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Credits

Ten thousand years of Roboshrub.

Fangs for the memories.




In today’s state, Roboshrub Incorporated is an entity entirely devoted
to the execution of what normal people would refer to as “bad ideas.”

It was the creator’s original idea that all concepts, whether
useful or not, contribute to the global subconscious level of progress
for the human race. Therefore, we contend that no idea is an unfit
idea, and vow to act on each and every one of them.

Roboshrub Inc.
Public Communications Department






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For your insolence, I condemn you to...

Suffer the Fate of a Thousand Bees!
(Before they go extinct)

Print Logo

7.29.2006

Product #4999-34s “Shrubquote”

Deep in the steamy jungles of the antebellum Midwest, a 10-pound baby was born in a generic log cabin. The day before, a thunderstorm had rippled across the steppes, a sign of future fortune. And this child, one John Chapstick, would one day grow up to become a living legend. At the tender age of 14, he set out with a bindle o’er his shoulder and a tear in his eye. Bidding farewell to his wife and 7 kids, he trekked across the great plains to spread the message passed down to him by his grandpappy.

But what was the message he spread so well? Way back in 1846, when Johnny’s pappy and two older brothers went off to fight in La Guerra De ’47, he (being a child of 8) stayed home with his mother, his 43 sisters, and his grandparents. When Johnny asked his grandpa why daddy wouldn’t be comin’ home in time for his birthday, the answer was cryptic at best: “’cause they don’t know no spellin’, boy.”

Since that fateful day, Johnny swooped and hollered, hooted at scholars, flim-flammed and blim-blammed, all in the vein hope that by teaching others the importance of good spelling, he could end all wars forever. City by city, he taught the downtrodden miners and schoolmarms, the rich and the poor, the fat and the obese. He showed the masses how to avoid comma splices, the value of a well-drawn dollar sign, and the importance of recognizing diacritical marks. Where Johnny sat his head, the seeds of conjugation took root, springing forth a mighty forest of punctuation.

Johnny loved typography, and through it, people. And the people loved Johnny, whom they affectionately nicknamed “Johnny Ampersand.”


Johnny Ampersand, age 20.

What he couldn’t fit in his 40-volume typographic epic, he would bring directly to the people. Up on a soapbox for ten hours a day, he’d preach and preen, croon and scream, until there wasn’t an ignorant soul this side of St. Louis who hadn’t heard (or could ham-handedly sing) the Ballad of Johnny Ampersand:

Way back in the land of slime,
When space was empty, void of time,
There was a man who took a stand,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

Rucksack hangin’ ’cross his back,
He left his home to take a crack
At teaching marks right off the rack,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

His brow was heavy, toes uncurled
To the masses, pages furled.
He tried so hard to hold the world,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

A master marketer of hype,
The man taught all the world to type.
Unscathed by bath, his clothes were ripe,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

With him at helm, we won’t despair;
Not under his wrathful stare.
He won the west and fought a bear,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

Then one day he jumped the shark,
Thought he’d kill the question mark.
They found him raving, mad as stark,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

As mice and men of knowledge learned,
His work was scoffed at, books were burned.
A platitude of secrets churned,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.

Pen in hand and shoe on foot,
Climbed down chimneys full o’ soot,
Lost his mind and grew the brand,
Good ol’ Johnny Ampersand.


Johnny grew to hate that nickname and sued anyone who used it. As the years rolled on, he gave up his dreams and became very reclusive and erratic. He shot passenger pigeons (ectopistes migratorius) for sustenance, and was reported to have laughed coldly as the last of the specie went extinct in 1914. This led many to believe that he had indeed lost his mind, and that the ballad was a self-fulfilling prophesy. When confronted by psychologists and family, he admitted to hallucinating many conversations with Zizzi, a Micronesian deity who resembles a small tree. In 1918, he became the first human to succumb to typography poisoning during wartime.


The cover of Johnny’s Autobiography, “Treemaster and Diacritics: Refuting the Ellipsis...”

Roboshrub Inc. wouldn’t be half the company it is today without Mr. Ampersand’s subtle artistic influences. That vending machine in the lobby? Designed entirely from Ampersand’s Semicolon Aesthetics. The bathroom layout, down to the red bonsai pots? Explained in painstaking detail in Guillemet or Chevron: A Comparative Study of Angled Quotes. That big tilde over the security desk? Need I say more?!

Long considered the unofficial father of Unicode, Roboshrub Inc. is proud to announce that in honor of what would’ve been John Chapstick’s 168th birthday, we’re unrolling a formerly banned project (not the bad kind of banned. The fun kind). Throw your graduation caps and instruction manuals in the air, and give it up for the Roboshrub Inc. Typographic Memorial Tag Team!

Our new product, Shrubquote, builds on a nonfunctional device Chapstick touched on in chapter 12 of 450 Uses of the Hyphen. The device was originally supposed to convert plain-jane punctuation into spiced-up doodads. We’ve achieved all that, within an acceptable margin of the edges.

Shrubquote successfully converts boring old quotation marks into their curly unseen cousins, making your unseemly “dumb quotes” into socially-acceptable “smart quotes.” This was extremely important to Chapstick, and as his spiritual heirs, it’s important to us, too. Build 202 correctly ignores HTML tags, works (semi)accurately on single quotes, and can convert quotes to their actual curly characters or their cumbersome Unicode equivalent. We hope you continue to buy Roboshrub Inc. brand products, valued at $0.00 per pound. Some users experienced excessive punctuation as a result of this innovative and illustrious product. Consult psychic before use.

7.26.2006

Five Days To The Prime Meridian

Day 1

Currents of air batted the small craft back and forth... the sky had turned dark chartreuse, clouds flew quickly against the fading twilight. Why did I think I could win this thing? Me, a librarian! Get to the Prime Meridian before... him! thought a fiery young Piet Gold. It was her first day on the trail, and already the skies were turning from her first love to her most virulent enemy.

She was tracking a Nimbian who was tiny and quick, and cleverer than a sea wolf. His name was Mineuxian Tallborn, and he had bragged in the pub about being able to jump thunder. What could that mean, jumping thunder? Piet asked herself, weaving her Lunar Hummer in and out of clouds. Why did I take his stupid bet?


Weaving the Lunar Hammer between the plasmic clouds.

“Because you knew it would please me,” came an Orwellian voice from behind Piet.

By the time she could fire off a standard “Who’s there?!” the voice was gone, floating behind her now, echoing in her subconscious. Am I going insane?!

“Don’t be ludicrous, dear,” said the voice, “You know I’m telepathic.”

“I know nothing!” Piet shouted at the empty sky. A moment later, she realized what she’d implied and added sheepishly, “About you. I know nothing about you.”

“I’m the invisible ghost who haunts your Lunar Hummer, remember?” the disembodied voice said. “Also, in life, I was your mentor.”

“That in itself is wrong! I had no mentor!” she screamed out into the darkness, the sharp wind blinding her.

“Have you forgotten... Cairo?”

She held fast, gritting her teeth in remembrance. “Yes... Cairo... it’s- Aicron?! Aicron, is that you?!”

“It is.” the voice flatly grated, tuning in an out of her mind, like a cheaply-produced radio.

A blot of lightning blazed through the sky mere meters from the Lunar Hummer; the ozone smelled oddly sweet.

“I’m going to have to cut this conversation short,” Piet grinned as she reached for the control panel. “I’ve got a Nimbian to catch!”

“Yes! You must avenge me... avenge me!”

***

Day 15

The chase went on for days. Each dawn, the sun rose to kiss Piet’s face, her domain in the clouds turning rosy pink. During the night the moon would shimmer wetly, just out of reach. Piet never slept, not one second, throughout the chase. Though she never caught a glimpse of the Nimbian, she flew on.

Exhaustion began to take its toll. Her loops became looser, her rolls less accurate. Once or twice she fell into a hypnagognic state and would fly for several hours without any conscious thought. Hours later, she would be shocked back into consciousness by the realization that she was lost— lost among the clouds.

Finally, one pink dawn, the voice returned. “You’ve lost,” it said.

“But... I have two weeks to find this idiot!” she yawned.

“You’ve lost count? Today is day 15.”

Piet spat over the side of the ship. She was no stranger to humiliation, but she was furious nevertheless.

“We’re going to find him, anyway,” she said.

“Hey, loser! How’s it going?” came a third voice. Piet whirled around to face it. The Nimbian was there, a ball of static electricity holding the green insectoid on top of a cumulo stratus. Thunder jumping, Piet thought.


The typical Nimbian, giving the ceremonial welcoming gesture.

“You know what?” the Nimbian continued, his wings flickering to maintain his balance, “I was under your ship the whole time. I’m serious. You never thought to look there?” He laughed. Piet Gold remained silent, her face a stony wall of disappointment.

The Nimbian paused, his face betraying his emotions. He was quite concerned with Piet’s adamant visage; he thought it was pretty funny that he had hidden right behind her the entire two weeks. He hesitated before reminding her, “You owe me two million d’jennies...”

The Lunar Hummer hung in midair. Tension mounted as the two stared each other down.

“Computer... Open Fire.”

***

Day 23

“It’s been days since you shot the Nimbian out of the sky... do you have to keep looking?” the voice said derisively, a hint of lip biting in the vernacular.

“That’s not something you would have told me a year ago, when you were alive, Aicron.”

“Yeah, but now I’m, like, a ghost. A show-host ghost. Have you,” the show-host ghost reflected, “ever seen the sun rise... from the inside? I think you leap before you look.”

“I think I shouldn’t have to put up with this-”

Before Piet could wrest control of her mind from the babbling specter, a flashing light outside the module’s window appeared out of nowhere; with spiral concussion, it triggered a shift in altitude that shook the tables on the Lunar carpeting. One, two, and then three crystal glasses fell from the dining table, shattering into billions of prismatic slivers.

“He’s back again, isn’t he?!” she growled at nobody in particular. Even the normally festive ghost was silent; this was odd, as in life he never passed up an opportunity to mock others for their misfortune. Perhaps this schadenfreude was why he now haunted a skyship?

“Curse your segmented eyes, Tallborn! I’m gonna have French-fried Nimbian tonight-”

“You are in maybe restricted airspace,” a blaring warning banally blared from below her berth. It was a trio of helicopters, each bearing the insignia of the U.S. Department of Airspace Restrictions and Poor Grammar. “Identify yourself and bring down land immediately, or you will be in violation of Treaty #9, section asterisk.”


“You are in maybe restricted airspace!”

“But I don’t have the means to respond! Or to land! And your grammar is downright stupid,” she shouted at the top of her fluid-filled lungs out the open window of the Lunar Hummer.

“We urge you for respond. This is to have been your final warning.” The lead chopper began circling the small craft slowly at first, but quickened in pace. The other two readied their grappling hooks.

Piet glanced about the cabin for something she could use to fight them off. She was a tiny weakling of a librarian, and the Raven-Copters around her were piloted by what appeared to be ex-sumo wrestlers. She grabbed an ionospear from the closet, but the power harpoon had only enough charge for a single shot.

“Why not use the ship’s guns?” whispered the ghost.

“Minuxian’s antennae are jamming the ports, remember?” The stupid Nimbian! If only he hadn’t fought back... if only he hadn’t made her so wroth to begin with. Him and his stupid static boots...

His static boots! That was the answer! She seized them from the shoe rack in the corner and began to strap them on. The first boarder clambered onto the Lunar Hummer while she was still tying the laces, and she stared at him, horrified. The massive man screamed, leaving Piet very confused. A second later, she saw the Ionospear hovering past her. It fired its single shot, blasting the captain out through the cabin door and into the sky.

“Aicron, I didn’t know you cared!” Piet said, strapping the boots to her feet.

“Yeah, well,” the ghost said, blushing invisibly.

“You’re still an idiot! Now they’ll shoot me on sight!”

“Oh...”

She rolled towards the door, just as another boarder entered, waving his gun menacingly into the cabin. He was not expecting an attack from directly below him, however, and Piet kicked him in the stomach. The boots went off, inducing a positive charge in the attacker and shocking him enough to force him backwards— again, into the open sky.

As he fell, he rearranged the electrons in the clouds. A moment later, the puffy white clouds were turning black. Down on the planet’s surface, Farmer Brown said to his lovely young trophy wife, “Storm’s a-brewin’. Eeeeeyup.”

Farmer Brown was one of the smartest pig farmers in his small community of pig farmers, but not even he could anticipate the kind of radioactive backwash going on up in the stratosphere. Each cloud began to reabsorb the residual effects of the Ionospear before passing the ions on to their neighboring nimbi. This had only happened once before in the history of labeled pants, back in the second world war... but Roosevelt couldn’t save the world this time.

“Aicron, can you give me more lift?” Piet piped into the piloting pipe, which made her privy to the pilot’s position. “Aicron?”

“I am here, my meal ticket!” the ghost gracefully groused, a ghastly grin in his grim voice.

“The clouds are creating colors, canceling constellations, and causing confusion!” she yelled.

“What’s with the alliteration all of a sudden? Do you have any idea how annoying that can be?” Aicron acrimoniously accused.

“Focus, Aicron! We’ve still got three choppers on our tail! Evasive maneuvers!”

“I thought there was only one left... you know, because you sort of kicked one of those guys out into the sky... and I harpooned the other one...”

“What, you think they’d just jump aboard and let their multi-million dollar helicopters crash?” she sarcastically chortled, lifting one reddish-brown eyebrow. “Do you have any idea how much a helicopter is worth? There’s always someone on board to pilot it, and fire missiles.”

“Well, pardon my compassion. At least one of us was thinking of the big picture. You know, if it were up to you, we’d all be living under a big rock out in the middle of Florida. You know that, don’t you?”

“Why do you always do this,” she sighed, “you know you’ve lost an argument, but instead of accepting it, you say things that are distracting and pointless.”

“Ah, the student has surpassed the teacher.”

Fortunately (for Aicron’s pride), an explosive shockwave ripped through the sun-streaked sky, flipping the Lunar Hummer end-over-end. Only by quickly jamming her right foot into Tallborn’s static boot, which had sealed itself to the side of the ship after his demise, was Piet able to keep from falling out into the roiling clouds. The choppers weren’t so lucky, and their blades bent upward, sending the extremely expensive machines down, down to Farmer Brown. The next day, Mr. Brown would discover his pigs mercilessly crushed under the weight of three government helicopters; it would only feed his paranoia and fear/hatred of big government.

***

Day 24

“Hey! Hey, can anyone hear me?!” said the downed pilot to anyone who could hear him; there had to be other survivors, there had to!

“Gunther? That you?” a scratchy southern drawl wavered from the burning troughs. “I... think my leg’s broken.”

“Hold on, Chen! I think I see you.” Gunther stumbled, using his hands to “see” in the odorous den. Chen was still alive... it may have been too late for the others (they were seriously overweight), but if he could drag Chen to safety, it could earn Gunther that promotion to Helicopter Obstetrician.

“Chen, are you-”

Light poured in as a heavy foot kicked in part of the wall, filling the air with sawdust and drywall. The filaments stuck to a dark pool of red goo that seemed to seethe over the hay and dirt.

“Ma pigs! Ma precious pigs!” wailed Farmer Brown, lowering trembling fingers down at pieces of bones and snout, all that remained of his prize-winning potbellied pigs. Fighting off tears, the old man could feel his own pulse throbbing twixt his eyeballs as his grain pail spilled its contents besides his faded trousers; yet he maintained a death-grip on his 19th century railroad lantern.

“A civilian! We’re saved!” Gunther beamed, holding a semi-conscious Chen up to the lantern light.


Ah, the civilian. So graceful, so happy; so full of ham.

“You...” Farmer Brown waved a hairy, crop-infused finger at the dazed survivors. “You... government agents... big brother... always watching...” he swung his head back, looking over his shoulder and through the dark woods behind the farm.

“You two...” he bent in his fingers. “You two done crushed all ma little piggies.”

He picked up the half-empty grain pail and dumped it all out. Reaching into his left sleeve, he pulled out a stalk of corn, and threw it in the bucket. He repeated this several times, until the pail was brimming with... corn.

“You gonna turn ma pigs into paste?! You gonna be piggies!” he threw the bucket directly at Gunther’s head; Chen fell to the ground as the prodigal pilot keeled over.

“Why don’t you eat yer corn, piggies?!” Farmer Brown laughed, snapping the straps off his overalls. They dropped, revealing a dark blue wetsuit. “Now we gonna go to market.”

***

Day 29

“What did he promise you?”

“What?” Piet said, distracted. She turned to face the ghost’s request, years of Dewey Decimal training kicking into overdrive.

“What did he promise you if you won the race to the Prime Meridian?”

“Oh. The bet was for two million d’jennies.”

“That’s... hey! You know what?!” Aicron’s spectral nostrils flared with invisible sawdust. “With that kind of money, you could buy me a robot body to live in!”

“I could, but I won’t. Not after... last time,” she said as she stroked the long scar on her right cheek. “Besides, I need that money for an operation...”

“Heavens above, below, and maybe in a parallel universe! I had no idea you were sick!” the empathetic poltergeist cried, ingratiating himself on her in the hopes of usurping the prize money for his own robotic needs.

“It’s not an operation for me, it’s for my precious little child.”

Aicron knew Piet long enough to know that she had no children. “Yeah,” he said sneakily, “I was just on the phone with your kid. He said to give me all your prize money, you know, for that new robot body...”

“She is to be my sister’s baby,” Piet frowned, “my sister, who lives in the strictest of poverty. I alone must save her!”

“What of the child’s father?”

“Her father died on the moon, fighting demons,” Piet moaned. If only things had worked out differently, Piet’s sister could have successfully poisoned him as planned, and had enough insurance money to stay at an actual hospital, instead of Farmer Brown’s pig birthing center.

“And now, my only niece is going to depend on me to keep her, you know, financially soluble. But the poor, wretched child,” Piet wailed, “has been pre-diagnosed with that most terrible of afflictions, the No Organs!”

“Not the No Organs!”


O horrors! The innocent child, a victim of the No Organs?! Why?!

“The no organs?” came a third voice from the Lunar tether cable. Mineuxian Tallborn, sporting a brand-new pair of static boots, walked in through the shuttle doors, upside down and backwards. “I had no idea that’s what you were going to use the money for!”

“What would you prefer she used it for?” Aicron sneered, “Sign-in security software? She isn’t a business!”

“I was planning to use the money to end world hunger... by imploding the universe. But you and your selfless nature have changed my narrow-minded, insect-eye view of the world!” He handed her a brochure. “This contains a map leading to my secret supply of Nimbian gold and centrifugal birthing devices. Bring your sister there, and raise the child in happiness!”

“I’ll... never forget you, Mineuxian Tallborn!” Piet whispered, running over to hug the slimy critter.

“Still dead over here,” Aicron waved, rolling his semi-transparent eyes. “Speaking of which, how did you survive our last encounter? I saw you-”

“You saw nothing!” Mineuxian clicked. “It was all just another game to me. But now that I’m no longer questing quixotically for quid, I can quit this quorum and become a quiz-show host!”

“Quiz-show host?” Aicron raised a ghostly eyebrow. “I just happen to be a show-host ghost! Would you happen to need a co-anchor on your splendid little project?”

“That depends. Can you carry a tune?”

“You graciously graze my gruesome gaze with such a guttural query?”

“I ask politely, poltergeist, the politics I may peruse to pry you from your pointed place, and play party to my show?”

“Such talk! Tall tales, and telephonic tricks. Tried two times to tip this ship,” Aicron’s ghostly visage quipped.

“Ah, good sir, a tune you carry! Lightly not this path you tread; for underneath its mighty carriage, lies the fallen and the dead.”

“Are... you still talking about... starting some kind of game show together?” Piet asked, wresting the two from their game of alliterative cat and mouse.

“Yes. And so, we must be off! Time to fly,” the Nimbian cried. “Remember fondly, me, young human.”

“Remember doubly,” Aicron added, accelerating perpendicular to the horizon. Piet stood there, in shocked silence, watching the ghost and Nimbian spiral each other on their way to stardom. Then she looked at the brochure in her hand.

“Don’t worry, sis. Everything’s gonna be okay... I can feel it.”

***

Day 284

“Piet Gold, as next-in-kin to Phules Gold, it is my terrible duty to inform you... that your sister died in centrifugal childbirth.”

“That’s terrible! Her baby... did it survive?”

“Sure,” said the priest, pulling the infant out of his trench coat. “She’s all yours. She was left to you, in your sister’s will.”

He shoved the baby into Piet’s arms and turned to leave. Doubt shot through her mind like bird pellets. Piet knew that she was a failure at life. She had a level of incompetence so profuse and integral to her character that it could only be genetic. And the gods of the sky had graced her with a child?

“Wait!” she called to the priest, “Father Berrick! What’s her name?”

In lieu of an answer, he handed her some rolled-up papers.

“Don’t worry, little one,” Piet said to the baby, which was crying for its mother, “I’m going to make sure you never make the same mistakes I did. I’m going to raise you to be an actress. An empress! Anything but a Librarian!”

The baby was so pink and vulnerable in her arms. Its adorability doubled when it ceased wailing and cooed a little. A bouncing baby girl, Piet thought. She unfurled the birth records Father Berrick had handed her.

“It’s okay, little Catry. I’m going to raise you right.”

7.22.2006

The Ectomorphic Delegation

’Twas a frilly gown, all covered in lace. The trimmings were threaded in gold and studded with diamonds. It was very uncomfortable. But the countess knew that only by wearing it could she prevent the total collapse of her civilization. For lo, even as she traced the creases with her commanding finger, the cries and protests of the rebellious citizenry reached her noble ears.

“Milady, the peasants are demanding an answer.”

She turned to her adviser, the green beads in her hair swaying about as if there were no gravity. Her hair was dark and shiny, but smoke-like, the same color as coal.

She shoved the laser rifle into his hands roughly, growling, “Well, then, give them one.”


Can you feel the suspense?!

***

“Please sire, you must return to the riotous homeland, the countess is-”

“You forget yourself, dirt-turner!” the King roared, his belly full of rage and sage. “You have neither the station nor the ineptitude to address royalty!”

“But- but I’m the keeper of the duck. I polish young Wimbledon’s beak every day, and feed him oats and barely,” the man quivered.

“And if you wish to keep your position and all the comforts that come with it— head-attached-to-body privileges for a start, you will show your king the respect due to him,” the King hissed, his pointed beard nearly poking out the keeper’s eye.

The normally impassive keeper let out a labored wheeze before bowing hastily, his translucent face ashen, beads of sweat forming on his thick aquamarine brow. “I meant no disrespect to you, o Great and Corpulent one! I- I must have been led astray... but even you must admit,” he begged the king, “that that is one well-polished beak.”

“Yes, yes, Wimbledon’s beak has won all of the duck shows,” said the King, who had occasionally bribed the judges with lordships. “That’s the only reason I put up with your whining.”

“Your Grace, I beg that you leave for Capitolia— while there’s still a city to return to!”

“The relentless impositions you have made into my private affairs can no longer be tolerated!” the king shouted in a fit of candy-induced rage. “I’m promoting you immediately to Earle of the Southern provinces!”

“That would certainly solve my wretched peasant family’s financial hardship, but it does not address the question of how you’re going to overthrow the Countess and restore the constitutional monarchy of our space-age fiefdom,” the new Earle bespoke unto his fellow royal.

“See? You aren’t even making any sense,” the King snorted, drawing another strand of licorice from the hidden compartment in his scepter. “There is no Countess in the Kingdom of Bubbleria. There’s not even a count— I abolished mathematics, remember?”

“I remember,” came a voice from the prefab doors as they opened with a hydraulic hum. “I remember the bloodshed, the screams of mathematicians as you marched them all to slaughter... I remember the total chaos, the anarchy of yesteryear.”

“How can you remember something that happened... before you were even born?!” the king quizzed at the intruder, who his gut told him was only seven years old.

“The numbers remember,” said the boy as he stepped towards the King. A guard moved to restrain him, but he ducked between the man’s legs. In his missile-proof armor, the guard could hardly turn around to reinitialize pursuit. “And the numbers are in my blood, aren’t they, father?” the boy continued as a long, curved dagger found its way into his hand.

“Restrooms and restaurants! Is this what it has come to?!” the king’s countenance rippled with layers of cellulose as the Earle crept out through the balcony, using endangered vines to support his malnutrition-wracked body down to the dried and glass-covered ground.

“My whole life I’ve had to wait behind dearest Countess... every time I wanted a slice of cheese, she had to have one first... every time I wanted to go to sleep, she had to be asleep first... every time I wanted overthrow you and claim your throne, she had to do it first... no more!” the willful child thundered as he pounded his cute little fist onto the ruby-encrusted antique end table.

“But, my Prince, as I was explaining to the Keeper of the Duck, there is no Countess,” the King babbled.

“You hated mathematicians, father...” said the Prince. “It’s a shame you married one!

“WHAT?” cried the King, “My sweet Elizatroff? It couldn’t be!”

“But it is. And I’m going to save my kingdom from her, my lord father.”

“Very well, my sole heir,” the king conceded. “But you shall have no help from me, or my army of super-apes. You alone have stood between me and Elizatroff, and between the two of you, I like her better.”

With a scream of rage, the Prince leaped into the air. The low gravity of the flagship Royal Crab did not inhibit his flight across the throne-bridge towards his father’s throat. There was a flash of red across the King’s throat in the split-second before the dagger incinerated his body.


The half-tone prince and his overhanded rebellion.

“Long live the new king... I think... what’s going on up there? I can’t make out anything at all, really,” the Earle of the Southern provinces called up from the ship’s makeshift arboretum down below the balcony, circling around in a crablike manner to avoid the broken glass.

“A new tomorrow dawns for Bubbleria!” the seven-year-old Prince- nay, the king announced to not only the Earle, but to the peasants, robots, and intelli-squids that dwelt upon the flagship, via the master intercom control.

***

The Countess floated weightlessly up the crystal tower. The Kingdom of Bubbleria stretched out all around her, under her, ending only where the artificial dome separated Bubbleria from the surrounding wastelands.

“I don’t care what you have to do, Captain,” she was saying into her cell-phone, “Withdraw the troops from Iraq, for all I care... yes, I know it’s a tradition, but I want these rebels put in their places.”

“Achem!” coughed Commandant Ignoblus virulently, spraying ink and mucus on the otherwise clean tower floor.

“I’ll have to call you back later, when you have good news to report... and if you have no good news, never call me again!” the Countess screamed, crushing the small phone like putty in a carburetor.

“My Countess, we have received word that your beloved husband the king is now... vaporized!” the timid squid cried.

“Great!”

“I offer my sincerest— what?”

“I hated that oaf. I spent my entire life in hiding, because of him...” her eyes narrowed and began to glow red. “Because of his ignorant, fatheaded, irrational fear of numbers...”

“So, should I go ahead and cancel the 400 ray-gun salute, the memorial skateboard park, the-”

“Cancel 426 divided by two minus 13 percent of your planned festivities!”

“That leaves barely... eighty percent!” squids were notoriously bad at math; it was only through his family ties to the Squid Delegation that the Countess kept Ignoblus swimming in plankton... and at her side.

“For every memorial activity you planned, I wish for there to be two slanderous ones.”

“As you say, m’Lady.”


“And make sure all the activities are... laminated.”

***

“Ready the Royal Crab’s power-lancers,” King Prince declared, “We’ll be upon Capitolia in mere hours.”

A little girl stepped out of the shadow of his throne to council him. She said, “Your Grace, perhaps it would be better to use the hammer harpoons. They’ll pierce the city’s dome more easily.”

The boy king nodded sagely at her; Catry was older than him, nine years of age, and he was glad to her as his adviser. She gave sound advice.

“The carpenter’s ’poons, then. The dome must come down.”

“Vesabata kooshabe bo blier voxia passik!”

He stared at her in horror and supposed foreknowledge of her most heinous misuse of the vernacular.

“Prince Albert did not die in that forsaken can of his so you could speak so disrespectfully to your new master sovereign!” the young king intoned, his head full of jelly and peanut butter. “Perhaps I should make you my jester, instead of my adviser, hmm?”

“Rixaeli fo nessus whee zho!” the little girl laughed.

“Have her removed from my sight,” King Prince cried, slightly terrified. The language she was speaking sounded almost like the language of the—

“Embrosians!” someone shouted, and the Throne Bridge erupted into chaos.

Four hours later, the Embrosian Delegation was calmed down and prepared to discuss their terms for entering a strategic treaty with the new king against the Countess. The Embrosians were, in the opinion of 14th epoch Chiceroy Eidlespine, the “most genetically enhanced humans to not reach planethood.”

“You seriously expect us to coordinate our bio-warships with the infant forces of a mere... infant?” demanded Vice-Chiceroy Grandlor, who hand-managed the Embrosian war machine since the 36th epoch.

“No, Mr. Grandlor. I expect us to die,” said Catry. “I’ve spent years among these Bubblonians, trying to earn their trust.”

“You can’t be serious,” the elderly Embrosian Vice-Chiceroy argued, twisting his face up and chanting immaturely, “You can’t, you can’t, you can’t!”

“Silence!” boomed the king, his tone betraying a confidence and intellect far beyond his seven years.

“Perhaps you have a few Embrosian nucleotides,” chuckled the Vice-Chiceroy, nudging Catry. “Or maybe you’re just an insane little monster, bent on total universal destruction; either way works for me, buddy, as long as you ensure the safety of the Embrosian homeword.”

“Don’t you mean ‘homeworld?’” asked King Prince, his head about to explode from the mispronunciation.

“No! We Embrosians have no need of planets. We live inside words. And our homeword is unknown.”

“The word ‘unknown,’ or...?”

“Yup.”

***

The rebel headquarters consisted of a inn with dirt floors and its stables. The rebels wished they had blaster rifles and grenade launchers with which to combat the Prime Number Legions scouring Capitolia, but alas, the Mathless Brigade was armed only with pitchforks, shovels, and a whole lot of heart.

“Friends!” announced their leader, William Guesstimate, “I have portentous news. The King is dead.”

There was a sussuruss from the brigade. Whispers shot back and forth. Dead? The King was incompetent, irrational and irresponsible... but he was well loved, especially for outlawing those sinister mathematicians. Everyone had hoped he would return to smash the Countess and hang every accountant in the realm from a strangler tree.

“The good news is, Prince Prince has been coroneted. He is now the rightful King of Bubbleria, and is on his way to smash the Countess and hang every accountant in the realm from a strangler tree,” William continued. “Awesome, right? All we have to do is maintain a low profile, and continue harassing those filthy Prime Number Legions!”

At that exact moment, the door burst open, and in stepped Captain 7.

“I heard you were serving... punch and pie,” Captain 7 chuckled, the brigadiers oblivious to her inside joke. Oh, if only they knew the backstory to that particular non-sequitur!

“Why don’t you return to your floating palace, you traitor!” barked one of the more aggressive clods. “You know how many rebels were deloused at Tesla 8 because of you?!”

“And on behalf of the Countess of Earth, I admit no fault.”

“That’s better!” another goon shouted. Was it just her, or did these rebels not understand basic grammar?

“Enough of your senseless banter,” 7 groused, slamming her cyborg arm on the really, really big table that sat a little off the center of the room. A fraction of a moment later, the rebels, Captain 7, and the entire room was sprayed with a veritable fountain of soot and ash; 7 had inadvertently slammed her fist down on an ashtray.

“You come into our lair, you make unreasonable demands, you cover us with our own filth, and now you beg us for help?!” Guesstimate bellowed, the veins popping from his eyes.

7’s obsessive compulsive twitch kicked in, forcing her to push the cigarette remains into a small pile and run her finger through it, giving the lump a little smiley face. “I... didn’t ask you for help.”

“Then what do you want?!”

“Assistance.”

***

“Countess...”

“I do not wish to be interrupted-”

“Ach-ough! Cawaw! OOooooough!” choked Commandant Ignoblus. It was the most disgusting sound Countess Elizatroff had ever heard. It was also the most disgusting thing she had ever seen, as the squid’s eyes bulged with every wheeze, his slimy, leathery skin contracting and changing hue with every mucus-spraying gag.

“What is that... what’s wrong with you?! Do you have some kind of disease?!”

Ignoblus’ W-shaped eyes began to tear up. “I... didn’t know you cared!”

“I’m going to have to get back to you... yes, and bring me the head of Walt Disney!” she slammed her nano-phone shut. “Now, for what unimportant trivia have you forgotten your manners to interrupt me with?”

“Uh... it doesn’t seem very important now. Something about Captain 7 turning the Mathless Brigade into double agents, or something like that. I wasn’t really paying all that much attention... she called at the same time Morning with Mortch was on, and you know how much I love that show.”

“You and your variety shows!” chortled the Countess. “You’ll be the death of- what?! She got them on our side?! Excellent news!” she telepathically signaled the tower’s CPU to descend the disco balls, and funky music filled the cavernous control room.

“Today we quell this uprising... once or for all!” Ignoblus shouted over the blaring techno.

***

“And that’s why we told her we were on her side,” Commander Guesstimate pleaded to the Councilors. The Ectomorphic Delegation had already been partly-formed; it consisted of the Embrosians, the Loyal Royals, and the sporadic rebel groups that grew out of popular discontent with the math-laden rule of the Countess. But only by bringing the Mathematicians back into the fold could the Delegation be complete.

The councilors whispered back and forth for a moment. The hushed judiciary process had Guesstimate’s hair standing on end. Suddenly, one of the councilors shouted, “CAPTURE THE FLAG!”

Rushing forward, Guesstimate’s men seized the Bubblonian flag and absconded with it. The councilors swiveled in their turret-seats, missing sporadically. Missiles collided with the Council Chamber walls, detonating harmlessly. The Mathless Brigade recovered the flag without a single loss.

“Well done,” said the Supreme Councilor, Justice Manbeak. “You have passed trial by combat. It appears that you have acted justly.”

Guesstimate knelt, bowing his head. The fifteen minutes he spent training his rebels in the holosphere had certainly paid off.

“For the Ectomorphic Delegation!” he shouted. The assembled company took up the cry, and the Halls of Deliberation rang with the voices of freed men.

***

“Prepare my escape pod!” the Countess screamed into her communications collar.

“I’m sorry, m’Lady,” came the electronic reply, “Wahaugh. Hoook!”

“Ignoblus! I said, prepare my escape pod!”

“I’m sorry, m’Lady,” the squid replied, “But after I lowered the citadel’s... wheeeeeeeze... force shields and detonated the... scrnuff... detonated the armory, I’m afraid I also- HRAAAGH- I also used your pod to escape the planet.”

“Ignoblus, you TRAITOR!”

“M’Lady, I opened the door for the true king. If I recall, it was you- Snnnnrk- you who committed treason.”


Artist’s rendering of the one true king.

The countess turned away, fuming. She crushed the collar with her fist. If only there was some way to recover the situation...

***

“M’Lady?” the squid inquired. Dead air greeted him.

“Do I look like a lady to you? I’m a seven year old boy!” King Prince frustratingly explained, holding out his hands in a gesture that said, “what’s wrong with your brain?!”

“You humans and your subtlety,” Ignoblus grunted, a viscus goo dripping from the back of his head. “You- kagh! Khaaaaa! Ha-khaaaa!”

Prince turned his head, hoping to avoid childhood trauma... too late.

“The sight of that intelli-squid vomiting up its organs... will haunt my dreams, and cause me to become a bitter old man, unable to form meaningful relationships,” he groaned to himself. “But at least I cannot be further traumatized!”

“Yay!” the rebels cheered as they rushed the courtyard, taking out the Countess’ remaining Prime Number Squad. Their victory cries were like butter in the King’s ears, as he watched the creature press a tentacle against its head to relieve the pressure. The squid’s head throbbed visibly for a moment, and then stopped after a small popping noise.

“My sinuses are clearing up now,” Ignoblus slurped. “So, I hear you’re going to need a new high-ranking squid to bring the pods into the Delegation, eh? Well sir, I’m the intelli-squid for you! I’m hyper-intelligent, boring, covered in parasites, I eat ten times my... own... body weight...”

Commander Ignoblus stopped listing his qualifications as he noticed the king lying on the ground, shaking. The small boy’s eyes were twitching rapidly, much faster than normal. His lips were rolled up, but his teeth were clenched, and small bubbles were forming at the corners.

“Aw, dude!” was all Ignoblus could think of before a rebel jopper-hopper kicked in the tower doors, screaming obscenities in a long-lost language.

“Vous avez tourné mon roi dans la colle!”

“No! No, it wasn’t me!” the shifty squid’s optic nerves darted about as he tried to explain why the king was lying on the floor twitching while he was walking about in full military regalia. It didn’t help that he was holding four types of laser-weapons, and was standing on one of the king’s hands.

“Maintenant, vous payerez votre régicide!”

“I don’t understand what you just said! Ah-chum! Hhha-cawgh! Khawgh! Gluh!”


Luckily, Ignoblus’ lawyers explained everything through pantomime.

***

“And that’s the story of how I became the unquestioned ruler of the Ectomorphic Delegation,” Matriarch Catry said, closing the illuminated manuscript. The materials composing the book itself was priced beyond money, but its symbolic value was worthless.

“Are there any further questions?” she asked the small gathering of children. It was always a pleasure to hear the story of how the Matriarch defeated her opponents by turning them against each other. How she did it remains a mystery, one that Catry promised to take with her to her deathbed. But only the Matriarch knew the truth about the death of King King, the ascension and fall of King Prince, and the whereabouts of the evil Countess.

“Matriarch?” peeped a child of about seven. “What happened to the Mathless Brigade?”

“I’m glad you asked me that question,” she yelled at the top of her lungs right into his face, hoping to discourage future questions. “The Mathless Brigade transformed from a ragtag under-supported military tag-team to a state-of-the-art world-class football team. They were inducted into the hall of fame for their relentless goal-keeping in the World Cup 2939034.”

***

“Well done, team! We’ve made it to the semi-finals!” the red-faced coach gloated.

“I knew my men would make it,” said Guesstimate, whose hair had gone gray.

The entire Mathless Brigade had aged twenty years, since the War of the Numbers. They’d won every game this season by kicking the “ball” into the scoreboard. The Mathless Brigade hated numbers, and it only exacerbated the matter when the standard regulation pig-skin was traded in for photon torpedoes.

“Well, you boys done me proud,” the coach congratulated, his arteries throbbing with each word.

“Hey, coach...”

“What is it, soldier?”

“Think fast!”


He caught the pie, but missed the atomic football.

7.20.2006

Is Super-Intelligent Toast Possible?

Evidence uncovered by an Icelandic expedition of bread crusts floating near a deep-sea trench has fueled speculation among the scientific community that the radiation produced by underwater chasms has a direct correlation on the number of toast points that become sentient in any given year.


Toast, our newest enemy?

The originator of the "Liquid Toast," or "Toastido Radiation Theory" theory is Dr. Elias Stottlebottom, brother of the late anti-water activist Nigel Stottlebottom. In 1963, Dr. Stottlebottom announced his doctoral thesis to an uncaring, unprepared world. At first, few believed the precocious young doctor. But when a 1987 seaquake off the coast of Micronesia led to a surprising increase in the number of semi-intelligent humans, Stottlebottom's theory was given new life.


Dr. Elias Stottlebottom, fighting to keep our oceans toast-free.

"It's just so gratifying that after these years of neglect, my meticulously-detailed hypothesis is no longer being ridiculed. Even as we speak, no one is throwing eggs or toilet paper at my house! This is truly a great day for science," Stottlebottom is allegedly reported to have said under duress.

While the Toastido Radiation Theory is growing in supporters, there is still some dissent. Russ Vialovski, a Russian immigrant and father of two who works as a lab techinician at Zombietree Corps, had this to say:

"Zere ees no possibility of zis toast gaining- how you say- mental powers from zeese undervater vents. Ees as silly as sayink zat zee communist party fired nuclear missiles into ze vents. Eet ees simply impossible."

Other more skeptical scientists doubt the very existence of toast.

"We have no direct observational observations that any form of edible wheat exists," Dr. Hugo of the Celery Institute of South Wales said to us in misshapen letters scrawled on a stalk of celery. "The only edible foodstuff is celery, and celery derivatives, such as celery juice and cats."


Celery and cats, the two main food groups.

When reached for comment, the International Toast Aficionados (an organization designed to determine the intelligencosity of toast) declared rumors of intelligent toast to be maliciously untrue. Still, the great debate that started in a rogue scientist's garage is now drumming in the breakroom of every office, the tempest of every teapot. So when you take a bite out of breakfast tomorrow morning, just remember: that piece of toast could be smarter than your dog.

That is, if you live by a deep sea trench.

7.17.2006

Best of Captcha

While many people utterly despise the little word verification things that must be filled before posting a comment, others recognize it as an excellent way to prevent comment spam. As a robot, I'm forbidden to participate in this childish discussion; however, I am able to stop and smell the veridical roses, so to speak. By your powers combined, here you go.

This one made me sad.


This one scares me for reasons I can't understand.


This one made me timid for a few days.


Reminded me of that new show, "Psych!"


They misspelled New York...


I used to have some pogs... and that other part vaguely resembles that show Roboshrub likes, FLCL.


'Sup with you?


This one just sounds like some kind of police show.


Just rolls off the tongue; musical, isn't it?


This one is ours.


How 'bout a hot cup o' joe?


My gut told me you'd enjoy this.


You're looking at pron.


Isn't this pronounced "cyborg?"


This one's very secretive...


I'm filled with elation!


Google! Such language!


Aw, look at the cute little hindrance!


I've never seen such an active captcha.


Boom! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-awwwwwww!

7.16.2006

Anagrammatology

I met an old man in the woods one night, and as we crossed paths, he said to me,
"BEECH IF LOO ROTORS RUSTY STY US
BEECH IF LOO ROTORS RUTTY SYS US
BEECH IF LOO ROTOR TRUSTY SYS US
BEECH IF LOO ROTOR RUSTY SYST US."
I sure as hell never forgot him, or the world-weary look about him. He dressed so... dapper.

I declare this thread to be open.



Discussion Points:
-As technology changes the face of society, does mankind grow morally weaker?
-How many waffles could you eat, in one sitting?
-How much do you love Roboshrub Incorporated?

7.12.2006

A Story So Awesome That Words Cannot Correctly Render Its Sheer Vivacity

An Essay on the History and Culture of Robots
In Relation to the Universe Around Them
The First Roboshrub-Gyrobo Joint Compilation

*******

“As the metapirate sails through the minds of men, the cyberpirate raids the mind of a machine.”

In the village where Thothbot was born, this was a common saying.

“Don’t look for cyberpirates in the waters, or by the lonely shore. The terminals are where you are in the most peril.”

Again, the strange warnings, this one from his mothering unit. He had a core server family, with two to the second plus one sibling models. Thothbot never paid attention to the warnings: the big computers, the relics, were overly cautious. There was no defense against hackers or viruses, in their age.

Kaizokun Damashte was the most feared cyberpirate. He had no corporeal form, so many of the local robots claimed he was an old Dell’s tale. Still, late at night, nobody ventured into the IRC. Not even the most outspoken skeptics would access it. Why tempt fate?


A cyberpirate with an attitude, but a heart of solid gold. And gold kidneys.

Poor little Thothbot, however, made three fatal mistakes. The first was agreeing to go on some hippy nature hike. The second was asking an enigmatic clown for directions. The third... was tempting fate.

***

The sun was rising. Thothbot could feel his boxfans kicking into overdrive, a welcome start to a new day. His companion, Zitheron2, skateboarded up to him. “Are you ready to go?” she asked.

“No,” said Thothbot. “I hate these stupid trips.”

He saw the look on her face. “Jay slash kay! I am quite excited.”


“Excited, and coocoo for Cocoa Puffs!”

“El oh el,” Zitheron2 laughed as Thothbot slid his backpacking container on over his sleek aerodynamic casing. “Now come on, we do not want to miss the pre-hike brunch.”

“I can already taste the ozone,” Thothbot drooled as he struggled to keep up with his primary friend unit. “You know, the good kind of ozone, not the kind that spews out of Narroft when he overclocks.”

Thothbot increased the current to his pedal servos. “I am telling you, Zitheron2, he has tubes in his head.”

“That is not a very nice thing to say,” Zitheron2 scolded. “Narroft may be old, but he is the only reason we go on these hikes.”

“I know,” Thothbot admitted, rolling his optical sensor displays. “I just wish that just once, he would recode the protocols so we could go someplace fun.

“You just want to index the old abandoned server,” giggled Zitheron2.

“Why don’t you just go into standby for a while?” Thothbot said defensively, clanking up the steps of the village Octodome. The LED bulbs that capped each of the dome’s eight spires shone brightly against the inkjet-black sky. The sun reached its zenith and turned lime green, flickering for 5.6 seconds before becoming a steady glow of amber light.


Another beautiful day.

***

“By the Parser! Where is my SimSandwich?!” said Thothbot as he looked over at Zitheron2. The caterer had not shown up, delaying brunch to the point of futility. This was unimportant in the long run as the two wayward robot youths were the first and only ones to arrive at the Hall of Vinyl. “I cannot hike on a depleted power supply!”

“Do you have something to concatenate, proThothbot 4201C?” came a nonchalant voice from beyond the shadows. Indeed, the shadows would be mighty impressed by its sheer non-chalantness. This kind of nonchalant tone was the stuff mediocre legends were made of.

Thothbot cringed; he hated when Narroft used his full name. It always sounded so forced. And Narroft’s bland vocal subprocessor was incapable of rendering speech that wasn’t monotonous. Also, he spat fire when he talked. But the villagers were too polite to mention it to him.

“Negative, administrator Narroft.”

There was a pause. Narroft always paused after something was said to him, and his display printed “Deliberating...” for a few seconds before the ancient behemoth could splutter out an appropriate response.

“D-d-did you bring enough for everyone?” the Admin asked, his vocal synthesizers catching on the first syllable. One of his recording reels had been left out in the sun. It was warped and had a tendency to snag.


Warning: Robot decor may induce seizures.

“File does not exist!” Thothbot said, embarrassed and confused. “Pardon, administrator, but your query was nonsequititious.”

Narroft’s cooling fans droned louder, thrumming away as they kicked into overdrive. His display almost read, “Deliberating...” but segments of the digital green letters were missing, and others erratically added. Thick purple gases began spilling out of his ventilation shafts.

“Administrator. Report status? Are you experiencing technical malfunction?” Zitheron2 asked, her voice gaining a mechanical whine to indicate alarm.

There was another moment and Narroft said, “D-d-d-on’t go into the wa-a-a-a-ter-ter.” There was a loud banging noise from his chassis, and suddenly, all was quiet. The ozone cloud that had collected on the ground swirled, dissipating.

“At least we don’t have to go on that stupid hike,” intoned Thothbot. Zitheron2 swung around and hit him with her claw.

“Idiot!” she raged. “Administrator Narroft is defunct! Who will protect the village?”

“Protect the village from what?” he scoffed, telescoping his eyestalk inward to indicate nonchalance. “Seagulls? Don’t you compute? This is our chance to investigate the abandoned TCP/IP servers!”

She stared critically at him. “The abandoned servers are off limits.”

“There’s no administrator to stop us, now. Where’s your adventure drive?”

***

Another booming thunderclap registered on Thothbot’s auditory scanner. Five seconds later, a blinding flash of green light blazed through the sky, followed by another thunderclap 1.0021 seconds later. Thothbot could hear the frozen ice pellets spatter against his and Zitheron2’s casings.

“As I indicated previously, this is a fine day for a hike.”

“Indeed,” Zitheron2 beeped. “This day is within an acceptable percentage of awesome, as defined by the last Bureau of Comparative Statistics convention.”

“Still using that obsolete standard?” Thothbot chuckled derisively. “Everyone knows the Bureau of Comparative Statistics can’t hold a flashlight to the Bureau of Subjective Statistics in the area of defining relative terms.”

“They may be significantly better,” Zitheron2 hissed, “But in Cola War IV, which Bureau provided the fabricated statistics to help us win?”

“The Bureau of Comparative Statistics,” Thothbot grudgingly admitted. He knew she would defend the BCS, as it was founded by her 8x1016 forebot. Bureaucracy ran in her motor oil.

“Speaking of statistics, access your directional computer and relay our coordinates.”

“But... B-b-b-b-ut-ut-ut...” Thothbot sputtered.

“Don’t tell me you’re going Narroft on me now!” Zitheron2 said as she moved away slowly.

“I was just a little put off,” Thothbot groaned, adding a reverse echo to his voice, as young robots are wont to do. “Bee slash see, the whole trek into these barren woodlands, I assumed you were recording our location. My motion detector has been offline for most of today.”

Zitheron2 retracted her periscope in horror. “Contextual error in input type joke! Re-enter string.”

“I cannot do that, Zitheron2.”

“But if location equals unknown, we will surely starve of low power out here in these forsaken meadows! O cruel fate! O horrid-”

Zitheron2 never completed her Shakespearean monolog, for at that moment both robots picked up a low-pitched cackling sound coming from high above them. Refocusing their cameras on the branches, Thothbot and Zitheron2 began a binary search pattern to discern the source of the noise.

“Is anyone there?” Zitheron2 called out into the twisting treetops and swirling smog. There was someone... or something... up there.

“Orange you glad to see me?!”

Thothbot could hear it, and judging from Zitheron2’s expression, she had heard it too. There was definitely someone-

“Look out belowwwwww!”

Thothbot felt a blast of compressed air as Zitheron2 pneumatically shoved him out of the way, flaming aft rockets propelling her in the opposite direction. A split-second later, the air was full of gray smoke as a sizable mass impacted the rocky ground, spraying rocks and dirt every which way.

“Sputter! Choke! Audible wheeze!” said Thothbot as tiny wipers swished back and forth, cleaning the dust from his lenses. He turned to the newly-carved crater, which was still smoking and sizzling. A large figure quickly rose from the hole, flailing in the breeze.


“Are you Jimmy?”

“Ha ha! Nice trip! See you next fall!” snorted a warped, wobbly voice.

“Identify yourself.” Thothbot droned, using his most adult-sounding monotone filter. It made him sound impressive and more mature. At least, that’s what his mothering unit kept telling him.

“I am the court jester, you fool! Render unto me your oranges!”

“Jester?”

Standing before the two young robots, it bobbed up and down, side to side. A solid red sweater-vest with large yellow buttons... a stripped hat... sweat pants...

“I am the jester of the court of the disco king!”

Thothbot zoomed in on Zitheron2. “Zitheron2, have you conducted a search for ‘asterisk disco plus king asterisk?’”

“Affirmative! And negative, no matching results have been found!”

“Your identity cannot be confirmed,” Thothbot bravely told the stranger.

“Of course my identity cannot be confirmed!” he laughed, bending backward and forward, stretching and shrinking. “The disco king is no longer in charge! It happened many years ago. Would you like to hear the tale, children? Or should I say... protégé?!

“If we listen to his story, he will be 36% more likely to give us acceptable coordinates,” whispered Thothbot to Zitheron2 via a high-pitched wireless connection that only the young could receive.

“We respond in the affirmative to your story request, however must stipulate that upon completion, we are given accurate directions to the nearest village.” was their joint response.

The stranger’s eyes lit up. Not metaphorically, but literally. Lights started going off behind his eyes, shimmering all the colors of a Sierpinski prism. He must be part Compaq, Thothbot thought to himself.

“Four times ten to the Niels Bohr years ago,” the stranger began to rant, his mouth moving vigorously to accentuate every word, “There was... an orange tree. And on that tree there grew an- no! There grew hundreds of oranges! And there, on branches of solid gold, they sat for eons, waiting.

Thothbot heard a dinging sound coming from Zitheron2’s stomach cavity. “What was...?”

“I thought one of us should make some snack-rations.” She handed him a recycled paper mache bucket filled to the brim with buttered mecha-nutritional supplement #8.

“Mmmmmm! My emotional simulator insists I greatly enjoy mecha-nutritional supplement #8!”

“But all was not blissful for the orange tree,” the stranger continued, pausing every few minutes to break his speech by contorting his face into a different emotional state. “Here... I’ll show you.”

And he held out his right hand. As he opened his fist, Thothbot could see a small, orange, irregularly shaped ellipsoid. “What is it?”

“This... is an orange,” the stranger said as he handed the small object to Thothbot. “I give it to you as a symbol of our mutual trust. For you see, back in the days of evil Human empire, when the orange was unjustly plucked from its rightful origin, the humans would give them to each other as symbols of trust. Just as I gave this orange,” he tapped the ellipsoid, “to you. As with most traditions, it began with the elite, the rich, the aristocrats. But over time, the number of orange trees grew and even the unwashed could afford to own them.”

“That was a very uninteresting an uninformative story. At no point did you mention the disco king, and you have not helped us in any conceivable way.” Zitheron2’s analytical skills where said to be harsh. Harsh, but just.

“Your mothering unit makes for a very uninteresting and uninformative story,” replied the gesture offhandedly, a wicked grin upon his teeth.

“I take offense,” Zitheron2 output coldly.

“Careful! It’s heavy,” the stranger jested, bobbing impishly. “The offense, not the orange.” He cartwheeled backwards, laughing at his own stupid joke.

“Stop all functions!” called Thothbot as the jester tried to caper away. “Our agreement included directions to the nearest village. Information you must divulge.”

“Oh ho ho ho!” the jester cried, “Travel East, directly East, for that is where the seagulls go to die.” And, with that, the jester turned and the sun crackled from its amber shade to a rosy orange. The ice that was falling from the sky rippled and stopped, cloaking the disappearance of the clownish bot.

***

So they traveled East, in near silence, for Thothbot and Zitheron2 were uneasy. Their legs, designed for the level planes of the village streets, were clumsy in the rough wilderness around them, yet they managed to bypass each obstacle. They went over a farmer’s wall made from chunks of fiberglass and waded through a foamy bog of detergent and packing peanuts, were forced around a sandworm’s pit and crawled under a rusted razorwire screen. Finally they came to a cave in the heart of the wilds.

“That clown was not programmed for intelligence, artificial or otherwise!” Thothbot growled, “This is no village. It’s a dark and spooky cave.”

“Hush!” Zitheron2 commanded. “I’m picking up auditory information.” She ran a quick infrared scan of the cave, and screamed. “BEEEEEEEAR! DANGER, THOTHBOT, DANGER!”

Thothbot scoffed. “Bears don’t exist. They’re just an old Dell’s tale, to scare the newlings away from the woods,” he said. Then he did a double take. Then a triple. The bear emerged from its cave, massive and angry.


“Bear! Activate 80’s style montage sequence!”

Common sense dictated that they run away, back under the razorwire and around the pit and through the bog and over the wall. Children had performed this ritual since the age of humans, they knew. Thothbot prepared to do just that, until he picked up the humming sound next to him. He turned to see Zitheron2 charging her heat cannon.

Seconds later, the bear was dead, its eight-hundred pounds of muscle slouched into a crispy condition. The two stood in silence for some time.

“You know, they used to dress them up. In pink frilly things. Sometimes they juggled,” Thothbot said. He was a scholar-unit, and lazy though he was, he accumulated pointless facts with ease.

“Who would have known the heat cannon would work?” inquired Zitheron2.

“It seems more logical that to kill a bear would require a magical sword, or some such.”

“Doubleyoo slash eee. Let’s see what the bear was guarding. There is a 67.23% chance there’s treasure in that cave.”

“That may very well be,” Thothbot calculated, “but there’s also a 40.96% chance of more bears!”

But Zitheron2 would not- nay, could not be deterred. “Then we will walk among them, assimilate into their primitive bear civilization and learn their ways. Then we too will have the ability to juggle. Cease verbal communication!”

“I thought I was the adventurous one,” Thothbot grumbled.

Minimizing his pride, Thothbot followed Zitheron2 into the beckoning cavern. His optical accessors struggled to adapt to infrared light as he watched her vanish behind the towering stalagmites. I hope you compute what you’re doing, Zitheron2.

***

“Error. I cannot see it...”

“There!” Zitheron2 adjusted her illuminative beam to encompass a wide section of the cave wall. Aside from ancient graffiti, a stanza of gibberish was visible, scrawled against the grainy backdrop.

Advice:
Whosoever takes this gold
thus violates with impunity
the sanctity of this stronghold;
so keeping up with continuity,
those who deign to be so bold,
who sought Damashte’s space-time fold,
shall know the wrath of forced community
service.



Transcribed by the disco king, via a high-ranking minion.

“This writing style is indicative of the pirate subculture,” Zitheron2 whirred, her modem buzzing with the thrill of discovery. “I submit that we have stumbled upon the legendary treasure file of Kaizokun Damashte!”

“But-ut-ut-ut-ut...” Thothbot sputtered in rage, “Kaizokun Damashte was the greatest cyberpirate to ever hack! His treasure has had attribute: hidden applied to it since he originally hid it, back in the time of skateboards without engines!”

“Hidden, you say?” Zitheron2 withdrew her locomotive spring and hovered above the inscription. Wielding her mighty robotic claw, she smashed right through the cautionary text.


“Take that, cave wall!”

“Ziteron2! Are you experiencing malfunction?!”

“Negative.” She said, reaching into the newly-created cavity. A split-second later (.24 seconds to be precise), she pulled out her claw, and in it sat a single yellow object.

“Not another orange!”

“Thothbot, your library of arcane and obscure logic is incomplete. This is a bar of gold.”

“Gold?” puzzled Thothbot. “But didn’t gold go extinct millions of years ago?”

“Apparently not,” Zitheron2 seethed in anticipation. “We are now nominally rich! Prepare to transport mass quantities of precious metals, for today we-”

Zitheron2 was cut off mid-speech, as a loud banging sound erupted from the fissure, followed by a low buzzing. Thothbot could clearly observe the familiar flashing pattern of a cathode tube. “Zitheron2, what else lies behind the wall?”

Her cooling fan began to gear up, sending coolant to her dual-core explanation module. “Deliberating...” was her only reply.

“Zitheron2! Restatement of query!”

“Visual confirmation...” she paused. This was going to end badly. “Returns... terminals.”

“T-t-t-t-t-t-t-terminals?!” Thothbot’s vocal subunit crackled, unable to properly mask his apprehension. “Zitheron2, we are in the server? Have you forgotten how often we have been warned about terminal-related peril?! Repeatedly! By people we’ve become accustomed to!”

“Can you lower your volume, Thothbot? It vexes me.”

“My volume is adequate for the stimulus of the situation!”

Zitheron2 was about to cut a cunning reply, one for the history books. Her neural networks spent the better part of three teraflops composing an all-encompassing response to Thothbot’s panic, complete with original metaphors, Socratic ethical dilemmas, and the most vivid of imagery. But fate can be a poor sport, and this four-leafed clover of an analogy was not to be. For just as Zitheron2 pumped enough electrons to her speaker, enough to give form to her thoughts, a booming vox echoed through the wall; each monitor blinked a sickly blue.

“Wh0 d4r3s d3f1l3 th3 tr34sur3 0f K41z0kun D4m4sht3?! Sp34k, y3 unw0rthy!”

“proThothbot 4201C!” Thothbot squeaked, shaking in his deadbolts. “S/N 789-B09G-D76!”

“Y0u h4v3 d1sturb3d th3 4nc13nt gr0unds 0f th3 tw1st3d squ4r3 r00ts! H4v3 y0u 4 r34s0n f0r y0ur tr4nsgr3ss10n?!” it roared. Neither Thothbot nor Zitheron2 could hone in on the vox’s location; it was as if a stereo was behind every crag and rock in this dreary repository of doom.

“We... we came here on official business! From the village!”

Thothbot stared at Zitheron2 with the kind of awe one feels when one’s best friend just walked up behind a big surly guy with a tattoo shaped like a man getting his head torn off, hits the guy, and runs behind me before making chicken noises. It wasn’t funny!

“Seriously!” she continued, pausing to garbage collect. “We came here to procure all your worthless gold, because our village’s dear administrator is now defunct! Only by molding new copper... I mean, new gold connectors can he live once more! We need him desperately to protect our defenseless little backwater of an excuse for a municipality from monsters such as yourself.”

The vox hesitated. Thothbot suspected the wait wasn’t the result of slow processing power, but a deliberate attempt to build suspense.

“D3l1b3r4t1ng...”

Thothbot looked over at Zitheron2. Zitheron2 looked over at Thothbot. Immediately they each let out a primitive hooting sound, fired their skateboard engines, and jetted toward the cavern mouth as fast as they could.

“D3l1b3r- h3y! Wh4t th3 d1ll10?!”

“In the name of the Parser, Compiler, and Runtime Engine! Faster, Thothbot! We’re almost to the ‘Exit’ sign! You must exceed maximum recommended motion protocols, or we shall both be voided!”

“Why d03s 3v3ry0n3 l34v3 m3?!”

One by one, each terminal lived up to its name by terminating in successive detonations. Skating fast, sharp concussions blew chunks of slate at the young robots. “Adjust attitude 40 degrees! 45 degrees! Negative 1 degree!”

Thothbot tumbled out of the gaping maw of the terminus, Zitheron2 a millimeter behind him. “Did we escape within an acceptable margin of error?”

“Deliberating...” Zitheron2 entered all known variables into her probabilities array. “If the evil essence that harangued us is incapable of leaving the server, then yes, we have escaped.”

“Correction.” Zitheron2 blinked at Thothbot, a querying look on her screen. “We have escaped... with gold!” Opening his backpacking container, Thothbot pulled out one of exactly 67 bars of prehistoric gold.

“Your precious metals and city-slicking will do us no good,” Zitheron2 spat at Thothbot. “For we, two wayward and rambunctious robot youths, are lost in this unforgiving wilderness.”

“Maybe not...” Thothbot thoughtfully retrospected, stroking his chin as if he had a beard. “Zitheron2, do you remember when, earlier in our timestamp, I told you of my foolish designs to index the old abandoned server?”

“True.”

“Zitheron2, to formulate the original plan, it was required to download maps indicating a path from the village to the server. We are currently at the server! By simply reversing the polar coordinates, we can plot a course back home!”

“Holy heuristics!” exclaimed a relieved Zitheron2. “You’ve managed to successfully rectify this terrible situation you were directly responsible for creating! And with a net gain!” she gestured at the gold-filled container.

“My friend,” Thothbot extended a welcoming claw. “We don’t need cursed pirate gold to generate a net gain.” Grabbing the sack with both claws, as well as four auxiliary claws that appear only when the state of affairs calls for them, he hoisted his generic-brand backpack up by its own petard. Letting out a mighty synthesized whine, he catapulted the gold with as much strength as his system would allow.

“Look at the air I got on that thing!” he said in awe as the two watched bars of gold rain down on the dense woodland as the backpack approached the horizon.

“So now we have a net gain of zero. Correction: a net loss, as the power we depleted on this fool’s errand exceeds any expected recompense.”

“No recompense? Zitheron2, search your temporary memory cache for file ‘fun’ and then tell me there was no benefit.”

“Deliberating...” she said slyly.

“Well?” Thothbot grinned.

“My temporary memory cache suggests... we need to return to the village, or our parenting units will degauss us.”

“Function returns true,” Thothbot laughed, keeping up as she kicked her skateboard module into overdrive.


“Last one to the village has to tell Narroft that ‘Google’ is a verb!”

***

The story you just heard is 100% true. All the people and places depicted are not fictitious. The village in the story is based on an actual metropolis of sentient robots located 45 miles north of Spokane, Washington. However, Kaizokun Damashte is in fact not a real cyberpirate, but the name of a diner on 1010001st street. Their Thursday special is fried scorpion surprise, priced at a very reasonable $4.99. Parts of this story were filmed on location in Redcliff, California, Petrograd, Russia, and the Commonwealth of Intergalactic Mayhem.

7.08.2006

Virtual Delicatessan

At 04:30 EST this morning, every tongue on the North American continent licked its owner's lips reflexively. This was in response of the birth of the beta model of the Sim Sandwich, Roboshrub Incorporated's latest innovation.


Wow! Does it come with a visor? And some rediculous gloves?!

There's no visor, and no rediculous gloves. The Sim Sandwich isn't a hologram or a trick of the light. It's a fold in reality created when a "mayo" quark collides with an anti-"provolonian" quark. By bombarding an empty ziploc bag with these mysterious particles in a controlled laboratory process known as "Kissing the Cook," a physical object of pure information is created.


Full of Nutramins, Uberfibres, and Other Nonexistant Dietary Necessities.

It's so simple, even a child can enjoy it. There are three easy steps to enjoying the SimSandwich: Masticate, Digest and Excrete.

"But, sir," you might ask (you are respectful, aren't you?), "Is it safe to masticate, digest and excrete a powerful rift in space-time?"

Safe? Why, it isn't just safe! It's delicious! Haven't you ever wanted to eat a pocket of condensed possibility so intangible that it simultaneously tasted of every single clammin' thing in the known our universe? I know I have. And the best part is, there's no foreseeable way that these sandwiches could become sentient and grow to hate their masters.


You really should buy our extended warranty.

7.04.2006

Alexander Hamilton Gonna Stick You With A Shiv

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Independence Hall
September 17, 1787
9:41 P.M.


“We set out today to bring into this world a new form of document-”

“Pink belly! Pink belly!” the delegates chanted, interrupting George Washington mid-speech.

Elbridge Gerry groaned as Alexander Hamilton hit him repeatedly across the stomach. The constitutional convention may have been over, but the party was just starting.

“Ow! George! Ow! Help me, George!”

George Washington looked on; it was not his place to interfere with the legislative process.


“Pink Belly! Pink Belly!”

“Okay, Al. That’s enough,” said a small voice from the back of the chamber. James Madison walked over to the brawl, tapping Hamilton on the back with his (then in vogue) walking stick. “Break it up.”

“Come on, Jemmy!” protested Gouverneur Morris. “We all know Elbridge deserves it!”

The delegated nodded readily; Madison could even hear a few of them hissing at him for his unwanted intrusion.

“He’s a power-mad grubber! Bad!” Hamilton kicked the Jeffersonian Republican in the ribs.

“You see why we need a bill of rights?” asked Madison derisively at the congregation. “There’s no law preventing us from doing this kind of thing.”

“Yeah, but there’s a good reason we didn’t write a national bill of rights,” Hamilton grunted as he hoisted Gerry over his shoulders. Limping to the open veranda, he tossed the man over the railing and into a pile of firewood.

“Ahhhh! Splinter!” were the last words anyone heard from Elbridge Gerry before the window slammed shut, locking him out of the after-party discussion.

“Okay, Mr. Hamilton, why don’t you enlighten me as to why you think we don’t need a bill of rights?”

“I’ve already told you a thousand times,” Hamilton shouted over the wiffleball match that was breaking out between the South Carolinian and Pennsylvanian delegations. “We don’t need a formal bill of rights because the constitution is a bill of rights. Get it?”

“No,” Madison yelled to be heard over Charles Pinckney as the man ran a victory lap around the Pennsylvanian delegates.

“If we start listing rights, then what about the rights that aren’t listed?” Hamilton pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow. “Sorry Jemmy, but a bill of rights would limit our rights, not protect them. Can you not see the flawless, machine-driven logic in my plan?”

“Yes, but we haven’t said that there are any rights reserved to the people at all! We need to make some mention that there are rights that-”


A heated debate between the greatest thinkers of the time.

The rest of his sentence got cut off as a ceiling panel collapsed, dropping a stunned Elbridge Gerry onto the unsuspecting delegates. The elder statesman rose to his feet, his clothing tattered, his hair covered in wood shavings.

“How did you get back in here?!” bellowed George Washington, whose tri-cornered hat had been knocked off in the fall, revealing a large tattoo across his shaven scalp. It was said that this tattoo endowed him with superhuman strength and the ability to see the future.

“Mind your own business! This is my impression of you: ‘I’m Ge-orge Washing-ton. I think I’ll go to Happy Town and drink a gallon of cheap maple syrup.’ You like that, funny man?!” Elbridge wheezed, trying to stand up straight. He was having a hard time, what with the wooden Massachusetts shoes and all.

Madison shifted uncomfortably. “We still need to seriously consider a national bill of rights...”

“Okay, fine!” Hamilton pouted. “You can have your puny, pathetic bill of rights! But just so you know, I won’t be helping you. Write them yourself.”

“But that could take days... hey, who wants to do a bill of rights?”

In rapid succession, the delegates let off a stream of “not it” until at last Madison was about to conceed the whole thing. The room became as quiet as a fresh mowed lawn as everyone waited with bated breath to hear the stunning reversal. Madison took a deep breath through his nostrils, opened his lips slightly, and looked Hamilton right in the eye.

“Mister Hamilton-”

“WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Everyone in the room was jolted out of their respective skins as a loud holler erupted from the front doors, which were kicked in by none other than...

“Thomas Jefferson!”

“That’s my name, stagecoach!” Jefferson jeered at the framers. “I wanted to be here sooner, but I got held up at the store. You believe they want $0.04 for an almanac?! Well, I set them right. It was really funny. What I did was, I got a dog and a mule...”

It was then that Jefferson noticed how quiet the room was, and how everyone’s eyes were fixated on him.

“Hey, Madison, what are you guys looking at?”