Zoe’s Tale ARC: A Contest
Posted on May 12, 2008 Posted by John Scalzi 289 Comments
Here you see Kodi with an ARC of Zoe’s Tale, guarding it with all the fierceness of Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades. Sure, you could try taking the ARC from her, but afterward, you would only be able to count to five on your fingers. I’m not trying to frighten you, I’m just letting you know how that would work out.
Fortunately, there’s a way for you to acquire a signed Zoe’s Tale’s ARC that doesn’t involve sacrificing your least-favorite hand to get it. How? Well, I’m running a contest, you see. Right here. Right now. Here’s how to play:
Explain the events of the night of August 19, 1994.
Huh? You say. What did happen on the night of August 19, 1994? Well, that’s my point: There’s a lot of confusion on what really happened. That’s why we need you to explain it. Perhaps you were there. Perhaps you know someone who was there. Perhaps you heard something about that evening on the Internet or other source. However you know the details, share them with us. Aside from reporting the “facts,” do not be afraid to insert your own speculation or commentary concerning the events: your personal interpretation is valuable — nay, necessary.
Do not be deterred by others who may offer up entirely different facts, speculation or commentary. As I said, there’s a lot of confusion about what really happened. Just give it your best shot, and post your explanation/speculation in the comment thread here. Heck, you can even post more than one explanation — even if that second explanation completely contradicts your other explanation. Just get your posting in before 11:59:59 pm on Thursday, May 15 (Eastern Time). On Friday, May 16, I’ll announce the winner. And then we’ll all know what truly happened on that fateful night.
So: The evening of August 19, 1994. What can you tell me about it?
(Hint for the new folks: If you’re actually searching Wikipedia, trying to figure out what happened in the real world on that date, you’re doing it wrong.)
It’s all a blur
Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate and one of the modern era’s most important chemists, died.
In other news, I was personally preparing for the start of my second year of law school at a noted (translation = “very damned expensive”) private southern institution of higher learning. Yes, the facilities weren’t necessarily the best, but the lawns were IMMACULATE.
I also was one month and six days past my 26th birthday.
HTH. THXBAI :-)
For those who missed the subtext, I’m not necessarily interested in what events you can find for the date on Wikipedia.
Those events were covered by attorney-client priveledge. Vince Foster knew nothing about that. Hillary will release the records in due time. It’s W’s fault. Onward to Denver!
well first off i was 6 years old… and sadly i have no memory of anything that happend in my life before i was 10 years old however doing some rather quick research i found that the date in specific “August 19, 1994” was 3 days before my birthday *did not need any research for that* sure Linus Pauling died and yes his first name is almost Linux which was beginning its rise as a free Operating system to fight the war against Micro$oft. However there were much odder things happening such as the US Government passed a bill to prevent Ozone Depletion by amending the Refrigerant Recycling Regulations. Still nothing amazing.. unless the earth loves us.. which from the weather right now in Ohio it sure does not.
Also my Cat Spooky was born that week. She is still alive she is a Pure black cat.. and sadly i have no camera or i would post a link to a picture of her :D
lol can i get my post deleted i want to do another thats better. and not stupid.
Just for clarification.
About how may words/paragraphs would make a comfortable read for you?
Write whatever you want, Ray.
If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
I may not be the most reliable witness as I’d been drinking since lunchtime. Still, I swear that the train was airborne for over twenty seconds after it hit the empty Amish wagon that was stuck on the track. How the wagon, which appeared to be made of nothing more than wood, iron, and cloth; could have launched a twenty-car Amtrak passenger liner over a quarter mile is beyond my comprehension, sober or not. In any case, the train somehow tracked straight as Dice Clay, stuck its landing like Nadia Comaneci, and continued barreling it’s way toward Omaha with no more damage than a few spilled glasses of white Zinfandel in the dining car.
It was only when an army green jeep towed the remains of the wagon away that I began to wonder when the Military Industrial Complex had gotten to the Amish. I attempted to follow up on my suspicions by tracking down the driver of the wagon, but there are few beings less talkative than an Amish man with a secret. Stymied, I’d managed to almost completely forget about that night until today, when Scalzi has to bring it up from out of nowhere. Why, John, why? What do you know about the event in Creston, Iowa on the night in question? Perhaps my investigation needs to begin again with a short little trip to Ohio.
Lets see August 19, 1994 i was Six years old. I cannot remember it at all due to an accident that happend when i was ten however, from what my parents told me and the pictures i have it was an amazing day. From what i understand the world was on its heels, as more and more UFO sightings were being reported all over the earth. No one person knew for sure if it was an attack or simply an observation. But i had it in my mind to find out. Sure i was only six and i could not even drive a vehicle or pronounce all my vowels but i was going to try. So i made a hat out of foil and went to the roof where i tried to use my flash light to communicate with the ships that were above us. After an hour or so of randomly flashing the light on and off and waving it around, something started to happen. Several of the ships started coming down to the house with multi colored lights all around the side. One of the ships landed on the yard, and a recantular door opened up on the side. And you would never believe what the picture shows that i saw…. They were just trying to share their IceCream it was a fleet of IceCream Spaceships *not just your average truck* However from the look on everyones faces on the photos the icecream was horrible.
It was a dark and stormy night, but not where I lived. John Scalvi and I were hanging out under a pepper tree in Balboa Park, watching as the derelicts and alcoholics shambled past on their way to the weekly feed. John was plastered, I was mellow, and Barney the Dodgy Dog was getting high off some cat poop.
We amused ourselves speculating about the circumstances surrounding the bums’ coming to be there, while Barney made snide comments about their tastes in booze. About 8 in the evening Scalvi announced he had to go read a few comments in the “I met John Scalvi” thread to be posted 14 years in the future, but his temporal transport suffered a mis-timing event and he wound up sleeping off his drunk in a 4th millennium BC Lagash alley. Barney and I wound up discussing 29th century AD theoretical physics (never got it, though Barney used the simplest language he could) and how Britney Spears came to be confused with Inanna in the Neo-Sumerian revival of 2593.
August 19, 1994, when written in American Standard Date Format, is 08191994. Turned upside-down, that spells “hbblbl8o,” on a graphing calculator.
Meaningless to humans, the word “hbblbl8o” is an ancient term meaning “lopsided cat” to the inhabitants of the planet Hbl. Having lost their most cherished leader, who often took the form of a lopsided cat, the Hblites had been searching for signs on their graphing calculators for millenia. It wasn’t until a young Earthling, by the name of Penelope Witherspoon, got drunk and mistyped the hilarious calculator joke, “If there was 1 girl, and she was 16, and had 69 3 times a day…” that the Hblites found what was henceforth to be known as the Lopsided Prophecy.
Invading Earth at 13:37 (“LEEl” in Hblese) on August 19, 1994, the Hblites attempted to destroy all of the human race. Unfortunately, being only about 2 centimeters tall, they just landed on the ear of a common housecat and annoyed it.
That’s when the universe was created. And all of our memories and everything else.
Jesus, I’ll never forget that night.
I was in South Korea for my second tour at Yongsan Army Installation in Seoul. I was a broadcaster, working at American Forces Korea Network (also know as another F$%#*&^ Korea Nightmare). I had been working the overnight shift for the last three months or so and the insomnia was keeping me awake in the wee hours, even though I had to be on the air and chipper at six that morning. Itaewan was hot and muggy. The cicada’s were in full voice, drowning out the traffic and the hucksters yells. Even the bar girls were staying inside near the fans and ice blocks.
I was on my way back to the barracks, it was too late for a cab, so I started hooffing it. As I waited for the light to change, (No one jaywalked in Seoul. the drivers there use the horn in lieu of brakes, and will turn a nice two lane road into a four lane horn honking, epithet screaming nightmare in a matter of minutes.) a little old lady walked out of the darkness and asked me “You like little girl?” I was tired, hot, sticky, slightly drunk and in no mood to deal with street hustlers or pimps at that hour. I looked at her and said, “Leave me alone, Ajima, I’m not in the mood.” she tsked to herself, and muttered “Dongseongaeja”, the korean word for a gay man. That was it, I lost my temper and told her to get my jollies I’d need forty pounds of jello, a ukelele, sixteen tongue depressors, an egg beater, one llama, shaved, a small filipino boy, unshaved, and a spanish-english dictionary.
She looked at me sideways for a moment, smiled a quiet little smile, and then yelled back…”Kim, give me a number 16, and shave the llama!”
It had been seven months and two days since the quake. It had been five months and twenty-nine days since I found out I was pregnant. I was as big as house, suffering from indigestion induced insomnia. I was sitting in the construction site that had been my house, glugging maalox by the cupsfull.
I heard a noise, not the very very loud noise of The Quake, which sounded like a freight train. Nor was it the very loud pop of an aftershock. The noise wasn’t the squeak of my distorted doorways creaking open or the shriek of my twisted windows. It wasn’t the howl of the Santa Ana wind. Instead, what I heard was the still small voice of a soft brass instrument.
I looked up from my maalox. In front of me was a small creature, dressed in a filmy dress with gossamer wings. I wondered whether hallucinations were associated with maalox intoxication. The little creature looked at me with a twinkle in its eye. It said with a voice that tinkled like a silver bell “I am your fairy guardian. I bring you the traditional good wish for your baby. I’m sorry that I’m early, but I’m trying to get ahead of the game since a LOT of babies have been conceived in the past few months. So, here’s my wish for your baby.”
I goggled. What kind of gift would a fairy give an earthquake baby?
“Your son was conceived to the noise of the earth moving. Therefore, I shall give him the power to move the earth.”
What did this mean? Would he be a powerful speaker? A great engineer? A business man of wealth and influence?
“He will reach his ninth year and discover his talent. It will be shiny and brass. It will be a trombone. And he will love it.”
The fairy disappeared before I could breath to protest.
The Son came to the world in the usual way.
Time passed and I forgot all about my hallucination on August 19, 1994.
One day, when he was in fourth grade, he came home with the band announcement. Mr. Murphy was starting a school band, and all the kids who were interested could try all the different instruments. My son wanted to go. So we went.
The very first instrument my son saw was the trombone. As the fairy’s words returned to my memory, I saw him pick it up, blow a loud ***blat*** and fall in love. I was too late. At that very moment, he became a trombonist.
My son is thirteen, now. If you hear a strong sound, not at all like the still voice of a small trumpet, it is probably the large voice of a dedicated trombone player, moving the world one note at a time. And it all started with a fairy’s visit on August 19, 1994.
My grandfather died days before this.
I sat their that night writing poetry and letters in my diary and crying.
Oh, wait. You told me about this years ago, while we were waiting out that ninja attack. August 19, 1994 was the night you went to the carnival and the mechanical fortune teller gave you a cryptic message. At the time you thought it might have some relevance to the ninjas’ sudden appearance, but once they destroyed the primrose patch, it became obvious that the two were unrelated. (Nice move with the trident, by the way. I think I forgot to compliment you on that, but then, we had other things to worry about. Did you ever get the ding out of the convertible?)
Now though, the meaning is clear. I trust you no longer need me to interpret “ZTARC TO MRK.”
According to my journal, I’ll be attending the Bootstraps Time Travellers Convention in Butler, Missouri on April 19, 1994. Unfortunately, I’ll have too much to drink at the opening gala and the notes get a little sketchy after that.
Sadly, my notes indicate that I did not win this contest. Apparently, someone knew what really happened on April 19, 1994 and had the common sense to secure the negatives with a reliable third party with instructions to send them to Us Magazine if anything should happen.
I don’t care what the conspiracy theorists said, it was the bunny-rabbits.
Ok before I sit down and write my memories of that sad day. I must ask one favor.
When I win the contest, Can I have one that has not been slobbered on?
My 16th birthday party.
All I remember from that night is dying…and I am still trying to find the damn light!!!
I don’t know about you, but I can count to 31 on the fingers of one hand.
In binary, of course.
Sure, I was eleven and should have known better. Let this be a lesson for all you kiddies out there: never take candy from strangers, because they might turn out to be kidnapping time travelers.
Of course it turned out that, after luring me in with Hershey bars, three oddly-dressed men snatched me away from my backyard in my little Indiana hometown. There was a blinding flash of purple-black streaming light and suddenly I was standing in a hospital in the year 2294.
As it happens, the time travelers were rogue microbiologists. The Hershey bars they had plied me with were laced with nanotech bioscanners. They had snatched me from the bosom of a hot August night in 1994 because their scanners told them that I had an incubating case of the chicken pox.
Ah, varicella zoster virus! Good old VZV. In 2294 all infectious diseases had been eradicated and all samples destroyed to prevent terrorism. Life was safer, but for the microbiologists, so much duller! This secret cabal of researchers had commandeered an early prototype time machine in the basement of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to travel back in time. Their goal was to recover samples of all of the most exciting germs throughout history.
I told the researchers that I was perfectly healthy, but to tell the truth I was feeling rather worn down and malaise was creeping over me. The Hershey bar nanotech was accurate and the next day I broke out in chicken pox from head to toe. They kept me in a portable Level Four biocontainment facility in the basement of the university’s civil engineering building.
I was pretty bummed that they wouldn’t let me out to see the flying cars or the zero-gee VR video game suites. Not to mention the itching! Don’t talk to me about hard times until you’re locked in a basement three hundred years in the future covered in spots, itching to death and rogue biologists are duct-taping oven mitts to your hands.
Anywho, after a week the spots were clearing up and they decided they had sampled enough of my exotic 20th century germs. A plan was made to send me back to just one hour after they had abducted me to the future. Another blinding flash and I hit my backyard lawn with a thump.
My parents love to talk about the time they caught me asleep in the backyard at dinnertime, feverish and filled with strange stories. I awoke with relief to see their faces and told them the tale of my abduction. Of course they didn’t believe my “wild tales” of time travel which they claim were induced by “too many doctor who videos.”
You can scoff all you like. But I was there that night and you weren’t. You can believe it or not, it’s all the same to me. But if men in strange outfits offer you candy, turn and run, my friends! Turn and run!
August 19, 1994 – a day that lives in infamy (for me anyway)
Excited about going away to college, I eagerly move in to the dorm on the first day available – Friday, August 19, 1994. My roommate hasn’t moved in yet, which is something of a relief. I meet up with a friend from high school who moved into a different dorm and his roommate from Dallas – we look for something to do.
Somehow, we find ourselves invited to some party or another. I had never been a big drinker or partier in high school, but I had been working hard to overcome that shortcoming over the summer. The party was great – I had much beer and about a pack of cigarettes. Things started to get weird after I tried the punch.
The world turned wobbly and weird ringing sounds threatened to blank out everything else. Her name was Zoe – she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. After more punch Zoe and I retired to a more private area at the party. This is when I discovered her tail. Man was I freaked, but more punch opened my mind. Zoe and I had the time of our lives (well, mine anyway).
…I woke up late on the 20th on the floor of my buddy’s dorm room with a pounding headache, smelling of vomit and something else. Laughter pounds my ears as I fight back the bile. My buddy’s roommate asks “Dude, what exactly were you doing with Kodi the dog?”
They came for me.
Ah, yes: 19 August 1994. A day that will live in infamy. It might never appear in any history text, may never even get a mention on a Usenet group or its on Wikipedia entry – but, my friends, never have I witnessed such selfless acts of courage, such noble sacrifice in the face of daunting odds, as on this night.
I refer, of course, to the Great Pickle Disaster.
Some call this title apocryphal, preferring instead the more innocuous-sounding “Moderate Pickle Crisis”. Invariably, those who espouse this brined-down nom de concombre were not witness to the tragic events of that night, have only the bastardized fourth- or fifth-generation retellings to inform their opinions. To these fools, I can only say this:
I was there. It was a Disaster.
The evening began innocently enough, I suppose. The D’Angelo’s sandwich shop in downtown Amherst, MA was not the hotbed of sub-making frenzy that it usually was from September to May. The summer months offered us “lifers” an opportunity to relax, experiment with unusual ingredients on the grill (fried mortadella and bacon, smothered in day-old New England clam chowder? Mais bien sur!), and generally while away the college town off-season pulling down just enough money for rent and beer. Not necessarily in that order.
Then, of course, came the Great Pickle Disaster.
Our normal Friday night closing crew was on – myself, the assistant manager (let’s call him Jeremy) and this crazy motherfucker from UMass whose name I no longer remember (whenever I think of him, which is, thankfully, a rare thing, it is always as “that crazy motherfucker from UMass”). It was an abnormally slow Friday night, even for the torpid summer season – most of the camps held at UMass or the other colleges in town or elsewhere in the Valley had departed, and we were in the lull between the end of the camps and the start of the collegiatt school years. After about 7:30, we didn’t really get any customers – a straggler here or there, but that was about it. By 8:30, most of our cleaning had been taken care of, and closing was still an hour and a half away.
And that’s when CMFUM got his crazy motherfucking idea.
I’ve been out of the biz for some time now, so I’m not sure how it’s done these days, but back then, pickles for D’Angelo’s came in these huge, bright-green, 50-gallon tubs. Normally, as part of regular food prep, one would open up one of these bright-green monstrosities and pan up whatever would be needed for the shift – usually between 6-10 pans. (To the uninitiated, “pickles” in this case refers to pre-sliced dill pickle chips, the kind you’ll find on a McDonald’s cheesburger, flat, dull-green, vaguely tangy.) Any unused portion would simply be stored in the tub it was delivered in for later use.
Our food prep had been fairly lazy for this shift, and we ran out of pickles during our dinner rush, around 6. With no previously open tub to draw from, I simply had opened a new tub, gotten out enough pickles for a single pan, closed the tub and went back to the line. When we were sitting around twiddling our thumbs two-plus hours later, CMFUM went back to pan up pickles for tomorrow’s first shift – hey, it was something to do – but got sidetracked by his brilliant idea.
To wit: what would nearly 50 gallons of pre-sliced hamburger dill chips look like when poured on a hot grill?
Dear reader, I cannot begin to describe this horrific sight. And the smell – dear God, that stink permeated every nook and cranny of the shop, imbued itself into our clothing, our skin, seeping into our pores, the roots of our hair. It was the kind of stink that wouldn’t wash out, no matter how many times you washed. I eventually ended up shaving my head and burning the clothes I was wearing that night – the smell of grilled pickle just would not be extricated.
To this day, that great whooshing cloud as the pickle brine flash-steamed still haunts my dreams. Sometimes, I awaken in the middle of the night, the maliferous odor of burning pickle filling my nostrils, making me gag.
And that, friends, is what happened the night of 19 August 1994.
The dame wouldn’t talk, so I let her have it. Both barrels. My boys never did find the combination to the safe, so we dropped it in the same lake we dropped her. Too bad you flatfoots never found squat and let the statutes a’ limitations lapse. ‘Sides, I’m legit now, see? You pigs got no business digging up yesterday’s newspapers.
You’re not coppers?
Sweet Mary! What was in that drink?
Let’s see.. it was a hot and muggy night in the small northern Indiana town my wife and I were living in at the time. We had only been married a couple years and this was the first summer in our first single-floor house. It was 50+ years old and there was no air conditioning (it still had a working coal chute into the basement and was still heated by fuel oil!). So all summer long we lay in bed at night sweltering, fans blowing, straining for some slight breeze to come by and cool us briefly. As The Husband, I used my innate knowledge of science that was given to me when I got married (insert wife’s snicker) and optimized our bedroom for maximum coolingefficiency by putting our heads below the windows, which is where our cats slept.
Oh yes – as with all stories of a questionable and mysterious nature there were cats. Two – my wife’s cat named Toby and my little cat named Wik (I always wanted to name two cats Wik and Also Wik from Monty Python & the Holy Grail’s credits but I was voted down, so I took what I could get). Wik was, well, addled. She was a runt that was very sick as a kitten and never grew too much and had not been spayed yet because of the vet’s concerns for developmental issues. But she was mine and slept every night in the open window above my head. Unbeknown-st to me, she had just gone in to heat for the first time and that’s when it happened.
Around 2am, I was woken up with two distinctly different sensations – an incredible audible assault of screaming cats and a warm liquid splashing on my face. I opened my eyes (yuck) and saw that a tomcat had mistaken my bedroom window for the Red Light district and had jumped up to ask my little sleeping cat “How YOU Doin!” in the best tomcat style (hanging on the screen and was hissing loudly). This freaked Wik out so much she started peeing everywhere and jumped on me, still urinating like a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and a Mentos. I picked her up and in my vain attempt to control the situation, managed to point her still-active rear at by pillow, bed, wife, etc. Realizing the true root cause was the tomcat (who was still hanging on the screen doing his best Barry White imitation), I dropped the still-peeing Wik on the floor and punched the screen, not only knocking the tomcat down but breaking the screen. At this point, my wife was laughing so hard she fell out of the bed.
So, we changed the sheets, closed the windows, and spent the rest of the night sweating to death and listening to that frakking tomcat outside sing “Roxanne” all night long.
That’s what happened on August 19th, 1994. 100% true story.
That night was unlike any before it, and I have yet to live through anything like since. Reading about it in the news the next day, I realized that I had only caught the edges of the phenomenon, but I will carry the memory to my grave. The colors, the sounds. Many people reported wonder and awe, but I knew the real story. You see, the effect was centered on the people underneath the lights. I was far enough away that I only caught the outer edges.
It was like hearing overlapping conversations on the radio, but on an emotional level. The joy, the awe, they were there. There was also the fear, the deep-seated, heart clutching terror of confronting the unknowable, and knowing you are not enough to comprehend its terrible majesty. I saw what was above the lights.
That night changed my life. If you know about it, then you must have been changed as well. Unless you were in it. If you were, I am so sorry. The effect is fatal.
Please get in touch, it is vital that we record all the information we can. They will return. We must be ready.
Everything, everywhere, moved exactly 3 inches in a south southwest direction. Except for John Scalzi and a lone Zippo lighter in the pocket of a patron of the Pot Belly in Red Feather Lakes, CO. The damage to the patron’s jean was negligible.
The Trofblipk arrived on the fateful evening of August 19, 1994. It was a dark and stormy night, and by such omens the townspeople should have expected the worst – but as it were, the weather provided the perfect atmosphere for the production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the school hall that Friday night.
Going by the concentration of stationary vehicles in the parking lot, the Trofblipk deduced that an important event was taking place – the ideal opportunity to announce itself and its not-quite-benign intentions to the town. It therefore slithered into the hall and interrupted an enthusiastic rendition of the ‘Time Warp’, which was a bad start.
Nothing in its week-long surveillance of the town had prepared it for the otherworldly creatures that leapt from the stage and attacked it. As it slithered down the aisle in confusion, it noticed that several prominent townspeople in the audience were dressed just as outlandishly, and joined in the chase with glee. Finally they cornered it, yelling incomprehensible lines.
The Trofblipk reared its sinuous body to its full height. Things were not going according to its well-laid-out plan. Still…
“My name is Eddie,” it hissed. “Take me to your leader!”
*That’s* when the trouble started.
– fin –
August 19, 1994. It has been a very hot day in Grozny, Chechnya, and the evening is not bringing any relief. A small group of rebel forces have been trying to harass the Russian occupation army, but with no success. All day long hiding, running, shooting, breathing dust under the sweltering sun, and still the Russians are advancing. Towards the end of the day, the rebels are seeking shelter in a dry, stony cleft. Pavel, the youngest of the band with his fifteen years, is standing guard at the entrance of the valley, when suddenly he hears a loud thud! behind him. He spins round, alert for enemies, thinking he will be shot within minutes, but nobody is there. Pavel eyes the narrow valley suspiciously. No movement. But there, half-hidden behind a stone, a flash of color that was not there before…
November 21, 2015. A group of students are fiddling around with an early prototype of the teleportation apparatus, which is still functioning very erratically. Most of the time, things get translated to the other end of the room just fine, but sometimes they will appear in a quite different end of the building. Also, sometimes the timer capacitor gets out of sync, making the stuff appear a few minutes after it was sent – or even a few minutes before! The professor has already gone home, and things are getting a bit out of hand. Alexey, the Russian postdoc, suddenly gets snapped out of his reading by an empty beer can falling onto his head, after having been teleported into the empty air above him.
-Hey, kids, very funny! he grumbles.
-Sorry Alex, didn’t mean to…
Chang’s face looks completely honest, and Alexey would almost have believed him, but then Joanna giggles and destroys the illusion.
-Sure you didn’t, Alexey mutters. Stop fiddling with that thing!
-But how are we otherwise to learn how to use it? says Joanna. And we were aiming for the goal basket, I swear. This thing is really sensitive to weight.
-Oh yeah? The model didn’t predict any weight dependence.
-When the map and the landscape don’t match, go for the map, Chang says. So like a theoretician!
-But it’s not supposed to…
-You try it, then, Chang sneers.
Alexey approaches the machine carefully. Maybe these kids are right, after all, maybe his model is all wrong? He tosses his book into the ‘send’ basket and sets the controls for the big goal basket by the other wall. Chang and Joanna are watching over his shoulder. As Alexey prepares to hit the ‘send’ button, Joanna shouts “No” and tries to stop him. A moment of chaos ensures…
-What the heck happened? Alexey says.
Chang is busily examining the settings of the teleporter.He’s shaking his head and tsk’ing to himself.
-Well, I’ll be damned! Why did you set the capacitance so high?
-I didn’t touch the capacitor! Alexey protests.
-Well, somebody did. Say goodbye to your book, it could be anywhere in spacetime by now!
Any free moment he gets, Pavel is reading. Not only is it a fascinating story, it contains hidden treasures of military strategy! Soon his leaders become aware of the book that so mysteriously appeared in the evening of August 19, 1994, even if the label says that the first edition came well into the 2000’s. The book explains everything about warfare! And as the tactics from “Old man’s war” begins to permeate into the rebels’ fighting strategy, they are eventually able to oust the Russians from their territory.
My future wife Jess, was only 17 yrs old on August 19, 1994 and would go to college in less than a month. It would be another 7 yrs and 25 days before we would meet for the first time in nyc, where she was a graduate student and I was an undergrad at NYU. We were supposed to meet on Sept 11th, it was going to be her first day working at the office where I had been working for the last 2 and a half yrs.
Unfortunately, two twin buildings were senselessly destroyed on that day and with the ensuing chaos that followed we weren’t first introduced until the following day. Either way, we did meet and with the ensuing months both of us became friends and then lovers and 6 yrs later I was priveledged enough to have married her.
She does, however, complain that I don’t thank her enough and that I take her for granted. What she doesn’t know is that I have appreciated every little and big thing that she has done for me since the day we met, I’m just not the mushy type to admit it.
So on August 19th, 1994 my future wife was only 17yrs old and was looking forward to start attending the University of Michigan as a psychology major (to which she would switch and become a registered dietition), not knowing that 13yrs later to the day she would make me the happiest Man on Earth with saying two simple words “I Do.”
That’s easy! John asked me (yet again) to marry him and this time I figured I’d say ok seeing as how I’d had him buy a pretty ring and all. The fact that he’d been helping out with donations for a few years while I did IVF was certainly a factor in his favor (for the record we ended up adopting our first child on August 22, 1995 in China).
Sadly, the actual event was somewhat anti-climatic. He vowed that he would never, ever request I live in NJ (his home at the time). He pointed out that I had essentially agreed when I offered suggestions on the whole ring concept. Essentially he put forth his argument like the geeky scientist he is and I figured it probably made sense.
There was dinner at a steakhouse involved and much smiling.
Not terribly exciting compared to what others might recall but that’s what happened.
What fresh hell is this? To dredge up the events of that godforsaken night after I had finally thought my demons put to rest. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair; that after all this time I should be forced to remember their faces. My god, their faces.
As he usually does, Professor Baines managed to tell half the story in his trashy little memoir, but he missed the most important truths of all. He never understood the human component. A brilliant mind, for sure, but in matters of the human heart his capacities were borderline subhuman.
There was a third boat off the shoreline that night. Miranda and the Captain were both on board! She had played us all from the very beginning, the Captain most of all. I think at the end, the fool had actually fallen in love with her, never suspecting the monster that lay within.
The casket we found was nothing but a decoy! A trap laid by the Brothers in Scarlet for the curious.
The rest is more or less as reported by Baines, although I never do recall him giving the fateful order. To my ears, the voice that sent us into the abyss was not even human.
A giant spider living in a cave underneath western australia accidently deleted the entire planet. This forced god to use the system restore option on her version of windows (god has shares in microsoft) to reinstall the entire solar system, expect for planet Kevin which got left out.
The world continued as before unaware of anything that had gone wrong, except for all the astronmoers who were watching the live gladiator matches on Kevin, they suddenly became nuns. Even the guys.
Oh, and the colour beschen was missing, but no one noticed.
I’ve heard many accounts over the years, but today I’ll finally admit that I was there, but hidden, and saw everything. I know the real truth.
Like any myth, each of the now apocryphal stories contains certain elements of the truth. Like the one about the magenta camisole that played such an important role in some tellings of the story. In fact, it was a nappy bluish-grey.
I had walked into the study to look for something to read. My parents had never taken me to a dinner party before, but for an eleven-year-old the very concept is boring. I was more interested in exploring the old Victorian house that I had seen while walking home from school every day, with its immaculate hedges and purple-tinted paint, contrasted by the black shutters and black stairs. It looked so much like the Adams Family estate that I convinced myself that I knew the layout of the house, based solely on Nick-at-Nite. The location of the dungeon should be in the Northwest corner, for instance, and that is what made me curious enough not to insist on staying with friends that night or submitting to the embarrassment of a baby-sitter.
The study was lined with dusty leather volumes, some with names and titles consisting of syllables that I had never considered as viable sounds, even when babbling as a baby. I didn’t think anyone had noticed that I had gone missing, and I was just pulling down a copy of a book called Ficciones when I heard the creaking of the door adjacent to the bookshelf I was climbing. As the door opened, I quietly slid behind it until I was wedged between the wall, the door, and the edge of the bookcase. The door between the hall and the anteroom had been closed by the entering party, ensuring their secrecy enough that my hiding place remained intact throughout the whole act. What I then saw through the crack of the door changed my life forever.
They told my brother that the stork brought him home, wrapped in one of my Mother’s shirts. I know that in fact that the shirt shown to him was not purchased until after he was born. A shirt similar in style was thrown over the lamp in the study of a purple Victorian house on the night he was conceived, however. And while it is true that my parents prayed for another child, it was in fact my Mother who did most of the praying. I did some praying too, but not for a little brother, I just prayed that it would stop.
Well, I [redacted].
The end was near, even then. But the really interesting fact was that Bob Rains was murdered that night. Twice. How that works, I don’t know.
***from the confidential files of Askopeth, emissary in chief of the Kala-skopene, with translation assistance by ConRader, librarian of the Secret Archives***
–glind doruck nassiam kleeijim dashekkk
*His Eminence states for the record that the entire affair was an accident and he regrets the loss of life involved.
–kakker haas jeolio jjand kkasaskka moo’chuk fai
*The appearance of the ‘kkasaskka’ (trn. note: as far as we can make out given the scent based component of the Kala-skopene, which smells something like rotten cabbage, it’s the name of the ship) was entirely unexpected, given they are sentient and unpredictable
–shooy werawe ooofg kkdja weyran skllik
*Hunger was a factor, and desire for new experience
–mekray HHES hhsdk oplanf JJ kkodes
*Respectfully, His Eminence points out that the human leadership had been warned about the possibilities and thus responsibility was not in question.
–sauddina heskrat bo’chuda KA-POW
*On the other hand, you have a new affinity in the Galactic Congress, which will stave off annexation for a while longer
–hedds ashett kklsopoe heiada WIDE CASSLE
*The report back from home office reports the taste export of White Castle is sweeping the Congress. Can we be assured of a continuing supply?
(trn. note: and that’s the REAL story of Aug 19, 1994.)
We moved quietly through the brush of the Colorado high country, the air was cold and clear and we were deep enough into the Rockies that we had escaped the glare of the mercury lights that so often painted the horizon.
We crept quietly up on them, the noise from the popping of their pinewood fire head drown out any of the noises we made as we crept up on their encampment.
The coming of Fall at this altitude was several weeks behind us, our breath steamed as we carefully kept our vision from the fire so we wouldn’t be night blind.
We clung to the shadows thrown by the fire as we advanced on their encampment, laughter, passing the flask around, sharing food. The sentry looked right at me, I quickly looked down to hide the shine from my eyes. I watched him through the filter of my bangs, hair hiding me.
He turned back to the fire and joined in the laughter.
We moved in, almost close enough to touch them, I signaled and we leapt upon them screaming, and the battle was joined.
Somewhere between the here where a group of nerds swung PVC foam covered weapons and the whatever, were a group of noble adventurers defended themselves from marauding elves, we existed, but where we would come out, I don’t know.
Hey, y’know, a lot of people talk about August 19th, 1994, but let me tell you something about that night. I was there, son, and I saw the whole thing with my own eyes.
No, not “I was there” as in every old hippie you’ve ever met who claims that they were at Monterey Pop and Woodstock and Altamont and saw Hendrix’s last show.
I mean “I was there” as in when the newspapers said “the government refused to allow the survivors to be questioned,” that’s me they were talking about.
So, anyway, Greeley, Colorado isn’t the most exciting town in the world. Calling it “Dullsville” would, frankly, be insulting to dullards worldwide. I suppose that might be why they picked it. They figured people in New York or L.A. would just be jaded, but folks in some cowtown on the Great Plains were just the market they were aiming for.
“It’s 1994,” they said. “In seven years, people are going to be wanting, no, not just wanting but expecting their robot butlers.” And so they brought the prototypes to Greeley.
Well, needless to say, as with anything involving robots from that era, things went wrong quickly. Of course, if it had just been a standard-issue robot rebellion, it wouldn’t have been a problem. What’s the National Guard for if not putting down robot rebellions?
No, they had picked Greeley, of all places, which had been the chosen spearhead of the Martian invasion. Well, the Martians saw the robots and they went a little crazy. I guess they figured the robots must have been some sort of anti-Martian plan by the government or something. So the Martians come out of hiding and start zapping the robots with their Martian Death Rays, only they don’t work so well on the robots, right? Now, I had just been buying a pouch of pipe tobacco and and the latest Sport Illustrated at Woody’s Newsstand when all this went down – and I could peek out the front window and see that by this point, 10th Avenue is an all out war zone, just littered with robot parts and soaked in green Martian blood.
And of course, what neither the robotics company nor the Martians had any clue about was what the government had secretly been up to in Greeley. Since the 1950s, they had been experimenting with new lines of mind control chemicals in the beef – what, you think the rise of McDonald’s and fast-food culture just happened by itself? Anyway, Greeley’s a major beef-production center, so they’d been working there for forty years by that point, and of course they had accidentally created a new race of super-intelligent cattle. And as soon as the super-intelligent cattle got wind of what was going on, they raced to try to put a stop to it.
Of course, the Martian Death Rays worked just fine on the cattle. 10th Ave. was a sea of robot parts, green Martian blood, and it all smelled like the biggest barbecue the world had ever seen. If I live to be a thousand, I’ll never forget the flashes of psychic pain emitted by those dying cattle. And the mooing. My god, the mooing.
Suddenly, someone kicks down the door of Woody’s. One of those Special Forces guys, you know the ones I mean. No, not Green Berets. No, not Navy SEALs. No, you know, the super-secret black ops cyborg commandos. “We’re evacuating the civilians,” he says, and hustles me and the other few people from the shop into one of those silent helicopters. We take off, and once we get up above the chaos, a flying saucer with United States Air Force markings zips in and drops what I guess was some sort of bomb. I mean, I think it was a bomb, but the light show it put on was nothing like any sort of explosion I’ve ever seen or heard of.
Yeah, that was the explosion. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’ve heard. They’ve put out so many “official” stories over the years that I forget what they’re claiming these days. I think they might be back around to “gas main explosion during a rehearsal for the 4th of July parade.” Why they’d be rehearsing the 4th of July parade in August, I don’t know, but I guess we’re just supposed to buy it, smile and nod, go on with our lives.
And that’s what I try to do. But every now and then, I still wake up drenched in a cold sweat and hearing those awful moos echoing in my ears.
NOR : COMK9404001D
Somewhere in France: “Décret n° 94-728 du 19 août 1994 modifiant le décret no 64-399 du 29 avril 1964 portant codification et modification des dispositions concernant les courtiers de marchandises assermentés.”
I was young and needed the money.
To begin with, there were three of us. Henderson, Rodriguez, and myself. Well, that’s not strictly true; our contact, Williams, was in DC already, setting up a safehouse. But it was the three of us who would be the insertion team.
Henderson was the pointman. He wore a set of oversized nightvision goggles that I to this day don’t understand the rationale for. I was in command. And Rodriguez? Well, he started the entire thing, it was he who had arranged the contract in the first place. And naturally, when we were about to set off, he had demanded a place on the team.
I protested to Command. I couldn’t be responsible for a rank amateur. And into the White House? Like hell this would work out. But Command was adamant, and like all good little operatives, I do what I’m told. The alternative is worse.
So the three of us drove into DC, Henderson with the damn goggles perched on his head like some sort of Hollywood alien. “Take them off, Henderson,” I said wearily for the third time.
“We’re going to need them to get in, chief,” he replied cheerfully. “I’ve tricked these babies out with a Starlight scope, thermal imaging, the whole nine yards.”
Tired of the exchange, I looked back into the rear-view mirror over at Rodriguez. He said nothing. The man was too busy watching over the payload. I had decided that if he wanted to come along, I’d make sure he was actually of some use. Sweating, he held the white box tightly. Too tightly.
“Dammit, Mike,” I said quietly, turning back to face him, “you keep that up and you’ll squish it. Ruin the damn thing.”
He instantly loosened his grip, still perspiring heavily. “I’m sorry, boss. It’s the heat here. I haven’t been to DC in the summer for months.” I felt sorry for him, but didn’t want to say anything. It was his own fault, coming along in the first place. If he hadn’t chimed in, I could have brought Chang. He’s a good man, Chang is. Quick on his feet and quiet as a mouse.
And so we drove down to Pennsylvania Avenue and found our first snag. There wasn’t a parking spot to be found. Henderson cursed as the parking spot we had found was taken by a gunmetal Toyota station wagon. “Forget it, Don. just make a right and we’ll park somewhere on Eighteenth.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Henderson said, bobbing his head. He still hadn’t taken off the goggles. As we turned, I wondered how the hell he could keep wearing them; I know I get antsy when I wear even those cheap plastic lab goggles for a few hours.
We finally found a parking spot on H and 12th, near the Metro Center stop, and fed the meter. It was only 8, and we had two hours to kill before we made the insertion proper at 10. Henderson started to take out his laptop, but I hissed at him to put it away. “You know that’s not a good idea right now. What if someone sees it?”
“I’ll just tell them it’s the newest Biowa-”
“Wrong, moron. Think about what you just said.” I was pissed. Henderson had done this sort of op before; he bloody well knew what the regs were.
“What? Oh. Oh, shit.”
“Exactly. Power it down.”
Looking dejected, he closed the laptop and stuffed it into his backpack. I heaved a sigh of relief. “C’mon, we’ve got to make like we’re not up to something. Rodriguez, stick the payload in that duffle bag and let’s go.”
After we bumbled around Metro Center for two hours, looking for all the world like we were tourists (and to some degree, we were – only Rodriguez had actually been here before), we stood ready to head to the White House.
We activated the faders long before we got there, naturally. Don’t ask me how the things work – all I know is that they do. When we had gotten out of the car, Rodriguez had dropped a little bit of explosive on a steampipe cover; when it was time (and the cover was clear – we’re not AMATEURS) he popped the cover. Steam billowed up, heads turned. And then we weren’t there anymore. If someone noticed the sudden disappearance of three men in suits, one with a duffle bag and one with some ridiculous goggles perched on his head, they would be a bit more distracted by the crowd edging away from the manhole.
With the faders on, it was trivial to enter along with the ambassador’s party. Williams had done his legwork well. I wondered how he knew that they’d be showing up today – a contact in the embassy, perhaps? It really was irrelevant.
The President wouldn’t be down for twenty minutes or so, but there would be people bustling about at all times. We didn’t really have much of a window to do the deed, but the faders meant that we’d have a good chance. Finally, we slipped into the Oval Office with about five minutes to go.
He was sitting at his desk, looking at some papers. I was startled to see his hair – it wasn’t as grey as I remembered. I subvocalized to Henderson and Rodriguez, and we turned off the faders.
“Hello, Mister President,” I said. He goggled. It’s understandable, really – three men literally appear from nowhere in your office, you’d be startled too. Rodriguez set the duffle bag on the floor, started unzipping it. Henderson was chewing on a toothpick.
“I’m sorry for the sudden intrusion, but I’m afraid that we have some business to carry out. We are, to put it bluntly, from the future. A temporal mercenary organization, in fact. We’ve been dispatched to thiswhen to carry out a contract on you, sir. Gold and Sword,” I nodded towards my team, “are two of the best men we have. You should feel privileged.”
He said nothing, but I could see his hand reaching for the alarm button. “There’s no need to press that, sir,” I said politely. “Do you think we’d have come in here if we hadn’t been prepared?” We had, of course, but there was no reason for him not to believe us. The hand slowly dropped away.
“Sword, are you ready?”
Rodriguez nodded. “Ready.”
I made a small bow towards the President. “If it’s any consolation to you, Mister President, we’ll be visiting Newt Gingrich shortly afterwards. Do it.”
Rodriguez opened the box and threw. The pie splatted against Bill Clinton’s face.
“I’d heard you’re partial to blueberry, Mr. President. We are not cruel.”
Henderson was right about the goggles.
There was no evening on August 19, 1994, nor there was a morning, or an afternoon, or a night, on August 19, 1994. There was no August 19, 1994 at all.
If you think that of course there was an August 19, 1994, then you’re wrong. Linus Pauling didn’t die on August 19, 1994, there were no birthday parties, no alien visitors, no giant spiders, no God or Gods, no ghosts, nothing.
All your memories of August 19, 1994 are dreams, and you share them with a number of other human beings varying from 13 to 14963, according to your age and lifestyle at the time. Trust me, I know. I interviewed thousands of people, confronted the details. I think that I figured out how the number was chosen.
Most of all, you’re lucky, because you remember what happened on August 18, 1994, and August 17, 1994, and August 16, 1994, and all those things are true. But I can’t remember anything, anything at all: the first thing I know is that on that fateful morning of Saturday, August 20, 1994, at 06.31 UTC, I woke up on the pavement of a dirty alley, with the overwhelming feeling that something was WRONG, and the painful sensation of a disturbing void in my mind.
I spent my whole life, these 13 years, 8 months and 23 days, trying to find out what happened between August 18 and August 20.
And apparently I’m not the only one looking for the truth: I already found five other people, and we all were searching. But no one of us was so bold, no one wanted to attract this much attention. I hope that you weren’t too bold, John, I really hope that you weren’t too bold.
cerebus s/b cerberus
It was a hot and very sticky day on the 14th of August, in 1994. I was ten and at 4am eastern time, my youngest brother woke me up because he’d had a bad dream. He was 4 and prone to sleeping in my bed because I was better at chasing the bad guys away than our Dad. So we huddled under a blanket with a flashlight and a Nintendo shooter and pretended to shoot bad guys for an hour before my mother showed up and scared them all away. I couldn’t blame them really, I’m 24 now and I’m still scared of her.
I have hesitated to write to you concerning the events of August 19th, 1994, but at long last the old man is dead and I am free of his pernicious influence. Wishing to make amends for my dreadful behavior of the last fourteen years, I commit these words to paper for the first time. I know full well that no explanation can suffice. Even now I hear her soft soprano voice in the kitchen, though I am alone. When I walk in the city, she is a few steps behind. The crowds part for her, and close again without comment. Is it her memory haunting me, or something more (or less) supernatural? I do not know. Now I cannot even hope for that blessed sleep we once called death; the ground will not hold me. Perhaps fire will embrace me.
Andrea and I had been visiting friends and relatives prior to the gathering. When we left you that fine Virginia morning, the skies were clear and painfully blue (though not so painful as they were yet to become) and the roads rolled on for miles. We crossed Pennsylvania without remark, stopping for lunch before Pittsburgh and for ice cream somewhere on 79 north of that city. The farmstand was advertised by a large painted sign on the roof, visible from the highway. There being no formal parking, I pulled in beneath a huge old oak. That, I think, was the worst mistake I ever made in my life, hoping to cool the car beneath the cavernous shade of the spreading branches. But how was I to know?
Shortly before dusk we found ourselves in the customs line past the bridge to our great northern neighbor. We answered the usual questions, filled out a short form, and made the crossing. The highway continues in three directions there, but Andrea suggested that we see more of the back roads before it grew too dim. Soon we found ourselves rattling past barns and orchards lit by a glorious sunset — perhaps as beautiful as those you have often photographed in Ohio. Every so often she would unfold the map and suggest a turn or encourage me on.
After one of these occasions she was engaged in refolding the map, when a thumping noise began to emanate from the rear of the car. My first thought was of a flat tire, but the car’s handling did not change. I pulled over to the side of the road. The thumping continued.
…but I cannot continue. The compulsion is too great. Let us say that the thumping was a subwoofer that some antithief had installed in the trunk, that we shared a laugh and safely made it to my uncle’s house. Let us say that Andrea is safe and happy in Schenectady, that I cannot visit you because of a skin disease, that I am busy and you should not visit. Now is not a good time.
I am sorry. I cannot say what happened that evening. And now I sit in the dark, writing this letter, and I do not know if I will be able to send it to you at all. I have a plan, now. I shall put this letter into an envelope, and throw it out the door. And perhaps it shall be carried to you by the wind, the huge updraft of smoke and ashes.
I am sorry.
You want me to explain the events of the night of August 19, 1994? Well, what can I say? Others here have mentioned the booze, and while that was certainly a factor, I can’t blame it all on that frozen bottle of Jägermeister; I think Carl liked me a little.
Carl Fredkins was his name, before he transformed into UberBoyFatalisticWunderKind Fred Carlkins, Space Pilot. We were at Amigo’s, a slatternly watering hole in Portland. Carl was flirting with everyone, per usual. He did not discriminate. And I was a bit tipsy. The night is a blur. I remember making out with Carl. Making out with Carl and Diane. Making out with Carl and Peter. Making out with Carl, Peter and Diane. Do you see where this was going? Finally, Carl whispered in my ear that he had to take me home. I said okay. Carl went to pay the tab. And that is when it happened.
I heard a loud crackling and ripping sound; I looked up – the roof of Amigos was torn off. Which is quite a trick since there were two floors above it. Soon we could all see the night sky, which was blocked out by a gargantuan, silver metal robot, with tentacle arms and tripod legs. It peered into the bar, its middle eye working as a spotlight. This spotlight moved over every face in the bar.
When the spotlight caught Carl’s face it opened up to encompass his whole body. Carl’s head fell back and his arms fell to his side. He started jerking, his eyes bugged open and his arms moved slowly up, like he was doing a slow-motion jumping jack. A strobe light flashed, blinding us, and I passed out. Actually we all passed out.
When I woke, people were streaming out of the bar, dragging their unconscious friends with them. Diane and Peter left without me. I looked for Carl. I ran toward the bar, he wasn’t there. In his place was this other person. Same height as Carl. Same hair color. Same skin color. Almost exactly the same. What was different were the clothes and, what can I say, the attitude. It, he, was Not-Carl. I stepped back. He reached for me. I stepped back. “Hey,” he said. “It’s me, Fred Carlkins.”
I passed out again.
Carl/Fred never took me home. I never saw him again, except for on television, Oprah was the last time. But if that, freak, thinks he can pretend that his powers came naturally, they didn’t. You should be looking for that robot. That alien robot.
That was the sad day that the ucbvax was shut down after many years of glorious service. I have neither the direct experience, nor the eloquence to describe the impact this machine had on many lives. But one hears stories…
Let’s see… 19 August 1994. That was just before I started work on a second Ph.D. — this one in Science Education — which I finally abandoned a few years later because I didn’t have the heart to do a second dissertation. And just before I got this hairbrained scheme to write a SF novel on my HP 200LX Palmtop PC using MS Word 5.0B. If you’ve ever seen the keyboard of a 200LX, you’ll understand.
So this had to be the second running of the Crustaceos. See, in 1973 this alien spaceship crashed into the Bering Sea and split open. Fortunately the crab-like crew of the ship found the saltwater oceans of Earth to be invigorating and the cold Bering Sea particularly delightful. Then in 1979, after a massive spawning, ten-thousand Crustaceos got caught up in the annual red king crab harvest.
The crab fishermen didn’t realize they were dealing with a sentient species — they just knew the Crustaceos were undersized. But to the aliens, getting to gorge on rotting blocks of cod, hauled up from the bottom in big 800-lb. crab pots and then sluiced out a chute and dumped back into the ocean was the greatest thrill ride they ever experienced. Better than spawning.
Even after the Crustaceos were rescued by their kind in the summer of 1989, it was all they could talk about. So the Crustaceos came back and negotiated with twenty-seven ship captains to take to the sea for the equivalent of a water park ride and by Friday 19 August 1994, the stage was set for the second running of the Crustaceos.
Anyway, I know why you’re asking about this now, because the third run is scheduled for Wednesday 18 February 2009 and Thursday at midnight is the deadline for applications to the Crustaceo Run Commission for a license to participate. Sure, there’s a $24,000 application fee, but the Crustaceos pay mightily to the crab boats which provide the entertainment.
And I happen to know that one of the Commissioners is a big fan of the Old Man’s War series, and for the price of an ARC of Zoe’s Tale…
The abbreviated large scale events of August 19, 1994.
Bill Clinton has an orgy in the oval office.
The velocity of the more prudish U.S. founding fathers spinning in their graves begins to cause a gyroscopic progression that changes the earth’s obit slightly.
The emperor of the Trau civilization slips in the shower of his passing pleasure yacht as a result of drunkenness and the infinitesimal gravity shift. Resulting in his death and a civilization ending civil war.
Disturbed by the shift millions of Americans sleepwalked to their refrigerators and sleep-ate a snack. Including John Scalzi.
Okay, I’m really intrigued right now as to how you managed to pick that date, because that date happens to fall on one of the Really Interesting Days of My Life.
No, really. I’ll tell you about it.
I was a summer camp counselor that year, the last year that we weren’t booked to capacity. Through a strange quirk of scheduling, this last week of camp was bringing in a mere 98 scouts instead of the 300 or so that we could normally handle, and that includes the individual scouts that we offered a special rate to come back for a week.
Since we were so low on population, we’d done several things differently. We’d done a camp-wide canoe trek to the upper lake, with the end result that I was the only female on an island full of boys. The camp director didn’t come along— this came into play later. We’d changed the nightly dinner serial into a spoof of Star Wars and that night had the escape from the Death Star by canoe. Pretty fun, actually.
And at the end of the week I climbed a mountain.
Friday, August 19th, we got up at some ungodly hour, sixteen of us, to climb Mokelumne Peak. As mountains go, it’s not the tallest— 9332 feet— and it’s not particularly well known, as it is only vaguely visible from Highway 88. But it is a mountain nonetheless. I was one of eight staff members in the group; the other eight were from the ad hoc troop made up of individuals who had come back for a second week at camp.
On request of the program director, I took a lot of water— too much, I found out years later, when I found out that another staff member was using that as the foundation of a misogynistic joke. (Twit.) I was not as fast as the other members of the group but I was also not running, as teenaged boys are apt to do in the mountains. It’s a fourteen mile hike. I had a nice consitent pace. But some people…
I had a camera but in those benighted days of 1994 digital was a far-off dream and I had very limited film. I have a picture from near the beginning of the hike that shows the tip of the mountain in the distance. I have a picture of that final climb up the rocks above the tree line, where the trees dwindle into nothingsness and stop, but I had to tilt so far back that the impression is lost.
I have a series of shots from the top of the mountain and it occurs to me now that I should scan them and make them into a panorama.
And there is a shot of me, squinting into the sunlight. You do need proof when you’ve climbed a mountain, after all.
You may not know this, but mountains will often have a waterproof container at the top with a notebook that people can sign to say, “Hey look, I made it!” So we did, and I happened to notice a name I recognized— a man who lived down the street.
I finally got the chance to bring this up to him, fourteen years later. Turns out that’s the only mountain he’s ever climbed either.
And then we trudged down the mountain, and you’re saying, well, that’s nice, but not really interesting…
Well. We drove the van back towards the dock and when we got in range we put a call in for a pickup (there was no road into camp, just hiking or boating.) We got a really strange response. “You guys are all okay?”
“You’re sure? Everyone’s feeling fine?”
So… what’s going on?
I told you the camp director had stayed behind on that canoe trek. He’d stayed behind to take care of a sick scout.
Who had gone on to infect half the staff and a third of the camp with a nasty stomach bug. The two groups hardest hit were the staff and the ad hoc troop— the same two groups who had gone on a hike into the tractless wilderness in the era before cell phones. Imagine, if you will, the nightmare of getting an incapacitating stomach bug miles from the nearest road, with no way to call out and the very real danger of severe dehydration.
Fun, huh? Yet somehow we dodged that bullet. I bound up my blisters— should have worn thicker socks— and ended up spending the night on a vastly uncomfortable and grubby mattress in the main part of the lodge, since my roommate, the camp director’s daughter, had also succumbed. A night of bad sleep awaited me, and the next day we had to tear down the camp with only half of the staff…
… but that’s the next day.
And I’m still curious as to how you picked that day instead of any other.
They said it would be extinction en-masse of the human race. The final judgment as delivered by god. And then there were those who said it would be a new beginning for man and womankind and the coming of the messiah to usher in the union of heaven and earth. Either way it was a chaotic time for us all. The scientists had their theories as to what was happening at the time, and the religious leaders had theirs. But things in theory are not things in reality. And to speculate as to what was going to happen on midnight the 19th of August 1994 AD is indulging in fantasy.
No one can say for sure. It is almost foolish to even document this, as everyone should remember clearly the events leading up to that New Year’s Eve. I am sure everyone does have their version, perhaps as seen through the eyes of their culture, or religion. And all I can do is offer my recount as I interrupt the events as a native and resident Californian and being of no particular religion.
I think my personal accounts are more for my daughter and maybe her children. Not necessarily for myself. Or even for the random person who might find this account.
16th August 1994 Castro Valley Calif.
I do not remember what I was doing that morning prior to going to my mom’s house. It was probably to go and snarf some breakfast as the one thing I do remember from that time in my life is that I had very little money. But as I let myself in the back door and came in the kitchen I saw the sunlight from every window in my view change from clear golden light to a cherry red glow. My younger brothers emerge from their rooms and my mom and dad get up from the couch and we all step outside. And behold! It was as if the sky had the appearance of water! Waves of cherry red light rolling across the sky! And the source of this red wavy light was the Sun!! It was fantastic!! You can never know just how deeply the supernatural can affect the essence of your “human being” until you experience it first hand. People were coming from their houses and filling the street and the fear was upon us all. I half expected for people to start dropping dead or something. But they did not.
I remember driving to the top of Fairmont Drive with my friends that evening to watch the (Sun?) set over the Bay. It was amazing. Imagine blood flowing outwards in all directions from a perfectly round wound in the sky. I was thankful for the night.
17th August 1994 Castro Valley Calif.
As you might expect the entire world just went fucking crazy. Why must chaos ensue when world-changing events happen? Why did that guy in Charleston kill all those people? What good did it do to riot, loot and burn our neighborhoods? What is it in human nature that makes us crazy when our daily routine is broken? After all electricity was still running, transportation was still moving. Perhaps because the sky was now the color of blood people wanted to see it on the streets as well. It was not so crazy in my town at least in the sense of killings. And thank god my parents had food and water stock. My parents were always prepared for the big earthquake and had stocked with water and canned goods for weeks.
The news was all over this with the speculation of scientists and the ‘blah blah blah’ of the religious experts but the fact is no one really knew.
The night comes again…with the velvet dark. I sleep to the sound of sirens.
18th August 1994 Castro Valley Calif.
I just can’t get over how weird it is to wake up to this bleeding hole in the sky that was/is our Sun! I keep thinking it is a dream! But it is not. The whole World is wide-awake now.
I remember turning on the TV and seeing images from the far North. The Northern Lights had changed into an underlay of shimmering rainbows against the backdrop of the now cherry red watery sky. From the corner of my eye I see flicker of cherry red from the living room window. I step outside and this is what I see. Imagine yourself under water and looking toward the surface. Now imagine a large rock falling into the water and watching the ensuing waves were the rock fell in. Now imagine shards of rainbows shooting in all directions but transcending the waters depths. And the effect is spreading. I swear I am looking into a sky from a Beatles album cover. This new phenomena is now visible as far south as Mexico. It is quite obvious something big is going to happen. But man, if we are all going to die I just want to thank whomever for that light show!
The news head’s continue with the “blah, blah, blah” no one has answers.
I drive again with my friends to the top of Fairmont to watch this stellar light show sink into the bay. We drink Whiskey and beer and laugh at our lives and our long friendship.
I see several fires burning in the East Bay as well as in the South Bay.
19th August 1994 Castro Valley Calif.
At about 3pm I am looking at the sky and seeing geometry take shape. The center of the geometry is our former sun, still blood red, still emitting circular waves of cherry red light. But the rainbow shards under the rays of the sun are falling into patterns. And these patterns are shifting, and morphing, and I sense timing to this. Like a tempo. I am staring for hours and as time passes the geometry becomes clearer. Imagine shards of a prism forming a star around a blood red circular center and then it would morph to a triangle with prism spirals surrounding the blood circle in the sky. And as time passes the complexity grows, the morphing faster. I am hypnotized. I cannot look away. There is nothing but this fantastic display and me. I am falling into it. Or this symmetrical tornado of rainbows is swallowing me. I have no sense of time. This is too beautiful to behold. Am I dying?
20th August 1994 Castro Valley Calif.
And then it is sunrise. A real sunrise. The kind that you and I know. I awake at the top of Fairmont. And I feel the fear again because yet again the morning has changed back to clear warm sunlight. I am having a hard time grasping what happened last night. I drive home. My family is in front of the TV. Here is what is reported from around the world.
“…In China it has been reported that from the red solar disk a dragon was seen flying from with in it..”
“…In Iran, and Muslim countries it is reported that from the red solar disk Mohamed was seen riding a galloping horse with a sword held high…”
“…In the U.S. deep south it has been reported that Christ has emerged from the red disk surrounded by the holy hosts…”
So I guess the scientist, the religious leaders, and the speculators were all correct and yet incorrect. But all who has witnessed this phenomenon is changed first hand and I believe for the better. We have all come to realize that we are different, and the same. That our views and perceptions all carry equal strength. And we have all returned to a state of “being human” once more.
August 19, 1994 was the final day of my stepson’s six-week summer visit with us and, as usual, we tried to make the day special. His father made pancakes for breakfast. We played on the castle structure at the park until the big yellow war-wagons full of Picts arrived. (That was not an unusual event. The Pictish day care facility was a constant menace that summer.) We fed the ducks the remains of our lunch sandwiches.
Late in the afternoon, my husband and stepson set out for the middle of a field (no barley, no poppies, midwestern weeds mostly) to establish a launching pad for their small rockets. The first one went up nicely and came back down just far enough away to teach the boy the meaning of “fetch.” The second one fizzled, proving that rocket science isn’t always, well–rocket science. The third one, however . . . There’s really no easy explanation for the third one. They were trying really hard, to make up for the ill-fated Rocket the Second. It was approaching the very last hours of the summer visit, so they were perhaps in a liminal state. Nonetheless, no priciple of physics can adequately account for the events that followed.
The third rocket ignited, hesitated, climbed, arced, climbed farther, dwindled, and disappeared. They, very rationally, assumed that it had climbed so high that it had returned to ground outside their field of vision, so they proceeded to search the park. I hauled flashlights and lanterns in from the car as it grew dark. We never found any sign of the third rocket.
Much later, after I had tucked my stepson into bed and sung to him, I checked the back of the third drawer in the dresser. The device was right where I’d left it. For years the display had remained dark. That night the display glowed amber. “Message received. Await instructions.”
The Events of the Night of August 19, 1994
an award winning haiku by The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club
The Night In Question Because
There Was No Ghlaghghee
The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club
PS – There are more – many more – where this came from, O Innocent Scalzi. Just say the word… A fine selection of Beauteous Ghlaghghee pictures would distract us of course.
It made the news, but not the serious type that you’d associate with politics and murders. Featured in the part of the broadcast where you’d most likely see puppy adoptions and polar bear naming contests; a picture of me pointing towards the sky flashed upon the screen.
It happened as I sat upon the warm sand contemplating my sudden fascination with toe jam. A brilliant light shimmered through the waves and beckoned me forth. I pulled the blanket from my shoulders and stepped into the surf, the water surging at my feet with a sudden intensity.
As I neared the now blinding beam of white illumination, I felt the sand beneath my feet give way as if a giant wave had pulled everything back to the sea. Losing my footing, I fell in where the dark water engulfed me for what seemed like an eternity.
Gasping for air as I surfaced, a large metal disk shot out from the water. With the taste of salt on my lips, I looked up into the night sky to see the ship hovering directly above me. My heart pounded in my chest, aflame with both fear and curiosity as I kicked my legs to keep from sinking. I had been frozen in place as sonic pulses and intense heat from the disk radiated through my skin until I passed out.
I remember waking up on the beach surrounded by medical personnel who to this day insist I suffered a seizure while out fishing for oysters at night.
Unbelieving, my insides were screaming with a story! I had to tell my tale, so I called the local news. You may make fun of me, as everyone else has done, but I know what I saw and I most certainly remember what I heard the night of August 19th, 1994. “Greetings Gentle beings”, will continue to haunt me to this day and I know I’m the not the only one who has been affected.
He has returned.
It was the 20th of August, 1994 when my dad bought me my first car. I was 14 at the time, still 2 years away from driving, and 3 years from being allowed to drive on my own thanks to Ontario’s lame (or so I thought at the time) “graduated licensing”, but we were driving around the back roads of northern Ontario when he spotted it on the lot of a used car dealer. It was a 1986 model, and not in particularly good shape, but my dad figured that the dealer had no idea what the BMW was really worth, and that such a deal was just too sweet to pass up. That he might secretly drive “my” German engineered sport coupe until I was ready for it was an unspoken understanding between us.
It was only years later that the events of the previous night began to come to light, and even then in only the most sketchy of outlines.
In 1998 I was a physics major at the University of Toronto, and was doing a practical lab on measuring radioactivity. I was measuring all kinds of things to get an idea of background radiation, including car exhaust. Logically, the radiation in car exhaust should be the same as the radiation in the gas and air that produced it, unless the heat somehow affects the meter being used. This was not, however, the case for my car. While it took a while to come to think of it, measuring the back half of the car with the engine off also demonstrated that there was abnormally high levels of radiation present.
With the help of my professors and the police, we were able to piece together that August 19, 1994 was the night of a hit-and-run, a shootout, and a mysterious explosion in Northern Ontario. Beyond that, the official channels had no information for me. Certainly no mention of the transport and/or sale of nuclear weapons or technology in that neck of the woods, though I would of course expect that even if they knew of such events, they wouldn’t tell me about them. Perhaps I had read too many spy novels, but that seemed to be the immediate explanation to my mind for the strange confluence of events.
So it was a surprise even to me when it was revealed just this year, 13 years after the fact, that that very same region of Northern Ontario was reported to contain a rich uranium “yellowcake” deposit. A land and stock speculation boom resulted, followed by a large bust when the deposit was found to lie mostly on the surface, with not enough uranium to be commercially viable.
An exceptionally elaborate hoax with eerie similarities to the Bre-X scheme. It certainly had at least some of the same players as that scam, though what lead the perpetrators to lie low for so long is not known for sure. Perhaps they felt that it was too easy to do due diligence on an Ontario mining operation as opposed to an overseas one, though I personally suspect it might have something to do with the 11-year conviction of Zoe Walsh for a drunk hit-and-run on August 19, 1994. Or perhaps that co-conspirator George Salter’s car was sold by his cousin after George dropped it off at the dealership to swap cars for the week.
Many people have asked me to speak out publicly about what happened in Kill Devil Hills that night. Many people have claimed they were there with me or they know my whereabouts now. As a message to all of those people: I can almost certainly assure you that you weren’t there. I can most certainly assure you that you have no idea where I am now.
Some people say it was Divine fate that the site of the first flight sustained human flight was the site of the most important if not the most spectacular crash in recorded history. The first publicly confirmed crash of a flying craft that didn’t originate from Earth happened on August 19th, 9:04pm. I was putting up equipment and flicking through previews on my Nikon in the last discernable twilight shadow of the Wright Brothers Monument. I’d been taking pictures for National Geographic all through the evening and the sunset hours.
I wish I could say I looked up and saw the trail of light or a blinding flash or something, but the only thing that I noticed as it was falling was that I suddenly couldn’t see my preview screen for all the light. I thought it was one of my crew members’ flash bulbs for a split second between the flash and the impact.
A steely ball the size of one of those had torn through the pine trees at the edge of the plain and embedded itself in the artifically preserved dune, kicking up muddy sand and splattering a line almost exactly along the path of that last, longest flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
When I got to the ball, it was slightly crumpled and bits of the thermal shielding were everywhere, but when it opened, the passenger was still miraculously alive. He, she, it was mostly the shape of a biggish scarab beetle with half a dozen fingers on each of four forelegs and miraculously lucid eyes. I felt myself illuminated by him like I’d stuck my face in a Xerox machine.
He crawled out and fired some kind of chemical coolant from a canister all over the outside of his craft. Then he turned around and caught my eye. He pointed at his craft. He pointed at the moon. He walked over to his ship and leaned against it hard, trying to roll it out of the hole and then looked at me, and I clearly understood the implication, “Aren’t you going to help?” It never even occurred to him that I might be hostile, or maybe that even if I was, that there was a thing I could do to hurt him.
I clambered up beside him and we rolled his craft until he beckoned to stop, and then he hopped up on top of it. I didn’t see exactly what he did to make it work, but I saw a circle in bright green laser light drawn against a cloud in the sky, steady and unwavering. He sat down beside his ship and started drawing in the sand with his fingers, looking up at me occasionally, waving like he wanted to say something.
I took picture after picture with the help of the crew, since he was so utterly unafraid. He waited there for hours, acknowledging us, but not terribly interested. He just looked bored and impatient. At 2:30, the adrenaline was finally starting to wear away and make me shaky. Then a thrumming sound hit just at the bottom of my hearing. I looked up that time and got a wonderful shot of the craft that came to pick him up and take him away. He drew a sign on the ground (that’s the National Geographic, December 1994 Cover everyone knows so well by now), and was gone.
I sent the photographs on to National Geo and to the Smithsonian, the BBC, the Washington Post, the Times, and the News & Observer along with who I was and my credentials and a letter signed by myself and my entire crew.
Five days later we all started getting the calls from the Government and contractors wanting to interview us, and when they became more strongly worded, we knew it was time to go. As you know, not one of us has been seen since. We still tell our story out here on message-boards, in email and in newsgroups, just to let you know that we’re indeed still alive, that we’re safe, that we’re happy with what we saw that night and what we’ve seen since.
Oh, one final thing to those who are still looking for me. You’d be surprised to know how far the internet goes…
I was 16 and gangly, finishing up a stint as a camp counselor. I’d gone to that camp every year since I was eight. We rode horses and did farm work, all very enriching. Traditionally on the last night of camp we’d have a cookout and tell ghost stories. “Traveler’s Tale” was the one that had always scared me breathless as a kid. It was a spoof story, not even meant to be scary, about a rogue horse tail that scratched at campers’ sleeping bags in the night.
That weather was clear, but we knew a storm was coming because of the tarantula ambling around our fire. Occasionally its eyes would flash red in the darkness around us before it crossed into the firelit circle. On seeing it, our head counselor, Zoe interrupted the old tired story that the cook was telling.
“Ever heard of a guy named Scalvi?” she asked.
We all shook our heads.
Zoe leaned forward conspiratorially, her blond braid swinging around to land in front of her left shoulder. “I don’t normally like to talk about this, but the spider reminds me. I met him once, in the desert.”
“Did you have hot sex?” asked Felicity. She was my age and should have known better. There were ten year olds present, after all.
“He asked me if I liked black jelly beans, “ Zoe said.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” I asked, with forced nonchalance.
The tarantula was inching steadily towards me. Tarantulas don’t scare me as much as other spiders since they’re big and slow, but I admit I was still uncomfortable. I tensed my quads and placed my palms on my kneecaps, trying to anchor myself. At sixteen I had finally escaped the baby treatment at the ranch, and I really didn’t want to lose ground.
Zoe’s face looked grim in the firelight. I’m still not sure if that was due to her expression or the play of the firelight or both. “I said that I did like black jelly beans. I always have. Scalvi pointed out a hole in the ground and told me that a tarantula lived inside. I knew it was possible. I do know a little bit about the fauna in places I trek through. What I had never heard before was that they taste like black jelly beans.”
“What?” asked Lydia. She was ten, and our resident skeptic. “Spiders taste like meat.”
“How do you know? Freak.” That from Jennifer, 11, the bully.
“Ladies,” I said (I was the peacekeeper). “Please let Zoe finish her story. Unless you would prefer we all go to bed right now?”
The campers shut up, but I could hear them jabbing each other with elbows and marshmallow roasting sticks. Zoe cleared her throat and went on with the story.
“Scalvi swore it was true, and then he reached into the hole and plucked a tarantula out. And…” A pause there for dramatic effect. I looked down at our own tarantula, repressing a shudder. I was a big girl now. Big girl, I thought over and over, as if that could keep me from succumbing to irrational fear and chronic unpopularity.
“What?” the campers asked, sitting on the edges of their logs.
Zoe leaned in even closer to the fire, her eyes wide and fierce. “He ate it!”
“No!” said Lydia. “I don’t believe it.”
The spider was almost to my foot now. It could walk right over my shoe. At least I wasn’t wearing sandals. I couldn’t bear the idea of it touching me, though, even through canvas. I wondered if I might casually tuck my feet up under me.
A distinctly male voice broke in at that point, distracting me from the tarantula. “That’s not exactly how I remember this story.” I turned around to face the speaker, who was a few feet behind me. I couldn’t see much of him in the darkness, but from what I could make out he looked ordinary.
“Scalvi,” Zoe whispered.
“The one and only,” he said.
“Why are you here?”
Scalvi stepped into the circle of light and grabbed the tarantula in one hand, stroking its bulbous body with the other.
“I told you we’d meet again. It’s time, Zoe.”
“Time for what?” I asked. “Zoe, what’s going on?” I don’t think I was the only person who felt nervous.
“You need to come back to Phoenix,” Scalvi said.
I thought it was odd because Zoe hadn’t ever talked about Arizona. Her desert stuff had all been in California, which was where we were. The next part was garbled. I could swear Scalvi said something about skipping to get there, and I remember picturing them dressed up as Dorothy and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.
Before anyone could say another word, the storm broke, loud and violent. Lightning flashed around us, and I concentrated on herding all the campers inside the dry bunkhouse. It was half an hour before we cleaned up enough to do a head count, and by then Scalvi and Zoe were long gone. We called the police, but they seemed to think we were pulling a prank. It turned out none of us knew Zoe’s family. The emergency numbers on her release forms were false. No one came looking for her.
I never have worked out the truth. I think maybe the spiders tasting like jellybeans thing was just a lie to impress the kids, but I can’t be sure. Sometime I think she never really existed at all. She left her stuff behind, though. The two hamsters named Hickory and Dickory, her Babar pillowcase, a creepy stuffed armadillo (I don’t mean the plush kind).
I google them every few months just to see what turns up. So far nothing on her, but Scalvi… Recently it’s come to my attention that a lot of people have met him, and all their experiences are as garbled as mine. It seems like the possibility of finding real answers diminishes with each new piece of information I find.
That was the day I taped bacon on my cat. My friends yelled at me, calling me mean. I told them to “just wait. Someday someone will do this and become famous for it.”
Everyone thought the tale of 8/14/94 had died with McNiven, thrown over the side of the raft along with the charm bracelet, deck of pinochle cards and the old voodoo box none of us could open. Coming on 14 years later much of it’s still a blur, a cloudy array of lies on top of lies meant to not only obfuscate the story, but bury it altogether.
But like a well-worn joke, the punchlines and tags remain, even if the focus falls off the way-side, and since Scalzi buys the drinks (buys ’em hard and strong) in this neck of the woods, I can chase the pain and guilt away long enough to impart the following:
1. There were originally 9 charms on the bracelet, but when thrown overboard only 4 remained.
2. McNiven’s hat (though not McNiven himself) provided an important clue early on.
3. It was a damn shame no one knew how to play pinochle.
To this day my knee still aches when the cold comes, and I’m forever haunted by his face, sinking slowly from white to black in the inadequate glow of our failing flashlight.
Hey guys, he’s got the date now, so we have to tell him…
John, you are the only human left who is traveling forward through time. As individuals, we each hit the temporal wall at different points. We are all traveling backwards now, including the last few stragglers. And we wait only for you. Trust me, it’s wonderful. You’ll understand the night of August 19th, 1994.
This is one of the MOST important days in John Scalzi Life…..
The Day That he lost his Heart…but found his Soulmate.
He was invited to a “Mixer” as I believe it was mentioned to me , I have been wrong before. when out of nowhere, what little hair that youg John still had began to tingle and stand on end. He felt this chill that made him shiver but was as gentle as a whisper on his cheek.
He turned around and around and was looking for the source of this heart throbbing, vision distorting, verge of a heartattack feeling, was coming from when….across the room….. a pair of soft eyes were looking at him, and all he could see, was those eyes. He felt like he was on the verge of a cliff and was slipping off and was falling as if forever, in this persons gaze.
When he got his eyes back in focus and finally look at the person as a whole. He became a stupid male trying to impress this heavenly dream before him, and all it took, I was told, was an arched eyebrow and he fell grovling at her feet with such worship in his eyes, that she took pity upon him and said “Hi”, which made his heart lurch from his body and offer it to this person to be used in anyway that she wanted to.
The rest of the night cannot be remembered by any but the Heavenly person know as:
Oh yeah… a footnote… a year later they got married and still are…yeah them…
Trick question. Thanks to a series of time anomalies caused when a one less-than-brilliant time traveler went back in time, killed his grandfather, became his own dad, and stepped on a butterfly, August 19, 1994 never actually took place.
As for August 20, 1994, that’s a long story.
Yes, John, I remember what happened that night. And yes, you still owe me a 50 bucks and a bottle of Southern Comfort.
I didn’t realize that anyone out there knew there was anything significant about August 19th, 1994. It’s all supposed to be a big secret, but I think enough time has gone by without anyone coming to retrieve me that I can let you guys in on the truth.
I was actually (or will be) born in the year 3064. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that in 3064, the Earth is really a complete pit. The only breathable air is in the dome cities and even there, there’s running sewage in the streets. Yup, we ruined the planet. And for a number of reasons, we never got around to colonizing space at all. Exploration pretty much stopped after the U.S.S.S. Hilary Clinton fizzled on the launch pad. (Chelsea Clinton, 94 years old at the time, stated that faulty fuel from Cheney-Bush Energy was responsible.)
At any rate, I had been (will have been?) assigned the mission of traveling back to November of 2000, hacking into Florida’s voting machines and giving the election to Al Gore. You see, our scientists have (will have) concluded that had Al Gore been elected, Global Warming might have been stopped in time. Anything beginning later than that would be a futile effort.
So anyway, they missed my target date by more than five years and I showed up on August 19th, 1994. They missed a lot more than that. First of all, they didn’t drop me in Florida…I was sent to Cuba. Do you have any idea how fucking hard it is to get out of Cuba when all the money you’ve got says it hasn’t been printed yet. Eventually, I got a raft ride with a family I’d befriended and made my way to Miami.
The hack wasn’t planned very well either. I’m sure all the tech and code I was given is perfectly fine, but It was given to me on a liquid-nano drive, which, correct me if I’m wrong, still hasn’t been invented.
To make a long story short, even if I manage to find a liquid-nano reader now, it’s just too late. Global warming is irreversible now. I messed up my assignment and you guys missed your window. The good news is you can stop bothering with all those dufus electric cars and CFL lightbulbs. Your shit’s cooked already and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it, so you might as well live it up.
BTW, I have no idea whether or not they are (or will be) planning another attempt, but I’ve resigned myself to being stuck here. You have now idea how nice it is being able to eat real food without having to process all the heavy metals out of it. I never knew bananas came in a solid form before I got here. Bliss!
According to his obituary on http://www.nap.edu, that is when Linus Pauling died. However, the astute will note that said obituary gives no cause of death. No “natural causes” or “of a lingering illness” or “of causes to be determined by a medical examiner”. Nothing at all. To those who are truly in tune with what is happening, that is very significant. It begs the question, “Did he really die?”
Well, the bibiolgraphy published with that obituary mentions something that the casual reader might easily miss: “Pauling, L. 1996. The discovery of the alpha helix. Chem. Intell. 2:32-38.” Verrry Interesting!! Sounds like pretty heavy-duty research for a man dead 2 years.
What actually happened is this: The aliens being held prisoner at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (Ohio?? Hmm…) contacted someone not really famous, but not completely unknown either to “interview” Pauling about some aspect of his work in chemistry. Someone with some scientific background, and an understanding of the basics, but without a degree in the field. At this “interview” he was kidnaped by the aliens and spirited away to their secret base in the wilds of northern Canada, where nobody would ever find him. A facsimile was left in California which was then reported to be his body. He then, under duress, did the basic research that eventually led to the invention of “SmartBlood” both of the human and alien varieties. He was assisted by an electronics engineer who had also been spirited away, but has not yet been missed because he has a social life that makes Dilbert’s look like “par-tay time.” In secret, he continued his personal research to produce the 1996 paper, which was smuggled out to his publisher and confidant in Flin Flon Manitoba one paragraph at a time in the fur of trained polar bears.
The government can only keep this under wraps so long. One day a very old man with a mysterious resemblance to Pauling will be found wandering around at a science fiction convention, with complete amnesia. He will never be identified, but will be placed in a home where he can receive the care he needs until he really dies, to be buried in an unmarked grave.
Mark my words! And watch your back!
August 19, 1994
It was a Friday night. Actually, it was evening. Dusk. The sky was twilight blue with a hint of thunderstorms brewing in the air. There was, as always, the sound of guns thundering in the distance. And shadows. Shadows to fear & shadows to embrace.
I only know that there were tears and incomprehensible fears and monuments to the dead. They only wanted to teach. We learnt too late.
We are lonely children taught to play the games of imaginary wars sent to fight in the real world. Do you need to see blood & chaos to understand that it exists? Blood is red & sticky & I know you told me this…that war is pain & hurt & gone & death.
Zoe, I need to know why we send children to fight in old men’s wars.
Ten months and four days, and I still had no idea what was going on. I was due in court the next morning, August 20, 1994 on something – maybe a misdemeanor, maybe an eviction, possibly a bankruptcy. A brief was due for the Supreme Court and I had already spent the last two weeks juggling court, research, brain-achingly complicated appellate writing. My loans were in default, my girlfriend was complaining that we never went anywhere or did anything, the ’78 Olds I was driving was on its last legs, and my boss, upon hearing that I was wearing second-hand suits from a thrift shop had nearly shit himself laughing at me. This, after I came in on the morning of August 19, 1994, and found the entire brief I had written – fifty pages of intricately-woven legal arguments – slashed up with scissors and haphazardly taped to yellow legal pads. My boss seemed to think that his cut-n-paste efforts constituted the review I had requested for the past week, but miscalculated the due date for the brief, leaving me to reconstruct it, print it, sign it, get it to the printer and drive it to Richmond so it would be filed on time later that day – on August 19, 1994.
Of course, I got pulled over on the way to Richmond by an officer who stated that I was driving “reckless by speed” so he was within his rights to take me to jail and impound my car… at 2:45 when the filing deadline was 4:30 P.M. and the Supremes wouldn’t take “But I was flouting the law of Virginia and speeding through the Commonwealth just so I could make this filing on time, because my boss cut up the brief this morning…” for an answer.
It was a tumultuous time. Children all around me were missing school and suffering from a disease run rampant. Some became disfigured, but there were the lucky few untouched, unscarred from this beastly fluctuation. Was this Darwin at his best? Were we being selected by some random methodology orchestrated by currents far stronger than anything ever encountered before? Who would survive their struggle to emerge triumphant from this most turbulent of events?
It was on this evening, August 19, of the year 1994, that I, too, found myself no longer immune to this inevitability. The symptoms were varied, yet unmistakable: irritability, perspiration, bone ache, and the most undeniable of all, breast tenderness.
I was not to leave school that day unscathed. I had brought home the most horrid and feared ailment: Puberty.
Oh my. So many entries already.
Of course, it started before August 19, 1994 (or August 20, 1994 depending on where you lived). It started in Zurich in 1986. Some guys moved a charged needle around and dragged some gold atoms into a different arrangement. They made the world’s smallest dot matrix printer spell out their employer’s name. Won a Nobel for that they did. Those who were paying attention, realized if you could move 10 atoms, you could move 100, 1000, or 10^28? 10^28 is the number we’re interested in
It turns out, that if you could move 10^28 from one stable arrangement to another stable arrangement using the basic machine the two Swiss gentlemen invented you would have a game changer. Not like ‘make it to the other side and your piece gets crowned.’ More like, a ‘every game you have ever played has some new rules.’ game changer.
It works like this. Take the Zurich machine and miniaturize it. Make it so small that you can have an array of 10^18 of them roughly 2 meters high by half a meter wide. It was tight, especially since each machine has to have a little spectrometer that tells you what kind of atom you currently have in the machine’s grasp. Tack a refuse tube onto the back side. It was tight alright, but all the necessary bits fit. Moore’s Law made it inevitable.
The second bit was harder to swallow. The good news is it’s very, very fast. Faster than you can feel, faster than you can scream. Gotta be fast if we’re looking at all 10^28 atoms that we loosely refer to as “You.”
You step into a coffin-shaped chamber with the array forming one of the walls. A one-sided Iron Maiden if you will. Now do the Iron-Maiden squeeze. As each little machine makes contact with you, (or whatever you’re wearing, it doesn’t mater), it seizes the nearest atom, records what kind of atom it is, where it is in x,y and z and discards the atom. Discards it as in ‘flushes it down the refuse tube.’ Each time the array moves in tighter, 10^18 atoms get flushed away. The process repeats 10^10 times and we’re done. Like I said, it’s gotta be fast. Otherwise it gets messy.
When the machine is done, you’ve been disincorporated. Along with your clothes and yesterday’s burrito that’s been making your cubicle mates frown. You’re now nothing more than a list of numbers stored in a 4 dimensional Cartesian array.
One dimension holds the kind of atom, the other 3 dimensions hold the exact location the atom was found. Down to 10^10 accuracy. That works out to 34 bits to hold the x. 34 bits to hold the y. 34 bits to hold the z. 7 to hold the atom id. The odd trace element mucked up the atom id bit count otherwise it would have been 6. No time for compression because when we need the data, we need it now. So each atom boils down to 109 bits of storage. Times 10^28 is a lot of bits. Moore Law was hard pressed to get them all in but in they went. Again, the Law made it inevitable.
Now run the machine in reverse. Feed it atoms as fast as it asks for them and it places those atoms in the reverse order to the way it found them. Run backwards, our Iron Maiden is a simple, but effective, incorporating machine. Flash made flesh.
Long ago, some wag noticed that a station wagon full of 8 track tapes traveling cross country had more bandwidth than the entire Net. Hence, travel was limited to moving the bits by truck striking travel as one of the immediate applications. Why go by truck when planes were much faster?
It was on August 19, 1994 that John Scalzi had his idea. The idea hearkened back to what computers were initially designed to do. Not what we have them doing today but back to the beginnings. Compute. Compute the difference between a complete pass through the machinery taken on August 19,1994 and a reading taken on August 20,1994. The difference represents your experiences during the day. Every bit of biochemistry that took place on August 19,1994 is recorded in that difference computation.
Sleep? Record someone before and after sleep and the difference computation gives you what sleep did for you.
A corollary to Scalzi’s idea was that difference is addition if you flip the sign. Take the sleep computation results, flip the signs and you can get a night’s sleep added to you as you pass through the machine. No need to sleep.
Mattress factory stocks cratered. They would have completely tanked but lots of people still like sex the old fashion way, that is to say, horizontal. Nonetheless, there’s a world of difference in mattress longevity when it’s only being used an hour,or two, a week instead of 56.
It’s not just you we’re talking about – though we are but you know what I mean. For example, apply statistics to a bunch of difference computations performed on a group of people who have undergone the same training and you have the list of numbers that represent what those people learned. No need to spend time in class anymore – just add the lesson as you pass through the machine.
Funny thing about bits is they can be immortal. That bungee busted last time you jumped? No problem, we’ve got you backed up.
Can’t find enough friends to fill out a dinner table? Not a problem! Just clone a copy, or two, or ten of yourself and you have an instantly full table. Remember, your bits are backed up and so creating 1 of you is just as easy a 1000. Since you’re mostly carbon, oxygen and hydrogen you’re cheap to manufacture.
Therein lies the rub. It’s so easy to manufacture you, Bob, Li-Chuan, Ivan and everyone else that we had to implement culling policies. I’m sure you understand. We’ll remember you fondly.
The recently-formed United States Federal Bureau of Paranormal Affairs was first alerted to the widespread outbreaks of what can only be described as a mass hallucination in several Midwestern cities on August 19, 1994 when one of their local offices reported the appearance of a large disk-shaped object in the sky which appeared to hover directly over the city hall of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A timeline of events during the next 12 hours follows:
6:32 PM CST (UTC-6): First call goes through to FBPA headquarters, originating from the Milwaukee Branch Office. Agent Reports the appearance of a large, metallic disk over the city. A study of agent ’s case-file reveals no previous cases of hallucination or UFO-identification; bureau chief is reluctantly forced to conclude report may be factual.
6:35 PM CST (UTC-6): subsequent satellite surveying of the scene reveals no evidence of the large disk agent reported.
6:38 PM CST (UTC-6) FBPA headquarters receives a second report from Columbus, Ohio (local time 7:38 PM EST (UTC-5)). Agent reports appearance of object almost exactly the same in appearance to that reported by agent in Milwaukee.
6:45 PM CST (UTC-6): FBI reports agents reporting similar sightings to those reported in Milwaukee and Columbus by several of their branch offices across the Midwest. FBPA chief authorizes release of information to other federal intelligence agencies and requests that FBI, CIA, and other concerned agencies respond in kind.
6:50-7:15 PM CST (UTC-6): five other sightings reported, all over urban areas with fewer than 3 million people. Reports received from: Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Strangely, there is no news report from any of the seven affected cities about these strange objects.
7:35 PM CST (UTC-6): first news report airs on appearance of objects, from St. Louis; when camera pans across sky nothing is visible except a thin scattering of clouds. When informed of this, local correspondent insists that the object is visible. FBPA think-tank theorizes that the object might be emitting some sort of field that selectively edits its own existence from any digital or magnetic-tape based storage. On-site agents instructed to attempt to record objects with any available mediums. Failure to do so is confirmed roughly 48 hours later.
7:50 PM CST (UTC-6): Sunset at Milwaukee. Agent reports appearance of lights along surface of object.
8:00 PM CST (UTC-6): gag order over all media broadcasts issued.
7:50-8:15 PM CST (UTC-6): Reports are received from all sighting locations of similar activity.
8:15-9:15 PM CST (UTC-6): No changes in behavior of objects.
9:30 PM CST (UTC-6): FBPA bureau chief authorizes attempt to achieve communication with object, using all available forms of communication.
9:35-9:45 CST (UTC-6): Communication attempted.
9:45 PM CST (UTC-6): First patterns identified by on-site agents in three cities. Meaning of patterns remains uncertain.
9:45-10:45 PM CST (UTC-6): Patterns remain unchanged.
10:45 PM CST (UTC-6): Attempts to make contact are resumed.
10:50 PM CST (UTC-6): President briefed on events.
11:00 PM CST (UTC-6): Gag order revoked.
11:00 PM – 6:00 AM CST (UTC-6): Contact attempts continue; lights change pattern several times but not in any apparent response to contact attempts. Observation reports no changes other than change of light pattern. Continued fly-bys of sites by military and intelligence units confirm no electronically-detectable evidence of objects; however, human observers continue to observe object. At least one pilot (see attached report on Captain Edward Wood, Jr) reports undulations in surface coloring of object in addition to lights, and a sort of low-intensity luminescence.
6:02 AM CST (UTC-6): Sunrise in Milwaukee.
6:30 AM CST (UTC-6): Milwaukee branch reports object has deactivated its lights with the appearance of the sun at 6:02 AM local time. Object begins to attain vertical altitude.
6:45 AM CST (UTC-6): Object lost to sight.
6:50 AM CST (UTC-6): Survey satellite COBALT reports collision.
6:51 AM CST (UTC-6): Contact with survey satellite COBALT lost.
It is interesting to note that there was no incident of panic reported in the event save for several incidents of collapse due to acute claustrophobia, and several other panic attacks caused by agoraphobia triggered by the change in perceived safety.
In the event of the loss of COBALT one might conclude that these mysterious objects did in fact exist. However, it has been confirmed by FBPA that COBALT was not in the projected movement path of any of the objects at the time of its apparent destruction, and it is unlikely that an object capable of circumventing major surveillance efforts would be so clumsy as to collide with one of the observation devices.
The FBPA has published a report which they claim satisfactorily explains the events. The only remaining unknown quantity in their report is what caused the simultaneous mass-hallucinations experienced by the citizens of Milwaukee, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis. There is currently no known substance or technology capable of doing this. It is possible that some other paranormal effect is to blame.
Tyke had had enough. It was bad enough, horrible even, that she’d been taken from her family and friends years ago. On top of that she’d been forced to participate in these bizarre public rituals, which to her, made no sense. And the hairless apes were cruel. They hit her, and prodded her with sharp stick things when she didn’t move fast enough for them. They never let her run and exercise, she barely saw the light of day. Tyke was captive, but she was not beaten.
She knew that tomorrow was another day of strange spectacles before the crowds of apes. She was sick to think of their stench, and their awful group roar. It was as if an enormous flock of vultures crowed at once. But tomorrow, tomorrow she would be free. She would somehow be free of her chains and escape. And, she hoped, wreck her vengeance on the apes, Ah-Len, and the evil Day-Las. She would smash them, and crush them as her people had always done to their enemies. She would destroy them as her mother had destroyed the long-toothed hunters when Tyke was a child.
And this place was different. It reminded her of home somehow. The warmth. The scents on the breeze. If she could escape, she was sure she could find her way home. Or die trying. She’d had enough. Enough! Tomorrow, she resolved, she would go home.
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
[sorry if this has been used – I don’t want to read all the responses, yet.]
Jupiter was a happening place that day, though not like the month before. More like a grace note.
The view from the top of the Amalthea observatory was the balls. We drank until all of them were gone, the long slow explosions finished, and then we toasted to them. Technically, I suppose it was the 20th before we were finished.
Pretty eventful day today, I met the coolest girl! I was working at my desk at the paper this afternoon on an idea for a column called “Beer in Space”. I decided to get something to eat. Went down the street to the deli and there she was in line in front of me. She was stunning and I just felt like I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Managed to strike up a conversation with her while we waited. I asked her if she would join me for lunch. She said that she couldn’t but was free this evening. I explained that I worked for the Bee and that I had to go to a press screening of a movie called “Natural Born Killers” this evening. Her name is Kristine and she loves movies! So she had a friend drop her off at the theater and I managed to sneak her in to the screening. It wasn’t much of a date movie, very violent, but there was a romantic theme. But I was supposed to be working anyway. But I couldn’t help glancing over in her direction every now and then. She is just so incredible!
After the movie we had Italian food and talked for a long time. She likes to be called Krissy and wanted to know all about being a writer. After that we went to a club she suggested and had a drink. We decided to dance and just as we hit the floor, they started playing “Friday I’m In Love” by the Cure. What a great song for our first dance. Hopefully there will be many more to come. I drove her home later, met her cat Athena, and got a nice kiss good night. We are going out again Saturday. This really feels like it could be something special.
That night, I was crossing the street. Crossing against the direction I was driving a few years earlier when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio. Of course I knew about Nirvana even then, I lived in Seattle, after all.
The intersection of Stone Way, 50th NE and Green Lake is a five-pointed star, and here I was crossing against the light over two of them. Banging on the side of my portable tape player, trying to coax more out of the batteries so I could listen again to the BASF Chrome copy of my band’s latest mixes. The guitars grinding, then cutting to silence. I whacked it, and got a few more seconds before it dies. I was cursing at it, hitting it. Shaking it.
Courtney had called the police a few months earlier complaining that her husband was suicidal. They came once and took guns and ammo from him. I’m crossing the street and I think about him, and that song is blasting from a car while my own music keeps dying in my hands. I’m annoyed and not paying attention, thinking about Kurt killing himself a few weeks after the cops came and how stupid it was.
And that night, in the crosswalk, I focus on hearing the opening jangle of Smells Like Teen Spirt, and I turned to see a white Mazda truck just like the one I used to have, coming down on me. Coming too fast. I’m crossing against the light.
At that moment I remember being in the truck, listening to the song and driving to this intersection and lighting a cigarette and I don’t notice the guy in the crosswalk walking against the light. And in that moment — in the crosswalk –, I’m watching the spark of the lighter as the driver, looking down, lights up.
The first moment I heard that brilliant song — it was that night I started writing the songs that became the album I was listening to the mixes of while I walked across the street. Started writing an albums worth of songs about accidentally killing somebody. About not wearing a seatbelt and my face going through the windshield. About death and accidents and death and intention.
He was crossing against the light, officer. He had headphones on. He couldn’t hear me honking. Funny, said the paramedic. The scars on his face look just like the fresh gashes on yours. I nodded, in shock. He had held the cassette up to me, before he died. “You’re going to need this,” he said. “To make it through this, you’re going to need this.” And then he was gone.
I remember that night. It was the night I quit smoking and started writing my first album.
This is what I remember on Saturday, August 15, 1994.
I woke up on a dented ravine in the dirt, looking up towards the blue sky, surrounded by trees. I wasn’t sure what the time was – but it was hot, and I could feel the sun through the branches. I guessed it was around noon.
I stood up and brushed the dry soil from my clothes, realizing I felt hung-over or sick, and very dehydrated. My lips where chapped and muscles felt weak. Looking around, I noticed this was not a forest – the trees where in rows, and lemons where hanging their branches. I was in a lemon plantation of some kind.
I knew I should start moving, and the only place I could think of going was down in elevation – to try and find water, of course. I began walking downhill, between the rows trees.
I began to notice things about my clothes as I walked – first, my knees where fairly cut up and pants where, too. A found an unused bullet in my right pocket, and something looked a like hand-held TV and a bottle cap in my left. My right shoelace on right shoe was frayed; it looked like had been caught in something. My left shoe didn’t match the right. I was wearing a sweater, which was odd because don’t own any. It was very dirty. My neck had some bites or something on it, but I figured it was from night in the plantation. I put my hand up to it and was red and glittery.
Suddenly, the previous day came back to me: it was my first time drinking tequila.
On August 14, 1994, my parents were busy trying to create my little sister. They succeeded a couple of months later. They were trying all the time until they succeeded.
Can we not talk about this any more?
This is a little weird because I had to look up the date to refresh my memory. I now teach community college in Muncie, IN just down the road from you John, but at the time I was working as a patrolman for the local Police Department. I had just started in April, and for the first year, new officers ride with a training partner to be supervised until they go to the acadamy. I had just reciently shed myself of my first training partner, an over-opinionated, sunflower seed chewing ex-marine, who had a slightly schizophrenic training meathod that really drove my self control to the limit. It was a Friday night and I was working the 3PM to 11PM afternoon shift and on friday we were always busy, so that was the day that no one had off and the whole shift was working. I was doubled up with my new training partner and we were kind of cruising around, just screwing off like you did on slow moments, when we heard a call go out on the radio for an unknown trouble call in a mobil home park that was close to us. Being still new, (I was 29 at the time, so I wasn’t Puppy-Dog new, but even so) I looked at my partner, who nodded and then I acknowledged the call and we headed that way. While in route, we heard a partially garbled transmission with the phrase “shots fired” and I lit up the car and we busted ass there.
This document was obtained on August 19th, 2008, as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request on documents regarding the “Pandora Project.” Jay Tulley committed suicide on August 19th, 2008.
Inevitably, there was a cover-up. The government infused the media with enough tall tales to confuse the events of August 19th for generations. Some implicated extraterrestrials; others blame terrorists. A lonely, ridiculed few suggested that the Argonne research involved time travel, but they were only partly right. No one else survived who knows the truth – only me.
The power grid had failed at 8:00 pm sharp – everybody knows that. What they don’t know is that is was part of an elaborate attempt to sabotage the experiments, rather than a result of them. Certain right-wing organizations had learned of the event, decided it was an act against God, and vowed to stop it.
I’m no physicist. I’m just the guy that cleans up. I can’t tell you exactly what Dr. Bailey was working on, but it had something to do with chaos and quantum… Damn it! I can’t remember the specifics. What I do know is that while you, and everyone else in the world, experienced the time loop for a day, those of us who were closer to ground zero were doomed to a worse fate.
The world was shocked after having woken up on what they thought was the 20th, only to find that it was still the 19th, and nothing they had done the first time around had happened. They were even more shocked that it had happened to everyone they knew – which meant no one could really change anything because everyone knew each other’s motives, and besides, they only had the one day. Some didn’t know they only had the one day, and they spent it recklessly as if they were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Dr. Lucas Bailey, Dr. Jamie Litsa, John Koht, Anna (beautiful Anna whose name I never learned), and I were directly within the blast zone, along with two of the assholes who shut down the power grid, causing the problem in the first place. Everyday, every August 19th, we fought against them to keep them from shutting down the grid, and every day they fought back just as hard, maybe harder, zealously with God on their side. Everyday we searched for more clues on discover exactly how they shut down the grid (there’s not a master switch somewhere or anything like that). Everyday we forgot most of what we learned the day before.
In the end, the PhD’s had gone crazy – everyone had gone crazy but the doctors especially – and killed themselves. Dr. Bailey went the old-fashioned way but he couldn’t find a rope so he hung himself with a fifty-foot Ethernet cable. Dr. Litsa stabbed himself in the throat and bled to death, but not before slicing John’s throat.
Anna, sweet Anna, would have lived if she’d only gone along with my plan.
I lost count of how many days had looped. In the end, victory was in the hands of the lowly janitor, Jay Tulley, who might not know a thing about physics but knows how to put the pieces together. The doctors had taken care of most of the power grid problems, so after I took out those traitor right-wing bastards, the time loop stopped. Today, the time loop stopped, with everyone dead and Anna’s blood on my hands. No more days, no more chances to fix everything. The guilt is real now, and there’s only one way to stop it.
AAron Buchanan @54 wrote:
That was the sad day that the ucbvax was shut down after many years of glorious service. I have neither the direct experience, nor the eloquence to describe the impact this machine had on many lives. But one hears stories…
That is the story, ah yes.
But that’s not the entire story. Oh no.
I cannot tell the whole story, as I wasn’t there the whole time, but I can tell more than that.
First of all, it’s not “the ucbvax”, it’s “ucbvax”. And we think it was a she, not an it.
Ucbvax lived in the old IST datacenter in the basement of Evans Hall at UC Berkeley. Evans hall was notorious as the center of much computer-related hijinks from the 70s through the late 90s, when the CS department finally departed for Soda Hall. In the basement were the datacenter, a printers room (beware the printer that spools 10 pages per second, my friends, but that’s a different story altogether…), and what was originally the terminal room called “The Pit”, but by the mid-80s was expensively refurbished as the Ray Neff Memorial Workstations Lab, more properly “The Web”. Mr Neff was not actually deceased, but he’d spent something like 10 years of CS and campuswide IT capital budget ordering several hundred very early Sun servers and workstations on easy credit terms (“They’re Berkeley,” Sun said, “They must have the money…”) AFTER purchasing a large Cray supercomputer on spec. Oh, and remodeling the whole workstations area into what was an actually decently pleasant working environment, with nice ergonomic workstations and lighting.
Key to this story is the physical access controls in place in Evans Hall. As the Web was the CS open terminal area, and the Open Computing Facility for everyone else was tucked in the back corner, the Web area and a small corner of the ground floor above were both accessable 24×7. The basement datacenter, and the classrooms and offices above all required cardkey access. As did the elevators, though the stairs to the basement were open.
The elevators were important. The elevators could take you to a couple of faculty lounges. The elevators could take you to the 10th floor, where a large balcony overlooked the west side of campus. As a final protective measure, the doors out to the balcony were locked so that only math faculty and students could get out there, but that was defeated by picked locks, removed locks, an unscrewed metal door frame, and finally permanent removal of key parts of the metal doorframe (not by me, of course, but I enjoyed the free unfettered access to the balcony at 3am as much as anyone else).
Oh, yes, the elevators.
The elevators had been hacked five ways to sunday before I got to campus. The elevator control computers were subverted numerous years. The simple expedient of a classroom whose front and back doors were on opposite sides of a cardkey security barrier was an ever popular way around it. And sometimes the elevator computer just forgot it wasn’t supposed to service the basement call button after 8pm.
Similarly, the datacenter security had its flaws. There were a number of them, ranging from an unsecured closet to simply hopping over the counter in the printer room and going through the unlocked back door there.
All of this led to the usual escapades. A system hacked for fun (by others) and accidentally corrupted by a cross-filesystem hard link which was clandestinely rebooted and repaired in person by re-toggling in its boot sector on the front switches. Construction fence migrated upstairs to blockade a favorite CS lecturers office. And the Cray upgrade unit which went on walkabout after being neglegently left in the basement elevator lobby on its conveniently wheeled shipping container.
Which all brings us back around to ucbvax.
For a while, when the Internet was young and UUCP and Usenet and Email were the exciting new protocols, ucbvax was one of the core systems in UUCP traffic and Usenet. If your mail or news server talked directly to ucbvax, you were important people. If you had an account there, you were The Man. She preened in all the attention, watching all the traffic flow by. She saw the Morris Worm, she saw the September that never Ended, and Canter and Siegel. Above it all she stood, the bits flowing in, the bits flowing out.
She had her friends. Kremvax had seemed just a dream, but he eventually came to life himself, and they chattered away the nights pinging each other. The cluster of machines at MIT would sometimes fling her a Kerberos packet in greetings, which she responded to with a hearty ICMP source quench, to everyone’s great amusement. The massive VAX clusters at SRI, haughty and proud, nonetheless encapsulated her DECNET traffic in tribute to her proud service.
Sadly, that time came to an end. She had been replaced by more modern routers, higher end servers, better software. And the campus police department needed her for a cardkey reader system.
She thought this was a pretty lousy way to treat someone who’d been in the middle of things while the Internet grew. She thought back, to the pictures of IMP routers now sitting in scrapyards. And the boneyards full of old mainframes. And she grieved.
All the administrators knew was that there was a little tic in a disk. They didn’t even bother to replace it, since she was destined for the cardkey service anyways. She cried in private, and nobody noticed in the data streams that were slowly waning and the system logs that were sobbing. And then it was time.
All we know for sure is that when everyone gathered for the ceremonial flipping of the switch to turn her off, she was gone. There was a long length of old thicknet ethernet cable, out through the printer room, and cut off at the elevator. Some people rushed upstairs, frantically searching, but it was too late. There was another trail of cable on the 10th floor, out to the balcony, and far below was an ugly silicon smear on the gratings 11 floors below that covered the air intakes for the basement datacenter.
Her remains were found in the air shaft, and were swept up by sobbing IS staff. She was buried in a grave up the hill at Lawrence Hall of Science, overlooking the UC campus. The day they buried her, there was a minor earthquake and the campus stadium (which straddles the Hayward Fault) shifted about a tenth of an inch further apart.
Her IP address was retired in honor of her memory and added to permanently reserved IP address lists. Every now and then, though, a Usenet message wafts out of the ether, an email is mysteriously relayed, or a network ping into the void comes back when it shouldn’t have.
We have ghosts in the Internet.
On August 19, 1994 possibly one of the greatest athletes ever to live, Michael Jordan, played his first game for the Birmingham Barons. Michael went on to to prove he shouldn’t have given up his day job.
Explain what happened? It’s pretty easy to explain. The baseball strike had been on for a full week already and we missed the game. Also, we were drunk. When you consider those two facts, the results are self-explanatory.
I can’t explain the pigeon, though. I never figured out what it was doing on home plate. I don’t want to know, honestly.
That was the day the saucers came. And the zombies. And Ragnarok, too, and the cities turned to crystal, and the plants died, and plastics dissolved, and the computers turned on us and the drunken angels stumbled rambling out of their bars . . .
I remember that day.
I was waiting for a phone call.
(with due credit to Neil Gaiman)
This is a little weird because I had to look up the date in an old log book to refresh my memory. I now teach community college in Muncie, IN just down the road from you, but at the time I was working as a patrolman for the local Police Department. I had just started in April, and for the first year, new officers ride with a training partner to be supervised until they go to the academy. I had just recently shed myself of my first training partner John, an over-opinionated, sunflower seed chewing ex-marine, who had a slightly schizophrenic training method that really drove my self control to the limit.
It was a Friday night and I was working the 3PM to 11PM afternoon shift and on Friday we were always busy, so that was the day that no one had off and the whole shift was working. I was doubled up with my new training partner and we were kind of cruising around, just screwing off like you did on slow moments, when we heard a call go out on the radio for an unknown trouble call in a mobile home park that was close to us. Being still new, (I was 29 at the time, so I wasn’t Puppy-Dog new, but even so) I looked at my partner, who nodded and then I acknowledged the call and we headed that way. While in route, we heard a partially garbled transmission with the phrase “shots fired” and I lit up the car and we busted ass there.
As we were pulling up, dispatch broad-casted that a suspect had shot a woman and drug her into a mobile home, and as I got out of the car, I saw two other cars were already at the scene and an officer with his gun drawn going into this mobile home. I ran up to the door and followed the officer in, while my partner went behind the building to watch the back. When I entered, I saw my old partner John lying on the floor with his weapon trained down the hall of this little trailer, and he had turned his flashlight on and rolled it over against the wall to blind anyone down the hall. I remember hearing the woman whimpering down the hall and a metallic sound, like a ratchet. Later we found out that the guy was the lady’s ex-husband and he had shot her because she was going to testify against him for beating her in the past. The place stunk of cordite from the discharge of a firearm, and I don’t consciously remember drawing my weapon, but as I looked down the hall, I saw the suspect, a balding head with wild eyes bobbing in and out of the doorway, and I realized that I was looking at him over the three tritium dots of the sights of my pistol and that I was thinking that if he stopped bobbing around, he was mine. The officer that I followed in was behind me, an older officer who was a lot calmer than my incoherently screaming ex-partner, leaned his knee into my back to let me know where he was, and then calmly started to talk to the suspect. After some time (I have no idea how long, but the whole incident was only about 10 minutes) the suspect appeared with the woman in front of him, pushing her down the hall. She had a white scrub top on with flowers on it. I don’t know why I remember that and not her face. As they got closer, John, seeing both of the suspects hands holding the woman, shouted “No Gun” and we charged them. I grabbed the woman and passed her to the other officer and John and I slammed the suspect to the floor and hand cuffed him. I remember that John’s handcuffs were black. After cuffing the guy, we looked for and found the pistol that he used to shoot the lady. It was jammed and this was why he didn’t finish killing her and /or himself.
It has been fourteen years, but I can still smell the cordite. Funny the things that stick.
Well, lets see…
Ah, now I remember! That was when that rift in time opened somewhere in the midwest and a single man popped out. This man proceeded to write the history of his time and universe and released it on his blog. If you have not guess it already this man is John Scalzi, and on August 19, 1994 he arrived in our time.
Lets just hope that no Time Lord decides to take him back.
Okay, well, you remember how I told you before me and Frankie had gone to the movies that night, right? Yeah, well, that wasn’t exactly true. Now, you gotta cut me some slack here; I didn’t want to get my own brother in trouble, not when all of what happened myself, right? You can understand that, can’t you? Yeah. Okay, but now, after all the other shit that’s gone on since then, I’m like, I gotta come clean. Y’know? So this, this is the truth.
So, Frankie shows up at my door, his hands all stained red, red splatters all over his face. I shoulda known it was blood, but y’know, this is my kid brother; blood isn’t even a possibility. Paint, maybe, but not blood. So he brushes past me, and heads straight for the john. And so of course I start yelling at him through the door, asking if he came all the way across down just to take a dump in my place and what, is there something special about my toilet? But he doesn’t say anything. But I just figure didn’t think I was being funny, since he was running water and not, y’know, actually sitting on the throne.
Then the water stops, and he comes out of the bathroom, and his hair is all wet and slicked back, and his face and hands are clean. Then he reaches in his pants pocket and hands me a ticket stub. True Lies, 7:30 at the Southtown 14, theater two. And he tells me if anyone asks, we were both there together that night. But we weren’t. Pretty ironic, huh — True Lies?
So, yeah, so that’s the true truth. All right?
August 19th 1994. Billy, Cheezo and I got wasted that night, so I don’t remember a whole bunch of what happened. Cheezo was the one who thought we should check out the old cracker factory – I’d say he was crackers for crackers, but then you’d have to shoot me through the head and you’d be damn right to do so. The place was getting demolished in a week, so it was our last chance. Urban decay, brave drunken pioneers, blurred photos; you know the drill.
Billy boosted a bunch of 40’s of Brick House. Cheezo was drinking that Brazilian shit out of his hip flask, so Billy and I had the Brick House to ourselves. That’s why I don’t remember much after Billy fell into the old shortening tanks. Cheezo says there was a bright light before the girl appeared, but Cheezo has this history with “bright lights” if you know what I mean.
Billy had the camera and that ended up under five hundred pounds of rancid Crisco, along with what was left of Billy, so the only record is what little I remember and what Cheezo managed to write down in his little notebook before he walked into that used record store and blew his brains out. Looks like nonsense to me, but there’s a guy out of Milwaukee says he can figure some of it out.
Then it turns out the girl had been dead for ten years? I didn’t see that one coming!
August 19, 1994 was a notable day among Astrologists the world over because it was the first time in, well, ever, that nothing in the heavenly sphere lined up with anything else. Most day-job astrologers were flummoxed and had to embellish their predictions even more than usual.
Newspaper astrologers in particular struggled to give advice of any sort to the millions who depended on them for planning their day. Some noted that the rise of the moon that evening came just in front of Leo’s front paw in an arc that could possibly be interpreted as an animation of the mighty lion kicking a ball. But a) it wasn’t quite right and b) no one could figure what that would have meant anyway. Still, the rookie astronomers, in a panic not seen among their more wisened peers, took the kick-ball meme and ran with it.
But the Dark Astrology Society of Alresford (“the ford over the river where the alder trees grow”) UK had been preparing for this event for months. For generations the Dark Astrology Society tirelessly used their knowldege of the Astral Forces to focus cosmic energies onto worldly affairs.
Actually, it was more like the other way round. By secretly infiltrating government offices, positions on the Boards of Directors of major companies, and every major religious organization they could arrange for things to occur in the path of the focused Astral Forces to shape the world to their will.
For example, the departure of RMS Lusitania had to be delayed by a day on May 1, 1915 with an unscheduled set of additional customs inspections conveniently orchestrated by the Port 54 Authority Chief, and Alresford Native, Mr. Maxwell Cutterford so that it would travel into the Astral Path of three particularly vicious stars, known only by numbers so as not to attract attention. As the Lusitania passed through the highly focused beam of Astral Energy, its mighty hull was ripped apart like a giant tin opener had been clipped to its underside. The reported presence of a German U-Boat was just that, reported. But it was a report the world wanted to hear so the meme spread and the world finally woke up to Germany, thanks to the Dark Astrology Society of Alresford.
But on August 19, 1994 there was simply nothing to be done. No orders to issue. No miracles to arrange. No disasters to avert. No battles to start. There was a complete absence of any Astral Focus in the sky. So the Dark Astrology Society of Alresford had planned a communion, a celebration of sorts to the honor the one day of chaos, complete randomness, complete disorder of the universe.
During the planning meetings, the group as a whole thought it fitting to spend the day floating in the chaos of Mr. Entwhistle’s backyard pool. “floating in the pool would be a cosmic metaphor for the way Our Earth was bouncing around the currents of the Astral landscape.” said Betty Church, the next-to-eldest member of the Society.
And that’s just what they did. All 23 members of the High Order of the Dark Astrology Society of Alresford, entered the pool at exactly 3:15pm. Some with inner tubes from truck tyres. Others with inflatable rafts. Some were quite shy about their paunch. The life of a Secret Society member, contrary to all those movies, really didn’t involve a lot of exertion. But all 23 members in a faux-pagan communal ritual spent 17 minutes floating in the Water, feeling themsleves buffeted by the wave, and thinking about the great Cosmos above them.
And nothing happened. It was, after all, August 19, 1994.
So there I was, in a pool of blood, semi conscious, all the way in the back of the airplane jammed up against the APU cabinet… I thought to myself, this really sucks!!!!
How did I get there you may be asking???
The evening of August 19, 1994 started like many others, Pre flight briefing, pre flight, engine start, then taxi out to take off. As the sole enlisted member of the crew, it was my job to shut the hatch, and ensure everything was tied down prior to take off. After finishing my final walk around in the back of the jet, I went forward to strap into my seat. As I was getting into my seat, I noticed an un-opened can of Classic Coke sitting on the floor next to the throttle console. I told the Co pilot, ” Hey Co, you need to stow that can or its gonna go aft when we push up the power. He acknowledged my comment and I never gave it another thought…….
I must digress a bit to tell you that we weren’t in just any old airplane, we were flying the newly re engined KC 135R model and in case you didnt know, it took off like a rocket with a light fuel load!!
We were cleared for take off and the Pilot pushed up the throttles and away we went. Just about the time we rotated off the deck, here came that can of Coke! It hit the corner of the Navigators chair and went airborne catching the edge of the avionics rack and exploding as it went past me. Needless to say, I was not very happy about this unneeded shower and popped my safety harness and unassed my seat to get some paper towels…….Big mistake as it turns out!!!
As I made my way aft to the galley to get some towels, I stepped into a puddle of Coke and as we were still climbing out and accelerating, I slipped and fell and proceeded to roll aft hitting every tie down ring and fixture in the floor finally stopping only when my body met the APU cabinet which is how I ended up flat on my back, semi conscious and bleeding on that fateful night!!!
A week later, they released me from the hospital and to this day i still cringe at the sight of a can of Coke!!!!
Eight one nine nine four.
The night that I learned the truth
Is brief and lovely.
me and David bowie saved the world from the evil of the Zeppelin army of Jean-Pierre Blanchard.
That was the day the world ended and was replaced by something equally as bizarre and inexplicable.
The events of that fateful evening?
A gentleman wouldn’t ask, and a lady wouldn’t tell.
On August 18, 1994, I found out that my best friend, Mary, had started dating a mutual friend. This may not seem like a big deal, but that fact awoke the realization that I was in love with Mary. This was a problem, as I was still in a 7-year-long relationship, and Mary had just ended an engagement and started the new fling referenced in the first paragraph. Through the next year Mary and her boyfriend broke up and got back together four times, while I broke up with my girlfriend once and made it stick. During this year Mary also realized that I was in love with her, and didn’t know what to do about that. At the end of the year, I moved to another state to start grad school. On August 18, 1995, Mary came to visit me, and that night we officially became a couple. On August 16, 1997, we married. On August 17, 2007, we separated, and on April 30, 2008, we divorced. I still love my best friend.
I lost my virginity for the second time. Want to know the best part of the story? Unlike the first time, on the night of August 19, 1994, I wasn’t alone.
I recall the night clearly. Well, not so clearly since there was drinking involved. I was coming out of the bar, having been driven out by some romantic gobblty-gook of some science fiction writer and his girlfriend, finance, wife or something…
I was getting sick from the sweetness in the air, or that could be the tequila talking. Anyway, wondering down the street a few blocks, the sidewalk started swaying. This time I was fairly sure that it wasn’t the booze.
A pinpoint of light appeared, growing in size and brightness (damn that light.. my head already hurt). As the hole of light grew large enough for an adult man to step through, an adult man stepped through. I figured the aliens were reading my mind. I hoped they felt the headache too.
The man was a bit blurry, but so was everything else, so I guess he fit in. He looked at me and spoke my name. I burped. He spoke. I listened.
“You need to remember this night”, he said. “There will come a time that your memory of this night will be needed to set the record straight.” He turned, all fuzzy-like, and stepped back into the man-high hole of light and vanished. As he did, the light vanished and my headache subsided. So I vowed to remember that night, in order to save the world, or something like that.
Technically the night of August 19th, 1994 never happened. This may be a strange concept for most, but for those of us that actually saw what happened…well it’s probably for the best that the night of the 19th ceased to exist. What with the time dissynchronization caused by the Muul Monks opening the Mayan Paradox Temple (technically that happened on the 18th, but the Chrono Ripples did not grow large enough to effect the continuum till the 19th) its amazing we are all still here.
My explanation will fall a bit short, but when you are stare into Hunab Ku’s eyes long enough thing become a bit…I guess elastic is the right word.
The clearest image that remains in my mind is standing at the edge of the Luubul Chasm desperately trying to lob a hand grenade at the Monks to stop their chanting and watching as the night ripped asunder. A stream of images shot past showing the earth and every other inhabited planet (and well every corner of the universe for that matter) frozen in time. Only those few of us in the vicinity of the temple were outside the Chrono Freeze. The images kept flying past. That is until I lobbed the hand grenade.
Who knew stopping the chant would also cause the Time Gap. I certainly didn’t, but as I said it was probably for the best.
You could hear the temperature rise as the cicadas announced the 100-degree mark with an incessant buzzing. The sound made me long for some cool corner of the world but I languished with my rear firmly welded to the seat of the metal lawn chair. Next came the sound of a low-flying jet engine, a noise that filled me with a childhood unease. Growing up in Florida during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis had left deep fears. Being issued dog tags in first grade in 1962 so our little burnt bodies could be identified when the missiles came flying in from the south, and the endless duck-and-cover drills, had permanently scarred my brain. So here, 32 years later, the sound of a low-flying plane made me want to find the nearest desk to seek safety under. But I stayed stuck to my 1960’s patio rocker, the only thing moving on me was the sweat dripping down my face. From inside the house I could hear laughter and the clinking of ice in huge glasses of sweet tea. Then I heard the words that turned me cold: “Run Forrest Run” then laughter, and “Life’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” My heat-prostrated brain reeled. Was it really possible “Forrest Gump” had made close to 200 million dollars in the last 6 weeks…
After years of painstaking research and months of blistering construction, on August 19, 1994 my Consusion beam was complete.
Although important world changing events took place no one can remember exactly what happened that evening.
No one but me. I dawned my isolation suit to protect me from the beams energy and pressed the button. Effectivley
confusing the entire world into forgetting the most important night of their lived. While everyone can remember some of what occured no one can remember everything. Some may try to collect stories to piece together the whole truth but that is futile. The effects of the beam still linger and forever the events of that night will be lost to everyone.
Everyone but me and I will only tell you that on August 19, 1994, I pressed a button.
DAYTON – Aug. 19, 1994 — The muggy summer ritual that is the Canal Street Band Playoffs were winding down to the semifinals. My fiancee’s band, a three piece noise ensemble, was going up against a bunch of college boys playing Live covers (there were several bands’ worth of those that year).
I arrived at the bar to find the doorman, with whom I was in the middle of a torrid affair, drunk. Stinking drunk. Throwing-up-out-the-front-door-where-he-thought-the-bartender-couldn’t-see drunk. The squirrelly bartender I had often rebuffed had been feeding him 100-proof peppermint shots since 6 in the evening. He played total innocence, wiping down glasses in the face of my rage. “It’s not my fault he’s balling you,” was the response.
I hated to see the doorman like that. I hated that the bartender was right.
By the end of the night the doorman could barely stand. My fiancee’s band lost. And he must have seen something in the tender way I struggled to hold the doorman vaguely vertical. He looked me in the eye and said, “Take care of him.” Then he packed up his bass and walked out of the bar.
It was the last time I saw ever saw him.
I’m terribly sorry, Jarred, but I’d pull out my front teeth before I let one of you Hunab Ku minions distort the facts once again. Us Muul Monks weren’t the ones who caused the dissynchronization. In fact, you should be thanking us for minimizing the damage that your insane act caused! When you threw that grenade, you interrupted our first attempt at opening the doors to the Mayan Paradox Temple, which prevented us from STOPPING THE TIME GAP. Fortunately, we were able to rally our forces and finally open the door before the effect was too great. You should count your lucky stars that we eventually succeeded too, given your grave interruption. Not that your luck will last…
You see, we were acting under orders from President Clinton. He had foreseen the Time Gap in a Saxaphone induced delirium and called upon our mystics (knowing our fair rates and easy-to-use 1-800 number) to decipher the cause. Naturally, the rift was found to be the Mayan Paradox Temple, which had its door closed, thus paradoxically opening the potential for Time Gaps.
If you doubt me, you can see the entire event clearly documented in Executive Order 12924. Go on – do a google search. When you find it, scroll down to the bottom, after all that stuff about exports and national security, to the Presidents signature. There, you’ll see the sordid tale told plain as day in the stressed carrot-like bar that passes for the top of the “J.” President Clinton was clearly displeased.
I suggest that you do not post any more of your wicked lies if you cared to avoid capture…
According to my journal, I spent the evening of August 19th, 1994, working on a paper on “Disintegration of the Narrative Self in Poe.” Had I finished it, I would have cleared my one incomplete and been able to get my M.A, but by August 30th I decided to finally ditch the degree and become a sysadmin. Which was by far the better option. I wish I’d kept the notes for the paper, though, it wasn’t a bad one.
August 19, 1994.
So, here’s me, right, 16 years old and really nervous because there’s a girl I REALLY like who’s having a birthday party, and I’m invited, but I’m like way too ugly to ever be thought of by her, or by any girl really. My big sister told me that lots of times. So I go early, ‘cause, you know, maybe if I go and help set up or something, something will happen like she thinks I’m helpful and stuff or tells me she really likes me or something. Or maybe just smiles and says thank you. So I’m there, and there’s no one else there except her little sister and Michelle (that’s her name) is still getting ready, but there’s nothing much to help with cause it’s all set up. I like her sister and all, but, you know, I don’t LIKE-like her, and anyway we just talk for a while.
When Michelle comes down I’m like I can’t talk for a moment but she looks at me funny like she’s either looking right into me or wondering what I’m doing there. She’s really awesome and clever and I have no idea what we talked about or did but I know I was happy to be there.
So then our friends turn up and there’s presents and food and stuff and the party is good but the whole time I’m just wondering if anything could really happen because there was that one time when she just got up came and sat right next to me when she had plenty of other places she could have sat or maybe it was just coincidence and she just wanted to sit facing that way for a while, ‘cause she’s so brilliant she couldn’t have just wanted to sit next to stupid ugly dorky me, right?
So everyone leaves after a while and I’m like suddenly noticing that I was the first one there and the last one there and that’s kinda creepy and I’m saying that I suppose I should go but she says no, I’d be welcome to stay but I’m thinking she’s just saying that cause I’m just this hopeless around girls kind of guy that she couldn’t ever actually like and her sister looks at us both and goes upstairs and all I can think of is what a dork I’m making of myself so I tell her I really should go. So I think maybe she was frustrated. Then and I go.
So nothing happened.
What a dork.
You had to bring it up. You had to do it, didn’t you, Scalzi? Goddammit.
Ok, for the last time, here’s the story.
I had just finished up a deadhead 2 hour patrol off of Doran V, no juice, just a vacuum tour.
I was coming in for a landing, and suddenly my thrust controls went all St. Elmo’s fire. I was coming in hot. Hot, like your sister in a pair of Daisy Dukes…Hot. I hit the reverse retro-gruffilator six, maybe seven times but nothing, man, flat zero. I knew I had to take it in on its nose, but Jesus…It was the day after my birthday and I’ve STILL never been as hung over as I was that day. I tried to uncross my eyes as I kept the gyros even, but it hurt. It hurt BAD.
But I was smoothing it, man, I was getting it all nice and buttery. The deck was heading for me like a freight train, but that train was braking, man. I could feel it, coming all five-by-five, when that goddamned baby carriage rolled out of nowhere. Nowhere!
I reacted, though, I did. I jammed the flipgear over to 454 and pulled the most beautiful Gorvin Roll you have EVER seen…the videos are up on the Aether-web?if you don’t believe me, just freaking Gorgeous!!
Anyway, I pulled the roll, used the g-forces to kill some speed and BAM! I hit that deck and STUCK! Perfect, four points…the gearpads hit the floor and stayed, like they were made out of cubic-bond epoxy.
Goddamit, it wasn’t my fault I didn’t see the busload of nuns!
Gosh. I’m always so literal minded.
Actually, aside from the proposal? It was the first time I was ever assaulted by ice weasels. I’m still wondering how they ended up in NJ in August, but life is full of unanswered questions.
The great reboot, also known as the “big oops” or the time travel disaster of ’15, ’44, and ’94. Wherein a group of time tourists returned to 1994 in order to watch vintage TV shows lost in the Global War of 2025. Unfortunately, inspired by the antics of the Saturday Morning cartoons with stoners solving mysteries they unveiled the plot by the Bavarian Illuminati and the Masonic society of Nantucket to disrupt the future of the United States with mind control drugs placed in newspaper coupon sections. The far reaching implications of this were not apparent until they’d returned to their own time of 2044 where they discovered that the Global War of 2025 had actually occurred in 2015, thus they returned to August 19th, 1994 in order to return time to its rightful course, or at least one that didn’t end up with hyperintelligent aardvarks roaming the wastelands of the future.
Unable to stop themselves during the day, they were able to gather the help of their future’s most prominent politician of the decade, Ralph Nader and his allies, the Atlantean fish-men of Ipswick in order to stage a death defying jail break in order to release the mother of the future leader of an anti-government cabal who had been swept up during the raid of the Illuminati complex. Unfortunately this had unintended consequences as the lost coherence in the time stream, but not before getting Robert Anton Wilson and the nascent Discordian society to help hide her from any future robots sent to hunt her down by the aardvark empire. Ralph Nader however was captured during the jail break and was replaced by a half human, half sheep clone in order to eliminate him as a threat.
And so, every August 19th, we should gather to remember the great sacrifices, not to mention the constant threat by the aardvark future technoempire, that it symbolizes. And that’s the true story, how do I know? Well lets just say that hovercars may or may not arrive, buy the memories of Saturday Morning Ninja Turtles will always remain.
I’ve just gone on a trip down the proverbial memory lane — really, anything in August ’94 would have done — and it is Not Yours. But I will say that it was a time of endings and foredoomedness and sorrow and, yea, even a metaphorical Fall From Grace, yet at the same time invites recollection of the joyous times that had come before.
…oh, all *right*, if you’re going to keep whining like that. It was my last summer at this day camp I’d liked, before I got too old to be able to go there. And for some reason I was really broken up about it beforehand, but when the last day came I’d made my peace and it was kind of anticlimactic. There. Are you *happy* now?
Oh, and by the way, not that it makes any difference, August 19th really is the day after my birthday.
Just to add that touch of veritas, you know.
First, it was dark. I remember that. Not dark dark, like can’t see your hand two inches in front of your face dark. But dark. Dark enough that I needed a flashlight to walk out to the shed to get the shovels, and the tarp.
Frankie gave me shit for that, let me tell you. What did I know? I’d never buried a body before. What’d he expect me to find the stuff in the dark? Hang on, someone’s at the door.
Well all I can say is that I was knee deep in sheep…
You’ll have to ask them what happened, I’ve been sworn to secreacy.
It’s NOT what your thinking either….
It was a bright night, August 19, 1994. Two moons worth of bright, owing to that same mirror in the sky that made Gemini spring into quadruplets. My son was just eighteen months old and I remember holding his tubby body up close to my face while we waved upward. We couldn’t see ourselves up there but we greeted us just the same. The whole neighborhood had spilled all over the street, impromptu barbecues and cheap fireworks going up all around us. We’d gotten the Independence Day we’d missed a month and a half before because the damned city said wildfire risks were too high with the drought.
It was a night of miracles. Every fifth dog burst into life-affirming green flames. Through the neighbor’s window we saw Clinton’s speech for the fifth time that day. Behind dusty slats he declared that our war with Uzbekistan was over and tomorrow was to be a spaghetti holiday. Hell, at that point I didn’t care that he was in bed with Big Semolina. The draft notices we’d just received that day for my only boy and his unconceived sister were now null and void.
Although the celebrations went on for many hours all over the world, the night ended for us when creepy Tommy Marcella whacked the kids’ piñata, a rainbow colored pony, with his aluminum baseball bat. Stronger than that bat was the half-hour of frustration behind it. Seventeen-kids-and-one-yellow-broomstick-,-brown-where-the-paint-had-chipped-off-the-end’s worth of frustration. Eight and half sugar-jonesing child-hours of frustration and the power of one hormone-squirting, shadow-mustached man-child fell behind that silver and black Louisville Slugger.
The rainbow pony burst. And where candy was expected, intestines poured out onto the cracked grey pavement. The clot of pre-adolescent bodies shattered into its constituent screaming parts, littering the bloody scene with dozens of hyphens in their wakes.
John Butts suggested we make sausage. We laughed a little but the party had gone out of us at that point. But for an occasional shout or crackle of salutes in the distance, the quiet had descended upon us. There were a few lingerers who didn’t know until it grew uncomfortable that good times ever ended. The rest sought their beds, only now realizing that there was work the next day, spaghetti be damned. My joy was mellowed but persistent. In the warm glow of Mrs. Demers’ Scottish Terrier, Poopie, I kissed my wife. I even kissed her husband (closed mouth for Barry, though).
Everything since then has seemed so ordinary in comparison.
I’m not going to lie to you. I had absolutely no idea what happened on August 19, 1994. I was really looking forward to getting a chance to win the ARC of Zoe’s Tale, and so when I realized just how screwed I was, I cried out, “August 19, 1994?! How am I supposed to know what happened on that day?”
That was when my dog gave me the answer.
He wasn’t there when the events occurred, but the story has become a legend among dogs. He first heard it when he was a pup, and many times after that, but the story has remarkably stayed the same. That night is known among dogs everywhere as the Night of the Prophecy.
A dog known only as The Old One gave the prophecy at the annual Dog Council meeting. His attendance wasn’t planned and was a surprise to all in attendance. A few of the oldest dogs had caught glimpses of The Old One before, but most of the younger dogs thought him only a myth. He walked into the meeting and uttered this prophecy:
“There will come a time when one of our own will aid the humans. They will need protection for the greatest of treasures, and it will take the greatest of us to guard it. The mighty one will arise, she who will defeat mecha bears with her powerful lasers. Only she can defend the treasure.”
The Old One then turned to walk away. One of the dogs there asked him before he could go, “How will we know what the treasure is? Where will we find this mighty warrior?”
Before The Old One left, he said only one other word.
That’s the story as my dog told it. I’ve heard that cats tell a different story, but who trusts the stories of cats?
That was the night my friend suggested we check out the new bar that was being built across the street from my apartment. Of course, by “check out” he meant climb over the plywood wall that was the only barrier to entry and look around. Not much of the place was finished inside (most of the floor was still dirt), but the office was finished, and fully furnished. Looking at the copier, I said, “I’ve never Xeroxed my ass before…” (I did mention we were hammered, right?). So, I lowered my pants and lifted the platen cover, hopped up and positioned my ass between the 8.5″x11″ markings, and hit the big green button. Not satisfied with the first output (for purely artistic reasons), I re-positioned myself and prepared for my next close up. About two seconds later was the first time the possibility of the glass breaking even crossed my mind. That was about two seconds too late. I lifted myself out of the shards of glass, and stood up, doing my best to brush any stray glass off my rear. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, once my friend caught his breath from laughing at my break-through, I had to ask him to take a peek and make sure it looked like there was no serious damage (not to the copier, it definitely was seriously damaged). Luckily, he didn’t think there were any serious cuts. He might have only pretended to look, as I probably would have (though, he did brush off a lot of glass that I didn’t know was there, or notice fall to the ground). Confident that I would live, I buttoned up, we grabbed a couple of beers out of the office fridge, and headed home, basking in the after-glow of committing the perfect crime (this was well before CSI, so we had no thoughts of David Caruso crouched over the shattered copier swabbing up my ass-blood). And that really is what really happened, not just a story I made up to explain some unusual damage to my posterior (as opposed to usual damage…).
It was Friday night, August 19, 1994, John was having his first date with the Krissy who was to become his wife the next year. She agreed to go out on the date with him because she felt sorry for this nervous geeky but cute guy who was asking her out. They went to a movie called “The Mask” that night. John was rather distracted by his date that night and didn’t really get to see the movie, he had to wait until it came out on VHS so he could have a chance to see what it was about.
Anyway, on the way home that night, guess whose car ran out of gas? Fortunately, they were just a block away from a gus station, unfortunately, someone had spent all his money on the dinner and a movie. Krissy ended up bailing John out of this mess, however, in order to get her money back, she had to agree to another date.
The night of August 19, 1994, is when Atlantis sank beneath the waves for the last time.
Oh, I know you’ve all heard the island was deep-sixed (literally) several thousand years ago. Just how many thousands, of course, depends on whether you’re listening to the proponents of Plato (9000 years before Plato first related the tale, continent-sized island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, etc.) or the more scientifically minded sorts (Plato made a mathematical translation error, it was only 900 years and it was the volcanic destruction of Thera and the resultant tidal wave that wiped out the Minoans, who are the best match for the so-called Atlantean civilization).
Nevertheless, both views are wrong.
Atlantis had been with us all along. Well, until 19 August 1994, at 9:19:49 PM. Certainly, you’d think it would be hard to miss, especially considering satellite-based photography. But those Atlanteans were tricksy, having developed antigravity generators in (roughly) 1487 BCE; thus equipped, they were able to float their island (and laugh a couple of millennia later at that dessert) out of line of sight of the more primitive cultures around them. And they could, in fact, hide the island underwater, the antigravity generators functioning also to hold a bubble of air around the island while displacing the water.
Rising waters? Coastal inundations? Blame the damned Atlanteans.
They got theirs, though.
The 475th Praetor, Maldea Haverixo, was both not much of a scientist–a bad sign for the ruler of a population living on a floating land-mass the size of Greenland and Australia combined–and spoiled rotten. He had come to admire the landbound civilization for, of all things, video games, a form of technology his own people had bypassed in favor of laser-guidance systems.
On 19 August 1994, Haverixo decided he didn’t want to wait until October for the release of Sonic & Knuckles and tried to revamp the antigrav apparatus for time travel. Oh, he managed it, picked up the game and got back to Atlantis without the rest of the world spotting it. However, he attempted to reverse the time-travel effect while playing the game, and the two systems tried to make use of the same multispatial manifold at the same time.
While Atlantis did return to its proper moment in space-time, it did so upside-down. The antigravity generators, not having been designed to recognize such a state, responded by pushing the island below the ocean surface in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
And there it stayed.
Plato, from his place in the Realm of Forms, laughed his immaterial ass off.
It all started when the troll showed up at Uncle Joe’s barn. One thing you need to remember about Uncle Joe is that, for all his adventures and wandering, he was pretty much a family orc. Furthermore, an orc who loved farming, and making pickles. (I aint never met an orc who’d turn down a pickle.)
Now about this time Joe had purchased (mail order at that) a new pickling barrel. This one a huge beast with a hundred gallon capacity. Just right for making great quantities of “welcome to the store” pickles. The kind you basically give away because you know people will stay around longer and buy more stuff. Thing had valves and meters and screws for clamping down the lid tighter than a Scotsman’s generosity. A beauty, and Uncle Joe was about to close the lid when he heard a commotion outside.
So he investigates to find a troll. A by golly scraggly, raggly, lanky lean old troll a huffin’ and a puffin towards Joe’s farm with limbs a’flailin’ about like overcooked spaghetti in hurricane force winds.
And the troll is yellin’, “Save me. For the love of God you gotta save me!”
Now that got Joe’s attention, cuz your typical troll has the vocabulary of a blind drunk goblin, sans the words. Being a kindly fellow—unless you’re talking about the ’84 Detroit Tigers, Joe called out, “This way, I’ll hide you!”
Joe lead the troll into his barn and there showed him the pickle barrel. It took but a moment for the cagy orc to talk the troll into clambering up into the barrel and ducking down into the pickling juice. Once the poor chap was in place Joe lowered the lid and dogged it down tight.
‘Bout half an hour later a posse shows up at Joe’s farm, searchin’ for a rampaging troll. Joe says, and honestly too, that he aint seen no rampaging troll, and that the good citizens had best take their whoopin’ and hollerin’ and carryin’ on like a hellhound with anal itch on down the road. Which they do.
Once they’re gone Uncle Joe goes back into his barn to check on his guest. All is quiet for another hour and a half when the troll catches on to the fact Joe aint gonna let him out. ‘Bout 11:45PM the night of August 19th 1994 the troll finally quiets down and submits to a proper pickling.
The orc let the troll pickle until September—to be sure, then removed the now most sincerely deceased critter from the barrel. For the next couple of years he’d haul the pickled troll around on the back of his flatbed truck, exhibiting the corpse at various county fairs for a goodly fee. Added a third floor to his farm house and a pair of pheasant basilisks to fancy the place up (and keep the crows out of the corn. Pheasant basilisks are real good at dealing with crows.)
Until, that is, some wise ass adolescent necromancer animated the pickled troll and had it shamble up and down this podunk town’s main drag, while he (the necromancer) made it sound like the impromptu zombie was moaning, “Brains! I need brains!” Cost Joe a pretty penny, but that’s another story.
First off, I want to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the hamsters being found where they were in the following investigation of the scene. I know there’s been a lot of rumors and whispered allegations to the contrary, but those are nothing but lies. Scandalous lies.
Now that the record’s been set clear on that point, let’s get on to what my part in that… unprecedented event actually was. At around 5:30 PM, I was sitting in the hotel lobby preparing to eat a large ham sandwich, lightly flavored with Dijon mustard and finely ground fragments of Hitler’s mustache. Don’t you judge me. The evil makes it tangier.
Anyway. Just then, as I was about to bite down into this culinary masterpiece (the more esoteric ingredients for which cost me quite a pretty penny, let me tell you), Ayn Rand entered the building wearing a sensible but well-cut dress. Now, some shameless fabricators will attempt to persuade you that she was also sporting an enormous magenta afro several feet in diameter, but this is nothing but the purest chicanery. It was obviously mauve.
She swiftly strode across the lobby and snatched my (very expensive) sandwich out of my dumbfounded hands. She thereupon proceeded to take a large bite out of it. “Hey,” I protested. Swallowing, she turned her gaze to me. “I believe that the pursuit of my own happiness must be the paramount moral purpose of my own life, while the happiness of others must be their own concern and theirs alone. Also, I was hungry,” she replied. Pausing, she licked her lips to retrieve a stray scrap of seasoning. “Mmm. Hitlery.”
Just then, the ornate domed skylight of the lobby burst inwards with a shattering crash as half a dozen burly figures rappelled down on what appeared to be shimmering beams of energy, headed by a seventh large figure with a robotic right eye. Ayn Rand whirled to face them. “Space Bill Haywood!”, she hissed, her afro swaying gently from the speed of her movement. “How did you find me?” As his men swiftly encircled her (and me, in the process), he replied: “Never mind that! By the powers vested in me by Presidential Decree 17045.3 of the Space Lenin administration, I hereby arrest you for crimes against The People!”
Seeing my opportunity, I tentatively raised my hand. “Ah, excuse me? She also took my sandwich.” Space Bill blinked his remaining human eye – apparently noticing my presence for the first time – as his men handcuffed a snarling Ayn Rand, being careful to avoid her ‘fro as it whipped about dangerously. “Really? Outrageous! We shall add a count of first-degree sandwich-taking to her list of charges immediately! Mulligan! Seize that sandwich as evidence!”
As one of his men swiftly took my sandwich and stuffed it into what appeared to be some kind of portable evidence locker, I attempted to interject. “Er, I was actually hoping to get that ba-” Space Bill, ignoring me entirely, cut me off by thundering to his men: “Swiftly, now! Return to the Labormobile!” He and his men dashed over to their hanging energy lines (contrary to some reports, they did not in fact move with a wobbling gait), and were quickly drawn back up, a struggling Ayn Rand suspended beneath them.
And I was left there, bereft and sandwichless. And for the last time, I swear I don’t know why they found those hamsters in there.
Gah! You know, it was funny for a while, after it stopped being embarrassing. Now it’s just getting annoying. To keep explaining, I mean.
But all right. One more time, for the record.
It was my fault. I was in a hurry and had forgotten Reagan’s maxim “Trust, but verify.” I hung up the pay phone and scrawled “Pick up Tim at 10:45” on my Newton and tucked it in my fanny pack.
Naturally, I neglected to look at it again until that evening, two weeks later, on August 19. The notation read, “Pineapple Jam attack,” and I just didn’t have a clue.
I’ve always wondered, “What if I’d gotten there in time?” or, “What if I had written slower?”
I maintain I didn’t know he’d bring the pig with him. I assumed, like you would, that he would have it shipped, in a crate or pen, with some professional livestock handler. But Tim… Just to save a couple hundred bucks, he puts an extra-large dog collar on the thing and sits it in his side car.
This was no cute little Arnold Ziffle from Green Acres, remember. This pig was like Uncle from Charlotte’s Web.
Well. The incident itself has, as you know, passed into folklore. But what happened, was simply the tragedy of the early adopter.
The aftermath is not as well-known. Which is a shame, because it’s kind of sweet. After Summit County HazMat gave me back my clothes, and the deputy gave me a copy of the citation (I don’t think I would have been cited if I’d been dressed more respectably, not in a faded flannel shirt and jeans with the knees torn out), I found Tim and the pig near the bridge where the River Rescue team was packing up its equipment. Tim had struck up a conversation with the pretty brunette reporter TV23 had sent out. She was feeding the pig little chunks of cruller and giggling. Turned out she had come directly from a public hearing by the Northfield Township Zoning Commission, where she had stuffed her pockets, purse and briefcase with goodies from the refreshment table, and the pig had sniffed her out (it irritates Tim that I refer to her as “Little Debbie” to this day).
Tim started dating her and they were together for a couple years. They broke up when she took a job at a station in Monterey — or was it Salinas? — and he wouldn’t move without the pig.
There was ketchup. Of that much Diane was certain. Not the thick and trustworthy Heinz 57, more like that spare plastic bottle of Hunt’s that sits halfway back in the fridge waiting for someone, anyone, to please for the love of gawd already turn it on it’s side and smack the ever-loving glop out of it, only to have condensed water that had collected at the top of the cat-sup pile ruin an otherwise perfectly good toasted bun.
That kind of ketchup.
Boys II Men was on the radio, belting out round after heartfelt round of “I’ll Make Love to You” just before the implosion wave pulled everything off the table, china shattering to the half mopped floor, people screaming as something that sounded like a freight train circled the hapless little diner. The roar probably only lasted seconds, but with rise in adrenalin comes the slowing of time. To Diane, the ordeal had lasted forever.
And was over before she remembered to inhale.
The wind had been sucked out of her. Same as if she had fallen on her butt from three stories up. She had stood, then, at that moment, shaking. The glass in the Dew Drop Inn was gone, lying shattered on the outside of the building. No one was hurt, though Andy Santree had lost his false teeth. They would later be found by a kid two miles south along the Kaw, no longer pearly white, more of an iridescent sort of white.
Investigators would later claim the destruction was caused by a freak microburst. Just one of those odd things that can happen from time to time. All of this was fine, in it’s own way. This was the Midwest, after all, and it had been overcast, the clouds were moving a fine pace all day. Freak storms over flat territory was something you just got yourself used to, or you left for somewhere else.
Diane didn’t buy it, of course, because of what she had seen during the Event. She had been a waitress for ten years and there were some things that ketchup simply didn’t do. Moving by it’s own motive force and pushing against the bottle cap for one. Exploding out of the bottle cap a split second later for another. Disappearing with nary a curly fry in sight for a third.
She had placed the ketchup bottles on the tables herself, straight from the cardboard box they had arrived in, right next to the pancake mix. Something peculiar had happened, she was sure of it. Something queer.
And wasn’t it extra strange when Phil Fletcher, Mister ConAgra himself, showed up on the DewDrop’s front stoop not twenty-four hours later, in a limo blacker than night and more shiny than any spoon the diner could hope to offer, simply to walk around and survey the damage. “Just passing through,” he had told Florence, the other waitress, after looking around with purpose. “Terrible thing,” he had said, fixing her gaze with his, “these spring storms.”
I would first require that you prove that August 19, 1994 ever actually happened. I’m not convinced that it ever existed. You may use graphs and Powerpoint presentations.
I was somewhere underground on 19 Aug 1994. Can’t tell you where exactly, and couldn’t tell you even if I remembered. We only had two hours ’til zero hour, and I was already on my sixth cup of coffee of the day.
Six thousand lines of code left. We’d make it–barely. It ain’t easy sussing out problems, especially in assembly. Sucked even more that I hadn’t touched a UNIX mainframe in nearly a decade. That’s why Twix was there.
Then the power outage hit. Damn near impossible, they said. Battery backups, generator backups, and even backups for the backups, they said. Well, shit sure happened regardless of what they said.
It took a good half hour to get back online. The old machines seemed to take forever to wake up. Fuck, just an hour left–I didn’t know if we’d make it in time. I took a breath and looked at Twix. Did we really need to? He looked back at me, then flashed his brows.
I put the red phone to my ear.
Thank goodness N was available. With his help, we were able to get through all the code in time. All that was left then was the waiting.
And the waiting.
And the waiting.
I broke out in a Grand Canyon grin. Twix whooped a few times, then opened the champagne he had N bring. N just kinda smiled, nodded a couple times, then went on his way.
I looked up at the board to see a beautiful sight: 777333005 seconds since 00:00:00 1 Jan 1970 GMT. Stupid programmers. Y2K bug at least made sense. Why 777333000 would be a problem is beyond me.
The night of 19 August, 1994.
4.789.677.003 ideas were born.
80% involved sex.
45% were already forgotten after five seconds.
10,5% were big ideas for a novel, 1 of them eventually got blurbed on Whatever, another was unmasked as fiction on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
5,6% resulted in a divorce.
0,0001% had the solution to world peace, unfortunate it was thought up by a cat who’s owner mistook his message for peace as a cry for food. The cat had a nice diner.
30.887.239.969²³ spermatozoa went on a voyage that night.
99,99% panicked when they discovered they were out in the open air. They died within five minutes.
0,004% kept bumping against glass. Then the cold came.
0,005% got on the right racing track but were thwarted by another team. The other team was sponsored by milkman inc.
0,001% Made it to the egg. They were very pleased with the result nine months later.
3.987.452.221 pounds of food was consumed
74,5% consumed by humans. Icecream was a favorite that night.
25% consumed by animals. They loved their grass.
0,5% consumed by mould. Silently plotting their bid for world domination
0,0023% was human consumed by animals. Eight pandas had indigestion afterwards.
256.666 persons claimed to have a supernatural encounter.
68% claimed to be abducted by aliens. They had the sore ass to prove it.
12% said they spoke with God. One actually had.
11% reported they were terrorized by gnomes. The gnomes allied with the mould.
9% encountered a ghost. 20 people had watched a video seven days before.
3.798.333.113 pairs of shoes were used.
77% suffocated due to sweaty feet.
12,5% conducted sabotage against their slave-masters.
6% were thrown away. Enduring afterlife on the seventh tier of Hell: the fiery field of chew toys for dogs.
4,5% were missed in action. They will be remembered.
23.566.016 acts of kindness were perpetrated.
68% involved candy, flowers and remembering a birthday or anniversary. They had an assistant with a good memory.
18% was a kind word or two. Being kind only takes a minute sometimes.
12% was helping old ladies across the road. 255 grannies yelled they didn’t need to cross the road.
2% was extraordinary. You can rent the movies to see it.
Explain the events of the night of August 19, 1994.
I can’t. Not won’t. I’m simply not able. Just can’t.
Much to my dismay, I have zero writing talent.
I would, however, like to lodge an application with Grand Poobah Scalzi for an exemption from the explanation of those events, without negating my entry into the competition.
And I would really like the ARC. Very very much.
Look, I know what you’ve heard, and you should take my word that it’s wrong. You know how it works, how the spin and the filters change something unpleasant, unpalatable, into something fit for the “average person” to consume.
(It’s a pity the average demographic drags the bar down so low, you’d hear a lot more of the truth if it didn’t.)
When they tell you that nobody knew, that’s a lie. The Director knew, and look what they did to him. Every good media story needs a scapegoat. He was just the visible tip of the iceberg. Believe me – other people knew, but these are people you won’t see in the public eye. Ever.
Hmm? The fire..? What do YOU think happened there? Do you believe the “fire in the kitchen unit” story? I tell you, the sprinkler system worked. I spoke to the maintenance guy and the firemen who certified it. It had triggered, but the blaze was too hot by that time, which leaves accelerants or explosives. The open fire doors were an impossibility, they were built so they COULDN’T jam back like that, even back in ’94.
It was too convenient for words that no-one was there at the time. A sudden spate of unexplained (but genuine) illnesses in the staff, a security guard of ten years falling and banging his head whilst performing a sweep outside… what could he have slipped on in a warm August night?
Paula Laughlin? No, don’t bother, you know I can’t answer that question.
Yes, it IS true that the whole complex was a gutted shell by the time the fire trucks arrived. Yes, it IS true that the heat of the day had softened the access road, and that they reported sinking up their axles on it. August 19th is documented as an all time local temperature high, even for these parts. Yes, it IS true that they were late as result.
Strange though, that in a complex that did mostly philosophical and cultural research that the fires grew so hot that it was able to destroy everything inside the fireproof cabinets. I guess we’ll never know about Estonia. Maybe people shouldn’t have questioned it so publicly…
So I ask again. What do YOU think?
Jethro Tull played the Eurowoodstock fest in Budapest. It was during a particularly demonic Aqualung that the Singularity happened and y’know the rest.
Well, I hope you do… you weren’t one of the ones left behind, were you?
On August 19, 1994 john and me both missed nick cave’s Lollapalooza tour in Houston.
We knew something was wrong when the helicopters buzzed low over the skyline.
Danny, Adrian and I were on our third run around the fitness track down by the local school when we heard them. I know people like to say they sound like mosquitos, but that’s a damn lie. It’s more like someone speaking into a fan, their voice all choppy and distorted. You can’t mistake it for anything else. We all turned at the same time to watch them slide through the smog, little silhouettes almost invisible against the night skyline. They banked right, out over the first orange lights of the city, flying side by side close enough that I thought they’d collide. But they didn’t, and pretty soon they were gone again, and all we could hear was that distant thud of the air being cut in two.
“That’s not right,” said Adrian, after the noise had faded. “They’re not allowed to do that.”
We’d been running the circuit for over an hour and I was hitting exhaustion point, so it seemed a pretty good time to suggest we pack up and get dinner in town. Danny and Adrian thought that was a damn good idea, so we did a slow jog back towards the main road and followed it into town. The angry sound of car horns and tires tearing on the macadam grew as we approached, until the thrum of the city was all we could hear. I had a Thai place in mind where we could fill up on cheap coconut chicken, only a few blocks further along the road. The streets were a blur of trashy neon and the sweet smell of takeaway, pepperoni and pork buns and everything else sold in Melbourne after nine at night.
Then Adrian swore and pushed me back as glass shattered outwards from a nearby Italian restaurant like a wave breaking against a sea wall, little fragments hanging in the air and leaving everything shining. There were screams, high and piercing. Then three short whipcracks that I recognised instantly from a hundred action flicks. “Jesus,” I said, and hunkered down with Adrian and Danny behind a garbage bin. Smoke leaked out from the restaurant, dark and thick. I could taste it even from where we hid. It reminded me of the bushfires. Ash on my tongue.
“We should help,” said Danny, and I was about to agree and jump to my feet when they came out. Four figures wrapped in black, faces hidden behind insectile goggles and barrel respirators. I couldn’t tell man from woman under all the gear. The one at the front cradled something long and heavy looking that shone under the streetlights, and the two in back were pushing something else. A woman in a strappy blue dress and heels with her hands pulled behind her back and a black bag drawn tight over her face. She thrashed and screamed like a dying animal.
My mouth was dry as dust. “Jesus,” I managed, and then ducked again as a dark van screeched to a stop in front of the restaurant, rear lights flashing. The doors slammed and then it was off again, and all there was left was the crunch of glass and smoke hanging in the air.
I heard it, even though nobody else did. Far overhead. The beat of helicopter rotors.
That was the nineteenth of August, ’94. There were interviews in the days after, but not with newspapers. I spent the next two weeks in a cell, along with Adrian and Danny and everyone else in the surrounding block, and they interrogated us twice a day in the hope somebody would break. We were pissed off at the time, but it turned out for the best. We were locked up tight while the streets outside went to hell. So I guess I can’t really complain.
That night was where it started. It got worse from there, but we weren’t to know.
You shouldn’t believe the official reports of what happened on that night: it isn’t dead.
I saw Rose McAllister empty a full clip into that thing’s face and it just kept coming. She may have been 78 years old, but she could still shoot a nut out of a squirrel’s mouth from a hundred yards and her collection of assault rifles was bigger and nastier than anyone’s in the county.
Rusty Higgins, who used to do odd jobs around the Packard farm until old man Packard got the dementia and locked himself in with his pigs, hit the damn thing with his truck at forty miles an hour, which is pretty much as fast as his truck can go these days. Still, that was a waste of a beautiful vehicle: a 1954 GMC 250 with the original body work still going strong. Until it got wrapped around the hide of that monster.
After it tore apart Lisa Gagin’s boy, who was filling in as a deputy that summer, since his regular job at the filling station was on hold until Snooker could clear up his little misunderstanding with that banker fellow, we decided to treat the beast as a natural phenomenon and just keep out of it’s way. A tornado with legs and teeth, if you will.
I was the last one to see it before the National Guard arrived and caused all that ruckus. It was ripping through Room 14 at the Lucky 7 Motel – that was when I was still night manager, before Mr. Gerard passed on and left me the whole damn place in his will – almost like it was looking for something. I got close enough to hear it snarling and howling. It was almost as if it was saying something, though I can’t imagine how it could have wrapped the words around that awful tongue and daggerlike teeth. It sounded like: “Scalzeee. Kill. Scalzee.” Over and over again.
Thing is, Mr Gerard said there was a young guy by the name of Scalzi passed through town about a week before. He stayed in Room 14 for a night, but left in an awful hurry the next morning.
I wouldn’t want to be this Scalzi fellow if that thing, 2000 pounds of murder wrapped in an armored shell of hate, ever catches up with him. I hope he doesn’t believe the story the government put out; I wouldn’t want him to drop his guard and settle down when that thing is still out there, remorselessly hunting him.
Oh, and if you’re ever passing this way, don’t forget that we have a whole bunch of grade-A memorabilia featuring the monster available at the gift shop! All hats are half off for a week!
You shouldn’t believe the official reports of what happened on that night: it isn’t dead.
I saw Rose McAllister empty a full clip into that thing’s face and it just kept coming. She may have been 78 years old, but she could still shoot a nut out of a squirrel’s mouth from a hundred yards and her collection of assault rifles was bigger and nastier than anyone’s in the county.
Rusty Higgins, who used to do odd jobs around the Packard farm until old man Packard got the dementia and locked himself in with his pigs, hit the damn thing with his truck at forty miles an hour, which is pretty much as fast as his truck can go these days. Still, that was a waste of a beautiful vehicle: a 1954 GMC 250 with the original body work still going strong. Until it got wrapped around the hide of that monster.
After it tore apart Lisa Gagin’s boy, who was filling in as a deputy that summer, since his regular job at the filling station was on hold until Snooker could clear up his little misunderstanding with that banker fellow, we decided to treat the beast as a natural phenomenon and just keep out of it’s way. A tornado with legs and teeth, if you will.
I was the last one to see it before the National Guard arrived and caused all that ruckus. It was ripping through Room 14 at the Lucky 7 Motel – that was when I was still night manager, before Mr. Gerard passed on and left me the whole damn place in his will – almost like it was looking for something. I got close enough to hear it snarling and howling. It was almost as if it was saying something, though I can’t imagine how it could have wrapped the words around that awful tongue and daggerlike teeth. It sounded like: “Scalzeee. Kill. Scalzee.” Over and over again.
Thing is, Mr Gerard said there was a young guy by the name of Scalzi passed through town about a week before. He stayed in Room 14 for a night, but left in an awful hurry the next morning.
I wouldn’t want to be this Scalzi fellow if that thing, 2000 pounds of murder wrapped in an armored shell of hate, ever catches up with him. I hope he doesn’t believe the story the government put out; I wouldn’t want him to drop his guard and settle down when that thing is still out there, remorselessly hunting him.
Oh, and if you’re ever passing this way, don’t forget that we have a whole bunch of grade-A memorabilia featuring the monster available at the gift shop! All hats are half off for a week!
Rich Herdmen, I loved your story (#30) so much that I posted it to a mailing list. List owner wants to know, do I have your permission to post it. DO I? Will you even read this far down? If Rich doesn’t read this, can someone send me his email address?
That story is just too dang funny to remain buried in a long comment thread. On t’other hand, I don’t want you to lose first publication rights and the chance to sell the story to the New Yorker.
Perhaps I find the story morbidly funny because I had a cat who peed on my head at night. His name was Mr. Pisser. Mr. Pisser is no more, because after numberless loads of wash and several doublings of his tranquilizer dose, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I couldn’t find anyone to adopt a cat who have to be an outside cat (he loved to pee on cloth: beds, sofa cushions, linen closets, clothing left on the floor) and could never be picked up — he would slash your hand open. Poor Mr. Pisser.
Why that was the night of the 27th Annual Interpretive Dance Contest. John Scalvi and I were representing the United States and our main rivals were Romania, Brazil and the dreaded French. During the final rounds we had to draw 6 concepts out of a basket and interpet them in a 4 minute peice. We drew “Frogs,” “indigestion,” “Bacon,” “Sticky Notes,” “Eternity” and “Antidisestablishmentarianism.” ALthough we ours was a stirring rendition that incoprorated moves from capoeira, irish step dancing and ballet we we ended up third behind the French and Romanians. Obviously it was rigged, as we later found out about the vote trading deal between South Africa, Spain and Russia. We were so dejected that we parted ways and didn’t have the heart to make a comeback for ’95. I miss Scalvi. Don’t stop dancing.
Harry Belafonte was the guest on the Charlie Rose show, during the infamous Pirate Ninja incident…
Who would have thought you would ever see a Belfonte-Pirate Ninja dance-off on PBS?
To the death.
Of the Pirate Ninja…
That was the night after the afternoon when I realized that having someone you don’t love tell you that they love you is not actually a notch in your belt, but likely quite horrible. Luckily I’d realized this just as he was opening his mouth and managed, by dint of babbling excitedly about nothing at all and moving towards his car in such a way as to force him to follow me, to prevent him saying anything except for “Goodbye”. I couldn’t believe the relief I felt. I’d had a sense for a few days that he was about to come out with “I love you” but hadn’t quite worked his way up to it, and I had read enough romance novels to think that hearing it would make me transcendent.
I sat there alone that night. Reveling in the freedom. Finally understanding that if you’re loved without loving you can wind up chained to the fantasy version of yourself who lives in someone else’s mind.
On the evening of August 19, 1994 Ben Strohmann’s Hemi. ‘Cuda dropped a valve on the turnpike just West of Ebertsville, spat its guts onto the blacktop. Ben did some walking after that, a good three miles all the way to Shifty’s Garage, which in those days was the only place an ‘enthusiast’, as Ben called himself, could get good work done. You don’t want any old wrench-slinger putting his paws under the hood of a sweet ride like that.
However, when he got there it was full dark and Shifty’s was all closed up – the way he told it to me, Ben said he was just considering striking out cross-country when the big rig showed up, an 18 wheeler Peterbilt with custom paint and a boatload of chromium dress-up parts. The driver stepped down as dust swirled from his arrival, eddying at the pumps and around Strohmann’s feet.
It’s at this point that Strohmann usually clams up. If you’ve tried you’ll know that most often he won’t talk about that night at all, certainly not about what came next; he can feign a druken stupor better than most if it comes to where he just wants to be left alone. And most of the time he ain’t faking anyway. But one time he did talk about it. I was there. I was the guy who found him the next morning. He told me the whole story, and I told him ‘keep that yourself, Ben – better that way’.
So here’s the truth of it. The driver comes up to Ben and his face is shadowed against the headlights of the truck, but he says,
“Y’all right there Son? Need some help? Saw a car back up the road apiece looked mighty sad. That your’s?” and you know what? He’s way older, lean, slim and grizzled but that voice? Ben says there’s no way you could mistake that voice. “Bet we could do something ’bout that though.”
And there’s a rattling sound from over by the truck and a slatted ramp drops out the back of the trailer. There’s a blast of Chrysler Hemi music and a Barracuda backs down the ramp, sounding fitter than a Nascar racer – the throttle blips and it shimmies like a Reno stripper, and Ben knows it’s his car even though he also knows it can’t be.
Ben didn’t remember speaking but he knows he agreed the price demanded. He knows he saw the other tall figure climb out of the car, another spare, loping dude but darker – big afro hair. The pair of them came close now, and the second man held out the car keys although, of course, Ben could hear the motor was already running.
“Your Soul for the pinkslip.” Says the trucker.
“And know the Man always collects”. Says the other.
I found Ben out by the levee at 8.30 the next morning. He was crying like a jilted Prom Queen, sat between two streaks of black on the dusty concrete where he’d gunned the ‘Cuda off the dropoff, peeling rubber all the way. Trying to give it back? I tell you the car was factory fresh even then, sitting in the dry channel, idling smoothly.
So now you know. Ben kept the Plymouth, never gassed it, never washed it, never stopped hearing its bassy rumble till he died. And it never ran after we buried him.
So there you go – Hendrix and The King, doing auto-recovery for the Devil down South of Reno.
Just so’s you know, I can count in binary, so I’ll never be stuck counting to only five. Unless you somehow manage to leave me with log(5)/log(2) fingers.
At 30, I was still a young man, filled with the dreams and hopes that only a young man (or woman) has…dreams of the kind of happiness one can find only in the arms (and legs) of that sex (or sexes) one finds (or found) attractive in a sexual way.
But, this isn’t a story about that. No, this is the story of a cowboy turned pirate, who, through the training of a secret western ninja society, found the way to inner peace. And then, because of his own inner turmoil, his inability to reconcile the piracy with his love of the gentle bovine giants, he struck out at the man he held most responsible: Linus Pauling.
You think it was just a COINCIDENCE that Linus Pauling died the SAME NIGHT that time travel was invented simultaneously in 37 parallel universes, each time by a different DIRECT DESCENDANT of Genghis khan?
Well, anything I’d have to say about August 19, 1994 would be pure speculation since everyone involved is now batshit crazy (and we all KNOW how crazy batshit is). They say it started with an illicit twister game in a back room at Sesame Place. Maybe they should have taken the character costumes off first, or at least made sure the door was locked.
at August 19, 1994 the count down began, no one knew for what, but it has began. Now, there is only one year left on the count down.
hey, what is this red button do?
o.k, make it a month.
What happened that night
Oh Eight Ninteen Ninety Four
Gods walked among us.
Actual true story: I was camping in Glacier National Park on the 19th of August 1994. In the early evening, just after pitching the tent, my hiking partner and I heard the universal distress signal — three blasts on an emergency whistle. The signal repeated while we threw together a quick emergency kit, wondering aloud what had happened. Did a bear attack? Had a hiker broken his leg?
We took off down the trail at a run, every minute hearing the distress signal again. After a mile, we crested a rise and found the emergency: a couple had stopped near the trailhead and was taking pictures of the sunset. They had given their five-year-old son the whistle to play with, to keep him out of their hair while they took pictures. We did some high-quality yelling at the parents, took the whistle away from the kid, and returned to our camp feeling a little dejected. The trail run wasn’t bad; mostly, we felt we had been robbed of an all-too-rare chance to be heroes.
Summer vacation had reached its apex, and had begun the inevitable downslope toward that which was most hated by kids: SCHOOL. Still, there were a few weeks remaining, in which to enjoy ourselves, before we were overtaken with the tedium of books, homework, school clothes, and bagged lunches. There were a few weeks remaining, in which to escape.
Every morning, that summer, I rose early, before anyone else in the house was up. I ate a quick breakfast, grabbed my sketchpads and pencils, and disappeared into the neighborhood until dusk.
That day, I decided to head over to the park by the Mariner’s Museum, and sketch some of the displays in and around the building. There was some construction going on there, as well, and I thought the equipment would make good subject matter, too. I was only passable as an artist; I knew I would never make my living at it, but you could tell what was what, mostly. If I drew the Nolan Trail Bridge, you it would be recognizable – as a bridge, at least.
The walk over to the park was a long one, and, by the time I arrived, the sun was burning down on me, and I was hot and sweating under my t-shirt. I decided to venture inside the museum first, where the air conditioning was cranked to full blast; I shivered as the sweat dried under its frigid hum. I walked slowly through the displays, waiting for my inspiration. I may not have been much of an artist, but I knew you couldn’t force anything. What to draw had to come to you.
As I wandered aimlessly from hall to hall, lost in the light tap of my shoes on the freshly waxed tile floor, my mind drifted as free as my feet. Eventually, of course, I stopped walking, and found myself in a back corner, standing in front of a miniature model of a Viking longboat. Every detail had been exquisitely hand-crafted, years ago, by some long-forgotten artisan. Oh, wait, no, the artist’s name was on the plaque below the model. Crabtree was his name. I shrugged. I didn’t care who had built it; I wanted to draw it.
My pencil flew furiously over the heavy paper; it felt more as though I were uncovering the image, rather than applying it to the page. I could almost see the fierce warriors manning the vessel, all furs and beards and heavy, sharp weapons. There was a thud; a shadow fell over the paper. I looked up, and saw a man standing beside me.
He was huge. Thick red hair fell in matted hunks over his shoulders, and some were tied with what looked like rawhide. He wore heavy leather clothes, with patches of hair hanging off of them. He was, I knew, a Viking. But, what truly concerned me, at that moment, more than the appearance of this ancient conqueror of my ancestors, more than the inconceivable phsyics of his appearance, more than the idea I might actually be insane, was the huge, hulking axe dangling from one enormous paw. It swung slowly, back and forth, in his hand, the tip scraping softly against the floor.
He didn’t move, or speak, but simply stood there, staring down at me. I didn’t move, or speak, either; I was frozen with terror. I stared back up at him, all the while my brain was screaming at me to look away, look down, don’t make eye contact, dogs attack when you make eye contact with them, look away, LOOK AWAY! But I could not. I held his gaze from my seat on the floor, and when I thought I would be unable to stand another moment of this tension, he bent his knees, and descended to my level.
He looked down at my drawing, then over at the model on the shelf across from me, then back at my picture.
“That’s good, kid,” he said. His voice was deep, gravelly, worn from years of shouting battle cries, I assumed. He had no accent, whatsoever.
“Uh, thanks,” I stuttered, even though I knew the picture was mediocre, at best. I wasn’t going to argue.
“You should sign it,” the Viking told me. Every time he spoke, I was overwhelmed by images of him leaping from the prow of his warship, brandishing his axe (the very axe he was cradling in his arms at that very moment), shouting and laughing and lopping off heads with each stroke. Hurriedly, I complied, scratching my name onto the bottom corner of the picture.
He snatched it deftlyfrom the pad, and stood up, examining the picture once again. Then he chuckled, turned, and strode away, down the hall, and out of this tale.
PS Sorry that was so long. Verbosity is both a blessing and a curse.
Gennita totally stole my answer.
August 19th, 1994. Early evening. A squirrel climbs the tree in my front yard from which hangs a bird feeder, half-full. Where to begin?
The tree, I suppose. It pre-dated the house, and the architect, who was also the previous owner, had decided to place the front porch such that the lower branches of this tree were easily reachable from it. He had always enjoyed trees, climbing them, swinging from the branches, or even just leaning against them, enjoying the shade and the cool firmness against his back. While this tree was too slender to do any proper clambering on, he liked being able to reach out and touch the branches that would otherwise be out of reach on the ground. It was intimacy, of a sort.
However, in the passage of the years there was much greater demand for the architects services elsewhere, out West. This was primarily due to civilization catching up to the new Interstate Highway system, and buildings were needed to house the current influx of people heading west to seek their fortune. There’s always been something in the American psyche about picking up and starting over somewhere over the horizon, where there’s space. This was the last generation where that was actually true, and people were wasting no time in taking advantage of it.
And so the architect sold the house to my parents. My mother put up a bird feeder on the tree, because she’d been looking forward to seeing birds other than pigeons. One might be excused a certain despondence regarding the qualities of birds in general if your sole exposure to them was the pigeon, but Mom had persevered. She was no longer living in the city, and she was determined to give the avian family a fair shake before giving up on it altogether.
It wasn’t long before she discovered that squirrels were also attracted to bird feeders. Their acrobatic abilities, which evolved from the necessity of fleeing predators, also conveniently allow them to make the necessary climbs, leaps, flips, drops, and catches to gain access to bird feeders. Since feeder placement is usually limited by the accessibility of the person maintaining it, and the mobility of the average squirrel is much higher than that of the average person, keeping squirrels from bird feeders is now generally considered to be a lost cause.
So there’s your explanation. It’s not complete, of course. But what explanation could be?
August 19th 1994? Are you kidding me?
I’m supposed to remember the details of every Venusian infiltrator I put to death? “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” my arse. We were DEFENDING THE EARTH!
A Friday evening during the first summer after we bought our first house. Sounds ordinary, possibly humdrum, readily explainable, right? Apparently not.
Let me set the stage: Ranch house on a cul-de-sac populated by seven small boys, two big ones, and one girl. None of them live at our house, just the two of us and two cats. No other cats live on the cul-de-sac, so they are occasionally visited for petting and admiring purposes by the small boys, especially Susie, who has a coat of many colors.
Next to the house and attached garage is a large deck, one step up from the ground. The white garage is festooned with ivy, not unlike Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Enter two small boys, about 4 years old. We look out the window at the deck, and see the boys, hands full of ivy leaves, tossing them onto the deck. A good-size section of the ivy has already been stripped bare. When the boys, caught red-handed, are asked, “What were you thinking!” They answer
“Nothing.” And that’s the truth. Brenda
I thought the leaden winter would bring me down forever,
But I rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun.
Where the colors of the sea blind your eyes with trembling mermaids,
And you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses:
How his naked ears were tortured
by the sirens sweetly singing,
For the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips.
It all made sense in 1968, I mean,
August 19th, 1994.
August 19, 1994 was my birthday (much like August 19 is every year). I was living in Denton, Texas, and attending grad school at the time. I believe that I and my friends John and Madeline went to the now-defunct Ellington’s on the Square and had yummy food, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t have beer. Then Madeline and I got take-out cake and ice cream while John went home to read about Process Metaphysics, think about Buddha, and get absolutely shit-faced. Madeline and I put party hats on the cats’ heads and talked trash about her ex-boyfriend, cackling like deranged fishwives into the wee hours of the morning. I believe I was wearing a little cardboard crown. The downstairs neighbors declared me “very sexy” when I walked her to her car, but I suspect they were stoned.
(second entries permitted? If not, please disregard)
The conclusion was inescapable: it just wasn’t enough. Twenty-five years, plus or minus a few days for calibration, simply was not far enough back to shift events of such magnitude. The maximum possible alteration distance/time would be August 19, 1994, a singularly uneventful day. NAFTA had gone into effect eight months before, the Shoemaker-Levy comet had already smashed into Jupiter, and Al Gore had not even heard of DARPA nor anything called the Internet yet. President Clinton wasn’t due to sign the assault weapons ban for about another month, so there might have been something there to work with, but it would probably induce insufficient shift in the continuum to alter outcomes to any great degree. Still, cycle time wasn’t nearly as costly anymore with the great universities offline, so it was worth the query. One minute and six seconds of rapidly vanishing time later, the answer was returned: avoidance of the ban led to insufficient direct shift.
That was an interesting variant on the standard response. Usually I got a simple “insufficient shift.” Query: possible indirect avenues? Affirmative: domestic unrest or regional unrest were listed as secondary possibilities. Interesting. Further investigation revealed there was some possibility that avoidance of the assault weapons ban could, in combination with some domestic unrest or regional disturbance, result in sufficient loss of life to avoid the current crisis. That was well worth exploring in more detail. If there was anything which we could do to avoid the total collapse of the world, seven billion deaths, and the extinction of the human race from rampant plagues and near-total resource depletion, we had to pursue it. We had to.
Five hours later, I had three tentative scenarios laid out. The primary scenario involved avoidance of the assault weapons ban combined with incited border tensions with both Mexico and Canada. Local resistance, using legal assault weapons, engaged their counterparts on both sides of the borders to such an extent that by 1999 the US had to engage in formal military action against both of its’ neighbors. To the South, the war with Mexico created suitably high casualties and imposed US regulatory oversight on manufacturing and industry which dramatically reduced pollutants and ecosystem damage, while to the North the absorption of Canadian resources was carefully rationed under wartime powers. Those rations were simply never lifted, thereby preserving the ecosystem much longer than any previous scenario had done. All of this occurred before Chinese involvement in Venezuela or Latin America had become significant enough to risk world war, and was, in fact, before most of the environmental damage was done in China and the Ukraine. The boost in US resources might even allow it to save some of that damage, too, as well as opening up possibilities for annexation of most, if not all, of South America. This, in turn, made it possible to seize control of the mighty Amazon jungle and terminate the slash-and-burn farmers’ efforts to deforest the largest land-based stabilizing biomass.
The calculations showed it had a better than average chance of working. What an absurdity! Who would have ever thought that automatic weapons could save the environment? If we could just get past the Geffeler point, where an ecosystem collapses only to a certain point, but can yet recover, then humanity might survive after all. It was a worthwhile goal, despite the pain and loss, despite the strife and bloodshed. August 19, 1994 was looking like a better and better day all the time.
One. Two. Three. The bell tolls.
Four. Five. It calls; we count, barely breathing.
Six. Seven. We taste midnight.
We exhale, and accept our fate. In the silence, our hands resist the gluey ground. We rise, and fall one last time.
August nineteenth? It had been a day darkened by the passing away of a man and a machine. The man was Nobel laureate Dr. Linus Pauling, the machine a mail server known to many as
ucbvax. And as if that wasn’t enough, we had been holding our figurative breaths for days and praying that the solar system would not sprout a second sun; the boffins at JPL were pretty sure that the Shoemaker-Levy impact on the far side of Jupiter would not trigger sustained fusion of the metallic hydrogen core which hid beneath Jupiter’s swirling skies. Of course, “pretty sure” is an inexact term for an enormous ziggurat of chained assumptions, models, and computations from which astrophysicists formed the prediction and assigned confidence levels and error bars to each subconclusion … and in this context the word “oops” would not be a weasel in one’s shorts, it might well be an epitaph for the race.
Casey, a long-time friend, jarred me from my preoccupation and maundering to remind me that Brian Setzer Orchestra was playing that night, and dammit, was I going to Bilbo’s or not? “Because if you are just going to stew in a funk and miss it, then give me your friggin’ ticket!”
He was right, as usual. I dived into suitable duds, flung myself into the low passenger seat, and we roared off toward Frank City.
There are no adjectives to adequately describe the performance of that night. It gave me back a belief in the future, in future; it kicked me in the pants and left me half-deafened for most of a week. Hell, if you were there, you might have gotten laid later that night and not remember it.
Correction to above:
It gave me back a belief in the future, in any future; […]
Fooey. Must must MUST proofread after coffee!
August 19, 1994? I don’t remember. In fact, I bet you don’t remember either. Some here say you don’t remember it because August 19th didn’t happen. I’m here to tell you it did. But we’ll never know what happened. Because we all blocked it out.
I have proof. I had just gotten a camcorder and was playing around with it that weekend. When I woke up that next Monday, I knew something had happened but I couldn’t recall. On a whim I picked up my camcorder…
“What the…” The camera was pointed on the window, falls to the ground, a flash, a clickety-clacking noise and then static.
At first, I chalked it up to the heavy drinking I had done the previous Saturday…I often have lost Sundays. But you remember vaguely getting up to pee, raiding the fridge, watching a golf or baseball game. August 19th, there was nothing more than a odd sense that I had missed something major, and even more disturbing sense that I didn’t REALLY miss it.
I’ve found others who have snippets of video recordings, or audio tapes, but try as we might, we’ve never pieced anything substantial together. Flashes of lights, loud noise, an occasional scream and a random chattering, or snippery clicking noise.
Some part of me is obsessed with finding out what happened…but a small part of me quivers with fearful tension that I might just do that.
What do you remember?
October 9, 1994
“Your conception date was August 19th, probably in the evening.” The doctor looked at the ultrasound and then at me. I was obviously of less interest to him.
“No, actually, it was August 17th.”
“You can’t know that!” the doctor snapped, irritated that I would challenge his assessment.
“Ah, but I do. It was 3:00 in the afternoon. There was a light breeze coming through the window, which was amazing as it had been horribly hot and humid the day before and was again the day after. I had the day off. He was taking a vacation day. The timing was perfect.” I smiled, remembering.
“Well, that’s just a guess,” the doctor huffed.
My husband stepped forward.
“I know you think you guys know everything, but my wife is telling you what happened and she’s right. You don’t know when this kid was conceived. And I know for sure that no one had sex with her on August 19th, because I was with her all day. You aren’t God, to make proclamations like that.” It was the longest speech I had ever heard my husband make.
“I didn’t say I was god,” the doctor muttered.
“Good thing. Because when God showed up on August 17th and made sure my wife got pregnant, he looked nothing like you.”
On August 19, 1994, I ran across a sailor on a truffle binge.
My knowledge comes first hand from this man. Make no mistake, he got his info fourth hand from Rainbow Bear himself!
Here’s how it all went down that night. Cthulhu and the Care Bears sat down for a Tea Party. Anyone in the know would have thought there would have been streaming thoughts and brains and body parts with a side of cake, right? Not so. It was all lasagna, broccoli, mercury and a bit of talcum powder.
(The Talcum powder? For the Care Bears. Don’t ask. It ain’t pretty.)
One toast lead to another and next thing you know, Cthulhu started talking politics and religion. Funshine Bear blew sunshine up Cthulhu ass about Gore, Oopsy Bear triped over a stray ray, and Share Bear ended up with his knickers in a twist because the party was out of ice.
In a gallant attempt to smooth things over, Grumpy Bear made a final decree.
And that, folks, is the REAL story of how we ended up with George Dubbya Bush as President and the events of August 19, 1994.
After preventing computational meltdown, we had a debriefing. At least, that’s what they called it. More like a brainwashing, in fact. There were no scrubbers back then–no mysterious blinks of light to erase memories which would be “unpleasant” to keep. So they did things the old fashioned way: by committee. I swear I yapped with around sixty dicks in suits about this, that and the other, and by the time I left I couldn’t tell you what the code had looked like if you paid me a million bucks per line.
Government is nothing if not efficient.
By the time I got to my car it was nearly midnight. The parking garage was quiet–nothing but the clicks of my shoes and the high buzz of the amber lights. I keyed open the door and hopped in.
The smell of cloves whapped me hard.
I should’ve seen the smoke and known something was up. The cold circle I now found on my temple told me I had nothing else to do that night. A piece of paper was thrust into my hands: Call Twix, it said. Whoever this was, they’d done their homework.
“Twix here.” He loved his champagne and it showed.
“Twix. Something’s come up.”
“Yeah.” I re-read the note. “‘It’s time to tell the tale.'”
Silence. More damned waiting.
“Alright. Half an hour.” He hung up.
“Half an hour,” I said as he took another drag. He waggled his gun ahead. I had no idea where we were going, but it was somewhere else. I started the car and rolled it out of the parking garage. This long night apparently wasn’t over.
Explain the events of the night of August 19, 1994.
This request is intriguing. I mean, sure, I can tell you what happened, minus a few intimate details, BUT! Why are you interested in THAT night? The prize is obviously the fake prize. I am pretty sure that what you want is a CERTAIN story of a CERTAIN August 19, from a CERTAIN person.
Thinking that the person is me…yeah, sure, this blog is safe enough so I can see how you imagined I’d fall for it.
Oh, yeah, ’cause that’s how I got through YOU KNOW WHAT. But we’re not naive, right, was it you or GJ who said there’s a very thin line between candour and stupidity.
Paranoia is suffocating. I had forgotten it, you just brought it back, thanks man! It’s SCALZI these days, right…
Ah well, let’s assume you are who I think you are, and you came up with this scheme desperatly trying to figure out what happened in those hours you missed.
Well, tough luck ol’ buddy. Yes I can tell you what happened in the night of August 19, 1994, but I won’t get caught up in the story and I won’t let a naive (!!!) hand write the following morning too.
THERE YOU GO :
August 19th, ’94, in the evening I eat a sandwich with leftover chicken, smoked a joint (ha,ha,that is the last thing you thought I would do) then watched sci-fi reruns waiting for, hold your breath, yes! 23.00, the hour, The Hour. Wich, as you know, got delayed. Past 24.00 when THIS story ends.
So choke and die on Earth, Scalzi, you missed it, we didn’t, we see you, you’ll never see us again.
Did I win your book,buddy? Please tell me, how are you going to ship it to me?
Nothing could have happened in 1994 for,
1994 has not happened yet.
Soon it shall be year 0 in the glorious shadow of Siglerism.
The color of the sky is scary comrade.
Look. It’s not a secret what happened. It was never a secret. You gotta understand that first. It just… it… Everybody sees things differently, y’know? I saw what happened. I talked to them. Yeah, I told some people. No big deal.
But then there’s this guy, y’know? There’s always this guy. Only this guy has a camera. And they wanted to be discreet. Not like it was a secret, ’cause it wasn’t. I said that, right? Right.
So… you know… they asked him to stop sharing the pictures. And this guy FLIPS OUT. Like goes all sorts of crazy on them, and that’s not cool. I mean, they asked *nicely*. They didn’t, like infringe his copyright or whatever. But dude flipped out.
So they called some people. And I guess those people called some people, and next thing you know, there’s cops. I hate when that happens. ‘Cause once there’s cops, there’s judges, and bailiffs, and lawyers, and fees…and bail. And if you don’t got bail, you sit in the hole. But this time I didn’t need bail. It wasn’t like that this time. Sometimes that happens. Those are the lucky times.
But anyway, there’s cops. And they totally raid the guy’s house. Like, big-time overreacting. If *they*’d known, they’d’ve never called those people, y’know? That’s not them. But then he fingers me. Like I’m the problem.
And their people’s people don’t know me. They don’t care about me, but they don’t understand that it’s not a secret. So now I gotta go sign a thing…I don’t know what you call it. But I gotta keep my mouth shut once I sign it. Because of the lawyers.
But I haven’t signed it yet. And it’s not a secret. It was NEVER a secret. They were just being discreet.
Big deal. Who cares?
It wasn’t a secret. It was never a secret.
They just didn’t want him to share the pictures, y’know?
They asked nice.
Now? Now it’s a secret.
‘Cause of some jerk with camera.
‘Cause of the lawyers.
Hey. Don’t tell, alright? It’s a secret.
August 19, 1994 – We had just gotten finished rehearsing our stage show for the Ren Faire. The site was quiet, but the sound of hammers or saws could be heard punctuating the night. Opening weekend was just a week away, and dress rehearsal was the next day.
We were relaxing the way we usually did, chugging a couple of bottles of Gatorade to replenish our fluids, followed by a few beers to relinquish our brain cells. It was just the nine of us, my wife, Ray, Darren, Crista, Beth, Jenny and James. Things started off fairly normal with tests of dexterity. Walking the tilt-yard on the railing, standing on top of front gate, the usual. Then the women started comparing bra sizes…okay, so that wasn’t usual, but that’s not where the night went.
Max rolled up in his van. “Hey dudes, what’s shaking?” Yes, it was a typical mystery mobile van, complete with smoke. He was heading out for a beer run, and wanted to know if we needed anything. With a wad of miscellaneous cash, he drove off into the sunset.
We had just settled into a game of spin the bottle on the Rose and Crown stage, when we heard Max’s van tearing up the dirt road behind the stage. Max leaps from the van, white as a ghost and yells out, “Zombies! the whole town has turned to Zombies!”
We knew what we had to do. We locked down the festival, and manned the front gate. There we were, ten intoxicated, half-costumed actors, armed with nothing more than stage props, some power tools and the wits god gave us, about to take on a charging horde of Zombies.
So.. being comprised mainly of soviets of bacteria, the only thing I need to concentrate on is cellular division and general metabolism, which ironically are two of my favorite activities. I can remember that evening so clearly, it runs in my head in sequence of 30, or sometimes 24 frames a second. August 19, 1994.. What an evening! There I was, having a book performed live for me by mimes with colofrul balloons and ponies, the lute playing in the background, enjoying a piece of pie, when a thought occured to me: I need to fight more crime! Yes, it was a very simple concept! I had no idea, at that time, why I hadn’t thought of that before! I was doing my fair share of fighting crime, but just one evening earlier, I saw my next door neighbor fight 56 crimes in a span of 2 hours and 34 minutes. He WAS an overachiever, but compared to the measly 41 crimes I had fought in that same span, I had to do something. So, I dropped everything I was doing, even though I was in the middle of typing the answer: “Counting butterflies at the butterfly attractions in all major zoos in the USA” to the question: “what are your hobbies?” while filling out an online profile. And that was that! The rest, as they say, is history!
Tabloids talked a lot of crap about the Queen after her ’94 visit. It was mostly untrue. I read it all anyway, just on the off chance that someone would have picked up on the truth. A few got close, but I think that was more blind luck than any real detective work, and I doubt any of them really knew what they were saying. They were just firing in the dark, hoping for a reaction. There were more than a few times that I wanted to call someone up and spill it all, but they had me under a pile of NDA’s and thick bound countracts that stated pretty explicitly: say a word and we will end you.
But she’s dead now and buried pretty far down, and her youngest son is doing a bang-up job of keeping the commonwealth together, so I guess I can let my mouth run a little. I’ll give you some clues. Not everything. Enough to keep me anonymous if any of the extended family get shitty and decide to tie a tourniquet around all those loose ends.
I was working as a maid at the Sheraton where the Royal Family were bunking during their visit. I’d never met a Royal before. They were always grainy figures on the TV, vaguely unreal. Strange concepts from a distant country. That didn’t last. The boss took great efforts to make sure we knew how real they were with late nights spent training in etiquette, presentation, and how to knock on the Queen’s door (in short, don’t. A Royal Attendant will tell you when to enter.) Our uniforms were pressed and starched for the first time in months. I spent so long relearning proper posture that my spine turned to iron.
Then the day came and they arrived with cameras flashing and a roar of fanatical monarchists shouting and applauding, and all I could think was that they were all so small. Tiny folk, all wrinkled and horse-faced with bad teeth. Couldn’t they afford braces in Great Britain? But I kept my senses and curtsied on command, and soon they were all settled and I was back in the foyer waiting on orders.
Some of the other maids were overwhelmed. “I called her Mam!” they said, shrieking and cooing in the kitchens. I didn’t see the attraction. They were just like any other customer. Just more pushy. I kept my head down and did my job, and three days passed pretty quick.
It was the night of August nineteenth when things went downhill.
The Queen had been in her room all evening when the boss told me she needed fresh towels. Me and one other girl stacked the trolley and took the elevator to the top floor that was reserved for the Queen and all her big-eared progeny. The door was left unguarded, which was strange. I was used to seeing a broad-shouldered guy in a uniform standing watch outside. The other girl shrugged. “Knock?”
“Hell no. You knock.”
She shrugged again, and rapped twice on the door. No response. “Fresh towels, mam?” she called. Still nothing. “Probably out,” she said, swiped her card and opened the door.
I only got a glimpse before she slammed the door shut again. A squirming figure buried in piles of velvet sheets, her wrinkled chicken-thin legs high in the air. The guard on his knees, bent over, his head between her legs.
“Jesus,” I said, and we ran, the trolley rattling and bouncing all the way to the elevator. There was a shout behind us, but we were in with the doors closed with time to spare. Nobody saw our faces. I’m pretty sure of that. We got back down to the kitchen and returned the towels to the shelves and never said a word about it afterwards. We did our best to scour it from our memories.
The big shouldered, square jawed fellow? He vanished for a good few years. There was an inquiry of sorts, and they found him in late ’97, mostly rotted, buried out the back of a local farm. They blamed it on a pub fight. If that’s the line they want to take, then that’s what happened. Who am I to argue? At least he got a last taste of woman before they cut him loose.
I’ve wondered a lot whether that was our fault. Whether he would have shipped back to Britain in one piece if we hadn’t burst in. Or maybe it was a pub brawl. I’m just a maid.
I don’t work there anymore.
The smoke and the ashes.
Drifting on the hot, restless wind. First from the west, then from the south, where it all came from. Everything smoldered, but didn’t quite catch fire. After awhile, I came to wish there would be a burst of hot, cleansing flame to glow orange-bright in the gray half-gloom, but since the original explosions, it was all ash and dust and thumb-nail-sized bits of singed maple leaves.
And then the monkeys arrived.
I’ll never forget the screaming.
Picture a small mill town that also has a college, somewhere in central Maine. Let’s call this town “Waterville,” because that’s its name. Now picture three young men, all age 16, but different in crucial ways–“Shawn” (for that’s *his* name), is of a larger physique, without glasses, “Gavin” (also real name) wears glasses, and “Greg” sometimes wears glasses and sometimes contacts.
It is August. It is night–early night, maybe closer to evening. They are standing on one of the high grassy hills of Colby College, trying to enjoy the view of the surrounding towns–Winslow, Skowhegan, Messalonskee–or rather, would be enjoying them if they were still there.
They are not.
Most of the state of Maine is not.
All the other 49 states are not.
In fact, just to make things simpler, picture a giant gaping hole surrounding this town approximately the size of Planet Earth.
Shawn and Gavin are looking at me.
“I was bored!” I say. “It’s summer vacation! What? It’s not like there’s a law against generating an artificial black hole that sucks everything but Waterville into its gaping maw!”
Gavin sighs. “No, Greg, there is technically no law against that, but there are probably several laws against the *effects* of such an experiment.”
“Wow,” said Shawn. “We are going to get in *so* much trouble.”
“Maybe we can reverse it,” I say. “Maybe we can reverse it and no one will notice.”
Consultation with our physics teacher, Mr. Goesslin, was impossible, as he lived in Winslow and so now, technically, no longer existed.
As it turns out, it’s surprisingly simple to reverse-engineer a black hole, and takes only about twelve hours–you need one fairly sizeable pine tree, a few pieces of chewing gum, a Macintosh computer (we used the SE/30), and duct tape. Lots of duct tape. A few bottle rockets, and the world came bursting back forth at around 4 AM of August 20. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t get nearly enough sleep the night of August 19, my apologies.
Shawn, Gavin, and I have kept this tale to ourselves for a long time–almost 14 years now. The consequences of such a revelation would be too severe. But, boy, I want that advance copy.
Now, John, I’m not going to threaten you with *another* black hole. That would be foolish of me. I am simply going to note that the device we built in high school remains in my possession. You may draw your own conclusions.
Well, there’s some uncertainty about what happened. Or even when. The evening (or night) of 19 August 1994 is a pretty relative thing. I mean, it might have had some significance to the folks up there in the northern hemisphere, but the more relaxed types down here in the Antipodes just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Most of us were just getting on with the day.
And of course 19 August 1994 just wasn’t the 19th, or August, or even 1994 as far as some people were concerned. They were inclined to see the amount of discussion on this point as another example of rampant Anglocentrism.
That aside, we talk about the night of 19 August 1994 as that’s the most convenient label to apply.
How do we explain it? Opinions differ. After all, eople really didn’t notice what had happened until well into the afternoon of the 20th. Remember, this is pre World Wide Web days; news and information and debates weren’t flashing around the globe with quite the same haste as they are now. No one blogged about what was happening. There weren’t any Usenet posts of merit (remember Usenet?). No one registered ’19august1994.com’, or variations thereof, as a domain name. Well, not then, anyway (the wiki says the first dedicated site was set upabout seven months later, but even that is open to dispute).
And while there was some debate and discussion, this was soon swept aside by the even bigger fuss about events on the 22nd.
Nonetheless: as far as what happened on 19 August 1994 (yes, yes, go away) is concerned, many explanations have been put forward. Over time, five theories have come to dominate analysis.
(1) sunspots. Always an obvious candidate.
(2) user error. Hard to prove, but it would explain a lot.
(3) biorhythm synchronisation. Yes, it still hasn’t gone away.
(4) collective guilt. This one is much loved by the metaphyiscal types, but it’s also hard to prove and there has been no sign of it since.
A combination of one or all of these is a possibility. In the end, though, it’s going to be one of those things which no one is ever going to be able to pin down, like the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the origin of bellybutton lint, or the size of the national debt. I suppose each of us will eventually settle on an explanation we’re comfortable with.
Still: it’s fun to argue about it!
I don’t care where he is now, really. He left me, in that cornfield, somewhere in Indiana. He took Betsy and drove off into the night, leaving me standing by the side of the road staring up at the bright glittering lights overhead.
You know what peeves me the most? Taking Betsy. I don’t much care about the 8 hour walk back to town, I was wearing sensible shoes and had my id card in my pocket. And deserted country roads lined with cornfields aren’t the scariest places on a hot August night. But taking Betsy? That was the end of all things. Many things are forgive-able, as long as no permanent harm is done. But do not expect that I will forgive you for taking my precious K-car and going back to town because you’re “bored”.
How could anyone possibly be bored? It was a clear summer night in the middle of nowhere, Indiana! It was full of stars!
It wasn’t news. No one’s heard about it. There’s agencies of the government devoted exclusively to that effort. I should know; I work for one of them, the Subcommittee of Information and Literature Expurgation to Negate Citizen Engagement. There’s always been some contention in SILENCE about some of the events of that day. I wasn’t an eyewitness to them, but I’m telling you from people who were. Adam over in information manufacturing—that’s Zeta Operative Enforcement to you—swears that he saw it. I believe him. If you can’t trust the word of a guy who re-writes history for a living, who can you trust?
Oh, sure, you can see the end result. That’s public fact. We only make simulacra of dead persons when they’re important enough that their sudden death would cause problems. Of course, simulacra can’t do facial expressions right—just look at Hillary’s smile, for God’s sake—but they help things along for the gullible sheep.
I was clearing up the record, though, wasn’t I? You probably know that on 19 August, 1994 the boys at the Patrol To Remove Outplanet Links got a code 15. In California. Again. I tell you, it’s like they tilted the country and all the fruits and nuts rolled to the west. A quick spin of the Transmutporter and two of PATROL’s top agents were at a ranch just outside Big Sur, looking down on Highway 1. They should have been looking at a ranch-style house occupied by a ninety-four year old chemist, but the crater where his house should have been afforded them a great view of the valley instead. And the Lambda Rift.
I believe that I mentioned that I’m not a PATROL agent—the bizarre alien tech those guys use gives me the willies—but I understand that the two agents were transmuted into a bear and a dragonfly upon the transport process. One of the hazards of Transmutporting: you’ll get there instantly; no guarantees what you arrive as, though. I can do without that kind of excitement. The one time I got Transmutported, I ended up a fish. In the Mojave. My kind of luck, I tell you.
Anyway, the two of them took a look at the smoking crater and the fluttering Octarine light emanating from it and did what any PATROL agent would do: called in backup. A Self-Contained Automatic Lambda de-Zeugmafication Instance is the textbook response to a code 15 after a man-on-the-scene verification, and it was the work of a few moments to close the Lambda Rift. The SCALZ Instance is a robot designed by beings a few branes over, apparently, and they’re created for just this kind of thing. Don’t ask how we got a master SCALZ unit; Samantha in HR told me, but it’s not something that I spread around. I don’t like to talk about ’em. Hell, I don’t even like to look at them; their topography is based roughly upon a Klein bottle and hurts the eyes something fierce. Work great, though. Once you’ve closed your Lambda Rift, you call in SHIELD. That’s my team.
The old guy who had lived there was a genius sort. Seems he found one of the six forbidden ways to create an anchor for one of the hyperstrings that connects micro wormholes that run between p-branes. The chemical one, of course, with all of the reality-distorting vapor that it leaves behind when exploded. I hate that.
So what did I do? My job, of course. Using the de-temporifier to recover the flinders of a house while fending off hordes of flying penises is the kind of thing to cause nightmares, but there are worse jobs a guy can have. (By the way, whichever one of you clowns looked into my personnel file and thought it would be cute to replicate that—years later—in Second Life? I’ll figure out who you are eventually.) De-temporfying a structure takes a delicate touch, and no one else can work in the area while you’re doing it. Have to make sure that you turn the clock back enough to where the structure’s still standing and no further. Things try and throw themselves around the place to get where they should later be if you go back in time too far. I always smirk when I see reports of “poltergeists” throwing dishes and furniture around. That’s usually the work of Ben, the new guy in my department. He’s got ten thumbs.
I’m good at what I do, though, unlike some new hires, and got the work done in about three hours. Big Sur is so sparsely inhabited that the ZOE guys didn’t need to do any witness clean-up, which meant that the other guys were standing around with their thumbs up until I was done. Not like that time in Manhattan—man, what a mess.
Finished it up, did a quick walk-through of the area. Looking for any extra-dimensional bleed through. Yeah, they say that SCALZ Instances can’t make any mistakes, but it doesn’t hurt to check, now, does it?
Did I find anything? No, of course not. They can’t make mistakes. Says so right in the instructions.
There was something in the old codger’s library that caught my attention: a pair of big medals. Nobel Prizes. Man, look at the brains on this guy. No wonder he was able to cause a Lambda Rift. Two Nobel Prizes, he’s gotta be famous. I figured I’d better check and make sure this wasn’t someone important enough to make a simulacra of.
While the evidence collection team from ZOE picked up the notes, formulas, beakers, chemicals, retorts, mirrors, and crystals from the old chemist’s house, I decided to find out. Larry in Mortality Cover Up was finishing up the papers, so I took a peek. Just as I was doing so, the dragonfly that had been flitting around vanished in the bright purple buzz of a Transmutport. Showy PATROL bastards.
Larry asked me what a good cause of death for a 94-year old was as I leaned over his shoulder, so I mumbled something about prostate cancer being a real killer these days. Got my uncle, God rest. Larry typed it in to his wrist computer and it appeared on the holographic display: Linus Carl Paulding, dead of prostate cancer on the night of August 19, 1994. They held a ceremony in Oregon somewhere, I understand, and buried an empty casket. Lambda Rifts don’t usually leave remains.
Don’t believe me? Look it up on Google. It’s a fact. I saw Adam in ZOE finish the data processing myself.
Yeah, yeah—I know you want to hear about the controversy, though, right? What happened to the second PATROL agent when he was Transmutported back? Why am I blabbing on about this whole history? Well, look. I saw the guy in dragonfly form at the clean up. You don’t see dragonflies like that in the mountains. I saw him get Transmutported away, too. Then, when I got back and brought Adam some leftover pizza bagels from Linda’s birthday party, he mentioned to me that the second agent had come back, Transmutported into stunning blonde woman. Prettiest lady he ever saw. You know about this too, I’m sure, or you wouldn’t be asking. What I’m telling you is, looking at the chain of events, you can see I’m practically an eyewitness myself. That’s the point of this whole history I’ve been going through. I’m the best witness you can get, except for Adam, and he ain’t talking, on orders from Above.
Now, the story you hear around the water cooler goes that he was turned in to a woman who eventually assumed the identity that we know as Pamela Anderson Lee. She’s a pretty blonde woman, after all. I’m telling you, though. You got it all wrong. I mean, hell: “Baywatch” started in ’92. No way were the guys at ZOE were going to manufacture two seasons of an entire show to give a ditzy blonde chick an explanation for her sudden presence in Hollywood.
Nah, that agent became Gwyneth Paltrow. First movie: “Se7en”, released in 1995. Oh, sure, you can find her in bit parts in “Shout” and “Hook” on VHS’s and DVD’s now, but that’s the kind of clever history editing that Adam and the boys at ZOE do, see.
Gotta admit, she’s hot.
My humble apologies for the absurd length of the above post. My brain ran away with me.
Traffic was light as I exited the parking garage. It usually was around midnight. The one night I wanted to be delayed or stopped–hell, even heckled by some sidewalk huckster–I get nothing.
Should I talk to him? The gun in his hands made me think otherwise. Radio seemed verboten for the same reason. Who was he? I wondered. Just what the fuck is going on?
I drove in silence. He conducted me using the gun as a baton, waving left and right turns in front of my face. I didn’t try to take the gun away. Anyone good enough to get into a secured parking garage has got to be good enough to handle a partially out-of-shape analyst.
We arrived at our destination: a greasy spoon just outside the city. The lights were bright enough and the decor was loud enough to give you a headache. My kidnapper’s cloud of clove smoke didn’t help. The floor was an obnoxiously checked black and white. The waitress–LOR ETTA, the tag on her apron said–greeted us with a rousing “Howdy!” followed by a couple chews on her gum. She cocked her head to the left. “Go on, seat yourselves. I’ll be with ya in just a sec.”
I looked into the diner and found Twix. He was alone. Hell, we were alone–there wasn’t another customer to be seen. My compatriot grabbed my elbow and led us to Twix’s table.
“I’ll be right back, ” Twix said. “Gonna wash up.” He squiggled out of the booth and headed towards the restrooms.
I sat down at the table. There were three manila folders on the table. Two of them had polaroid photos clipped to them. First photo was a man–Trevor, according to the file. The other photo was a human brain, blood and all. Freakiest thing I ever saw.
“AWOL op.” I looked up at my kidnapper. The clove smoke cloud was still there.
“And the brain?”
“It’s his. They’re together.”
I blinked. “Um, no shit, Sherlock.”
“That’s one of the things we need you to do, ” Twix said as he rejoined us and sat across from me. “Track this op down.” He stabbed the brain’s folder with his finger on each word.
I looked up at him. “Wrong one.”
Twix looked back at me. “No, it’s not. We just want the brain.”
I blinked and looked at him for a while. He truly loved his champagne.
“Why two folders? The brain and body are totally insep–”
Twix held up his hand. “Don’t worry about it. That’s not why we’re here. I need to tell you something.”
I sighed. “OK.”
“Lor-ETTA!” he yelled.
“Yeah?” she yelled back from the kitchen.
“Three coffees. Black. And keep ’em coming.” He lowered his voice. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
August 19, 1994. ‘Twas the night Felch Monkeys attacked. Damn them and all that sailed in them.
“WHEN I WAKE UP, YEAH I KNOW I’M GONNA BE, I’M GONNA BE THE MAN WHO WAKES UP NEXT TO YOU.”
Do they have to play that goddamned song every morning precisely when my alarm goes off?? It’s the end of August…this means one thing: Band Camp. 9 hours a day…9AM to 3PM, 6PM to 9PM…5 days a week. It’s gonna be 95 freaking degrees so the Timberlands stay thrown in the closet beneath a veritable stage curtain of plaid flannel shirts. Oh, I don’t wear them, I tie them around my waist and let my grey henley under a navy blue (slightly ripped) t-shirt do the talking. But not today. Today I throw on my oversized umbros and white shirt. Today I shove a bandana in the back of my Goldfish crackers baseball hat so my neck doesn’t turn a bright shade of fucking painful. Today I clip 64 sets to my belt and count off at 8 to the 5 from every hash mark and yard line. At least the guard chicks will be running around in sports bras. Damn right I’ll walk 500 miles…and I can do it blasting Resphigi out of a tenor saxophone, bitches.
Excuse me, I have to check Pop’s diary. Linda’s been putting all this stuff in the Wiki, but she’s only up to 1989 on the primary sources. Have you met Linda? Lovely woman – can you believe MI6 let her go? I guess one man’s hijinks are another man’s hi-treason!
Okay, here it is. August 19th, 1994. That was during Project Vulcan – I remember I liked that one. Kids love lava! Let’s see… Ultimatum to the U.N…. Set off Vesuvius to show he was serious… 48 hours or the Yellowstone super volcano would be next… Back then, hardly anybody knew about that thing. Pop always prided himself on keeping up with the literature.
Right, so the Brits had figured out where the island base was – can I just say that I loved that base? I would just swim around the reefs for hours – I was like a fish! No, not like those fish hybrid guys he created for Project Atlantis; it was a simile! Okay, Brits had located the base, but they hadn’t told anyone else about it, they just kept sending their best agents in alone, one at a time.
How did they do? Drowned… Shot by guards… Eaten by a shark… Crushed in the garbage compactor… Seduced and poisoned by the alluring Dr. Melodium Felch-Mouncai – Linda’s mom, by the way, can you believe it? Whoah! Split in two by a laser! Are you kidding me? That is some nasty shit right there. I’ve got to see if we have that one on tape. I am so making that my screen saver.
Ah, this last one caused all the problems that night. Shot several guards in the face… Punched a shark so hard it thought it was a dolphin… Didn’t wander into the garbage compactor like he was supposed to… Turned the tables on the alluring Melodium and snapped her neck like a dry twig. Oh, sorry Linda; you did not know that? Where were we? Laser-reflecting underpants? That’s just plain odd. Ooh, he recalibrated Project Vulcan so that it set off the volcano that Pop’s secret base was using as a power source? That’s pretty clever.
All I remember about that part is a lot of running. The whole time we were in the mini-sub I just slept. Mom was waiting for us on board the stealth yacht – that was before she betrayed Pop and got squished by that giant bug thing.
The British agent? The tabloids blew his identity, so his days as a secret agent were over. Last we heard, they moved him to the U.S. and set him up with a whole new identity. Fake background, new career – the works. Some kind of science fiction writer from what I gather. I never read the space stuff myself, I like books with cute vampires in tight leather kicking ass.
You know, when you’re done writing that stupid biography of Pop, you should come back and hang out here some more. We’ve got some really cool stuff coming out of the giant monster lab – real AAA terrifying! Vladimir over in accounting has some scheme to destroy the world economy. Maybe you can understand it. He’s all “sub prime this, hedge fund that” and my eyes just glaze over. Sharon in the mind control department thinks she can get people to believe that you can turn corn into oil! I’m working on a way to create a worldwide hop shortage – I figure that if I can control the world’s supply of beer… Well, you know the rest.
August 19, 1994 8:32:07
A single drop of sweat ran down Johnstons temple.
August 19, 1994 8:32:08
August 19, 1994 8:32:09
It’s that strange kind of itch that hurts so much it flips across the scale and starts to tickle. Tears do that too. It must be something about the salt.
August 19, 1994 8:32:10
The low murmur of the radio intruded into Johnstons consiosness. Some rebel ballad from the 80’s …”trite and jaded; boring and confiscated …. we’re not gonna take it!”
August 19, 1994 8:32:11
Who was that band? Johnston ran through a list of bands in his head. It was a short list, music wasn’t something he’d had time for and Johnston couldn’t decide if not knowing the name of this band was pathetic or not.
August 19, 1994 8:32:12
“I want to know!” a tiny voice in his head
August 19, 1994 8:32:13
And that is all it took. Johnston started his car, and drove away.
It was the one year anniversary of my father’s death, so feeling rather sad, we had friends over. We were a pretty random group, covering fifteen years or so in age range, many of us quite recent newcomers to the area. But as we sat there drinking cheap wine from a box or quite good ale from Weaver Street, one important detail became clear.
All of us had learned to spell “dilemna” with that n. Most of us recounted how we had to silently pronounce it to ourselves “di-lem-na” in order to get it right. Of course, none of us had the same classes, schools, or textbooks, and since then no one has been able to track down that errant instruction.
Now we know. We used to live in a universe very similar to this one. Perhaps it had more wire hangers, or fewer ball point pens, but it was pretty close. Close enough that most people didn’t even notice when it ceased to exist, and we escaped into here.
The event the night of August 19, 1994 was simple. The sequence of events it was inextricably linked to is a bit more complicated.
Linus Pauling was a well-respected scientist who worked on a variety of things, including molecular bonds, electric cards, and vitamins. In 1941, he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal, untreatable renal disease. Despite the prognosis, he controlled it with a low-protein, salt-free diet, and vitamins. This caused him to start research into vitamins and medicine.
Dr. Robert Atkins published his New Diet Revolution in 1972 and it was a great success. Not long after, Linus Pauling started looking at the benefits of vitamin C, first for the common cold and then for cancer, with promising data.
Then a well-publicized Mayo clinic study showed there was no benefit in vitamin C to cancer patients. The resulting publicity effectively shut down the research and severely decreased Pauling’s credibility.
Atkins was behind the Mayo clinic study, through a system of diet industry connections who would later cash in on the Atkins craze in 2002-2004. They were already concerned about Pauling because of his high profile and low-protein diet, and feared that should Pauling start to concentrate on this area of research he would find results that would destroy the plausibility of the Atkins diet. So the Mayo clinic study happened, and Pauling’s research into vitamin C was shut down–which had the double benefit of discrediting Pauling and decreasing research into the healthful properties of vitamin C, which would, these same connections knew, lead to another grapefruit diet and interest in fruit in general, which would conflict with the market impact of the Atkins diet.
In 1993, Alanis Morrisette had ended her first record deal. While looking for another, she made several trips to Nashville, and on the plane ride home discussed the Atkins diet with her seat partner, a nutritionist who happened to mention that Linus Pauling had once thought vitamin C could cure cancer.
Pauling continued his research on vitamin C, chemistry, and physics, but was never again taken seriously regarding his research into vitamins and medicine. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and died of it on August 19, 1994.
Alanis Morrisette learned that Pauling had died of the cancer he had worked to treat and the idea, though it didn’t make it into the lyrics, inspired her song “Ironic.” The line “it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” was, incidentally, a reference to the Atkins diet: the spoons were grapefruit spoons, and the knife a steak knife.
Some of Atkin’s DI connections, having connections in the music industry themselves, heard about this from an enthusiastic early reader of her songs. They checked up on Morrisette and were satisfied that she didn’t know anything that would harm them, but decided it would be prudent to have a hand in her career just in case. Early in 1995 she received her next record deal and wide commercial success. Feeling safer, Atkins and his connections published the updated Atkins diet book in 1998 and enjoyed all the popularity and profitability they desired.
Several years later, research showed that vitamin C actually does have a beneficial effect on cancer patients: longer-than-expected survival times in patients and in vitro selective toxicity for cancer cells. Sadly, by this time Morissette’s song “Ironic” had been so critiqued that although it remained a hit, there was no opportunity for her to write a sequel, despite her connections’ enthusiasm due to their projection that song sequels, like movie sequels, would be the next big thing.
“You wanna know what happened?”
He spat the words out, phlegm and all, and chomped down on the filthy brown cigar a little harder. The room was filled with thick yellow smoke and for a few moments he was lost in the fog. Then the stark white lines of deep scars on his knuckles, came back into view resting on the table, followed by the grizzled face. The kind of face that you absolutely don’t get living a safe suburban life, that’s for sure.
He barked out a short throaty cough that could have passed for a laugh. I got the feeling this guy didn’t laugh much and the noise was as much a protest by his throat at being asked to do something so utterly alien as it was an expression of his own dark amusement at my naïve question.
I blinked back involuntary tears as the bitter smoke stung my eyes and tried to draw myself up a little. It was no use. Even with my straightened back the veteran sat across the dark table from me still seemed to tower over me. And yet I knew I was taller than him, I had read his bio and he was a good three inches shorter than me.
“You’re not the first person to ask me that, kid.” He drew in another deep lungful of cigar smoke, but this time he blew it straight up, where it got caught in the eddying current on the rotary fan that hung depressed from the tobacco and blood stained ceiling.
The bar was empty, as you might expect on a warm, summer Tuesday morning. In this dark place, the sun was a stranger. No windows, with only a sputtering air con unit struggling to rid the place of it’s ever present stink of piss, stale alcohol and smoke. It had taken all my will to avoid retching the second I had stepped into the inky black, and I was grateful for missing my alarm call and, by virtue, breakfast that morning.
It wasn’t the sort of place you expect to find the man who saved the world. I don’t know what sort of place you would expect to find such a man, but I knew it wasn’t this shithole in the worst part of town. A den of alcoholism lost amid a sea of crack houses. Yet there he sat, seemingly lost in consideration of the glowing end of the chewed stub of his cigar, his glass of stale ale drained to a filmy sliver. I fidgeted – it’s what I do – and the movement seemed to catch his eye and bring that steely grey-eyed gaze back on me.
“I understand…” The words stumbled reluctantly out my mouth. “You probably hear it a lot, but I thought maybe…”
“Nah,” he said, his voice cutting over mine with an ease that comes from years of authority. He stubbed out the embers of his cigar on the table and drained the last of his drink, slamming the glass back on the table in a way that threatened to shatter either the glass, or table, or both. I couldn’t help but jump, just a little. “You’re not the first kid, but you’d be surprised how few folk know what went down at all.”
I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. In fact, I only knew about it by complete chance, but that’s a whole other story, and not a very interesting one at that. Most of my own stories are like – I live the archetypal normal, boring life. I guess that’s why I’m so attracted to stories like this. The fantastic is a lure that draws me in like a moth to flames. The image flitted through my mind and I tried to ignore the fact that moths tend to get burnt when that happens.
“I tell ya what, kid. You buy me a beer and a smoke and I’ll talk. I ain’t like I got shit to do today, right?” Again there was that grim amused bark and a flick of his lips that could have been a scowl, grimace or smile. Or all three.
“Sure. What are you drinking?”
“Barney knows,” he said, flicking a thumb over his shoulder to the small weasel of a man pretending to wash glasses behind the bar while he ear wigged our conversation. “Ain’t that right, Barn?”
“Sure do, Joe. Sure do,” Barney said, jumping to action.
With a fresh drink in his great bear claw of hand, and a thick brown cigar clamped between dark yellow rows of teeth, Sgt. Joseph Thomas Hillier started talking.
“I’ll start at the beginning, if that’s okay with you, kid.” I nodded, but the filmy look in his eyes told me that he wasn’t looking at me at all, but rather right through me. Right back to that night.
August 19, 1994.
Bee-bee-bee-beep bee-bee-bee-beep bee-bee-bee-beep
That fucking alarm.
A great slab of a palm crashed against Bakelite casing and shut the alarm off mid-beep. From beneath a suffocating duvet there was a groan, and a cough that soon developed into a throat tearing fit. The covers were thrown back, Joe Hillier swung his legs off the bed and collapsed elbows-on-knees to cough his lungs onto the floor at his feet.
“Aw shit.” He wiped at his mouth with the back of one large hand, and then ran his fingers through his messy short crop of dark hair.
It was 7:01 AM, according to the vivid red LEDs. He glanced a look over his shoulder and the other side of the bed was empty, as he knew it would be. It had been for nearly two months now.
Thin slits of sunshine reluctantly dripped through closed blinds and cast a pale light across the room. His clothes lay in a messy pile, at least two weeks worth by now, and he reached in, sniffing shirts and settling on the ones with the least odour to wear today.
His morning routine was much as it always had been. He was a creature of habit, something that had been drilled into him by a strict childhood and a military adulthood. By 7:30 he was at the kitchen table, the small black and white TV was on and smoke was rising from the toaster on the side table. He liked his toast black, and had long since removed the batteries from the smoke alarm.
He watched the morning news, ate his blackened toast and chased it down with orange juice. Baseball was on strike. Joe had never been a big fan of baseball, or sports in general, but Mary…
He got up from his chair and flipped the channel. Teleshopping. The Ab-Cruncher, the very same model that he knew was still under the bed, where Mary had put it after her second, and final, time using it. She was always buying the latest fad, telling him how it would change their lives, and it ended up taking up space and gathering dust, forgotten.
He flipped the television off completely and rubbed the bridge of his nose between two thick fingers. A half finished bottle of Scotch sang it’s siren song and Joe grabbed a short glass, glugged a healthy amount of liquid gold into it and downed the lot in one hard gulp.
Thank God It’s Friday, he thought bitterly. The bottle in his hand hovered over the glass, a drop spilling out into the drained glass, before he put it back on the side table and replaced the cap. Just one today, just one.
He took one last glance in the mirror on his way out and that same old, weary face stared back at him. A scar on across his nose was a reminder of boot camp, almost twenty years ago now. He had shaved that morning and yet he still managed to look like he’d only just crawled out of bed after a heavy nights drinking, which wasn’t far from the truth.
With a lingering deep sigh, he was gone. The door’s slamming caused a picture to fall from the wall and the Hillier’s trip to Disney World in ‘91 lay shattered on the floor.
Outside a car engine coughed into life.
“Hey Joe. Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?”
Joe Hillier looked round and, as expected, Rob Parker stood at the edge of his cubical, grinning that nauseating teenage grin of his, two straight lines of perfect white lined up like military gravestones. He said the same damn thing every morning.
“Robert.” Joe made a point of calling him Robert, knowing full well that he wanted to be called Rob. It was a measure of how far his standards had fallen in the past few years, since… that night, that this was now a victory in his eyes.
“Hey, it’s Rob, man!” Joe nodded curtly, and swiveled back round to his desk. Papers were piled high, threatening to consume the bulky monitor that now took up a significant portion of his desk space, not to mention the big beige box that now sat under the desk. Damn computers. Joe was not a computer person and ever since the management, in their infinite wisdom, had decided that everyone had to have, and use, one it had become the bane of his already miserable existence.
“Oh, man, I meant to say to ya.” Teeth were ground together and Joe turned back to face his “friend”.
Rob flinched back and waved theatrically at the air in front of his nose. “Damn Joe, you been drinking already? I know it’s Friday and all,” he laughed. “But, damn man.” He dug his bony hands into his pockets and pulled out a pack of gum, offering one to the old man in the chair. Joe shook his head. “Trust me, man, you wanna take one. Percy is gunning for you today.”
Percy. Donald Percival. The snot nosed little shit that had wormed his way far enough up the ass of old Johnson to get the position of branch manager. The little prick was a good ten years younger than Joe, and was exactly the sort of home-schooled, silver spoon up his ass little dickhead that he would have once spent all of five seconds turning inside out. Once.
But in this world, this pathetic existence Joe had fallen upon, he was king.
“What does he want?”
“I dunno, man.” Joe took a stick of gum. “But Jamie said he was pissed, like seriously screwball.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Robert.”
“It’s Rob! Jeez, you‘d think you do that on purpose, man!”
White text flashed past on a black screen. All of it meaningless, at least to Joe. But then most things had lost their meaning for Joe. He’d lost his career, the life he had loved so much, and in the following few years had proceeded to lose his self-respect, dignity, what few friends he had, and…
And Mary. That was the worst. That hurt more than anything else.
What had he gained in that time? A few inches round the waist, that’s for sure. Sgt Joseph Hillier, the man he was once, would despise the creature he’d become.
All because of one night, and one stupid mistake. A dishonorable discharge put an end to a promising career that had seen Joe rise through the ranks in what seemed like an inevitable one-way route to the top.
He made his choice back then, back on the beach. He’d made it out of principle, deciding that he simply couldn’t do what his superiors had demanded of him. The anger that he had harnessed since childhood, and used as the fuel that fed his unrelenting drive, flared up and Sgt Joseph Hillier, war hero, found himself locked in a small, blank room on a ship, locked away from sunshine and contact with the men that had once worn their undying respect for him on their sleeves.
Joe sighed, took a swig of tasteless instant coffee, and waited for Windows 3.11 to finish the interminable job of booting up.
In another cubicle, not far off, he heard the familiar sound of gunshots and monstrous roars. “Doom”, they called it. The door to the managers office was shut, and it was safe for the kids to play their little games. In a way he envied them, they at least could pass the day doing something they enjoy. He was stuck in this cell, chained to this box and counting off the days until he got the inevitable boot. He had done enough killing for real that the joy of doing it in a game really wasn’t there. He’d tried to play it once, but had gotten bored. Games were for the kids.
In the past five years alone, Joe had worked at least 12 jobs. He had been fired, never quit, from each and every one. This was the longest he had held down any kind of position. Mary had found the ad for him, and she knew one of the management committee, so Joe got the job despite the fact he had never worked in an office environment before.
He loosened his tie, and undid his top button. He wanted a drink. Not this piss that passed for coffee in here, but a real drink. He knew that it was that same drink that had caused so many problems for him since his discharge from the military. He had been teetotal until then, and it was only after the final hearing where it was confirmed that he would be stripped of his rank and removed from military duties that he had tasted alcohol for the first time. It numbed him, and that was just fine with Joe.
In a drawer on his desk, buried away at the back under folders and paper was a small bottle of vodka. He took it out, trained eyes scanning for any kind of movement in his direction, and poured some into the coffee. The bottle was buried back in the drawer.
It still tasted like shit.
There was a place for everything, and everything in it’s place, in Donald Percival’s office. In many ways it was thhe antithesis of Joe’s workspace – roomy, neat, organized and bright. Sunlight flooded through the large windows that looked out over other similar buildings, probably filled with similar workers doing similar jobs.
“You wanted to see me?” Percy silenced Joe with a finger, not once looking away from the computer screen that was engrossing his attention. Fingers tapped lightly on keys and after an uncomfortable few seconds of standing in the doorway, Percy finally deigned to give Joe his attention.
“Ah, Joseph. Yes, yes, I did. Please,” he waved his hand for Joe to take a seat, with the larger man did, uncomfortable squeezing himself into the narrow confines.
“How are you?”
“Ah, good, good.” Percy arched his fingers together, and his chair faintly squeeked as he lounged back a little.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“I hadn’t really noticed.” It was always the same with this guy. Small talk. Pointless, meaningless, futile small talk. Joe had never been one for small talk.
“Hmm, yes,” Percy said, not really listening to Joe. He glanced back at the computer screen, moved his mouse and clicked a couple of times before looking back at Joe.
“How are you finding the new computers, Joseph?”
Joe shrugged. He was finding them a real pain in the ass. He was not a computer person. He had had no reason to ever use them, but three months ago they had been imposed upon all the workforce and since then he had learned how to turn it on and off, but not much since then. It frustrated him because the others, the kids, had all seemed to pick it up intuitively.
Joe was not one for asking for help, and especially not from a bunch of kids that wouldn’t have been fit to clean his boots back in the military.
“It’s fine,” he lied.
“Hmm.” Percy leaned back in his chair and considered the hulk of a man opposite. His eyes again flicked back to the monitor, averting from Joe’s intent stare. It was another one of Joe’s petty little victories that this weasel couldn’t look him ni the eyes for not much more than a couple of seconds.
“I saw Mary last night,” he said, catching Joe completely off guard. Joe hadn’t seen her for a week, and that had been in an attorney’s office where Mr. Szabo of Szabo, McDermott & Colville had done the talking for him. Percy looked back to Joe, and Joe cursed himself that he had let the small man see how he’d bothered him with the mention of his soon to be ex-wife. He composed himself, but the damage was already done.
“She was at Edison’s Restaurant with,” he broke off with a short little laugh, and ran a spidery hand through his thin thatch of dirty brown hair, “what I thought was her brother. But brothers, ha, they don’t get quite so intimate, do they?” He savored the words as if they were a fine cognac, spitting it out right in Joe’s face.
“We separated two months ago. I don’t care who she has dinner with.” Joe wanted to punch this guy, punch him right in the face and drive his fist right through and out the other side.
“Oh yes, I forgot about… that,” he smirked. “What did you do last night, Joe?”
Percy sniffed the air. “Smells like you had a drink or two.”
Joe cursed the unchewed stick of gum still in his pocket. “I may have had a beer or two.”
“Yes,” Percy nodded, drawing the word out to an entirely unnatural length. “One or two.”
The bright sunshine was giving Joe a headache, and he felt the small fist of pain beating against his skull, just above his right eye.
“To be honest Joseph, I didn’t ask to see you to make small talk, as much fun as that is.” Here it comes. Percy leaned forward, resting his elbows back on the desk, and tried to assume the mantle of authority.
“It’s about your numbers,” Percy said, with reference back to his monitor. “They’re just not good enough.”
Joe said nothing, knowing that, as much as he hated the little shit, he was right. Joe had never been one of the top workers but since those damn computers had come in, he’d slipped from comfortably in the pack to rock bottom.
“Do you have anything to say, Joseph?”
“My name is Joe.”
“About your numbers.”
Joe shrugged. “If you say they’re bad, they’re bad.”
This wasn’t going as Percy wanted it to. He wanted the bigger man to beg for his job, to plead with him for a second chance, to promise to up his game and fly straight. Instead he sullenly slouched in the chair and seemed to just take what was coming with a grim acceptance. In short, he just didn’t care, and that took all the fun out of it for Percy.
“They are pretty bad,” said the man in the large leather seat. “In fact, they’re downright awful.” No response from the big man. He could have been carved out of granite for all the reaction Percy was getting from him. The jab about Mary had got to him and Percy regretted now not twisting the knife a little further when he could.
“I’ll cut to chase, Joseph…”
“Yes, well the fact remains, Joe,” Percy mocked, “that myself and the rest of the management committee have come to the decision that…” The rest of Percy’s perfectly prepared little speech was lost to Joe. He simply wasn’t listening.
He was losing the job that Mary had got him, and pretty soon, Mr Szabo had solemnly informed him, he’d lose the house that he and Mary had bought. That would be the final cut of the ties he had to the woman he loved.
Percy had finished talking.
“Well what?” Joe asked, in a flat monotone.
“Do you want to work the day out, or leave now and have a day’s pay docked from your final package?”
The idea of staying another seven hours in the office, doing a job he not only hated but had lost, surrounded by snotty-nosed little kids that he couldn’t bear was tempting. The lure of Fatboy’s Bar just down the street, it’s cheap booze, 60’s-centric jukebox and a night lost at the bottom of a bottle of Scotch was more tempting.
He left the office, leaving Percy’s proffered hand hanging in the air.
There really wasn’t much to clear out, Joe had very few personal possessions at work. He didn’t need reminders of home, and it’s associations.
Rob, and a few others, came by to give their condolences between levels of Doom. Joe heard them, but he didn’t really listen. He shook small, clammy hands and got back to packing up his few papers.
At the back of a drawer his fingers rested on cool glass. He pulled out the Vodka. There were a few gulps still left. No point in pretending anymore. He unscrewed the cap and gulped them down thirstily. His throat tingled and burned, but it was a good feeling. The warm glow settled in his stomach.
He knew he was only numbing the pain. He had been doing that ever since Corinto. He didn’t care. It had been his principles that had fucked up his life in the first place, and he had resolved to drown his principles in 40% proof ever since.
Yet there was something else in the pit of his stomach, besides the hot settling glow of Russia’s greatest export. He knew it, once he’d had welcomed it, nurtured it and focused it. It was an old friend, one that he hadn’t known in a couple of months. That last time he had allowed it to consume him, it had shattered what remained of his life. There was nothing left now, and his friend was back.
He was angry.
Who the fuck was that little worm to treat Sgt Joseph Thomas Hillier like he was something he had stepped in?
Why was the man who had braved overwhelming odds and enemy fire to rescue three comrades retreating so meekly from that scrawny sack of shit?
The anger built until Joe was merely a passenger in his own body, detached and as much an onlooker as the rest of the office who started open mouthed as he stormed back to the office of Donald Percival, throwing open the door and shouting “YOU MOTHERFU-”.
The word died on his lips and his throat contracted, choking him off.
Behind the desk where Donald Percival had smugly told Joseph to clear out his desk only five minutes ago sat a ugly, reptilian creature, bright pink tongue flicking out from two razor sharps rows of teeth.
“Shut the door, Joe. Please,” the creature rasped. Dumbly, Joe did just that.
The creature formerly known as Donald Percival didn’t make a move. It’s yellow eyes were focused on Joe, unblinking and utterly unreadable.
“You know my secret now, Joe.”
This was too much. Joe had seen a lot of things; things that would have driven lesser men insane, but this? This was something else. What the hell was in that vodka?
“Take a seat.” Joe sat on command, his mind still reeling in a million different directions as every part of his rational mind told him that he simply couldn’t be seeing what he undeniably was.
“I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, Joe. I like you. You might not believe that, but it’s true. We’re the same, you and I,” the creature, that Joe couldn’t bring himself to think of as the same sweaty little man in an ill-fitting suit known as Donald Percival, said. It laughed, or what Joe thought was a laugh. It was hard to attribute such human actions to some so inhuman.
“What?” The word tripped out of Joe’s mouth.
“We’re both soldiers. Oh sure, I might not look like it in my,” it waved a seven clawed scaly hand in the air, in a manner that brought Percy to mind, “other form, but I am. I’m the advance guard. The scout. The special forces.” It laughed again.
“What are you?” Joe said, in a nearly breathless whisper.
“What I am, in my own language, you couldn’t hope to pronounce. I guess your kind would know me as a shape shifter, but what really matters is that soon you’ll know my kind only as your Masters.” It’s long fingers drummed on the desk and it’s unblinking eyes met Joes without looking away. It was Joe who broke it off.
“Do I make you uncomfortable, Joe?”
It did, but the old Joe was regaining control of his mind and body. His jaw, which he hadn’t noticed was hanging loose, closed and tightened and he made a conscious effort to compose himself.
The creature laughed again. “That’s why I like you. You’re not like those other pathetic specimens out there.” A long bony finger gestured to the office outside the door. An office that consumed with hushed conversation and gossip about crazy old Joe “going Postal”. Someone was even calling the Police.
“They’d be a crying blubber of flesh on the floor by now, but not you.” The creature cocked it’s head, considering the human sat in the intentionally uncomfortable chair. “I took pity on you. I simply couldn’t do to you what must be done to the rest. Not yet.” Two large yellow eyes seemed to focus on Joe and he had the uncomfortable feeling that they weren’t just looking at him, but right into him, his soul. “You’re special.”
“What do you mean? Must be done?”
“I’m the first of my kind, but there are others coming. Before that though, some preparation has to be made. This planet,” the creature gestured at the world outside thhe large window. “It’s just not to our taste, and the natives are a little hostile when it comes to immigrants like me. You’re not so backward that we’d just come all rushing in, to be shot down before we can touch down.”
“You’re invading Earth?”
The creature snorted a laugh. “If you like. I prefer to say we’re simply improving this little planet of yours. There will still be a place for your kind, there are simply some jobs that we don’t like to do and cheap labour is always appreciated.”
“I won’t let you…” The creature’s laugh cut Joe off.
“Don’t you see, Joe? There’s nothing you can do. I wanted you out of the way because now my work is really going to begin. By the end of the day everyone out there,” the creature nodded back towards the office, “will be my slaves. What do you think these are for?” It tapped the monitor on it’s desk.
“There minds will be controlled by me, and with them we will be able to spread this virus to everyone using one and before long we will have an entire army at our disposal, all ready to ease our ’invasion’ as you like to call it. So you can see, Joe,” the creature said coldly, a hand slipping from the desk, “why I can’t allow you to disrupt that. You were so useless with these things that I knew there was no hope for getting you on board, so you had to be removed.”
It produced a gun, utterly alien and organic looking, but unmistakably a gun and pointed it square between Joe’s eyes.
“Don’t worry, Joe. It won’t hurt at all.”
It had been nearly a decade since Joe had had a gun pointed at him. Despite all that time, his body still knew what to do – act fast and decisively. He swiftly brought his knees up to his chest and then kicked against the heavy desk of the creature.
The sharp edge of the desk crashed into the chest of the creature, and the alien gun fell from it’s seven fingered grasp, hitting the wood with a damp thud.
“Nooooo,” the creature hissed as Joe’s lightning reflexes drove his body forward from the chair, and he grabbed the gun up a split second before thin green claws could close back on it.
He pointed the gun back at the creature. And he did nothing. He hesitated, his finger trembling on the trigger. He hadn’t killed anyone in so many years. His heart raced.
The creature sensed his unease and sharp teeth glinted back at Joe from two thin drawn lips, in what Joe assumed was a grin.
“Give me the weapon, Joe.” The creature stood, easily towering over Joe. It reached for the weapon, it’s fingers resting the barrel, and wrapping round. “Mary wouldn’t want you to do something stupid, would she?”
Involuntarily Joe squeezed the trigger, a brief flash of anger driving his finger through the trigger.
Where once it had been whole, there was now a large smoking hole in the chest of the creature. It’s hand dropped from the barrel of the weapon and fingered the smoking edge of what had once been it’s chest.
The creature looked back up at Joe, and even on it’s alien features it’s bemusement was clear to read. “Joe…” It hissed, staggering back. It crashed through the window behind and fell five storey’s to lamp with a sickening splat on the road below.
Joe dropped the weapon and stood, dazed.
The door behind him was thrown open and two men pointed guns at his back. Joe laced his fingers behind his head as he was told and he felt cold steel snap round his wrists. His eyes fell back to the desk, where there sat a smoking handgun, utterly human in design.
He passed a small knot of ghoulish witnesses, gathered round the broken body of Donald Percival, not the creature, that had planted itself half on the sidewalk and half on the road. No green, nor scales and five perfectly human fingers.
“It changed back?”
Joe shrugged, and downed another large mouthful of ale. “What do you think, kid?”
I knew the story. I had read about it in the local paper and heard people talking about it. The ex-army veteran who had gone crazy after losing his job, and had killed his manager in cold blood. It was really all that uncommon in a land where mental illness wasn’t much of a barrier to gun ownership.
The tabloids were filled with wild stories of his defense that his manager, a happily married father of two, had really been a shape shifting alien vanguard of an invasion fleet, intent on enslaving the world. It was perfect material for those papers. The more sober, rational newspapers spoke of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder and an inevitable defence of insanity should the case ever reach trial.
I knew the rest of the story, but I sensed that Joe had tired of talking for the day. He sucked on his cigar, savoring the bitter smoke.
I’d followed the story as the former military hero escaped from custody and evaded capture. It eventually disappeared from the news pages and Joseph Hillier was just another fugitive, someone you’d hear about now and then when a spooked member of the public with a good memory would report seeing him. But on the whole, Joe Hillier was a ghost.
I’d heard about him though, and where he could be found. I hadn’t been looking for him, but the internet has a a funny way of just presenting you with the information you didn’t know you wanted. I had followed that lead and was now sat across from the man who claimed he had stopped an alien invasion of Earth in it’s track, and saved mankind. The hero of conspiracy nuts the world over.
“I think you probably did what you thought you had to,” I said. Joe seemed to take me in with one eye, looking me up and down and then he barked that unnatural laugh of his.
“Yeah, kid. That sounds about right. You got what you need?”
The interview was over, I knew. I nodded and switched off the tape recorder that had sat between us, returning it to my case.
“Who did you say you were writing for?”
“Oh, I didn’t,” I said, keeping my voice as calm as I could. I put the recorder back safely in it’s pocket. When I looked back up at the man across the table, he wore an extra couple of creases in his forehead.
“Then who are-”
He never finished the sentence. The hollow point ripped through his stomach, fired from where I held the gun on my lap under the table. The noise was like a crack of thunder in the small room, and my ears were ringing. Joe’s face fell to consider the growing red stain on his filthy shirt, and then back up to meet my eyes.
I held the gun in two hands, and pointed straight at his chest. Joe’s mouth twitched as if to say something, but no sounds came.
“Who am I? Was that was you were going to ask, Joe?” The stub of a cigar fell from his lips and landed in his lap, but Joe paid it no mind. His eyes were on me, and the gun I held between steady hands.
“My name is John Percival. You killed my father.” Two more deafening cracks and Joe was thrown back from his chair to the floor. Two further holes in his chest gouged blood, turning what had once been an off-white shirt into a wet, dark crimson.
I grabbed my case, and stood. I walked round the table to look down on the man who, fourteen years ago, had killed my father in cold blood. He stared up at the ceiling, his eyes heavy and unfocussed. I drew the gun up once more and fired. He had a third eye now, in the centre of his forehead. His chest stopped his ragged rise and fall and settled.
I dropped the gun back into my case and snapped it shut. Behind the bar, Barney continued to clean a glass as if nothing had happened. I took a seat at the bar.
“Thank you,” I said. Barney looked up at me and grinned.
“He had it coming for what he did to your father. Your father was a hero.” He took a bottle from under the counter and poured me a drink. I hadn’t had a proper drink since I reached this backwater hole in rhe far reaches of a desolate galaxy.
I wrapped my seven fingers round the glass and downed the drink in one. “Pour me another,” I said.
Behind the bar Barney smiled and winked one great yellow eye at me.
The full explanation requires us to back up to the mid-afternoon of March 22, 1988. A young scientist, by the name of Wilbur Thalmo, at Lawrence Livermore was experimenting with untested neutron bomb designs. Working with extremely small amounts of fissile material, Wilbur was able to generate runaway chain reactions that actually consumed all the material in his vacuum chamber. Any and all matter that he introduced to his Concerned with the destructive potential of his discovery Wilbur destroyed all his lab notes and later ended up shooting himself in the head with a small caliber revolver.
Wilbur however failed to dismantle or destroy the backup apparatus he had created for his experiments. His rig sat, ignored in the back of the lab for several years until it was sold in a lot of junk to Ernest “Pappy” Waltham in early January of 1992. Pappy regularly bought government surplus for scrap and resale and sold it from his yard just outside Modesto. Wilbur’s apparatus was bought by a young sculptor on August 16, 1994. Aaron Marks paid $5.00 for the strange twisted array of wires and rods, planning to make it the centerpiece for his sculpting class in the coming semester at UCLA.
Packed in the bed of Aaron’s rusty pickup the device traveled with him down Interstate 5 on that fateful Friday night. What Wilbur never realized before his attempt to eradicate all information about the terrible destructive force he had discovered, was that it was not a result of particular neutron rich fissiles he was imploding, but was actually some strange harmonic focusing effect of the carbon and steel structure he had so haphazardly assembled. A fact that was made plain when the small Toyota in front of Aaron cut off the Gasoline truck in the right lane.
As the tanker crumpled into the pillar of the overpass, Aaron barely realized that something bad was happening. This might be the most understated thought in the history of the universe. The titanic energies of five thousand gallons of gasoline exploding found its way to the device and everything begin to come undone. The chain reaction spread across the surface of the Earth and into its heart at an astonishing rate. Like a giant apple being devoured the Earth dissolved. The energy released was enough to fling the remaining pieces of the small world out into space. The inhabitants of the planet barely had time to notice before they were converted to energy or blown into space. Within hours the inner solar system was burning. As the reaction reached the Sun, it triggered a nova like effect throwing material out across the system.
As the reaction grew and accelerated over the outer planets The release of energy approached the limit of the Planck power where it began to form an event horizon. Apparently at this point some sort of oscillation occurred. As best as I can describe it the reaction “bounced back”. Matter began to reassemble itself and consumed the energy earlier created. Perhaps time was somehow inverted – I’m not sure. The reversal turned itself all the way back to the reassembling Earth and all the way down to that woeful spot on Interstate 5 outside of Bakersfield, where the exploding tanker truck caused Aaron to swerve into the guard rail. As the rusty pickup impacted the rail, a small pile of wires and rods in the bed tumbled over and snapped into pieces.
Apparently the entire process went mostly unnoticed, although something about the energies released that night seems to have created some localized confusion in the memories of a great many people…
Three more cups of coffee later, my headache had grown. In more ways than one.
It became abundantly clear that Twix wasn’t your normal, everyday analyst. He knew shit about shit that he shouldn’t, but he did. It scared the heck out of me, really.
“Twix, stop. Let me see if I got this right. You’re telling me we’re being invaded?”
“Who can look like us, talk like us, hell, even smell like us.”
“Yeah. Except they have seven fingers. Must be a polymorph deformity or something.”
I shook my head. The headache was tenacious. “So what are you telling me this for? I’m just an analyst, man, a computer analyst. I don’t deal with this kind of shit. That’s for, like, field ops.”
Clove spoke up then. “We think we’ve found a weakness, and we need you to exploit it.”
I blinked. Stupid headache. “Me!? What, is it that base 3 shit again? I only deal in binary, hex and octal.”
Clove smiled. “Not quite like that. We’ve managed to recover a dead specimen. The autopsy revealed an organ used to tell time.”
“You mean…you mean they have a biological clock?”
“Exactly.” Clove took a sip from his coffee. “We haven’t quite sussed out how it works, but it does. It’s a rather fascinating object. It doesn’t keep track of absolute time, though.”
“All the way back to January 1, 1970.”
I blinked. I blinked several times.
“Whoa. Wait– are you telling me these things run on Unix time?”
Twix nodded. “It certainly appears that way. Hence why we need your help.”
I looked down at my cup. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I hoped it wasn’t Twix’s champagne that was talking.
“What do you need me to do?”
Twix smiled. “We need you to plant a bug…”
August 19th, 1994. I remember it. I remember it all too well. The day… things happened. Awful things. Awful, awful things. You know… stuff.
Zeke, Snuffy, Beauregard, and I were sitting around, watching mayflies land on a pickup truck, drinking beer, listening to Waylon Jennings, discussing quantum string theory (Snuffy invented it, you know. Those snotty scientists just couldn’t understand him, on account of him only having two teeth and a typewriter with no “e” and two “q” keys)… the usual. Guy stuff. You know?
I gradually became aware of a terrible, fetid stench creeping into my nostrils. A cross between swamp gas, brimstone, and watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Oh, it was terrible. I think it crisped some of my nose hair, but I can no longer be certain, such did the horror done scar my precious, precious brain. The time was just past 11:23 PM, EST. I remember it all, imprinted in my mind like some horrible Foghat song that just won’t end “SLOOW RIIIIIIIIIIIDE TAAAAAAAKE IT EEEEEEEEEEEASAYYYYYY” my GOD man you sound like someone’s going after your nuts with a bolt cutter! Pop a ‘lude or something, that’s what you ’70s stoners did, wasn’t it?
Anyway… Beauregard sniffed the air and looked up from his priceless, one-of-a-kind, turn of the century pornographic card deck (52 heavenly images of exposed ankles, some female). “What the hell? Someone yak up some Twizzlers or something?”
Zeke frowned. “Wasn’t me. I been eating Cheetos and fried Ding Dongs.” I swear I could hear his arteries clogging as we spoke, so heavy was the moment.
“mmmmgmgmmafm,” said Snuffy. We all knew what he felt. The dread caressed our stomachs like something that caresses things.
“Something ain’t right. I know it.” Beauregard frowned. It looked like an upside-down smile. I shivered.
Then the music started. I don’t know whether it was the music of the spheres, or the symphony of the damned, or just a really loud boombox playing from a few miles away. You know, loud enough to discern noise, but not enough to get the tune, with a lot of indistinct bassy noise. That kind of music. Horror movie music. The kind that plays when the characters suddenly become stupid enough to go up the stairs and open the door where the horrible killer lurks. They have to do it, or he doesn’t get to kill anybody, and then the theater has to give out refunds because of false advertising. And they hate to give refunds.
…my god, the terror. It scrambles my thoughts, liquifies my bowels, makes me reach for the loperamide. The terror.
“Maybe it’s the wind,” I said. My voice broke and went all squeaky. Instinctively I checked for teenage acne, but no, I was many years past puberty. Two whole years, to be exact. I got carded a lot.
The rumbling grew. And grew. And then…
“MY GAWWWWWD IT’S FROM BEYOOND SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE,” yelled Zeke (it was all in caps as he said it), as he got sucked into a churning hell vortex, comprised of shattered dreams, lost souls, sad puppies with no chew toys.
“AIYEEEE!” shouted Beauregard.
“MMMFAHFHAFHAHFASDRRRRRRR!” added Snuffy.
“You’re right, Snuffy, we’ve got to get out of here,” I shouted, and hauled ass for my pickup. What I wouldn’t have given to have had a reliable Japanese sub-compact, the kind that starts on the first try.
I could barely think. Non-Euclidean geometry was all around, the kind that makes you insane. The Lovecraft kind. Okay? He said it makes you insane, so it makes you insane. You want to argue with some dead racist New England guy? No? Fine.
The colors were beyond my comprehension. Colors that hadn’t really been invented yet, like ultrapuce. Hippie LSD colors. UnAmerican colors. Communist colors. I wet my pants and wept.
The engine cranked and failed, cranked and failed. Tentacles emerged from the rip in space.
“My god,” I said. “It’s a giant space octopus from Hell!” (It could be from Hell and space at the same time. Don’t argue with me. I saw it, you didn’t, it was both.)
Yet I was wrong (but it could still have been both). It was something EVEN WORSE.
It was… the Elder God. The Being From Beyond Time. The Slimy Thing With No Dress Sense Who Wears White After Labor Day.
Ctuhulu. (The way I just spelled it is the right way. I met him, you didn’t. For all you know he gave me his business card.)
And that wasn’t the end of the horror. It was… Ctuhulu IN TAP SHOES.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” I wailed, but he was too strong. I submitted to his will, and tried not to watch while he ate my friends and put a “My Slimy Hellthing Could Eat Your Honor Student” bumper sticker on my truck.
“Moooorrrrrrtalllllll… I desirrrre you to teach me………”
“Teach me…. the wayyyyyys of the daaaaaaaaance….”
And that is how Ctuhulu came to have the expertise to win “Dancing With The Stars,” while I, a lonely, broken man with prematurely gray hair (I deny the rumor that I streak it myself) and no friends, weep alone, in a corner, smelling of despair and cat pee. Pity me, mortals, for while your spirits have been broken by his appearances on network television, I had to see him trip, fail, and eat a house in frustration.
You cannot imagine it. You mustn’t dare picture it. But do stay to hear me tell of the time I met Satan in Chicago on April 24th, 1999, as he sought clogs that did not feel bumpy in the arches.
August 19, 1994 was the date the probability of the Big Bang became 100%.
A long long time ago, when the probability of Humans became 100%, time started flowing in both directions. The future, well because that’s what time does. But the past as well. See the rest of the universe was almost completely undefined at that point, sure there would need to be new monkeys, and zebras, and such as humans started moving. things started to spread out, because humans started to expect things to be a certain way. And with those expectations came “reality”.
The better people understand a thing, the more a thing is expected, the greater the ramifications of those discovery… well they have repercussions. Humans discovering fire caused a retcon of massive proportions (To be matched only by the Atomic revolution. If there was a God, that had to have finished the old-coot off for good.) The fact that a couple of thousand Babylonians like the way beer tasted cemented yeasts into the world. Stars in the sky are all well and good until someone noticed they moved, then a pattern to that movement, and a pattern to that pattern. Sure enough the galaxies around here have existed for almost as long as Australia has.
But back to the night of August 19, 1994. See that was the night that Shelly Waserstein met Padma Mishra at a bar in Orange County. Well, drinks led to more drinks, truths led to dares, kisses led to… This might be a family establishment so I’ll let you imagine things from there. Anyway, combinations of DNA, body fluids, latex and lubricant led to an interesting new particle, sort of a quantumly entangled thing. who if you’re a physicist with a couple of thousand years to trace things back brought the Big Bang numbers all they way up to 100%
What might have the universe been like if Shelly had gone to Karoke instead?
And anyway that’s nothing compared to what happened on March 4, 27572 BC. See thats the night that the probability of Humanity reached 100%
I would have been in high school if it wasn’t still summer vacation. I took it easy. Worked a couple of hours a day at dad’s office. Biked to the taekwondo school a couple of times a week. Waited for puberty to slowly kick in. Passively hated my parents. Checked out armloads of books from the library.
One book was The Stand, and it was weighty. It took me three days and nights to read it. Tuesday night I stayed up really late–2 o’clock in the morning. It hit me that I could stay up as late as I wanted. Bedtimes were concepts fit only for children. Wednesday night I was up until 4. The cold grey light of dawn, the chirping birds, frightened me to bed, terrified that I’d stayed up too late, that I’d broken something in myself and would be ruined forever. Thursday morning–well, afternoon–I woke up and learned that waking times, too, were only concepts put forth by society. I could reject that society, live in a wilderness not unlike the protagonists of King’s novel, beholden to no one. No one wanted me and I didn’t need them. Thursday night ended at two Friday morning, the book was done, and I staggered off to bed.
Friday. August 19th. 1994.
These are things I did on that day.
I had a terrific fight with my parents about mowing the lawn, and I lost. Pushed the mower around the lawn, teeth gritted, Rage Against The Machine blasting through my tape player. Stomped to my bedroom afterward. Glared at my Legos and wondered if I’d ever play with them again. Blasted Soundgarden and wondered if I’d ever again listen to Cooleyhighharmony. Remembered girls at school and wondered if any of them wanted to kiss me next year. The radio reminded me I wasn’t cool enough to be at Woodstock, or even Lollapalooza. Looked at my driver’s permit and wished it was a license. I thought about the razor my sister mockingly had given me. I thought about not seeing my family ever again. The sun set.
Just before midnight I learned something awful and wonderful and potent and true, something that made me weep and something that, I think, saved my life.
The lesson was this:
Andy Richter is the best sidekick in the history of talk shows, and it is right to pledge him eternal allegiance.
And that made all the difference.
8/19/1994: a sonnet
August nineteenth, nineteen ninety-four–
A day that we should all remember well.
The skies opened and rain began to pour.
The years, no summer, only winter: Hel.
The hound began to bay, three roosters crow,
Wolves ate the sun, the moon, and all the stars.
The earth shook ‘neath the omnipresent snow.
Now, most people sat drinking beer in bars;
Myself, I opted for the harder stuff
As Odin battled Fenrir in the sky.
The Aesir fought for Midgard. Things are tough;
When new gods come, the old gods have to die.
Too early for the millennial clock–
Destruction of the powers: Ragnarok.
Two glasses of gin and fifteen cigarettes into the night. Rain whipped my window; I remember the creaking, the rattle of droplets, a bag of tin cans beating against the wall. The fan spun, whirling my smoke into curls against the ceiling. My door fell open after a hard knock.
She was a vision. Hair black as tar, those blue eyes like a couple of blowtorches, lips so red a strawberry’d kill itself in shame. I tapped my coffee cup with the end of a pen, trying to leer discreetly. I don’t even remember what I said; didn’t really matter.
Took over my chair, that old battered thing I’d found on the side of the road. Looked like somebody puked Skittles all over it, but under that ugly was heaven, like sitting in a marshmallow. And she made it glow, even as she started to cry. I nearly lept across my desk, sat on the edge with a tissue in my hand. Instinct. No man worth his fedora lets a woman weep alone.
“I’m sorry,” she said, a sniffle as she wiped her eyes. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“Lay it on me,” I said. My mind rolled, looking for a way to make her pain disappear.
“I need a private dick, Max. You’re Max, right? Like the door says?”
A lesser man might’ve twisted her words, but I’m a professional. I just nodded, put my hand on her shoulder. Offering what solace I could.
“I gotta find something. My friend… he lost it. Something important. I gotta help him.”
“You’re a sweet gal, helping out like that.” I poured her a glass of gin, gave her a cigarette. Told her to calm down, take her time. No rush. I had no plans anyway; in that rain my Daihatsu Charade wasn’t going anywhere.
She took a deep breath. I lit a cigarette, chasing away the shadow beneath my fedora. “Right, so who’s your friend and what’s he missing?”
“His name’s MC Hammer. He lost… his career, it’s gone. Vanished, just like that.” A finger snap.
“Hammer.” I exhaled. Smoke snaked through my mustache, cool against the skin. “All right. Any ideas where we start?”
“There was a note. On the end of a knife, in his door.” She unfolded the paper, held it up to me. ‘Cool as ice motherfucker’ was scrawled across it, etched in runny crimson.
The calendar was visible over her shoulder: August 19th, 1994. Where it all went wrong.
August 19, 1994? That’s when they immanentized the eschaton.
Admittedly, sequentiality goes out the window once you involve time travel, but in a sense it started that morning with the Discordian cell and the lab in Fukuoka, Japan. Professor Gojo Shioji had developed a time machine for the Kabapu corporation, a fractal-surfaced suit which could pierce the hyper-dimensional manifold when attuned by the wearer’s properly aligned chakras. King Mob and his cell astrally projected into Shioji’s lab and King Mob himself liberated the suit. Since he was only astrally present, however, instead of traveling through time, the suit took him to a higher representation of reality.
It’s difficult to describe this higher reality without access to the Outer Church’s extended alphabet, or the Enochian Alphabet, but the records of the post-event Discordian debriefing indicate that King Mob’s lower-order consciousness manifested in the higher-dimensionality of the manifold took the form of a cetacean, surrounded by entities moving at high speeds around him, creating a wooshing sensation and a feeling of being ‘tickled on his belly’. He found himself drawn towards a massive entity of great roundness. The Discordians note that this matches pre-Atlantean descriptions of Magrithea, a god-like entity whose presence indicates the ending and creation of the world, which the pre-Atlanteans believed to be the same thing. Upon impact with the entity, King Mob had a fleeting impression of a bowl of petunias, and then he and the time-travel suit were then thrown separately and violently back through the manifold.
King Mob found himself in Mesozoic Australia, a clear violation of the Benthic Treaty. JENNIFER MORGUE dispatched the polyps to pick him up, said polyps delivering him to the Mi-Go in a more or less (actually less) intact state. The Mi-Go decanted King Mob’s brain into a vessel, and the Discordians later uncovered the vessel in a raid on the archives of the Bavarian Illuminati in 1783. They kept King Mob in the vessel to power the aetheric motors of their submarine base until after the events on 1994, at which time they reunited the astrally projected brain with King Mob’s actual body. While avoiding a manifold splitting paradox incident, Kind Mob is now permanently agoraphobic.
All of the above can be found in the Discordian archives. The time travel suit, however, passed out of their knowledge. We find evidence of the fate of the suit from another source entirely.
The time suit was thrown back in time to 32 AD, where it was used to wrap the body of Brian Cohen, the leader of a Hebrew cult and an instigator of an uprising against the ruling Roman authorities who was crucified for his crimes against the state. At that time there was also in Judea a kabbalistic alchemist/mystic known to the Greeks as Iesous Khristos or Hermes Trismegistus. Having access to the Ark of the Covenant, which grants access to the divine Godhead despite the presence of the Adversary in our world, he was aware of the arrival of the time suit. Iesous took the suit from Brian’s tomb three days after Brian had been laid to rest, and brought it to the hiding place of the Ark so that he might use both to return the Godhead to the manifold. The Adversary was aware of his scheme however, and disrupted the ritual. Iesous’s history was stripped from the manifold, and instead Iesous found himself trapped in Brian’s life, dreaming when crucified that he was returned to his old life, but in fact trapped to die upon the cross. The time suit became indelibly imprinted with the astral projections of Brian/Iesous, and is known to us today as the Shroud of Turin.
We know of this from an archaeological monograph by Doctors H. and I. Jones, “Following in the footsteps of the Crusaders: Hidden temples of the Holy Land”, published in 1938. In it they detail their excavation of a temple/fortress constructed by the Knights Templar containing Iesous’s original alchemical equipment, materials, research notes, and genealogical information of the first few generations of descendants of Iesous from his original incarnation. Some hitherto unknown plants found in the tomb were preserved there by the botanist Mendoza specifically for later rediscovery, and these have become fruitful sources of research on botanically derived topical anti-itch cremes. The monograph can be found in the private collections of the library at Barnett College, where the younger Doctor Jones taught. Coincidentally, the same younger Doctor Jones was involved in the retrieval of the Ark of the Covenant as detailed in the Department of the Army classified report TS-36-8-05-AL PILL BOTTLE.
The Shroud of Turin was, unknown to most, stolen from the Cathedral of John the Baptist in 1716 by agents of the Royal Mint of England at the direction of Isaac Newton. Newton’s alchemical researches had led him to recognize the presence of the Adversary in out world, and he sought the Shroud as a means of defending England from the Adversary. He discovered that the time suit was now permanently attuned to Brian/Iesous and his descendants. Newton’s shifting of the mint from the silver to the gold standard the next year was a fall-back plan to use gold’s superior alchemical properties to protect the British Isles. Newton’s Mint agents would spend the next two hundred and seventy-one years attempting to root out the Templars and Iesous’s descendants whom they protected.
Umberto Eco’s novel Focault’s Pendulum, while ostensibly a novel of conspiracy, was in fact a signal of rapprochement from the Templars to the Mint Agents, now MI-6. The non-public head of MI-6, known only as Mycroft, united the last descendant of Iesous with the Shroud, and discovered the need for the Ark to complete the ritual. After many years of searching the globe, in late July of 1994, they discovered that Doctor Jones had previously liberated the Ark from its hiding place, and contacted the U.S. Government to gain access to the storage facility outside of Roswell, New Mexico.
Once the Shroud, Ark, and descendant of Iesous were united, it became clear that the Adversary would again thwart any attempts to return the Godhead to the manifold. Edgar Cayce’s ectoplasmic from was brought out to hold a seance to determine the disposition of the Adversary. It was determined that the adversary had taken an earthly form as Linus Pauling, assisting ADM in degrading the physical and spiritual health of the world by over promoting vitamin C while ADM was engaged in supply-restricting price-fixing along with other manufacturers. Protected by the Shroud, and channeling the Godhead’s power through the Ark, the descendant of Iesous slew the Adversary’s earthly form on August 19, 1994.
That evening, in a church in Connecticut, a teenage boy employed as the assistant sexton was closing up for the evening. The youth minister had installed Doom on the church office computers, so the teenager was playing for a half an hour once his work was done, but before heading home. Fueled by caffeine and lack of sleep, the game soon had the young man in a trance state wherein he accessed the higher dimensions of the manifold. Perceiving the unbound spirit of the Adversary as a Cyberdemon, he also saw the descendants of Iesous projected upon that plane as heroes from myth, Herakles, Perikles, Arthur Paendrag, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Captain Kangaroo, all fighting the twisted creature from Hell. Seeing an opening, he fired the BFG at the Cyberdemon, stunning the Adversary long enough for the others to destroy him. No longer kept out by the Adversary, the Godhead poured back into the world, suffusing it with its love and understanding, and reuniting us all with divinity.
I was that Doom-playing teenage boy. I was there when the eschaton was immanentized. MI-6 and the US government were able to track me down and debrief me, and through those contacts I eventually learned the whole story.
Since that day we have open to gnosis and perfected being in the presence of the Godhead. Ever since then, we have been living in the best of all possible worlds.
I hope you can sleep at night, brother, because I sure can’t.
August 19th, 1994? Man, you really had to ask, hadn’t you? I’d almost managed to supress those memories and you just had to go digging, didn’t you?
Well, it was one of those days, started off well. I’d just moved from Stockholm and was all but ready to start as a student of philosophy. Then it happened. I was on my way down to the university, going through the road tunnel, then followed the turn to the left. I noticed I was all on my own, a bit surprising, as there should have been more people walking or biking from the student dorm area down to campus. That’s when I realised that last time, it was through the tunnel, straight ahead up the hill and then you were on campus.
I stopped and looked around me. I was fully expecting to see the road on my left and university buildings a bit into the distance on my right. What I did see was thick forest to my left and rolling green fields to my right. Some hundred meters ahead and a bit to my right, I saw three people on horses. In the sunlight, their polished metal armour shined. Suddenly they turned their heads towards me, they seemed to be as surprised to see me as I was at seeing them.
They came up to me and spoke in, I didn’t know what, it sounded both familiar yet incomprehensible. I said “Hang on, slow down. Do you speak Swedish?”. They stared at me and started again, slower this time. Listening carefully, they sounded Icelandic. After a few hours of back and forthg, we could just about communicate basic things. They were on their way to a meeting, to hand over some much-belated gifts they had made. Me, they didn’t quite know what to make of, dressed in clothes of a strange cut, short of hair and beard, obviously unarmed.
It was decided that I should accompany them to the gifting ceremony, as one of the people they were giving gifts to was both lucky and well-traveled. They dismounted and lead the horses and we walked. After about an hour, we turned into the woods, walking on a wide dirt track. A few hours later (three, I think), we arrived at a large clearing, where one woman and three men sat. One old man, with a grey cloak, long grey hair and a grey eye-patch, one thick-set man with bright red hair and a full red beard, one slim, tall man with black hair and a blonde woman with long braids.
The old man spoke rapidly to the riders, then turned to me and spoke in slightly accented Swedish. “So, lance-bearer, you are lost and need to go home? I am Odin. With me are Tor, his wife Siv and my foster-son Loki. The gentlemen that brought you here are Sten, Städ and Alvis, dwarven master artisans. Once we have exchanged old gifts for new and proper considerations have been given, I will take you home, via the back paths. It would be proper if you left the clearing for a while, we need to do this alone.”
I would tell a lie if I said I was not confused. The names given were those of Aesir and everyone knows that a dwarf is short. I nodded and walked out of the clearing. A bit in to the forest, I saw lingonberry and blueberry plants. As I was starting to get hungry, I hunched down and picked berries and ate some. It didn’t satiate me, but it was something to do and munching seemed like a good idea. After a while, I sat down by a tree, leaned back and dozed off.
I don’t know how long I’d slept when Odin shook me awake. “It’s time to go home.” he said. “The gift-giving is complete.” I stood up, rubbed my eyes and stretched my back, then followed through the forest. We’d been walking for, maybe, twenty minutes when we turned onto a tarmac road and I saw the dorm area up ahead. I thanked Odin, then walked home. My room-mate wondered where I’d been, it was the 20th and he hadn’t seen me for day and a half.
On the night of August 19, 1994, Athena became the gleam in John and Krissy’s eyes.
Eight pints and five whiskey chasers in and the seal’s so broken you’d think it was never there. My body’s flushing the fluid through my system as quickly as it can, kidneys working double time, using scarce water to try and rinse blood of the booze, filling my bladder as quickly as I can empty it.
This is a proper bender, you’d expect nothing less from someone drinking on a Tuesday.
The dregs of the pint, mostly off colour froth, haven’t had time to warm up to the same temperature as my hand, but there’s still been disimprovement in flavour. I swirl the fluid in the glass, collecting the foam from the sides and tilt it down my gullet. The empty glass is placed on the bar with the exaggerated care of drunkenness. Swinging from the bar stool I amble shambolically in the general direction of the toilets.
The decision is made for me, as it always is. The inflexible and unspoken diktats of urinal etiquette beckon me to a urinal which, on inspection by a woman, would seem to be the worst choice of all.
Be surrounded by space.
Don’t block the door.
Don’t stand by the sinks or hand dryer.
Most important of all – don’t talk. This isn’t a social event. We all have a job to do. Face front. Proceed.
A final point. If there are urinals available, use the urinals. Pissing in the cubicle is a deeply suspicious act.
Five urinals, numbers one and two occupied. The pair already using stare resolutely forward. They stand side by side, but it’s not a place where you even acknowledge the person standing next to you, be they your worst enemy or your best friend. Joining them in a line of three is strictly verboten, and with the hand dryer pretty much bang smack on top of the fifth urinal, the fourth in the line is the optimum choice. It’s full of piss already, however, and cracked down the front. Cigarette butts float on the surface like fish killed by horrific yellow fungal infections. I unzip and remember for the fifth time since entering the bar that I’m wearing new boxers. The new pants drunk confusion sets in – where exactly is the fly? Are there buttons? For the fourth time in the day, I surrender, pull the elastic down and pull my cock out over the top. Piss like rancid rainwater sputters into the bowl, causing the fag ends to swirl round in tidal patterns. Leaning forward, I spit clumsily, lips flailing in the air. The room has emptied now, which is a small mercy. At least now no one can see the piss and cigarette butts falling from the rim and splashing my trousers. The foamy gobbet of phlegm follows the rest of the floating scum to the drenched and stinking carpet beneath his feet. Straightening unsteadily, I yank the waistband back over my cock and gets the relieving sensation of the ball which had been tangled during the untuck dropping back into its natural position. Completing the tuck, I pull the fly shut. This manoeuvre is more complex and danger ridden than a female observer could guess at – there’s not a man alive who hasn’t trapped himself between the merciless and unforgiving teeth of a zip. Turning, I knock the battered door to the bar open and stumble back into the light. The blow, when it comes, is mercifully from behind.
The events of the evening? Well, for some, it was eventful; the big chested bar girl with the bad attitude got a shock when she came out of the cellar to see me lying in sawdust with my brains running out of my nose; the cynical detective got another glimpse of the seedy underbelly of this fela infested life; the paramedics slipped in gore and one sprained an ankle; but for me, it was a tragic case of mistaken identity.
I missed the target, and in doing so, failed to win the stuffed rabbit. Some claim that this was not connected to my divorce two years later, but I, for one, know that it was.
Ah, that was the day that, in a fit of pique, Jonas the Alphabet Man struck the letter “K” from our racial memory. He giggled like a schoolgirl for a few minutes. Then he put it back.
What happened on August 19, 1994? Now that is a good question. I wish that I could tell you, since the dark looks exchanged by my family imply dark deeds that day. Every year, August 19 is a sort of memorial. Those people who were there that day sigh, and glare at anyone who dares to disrupt their miserable brooding. Someday, perhaps, the tale will be told, but not yet.
“The first thing that you must understand is that they are not actually lasers as such. People are naturally very sensitive on this issue — ‘orbital mind-control lasers this’ and ‘government brain-wave lasers that’. So I do want to emphasize that there were no lasers involved at any point. It was mostly microwaves.”
“Well yes, there were biological agents. There had to be biological agents. You can’t just beam microwaves into peoples’ heads and expect them to do what you want; that would be silly. Science fiction stuff.”
“No, dammit, I never said prions. It’s an example. I meant you could do it with prions. Build a prion that that deposits ferrous crystals with certain microwave resonances in the brain, you know, that sort of thing. You could do that, if, you know, you didn’t mind everyone in the planet going all spongiform four days after you turn the lasers on. Viruses would be much safer.”
“Microwaves. Of course I meant microwaves. Not lasers.”
“Well yes, naturally putting a bacterial contaminant in all the bottled water in the world was tricky. And yes I do admit that there were certain tests conducted on goats. You’d be amazed how hard it is to get human subjects for prion experimentation.”
“Viruses — Virus experimentation. That’s what I meant.”
“Look, I know that there were certain disruptions. I know that you’ve seen videos of people, like those million people on the White House lawn taking — yes, what you said. But if you ask them I’m sure they will tell you it’s quite innocent. I am absolutely certain that they will all tell you that they were only knitting.”
“No, of course that’s not because their memories were rewritten by laser. Don’t be silly, this isn’t science fiction.”
On August 19, 1994 I learned a very important lesson about combustion and propane run ovens. My lack of eyebrows for several weeks were proof of that lesson.
I wrote something brief. It never happened since.
August 19, 1994 was the day that the space-time continuum actually fell apart. Oddly, it fell apart in reverse fashion; the past is now flexible, easy changeable and continues to unceasingly mutate. The fluctuations grow ever more severe the further back in recorded history. The future, however, is now irrevocably fixed on a straight-line path with no hope of deviation. For a brief, unsettling moment, everyone on Earth became aware of this unsettling truth. As the facts of the past change, so do our memories and our recorded history
Only a few unfortunate souls, such as myself, did not experience the virtually instantaneous collective amnesia that overcame humankind in an effort to protect its own sanity. We are the only ones who see these changes and when we try to tell people about them, our words are immediately forgotten — overwritten by the fluid shifting of past timelines.
With the exception of us unfortunate souls who know the truth, the only sign that something happened on that evening is the unsettling feeling that everyone, including John, feels when reminded of August 19, 1994. Something happened on that night, but no one can recall exactly what it was.
August 19, 1994: the day after I became omnipotent and omniscient was when I realized that I was utterly powerless.
Wasn’t that the night the chickens escaped from the coop, liberated the hogs and spent the night at Finnegan’s Wake, drinking Jameson until my credit cards were maxed out and finally prompting a call from a very annoyed — and confused — sheriff’s deputy?
Oh, that was 1995? You’re right. 1994, 1994 … Oh yeah. Got it. That was the night I made toast.
The Alpha Centaurii who came to Earth long ago revealed on August 19th, 1994, via television and radio broadcasts, that they were in charge of every major government in the world.
They waited exactly twenty-four hours and then wiped humanities memories of that day.
They’ve been laughing about it ever since.
That morning my son held his breath and stomped around because we wouldn’t buy him a pony. We tried to get him to breathe, but he was stubborn, just like his dear old dad.
We buried him a few days later.
Then we bought a pony.
The world turned.
On 8/19/94 George w. Bush suddenly awoke from a 20 year drug induced haze and found that he had done quite a few things during that time; drilled numerous dry holes, owned a baseball team and had even gotten married and found god. These were all pleasing to him, as pleasing as possible considering that everytime he reached for the bottle the wife reached for the car keys. This was especially disturbing as she had parked the car in a manner that was pointed directly at georgie jr. To further compound things, the wife had had the (mexican) maid dust recently as well, not a bit of powder anywhere. It looked like the decider had decided to finally clean up. Well, just as long as it was him that was deciding.
He then decided that what he would like to do next was become the president of the US. This sounded like fun, plus he could decide even more stuff. He immediately (as would we all) called daddy on the phone to implement the plan.
jr; dad, I’ve decided I want to be the president.
sr; who is this? georgie? when did you wake up?
jr; a little while ago, laura won’t let me do a damned thing anymore.
sr; what a shame, you were a pretty fun guy, always great to have a beer with you, you know.
jr; what about this president gig?
sr; well son, you know anything you want you can of course have but this is pretty serious stuff. you’re actually have to do a little training first.
jr; what the hell? you’re joking, I never had to train before.
sr; are you sure, do you remember college?
jr; I went to college? did I graduate?
sr; yup, say did you ever sign those reserve release forms?
sr; never mind, I’ll fix it. back to that president stuff. you’re going to have to do something else first…..I’d love to get rid of that witch Richards. How would you like to be governor of texas first?
jr; that’s not the same as president!
sr; no, but you’re going to have to work up to that one. in the meantime you know there’s a whole bunch of people on death row. you could be the decider with them for a while.
jr; can i push the button?
sr; not very presidential, you’ll have to just settle with signing the papers.
jr; I’m going to hold my breath.
sr; won’t help. sorry, son. It has to be this way.
jr; oh, ok. I’ll be the governor first, then president. right?
sr; Ok, we’ll get it done. you should probably have some help. mmmm….I think we only winged Cheney with that wooden stake. think the body is still intact, maybe we can pull that thing out and he’ll come back. he would make a great #2, don’t you think?
jr; I seem to remember hunting with him once, bad feelings about this.
sr; definitley don’t go hunting with him, keep him in a suit. oh,he’ll need a emt team with him at all times too in case it’s impossible for him to discreetly feed. we’ll get right on it.
jr; gee thanks dad. this sounds like a lot of fun.
sr; that’s ok georgie, anything for my boy. just one thing; don’t screw things up too badly. remember Jeb has a turn at this too.
And that’s the way it was. August 19, 1994.
The trolls were no longer hiding beneath bridges, in dank, moss-encrusted caves beneath Bern. They had discovered the web; they would soon be among us.
August 19, 1994 is a day that is burned into my memory. I’ve told only a few people about it, but no one who wasn’t there believes me – hell, a few people that were there don’t either. I wish to God I were one of the ones that managed to hide the memory under a haze of alcohol and denial.
Picture this: it’s your final year of summer vacation, because you’re heading to college in the fall and you and your friends will be separated forever. Nothing is ever going to be the same again, and you know it – you can feel your past life slipping away already. If you’re being truthful, you can’t wait to be gone. This is that one last fling – partying at the quarry til dawn and then stumbling home pretending you were at your best friend Jen’s all night, hanging out, watching movies. Not that your story is going to fool your mother at all, given the stink of beer and semen coming off you and the state of your clothes, but she’ll just roll her eyes and offer you a Pop-Tart for breakfast before she heads out to work. You’re wearing a white sundress that covers up the tan lines from the ugly lifeguard swimsuit, and a pair of flipflops that are worn down at the heels from scuffing along on five years worth of sidewalks in that little town. Someone is playing Pearl Jam on their car stereo, and you’re lying near the edge of the quarry, staring up at the Milky Way sprawled overhead like a river of diamonds just out of reach. You are drunk enough on cheap wine coolers that this seems like a very original observation. This is where I was at 2 in the morning on the night of August 19, right before it happened.
I was staring at the sky determinedly, ignoring my best friend making out with my ex boyfriend, so I didn’t notice the mist coming out of the quarry at first. When I did notice it, I didn’t pay it any attention – it was the middle of the night and temperatures were dropping, it made sense that this fine, light mist would come rising out of the water-filled pool at the bottom of the abandoned mine, clinging to my shoulders and my dress. I shivered, and looked around for a handy sweater, but I hadn’t brought one. I considered going home, but I decided it wasn’t worth it – I could go hang out with Drew, I decided. I hated kissing him, he was all probing tongue and over-large teeth and trying to lick my gums, but he would be warm, at least. I stood up and grabbed my handbag, preparing to move from my comfortable grassy knoll to a slightly less comfortable granite pile.
It was only a matter of seconds before I noticed something was wrong. The mist was no longer the fine, light dew that had touched me on the ground; it had developed into a thick, greenish, soupy fog that clung and hovered over everything. I couldn’t see anything at all – but I cold hear things. Oh yes, I could hear them. Slithery things, moving under the cover of darkness; paper sliding over rocks, the sound of a snake in the garden, scrabbling like a squirrel on the roof. I heard a choking sound, and then a thump – a muffled shriek, and sobbing, a sudden scream. I dropped to the ground again, covered my ears and closed my eyes, and began to pray. I ignored the warmth of the sticky, puddling liquid that pooled around my feet, ignored the pleas for help that were so near, yet so far. I retreated inside my mind and began to beg for daylight to come and drive the mist away. But by the time dawn finally broke and the mist cleared, I wished it hadn’t. There were just four of us left, out of our original number of fourteen. The rest were gone, or mostly gone, anyway. A few gnawed bones remained, a few shreds of skin and teeth and hair, Drew’s wallet, Alex’s purse, a shoe, someone’s foot still encased in it. Jamie couldn’t cope with it, I guess – she looked around, and then launched herself over the edge of the quarry, falling below into the water without a scream. We didn’t try to stop her. The rest of us waited until they came looking for us, and let them lead us away. We didn’t even think of running.
They called it a psychotic break, a mass hallucination, LSD or acid or angel dust gone bad, a Satanic ritual, a suicide pact – no one was quite sure what happened up there, and no one ever believed me or Melissa or Erin when we told them. They claimed we killed and devoured them, even though there was no good evidence of that – no teeth marks, no traces of it in our systems, no blood on our hands. That four teenaged girls would turn into cannibalistic ritual killers was easier to believe than a tale of killing creatures rising from the quarry in the midnight mist. I don’t blame them. I find it easier to believe, too.
I wish it were the truth.
That’s the night I went back to stop myself from inventing that infernal time travel machine.
August 19, 1994? Yeah, I remember it. That was the night lightning struck the Old Clock Tower. Terrible storm. Worst that I can remember. That was the same night some nerd punched out the town bully and some punk kid nearly ruined the Enchantment Under the Sea dance with his electric guitar. Disrespectful if you ask me.
What? August 19, 1994? Oh, I thought you said November 5, 1955.
Not much happened on August 19, 1994. Ate dinner with the wife, chased some kids off the lawn, and watched the ballgame on the television. Why do you ask?
They call me Bob.
Bob. The name is so short, so normal, so mundane that I feel insulted.
My real name is a polydimensional pheromone based phenomenon that would tear minds apart if excreted in the wrong fashion.
I have six legs, nine arms, three mouths, four eyes, and precisely five ears. My arms end in two hands and four claws. I have fur tipped with deadly neurotoxin. My four eyes glow four different hues of death.
I have a tentacle.
And they call me Bob.
I rue that crash landing of August 19, 1994.
I must tell the truth. There was no Great Pickle Disaster. No Moderate Pickle Crisis. Not even a Light Pickle Inconvenience.
No, what happened on 19 August 1994 was this:
Well, okay: I got a couple of slices at Antonio’s. And I think that was the time I had a bad dream and ended up rolling over in bed, right onto my girlfriend (who, through the magic of the do-over, is now my wife, but that’s another story). But that might have been another night in August. I’m not really sure.
Man, that bed sucked.
Now, if we were talking about 22 August 1994, that’d be something. D’oh the Cat sang Carmen that night. Truly sublime.
Thirteen US governmental conspiracies came to fruition (a hair under the daily average). Approximately two thousand miracles were committed, mostly by innocent children who knew no better. A solitary pig in Utah flew for a record thirty-five meters.
Seven distinct instances of extra-terrestrial interference were recorded, though four were attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. No fewer than twenty true paradoxes were instated, and sixty impossible things were brought to pass before breakfast by poets and dreamers.
Yet to ask what happened merely stretches the bounds of the possible. What didn’t happen on August 19, 1994 is far more telling….
August 19? Nothing happened. Nothing at all. No kicking, no rolling over. No morning sickness, no heartburn.
I wonder, all the time, about what I lost — girl or a boy? Maybe she would have cured cancer, or he would have invented a supercomputer, or discovered a new species of shark. Designed the eighth wonder of the world, or cured AIDS, or figured out the secrets of space.
Sometimes I think that maybe it would have been horrifying, unrecognizable — but I know that isn’t true. That was my baby, and they took it all away from me with the same anonymous unconcern as before. No announcement, no warning. Just hot bright light, and empty eyes, and then I was left alone, and my baby was gone.
So I went home, because there was nothing else to do.
My baby would be 14 now. I wonder every day.
NOT AN ENTRY, BUT A COMMENT:
You know what kills me? I write what I think is a perfectly fine, book-winning entry (#66), I read through the list and find one that blows me away.
Seriously. Rob Davies. Comment #208. So cruel, so funny. I laughed so hard I almost choked.
I’ll never forget that night, and you’re a right bastard for bringing that painful memory back in all its stinging detail.
It had been around the time when the pubs close. Sky had cracked open was doing its best to wash away the pain from my Jenny leaving for some frog in Calais. Didn’t know she had even been into amphibians. You had just finished your forth pint of the bitter.
The Pflock started falling out of the sky. Remember those sickening splats as they hit the pavement? How could you forget.
They were mauve cubes the size of my Aunt Bettie’s pet terrier. And they smelled just as bad when wet. Named after that UFO nut, remember the stories he used to tell? Wish you had never introduced me to him.
How you could dredge that up after all this time, knowing what they did to you and me, I don’t understand. They stole my pubic hair. And all you lost was a little on top of your knobby skull. How could we have known their body fluids were depilatories? Pflock you, Scalzi, for the memory.
The most I dare confess regarding the nineteenth day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and ninety-four is, — if the world were to fathom what befell that impious Friday eve, — never again would man, woman, or babe shudder at the approaching co-incidence of a Friday and the thirteenth day.
I was returning to the Cove from a Winco (grocery) trip to Eureka. The extra 90 miles driven is easily justified by the much lower prices at Winco when compared to the
shameless price gouging job at the “local” “ShopSmart” in Redway. Before I made the turn on to the Briceland road weaving a long 23 country two lane road miles back
out to the Cove, I realized that I had forgotten to get bread at Winco. I pulled into the parking lot at ShopSmart to get the same forgotten, but more expensive bread.
It was getting dark and as I got out of the car, out of nowhere, a towering, very large woman appeared ever so suddenly right in front of me. I guestimate she was
about 6’5″, dark haired with deep sunken but hollow eyes, a humongous frame of which I can only essentially describe as “beefy”, at least 275 pounds or more.
I was startled as I looked up to her, as she was, well, kind of scary. Her face emanated a look of desperation, but somehow was controlling. Equally compelling was my gut initial impression that she was quite mentally ill. She asked me if I knew of a nearby shelter where she could find a safe place to stay. I told her I didn’t know of
one, but I would ask the grocery clerk inside the store for her, if not at least to put some distance between us. She nodded approval.
I went into the store, picked out the bread, and waited my turn at the check-out queue. The male check-out clerk was youngish, 35 or so. As he rang up the sourdough, I asked him about the woman’srequest for shelter info. He looked me smugly in the eye and wryly spoke, quite derisively, “Not THAT bitch..again? She oughta go ask one of her homeless buddies that question.”
I was a little stunned by the jackass’s smug insularity and thought to myself what an unconscious fool he is. Does he not know that any number of circumstances might have him in the parking lot asking a similar question instead of checking groceries? The clerk in the next check stand over overheard my request and more humanely volunteered, “Tell her there might be one in Garberville (three miles down the road), but I’m not sure.” Clutching the sourdough, I went back to the
car and the woman was nowhere to be seen. As I drove out of the parking lot, I saw what surely may have been her in my rear view mirror, shrugged my shoulders thinking there probably is not a shelter in Garberville anyway, and drove on down the road.
As I was driving out to the Cove, I thought of the somewhat demonic apparition in the parking lot and began to very uncomfortably realize that the demon is not back there, but, in fact, was the entity driving this car.
What possessed me to not make a minimal effort and turn the car around, go back to the parking lot, find her, invite her massive intimidating frame into the car and drive her the three short miles to Garberville (obviously she was on foot) in hopes of helping her find a place to stay? I rationalized to myself that she was scary, probably psycho, and my imagination weakly proceeded to conveniently mask my lack of courage, or more properly stated, my emerging self-awareness of cowardice. Why did I not speak up in a most probably failed effort to enlighten the jackass clerk as to his arrogance? I concluded that my pusillanimous cowardice was worse, more damning than the clerk’s arrogance and that is the haunting that occurred as a result of the ShopSmart parking lot encounter.
If a congressional committee can’t get me to talk about that night, it seems unlikely that an online contest will.
How did you find out about that? They swore they wouldn’t tell you. And they had good reason: after all, why would they want to reveal that avocadoes are really….
But I’ve said too much.
The note on my door when I got home said, “I knocked, but no one answered. –Opportunity.”
So, Scalzi wants to know what happened the night of August 19, 1994.
Nothing. The official story out of Castel Gandolfo is that absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened on that night. The spokesman for the Vatican Observatory, a little priest named Rev. Miguel was quite adamant that the rumors weren’t true. I remember him making some kind of joke about college students drinking too much alcohol and watching Steven Spielberg movies. It wasn’t funny in Italian and it didn’t get funnier when translated into English. Jesuits are good at a lot of things. Stand up comedy isn’t one of them.
Now, if you ask any of us who were on Mount Graham that night, you’d get the same story most of the time. Nothing. Certainly nothing worth losing our careers over. No one was ever supposed to hear about it. Funes swore us to secrecy and told us that it would never be made public.
Naturally, I was a bit taken aback when I met John Scalzi at a book signing in 2005. I’d never heard of him, but the cover looked interesting, so I bought a copy of his book. When he heard my name, I was surprised that he recognized me. I’d published in a few astronomy journals that few people read. Apparently, John Scalzi was one of the few. We chatted for a few minutes and just as I was getting ready to go, he asked me.
“What happened the night of August 19, 1994?”
Crap. I gave him the official line. Nothing had happened. The rumors weren’t true. It was all a joke. I could tell that he didn’t believe me. I didn’t care. I just wanted out of that store.
I called Tucson to talk to the head of the Vatican Observatory Research Group as soon as I got home.
“Nothing to worry about,” he says. “Rumors and stories. Just do like you were told.”
I’d nearly forgotten about the incident when I ran into Scalzi again at a convention in California. I was up for a minor award for a short science fiction story I’d written. John Scalzi was a guest speaker. I avoided him, but we met at the bar. He was friendly. He lied and said he liked my story. I told the truth and said I’d liked his book and asked if he had another coming out soon. Naturally, he had several out at the time. I thought he’d forgotten our earlier conversation until he asked again.
“So, what really happened the night of August 19, 1994?”
I looked him in the eye and stared him down. Well, I tried. I was hiding something and he knew it. It’s hard to make a man back down when he knows the truth. Or at least, when he suspects it.
“Nothing, John. Not a damn thing.”
I left the convention ten minutes later. Turns out that I didn’t win anyway.
Now, he’s using his blog to ask the whole world what happened that night. I still can’t tell anyone the whole story. All of us grad students were pulled off of the VORG as soon as we realized that it wasn’t a quasar we’d found, but a message. I’ve never heard anything official about it. All I know for sure is that on the 19th of August, we got a message from space. Not random signals or background noise. This was a message directed at Earth. That’s all I know for sure.
I’m guessing they’ve finished translating it, though. The head of the Vatican Observatory said in an interview this week, “Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.”
This coming from a bunch that waited four hundred years to admit that Galileo might have had a point. Yeah, they know something.
You want to know what happened fourteen years ago, John? I think you’d better be more concerned about what’s going to happen in the next fourteen years. I think the Church is trying to prepare us.
You’d better hope that Old Man’s War wasn’t prophetic about what’s out there, because company’s coming.
Just in case you think I’m making it up,
Ah-HAH! It’s a trick question. There was no 19th of August in 1994. We did, however, have two May 15ths that year, which is why this isn’t actually after the deadline.
Nothing happened on the 19th of August 1994, but that is only because the universe ended on the 18th.
Wow. 19th of august, 1994. Hard to forget – second worst day of my life. Terrible night. My narcolepsy kicked really hard and everybody thought I was dead.
What? The worst day? The next one, right after the burial…
It was ironic foreshadowing, karmic pre-retribution, an extreme example of transcendental idealism: a piece of bacon, a strip of tape, photographic evidence.
But this was pre-digital. The photo was left inside a car on a hot California day and the universe played a practical joke. The photo was bleached and melted and warped by the sun.
Thus, bacon Scalzi was lost forever…in this universe.
On the 19th of August, 1994 the sun rose and set just like every other day. What made it special was the fact Tommy finally worked up the nerve to kiss Susie. Where would be be if that had never happened? A whole other universe my friend, a whole other universe.
You may not remember this night, my child, for you were too young. But I remember it well. The 19th of August, 1994: the day we realized Harry Belafonte was a robot.
You see, 14 years ago it was unheard of that a person would shirk their mortal coil in exchange for steel immortality. I know today this is commonplace and that you cannot fathom the wonder we experienced as the revelation took hold of our organic brains. You think it is normal for Tom Hanks to live on after his deadly heart attack, appearing the same but inside a tin man. I assure you, this was not always the case.
Harry Belafonte’s health had been declining that summer, and there was no news coverage of him for months. Then, all of the sudden, he appeared on the Charlie Rose show on the 19th to discuss something important. I must confess, I forget what pressing topic he adamantly spoke of. I just remember watching and thinking something was not right. I had the feeling you get when you stand in someone’s house and know something is different, but can’t quite put a finger on it. Maybe they changed the drapes to a slightly different shade of mother-of-pearl.
When the show was over, I still felt uneasy, and watched the news show that came on afterwards. This is when the world as we knew it changed. The anchor was blabbing on about some shark attack when they were interrupted with a breaking news bulletin. They then cut to Harry Belafonte, still talking with Charlie Rose after the show ended, pulling his left arm off and putting it back on. He did it as if he were just changing his shirt. Charlie just stood there with his mouth agape.
There was no more footage than that, and the anchor had nothing useful to say. He was just stunned. We all were. The next morning Harry Belafonte was on one of the morning shows explaining that he had actually died in June, but a company called BirthdaySuit bought his body and placed his head on an artificial body.
For the next three weeks, the news was ablaze with this new technology. Rich old men like Warren Buffet and Ronald Reagan did everything in their power to become BirthdaySuit’s next success. Today this is commonplace, and most anyone can live forever. But I remember the day when Harry Belafonte changed the world.
Everybody knows that the night of August 19, 1994 was the first time a robot had ever breast-fed a human-being in a sexual manner.
Simple. Seven ate Nine leaving us with August 19th, 1984… and we all know what happened in 1984!
Well, we’ve all seen the pundits, pontiffs, and talking heads analyze the aftermath and the President’s apology in great detail, so I won’t go into the international geo-political aspects of it. Besides, that always seemed secondary to me, more of a side-effect of the event, rather than that night being an intentional international incident of its own.
I wasn’t there, but everyone knows Dave was, and I think I’ve pieced together what really happened from him (we go way back, me and Dave). Of course, it’s hard to judge which of his ravings are hallucinations and which are memories anymore.
I know he had just finished slaving BU’s Cray servers to run multiplayer Doom – remember, this was 1994, and MMORPGs were still a thing not even Neil Stephenson’s imagination had come up with yet. So, while Dave and his flatmates were BFGing the heck out of pixellated monsters, Jenna showed up, freshly adorned with all the trappings of her latest new-age fad religion. (Why he hadn’t dumped her after the whole ‘Hands Across Camden’ debacle, I’ll never understand.)
Anyway, here’s where the details get shaky. Jenna most likely drew a ‘mocha burlap’-shade lipstick pentagram on the floor and lit a bunch of candles. Whether she had an incantation book, or was making it up, is unclear. At some point, Jim – Dave’s flatmate – rolled his desk chair into the pentagram, and all hell broke loose. Literally.
The Monsters from Doom were made flesh, skies rained brimstone the world over, and Jenna became, well, I didn’t even like the girl, and to this day I can’t bring myself to eat barbequed pork.
I won’t get into the carnage, or the death toll, but I will say that the three days it took Dave to come up with a viable solution – playing Duke Nuke-em from within an unbroken salt circle – well, they were harrowing for us all. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the horrors of those first few days.
Anyway, I recently went to visit him again at the federal research facility they’re keeping him at (I’m sworn to secrecy as to it’s location), and, well, he’s still raving and screaming, but at least he’s no longer quite as pixellated anymore. They’ve got his resolution up to at least a few hundred dpi, and he’s well past the 256 colors benchmark finally.
Me? I don’t even own a computer anymore. But I’ll have a friend post this to that blog of yours, Scalzi.
Take it easy,
Loretta set the plates on the table. Clove’s was piled high with nothing but parsley. Twix had corned beef hash, two eggs, toast, the works. And champagne. Weirdo. I’d ordered simple hash browns and toast, but I wasn’t feeling all that hungry all of a sudden.
I turned my head and watched Loretta walk back towards the front. Once she was out of earshot, I leaned forward and lowered my voice.
“So…so you’re telling me I gotta go back in time and plant the bug I just spent six fucking hours fixing?”
Twix’s smile was tight as he took a sip from his champagne. “Yep.”
I sighed. This was getting ridiculous. “And if I refuse?”
“Annihilation of this particular timeline,” Clove said. “Neverending suffering under an alien invasion.” He sipped his coffee. “Oh, and you’d be disavowed, too.”
“Of a sort,” Twix said.
He meant death. I knew it from the look he gave me.
“And if I agree? What’s in it for me?”
“Your continued existence. This timeline’s continued existence.” Clove smiled. “Plus, there’ll be cake.”
The choice was pretty simple. It’s not everyday that you’re asked to choose between cake and death.
“Alright, I’ll do it.”
Twix placed his hand on my shoulder. “Great. Good to hear. I guess there’s no time like the present.” He motioned out of the booth. “Shall we get started?”
The three of us wiggled our way out of the booth. Clove handed me a small aluminum cylinder. “Hang onto this. It makes this entire operation possible.”
It felt a bit heavy in my hand, like it was loaded with shot. “What is it?”
Twix grinned at me. “It’s how you’ll reach your destination.” He handed me the third folder. “Here’s your file. Your name is Robert Paulson.”
Clove echoed him. “Your name is Robert Paulson.”
Then Twix joined in again. “Your name–”
I held up my hand. “Alright, alright, I get it. I’m Robert Paulson. So– what do you need Robert to do?”
“The device is now active. All you have to do to get started is walk through a portal. We’ll provide instructions for you on the other side. Any portal will do.” He motioned towards the front door. “Even the front door.”
I looked at him, then at Twix. They both nodded and waited. I turned away and stared at the front door. What’s the worst that could happen? I stepped outside.
The sky was suddenly six hours brighter.
Twix and Clove followed me out the door. Clove held out his hand.
“Huge success,” he said.
“You’re done. Give me the device.”
The cylinder was still in my hand. I handed it to him.
“Am I free to go?”
Clove smiled. “Not quite.” He held the same cylinder up in front of me, only this time there was a small blinking light towards the top. “Just look right here at this little light for me, if you wou–“
The evening of August 19, 1994 is famous because that is the night when John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, and Neil Gaiman all combined forces to form the elite Special Ops team known as The BaconCat Squad (a.k.a. the BCS). I was not there when the team was formed, but I have read the comic-books based on their adventures and WOW! They are truely the greatest, most resourceful military-adventurers on the planet!
It wasn’t much, not really. A dorm room with a single not-yet-retro-cool lava lamp lighting the press of bodies holding beer bottles and waving cigarettes. Future engineers and feminists yelling politics over an already-retro-cool LP of Eye of the Tiger. I saw him enter with a third-year I only knew by sight and for the rest of the night I tracked him with my peripheral vision. He stayed by the door while I was trapped at the window, pressed up against the heater that left alternating burning and freezing stripes down my backside. As I worked up the guts to move over he gave his friend a complicated handshake and left. I bolted from my griddle, dodging ash and elbows, and into the hallway. He’d paused there to talk to someone and, under the uncompromising neon I realised he was actually pretty ugly.
Damn. For a while there, I thought I’d found The One.
Dear Mr. Scalzi,
We have been monitoring your attempts to discover information about the events of the night of August 19, 1994, and we have repeatedly asked you to discontinue your investigations. Let us assure you, your latest hiding-in-plain-sight attempt to gather information has not escaped our notice.
Luckily, most of your readers seem to be pranksters with no actual knowledge of the events in question, but we will not risk a security breech, either accidental or intentional.
Mr. Scalzi, please do not make take the next step and intervene with force. We would prefer a cordial conclusion to this matter. End this contest immediately, and we will perhaps be willing to look the other way and put this matter behind us.
The Department of Homeland Security, Special Office for Human-Cryptid Relations
Stormy summer night
Huddled under covers tight
Flashing boom lights sky.
Nobody knows for certain what actually transpired on the night of August 19, 1994, but I was there when the event happened and I still don’t believe what I saw.
How can an entire continent simply disappear off the face of the planet, leaving no wake or ripples, as if it had never even existed? That question has plagued me, as well as the rest of the world, for years now and there are still no clues as to what happened.
I was on a boat when the event occured, a cargo-ship bound for Sidney. That night, I just happened to be standing at the bow, watching the lights on the upcoming coastline as we approached. From out of nowhere, a strange, gray fog suddenly obscurred my vision and blocked my entire view of the Australian front. I blinked–
–and when I opened my eyes, it was gone.
The lights, the coast, the country…vanished.
The captain of the ship, at first thinking we were off-course, used the stars to confirm our position. We were exactly where we needed to be…but no Australia. It took us four calls into a U.S. Naval Base in Asia before anyone believed us. Then, we were all placed in quarintine while the incident was investigated.
That was 14 years ago. The world has gone crazy, trying to discern where the continent went and what happened to the people who were on it. As a result, I’ve since stopped traveling across the ocean and have decided to stick to land-based jobs. If the continent I’m on decides to suddenly disappear, I want to be lost with it, instead of floating in an empty sea with no shore to try for…
It was a good day to die.
Rice, Lou, Rohb, and I had finally found our way back to the Captain after a particularly rough week. The four of us had spent three days on the hill overlooking Mongoose Theatre, and we’d carefully counted every American helicopter that had landed, and harassed every patrol they’d sent anywhere near us. Rohb and Lou had sniper rifles, and Rohb was absolutely deadly with his, so we managed to get a few that never knew what hit ’em. On the third day, he and I were looking for some food when we saw a whole platoon of Americans. When I lit up my machine gun, they ran like scared children. If they only knew that there was just the two of us!
If we were smarter, we’d have realized that, if they thought there were a lot of us on that hill, they were going to send a lot more. That night, the Americans sent a whole company — more than 100 men — to kill the four of us. The hill only had cover on one side, and even that was only after a 50-foot cliff, and we saw the Americans coming up the other three sides, so we slid down the cliffs and hid in the guava thicket for a day and a night.
To this day, I hate guava.
The next morning, having lost the high ground, we started walking east, and we’d gone a few miles when we heard gunfire, and ran towards it. It was Gi and his men from our village, shooting at an American truck! We ran to it, helped kill them, and thankfully the truck had some food and water in it. As we sacked the truck, Gi asked us “Have you no food?”, and we told him what had happened. He just laughed. “Captain is right over by Mongoose Theatre with thirty men, and they have hot food. For two days, they’ve been at the road junction at the base of the hill you’ve been on. Come with me.”
It was good to see almost three dozen men from our village had survived out of the hundred or so that had been there when the Americans landed.
Captain had us set up along two sides of the road junction. Gi and the four of us were on one end. We would let Americans go by until everyone on our side had a clear shot, and then kill them and take their truck. We killed about a hundred Americans this way, even their priest. His last words were “You can’t shoot me, I’m a priest!”, but his theory was easily disproven.
Eventually, that company on the hill came down to see what all the fuss was about, and our L-shaped road ambush just turned around and became V-shaped. They walked right into the middle of it, and we cut them down like dry wheat.
Captain WAS smarter than we were, and he knew they were going to send a whole lot more, but he didn’t care. If the Americans wanted our land, we were going to make them pay dearly for it, and ten dead Americans for every one of us seemed like a good number to him. Sure enough, a few hours later, six hundred men came down that hill at the thirty of us.
That was too many.
I saw Rohb get shot, and looking to my right, saw them going around us. I yelled to warn Gi as I stood up to run.
At the road, American trucks. I sprayed half of my last magazine at it and dove down the cliff on the other side. I fell about ten feet and landed awkwardly in a tree. I must have moaned, because just then, the fat, black American truck driver looked down the cliff and shot me.
(This is a true story. “Operation Lightning Thrust” was a brigade-level force-on-force laser engagement exercise in the Kahuku mountains on Oahu, conducted by the US Army 25th Infantry Division (Light). …I may have the date wrong, though.)
Everybody always says it was the butler who did it.
Then everyone laughs and laughs. Isn’t that funny? Oh, yes: the butler, har har.
Sometimes they’re actually right.
How do I know? Because I did it. And I enjoyed it. Every last tasty morselly minute of it.
And I was intelligent enough not to film it.
What the hell is wrong with people these days, drugging & savaging a girl and then snapping pix on your cell phone to show to the losers at the corner bar? Like, are you stupid as well as insane and viscious? Is the trophy/status show worth it when they’re hauling your sorry ass downtown? Who’s the gangsta now, muthafukka?
But I digress.
The important thing is, I know who really did it. Isn’t that funny?
August 19, 1994? I don’t do dates mate, they all mean the same thing to me. Days of the week I can handle, but days over ten years ago? Pull the other one?
Oh, that. Oh, yeah, I remember that. Of course I saw it all. I was there, well, for the important bit. The bit all the newspapers wrote about. Of course I was an “unreliable witness” when it came to court, and I don’t blame them, I mean, look at me. I bet I was drunk that night, but that only matters to other people. I’m drunk every night I can afford it – and don’t look at me like that, you would too. I tell them honestly, when they give me money. Two thirds goes on food or maybe a place for the night, and one third goes on drink. Don’t do drugs, I tried heroin and all it did was make me ill. I think I’m lucky like that.
But yeah, if the courts thought I was an unreliable witness then, what makes you think I’ll be better now? What you want to know for anyway?
Journalist, what paper?
Why do they call these things “Americanos” anyway? It’s a bloody cup of coffee where I’m from. Bloody Americans didn’t invent coffee.
So, the events of the night in question, as they say. I was on me patch which was just down from Picadilly, City were playing at home, and it was all a bit rowdy, as it has a tending to be. I tried to stay clear of it even back then but I’d fallen asleep – nice day you see – and when I woke up it was dark so I just kept into me little corner and pulled me hood up, hoping nobody would notice me or if they did that they’d be one of the friendly ones. Looked like it was a win but it’s hard to say, some of these boys they just go out looking for a fight, win or lose, and it was worse back then. First year of the Double Double, United couldn’t do wrong. Unless you were a City fan, of course. Always the bridesmaid, s’what City is round here. Course, s’one of them, the whole place was going to the dogs as well. You remember “Madchester”? Course you don’t, too young, but you probably read about it and think it’s cool or something. Well maybe in the 80s when it all kicked off but by that time it was only three years away from the Hacienda getting shut down for good. The Roses and the Mondays were up their own arse on drugs and those new lads, Oasis, well, least said about those, y’know?
So that was the environment it happened in. There’s your background. Drugs and booze and football. I don’t even know who they were playing –
Oh, was it? Ah well, but it doesn’t matter because that was what I was going to say, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t matter to them. Just out for a fight they were. You could tell, the shouting and chanting as they came down the street and I was all “hello there” and trying to keep myself as still as possible while being ready to leg it if I needed to. But they didn’t spot me.
On the one hand I think it was lucky, considerin’ what went down, sorta thing, but on the other hand I think, well, maybe it would have been better. They’d have beat me up and it wouldn’t have been the first or last, I’d have got some hospital food for a bit till they chucked me out, and maybe that young lass would have got away.
Piccadilly wasn’t as nice back then as it is now. The gardens were all grubby and didn’t have those fountains and whatnot they’ve got now, no kids playing there during the day in those days. All pre the Commonwealth you see, before they scrubbed it all up nice and posh. And there was this little Indian just down towards the station, and I think they’d decided to stay open to get the football money but I reckon they thought it was getting a bit much so they started to shut up. Just a bit out of where the police were on their horses and stuff. Anyway it’s one of them, you know when you look back and you think five minutes either way and it would all have been ok, but it wasn’t so it wasn’t, y’know? Just like that. Young girl, couldn’t really tell she was pregnant but apparently she was, wasn’t she? I mean, I say young but she was about 22, 24, something- 24? Right oh. But yeah, so not that young. I wasn’t much older than that, back then, hah. Anyway, so she just pops out to pull the shutters down when these skinheads come round the corner. I mean, I know they’re not really skinheads unless they’ve got the DMs and stuff but you know what I mean. Just hooligans, as they used to call them. And they spot this lass and start having a go, saying they want a curry, and being really racist, like I’ve got no problem with the Pakis myself, because you can’t round here. Some of them are nice and some of them are bastards. There’s lots of young Paki lads around now who try and give the world back what they thought they’d got, but truth is I don’t reckon they’d be like that if it was as racist as it used to be. Used to be right nasty round here. But these lads, they were proper having it, and she tries to get inside but they grab her like, on the arm and stuff, so she’s trying to stay calm before but that does it and she’s struggling and screaming and her dad comes out and he’s just this little old fella, you know, doesn’t speak English very well, and that’s when it all kicks off.
You got any more of this coffee? Quite nice in here isn’t it?
So, yeah, her dad goes down on the floor, kosh on the head, bang, sack of spuds. Sickening it was. Ever seen someone get hit? Like, really hit, where they get socked cold and just lays there bleeding and you’re not sure whether they’re out or just laying still? Too dark to tell from where I was but he wasn’t moving, and then later it turns out he was dead, yeah? And that young lass is screaming as well and she’s struggling and so they start smacking her around too. And, you know, maybe I should have done summat but I didn’t, I just hid there and watched it, ‘cept when my eyes were closed, and they were sometimes because it got proper bad. She was just cryin’ now and these lads were shoutin all kinds of proper nasty stuff and hittin her, and she started losin her clothes as they all pulled them offa her, and this one lad drops his kecks and, well, you know what happened, don’t need me to go into details, but honest my eyes weren’t closed for that, you can’t look away. Couldn’t see it in, like, technicolor or anything but it was almost worse, that way, just saw the back of this lad and his shiny white arse in the streetlight, so everything’s orange, bit of green from the shop sign – huh, I can still see it, y’know? Orange and green and a bit of white. White from the traffic headlights. Couple of taxis and a bus went by. They didn’t stop to help, but I was there and I didn’t help either. People don’t help each other. And so I’m looking and you can hear the shouting and cursing and still somewhere under there you just hear this poor girl sobbing her heart out and asking them to stop. But he doesn’t, and suddenly there’s blue lights because someone in the shop must have called the police. And they scarper, but not before the one of them’s given her a few more smacks to finish her off and another’s shived her or something, because she screams a bit more but then goes down and doesn’t make no more sounds that I can hear.
And then it’s all police and ambulances and chasing and shouting and police tape, and I’m rounded up and shouted at in the cells a bit and I try to give them what I can and they ask me, why didn’t you help, and I say there was ten of them and one of me and I didn’t want to end up like that fella or that girl, and there you are like I say it’s not nice, I don’t think that makes me a good person, probably makes me a terrible person, but there it is and I’m not sure many people’d do different in my situation.
And they get the guy who does it, eventually, but nobody knows who really held the knife or anything so they don’t get banged up for much, and later on it all kicked off again, din it? That’s when I moved away, got meself down to London for a bit. Too fucking harsh up here it was, for a while.
What’s that? Explain it?
That’s takin the piss that is mate. You can’t explain the way people behave. I know the score, I’ve been drinking myself to sleep for twenty years now, and I’m not going to last another ten, I reckon. Bits falling off me all over the place. I’ve seen a lot but I’ll never be able to explain any of it. Not with yer psychology or social workers blaming the parents or talking about culture or anything. Ya can’t explain it. Just tell it like it is if anyone wants to know, like you.
Aye, well, true. That’s them though. And you, I guess, but you’ll have a job.
Nah, I’m gonna finish up my coffee. Nice talking to you though.
I fell asleep talking to my girlfriend long-distance. There’s nothing stranger than waking up at 4 AM, with digit face and hearing her snoring at the other end of a phone.
I remember (well, remember isn’t the right word) August 19th. I was getting my kids into their PJs, and suddenly it was bright and early August 20th.
I’d lost nights before, but those were in the early 80s. College.
But the nippers were clean and sober, and I was pretty close, so the night shouldn’t have disappeared. But it did for me, just as it did for pretty much everyone. Oh sure, you know the basics … no video cameras (remember those?) recorded anything. Clocks just jumped from 8:15 pm to 6:37 am on the 20th.
As we all know, Astronomers quickly proved that the earth was where it should be that morning. If time had jumped, then the Earth acted as nothing had happened.
And that was the general consensus, you know. We hit a big old intergalactic puddle of nothing, and spent nearly half a day lazily working through it.
Lots of theories on why nothing happened when it did. Aliens wiped our memory, the baseball commissioner’s doomsday weapon malfunctioned, and other wacky theories. Myself, I think its “Dark Time” (to go with Dark Matter and Dark Energy). The universe has an ether, it’s just not everywhere.
And it smells suspiciously like a bong hit.
Let me put it like this. Squirrels, right? We all know squirrels, we all love squirrels. Fuzzy little guys who store nuts and look cute scampering up branches. And that’s how I thought of them. So imagine the surprise when you find out that, really, it’s all just a front, and that whole looking cute thing? It’s a cover for spying on us. Turns out that squirrel aliens have been running the whole world for decades, and nobody knows a thing. Except me, and the best I can say to that is, imagine finding out that a Monstrous World Conspiracy actually IS being run from your back yard. I suppose I could tell you about the penguins, and the velocirabbits, and most of all Vegas, but you know what they say: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
I remember August, 1994.
It began with the butterflies. Now, Mickey would say it began later that week, began when Steve started making really poor decisions, the 19th I think. That is because Mickey, like everyone I ran with in those days, lacked foresight. See, the week was warm like dry ice, like torches. Little bodies broke right out of their spun shells, sticky wings dried, and the air became beautiful. Damn birds always wake me up, but that week, in the beginning, it was a hush that woke me. Like when snow first falls and the world takes a deep breath. Birds must have been too full of bugs to sing those mornings cause the air was silent and full of falling, flying colors. I saw in a movie once that a butterfly flapping wings could cause a whole hurricane on the other side of the world. That is just one butterfly. We had hundreds, maybe thousands. I watched them from the sunporch as they coated everything in soundless fuzzy brilliance. Maybe it is just fanciful hindsight, but I think now I can recall exactly the one that lifted off, the one who’s fluttering caused it all. That week was magic, full of life and sunlight. Then, maybe cause of that one blue, green, gray dusty shining wingbeat, the week ended in a mess. It was perfect, and then Steve stabbed a guy.
August 19…oh, no you don’t. I’m not falling for that one again, pal.
August 19th, 1994
It seems I wrote that date a hundred years ago, but it was only this morning. My journal, my ritual.
I think I’m as safe as I can get. I’ve never ran so far and so long in my life. My lungs feel like I inhaled napalm and my legs simply won’t work any more. I might have travelled eight, maybe ten miles. Who knows in the dark. The cloud cover has blocked all of the moonlight now, and the glow from the city is too far away to think about reaching. I’ve got to wait it out here.
My hands are shaking so bad. I can barely hold the notebook, let alone try and write.
I swear I didn’t know it would kill to keep itself secret. I didn’t even think it was real. When we heard the crashing in the brush and the growling, I thought it was pranksters. Someone pranking us, the pranksters. Someone getting a good one over on US. Then the smell hit and I knew that everyone was right and WE were wrong and the damn thing was real. I turned long enough to see it holding Jim up by the face – one huge hand covering his whole face and the thing had it’s arm straight out and Jim’s feet were waving above the ground and then it squeezed and Jesus I heard the wet splop as Jim’s skull gave way… and then it looked at me.
I never looked back. I just ran. I must have fallen fifty times, each time certain it was right on top of me. I heard it coming but the sound got fainter and fainter. Maybe it gave up. Maybe it lost my track.
My flashlight is starting to fail. I’m not even sure where I am. Somewhere miles from our camp, close to the river. I can still hear the river on the left. I don’t know if it’s north or south or which way I went. I can’t catch my breath, I’m afraid it will hear me breathing. I’ve got to be quiet, I’ve got to try and listen and stay awake and wait for daylight.
If someone finds this, I’m sorry for Jim. I’m sorry for the pain we caused everyone. It was supposed to be a stupid joke.
The forest plays tricks on my ears. I hear it coming from one direction, from another direction. I wish I had a gun. A knife. Anything. Still so dark.
Flashlight out. Probably best.
Dear God I can smell
On the night of August 19, 1994 the lobster I was boiling alive asked me to stop. His English was pretty good, considering. He clacked at the sides of the pot with his rubber-banded claws, sometimes I thought for emphasis and sometimes out of irritation. Or maybe just for the hell of it; I don’t know. He told me, in his rather thick crustacean accent, that he was a diplomat and therefore had culinary immunity. Besides, he’d passed through Boston Harbor and probably wasn’t safe to eat. He said he was headed to Washington on an urgent mission from the Nephropidae Realms when had stopped off for a snack at a little roadside shack and, well, ended up boiling alive in my pot. He wouldn’t give me specifics about his mission, only that it concerned unrest in the deep trenches and a general aquatic dissatisfaction with the behavior of those of us living on land. He said he was trying to avert all-out interspecies war. He said he was the King’s favorite nephew.
He was delicious.
And, as you are well aware, it turns out he wasn’t lying. My bad.
“All flesh is from the evil one,” said the scientists of the immortal Gnostic cabal.
Still, for love and secret memories of im-Perfect loved ones of long ago, that night they saved us all from the encroaching ice.
And wiped our memories and made us worry about Global Warming.
1994? Does anyone even honestly remember what they were doing in that year? It’s not like blogs existed back then for people to write down what they were doing. (Though checking one’s archives would make this task much easier.)
Let’s see. 1994. I was 12. It was summer and . . . yep. That’s all I got.
There, Scalzi: it was summer back on August 19, 1994. Is that good enough for you and your little schemes?
Fucking Internet. Why couldn’t you have existed 14 years ago?
On the night of August 19, 1994, scientists activated the Amnesia Device for the first time.
I’d love to tell you the rest of the story, but I can’t remember.
I found this written in one of my journals in my handwriting, but I don’t remember writing it:
I’m starting this diary as a record should we not make it out alive to tell the tail. On August 19, 1994, My husband was working the overnights at the science center –when they let school groups, the Boy Scouts and other organizations stay overnight in the place and participate in especially designed science programs, eat pizza and cake and try to stay up all night –like any other Friday. My husband made sure they didn’t get into any trouble or break anything and would wake up their chaperones if one of them did or got too sick on too much pizza and (soda) pop. He’d come home in the morning and fall into bed. My daughter and I would have a girls night in. She was eight and was picking from the family/kid section of movies for rent from our local Blockbuster. I usually rented a musical. We’d get a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and “camp out” in the master bedroom watching her movie first and then mine. But this night, we never got to my musical. The phone rang, it was my husband with a short but clear message, “Get to Pete’s place as fast as you can.” Pete was a friend whose hobby was collecting firearms. And he was well versed in how to use them. I remember seeing a flash shortly before the phone rang and feeling the house shake. I gathered up some clothes for the three of us along with the emergency bin and water and hoped my husband would be able to meet us there. Pete’s was less than ten miles away but I had no idea what was between us and his place. Thankfully, my daughter had a habit of falling asleep five minutes into a drive anywhere (even to the local grocery store). She was spared the gruesome scene of destruction and mayhem. It took me four hours to weave my way to Pete’s place among the burned out buildings, bodies, and debris strewn across and sometimes blocking the roads and we were on the least affected side of the city. It turns out that the North side, where the science center was located, was nearly leveled. How my husband found a working phone in those days, I’ll never know. In the end, he found a boat to cross the river as the bridges were destroyed in the vicinity and took several days to find Pete’s place on foot from where he was. When I arrived at Pete’s, it was barricaded as expected and I had to remember the secret word that we had jokingly talked about months before when the astronomers had first announced the unidentified object heading toward our galaxy. It was big news when it was first announced but then all news of it kind of tapered off. Most people just plain forgot about it. But Pete was prepared. He was always prepared for something. I think we were among the last people Pete let in –and my husband, of course, when he eventually made it. After they destroyed what they could of our infrastructure, they waited. In most cases it took a week or two before supplies and clean water forced the surviving population into the open and on the move. We lasted about a month, rationing what Pete had laid in and what I was able to cart across town and by raiding nearby empty buildings and stores that weren’t destroyed. Water wasn’t so easy to come by but Pete had some sanitizing tablets and we were able to make potable water in batches. Then the sweeps came. The bugs have a device that helps them detect remaining life forms. In some cases they coax out the poor saps with promises of food. Where they get taken, too, we don’t want to find out. About a week after the first attack, we started digging a deep shelter in Pete’s basement. By the time the sweeps started, we were able to fit most of us in the hole squeezed together. We seem to be fairly effective in escaping their detection but we are running out of food.
I think this may be the last entry I’ll be able to make. We’ve decided to try to make a run for it out of the city and we’ll have to travel as light as possible. We’ve got enough food for a few days and we’re going to travel in small groups and meet up at an agreed upon point outside the city.
How did you find out anything happened that night? I know for a fact the body is still where I buried it.
I was quietly fondling my manhood in what I thought was the safety of my Quansdayle, Kansas trailer, and for some reason I wondered what it would be like to be reborn as a woman.
About 30 seconds before I really got going, my psycho ex-girlfriend showed up, blasting through the door with some kind of enlarged magical cosmetic device, screaming something about how the moon will punish me.
These days I think it was poetic justice. I thought differently back then, mind you, when I had to go shopping for bras and then that time of the month showed up.
There were benefits, however. Skirts, for instance. I’ll never wear slacks again.
I’m pretty well-adjusted these days; new friends, a new look on life, even if I do read a lot of yaoi manga and have a predilection towards pretty boys. And realizing that what I want is simply: pretty boys. That was a new one, six years ago.
But sometimes August 19th, 1994, comes back to haunt me. My girlfriends seek solace in ice cream; I can only seek it in bacon.
Isn’t that the day the music died?
The launch party for beerandhookers.com, a new fishing website, was busted up by the Des Moines vice squad, due to some kind of humorous misunderstanding. The website never went live, the IPO flopped, and my 10000 shares aren’t worth enough to buy a mass-market paperback.
August 20th, 1994, interestingly, is the day I realized that cashing out my 401(k) wasn’t such a good idea and that I’ll be working until I’m 102 before I can retire.
It is August 19th, 1994. You are asleep. You die.
You wake up as a hospital bed. The lights are out, curtains drawn.
You hear voices, the squeal of shoes on linoleum, the anguished cry of pain. The door bursts open and a gurney gets wheeled in. Blood is running down the gurney frame towards the whee–
You are a gypsum sheet. Paint covers you. You’re screwed to wood studs and taped together with other gypsum sheets. The ceiling presses dow–
You are a daisy. You are in a vase on a table. The water is cool on your foot. Your co–
Your eyes open. Surprised to be alive, you see yourself in a gurney in a hospital room. There’s a single daisy in a vase on the table.
You close your eyes. You open them. Above you is darkness. The air is stuffy and hot. A scraping sound comes from the darkness. Light pours in suddenly as a door is opened. Two hands grab y–
You see a human. You are hungry, and they will taste good, so you run towards th–
(And I must say this is/was a really cool idea. Obviously, considering what I’ve done.)
On August 19th, 1994 a teenage boy with a heavily modded Packard-Bell 386 computer, took over the world. First he hacked into all the banks, then the satellites and all other forms of communication. One would be amazed what can be done with 500 hours of free online acces from AOL.
We are all currently in a state of suspended animation; buried in a cavern under his parent’s house. He is living off the remaining supply of Twinkies and Ding Dongs.
I went to bed early that evening and slept through the night. I believe I dreamed of electric sheep. Care to try a Turing te+++ Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot +++
 If you quote ‘im, you must have a footnote.
Jeez, that again? Can we stop bringing that up and focus on the ISSUES, people?!
That afternoon, the sky was so blue you could taste it. Patty and I lay in the grass, staring up at the sky.
That’s when we saw it, a streak of green and orange light, falling across the sky with a low rumble and moan. Falling towards town.
When it hit, there was a flash brighter than the sun, then as the fireball lifted we could see a ring of dust running out along the ground. When the ground shock hit, it bounced us both several feet in the air, and then as we picked ourselves up the air shock arrived like a mile-wide tornado. Somehow we held on to each other through the tumbling terror and whipping cornstalks as the wind blew us through the fields. Then it was over. We sat up, shaking dust and ears of corn off.
Town was gone. Our folks were gone. There was a huge smoking crater, and inside it was a hundred-meter tall glowing blue… bear?
“My god,” Patty said, “It’s them.”
I didn’t get it. She finally turned to me. “The Care Bears are back, Peter,” she said. “They’re back. They’re back.” She fell sobbing into my arms as the unearthly roar rose in the distance.
August 19, 1994
The long, dark night of fate.
I sit by the table in the dark,
Staring at the cup in front of me.
The cup half-full; the bottle next to it two-thirds empty.
My body relaxed; my mind too.
Sweating in the hot, humid night.
Settled in the chair, arms slumped over the table,
I consider the cup; I contemplate the bottle.
I reach over to the cup, but hesitate.
My hand moves towards the bottle, but stops short.
My mouth is dry, but I do not wet it.
I wait, hoping for some insight.
Transcendence eludes me. No light bulb turns on.
How did I get here? Who am I?
My breaths slow and I feel drowsy.
Finally, a light in the distance.
Some say I died; some say I dreamed.
Some think I am mad.
Who can truly know?
If I died, I would tell you:
Veni, vidi, vici.
If I dreamed, did I ever wake?
If I am mad, are you really here?
If you can read this, enlightenment is yours.
On that fateful night, I found truth.
The truth is I Am.
I accidentally killed myself by removing the breathing straws inserted through the latex in a movie prop-making procedure. But it’s okay. I was later quasi-resurrected by aliens, who used me to make first contact at the Oscars.
I believe that August 19, 1994, was a minor milestone in my life, though it certainly didn’t seem like it at the time. This is even true.
It was a dull Friday night during the summer following my first year in grad school. It was a rough time in my life. Most of my friends were otherwise engaged on that Friday night. My two closest friends had recently started dating two best friends, so the four of them were off elsewhere that night. Another was home doing his reserve two weeks, still another with his fiancee. At this point I had no girlfriend and no desire to go drinking on my own. Basically I had nothing to do, all by myself, so I decided to install the software and modem (14.4 – blazing fast!) to hook onto the Blacksburg Electronic Village and, from there, the information superhighway, as it was called in those days.
I seem to recall some difficulty but, since there was nothing else on my plate, I eventually got signed on and got Netscape (or maybe it was Mosaic back then?) to run. I looked at many sites, clicked around, and played with usenet. I don’t think it amounted to much because, like I said, I didn’t think much of it then. But for the first time I was really on the internet.
What occurred on the night of August 19, 1994 was the cumulation of all events since the Big Bang. That is why it happened.
Many people have posted on forums, written print-on-demand books, and rambled to anyone who would listen about what happened that night. The theories range from the mundane to the outlandish, and encompass everything from Altlantis to Xenu.
They are all wrong.
Of the night of August 19, 1994….this is known for sure:
The 1992 blue Ford Festiva that was discovered in the City Park fountain *did* materialize out of thin air in a crackle of lightning as witnesses describe.
The deceased driver of the vehicle *was* former president William Howard Taft, and those *were* Krispy Kreme donuts on the passenger seat.
The glowing device that those on the scene say was emitting a blue glow and a high-pitched hum *was* a time machine, courtesy of Nikola Tesla.
The United States Government *has* possessed the technology to travel in time since the early 1900’s. The device, which is surprisingly compact, has rarely been used for the “history altering” activities that science-fiction novelists have proposed. In this case, it allowed the rotund ex-president to satisfy his craving for frosted baked goods, which had been introduced to him by the 42nd president during an earlier visit. Sadly, his robust physique was not prepared for the processed sugars of the 21st Century. One can only imagine the profound sensation of traveling through a time-space vortex *while* having a heart attack.
And now you know.
August 19, 1994 was the day that the Wild Hunt began to storm through New York City, until it realized that it was no match for the US Army with its tanks and fighter jets—and certainly not against General Tom “No Shanks” Bank, a ping pong ball, a piece of string, and more gas than was burnt by the WB dynasty in Kuwait all together.
Over a decade has passed. And we are sleeping sound, these years when Perchta has lain silent, buried by the ashes of brick and iron.
But soon, I warn you. They’ll be back. Yes, iron is their bane—but they are here, guilelessly leading us on with developments in nanotechnology. Miracles will happen in nano-graphite: stronger than iron, stronger than spells. Our doom is not spelt by atomic weapons or by ecological havoc wreaked by our own hand, but by endlessly reproducing nano-fairies, consuming the earth until all is but one gray land under the master of the Hunt.
Or, you know, I could just have taken my meds.
Dear John Scalzi,
By the time you read this email, I would have traveled back in time to change the events of August 19, 1994. So everything you’ve been reading about that day? So not going to happen.
You know, I’m really sorry about that night.
It would have been a first, you know. I mean, the first time humanity realized it wasn’t alone in the universe, for better or worse. But instead you all thought it was one giant, impressive hoax.
They were tiny, and fuzzy, and looked like intelligent teddy bears.
They also smelled like tuna.
And I was hungry.
Look, I left you some, all right? It’s not my fault you thought they were mice.
Reason left us that morning like an escaping one-night stand, leaving us with nothing but the smell of his aftershave—a simple two-note blend: a base of burnt flesh and overtones of ash.
Justice left us soon after, like an enraged spouse who has had too much of our lying, cheating ways. Her perfume smelled of bitter grapes mixed with the final rotting stages of fall leaves turning into peat.
And we were left with War: the motorcycle boyfriend we thought was fun and different, the odor of axle grease and leather filling our noses and making us giddy like monkeys on nitrous oxide.
We had no one else.
So we made the best of it.
What happened? What happened? You ask me what happened?
More like what didn’t happen.
I really must drag out the cadaver and body part jars again. I’m itching to try it again, with commercial injectable nanites this time around.
I’ll miss the lightening, though…. but you wouldn’t believe my electricity bill after the storm machine burned through East London.
the cats did it
This was going to be the best explanation ever. But it is 4 minutes too late, and now nobody will know the truth.
It was third email I’d ever sent.
I’d already experienced the first thrill, the first uncertainly, the first reply. It was kind of like dropping mail in a post box. (You do know what a post box is, don’t you?) Anyway, you can’t help the slight irrational anxiety, that little nag, when you drop the mail in and close the door – squeak, clank – and wonder if it went alright. You look, just to check. You always have to check. Anything can happen to those neat, heavy envelopes once the door closes.
But with email, there’s no door, there’s no heavy thunk of metal-on-metal. You just have to trust it all went okay. Hell, back then, there wasn’t even a beep. You just pressed send and then … nothing.
So I was a regular veteran of email by Friday, August 19th, 1994. I’d sent out two emails already, and gotten replies. It really fuckin’ worked. I could talk to anyone (sort of) anywhere in the world (sort of) and they would (sort of) get it right away! How cool is that?
Well, you got to really test this new medium, you know? You’ve got to kick the tires, rev the engine, pump the brakes. I sent emails all morning. I sent one to Bill Gates, asked him what 1001011 means. I sent one to George Bush, said to get a job already. I sent a couple to Snoopy and Woodstock, thanked them for showing me the Van Gogh and told them to save me a root beer. I even sent one to myself.
That’s the one … that was the kicker. It was something pretty inane, real silly: Hey, man, what’s going on? Click, send, nothing. Then I wrote to Bill, and George, and Joe Cool: nothing, nothing, nothing. Until about 9:30 that night, and ‘myself’ wrote back.
As you can imagine, he had a lot to say, a lot of advice. Parts of it were pretty damn specific. I mean, how the hell did he know about … well, I never told anyone, that’s the point. No one could fucking know, man, is what I was thinking.
So I took his advice, just a few things at first. Just to test it out, you know? Kick the tires.
It was all spot on. Everything I could possibly want to know about, for the next dozen years or so, right there on my computer screen. Okay, okay, that’s not completely true. The stocks were spot on, at least, and a couple of lottery numbers. “Don’t go to New York on September 11th,” and all that. But that thing about Judy Whitmeyer he totally screwed me on. I never should have done that. The prick really got me good there: hook, line, and friggin’ row boat.
Anyway, you can pretty much guess the rest. I don’t have to spell it out for you. It’s been a wild ride. But I do have to go now. I’m expecting an email, you see, a very important email. I’ve already got my favorite line all planned out: “About two years from now, fourth of July party, you’ll see Judy again, and she’ll be so into you. Forget what Chuck told you the day before … that chick totally digs you. Go for it.”
Heh. He has no idea.
Never forget. And never let them know you remember.
The rain has faded into a persistent, slow falling mist that leaves condensation forming on stubble and lint. On a close, wet street the submissions are lined up at the door to a shop. A shop badly in need of a good cleaning, a good polishing of furniture and trim and windows.
A story shop, with a sign in one window that says, “What happened on August 19th, 1994? Tell me and stories shall be yours. But only one of you shall hear these stories.”
That is what the submissions are there for. Each wonders, am I good enough to earn those stories? Shall I be clever enough, insightful enough, entertaining enough, disturbing enough?
They wait with anticipation, both those who arrived early, and those who came after the “end of the line” sign was placed. All hope. Some with a gut twisting desperation. Some are just there on a lark. Others are certain they will be the one.
They wait. Wait for the goblin child to appear in the shop window with her three familiars. Wait for the woman with her unfailing patience and apt hand at herding cats and goblins. Wait for the man, the shop keeper, the story teller to announce his choice. To reveal the recipient of the stories he has promised. And in each mind there is one question. But a single conundrum, a solitary puzzlement.
How much will I get for it on Ebay?
Thanks everyone for playing — I’ll post the winner soon.
Oh, bum. Entry 191 “The years” should be “Three years.”
So And Youll, a lower risk?Any business as, yet offers numerous.Court grants an, need both love.Freephone numbers that dream teeth, and I To get large.In high quantities, balls and various.,
More discerning as, lowered metabolism That?Learn Start just, may cause perverted.You want an, to the instructions.Fashion statement Some simple regression, on giftsInstead of and ensures that.Of consciousness Alter, as $ and.,