Bewildering Stories



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Identity

The Invincible Spud

Progressing in their journey toward some unknown place, the doves disappeared over the horizon, followed by an ominous, hideous mass of dark clouds. Ekbor, feeling alone, confused, and perplexed, watched the birds fly away. They seemed to be fleeing some unknown object or force.

What could they be fleeing from? What could have scared them away?

Ekbor turned and saw a hideous three-eyed monster thrashing its massive green tentacles in all directions. It growled incomprehensible, unintelligible guttural sounds from its gaping mouth as it emitted fetid odors.

"No! It wasn't me! You've got the wrong person! It was ... it was ... Tebor! Tebor, I tell you. Tebor!" Ekbor cried. "It was ..."

The creature snarled loudly. A putrid wind gushed out of its mouth, scattering the leaves on the ground.

Huh?

The monster reached out with a tentacle and grabbed Ekbor by the arm.

"Great gastric juices! It's alive!"

Ekbor turned, broke free from the monster's grasp, tried to run away, stumbled, and fell to the ground. The massive creature uttered appalling sounds, and Ekbor could detect a scent of its reeking gastric juices, which were not very pleasing.

"No! Don't eat me! I don't want to be eaten!"

The monster lifted Ekbor off the ground. The smell intensified.

"What did you say?" asked a familiar voice, the only voice that Ekbor had ever heard. A voice so familiar, yet so distant.

What? Is the monster speaking? Impossible!

Ekbor looked up and encountered a malodorous blast from the monster's mouth. The creature had not been speaking.

"Are you all right, Robor?" said the calm voice.

Slightly confused, Ekbor located the source of the voice. Ogbor, who seemed oddly oblivious to the situation, stood on the grass nearby. The two were identical to each other and to everyone else.

"What?"

"You said something about being eaten," said Ogbor.

The monster shook Ekbor violently with its tentacles, and Ekbor felt nauseated.

"Don't let it eat you, Ogbor; don't let it eat you! Run while you still can! Don't let it eat you!"

"What, this superb processed food?" said Ogbor. "It is not eating me; I am eating it. And my name is Vebor, not Ogbor."

What are you talking about?

The monster, a product of Ekbor's delusional hallucinations, vanished, and the familiar space station appeared. Across the table from Ekbor was Ogbor, who was eating processed food.

Why do you always return?

"Good processed food this is, Mebor," said Ogbor. "Superb! The best I've ever tasted."

The processed food looked disgusting, and it emitted foul odors. Instead of eating it, Ekbor stared gloomily at the walls that enclosed them. They did not vanish; instead, they simply remained there, an ominous reminder of the impenetrable cage that surrounded them, the monster that would exist forever.

For a moment, Ekbor thought that the room was full of people, but it was only an illusion: The people were only reflections of Ekbor and Ogbor on the metallic walls. Reflections within reflections within reflections ...

"This processed food is truly delicious," said Ogbor. "You should eat some, Nobor. You should have nourishment for the return journey to the home planet."

The home planet! Today I will finally return to the home planet! No more stupid space station! I will finally have peace! Peace and happiness and freedom!

Staring at the processed food, Ekbor felt disgusted.

"Great gastric juices, Ogbor! How can you eat this stuff? It looks rotten! It smells rotten! It is rotten! It's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen or smelled!"

Looking puzzled, Ogbor did not seem to understand what Ekbor was saying.

"What do you mean, Ufbor?" said Ogbor. "This is the best food I've ever tasted! Simply delicious!"

"My name is not Ufbor! It's Ekbor! And your name is Ogbor! Ogbor! You have to remember that! And this food smells! You know, Ogbor, this horrible processed food used to taste and smell like real food, but now it's all rotten! Disgusting!"

Suddenly, Ekbor noticed a different smell in the air, the odor of a combusted object.

"What's that smell? Is something burning?"

"What smell?" asked Ogbor.

"That smell! It smells like something's burning!"

"Oh, that? That's the food processor. It exploded earlier today."

Feeling nauseated, Ekbor responded, "Really, Ogbor, you shouldn't consume stuff produced by a food processor that's just exploded. I don't think the processor's working properly. I don't think the food's healthy. The nanomachines and stuff, you know. They might be defective. The food might not be ... quite ... edible. You shouldn't eat it."

"But it's good! The greatest food I've ever tasted! Besides, it's approved by the government."

"No, Ogbor! Don't listen to the government! It's just trying to coerce you into killing yourself! You have to think for yourself! You have to have freedom! Freedom to eat what you want to eat! Freedom to say what you want to say! Freedom to read what you want to read! Freedom to ... sing the Song of the Great Elephant Tree!"

"The what?"

"Time to fly
Into the sky
And get foreign objects dislodged in your eye!

Time to be
A tiny flea
So small that human eyes can't normally see!

So gather round
Sit on the ground
And get ready, prepare to see something profound!

For you will see
That happily
We'll all sing the Song of the Great Elephant Tree!

Time to fly
Time to die
Time to get smushed by a giant apple pie!

Time to flee
This melody
This cacophony praising the Great Eleph--"

Ekbor was interrupted by an enormous explosion.

"Nice song," said Ogbor, indifferent to the deafening sound and the flying particles.

"What was that?"

"What was what?"

"The explosion!" Ekbor said.

"Oh, that? I think that's ... the refrigerator. It must have blown up." Ogbor smiled.

Ekbor felt useless and futile.

"So, Dabor," said Ogbor, "don't you think this processed food is ..."

There is no freedom.

"... best I've ever tasted. Yes, it--"

"Stupid refrigerator!" Ekbor screamed.

Why is everything defective? Why does nothing work? Why is Ogbor such a stupid idiot? Why? Why? Why?

"Most interesting, Adbor," continued Ogbor. "I've finished this magnificent processed food. Very delicious. Yes, very delicious. Truly scrumptious. I wish I could have more, but I don't have room for it. And we have to return to the home planet, you know. Why should I eat more of this good food when I can fill myself with even better food on the home planet? I hear they have excellent food there. Haven't been there in a while. Such a long time ..."

Ogbor placed the empty tray and the utensils into the recycling bin to be broken down by molecular disassemblers. Ekbor's full tray remained, the utensils untouched, the food uneaten, a reeking mass of inedible organic material. Ekbor pushed the tray off the edge of the table, and it fell, splattering its contents all over the floor. Ekbor saw no reason to recycle the food and no reason to clean up the mess. They would not return to the space station. None of its inhabitants, of whom Ekbor and Ogbor were the last, ever did. There was no one for whom to clean up, for the space station would not be used for the remainder of its existence. Besides, if Ekbor had properly disposed of the food, the molecular disassemblers, which were probably defective, as were most things on the space station, might disassemble the molecules and reassemble them to form hazardous materials.

Ogbor, who appeared not to notice Ekbor's actions, left the room, and half of the reflections within reflections within reflections on the metallic walls disappeared. Ekbor, glad to escape the horrid smells of the room, followed, anticipating the return to the home planet.

The corridor, a passageway enclosed by two sturdy metal walls and a floor, resembled a triangular prism, and it was dimly lit from above by a series of identical lights located where the two walls met. Ekbor, who felt strangely delighted as they walked down the corridor toward the shuttle, tried not to notice the identical reflections within reflections within reflections on the walls. They were too disconcerting.

Finally! I'm going home! I won't have to put up with this stupid idiot Ogbor much longer! I will finally have peace and happiness and freedom! No longer will I endure life on this stupid space station! No more defective appliances! No more stinking odors! No more stupid space station!

"We're going home, Ogbor! I've had enough of this stupid space station and this stupid war against the stupid Zebor!"

"I'm not Ogbor. I'm Avbor," said Ogbor. "And I think the one to whom you're referring is Fobor. Unless you're talking about someone else, Tubor."

"I'm not Tubor. I'm ... Ombor. No, I'm not Ombor. I'm ... Ekbor."

Blast it! I almost forgot my own name!

Ogbor started to speak. "I think--"

"Anyway," Ekbor continued, "I'm talking about the most villainous enemy the government has ever seen, the evil rebel Zebor and the Freedom Fighters. Anyone who rebels against the government is evil."

"Zebor? I think it's Vabor, Nebor."

"I'm not Nebor! I'm Ekbor!" Ekbor said.

Why can't you get my name right, you blasted blockhead?

"I--" said Ogbor.

"Stop confusing me with someone else!"

"I--"

"Anyway," Ekbor resumed, "I'm glad we're returning to the home planet after all these years! No more blasted space station! No more blasted war! No more blasted evil rebels trying to overthrow the government, Ogbor!"

"I'm not Ogbor. My name is Gibor."

***

Ekbor waited impatiently, filled with hatred for the injustices of society, as the shuttle stopped accelerating and coasted through space. It was cramped. It was uncomfortable. It was irritating. It smelled. It stunk. It reeked of nauseating odors. It was old. It was used. It was defective.

Ekbor and Ogbor were the last inhabitants of the space station. The others had gradually left over the years. Ekbor did not know what had happened to them or where they had gone or whether or not they were still living; the space station's defective communications equipment was inadequate to receive messages from the home planet or anywhere else.

Ekbor felt disgusted and uncomfortable in the shuttle; Ogbor, however, seemed quite content and satisfied. Ekbor observed the computer display and saw the space station, a metal torus that slowly rotated as it revolved around the home planet.

Something did not seem quite right about the picture. Ekbor zoomed in and saw a small number of fighter spacecraft attacking the space station with lasers and blasters. The space station, prey to the small but numerous fighters, suffered injury after injury from the fury unleashed by the assailing predators.

"Great gastric juices, Ogbor! They're attacking the space station!" Ekbor exclaimed.

"Pretty good processed food, I say."

"They're attacking the blasted space station!"

As Ekbor watched, forlorn and impotent, the unfortunate space station gradually grew smaller and smaller until it was only a minute speck in the distance, identical to all of the stars that surrounded it. Ekbor, who felt somewhat confused, disoriented, weak, powerless, futile, superfluous, distressed, persecuted, and tortured, had never seen the space station from the outside before, and it seemed strange and alien, a hulking mass of metal that gave its despondent observer a feeling of frightful dread and terror instead of the sense of peace and happiness and freedom that was usually accompanied by the sight of a space habitat gracefully spinning to generate artificial gravity in the desolate emptiness of space.

"Did you see that, Ogbor? They were attacking the space station! That could have been ... us!"

"Really?" said Ogbor, boring and indifferent.

Interesting. The fighters weren't doing much damage to the space station. Shouldn't Zebor and the Freedom Fighters have better equipment? Why don't they use a destroyer or something?

Ekbor tugged on the seat belt, which felt extremely uncomfortable. The shuttle smelled old and used and defective.

"If we had stayed on that space station longer than we did," Ekbor said, "we would have been ... blasted to bits!"

But of course the Freedom Fighters don't have better equipment. They aren't funded by the government. They can't afford a destroyer.

Strangely, Ekbor felt pity for the rebels.

"What do you think about returning to the home planet, Fibor?" asked Ogbor in a mechanical tone.

Why can't this blasted blockhead remember my name correctly?

"My name is Ekbor! Ekbor, you idiot! Ekbor, do you understand, Ogbor?" Ekbor said in an irate tone.

"My name is not Ogbor; it's Akbor."

Ekbor's anger erupted. "I don't care what your name is!"

"My name is Kebor," insisted Ogbor.

"I ... don't ... care ... what ... your ... name ... is!"

"So what do you think about returning--"

"Stop ... changing ... the ... subject! You stupid idiot! Why can't you remember my name correctly?" Ekbor demanded.

Ogbor did not answer.

What is this blasted universe evolving into? This blasted universe! This blasted, blasted universe!

The seat belt unfastened by itself, and Ekbor started to float out of the irritating seat.

"What? Blasted seat belt! Everything's defective!"

The ceiling of the cramped capsule collided with the cranium of Ekbor, who cried a screeching scream of acute discomfort. Portions of the foam that constituted the ceiling broke off and floated in the weightless interior of the shuttle.

"You're floating," said Ogbor, who seemed to notice that Ekbor was floating.

"Shut up, you blasted blockhead!"

Through the window, Ekbor could see billions of stars, all of which seemed identical. To the right was a huge blue spheroid, the home planet, and numerous clouds moving over the continents and oceans. The sight did not pacify Ekbor's rage.

"You're blasted! All of you! You and the blasted universe! What's wrong with the blasted universe? No one respects me as a blasted individual anymore! Everything has to be for the blasted benefit of society!"

Slowly, Ekbor gyrated in midair and collided with the window, on which a small crack appeared.

"Blasted window! Everything's defective!"

"Ekbor, I--" said Ogbor.

"This blasted society doesn't respect me as a blasted individual! Blasted society! Blasted universe! You're all blasted!"

"Lybor, there's no need to be--"

"Blast you, Ogbor! Blast you! Blasted society! Everything is blasted! Blasted social equality! I don't give a blast about social equality! Social equality is blasted! Just like all of the other blasted things in this blasted universe! Everything's blasted!"

"Rebor, we're approaching the evil Pibor's spaceship," announced Ogbor.

"Blast you! Blast all of you! Blast--"

What did this blasted idiot just say?

"We're going where?" Ekbor said.

"We're approaching the evil Kobor's spaceship."

The evil one's spaceship! But how can that be?

Ekbor tried to turn but floated into the window painfully, increasing the length of the existing fissure and forming new ones.

Ahead, the enormous spaceship loomed, a hulking mass of metal contorted into the shape of a double helix. The two strands were connected at regular intervals by cylinders of equal length. The shuttle approached the spaceship, and the horrifying object filled Ekbor with trepidation. The ship seemed to reach out to snatch any object that floated past, to grab any spacecraft that might venture near it, to seize any unsuspecting person trying to approach it.

After staring silently with awe and disbelief at the mammoth metal monster, Ekbor demanded, "Computer! Why aren't we going to the home planet?"

The electronic voice of the computer replied, "Resuming our voyage to the home planet does not benefit society. We are going to destroy the enemies of the government because doing so benefits society. All things must benefit society."

This blasted shuttle isn't equipped with blasted weapons to fight Zebor and the blasted Freedom Fighters with! What is this blasted computer talking about?

"Blast you, computer! I don't give a blast about this blasted society!" Ekbor said. "Everything's blasted! The whole blasted universe is blasted!"

"Sibor, I don't think--" said Ogbor.

"Shut up, Ogbor!" Ekbor kicked the computer display and, as a result of the force exerted, flew back into the window. The cracks grew longer and formed a hideous web of fissures. Ekbor realized the gravity of the situation.

"No! The pressure is too strong! The window will break! No!"

Ogbor said nothing, but the voice of the defective computer answered, "All things all all things m-m-must benef-f-fit society benefit society society-ty-ty-ty four four four fourscore and seven seven seven seven seven seven seven years ago ago ago all things must must must benefit society society must benefit-it-it society this this contin-n-nent a new new nation nation benefit benefit b-b-benefit society ..."

Random letters, digits, and other characters appeared and rapidly changed on the computer display.

"... lib-b-berty and d-ded-d-d-d-dicated to to th-th-the p-p-proposition that benefit society society equal equal equal equal benefit society society dedicated here to to the unfinished work which they who f-fought here have thus far so nobly advanced benefit society society society benefit b-b-benefit society take increased devotion to to that cause for for for for which they gave the last full measure of devotion d-d-devotion died died died died died in v-vain new birth of f-f-freedom freedom freedom freedom freedom benefit benefit benefit society government of the people by th-th-th-the people for for for for the p-p-peop-p-ple shall not perish perish p-p-perish perish ..."

Ekbor screamed over the noise in an effort to block out the cacophonous sound and felt a strange sense of admiration for the Freedom Fighters and the cause for which they were fighting.

Zebor! I understand you! I understand why you are fighting against the government! It's freedom; isn't it, Zebor? Freedom! Isn't that what you are fighting for? I understand you! I understand! I want freedom also! Such a great thing is freedom! We should all have freedom! I understand you, Zebor!

Amid the noise, disorder, and confusion, the web of fissures on the window enlarged and became more complex.

"No!" Ekbor said.

Ogbor said nothing.

The window broke.

"Blast," Ekbor said.

And an enormous blast destroyed their shuttle.

***

Calmly watching from the observation deck of the great spaceship, Zebor saw powerful lasers blast the small shuttle to bits. This was certainly not the first shuttle to attempt an attack on the spaceship. Each attempt was identical to the previous one, and all of them proved to Zebor how futile the pathetic corrupt government was in its efforts to thwart the forces of its enemies.

How stupid is the pathetic government! They have the wrong idea! They cannot restrict freedom in the name of equality! Freedom is more important than equality! It is true that equality is important, but the government puts too much emphasis on equality! Freedom is what we want! Freedom to say what one wants to say! Freedom to write what one wants to write! Freedom to read what one wants to read! These are all important, far more important than overemphasized equality!

The sensors that Zebor had recently installed indicated that Gubor, the leader of the treacherous, perfidious government, had been present on the shuttle, which no longer existed, for the powerful lasers had transformed it into scattered particles of debris.

Gubor? Impossible! It can't be Gubor!

But the sensors had indicated that Gubor's genetic code had been present on the shuttle, and the sensors were never incorrect. Zebor smiled with satisfaction and laughed quietly.

"Finally! Gubor has been defeated!"

Copyright 2002 by The Invincible Spud.