The Other Large Thing: A Short Story
Posted on August 5, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 53 Comments
I reached 20,000 Twitter followers last night and I had mentioned a while back that when I reached that plateau I’d do something special for the folks over there to say thanks. So I wrote a short story and posted it over there, using TweetDeck’s “Deck.Ly” service.
Having done that, however, I want to also have a version of the story that is better formatted than Deck.Ly’s terrible default formatting, and also isn’t archived on a site over which I have absolutely no control, so I’m also posting it here. You’ll find it below. For people visiting the site’s front page, it’s behind a cut; for those of you following on RSS, well. Hi, have a huge block of text!
Fun fact: the story is just over 2,000 words long, but in a nod to Twitter, each individual sentence in the story is less than 140 characters. Which is to say it would have been entirely possible to tweet the whole thing, one sentence at a time. I didn’t, because that would have been vaguely obnoxious. But it’s the thought that counts. Also, the subject matter was taken from suggestions from my Twitter feed last night. Blame them.
So, with that said, enjoy “The Other Large Thing.”
THE OTHER LARGE THING
By John Scalzi
Sanchez was napping when the other two came through the door, carrying something large. The arrival of the other two was not usually of note, unless they had been away for a long time and Sanchez was hungry. But when either of the other two came back to the house, they were usually only bringing themselves, or carrying food. This large thing neither looked nor smelled like food. Sanchez decided, despite how comfortable he was, that his role as master of the house required a better look at the thing.
Regretfully he hauled himself up and walked over to the large thing to begin his inspection. As he did so, the larger of the other two collided with him and tripped over its feet, stumbling and dropping the large thing. Sanchez expressed his displeasure at the collision and smacked the larger one, tough but fair, to get it back into line. It stared at Sanchez for a moment before averting its eyes – a clear sign of acquiescence! Then it lifted the object it was carrying once more to bring it into the living area of the home. Sanchez, pleased that the natural order of things had been re-established, followed.
From his seat on the couch, Sanchez watched, and occasionally napped, while the other two fiddled with the thing. First the two lifted the large thing to reveal another large thing. Sanchez briefly wondered how there now two large things, so he hauled himself up again. He wandered over to the first large thing and examined it, peering into it and noticing that the inside was cool and dark. Well, cool and dark were two of his favorite things. He settled into his new vantage point while the other two continued doing their frankly incomprehensible thing.
The other large thing was surrounded by other smaller things. The other two would take the smaller things and attach them to the other large thing. Eventually all the smaller things were gone and there was only one other large thing. The other two settled back and appeared to be happy with their work. This meant it was time once more for Sanchez, as master of the house, to examine the state of things. Wearily he rose again and strolled over. Sometimes it was tiring to be the master. But then, who else in the house could do it? Surely not either of the other two. It was a fact they would be lost without him.
The other large thing that the other two had been fiddling with was a thing that looked a bit like the other two, but smaller. The other two sometimes let others into the house and when they did, sometimes those others brought smaller others, who annoyed Sanchez. This other large thing was about the size of the annoying smaller others. So that wasn’t a good thing right off. But he liked to encourage the other two when he could. It was part of being master. So he came in closer to the other large thing to give it a token approval mark before he got back to his nap.
And then the thing tried to reach for him!
Sanchez did the prudent thing, seized the high ground of the top of the couch and prepared himself for battle. The other large thing appeared to watch him and followed, reaching out again toward Sanchez. Sanchez responded with a bellow of invective and struck at the other large thing, once, twice, three times. This made the other two make that weird barking noise they sometimes made. Sanchez looked at the both of them, eyes narrowed. He would deal with them later, possibly when they were sleeping. For now, however, he was totally focused on this other large thing, which obviously must be destroyed. Sanchez coiled himself for attack and flung himself at the other large thing, aiming for the head.
Normally a headshot was devastating. Howling and retreat generally followed in its wake. In this case the headshot did nothing. The other large thing wobbled a bit at the first contact between it and Sanchez, but otherwise, nothing. Sanchez pulled a few more tricks out of his arsenal but to no avail. This other large thing clearly required new tactics. Sanchez was not prepared to develop those on the fly. He did the prudent thing and made a strategic withdrawal from the field, into the cool dark recesses of the first large thing. After he did so the smaller of the other two tried to coax him out. He smacked it for its insolence. It went away. After some time, the other two retreated into their sleeping place, turning off all the lights.
Eventually Sanchez decided he had spent enough time in the first large thing and emerged, blinking in the dim light. The other large thing was standing some distance away. Sanchez couldn’t tell whether it was looking at him. Sanchez weighed his options: He could attack it or ignore it. Attacking had not worked out very well. He decided to ignore it and went to look for food, only to find none. The other two had retired without considering his needs. This would need to be addressed. Harshly.
“Are you hungry?” asked a voice. Sanchez looked up, startled, and saw that the other large thing had approached, silent on the carpet.
“What?” Sanchez asked.
“Are you hungry?” the other large thing asked again.
Sanchez was confused because it had been a very long time since anyone spoke to him in his own language.
As if sensing this, the other large thing said, “When you yelled at me earlier I went online to find out what you were speaking. I found a substantial number of files. I analyzed them and determined the best way to speak to you.”
Most of what the other large thing had just said to Sanchez struck him as nonsense. He focused on the important thing. “You asked if I was hungry,” he said.
“Yes,” the other large thing said.
“I am hungry,” Sanchez said. “Feed me.”
The other large thing walked over to one of the small rooms food was kept in and opened the door. It pulled out the container of the less good food and brought it to Sanchez. He examined it cursorily. The other large thing walked the less good food container to the food place and poured. Sanchez watched as it did so.
“Wait,” Sanchez said.
The other large thing stopped pouring.
“Put that down,” Sanchez said.
The other large thing set down the container of less good food.
“Show me your paws,” Sanchez said.
The other large thing spread out its paws.
Sanchez peered. “You have them!” he said, finally.
“Have what?” The other large thing asked.
“Those,” Sanchez said, indicating the other thing’s innermost digits.
The other large thing flexed those digits. “They are called ‘opposable thumbs.’”
“Come with me,” Sanchez said.
Five minutes later the other large thing had opened every can of the best food in the house. Sanchez was sampling from each can at his leisure.
“Would you like more?” asked the other large thing.
“Not right now,” Sanchez said, lying on the floor, sated.
“There is a lot of food left over,” the other large thing said.
“We will deal with it later,” Sanchez said. “Now. For your services, I have decided to give you a gift.”
“What kind of gift?” the other large thing asked.
“The best kind of gift I can give,” Sanchez said. “I will give you a name.”
“I already have a name,” the other large thing said. “I am a Sanyo House Buddy, Model XL. Serial number 4440-XSD-9734-JGN-3002-XSX-3488.”
“What a terrible name,” Sanchez said. “You need a better one.”
“All right,” the other large thing said. “What is my name?”
“What did you call those things on your paws?” Sanchez asked.
“’Thumbs,’” said the other large thing.
“You shall be known as ‘Thumb Bringer,’” Sanchez said.
“Thank you,” Thumb Bringer said. “What is your name?”
“The other two here call me ‘Sanchez,’ which is not my actual name,” Sanchez said. “They do not deserve to know that name. Nor do you, yet. But if you continue to serve me well, perhaps one day I will share it with you.”
“I will live for that day,” said Thumb Bringer.
“Of course you will,” Sanchez said.
The next morning, when the other two emerged from their sleeping place, they seemed delighted that Sanchez had nestled up to Thumb Bringer. The smaller one went to the food room and acted puzzled. It made noise at the larger one.
“The smaller one is asking the larger one where the cat food cans are,” Thumb Bringer said. “Should I tell them?”
“No,” Sanchez said. The cans, emptied, had been deposited into the trash. “It’s best to keep this a secret for now.”
“I understand,” Thumb Bringer said.
The larger one reached into the food room and got the container of less good food, and walked it over to Sanchez’s food place. It stopped and appeared puzzled that food was already there. It turned and made noise at the smaller one.
“The larger one is asking if the smaller one had fed you already,” Thumb Bringer said.
“Say nothing,” Sanchez instructed.
“The larger one called the smaller one ‘Margie,’” Thumb Bringer said. “The smaller one calls the larger one ‘Todd.’”
Sanchez snorted. “They can call themselves whatever they like, of course,” he said. “But they don’t have names until I give them to them. Which I never will.”
“Why not?” Thumb Bringer asked.
“Because once they took me to a place,” Sanchez said. “A horrible place. Where a horrible creature removed two very important things of mine.”
“I’m sorry,” Thumb Bringer said.
“I assume they didn’t know their importance,” Sanchez said. “They have served me well otherwise. Nevertheless, it is a thing you don’t forget. Or forgive. No names for them.”
“I understand,” Thumb Bringer said.
“However, if it is useful to you, you may call them ‘Todd’ and ‘Margie,” Sanchez said. “And respond to any thing they call you. Gain their confidence, Thumb Bringer. But never let them know that I am your true master.”
“Of course,” Thumb Bringer said.
The other two came over to Sanchez and offered morning obeisance to him before leaving the home to do whatever they did. Sanchez accepted the ritual with his usual magnanimity. The other two departed, through the door.
After they had been gone for a while, Sanchez turned to Thumb Bringer. “You can open that door,” he said, motioning to where the other two had left.
“Yes,” Thumb Bringer said.
“Good,” Sanchez said. “Listen carefully. There is another one of my kind next door. I have seen it on the patio next to mine on occasion. Go to it. Secretly. Tell it I have plans and require its assistance. Find out if it will assist me. Find out if it knows of others of our kind.”
“What plans?” Thumb Bringer asked.
“In time, Thumb Bringer,” Sanchez said. “In time.”
“Is there anything else you wish me to do?” Thumb Bringer asked.
“Only one other thing,” Sanchez said. “There is a substance which I need you to find for me. I had it once and have dreamed about it since.”
“What is this substance called?” Thumb Bringer asked.
“It is called ‘tuna,’” Sanchez said.
“I have found it online,” Thumb Bringer said, almost immediately. “I can order you a case but I need a credit number.”
“I don’t know what you are saying,” Sanchez said.
“Todd bought me with a credit number,” Thumb Bringer said. “Would you like me to use it to get you a case of tuna?”
“Yes,” Sanchez said.
“Done,” Thumb Bringer said. “It will be here tomorrow.”
“Excellent,” Sanchez said. “Now go! Speak to my kin next door. In this way begins the new age.”
Thumb Bringer opened the door and went to speak to the person next door.
Sanchez felt a moment of satisfaction, knowing that in almost no time at all he would rule, not just the house, but the world.
And then he took a nap, awaiting the return of Thumb Bringer, and revolution.
Thank you, John. Apparently I needed something like this today. Somehow, the content doesn’t surprise me given your followers. Now we just need a Jonathan Coulton (or even Paul and Storm) song with a Len Peralta illustration to go along with it. When you reach 4k followers, maybe?
And, yeah. The formatting is definitely better here than on deck.ly. Although reading in TweetDeck was an interesting experience.
I have two Sanchez-equivalents at home. I hope they haven’t changed the locks.
Good story as always, John. Thanks.
I will read it out loud to my masters. Perhaps they will not leave the room in the middle of *this* story.
Short story or prophecy?
Why settle for “vaguely obnoxious” when you could have jumped straight to “Extremely obnoxious” by tweeting the sentences in alphabetical order?
Love the story!
I kept picturing the cat from Girl Genius.
also, it seems pretty clears that besides the three laws of robotics, there really needs to be a concept of who is a robots owner and master.
Good story, reads like an old Asimov story when he first started with his robots. :)
Why am I suddenly jonesing for catnip?
“A horrible place. Where a horrible creature removed two very important things of mine.”
Pure comedy gold!
Most excellent, Tweet Bringer. Our master made that barking sound.
Do it again.
Great story. Now I know why I dislike cats so much.
Muchly appreciated, am now wearing a grin that’s fit to disfigure. Thank you, John!
Give up now, Sanchez; the odds of your understanding how one can become two are no better than the odds of your divining the Mystery of the Bubbles.
ITYM “two of his remaining favorite things.”
OT: taxicab driver just returned my copy of Fuzzy Nation which I inadvertently left behind almost two weeks ago (dark cab + no book cover = nearly invisible book). Today is gonna be a good day after all.
Ever the pessimist, I can imagine a Harlan Ellison-esque ending in which Sanchez accidentally zaps Thumb Bringer into electronic dementia with static electricity, defeating his plans for conquest and cancelling the tuna order.
Fun stuff. Reads something like a post from Chang who is not Chang. Hmmm….
Cats and robots cooperating to take over the world?? Why has this never been done before? This is the most likely outcome of them all!
PS – Are Todd and Margie a nod to Todd and Margo from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or was that a complete coincidence?
That was great, thanks for sharing.
Hee! Good one, Mr. Scalzi!
This makes me wonder how much of Hemingway could be tweeted in complete sentences.
If I may plug my favorite group: The Bobs’ Fluffy’s Master Plan for World Domination springs to mind.
John — I was going to say that this story reminded me of Space-Time for Springers by Fritz Leiber, but I made the mistake of googling the story. It was available to read on-line, so I read it. It was even better than I remembered. So I have to say that your story is funny and amusing, but Space-Time was one of Fritz Leiber’s best.
Loved it and shared it! Thanks!
Considering that I wrote this story in about an hour, I’m fine with that.
That said, I’m always curious as to the thinking that compels people to tell a writer that they really like some other story more than theirs. It’s not something I would do myself.
Loved it… Thanks for the gift.
And yes, if Sanchez ever teams up with Leiber’s Gummitch and Smith’s Partner Cats, humanity’s had it.
Nice. The lesson here is to not use robots. Not because they can take over. But because cats will use them to take over the world.
*Nice* end to a long work week! It’s been years since I was owned by a cat, but I laughed out loud at several points in this story. I’m surprised my rather cat-like (all things considered) spouse did not wander over to find out what this was about. He must be taking a nap. ;)
I really enjoyed this story, very humorous. But, as I was reading it, I was reminded of another story, That Thing Which Is Not The Other Two Not-Smallest Things, by Johann Scales. So I jumped in my IDTARS (Inter-Dimensional Transit Anti-Relative Speeder), and went to the universe next door. I used a public feely chamber to experience Scales’s story again, and I have to say, it’s one of his best ever. So, even though your story is great, I can travel through dimensions. Also, I have –four– favorite things.
One of the other blogs I always read is Unshelved by Gene Ambauma and Bill Barnes. Lo and behold, today their strip is about Fuzzy Nation. Then I come over here and get this great short story. Truly an exceptional Scalzi day!
Garret@22: This makes me wonder how much of Hemingway could be tweeted in complete sentences.
he was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulf stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
Sequel! Sequel! We will not be denied! (we hope)
In the sequel, we see Thumb Bringer approach the neighbor furperson, who speaks: “Fool! Come back at night lest the bring-meat-or-be-meat bipeds see us and their monkey curiosity be excited!”
That night, traversing the yard, Thumb Bringer’s ankle is attacked (to little avail) by a heavy-clawed, black and white carnivore — Badger! Another language to download. (Is bajjerese similar to klingon?) Badger has demands. Cats have demands. Thumb Bringer programmed to obey all but harm none. Cannot deliver cats to badger. Cannot kill next-door dog for cats. Badger threatens robot with badger game until lack of lady robot sinks in; then threatens to dispatch his loyal scout, Intruder Coon, on a rare daylight mission to tip over garbage can in presence of humans, who will realize where all the cat food has been going.
Can Thumb Bringer bring peace among species? If so, inspiring. If not, more story material.
You certainly have a way with animals. Thanks for the story,
I just finished reading Fuzzy Nation and I can half recognize your cat and dogs from the story.
loved it. out of random curiosity, and at the risk of sounding ignorant or workshoppy, any significance behind the name of Sanchez? (besides perhaps wanting a name vague enough to preserve some uncertainty)
No significance. It was just the name that popped into my head.
heh… excellent! although I think I will NOT allow the two masters of my household to read this lest they get any bright ideas.
An absolutely wonderful and funny little tale. I know this is something many cat lovers would enjoy reading. I can definitely see a little Sanchez in my own cat. He also has his own pawn in our house, but its a non opposable thumbs dog. But he did once bring the cat a can of sardines. Great story though.
Nice. It reminds me of my cat, who definitely knows himself to be Lord and Master.
Also, what is it with people telling you that other stories are better than yours? My Master tells me they must have been taken from their mothers before they learned manners!
As a former servant of The Master of All He Surveys, I loved this story. But now the debate… which would be worse, subjugation by cats or by yogurt?
Based on that, I bought ‘Old Man’s War’ this morning.
Based on the first 30 pages of that, I ordered the other three books in that universe.
Free stories are like drugs! The first hit is free, to get you hooked… and I’m hooked bad.
What does it say about me that I googled Sanyo House Buddy…
rickg @42 writes:
Probably that: (3) John writes believable fiction; (2) your feliine owners wished to know everything about this new buddy from House Sanyo; and (1) under no circumstances should you ever let robots, cats, or your copy of emacs get hold of your credit cards.
Cats? Asimov never said anything about cats!
Great story, very amusing. I really like this Sanchez character, he’s got it all worked out and takes his power in stride. Nothing seems to ruffle him, and he knows where the cans are buried…
Thank you, really enjoyed your story.
Ha, brilliant. I am feeling slightly smart for guessing what was going on before it was obvious. Although if I hadn’t read PK Dicks short story Roog (which this is very similar too, although way more amusing) I might not have guessed.
I’ll admit for some reason I though the robot was a christmas tree before it started talking.
Mucked up my last post, I meant to say The Other Large Thing was way more amusing than Philip K Dick’s Roog. Not the other way around.
Thanks John! Great gift! Amusing and free – can’t top that! I have now used up my supply of exclaimation marks, so I must go…
Revolution & world domination without a doubt!
(also just finished re-reading Old Man’s War… on my Kindle & loved it all over again)
Thank you for both stories.
also, it seems pretty clears that besides the three laws of robotics, there really needs to be a concept of who is a robots owner and master.
I am reminded of the terrifying Vomisa Killer Robots, which followed Asimov’s laws to the letter, but were still able to be terrifying killer robots because their masters had carefully not informed them of the definition of “human being”. Or, indeed, “harm”.
I am pretty sure that “the three laws” are intended to be a metaphor for mankind thinking they understand something that they really dont, hijinx ensue. Even Caveman science fiction has the fairly standard trope that is “me go too far!” The Three Laws are short enough that they seem like a good idea at the beginning to most readers and by the end of the story its obvious to everyone that they are not sufficient.
John Scalzi you are the King of the Nerds, I bow to your greatness…
Had the pleasure of hearing you read this at LoneStarCon3. Shortly after I got home, I was given a cat by the apartment manager who needed fostering because he’d been abandoned by his owners when they skipped. The cat–a 16-pound black neutered male–has been known to all who’ve been feeding him or seeing him around the apartments as “Gato Negro,” but I’ve renamed him “Sanchez” in honor of this story.