Please Remember to Be on Time

By Michael S. Walker


Artwork by Jose Baetas.

Dargon-- the concert promoter-- was absolutely livid. He was so livid that the three hairs on top of his head kept turning rapidly from crimson to black and then back again to crimson. The very idea that this earther-- some ugly no-talent musician-- could have the absolute temerity to deviate from a schedule that had been worked out so meticulously down to the tuning of each kintar string, ... It was beyond Dargon's comprehension. It was the absolute height of bad manners. It was ... criminal.

Dargon looked around the lobby of the Hotel Asdert and noticed-- with a modicum of grim satisfaction-- that the crests on the heads of the assembled gentlemen of the press (assembled to meet said earther curiosity) were-- for the most part-- going through the same rapid metamorphosis as his own.

Dargon brought his long yellow proboscis up to eye level, checking his blinking chronometer for the tollumth time. As if by staring at those green numbers he could somehow fix this nightmare of a prader and put everything back on schedule, the way that it was supposed be. It was now the hour of Tum modisine and a gluck. This musician, this prima donna, this Hymie Witherbottom (what a name) was now supposed to be in the back of a hover driver, inching along the parade route where thousands and thousands of young Praxians had been assembled since dawn waiting to get a glimpse of their sullen idol. Tum modisine and a gluck. And this no-talent, ugly-to-look-at terran fool wasn't even out of the hotel suite yet. It was enough to turn the mind to Peesian jelly. Bad enough that he had had to come 456 light years (terran distance) to corrupt the morals of Praxian youth with his howling and his caterwauling. Couldn't he at least be punctual about it?

Dargon lowered his proboscis and looked at the schedule for the sollunth time to see if he could have possibly made some mistake somewhere. No, no, and again no. It was all there in green and black:

ReTum modisine: The talent wakes up in his hotel room, showers and has breakfast.

ReTum modisine and a flook: Talent is escorted by Resden and Sellduim from hotel room to turbo lifts and down to hotel lobby for the meeting with the press.

Modisine to Tum modisine: Talent meets with the press.

Tum modisine and a gluck: Talent enters hover driver for first trip to Caldee Temple where sound check will commence.

Tum tum modisine: Sound check commences.

Tum tum tum modisine: Talent eats ...

And so on and so forth. A perfectly lovely, perfectly exact, perfectly Praxian division of a momentous prader. Only it was being torn up and fed to the dogs of chaos by the so-called "talent."

And now, now that more time was passing, the members of the press were becoming increasingly distraught. Each time that Dargon moved, they looked at him and waved their noses politely. But he could tell, as the hairs on their heads continued to turn color with great frequency, that they somehow held him responsible for this absolutely unheard-of desecration of time.

After all, Dargon was the famous promoter who had brought Hymie Witherbottom to Prax. Had he not?

It was only fitting that they should want to murder him in their heart of hearts.

Dollum Hollum-- the esteemed journalist from the Corbedian Prader-- finally stopped pretending to stare at an aquarium full of Praxian fern fish and walked across the lobby to have it out with Dargon on this matter. This journalist's hairs now seemed to be changing color every couple of domsics or so, but (even so) he managed to keep his voice even and polite (which is the Praxian way when someone is extremely pissed about something).

"Excuse me, honored promoter ..." Dollum Hollum began.

The sound of his voice to Dargon's ears was as sharp as the point of a paralysis quill. Very. Nasty, Indeed.

"Yes? What is it, honored journalist, sir?" Dargon replied, waving his proboscis and trying to sound completely unaware.

"According to the schedule that I and my colleagues received from your office only yesterprader ...?"

Dollum Hollum was now holding up a smaller copy of the same schedule Dargon had just recently put down.

"Yes ...?"

"Well ... forgive me for saying so but ..."

"Yes, honored journalist?" Dargon replied innocuously.

"This terran? This umm... Hymie Witherbottom? He seems to be ...ummm running late?"

There it was. On the table. Worse than being late was the embarrassment of having to accuse someone of being late. It was tantamount to accusing your best friend of fornicating with your life partner. Of course, Praxians were so punctilious in everything that they did that it was all a nonissue. You never had to accuse people of being late for things because they never were.

"Hmmm... perhaps a little," Dargon said.

Tum modisine and a gluck. Little was an understatement. It was like saying that the fissures of Nissed were just some potholes in the ground.

"I'm very sorry to have to inform you of this, most honored promoter, but in another modsic or so I'm ... I'm afraid ... I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave," the wizened journalist said, consulting his own proboscis chronometer, which was a shade or two more opulent than Dargon's own.

Oh, this was very bad. This was a nightmare. Dargon could make an enemy of Dollum Hollum, and if he made an enemy of Dollum Hollum he could make an enemy of the Corbedian Prader, an electro-text read by more inhabitants of Diostem then all the other electro-texts and old-style newspapers combined. Something had to be done.

"Wait, please, honored Dollum Hollum, sir,"

Dargon found himself almost begging the journalist and that, in itself, was also the height of bad manners. Oh why, why, why had his mother ever impregnated his father with the likes of him? So now he could be humiliated in this ... humiliating fashion?

"It is now Tum modisine and a gluck," Dollum Hollum said. "At Tum tum modisine I have to be on the other side of the city. The Peesian foreign ambassador is going to be talking about the new alliance between Prax and Peesia and I MUST be there. I only came to cover this press junket because our music reporter suddenly came down with dranium fever. I believe him to be about as pink as this ...Hymie Witherbottom? I thought, when consulting your sensible schedule here that there would be much time to accomplish both tasks, and, I must confess, I was curious to see this Earth phenomenon that my grandchildren seemed to have taken leave of their senses over. But it is just not to be. If I leave now ... I will just about be ... on time. It is all most unfortunate," he added.

"Yes ... One modsic ... Honored journalist. Honored Dollum Hollum."

For the gollumth time, Dargon brought his personal communiphone out the deep folds of his formal cloak and dialed up the hotel suite where his two assistants, Resden and Sellduim, were still, at that very modsic, trying to coax the reluctant and indolent Hymie Witherbottom out of his hotel suite and down to the lobby to meet the agitated press of Corbed, in the country of Prax, on the efficient planet Diostem-- fourth stop on "Hymies" intergalactic tour.

"Come in Resden," Dargon said into the bell of his crystal communiphone. "What is now happening?"

Static and then the voice of his young assistant, Resden, sounding as if his ability to speak Praxian was about to give way at the next provocation. Poor lad.

"Honored promoter sir... we finally have Sir Witherbottom in the hall outside his suite and Sellduim and I are bringing him down now for the press junket."

Thank the Great Lord of all the Prax for that. Dargon would probably have to lose some events later in the aftertum, in order to salvage the rest of the holy schedule. Like sightseeing for the talent. THAT was obviously out.

"Honored Hymie Witherbottom wishes to know when he may be allowed to go sightseeing. He says ..."

The airwaves went to static again and Dargon could hear the unmistakable drawl of Hymie Witherbottom, singer from the planet Earth, saying something about ...

It sounded like the word "elephants."

Dargon was unfamiliar with this word.

"Yes. He wants to go sightseeing as soon as possible. He says that he has never seen so many... umm elephants assembled in one place. I am not familiar with this word, this 'elephants?'"

In the background, the singer was laughing uproariously.

"Yes. Well, we shall see. Please bring him down to the hotel lobby now so we can commence with the press junket. Dargon out."

Dargon looked hopefully at Dollum Hollum. But the journalist only shook his head.

"No, I am sorry," he said. "Matters of peacekeeping and national security are more important than singers from other galaxies. I simply have to go now."

And with that, Dollum Hollum started toward the moving sidewalk outside the hotel-- a sidewalk that would whisk him quickly forward to his political deadline. Dargon noticed that the strands on top of Dollum Hollum's head were still turning quickly from crimson to black and back again.

*****

"The most trivial circumstances," Napoleon once said, "lead to the most remarkable events."

Dollum Hollum, journalist for the Corbedian Prader, was still so incensed by the inability of the pop singer from Earth to stick to the schedule that he had a very difficult time concentrating on the speech made by the foreign ambassador from Peesia. This was to be his undoing. And, unfortunately, the undoing of the entire planet of Diostem.

It must be noted at this time that after twenty terran years (approximately) of war, followed by ten terran years (approximately) of nose thumbing and name calling from separate continents, Prax and Peesia--the two indisputable global powers of Diostem--were finally about to call a truce and attempt normal diplomatic relations. After long intricate preparations that had threatened to fall apart at every juncture, the very first summit meeting ever between the president of Prax and the prime minister of Peesia was imminent. This was what the foreign ambassador of Peesia announced with great pride at his conference, his proboscis held high as if he had just been given the seven sacred stones of Mer on a silver platter.

Unfortunately, the peace between Prax and Peesia was to be short-lived. Very short-lived.

Dollum Hollum was so incensed about Hymie Witherbottom's lateness that he put his story on the Prax-Peesia alliance to press with several major errors in it. Since Dollum Hollum had written for the Corbedian Prader for eighty-seven terran years (approximately) and in all that time he hadn't so much as misspelled a minor diplomat's name, his stories were run automatically, without any editorial input or fact checking.

Besides a fastidious sense of time, the inhabitants of the planet Diostem tended to revere anyone who reached a venerable age, and that was certainly the case with Dollum Hollum, who was just ten praders short of his 178th conception prader. To correct someone of that advanced age would be very impolite indeed.

And so, his story was simply run.

Yet, in all that time of covering wars, famine, pestilence, and caldee matches, Dollum Hollum had never had to deal with something as unpleasant as someone being late. And so, when his story was beamed out all over Diostem to billions and billions of Diostemlings: Praxians, Alonkians, Beldaneens, Cordissians, Ridalians, Munganese, even to the seven isolated island nations of Pal, it was peppered (as I have said) with several inaccuracies.

Inaccuracy number one: Dollum Hollum noted in paragraph six of his story that the Peesian space program (the absolute, shining pride of Peesia) had launched six communication satellites in the past regol, when, in fact, the number had been much larger at seventeen. This inaccuracy would cause a great deal of consternation among the military generals of Peesia, even when the story was hastily retracted.

Inaccuracy number two: The amount of copolus (a form of grain similar to barley) that Peesia was prepared to export to Prax in exchange for gellus (a viscous green liquid used to lubricate machine parts and as an ingredient in a popular Praxian soft drink) was grossly underreported by Dollum Hollum. In his column, he put the number at 6,000,000 tims and not the actual amount, which was double that. It made it look like Peesia was practically stealing the gellus, which caused even more consternation: this time from the Praxian guild members who produced the liquid and who, for the most part, would not lose a wink of sleep if a peace with Peesia was never established. All across Prax, guild members demonstrated against the unfairness of it all, albeit politely, by calling a general strike and bringing the production of gellus to a standstill. It was to no avail when they were told by the owners of the factories who made the liquid that the story was wrong--that Prax was getting back as good as it gave. Wrong? How could the story be wrong? It had been written by Dollum Hollum, the premier Praxian journalist, and Dollum Hollum was never ever WRONG.

Inaccuracy number three: It was reported by Dollum Hollum that the Peesian foreign ambassador was a high-ranking member of the Peesian Red Party when he was, in fact, a member of the Green Party. The Peesian prime minister was a member of the Red Party (the majority party of Peesia) and there was consternation on his part when he happened to see the story and for several hours thought that his own foreign ambassador was having a go at some political grandstanding. The foreign ambassador and the prime minister were not on very friendly terms outside of the performance of their political duties and it was easy for the prime minister to be persuaded to think in those terms.

After it was explained to him several times that the foreign ambassador had said no such thing, he was still incensed by the shoddy journalism practiced by the Praxian press. Just what in the name of Creemus were they up to over there? The prime minister had had deep misgivings about the upcoming summit with his Praxian counterpart anyway. Deep in his heart of hearts, he hated Praxians. His father had been killed by a stinking Prax at the Battle of Ridalia, and one tended not to forget something like that too quickly. He had only agreed to the summit because his own political future depended on persuading certain rich and influential Green Party members that the cause of peace was his cause.

And now...

All of this might have been forgotten and a peace between Prax and Peesia still forged if it hadn't been for inaccuracy number four by Dollum Hollum. In his column, he noted that the summit would take place sometime in the late summer and the prime minister and his wife, Eisha, would be traveling by supersonic to Corbed to meet with President Opillo and his wife, Lium. This was, in essence, correct except that Dollum Hollum had spelled the minister's wife's name wrong. It was, in fact, Iesha and not Eisha. A simple transposition of two letters. Yet, in the Peesian vernacular it was a grievous error. In Peesian, Iesha is a woman's name while Eisha is the name given to a small mammal that roams the Peesian tundra and is quite similar to a terrestrial warthog. It was one thing to report that the foreign ambassador had delusions of grandeur. It was quite another thing for someone to call your own wife a warthog. Within 100 modisines of the printing of the story, the foreign ambassador was hastily called back to Peesia for consultations on the summit schedule.

"The most trivial circumstances lead to the most remarkable events."

Within a week of the foreign minister being recalled, things had gone from bad to worse. The gellus strike continued, with the popular press and the public somehow forgetting the journalistic errors of Dollum Hollum, and somehow managing to blame the whole mess on Peesia. In Cordissia, where Peesia maintained a large military presence in east Cordissia (as did Prax in the west) nervous soldiers eyed each other nervously over the large plasma barrier that divided the country neatly in half. And the prime minister of Peesia continued to fume about the desecration of his wife's sacred name and demanded that the president of Prax apologize publicly for said desecration (which the president steadfastly refused to do). The story had been retracted. That was enough. The journalist who had written the story had committed ceremonial sedellum out of shame and was now dead. The revered Dollum Hollum was now dead. What more did Peesia need?

And then, finally, twelve praders after the running of the unholy story, an ex-patriot Praxian living in neutral Alonkia fired a paralysis quill at the Peesian crown prince who was there to christen a sonic transport that had been named after him. The Praxian ex-patriot was emotionally unstable but his aim was not and the Peesian crown prince was killed instantly.

After that a state of war existed between Prax and Peesia and all of the ancient alliances of the planet were called into play as the two powers mobilized against each other. Beldaneens sided with Praxians; Ridalians sided with Peesians. This had happened before, the spread of the conflict encompassing the whole of Diostem, when these two superpowers had been pitted against each other. But then, it had been different ...

Then, both sides had not possessed nuclear weapons.

And somehow, the silo doors were opened and rockets arced back and forth across the sky of Diostem.

All because one man couldn't stick to a schedule...

*****

"Hey, Hymie? Wanna hear somethin' really weird?"

The road manager, Rusty Rottweiler, poked his head through the sliding doors of Hymie Witherbottom's personal cabin aboard the interstellar starship The Vanilla Fudge. The ship was currently on route to Planet M239-0998 in the Dwingeloo Galaxy for the final concert of Hymie Witherbottom's triumphal intergalactic tour, which had been dubbed by the pop singer's publicity machine as "The Space Truckin' Tour."

Hymie Witherbottom looked up in annoyance from the video console he had been staring at. The screen showed the exact same cluster of stars that The Vanilla Fudge was now shooting past but with one interesting difference. Every couple of minutes, the ship's computer would create some virtual danger for Hymie to combat: an alien ship with its weapons blazing; a giant meteor; a space monster. The idea was for Hymie to use the mock navigational controls and weaponry at his disposal and either outrun or destroy whatever danger happened to pop up on the computer screen next. So far, he had managed to get his ship destroyed forty-seven times. Thankfully, he wasn't piloting the real Vanilla Fudge.

"What is it Rusty? I'm kind of busy here."

Hymie was also a little worried about his final concert on planet M239-0998. He had walked around aboard The Vanilla Fudge all day trying to say "How ya doin' out there, Planet M239-0998?" but he just couldn't seem to remember the exact sequence of letters and numbers. He supposed he was just going to have to shout "Rock n' Roll!" into the microphone. A lot.

"Well, do you remember that planet ... uh, Diostem, that we stopped at?

The young singer looked blankly at his road manager.

"It was about the fourth stop on the tour? Great honor for us... First earthling act to ever visit there?"

Still not a glimmer of recognition from Hymie Witherbottom. He whisked a multi-colored lock of hair off of his forehead and continued to stare.

"They were real big sticklers about sticking to a schedule? Had you gettin' up at a certain time, dressin at a certain time... Singin' at a certain time?"

The bells in Hymie Witherbottom's ruined belfry of a mind were still not ringing.

"The planet with the yellow elephants?" Rusty said finally, exasperated at the singer's inability to remember anything for little over an hour.

"Aha! They all looked like yellow elephants! Darndest thing." Hymie said, smiling triumphantly at Rusty.

"That's right. They all looked like yellow elephants," Rusty said, as if he were talking to a three-year old child.

"So what about it?" Hymie said. He was itching to get back to his computerized onslaught of the galaxy.

"Well, I just had CNN on in the galley and that planet doesn't exist anymore."

"What do ya mean, it doesn't exist anymore?"

"Well, I guess they had some kind of war here in the past two weeks or so and things got out of hand and they just ... blew themselves up. Strange to think you've been to a place that just doesn't exist anymore."

"They all looked like yellow elephants," Hymie Witherbottom laughed, as if this were the most hilarious thing in the world.

Rusty Rottweiler sighed and walked away, leaving Hymie Witherbottom to return to his computer game. The man had absolutely no sense of irony. Then he turned.

"Oh, by the way Hymie ... The sound check on Planet M239-0998 is scheduled for fifteen hundred our time. Please try not to be late for once in your life."