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Chapter I. Page Thirty Nine
“Oh my god.”
Maria said it with all the conviction of a grandmother who had just burned a pan of brownies. A few moments later, Herbert pulled himself away from her motionless form and started dancing around the bedroom on one foot. Gratification of this sort always gave him severe leg cramps.
He eventually sat on the edge of the bed, massaging his twitching thighs.
“Thanks,” he said. “That was very nice. In fact, it almost reminded me of sex.”
Maria was already snoring. He crawled back into bed just as she rolled over and burped into his face.
“And I want to thank you for sharing that with me,” me mumbled.
Herbert looked at his wife lying next to him, her opened mouth draining onto her pillow and thought, “I could park a skateboard in there.”
He could also clamp her mouth shut and watch her suffocate. But he wouldn’t.
That is called love.
He wouldn’t because he also knew she could just as easily rip the cord off the alarm clock and jab the two exposed live wires into his tongue.
That is called trust.
So rather than entertain himself with homicidal thoughts, Herbert decided to leave his pummeled Posturpedic and go play with his shortwave radio.
Now, you must understand that none of this has actually happened.
And none of this will ever happen.
This is called confusing.
After padding down the fifteen steps to the basement, Herbert sat at his radio bench and recorded the time in his log book.
His shortwave was crackling in a few moments, readied to pull in worthless chatter from around the globe. Tonight the sights were set for above the Arctic circle. There were some old Norad bases still operating, and their conversations were usually good cures for insomnia.
Tonight, the static was louder than usual.
Perhaps, a booster would help, thought Herbert, but there was always something coming up - the basement flooding, Maria’s electrolysis - and the money just wasn’t there. He wasn’t certain he really liked ham radio, anyway; seemed to him that everyone spoke in a southern accent.
A pound of squelch interrupted his thoughts. Then a fragment popped through his left speaker.
“...edded this wae...”
He hit another knob.
“..edded...they’re headed this way...”
Before Herbert could fully make out the next sentence, sirens began sounding from the town hall two miles away. In the wake of “The Morning After,” it took only a few moments to make a pretty grim connection and decide to wake Maria.
He spun around in his chair to find himself looking into the belly of a man wearing what looked like a checkered tablecloth.
Not surprising, the man was smiling.
“Hi!,” he said. “We’re interrupting this program to bring you the following important message.”
“What?” was all that Herbert could muster.
“You’re in good hands,” said the smiling man.
Everything turned white, then blue, then someone pulled the plug.
Things were white again when Herbert’s mind started working; or rather, the light around him was white. Devoid of all color, it was simply glaring, blinding illumination.
“Is he?” said a voice.
“I don’t know,” said another.
Herbert broke in.
“Am I what?” he asked.
“It isn’t,” affirmed the second voice. The two voices then drifted off to another corner of the room.
Herbert found that he was now lying on his back, and that any move he made produced some rather nasty pain in every pore of his body. It wasn’t long before he thought a self-imposed paralysis would be in order.
The voices eventually returned.
“I don’t suppose you are hypnotized,” said the first. “I mean, if I told you to do my total bidding right now, I don’t supposed you’d have any subconscious compulsion to do so.”
“I don’t believe so,” replied Herbert, “unless it’s got something to do with making my every move an exercise in masochistic dentistry.”
“Oh,” said the second voice, “That feeling will pass. You might call it – ah – jet lag. Yes, you might call it that.”
“So I’m not dead or anything like that?”
“No, no, no. Well...” the voice began to correct itself. “Well, I guess in a way, you are, or I should say, you were.”
“Have I said I’m confused yet?”
“No, but then again, you may have at some time.”
“And I’m not at the dentist?”
“No, you’re right here.”
“Our pleasure,” said the second voice.
Up to this point, Herbert had no idea what his hosts looked like. That had only been vague, disembodied voices coming from somewhere behind his head. He tried again to move, and this time succeeded in bringing his right hand before his face. In it, he was clutching the pencil he used to log his time while seated in the basement. 4:15am. Funny how things stay with you, he thought.
The voices spoke again.
“As you see, the agony was only temporary.”
Herbert looked up, and for the first time saw where the voices came from. Herbert then realized that all the pieces had finally fallen together, and they had fallen into the toilet.
He also didn’t know he could yell so loudly.
“That’s a new response,” said one of the voices.
Chapter III: Just the Facts, Ma’am
He wasn’t sure whether it was from going hoarse or getting an injection of what appeared to be turquoise Jello, but it wasn’t long before Herbert found it impossible to keep on yelling. He just sat back and panted. And watched. His two hosts sat opposite him, saying things like, “There, there,” and “That’s a good boy.”
Herbert was using the valuable time to decide between going crazy or asking a lot of questions.
“Where am I?” (He opted for the questions.)
“Right here. Where else would you be?”
Herbert wondered if it wasn’t too late to still go crazy.
“Where...is...here?” he tried, instead.
“Ah,” responded one of his hosts, “This would be a question of geography, then?”
“Geographically, we are all two miles beneath what was once called Helena, Montana.”
“Yes. Before the last war.”
The embodied voice turned to its companion.
“You’re better with dates. When was that?”
“Let’s see...it was four, or was it five...”
Herbert waited...he had been submerged beneath Helena for five years?
“...five, yes – five hundred years ago, because four hundred years ago we had the Great Fire followed by the food shorta– oh dear, there he goes again.”
This time Herbert went hoarse first. He spent the next few minutes gasping and trying to sort things out: two miles under Helena, sometime in the 25th century. That might explain the appearance of his two hosts.
His two hosts, currently involved in saying things like, “There, there,” and, “That’s a good boy,” again, were rather unremarkable, aside from being seven feet tall, completely hairless and having skin that could generously be described as translucent. Add to this portrait a minute, lipless slit for a mouth, two large, languid eyes and a head the size of a small (but, nonetheless, prizewinning) watermelon, and you have pretty much summed up Herbert’s hosts. Nothing terribly unusual.
This appearance gave Herbert the impression that he was in the company of some highly developed, wise descendant of the human species.
Truth to tell, nothing could be more deceiving. Those small (but, nonetheless, prizewinning) watermelons proved only that when given area (say, for example, the human head) is enlarged, if there is nothing to fill the area, the resultant void is replaced with a vacuum. So, while Herbert’s hosts gave the distinct impression of being advanced, possibly telekinetic beings who would like nothing more than to dash off a few dozen theorems on quantum mechanics before breakfast, and then re-arrange the solar system until mid-afternoon, they were in fact, rather boring individuals who frequently skipped breakfast because something so simple as a toaster would leave them stymied - and then spend much of their free time watching recordings of old “Laverne and Shirley” episodes or Super Bowl games.
Herbert didn’t know this.
Not yet, anyway.
“I think he’s done yelling.”
“I have another injection ready, just in case.”
Herbert was fully mobile now, but he remained in his chair.
“I hate to sound like a spoilsport,” Herbert said, “but could you tell me why I am here?
His hosts looked at each other.
“We were hoping you could tell us.”
“Of course. You probably don’t remember it, but you appeared right in the middle of an intercept play that would have meant a first down for the Steelers.”
“You have completely lost me,” said Herbert.
“Ok, while you were unconscious, we ran your fingerprints through our identification databases and that, with the name on the front of your garment, provided us with a report.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“It seems you don’t exist.”
Herbert reached for the syringe and gave himself the injection.
Chapter IV. Velveeta
Herbert was still groggy when he awoke, alone, in the small room that he was assuming would be his entire world for a very long time. He figured he had been asleep several hours, but more importantly, he had the need to use a bathroom.
“Great,” he thought. “Do people in the 25th century still use bathrooms, or do those big heads of theirs just explode?”
He stood up, stretched cautiously, and approached a panel that could pass for a door. It pushed open easily.
Eureka. People in the 25th century did go to the bathroom. In bathrooms. He went over to a very large toilet and sat, his feet barely reaching the floor. A ventilator starting humming softly. Just as Herbert looked around for something to read, the lights dimmed slightly and the show began.
In his lap.
Herbert looked down to see two women about six inches in height begin performing an undulating striptease just above his navel.
Later, when he could think clearly, he realized how fortunate he was to be already on a toilet at that moment. As it was, Herbert managed to finish in record time and fumbled his way to another corner of the bathroom as the two dancers slowly fizzled away from their hovering location and the lights returned to normal.
Small wonder he couldn’t find something to read.
Herbert slowly returned to the main room. He heard a slight whoosh behind him, and again the lights around him dimmed. He spun around to see a figure silhouetted in the doorway that had just appeared.
“I am...Velveeta.” the figure said.
“I was told we had a visitor.” She was entering the room now, and the door was sealing behind her.
Herbert finally managed to speak.
He said, “Hi.”
Velveeta wasn’t as tall as his two hosts; she stood perhaps six and a half feet – and in her long gown, she seemed more to float that walk across the room. Even in the dimmed light, Herbert could tell that her large, moist eyes were brown.
“Please sit and relax,” she said. “I want you to be totally relaxed.”
Herbert watched her glide towards him as he sat on the bed. “That may be a challenge.” He cleared his throat, “So, You’re Velveeta?,” is what he tried to say, but it came out more, “You Velveeta?.” He saw that she, too, was completely hairless, especially after she slowly removed her lavender skullcap and sat next to him, examining him like a laboratory specimen.
“I’m one of the fertile ones, you know,” said Velveeta.
What does one say to that sort of conversational ice-breaker? “Congratulations?” “Your parents must be proud?”
Herbert managed, “Fertile ones?”
There was something very relaxing about those large, brown eyes. Nearly hypnotic.
“Yes. Fertile.” She rolled her Rs as if purring. “I am inseminated every six months. I have borne thirty-two healthy fetuses since I was twelve years of age.”
Herbert pulled back, absolutely mystified at how to respond to that.
“Right now, I’m between pregnancies.”
“Oh,” said Herbert. Still at a loss for conversation.
Her eyes seemed to widen ever so slightly - a little smile came to Velveeta.
“I’m very clean,” she said, rather proudly.
“People here do seem to enjoy their hygiene,” said Herbert, still unsettled by the unheralded lap dance a few minutes previously.
Velveeta moved closer, slowing rubbing at a strap on her shoulder.
“Did the bathroom excite you? I was one of the dancers in that performance.”
“Ah, you dance very well,” Herbert said.
“I was between pregnancies then, too.” She pulled at her shoulder strap while cautiously reaching out to Herbert’s forehead with her free hand.
“ Your hair. It’s so barbaric.”
She clutched a lock at his temple. The hair struggled to remain attached during the examination. Velveeta concentrated her gaze on his hair, analyzing how it entwined about her long fingers. Then she examined the stubble on Herbert’s face.
“I’m sorry, but I haven’t shaved. All I brought with me was a lead pencil.”
Herbert was certain that at any moment, he would wake up next to his snoring Maria. Dreams like this one never last, even at their most vivid, and with the hair pulling, painful.
“Oh, don’t shave this. Can...” she leaned closer to his face. Herbert caught the smell of - ginger? - cinnamon? - Old Spice? - from her. “...can you grow a beard ?”
“I could try. I think I’ll be having a lot of free time here. Say, aren’t you getting a bit chilled?”
Velveeta’s cape was gradually sliding toward the floor.
“No...well, perhaps just a little bit.” She was running her nails down Herbert’s chest, slowly separating his pajama buttons along with way, continuing her examination.
“Hair. You’re absolutely covered with hair.”
“Actually, I was considered balding back home.”
“Balding. It sounds absolutely vile.” Velveeta pressed Herbert back, her face barely inches from his.
“I have heard that in your time, couples copulated with each other regularly...sometimes even weekly.”
Herbert was sure the time to wake up from this dream was coming soon. Or if not interrupted by the alarm, it would fade out like a late night TV movie. But Velveeta pressed closer, all ginger, all cinnamon, all Old Spice.
“Well, weekly, that would be nice,” Herbert confessed.
“Men here don’t want to bother,” said Velveeta, pulling back. “I go to the clinic and it’s all done with tubes. Lots and lots of tubes. I’ve taken to naming them - here’s Oscar, here’s Bozo, here’s Melvin...I find I have had the best success with Melvin.”
She stared into Herbert’s eyes.
“I bet you know how, even after 500 years you know how. You can’t help it. You have actual androgens in your body. You are a slave to your chemistry.”
Velveeta left Herbert and waved her hand near the ceiling by the entry door.
“We won’t be disturbed now,” she said, practically giggling and launching into a slow, gleeful dance similar to the one Herbert witnessed in the bathroom, only about six feet taller now.
“Does this excite you?”
“Well, as far as my dreams go, this is pretty exciting. You are very attractive.”
Velveeta stopped her dance and slid next to Herbert on the bed.
“Oh I like that. I wonder...do you know any of those bestial, metered rhymes from your time?”
“You mean, like, poetry?”
“Oh yes, like po-ahhh-treee.” Velveeta was again upon Herbert, moving her face along his stubble, purring into his neck. Herbert grasped as bits of his memory - poetry, rhymes, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, no not that, something appropriate, something musical, something from his dating years so many centuries back, after all this is only a dream...
“Here we come,” Herbert said.
“Walk down the street.”
Velveeta’s eyes expanded, she nibbled his ear.
“Get the funniest looks from....”
A button from his pajama top flew across the room.
“...everyone we meet...”
Pajama top - history. Chest hair - note to self - it will regrow. “More!” said Velveeta.
Herbert burst into song.
“Hey! Hey! We’re the Monkees!”
“Can’t say we’re Monkee’in round!”
“We’re too busy singing!!!”
“To put anybody down!”
Herbert couldn’t remember any more of the song, which was just as well, since Velveeta had long since stopped listening. Her head was arched back, her large brown eyes were clamped tight, her hands pressed into Herbert’s somewhat less hairy chest...she held this pose for a few moments before shuddering and floating down, surrounding Herbert once more. Her finger traced the outline of his ear.
“Grrr?” said Herbert, softly.
Velveeta smiled and hopped off the bed. “Thank you. I believe I shall sleep quite well tonight.” She picked up her cape and wrapped herself in it, then looked around the room, finding her skullcap.
“By the way,” said Herbert. “I am called Herbert.”
Velveeta paused while adjusting her cap.
“Herbert,” she mused. “What a peculiar name. I think I shall name a tube after you.”
As you may recall, Herbert has found himself in the 25th century as a result of some clerical error, for all we know. He has also been informed that he doesn’t exist and that he has, according to the sultry Velveeta, a peculiar name – all without having to leave his room and a most entertaining toilet.
More is bound to happen.
End of Part One
Chapter V. Post Toasting
Herbert had given up trying to get the door to his room - his cell? - to open up. He had tried everything he felt to be logical, even speaking “friend!” and gesturing what he imagined a masonic handshake would be, to no effect. So now, he sat in the bathroom, getting used to the sight of two dancers hovering over his lap, and wondering how Playboy interviews were being presented in the 25th century, or whether the DNA in Hugh Hefner’s bathrobe had been used to create the current population two miles below what was once Helena, Montana.
He was interrupted by a sudden rapping on the bathroom door.
“Herbert! We have to talk!”
Herbert slowly peered out the bathroom door.
“Herbert. I have just been to the clinic. The technicians there inform me that I am not pregnant. Can you explain this?” She sat on the bed in the main room, impatiently drumming her long fingers on her knees. “You said I was attractive, I felt quite aroused, we copulated, and I had a wonderful night’s sleep.”
“Well, our little encounter last night, while it was very...surreal...was more like, well, foreplay.”
“Foreplay? That sounds like another earthy word.”
“I’m confident that my 500 year dry spell remains pretty much remains intact. And I have...”
“Is that,” she leaned forward, pointing at his second day’s growth of whiskers, “what you call a beard ?” Her hand moved toward the strap holding her robe in place.
“Now stop that!”
Velveeta started for a moment, then gazed at Herbert with her large, brown eyes, again widening hypnotically.
“And stop that, too!”
She narrowed her stare to two catlike slits.
“Now, listen to me! A lot of things have happened to me in a short time, and you’ll excuse me if I have a little trouble piecing together some sort of - fractured reality. Since you are here in this room I’ve been placed in, I am going to presume you weren’t some hallucination last night. Or whatever time it was, because this room doesn’t even have a clock.”
“You thought I was – I was – a hallucination?” Velveeta slowly ruminated on each word. And she turned her face to the floor.
“Well, what am I to think? I appear in a strange place, get shot up with some florescent goo, have dancers appear over my belly button, and a girl goes nuts over me when I sing an old TV theme song. And don’t you do that, either!”
Velveeta’s thin lower lip had begun quivering, her brown eyes were now rimmed in red and were watering up into the expression of a sad puppy.
“You - you don’t think I’m attractive!” she cried. “You don’t like me because I don’t have – I don’t have – hair!!”
She stood to her full six-and-a-half feet.
She pointed an accusing finger at Herbert. “You don’t even want to get me pregnant!” She threw down her skullcap and left the door that opened behind her.
“But...” was all that Herbert could muster. He tried to follow her out the door but was met by his two hosts, now looking very worried.
“Was she just in here?” asked one.
“Yes, she nearly ran you down when she left. It just happened. Don’t you remember?”
“She didn’t – hurt you or anything?” said the other.
“No...I think she’s just upset that she isn’t pregnant. It seems to be a hobby.”
The hosts looked concerned.
“You mean you and she...”
“No, I, I don’t know ... you gave me that stupid shot that could have made me imagine anything.”
“Oh, that’s disgusting,” said one of the hosts.
“Total barbarism,” said the other, who drew a breath. “I suppose these things are to be expected, however. Well, come along, we have much to do.”
The hosts immediately began marching down the empty hallway. Herbert had to jog to keep pace with their impatient legs.
“By the way,” he puffed. “My name’s Herbert.”
“So what’s yours?”
“Names. What do they call you here?”
“Oh. I am called Specimen. Her is called Coli.”
Their rapid strides seemed to quicken. Herbert was nearly running.
“Look, are you two angry or something? I mean, was Velveeta your, you know, girlfriend or something?”
His hosts stopped abruptly.
The one who called himself Specimen spoke first.
“Try to understand something, you barbaric relic of the 20th century. We have a tightly controlled, smooth-running civilization. It is bad enough that you disrupt our football conference with your arrival, but now you pose the threat of breeding further mutations such as yourself.”
“Yes,” interjected Coli. “Mutants. Short mutants with ... hair.” He nearly shuddered.
“At times I wish that machine had never been built,” mused Specimen as they resumed their walk. “I thought the last one of your kind we had here was under control, but he was so crafty, so simian.”
“Is that why you kept me locked up in that room?”
“Normally, you could come and go by merely approaching the wall. But that’s the nice thing about your case. As far as the main controls are concerned, you don’t exist.” Coli seemed quite pleased in relaying this information.
“An amusing concept, don’t you think?” added Specimen.
Herbert’s stomach growled in response. His hosts grimaced.
“Can you not control yourself in any way? I suppose you must be fed. Delays, delays...”
Herbert saw a light at the end of the tunnel. He suspected it wasn’t a suburb of Helena.
The dining room was a vast, vaulted concrete auditorium. It was jammed with small tables arranged in long rows, each of which sported a checkered tablecloth. All except one.
For a brief moment, Herbert had a fleeting feeling of recognition, but his thoughts were interrupted by a commotion echoing from the far end of the auditorium.
“Not again,” sighed Coli.
The three went to the source of the disturbance, which amounted to four more bald, seven foot men waving their arms about, moaning, and striking histrionic poses around what appeared to be a toaster.
“It won’t work,” said one.
“You call this toast?” cried another, brandishing a slice of bread that looked more stale than toasted.
“I’m going back to the game.”
Herbert observed this activity with only mild interest, since the group was so intent on complaining that it apparently hadn’t noticed the toaster’s plug dangling from the backside of the table. Herbert plugged it into a nearby socket, intrigued that AC appliances hadn’t evolved into something more elaborate in half a millennium.
The anxious discussion continued while Herbert made himself a quick breakfast, and he was only noticed when he began waving around his slice of nearly-burned toast.
“Excuse me,” said Herbert. “Is there any butter around?”
Six heads turned to him. Herbert stepped back.
“I’ll be happy with margarine. It’s no big deal.”
“How did you do that?” asked Specimen, pointing at Herbert’s burned toast.
“I cooked it too long?”
“No. How did you get the toaster to work?”
“I plugged it in.” Herbert was beginning to wonder about this tightly-controlled, smooth-running civilization.
“The toaster’s working?!?” asked one of the others.
The rest converged on the machine, excitedly overstuffing bread into its slots. Specimen and Coli grabbed Herbert, who was trying to bite into his nearly-burned toast.
“You are a very dangerous man,” said Specimen.
Chapter VI. Relative Theories
“So this is our new electronics expert,” said the man in the chair. He made a feeble motion towards Specimen and Coli. “You may go, boys.”
If they had possessed brows to furrow, Specimen and Coli would have furrowed them. Instead, they merely left.
“So what do you think of our Bobbsey twins?”
“Prunes,” said Herbert. “They need prunes.”
The man smiled.
“You’re the only person in this entire complex who has ever seen a prune.”
“I don’t really exist, do I?” said Herbert.
“Oh, stuff and nonsense. Of course you exist. Everyone here exists, too, although I doubt many of us actually live.”
“ ‘Stuff and nonsense?’,” asked Herbert. “Do people still talk like that in the 25th century?”
“No, not really. I’m afraid our literature is rather piecemeal. Few people here can read very well. Seems it’s easier to let the machines do it all.”
“At least language has survived.”
“Only here, I’m afraid. There’s another complex just a few miles away where our conversation would be no better understood than if we were speaking, say, Middle English.”
Herbert was noticing something unusual about his new host’s face. It seemed to be sporting a five o’clock shadow where his eyebrows would be. His attention was drawn to a painting on the wall - a painting of a window, and the window was framing a brilliant sunflower. A brilliant, purple sunflower.
“We’ve been in a vacuum here,” said the man. “Selectively breeding, squeezing the bell curve to a narrow tower, watching football games whose players have been dead for centuries, and waiting...”
“Waiting for what?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows? Let’s get some breakfast.”
They returned to the dining room, with a single table laid out for them, a huge melon resting on top with two spoons thrust into it.
“Where is everyone?”
“Aside from the handful of citizens you encountered around the toaster earlier, few of us actually eat breakfast. I suspect most of them are still in bed, recovering from a marathon football presentation.”
“This football conference?”
“Super Bowl Ex Vee Eye Eye Eye,” said the host. “A very popular selection.”
“Ex Vee Eye Eye Eye?” asked Herbert. “You mean 18?”
“XVIII is the Roman Numeral for 18.”
“See, you’re becoming more valuable to us by the minute.” A cart rolled up out of Herbert’s view. “Oh, yes, I believe you’ve already met my – ah – I think she would be considered my great-great-granddaughter.”
“Hello, again, Herbert.”
“We’ve very proud of her. Still between pregnancies, my dear?”
She gave Herbert a cold look.
“Yes,” she answered.
Chapter VII. Herbert’s Bachelor Breakfast (recalled from his days before Maria)
The Hard Boiled Egg
Ingredients: 1 pan
Put eggs in pan and add water (just enough to cover eggs)
Boil until dry
Scrape off shells
Cut away brown or black areas to taste. Garnish with salt.
Chapter VIII. Relative Theories II
While Herbert, Velveeta, and her great-great-grandfather finish their cold breakfast and icy conversation, let us review the events that followed Herbert’s mysterious disappearance in the 20th century and subsequent arrival in the 25th. The fractured converation he was monitoring from above the Arctic circle indeed came from an SAC outland base; however, it was a false alarm. Unfortunately, the flock of geese that set off sirens across the continent was a phenomenon that couldn’t be correctly reported since the batteries running the outpost’s radio were government issue from sometime predating the Spanish-American War, and these batteries chose to fail immediately after the initial announcement was made.
This is known as Murphy’s Law.
Buttons were pushed immediately on both sides, launching missiles that were considered state-of-the art peacekeepers, but constructed under low-bid secrecy. This natually meant that half of them failed before they left their respective silos.
Incidently, the people on both sides who did the actual button pushing were not acting on behalf of the people they represented, who truly wanted nothing to do with a nuclear war. The poeple who did the button pushing were appointed to their respective tasks after years of mediocre service to their respective countries, after which it was determined that they be placed in some position to best keep them out of the way. The only other thing they had in common was an intense hatred for the other’s country.
This is known as the Peter Principle.
Getting back to the missiles: of the half that actually left their silos, half malfunctioned and crashed into each other, a few shot off into space (one destroying Tranquility Base), some honed in on their own heat sensors and were still, 500 years later, circling in a vain effort to catch themselves. Finally, a dozen from each side actually started toward their intended targets.
In Wyoming, the anti-ballistics worked so well that not only were the Soviet missiles destroyed, but their heat sensors sent the remaining US Minutemen directly to the densest pocket of hot air in North America: Washington DC.
This is known as a “cheap shot.”
Of no particular interest besides one of potential irony, at the moment when Washington DC was about to become a memory, the President was in bed with his current First Lady (having already divorced two of them) at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The blast hit just as he was trying to experience some physiological fireworks of his own. What he felt was the slightest tickle at the base of his spine.
The Third First Lady never had the chance to pretend saying, “Oh My God” with all the conviction of a grandmother who had just burned a pan of brownies.
“So the east coast was hit pretty hard,” observed Herbert.
“Put it this way,” said his latest host, who now seemed to be sprouting wisps of hair beneath his skullcap. “You remember a town called Philadelphia?”
“Beachfront property. Radioactive, but still beachfront property.”
“I must visit my clinic,” she announced. “Good bye, Herbert.”
“Goodbye,” said Herbert.
The breakfast host also said goodbye.
“Gluteus?” thought Herbert.
Gluteus noticed Herbert’s reaction.
“My second choice for a name was Herbert,” he said.
Chapter IX. Traveler’s Check
“This is what brought you here,” said Gluteus. He was pointing to the center of the laboratory now, momentarily distracting Herbert from a pair of caged rabbits busily making more little bunnies.
“Those are Velveeta’s, I suppose,” said Herbert.
“We all have our hobbies...this machine was another man’s hobby. We had a scientist a few years back. Brilliant man. Made excellent toast. Probably dwarfed Einstein.” Gluteus paused. “You do remember Einstein, don’t you?”
“Sure,” said Herbert. “Fuzzy hair, E=mc squared, sounded like Andy Kaufman.”
“Ah, Andy Kaufman, he has been with us a few times. Right. Well, while the rest of us were struggling with our toasters, this man sat in this very room, and in less than half a day figured out the entire space-time continuum and built this little apparatus.”
The apparatus – a small box on the laboratory table – had a nasty habit of pulsating in and out of focus, occasionally vanishing altogether.
“Very pretty,” noted Herbert. “Does it sing?”
“No, but it is pretty. I was here the last day he used it. It came back without him.”
“How do you know he made it to his destination?”
“There are some things one does not question. If he didn’t come back, it is because he chose not to.”
“I see,” said Herbert, who really didn’t.
“After his departure, we used it for a time to retrieve technicians from your era. You understand, to repair our various machines as they failed us. Usually at the most inconvenient times.”
“We lost all the owner’s manuals. It worked out rather well for a while – they were usually too dazed to comprehend what was going on, and then we’d have them back to their own beds in time for sunrise. It must have all seemed like a dream...”
The rabbits knocked over their cage, continuing unperturbed and enthusiastically.
“Oh to be young again,” mused Gluteus.
“Velveeta doesn’t give them anything, does she?”
“Of course she does.”
“It is distracting,” observed Herbert, not certain if he should be an observing Herbert.
Gluteus approached the wall and then stepped aside.
“After you,” he said,
“But it won’t...” began Herbert as the door opened.
“I adjusted the central profiling system,” said Gluteus. “You now exist.”
Herbert spent most of the afternoon walking in and out of his apartment, vainly trying to detect the seam where the doorway appeared. He also discovered other wonders of his room, now that he was a recognized entity. Some form of music system seemed linked to the lights, and a large screen appeared with a wave of his hand, with the only program being a scratchy copy of a “Leave It to Beaver” episode.
“Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver,” June said.
Herbert was sure he had seen this episode some 500 years past, and was just thinking he wouldn’t mind watching a few “F-Troops” or “Gilligan Island” broadcasts, when the hallway door opened behind him, the lights went out, and the aroma of Old Spice surrounded him.
“I’m going to give you another chance,” she said.
Herbert’s assigned costume for this extended adolescent dream was a wrap-around cape with a scratchy strip he presumed to serve as an attachment for clothing accessories. Everything had a shimmer of near plastic, yet remained porous enough for some level of comfort. And since the wonders of his assigned room did not include anything sharper than a bright overhead light, his beard was catching on some of the equally scratchy strips presumed for use as accessories.
Velveeta seemed unconcerned with Herbert’s discomfort and offered a simple solution - off with the robe.
“This attention is very nice and all,” said Herbert, “but would you mind if I turned off the television? I feel rather funny getting cuddly in front of Eddie Haskell.”
“Does it matter?” said Velveeta, already taking Herbert by the arm and leading him to the bed.
Those eyes, those large, deep, brown eyes.
“My apologies. I suppose there is some ancient rite you must perform as well.”
“Um,” Herbert stood. “Just a minute.”
He turned off the unending saga of the Cleaver family, darkening the room. Velveeta watched as Herbert made gestures in front of some speakers and a smaller screen, which began to produce sounds that were almost, but not quite, Debussy.
“Are you going to dance now?” asked Velveeta.
“No, not now.”
Herbert gazed thoughtfully at the large blank wall, making hesitant movements that resulted in cabinet doors opening and closing until he spied something useful in one of them.
It smelled like it contained something alcoholic; it was red and it was near some small glasses, so he presumed it to be something other than a topical antiseptic. He sat next to Velveeta with two glasses and began pouring her a drink.
“Should I be saying anything?”
“Only if you have something to say. Here’s to brown eyes.”
He held up his glass for a toast. He had to bring Velveeta’s up to his to make the requisite “clink.”
Herbert sipped his red tinted alcohol. It reminded him of a merlot mixed with vodka. A flashback to his college days. He glanced at Velveeta during his musing to find she had finished hers in a fairly quick gulp. Her face was flushing.
“I feel very unstable.”
“That’s understandable. Haven’t you ever had something like that before?”
She smiled. “I feel I should be asking you a question.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What’s – ,” Velveeta drew a deep breath, “what’s your sign?”
She fell onto Herbert’s shoulder, giggling.
“I see you’re finally relaxing.”
“It’s that music, it makes me feel like I can crawl out of my body.”
“You don’t want that.”
“I tingle,” she said. She stared at Herbert. “I’m very clean you know.”
“Yes, you are.”
“And I am very fertile.”
“So you have said.”
“I have successfully borne thirty-two fetuses.”
“And not one of them calls on your birthday.”
Velveeta seemed to be seeing her fingers for the first time. She waved her right hand over her head.
“I feel so tall. Am I supposed to dance now?”
“No,” said Herbert. “Not now.”
“An interesting rite,” she whispered. “The women and men drug each others and then talk about how they’d like to fertilize.”
Herbert smiled and stroked Velveeta’s arm, which blushed under his touch. He drew out a “V” and it seemed to linger there for longer than he expected. He figured it would be an interesting sight if someone were to break in at that moment, two beings separated by half of a millennia, scarcely of the same species and scarcely dressed, when the door took shape and opened.
“You turned off ‘Leave it to Beaver” for this?” asked Specimen.
End of Part Two
Another Interlude: Alas and Alaska
Definition: Fecund (Fe-kand, fek-and), adj., 1. fruitful, productive; fertile; 2. Capable of producing offspring or vegetable growth abundantly, prolific; see Velveeta (from Latin fecundus)
Chapter X. Eruptions
“Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.”
- Lord Byron
It is the nature of survival to be suspicious of the unusual. Some humans follow the instinct quietly, choosing to stand back and observe; others tend to move in with a blank mind and take immediate action. Julius Caesar declared the development of shatter-resistant glass an abomination to the gods; farmers destroyed the first hot-air balloon. Suspicion grows from superstition, and if transcribed into Latin, Greek, or Sanscrit, it can become a religion.
So now, we have a semi-clad Herbert and Velveeta creating a striking image along one of the many hallways located two miles beneath what was once known as Helena, Montana, escorted by two hairless seven-foot hosts.
“You two are absolutely seminal,” hissed Coli.
The hallway ended abruptly, and with some reluctance a door pulled open into a small room that had obviously not been used in some time.
“An elevator?” asked Herbert.
“Very good,” said Specimen. “You two seem to have a taste for adventure. We’re all going for a little ride.”
“Does Gluteus know about this?” asked Velveeta.
“I think they’re still mad about the toaster,” said Herbert.
The elevator seized upward, stopped, then resumed fitfully. The dim light in the ceiling flickered, and Herbert noted there were no floor indicators.
“You nearly exposed our little technician repair program,” said Coli. “I finally calmed the group down by telling everyone you were my special cousin from Denmark.”
The elevator lurched again.
“This is not encouraging. Your cousin?”
“And now you’re apparently set on contaminating one of our breeding females.”
“That was the intention,” said Velveeta. “You didn’t answer me about Gluteus.”
“We’re taking things into our own hands,” said Specimen.
The elevator scratched through bits of root on its journey, coming to an abrupt halt. Herbert shook his head.
“I think my ears are popping.”
“What’s the matter, oh Supreme Electrician? Forget to bring something along to chew on?”
Specimen and Coli put on some dark glasses.
“Keep your eyes closed,” Herbert whispered to Velveeta.
“You have a plan?” she asked.
The elevator doors swung open.
Everything seemed erased.
“Welcome to Helena!” announced Coli.
“Do I look now?” asked Velveeta.
Herbert filtered the bright light with his hand. “No, not yet.” He walked to the opened door.
“For pete’s sake, I don’t believe it!”
Specimen smiled. “No ozone layer out there to protect you, and twelve miles to the next taste of civilization, and there they only speak Japanese.”
“No, not that,” said Herbert. “I mean, look there - Halley’s Comet!!”
“What?” said Coli.
“Impossible!’ said Specimen.
“See for yourself, Chuckles, it’s clear as day!”
Coli and Specimen stepped out of the elevator. Herbert stepped back in.
“It’s right over there.”
The elevator doors closed behind them. Coli and Specimen invoked some of Herbert’s ancestry as illegitimate.
Inside, Herbert told Velveeta to open her eyes.
“Where are they?”
“Sunning, my dear, sunning.”
Since the upward journey had cleared the elevator shaft, the return ride was without incident. Herbert’s ears popped twice, even without chewing, but he felt better. Velveeta adjusted her velvet cap and, so reassembled, requested poetry.
“Um, ok, said Herbert, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, thou art...”
“I prefer the one about the monkeys. It so much more - primitive.”
Primitive was beginning to describe Herbert’s face, with several days of uneven growth. He was also relieved because he had exhausted his recollection of anything Shakespearean.
The elevator reached its destination, the doors opened, and its two occupants were greeted by a very angry Coli and Specimen.
Angry and sunburned Coli and Specimen.
“But... how?” was all Herbert could muster.
“We took the stairs,” said Coli.
Herbert grabbed Velveeta and pushed between them, running as fast as he could. He knew his paces could hardly keep up with their seven-foot strides, but he did what every racer knows never to do, anyway.
He looked back.
Herbert stopped running.
“What are you doing?!” called out an astonished Velveeta.
“I don’t believe we have to hurry. Check out the tour guides.”
Coli and Specimen were not having a good time of it. Between the two mile race down the stairwell and the near blistering sunburn, their movements were reduced to one agonized step after the other, with several seconds between to recuperate amid cries of “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!”
Coli, however, did manage to pound on the nearby wall, which set off an alarm of sorts: a lightly ringing bell was followed by a soothing voice, as if calling guests to afternoon tea.
“May I interrupt for a moment,” it said. “We have intruders on the - click - third - click - level. They appear to be contaminated and are in the process of disrupting this - click - afternoon’s - click - football presentation. The games shall be suspended until the intruders have been found and eliminated.”
The response to the quiet announcement was almost instantaneous. The floor on level three began to rumble with the feet of Super Bowl fanatics. Velveeta pushed Herbert to the wall, which obligingly opened and sent him tumbling to the floor.
Velveeta knelt next to him. “We’re in the laboratory.”
“Great. I could use an aspirin.”
“We have to do something. That mob will be on us in no time.”
“You could sic your rabbits on them - they should outnumber them by now.”
Velveeta pointed to the dusty box on the lab table. “Do you think you could work that device?”
The box was still demonstrating its rather annoying habit of fading in and out. The rumbling was growing nearer.
“Ok, ok,” Herbert picked up the box. “Hold me around the waist.”
“It’ll ground the current.”
“I don’t know. I just need to have you do something.”
Velveeta clasped her arms around Herbert as he moved his hands in rhythm with the pulsing box, and grabbed it when it appeared to be in its most solid state. As he felt himself melt into Velveeta, he hit the red button.
When the mob appeared in the lab doorway, Herbert and Velveeta were gone.
The mob, finding nothing on the third level, decided to check out the elevator shaft. There they found Coli and Specimen, looking very contaminated in their pathetic sunburned state, and since the two of them claimed their innocence in the loudest terms, they were determined to be the most guilty. What the mob left of them was fed to Velveeta’s rabbits later that day. Inexplicably, the next litter of bunnies were completely bald.
Gluteus worried about this series of events for several days, but not enough to interrupt his marathon viewing of “Gilligan Island” episodes. He liked Mary Ann the best.
Chapter XI. Loss of Innocence
The earth was angry. It growled, argued, fought with any and all comers. The latest comers were Man. Barely erect, barely Neanderthal, they cowered in their caves, if they could be found, or under ledges without the benefit of central heating. The fire was only in the sky.
They sat, huddling, waiting to evolve, when an odd sound startled them upright - some of them for the first time. It was a sound they had never heard before.
It was a human voice.
“Hello!!!” shouted Herbert again. He was attending to a dazed Velveeta as best he could. There were no soft rocks for her to lie on. He was hoping his shouts would attract help, or at least someone with an umbrella, as a storm was approaching.
Velveeta roused herself in time to witness the approach of the fuzzy humanoids.
“We may have gone back in time just a bit too far.”
“They’re so – hairy,” said Velveeta, mesmerized by their follicular excesses. “I seem drawn to such a purpose right now.”
When she stood, her six foot height dwarfed the confused creatures. Their curiosity quickly satisfied, they quickly drew back.
“Velveeta, we’ve got to get out of here...if I can get the hang of these buttons.”
“Herbert - I need to stay....I feel so maternal here.”
“Velveeta, you don’t know what you’re saying.”
She marched up to Herbert and pressed the box into his hands.
“Yes, I do,” she replied. She pressed the red button and stepped back.
Herbert simply vanished.
Velveeta turned to the terrified, not-yet-evolved to Neanderthals, and adjusted her velvet cap. They seemed ready to run to the nearest tree.
“Gentlemen, mommy’s here to teach you all a little lesson.”
Herbert was up a tree of his own, a mere quarter million years away. His senses revealed actual voices nearby, familiar human voices, Anglo-Saxton voices. The air was filled with merriment, the sounds of an old blues band on someone’s phonograph.
“Over there,” thought Herbert. “Over there is the room where I spent my sophomore year at college. Gad, that must be at least 15 years ago...or 500 years ago...or a quarter million years in the future...” Patios were lined with Japanese lanterns, signs were encouraging the Bullfrogs to pounce the Chips, even the smell of Charlie Keller’s burning barbequed chicken, chicken he ate the night...
...the night he proposed to Maria.
He looked around. This wasn’t just some home movie, some diorama at a museum, or even his imagination. He looked at the base of the tree.
He saw himself sitting there. With Maria.
He could only hear bits of their conversation. He watched himself plead his case to a non-committed jury of one. Herbert remembered his hope at the time that she wouldn’t laugh in his face. She later learned that she felt a life with Herbert could be no worse than just staying with her folks.
“All I am asking is that you at least give me a chance,” he heard himself say to Maria. He remembered that she did say “Ok,” not “yes” but “Ok.”
“Touching scene, isn’t it?”
Herbert looked across his branch and saw someone else sitting in his tree, wrapped in a robe made from a red checkered tablecloth.
“You’re still in good hands, buddy.”
“You!” Herbert quieted himself when he noticed the couple beneath pause to look around. “You’re the cause of all this! I could be happily dead now, but because of you I’m stuck bouncing around in time!”
“Hey, hey, simmer down, can’t a guy have a little fun? And besides, if I hadn’t dropped that little gadget you’re holding, you wouldn’t have been here to relive this tender, cherished moment.”
Herbert took stock of his current situation. He was moments from proposing to Maria below, and moments from kicking his fellow tree-dweller in the chops.
He decided to kick his fellow tree-dweller’s branch instead.
At the foot of the tree, Herbert had time to say, “I’m serious enough to ask you to...” before the sudden THUD from a man wrapped in a red checkered tablecloth interrupted him. Maria seemed to welcome the interruption and was quick to run to him.
The now-solitary tree-dwelling Herbert was trying to remember the rest of that evening with Maria. He found her to be just a fading spirit in his memory, someone he had occasionally seen at college, but they never seemed to connect.
Herbert never married Maria.
Maria never shared his bed, Maria would never say, “Oh my god” like a grandmother who had just burned a pan of brownies.
It would never happen, and it never did.
Herbert suddenly felt very cold in the evening air, very alone, and rather sad. He checked the red button, adjusted the knobs.
“The guy up there pushed me!” explained the red checkered tablecloth package below.
But when lights went into the branches, the tree was empty.
It was just another cold, autumn evening.
Chapter XII. Course Correction
The earth was still angry.
Herbert finally made it back to the Dawn of Man, by way of the French Revolution, the fall of Cromwell, and the Spanish Inquisition. It appeared he had just missed the brewing storm with his abrupt departure, and the erosion on the plateau where he last saw Velveeta indicated quite a downpour.
He saw a large boulder in the distance and what appeared to be Velveeta’s robe peeking out from behind it. It was bloodstained.
He approached with caution, wondering if his semi-simian ancestors were spying on him with clubs ...rocks ...prehistoric lice...but more with hesitation that Velveeta may have been harmed.
The boulder shielded a small ledge, and Velveeta was sitting beneath it, staring blankly. The bloodstains on her robe were from a rough attempt to wrap cuts on her tender feet, unaccustomed to anything other than subterranean, tiled floors.
Herbert crawled in next to her.
“They ran from me,” she said. “I tracked down one of them, and he threw a rock at me. I crawled in here when it started raining and since they’ve taken turns screaming at me, throwing things.”
“Don’t think about it,” Herbert said. “We can leave anytime, now.”
“I hope they all become extinct.”
“Don’t worry. They will.”
“Herbert...” she threw her face into his shoulder. “Am I so hideous?”
Her large, brown eyes were red and puffy. He kissed her on her forehead and straightened her cap.
“Let’s go.” He pressed the red button
Chapter XIII. Mister, You Presume Too Much
It was an island in the sun. The sea that lapped onto the white beach was bluegreen and brilliant. The trees, with their broad leaf palms, swayed in the breeze.
Herbert judged this must be his century since a small speck billowing smoke passed along the horizon, and that it was probably before the jet age, since nothing seemed to rule the skies but the elaborately colored birds.
It seemed like an ideal place to Velveeta. There were fruits aplenty and a clear water spring to wash them down. The island appeared uninhabited, quiet, and beautiful.
On their third day in paradise, they came upon a narrow path in the jungle. It led to a small hut with a thatched porch.
Herbert and Velveeta stood at the doorway and looked in. The hut had everything one might expect of a hut - a rough wicker tablet and chair, shelves, cupboards fashioned from bamboo, a corner cot, even a crazy looking hermit.
The crazy looking hermit was sitting at the table, trying to build a little box out of twigs. The little box had a very familiar shape.
He startled at the unexpected appearance of his company, then quickly smiled. Herbert quickly noticed his lack of teeth, but also the lack of eyebrows - and only the slightest wisp of hair. Herbert’s beard, by contrast, had take over a rather substantial amount of facial real estate.
“You are Velveeta,” he said, “but I don’t know you.”
“Herbert,” the hermit repeated. “I knew a man once who was almost named that.”
“You wouldn’t mean a man named Gluteus?” asked Herbert.
“I could. How would a hairy beast such as you know of Gluteus?”
“By this.” Velveeta pulled the time warp device from Herbert’s pocket.
The hermit’s eyes widened. “It came back to me.”
“I dropped it when I arrived here, oh, ten years ago.” He indicated the crude wicker calendar behind him.
“Velveeta, let me see that. I’ve been trying to build another one, but I can only do so much with twigs and twine. They tend to remain too stable in space-time.”
Velveeta slowly handed the pulsing box to the hermit. He smiled again and held it like a favorite child.
“There’s some leftover pheasant in the cupboard, and the avocado brandy is only fair, but serves its function,” he said. “Do make yourselves at home.” At that he said, “So long, suckers!” and pressed the red button. He vanished immediately.
“Herbert. He left with the machine.”
Herbert sat on the cot.
“No shit,” he said.
“But that means...”
“We’re stuck. We don’t even know where we are.”
Just then, the hermit reappeared.
“Oh, by the way, the year is 1938. Enjoy!”
And just as quickly, vanished again.
“I don’t believe this.” Herbert said. “1938, for pete’s sake. What are we going to do now?”
Velveeta sat next to him on the cot, bringing with her the avocado brandy and two coconut shells. She leaned over to him and kissed his ear.
“Growl,” she said.
For a supposed bit of sci-fi, the only prescient bit in this 1980s-penned adventure is the completely random speculation that the President of the United States would be "on" wife #3 at the time the Civilized World self-destructs.
Move over, Nostradamus...