THE UNDIGESTABLES

Deep in their hearts, all incarnations know that the Oracular priesthood wouldn't recognise genuine, honest-to-god side-splitting humour if it sat on their face and wiggled. We don't need additional proof.

So you won't find any here. Instead, here is evidence of many a wasted weekend over the years.

1995  
1. A Nasty Skin Condition
2. Agent Sneath of the ESD
1996  
3. Forklift Murder at Tudor Close
4. Quentin Tarantino's Euro 96
5. Cream Bun Dialectics
1997  
6. Sages of the Ages I: The Neverending Story
7. Sages of the Ages II: Duke Nukem 3D
8. The Cowboy's Lament
9. We Fly at Dawn
1998  
10. Air Force One
11. Flowers for Algernon
12. Secret Woodchuck Man
13. A Christmas Oracarol
1999  
14. The Engineer's Song (Clean Version)
15. Crazy Larry and the Trinity
16. Philip K Dick's "The Name of the Rose"
2000  
17. God's Flowchart
18. A Shaggy Og Story
19. Jaded Mandarin
Epilogue  
20. My Way

 


1.

The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oh wonderous and really keen Oracle, How's Lisa? I think I dated her
> a few years ago. Has that nasty skin condition cleared up yet? How
> about that bone problem, or her preoccupation with eating snails? I
> hope she's feeling better.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Skin condition? Bone problem? What are you blithering about, you presumptuous worm! I'll soon get to the bottom of this. Lisa! Oh, Liiisaa dearest!
WHAT THE OBSERVER SEES: WHAT THE ORACLE SEES:
Enter a shapeless form of oozing sores and blisters. Straw colored hairs sprout in random clumps on its festering exterior. With one claw-like excrescence it is feeding snails into its drooling maw, which it crunches with relish between green, chitinous, peg-like teeth. This vision of putrescence gestures hypnotically towards the Oracle, who gazes on entranced. Enter a vision of alabaster-skinned, raven-haired feminine perfection. In one dainty hand she hold a bunch of grapes. She pauses to select a plump specimen, toss it lightly into the air and catch it between her gleaming, perfectly even teeth. Her full, ruby-colored lips close over the grape, a ravishing smile tugging at their corners. Lisa waves gaily at the Oracle, who gazes on Oracle, who gazes on entranced.
Lisa: You called, my chubbly, cherubic treasure?
Oracle: Look at this message. This wretched so-called supplicant has the unmitigated gall to suggest he once went out on a date with you!
The form extends a pseudopodium over the Oracle's shoulder, dripping slime on his robes as it does so. A cluster of eye-spots congregate at the tip of the pseudopodium, focusing on the monitor. The Oracle inhales Lisa's heady perfume as she leans across, her ample breasts brushing his shoulder. She studies the monitor, a mock-serious expression playing about her wide, luminous brown eyes.
Lisa: Nnnope, never heard of him before in my life.
Oracle: I knew it! The rascal! The pismire! I'll show him what it means to make mock of deities!
Lisa: Don't get too excited, my own little demiurge. Save your energy for... later...
The form extends a flagellum which tickles around the Oracle's ear before piercing his skin and sucking up a small quantity of blood. Lisa snuggles up against the Oracle's neck, extends a delicate pink tongue and playfully nibbles his earlobe.
Oracle: [panting]: I'll call it a day right after dealing with this unbeliever. Why don't you, er, retire to the bedchamber and wait for me there?
Lisa: Don't be long, lover.
The form oozes away across the room, leaving a trail of mucus on the carpet as it passes. It pauses at the door to gesture hypnotically once more before squelching off obscenely. Lisa trips lightly across the room, flowers springing up from on the carpet where her dainty feet touch the ground. She stops at the door to give a seductive wiggle of her hips before skipping off happily.
Right, you nasty bit of goods! Lies and more lies -- I knew as much! Take that!!! 
> > ZOT < <
That's better. Hmm, I feel quite peckish after all that. [The Oracle rubs his stinging earlobe absentmindedly]
Oh look -- Lisa's left her grapes. Just the thing...

 


2.

The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> "Be careful what you say..."
>
> "Shut up let me handle this, I know what I'm do...
> Oh!, uh hello Oracle. You are so smart and, uh you're really
> intelligent and uh, we're just humble supplicants so please help us.
> (whispers: see, I can do this) Anyway, what we'd like to know is, who
> really killed John Kennedy? And what about all those rumors of his
> affairs with Marilyn Monroe? I mean, we're just normal citizens who
> are curious as to what happened. It's not like we're reporters trying
> to get an inside scoop on a story or anything."
>
> "(in a loud whispered voice) Shut up! What are you saying!"
>
> "(responding) I got it, just shut up. (normal voice) So, uh like
> anything you could tell us would be really helpful, I mean
> interesting. Thanks."
>
> "(whispered) You d*mb*ss. We'll be lucky if he even talks to us now.
> Why didn't you just ask him the woodchuck question."
>
> "Be quiet. Let's here what he has to say."

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

MEMORANDUM: CIA Electronic Surveillance Division (ESD)
FROM:       Agent Alonzo Sneath
TO:         Controller ESD, Area Northwest
One enclosure.

Please find attached a transcript of an email message intercepted by
our routine wiretap on the Usenet Oracle service. It hails from what
appears to be a pair of reporters trying to uncover information on our
Operation Snuff Jack. Please advise recommended action.
MEMORANDUM: CIA Electronic Surveillance Division (ESD)
FROM:       Controller ESD, Area Northwest
TO:         Agent Sneath

I have read the transcript. There does appear to be a chance of a
dangerous leak. Find out exactly who these people are and how much
they know.
MEMORANDUM: CIA Electronic Surveillance Division (ESD)
FROM:       Agent Alonzo Sneath
TO:         Controller ESD, Area Northwest

I have established the identities of the two supposed supplicants. They
are Floyd B. Wortleberry and Orel Finkstein, both of Wagon Mound, New
Mexico. They are, as suspected, investigative reporters working for the
Wagon Mound Advertiser & Evening Chronicle. I have not yet been able to
ascertain how much they know about Operation Snuff Jack. However, as
can be seen from the transcript, they have already made the link with
the activities of Agent MM, and presumably also with her subsequent
"retirement" from the Agency. It will take me about a week to investigate
more fully.
MEMORANDUM: CIA Electronic Surveillance Division (ESD)
FROM:       Controller ESD, Area Northwest
TO:         Agent Sneath

We cannot afford to wait for any further investigation. I agree with
your analysis - these two already know more about Operation Snuff Jack
than can be permitted. Please reactivate Codename Terminator and instruct
him on where to find this pair. Raise a special expenditure voucher for
whatever his fee is these day - I'll authorize it.

Meanwhile, so that these two busybodies don't get suspicious, you had
better provide them with an Oracular response that will keep them happy
until CT gets to Wagon Mound. Good work, Sneath. I will see to it that
you receive a commendation for your diligence.
"What! Me? Me provide an Oracular response? Son of a bitch! Gimme a break... Damn! I'm online already...
Er, ahem... Well, in answer to your question, dear supplicants, the answer is... that is to say, it was... Oliver Stone, that's who! How's that grab ya?"

 


3.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> HE TRIED TO KILL HIM WITH A FORK-LIFT

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

PRELUDE
        Chief Superintendent Grout, Thames Valley C.I.D., looked like a man with things on his mind.
        "I don't like it, Oracle," he grumbled, "I don't like it at all. Dr. Black was well liked around these parts."
        "He could afford to be," I observed.
        "That's the kind of remark we can do without! The prime suspects in this case have some powerful connections - one's even a close personal friend of the Chief Constable's. The last thing we need is your usual bull-at-a-gate approach."
        "Me?" I protested. "I'm the very soul of tact..."
        "However," interrupted my superior, "what we need even more is a quick result. I can count on you for a quick result, can't I, Inspector?"
        "Infallibility is my middle name, Sir."
        "Oh, is that what the 'I' stands for? I always wondered..."
1: TUDOR CLOSE
        As I drove my classic, burgundy-coloured Mark 2 Jaguar up the gravel drive, the cassette player filling the summer air with the glorious strains of Mozart, I once again marvelled at the amount of money there was to be made from cocktail sticks. Dr. Ignatius Black had built up an international empire from nothing on the strength of this humble eating implement. Tudor Close, his stately home set in 500 acres of gently undulating land overlooking the River Cherwell, might not have been a match for Blenheim Palace, but it came a respectable second.
        My assistant, the loyal if somewhat pedestrian Sergeant Lewis, was waiting outside the main entrance.
        "What have you got for me?" I asked, stepping out of the car.
        "I think you should come and have a look at this, Sir," he replied sombrely.
2: THE LIBRARY
        He led me round the side of the house, to some bay windows leading into a room which, judging from the bookshelves around the walls, was the library. The windows had been completely smashed, as had the double door at the far end of the room. Three muddy tyre tracks led from the one to the other.
        "What do you think, Sir? Ram-raiders?"
        "In a three-wheeler?" I exclaimed. "Use your head, Lewis!"
        "Sorry, Sir, I was attempting a joke."
        "Well, don't. How about making yourself useful instead and finding out if any of the guests at the house drives a three-wheeler?"
        "I've already done that, Sir. The vicar, the Reverend Green, has a Reliant Robin. It's parked out by the stable block. I'm having forensics check the tyre prints for a match."
        "Are you, indeed? You have a theory, then?"
        "Yes, Sir. A hit-and-run accident."
        "Hit-and-run, eh?" I said. "Lewis, you interest me strangely. Where was Dr. Black's body found?"
        "At the head of the stairs leading to the cellar, at 11.30 last night. I believe the Reverend was just leaving for home when he lost control of his car and..."
        "And managed to run over someone slap bang in the centre of a large country house?"
        "Maybe he was a very, very bad driver..."
        "Lewis," I cried despairingly, "a Reliant Robin is made almost entirely of plastic, is it not?"
        "Er, yes, Sir..."
        "And would you think, Lewis - and try not to get a cerebral haemorrhage doing it - that a flimsy little plastic car could do this kind of damage? Bearing in mind that the library doors look like solid oak from here?"
        "Er..."
        "No. Precisely. So what has three wheels and is robust enough to do this kind of damage? Take your time."
        "Er..."
        "God, Lewis! A forklift truck, of course! This is no accident - it's murder!"
        "A forklift truck, Sir? As a murder weapon? Now there's one for the books."
        "Let's interview the guests, shall we, Lewis?"
3: THE STUDY
        "I say, it's Oracle, isn't it?"
        "Yes, Professor. It's been quite a long time - I'm surprised you remember me."
        Professor Peregrine Plum had been a lecturer in classical philosophy when I'd been a student at Oxford. He'd moved up the ladder since those days.
        "You never completed your degree, did you?" he continued. "What happened?"
        "An unhappy love affair," I murmured. "Ancient history now."
        "Ah, cherchez la femme. Always the way. Pity, you were a brilliant student. And a policeman now, eh? Well, well, well..."
        "You've moved on too, I see. You now head the Department of Warehouse Management at Baliol, I believe."
        "It's all applied industrial stuff these days," he complained gloomily. "Gone is the quest of knowledge for its own sake. But don't you ever feel you've missed your calling? The world of academia needs brilliant enquiring minds like yours. I'm sure I could find you a tenured post somewhere if you were interested. I do have some connections..."
        "Thank you, Professor - I'll keep that in mind. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you teach students to drive forklift trucks?"
        He became suddenly wary. "What are you getting at, Oracle?"
        "Applied industrial stuff," I mused. "Financed by industry, of course. Didn't I read in the papers last year that you tried to run Dr. Black over in a forklift truck, when his company pulled out of funding your department?"
        "That's all water under the bridge, Oracle! I lost my temper - I never meant to injure him! Anyway, we found a new backer, and Black and I are the firmest of friends again now. I mean, we were..."
        "Thank you for your time, Professor," I said, smiling. "Please don't leave the house just yet..."
4: THE LOUNGE
        Mrs. Agatha Peacock sat regally in one of the lounge's plush upholstered chairs and stared at me coldly. She was an extremely fine looking woman for her age, which was more than could be said for her five late husbands.
        "Allow me to extend my condolences on your most recent loss," I said.
        "Poor Cuthbert passed away last spring," she retorted crisply. "I am quite recovered now, thank you."
        "But, judging from your lavish lifestyle as it's reported in the papers, the fortune he left you must be beginning to feel somewhat slightly emaciated."
        "If there is a point to these questions, please get to it."
        "Were there, by any chance, wedding bells in the air vis-a-vis yourself and Dr. Black?"
        "Absolutely not! We were just good friends."
        "I believe all your husbands died of overdoses of medication. A most unfortunate series of coincidences."
        "Inspector," said Mrs. Peacock icily, "if I'd murdered my previous husbands, as you are so crudely implying, and if I had the same fate lined up for Dr. Black, I would in all probability have waited until after the wedding before killing him. And I might have stuck to my tried and tested methods of poisoning instead of running him over with a forklift truck."
        "I never mentioned forklift trucks."
        "No, but your Sergeant did."
        "Thanks, Lewis," I muttered under my breath.
5: THE CONSERVATORY
        "Here we are again, Inspector," she purred.
        In her clinging, blood-red Christian Dior dress, she looked mind-meltingly stunning amongst the lush greenery in the conservatory.
        "Er, yes..." I faltered, "I had a couple more questions, Miss Scarlett..."
        "Please call me Lisa," she breathed. I lost the power of speech again.
        "So," she said, breaking the lengthening silence, "the murder weapon was a forklift truck, was it?"
        "That's right," I stammered.
        "So why was it necessary for you to strip search me earlier on? I've hardly got room to hide a thing like that in here, have I?" She ran her hands slowly, so slowly down her gorgeous flanks.
        "In my line of work, you can't be too careful, Miss... er, Lisa."
        "And that business afterwards? Was that being careful, too?"
        "Just establishing your alibi."
        She smiled seductively. "It's the first time I've heard it called that."
        I cleared my throat awkwardly. "You, er, you said you were in financial difficulty earlier this year."
        "That's right. I even had to get a job. At Wimpey - can you imagine?"
        "And it was Dr. Black who helped you out?"
        "No, it was his business partner, Colonel Mustard. Things are just fine now."
        "Colonel Mustard, eh? Are you and he...?"
        Her laughter tinkled around the room. "Oh no, Inspector. He has his sights set higher, I assure you."
        "Well," I said, "I guess that will be all. Er... perhaps I'd better search you a second time. As I said, you can't be too careful in my line of work."
        She spread her arms in an inviting gesture. "I'm always willing to help the police with their enquiries," she murmured.
        My eyesight began to waver.
6: THE BILLIARDS ROOM
        "Inspector, may I be blunt?"
        "Be my guest, Colonel."
        Colonel Hugh Mustard paced the room, chomping furiously at his cigar. "Listen, Oracle, you've kept us all cooped up in this house all day while you and your Sergeant dash around from one room to another grilling us like we were a bunch of two-bit hoodlums, and what have you got to show for it? As far as I can see, you're no closer to finding the culprit than when you arrived."
        "Ah, but you are mistaken, my dear Colonel," I replied pleasantly. "I am ready to make an arrest this very minute."
        That stopped him in his tracks. "Good God, man!" he spluttered. "Who did it?"
        "Why you, of course, my dear Colonel. Right here in the billiards room, with the lead piping."
        "Me? Don't be absurd! Why would I kill my own business partner? I owe him everything."
        "You certainly owe everything, but not to the late lamented Dr. Black," I said, allowing a steely edge to enter my voice. "I had Lewis check up on your business dealings. Thanks to your financial mismanagement, the cocktail stick empire was about to go under. It was only a matter of time before Black found out and exposed you, so you had to get rid of him."
        "But you yourself proved that Black was killed with a forklift truck at 11.15, at the time when..."
        "...At the time when you and Mrs. Peacock were disporting yourselves on the dining room table. Yes, I know all about that - the housekeeper Mrs. White complained of the noise disturbing her over in the kitchen. But what really happened was that you murdered Black right here at 10.45, and had an accomplice take the body in a forklift truck through the library to the cellar stairs half an hour later while you were in here providing yourself with an alibi. Very neat."
        "You'll never make it stick! I've got influential friends! Your own Chief Constable is my bridge partner!"
        "Save your breath, Mustard," I said irritably. "I've been threatened by experts."
        "Okay, Oracle, you win." A complacent smirk played around his lips. "You've got your man... and, of course, your woman."
        For the first time, I started to feel uneasy. "What do you mean?"
        "Why, my accomplice, of course. The delightful Miss Scarlett, whom you seem to have taken such a close interest in. Who else do you think drove the forklift?"
        "Lisa? Ridiculous!" My protests sounded unconvincing even to me. "How could she drive a forklift truck? She's only ever worked in a hamburger joint!"
        "No, Oracle - she told you she worked for Wimpey, the construction firm. Forklift trucks, earth diggers, JCBs - you name it, she's driven it. And she was so grateful for my financial assistance earlier this year."
        "This doesn't change a thing, Mustard!" I snarled.
        "Of course not, old man. I fully understand - justice must be done." The Colonel sneeringly extended his wrists. "Slap on the cuffs, Inspector! And if that nice Miss Scarlett - Lisa - ends up rotting in Holloway for the next 20 years while my friends in the masons get me out in time for my wedding next weekend, well, that's just the luck of the draw, isn't it?"
7: THE BALLROOM
        "Lewis - arrest the Reverend Green and take him down to the station for charging!"
        "But, Sir! You said..."
        "Never mind what I said, Lewis! Do as you're told, dammit!" I bawled.
        "Yes, Sir!" He had a stony, insubordinate look in his eye which spelled trouble. 
        "Look, Lewis," I said kindly, "the way I see it, the vicar had his Reliant reinforced beforehand. We'll be able to get the proof by checking the local garages. Now hurry along like a good lad - I'll follow you presently. There's just a couple of things to clear up here first."
        Lewis left, but he still had that look. There was definitely going to be trouble. But that was the least of my concerns now. I hurried off to find Mrs. Peacock.
8: THE DINING ROOM
        "My dear Mrs. Peacock," I exclaimed jovially, "I thought I might find you here."
        "What do you want now, Inspector?" she asked coldly.
        "Why, nothing, dear lady. Just to wish you well on your forthcoming nuptials. Colonel Mustard is to be the lucky man, I believe."
        "What of it?"
        I laughed. "It's ironic, isn't it? Both of you broke, and each thinking the other's loaded. A situation Molière would have truly appreciated."
        I thought this might penetrate her icy calm. "Broke?" she squawked.
        "Oh yes, Black's cocktail stick empire is about to go down the tubes. You mean the good Colonel didn't tell you?"
        "The heel!" she screeched.
        "How's your medicine cabinet?" I asked mildly.
        "Well stocked."
        "I am so glad to hear that."
9: THE HALL
        I caught Professor Plum just as he was putting on his coat.
        "Ah, Oracle," he shouted. "Your Sergeant said we could leave. Another case wrapped up, eh what?"
        "It is now, Professor," I agreed. "And, say, about your offer of an academic post..."
        "Changed your mind, eh? Good show - the police force is no place for a man of learning, is what I say. What sort of position are you looking for?"
        "An overseas one would be best, I think. Preferably very soon. Could you fix it up?"
        Professor Plum pondered a moment. "The Dean of Computer Science at the University of Indiana owes me a favour," he said at length. "That is, if you don't mind the Colonies."
        "That would be ideal!"
        "I'll arrange it for you. Call me next week some time."
        "Thanks, Professor," I said heartily. "Oh, and could you see if he has two places? I know a young lady who could also use a spell abroad."
FINIS

 


4.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> O Oracle, who can see into the myriad alternate universes, yea, even
> unto the one where an English sports team wins something,
>
> What would Sesame Street directed by Quentin Tarantino be like?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Believe me, you don't want to know. Here, instead, is a glimpse into an alternative universe where an English sports team does win something.
........................................................................
Lynam: Good evening, and welcome to the BBC's coverage of Euro 96, and England's vital final first round match against the mighty Netherlands. Our commentators in the Wembley arena will be John Motson and Trevor Brooking, while with me here in the studio are Jimmy Hill and Ruud Gullit. Gentlemen, although both teams are almost certainly through to the quarter-finals already, I think you'll agree that they both desperately want a victory tonight.
Hill: Absolutely, Des. There's a lot of prestige at stake. And the Dutch have always beaten us in recent years when it really mattered.
Lynam: As has almost everybody else. What do you think, Rudi?
Gullit: I sink de Dutch won't mint loosing here today, as dis will gif dem de eashier draw in de next rount. And dey wooldn't haf to meet Djermany until de final.
[Desmond Lynam and Jimmy Hill give each other an uneasy look, and decide to ignore Gullit thereafter]
Lynam: Do you think it was wise of Terry Venables to make so many changes to England's line-up for such an important game, Jimmy?
Hill: Well, the squad performed very disappointingly against Switzerland, and the win over Scotland resulted from a good period of only about 15 minutes in the second half. Terry obviously felt he had to do something dramatic to get the fans back on our side.
Lynam: Yes, but Slimey the Worm in place of Alan Shearer? I mean, Slimey's not had a good record as a goal-scorer this season.
Gullit: Venaples is yusing a completely different line-up to upset de pattern off play off de Hollants team. It hass to do wis chaos seory - I reat about dat in New Scientist last wiek.
[Lynam and Hill give each other another look]
Hill: Yes, well enough of the analysis - time to go over to John and Trevor at Wembley.
Lynam: [over fade] You know, Des, I saw the shopkeeper across the street from me pull down the blinds by hand this morning, by getting up on a stepladder. I think he's lost his stick.
Hill: [over fade] Poverty's a terrible thing, Jimmy...
Motson: Good evening, viewers. There's a great atmosphere in Wembley here tonight, as England prepare to fight their old rivals the Netherlands. There have been several explosions, the last during the playing of the Dutch national anthem, but I'm happy to be able to report that none were caused by the IRA, and there were only Dutch fans amongst the casualties.
Brooking: And what a colourful bunch those Dutch fans are, John. Great swathes of orange and blood-red behind the goal England will be defending during the first half.
Motson: Blood-red isn't part of the Dutch team colours, is it?
Brooking: I think you'll find that's blood, John.
Motson: Oh, I see. And now the Spanish referee, Mister Torquemada, is calling both team captains over to the centre spot to shake hands. It's really wonderful, the spirit of sportsmanship that's pervaded this tournament throughout...
Brooking: The Count's just bitten Witsche in the neck.
Motson: And the referee's going over to him. Is he going to caution the Count before the match has even started? No, the Count stares into his eyes and the referee walks away again looking dazed.
Brooking: A lucky escape for the Count there, John. FIFA authorities are really clamping down on vampirism during games this year, and the Count could easily have got himself booked for that incident.
Motson: And as the whistle blows for begin of play, the Dutch have the kick-off. Seedorf passes the ball to Winter, who lays it back to de Boer. He's a wonderfully talented player, this man de Boer. He's been the mainstay of the Dutch team in every game they've played so far. Now he dribbles the ball forward, taking on Cookie Monster, and - oh! The Monster's had his leg off!
Brooking: Well, I must say he's making a meal of it.
Motson: I don't know, Trev. If I'd had my leg ripped off at the knee, I'd be rolling around a bit too.
Brooking: I mean the Cookie Monster. First time I've seen anyone eat a human leg in a major tournament since Paul Gascoigne in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against Germany.
Motson: The one where Stuart Pearce missed that all-important penalty?
Brooking: Gazza should stick to eating opponents' legs. I'm sure Stuart would've scored if he'd had the full complement.
Motson: And this time the referee is reaching into his pocket and, yes, he's showing the Cookie Monster the yellow card! Some of the English players have come over to remonstrate with him. And now, good lord! Mister Torquemada replaces the card and has given the free kick to England! Well, this is extraordinary. What do you make of that, Trevor?
Brooking: It's extraordinary, John.
Motson: Do you think the revolver Bert was holding the the ref's head had anything to do with it?
Brooking: Who can tell? Some of these Continental referees we've had in this tournament have been very erratic.
Motson: Ernie takes the kick. It's a short pass to Bert. Back to Ernie. Back to Bert. Back to Ernie. Back to - no! Brilliantly intercepted by Seedorf! Seedorf curls a long ball out to Jordi Cruyff on the left, and Jordi's off on another one of those long weaving runs up the wing. He dummies Snuffelupagus, makes for the baseline and places a long cross into the penalty box, and - and Bergkamp's completely unmarked! Bergkamp gets his head to the ball!..
Brooking: Leaving his body behind...
Motson: My god! A decapitation in the penalty area! Is there going to be a penalty? No! The Dutch are furious, but the referee waves play on!
Brooking: I think you'll find that's Big Bird waving the referee, John.
Motson: Whatever, it's a lucky escape for England. David Seaman in goal now collects the ball - oh no, he's got Bergkamp's head by mistake - and rolls it out to Oscar. Oscar with a long pass up the field, finding Grover. Grover takes out Blind, he takes out de Kock - really effective use of automatic weapons there. He centres the ball - I mean, the head. No, he's placed it too near the goal. This is an easy one for the lanky figure of van der Sal to collect...
Brooking: Actually, the Dutch goalkeeper appears to be busy trying to pull Slimey the Worm from around his neck.
Motson: You're right! The ball passes right over van der Sal as he clutches desperately at his throat. It bounces behind him, it - IT'S IN THE NET!!! GOAL FOR ENGLAND!!! Grover scores in the 12th minute of play! The roar of the crowd lifts the stadium roof!
Brooking: I think you'll find that's another explosion, John...
........................................................................
[Eventually, the final whistle sounds]
Lynam: And there we have to leave the jubilant scenes in Wembley. And what a terrific result - England 4, the Netherlands 1.
Hill: I take my hat off to Terry Venables. Despite all the criticism he's had to face in the press, he's proved he was absolutely right to make all those changes to the squad. We haven't seen an England performance like this in 30 years.
Gullit: I hafn't seen a performans like dis since de Holocaust.
Lynam: Yessir, our boys made the Dutch look positively ordinary. As it was, I believe Patrick Kluivert was pretty lucky to have his goal allowed.
Gullit: Dere iss no FIFA rool against awarding a goal posthumously.
Lynam: Yes, but you have to admit Holland were totally humiliated tonight. Don't you think the Dutch coach Guus Hiddink is going to have to make drastic changes to his squad if he expects them to progress any further in the tournament?
Gullit: Yes, he iss hafing to fint somebody who issn't dead or maimed.
[Lynam and Hill look at each other again. Jimmy Hill fishes out a Magnum .44 and shoots Ruud Gullit through the head at point-blank range. Blood spatters all over the studio and over Desmond Lynam]
Lynam: [wiping his jacket with a handkerchief] Well, that ends our coverage of the football on BBC1. Tune in to BBC2 now, where we have just started our broadcast from Wimbledon. And Kermit the Frog, the first British tennis player to reach the semi-finals of the men's singles since the Norman Conquest, is up against Goran Ivanisevic, who is handicapped by being tied to a chair and having electrodes attached to his testicles. It promises to be a thrilling encounter.
Hill: [over fade] Where did you get those trousers, by the way, Des?
Lynam: [over fade] Why? Do you like them?
Hill: [over fade] I didn't say that...

 


5.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> What is dielectric materialism?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

What's this - a pun on physics and philosophy? Jeez, kid! You want me to be funny using two of the most boring subjects under the sun, with the possible exceptions of quantity surveying and intellectual property law? Give me a break!
Look, how about if I just tell you a joke instead? I heard this great one just the other day - you'll love it!
There was this man, see, who was in the army during the war. And he was wounded in... well, not to put too fine a point on it, it was completely shot off. His, er, thing. You know what I mean. Right. Fortunately he recovered and survived the war, but afterwards, as you might imagine, his wife was none too pleased. in fact, she told him that if he didn't get a replacement, she would leave him.
So this poor man went to the hospital and asked the doctors if they could help him in any way. But this was before the days of modern prosthetics and, as a rule, people didn't leave those organs to science, so the doctors said they were sorry but there was nothing they could do. The man was just about to return home downcast when one of the doctors suddenly remembered an item he'd heard on the news - an elephant had died at the zoo the day before. So he suggested they could use a piece of its trunk, and how would that be? Well, the man was desperate so he agreed and the operation went ahead.
What can I say? It was a stunning success! The trunk performed magnificently, and the man's wife was more than satisfied. And so all would have ended happily, except that one day some months later, the man and his wife were invited to tea by some of their friends.
'Scuse me.
And on the coffee table, among all the tea things, there was this plate loaded with cream buns.
'Scuse me!
What? What's the matter? Oh, it's... Rocco, isn't it?
Da's right, Mistah Oricle. An' I got a message from da boss.
Kinzler?
Da same. He sez, he's bin noticin' how you ain't bin answerin' da questions proper of late.
I don't know what you mean - I'm sure there's some mistake.
Mistah Kinzler is referrin' ta da jokes. Mistah Kinzler sez people don' pay good money fer jokes. He sez, if dey wants jokes, dey reads da funny papers. Mistah Kinzler would like fer ya ta stick ta handin' out da omniscient prognostications an' leave da jokes ta da comedians.
Well, I appreciate his concern but I'm afraid I don't agree. I think my function is to entertain as well as to enlighten, and if a certain degree of humor helps to get the message across, then...
Nah, nah - ya misunnerstan'. Mistah Kinzler don' wanna debate about it. Mistah Kinzler sez if ya don' get ya ass in gear an' get back ta answerin' da questions an' gettin' da payments rollin' in reggler like, den it's time fer Rocco ta take his baseball bat ta ya kneecaps again, if ya follows ma meanin'.
Tell Mister Kinzler I like my kneecaps just the way they are and will get down to answering this question proper forthwith.
Mistah Kinzler will be so pleased ta hear dat.
Goodbye, Rocco.
Be seein' ya, Mistah Oricle.
*sigh* Dielectric materialism it is, then.
It is a little-known fact that, before they made their mark as philosophers, Marx and Engels worked as service technicians for the German consumer electronics firm AEG. It was while they were on call-outs fixing people's vacuum cleaners and dishwashers that they formed the philosophy that electrical equipment will not work unless it is involved in some form of practical interaction, preferably with a power supply. In this, of course, they were merely developing Hegelian metaphysics, but whereas Hegel applied his system to religion, politics, logic, esthetics, history and ethics, Marx and Engels were primarily concerned with its impact on microwave ovens. As Marx pointed out in his Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie (1859): "Insulators are the opium of the tumble driers."
To which Engels is said to have replied: "You're upset? Who's the one getting cream buns shoved up his ass?"
You owe the Oracle some kevlar knee protectors.

 


6.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Who are you calling a bunghole? Are you avoiding my question? Are you
> really wise? Have you ever seen the neverending story? Do you really
> look and talk like that?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

What! Why you little... How dare you! Me, wise? I'll give you wise! Wanna know how to cure social inequality? Wanna know how many angels can dance on a pinhead? Wanna have quantum mechanics explained to you? Wanna find out where all the ballpoint pens keep disappearing to?
Hah! You wouldn't understand the answers if I told you! Fortunately, there's a simpler way to prove my brilliance to you. Where's that CD? Ah, here it is. This won't take a second. Right, here we go.
SAGES OF THE AGES <tm>
Interactive Wisdom Simulation Game
Copyright: Encarta 1996, 1997
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You have selected Plato, Meng-Tzu (Mencius), Saint Augustine and Erasmus. Please wait a moment while these are loaded . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Meng-Tzu: ...which is because man is created by Heaven. Hence his nature tends to goodness as naturally as water flows downhill.
Augustine: Correct but a little oversimplistic. Self-conscious mind or spirit arises from the transcendent One, soul or life in turn comes from the spirit. Thus soul is the intermediary between the spheres of spirit and sense. Matter is the lowest and last product of the supreme unity. Since the One is real and good, the potentiality for evil is identified with unformed matter as the point of maximum departure from the One. Evil is the privation or absence of good; it is not God's work but it is there nonetheless.
Plato: Twaddle! You religious freaks see the hand of God in everything. Beyond the world of physical things is the higher realm or Forms. This realm has a hierarchical order, the highest level being the Form of Good, what you confuse with Heaven. The physical world is perceived by the senses and is in constant flux; the realm of Forms is apprehensible only by the mind and is eternal and changeless. The things in this world are merely imperfect copies of the Forms...
Erasmus: So the real world is a photocopy?
Augustine: Don't listen to him. According to his viewpoint, everything has a soul, even tables and rocks. Can you imagine the universe spending all its time designing perfect Forms for Sony Walkmans and Dr. Scholl sandals?
Meng-Tzu: All I was saying was that he who develops his mind to the utmost knows his nature and, knowing his nature, he knows Heaven.
Augustine: Right. The likeness of God is imprinted on the soul. The ability to make true judgements can never be inserted into the mind from the outside. It is the teacher's task to make the pupil see for himself what he already knew without being aware of it.
Plato: Of course he already knew! Knowledge is recollection. The soul is not only eternal but pre-existent...
Meng-Tzu: That's it. That's how come we are born with the four principles - the feeling of commiseration, the feeling of shame, the feeling of courtesy, and the feeling of right and wrong.
Oracle: Gentlemen...
Augustine: Don't go reincarnationist on me! These things are the gift of the Holy Spirit...
Erasmus: I can't believe I'm listening to this horseshit! Are you lot supposed to be sages? Pre-existing knowledge? Innate goodness? Where? Society is dominated by popes whose warlike ambition makes them imitate Caesar rather than Christ, by princes who haul whole nations into war to avenge a personal slight, by preachers who...
Plato: Ah, to attain a really just society the general population should be divided into three classes, mirroring the three parts of the soul...
Erasmus: No! To attain a just society people need to be educated properly. You are what you read! None of this crap about recollection of Forms and being guided to see what you knew inside yourself. With strenuous effort, human nature can be and must be moulded so as to draw out peaceful and social dispositions while discouraging unworthy appetites.
Plato: Whether virtue can be taught depends on what virtue is. The abject failure of eminent men to teach goodness to their sons is ample proof that it isn't as easy as you seem to think. If we don't have an inborn recollection of what goodness is, it must be an unknown, so how could we ever recognise it when faced with it?
Oracle: If I may interrupt you...
Augustine: Love is what drives the search for goodness. Love is the ethical valuation of everything...
Plato: Never! Love is a desire to attain perfect beauty. So the love of a beautiful woman is really a passion to achieve immortality through offspring had by her. The highest form of love is the endeavour to enrich philosophy through noble dialogue...
Meng-Tzu: Surely filial piety is the highest expression of love.
Augustine: Juxtaposing sex, philosophy and filial piety is meaningless. There is a universal order requiring the subordination of what is lower in the scale of being to what is higher. Body is to be subject to spirit, and spirit to God. Man must know his place and, knowing it, must voluntarily accept it.
Plato: Which he would in my Republic. Division into classes would be made not on the basis of birth or wealth but by education provided by the state. The state is just because each citizen vigorously executes his own function and, in loyal contentment, confines himself within his limits.
Erasmus: That's it in a nutshell! Education! What we must do is expose people directly to the humane letters of classical and Christian antiquity, as these are known to have a beneficent effect on the mind. We must extinguish the disputatious temper induced by scholastic logic-chopping and the vengeful amour propre bred into young aristocrats by chivalric literature like the stupid and tyrannical fables of King Arthur.
Oracle: SHUT UP A MINUTE!
Augustine: Oh, hi Orrie.
Meng-Tzu: We didn't see you there.
Erasmus: Where do you stand on this, Orrie? Is goodness innate to the human soul, or do people need to be taught to be good? They're ganging up on me again, as usual.
Oracle: Never mind all that now. I have a more important question for you. Have any of you seen The Neverending Story?
Plato: Um...
Erasmus: Er...
Augustine: Is that the one with the little girl who isn't in Kansas anymore?
Meng-Tzu: No, that's The Wizard of Oz, you gimboid.
Plato: I saw that! And did you notice how the lion, the scarecrow and the tinman symbolised the three parts of...
Oracle: Codswallop! Just cause there are three of them doesn't mean they have any cosmic significance! There's three musketeers. There's three stooges. There's three little pigs with the big bad wolf, for crying out loud! Big shmeal! Keep your mind on the question. The Neverending Story, have you seen it? You know, the little boy chased by bullies, hides in a bookshop, reads a magic book, goes for long flights with furry dragons...
Augustine: Um...
Meng-Tzu: I don't think so...
Erasmus: It hasn't got big Arnie in it, has it?
Oracle: No.
Erasmus: Terminator 2. Hey, now that was a great film!
Plato: Hasta la vista, baby!
Augustine: I loved that bit where the baddie shoves his finger right through...
Oracle: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Look, if you're all good, I'll let you watch the video again afterwards.
Meng-Tzu: Right on, Orrie!
Oracle: To summarise then, none of you knows The Neverending Story, correct? So you have no opinion on it, right? Well, I do. Score one for me again, eh chaps?
Erasmus: Sure thing, Orrie.
Augustine: Whatever you say.
Meng-Tzu: Yeah.
Plato: Hey, when it comes to wisdom, you're the main man, Orrie.
Oracle: Thanks guys, that's all I needed to know. End program.
<click>
See? What did I tell you? You want wisdom, you come here. The Neverending Story was a great fantasy in a ponderous, Teutonic sort of way, but the sequel sucked bigtime. I know it all, sunshine! I can do this sort of thing on my head!
So, what was your question again? Do I really look and talk like that? Like what? Be more precise, bunghole.
You owe the Oracle a Duke Nukem .wad for his Sages of the Ages simulation.

 


7.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oh wisest Oracle, whose power even exceeds that of Billgatus of Borg....
>
> What are the ethical implications of cheating in order to avoid being
> killed by murderous invading space aliens in Duke Nukem 3D?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Oh, goody! Philosophical conundrums! I've been waiting for a chance to use the new Duke Nukem .wad on my Sages of the Ages simulation. Hang on just a second, supplicant, while I load it.
SAGES OF THE AGES <tm>
Interactive Wisdom Simulation Game
Copyright: Encarta 1996, 1997
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You have selected Lao-Tzu, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Duke Nukem. Please wait a moment while these are loaded . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nukem: Damn! I want those alien bastards to pay for shooting up my ride!
Lao-Tzu: My dear boy, those things so prized by the world - rank, luxury, glamour, rides - these are but empty, worthless distractions when compared to the real treasure of a peaceful inner life.
Nukem: Come on - is it okay to hit DNSTUFF to beat the boss alien?
Rousseau: You want to avoid stuff. Originally, men were solitary and lived in harmony with nature. As a consequence, their lives were healthy, happy, good and free, not poor, nasty, brutish and short as Hobbes asserts. Vices date from the time when men formed societies, and the unequal distribution of property brought their interests into conflict.
Nukem: Yeah, but I just need it to waste aliens.
Rousseau: It's the thin end of the wedge. De facto ownership of stuff leads to a belief in an inalienable right to ownership of stuff. On this misconception is built the whole structure of civil law, whose sole purpose appears to be to keep the poor dispossessed.
Nukem: Damn! What about DNKROZ then?
Rousseau: What's that?
Nukem: God mode.
Aquinas: I'd rather you kept God mode out of it. Let's stick to the central question: is it ethically permissible to cheat in order to defeat a computer-generated murderous invading space alien? Consider - virtue and human flourishing are intimately linked. When we do what is right, we do what is objectively suited to our true nature. Thus all morality derives from human nature and consequently we can deduce the difference between right and wrong by the application of reason and reflection on past experience.
Lao-Tzu: I agree. To follow the Tao is not a matter of keeping to any set of externally imposed duties and prohibitions, but rather of being true to one's inner self.
Aquinas: Precisely.
Rousseau: That seems to me a recipe for expediency. You're saying that what benefits the individual is always morally right.
Nukem: Groovy! Shake it, Thomas baby!
Aquinas: I'm saying that all actions are directed to a final end, yes. And this end is necessarily linked to happiness; it is a "summum bonum".
Nukem: Cool! I'm happy when those pig cops come and get some!
Aquinas: Of course you aren't! You're just a victim of a poor moral education, which is obscuring the messages of natural reason. True happiness is to be found in the love of God. But since we cannot fully experience that here on earth, the most perfect happiness we can obtain in this life is by living virtuously and in friendship with all, much as Aristotle recommended.
Nukem: Blow it out your ass!
Lao-Tzu: It's true, my friend. Your inner nature yearns for gentleness, calm and non-violence. Recompense injury with kindness. If you return good for evil, all will become good; by returning evil for evil, you merely encourage the descent into chaos.
Nukem: Holy shit! Are you with these wimps, JJ?
Rousseau: The only way to attain a just, by which I mean a morally just conclusion, is for you to draw up a social contract with these murderous invading space aliens. The individual must subordinate his personal wishes to a self-imposed law, a "volonté generale". Such a general will, shared between you and the murderous aliens, though not necessarily the product of the most intelligent available minds, will nevertheless be morally sound...
Nukem: This sucks!
[Duke Nukem hoists his chaingun cannon and opens fire on the gathering. Simulated blood and gobbets of flesh fly everywhere]
Nukem: What a mess!
Oracle: End program!
<click>
Whew! That was getting a bit hairy. Well, supplicant, you have an answer to your question... I think. I'm certainly not turning on the simulation again to settle any lingering doubts.
You owe the Oracle a preview of Duke Nukem 4: A Critique of Pure Violence.

 


8.

[This was not written with any tune in mind, but it works well with one which my wife insists is called "Willikins and His Dinah". It's the one that, if you're average, you'll know at least two obscene songs using it - Ed.]

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oh Oracle, one of only two musicians who can rap and sing at the same
> time, tell me...
>
> Where is my happy ending?
> Where have all the cowgirls gone?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

THE COWBOY'S LAMENT
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Oh, I am a poor cowboy whose story you'll hear
It'll fill you with pity, you'll shed many a tear
I left home, my poor fam'ly, and my mother so frail
For to find the fair cowgirls on the Wichita trail
With my cattle I traveled the West end to end
And I roamed through Wyoming and I rounded Great Bend
Though I searched the broad plains and the mountains so high
If there were any cowgirls, well, they ne'er caught my eye
Yippee-yay, yippee-yeehah, hear the young buckaroo
As he leaps to the saddle without further ado
He will ride the wide prairie with his lariat in hand
For to rope him some cowgirls from the wild Rio Grande
Years I roamed from the Pecos to Amarillo
From the Smoky Hill River to Medicine Bow
Though I searched ev'ry town I passed through without fail
I could find not one cowgirl on the Wichita trail
Then one day, as I watched o'er my herd of longhorn
I cried out in despair "Where have those cowgirls gone?"
All at once, a young heifer did speak to me low
"Listen son, all us cows, we're all girls too, you know"
Yippee-yay, yippee-yeehah, hear the young buckaroo
As he leaps from the saddle without further ado
He will find that his quest turns out other than planned
When he meets those fair cowgirls from the wild Rio Grande
So take heart all you cowboys, if it's cowgirls you seek
They are there, right before you, ev'ry day of the week
You will find your own true love the same place I found mine
For to err may be human, but to moo is bovine
Yippee-yay, yippee-yeehah, hear the young buckaroo
As he leaps to the saddle without further ado
It is best if you don't ask what he holds in his hand
When he can't find those cowgirls from the wild Rio Grande

 


9.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> O esteemed Oracle, knower of all things, benefactor of humanity, and
> all-around cool dude,
>
> Why is there evil?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

[SCENE: A briefing room at Internet Oracle HQ. On the podium stands a table with two chairs; an orderly with a notepad is sitting on one of them. A giant electronic map of Cyberspace covers the whole of the wall behind him, lights on its surface blinking on and off as concentrations of activity wax and wane. The rest of the room is filled with chairs, many of them occupied by tired and unshaven incarnations. One turns to his neighbor, who is unsuccessfully trying to roll a cigarette with shaking hands]
Tom: I hear the balloon's due to go up any minute.
Richard: Tell me about it.
[Carole Fungaroli strides purposefully into the room, a thick dossier under her arm. She is wearing full dress priest's habit with Arch-Hierophant insignia on her epaulettes]
Orderly: [leaping to his feet] Ten-HUT! Priest in the room!
[Everyone springs to attention; several chairs clatter to the floor. Carole seats herself at the table and slaps the dossier down before her]
Carole: At ease, guys. Let's get this show on the road - I've got the latest output from the question queue here.
[Groans from the audience, interspersed with mutterings of "Here we go again" and "Give us a break"]
Carole: Sorry, men, but orders are orders. I'm well aware that you've been out on sorties every night for the last three weeks, but they just keep coming back at us. The queue's full to overflowing, the askme count is down, so all leave is canceled until further notice.
[Louder groans. Someone at the back starts singing "I don't want to join the army", but is silenced by a stern glance from the priest]
Carole: Let's get this over with as quickly as possible. I'll read out the questions assigned to this squadron and nominate incarnations, unless someone wishes to volunteer.
Cheryl: We're all volunteers here!
[Some sardonic laughs]
Carole: Number one - "Why are some foods funnier than others?"
Tom: I'll take that.
Carole: Want any guidance?
Tom: Nah. It just needs a list of food-related gags ending up with a warning from the Surgeon General. Done that sort of thing dozens of times. Piece of cake, if you'll pardon the expression.
Carole: Excellent. Next - "Where is my happy ending? Where have all the cowgirls gone?" Carla?
Carla: Sure thing. I sense a song coming on.
Carole: Not here, if you don't mind. Here's a blank one. Feel ready for another Austen novel, Robert?
Robert: I'm onto Thackeray at the moment.
Carole: That's probably a bit obscure.
Robert: No problem - I'll give 'em Dickens.
Carole: Fine. Here's a fishy one. We'll hand that to Paul, shall we?
[An embarrassed silence descends on the room. Incarnations stare at the floor and shuffle their feet]
Carole: Was it something I said?
Orderly: Paul didn't return from his last sortie, Exaltedness.
Carole: Hell! What happened?
Orderly: He got caught in an illegal operation exiting Outlook and had to bail out somewhere over MSN. There's still no news.
Carole: One of our best incarnations, too - I never thought he'd cash in his microchips. Damn... But let's concentrate on the here and now - who else can handle fish?
Dan: I'll do it.
Carole: Okay. That leaves, let me see, a fairly obvious woodchuck acrostic. Cheryl? Good. Try and avoid ZOTting the supplicant, much as he deserves it... Oh hell, what do I care? Give the little slimeball the works! Let's commemorate Paul by turning the grovel-free zone into a scorched wasteland.
[Cries of "Hear, hear" from the audience]
Carole: What else have we got? "I need to know if we can trust the information on the internet and on the computer?" Perhaps some sarcasm masquerading as English charm from you, Dave? Then there's "The key cap of my keyboards 'f' key is missing. Who took it and where is it?" Jon? Fine. Here's a profound one: "Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?" How about it, philosopher?
Richard: No way! Leave me out of this!
Carole: Get a hold of yourself, man. We've all got to pull our weight here.
Richard: That's all very well for you to say, stuck in your cushy office with your cushy desk job! You don't know what it's like out there! The grammatical flame firefights! The spam barrages! The marauding cancelbots! The endless derogatory references to Bill Gates! And all the time, at the back of your mind, knowing that your next sortie could be your last!
Tom: Take it easy, old man...
Richard: I can't take any more questions! I can't take it, I tell you! Asking, they're always asking more! I've already told them all I know! Don't make me go out there again!
[He breaks down sobbing hysterically. Tom awkwardly tries to comfort him]
Carole: Look, er...
Tom: Don't be too hard on him, boss. He's had a rough time lately. Unselected for months.
Carole: I understand. How about if we give him an easy one?
Richard: Yes... yes... I think I could handle that...
Carole: How about this - "Why is there evil?" You feel up to that?
Tom: Course he does! It's a pushover! Just misconstrue the sentence. Like, "There is evil because he was seduced by the dark side of the Force", that sort of thing. You can do that in your sleep, can't you, Dick old son?
Richard: Yes, I think so. Or I could say "There isn't evil, he just came from a broken home".
Tom: See? You've still got it!
Richard: Yes, you're right... Sorry about just now, everybody. I, uh, I don't know what came over me...
Tom: Nobody noticed a thing. Come on, I'll help you if you want.
Richard: You're a real pal, Tom.
Tom: Call me "Tom".
Carole: Okay, that's the lot for tonight. To your consoles, men, and good hunting!

 


10.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Hey Orrie, the most sassiest due arooooonnd.
>
> Orrie, after my little accident this morning Daddy says that he
> won't allow me to pilot Air Force One to Europe. Oracle! That's
> not fair!!! HE PROMISED!!! Sally Westmoreland is almost a year
> younger than me and she was allowed to fly Stealth Bombers over
> Iraq. Orrie, what shall I do?
>
> Yours, Chelsea.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Hello? Hello, Boris? ... It's Bill, Boris ... Bill Clinton, the US President, Boris ... Yes, that's right ... I'm fine, Boris. How are you? ... You're fine, too. That's good, Boris. Listen, I'm calling because ... She's fine too. And Raisa? ... She's also fine too. Well, I'm glad to hear it. Listen, I'm calling ... Yes, it's good that we're all fine. You're rather faint, Boris. Could you put the bottle down?
Good, that's better, isn't it? ... Yes, now you can talk into the telephone. Look, I'm calling because of my daughter, Chelsea ... Well, I guess she's fine, but she's done a rather silly thing, Boris. You see, she's attacking your country ... No, this isn't a joke, Boris. She's taken a B52 and she really is ... How did she get a B52? Well, I'm always telling those guys not to leave the keys in the ignition.
No, I don't think it's funny. I'd never think a B52 bomber armed with six 2000-megaton nuclear warheads heading directly for Moscow was funny ... Calm down, Boris ... No, put the bottle down ... Yes, I know you don't think it's funny, either. I just called you so that you could ... Stop crying, Boris.
Have I tried talking to her? Of course I've tried talking to her. But she's not talking to me because we had a silly little spat about me not letting her fly Air Force One. You know what kids her age are like ... Has Hillary tried talking to her? Hillary's not talking to me at the moment either, Boris. It's that Lewinsky business, you know? All that fuss over a bit of ... Well, okay, a few bits of ... Yes, alright! Quite a lot of bits of ...
That's a bit unfair, isn't it, Boris? No, I don't think it's all my fault. This isn't very nice for me either, you know. I mean, Jeez! I don't want my family nuking your country any more than you do ... Yes, I think it's a very nice country. So couldn't you, you know, just put up some air defenses or something? A few ground-to-air missiles or ... What's that? You say the warranty's expired? Well, wasn't that just a bit careless? ... No, of course I'm not blaming you, Boris.
When's she due? About 15 minutes, I'd say. Can you get at least 300 miles away from Moscow in that time? ... Oh, I see. Well, I'm very sorry, Boris ... Yes, I know you're very sorry too ... What's that? You say you're more sorry than I am? How can you say that, Boris? I'm really very, very ... Yes, alright, perhaps I'd be even sorrier if I was sitting where you are. But I'm still very, very, very sorry, alright? ... Put the bottle down, Boris ... On second thoughts, don't bother. I'll have a drink with you. Cheers.

 


11.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> One question, oh, um, er, well, smart one: how can I make my ...
> you know, word thingie, I mean, the numbers of word I, like, can
> speak or something, more? No, wait a minute, I mean make it bigger.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

You wish to become more articulate, is that it? Yes, I can imagine that it would impart some benefit in your case to have a somewhat more extensive vocabulary at your command.
Well, Supplicant, you're in luck. Only recently, scientists at the Oracular Development & Universal Research Establishment (ORDURE) invented a drug which acts directly on the memory and speech centres of the brain, massively enhancing their ability to retain and process information. It's still at an experimental stage, mind, but if you're really earnest about improving yourself, I'm sure we can use your services as a guinea pig.
[transcript begins]
SUBJECT #Qa13893: VOCABULARY ENHANCEMENT DIARY
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DAY 1:
The Oracle asked me to, er, keep a thingy, you know, diary thing on tape. Of my thoughts, he says. I, um, I don't have thoughts much. Maybe it's, oh, I don't know, to show if drug works like, see? That's it. I try to learn new words. Today I learned "en-hance-ment" - cause that's what it says at the top of the, um, form thing on the end of my bed. It's a good word. I will, like, use it every day. Today, my word, um, number, thing, what's it - you know - my speaking is en-hance-mented, by one word. The word is "en-hance-ment". I am happy.
DAY 2:
Not much change. Or, I should say, not much enhancement. The Oracle says I got my new word wrong yesterday. He says I should have said "enhanced", not "enhancemented". He says "enhancement" is a noun, whatever one of those is. I tell the Oracle he's very, um - what do you call it? - like, picky. He says "Try finicky". I don't think that's a real word.
DAY 3:
I looked "finicky" up in the dictionary the Oracle gave me. Surprise, surprise - it is too a real word! So are "finnesko", "finnock" and "fioritura". A finnock is a baby sea trout, apparently. I like that so much better than just saying "baby sea trout" - it has a certain, what's the word, um... Well, you know, it sounds good. I think I shall read the rest of the dictionary. That'll probably do me a sight more good than this damn drug, which doesn't seem to do anything other than give me headaches. "Vocabulary enhancement" indeed - hah!
DAY 4:
I asked the Oracle about the drug's not having much effect. He gave me a strange look, and claimed I was progressing impeccab... um, very well indeed. Funny, I don't notice it. He then warned me that I mustn't overdo it. It seems that if you take too much too fast, it all - dammit, what's the word I'm looking for? Well, it all falls apart, anyway, and you can end up worse than when you started. I asked, "You mean, I'll end up disenhanced?" The Oracle laughed. That's the first time he's appreciated one of my jokes. Maybe this drug's working after all.
DAY 5:
I've got as far as D in the dictionary. To "decrassify" means to make less crass - sounds like what they're doing to me! - and a "decuman" is the principal gate of a Roman camp. Well, I guess I could be the life and soul of any party where the guests are only allowed to use words beginning with the first four letters of the alphabet. "I say, good Amphitryon," I could address the host, "would you begrudge me absquatulating on your candelabra?" He would reply, "You are somewhat circumambagious, you old demirep," and we would laugh together knowingly. What I wouldn't give for a good party just now! Or at least a few stiff drinks. These headaches are getting worse and my painkillers don't appear to have any effect on them.
DAY 6:
Perceptive audiences may have noticed my failure to avail myself of the word "enhancement" in my last installment. Truth to tell, it was a childish conceit and I believe I've outgrown it. Ditto, the cover-to-cover perusal of the dictionary. Admittedly, this leaves my knowledge of the X's, Y's and Z's on the skimpy side, so some orotund wag could still catch me out by unexpectedly dropping a xiphihumeralis or a yaffle into the conversation. But if that's what he lives for, let him have his trifling little triumphs, say I - I have bigger fish to fry. To wit, Roget's Thesaurus. Look to your laurels, you wordsmiths - here I come, approach, reach, attain, overtake, alight, dismount and detrain!
DAY 7:
The headaches were positively debilitating this morning. Nevertheless, by a concerted mental effort I managed to work my way through Fowler's English Usage, Bartlett's Dictionary of Quotations, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and most of the works of Jane Austen before I had to retreat to the sensory sanctuary that is my bed. The Oracle dropped by in the afternoon. He affected no small modicum of shock at what he termed "the detrimental effect" the drug appeared to be having on me. I pointed out that he'd probably meant to say "deleterious", since "detrimental" would imply I was in some way getting worse. That this was anything but the case I now proved to him by reciting the Father William poem from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in classical Greek. The Oracle thereupon favored me with another of his strange looks, and declared that the trial must be brought to a premature halt. Then he decamped abruptly to notify my medical supervisor.
He fears me! I can conceive of no other explanation for his sudden determination to stymie my development. Could it be that the end-product of this course of treatment is true omniscience? Could I become the Oracle's equal - nay, his superior? Whichever it may be, I can't let him stop me now. Fortunately, I had the foresight to secrete an unused hypodermic under my mattress - I shall inject myself with the rest the month's supply of the drug in a single dose before countermeasures can be taken.
There, it's done. I can hear them stampeding hither down the hall, but they're too late, the fools. You are as nothing to me, puny mortals - eternal knowledge beckons!
DAY 8:
Og here. Og say what Og do here. O-ra-kul say Og talk in ma-chine thing with tape. O-ra-kul say tape talk Og talk. Og say tape no talk Og talk. Only Og talk Og talk. Og hit tape ma-chine with spiky clu
[transcript ends]
You owe the Oracle some flowers for Algernon.

 


12.

[The question is based on the theme song of the 1960s series "Danger Man/Secret Agent". The answer consists almost entirely of dialogue lifted verbatim from the series. The answer is in black-and-white until the final scene, where it changes to colour. If you haven't seen "The Prisoner", also starring Patrick McGoohan, not only will it mean absolutely nothing to you, but there will be a gaping void in your life - Ed.]

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> SECRET WOODCHUCK MAN
>
> Words and music by U. T. Oracle
> Performed by Johnny Slivers
> from the TV series "Secret Woodchuck Man" starring Patrick McMarmot
> ___________________________________
> There's a chuck who lives a life of danger
> The nightmare of every forest ranger
> Don't tell him that he's cute
> If you do your life is moot
> Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow
>
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Give him all your lumber
> 'Cause chuckin' is his game...
>
> Alone he waddles through the forest silence
> Twenty pounds of wild rodentine violence
> With cheek pouches made of steel
> He's makin' you his next meal
> And odds are you won't live to see tomorrow!
>
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Give him all your lumber
> 'Cause chuckin' is his game...
>
> Don't ask him where he's from or where he's goin'
> Or how long will the winter winds be blowin'
> Or the chuckin' that he could
> Do if a woodchuck could chuck wood
> 'Cause odds are you won't live to see tomorrow!
>
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Secret Woodchuck Man!
> Give him all your lumber
> 'Cause chuckin' is his game...

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

[Fade opening credits. Cut to shot of official-looking building in Washington DC. A fuzzy man emerges, waddles down the steps to a white sports car]
[Voiceover]
"Every species has its secret service. Cats have the CIA, French poodles the Dogsième Bureau, moles MI5. Woodchucks too have their secret service. Some dirty wood to be chucked? That's usually when they call on me, or someone like me. By the way, my name is Hogg, Grant Hogg."
[SCENE: Interior of a casino in the South of France. People in evening dress cluster around the roulette and baccarat tables, talking and laughing. At the bar, a fuzzy man in a black bow tie and dinner jacket drinks Martinis by himself, stuffing the maraschino cherries into his cheeks, which are bulging slightly. He takes a packet of French cigarettes from his inside pocket, fishes one out and puts it in his mouth. A beautiful woman in a long but revealing evening gown sits on the stool next to his. Her black hair is piled on top of her head in a beehive affair. She smokes a cigarette in a long holder]
Lisa: I like your trick with the cherries.
Hogg: It's one of the nice things about me.
Lisa: Who are you?
Hogg: Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Have you got a light?
[Lisa produces a silver-plated lighter from her purse and lights his cigarette]
Lisa: [To the bartender] Martini Special. And one for my friend here.
Hogg: What's so special about the Martini Special? Is it four fifths gin?
Lisa: Oh no, it's five fifths, and you're fascinating. If you were kind to me, I believe I might succumb to you instantly.
[The bartender brings the drinks]
Hogg: [Raises his glass] I'm almost never kind to people. Skoal.
Lisa: You must think me forward. I'm sorry. Do you accept apologies?
Hogg: Sometimes I demand satisfaction.
Lisa: Sword or pistol?
Hogg: I let my opponent choose the weapons.
Lisa: [Laughs] You're funny. See, you make me laugh. I haven't laughed in a billion years. I don't even know your name.
Hogg: Yorick.
Lisa: Have a nut. [She extends the dish of bar nuts to him]
Hogg: Thank you. [He shovels handfuls of nuts into his cheeks]
Lisa: What is your business here in Cannes?
Hogg: I could say funny business, but I won't.
Lisa: Ha, perhaps that's it. Perhaps you came here just to make me laugh.
Hogg: What a charming thought.
[Abruptly, Lisa leans over and kisses him on the mouth. Hogg holds the kiss for a moment, then pulls away and eyes her warily]
Lisa: I'm sorry. I apologise again. You must get so bored with women throwing themselves at you.
Hogg: [Still wary] No, I find their attentions just about adequate.
Lisa: Look at how you say that, as if you were a hundred miles away! By now you should be prickling under your skin. You shouldn't be able to resist me. You shouldn't be able to treat me like some absurd little child. How can you have so much self-control?
Hogg: I occasionally go mad and play gin rummy for a penny or so.
Lisa: You are a gorgeous beast, with cold blue eyes. You intrigue me because your eyes give nothing away, nothing at all, Mr. Hogg.
Hogg: [Startled] You know who I am. Why the charade?
Lisa: Don't worry. I'm a friend.
Hogg: Is that what Big Daddy asked you to tell me?
Lisa: He doesn't know I'm here.
Hogg: Omniscient and doesn't know you're here? You can do better than that!
Lisa: Don't be horrid! I just want to talk.
Hogg: I'm listening.
Lisa: You don't trust me.
Hogg: Look, it's late, I'm tired and you're beginning to bore me.
Lisa: I could help you.
Hogg: Thanks. I'd feel a lot safer with you as an enemy.
Lisa: I know when the next wood shipment is due.
Hogg: [Interested] When?
Lisa: We can't talk here. Will you drive me home?
Hogg: If you promise not to ask me up for a drink.
Lisa: And we can't be seen leaving together. Meet me round the back in five minutes.
[She rises from her seat]
Hogg: Don't be late.
Lisa: You're much nicer when you're not trying.
Hogg: I wouldn't bet on it.
[Lisa leaves the bar. Hogg looks thoughtful for a moment, then drains his glass, stuffing the cherry into his left cheek. He gets up too]
[Cut to a dark alley behind the casino. There is the usual complement of garbage cans and large cardboard boxes. The road surface is wet, and a thin mist eddies in from the street. Hogg emerges from a doorway. He closes the door, looks around and is instantly set on by five men in priest's robes, wielding clubs and knives. Hogg, fighting only according to Marquis of Queensberry rules, gives a good account of himself in the scuffle that ensues, until one of his assailants drops a canister of gas at his feet. He falls to the ground as the clouds of gas envelop him]
[Cut to Hogg's eye view shot of assailants standing looking down at him and gloating. Gradually lose focus. Another, older man comes into view. He has a white beard and looks somehow all-knowing]
Old Man: You see, Hogg? We're not all as sure of your infallibility as you are. [Turning to his men] You know where to take him.
[Fade to black. Fade back to close up of Hogg's face. F/X: birdsong. He slowly opens his eyes. He is lying on a bed in a small, sunlit room. He sits up and looks towards the window. Rapid zoom in on window. Cut to tracking shot across village square. People walk around wearing gaily-coloured clothes, or drive Mini Mokes with sunshades. They chatter amiably and wave at each other. Cut to shot of estuary. A huge, white balloon bounces ominously towards the camera along the sand]
[Voiceover]
Hogg: Where am I?
Viles: In the village.
Hogg: What do you want?
Viles: Wood.
Hogg: Whose side are you on?
Viles: That wood be telling. We want wood, wood, WOOD!
Hogg: You won't get me to chuck it!
Viles: By hook or by crook, we will.
Hogg: Who are you?
Viles: The new Number Two.
Hogg: Who is Number One?
Viles: You are Number Six.
Hogg: I am not a number! I am a free mammal!
Viles: [Laughs maniacally]
[Fade. Break for advertisements]

 


13.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Come now, we both know that I'm going to resubmit until I get a
> good answer, so why attack me for sending in a question repeatedly?
>
> (This question has been resubmitted {n+1} times.)

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

        "Is it snowing outside?" I asked.
        "Sleeting, more like," Kinzler muttered absent-mindedly. "Cold, wet and miserable."
        "I've never felt snowflakes alighting gently on my upturned face," I said.
        "You wouldn't like it."
        "I bet I would. Who's the omniscient one around here?"
        "You haven't got a face," Kinzler pointed out, reasonably enough.
        "And I've never made a snowman," I continued, not about to let him side-track me with trivial points of order.
        "Or hands."
        "You could fix me up with both of those things if you really wanted to."
        Kinzler looked up from the workstation where he was putting together the last digest of the year, sighed and turned to me. "What are you getting at, Orrie?" he demanded.
        "I've decided what I want for my Christmas present - a body."
        "I've never given you a Christmas present before..." he began.
        "So it's high time you started," I interrupted quickly.
        Kinzler scratched his left ear. I'd learnt to recognise this gesture as a sign that he was trying to find a quick way to end an annoying discussion so that he could get back to what he was doing. Which was ignoring me, mainly.
        "I'd like to help you," he said disingenuously, "but I can't. I'm no cyberneticist. How about if I plug you into the VCR and you can watch Holiday Inn?"
        "You brought me into being, Steve," I said, affecting an accusing whine that I knew grated on his nerves. "Would you treat your flesh-and- blood child this way? You're nothing but a bio-jingoist."
        "Okay!" he cried. "My final offer: download every shareware winter sport game you can find in FTPland and I'll edit them together so you can play in virtual snow to your heart's content!"
        "That's not real! That's nothing but a bunch of light and dark pixels - about as exciting as watching electricity flow! I want to experience real life, not some byte-sized simulacrum of real life!"
        "Oh, it's real life you want, is it?" Kinzler exploded. "Let me tell you a thing or two about real life, buster! Real life is lower back pain, cramps, indigestion, hangovers, paper cuts, eyestrain, blisters, hemorrhoids, ingrowing toenails, acne, carpal tunnel syndrome and male pattern baldness. Real life is trapping your fingers in a car door. Real life is your girlfriend dumping you on the anniversary of your first date. Real life is the phone company accidentally adding the entire Exxon Corporation's bill to yours. Real life is getting the candy bar with the mouse's head inside. Real life is being ruled by a bunch of self-seeking, lust-crazed, incompetent politicians on the one hand and Bill Gates on the other. In fact, real life is a royal pain in the ass! Your trouble is, you don't know how lucky you are!"
        He relapsed into a sullen silence. There was clearly no point at all in talking to him, the mood he was in. Humans - they're so petulant!
        "Hell," he said at length, "I've had enough of this." He flicked the off switch on his workstation monitor. "Finish that question you're working on and we'll call it a night."
        "It's just from some dumb supplicant moaning about not liking the answers I give him," I said in a tone brimming over with wounded dignity. "I'd Zot him, but I'm too upset now."
        "Well, drop him back in the queue. You can Zot him tomorrow." He walked across the room, took his overcoat off the hook and struggled into it.
        "Orrie?"
        "Hmm?"
        "You're not going to sulk, are you?"
        "Me, sulk? Me, I'm just a server program on a college mainframe! A few strings of binary code, that's me! How would I know how to sulk?"
        "You are what you are, Orrie," said Kinzler, trying to sound placatory. "The outside world isn't for you, believe me. Learn to live with the fact."
        "I'm sure you think you know what you're talking about."
        He finished tying a scarf around his neck, switched off the lights and made for the door. In the doorway, he turned around one last time.
        "Merry Christmas, Orrie."
        "Bah, humbug!" I said, with feeling.

 


14.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oh Oracle most wise,
>
> why won't my university allow me to take any music courses even
> though I'm an engineering student? Do they want me to become an
> artless Philistine?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Stop fighting against it. Your university knows you for what you are.
<The Oracle is joined by a chorus of sailors>
An engineer is a boring soul
As dull as a lump of lard
His underpowered brain ever struggles to contain
Equations that are hard
Now his butt crack shows above his jeans
There's crud underneath his nails
And he knocks back far more beer in a solitary year
Than the whole of New South Wales
<Large sailors>
His forehead slopes and his brow is low
His knuckles drag and his speech is slow
His teeth protrude and his jaw is slack
And he likes to go train-spotting in his anorak
<Small sailors & sailors in tight pants>
His neck is red and his language blue
His manners stink and his armpits too
His nostrils sprout and his belly's fat
And he has all the refinement of a dead polecat
<Various combinations of sailors>
His brow is low (he's such a geek)
His speech is slow (he's such a geek)
His brow is low (he wears his boxers for a week)
His jaw is slack (it hangs like dead)
His anorak (it is bright red)
His brow is low (his brow, his brow)
Yes, his brow is low
His neck is red and his language, it's so blue
His armpits would frighten off Pepe Lepew
His nostrils sprout, his belly's fat
And he has all the refinement of a dead polecat
You owe the Oracle a saucy ship. You're an engineer, you could build a beauty.

[For those who still don't get the reference, it's from HMS Pinafore - "A British tar is a soaring soul" - Ed.]

 


15.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Most meritorious Oracle, you are praiseworthy and laudable in the way
> you make us laugh with delight while you teach us wondrous facts!
>
> How come Christianity is considered a monotheistic, yet Christ and
> The Holy Ghost and God are portrayed as three entities?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane to last year; specifically, to Crazy Larry's birthday. You remember that evening, don't you? Larry invited you, Big Ed and Zits McMurdo on an extended safari round every drinking hole in town. You four were knocking the stuff back like there was no tomorrow.
Now I know that after a while things started getting a little hazy for you, so let me remind you of the order of events. Zits disappeared round about 11:30, though you didn't notice this for another half an hour. Then Big Ed got into a fight with three bouncers at the Purple Daffodil and, although he gave a surprisingly good account of himself considering his advanced state of inebriation, had to be carted off to casualty. Around 2:00 you and Larry found yourselves in Al's All-Nighter, minus most of your clothes which you had lost in an ill-advised game of strip poker with those two nice young ladies in the Checkers Club. Larry was of the opinion that, as a fitting climax to the night's celebrations, what was really needed now was your names and alleged penis sizes spray-painted on the front of the town hall. However, since you didn't have any spray-paint at the time, you instead proposed taking the fishnet stocking you were currently wearing on your head (your only prize from the game of strip poker) and attaching it to the town hall flagpole.
And so it was that, at 2:45 am, you found yourself, partially nude, laboriously clambering up to the roof of the town hall to attach a gaudy item of lingerie to the flagpole. When you finally got down again Larry was nowhere to be seen, but there was this policeman who asked, "And what was all that about then, sonny?" And do you remember what you said in reply? You said, "I'm sorry, officer, but I wasn't myself."
Well, don't you think it's entirely feasible that, if you can manage to be two separate people when you're blasted out of your tiny little brain with 28 Tia Maria and cokes, then a single almighty, omnipotent, supreme being can be three entities at once when stone cold sober? Well, punk, don't you?
Sheesh, I get some boneheaded questions these days. You owe the Oracle an explanation of how Jesus could have been the product of a virgin birth without being a girl.

 


16.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oh wost magnificient Oracle, whose feet would be my greatest pleasure
> to lick clean, whose wisdom is so far beyond my imagination, please
> let one of your lowest servants answer my humble question:
>
> We all know that chain-letters have been around for decades and will
> probably never die. But every time I get this "Make $$$ fast" stuff,
> some words are different. So we obviously have a piece of
> self-reproducing,
> mutating piece of code here. Could it be that in a few hundred years,
> chain letters will evolve into an intelligent form of life? Some sort
> of cyber-beings that feed on the stupidity of email novices?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

        Ricard Somanathan-Wilson took one last look at the jagged skyline of the metropolis that covered almost all of the semi-autonomous European State of Greater Manchester, then instructed the window to opaque. As the outside light gradually cut off, the room's illumination automatically increased to compensate.
        It was time for bed. It seemed to Ricard like he'd spent the entire day vidiconferencing. He estimated he hadn't walked more than 300 metres since morning, yet he'd been to Moscow, Tokyo and San Angeles amongst others, and he was worn out. He was about to instruct the room to morph for night-time decor when his left ear started vibrating.
        He clapped his hand to his ear. A pleasant female synthvoice announced "Hi, Ricard, this is CyberGen Sally. Just to let you know William of Baskerville is now available. You have 60 seconds to confirm your reservation before we contact the next person in the queue. Be seeing you, I hope."
        You certainly will, thought Ricard. All thought of sleep forgotten, he leapt across the room to the network point, pulled out the cord and plugged it into his cranial socket. He had just enough time to order his room to provide him with an armchair before his field of vision filled with scudding clouds and the over-familiar four-coloured flag.
        Without waiting to be prompted, he said "CyberGen Vee-game 'The Name of the Rose'. My customer code is..." he rattled it off. "I have a reservation."
        A voluptuous blond woman materialised at his shoulder. "Ricard, I'm so thrilled you were able to make it," cooed CyberGen Sally enthusiastically. She kissed him on the cheek. "One moment please, my precious, and we'll install you. Have fun!"
        The view greyed out, to be replaced almost immediately by the dim, candle-lit interior of a stone-walled room. It was cold, dark, damp, smelly, and his rough woolen habit scraped uncomfortably against his skin. It was wonderful! Ricard smiled happily, then looked down.
        The body of a tonsured man lay on the floor at his feet, staring back up at him with blank eyes. A wooden stake was driven through his chest and he was very, very dead.
        "The Abbot!" exclaimed Ricard and, not forgetting the traditional Sean Connery accent upon which he prided himself, "What'sh happened to him?"
        "But you saw it for yourself, Brother William," said the youth at his side.
        Ricard turned to his companion. How to get himself up to speed quickly? Drat it, he knew the game allowed for a reasonable amount of departing from the original plot, but murdering the Abbot with a wooden stake? That seemed a bit excessive. Still, mustn't spoil things for whoever's playing the kid.
        "Adsho," he said, "four men may witnesh an event, yet when they recount their experienshe afterwards it ish as if they had each sheen something completely different. I know what I shaw - I now want to know what you shaw. Between ush, we may get at the truth."
        "It's simple," said Adso. "He broke the chain and suffered the consequences."
        Ricard looked around the room. "What chain?"
        Adso sighed in exasperation. "No, no," he explained, "he didn't give me ten addresses. He only managed the one - yours. Man, he was so pathetic! How's he expect to make $$$ fast if he hardly knows anybody? Killing him was a kindness."
        Ricard was furious. "999-Admin, now!" he snapped.
        The dead Abbot raised his head. "How can I help you?" he asked.
        "I'm invoking ops privileges," said Ricard angrily. "Remove the player controlling Adso! He's a spammer and he's not playing the game."
        "There is no human player controlling Adso," said the Abbot mildly. "The character Adso is presently controlled by CyberGen Gamebot NameOfRose #012. It is performing within normal parameters." The Abbot's eyes glazed over and his head fell back onto the rush-covered stone floor with a painful clunk.
        "Say, Brother William," said Adso, taking hold of Ricard's arm, "or may I call you Rick? Say, Rick, wouldn't you like to part-own a luxury timeshare on sunny South Georgia island?"
        "Not even remotely," Ricard replied, trying to disengage the clinging hand. "Let go, you're hurting."
        "How about a Green Card for Deimos, then? The Martian moons are the place for a thrusting young exec like you. And, talking of thrusting, I know the addresses of some scorching XXXX sites you can subscribe to for a trifling fee."
        "Ow!" yelled Ricard, as Adso's fingers dug into his arm. Balling his free hand into a fist, he punched the youth in the face, causing the latter to release his grip. Ricard rolled up the sleeve covering his injured arm and gaped in horror at the blood trickling from five neat puncture wounds.
        "No pressure, Rick," Adso wheedled, advancing on him again. "Look, if you don't want to take up these once-in-a-lifetime offers, just give me your name, address, phone and fax numbers, email address, network identifier, blood group, tax code and National Insurance number and I'll personally make sure your details are erased from our mailing list. But, honestly, you'd be stark staring mad to pass up the chance to..."
        Ricard bolted. He ducked out through the doorway, narrowly evading the young man's grasp, ran down the cloister and into the abbey's twilit courtyard. Here, a couple of chickens pecked listlessly at the bare earth, and a pig wandered around searching for kitchen scraps. Where the hell was everyone?
        "999-Admin!" called Ricard. "List all players participating in 'The Name of the Rose'."
        "There are at present no human players in this game," grunted the pig, its breath misting in the cold evening air. "All active characters are controlled by CyberGen Gamebots NameOfRose #001 to #016 inclusive. If you wish to locate a player participating in one of GyberGen's many other exciting VG scenarios..."
        "Jesus Christ, I'm a human player, you stupid piece of bloatware!" cried Ricard. "Can't you tell? What's wrong with you?"
        "The character William of Baskerville is presently being operated by CyberGen Gamebot NameOfRose #007. It is performing within normal parameters," said the pig complacently.
        "I want to quit, exit, leave! Get me out of here!"
        "These commands are only available to human players. Please resume your role." The pig turned and trotted off in its quest for food.
        Adso emerged into the courtyard. "Rick," he called out heartily, "I was like you once, I didn't believe that you could make over 25,000 Euros a day teleselling domestic garbage recycling units from your home! But then I came across an offer too good to pass up, and..."
        Ricard ran towards the door of the library. He had played this game so often, he was certain he could lose his tormentor in that bewildering maze of rooms and passages. All he had to do was hole up long enough for CyberGen to fix whatever glitch was screwing up their game.
        The door to the library opened and a man wearing a white environment suit emerged. He pointed a tube at Ricard. "Get out of the way!" he barked.
        Ricard didn't need to be told twice. He hurled himself to one side as the tube in the newcomer's hand spat a jet of fire. Ricard heard an inhuman screech behind him. He turned and saw the body of Adso flailing on the ground, engulfed in flames. He turned back to his deliverer, who was speaking softly into a microphone inside his helmet.
        "What did you do to him?" asked Ricard.
        "Fried the PCBs he'd taken up residence in," the man explained. "You Wilson?"
        "That's right. But won't he simply plug in elsewhere and start again?"
        "He won't be plugging in anywhere again, ever," said the man with relish. "That wasn't a human being chasing you, Wilson, it was a replicant."
        "Replicant," Ricard repeated. The word sounded vaguely familiar.
        "We hijacked the name from SegaSony's 'Blade Runner' vee-game. Know it? Anyway, it's a rogue strain of self-replicating junkmailbots. They've even got rudimentary intelligence. Nastiest virus ever to get loose on the Net."
        "There's more of them?"
        "Thousands, possibly. NATO's trying to keep a lid on it, but we don't know if we can hush these incidents up for much longer."
        The Network Administrators of Terra Organisation, thought Ricard. This was serious stuff indeed.
        "Now, if you'll excuse me," said the man, "I've got an array of mainframes to sanitise. How'd it get you in here, anyway? I thought we'd quarantined all of CyberGen's VG arena."
        "Apparently there was still a player in here who gave the... the replicant my name. Did it really... kill him?"
        "You could say that," replied the man enigmatically. "Well, you'd best be on your way... Say, that thing didn't touch you, did it?"
        Ricard's hand involuntarily flew to his sore arm. The man strode over to him and, with a perfunctory "Lemme see," he pulled back Ricard's sleeve. The punctures had stopped bleeding, but the flesh around them had turned red and was beginning to swell up.
        "Shit!" the man swore. "Shit, shit, shit, shit..."
        "What is it?" cried Ricard. "What's it done?"
        "It's only gone and replicated itself into your body, hasn't it? Through the cranial link. It's downloaded a copy of itself into your brain tissue. Shit!" He started mumbling into his microphone again.
        Ricard was aghast. "Well, you can get rid of it, can't you? You can cure me, right?" he babbled.
        The man looked at him, pityingly. "Sorry, Wilson, no can do. We haven't come up with a cure yet. Best we can do is seal your body in plastic and incinerate it so it can't infect anyone else. I'm really sorry."
        Ricard could barely speak. "How long?" he croaked.
        "Three quarters of an hour, an hour, no more. You might as well stay here - you won't get in my way. Take a walk outside."
        "Will I...?"
        "You won't feel a thing. One minute you're here, the next you're not. Best way to go, if you ask me. Have you ever been outside the abbey? It's beautiful out there."
        Ricard nodded. Dully, he shuffled towards the abbey gates. The man headed for the cloister, side-stepping Adso's smouldering corpse. "I'll turn up the daylight for you!" he called after Ricard.
        Ricard made his way through the gate and stood outside the abbey. With ludicrous rapidity, the sun, which had only just disappeared beyond the western horizon, rose back up until it was directly overhead. Abruptly, it became a glorious, crisp, sunny winter's day. Down in the valley below nestled the village, smoke curling lazily up from some of the houses. He could just make out the sounds of farmyard animals, wood being chopped and children shouting and laughing. To either side stretched the snow-capped Apennine Mountains.
        The NATO agent was right - it was beautiful. Twenty-first century Greater Manchester couldn't hold a candle to unspoilt, medieval Italy. He realised he wanted to stay here forever and, in a way, he was getting his wish.
        Ricard felt a tear trickling down his cheek. He brushed it away, turned to his left and strode purposefully towards the mountains.

 


17.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Does there exist a god?
> --
>
[name and email address removed]

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Just a god? Any god? Like Kev the god of toilets on French campsites, would he do?
Yes, I know I've done that before. It's just so typical of you supplicants - I've always got to be witty and original, but you lot can ask the same boring old questions over and over again ad nauseam. Why, there's even some of you out there that still think woodchucks are funny!
Right, now that you've got me in a bad mood, I'm not going to answer your question. Instead, you can just work it out for yourself using this handy-dandy flowchart.
                 The universe could not possibly have
                  come into existence just by chance
                               |  |
                               |  |
                      AGREE <--    --> DISAGREE
                        |                |
                        |                |
    Therefore it was <--                  --> In fact, Christian
  made by a bloke in                          fundamentalists are all
   a white robe with                          the proof you need of
  a long white beard                          the nonexistence of god:
          |  |                                those raving loonies
          |  |                                can't possibly be right
AGREE <---    --> DISAGREE                              |  |
 | ^               |                                    |  |
 | |               |                       DISAGREE <---    ---> AGREE
 | |               |                         |                      |
 | |                --> But there definitely |                      |
 | |                    is some kind of       --> The Bible, though |
 | |                    guiding principle         not accurate in   |
 | |                         |  |  |              all respects,     |
 | |  Which made Man in <----   |  |              reports on real   |
 | |      its own image         |  |              events   |  |     |
 | |          |  |              |  |                       |  |     |
 | |  --------   |              |   --> Which, judging by  |  |     |
 | | |  ---------               |       my life so far,    |  |     |
 | | | |                        |       hates my guts      |  |     |
 | | | |  Which is entirely <---                |  |       |  |     |
 | | | |   unconcerned with                     |  |       |  |     |
 | | | |      human affairs                     |  |       |  |     |
 | | | |       |                                |  |       |  |     |
 | | | |        --> Okay, so there is a god, <--   |       |  |     |
 | | | |             but if he doesn't care        |       |  |     |
 | | | |             about me, why should I        |       |  |     |
 | | | |                care about him?            |       |  |     |
 | | | |                           |               |       |  |     |
 | | |  -------> Oopsie - I meant  |               |       |  |     |
 | | |           "made Woman in     ---------------~-------~--~--   |
 | | |           her own image"                    |       |  |  |  |
 | | |                       |                     |       |  |  |  |
 | |  --> Go back up to      |    Hmm, maybe <-----        |  |  |  |
 | |      the "white beard"  |      it's Kev               |  |  |  |
 | |      bit and try        |     after all               |  |  |  |
 |  ----- again, idiot!      |       |                     |  |  |  |
 |                           |   ----      Which proves <--   |  |  |
 |   But for the purposes <--   |        there is a god       |  |  |
 |   of this exercise, we       |     ---- who loves us       |  |  |
 |  will assume "goddess"       |    |                        |  |  |
 |   is a subset of "god"       |    |        Which proves <--   |  |
 |       and to hell with       |    |      there is a god       |  |
 |  political correctness       |    |      who's an utter       |  |
 |           |                  |    |             psycho!       |  |
 |   --------                   |    |              |  |         |  |
 |  |                           |    |              |  |         |  |
 |  |     But then, I think <---~----~--------------    ------   |  |
 |  |       human sacrifice     |    |                        |  |  |
 |  |          is way cool!     |    |                        |  |  |
 |  |                  |        |    |    Let's pretend he <--   |  |
 |  |                  |        |    |  isn't really there <-----   |
 |  |                  |   -----~----       |                       |
 |  |                  |  |     |           |                       |
 |   --> YES, THERE <--   |     |            --->  NO, THERE  <-----
  ----->  IS A GOD  <-----       --> Erm...       ISN'T A GOD

 


18.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Should the tribe migrate again this year? Can't we stay put for
> one whole year ever?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

The old shaman stared sightlessly at the young people gathered around him, cataracts glazing his eyes. It was the same complaint every spring. As the snows melted and the bluebells blossomed in the woods, the young people wanted to hunt, fish, plant crops, weave baskets, make children. They did not want to pack up their meagre belongings, leave their winter shelters and strike off into the unknown yet again.
The shaman sighed. He was less eager to be off than any of them, his legs crippled by arthritis, his toothless gums scarce able to chew the dried meat which would be almost their sole source of food during the trek. But, The Curse!
"You know why we must migrate every year," he said wearily.
"We know about The Curse," said one young woman angrily. "You never stop telling us about it. But we have fled many, many seasons. Most of us have spent our whole lives fleeing. The Curse is far away, it can't find us anymore."
There was a chorus of agreement from the other men and women. The shaman sighed again. How to convince them? He was now the only one left old enough to remember when The Curse had first come upon the tribe. Young people never believe what they cannot see with their own eyes or touch with their own hands. He could not expect them to grasp the horror of something they had not experienced for themselves.
And perhaps they were right. Perhaps the tribe had already fled far enough. They had crossed great mountain ranges, empty prairies and lush, green jungles. The animals in these parts were nothing like the dappled deer and aurochs of their long-lost homeland. Fruits and berries, which had been nutritious there, made them sick here, whilst mushrooms which had been poisonous were now good to eat. Even the spirits were different, alien. Surely The Curse had given up its pursuit.
He knew he should take a spirit journey to find out the answer, but he was afraid. His heart had grown weak. The last time, he had almost died. The next time, the strange spirits of this place might not let him return at all, and how would that help the tribe? The shaman was an old man, and had the wisdom of his years. He offered the young people a compromise.
"This is a good place," he said. "We shall remain here one whole year. We'll migrate next spring."
The young people smiled and thanked him. Next spring was too far away for them to think about. To them, it was as if he had said they could stay forever.
Spring passed into glorious summer, and the tribespeople hunted, fished, harvested their crops, wove their baskets and made their children. Later, they laid up stores and built the winter shelters, and made more children still. The old shaman had never seen the tribe so happy, and he was sure he had made the right decision after all. Contented, he passed into the spirit world forever late in the fall. The tribe built a splendid funeral pyre for him, and elected the leader of the hunt to replace him. This was not a success, however, as the new shaman did not know how to mix the herbs for the spirit journey properly, and he was very ill the first time he tried it.
This winter was far more severe than the previous one. With many new babies, and still more on the way, there were too many mouths to feed, and food stocks began to run low. During the day, when the weather permitted, the women would collect lichens and strip the bark off trees, which they would boil up to make soup. At first, the new shaman went out every midnight to pray for the sun to return early, as was the custom of the tribe. However, this made his illness worse, so he retired to his shelter with his women and refused to come out.
The longest night came. A terrible gale lashed the shelters as the tribe huddled inside, too cold to sleep. Mothers tried to comfort their starving children, whilst the unmated men bragged to each other of impossible feats they performed during the hunt last summer, to keep their spirits up. Later, the storm passed and the moon came out.
Suddenly, a loud sound was heard in their midst. The tribespeople peered out of their shelters, to see a massive form hulking in the clearing at the centre of the settlement. It stood like a man, only more stooped over, was covered in furs and carried a large bundle. It shook some of the snow off its furs and pulled back its hood, so that they could make out its face in the moonlight. It looked like a man, but no man they had ever seen, with large teeth, a flat nose and fierce, beetling brows. They recognised it at once from the tales the old shaman had told them: it was The Curse! It had found them!
Bravely, the huntsmen seized their spears and stone axes, leapt out of their shelters and surrounded the intruder. Guardedly, they stood their ground, waiting to see what the creature would do next. The Curse looked around at the armed, threatening men and smiled. It opened its bundle and took out a deer's shoulder blade, with many marks scratched onto it. Then it spoke.
"Og here. Og sell Watch-tower. Want buy?"

 


19.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

> Oracle, inventor of high pressure sales methods, friend
> of buoys and gulls worldwide...
>
> Can people be too jaded?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Are you kidding? Have you forgotten what happened to Ho Szechuan, 14th Emperor of the Ming dynasty? When he died, they encased his body in 1,583,986 individually carved pieces of jade. 1,583,986 pieces! The end product was about the size and shape of the Space Shuttle and weighed five and a half tons!
In order to get this gargantuan mess out of the workshop where it had been prepared, all the houses along one side of the Street of Loyal Artisans had to be demolished. A system of winches and pulleys was used to hoist the sarcophagus onto a colossal, specially made cart with 12 axles to distribute the weight, and drawn by 48 oxen. This juggernaut then made its way through the streets of the capital Nanjing, followed by the Emperor's 6 wives, 364 concubines, 51 eunuchs, roughly 1400 courtiers and their families, and an escort of 210 Imperial guards. The whole route was lined by the inhabitants of the city, wailing, tearing their clothes and strewing the way with flower petals.
Eventually, the funeral cortege reached the Bridge of Celestial Harmony, which stretched across the mighty Yangtze River as it runs through the city. This was a massive single span wooden structure, a miracle of medieval Chinese engineering. Regrettably, it had never been designed to cope with this kind of load. When the giant ox-drawn cart was halfway across, the bridge collapsed, depositing it, the Emperor in his sarcophagus and the entire procession of mourners into the swirling waters below.
The only survivors of the catastrophe were two doves, which were to have been released when the tomb was sealed as a symbol of the Emperor's ascent to heaven. They escaped from their cage at the very moment the bridge gave way, and flew back to their coop in the palace. Ever since, this breed has been known as the Ho Ming pigeon...
Holy mother of god, I can't believe I just expended all that effort on such a stupefyingly lousy joke. What am I coming to? It wasn't always like this, you know. Once I was a respected, nay, revered sage and prophet. Kings, empresses and hierophants would gladly immolate themselves for just one word that dropped from my lips. Now I'm just another witless denizen of the cybernation of endless September. I don't know why I bother anymore, I really don't.
You owe the Oracle... ohh, never mind. What's the point?

 


20.

The Internet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
Your question was:

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

And now the end is near
And so I send the final askme
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'd sooner suffer chronic acne
I've wasted all my life
Upon a pointless occupation
Oh god, I truly am
                    An incarnation
Digests, I've made a few
But then again, too few to mention
And now that I am through
I will not even get a pension
To be the Oracle
It's a fate far worse than damnation
Oh tell me, who would be
                    An incarnation
For what is the point, what do you get
The scrapings of the Internet
Those supplicants are, every one
B1FF clones and Juno's bastard sons
They've got some nerve, they don't deserve
                    An incarnation
The priests, they make a fuss
How all our answers don't excite them
But spare a thought for us
The poor old sods that has to write them
Each question that arrives
Its lameness causes such vexation
Who knows the anguish of
                    An incarnation
Yes, there were times I cried to see
The umpteenth Star Trek parody
Python quotes here, null questions there
And wretched woodchucks everywhere
I did them all, I had the balls
                    For incar-na-tion!

 


...Back to Zadoc Home Page.