1 The Hunchback of a Little Town North of Portland
Bud’s friend in Oregon, the man who perfected the etymological confabulation drive, was a walleyed hunchback who muttered incessantly and had a tendency to snarl when addressing other people.
“Welcome,” he snarled, eyeing them in an ambiguous way . . . well, most of them had the feeling that he was not looking directly at them. The Little Rabbi, unfortunately, could not shake the feeling the man was looking directly at him, even when he was turned away. The Little Rabbi gripped the tube of his rolled up comic book and looked down at his white knuckles. The black feather he had started to use as a marker protruded from one end of the tube.
“This is my friend, Blaze,” Bud said. “Blaze, this is Unk, and this is Kat, C. S. Lewis—yes, the C. S. Lewis, and this is the Little Rabbi. Oh, yes, it is Mr. Blaze to you, Little Rabbi. And, of course, this is Pete.”
“You’re bringing a yak?”
“Ah, yes. She’s a very special yak. And she will yield fresh milk.”
The mention of fresh yak milk seemed to appeal to Blaze. As he eyed Pete his muttering seemed to take on a cheerful tone, but then it grew dubious. “Don’t know where we’ll put a yak. What about these boxes?” He snarled.
“Oh yes,” Bud said rubbing his hands and momentarily forgetting what he had been about to say as he sought to avoid Blaze’s eye, for it was a confusing thing to attempt. “Ah, yes, that’s Mr. and Mrs. Dracula. They’re good friends also.”
“What’s in the third box?”
“Um . . . the complete works of Charles Grandison Finney.”
Blaze drew back in horror. To the Little Rabbi, it seemed Blazed eyed him with disfavor, as if holding him personally responsible for the presence on his property of nefarious literature. It made the Little Rabbi extremely uneasy.
“So,” C. S. Lewis said, attempting to rescue Bud from more awkward questions, “You designed the space ship, did you?”
“Eh?” Blaze barked. “No such thing. Designed the drive, well, came up with the main idea for it.”
The hunchback turned and stumped back into his villa making a sign to ward off the evil eye; he left the party of newcomers on the porch. Bud turned and said, “I should have explained something about him before you met.”
“Well, it is quite understandable, we gave him a shock showing up on his front porch with that third box,” Kat said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Unk said. “Is he . . . coming with us?”
“I don’t think so. His brother Ned built the spaceship. Blaze funded it. He owns a chain of restaurants called Quasimodo’s; very popular chain too. Blaze got the business flair and Ned got the engineering skills.”
“Oh I can’t wait to meet Ned,” Kat said.
2 The Sage’s Folly
On the distant planet Golf, at the top of the mountain of Hinga Lum Dura, the sage was having second thoughts. As a result he climbed down the mountain and went to the arid plain of Dinga Punalda where an even wiser sage lived under a piece of plywood wedged into a crack in a rock.
The sage of Hinga Lum Dura performed the necessary ritual and then coughed discreetly in order to wake the wiser sage. The sage of Dinga Punalda opened one eye, then the other and nodded once to acknowledge the presence of his visitor. Casting himself on his face in the dust, the sage of Hinga Lum Dura explained the advice he had given and the person he had recommended to the scientists.
The wiser sage was silent for a whole week while the sage of Hinga Lum Dura waited in the dust. Then he asked, “Are you keeping anything from me?”
The sage of Hinga Lum Dura was so startled that he rose on all fours and looked directly at the wiser sage. “By the spangled gown of Kameldeergard!” He exclaimed. “I scratched both armpits at the same time.”
The wiser sage looked at the sage of Hinga Lum Dura with mild rebuke. He said no more, for he knew the sage of Hinga Lum Dura had realized his folly.
“Oh master,” said the lesser to the greater, “I ought to have refrained from scratching both armpits simultaneously. Will you tell me what might have been?”
The greater gave the lesser a stern look, and condescended to give the slightest shake of his head.
Of course not, you son of a jackal, the sage of Hinga Lum Dura thought. He prostrated himself in the dust and performed the necessary ritual before departing with all due humility.
Discouraged at his failure, the sage of Hinga Lum Dura decided to get drunk. Coming out of the liquor store he met with Drs Spigot, Crinkle and Principle. They eyed each other awkwardly: the sage wondering if they would loose all confidence in him, they wondering what kind of sage came out of liquor stores laden down with goods.
“Um, I need to talk to you boys. I’m afraid I gave you bad advice,” the sage said, deciding it was time to come clean. And then, deciding that coming clean altogether might not serve his best interests, added, “I was just buying some presents for . . . for my boss. I mean, I need some of this stuff for divination, but some of it is a present for my boss. . . . for his divination, you see.”
Rats, the sage of Hinga Lum Dura said to himself, that was stupid; I’ve lost all my confidence just because I forgot to follow the right procedure. He decided to amend his ways altogether and dumped the liquor in a trash can and then beckoned the three men to follow him. He gave them no further explanation but headed back out of the city and up the mountain. They exchanged glances: Spigot of sheer amazement, Crinkle of confusion, and Principle a supercilious knowing leer. They followed the sage back up to his cave.
“I followed the wrong procedure,” the sage confessed to the three scientists. “I should have scratched only one armpit at a time rather than scratching both. As a result, I was more confident of Felonious Assault than I ought to have been.”
Dr. Spigot gasped. “So he’s not reliable?”
The wind howled around the summit of Hinga Lum Dura as the scientists watched the abject sage. He shook his head.
“No, I’m afraid your invention may have fallen into the wrong hands. By the camel! There’s no telling whether he’ll tinker with it or not.”
“You mean he won’t just use it?” Dr. Crinkle asked, aghast.
“He’ll get into the inner workings and change the settings,” Dr. Principle said. “I doubt Felonious Assault will have read about it in the J.P.S.Umug, but if he does, he’ll find out he can change the settings.”
“That will completely ruin the experiment!” Dr. Spigot said.
“Well, who cares?” Dr. Principle replied. “It will still show the machine works.”
“What could he change the settings to do?” The sage now asked the three scientists.
They exchanged glances and shrugged.
“Anything he likes.”
3 A Misdirected Beam
Felonious Assault had indeed come into possession of the J.P.S.Umug and had studied it like it was the latest polling data. He had let himself into the radiation wing of the Outreach Hospital and had tinkered with the settings. He not only attempted to change the side effect the radiation would have (rather than aspirations to world domination, those subjected would become fundamentalists—a minor adjustment), he had attempted to redirect and concentrate the beam so that it would nuke the subject’s brains at the same time. In his first goal, he was successful, but in the second, he made a small mistake.
Dr. Federico Somaro was in charge of the sinister Plovalis apparatus and unlike the sage of Hinga Lum Dura he had no second thoughts whatever. He was a good man—well, he was basically a good man . . . well, he was not nearly as bad as some of them are and he would play with his kids after work even if he was tired. All he wanted to do was to make his machine work, document the results, write about them in journals, and talk about them at conventions in Acapulco and the Bahamas. What happened was no fault of his own.
Larry and Harold, the first to undergo treatment, said they felt great afterwards and shook hands all around. The experiment continued all week and all the deacons were monitored closely, but their tumors remained and they merely aspired to whatever Doc’s latest project was (he changed the name of his weekly publication; he did a revival for the folks in Tulsa; he abruptly separated from the folks in Tulsa; he strongly condemned anything in the vicinity of Tulsa; he pronounced anathema on a local restaurant when they put a cockroach in his sandwich in an effort to discourage his patronage; etc). The only thing that happened was that an old woman sweeping the sidewalks on the north end of Doc’s compound had her brains nuked out, but she seldom used them anyway.
Well, one other thing happened, the woman became even more fanatically loyal.
Dr. Somaro thought the machine was a big waste, and Felonious Assault, although he read and re-read the article, could not figure out what went wrong. Dull Sodder, however, had been diligently going round with a Geiger counter and noticed that whenever the Plovalis machine was in use, the radiation seemed strongest in a line due north of the radiation wing. He was the one who discovered the old woman, but he told nobody about that either.
4 The Chickens
“The only thing I regret about this is that it interrupts the plan I was working on,” Unk observed. They were standing at in a small concrete bunker waiting for an elevator to take them down to the spaceship.
“Your plan to infiltrate Doc’s compound?” The Little Rabbi asked.
“It was something like an infiltration, only more ingenious.”
“That usually means it is just plain bizarre,” Kat said to C. S. Lewis as they entered the elevator ahead of Unk and the Little Rabbi. “Which,” she continued, “Prompts a question.”
She waited until the doors closed and then asked Unk, “What was that charge on the credit card for twenty thousand dollars to a place in Iowa called the Happy Hen?”
“I had to buy a chicken farm,” Unk said.
Kat turned to C. S. Lewis and said, “See?”
“Why did you buy a chicken farm?” The Little Rabbi wanted to know.
“Well, it was part of my plan to deal with Doc. I needed the eggs, you see, but I had to have them close.”
“What were you going to do with the eggs?” Kat asked, unable to help herself.
“You know how they have the Easter egg hunt every year at Doc’s compound as an outreach?”
The Little Rabbi and Kat nodded. C. S. Lewis was shocked, not being entirely familiar with the state of religion in the world.
“The Easter bunny gives a clear presentation of the gospel, apparently,” Kat said to C. S. Lewis, and his eyes grew round.
Unk proceeded with his explanation, “Well, I was going to empty all the whites and yolks out with a needle and then inject them with ketchup. Then I would paint them and sell them to Doc’s people for the Easter egg hunt. Just think, thousands of eggs in all the best hiding places all over the compound!”
“Ingenious,” said the clever Little Rabbi, catching on as quick as usual. Kat looked on the Little Rabbi as upon a madman. Then the elevator dinged, the doors opened, and they emerged into cavern. A silver space ship with an open underbelly ramp rested on three impossibly slender, extended landing legs.
“Would you explain to me the purpose of the ketchup?” C. S. Lewis asked the Little Rabbi.
“To neutralize and isolate the Ambiguous Spontaneators,” he explained.
Unk nodded and C. S. Lewis looked impressed, but Kat still looked skeptical.
“Where were the chickens?”
“I had them moved right outside of the compound into an old warehouse. It is right on the north of where they built that new hospital. They’ll still be there when we’ve come back from dealing with Kameldeergard, I hope.”
That the ship should be located in an enclosed, underground bunker was no obstacle to its departure, for the principle of the ECD made the notion of a trajectory completely irrelevant. No, the only hazard lay in the randomness with which it picked each leg, or stopping place, along its way. The ship would simply materialize in whatever arbitrary locations the ECD considered necessary, or at least plausible, to its final destination.
One of the things Blaze had not managed to work out was how long the ship would remain at any of the steps along the way. But he could more or less predict when the ship was getting ready to make the next leg of the journey and had rigged an alarm to notify the ship’s complement so they were not left behind. This alarm was a page right out of his successful restaurant business: pagers.
The ship was crowded, what with Pete and the extra hay, the vampires and the extra blood, our four heroes, Bud, Blaze who had been planning to come along all the time, and his brother Ned.
Ah yes, Ned. Ned, you see was a rocket scientist. He had, after all, designed the ship.
“Isn’t it cool how weird the legs look?” He’d asked them when they first met him. He’d come down the ramp when they came out of the elevator. “They’re perfectly strong. We’ve tested them to withstand the weight one hundred times greater. I think its cool how weird they look.” He grinned, and moved his head quickly to look at the legs, their faces, the legs, and back to their faces, eager to discern their appreciation.
The Little Rabbi thought the weird legs were cool and said so, making a friend of Ned forever, exciting further enthusiasm.
“The hydropropelant unexampled diminutive radiatron configuration is twice the removable unfetteredisticated proximate of disjointed ligation.”
This caused the Little Rabbi to reflect that his agreement has been a bit hasty.
6 The Language of the Restoration
After a particularly long bout of reading Faulkner, it came to pass that Unk developed a southern accent.
“Will you quit talking that way?” Kat said.
“Whut I done?”
“Quit with the southern accent!”
“I aint got no accint. This is the languich of the restorashun of order, and a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.”
“Now it aint right to take and fetch swipes at a feller’s style. Everybody outer have style. I aint aginst the way other people fetch their style and it aint nobody’s bidnis if my style aint their style, espeshally if it were close to the style of President Davis. Although I don’t say its the same. There aint no cause to go jumping on me for what I aint said . . . in case you were temptid. I will say it’s the languich of the restorashun of order.”
“Sho nuff,” the Little Rabbi volunteered.
“Augh!” and “Criten!” Kat cried, and went out the airlock.
“I reckin she done called you a Criten,” Unk drawled.
“I don’t reckin she ment it.”
“I don’t neither. It aint a bad idea though.”
“Calling you a Criten.”
“Aint it a marketing dee-vice?”
“Are yer scairt?”
“I aint scairt! I just aint allowing as how it aint a bad idea.”
“Nawful lot of ‘aints’ in that there sentince.”
“Aint it the languich of the restoration? Aint that what you said?”
“Shore is. The Languich of President Davis himself,” Unk said, glacing around to make sure his wife did not overhear the last bit.
“Yore wife aint big on it.”
“She aint. I noticed it myself. Sometimes wives is like that. I’ll have to figger on it.”
“Don’t wear yerself out onit.”
“I’m still fixin to call you the Criten.”
“Aww, aint you got another plan to work on?”
“I need a good marketing dee-vice.”
“How come I gotta get all the dirty jobs?”
“It aint no dirty job. It’s teamwork. Aint we a team?”
“I aint saying we aint no team. I just want more interlekchul challenges.”
“I reckin yer better leave the interlekchul challenges to me till you get older.”
Reason, who had been overhearing all this, fell to the floor laughing. But nobody heard her; as always, her laughter was silent.
“Oh yes,” Kat said, having been forced to return to retrieve her book. “Better leave the ‘interlekchul’ challenges to him!”
“I’ll be dawg!” Unk said.
“You wouldn’t know an intellectual challenge if it punched you in the gut.”
“Sho nuff,” the Little Rabbi volunteered.
Unk, who knew a fiery temper when he met one, especially considering he had married the owner of this one, refrained from saying anything in the language of the restoration or otherwise.
7 The Hard Boiled Eggs
They had been stranded on a grim planet for three weeks. The ECD was taking its time, and the strain was starting to tell; the language of the restoration was not the only sign. Outside, the skies were a fatuous shade of lavender and the ground was covered in vegetation that resembled nothing so much as raw sewage—the only difference was that it smelled worse.
The only person who had wandered far from the ship had been the hunchback, Blaze. He’d taken Pete since Pete seemed to thrive on the local vegetation and a curious bond seemed to have sprung up between these two unlikely creatures. (And the even more curious thing was that Pete’s milk was considerably improved by the change in diet, or at least Blaze claimed as much. Nobody else drank the yak milk even though there was enough to share.) One day they found a shaft in the ground with road going down into it, spiraling along the edge.
“Well,” Blaze said. He was in the habit of talking familiarly to Pete even though Pete could not answer. “I don’t mind going a little way down to see what’s there.” They had already come a little farther than he felt was safe. Should the pager start beeping, he would be hard put to return before the ship winked away. He hesitated, but they had been on the planet so long that he doubted the ship would chose to take off at that very minute.
Blaze and Pete descended into the shaft. There they found there was intelligent life on the planet, and that the inhabitants of the planet resembled hard boiled eggs. The hard boiled eggs had managed, through a series of elaborate hand gestures and some interpretive dancing, to extend an invitation to Blaze and Pete to come into one of their caves for tea when Blaze’s pager started beeping. He had to get back to the ship!
No time for apologies and farewells either, especially none involving elaborate hand gestures and interpretive dancing!
“Bye guys!” and “Come on Pete!” Was all Blaze had time for. He dashed back up the ramp out of the shaft with Pete hoofing it behind him. Unfortunately, not only was this abrupt departure a deep insult in the culture of the hard boiled eggs, there was nothing more insulting to them than the beeping of a pager. In their culture, one declared war by setting a pager on the desk of the leader of one’s enemies and then making it go off and walking away.
The hard boiled eggs of Alcantarillicon—as their planet was called—were not without technological sophistication, especially when it came to weapons grade yo-yos. Their martial mastery of these seemingly innocuous devices was absolute. The dedication of their massed ranks of armies was fanatical. There were very few right handed hard boiled eggs who could not “walk the dog” with their left hand as easily as they could with their right. Those who could not master the art of the samurai yo-yo by the age of twenty were eliminated or encouraged either to become wall-paper designers or to manufacture tea doilies.
When the mortal insult to their species was inadvertently conveyed by Blaze, the drums began to sound in the depths of the shaft, sending the message reverberating through the ground. Back at the space ship, the The Little Rabbi was the first person to sense something was wrong. When the beeper had gone off, everybody had become excited and now they were making sure everything was stowed away, even Unk. But the Little Rabbi lived a life of preparation and had been ready all along. He was standing at the bottom of the ramp and looking out over the raw sewage landscape. He felt the vibrations shaking the ground under the edge of the ramp.
The vibrations of the drums of the hard boiled eggs stirred something deep inside the The Little Rabbi. His eyesight became suddenly keener; his extremities tingled; he held his rolled up comic book with deadly purpose; he sniffed the wind . . . and regretted it instantly.
When he recovered he looked out and saw Blaze and Pete lumbering toward the ship. And then behind them, rising over the ground like a motorcycle gang out of the heat haze came the hard boiled eggs. Soon their awful cries of war reached the Little Rabbi’s ears and he decided the best thing would be to turn his ears off.
The warning lights on the ship began to blink: a row of red lights flashing all around the ramp, indicating it would soon be shutting for departure. Blaze and Pete were drawing near. But so were the hard boiled eggs.
Ten yards from the ship the first hard boiled eggs cast their deadly yo-yos at Blaze and Pete, missing them narrowly. The Little Rabbi saw this last with horror. He felt the ramp under him begin to vibrate. And then everything became slow, like on a movie.
“No!” Screamed the Little Rabbi, and his face moved slowly, wrenched with frantic intensity as he pronounced each syllable—which was odd since there was only one syllable to pronounce.
He leapt in slow motion, with majestically large strides and gargantuan gestures, flourishing the rolled comic book he had brought with him against the hard boiled eggs. In two strides he had reached Blaze and Pete. He flourished the comic book at the hard boiled eggs. A yo-yo caught the comic book and sliced it nearly in half. The Little Rabbi still held half of it high; the other half fluttered into the air, opening, and out of the pages came the black feather.
Blaze and Pete had gained the ship and Blaze whirled to see about the Little Rabbi. He saw something strange. There was the The Little Rabbi in an attitude of defiance, clutching half of a rolled up comic book in his hand. And before him was the army of the hard boiled eggs, stopped in their tracks, watching the black feather drift gently to the ground between them. It was a mighty moment, a significant moment, but Blaze was not the sort of chap to make much of such moments. He reached out and grabbed the The Little Rabbi by the collar and pulled him onto the closing ramp. And they were away.
On the planet Alcantarillicon the hard boiled eggs stood motionless looking at the feather lying on the ground before them. It was to signal a revolution. Although they could sense something of great significance had just happened, they had no idea what it was.
8 The Conglomerate
The second leg of the journey, unfortunately, landed them right in the Transcendental Arrangement. They were so bored that Unk and the Little Rabbi took to pretending they were communists.
“Hand me the salad, comrade,” Unk cried.
“Will you quit calling me comrade?” Kat replied. “I’m your wife.”
“Well,” Unk said, looking at the Little Rabbi. “Will you hand me the salad, comrade?”
“Certianly, comrade,” replied he.
“Long live the revolution!” They said in unison.
“Good meal, comrade,” Unk said. Kat left the room abruptly.
“I don’t reckin . . . I mean, it doesn’t seem to me, comrade, she is very pleased,” the Little Rabbi observed.
“It probably weren’t a bad idea if we mixup the languich of the glorious revolution and the languich of the restoration of order. I don’t reckin President Davis nor Karl Marx would objec.”
“I don’t reckin so, comrade.”
“Still fixin to call yer comrade Criten.”
“Aint so bad if you add on ‘comrade’, comrade.”
“Nope. Aint bad a-tall.”
“It don’t sound right to say comrade with the languich of President Davis, though, do it?”
“Odd how suddenly I was thinking the same myself. I reckin you might have a point there.”
So they went back to just pretending to be communists.
Another way in which they attempted to elude boredom was by playing tricks on C. S. Lewis. The galley of the ship was built like a short-order diner so that Bud could work his magic. Unk and the Little Rabbi would go and eat whenever C. S. Lewis did, and Unk would sit between the Little Rabbi and C. S. Lewis. If there was any salt near them, they would conceal it when C. S. Lewis was not looking. Then Unk would ask C. S Lewis to pass the salt. Receiving it, he would continue to maintain eye contact with C. S. Lewis while passing the salt on to the silent Little Rabbi. The Little Rabbi would liberally dose his food with salt, trying all the while to make eye contact with C. S. Lewis. After a while, the Little Rabbi would thrust the salt into Unk’s field of peripheral vision and Unk would take it and set it down again in front of C. S. Lewis. Then all would resume eating. Afterward, Unk and the Little Rabbi would laugh a lot.
When the trick with the salt got old after a few weeks, Unk and the Little Rabbi took to gazing on art to pass the time. They got a book of Albrecht Durer’s prints and leafed through until they found the one of St. Jerome in his study.
“There’s a deep one,” Unk said. “That is a really good painting, comrade.”
C. S. Lewis, who happened to be in the room at the time, pointed out to them it was actually an engraving, to which Unk replied, “No, I’m talking about the original, comrade.”
C. S. Lewis merely nodded.
“Why is that skull there on the window, comrade?” The Little Rabbi asked.
Unk thought for a while and then said, “Old St. Jerome’s brain was so big he sometimes took his skull out so he could think better.”
The Little Rabbi gazed on the engraving for a while longer and then asked how come he left his jaw in.
“I don’t think Al Durer was the brightest person that ever painted, comrade,” Unk explained. “I think he was poor too, but his parents were good people so we shouldn’t hold it against him.”
There was a stifled sound behind them and they turned to look at C. S. Lewis who might have just sneezed . . . or something.
“I believe that in the original painting, of which this is clearly a knock off,” C. S. Lewis observed, “The jaw was attached.”
“That explains it,” Unk said.
At that point C. S. Lewis departed.
Unk and the Little Rabbi had resumed speaking the language of the restoration until Kat had entered the room, at which point they fell silent. Unk got up to get something to drink and inadvertently brushed against the Little Rabbi, with peculiar results.
Their bodies coalesced with a sickening sound that brought C. S. Lewis running to see what had happened.
“Well, well, well,” Kat remarked.
“What happened?” C. S. Lewis asked. “Who is this?”
“Looks like the a-team finally came together,” Kat observed. “The Little Rabbi and Unk just coalesced.”
“What? How do you mean?”
“By some mystery of physics, their bodies have coalesced to form a new creature.”
“How odd,” C. S. Lewis said.
“This goes a ways back. They had started finishing each other’s sentences as if their minds were melding,” Kat said. “I think the rot of their minds brought about by whatever it is has brought about the southern accents and this ‘comrade’ business finally tipped the scales.
The new creature was silent, apparently absorbing this new turn of events.
“What are we going to call you now,” Kat wondered, “the Lunk?”
“I’d rather be called . . . the Conglomerate,” it said.
“Well,” Kat said after a moment, “I’m not your wife anymore.”
“Baby,” the Conglomerate began, but then fell silent, apparently struggling with itself.
“This is too crazy,” C. S. Lewis muttered, turning away.
The Conglomerate fell to the floor.
“I think,” Kat said, eyeing the Conglomerate and prodding it with her boot, “that we ought to separate them.”
“We probably need to find the cause of the problem before we can find the solution, don’t you think?”
“I’m entirely in agreement. What, though, could be the cause?”