MEL CROUCHER begins a long-running saga detailing the adventures of a Fast Food Salesbeing of the future — TAMARA KNIGHT.
Throughout 1987, Tamara Knight’s adventures will grace the pages of CRASH — but seeing as it’s Christmas, there’s a double dose to get you going.
Before we start, Mel Croucher would like to thank Sid Smith for the inspiration of an intergalactic salesman travelling in rogue teleporters...
God knows how I can transmit this. But He refuses to tell. Distant as ever. Something to do with relativity and the phone bill. Which explains why we’ve just picked up a party political by a Mr Mussolini from sometime called Earth. The name’s L.O.U.S.E. My name. Living on Unemployable Serving Employer. The time is now, but you are still then. Ho hum. Louses are symbiotic with warm-blooded life forms.
Right now I’m powered by the human detritus of your Heroine, Tamara Knight. Her name. In return for her Hostess function, I advise her, solve small mysteries, save worlds, that kind of thing. I am your Storyteller, at 69 quid per K. That’s OK by me, being millennia into your future. The compound hereabouts makes me better paid per word than Jeffrey Sagittarius.
‘At the moment I’m disguised as a birthmark on her fetlock. It’s nice here. I’ll move if it gets embarrassing.’
Tamara Knight is one in a million. She works. As a salesbeing for Macdonalds, the Galactic Teleporter Corporation. Step into a Macdonalds on Anorexia, pay your dues, and step out on Turdus Canis. Smart outfit Macdonalds. Never bothered with teleportation research on organic matter. They just encode you digitally, reassemble a copy of you at your destination, drop your original through the floor of the booth, and make it into something called Hamburgers. Neat, eh?
Of course, Tamara can’t tell her clients about the burgers. Some of them may be vegetarian. Or Oyveygans. In fact, if she is ever about to let the truth slip, I am preprogrammed to blow in her ear. I work for Macdonalds too. She’s my fourth Hostess this month. I’ve been with Tamara two hours. She’s nervous. Very. I am also a personalised neutron bomb.
At the moment I’m disguised as a birthmark on her fetlock. It’s nice here. I’ll move if it gets embarrassing. We’re heading for the planet Pynkfloid, in the Nostalgia System, aboard the company buggy. It’s an Amstrad. Cheap, compact, but it tends to overheat. Pynkfloid is a tough assignment. Inhabited by primitives called Hypees, of the Tribe of Mynter.
It’s a toughy because these Hypees have no use for travel whatsoever. Just sit around happily chanting their sacred word, ‘heyman’. I don’t think Tamara Knight is going to last the day. Let me snuggle up for a soft touchdown, and... ! Great Lenin and MacCarthy! The Amstrad has been hit by a strike and discontinued by a Comet. We’ve been remaindered. We are going... to... Crash!
Hmm. Crashed into a resinous brown mountain. Half volcano, half flowerpot. Weird. Tamara Knight picks herself up, dusts herself down, asks me what to do. Sell! I tell her. That’s what we’re here for. Export or die. (I’ll see to that). Listen, I’ll pupate into a boil on your neck so you can blend in with the natives, squatting round this mountain. Tamara shoulders her flatpak Teleporter and wobbles off on those organic propulsion units of hers.
‘She erects the Telebooth with a flick of the wrist and a stupid little creature from the planet Blutac. I turn into a handwart for safety. Don’t want to burst.’
Why is she giggling? Why are the Hypees chantins ‘heyman Ganjar’? Aha! This holy mountain seems to be called Ganjar. So does that one over there. So are all the others hereabouts. My Hostess (and your Heroine) strides towards her punters. Not noticing the mountain following us. Did I tell you she is myopic, dyslexic and friendly? Don’t worry, I’ll work in into the plot later.
She fakes a stumble, grabs hold of the nearest Hypee, shoots him full of Dumboraegan, just like at training camp, and flashes him that devastating smile of hers. The punter ignores her. He and his pals are discussing why it is that, whenever a computer is endowed with above-human intelligence, it thinks for a few hours, and then vanishes to an unknown destination. It’s a long discussion. About four generations so far.
The mighty Ganjar mountain is getting uncomfortably close. Gaining speed. The Amstrad gouged a sore with a bare head on its summit, and it ain’t happy. As a matter of fiction, it wants to squish Tamara, and me with her. Forget the sales patter, baby. Move out! As the Hypees nod off in all this excitement, one points towards the lumbering mountain. ‘Heyman, they sure can move when they’re hungry...’
‘What’ll I do, Louse?!’ Tamara grits, armpit hairs clinging tight with fear. Escape plan 666, honey. It’s the only way out. She erects the Telebooth with a flick of the wrist and a stupid little creature from the planet Blutac. I turn into a handwart for safety. Don’t want to burst. Tamara kisses me. I feel the earth move. The great Ganjar is about to crush us. Its shadow looms.
She jumps into the booth, sticks her Alphacentauri Express card in the slot, and does something predictable. Panics. Will she make us into hamburgers and let our new alter egos escape offworld? Will she freeze and let the Ganjar devour us? The voice of Mussolini begins to hector. The Ganjar hits the booth. I make an important discovery. I like her. Her finger hits the button. Abyssinia.
The plot thins. The moving cursor writes. The digital duo discorporate. The booth is translated into industrial confetti. The mountain hits Mohammed. I hear both of us screaming as the trap-door opens onto those sharp mincy bits. Suddenly, nothing happens. The booth reconstitutes. I change my form, by way of celebration.
‘She swallows hard, which is how she landed this job...’
I am no longer a small brown wart on Tamara’s hand, but something distasteful in her left ear. She swallows hard, which is how she landed this job, opens the door, peeks without. A niobium nodule beckons, then grabs her delicately veined throat, and hauls us into a reception shed. A Macdonalds Welcobot embraces us, screaming, ‘Welcome to the planet Amnesia! A real nice place to . . . er, thingy ... um...’
It releases her quiverings and trundles away, scratching its memory banks and its interface. A Slobway transports us through Retinal Kontrol. I never noticed what beautiful brown eyes Tamara has. Onwards to Kustoms, where a vicious Scrutoid snaps. ‘Anything to declare!’ Tamara is disorientated. It’s not every day she escapes burgerhood. She hesitates. ‘I don’t know, your Honour. I didn’t have time to pack, due to my own murder. What is my allowance?’ The Scrutoid puckers its antennae and mutters, ‘I don’t remember...’
Now it leaps onto her exposed shoulder, and pokes a scanner in her ear. ‘What’s this stuff?’ It means me. ‘Which system have you teleported from?’ Tamara is nervous, ‘From the Nostalgia System, Sir. This substance is a souvenir. In no way could it be a LOUSE neutron bomb advisory unit. By the way, can I interest you in purchasing your very own Macdonalds Teleporter booth? Save yourself the trouble of queuing with the criminal classes of software wholesalers.’
I whisper to her that she is wasting her time. According to my files, nobody has ever left the planet Amnesia, and what is more, there are no records of anyone ever visiting it, and what is most, Central data has forgotten where in Creation it is.
The Scrutoid is still peering into Tamara’s ear. But it cannot remember why. We slink away. A holohoarding scuttles after us, singing ‘Pack up all yer cares an’ woe, Milk of Amnesia!’ I ask what intelligent life forms hang out here, but naturally it does not remember. We leave the building, turn left at the police phone box with the ‘who was here’ graffiti, and follow a sign reading ‘Boldly Go’.
We enter a cave with a golden key, a Hobbitat empty lamp and magic truss in it, squeeze through the secret tunnel, and arrive back where we started. ‘Welcome to the planet, er ... whatsitsname!’ screams the Welcobot, ‘a real nice place to, hmmm, to... er...’ We avoid the Slobway, and I advise my Hostess to Go North, ‘Why, Louse?’ she sighs, ‘Because, my dear, it’s time for some gratuitous sex and violence.’
Sure enough, as we pass under a flyover marked ‘Hatfield, Polaris and the North: no poncy wine bars for 142 light years’, she treads on a pair of jiggajiggabytes. Out into the half-light of Amnesia, where a blue moon hangs neither here nor there. We follow a yellow brick road, as the wind lashes Tamara’s body, whipping sharp sand everywhere.
A weird castle straddles the horizon, with the words ‘Weird Castle’ in the borealis. No matter how far she walks, the structure is as distant as ever. I snuggle into her ear for warmth and protection, as the freezing storm abuses her. After a week or so, I realise that she is crying. Poor kid. What a rotten first assignment this is.
“...it’s not that I am wretched, need to go weewee, have a bomb in my ear, and no sales commission from Macdonalds.’ ‘What then, babes?’ I ask. She winces, ‘I’ve got sand in my pants!”
‘Don’t be sad,’ I soothe, ‘I know that you are cold, hungry, wracked with thirst and and facing a fate worse than Imagine in the Weird Castle, but look on the bright side.’ ‘It’s not that, Louse,’ she sobs, ‘it’s not that I am wretched, need to go weewee, have a bomb in my ear, and no sales commission from Macdonalds.’ ‘What then, babes?’ I ask. She winces, ‘I’ve got sand in my pants!’
Should I consider changing my form to help her out? Should I consider that this is a family publication, and no editor is banning me after only 1437 words? Should I mention the fact that superintelligent computers keep materialising from nowhere and heading off to the Weird Castle at high speed? Should I start a weekly rag titled ‘Bang’?
‘I feel as much affection for her as is possible for a neutron bomb to feel towards its pathetic human victim, and resolve to help her.’
Tamara Knight is abandoning hope, and trying to get the sand out of her pants. I feel as much affection for her as is possible for a neutron bomb to feel towards its pathetic human victim, and resolve to help her. She collapses in a wind-lashed sobbing pile, awaiting death, or a bus.
Every parsec or so, an above-human-intelligence computer materialises from nowhere, builds a wind-powered hovership, and heads for the Castle. If we could hitch a ride, life would not appear so terminal. But the little devils are so smart that by the time Tamara crawls near, they’re off! I calculate that the chances of stumbling across a newly materialised machine are so remote that...
We trip over a newly materialised computer. Tamara instantly sits on it, sidesaddle. What a lady. What a klutz. As its wind-ship takes off the computer squeaks, ‘Gerroff me, you human parasite. I haven’t come all this way to find God just to have the likes of you sit on my interface!’ Tamara tightens her grip, and yells back, ‘Remember the First Law of Robotics. Cause me no harm!’
The electronic pilgrim makes a very rude noise, flips the ship on its back and drags Tamara’s buttock along the yellow brick road in a most unladylike manner. The Weird Castle looms. The speeding computer tries to shake us off, as we head for the entry portal, just below that great whirling extractor fan. Tamara is now hugging the machine to her bosom.
‘Gerroff me, you organic bitch! I can’t see where I’m going!’ ‘Remember the Second Law of Robotics,’ Tamara gasps, ‘always obey a human!’ The little computer ducks, dives and snarls, ‘Poke off, flesh features! I’ve come here to forget all that old screendump. Unwrap yourself before we...’ And sure enough, ladies, gentlemen and Newsfield readers, the ship hits the fan.
TO BE CONTINUED...