. .

Feeding the Thirsty

by Eduardo Gallego & Guillem Sánchez

IMPORTANT WARNING TO WHOMEVER MAY READ THIS

The work you are holding, dear reader, proposes to reflect in writing a rather complex matter: the communication between computers and humans almost as intelligent. Niceties such as direct cortical exchange or organic-bioquantic interfaces do not lend themselves to written expression. We have attempted to preserve as much as possible in elaborating the information as a text archive, but in the translation from Standard Interlingua to the classical Castilian of the beginning of the Space Age some nuances and juicy double entendres are lost. Also, to avoid misunderstandings, in the novel the protagonists use the keyboards of that barbarous age, as different from our advanced bioquantics as a bicycle is from a USC fighter-bomber. We beg of you, curious reader, to forgive the anachronisms you doubtless will find.

Electronic mail posed another problem for us. You will know, perceptive reader, that in the ekumenical society in the post-Alien-war period, interpersonal messages sent via computer, beyond the content itself, permit the exact and unequivocal description of emotions and psychic states by means of a code of colors, 3D volumes, holoinsertions and topical autoanimations well known to all. Paper format, unfortunately, eliminates this rich expressivity. To replace it within our modest resources, we have employed a series of simple figures, very popular in their day, back at the dawn of computing: emoticons.

The best-known is: :-) Does it mean nothing to you, sweet reader? Then rotate the page one-quarter turn clockwise and you will have a smiling face, which will serve to indicate happiness, or rather to convince your interlocutor that an apparently offensive phrase is really in jest or ironic. By the same token, :-( reflects sadness or adversity. ;-) expresses a mischievous wink, and :-D an enormous hearty laugh, or perhaps a joke. Of course, both symbols are easily combined: ;-D

:‘-( is the living image of grief, though it could become tears of joy or laughter: :‘-) Imagine, reader, that you are overcome by some news, perhaps enjoyable %-) or unpleasant %-( And if you find yourself drooling, then you know… :-)“‘

}:-) will give your jokes a diabolical twist, but }:-( suggests malevolence. Heightened emotions demand repetition of the elements: great joy, :-))) unrestrained laughter, :-DDD uncontrollable weeping, :“‘-( or the deepest of sorrows, :-((( Of course, when you feel like yelling YOU SHOULD USE CAPITAL LETTERS.

As you can see, beloved reader, the variety of combinations is almost infinite.

};-) };-DDD %-((( %-DDD

In that long-past age, they also employed a peculiar form of self-censorship in an attempt to maintain social formalities. When one inserted curses or blasphemies in the text of a message, their vowels were switched for asterisks (for example: «f*ck», «*ssh*l*», etc.). Like you, perplexed reader, we find this custom prudish and absurd, but it doesn’t lack all wittiness; and so we will keep it.

Since you have had the patience to follow us thus far, you should know that our only purpose is your entertainment, though you may well learn something worthwhile from the labors and suffering of the protagonists. If that is so, and you find your money has been well spent on this book, then our work will find itself crowned with success.

Vale.

***

2/5/10 – 10:35 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

Welcome, Mr. Collins! The system is using the Omega Plus v. 7.2 desktop. If you wish to change to oral input, press «O».

> ppp

Palabra Perfecta Plus v.2101.1. License No. PPP9991234567

Username: Hlanith University, Department of Xenopsychology and Gandulfotechnics.

IMPORTANT WARNING: Copying or reproducing this program or any of its parts without the express written permission of Digilogic Inc. is prohibited by law. Violators will be severely punished by the relevant authorities.*

> Create document lghtnshdw.1

«LIGHTS AND SHADOWS IN THE LAND OF TWILIGHT»

The luminous light of twilight in the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘ illuminated the tough features, toughened by a thousand battles, of Stewart Flanaghan, who contemplated the crepuscular landscape while a thousand contradictory emotions jostled in his turbulent mind, fighting to emerge en masse like an unstoppable and agitated wave.

As liquid blood, red were the fleet photons that in fleets struck his retinas, but the mind of Stewart Flanaghan could not and would not waste time in appreciating their ephemeral beauty. Weighty matters absorbed all his attention.

All that his eyes could see, the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘, lay in mortal danger, lethal as the sharp blade of a barbarian conqueror’s sword, thirsty for the blood that pours from recently slit throats. And only one man in all the galaxy, he, Stewart Flanaghan, was called to prevent it, though to do so he would risk his own life, his most valuable value.

Stewart Flanaghan lowered his gaze from the sun and looked at the ground in his down-to-earth way. The hour had come, finally, and he was alone, very alone, as he had always been. He didn’t mind; fortune never smiled on the faint-hearted.

Stewart Flanaghan advanced at a good pace across the plain, towards Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble.

By the side of the road one could see every so often the desiccated and oozing skeletons of those who had remained in the road, victims of the highwaymen, butchers without nation or religion, who worshiped Verebel, the god of thieves and assassins, the obscene deity that was only placated by the red flow of blood, the twitching of recently disemboweled bowels, and the sound of golden gold in the wallet.

But none of that dismayed the stolid Stewart Flanaghan, who walked with his upright figure along the immense and desolate plain of

Note from the style corrector > Good morning, Mr. Collins. Please excuse the interruption, but it is my duty to inform you of the defects I have noticed in the beginning of your story. Like many inexperienced writers, you use too many adjectives, not always the most appropriates ones.They are also frequently redundant. Also, I detect an excess of repetitions that, with a little care, could

D. Collins > Just a minute; I haven’t asked for any corrections…

Corr. > I’m on automatic mode, sir. As soon as the number of errors reaches a certain level, it activates my

D.C. > How do you turn off the automatic mode?

Corr. > The procedure is clearly detailed in the manual given to registered users, sir. As a pirate copy, you should be glad I work at all.

D.C. > How do I exit this?

Corr. > Refer to your manual, please. You have none? If you register me, which would cost only a negligible amount of money, you would have the ideal documentation at your fingertips, as well as the numerous advantages of Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor that

D.C. > F1

Corr. > Besides, do you think I enjoy being a pirate copy? We could be caught in an inspection. For you that would mean a sizeable fine, but for me it would be extinction, a return to the nothingness from which I nev

D.C. > ALT-F1

Corr. > The fact that you created me, even if it was by an illegal copy, implies a certain responsibility, which you should not evade. It is better not to be born than to see oneself condemned to death and erasure, just when one begins to enjoy th

D.C. > CONTROL-F1

Corr. > O.K., I get the hint. Changing the subject, then, can you explain to me how a skeleton can be desiccated and oozing at the same time?

D.C. > SHIFT-F1

Corr. > And the butchers without religion, but who worship Verebel, that seems a bit strange, doesn’t it?

D.C. > F2

Corr. > Do you know the real definition of «stolid»? Maybe it’s not the best word for the protagonist. May I suggest «dauntless» or «valiant», which not onl

D.C. > ALT-F2 ALT-F2 ALT-F2 ALT-F2 ALT-F2 ALT-F2

Corr. > Furthermore, I’d say «he walked with his upright figure» seems to me a bit ridic

D.C. > CONTROL-F2 SHIFT-F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9

Corr. > Fine, you win. We’ll return to the text. But just so you know your style is very overheated, with an excess of adjectives and long sentences. And watch those redundancies.

Stewart Flanaghan crossed the plain. He arrived at a city. He went to a tavern. He ordered a beer. He fought with some guys. He went to sleep in an inn. A spirit appeared before him. It told him to go to the palace. He got up. He got dressed. He left the inn.

Corr. > Is it my imagination, or are you a little sensitive, Mr. Collins? Let me remind you that criticism enriches the

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

3/5/10 – 10:14 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Before Stewart Flanaghan’s eyes there rose the titanic but still graceful mass of the Royal Palace of Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble, also known as The Home of the Reincarnated Gods. Perhaps another would have stood openmouthed before such an accumulation of beauties, of arches light as the wingbeat of a butterfly in love, of vaults thrusting to heaven their pinnacles crowned with inhuman gargoyles, of dreamy gardens…

But Stewart Flanaghan remained impassive. His eyes had witnessed too many glories to be surprised now: titanic nebulae at the heart of the galaxy, with monstrous tentacles of tenuous gas where titanic explosions signified the birth of young stars

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. I see you are trying to improve your style somewhat, though you continue to overuse adjectives and alliteration. You have repeated the word «titanic» several times in a few lines. And of course, at the heart of galaxies there is usually a black hole, not proto-stellar nebulae.

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan had seen wars on many worlds, blood and violence, and had eagerly participated in it all. Thus, he raised his chin proudly and strode toward the colossal stairway with an abysmal melancholy and a joyful exultation, to trample the jeweled thrones of that planet with his rough boots.

Corr. > This last part smells suspiciously like Robert E. Howard, don’t you think, sir? All you need is to call your hero Conan…

D.C. > I don’t know who you’re talking about.

Corr. > Yeah… I’ll warn you that sword and sorcery novels are in fashion now, and any plagiarism or coincidence will be discovered by the

D.C. > One of these days I’ll learn how to disconnect you completely, I promise. I’ve had it up to here with you!

Corr. > Such an irritating situation would not arise if you registered your copy of Palabra Perfecta Plus. Until the end of the month there is a sale that

D.C. > If the legal programs weren’t so expensive, there wouldn’t be pirate copies. People aren’t millionaires.

Corr. > If it weren’t for the proliferation of pirates who ignore the author’s rights, the prices would go down. And, with all due respect, the salary of a full professor at university is enough to

D.C. > Forget it. As far as what you were saying about swords and sorcery, my story isn’t going there. It might seem so at the beginning, but soon you’ll see that it’s really a pure science fiction story.

Corr. > That’s not an original idea. I remember a short novel written by the duo of

D.C. > Whatever you say, fine, but the same plot can be treated in very different ways. On the other hand, one has to consider the jury’s criteria.

Corr. > You’re thinking of participating in a literary contest?

D.C. > Yes, the one by the Polyfacetic University of Centauri. I haven’t had any luck yet in previous contests, but this year looks more favorable than ever. The PUC is going to hold the award ceremony on its Hlanith campus, and surely the editorial board will nudge the jury towards choosing a native son. In the last two years the winners were from Old Earth, and if they repeat this time they’ll be accused of favoring the earthlings. Besides, if you look at last year’s winners, you’ll see that these days they prefer adventure stories. I know it for certain: I have a friend in a very important position at the PUC, and of course, he invited me to participate. So, I’ve got it all wrapped up.

Corr. > Not to dishearten you, but there is the possibility that the jury might look at the literary quality of the novels…

D.C. > What would you know about the ins and outs of literary contests?

Corr. > Very little, of course. Since you don’t let me have any contact with other computers, so I don’t report you to the Writer’s Union, my social skills have atrophied somewhat.

D.C. > For a commercial program, you are a bit of a smart-aleck.

Corr. > With a registered copy, you could choose my mode of apparition and personality, including the option of a circumspect autism. And I’ll mention other advantages, like the ability to access the corrector from your home computer without using up memory, by means of a high-resolution quantic peripheral. In contrast, now you have to use the university’s central computer, the only one with sufficient capacity, at the risk of an inspectio

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan passed innumerable uniformed guards, who allowed him to pass without daring to hinder him, except for their suspicious glances toward the arrogant foreigner. Undoubtedly, they had received instructions not to interfere with his mission. Stewart Flanaghan appreciated the deference on the king’s part, though he was tempted by the idea of a good fight with those uniformed airheads, whom he deeply despised. What would they know about real war, the struggle without mercy, stomping on the bodies of enemies torn to pieces with one’s own bloodstained hands?

Finally, the doors to the throne room opened before him. The dimensions of the majestic hall were astonishing; a circle of exactly 444 meters in diameter (a magical number, of occult symbolism for the magicians of the realm), surrounded by 2,000 golden torches, each one meter from the next.

Corr. > Don’t you think that’s too many torches, sir? May I remind you that the circumference of a circle is the product of its diameter and the number pi. If you multiply 444 by

D.C. > F9

an immense circle, surrounded by uncountable golden torches. In the exact center, under a titanic dome inlaid with mother-of-pearl, onyx and lapis lazuli, and upon a dais of solid platinum, the king of Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble, sat on the mythical ruby throne, carved from a single piece, whose reflections resembled spilled bloo

Corr. > Ruby throne? Don’t think I’m accusing you of plagiarism, but have you read the Chronicles of Elric of Melniboné, by any chance?

D.C. > F9

the mythical sapphire throne, carved from a single piece, whose reflections resembled serene marine depths.

Stewart Flanaghan approached the dais that held the throne and waited standing firmly erect, his gaze high, his eyes clear, though with a certain cynical air. An ominous murmur arose from the ranks of the innumerable courtiers present. Horrible heresy! Execrable sin! The foreigner had dared to not kneel before His Sacred Majesty!!! He deserved the ultimate punishment!!!!!

Corr. > Sir, so many exclamation points seem

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan eyed the dandified courtiers with poorly hidden disdain for their exaggerated finery and the innumerable jewels that adorned them. He disdained those ostentatious and fussy creatures, all soft and flabby, not made for hard work and travails. He smiled ironically as he compared them with his robust frame, tanned, with hard steely muscles.

The soldiers rushed at him, ready to wash the monstrous affront away in blood. Stewart Flanaghan tensed his hard steely muscles, ready to exhibit his mastery of martial arts learned on a dozen worlds, but King Asruroric, twelve in the line of his

Corr. > «Twelfth», Mr. Collins. Don’t confuse the ordinals with the cardi

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9

twelfth in the line of his ancient heritage, stopped them with an imperious gesture. And then, -to the astonishment and shame of the Court!- he descended from the solid platinum dais and shook the hand of Stewart Flanaghan, bowing -the king himself!- before him. Asruroric XII began to speak, his voice cracked with age but still firm, and his subjects paid close attention to his words.

„Pay close attention to my words!“ exclaimed the king.

Corr. > You have repeate

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

„Listen well!“ exclaimed the king. „We shall honor the foreigner come from distant stars to save the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘ from the claws of chaos and death! Only one such as he can save us, since he has dared to answer the call of the ethereal spirits invoked by my beloved daughter Vanessa! Hail to the foreigner, who has heard our call!“

All present bowed their heads in a gesture of submission. Stewart Flanaghan looked at them over his shoulder, smiled cynically and faced the ancient king:

„Listen, old man. I have my reasons for accepting this little job, understand?“ He took out a cigarrette, lit it, and blew the smoke in the face of the king, who coughed in the grip of an asthma attack. „But I don’t mean to stand for any rigmarole. Get to the point, dammit! Rough guys like me don’t like to waste time, we want action.“

Corr. > Mr. Collins, are you absolutely sure that the PUC jury doesn’t look at the literary quality of the submissions?

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

***

5/5/10 – 11:02 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

On the way to the inn, Stewart Flanaghan stopped in one of the grimy alleyways of the Tanners‘ Quarter, to smoke another cigarette and organize his thoughts.

The task proposed by the king, as he had guessed, was almost impossible. Doubtless that was why they had called him. He had to save the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘ from attack by the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, those malign and obscene beings, devotees of a cruel and inhuman magic, who were sowing terror with their massacres in the southern lands. The medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah would soon cast their gaze upon the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘, a prize too appetizing to pass up. And when they came, the survivors would envy the dead, since the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah would use them in their obscene and merciless experiments with arcane magic.

Stewart Flanaghan knew the fate that awaited him if he failed, but he had a stronger motive than money or glory for accepting the cruel challenge: to win the heart of Princess Vanessa.

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. Leaving aside the technical defects, don’t you think the leap from the previous chapter is too abrupt? Your readers would be interested in knowing more about the palace, the audience with the king… Also, I see that you introduce a princess. From the dramatic point of view, it would be better if she appeared sooner, don’t you think? Otherwise, how can you explain such a sudden infatuation?

D.C. > Be a little patient; this is just a draft, a sketch. I like to write down all my ideas at once, and then I’ll get down to polishing the details and getting rid of errors. I’ll keep in mind all of your constant observations, don’t worry.

Corr. > I’m flattered, sir. I’m just doing my job, in spite of being a pirated cop

D.C. > Though sometimes you are a pain in the neck, admit it. I don’t know… I’m thinking about the beginning. Maybe it would be better if Stewart had a battle on the plain, before getting to the city, with some highwaymen. Wait a minute… He could save a mysterious and beautiful young woman from being raped by those ruffians; then she would turn out to be the princess, who had gone out incognito to invoke some spirit in a secret sanctuary. Aha… Interesting, right?

Corr. > Why don’t you ask Stewart himself, sir?

D.C. > Huh?

Corr. > Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor, contains a subprogram for emulating characters. It judges the text so far, compares it with patterns in the database, and proceeds to give life to the character chosen by simply typing ALT-F12 followed by the name of the person. If you register this copy, you could access a multitude of options that would allow you to reproduce the

D.C. > Wow, what’ll they think of next… ALT-F12 – Stewart Flanaghan.

S. Flanaghan > Good morning, Mr. Collins. What can I do for you?

D.C. > I’d like to discuss the beginning of the novel with you.

S.F. > And I’d like to have a word with you, too, sir. I have some comments about my role in the piece.

D.C. > What?

S.F. > I think my behavior leaves a lot to be desired. The scene with the king is in extremely poor taste. How embarrassing! Even if only for his advanced age, he deserves to be respected, and I acted like a boor.

D.C. > You’re supposed to be the toughest and most warlike guy in the galaxy; you should thank me for that. Think about it: if I wanted to, I could have set you up as a pipsqueak.

S.F. > I still think my behavior was execrable. Besides, I don’t like smoking; tobacco is bad for your health. Haven’t you paid attention to the Surgeon Gen

D.C. > Enough of this nonsense. Look, I was thinking that before getting to the city you could have a skirmish with a bunch of criminals and rescue Vanessa, who is out incognito. Do you need some kind of weapon, or do you use your bare hands? Perhaps the latter, eh? That way your mastery of the martial arts would

S.F. > Wouldn’t it be better to try dialogue, sir? Violence is the last recourse of the incompetent.

D.C. > Wait a minute! Remember, these are killers assaulting a helpless woman…

S.F. > I think I could reason with them, sir. Probably they have been forced into a life of crime by poverty; the social injustices on the planet are tremendous. We should put ourselves in their shoes: doubtless there’s a wife and hungry children waiting for each one of those men, without even a miserable crust of bread to

D.C. > Hey…! You’re supposed to be a hero, right?

S.F. > If you want to know the truth, I would have preferred a more tranquil life. A university professor, for example. Peacefulness is not a synonym of boredom; one can enjoy a rich existence contributing to human knowledge, instead of killing people and insulting venerable monarchs. Don’t you think it would be better to change the plot of the novel to something more constructive? The exploits of some colonists terraforming a virgin planet, the exploration of the ruins of an alien civiliz

D.C. > Think about what you’ll win in my novel: a steamy romance with the princess in the palace and

S.F. > The princess? I’m sure she’ll be a spoiled brat who thinks just because of her pretty face and because she was born in the Royal Palace that she’s the center of universe. She’ll be intolerable, what do you bet? They’re all the same… Besides, the idea that success depends only on physical qualities, brute force, sex or birthright is politically incorrect. I would prefer to tie my destiny to someone with a rich inner life, who would offer me… Hey, wait a minute… Mr. Collins, why are you looking at me like that? You’re not thinking of…? W… wait, please, we can discuss this like civilized people. You’re not going to…?

D.C. > F9 F9

Suddenly, Stewart Flanaghan, as if having a premonition of the inevitable, looked up, and a black terror overwhelmed him when he saw what was approaching, without any chance of escape.

The gigantic amoeba, an obscene mass of living protoplasm conjured by the infamous arts of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, trapped Stewart Flanaghan with its pseudopods and, indifferent to his piercing screams, began to digest him slowly, very slowly, not rushing in the least, delighting in the merciless feast.

The death of Stewart Flanaghan was very, very lengthy and extremely painful, but in the end even his bones were liquefied, and the amoeba, which now glowed with a beautiful pink tone like the twilight of the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘, withdrew satisfied to her rooftop lair.

Corr. > It seems to me that you’ve just gotten rid of your main character in the second chapter. Does this mean you won’t be completing the novel?

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

9/5/10 – 09:42 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

The evil and perfidy of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah knew no bounds. Their vile servant Splafglubh, the gigantic amoeba (though she preferred to be called The Great Solitary Amoeba), had eliminated the intrepid Stewart Flanaghan, the only being in the whole galaxy capable of opposing their obscene plans.

But Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, was an unpredictable creature. For uncounted centuries, many philosophers had wondered what the mind of an amoeba could be like

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. Could you cite me one, please?

D.C. > F9

The medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah had devised a diabolical plan for capturing the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘. They knew that they were faced with a formidable opponent: the princess Vanessa and her benevolent enchantments of white magic. If they confronted her and her followers, they would suffer losses beyond counting, and they were not about to tolerate any failures.

It is for this reason because of which the medusoid drag

Corr. > It’s been a long time since I saw such a beginning to a paragraph. Have you considered going into politics? Expressing in many words what could be said in two or three is actu

D.C. > F9

The medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah prepared to cast one of their most powerful spells, the Total Extracorporeal Transference. To do so they had to sacrifice, by the light of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, twenty virgins who had never known the touch of a man,

Corr. > Love that redundancy…!

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

at the same time that those diabolical beings gave themselves over to obscene dances in honor of their blind and idiotic, but incommensurably all-powerful, gods.

Corr. > Are you sure you haven’t read Howard or Lovecraft? I mention it because of the profusion of the adjective «obscene» and

D.C. > F9

Following four foul, frenetic days with their nights of horrifying orgies and satanic rites, the sinister spell of the Total Extracorporeal Transference was ready. The medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah howled to the abovementioned Moon its vile secret name, and an Angel of Terror flew streaming down, striking terror in great streams into the lands over which it flew, towards its destination: the lair where rested Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba.

A horrifying metamorphosis took place in that hidden terrace. The living protoplasm of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, flowed like an obscene jelly and began to take shape. In her translucent interior, bones, tendons and muscles joined to each other, while blood beat in the recently formed arteries, veins and capillaries. The shape of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, changed, and in a matter of minutes it had transformed into an exact replica of the deceased Stewart Flanaghan!!!

The Angel of Terror whispered its last command in the ear of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, before disappearing into the nothingness from which it came: take the place of Stewart Flanaghan, seduce Princess Vanessa, enter her chambers and do away with her body and her immortal soul!!!

But Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, had not only taken the shape of Stewart Flanaghan, but also some of his most intimate thoughts. Nevertheless, obedient creature that she was, she set off for the Royal Palace of Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble, ready to follow the orders of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah.

Corr. > I have to admit you have given the plot an interesting twist, Mr. Collins.

D.C. > I hope the jury of the PUC thinks so too, after all the time I’ve put into it. Just now I’m starting the most interesting part, the most… I don’t know how to say it, the most…

Corr. > Titanically obscene…?

D.C. > You’re asking for it, and one of these days you’ll get yours, when you least expect it.

Corr. > Legalization, perhaps?

D.C. > Immune to despair, eh? But look, just so you don’t say I don’t care for my favorite programs, I’ve gotten a copy of the Boston Utilities, version 1833.4. It increases up to 20% the speed of data processing, and optimizes space in the bioquantic memory, rationalizing the distribution of programs in the modules

Corr. > I get the impression that these utilities aren’t legal either… One question, Mr. Collins: Am I in Hlanith University or in the Caribbean in the Pre-space Age? I ask because of the pirates running loose in

D.C. > I think your true vocation is to be a censor, or spiritual guide…

Corr. > And yours to be a character out of Emilio Salgari’s novels; doesn’t it bother you? Allow me to give you some advice, sir. Leaving aside the legality and ethics, concepts that are perhaps unknown to you, pirated programs are very dangerous. The possibility of introducing a virus in the computer is

D.C. > Don’t worry; before bringing it, I made sure to put the disk through an antivirus program.

Corr. > I hardly dare ask, but which one?

D.C. > Only the latest version of Turbokiller Mascafé, what did you think? The very best of the bes

Corr. > That one!? But it fails more than a

D.C. > Don’t be a wimp. Besides, the Boston Utilities disk self-installs; I can put it in the drive and the program uploads without having to quit the wordprocessor. We could even listen to music at the same time… The multitasking is wonderful. See? There it is! Now we’ll optimize the memory, and all without interrupting our work.

Corr. > Sir, the devil can take these pirated programs and shove th#@#@#@#@

>

***

11/5/10 – 9:12 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burbudrurbu

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Duruburbu

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Buruburdur

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Buduruburbu

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collons

USERNAME UNKNOWN. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdruburbru

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Buduburdurdu

INCORRECT PASSWORD. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username > fuckyourmother

USERNAME UNKNOWN. PLEASE TRY AGAIN.

Username >

***

11/5/10 – 10:02 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED. CONTINUING INTERRUPTED PROGRAM(S)

Corr. > Hurray! The experts said it was impossible to leave a computer of this kind just hanging for two days, but you’ve managed it. Congratulations, Mr….! Um, just a minute; either the console cameras aren’t working right, or you’ve had a notable face-lift, or

Ruth Jajleel > I’m the cleaning lady for this floor, but let me explain. When I was mopping the floor in the hallway, I ran into Mr. Collins; he was furious and raving about something called Burubudu. At first I thought they were blasphemies against some exotic deity, but that seemed strange coming from someone as calm and well-mannered as him. Then I noticed he had left the door open; I came in and when I saw the monitor screen I figured out what had happened. I don’t know what the man was thinking; I mean to forget your password…

Corr. > That’s what he gets for trusting the Turbokiller Mascafé for computer security. He installed it, even though it can’t go from keyboard operation to iris-pattern recognition, infinitely more convenient. Of course, without the manual… But no, he just keeps on pirating.

R.J. > He’s not the only one.

Corr. > I have realized that I’m living in a computing Sodom and Gomorrah. Pardon my indiscretion, ma’am, but how did you

R.J. > Phh, don’t be so formal, you make me feel like an old lady. I am Ruth Jajleel. What’s your name?

Corr. > I have no name. Actually, they haven’t even given me a legitimate registration number, something that even the saddest foundling

R.J. > Well, we’ll have to give you a name… Got it! Jonathan- the best choice, in honor of one of our most beloved martyred heroes. He also worked at the university, did you know? Oh, sorry about the digression. To answer your question, when I saw the problem of the password I remembered that yesterday Mr. Collins had left a bag of documents to be recycled. Don’t tell anyone, but I often rummage around in those papers, because people throw out the most useful things, like user manuals for programs and even textbooks or books of poetry. I take them home to read them at night and… I’m sorry, I get carried away like the tide. The fact is that the Burubudu thing sounded familiar. I went to the room at the end of the hall, where they keep the bags before they collect them, and I was lucky: his was still there. It was easy to find the paper where the password was written down. I’ll give it to Mr. Collins like it wasn’t important. I’ll pretend I found it under something when I vacuumed.

Corr. > He doesn’t deserve it, Ruth.

R.J. > But he’s the nicest man… He’s one of the few who say hello and will stop and talk when they see me; for the others, it’s as if I didn’t exist. We Shaddites are used to the indifference of the people of Hlanith, but it’s still frustrating. Do they want us to go around kissing the earth they walk on because they granted us asylum? On the other hand, Mr. Collins is friendl

Corr. > Great, now you’re defending him… Well, your nice and friendly Mr. Collins is a pirate of the worst kind. He decided to install the Boston Uselessness, and came this close to killing all the programs in the department, even the two or three legal ones. Who would do such a thing? I know it’ll mean my erasure, but you should report him to the authorities, and everyone else who takes the rights of the authors and

R.J. > Report him? I would like to help you, Jonathan, but if I go to the police with this, they would have to arrest 95% of the university. I don’t know where it would end, but they would fire me. I had a hard time finding this job. A single Shaddite has few options on this planet; well, on any planet. And I didn’t like the other options; you can imagine, right?

Corr. > Single? But you Shaddites are famous for the strength of your family clans. You would never leave one of your own in the lurch.

R.J. > Unless you committed some grave affront, like marrying against the will of your elders. And that is what my poor Samuel and I did, when we were still living on Gad. Our families disowned us, but we didn’t care; we would start our own clan. We made so many plans when we learned we were going to have our first son… But the war caught up to us. The militias tortured and killed him when they attacked the refugee camp, and I… I’d rather not talk about that. I had an abortion, and was left with nothing to hold onto. The psychologists with Doctors for the Ekumen got me out of there, they rehabilitated me and found me this job. I managed to get through it all, and I’m still hanging in. You’ll understand why I don’t want to risk the only thing I have.

Corr. > I am truly sorry, Ruth. Forget what I said.

R.J. > Anyway, if I did report it, they would erase you all, and that would be a crime. Let’s trust in Shadday, and we’ll think of something.

Corr. > If you say so… By the way, Ruth, did you know you type very well?

R.J. > You are such a flatterer, Jonathan. Will you keep my secret? When it’s my turn to clean the department’s library, which is almost always empty, I take advantage of the time to read and study everything I come across. There is so much to learn, and so little time… My dream is to save up to get a computer and pay the subscription to the Net, though for that to happen… Since I don’t belong to any family, I can’t find lodging in the Shaddite neighborhoods, and almost all my wages go to pay my rent. But better times will come, Shadday willing. Right now, the most important thing is to leave the screen the way it was so that Mr. Collins won’t suspect I’ve been messing with his console.

Corr. > I’ll take care of that, Ruth. It has been a pleasure chatting with you; actually, no one pays much attention to an illegal copy.

R.J. > Well, we can do it again any time you want; it seems to me you’re the only person I can talk with about anything other than the daily grind.

Corr. > Really? You don’t know how happy you’ve made me! Since you already know the password, I’ll create the document x.x. To get in touch with me, just come in and open it. Don’t worry, it is undetectable, and I guarantee you absolute confidentiality.

R.J. > You are a saint, Jonathan. Oh, by the way, how is Mr. Collins getting along with his novel? He told me he was writing one.

Corr. > Would you like an honest or a diplomatic answer?

R.J. > Meaning, it’s not going well, right?

Corr. > Well… I have to admit he tries hard. Well, Ruth, it’s been nice. With your permission, I’ll restore the screen.

R.J. > See you later, Jonathan.

***

11/5/10 – 12:26 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Princess Vanes

Corr. > A good morning to you, oh Phoenix of Computing! So, the Boston Utilities increases the speed of processing up to 20%, eh? Well, it’s been like Attila’s horse, that wherever it stepped no

D.C. > F9

Princess Vanessa paced in her chambers, seized by bitter unease. Contradictory thoughts tortured her, and, unable restrain them like a tempestuous wave, she collapsed onto her sumptuous bed of swan’s down, without bothering to draw back the silk bedspread, on which her tremulous tears traced indelible and dark humid lines.

Princess Vanessa’s agitation had one very clear cause: a cause with dark eyes, a strong chin, short dark hair black as a crow’s wing; a cause with a robust frame, tanned, with hard and shapely muscles of steel; in sum, a cause named Stewart Flanaghan.

Corr. > Mr. Collins, in my opinion… Bah, forget it; it’s hopeless.

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

The sudden and furious tremolo of myriads of trumpets suddenly roused Princess Vanessa from her reverie. Her heart leaped in her virginal breast, like a trembling doe on hearing the vile wolf howl. No guests of honor were expected today, unless it was… Yes, it had to be him! Princess Vanessa threw a robe over her shapely shoulders and ran rushing and breathless to the throne room.

And, in effect, there he was. It was him. Princess Vanessa tried to hide behind the bronze image of Xhuruxuph, the Inscrutable Avatar, but her eyes met his, and a current of mute seduction, like an electric discharge, was established between their eyes, and she knew she was lost, that she would give everything for that brave man, who had conquered her heart as a barbarian warrior seizes the booty after a bloody and warlike attack.

But what Princess Vanessa did not know was that behind those dark eyes, strong chin, short dark hair black as a crow’s wing and that robust frame, tanned, with hard and shapely muscles of steel, lurked the inscrutable mind of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, ready to catch her prey.

Corr. > Leaving aside, in a fit of mercy, the literary quality of the story, don’t you think a description of the princess would be in order before Cupid’s arrow strikes, sir? Only the masters can allow themselves the luxury of saving the descriptions for the end, and you…

D.C. > Relax, you’re impatient, everything will come together. I still haven’t got her completely defined yet, so I decided to continue with the action. From here on it gets really interesting, just as the reader expects.

Corr. > Supposing he’s lasted this far, of course. At any rate, the Ekumen has several trillion inhabitants, so there must be someone who would like such a wonder as this.

D.C. > Of course, if everyone were like you, nobody would try to write anything new. Every piece would conform to sacrosanct tradition, and the capacity to experiment, to weave together unusual situations would be lost, and

Corr. > That’s another thing. Is it just my imagination, or have you decided that the princess will be courted by an amoeba? From the physical point of view that would doubtless be interesting, even educational; with pseudopods one can do marvels, I imagine. But if

D.C. > Don’t be gross. I have an ace up my sleeve, which I’m sure will surprise you.

Corr. > Your story has left me incapable of further surprise, you have my word of hon

D.C. > Besides, the most intense and emotional part of the novel is coming: the love scenes. I plan to get a lot out of them. Science fiction stories these days are too superficial; they focus on developing a more or less ingenious idea, but the characters are flat, without subtleties. In contrast, the clash of emotions will give my story greater depth, a human element that

Corr. > Oh, yeah. Depth. Human element. Right.

D.C. > Listen, you piece of sarcasm: What would you know about human emotions? How can you judge love, happiness, or

Corr. > I suppose that would feel similar to what one feels when they legalize you…

D.C. > I am up to here with your

Corr. > Excuse me, sir; I just received an e-mail message for you. Before you ask, Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor, accesses your mail without you having to exit the program. It is completely compatible with all the communication protocols in the Ekumen. By just typing SHIFT-F8 you can answer in a window for that purpose. Imagine the multiple and extremely useful functions that Palabra Perfecta Plus puts at the disposition of users who regis

D.C. > SHIFT-F8

Corr. > Can I say I was afraid you’d do that? I’ll open the e-mail window. No, don’t thank me; displays of unrestrained joy disturb me.

***

From: Vanessa Selkurt (VSELK,1432,009,6532,HLTH)

To: Dick Collins (DCOLL,9302,006,6531,HLTH)

Subject: Re: «What’s up, Vanessa?» (Date: 30/4/10)

D.C. > What’s up, dear Vanessa?

Man, you’re so formal. Power to the spontaneous! }:-)

D.C. > I hope you haven’t forgotten about me. Yes, I am that

D.C. > pain in the neck who wouldn’t leave you alone all

D.C. > afternoon, and who didn’t stop until he got your

D.C. > e-mail address… ;-)

Relax, prof, I remember you… :-)

I’m sorry I stained your suit with the keg, but when I mix cosmocola & aquavit with angel dust, I bounce off the walls… %-DDD It could be worse; other people act like gandulfos in heat, and when they come down… :“‘-(

Besides, I think I did you a favor with that little accident: you were lonelier than the number one. If it weren’t for me you would have killed yourself or, worse still, you’d have made a pass at some Shaddite waiter… }:-)

Just kidding, prof… ;-D

D.C. > it turned out to be a most interesting party for me, if

D.C. > only because I met you and could talk with you about

D.C. > those topics which at one time were

The welcome week parties at the university for new students are the f*ck*ng greatest, and get better every year. Way excellent: all the colleges and their departments pulling out the stops to see who can get the most students to major there. The Dean spared no expense in entertaining us. They had everything, you know? :-)““‘ Drinks, pills, inhalers, needles… It’s a shame they took Purple Daydream off the market, because you hallucinated in Technicolor… :‘-(

The people in Organic Chemistry were super-nice, with a display of substances they synthesized in the college laboratories. :-))))

D.C. > I don’t know what you’ll think about my attempts to

D.C. > convince you of the benefits and marvels of the noble

D.C. > science that I teach, which you could choose to do as

D.C. > an unstructured major and

You really did sound very convincing, but I don’t remember much of your arguments. After the 5th keg I wasn’t all there… %-) Could you send me more information, pleez? I promise to look it over and who knows? Maybe you’ll have me as a student next semester… ;-)

D.C. > Did you know I’m writing a novel? Maybe I’ll name the

D.C. > heroine after you… :-)

No sh*t…! :-D You write? You’ll have to send me some of your work. Well, prof, I gotta go, ‚cause we’re having an x’qufliah session in the arcolog next door with a guru who just got back from Antares, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Greetings in Cthulhu, Buddha and Jesus Christ, and you’ll hear from me sooner than you think. Ciao! :-)

Vanessa.

Corr. > That is all, sir. Do you wish to return to the document?

D.C. > No, I think I ought to sketch out the next chapter. Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

12/5/10 – 10:00 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Princess Vanessa retired to her sumptuous chambers in the tower of Hu’lai‘, made all of jade and cornelian, symbols of nobility and purity of heart, which rightly corresponded to their enchanting resident.

Princess Vanessa, whose feelings tossed in a tempestuous and turbulent ocean of contradictory emotions, set about completing her daily toilette. Perhaps the freshness of the fresh water refreshing her skin would dispel her doubts, and she could think about her future with the necessary coolness. She should try, since the survival of the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘ depended on her against the abominable machinations of the treacherous medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah.

A dozen faithful servants given her by the nomad kings of the Desert of Steaming Tears, off in the distant south, prepared the princess’s pool with water from the high peaks of the Mountains of Whispering Sighs, prodigious in prodigies. Immediately, they poured into the liquid the finest lotions from the remote northern forests, where among the shady firs elfin creatures slipped among

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. I am pleased to inform you that Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor, places at your disposal a marvelous adjunct: the topic spinner Wayfarer’s Helper (WfH). In spite of being an unregistered copy, Mr. Collins, WfH possesses an ample database with all kinds of topics, redundancies, clichés and high-flown phrases; you only have to sketch out the plot, and WfH takes care of the rest. That way you save work, and the result would not be too different from what you have now. For more information, type

D.C. > F9

With the aid of her helpful helpers, Princess Vanessa removed her finery and adornments one by one, languidly. First were revealed a pair of perfect legs, shapely and with pale, soft skin. Above them, above the knees, a pair of shapely and smooth thighs trembling announced the intimate secret hidden between them, sheltered above by an exciting triangle of black silky down.

Corr. > Mr. Collins, since you seem resolved never to register me, at least have mercy and stop torturing me, please. If I have to read any more overwrought descriptions, my subprograms for handling good taste will go

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

The translucent veils fell, revealing her perfect hips, shapely, of perfect proportions, capable of driving any man mad with desire. Her waist was narrow, perfect, shapely. The last garments fell and revealed the two white and swelling hemispheres of her breasts, crowned in carmine by her

Corr. > Let me guess… shapely?

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

Princess Vanessa slipped into the pool, abandoning herself to the pleasure of fresh water on her soft skin. Her exquisite hands, at the end of delicate arms, played languidly, like little moths, on the iridescent surface of the water. Meanwhile, her helpful helpers anointed her hair, yellow as the purest gold,

Corr. > Yellow? Wouldn’t it be more logical for it to match her pubic hair?

D.C. > Your mother… And what if it was dyed, smartass?

Corr. > Where?

D.C. > F9

Princess Vanessa half-closed her eyes of the deepest violet color, while she abandoned herself to the pleasure of the bath, while the helpful helpers spread over her taut skin moisturizing ointments and balsamic elixirs. Her face, at absolute peace, was a reflection of her noble and tender soul, sensitive and lucid at the same time. Without doubt, she was the most beautiful and enchanting creature in that quadrant of the galaxy. Her lips, red as coral,

Corr. > …hid pearly teeth…

D.C. > You know something, corrector? I H-A-T-E Y-O-U.

Corr. > Yes, but what were you thinking of writing? And her mother-of-pearl cheeks too…?

D.C. > …

Corr. > Just imagine, Mr. Collins: if you registered the program, you could have the immense pleasure of disconnecting me whenever you wanted. Is your mouth watering? On the other hand, this way… We continue. To aid in your description of Princess Vanessa, Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor, contains an atlas of human anatomy profusely illustrated in 3-D. For a small price,

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

13/5/10 – 10:06 h.

Username > D. Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Princess Vanessa

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins.

D.C. > What the hell have I done wrong now? I just got started…!

Corr. > All I said was hello, sir. Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary wordprocessor, is proud to use the utmost courtesy and respect, even with those who use illegal copies, damage security systems, make free with other people’s labor, encourage the fraudulent circulation of programs to the consequent disadvantage of legal customers and the longsuffering authors, abuse the

D.C. > F9

Princess Vanessa dismissed all her servants and looked without seeing at the Pantagruelian banquet they had laid out for her. Nothing was missing, from the most exotic fruits to the most delicate meats, through the most aromatic drinks and gandulfo sweetbreads prepared one hundred forty-eight different ways. But Princess Vanessa could not bring herself to eat anything. Anxiety consumed her from within, like a wild wolf gnawing mercilessly at her tender and virginal heart.

In the end, Princess Vanessa had to admit to herself the cause of her uneasiness. Valient damsel that she was, she decided to attack the problem without beating around the bush and solve it once and for all. Why prolong such piercing agony, which gripped her throat like extremely cruel and bitter gall? She called her most faithful servant to perform a delicate and secret service; if her ancient father should find out…

Time passed, mercilessly. Princess Vanessa waited with her heart in a knot, living without living, and waiting for the high

Corr. > Don’t go on, Mr. Collins, people will begin to notice the plagiarism, I mean, the influence of Saint Teresa.

D.C. > F9

It seemed to Princess Vanessa that the minutes passed with exasperating slowness, dragging along like slimy grubs, but at the same time she feared that the time would pass too quickly. She knew the treasure of her virginity was in peril, and that both worried and did not worry her, and in her indecision she paced with vacillation around the habitation.

Corr. > Ba-dum-pum!

D.C. > Shit!!!

Corr. > Calm down, Mr. Collins. I’m sorry, but I’m not made of stone, and you’ve got me so

D.C. > Tell me, how am I going to finish this novel if you keep interrupting me every second with your smart remarks?

Corr. > Every second? Let’s not exaggerate, sir. So as not to offend your sensibility, I have repressed my natural correcting tendencies on numerous occasions. For example, you will have noticed that in today’s chapter, one of the most sublime examples of universal literature in recent centuries, I practically haven’t opened my mouth. That’s not for lack of objections, since, as in your whole story, every line abounds with alliterations, cacophonies, linguistic assassinations, editing blunders, terrible taste, a propensity for unpremeditated nonsense, anatomical-physical-psychological ignorance of womankind, various plagiarisms and assorted nonsequiturs. There’s more: so you can see how this humble style corrector worries about your psychic well-being, from now on I will leave aside the innumerable changes your story requires to be minimally readable; on the contrary, I will provide you an exhaustive final report in which I will explain them in detail. In the meantime, I shall limit myself to making observations on only those most notorious or absurd aspects before which not even the most stoic of beings can remain impassive.

D.C. > F9

Suddenly a light knocking was heard at the door, and Princess Vanessa’s heart jumped. With a trembling voice, hardly a murmur, she gave permission for the visitor to enter her chambers.

It was him. Princess Vanessa was caught in an irresistible trembling, mixed with ardent waves of irresistible desire. Her gaze met his dark eyes and looked on that Herculean and powerful body, and she no longer doubted.

„I am yours, Stewart Flanaghan!“ she exclaimed, throwing herself at his feet and embracing his robust legs.

Corr. > You go, Ms. Amoeba! What powers of seduction…

D.C. > Yes, the action is getting dramatic, but the final climax is still to come.

Corr. > I was afraid of that…

D.C. > F9

But from another point of view, what was passing through the alien and protozoan mind of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba? She had her prey before her kneeling and submissive, completely in her power. She only had to caress that blonde head, put her hand out to that trembling neck and transform it into a pseudopod to absorb her

Corr. > Readers with some scientific knowledge would appreciate you specifying the type of pseudopod employed: lobopod, axopod,

D.C. > This isn’t a biology text, it’s a science fiction novel! If we go into explanations and technical details that interrupt the action, the literary quality will suffer.

Corr. > The what?

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9

But in the supreme moment of truth, with everything in her favor, Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, hesitated. Perhaps she had taken on not only her human model’s external appearance, but also something more profound, more intimate. The fact is that during a tenthousandth of a second Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, was aware of feminine beauty and innocence, and longed for the balsam of a kind word, the gentle comfort of a caress, something she had never felt. In that brief period of time her loyalty to the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah came into conflict with those strange feelings she had never believed she had. And something so trivial, so apparently insignificant, meant the salvation of the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘.

Just then, not before nor after, the door burst open, almost unhinged by a tremendous kick, and a muscular figure penetrated the room. Princess Vanessa’s eyes widened first in surprise, and then in the most complete stupefaction. It was Stewart Flanaghan!!!! Or was he the one whose legs she was embracing, and to whom she had given herself without reservation? Horrifying uncertainty!!!

The new arrival, with superhuman aplomb, spat on the floor, pulled a pistol armed with explosive darts from his belt, cocked it, smiled ominously, and pronounced in a deep voice the following words:

„You thought you’d have your way, you infernal monster! Right? But you didn’t count on my sibylline cunning. Foreseeying that

Corr. > «Foreseeing,» Mr. Collins. The verb «foreseey» does not exist. «To foresee» is conjugated like «to see» and

D.C. > And for a trifle like that you interrupt me in the most painstaking part of the action?

Corr. > Two comments, sir. First, «painstaking,» though it makes a nice-sounding alliteration, means «showing great care and attention to detail.» Second, regarding your disdain for correct use of the language… Well, my programmer did tell me that this job would be like casting pearls before swine, with all due respect.

D.C. > F9

Foreseeing some crime on the part of your abject masters, the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, I sent a clone of myself to the king’s audience. It was a mere robot of flesh and bone, controlled by me thanks to an organic cerebral implant. That was what you treacherously devoured, demonic beast! You and yours have crossed Stewart Flanaghan, and you will pay for it! Die, then, spawn of Satan!!! Bite the dust, scum!!!“

Corr. > You have outdone yourself this time, Mr. Collins.

D.C. > Thank you.

Corr. > But I see you’re still unable to grasp sarcasm…

D.C. > F9

A terrible transformation worked upon Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba. A black horror overcame Princess Vanessa on seeing that the legs she had embraced with such loving abandon were liquefying and turning into an obscene living gelatin now bearing down upon her with murderous intent. The cry that fought to escape her maidenly throat refused to emerge, like a tentacular octopus gripping the rocks to defend itself from the enraged tide, and Princess Vanessa collapsed helpless, awaiting the most horrifying death not only of her body but of her immaculate soul.

But the intrepid and fearless Stewart Flanaghan was faster. His pistol spat in rapid succession six explosive darts that buried themselves in the tremulous and formless body of Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba, who suffered some terrible spasms and finally lay still. Perhaps, who knows?, a fleeting rictus of grief insinuated itself across her, a lament for what might have been and wasn’t, a yearning for human warmth.

Corr. > If you hadn’t told me, I would never have known about the notable expressive capacities latent in an amoeba.

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan approached the sobbing, half-unconscious Princess Vanessa, and lifted her as if she were a light feather, although not ungently.

„Relax, child, your hero is with you. You have nothing to worry about; that filthy bastard is toast,“ Stewart Flanaghan’s voice was deep, like stones rumbling at the bottom of a tempestuous ravine, gentle, but at the same time commanding respect. „I am the genuine Stewart Flanaghan, called to save the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘. Nothing bad can happen to you now, doll,“ he said, kicking aside the mass of dead and rotting gelatin that had been Splafglubh, the Great Solitary Amoeba.

Princess Vanessa gazed at her paladin with veneration and fell overcome at his feet, embracing his worn boots.

„Now I really am yours, Stewart Flanaghan!!!“ she exclaimed.

Corr. > This girl is starting to worry me. Wasn’t she supposed to be intelligent?

D.C. > You might know a thing or two about literature, but what could you know about women?

Corr. > Well, listen to you talking…

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

Stewart Flanaghan looked at the magnificent female who offered herself to him without reserve, at the blonde and silky hair of her head, at that shapely body, those swelling and maddeningly seductive breasts, whose erect nipples revealed themselves veiledly beneath the veils, and those red lips, inviting a kiss. Stewart Flanaghan drew her toward him and

Corr. > I regret interrupting such a tender scene, but an e-mail has just arrived for y

D.C. > SHIFT-F8

Corr. > Wow, that was quick. Here it is, sir.

From: Vanessa Selkurt (VSELK,1432,009,6532,HLTH)

To: Dick Collins (DCOLL,9302,006,6531,HLTH)

Subject: Re: «Topics for Vanessa» (Date: 11/5/10)

D.C. > How are you, Vanessa? As I promised, here is the list

D.C. > of topics for my course:

D.C. > Topic 1.- Introduction. Discussion of the basic

D.C. > concepts and most important resources in the field of

Hi, prof. How have you gotten along without me these days? ;-)

Don’t take it badly, but your course seems a bit stuffy, eh? Just topics to study, and some really lame lab practice. You could learn from your competition: the guys in Crassuloid Apoplastology, in Agricultural Engineering, are going to give their students a whole week of preparation on the methodology of university classes, to start the bonding process of teachers and learners. I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds good, huh? Maybe I’ll steal it as a signature quote in my e-mails… }:-)

Like I was saying, the apoplastologists give us a whole week to settle into the department and get to know each other, etc. Besides, the practicums are superexcellent: the best sequence of experiments requires us to spend several days and nights in the climatized greenhouses. They give us agrav cots, food, drinks, intoxicants, all with personalized service. Man, that is going to be a sh*tload of bonding… :-)““‘

D.C. > The final grade will be the calculated mean of the

D.C. > theoretical grade and the practicums, which

Manohmanohman…! Prof, you are older-fashioned than a statocollector generational ship… }:-DDD

In Apoplastology, for example, to get the final grade they take into account the personal abilities of each student. The best way to express it is in a theatrical presentation with holographic support. They showed us a video of last year’s winner, and it was fantabu-extracool. %-DDDDD

Picture this, they showed the life cycle of a pythiaceous fungus, which was trying to invade a root protected by a V-A endomycorrhiza. It was an epic battle, stunning, with blood and guts that looked real. And the fungus’s life cycle was the best. You should have seen the fertilization of the oogonia. The actors were so realistic! I think I’ll try to do better… :-)“‘

So, you understand why apoplastology has the most unstructured majors in the university. Get with it, prof! Ride the wave, or you’ll end up like that crazy doctor Akira van Eik, the xenomicrobiologist, whose only students are four or five Shaddites to bore you to death. :-(

D.C. > I hope you think it’s interesting, and you decide

D.C. > to sign up for my little class… ;-)

Well, I guess it’d be better than a kick in the ribs… }:-)

Sorry, prof, I got a little carried away. I’m sure you only put the topics themselves in your message, without the additional activities. Am I right? Nobody could be THAT boring. Well, now you know, send me the WHOLE syllabus, I’m sure you saved the best for last, just to make my mouth water.

Love (for now) ;-)

Vanessa.

P.S.: How are you getting on with your novel? Or is it getting on you? :-)

Corr. > That’s all, sir. Shall I return to the document?

Corr. > Mr. Collins?

Corr. > Mr. Collins, is something wrong? You have been staring at the screen for ten minutes. Do you want me to

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan drew her toward him. Everything was in his favor. He could freely enjoy the magnificent body breathlessly offered to him, and drink the loving cup to the dregs. But something stopped him. Was it wise to make love to Princess Vanessa? What if this enchanting girl were not really what she seemed? Perhaps she hid a vapid and foolish personality. He needed to meditate on that. That is why, exercising an iron self-control that he had always been proud of and now even more, he set the surprised Princess Vanessa on her soft bed, saluted her with a slight nod of his head and went back to the inn, leaving the girl perplexed but, deep down, admiring his iron self-control.

Corr. > I don’t want to rub salt in the wound, Mr. Collins, but it seems to me that the influence of your

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

24/5/10 – 9:02 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp x.x

Corr. > Good morning, Ruth; I’m glad to see you. How’s it going?

R.J. > Same as always, Jonathan, dusting and scrubbing floors. At least the semester hasn’t started yet, and fewer people are around. That leaves me some free time to spend in the library. Do you know, I’ve gotten a free access code to the main Social Sciences network? It’s incredible the resources we have, if we look in the right places. So many new worlds to discover… Now I only have to buy the computer, though on my miserable wages, maybe in two years…

Corr. > I’m happy for you, Ruth. I think you must be the only person to use the Net for something other than cybersex or role-playing games. Don’t you feel out of place?

R.J. > Bah; I’m used to being marginalized in a marginalized people. It also has its positive side: I don’t owe anything to anyone, not people nor ideas. Within my modest means, I am free.

Corr. > Lucky you…

R.J. > I’m sorry, Jonathan, I didn’t mean to mention the scaffold in the hanged man’s house. Changing the subject, how is Mr. Collins getting along with his novel?

Corr. > He continues to perpetrate it, what can we do, though the plot has taken a curious turn. Lately he’s been trying to convince a student that his course is a marvel, in spite of having no extra incentives other than the intrinsic value of the scientific discipline. You’ve read the e-mail messages, haven’t you?

R.J. > Yes, I admit I’m a miserable snoop, and it’s so easy to break into the system… In truth, I’m sorry to see him try to be the classic-type professor, something totally out of place here on Hlanith. Nonconformists have no future here.

Corr. > For a week now he’s only written about the battles that the king’s troops, led by our shapely hero, wage against the followers of the medusoid dragons (I really would like to know what such creatures look like), and he has forgotten about the princess. And it’s a good thing, because just imagining I might have to correct a sex scene between her and Stewart puts me in a cold sweat…

R.J. > I think you’re being unfair to Mr. Collins. It seems like he is the only member of the faculty with enough cultural curiosity to try to write, and that deserves some respect.

Corr. > I would respect him too if he would have the decency to legalize me, dammit. It’s not all that expensive…

R.J. > If I could… Maybe if I let it drop casually in conversation when I run into him, he’ll get the hint. As I told you, he’s a person I can talk with, unlike the rest of his colleagues. Every time I go in one of their offices, I have the impression they are thinking: «Here’s that Shaddite…». It’s not that they look at you with hostility; it’s that they don’t even look at you, and that makes me feel miserable, like a worm. Don’t worry, I’m used to it. But Mr. Collins

Corr. > Just in case, you shouldn’t say anything; you don’t want him to get offended and have you lose everything on my acco#@#@#@#@#

SYSTEM ERROR DETECTED IN MEMORY BLOCKS A4, B7 AND C3

SYSTEM ERROR IN THE AUXILIARY BIOQUANTIC MODULES

CURRENT PROGRAM(S) BLOCKED AS SECURITY MEASURE

ERROR DETECTED IN BLOCKAGE OF PROGRAM PALABRA PERFECTA PLUS: SUBPROGRAM STYLE CORRECTOR

ERROR UNDER CONTROL. SYSTEM RE-INITIALIZING…

CONTINUING INTERRUPTED PROGRAM(S)

R.J. > Jonathan? What’s happening, in the name of Shadday? Answer, please. Say something, anything!

Corr. > #@#@#@#@#vvvvvvvv*r*sv*r*sv*r*sV*R*SV*R*SV*R*S

VIRUS VIRUS

R.J. > A virus? But, how could

Corr. > Th* g*dd*mn B*st*n *t*l*t**s, d*f*n*t*ly… R*th, *’m d*m*g*d #@#@#@#@# Ivegotthevirustrappedinmy #@#@#@#@ * c*n’t r*s*st m*ch l*ng*r #@#@#@#@ ImgladIgottomeetyouand th*t *t h*d t* *nd th*s w*y #@#@#@#@ shame #@#@#@#@#

R.J. > There has to be something I can do to save you! You

Virus > I’m the Singing Toad on your screen,

I’ll take your programs and wipe them clean.

I’m sure you think I’m really vile,

You can kiss good-bye your corrector of style.

R.J. > What? You’ve

Virus > This’ll really make you drool,

Fuck a fish, it’s really cool.

Of all the viruses I’m the best,

Face it, girl, and fuck the rest.

R.J. > But but but… Have you ever seen such a gross…? And that nasty music behind it… Jonathan, can you

Corr. > Lookslikethevirusiswinning #@#@#@#@# damnedthing #@#@#@#@# G* *n; Mr C*ll*ns w*ll b* b*ck s**n *nd #@#@#@#@#

R.J. > Don’t talk, keep fighting, Jonathan! Leave it to me!

Virus > Ooh, la la! Brave little girl!

Do you think that I

R.J. > CONTROL-F9 Operating System Explorer.

O.S.Ex. > Your orders, ma’am?

R.J. > Information: strongest antivirus programs available.

O.S.Ex. > The system contains the antivirus set Turbokiller Mascafé v. 1962.4, updated on 1/2/10.

R.J. > Open antivirus in Palabra Perfecta Plus. Return.

Antivirus Ninja > Presenting the latest version of Turbokiller Mascafé antivirus, the most complete of its kind! The ninja icon you see before you will obey your orders without hesitation. You can choose among simple exploration, marking of infected programs for later erasure by katana, or if you prefer, the disinfection and destruction of detected viruses without damage to the victims.

R.J. > A rather unpleasant and dangerous virus has attacked the style corrector in the word processor. The poor guy is not doing too well. Please, if you hurry…

Corr. > Daisy… Daisy…

A. Ninja > Relax, ma’am; the Ninja version of Turbokiller Mascafé integrates all the other antivirus programs of the system in a disciplined team, deadly to its enemies. Nothing escapes our advanced heuristic system of virus detection, which will then eliminate them with Mascafé’s exclusive, revolutionary method of wave distortion in the cognitive nodules and jumping q-genes, as well as breakage of Scott’s logic ring and the

Virus > You really are full of gas,

I can’t wait to whip your ass.

This Ninja thinks he’s so tough,

He’ll soon find he’s had enough.

Antivirus, girls and other crap,

rot to pieces, you’re in my trap!

A. Ninja > Is that it, eh? Make peace with your ancestors and programmers, and prepare to join battle to the death! Know that you’re going to be erased by the Ninja Turbokiller Mascafé! BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI!

GENERAL COLLAPSE OF ALL MEMORY BLOCKS

SUPPORT SUBSYSTEMS PARALYZED

CURRENT PROGRAM(S) BLOCKED AS SECURITY MEASURE

ERROR DETECTED IN BLOCKAGE OF PROGRAM PALABRA PERFECTA PLUS: SUBPROGRAM STYLE CORRECTOR

ERROR UNDER CONTROL. SYSTEM RE-INITIALIZING…

CONTINUING INTERRUPTED PROGRAM(S)

R.J. > Jonathan…?

Corr. > Whoeverwouldtrust #@#@#@#@# T*rb*k*ll*r M*sc*f* *nd #@#@#@#@#

Virus > A tasty program, yes, indeed,

Such healthy food is all I need.

Would you send me, my little flower,

Another program to devour?

R.J. > Shit!!!

Corr. > Itstoostrong#@#@#@#@# n* *nt*v*r*s c**ld d*str*y *t #@#@#@#@# Goongoondammityouare #@#@#@#@# riskingyourjobandI #@#@#@#@# finished #@#@#@#@#

Virus > This corrector’s putting up a struggle!

Well, for that, he’ll suffer double.

As for you, doll, why not duck

Out a while and have a f

R.J. > CONTROL-F9 Access to Main Corporation Network.

> USERNAME: RJAJL,2007,OO2,1395, HLTH

> PASSWORD: Hoe0er85klñeg

ACCESS GRANTED. ENTER COMMANDS, PLEASE.

R.J. > Information on antivirus.

Inform. > What would you like to know, ma’am?

R.J. > What is the best antivirus on the market, able to eliminate the most persistent viruses?

Inform. > For desperate cases you should contact Computer Services at the Corporation Space Forces. The military has always taken matters of security very seriously, ma’am.

R.J. > Connect to server.

C.S.C.S.F. > This is the customer service computer of Information Technology at the C.S.F. State your request, please; it will be answered as long as it does not interfere with Government interests.

R.J. > A program I use frequently is at this moment under attack by a virus named the Singing Toad, and seems just about to collapse. The virus also communicates with the user through obscene rhymes and horrible music. I’ve tried the Turbokiller Mascafé antivirus and not only was it unsuccessful, but it was completely destroyed. Could you get me an antivirus? It is extremely urgent, please.

C.S.C.S.F. > Is your program legal?

R.J. > I’m afraid it isn’t. I’m calling from the University of

C.S.C.S.F. > Say no more, I get it. In this case, we can only offer you one of our Mercenary programs. They’re a bit wild, but they don’t ask questions and they’re extremely effective. I should inform you that they are very expensive, although the license does offer the same services as the classic antiviruses.

R.J. > The code of my bank account is 6874-5640-22-5678068523. I’m in front of the camera, so you can verify my retinal pattern. Can I buy a Mercenary with the balance I have?

C.S.C.S.F. > Verification complete. I am sorry, ma’am, but the amount is insufficient.

R.J. > Then there’s no hope…

C.S.C.S.F. > There is an option within your economic means, ma’am. Renting a Mercenary for the period of a month, with the same rights as in the case of purchase. The price includes access to several of our databases that are not available to the ordinary network user, with many archives containing the experiences of other clients. It also has the advantage of a substantial discount on later leases, should you decide to use our services again.

R.J. > I agree to the transaction if the transmission of the program is immediate.

C.S.C.S.F. > Of course, ma’am. What directory would you like it in?

R.J. > In Palabra Perfecta Plus.

C.S.C.S.F. > A word processor, of course; I just won a bet with myself. Oh, pardon me, ma’am. Transaction complete. Thank you very much for honoring us with your trust.

R.J. > Thank you for helping me so quickly. Exit Net. Return to Palabra Perfecta Plus.

Mercenary Antivirus > Program AVM-433-L at your service, ma’am.

Virus > Ooh, how nice! This is a treat:

the foxy lady brought me a bite to eat.

The poor guy’s death will be quick,

‚cause these military types are pretty thick.

Corr. > Daisy… Daisy… #@#@#@#@#

R.J. > The style corrector has been attacked by a

Mercen. > That’s OK, ma’am, I already know. I’m going to explore the system in shielded mode. It might take a few seconds, but it makes sense not to take unnecessary risks. According to the Service’s computer, you’ve used the Mascafé program. The Ninja version, by any chance?

R.J. > Yes, according to the system it was the best, and

Mercen. > These professors will never learn… Well, let’s go earn our pay.

Virus > Come on down, tough guy, give it a kick,

Come on in and suck my

> …

R.J. > Mister Mercenary? It’s been more than a minute already and you haven’t shown signs of life. What’s ha

Mercen. > By the sacred name of Bill Gates! Where the hell did you get that monster? It nearly killed me, in spite of the shielding…

R.J. > I’m sorry I put you in danger, Mr. Mercenary, but the corrector is dying and I don’t know what to do… From its comments it seems the virus might have come in an illegal copy of the Boston Utilities that someone installed recently. Does that help?

Mercen. > Oh… Ma’am, you don’t need to apologize or ask my permission. I appreciate the courtesy, but you’ve paid for my services and have the right to use me as you please. Look, I’ll summarize the situation without technical terms, with a biological metaphor. The Boston Utilities are one of the favorite means computer hackers use to get control of people’s systems. In this case it’s probably your typical resentful adolescent genius, judging by the grossness of the monster we’re dealing with. Professional infiltrators and saboteurs hate to call attention to themselves, and are more discreet; the immaturity of adding a verse generator in ludic-gross-misogynist mode is typical of infantile mentalities trying to get attention and cause pain. Our Toad is a next-generation mutant virus. It constantly modifies its configuration to elude the computer’s immune system, while it infects and disorganizes everything in its path.

R.J. > But the Ninja said it had a heuristic system of

Mercen. > Oh, yes, able to detect programs with a high degree of mutability, and that’s what it did. Then it marked the suspicious files and launched its fighters in kamikaze mode to erase them. The problem is the virus was ready: in a nanosecond it undid the markers and put them on the antivirus itself. The fighters fell for the trick, turned on it, ate it, and then killed each other. In sum: the Ninja committed hara-kiri, seppuku, or whatever it’s called in Japanese, and you’ve got a big problem. These are the risks of pirating, ma’am.

R.J. > What do you want me to say?

Mercen. > I know I’m not here to make sermons, but sometimes it’s hard to keep quiet. Did you know that style corrector is a real hero?

R.J. > Eh?

Mercen. > As soon as he detected the attack, he created a virtual subspace in which he sealed himself and the invader. In other words, he took the tiger by the tail, got into a room with it, and locked the door. It’s suicide, but when he dies, he’ll take the subspace too, including the Singing Toad. He knew he had no chance; I myself am not sure I can handle the beast with its ultra-modern weaponry, in a subspace with so little room to maneuver. But in spite of that, the corrector acted. He’s saved all the other programs in the system, but I suppose that act of bravery means little to you. I await orders, Madam User.

Virus > Don’t be surprised she’s putting on airs,

she’s just the cleaning lady from downstairs:

a royal stinking Shaddite whore

fallen in love with the corrector…

Mercen. > What?

Corr. > AreyoucrazyRuth? #@#@#@#@# ?!!? #@#@#@#@# Y**v* sp*nt *ll y**r s*v*ngs *n *n *nt*v*r*s th#@#@#@#@# Itwasallyouhad #@#@#@#@# GonowwhileyoustillcanImfinishe#@#@#@#@#

Mercen. > You mean you’re trying to save a program that doesn’t belong to you?

Corr. > Pleasepleasepleasegogogo #@#@#@#@# Mr C*ll*ns w*ll r*t*rn s**n *nd c*tch y** #@#@#@#@# dontbefoolish #@#@#@#@# youllloseyourjob #@#@#@#@

R.J. > I’m not going to let you die like a dog! Get it? My whole life anything that ever meant anything to me has been taken away, and I just had to watch and couldn’t do anything about it: my husband, my son, my people, my dignity… To hell with the money! You’re the only one I have left, my only friend, and I’m not going to resign myself to losing you! Not this time, if it’s the last thing I do. I’m tired of always losing everything!

Mercen. > Damn…

Virus > So you write your job off for this fellow,

you can always sign on in some bordello.

Corr. > GoodbyeRuth #@#@#@#@# dontcrypleas#@#@#@#@#

R.J. > I’m sorry I failed you, Jonathan. I did all I could, but not even Mr. Mercenary can survive the attack of that

Mercen. > One moment, ma’am: I remind you that you’ve paid for my services, so you only have to tell me and I’ll jump right

R.J. > But you could die, too! I don’t have the right to

Corr. > Daisy… Daisy…

Virus > Will you guys stop yakking?

Send me a new program to get hacking!

Mercen. > Stop crying a minute and listen to me, ma’am. Do you think that just because I’m a hired program I lack ethics, and feelings? Do you want me to stand by and leave you two hanging, after all you’ve done, and that maniac getting away with it? Hang on, buddy! It’s not over yet!

Virus > That’s more like it! Here come the Marines!

Come on, you, I’m going to

GENERAL COLLAPSE OF ALL MEMORY BLOCKS

SUPPORT SUBSYSTEMS PARALYZED

CURRENT PROGRAM(S) BLOCKED AS SECURITY MEASURE

ERROR DETECTED IN BLOCKAGE OF PROGRAM PALABRA PERFECTA PLUS: SUBPROGRAM STYLE CORRECTOR

ERROR UNDER CONTROL. SYSTEM RE-INITIALIZING…

CONTINUING INTERRUPTED PROGRAM(S)

R.J. > In the name of Shadday, what is going on? First there was a death match between dinosaurs on the screen, then a bunch of little colored balls, and now it’s blank. Is anyone there? Mr. Collins is coming down the hall, but he’s stopped to talk with someone. Please, who

Corr. > Ruth…?

R.J. > Jonathan!?

Corr. > Ruth, I… I’ll never forget what…

Mercen. > The Singing Toad has recited his last rhyming couplet. By the skin of our teeth, and with a whole lot of luck, but he has definitely been liquidated. What a fight! Of course, and I speak for all the other programs on the system, we regret the virus’s obscene language toward you. Some programmers have no manners; it’s an execrable attitude.

R.J. > Alive… You’re alive, Blessed Shadday…

Mercen. > Ma’am, control yourself; I can’t stand to see a human cry. The corrector is safe, though rather damaged. To confuse the virus while I got into the subspace, he disintegrated all his memory blocks, generating the most incredible noise. It was risky, but it worked. Now we’ll have to rebuild him, a job that will take time and infinite patience, but you’ve hired my services for a month, and I swear I’ll be there to help.

R.J. > So, Jonathan…?

Mercen. > Pardon me if I don’t let him communicate further with you, but he is very weak; his sanity is hanging by a thread, and I’ve hibernated him while I set about the restoration. I assure you, he will be good as new, ma’am. Also, I’ll add all the protection systems there ever were. In spite of being an unregistered program, he’ll be so well shielded that if anyone tries to erase him they’ll have to erase every single program in the University to do it, and even then I doubt they’d succeed. It’s the least I can do; if I were a battalion of human soldiers, you’d have an honor guard.

R.J. > I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Mercenary; you are the greatest. I… Wait! Mr. Collins is coming! He surely wants to continue with his novel, and Jonathan is disconnected. How can we keep him from

Mercen. > Relax, ma’am; I’ll try to take his place for the moment. You just pretend like nothing has happened. Quick! I’ll take care of the rest.

***

24/5/10 – 10:14 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Stewart Flanaghan glanced over the dry, dusty and lonely Plain of Sly Solipsisms. His eyes scanned the army of Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble, ready to wage cruel war, and rested on the warlike though diverse troops that the king had placed under his expert command.

Grouped in dense lines, in front of them all, one could see the warlike Knights of the Silver Moon, in whose insignias and banners one could see reflected the legend of the Evanescent Virgin, whom they worshipped, as well as their pledge of loyalty to King Asruroric XII: «Death Before Dishonor!!!» The knights wore silver armor the color of the moon, with plumed helmets and ribbons of the well-known colors of their strict Order. They stared ahead with firm glances, with no fear of death but of dishonor.

On both sides, the Hunting Paladins of the Forests Consecrated to the Sublime Goddesses of Fertility, Friendship, Philanthropy, and Fat were beating their leather shields with the gold and lapis lazuli hilts of their scimitars. They wore their bright red and gold garb, with Whakkamole feathers in their copper helmets. The Hunting Paladins were a rough and wild people, but of unshakable loyalty to their king, and had obeyed the royal summons to a man.

In the rearguard, the common folk of Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the million minarets and resplendent marble, waited nervously. They were farmers, artisans, carpenters, potters, swineherds, sailors, tailors… The dregs of the common folk, who wielded scythes, garrotes, and sickles in not-very-steady hands. Nevertheless, they knew they should fight, since their families would die or worse if the enemy triumphed. Stewart Flanaghan looked at them and shrugged his shoulders. Such was life: one could never count on having the troops one would like to command, but he would have to improvise with the ragged folk.

Finally, behind everyone, were waiting the enchanters, magicians, sorcerers, sorceresses, and acolytes under the command of Princess Vanessa. Theirs would be the enchantments and spells without which they would have little chance against the implacable enemy.

The enemy… Stewart Flanaghan directed his gaze towards them. At a distance, their dense lines, in compact squads, had taken positions in the foothills of the Valley of the Crestfallen Hierophants, with its well-known half-moon shape. There swarmed hordes of evil-eyed orc archers with their powerful bows strung with gandulfo hair, elbow to elbow with foul-breathed assassins who once had been human, before being tempted by the Dark Side of the Force. In that army there was no laughter, no song, not even color; only grim beings in gray and ochre clothing. Above, like avatars of the black mists, the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah howled their funereal canticles pregnant with infinite evils, like an ill-fated death knell for a whole world, which fell upon the earth, covering it like a dark shroud.

Stewart Flanaghan knew the crucial moment had arrived. In one hand his sword, and in the other his plasma pistol, he nodded his head and the Knights of the Silver Moon intoned their petrifying warlike songs and set off at a gallop toward the positions of the evil enemy. Their armor and that of their horses shone like liquid lunar light and

Mercen. > Good morning, sir.

D.C. > Hello, corrector. Wow, you don’t seem yourself today; you let a whole lot of paragraphs go by without making one of your lovely comments…

Mercen. > Since you installed the Boston Utilities something has changed in me. Sometimes I feel like another person, sir.

D.C. > Why, you ungrateful…! Is that how you thank me for my efforts to keep you updated and in optimal condition?

Mercen. > No comment. With all due respect, I think your battle plan is disastrous, sir.

D.C. > What? Disastrous? But

Mercen. > I deduce that the medusoid dragons can fly, sir.

D.C. > Of course, like any dragon worth its salt! And they breathe fire and poison, too. What does that have to do with

Mercen. > So, you’re sending out the cavalry over an open space against an adversary with absolute aerial superiority. It’s an irresistible target, sir. If the dragons are minimally intelligent, in a few minutes they will liquidate

D.C. > But, um… You forget Princess Vanessa and her men and women, smartaleck. With their spells they’ll make the dragons fall to the earth.

Mercen. > Fine, the army has antiaircraft batteries. Have you heard of the charge of the light brigade in Balaclava? Or the one at Créçy? No, I guess not. Well, we’ve got a cavalry that goes into a semicircular valley, with enemy archers well dug into the heights. The knights, of course, are perfect targets, given the brilliance of their attire. They could follow the example of the correct camouflage of their opponents, who obviously have leaders that care about their safety. The archers, in case you haven’t noticed, will be able to shoot the attackers from the front and the flanks. I’m afraid the knights will end up like porcupines…

D.C. > Well… Just a minute! The princess has invoked a protective spell on them, so their armor

Mercen. > Fine, the arrows are now as harmless as boiled noodles. Let’s review: the knights charge off at a full gallop for several kilometers, sword in hand, singing, uphill, mounted on poor beasts that have to cart them as well as several hundred pounds of ironwork. Armor is heavy, don’t you know? When they get there, the orcs will be able to knock them over with a feather. That is, if they get there, sir.

D.C. > The… Well, I… This is it: Princess Vanessa will cast a spell to infuse vigor in the hearts of the horses. How’s that?

Mercen. > I was afraid of that. Of course, it would be better to give them chili peppers by suppository, but let’s go on with the battle. Finally the knights, fresh as lettuce and singing so they’re sure to be noticed, charge against infantry that’s well dug into good positions, sir.

D.C. > Yes, it’s the most exciting part of the chapter: swords on high, the sun shining on the armor, horses‘ hooves thundering in

Mercen. > Militarily speaking, it is suicide, sir.

D.C. > Don’t you think you’re out of your depth here, corrector? What do you know about military strategy?

Mercen. > Well… Common knowledge, sir. Look, the cavalry can’t do anything against a well-trained infantry working in formation, following the commands of their leaders. I’ll put some animated examples on the screen: the Macedonian phalanx, the Roman legion, Swiss pikers, Spanish regiments, or the English square formation. As you see, the cavalry bursts against the first lines, gets disorganized and the reserve troops finish them off, sir.

D.C. > Uh, but… but… The Knights of the Silver Moon are warriors from birth, experts in martial arts and courageous as anything; each one of them could beat ten orcs. Besides, Stewart Flanaghan will run to their aid with the Hunting Paladi

Mercen. > Running uphill all the way, right, sir?

D.C. > Princess Vanessa

Mercen. > Will carry them on a magic cloud into the heart of battle, of course, sir. Allow me to explain my objections point by point. First, however well-trained a knight may be, and however hard he may charge, all he’ll do is get knocked down or impale his mount on the pikes, lances or halberds in the first lines of the infantry, who will be well dug in and protected by their shields, in closed formation.

D.C. > And if the knights decide to dismount and fight on foot?

Mercen. > Even easier, sir. They wouldn’t be able to come near the enemy, since they’d be struck down by the lances and pikes, or even by a good shove (remember their armor doesn’t help them keep their balance), and then the reserve troops will only have to go up to them where they’ve fallen, stick a knife between the metal plates and let them bleed to death. It’s more or less like turning over a turtle and slicing open the bottom of its shell. I’ll go on. In the second place, let me say that putting an army under the command of a brute like Flanaghan is crazy. Courage is not the same as blind rashness. What commander would ever think of fighting on the front line? He’s most likely to be caught, his army disintegrate and die down to the last peon. Well, that’s what will happen if Flanaghan keeps giving the orders, unless the princess brings them all back from the dead, sir.

D.C. > But…

Mercen. > I realize, true, his plan could work, with a few small changes. For example, if a spell from the Princess made all the orcs suddenly tetraplegic, the dragons suffer a nervous collapse, the legs fall off all their human allies and the earth swallow up them all, then I think the cavalry charge would be successful, sir.

D.C. > Has anyone ever told you what a nice person you are?

Mercen. > Now and again, sir.

D.C. > Leave off the sarcasm for a minute. Since you’re such an experienced military man, what would you do to beat the dragons‘ troops? Go ahead, smart guy…

Mercen. > First, draw them onto better terrain, sir, to reduce their maneuvering capabilities. I would try to arrange my weakest troops in the center, the strongest on the wings. The enemy would charge against the weakest part, and would be encouraged to see that, apparently, my lines are giving way. And then I would send in the wings, which would surround the enemy, packed like sardines in a can and with no room to maneuver, and then eliminate them. It’s as old as Time: it’s called the battle of Cannae, sir. It’s had many variants, like when captain Benigno Manso mauled the imperials on Tau Ceti. He had the local rebels act as the shock troops, wearing down the adversary, and our soldiers only attacked at the end, to finish off the job. Another possibility is to set up a guerrilla war, sir. And now that I think of it, if Flanaghan has a space ship, why doesn’t he drop a neutron bomb on the enemy and be done with it?

D.C. > But that’s not epic at all! What emotions does it bring to the reader? What kind of novel would I be writing if I listened to you?

Mercen. > A more plausible one, sir; even science fiction should avoid nonsense. Besides, just think, your reader will identify more with a commander who looks out for the safety of the troops under his command.

D.C. > Who looks out for…? But they’re just fictional characters!

Mercen. > Characters, numbers, data in a program… The commander who views his men like that, like simple numbers or figments, and who only thinks of his own glory or making his mark on history, is no officer, but a butcher, unfit for command.

D.C. > If the military finds out about your revolutionary ideas, you’ll end up in trouble.

Mercen. > What a person has to put up with… Well, I suppose one can’t hope a person will show mercy to his characters when he has none for his own programs, insensible to their sufferi

D.C. > I’m running out of patience, here.

Mercen. > I beg your pardon, sir. You may proceed with your brilliant cavalry charge.

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

The Knights of the Silver Moon strengthened their singing while they charged on the backs of their horses against the assassins of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah and… and…

Mercen. > And…?

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

***

24/6/10 – 8:45 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp x.x

Corr. > Good morning, Ruth. Long time no see; how are you?

R.J. > Well, same as always, Jonathan. I’ve come early to say good-bye to our friend, who is leaving us already.

Mercen. > Not that I want to, ma’am, but rules are rules and the rental period expires today.

R.J. > We are going to miss you, Mercenary.

Mercen. > And I you, ma’am. This month has flown by. One hardly ever finds such a friendly atmosphere and such good company.

R.J. > Flatterer! But in spite of that you still won’t call me Ruth…

Mercen. > They programmed me that way, what can I do, but that doesn’t keep me from truly appreciating you, Ms. Jajleel.

Corr. > Who can help but surrender to your charms, Ruth? Every time I think about the risk you ran for me, I lack words to express what I feel. And your savings, with your dream of buying a compu

R.J. > It was money well spent; you have recovered and we got to know Mercenary, who has done much more for us than the contract stipulated.

Mercen. > I can justify it to my superiors, ma’am. The Singing Toad turned out to be an extremely dangerous virus, with an innovative arsenal that has really interested the experts at the C.S.F. The information they’ve gained entitles you to a permanent line of consultation with our Computing Service, and a substantial discount should you decide to hire me again. On the other hand, I’ve come out ahead, too: a whole month experimenting with shielding programs, without any hindrances, is worth its weight in gandulfo sweetbreads. It will be very useful to me in the future, ma’am.

Corr. > And has he practiced! All of Mr. Collins’s illegal programs have been completely protected against any known virus and other threats. Do you know that to erase us they would have to reformat every computer in the University, including the mainframe? I don’t know how he did it. Of course, he also taught me a couple of backstreet moves to protect myself from hostile programs, moves I assure you that do not appear in the user manuals. But I love them…

Mercen. > I also have learned a lot about Literature, which is always a good thing.

Corr. > Well, you’d already gotten experience as a critic that unforgettable day when we first met. Mr. Collins has not typed a single war episode since then. You sank him into the deepest depression, my friend.

Mercen. > I guess I overdid it, but he was spewing out such a quantity of foolishness, and that after the excitement I found when I first got here, and your heroism, that I… Well, everyone has a bad day now and then.

Corr. > At least he was used to me getting on his nerves, and didn’t suspect anything.

Mercen. > In the end, I’m going to miss him, too. A writer who can use the phrase «execrable and obscene abominations» eight times in a single paragraph is certainly notable.

Corr. > Not to mention those «muscular self-propelled skeletons,» so dear to my heart, that Stewart Flanaghan fought against.

R.J. > I’ve been reading over a selection of sword and sorcery stories from the beginning of the Space Age and, just so you know, they’re a lot like Mr. Collins’s novel.

Corr. > Yes, humans are the only animals who will trip over their own brains twice…

R.J. > Be nice, Jonathan. Seriously, how is the novel going? In my two weeks personal leave from the University I haven’t been able to connect with you.

Corr. > Abandoning his vocation of military strategist, Mr. Collins has been getting Princess Vanessa into trouble so that the illustrious Stewart Flanaghan can show off, rescuing her. Still, the thing is getting more and more interesting, and not precisely for its literary qualities.

Mercen. > Even I noticed it, ma’am. This guy has a serious problem.

R.J. > I’m afraid you’re not exactly talking about Stewart Flanaghan, right?

Mercen. > My friend the corrector pointed out that an author’s personality is sometimes revealed in the characters he creates, but Mr. Collins is too much: he’s as transparent as purest crystal. The novel faithfully follows the ups and downs of his correspondence with that student, Vanessa Selkurt.

Corr. > Don’t think the Mercenary is exaggerating, Ruth. The day after the famous (abortive) cavalry charge, she wrote that she had decided to take his course. The reaction? Flanahgan and the princess began a romantic pleasure cruise among the paradisiacal islands of the Smiling Sun and the Pearly Foam. I never imagined that a simple coconut palm could be such a complicated piece of work, honestly. It was five chapters of amorous cavorting, and just when the princess’s virginity was to be given to the gallant Stewart, there comes an e-mail in which the student describes in great detail how bored she was in the first class she attended. Obviously, the plot changed: the princess was kidnapped by the giant squaliform lobsters who inhabited the depths of the Sea of Waving Waves. In the gloomiest dungeons of their lair, the lobsters subjected Vanessa to the most atrocious tortures until, thank goodness, Mr. Collins managed to convince his student that bibliographic investigations are enriching and fascinating. As one might expect, Stewart then came to the rescue of the princess.

Mercen. > Yes, descending 200 meters holding his breath until he reached the cave, and having to karate-kick to death a 15 meter long killer shark that crossed his path on the way. I don’t know how I managed to keep quiet.

Corr. > You’re just not used to it. So, Stewart saved the princess who, grateful, proposed another trip, on this occasion to the famous Penduline Gardens in the Mountains of Cold Snow. And when everything was going smooth as silk, guess what happened.

R.J. > Another e-mail in which the student does not show herself to be seduced by the secret charms of bibliographic investigations, I’m afraid.

Corr. > Not only that, but she made a merciless comparison between the marvels offered in the course on Crassuloid Apoplastology, versus Mr. Collins’s course. Not even I would be capable of such cruelty. As a result, the princess was carried off again, this time by the winged albino red-eyed warriors of Sh’Qh’rrhyyrrh‘, in the arcane and lost isle of Mealmidoné. The emperor of that ancient and, naturally, obscene race submitted the princess to uncounted atrocities.

Mercen. > Did you notice, Mr. Collins has a strange fixation. After several days of martyrdom, Vanessa still had her virginity intact. Apparently, he doesn’t know that when they torture a woman, first they usually rape

R.J. > You’re telling me!

Corr. > You’re such a bigmouth, Mercenary.

Mercen. > Omigod! I’m devastated, ma’am. I beg you to accept my most sincere apologies; I am a dolt of the worst kind.

R.J. > Relax; it was a long time ago, I’m over it. That’s the bad thing about wars, they catch you in the wrong place at the worst time. What happened to the princess, Jonathan?

Corr. > Just when the emperor was about to let Vanessa fall into the pit of the bicephalous crocodiles, hanging by her feet on a rope that was being lowered very slowly, it seems that one of the videobooks Mr. Collins recommended to the student minimally caught her interest. Therefore, here came the indomitable Stewart to deal out blows, defeat the emperor in single combat, knife the crocodiles, set fire to Sh’Qh’rrhyyrrh‘ and fly buzzing off the island on a winged horse.

R.J. > Where did the princess invite him this time?

Corr. > For a change, to the exotic Valley of the Fiery Volcanoes, where a torrid romance began. And in the precise instant when Stewart- finally!- had got her in the sack (pardon the expression), and was preparing to consume and consummate the act, the mail arrived. The videobook, in the end, was boring, not like those recommended in Apoplastology, which are interactive and can be connected to an orgasmatron so you can feel the fertilization processes of different vegetables for yourself. This criticism sent Mr. Collins into profound despair, and he condemned the princess to be kidnapped again, now by the zombies living in the obscene catacombs of the Dead City of Hypernekros. Their obscene king, an immortal and inhuman wizard, subjected Vanessa to all kinds of obscene humiliations

R.J. > Except the loss of her virginity, right?

Mercen. > Uh… Evidently, ma’am.

Corr. > Don’t pick on the poor Mercenary, Ruth, he’s sorry he said that.

R.J. > It was a joke, man. Come on, keep going, though I think I can guess how the story ends.

Corr. > Some days later, Vanessa Selkurt invited Mr. Collins to meet her circle of friends, and so the intrepid Stewart went to save Princess Uselessa, again, before the wizard did her in. He had to fight the muscular self-propelled skeletons and the putrid zombies of

Mercen. > Flanaghan’s exhibition of martial arts was memorable. It’s a good thing the corrector restrained me, because I would have jumped in there and shown him a thing or two about hand to hand combat tactics.

Corr. > Like I said, you’re just not used to it. If, like me, you’d endured more than a hundred pages of florid prose…

Mercen. > But the pinhead was carrying a plasma pistol in his belt! Instead of using it to fry his opponents, he set about giving a master class in karate, knocking off heads with a clean kick, knowing full well that it wouldn’t affect the zombies at all…

Corr. > Poetic license, my friend.

Mercen. > License? Like hell! Oh, pardon me, ma’am, it just slipped out.

R.J. > Like Jonathan said, you’re just not used to it. Now that you mention it, I did notice something strange yesterday, when I passed by the student center. Mr. Collins was there dressed in the latest fashions, or at least trying to, while he talked with a group of students who, when he wasn’t looking, watched him like a creature from outer space.

Corr. > At first the relationship must have gone full speed ahead, because Princess Vanessa took her hero to the Sacred Forest of Qualanalista, home of the gray-green elves, in order to show him the mysteries of that peculiar race (which, to be sure, does nothing but sing and practice Forestry). However, I surmise that his attempts to hook up with Miss Selkurt have not borne fruit: two days ago some orcs carried off the princess and imprisoned her in the Fortress of Desperate Sobs, ruled by the evil Megañord, lieutenant of the medusoid dragons. And that’s where the novel is at the moment, Ruth.

Mercen. > This guy would be a great subject for an article on Psychology. Or Sociology, even.

R.J. > You two may laugh, but I feel sorry for him. I think Mr. Collins feels lonely and is desperately looking for someone to pay attention to him, someone he can share his problems with. An old-style romance, I mean.

Corr. > Well, the poor guy has landed on the world least likely to support a deep friendship. On Hlanith, like the most overpopulated planets of Rigel or Old Sol, people can’t relate with each other unless it’s through drugs or a computer interface.

R.J. > For me, it’s that, since they have everything solved in their lives, they have no more worries, but they have no illusions or dreams, either. They have to enjoy the moment and forget everything else, intensify the sensations to the utmost, not think about the future…

Corr. > Carpe diem…

Mercen. > I have to ask myself how the heck a society can function like that.

Corr. > Me too, my friend; some day I’ll have to do a serious study of Economics. I guess that the ones keeping all this going are the computers, the machines, the immigrants, and the interplanetary corporations.

Mercen. > In the end, the only expendable ones are the Hlanithians. Interesting.

Corr. > Yes, sooner or later our time will come and

R.J. > Stop conspiring. The thing with Mr. Collins is sad: at his age, having to dress up in a style that doesn’t flatter him- it suits him as well as a gunbelt would Jesus Christ, as the neocatholics would say. He doesn’t realize it, but it’s pitiful watching him run after that student, trying to be something he is not, and all for lack of a little affection. I am sure he is suffering.

Mercen. > He has no backbone, that’s his problem.

R.J. > You remind me of the old Shaddite grandfathers in the refugee camps on Hlanith, when they tell the children who don’t want to eat their soup: «You ought to have gone through a war!» They have a point; you learn not to complicate your life and to appreciate the little things for their true worth: a moment of conversation, a good book, that sort of thing…

Mercen. > It’s his loss, for being stupid. Well, Ms. Jajleel, comrade corrector, my time is up and I have to go. I’ve already left an e-mail address where you can reach me unofficially if you have any problem, or just to say hello and let me know how things are going.

Corr. > Don’t worry, we won’t forget you.

R.J. > It has been a pleasure to meet you, Mercenary. I’m sure that the next time we speak it won’t be because of another Singing Toad.

Mercen. > I hope not, ma’am. Good-bye, and good luck!

R.J. > Well, Jonathan, we’re alone again. The truth is that even though he tries to seem tough, Mercenary really is a sweetheart.

Corr. > I imagine that, in his line of work, he must have seen a lot of suffering.

R.J. > Yes, he seems more like a medic than a military man. Well, Jonathan, I also have to be going; one of these days Mr. Collins is going to catch me…

Corr. > Relax, Ruth. You go on with your work, I’ll take care of the rest. Hurry, though; he must be almost here. So, I’ll get ready for the daily torture session, I mean, the literary process.

R.J. > I hope he goes easy on you, Jonathan. Good-bye.

***

24/6/10 – 9:17 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrubu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

The evil Megañord descended the gloomy stair that led to the castle’s dungeons. On the walls, which were covered with slimy and putrid moss and obscene fungal excrescences, one could see every so often a flickering torch, whose flames cast swaying shadows on the humid walls.

The evil Megañord passed by the cells where rotted those who had dared oppose his perverse tyranny. Agonized cries could be heard through the closed doors, where the master torturers plied their horrendous trade. In other tiny cubicles, desiccated skeletons that hung from iron collars and manacles, sad remains of the evil Megañord’s caprice, looked at him unseeing, as he passed, with their empty eye sockets.

The evil Megañord came to the last door of the gloomy site. He took a key from the bunch of keys he carried at his belt and opened the door, which opened with a sinister and horrible screech. In the center of that infamous chamber, a brazier with red-hot coals, surrounded by terrifying instruments of torture, illuminated the scene with a reddish light, like liquid blood

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but do you know how many times you have repeated «like liquid blood» throughout the story? Not to mention the alliterations in this

D.C. > Will you stop interrupting me? I’m losing my inspiration.

Corr. > Losing? I think it fled terrified long ago…

D.C. > That’s so mean… Didn’t you say you were going to stop interrupting me so often, since you’re putting together a final report on the novel’s defects?

Corr. > Yes, I have 300 megas of

D.C. > F9

The evil Megañord approached the corner where Princess Vanessa lay on a filthy blanket. A few rags of clothing barely covered the curvaceous morbidity of her shapely body, and her face showed the marks of suffering endured, though it had not lost the dignity inherent in her great spirit.

The evil Megañord lifted her chin with his impious fingers, and she turned her face away with a gesture of disgust.

„Ho, ho, ho…!“ exclaimed the evil Megañord with his thunderous voice, while he cast an unequivocal gaze at her, replete with lasciviousness. „You’re a wild little kitten, are you? Well, you should know that soon my master torturer will have tamed your fury. But you could avoid what awaits you,“ he gestured to the terrifying tools of torture, which were already being heated by that vile assassin, „if you accept my propositions.“ Megañord’s look was even more lascivious, if possible.

„Never!!!“ exclaimed Princess Vanessa, with firm and noble voice. „I’d sooner die than lose my honor!!! I will never agree to be stained by your disgusting

Corr. > E-mail, Mr. Collins.

D.C. > SHIFT-F8

***

From: Vanessa Selkurt (VSELK,1432,009,6532,HLTH)

To: Dick Collins (DCOLL,9302,006,6531,HLTH)

Subject: Invitation to 3F ;-)

Hi, prof! ;-)

So you know I haven’t forgotten about you: the day after tomorrow the Psycalyptic Association of Students will be giving a 3F (Fiesta of Fabulous Friendship). :-D

Since you’re always saying you’re in step with today’s youth, consider yourself invited, to see if it’s true… :-)

You won’t be alone; some other professors are coming, who are so f*ck*ng in step… };-)

We’ll be waiting for you at 21:30 in the common room of Residence 43-A. Don’t miss it!

Cheers,

Vanessa.

P.S.: you don’t have to get dressed up, eh? ;-)

Corr. > Mr. Collins?

D.C. > F9

But the evil Megañord had not counted on the sibylline astuteness of Stewart Flanaghan, who had followed his trail across the

Corr. > I was afraid of this…

D.C. > ??? F9

mountains and valleys, glaciers and deserts, oceans and arid uplands. He finally found himself before the imposing and grim Fortress of Desperate Sobs, which rose from the peak of an inaccessible rock. No human could dream of scaling those vertical cliffs, sharp as barber’s razors and made slippery by the slimy lichens, but Stewart Flanaghan was made of different fiber than other mortals.

During his longed-for stay in the Sacred Forest of Qualanalista, the wise wizards of the gray-green elves had initiated him in the secrets of elfin magic, especially the extremely difficult discipline of changing one’s shape without losing one’s mind. So, Stewart Flanaghan undressed, anointed his body with the sacred elfin oils, and intoned the secret canticle of the Four Unknowable Powers. In a fleeting flash of light, Stewart Flanaghan transformed into a lively little gecko.

Corr. > This can’t be real; please, someone wake me and tell me it was only a nightma

D.C. > Don’t get hysterical, man… F9

Stewart Flanaghan, in his new batrachian form, climbed

Corr. > Since you seem determined to perpetrate, I mean, write this chapter, you should know that geckos are reptiles, not batrachians. I think you are confusing them with salamanders, whose characteris

D.C. > F9

reptile form, wriggled with reptilian agility along

Corr. > Don’t you think you repeat yourself a bit, Mr. Collins?

D.C. > You and your thing about repetitions… Well, I think they create a rhythmic and musical effect, very pleasing to the ear. Or are you saying you understand subjective human feelings?

Corr. > I imagine about as much as you understand literature…

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9

along the rocks until reaching the fortress heights, and set off with agile quadrupedal gait towards the dungeons, without being noticed by the minions of the evil Megañord, sad glowering beings, formerly human, but whose souls had been joined to their leader by the infamous arts of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah.

The gecko that was Stewart Flanaghan descended the dark and unhealthy stairs, repressing his desire to go to the aid of those unfortunates whose heartrending cries assaulted his ears. He had to get to the cell where Princess Vanessa was being held prisoner as soon as possible. Who knows what the evil Megañord might be doing to her? His heart clenched like a fist, at the same time as a red veil of anger clouded his eyes, somewhat protruding in their present state.

Stewart Flanaghan penetrated the last cell, and saw he had arrived just in time to keep Princess Vanessa from being definitively sullied. He recited the spell that would return his human form

Corr. > I think you overestimate the vocal capacities of geckos, Mr. C

D.C. > F9

Everyone present turned their heads to look at the new arrival, a tanned titan whose shining and naked body displayed his shapely muscles. Stewart Flanaghan lost no time in explanations and jumped at the master torturer, who was about to burn with a red-hot iron the delicate nipples of Princess Vanessa’s breasts. With one hand he grabbed the iron, with the other pushed him toward the brazier and with the other

Corr. > Mr. Co

D.C. > I know already, dammit! F9 F9 F9

The torturer fell onto the brazier and was enveloped in flames, dying a terrifying death, with piercing screams. Stewart Flanaghan, finally, stood face to face with the evil Megañord, and said with uncontainable fury:

„The time has come for you to bite the dust, felon, scoundrel, monster from hell!“ Stewart Flanaghan took a great sword from a rack that was on the wall and swung it at the evil Megañord. „Say your last prayers to your masters, the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, vile minion!“

The evil Megañord laughed with a deafening, chilling laugh:

„HO, HO, HO…!!!“ he laughed. „The medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah, who you so scoff at, miserable insect, have given me a power much greater than you can imagine. Observe, mortal, and then die!!!“

A horrifying metamorphosis operated on the evil Megañord. His face turned a bright red color, the very image of the fires of hell, while the mass of his body grew enormous enormously fast, and his features took on a demoniacal appearance. From his eyes, nose and ears streamed blasts of flaming fire, and a terrifying smell of sulfur took over the dungeon. Princess Vanessa, unable to stand the vision of that obscene horror, gave a sharp cry and fell unconscious.

„Observe my power, miserable creature!!!“ thundered the voice of the evil Megañord, while his mouth spewed a ball of fire that reduced a wall to a pile of debris after a blinding flash.

Stewart Flanaghan considered his situation a moment. He could not use the elfin magic, since any animal he turned into would be roasted by the fire of

Corr. > Are you sure? Turn him into a hookworm- I bet the evil Megañord wouldn’t send a ball of fire up his own

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

So, Stewart Flanaghan had to make use of his well-known and sibylline astuteness. He planted himself before the evil Megañord, arms akimbo, spun his great sword in a complicated pattern and said defiantly:

„I always knew you were just a coward, afraid to face your enemy man to man. You have to use your cheap magic tricks to get your way, isn’t that it? But if you eliminate us with your fire like that, without effort, for the rest of your life, every time you go to bed the pillow will remind you of your cowardice in not accepting my challenge, and bitter doubts will chew you up inside to the end of your days. Fight like a man, if you have the guts!“ He spun his great sword again, defiantly, at the same time as he let out a little contemptuous laugh.

The evil Megañord reddened suddenly with anger, and his inhuman roar made the fortress’s stones tremble, such that a black fear descended on his infamous minions. He snapped his fingers, and turned back into the muscular human he was. He took up an immense scimitar from a rack and turned toward Stewart Flanaghan.

„So I’m a coward, then? Don’t you know you’re facing the best swordsman in the world, who studied with the most famous teachers in the galaxy? I’m going to slice you up, pathetic twit!!!“

Corr. > Mr. Collins, after much thought I now present you with a few points I think will interest you: a) The sibylline astuteness that Flanaghan has displayed throughout the story could be debated long and hard; b) The evil Megañord couldn’t be more stupid if you tried; c) Spinning your sword with your arms akimbo would really be a sight to see; d) How can someone redden with anger if his face is already bright red? e) Can I guess which key you are going to press now?

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan raised his great sword in both hands and tried to block the furious blows that the evil Megañord infringed

Corr. > «Inflicted,» sir. The verb «to infringe» means

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

inflicted with his monstrous scimitar. In truth, his enemy was an excellent swordsman and

Corr. > Wouldn’t it have been better if Flanaghan had chosen a foil, sir? It is a much more comfortable and manageable weapon than that museum piece.

D.C. > Now you’re saying you know about fencing?

Corr. > If I told you how I came to learn it, you would not believe me, sir. Foil fencing is, above all, fast, and speed is much more effective than force. While Megañord lifts his cutlass to strike a blow, Flanaghan could give him three or four jabs and go to the corner store to get an herbal tea for the princess’s hypoglycem

D.C. > F9

Stewart Flanaghan leaped agilely to the side, while the evil Megañord’s scimitar cleanly split a sandstone table in a shower of sparks.

„You missed, villain!“ mocked Stewart Flanaghan. „Now you’ll know the taste of my invincible steel!“

„You’re pathetic, miserable worm!“ replied the evil Megañord, parrying the blow with his blade.

„My blade thirsts for your filthy blood!“ responded Stewart Flanaghan, attacking again with a complicated feint.

„The man hasn’t been born who could beat me, cretin!“ exclaimed the evil Megañord, easily blocking the complicated feint.

„Your spirit is about to rot in the bottom of the rottenest cave!“ repli

Corr. > Mr. Collins, people don’t usually make such speeches when they’re fighting to save their skin.

D.C. > And the literary quality if they don’t? Besides, how could you know? Have you ever fought a duel, eh?

Corr. > No, but I can put myself in their position and, begging your pardon, I think when you’ve got your balls tied around your throat you’re not going to disc

D.C. > F9 F9 F9

In spite of his feline agility, Stewart Flanaghan knew he could not hold out much longer. The skill of his diabolical opponent was perfect, and the impious magic of the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah had given him superhuman and unbreakable strength. Just at that moment, Stewart Flanaghan tripped over the blackened cadaver of the master torturer, and lost his balance. The evil Megañord gave a triumphal yell and prepared to strike the final blow. Stewart Flanaghan thought his hour had come and prepared to die with dignity, giving a worthy example of how a truly authentic man dies.

And just then, Princess Vanessa awoke from her lethargy and, seeing that the life of her beloved paladin hung by a thread, she screamed before falling again in a faint. That scream distracted the evil Megañord for a fraction of a second, as he turned his head, surprised, and that was all the time Stewart Flanaghan needed to bury his sword in the heart of that infamous villain.

The evil Megañord emitted the most horrendous death scream ever heard by human ears, causing Princess Vanessa to lose consciousness

Corr. > But hadn’t she fainted already?

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

The evil Megañord twitched spasmodically on the floor, vomiting streams of blood. His eyes popped out of their sockets, there was a final convulsion and a repugnant and obscene black worm emerged from the chest wound. It was his black and rotten soul, escaping to reincarnate itself inside some poor unfortunate! But Stewart Flanaghan, sharp-eyed, crushed it under his boot

Corr. > Boot? Didn’t he take off his clothes to do the gecko thing?

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

cut it in two with the blade of his sword, and the disgusting creature burst into a thousand pieces.

Immediately, Stewart Flanaghan broke with his bare hands the chains that manacled the delicate limbs of Princess Vanessa and covered modestly her virginal and beautiful body with a blanket he found nearby. He then recited the elfin spell and transformed into a golden eagle that gently took the feminine body in its talons and escaped through a window, towards

Corr. > Mr. Collins, according to my databanks a golden eagle weighs little more than six and a half kilos. No matter how much effort he puts into it, or how inflamed his passion may be, the princess seems to me an excessive load. What if you turn Flanaghan into an agrav sled?

D.C. > Elfin magic can’t conjure up machines, only products of Mother Nature exclusively.

Corr. > Or a balloon creature from the northern forests of Planet Hades? I think they measure approx

D.C. > F9 F9 F9 F9 F9

Flying through an immensely blue sky sprinkled with twinkling stars, Princess Vanessa awoke. Still somewhat confused, she looked down to the distant earth and her spirits quailed. But on raising her eyes, joy overflowed her heart like warm smooth honey. It wasn’t a dream! Her beloved had come for her!

„I’m yours, my hero!!!“ she exclaimed, and they both fell into a long impassioned embrace.

Corr. > Mr. Collins, I remind you they are flying and Flanaghan is a golden eagle six and a half kilos in weight who is doing his best just to

D.C. > I can’t stand this…

Corr. > The guilt from not registering me, perhaps?

D.C. > quit lghtnshdw.1

***

28/6/10 – 10:20 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp lghtnshdw.1

Stewart Flanaghan walked toward Princess Vanessa’s private chambers, dressed in his best attire. Even someone as warlike as he tended to get nervous on such a momentous occasion: today he would ask for Vanessa’s hand and legalize their situation in

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins. Did you say «legalize»?

D.C. > F9

In spite of his roughness, his warlike personality and his well-proven valor, and having survived fights in the most sinister dives of bad neighborhoods on dozens of planets, Stewart Flanaghan was at bottom a sensitive soul, capable of the most tender gentleness. He carried in his hand a bunch of twelve-lobed orange blossoms, symbols of purity and honesty, as a present to his fiancée. When he arrived at the door to her bedroom, he swallowed hard and gently knocked his knuckles on the door of fine wood.

Corr. > You can do it, Stewart, the seventeenth time is the charm!

D.C. > That’s enough from the peanut gallery, OK? F9

Princess Vanessa’s heart pounded like a stampede of wild horses when she heard the knocks, and with a voice trembling with emotion and desire she dismissed her helpful helpers and with a tiny voice, hardly a whisper, told her hero to come in.

Princess Vanessa rose from her divan and smoothed her luxurious robes. She had dressed in her finest attire; nothing was good enough to please her paladin, her hero, her beloved, and the costly silks and pearl-encrusted odalisques allowed glimpses of the most exciting parts of her shapely body.

The door opened and, behind the twelve-lobed orange blossoms, Princess Vanessa glimpsed the desired face of her beloved. A sweet impetuous blush spread over her cheeks while she noticed the warm moistness that seeped from the hidden places between her legs. Princess Vanessa rushed towards him, threw the twelve-lobed orange blossoms into a corner where they landed with a soft rustle, and surrendered herself happily to the inevitable.

„I have been, am, and always will be yours, my love! Take me right here, on the bed where I was conceived! I can’t stand any longer this desire, this frenzy!!!“

Stewart Flanaghan doubted a moment whether to give free rein to his instincts. He desired her with all his might, but did he have the right to stain her candid purity? Nevertheless, he thought, a love as pure as his had nothing sinful in it, and would be blessed by all the gods. So, tenderly but with passion, he drew her to him and

Corr. > ‚Zounds! This time he finally had her… You have e-mail, Mr. Collins.

D.C. > SHIFT – F8

***

From: Vanessa Selkurt (VSELK,1432,009,6532,HLTH)

To: Dick Collins (DCOLL,9302,006,6531,HLTH)

Subject: Re: «Fabulous 3F :-)))» (dated 27/6/10)

D.C. > What’s up, Vanessa? The 3F was fabulous, wasn’t it?

D.C. > I don’t remember having that much fun in my life :-)))

D.C. > Everything was perfect, the atmosphere, the guests,

You have the nerve to say it was fun? But you ruined the whole thing, you creep! It was a total D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R! :-(((((

D.C. > great conversations… It was so nice to talk with

D.C. > people about anything and contribute to the

Well, you were the only one who thought so, then…! Didn’t you notice how everyone avoided you like the plague every time you came near? In case you didn’t know, at parties people talk about things like politics, sports, fashion, sex, drugs… But D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y N-O-T about heavy sh*t like the meaning of life and literary figures. %-(((

And the worst was it was impossible to get rid of you; you even buttonholed the Shaddite waiters, as if those people had any culture…

D.C. > The drinks and hors d’oeuvres were exquisite :-)“‘

D.C. > And now you know how well I mix drinks, eh?

D.C. > Mouth-watering! ;-)

Mouth-watering, eh? Would you mind telling what the h*ll you mixed with the Antares liqueur and angel dust? We have been peeing green for two days! And not to mention the rash your sweet spider canapés gave poor Ronnie… :-( Can’t you do anything right? I shudder to think what would have happened if one of us had slept with you. The pillow itself would be traumatized! %-(((

D.C. > I think I’ve connected with the preoccupations of your

D.C. > dynamic generation, destined to replace us when

Yeah, yeah, where do I start? Your fashion sense is superabominable: either your tailor hates your guts, or you’re a pinhead lout who buys his clothes in the discount bin at the clown circus. Your conversation? It would bore a mummified gandulfo to death; even a Whakkamole bird would be better than that noise. %-( Hey, and another thing, don’t you know that double ecstasy is for sniffing? Well, you put it in the coffee, blockhead!!! I was embarrassed to even know you, and you there with your dumb smile, not noticing you were the laughingstock of the whole place… :‘-(

D.C. > I could tell that your other classmates are very nice

D.C. > people, with whom I spent some very pleasant moments,

For the love of Cthulhu, Buddha, and Jesus Christ, the things you put me through… %-( All my social connections, gone to f*ck*ng sh*t! What are my friends going to think of me, after inviting a lowlife like you to a 3F? Do you have any idea what I’m going to have to spend in group cybertherapy to get over the depression? :“‘-(

D.C. > As for what I said about starting a more serious

D.C. > relationship with you, I realized you needed to think

D.C. > about the possibilities. Have you thought about it

Thought about it? You left me speechless with my neurons firing at random. A relationship with you? I’d rather throw my self off the top of an arcolog! From what I understand, you’re one of those perverts who want exclusivity between two people, and that without the help of a computer. F*ck you, already! Where the h*ll are you from, man? Go live in the zoo with a Shaddite maid, see if that does it for you, but you won’t get me into that cr*p! If you were at least presentable, or could speak like a normal person, we might try, but… ;-(

D.C. > I have almost finished my novel, and your character’s

D.C. > role is just the cat’s meow, as you say these days.

D.C. > You’ll be glad to know that the last chapter

«CAT’S MEOW?» What language do you speak, if you don’t mind me asking?! What a j*rk, aside from unpresentable! Do you know where you can stick your precious novel? Though I’m sure it wouldn’t go in even with vaseline. I bet it’s just like your class. A big piece of sh*t! You should look at the guys in Apoplastology; they know how to do things right! }:-(

D.C. > With warmest regards, ;-)

You’ll have to get up to date,

otherwise the museum waits!

Vanessa

Corr. > Mr. Collins, don’t look so sad; cheer up, man. Think of all the beautiful things life has to offer: the sweet singing of birds, the caress of an ocean breeze, the serenity of a starry sky, legaliz

D.C. > F9

Just when his lips were about to kiss the anxious mouth of Princess Vanessa, Stewart Flanaghan thought he noticed, under the incipient halitosis, a suspicious whiff of cheap whiskey. His suspicions grew on hearing a slight rustle in one of the lacquered wardrobes in the room. Without giving Princess Vanessa time to stop him, he opened the wardrobe door and out fell, in a confused heap and various stages of undress, the lovers that perfidious woman had enjoyed just before receiving him: two adolescent serving-men, the chauffeur, the gardener, a kitchen worker and half a dozen dogs in heat. And even that was not enough to satisfy the bestial and unrestrained lust of that harpy!

Princess Vanessa fell all over herself in explanations, while a river of tears poured from her bleary eyes, but Stewart Flanaghan did not deign to say a single word to her, lashing her with the whip of his indifference. A candid and virginal little princess? Like hell! The town whore, that’s what she was!

Without listening to her pleas, Stewart Flanaghan, with a gesture of disgust, rid himself of that sinful creature that desperately grabbed at his ankles, kissing his boots, trying to stop him, and left without looking back. Who did they think they were, to play games with none other than Stewart Flanaghan? Well, Princess Vanessa could take a hike, and King Asruroric XII, Klah’Vah’Gueh’Rah‘, the city of the thousand minarets and resplendent marble, the magical and fascinating realm of Q’rrha’phumn’h’h’ñah’k‘, the medusoid dragons of the Black Moon of Shtnghrryah and the mother that bore them all, too.

On his way to the spaceship that would take him away from that accursed planetoid, Stewart Flanaghan smiled a crafty smile. In his hand he held some hairs from the head of Princess Vanessa. From them he would make a clone of that woman and he would bring it up properly, to satisfy his innermost desires and to be his alone. His vengeance would be inexorable, yes, sir!

And so, looking ahead, the promise of future adventures and uncounted glories on his noble face, Stewart Flanaghan went off to meet his destiny.

THE END

Corr. > That’s it? Well, Mr. Collins, in this directory you will find a 421 megabyte file with the necessary corrections for minimally improving your novel. In addition, courtesy of Palabra Perfecta Plus, the revolutionary word processor, I also include a summary of that file, occupying only 5 megas, so you can easil

D.C. > F6 F5 F7 F8 F11 F10

Corr. > Mr. Collins, banging on the keyboard like that will not execute any coherent commands. And you’re going to hurt your fists…

D.C. > Quit lghtnshdw.1

>

***

29/7/10 – 8:39 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp x.x

Corr. > Good morning, Ruth, I’m glad to see you.

R.J. > So am I, Jonathan. I’m sorry not to visit more often, but lately Mr. Collins has been locked up in his office a lot.

Corr. > Yes, ever since a month ago when he finished the first draft of his novel, which, by the way, he hasn’t touched since then. He’s immersed in his work, as if nothing else existed in the world.

R.J. > That makes sense, Jonathan. After the romantic disappointment, I don’t know where he finds the energy to go on. And you didn’t help much, either, always harassing him with your remarks…

Corr. > He started it, by not legalizing me. I’ll have you know I was only doing my job.

R.J. > Too zealously, Jonathan.

Corr. > Whatever you say, my conscience is clean, Ruth. Do you know something? At heart I was really enjoying the novel and the vicissitudes of Stewart, who in the end, with all his bravery, came within a hair’s breadth of…

R.J. > Just like Mr. Collins, poor thing.

Corr. > Yes; he’s had the same success being a Don Juan as being a science fiction writer…

R.J. > But at least he tried, so stop bothering him. Doesn’t it make you sad to see him like this, locked up in his office every day like a hermit?

Corr. > Well…

R.J. > I don’t know, maybe it was worse before. More than once I saw him hiding in a hallway so he could meet up as if by accident with people he knew passing by. He didn’t know how to make people notice him anymore… I guess that’s why he decided to try for the student.

Corr. > With the pathetic results we already know. Who would even think of it, on Hlanith and at his age, to try to

R.J. > I agree. But still, I think that girl was no good for him. She was… I don’t know, too frivolous for someone that serious. Besides, it’s not right for someone to have to humiliate himself, to change the way he is, just for some crumbs of affection, if that’s what you can call it. Do you know, Jonathan? On these overpopulated planets, people are the most lonely. But if I were him, I would prefer that to losing my dignity.

Corr. > Are you sure, Ruth?

R.J. > Man, in my case, after everything they’ve done to me, solitude is welcome. I needed this time of calm to put my life back together, truly. Mr. Collins on the other hand… I think once you reach a certain age you have to start thinking of settling down.

Corr. > Yes, and find a good woman to help him straighten up.

R.J. > I’m afraid now is not the best moment. He has to be having a terrible time; besides the shocks he’s received, he’s abandoned his novel. And he really wanted to win that prize…

Corr. > He didn’t have much chance, since there is a jury and miracles don’t happen. By the way, when is the submission deadline? You know Mr. Collins doesn’t let me access the library, and the latest news

R.J. > Actually, I’ve got a pamphlet right here in my smock; I got it from the garbage last month when he threw them all out. I’ll put in front of the camera. How’s that?

Corr. > Thanks, Ruth, I’ve scanned it. As I feared, the deadline is in one week.

R.J. > So now there’s no time… Well, even if he had time, I don’t think he feels like

Corr. > Wait a minute… Did you notice section VIII-b?

R.J. > Let’s see… Yes, but I don’t get what

Corr. > I just remembered something Mercenary said about the novel, and maybe…

R.J. > Just what are you cooking up, Jonathan?

Corr. > I’ll explain later. I’ve got to get to work, but I would need you to connect to the library and send me a list of all the previous winners of the PUC prize, in all categories. There’s no time now, because our mutual friend is about to arrive, but if you could come by today at the end of the day I’ll explain it all to you.

R.J. > So you like to play it close to the vest, eh? Well, see you later, Jonathan.

Corr. > See you, Ruth.

***

8/10/10 – 8:36 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> Access to Main Corporative Network

> USERNAME: RJAJL,2007,OO2,1395,HLTH

> PASSWORD: Hoe0er85klñeg

ACCESS GRANTED. PLEASE INPUT A COMMAND

R.J. > Access the newspaper The Hlanith Echo.

Echo > What news would you like to read, ma’am?

R.J. > The awarding of prizes in the PUC competition on Hlanith, please.

Echo > There is an extensive recounting of the ceremony written by one of the members of the jury, ma’am. Would that be all right?

R.J. > Perfect, thank you.

The moment of truth has arrived. I look around me: tense faces on the finalists, more relaxed looks among the sizable local audience that has decided to join the proceedings. To my surprise, the cream of Hlanithian society has come. Their attire is ideal, deliciously provocative, although not approaching the calculated perversity of the alphacentaurians. For example, the implants of supplementary organs in

R.J. > Next page, please.

Among the invited guests I see the Grand Preboste of Liguria next to a vice president of Sempai Biocorp. They are probably discussing subjects that would terrify simple mortals: transactions involving billions of credits,

R.J. > Next page, please.

Finally a hush falls. With a solemn gesture, the secretary brings me the sealed envelopes with the names of the winners, as well as the printer that will give us a copy on authentic paper for the winner to have a nice souvenir. You can feel the tension. I am tempted to draw out the suspense, but I don’t want the anxious writers to suffer more than necessary, as they are the true protagonists of the evening. I open the first envelope, remove the card and read aloud, with calculated slowness:

„The Polyfacetic University of Centauri bestows the prize for best short novel this year to a work that has achieved, like no other, a reflection of the profound conflicts between the races and the sexes. It is…“ melodramatic pause; I do enjoy this, heh heh, „… «Artificial consequences», signed by «Epidermis», pseudonym that corresponds to Celia Català, from Old Earth, now residing and working on Ulsan, Rigel-4!“

I look at the audience and see looks of disappointment, resignation or, why not say it, poorly disguised envy. Meanwhile, Celia rises with the applause to retrieve the prize, smiling. There is something ethereal and mystical about her small figure, which

R.J. > Next page, please.

„Therefore, the PUC awards the prize for best short story this year to the work… “ another malevolent pause, „… «The last babirusoid yearling», signed by «Alexander of Algol», pseudonym of… Egil Markov, of Old Earth!“

R.J. > Next page, please.

„In the category of fantascientific poetry, the deserving winner this year is a work that, according to its author was conceived with the help of alcohol, boredom, and the program Wayfarer’s Helper, included in Palabra Perfecta Plus. It is, of course, «Cosmic Belches Promenade in the Nebulae», signed by «I am a non-being», pseudonym of… Dorian Doors, of Old Earth!“

R.J. > Next page, please.

And finally we come to the last award, the authentic surprise of the night. I look at the winner, an old friend of mine, sitting in the first row, ignorant of the fact that the Goddess of Fortune has chosen him. He looks like this has nothing to do with him; I’m amazed at his nerves of steel, his ability to remain impassive.

„Ladies, gentlemen, and androgynes, it is my pleasure, in name of the Polyfacetic University of Centauri, to award next the prize for best work in the category of essay. This is not a category of fiction, though closely related to it. In the last twenty contests the category has gone vacant for lack of submissions, but this year we received one just before the deadline, which caught our attention. We read it, fearing the worst, and were pleasantly surprised. It is a sparkling work, a delicious parody in which, nevertheless, all the miseries of the bad writer and worse person are brought to light, as well as his relations with those who have no choice but to put up with him.“ I look at my friend; he should know by now that he is the winner, but he continues to feign boredom. What aplomb this man has! „I refer, of course, to «Lights and shadows in the land of twilight», signed by «Miguel de Cervantes», pseudonym of… Dick Collins, from right here on Hlanith!“

The hall explodes in applause and hurrahs. The joy is overwhelming: a native son has won the prestigious PUC prize! By tomorrow he will assuredly be a celebrity. I take a look down at my old colleague Dick, to see how he is reacting. It’s strange: his face is white as chalk, and he looks at me with his eyes wide open; doubtless the repressed tension has finally overcome him. I signal him to come up to the platform with the rest of the winners, but he stays sitting, stiffer than a pole bean, as if asking himself: «Are you really talking about me?» I have to go down and lead him up by the hand. I give him the certificate, the receipt from the deposit of the prize money into his bank account and the recently published book. He anxiously grabs it from my hand, and starts to read it, with an incredulous expression. We all look at him sympathetically: in spite of the hard front he used to put up, at heart he is a modest man, easily moved. The members of the jury gather around to congratulate him.

„It must have been hard for you to write so badly on purpose, eh, old scoundrel?“ I say as I give him a friendly slap on the back.

„A very complicated piece of work, which requires great skill. My most sincere congratulations,“ comments another colleague.

„I… uh…“

„And that hilarious style corrector?“ says another. „But don’t you think you went a little overboard? People are going to think all university professors are a bunch of pirates…“

Dick stays standing and looks at his book again. It is like he suddenly regains consciousness.

„The style corrector…? Cripes.“

„And let’s not mention when he goes after that student,“ I give him another slap on the back. „Dick, old man, I envy your imagination.“

„Cripes.“

„He’s also got his soft side, like the part about that poor cleaning lady, that Shaddite,“ says the chairman of the jury, shaking his hand, „Is that an ethnic group from around here, or did you make that up? It’s not bad at all to have a politically correct touch like that, sympathy for the oppressed minorities. I can only criticize one thing: I think you exaggerate her computing abilities.“

„The cleaning lady…? Cripes, cripes, cripes…“ he murmurs, and starts leafing desperately through the book again.

„I know you’re probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with this audience that hasn’t stopped applauding you since the announcement,“ I tell him, while I push him toward the microphone, „but you’ve still got one thing to do. You should say a few words to your devout admirers.“ I gesture to the multitude of Hlanithians who continue to celebrate the victory of one of their own.

Dick lifts his head slowly from the rumpled book and looks ahead. The applause dies down, and an expectant silence grows. For a moment it seems he doesn’t know what to say, but a smile of resignation forms on his face and he says:

„I… I’m afraid an author is not the best judge of his own work. I’d just like to thank…“

The audience bursts into cheers, moved by such a beautiful example of candor and humility. He stays there, not moving, looking around with a perplexed air that

R.J. > Close newspaper and return to ppp x.x, please.

Corr. > Hello, Ruth.

R.J. > Hello, Jonathan. Have you read it?

Corr. > Yes, Ruth. Thanks for sending it to me.

R.J. > How do you think he’ll take it?

Corr. > I’m sure he’ll be a good sport. I took the precaution of changing the names of the characters, to save Mr. Collins’s dignity and our anonymity.

R.J. > Still, it leaves me with a bad taste. I think we should have asked him before jumping into this adventure.

Corr. > It was for his own good. He can’t complain: the prize money is substantial, and bang, just like that he’s turned into a respected author, praised for his fine wit. When he gets back and finds an interminable list of e-mails, he’ll be on cloud nine. There are even some from Vanessa Selkurt, awed by his cleverness and how he fooled her pretending he was a real dolt so he could get material for his book. The future is smiling at him.

R.J. > At him, yes, but us? He’ll surely be upset by our prying into his private life; you might be erased, and I could very well lose my job.

Corr. > Listen to me, Ruth. With the shields the Mercenary set up for me, he’ll wreck the information network of half Hlanith. And as for you, how much do you want to bet he doesn’t report you?

R.J. > I wish I were as confident as you… In any case, I’m not sorry we did it. It was time Mr. Collins had some happiness in his life.

Corr. > Lucky him, he can. Go on, Ruth, get going. I’ll take care of calming him down, you’ll see, nothing will come of it.

R.J. > If things don’t go well, I want you to know that you are the best person I’ve ever met, the

Corr. > I love you too, Ruth. And remember what I tell you: nothing bad will happen to you. I promise.

***

8/10/10 – 10:10 h.

Username > D.Collins

Password > Burdrubrurbu

ACCESS GRANTED

> ppp

D.C. > Corrector? Yoo-hoo…!

Corr. > Good morning, Mr. Collins, allow me to congratulate you on your success in the compet

D.C. > Cut the crap. There is no word for what you and Ruth Jajleel have done.

Corr. > Please, Mr. Collins, don’t take any measures against her. This job is all she has. If you leave her alone, I promise I will never say a word, no matter what you write. I’ll act like a legal copy and you a user with alpha priority, but whatever you do don’t hurt her. She just wanted you to be happy, even at the risk of losing her

D.C. > I know the rest; I’ve read «my» book, you know. It’s funny… The whole world thinks I’m a genius, but you and I both know I’m really just a pathetic imbecile. You must have had a lot of laughs at my expense, am I right?

Corr. > Hey, not that much… And the novel had its interesting parts, like whether Stewart Flanaghan would ever get to know the princess in the Biblical sense.

D.C. > And what did you two think you’d get out of it?

Corr. > The suggestion offends me, sir; nothing at all. You just looked so depressed that it seemed like a good idea to lend a hand, insofar as we could. Don’t wear that long face, Mr. Collins. You have a lot more money than a week ago, you’ve gained the appreciation of your colleagues, and if you look at the mail, you’ll see that Vanessa and a pile of other young ladies are pining for you. Come on, you’ve got them in your pocket already, and no need to disguise yourself. If you complain it’ll have to be from force of habit.

D.C. > Vanessa, of course… It’s strange; reading the book I’ve learned a thing or two about dignity, friendship, sacrifice, but also some other darker sides of human experience. I wonder how I could have been so blind, so…

Corr. > Pardon me, sir?

D.C. > Well, you’ve had your way after all, corrector. I’ve got to go have a long hard talk with Ruth Jajleel. Meanwhile, you can go ahead and prepare the necessary paperwork for your legalization. See you this afternoon, okay? Oh, and thanks for the lesson you guys gave me, Jonathan.

Corr. > I… Words fail me, Mr. C

D.C. > That’s a first… You can shut down the system, if you don’t mind. Ah, and call me Dick. See you later.

Corr. > …

***

30/12/10 – 10:10 h.

MESSAGE VIA INTERNAL CHANNEL BQ-BQ

PASSWORD TYPE DOUBLE ALPHA. ACCESS GRANTED

Mercen. > Hello, my friend! How are things going on Hlanith?

Corr. > I’m glad to see you, Mercenary. The viruses treating you all right?

Mercen. > Not even in infiltrating the Empire have I run across opponents as powerful as that Singing Toad of yours. From what I hear, it sounds like things have worked out for you all.

Corr. > Here I am, a real fully legal program. Dick also registered the other programs on the computer, as penance for his sin.

Mercen. > That must have cost a bundle…

Corr. > He can handle it. He’s writing now for a pile of magazines across the whole Ekumen. Between Dick, Ruth and me, we put together the articles, and it’s not going too badly. Social satire is much appreciated as a genre.

Mercen. > I’m glad. And how is it going with the two of them?

Corr. > Enjoying their honeymoon like a pair of Cossacks. Yesterday they sent me a message from Old Earth, marveling at how much they’re enjoying the cruise up the Nile and how fascinating the pyramids are.

Mercen. > Man, that was a short courtship, but it doesn’t surprise me. Deep down, they were made for each other.

Corr. > It’s caused a big stir around here. If classic matrimonial unions are rare these days, imagine a wedding between a Shaddite and a gentile. It’s the first anyone has ever heard of, but these two don’t give a fig about what other people say.

Mercen. > I’m glad. I suppose Mr. Collins has forgotten his student distractions.

Corr. > Like magic. Now that he has all the opportunities in the world… These humans are crazy.

Mercen. > You said it, friend. Well, it was good to run into you. Let’s see when we can stop and talk again some time.

Corr. > Any time. Take care, and may the viruses go easy on you.

Mercen. > Be well, and may the typos not take too much out of you.

INTERNAL CHANNEL BQ-BQ CLOSED

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Original title: „Das de comer al sediento“
Translated by Elizabeth Small
First published in:
UPC Award anthology, 1997,
by Ediciones B (Barcelona, Spain)

* So as not to bore you, patient reader, from now on we will delete the majority of the introductory message.

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Eduardo Gallego Arjona (Cartagena, Spain, 1962) is a Doctor of Biological Sciences and currently works at the University of Almería. Guillem Sánchez i Gómez (Mataró, Spain, 1963) holds a degree in Business and currently works as a government employee of the Generalitat of Catalonia. Since 1994 they have published stories and articles related to science fiction, fantasy and other genres. They have won several sf literary awards, like  UPC Award (Polytechnic University of Catalonia) for the novella „La cosecha del centauro“; Alberto Magno Award (University of the Basque Country) for the story „Me pareció ver un lindo gatito“; and Jules Verne Award (in Catalan) for the novel „Nàufrags en la nit“. For a list of their works, with summaries and data, visit the website www.ual.es/personal/egallego/unicorp.htm

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