The Flying Comradeearliest post first | most recent post first
"No cheese fries are worth that," I told the Parsnip.
We got to the event horizon just as the kid was returning the the food. And it was still hot. Cameras went off and reporters shouted questions. I was watching from the passenger seat of the Parsnip, parked in the parking lot.
"Best it the Tri-Cities!" said the Parsnip. "But seriously, if you'll remember, it's our mission to find the little green man. And this type of anomaly certainly fits his M.O. That's why I detected it."
"But it doesn't do us any good to meet him, face to face. I've lost seven years in mere moments of pointless conversations with him. And besides, we found him, probably, here at Chris's Curl Shack. Mission accomplished. The plan has always been pretty hazy after that part's done. Do we make a call back to the Mermaid Imperium, or what?"
"Oh, they've already been informed. We're in regular contact," said the Parsnip. "But in answer to your real question, yes, there's a protocol."
And with that, a great whirring of gears and banging hatches began to emanate from the Parsnip.
"Rise and shine, my little tuber! We've got to make up for lost time!"
The Parsnip was already hurtling down the highway and had the coffee going. The microwave dinged with a warm danish inside. The Parsnip had never been so accommodating before. Or so... casual. Or familiar. Or warm.
"Well let's just say absence makes the heart grow fonder," said The Parsnip.
"No, seriously," I said. "You don't seem the same. You've got..."
"Personality? You bet your britches I do! What else is a highly intelligent Perambulating Amphibious Rover supposed to do while parked for two and a half years, huh? So I signed up for a correspondence course."
"You mean you upgraded?"
"Hey! It was a lot of hard work. Daily lessons, practice, role play exercises..."
"And now you have a personality?"
"Yup. And do you want to check out our new High Turbo Mode?"
"No thanks, that's fine. I'll just... enjoy this breakfast."
"You do that. Just leave all the driving to me."
"Oh I'll do that."
The flat landscape passed by through the picture windows.
"Got the news for you to. There on that pad on the dinette table."
The Parsnip had dialed in the local newspaper of a passing town on the tablet. STRANGE DENT IN TOWN read the headline.
"Strange Dent?" I asked.
"I thought you might be interested."
STRANGE DENT IN TOWN
Employee's at Chris's Curl Shack arrived at their workplace this morning to discover the well known local snack spot at the bottom of a gravity well.
"Yeah you can see it down there, just barely," Lickity Smith, fry cook, told this reporter. "It's like it's a half mile away, but I already have to take two buses to get here every morning. What am I gonna do?"
Local authorities say interfacing with such a high density dent in spacetime isn't just a "heavy" experience, but it can slow you down too.
"We know there will be time distortions involved with any basket of cheesey fries or fried fish curls," said Amanda Jackson, PhD., leader of the Physical Safety Team responding to the crisis. "We sent a local child in with a twenty dollar bill to bring back lunch, and that was over eight hours ago. If you use these binoculars, you can see he's barely half way there, and taking his own sweet time about it."
Authorities suggest choosing Half Time Friday's or Rufus's Chili Spot until this anomaly resolves itself.
Frankly, running into the Little Green Man again was the last thing I felt like doing.
"You just take a bite of that danish and then let me know how you feel."
The Parsnip has an endless film library. Complete filmographies of civilizations I've never heard of.
Which is fine because I couldn't care less. About anything.
For the second time and against my will, time had been taken from me. In the blink of an eye the world was two and a half years older. Two and a half more years since I was separated from my crew.
All that time was taken from me by that little green man. Being near him makes time run fast. Makes it run right past you.
Nothing is going to bring that back.
I slip in another LaserDisc and adjust the pillows. I watch the highway lights speed by through the Parnsnip's picture window.
I'm afraid to fall asleep because I don't want to miss anything.
I finally made it back to the rest stop. Panting. The placed seemed a little more deserted than earlier. I noticed the old couple from the Fellowship of the Road was gone.
The Parsnip was where I'd left it. I hadn't noticed it had gotten so dirty on our travels. Was there a car wash big enough in these parts?
I expected the pneumatic doors to open automatically when I approached. Instead, I banged on the side.
After a moment, the Parsnip seemed to shiver to life. Then, with a puff of pressurized air, the hatch popped open and the gangplank descended.
"Hey, you old vegetable! Why'd you close up shop so early?"
The Parsnip made faint beeping and whirring sounds, dashboard lights flicking through boot up sequences.
"Early?" the Parsnip finally answered. "It's been two and a half years..."
I followed the beagle down the path through the woods. The rest stop and the highway sounds quickly grew distant.
The trail led to the edge of a bubbling stream. Clear, fresh water burbling out of mossy earth. I'd never seen an actual spring before. Something twinkled at the edge of the water.
The dog was nowhere to be seen.
"You're not here to take my treasure."
There was the little green man, standing on the other side of the water. He was hard to look at -- my glimpses seemed to slide right off. Pointy nose and pointy ears and some kind of gray hat and jacket--
--how was I supposed to catch him? The Parsnip hadn't bothered to tell me that part of the plan, but then again I hadn't thought to ask--
--and if this went down like the last time, I was already in over my head--
So I flung my coffee at him. The crappy, weak, steaming hot rest stop coffee from the Fellowship of the Road. Threw it at him as hard as I could.
"Hey, whoa! You just keep your distance there, big guy. Run along now."
And I ran.
MISTY RIVER REST AREA
This is the original landing site of the
Misty River settlers, who crossed the
shallow waters of the Misty River on foot
with all their belongings in baskets and
bindles and went on to found our mighty
civilization as we know it today. Then the
river disappeared. Woof.
"Woof?" I wondered. "Why does it say Woof?"
"Hey! Charlie! Charles in Charge!"
I looked up, even though my name's not Charlie. There was no one there but a small beagle dog, off leash. He looked over his shoulder and called me as he trotted into the woods.
"C'mon Charlie! I know you're lookin' for the river!"
MISTY RIVER REST AREA said the sign.
"Enjoy your time!" said the Parsnip, obviously as glad to have me outside of it as I was.
There was a parking area for the large vehicles (like the Parsnip), and an area for really large vehicles (like articulated transports) and another, larger area for road trains. Around the front of the restroom and snack machine structure was where the small things parked.
People were all over, stretching their legs, wearing strange hats and walking their furry six and eight legged pets. Suspenders and high-waisted shorts seemed popular.
Between the restrooms and the snack machine was an old couple, a man and a woman, sitting at a card table with a stainless steel coffee urn and a plate of store-bought cookies. There was a piece of paper taped to the urn that said "Fellowship of the Road."
"Are these cookies free?" I asked.
The old woman looked at the old man. "Well of course they're free, honey. We're the Fellowship of the Road."
The old man looked at the old woman. "Suggested donation. Pay what you can." And he tapped at the coffee can with a hole cut in the lid.
"I'm afraid I don't have any currency on me," I said. But I was getting a bit bored of the freeze dried mermaid food on the Parsnip.
The old woman looked at the old man. "Well then I have just the cookie for you." And she reached beneath the table and pulled out a tupperware and opened it and drew out a big brown cookie.
"I hope you like nuts!" she said.
I thanked the old woman and the old man and left holding a styrofoam cup of black coffee in one hand, nibbling at the cookie with the other. It really was amazing.
It was only then I wondered about the "Misty River" from the sign. There was no mist, and no river I could find. But there seemed to be a sort of plaque and a circle of stones at the edge of the park. I headed there.
Life aboard the Parsnip
"Moderate mode" is really the optimal speed for travelling in the Parsnip, as the high g-forces of "high turbo mode" make movement quite difficult.
The territory is well laid with smooth, straight roads, extending for great distances. I usually watch through the windshield from back within the cabin, and spend little time in the driver's seat as the Parsnip drives itself. In fact I believe that the Parsnip prefers the driver's seat to remain empty, as whenever I sit in it I find myself frequently pinched and bitten by the straps and folds in the chair.
The land is generally quite flat, with the horizon visible most days. We pass through what appear to be villages and sometimes small cities, but the system of roads we've been using allows us to pass through without ever making a stop. And with the amenities available on the Parsnip, there's no need to make a stop. There are two and a half bathrooms (including the bathroom off the master suite), a small gym, a private movie theater, as well as a wet bar and a kitchen. The larder is stocked with a wide array of instant foods from the Mermaid Imperium -- just add water!
And there are other travelers on the road, in a wide variety of vehicles, ranging from obviously advanced busses like the Parsnip to bulky five-wheeled muscle cars made mostly of engine, souped up dune buggies, smoking rattletraps, and incredibly fast one-wheeled speedsters.
"Getting closer, Parsnip?"
"Yes, though our progress remains more objective than subjective."
"You mean, 'stop asking when we're going to get there?'"
"I mean the anomaly tends to bend both space and time, so pursuit may produce... strange feelings..."
"Like boredom? As comfortable as your interior is, Parsnip, I think I could use a step outside. It's been... many sunsets, I believe."
"Random user input may be indicated. Stopping at the next available rest stop."
The Parsnip virtually drives itself. Well, there's nothing "virtual" about it -- it definitely prefers to drive itself.
I've named it the Parsnip, partially based on its color and shape, but also based on the owner's manual, which refers to it as the PARSHIP 2000. The P-A-R stands for Perambulating Amphibious Rover, with "ship" tacked on because it's so big.
"Destination, Captain?" the Parsnip asks.
Emperor Aeotherum Sateqo the Magnificent, shrimp-sized (and morphologically shrimp shaped) leader of the Mermaid Imperium, gave me the Parsnip as an incentive to find the "little green man" who just happened to be the last sentient entity I interacted with before losing track of my friends. Because the few short moments I spent around the "little green man" seem to have turned into months or years for my friends back at our beach camp. And the Emperor apparently has his own axe to grind.
"You can find the Little Green Man?" I asked.
"Sensors are in place to detect traces of the anomalous presence," the Parsnip said. It sounded like a stewardess.
"You can adjust my voice if you prefer. We have a wide selection of---"
The Parsnip also seemed to have the same pesky telepathic powers as the mermaids themselves.
"No, no, your voice is fine. Can you locate the most recent Little Green Man... anomaly?"
The Parsnip seemed to be thinking hard.
"Anomaly detected. Permission to pursue?"
"Would you prefer moderate mode, or high turbo mode?"
"Well, high turbo mode of course."
"You have five seconds to strap in. 5, 4, 3, 2..."
"Okay! Okay! Er, wait a minute, how do these---"
"Don't forget to pop your ears!" was the last thing the mermaid said to me. Telepathically, of course.
The high-tech, multi-wheeled RV had been floated to the surface in a great bubble, and I was at the wheel, watching through the windshield. Slowly, the light from the surface became visible, then shoals of fish, more bubbles, and finally the frothy surface. We were just off shore, and armored sharks heaved the bubble to the beach.
Oh ow! She wasn't kidding. Thankfully there was gum in the glove box.
The denizens of the Mermaid Imperium didn't come on shore. The hardly broke the surface. We'd said our goodbyes underwater.
I was left alone on the beach in my very own white 60ft cigar-shaped camper, with 12 huge bulbous wheels, and rooms I still hadn't explored.
Like the bathroom. Where was it? Luckily I think there was an owner's manual here in the globe box too... or maybe a map...