ORIGINAL FICTION: "Bubba's Burger Barn" (Conclusion)

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He had to go through three android cabbies - all of whom actually looked like the stereotypical version of robots - before he found one that would admit to knowing where ‘the bad side of town was.’ (And, as it happened, ‘The Bad Side Of Town’ was the official, legal name of that district) Eventually he was able to get a lift on an equine-looking robot that wouldn’t shut up about ‘Caritas’ all through the ride. Flagg resolved to look up what that meant, assuming he survived.

What to do and where to go? He saw police - and a whole lot of versions of himself - walking around, and decided to duck in to one of the other buildings to figure out his next move. He saw a decrepit-looking building with an old fashioned marquis that said “Sex Shop For The Sexing of Sexy Sexualizing.” He thought he’d try that. Perhaps he needed allies to help him sort all this out. Evidently everyone on this moon had their sex drives suppressed, which made him - by the local standards - a deviant. A store like that would theoretically be full of other deviants, and maybe the old ‘birds of a feather’ thing would work out for him.

It was a long shot, but he didn’t realize how long it was until he got inside, and saw the entire place consisted of displays of non-functional clothing: “I’m with Stupid à” T-shirts, acid washed jeans, baseball caps proclaiming “Sexy Grandpa,” things like that. The store had a few humans (Or were they humanoid androids?), but was principally full of comedicaly low-tech-looking robots wandering about quietly, casting nervous glances while they picked up rainbow-striped socks, and getting their orders in brown paper bags.

Yeah, that ain’t gonna’ work, he thought.

He went back out into the alley, and was startled by a loud bang. he saw a version of himself taking aim on yet another version of himself further down the street.

Oh, yeah, that idiot, he thought. Another gunshot startled him, so he ran forward, illegally clipping himself just as the third shot rang out. They wrestled for a moment, and then Flagg hopped off his earlier self, while that iteration goggled at him incredulously

“Don’t shoot at yourself, you idiot,” this original Flagg said.

“Why not?” the later copy of Flagg said, “And I don’t remember tackling myself…”

Flagg tried to explain, “Because (A) killing ourself is not the answer, and (B) it hasn’t happened yet.”

The version of Flagg on the ground was far less experienced in temporal anomalies than his counterpart. “What hasn’t happened yet?” he asked, stupidly

“Gosh, we’re dumb,” the first Flagg observed, “You don’t remember tackling yourself because it hasn’t happened yet.”

“What are you talking about,” the other Flagg said, “It just happened!”

“No,” said the first Flagg, “I mean I’m a future version of you. You haven’t become me yet, and therefore have no memory of tackling yourself. I can remember being tackled but you can’t because it hasn’t happened to you yet.”

“But…”

Flagg was rapidly growing annoyed with himself, “Nevermind, I don’t really get it myself. Look, just go to the freakin’ hospital, already, ok?” He looked around for some place else to hold up while he thought things through. There were two other easy destinations from the alley, a bondage shop, and a building who’s marquis bragged “Quadruple X Theater: Loony Toons cartoons, looped! New shows all day long every seven minutes!” He winced at that.

“Do they cure me? Us?” the more recent version of Flagg asked.

“No,“ Flagg grunted, “but if you don’t go, we’ll be wandering around here all night,” then he jogged off towards the bondage shop.

That turned out to be full of women staring lustfully at various rotating displays of shoes

“Of course,” Flagg sighed quietly to himself.

***

Ultimately, he ended up in the church. He was met at the door by an impossibly attractive, leggy blonde wearing tight cutoff jeans, and a long-sleeved black shirt with a clerical collar. She was barefoot. She was the same woman from the card shop.

“Comrade Ensign Flagg,” she said with a smile, “Please do come in, have a seat!”

“I didn’t think I gave you my name in the card shop,” he spluttered out, trying not to stare at the part where her legs met her short shorts.

“Card shop?” the sexy priestess asked.

“When I was in…waaaaaait! You’re impossibly good looking - are you an Android?”

“’Gynoid’ is the preferred term for female robots who look human, but yes. You must have met one of my sister models. We were produced by the Rentadate corporate factory on the asteroid 433 Eros. Rentadate: A fully owned and operated subsidy of the Rostvertol-Boeing corporation, and proud sponsors of the 2143 sexual Olympics.”

“Uhmmm“ Flagg stared blankly at that. “Is everyone around here an Android? Or a Gynoid?”

“All us service ‘bots are, yeah. Isn’t that what prostitution has always been about? Treating people like machines? We got deposited here by mistake, We saw an economic niche, we exploited it. The government liked the idea and leaves us alone so long as we turn over the most dangerous of offenders to them.”

“So you’re not a real priestess? This isn’t real?”

“Oh, no, it’s all real. I’m a fully ordained Lutheran minister. Ministress, actually.”

Flagg couldn’t stop staring at her legs, “I thought you were a sexbot.”

“The operative word in that sentence being ‘Were.’ I was a sexbot, now I’m clergy, I once was blind, but now I see. My faith in Jesus has rescued me from a life of debasement. Regardless of what fate or our makers or parents had in mind for us, we’re ultimately able to make our own choices. Nature is what we’re here to rise above, after all.”

“And the tight-ass shorts?”

“I’m just more comfortable in them. That’s some of my basic programming, but it’s not worth fighting over.”

“Anyway,” she continued, “I’ve thought over your problem long and hard since the first time you were in the church…”

“What? I’ve never been here before!”

“Sure you have, it just hasn’t happened to you yet. Anyway, I’ve thought it over and prayed about it a bit, and I’ve concluded that you should really just give yourself in to the cops. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve got some method of dealing with this, and frankly if you don’t do it, there’ll just end up being more and more and more of you until the entire economy of Ganymede collapses, and even that won’t stop you reproducing. Ultimately there’ll be billions of you.”

“That’s…that’s ludicrous! I’m the first Yank E. Flagg…”

The Ministress laughed at that

“Yeah, it’s an embarrassing name, I know, but I’m the first one of me, I’m the start of the loop! If there’s a start, there’s got to be an end. That’s just a crazy over-the-top conclusion - me destroying your world - how could there be that many of me?”

“There is no start to a loop. I’ve already talked to like sixteen of you tonight. I had to call off choir practice, it’s so busy. It’s happened before. About fifty years ago. A guy named “Fat Benny.” The only thing that saved civilization was a nuclear war that killed all of him off, including the Dry Cleaners that inadvertently created him. There’s still occasional outbreaks of Fat Benny, but the cops have some way of dealing with it. …Look, I can see you’re getting upset. It’s not an easy thing, but some times a person needs to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of all. It’s a fundamental precept of Neo-European Civilization.”

“I’m not going to be lectured on ethics by a machine,” Flagg said, “No matter how yummy she is,” and stormed out.

It occurred to him that he needed to prevent himself from going into the restaurant. He started actively tracking down other versions of himself, but he couldn’t find a one that hadn’t gone in yet, and his work was hampered by constantly being interrupted by other versions of himself who had the same idea. Explaining himself to himself over and over again quickly grew frustrating, so finally he hauled off and decked himself, which resulted in a minor riot, with dozens of Flaggs all pounding the hell out of each other, bleeding before they’d been wounded, punching themselves in reprisal for bruises they hadn’t gotten yet. It was the physical manifestation of a nervous breakdown.

Eventually Flagg was able to break free of the Flaggpile and tore off into the night. He ended up seeing himself coming down the street on Lord Running Cab’s rickshaw, and was instantly overjoyed. Running towards himself to warn himself not to go into Bubba’s Burger Barn, a little glowing angel appeared on his right shoulder.

“Dude, you totally shouldn’t do this,” the angel said, startling Flagg so that he tumbled and fell into some garbage cans with a horrible crashing, clanging, gonging sound. The earlier version of himself in the cab was yelling in exasperation “there’s got to be some sin around here somewhere,“ and so he didn’t really notice.

In a heap in the garbage cans, Flagg freaked out, swatting at his shoulder like he was trying to get a rat or a snake off of himself, and rattling off profanity in high, shrill, girly tones.

“Hey, hey, hey, stop it,” the angel said, “Those hands hurt!” Flagg didn’t stop, he continued flapping at his shoulder, and stumbled to his feet, but not completely, and when he broke into a run, he immediately flew ass-over-teakettle into the street, which he bounced across in the low gravity. He was so intent on getting the thing off him that he didn’t notice the little devil who’s appeared on his left shoulder.

“I said Stop It!” The angel yelled, and grabbed one of Flagg’s swatting hands. For a little guy, he was surprisingly strong. Flagg tried to squash him like an action-figure sized bug, but the angel quickly grabbed Flagg’s other hand. “Are you going to calm down, or am I going to have to break your fingers?” the angel asked.

Flagg calmed down. “Now I know I’m crazy,” he said.

“Oh, sure you are!” the little devil agreed, startling Flagg, “You’re crazy about deep dish pizza, you’re crazy about any movie featuring Anne Francis - and for good reason, by the way: Hubba hubba! - you’re crazy about Chinese opera, and although you’re not crazy about it yet, you’re definitely off your beam about that pretty little preacher-lady sexbot back there. You are not, however, crazy about a little angel and a little devil on your shoulder. You’re not going to wake up from this. This is reality.”

“I concur,” said the angel concurrently, “Kind of weird reality, but reality none the less.”

“This. Can. Not. Be. Real.” Flagg insisted, “This is like something out of a sitcom. It’s a cliché!”

“Cliches have to get started somewhere,” The devil said, “They’re not fundamentally untrue, they just get overused.”

“Anyway,” the angel said, sounding annoyed, “to reiterate: Dude, you totally should not be trying to stop yourself from going in there.”

“Awww, go ahead, try it Reuben!” the devil insisted.

“Who’s ’Reuben?’” Flagg and the Angel asked simultaneously.

“Sorry, ’Yank.’ I meant to say ’Yank.” I was distracted. Anyway, try it!”

“I’m definitely going to!” Flagg said, and got up off the ground.

“Atta’monkey!” said the devil.

“Dude, no, totally, you should not do this,” the angel said, a bit more emphatically this time.

“You shut up, Casti’el,” the devil said, “He’s an adult, let the man make up his own mind.”

“You shut up, Pazuzu!” the angel rejoined, “Or should I say ‘Lulubelle?’ That’s what Loki was calling you when he…”

“Ok, ok, let’s not say anything we can’t take back,” the devil said nervously.

“I’m ignoring both of you,” Flagg said as he trudged along, “Because you’re not real.”

“Why can’t we be real?” Casti’el asked.

“For starters, because I’m Jewish.”

“So am I, what’s your point?” the angel asked. Flagg didn’t answer, just ignored them as he hailed yet another robocab. Casti’el continued, “What you’re looking at here is a classical paradox. You go back in time to kill president Kennedy because he was a monster who started World War III, but since you’ve killed, there never was a World War III, and hence no need for you to kill Kennedy, so you don’t kill him, which means that World War III happens, which means you have to go back in time to kill him. It’s irresolvable. Do you hear me?”

Flagg said nothing. The devil stabbed him in the neck with his pitchfork.

“OW!” Flagg yelled, and swatted at the devil, “What did you do that for?”

“I’m a devil. I’m bad. But it’s no fun if you don’t listen to us, so pay attention or more neck-forking.”

“Fine, I heard you. If I stop myself from going into the restaurant, the paradox doesn’t happen. Everything goes back to normal,” Flagg said.

“Exactly right,” said the devil, “we’ll prevent the Gordian knot from ever having been tied. Now, I’m being honest with you here, Yank,”

“Oh, please,” said Casti’el

Ignoring him, the devil continued, “You - this version of you - will cease to have ever existed. It’s totally worth it, however, as you won’t have any memory of all the crap that’s happened to you tonight.”

“Don’t listen to Lulubelle,” Casti’el said, “it doesn’t work that way. A paradox has always been, and always will be. There are spiritual dimensions at play here…”

“No there aren’t,” the devil said.

“I refuse to believe that you two are anything more than a hallucination, I refuse to believe there’s a spiritual dimension to all this, just some kind of basic scientific problem.”

“Oh come on!” the angel yelled, sounding a bit like Tom Hanks, “you’ve got this whole stupid conundrum, you’ve got everyone around you being waaaaaay too articulate in every conversations, you’ve got no end of robots who won’t shut up about God like they’re supporting characters from a Philip K. Dick novel - Obviously there’s a spiritual concern in all this. How stupid are you?”

“I thought angels were supposed to be nice,” Flagg said.

“Nope, we’re terrifying. This isn’t really what we look like. I’m holding back overwhelming you right now,” Casti’el said.

“He’s holding back because he can’t force you to do anything,” said the devil, “neither can I. You have to make your own choices.”

“Listen to me, Flagg, if you attempt to prevent this paradox from happening, it will be bad, very very bad. You need to give yourself up and take the terrible consequences for the benefit of everyone, not just here on Ganymede, but everyone.”

“Superstitious nonsense,” said the devil, “It’ll all be fine. Probably you’ll even get to make it with the Ministress. Or if not her, the one from the card shop who’s just as nice..”

“I’m gonna’ roll with the devil on this one,” Flagg said.

“So be it,” said the Angel, who then started screaming, “HEY, COPS! OVER HERE! THIS GUY’S INFECTED WITH TEMPORAL ANOMALIES!” The two supernatural beings disappeared. The police noticed, and the cabbie attempted to stop when the sirens sounded, but Flagg pulled his gun on him and forced him to go on. As it was yet another rickshaw, the cab-droid simply dropped the handles and ran away at the first opportunity. Flagg jumped out, grabbed the handles himself, and started pulling the empty rickshaw for about half a minute.

“Wait, what the hell am I doing?” he asked himself, dropped the handles, and broke into a run. But it was too late. The cops had him.

***

They threw him in an enormous cell in the Chrono-Synclastic Bubble-Plastic office. Every twenty minutes another version of him was thrown in as well. At first they tried to come up with a plan of escape, but, unfortunately, they kept having to bring the later versions of himself up to speed, which resulted in him having the same conversation over and over, so ultimately he just got frustrated and brooded in a corner. Presently the football stadium-sized room was packed with Flaggs. A door opened, and someone in a medical uniform stuck his head through and said “Will the earliest version of you please step forward? It’s time for your treatment.”

He did. They took him to another room.

“You kept me in there long enough, that took days!” he whined.

“You would not believe how much paperwork temporal anomalies generate. You see ‘em on the TV, and it’s all ‘ooh, Captain Baldington J. Frenchman is in a paradox!’ and it’s all exciting and stuff, but do the TV writers ever give any thought to the unending legions of burocrats it would take just to file the mission reports? No, they do not!”

They arrived at a small, white room, like a dentists’ office, with a pleasant view of the parking lot. The doctor motioned for Flagg to sit down, and he did so.

“So this will cure me?” he asked.

“Certainly! This will require repeated treatments to prevent new outbreaks of T.A., but it will cure the problem. Have they explained the procedure to you?”

“No. Will this hurt much?” Flagg asked.

“Oh my lack-of-heavens, no! Not at all. You’ll just relax back here, and then I’ll administer a medical death, and then you’re all better. And dead. Dead and better.”

“What? Kill me? I thought you said you could cure me?”

“This will cure you, though you won’t survive. There’s only one reasonable way out of a paradox. We’ll have to kill you one and a time until the sun burns out, but it’ll prevent you from going on endlessly and destroying our whole civilization.”

Flagg kicked him in the face, threw him through the window, then escaped into the parking lot.

The doctor, preparing for a lifetime of getting thusly abused, said, “I hate this job.”

***

The cops chased Flagg through The Bad Part Of Town™, and he ducked into the church, interrupting choir practice. The luscious ministress was there, flustered by his intrusion.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“What? You knew me from before…” he spluttered.

“Oh, Lord, do you have a Temporal Anomaly?” she asked. She was quick on the uptake for a sexbot, but then she’d transcended her sordid upbringing, which may have accounted for it.

“Yes. My name is Yank E. Flagg,” she laughed at that, but he continued, “And I’m a Comrade Ensign in the United States Navy. I went in that stupid restaurant, and now I’m afflicted..”

“Infected,” she corrected

“Whatever,” he continued, “With this stupid T.A., and everyone’s trying to kill me.” he paused, “Including, intermittently, myself. Please, please, please, in the name of God, please try to come up with a solution for this that doesn’t involve me dying or turning myself in, ok? Also, you have sweet legs.”

“Yes I do,” she agreed.

“I just thought I should mention that because…” The cops started pounding on the door, and he ran away. The Lutheran ministress ended choir practice early so she could concentrate on the problem.

***

The plan was simple: Get back to the Monkeyspanker, steal a fighter, and just blow up the whole part of town Bubba’s Burger Barn was in before he went in to eat there. That would prevent the paradox from getting started in the first place, and everything would be fine.

It went off without much of a hitch. He wasn’t really qualified to fly a fighter, but he’d played a lot of Grand Theft Spacecraft, so he was able to fake his way through most of it. He flew over the city until he spotted Lord Running Cab, and followed him high and out of sight. Then, when he saw himself pulling up in front of the restaurant, he loosed the missiles, and cheered at the explosion and the wall of bright, cleansing flame that ensued.

“Finally, that’s over!” he said, and watched The Bad Section Of Town™ burn for a bit.

“Wait a minute, why am I still here? I should have ceased to be!”

Before he could ponder it too deeply, he noticed the cracks on the ground, radiating out from the epicenter of the explosion, each one glowing in a bright light that wasn’t light at all. More disturbingly, there were cracks in the sky, also radiating something that his eyes perceived as light, but which wasn’t.

“Oh crap!” he said to no one in particular.

He watched in mounting horror as emergency vehicles pulled up to fight the flames, but seemingly oblivious to the cracks, but as the cracks widened, they became harder and harder to look at, giving him headaches. He could see vague Escher-like segments of the Ganymede break off and tumble slowly. The cracks themselves were impossible things of eldritch horror, stretching in all three directions, and more. His brain wasn’t wired to see it, but he could feel the hyperdimentional cracks through some unknown aspect of his soul, the soul itself being somewhat hyperdimentional.

He panicked and flew higher, through Ganymede’s atmosphere, until he could see Jupiter looming in front of him like a god’s concept of an Easter egg. The moon shrank behind him as he ran away, but he could still plainly see - and worse yet, feel - the thing breaking up into impossible tesselations divided by chasms of glowing unreality as they broke off and drifted through the night, slamming into other bits of fragmented reality, and bouncing spiraling off in some other random non-Euclidean direction.

The cracks extended out into space, but more nightmarishly, they extended through time. The past and the future and the present were coming loose, calving off from causality like glaciers falling into an entropic ocean. The bare underpinnings of the universe shown through in all their terrifying glory, had Flagg only been able to see them, but no man could, and thanks to his actions, no man ever would, for it is not the ken of mortals to see things larger than reality.

He put his foot in the throttle, and kept it there until his fighter had run out of fuel, kept it there long after, kept it there because he was too terrified to even have reflex left. He had been willing - desiring even - to un-write his own existence just moments before, but this? This? This was worse than non-being, worse than death, this was the horrific knowledge that he was the end of everything.

A gyroscope in the fighter seized, and the craft began to tilt around slowly. Redundancies kicked in and stabilized the rotation, but not before the vehicle was flying backwards, its cockpit pointing in the direction from which it had come. In space, this made little difference, and since he was long since out of fuel, it made none at all.

Ganymede was gone, replaced by a glowing hole that did not glow. He watched - too horrified to blink - as the hole unraveled further, jagged and spastic. One rift jutted out, bisecting Jupiter. It’s gaseous atmosphere immediately started boiling off into the void, while the whole segment of space his fighter was in cusped and pulled away. Half of Jupiter was with him, half was not. He watched the planet wither and die, and saw the sun spiral in a nauseatingly fast spirograph all around him. He realized - not consciously - that he was inside an iceberg of time and space, as powerless to do anything as a worm on a sinking ship.

He watched huge slabs of history and space drift past, tumbling, intersecting, pulling apart. He saw earth and for a moment his heart soared, but then he realized he was looking at past earths - the Viking-era Norse in one splinter, intersecting with the First Kingdom of Egypt in another, the horrified Norse - this must have seemed like Ragnarock to them - poured panic-stricken into Egypt, and as he watched, untold bloodshed ensued, even as the Egyptian fragment continued to erode, the Nile emptying itself into vast, limitless, incomprehensible space, cataracts of water falling into nothingness, into a tartarus where even causality could survive. This new Norse/Egyptian continuity/fragment spiraled out of control until it was rammed by a segment of the Cenozoic era. Terrified dinosaurs poured through the intersecting blisters of the timeline, not even bothering to gorge themselves on the humans they trampled.

This doomed composite world drifted away, while to his left, Flagg saw - for he could not blink, could not look away, could not shut down his mind - as the still-boiling moon crashed into earth, simultaneously crashing into Mars and Venus and the sun at different points in a history that had never happened, should never have happened, could never have happened. And over it all, the light, the terrifying, endless, accusing light that shone through is very quick as a palpable force.

And still the rips grew, the tears expanded. Even as the undoing of existence itself radiated faster than reality itself off into Flagg’s own universe, the devastation spread into all the universe, all the timelines. A Twenty-second century Roman empire that never fell slid past him, colliding with a fragment of a timeline where the Axis had won World War II, only to have Japan nuke Germany out of existence. The worlds hit - physically - and both their lines came to an end. More earths drew past, some recognizable, some not, some filled with people, some not, some filled with life, some dead, all unraveling, boiling away, coming apart in a fog of rock and water and metal and meat, dispersing in the void that was within as well as without.

Flagg didn’t know what any of these worlds were - how could he? - and yet as he gazed upon them, somehow, their full history was commuted to him though some unknowable mechanism, something to do with the unflinching light of nonexistence, of nonlife, telling him, on some unspeakable level, of what it had eaten, of what it would yet eat, of how it would eat him last after he had become well and truly aware of the magnitude of destruction he had wrought.

A world of thousand-eyed things came by, fighting a living being ten thousand light years wide, both evaporating out of reality, even as they fought. The universe - the omniverse - was so far gone now, that even thoughts blossomed into physical reality, briefly flickered, and then burned away, burned away, cursing Flagg’s unknown name. Nightmarish creatures, things that violated all reason, the shape of the nightmares of a billion, trillion souls winked into existence, a sky full of monsters, and every one coming for him.

“Now they will end this,” he thought, but no, they could not. The monsters themselves could not survive the very nothingness that had spawned them, and they, too, were gone.

And then all was gone.

He floated through the void, alone, and quite insane for a time that can not be measured because there was no more time. A thousand lifetimes? A blinking of an eye? It no longer mattered. All that ever was was gone, save him. His mortal coil all that remained, that, and the endless light of deepest darkness.

Eventually, by accident or design, his wits returned. He realized his foot was still on the throttle. He relaxed, and tried to move it, but his body was weak with starvation, inaction, exhausted to the limits of human endurance, beyond them even. Had death itself not already died in the final estimation, Flagg would have long since died. Such things no longer were, however, and hence held sway over him. He floated there, in his fighter, staring at the terrifying freedom he had caused, wishing he could again lose his wits, but even madness had not survived.

Of physical things, he was all there was.

A quadrillion infinities later, he saw something else, something flickering, moving towards him. Presently he identified it as two things - butterfly-like entities - close together and flapping in the luminiferous aether.

They were angels.

As they grew closer, Flagg could recognize one of them as Casti’el - now life size. The other - also man-sized - was new, he didn’t know that one. They hovered in front of the fighter, and motioned for him to open his cockpit. When he wouldn’t do it, they pulled it off and helped him out, both of them flickering briefly between their anthropomorphic appearance and their true, unspeakable form. They took his hands, and flew off, together.

“What happened?” Flagg managed to croak out, speaking for the first time in a billion years through a throat long beyond petrified.

“You destroyed everything,” the unknown angel said, “You were warned, but you did it anyway. You killed everyone, everything, just to save your own miserable neck.“ There was an ominous pause, far more visceral than mere silence, and then the angel continued, “He would have words with you.”

Flagg didn’t need to know who ‘He’ was, there was only One that it could possibly be. He looked pleadingly on Casti’el, who just shook his head in disappointment.

“Boy, Yank, are you gonna’ get it!” was all he’d say.

The End.

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Copyright 2010, Republibot 3.0

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