When you have a good thing, word gets around. Far around. So far around that with winter in the offing, to the Crow 'n Bear came two visitors from another galaxy, asking if Spanakopitus could get them an interview with the Powers That Be--the DrizzleMasters and the Venturi and, of course, Bang!opolis.

The male visitor was named Beanalsarion. His partner was Fleenoci, of the red hair. Fleenoci wore high boots made of ranch suede. Her long flowing garments were puce, which on another might have clashed with red hair, but on Fleenoci looked dashing. Fleenoci was very intelligent, but slightly insane; people liked her anyway, though.

Beanalsarion and Fleenoci explained to Spanakopitus that they needed advice from the Powers That Be because they were trying to set up a weather system in their part of the galaxy, and they wanted to get it right.

(Here it must be mentioned that Fleenoci had brought along her pet plinth, Schnaphaunce. [For those of you who have never seen a plinth, think of a cross between a miniature dragon and a large dog.] Some thought that while Beanalsarion and Fleenoci did business with the DrizzleMasters and the Venturi, Schnaphaunce would enjoy playing with Kinkajou. But Kinkajou was still hiding in the PerSisters, so Schnaphaunce took up instead with Polaris, the black and tan hound of Spanakopitus.)

And so for a time Beanalsarion and Fleenoci met with the Powers That Be. Beanalsarion asked extensive, piercing questions, and Fleenoci took copious notes whenever a Power spoke. The visitors asked about when and how to use wind, and whether water should cover everything or only part, and why lightning was sometimes necessary though alarming. And from his tall, safe perch in the PerSisters, Kinkajou watched Polaris frolic sedately with Schnaphaunce.

By and by Beanalsarion and Fleenoci announced that their purpose had been achieved and they really needed to get back to their home galaxy. "Could you by any chance stay just a little bit longer?" asked Spanakopitus. "We'd like to give a reception in your honor so everyone can meet the visiting dignitaries."

"We have obligations at home," said Beanalsarion, "but if the party can be short, we'll try to squeeze it in."

"We'll tell everyone to come quick and eat fast," said Spanakopitus.

"If you stay, I'll get you home in a flash-bang," offered Bang!opolis, who set about to craft an extra-large and extra-swift thunderbolt.

"That will work quite well for us," said Fleenoci, "but I doubt that Schnaphaunce will take to it."

"You're right, my dear," said Beanalsarion. "Perhaps we could leave him here until the spring, when we can return by more ordinary transport?"

"Yes! Yes!" said Spanakopitae, trying not to appear too eager. "Leave him here with me until then."

So Spanakopitus called his people, who passed the word to the Zom, and everybody came quick and brought a little something. And Bang!opolis fashioned an extra-powerful thunderbolt. He also invited his girlfriend, Dazzle, whose hair glinted like diamonds, who wore goldfish in her high wedgies, and who sometimes, so accoutred, rode on the back of his Cosmic Harley.

In fact, the only person who could not attend this great reception was Spodiodi, Spanakopitus's half-brother twice removed. (Spodiodi was away pursuing his livelihood, rounding up gales. But you'll hear more about him later.)

The Zom brought their now-world-famous brandy (for when you have a good thing, word gets around) and some fruit, from which they concocted a large bowl full of winter punch that everyone exclaimed over.

After the reception, everyone milled around the table, congratulating and salubriating. Way up in the PerSisters, Kinkajou was getting hungrier and hungrier. Eyeing the leftover fruit, he crept cautiously down to within snatching reach.

"Don't do it," cautioned Wise Old. "That Bang guy's still here and he hasn't forgotten about his flat tires; he'll catch you for sure."

But Kinkajou, set on monkey business, shinnied out on an overhanging limb. Dangling from his prehensile tail, he lowered himself to the table and suddenly grabbed at the fruit with both his little hands.

At that very moment, Bang!opolis looked Kinkajou's way. Quick as a flash he threw a small bolt precisely at the very limb from which Kinkajou was dangling, severing the limb and dropping Kinkajou right into the half-full bowl of punch.

Kinkajou dropped the fruit and swam for his life, sputtering and thrashing and splashing punch everywhere. Beanalsarion and Fleenoci tittered, the DrizzleMasters guffawed, the Venturi snickered, the Spanakopiti giggled, the Zom laughed out loud, Bang!opolis roared. And Wise Old threw back his head and went "Hootie-hootie-hootie, hootie-hootie-hootie!"

Poor little Kinkajou dragged himself out of the punch bowl and scrambled, shivering, into the highest recesses of the PerSisters, where he clung in shame and humiliation.

"What an engaging creature," said Fleenoci, shaking her red hair. "May I take him home with me?"

"Oh, no," chorused the Zom. "He's our pet, silly though he may be. He must stay here. And anyway, you already have that plinth as your pet."

"True, true," said Fleenoci. "Well then, we really must be getting back," said Beanalsarion. "You be good now, Schnauphaunce. Play nicely and do what they tell you." He and Fleenoci thanked everyone and climbed on their suprafast huge thunderbolt. Bang!opolis aimed a small bolt that ignited the large bolt, and the cosmic visitors were off at greater than the speed of light, arriving home as fast as they thought about it.

Kinkajou quivered and clung steadfastly to the PerSister, wishing he could have escaped to the faraway galaxy when he had the chance. But the Zom were glad they knew where to find him.

Loyalty is truest when it is tried.

9: Aftermaths