Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Retrieval Department

Most of my friends considered me unlucky.  That was because my date was the day after my twenty-first birthday, the day I would die, for reasons only the Retrieval Department knew.  My friends all were marked with dates far in the future, guaranteeing them long fruitful lives.  So, I was the anomaly, chosen by those who chose such things to die an early death. 

Of course, I had known this as long as I could remember, or at least from the time when I knew enough to ask what the date tattooed on my arm meant.  I remember the day my mother explained things.  I remember wondering why life was so important anyway.  I wasn’t the least bit upset.  In fact, I looked forward to my death and my journey to the great beyond.

That said, when I woke up in the alley behind my favorite bar and looked at the date on my watch, I felt like I had been screwed.  This was the day after my death day.  Someone had messed something up, and I intended to find out who that someone was and make them rectify the situation.  Of all the things I had looked forward to in life, my death day was by far the greatest.

Of course, as you might imagine, given that I woke up in an alley behind a bar, I was not in great shape.  I don’t know how much I drank that night in anticipation of the end, but I felt like I might die right then.  However, I didn’t die, so I got up, brushed myself off and went into the bar.

The bar, Harrigan’s, had just opened.  Krisztina, the day bartender looked up as I walked through the front door, shock on her face.  Of course, she knew my death day.  I had made no secret of it.

“Mark, is that you?” said Krisztina shock on her face.


“You’re supposed to be…”

“I know.  The Retrieval Department seems to have screwed up,” I said, sitting at the bar.

Krisztina knew me well enough to know that I wanted a beer and a shot of whiskey and promptly served me.

“Didn’t anyone from Retrievals call you?” she said.

I looked at my phone, but saw no missed calls.  “Nope,” I said.

“Maybe they couldn’t find you? Where were you yesterday?”

“Well, I was here until eleven then I passed out in the alley,” I said.

“So what are you going to do?” said Krisztina.

“I guess I’m going to call the Retrieval Department and have them take care of it.”

“Why would you do that?  Maybe they won’t figure it out, and you’ll get to live.”

“I’d rather have them take care of it.  I am ready to die.”

“Really?” said Krisztina, shocked.  I had never told her this before, and generally didn't tell anyone, although whenever people asked how I felt about my death date, I always said I was comfortable with it.

“Yeah.  It’s never bothered me.  In fact, I was looking forward to dying,” I said.

“They are going to take me on my sixty-sixth birthday,” said Krisztina.  “I still think that’s too soon.”

“Well, I don’t know.  Seems like a long time to me.  Too long,” I said.  I downed my shot and made a big dent in my beer before saying, “What do I owe you?”

“On the house, Mark.  Look, if I don’t see you again I want you to know that I’ve always liked you.  Just wanted you to know that,” said Krisztina.

It just so happened that I liked Krisztina, but had never made a move, thinking she wouldn’t be interested in someone with an early death date.  In fact, I had never been in a relationship because of my death date, not so much because nobody would have me as I just didn’t want to let someone get hurt.

“Thanks, Krisztina.  You know, I’ve always had a thing for you, but I figured that it would be a bad idea to try to get together with you if I was going to die soon.”

“I wish you had,” she said.

“I do too,” I said, meaning it.  “Okay.  I’ve got to go figure this out.”

I left the bar and went home.  There I looked up the number for the Retrieval Department and gave them a call, thinking things would soon be sorted out.

“Retrievals, this is Blake,” said the man on the line.

“Hey, my name is Mark Seidl and I was supposed to die yesterday, but I am still alive,” I said.

“One second, Mr. Seidl.  Let me look you up.  What is your birth ID?”

“009X23AZ,” I said.

“I have it.  Um, I see you haven't been notified yet,” said Blake.


“Well, Mark, you are dead.  You were retrieved yesterday at eleven thirty-seven in an alley behind Harrigan’s.”

“Then you got the wrong guy.  I was in that alley yesterday around that time, but I woke up there today and I am quite alive.”

“Let me explain,” said Blake.  “You are dead.  I understand you think you’re not dead, but let me assure you that you are dead.  It happens sometimes, you know.  Not often, of course, but some people just don’t want to move on.”

“If I’m dead then how am I talking to you?” I said.

“That’s a good question.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer.  I could connect you to one of our counselors.  Maybe they can help you adjust to things,” said Blake.

“Look, I just want to be dead.  I don’t want to be half dead or whatever I am,” I said.

“We do not have the ability to send you off into the great beyond, Mr. Seidl.”

“So am I going to be like this forever?”

“Well, maybe not forever.  There are cases where the dead who have not gone to the great beyond do move on, although not many.  I mean, I don’t want to get your hopes up.  Now, Mr. Seidl, there is an issue we need to talk about.  You’re apartment is going to be rented out and all of your belongings are going to be sold.  Further, whatever funds you have in your accounts will be appropriated by the Retrieval Department to cover the cost of your death.  I recognize this will leave you with no place to live and would like to encourage you to find lodgings with someone willing to take you in,” said Blake.

“Wait a minute,” I said, having some difficulty accepting Blake's claim.  "Am I a ghost or something?  I don't understand.  If I'm dead then how am I talking to you?  What exactly did you retrieve?"

"We retrieved your soul, but because your body was not technically fully dead, the techs left you in the alley.  Normally, we would have informed you at the time, but apparently you were out cold."

"Hold on a second.  You took my soul?"

"Yes, Mark.  However, you still have your body because your soul did not fully move on."

"Why on Earth would you rent out my apartment if I'm not dead?  And my money?  I'm going to need that.  You know, I have rights.  You can't just take everything from me because I didn't move on to the great beyond.  Where am I going to live?  How am I going to feed myself and what the hell am I going to do in the winter?"

"Yes, I understand your concerns, but given that you are not truly alive, you no longer have the same rights as the living.  To be completely honest, I don't agree with the policy, but I really am in no position to change things.  Now, I have to tell you something rather important.  Your body is going to start decomposing and that might be a problem.  You won't feel any pain, and to address your question about winter, extreme heat and cold won't affect you.  We have heard from others in your circumstances that you will probably feel like you have a bad hangover and that feeling will persist as long as you remain here.  Also, you are going to smell pretty bad in the near future, so you might want to steer clear of populated areas."

“So, I’m going to decompose.  When I fully decompose will I be aware of what’s going on?” I said.

“Yes, you will, or at least we think you will.  For that reason, I have to advise you to find a way to move on into the great beyond,” said Blake.

“How long before I stink?”

“A few days,” said Blake.

“Don’t you have places for people like me to live?  Is there nowhere to go?” I said, unwilling to give up and praying that Blake would say at least one thing that might give me hope.

“We do not have any vacancies in our staging apartments right now, but I can get you on the waiting list,” said Blake.

"How long is the wait?" 

"About three years, unfortunately.  I know this must be really difficult for you.  I will put you on the waiting list.  Just check in in about a year or two just in case we can fit you in."

“Please do.  Is there anyone who knows how I can get to the great beyond?”

“You could try a psychic.”


“Is there anything else I can help you with?” said Blake.

“No.  Thank you.”  I hung up and returned to the bar, explaining everything to Krisztina, who stared at me dumbfounded for some time before saying, “You could move in with me.  I mean you could wear perfume and that should mask the smell.”

“I don’t want to put you through that.  Do you know any psychics?” I said.

“No, but I can find you one,” she said.

An hour later I knocked on the door of Diantha Blane, psychic, medium or whatever.  Krisztina found her on some website.  I gave Diantha a hundred dollars and she seated me in a small room with a round table in the center.  Sitting across from me, she asked me to place my hands on the table palms up.  She placed her hands on mine.

“Why did you want to die?” said Diantha.

“I don’t know.  I guess I didn’t see much point in living.”

“And while you were living did you live?”

“What do you mean?”

“What did you do with your life?” she said.

“I don’t know.  I had a crappy job and I drank a lot.  I didn’t have many friends.  I mean, I didn’t want people to get too attached since I had such an early death date.  Does it matter?” I said.

“Well, do you regret that?” she said.

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  I was looking forward to dying and seeing the great beyond.”

“You have a love interest,” said Diantha.

“Well, I don’t know if I would say that.  I like someone.  But, do I love her?”

“You do.  I can see it clearly now.  Mark, you will not be free until you resolve this issue.”

“It is resolved.  I can’t have her.  I’m dead.  So, I should be moving on,” I said, now annoyed.

“No, it’s not.  You must have a relationship with her,” said Diantha.

“But, I’m dead.  She’ll never have a relationship with me.  Is there any other way?”

“I’m afraid not.”

I left Diantha and returned to the bar.  I had no intention of telling Krisztina what Diantha had said, not wanting to put her in an uncomfortable position, so I told her that I had unresolved issues I had to deal with.  Krisztina asked me what those issues were and I said I didn’t know.  In that moment, two things happened.  Krisztina dropped to the ground behind the bar and two men wearing Retrieval Department tech uniforms rushed into the bar.

“Where is she?” said one of them to me.

“Behind the bar,” I said.  “What’s going on?”

They rushed behind the bar, whispering to each other.  I heard one of them say, “There’s going to be hell to pay,” and the other say, “Well, how were we supposed to know?  They gave us the wrong ID.”

“Uh, guys, what’s going on?” I said.

The two men rose and Krisztina rose with them, staring right at me.  I knew then that she had died and that she hadn’t gone to the great beyond.

“Hey,” I said to Krisztina, ignoring the two completely befuddled employees of the Retrieval Department.  “I guess we’re in this together.”

“I guess we are."

Friday, 7 August 2015

Excerpt from Kev: The Show

Kev available on Kindle.

     I appeared in a bustling city, surrounded by aliens of all shapes and sizes, all of them moving with purpose, never stopping.  When their paths crossed, which they often did, they simply passed through each other.  I heard voices, more than I could possibly count, all saying the same thing, “Time for work, not for play,” over and over again.
     All of the buildings in the city rose to amazing heights, all drab green, windowless and doorless.  I watched as aliens passed through their walls, coming and going, never pausing, all continuing the chant.
     There were signs everywhere, “Work Now!”  “Time for Work.”  “Don’t get recycled.”  That sounded ominous.
     “Did you overthrow the dictator yet, Turd Fondler?” said B24ME.
     “I just got here.”
     “That’s no excuse.  Get to work.”
     “Where is the dictator?” I said.
     B24ME didn’t answer.
     Someone or something tapped me on the shoulder.  I turned and saw a seven-foot tall, orange, four-armed alien with a triangular head, three eyes and two mouths.  “Get to work or you’ll be recycled,” it said, before rejoining the others on their march to who knew where.
     Hands seized me from behind and I blinked out of and then into existence, finding myself in a small room.  Sitting behind a battered desk I saw an alien, a gray worm-like creature with a single eye, a beak and tentacles.
     “Why aren’t you working?” it said.
     “Um, I don’t live here.  I don’t work here,” I said.
     “If you don’t live here, why are you here?” it said, its one eye glaring at me.
     “Well, I’m on this show and I have to, hmm…”
     “You have to what?”
     Something told me I didn’t want to answer the question truthfully, but I had no other answer to give, so I blurted out, “I’m here to overthrow the dictator.”
   It blinked.  “So, you’re my replacement.  What are you?  Class five?  You look like a class three.  Whatever.  I was getting sick of the job anyway.”
     “Should I waste my time finding you a new office, or will this one suit you?”
     I looked around the office again and for the first time noticed that the surface of the alien’s desk appeared to be covered with fur, purple and orange, fluffy and soft, that that of a Persian cat.  I noticed that there were no doors or windows and saw a moving picture of someone being chopped to pieces by some multi-bladed monstrosity.  Maybe that was somebody being recycled.
     “I guess this office is fine,” I said.
     “Wonderful.  Good luck keeping this bunch in line.  Not a single dedicated worker in the bunch.”  The alien disappeared.
     I reached out and touched the desk, wondering who would have a fur-topped desk.  The desk bit me and said, “Watch it, you pervert.”
     “Uh, B24ME, I overthrew the dictator,” I said.
     B24ME didn’t answer.  I repeated myself a few times, and then sighed.  All I really wanted to do was go home.  Then, I remembered something B24ME had said about the blue cube.  If I asked it to take me somewhere, it would take me there, or at least I hoped it would.
     I pulled out the cube and said, “Cube, please take me home.”  I appeared in my family room, more than a little confused, immediately went down the street to the bar, ordered a shot of whiskey and a beer chaser, and sat down to regroup, placing the blue cube on the bar.
     Max noticed the cube and said, “So, you’re on The Show.  Good luck with that, Kev.”  This was definitely a dream.
     “Anyone sitting here?”
     I turned and saw a young woman, beautiful beyond my wildest imaginings.  She had a smile on her face and green eyes, electric and ancient.
     “No,” I said.  She sat beside me and ordered a green tea.
     “Wow, it’s been a long time,” said Max to the girl.  “You here to help Kev with his memory problems?”
     “Something like that,” she said.
     “Wait, you know me?”  I looked at her face and into her eyes, no memory of her present in my mind.
     “Of course, I know you, dummy,” she said.
     The word dummy struck a chord with me.  I had been called that many times before.  “Do I know you?”
     “I would think so,” she said, holding up her hand.  On one of her fingers I saw a silver ring with an amethyst.  I had seen that ring before.  I had given it to her, but when?  Why couldn’t I remember?
     “What’s your name?” I said.
     “I don’t think I know you well enough to tell you that, Kev.”
     I remembered her, feeling tears streaming down my face.  How could I have ever forgotten her?
She reached out, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and then kissed me.  “Do you remember that?”
     “I remember now.  Where have you been?  I’ve missed you.  Well, actually, I forgot about you, but I think I did miss you at some point.  I think you understand, right?”
     “Of course, I understand.  You have time lag, Kev.  You’ve been traveling around in time so much, you’ve lost most of your memories.”
     “I haven’t been traveling in time.  I mean, I just got back from Neta Nexus Nine, but I don’t think I traveled in time.”
     She looked at the blue cube, and her face changed.  “You’re on The Show,” she said.
     “Yeah, I just had to overthrow the dictator on Neta Nexus Nine.  I’m dreaming, right?”
     “Unfortunately not.”
     “I really hoped you wouldn’t get stuck on The Show again,” she said.
     “What do you mean?  This was my first challenge.”
     “No, Kev.  This was probably your trillionth, trillionth challenge.  You’re going to have to find a way to get off The Show or B24ME is going to kill you.”
     “Kill me?” I cried. “How do I get off The Show?”
     “I don’t know, but you’ve done it before, many times, in fact.  But, you have never told me how you did it.”
     “I don’t understand.”
     “I know, and I wish I could help you, but the rules are very strict.”
     “What rules?  The rules for The Show?”
     “No.  I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
     I downed my whiskey, took a gulp of beer and said, “What can you tell me?”
     “I can tell you I love you.  Also, I’m pregnant.”
     “You’re pregnant?  Whose child is it?”
     “Yours, you moron.”
     I didn’t remember ever having sex with the girl.  I could barely remember the last time I had seen her.  “That’s not possible,” I said.
     “You need to stop traveling in time, Kev, or at least figure out how to do it without using the black cube.”
     I remembered the black time travel cube.  “But, I don’t have the black cube.  I have the plans for it, but I don’t have it.”
     “I know.  You lost it.  That’s why you’re stuck in the past right now,” she said.
     “The past?  You have to explain that.”
     “Look, Kev, the present year is three thousand, three hundred, thirty-seven.  You keep coming back to two thousand, sixteen.  I’m not sure why, but you keep doing it.  I know you are looking for something, but I don’t know what.  I can’t tell you any more than that.”
      I tried to think things through.  If I had been traveling in time with the black cube, the black cube I did not at that time have in my possession, then when did I last travel back in time?  From what point in time did I travel back in time?  Where did I leave the black cube?  I wondered if it was tucked away somewhere in my house. Then it struck me.  If the present year was three thousand, three hundred, thirty-seven, then I must be over a thousand years old.  How was that possible?
     Many times over the years, I had felt like I was in a dream, and again I had this feeling.  However, part of me completely rejected the idea that I was in a dream.  While I couldn’t recall anything in detail, I had vague memories that made at least some of what the girl had said plausible.  I said, “So, if it’s really three thousand, three hundred, thirty-seven, that means I am over a thousand years old.  How is that possible?”
     She sighed and placed her hand on my arm.  “You’re much older than that, Kev.  You need to remember.  You need to remember everything.”
     B24ME cut in with, “So, Turd Fondler, I see you overthrew the dictator.  I have to say, we gave you an easy challenge, but thought that might be the best way to bring you back into the game.”
     “Shut up,” I said, not wanting anything to do with B24ME or The Show.  The girl disappeared.
     “That’s not very nice,” said B24ME.  “We have a new challenge lined up for you.  Are you ready?”
     “No.  I don’t want to be on this show anymore.”
     “Now, you know what happens if you quit, don’t you?”
     “What?  I don’t win a prize?”
     “No, you die.”
     “Bullshit.  I’m not playing,” I said.

     I appeared in a monstrous, bowl shaped arena, at least a mile in diameter.  All around me I saw trenches with greenish pools of fluid and littered across the arena I saw large, gray and black boulders, easily twice my height.  I had a gun in my hand, something that looked like a shotgun, but bulbous and orange.
     “Welcome to the re-enactment of the Battle of Bwar Nit,” said B24ME joyfully.
     “I told you I’m not playing,” I said, dropping the weapon.
     “Come on.  This will be great for ratings.  Look, if you win this challenge, I’ll give you a break for a while,” said B24ME.
     “How long a break?”
     “I don’t know.  I really hope you’ll play.  Killing you will be bad for ratings, and anyway, this is an easy challenge.”
     “What do I have to do?” I said.
     “Well, you have to win the battle.”
     “Who am I fighting?” I said.  I heard shouts and screams in the background.  Was that fighting I heard?
     “Everyone,” said B24ME.
     I definitely heard the sound of fighting now, and wondered if I was safe.
     “Am I playing right now?” I said.
     B24ME didn’t answer.
     I heard a whining sound as something flew within inches of my head.  I jumped into a nearby trench and ducked down, my feet in a puddle of greenish liquid, liquid that started dissolving my shoes.  I jumped out of the puddle, but too late.  I could feel my feet burning, so I dropped down and took off my shoes, desperately trying to wipe the liquid off my feet, a stupid thing to do, the acid now burning both my hands and feet.  I could see the flesh on my hands and feet burning away.  I screamed, only to find seconds later that I had healed, my hands and feet no longer covered by that foul stuff. 
      I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.  To my right I saw a yellow, four-legged alien, a centaur-like creature with three eyes and two arms that were more like tentacles than anything else, pointing a gun at me.  It pulled the trigger, the gun exploding in its hands, disintegrating its body.  Not good, I thought, thinking about my discarded weapon, not wanting to pick it up for fear that it might explode in my hands if I fired it.
     Another alien appeared in the same place, gun aimed at me.  It fired, and it too exploded.  What was going on with these guns?  I noticed that the pools of green liquid were becoming larger, encroaching on my space. Not wanting to get burnt again, I climbed out of the trench and made my way toward the far edge of the arena, hoping I wouldn’t encounter more armed aliens.  At one point I got too close to one of the boulders and received an alarming shock.  I made a note to myself to stay away from the boulders and out of the trenches, but realized that I would have no cover if I did that.
     Three more aliens confronted me, one of which managed to shoot its weapon without exploding.  The shot missed, and the second shot killed the alien when its gun exploded in its hands.  Not long after, I made it to the outer wall of the arena and stopped to catch my breath.  I didn’t see anyone around me and hoped I might get through this without further injury.
     The sounds of fighting gradually died down and finally stopped.  I looked around, wondering if the battle had ended, and if, by some stroke of luck, I had won.
     “B24ME, did I win?” I said.
     “Not yet,” said B24ME.
     “How many are left?”
     “Now, why would I tell you that?”
     “Oh, come on.  Just tell me.”
     “Fine.  There is one other.”
     “You don’t want to know.”
     I turned around and saw a female looking humanoid with silver skin and white eyes pointing a gun at me.
     “Look what I have here,” she said.  “Where’s your gun?”
     “You fire that thing and you’ll die,” I said, hoping that was true.
     “Maybe, maybe not.  It hasn’t exploded yet.  So, should I kill you now or have a little fun?”
     “Define fun,” I said, looking for somewhere to run.
     “Oh, maybe I could just shoot your legs off.  Not a fun way to go, but it would be entertaining for me.”
     Her name was Via Blath and she was the reigning champion of the re-enactment of the Battle of Bwar Nit.  I didn’t know that at the time, but B24ME later told me.  He also told me that the participants in the battle were all inmates at the Geta Celsion Penitentiary, a prison for tax evaders.
     “What’s your name?” she said.
     “What kind of name is that?”
     “My kind of name.”
     “Stupid name, really.  Were your parents mentally challenged?”
     I was sick of this challenge, sick of being on The Show, and even more sick of having people make fun on my name, something I did clearly remember.  I lunged forward and tackled Via, knocking the gun out of her hand.  She immediately threw me off, sending me hurling against one of the boulders, a boulder that gave me the shock of my life.  I scrambled to get up and run away, but she was on her feet, weapon in hand before I could make my escape.
     “You’re pretty tough for a tax evader.”
     “What?  I’m not a tax evader.”
     “Well, then what are you?”
     I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I don’t know.  I’m on this show and I have to win this battle.”
     “Oh, you’re on The Show.  Do you know what happens if I kill you?”
     “No, what?”
     “I get to be on The Show.”
     “Well, I hope you enjoy it.  It will be your death,” I said.
     She pulled the trigger and the gun exploded, killing her instantly.
     “Good work, Turd Fondler,” said B24ME.  “Are you ready for your next challenge?”
     “You said I could take a break.  I want to go home.”
     “Fine, go home.  I’ll give you a couple of hours,” said B24ME.
     I pulled out the blue cube.  “Cube, take me home.”

When I arrived home, I noticed someone had redecorated my family room.  All of the blood and filth had been wiped away, the carpet replaced, and new furniture put in place.  A beautiful painting of the girl hung on the wall.  On my new coffee table I found a note that read, “Big improvement, right?  XOXO.”  It had to have been the girl.  Of course it was the girl.
I sat on the couch and turned on the TV, thinking this would be a perfect time to do absolutely nothing.
“Why aren’t you looking for the girl?” said a voice.  I turned and saw an old man wearing a parka, shorts and flip-flops.  “Where have you been?”
“Um, who are you?” I said.
“You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?”
“Forgotten what?”
“The end of the universe.  You have to find the girl and get me the yellow cube.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about.”
“Kev, have you been time traveling again?  We’ve been over this about fifty times now, you time-lagged moron.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Aputi, you dolt!”
“Oh.  Sorry, don’t remember you, but I tend to forget things.  So, what is all this about the end of the universe?”
“If you don’t get me the yellow cube, the universe will end.  You have to find the girl.”
“What girl?”
“The girl with the yellow cube.”
“Oh.  What’s her name?”
“Now, if I knew that I would find her myself.  Only you can find her.”
“Well, how am I supposed to find her if I don’t know who she is?” I cried, annoyed as could be.  But then, I remembered.  The girl, my girl, had the yellow cube and under no circumstances whatsoever was I to give Aputi the yellow cube.  However, my memories of Aputi were vague at best.  What exactly would he do if he had the yellow cube?  It had to be something bad.
“Look, just find the girl and get me the cube.”
“And if I say no?” I said.
“Then you die.”
That didn’t sit well with me at all.  “What?  You’re going to kill me?”
“I’m going to the police,” I said.
“It won’t do a bit of good.  Anyway, if you don’t cooperate, I won’t honor our deal.”
“What deal?”
“I agreed not to kill any more people until you get me the cube.”
Aputi disappeared.
I vaguely remembered Barry telling me that something like six hundred thousand people had exploded recently, and wondered if this had something to do with Aputi.  If it did, then hadn’t he already broken whatever agreement we had?

Flustered and a little frightened, I went back into my workroom to check my messages on my communication device, hoping that would help me take my mind off things.
Scanning my messages, I found one from the girl, “Meet me at the Lost Hope Hotel on Riddent.”
I pulled out the blue cube and said, “Cube, take me to the Lost Hope Hotel on Riddent,” and appeared on a balcony overlooking a mile high drop into a vast sea.  To my right I saw two aliens, both purple and four-legged, with yellow eyes, arms with pincers, and mandibles protruding from their egg-shaped heads.
“Well, we’re never going to make our numbers for the quarter, Blurp,” said one.
“I know.  What is the point in living if we can’t make our numbers?” said the other.
The two aliens jumped off the balcony.  “What the hell?” I shouted, as I watched them disappear in the distance.
“It happens,” said the girl, now standing beside me.
“They just killed themselves.”
“This is a popular spot for suicides.  Weddings too.  You and I were married here,” said the girl.
“We were?”
“Yeah, beautiful ceremony.  All our friends were here.  Of course, three of them killed themselves, but let’s not dwell on that.”
“Aputi was at my house.  By the way, thanks for redecorating.”
“Anything for you.”
“Anything?  Then, maybe you can tell me what the hell is going on.”
The girl laughed and kissed me. “Rules are rules.  So, do you want to make love?”
“Right here?”
“No, dummy.  In our suite.”
“Oh, right.  Okay.”
Some time later, lying in bed, my arm wrapped around her, I said, “Have I mentioned Aputi before?”
“He wants the yellow cube.”
“Yeah.  He says he is going to kill everyone on Earth if I don’t get the yellow cube for him.  I think so, anyway.  You have it, right? He says he is going to kill me too if I don’t get it for him.”
“I doubt he’ll kill you, but I’m sure he’ll kill everyone else.”
“Really?  How do I stop him?”
“Well, he is a Bladrithian, so he is hard to kill, but if you went back in time far enough and found him, you might be able to kill him.”
“Kill?  I don’t want to kill anyone.  There has to be some other way to stop him.”
“You could ask him nicely.”
“Not helpful.  You know, Barry at the bar said something about Canadians killing thousands of people in the same way Clive was killed.  I think Aputi had something to do with that.”
“Duh, Kev.  Aputi is the mastermind.  He’s already killed six hundred thousand people.  I’d be willing to bet he is killing the rest as we speak.”
I stared at the ceiling, trying to wrap my mind around things, but found my thoughts too jumbled to organize.  I felt hopeless and small.  I turned to say something to the girl, but she had disappeared.  I wanted to scream.
“Well, hello, Turd Fondler,” said B24ME.  “Was the break long enough for you?”
Ignoring B24ME, I got up and put on my clothes, then left the room and went down to the hotel lobby.  I found the hotel bar and went inside, had a seat and ordered a green tea for reasons unknown, having no memories of the odd characteristics of green tea.
“We have an excellent challenge lined up for you,” said B24ME.
I didn’t respond.
“Do you want to know what it is?”
“Oh, okay, a surprise then.”
I appeared in a large, hot, and extremely dry warehouse.  In front of me, I saw a table, and on the table an array of weapons, including a machine gun, a throwing star, a sword, and something that looked vaguely like a squirt gun.  I saw a red dragon appear on the other side of the warehouse.  It had to be at least fifty feet long.  It wasn’t moving.
“So, Turd Fondler, the name of this game is, ‘is it real or is it not?’”
“Wonderful.  How do I win?”
“All you have to do is get one answer right and you move on to the next challenge.  Are you ready?”
I eyed the dragon, reasonably certain I would have to determine if it was real or not.  What would happen if I made a wrong answer?  “What if I’m wrong?” I said.
“We’ll surprise you.  So, in front of you is an Urethan Wyrm.  Over fifty feet long, this fire-breathing monstrosity has been responsible for countless deaths on countless worlds.  Tell me, is it real?”
I paused.  The dragon looked like something out of a storybook.  I noticed its wings seemed far too small for its body.  “Can it fly?”
“Indeed it can,” said B24ME.
“Using what?  Magic?  Those wings aren’t big enough.”
“Is it real or not?”
I figured B24ME had a way of reading my memories and had pulled this thing from there, so I said, “Not real.”
“Wrong answer, I’m afraid.”
The dragon started moving, turning its head to look at me.  It took a step forward then started flapping its wings, bringing itself into the air, a long gush of flame erupting from its mouth.  With alarming speed the dragon bore down on me, shooting more flames from its mouth.  I grabbed the machine gun off the table and fired wildly at the beast, to no effect.  The dragon roared, now much closer to me, and inhaled deeply.
I remembered the blue cube, pulled it out and said, “Cube, take me home.”  Nothing happened and the dragon breathed out, engulfing my body in flames.  I screamed, my clothes and flesh burning off, and fell to the ground.  Moments later, I healed.  I got up, now naked, and looked at the dragon.
“I’ve never seen that happen before,” said the dragon.  It breathed in again.
I looked at the remaining weapons, now focused on the squirt gun.  Water.  Fire.  I grabbed the gun and fired just as another burst of flame erupted from the dragon.  The second the water touched the dragon, it disintegrated.
In front of me, a floating yellow sphere about the size of a volleyball appeared. 
“This is the Proth Sphere,” said B24ME.  “If you connect to it, it will make all of your dreams and nightmares come true.  Is it real or is it fake?”
“So, wait.  If I guess it isn’t real and it is real will all my dreams and nightmares come true?  What will happen if I get the answer right?”
“Is it real or is it fake?”
I took an inventory of all of the dreams and nightmares I could remember, remembering few dreams, but many nightmares.  The worst nightmare was one in which a giant nozzle sucked up the entire universe.  How on Earth could this sphere make that nightmare come true?  What if it could?  I figured it was safest to say it was real so I would have some chance of escaping from experiencing all of my horrible nightmares, thinking if it weren’t real it would not be able to make that happen.  “It’s real,” I said.
“Sorry, Turd Fondler, it is not real. Do you really think there is something that can end the universe based on your nightmares?”
“Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.  So, what happens now?”
“I just got word from our producer.  We are going to simulate what it would be like if the Proth Sphere was real.  Of course, only you will get to experience that.”
Without warning, I felt something connect to my mind, and then for what seemed like an eternity, I relived every nightmare I had ever had, this simulation so real that I thought it was really happening.  The only good thing I experienced was a long, happy life with the girl, but of course it was just a simulation.  Oddly enough, I didn’t experience my nightmare about the end of the universe.  The horrors ended and I collapsed, breathless and terrified.  Once I recovered and picked myself up, I said, “What’s next?”
A little red cube appeared, floating in front of me, unmarked in any way.  I had seen that cube before.  What was it?  Where had I seen it?
“What is it?” I said.
“We don’t know.”
“Then how do you know if it is real or not?”
“Trust me, we know.”
I had nothing to go on other than my memory of seeing it before so I said, “It’s real.”
“Right you are, Turd Fondler.  Now take it.  It’s yours.”
“What if I don’t want it?” I said, thinking it possible that this thing would do something awful if I took it.
“Take it, or you lose the game.”
“If I lose the game will I have to go through any more challenges?”
“If you lose the game we will kill you.”
I grabbed the red cube out of the air.  “Can I go home now?  I’m getting really sick of this.”
“Folks,” said B24ME.  “We’re going to take a commercial break.”
I picked the blue cube up off the ground and said, “Cube, take me home.”

Back home, I put on some clothes and then headed out to get a much needed drink.  As I approached the bar I noticed something on the ground.  I drew closer, now able to see that this was the skeletal remains of a human.  Well, mostly it was just a skeleton with bits of flesh hanging off of it.  Surrounding the skeleton I saw flesh splattered everywhere.  Thoughts of Clive ran through my head.
I raced into the bar to get help, but was horrified to see the remains of at least twelve people on the floor, the entire bar covered with bits of flesh and effluent.  On the television above the bar I saw what looked like a newsroom with the remains of some unfortunate soul sitting behind a news desk.  Aputi had killed everyone.  I let that sink in.
“Welcome back, folks.  We’re here with Turd Fondler.  He has just discovered that Aputi wiped out the human race.  Well, he might have saved three million, but who knows?” said B24ME.
“Not right now,” I said, trying to keep myself calm, but doing a lousy job of it.
“Oh, come on, Turd Fondler.  There isn’t much you can do about it now. Let’s move on to the next challenge, shall we?  We’ll take you somewhere nice and help you take your mind off of things.  In fact, we are going to send you to beautiful Gamma War, a wonderful tropical paradise orbiting a rather nasty black hole.”
I appeared on a beach on Gamma War.  I saw a nearby star hovering over the horizon and two moons up above.  Around me on the beach I saw many diverse aliens, all of them naked.  Off the beach I saw a building with a sign that read, “Tourist Information.”
“Okay, B24ME, I’m here.  What’s the challenge?”
“Sorry, Turd Fondler.  We seem to be having technical difficulties.  We’ll be right back.”
A pale blue alien with orange eyes and a cigarette dangling from its lipless mouth approached me and said, “Sir, this is a nude only resort.  You are going to have to disrobe.”  Had I seen this alien before?
Not knowing what else to do, I removed my clothes.  The alien, now satisfied, left me standing naked on the beach.  I sat down on the sand and cried.
Maybe and hour later, I looked up, noticing the sun, still hovering over the horizon.  How was that possible?  It hadn’t moved at all.  Maybe this planet didn’t rotate.  But, if it didn’t, wouldn’t that wreak havoc on the environment?  I had no clue.
I got up, grabbed my clothes and pulled the blue cube out of my pocket.  “Cube, take me home,” I said.  Nothing happened.
The only building I could see was the tourist information building, so I went there, hoping they could direct me to a bar.
The inside of the building contained a desk, a chair and a squid like alien sitting on the chair.  “Can I help you?” it said.
“Where’s the nearest bar?”
“Singularity Bar on Ceretus Isle.  Step to the side and close your eyes, or not.  What does it matter?  We’re all going to die anyway.”
I stepped to the side and closed my eyes, not wanting to get into a philosophical discussion with a squid.  I heard a popping sound and then the sound of voices, many voices.  Opening my eyes, I saw a crowd of aliens all sitting around a large bar.  One of the aliens, a tall orange creature with four arms and a triangular head approached me.
“Why didn’t you stick around on Neta Nexus Nine?” said the alien.  “The whole planet has fallen into chaos.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They don’t have a dictator now, so nobody is doing a damned thing. They’re all going to die.”
I did remember Neta Nexus Nine and overthrowing the dictator, and in that instant felt a twinge of guilt.  I had never thought what might happen if I overthrew the dictator and then left.
“I didn’t know,” I said.
“What’s your name?”
“What kind of name is that?  Were your parent’s mentally challenged?”
“No.  What’s your name?” I said, annoyed.
“Bok Choy.”
“You know, on my planet that is a type of food,” I said, still a little irritated.
“Yeah, well, on my planet, I am a type of food, but let’s not dwell on that.  So, are you going to go back to Neta Nexus Nine and fix things?”
“What could I possibly fix?  I have no clue how to rule a planet.  They need to find someone else.  Look, I really need a drink.”
“I can tell.  Here, let me get you something,” said Bok Choy.
Bok Choy went up to the bar, and soon returned with a glass of greenish liquid, handing it to me.
“I have a question,” I said. “How come I can understand what you’re saying and what everyone else is saying?  On Neta Nexus Nine I could read all the signs and understand every word spoken.”
“Oh, well, most civilized places have translation fields.  Much easier than learning new languages,” said Bok Choy.
“Oh, why doesn’t Earth have that?” I said.
“Earth isn’t terribly civilized, now is it?” said Bok Choy.
I took a sip of my drink and heard children laughing and playing, realizing in that instant that I was drinking green tea.  A voice cut in, “Hello, Kev.  Welcome to The Diving into a Black Hole Experience.  You are going to experience the thrill of being consumed by the giant black hole that lurks nearby.  This is a fully interactive experience, although there isn’t much you can do other than scream and flap your arms about.  Of course, there will be nobody to hear your screams, and all the arm flapping is rather pointless.”
“Can I have a different experience?” I said.
“Absolutely not,” said the voice, as I launched into space and circled around the backside of the planet, heading toward a black spot in space, around which I could see the distorted light of stars.
I wondered how I could breathe in the vacuum of space, but thought it best not to ask, lest my guide turn off the field or whatever it was that protected me and kept me from freezing and suffocating.
The black spot in the sky grew quickly, soon filling my field of vision.
“You are now crossing the event horizon,” said the voice.
I started feeling my body being pulled in different directions, subtle at first, but soon uncomfortable.  Soon after that, I started to feel pain, pain that soon reached an unbearable level.
“Can we stop?” I screamed.
“Almost there.  Don’t worry about the tidal forces.  Sure, they are going to rip you to pieces, but you’ll make it through,” said the voice.
My body ripped in half, and looking down I saw that I had somehow stretched.  Under normal circumstances this would have been my death, but I lived on, the pain absolutely unspeakable.  I screamed and cried, flapped my arms around madly, praying for the end.  My halves divided and then those divided as well.  This continued until I was nothing, no body, only thought.  I felt no more pain.
“Destination reached,” said the voice.
Light returned, and I found myself in Singularity Bar in Barrow, Alaska, sitting across from Aputi.  He didn’t acknowledge me, instead, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small, brown cube of some sort with a yellow button on one side.  I looked around the bar, seeing a handful of people, and then back at Aputi.
“Time to die,” said Aputi, as he pressed the button five times in rapid succession.  Everyone in the bar except Aputi and I exploded.  The scene shifted and I found myself looking at Bok Choy.
“Which one did you get?” said Bok Choy.
“Which what?”
“Which experience?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  I got sucked into a black hole,” I murmured.
“And after that?”
“I think I saw Aputi kill everyone on Earth,” I said, wondering if I could go back in time and get the brown cube from Aputi, or at least destroy it.
“Aputi?” said Bok Choy.
“Yeah, he’s an Inuit or a Bladrithian.  I don’t know which.  But, he killed everyone on Earth,” I said, vaguely remembering enough to say that.
“He’s a bad guy,” said Bok Choy.  “There is no telling what he’ll do next.”
“Wait, you know him?”
“Yeah, well, I think I do if we are talking about the same Aputi.  I’ve known him for years now.  I don’t know what he has planned for Earth, but I bet it isn’t good.”
“Well, he wants me to find some yellow cube.  He said he was going to use it to re-engineer the humans he didn’t kill so he could save the universe,” I said, starting to remember things.
“The yellow cube.  So, it’s real?”
“What?  Oh, I don’t know.  I guess so or he wouldn’t be looking for it.”
“Do you know what that thing can do?”
“It can manipulate matter.  If Aputi had that he could do more damage to the universe than you could ever imagine.”
“Well, I’m not going to give it to him.  I have to go back in time and stop him somehow, but I’m stuck on this show and don’t get many breaks.  Anyway, I don’t have the black cube, so even if I do get a break, I have no way of going back in time and stopping him.”
“Don’t worry, Kev.  You’ll figure it out,” said Bok Choy, patting me on the shoulder with two of his hands.  In that moment, I felt like Bok Choy knew more than he was letting on.  I wanted to ask questions, but somehow knew asking questions would not lead to enlightenment.

Bok Choy and I talked for hours, and I learned much, but nothing that really helped me understand my own situation.  In that time I had two more green teas and two new experiences, The Induced Seizure Driving Experience, and The Auto-asphyxiation Experience, two rather terrifying experiences to have.  After each, I had what I’ll call a follow-on experience, in which I witnessed some event in history, an event somehow connected to me.  The first was my wedding on Riddent, and the second was of me telling the blue cube I wanted to go to a workshop that had all of the parts necessary for building the black cube. In that experience I appeared in the workshop, constructed the black cube and then pressed the little blue button on it five times.  For a brief moment, I knew everything, absolutely everything, but the moment passed and I returned to the real world, lacking infinite knowledge.  However, I knew that I must build the black cube.
Bok Choy left some time later, and I decided to stay at the bar.  Satisfied that I had had enough green tea to last a lifetime, and in the mood for a screwdriver, I motioned to the bartender, a gray-green biped with two heads and eight arms, and asked if he knew how to make a screwdriver, a reasonable enough question in a universe that appeared to be completely unreasonable.
“Yeah, sure,” said the bartender.  “Who doesn’t?”
“I mean a screwdriver like they make on Earth.”
“They’re the same everywhere, Kev.”  I hadn’t told the bartender my name.
After three screwdrivers, now quite drunk, I took a seat at the bar and had a look around, amazed by the diversity of the aliens that populated the bar.  While I had always believed aliens, for the most part, would be quite different that humans, I never really imagined how different they would be.  Looking at these aliens, I wondered how they evolved.  What conditions led them to appear and function the way they did?  Of course, I was on a planet with an atmosphere much like Earth’s, so the aliens I saw were only those that could survive in this type of environment.  What would aliens living in radically different environments?  I could not guess.
“Anyone sitting here?” said a woman’s voice.  I turned and saw a beautiful blonde with a stunning body, naked except for a string of pearls around her neck.  Had I seen her before, or at least someone who looked like her?  Was she with Aputi in Alaska?
Carefully maintaining eye contact, I said, “No.  It’s yours.”
“What’s your name?”
“Kev.  Yours?”
“Oh, hi Ruby.”  Hadn’t someone named Ruby sent a message to my communications device?  Wasn’t it something about intercopulation?
“What are you drinking?”
“Screwdrivers, but I’m taking a break.”
“Tell you what.  Why don’t you have one more and talk to me?”
“Okay,” I said, hoping I wasn’t violating my vows to the girl in any way.
Ruby ordered a green tea and a screwdriver.  After the bartender delivered the drinks, she held up her glass and said, “To happy endings.”
I tapped her glass and took a sip of my drink, tasting something strange.  “This a screwdriver?” I said.
“What else would it be?” said Ruby, smiling, a smile that seemed to convey a warning.

I woke naked in a bed in a room in a hotel on Gamma War, Ruby by my side, stroking my chest.  However, Ruby had changed, and I found myself more than a little horrified.  It wasn’t just my infidelity that horrified me.  It was also the transformation that Ruby had undergone.  This was no human, and from what I could tell it was no female, or at least was…well, she/he/it wasn’t human.
“Did we?” I gasped.
“Five times, tiger,” said Ruby, her smile now that of some strange demon, a pale red aberration wearing pink lipstick.
“Where am I?”
“At the hotel.  Do you want to do it again?”
“You drugged me!” I cried.
“Well, of course I drugged you.  You wouldn’t have come with me otherwise.”
“You violated me.”
“Yes, and you enjoyed every minute of it.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, Kev, you did.”
I jumped out of bed and raced out of the room, went down to the lobby of the hotel and then out the front door, heading toward the beach.  As I neared the beach I saw the bar and rushed over to it, grabbing a stool.  On the stool next to mine I saw my clothes and on top of my clothes I saw the blue cube, a grim reminder of The Show.
“Did you have fun?” said the gray, barrel-headed, eight-armed bartender, seeing the wild look in my eyes.
“What’s your strongest drink?” I said.
“Green tea, of course.”
“Give me three,” I said, scanning the area for signs of Ruby.  “What was she?  He?”
“Oh, that my friend is a Nidian hooker.”
“A prostitute?”
“No, no.  They’re called hookers because the hook in their victims by drugging them.”
“Why didn’t you warn me?”
“I don’t know.  You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”
“Well, next time could you warn me if another Nidian or whatever gets near me?”
“Yeah, sure.”
Three green teas later I had managed to calm myself down.  Of course, Ruby had appeared while I was in the middle of my third green tea experience and had her or his or whatever hand on my thigh, stroking it gently.  I brushed the hand off my thigh and said, “No more.  Leave me alone.”
“Oh, come on Kev, it was fun.”
“I’m married.”
“So?  She will never know.”
“Of course, she’ll know.  I’m going to tell her.  Do you have any diseases?”
“No, but I’m pregnant.  This will be the third humo-nidian child in history.  Well, sort of.”
“I don’t believe you.  Wait.  Third?”
“It’s true,” said Ruby.  “Nidians always get pregnant after intercopulating.”
“What?” I cried.  “What the hell?  By the way, when are you due?”
The Nidian hooker, now back in the form of the beautiful blonde, smiled and said, “In about an hour, your time.”
“So, who are the other fathers?” I said, utterly confused.  “Have you been to Earth, because I’m pretty sure that the girl and I are the only humans to have left Earth.”  I wasn’t sure about this, wondering if Clive had at one point in time left Earth.
“They are all yours,” said Ruby.
“No, they aren’t.”
“Yes, they are.  You just don’t remember.”
“Remember what?”
“You don’t remember how many times we’ve met and how many times we’ve intercopulated.  It’s okay.  I know about your memory problems, Kev.”
        It was at that point that I passed out.