Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The next few days passed in relative quiet. Relative, that is, compared to a mortuary holding a funeral for a deaf mime attended only by church mice who are, themselves, mimes. I ain't never been nowhere quite so dull as this spaceship. I swear, I musta played eight hundred million hands of cribbage. It was just gettin to the point where I was thinkin about not attendin the next makin stuff up contest and just sittin myself down in the hammock instead. I guess it was really the first time I've had to slow down since this whole thing with Clan Platypus had got started and it gave me a little time to think.

On the one hand, I got to thinkin about how I was just a regular guy from Iowa, and I don't know why I was in this mess in the first place. I mean, if my Mable Lou had never got herself hit by that flamin couch all them months ago, I coulda prolly just got myself a job workin with Douggy or even gotten that job my cousin has where he writes Slayer all over them bar walls. I coulda done that. Sure, I've never actually heard of the band, but I don't think that matters a whole lot. I can write all right, especially on walls. In fact, I nearly got myself a PhD in Literature once. No kidding. I wrote my dissertation on the use of Vodka to represent sadness and a loss of self in Russian literature and how that led directly to the sense of overwhelming sadness present in post-modern literature. I was runnin around with this theater troop at the time and they was doin all this performance art stuff like smearin themselves with eggs and ham while yellin "McMuffin!" I thought it was neat, and there was a girl in the troupe I was interested in, so, to impress them, I wrote my entire dissertation on the wall of a bathroom, hopin that'd give it the extra oomph it needed. Sadly, the day before I defended it, the whole bathroom went up in flames when some farm kids from around town decided it'd be fun to drink Everclear and then light their farts on fire. My advisor didn't believe that'd happened and thought I was treatin him like he was stupid so he got me thrown out of the university for ever and had my entire record expunged, so now it looks like I just got myself a sixth grade education. Wait a second, I think I just confused myself with this guy I saw on the teevee news once. I actually only have a sixth grade education and I spent the years I woulda been in college stuffin paper into the toes of shoes and drinkin beers with Douggy when I got off work. This one time, we was drinkin Everclear and, well, I'd tell ya the rest if the court order allowed it. Suffice it to say, we had ourselves a hot time. But if anyone ever calls you about me puttin that on my resume, you just go ahead and tell them the first story. I'll cover for you, too, if you need me to.

Point bein, I wasn't really qualified to get pulled into this whole big ball o' mess. I'm sure there's people more suited to travellin through space to help some hyper-intelligent genetic mutants fight ninjas tryin to sell meth, also interstellarly. I mean, there's gotta be at least ONE space travellin, meth hatin, good ninja out there somewhere, right? But then, that got me thinkin about how all them people down on that planet was havin their lives turned inside out by these ninjas and their crazy robots and their drugs and all. And I thought that, if I was the only one who could do this, I might as well do it as best I could. I just wish that I could get a vacation every now and again.

It was that second line of thought I was on when we landed on the moon and I was shuffled through immigration, shown an orientation video, given a name tag (which I thought was silly until I saw it was full of numbers, which I was told were the space coordinates of the Earth I came from), given a shower, checked for ticks and finally escorted into a doctor's office. In the miracle of all miracles, the doctor was there just nearly as soon as I sat down. I know, it shocked me, too. I was under the impression that there was nowhere in the universe you could go see a doctor without waitin at least an hour in the office only to be told something like, "I don't know what's wrong. Go home and come back if it gets worse. Oh, and that'll be $250." Well, that doctor didn't do none of those things. He checked me over, talked to me like I was a person, moved quickly and efficiently and then didn't charge me nothin. Turns out the Squimonk buy their insurance on worlds that are about 30 years behind ours where, when someone buys insurance, the insurance actually pays for doctors and stuff, without the insurance holder havin to pay anything. I know, I was shocked, too.

At the end of the checkup, the doctor told me that my cholesterol was at the right level and asked me if I'd like to drink the spider poison. In the three or four times in my life up to this point that I have been offered spider poison to drink, I have generally turned it down. That one time I didn't, I regretted it in the morning, boy howdy. But, after hearin everything that Captain Pat and the other Pat had told me about interstellar travel and whatnot, I figured, what the heck, I wouldn't mind teleportin. So, I took the shot.

Then I was in a hotel lobby.

I didn't have too much time to be confused before a bellboy came over me and said, "Mr. Pat O'Neil?"

"Er, yeah," I responded.

"Your room is ready, sir," he explained and then gestured for me to follow. "No luggage, as usual, sir?"

"Er, yeah," I said. He talked a little more, mostly just bein officious, but I wasn't payin much attention. I was too busy starin at how nice this hotel was. There was marble everywhere, for one. And the guests looked a little different than what I'm used to seein in a hotel. I didn't know if it was just me or if there was something else. I mean, I'm used to stayin down there at the Motel 6 when I travel, and they rarely have cavernous lobbies with four star restaurants and gold piping everywhere. They also don't usually have bellhops. I kept it to myself for a bit, just tryin to take in the scene.

Lookin through one of the restaurants, I saw there was a white sand beach with clear blue water and palm trees outside. I thought so. "I'm in Maui, ain't I?" I asked.

"Indeed you are, sir," the bellhop responded. "And I'll never get tired of you asking me that."

I chuckled, rememberin what the other Pat's had told me about most Pats goin to Maui when they first got hit with the spider poison. I figured, I might as well enjoy myself for a while. After all, I was just sayin I deserved a vacation. And, if I remembered right, I should just pop back into the doctor's office at the same time as I left.

The bellboy and I stepped into the elevator, which gave me a better chance to get a glimpse of him in the mirror. He was kinda pale and had long hair stickin out from under his cap, which would be unprofessional where I come from, but I guess it's allowed on other planets. Even without the hair, he was a kinda strange lookin fella. He had a pretty long nose that rounded at the end and nostrils I could almost see into from the back of his head. He also had some kind of funny growth or somethin on his forehead. He didn't seem to be tryin to cover it up, so I don't guess he was too embarrassed by it.

That's all I got to see before the elevator dinged and he announced, "Penthouse, sir."

The doors opened onto a room that looked like I always imagined an Arabian palace would. There was pillows and drapes everywhere. They also had a bunch of them weird lamps you hear about genies comin out of that don't look like real lamps but look a lot more like gravy boats with string stickin out of 'em. "Well, thank ya kindly," I told the bellboy. I turned to see him holdin his hand out, waitin for a tip.

"Oh, yeah," I stammered. "I ain't got no money on me right now, but could I bill a tip to the room?"

"That would be acceptable, sir," he said, less snotty than it sounded just now in your head when you read it. He was actually a pretty nice guy, just tryin to make his way, you know.

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small clipboard. "If you'll just fill this out," he said, handing me the clipboard, "it will all be taken care of. We already have your card on file."

I took the board from him, "Oh, yeah, sure." I filled it out, givin him a pretty generous tip, signed it, then handed it back to him.

As he took the clipboard, our hands touched briefly. His hand was harder than I really expect for a person, even one that works in the fields all the time. Then I looked at him a little closer. "Wait a minute..." I said.

"Yes, sir?"

"You're one of them...them, oh, what's the word?"

"A bellhop, sir?"

"Nah, that ain't it...ah, I got it! You're one of them unicorns, ain't ya?"

He looked blankly for a second. "Yes, sir. As I explained last time, I and everyone else in this hotel is a unicorn. I don't understand why you make the same joke every time you check in, but, honestly, it's beginning to grate."

"Now, don't get me wrong," I back peddled. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. It's just I ain't never seen a real know, one of y'all, before."

"One of y'all?!?!" he bellowed. "And just what do you mean by that!?!?! You know what you are? You're speciest! You filthy speciest!"

I was real embarrassed now. "Nah, it ain't nothin like that. I..look, I'm sorry."

He broke into a girn and then started laughin. "Hahahahahaha! I'm sorry, I couldn't resist! The other bellhops told me about you and your copies jumpin in here every once in awhile seemin all confused. I didn't believe it but they told me, they told me, you..." he broke down into hysterical laughter.

"Told you what?" I was curious.

He doubled over for a bit. When he was ready, he stood up and wiped his eyes. "Ok, ok...whew! I'm sorry about that, sir. But they told me you'd say 'You're one of them unicorns, ain't ya?' right after you tipped me. They also told me they always pull the old speciest joke on ya because you got a good sense of humor and can take it."

"You know," I told him, "that is pretty funny. You got me good, friend. What's your name?"

"Bobby," he said, shakin my hand. "And if you need anything, anything at all, Mr. O'Neil, just ask for me."

"Sure will, Bobby."

He stepped back into the elevator. "Enjoy your stay, sir."

"I will," I told him. Then I settled down to enjoy a week in unicorn Maui.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ropin a Spider

"So then, where was I?" asked Captain Pat when I entered his cabin.

"You was right there in that chair," I told him.

"No, no," he protested, "where was I last time we talked."

I never knew I was so dense. "Like I says, you was sittin right there in that chair. It may have been an inch or two to the left or right, but I don't think that makes much of a difference. I mean, we're pretty much the same guy, so there's no need to stand on ceremony."

He looked for a moment and then told me, "You know, I just realized somethin. I'm either the densest man in the known universe or I am an absolute genius. I'm sittin here tryin to out think you, and my brain's just runnin in circles like a doberman on coffee tryin to catch its tail."

I wanted to be polite, so I shot him a, "Thank ya kindly."

"Yeah, sure," he said, distractedly. "I meant, um, hold on, let me word this carefully...Uh, ok. What was the last part of the story I told ya last night before you went to sleep?"

I had it. "You left off on a sort of cliffhanger. I thought it was a little contrived, myself, but I just went ahead and let it slide. I done the same thing myself once in awhile, cause, sometimes, there just ain't nothin else you can do. I mean, unless your story is totally contained in one neat little package, you're gonna have to leave off somewhere. And, really, who wants to hear a story that comes in a neat little package? I mean, except for all those lovers of short stories and news clips. Just don't feel right, though. Just don't feel right."

"Why, you hit the nail right on its flat little head there, Pat. Why, I tell ya, any story wrapped up in a little package leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I figure, the longer the story, the more likely you are to answer all the questions. And I mean ALL the questions. Even the big ones, like 'Why are we here?' and 'Why are we so unhappy all the time?' and 'What's for breakfast?' I gotta say, for me, those long stories, if they're told right, can answer all them questions."

"I'd say that's true," I confirmed, "but I don't want ya thinkin all them long stories answer them questions. And most of em answer the questions in a couple different ways, which is confusin to me. I mean, what do they expect me to do? Figure it all out for myself? That'd be rich, wouldn't it?"

"Sure would, Pat, sure would," he nodded like we'd said something actually meaningful, even though both of us really knew we were just passin the time by tryin to sound smart. I didn't think much would come of it.

Then, he broke the spell by sittin bolt upright and shoutin, "I got it! The spiders! We was talkin about catchin the spiders!"

"Actually," I had to tell him, "you was talkin about almost catchin the spiders. In fact, you'd just told me about the one that got away. And then you implied that later, you made it so's they couldn't get away."

"Ah, well, then I misled you, I'm afraid. You see, the problem with the moon spiders, as I think I've said, is that they could teleport anywhere in space, so it's right hard to keep them from gettin away. What we did instead is figure out a way to make it so gettin away didn't do them a lick of good. We was strugglin to do just that, and the discovery that the spiders could be trapped by their own webs was the first thing we needed. The second thing we needed was a way to keep them from chewin through that web once they was in it.

"Tha solution came from the other side of the moon base construction site. It was totally by accident, too. You see, a couple of them Squimonk was cleanin out a coupla spider tunnels that we was gonna use for storage. They was rollin up the webbin and passin it to one another when, because of their furry little hands rubbin on each other, they worked themselves up some static electricity and shot a tiny bolt of lightning, which latched onto that there spider silk they was handlin. Well, lickety split it goes straight and stiff like, uh, well, like somethin that's long and round that gets stiff for some reason. I think you know what I'm talkin about."

"Sure do," I told him, "a tube of peperoni in the freezer."

"That wasn't exactly what I was thinkin," he told me, sheepishly.

"Then what?"

"I was think more like a spaghetti noodle in reverse," he admitted.

"Yeah, I can see that. But I don't know why you didn't just spit it out in the first place."

"I guess I didn't think it was an apt metaphor. I bet someone else could think of somethin that's sotra tube or noodle-like that goes from floppy to stiff that would make a better image here, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head."

"Yeah," I shrugged, "sometimes, that's how it goes."

"Sure is, sure is. So, there they were, holdin a web-cum-stick in their little hands when the other Alistair, what had caught the spider, came runnin in with his news. I wasn't there or nothin, but I imagine them Squimonk got a little twinkle in their eyes and then they got to work. They spent a whole day braidin and tyin together the webbing and wirin it all up to a switch. Then, they spent the whole next week collectin information about where the spiders landed when they jumped into being on the moon.

"Once they analyzed that information, they found there were certain spots that were more commonly used for spider materialization. Their theory at the time was that the spiders had themselves a system for jumpin so they didn't run into each other. But that proved to be wrong, just so's you know. I don't want you thinkin that just because them Squimonk is super smart that they know everything, cause they don't. In fact, what they don't know could fill a book. Sure, it wouldn't be a thick book, but it'd still be a book. And not no little novella, neither, which isn't really a book. It would be a real book, prolly 200 pages or so, and titled, "Things Squimonk Don't Know. Course, you'd prolly have to ban them from readin the book or hearin about it in any way cause, you know, if they read it, then the book would have to be smaller on the next go round until it was nothin but a little pamphlet. And, really, who'd gonna buy a pamphlet about what Squimonk don't know. You'd have to give it away in a doctor's office or somethin with other 'What you don't know about...' type pamphlets. But we didn't find out they didn't know this until they'd learned it, but by then, it was already too late for it to go in the book."

"This has almost nothing to do with capturin spiders," I told him, "unless you bashed them on the head with a copy of that book."

"You're right," he said, "and we didn't. In fact, all we did was sit next to a switch and wait. We musta sat there for days, just playin cribbage and havin a good ol' fashioned makin stuff up contest. I got second place for my story about a block of cheese becomin president because of his skills with a bow and arrow. I think the clincher was when I named him Cheester A. Archer.

"I was just acceptin my prize, a medal made out of an old donut, as is traditional, when a spider jumped into the webs we'd laid out. The Alistair there whispered to me, 'Now!' and I threw the switch, electrifyin the webs.

"That webbing, which the Squimonk had braided and tied together jumped up into a perfect cage right around that spider, lookin like a soccer ball made out of chicken wire. Fearin for itself, it jumped away, but it took the cage with it. It kept flickerin in and out of view, presumably jumpin about the universe, and every time it flickered, there was more stuff in the cage. I don't know how many worlds it must have jumped to, but when it came back, there was all sortsa weird stuff stuck in the holes of that trap. Unmentionable things and one pair of ladies' unmentionables. I don't know what world that was, but after seein them unmentionables, I ain't sure I wanna know.

"As I know now, teleportin is tough business. It can tire ya out more than diggin a ditch in the middle of an asphalt road with an ice cream sample spoon. And eventually, that spider just collapsed in the middle of the cage, plum tuckered out.

"Once he had awoken from his swoon, he just hung his spider head and said, 'Just kill me and get it over with.'

"I say he said it, but he didn't exactly use words. Them spiders is telepaths, if you didn't know, so he just sorta broadcast his feelin to everyone in the room, like our brains was wads of silly putty and he laid his comic on top of em. At that, one of the Alistairs sidled up to the cage, laid a paw on the spider's leg and said, 'We have no intention of killing you, and we don't want to harm you, either. We're just here to bargain with you.'

"Well, the spider looked mighty surprised at this. A whole bunch of thoughts went racin through out heads from the spider, the most powerful of which was, 'You can't bargain with meth addicts, even if they are building a moon base.'

"That Alistair explained that we wasn't no meth addicts, and then laid out our position. Then the spider told all of us that he would speak to the spider high council, but not to expect help in our fights because spiders is pacifists. That's why they didn't kill none of us. They said they got compassion and love for every living creature because we all live in a cold, uncaring universe and we continually try to convince ourselves otherwise and this makes us unhappy on such a deep level that we think unhappiness is built into the very fabric of existence, when, in actuality, the real problem is that we expect the universe to turn around and be nice to us, even though most of it is just blind processes with no morality whatsoever and so the real problem ends up bein our expectations and not anything about the universe itself. In the final analysis, our consciousness is really to blame."

"Huh?" I asked. "I didn't get most of that."

"Yeah, me neither," he said, "I basically just memorized it cause it sounded fancy. I don't think there's much to it, though, so I wouldn't worry too much about it."

"I won't then. What happened with the spiders?"

"Like I says, they're hardcore pacifists, so they wasn't willing to join in the fighting. But they did allow us to use the moon to build a base from which we could mount an invasion. They also agreed to give us some of their venom in small quantities so that new Pats can be given the ability to teleport anywhere in the universe they want."

"Am I gonna be gettin that?" I asked.

"If you want. I gotta warn ya, though, it ain't the most pleasant of experiences."

"Needles and stuff?

"Nah, it just tastes like a week dead skunk on the highway soaked in patchouli. I nearly vomited," he explained. "But if you hold your nose, it ain't so bad."