by Sean Hanlon
Cavanova cried into his beer, and in the bubbles and the tears he saw a vision of the long ago: The Lord of Ugly Things. That is the Maori name for the biggest bug on earth. Also known as the tree weta, the Lord of Ugly Things is seen only in New Zealand and only after the Sun goes down. The Sun was down when Cav hopped onto a Maori maiden and pleasured her beneath a kauri tree until the Lord bit him in the ass. The tingling of the beer & tear foam on his upper lip reminded him of her hysterical delight.
He now allowed that the Lord’s bite was nothing as compared to the bite Fred the Red had taken out of his Princeton squash emporia on Earth and Mars. Determined as he was that the best and the brightest should reign supreme, Cav had recruited Darwood Dirk to be his chairman of the board. Dirk was tall, dark, handsome and rich. If his squash game was wanting his swimming credentials were impressive as Dirk had been captain of the Princeton Men’s Swimming Team in the long ago. Cavanova figured that the members of his clubs on Earth and Mars would delight in squashing the one-time swimming star and for a few years they did just that but soon after Finn graduated from Princeton he let Fred know that Dirk had been the mastermind of a troll-a-thon that had caused quite a scandal back in the day: “wetem2getem” subjected the Princeton Women’s Swiming Team to rude, crude and lewd remarks that were circulated online. Dirk had trolled a photograph of one lady swimmer on a bad hair hair as an illustration of his text:
“She seems relatively simple and probably inexperienced sexually, and so I decided missionary would be her preferred position.”
Fred’s online account of this caused Cav’s calamities as his Princeton alumni squash courts on Earth and Mars were boycotted by women and picketed by missionaries. He may have coped with the pickets but the boycott was his undoing for some Princeton men play squash so they can be with women of robust stripe, and a lesser number of Princeton men are attracted to such men. Their sudden aversion to his courts were another factor in Cav’s collapse, just when things were going so going so well with the lady lovers he had boasted in a life crowded with incident.
* * *
Finn and Fred the Red were flown by Chet Beau-Zeau’s bodyguard to the summit of Olympus Mons where the High Tower of Cramazon, Inc. rose above the red expanse of an otherwise barren Mars. It had been years since these squashlings had met face-to-face, though they Skyped for an hour or so whenever the business of their Interplanetary Luxury Lines required their attention. Together again after all these years, they checked one another out in an unobtrusive way as the shuttle closed in on Mars: Finn was taller than he used to be; and Fred had lost a few pounds by retooling the dinner break from her moonlighting as the viral journalist who had laid Cavanaugh low. Whereas formerly she had filled her brain with Facebook and her face with Pizza, she now feasted on the heart-healthy hopes and dreams of amateur athletics by playing coed pickup basketball at the Yam Street Y in New York City. There the guys prized her size on the court and in the sack.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the scanty garments of basketball allow men to slyly ogle women working up a sweat.
After body scanning passengers, the bodyguard led them into The Stargate, a cavernous chamber of the High Tower with a floor like the surface of the moon and a dome like the starry sky. Beau-Zeau greeted them beneath The Little Dipper, his eyes drawn to shirts he supposed were for sale at the gift shops of their interplanetary enterprise. He noted with satisfaction that Finn’s garment bore the image of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon, but was mystified by Fred’s blouse. Her garment bore the image of Katherine Johnson, a celestial navigator at NASA who calculated the trajectory that put Neil in position to take his famous step. Beau-Zeau said:
“Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Finn handed his host the remote control to the selfie drone that Fred took out of a backpack that also produced a three-pack of Dunlop Pro squash balls. She identified the balls as Globular Specimens #1, 2 and 3 while dropping 1 and 3 to the floor, handing 2 to her host with this request: “Our silent partner said you should slime this with your precious bodily fluids: maybe muss it up with your arm pit or spit on it. Any kind of bodily fluid will do. Whatever is up to you.”
Beau-Zeau blew his nose on Globular Specimen #2 and dropped it to the floor, watching with amusement as it bounced in and around the craters of the Moon before settling down. Beau-Zeau directed the selfie drone around and about The Little Dipper, around and about the scattered balls. Finn said: “Our silent partner has instrumented this model of the GAL 9000 with bionic filaments that collect data as they make contact with the globes. The data will be transmitted to our lab on Earth for analysis and our analysis will be relayed to you by way of a secure Twitter account.”
Fred advised Beau-Zeau to hover over the orbs for upwards of a minute each. Like a fisherman casting baited hook and line, the billionaire directed the GAL 9000 to an orb beneath Orion’s Belt and unfurled the filaments from the belly of the drone. The undulating threads caressed Globular Specimen #1 as an octopus might caress its catch. After more than a minute of this, Beau-Zeau directed the drone to perform the same operation on Globular Specimen #2 and then on #3. After the passage of something less than fifteen minutes, the Twits reported back:
#1 — Globe composed of plasticized petrochemicals.
#2 We are not alone! Globe composed of plasticized petrochemicals colonized by bacteria associated with the nasal emissions of intelligent life.
#3 — Globe composed of plasticized petrochemicals.
Finn made the case for life on Venus by presenting Beau-Zeau with a paper published by John A. Ball of Harvard University. Ball address the Fermi Paradox: if there are out there somewhere, then where is everybody? Some respond that everyone is nowhere because there are no aliens. Ball responds that aliens may be watching us for entertainment purposes and have decided not to feed or otherwise disturb the animals. He quoted Ball’s scholarly view:
“The zoo hypothesis predicts that we shall never find them because they do not want to be found and they have the technological ability to insure this.” Fred chimed in: “To me that’s just another way of saying that God is a cosmic couch potato and we are his cable TV.”
She quickly directed a nicely spliced boaster at Beau-Zeau’s billions, the boaster being a killer shot whether fired in squash, love or high finance. “We now know that we are the only life on Mars but the universe must be crawling with life if it we find some on Venus.” Fred added: And the GAL 9000 can tell you whether it’s toe jam or belly button fuzz.”
“You bet. Twits to and from Venus and Mars by way of Earth should take somewhere between thirteen to ninety-five minutes, depending on how the planets are aligned. Bio-analysis by our lab takes another ten to twenty minutes, depending on the complexity of the sample, so if you want to get the drop on a Venusian rock, it could maybe be four or five hours before you know if there’s anything squiggling on it.”
Beau-Zeau studied the Twits. “Okay, fine. How much?”
Finn attempted a a glower he hoped would add a tincture of menace to the modesty of his speech. “Ten million each upfront for Winifred and myself. Twenty million upfront for our silent partner and his technology.”
“That’s adds up to forty million pesos?”
“Forty million in dollars and stock in Cramazon Corp, the split between the two to be decided at closing time. That’s a mere bag of shells to a guy like you if a guy like you wants to discover life on Venus.”
“Rhymes with penis?”
“Hip, hip, hooray!”
* * *
Their silent partner was Reid and Reid was the stalking horse of Mealon Usk who had parlayed $4.9 billion in U.S. government grants, loans and credits into a dominant position in the burgeoning field of industrial aromatics. He and his engineers had digitized the nosen of a beagle and had assigned its powers of discovery and discernment to the filaments he hoped would make Venus an outpost of his domain. These were the filaments that had fondled the phlegm on Globular Specimen #2 and these were the filaments that Usk & Reid with Finn & Fred planned to deploy for their own design: Beau-Zeau would give them $40 million in cash and stock for the use of a juiced up GAL 9000 while they put the PAL 9000 to work.
The PAL 9000 was an offspring of the GAL with superior aromatic capabilities when it comes to sniffing out life on planets of the near abroad.
As he neared his moments of triumph, revenge and pecuniary excess, Reid could not help but wallow once more in the muck of his grievances before they were washed away, the better to inspire awe in those who had abused him. When first he lost Stacy’s love to Henry, he had consoled himself by devoting his freshman English term paper at Princeton to The Pond of Despond in The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan as where “fears, and doubts and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place.” And when Reid later lost Stacy’s love to Cavanaugh, he consoled himself with Tom Waits and the Blues Down Under where “the girls down by the strip-tease shows go Waltzing Matilda.” Misery loves company.
Blues begone! Reid & Usk with Finn & Fred had sealed a deal with a Russian oligarch who had agreed to deliver their PAL 9000 to Venus before Beau-Zeau his GAL 9000. The oligarch would, of course, share in the glory that would attend their being the first to discover life on another world. Then would Fermi would turn over in his grave. Then would Beau-Zeau flip his lid. Then would Stacy wish she had taken Reid to heart.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.