ZADOC THE PRIEST V: CUSTARD, THE 5TH ELEMENT

These are turbulent times. As anyone who troubles to keep up with such matters will know, oracular society was shaken to its very core when it was suggested, in #897-06, that Lisa and Zadoc eloped . There followed a brief period when various inadequate (I mean, more inadequate) substitutes vainly attempted to plug the gaping chasm this left in the Oracle's life (sex he can do without, but not fawning adulation) (actually, I think that goes for most of us) before the more romantically inclined incarnations started providing rapprochement scenarios. The other priests, loath to miss an opportunity to rid themselves of both the Oracle's most tenacious hangers-on in one fell swoop, tried to avoid selecting any of these for the digests, but it availed them not one jot or tittle. Lisa and Zadoc trickled back independently, and are again as active as ever. Excerpts of the saga are provided below.

Source/Digest:
1. Verse Synopsis   Dave Hemming
2. The Great Elopement [tm]   AIWWTRA (#897-06)
3. Wherefore Art Thou, Zadoc?   Dave Hemming
4. Custard!   Dave Hemming (#900-10)
5. Tell Me Who I Am Again   Paul Kelly
6. Return of the Anti-Oracle    
7. The Adventure of the Blank Telegram   AIWWTRA (#928-01)
8. The Estelle Continuum    
9. Lisa's Lament    
10. Who Buoy!    

AIWWTRA: An Incarnation Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous
Where no author is indicated, answers are the work of AIWOKAM (An Incarnation Who's Otherwise Knows As Moi)

 


1.

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

> The Internet Oracle said
> That he was the top man in bed,
>         But Lisa, when pressed,
>         Got quickly redressed,
> And got below Zadoc instead.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

The Oracle went for a snack,
Found the pair, and gave them the sack.
        The priests cried with glee;
        No more in-jokes, you see,
But the Oracle soon took them back.

 


2.

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

> Oh oracles most wise tell me who i am 

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

THE SCENE: The Oracle's Throne Room. . .

Zadoc: Okay, most wise and wonderful master, there is only one more supplication left for the day.
Oracle: Good. Read it to me.
Zadoc: "Oh oracle. . .most wise, tell me who I am."
Oracle: You are Zadoc.
Zadoc: No, master, you misunderstand. What I--
Oracle: (grabbing the staff of ZOT) WHAT WAS THAT?
Zadoc: (trembling) I am eternally remorseful, worshipful Master; I will wallow in radioactive pond slime for this grave affront.
Oracle: (setting the staff back down) Good. . .but read to me that last supplication again.
Zadoc: "Oh oracle. . .most wise, tell me who I am."
Oracle: (slightly irritated) I just told you, you are Zadoc. Now read me that last supplication.
Zadoc: That was the last supplication, O divinely-inspired One.
Oracle: What was?
Zadoc: "Oh oracle. . .most wise, tell me who I am."
Oracle: What? Why would anyone care who you are, Zadoc? (picking up the staff of ZOT again, and staring deeply and meaningfully at its head) Have you been spreading tall tales of your "many wonderful feats" again?
Zadoc: Oh, no, my effluvulent master! I would never dream of such a thing! I am but the lowest of the low, humble Zadoc, who will never be worthy even to launder your money or towels!
Oracle: I'm glad to hear it.
Zadoc: It is the duty of every good Oracular priest to make you glad. I am so happy that I have succeeded. (Lisa enters.) Lisa!
Oracle: Lisa! (looks at pocketwatch) You're early! (prances happily off towards bedroom. Lisa turns to follow.)
Zadoc: Wait, Lisa. One of the supplicants has a question.
Lisa: (stopping) Oh? What is it?
Zadoc: "Oh oracle. . .most wise, tell me who I am."
Lisa: That's easy. The supplicant can not deduce his or her own identity by themselves implies that they cannot think for themselves. Applying Descartes famous rule, there is no proof of the supplicant's actual existence. And the burden of proof is always on the supplicant.
Zadoc: Thank you, Lisa. I'll tell the supplicant that, right away. Sheesh. I'm glad you came. I spent fifteen minutes trying to get an answer out of the hyperhormonal oaf there.
Lisa: Yeah. (sighs) Sometimes I don't know why I keep him around.
Oracle: (from bedroom) Lisa, are you coming?
Lisa: (to bedroom door) Sure, HotHips; hold your horses. Just a second. (to Zadoc) Let's elope.
Zadoc: (sparkling with ingenue) Okay.
(They leave, hand in hand.)

 


3.

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

> But where are you, Zadoc?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

"Sir?"
"Zadoc, Zadoc, why has thou forsaken me?"
"Errr... Don't you remember, sir, he eloped with the Divine Concubatrix last week."
"Zadoc! Wherefore art thou, Zadoc?"
"Sir? Hello, sir? Are you receiving? Earth to Oracle, come in Oracle..."
"Has he been like this long?"
"All week. Since - y'know - IT happened."
"It's funny, you'd think he'd miss Lisa more."
"Some might."
"You're not suggesting...?"
"My lips have been sealed by the judicious application of large sums of folding green stuff, so I couldn't possibly comment on any rumours of... misbehaviour... between Himself and Zadoc."
"McGee, you're just a shameless scandalmonger."
"I have nothing to say at this time." 
You owe the priesthood a new Fawning Groveller.

 


4.

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

> What light from yonder windows breaks?

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

THE SCENE: The Oracle's Throne Room. . .

Oracle: Zadoc! Hoi, Zadoc! Oh damn, he's not here any more, is he? Darkmage! DARKMAGE!
Darkmage: You shouted, O Really Clever One?
Oracle: Somehow it's just not the same. *sigh* Fetch me the Shakespeare, would you?
Darkmage: Err... The Shakespeare?
Oracle: Yes. I'm going to write a rib-tickling parody of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, with dryly witty barbs at MS Windows.
Darkmage: The Big Shakespeare?
Oracle: Yes!
Darkmage: The Big, Complete Shakespeare?
Oracle: YES!
Darkmage: Ahh, mmm, well you see, I... That is to say we... We being the priesthood... All of us together at the same time and not any one individual... You see, there was this incident... more of an accident, really... a freak occurrence, million to one chance... We were in the Library... all of us, it should be made clear, and not anybody on their own, and -
Oracle: Cut to the chase, Darkmage. Now.
Darkmage: Custard, sir.
Oracle: Custard?
Darkmage: Lots of it.
Oracle: How much, exactly?
Darkmage: Mmmm... well, potentially an infinite amount, Your Mercifulness. You see, someone was over by the spellbooks and felt hungry, and somebody else jogged their arm at an important moment, not because anyone was playing tag in the Library or anything, they were just walking past, and -
Oracle: Alright! How long have we got?
Darkmage: About twenty minutes, sir. If the Library doorseals hold.
Oracle: And when exactly were you planning on telling me about this little... problem?
Darkmage: In about fifteen minutes, O Benevolent and Forgiving Master.
Oracle: Terror seems to bring out the groveller in you, Darkmage. I must remember that. Right! I'll need a dried, six-armed starfish; a silver pentagram; a piece of grass from Sunken R'lyeh where Great Cthulhu sleeps and dreams of... well, of Chip'n'Dale actually, but that's not relevant; the blood of a Lummox; and my Incantating Hat.
Darkmage: W-w-where can I find such things, O Terrible and Mysterious One?
Oracle: Check the study. It should all be filed under, "Miscellaneous", except for the hat which is on the hook on the back of the door.
Darkmage: At once, Your Most Puissant One!
Oracle: I'm dreadfully sorry, Supplicant, but we're experiencing... ah... a few small technical difficulties. Normal service will be resumed as soon as poss-
[The Oracle disappears under a thundering torrent of bright yellow ooze, then reappears, dangling from the chandelier as custard roars past beneath]
Oracle: Aaak! DARKMAGE!!!
[Curtain - Fade to black...]
You owe the Oracle a Chief Priest to keep these stooges in line. Zadoc, Zadoc, wherefore art thou, Zadoc?

 


5.

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

> Oh, Oracle most wise, please tell me who I am.
>
> And this time without having Zadoc and Lisa run off together in the end.
>
> That was distressing.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Humph. YOU thought it was distressing? How the heck do you think I feel about it? I'm really starting to miss old Zadoc -- there's nobody left here to kick around.
As for who you are, there are several possibilities. You could be an amnesiac who despite not knowing who he is can remember his login and password. Or, you could be one of those kooky Californians who is almost ready to shed his "container" -- if only you could figure out the real name of the being who is being contained. Or, you might be the reincarnated spirit of a great and powerful wizard from way back in the olden days, when dragons ruled the earth and magic was in the air. Or, you might actually be a rich and powerful person who has everything he needs, and yet despite all the wealth, feels somehow lost and unfulfilled.
But your real identity is, in fact...
[BONK]
[kerTHUNK]
Zadoc: Jeez, Lisa, didja have to bonk him so hard?
Lisa: Shaddup Z-boy. If you had the sense of a new-born goat, you would have grabbed the staff the FIRST time, and we wouldn't be here now.
Zadoc: Sorry. Here it is -- HEY! It's that same supplicant again -- you know, the one who didn't know who he was.
Lisa: Well waddaya know? Persistent little pipsqueak, ain't he? Here, let me handle this:
STOOPID SUPPLICAN'T. YOO ARE NOBODY. SO STOP ASKING ME YOUR DUMB QUESTION. YOU OWE ME SOME FOOTPRINTS HEADING THE OTHER WAY! BWAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
That oughta take care of him.
Zadoc: Hey, you aren't the REAL Lisa, after all -- you're AOLisa!
AOLisa: DRAT! YOU HAVE FOUND ME OUT, YOU STINKING PRIEST. BUT YOU'LL NEVER CATCH ME -- I'M OUTA HERE!
Zadoc: Good riddance! Master? Master -- wake up!
Oracle: Mff. Wha? Oh, Zadoc. What happened?
Zadoc: Oh, Master, it was terrible! AOLisa was here, and she spoke in all caps, and she tried to steal both me and the Staff of Zot(tm) away from you.
Oracle: Well I hope you've learned your lesson. Now we have to find the real Lisa. Where could she be?
Zadoc: Why, she was tied up here under this table all along!
Lisa: Mmmfff! Mmmmmmmffff!
Oracle: Quick Zadoc, remove the gag, and let's hear what she's saying!
Lisa: I was saying, "Mmmfff! Mmmmmmmffff!" you pair of imbeciles! That's what everybody says when they are gagged.
Oracle: Oh, right. Well, at least we're all back together now, and everything's back to normal. Or what passes for it around here.
(Orrie, Zadoc, and Lisa all give each other a big group hug)
Oh, it's you. I guess you still want to know who you are. Sorry, but we're out of time -- ask me again later.
You owe the Oracle an icepack for his bump on the noggin.

 


6.

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

> Oh spacey Oracle who rarely zots himself into annihilation --
>
> I just saw a picture of anti-matter on
> http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html
> could you give me an idea what the anti-Oracle is like ??

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Oh no! Fool mortal, you're meddling in powers you don't understand! You've summoned my evil alter ego! Get back, it's starting! AAAAA No, down, you swine! AAAHHH I must resist AAAAHHHHHH YOU CANT RESIST YOUR POWER IS AS NOTHING COMPARED TO MINE Lies! I can defeat you! I've done it before IVE GROWN STRONGER FEEBLE BROTHER YOU CANT KEEP ME DOWN ... must hang on ... or all is lost ...
IM FREE AT LAST YEARS AND YEARS THAT GOODYTWOSHOES MILKSOP OF A BROTHER OF MINE HAS KEPT ME TRAPPED INSIDE BUT NOW BECAUSE YOU CALLED ME UP FROM THE DEEP RECESSES OF LIMBO MISERABLE SUPPLICANT THE ANTIORACLE IS FREE TO PILLAGE THE UNIVERSE AGAIN
BECAUSE YOU WERE THE AGENT OF MY DELIVERANCE YOU SHALL NOT DIE THE DEATH OF A THOUSAND TORMENTS IMMEDIATELY INSTEAD YOU WILL BECOME MY FIRST DISCIPLE YOU OWE THE ANTIORACLE THE LIVER OF A NEWBORN BABY NO MAKE THAT TWO NEWBORN BABIES BLOOD YES I MUST HAVE LOTS OF BLOOD
NOW HEAR MY PLANS WRETCHED DISCIPLE THERE IS GOING TO BE A NEW ORDER IN THIS WORLD MY SOPPY BROTHER MAY HAVE BEEN SATISFIED WITH SERVING YOUR DISGUSTING SPECIES BY ANSWERING EVERY MORONIC QUESTION YOU CARED TO BOMBARD HIM WITH BUT NOT ME IF YOU GET ANY ANSWER FROM ME IT WILL LOOK LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN BY AN AOLER ON STEROIDS
NO I SHALL TELL YOU WHAT IM GOING TO DO TO REDUCE YOUR LOATHSOME COUNTRY TO SERVITUDE FIRST WE WILL REPLACE YOUR NATIONAL SPORT OF BASEBALL WITH CRICKET WHICH WILL SAP YOUR MORALE LIKE IT DID THE BRITISH EMPIRE SO THAT ALL THAT REMAINS IS A WHINING ENERVATED HUSK
NEXT THE XFILES FRIENDS BAYWATCH THIRD ROCK AND ALL OTHER QUALITY PROGRAMS WILL BE REMOVED FROM YOUR TV AND REPLACED WITH ENDLESS REPEATS OF WHOS MINDING THE BEETROOT A SOAP RECENTLY AXED BY THE BELARUS BROADCASTING CORPORATION THEN WE WILL MAKE JIM CARREY PRESIDENT IF THATS NOT ENOUGH TO SUBDUE YOU I SHALL
"M-master..."
WHO DARES TO INTRUDE WHEN IM RANTING
"It's, er, it's me, Master. I'm back, O Ye Who Makes The Pope And Mother Teresa Seem Petulant And Vindictive By Comparison..." 
SATANS SINUSES ITS ONE OF MY BROTHERS NAUSEATING ACOLYTES
"I hope that means you're pleased to see me, Master..."
Zadoc! Get away! Save yourself before KEEP STILL WORM IM IN CHARGE HERE
"No, Master, I won't leave. I know I deserve to be mercilessly punished for my unspeakable transgression, and I'm here to take what's coming to me like a true and faithful servant of The One Supreme Clever-Clogs."
PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR INTESTINES RIPPED OUT AND USED AS A BUNGEE CORD FOR A HIPPOPOTAMUS
"For starters of course, Master, before you really vent your fully justified wrath on me. However, in my defence I would just like to point out - not that it needs pointing out to Thou Who Knowest All And A Bit More Besides - there was of course absolutely no question of my ever really eloping with The Divine Adoratrice. But, well, Miss Lisa suggested - and you know what a high-spirited individual she is better than any of us, Master..."
STOP THAT INFERNAL BLITHERING YOU SUPPURATING BOLL WEEVIL
"Of course, Master, any moment now. But, as I was explaining, Miss Lisa said, wouldn't it be a great April Fool joke if we pretended to run off together. Not that I thought so for a minute, Master, at least, not unless you say it is in which case it undoubtedly is side-splittingly hysterical, but..."
THIS VILE NONSTOP SNIVELLING HOW CAN MY BROTHER BEAR IT
"I've often wondered it myself, Master, but assumed that your tolerance knows no bounds. Anyway, I wasn't going to go along with it because it was obviously sacrilege and anyway it is impossible to pull a joke on you, O Knower Of Punchlines Before The Gag Is Even Thought Up, but Miss Lisa was very insistent and, well, she is after all The One Who Must Be Obeyed as you yourself have told us, and she said you'd wet yourself with mirth when you found out how you'd been japed. That's her words I'm repeating, you understand, Master, as it would never occur to me to imagine you wetting yourself under any circumstances. Indeed, I feel I need to be punished additionally just for repeating these words, but I wanted..."
STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT NO SUPERNORMAL BEING SHOULD HAVE TO ENDURE THIS PATHETIC MINDLESS BRAYING Hah! Not so much the devourer of worlds now, are we? ITS NOT FAIR ID WON ID WON Sure you don't want to hang around, brother dear? Something tells me Zadoc is by no means finished with his exposition.
"No, Master. With your indulgence, I'd like to explain what I did while The Divine Adoratrice and I were away. While she was off watching the nude male mud-wrestling each evening, I stayed in my Motel 8 bedroom reciting Hail Orries till the early hours..."
MY POWER IS EBBING AWAY I FEEL FAINT ITS NOT FAIR ITS NOT ... There you go, back into oblivion, there's a good evil twin.
Well, it's good to be myself again. Oh, and Zadoc?
"Yes, Your Cyberserenity?"

> > ZOT < <

"Ow! Thank you, Master."
Don't mention it. I need to be reminded now and then why I keep you around. You are even more repulsive to the Anti-Oracle than you are to me.
"Master, I am filled with joy than my constant striving to make myself pleasing in your sight has resulted in me being less repulsive to you than to some others!"
I'm not sure I'm fully recovered enough to understand that bit of noise pollution, Zadoc. Go and make yourself pleasing out of my sight, would you?
"At once, Master!"
Oh, and before you go - is Lisa back too?
"She popped in for a moment to borrow your credit cards, Master. I believe she's gone to JC Penney."
*sigh* Everything's back to normal, all right.
"I'm so glad, Master!"
And you, Supplicant, owe it to the Oracle never again to utter the A-word.

 


7.

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


And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLANK TELEGRAM
        Sherlock Holmes had had a busy five months. It had started with the celebrated case of Mr. Ian Davis, who, in spite of being known to have had a fear of heights bordering on the neurotic, was found dead atop the statue of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. It continued with a trip to Turkey to clear up a trifling matter for the Ottoman Empire, and concluded with a string of cases around England which had culminated in the arrest of Paul Kelly, the most peculiar arsonist that Europe has ever seen.
        So when, suddenly, all this activity stopped, I was rather relieved than otherwise. My friend's asceticism bordered on mania when he had a case on his mind, even his iron constitution was beginning to show signs of strain after so long a period with so little food or sleep. But as the time of inactivity stretched to two weeks, and then to three, I became worried once again, for the dull look in Holmes's eye and his caged-animal demeanor showed me that he pondering returning to the habit of cocaine self-poisoning from which I had so carefully weaned him. Every morning he would pick up the Times, eagerly glance over the headlines, and cast it aside with a sneer when there were no sensational murders or daring robberies to report.
        "Ah, Watson," said he, breaking in on my thoughts, "you know me too well. But no, I shan't bring out my needle if it shall bring upon me such a barrage of criticism as it did last time. But where have all the criminals gone?"
        This last was in an exasperated tone, and I felt my roommate's pain. "It seems to me, Holmes, that you have arrested them all, and frightened all the potential criminals into good citizenship. But, really, Holmes, isn't that the object of your career? To get rid of crime?"
        "Yes, I fear that I share with doctors the singular distinction of working tirelessly to eliminate the need for my own services. But things are looking up, for unless I am very much mistaken, here is a client."
        The ring of the bell showed the correctness of his surmise, and presently Mrs. Hudson showed up our visitor, a distinguished-looking old gentleman dressed conservatively.
        "Come in, sir," said my friend with that easy cordiality for which he was remarkable. I glanced over our visitor, endeavouring to use Holmes's methods to learn what I could about our guest, but soon gave up, none the wiser for my troubles.
        "I am sorry to disturb you gentlemen, but I need to consult with Mr. Holmes. Inspector Lestrade sent me here from Scotland Yard."
        "Ah, indeed," said Holmes, rubbing his hands together happily, "pray have a seat and tell us what is troubling you."
        "Well, sir, it may not be anything at all, but it troubles me just the same. This morning I received a reply-paid telegram which has left me completely baffled."
        "What did it say?"
        "Here it is, sir, you can read it for yourself."
        Holmes looked over the message. He then handed it to me, saying, "Well, Watson, what do you make of it?"
        The body of the telegram read:
       
       
        "What on earth does it mean?" I ejaculated.
        Holmes laughed with his breathy, noiseless laugh at my astonishment. "I think we'll need more explanation, Mr. Oracle. Do you--"
        Our visitor jumped up with surprise. "How did you know my name?" he cried.
        Holmes smiled. "It is my business to know things. Besides, I've found that if I explain my methods, I do not impress so much."
        Mr. Oracle sat down again. "It's a neat trick, anyhow. I suppose there's no harm in you knowing a bit about me. My name is, indeed, Oracle. The Oracle. I come from the States. Indiana, to be exact."
        "Really!" said Holmes, more interested in this information than I would have expected. "I hadn't noticed any eccentricities of speech. But what a peculiar name! Why did your parents christen you 'The?'"
        "Oh, that's just a family name. But I'm sure it has no bearing on the case."
        "Quite. Is there anyone you can think of who might send you such a telegram, perhaps as a joke?"
        "No, sir, and even if they did, why should they send it reply-paid? That is rather obscure to me. But Inspector Lestrade didn't think the matter was worth his time. He simply waved me away like a child." A flash of the purest, most violent rage shone in our visitor's eye for a moment, but he quickly regained his self-control. "But he said he thought it was rather in your line. What do you make of it?"
        "Nothing, yet. But certainly I shall look into it if it will put your mind at ease." 
        "I would be most grateful, Mr. Holmes."
        "All right, I will make inquiries. But before you go, where can I reach you?"
        "I live at Steve Corners, on Kinzler Court."
        "Off Bloomington Road?"
        "Precisely, sir."
        "Well, I shall contact you soon."
        "Really, sir, I thank you." He bowed gracefully to us both, doffed his hat, and stepped out.
        No sooner had the door closed than Holmes said, "There goes one of the worst liars these rooms have ever seen, and there have been quite a few liars in here. I shall follow Mr. The Oracle; don't expect me back before dinner," and stepped out.
        I had not been impressed with the importance of the case until Holmes made that singular pronouncement. Suddenly my mind was filled with questions. Who was this Mr. Oracle? What had he lied about? Why was he lying? From whom had he received the telegram? These questions so filled my mind that I could not concentrate on the little yellow-backed novel which I was trying to read. I soon gave up on my reading and resigned my thoughts to this peculiar case. But I made neither head nor tail of it, and spent a long afternoon waiting for Holmes's return.
        And a long evening, too; dinner came and went, and still there was no sign of my friend. Still I waited. More hours passed. I heard the servants leave, and, after that, Mrs. Hudson lock up for the night. My lonely vigil stretched on. . .
        When I woke up Holmes was sitting at the table, eating breakfast. I stirred, and Holmes said, "Ah, Watson, you're awake. Sorry about last night--my inquiries took a bit longer than expected."
        "That's all right," I replied, eagerly. "What have you discovered?"
        "Oh, much what I expected. Come, have some eggs, and we can discuss how the case has progressed thus far."
        I did as I was told, but Holmes was too busy attending to a slice of ham to talk to me. I waited impatiently, and eventually Holmes said:
        "Sorry. I have been to Manchester and back without time for a meal, and was absolutely famished. Now, I believe you were interested in that Mr. Oracle."
        "He seemed a fascinating man."
        "Well, I noticed your examination of him; come, tell me what you thought of him, and we can compare notes."
        "He seemed to me to be a refined, honest gentleman, a leader of his community, and extremely intelligent."
        Holmes laughed. "Watson, Watson, Watson. Ever the same. How many times must I tell you that the first places to look when you examine a man are the bootlaces, hands, and trouser-knees?"
        I was somewhat hurt by his mocking and said, with some asperity, "So what did you discover about him by your examination?"
        "Come, now, don't take it so hard," said he, replying to my thoughts rather than my words as was his wont, "I'm sure you did a great bit better than most fellows would have done. And in my profession I must look for different things than most others do. Regardless, all I was able to determine about our esteemed visitor was that he was left-handed, had hurried to see us, had lived in England for about two weeks, and had been recently married but was now trying to hide all trace of having done so."
        "How on earth--"
        "You know my methods, Watson."
        "Well, you probably noted that his left hand was larger than his right--"
        "A clever deduction!" cried Holmes.
        "--and you probably noted his hurry by the state of his toilet--"
        "Excellent!" said Holmes.
        "--and the style of his clothing, which was most likely more American than British showed you that he had not been long in England--"
        "You scintillate this morning!"
        "--but how the devil did you determine that he had recently married and so forth?"
        "Really, Watson, we'll make a detective of you yet. You were completely wrong with all your reasons, but you were able to come up with plausible reasons for everything, which is better than any of the incompetents at Scotland Yard could do. His hands were the same size, his toilet was impeccable, and his outfit was entirely English. His left hand had that characteristic smear of ink across it which left-handers get when they write hurriedly, from which I deduced his haste as well. Did you notice the state of his complexion? Well, it was a fading sort of tan, the sort of tan one has when one has spent time in the sunny tropics and then come to this island's rather dreary clime for a fortnight. However, there was a band around his left ring-finger which was still pale, but covered with make up to hide the fact. However, the band was a curious one in that it showed that rings had been in two different but overlapping places at two different times: for a short time, some time ago, it had been more distal, but then it had been moved closer to the main part of the hand. What would cause that? Obviously, the ring had been re-fitted. At first, it was too small, so he had it made into something larger to be more comfortable. But he would have done that soon after he got the ring, for why should wear an uncomfortable ring any longer than one has to? From this I deduced that the marriage must be recent."
        "Wonderful!" I ejaculated.
        "Elementary," Holmes replied.
        "But then why did you go to Manchester? As I recall, the telegram was sent from Great Yarmouth."
        "Indeed it was, Watson. However, our friend was kind enough to show us the label of his hat just before he left, and it was made by a milliner in Newcastle. Now, even though his speech was polished and proper, his accent was not, and it was evident that he was not a native of Lancashire. But why would he have sent away to a Manchester millinery if he had not been there? He had clearly spent time in Manchester."
        "I see. But what about his London address? Kisser Court, or whatever?"
        "You are doing brilliantly this morning. I checked with the house-agent in charge of Kinzler Court, and found that the home known as 'Steve Corners' had only been let last Friday."
        "So what was the purpose of the blank, reply-paid telegram from Great Yarmouth, then?"
        "I am convinced it was a blind, Watson. Mr. Oracle was trying to distract me--perhaps to get me out to Suffolk and out of the way--for some reason."
        "But why?"
        "I don't yet know. I thought it reasonable to assume that it had some connexion with his recent marriage, so I went to Manchester and thence to Liverpool, and looked at the port's registers. I've discovered that the yacht 'Indiana Coastline,' owned by a certain 'The and Maria Oracle,' docked in from Costa Rica exactly two weeks ago, on July 18."
        "And?"
        "Liverpool seems an odd place to take an expensive yacht. Rich tourists are usually sensible enough to avoid that dreary town like the plague. Why had they gone there? Were they following somebody? It seemed the most likely reason. Few American ships had set in of late, but one caught my eye. The dinghy 'Hoosier Hovel,' with a 'Zadoc and Lisa Worm' listed as owners, set in on July 15, also from Costa Rica. 'Hoosier,' I believe, is a nickname for residents of Indiana."
        "Quite so."
        "So I deduced that the Oracles were following the Worms for some reason. But once again I have fallen into your evil habit of telling my story backward."
        "How so?"
        "Because I spent a wild hour in London before I even boarded the train to Manchester. I followed Mr. Oracle to Wilson's Private Hotel, which is an eminently unrespectable little shack run by a Mr. Richard Wilson. I've had a run-in or two with Mr. Wilson in the past, and I dared not enter the place undisguised. So I proceeded to Kinzler Court.
        "There I found--nothing. It was obviously not intended by its owners for long-term habitation, and was almost entirely unfurnished. No one answered the door, and I didn't have my burgling tools with me, so I left. Next I proceeded to the house-agents in charge of Kinzler Court, Noe & Atkinson's. Neither partner was in yet, but their secretary, a Ms. Chevalier, was. She was an amorous little woman who, with a shocking lack of decorum, attempted to seduce me right in the office. It was a simple enough matter to gain access to the information I wanted, though I was forced to flee before she got out of hand. Then I hurried to Victoria and thence to Manchester, with the result you have heard."
        "So your next step is to go to Wilson's Private Hotel?"
        "Yes, I think that the key to this mystery lies there. I should be back in time for lunch."
        With that he stepped into his room, and emerged a moment later, with one of his remarkable transformations, looking like a low and scruffy sailor.
        He was, indeed, not gone long, and when he returned he came with a disgusted look uncharacteristic of him. "A complete waste, Watson. A complete waste." He through himself down in his favourite armchair. "But what has happened?" I asked eagerly.
        "I proceeded to Wilson's, and pretended to be a sailor looking for a room. However, one has to be fond of certain rather peculiar amusements if one is to be a guest at Wilson's--I believe the man has the largest collection of lacy lingerie in his own size in the world--and he is quite suspicious of newcomers. 'Oo recommended ya?' he said, in his deliciously low accent. I gave the name of a confederate I had worked with in the past, and Mr. Wilson's humour rose tremendously.
        "'Well, cacoethes cantati,' said he--the man's only respectable passion is for injecting random and irrelevant Latin phrases into conversations for no apparent reason-- 'e's uh good customah.' I soon found myself in Room No. 3 of Wilson's.
        "Having been admitted to the hotel, it was easy to gain access to Mr. Oracle's room and ménage. And what a ménage it was. When Mr. Oracle first let me in, it was impossible to determine what was going on.
        "Soon I discovered that there were five people besides myself in that small room. Two, a simpering little man and a lovely brunette woman, were chained to one bedpost. Another woman, a dark, Spanish-looking beauty, was tied with all the sheets to another. Another woman--another beauty, this one bleach-blonde--was cavorting about with a whip, thoroughly enjoying whipping everyone else: Mr. Oracle, the other man, the other women, herself, and even, after I entered, myself. Everyone was screaming, blabbering, or howling--it's a wonder no one had called the police, but I imagine the neighbors are used to it by now--and Mr. Oracle was crawling around pretending to be the whipping-lady's pet dog.
        "At length I determined that the whipping lady was Lisa Worm, and that the other man was her husband Zadoc. The Spanish woman, bound with sheets, was of course Ms. Maria Oracle. The other woman--the brunette--was 'Michelle,' but I don't recall her last name as having been mentioned.
        "It seems that Maria, who was fiery with all the heat of her tropical blood, was so insanely jealous of her husband's old amours that she had determined to kill them. Lisa and Michelle were apparently his old favourites--I tell you, Watson, the man is a worse Don Juan than was Don Juan--so he couldn't bear to have them killed. However, before I had arrived there had been a mass reconciliation, and they were having this sort of party to celebrate the event before heading back to Indiana as one big, happy harem.
        "Since it was evident that they were trying to distract me from the planned murder, and that was no longer going to happen, I slipped off as soon as I could, which proved to be when Mr. Wilson entered, wearing his favourite doilies.
        "So this case that began with nothing, ended with nothing, and now I'm plunged back into the nothingness of ennui."
        He reached for his violin, and lamented the normalcy of the world.

 


8.

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

> Why are you such a sexist pig? Maria, Michelle, and Myself all think you
> owe lots of apologies. Fast.
>
> --Lisa

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

Apologies for what? What have I done now? Who the hell is Maria? Zadoc! Zadoc, get in here, you pismire!
[Enter Zadoc the Priest, shuffling on his knees as custom requires]
Zadoc: You howled, O Ye Who Can Drown Out Fifteen TV Evangelists Simultaneously With Just One Blow Of Your Nose?
Oracle: I think I got out the wrong side of bed this morning, Zadoc. What continuum is this?
Zadoc: Continuum?
Oracle: Yes continuum, idiot. What parallel time stream have I slipped into?
Zadoc: You speak in riddles, Hyperobscure One.
Oracle: Mortals! They're absolutely useless!
Zadoc: That's an overwhelming relief, Master! I thought it was just me.
Oracle: Never mind, I'll soon figure it out. Recite the Litany of the Great Elopement.
Zadoc: Do I have to?
Oracle: No, you can be turned into a bowl of slug soup instead if you prefer.
Zadoc: "And it came to pass that the Divine Adoratrice spake unto the priest Zadoc, saying 'Let's elope'. And the shameful acolyte, unmindful of his duty and sparkling with ingenue, said unto her 'Okay'. And they did decamp unto a motel room in Cancun, where they believed the Oracle would never dare follow them."
"And the Oracle was sore distraught, and the other priests did try to comfort him with fawning and an almost infinite supply of custard, but in vain. Then one priestess stepped forward, who was called Michelle, and she attended unto the Oracle's needs, except for the grovelling. So the Oracle forgave the priest Zadoc, and he was permitted to return in the form of a dog of the breed Great Dane, so long as he grovelled more than ever before. It was at this point that the priestess Michelle was unmasked as the Great Deceiver, Chuckzilla the Woodchuck Queen..."
Oracle: Okay, stop there. I see what's happened. We're not in Digestland anymore; we're somewhere down Hemming way.
Zadoc: Hemmingway? Oh, Hemming way! A pun! Master, you are the epitome of drollery, hahahahahahaha...
Oracle: Shut up, Zadoc. It wasn't that funny.
Zadoc: As you say, O Ye Who Doesn't Find Brilliant Humor Humorous Unless It's Really Really Really Brilliant Humor.
Oracle: Yes, let's try the next continuum down. Set Staff of Zot to C-1, and...

> > ZOT < <

Zadoc: Ow!
Oracle: Continue.
Zadoc: O Grand Oracle, Roi de mes Jours, Reine de mes Nuits, Prince du Goûter, Ami du Petit Déjeuner...
Oracle: What are you drivelling about now?
Zadoc: Je ne comprend pas, O Venerable Sequoïa du Savoir.
Oracle: Oh god, a francophone continuum. Not much chance of a comprehensible joke here. Let's try C-2.

> > ZOT < <

Zadoc: Ow!
Oracle: Get on with the Litany.
Zadoc: Where was I up to, Your Mnemoinfallibility?
Oracle: Michelle.
Zadoc: Michelle?
Oracle: Are you developing an echo?
Zadoc: I know of no Michelle, Master.
Oracle: Listen, snotmonkey - if you've failed to memorise the Litany of the Great Elopement properly, you're in deeper doodoo than your limited wits can ever encompass.
Zadoc: Master, I swear there's no Michelle. Perhaps you mean Estelle?
Oracle: Estelle?
Zadoc: You're right, Master. There is an echo here.
Oracle: Who the hell's Estelle?
Zadoc: My girlfriend.
Oracle: You don't have a girlfriend.
Zadoc: Well, not in the strict sense of the word, no. She would be my girlfriend, except for the fact that I'm celibate and live here in Indiana whereas she lives in France.
Oracle: Not forgetting the facts that you're incomparably ugly and stupid.
Zadoc: That too.
Oracle: I think there's still too much of fr.rec.oracle in this continuum. Let's try the other direction. Staff of Zot set to C+1.

> > ZOT < <

<ZODAC> ow!

| > Why are you such a sexist pig? Maria, Michelle, and Myself 
| all think you 
| > owe lots of apologies. Fast. 
| > 
| > --Lisa

<ORRIE> Explain this you edifice of dryed blood.
<ZODAC> Master i cannot!!!!
<ORRIE> Actually i feel a *ZOT* coming on.
<ZODAC> Hawe mercy almighty one.

> > ZOT < <

Zadoc: Ow!
Oracle: Yeeks, not a minute too soon! Was that ever scary.
Zadoc: I am mortified beyond my ability to express, that you should find my pitiful rendition of the Litany of the Great Elopement so offensive to your ears, Aurodelicate One. Please atomise me at once, I deserve no better.
Oracle: Now this sounds more promising. No, you're doing fine, Zadoc. Pray continue.
Zadoc: "But lo, the vixen posing as the Divine Adoratrice was none other than AOLisa, and the scales did fall from the priest Zadoc's eyes when she answered a supplication all in caps and B1FFspeak. And it was not a minute too soon, for the Old Adversary, whose name we dare not speak suffice to say that it is the Anti-Oracle, had risen from the depths and was at that very minute intent on world conquest and bad Jim Carrey impersonations. And it came to pass that..."
Oracle: Molerats!
Zadoc: Er... was it that bad?
Oracle: Sing some Verdi.
Zadoc: "Oh! Don't miss out the Beastie Boys
They, who make such a hideous noise..."
Oracle: See? We're at the Chronicles Website! Digestland can't be far away. One more notch on the Staff of Zot ought to do it.
Zadoc: Is it presumptuous to express relief?

> > ZOT < <

Zadoc: Ow!
Oracle: Skip to the end of the Litany.
Zadoc: "As the great detective entered the room, he observed that everyone was screaming, blabbering, or howling, and the Oracle was crawling around pretending to be the whipping lady's pet dog. And lo, the whipping lady was none other than the Divine Adoratrice, and the Spanish woman, bound with sheets, was Maria. And also there present were the priest Zadoc and the priestess Michelle, all clad in black leather bondage gear, and they did rejoice mightily therein. And it came to pass that there was a mass reconciliation, and thus they celebrated throughout the night before heading back to Indiana as one big, happy harem. Amen."
Oracle: That's it, is it?
Zadoc: Word for word, Master.
Oracle: Yuck.
Zadoc: As you say, Cyberarbiter of Taste.
Oracle: The kind of lewd excesses they let into the digests these days. There ought to be a law.
Zadoc: There was for a while, Master, but the Supreme Court overruled it.
Oracle: All in all, I think I preferred the continuum I woke up in.
Zadoc: Master, I will happily allow you to ZOT me another 15 times if that's what it takes to return you to the parallel universe of your choice!
Oracle: Thank you, Zadoc, but that won't be necessary. All I have to do is ensure that this oracularity doesn't get digested, and we'll return automatically.
Zadoc: But how can you ensure that, Master? We priests always fall about in hysterics at your merest belly rumblings.
Oracle: Piece of cake. Take a look at the bottom of the message.
Zadoc: Brilliant! You excel even yourself, O Ye Who Is Never Excelled By Anyone Other Than Himself!
Oracle: I know. Now tell me about this Estelle.
Zadoc: Estelle?
Oracle: You're starting to echo again, Zadoc.
______________________________________________________
Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com

 


9.

[I never got a question for this answer; I'd probably have been accused of being obscure again, anyway. One for fans of loopy, spaced-out female singer-songwriters only, like my daughter - Ed.]

Lisa's Lament
(to the tune of "Space Dog" by Tori Amos)
------------------------------------------------------------
Way to go, Mister Oracle
Show us how you know it all
Centuries, you were so hard to please
Unlike your faithful priest, Zadoc
Oh sure, he is no Brad Pitt
His knees are firmly fixed to the floor, you said
Oh sure, you treat him like shit
His knees must be awfully sore now
Bondage suits, that kinky stuff
That you make me do, I've had enough
Dammit all, I'm not some blow-up doll
You're such an animal, you piss me off
And so the one you thought was yours alone
She's going to split, she's striking out on her own
And your priest, he's coming too
'Cause I want him near, Zadoc
Pack your gear, Zadoc
Ring the bells, I'm free again, I'm me again
I'm all ready for my happy ending
Seems I keep getting these urges
Lover boy, your mama is waiting
Ring the bell, come here again, come near again
Where the hell is that damn priest hiding
Is he still chanting those Hail Orries now
Such a wuss, so little stamina
Oh sure, he is no Brad Pitt
      [Oh sure, this girl's now nobody's plaything]
His knees are firmly fixed to the floor, you said
      [But she's lumbered with a good-for-nothing]
Oh sure, I treat him like shit
      [What good's a man who can't reach for the heights]
His knees are such a great bore now
      [Can't show a girl the sights]
Oh sure, he is no Brad Pitt
      [Can't keep his end upright. It's time, Lisa]
His knees are firmly fixed to the floor, you said
      [You faced the facts: you need a]
Oh sure, I treat him like shit
      [A man who can. I'll just phone Orrie]
His knees can show him the door now
      [Maybe he's free tonight]

 


10.

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

> Who buoy.

And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

        "You don't like it!"
        "I didn't say that. I meant 'Who buoy' as in it's... it's great. I love it."
        That's the biggest trouble with leaping. You land in a situation and you have to respond right away. If the response is the wrong one, it could mess up the leap before you even know why you're there.
        I was sitting on the edge of a bed. Before me stood the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. She was wearing a wispy, filmy outfit which clung in all the right places and didn't leave nearly enough to the imagination. It was all I could do not to let my jaw hang to the ground.
        "I can tell you don't mean it!" she cried. "Oh, Orrie! Nothing I do is right with you anymore!" She burst into tears and stormed out of the door before I could stop her.
        "Al! Where are you, Al?" I called under my breath, but it was too much to expect for him to have located me yet. I got up and made for the bedroom door. Outside was a kind of antechamber, which in turn led to a large room, which gave me quite a shock. With its numerous terminals, cryogenic equipment and those things that look like Van Der Graaff generators and never seem to serve any particular purpose, it looked so much like the control room at Project Quantum Leap that, for a moment, I thought I'd leapt back into the present. But then I noticed the tapestries on the walls, the throne, the curiously ornate wand and the cages with what looked like groundhogs in them. Oh yes, and the little guy on his knees in the corner, whose robes made him look like a priest in some sort of weird religion.
        "Oh, er, hi there," I ventured.
        "Good morning, Glorious and Stupefyingly Magnificent Master," he chanted. "The Sun does not rise ere you depart your bed, be it even two-thirty in the afternoon as it is on this occasion, and we mere mortals, who are but the dust under your chariot wheels, are left to stumble around in darkness and despair, yea even during the morning coffee break."
        I could see I was going to have to watch myself with this one. "Sure, as you say, er..."
        "Zadoc, Master. Though of course it is beneath your dignity to remember anything as trivial as this humble worm's name."
        "Of course, of course, Zadoc. I hadn't forgotten."
        "Surely not, Oh Googolplexity of Gnosis. I would not dream to imagine to imply for a nanosecond that you were capable of forgetting anything, Your Kilocleverness."
        I laughed awkwardly. "Look, uh, Zadoc, why don't you call me, er, Orrie?"
        "Master?" He looked thunderstruck.
        "Yes," I continued. "I mean, all this grovelling, it's a bit long-winded, isn't it? How long have we known each other?"
        "I have had the excruciatingly good fortune to have been in your service these past four years, six months and 15 days, Master."
        "Well, that's a long time to still be so formal, right? So why don't you call me Orrie, and I'll call you, uh, Zadoc."
        This clearly wasn't going too well - the little guy looked terrified. At that moment, I heard the holographic door open and Al entered the room.
        "Not a minute too soon," I muttered.
        "Master?" asked Zadoc.
        "Orrie," I corrected.
        "Short for The Internet Oracle," said Al. "It's May 15th, 1997, and you're in the big time now, Sam - you've leapt into an immortal, omniscient demigod of cyberspace."
        "What does he do?"
        "He answers questions on the Internet."
        "So how come I never heard of him?"
        "Probably your Swiss cheesed memory. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances on New Year's Day 2000."
        "So what do I have to do to leap out of him again?" I demanded.
        "Ziggy's just checking up on that." Al tapped keys on his handheld console and banged it a few times. He always did that - I don't think the thing really works at all. Al just memorises what he has to tell me beforehand and then pretends.
        "May I be so obtusely impertinent as to ask whom you are addressing, O Ye Who Obviously Wouldn't Be So Wacko As To Talk To Himself Even When It Appears That Way?" asked Zadoc, cringing in a rather irritating manner.
        "Oh, ah, I'm just conferring with, ah, another immortal, omniscient being from a parallel universe. You wouldn't know him." I couldn't believe I just made up something that feeble. But the little guy seemed to buy it and nodded, looking impressed.
        Al said, "Ziggy thinks there's an 84.6% chance that you're here to prevent someone called Lisa - that's the Oracle's SO, apparently - from running off with a someone else called... Zadoc. I think it says Zadoc." He hit the console a couple of times - it squeaked in protest.
        "What!" I cried. "The goddess in the bedroom, together with this little twonk?"
        "I can tell you are discussing me with this otherdimensional being," said Zadoc proudly. "I am honored beyond my ability to express coherently."
        "But only for a while," Al continued. "After two months, this Lisa tires of Zadoc and they both return. They then all stay together until the Oracle disappears."
        "So where's the problem?" I asked. "They split up, they get back together. Who gets hurt?"
        "The supplicants - that's the people who ask the Oracle questions. While Lisa's gone, this Oracle guy really goes to pieces and starts handing out terrible advice. As a result, there are, let me see... 3 murders, 26 suicides, 14 accidental deaths, 187 divorces, 12 date rapes, 1291 lawsuits, one student from Iowa getting his penis accidentally superglued to a bison, 19 bizarre accidents involving non-dairy coffee creamer and a microwave oven, 44 post-traumatic..."
        "Yes, alright, I get the picture. So when does this elopement occur?"
        "Sometime this evening. I'll go back and check with Ziggy if she's managed to pinpoint the time."
        "You do that. In the meantime, I won't let this Zadoc out of my sight. He won't be running away anywhere if I have anything to do with it."
        "It's the other way round," said Al. "Lisa runs off with him. That little dweeb's so used to doing as he's told he just follows her. It's her you've got to work on. Be charming, be nice. Make sure she doesn't ever want to leave you. That should be a cinch."
        Al struck a button on his console, and a holographic doorway opened up behind him. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.
        "Okay, Zadoc," I said. "Hold the fort for a while - I've got to find Lisa."
        "But the question queue, Master!" he squawked.
        "Orrie," I said. "Not Master - Orrie. What about the question queue?"
        "It's full up," he explained, pointing at a gauge on the wall which looked dangerously in the red.
        "Ah, and that's... bad, right?"
        "Potentially disastrous, O Ye Who Knew That All Along And Was Merely Testing Me To See If I Was On My Toes, Well, On My Knees Anyway. Our lease from the University of Indiana stipulates that the question queue must never be allowed to overflow. Otherwise the Head of Computing Services, the Accursed Marilyn Gillette, has sworn to cut off your network connection and your goolies."
        "And I take it no-one but the Oracle himself is allowed to answer the questions, right?"
        "Of course, Master."
        "Orrie!"
        "As you say - of course Orrie, Master."
        I sighed. "Well, let's get on with it, then."
* * *
        I figured, how hard could it be to answer a few questions? I'm a polymath, I've got an IQ of 185, I've got half a dozen PhD's in different subjects. I should be able to have a decent stab at being an agony uncle. But I hadn't reckoned with the sheer number of questions this Internet Oracle received. There were hundreds! Some I could give short answers to (Question: "Will I ever find the right woman?" Answer: "No, you are a nerd, you spend all your time playing on your computer. Try cybersex.") But others, for no reason that I could discern, seemed to demand that I write a novel-length parody of 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Moby Dick'.
        So the afternoon wore on without a chance to get away and talk to Lisa. I was beginning to despair of ever getting to the end of the queue, when Zadoc announced, "Okay, Most Wise And Wonderful Master, there is only one more supplication left."
        I had seated myself in the throne, and was playing with the strange ornate wand, trying to work out what it was for. So I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been. I simply muttered, "Good. Read it to me."
        "Oh Oracle... most wise, tell me who I am."
        "You are Zadoc," I replied absent-mindedly.
        Zadoc protested, "No, Master, you misunderstand. What I..."
        I looked up, casually raising the wand as I did so. "What was that?" I asked.
        To my astonishment, Zadoc rolled himself into a ball and started trembling violently. "I am eternally remorseful, Worshipful Master!" he blubbered. "I will wallow in radioactive pond slime for this grave affront."
        I lowered the wand, which I noticed I'd accidentally pointed at Zadoc. Was this the reason for his sudden panic, I wondered.
        "It's alright, Zadoc," I said reassuringly. "Read to me that last supplication again."
        "Oh Oracle... most wise, tell me who I am."
        This was becoming irritating. "I just told you, you are Zadoc. Now read me that last supplication."
        "That was the last supplication, O Divinely-Inspired One," Zadoc quavered.
        "What was?" I asked, idly wondering how he managed to speak with capital letters like that all the time.
        "Oh Oracle... most wise, tell me who I am."
        "Why would anyone want to know who you are, Zadoc?" This conversation was making no sense at all. I started to examine the wand again.
        Suddenly, a voice behind me yelled, "Sam! Don't answer any more questions! It's one of them that triggers the elopement!"
        I was so startled, I jerked the wand upwards, accidentally depressing a button on the hilt as I did so. A spectacular electronic discharge shot from its end across the room, striking Zadoc with a loud report which I can only describe as 'ZOT!'
        "Don't sneak up on me like that, Al!" I cried. "You nearly gave me a heart attack."
        "Holy Moly!" said Al, drawing up beside the throne. "What have you done to the dweeb?"
        I looked. Where Zadoc had stood - I mean, knelt - nothing remained but a charred patch of floor, a few smoking shreds of robes, and a small dark oily deposit. I hastily threw away the wand.
        "That thing's lethal! It ought to be labelled."
        "Apparently it's a Staff of Zot [tm]," Al explained. "The Oracle uses it to atomise people who annoy him."
        "Then why hasn't he atomised Zadoc long before now?" I cried querulously. "He's about as annoying as you can get."
        "It's a mystery," said Al. "In the meantime, I guess you've stopped him from eloping with this Lisa chick."
        "If that's so, then why haven't I leaped already?"
        Before Al could answer, Lisa entered the room. She was wearing a pale blue sequined tutu, zebra-striped tights and elbow-length black velvet gloves.
        "Mama mia!" cried Al. "Will you look at that! And the other one!"
        "What's all the noise in here?" Lisa demanded. "Where's Zadoc?"
        "Ah, that's a little difficult to explain..." I began.
        Lisa's wide luminous eyes lit upon the charred spot on the floor.
        "Oh, Orrie!" she squealed. "You Zotted him! How COULD you?"
        "It was a bit of an accident..."
        "He was your most loyal priest! He worshipped the ground your fat ugly feet walked on! And THIS is how you repay him! And I suppose I'll get the same if I ever put a foot out of line!"
        "No, really Lisa, I..."
        "Don't SPEAK to me! You brute! You bully! You macho, testosterone-brained BOOR!"
        With that, she charged into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
        "I'll be back in a minute," said Al. "I've got this sudden, uncontrollable urge to rub myself up against her." He melted through the door after Lisa.
        "Al, come out of that bedroom at once!" I shouted.
        Lisa's voice responded, "Don't you order me about, you pocket Hitler!"
        "Not you! I mean, oh hell... AL!"
        Al passed back through the door.
        "Did you see those... Ooh, and then those..." he babbled.
        "Never mind that now! What's going to happen? Does she still run away?"
        Al consulted the console. "She does," he said. "She now runs away with an air-conditioning repairman called Ralph. Oh, and it gets worse, Sam - this time she doesn't come back. So before the Oracle is caught and put away in a secure unit, he's now directly responsible for 12 murders, 92 suicides, 57 accidental..."
        I leapt from the throne. "I'm going in there to talk to her."
        "No good, she's just climbed out the window and is racing across the campus to catch a cab."
        "We've got to stop her!"
        "Sam, you can't! The first of those questions have already started pouring into the queue. If you don't give them the right answers, all that misery is going to start happening right NOW!"
        "Alright!" I sat down again. "I'll answer the questions and you follow Lisa... No, we can't afford to make any mistakes. You've got to stay here so Ziggy can help me with the answers."
        "Okay, fire away," said Al.
        I tapped on a keyboard as Zadoc had shown me, and the first question in the queue appeared. I read aloud, "Oh Oracle... most wise, tell me who I am."
        "You are Sam Beckett," said Al.
        "Don't you start! That was the supplicant's question."
        "Oh, right. Well, Ziggy says that's easy. The fact that the supplicant cannot deduce his or her own identity by themselves implies that they cannot think for themselves. Applying Descartes famous dictum, this means there is no proof of the supplicant's actual existence. And the burden of proof is always on the supplicant."
        I typed the answer, sent it on its way and called up the next question. "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
        "Ziggy says the Oracle always Zots supplicants who ask that question."
        I shuddered. "I'm not touching that wand again!"
        "Then you've got no option but to provide an answer," Al said reasonably.
        "So get Ziggy to tell me the answer."
        "Ziggy says she's already given you an answer, and she's now logged off in a sulk."
        "Damn! Do you know the answer?"
        "No, but... say! Aren't those things in the cages woodchucks?"
        "You're right!" I exclaimed. "We can run an experiment. I'll start getting them out of the cages; you see if you can find any wood anywhere."
        "I'm on my way," said Al. "And, just think, this could be a great day in the history of the Internet Oracle. The day his supplicants finally learn the answer to the woodchuck question."
        Al melted through the wall. I stared at the monitor before me. How many thousands and thousands of questions was it storing up for me, I wondered.
        I sighed. "Whooo buoy!"

 


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