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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #157
The Wingback Vanishes
David Gunn
The fax machine at the New Mexico Mutual UFO Network office in Hangar 52 chirped Receive, and a single page dropped into the Incoming bin. Friar Fellini stirred from his marathon 161st game of computer minesweeper to glance at the message. It consisted of 16 lines of squiggly text that were, at least to his bleary eyes, indecipherable, plus 126 numbered dots that formed a haphazard pattern across the bottom of the page. The sender was Bryce of MUFON Baltimore, the administrative jerk who assigned him to stay here and "hold the fort," as he put it, while the rest of the team roared off to Maryland to track known extraterrestrials the government was concealing in its witness protection program. Friar took another pull on his sparkling wine bottle, then pulled a decoding book from a pile of manuals arranged by jacket color in the sink. He leafed through 300 pages of odd cuneiform symbols until he got to the section on squiggles. The very third page displayed 16 lines of text wiggles that closely matched his faxed message. He turned the book upside down for the translation. It read "Connect the dots."

The image was elusive, becoming apparent only after the 126th dot was connected to the first, but it was one with which Friar Fellini had once been intimately involved. It was a tokamak. A shiver ran up his spine, paused briefly to nip at his latissimus dorsi, then shot out of his cranial electrode implant with such force that the bulb in the overhead light fixture blew out. A tokamak -- the universal symbol of discombobulation from alien cultures throughout the galaxy, and a figure that he hadn’t seen since his first day at Hangar 52. Bryce had briefed him on its significance and implied that Dr. Beezer and his secretive government cronies had dozens of them in storage here at the facility.

But why had Bryce sent it to him?

Forcing the blear from his eyeballs, he examined the facsimile message again, and noticed two tiny lines of text scrawled boustrophedonically on the upper right of the tokamak. As the significance of the words became apparent, the chill returned to his spine with a vengeance, cooling a potpourri of internal organs at the same time. Chugging the rest of his sparkling wine, Fellini booted up the Pratt & Whitney computer, loaded MUFON’s "In Case of Extreme Circumstances" software, scanned the dotted likeness of the tokamak, and fed the image into the Contingency Extraterrestrial Intervention program. Then, he waited.

Wait was all Dr. Robert Beezer could do at the moment, and he didn’t do it graciously. Above him, the entirety of space in sector Q4z had vanished, taking with it representatives from two confrontational alien races, his son, Bobby, a testy Zontari, as well as the better half of the moon. Aldeau and Kuprini-Ernesto were tinkering with the tokamak, trying to get it to work, which it was failing to do for the first time since its debut in Klegmore. The beezerscope, on the other hand, was crunching numbers at a frenetic pace, trying to intuit the next shift in the massive antithetical gravitational force which had corrupted the gateway to the Roswell Algonquin Hole.

Aldeau thwacked the tokamak. The device remained intransigent. "Why is it," he whined, "I could never get it to stop working when I wanted to! And now ..."

The computer the beezerscope was plugged in to suddenly buzzed a warning. Beezer glanced at a string of numbers on the monitor screen ... and abruptly shared more than adjoining office quarters with Friar Fellini as his back iced over. "I think," he said, "we have an even bigger problem now. According to these figures, Einstein’s cosmological constant has been reversed, meaning the universe has begun to contract."

Meanwhile, an unknown number of miles and parallel universes away, in the cabin of the Parolean transport pod, Bobby continued to stand clear of the navigational controls while the Ninkota-creature keened an alien kaddish in parallel fifths and struggled to extricate itself from the locked teleportato. Having sucked the formica wall nearest it dry of nutrients, it reeled in its tongue, converted the nourishment to energy, and commenced banging on its holding cell with fresh vigor. Now would be a very good time to employ the Theory of Abstract Inertia Discombobulation, Bobby figured. If only he knew how to do it!

The external alarm system abruptly went off, filling the cabin with unsettling sine wave squawks. Bobby dashed to the console, glanced at the monitor, and noticed with chagrin that the Parolean cruiser had fired point blank upon the transport pod. Normally, this would have been a matter of extremely immediate concern, but, due to the gravitational vagaries of the Algonquin Hole in which both vessels were caught, the missiles capriciously passed into another space-time continuum.

Staring at the computer monitor, a lightbulb blinked on in the refrigerator section of Bobby’s mind, and he again called up the display from "Alien Life Forms X-Y-Z." He punched in Y|theorY of abstract inertia discombobulation, capitalizing only the Y in theory ... and got lucky.

Millions more binary text images chased each other around the screen until the datamix was distilled to three words: "Abandon. Ship. Now!"

With a mighty crash, the former Ninkota broke through the outer casing of the teleporter. Shards of titanium debris flew everywhere ... as did the vial of Parolean queen bug blood. Bobby caught it just before it hit the floor. Enraged and quite brawny for a Zontari, the Ninkota creature advanced towards its erstwhile co-pilot and potential afternoon snack. Gulping a big breath of air, Bobby clamped a motion discomfort bag’s worth of oxygen over his nose, unsealed the pod door, and dived out into the blue-black void of space.

The twice refurbished Pratt & Whitney, taxed to its computational limit, crashed and rebooted itself six times, but at last printed out the information Friar Fellini was so desperate for. In the end, the most sophisticated First Contact program MUFON had ever devised resulted in an output of a scant 60 characters. Hopefully, that would be enough. Now all he needed was the tokamak.

Fellini rapped on the door to Dr. Beezer’s office, spied the post-it note affixed to the transom, then raced down to the AIRT command center across the hall from the cafeterium. Beezer, Aldeau and Kuprini-Ernesto looked up in surprise as he barged into the sanctum sanctorum of the covert Hangar 52 complex. "No!" he cried out as Aldeau was about to unplug the electron tube defibrillator from the tokamak. He tore the reality-hazard device from Aldeau’s hands and recalibrated it according to the Pratt & Whitney’s calculations. "Try this first," he said. And before anyone could react, Fellini powered up the tokamak.

The light in the room abruptly darkened to an eerie blue-black and the air temperature plunged precipitously. A low hum emanated from the tokamak, around which seemed to swirl the susurrant aftersound of the word "Mesopotamia." Suddenly, a great ball of light shot upward through the command center skylight, disappeared ...

... and rematerialized inside the Algonquin Hole six parallel universes away in the by-now familiar image of a 1954 Hudson Wingback. Startled, but amenable to any change in his surroundings, Bobby Beezer reached through the fogdog-abundant temporal vortex in which he was floating, grasped the passenger side door handle, and clambered in. Taking care not to disturb the rubber earthworms that were engaged in a kind of elastic fandango on the floor, he scrunched down in the seat beside the 70-foot spool of climbing rope and gratefully breathed the carful of fresh, limeade-scented air. Behind him, the two querulous spacecraft began to slowly dissolve as the Appleby Layer within the Algonquin Hole unraveled. Within a nanomoment, they were gone, indistinguishable from cosmic kibble.

Friar Fellini made another adjustment on Aldeau’s tokamak, and the Wingback retreated through one rambunctious universe after another, until it finally popped back into Roswell free space, sealing the local Algonquin Hole gateway in the process. Dr. Beezer rushed to the car, which had recorporealized along with a host of confused subatomic particles atop the microwave oven transmitter in the cafeterium. His son was dazed but fine, and the vial of queen bug blood was just what he needed to placate those Paroleans who hadn’t been trapped in the Algonquin Hole. Thanks to Bobby, a catastrophic planetwide bullet resulting from miscommunication between alien races had been dodged once again!

The Theory of Abstract Inertia Discombobulation, reduced to its simplest form, states that the speed at which anything can be misunderstood increases in direct proportion with the attempt to correct the error. The speed with which Aldeau packed up his tokamak and titanium jerkin and, along with the Kuprinesto combo, vanished in the Hudson Wingback was therefore commensurate with the number of tokamakic maladjustments he’d made since initially firing up the device in the Klegmore mining shack amidst 12 adobe-hatted members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Eskimos ... give or take.

Just before he and his traveling companion winked out of tangible existence, Aldeau tossed an out-of-focus slip of paper from the Hudson. They were gone before it hit the cafeterium floor. Dr. Beezer picked it up, read it, and shook his head. Friar Fellini glanced at it then, and he grinned. He pulled out his MUFON decoding book and opened to page 1 of the section on squiggles. A reasonable facsimile of Aldeau’s piece of paper stared back at them. Fellini turned the book upside down and read the translation: "Safety deposit box #660, Roswell Interplanetary Savings or Loan; key behind planter in northeast corner of bank lobby."

An ill-defined number of space-time periods later, Dr. Robert G. Beezer was in line at the Roswell IS or L with deposit box key #660 in hand. The teller, a tall sylph in a titanium blazer and translucent hair writhing atop her head, processed his withdrawal slip. She seemed unconcerned that it was dated 4000 BC and originated from a previously unincorporated bank branch in Klondike, Greece. Beezer entered the vault, removed the deposit box from its rusty cubbyhole, and nervously inserted the key. Undisturbed for nearly six millennia, the lock resisted opening, but did so at last, and Beezer eagerly poured the contents onto the customer service table.

There was a thick packet of U.S. bank notes in denominations he was unfamiliar with, a small booklet, an altered deck of playing cards with grainy crop circle images on their backs, and a note. The note -- written in tiny, boustrophedonic text -- said that the money constituted the grand prize winnings of a whiskers six-draw tournament held in Albuquerque six years in the future; the cards were the ones used in that competition; and the booklet explained the treacherously confusing rules of the game.

He slipped the cards, currency, booklet and note in his pocket, returned the deposit box to its vault stall, and walked home. Whiskers six-draw, eh?, he mused, fingering the cards in his pocket. How hard could it be to learn?

Barring any interruptions from the Roswell Algonquin Hole, he figured he had six years to find out.

In six years, we figure Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar will just about be hitting its stride, le flambeau oriange, notwithstanding. Today's 157th episode, in fact, signals the beginning of our fourth year, and we invite you, our listening audient, to join in the radiophonic fray and pray for the safe return of the recently absent Kalvos or Damian, one of whom is elsewhere today, leaving the bulk of the show to ... well, to me.