The Deadly Art of Laughter
“A carbon-based life-form walks into a drinking establishment. An injury occurs, for it is a construction support beam!”
Off-stage, there was a drum riff.
General Zarg shook his head.
“I do not understand. This is the joke?”
Commander Blurg checked his notes.
“It is wordplay. Our research tells us that humans find this devastating.” he frowned, “although our translation may be inaccurate.”
Zarg waved it away.
“Proceed!” he yelled to the android on stage, who nervously continued.
“Did anyone fly here from Barnard’s Star?”
“I did! What of it?” yelled the general.
The android tugged at the collar of his shirt.
“Err…” he trembled, “your arms must be tired.”
Zarg turned to Blurg.
“What arms? We have tentacles? To what is the robot referring?”
Blurg used his own tentacles to flick through his notes.
“Another wordplay, it relies on human stupidity and misunderstanding for its effectiveness.”
From deep in his gelatinous throat, the general grumbled.
“Enough with the play of words. It displeases me! What else do we have?”
“Proceed with 14.b” Blurg ordered.
The android made a small head movement and then launched into a new sub-routine.
“Have you ever been rampaging through a star system, smiting your enemies with the full force of your imperial armada, only to remember you forgot to charge your star destroyer?”
The general’s lip curved upward in a smile.
“It is true that such an event once happened to me. It was annoying, but in hearing this shared experience, I feel able to smile about it.”
“The humans call this ‘observational comedy’. Would you like to hear more?”
The robot straightened.
“What is the deal with the food served at the interdimensional transit station?” it began.
“It is overpriced and nutritiously insufficient!” bellowed the general.
On the stage the robot looked to Blurg for help who, in response, turned to the general.
“You are not supposed to say the punchline, Sir. You have to let the robot finish.”
“I see.” said Zarg “Robot! Punch the line!”
The robot looked at Blurg despairingly. Blurg shrugged, in so much as a tentacled gelatinous blob can shrug, and motioned to the side of the stage where the next performers waited.
The robot walked to the nearest performer and hit him in the face.
The general roared with laughter.
“Marvellous, marvellous. This is more like it. Punching the line is my favourite so far! And the humans? They also find this devastating?”
“Their technical term for it is ‘slapstick’, Sir,” explained Blurg. “It is universally devastating, I feel.”
“True, true. We must be careful to weaponize only the humour that will devastate the humans. Show me another!”
“Run subroutine 16.a” called Blurg, as the robot returned to stage.
“The parent of my procreational partner is so voluminous in mass that when dining in a restaurant she requires additional seating.”
Zarg nodded sagely.
“You must be very proud.” He affirmed “Now proceed with the joke!”
The robot blinked and continued.
“The mother of my procreational partner is so terrifying to behold that when she entered a terrifying organism contest she was told they did not accept professionals.”
The general frowned and turned to Blurg.
“This sounds like appalling discrimination.” he muttered.
Blurg nodded. “Yes sir, the humans are a primitive people who have yet to move beyond outmoded stereotypes.”
“No, no, no!” interrupted the General, “I’m talking about this droid’s wonderful mother-in-law! Have her reinstated to the contest, or order it shut down!”
“Perhaps we should proceed to the finale?”
The General grinned and his eyes glimmered.
“Ah yes, the puns! I have heard of the devastation they reek among the younglings of Earth when told by the family patriarchs. Their devastation seems unparalleled. Proceed!”
“Sub routine 19.a” called out Blurg.
There was a gasp from off-stage, as a spotlight lit up the android and it launched into the infamous subroutine.
“Why did the gelatinous blob throw bovine flesh at the asteroid?”
“I do not know.” answered the General.
“He wanted it to be a little meteor!”
The robot continued.
“Did you hear about Jupiter sustaining a friendship with a nearby dwarf planet?”
“I did not.” replied the General.
“It was a Plutonic relationship”
The General looked displeased. Blurg motioned to the android that it was time to take it home.
“Two humans awaken from cryo-stasis. A captain and his first officer.” began the android. “The captain turns to the first officer and asks him what he notices.”
“ ‘I notice the constellation of Vela sparkling to the East. I notice the fiery rings of a nearby gas giant burning off into the inky void. I notice an unfamiliar moon circling an unfamiliar planet.’ answers the first officer.”
“ ‘and what do you deduce from that?’ asks the captain.”
“ ‘I deduce that we have been pulled off course.’ answers the first officer.”
“ ‘Interesting,’ says the captain ‘I deduce that someone has stolen our spacecraft.’”
Then a rumbling.
It began deep in the belly of the general and then erupted into a barking, burbling laughter.
“Hahaha, excellent, excellent.” Zarg roared. “I get it, I get it! They are floating in space. Ha-ha. There are no walls. Ha-ha. Oh! Hahaha, they are sure to die!”
Blurg looked on as the general began to swell and bloat as his laughter continued. On stage the android comedian began to slowly back off.
The general exploded in a shower of gelatinous green goo.
“Radio through to command. Abort the mission. This humour is too deadly and the humans too proficient in its dark art. We will leave this pitiful planet to its own self-destruction via late night chat shows. Robot, get a mop and clean up General Zarg!”
As he writhed his way out of the chamber, Blurg had a brief unexpected thought. It concerned a feathered birdlike species and the reasoning for its attempts to cross a motorway.
It wasn’t a very amusing thought and, privately, he was glad of it.
Michael Teasdale is an English writer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, currently living in Cluj-Napoca, Romania with his partner and two cats.
His work previously appeared for Havok Publishing in the US and Litro and Novel magazine in the UK.
His story ‘Arthur Kovic’s Days of Change’ featured in Shoreline of Infinity 8.
The Napier University students judging panel, and Mark Toner and I from the editorial team had a great time judging this year’s competition winners. But the hard part was picking the winning stories.
Michael’s story was one that came so close, oh so close, that I had to give it a home. This story might well be a snapshot of one of our own Event Horizons from the far future.
I dedicate this story to Russell Jones, our Deputy Editor, Poetry Editor, and excellent organiser and host of our live science fiction cabaret, Event Horizon.
The winning stories are published in Shoreline of Infinity 19.