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August 2002
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Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
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Lucius Shepard
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Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

The Unkindest Cuts


These manuscript fragments were recently found among the papers of [famous dead SF writer].1 Unfortunately, the papers had been stored in the author's wine cellar, and when the supports on a rack of [expensive vintage] gave way, the subsequent flood of wine ruined almost the entire trove of stories, essays, letters and [embarrassing type of fetishistic pornography]. Only the laborious efforts of [famous SF critic] have succeeded in recovering even these small portions of one random text. The gaps in the manuscript have been assigned grammatical and contextual labels based on the scholar's best understanding of the author's published work. The editor hopes that the readers will be able to enjoy these gap-ridden story fragments by allowing their imaginations to fill in the blanks.

THE [cosmological noun] THAT [past tense verb] EARTH


[famous dead SF writer]

Tony [unusual-sounding last name] occupied the junior spot on the staff at [classic science fiction writer indicative of author's influences] Observatory. Fresh out of his stressful post-grad stint with the [derogatory adjective for female behavior] Professor Angela Wiltdonger, Tony faced in his new job the subtle discrimination leveled by the senior scientists against the unproven newcomer. Tony consoled himself with the thought that over time his professional status would [verb]. Unless, of course, everyone secretly hated him because he was a [ethnic sterotype].

In any case, Tony's low rank secured him the absolutely worst viewing times on the big, expensive [super-science gadget]: the five minutes just before dawn. Only during these scant hours could he collect data for his researches. Tony's controversial theory about the origin of [quantum particle] in the [distant nebula] during the [past era] and their effect on [type of human behavior] had brought him nothing but [obscene noun]. Nonetheless, Tony clung [adverb] to his pet theory.

Little did he suspect that today would prove the turning point in his [nerdy neurotic compulsion to succeed].

As he pressed his [body part] to the [very cold portion of super-science gadget], Tony quivered with [emotion]. He could barely believe his [adjective involving F-word] senses! There, clear as day, stood revealed a Big Dumb Object composed entirely of [quantum particle, plural]!

"Mr. [unusual-sounding last name]! Exactly what do you think you're doing?"

Striking him like an unexpected blow, the hated voice of Professor Angela Wiltdonger caused Tony to slip from the observing platform and land clumsily at Wiltdonger's feet, which were shod in the very latest style from [classy designer].

Tony picked himself up and brushed [yucky science glop] off his pants. "Um, just finishing my observations, Professor Wiltdonger. And you won't believe what I just discovered--"

"I don't give a [part of rodent's anatomy] about any of your trivial observations. It's one minute past dawn, and you're supposed to be swabbing out the [radiation-producing lab equipment]. Get busy!"

Tony bit his [body part]. No point getting in an argument with Wiltdonger now. Once he had his discovery firmly documented, it would be a short step to winning [one of the few prestigious prizes whose reputation is not marred by SFWA-style infighting] and scientific immortality. Then he'd see what kind of [a dish best served cold] he would enjoy!

* * *

. . . the ruins of the [classic science fiction writer indicative of author's influences] Observatory. Barely two walls of the structure remained standing beneath the night skies, in the wake of the attack by the [mythologically suggestive name, plural], who had poured forth from the Big Dumb Object once it assumed Earth orbit. Who could have believed that just one eventful week separated Tony's dawn-hour discovery from the current [catastrophic event]? And to think that Earth's last hope against the invaders resided now in a desperate collaboration between Tony and Professor Angela Wiltdonger!

Brushing back a lock of her [color] hair, Wiltdonger swore, then refocused her attention on the delicate task before her. Manipulating her [improvised tool] with trembling fingers whose chipped painted nails revealed the merciless alien eradication of beauty parlors everywhere, the [sympathy-provoking adjective] professor sought to join [computer part] with [unlikely cross-discipline gadget]. Tony steadied his hand holding the [primitive improvised source of illumination] and uttered encouraging noises. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Wiltdonger sat back on her sexy [body part] and said, "It's done. This inspiration of yours had better prove golden, kid. Otherwise humanity is destined to serve for all eternity as [slang term among convicts denoting prisoner's "girlfriend"] for our new interstellar overlords."

"I--I think it'll work--Angela. . . . "

This unprecedented use of her given name caused Professor Wiltdonger to look at Tony in a new way. Her [adjective] blue eyes filled with [emotion], which was returned in triplicate by her companion. Suddenly they were no longer two rival scientists, but simply a man and a woman alone beneath the stars.

Without any planning on Tony's part, he found that he and Angela were [gerund]. With the shattered bits of the [super-science gadget] digging into his [body part], Tony began to murmur sweet words into Angela's [body part]. In the midst of her passionate reciprocation, she murmured back, "[Sultry exclamation]."

* * *

With the final coruscating flares of the [name of heretofore unknown type of ray] dying down around them, Tony and Angela stood upon a mound of rubble in the ruins of [major metropolitan area], clutching each other's [body part] and gazing skyward. Fleeing like a pack of [cowardly beast, plural], the few surviving celestial invaders made a beeline toward their Big Dumb Object.

"We did it, Angela! We did it!"

"[Wry observation indicating basic cynicism tempered by newfound empathy]."

Tony turned to hug his new mate. "Well, it's up to us now to restore civilization."

"Considering that ninety percent of humanity has been wiped out, there's an awful lot of [gerund] to do."

Tony blushed. "I'm up to it, Angela. If you are."

Angela smiled [smarmy adverb]. "We'd better get busy then. Because if I know anything about the way the universe works, there's one thing we can be certain of. The [mythologically suggestive name, plural] will be back!"

1 This introduction itself has suffered from numerous obscuring editorial coffee stains that necessitate interpolations upon the part of the reader.

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