The Great Phone Directory of the Earth and neighbouring planets (Jupiter not included) / Chapters 7 to 12

The Great Phone Directory of the Earth and neighbouring planets (Jupiter not included)Continua la pubblicazione anche in inglese del “Grande Elenco Telefonico della Terra e pianeti limitrofi (Giove escluso)”, grazie alla sapiente traduzione di Paola Corazza.

Se volete seguire “Il Grande Elenco della Terra…” potete farlo qui, su Macchianera, oppure utilizzare Facebook: questa è la pagina italiana; questa quella inglese. Ovviamente non ce la prendiamo affatto se invitate i vostri amici a seguirlo.


(…previous chapters)

7

Il Grande Elenco Telefonico della Terra e pianeti limitrofi (Giove escluso)– You were telling me it’s a problem for you if I hang up.

Exactly.

– May I ask you why?

Well: given that the Supreme Sidereal Controlling Authority for Personal Data cannot do wrong and, as far as we know, has never done wrong, there must have been a connection problem, or something like that, that has diverted my call to your day, your month, your year, and your telephone number.

– Yes, could be. And now?

And now we have three problems. The first one is that if you do hang up I am not sure I will be able to talk to someone who will answer from the right day, month and year. The second one is that, if nobody else will answer, the chances for that same contact to redirect me to you again are, frankly speaking, rather slight. The third, and more serious right now, I must say, is that we have spent or exchanged all we had for this trip, so this is the last call we can afford.

– The last call?

Exactly. We found a small metallic disk in a little hole inside the telephone.

– A small metallic disk? A coin, you mean?

I have no idea. The telephone at first was giving out the engaged tone, so we inserted the small metallic disk, and it started working. But it won’t give it back.

– So you are calling from a phone booth?

Exactly.

– I thought they had all disappeared.

Well, this one seems to be actually here, and working.

– And there’s really nobody around who may lend you another coin?

You keep forgetting what I have already explained: we haven’t met anyone on this planet.

– Maybe everybody is sleeping.

On both hemispheres?

– You are right. Can you tell me were you are right now? What can you see from there?

A huge billboard with “We’ll be back soon” written on it, and this phone booth.

– What else?

Nothing else.

– Since you’ve arrived all you have seen is a phone booth, a billboard and nothing else?

Well, some water as well. A lot of it.

– Let me think…Can’t you jump on your starship and go back home?

What is a starship?

– Excuse me, but how exactly did you get on the Earth?

That’s a really weird question. In the usual way, how else?

– What usual way?

By trolleybus.

– By what?

By trolleybus, never heard of them? They are like proper buses, but guided by wires. We bought our tickets, got on the bus, took a seat, had a nice sing-along for a while, and got off at the Earth bus stop.

– This means that, sooner or later, that same trolleybus will be passing again. If the bus stop is there…

The bus stop “Earth” is not a regular stop: when you get on the bus you must explain to the driver that you are bound there, so he will deviate from the original route, and take you there. Besides, considering that this planet is deserted, I can see why they decided to cut out the bus stop from the official itinerary.

– You are saying that the driver is never going to come back and pick you up?

Of course not: we came here to stay, to settle down. Not for a single moment we thought we would go back to where we come from. And we could have never imagined we would find your planet in such a state.

– Listen, I’m looking out of the window now, and what I see is a planet in perfect conditions. Well, okay, let’s say in good conditions. I see people in the streets, children in parks, super-high buildings packed with people working. How could all this be gone in forty years’ time?

I would say even less than that: judging from the debris we have found, analysed and gathered on unflooded lands, I suspect that on this planet nobody has bothered to water the plants for at least twenty years.

– I just can’t seem to figure this out.

You could, say, have all gone on vacation.

– For twenty years? All six billions of inhabitants?

I don’t see anything strange in it. That’s what we did: we all left our planet to reach the Earth together with our loved ones.

– How many families?

Well, I can’t tell you exactly how many, just like that. All the families living on the planet, for sure.

– I don’t think I’ve quite got that one: how many of you landed on the Earth?

Including me?

– As you wish.

Including me, three billion, one hundred sixty-eight million, four hundred thousand eleven, seven hundred and twenty-nine people.

– And these three billion people or more… they’re all there with you right now?

Of course not: they are all waiting outside the phone booth.


8

Il Grande Elenco Telefonico della Terra e pianeti limitrofi (Giove escluso)– You’re telling me that if you look out of the phone booth you see three billion people there?

…and one hundred sixty-eight million, four hundred thousand eleven, seven hundred and twenty-nine.

– And what are they doing?

They are waiting.

– Waiting for what?

For you to tell me something useful.

– I think I have already explained that there is no way for me to help you, I’m afraid.

Yes, but anyway, if you do not mind, I would prefer to wait until this conversation ends to tell them. I really don’t want them to get depressed.

– But we don’t know how long this conversation will last…

Exactly.

– So they have no idea that you got lost in the middle of the galaxy and that nobody is coming to pick you up?

Exactly: right now I am smiling and nodding my head as if you were giving me the most valuable life-saving information.

– Of course. Why don’t you also make the “ok” sign with your thumb, come on!

I could, for sure, if our race had thumbs.

– You have no thumbs?

No.

– Not a very pleasant thing.

It’s quite uncomfortable, actually, but you get used to it.

– We brag about being an evolved species precisely because we have opposable thumbs.

I didn’t quite get that one: you think you are more civilized just because a finger sprouted in a weird place?

– It didn’t sprout. It was already there. At one point it changed of place and became, as I was saying, opposable to the other fingers.

So, if I have understood correctly, you decided you have the right to rule over your planet only on the grounds that you are the only race provided with an opposable thumb.

– No, no, hang on: also monkeys have opposable thumbs, you know.

What are monkeys?

– In theory, they are the animals we descend from: a long time ago, we were monkeys.

You mean that an animal is something that has not evolved.

– Erm… No. Let’s say that it has evolved independently, in a different way from us. A little less.

Animals cannot do the same things that you do?

– Not really. Let’s put it this way: an animal understands less things. You tell an animal to bring you the slippers, and the animal will bring you the slippers. It recognizes only a few words, a few precise orders.

First of all, I really don’t understand why is it so important for you that an animal brings you the slippers.

– That way we don’t have to make the effort to get up.

You mean that slippers are located at quite a distance, usually?

– No, they may be in the other room, but this is not the point.

Now, you tell me what the point is.

– Well, to begin with, that animal is happy to bring us the slippers.

Is it happy for real, or just making you believe so?

– No, I would say it is happy.

And how can you tell?

– Well, each animal has a different way to show it. Dogs, for instance, wag their tail.

What does it mean?

– They move their tail very rapidly.

And how can you tell that when they move their tail very rapidly it means they are happy?

– It’s our own conclusion that they are.

Have you ever asked them?

– Dogs – and all animals in general – cannot speak.

And this gives you the right to draw conclusions on their behalf?

– Well, no…

Or to ask them non-sense things like to bring you the slippers, as if slippers could not come over by themselves?

– Could not… what?

Call them. Just call them, and watch them coming.

– The slippers?

Sure.

– Slippers are not alive.

You are kidding, I hope.

– They are lifeless things.

You are telling me that you, as a habit, wear dead slippers?

– No, hang on…They are just… things… made of fabric. They were never alive before. We buy them already as they are.

Already dead.

– You mean that yours are alive?

Alive and kicking.

– You just call them, and they will come?

No, that’s not enough…

– There, I knew it!

…You have to say “please”, of course.

– And then it is possible for you to wear them?

Only if they feel like it.

– I see. Anyway, I wanted to assure you that our slippers don’t get killed.

You wait for them to die?

– No, no, we’re on the wrong track here, I really can’t make myself clear. Like before, with the opposable thumb thing.

I think I have understood perfectly. You consider your own race superior to any other on the planet on the basis of groundless reasons and alleged anatomical advantages.

– No, you’re wrong here. The advantage of having opposable thumbs is not at all relative: it is, probably, one of the things that has enabled us to evolve and to learn how to handle and manufacture objects… We need our hands, more than our feet – that have no opposable thumbs – to survive.

But you told me that even monkeys have got hands.

– Exactly.

So, what’s the difference between you? They have no feet?

– No. Well, yes, they have no feet. They have two other hands instead.

Ha ha! Monkeys have four hands!

– Yes, well, everybody knows.

So this means no less than four opposable thumbs against your scanty two.

– Yes, exactly.

See I was right?


9

– Listen, all I see is that it’s getting late and I don’t even know how long I’ve been on the phone with you. Besides, thanks to this nice chat I haven’t had the time to get something to eat.

I believe that the true reason why you have not eaten yet is exclusively that you haven’t made your mind up about what you want to eat.

– I can assure you, it’s definitely not as you say. But now – I know I’m going to regret this – I’m curious: what makes you so sure about that?

It’s not difficult, you really don’t need to be an Encephalophage Wiglet to know that you haven’t got the faintest idea of how to get proper nutrition.


Click here to enlarge

– Encephawhat?

Encephalophage Wiglets.

– And… what are they?

Oh, they are frail, cute and lovely multicolored little birds, who live on our planet chirping happily. They come in a weird shape.

– What do you mean… weird?

How do you call that thing people with no hair put on their heads?

– You mean… a hat?

No, no, it goes under the hat.

– Oh, wigs, not wiglets. They are made of fake hair.

Call them what you like. Over here we call them Encephalophage Wiglets, they are made of real hair and they fly. Basically, they are wigs with wings.

– They are like the slippers?

Slippers do not fly.

– No, I mean: are they alive like the slippers?

I have never seen anything more alive. But I’ll tell you something else: Encephalophage Wiglets look so frail and helpless you almost feel like holding them in your hands to protect them from the rest of the world. But… no!

– No?

No: they get their nourishment in a rather bizarre manner.

– What do you mean?

As their name reveals, they are encephalophage: they love eating brains.

– Look, I personally can’t stand brains, but some humans do eat animals’ brains: they cook them with…

I am sorry to interrupt you, but I probably haven’t made myself clear: Wiglets love to eat fresh brains.

– As a matter of fact, no, I’m afraid I didn’t quite get that one.

Let’s put it this way: imagine you are going for walk by yourself, when this cute little bird crosses your visual field, fluttering and chirping joyfully; you say: “Oh, spring is here!”, but you’re wrong, because if that cute little bird happens to be a Wiglet, and if you could turn your head 360 degrees…You can’t turn your head 360 degrees, can you?

– No, not really.

There, I knew it. But if you could, you would see it behind your back hurling against your head at full speed and without making the faintest noise, then skilfully adjusting the color of its plumage to that of your hair in order to camouflage itself perfectly, stabbing that sharp beak in your skull and, finally, making itself at home and starting to suck your brain as if it were drinking from a can through a straw.

– My goodness, what a horrible death!

Death? Who was talking of death?

– Well, I mean: if a freaking bastard of a bird stabs its beak into my skull and starts sucking my brain, I guess I would be the first to want to be at least dead.

On the contrary, to be attacked by a Wiglet may be considered as a privilege.

– I really can’t see how.

Let me explain: as I was saying, Encephalophage Wiglets love eating brains so much that they don’t know where to stop. Even when they are completely full, they are so greedy they keep on sucking and usually end up with indigestion, throwing up everything back.

– A nice privilege indeed.

Of course. Come on, let’s admit it: once in a while the brain needs a good stir. A little mixing up and there you are, smarter than before, more creative, more lively and, I would dare to say, even happier. This is what the Wiglet, in brief, does: it shakes ideas, memories, intuitions, notions together and, mixing them all up, they come in contact, creating new and, until that moment, unthinkable connections among those lazy synapses. This is why, on our planet, when somebody, out of the blue, has a brilliant idea, we say all together: “ Cheers to the Wiglet!”.

– Like in a toast?

Right. But there’s even more: sometimes the Wiglet may even throw up small parts of other people’s brains, probably undigested, into the brain it has just finished sucking. So when the Wiglet stops throwing up, we may find in our heads the revolutionary ideas conceived by somebody else (that maybe weren’t so brilliant before meeting ours, and before being completed by them). I even know people who, out of the blue, have started speaking languages they didn’t know before. The very fact that I am speaking your language and that you can understand me, makes me think that, somehow, a Wiglet has succeeded in shaking my brain together with that of somebody living on the Earth.

– You mean that we have Wiglets also over here?

I am almost sure, it’s just that you have never noticed.

– It can’t be true. I’ve never see one.

I’m not surprised. Wiglets are ingenious: they study all the latest hairdos and learn how to reproduce them to perfection. Then they settle on your nape and they are almost invisible to the naked eye.

– I see, but when we look in the mirror, or when we comb our hair …

With that comb you just tickle them on the back. And how they love it!

– I still find all this hard to believe.

I am going to ask you something: have you ever met somebody who, out of the blue, has changed completely, or looks livelier, or maybe has left home, quit his job and dumped his family to flee to Betelgeuse to open an ice-cream parlor overlooking the universe with a pretty 17-year old local girl?

– Well, I know somebody who did that, perhaps not ending up in Betelgeuse, but yes, I do.

Very well: quite probably a Wiglet was involved there. As an example, I have no idea if this happens also over there too, because it does over here: sometimes women decide all of a sudden to change their lives, and do things like start collecting supermarket vouchers, or a photography course, or deliberately exchange bodily fluids with their Capoeira instructor. When they do that, they feel like they have changed on the inside, so they want to feel different also on the outside: that’s why they tell us they’ve been to the hairdresser’s.

– What do you mean “they tell us“?

Because it is not true: they have simply met a Wiglet. And this, besides, explains the new hairdo.

– So you are claiming that women are liars…

Absolutely not. They really think they have been to the haidresser’s. Have you ever heard of mosquitoes?

– Of course I have, but I really cannot see why you are mentioning mosquitoes right now.

I have all the right reasons to mention them. While they insert their sting in your skin, mosquitoes inject a substance with anticoagulant and anaesthetic properties, so that you won’t even notice they have bitten you.

– I kind of knew that one.

Right. Wiglets are provided with a sharp beak that is capable of doing the same thing, but the liquid it injects can do a lot more things: it stops blood, for instance, and can also anaesthetize the pierced area. But this happens with men. When the victim is a woman they inject a further chemical compound that hits a particular area of the brain whose task is to make a woman believe, in total honesty, that she has really gone to the hairdresser’s.

– This, to tell the truth, explains a lot of things. Except for one.

Tell me.

– I still don’t understand why you said you don’t need to be that Wig-thing to get it into my head.

That’s a common expression, a metaphor we often use, over here: it may mean that you are very predictable, or that you are rather confused.

– But what does it mean in my specific case?

You claimed you wanted to have something to eat. I simply replied that if you really wanted to eat, you would have eaten.

– I would have eaten if I hadn’t remained here talking with you forever.

No, you did not eat because you said you were thinking about eating “something” , but still had not made your mind up.

– You know what?

Of course I don’t. I am not a Jovial: my species is unable to read the mind.

– I don’t know if it’s you in particular, or your race in general, but I have this feeling you are taking me too much to the letter.

You know what they would say on Jupiter?

– No.

“As long as it’s not a zed”.


10

Il Grande Elenco Telefonico della Terra e pianeti limitrofi (Giove escluso)– Could you tell me one thing?

If it’s possible…

– Is everybody still there outside the phone booth?

Yes.

– And what are they doing?

They are looking at me, what else? And they’re waiting.

– And they’re not angry?

Not for the time being.

– And is that normal?

Quite normal: we are a rather patient civilization by nature. No wonder that the planet we come from used to have the worst call centers of the whole galaxy: the average waiting time on the phone just to have a telephone line installed was, more or less, half a day.

– Half a day to have a new telephone line connected seems quite an acceptable waiting time to me.

I mean the time you had to wait on the phone before you actually got to speak to the operator.

– Oh!

You sound surprised.

– I am, but I don’t want to embark with you on yet another comparison between our planets, as it is quite clear that myself and the other about 6 billion inhabitants of the Earth always come out of it in a rather bad shape.

That is because you do not appreciate the noble pleasure of discussion: we argue even without a reason, whenever we have the chance and, often, even when we are in total agreement.

– What do you mean?

It occurs quite often that a discussion is started just for the pleasure of starting it, even when we share the same opinion.

– I don’t get it.

Let’s suppose you and I were both supporters of the new gasification plant for waste disposal that is being set up right behind your Moon…

– Behind whose moon?

Behind yours. They have been building it for years and it is almost finished. They decided to put it right behind, on the face you cannot see, so that you wouldn’t notice.

– But I’m completely against it!

See, this actually simplifies things a lot: you do not agree with it, I do. We could engage in a passionate discussion that would go on for days on end. If, instead, you agreed with me, we would have to draw the one between us who would have to pretend supporting the opposite side.

– This doesn’t change the fact that I do not agree with it. Who decided they had to build it just round the corner from where I live?

Now you tell me something: what is the average distance you cover every day?

– This is beside the point!

You answer my question and you’ll see that, if I’m asking, there must be a reason.

– I am not sure… half a mile walking and about two by car.

You drive for two miles to go where?

– To my office.

Could you claim in total honesty that your office is located close to where you live?

– Of course it isn’t, otherwise why would I go by car?

There.

– There…what? When you say “There“it only means you are ready to prove that I’ve gone wrong somewhere.

I said “There”, because you dare to claim that something that is located just two miles from where you live is “far from home”, whereas you are quick to get all excited if I inform you that they are finishing building a gasification plant on the dark side of your Moon, that, for the record, according to the latest calculations, is 249,999 miles away from your planet, the Earth.

– All right, I see your point, but it’s still my planet: it’s like home to me.

Could you pack your bags right now and move from where you are to a random area of the Earth, and settle in that exact point?

– You are over-simplifying: of course I couldn’t. My passport has expired, maybe I would have to ask for a Visa, and probably, depending on the area, also to get vaccinated against some disease.

I see: you are telling me that the guys who live in that random place of the Earth consider you one of the family so much that they ask you to show an official paper, a written authorization plus the favor of seeing a doctor before going, because you never know what kind of disease you might take over there? That doesn’t really seem a nice way to treat a neighbor.

– Okay, it’s true, I can’t travel around just like that: I have to go through a lot of bureaucracy first. And, perhaps, I would even have to apply to get the nationality of the place I’m settling down in.

And you know why?

– No, I don’t, but I have the feeling you are about to make this revelation to me.

You are going to settle in somebody else’s home, that’s why. How big is yours?

– Mine what? You mean my apartment?

Yes.

– Something like 295 square feet.

Right. Let’s take the inhabitable surface of your planet, which amounts to… Hang on a second, I am looking for the data on the real estate agency brochure… Here it is… to 196,937,400 square miles, so now let’s divide it by your 295 square feet. Well…

– Well, what?

One more second, I am waiting for the results… Here it is: according to the calculations we may gather that you would legitimately own 1.7 per cent elevated to the -17th of the Earth.

– If there’s one thing I am sure of right now, is that I am totally confused.

It is a rather low figure, if you think of it: imagine you calculated 1.7 per cent of 1.7 per cent for seventeen times. What results is your portion of the Earth: a bit too small for you to oppose the construction of a sidereal gasification plant that will cater for a few million planets, most of them – if not all of them – by far bigger than yours. However, if you wish, you may give the proxy to somebody who will represent you at the next General Planets Council for the Environmental Recovery of the Galaxy: it will be held in two days in a warehouse in the suburbs of Gamma Orionix. Unless you decide to attend personally…

– Yeah, sure, I was thinking about going, but I doubt I will make it without missing the second half of the match.

Too bad.

– Too bad indeed.


11

Il Grande Elenco Telefonico della Terra e pianeti limitrofi (Giove escluso)– Remember before, when I asked you if you could tell me something?

Yes?

– …You answered: “If it’s possible”.

Of course.

– Why, there are things you cannot tell me?

It’s more than obvious there are.

– And is there a particular reason why you cannot tell me those things?

More than a particular reason: a legal one.

– That is to say?

It’s forbidden any contact that may affect the less developed civilizations, spoiling their natural development, and it is likewise strictly prohibited to interfere in the internal affairs of a government or of another planet.

– With “less developed”… you mean us terrestrials?

Your questions are often rhetorical, have you noticed?

– Actually, I think I’ve heard this one in “Star Trek”.

That’s pretty normal.

– Is it?

“This one”, as you call it, is the “Prime Directive”, a law that the governments of most of the planets of this and of neighboring galaxies have undersigned so that you could stand on your two feet.

– No, actually I was referring to that “Star Trek” thing. It didn’t seem normal to me.

“Star Trek” has been the main instrument employed in all these years by those extraterrestrial populations, when they needed to let you know something.

– You are telling me you used “Star Trek” to communicate with us?

That, and the things written under fruit juice caps.

– You mean that all we see in “Star Trek” is real and possible?

All of it.

– Even the warp drive?

Certainly, also the warp drive. If in the meantime you had invented it you would not be subject to the limitations imposed by the Prime Directive anymore.

– Transporters too?

Yes, even transporters.

– And how come don’t you use them to move around, instead of the trolleybus? Or even now, for instance, to go back to where you come from?

Because teleportation is forbidden even more than time travelling.

– Is it?

The invention of teleportation has brought in countless advantages and a few drawbacks that could not be neglected.

– Like what?

First of all, people started appearing in the middle of parties without being invited.

– Not a big deal, in my opinion.

It became a problem, even on the Earth, the year when a Pleiadian sheperd won the Academy award for best actor in a leading role, appearing out of the blue on stage next to the two presenters. He had even prepared the thank-you speech: they let him say hallo to his relatives, he even looked a little moved reading the passage in which he dedicated the award to his wife and daughter, and even walked out with the audience applauding sincerely. Rumor has it he is still very proud of that award, and that he shows it off on a shelf at home on the first of the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades. But worse was to follow…

– Like what?

During the brief period when teleportation was still legal, you can imagine how many clandestine couples were caught by their legitimate spouses who had appeared from nowhere.

– Well, I don’t think that’s a good reason to prohibit the use of one of the greatest devices ever invented.

You are forgetting the toaster.

– After the toaster, of course… But, come on: I think that’s a tad too extreme.

And what about the collapse of the transport industry?

– Yes, I know, but…

Not to mention the ancillary industries. An impressive quantity of activities became totally useless overnight: windshield cleaning at traffic-lights; the collection of free fuel coupons; plastic film suitcase wrapping in airports; weather forecasts; trolleybus driving licences … Not a happy period for a lot of people. And then, of course, there was also the privacy problem…

– What has privacy got to do with teleportation?

Let me explain with an example: who is your favorite actress?

– I’d say Jessica Alba.

Can’t you think of one of your own actresses?

– What do you mean?

Jessica Alba doesn’t come from the Earth.

– She doesn’t?

Do you think it could be possible?

– Actually, no.

She will be fit for the purpose anyway. Now, let’s say you were an enthusiastic admirer of Jessica Alba, one of those obsessive fanatics that nothing would stop: if you could use teleportation, how long would it take to realize that you can appear and disappear at your own will in Jessica Alba’s house, in Jessica Alba’s shower, in Jessica Alba’s bed?

– Now that you make me think of it…

And you wouldn’t be the only one: you have no idea of how many people were caught red-handed inside other people’s properties, all busy spying on actresses, singers, models or even just neighbors soaking in the bath tub. If you were particularly perceptive you would surely think of other illegal ways to use teleportation.

– Like what?

Like appearing inside the vault of one of those things you call “banks”, and then vanishing with the loot. Or walking in a cinema without buying your ticket. Or disappearing from the dressing room of a store wearing the clothes you were trying on. I could go on forever.

– Please, don’t: I have understood.

I am pleased you have. To tell the truth, considering that you have ignored for years our messages under fruit juice caps, you are not exactly well-known for being a particularly clever race.

– I never even noticed there was something written under bottle caps.

That’s what I meant.

– But what did the messages say?

Simple things , like: “Relax”, “Come on, it can’t be that bad”, or my favorite : “You’d better not”.

“You’d better not?” in what sense?

In a general sense.

– And despite all those satellite dishes, hundreds of feet wide, we have installed around the planet to intercept you or send you a signal, you are telling me you were communicating with us through captain Picard and fruit juice caps?

Exactly. We’ve also been in talks with the Chinese to insert suggestions in fortune cookies, but negotiations fell through because they were asking too much money and wanted to have the exclusive licence.

– But…Hang on a second… In this very moment you are communicating with me!

I do not see anything wrong in that.

– You don’t? And what about the Prime Directive? It said it was forbidden to give us information, to interfere with our natural development…

It did, for sure. But now I was wondering that you may not know of the existence of a Second Directive.

– There’s another one?

There are many of them. The Second one reasserts the concepts of the First, but it is foreseen that an exception may be made once in a while when dealing with your particular planet.

– Why only with us?

All the signatories were perfectly aware that if they had decided you had to make it completely on your own it meant you would have condemned yourself to extinction. This is the reason why, with time, a bill was passed that enabled us to send you little and harmless suggestions so that you could live better on your planet, or to give you the hints you needed to complete some of your ideas, to help you elaborate them and become independent, at last.

– And you thought we had to understand all this just reading under caps?

I cannot think of any other way.

– Have you read my message?

What message?

– It said that you are a patronizing and agonizingly brazen-faced race.

And how could I have possibily read it, tell me!

– I am writing it for you right now on a popsicle stick. You should find forty-four years from now.


12

The Great Phone Directory of the Earth and neighbouring planetI really hope you are only kidding.

– Not at all, I am writing it down right now.

What was the exact wording? Could you say it again?

– Sure. It says: You are a patronizing and agonizingly brazen-faced race“.

And it was written on a small smooth piece of wood with rounded ends?…

– Yes, a simple stick like those used in popsicles.

…In blue ink?

– Yes, but how do you know that?

You have no idea.

– Don’t tell me you found it for real.

No. Not me.

– So why you’re telling me “You have no idea”?

Because you really have no idea of the mess you have made leaving that sentence at the mercy of the future.

– At the mercy of… All right, okay, no, I admit I have no idea.

Well, your small, pointless, useless piece of wood was what sparked off the terrible and ominous war of the twenty-seven years between the Jovials and the Hoitytoities.

– Oh.

You mean you don’t know anything about the war between the Jovials and the Hoitytoities?

– No, I really don’t know who the Hoitytoities are. And a couple of hours ago I didn’t even know who the Jovials were.

The Hoitytoities are a peaceful but unbearable race that live exactly 3879,69 light years away from you, on planet Superior.

– Superior in what?

In general, in the way they see things. Let’s say they differ from the Jovials in that, at least, they are peaceful.

– I am pleased to notice that the universe is full of incredibly nice people.

And you think the terrestrials have a much better reputation? At least not since you have invented metered parking and the patting on the back.

– What’s wrong with patting on the back?

You should not hit somebody by surprise, unexpectedly!

– But that’s not hitting, that’s just an affectionate way to communicate brotherly friendship.

Exactly: I really cannot understand what has friendship got to do with such a violent gesture.

– I told you it’s not a violent gesture: it’s like a flick given with a smile, a little unharmful slap.

Unharmful? That’s what you think! On Marmellous Behind, for instance, gravity is about 150 times higher than on the Earth, which, considering that weight is relative and changes according to the gravitational force of the place in which it is measured, entails that a simple pat given by a terrestrial is capable of killing a Marmellind instantly.

– Two things.

Tell me.

– The first one: what is a Marmellind?

Someone who lives on Marmellous Behind.

– And someone who lives on Marmellous Ahead is called…

…A Marmellead.

– I see. The second thing: now, I’m not here to brag about physics notions that, frankly speaking, I do not have, but I guess that if the Marmellinds live on a planet where gravity is 150 times higher than on the Earth, evolution must have enabled their bodies to adjust to those particular living conditions.

It’s easier said than done.

– Is it…?

The thing is, all of a sudden, about thirty years ago, Marmellous Behind started rotating more rapidly. In the time it would take before to make one single turn on itself, now it made 150. It happened just like that, suddenly, accelerating from 1 to 150 in just 30 seconds. People who were quietly sitting on their sofas watching TV saw the planet slipping away under their behinds, and ended up in a continent on the opposite side of the planet, in front of a completely different TV show. Some of them, mostly because they refused to drag their 150 times heavier body, remained there, where, by the way, TV shows were much better. Others decided to undertake the long journey back home: I am told that the first ones are already arriving.

– What do you mean …“already” ? They left thirty years ago!

Yes, sure, I can really picture this, yes, you, carrying 149 friends on your shoulders, going for a long and relaxing walk…

– All right, I got it. So you say that the Marmellinds didn’t have the time to evolve before the acceleration took place, and so they remained too slim.

I must also say, to be honest, that the Marmellinds have always been a bit on the wispy side by nature: even before the gravity variation, the main cause of natural death on that planet was sneezing.

– There, you are digressing again, can’t you see? You were telling me I was the cause of a war between the Jovials and the Honkie-Tonkies.

Hoitytoities.

– Whatever. What have I got to do with it?

The Jovials, as I have probably told you, are not really known as the funniest people of the universe. They are touchy, very ticklish and extremely surly: they are quick to take everything as a mortal insult. When what I am about to tell you happened, they had already decided to isolate themselves almost completely from the rest of the galaxy: they drew up their own telephone directory; they withdrew all the ambassadors from foreign planets; and relying on the fact they have always been self-sufficient, they interrupted all import and export activities.

– But why all this?

Simply because they don’t like other people’s company. Let me go on: for some time nobody had officially heard from them, but, suddenly, they switched on the plasma transmitters and read live, on all audible frequencies, a statement in which the Magnificent President of the Massive Jupiterian System raved about a vile and unexpected provocation suffered by the Jovial people at the hands of the Hoitytoities.

– What kind of provocation?

I must make a little digression here.

– Don’t tell me!

Maybe you don’t know, but each population communicates and spreads information using different media, according to their preferences and traditions. For instance, we like fruit juice caps. You, the terrestrials, cut down an excessive number of trees you then flatten to write things on them. Well, in this you and the Hoitytoities are very similar: do you know what medium they employ to spread official statements? Small, flat wooden sticks with rounded ends.

– I can see that with extreme difficulty we are getting to the point, and I have the feeling I’m not going to like it.

I have that same feeling too. The true cause of the war was revealed only at the end of the conflict, when some until then confidential files were disclosed. In brief, a Jovial spy on duty on your quadrant reported to the Jupiterian Government that he had intercepted a belligerent message that was undoubtedly coming from the Hoitytoities: it was a piece of wood on which the sentence you read me before, written in blue ink, was clearly visible.

– Hang on a second: you are telling me that the message I wrote you as a joke a few minutes ago on the stick of a popsicle I had just finished sucking has been intercepted in the future by the government of a planet of bad-tempered lunatics who, for this reason, have declared war on a planet that was minding its own business, causing death and havoc around the universe?

Exactly.

– But how terrible can that be? And you, why you’re not stopping me? Why don’t you just tell me to smash that stick into a thousand pieces, to throw it in the garbage crusher, to swallow it so that nobody will ever find it?

Don’t you dare!

– What?

The future has already happened, simply because I am telling you this story now. Changing it would entail harmful consequences; it is strictly forbidden by the Joint Time Police and, besides, it brings bad luck. So now you calm down and leave that stick where it is. Or, better, no: just do with that stick what you would have done if I hadn’t blurted out what will happen.

– You can’t ask me to do that. Don’t you understand I have caused a war?

Of course I can, and I will, because I know better than you, so I suggest you to trust me: you have no idea of how many lives and future events are linked to that piece of wood. Changing its destiny would mean that I could vanish instantly together with my three billion one hundred sixty-eight million, four hundred thousand eleven, seven hundred and twenty-nine companions who are here outside the phone booth. It would also mean that this phone call might have never taken place, and considering that you represent at the moment the only chance of survival for my race, you will realize why I am forced to be rather urgent on the issue. Trust me: very calmly and cautiously, pick up that stick with both hands, even using your opposable thumbs, if you like.

– Got it.

Good. Now, think of what you would have done with it if you hadn’t talked with me.

– I would have thrown it in the garbage, I guess.

This is not the time to be doubtful: you guess, or are you sure? And in which garbage can?

– In the kitchen’s one, where I throw away everything.

You are telling me you don’t recycle?

– The future of your species is in my hands, and what you do? You lecture me about the environment, now?

You are right. No, you’re not, but I’ll let you off this time. Tell me, are you in the kitchen?

– Yes.

Throw it away.

– Are you sure?

Totally sure.

– A war… with people dead, injured…

Throw it away.

– Done.

Good: you have no idea of how relieved I feel right now. We have never been closer to extinction than in these few minutes. And I mean myself, you, and all that we know as you will also know it.

– But now I want you to tell me all about that war, to tell me what I was responsible for.

No problem, I will, right away: I have studied it at school and I know the story by heart. But before I go on, there is something I am really curious about.

– Sure, if I can.

You lied to me about that sentence. Or maybe you forgot a part of it.

– I can assure you, it’s not possible: it happened just a few minutes ago.

Can you remember it?

– Sure: “You are a patronizing and agonizingly brazen-faced race”. Come on, do you really think it’s enough to spark off a war?

For a Jovial? A sentence containing three – and I mean three – zeds? No doubt about it. Not to mention the part you are leaving out: the augmentative you have employed, maybe thinking that the Jovials didn’t know Latin. Instead they do study it at school as their third language.

– But I… hang on a second: third language? Just to know, I’m curious, may you tell me what are the first and the second?

The first one, as you may have guessed, is Jovialese; the second one is Greek, of course.

– Of course, yeah, it seems pretty logical. Anyway, once more I can assure you I haven’t left anything out, and that I haven’t written anything in Latin. I don’t even know Latin, come on!

Text books give a different version of that story. They say that the Jovials received a piece of wood…

– A popsicle stick…

…on which was clearly written: “You are a MAGNUM patronizing and agonizingly brazen-faced race”.

(…to be continued)

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