THE MISADVENTURES OF DR. JACKSON O’BRIEN
Episode 1: New Clear to Nuclear
Dr. Jackson O’Brien here. World-renowned Geospatial Analyst, Seasoned Philatelist, Jet-setting Author, and Gentleman Adventurer-in-Training. Currently serving as a freelance detective into matters of the peculiar.
The case I found myself investigating—as cases often do with alarming regularity—came without any forewarning. I had received an urgent message by way of an emailed vlog during the first leg of my book tour for the release of “Your Charming End-Table is an Impostor: A Sordid Affair in the World of Haberdashery, Volume 1”. (On sale now at all fine hidden bookstores and duplicitous clothing retailers.)
It was from an old colleague of mine, Jane Woodardson; a former professor of nuclear physics, and fellow do-gooder who similarly enjoyed tackling cases of the uncanny. As the grainy video with tasteful monochromatic filter played out, I could clearly see the distressed expression upon Jane’s face. I’ve since transcribed the audio for posterity:
“I’m afraid things are not proceeding quite according to plan in the town of Serendipity Commons. Oh dear, that was close! I had arrived here to look in on the matter of the missing device—damn you, this paint job is new!—yes, THAT device, and while I can not pinpoint its location, I can safely say that it has already been used to disastrous effect.
“As you can hopefully see, my car is being chased by a pack of dinosaurs. Stop tailgating me, you prehistoric cretins!
“This is of course—Away with you!—a slight uptick in the average amount of dinosaur traffic this area receives. They are not using any indicators for changing lanes, either. In any case, there are other happenings which lead me to believe the device has been activated. If it would not be too much trouble, would you come out and lend your skills to solving—*fifteen second long horn blast, followed by a torrent of swearing from Jane which will not be reproduced here*—solving this issue? I would do so myself, but I’m afraid that will be problematic, as these ancient reptiles have managed to merge me onto a bridge that is clearly out.
“My insurance premiums are going to bloody skyrock”-*picture cuts out, followed by Jane’s scream, the screech of dinosaurs, what sounds like the opening strains of “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, and then the video ends*
While on the plane out, I mourned the possible loss of a friend as well as contemplated the obvious safety message against operating a car while video-blogging. But, I might have been jumping the gun. I had no evidence that Jane had met her end, after all; I just had the unsettling and abrupt end of a horror movie cliché. Hardly concrete. Hopefully Jane was merely in the hospital, on the way to a speedy recovery.
As to the fate of the dinosaurs, I opted not to dwell on it. The wound from The Land Before Time was still fresh.
I landed at the Serendipity Commons Municipal Airport and Garden Center, hailed a cab, and directed him to the nearest week-stay motel. I had no idea how long it would take to get to the bottom of this, but I figured it wise to assume the time frame would be “longer than an after-school TV. special.”
The trip to the motel was largely uneventful, and I daresay I began to doubt my colleague’s assertions that the device had been here at all. Quaint shops, clean thoroughfares, gatherings of clandestine entities in faceless hazard suits; it all was above board for your average slice of Americana. Had Jane been wrong in her assertion that the device was working its vile nuclear-powered science on this unsuspecting place?
It was then that I saw what passed for “public transportation” in the town of Serendipity Commons.
Not only was it clear that the device was here, and active, but that it was being controlled. The amalgam of humanity that wandered by as my cab passed was hard evidence of a sinister plot, as one of the thing’s shoes was clearly untied. I suspect, dear reader, that between Jane’s prehistoric mishap and this new violation of safety that this all was a premeditated attack upon the DMV. In point of fact, it might just be the opening salvo in a national campaign by The Man in the Paisley Scarf. My months-long search for the device was about to come to an end!
Longtime readers will no doubt recall that tracking down its location— and subsequently the location of the man who invented it—was something of an obsession of mine. Too long had the machinations of The Man in the Paisley Scarf been allowed to inflict grievous damage upon humanity. I had taken it upon myself to track down every single one of his accursed inventions and either destroy them, or flood the markets with more cost-efficient version of them as to stymie his fiscal years. In the case of the Nuclear Origination Superconducting Arranger Lightwave Event Singularity, which we have condensed into “the device” for obvious reasons, I would have no choice but to eradicate it, as it was clearly too dangerous to leave alone or to entrust with the general public with a line of products based on it.
We arrived at the motel—a one-floor efficiency-over-aesthetic model—where I interacted with a charming man working the day shift. We exchanged pleasantries as he set up the room that would serve both as my base of operations and platform for weeping in existential angst for the foreseeable future. Readers will recall that shedding tears in the face of your own insignificance is recommended by four out of five doctors to be included in your daily cardio workout schedule. I’ve since theorized that the fifth doctor is, in fact, a plant by the infamous Optimist Collective.
The man finished entering my information into the computer, and handed me my keycard. He smiled in stereo at me.
“Enjoy your stay, sir!” piped the gentleman’s forehead.
I thanked him, and retired to deposit my luggage in my room. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a glaring detail that I was missing. Some break of normalcy that should have been a sign that things were not entirely par with the conversation I just had. I spent a few minutes unpacking and arranging my socks in proper chromatic order in the drawers. It was only then that I realized the odd feature about the young man that had nagged at me so.
He wasn’t wearing a name badge with the motel’s logo! Only a subversive would so sidestep identity AND corporate branding!
I raced out of the room, pounding up the hallway towards the front desk, and slid the last ten feet across the unsightly linoleum, barely maintaining any sense of PhD dignity. I was ready and willing to confront the obvious impostor with my not insignificant irritation.
Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with an entirely new staff member behind the counter, who looked just as surprised as I.
I stared. He drooled. I considered the possible quantum implications of the young man somehow transmogrifying into a canine. He drooled. I abandoned the thought experiment concerning quantum disasters, and settled upon the Occam’s razor approach, thus concluding that the young man had left before the dog had arrived, laterally indicating that man and dog were not a part of a larger conspiracy, premeditated malfeasance, or art-performance comedy duo. He drooled, and then began licking his own crotch area, signifying that my theory was sound.
Noting that the dog, at least, was properly in possession of a slightly chewed-upon name badge, I apologized for the intrusion, and left the motel. I assumed at this point that the young man I had encountered earlier was little more than a scout for whomever was behind the strange incidents in Serendipty Commons. I sincerely doubted that my nemesis was directly involved, as the instances I and Jane had seen were less the strokes of a master painter and more the clumsy finger-painting of a narcoleptic goat that had the fingers on loan.
I set out to ask the one person I thought would be most in the know about matters in town: the Mayor.
The Mayor of Serendipity Commons had eschewed the centrally-located town hall in favor of establishing his office in a reclaimed two-story building that had once been a Tae-Bo instructional center and then a failed no-water public aquarium. I entered through the curtain of left-over Mardi Gras beads that served as the building’s front door, and was immediately greeted with by the site of the Mayor’s loyal receptionist, who heralded my arrival with a drum-roll and understated cymbal crash.
The placard on the desk indicated that the construct’s name was “Peart-03”. I erred on the side of caution instead of attempting to address Peart-03 with a gender-specific prefix. “Pardon, but is the Mayor in?” I inquired.
Peart-O3’s reply was to tap out “Shave and a Haircut”.
I blinked. “So, I just have to knock on his door, then?”
Peart-03 seemed to regard me. I say seemed, as the spiky object that served as the head had no eyes, nose, mouth, or really any adherent structure that would have otherwise indicated expression. Peart-03 then struck the bell on his high-hat, eliciting a pleasant ding.
I smiled, and nodded. “I’m assuming his office is upstairs?”
Another ding, and another round of being curiously regarded by that eyeless spiked head. I looked beyond the robot, and saw that the stairs split halfway up, leading to two different hallways.
“Would you kindly direct me?”
Peart-03 pounded the drums in what was unmistakably the opening drum riff to “Walk This Way”, and then gestured right with one of his aluminum appendages. I thanked the musical sentinel, ascended the stairs beyond while Peart-03 beat out an accompanying march cadence. I quickly found the door to the Mayor’s office, as it was not only the only one in this hallway that was otherwise filled with plastic balls and excerpts from War and Peace written on the walls in blue sharpie, but also due to the fact that the words “May Or”—constructed from what appeared to be letters cut out from cereal boxes—had been thumb-tacked into the face of said door.
I knocked, and a lilting tenor announced that I should enter. I did.
Instead of a conservative bastion of bureaucracy, or even a faux-modern suite of overly-expensive office accouterments designed to indicate taste and power, my eyes gazed upon a scene of complete and willful anarchy. Papers were scattered everywhere. Spare chairs were toppled on their sides where they were not simply smashed to pieces. Cabinet doors hung askew. In the corner, an adult-sized mannequin had been hung from a noose made up of extension cord. It was dressed in a business suit that had been riddled with paint-balls, a crude face had been painted on its normally featureless head in lime green, and the sign that was hung around its neck read simply, “Who friggin’ cares who John Galt is?”
Behind the similarly disheveled desk sat a young man with an unruly head of blonde curls in a rumpled suit. He waved in my direction before proceeding to inhale rail after rail after rail of what I first thought to be cocaine until I noticed the torn bag of powdered sugar nearby. Upon completion, he stood, and proclaimed his apparent cheerful mood.
Once he was done, he leaned back into his chair, and stared at me with wide, frenzied eyes. “I know who you are, Dr. O’Brien, but who sent you?”
That was certainly unexpected. I supposed there was nothing for it but to cut straight to the heart of the matter. “Very well. If you know me, you must surely know of my colleague Jane, and you therefore know what it was that she, and now I, am seeking.”
The Mayor touched the tip of his tongue to his lips in what I assumed was an attempt to glean more sugar. “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmaybe! What does it look like?” he crooned.
“Yes, well,” I said, “it’s a very dangerous device. Deceptively small; no larger than a King-sized bar of chocolate. It is nuclear-powered, and has the power to-”
The Mayor interrupted my description by leaping onto his desk. He was bare-footed. He then proceeded to begin dancing The Charleston to music only he could hear. After about a minute of this impromptu Vaudeville act, he spoke again in a sing-song kind of way.
“Oh that’s been gone for a day! Away, away! Taken by a man with colorful teardrop shapes on his neckerchief! Kinda like-”
“Paisley,” I finished for him. Damn it all. I had been too late. The Mayor did not seem to notice my discomfort, and so he continued dancing. After another five minutes—I remained seated out of sheer politeness, as I ardently support the arts—he finished the routine with a joyless yell.
“BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!” he wailed, and promptly passed out.
I left, thoroughly disgusted with what I viewed as typical establishment politics in action.
As I exited the building, I once again spied the young man from the motel.
He was seated behind the wheel of a cargo van bearing a fish logo and identifying itself as a carrier for the “Sundry Seafood Sales” company. He frowned upon seeing me, though his forehead smiled, and he bid me adieu by waving a paisley-printed handkerchief out the driver-side window before speeding away.
It was worse than I feared. It was now clear to me that my great opponent, The Man in the Paisley Scarf, had gained confederates to aid him in whatever plot he had hatched. And so, I watched helplessly as both my best lead, and potentially the device, roared onward and disappeared into the by-ways beyond, without observing even the most minute of traffic laws.
My shoulder sagged, and my stomach gurgled. I returned to the motel in hungry defeat. I packed my things, tipped the canine concierge, and hailed a cab. There was simply no point in continuing chasing down leads in Serendipity Commons. What was to be a prolonged and fruitful investigation had lasted a mere day, and had only resulted in my person being dusted with sugar by a overzealous prancing politician.
I flew out that night, and resumed my tour. I am pleased, however, to announce to you that two weeks later after this incident Jane made contact with me once more. She was resting comfortably in a hospital sixty miles away from Serendipity Commons, and she had since reconciled with the dinosaurs. I believe their intent is to start a book club.
As to the fate of the device, it is my sad duty to report that my foe’s designs were made clear one month hence from my visit to the town. Apparently, the device was smuggled onto the set of a cooking show that was a popular fixture upon Serenity Commons’ public access network. It was done so by way of the most unseemly of means to carry out a prearranged attack: the trout.
The resulting explosion, which survivors have since named “The Curb-stomp of God”, devastated more than eighty percent of the town, including the Mayoral office. The Mayor survived the calamity due to the lucky decision to practice his screaming pantomime in his blast-proof panic room that day. His loyal assistant, however, was not so fortunate. A memorial for Peart-03 was erected shortly thereafter; an earnest and emotionally charged scuplture of the drumming secretary backwards engineered from a damaged soda machine.
Peart-03 keeps rhythm for the angels, now.
With that, dear reader, this is Dr. Jackson O’brien, wishing you a fine day, and adventure in your future.
((What is The Speculative Singularity Serial? How can you be a part of it? Well, if you dare, you can click here to find out! ))