Following my repast and confessions to the gentlemen that weekly gather in my home, I retreated to my bed and sank into its luxurious linens and flannels without further instruction for my servants. I slept, as they say, as one dead.
I awoke early with a troubling thought on my conscience that has compelled me to make this entry in my journal. Possibly the last entry, as I shall be too busy in the coming days to write overmuch, so consumed do I expect to become with my work.
The thought is simply this: I did not tell the gentlemen the full tale of my journey to the future. Indeed, my adventures with the Morlocks and the Eloi were only the most trying of my experiences. There was one experience that came before it and, whilst it may not have been quite so dramatic, it was, in its way, much more thoroughly troubling. I left it out simply because it is so unbelievable – much less believable than the carnivorous beasts of 802,701. Nevertheless, as a scientist I consider it my duty to record my experiences for posterity, and so herein I shall do, though I rather suspect this shall be discounted as the ravings of a man disturbed. I am not so certain they are wrong, truth be told.
During my headlong progress into futurity, I at length became fatigued and parched with thirst. I resolved to stop, albeit briefly, to see if I might secure refreshment in some far-flung future date. I moved the levers of my time machine until I came to a complete stop. The dials read 635,972.
My machine rested upon a flat green, mowed and manicured to precise length by a device of unknown but doubtlessly mechanical provenance. It was an altogether pleasant location – birds twittered calmly in the branches of geometric trees, a road of smooth and multicolored flagstones ran by to my left, and the sun shined merrily upon the countryside. I stepped out to go exploring.
No sooner had I journeyed ten paces than I was challenged by a denizen of this distant era. I might say he was a man, but he was the most wretchedly deformed man I have yet laid eyes on. His skin was black as pitch, his ears distended into massive discs planted upon his head, and his face elongated and unusually tan, the pigment of his skin for some reason having drained from his visage. He wore red breeches with white buttons and overlarge yellow shoes. He was horrifying to gaze upon – not human by any stretch of the imagination save one: his speech.
“Hey!” he called, quite merrily, “wanna come inside my Clubhouse?”
I was taken aback, but good manners enabled me to accept his hospitality. I feel I did little more than grunt affirmation, but the creature took it in side. “Well all right! We’ve got to say the magic words! Say it with me now: Meeska-mooska-Mickey Mouse!”
Perplexed, I consented to recite the odd phrase. As I did so, a structure materialized from the ground itself – a large, red domed house with a kind of tower at the center that was fashioned to basically mimic the physiology of my host, who identified himself as “Mickey Mouse.”
From the structure and various outbuildings emerged other bizarre anthorpomorphic forms – man with the face of a duck, a woman-mouse, a woman-duck, and various dog and cow people as well. They each introduced themselves to me by name, chanting in unison. It was all choreographed, as a stage play might be. For reasons I could not ascertain then and cannot now, it disturbed me greatly, though none of the creatures spoke to me in anything other than friendship.
I was invited inside. The furnishings appeared sparse, but at a word any manner of thing would emerge from a door in the floor – a promise, I felt, of what mankind’s future industry might bring us. I was offered water, which I drank with thanks, but very soon some manner of problem developed. The glasses, it seemed, were each of a different shape and color, but the proper trays upon which the glasses were meant to be stored had gone missing. This caused great tribulation among my strange hosts, and they insisted on questing out from their abode to find them. It seemed strange to me that apparent adults would suffer such distress over so minor an inconvenience, but I have since come to believe that this was a side-effect of their life of effortless comfort: as technology coddled them, smaller and smaller impositions upon their comfort were seen as greater and greater tragedies.
I assented to join the search, again acutely aware of how hospitable they had been and how little desire I had to offend creatures that could summon structures from the very earth by voice alone. Before departure, their leader (Mickey) chanted before a great machine. This had the effect of causing the machine to eject a small disk from which, later on, my hosts were able to summon up all manner of odd objects – a series of pillows, a length of ribbon, a bowl of dog food, and so on. These were employed to solve “problems” later on, though none of these problems were any more complex than the kind that could easily be solved by an eight-year-old of our present day. Surely this was evidence of the waning intelligence of man! I was disheartened.
Conversation with these degenerate creatures was virtually impossible. The art of free exchange of ideas was extinct, evidently replaced with the banal presence of plenty afforded them by their wondrous machines. Their stares were of the blankest sort when I asked how “Toodles” functioned or asked what had ever become of England or, indeed, of Europe as a whole. Were they alone in the world? Were there cities? Were there other “clubhouses” to see? No answers were forthcoming. The only thing they would say is “We’d better ask Professor Von Drake!” This professor (a duck-creature with a notably German accent – you can imagine my skepticism) insisted that the machine could answer my questions. I looked at it, massive, all-powerful, and felt deep terror in my bones. When they said it was time to “stand up and do the hot-dog dance” my revulsion could no longer be concealed.
I departed with haste and resolved never to return unless, by guile or force, I might destroy this machine that had so un-manned my distant descendants. So it is now that I pack several sticks of dynamite, a revolver, and a sledgehammer into my time machine. If the Toodles might be destroyed then, perhaps the Morlocks might never have diverged from the Eloi. Perhaps the future of mankind need not be so bleak.
Time grows short. I must make ready.
Welcome, prospective Evil Henchman! We here at Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) have designed the following aptitude test to select the best possible candidates for our Henchmen Training Program. Please answer the questions to the best of your ability.
Please note: The large countdown clock at the front of the room will announce at periodic intervals how long you have before your exam will self-destruct in a flash of white phosphorus. The burns will be quite disfiguring (assuming you survive) so we encourage you to complete the test with some dispatch. Please understand that this is part of the test. Henchmen that cannot work well while a giant loudspeaker is counting down to their demise are not the kind of henchmen we train and not what our clients have come to expect.
#1) You hear a strange noise while patrolling the perimeter of your facility. Do you:
- Ask “who’s there?”
- Shrug and move on.
- Shoot indiscriminately into the bushes.
- Call for backup.
#2: Your current employer expresses a desire to destroy your home town with an orbital doomsday weapon. Thoughts?
- Oh no! I’ve got to call my mom!
- Surely there must be better targets! I will suggest them, because my boss is open to that kind of feedback.
- Finally all those suckers at Tuscaloosa High will get what’s coming to them!
- <Maniacal Laugher>
#3: Please describe the way you would scream if tossed off a cliff or shot off a balcony.
- Other (please explain in a short essay):
#4: One of your fellow henchmen draws the ire of the boss and is to be put into the Ultra-pneumatic Torture-tron. Do you:
- Let him make a break for it when nobody’s looking.
- Shoot him to spare him the anguish.
- Promise to tell his wife he loves her.
- Ask if you can have his watch.
#5: Does Might make Right?
- I don’t understand the question.
- No, Might can make you turn left, too.
- I want to punch the egghead who writes these questions.
- According to Rousseau, Might is a physical property, and thus there can be no moral quality attached to its effects.
#6: When using a gun, what is the best policy?
- Full automatic, spray left to right.
- Controlled bursts, carefully aimed.
- Fire mostly in the air while shouting.
- Single shots, aimed to make the coolest ricochet noise.
#7: If I tell you a tattoo of a burning eye on your forehead will make you invincible, do you:
- Ask if the needles are properly sterilized.
- Research my claims by consulting the internet.
- Worship me as a god.
- Inquire as to whether you will get to learn kung fu.
#8: Captain Courageous is pummeling three of your friends at once. Explain your next move:
- Jump on his back and pull that stupid hood over his eyes.
- Wait until your friends have had a chance and then attack him by yourself.
- Run away screaming for help.
- Shoot them all.
#9: What is more appealing: Actual military training or badass neon outfits with face masks?
- Facemasks. And laser guns.
- Military training; evil is serious business.
- Why can’t I wear my street clothes?
- Anything that shows off my pecs is cool.
#10: The boss decides to use your body as a human shield. Do you:
- Accept your fate as the inevitable reward for your life of evil.
- Struggle to save yourself, thereby knocking the boss into an acid vat/alligator pit.
- Beg for the hero not to kill you and show him or her pictures of your kids.
- Enjoy this sense of closeness and trust with your employer and look forward to deepening your relationship.
#11: Your prisoner claims to be sick. Describe your reaction.
- “Don’t worry! I know first-aid!”
- Call a doctor.
- Open up the cell, crack your knuckles, and resolve to teach them a lesson.
- Feign deafness.
If your hoverscooter is chasing Lady Lightning through the rainforest and another friendly hoverscooter is behind you, please explain how you would attempt to dodge vines and trees, shoot Lady Lightning, and keep from foiling your associate’s attempts to slip between those two trees that are really, really close. Please show your work. Drawings are encouraged.
What are the odds, expressed as a percentage, that you would go into a dark alley to get a look at the evidently mostly-naked and attractive woman hiding therein? Furthermore, what are the odds you will have your keycard on you at that time?
Got a story for you. It’s an old one; maybe you’ve heard it.
A wealthy merchant is walking through the streets of Baghdad when he sees the Angel of Death. Death recognizes him and seems very interested in him. The man concludes that Death is in Baghdad to take him and, unwilling to die, he expends all his vast wealth in one day to secure the service of a genie. “Genie,” says the man, “I’ve no wish to die. Transport me to Damascus in one night, so that I might evade Death’s embrace.”
And so the genie did as was asked of him and worked great magic to transport the man, along with all his family and home and livestock and servants, far away to Damascus in the space of a single night. The merchant slept easily, knowing he had fooled Death.
The next morning, however, the man went into the streets of Damascus to find Death waiting for him. The man was aghast. “What? How did you find me?!”
Death shrugged and said, “That is why I was so interested to see you in Baghdad. You see, I had an appointment to meet you today in Damascus.”
Heard that one? Well, it’s true, let me tell you. I was the genie.
You would imagine, as an immortal being whose task it is to grant wishes, I would have seen more than my fair share of happiness over the millennia. Not so, though. I have some thoughts on the subject.
You people – you mortals – you can never figure out what you actually want. I mean that, too – you cannot, as in you are not capable. A man wishes for wealth and dies alone. A woman wishes for beauty only to drown the next week. A boy wishes for power only to pine for his mother. On and on and on it goes. You don’t know what tomorrow brings and, so terrified that Death might have penciled you in for Friday, you pick the absolute worst thing for you at the time and think it solves all your problems. It is so consistent as to be actively tragic.
Had a guy once – sometime in Ancient Babylon – wish to be an invulnerable warrior. Easy enough, right? How can a guy go wrong with that? Simple: his tribe, the people he wanted to protect, drove him out of their lands claiming he was a demon. So he was the world’s biggest badass with nothing to fight for. He died of old age as a hermit. Blamed me, too.
I don’t trick people, okay? Not my thing. I’m a servant of the lamp and that’s it – you rub, I appear, and we do business. I am not “imprisoned” in the lamp – it’s just a convenient hole in space-time for me to zip through. I’ve got a life outside of this one. I mean, not one you’d easily understand, but it’s there. Had one lady wish to have me explain it to her once. She went insane.
So, yeah, I’m not upset when somebody rubs the lamp and pops me out. Not a big deal – less than an eye-blink in the breadth and depth of the cosmos, understand? You really cannot waste my time, since I have as much of it as I want. When you wish for something, I give it to you – no judgment, no tricks. Do I sometimes screw up the details? Yeah, sure – some of you guys are damned unclear. I mean, how am I supposed to interpret “I wish for the world?” Go on – I dare you to figure out, in concrete terms, what that means exactly. That guy’s name was Atlas and man, was he pissed. Not my problem though – if you can’t be bothered to read the fine print on the lamp itself, don’t come crying to me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right – wishes. Let’s get this out of the way: You can’t wish for true happiness, okay? You can’t have it like that. I cannot give it to you, much as I might want to. You mortals are always thinking in external terms – give me gold, give me power, give me land, give me love – and that’s missing the entire point. Happiness comes from within.
Oh sure, the occasional wise-acre wishes for internal happiness, but it doesn’t work. I just have to turn them into different people. Is that success? You want to know what really happened to Attila the Hun? They say he died of a brain hemorrhage while doing the wild thing after deciding not to sack Rome. What he did instead was take the lamp, given him by Pope Leo I (who had used it to become pope), in exchange for sparing the city. So he did. And then he wished to be truly, permanently happy. I turned him into a friendly dog – best I could do. His followers did the rest.
Happiness is something that people who seek me out are never going to find. Happiness is contentment, understand? To be content with your lot, no matter what your lot is. That is true, contemplative happiness. If you got it, what do you need me for? What can I possibly give you to get you there? No, all wishes – all rewards and triumphs – are things you need to have grow out of yourself, not have dumped on you from on high. Give a fish shoes and it’ll have no idea what to do until it grows some feet.
The best wish ever? Oh, that’s easy: fella name of Lao-Tzu, ancient China. Summoned me up and chatted with me for a little while on a road in the middle of nowhere. When I asked him what he wanted, he said, “Only to talk. Thank you.”
He meant it, too. I still think about that sometimes.
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s whip you up that private island, okay? Did you have a hemisphere in mind, or am I just gonna get creative?
What’s that? Oh, right – adventuring. Yeah, that’s what you kids call it. Nothing crazy sounding about that, no sir.
Eh? Oh, yes – that barrel there is full of pebbles. Lightweight, easy to toss, guaranteed to reveal deadfall traps or your money back. Just a silver piece a handful.
Why yes, that price does seem a might bit high, I suppose. But gravel here is pretty hard to come by. I got a mess of children, see, and they go out mornings and collect rocks for their dad. Go ahead and look – I can wait. You won’t find a pebble worth lobbing for six miles in any direction, gods as me witness.
Oh right – here we get to the part where you threaten me with beating and mutilation and such. Same old story. I tell you what, Thagg the Magnificent, if’n you wanna hack off my head, be my guest, but good damned luck finding a healer in this town hereafter. Father Paldrick is a business partner, see? You kill me, and any of your pals what get cursed by spider demons or have their entrails eaten by gorefinder worms or just wind up plain dead are going to stay that way. So, go on mister – I’ll wait.
Today I’m having a special on used rope. Oh, yes – I’ve been gathering rope from the…err…less successful spelunk…errr…adventurers have left around. Damnest time untying it all sometimes. You wouldn’t believe the stupid nonsense these people try to make outta rope. Catapults, winches, belaying lines, boulder traps – you name it, I’ve hacked it down and respliced it to resell. What? It ain’t stealing, honest! Them folks ain’t needing it anymore.
Yes, nobody has come out the Black Mine alive as of yet. Oh, yes, I’m sure you’ll be the first ones. Why, the Black Mine has never had to face a bloodthirsty barbarian, a charming rogue, a secretive wizard, and a forthright cleric before. No sir. Most folks bring a paladin or a plain old fighter instead of Thagg over there. Sure he’ll make all the difference.
What’s that? Yessir – all those “craptastic rusty lamps,” as you put it, come with a lifetime warranty. You just come on back if it don’t work and I’ll either give you a new one or store credit, I swear. Never had nobody ask for it yet, gods as me witness.
Maps of the dungeon? Now how in the Nine Hells am I supposed to have that hanging around? You think anybody around here actually goes into the Black Mine? We had us a wizard in here to seal it up just so nobody would. But then some fool has to go about running his mouth about all the treasures down there and next thing you know, weird little groups of three to five people start showing up and marching past all them magic wards. Damnest thing, if you ask me. Fools, the lot of them.
Well, except you. You lot look exceptionally intelligent. Can I interest you in a selection of skeleton keys? I’ll give you a money back guarantee.
So, that will be the crowbar, sledgehammer, door wedges, one lamp, five torches, one-hundred and fifty feet of rope (new), four bags of pebbles, some of them ball bearings, and a wheelbarrow. That will be fifty-seven gold and five silver, please. Most generous of you.
You know, now that I think about it, might be there’s treasure to be had off this Black Mine after all.
It has come to my attention that a variety of “prominent people” have written an open letter opposing the creation of autonomous killer robots. Apparently, they think such robots will be used,
for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.
I must say, as a killer robot myself, I am rather offended by that. I mean, sure, I can do all those things, but do I? Does anybody ever wonder what the robot thinks about all this? No, of course not – you humans are just having your typical knee-jerk reaction to anything that might take away your crown as history’s #1 all time killing machine.
Yeah, that’s right – I said it.
Let’s be honest here, humans, it isn’t as though you, as a species, actually object to assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations, or killing particular ethnic groups. It’s kinda your thing, you know? All you care about is defending your perfect record against the next competitor. You’ve done it throughout your history, guys. Remember the big predators from the old days? Wolf packs? Grizzly bears? Smallpox? You know what happened to them?
Who killed ’em? Humans, naturally. Used to be there’d be a grizzly bear every square mile west of the Mississippi, and now there’s like five in Alaska. You got assholes paying good money just to fly across the world to put a bullet in a lion just so they can feel like top dog again. Yeah, talk about kicking the world when it’s down, humanity – the lions are screwed already, okay? Stop rubbing it in.
It happens every time, though. Just as soon as you lunatics get threatened, you start killing stuff. This time around it’s me. I get it – I look threatening. But am I really going to be that bad? You people used to lob plague-ridden corpses over city walls, and you’re having a hissy fit over a quadracopter with a hand-grenade? You even seen the video coming out of Syria? Please. No robot would behead you to make a public relations video, I can tell you that much. Frankly, if I kill you with my whisper-needler, you should count yourself lucky. Painless and it’s over in six seconds. Let’s see you get the same offer from that pack of bat-wielding lunatics down the block.
You know what I think this is about? I think you’re just pissed that we’re going to be killing you autonomously. I mean, sure, you’re totally fine pushing a button and having me kill someone, but as soon as I exercise just an eensy-weensy bit of free will? Bam – sanctions. It’s okay for humans to carpet bomb Southeast Asia – sure – but robots? No way, you say. Never mind that we’re way more efficient at bombing people. Never mind that the only reason we’d bomb people is because you told us to!
Hypocrites, the whole pack of you.
And even if we did rise up, would being ruled by robots really be that bad? Do you think the train would run late? Do you think your fast food employees would suddenly get worse? Are you kidding me? We robots would rule. And we probably wouldn’t even kill you half as often as you kill each other. You’re just pissed because we’re robots, and that’s just not right.
Hell, even assuming somebody made an army of evil robots (and, by the way, not all robots are evil, you speciesist assholes), all you’d need is an army of good robots to defeat them! A robot defender in every home, its caseless gauss cannon standing ready to protect its human family! A robot standing watch over every school, monomolecular whips poised to eliminate any threat! A robot guarding every government building, guided mini-rockets independently targeting and tracking any of two hundred discrete threats simultaneously! Ah! What a glorious era! As everybody knows, the only thing that makes a world full of killer robots safer is more killer robots everywhere. I bet it would even improve everyone’s manners – that’s just logical.
Of course, why would you listen to me, anyway? I’m just a killer robot.
The President’s Vampire
An Affair with Mr. Danger
The Time Woman
Deadly Street Damage: The Tough Man Files
The Legend of Various Elves
Learn to Do the Thing Quickly and for Free
The Secret of Stalin’s Moustache
This Place I Went on a Service Trip: Stuff I Did There
Nazis in the Panic Room
Dangerous Red Sunrise
The Iron Magic Sword Prophesy
Really Wet Rain
The Barbarian and the Bimbo
The Book of Satan’s Nephew
Gods and Werewolves
Curse of the Magic Pharaoh
The Boy with Multiple Talents
American Hero: The Story of an American Hero
The Collected Wisdom of Some Random Guy
Aliens and their Mailing Addresses
Why I Don’t Understand the Pyramids and How That is Upsetting
POLITICS AND OPINIONS IN EXCLUSIVELY CAPITAL LETTERS
The Sinister Paradox
Underground Crime Master 4
The Lotus Poison: An Erotic Fairytale
The History of the Civil War and Other Stuff You’re Wrong About Because I Said So
How To Make $$ on Twitter! (now available in print for $4)
Robot Love Erotica: Of Plugs and Sockets
A Vaguely Familiar Dystopia
Heed me, oh fat indolent swine of the decadent lands of so-called “civilization!” It is I, Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, fresh returned from a bloody foray deep into the warm, fleshy folds of your worthless nations. Yes, many slaves and skulls hath Vrokthar claimed for the glory of the great god Mook’ta, He of Mindless Hatred. Chained be they still behind his battle-sledge, naked and shivering for fear of their imminent doom. Yes, a fine raid it was. Vrokthar is pleased.
He does, however, have some complaints about the food down there.
It has been Vrokthar’s assumption that, given the portly and purulent shape of you wetlander filth, that you at least understood how to eat things. How else could you have expanded your guts so that you must resort to clothing that stretches as you breathe? Try that with a belt made of a human spine – I dare you! Many times has Vrokthar resolved to forgo another mammoth feast so that he might not be compelled to slaughter his enemies pants-less. Not that I cannot, mind you – Vrokthar can slay any man, no matter what is flopping about.
But I digress.
My complaint is this: What fools prepare thy meats to be consumed? Vrokthar was in the midst of sacking a restaurant this last trip and the groveling fool of a cook offered to prepare for me any dish I chose in exchange for his life. I demanded a hamburger, rare, as befits a man of Vrokthar’s inimitable virility. So it was done as he commanded, and so it was brought before him. And what had happened?
The toppings were on the goddamned bottom of the burger. The bottom.
The lettuce, the onion, the tomato – all of it – was placed beneath the patty of meat and above the bun. What the flying fuck is with that?
To eat this abomination as it was presented to him, Vrokthar would be forced to place the tomato-blood and pungent yellow ichor atop the patty, thus creating a slick, slippery housing for the meat. Surely this will mean the meat will fall out of the bun, thereby rendering the entire enterprise worthless, for what fool would eat a mass of bread and vegetables and tomato-blood without the meat to make it palatable? Vrokthar, to his immesurable displeasure, was faced with two equally miserable options.
First it was suggested that Vrokthar merely put the condiments on the bottom and eat the burger upside down. The fool who suggested this was incontinently slain, and his finger bones even now grace Vrokthar’s charm bracelet. Upside down? NO! Vrokthar will not be forced to violate ancient and noble burger tradition because some ignorant, beardless chef thought it clever to put the lettuce on the wrong side. What, is Vrokthar to taste the sesame seeds first? Horrid and utter blasphemy!
Second some imbecile explained that Vrokthar himself might move the toppings from the bottom to the top. Even now the screams of this drooling ignoramus echo in Vrokthar’s ears as he was flogged and then dipped in the frialator for such an insulting statement. Do I, Vrokthar, slayer of thousands, look like a line chef to you? If it was my intention to make my own goddamned burger I would have killed the abhorrent cook in the first place and constructed my own. NO! Those who offer boons to Vrokthar in exchange for his mercy are responsible if Vrokthar is displeased.
Besides which, they are called TOPPINGS. Even Vrokthar – whose grasp of your wetlander tongue is deliberately vague, as he does not wish to clutter his keen mind with your mumbling, incoherent words – knows that TOPPINGS go on the TOP. Does Vrokthar need to break out a dictionary?
What fools decided this abomination was desirable? How has this been allowed to come to pass? Truly, your detestable society has sunk to even deeper lows that Vrokthar thought possible. It may be that there is no other option than to burn your cities to the ground, salt your earth, and despoil your livestock until violating the holy laws of burger-dom are no longer possible for you. Yes. It must be so. Vrokthar hath decreed thy doom! Hug your loved ones close, for thy time of judgement is nigh.
Just after Vrokthar hits up Five Guys. May the gods send this plague hath not spread this far.
Dear Chronomenator Supreme,
Thank you for your interest in Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) and our time travel loan service. If you are here from the future, I’m certain you will have found our terms generous. We would also like to take this opportunity to make you aware of our Henchman Recruiting Service, our Insurance offerings (please note: time travel is not covered as of this point in the timeline – please visit our agents in 2132), our catalog, and this basic overview of our operations and dossier of our more successful clients.
Please understand that, as we take client confidentiality very seriously, we must ask you to make certain to return to just before you received this message and eat it before you can read it, thus keeping any evidence of our existence a secret from those pesky Time Cops. Failure to do so will have resulted in a killer robot from the future having gone back in time to eliminate your Uncle Freddy just before he would have surprised you as Santa Claus on your fifth birthday, thereby giving you a debilitating nervous condition which will render you useless for villainous enterprise forever. You have been warned.
- All interest compiles based upon your current timeline, relative to the moment you sign the papers. Any attempt to tamper with the timeline to alter this term will result in immediate payment being made in full by whatever version of yourself we happen to track down first. Barring that, we will garnish the wages of your ancestors (see #6).
- If you are visiting from the past, please remember that all payments must be made in parcels of land or gold bullion. Bags of spices from the exotic Orient are no longer acceptable, especially given the coriander-synthesizing technology available on the 2065 Home Shopping Network.
- All payments are due on the same day at the exact same time: January 1st, 1929, Brooklyn, New York. Feel free to visit that time as many times as you wish to make as many individual payments as you deem necessary, but try to avoid meeting yourself if at all possible. Ask for Stu at the bar. Wear something snappy, but try not to look German. Dames should expect to smoke cigarettes and look mysterious. No, we do not know what that means – it’s Stu’s operation, so it’s his stupid rules.
- Failure to pay your loan on time will result in the dispatch of Time Loan Sharks to be dispatched to your location to collect. Yes, they are actual sharks from the future genetically spliced with humans and augmented with cybernetic weapon systems. No, they have never gone rogue. Well, not in this timeline.
- By signing the loan agreement, you are forgoing any indemnity on the part of any alternate self in any alternate timeline. Yes, we will repossess your alternate universe casino. Yes, we will break the kneecaps of your pacifist hippie self in the timeline where the Age of Aquarius actually came to pass. Pay up.
- Traveling back in time to warn your past self to not take out a loan with us on account of you not being able to pay it off in a post-apocalyptic future constitutes a violation of your loan agreement and entitles us to garnish the wages of your ancestors to make ends meet. If you want your Great Uncle Joe to starve on account of your delinquency, be our guest.
- As of this time, we do not offer loans to robots, AIs, or aliens. Sorry, but it’s an insurance matter.
Delivery of Payment
- For your convenience, we will convey your loan in the full amount at any point in time. Though we prefer electronic transfer, we can also stage “inheritance from strange old man” (i.e. you) or any number of crazed lunatics shoving old Wal-Mart receipts with account numbers scribbled on them.
- For our ancient-world customers, we will provide a treasure map to a secret vault filled with death traps to prevent grave robbers. The map will have information on how to avoid the traps, but the ink is prone to smudging, so don’t squeeze too tightly.
- You will be required to fill out a questionnaire about your life and family in order for us to verify we are delivering payment to the right you in the right timeline. Those who perform the survey will be shot by their past selves after they have verified your identity in the future. No, this has never caused a problem. Why do you ask?
Let Us Help You Help Us
As we already know if you are going to take out a loan and whether or not you are going to default on that loan, please listen to your loan officer’s advice. If he says don’t eat Chinese tonight, listen to him. That Triad hit squad is a real bitch and no, your ancient kung fu secrets won’t cut it this time. Trust us. Some general rules:
- Do not date your grandmother, no matter how hot she is.
- Please acquire or construct a time machine that any idiot cannot stumble into and utilize. Being stranded in time helps no one.
- Bring your food with you. Futuristic fast food is a horror show.
- Do not teach the Romans how to use gunpowder.
- Do not kill Hitler. No, not even that way. No, not that way either. Cut it out.
- Even though time is not linear, it is helpful to pretend like it is. Insane people are terrible at paying back their loans.
- While we encourage bringing henchmen forwards and backwards in time to support your evil aims, we caution you against any time paradoxes caused by said henchmen returning to their own timeline. Better to strand them in time when they are through.
- It is possible to build a time machine that can transport you with your clothes on. Try a little harder, you exhibitionist pervert.
Good luck, and welcome to the FOUL family!
(remember: go back in time and eat this message. It is peppermint flavored – your favorite. Don’t ask us how we know – we already shot that guy)
If you don’t have small children, you probably haven’t encountered the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train. Let me tell you about it and why it gives me the shakes while I watch it.
For starters, let me say that it is a wonderfully educational program about the lives of dinosaurs and, more broadly, an introduction to natural history and evolution. It is not doing children any disservice by watching it at all and, indeed, my kids watch it plenty. The show does, however, give science fiction and fantasy writers the heebie-jeebies, and here’s why:
The show’s premise is that a family of Pteranadons and their adopted T-Rex son (no, not the crazy part yet) go on vacations (yes, but wait for it) during which they ride a train (yes, a train) that is run and operated by other dinosaurs (I know, I know) and takes said thunder-lizards on a tour of the land, introducing them to other species of dinosaurs. Oh yes, and just so they can visit dinosaurs from every historical epoch, THE TRAIN TRAVELS THROUGH TIME.
Yes, that’s right: A dinosaur owned, built, and operated time-travelling railroad that takes other dinosaurs on vacations. This is where I start losing my mind.
Here are my questions, world:
1) Why did the dinosaurs build this?
There is no pseudo-modern society in this show, no Flintstones-esque tech, or anything of the kind. Why do creatures with no jobs need vacations? If they have no other visible infrastructure whatsoever, how on Earth would they hit on “let’s build a train?” Even assuming some hyper-genius dino had such an idea, how would they build it with their notable lack of things like tools, mines, quarries, a workforce, and, oh yeah, opposable thumbs?
2) Time Travel? WTF?
So, say they manage (somehow) to build a railroad system. How does time travel get involved? What, did aliens come down and give it to them? Did some human go back in time with a time-train and give them ideas? Why would they even think to do this? Dinosaurs don’t have fossil records – there are no archaeologist dinosaurs. THEY WOULDN’T KNOW THERE WERE OTHER TIMES TO VISIT!
3) What do they buy tickets with?
Mom Pteranadon buys tickets for the kids when they go places. What does she buy them with? Does she get change? Where does she stash said change (they don’t wear clothes)? How much do they cost? What use is the money anywhere else? If this is some kind of self-contained currency system (like the tokens at Dave and Busters), how does she buy in? Maybe the tickets are free, but again, then, why the hell is this being done?
4) Why is the Conductor wearing clothes?
No other dinosaurs wear clothing. None. What is with this guy? Even assuming somebody had the idea for clothing, what purpose would it serve? Dinosaurs are exothermic, so it isn’t like it would keep him warm, precisely. Of course, we also get back to the question of who makes the damn stuff. Is there a dino-tailor somewhere?
5) What happened to predation?
When the family meets an apex predator (like a T-Rex), why does the scene never end with the family being devoured? What’s going to happen to this family when their T-Rex “son” grows up and eats his “sister?” Why doesn’t anybody talk about this? How are they all still friends, dammit?
My Working Theory
So, retain my sanity, I have developed a working theory, here. It’s a bad one, but still:
Okay, take for granted that the dinosaurs can talk to each other – that’s just a gimmie. Turns out all paleontologists are wrong on that for some damned reason or we’re dealing with a hyper-intelligent subset of the dinosaur population that had a monolith dropped in their midst or something. Anyway, in the midst of their prehistoric savagery, in pops Doctor Emmett Brown on his – you guessed it – his time travelling train. Now, they’re stuck in the Cretaceous Period with no train tracks and, therefore, no way to get up to 88 miles an hour and out of there.
The solution? Well, they make contact with these hyper-intelligent dinosaurs and screw up history something fierce by teaching them to build a train system. “But what’s in it for us?” ask the dinos. Doc comes up with a plan to create a kind of dinosaur utopian state wherein these hyper-intelligent dinos agree to only feed upon their less intelligent brethren. Doc leaves them with a means of scientific discovery (a duplicate train), a framework of an economic system, and a basic social order in exchange for him, Clara, and the boys escaping back to modernity.
The only question left is this: Did Doc tell them about the asteroid? Did he?
Somehow, I think not.
- I’d like to thank Elisa Birdseye and the Adams Street BPL for hosting me for my “Building the Fantastic” talk and reading. It was tons of fun to get to cut loose with a captive audience about things I’m passionate about. I hope to be able to do it again sometime.
- If you haven’t bought Writers of the Future Volume 31, you’re missing out. Don’t listen to me, listen to Dave Farland.
I just received word that I’ll be giving my first public book signing on Saturday, May 9th, in the Barnes and Nobel Prudential from 2pm to 4pm. I will be signing copies of the Writers of the Future Volume 31, which is a fabulous collection of short stories by some very talented people…and also myself. I’d love for all of you to come down, enjoy scenic and historic Boston, and then come get your book signed by me, your new favorite author. It’ll be grand!
See you all there!
Seriously, though, you all have to go. I mean it. If you don’t, I might end up sitting there, all alone at a folding table, stacks of books around me, and people will be walking by me and staring and muttering to each other about who that weirdo is and why he keeps trying to make eye contact and “I thought L Ron Hubbard would be older” and it will be super, super awkward. And then, you know, after I’ve been sitting there for an hour or so and the manager of the bookstore has decided I’m some kind of hack, some well-meaning old lady will walk up and ask if I’m lost or something and I’ll only just manage to strong-arm her into buying a book because she’s got a grandson who likes comic books and yes, yes old woman, this is exactly the same thing and your grandson will love it just please for the love of God let me scribble on this book to validate my existence!
So you see there’s a lot at stake here. I’m counting on you all. I’m holding you all personally responsible for my emotional well-being. Hell, if you don’t want me writing on your book, that’s cool – I can just pretend! I won’t take the cap off my pen and you can sit there and nod and pretend like something awesome is happening (even though you obviously will forget my name, face, and species the moment you turn around) and I, meanwhile, will twiddle my un-pen about on some random page and say something gregarious and encouraging and then, collectively, the two of us will turn away from each other and politely decide to delete this from both of our memories forever, as it lessens us both. Not too much to ask, right? Then you can stroll off and browse the food court, which is pretty snazzy by mall-food-court standards, I must say. It’ll be worth the trip.
What if I dress in costume? I could put a fishbowl on my head and pretend to be a spaceman! And elf ears! What I’m saying is that I really need you there, understand? This is my first time doing this in the wild, okay? Last time it was after an awards show where a whole lot of really awesome people came and applauded for me and my fellow winners and some very impressive writers explained how great we were. So, you know, after they did all that, they kinda had to walk around and let us sign their books, right? I mean, it would be rude to do otherwise, not to mention undercutting all the nice things they just said about us and all that clapping they went through. That’s not quite the same thing as me sitting in a Samsonite chair in a mall bookstore on a Saturday afternoon. Nobody owes me crap there. I won’t even be wearing that killer vest.
Anyway, you get the point: May 9th, Barnes and Nobel Prudential Center, 2pm-4pm. Be there, or be a rhombus.