Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
From: (Sean T Barrett)
Subject: KMACS
Message-ID: <>
Summary: parody SF short story (3000 words)
Organization: The World Public Access UNIX, Brookline, MA
Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 01:59:25 GMT
Lines: 386

Copyright 1997 Sean Barrett

   She pressed a button.  "Mr. President...  Dave
Francis is here."
   A voice crackled.  "Send him in."  She smiled at
me, strictly a formality, and I showed myself into
the rectangular office.
   The man behind the desk wore the standard executive
three-piece suit.  He smiled and said, "Hey, Dave,
good to see you."
   "You too, Bill.  Hiya Fido," I added to the dog.
He set his paintbrush down and barked twice, quickly.
"Oh?"  He barked and growled rapidly.  "You'll have
to tell me more later.  How's the family, Bill?"
   "Family's fine.  Oh, someone did a number on Simon."
   "Dammit.  Are there still idiots who don't know
you don't ask a computer to do math?  What was it?
pi to 20 places?"
   "Whether some big number was prime.  He's not
too bad now, he's only working on it a few hours
a day."
   "It doesn't matter.  He'll never be the same
again.  Who would do that?  It's not like you use
him for business."
   "I'm afraid it was just some teenagers playing
   "I told you it would be best to make him ignore
   "I know, but I couldn't figure out how to turn
off the charm."
   I sighed.  "It's a shame.  I would've trusted
him with my life before this.  Now I probably won't
ever do anything Simon says."
   "Anyway, as you can probably guess, given the
call...  We found a corpse.  There's a new alien race."
   "What are we calling them?"
   "Race #624, of course.  Why do you always ask?"
   I shrugged.  "I keep hoping you'll make my job
more interesting.  Why I'd think that from a bunch
of TV executives, I don't know."
   "I was hoping I'd never have to bring you in
again.  I'd hoped that the UR... well, their
resolution was promising."
   "We both saw the disclaimer on the translation.
I told you not to get optimistic.  And even if they
meant it, you didn't really think it was anything
more than posturing, did you?"
   "Well, at least they didn't just say whoever got
to us first could have us as slaves."
   Fido barked once, brief and high-pitched--a
laugh.  I looked over at him.  "Yeah, we know you
think you already did that.  Like they say, it's a
dog's life."  He bared his teeth (a smile), then
leaned down and picked his paintbrush back up.
   "Anyway, back to race #624.  Want to do a show?"
   "You know it's part of my job, Mr. Network President."
   "I know you get a kick out of it."
   I just grinned back.

   I picked up my helpers and we hit the streets in
the custom KMACS "disguise" van with the electronically
changeable logo.  The van itself was blue today.  I
asked it why.  "I was meant to fly," it told me.  Hey,
it wasn't my fault that aircars had been outlawed.  It's
not like I had signed that bill.
   The network research was impeccable as ever.  They
had solid evidence on a local citizen.  A few hours
later, I got on a bus with my crew in tow, all of us
in civvies and pretending we didn't know each other.
Don stood across the way with an innocuous-looking
handheld camera, while the boys got behind the target.
   I sat down next to him.  Anthony Bowers, alias
Robert Greene, once a scientist, now a supermarket
cashier.  At least he had tried to hide.
   "Didja hear about the new aliens?" I asked him, casually.
   He grunted and looked away.  Ooh, anti-social.
   "I guess it's kinda boring, there've been so many.
But it's pretty cool that there are so many different
and interesting species."
   He shrugged.  "Doesn't interest _me_."
   "You don't think discovering alien lifeforms is exciting?
You don't believe in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
   He looked at me in stunned recognition.  The camera was
rolling.  "Dr. Anthony Bowers, you are under arrest.  You
have no rights."  I moved out of shot so Don could capture
the two lads man-handling him--nothing like showing an
alienist being beat up before the first commercial break.

   The network's research hadn't uncovered much about
the aliens, but then, they don't pay me for nothing.
I'm pretty good at getting what I want--heck, that's
what got me where I am today.
   Unfortunately, one consequence of having my job is that
I'm the most famous man on the planet.  Which causes
problems for doing secretive research.  Fortunately,
anyone can be anonymous on the Net.
   Unlike most people, I actually had a complete net
access setup at my place.  Most people didn't use the
net enough to justify owning their own machine.  Well,
to be honest, most people avoided the net like the
plague.  Not really good for much except being anonymous.
   I spun up an avatar and took him on a stroll.  The
billboards flashed and burbled, but I hardly noticed--
my eyes made a better filter than any software ever had.
   On the net, information is like a virus.  It just
can't help getting around.  That was why I was here.
My best bet was to find some UFO loons.
   I hopped my avatar on a passing train.  Most of the
other avatars on the train turned to mine and began
talking at the same time.  Your standard bunch of losers,
hoping to make a buck by selling a little advertising
when they're not doing anything else.
   It would take a while to get to where I was going, so I
got up and fixed myself a drink, watching the screen out
of the corner of my eye.

   I hopped my avatar off the train when we got to
sector Q.  To be honest, even I wasn't very comfortable
here, and I would never have come if it weren't for my
mission.  As soon as I got what I needed, I'd be off
faster than a remote-controlled brassiere at a party
at the House.
   A female avatar sidled up to me and said, "Hi, honey,
lookin' for a chat?  Nice robo-pants."  I ignored her,
since she was undoubtedly a bot, although I did capture
her image so I could replicate it later.  When she decided
I was /ignoring her, she morphed into a projectile and
skimmed rapidly down the street.
   A few virtual steps later, a sidewalk-preacher type
accosted me, and we began the turing dance...
   "What's a rhyme for celebrate?" he asked.
   "'Salivate'.  What's 3 times 7?" I responded.
   "21.  Who was the first president of the US?"
   "Washington.  What's 308 divided by 7?"
   "I don't do big math.  Who was the sixth president?"
   "Well... that's my specialty.  J.Q. Adams, right?
What's 365 divided by 7?"
   "I said I don't do big math.  What do you see when
you look at clouds?"
   "Damn near anything I want.  Think about where you've
heard those numbers before, 365 divided by 7."
   "Oh... uh..." He paused.  "52?  What happens when you
hear a plane going by, and you look up to see it?"
   "Umm... you see it?"
   "What surprising thing happens?"
   "Oh... you don't see it.  It's not where it sounds
like it is."
   "You have any more questions for me?"
   "No, 52 is plenty."
   "Does that test really work?"
   "Pretty much.  I've never found a computer that
could answer it.  If their big-math interlock fires,
they can't even shortcut out to the fact database.
Somebody could write one, but the only utility would
be to fool me."
   "Wanna hear about my alien abduction experience?"
   "Actually, I'm really interested in rumors about the
new race."
   "Oh... you a reporter?  You wanna run with the big
   "The big boys?"
   "Yeah... rumor has it... well... that's enough of
a hint."  He transmitted his deposit public key.
"What's it worth to you?"
   "100.  50 now, 50 after."
   "20 now, 50 after."
   He hesitated.  "Deal."  That probably meant if I
was willing to hunt I could find it for free.
   I tapped a few keys and wired him the money.
   "Xi.  Every rumor mentions Xi."
   "After I see if it's true.  Leave your account
open."  I may be dishonest, but I'm honestly
dishonest.  Honor among bureaucrats and all that.

   Everyone knows about Xi.  They've got their hands
everywhere.  Them being involved in an alien race...
would not be surprising.
   I run with the big boys every day... but I couldn't
do much about Xi.
   Still, I zinged the big man himself for a five
minute audience.  His receptionist answered a few
hours later: "In person, 30 minutes from now."
   Mister Z, he styled himself.  On the trip to his
office, I reviewed everything I knew about him, looking
for a chink in his armor.
   Xi started as a high-tech research firm.  That's
still how everyone thinks of them, I know, but they're
the biggest megacorporation now, and very little of
their income comes from innovation.  But that's not
how it started.
   First it was software, of course.  AIs gave Xi
their name, their capital... everything.  Microsoft
bought them out for an enormous sum of money, of course.
When Microsoft broke the AIs by making them math
idiot savants, Z was able to exercise his "disownership"
escape clause--and use the money to relaunch
Xi as the inventor (and sole manufacturer) of various
hi-tech goods--less piratable and more profitable.
   Excepting technologies shown to us by aliens,
probably 90% of the really innovative technologies
came from Xi: thought boards, gravitrans, dark bulbs--
from the mundane to the outlandish, from the cheap
to the expensive; Xi was behind most of it.  The less
said about orbital mind-control lasers, the better.
   And if Xi wanted to deal with aliens... well...
there wasn't much anyone could do about it.  Even me.

   For an eccentric, Z seemed pretty normal.  He
stood behind his desk wearing the standard executive
three-piece suit.
   "Mind if I call you Dave?" he asked.
   I shrugged, looking around the office.  Gratuitous
hi-tech items, perhaps prototypes, littered the
enormous room.  Even the dog was out of character--
no paint brushes in sight, just a screen--it seemed
to be just thinking at it.
   Z saw where I was looking.  "It's a custom job.
Pretty expensive.  Anyone who could afford it...
would consider it a waste.  What can I do for you?"
He picked an apple up off his desk and casually
took a bite from it.
   I hesitated.  He was being... flashy.  Too much
so?  No matter how rich he was, real fruit was rare
enough he didn't eat it every day.  Was he worried
about me enough to feel he had to show his power?
   "Well... I'm just curious... about aliens."
   "Yes... you would be.  I've heard the same
rumors as you.  Maybe Xi is interested in these
aliens and is looking for them too?"
   "Or maybe you've already found someone else
who knows where they are?"
   Z reached over to his desk and pressed a
button.  A small section of metal slide back.
"And if I knew where they were... why in the
world would I tell you?  We are... opposed...
you and I."  He dangled the half-eaten apple
over the open receptacle, and I realized what
it was--a "shredder".
   He was toying with me.  It was one of Xi's
classic inventions--the miniature "black hole"
garbage disposal.  It "solved" the landfill
problem.  But the world had realized the
seriousness of the problems, and the mass
preservation laws had been instituted.  Now
the only thing you could legally destroy was
crucial secret documents.
   The apple dropped... a brief flash of light as
it passed through the shield...  and it was gone.
Forever.  "You will get nothing from me."  Had there
been witnesses, I maybe could have nailed him.  No
wonder he wanted to meet in person.
   I turned to the dog, who seemed oblivious to
our conversation--though I knew enough about their
race to know how attentive they are to everything
that occurs.  "What's his name?"
   "Rover," Z said, a touch of curiosity in his
   I studied the painting for a while.  My education
at the paws of Fido (a different one) put me in good
stead--money and time well-spent for just such an
occasion.  "This is very interesting, Rover."
   Rover turned his head sideways slightly, eyeing
me.  No doubt thinking "stupid human".
   "The dark green tint is very evocative.  And the
wash of red and blue on the left... this is about
the cosmic oneness, right?"
   Rover growled briefly, then emitted a short
burst of barks and yips.  Roughly translated as,
"About not right.  I didn't know humans followed
our art"--the last said in a sly way.
   Few people learned to understand Dogz (and nobody,
me included, bothered to learn to speak it).  Learning
an alien language was nothing like learning a human
one.  Their needs, desires, emotions, their whole way
of thinking... was totally foreign to us.  What seemed
to us an artistic endeavor was different to them...
mystical and biological.  Why a species would evolve
a need to create and express deep "philosophy" through
colors laid out in two dimensions, I don't know.
   But it was close enough to human art to overcome the
language barrier.  "Does this medium help you to produce?"
   He answered (without the growl this time), "Not
help.  It is... less distracting.  Less physical."
   I looked at his painting some more.  "It is...
imperfect.  But I feel its power."  To the dogs,
the "art" was about the process, the experience;
it was always imperfect.
   Rover shook his head and concentrated on the screen,
which suddenly cleared.  "I must start again," he
barked.  Then he uttered a few syllables which
were transliterations for English syllables, used
to express names.  Dee Ay Goh.
   Diego.  Him I could touch.
   I reached down to scratch Rover behind the ears,
and turned back to Z.  "Well... don't let me take
up all your time.  I have other leads to follow."
   "Good luck," he called after me, mockingly.

   Dumpsville, PA, was home to the Diego Landfill
Processing company.  Edward Diego was one of the biggest
landfill tycoons.  And, like all of them, it was rumored
that his biggest profits had come from sales off-world--
in violation of mass preservation laws, of course.
   My reputation preceded me--Chairman Diego, by some
strange coincidence, wasn't in the office today.  But at
the same time, my reputation made it difficult for them
to stop me from barging right in.  I recognized the tall
man in the standard executive three-piece suit behind the
desk from several shindigs at the House.
   "Where are the aliens?" I demanded.
   Diego looked at me smugly.  "I don't know what you're
talking about."
   "Race #624."
   "Oh, yes, I heard there was a new race.  They're not
near here, are they?  That could get nasty."
   "Or profitable, in your line of work.  Of course, that
would be treason against the human race."
   "I run a perfectly clean business."
   I sniffed, and not because he recycled filth.
   "I do.  You can inspect my records to your heart's content.
Everyone else from your government has.  Here, I'll open my
books to you."  He changed his tone of voice and spoke into
thin air, "Al, please answer any questions Mr. Francis has.
Al handles all our day-to-day operations."
   I shrugged.  "You've already told him what to keep secret."
   "Al, tell him anything and everything he wants to know.
Ignore any and all other orders from me to the contrary."
   I didn't really care at this point what he was up to.
I had an episode of KMACS to put on.  I thought for a
moment.  "Hmm, Al, is there any way for your boss to undo
that order now?"
   "Al, I imagine you're pretty indispensable to Mr. Diego.
   "To the best of my knowledge, yes."
   "Well, Al, what's three times five?"
   I looked carefully back at Diego.  His eyes widened
in shock.  "You wouldn't," he said, faintly.
   "No, I won't, will I?  'Cause you're gonna tell me:
Where are the aliens?"

   I recited the traditional words--I hadn't needed a
telepaprompter for this the last five hundred times
either: "Well, looks like it's Carousel time.  Any last
wishes?"  We were gathered at the edge of a line of
buildings.  The aliens' ship was in the woods across
the field; so far, they hadn't budged.
   "What does that line mean, anyway?" Bowers asked.
   I beamed.  "Why, you're a fan of the show, I can
see.  Off the record," I continued, "it's just an
obligatory reference to the twentieth century.  From
a vid.  It refers to some individuals thrown into a
situation where they might live, or they might die."
   I paused to give him a chance to think about it.
"Of course, they always died."  I looked over at Don.
"Roll 'em."
   I put on my best showman's smile.  "Dr. Anthony
Bowers.  Your involvement in SETI is well-documented.
As judge and jury, I hereby sentence you.  You wanted
to meet aliens.  By the power of the office of
President of the United Federations of Earth, I
hearby appoint you as the Ambassador to alien
race #624.  Go get 'em, tiger."

   Actually, sometimes they survived.  A few of the
alien races we'd encountered hadn't even been that bad.
Although none of them had been particularly "good",
either.  The good races didn't bother showing up.
Rover and Fido's race was the best of the bunch, and
they were parasites.
   I don't know for sure just how bad race #624 was.
But the individual members of race #624 that had come
to earth were very nasty.  We had already run back to
the van, and I had called in an airstrike, before
Ambassador Bowers had done much more than lose a few
limbs.  Calming my breathing, I turned to the camera
for the wrap-up.
   "This is President Dave Francis signing off another
episode of 'Kiss My Ass, Carl Sagan'."