G-Force sat in the cockpit of the Phoenix, an unnatural silence on all five.
Their com screen buzzed, and as they assembled before the monitor, the static resolved into a the face of a man in his sixties. He looked more than a little annoyed.
"This is Fred Ladd," the man said. "You haven't had enough useless dialogue in the last few minutes."
As the face vanished from the monitor, Aggie said, "Your go, Ace. You're the heroic leader."
The Phoenix shot away from land, skimming the ocean as the moon rose gently in the sky. The engines purred like the beating of a heart, or at least, the beating of the background music. Ace's voice seemed to emerge from everywhere, but only during times when no one saw his mouth move. "I'll always remember our mission in the jungle during the most rigorous days of our gruesome strife against Galactor, that evil alien, and his malevolent terrorist organization bent on world domination. It was during this most perilous of missions that I learned an important lesson about myself, and about the other members of the team."
Back inside the cockpit, Dirk said, "Ooooh, Ace...I wish I could narrate that well."
A sudden explosion rocked the Phoenix, and the camera lingered over each person's pained expression.
Fred Ladd reappeared on the monitor. "What did I tell you guys?"
Aggie leaped to the rescue. "Ace! A sudden explosion has rocked the Phoenix!"
Peewee added, "And we're all being thrown around, Ace!"
Fred Ladd disappeared with a satisfied smile.
Lightning struck the hull of the Phoenix, sending her into a nose dive. Hootie was thrown from his seat. As Ace grabbed the controls, a second bolt landed home, sending current through his body. He screamed without opening his mouth.
Dirk shouted, "Lightning has struck the hull of the Phoenix, sending her into a nose dive! When Hootie was thrown from his seat, Ace grabbed the controls, but a second bolt landed home and sent current through his body!"
Hootie pulled Ace away from the control panel, then righted the Phoenix. Ace lay on the floor, unmoving.
Peewee put his hands to his mouth with a moan. "Hootie pulled Ace away from the control panel, but he's not--"
"That's enough." Aggie knelt beside Ace and felt for a pulse. "Even Fred Ladd has his limits." She held her ear against his mouth, then stood. "He's breathing, but lightly. Maybe we should get back--"
"Fools!" Ace Goodheart had leaped to his feet, his arms raised, his eyes bright. "No longer am I the Ace you knew--I am fire, and life incarnate! Now and forever, I am...
ACE GOODHEART, PET DETECTIVE! by Jane Lebak (3/96)
Ace had a twisted smile, and he kept looking from one member of the team to the next with jerking motions of his head.
"Ace?" Aggie stepped forward. "Are you all right? Lightning hit the Phoenix, and it went right through you."
"I'm *fine*!" Ace's contorted grin persisted a moment longer, then vanished. He pivoted forward on hips that seemed to have become a ball-and-socket joint, then plugged his ears with his fingers. "Will someone shut that godforsaken background music!"
The other four stared as, mercifully, the backbeat halted. They looked at one another with wide eyes. Hootie's voice emerged in the tones of a small boy stepping inside a cathedral for the first time. "You mean--it was that easy? We could have stopped it all along?"
"I'd blocked it out," Dirk said. "I didn't even realize it was playing until it stopped."
Aggie giggled. "Remember that time we shot a whole episode without changing the backbeat once? That was torture worse than even Galactor's capabilities."
The view screen buzzed with static, and this time a face more familiar than Fred Ladd's resolved on the screen. "Team," said Dr. Brighthead, "I'm getting odd readings from Gezora, a fictitious country located--"
Ace turned to the monitor, put his face close to the camera, and belched. Dr. Brighthead paused, squinted, and as he began to speak, stopped. The rest of the team stood with open mouths and wide eyes; Ace grinned. The doctor cut the connection.
Ace spun in place, hunched his shoulders, and looked backward at the team. "Somebody stop me!" he growled in his lounge-singer voice. Then he got an odd expression on his face, tilted his head, and turned to Dirk. "Pull my finger."
Dirk stepped back, but Peewee howled with laughter. "I like it! That's great! Let me!"
Aggie yanked Peewee away from Ace. "For goodness sakes--"
"Aw, Aggie, who's going to know? We're on at two in the morning."
"Even so." She stepped closer to Ace. "Are you feeling all right? Maybe we should take you back to Doctor Brighthead."
Ace's mouth dropped open. "Doctor Brighthead?" His shrieking laugh cut through the cockpit. "'Are you in any pain, Doctor?' 'No, I just have a really bright head.' 'Help me with my algebra, Doc?' 'Sure, it's a cinch now that I have my bright head.'"
Hootie felt for his chair and sank into it. "It's bad, guys--he's quoting Mystery Science Theater 3000."
"Look who's talking," Peewee said. "The Phoenix was supposedly in mortal danger, but we left it flying itself for five minutes of dialogue."
Everyone paused. "Well," Aggie said, "we are a Sparklin' Entertainment production."
Ace sat in his chair, crossed his legs, and folded his hands on his knee. "So tell me," he said in an untraceable accent, "what seems to be the trouble."
"We don't know," Dirk said. "The narrator deserted us."
"Although," Aggie said softly, "sometimes I have these dreams...an ovoid robot with blinking lights for a mouth...tells the audience everything we have to do."
"Don't be ridiculous," Hootie said. "No one would build a robot for that. We're highly trained professionals, and we can do our own voice-overs."
The Phoenix rocked again as more lightning knifed through it. Everyone but Ace ran for a chair; Ace stood with his legs apart and folded his arms, head tilted back. "On screen, Mr. Sulu."
Outside, the Phoenix tore through a blinding rain. The wind buffeted the ship, and twice it hit air pockets that dropped it a hundred feet in only a few seconds.
"Tell us what to do, Ace!" Dirk whined.
"We need you to lead us, Ace!" Peewee said.
"It's up to you, Ace," Hootie said. "It's obvious that we should try to get above the storm, but you're the only one who's allowed to have any good ideas, so you have to tell us!"
"Ahhh..." Ace Goodheart, Pet Detective cocked his head to the side. "The Phoenix...is in trouble...watch what happens...on this next episode...of Rescue--9-1-1."
Peewee ran across the cockpit and shook his commander. "Ace! Ace! You've got to snap out of Shatner mode! We need you!"
Another sudden drop as the Phoenix hit a low pressure zone, and the impact flung everyone around the cockpit as they crashed through tree-tops to a jungle-floor landing.
"Where did this jungle come from?" Aggie said, oblivious to the non-injured condition of the team despite their unseatbelted, very sudden, very rough landing. "We were over the ocean before."
Everyone looked at her and said, "Shhh!"
Aggie looked down and blushed. "Sorry."
Ace leaped to a stand. "Plot is useless! Continuity is futile! You are being assimilated!"
"Star Trek is futile," Dirk snapped. "You're being asinine."
Ace looked hurt. "But--we have to find the mascot--the dolphin--"
"Wrong movie," Hootie said. "We never worked with dolphins. Seals, St. Bernards, baby whales--"
"Puppies," Dirk said.
"Oooh, the puppy!" Peewee moaned, then got slapped in the head for his trouble.
"And there was the obnoxious monkey," Princess said. "I don't know, guys--maybe we need a pet detective after all."
They turned to Ace, who was doubled over, moving his butt cheeks with his hands and singing "O sol mio" in dubious translation.
The team huddled together. "Any ideas?" Aggie said.
"A really cheap plot device," Dirk said, "is to have what happened before happen again, and it'll mystically undo the transformation instead of making it worse the way common sense tells us it should."
"It's better," Hootie said, "if we give it some scientific-sounding word, even if it makes no sense."
Aggie nodded, then said, "Take us up, Hootie." Ace sat quietly in the command chair for a few moments, then turned about with an asparagus, heaven knows where he got it, jammed in his nose. No one would look at him any longer, even when he said, "I'm sorry--do I have something on my nose?"
"I saw the commercial too," Hootie said. "It's supposed to be a whole row of asparagus on your teeth, and it wasn't funny even the first time, let alone now. Just be still."
They had reached cruising altitude. Aggie punched at a few buttons on her keyboard and then said, "This ought to do it. I've reversed the polarity of the lightning."
Everyone stared at her.
"Look," she said, "who cares what I did? The original frames are still intact from the Japanese, and you have to trust that in Japan, whatever they did worked. American audiences will believe anything we throw at them. They're certainly not watching to enhance their appreciation of science."
Hootie shrugged and flew toward a particularly nasty looking cloud. "Okay, guys, hang on."
Lightning struck the Phoenix, briefly illuminating it in the rain. Aggie pushed Ace's hands onto the glowing controls, and his back arched as the current flooded him. He crumpled into his chair, breathing lightly.
"Do you think it worked?" Hootie asked.
"You got Dirk, too," Peewee said, poking Dirk's shoulder. He had collapsed on his console.
"None of us matters," Aggie said. "It's Ace the producers are in love with. Leave Dirk alone."
Ace groaned and lifted his head, then looked around. His eyes were clear, and the twisted smile had faded. When he spoke, he used his normal voice. "I've awakened, weak from the damage done to me by the awesome forces of nature, yet strengthened by the inner conviction that by respecting the Earth and her laws, someday we will, in fact, defeat Galactor, that evil alien."
Aggie smiled, then winced as the backbeat returned. Hootie positioned the Phoenix perfectly to reflect the sunset, which shouldn't have been physically possible since earlier it was midnight, but no one commented. They headed off into the closing credits.
Dirk awakened by the time they reached home. He stood, planted his arms on his hips, and swiveled as though wearing armor that prevented his moving his neck. This change confused the others, until suddenly Peewee gasped. "It can't be!"
The man formerly known as Dirk Daring said, "I'm Batman."
Peewee dropped to his knees. "I knew it. He's become the Dirk Knight."
*Not to be continued...*