THE STORY SO FAR fetched: creation’s only perfect (not to mention artistically unclad) human being, Tamara Knight, is seeking a star upon which to wish me, a soft-hearted miniature neutron bomb named LOUSE, into a soft-hearted full sized human being of the male persuasion — preferably with some leisure-ware thrown in. Fortunately, we have just escaped from a hellish place called Heaven in the company of a half-Cherokee former-guitarist from the Ike and Tina Turner Band and two short planks named Pinnochio. Unfortunately, we have landed on the planet Alnilam in O’Ryan’s belt, where sectarian conflict is about to erupt between some disgustingly bloated oranges called Bygotts, and the local leprechauns. The worst thing of all is that I am now forced to use the oldest science fiction cliche in the history of pulp. It is my duty to inform you that the leprechauns are little green men. How utterly humiliating!
“Bejabers!” says our leprechaun, flinging his crock of gold at the nearest Bygott. “Pleased to meet you, Mr Bejabers.” says Tamara, a very polite, but very unworldly young lady. “Ron for yer loife! If de Bygotts foind out yer a Romulan Catlick, they’ll skin yer aloive! And me name’s Widdy Coolyew, boi de way, pleased ter meecher.” Now I happen to know that pacifism is second nature to Bygotts. The trouble is that their first nature is homicidal mania. We make a run for it, but the Bygotts are everywhere, leering and jeering, panting and ranting “Eat up yer greens!” Tamara emits a perfect yelp, and asks what we should do, to which the leprechaun yells, “Don’t ask me darlin’, ask de bloody Tinkers.” A swarm of leprechauns attacks the huge bulk of the nearest giant orange, renting it asunder — but the sunder would rather be purchased outright. (WARNING: the following bit may be offensive to some vegetarians). Shreds of pith are ripped from the living flesh of the orange warriors. The little green men are sprayed with juice and bombarded with pips. Several are so badly injured that they will remain vegetables for the rest of their lives. Many Bygotts are liquidised before our very eyes, crying “King Bully fer ever”. Mashed pulp and splattered chlorophyll ooze underfoot. The leprechaun calling himself Widdy Coolyew is cruelly tossed in oil and vinegar, but he manages to shout to Tamara, “Bring me a handful of dat Bygott pith, quick! If de rest of em can see dere leader’s dead, dey moight boggeroff.”
This is hopeless. I frantically search my data banks for some useful information to get us out of here, but the only suitable reference I have for this planet is “all knowledge is to be gleaned from the Tinkers.” The poor little leprechauns are slaughtered. The rich little leprechauns buy their way out of trouble. The Bygotts gather round us, menacing and semi-peeled. It is quite disgusting. Their focus of attention seems to be Tamara, who is still clutching the fibrous tissues of King Bully of Orange, the Chief Bygott, to her bosom. She is unceremoniously dragged from the battlefield, battered to her knees (they prefer meat in batter) and forced head down over the stump of a dead tree. From the midst of the vengeful mob a sinewy blood orange, stripped to the navel, slowly makes its way toward us. It carries a great sword, gilinting and spattered with glutinous green essence of leprechaun.
“If she dies, I die, and so does every other living entity hereabouts. At least I can do something constructive for a change.”
The executioner’s sword is raised above my poor Tamara’s beautiful neck. There is absolutely nothing I can do to save her. In a blinding flash of realisation, bred in the wild and released into captivity, I know that I cannot live without her, and more to the point this story will he somewhat redundant without its heroine. So that’s it then: only four poxy episodes before Tamara Knight, intergalactic sales-being for the Macdonalds Teleporter Corporation, and the only perfect human being in existence since the mythological robot-goddess Annbrownsmirrah, is about to die. There is only one ludicrously melodramatic thing left for me to do. I will fulfil my destiny. At the moment when this terrible sword decapitates Tamara, and severs her guiltless head from her blameless body, I will detonate myself, and reduce this entire saga to radioactive dust. If she dies, I die, and so does every other living entity hereabouts. At least I can do something constructive for a change.
“Goodbye Louse” says Tamara, in a small, calm, perfect voice. What’s good about it!? Death can often be fatal! I hurriedly re-combine my molecules and cease to be a dirty dog tooth in her perfect mouth. It just wouldn’t be right for her to die with such a blemish in her chops. Instead, with her perfect saliva still clinging to my unworthy carapace, I transform myself into a little tea-brown birth mark, or should I say ironic death-mark, the back of her neck, just where these miniature black hairs of her nape meets the fluffy down of her spine, just where the sword is aimed for, just as the last terrible command is given and a voice screams the order, “CUT!” Goodbye Tamara, I loved you as much as it is possible for a neutron bomb to love the spirit and flesh of a small but perfectly formed innocent, whose age and IQ both register as sixteen, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye ...
“Who IS that girl with the chopper over her head, as the actwess said to the bar steward. She’s not in the scwipt ...”
I prime my detonator, squeeze my trigger, kiss her neck and hear the prissy voice screeching a string of hysterical orders, “Cut! Cut! Cut! Who IS that girl with the chopper over her head, as the actwess said to the bar steward. She’s not in the scwipt, is she? We’ll have to shoot this WHOLE scene again! Somebody pour me a dwink of milkywilks in a dirty glass, and put some clothes on that stupid girl’s extwemities. You there! yes YOU, the little wooden puppet and the half-cherokee guitarist fwom the Ike and Tina Turner Band, scwape up those corpses pronto, and get the pwops department to bwing me a fwesh batch of those fat orange thingies and lepwechauns to kill. Oh cwipes! What a WOTTEN day; thwee million cwocks of gold over-budget, some girlie wandewing onto the set, a pile of wotting native fleshypoos, and worst of all I’ve just broken my fingernail!”
Who is this sweaty idiot, dressed up in a safari suit with a silk cravat wilting beneath his chubby pink jowls? Well, whoever he is, Tamara has been saved! My beautiful hostess will live to fight another day! (or in our case, another five minutes). The impedimented idiot seems to be beckoning for Tamara to join him where he sits on a folding canvas chair with ‘Sir Dickie Asteroid, Designer-Conflict Director’ stitched on the back sequins. I scan my memory banks to remove the negative from this nonsense:
Designer Conflict: in certain sectors of the Galaxy, especially Taurus Excrementus and O’Ryan’s Belt, randomised warfare is considered much too dangerous to be left in the hands of politicians, industrialists, the military and the church. In these regions, all conflicts are handled by advertising and marketing agencies. Warring factions are endorsed by competing sportswear companies, package holiday operators, breakfast-food producers, sanitary-ware manufacturers, arms dealers and washing powder corporations, and all proceedings are holovised. The winner of any Designer Conflict is declared as a result of public opinion polls, registered by the operation of the remote-control handset of domestic holovision sets. (NB: certain Designer Conflicts are sponsored by popular game shows, wherein the lucky contestants are able to commit genocide if they can answer a few simple questions — and all on live breakfast holovision).
So that’s it ... the old Vietnam scam! And I am not in the slightest bit surprised to discover that Sir Dickie Asteroid is under contract to none other than Macdonalds’ biggest rivals in the whole wide universe, the dreaded Cocacolanisation Corps! They’ll grind my Tamara up for lavatory paper if they discover that she is working for the dirty Macs! But before I can warn her, the loathsome Dickie peers at Tamara’s bundle of Bygott skins and demands, “What’s this load of wubbish, you wuddy wenegade?” Tamara smiles as sweetly as anyone can smile who has just escaped decapitation, bats her eyelids, licks the perfect sweat from her perfect upper lip and answers, “I was just taking the pith to Widdy Coolyew ...”
“WHAAA?!” screams the offended bladder, “How DARE you widicule me! How DARE you mock my little affliction! You wotter!” Tamara seems puzzled, “What a ...?” “You’re doing it again you little WOTTER!” “What a what?” “You wotten wuddy wotten wotter!!” Sir Dickie has turned a very fetching shade of purple and puce, and it fetches his entire film crew back onto the battlefield. “Where’s my stunt man?!” he bawls. “Here, Sir” snarls the stunt man who resembles a cross between a fork lift truck and another fork lift truck. “Stunt man, you see this wicked wude wench?” “Yes, sir?” “Well wuddywell STUNT HER!”
The moron picks up the execution-sword, swings it at Tamara’s terrified body, misses and neatly amputates Sir Dickie Asteroid’s left buttock. Your heroine and her companions tiptoe away, leaving the Designer Conflict Director complaining about the stains on his freshly laundered trousers. I nuzzle into the nape of her neck, happy again, and advise her to search for the mysterious Tinkers that little Widdy Coolyew was blathering on about, and whom my data banks endow with so much power. If a Tinker really exists, he might be able to tell us how to wish upon a star. Then we cold stop having these ridiculous adventures, Tamara could visit the toilet and have a bite to eat, and I could be transformed into a softhearted full sized human being of the male persuasion, preferably with some leisure-ware thrown in.
It is Pinnochio, riding on the shoulders of Jimminy Cricket aka Jimi Hendrix who moves the plot along not a little. He rubs his forehead in amazement, hurriedly extinguishes the small boy scout fire that spontaneously ignites there, and points to a battered wooden signpost leaning like a crossroad drunk, upon which is carved TO THE TINKERS “Gosh!” says Tamara, “What can it mean?” We all ignore her perfect stupidity, and make our way along an overgrown, twisting pathway, following the sign. We carefully avoid the minefields, quicksand, trip wires, budget software, the snake pits, piranha lakes, bonnie langford videos, the rat traps, tiger traps, von trapps, and fall headlong into the first man / woman / wooden-puppet trap in our path.
We are falling, kicking and screaming into the stinking void. (Well what did you expect? A restroom to materialise, cornplete with waitress service and extensive whine list?) As we land, a rest-room materialises, complete with a leprechaun waitress proffering an extensive whine list. My sweet Tamara is overjoyed, but not in the slightest bit surprised, and as we have not eaten for the last three planets, she asks what food is to be had. “Sure dere’s no bleedin’ meat, but we got plenty of oranges.” Tamara lets Pinnochio order for her, and excuses herself for a visit to the toilet. I suppose I too will have to get used to these little human weaknesses after we discover a star upon which to wish me.
When we return from my Hostess’ ablutions, Jimi Hendrix and Pinnochio have disappeared. Maybe puppets have to go and have a sawdust or something. “We got some meat now, miss,” says the miniature waitress, “noice and fresh if yer don’t moind de bits of wood in it.” For some reason that I cannot quite explain, a shadow of doubt flits across my printed circuit boards, but no matter. Let’s see the whine list. “Can I have some whine, please,” Tamara requests. “Sure and whoi not. Yer allowed one whine. Just moan it at der Tinker.” Tamara spins around looking for this mythical fount of all knowledge, but fails to spot anyone except the waitress, and a pile of clothing remarkably similar to those worn by Jimi Hendrix and Pinnochio.
I scan the room with my sensors, but there are no other life forms here. “Urn, excuse me,” says Tamara, “exactly where is this Tinker, and can you tell me where my friends have gone, please?” “Sure yer companions are turnin in dere gravy, and de Tinker is on de table in front of yer. Now if yewl scuse me oi’m bein written out of de plot, cos oi was only included as a sinister female for a bit of sexual equality...” and with these obscure words, the leprechaun waitress disappears with a slight odour of chip fat. “Where’s the Tinker, Louse? I can’t see anything on this table except the whine list.” And the whine list says, “Den by a process of logical deduction, I must be de Tinker!”
Well, here’s a turn up for the book. The greatest intellect in the entire star system of O’Ryan’s Belt is a talking sheet of badly printed A4 paper half blotted out by snail trails from the planet Tippex. “Oi do not talk sheet,” says the whine list, mis-reading my mind. Tamara wrinkles her npse, and gathers her thoughts. Not an easy task for her to achieve simultaneously. “Um, hello? Hello? can you tell me why...” “STOP!!” I instruct Tamara, before she destroys our only chance of finding the wishing star. “You are only allowed one request, which the tinker must grant. PLEASE don’t waste it Tamara. Think very carefully before you speak.” She smiles at the whine list, rdns a perfect finger over it and says, “But why do they call you the Tinker?”
“I’ll always be a neutron bomb, never a man. What a life!”
Ho hum. So that’s it then, our only chance of salvation gone, and I’ve just realised what those ketchup stains on the tablecloth really are. Poor Jimi. Ah well, nearly at the end of this episode, let’s hear what the Tinker has to say and just sit around waiting for the usual crummy crisis. Who cares, I’ll always be a neutroh bomb, never be a man. What a life! “Dey call me de Tinker,” says the Tinker, “because I tink. Therefore I am.” You know, sometimes I feel like detonating just for the hell of it. Tamara is sill trying to work out the quotation from the Irish philosopher Des Carthy, when the Tinker pipes up, “Well hurry up den, yer allowed one question each, so let’s hearin’ from de sentient birth mark on de back of yer neck!” I cannot believe my inputs! It means me! We are saved! Oh bliss! Oh joy! Oh get on with the narrative. I tune one of my outputs to the Tinker’s frequency, and ask the vital question, clearly and precisely, “Show us how to get to wish upon a star where all our dreams come true.”
The tinker tinks, er, thinks, draws itself up to its full height of 297mm and delivers the answer, the solution to my future happiness with Tamara Knight. “Sure yet eejit, it’s not a star yer after. Where you want to be is de planet Astar. Dat’s where all yer dreams come true. Youse take the M42 out of Alnilam, keep going, past Castor and Pollux, then... ah to hell wid it, Oi’ll take yer there meself. Oi bought dis great teleportet booth from a Macdonalds sales rep last Tuesday, and Oi’ve bin dyin ter troi it out”.
Little does the Tinker know that dying is exactly what happens every time a Macdonalds Teleporter sends a copy of its passengers off, and drops the originals through the floor to be made into hamburgers. But who cares about that. Unbelievable happiness and fulfilment is about to be mine, when I am wished into human form as Tamara’s consort. She giggles with undiluted pleasure bracing her limbs against the walls of the Tinker’s teleporter, to avoid hamburgerhood. We are instantly transported to the planet Astar, and just as instantly left there by the Tinker, who has forgotten to turn the oven off. And good riddance, say I, there’s only room for one synthetic superintelligence in this story, and that’s me.
And what a beautiful place this is! Much quieter than the idiotic battlefields of Alnilam, much prettier than the hell-on-Earth of Heaven, much less pretentious than the high-tech of Amnesia and nowhere near as smelly as Pynkfloid. Astar will become our private Paradise, our very own Barrat podule. “Well, Tamara, what do you think of it so far?” I ask, readying myself for manhood, and trying to decide whether or not to have a small moustache. Tamara hesitates, “I... I’m not sure Louse. I’ve got a funny feeling we should be very careful what we say around here. It feels like the whole planet is listening...” “Ha ha!” I cry, “you don’t say! You must be kidding... you...” Whoops, I seem to have been somewhat preoccupied with my future moustache, and my words have had a rather drastic result. No sooner have I spoken, than Tamara’s mouth disappears, and she gives birth to two tiny goats. Well hush my mou... hngk?
TO BE CONTINUED...