Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In which I throw my very sad hat into the Internet fanfic ring.

On a rogue moon orbiting our galaxy perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic I'm setting up the ultimate Dungeons & Dragons session beneath a spectacular sky spread not with the hard sparkle of stars but the oblong smears of distant galaxies. The Milky Way extends itself enormously off the head-bending curve of the gray, too-near horizon, providing a dim, but sufficient, light for what is sure to be an unforgettable, uh, evening, I guess.

A borrowed alien artifact—a hemispherical field generator—keeps the good stuff like air and warmth in while keeping the bad stuff like hard radiation and micrometeorites out. At least for the amount of time I have on the contract, which, if I understand it correctly, should be more than enough to complete the adventure as written.

The gaming table is a cheap wooden picnic table complete with bench seats and splinters, all I could afford after stealing a time machine and trading most of the human race for the favors and technology to make this session possible. But otherwise I have provided for my guests, rolling up characters for them to save time, effort and confusion. Also spread upon the red-and-white checkered tablecloth are bowls of off-brand pretzels and poverty sodas with names like Dr. Popper and Poopsie Cola. Not for a lack of desire for nicer things, but only because where we are and what we're about to do has cost most of what the human race would produce in its entire run. At least that's the price quoted by my alien benefactors, and what do I know? I'm a Dungeon Master, not an economist, dammit.

I shuffle through my notes one last time, take in the entire spread from universe to snacks, and, after a deep breath, snap my fingers.

In four staticy discharges of collapsing ball lighting, they arrive.

Emotional Spock

He laughs, he cries, he'll do handcuffs and Nazi outfits. Should go a long way toward putting the tic in Chaotic Neutral.

Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln

The only guest with special needs, I've provided RoboLincoln with a small nuclear pile to keep him perpetually powered, and a dual tape deck from the 1980s so when one of his program tapes runs out the other one has a pre-programmed tape-swap sequence that allows him to flip sides without interference from a human operator.

John Wayne Genghis Khan

Hot off the set of The Conqueror. Who says an American Icon can't be a mongoloid? You?

Plain Ol' Eleanor Roosevelt

Yep. Just that. I'm hoping she can be the face of the party.

For the briefest of moments they sit around the table, looking first, with a start, at the person across from them, then around at the awesome gaming spread and finally up into Forever.

I smell the unmistakable odor of Human Endeavor—someone has crapped their pants.

Eleanor Roosevelt lets out a piercing shriek and falls back from the table, nearly upending it as she goes. I realize she's failed her SAN roll—and we're not even playing a game where that's supposed to happen!

John Wayne Genghis Khan rushes to her fetal form, trying to comfort her. He shakes his head in disbelief. "Holy cow—you're Eleanor Roosevelt!"

Ms. Roosevelt blinks rapidly, the madness suddenly fleeing her face. "And you're... Genghis Khan?!"

"No ma'am," he laughs, hearty and deep, with real mirth. "If I were I'd've already raped you by now."

Emotional Spock stiffens bolt upright. "What," he asks with eerie calm, "did you just say?"

"I said," John Wayne Genghis Khan drawls, "'I'd've raped her by now.'"

EmoSpock pushes himself up from the table with his fists, eyes smoldering. "You will do. No. Such. Thing."

"Calm down there, skinny, I'm not gonna hurt her. It was a hypotheti—aww, screw it. Why don't you siddown before I make you."

"THEN MAKE ME!" screams EmoSpock.

John Wayne Genghis Khan stands and puffs out his chest. "Don't think I won't, pilgrim!"

EmoSpock snarls and they meet over the careful spread of dice, character sheets, maps and minis. It starts like a windmilling slap fight, as if neither of them wants any but both are too manly or enraged to admit it. The row rapidly escalates as EmoSpock keeps trying to pinch John Wayne Genghis Khan's neck even as he is throwing loopy haymakers that constantly fail to connect. Mutually frustrated, they go to grappling and start rolling around on the table, ruining everything.

This is the part where I pull the gun from my sweatpants waistband and pop a round into the ceiling. Of course it ricochets around the inside of the field for a sphincter-clenchingly long time before burying itself, thankfully, in the bone-dry regolith.

EmoSpock is crying, bits of pretzel and minis stuck to his wet face.

"Look, guys, c'mon—let's just sit down and play this really fun game I've set up for you. It's called Dungeons and Drag—"

"You brought us here?" EmoSpock's face twists with rage, the cords in his neck standing out like F-Majors, if F stood for fuck you up.

I swallow. "Uh, no. He did." I point at John Wayne Genghis Khan.

"Aw, that's a loada bull—"

But EmoSpock has hurled himself over the table and planted a double side kick to the sternum just like they teach at Starfleet Academy. They collapse to the floor into a furball of cocked limbs and profanity.

Maybe I can pull something out of this after all. I turn to RoboLincoln. "Okay, you stand at the top of a dark stairway carved from the very bones of the Earth. It winds down into the depths one ten-foot drop after another—these are not steps for mortal men. Somewhere in the deep you hear something like distant thunder, or screaming." I lean forward expectantly. "What do you do?"

RoboLincoln clicks and buzzes, looks from the dice in front of him to his character sheet and then seems to regard me thoughtfully. "Four score and seven years ago," he starts, "Bzzzurt, fathers brought forth incontinent, a nude nation, conceived in Labia, and dedicated to the propositioning that all men are created fzzzapt."

"Ah. Yeah. I'll take that as a 'going down.'"

Thin shapes at the edge of my vision—they're here for the field generator.

"Wait! No! Just a sec—"

It pops like a soap bubble and the atmosphere leaps away into the frigid sky. The air in my lungs hops after it, scampering out of my face in a gut-punching rush. I feel the spit boil off my tongue. As my blurred vision dims I can only think, oh, god, this is bad, but RoboLincoln—and then the Final Darkness swallows me whole.

---

RoboLincoln sits at the table soundlessly reciting the Gettysmeg Address, dutifully flipping his tape over whenever it runs out... for four score and 10,000 years.

You know, for kids!

Someone said I should write a children's book. So I did. Gather 'round, kids, and let Unka Tannhauser lay a heartwarming tale of God-given gifts, hope, and The Finish Line on your asses:

PAJOOKIE

by Chris Tannhauser


Once upon a time, on a small planet nestled in the fringes of our own Milky Way galaxy, a great race of people built a fabulous civilization.

And it was in this civilization that a child named Pajookie lived, and went to school much as you do.

Of all the subjects that Pajookie had to study—cybermorphics, hyper-gnostic crabmatics, and “grund”—he loved art the best.

Art on this world was very different from the art you know; Pajookie could grab the sky with his mind and sculpt with clouds and rainbows. He could squeeze poems out of sunbeams.

But most of all he could make. It didn’t matter what he made, whether is was with rocks and hair and glue; or old skyfish bones and buttons and glue. Pajookie loved to make things.

One day, Pajookie’s teacher-node made an announcement that set Pajookie’s mind on fire.

“Class,” burbled the teacher-node, “I have just received confirmation that the Artworld will be coming to our system in a few days.”

Artworld! The entire class hissed quietly, excited. Artworld—a rogue planet populated by artists; tunneling though hyperspace it materialized every now and again, seeking talented children to come and live and make art forever!

“There will be an art contest at the end of week,” bubbled the teacher-node, “The winners will live on Artworld—forever.”

Nothing but art forever, thought Pajookie. His tendrils shook. I have to win that contest. I just have to.

On the first day, Pajookie tried to think of what he could do to impress the Artists and live forever. He thought and thought, he thought until he thought he would pop. But nothing would come to him.

Standish, his automatic servant, whose brain was nothing more complicated than 100 trillion gears the size of molecules, stood politely by his side. “I’m sure your project will be smashing,” he reassured.

Meanwhile, Deidre, one of Pajookie’s broodmates, began to coagulate light in the classroom foundry.

On the second day, Pajookie hunted and trapped a rainbow, and borrowed a word from the sun. But he still had no idea what he was going to do with them.

“That’s a very fat rainbow,” said Standish, “Nice catch, sir.”

Deidre, on the other tendril, took her gooey blobs of light and hung them in a lattice, and fixed the lattice into a great machine.

On the third day, Pajookie took the rainbow and the word to his paste-beast, which was much like a cat filled with glue. But Pajookie stroked the paste-beast wrong and it vomited all over his project, gluing the rainbow to his primary sensory cluster, the word to the bottom of his shoe, and Pajookie to the paste-beast. His project was ruined. “I’ll never win now!” wailed Pajookie miserably.

“What a naughty paste-beast!” exclaimed Standish, “Bad paste-beast! Bad!”

Pajookie paid no attention to Deidre’s project that day. He was far too sad to even notice that she was singing softly, giving each blob of light a different note.

On the last day, Pajookie gave up. He didn’t even try. He just held his primary sensory cluster in his tendrils and did his best to keep from crying.

Standish was sympathetically quiet.

Then Deidre threw the switch on her machine and the lights twinkled and played their notes. The music was hauntingly beautiful. Pajookie only cried a little bit.

Pajookie picked at his lunch, disinterested no matter how hard it danced. The other children ran and squealed about the play yard, for in the sky everyone could see it—Artworld was in orbit far above them. It shone like a brilliant drop of rain, falling forever. Pajookie didn’t even look up.

Later that afternoon, Dada, the Lord of Art, teleported in from Artworld to judge the projects. He marched hurriedly along the row, waving his hand dismissively at the projects. When he reached Deidre’s light harp he paused. Deidre bowed deeply, and switched it on. Dada listened, his brows knitting tighter and tighter. Then, he spoke. “Yes, yes, standard,” he said, waving his hand. He strode onward to Pajookie, the last child.

He looked around, puzzled. “And where is your project, youngling?”

“I don’t have one,” said Pajookie glumly.

The Lord of Art brightened. “Very interesting. Very interesting, indeed.”

“Ahem,” interrupted Standish, “If I may be so bold—not having a project is not his project, per se—he really doesn’t have one.”

“Ahh,” sighed Dada, sounding very disappointed.

“He did have one,” Standish said, “But it went—”

“It went all wrong,” Pajookie finished.

“I see,” said Dada. “Why isn’t it here?”

Pajookie was flabbergasted. “It was terrible!” he blurted.

“That,” said Dada sternly, “Is for me to judge.”

Dada, the Lord of Art, teleported out, having failed to find an artist worthy of living forever on Artworld. Later that evening, the glowing speck of Artworld itself vanished from the sky.

Pajookie gave up the art he loved, and tried many different things in the meantime...

He tried ice-wrestling and bug rodeo and went to a “grund” championship. Pajookie even got quite good at skyfishing, using a back-pack catapult that fired nets filled with hooks. And while that sounds very cruel, it isn’t, for skyfish have no brains as we understand them, in fact, they aren’t even alive. But they are delicious.

“Nice shot, sir.” That was all Standish had to say most days.

The weeks went by and it got to the point where Pajookie didn’t even miss art anymore. Well, almost. Sometimes, when he saw a rainbow, or heard the sun whisper, he thought of art. But it hurt too much. It hurt too much to think that he wasn’t good enough to be chosen, it hurt too much to think that the thing he loved most was something he would never do again.

So he sucked it up and drank deep of despair to the point of no return and fell through life as the numb do until he collided with the weird falling-while-stopping-dead that is middle management. And though he ended up owning a knock-off of that famous four-space nitrogen-ice sculpture of god it brought him no joy for it was nothing but a reminder of the light he had let die inside.

Pajookie’s only regret as the universe let slip the bonds that held him covalent, surrounded by a disappointing array of emotionally-stunted halfwits, was that he never had the balls to do a shooting spree. Literally—for the law of the land required at least five gonads to purchase a biomangulator.

Goddammit all—

THE END

The Banana Gun

Okay, let's say you commission an engineer to build you a "Banana Gun" because you think it would be really funny to be able to accurately fire bananas at unsuspecting fools. Your main concern is that the gun peel the banana in the process as you wouldn't want to smack somebody with a high-speed, intact fruit (could put out an eye), but rather that they get whapped with harmlessly hilarious banana cream. The engineer, doodling, nods absently.

After great expense and anticipation, the Banana Gun arrives. You uncrate it, clear away the excelsior and behold its gleaming beauty as it sucks the breath from your lungs: it's all blued steel and carbon-fiber scaffolding, with exotic hardwood grips and stock. And, of course, a skeletal high-capacity banana clip within which the nascent fruit missiles can clearly be seen.

You pick it up slowly and get your first twinge of disappointment: it's just this side of unwieldy. Still, you thumb the ON switch and all doubt flees as the thing hums to life and the gyroscopic stabilizer spins up, balancing it as fine as a stage magician's throwing knife.

Pants tight, you jack the first banana into the chamber. The gun whines and a series of holo displays strobe from red, through yellow and into green with a cupcakes-done DING!

You run to the front door and throw it wide, scanning for targets—for some reason, the Ice Cream Man is going through your mailbox! He bolts upright, startled, eyes wide at the sight of you, turgid and armed. You swing the gun up and the gyro takes over, pointing the barrel dead at the Ice Cream Man as if magnetically attracted to his fear.

"Asta la—" you begin when the gun suddenly discharges with a deafening thunderclap and searing flash of heat and light. You stagger back, blind and deaf, exposed skin sunburned, hair and clothes smoking.

Your vision clears before your mind does. At the end of the driveway you see boots, a roiling cloud of wet smoke, and an alluvial fan of gore and ruin slapped across the street, cars, front yards and neighbors' houses.

Barking dogs accompany a chorus of wailing car alarms, all to the back-beat of your throbbing tinnitus.

"HIT HIT HIT," says the Banana Gun distantly in a sexy-lady-computer voice as it ejects the spent banana peel onto your porch.

My question is: Dessert or plantain?