The Other Large Thing: A Short Story
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.