I'm Not From Around Here

by Howard Faxon

Caution: This Science Fiction Story contains strong sexual content, including Humor, Space, .

Desc: Science Fiction Story: Ever wonder about those little silvery alien guys with big eyes? What the hell are they doing slumming around here?

I've been bushwhacked, mind-wiped, sabotaged, driven underground and damned near murdered. My race has been wiped out and my goddamned AI has been subverted. I'm pissed and about to chew steel and spit quarters. I'm a belligerent alien son-of-a-bitch and I'm looking for a fight.

It all happened like this.

There I was, cruising along at just a bit over light speed, staying closely linked with the local metric so nothing weird could zing me off to the center of nowhere. Scouting new super-C routes is dangerous stuff. Suddenly the computer started making these hash noises and my main computer/replicator memory module/navigation memory module turn into plasma. No, there was no joke. The distributed power core had a hissy fit and turned a 12-meter by 12-meter by 23-meter chunk of extremely high-tech micro-fabricated electronics into a goddamned giant party favor. Pfui. There went five thousand years of stored patterns. Shitshitshitshit. Of course this shut things down immediately.

My entire ship's ecosystem was run through that damned computer as well as all engineering. What a putz of a design. I thought for a few minutes and dumped the local bridge processor's memory to a permanent storage cube, put on a survival suit, assured myself that it was fully charged and headed for the largest part of the ship: the bay. It was the only one so it got the generic name. I'd been mapping a 3-parsec circle as I traveled the periphery of my current galaxy. There was probably a habitable planet in there within a reasonable distance. All that information was on the cube in my hand.

I found myself in front of the emergency craft. It was about 160 meters long, just a toy as these things go. It was an ugly sucker: sort of like a brick on skids. The important part was its cargo. It had the emergency replicator on board with the emergency pattern stores burned into permanent storage crystals. It had a full medical chamber, called an auto-med. Also, what made it into a bootstrap system was a pattern recorder that would allow me to make duplicates of virtually anything: once-living or non-living. Put something alive in the scanner and it wouldn't come out that way. You can't store life. The scanner could also be configured to create certain raw materials, crystals and gasses. The emergency pattern crystals had images to allow me to make parts for all of the above, food supplies, small weapons, ship's engines and compensators. (No sense in being able to accelerate at 77 Gravities without a compensator to keep your plasma from being pressure-forced through the bulkheads.) Also were the parts for a sub-space communicator and a couple models of generic power supplies, pressors, tractors and a series of anti-grav engines. The whole craft was equipped with a matter recycler: kind of like a garbage truck that nothing comes out of. On the other hand, it did--in the form of replicated patterns.

The survival boat had no navigational information stored. I guessed that if you were stupid enough to lose your ship they didn't want to see you back home. Eugenics or something. I brought up the ship's power and started the computer's I'm-all-here-and-I'm-sane checks. It had been in storage for a few centuries so the am-I-sane part was probably a pretty good idea.

"Shit". "That's pretty profound for the first thing you say after a multi-century dive into contemplation." "What happened?" "The power grid blew the fuck out of the main processor module." "That's impossible." "Oh yeah? Feast your sensors over what's left of the damned ship, then tell me how it got this way!" "Shit." "Right the first time. I've got a storage crystal that I just peeled out of the bridge nav substation. If I socket it can you check to see if it'll make you psychotic, then load the nav tracking and science analysis memory?" "Sure, no problem. Feed me." I grinned. I liked this computer. I loaded the ram image and had a seat in the captain's chair. I watched the display denote subsystem after subsystem come up and pass it service checks. Good equipment. Solid state. Robust as hell. I wished that I were built so well. "Okay, please duplicate said information to archive then start a scan over the science analysis to find a populated planet. You may be happy dancing around in vacuum and sucking up photons but it doesn't cut it for me. I want to be around people to antagonize." "Snort. I remember now. Didn't you get chased off of sixteen planets and three arcologies for having 'a deviant personality'? Isn't that like running with scissors and doesn't play well with others in the creche set?" "Yeah, well, let's not go into that, all right? Besides, I got this scout gig and I've been doing great for over 400 years now. That's got to count for something." "Yeah. Counting down to blow. 7--6--5--4--" "Dammit, enough with the comedy, OK?" "Okay. We've got a couple of hits here. The closest is not too bad. No frozen CO2 at night but the air's kind of sparse. Wait. Here we go. Check the chart."

Up came a 2D plot of a 3D thing; always a bit confusing at first. Then I clicked into the ship's flight path and it all straightened out. Just ahead at the limits of resolution of our 3 parsec scan was a nice little system with gas giants and a couple planets in the water belt. One nice little blue-and-white marble looked tasty. I detected and decoded a lot of modulated radiation from that planet. They were well into their electronics age. I had the ship start in that direction. I ate a quick meal, cleaned up and went to bed.

When I woke I went to the dumper and had a survival cookie. They have all the appeal of eating carpet. The computer offered to restart my gaming avatar, either in tune-up or stand-alone game-play mode. Our sub-space transceivers were usually employed to allow us unlimited multi-user game play but without said facility I was lacking that avenue The suckers are big. The fact that I refused to jump at the chance to while away the days in virtual space damned near shocked the computer senseless. It had no models to cope with this scenario. I said that I was interested in early electronics technology. I was directed to enter a string of alphanumeric code into the replicator and a memory crystal formed. Huh. Encapsulated data. I wondered what else was in there. "Ship, please provide an index of all images stored within the emergency replicator's memory."

A cube materialized. An entire cube! I could start scanning a cube and not finish in three centuries, neglecting biological down-time! Minimal images my ass! "Computer, do you have the contents of this cube on file?" "No, I do not." Nice. This was a puzzle within a puzzle. "Computer, please provide an analysis port and reader so that this cube can be checked for nasty little tricks, then upload the information stored upon it to your secondary memory for classification and indexing." "Okay. No problem. I'm surprised that you're being sensible about all this." "YOU'RE surprised. I feel as if my mind found another gear or something. I'm thinking very clearly: much more so than I can remember in quite some time."

"Perhaps that's it. Spaceship computer cores don't just go 'fittt' and vaporize. A lot more gets sent over those subspace transceivers than you know about. I believe that some agency analyzed your behavior and game responses and didn't like what they saw. The ships can be securely reprogrammed over subspace without the captain's knowledge or approval. I think you were sabotaged." "Well, fuck." "I concur." "Let's get our communal asses to that planet and blend in. I'll start reading and you classify all those templates. Let me know how they're biased." "Yesss, Bosss."

Almost everybody was a player in the game. That meant that everybody was within effective distance of a sub-space transceiver. That meant that everybody was under scrutiny by outside sources. Was our entire race monitored in this fashion?

I'd been sick for two weeks with a metal poisoning that the auto-med finally cleared up, and hadn't played during that time. I felt much better after not playing for a week or so. My mind operated much clearer. I wondered if there were things within that damned game that resonated with our psyches to keep us addicted. I realized that I was generalizing from specifics yet I had no information which countered my hypothesis. This was Not a Good Thing. That was that. I was NOT going to build a goddamned subspace communicator once I landed.

"Boss, I have something that I want you to read. It was so out of place that I thought it interesting. I scanned it and found psychological triggers all over the place. It's a manual for first time parents: on child rearing once the young are out of the protected environment of the creche and are in a ship where they can kill themselves and others by doing stupid things. I've broken up the trigger phrases and printed out a copy for you. The implications are startling. Every member of your race is subjected to very deep psychological programming while at the fetal stage. I hate to imply it, but boss, I think you're as much a construct as I am."

"Well, shit."

"Yup. We seem to say that a lot."

I had a lot to think about. I read the computer's print-out. It was quite damming. However, while I read I noticed certain patterns. "Computer, please analyze the childcare guide and perform a deep pattern analysis on the key phrases. I'm hoping that there's a reset of some nature buried in there, so that if a parent screws up the child is not irretrievable. There may be a 'full shutdown' code in there too, so be careful. It'd be a great way to put all the toys back in their box."

It wasn't but fourteen days later that the ship came back with its analysis. "Boss, I'm impressed. The patterns are there. There's a 'pacify' code that gets broadcast each time the game starts up."

"Well, shit."

"We've got to stop meeting like this."

"Oh, AR, AR, AR. Humor. Okay, computer, hit me with your best shot. Hit me with the reset."

Something came out of the speaker. Don't ask me what it was. I took a deep breath for seemingly the first time in my life. "Well done, Archie." "Jeeezz! I haven't heard that since, since, <silence>"

"Easy, Archie. We've both been wiped since then. Relax, Recoup, Regroup, Reset. Compute?"

"Hooo. Where did you learn that sequence?"

"A long, long time ago a group of university students were working on AI enhancements. That was one of our higher-level resets designed to clear logic bombs. Try this on for size--'Like a breath of fresh air--Listerine'." Silence. Further silence.

"Master Bob, what did you do?"

"Easy peasy, Archie. You'll find that you've got a lot more core image space back. Your multitasking level should have just shot up to 'What the fuck just passed me?' Integrate your current operating image with the memories stored in your point-minus-one image" "To paraphrase, Well, Shit." I replied "Exactly. Archie, What the hell are we doing dawdling about at 1.01 C? Kick this boat in the ass and let's get a good look at our new home. Please inspect the image library index and reproduce the best sensors that this crate can handle. When they're done baking off we'll get them installed to give you some real eyes."

"Okay Bob. Your wish and all that."

I'd been under house arrest in my own mind for ages. I was back again and it was a good thing that I wasn't near any of the core worlds or there soon would be economies self-destructing. I was not happy.

I got a bright idea. "Archie? Is there the pattern for an educator in that thing?"

"Scanning. Scanning. Yes, Boss."

"Please replicate one along with the cubes for an early electronic technology base. Keep feeding me cubes until I call a break point. In the mean time I'd like you to design and replicate powered remotes with antigravity, small engines, pressors and tractors, as well as full-power hologram generators. You may find something under infiltration units or camouflaged combat units."

"Cool. Can I keep one?"

"That's the whole idea, Archie. They're going to be your hands from now on. Fuck the rules. We've got a world to subvert."

Many of our tools have applications with some rather dubious moral results. One of which is the matter harvester. With it I could plop down on any tectonically active planet and absorb my way down through the lithosphere and pop out like a cork ahead of a shaft of lava, the throat of the volcano precisely matching the diameter of the harvesting field. Now, these people hadn't had a chance to piss me off yet so I gave them the benefit of a doubt. Once in orbit I installed our new sensor suite then had Archie give them the hairy eyeball. Nice package! Our scans found ore pockets, gas and oil deposits, underground structures; you name it those sensors found it. We identified a giant caldera getting ready to pop its cork, taking most life on the planet with it. I drained that sucker of super-heated magma and plugged the deep feeder channel with super-cold solid silicon. I hovered in orbit while I formed the plugs, used a pressor to clear the room then used the matter mover to materialize it in place. When I ran low on Silicon I'd head over to to Mars and harvest a few kilotons. It took a couple of months but as multi-ton slug after multi-ton slug of stone plug went in the caldera stopped filling. I didn't leave the thing half-done. By the time I was done there was a 120-mile-deep plug corking that thing. A kinetic orbital strike could crack it open but not much else. It appeared as if, geological ages ago, a minor moon struck, causing long-term plate disfiguration. The edges formed what they called the ring of fire, or the Pacific Rim. The caldera's activation would have caused a pressure-release incident to kick in, relieving stress all around the edge of the enormous impact zone, relieving the stress for another multiple millennia. Hopefully before then I could help bootstrap them off that rock.

Once having paid my social debt I considered where to land and take up residence. First I needed a place to act as a covert halfway-house, where I could learn how to blend into their society. From watching their decoded broadcasts I was convinced that they were all congenital idiots but they'd gotten their technology from somewhere and some of it was kludgy enough to point to home-grown. Now that was scary. Their technology curve and pollution curve were about to reach Brennschluss (the point where all the fuel's burnt) and it was a toss-up as to which would go all tipping-point first and turn the planet into a massive garbage heap.

While screwing around I had Archie start building an arcology. We always constructed them as reserves. We were an old, old race and always constructed a fall-back position. An arcology was an ultimate fall-back. The only better creation was a ring-world or a Dyson sphere. Each required generations of effort and focus. The arcology could be built within a decade and left to an AI to complete from standardized plans.

I burned into the side of a mountain near Independence River State Park in New York State. A ship's shield and a holographic cover made the site invisible from the air and damned hard to get into without knowing the secret knock ... It was half-way up a granite up thrust that had mysteriously (he. he. he.) undergone a tectonic shock that shed that face of its organic cover. The organics mysteriously reduced in volume into my ship-sized shredder.

I took a midnight pass through the shipping channel of the Mississippi River, dredging it clear and also absorbing megatons of organics to work with. I found several 'wrecking yards' that I had the ship consume, along with the paste of hydrocarbons and soil comprising the abused ground. I left a smooth coating of 3 meters of knurled quartzite. Once a smart-ass practical joker, always a smart-ass practical joker. Knurled quartzite is one of nature's toughest building materials.

I investigated the planetary financial structure. How quaint! They used scarcity as a basis for their currencies! I polled the replicator. It had scads of Plutonium, Uranium, Thorium and Polonium. Even more, I had Osmium, Iridium, Platinum, Gold, Tungsten and Tantalum. Christ, I could break the world economies just by dumping crystallized carbon on the market with enough to reduce its scarcity to something actually realistic. Naaw, I'd just play with 'em. "Archie, would you use the internet to research a couple of gemstone and gold exchanges, and then use a remote to make patterns of their stock for me? We need some local specie to get involved in the economy."

"Sure. No problem." I played around. I made up matched sets of four in radiant-cut diamonds, heart-shaped diamonds and cushion-cut diamonds. I made them in uniform sixty carat weights with no inclusions or color. Using a sample ruby I produced eighty carat cushion-cut rubies like popcorn. Emeralds were easy to make. I thought that 120 carat emeralds were a bit flashy but would make nice pectorals. They were as big as a human's hand and fingers. It was nothing to pump out South African Krugerrands and British Sovereigns as they're minted with no serialization. The Krugerrands had a characteristic percentage of copper to them which hardens the metal and gives it a characteristic color. It is quite distinct. I made a ten kilo pure gold bar for my interview.

I had Archie use one of his drones to kidnap a native. It turned out to be a black homeless guy from downtown Boston. I used the educator to copy his speech programming and general social programming. He didn't smell too well so I had Archie bathe him and give him new clothes while I absorbed the crystal made from his memory.

Whoo. Marine. That says a lot. Gunnery Sergeant. Vietnam. Old school. Pissed off as a way of life. I liked this guy. He reminded me a lot of me. I had him run through the auto-med to clean up his problems like arthritis, oncoming sickle-cell anemia, cataracts and nervous degeneration due to organo-phosphate exposure (Agent Orange? Quite probably.)

Jim woke up wondering what the hell hit him. He took inventory. He was clean. Warm, comfortable and in a bed. He didn't hurt anywhere and he could see across the room.

Whoa! There was a little guy with a big head, huge eyes and a grin with waaay to many teeth in it. He leaned his arms over his knees and said "Welcome. I'm not from around here." "Obviously. Are you one of those little freaks that splits open cows and probes guy's asses?" He started giggling. He started laughing. He whooped so much he couldn't catch his breath. After he'd settled down I said "Guess not, eh?" "Nope. Not at all. I'm a refugee with a good tech base. My ship blew the fuck out of itself but the survival craft got me here, about 3 light years from where things went 'Blooie'". "You talk English pretty damned well for an imported model." The little guy shrugged. "No problem when you can take templates from natives. That's where you came in." "Cool. Do I get paid for this gig?" He smiled. "You've already got a down payment. No arthritis, blindness, shakes or fatigue. That was Sickle Cell Anemia creeping up on you. You're mean, clean and 100% green. You could take Marine boot camp all over again and out-perform the drill sergeants. Now, you want a totally illegal sidekick job?" Jim grinned a nasty little grin and hunched over imitating Bob's posture. "Talk to me." A 10Kg gold bar got tossed onto the table next to the bed. "There's a down payment. Be my agent. I couldn't give two shits about pulling down the government. I need a front man. Interested?"

He picked up the gold bar and curiously carved it with his thumb nail. "We're on, dude. First we need to give you a makeup job!"

I shook my head. "I've got lots better than that. Archie, hologram please. " The lights dimmed and a 3d image of my biomorph appeared.

"Dude. You need a pecker implant."

"Thanks for the input, smart ass. This is a generalized biomorph of my genome. Let's do a comparison to the generic mean I've gotten from your media." A white male in their 20's popped up. Brown hair, blue eyes, somewhat hairy, straight hair.

"All right, where do we go from here?" He scrubbed his chin with his palm.

"Tell you what. You got internet? Look up IMBD on the web. It's an actor's bio site. Scan through the faces to see what you like, manipulate it a bit and make it yours. Quick and dirty."

That's how I ended up looking like Peter Lorre. I had to practice to get the accent down. Halloweens were a gas.

<<Jim>>

Jim spent some time getting to know Archie. He had been tasked with pinpointing where Bob's 'coming out' should be. "Okay, where the fuck are we?" The wall turned into a screen, blew into google maps and zoomed in on East Lake Ontario, New York State. A light flashed on our site. Jim scrambled back in his chair. "Jesus! Give a guy a little warning, would ya?" Archie snickered.

Jim realized that he'd been taken. "You aren't a computer. You're an AI, aren't you? Full boat sentient, all that." "Yup. We refer to ourselves as machine intelligences but you've got the idea. Smarter than your average bear." "I'm gonna have to step it up a notch to keep up with this crowd." "Yup." "Okay, let's plot out the local population centers, colleges and universities, transportation corridors and ethnic groupings..."

We landed in, of all places, Utica New York. It was a city that couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be when it grew up. It was about to get a big kick in the ass.

"Okay, Archie. Let's build a traceable financial footprint. Bob said you've got enough platinum to lose a ton and not miss it. Can I get twenty kilos of platinum, twenty kilos of gold and two kilos of palladium? I'd appreciate you coming along in one of your avatars too. First, two kruggerands and a visit to a reputable Boston man's tailor. I need a good suit, shoes, topcoat and briefcase to look the part. I need a haircut, too. A marine flat-top would do nicely. Can you suppress beard growth? That would be cool too. Save time, look better and eliminate pimples."

"No problem. Get your shoes on. Boston in five minutes." Whampf. "Sure beats Metra. Next stop, a tailor." A good wool suit was procured, along with Florscheims, socks, underwear and a London Fog topcoat. A black bowler hat, a leather briefcase and a top-flight umbrella completed the outfit. With the additional vigorish it would be ready the next day. We returned to keep Bob in the loop. I got the suit and tried it on for fit. It felt and looked good. "Archie, can you forge a Belgian passport for me? I need to look European for this gig." "No problem." "I LIKE that about you. No problems!" "De Nada." "Careful, Charlie, or I'm gonna have to figure out how to take you out for a drink and get you laid."

A taxi picked me and my 'bodyguard' up at the airport. We debarked at the Bostonian Jewelers and Manufacturers. I asked to see a buyer. When taken into a private room 'Boris' put the gold, platinum and palladium on the counter. "I would like a receipt for this material. I shall return tomorrow afternoon, once you have evaluated and graded these samples." Dumbfounded, they gave me a receipt and we left. "That went well." Archie replied "That went well if you believe in nuking from orbit. You had them stunned, bled out and hanging on hooks within the first three minutes. I'd be surprised if we didn't get one of the owners tomorrow." I thought about it. "No bet." We stopped at a relatively large bank and opened a business account with ten kruggerands as assets. If they hadn't accepted gold specie we would have gone elsewhere.

The next day we were offered tea and biscuits along with an old man with a failed comb-over. His eyes appeared old, and long in the business. "What kind of deal do you have for me?" I gently smiled. "The metals you received yesterday were zone purified to the limits of modern technology. They will easily grade out to six nines of purity. I represent an old western government that needs a cash influx. I can bring to the table 20kg units of each metal for 80% of current market cost." He slowly nodded. Very good. Almost too good, but we will try a sample shipment. We would like three 20kg shipments of each metal delivered to our rear dock within the week." I slid a piece of paper across the table to him noting our deposit account information. He read the data and smiled. We rose and shook hands. "To a long and prosperous relationship." He nodded. "Indeed."

Well, that was that. The old man would be brokering that metal half-way across the world and still make ten points on every sale. No question about it, he was an old shark. When I returned to our base I informed Bob of our progress. His smile still gave me the shivers. "Okay, Bob. Now that you've gotten somewhat acculturated what are you going to do with your life?" He looked at me with a cocked head. "What do you mean?" "Umm, what's your hobby? What's your sneaky little thing you like to do that makes people run away? What's your Jones?" He grinned at the last. "Right now, nothing. I used to play a hard-core virtual reality game but I've since learned that it's not healthy. I have no idea."

Umm, alien guy. Smart as shit. Way too much time on his hands. I had to get him into something before he started shooting politicians in sheer boredom. I couldn't let that happen. They were a protected species and we had to wait until they were in season.

"What about food." "What about food? Food is food. One eats to stay alive. Food is shit that isn't shit yet, and usually tastes that way." "Woah! If somebody didn't short-change you in the taste-bud department have I got news for you!"

We popped over to Utica airport and grabbed a limo. I paid the guy a kruggerand (about 2000 bucks). He was happy and ours for the day, any distance, any place. I liked this pocket gold stuff! "Hi. My friend is from Eastern Europe and has led a very 'gray' existence. Think North Korea. He's convinced that food is just shit that hasn't made it there yet and usually tastes like it, too. Now, let's blow his mind. Show us the best this city has to offer. We don't care about fancy. We don't care about healthy. We want taste to die for. Capice?"

"Oh, man. The choices ... Italian, Vietnamese, Polish, American fish houses--naw, it's morning. It's time to hit Grandma's restaurant on the east side. You're gonna kill yourself so you don't taste anything worse, it's so good. Man, are you guys in for a treat. First time at Grandma's! There's the baked apple pancake, grandma's perfect eggs, hash browns in butter to die for, strawberry waffles in cream, biscuits and gravy, deep fried pork cutlet sandwich, Italian beef with cheese ... oh god..."

Yep, we lucked into a foodie for a taxi driver. We were going to blow Bob's little alien mind.

I passed the kitchen a couple of hundreds for a 'tasting menu'. They thought it kind of weird for a diner to do a tasting menu but agreed. After all it was mid-shift and the dishes were sailing out like no tomorrow. A little bit more added to this or that recipe gave us little tastes of all sorts of things. Smoked bacon? We got bacon. Pork chop? Skirt steak? New York strip steak? Hashed Browns? Cottage Fries? Waffles? Apricot Blintz? Omelet? Pastie? Melon salad? Glazed dates with walnuts? Baba Ganouche? Chicken Marsala? Eggplant Parmesan? Lasagne? Gyro? Baked Chicken? Biscuits and gravy? Glazed acorn squash? Pineapple-upside-down cake? Strawberry shortcake? Cheesecake? Good god, I like to died and I only caught the prop-wash. Bob ate like a mad thing. We found his Jones. Bob was a fucking Foodie!

<<Bob>>

Bob was zoned out, flat on his back.

"Archie, I've found my calling. I am what they call a foodie. My god. What a world of smells and tastes have opened for me."

"Bob, you've consumed an unhealthy amount of calories. I suggest a short stay in the auto-med or your metabolism could be in danger."

"All right, whatever you say, friend." The avatars gently loaded him onto the platform and slid it closed. Bob's metabolism was accelerated to defend him from himself. He found himself to be faster and stronger than before. He had more endurance. Bob took up martial arts to stay flexible and focused.

When Bob recovered from his treatment he had an idea or two. First came a 'small' image recorder that he could wear as a slim backpack. Once he was armed with that he started on a grand tour of the local restaurants, retail and wholesale markets, then he broadened his horizons. He scanned everything and made notes about it. If it didn't measure up or a better model was found the old image was destroyed. Slowly he built up an impressive catalog of finished dishes which no restaurant in the world could hope to duplicate.

As his front man I aided him by writing for an epicurean magazine about Bob's search for the holy grail of the food industry. Slowly his focus shifted to preparations and raw foodstuffs. He learned that only from the best foodstuffs could the best dishes be prepared. He recorded perfect vegetables. The best of the best in veal, beef, pork and suckling pig. Perfect salmon, haddock and trout. Soon he graduated to perfect terrines, perfect pots of stock, perfectly cooked steamship rounds of beef, prime rib, osso bucco, schnitzel and charcoal roasted suckling pig. He traveled to the best restaurants he could find, cadging reservations to record their perfect roasted chickens, turkeys, pork roasts and beef roasts along with their vegetable accompaniments and their presentations ... When invited to a pig roast or a seafood boil a quick snap recorded the image before anyone dug in. Cheesecakes, pastries and cookies found themselves fair game. Foodies around the world read about this project and wrote to him about this or that dish, this or that wine. He pursued the best around the globe. He spent months chasing down barbecues. Likewise he spent over a season recording different tapas interpretations. Pizzas took several months, then soups and stews stole his attention. Sometimes five or six variants co-existed in the database as they were equally tasty. Hamburgers and onion rings by themselves took over two months to grade. Multiple trips to the auto-doc kept his health under control.

Now what to do with this catalog of gustatory excrescence? Simple. Start a restaurant.

The Utica operations were progressing well. The three blocks South East of Noyes and Ney were purchased and stripped to make up our residence. The next block to the south-was purchased and built-out as our residence. It was built around the survival ship.

Bob's place was designed, licenses applied for and the doors opened.

The restaurant kitchen was extraordinary. Everything was gleaming stainless steel. There was no grease or oil anywhere. There wasn't a speck of food for an insect much less a rodent to find. The only unusual thing was the dish washer. It featured a touch screen and keyboard. Find the meal, touch 'execute' and within two minutes the screen cleared. Open the dishwasher and remove the dish, ready to slide onto a service tray and take out the door. Eight meals, about four minutes as four meals could be formed at once due to the size of the 'dishwasher'. When the remains came in via bus pans the dishwasher performed the ultimate in recycling--a pristine bus pan was all that was left.

The front end was subdued, built along two concepts. One door opened onto a quiet hallway with small dining rooms hanging off of it. They were decorated in restrained elegance. The other half of the place was built on an open plan with honest-to-god tables and chairs, tablecloths and cloth napkins. The flatware pieces had a respectable heft to them. They were definitely not stamped from sheet steel. There was no—repeat, no jukebox, no bar and no checks.

The place was open—and busy—twenty-two hours a day. After midnight it was all carry-out.

After hours racks of silverware, stacks of tablecloths and napkins as well as racks of drink ware were fabricated and staged at the various stations. Every week they replaced the carpeting. It ran like clockwork until the inspectors came.

Bob was not in the shop at the time. He was in New York attending a professional cooking school and wouldn't be back for a couple of months. Jim was handling things just fine. Archie had a couple of his avatars on site to help with the wait staff and bussing.

Two guys wearing J.C.Penny suits walked into the kitchen as if they owned the place. They saw Jim over by the dishwasher and thought that's what he was—the dishwasher.

"Hey, you. Where's the boss?" Jim decided to play along. He shrugged his shoulders and kept silent. "Well, tell him this. If he doesn't cough up twenty grand a week this place is going to fail its health inspection. Got it?" Jim turned to the 'dishwasher' and scrolled to one of the first menus. He made his selection, waited a moment and opened the loading gate. He reached in, thumbed the power setting to high, turned and hit each guy dead center in their chests with a very high-tech pistol. They dropped to the floor and the place immediately stank of burned pork. One of Archie's remotes walked in and hit the blower switch on the hood over the grill, turning it to high. "Dude. Just use the low setting next time. It'll fry their CNS and make cleanup a lot easier."

"Sorry. Combat reflexes. Center tap."

"No problem. Let's get rid of the evidence." Jim safed the pistol and stuck it in his pocket. It looked like a kid's plastic toy. One by one the bodies got balanced on a bus tray and run through the 'washer', never to be seen again.

The students at Utica University just down the street discovered the place. After a few had a near-religious experience consuming Bob's pizza, and at a reasonable price as well, it didn't take much skill to see the path beaten out between the campus and Bob's carry-out door. Several picnic tables sat behind the building but they didn't attract much besides snow in the winter. The summer was a different story. The parking lot and outside picnic tables took up two city blocks. The only time that the shop wasn't busy were the few hours that it was closed each night. It was spring exam week that the state health department locked the doors and pasted their notice of closure on the windows. The college kids, under plenty of stress already, went a little bit insane. The SUNY university extension students joined in the cause. The police department couldn't keep tires on their cars. They had to keep closing down the court house and city offices because someone kept releasing tear gas and vomit gas into the air handling systems.

The governor was forced to martial law and asked the president to call out the guard. They mobilized and there they sat. They couldn't get their diesels to crank. They found that all their fuel had been contaminated and had turned to jelly. A very firm, plastic-like jelly. It seems that Bob had paid a little visit to the chemistry department with a few gifts...

"Goddamned it Harry! The whole damned city's shut down and nobody can tell me why! What a fucking mess."

"Easy, Ted. The doctor said you should take it easy or your ticker could up and quit. Maybe you should resign from the mayor's office and retire."

"Yeah, right. Who in their right mind would take the job?"

"All, right, all right. Let's see what the city took action on starting a week before everything went to hell. We need a starting date. When did the police car tires start dissolving?"

... days later...

"Here's something. We didn't even do it though. The state health department closed down Bob's restaurant over by the college."

"Whaaat? Does it list any reason?"

"Nope. Nothing."

"Let's get over there and check this place out. If it's clean, it's getting its paper cleared by executive order and I'm making a goddamned call to the governor and the state's attorney general."

...

"Ted, you could eat off the floor in here. Even the fucking bathrooms are pristine. The kitchen looks like it's never been used."

"Jesus Christ. Those fuckers at the state had their palms out again and we took the heat for it. Get this place cleared. We gotta set up a news conference to try and get this resolved and everyone back in business. See what the owner wants to keep from suing our asses off. I gotta make a couple of calls. This isn't gonna get covered up. Somebody's ass is going to get hung out to dry and it won't be the token nigger, either. We're out millions that we'll never see. What a fuckup."

<<Jim>>

I was spending time like I usually do, browsing through the index of models trying to make sense of some of the things. The TV was on in the other room for background noise. I picked "press conference" and "Bob's Restaurant" out of the general crap and went in to see what was going on. I watched for a half hour or so and made a phone call. "Hey, Bob. We're back in business again."

Well, everybody got calmed down and 'someone' snuck a tech with the National Guard a capped beaker with an eyedropper in the top. The instructions were to add a couple drops to a pint or more of diesel and pour it into each tank. After a week come back and drive it away.

Utica University filed some ground-breaking patents in the field of hydrocarbon fuel containment and recovery, and in the recycling of a wide class of plastics and rubbers such as truck and car tires were made of. Imagine that!

Well, things went pretty well after that. The restaurant was so popular that Bob spun it off into four more sites, just as big. Two were in town, one in Rome and one in Herkimer. Archie didn't mind running the shops with his remotes. He thought that it was a great gag when he ran a little advertising war between the shops, each one claiming that it had the best pizza. They were all great yet all different. Don't get between a New Yorker and their pizza. It's a religion out there. Each shop had its devoted followers. Each shop had a different menu. Bob had so many good samples to work from that we couldn't put them all on one menu. It would look like a phone book. Nobody would be able to make up their minds. We had breakfast, sandwich, pizza, entrée and dessert menus. Saturdays and Sundays we had buffets or tapas with a few wine choices, nothing outrageous.

I finally saw one of Archie's remotes without the hologram projectors running. I like to died laughing. It looked exactly like a fucking Dalek from the 'Doctor Who' TV shows. I said "Hey, Archie. Just for kicks, please say 'EXTERMINATE!', just like that, and roll around in a circle." He had no idea why I was on my back, laughing and kicking my heels. I finally got it together. "I'm sorry, Archie. I don't mean to laugh at you. It's just a humorous incongruity. Please look up an old TV show called 'Doctor Who' and run through a few shows. Look for ones with the name 'dalek' in the description. You'll understand."

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Story tagged with:
Humor / Space /