pulsar. Terrible casting, if you ask me."
"Yeah, she was completely wrong for the part," Philbert agreed, recognizing his cue for a sudden about-face. "The movie would have been much better if they had chosen, um… someone else."
"Well, Britney's finally made it to the big screen," Matt mused. "Carlo Dandy must be rolling in the money." Carlo Dandy was the editor in chief of Space Age Comics, publishers of the Captain Britney Pulsar, Space Explorer! comic books.
"Yeah, probably, but you know what I'd really like to see?" asked Philbert. "A live-action Jetsọns movie. I don't know why they won't make one; I've blogged all over the 'Net how great that would be, but no one seems to get the message!"
Joan winked at him. "Maybe if you're really lucky, a live-action Jane Jetsọn will visit you tonight!" It was her way of letting him know she had forgiven him for his Brianna Cork enthusiasm.
"Ooh!" squealed Philbert. "Do you think she could wear that transparent…?"
"Ouch!" shouted Matt. "Marsha-Anne, you don't have to tear my arm off! What is it?"
"Matt, do you see that?" his girlfriend shouted.
"What?" he asked in bewilderment, half expecting to see an unfathomable creature oozing from one of Lllrij's hidden dimensions.
"Oh my god!" exclaimed Joan. "I see it too!"
"I don't see anything," complained Matt, "except a crowd by that shoe store."
"Exactly!" Marsha-Anne exclaimed. "Shod-dy Wares is having a half-price sale!"
"Well, so what?" asked Matt, more bewildered than ever. "You've already got a closet full of shoes!"
Marsha-Anne cast him a withering look as Joan came to her rescue. "Come on, Marsha-Anne," she announced. "We'll go by ourselves. We can't expect guys to understand!"
"Understand what?" asked Matt as Marsha-Anne and Joan elbowed into the fashionable shoe store.
"Should we go in after them?" Philbert asked cautiously.
"I advise against it," answered Lllrij. "My evaluation is that the building's occupancy level has exceeded safe limit for humans, and, I observe, is steadily increasing."
"Yeah, you're right, Lllrij," agreed Matt. "We'll leave the girls to it; they can catch up to us later. You want to hang out at my place and watch the Giants game, Phil?"
"Yeah, that'd be cool," agreed Philbert. "The Giants cheerleaders are way hot!"
"Phil, the Giants don't have cheerleaders… never mind." Matt sighed. "Come on, let's go."
"…with the crowd hoping the referee will find a replay angle showing the action clearly enough so he can overturn the call…"
"His foot was on the line!" Matt shouted at his television. "He was out of bounds! Look at it right, ref! It wasn't a catch!"
"Your attention, Earthling!" Lllrij waved a comic book at Matt, who irritably batted it away. "There is something inexplicable in the newest Captain Pulsar periodical."
"I'll read Britney's adventure later," Matt said, trying to peer around his roommate. "We're watching the football game now, or trying to. I can't see through you, you know."
"It's a great game," Philbert enthused. "That new sideline reporter is a perfect ten!"
"Earthling, there are more important matters than your football game!" Lllrij shouted. "Captain Pulsar is in serious trouble!"
"Whatever it is, she'll get out of it like always," said Matt. "Turn the pages and see."
"I have turned the pages," Lllrij replied. "The beginning is quite normal; Captain Pulsar and several of her crew face a deadly peril when they are sacrificed to a ravenous Bandolanian Needlenose, only to escape by one of the most remarkable…"
"Lllrij, I told you I hadn't read the comic yet!" Matt interrupted. "You're spoiling it for me!"
"Then I shall omit a description of the escape," decided Lllrij. "Captain Pulsar then returns to her Star Battleship, the Excelsior. However, her Executive Officer, Commander Veronica Binary…"
"Veronica's up to something?" asked Philbert. "I thought she and Britney had settled their differences."
Lllrij frowned, which he did by squeezing his face sideways, turning his mouth into a series of short zigzags. "Commander Binary, as I say, is approaching Captain Pulsar, with hostile intentions…."
"Captain, permission to speak freely!"
Britney Pulsar kept her face calmly neutral. After her recent experiences on Bandalon Four, she had hoped to relax in her cabin. Of course, she could always simply order Commander Binary out, but….
"I'm willing to listen to your concerns, Veronica."
Veronica Binary, like Britney, wore an USEF officer's uniform, but her hair, dark blue, was braided into two thick pigtails. "Ma'am, I must protest! I refer to our recent landing, where we encountered hostile natives. We should have been able to deal with them easily enough, except, as per your orders, we met them completely unarmed."
"We came to their planet in peace," Britney replied. "We would have appeared as aggressors had we been armed."
"I do not believe that would have been the case, ma'am. They could understand our need for possible self-defense! However, we were without anything. So, what happened? The entire landing party was tied up, with only minimal resistance from us! Then that monster appeared and nearly finished us off!"
"Things got pretty dicey there, I admit," Britney agreed, shuddering at the memory of the Needlenose… it had looked something like mosquito, except hundreds of times the size of a regular one and orange with purple splotches. "However, we all escaped completely unharmed. That includes Ensign Cometa, and you know the concerns we had about her!"
Veronica waved a hand in impatience, not concerned with discussing Ensign Cometa's shortcomings. "Our escape was only by the most improbable of circumstances. We cannot rely on such luck again. I urge you to reconsider your decision that we land on unknown planets unarmed!"
"Your concerns are noted, Commander, but my orders stand."
"With all due respect, ma'am, I feel you are behaving foolishly. If you wish to throw away your own life, that is your affair, but to hazard the lives of others…"
"That's enough, Commander," Britney interrupted. "My decision is final."
"I see," said Veronica, slumping her shoulders. She spoke into her communicator. "Lieutenant Eclipse, report to the Captain's Quarters."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"Veronica, why do we require the Security Officer?" asked Britney.
The door to Britney's cabin opened immediately, for Veronica had earlier ordered the Lieutenant to remain stationed outside. "Lieutenant Courtney Eclipse reporting as ordered, ma'am!" she shouted. She saluted and stood rigidly at attention, several coils of thick rope, emitting a pulsating blue light, clutched in one hand. Her burgundy red hair was cut short, above her shoulders.
Veronica acknowledged Courtney's salute and then turned to Britney, speaking formally. "Captain, your actions demonstrate you are no longer fit for duty aboard a USEF starship. As Executive Officer, I am hereby relieving you of command."
"Lieutenant, Commander Binary is attempting mutiny," said Britney. "Place her under arrest!"
"I'm sorry, Captain, but these ropes are programmed for you," replied Courtney.
Britney gave a shriek of anger as Veronica and Courtney moved towards her. There was very little the two mutineers had to do, for the ropes snaked toward Britney. The first ones surrounded her ankles, cinching and tying themselves, guided by nanochips embedded within their fibers. Britney alertly untied the knot binding her feet, only to see the rope ends slip from her fingers and retie. More ropes reached her, surrounding her calves and thighs and finally pinning her arms against your sides.
"When Commodore Jovian finds out…" she began.
"He won't find out," Veronica told her smoothly. She removed Britney's communicator from her utility belt. "What a shame these devices malfunction so frequently," she remarked with a smirk.
"Courtney, ask yourself what you are doing," Britney pleaded desperately, turning her attention to the Security Officer. "As your commanding officer, I order you to release me at once!"
"Courtney and I had a little talk earlier, and she completely agrees with my views," said Veronica. "She takes her orders from me now. Indeed, everyone shall, when I take control of the Excelsior and run it properly! Perhaps, if I'm feeling up to it, I'll even see about shaping up Ensign Cometa."
Britney, meanwhile, continued speaking. "Courtney, it's not too late to reconsider your actions."
"Yes, it is too late," Veronica countered. "Courtney, silence her."
"Yes ma'am!" agreed the Security Officer, tying a pulsating yellow bandana over Britney's mouth.
"That's better," purred Veronica. "We have a shuttle prepared for you. We'll get you to it as quietly as we can, then send you on your way. Oh, there's one teeny little detail about that shuttle that might interest you, but we'll save that surprise for later!"
With Britney struggling between them, Veronica and Courtney cautiously entered the passageway. Each officer held one of the Captain's elbows, so her feet dangled inches above the deck. "We don't want anyone seeing she's tied up. Turn the restraints to invisible mode!" Veronica ordered.
"Aye, aye, ma'am," Courtney agreed, and the ropes and gag disappeared.
They still held Britney just as effectively, though, as the Captain discovered. If only someone would see her!
"That's better," Veronica observed. "We've got a chance to slip by, this way, so our story about Captain Pulsar's erratic behavior leading to her untimely demise will seem plausible. Let's hope if anyone does encounter us, it'll be someone dim enough not to cause trouble."
"Good afternoon, ma'am!" exclaimed Ensign Cometa, turning a corner and saluting smartly.
Veronica and Courtney returned the salute, Courtney having to use her left hand. "Step aside, Selena," Veronica ordered brusquely.
"Aye, aye, ma'am," the Ensign replied with a frown, lowering her hand and brushing aside an errant strand of her long, deep-green hair. Why hadn't the Captain returned her salute?
"Captain Pulsar is having a seizure, Selena," Veronica explained, as Britney writhed wildly within the invisible ropes, attempting to attract the young officer's attention. "We're escorting her to Dr. Zenith."
"Mpfff," Britney mewed into her gag. Couldn't Selena see that something was wrong?
"ˇAy Dios mio!" Selena exclaimed. "I'm sorry you're not feeling well, ma'am! You're such an inspiration to me, Captain! I know my performance hasn't always been the best, but with your example to guide me, I'm improving, becoming more alert to what's going on, which is a very important quality in an officer…"
"Ensign, you're still blocking us," Veronica interrupted loudly. "Step aside so we can hurry to the doctor!"
"Aye, aye, ma'am," agreed Selena, not moving. "I must mention, though, that sick bay is in the opposite direction."
Veronica looked desperately to Courtney for help. "Are you questioning a superior officer's judgment?" the Security Officer demanded.
"No, ma'am!" Selena exclaimed, finally stepping aside. "It just seems very strange…." Her voice trailed off as she watched the trio sweep by her down the passageway.
"Thank the stars we got out of that one," sighed Veronica. "Please let us make it to the shuttle without meeting anyone else!"
Somehow, they did. Courtney reversed the cords to visible mode and briskly bound Britney to the pilot's chair. "The subject is secure, ma'am!"
"Well done," praised Veronica. "Well, Britney, this is the end for you. Once we leave, the shuttle will eject from the Excelsior. I programmed the autopilot for a one-way trip… directly into a black hole!"
Britney screamed loudly into her gag, but the two officers walked away, the door shutting behind them. Moments later, she felt a surge as the small vessel began its doomed voyage….
"The next panel shows Captain Pulsar tied up in the shuttle, struggling to get free!" Lllrij continued. "And then… nothing!"
"Well, that's how the comic ends, right?" Matt asked. "They'll reveal the escape in the next issue."
"That is not how the comic ends, Earthling. It's what happens in the middle. Captain Pulsar is struggling to get free, as I said, before the black hole's gravitational pull becomes too strong and then… nothing!"
"You keep saying that," complained Matt. "What do you mean, nothing?"
"I mean, all the pages are blank from that point forward!" Lllrij flipped the pages of the comic book to demonstrate. "I am convinced it is a plot by Overlord Negatron!"
Philbert glanced at the comic book. "How can it be a plot by Overlord Negatron? I thought you said the mutiny was led by Veronica."
"I am referring to the blank pages, not the mutiny," Lllrij explained, scratchy impatience in his voice. "Overlord Negatron must have found some means to alter the fabric of reality itself in a scheme to completely erase Captain Pulsar. That is why we must enter her universe to rescue her!"
"How can we do that?" Philbert asked, growing excited.
"Lllrij has this thing we used once before to go into the second dimension," Matt explained. "He wants us to return with him to the comic book to see what's happening to Britney."
"Awesome!" Philbert exclaimed. "Hey, Lllrij, how about using it on my Jetsọns comics some time. I'd love to put my smooth moves on Jane! Only perhaps I shouldn't. I mean, she is a married woman, and I guess her husband wouldn't like it."
"We are not concerned with the Jetsọns," Lllrij replied. He plugged a platinum-gray cube into Matt's wall socket. The device began to pulse, emitting an erratic buzzing.
"Is it supposed to do that?" Philbert asked nervously.
"It didn't make that noise last time," Matt complained.
"The device is growing older, and thus does not work as well as it once did," Lllrij explained. However, the chance of anything going wrong is minimal."
"Minimal?" asked Philbert, paling.
"Approximately twenty-three point zero four percent, I would judge," Lllrij said carelessly, using the device to create a shimmering gray elliptical hole in the air of Matt's apartment. "Hardly enough to concern ourselves with. Come, let us enter. Captain Pulsar awaits!"
"But the football game!" Matt protested. "Besides, I'm sure there's a perfectly normal explanation for the blank pages."
"Come on, Matt," Philbert urged. "It'll be a great adventure!"
"Oh, all right," sighed Matt, grumpily rising from his couch. "The Giants are getting creamed anyhow."
Lieutenant Courtney Eclipse had done her job well. The pulsating blue ropes, expertly tied, adjusted to Captain Britney Pulsar's every movement, so that no matter how she strained, twisted, or pulled, she remained tied in precisely the same position.
"Mpfff!" she exclaimed as Philbert stepped through the portal.
"Britney! Wow, you sure are pretty!" he said, staring at her in admiration. "Brianna Cork, oh, you've probably never heard of her, but she's the actress who played you in the movie, doesn't look nearly as good as you, I can see that now. And you must work out a lot to get your legs so…"
Lllrij, slithering through the portal, interrupted him loudly. "We are here to rescue Captain Pulsar, Earthling, not make comments about her physical appearance."
"Oh, right," agreed Philbert. "It should be easy to untie these… well, how strange; every time I try it knots itself back together. I should be able to untie the bandana, at least. Hmm, that's not working either. Hey, Matt, can you give me a hand?"
"What's wrong?" asked Matt.
"These ropes are really weird," Philbert complained. "I can't remove them from Britney at all."
"Mpfff," Britney said through her gag, her look clearly suggesting that a hero as obviously as brave and resourceful as Philbert could surely find a solution to such a trivial problem as this!
"Lllrij, do you know how to stop these knots from retying?" Matt asked, after trying unsuccessfully himself to remove the ropes.
"There is no need to untie them," Lllrij explained, rolling the four pupils of his eyes. "You can free Captain Pulsar easily enough by cutting her restraints."
"Oh, yeah, why didn't I think of that?" asked Philbert. "Matt, you got anything sharp on you?"
"There are scissors and kitchen knives in my apartment," Matt answered. "I can dash back through and grab some."
"Great, go get them," said Philbert. "Don't worry, Britney; we're working on getting you free!" He turned to Matt with a frown. "Well, don't just stand there, go get the tools we need!"
"Mpfff!" Britney echoed, adding her encouragement to Philbert's.
"Um, the portal we used seems to have disappeared," Matt announced nervously.
"What‽" shouted Philbert. "But… but how are we supposed to rescue Britney now?"
"How are we supposed to get back to the third dimension?" asked Matt. "Lllrij, what happened?"
"The device must have tripped a circuit breaker," Lllrij explained. "Without electricity it cannot work."
"Do you mean we're stuck here‽" shouted Matt.
"No, Earthling, we are not stuck here," Lllrij replied calmly. "When Marsha-Anne and Joan return to the apartment they will doubtless discover the electricity is off and flip the circuit breaker back on. Once they do, they portal will reappear, and we can return safely."
"Great!" Philbert exclaimed. "I'm sorry, Britney, for the delay, but we'll keep you company in the meantime, won't we, Matt?" He struggled to loosen another knot on Britney, only to see the ends converge and twist back together once again. "And I'll keep trying!"
Matt faced Lllrij. "The girls won't be home for a couple hours still, I'm certain of that. How long before the black hole does… whatever it is black holes do to things caught in them?"
Lllrij paused briefly before answering. "According to my calculations, we will not be able to survive for longer than seventeen of your Earth minutes before gravitational forces crush us out of existence."
"We're doomed," groaned Philbert. "I'm sorry we weren't able to rescue you, Britney."
"We're not doomed," answered Matt. "I'll call Marsha-Anne on my cell phone and tell her to hurry home!"
"Do you think she can make it back in under a quarter of an hour?" Philbert asked dubiously.
"We have to try!" Matt announced, flipping his cellphone open. "No signal!"
"Of course there is no signal, Earthling; we are more than five thousand light-years from Earth and the satellites your device needs," explained Lllrij.
"But we have to do something! Can't you pilot this shuttle, Lllrij?" Matt pleaded. "Fly us out of here, somewhere safe, where we can wait for them to get back from the shoe sale?"
"I'm certain I could determine how to operate it easily enough," Lllrij admitted. He slid his gelatinous green body into the copilot's seat next to Britney and formed to long appendages to serve as arms. "Ah, yes, childishly simple," he murmured.
"Great, get us out of here," sighed Matt.
"Unfortunately, I am not able to do so," Lllrij replied.
"What do you mean, you can't?" Matt shouted. "I thought you said it was childishly simple for you to fly this shuttle!"
"I'm well aware of what I said, Earthling, but the instruments indicate the black hole's gravitational pull is too strong for this vessel's engines to counter, even at maximum power."
"Well, can't you increase the power beyond that?" Matt asked desperately.
"Earthling, I would not have called it the maximum power if there were means to exceed it. Unless Marsha-Anne and Joan return in less than fifteen minutes…"
"That'll never happen," Matt muttered.
"…then we will not be able to escape," Lllrij concluded.
"Well, that's it," Matt said with hollow resignation. "We're trapped in the second dimension, heading straight for a black hole, with no hope of escape!"
"I wouldn't give up hope yet," said Philbert. "Sometimes a problem can be solved by stepping back and looking at it in a new way. Like these ropes binding Britney, I think I'm figuring them out. Oof!"
"Yes, I can see the stellar progress you're making there," Matt answered sarcastically. "Lllrij, can't you do anything at all?"
Lllrij's answer was a scornful gaze, partially hidden by the movie glasses he still wore.
"And we can't even untie Britney," Matt continued. "The reason we came here in the first place!"
"Yes, I can untie Britney!" Philbert exclaimed, tossing a coil of the pulsating rope onto the deck. "I'm finally getting it. All it took was a little perseverance!"
"Mmm, well done!" Britney praised, placing her arms around Philbert in a passionate embrace and tilting her head down to bestow a series of kisses on her dazed rescuer.
"The Earthling would do well to reconsider continuing such actions," Lllrij remarked to Matt. "Should Joan observe what is transpiring here, her response is likely to be extremely belligerent."
"The only way Joan could see anything would be if she entered here through the Dimension Gate, and you can see it's still off. That's what our whole problem is!" Matt exploded.
"You are incorrect, Earthling," Lllrij returned. "We left the comic book lying open when we entered it. Anything we do in here can be seen by anyone looking at your copy of it."
"Then if they're home, they can see us!" Matt exclaimed. "Marsha-Anne! Joan!" He jumped up and down, waving his arms. "Turn on the circuit breaker! Turn it on!" He stopped abruptly, feeling foolish. "They're still not home," he announced dejectedly.
"Of course they are not," Lllrij answered. "They would see the electricity off and turn on the circuit breaker, were they home."
"Phil, you figured out the ropes," said Matt. "Can you figure out how to get us out of here?"
"Mmm," said Philbert, still enjoying Britney's attentions.
"Philbert is very resourceful," Britney announced between kisses. "Just the sort of hero I adore!"
"You're not going to be able to adore him for very long if we don't get out of here soon!" said Matt.
"We have less than six of your Earth minutes left," Lllrij added.
"Well," said Philbert. "It seems to me we're overlooking something. We're in the second dimension, but we're not from here. We know about the third dimension, and can use it to escape. If we could steer the shuttle into that extra dimension, we should be able to break free from the black hole's pull."
"Can you do that, Lllrij?" Matt asked.
"We are from the third dimension, but the shuttle is a two-dimensional vehicle," answered Lllrij. "However, perhaps I could adjust something." He fiddled with the controls.
"Hurry, Lllrij!" Matt pleaded.
"I could concentrate better if you weren't shouting at me, Earthling," Lllrij hinted.
A couple anxious moments crawled by. Matt held his breath as Britney and Philbert held hands. A whining noise erupted from the engines as the shuttle abruptly changed direction and the stars disappeared from the windows.
"We are now free of the black hole," Lllrij announced.
"Oh, thank god," sighed Matt.
"My hero! I knew you'd rescue us," Britney exclaimed, squeezing Philbert once again.
"It was I who rescued everyone from the black hole, Captain," said Lllrij.
"Yes, well done, but, um, nothing personal, but I'd rather kiss Philbert than you," Britney replied.
Different stars suddenly came into view as the shuttle lurched once again. "I have used our inter-dimensional travel to place the shuttle very close to USEF headquarters," Lllrij announced. "It will arrive there shortly. In the meantime, Captain Pulsar, you can speak with Commodore Jovian on the shuttle's radio now, to inform him of Commander Binary's treachery."
"I'll do that later," decided Britney. "Right now, I'd rather kiss Philbert."
"I'm glad we're free of the black hole," said Matt. "Although I wish the girls would get back to the apartment and flip that switch so we could get back home again."
"Captain Pulsar! Come in Captain Pulsar!" Commodore Jovian's image appeared on the shuttle's screen as his voice filled the small vehicle. "Our sensors indicate your shuttle is close to headquarters, although how that is possible, I cannot imagine. However, the news is, the mutiny on the Excelsior has been foiled, due to a stellar response by Ensign Cometa!"
The Ensign moved to stand by the Commodore. "I thought something was fishy about Captain Pulsar's behavior when I passed her earlier," she said. "I sent a message to headquarters and then led a counter-mutiny and retook control of the Excelsior!"
"And Commander Binary and Lieutenant Eclipse are both under arrest!" announced the Commodore. He adjusted the screen to reveal the two officers standing nearby, dressed in black-and-white striped prison uniform minidresses. Numerous ropes kept them bound and cloths gagged them. "A precaution so they don't escape," he explained.
Matt looked briefly at the struggles of the two captives. Tying them up seemed a bit extreme, but in Captain Britney Pulsar's world… universe, rather, he reflected, any excuse seemed to serve.
"Admiral Megaparsec and I are both quite pleased with young Courtney," continued the Commodore, "and now that you're back, Britney, we can discuss her future role on the Excelsior… say, who is that roguish fellow with you? I trust he is treating you with proper gentlemanly respect!"
Matt never heard Britney's answer. An elliptical hole appeared in the air of the shuttle, and Matt gave a shout of relief as he saw the inside of his apartment. He even briefly glimpsed Marsha-Anne pass by in the distance. "Come on, everybody!" he shouted. "We're going back home!"
"Earthling, we are departing," Lllrij said as he slithered to the inter-dimensional gate.
"Yeah, Phil, disengage from Britney so we can get going," Matt said impatiently.
"Guys, I've decided something," Philbert announced, still clinging to Britney. "Go without me, okay?"
"Phil, we need to go now," Matt insisted. "We can't leave the whatsit on waiting for you."
"Turn it off," Phil answered. "I'm staying here with Britney. Look at her! It's like I'm with Brianna Cork. Imagine having a glamorous star like her for your girlfriend!"
"You mentioned that name before," Britney said, not sounding very happy. "Who is she?"
Philbert hurriedly continued his explanation. "Over here I'm a hero! And did you hear Commodore Jovian call me a rogue? I don't know if you realize this, Matt, but most people think I'm a nerd! What a difference! Rick Photon was created for the movie and hasn't made it to the comics yet. Maybe I could be him! I'd have to change my image a tad, like, work out a little to muscle up... well, okay, a lot… and dye my hair, and see about getting tattoos, I guess. They probably don't hurt as much here in the future."
"Actually, they hurt quite a lot more," Britney informed him, "because of the advanced technology we use to create such dynamic effects. However, the excruciating pain they cause is nothing compared to what Overlord Negatron would put you through if he ever caught you. Besides, such a trivial concern in order to look nice for me won't bother my hero!"
"No, of course not," Philbert agreed, trying to look brave. "So I'm staying here, okay?"
"Let him stay if he wishes, Earthling," Lllrij said impatiently.
"Everyone here may be two dimensional, but you're the shallow one, Phil," Matt told his friend. "I'm really surprised at you. What is Joan going to do?"
"Hey, now who's this Joan?" Britney demanded, looking accusingly at Matt.
A blur with orange-red hair stormed through the portal as Joan entered dramatically. "Hands off!" she ordered, snatching Philbert away from Britney. "I'll deal with you in a minute," she told her boyfriend, "right after I've dealt with her!"
"Greetings," Britney said, extending her hands in friendship to Joan. "I am Captain Britney Pulsar of the United Space Exploratory Force. I come in peace!"
"Well, I don't," Joan replied grimly, ignoring the proffered embrace. She snatched several ropes from the deck. "Marsha-Anne, can you give me a hand?"
"Of course," Marsha-Anne agreed, striding gracefully through the portal. She gathered a few more ropes and stood beside Joan.
"Now, wait a minute, you two," Britney said. "I didn't realize… mpfff!"
"Well, that was surprisingly easy," said Joan as the ropes, seemingly understanding her intentions, bound Britney almost instantaneously to the pilot's chair once again. "It's like the ropes knew what to do!" She turned to Philbert. "Come on, you! We're going home!"
"Yes, Joan," Philbert agreed meekly.
"But, what about Britney?" asked Matt. "It's not really her fault; she's used to rewarding heroes who rescue her, and I don't believe one's ever had a girlfriend before."
"Don't worry; she'll be okay," Marsha-Anne answered carelessly.
"The autopilot will see her safely to headquarters," Lllrij explained. "Once there, the Commodore will arrange her release. We had better return immediately, however, lest the device trip the circuit breaker once again."
That was all Matt needed to hear. With an apologetic backward look at Britney, he stepped back into his own reality.
"Well, that was quite an adventure," Matt remarked. "We rescued Britney and foiled the mutiny!"
"We did not foil the mutiny, Earthling," Lllrij corrected him. "Ensign Cometa foiled the mutiny. And I am not convinced we truly did rescue Britney. Yes, we resolved the peril of the black hole, but we left her bound to the pilot's chair exactly as she had been at first. More importantly, though, is that we failed in our original purpose. The pages are still blank, caused, I'm certain, by whatever nefarious plot Overlord Negatron is hatching!"
"Oh, don't worry about it, Lllrij." Matt shrugged. "I'm sure it'll turn out there's a perfectly ordinary explanation for that."
Carlo Dandy groaned as he sat at his desk at Space Age publishing. "How did this happen‽" he roared. "Everyone's complaining their copies of Captain Britney Pulsar, Space Explorer! are only half printed! Somebody's going to get fired over this, and you can bet it'll never happen again, not while I'm in charge!"