The world is a barren wasteland. The ozone layer burned off decades ago, exposing all life on Earth to deadly solar radiation. Mutant carrots are the dominant form of life, roaming the planet, crushing all other lifeforms beneath their leafy heels. “How could it come to this,” you ask one of the elders in your bio-dome’s infirmary. “How could humans, the most intelligent species in the known universe, end up living in loosely-connected subterranean chambers? Do you remember... the sky?” She takes her eyes up off the ancient text she’s reading, and stares off into the wall. A medbot hovers by and administers a dose of tricolbalzene, sending her off into a deep sleep. You turn to leave, but a hand grabs your arm; your spin your head quickly, and see the elder’s eyes fluttering.
“P-- p- Puppy-Powered Cars... We thought we were gods...” she sighs, collapsing into a crumpled heap.
This is the future of humankind. Bleak, yes, but tax-free.
October 31, 2016: Dole Campaign Headquarters, Kansas
“We’ve taken a hit in the polls,” said Rick Anonymi. King Evil Robo-Bob Dole turned his metallic skull around to face the subordinate, a look of malice and rage pervading his visage.
“What do you mean ‘a hit in the polls?’” Robo-Bob Dole spat as he tilted his head to indicate utter disgust. “Is this a Halloween prank? Because I’m not laughing, Rick. The election is two weeks away. I don’t need this right now.”
“Well sir, the recent heat wave has been connected with first generation Puppy-Powered Cars, which were produced by your company-”
“Never associate me with that gaggle of fools,” Robo-Bob Dole stated flatly. His face grimaced at the very mention of his humble beginnings.
“I’m a hundred times the robot they were!”
“Still, they’re going to make it stick on you.”
“They can try,” groaned Robo-Bob Dole as he pulled his bulk to the large French doors that opened out to his mansion/campaign headquarters’ garden. “but Puppy-Powered Cars are still the safest and most fuel-efficient vehicles out there today. What harm could a few degrees a year do?”
He took a nano-cell phone out of his pocket.
“Here,” Robo-Bob Dole said, tossing the phone at Rick Anonymi. “Get Karl on T.V. He was part of the original project. Just get him to say it’s perfectly safe.”
King Evil Robo-Bob Dole folded his robotic hands behind his imposing carapace.
“Sir, there’s also the matter of the Djibouti tablet. A more modern translation-”
“Nothing will keep me from the presidency, Rick. Nothing.”
“If I can’t have the presidency... no one can!”
March 31, 2006: Ronald Reagan Memorial Convention Center
“Hello fellow concerned environmentalists,” I spoke into the microphone. The crowd quieted down to a murmur as everyone quickly looked up to the podium. “Today marks a new age in human and transhuman development. We no longer need to worry about global warming, as Roboshrub Incorporated’s brand-new Puppy-Powered Cars produce none of the greenhouse gases that damage our planet’s delicate biosphere. Because at Roboshrub Incorporated...” I paused to pull out my guitar. “We care about all the little animals. We care about the little critters,” I started singing, tripping a few chords up. But it was enough to stir the convention into song.
We rock because we care.
“Can I see you for a minute,” came a voice through the radio implant in my cybernetically enhanced brain. Karl again.
I’m in the middle of a song, I transmitted back to him telepathically.
“This is extremely urgent,” he pleaded.
“Hey everybody,” I called up mid-riff. “I have to take care of some eco-business, but don’t you go anywhere. I’ll be back soon to explain how Puppy-Powered Cars will save us from inevitable doom!” And as I walked offstage, I could hear the crowd chanting my name. Finally, ten years, almost to the day, after I first heard about Puppy-Powered Cars, I was within spitting distance of becoming the sole supplier. It would change the world, and enrich me to no end.
“Karl, is there something you needed to tell me?” I asked in the comfort of my authentic Llama-skin armchair.
“We tried redoing the tests again, but we keep getting more of the same. And I’ve done some more translating, on the tablet.” He shifted uncomfortably. “We need to cancel the rollout.”
“Karl, have you learned nothing from your years as Chief Product Debugger?”
“But I was never Chief-”
“Answer the question!” I screamed, all attempts at civility out the window. It was now or never.
“I can’t in good conscience allow you to put my name on a product that’s capable of what the tablet and our best testing indicates. I’ve already sent a copy of the Olio Report to the feds.”
I balked. “Impossible!” I bellowed. “That report was destroyed...”
Pulling out his enchanted wand, he produced a series of papers out of thin air.
“Here is your ‘destroyed’ report,” he sneered. “When word of this gets out-”
This report could change the course of history.
But he stopped as he saw my smirk.
“What are you smiling at?”
Now it was my turn to be melodramatic.
“Congress already knew about the Olio Report the day it came out.”
“But... who sent it to them?!”
“Ha ha ha! Who do you think helped get them elected in the first place?”
November 3, 2004: Roswell, New Mexico
“What do you have for me today, Karl?”
Karl Überdale put his report down on my desk and looked me in the eyes. I knew that look. There had been a breakthrough.
“Have you managed to find the-”
“Yes,” he interrupted me with a gleeful fleer, “we found the problem with the pulmonary valves. All we needed was a simple reroute. The project is now...” he held his breath for a minute to let the tension build. “five months ahead of schedule.” I let out a sigh of relief. I had been so very worried that the project was falling behind again, but this latest status report was very promising. At our current projected rate, the Puppy-Powered Cars would be ready to roll out by next Spring.
“Very good. Keep me informed of your progress.”
“There’s one more thing,” he chirped. What could he possibly-
“One of the prototypes burst into a fireball of methane and chlorine. It also let off some chemicals we haven’t been able to identify yet. Dr. Olio recorded the whole thing on DVD and video.” I stared at him.
I also made a face and went “Uh-whaaaaaaa?!”
“Why would it do that?”
“I... don’t know,” he admitted. “It matches nothing in the blueprints, or in the tablet. But the tablet’s a little sketchy in this area; it would probably be best to send another team to excavate the site, in case there’s more information. To really get to the bottom of this, we may need to delay-”
“There will be no more delays!” I bellowed. The Puppy-Powered Cars were supposed to have been out in early 2001. If we waited any longer, the auto market would be eaten up by hybrid cars and we would have wasted a decade of resources building an unmarketable product. “No more excuses! I’m going to see to it that the market is saturated with Roboshrub brand cars by the middle of next year, no matter how many corners we need to cut!” I walked over to my office refrigerator and pulled out two Dr. Peppers. “I came to you because you were the best, Karl. Don’t prove me wrong.”
“There will be no more delays!”
The next morning, all evidence that a Puppy-Powered Car burst into a ball of flaming gas, as well as Dr. Olio himself had disappeared... as if by magic.
March 29, 1996: North Überhaven, New York
“And now, without further ado, I present for your viewing pleasure, your future product line,” beamed a young Karl Überdale as he unveiled a rather extensive list of far-fetched ideas to the posthuman entrepreneurship council. Each product was accompanied by a rough sketch and a description. The council was on its fourth day, and yet no posthumanist faction had come to dominate the conference. Yet. Walking over to the young graduate student, I picked up one of the index cards at his station and turned it over in my cold, metallic, robot hands. Puppy-Powered Cars. “Are you,” I began with a tinge of disbelief in my voice, “suggesting that one of the illustrious members of this council build a product out of puppies?”
“Not at all,” he balked, noticing that the other councilors were beginning to withdraw from his booth. “I’m not proposing we make cars that run on puppies. I’m proposing we make cars that are puppies.” That struck me as a little arrogant, but I was willing to let that pass. I’ve seen Überdale’s record. Straight A’s and a magical science major to boot. I didn’t know him very well, but I was willing to bite.
A grad student with an ego the size of a dumpster.
“Why would anyone in their right mind want a... a puppy car?” I belted out in a demeaning scoff. His face flushed bright purple, and he pulled down a projector screen stapled to the top of the booth. There were some pieces of construction paper taped to the screen. I could see that he’d put a lot of work into this particular invention. “As you can see,” he began in a prideful rant, “each one of my Puppy-Powered Cars will combine the heart and soul of the lovable puppy with the harsh efficiency of an internal combustion engine. The result will be a car that runs on pure spunk and produces no greenhouse gases.”
And it gets 400 miles per kilometer!
I was shocked. What a brilliant idea! I hired him on the spot and used that design to win the convention’s long-coveted “Future Returns” trophy and over ¥100 million in prize money. “Karl,” I said at the end of the convention, in the parking lot, “you’ve got a bright future over at Roboshrub Inc.”
“Thanks. But you should probably know about this tablet I found a few years ago during an archaeological dig...”
September 22, 1990: Djibouti, Djibouti
Karl wiped the sweat from his eyes. The sun was beating down on him, and he’d already exhausted the expedition’s supply of clean linens and pop tarts. I wish I’d gotten some Dr. Peppers at the refinery, he thought to himself. But despite the lack of comfort, Karl Überdale knew he was lucky to have been the one chosen for the dig. His archeology professor had been none too encouraging, but Karl’s grades were so far ahead of the pack that old Dr. Worthing had no choice but to let him in on an excavation abroad. So naturally, he stuck Karl with one of the least promising, most far-removed sites imaginable. I’m never going to find anything here, Karl’s inner pessimist kept reminding him. I’m going to spend this whole year digging through a million years of mud, and then Dr. Worthing’ll have a field day-
A clanking sound derailed his train of thought, sending it careening off the track of continuity and into the abyss of astonishment.
“What the...?!” Karl exclaimed, grabbing his dusting rag. It was big, whatever his shovel had struck.
Only those who don’t value their sanity go digging.
“Well, Karl, aren’t you quite the success,” grated Dr. Worthing. The old man had flown in to see the opening of what Karl had described as “the most important find in human history.”
And here it was, a perfectly cylindrical container about the size of a couch. The outside was jade colored and covered with strange marking of unknown origin.
“What language is this, Professor?” asked Karl innocently, knowing full well that it was unlike any previously discovered human language. Worthing wasn’t taking the bait.
“What language do you think it is?” Worthing quipped, putting the squeeze on Karl.
“Well, from what I can gather, this circular glyph over here is an indentation. There’s one on both ends of this thing, but I haven’t been able to push them both at the same time.”
He gestured to the other end of the cylinder, and motioned for Worthing to put pressure on the strange tab-like indentation. As soon as he did, there was a strange humming noise, and a flash of blinding orange light.
This won’t end well.
“Gha!” screamed Dr. Worthing, jumping back as if struck by lightning. The light immediately faded, exposing the contents of the cylinder to both observers. It was a single square tablet, about a fourth of a meter in dimensions. Karl bent down slowly, holding his breath. Picking up the tablet, he looked at it for a minute, turned to the professor, and laughed.
“All our problems are over!”
“Look here,” beamed Karl. “It’s a diagram for some new kind of organic vehicle! I surmise,” he began, “that thousands of years ago, there was a human civilization that surpassed today’s world technologically. Unfortunately, rapid changes in the planet’s climate proved too destabilizing to maintain a functional society.”
He pulled out what Dr. Worthing thought was some kind of oaken stick, and traced the markings on the tablet with it.
“Knowing that their culture wouldn’t survive intact, they stored information on their most precious invention in a time capsule for future generations, namely us.”
“That’s a very outlandish theory, Karl.”
“Yes. But whoever fully realizes these plans will have saved human society from a fossil fuel crunch thirty years from now. A pity you won’t be there to see it.”
And with that, Karl whipped the oaken stick out at Worthing.
“Bolenix twillban poppinev!”
Dr. Worthing was enveloped by a translucent green field which instantly contracted. Three seconds later there was no trace of him. Today the world has lost a fool, thought Karl with a look of bemusement. There was never a real future for me in archeology anyway. Now, to translate this little money maker...
Relax, he wasn’t vaporized. He was teleported to primordial France.
65 Million Years Ago: Bunker Prime, Urani Province
“We’ve planted a copy of the capsule in our Rathmanen stronghold, General,” barked the eager young commander.
General Pantos Kstaar reeled up from the tactical display. His ears perked up for the first time in weeks.
“Excellent, Commander. When can we expect full infiltration?”
“As you are no doubt aware, General, the Saurians have used A-19 missiles to wipe out half our bases. There’s no guarantee that they’ll find any of the capsules.”
The disheartening report confirmed what Kstaar already knew. This race of Dinosaurs was the greatest threat the Kenine Empire had ever known. Within the first year of contact, the Saurians had systematically obliterated every Kenine city with populations over 10,000, including the 400,000 year old capital of Rurfeth. Saurians rarely took prisoners.
The vicious Saurians.
“Commander. The war is going badly for us.”
“General, with all due respect, you-”
“Listen to me, man! We’ve lost 90% of our people! The colony on Kenine One has been destroyed in such an explosive manner that the planet’s moon was hurled out of orbit and its very rotation was reversed. Our Empress is being worked to death in the Saurian diamond mines. There’s no way we can continue waging war against the Dinosaurs.”
“But what of Project CL-8000? We’ve been working hard these last two weeks, distributing capsules to every one of our bases.”
“Those capsules contain tainted information that will lead to the Saurians’ destruction. Our scientists have invented a machine that uses Kenine DNA to create a clean burning reaction. The device, however, is unstable and will end up spewing chemicals into the atmosphere which will destroy the layer of O3 that surrounds Kenine Two. Our species will survive, barely. The Saurians will be unable to adapt, the putrid reptiles that they are.”
“And if they don’t find any of the capsules?”
“The we must hope that the Furren Expedition manages to successfully steer a meteoroid back to Kenine Two. We should survive either way.”
Kstaar pulled a bottle of Minn out from under his desk. From the look of the label, it was a good year. He poured two glasses and handed one to the Commander.
“Victory for the Empire!”
“Victory for the Empire, General.”
“To the Empire!”