Meanwhile, the aliens are making their way to Earth, contending with their own special set of problems. They might all end up philosophers. That would be a disaster. Anyway, it’s definitely a true story. Definitely.
Premeditated Plum Sugaring
If you believe in the multiverse, in which all possibilities occur, then this is a true story.
However, to believe in such things, even to have heard of such prickly ideas, you would have had to go out of your way to be less ignorant than the average cretin on the street. This is probably too much to ask. So, to bring the conceptually sedentary up to speed, all things happen. The following is one of those things, told from the fog of depression on Earth and the philosophically overwhelmed in space.
We will talk again. But first . . .
The Dinosaur’s Dilemma
“In the rain, no one can see your tears,” Jason said, tearing his gaze from the unwanted military presence and breaking one of the frequently shared comfortable silences, as he and Tren sat at their favourite sterile-white canteen table.
“What?” Tren said, her pained face showing all the usual signs of being dragged out of the white noise of her hangover. Croissant paused at her lips.
Jason was adept at ignoring her suffering.
“In the rain . . .” he began reciting again.
Tren took her other hand from her pale, sweaty forehead. “No, no,” she said, waving her croissant at him. “I heard you. What are you saying?”
“In the rain, no one can see—”
“Stop. Stop saying that. What is it?” She dropped her croissant onto her plate. It bounced as only a canteen croissant can, disseminating crumbs onto her blue grunge flannel shirt and landing on her faded black jeans. Just like Tren, it wasn’t the freshest of delicacies.
“It’s the opening line of my book,” Jason said, straightening his imaginary tie, assuming an air of intellectualism.
“Your book? You’re writing a book? You?” Tren asked, an accusing finger hovering inches from Jason’s face, in a typically ignorant and aggressive Tren way.
“Yes, me,” Jason said, swatting her finger away, transferring far too much buttery residue in the process. He wiped his hand on a tissue and faded back into thought as Tren resumed her turmoil. The military table drew his irritation once more as another silence descended.
Every morning, Tren and Jason sat in the canteen for about an hour having breakfast. The building was a huge, hulking behemoth covering fifty thousand square metres with twelve floors aboveground and an unknown, and unasked, amount under. It housed many departments of the government but was mainly known for its military occupants. They were the worst-kept secret in the country, considering they were supposed to be a covert-research arm of the military.
The canteen was on the ground floor with an expansive view up through the building to the roof. Each floor encircled and looked down on it in a Dante’s Hell sort of way. Everything was subsidised, so a large meal, enough to feed Jason for the day—or at least enough to feed him so he didn’t have to eat anything his girlfriend cooked—was about two euros. Coffee was free.
It was a large open space able to seat the majority of the two thousand permanent employees, making it easy to blend in and get lost. This morning, however, the canteen had been mostly taken over by a large, raucous contingent of uniformed military types. They were celebrating something. Probably some form of well-planned oppression of a vulnerable people. That’s usually what it amounted to. They had sectioned off the better half of the canteen, pushing everyone else to the far corner. This wouldn’t have been a problem for Jason and Tren—as this was the corner they usually sat in, hiding away from the rest of their co-workers—but the problem was, now, most of their fellow employees were in that corner, their corner, clogging up their space.
“Is it gay porn?” Tren asked, undoing the silence this time as she massaged her temples.
“What? No, of course it’s not. It’s a book. How can a book be gay porn?”
“Fifty Shades,” Tren said.
“That’s not gay porn, and neither is mine.”
“Yours starts off with serious red flags. Are you sure it isn’t?”
“Red flags?” Jason said. “That’s not very PC of you.” Jason sipped his coffee a little too aggressively, dribbling a small drop down his chin.
“PC?” Tren shouted, far too loud for a corporate workplace. She had the volume control of a deaf three-year-old. “I’m a militant lesbian. An alpha bitch. The klunge cookie monster. I write a blog every month that sets fire to the woke factory, with all the little recreationally outraged, apoplexual millennials inside. I’m public enemy number one for all that is snowflake. Why would anything I do be PC? That wouldn’t be very Tren.”
As she spoke, Jason was sprayed with half-chewed breakfast. “Well, you got me there.” He sighed, wiping the crumbs from his face.
“Anyway, why are you writing a book? You thinking of becoming gay?”
“That’s not how homosexuality works, I’m pretty sure.”
“Yeah? Well only homos write books. You’re writing a book. Ipso facto, you’re a homo. Anyway, normal people have normal jobs.” Tren washed this delightful statement down with the last of her coffee.
“That seems a bit hypocritical,” Jason said. “Being homosexual yourself.”
“Homosexual? Me? Fuck no,” Tren said, arcing more partially masticated croissant across the table. “There’s a massive difference. There’s absolutely no crossover between me and them. Only an ignorant straight square like yourself would think that. Haven’t you read any of my articles lately? I’ve acquired quite a subscriber list. If you had, you’d understand.”
The blog she wrote was increasingly popular and highly controversial, with an accompanying magazine that had a very local distribution range. Its constituency were the lesbian haunts of Dublin City and all other hideaways within comfortable-shoe walking distance. She named it Deepthroat Insider, which was a nod to her favourite political scandal and an insight to her disturbing private life. Her inside scoops were the word from the street for all things lesbian. She had been writing it every month for years. Jason had laughed when she first decided to do it, but since it became popular, with a growing cult following—or “cunt following” as Tren kept saying—he encouraged it, in his own dismissive way. She had a guest writer every month, and Jason even managed to put out a piece with Tren’s insistence. “A View from the Square,” she’d retitled it in publication. Jason didn’t mind. He was definitely a square in comparison to Tren and the rest of her deranged entourage.
“Apologies,” Jason said. “I don’t have time. It’s not quite my cup of tea. Some of those opinion pieces seem, how will I put it? Illegal? Illegible? Illegitimate? Some form of ill anyway.”
“Yeah, well,” Tren said, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead as she retreated into her hangover. “Maybe I’ll start sending you a few articles. You might learn something.”
They hated their jobs and acted out in different ways. Jason was mostly just depressed. While he was an unhappy person in general—battling a regular and co-dependent chorus of inner demons—it was the politics and pedantry of the office environment, especially the military aspect of it, that fuelled his darker, self-loathing tendencies. With some effort, he maintained buoyancy in an ocean of self-indulgent, vain suffering, but every so often, the seas were rough, and these moments were becoming more frequent. Tren was the only person who could reach him during those times.
Having attained a certain level within the organisation, his lack of ambition and drive had stalled his progress. His boss, Kevin, was constantly up his arse about something, and the work itself, which once had so much potential, now bored him to tears.
Tren was a daughter of Icelandic scientists who had moved to Dublin when she was sixteen. She was of average height, brunette, and possessing the carefree ability to hide her potential good looks behind a nineties grunge exterior. She felt similarly deflated about work, but made up for the mundane by convincing herself she could turn every woman in the company into carpet crawlers, at least temporarily anyway. Tren had fucked almost all known and unknown lesbians in the company and, to her credit, had turned a few of the “Oh, I’d like to give that a try once” girls into regular sponge plungers. If ever the handicapped toilet on the fifth floor was occupied, it was almost certainly Tren rutting with someone. This could happen multiple times a day. Her latest target, a girl on the fifth floor, was married, but Tren smelled weakness. She’d even described this smell to Jason in far too much detail one time. She was a self-proclaimed predatory lesbian and proud of it. She was also extremely good at her job, despite her lack of care for it, and had been promoted to management, above Jason’s level, even though she’d started after him. He always said it was because she slept with most of the company. Tren agreed.
Jason thought about his book and looked at Tren discouragingly. “Well,” he said, lacing his fingers together around his coffee, “at least I’m trying to come up with an idea to get out of this shithole.”
“How dare you,” Tren said. “I’m constantly coming up with ideas. I just need one of them to catch.” Tren described herself, among other things, as a serial innovator. A self-proclaimed ideas guy.
Jason had known Tren a long time and had been at the coal face of many of her ‘gaps in the market’ ideas. “What, like the ball-bag exfoliant you thought about producing?” Jason shivered at the thought.
“TestiClear,” Tren said with pride. “Patent pending.”
“That’s the one. If there’s any justice in the world, that patent will pend forever. It’s never going to work.”
“It’s a good idea, in theory,” she said.
Jason leaned forward, finally tearing his gaze from the military table. “No, no it isn’t. In theory, it shows a complete lack of understanding of the male body. That’s why it didn’t and will never get funding. No man wants to scour his ball sack.”
Tren looked into the distance. “Well,” she said absently, “balls aren’t my forte.”
“That’s an understatement,” Jason said. “And speaking of men’s balls, what about Manplasm?”
“What about it?”
“If you’re thinking of setting up a sperm bank, you should at least have a more professional name.”
“I thought it was catchy. Had a certain Ghostbusters edge to it. Men love that film.” Tren stood up, humming the Ghostbusters theme song while imitating a guy jacking off and trying to ghostbust whatever spectres Tren imagined men’s semen could vanquish.
“Yes.” Jason said, as Tren extinguished all ghosts within spraying distance. “You did that in front of the board of investors. It was so ridiculously funny. You should have warned me. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was the one that looked unprofessional—not you, me—and it was your crazy idea. And they were right when they said you needed more market research on ‘catchy themed’ sperm banks.”
“Agh, what do they know?” Tren gingerly sat down and dismissed Jason’s, and all other, critiques with a wave.
“And it turned out that wasn’t even your worst sperm bank idea. The ‘parcel motel’ style idea. Remember that one?”
“I certainly do. For the sperm donor on the go.”
“Yeah, well, the way you described it, it just sounded like, to make a ‘deposit’, guys had to basically fuck a glory hole in a wall outside a petrol station, or somewhere like that.”
“Yeah. That’s pretty much the bare bones of it, all right,” she said, smiling. “You just wait and see. One of these ideas will work. I just need to find the right niche.”
“Maybe you should focus on things you know. All your products are aimed at men.”
“I know, but men are idiots. They’d buy anything,” Tren said.
“And women aren’t?” Jason said, somehow hurt for all mankind.
“Oh, no, women are total idiots too, but that market’s saturated with shit. The men’s market is still wide open to exploitation.”
“Well, there you go. I think if your business plan is based on exploitation, it’ll have limited success at best.” Jason stirred his sodden cornflakes around his plate. This was another one of those conversations that could go anywhere. Tren could never focus on one topic for very long. It was one of the things that interested him about her.
“I disagree,” she said. “Some of the most successful products are based on exploitation. Look at the whole beauty industry, not to mention religion.”
Jason thought about that, not really subscribing to any beauty regime himself. “Yeah, fair enough.”
Tren focussed on Jason. “And it has more chances of being successful than writing a fucking book. Seriously. Who writes books these days? It’s all about quick, short op-eds and blogs. No one has time for books anymore. The market is flaky and attention deficit. It’s a dying industry.”
“Perhaps.” Jason sighed. “Guess I’m stuck here then.” Another comfortable silence fell over the table. Tren ate her last croissant, face mostly immersed inside the stale crust, as if deboning a fish with her mouth. Jason had become immune to her lack of table manners. Time had deadened his natural response.
“I’m sick of this job,” Jason said. “I need a change. Working for the government was never something I thought I’d be doing, let alone the military wing of it. I had dreams once. Ambition.”
Tren stood up after molesting her last croissant and made her way to get more food. Jason looked around, longing to be anywhere else.
He watched the military types all slapping each other’s backs and being generally over self-congratulatory. There was a small senior military group separate from the general soldiery pleb. They sat at a relatively grandiose table. It had a plastic tablecloth, looking impressively authoritative. The first time he had seen such shows of military pomp was in university, and he’d been naively impressed by it. Almost attracted to it, you might say. He had since been numbed to the might of the military, and their canteen land grabs were just one of a multitude of reasons he now had open disdain for them.
University for Jason was a PhD in astrophysics with a particular interest in cryptography and fractal patterning. His friends and family had long ago learned not to ask him what he had studied since he would generally tell them, in detail. After two minutes of this, to the untrained ear, it sounded like science fiction. Which, in fairness to the great unwashed, was very close to being true.
It was the type of analysis he’d designed in his PhD which brought him to the attention of the military. They lured him in with a job that had been advertised as containing “cutting edge data sets” but turned out to be an analysis on static, and it was his job to figure out what the irrelevant noise in any data set was and separate it out from the rest. It focussed on signals from such things as pulsars, allowing for a clearer picture of these objects. Jason considered himself a space garbage collector. Not where he thought his career would take him.
Tren returned after grabbing more food, disturbing Jason’s ruminations.
“I know what will cheer you up, you sad sack of shit,” she said.
“I doubt it,” Jason muttered.
“I saw a ‘Mexican Standoff’ on the weekend,” Tren said, looking across the table through mouthfuls of dry scone.
“I don’t want to know.”
“Aww, come on. It’s fascinating.” Tren had a glint in her eye that always seemed lurid.
“Is it going to be as interesting as any of the other disgusting sex positions you’ve ‘informed’ me of?” Tren was always banging on about her sexploits.
“Disgusting?” Tren said. “Name one beautiful human entanglement that you deem disgusting.”
Jason thought. “What about the dinosaur one?”
“Which one? There’s two.”
“Shit, I don’t know. They both sounded the same.”
Tren spat her mouthful of scone onto the floor. “Listen here,” she said, leaning in to make sure the drama was acknowledged. “There’s a huge difference between ‘The Dinosaur’ and ‘The Dinosaurs Dilemma’. They’re totally unrelated. For one, there’s the existential crisis.”
“Please.” Jason didn’t want to go back into the minutiae of Tren’s mind. “What about that one with the wet pillowcase?”
“Agh, well OK.” Tren shifted in her chair. “You may have a point there. ‘Raiding the Butler’s Pantry’ isn’t for the fainthearted. I’ll grant you that one. But disgusting? Never.”
“And the one with the guitar? No, what was that one again?”
“‘The Devil’s Banjo?’” Tren started banging her knee à la hoedown.
“There you go.”
 Apoplexual: To be sexually attracted to the constantly apoplectic. A social media junky.
 Tren had a T-Shirt conveying this exact message.