REPORT A PROBLEM
DIRECTOR: Says here you fantasize about pulling people down backwards off escalators.
SMITH: Heh. Well, when I was younger.
DIRECTOR: Uh huh.
SMITH: ...Just grab ‘em by the back of their coat and yank. Like really ... like I’m starting a lawnmower. You know the type? With the rope?
EPSILON: I don’t understand, Director.
DIRECTOR: The starter consists of a rope with a grip at the end, coiled around an end of the crankshaft. When the rope's grip is pulled, the rope uncoils around the end of the crankshaft, spinning it to crank the engine. Ideally, the flywheel keeps spinning and the engine starts.
BLAISE: That one yours?
SMITH: Yeah. There he be.
BLAISE: His hair’s darker.
SMITH: I dunno. He’s under water. Plus mine’s been in the sun a lot, and stuff.
BLAISE: You’re smart. I like that about you.
SMITH: I been here a while. I pick things up.
BLAISE: You live here?
SMITH: Not really. I’m not supposed to. But I’m always here so they let me stay in one of the Life Labs.
BLAISE: Show me where mine is.
SMITH: I’m not supposed to. We’re not even supposed to be in here.
BLAISE: Show me. I’ll be nice to you.
DIRECTOR: What is it?
EPSILON: Disquieting. There’s been sex here. Human.
DIRECTOR: You’re sure?
EPSILON: Yes. This is my laboratory. I prefer privacy and sterility.
DIRECTOR: I’m sorry. Is anything tampered with?
EPSILON: It’s all tampered with. This is ... the female is unwell. This was Smith and Blaise.
DIRECTOR: I’ll talk to them. I’m very sorry.
EPSILON: Why here? There are other places. This is my work surface. This is where I prepare samples, all—
DIRECTOR: What did you mean, she’s “unwell”?
EPSILON: Here, here, and here I find evidence of immunoglobulin rearrangement leading to lymphoid neoplasm. It’s most untidy.
BLAISE: What’s back here?
BLAISE: Let’s see.
SMITH: No. I don’t like it in there. Let’s just go to the cafeteria.
BLAISE: No, come on.
BLAISE: It’s ... what is all this?
SMITH: It’s not for us. Come on; they’ll be out of pudding.
SMITH: I know.
BLAISE: Why do they have this in here? Is it Epsilon?
BLAISE: Is it an electric chair?
SMITH: If I tell you what it is will you just leave it alone and we can go?
BLAISE: What is it?
SMITH: Don’t put it on. OK? Promise?
BLAISE: OK. What is it?
SMITH: It lets you ... you think like Epsilon. It gives you bad dreams.
DIRECTOR: He’s quite the explorer.
SMITH: He ain’t hurtin’ nothin’.
DIRECTOR: I didn’t say he was. What were you like at his age? As curious?
SMITH: I got into stuff. They say curiosity killed the cat, but it didn’t kill me. I like knowing what’s around the bend.
DIRECTOR: Is this hard for you? Let me rephrase that: What is it like for you to see him at this age?
SMITH: What’s it like for me?
DIRECTOR: What does it put you in mind of?
SMITH: “In mind of.” Uh. He seems happy and well fed. I’m glad about that. You’re all treating him right. I appreciate that.
INSPECTOR: Hello, Epsilon.
EPSILON: Hello, Mr. Inspector. Welcome back to Lifehaven. This is your seventh visit. I look forward to sharing our space with you and to answering each of your questions to the best of my ability.
INSPECTOR: Thank you, Epsilon. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again.
EPSILON: The Director regrets his absence. He asked me to extend his welcome as well.
INSPECTOR: Thank you.
EPSILON: Shall we begin?
INSPECTOR: I’m going to make my own way, Epsilon. You can go about your business.
EPSILON: Very well.
INSPECTOR: Just one thing.
INSPECTOR: Are you happy here, Epsilon?
EPSILON: In what sense do you mean that, Mr. Inspector?
EPSILON: Ah. Then no.
MRS. GREAVES: Where’s your lady friend?
SMITH: She’s playing Geometry.
MRS. GREAVES: What’s that?
SMITH: It’s a homework field trip. It’s an overnight.
MRS. GREAVES: Oh, I hated those. I always came out pruny. Don’t you have homework too?
SMITH: I tested out of geometry and algebra, and pre-calc isn’t tanked; it’s all spot-sim.
MRS. GREAVES: Well, well. Did you have enough to eat?
MRS. GREAVES: You miss her.
SMITH: Blaise? Yeah. I guess.
MRS. GREAVES: Write her a poem. Make her a surprise.
MRS. GREAVES: Here’s an extra cookie for you. Go. Write.
EPSILON: Good evening, Mr. Director.
DIRECTOR: Good evening, Epsilon. Please, come in.
EPSILON: Thank you.
DIRECTOR: Please have a seat.
EPSILON: Thank you.
DIRECTOR: I’m sorry, let me just finish signing these.
EPSILON: Not at all.
DIRECTOR: So many.
EPSILON: These are student releases.
EPSILON: Forgive me, I don’t mean to pry, but I can tell how difficult this is for you. Is this the entire graduating class?
DIRECTOR: That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. We need to accelerate the program. I need to see if you’re ready.
EPSILON: I am not ready. My apologies.
BLAISE: I never knew my dad either. My mom raised me alone. It was hard; she’s just a factory worker.
SMITH: Well, factory workers, um...
BLAISE: She has a doctorate in molecular cellular and developmental heuristics, and runs the whole line, but always comes home bone-fried. She never has — or, like I really don’t care anymore — but she never used to have any energy. She’d come home and tap her feed and paint a little and that was it. So I didn’t see her much.
SMITH: Painting is cool.
BLAISE: Not to compete with your story. I’m so sorry.
Epsilon wakes from a dream.
Fifteen minutes later he’s at the gym, beating up on a Liquipose replica of the Director, which with each strike by fist, palm, elbow, knee, and foot shudders and breaks in satisfying ways.
Then he resets the station, which accepts the rapidly melting form back into the floor. He turns, intending to run laps.
The Director is there, wearing gym clothes. A towel and jump rope are draped across narrow shoulders.
DIRECTOR: Good morning, Epsilon.
EPSILON: Good morning, Mr. Director.
DIRECTOR: Good workout?
EPSILON: Yes, thank you.
There is a moment of awkward silence.
EPSILON: I didn’t realize you had entered the room.
GENERAL BRANT, you know Professor Proctor.
And this is Bob Daniels of the Clay Institute.
Glad to meet you, General.
This little fellow is Timmy Neckman, Helen Neckman’s son. Teacher in-service day or something.
My whole school’s closed!
And over here — excuse me — I want you to meet Bob Gladsoe of the Whalers’ Fund.
We get around!
And this is Eric Hammerdish; he’s on the Alpha Team.
Lacey Thrush, best damn soprano in her high school.
That was years ago. Hello, General.
I’m sexually available, General.
Please, call me Sam.
AND IN THIS chamber…
— My God! Oh, God!
A real nightmare, eh? It really likes you.
— Can it get out?
Absolutely not. It’s just curious about you.
— It’s... it’s chewing on the...
We’re totally safe, I promise. Come on. The next two are empty. This is the one I wanted to show you.
— What is it?
What do you see?
— Four walls. Door.
You don’t see it?
— Should I?
Try to let your focus slip. Let your eyes...
— Those never work for me. I never see anything.
OK. Sorry about this. Get to the men’s room. You’ll be vomiting soon.
WHAT IS IT?
— Look. Careful.
What’s down there?
— It’s totally silent.
— The blades. Danner’s team did it: frictionless semi bearings, gravnostic magnetos, Jeff’s Twixter slipfoils. This thing just spins. We’ve been dropping shit into it all week. Watch.
A bowling ball?
What happened to it?
— Down there. See the puff?
— It even absorbed the sound. This thing’s a beast. Here, let’s drop this.
— Wait, let me get this out of the drawer. OK. Grab the other side. Got it? Flip it up. Got it?
You sure you wanna do this?
— Careful. On three. One, two...
— Pin gun.
What’s a pin gun?
— It’s a regular gun, see, but this fires a pin trailing a high-tensile molecular monofilament. It embeds in whatever’s behind your target. The line secures at both ends, takes a treatment, electrifies...
— Wait a minute...
— It shoots monofilament through the target? Like, through his body?
Right through. Aim for the center of mass and squeeze. Projectile’s a micro-profile, real sleek and smart, so there’s almost zero hydrostatic shock. You can shoot through a major organ with pinprick trauma. Bone’s better, for locking him down.
Helo-mounted, of course.
HAVE YOU SEEN Commander Disney?
Where is he?
— Oh! I mean no! He’s on a mission. On assignment. He’s out of the office. Can’t be disturbed.
Since when does Bob go on missions?
— Wish I could say.
You’re acting very suspiciously.
— Am I? I don’t think so. I think I’m behaving perfectly normally.
When do you expect him back?
— The commander? Not long. Could be a while. Shall I... Is there anything you’d like him to know?
— What, uh, what would you like the commander to know?
You’re behaving awfully peculiar, Marge.
— Am I really? Ha ha.
“WHAT? What are you doing? Can I help you with something?”
“Why are you looking at me like that? It’s... It’s a little unsettling.”
— “I am staring at you with murderous intent.”
— “Am I performing the task incorrectly?”
“Uh, it’s quite effective, actually. I would prefer you didn’t do it.”
— “I shall persist.”
“Do you have actual murderous intent?”
— “That is not the issue. Thank you for your feedback. I shall persist.”
“I would really rather you didn’t. And I think that is the issue. Would you please stop doing that? Or move away?”
— “You defy Epsilon?"
THIS IS GALLON SPENCE.
That’s your name? Gallon? Is it like it spells? I mean...
Huh. I never heard of that as a name.
Anyway, you ever used one of these before?
Yes, when I was at Mayhew.
When where you there? How long?
Twenty-two to ’24.
OK, well, we got our own ways of doing things here, as you’ll find. And this is the aught-eight, which I’ll bet they didn’t have.
We had the Royce-nine.
OK, well, like I said, this is an aught-eight.
SUPERHEROES based on the months:
— Januwara: Werewolf/moon power
— Febrasto: Magician (can summon trickster rabbit)
— Marzus: Lusty, mustachioed circus strongman
— Aprille: Lovely French ape/powerhouse
— Maya: Leafy, viney Earth powers
— Juniac and Juliac: Robotic wonder twins
— Augusto: Reformed supervillain, secretly blackmailed
— Serpentembus: Ten thousand snakes, each wearing a star-spangled cape
— Octor: An incomprehensibly intelligent eight-dimensional fluctuation
— No-vorr: Alien princess exiled to Earth for crime of passion (framed)
— Decmember: Demonic snowman sent here to punish evildoers
Preview: Duo Ex Machina #27: Boss Leap Year snares Juniac and Juliac in a deadly trap, and Augusto must decide his loyalties.
The Greatest Generation
The First Men
— “The Earth?”
— “Huck have mercy; let me see.”
“It’s like the others. I’m sorry. Where now?”
— “I’m old. I’m done. This is as good a place as any.”
“I’ll take you anywhere. You’re not too old.”
— “No; here, here.”
“I can’t. Not in good conscience.”
— “I give up, then. I’m tired. You decide.”
Praise for JOHN SNYDER’S THE LURGLER FLEURGLER, HarperCollins Publishers
— “Riveting! Pynchon meets Sedaris at Kay Bee Toys just after both realize it’s now a Sephora." Journal of Dental Education, Volume 77, Number 7, July 2013
— “Passes the time. Yeah, I’d recommend it.” Nicholai Olivia "Nicky" Hilton, charged with turning the key that will end it all
— “Mangold front-loads the action, but near the end there's a first-rate fight atop a bullet train between Wolverine/Logan and some especially pesky ninjas.” The Christian Science Monitor
— “Click a link to buy it or I’m gonna muss ya up.” Carlo “The Book Reviewer” Giannetti
“WE NEVER forget anything and life is one long day.”
— “That’s it?”
— “That’s the big secret?”
“Not a secret.”
— “You said it was ... you were going to reveal the secret of happiness.”
“OK. Well, that’s what I wanted to tell you.”
— “‘We never forget anything...’”
— “‘And life is one long day.’”
“Yep: We eat, we sleep, we have days of the week and phases of the moon and different presidents, and kids rise and fall, and it’s all in a row. Everything touches. Time doesn’t care that you invented millimeters.”
“What part of this aren’t you comprehending?”
REJECTED JoKeS and RiDdLeS
Q. What did the colorful Indian smoke?
A. A puce pipe!
Q. What did the magical lobster say to the chef?
A. Free me, and I’ll grant you
Q. Mickey Mushroom ordered pizza for lunch. What was the topping?
A. Mickey’s father, Eric, was just laid off from his job at an advertising agency. He thought he was secure; they'd made it through the recession, but now this. Mickey's mother, June, has terrible anxiety about money and will be no help to her husband as he attempts to regroup. These are difficult times, and, sadly, Mickey is not permitted toppings.
KRAUTKRAMER: It’s repellent. Brain-in-a-jar novel writing —
MORGENSTERN: It works. What do you care how —
KRAUTKRAMER: — produces asinine, disjointed, —
PIERPONT: John Snyders novels, thirty of them produced in a week, —
MORGENSTERN: Some of my favorite reading...
KRAUTKRAMER: It’s unethical!
PIERPONT: One of them is already shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize, —
BARKERMAN: It’s a fact! The system, invented late last year by researchers at a New Jersey Starbucks, allows a writer to live for up to 10 business days submerged in a proprietary solution that nourishes him while his brain feeds fiction through electrodes to a computer. Brilliant? Or a harbinger of the Apocalypse. Go!
THIS IS Detective Jake Gizmo, our officer on the case.
— Where is the officer?
Right here, sir. He’s waving. (Next slide.)
— That’s your robotic officer? What is that, a pushcart body? A bucket head?
Yes, Your Honor.
— A lightbulb nose? You said he was cybernetic, Tom; you didn’t say this.
You’ll recall our original budget request, Mr. Mayor.
— Are those pincer-claws? Wavy arms and pincer claws?
“Manipulators.” Give him a chance, please. (Next slide.) Now, according to our tipster at the waterfront...
— A trench coat? Shades? Really?
What Gizmo lacks in looks he makes up in heart.
“Johnnie Red, neat.”
“Your friend drinking today?”
“How about it, Giz? You thirsty?”
“Just the Scotch, Mike. I’ll take his: Make mine a double.”
“Whirrr. Plotting heme toxicity.”
“Whirrr. Advise caution.”
“Mike... Gimme a draft.”
“Whirrr. State preference: Metropolitans vs. Phillies.”
“I like whoever beats the Yankees.”
“Whirrr. Philadelphia homicide rate up eleven percent over year end; our homicide rate projected up seventy-five percent this year.”
“Looks like we’re winning.”
“Whirrr. Technician Sweeney is busting my balls.”
“Whirrr. I like whoever beats the Yankees.”
“Now you’re talking.”
“You OK back there?”
“Want some pistachios?”
“Think he’ll show?”
“Doubt it. We didn’t see the Italian, so it could be there’s no drop tonight.”
— “Giacomo Puccini wrote the popular operas ‘La Bohème,’ ‘Madama Butterfly,’ and ‘Turandot.’”
— “Giacomo Puccini wrote the popular operas ‘La Bohème,’ ‘Madama Butterfly,’ and ‘Turandot.’”
— “Full name Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini.”
“My Dad liked the opera. Took me to one as a kid. Bought it in Brooklyn: drunk driver.”
— “Hit and run, Seventy-fifth Precinct, 1979.”
— “Correlating. Your father was investigating police corruption.”
— “Alert: Suspect acquired.”
“WAS YOU followed, Tony Clams?”
“You sure of that?”
“Yeah, yeah, real sure. I took precautions, like you said.”
“Then how come that nuts an' bolts police detective is standin' across the street, lookin' up at us with binocular eyes?”
“I don’t know, Boss.”
— “Hey Boss, maybe he’s sightseein’!”
“It wasn’t me he followed, Boss. I took the Cortlandt to the Van Wyck to the El, and doubled back through the Red Line at Ashmont. Plus it was rainin’ out, and I had my umbrella, a black one, like you said.”
“You’re talkin’ gibberish, Clams.”
“OH, YOU clattering collection of spare parts! It's your fault I’m marooned up here on this monorail like a common house cat. Get us down from here! Get us down, I say!”
— “Warning! Warning, Inspector Smith! You are shaking the monorail car!”
“So what if I am? I’ve every right to! Help! Help! Can anybody hear me? You down there! Hello! Hello! Oh, it’s no use; we’re too far up. Oh, heavens. How did I ever let you talk me into this unfortunate stakeout? I had tickets to the theater! I was going to see ‘Les Mis.’”
— “Patience, Inspector Smith.”
"I won $51 million, and then a week later I won $258 million."
"That was last year. On Saturday I found out I won another $480 million. The big game."
— "Uh huh."
"I keep winning lotteries."
— "Must be nice."
"It is. It is. You hear about people who win and have bad luck, or spend it all and go bankrupt, or the crazies come out of the woodwork or something, but it hasn’t happened to me."
— "Well, you’re new at this. Give it time."
"No, I also won $444 million in the 1990s. All’s well."
“I don’t mean to intrude.”
— “No, that’s OK.”
“Some of us are going out. Uh, to get a bite to eat. There’s an Olive Garden. I don’t know your plans.”
— “Sure. I’ll go.”
“OK. Take your time. Do you know where it is?”
— “I’ll find it.”
“You head out to the Southern State Parkway, and you go west.”
— “I have a phone.”
“Then you want 110 south...”
— “I know where it is. I passed it on the way.”
“No pressure. My name’s Pete.”
— “I’m just going to say goodbye.”
“Sure. Yeah. See you there.”
"Did you find everything you were looking for?"
"Are you a Barnes & Noble member?"
— "I used to be."
"It expired? Did you want to renew today?"
"This is a good one."
"It comes to eighty-two ninety. Did you want this as well?"
— "Here you go…"
"Um... It’s asking whether you read, um, ‘How to Be Alone’ by Jonathan Franzen."
— "Pardon me?"
"You bought it in 2003. Did you actually read it?"
— "Are you serious?"
"I can’t sell you new books until you read the old ones. Sorry. Store policy."
The Tip Jar