Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part Three

Part Three of The Barington Encounter picks up where the author had been rambling at the end of Part Two: to whit, some explanation of the nature of Andromedan society, along with some of the story about how these aliens managed to come all the way to Earth, only to end up hopelessly enmired in suburbia. Which, for a race who makes a cult of mediocrity, sort of makes sense. Of course, along the way the author also seems to have become enmired in exposition... C'est la vie ecrivaine! ~ MSM


You see, in an effort to improve Andromeda’s image overskies, the Andromedan government decided that its people were ready for their first celebrities - in addition to a space program, seeing as virtually every other planet in the universe worth its frontch already had oodles of both. Since the Andromedan zeal to be like everyone else amongst themselves had been readily manifested by them externally - making their race one of the most competitive in the entire quadrant - not only did they all want to be exactly like each other, they also wanted the very best of everything everyone else had; to give them proper credit, they may have been greedy, but at least they were discerning about it when they were.

Despite having such a mad pash for things, though, the Andromedans tempered their acquisitiveness with a work ethic so strong that it wouldn’t allow them to steal, not even a spot of light pillaging should a riot break out or something - not that it ever did or would or had - Andromedans being far too smugly comfortable in their culturally advanced state to hurl an imprecation, let alone a brickbat. Alas, the very quality which should have made them the natural leaders of the universe rather made them the laughingstock instead. The Centauris - all bluster and bravado - pretty much steamrolled over anyone who got in their way or between them and something they wanted, and therefore by bluff humour and occasional sudden outbursts of force they had come to rule the known universe; the Andromedans, with their work ethic and sense of fairplay, usually got the onerous task of cleaning up after the Centauri’s messes, and often shouldered the burden of ill-well left in the Centauri wake with a kind of supercilious resignation.

That it took the Andromedans as long as three or four months to develop technology which was so exceptional - both in form and in function - so as to allow them to send a team to explore the Earth for Andromedan television meant that for centuries the term ‘Andromedan rocket scientist’ was the most universally accepted shout out in the known universes - more so than ‘homey’ or even ‘jyllbak’. Along the way they even invented television (in the Earth year 1485) and reality television shortly thereafter, which ought to have dimmed their reputation, and would have, if anyone else but them actually watched Andromedan television. It turns out, though, that rocket science and advanced telecommunications were a piece of piss to concoct compared to celebrity, at least for Andromedans...

In just about every system in the universe with even a modicum of sentience - and in every one without any sentience at all - there were celebrities; for instance, all of the Pebblepeople of the planet Gravelpit were celebrities, precisely because there wasn’t a functioning neuron in the entire sector and therefore no faculty to help them to tell the difference between someone with actual talent and a pretty face with a good agent.

Everywhere one went from world to world, celebrities developed like viruses and spread like mould, and not merely on those planets ruled by super-intelligent viruses or drop-dead gorgeous moulds, either. On Andromeda, though, the notion that one person should get more recognition, be better known, or in any other way jut one's head above the parapet was an even worse anathema than their universal horror of being entertained.

Naturally, there were Andromedans who were well-known for their efforts - be they political, artistic, or philosophical - but aside from their output (and a government-regulated ‘reasonable amount’ of input on it generated by a handful of fair and even-tempered critics) little else would be known about them; an Andromedan, for instance, would certainly never be flatteringly photographed in his tastefully appointed flat holding a pet - be it dog, cat, kluuurth, or child - all the while crowing about contentment, which made the Andromedan version of Hello magazine drier than a mouthful of sand and far less interesting.

Should he be given a prize he was never the ‘winner’ of said prize, since that word had been long since been expunged from the Andromedan languages, at the same time as the word ‘loser’, in fact, coincidentally during the reign of Emperor Hllu the Loser; they were, for a time, said to be ‘appointed to the honour roll’ or ‘honoured with’ this or that, although the word ‘honour’ was beginning to fall from favour (as was the word ‘favour’ also on the wane, since their very existence naturally implied the reciprocal existence of dishonour and disfavour). Increasingly, Andromeda’s ever-burgeoning corps of linguistical correctness freaks preferred to say one of their number had been ‘given a trophy’, or else as having ‘received a brass reacharound’ if they were feeling cheeky.

Not only had developing the technology to create celebrities prove well-nigh impossible to these alleged geniuses, but the entire schamozzle had involved massive cost overruns, supporting a culture of corruption which by law had lined everyone's pockets equally - from the lowliest glorn to the mightiest fnorp - which, while it had made them by far the wealthiest race in the universe, also made them all aware that their zeal for fame had corrupted them even more than their zeal’s concomitant riches had enriched them. Rather than shame, though, they were gripped by a profound collective guilt over their success, which in turn brought about more than enough fodder for ten generations’ worth of deadly dull documentaries which nobody watched except for deadlier, duller documentarians, who were quick as ever to decry even the merest whisper of entertainment potential in their own output despite the fact that there was never going to be any.

For many years, at top secret facilities all over Andromeda, volunteer test subjects were routinely chased around by photographers, forced to live for weeks at a time on a diet consisting of nothing but cigarettes and alcohol, and encouraged to spout off ill-considered politics at will into any open recording device within range; all to no avail. Not a one of them ever became so much as infamous, let alone notorious, since the Andromedan ability to see all sides of an issue was as renowned on Andromeda as it was reviled everywhere beings were actively taking sides (which, frankly, was everywhere except Andromeda).

Not even putting several of these would-be celebrities together in a house with a hundred cameras and having their behaviour manipulated by the most craven of producers yielded anything like the sort of drivel it would have done on Earth. The only talk around the water cooler their programme provoked the next morning was the same identically shallow discussion of the day’s weather that had taken place on the show itself, which talk in any event was of the exact same weather the planet had been having every day for decades, thanks to Andromeda’s extensive system of weather satellites, which had been designed and launched specifically to deprive any given day of the right to be called better (or worse) than any other one.

When, after centuries of experimentation, no actual celebrities had been created - save for a few wonky prototypes who inevitably (if illegally) found their way off of Andromeda, onto other planets, only to never be heard from again - far from being outraged or infuriated by the barrage of scandal on top of scandal, the Andromedan chattering classes merely became apathetic, which apathy sooner or later crept into their documentaries, making for the deadliest, dullest ones yet. The less said about the impact this turn of events had on the planet’s pundits the better... (In three words: they all died; whereas, in four words: they all died horribly. You see what I mean.)

As Andromeda’s celebrity scientists - that is to say, their scientists in charge of creating celebrities - toiled over the problem so did their philosophers opine; meanwhile their legislatures debated, their pundits snarked, their pollsters manipulated, and their quantity surveyors surveyed various quantities of assorted surveyable things while they all in their turn grappled with the mess of pertinent ethical dilemnas created by the situation in pretty much equal measure, until such time as the Andromedan government decided to come to terms with it in the only appropriate manner - by ordering a Royal Commission... And so it came to pass that, as a people, they should spend the next decade slogging through their entire bureaucratic repertoire until such time as the issue being studied was rendered irrelevant and the entire process had ground to a halting pulp...

The week before the final report was due from the Royal Commission on Celebrity felt so interminable for so many Andromedans that it actually manifested itself, going so far as stopping the planet’s orbit. Within a single news cycle Global News Network had dubbed this phenomenon the Andromedan ennuiwobble, and because of it the hologram of an Andromedan astrogeographer entering Galactic Astrographic Society headquarters in Gordlinginin - the Centauri capital - would thereafter often be pointed out and giggled at mercilessly by his fellow scientists. Overnight, the term ‘Andromedan rocket scientist’ became the most ubiquitous dis in the universe, replacing all existing favourites, including ‘douchebag’, ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker’ and even the worst of them all, blarf. (You should pardon my Centauri.)

Fortunately, a team of physicists were able to jump start the planet’s orbit, seeing as it had, in their words, “fallen asleep” - thus literally stopping time. It took the creation of a black hole and the destruction of three or four rather pretty nebulae in the vicinity - which were then rather ingeniously fashioned into solar sails - but soon enough they were able to get it going again. Ironically, it was Andromeda’s precipitous fall from acclaim to disgrace that broke their scientific impasse, in much the same way you might find your great-grandfather’s long-lost heirloom cufflinks while looking for your temporarily misplaced keys.

Meaning that the first working model for creating celebrities was discovered at such time as many Andromedans had simply lost interest in even trying to develop celebrity technology at all, or else had intellectually come to terms with considering it so statistically difficult as to safely enable them to refer to it as impossible. Alchemy had come as easily as tabletop fusion to them; even terraforming seemed like a walk in the park by comparison. And yet... Andromeda's celebrity-industrial complex had utterly failed in its one and only endeavour. Trillions of kloxars had been spent - wasted, essentially - when all the impetus Andromeda needed to create celebrities was the scornful approbation of their former admirers.

There then arose the prickly dilemna of who to choose for the mission; trapped at an impasse which threatened the very core of their glorious if anodyne civilization the Andromedan Emperor, in his best Andromedan way, did the most ordinary thing he could think of, and held a contest to allow the five most deserving of them to be the first of their race allowed to leave the home world.

The contest did cause excitement, though. Did it ever...

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