“Really? I heard you could get up to 40 miles per gallon on those things,” Simon orated, taking a sip of his iced tea. It was one of the few times that his honed small-talking skills came in handy.
It was truly a beautiful day on the backwoods planet. The recent heat wave inflaming Hacknor’s fragile, paper-thin atmosphere had finally dissipated. Definitely time to just lay back and enjoy the summer. A few feet away, Simon could see Hudson floating by in an inner tube, sporting a pair of old-man sunglasses and a jumpsuit. Next to Simon, Randy Porkins downed yet another Pepsi. Ah, how he loves his diet wild cherry Pepsi. He purses his lips for another delicious, refreshing blast of flavor... but... what the dillio?!
“Hey!” Randy cried, interrupting their unimportant conversation regarding Yoda’s decision to purchase a hybrid war elephant. “This can is empty!”
“Of course it is, you silly man,” Simon laughed, bringing his own brimming beverage up to meet his own chapped, chapped lips. “You’ve drunk the whole thing! Ha, you and your soda-hunger!”
“No, man, I didn’t... I didn’t finish... what is this?!” he turned the can upside down and squinted hard. “It looks like someone drilled a hole
in the side of the can!”
“No need to thank me!” I screamed, clamping my cold, clammy hands down on each of their necks at the same time. Randy let off a “ho, woah!” and did a double take. Simon wasn’t so fortunate and spent about thirty seconds coughing iced tea out his nose, convulsing like a slug under a salt-o-scope.
♪ Clammy hands... I've got those clammy hands... ♬
“You!” Simon gasped mid-cough. “How did you get past security?!”
“There’s no time for that, man!” I shouted, pointing at Hudson’s inner tube; unscrewing the cap off a water bottle, Hudson raised it slowly... almost too
slowly. “That man is out of time!”
Deploying my disintegration field generator, I fired a pinkish beam (is there any other kind?) at the colonial marine. A split-second before his mouth met with the plastic rim, Hudson’s water bottle vanished, its atoms scattered about the cosmos like so many neutrinos.
” Hudson screamed, accidentally capsizing the tube. I turned back to Simon and Randy. Surely Hudson could swim. He was, after all, captain of his high school lifeguarding team.
“Do you see?! Do you see now why it was so important to prevent you from drinking that Pepsi?!”
“Because... you’d vaporize us if we did?”
“No,” I groaned, pulling a blackboard out of my pocket. With a pretty big piece of orange chalk, I drew a tulip, and a catfish. “There!”
Randy rooted around in the cooler for another Pepsi. Little did he know they were all completely drained.
Simon was paying a lot more attention to the board, as his inquisitive nature demonstrated.
“What do these two things have in common?” I asked, tapping the tulip and catfish, respectively. “Anyone?”
“They’re both poorly drawn.”
I shook my head in disgust, crocodile tears rolling down my spray-painted cheeks. The rubber radiation suit squeaked as it contoured to my spine.
“Back in the 16th
century, the tulip saw Europe for the first time.” I rapped the board hungrily. “The lowest part of Europe, actually. The Netherlands.”
“The Netherlands are located in the northern-”
I didn’t turn my head back to yell at Simon, but I assumed from the abrupt delimitation of his sentence that Randy had intervened. Possibly a stare, perhaps a hand gesture. Either way, it was immaterial.
“When tulips first reached Europe, they were seen as worthless rubbish. In fact, the word ‘tulip’ comes from the Manx word ‘umogo’ which roughly translates as ‘superconductive metallic fluid.’”
“Was this before or after the English War of the Tulips?” asked Simon. If I’d been paying attention, I would’ve noticed the glazed look in his eyes. Months of working with me had allowed him to hone his ability to tune out non sequiturs and instead adapt them temporarily to his logical faculties. Randy hadn’t mastered that yet, so instead stuck to the old “chameleon” trick, blending as closely into the background as he could.
“After, but time travel was used to get tulips back to 11th
“Of course! How could I have been so flame retardant?”
“It’s easy at your age,” I agreed, causing him to make the most saccharine face I’d ever seen on a judge.
I reached for another piece of chalk, yellow this time, and drew something that looked a little like Captain Crunch.
“This is—or rather, he was—the king of the Netherlands at the time tulips hit. At first, everyone loved them. The economy went... through the roof!” I yelled, shooting off a bottle rocket. Everyone loves bottle rockets! Go, rockets, go!
“And the king... did he ratchet the price of a single tulip bulb up to a thousand florins... out of spite?” Randy asked. He was finally starting to understand.
“Yes! The king of the Netherlands personally raised the price of tulips up to unimaginable levels just to cause an inevitable economic collapse!”
“But golly, professor,” Simon pondered, “why would the king want to go and do something like that for?”
He was jealous... jealous of their eyes.
“I don’t know, Timmy. I really don’t know.” I bowed my head. “Wait, I do
Tapping the board nonchalantly, I smiled at Simon and Randy’s expectant faces. “The catfish.”
“What about the catfish?” Randy asked, gripping the cushion of his poolside recliner.
“The catfish...” I began, peering over them.
“Yes?!” They both shouted in unison.
“The catfish... are a tasty treat from Louisiana.”
Their smiles instantly faded, turning into bitter confusion. Sliding my hands into my pockets, I handed Randy a photo of a panda, dressed in a tutu. As I walked away, I could hear Randy stuttering.
“I... I j-just wanted a Pepsi!”
“I know, big guy. I know. Professor!” He called. “Professor, what about all the cans of soda you drilled through?!”
“Subterfuge!” I shouted back, as my jet-powered time machine began to chime. As far as I could tell from the dials and cathodes, emptying all those cans had prevented World War III, and retroactively prevented World War II. It’s a good thing I care so much. And I do care... so much... about everyone.
It’s a shame it’s my destiny to destroy the world by making Superman retire. But the oracle is never wrong.