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.